Where A Novel Comes From
One of the hardest questions an author is asked is “how did you come up with the idea?” It's a fair question. After all, novels don't grow on trees, or come delivered to your door by UPS (if only). But I know very few writers who can answer the question, because the truth is we don't really know. With Cycler, there was no eureka moment. In the past, I've described the creative process as a kind of mind swamp where ideas (characters, scenes, bits of dialog, themes, etc.) swim around like little fish competing for survival. Some of these idea-fish are doomed by their own appalling stupidity and rapidly go extinct. Others get eaten by more robust idea-fish. While I'm writing one story, others are competing for survival in this teeming swamp of the mind. The one gets written next is the one that has eaten all the others.
By the time I finally got around to writing Cycler, it had been swimming in the mind-swamp for almost fifteen years. It was a pretty robust little fish. I think it had been feeding on all of my thoughts and feelings on the subject of gender and on the way we play the game of gender in our society. Although things are getting better all the time, I still think, by and large, we play gender as a cruel game. We have a tendency to cling to a hard duality with masculine on one side and feminine on the other, and to punish those who wander across the border. But, to me, the border is fake and somewhat arbitrary. To me, gender is a creative construct, a kind of alchemy of biology and culture. What we consider “feminine” today would have been deemed outrageous to our great grandmothers and even to many people in different cultures today. And yet we insist that our way is the “natural” way. It's not, of course. It's just one way. Just recently, in fact, the New York Times profiled several high school students whose gender creativity was accepted by their peers. Of course, there were even more students whose gender creativity was not accepted. But this is part of the continuum of change.
What I wanted to do with Cycler was to create a character who, for reasons of biology, could not be either male or female. I wanted to eliminate the possibility of duality and see what happened. What I found was the urge to conform, an urge so strong that the dominant female persona actually buried (or tried to bury) the male persona. Once that happened I had a delicious scenario on my hands, because there is nothing more narratively rich than a desperate conformist with a ruinous secret.
At any rate, those responses were very much in the minority, and I was heartened and humbled to receive letters and emails from young readers thanking me for my openness on the subject of gender. In particular, I received a lot of great feedback about my inclusion of a bisexual character. There seems to be a shortage of positive bi characters in teen fiction and, if I do say so myself, the bi character in Cycler (I won't say who it is, in case people haven't read it yet) is severely swoon-worthy.
In the end, after all the reviews, the up and down Amazon rankings, the brilliant blog analyses and angry personal attacks, for me the most compelling response of all is the note from a kid thanking me for making him feel a little less weird. That's what gets me. That's what keeps me going.
Be sure to check out the trailer for Lauren's book.
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Here is the complete tour schedule, so you can see what else Lauren has to say.
11/15 The Page Flipper
11/16 Cheryl Rainfield Reviews
11/18 Book Chic
11/19 Write for A Reader
11/20 Y Pulse