February and March Madness

Today I’m starting a new category of posts called “News.” They will focus on personal developments in my life that relate in some way to my blog on fiction about science. I’m writing this first news post because I haven’t been keeping up with a promise I made earlier to put up a post every week on Thursday. The reason for the slippage is that a month ago my copyeditor, Virginia Herrick, returned the manuscript for my first novel, Vanessa’s Curve of Mind. That led to an unexpected distraction that also interfered with my plans to spend every free moment working on seeing the book into print as quickly as possible. (By the way, my novel is  about cognitive neuroscience and the role of theory in science–an example of fiction about science.)

In an excellent comment about the ending, Virginia suggested adding a few words and a sentence or two that she thought might improve the ending. She also asked if the way I’d written it had anything to do with plans for a sequel. My first reaction was, “A sequel? No way!” I went to work and made several changes which I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking strengthened the scene. However, my wonderful editor had planted a seed, and in the next couple days, when my head was full of thoughts about my heroine, Vanessa, the plot of another novel took shape!

The first fragments grew out of my reflections on some unresolved issues from Vanessa’s childhood. Several great scenes played out in my head. What was lacking was a story arc that revolved around a scientific research problem. At first, these daydreams occurred in a context of dismissal. “I am not going to revisit the crazy woman I’ve had in my head for the past decade! She’s way too intense for me.” Then a persistent news item caught my attention: The President had mentioned a project to map the active brain, and I’d since read and heard several follow-up news stories.

I was aware of several projects including the Connectome Project at Harvard, but I wondered what else was out there. I spent a little time surfing the Web and found a good deal more information about work on mapping the human brain. What has struck me from the beginning about such approaches is the fact that they appeared to have no mental counterpart. Because Vanessa had set herself the task of finding a suitable geometry for mapping both the brain and the mind in a single continuum, I found myself slipping back into Vanessa’s fictional work as a graduate student.

The research arc for the sequel came practically fully formed in a most unlikely place—the gym.  Or maybe not so unlikely. There’s a widespread belief that strenuous, mindless physical activity—pushing or pulling a challenging amount of weight on an exercise machine, for example—increases oxygen flow to the brain and stirs up the emotions, especially when working near the limit of performance. So between sets on the biceps curl machine, I discovered a plot. The amazing thing is that with the research part of the plot came, completely integrated, the personal conflicts of the scientist characters. So, just when I need to be spending all my free time working on publishing my first novel, along comes the exciting lure of writing the second!

The only thing I’ll say about my experience with indie publishing, so far, is that this part of the writing process is nowhere near as much fun as writing and rewriting a novel! I won’t bore you with my activities, and frustrations, so far, but I sincerely hope that the publication of Vanessa’s Curve of Mind will be the subject of my next news post. Creating a novel has been one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life; getting it published sucks!

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