Guest post: The “seeds” of my first novel | author Chris Mandeville

chris-1[CHRIS MANDEVILLE is an author of science fiction/fantasy and non-fiction for writers. She served as president of the nonprofit Pikes Peak Writers for five years, and is now the Conference Director for Superstars Writing Seminars. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. Her young adult time travel series In Real Time will debut this year with Quake. In this incisive guest post, Mandeville breaks down how she got the idea for Seeds. Find her on chrismandeville.com]

SEEDS FINAL LARGE
Mandeville’s first novel, Seeds

“My inspiration for Seeds was two-fold: a “practical” inspiration and a creative one, but not in the order you might expect. The seed for both came in the form of a phone call that woke me from a dead sleep.”

“Early one morning my husband phoned me on his way to work to tell me about a news story he’d heard on the radio. The story was about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage repository for crop seeds in Norway. My husband was convinced this ‘Doomsday Vault’ would make a great basis for a post-apocalyptic novel, and since he’s not a writer, he figured I should write it. I politely told him ‘no thank you, I have my own story ideas’ (though according to his recollection I wasn’t quite that polite), then I hung up and went back to sleep. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration.”

“At that time in my writing career, I had completed a fantasy novel, The Spider Prophet, a quest tale that takes place in a Native American dreamspace. When I received the Doomsday Vault phone call, Spider Prophet was in the submission phase. This means I wasn’t actively writing or revising the story, but instead spent my writing time sending query letters and sample pages to editors and agents. The process of submitting work isn’t very creative, so despite my rejection of my husband’s story premise, my bored creative mind began playing with the concept of a story where stored seeds would play a crucial role. I still wasn’t feeling inspired by the concept, but something about it had taken hold in my subconscious. I could feel it trying to germinate even as I resisted.”

“During the course of submissions for Spider Prophet, I received a request for the complete manuscript from a big-time, superstar agent. I continued to send submissions to other agents, but grew increasingly antsy and impatient waiting to hear back from the super-agent. My critique group had been pushing me to start a new project so I finally acquiesced, if only to take my mind off the waiting. You might think this is the part where I embraced the idea of writing Seeds, but you’d be wrong. I still wasn’t ‘feeling it.’ I suspect I was resisting at least partially because the idea wasn’t my own. So I started writing scenes for a time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle story.”

“Ultimately the superstar agent came back with a rejection of Spider Prophet, but it was the best rejection I’d ever received. She said great things about my writing and gave me suggestions for improvement. Encouraged by her comments, I responded to her email with a note thanking her and asking if she’d be interested in seeing my next project.”

“Here’s where you’re thinking I pitched Seeds, right? Well, not at first. You see, I still hadn’t embraced the Doomsday Vault idea, so I tried to come up with a logline for the other story I’d started working on. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to produce a coherent, compelling pitch for my time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle mash-up. So here’s what I pitched instead:

In Seeds a nomadic journeyman is confronted with knowledge from a past life that could save the remnants of his post-apocalyptic civilization….”

“To that the super-agent replied with an enthusiastic “Yes, send it!” Knowing I needed to submit a story about seeds provided me with a very real, practical ‘inspiration’ to write that story. I still wasn’t feeling creatively inspired, but I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the muse to find me. I had to take action and get the story rolling despite my lack of creative inspiration.”

“At this point I asked myself ‘what kind of apocalypse would make a seed vault valuable?’ Since I didn’t personally have the background necessary to answer this question scientifically, I went to my scientist husband for help. That seemed fitting since he was the one who got me into this whole mess in the first place. Together we gathered a small group of scientist-friends, provided them with food and beverages, and began brainstorming the apocalypse.”

“That’s when I got my creative inspiration. The past life/reincarnation element of my pitch was quickly discarded (it was really just a ghost of that time-hopping love-triangle story anyway) and I got totally enthused about the idea of a solar storm that wipes out all the plants, animals, and technology on the planet, with the only survivors being those who were underground. It wasn’t long before the survivors inside Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD) became the object of my focus, and the story sprouted and grew from there.”

“It took eight years from the decision to write Seeds until it was published. It was a very long road for a lot of reasons. Back then, I had a habit of allowing non-writing responsibilities to get in the way of writing, so it took many years to complete the manuscript. Also, the way traditional publishing works, I spent several years ‘shopping’ the story to agents and editors before receiving an offer from Parker Hayden Media.”

“After the contract with PHM was signed, it was only a few months before Seeds was published. When that day finally arrived, it felt surreal—it was difficult to believe that I’d finally achieved my dream of being a published novelist. When the shock wore off, I was proud, but I was also scared—how would my ‘baby’ be received by critics and readers? I felt vulnerable and exposed with my story in print for everyone to see. I imagine I will always feel that way, at least to some degree, whenever I release a new book.”

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Synopsis of Seeds

Fifty years after a catastrophic solar event destroys all life and technology on the planet’s surface, nineteen-year-old Reid Landers lives in the old NORAD facility deep inside Cheyenne Mountain with other descendants of Originals, barely subsisting on canned food and rats. For all they know they are the last hundred souls on Earth…until Reid meets the first stranger he has ever seen, a stranger with a grown apple. This catapults him on a journey to California to find seeds for his people, an adventure fraught with skin-carving pirates, twisted missionaries, and mercenaries on Rollerblades. Even if Reid can outwit the despot leader of “Lost” Angeles and resist the siren’s song of a beautiful con artist, there may not be any seeds left to find. And his people—including the woman he secretly loves—might not take him back.

Coming up next: Author Chris Mandeville’s exercises to break through writer’s block

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