Dome Six, book 1 of the Cytocorp Saga, is officially out in the world.
Nearly two years of my life has been spent developing and writing this story world and there’s much more to go. As it begins the long, slow process of finding its audience, I want to reflect a bit on what prompted me to tell this particular story and what I learned in the process.
Where did this story come from?
A few years ago, I was reading an article about antibiotic resistance and how we basically don’t have a backup plan for the day when antibiotics stop working. That got me thinking about a future world in which run-of-the-mill infections could kill you like the bad old days. Last-ditch antibiotics would become ridiculously expensive and we’d all start dying from stuff we haven’t been too worried about for a very long time. The implications would be immense, and I found it terrifying to consider.
Around that time, I read another article about a New Zealand artist who 3D-printed a synthetic organism. I wondered if it might be possible to design a synthetic macroorganism that could consume harmful microorganisms. And if it could do that, why couldn’t it deliver certain compounds directly where they were needed?
Then I wondered what would happen if the solution to antibiotic resistance was to augment our immune systems with biosynthetic components, meaning we would effectively have to mortgage our bodies to whatever company made this solution?
Then it was off to the races.
“With code and algorithms, we have the ability to write or script a digital DNA of anything and everything. This can then be modified and mutated as if it were actual DNA, dictating the organism’s qualities and characteristics. These objects are now able to be made physically manifest due to recent advances in digital fabrication technologies. These opportunities offer us the unprecedented ability to fully exercise and implement biomimetics, with which we are able to simulate, reproduce, and even enhance organisms found in nature. DNA and digital code will soon be tantamount.”
— New Zealand artist Mark Wilson
The fictional company behind all this is called Cytocorp, which is a combination of Apple, Google, and Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil video games. Imagine if a company with that kind of power, wealth, and influence decided to go all-in on synthetic biology and AI. That’s The Cytocorp Saga in a nutshell.
Lessons learned writing The Cytocorp Saga
My intention was always for the first trilogy to be part of a nine-book arc, similar to Star Wars. I like the idea of starting in the middle, especially when I am still a VERY unknown quantity. There are many allusions in Dome Six, and especially in Into the Burn: Book 2 of the Cytocorp Saga, about how Cytocorp came to power and how our heroes came to be where they are, but you can expect the next trilogy to cover this time period in great detail.
World-building is something I didn’t have much experience in, but there’s quite a bit to it. I can’t imagine how much goes into world-building when the rules are all different, such as if your characters were aliens who lived in zero gravity and only communicated through telepathic song. That shit’s hard enough when you’re Earth-based. I figure each ~90K word novel has at least 15K words of just world-building stuff, very little of which is actually in the books.
But most of what I learned writing these stories was about myself.
- My relationship with time changed dramatically, and not for the better. Writing fiction went from being something I did late at night as a creative outlet to something I did 3-4 hours every single day. All I wanted to do while writing TCS was to write TCS. Other stuff — including and especially stuff I enjoy — took a backseat for a pretty long time. I went from practicing golf 1-2 hours a week to practicing maybe 4 hours all summer. I didn’t go anywhere, didn’t really hang out with anyone, and didn’t get nearly enough exercise. I felt like I had an hourglass on the desk beside me and every grain slipping through met my ears as a thunderclap. Once I accepted that I wouldn’t have all three books finished, edited, polished, and released by fall 2019 (the original plan), I felt a great deal lighter. But holy shit am I impatient to get to the next level.
- When I really care about something, I am a force of nature. I saw Chris Hardwick (“After Midnight,” “Talking Dead”) give a keynote at the HighEdWeb conference a few years ago and someone asked him what changed to really take his career to the next level. He said, “At a certain point, I decided to only do things I cared about.” I care about this to the point of obsession, but I think that’s what it takes to do anything meaningful.
- People have no idea what to say when they learn you’re an author. I’ve probably had the “what do you do for work” conversation at least 100 times since publishing The Perfect Generation, and maybe three people asked a single question about it. I think only one asked what my book was about. The rest, upon learning I’m self-published, didn’t pursue the matter further. It bothered me for a while, but then again, I don’t know what to say to someone who’s a lumber broker or a dentist.
- Self-publishing is a war of attrition. When I was at the Austin Film Festival a million years ago, somebody asked writer/director/producer Lawrence Kasdan how bad movies get made, considering how hard it is to get something good made. He basically said that it’s usually because someone believed so much in the project that they wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, like Andy Dufresne said about writing the prison board in Shawshank Redemption, “They can’t ignore me forever.”
- You need to give yourself credit sometimes. To be honest, I’ve always been a little put off by people who sound like they’re bragging about their various accomplishments. As a result, I never brag about anything. There’s definitely a happy middle ground here, but as I thought about writing this trilogy, it dawned on me that I wrote three long-ish books in about a year and a half. Yeah, there was a good deal of rewriting that came after, but Perfect Generation took like five years to finish, so I should give myself a little credit here and there. We all should.
Marketing and luck aside, I think the best way to sell books is to write as many good ones as possible. I wrote book 3 of this trilogy in about two heroic months this fall, by which point my eyes looked like two piss holes in snow. But you know what? It wasn’t a very good product, so I’m rewriting it. It will delay availability of the series and the trilogy box set, but I think anything less does a disservice to me, my readers, and the world/characters I’ve grown to love.
I don’t have kids so whatever I write is going to be my legacy, such as it is. I need to be proud of it or I won’t put it out there. I take this extremely seriously and I’ve never worked harder on anything. I need to keep believing that it will matter in the end.