I set myself the task of writing about a fictional character for this blog post, so this post is about Jackson X. His surname isn’t really X, it’s just one of the details about him that I haven’t fleshed out yet. This is because Jackson X is the one of the protagonists of the novel I’m (not) writing.
The name of the novel is “The Summer of the Giant Space Whale”. I’m quite happy to discuss its plot and structure here. I don’t need to worry about anyone stealing the idea because it is already a rip-off of Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous With Rama” (or, less charitably, “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home”).
The idea is that a giant creature pops into the orbit of Jupiter one day. It takes no discernible action but it can be seen from Earth. It gets called the space whale. Different plans for the novel have a number of characters experiencing the summer while the space whale is there with the plot ending with the creature blinking out of existence as abruptly as it appeared.
(I realise now that the space whale is as much the subject of this post as Jackson X. I will get on to him in a minute.)
The whale is a traveller but why has it stopped in the orbit of Jupiter? Is it collecting fuel? Listening to the noise of the chattering creatures on Earth? Visiting children we don’t know about that swim in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s giant gas storms? Does it matter?
Every version of the novel so far opens with the line “Jackson didn’t give a fuck about the space whale”. He’s out in the dust bowl one clear night. There's no one around for miles. He smokes a cigarette and stares at the smear in the sky.
Jackson may claim not to care about the space whale but this is because he is enduring a moral crisis, one that he feels is unseen by the rest of the world because it is all wrapped up in the alien. He is cheating on his grieving wife Marie with a young woman named Josie.
Marie lost a brother a year ago and has withdrawn into herself. She stares at the news like everyone else, wondering if it is some sort of sign. The only time Jackson hears her speak she quotes from the book of Revelations. At night she sits up in bed and stares into the darkness.
I haven’t really worked out who Josie is yet. I want her to be almost the complete opposite to Marie, not just the grief-stricken worn-out person she is now but also the Marie that Jackson married. I’m trying to pull it all together - but the long and short of it is that Jackson would never have married Josie, only Marie. Perhaps Josie needs to be a man. Very “Brokeback Mountain”.
The problem with all this detail is that if I use flashback to show the reader the back story, the macguffin with the space whale is pointless. The only way the alien contributes to the story is if it imposes a time frame on events and possibly a new puritan style narrative. This constrains how I can get all that information across, though if I track the thought processes of memories in “brain time” (linking back nicely to my post that was sort of about David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”). FYI The New Puritans insisted on stories told in the present tense with no flashbacks. While very few of its proponents became major names, the short story anthology “All Hail The New Puritans” shows some of the powerful effects that can be achieved with these ideas.
Jackson is a put-upon soul who feels as though no one watches over him. He loves his wife more than anyone but events beyond his control have made his wife into someone else. Josie’s never loved anyone but wants to steal Jackson away and get out of this town for good. It’s all pretty contrived, which explains why there’s another version that I stuffed with other characters from around the world - a sort of tapestry that describes the world that the space whale might observe. There are problems with that approach too though.
I am not sure if “The Summer Of The Giant Space Whale” is really a viable proposition, at least not in my hands. Not yet anyway. Perhaps it will work better as a short story.
Next month I will write about my ideas for a stronger novel, which has the working title “The Cities of Light”. It’s much more developed, a better idea overall, and is proving incredibly difficult to write. I’ve worked on it for about six years, much longer than TSOFTGSW.
Featured image is "Goodbye Fail Whale in Space" by Keegan Berry. Found on Flickr, creative commons license.