Question & Answer: The #Bicycle Adventure #Novel, DANGEROUS BICYCLE MYSTERY QUEST … #Energy, #Demographics and the Urban – Rural Divide

Question: How did you come to write this novel?

Answer: I wrote it as a serial for a small bicycle magazine starting August 2001. Given its venue, it had to feature bicycles. Much followed from that need. Much later I rewrote it to its current novel form.

Question: What were some of the influences on your novel?

Answer: The disaster genre is an old one and there are many examples. Defoe’s novel A Journal of the Plague Year came out in 1722! Of course there’s the Flood story in the Old Testament… Anyway, I read Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague shows the rise of brutality and loss of knowledge and social class in a depopulated Bay Area. I noticed in Day of the Triffids, the world suffers two calamities: not just widespread blindness, but also mobile carnivorous semi-intelligent plants. I noticed in J.G. Ballard’s disaster novels (The Wind from Nowhere, The Drowned World, The Burning World, The Crystal World) his plots send his characters toward, not away from, the source of peril.

I saw a lot of disaster the movies of the 20th century, such as the movie No Blade of Grass that shows England starving and violent after an agricultural virus kills off wheat and rice. Some of these types of stories use it to satirize or explore contemporary society.

Question: What do you mean about disaster stories exploring society?

Answer: This is also an old idea, for example that there is a drought because of a sin in the community. I think the most well known examples are some of Romero’s zombie movies that satirize consumerism or bigotry. But also a disaster can be like a receding tide that removes the protections and comforts of civilization so it’s an opportunity to see what’s left behind. A common theme is that we people are worse than the monsters or whatever it is…

Question: Do you think our society could exist without gasoline?

Answer: Sure. It would take some time to adjust. We already have more automobile engine choices now than we did when I first wrote this novel. I don’t think most people have any idea that hydrocarbons are chemically amazing. It interests me how an energy source shapes society, and how it forms our assumptions.

My story posits that the shock happens suddenly. That is the part that is hard to withstand. When I was a little kid, my brother would hold the heavy gallon of milk out to me. He would ask if I had it. With my little hand on the handle, I would say yes. Instead of slowly letting go as I expected, he would quickly remove his hand and the suddenly weight would make me drop the milk. That way he proved I couldn’t hold it. However, if he had removed his hand slowly, I would have held it.

Question: Do you think our society could exist without automobiles of any kind? or many fewer cars?

Answer: That is a more radical question and more difficult. I think a lot would have to change, particularly outside of cities. It’s an interesting thought-experiment. I think it might upset people to even ask the question, for example, in a novel…

Question: Is your story a bicycle and environmentalist wish fulfillment story?

Answer: No. What sane person wishes for a disaster that seems to destroy the nation, modern life, and cause widespread starvation and violence? If my novel were wish fulfillment, wouldn’t it show a society that solved their problems? There is such a book, Ecotopia by Callenbach.

In Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest, the sympathetic characters disagree on what should be done. They fight and steal; some abandon the cause. The main character refuses to grow anything. Even in the last chapter she feels doubts about the enterprise. Portland is desperate to avoid starvation so transforms itself. Take a careful look at the ending. Is that a wish fulfilled?

The book does start with a premise that bikes are important to the story, that’s true. But the point of the adventure is to explore ideas energy, demographics and the urban – rural divide in the USA. Dismissing the story as wish fulfillment seems a way to avoid its questions. Mostly I hope the ideas in the story make the adventure more interesting to readers!

Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest is available for Kindle, Nook, iBook, and other eBook formats around the world. It will be arriving as a paperback in January 2015.

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Published in: on October 7, 2015 at 4:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tortoise & the Hare: A Novel in a Race with Technology

You know that you can’t step in the same river twice, right? Well how can you write a novel set “now” when “now” is rushing ahead of your typing fingers?

Has technology been good for the novel? So far, I think so. Starting with the printing press and moving to desktop computers and eBooks, the mechanics of writing for publication are easier than ever, I think. (In my case, I’m relieved to have no more clothes ruined by White Out, after the typewriter drum slams into that corrective fluid.) True, some writers complain there are too many writers and not enough readers. Well, I think that is a symptom of larger changes. Let’s talk about smaller changes–the words we need to use.

Technology and the now-cliche rapid pace of change poses word choice problems for the literary “now”. Because machines are increasingly integrated in our lives, and the machines themselves evolve rapidly, the names for the machines also changes rapidly. So any pretense of writing about “now” needs to be extra cagey about referring to these types of objects and their associated venues.

In my case, i wrote a bicycle adventure novella in 2000 for publication in a small bike magazine. I rewrote it over the last year for publication as a novel this week, 2015. Fifteen years and so much has changed… Now if I started writing the novella in 1810 and rewrote it as a novel in 1825, a letter would still be a letter, a candle would still be a candle. If I didn’t mention the experimental railroads in England, I don’t think it would ruin the feeling of “now”. I would merely need to be careful about my references to Napoleon.

In a novel set “now”, meaning “around the year 2000” when I started, and meaning “around the year 2015+” when I finished, it seems reasonable that a character would want to use technology to talk to another character remotely, both spoken and typed electronically. So what words should a writer choose to express this?

Between 2000 and 2015, email became less a part of popular life. It’s still important for office work. But in private life, it seems more old-timey, something older people are more likely to cling to than the young. In private life, has mostly usurped the role of email. People still talk on the phone, but are more likely to text. The subculture of texting has even established its own form of English, with abbreviations, acronyms and symbols.

In 2000, many people used mobile phones in the USA and called them “cell phones” or might say “my cell”. But then the brains in these devices became as sophisticated as desktop computers (another term prone to expiration). iPhone came out in 2007, an Android phone in 2008. Use of “cell” declined, while people identified their phones by brand, or called them “mobile phones”. Apart from use, people writing about the technology used the term “smartphone”, but few people use that in average discussions, so far. And all the while, many Americans were giving up their landline. Children growing up now may be flummoxed how to use a landline. And recently video chatting has become practical with Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and so on… I use these myself with ease. While video chatting sounds science fictional, what about Twitter and all the social media platforms clamoring for our attention? These weird new forms of social display, group communication, new forms of obnoxiousness, commercialization, self-promotion, entertainment, togetherness? Fictional characters might use these, but certainly some of them will not last long. Even a strong brand might transform the way it functions and change its name.

In this case, I think a writer is safe for a temporary, moveable sense of “now” to just use the term “phone” and to consider them mobile and smart. I did feel I needed to update references to email, and avoid references to brands. Since my characters are mostly active, away from home, bicycling, and sometimes in peril, it was easy to avoid social media references. But I think a novelist trying to write the about normal life of “now” would have more difficulty. It might be unnatural to avoid references to technology that are a big part of many people’s lives, yet will soon change again. Therefore it might be best to give up the “moveable now” and fix the time, or find some other compelling, creative solution.


My novel, Dangerous Bicycle Mystery Quest is available now in popular eBook formats around the world (#kindle / #nook / #iBook / and more). It will be available as a paper book around September, 2015.

Published in: on June 3, 2015 at 4:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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