Bill Petrocelli

Keeping Reality Out of the Way

I like a blog called Maybe the idea behind the name will rub off on book sales. They wanted to know how an author writes fiction – particularly future fiction — when reality keeps getting in the way

When I decided to set The Circle of Thirteen a few decades into the future, I didn’t count on the time-lag. During a time-lag, of course, you have events – lots of them. And with events you get reality. How dare the real world intrude on my fiction!

I pondered, plotted, wrote, and revised The Circle of Thirteen over a period of about five years. The basic rules of character, tension, and pace are the same for any fictional thriller, but future-fiction presents some unique issues. One of the most intriguing is the problem of creating a world that is familiar enough to seem real but unfamiliar enough to create the feeling that it is happening sometime in the future. The reader needs to be in a not-quite-comfortable place. This was a chance for my imagination to run – if not wild, at least at a controlled trot into the future.

Writers can have great fun predicting future technical innovations. My characters meet in hologramic conferences, project social-media messages on public walls, and have house-bots puttering around their homes. Will these changes occur? Probably, but fortunately for the future-fiction mood I was trying to create, none of them has happened yet.

But I wasn’t as lucky with some of the social and environmental changes that I projected for future years. Here, the time-lag nearly got me. Reality began catching up with fiction, and some of what I had described as happening in future decades threatened to look like recent history.

In one of the early scenes Jesse, the undisputed bad-guy of the story, is seated in the corner of a New York subway car, confronting a couple of young people whom he finds particularly distasteful. Suddenly the subway stops, the power goes out, and the water is rising outside the car from a hurricane that has hit New York. When I wrote that scene in 2008, it sounded like New York’s distant, dsytopic future. But by 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it began to seem like yesterday’s news.

That wasn’t the only scene where I had to go back to the drawing board. In the book, the leadership of the Women for Peace movement – the “Thirteen” of the title – develop a strategy of “confrontational democracy” in which they surround the buildings of the bloated oligarchs who are running society in order to get them to listen to the popular protest. I wrote about that tactic in 2009, and in the book it occurs in 2032. But, of course, a similar tactic evolved in an intervening year – 2011 – when the Occupy Movement came on the scene.

The protest movements in The Circle of Thirteen focus on what is likely to be one of the most devastating results of the climate crisis: food shortages. That aspect of the environmental crisis hasn’t received much attention in the press – until now. This morning’s headline in the N.Y. Times read “Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies.

Memo to readers: you might want to pick up a copy of The Circle of Thirteen before bookstores start shelving it under historical fiction.