My friend Chris Mandeville’s debut novel, Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure, was released on April 18, 2015. One week later it shot to number 6 on Amazon’s Top 100 list of post-apocalyptic books, and it’s been in the top 100 since. She’s agreed to share her inspiration here with us, Squiders.
Early one morning my husband phoned me on his way to work to tell me about a news story he’d just heard on the radio about a seed bank. The story was about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage repository for crop seeds in Norway. My husband was convinced that 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At that time in my writing career, I was unpublished but had completed a fantasy novel, The Spider Prophet, a quest tale that takes place in a Native American dreamspace.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 from my husband, 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 very bored creative mind began playing around 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 queried an agent with the Harvey Klinger Agency, Andrea Somberg, who I really respect and admire. She asked to see “a full” (i.e. the complete manuscript). While she was reading it, I continued to submit the manuscript to other agents and editors, but found myself growing antsy and impatient waiting to hear back.
My critique group strongly suggested I start writing a new story while I waited. It was hard to shift my mindset to an entirely new story, but eventually I acquiesed. 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 Andrea came back with a rejection of Spider Prophet. However, 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 decided to respond 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 story I’d just 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 her 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 Andrea replied with an enthusiastic “Yes, send it!” Knowing I needed to send Andrea 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 don’t 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 beverage, 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.
I did eventually send Seeds to Andrea Somberg, who really liked the story and the writing, but ultimately didn’t take on the project because of market considerations—she had recently tried to sell a similar story to publishers without success, so she didn’t think she’d be the best advocate for me. After this, I sent Seeds to quite a few more agents and editors, and received rejection after rejection with similar feedback about the marketplace.
Ultimately I came to accept that the traditional publishing establishment was not going to embrace Seeds, and I had a decision to make: self-publish or stow it in the bottom drawer alongside The Spider Prophet.
I sought advice from one of my mentors who suggested I consider a third option: indie publish with a micro-publisher. That led to a deal with Parker Hayden Media, where I landed a phenomenal editor and cover designer, and couldn’t be happier!
The moral of this story? I suppose it’s two-fold like my inspiration:
1. don’t automatically shun another person’s inspiration when it’s given to you; and
2. when you don’t feel creatively inspired, do the work and inspiration may follow.
Chris writes SF/F and nonfiction for writers. She served as Pikes Peak Writers’ president for 5 years, and has taught writing workshops for 10 years. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. chrismandeville.com
If you’d like to learn more about Seeds or pick up a copy, go here!