As you may know, I published a new book a few days ago. This has been an unusual journey for me to get to this place. Let me tell you a story.
When I wrote Fluency, I expected to remain in obscurity. My long term goal at that point in my life was to continue to learn my craft and grow as a writer. I hoped within five years or so to make enough from writing to compensate me at the level of a part time job so I could justify continuing to stay at home with my kids. I planned to work hard and persevere. That's my nature.
With that in mind, I finished Fluency and set it aside to remove some of the newness of it from my mind, so that one day, in a few months, I could pick it up again and see it with fresh eyes and make it a better book. In the interim, I started a new novel that had a working title of Druid.
At that point I was afraid of putting all my eggs in one basket. I'd seen indie writers work endlessly on series that didn't sell well. I didn't know how Fluency would be received, but considering I was starting from zero, I assumed (rightly) that it would not sell. My intent was to create something very different, but within the same universe, to give readers another starting point if they wanted to try my work.
The original idea for Druid came from a feverish, frightening dream. In this dream, I was a young woman with no allies, running from a relentless hunter. I had special powers that I didn't understand. Most of that dream, oddly, took place in an overgrown maze of a vineyard and a rural town on an alien planet populated with all sorts of diverse alien people. I woke up and scribbled out my thoughts and the ideas grew into Druid. Very different from that dream in a lot of ways, but the central premise was there.
In my original conception of Druid, Darcy was a young black woman. A black friend talked me out of it. I won't go into his reasons why. I was consternated. I knew that POC rarely see themselves in fiction and if they do, they are often the bad guy. (Even my beloved Star Trek isn't innocent of this--case in point, Star Trek Beyond). More on this thought process in a moment.
I got about forty-five thousand words into the Druid novel and decided it was time to do the final edits on Fluency and publish it. And then something insane happened. Fluency was virally successful. After the first blush of insanity, I went back to Druid and kept writing this novel I loved.
Then, due to Fluency's success, I got an agent. He insisted I'd be ruining my career if I published anything OTHER than a sequel to Fluency. I stubbornly continued to work on Druid. For a while.
I was out of sorts. My personal life was not in a great place. I had so many doubts about whether Fluency was a fluke or if I really had what it took to make a career as an author work. Eventually my agent, and all of my writing friends, convinced me to write the sequel to Fluency. Remanence was written then. It wasn't easy and took a lot longer than I wanted it to. But then it was successful too and I began, just a little bit, to believe in myself.
I thought long and hard about the Confluence series and how that partially completed novel, Druid, fit into it. I knew from the start I wanted the two series to intertwine and that meant I couldn't keep writing the Confluence series without introducing the Druid characters or I'd spoil the Druid series and waste all that work. I couldn't throw away what I thought was shaping up to be a good novel.
So I went off-book.
I am my own woman.
I continued to debate the racial identity of Darcy. The pivotal moment in that decision came when an old college friend who happens to be black told me that when she read Fluency she expected Ron Gibbs to be a red shirt just because he was the black guy. And she explained her experience with seeing people like herself represented in fiction.
My heart broke in that moment. That's not hyperbole. I honestly felt like I'd somehow let her down even though Ron is far from a red shirt and plays a larger role in Remanence than he did in Fluency. It was exceedingly painful for me to think about. I couldn't get it off my mind. People with brown skin deserve to see themselves as heroes every bit as much as I do. Yes, that means supporting writers of color--and I do. But it also means that people with privilege should make an effort to understand the challenges of people who have different experiences and bring that to their work. I wanted be a better writer.
A lot of white writers are afraid of writing characters with brown skin because they're afraid of getting something wrong. In addition, I was once told by a gay friend that I wasn't "allowed" to write gay characters. That I had to leave that to people who had lived it. I worried black folks would feel the same.
I came to the conclusion that that's absurd. That's "write what you know" taken to extremes. I've never been a squid OR a formless, malleable sentient colony of bacteria OR a plant/animal hybrid. I've never been a linguist, OR a male aeronautic engineer OR a lesbian space pirate. And yet I'm able to write those characters by using my innate empathy to imagine what their lives would be like.
I talked about it extensively with my new partner. He is biracial and his experience resonated with me. This new knowledge gave me a new direction. Here was an underlying theme I could give this work to imbue it with it more depth and power. The novel underwent extensive rewrites to reflect my new decisions and I'm really proud of where it went.
This book is not about race, though. It is about identity. That might seem like a subtle distinction, but I urge you to read it and see for yourself.
Just as I had struggled for years with my own identity as mother and novelist, in this work Darcy struggles with what it means to become something greater than she believed she was capable of. At its core, it is a book about becoming one's true self. That is something anyone of any nationality, race, gender, or religion can identify with. I hope you agree.
Now The Druid Gene is out there and it's doing great. If you read it, and you value my work, please do me a solid and review it (and tell your friends!).
Let me know if you have any questions about this or anything else about my work and I'll be happy to address it in a future blog post.
Jennifer Foehner Wells
I'm an author of the Space Opera variety.
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