Photo: Taiyo FUJII
I haven’t written a blog post for the last couple of weeks – I’ve had my head down responding to line edits on the manuscript of Baby X. Overall it’s been an affirming process – I like it when my editor says ‘Alex wouldn’t say that’: it encourages me that the character’s voices are real enough for her to hear when I slip up.
I’m discovering that I use a lot of commas, more than are strictly necessary. It turns out that just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about punctuation there’s this whole other level (like working your way up to a black belt in karate, and suddenly discovering the Dan system.)
And there’s the (occasional) joy of seeing an entire page without any changes or comments, and breathing a sigh of relief.
My editor is also asking questions about the text, reminding me that just because something seems obvious to me, it’s not necessarily clear on the page.
Questions like, Where the dorm is in relation to the lab? and, How does the key card system work?
And, most challenging of all, Does the science stack up?
Photo: Blake Patterson
Although I’ve done a fair amount of copy-writing about health issues, I’m not a scientist, and I didn’t do a scientific degree.
And this is fiction, after all. An entertaining thriller, not a text book. Just how realistic does it need to be?
My editor feels that it should be realistic, and that’s ultimately an issue of genre. That is to say, in science fantasy you might be able to make stuff up about future technology. But this isn’t science fantasy, it’s not really even science fiction.
Baby X a high-concept thriller (like Gone Girl, or The Girl on the Train) that borrows from the conventions of speculative fiction (like The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Carhullan Army).
In speculative fiction, it is permissible to speculate about the direction of future technological developments. It is absolutely not permissible to make shit up.
When I did my initial research I didn’t make shit up. Or at least, not much.
I read a great deal, online and off, about fertility treatment, genetics, pregnancy, breastfeeding, stem cell medicine, and medical ethics. I wasn’t just interested in the hard science, but the effects on real people, which meant that on the one hand I read discussion threads by patients and parents and at the other extreme I read scientific papers so dense I barely understood them. I also read quite a lot of stuff in between (Genetics for Dummies is about my level, it turns out).
Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, when I wrote my first draft of this book, I put a lot of this research into the text. Just one of the many, many things that were wrong with it.
In later drafts I stripped out all the exposition, realising it was getting in the way of the story, and slowing down the pace of the action.
But that meant when my editor asked questions about how exactly, person A got into the lab, or how many hours a particular journey takes, or whether my suppositions about stem cell medicine hold water, I found I couldn’t remember.
Which meant going back and drawing that map, or timeline from scratch, rereading the protocols on egg harvesting, reacquainting myself with synthetic immunology and stem cell medicine. I’ve even been pondering details I can’t really understand (like just how naïve exactly are the lymphocytes in umbilical cord blood!?)
Very little of this information is making it’s way back into the text, but it’s making me more confident about my original conclusions.
I’m enormously grateful to my wonderful editor for being so thorough and conscientious – I know it will make a big difference to the final product and is helping me feel more and more excited about the book.
And if, by any chance, someone asks me a difficult question at a signing, I might even be able to answer it!