Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Novel without a Plot?

Birthing A Summer's Change

For too many years now, I have told fans that I'm busy at work on the fifth and final book in my "Common Threads in the Life" series. Readers will recall that four books have been published in that series:

Common Sons

The Blind Season

The Salvation Mongers

The Gathering

But now it looks like I will have to publish A Summer's Change as three books

A Summer's Change, Book I: The Runaway

A Summer's Change, Book II: A Season of Family

A Summer's Change, Book III: The Rest of Their Lives

This is the first novel I have ever written "without a plot" and the first novel in the Common Threads series without a sustained antagonist (you know, the bad guys that cause my characters trouble, like Paul Romaine in Common Sons, The Salvation Mongers, and The Gathering). It is also the first novel in this series that covers so much time. In other words, all four published books, plus this last set of three (A Summer's Change, books 1, 2, 3) is a family saga spanning fifty years. All three books in A Summer's Change  is 270,000 words and counting. If I publish one long volume in a hard copy book, it will be over 800 pages. I didn't mean to do that, but that's what happens when there is no central plot and the author wants to keep up with most of the characters and to give many characters personal points of view.

But a novel without a plot? Well, not really. The plot for this last book is how the entire family fares from Winter 1999/2000 to Fall 2015. I've tried to get it right up to the present time, 2015.

Because the entire series spans 50 years, this could very well
be Eva Reece (great grandmother and matriarch), her
daughter-in-law Sharon (grandmother), her daughter
Shara, and her daughter Jennifer
So, in A Summer's Change, I have had to build a lifetime of characters into the saga. It is my sincere desire that I give the right amount of attention to all of the characters that make up the marvelous Reece family and the satellite extended family. In this final trilogy, Tom and Joel are not the central characters, but they are still intrinsic to the story. Poor young readers who only want young people as characters will have to put up with the fact that by the end of this book, the iconic favorite character Joel Reece will be sixty-seven years old! Older gay fans, however, might find it interesting that this final book in the series deals with gay men who are young, middle-aged, and older. In fact, I have been at work on this entire series since 1985. Common Sons was first published in 1989. What?! And here it is twenty-six years later and I'm finally coming to the end of this series.

We usually think of "plot" as a playing out of conflict with a beginning, middle, and end. That makes it a story. Because there is conflict, then there is a climax of that conflict, where something significant changes and one or the other side wins. What follows the climax is the resolution and aftermath, sometimes also called the denouement. In A Summer's Change there is no plot in the sense that there is a beginning, middle and end, with a climax and resolution. Instead, this book (trilogy) is the organic life of several characters, some of whom have conflicts either with themselves or with others. But in the end, we have to just say that's life.

This book is about the lives of the characters, much like real lives. There are gay people, transgender people, and heterosexual people who make up this story. In previous books in the series, of course, there have been lesbian people, as well.

The idea of "Common Threads" in this story has eventually matched the common threads we see running throughout gay people's (LGBT) common experiences. And that's how it will end. It will end, because we have reached the present day, not because some plot has played out and there is resolution of the plot's conflict. For much of the series, of course, it's always been in the reader's past, four generations ago, really, for readers who were reading this series in the present. By the time I get the story into the last few years, we see, too, that gay issues have reached the national stage, so to speak. Back when Tom and Joel (the two gay characters in the book that takes place in the nineteen sixties) it was unusual for there to be any gay issues that the vast majority of people were aware of. By 2015, however, most people are aware on a daily basis of gay issues, and I tried to reflect that in the final book(s) of this series.

Plot and conflict are closely related in a novel. But conflict, as I have said, doesn't have to be about someone getting killed, stalked, jailed, robbed, beaten...It can be as simple as a questioning gay youth who finally realizes what all those mixed feelings mean to him or her, an identity crisis. Conflict can be as ordinary as a family wondering how it will pay the bills, get jobs, and otherwise continue to live as they have become accustomed. Internal conflict can be about an alcoholic, trying to overcome his/her addiction. In an organic story, where conflicts come and go and the plot is how the characters simply go through their lives, the plot is not so obvious or so easily stated. The point is to make such a story interesting.

In the end, the "Common Threads in the Life" series is only in a major sense "gay fiction"; but more importantly, it is the story of a mixed family and ends in the real present, leaving the characters with a future that involves all of us.