Changing Gears: The Making of ‘The Altars.’

The Altars was completed in less than five months.

I wasn’t planning to share that fact with the world. The last thing I wanted was for people to think this book was some kind of rush job. See, a novel of this scope—for it is by no means small—would typically take a lot longer to write and prepare for publication.

But these last five months have not been typical.

In fact, that’s why this book even exists. Let me back up a bit.

The concept behind The Altars is quite a bit older than a few months. And I don’t mean the timeworn myths and theories surrounding flying saucers and alien encounters to which I’ve alluded in the book. Like many writers, I have a collection of ideas and notes that I maintain, pieces of possible stories written in haste and saved for later use. This collection consists of hundreds of text files in various formats (some obsolete) and dates back to the early 2000s (older files exist, but only on ZIP discs that are likely unreadable).

There is no way to catalog or categorize this information. The files are not named in any logical manner. I have almost no idea what’s in there without going in and reading each individual file. Given the time necessary for any sort of meaningful retrieval, this collection is essentially useless. But I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. As I replace computers, the collection is simply moved to the new hardware, and there it sits.

There are, however, one or two gems in this collection. These gems are relatively easy to find, as long as I remember that they exist and can remember what I named them. The file for what would become The Altars was one such gem. In this file was the entire plot of the book in a couple paragraphs, a high-level outline that, admittedly, needed a lot of work. There were no characters, no specific settings. But the concept, nearly complete, was there.

This file is many years old. Its existence has needled at me ever since I wrote it, because it’s such a good idea. I just never thought I’d write it. It didn’t seem like my particular brand of fiction. My previous novels, The Anomaly Problem and Hard Reset, are gritty and dark. In fact, almost everything I’ve ever written has been dark and moody and gritty. The Altars is not.

And that’s why this book exists now, in 2020, in the midst of creeping fascism and a crippling pandemic, of rising temperatures and widening societal divides. I needed to change gears, to write something that wasn’t gritty and dark. I needed to bring something different into the world.

But before I tell you how fun this book is, let me first say that, in true science fiction tradition, The Altars still holds up a mirror to our own world. And it’s not all pleasant. How could it be?

The Altars is a fun and hopeful diversion. It will put a smile on your face. It’ll give you the feels. It might even make you think.

It certainly made me think, and not just about us, the humans of this world and this time. I’m also wondering how many other story ideas I’ve collected that I never thought I’d write. Might be time for a deep-dive into my archives.

I should do it right, though. Anyone have a working Zip drive I can borrow?

Curious? Check out the first two chapters of The Altars here.

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