What Off Earth Made me Write my First Novel?

Stamey-Wild Card1-200x300It’s been fun to revisit my early writing, as Book View Café releases new editions (with new covers!) of my early science fiction novels originally published by Berkley/Ace/Putnam. I wrote my first novel while finishing my undergraduate degree in English and Creative Writing, a science fiction tale originally titled Homeworld Stranger.

After sending the manuscript to a few publishers and receiving rejections, among them a note that the story contained “too much emotion for science fiction,” I tossed it into a box and went traveling. When my partner later urged me to try again, I’d forgotten where I’d already sent it. With my usual failure to “do things the right way,” I ended up sending it to Berkley/Ace again, and this time they accepted it, changing the title to Wild Card Run.

The story of the prodigal daughter reluctantly returning as a “wild card” secret agent to her repressive homeworld sprang from three sources. The first was imagined place. I had recently returned to my own home town in the rain forests of Northwest Washington State, after a few years in the hot, dry climes of Eastern Washington and Southern California. At Hanford, I worked as a certified nuclear reactor operator in the rather surrealistically high-tech enclave among desolate badlands and rolling wheat fields, the only time I’ve lived inland and away from the sea, which I missed viscerally. I thought it would be interesting to create a character with the opposite background, returning from a sojourn on a verdant jungle world to her home of vast wheat fields.


Then, leafing through a book with photos of Mormons from the 1800s, I was caught by the image of a family with a patriarch, three wives of varying ages, and a young adult son. I started imagining my fictional world with a polyandrous, low-tech farming society, in which the matriarchs had more than one husband.  A lot of world-building followed, to make sense of a galactic system in which each planet had a prescribed level of technology and rigidly delineated social system. Control would be enforced by a network of artificial intelligences I called the Cybers.

When I wrote the novel in the early 1980s, William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the film Bladerunner hadn’t yet launched the Cyberpunk subgenre into popularity, but somehow my novel got me grouped in with the early Cyberpunk authors, which still tickles me.

Finally, the trigger that actually got me writing it all: I woke up from a vivid dream and needed to capture it on the page. I FlyingOnBarshad competed in gymnastics, mostly the uneven bars, in high school and early college. (I don’t have photos of myself competing, so I borrowed this image.) In my vivid dream I was flying and spinning through an endless set of glowing bars through the openness of star-spangled space—the closest feeling to having wings.

And so the opening of Chapter One:  “I was flying.”

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