You may have been wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past two years (aside from getting a Master's degree and working almost full-time). Well, I've been mulling. I've been outlining. I've been making playlists. I've been reading (not enough). And now, I am absolutely ready to make a serious go at a novel. But I'm at a crossroads: where do I start?
Option #1: Novel 1 out of 3 of my "American fascism" trilogy. Set in a contemporary city in a slightly-alternative, highly-corrupt and "materialistic" America, it's more in the vein of Lewis's It Can't Happen Here than Roth's The Plot Against America. One of my main characters, in law enforcement, is a "winner" in the current social landscape; the other one, a journalist, is struggling. A new religious movement, and a new political party, sweeps the nation with the promise of transformative, transcendental change. Now I love this story. I love the messy, desperate, self-deceiving characters. I kind of live and breathe them, actually - I stay up late tinkering with the outline, writing random scenes. I've spent so much time planning this story, and am so excited about this story, that I could probably write it fairly quickly. This is, hands-down, the option with the most momentum and passion behind it. But: it's pretty political, obviously. No John Galt speeches, and hopefully it's not a polemic - it's way more focused on characters' inner lives than the grit of political issues - but it's political. It might piss people off. And I worry that a potentially "controversial" book isn't the right choice for a debut.
Option #2: A stand-alone story about young Americans studying and working abroad in a fictionalized Indonesia. The overarching theme is self-discovery: discovering what truly matters to you, what you'd be willing to do to get it, and who you really are. The other theme is the interaction between the (naturally) self-absorbed post-grads and the politics of the foreign country that's hosting them, which is experiencing Sukarno-style turbulence. So we've got a few overlapping stories: an ambitious scholar falls in love with the girl of his dreams, but she's heading toward a psychotic break; a rich kid with poor grades finds his calling with the military general who knows his father; one dude turns into a prophet and starts his own (very small) religion. Now I "know" far less about Option #2 than Option #1. I know the contours of the plot and the way each character develops, but I haven't spent as much time processing it. I just came up with the title today. I don't know the characters as well, and except for the girl on the verge of a psychotic break who becomes convinced she's possessed by the mask she's studying... I'm not as enthusiastic about this story. On the other hand, I feel like it would make more "sense" to start here - it's a stand-alone, I too just finished grad school, I don't think it would be at all controversial.
Both of these stories are concerned with the way the personal snake wraps around the political axis (or sometimes, vice versa) - it's by far my favorite thing to write about. Both flirt with horror (psychic powers in Option #1, evil spirits in Option #2), though that's not the main focus of either. But they otherwise feel very different.
If I had my way, I'd keep going full-speed ahead on Option #1. But I worry that that's not the strategic choice, right now.