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An FAQ for Soulmapper

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Craig Chalquist

With the e-book publication of my novel Soulmapper, it seemed a good time to answer a few initial questions. I also put together a video here to go into more detail.

How long is the novel?

93,000 words. I was going to write a novella, but Lucas (the protagonist) had other ideas.

How much are the characters in Soulmapper based on real people?

A few of the male characters remind me of men I know or knew, but only as points of departure. I let “my” characters imagine themselves into being as fully as they can. Even when a trait, a look, a way of speaking, etc. from some past encounter shows up in a character, it’s because that character made the quality their own. The characters in my stories really are their own people. The notion that a fictional person must be built on a dayworld one underestimates the reach of imagination.

I also think it’s a stylistic mistake, at least for most authors, to pattern a character closely after someone they know. Steinbeck, who was a fine writer, did that with Guinevere in his Arthur retellings. He made her like his second ex-wife, which did no justice whatever to the Queen. The character is awful and spiteful and lacking in depth. He should have let her speak for herself.

Is Lucas a reliable narrator?

To a point. He doesn’t lie about anything that has happened. But like any character of depth, he has blind spots. Dr. Johnson sees Lucas’s intense seriousness and tries to loosen him up, which is good. Alekto has her own agendas but is right about his being lost. Joyce accurately dreams about a hidden side of him that eventually emerges. Everything the Powers say about him is correct, but none of them can see past their own archetypal point of view.

Is the personality of Lucas much like that of his author?

Not much. We both like myth. We like to read. We’ve been to Hong Kong. There are more differences than similarities. A few off the top of my head: He’s more extraverted. He’s a better charmer than I am and less inhibited about it. He’s more cynical. His personal myth definitely isn’t mine. I’m almost twenty years older, and that makes a difference. I like his hat, though.

You’ve published nonfiction commercially. Why go independent for this novel?

I can’t seem to squeeze my tales into the rigid formula applied by publishers and agents whose only care is making money. For them, fiction novels are commodities first. The formula is an oversimplified version of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I agree with PJ Manney, David Brin, Susan Quinn, and a growing number of other fiction writers that this template isn’t workable for serious fiction. Maybe it never was. One hero solving it all? Pfui. Life isn't like that. The longing for a hero-savior is a disguised longing for an ideal parent.

Another reason is that when you publish commercially, nobody can use those characters or settings except as fan fiction. That’s why my continuations of stories written by Dickson, Zelazny, and others appear online but won’t in my published work. I wanted the Cycle to be fully available to storytellers of all kinds, including artists and performers, to play with. Please add to it.

Finally, why should it be up to a publisher to decide if a novel is any good? That, dear reader, is your call.

What is the Assembling Terrania Cycle?

A science fiction series that charts humanity’s slow struggle to become more conscious of itself as a species on the road to maturing into what we could become. The series begins with the Big Bang and ends in Terrania, a just and sustainable world civilization grown by creatives. Not utopia, which humans aren’t capable of, but the good society, which we are. There is more about the Cycle at my website.

Will there be more novels in the Cycle?

Yes. For now, there is Soulmapper and, before it, I put up collection of free Cycle stores as Tales of Terrania Rising in a PDF available at my website. It doesn’t much matter which you read first, the collection or the novel, but I recommend starting with Soulmapper.

I’m working now on a novel involving a different protagonist, although Lucas may drop in for a visit. The new novel will be more, shall we say, psychedelic, and its events will run at about the same time as those of Soulmap. An idea visited recently about a possible third book, rounding out the trilogy of novels. I’ve also written more Cycle stories, one of which reached the final round of a prominent writing contest, so a second collection of tales might follow eventually. I also want to pencil sketch more Cycle characters.

Will the next novel go further into the split up of the United States?

Definitely. As you may have noticed in Lucas, the coalition of the Coastal States (East and West) versus the Heartland has deepened biases on both sides. I'm interested in finding out where all that goes and what the possibilities for healing might be. I also want to know more about what Heartlanders think about all this. So far, we have mainly the Coastal view. It's incomplete.

What is your writing process?

Get up at an ungodly hour and get to work after coffee, news, workout, and sorting through any dreams from the previous night. I write for hours at a time. I have never had writer’s block, although I do reach points where the story can’t go forward until something percolates. When that happens, I just focus on something else for a few days.

I pour myself into writing to such an extent that I wish my keyboard were made so that flames would emerge, or wails of the damned, or a few somber bars played by Yo-Yo Ma, or celebratory fireworks, depending. Inventors, get busy.

What surprised you during the writing?

Lucas surprised me by showing up in my dreams and other people's even before I started the novel. Learning his personal myth (see the book) surprised me very much. He told it to me while we were conversing via what Carl Jung calls active imagination. Afterward, I walked around for a while shaking my head and thinking: Of course! Of course that's your myth. In retrospect, it makes such sense.

Some of the plot twists surprised me. Mariam and her merry band came out of nowhere. I did not expect religion to poke so prominently into the story here and there. Although I'd been playing with the Ten Lamps philosophy for a few years, I did not see Lamplight coming. I did not know who was ultimately behind everything until late in the draft.

In one scene, Lucas intervenes on behalf of an entire community, but they do not know about it. What do you think of what he did?

For much of his life, Lucas has been a loner, so he tends to think mainly in terms of individual intervention. Or, at least he did until he met Lucy. I would have spent more time informally talking over the situation with community members, leaders in particular, and seeing if there was any movement.

Were any novels (e.g. American Gods) an influence?

Not in any direct way. I enjoyed American Gods, and I’m grateful to Neil Gaiman for putting the public spotlight on the power of mythic figures. They really do surround us, usually unrecognized.

Authors I’ve read were more an influence than specific books they wrote. After reading PJ Manney, for instance, I studied synthetic biology and decided to include a bit. I like the environmental science (among other things) in the work of Kim Stanley Robinson. At a conference some years back, I told him half-jokingly that his novel Aurora might have solved the Fermi Paradox. What impact do you hope the novel has?

I hope you enjoy it. It’s a kind of book I like to read. Beyond that, I hope you collect a few ideas about the power of myth and the presence of place. I hope you come away feeling like what you and others imagine together can change the world, because it can.

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