Guest Blog: SEEDS of disaster from Chris Mandeville

Readers asked, so I answer: how my debut novel SEEDS came to be

My inspiration for Seeds was two-fold: a “practical” inspiration and a creative one, but not in the order you might expect. The seed for both came in the form of a phone call that woke me from a dead sleep.

Seeds Cover Final

Early one morning my husband phoned me on his way to work to tell me about a news story he’d heard on the radio. The story was about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage repository for crop seeds in Norway. My husband was convinced this “Doomsday Vault” would make a great basis for a post-apocalyptic novel, and since he’s not a writer, he figured I should write it. I politely told him “no thank you, I have my own story ideas” (though according to his recollection I wasn’t quite that polite), then I hung up and went back to sleep. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration.

At that time in my writing career, I had completed a fantasy novel, The Spider Prophet, a quest tale that takes place in a Native American dreamspace. When I received the Doomsday Vault phone call, Spider Prophet was in the submission phase. This means I wasn’t actively writing or revising the story, but instead spent my writing time sending query letters and sample pages to editors and agents. The process of submitting work isn’t very creative, so despite my rejection of my husband’s story premise, my bored creative mind began playing with the concept of a story where stored seeds would play a crucial role. I still wasn’t feeling inspired by the concept, but something about it had taken hold in my subconscious. I could feel it trying to germinate even as I resisted.

During the course of submissions for Spider Prophet, I received a request for the complete manuscript from a big-time, superstar agent. I continued to send submissions to other agents, but grew increasingly antsy and impatient waiting to hear back from the super-agent. My critique group had been pushing me to start a new project so I finally acquiesced, if only to take my mind off the waiting. You might think this is the part where I embraced the idea of writing Seeds, but you’d be wrong. I still wasn’t “feeling it.” I suspect I was resisting at least partially because the idea wasn’t my own. So I started writing scenes for a time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle story.

Ultimately the superstar agent came back with a rejection, but it was the best rejection I’d ever received. She said great things about my writing and gave me suggestions for improvement. Encouraged by her comments, I responded with a note thanking her and asking if she’d be interested in seeing my next project.

Here’s where you’re thinking I pitched Seeds, right? Well, not at first. You see, I still hadn’t embraced the Doomsday Vault idea, so I tried to come up with a logline for the other story I’d started working on. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to produce a coherent, compelling pitch for my time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle mash-up. So here’s what I pitched instead: In “Seeds” a nomadic journeyman is confronted with knowledge from a past life that could save the remnants of his post-apocalyptic civilization….

To that the super-agent replied with an enthusiastic “Yes, send it!” Knowing I needed to submit a story about seeds provided me with a very real, practical “inspiration” to write that story. I still wasn’t feeling creatively inspired, but I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the muse to find me. I had to take action and get the story rolling despite my lack of creative inspiration.

At this point I asked myself “what kind of apocalypse would make a seed vault valuable?” Since I didn’t personally have the background necessary to answer this question scientifically, I went to my scientist husband for help. That seemed fitting since he was the one who got me into this whole mess in the first place. Together we gathered a small group of scientist-friends, provided them with food and beverage, and began brainstorming the apocalypse.

That’s when I got my creative inspiration. The past life/reincarnation element of my pitch was quickly discarded (it was really just a ghost of that time-hopping love-triangle story anyway) and I got totally enthused about the idea of a solar storm that wipes out all the plants, animals, and technology on the planet, with the only survivors being those who were underground. It wasn’t long before the survivors inside Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD) became the object of my focus, and the story sprouted and grew from there.

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Here’s a great opportunity to check out SEEDS along with a bunch of awesome disaster tales: https://storybundle.com/disasters. This bundle is only available for a limited time, so don’t wait too long!

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