Just Call Me Cassandra

Kathryn Lance has been a freelance writer since the early seventies. She is the author or ghost of more than fifty books of fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults. She has recently become a docent at a desert nature park, and though she still writes has learned to prefer snakes to copy editors.

Pandora’s Genes, my first science fiction novel, was the result of cross-fertilization between a news story and an enigmatic dream. One morning in the late seventies I saw a short squib in the New York Times business section about a company that was working to genetically alter bacteria that naturally consume oil so that they might be used to clean up oil spills. I thought, “Great! But what if your car catches it?”A few months later I had a mysterious dream in which a good, moral man had embarked on a mission to do something he knew was wrong but was compelled to do. I was so intrigued that I sat down and started writing.

Not too far into the story I realized it was set in the world I had imagined resulting from the runaway altered bacteria. In my story, the oil-eating bacteria had mutated and spread after being set loose on a massive oil spill; they consumed not only all oil in the world, but all petroleum products, including plastics and the fail-safe seals on germ warfare experiments, releasing deadly plagues. The novel is about competition by several groups of people for control of this dangerous, nearly depopulated world. Zach, the good man from my dream, became one of the three main characters; the two other key characters, who appeared to me when I began writing, are The Principal, a well-meaning but flawed political and military leader, and Evvy, the young girl that both men love, who may hold the key to saving the world.

I wrote feverishly for several weeks, almost as if I were reading the story. The characters, who were not consciously based on anyone I knew, seemed more real to me than my friends and family. I really had no idea what was going to happen until it “happened” at the end of my typing fingers. That had never occurred before and has not since, but it was one of the most compelling experiences in my life.When I finished the rough draft, in about six weeks, it took me two years of revising to get it in shape to send to my agent, and then I had to revise it again for the publisher who eventually bought it. When my editor told me before accepting the final manuscript that I had to change the ending, I was paralyzed until I had yet another dream. In this one, I was giving birth to a child (something I have never done). The experience was not painful, but was rather extremely erotic, building in intensity until the child was born and I woke up knowing exactly how the story would end. I sat down and wrote it in one sitting.

Pandora’s Genes was published in 1986 and its sequel came out the following year. It was named “Best New Science Fiction” by Romantic Times and was chosen for the Locus (s-f) Recommended List for the year. In May of this year, e-reads, the top publisher for out-of-print genre books, realized that my book was newly relevant, especially since one of the remedies currently proposed involves the use of genetically modified bacteria. My book is currently featured on the e-reads website . I had intended the story in part as a cautionary tale, and still see it that way. I just hope none of the other horrors that I foresaw come to pass.The first chapter of Pandora’s Genes is available on my website, and it can be ordered from Amazon

Kathryn Lance

2 replies
  1. Misa
    Misa says:

    I don't suffer from writer's block, but I do suffer from distraction syndrome! I think it's my version of writer's block. When I'm feeling disconnected from my story, or uninspired, I get distracted by cleaning, organizing (and this does NOT come naturally for me!), etc.

  2. Kathryn (KL) Lance
    Kathryn (KL) Lance says:

    Hi, Misa, I think you meant to respond to the blog that was published the day after mine. But I hear you about distractions. I would probably never have ironed clothes back in the day if I hadn't been working on book deadlines.–KL

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