The Zelkova Tree

‘The Zelkova Tree’ is the title of my work-in-progress debut novel. In this post I will describe where the book is going, along with some background on the title’s significance to the story.


The original idea was for a dystopian , young adult science fiction thriller. I saw it as a cross between Hugh Howey’s ‘Wool’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World.’

Yes, that’s right, I was infected with a good old dose of genre-itis i.e. if it’s popular (whatever that means), let’s write the damn thing to death.

Anyhow, I started in November for Nanowrimo 2014, but my heart just wasn’t in it and after about 17,000 words, I abandoned the effort.

This year, with Nanowrimo 2015 as the catalyst, the book’s setting became much clearer to me. The timeframe remains the mid 21st century but the place is an ‘alternative’ Earth where the inhabitants haven’t figured out whether they are involuntary participants in a utopian experiment, a dystopian nightmare, or some combination thereof.


My main characters certainly are. Innocent as newborn lambs. I guess their ignorance helps to fuel why I’m writing the story. I want to find out what happens to them. And even though I have figured out much about the world they exist in there are some shocks to come that I was not expecting.

The genre I had in mind the second time around was hard science fiction, with climate fiction as a back drop. Think of Andy Weir’s bestseller, “The Martian”, but set on Earth in a floating botanical city, ‘bobbing’ around somewhere in the Equatorial Pacific.
That might end up as a cracker of a book, but it is not this book. This book is steering a
course in the direction of magical realism with a salting of quantum fiction for good measure.

The story begins when a mixed race female finds herself escaping from Japan on a ship bound for a far off floating city, Skysea1.

The more I read about the Zelkova tree, the more certain I am that it is a most appropriate title. For example, the Japanese Zelkova tree (pronounced as keyaki, in Japanese) is easy to transplant and survives in a variety of tough environments. Surprise me not – the main protagonist, Lisa, finds herself transplanted from what remains of Tokyo to a “new, floating world” in the Pacific. She is also one tough cookie when the chips are down. Two other major characters are also linked with the American and European versions of this tree.

Funny how this writing lark goes. When I came up with the title in 2014 I had only the faintest idea of where the story would lead.
Art follows botany?

In hindsight, and given my inexperience as a novelist, it seems a germination period was required before numerous plot buds hinted that both the theme of the book and the main character arcs will be bound up with the transplanting of people, ideas and lives.

Although this story world appears to be one where technology is a key driver of progress and comfort and civilisation, there is also room for tradition to surface. The zelkova tree plays a part because its hard wood is well-suited to making furniture such as dressers and chests of drawers. Years ago, Lisa’s father planted a zelkova tree when his daughter was born with the intention of making furniture from it as her wedding gift one day. What happens later is bitter sweet and a key factor in the story’s climax.

Starting from scratch for Nanowrimo 2015, I ended up with around 22,000 words. I reckon the story is about 1/3 complete. I had high hopes of finishing it in a month but that was not to be because my muse only wanted to play when pen and paper were involved. Writing in the morning and transcribing in the evening brought my daily word count down below 1,000.

I press on.


The Nanowrimo Famous Five

Last year’s Nanowrimo ended in defeat for me – no 50,000 words.
Not even close.
Fear of failure and an angst-heavy critical voice broke the flow.
Well, that’s my pathetic excuse.

I am better organised this year.
The photo shows five ways in which I am aiming to achieve the goal of having a readable first draft by the end of November.
The story is being written in a paso doble style – where action in each plot thread is as high energy as in the famed Spanish dance.
Of course, readers will find quieter interludes where the pace is slower but all may not be as it seems.

My trusty analogue tools. I enjoy writing character sketches, plot doodles and just plain getting away from the screen and typing mode of work/creativity.

I’ve experimented with many systems since the world of work introduced me to Day Timers and all the paraphernalia beloved of time management trainers. There’s no great magic here, in my experience. I have an average daily word count goal of 1667 in order to reach 50,000 by the end of November. In my case that works out to be around two hours of writing each day. BIC – bum-in-chair. That’s it.

Or, that would be it, if real life didn’t have a nasty habit of eating up whatever discretionary time is available. Scheduled time for day job stuff is already a given. The trick, I think, is to be aware of the endless discretionary tasks and responsibilities tugging at my writing elbow. They get logged in this small book of terror (haha) and then knocked off as and when the opportunity arises. The ‘knocking off’ is based on Mark Forster’s Final Version Perfected (FVP) algorithm.

This is a wonderful way to write. In a nutshell, you finish what you start. So, if I am writing some dialogue for a scene, I set a timer for 5 minutes and then write the dialogue part of the scene. Once writing, elements other than dialogue tend to make an appearance. Character. Setting. Action. The usual suspects of a well-written story are always lurking somewhere off stage. I hope I can direct the cast to turn up for showtime!

Actually, the very act of directing is the bit my conscious mind (aka ‘critical voice’) gets too deeply involved with. Timed writing gives this meddler something else to focus on and makes it easier for the creative voice to sing its song. The novelist, Elise Stephens, describes a style of timed writing that I can identify with in her post, ‘Timed Writing and Why You Need It.’ Elise has been fortunate to have done timed writings with Jack Remick in Seattle. I am a tad envious.

For Nanowrimo, I am doing most of my timed writings on the Chromebook. However, if I get ahead of my target word count I may do some of them using pen and paper, and then type up as I go.

Filamena Young wrote a fascinating post on using the ‘bullet journal’ as a Nanowrimo writing journal. I had a look at this and decided to adapt it to using plastic file folders and post-its. One file is for character info. The others are for different stages of that paso doble plot construct from another world haha!

Since I am outlining as I go, the plan is to add post-its to the relevant file as the story evolves. That way I can scan through them and get a fast overview of the plot threads, inconsistencies, dead ends etc. It’s worth a shot and gives that zany organizing mind something to worry about. “Has he got enough pink-colored post-its. Oh no! We must buy more!”

The story is being typed up here.  It’s a neat device that gets the job done.

OK, back to the story writing!