Three Books that Shaped “the Future” in Heart Wood

I’m often asked, “what influenced your creation of a dystopic future in Heart Wood ?” Although I’ve read speculative novels by amazing authors (think Margaret Atwood), my answer is always the same:

The three dystopic novels forever branded into my memory are:

Earth Abides,” “The Great Bay,” and “Feed

Each novel influenced how I wove the 2075 journey of great-granddaughter Amisha into my vision of the future. Coincidentally, two of the authors described a great pandemic that wiped out most of mankind – a premise that now gives me chills. That wasn’t the premise of Heart Wood, although I did mention “the flu” as something Amisha often endured as a child.  In Heart Wood though, there’s a sense of something else….

“EARTH ABIDES” by George Stewart. Written in 1949, Stewart details the earth’s transition and rebuilding after a virus wipes out most of civilization. Saved by the venom of a rattlesnake bite, the character Ish survives the virus and wanders through Northern California in what civilization has left behind. In vivid detail, Stewart describes the waves of transition the earth experiences, now freed from mankind’s influence. This book helped me let go of what I assumed is vital for the future. “Men go and come, but earth abides.” (Ecclesiastes, 1, 4)

“THE GREAT BAY” by Dale Pendell. Written in 2010, the late Pendell who lived in Nevada County, details the Great Collapse in California from 2021 to 16,000 years later. This takes place after a global pandemic in 2021 kills most of mankind – more than 200 million die in the U.S. in the first month alone. Chillingly prophetic!  Pendell moves forward decades and centuries at a time with detailed stories of survivors and maps that show the steady filling in of Central California to form a “Great Bay.”

“FEED” by M.T. Anderson. Another prescient book written in 2002. Although this Young Adult novel was written before smart phones (introduced in 2007), Anderson absolutely nailed how insidiously this communication technology would infiltrate and control our lives. Like the Nib in Heart Wood, almost everyone has a chip implanted in their brain that connects them to “The Feed.”  I listened to this as an audio book first and was hooked.

About Heart Wood – From Sandra Rockman, Theater Director

Wow! What a feat! A really good read, mammoth detail and impressive imaginings with the Nibs, etc. Although sobering to read right now in the midst of the pandemic and the election – such an important story and sensibility. Thank you for all your work on it. The world needs this book right now.

Heart Wood – Four Women, for the Earth, for the Future

The perfect gift for holiday giving; the perfect read for the times we’re in.

You can purchase your copy of Heart Wood at all local bookstores.

HERE: To locate your local independent bookstore. (Available at The Book Seller and Harmony Books in Nevada County) And HERE for Amazon (ebook and paperback)

Visit me at: www.shirleydickard.com

If you enjoyed Heart Wood, please consider giving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. It’s one of the best ways to support me and all indie authors. Thank you!

Strategies for surviving crazy, uncertain times

Expand…Contract…Expand…Contract…that’s my experience of the yo-yo ride of these past few years. One moment I feel expanded and happy, then I check the news and become contracted and anxious. I think the terms expand and contract aptly describe how my body and mind have responded to what’s happening in so many arenas at once: divisive politics/2020 elections, changing climate/extreme weather events, social justice/Black Lives Matter, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Friends have their own descriptions for this: like being on a roller coaster, flung between hope and despair, up and down, empowered or immobilized.

So far, I’ve landed on two approaches for living within these polarities – for staying healthy and sane, yet aware enough to take action if needed:

Spend more time WALKING in nature

Limit how much CONTRACTION time I allow in my life

This excerpt from Heart Wood describes the first fairly well. Overwhelmed by what’s happening to the planet, Harmony takes off to walk by the river.

Harmony

2009, Luna Valley, Northern California

 A whole morning spent scanning through email alerts and reading Dora’s endless summaries of county supervisors’ meetings gives me little more than a headache. Time to escape to my favorite place—the river. Like a homing pigeon, my old yellow Volvo glides down the switchbacks of the narrow mountain road until I enter the Third River canyon. Here the road parallels the shallow, trout-filled water—shallower than normal for spring runoff, I notice. Should I be concerned? I hang right into the parking area, where I can pick up the river trail.     

Sandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trail head and start walking. The first part is rocky and unstable, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll soon strike a cadence.     

My boots pick up a deep, thudding rhythm alongside the steady flow of the wild-rushing river. Each step drops me deeper into the mindless presence I came here for. My forehead smooths, my jaw loosens, my breath deepens. River’s good medicine.

Heart Wood Page 233

EXPANSION is bouyant. My chest feels light, my heart open. I notice little details around me – like the colors, smells, sounds of the approaching autumn. Small things lift my spirits: playing with the dog, an unexpected phone call from a friend, a news story of youth tackling an environmental problem. I feel optimistic. I’d like to stay in expansion forever, but as I move through the day, I know that contraction may be next.

CONTRACTION weighs heavy, making it difficult to think or move. My shoulders curve inward, it’s harder to breathe. Feelings of panic and hopelessness build as I lay awake wondering how our country and democracy are going to survive. Will we have to accommodate to more erratic hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and drought? Will we ever return to hugging our family and friends, listening to live music, going to school and work, taking vacations? What kind of world will our grandchildren live in?

WHEN I’M FEELING THIS CONTRACTED, I try to avoid the news, but it’s too easy to pick up my phone and take a quick peek at what’s happened since the last time I checked, which is sometimes only a half-hour before. At least I have some control. In Heart Wood’s future world, newsfeed from the Nib implanted behind Amisha’s ear can’t be turned off. We’re not there….yet.

MY SECOND APPROACH to surviving these times is first, to recognize when I’m beginning to feel contracted, then to consciously limit those experiences. Like the thermostat in my house, I can adjust my exposure up or down as I need. If I’m cold, I turn up the heat; too warm, I turn it down.

I’M LEARNING TO GAUGE which news source I can handle at the moment by whether its style leaves me feeling expanded or contracted. Same with conversations with similar-minded friends. It’s satisfying to vent about what’s happening, but afterwards, how do I feel? Distress may motivate me to take positive action, but not if I’m worn down by it. I’m learning I can change the topic or change the channel.

BACK TO WALKING. Even if you don’t have the natural world right outside your door, trust me, the simple act of walking is good medicine. You can start small, add city blocks and minutes as you can, pay attention to what you’re feeling, and appreciate where bits of green nature show up.  It’s good for the heart and spirit, and it’s free.

ON MY DAILY WALKS, like Harmony in Heart Wood, I may start out walking fast, eyes narrowed straight ahead, mind turbulent with worrisome thoughts. Then something happens. After 15-20 minutes, my pace slows, my senses expand. I see that dogwood leaves are blushing red, feel acorns crunch beneath my shoes, and smell the clear air after months of wildfire smoke. I stop thinking. When I return to the house, I feel calmer, more resilient. And more ready for the next wave

I really wasn’t prepared for how many readers returned to buy extra copies of my eco-novel for giving to friends and family. Now is the perfect time to order Heart Wood for the upcoming holidays!

Purchase your copy of Heart Wood:

HERE: To support your local independent bookstore!

HERE: Amazon (ebook and paperback)

Despair

Wednesday, November 9, 2016my-2-pink-flowers

I stare into the open refrigerator, my bare toes curling on the cold linoleum. I need comfort food. Where’s the custard, or mashed potatoes, or macaroni and cheese? I woke up feeling punched in the stomach. This is not my morning; he is not my president; this is not happening. Joe comes down the stairs in his robe and I shove the refrigerator door closed. He shakes his head; we exchange glassy stares.

Curled into a chair, I hug my knees. All we’ve accomplished in the last eight years will be wiped out in one coup. I listen to Dora sputtering a message on the answer machine but can’t bear to take it.

”No one saw this coming,” Joe says, his fists are curled tight like he wants to bash someone.

I rummage around the pantry shelf hoping that the old box of Cream of Wheat is still there. It isn’t. I settle for polenta instead and pour my grief into the hot water along with the yellow corn.

“Such a sad, sad day for Mother Earth.”

“And health care, honesty, clean energy, integrity, respect…”

I stop Joe with a wave of my hand, too weary to commiserate.

After a warm bowl of polenta smothered in melted butter, I change into sweat pants and go outside to rake leaves, same as I did when my father died, or when words are too much a struggle. I haul a garbage can full of musty oak leaves up to the garden and dump them into the open graves of my raised beds.

“I’m so sorry,” I whisper, as I yank a few dandelions out of the carrot patch and toss them onto the pathway.

I thought maybe you could change something, comes a whisper back.

I drag myself to the house, heavy with despair. I can’t think, can’t read, can’t write. I draw the curtains and curl up on the couch.

My stomach remembers third grade.

“Draw something that you really care about.”  Mrs. Clark gave us two days to create a masterpiece, and I worked on it every spare minute I had. While boys drew hot rods and fancy bicycles, I drew flowers. Not just flowers, but intricate specimens from the garden beds that surrounded my home: pink hydrangeas, red bottle brush, white calla lilies, purple rhododendrons. From mom’s cutting garden I drew snapdragons, pansies, and zinnias. I even drew a few weeds, like the ones with long pointed swords you could join together to make scissors.

The day our art projects were due, I still had one blank space to fill in, and decided I could finish it during morning recess. Though I knew it was off limits for third graders, I slipped my art page into a big picture book, hid a yellow and a green pencil in my pocket, and sneaked out to the baseball diamond where I knew dandelions grew by the dugout. I was almost finished when shadows from behind loomed over my page.

“Looks like your flowers need some dirt to grow in.” Fat-bellied Percy dribbled globs of mud onto my page then leaned over and smeared them into my flowers. His friends laughed and jostled about, even Bruce who would never hurt a fly. “Good goin’ PC,” they said. I froze.

“Hey, let’s make flower seeds and plant them.” PC snatched my beautiful flowers and in slow motion, tore them into small squares that drifted to the dirt in front of me. Ricky, David, Bobby, and even Bruce hung around PC, slapping his back; all wanting to be just like him as they strutted back to the classroom.

I hung my head. I knew I shouldn’t have been out there. Fighting back tears, I rushed to the bathroom, closed the stall door, held my stomach, and cried. I didn’t recognize the anger then, I thought it was shame.

Mrs. Clark cocked her head when I dropped my white page with two nondescript pink flowers onto her desk. I lowered my eyes, and back at my seat, buried my face in a book. A week later, I got my page back with a frowny face on top and her note: “It looks like you didn’t try.”

(From The Desk, a work in progress)