What is plangent Noise about?
Plangent Noise is a cli-fi fantasy story told through multiple points of view by eight main characters who have been companions over a 100-year time span. Morningstar and Steiff Peaceful-Tail are dogs, Ralph is a Cat, Silvo is a rat, Isaac is a crow, and Miranda is a cow. Together working with a combination of science, intuition, and technology they help to save the planet and help humans to sort out their cultural systems, and environmental issues so that everything works better.
Plangent Noise is a book for grownups with animals as the main protagonists. But it is also suitable for kids to read. Humans are there as helpmates to hand the main characters things, prepare meals, and set up furniture, etc. There really are no humans in the book who are more than just supporting characters.
Plangent Noise is a book about what it would really be like if animals learned to speak, not some Disney movie or children’s book where the animals talk and there is no explanation of why or how they are doing it. In Plangent Noise wild animals who have not heard speech are just developing languages of their own and do not spontaneously start talking to humans the way animals do in movies. Plangent noise isn’t another story about what animals are saying in “animal speak” to each other but what it would be like if animals learned to communicate with humans speaking human languages.
How did the idea come to you to start writing the book?
Most of the story came to me in big chunks over a few days of walking on the beach in the mornings back in 2006, then I would go home and write it down. I didn’t think it was going to be an animal rights story or a vegan activist story or an environmental story or anything existential or parable-like. I didn’t have an agenda. I was imagining what it would really be like if animals started talking.
What is your writing process? Do you outline or just write intuitively?
I am very visual and auditory when I write. I picture the characters in a situation and they just start acting it out. I write it down and refine it as I watch the scene being acted out. But usually ideas come to me in whole finished chunks. The first part of the book came spontaneously as well as the ending.
There was a whole middle section that seemed to have pieces missing and that was harder to come by. So I did outline that with lots of notes. I didn’t have a lot of the information in my subconscious mind that the characters needed to proceed. So I set the story aside and over a period of about 15 years I would take it out and write a little as things came to me. I didn’t really see myself as a fiction writer. I went on with writing articles and non-fiction and a few fiction short stories.
I started to ask questions about the ramifications to society if the stories’ premise was played out. Would the animals be allowed to go to school or to earn money? Would humans be ok with them talking and taking part in society as equals instead of pets? What would happen to farm animals? Would they become a new under class? Would there be a lot of prejudice or speciesism against animals in society? I researched science and government for the more complex questions. I had to go back and update a lot of the science. I was talking about simumeat way before lab-based meat and dairy and eggs became a real possibility for instance.
For some of these broader ideas I take general notes and then the characters will come back into my mind and act out the ideas and flesh them out while I record what they are saying and doing. Recently I found a lot of the answers I needed and was able to finish most of the story in a few months.
Why is the story told from several points of view? Why does it go back and forth in time instead of a straight forward single-character point of view from past to present?
The structure of the book happened spontaneously as the characters began to act out their separate narratives. That was how The Book of Crow and the Rat Sutras came about. I started out with the story of Morningstar, the main character and then the other characters introduced themselves.
Going back and forth in time demonstrates how much the world has changed since the terrible dark olden days back in the 21st century before animals could talk and before the new solutions came about. The emphasis is on what is possible if we open our minds. In reality the animals are not suddenly going to learn to speak and help us fix our mess. But the ideas they bring forth could help us save our species.
What would an intelligent mind think if it observed our situation with fresh eyes and was not fettered with all the limited ideas about what we think is possible and why any idea wouldn’t work because of politics or money issues? Unlike the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn which has an intelligent ape, the animals in Plangent Noise don’t just philosophize about the planetary crisis caused by humans, they take an active part in society and get busy and help the change happen.
The story takes place as the characters are traveling around the country on a book tour to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the awakening on the hyperloop grid visiting the new green cities and the museum cities; so that gives a sense of how we could reimagine the infrastructure of our society if we focused on resources instead of just profits.
Are the characters based on people you have known in real life?
Morningstar and Steiff are based on 2 dogs I knew when I was growing up. I started picturing what they would say if they could talk, how their personalities would be. Steiff is a humble, outdoorsy guy, but intelligent and well educated too. Morningstar is more cerebral but also playful and nurturing. Morningstar is a mathematician because dogs in the story have a natural proclivity toward mathematics.
I didn’t have to sit down and try to make any of the characters up, they revealed themselves. Silvo the Rat is dignified and brilliant, but also very cute. Ralph the jazz cat is more hip and fashion conscious and less nerdy than the other more science-minded characters. Isaac Crow is a leader and more practical and down to earth.
Miranda the Cow came along in my imagination later in the story when I realized that the Mad Cow Wars where happening. The human adopted mom of Morningstar is based on myself. I used characteristics of a friend of mine for the human father of Ralph the Jazz Cat.
Briana is the only human child in the book, and she popped up last of all as the daughter of one of the adopted children of Steiff and Morningstar. Briana has the perspective of the young people who were born nearly a century after animals began talking. And she has the perspective of a Native American person living in a time when people of color own a lot of the land and are on equal footing with whites. Briana has never known racism or waste, or pollution or hopelessness. The adults have to explain the past to her when they visit the museum cities. She doesn’t understand the smell of the simulated car exhaust fumes, what traffic was, and the point of riding a spin bike without hooking it up to a generator to store energy.
So how do the characters live to be over 100 years old without any signs of aging?
It has to do with Cell Singing, but I guess you will have to read the book to find out the mystery behind their long lifespans.