Third-year draws from College coursework to write novel, Hope’s EndBy Carrie Golus
This month, Stephen Chambers experienced what thousands of would-be novelists only dream of experiencing. He wandered into a bookstore and saw his book for sale. But Chambers didn’t feel happy, proud or even simply satisfied with his achievement. “I felt as if I might fall over,” said Chambers, 20, a third-year student in the College.
“There was something utterly disconcerting about seeing my words in print and knowing that anyone could walk into the store, flip through the book and then drop it back onto the shelf, deciding to buy the newest Star Trek novelization instead.”
Chambers will read from his book, Hope’s End, at The Stars Our Destination bookstore on Saturday, Sept. 22. Hope’s End, a science fiction/fantasy saga, is published by Tor Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. Chambers signed a two-book contract with Tor when he was a junior in high school and is now working on a sequel, Hope’s War, to be published in 2002 or early 2003.
Hope’s End takes place in a city called Hope, on an unnamed planet in the distant future. In Hope, technology is almost non-existent, books are banned and public hangings are commonplace. The city is ruled by an uneasy alliance between church and government, each with its own army.
Chambers’ love of history is evident throughout Hope’s End, which resonates with references to medieval and 20th-century Europe. “I wanted Hope to be a kind of conglomeration of things, a mixture of past and present, with more emphasis on the past,” he explained. “I like the idea that people get somewhat comfortable with the standard genre ideas of medievalism, and then suddenly somebody pulls out a knife that has ‘B. Mussolini’ engraved on the handle.”
Chambers, who is concentrating in modern European history, credits his coursework at the university with deepening his understanding of the subjective nature of history, one of the book’s dominant themes. “The idea that you can question history had never really seemed terribly important to me before coming here,” he said. “That’s when I realized that historians are just people. Because people are fallible and because everyone has an agenda, it’s difficult to know exactly what was happening at any particular time in history. This notion has definitely impacted the way I write, the way I think.”
Chambers wrote the original draft of Hope’s End in one frenzied month during his junior year in high school. After studying with science fiction author Harlan Ellison at the Odyssey Writing Program in New Hampshire, Chambers managed to sell the book and its sequel to Tor. However, the first draft of Hope’s End was “far from publishable,” Chambers said. “So I edited it ruthlessly with my editor’s suggestions. Over the course of two years, the first book went through three titles, and there are only around four or five scenes from the original still in it.”
Surprisingly, working on the book did not interfere with his studies. “Keeping up with schoolwork wasn’t really a problem, though I don’t really know why, and I think now that it probably should have been,” he said. “It probably has something to do with the frantic way I work. I like to go at it continually for weeks and weeks, rather than let it sit around forever staring at me, begging to be rewritten.”
Chambers is currently revising a draft of the sequel, which he described as “Godfather-esque.” “I think it might be a darker, more depressing book than Hope’s End, if that’s possible,” he said.
Meanwhile, he will be working on another big writing project: his BA paper, a comparison of Amsterdam and London around 1700. He hopes to be able to explain how the British replaced the Dutch as the dominant force in the age. “In a sense, it’s a paper about why New York is called New York and not New Amsterdam,” he said.
Chambers expects to graduate at the end of 2001. While he would like to someday make a living as a writer, graduate school in history may be a more rational choice in the short term—despite his contract for a second book. “There’s a nasty statistic I was told by my agent: Between 50,000 and 100,000 people in the United States would like to be writers. Of that number, around 80 can do it and make a living. So, I suppose I’ll see what happens.”