How The Crivit Experiment was Written

V: The Crivit Experiment was my fourth published novel, and my second “V” novel. I had not expected to write it.

The Pursuit of Diana had done far better than I had expected. I saw it in bookstores, drugstores, grocery stores, and once even in a rack in a car repair waiting room. It ultimately sold ninety three thousand copies, which technically, by the numbers, made it a best seller. Many of those copies are available even now on Amazon, some of them for one cent plus $3.99 shipping and handling.

The $7,500 I had earned, minus agent’s ten percent, had made our lives easier. We could buy more interesting groceries. We had gas to visit relatives. Diane could buy a decent pair of shoes. We each could buy one paperback a month. And I was no longer quite as unknown an author as I had been.

And then my agent sent me a package, containing a sample TV script for the weekly series, and a contract to write a second novel, for the same munificent sum of $7,500. Maybe I was going to make it as a writer after all. If I wrote that second “V” novel, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be a best seller. The weekly series was getting reviews, and they were, as they say, mixed.

The TV script was interesting, and disapointing. The first draft was pretty good, about the Visitors breeding sand-dwelling monsters, which would burrow underground, patrolling Visitor installations. Anyone, or any other living thing, trying to cross the sandy borders would be grabbed by something like a giant ant lion, dragged under the sand, and eaten.

But the producers, or the director, or somebody had marked the script up for revisions, which the writer duly made, and the second draft wasn’t quite as good as the first. It, too, was marked up for more revisions. The third draft, which included everything which had been asked for, was worse. The fourth was weaker than that, the fifth even worse, and the sixth was awful. (Eventually the writer’s decent story wound up as a 30-second segment in an episode which wasn’t broadcast until after The Crivit Experiment was published.)

I think they gave me a week to make up my mind, though I would have several months to write the book. I decided, despite what had been done to the TV script, to accept the offer. I was sure that my book wouldn’t be subject to the same kind of editorial interferance as the script had suffered. I had been given no instructions about the content of the book, which gave me a free hand. I signed the contract, and Diane and I decided to celebrate by going out for a pizza, which was usually beyond our budget.

I wasn’t under the same time pressure as I had been with The Pursuit of Diana, but I needed a story, and we talked about that while we were enjoying our supper. I decided to take the script as a starting point. What if the experimental crivits were being bred somewhere west of Carrboro, the nearest town to where we lived? There wasn’t much out there then. What if a scientist professor at UNC Chapel Hill knew about it, and wanted to put a stop to it? What if some of the students were part of the resistance? I could set it right where I lived, eight miles west of Chapel Hill, which would give me a perfectly believable and consistent background. I could use real locations, such as the farm store in Carrboro, that anybody who lived in or near Chapel Hill would recognize.

Story ideas don’t always come fully formed, but I had a start. I had an idea for a hoist-by-their-own-petard ending. I created some characters who had nothing to do with the TV show, including a local farmer where the crivits were being bred. I wanted to blow up a campus building, but I couldn’t do that, so I invented one in a space between two real buildings. After the book was published, several people recognized the place, and asked me if that was where the explosion happened. They thought it was really neat when I told them that it was.

The Crivit Experiment was much easier to write than The Pursuit of Diana had been. I didn’t have to use the TV show format. With a few exceptions, the characters were all my own. I was sure that whatever the TV episode turned out to be like, it would not make my book as horribly inconsistent with the TV show as The Pursuit of Diana had. And I was able to write without any physical, emotional, or intellectual stress. The novel is actually pretty good within its context. It was not a best seller, but it did earn me some royalties beyond the advance, and I knew people were reading it.


You can read a sample here.