Let’s be honest: Writing a novel is an intense and mentally draining process. To write an ironically utopian novel is, in itself, a difficult task, but to also perform a public book reading less than a month after it’s been published is no small feat. However, on Jan. 23, Chana Porter did just this as she seamlessly read through the beginning of her novel, The Seep, and subsequently held a live Q&A session with audience members at Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse.
Porter is “an emerging playwright, speculative novelist and education activist,” as described by her website. In addition to being a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, she is also the co-founder of the Octavia Project, a STEM and fiction-writing program for girls and gender non-conforming youth from underserved communities.
It’s no mystery why the extremely dedicated author needed six years to finally publish The Seep. Porter explained, however, that the novel took as long as it did because of the deeper contradicting themes and running motifs behind the plot of the story. Writing draft after draft, her goal was to make each and every sentence serve a greater purpose to the story’s plot.
The Seep involves a unique alien invasion (which is where the book’s title comes from) and directs the reader’s attention to the often overlooked behavioral traits of the average human.
The two main protagonists, Trina and her wife, Deeba, live happily under the Seep’s utopian influence, until Deeba decides to utilize the Seep’s advanced technology, called “Seeptech,” to be reborn again as an infant. Anguished by the disappearance of her wife, Trina embarks on an unforeseen quest with a lost boy in order to potentially save him from her suspicions about the Seep and their intentions with mankind. Along the way, she confronts and explores a strange new elegy of love, alienation and the ache of moving on.
What sets Porter’s novel apart from other sci-fi, alien invasion novels is that it is not a dystopian novel. During the reading Porter constantly reiterated that despite the popular assumption that the novel is meant to point out the oppressive flaws of society, it is actually meant to portray the exact opposite, and this unconventional twist has received numerous appraisals.
Rachel Pollack, author of Godmother Night, is quoted on the back of the book with the perfect description: “In a time of dreary dystopias, Chana Porter’s The Seep is that rarest of books: a genuine utopian hope of salvation. While the novel accomplishes this through an alien intervention, its message is not simply one of blind optimism, but a complex portrait of people struggling with change, fear and ultimately hope.”
Indeed, in this quest Trina is forced to jump over various social hurdles that instill a fear of change but is guided by moments of hope. And, while I can’t spoil what happens next, it’s definitely worth finding out.
Right before the event started, I managed to squeeze my way through the crowd and get an interview with Porter. Absolutely delighted to be there, she described what her goal was with this unique novel.
“It’s my intention with this book to help make the world more compassionate, more free and more kind for all beings on our planet,” she said. “Of course, this is no small task. But I put my best into my work, and this book is very dear to my heart.”
In addition to fellow colleagues’ and critics’ positive reactions to Porter’s new novel, the audience members at the reading also had encouraging and positive reactions. Many purchased the novel after the reading, myself included, and stood in line for a book signing.
Beyond her witty and beautiful style of writing, she was extremely humble and pleasant to talk to. After asking about my goals and what I study here at Hopkins, she wrote me a very personal and kind note in my new copy of her novel.
By reading Porter’s novel, I’ve personally learned a lot about effective writing and plot movement, and the love between her characters makes the story one that should not be missed.
I’d highly recommend all those hungry readers out there to get their own copy of The Seep.