Monday, March 31, 2008

What is "Mai Shangri-La"

Mai Shangri-La is my first novel. As a career Teacher-Librarian, a new father and a late-awakening environmentalist, I wrote this novel in response to a convergence of concerns and ideas involving Global Warming, impending retirement (from my first, or primary career) and "Fifty-something" Fatherhod. More about this in another post.

"Shangri-La", as most reasonably well-read people know, is the mythical kingdom created by James Hilton in his 1933 novel "Lost Horizon". In it's modern usage, a "Shangri-La" can be any place of great beauty or tranquility or having qualities that might lead to inner fulfilment of a life's desires. If you're not familiar with the term, or the novel, check out the wikipedia entry at

Mai Shangri-La has been the working title from early on, although the very early chapters went through several different titles as I honed in on my themes. The title is intended as a play on words, contrasting what you might hear as "MY Shangri-La" with the reality of "Mai", meaning "NOT"in Thai. Literally, then, the title of the novel is "Not Shangri-la".

The basic premise of this novel is that the world we face in the coming decades is likely to be decidedly NOT a "Shangri-La". To provide a story framework upon which to hang this idea, I built on the naive faith of the western Baby-Boomer in a "Golden Years" period after retirement set against the decidedly frightening scenarios being presented ever more stridently by climate modelers and research scientists.

Reuben James Runquist is a Baby-Boomer, who, at 80, and living in his own version of a retirement "Shangri-La", finally realizes that if he really is to enjoy his Golden Years, he needs to escape from the "Land of Smiles" and return to his native Canada. Unfortunately, he finds himself alone and ill-equipped to make the arduous trek halfway around a world newly drowned under seven meters of continental ice-sheet meltdown; a world in which Man's 20th century hubris has been replaced by a decidedly 21st century gritty reality brought about by personal self-delusion, commercial and corporate greed, global pestilence and digital infrastructure collapse.

Mai Shangri-La is not, however, a post-apocalyptic novel in the traditional sense. It is a novel which explores Mankind's most powerful motivations, his core values and his potential to rise above circumstance and create a life worth living in spite of, or perhaps because of adversity. Mai Shangri-La is conceived as the opening piece in a three book series examining life in the 21st century approximately 25 years, 50 years, and 100 years from today.

The second book (the Wayback Machine) is completed in first draft and the third is is framed conceptually but no nothing has yet been "committed to paper" as the saying still goes. Whether the final chapter ever gets written is dependent on whether Mai Shangri-La finds an audience and whether Danny and Cathy's story (from the Wayback Machine) calls me back to finish documenting what Reuben James started in Mai Shangri-La. -rjr

Blog Migration

This will be my third cut at writing a personal blog about turning to personal writing, about the process of "becoming" (hopefully) a "writer", and about the motivations behind Mai Shangri-La as a story, an allegory and perhaps a cautionary tale.

I decided to drop the first blog because it focussed on reading and writing at my place of work, an international school in Asia. As I wrote, I found that more and more I was presenting personal perspectives and opinions on issues I found personally compelling rather than perspectives which related in a meaningful way to the interests and needs of my students.

My second attempt was better (I thought) but still contained artifacts from the first (including the initials of my school in the URL - I had just renamed and refocussed the blog). My hope with this one is to make a clean break; to completely separate my personal writing from my professional interests and responsibilities as a HS Teacher-Librarian. I also wanted to name the blog after my novel. As my "Proof" copy from CreateSpace nears a third-draft cleanup/rewrite, I'm beginning to think about promotional strategies.

For the moment, I've opted the POD route, rationalizing that I'm saving trees, actually accepting for now that my premise has not been compelling enough, or my writing interesting enough, to attract the serious interest of either a literary agent or a publisher. In the long run, however, I do, of course, hope to "break into" the print publishing world, and the POD edition of Mai Shangri-La has become one of my principal sales-tools. This blog will become the "author's notes" for that edition, and hopefully, a vehicle for introducing the novel to a potential readership, and possibly for continuing an exploration of the themes and issues raised in the novel.

Welcome to my "writer's world".

Rob Rubis
March 29, 2008