CHAMPAIGN – Like many Americans, Laura Bynum became worried about the direction the country was taking after Sept. 11, 2001.
She was concerned about the passage of the Patriot Act and how little debate there had been on it, and how people seemed not to be able to tell the difference between fact and opinion.
A creative type who had worked in the corporate world, Bynum, then living in Mahomet, set out to write a novel that would be fun and interesting to read yet also serve as a cautionary tale.
After starting it – she did most of the writing at the Borders Bookstore cafe in Champaign, where she will read from her book on Tuesday evening – she followed the advice of other writers to attend a writers' conference.
She chose the 2006 Maui Writers Conference and while there, paid an extra $50 to enter its Rupert Hughes Award competition.
"For the winner they were going to read a selection from their book," she said. "It took me three sentences to realize they were reading from 'Veracity.'"
She won the $5,000 prize, a statuette and most important, interest from two literary agents. And this month, after a number of significant incidents in Bynum's personal life paralleled some in the writing of her novel, Pocket Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, released the hardcover edition of "Veracity," Bynum's vision of a totalitarian, dystopian society 35 years in the future.
Compared to Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" and George Orwell's "1984," "Veracity" follows "Sentient" (called a psychic these days) Harper Adams, a divorced mother of a daughter named Veracity who works for the Confederation before being recruited to the underground resistance, headquartered in the desolate countryside in the Midwest. (Bynum, a Springfield native, was thinking of her grandmother's farm at Chesterfield.)
The Federation controls its citizens with slates embedded near the carotid artery in their necks, monitoring what they say and where they go. The government "Red Lists" an increasing number of words that can't be used under penalty of death.
"It's so controversial, and it's a tweener," Bynum said, referring to the fact that book stores don't know whether to shelve the 362-page novel under fiction or science-fiction. "It is a commentary on something that's scary for people. It asks people to go back and review what they believe."
So far, the biggest honor given "Veracity" is IndieBound.org choosing to list it as an Indie Notable in February, Bynum said.
The suspenseful book has a cinematic feel. Bynum also has a film agent who is shopping around "Veracity" as a possible movie project. Some big-name producers have shown interest, according to Bynum.
The 41-year-old Bynum is now working on her second novel, a contemporary tale that she compared to "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," with a twist. Bynum and her family now live in Culpeper, Va.
If you go
What: Former Champaign-Urbana resident Laura Bynum will read from and sign copies of her debut novel, "Veracity" (Pocket Books, $25).
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Where: Borders Bookstore, 802 W. Town Center Boulevard, C.