WTF? Where did this sci fi tale come from?
Montana fading in the rearview mirror and I’m looking at fairly substantial revisions to my western, The Last Hunt.
My meetings and the research I conducted while in the Livingston and Yellowstone area proved invaluable; I’ve found numerous inaccuracies that have to be addressed, many details that can be woven into the narrative to give the novel far more authenticity and impact. There’s a small box of books to go through, a mountain of notes and photocopies, and I’m about to dive in, head first—
Instead, my Muse decides to bushwhack me and, like the worst blindside hits, I never even sensed this one coming.
I’ve had the notion for a science fiction story for a couple of years. I’m a huge fan of the genre, grew up devouring everything space-related I could lay my hands on. Three early efforts that had a big effect on me were “A Walk in the Dark”, a tale by Arthur C. Clarke, and two short story collections, Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun and a youth-oriented anthology titled Tales of Time and Space (edited by Ross Robert Olney). The latter included “Birds of a Feather” by Robert Silverberg, which is still a fave. I spotted an edition of Tales of Time and Space at a library book sale a number of years ago. Immediately recognized it (even after an interval of thirty some odd years) and snapped it up. I treasure that book; both my sons have read it as well.
My tale, I’ve known from the start, would have a “retro SF” feel to it: like it could have been written back in the late 50’s or early 60’s by someone like Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, A.E. van Vogt or, yup, Robert Silverberg. Nothing state of the art or high tech. A small story about a lonely, little man. Some alternative history thrown in, a universe with some important differences from our own…
All very nice. But eight days ago I’m cleaning up my desk, sorting through papers and I come across a contest for novelettes and novellas, fiction between 7500-15,000 words, and all at once I’m overcome by this notion that my SF idea would be perfect for that length and I could use the contest, which has a decent payday, as my motivation. Poking a finger at the prize money: that would just about pay off your Montana trip, laddie.
Going after my conscience, my on-going worries over finances here at Casa Burns. My Muse has no sense of propriety or shame.
One things leads to another and, heh heh, eight days later I’m done, presented with a 37-page, 10,000 word tale called “Eyes in the Sky”. It came in a rush and would not be resisted. Any gal who’s given birth knows exactly what I’m talking about. The piece arrived just about fully-formed and its creation was so effortless, it made me suspicious that the bloody thing was no good. But Sherron has reassured me. She read a printed draft last night and gave “Eyes in the Sky” high grades. So I’m relieved.
But still perturbed to get yanked away from my western novel with no warning, no explanation. I guess it’s an object lesson. Something this control freak had better get through his thick head: I am not in charge. I am merely an agent, not the Source. I am servant to a difficult, mercurial taskmaster. I may grumble and groan but am compelled to obey; no rest for the weary and, as I should know by now, there’s always another story, waiting to be told…
Smut: A Disclaimer
Yoko Ono is right, there are a lot of lonely people out there.
Yup…and a lot of weird ones too.
And a site like mine is bound to attract its fair share of strange individuals. I mean, I use the occasional multi-syllabic swear word when expressing my somewhat hyperbolic views on matters of interest to me and I’ve written books with titles like Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. So when people are tapping in key words for salacious subjects near and dear to their perverse little hearts, some might just bring them to Beautiful Desolation.
Poor dears. Go searching for good whacking material and instead get sent to me.
The thing is, thanks to the people here at WordPress I can actually view the search words and “tags” people are using when they get steered to my site. Some of them are hilarious, some disturbing, others are out and out surreal. I’ve written down the best of them so far and will now take this opportunity to share my “Top Ten” list with you (hopefully the folks involved won’t be too embarrassed). You type in the following terms and, somehow, you will be directed to a blog devoted to the scabrous scribblings of some Canadian nutter:
10. “stupid editors at publishing house” (okay, that one I understand)
9. “male masturbation hobbyists”
8. “words that rhyme with forget”
7. “fantasy invisibility sex stories”
6. “man is not born a thief but circumstance”
5. “stories about wrestling action figures”
4. “pissing snap on mouth”
3. “will short child be short adult”
2. “opinions are like assholes”
–and, at numero uno, easily the most fucked up turn of phrase that people used to find my blog: “self pissing for pleasure”.
And Sherron wonders why I’m a ball of nerves every time the kids are out of my sight even for a second.
Well, keep ’em coming, folks. Reading through that “Top 10” list fills me with joy at the sheer diversity of people out there and also a rather smug sense of satisfaction because it has always been a central tenet of my worldview that there’s no such thing as an ordinary, normal human being. “The sane are madder than we realize,” the great Anthony Storr has noted and he’s a guy whose opinion should carry some weight.
I think the internet grants timid souls the anonymity they crave so they can explore certain aspects of themselves their innate shyness and squeamishness usually forbid or deny. And I suppose that’s a good thing…but the flip side is that it emboldens creeps and arseholes to seek material to feed their sick fantasies, using cyberspace as the ultimate porn emporium.
Anonymity also allows one to embark upon “flame wars”, harassing and belittling other individuals by employing gutless pseudonyms. These lame fuckheads wouldn’t have the nerve to behave like they do in face to face encounters, they know they’d get the shit knocked out of them. There have been a few people who’ve posted to this site, noses out of joint because not only have I just served up one of their sacred cows to them, I also offer a full range of condiments to enhance their dining pleasure. Some of their remarks are nasty but I promised myself when I started out I would never censor people for their views or offer any kind of public rebuttal (that would be unsporting). Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to reach through cyberspace, grab certain twats by their throats and squeeze ’til their fucking eyes pop out but…I manage.
Civility is in short supply, I notice it in on-line forums…but I also see it in supermarket lines. Unsmiling faces, not even a nod of thanks if you surrender your place in line or hold the door open for someone, the cashier looking haggard, refusing to make eye contact. Are the “trolls” popping up all over the internet a manifestation of the deep sense of anger and unhappiness people are feeling? There’s a disconnect out there, the global villagers locked in private houses, browsing for internet porn or arguing over the latest film remake of a bad TV show instead of meeting in the market square for shopping and socialization. Or maybe that browbeaten cashier is just counting the minutes until she can go home and get on-line and switch to her other identify, an avatar known only as “Coquette”, courtesan and spy in a digital community with the virtual population of a medium-sized country. Tens of millions of people assuming the personalities and lives of nonexistent alter egos…and pining for those invisible realms when they’re away from them for any period of time.
We just signed up so we can read our own utility meters and pay our bills on-line. No longer any need for the friendly, neighbourhood lady from SaskEnergy to pop by in the afternoons to check my meter or any necessity to wait in line at the bank, chat with the cashier, pay my bills, crack a few jokes.
All of this bringing to mind my tale “New World Man”, a family isolated within individual rooms of a house, locked in their own private worlds, largely oblivious to each other. Is that where we’re headed? Is that how you want to live?
* * * *
Progress on the novella: it’s coming along slow and steady. No big breakthroughs. Because I was having some trouble getting started I made the choice early on to write the novella out of sequence…a decision I may come to regret. This approach presents some special difficulties, coming up with segues and links, for example. The natural “flow” of the story mustn’t be inhibited by its episodic structure (God I love writer talk).
Plenty of music keeping the office rocking. Recent arrivals include new Foo Fighters and Radiohead (thanks, Jess), as well as Modest Mouse’s latest release, “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” (courtesy Elaine). Still enamoured with Interpol (I slam on “Heinrich Maneuver” to get things started in the morning) and “The Fountain” soundtrack (Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet collaborating) provides great atmosphere, as does Schubert, Jeff Beck, Aqualung, music from “Black Hawk Down”, Jesus and Mary Chain…
Last night I decided to unwind with an old movie and went down to my basement and dug out a VHS copy of “Dark Star”. It was late and after a long day tapping away in the office I was too tired to really give it my full attention. But it was fun, a trip down memory lane. “Dark Star” was made around 1974 and has managed to garner that much-sought after designation as a “cult” favorite, largely because it was John Carpenter’s directorial debut and features Dan O’Bannon in a variety of gigs (including supporting actor–er, don’t give up the day job, Dan). It’s fun stuff. Made me want to haul out my old Super 8 movie camera, string up a model on fishing line (just like the old days, eh, Brent?) and waste an afternoon making magic.
Hmmm…but not today.
There’s magic to be made, all right, but it’ll happen upstairs, first room on the left. The novella awaiting my attention, the house to myself until tomorrow afternoon, no excuses or distractions. Hoping that this morning I’ll feel inspired, the tumblers falling into place. Not oppressed by pride or envy, working with courage and perseverance. Waiting in anticipation of my muse seizing hold, watching with growing wonder and awe as the story unfolds before my eyes, the process still as mysterious as it ever was: a lovely bit of misdirection, a sleight of hand I must’ve seen a thousand times and have yet to figure out the trick…
The Latest News
A bit of an update, covering a couple of points of interest:
First off all, here’s a link to a site that gives a partial credit list of the folks who are adapting my novella “Kept” into a feature length movie. The producers are affiliated with Twisted Pictures/Lion’s Gate, who brought you the “Saw” movies and, urk, “Hostel”. You’ll note my name is nowhere to be seen (surprise, surprise). I put together a brief synopsis for these Hollywood.com people to use but so far they haven’t posted it. Too busy covering the latest sequel of a sequel or comic book adaptation, I suppose:
Next I wanted to let you know the good folks here at WordPress have given me permission to sell copies of my books through this blog (thanks, guys). Only two of my books are still in print so those are, obviously, the titles I’m offering. But some months back I assembled a chapbook-like compilation of about two decades of monologues and spoken word pieces (Voiceworks: 1987-2006). The idea was to send the book around in that format hoping to tantalize publishers that specialize in drama. The reactions were underwhelming so after five or six form rejections, I thought “fuck it” and stopped submitting it. This is very much a limited edition, only 15 copies that I’m making available.
Voiceworks (limited number available) $10.00
The Reality Machine $10.00 (Originally published in 1997). I love this collection of tales; very surreal and satirical. Includes favorites like “Also Starring” (selected for three separate major anthologies, including The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror) and “New World Man”, which leads off a German edition of The 20 All Time Best SF Stories (my name made the cover, appearing alongside my hero, Philip K. Dick, and two other guys you’ve likely never heard of).
Righteous Blood (2003) $20.00 Two novellas dealing with contemporary evil, both of which have been optioned for films, including the aforementioned “Kept”. An intense book, influenced by the likes of Cronenberg, Polanski, David Lynch. Not for the faint-hearted.
Toss in five bucks for shipping and I’ll have them off ASAP. Might be a bit of a delay waiting for extra copies of Righteous to arrive from England so be patient. I’ll make sure to sign every copy too.
Here’s how to order:
1142 105th Street
North Battleford, SK
Make checks and money orders payable to yours truly–send along your e-mail address if you want confirmation of your purchase.
Scored a couple of terrific items at the library booksale here in town, including the late Graham Chapman reading his Liar’s Autobiography (good stuff), a Don DeLillo novel I hadn’t seen before and transcripts of recordings made in the Oval office during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Twenty five cents each; man, you can’t beat that.
Still plugging away on my novella-in-progress but I’ve been hampered by my fingers (arthritis and/or nerve damage), which have slowed me down considerably. I’m forging onward but…some days it’s pretty tough. I’m a three finger typist and I hit the keys fucking hard…after two decades, the damage to my hands is pretty considerable.
And, finally, some terrific news: my favorite band in the world, Tool, are coming to Saskatoon the last week in November. My friend Laird was quick on the draw and managed to secure us great tickets so he, Jesse (my nephew and fellow music freak) and I are off to Toontown the end of November for the concert of the decade. Fan-fucking-tastic.
That’ll do for now. More updates as events warrant. Stay tuned…