Zimmer and Campbell of course render a better explanation of the nature of Gawain and his mythological function than I can. And because the greatest myths, despite being bound to the context of their times, inevitably manage to successfully speak to our contemporary predicaments, the different destinies assigned to Gawain and Lancelot, very much akin to the different destinies assigned to Gawain and Parzival, speak to the different destinies we must seek to unravel in our own lives. What are we to do? What job or vocation is rightfully ours and what obligation belongs to someone else?
The day-to-day deliberate practice of one’s modest, Earthbound skill set – one’s pedestrian vocational talents – and the autonomy, complexity and commensurate reward that a character like Gawain enjoys probably describes most of our wholehearted visions of a worthy life. The experience of being properly alive, that is, for most of us, hinges upon being welcomed within the world-of-action as it stands and for who and what we are, vocationally, within the context of our individual life. So-called higher aspirations, those pivoting upon existential and psycho-spiritual and cultural mythological tenants can routinely be regarded as somebody else’s job, namely, the spiritually adept, the predestined paraclete that speaks for and ultimately defends the veracity and cosmic legitimacy of our everyday expression of how things are. Heroes like Lancelot and Parzival begin their adult lives at least as flawed as we do, thereby ensuring our ability to identify with them – they may in the end be god-like but they are not gods. From God or the gods we are to remain perpetually and necessarily removed. But by way of their predestined role as symbols, heroes of the fraught stature of Lancelot and Parzival indeed emerge as paracletes, as Bodhisattvas, advocating for us, showing us the way, allowing for our opportunity to enjoy our humble version of divine grace, atonement and transcendence from the sufferings of this world, all the while remaining within it.
For Gawain, enlightenment is rather to be experienced within the world-of-action, within the here and now and in the manner allotted to the rest of us. Lancelot and Parzival, as scholars like Zimmer and Campbell have expressed, are of the type who fall further and rise higher because to rise higher all aspects of the play-of-opposites must be integrated by way of first-hand, thereby inarguably legitimate, experience and for the benefit of our own identification. They have faired and failed sometimes even worse than we, have demonstrated every weakness and nevertheless have won through by way of atonement and their unique mythological resilience, as it were. Gawain is not expected to perform acts of chivalry beyond his means unless it is to evoke the presence, performance and salvatory participation of the god.
What am I saying? That the enlightened householder life-style (a Hindu reference) that Gawain in his way embodies – the vocationally successful, those who enjoy so-called right livelihood as the Buddhists describe it – is all I’ve ever sought. My vision-of-greatness remains entirely within the context of this life upon this Earth. I do not aspire to transcendence beyond escaping the exile of my own foibles and mistakes and my failure to properly respond to my heart.
A life akin to Gawain’s provides for the experience of being properly alive in an everyday sense and death is relegated to, as Gawain implies, an ever-present expression, let’s say, of one’s destiny, hence it is impossible to be feared. Each and every day of one’s life expresses the success of being who you are and in that sense your work is already done and you can never fail nor suffer the qualms of not yet achieving your individuation, especially in terms of your own faulty self-knowledge or failing courage or despairing heart. You have conquered those challenges. You have cast those burdens aside for the enlightenment of being who you are. Moreover, within the context of a such a life, no manner of demise can be perceived as premature. As Gawain declares in another one of his adventures, namely, that of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
Five is the guy. At least lately. I have chugged away at getting him upriver and whether any of the story of his sailing adventure is worth including I can’t yet say. His journey is fraught, there is conflict, it moves the story forward and all that. Sometimes I like it, sometimes it seems a crazy diversion. And despite the rest of the manuscript being at the third draft stage, this is first draft material, hence, it requires a second look in terms of substantive value and of course the line editing. I may have over or underwritten things. Which is to say the idea is important to the architecture of the plot – Five’s origin and travel, his entry into this novel – but my rendering may be tedious and boring. It must add value above and beyond being a component of the plot. Let’s face it, a castaway and solo sailing adventure is hardly a unique idea and it can make for its novel, hence, it threatens to bog down or bloat TC2 with what amounts to a spurious side story. It’s been my challenge, then, to render Five’s experience in line with the style, level of detail and pace of the rest of the manuscript. How to get the job done, for instance, in a page-turner manner without driving the manuscript too far past 500 pages?
Part of being professional is knowing when and how to manipulate the level of detail in favor of keeping the story moving. When in doubt, give the reader the opportunity to fill in the detail, resist the urge to explain and all that. But requiring too many leaps of logic results in the type of annoyingly silly, ultimately nonsensical, fragmented, hackneyed non-stories that you see in, say, too many Ultraman episodes. Our characters are here, then suddenly they’re over there – context comes and goes and a jarring sense of discontinuity poisons our otherwise enjoyable suspension of disbelief. The thrill vanishes, we feel gypped and manipulated and the whole experience becomes one of meritless frustration. It’s the experience of tossed-off indifference to quality and the problem can arise from lack of inspiration, lack of time spent on a thing and, conversely, too much time spent on a thing. The proper balance and chemistry rarely comes easily – it can be argued that it almost never comes easily – and it becomes another aspect of professionalism to battle through the sticky, oftentimes unwieldly nature of a creation and bring it home to at least competent completion.
Have I gone too far this way or that with Five’s entry into the story? I have to maintain a workable faith in my intuition and the editing process, both. Meanwhile, I see it as an opportunity to communicate Five’s psychology. And it’s part of the nature of a charismatic character that we enjoy watching them, listening to them, and reading about them when they’re doing virtually anything. Take Sherlock Holmes as an example. Conan Doyle could place Sherlock within the context of a moon launch in the modern day and people would be compelled to at least try it out. Now, this strength of a character’s charisma of course leads directly into a weakness, namely, that a writer can make the mistake of assuming that you can indeed disregard context and rely upon the charisma power of character to carry the story. In the end, while it may perhaps sell some books, initially, to refresh, as it were, a character’s context in otherwise incongruous ways, the lasting effect is one of diminishment. Sherlock Holmes is a private detective within nineteenth century London and environs. That context is inevitably tied to the value and success of Sherlock as a character. You cannot manipulate that context without overmanipulating the character and, in a sense, losing him.
And this has been the curious experience for me of writing the second novel, namely, that of working with established characters, of not being required as in the first novel to develop the main characters from scratch. These are two different tasks. As it stands, Mr. Z., Vixy, Captain Chase, Professor Wilhelm, Neutic, Five, Cog and the General are known, whereas the Emperor is not so much and the Empress is almost completely new. All their character arcs are different, too, hence each character demands its own special care and handling. They write their own stories, too, of course – it isn’t as if I’m in complete authority – which is both fun and frustrating. This helps explain how Five’s castaway status and sailing adventure came to insert itself, really, into the story. Five himself deemed my original attempt as lacking. Lacking? Yes, quite frankly, in the first draft and even the second I was attempting to avoid the complexity of that plot line. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to write anything more about it. At the time it seemed irrelevant and I was satisfied with leaving it a mystery. But self-editing required me to repeatedly confront the lack. And Five himself spoke to the solution, even beyond my own intentions. He demands how I’m to write his way, my way or our way through it – it’s a weird experience from an author standpoint, believe me. And anyone who writes fiction will likely identify with it.
Meanwhile, at least I’ve finally brought the story forward to where I left off in the editing prior to being overtaken by the impulse to reconfigure Five’s process of arrival. For better or worse, he has run his catamaran aground at the northern portion of the Tonle Sap Lake, damaging the craft beyond reasonable repair (given his circumstances), and this afternoon I look forward to perhaps a paragraph or two that will put him properly and literally on the ground near Angkor in 1296. He will tough out the remainder of the rainy season by way of establishing a reliable shelter, developing a routine of hunting and gathering and exploring the geography. I already know that I don’t have to write that part out. With a handful of allusions, more or less deft, we can provide the reader enough to work with. At least I think so. You don’t describe every step a character takes or every breath he breathes. Herein lies part of the magic trick of writing a novel that people want to read: as an author and with the help of an editor you work to create something that readers enjoy reading and most importantly, reading themselves into.
Anyway, when the dry season arrives in Angkor, Five will be in the bamboo grove where I left him prior to this crazy rewrite, somewhere around page 175 or so in the manuscript. Which is now at something like 520 pages including a table of contents, the notes and glossary but no illustrations. Henceforth, however, rather than adding I am compelled to return to trimming. But, we’ll see. Again, it’s not all up to me.
P.S. On Monday, the TC2 book cover redesign gets underway….
It’s been a very long time since my last post and it’s because I’ve been devoting myself to the editing of TC2. But here’s a treat I can’t resist bestowing: the “Mothman Empress” illustration is finished, holy cow! This isn’t the book cover, mind you, this is rather what I’m putting in the hands of the book designer come September 13th when she has me scheduled. Not this cell phone shot, but a professionally photographed and digitized version that will happen early next week and will look even better. The original illustration is colored pencil, 22” x 30”.
Devoted readers will recall the first version of the cover that I posted many months ago but now, I’m empowered to amp things up so you’re going to see a redo!
I think this is a fantastic, dramatically mythic image and a remarkable expression of the future-is-the-past, science-fiction-meets-mythology iconography that I study. It does everything right; namely, it’s a gripping style that inspires the around-the-horn narrative that all great mythic images express: your eye follows things all over the place and back again. The compression intrigues the intellect, the finesse delights the eye. There is a compelling push-pull, play-of-opposites effect, too: it drives things psychologically inward, communicates a transporting vitality, is obliquely harrowing and like the very best affecting images, it celebrates playfulness and humor. It’s a TIME CRIME 2 Update: quad-vision spectacular!
It’s very true to the novel, also, in the sense that I had developed the idea that the Empress would undertake the pupation process, long eschewed by the Mothmen as a primitive, disturbing and very risky form of physical and psychological transformation that reflects aspects of their culture they would rather suppress. In the story, the Mothmen are losing the Great Conflict against the Molemen and, with the Emperor dead, the Empress – not all together psychologically stable to begin with – seeks this ancient way in desperation and by way of her unhinged ambition.
She emerges in possession of unmatched psi-power – she’s capable of seizing control of virtually every mind in the cosmos and this, of course, instantly turns the tables on the Molemen who were convinced they had victory in hand. I say “instantly, but it’s not quite that rapid. Fresh from her cocoon, the Empress must learn to both effectively wield and harness her power and Mr. Z. is keen to exploit this learning curve, this gap in her supremacy, however long it lasts, nobody can know. Meanwhile, regarding the image, the Empress’s quad-vision, as we’re calling it, almost steals the show – that was K’s idea (and as it happens, a similar physical condition, polycoria, exists in real life with none of the SF-world advantages) – and I’m inspired to exploit this physiological quirk as both symbolic of all things hyper-dimensional and a truly alien trait. In short, this image delivers all the mythological and SF goods! – do you agree?
Akin to TC1, the Empress image is going to appear within the layout of the text in a black & white version (a color image would skyrocket the cost of the book) but, regarding the all-important cover design we’ll see if we can’t incorporate some narrative and movement, preferably in the same style as the first novel but not merely aping it. Of course, we could just use the illustration as the entire cover and add typography and call it done but I’m looking forward, as is K, to seeing what kind of magic the book designer can come up with. After all, the TC1 cover definitely possesses a bit of the pulpy charm I was seeking, and it seems to get people’s attention – it generates a ton of clicks within my Amazon ad campaigns.
The writing in TC2 as compared to TC1? I couldn’t write that book twice – it was all new then and for better or worse I’m never going to be that naïve, cavalier, breezy and concise all at once again. It’s like any first thing: you whole past is in it, undiluted, and your vision is untarnished. That the first thing can’t be repeated, that you can’t go back, is okay, it’s part of my interest and scholarship to investigate what happens within the context of mythological text and imagery. Which is to say that while the novels are a study in themselves, they are also, from my perspective, a study of themselves.
But the books aren’t for everyone. I endured a 1-star rating recently on Goodreads and I suppose that’s going to happen, but it hurts and it baffles me. With the lengthy synopsis, the other positive ratings and the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon – all that advance information and opportunity to get a feel for things – I can’t figure how you order a novel that would be so disappointing that you effectively “hated it” which is what that rating is intended to communicate. Perhaps somebody gave it to them, who knows? It’s up to me to let it go and focus on the positives. Someday, hopefully, the books will garner enough positive reviews that a bad one here and there won’t be so affecting.
Meanwhile, it’s been a great month of sales – fifteen copies divvied up between all five formats and four markets, including USA, UK, France and Germany, Yay! I even sold two eBooks via my website – the $0.99 Bookfunnel promotional price finally ends on September 4th. I just need to somehow get from 15 sales a month to 15 sales a day and then I can break even on expenses. But one step at a time, right? Perhaps one of these days a copy of TC1 will end up in the hands of an appreciative person-of-influence. Until then, here’s to the new artwork for TC2 and the new members of the Time Crime Tribe reading TC1 – I so much hope that you enjoy the novel and please, if you like it, it helps a lot to say so with a review! Thanks.
This, dear reader, is the rare post that is transcribed directly from today’s journal entry, hence, the quirky perspective in the beginning. I’ll say no more.
The last entry is not the fleshed-out version that I posted on the website to a degree that I haven’t allowed up till now. That is, I’ve always up until now been careful to include here all, or reasonably most of all, what I’m posting there, as it were, because frankly the website and blog just don’t seem real or permanent enough to me. Sure, none of this is permanent, none of this will last, from a blog post to a piece of solid state memory, it all goes away one day, all things must pass and all that but I’m rather referring to my sense of where my work resides. All the eleven-plus years of getting this stuff down “on paper” has its own (I hate to call it a tradition) legacy, I guess. Something troubles me about suddenly allowing my journaling to be reduced to throwaway social media driven bloviations. I want my bloviations to at least resemble worthy work. And the medium of course doesn’t matter but somehow a string of blog posts or newsletter posts – call them what you will, who cares? – automatically seem incidental, that’s the only apt word for them.
So, I continue to begin with them here and experiment with placing them “out there” and I feel better meanwhile knowing that I can simply cancel all my silly website ambitions and aspirations and experimentations (I really have the sense that that’s all my internet existence is and will ever be: an experiment) any time I want, no harm, no foul. Why? Mostly because never seems to me to be the archive that it could be argued that it is. The internet, for all its amazing resources and accessibility and its success as the greatest storehouse and resource of information that has ever been – what doesn’t it contain or have the potential to contain besides pretty much everything? – remains, to me, in a word: junky.
The internet is chock full of junk. So that even the great shit gets tarnished by association. I can’t tell you how many times I’m looking at something – reading or watching or listening or all three – and the first thing I do is make certain that whatever it is that I really like isn’t available in some “better” format; namely, a book or even a video collection somewhere that is devoted to such things. HWG likes to reference hard copies of things. I do not. Nevertheless, if something I like only exists on some website it’s still to me like it barely and tentatively exists at all.
I’m not exactly sure what I’m talking about. But my intuition is what it is. Perhaps it dates me, but I really don’t think so. There are younger folks, that is, who get much more into bashing the modern and everything digital because, I believe, the appeal of certain formats is a personal taste thing, which amounts to a personal mythology thing. Vinyl records, as I’ve discussed, from my audiophile perspective, have always driven me crazy with their sonic shittiness, their impossibly affected limits. They have always and always will sound like ass. But some folks dig the tactile quality of things, the finger-friendly, graphics welcoming size and shape and heavy, clumsy, horrid technical wonkiness and thingness of certain things. Slabs of vinyl that barely reproduce the otherwise likewise limited master tapes that they came from, for example, Remember, folks, your original masters are all on TAPE. And tape sucks. (There have been, I believe, direct-to-LP-master recordings but only as what amount to audiophile test discs and if I’m not mistaken I owned one in my youth and I wish I could recall the name of it here, sorry). Meanwhile, tape. Remember cassettes? Yuck. And don’t even get me started on so-called eight-tracks. Yikes.
I’ve spiraled. So be it. I hate vinyl records. HWG loves to have and hold them. But he listens to hi-resolution streaming music. Which is to say he hasn’t replaced the turntable he got rid of twenty-five years ago. Not least for the indescribably superior sound (given a great master) that, at a minimum FLAC (CD-quality) delivers and your whole body in my opinion, will feel as much as your ears will hear, trust me – but also because of (and this returns us to the idea of the internet) the library, the archive, the access. Where else can you find such a wealth of music? And now, in hi-res.
Shutting up on that. I’m banging away in this journal until I get to a year that I decide isn’t going to involve a new DOP volume. I have tried to kill this thing off several times, after all, thinking that I’m done with the idea; that it no longer serves, no longer adds value, no longer helps move me forward. Let it go and see what comes back, as they say – it remains very good advice. When in doubt, do not hang on to a thing. Let it go. Period. Because in personal mythological terms it’s not up to you. It’s a cosmic mandate or not. In concert with your biology. But we’ve covered all this elsewhere.
In other news I was very pleased yesterday to have gone balls out on TC2 – the muse seized me and I found myself banging the story out into shape within the otherwise tattered and neglected chapter thirty-eight, the second-to-last chapter (so far at least), so that it indeed finally feels like the manuscript has become a book. By that I mean to say it has a legitimate beginning, middle and end that holds together respectably as a novel and not just a fucked-up tangle of loose ends that lead nowhere and, very importantly, it ramps up at the end. That is, I’m keen to have it finish in a fury. Call it a cliff hanger ending, call it what you will, my heart tells me that TC must keep driving forward with speed, each book must have all the character arcs and disasters and story arc that makes for good reading but I also need to have it read furiously, as it were, as if the plot is a runaway train at the “end” that is not an ending, if you know what I mean. I like the books that at the last page won’t let you go and you put it down with the thing still ringing in your head, either booming like, wow, that was CRAZY (uppercase) or, hmm, that was crazy (lowercase) but either way you remain gripped and can’t wait for more, for the next book.
This is a very tricky magic trick and of course it is magic and myth and all the intangible art-craft weirdness and wonder that happens in spite of trying to make it happen. Which is to say that for months I’ve been fretting and trying not fret about the book’s ending. It has to be worthy and it wasn’t. The final chapters weren’t finished. And I had an awful day of torturous anxiety the day before yesterday because I felt it was all, for better or worse but perilously on the edge of worse, coming to a head that either was snappy and jazzy and apt and awesome or forced, lame, fucked up and, heaven forbid, dull. I was thinking, jeezus, after all this I’m going to end up with a flat ending? Something that would inspire a reader, including myself, to say, cripes, this is anti-climactic blah, blah bullshit. And to toss the thing aside and trash it with a well-deserved pissy online review.
No. Time Crime. Cannot. Be. Blasé. Believe me, I understand that I am not the gifted wordsmith, the immaculately gifted craftsman of prose or dialogue. I get it. I read my writing (and perhaps other writers endure this, too, I can only assume my woes are not unique) and always struggle to accept its – for lack of a better word: lack. I aspire, relentlessly, to achieve transporting prose. I read things as much for the writing, otherwise considered style, as for the story but there’s more to it than style, I think; it’s rather a magic touch on behalf of an author that takes a story that can’t help but resemble some other story and invigorates it with an intangible flair. It resonates with, I don’t know, the music of the spheres, the ring of truth, the mystery of myth, the power of prose. Prose does something no other art-craft medium can do and short of trying and failing to define that quality I can at least express the fact that we know it when we read it. Rocket sauce. Wow, I say, when I read an author’s great sentence. That’s it exactly. I couldn’t have been said, or written, any better.
Do I ever accomplish it? Does my work ever ring true? It’s not really for me to judge. When I try to be as objective as I can about my stuff, as good as it gets, I would say it gets the job done. In terms of that special writerly rocket sauce I think it routinely falls short. That is, my writing voice isn’t much of one. Too often I sound like everybody else and nobody at all. Workaday is not what I aspire to but nevertheless it’s what I have a tendency to produce. God, how I wish it weren’t that way. I do work to enliven things by way of drilling deeply into my underlying inspiration. How, I ask myself, do I get further up and further in, to borrow a sentiment from Joyce. How do I bring this more to life? If I’m in one of my rare descriptive passages, I can’t resort to purply prose. Don’t go getting intentionally poetic. No. If I’m dealing with dialogue, internal or otherwise, how do I intensify the experience that I’m trying to evoke or demonstrate or communicate? How is it really what the character is experiencing?
All this usually involves allowing and enduring what inevitably strike me as diversions or distractions that, given their proper attention, contribute the magic. I’ll be hammering away with things, doing my determined workaday work within whatever draft and damned if something doesn’t cry out for more exposition or detail or tweaking or a handful of sentences, another whole paragraph or even an entire scene or chapter that, really, goddammit, I was not intending and not in the “mood” for. I place “mood” in scare quotes because it’s a constant struggle for me to allow the muse, call it what you will, to take over like that, to interrupt my overtly conscious, hyper-cognitive awareness of what I’m doing and planning to do and rather let the book take over.
In this sense, then, I’m pleased when I know I’ve surrendered and not pushed too hard for a productivity that is simply that. More words. More pages. More this or that written down. No. It’s not about that. But working it along in that way, being tenaciously professional in that way, working in spite of less-than-inspiring energies, let’s call it, is part of the job that a guy like Nick Cave does well to communicate (see previous post). So that you remain ready and able for the muse, the magic, the being taken over by the characters and the world-building and the mythology.
I don’t intend to sound trippy. But writing fiction probably has to be trippy. A novel writes itself. That’s pretty trippy. What sucks about that is when you as the writer aren’t at all certain that you can keep up with it or help it get where it needs to go; that you don’t have a handle on things. I don’t despair too much with this. I consider myself fortunate to both like, in general, my storylines, and to therefore be free of problems with what the novels are about. They are about what they must be about. I’ve yet to feel tapped out or baffled as to how to proceed. I haven’t suffered the what-do-I-write-about thing that some writers suffer. And I am thankful and consider it a gift that the stories have indeed arrived in this manner. It’s a privilege to have something to write about.
Nevertheless, even being blessed with plenty to write about, I wish that my writing was remarkable. I’m not apologizing because that merely insults the work that I’ve been given and the readers who enjoy it. They are out there. They may not be many, but I know you are there and I’m lucky to have you. I’m tasked with doing my best to get it across, within my means. That’s all any of us are tasked with, namely, aspiring to greatness and enduring and respecting and celebrating, in our humble manner, our humble results. It’s everything. It’s just a book. It’s everything. It’s just a book. And so on. This is the perpetually enlivening yet maddeningly frustrating paradox, isn’t it, of our experience?
Today, then, I look forward to immersing myself in the last chapter of TC2. And seeing what happens. Then, perhaps there will be an epilogue, inevitably brief, I’m not certain, we’ll see. I like the trailing sentiment that a proper epilogue contributes, like a little gift to take away with you as a reader. If, for example, you’ve been otherwise thrilled or saddened or exhausted by having come to the ending, an epilogue says, Look here, friend, it’s not completely over. It doesn’t have to end. It never has to end. If it’s been a wild, unhinged rocket ride, here’s a little return to Earth. Or, if it’s been a horror, here’s a little comfort. If it’s been sad, perhaps here’s something a little less so. I don’t know. For me, the epilogue invites one last envelope of tantalizing mystery into your psychological mailbox, so to say. If nothing else, it bestows the sense of more to come in life and death.
Egg Yolks, Dandelions & the Kaleidoscopic Mystery of Life. As always, there are images that have inspired whatever I write about. And I enjoy including a link to something as often as I can that may serve to demonstrate or evoke or simply acknowledge, however indirectly, whatever it is that moves me. The devoted reader will understand that I have another very devoted vocation all to do with being a home cook (with experience as a professional cook) and for those who have not read my very early posts, well, let’s just say that there is plenty of mythology, personal and cultural, if you care to look for it, within the realm of food and cookery. If you enjoy this fine and funny Japanese film from 1985, Tampopo, then we think alike:
Let’s just say it’s all about metamorphosis. I spent eight hours yesterday completing the prologue to TC2, rewriting here and there but mostly adding. And adding. And, of course, I became fraught with the idea that this is supposed to be a prologue not another version of the first chapter of the novel. Stop! I tried to tell myself – what are you doing? I mean, I want to get to the end not reinvent the beginning.
Well, I didn’t actually tell myself to stop because mostly I’m still comfortable enough with my intuition and unaffected enough by the outside world, i.e., a readership, to allow everything to write itself. But a prologue? And a ten-page version at that? So be it. I pounded it out and I like it. It sets a stage I hadn’t expected to set, begins things within an ancient future, returns to everybody’s favorite antagonists, namely, the Molemen, and introduces enough mystery, drama and conflict straightaway to energize the story. I suppose you can manage to pack too many disasters into a novel so that it eventually reads like a comic book or plays like a television drama or a silly blockbuster action film but then again, perhaps not. Better to error on the side of shit happening instead of shit getting ready to happen. As if I have a choice at all. If you write novels you know that this stuff just arrives and you’re not in charge as much as along for the ride. You’re not the reader but then again you’re not the writer, either, as much as you’d like to consider yourself such. Oh, this is what I’m writing. When a chapter ago you were convinced you were writing that other thing. Such is the experience.
When it’s working and I know that it’s good (or good enough within the boundaries of what I perceive as my humble measure of talent) I mostly love the idea of routinely overstepping good taste, and erroring on the side of tropey, campy, science fiction indulgence, let’s call it; of surrendering in a wink-wink manner to the established and expected. It’s fun, after all, to give in to and get what you want out of a thing, especially when the context is SF, a genre that has always happily exploited its own absurdities and ambitions. There’s room for everybody within SF, I’m convinced of it. From hard to soft, from horror to humor, from mystery to romance and everything in between, there’s a place within SF for whatever you find yourself writing. The single requirement in my opinion, the single marker of what makes science fiction into science fiction being not so much a speculative perspective, though certainly that is a requirement – is Atwood really SF? (dunno myself, I’ve never read her) – as a sense of, in my opinion at least, and I hate to say it because it probably puts me on the side of critics versus fans: irony. Defined as the experience of something not being what it appears.
I am not hereby automatically disparaging the idea of earnestness. No. I enjoy earnestness immensely. Probably because the more intensely earnest the earnestness is, the more enlivened the irony. I was watching the inaugural podcast, just a chat, really, posted by the Crafsman and T-Nu (from Cajun Craftastrophe) and the video background or wallpaper, as it were, happened to be clips from a mid-1960s, American animated television series entitled Space Angel which apparently aired in five-minute segments (yes, five-minutes!) in its day and used the utterly campy and nowadays impossibly endearing so-called Syncro-Vox technique:
Syncro-Vox (sometimes spelled Synchro-Vox) is a filming method that combines static images with moving images, the most common use of which is to superimpose talking lips on a photograph of a celebrity or a cartoon drawing. It is one of the most extreme examples of the cost-cutting strategy of limited animation. The method was developed by cameraman Edwin “Ted” Gillette in the 1950s to simulate talking animals in television commercials.
“Syncro-Vox”, wikipedia.org, retrieved 7.7.21.
I’m not sure how I managed to miss this strange little show because as a kid I watched so many otherwise cheesy television programs, original broadcasts and reruns, from Spiderman to Bugs Bunny cartoons, from Get Smart to the Brady Bunch, from Lost In Space to Star Trek, from Godzilla to The Three Stooges, what have you, but so be it, better late than never. What do I mean by “cheesy”? Cheap, unpleasant or blatantly inauthentic? Now, of course, yes. Then? I have always been a discerner, everybody is in their way, and I can recall preferring the vastly more accomplished artistry and storytelling of the golden age Warner Bros. cartoons – Bugs, Daffy, Elmer Fudd, Peppe Le Pew, Foghorn Leghorn and the rest – over what I perceived even in my adolescence as the hackneyed technique and insipid themes of, say, Hana-Barbera episodes. With the exception of the Flintstones and the Jetsons, which I loved, so, there you go, I shouldn’t single out Hanna-Barbera as especially cheesy. (Apparently Hanna and Barbera were the guys who created Tom & Jerry before founding their own cartoon company).
Anyway, back to Space Angel. Within the Crafsman-T-Nu “craft pod” we don’t get the sound. But the images do their work.
That is to say, within the context of the friendly, earnest, self-aware, shamelessly quirky adventurism that anybody who gets SF, well, gets. We could discuss at length what makes the fiction of SF different than the fiction of Fantasy but whomever coined the idea that SF communicates what isn’t real but one day could be, whereas fantasy communicates what isn’t real and could never be, had it concisely correct. So, take your pick. And what all great storytelling shares, by the way is, you guessed it: mythology.
In the 1990s I recall the irony-loaded (or overloaded, depending upon your opinion) Cartoon Network show, Space Ghost: Coast-to-Coast. Which is an example of driving irony in upon itself to the extent that it becomes so arch and dry and witty that it inevitably seems to destroy all they happy oxygen in the room. I liked Space Ghost. But when irony transforms from the tongue-in-cheek, poking fun perspective to the cutting, mocking, ridiculing version then, within the context of my entertainments, I’m going elsewhere.
Prologues, then. They can signify hackneyed, lazy, info-dump heavy writing or they can indeed serve as value-adding backstory or engaging foretelling (as it were) otherwise impossible to present in any other manner. And having written one and emerged pleased with the result, I can say that a good prologue isn’t an introduction as much as immersion. It’s not the first chapter as much as pre-game fireworks. It references aspects of the first novel without having anything to do with it. It’s not seeking a once-upon-a-time vibe as much as getting everybody in tale-telling mode. And in my case it serves to allow for characters who otherwise have no permanent place within the story to sprinkle their magic sprinkles and disappear into the reader’s subconscious. Or into the mysteriously entangled realm of what makes for a book series. The following linked article addresses the concerns and legitimate advantages of a prologue judiciously, which is to say mostly sans the inevitably jaded perspective of the editor type:
In the end, I just go with my intuition, with my gut, with what the book tells me it wants. As a novelist you’re on the high wire from the beginning anyway, risking all, making yourself vulnerable to most punishing and humiliating and soul-destroying of criticisms, right or wrong, ruthless or insightful, sensitive or insensitive, hurtful or helpful. It has to be fun, there has to be conflict, it has to be entertaining, if only to yourself. And you go from there.
Otherwise, I need to wrap this up because I have indeed been so busy hammering away at the manuscript lately that, well, blog posts require at least half a day’s honest work and lately I haven’t had the mental space nor enough hours in the day to do it right. I owe everybody my best work, or at least my best effort, after all. As an update, TC1 has sold six copies in the last three weeks, an eBook, an audiobook, and four paperbacks spread across the U.S., U.K. Germany and France, yay!
I had intended to include a quote or two from one of Nick Cave’s recent Red Hand Files because it so effectively communicates life within the creative process but better, I think, to just include the link:
And meanwhile make room here for a tidbit from TC2, as a kind of snack for everyone who has taken the trouble to read this far. What follows is the very beginning (at least as it stands today) in the second draft of the manuscript, a mere portion of the prologue. I’ve two chapters left to edit and then by the end of this week, the gods willing, I’ll be on to the third draft. I’d read somewhere that there is the first draft, the goal of which is to get a beginning, middle and end with sufficient disasters in between, followed by the second draft which aims to put in everything you forgot to add, then the third draft which removes everything you don’t need and finally, the fourth draft hones it all into publishable form. Well, I don’t believe for a moment that a manuscript is ready for publication after only four drafts but I get the idea that we need at least the four drafts to bang something into recognizable, serviceable shape as a novel. Gotta go. Thanks and happy reading, everybody.
“Your skirmishes with the Cham have squandered manpower and resources. Your generals and captains die in the fields alongside their warriors, horses and elephants. Your women and children are taken slaves. The hydraulics are neglected. The rice is not harvested. The tax is not collected. Energy for building is wasted in war. Because of you, the completion of the temple is made impossible.”
“Great Lord,” said the king. He lay face down upon the floor of the shrine with arms outstretched, prostrate in the Khmer manner of obeisance, and reached further towards the feet of the molemen, his voice muffled by the sandstone blocks. “Holy Trimurti, forgive me. I have not properly understood. Instruct me. What alms will appease you? What sacrifices? Is it your will that the Cham destroy us?”
“Fool,” said Zero-Seven. “You do understand. And no alms will appease us. What could the Khmer possess that we require? You have lied all along and you are lying now.”
“Lord?” The king craned his neck and looked up, his pained expression made vaguely hideous by his reddened teeth and the smudged discoloration of his lips.
Zero-Seven reluctantly tweaked the resolution of his auto-translator. Always there was the annoying possibility of misapprehension, of the colloquial Khmer words confounding the translation of the royal language. He prepared to repeat himself.
“Wait,” said Four-Alpha. “Suryavarman. We have bestowed upon you the power to rule. Likewise, we have blessed the Khmer with the engineering to control the waters and increase the yield of rice. And the architectural means to embody the celestial city here, at the center of this world.” He winked at Zero-Seven and rolled his eyes. “Your salvation, that of the masses and your own, is maintained by us. Hence, the Cham is not of your concern. Neither the Vietnamese. Nor Siamese. Nor even the Chinese.”
Suryavarman forgot himself and sat up. “But, Lord! Oh, my gracious Lord, the Chinese buy our Kingfisher feathers, elephant tusks, rhinoceros’s horn, beeswax, incense, pepper. And their merchants bestow gold, silver and silks, the finely glazed pottery, the tin goods, sandalwood, musk, linen, iron pots, copper trays and freshwater pearls. The ballista for war.
“War,” said Six-Naught-Six. “Is nothing but childish aggression disguised as purpose. The Aztecs, Greeks and Romans at least had their sport as an occasional substitute. Meanwhile, trinkets. Luxuries. Indulgences of betel, wine, women and slaves. You are like one of your jungle crows, transfixed by sparkling objects of no utility. At the cost of everything that matters. Stand, Suryavarman. And call your rājahotar from his hiding place.”
Suryavarman II scrambled to his feet. He snapped his fingers and waited. They all waited, as usual, for the venerable high priest, a slightly built, almost toothless crag of a man who appeared to be at least twice the age of the king, to hobble from behind his elaborate curtain and assume his deferential place an arm’s length behind Suryavarman.
Six-Naught-Six toggled off his transponder and addressed Zero-Seven and Four-Alpha in their native Engineering tongue. “Testing, one, two,” he murmured. Satisfied the translator was disabled, he proceeded. “Our predicament is plain enough. The Khmer are flawed. Humans are flawed. But these Khmer in particular lack sufficient intelligence and discipline and the will to work. Suryavarman himself is lazy, stupid and distracted by his own petty self-interests. This chief, so-called engineer priest of his? Wizened, obviously. But wise? Cunning, I’ll give him that. Enough to contrive his priestly authority through, what – the reign of three kings including this one? Meanwhile, an engineer priest is nothing but a contradiction in terms.
“We have squandered ten Earth years upon this charade,” he continued, “teaching these fools astronomically relevant mathematics and the basics of stone architecture and hydraulic engineering. And now any diamagnetic advantages of an equatorial orientation for the component have been proven as insufficient and irrelevant as that of the Mayan experiment. Alongside the breakthroughs in hyper-dimensional resolution? It only makes the irony more keenly intolerable.”
“Which irony?” sneered Zero-Seven. “That we, the Angkor team, were the statistical favorites over the Maya project clods and their sprawling geographical mess and that the Giza project wasn’t even expected to survive their first round of funding? Or that the future is the past? So that a three-millennia cultural head start transformed us from frontrunners to also-rans? The Maya team failed as the bureaucratic money pit we all anticipated. Giza ought to have flopped as a hopeless one man show. Yet here we are. It’s not merely intolerable. It’s humiliating.”
“Regardless,” said Six-Naught-Six, “We have failed.”
Four-Alpha stood scowling. “We are to allow Double-Five and his crew the victory in Giza? No. I say we assume control. Smash the Cham ourselves, make an example of this little tin toy of a king and his senile priest and drive this wretched populace like the chattel that they are.”
“A tactic,” said Six-Naught-Six, “that will distort the future beyond our control. And guarantee that each of us is court marshalled. No. Your frustration only exemplifies our failure. We have accomplished nothing besides bleeding Moleman secrets into this stinking Khmer soil. And you, Four-Alpha. You would do things differently now? You allowed this petty tyrant his little egomaniacal indulgences. You allowed him to muster his army yet again and to threaten the Cham.”
“You blame me?” Four-Alpha stomped his foot. “What in blazes have I done short of my duty?”
“You have addressed this puny ruler as an equal. And you have taught him enough of our language that he is likely deciphering enough of this conversation to yet again put us at risk of a mutiny.”
“Mutiny? What would you know of such a thing? Lounging within the cloaked zone, chatting with mission control, growing fat on our rations. While I risk my neck every day on the scaffolds and in the excavations? Directing the foremen. Enduring this despicable weather and the horrible ultraviolet and the biting insects and disgusting food? I gnaw upon roasted fruit bats and pick maggots from my spoiled rice alongside the laborers. I am in the trenches, literally. If there were talk of mutiny I would know it. No. The only mutiny is within this room, among ourselves….”
Carnegie Olson, “Prologue,” Time Crime 2: Empire & Oracle, (Ann Arbor: Humble Hogs Press, 2021-22), 1-4. This citation likewise applies to the footnotes below.
 Like many Khmer, the king avails himself of the famous betel chew, an alkaloid-rich masticatory comprised of the berry of the areca palm tree mixed with lime and wrapped with Piper Betle leaves and used as a stimulant throughout Southeast Asia.
 A weapon consisting of two opposing bows, designed to be mounted upon an elephant or wheeled vehicle that shot arrows with tremendous force.
P.S. I think ya’ll might be happy to know, too, that new artwork – an illustration of the Mothman Empress! – is almost complete and it is by none other than Kevin E., whom those who pay attention to such things will recognize from the copyright and dedication pages of TC1. So, stay tuned for an eye-popping book cover update as well as a mind-blowing illustration for the interior!