I was reading Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius when I started writing this story.
I do that sometimes; I start reading a book and get totally inspired to sit down and write a story similar to the one I’ve just read. After reading a bunch of Michael Ondaatje, I wrote a story about Maggie Gillwood, a war widow living in Ottawa, coming to terms with rebuilding her life after the death of her husband, and the farmhand she hires who instantly falls in love with her. Echoes of Ondaatje reverberate through the writing, with metaphors of cinnamon and brief flashes of the past. I even included a Michael Ondaatje quote as an epigraph:
Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.
- Michael Ondaatje
Sure, it was a moody piece, with lines like
oh, how he’d get himself worked up when his
team was doing poorly, screaming obscenities
at the helpless wooden cabinet
he was passion.
and an almost unforgivable scene with a prison guard weeping softly over his captive prisoner’s fate - “a small mark on a dusty floor the only evidence of compassion.” But it had promise and some imagery I really liked. I agonized over the story for months, tweaking this line and that until I ran out of steam. It ended up a weird hybrid of blank verse and prose, never really deciding on one or the other. And besides, I was young - what did I know about life, especially about the loss of a spouse? It’s probably for the best that I left that particular story alone.
After reading Neuromancer for the umpteenth time while I was working for a network security company, I wrote >_, a story about a hacker. I was feeling the high of having worked for a network security company, and being so close to actual hackers. The unnamed protagonist of the story was doing time in an accounting firm writing a small worm. He runs into an especially boastful accountant who leads him to Chase Strand (can’t you just feel the Gibson dripping from that name?), a reclusive but über-wealthy former hacker.
Unlike Maggie, which was moodily quiet, even sullen, >_ was brash and loud, trying to combine the styles of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson. I had some good plans for that story, with some impressive plot twists. I enjoyed writing it, but never really got around to finishing it. Like Maggie, the story just petered out, plot sputtering to a slow, rolling stop.
I stopped writing fiction when I started writing technical documentation. Something about writing procedures and conceptual documents stripped me of the ability to write for enjoyment. By the time I left that job, I’d even stopped blogging regularly, the joy of writing had traveled so far away from me.
So I guess what I’m trying to say here is bear with me. Having read something inspiring, I’ve decided to start writing a story that will likely fizzle out after a couple of weeks. But I’ll have fun doing it, and really, isn’t that the point?
I am a normal person to whom abnormal things sometimes happen. It started when I was 4, learning to ride my green Schwinn with training wheels. Dad was working the garden of their little house on Merlin Drive - a choice of homes that might have contributed to my lifelong love of all things wizard - when God yelled at me. I can’t remember what he yelled, perhaps he was mad at me for venturing down to the ravine behind our house, which I wasn’t allowed to play in. But it scared the Hell into me, and I ran into the house. It occurred to me years later that it wasn’t, in fact, God who yelled at me, but rather it was the CF-101 Voodoos flying overhead as part of the annual airshow in my home town.
The abnormalities continued through a childhood fascination with extraterrestrials and conspiracy theory. I remember vivid dreams of a giant moon outside our kitchen window, and opening the door onto our patio to a 3-foot-tall slug-like alien. I spent much of my adolescence convinced that not only were aliens real, but they were living just on the edge of my existence. Alongside the aliens lived the ghosts and creepy things that go bump in the night. For my 12th birthday, my parents bought me a copy of Mysteries of the Unexplained, a book that still haunts my bookshelf. I lay awake wondering if tonight was going to be the night a little grey face appeared in my window, or if I was going to spontaneously combust.
You couldn’t keep me away from the paranormal. I sucked back books about ghostly possessions and cryptozoology, memorizing facts about the Loch Ness monster and Ogopogo. I knew the different types of UFOs and the difference between telekinesis and telepathy.
I was an odd kid.
It may have had some effect on my popularity in school. See, I was never really that popular. I was socially awkward, never feeling all that comfortable around other kids and not sure how I should interact with them. I talked about weird things, gravitated towards the other social outcasts and malcontents, and had weird interests like computers (it was the late 80s). I was an easy target for bullies and they knew it. I know now that nobody had it easy growing up, and even then I knew there were kids that had it a lot worse than me. I was lucky enough to have a relatively stable family with a decent enough income; I wasn’t incredibly ugly or plagued with acne and only worked because I wanted to buy my own computer and car.
But this isn’t so much a story about my childhood, though I’m sure we’ll take some unavoidable side trips there. This is a story of abnormal things. I used to collect them, these little tchotchkes of absurdity. Like >_ and Maggie, their chronicling was inspired by something I was reading at the time, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendour. Pekar was an oddity in the comic world when he first started writing. He didn’t write about superheroes, teens in Riverdale or little rich kids. No, Harvey Pekar made comics about the mundanities of every day life in working class Cleveland, Ohio. He didn’t even bother with the artwork, trusting it to a different artist every issue. I loved it, and saw the potential to do something very similar with the people I ran into in Edmonton.