December 28, 2015

Where Stories Come From: LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION

(Revised 03/05/2024)

You've probably all read the news about my appearance in the Legends of New Pulp benefit anthology....and the story behind the story is one that's very complicated. A bit "writey-whitey, typey-wipey", in Doctor Who terms.

(OK, forget I just said all that...but this story has a very interesting pedigree...and this is going to be a really long post)

It all started with news from pal Tommy of Pro Se Productions about his health, and some of the measures he would need to take to move forward. Soon afterward, pal Ron of Airship 27 Productions announced their plans to do a benefit anthology just before a Zone 4 podcast recording.

(Editor's note - Zone 4 is no longer active as a podcast as of 03/05/2024. Just in case you had questions) 

It was easy for me to say "yes", but since I didn't quite have a new idea for a story...I decided to do what any other author would: rewrite something I wrote years earlier. To organize my files, I came across multiple stories that I had written in college on a portable typewriter. (And which resulted in a vast collection of rejection slips).

One of these stories - 'Pather - was the kind of cyberpunk/superhero pastiche that many young wannabe writers like myself wrote. (It's the kind of story where I chose to write something just because rather than figure out a way to integrate it into my storytelling). Although it was an ambitious tale (with actual "real-time" telepathic readings) with a simple premise (a lawman hunts down a criminal in a dense urban landscape), 'Pather was a case of my youthful ambition far exceeding my talent.

The other story - a military/war tale entitled Mars Is Hell - had many red correction marks on it. At some point, I had plans to rewrite and resubmit; however, other plans (including possibly writing a column for the Loyola Phoenix) had gotten in the way. Although much of it I couldn't use, some of the details - focusing on life on an alien planet - could easily be integrated into a page one rewrite of 'Pather.

But what changed the younger version of 'Pather to its newer, more anthology-ready version was a change in tone. Thanks to the Chicago Public Library's Interlibrary loan system, I had binge-watched the final seasons of Justified. Rather than a straightforward science fiction police procedural, I had a more Western-influenced tale. It was no longer just lawman versus genetically enhanced criminal; there were elements of conspiracy and a down-to-earth element...despite it taking place on Mars.

(That was the other thing I took from Mars is Hell: the location. Thanks to research for that story and a Doctor Who/Indiana Jones fanfiction round-robin, I had the details to establish my setting. Most science fiction stories about colonies are about empires - either establishing an outpost on a distant world or the fall of an empire through colonial independence. 'Pather would look at Burroughs Urbplex - the most established colony - as just another city that happened to live in outer space).

So now came the important part - "casting" the main characters in my short story. Given my interest in Native American culture (in light of a then-recent story about a walk-off from an Adam Sandler film), I chose to make my leading man an Apache....and a rerun of Law & Order: SVU gave me the idea "candidate" for what he looked like. (And yes, I did some research into Apache culture...because too often, writers focusing on external cultures tend to write towards the stereotype; I wanted to be sure my efforts gave Natan Bodaway - my lead character - a slightly more detailed cultural life. I'm not sure I quite got it). Our main antagonist was...well, I pulled him straight from Justified. Other characters had their basis in both actors and people I had known...

...and the other major change was in the story's plot. Initially, 'Pather focused on creating genetically enhanced warriors. Since that plot was a bit clich√© by current standards, I chose to focus on another aspect. A misheard name led me to the phrase "tear in the sky"....and the reason why someone was given telepathic powers led me to a greater, more malevolent purpose. It also gave me a greater puzzle to work within the context of the greater story.

(No spoilers, though - if you want to learn more, purchase and read it in Legends of New Pulp Fiction)

Despite a then-heavy work and writing schedule, I managed to breeze through the writing/editing/ rewriting of 'Pather, fueled by enthusiasm and copious amounts of coffee. (Only the first few paragraphs were kept; the rest of the story is a page-two rewrite, so to speak). Thankfully, I was able to beat the deadline by a few weeks, mostly by design (I hate riding the edge of deadlines). And when Ron sent me the illustration that would accompany 'Pather, I was blown away...so much that I asked him if my story was that good...

....but see for yourself. All proceeds benefit Tommy in handling medical expenses. (With my mother's recent health issues, I am more than empathetic). You can purchase it via the link above in softcover; it will soon be available on Kindle, and you can also order a PDF version of Legends of New Pulp Fiction via this link.

Consider it my very public thank you - for Tommy Hancock, for his encouragement and support; for Ron Fortier, for suggesting that I consider writing; for Chuck, John, and Brant at Comic Related for their first roll of the dice....and younger me for allowing current me to pay tribute.

Check out this and other written works via my Amazon author page

No comments: