I tend not to use my blogging and internet “presence” (such as it is) for too much self-promotion — which is kind of stupid since that’s kind of what 80% of it is used for by people! But I’ve just felt self-conscious and preferred to write about things outside myself (reflecting on Canadian film & TV, comic books, etc.) But every now and them I realize I’m shooting myself in the foot (commercially-speaking) and a little narcissism can be healthy.
So today I’m going to draw attention to a couple of stories I’ve recently had published. One is in the latest annual Tesseracts science fiction anthology (Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe) and the other is in the science fiction webzine Perihelion Magazine. Basically I’m hoping to draw any random reader’s attention to them, steering some to Perihelion (where the story can be read for free) or to actually buy a copy of Tesseracts Nineteen. And to provide — for those as are interested in the creative process — a bit of a “writer’s commentary.”
(I’m also adding this extra plug for my story collection, Masques & Capes — a collection of superhero prose stories; check out the webpage about it here — you might be intrigued).
The Perihelion story — published title is “Run Program” — has a bit of a sentimental aspect, because if you check it out you’ll see it’s credited to D.K Latta (which is moi) and Jeffrey Blair Latta. Blair was my brother who passed away a few years ago.
You see, the core idea for the story started with him. He had this idea for an elegant, minimalist little sci-fi nail-biter about a man in some sort of vehicle on a deserted moon who finds himself in trouble when he gets locked out of the vehicle’s control systems and it starts running wild. He had been sort of inspired by the Harlan Ellison story, “Life Hutch,” which was a single character thriller about a lone man trapped in a small room, trying to out-think a murderous robot.
So my brother had mulled this idea over for a number of years, but it had never full come together enough in his head for him to actually start writing it. Finally, at a point when I was doing some more writing than he was, he tossed it to me and suggested I see if I could do anything with it — whether a fresh perspective might find the “in” into the concept.
Because we both shared “pulp” sensibilities, I too found the deliberate minimalism a bit hard to wrestle with (though agreeing that it could make a great story) so when I took a run at it, I juiced it up a bit — still about a character trapped in a runaway vehicle, but embellished with a few other voices, and adding on extra plot complications to raise the stakes and, hopefully, heighten the suspense. I also decided to link it a bit with an older story I had written called “Swam” (which was first published in a magazine called Challenging Destiny and which is re-posted on-line here). “Swarm” was my attempt at an Old School “classic” sci-fi adventure story involving a character wearing a suit that was part environment suit and part body armour designated a Kel 427. I think it was my brother who suggested his idea of a man trapped in a rogue vehicle might link up nicely with the Kel suit idea, so I gave the character in “Run Program” a later generation Kel 600 (but otherwise, it should be mentioned, you don’t need to read one story to understand the other).
Once I was finished, I liked the result. So did my brother.
I then sent it out a couple of times but it was rejected. And then as happens, I got distracted by other things and the story kind of fell to the bottom of my list of things to submit (and the rejections instilling in me a lack of confidence in the story). Some time after that my brother passed away. Then a few months ago I looked the story up again, and decided — darn it! — I still thought it was a good like suspense tale. And so I decided to put it back into play and send it out for consideration again.
And, fortunately, the editor at Perihelion Magazine seemed to agree it was a nice little tale. And even more fortunately, agreed to giving my brother a posthumous credit as co-writer.
See what ya think of it.
As for my Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe story…
Each year there’s often some sort of unifying theme, and as that sub-title implies, this year’s theme was “superhero” stories in prose form.
It’s not exactly a common sub-genre in prose, but arguably appropriate given superheroes have never been more mainstream — not only are comics increasingly edging their way into the mainstream (the Twitter feeds of respected journalist will include analyses of the latest political issues — mixed in with unself-conscious pop references to comics and comments about the latest episode of TV’s The Flash) and superhero movies and TV series have never been bigger, or more respected.
According to an intro to the collection, co-editor Claude Lalumière (who assembled the aggregation with Mark Shainblum) had been pitching this idea to the Tesseracts anthology people for years — and just to prove his interest isn’t just a passing whim, he’d earlier co-edited (with Camille Alexa) another superhero anthology, Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (2013, Tyche Books).
And full disclosure: I have stories in both collections. In Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories my story was “The Secret History of the Intrepids” (which the blogger at They Stand on Guard referred to as his/her favourite story in the collection). My story in Tesseracts Nineteen is called “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” (or “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumor?” as it’s spelled in the published book).
Its evolution is kind of interesting (at least, I think so). I don’t want to give too much away about it, but the core idea was a concept that had been bouncing around in my head for, literally, years, involving a mysterious superhero/crimefighter whose origin is linked to a mishap that involves a mid-20th Century radio actor. The inspiration was the old Shadow radio series, in which an invisible crimefighter defined by his voice seemed a perfect use of the non-visual radio medium. I also have a fondness for the idea of superheroes with finite, even limited abilities — and then seeing how that could be developed into a crimefighting power (from The Flash, whose basic power is just that he moves fast, to even, say, Dazzler!) So I liked the idea of playing with a crimefighter whose ability might seem ineffectual — and then showing how effective it could be, if used right (and yes, I’m being vague — you’ll have to read the story).
If memory serves, I half thought the idea of a radio-actor-turned-crime-fighter might make an interesting pitch to CBC Radio back when they still did radio drama (and don’t get me started on their boneheaded decision to shut down the radio drama department, because I’m trying to keep my commentary PG). My idea — then — was to set it in modern times with a plucky female reporter who discovers an antique radio in a garage sale…
The other idea behind the story was another superhero concept I’d had for years (I’ve read a lot of comics and I do some fiction writing — trust me: I have a lot of ideas for superheroes!). This involved a hero who was a famous radio announcer in his alter ego, so he would whisper while in costume to disguise his voice, leading to him being called The Rumour. I just liked tipping the secret ID thing on its head by imagining a hero who was more likely to be “outted” by his voice than by his face.
So when I decided to try and put my original idea of a radio actor on paper and submit it to Tesseracts, I decided to appropriate the Rumour name from the other, unrelated character (don’t worry — I’ve come up with another name for him!) And I located the story back in the mid-20th Century (because of the radio drama connection) allowing me to pepper in a few cultural references to suggest the period,
I’d recently been trying a slightly different approach to writing — stemming out of my “pulp fiction” inclinations. And that was a kind of stream-of-consciousness writing. Instead of carefully blocking a story out in my head before typing the first word, I was deliberately pushing myself by kind of starting the story before I necessarily had everything nailed down in my head. My theory was the story might be fresher, more unexpected for the reader if even I didn’t know where it was headed! That’s a slight exaggeration, of course: most of the stories I wrote like this did still end up pretty much as I conceived them. But it allowed for a few twists and turns and unexpected characters along the way.
Anyway, so when I sat down to write “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumour?” I had a basic idea of how it would begin, how it would end, the general thrust and themes of the story…but there were also a lot of vague things in the middle. I started writing it from the POV of a mobster relating how ill-fortune befell him thanks to the title character — largely because it was the easiest “in” into the story.
But a few paragraphs in I felt a bit like a hypocrite. And the reason was because I don’t generally like stories told from the POV of the bad guy! Don’t get me wrong — I’ve read great stories using that approach. And I have written stories like that, including ones I’m proud of. But in general, I regard it as problematic…despite being an enormously popular approach in horror and crime stories; the “scumbag gets his/her comeuppance” theme. It’s easy for the writer to do, and can be fun creating a “voice” for the personality, but the problem is it gives the reader no one to root for or to empathize with. It’s just a few thousand words (or half an hour in a TV or radio anthology) of an unpleasant person having unpleasant things happen to him.
And, as I say: it’s kind of lazy. And yet here I was doing it myself! What’s more, because of where I knew the story would end up, I figured I needed another person narrating the end.
And that’s when inspiration struck!
Why not switch narrators — repeatedly? Why not tell the tale through a variety of narrators?
So start with the mobster, as I was — then switch to another POV, then another.
And suddely the story started to take off in my mind. It would be creatively more fun, since I would have to craft different “voices” for each narrator (no point in switching narrators if everyone talks the same, right?) It also suggested an approach to the plot itself, since to justify switching narrators it made sense that they’d have different pieces of the puzzle to relate (rather than simply having them all be privy to the same information). So the story itself became a little more oblique. The characters only had their pieces of the puzzle, and it was the reader who would see the whole picture as it slowly formed.
And it actually made the name of the character — and the title of the story — far more clever. Since it meant the entire story is being presented as, essentially, a rumour — as different characters pass on bits and pieces of information, some of which even they only heard second hand.
I think the finished story became much more interesting, clever, and fun — both to write and, hopefully, to read — and just because a couple of paragraphs in I realized I didn’t want to write an entire story from the POV of a mobster!
As George Peppard used to say in “The A-Team”: “I love it when a plan comes together!”
Anyway, so that’s more than you probably wanted to know about the creative process behind “Pssst! Have You Heard…The Rumor?” (available now in Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe) and “Run Program” (available for free at Perihelion Magazine). Plus…don’t forget “The Secret History of the Intrepids” (in Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories).
And just to tease those as might be interested…I’m working on my own, secret project involving superheroes and Canadiana, so check back to this blog from time to time for news!