This website was launched on October 28 of last year. I chose that date for two reasons. The first reason being it’s my usual shtick to unleash things upon the earth either on the seventh day of a calendar month, or on a date that corresponds with a number divisible by seven. That’s just how I roll. The second reason is that I wanted to launch the site in time for November, which among other things is National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoWriMo (nan-oh-RHYME-oh), as it’s known for short.
The gist of NaNoWriMo is to challenge people to produce a novel of at least fifty thousand words during the month of November. For the benefit of all participants, the rules don’t state that the novel has to be riveting or particularly well-written. Authoring a complete novel of that high a calibre in thirty days or less would be a Herculean undertaking for most people, unless Green Eggs and Ham counts as a novel now and I didn’t get the memo.
The notable lack of Nobel Prize-worthy material composed during NaNoWriMo is virtually of no concern to all involved, however. It’s not so much about producing the next Hamlet as it is about getting people engaged in the craft of creative writing, so they gain a newfound appreciation for the art. Ultimately, a newfound love of literature itself – a love always stronger and more ubiquitous than we’re ordinarily accustomed to believing it is.
Like many people, I’ve read a lot of books over the years. Not all of them I loved right away. Some were confusing as all shit on the first read, only starting to make sense upon subsequent reads. Some caused a certain churning feeling in my gut with either an absurdly improbable premise or something outright inexcusable, like purple said-bookism abuse. Some books left behind a strong Whiskey Tango Foxtrot aftertaste in my conscience that persisted years after I read the last sentence. Then there are other books that are just plain horrifying. But all in all, I don’t regret reading a single book I’ve ever read. A library is a different plane of existence. A place devoid of regret.
In many a blog post of yesterweek, I’ve mentioned Act One of SILVER BROWN is pretty much complete. I’m not ruling out the possibility that it still might undergo a few more nips, tucks and organ transplants, but at least it’s at a point where I’m more or less satisfied with it. Acts Two and Three are both in an early-to-intermediate stage of their development. Like literary vestigial limbs. They will surely evolve into glorious eldritch tentacles dripping with digestive sucker juices and territorial musk, but for now they’re just stumps. Act Two is a little bit more than a stump, though. It’s the one I’m presently editing.
These chapters have something of a different feel to them compared to Act One. Act One details a critical moment in Florys MacNab’s career as a witch, and most of the supporting characters are other witches. Act Two sees Florys venture out into worlds beyond the Sisterhood to learn a host of horrifying cryptic truths her Lodge has hitherto kept from her. The supporting cast has almost completely changed. Characters that were only mentioned in passing or casually alluded to in Act One become much more prominent in Act Two. This blog post will focus on one of those characters in particular. Kent Fairholt’s trusty sidekick, the utility program Sherman dot Quebec Lima niner.
It was established from the earliest drafts that Sherman can and does speak. His function within the narrative is as a voice of reason. A foil and counterpart for Kent Fairholt, frequently correcting him when he’s wrong. Kent’s conscience, personified. Or more accurately, mustelified. When Sherman speaks, Kent is the only human who can understand him. To Florys and other humans, Sherman’s utterances just sound like a series of clucks, squawks and chirrups. Hence, Sherman’s brainy sayings (at least the ones relevant to the plot) must necessarily be translated and interpreted for Florys (and ultimately the audience) by his significantly less brainy friend. The results may vary.
Throughout the editing process, I experimented with several different approaches trying to find the best way to represent Sherman’s utterances in the text. The earlier stages of the book’s evolution would feature Florys including phrases like “the ferret clucked and squawked” or “the ferret clucked and squawked some more” in her narration of the story (she seldom refers to Sherman by name, mostly out of disdain for Kent). The result was that Sherman came across like a one-dimensional character, saying the same old shit over and over again. After about the fifth time the ferret clucked and squawked, he started to get on my nerves. So in order to make him less Jar Jar Binksy, I found it necessary to expand his vocabulary a bit. That, and to present more of his lines of dialogue in an onomatopoeic manner as opposed to giving verbal descriptions of his utterances – a cue I probably took from the fight scenes in that old Batman series from the Sixties starring the late great Adam West…
His vocabulary would be expanded further still when Our Lady of 420 whispered in my ear one morning and casually suggested that he ought to be equipped with a vast internal library of sound effects. An idea completely compatible with the nature of the character and the premise of the book.
Sherman looks like a ferret and is frequently referred to as such by Florys, but beyond superficial appearances there is nothing ferrety about him. He’s actually a musteline utility program running within the Environment. An artificial intelligence, in other words. Like a walking Siri with fur. Hence, having a library of sound effects tucked away somewhere in his brain wouldn’t disrupt the suspension of disbelief too much. The sound effects come into play when Sherman is trying to accentuate a point he’s trying to make to Kent, using them almost like auditory emojis. Any selections from the library that take more than one word to convey are given in parentheses in the text. I think I recall J.K. Rowling using a similar technique a few times in the Harry Potter series, although I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head specifically in which chapters of which books.
Squawk! Roar, meow. Bark! (Screech of an eagle). Chirrup, cluck-cluck (something that vaguely sounded like a dump truck backing up). Coo, squeak.
A former colleague of mine contacted me by phone a few months ago. He offered me a job. Decided not to take it, though. For two reasons. The first reason being that he was very insistent I move back to Toronto to take the job. Something I have precisely zero interest in doing. I lived and worked in Toronto for a number of years, and those were arguably the darkest years of my life.
My old program coordinator at Sheridan College once advised a more naïve and innocent version of yours truly against seeking work in the Big Smoke upon graduation. Her exact pearl of wisdom was: “You’re just not a Toronto kind of guy.” I probably should’ve taken her advice in retrospect. But I didn’t, and learned the hard way what she was getting at. I ended up working for a psychopath who eventually got arrested for stabbing a dude, but that wasn’t the half of it. Toronto is only exciting and glamourous if you’ve never had the experience of living or working there. Otherwise, it’s the most miserable little hellhole on the face of the earth. Douchebaggery and shameless materialism are epidemics in that town. If you dare to base your whole sense of self-worth on something other than the number of zeros on your paycheque, people actually think there’s something horribly wrong with you.
The second reason why I turned down the job is because I’ve already made definitive plans as to what I’m going to do with the post-Ellis Galea Kirkland phase of my professional life. Plans which I may or may not elaborate on in a future blog post. I’ve done the corporate stooge thing, and have experienced firsthand that there is no contentment to be found in a corporate stooge existence. Deriving some kind of satisfaction from my work would be a good and welcome thing, methinks. So now I’d like to devote my time and talents towards a more noble endeavour. All the paperwork with regards to said endeavour has been completed and submitted to the relevant personnel; I should be hearing back from them in a few months’ time.
It was the first time I had spoken to the aforementioned former colleague in four years, and the conversation did not revolve entirely around this job he was offering me. Among other things, he enlightened me to the fact that our one-time boss did not actually commit suicide, as was initially reported in the Globe. That was the “official” explanation given to the media, but the truth is even stranger (and hence far more interesting) than that. She died accidentally. Hypothermic shock.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, Ellis Galea Kirkland was a cancer survivor. She successfully bought her way back to relative health, but not before her years of illness rendered numerous biological functions defective. One of those functions being the human body’s natural thermoregulatory ability. Over a period of years, her body temperature would gradually lose its propensity to remain consistent regardless of external atmospheric conditions, and would instead fluctuate in response to her body’s immediate surroundings. In short, she ceased to be a normal warm-blooded mammal and became cold-blooded. Like a reptile.
Years ago when Ellis first discussed this particular quirk of her physiology with me, I made some wisecrack to her in response about how she was a human lizard. Despite her hair-trigger temper and her tendency to take herself way too seriously, she laughed that one off. The joke likely reminded her of the pet iguana she used to have back in the Eighties.
Yeah, you read that right – being the near-Michael Jackson level of eccentric she was, Ellis once had a pet iguana. I never met the iguana, unfortunately. This little guy had been dead for years by the time I first met her, but I’ve personally seen old photographs of her posing with it. She would tell me that this critter expired prematurely as a result of an unintended moment’s exposure to a particularly harsh Canadian winter. In a weird way, one could say the iguana eerily presaged its owner’s death some thirty years later. There’s at least a one in ten million possibility that the iguana’s manitou cursed Ellis in retaliation for forcing it to spend the majority of its mortal existence in her abominable presence somewhere in a wretched urban swamp right next door to the ninth circle of hell, but don’t quote me on that.
With her reptilianism in some unbeknownst waxing phase (she was medically a werelizard, I’m pretty sure of it), it would be a mere five minutes outside on a bitter New Year’s Eve in the financial capital of a certain country far in the Northern Hemisphere known the world over for its harsh winters (if nothing else) that would ultimately do her in. A demise that recalls the Wicked Witch of the West, in the sense that she was killed by something that has been naturally present on Earth for millions of years which the comfortable majority can easily withstand exposure to without suffering any life-threatening medical complications.
I may or may not use this as a plot device in SILVER BROWN. Some variant of it might show up, but right now it’s really too early to tell. It’s certainly fucked-up enough to make excellent fodder for fiction. The stuff of a good biological horror story worthy of Cronenberg. There are quite a few characters in SILVER BROWN that cannot be accurately described as human, so if I find myself having to kill one of them off, it would be only fitting to give them a very inhuman sendoff.