Mostly because I had other fish to fry. However, my experience writing SILVER BROWN (and subsequently 2021’s project for National Novel Writing Month, which was an offshoot of SILVER BROWN) came up as a topic whilst chatting with somebody I met once on one of those crazy apps. The conversation fizzled soon after I brought up the talking ferret, but it got me thinking about what kind of grand artistic endeavour I should tackle next. During the holidays, I spontaneously jotted down something in the notepad on my phone to that effect, which I’ll have to wait until the end of the academic year to pursue in earnest.
This is a doodle of an eyeball glyph I did in Adobe Illustrator a while back that I’ve never had an excuse to use until now. If you scroll down past it, you will find an excerpt from the current chapter I’m working on. The species so described is part of the established lore of the fictional Environment in which my story is set, but I think this would be the first time I’ve fully realized it in prose. Might give it more qualities in future drafts, but methinks this is serviceable as a rough sketch.
At first glance, this life form looked perfectly harmless. Comical, even. Resembling a course layer of chocolate brown hair growing out of solid bedrock. Carpeting the walls of the burrow. The fur of a shaggy dog, without the dog. But as every worker knew, this fur was not to be petted. If one were to agitate the hairs in any way (either by accidentally kicking them or handling them in any non-gingerly fashion), such an action would trigger an immune response in the organism, causing fruitbodies to germinate in the agitated hair tips. A mere ten minutes or so later, these hairs would have evolved into thick, almost woody stipes bearing mature spherical sporocarps, each one with that characteristic appearance suggestive of the head of an old Morgenstern club with a shiny metallic sheen. One could probably see their reflection (albeit distorted) looking into such an anatomical structure. But no worker in their right mind would dare find out for sure. It was grilled into them from their job training that if a fruitbody had that certain silver look to it, it was dangerous. One should get as physically far away from it as humanly possible, with the same speed and sense of urgency as if it were a time bomb on the verge of detonation. Because in many ways, that’s exactly what it was.
That silver part of the Silver Brown never made a sound when it burst. But a worker would always know when it did. Their sinuses would instantly be assaulted with an odor that was as distinctive as it was repugnant – something like a cross between cheap men’s cologne and a skunk carcass in an advanced state of putrefaction, with a subtle hint of wet dog flatus. The unmistakable stench of untold cubic gallons of the organism’s seminal ether being ejaculated into the open air, a minute percentage of its mist and vapors invariably finding its way into the lungs of any hapless soul who just happened to be in the vicinity.
I actually halted working on the book for about a month. Mostly because I’d reached a point in the narrative where the focus shifts to the villainous faction of the story. There was a question I philosophically wrestled with during that time on whether the (impartial) third-person narrative voice should adopt a tone for this chapter that’s in any way different from earlier chapters that focused on the hero and his trusty sidekick. On the one hand I really want to convey the innermost workings of the antagonist’s head, but on the other hand I want to avoid telling the audience what to believe about him. A certain equilibrium between the two would be ideal. It’s a matter of knowing when to lean to one side and when to lean to the other. Not the easiest hike, but I’m forging ahead with it.