Just when you thought beach season was right around the corner…
I initially started SILVER BROWN as an art therapy project. The main reason I put it online was to fully test its potential to be anything beyond that. It was a worthwhile exercise as an art therapy project. As was putting it online. I drank a rich soup of vibes from the droppings of the Great Bird (i.e. Twitter) and professional input from a gaggle of fellow scribes, which provided me with vital nutrients to open my third eye and see that SILVER BROWN cannot continue in its present form as I originally planned. This story needs just a pinch of reconstructive surgery.
Before I expand on that further, let me drop a parable about burritos. This is one of a handful of things I know how to cook well. Learned entirely by observation, at a burrito joint I visited almost every business day at noon back when I had a supposedly glamourous job. Said joint famously lacked a barrier obstructing the patrons’ view of the kitchen, allowing for the visual spectacle of burrito wizards working their magic behind the scenes. Who taught me (almost) everything I know. About burritos, at least.
Part of the high art of making burritos is knowing how much filling one tortilla can handle. If you try to stuff too much in a single burrito, the whole thing is bound to split at the sides and fall apart sometime during the cooking process. A fictional world vastly different from the familiar is a lot like that burrito. There’s only so much you can put on a tortilla of a hundred thousand words. I initially set out to make SILVER BROWN less grandiose than any of my previous attempts to write a novel, but still found myself trying to stuff a trilogy’s worth of filling in that tortilla. More pre-planning was required for the project, methinks. Next time I mustn’t allow myself to become so distracted with the world in which the story is set that I forget to actually tell the story.
There are also questions swirling in my mind about whether there is still a public appetite for dystopian fiction, now that the present state of human society has taken on a dystopian air. The world humanity lived in when I first started working on SILVER BROWN has since molted. Its new instar bears a closer resemblance to the Environment of my story, in that it’s a world where technology and mass-ignorance has run amok. Hence I must ask myself: would people actually pay money to read this yarn I’m working on? Part of the reason why people read novels is for the escapism. They might be reluctant to read something that hits painfully too close to home. I could be dead wrong; the jury’s still out on that one. Black Mirror has temporarily ceased production because the producers thought it would be too depressing for people to watch in light of that microscopic Cthulhu coming along and ruining everything. Yet according to hard statistics, people are watching movies like Outbreak while they’re in quarantine.
Uncertainties about a potential audience don’t justify a literary facelift as much as the story’s heroine, however. Florys MacNab was subconsciously conceived as a satirical caricature of the vapidly callous materialism exhibited by more than a few people I met back in the day when I worked in one of Canada’s wealthiest neighbourhoods. There’s certainly a place for a character of this ilk in fiction, but in retrospect it was a mistake to make her the protagonist. I’m finding it next to impossible to root for somebody who values things over people, whose entire modus operandi revolves around acquiring and flaunting status symbols and making other people jealous. If I can’t root for that somebody, it’s unlikely my audience will be able to either.
This fictional world I’ve created demands a main character who is at least somewhat flexible and adaptable, who approaches novel phenomena with a certain level of curiosity. That’s not Florys. Florys is way too narrow-minded and hardheaded to be the main character. She would work better as a secondary character. One who repeatedly complicates things for the hero, and (probably) dies in the story’s third act for dramatic effect.
I guess I shouldn’t feel bad about things not working out this time around. As a certain wise man once said…
…but at least I’ve spent enough time wallowing in that shit that new vegetation can start growing on me. I was thinking about going with the same basic plot device, but with a completely different perspective, major characters reworked and fine-tuned (except Sherman, he’s perfect the way he is). Before I start germinating anything new on my ass however, I shall disperse the last of the current yield in the summer. The final chapters are the strangest in the whole book, so of course I’m going to tweet that shit.
I spent some quality time in my old stomping grounds during the Canada Day weekend, revisiting a city that was my hometown for seven years. Seven years spanning a period in my life when I was a big-time lush. But it wasn’t spirituous beverages that brought me to Hamilton this time. All the bars in this city I frequented way back when have long since been demolished by the economic tsunami that hit the planet back in 2008, with the exception of two. One of those two was forced to close its doors because the building itself had been condemned – a turn of events that was completely unrelated to the recession. The city eventually had the property converted to a parking lot; I remember part of me died the day they brought in the bulldozers. The other actually survived that nasty storm and is still in operation to this day, but only because they sold their mortal soul and consented to becoming a miserable shadow of their former self.
Lack of historic watering holes aside, it’s always an interesting experience to return to a city you once inhabited after being away for a number of years, just to see how things have changed. Indeed, Hamilton has changed. A bit. Several businesses have predictably changed hands since I last set foot here. The downtown skyline is a little more manhattanized than it used to be. The new city buses are sleek and sexy as all shit, and handily beat the hell out of those boxy canary-yellow jobs that are presently being phased out. For a split second, I could have sworn they also got rid of the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald that stands on the eastern flank of Gore Park, but that turned out to be little more than a cannabis-induced paranoid reverie.
Whilst out on Sunday morning reacquainting myself with The Hammer (also nicknamed Steeltown, The Birthplace of Tim Hortons or The Armpit of Canada, that last nickname mostly used by stuck-up latté-sipping types from Toronto who for whatever reason think wheat gluten is a deadlier substance than Agent Orange), I came upon this street sign, and took a picture. This is where my main character’s surname ultimately came from. I guess I can say that publicly without getting sued.