Maybe what I need is to get back into a significant writing project. Perhaps my life is telling me that...
I found the original MSWord file to Tarantula Season on an old disk drive. I resurrected it, and started rereading my manuscript. Talk about pain. Now I remember why I hid it away. And now when I read it, it's so far lost in the past I can barely remember the story. I remember typing the words - going through the editor's endless streams of post-it notes, but I don't remember "feeling" these words at all. It's like it was written by someone else.
The editors had me restructure the plot line. The bad guy became the good guy, and visa versa. When you start turning a book on its head so that it will be accepted, it's time to bail out. But I didn't, mostly because of ego, but secondarily because I'd spent a year on it by that time, and I couldn't bear giving it up.
Now what I see is a sci fi story full of accurate technological descriptions (all the weapons and computers and aircraft come from personal experience), but little true emotion. Back in those days I thought I knew how people thought. What I didn't realize is that nobody thought the way I did. I got a lot of coaching from the "book doctor" and my agent on how to write believable female characters. My agent was polite about that with me - and she was rarely polite. She said, "You write like Hemingway," which I took as a great compliment. What she meant was that my lack of understanding of women, my abrupt sentence structure, and my characters's lack of internal dialog were all reminiscent of Papa.
Unfortunately, I had none of his good qualities.
Now I realize that Virginia Kidd figured getting this novel together would be an excellent exercise for me, and I suppose it was. But I doubt she ever banked on getting it sold. If it did, great. Though once I got through it she moved me on to my next project. And somewhere along the way I got tired of writing unpublished novels (this was my second). My career in engineering was taking off and demanding more and more of my time.
I didn't submit anything else to Virginia's agency until after she had passed. By then I had a book contract to produce the Antarctica story (also unpublished to this point) and that changed my life in ways I could barely imagine back then.
Back then, Diana Gabaldon was an electronic writer friend of mine the way many of you are electronic writer friends of mine here on E2. She was busy publishing the Outlander series of books, and she actually introduced me to her agent at the time. Though he declined to take me on after reading my stuff. Indeed, I was quite the hack compared to Diana, though I'm thoroughly honored she'd even bring me up to him.
But the point of me dropping her name is that back then we would talk about writing, and I asked her if she'd ever noticed that after writing something utterly fictional, it tended to come true in some way or fashion. Not that writing about alien abduction gets you abducted by aliens, but when you write about abduction, you start seeing it everywhere. Everywhere in the media, of course. But even more subtle things - like you'll be standing in line at McDonalds and the people behind you will be talking about it. Or you'll be in your car stopped at a red light and the car in front of you will have a giant bumper sticker with a picture of a flying saucer that says, "I WANT TO BELIEVE"
She admitted it happened to her, too.
In fact, it happens to all artists. Because we humans are just the conduits for art. Wherever it comes from, wherever the muses live - is where our communal reality is stitched together, weave after weave.
These sections are bits from the first 50 pages of the book. I chopped them out and rewrote them so that they sound more like the post-40-year-old me, rather than the just-turned-30-year-old me.
I write better than him.
He bought a gun. It was on the passenger seat beside him. He was driving it home.
He didn't know he wanted one until he saw the nine millimeter in a Mel Gibson movie. Mel waved it around like a magician's wand and fired it with absolute precision and that's what he figured he needed. Precision. That was going to solve something.
The purchase wasn't so much an impulse than a long considered chess move. Chris had forbidden him. There was a child in the house. There were statistics: homeowners were more often hurt by their own weapons than protected by them.
But there was something unsettled in the night that she never saw. Chris couldn't feel it because the baby had her, she had him, and he had no one. Night after night he'd drift awake from a dream that wasn't sleeping, afraid and immobile, and each night he promised himself he'd talk to her about it. Maybe go to a doctor. But every morning the thought of bringing it up embarrassed him and he went off to work drowning himself in routine to forget it. And so it repeated. And so he would end it.
Two weeks earlier he willed himself to the counter. He'd never seen a display case full of real pistols before. They seemed like fiction.
"What interests you?" the salesman asked.
Aubrey pressed his finger onto the glass over the Beretta. "That one."
The salesman pulled a key from his pocket, opened the case and pulled out the weapon. He racked the slide open, looked Aubrey in the eye, and held it out to him. And instead of reaching for it, Aubrey eyed as if it was on fire.
The salesman's eyes narrowed. "It won't bite you."
"Ok. Let me tell you how this is going to work..."
And Aubrey expected the man to go into a spiel about background checks and fingerprints. Instead he explained how to rack the slide. Where the safeties were. How you couldn't fire without a clip inserted. How the cartridges were loaded. The words flowed while the salesman manipulated the gun like a poker dealer, sharp, precise, quick. Aubrey wasn't sure if he should listen or watch. It didn't seem he could do both and before he knew it the weapon was in his hands, as real and heavy as the first stone a neandertal raised in anger.
And then he signed some paperwork and went home without it to allow the waiting period to pass. The day before he could pick up his pistol he told himself he'd forget he'd even seen the sporting goods store. Just go about the day and forget it happened.
But that morning he woke up determined.
The gun store had a range. As soon as the weapon was his, he was free to buy ammo for it and fire it there.
It was heavier in his fist than it seemed it would be from the movies. His hands shook when he aimed it - lining up the dots on the frame with the one on the barrel. And it jumped when he fired it - upward and to the right. How could anyone hold steady in the concussion of that noise and the impact against his palm?
Out of twelve rounds he hit the target paper twice.
He told himself he missed because the black shapes on the targets were all wrong. The silhouettes made no sense. What the hell was he supposed to be shooting at?
merridy. . ."
He gripped the pistol harder. Both hands. Legs spread in an 'A'. Gun platform, he was told. A man firing a weapon becomes a gun platform.
"Merrily, merrily," Aubrey said, squeezing the trigger, not pulling. Bam. Better this time.
When the baby took his first steps, his son's hand was the size of pistol grip, but much lighter. Fragile. He had to walk slower for Sammy to keep up.
"You sure you don't want Daddy to carry you?" They headed across the park lawn toward the sand pit and the swing set.
"No, I wanna walk."
"Well, you're walking."
see yight," Sam said, pointing upward with his free hand.
saw a glint in the sky beside the sun and figured it was the sunlight reflected
from a passing plane. "That’s
a light. Light," Aubrey
said. Then, to Chris, "Why
can’t he say ‘L’s?”
only a baby.”
"I no baby I big," said Sam, stomping out the words in his bright blue tennis
snatched up his son, hugging the small body to his chest and rubbing his nose
against the boy’s soft cheek. He trotted to the play area and put the boy down on the sand.
merridy. Bubba bream.”
Sammy ran to the swings and tried to climb up onto one too tall for him.
"Merridy, merridy,” Sammy said.
"What the heck are you saying?" Aubrey asked him, lifted the boy onto the swing and started pushing.
Sam said, "Oh, the boat."
"Ok, I'm lost," said Aubrey.
Chris caught up and said, "They're teaching them songs in daycare."
"Oh," said Aubrey. "Row your boat. Merrily merrily. There's an 'L' in there. Why can't this kid say his 'L's?"
Chris said, "He's still a baby."
Still a baby.
a flip of his thumb he released the empty magazine. It slid into his hand. He looked at it for a moment, and pushed a freshly loaded one into the grip. He thought about his target. Silhouette with a different shape. He tripped the catch and the slide slammed closed. Thumbed the safety. Aimed as if it was the last thing he would ever do on Earth, and didn't care if it was.
"Merrily merrily," Aubrey said, and in a spasm he emptied the clip toward the shadow.
had come through Death Valley from the south reaching Badwater at midday. Jules had planned it so they’d reach
the lowest point on the continent at the hottest time of the year at the
hottest time of the day. There was
nothing like the red, purple, and green rock mountains back in Lancaster,
Pennsylvania. There was nothing
like the ancient white-crusted lake bed lining the foreground to snow-covered
peaks in the distance. The
brochure they’d picked up at the entrance to the deserted park warned of the
dangers of heat exposure: In case
of breakdown stay near the car at all costs; no matter how thirsty, don't drink
seemed quite logical to Emily.
What was illogical was why she’d allowed her husband of four days to
endanger her life in this manner.
Emily didn’t like adventure.
But the adventure was Jules' idea.
Getting married was hers.
had spent the last thirteen months in meticulous planning and the wedding and
reception went off like a rocket from a slotted rail. She was proud of her accomplishment, so
it seemed fair to leave the honeymoon plans to Jules. Las Vegas was exotic.
Neither Emily nor her friends had ever been west of the Mississippi
hadn't told her about the day trip to Lake Mead until they’d fed their first
$100 in quarters to slot machines.
They rented an open boat and suffered ridiculously painful sunburn after
cruising the azure waters at midday.
The next day they saw the inside of Hoover Dam When Jules dragged her off to the
Valley of Fire to see the petroglyphs, she began to suspect he was steering her
away from the casinos; when she saw the map to Death Valley on the bed she
confronted him and confirmed her suspicion. Jules told her he’d discovered he hated the prospect of
losing money in a glittering electric ballroom with no clocks. They had a future to plan.
was a side of Jules she hadn’t seen before. He’d always been a dreamer, a philosopher. She had listened for hours to his
theories of how all life was the dream of immortal beings. They’d spent hours in bed, in the back
seat of his car, on the beach in New Jersey, talking about their immortality,
of how they were soul mates, of how they’d have eternity to spend
together. She believed she’d have
to provide all the common sense in the family. But now Jules was showing a streak of responsibility, so
Emily consented to spend the day risking the most extreme high temperature
Earth had to offer.
was a scorchingly clear July morning.
They’d loaded the rental’s back seat with plastic gallon jugs of
drinking water and food purchased at the last Circle-K out of Vegas, then drove
through miles of gray-brown nothingness, watching the fuel needle descend
toward “E”. Would they have the
opportunity to be soul mates in eternity sooner than she’d have liked?
reassurances about the fuel supply went for naught until they left the valley
and reached a gas station at Beatty.
It was then Emily decided she’d begin to trust him, possibly for the
rest of her life. They’d both
consumed gallons of water without the slightest hint of need to relieve
themselves; neither of them sweated.
When they left Beatty the sun was low in the sky. They were halfway down route 95, toward
the shimmering lights of Bugsy Malone’s decadence in the desert, when the sun
dropped below the horizon leaving them beneath a cloudless sky salted with
pinpoints of light.
of the pinpoints moved. Or did
it? Emily wasn’t sure. On the deserted road were no lights to
confuse her; only the car headlights pierced the perfect desert night with
shafts of yellow-white washing the road before them. The phosphorescent green of the car’s dashboard instruments
illuminated Jules' face. They were
far out of range of any Vegas radio stations. They’d long since run out of
conversation. The only sound was the continuous exhalation of the tires rolling
over the road and the hum of the engine.
star jumped again. Emily kept
watching, fixing on the pattern of surrounding stars. Yes. There it
went again. Bing. Just like that. First it was close to those two
stars. Now it’s out in the open,
next to nothing. What kind of star
moves like that?
Emily said, “Baby, what kind of star jumps
around in the sky? Do satellites
do you mean?”
mean like, bing-bing. Like a
pinball--bing-bing. Do satellites
go across the sky. They just sort
of float. They go from one side to
the other in a straight line without stopping. If they stopped, they’d fall. That’s what orbiting’s all about," he said, patiently.
at that one over there," Emily said.
She pointed out her window and upward over the car.
craned his neck, sticking his head over the steering wheel. "Em, there’s a billion stars up
there. Which one. . .”
“There. Did you see that?”
a minute. . .” Jules answered, glancing alternately at the road in front and
the sky above.
you must have seen that. It made a
circle shape that time. What kind
of thing does that?”
some kind of bird in our headlight reflection.”
too high to be a bird. Must be
some kind of a plane or something," Emily said, fascinated.
object in the sky began describing complex geometrical pathways in space. Triangles. Octagons.
Circles. The afterimage
burned into her retinas as it became brighter. Larger. Jules
eased off the gas as the light drew closer.
coming at us," Emily said.
She began to get nervous.
"Should we get out of here?"
was silent, his eyes at half-mast as if he were falling asleep.
“Honey. Jules. Are you all right?”
She tapped him on the shoulder.
brilliant pinpoint had become a visible ball of white, which dropped like a
stone from the sky. Emily
flinched, expecting an impact. The
object settled a few feet above the road and came toward the car. The car’s engine sputtered, then died. The vehicle rolled to a stop
immersing her in silence and starlight. Jules
slumped forward until his forehead hit the steering wheel.
tingled on her skin. “Jules. Baby! Don’t stop.
Drive. For God’s
sake--drive!” She shook her
husband. His body moved without
impulse of its own, as if Jules had become a life-sized doll. He grunted as he
did when turning in his sleep and a drop of saliva emerged from the corner of
She filled the silence with her
voice--first, urgent pleas for her husband to wake; then screams, as the globe
stopped just in front of the car.
shaft of blue light descended from the craft. It hit the road with the weight of an anchor. The rented car heaved slightly on its
springs. From the light emerged a
figure. Short. Slender. Uniformed in solid black. The being came toward her and she became aware of
pain in her throat. It grew worse
as the misshapen head drew near to her. The idea came to her that she would hurt less if she could stop screaming. At first she tried, but the thought wasn't hers, and that made it worse.
In her final moments of consciousness, Emily Thomson-Dobish realized she had dragged her unfortunate husband into her eternal private nightmares.