Revisionist William Gibson

When I made yesterday’s entry, I intended to talk a bit about William Gibson‘s appearance at the Boulder Book Store last week. The reading took place in the large upstairs room of the store, which Gibson referred to as a “ballroom,” and the crowd had standing room only. I was fortunate enough to get there early since I work in Boulder, and I was rewarded with not only a good seat, but a low number for the book signing line.

Gibson read a chapter from his latest book, Pattern Recognition. Well, initially, I thought he was going to cough a chapter of it; something got hold of his throat and the water he drank to soothe it seemed to make the problem worse. Despite this, Gibson croaked on, and eventually he seemed to find his voice again. It was a bit surreal for a moment, more than a hundred of us sitting there silently listening to his amplified coughs reverberating through the store. I expected people to involuntarily clear their throats, but if anyone did, I didn’t hear it. There wasn’t much we could do, but it was an awkward moment in which I wanted to do something to help him, and didn’t.

The chapter was short, a bit shorter than the Q & A session afterward. I did manage to pose a question to him. The exchange went something like this (paraphrased, since I didn’t take notes):

SJ: You seem to have a talent for putting words together in unusual ways.  Are there any exercises you do to cultivate that talent?

WG:  Revision.  It’s all revision.  I write the drafts, then rework it until it’s right.  

That makes sense. Although I’m a big believer in revision, for some reason I continue to have the notion that Great Writers spew complete paragraphs forth, Zeus-like, from their heads. This personal myth is probably fueled by reports of Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury writing without revision, and surely, the more one writes, the easier it becomes to pre-form great sentences. But that’s no reason to expect that all successful writers write without revision; I’m glad Gibson reminded me that it’s not the case in his life. That makes me feel a little better about the level of his writing, too. It’s a bit more attainable now.

I haven’t read all of Pattern Recognition yet, but what I did read grabbed me. It’s Gibson’s first novel set in the present day, and it’s interesting how it still feels very much like a Gibson novel, despite the fact that no one has an input jack in his head and there are no major characters that are AIs. The evil international mega corporation backdrop is still there, but this time it takes the form of corporate branding á la Tommy Hilfiger. Heavy fragment use in writing, much like this sentence.

One notable difference is that September 11, 2001 plays a direct role in the development of the main character, Cayce Pollard. At his appearance, Gibson spoke at length about how he had completed 100 manuscript pages of the book before the attacks, and how the real world events utterly destroyed those pages of fiction. To be believable, Cayce Pollard had to be completely re-imagined as a result of the attacks, and the first 100 pages had to be re-written. He did so, and I think the revision contributed to the dark feel of the book. Reading this, I get the feeling it’s not such a big jump from Pattern Recognition to the shatterglass worlds of Neuromancer or Virtual Light.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.

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A Year Later

For many U.S. citizens, the most tragic news to report on September 11, 2002 is that Johnny Unitas has died of a heart attack at age 69. However, I think many more U.S. citizens are breathing a collective sigh of relief that the anniversary date has come and gone without a significant terrorist event taking place. At work today, a few people with ties to the east coast were understandably emotional. Aside from that, it was a pretty normal day for me, and I’m thankful.

The Writer’s Circle group met this evening at a member’s home in the mountains. Rain fell the entire time, and a significant thunderstorm developed; it was wonderful. It was also a bit synchronistic; two of the stories we critiqued dealt with rain and lightning themes. I committed to having a story ready for next month’s meeting, which means I need to finish “Chesterfield Gray” in the next couple of weeks. It’s not a genre story, but the group is willing to read it anyway. As Ed jokes, “Sure, you can submit a non-genre story. It just has to be twice as good!”

One of our members is making significant strides in publishing, with several different white-hot irons in the fire. I won’t go into more detail than that, because it’s not my place to do so, as Brian Plante has ably demonstrated with his Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers. But I will say that it is inspiring to see one of our own climbing the rungs. It’s also clear that he’s working very hard at it — much harder than I am. It’s probably not fair to compare our situations, because we have completely different schedules and family requirements, but it does make me look at my time and efficiency, as well as my commitment level.

Yes, I think it’s safe to say that I will be a published writer someday. But the examples have made it clear that this won’t happen at my current level of quality or output. I need more practice, and I need to lick some stamps.

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Airborne Explorer

Played music with Brad the Drummer at his house for a while, but closed it off early. Unfortunately, on the way home I saw where someone had driven a Ford Explorer into the crowd at a car show I like to attend occasionally. (There was a Denver Post story that used to link here, but the story is no longer on the Post website.) Rumor has it that he did it on purpose, being drunk and upset that he was asked to leave the car show. Original estimates placed his vehicle at 90 mph, but the news article says 60 mph. Either way, it was enough to get the Explorer airborne over the landscaping before it landed on several classic cars, injuring eight people.

I haven’t slept well since.

It bothers me that the thought to do something like this even occurred the driver of the Explorer. No matter how drunk or pissed off he was, it shouldn’t even be conceivable to drive an SUV into a crowd of people at a high rate of speed. It’s amazing to me that no one was killed, though one man was pinned under the vehicle and in critical condition when taken to the hospital. (According to the above story, he pulled through and is stable, thank God.)

It also bothers me that the passenger in the vehicle has still not been apprehended, according to the Post story. How hard can it be for the police to get the driver to tell them the name of his passenger? Or perhaps he has been apprehended by now, but the news has been overshadowed by the nearly 100,000 acres of wildfires burning in nine different places in Colorado as I write this.

I can’t help but wonder whether the events of September 11th influenced, however slight, the mindset of the driver. If we had not been inundated with visuals of commercial airliners crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, would he have even thought of using his car as an airborne weapon?

That sounds alarmist to me, and I don’t intend that to be the case. I’m just trying to make sense out of something that makes no sense at all to me.

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