20 August, 2008

In Which I Answer a Reader's Question, and Tell a Story About a Story

In this post, I mentioned I'd been out on the balcony smoking a cigarette when a rather astounding ethical question slammed into my poor abused brain. In the comments, MalwareBeGone asks:
Wouldn't a shot (or 4) of Tequila help with these ethical questions? Better than nicotine?
Indeed it would. A bottle, in fact, would do wonders. Only problem being, with the exception of a single story, I only ever write fiction stone fucking sober.

Nicotine and caffeine. That's the extent of my drug use. Oh, I've tried writing drunk. I can rant like no one else when I've got demon rum coursing through my veins. I can follow flights of the mind through the longest, oddest journal entries when Jose Cuervo and I are getting friendly. And it's fine stuff - barely even a typo. Coherent sentences, even.

I sit down to write fiction with a margarita to hand, however, and the damned well goes dry. I think my Muse gets jealous. Have I mentioned she's a sadist? She likes to make me suffer. And when I'm drinking, I'm not suffering - I'm an effusively cheerful drunk.

Now imagine my surprise when I ran across a story I couldn't write sober.

Many years ago, in the afterglow of a Circus Mexicus, I'd sat down at my desk with a pitcher of margaritas. Didn't intend to write any fiction. Just intended to get drunk. Really drunk. And listen to the Peacemakers, and stare happily at a blank page whilst I dreamt of the concert in a happy haze.

A few hours later, I was staring at the beginnings of an origin story. It shocked me because a) I'd never written a damned word drunk before, b) the character in question had never struck me as a Peacemakers' fan and c) he sure as fuck hadn't struck me as a man determined to drown himself in alcohol.


I thought it might be good. I thought that might be the alcohol talking. So I walked - well, weaved - away from it, and left it to sit overnight. It would probably look like total schlock in the harsh light of sobriety. No problemo - that's what the delete function is for.

Only. Only, when I snuck a wary peek at it sober, it actually looked good.

I spent a few days working out issues of continuity, exploring the events that had led to poor Galen drinking himself to death in Mexico, and pulling Peacemakers' quotes to build the rest of the story around. Then, with the basic trajectory of the plot firmly in mind, willfully sober, I plunked myself down to write the rest.

Lead balloons weren't even in it. The prose took flight just like an emu strapped to an anchor. The few paragraphs I managed were so wooden you could've put them through a sawmill and built a damn fine deck.

But, you know, I write sober, so I persisted for a day or so. I did not want to become the kind of author who relies on alcohol for inspiration. That way lies Hemmingway, and Hunter S. Thompson land. Or so my corseted upbringing and the self-righteous proclamations of good Mormon boy Orson Scott Card like to have me believe.

When I had enough wood to build a mansion, I deleted everything back to where I'd started writing sober and reconsidered.

Time for an experiment, then.

I mixed another pitcher.

I drank.

I wrote.

It took me, if I remember right (and mind you, this is hazy, for obvious reasons), about two or three weeks to finish the story. Did you know you can get thoroughly sick of drinking margaritas every night? And it had to be margaritas. Tried rum one night, and tanked again: this story demanded tequila, specifically.

I went through a fuck of a lot of tequila.

The only part of the story I wrote semi-sober was the end, where Galen's sobering up himself. I realized I'd had to follow his trajectory to get this one right. And it worked. Aside from some awkwardness when fangirldom hijacked the story (part of it takes place at the Peacemakers' Circus Mexicus show), it all flowed just right. I adore that story. Someday, an editor will, too.

But that's the only one. I've never written another story drunk. A scene, here or there, but never a whole and entire story. Not for lack of trying, mind you - I do love a good drink.

Which is precisely why I envy the fuckers who can drink like fish and write like demigods.


For those of you who may desire a sip from the above mentioned story: Excerpt from "Ninth Wave", by Dana Hunter.


We need to go around again
One for me and what’s-his-name
My new best friend
-Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, Mekong

“The bodyguard’s cardinal sin is getting involved with your client,” I tell the off-duty federale at JJ’s. “You don’t do that. But I did. But I thought I wouldn’t break the cardinal rule. See, if you do get involved, you make damned sure you keep them safe. But I didn’t. That’s why I’m here.”

He orders another round on me. “You have much guilt.”

“Damn straight.” I throw the tequila back. I’m beyond limes. The burn is sweet and pure, the only pure thing left in a defiled world. "Do you know what the Irish did to sinners? They sent them beyond the ninth wave, out of the country, bam. In a little boat. No sails, no rudder, just a knife and some water. Not salt water. Fresh. And maybe some mead. No one sent me beyond the ninth wave. I came here myself. Irwin gave me his condo, not a boat. But it's all the same thing anyway. Because I committed the cardinal sin."

"Love is no sin," he says. Sunlight from the door creeps into the dark room and washes the old wood beams and my new friend in sepia. He looks very wise, a mestizo messiah who's come down from the dry mountains to enlighten me. "Is very painful, si, but no sin. You should not feel guilty for that."

"Thank you for saying that." I lean over the scarred wooden bar and grasp his wrist, knocking my glass askew. Good thing it's empty. “Let me tell you one thing. You see red eyes out there, you get the fuck away from them. They’ll tear you apart.”

He grins. “Your mujer, she had red eyes?”

“No. Her killers did.”

He looks at me sideways. Crazy gringo. Mad drunk. Yes, I know. But I don’t want to see this man die under fang and claw some night on a lonely patrol. He’s doing a hard job, and he listened to me pour out my woes, so I grasp his wrist harder and try to make him understand. “There are bad things out there, amigo. Muy malo. Stay away from them. You may think you can shoot them with a gun, but you can't. I know. I tried. But they didn't die because they've got special protection.” Something Danika said filters through the tequila murk. "It's like a kind of force shield. Only blades get through it. So you can't kill them unless you're trained. You've got to just run."

Si, si.” He prises my fingers away and sees the wristband. “You should go. Your concert is soon.”

Concert. Salvation. Answers. Right. I rise unsteadily. People stare at me as I weave out of the bar, an unshaven wreck of a man. I used to look at people like me with the same disgust, condemn self-pity with the same righteousness, but now I know what the relentless obsession of grief and guilt is. El federale kept me going for a few hours with his sympathies and commiserations. I just wish that a generous ear could drain the poison from the festering wound my psyche’s become.


Anonymous said...

Which is precisely why I envy the fuckers who can drink like fish and write like demigods.

Half envy, half contempt. It's where I'm comfortable.

MalwareBeGone said...

Thanks, Dana. Always a good read.