A long time ago, I played around with the idea for a story. The basic plot was that when a writer died every story that was not capped with the blessed words The End formed a link in the chain that kept them trapped in this world. The writer was cursed to become the Muse of another creator and with each new work finished by their charges, a link was undone. Once the chain was completely dismantled, the writer could then ascend to the Great Wherever.
I never finished it.
To be quite frank, it never got any further than a few pages in a notebook. Hell, I think I fleshed the idea out better in that paragraph than I ever did while working on it.
Which brings us to now.
See those journals? Every one of them contains a story. It’s part of my process. Every story gets a journal to act like it’s pseudo womb. And none of them have ever made it past the journaling process.
And those are just the ones I keep nearby. In the attic, I have boxes….BOXES….of newspaper clippings for source material, research, outlines, first drafts and other abortive ideas for the Travis Dare stories.
The same goes for Crown of Feathers, two different Sherlock Holmes stories, the Ulysses K. Todd and Mrs Dowell series, the Untitled UFO story and another novel idea currently titled, Dark Horses.
My friends, my chain is long.
Which brings me to today’s lesson: When to Quit.
I’ve been working on a story with the working title of Meat Prison. I’ve racked up 1350 words and filled a few dozen pages in its journal trying to figure out the story. It’s a curious concept that came to me during a Pilates class.
Wouldn’t this be an excellent way to teach aliens how to use human bodies?
So, I started up my meat machine and got the Boys in the Back Room* to run wild with ideas.
I came up with the idea that Human Bodies are used as prisons by Cosmic Entities for dangerous convicts. Planets on D-level universes such as ours are used exclusively. Any sentient being is up for grabs. The prisoner is injected into the flesh prison. It is a very painful process and sometimes…very rarely….the corpus rejects the prisoner and explodes in a fiery disaster. This is where the idea of Spontaneous Human Combustion comes from.
Prisoners inhabit the bodies until the end of their natural physical lives. If the Prisoner does anything to damage or hasten the end of the lifespan, they are given demerits. Enough demerits warrants Oblivion.
Nobody wants Oblivion. Death….maybe. Oblivion….not so much.
At the end of the lifespan, the Prisoner goes up for Parole. If they are granted parole, they are released back to their bodies held in stasis. If they are rejected, it’s back to another meat prison.
Our Prisoner is an inter-dimensional creature outside of our ability to even conceive. Like Lovecraft shit on acid. Its name is unpronounceable with our tongue and the name is a curse to write. It is a megalomaniacal, planet erasing, all around Bad Guy. Think Psycho Goreman without the charm.
This is not its first corpus rodeo. It’s name has been laced into nightmares across a dozen galaxies. There is no hope for parole.
And its tired. Oblivion is starting to look pretty good.
Normally, during a reset, the consciousness of original tenant will either pop like soap bubbles or go screaming into the void. In the end, they ALL eventually dissolve until all that remains to puppet the corpus is the Prisoner.
But something has gone wrong with this meat prison.
Her name is Sheila. And she’s pissed.
I’ve decided to make Sheila a middle aged woman, covered in tattoos, scars and a very active schizo-affective disorder. Because of her mental illness, she has innately “sublimated and compartmentalized the trauma”. Terms she has memorized from therapy.
She is a conspiracy nut. Believes that what happened to her is a direct assault by the CIA that activated the nanobots in her bloodstream that were inserted during her root canal surgery. The U.S. Government has been trying to assassinate her ever since she received the divine calling to become Empress of the North American Continent before it breaks off from the other land masses and takes its rightful place as the Midgard of Earth.
That’s as far as I’ve gotten.
Two great characters but….no fucking story.
I’ve been beating my head in trying to figure out where to take them. I started with the idea of a cosmic horror story but….is this becoming a buddy movie? I don’t know!. My Muse has abandoned me.
So what do I do?
Sometimes, you gotta know when to quit. Put the story aside and let the Boys in the Back Room do their business.
Who are the Boys in the Backroom**? I’m glad you asked.
When I’m working on a story and get stuck, I toss it to the Boys in the Back Room. They live in a small windowless room with a naked light bulb, hanging from the ceiling. Under the bulb is a square table with four chairs. One each side is a man, sitting in front of a typewriter. They are all wearing white collared shirts, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. They all have cigarettes dangling from their lips as their fingers pound on the keys of their old school typewriters. And, of course, fedoras pulled down low.
And now I wait.
Maybe they’ll cough up a storyline and I’ll finish Meat Prison.
Maybe this story will end up as another link in my chain.
But sometimes, you have to know when to quit. And start something new.
*Keep reading. I explain later.
**And there you have it!