Sunday, March 22, 2015

A Novel Approach

I remember hearing a story on NPR once about how the survival of a language depended on literature, that if a certain tongue didn't produce a substantial corpus of literature it would eventually die out.

I think ideas are like that. You hear the phrase "predictive programming" thrown around a lot in conspiracy media-- usually in an incorrect context-- but it's most certainly true that Hollywood and other forms of entertainment media have shaped our culture in ways other institutions no longer can.

The entire extraterrestrial hypothesis owes everything to Hollywood. When flying saucers first appeared the general assumption was that they came from behind the Iron Curtain, or in some esoteric circles, were the war-weapons of a Nazi regime in exile. It was a barrage of flying saucer movies that cemented the association with Martians or Venusians or Reticulans in the public mind, when Crypto- or Ultraterrestrials would make just as much sense. Especially given the fact that what people were seeing looked like hovercraft, not like anything that could escape Earth's gravity.

The personal computer and hacker revolutions were most certainly accelerated by Cyberpunk, first the novels and short stories then the parade of terrible movies and TV shows. No one believes today that computers or the Internet will set anyone free, but there was that expectation back in the late 80s and 90s, which definitely fed the dotcom boom.

Religions are fed by art, literature certainly. Where would Christianity be without the soaring rhetoric of the Apostle Paul? The spread of Islam in the Middle Ages was done with both the sword and the word; the great poets of the Muslim world were often as powerful argument for their faith as their slavers and swordsmen.

And though we may not recognize it, we are in the middle of a Gnostic Renaissance, a time when more people are familiar with the belief system than any time in history. Can you imagine it without the novels of Philip K. Dick or movies like Dark City and The Matrix?

Is this new Gnosticism condemned to recede back into the tides of history, the same way the Syrian and Alexandrian sects did, the same way the Cathars and the Bogomils did? That all depends. Certainly it's difficult to imagine the kind of ecclesiastical backlash that destroyed the previous expressions of the Gnosis, given that the Church has its own crisis to deal with. There are plenty of other antagonists with annihilationist agendas-- the Islamic Wahhabis, the totalitarian "social justice" thought-controllers, the NĂ¼ Atheists, the Paleoconservatives-- but they seem focused on destroying each other (not to mention civilization, the humanities and culture in general) to worry about small potatoes like Neo-Gnostics.

If The Secret Sun is anything it could be called "Neo-Gnostic." I've detailed Gnostic themes (and AstroGnostic themes, especially) in several films and TV shows, but I have to say that job has gotten harder in the past 5 years. We're in a strange fugue state in the culture and in society and our art reflects that. Paleocons have been bashing Gnosticism lately because Gnosticism is a tabula rasa to them, a scare word that they can project everything they don't like about our post-postmodern, cosmopolitan, nihilistic culture onto.

Their definition of Gnosticism is amorphous and comes from Traditionalist Catholic and Evangelical apologetics, sources not known for their scholarly dispassion. But I think Gnostic ideas express themselves best in art and entertainment, which is why I've spent the past 8 years talking about them.

But as I said, I feel like I'm running out of interesting source material so I decided that it was time to start creating some of my own.

This is a sort of homecoming for me, since my earliest writing was fiction. I wrote fiction all throughout high school and later did a few comics projects. Those led to my spending a few years shopping scripts for movies around. I have to say that even though I didn't sell anything I had a comparatively cushy ride. I got a lot of interest from major independent producers before I'd written my first screenplay, based solely on my graphic novel.

I wasn't cut out for it, though. Even though I met some very nice people (I got a lot of help from Kevin Smith's* people at View Askew, for instance), I knew I was getting myself into a situation that I wasn't suited for, nor was it suited for me.

But I can't help but wonder if maybe I just was too impatient, that maybe I should have had a stronger stomach for it, given the fact that a treatment I wrote in the late 90s magically transformed itself into the 2011 Saoirse Ronan vehicle Hanna, by some bizarre quantum fluke in the space-time continuum.

A lot of people have asked me over the past 5 years when I was going to do a new book. To be honest I was so unhappy with the entire experience of the rock 'n' roll book I wasn't sure when I was going to write another. Sadly, my publishing career (with one major exception) has been marked by major issues with creative control over the work.

Page/word counts have been my nemesis since my very first project, and at this point in my career it's not something I am willing to compromise on anymore. It's like writing with handcuffs on. It's why I've published so much on this blog, several books work of material if you add it up. No restrictions.

The book market has changed drastically in the past five years. Self-publishing has gone from being a joke to being the gold standard for independent-minded authors. The only satisfying experience I've had so far in publishing was my book on The Clash, which was essentially self-published. I did everything on that book, from concept to layout to production, and handed the printer a PDF file. It was wonderful. It's an experience I intend to repeat.

So what this all adds up to is that I am up to my neck in a new book, a fictional work this time, a novel. I've got the entire story plotted and boarded out (literally- I've taken a page from The Matrix and have drawn storyboards for many of the events- it's an incredible tool for working out thorny storytelling problems). I've got about 90% of the dialogue roughed out. The other 10% then leads to the polishing and rewriting, a process that usually takes twice as long as the original writing itself.

What's it about? Probably what you might expect. I'm a big believer in the concept of "dance with the one what brung ya." I've spent the last 8 years blogging about the topics that most interest me so you can expect to see a lot of them in the book.

But there are a lot of surprises as well. I've been surprised by the process, amazed as characters reveal themselves to me in ways I'd never expect for and events arise that I could never plan for. Writing is truly a magical art when it becomes an act of discovery, when the characters take control of the process and tell you their stories.

So what brought this all on? Appropriately enough, a VALIS reread. Somehow it hit me at the right time, the idea that Dick chose to tell this magical story, that was only barely fictionalized and so ripe with power. Life-changing, world-changing power. How what some might see as the drug-fueled delusions of a handful of weirdos in Southern California in the early 70s was alchemically transformed through fiction into something possessing an indescribable power. You can't help but be struck by the audacity of it.

My story is entirely fictional, there's nothing of a kind like VALIS in it. But I'm trying to draw on that same energy to communicate ideas, to realize them, to transubstantiate them from fringe notions to experiences.

Since I'm doing this on my own, I don't have a deadline. It will be published when I feel that it's 1000% killer, that it's a world-beating, stone-cold classic (in my own humble opinion, of course). But I may serialize at least part of the story here. That seems like a logical progression, especially given the subject matter I'll be exploring. And it certainly fits The Secret Sun ethic as well.

Watch this space...

*Clyde Lewis told me Kevin Smith is a Secret Sun fan when I was on Ground Zero, a fact I'd long suspected.


  1. Wow, excellent news. I think you're right -- the interesting work in these realms has been discussed ad nauseum at this point, and we all need some new material. We can continue to rehash the old stuff and complain about the sorry state of the culture, or we can get to work creating a new one. I vote for option two.

    (The whole VALIS/Divine Invasion is a total sync for me btw -- I was just looking at those same covers yesterday and enjoying some Erik Davis/Aeon Bytes discussions of them for the first time in years.)

    1. Outstanding. Well, here's my promise. I will only publish this if I am convinced it's a skullcrusher. That it's a story that demands hearing. I feel that way about it now. Very much so. If I stop feeling that way I won't foist a bunch of bleh on my readers.

  2. You've experienced the Other, yet you choose to cultivate more of Nothing. I don't think man can dream without your hoop and stick dream fiction either.

    1. I'm not exactly sure what you mean here. Care to elucidate?

    2. Cosmic Control Center7:21 PM, March 23, 2015

      CCC pharisee in the hopes others don't fail-to-see.

      False testament and p/a blog won't cut the mustard.

      Surely not the whale of an ECCO we are waiting for.

  3. Hey Chris,

    That's awesome. You know I'll be buying and rereading your novel several times, right? Whenever it finally manifests. How's this for a synch? Recently I've also been exploring self-publishing and the entire emergent indie-author scene. It's something I feel I really need to do now.

    Recently the stresses of my private life have put me in a situation where I can no longer survive financially on my minimum wage job. Depression and my partner's illness has sapped all my energy over the last 4 years, and my attempts to get published the traditional way have all failed. Now circumstances dictate that I find a way of generating a secondary income, or else. That's also kind of why I've been low-profile recently. In current circumstances I can barely cover my rent and living costs, let alone have any holidays or even a modest social life. Zero hour contracts and austerity-for-the-poor governmental measures means it's brutal for a lot of people in London at the moment.

    But I have 4 unpublished novels that I believe, with due reworking, could generate me a modest secondary income - especially if I keep writing and attempt to establish self-sustaining indie writer career. Throughout my life various people, university lecturers, friends and other authors have told me I am very talented, that I have a gift. It's time to believe in kind words and attempt to drag myself out of this poverty I've been living in for most of my life.

    So, I know exactly the strange, magical process you're going through at the moment, because I'm going through something very similar. I still would love and intend to collaborate with you, Chris, on various things associated with The Secret Sun if you're up for it. I haven't forgotten about our TXF jam, by the way, but the last few months have been crazy. Whenever I think things are quietening down, some new challenge or pressure rears its head and takes up much of my time. Anyways, you truly are a skilled writer, Chris, with a very intuitive and grounded sensibility, which I think will make for an excellent novelist. I'll be first in line to buy.


    1. Oh man, I feel your pain. That's brutal, Raj. I'm at a loss for words. Is leaving BabylonDon an option? I wonder if getting out from under that relentless financial burden might now lift some of that pressure. I know you're a great writer and you're a passionate writer. I also know writing is a dreadful gig which is why I'm doing this in my spare time as well.

    2. No, leaving London isn't an option at the moment. I love writing, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't exactly pay the bills unless you get lucky. I'm trying to remain excited by the prospect of self-publishing as a potential secondary income. Writing used to be my whole life, my dream and passion. So, I've gotta try, right? Thanks for the reply, man. It's good to know that someone understands and can sympathise.

    3. Raj,

      Have you considered gofundme, indiegogo, kickstarter, etc.

  4. Very intriguing. Godspeed, CLK.

    1. Cheers, A. I want to make sure the work fills my readers' expectations, since I value their opinions.

  5. I'm excited to know you're writing a novel CK!
    I have found that literally sketching out my plotting helps immeasurably. Especially action sequences.

  6. I think this is excellent, and I wish you success! I'll be a reader when it's ready. :)

    1. Well, like I said, it will be published only when it is amazing. I'm confident.

  7. I'm thrilled for your enthusiasm as well as the future book. As a successful writer of short stories throughout schooling, (nothing published,) I remember being a bit embarrassed that the characters wrote themselves, as though I borrowed them and they accomodated me. While that must happen for most writers, I realize as an adult that the writer has all the power to bring inspiration into coherent focus. He has to great understanding of the reader as well.

    As a long time reader of your blog, I believe your book will be as tantalizing as my following your threads of thought has been. Much success to you, Chris.

  8. VALIS is a fantastic book, we need more great gnostic literature so looking forward to seeing this come to fruition in the future..."The Apocryphon of Christ(opher)" (or is that Christ-ophite, you ol' heretic?).

  9. You know I wish you all the best with it, I have high hopes you're a fantastic writer with a huge brain.

  10. Great news, Chris! I'll certainly be awaiting it, however long it takes you to get it accomplished!

  11. Thank you all again. And let me add this will only see the light of day when I am convinced it is perfect. I've made enough compromises as a writer. I want to publish something not only intellectually engaging but emotionally charged. Plus, magic.

  12. Chris, I'm really looking forward to this book project of yours, and I wish you all the best during the writing process. I'll definitely buy a copy once it's available.

    And to answer a question from earlier in the post, "Can you imagine it [gnosticism] without the novels of Philip K. Dick or movies like Dark City and The Matrix?" My answer is yes, because there was a time when I had read and was aware of gnostic thought prior to reading or watching any of the new material which touches on it, but certainly reading Dick among others changed the texture and reality of those ideas for me and made them endlessly more vibrant and accessible.

    Great work as always.

  13. Hi Chris I slammed together a kinda linkdump intended for my friends about aliens, Hollywood and the Pentagon, and if there is anything I misrepresented or needs additional URLS about your take on things please let me know. Keep up the fine work ! http :// hongpong . com/archives/2015/03/29/military-film-movies-cosmic-war-our-minds-eye-why-does-pentagon-care-about-exopo - cheers!