Here we go. When I solicited interviews from my fellow authors in Alt.History 102, I never dreamed I would get this. This…I don’t even know what to say. I sent out four broad questions, expecting a short little interview. J.E. Mac (otherwise known as James McCormick) decided to send me a manifesto. He put words into my mouth, so turnabout is fair play, right? J.E. has a potty mouth at times, so since this is MY blog, I substituted some of his words for my own. Think 80’s TV censorship if you will.
So, if you see the word SNICKERDOODLE, FLAMETHROWER, DAGNABIT, DIME, CHEESES or GOLLY DANG, be assured that James has more of a potty mouth than me, and I’ll leave the interpretation of those words up to you.
So…strap yourselves in, get a beverage of your choosing, and enjoy my “INTERVIEW” with J.E. Mac.
In response to Alt.History 102, Will asked some questions. Some serious questions. Very serious questions.
WILL: Give us a brief introduction to you. Who are you? What else have you written? What brings you to Alt.History 102?
My name is James McCormick. Oh SNICKERDOODLES. That’s not what it says on my story. Well, FLAMETHROWER.
I write SciFi as J.E. Mac.
Why J.E. Mac? Well, it’s just my name super shortened. I always felt, that visually, McCormick is kinda a lopsided name. It’s very heavily weighted to the left—and that poor ‘k’ is just a teeny tiny hook hanging on for dear life. I don’t know if many of you guys out there are typography nuts or anything (I was a big comicbook fan as a kid—also inked comics for DC a lifetime ago), but I just felt that I’d always have to capitalize my name (Brandon Sanderson style) and I didn’t really want that.
So… I thought J.E. Mac would look cool, big and blocky on a cover. (Yes, kids. “Cool” was my reason). I thought it’d be all BEN HUR. Big and Bold. And Simple. I’m not sure it does any of that. But whatevs. It’s what I use now.
Ironically, looking at the cover of Alt.History 102, I also noticed another advantage. It’s super short.
I mean, look at that long list of names. Then mine just pops out because of the visual contrast.
Wish I could claim having the foresight to do that (Or that I rigged the anthology to have all other authors with moderately longer names)… Actually, there’s no way to finish that sentence. I wish I had that foresight lol.
Now, I get it. Sounds like I’m super egotistical and all (I am! Nah. Not really). But your author name is your brand and I really want people to read my SNICKERDOODLES. So, you know, getting people to see and remember your name is a big deal.
Yet, you post on Facebook as James McCormick and not J.E. Mac.
SHUSH YOU! I AM A COMPLICATED MAMMAL DAGNABIT! /sobs into a pillow.
GOLLY DANG, James (he means J.E.) you wrote a FLAMETHROWING novel answering a sliver of the first question.
Well get used to it Interview Me.
WILL: Wait, isn’t this my interview?
J.E.: Is it?
Interview James: Nah. Bug off Will.
J.E.: Dude, I liked his story in Alt.History—
Interview James: Lookit you, you sell out!
WILL: Can we like, move on please?
I nod. But Interview me rolls his eyes.
WILL: What else have you written?
I used to write screenplays. A lot. Had a few optioned. They were generally 1 hour action-y stuff (think J.J. Abrams). Or half hour comedies. Had moderate success. But not enough to write home about. (Or pay bills with. That last one being the more important. At least, I think so. Wonder what my mother thinks about that? I mean, I have to wonder. Obviously, I haven’t written home in awhile).
So why the hell am I not doing that?
Well, it takes money. And people with money get a lot of say. And I don’t generally like being told what to do. So, uh…
I actually didn’t like the idea of not being in control of my own creative destiny. I didn’t like that the stories I would write would ultimately not be reflections of me, but of what test market 22K deemed appropriate.
(P.S. It’s the type of creativity and logic that posits: Hmm, people love watching monkeys. Look at all the hits on YouTube. And man, people sure love doctor dramas. That’s it! We’re making a show called Dr. Monkey about a chimpanzee doc and all the hot trim he pulls on the side).
I know. I’d probably watch it too.
I decided to learn how to write a novel. I mean, I can write. Er, sorta. I mean, well Stephen King aside, ya don’t need a large vocabulary. So, I took that as a challenge. (Man, gotta say, it’s… different. Two dozen short stories in, one novel, and a bunch of half written novels, and all I can say is that the process is a very different one).
WILL: Let’s try this again. What specifically have you written? Like, give us a title (mutters something that sounds a lot like ‘you DIMEbag’ under his breath),
I wrote a novel called DAMAGED GOOD.
It’s about an assassination attempt on the Los Angeles Mayor in the near future. It’s also about a six year old robot girl, Celia, who is left for dead and witness to some shnazzy SNICKERDOODLES. And a hard boiled detective, Jack Cutter—probably should lead with him, since he’s the main character and all—with a grudge against synthetics that needs to use Celia to solve the crime.
WILL: So BLADE RUNNER meets WITNESS?
Dude… You got some Harrison Ford love going there.
WILL: Who doesn’t?
What made you write it?
Funny thing is, it’s the type of SciFi story I dig. Blade Runner is one of my all time favs. Altered Carbon is up there. (If I ever write fast enough, I have a story I want to flesh out that was heavily inspired by Altered Carbon—not how you’d think tho. Just gonna have to wait and see, suckahs! …if it ever gets written that is. /sadface).
I also discovered an odd thing about genre.
People either want detective stories / thrillers. OR Scifi. They don’t really want both. The audiences are two very dissimilar audiences.
You really gotta coax one over to opening the cover to get them to sit down with the characters a little.
NOTE: I’m not saying they don’t enjoy reading both genres. I’m saying getting them to pay for a book that isn’t another David Baldacci clone or George R.R. Martin clone is tough (P.S. Yes, I use a very broad term for SciFi. You know, like George R.R. Martin. The SciFi term. Not how broad he is).
I’m glad to see Hugh Howey is jumping into the future-noir detective stories, though. Hopefully it makes people realize that, hey, SciFi doesn’t have to be all dry and stuffy. It can be nail biting suspense. Or tales of murder and mystery.
The two can exist well together. And plenty of people cognitively understand this. Just convincing them to pick up a book is another behemoth task in and of itself. (One that I’m still learning, being a noob and all).
WILL: Sounds great.
Is that sarcastic?
WILL: No. It really. Sounds great.
You. Are speaking. Like you. Are. William. Shatner.
WILL: You know damaged goods has an ‘s’ on it right?
OMG, Will. You are so lucky this is the internet. I’d smack that smug smile off your face. Just. Punch you. Right in the mouf.
WILL: Well, you know. Grammar. It does.
Yeah, yeah. My reason was twofold (Meh, let’s make it threefold). It’s the idea of ‘good’ being damaged. It plays off the obvious ‘damaged goods,’ as in, maybe Celia is one. Or Cutter. Or everyone. And, I like the anomaly. I like titles that are a little off. That make you ask, I wonder what that means (without being so esoteric that you’re some Dada artist picking names out of a hat—Hi, every anime ever! P.S. Big fan).
So where are we?
WILL: Still question 1. Unfortunately.
What brings me to Alt.History 102?
WILL: I’d hope so.
I missed the deadline for Alt. History 101.
Like, I, uh. Slacked off?
Is there a way to put that, that, uh, like makes it sound like I did it because I knew 102 was gonna be awesome? That it would have a blue cover instead of a red one? (I love blue btw. Red, not so much).
WILL: No, James. There isn’t.
Yeah. Well, I had been following Sam’s (Samuel Peralta) Future Chronicles for quite some time. Actually, had read an anthology called Synchronicity that was somewhat of a predecessor to the
Future Chronicles: Time Travel Anthology. This one had a story from Sam, Nick Cole, Michael Bunker, Jason Gurley, and Susan Kaye Quinn amongst others. Basically, SciFi indie writers you see quite a bit on the scene.
Somehow, Susan and I started talking on Facebook… Um, if this interview is any indication, this is pretty much how I talk. It’s all stream of thought, but, ya know, I try to be entertaining or tell a joke or two. Some people respond to it. Others just block me.
And we hit it off. She’s a great lady. Read her stuff! Seriously. I’m partial to her DEBT COLLETOR series.
Interview Me: You unbelievable sell out!
Anyway, I don’t know for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she told Sam about me. And Sam had just so happened to have an idea for an offshoot of Future Chronicles that was the Alt History series.
And I posted DAMAGED GOOD in his, by now infamous, “one book” thread.
I thought it was an interesting idea. But I really, really didn’t want to do—History as you know it, but one tiny thing changed. Hitler tripped and fell on his way to art school and we all lived happily ever after! I was worried that was the type of stories ALT HISTORY would generate.
I also wanted to do something local. About something I knew. That maybe many people didn’t.
Anyway… I’m sure I’ll go more in-depth about it in a future question.
WILL: CHEESES! MORE in-depth? You’ve only answered one question.
Yes. More in-depth.
WILL: What’s your story about? What gave you the idea for your story?
Funny you should ask that!
WILL: (sighs and hangs his head in his hand). It’s not funny at all.
DROUGHT is about a future Los Angeles in which the events of The Rape of The Valley never took place.
Basically, the short hand is—you know CHINATOWN? Its plot and stuff? Yeah, well that really happened. (Not the Jack Nicholson stuff, but the screwing over the people of Owens Valley).
You probably know the name Mulholland. Well, you know it because they were responsible for a lot of shady shenanigans in a very corrupt birth of Los Angeles that made a handful of people very rich. As rewards, many of these men named streets after themselves. Woohoo!
As I mentioned before, I didn’t really want to do a past setting. I didn’t want to go back to the event and nudge a couple things around that would result in a different outcome.
I wanted to look at what would happen to the development of the city if it had never occurred. Where would a Los Angeles be?
Fun fact – A small group of powerful men wanted the Los Angeles population to grow because they needed crews to help pump oil. The city itself didn’t have the means to support a population like what they needed. Chiefly, being a desert climate, cheap easy access to water. Cuz, ya know, people gotta drink water to live.
So, you know, that’s not really a story. That’s just a setting. A world.
You need the human element.
And this is where I’m always terrible at pitching my stories. Because I don’t know which story to pitch. I prefer talking about the human element. But then you get questions like… Yeah, but what happens?! And honestly, the poster is usually the cool plot SNICKERDOODLE (blowing up).
SIDE BAR: Shane Black, amongst others, have this theory that must stories are really two stories. I tend to agree. One story is the plot. The things that happen. But the other story, is the WHY you’re telling the story. The ‘what’s it all mean?’ The ‘so what?’
Godard called it writing for the invisible. I like that.
You can have the greatest plot in the world, but without the human element no one is going to get past page one.
DROUGHT is also about a father who left Los Angeles that has intermittent business dealings there, who winds up taking his daughter to see the city for her first time.
(P.S. This is the “rookie cop” story model. It’s a really good, fast, simple way to introduce an audience/reader to something far out or exotic—Have a character who has been there and one who hasn’t. That way, the character who has, gets to tell the one that hasn’t (and the audience) a whole lot of exposition. Yes, it’s a cheap trick, but it’s effective. So good, check out how many television pilots use this device).
Anyway, I just wanted some sheer culture clash in a Los Angeles that resembled more of a desert wasteland than anything else. I thought it’d be cool to have a bunch of people living out in the desert. That have learned to live there without help or aid from civilization. And make civilization sort of a trap.
I mean, so many of our stories are about how civilization is good. But not many think about everything we have to give up living in a society.
People don’t stop to realize that a city, the rules and laws, are all man-made constructs. We’ve literally convinced generations that they have to do what they’re told – yet, we’ve somehow disassociated that with the notion that it’s some other dude (who tends to profit quite a bit off telling you what to do) telling you what to do.
The irony is—I started writing this a year and a half ago. Before I knew Mad Max was coming out. Before California started really ramping up about going into a drought. So, it was kinda timely in an odd way.
Anyway, I think I covered what my story, DROUGHT, is about.
WILL: Uh, yeah. Just slightly.
WILL: Moving along…If you could pick a previous Chronicles Anthology that you could alter history to go back and be included in, which one would it be and why?
Well, I did try to get in a (super short) story to the Time Travel Chronicles.
Maybe it was because of Synchronicity. I don’t know. Actually, didn’t really think about why I pushed for that anthology. But that’s probably a large part of it.
I submitted a story called, BUTTERFLY, that was about a father and son.
I had this revelation about my own relationship with my father. And about generations. And how limited we are by our own perceptions. Basically, the new generation always thinks the old is wrong, or crazy, until they get to the age where they realize the context of what the older generation was saying all along. Only now, they’re the old generation and when they go to tell the younger one, they don’t listen (Irony :p).
DAMAGED GOOD has some similar theme running through it as well, although it’s not the main one of that book.
If you’ll indulge me…
WILL: Like I haven’t already?
…I’d like to share the opening of that story. It’s my favorite opening I’ve ever written.
“What’s this?” my father asked holding up a baggy.
He knew what it was. I knew that he knew. And he knew that I knew that he knew. That came with knowing the future, I guess. He had been there and I hadn’t.
I’m a big fan of repetitious dialogue. But not repetition for the sake of repetition. More, repetition in how words can change meanings in different context.
So that’s one answer.
WILL: ONE?! HOW MANY ARE THERE GOING TO BE?!
WILL: (falls over in his chair).
The other is the Cyborg Chronicles. There’s a story that happens offscreen (offbook?) between DAMAGED GOOD and FOREVER SIX (the sequel) that makes Celia somewhat of a quasi-celebrity. I wanted to tell that story in a Future Chronicle.
WILL: And the third?
Is going to be in 103.
WILL: That’s, uh, not how alternate history works. That’s in the future.
We don’t know that. I don’t know if I’ve been accepted. Hell, there might not even be a 103. We can’t tell.
WILL: Right… therefore you CAN’T alter it.
I’m altering it right now. I’m making it happen.
WILL: OMG. Is this almost over already?
What was the last question?
WILL: Anything else you’d like to plug?
Nah. I think I’m good.
WILL: FALLS OVER. DIES. Gets resurrected as a mosquito somewhere near James’ house in Hawaii.