In my first posting on this blog I alluded to a funny episode that occurred whilst reacquainting myself with story writing. It would be a shame not to put it out there before I forget, so here goes…
As mentioned in said post, during the summer I had read “Q” and considered it the bee’s knees, the mutt’s nuts and the badger’s nadgers combined. Mighty fine, in other words. What really impressed me was how four authors could write such a cohesive novel. It made me curious about how they achieved it. (Indeed, three of the authors still write as Wu Ming.) I guess, on a subconscious level at least, it got me interested in writing again.
While I may have placed my first attempt at a novel in the drawer, it never quietened the ideas. The novel was a 50’s-set detective story with sci-fi undertones and by the time I had typed “The End” I had fairly solid ideas for half a dozen more. It was only natural then that my mind would return to these ideas, only by now I’d fashioned ways to link them all into one huge overarching novel.
As a means of easing into the writing groove again this story would have been way too time-consuming, way too ambitious and way too susceptible to me giving up. No, I needed a smaller story and it had to be something new, if only to test myself. The question was “What?”
Oftentimes you will hear someone say “write about what you know”, which helps narrow things down considerably. My alter-ego ekes out a living in the financial industry (which is not a euphemism for “banker”, itself a euphemism for “onanist” these days). One of the services we provide is the creation of probate valuations, which essentially means totting up what you’re worth when you pop your clogs, and death certificates play a big part in these things.
But what if you could get your death certificate early? To me that was an interesting conceit. What kind of world we would have if the parents of each newborn child were issued both a birth certificate and a death certificate for their bundle of joy? Would they open the death certificate? How would people feel if they knew how and when they were going to die? Would they be more adventurous? Would they opt for euthanasia shortly before their time? What kind of society would that create? And then there was the science behind it. To accurately predict ones death would require all things in the world to be predictable. How could this happen? (Quantum computing was my theory, given that all states of a mathematical model can be considered at the same time. Hard sci-fi fans will probably disagree, but I like the concept.)
And then, with this rather incredible setup, what would happen to a man who knows when they are going to die, but their death certificate simply says “Your guess is as good as ours”?
And so a decent story started to develop. All was going well, I thought, around 9,000 words in, until I started to doubt my idea. Considering the huge amount of sci-fi stories that have been produced over the years I suddenly needed to know if the idea was something of a cliché. And one quick search of Google yielded this list of sci-fi clichés. Go on, take a peek at #41. That’s right, there’s my story idea almost to a tee. Paint me jiggered.
You see, it turns out that a couple of years ago there was an anthology of stories released called Machine of Death, and as you will see here they received 1,958 submissions for their latest collection. That’s a lot of rejected Machine of Death stories vying for alternative homes.
So on that evidence it’s clear that no editor is ever likely to touch my death certificate story, even if it was written in all innocence. I still like the idea, though, so I might as well finish the story, give it a bit of polish it and perhaps stick the thing on Smashwords as a freebie. You never know, perhaps I can drum up some interest in my writing. Every cloud, eh?
You’ve got to laugh.