A painful tale

Today, Cheeseburger Brown and I announce our illustrated novella, The Pains (written by me, illustrated by him). Here’s my introduction.

It started with a simple sentence in a Kuro5hin diary. Farq Q. Fenderson wrote,

“I woke up this morning with a pain in my body that felt like it might be a soul gone bad.”

I was struck by that conceit. What might “a soul gone bad” feel like? And how would you know? What would cause it? And by the way, what exactly does that phrase mean, “a soul gone bad” : Bad like falling irremediably into sin? Or bad like rotten meat? I liked the way Fenderson wrote, “pain in my body”, making explicit and emphatic the distinction between a soul-pain and a bodily pain.

(The rest of that diary entry is pretty intriguing as well, but in a much less mystical way.)

For weeks that sentence ran around in my head. Eventually I wrote to Farq Q. and asked him if he would mind lending it to me for a story I could feel bubbling up within me. Fenderson responded afirmatively right away. The bubbling up, however, took a while. In fact the story bubbles still.

I’ve always liked the movie The Exorcist, and as you would expect of a Jesuit-trained ex-Catholic, it is the theology of the situation that I find so creepy-cool. What does it mean, theologically speaking, when Father Karras invites the demon into his own body? Is that the ultimate Christian sacrifice (“greater love hath no man than this,” etc,)? Or was it the ultimate sin, self-murder? Can Father Karras’s finger twitches be interpreted as a confession before he dies? There is so much Catholic “high spook” in that movie! It’s positively monastic.

And so anyway, inspired by Fenderson, I began to imagine a story about a young novitiate in a religous sect in an alternative universe who gets drawn into some kind of exorcist-type situation. Only, he’s the one who is possessed. (OK, maybe the situation is more akin to mystical stigmata than to demonic possession. Who’s counting?) I started thinking about what it would be like to conduct an exorcism on one’s self.

Now, I a technoparanoid dystopian SF writer with a great abhorence of USian protofascism. George Orwell is kind of my patron saint, and I often meditate on the abominations of the Reagan times. So naturally enough, the universe in which this story seemed to be revealing itself to me was partly Orwell’s 1984 and partly Reagan’s 1984. And it evidently was partly another universe entirely that I had briefly visited in 1974 after having consumed some sangria which, unbeknownst to me, had been spiked with LSD and opiated hashish. (What this third universe had to do with the other two is unknown; that is but the mysterious doing of the Muse.)

On February 15, 2004, marrooned in a shopping mall while waiting for my sixteen year old daughter and her friends to complete their social-consumerist mission; after having mused upon Farq Q. Fenderson’s provacative sentence for more than half a year, I bought a notebook and a bag of pens from the $1 Store and sat down to write. . .

“Mr. Norman Lux, sf, woke up with a pain in his body that felt as if it might have been a soul gone bad.”

I worked on The Pains during my so-called “spare time” for several months. There was a spike of activity when an editor at Random House caught wind of The Pains and considered optioning it, but eventually he decided it was too weird for him, and since I didn’t want to change it, the deal evaporated. I do have a day job, and working on The Pains was pretty low on my priority list. But slowly but slowly but slowly I kept at it, kinda desultory-like.

In writing other novels, I’ve found myself fixated on the stories and the personalities of the characters more than on the physical environment. I have images in my mind of what things look like, of course, but those images are mutable. A character might look like Marilyn Monroe one day and like my sister Muggsie the next, but it didn’t really matter. But The Pains was different somehow. Its universe was, and is, visually very real to me. I knew that for readers to “get” the story I was trying to convey, they would have to see what I was seeing. That posed a problem: how would I illustrate what was in my head, when I cannot even draw a stick figure?

At the rehersal dinner at iGrrl‘s place before the Ku5i-catalyzed wedding of persons known as Ana and Toxicfur, I first beheld the whacky art of Sir Cheeseburger Brown –large prints that had been presented the night before as gifts from the bride and groom. The next morning, over waffle breakfast, we all took a closer look. And I must tell you, that is some whacky cool shit that boy draws, and I mean that in the best way. An idea began to form. . .

Months later, after much more bubbling, I finally got myself sufficiently together to write to Sir Cheeseburger to propose the collaboration we show you today. He’ll write some of his side of the story if he feels like it, but as for me I want only to say that the World of The Pains which Sir Cheeseburger shows to you is indeed the world that I have in my head. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is for you to decide, but don’t shoot the messenger Sir Brown. He’s only giving you the world that I gave him. (How he actually got inside my brain in order to see that world first hand is a subject I’m not prepared to think about right now.)

We’re going to be rolling out the book in chunks. The first two chapters (and first three illustrations) today, then the rest of the book in new chapters every few weeks. Sometime this summer (2006) the printed book will be available from Rosalita Associates (yes, I’m a self publisher). I’m taking pre-orders at $10 a pop; once the book is in hand it will go for $18. You can buy prints from Cheeseburger.

As with Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices, I’m making the text of The Pains available under the Creative Commons license. You can download HTML versions of chapters 1 & 2 now, and once the whole book is ready I’ll make the PDF available also.

But if you like what you see and read, please consider pre-ordering the book and or buying a print. We could use the help.

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