There are always risks writing stories set in the here and now and, as I’ve learned these past couple of days, even greater risks in placing a safe-looking bet on the near future.
Most of the time when I’ve tried to anticipate events it’s got me nowhere and, really, fiction needs to be bolder than that. Excessive caution doesn’t make for a great novel. When I was writing The True Story of Butterfish in 2007, aiming it for publication in 2009 and sending one of the characters partying with Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion, I was aware that Hef was past 80 and my inner actuary told me there was at least some risk associated with slipping him into a novel that needed to be current in 2009 and preferably for a few more years. Happily for Hef and those close to him, that concern came to nothing. Since I wrote the novel, he’s dated twins, got divorced, got engaged, almost got married, saved the Hollywood sign and had a species of marsh rabbit named after him – party on.
But world events don’t always play along with the fiction that’s written to fit them.
As some people know, I’ve started releasing some of my older works as ebooks, through Exciting Press in the US and through Allen & Unwin’s House of Books in Australia. In some cases, I’ve used this not merely as an opportunity to put books back into print, but to do something different. A lot of my short stories are now stand-alone ebooks, but I’ve also been working on something bigger.
In 1995, I wrote a story called Green, about a newbie med student at Qld Uni in 1981 who, at a socially critical time in a pub, chokes and makes a seriously embarrassing drink choice. Phil and his disinhibited buddy Frank stuck around and appeared in a few more stories in Headgames in 1999. With World of Chickens (aka Two To Go), they got themselves a novel in 2001.
For quite a few years, I’d wanted to bring all the Phil and Frank stories together – a novel and five short stories covering 1981-1999 in one fat book. I’d call it Green, after the opening story.
More recently, I’ve joined the team adapting World of Chickens into a film – we hope to go into production next year – so I’ve been working with Phil and Frank again, and loving it. And that made me realise I wanted something extra for Green. A new story. A 2012 story. Phil and Frank facing down 50, each in his own way.
I figured Frank would be prone to a big mid-life gesture and, in May this year, I decided it would be, of all things, the 2012 New York Marathon. Okay, so it was slightly in the future but, in its more than 40 years, nothing had cancelled the New York Marathon, right?
So I got online and read all about it – the sign-up, the start, the route, the comfort stops. I booked Jackson Browne for the entertainment at the final bend, figuring readers would allow me a little latitude if someone else showed up in real life. I came up with Otter, Frank’s hirsute personal trainer with an unlikely suite of pre-race prep techniques. And I wrote my story set six months in the future and prepared for an October US/UK release of Green – The Ultimate Author’s Edition, followed by an Australian release soon after*.
Then along came Hurricane Sandy, causing damage and loss of life in the Caribbean and eastern US. The New York marathon, which around now should be a litter of Gatorade cups on New York streets, was cancelled.
So I’ve got myself a brand new 7500-word Frank and Phil story that can only exist in a parallel universe, where the weather was November average and the only chaos affected my two characters (chaos affecting their marathon at least was inevitable).
Meanwhile there’s a lot of damage still to be dealt with in New York and elsewhere and the New York marathon people have created the Race to Recover Fund to support a number of charities involved in relief efforts, including the Mayor’s Fund. So I’m going to donate my New York marathon that never was. And so’s my publisher, Exciting Press. For the rest of November, we’re giving every cent that comes in from sales of Green to the Mayor’s Fund. That applies to all purchases of the Exciting Press edition of Green, which is the version available everywhere but Australia and New Zealand. Each copy sold should raise close to $3.50 to support relief work.
So, if you know anyone in the world beyond ANZ who might be keen on a blockbuster Phil & Frank book featuring a novel and six stories (one brand new) and would like to be part of a different way of raising funds for people affected by Sandy, please spread the word. I’d like to raise as much money as possible, so I’d welcome any tweeting, FBing, blogging, etc, that you’re prepared to give this.
Here’s the link to Green on Amazon.
* Why the delay for ANZ? It’s allowed us to do paper (print on demand) as well as ebooks, and makes the ebook available through all local channels, as well as Amazon. I know some people love paper, and like supporting their local retailers, so I wanted those options to be available. Here it is, on Allen & Unwin’s House of Books site, with links to numerous retailers.