Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sadder Still To Watch It Die Than Never To Have Known It

I fondly remember those teenage years when I would put on a Rush album, sit there holding the album in my hands, marveling at the overall spectacular visual presentation of the art (usually by the genius Hugh Syme) while the music filled the air in my bedroom and stirred my heart, mind and imagination with spectacular new visions and tales that bounced around inside my head.

Yes, I'm talking about the large square cardboard object that held the vinyl disc inside a paper sleeve that sometimes even had the lyrics printed on it. Occasionally the album cover would open like a book -- 2112 by Rush, of course, did just that. And there was an incredible story inside.

But it didn't have to be one of the themed story albums that inspired my imagination and creativity. So many songs from this band set my imagination on fire and produced characters, settings and scenes from stories in my head. I imagined, for example, with the Rush album that was my proper and full introduction to the band, Grace Under Pressure, a theatrical/musical stage show about a post-apocalyptic world, and invented characters that would further connect the songs together in an overall story arc. Heck, I was even able to connect the songs from Signals together in a similar story arc about a young boy who rose up to become a world leader via following his passion for adapting technology into making the world a "better" place.

So when the opportunity to write a story for the anthology 2113: Stories Inspired by the Music of Rush (edited by Kevin J. Anderson and John McFetridge) came about, the biggest question was which of the hundreds of stories that this band had inspired in me would I write about.

I mean, after all, so many different songs from Rush inspired so many different amazing tales, images, characters and situations. And much of my writing had already contained elements from the band's music and lyrics that infused themselves between the cracks.

And despite the fact that I had already had a story published a year earlier that had been inspired by the song "Losing It" from the Rush album Signals, (a song that continues to bring tears to my eyes and which I got to see performed live during the band's R40 tour), I knew that song, one that had long been an intensely personal song for me, could inspire yet another story.

The previous story that had been inspired by "Losing It" was a dark humour piece I had published in Tesseracts Seventeen called "Hereinafter Referred to as the Ghost." I wanted to draw inspiration from the same song, but this time take a more heartfelt approach.

The song paints a quick portrait of a dancer who is no longer able to dance and a writer who can no longer write. After displaying the loss of their life passions, the chorus chimes in:

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we'd like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it

For you the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee . . .

 The song still brings shivers and a gentle tear to my eye. The music is as hauntingly beautiful as the portrait of the two artists who still hold the passion, yet whose bodies and minds are unable to continue on.

And so, in my story "Some Are Born to Save the World" I wanted to capture that same feeling in the guise of a super-hero at the end of his career. Bryan, the story's main character, has dedicated his life to employing his supernatural abilities for good as White Vector, and the tale captures his rise and fall in that life-long conviction.

It is a story that I am quite proud of, not just because of the tale that the song inspired, but because I know that the story has already reached a number of readers in a positive way. Here are some of the reviews I've already seen that mention the story:

"Leslie explores Bryan’s motivations and fears with a sure hand, and delineates the qualities, good and bad, that could drive a person to dress up and fight crime. Even in the last days of his decline, Bryan is able to rediscover a new purpose and a return of his dignity, and it’s a measure of Leslie’s skill that this change happens in a realistic, yet meaningful fashion." - Brandon Nolta, Tangent Online

"This one teared me up, but in a good way." - Erin S. Burns, Burns Through Her Bookshelf
"This was one of my favourites. The life, death and rebirth of the superhero White Vector. This perfect little gem captures exactly what being a superhero means. I wouldn’t change a thing. You just can’t beat a well-executed origin story." - Paul, Goodreads review

Me and Ron Collins (contributors to the anthology) making a Kevin J. Anderson sandwich
Kevin, Ron and I doing our best "Starman" pose (from 2113, not 2112)

While 2113 might be the only actual Rush-themed anthology that I have had a story published in, I know there will be more tales born out of inspiration from the band's more than 40 years of music.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

There's Snow Story Like A Snowman Story

For years now, some of my most popularly received published stories include a couple of snowman tales that I have written. Both tales, inspired by the question of what might happen if a snowman were to come alive, take decidedly different approaches, and yet they both answer the question with a tongue in cheek sense of dark humour.

Those stories, by the way, are "That Old Silk Hat They Found" and "Ides of March" -- the former was inspired by my reflecting on the whole 'Frosty the Snowman' concept and the latter was written after I had heard a radio report of a man being shot in the process of someone trying to steal the snowman from his front yard.

So when Rebecca Moesta was editing an anthology and was looking for stories that involved teenage heroes/heroines in the midst of a darkness using creativity and heart (an inner 'spark') to overcome adversity, the last thing I imagined I would write would be another snowman story.

I wanted to tackle the important issues of not fitting in, of the dangers of a viral-image sharing culture, of cyber-bullying and teen suicide.

Wow. Tough material, indeed. The question is, how could I possibly work my previous adoration for snowman tales into this story and provide a spark?

I was quite satisfied with the answer to that question in my tale "Impressions in the Snow." Apparently, so was the editor, as Rebecca ended up buying it for Fiction River: Sparks, which was published at the very end of March 2016.

Sparks is part of the Fiction River anthology series that Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith publish and are series editors for.

I was even quite delighted that my name made it onto the cover.

As a teaser, here's the opening to that story as it appears in Sparks.

The snowman's smile saved Karen's life.

     The feeling came over her quite suddenly. One moment she was standing on the edge of the weather-worn bridge, contemplating the rapidly flowing waters twenty feet below, and the next she was staring at the snowman at the other side of the river bank, trying to figure out why she felt an overwhelming sense of recognition while gazing at it.
     Karen and the snowman looked at one another, both of them silent sentinels standing very still at their respective posts, dark silhouettes barely lit by the full moon peeking out from behind the clouds, yet still casting enough light to reflect off of the recently fallen snow. The bridge she stood on and the deciduous and evergreen trees were covered with a quarter inch of the fluffy powder on the tops of the branches and the boughs. But the snowman, like Karen, didn't have any of the freshly fallen snow on the brim of the black top hat crested on its head -- it was as if it, like Karen, had only recently arrived in the forest from some other place.
     As if it had, perhaps, been following her.

In the midst of something that led to her darkest moments, I had my story's hero, Karen, trying to emulate the sexy antics of a mega controversial pop star who rode naked on top of a wrecking-ball and licked a hammer. But instead of using real names in my story, I created Kylie Miles, a former wholesome child-star who performed under the name Suzanna Utah, but then completely changed her image with her latest pop hit and video: "Smash my Heart to Dust." (I mean, nobody would ever guess who I might have been thinking about when I invented this pop star -- right?)

This was a fun story to write. And Karen personifies so much about what I admire in giving and caring young people -- and so much of what I worry about in those kind-hearted and giving souls who leave themselves open to ridicule, particularly before the people around them mature to their level. That can be such a hard time for young people.

Karen's story is fantasy of course, but it speaks of karma, of pushing love out into the world, and, despite the element of suicide, there is a positive message in it. It's a story that I'm quite proud of.

And, it quite effectively shows that I'm not done with writing snowman stories. That and when I write a snowman story I can move beyond my normal comfort range of dark humour. And I have Rebecca Moesta, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith to thank for that. Had I not participated in the Fiction River workshop I might have never discovered that about myself.