Decades in the Making!
I can quite legitimately say that my new novella, “The Boolean Gate,” was twenty years (or more) in the making. Not that I was writing it for twenty years, but that I was certainly thinking about it for all that time. And I knew all the important bits of the plot for all that time.
Why did it take twenty years? I can best explain by paraphrasing the words of Al Swearengen: “The time was not right.”
To begin with, short fiction is an indulgence. As I have all too frequently written, I probably lose money with every short story that I write. I don’t get paid much for them, and the time would be more profitably spent writing novels. I write short fiction not for the money, but because I really enjoy writing short fiction.
Sometime back in the 1980s, I began writing a series of science fiction stories about writers. These were an indulgence on top of an indulgence— because nobody really cares about writers and writing but other writers, I frankly never expected they would please anybody but me. So I wrote about Poe (“No Spot of Ground”), Mary Shelley and Byron (“Wall, Stone, Craft”), Friederich Nietzsche (“The Last Ride of German Freddie”), and Elvis Presley (“Red Elvis”)— and yes, I know Elvis wasn’t a writer, but he was an artist, so there you go.
To all these stories I gave the totally uncommercial title of “Dead Romantics.” Because you can’t put “dead” or “death” in the title and expect anyone to buy it. (Unless it’s a whodunit, anyway.)
Despite the fact that I didn’t write them for anyone but myself, some of the stories were popular and nominated for awards, which was a pleasant surprise. (And by the way, you are at perfect liberty to nominate “The Boolean Gate” for an award, should that please you.)
I plotted all these stories back in the Eighties or early Nineties, and they sat in the back of my brain waiting for the right moment to be written. Since they were indulgences, they could wait for the better-paying stuff to get out of the way first.
(The Ambrose Bierce story is still waiting to be written, by the way.)
So in the case of “The Boolean Gate,” the time ripened when (1) I had a gap in my writing schedule, and (2) I more or less literally ran into Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press at a World Fantasy Con some years ago, and he asked me for a meaty novella to issue as a chapbook. ”Yeah, sure,” I said, and then had to dash off to wherever I needed to dash to.
But somewhere in the back of my brain, a little Walter minikin was jumping up and down yelling “Yee-haa! I get to write the Mark Twain story!”
The Dead Romantics stories don’t have a lot in common except, well, they all deal with dead romantics. Up till now, they’ve all been alternative-history stories, featuring obvious alternative protagonists— a Byron without a club foot, a Poe who lived into the Civil War, a Nietzsche who became a Western gunfighter.
But “The Boolean Gate” is different, because it deals with Mark Twain pretty much exactly as he was. And Nikola Tesla, the other major figure, is also more or less how he was. The story isn’t alternative in the conventional sense, it’s a secret history, it explains why history turned out the way it did.
(Oh, I compressed a few things. I put Mark Twain in the iconic white suit that he actually adopted a few years later, and I advanced Tesla’s obsessive-compulsive disorder beyond where it probably stood in 1900, but there were good fictional reasons for that. So there are the actual alternative-history bits, for anyone who might [for example] want to nominate the story for an alternative-history award.)
Secret histories have always attracted me, because history is so damn weird sometimes, and you’ve gotta wonder how it turned out that way. And Tesla’s history is especially weird, and of course he knew Mark Twain, which was my entrance into Tesla’s story.
The story started for me when I saw the photo of Twain is Tesla’s laboratory. He’s holding a fluorescent light (Tesla invented fluorescent lighting, though he was never able to profit by the invention). The fluorescent light has no wires attached to it, because Tesla invented lights that would work that way, which must have been awfully convenient, because he could move his lights anywhere he needed to, without having to stretch extension cords all over the place.
And then I read Margaret Cheney’s biography of Tesla, Man Out of Time, and the whole story pretty well came together, and there it sat for twenty-odd years, accreting magic and detail the way these things do.
And now you can read it for free, or (if you so desire) buy the chapbook at Amazon and B&N.
For all that you didn’t know it, you’ve been waiting twenty years for this. Why wait a minute more?