From the Time Capsule

by wjw on January 30, 2024

I went through an old file cabinet drawer yesterday to see if it was time to send some of the paper to (1) the shredder, or (2) the archives.

The stuff in the cabinet dates from 1975-1982, my earliest years of trying to write professionally. Right up front was a massive research file for the Privateers & Gentlemen series. Nautical charts, articles xeroxed from various dictionaries of national biography, extracts from nautical dictionaries, pages of notes that looked as if they’d been thrown randomly on the page . . notes to myself (“don’t forget to mention Ruiterbeek in chapter seven), lots of timelines, lists of ship personnel so I wouldn’t forget what I’d named the brig’s purser or whoever. Each sea battle was meticulously diagrammed in colored inks.

Jesus Christ, I was thorough! I’d forgotten all this stuff even existed.

This is the sort of thing you had to do before there was Wikipedia and electronic files and cut-and-paste.

It must have been a relief when I switched to science fiction and could just make this stuff up.g

More interesting was the short fiction I was trying to write in the 1970s. There are a couple pieces of short literary fiction that I wrote when I was in grad school, which places them in 1975. I remember them and what they’re about. I submitted them in various places and got respectful rejections.

And then there’s the stuff I don’t remember. There’s a fragment of a parody Arthurian story which features words like “orgulous.” And then there’s a completed story called “Memories of Subjectivity” which I don’t remember at all, and another story that seems complete but that that doesn’t have a title.

Glancing at them now, I think I was trying to write what is now called slipstream fiction, meaning (in my case anyway) literary fiction that’s SF-adjacent. Apparently I never sent these stories out, probably because— guess what!— there was absolutely no market for slipstream fiction in 1975! At least none I knew about.

So my invention of slipstream fiction (or my unknowing re-invention of it) will go unremarked by history.

Lastly, found the first two chapters of Voice of the Whirlwind, which, like all the rest, was written by typewriter with corrections in variously colored inks. (I think the specific colors of the ink might have been some kind of code, but I can’t decipher it now.) The typewriter tells me I wrote the chapters around 1980, because I got my first Radio Shack Model II computer, with the surprisingly good Scripsit word processor, in 1981.

VotW is a book that I finished in 1985 and was published in 1987. Between 1980 and 1985 I wrote five other books, plus some short fiction that actually got published, before I returned to those two chapters and finished what I’d started.

I haven’t actually read any of these stories yet, since my current existence lacks leisure time. But a glance at the pages shows that I was a good writer on a sentence-by-sentence level. Whether I actually had something to say is a separate issue.

I’ll find out soon.

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