Archive for January, 2010

The Most Dangerous Thing I’ve Written

January 13th, 2010 54 comments


Actually, there are two that come to mind.

First, McPherson & Co. (then Treacle Press) published my novel, The Best Laugh Last in hardback in 1982 and then as a trade paperback in 1983.  For over twenty-five years it has haunted me.  By that I mean it has been an albatross around my neck, a skeleton in my closet, a secret I have concealed during job interviews.  And yes, it is also a book that cost me two jobs.

Why?  Back then, I was a professor at a small black college, and I decided to write a novel about some of the conditions there as seen by a teacher named David Newman.  My wife said I was crazy, but I wrote it anyway and told the truth as I saw it.  Thanks to a long tradition of racism, the students were poorly equipped to pursue a higher education.  Also, the campus was run-down and poorly maintained (I called the building where I had my office, “The House of Usher.”)  Most important, though, the administration, as I saw it, didn’t care enough about educating the students.  My impression was intensified by a public scandal at another, nearby black college where several of the chief administrative officers, including the President, stole money intended for students’ education and put it in their own pockets.

Can you blame me?  Writers write, right?  They take chances.  Of course, I had a small family (a wife and a daughter), and it was conceivable that one or more of us could get hurt.  Fortunately, we all survived, but from job to job, that book followed me like a foul odor.  No matter what I did, it was always in the room.

Be aware, authors.  If you ever decide to be a whistleblower, be prepared to pay the price.

The second most dangerous, chancy thing I’ve done as a writer involves my Drollerie Press novel, Alien Dreams.  Eric Latimore leads an expedition to the planet Lagos to discover what happened to the first crew, which never reported back.  While there, he discovers huge aliens in his dreams that resemble angels and finds the only way he can save the lives of his crew is to undergo a startling transformation.

Usually it’s not a good idea to tinker and tamper with your heroes too much, at least in certain ways.  In Alien Dreams, Latimore leaves his Apache lover, Gouyen and is transformed into an eight-foot-tall alien Angel, complete with feathers.  Next, he meets and mates with their bewitchingly beautiful queen, Aleia for ten thousand subjective years.  Would the readers stand for that?  Would they still identify with my protagonist?  Occasionally, over the centuries, Latimore (whose name is now Ragar) changes bodies and sexual identities with his mate, experiencing and enjoying alien lovemaking through multiple orifices from her perspective.  Talk about gender-bending.

I was tempted to leave this unconventional love—or rather, lust—story as it was.  But Alien Dreams is the most cosmic of my novels, so I had Ragar fly in a ship clear across the universe to confront God in a battle of brains and brawn that rivals Armageddon.  Okay, it isn’t God exactly, merely a Gatekeeper who rules this particular universe.  The question is, at this point in the narrative, would readers still be able and willing to identify and sympathize with my hero?

Fortunately, Deena Fisher did not consider my tale preposterous and accepted Alien Dreams, largely because she recognizes that science fiction allows and even welcomes outlandish conceptual freedom.  Still, I feel my hero represents an experimental departure from my others, and challenges the reader to keep an open mind.

So, there are my two most daring fictional experiments, cases where I pushed the envelope in one way or another.  I could offer more examples, but I’ll save them for another time and another blog.


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