Skeletons From The Writer’s Closet
by Christopher M. Chupik
Sarah was joking that this should have been done Halloween week because one’s juvenilia is always scary to look back on. I recently decided to look into my old green file folder and see if I’ve grown as a writer. All spelling and grammar mistakes are reproduced faithfully.
My oldest surviving work of fiction is a school workbook repurposed into my illustrated saga Dinosaur: The Lost Land (Frist of 7!). According to the inside jacket, it was published by Bookworm Publishing 1987. Yes, that’s right. I was a pioneering indie author! Mind you, Bookworm went under not long after putting this book out, so maybe I shouldn’t brag so much.
The eight-page epic begins thusly:
“It was the ICE-AGE. The NARWANTY tribe was looking for a new home. They have found an ISLAND in the South Pacific. It was surrounded by fog.”
The Narwanty settle on this fog-bound island only to find it inhabited by dinosaurs:
” ‘LOOK, Theres a WERID thing comeing!’ It was a Tyrannosaurus Rex! It was 22 meters long and 40 feet tall!”
See how I cleverly got around the fact that cavemen and dinosaurs lived millions of years apart? Eat your heart out, Michael Crichton. The mash-up of eras is skillfully illustrated by the symbolism of rendering the T-Rex’s measurements in both Imperial and Metric. Also, the shifting of tenses conveys the temporal dislocation of the Narwanty. Honest.
After several dinosaur vs. caveman clashes, the tribe settles down and a sequel is threatened. I think I did a few more Dinosaur Island stories, but most of those are lost now. Perhaps that’s for the best.
Next stop on my tragical history tour is a short story I wrote in junior high based on the legend of the Beast of Le Gevaudan. I suspect I must have already read some of the Solomon Kane stories by Robert E Howard because the protagonist is a German monster hunter named Josef Siegfried armed with sword, musket and bullwhip. He never uses the bullwhip. Siegfried quickly discovers that the Beast is actually a werewolf:
“Karl said that all wolves and men were the children of Fenric and that werewolves were Fenrics closest relations. Fenric created werewolves to become the masters of the world in the final days before the world’s end.”
That’s quite some cosmology I had going there, though I mangle mythology terribly. Why would a wolf from Norse myth create the human race, wolves, and werewolves? No idea. Later, the hunters encounter the werewolf:
“You stupid, stupid human” he said in German. Then the man leapt into the air at Josef. During the flight the man’s features twisted and transformed into the features of a wolf.”
Clearly, dialogue was not my strong point. Neither was sentence structure. But at least I had developed some sense of energy and action. And it set the stage for the kind of stories I like to write now.
Last stop is my Biology 20 Major Assignment from 1995. For it, I decided to write a piece of Hard SF about an interstellar flight to Alpha Centauri and the life-bearing planet the astronauts find. I certainly did not lack for ambition.
In The Odyssey/Falstaff Report: A speculation on the future of space travel, I lay out a history of early concepts for interstellar travel, including graphics of Orion and Daedalus. I also have a graphic of the Odyssey and it’s Clippers (based on the old Delta Clipper rocket concept). For graphics rendered with a crappy mid-90s drawing program I think they look pretty decent. I wish I could share them here. I have a crew list (several classmates and teachers included as in-jokes). There’s even a helpful timeline:
“2012 – An alliance of the North American Trade Bloc, European Union, Japan, South Africa and three other nations begin work on Project Lightsail, a program of interstellar exploration.”
Optimistic, isn’t it? If you had told the 18 year-old me that the space program would be on life-support by the real 2012, I would have cried. I lay out the Odyssey mission in detail, going into the physics of the laser-propelled lightsail and the 25-year flight to Alpha Centauri. I even took the long-term effects of zero-G into account with a drug called Gravitol (I googled this and found the name and idea was also used in the TSR Buck Rogers XXVC game which was out back in the early ’90s. Did I crib it? Seems possible). Finally, I get to the planet Falstaff (Not sure why I named the planets after Shakespearean characters, seemed cool at the time I guess). Falstaff is roughly similar to Cambrian Era Earth, with most organisms confined to the seas:
“The alphanauts discovered through submersible probes vast herds of armored fish known as sea-tanks that swim through the murky waters of the deep sea, hunting for silt dwelling worms that are occasionally exposed. Another predator is the spitting-worm, a large invertibrate that kills its victims with a poisonous mucus that contains digestive enzymes that help the worm devour its prey.”
I must admit, some run-on sentences and odd terminology (“herds” of fish?) aside, it holds up not too badly. However, the biology aspects, which were the whole reason for the story, don’t take up a huge amount of the report. That didn’t stop me from getting a 30/30 for my assignment. My teacher wrote on the last page: “You have gone far above and beyond what was required.” And that remains my favorite comment from a teacher ever.
I may laugh at some of it now, but I can see my progression as an author. It’s said that you have to write a million words of crap before you can get to the good stuff. I’d like to think I’m finally at that point.
So, what have you got hidden away in your secret files? Confess!