Tag Archives: Literary Mix Tapes

Ashes to Ashes – Behind the Scenes

What do you do when you are asked to take a song from 1989, combine it with an historical event from the same year AND make it speculative fiction? This was the brief given for the latest Literary Mix Tapes’ anthology, “Eighty Nine.”

You can do one of two things. Firstly, you run screaming in falsetto tones like your favourite hair metal band. Imagine your testicles squashed into a pair of leather pants 2 sizes too small.

Secondly, you can dig out your denim jacket, black t-shirt, acid wash jeans and hair gel; grab a roll of gaffer tape, Swiss Army knife, some matches and take it on MacGyver-style.

The authors from “Nothing But Flowers” submitted a song from 1989. By process of random number generation, Jodi Cleghorn (editor) allocated each writer to their song. I received Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

The next step was to research the historical events of the year. I was only in Year 9 in high school at the time, so a refresher history lesson was in order. There were so many events from that year, not only of historical significance, but also of cultural/social significance.

As a writer, one event piqued my interest: the fatwa against Salman Rushdie. What if the fatwa had been successful, creating a group called The Book Burners? This became the launching point for an alternative history. Would it have sparked a cultural or social, or even a theological revolution? Would books have been affected, regardless if they were sacred or secular, theological or pornographic? The Book Burners sought moral integrity, but the indiscriminate nature of their acts calls into question their motivations.

In part, my story has echoes of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” A quote attributed to Bradbury was spoken by Father Jim:

“There are worse crimes than burning books,” Jim said. “One is not reading them.”

In my notebook I had two characters: a priest, Father Jim, and his best friend, Robert Forsyth, a publican. They are old friends who represent two different perspectives and became the focal point of the story. Jim is a priest and scholar and understands the value of books, even having a collection of novels and comics. Rob is his good friend, trying to understand the philosophical reasons for burning books. I had written one line of dialogue in my notebook, which I had to include in the final version of the story: “I’ve had more shags than you’ve had belts of communion wine.”

But, how to include the song into the story? I decided to use the song as a part of a scene.  For Father Jim and Rob, it was a light comic moment; another way of exploring the characters’ relationship and their ideas.

For a few months, there were times when I loathed my story. It read like the scrawling of a madman, written in litres of rancid custard on vellum made from baby seals. I considered ditching the whole thing and starting again, but thanks to the input of Jason Coggins, Icy Sedgwick and Rebecca Dobbie, they rescued me from drowning in the vat of rancid custard.

I was not consciously looking at religious fundamentalism as the focus for the story. At its heart, the story is about ideas. Are ideas, even controversial ones, to be dismissed simply as unorthodox? Is cultural homogeneity to be prized about discourse and dialogue? I may not agree with someone’s ideas or perspectives, but I respect their right to express it. I should also seek to learn from it.

In the modern technological age, the rhetoric of those who shout the loudest becomes the static that fills our ears. We need to listen more carefully before we open our mouths.

The pen is mightier than the sword.

Back to 1989

The newest anthology from eMergent Publishing’s Literary Mix Tapes drops on October 25.

In it you will find 26 stories weaving the music, culture and history of that tumultuous year blended with a twist of speculative fiction. Think fluorescent clothing, spandex, poodle hair perms, leather and lace. And that’s just for the guys.

My story, “Ashes to Ashes” has the privilege of being the opening story. Next week I will post the background to the story in the lead up to the release, giving an insight into the ideas, events and music behind it.

You can preorder a copy now through Literary Mix Tapes.

Eighty Nine - edited by Jodi Cleghorn

To whet your appetite for each unique story, here are brief one line reviews and the song behind the story.

Ashes to Ashes – Adam Byatt (Bon Jovi – Lay Your Hands On Me)

A priest, a publican and a secret horde of books. We could all be wearing sackcloth and ashes.

Shrödinger’s Cat – Dale Challener Roe (Eurythmics – Don’t Ask Me Why)

Are you really dead or really alive in a world similar to the Matrix?

Diavol – Devin Watson (Alice Cooper – Poison)

Some really weird alien activity in the midst of revolution.

Nowhere Land – Maria Kelly (Tin Machine – Tin Machine)

A great tale of conformity and distopia with hints of Dante’s “Inferno.” Pick your circle carefully.

Angelgate – Tanya Bell (Red Hot Chili Peppers – Higher Ground)

Tanya takes urban fantasy to the edge of a precipice and hurls us off. How are you at flying?

Chronicle Child – Lily Mulholland (Cindi Lauper – I Drove All Night)

This story has the grace and beauty of the Japanese culture with a prophetic vision of the future.

All I Wanted – Rob Diaz (Tone-Loc – Funky Cold Medina)

An immersive, interactive world of technology with a dark and sinister edge. You might wish the dream was real.

Drilling Oil – Kaolin Imago Fire (Michael Damian – Rock On)

An ecological apocalypse where the thing you covet most may be the thing that destroys you.

30 Years in the Bathroom – Icy Sedgwick (The Wonderstuff - 30 Years in the Bathroom )

Greek mythology with a Faustian twist is at the heart of story so pertinent in today’s media obsessed society.

Amir – Benjamin Solah (Tears for Fears – Sowing The Seeds of Love)

Music is a weapon and violent acts call for violent music, yet there is still the need to find the seeds of hope.

Over the Wall in a Bubble – Susan May James (The Jesus And Mary Chain – Head On)

Susan’s story has a deft, light touch as the Berlin Wall stands but one young person can see a vision of a better future.

Disintegration – Stacey Larner (The Cure – Fascination Street)

Come on a trip into the darkness but beware lest it strangle you.

Choices – Laura Eno (The Proclaimers – Cap In Hand)

There is such a sense of sadness and loss in this story. What if you were the cause of sadness and loss?

Divided – Emma Newman (Richard Marx – Right Here Waiting For You)

Follow this one through to the end, reading it very carefully. A good, twisty ending.

Blueprints in the Dark – Rebecca Dobbie (Deacon Blue – Real Gone Kid)

A crushing sense of claustrophobia dominates this story and you wish you could do something to help out the little boy.

Eighteen for Life – Jo Hart (Skid Row – 18 And Life)

Vampires and the 80s. There is no better combination.

New Year, Old Love – Jim Bronyaur (The Cure – Lovesong)

A love story with a very heated kiss.

Solider Out of Time – Laura Meyer (Martika – Toy Soldiers)

Time travel and boy’s hormones combine with spectacular results. And there’s a cool fart joke.

The Story Bridge – Josh Donellan (Debbie Gibson – Electric Youth)

At the very point of utter despair, salvation comes along in the guise of a little kid who you would just like to up-side the head for sticking his nose in where it don’t belong. But you’re glad he did.

If I Could Turn Back Time – Alison Wells (Cher – If I Could Turn Back Time)

What do you do for someone who’s stuck in 1989 when the rest of the world is accelerating away from you?

An Exquisite Addition – Paul Anderson (King’s X – Summerland)

Two delightfully creepy characters with a penchant for wax and some fabulous dialogue.

The Banging on the Door – Jonathan Crossfield (The B-52s – Love Shack)

This is one creeped out ghost story. Do not read this at night. Alone. With the lights off.

Maggie’s Rat – Cath Barton (Bob Dylan – What Good Am I?)

This story has a great use of allegory in the vein of “Animal Farm.”

Now Voyager II – Monica Marier (Billy Joel – We Didn’t Start The Fire)

An alien news reporter who sees life in a very different way to us. There is a wonderful light touch to this story.

Cocaine, My Sweetheart – Jodi Cleghorn (REM – Stand)

Swapping time streams and some really dark, weird stuff.

Paragon – Jason Coggins (Aerosmith – Love In An Elevator)

We create our own gods in this modern world, and one of them needs to stand witness to the atrocities of our age.

Pre-order your copy of “89″ through Literary Mix Tapes. You will not be disappointed in this anthology.

Teaser Trailer for 89 Book Launch

Check out the teaser trailer for the 89 book launch. My story, Ashes to Ashes, is included in this speculative fiction anthology from Literary Mix Tapes.

This book has some outstanding stories focused on events and music from the year 1989.

Launching in October

The trailer was produced by Devin Watson. You can find him here on twitter @dklon

I’ll write about my story closer to release date and give you some background on what inspired my story.

Scrappy Sketches

Writing for eMergent Publishing’s new anthology “89” has proven to be an interesting task.

The brief asks for a retro speculative fiction story based in 1989 with a reference to a significant event from that year, all prompted by a song from the same year. Following? Good, because it’s doing my head in.

Some of us have been slogging through ideas while others have written their story quickly. I am in the former group. What follows below is a sketch I wrote to help get the ideas flowing. It is not being used in the final story but I thought I would share this scrappy sketch with you.

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“Why does the fat lady get to sing the last song?” asked Claire. “I mean, it’s not like she’s Whitney Houston or anything.” She dragged on the cigarette before extinguishing it. “This songbird’s gonna have the final note tonight. Fat chick be damned.”

The karaoke microphone was vacant, illuminated by a single spot lights. Claire’s best friend, Rachelle, dubbed it The Truth Amplifier. The microphone revealed a person’s ability, she said. If they could sing, it magnified the singer’s competent vocal chords. If the singer was a hairbrush vocalist, it simply amplified their cat-being-pulled-by-a-toddler screeching.

Flicking through the karaoke menu, Claire chose her song. It was 2 am and the bar was emptying. MIDI strains of Bon Jovi clambered out of the speaker. Rachelle whooped her encouragement from the table. Claire pulled the microphone from the stand, feeling its weight, balancing it before winking at Rachelle. In her head she counted off the final bar before the lyrics started. On the last beat she spun the mic in her hand, caught it, leaned forward and breathed the lyrics, “If you’re ready, I’m willing and able. Help me lay my cards out on the table.”

The crowd was caught in her performance. At the first chorus she pushed the vocals, but deliberately held back from giving it everything, “Lay your hands on me, lay your hands on me, lay your hands on me.” She extended her hand towards the crowd. A polite smattering of applause came from the thinning crowd, but Claire knew she had them. The second verse spun from her lips like caramel, despite the MIDI-synth backing track. Perched on the edge of the tiny stage, she could feel herself flying with the music. Grasping the mic stand in her left hand she threw her head back for the final chorus and released the diva within, finding the pure note and producing a sonic boom.

Putting the mic back into the clip, the audience erupted in whoops, cheers and whistles.

Dropping into the chair beside Rachelle, Claire said, “Elvis and the fat lady have left the building. Together. Eating deep friend sandwiches and caressing their arses where I kicked it.”