Part I of the interview and my mini-review of Vin’s new book, The Testament of James is here.
Q. I found the resolution of TToJ more interesting, and certainly more relevant, than the resolution of The DaVinci Code, but surely some readers will see similarities. Were you in any way inspired by that book?
A. I have to be careful not to seem scornful of Mr. Brown and his books, or Steve Berry or whoever. Here are these guys who have sold millions of books and entertained a lot of people and made a fortune, and I’m some little guy selling books in the thousands. Nor do I have the excuse that my stuff is meant to be “academic,” because it’s not — frankly, I hope to entertain, as well. So I don’t want to sound like the midget razzing the elephants. But no, honestly, these books that read a lot like film treatments, a couple of paragraphs of dialogue about the secrets of the Knights Templar and then “What’s that?! Flashing red lights, Oh No, the police are coming! Quick, let’s escape through my secret underground tunnel to the secret hangar where my secret helicopter waits to waft us away in just such an emergency as this!” aren’t quite what I’m trying for.
Yes, I get the fact that The Testament of James discusses Jesus and so does The Da Vinci Code. But frankly I find these scenarios designed to enhance the mythical bloodlines of the kings of France to be a bit labored. Do we really care about the legitimacy of the Bourbon bloodline? Are they planning to re-assume the throne? Whereas I get VERY interested when Hugh Schonfield asks, and here I paraphrase, “Wait a minute, Jesus was this brilliant dynamic fellow, always calculating the effect of his actions, and then suddenly he gets arrested and he just sits there like a mope, like some sad sack, he stumbles into Jerusalem with no idea that’s likely to get him arrested and he’s got no PLAN? That makes no sense! Especially when the gospels indicate he clearly had some specific reason for wanting to be arrested on a Thursday night, he turns to Judas, the most trusted disciple, late on Thursday evening, and says “What you have to do, go now and do quickly.”
Q. It’s pretty clear you’re planning sequels. How’s the next one coming along and any idea when we can expect to see it? (Yeah, yeah, I know; you’re barely recovered from writing this one … )
A. I don’t write from outlines, as I’ve said. I put myself in a zone where scenes can come to me, they’re largely aural, I hear them and I write them down. Not in any particular order. Then the last stage is consolidating, streamlining, weaving the fabric together so it looks relatively seamless. So I can’t set an exact schedule. I may be a quarter of the way into “The Miskatonic Manuscript.” It’s going to have a somewhat larger scope.
The germ of the idea is very simple. These days, people with cheap electronic cameras -– the cheap ones are often best because their lenses don’t have a lot of fancy coatings designed to block “flare” and “diffraction,” light effects that Aunt Mimi objects to when she takes snapshots of her cat Fluffie who happens to be backlit by the sun; I’m told you can test for this with a laser pointer — people can go outside in the evening and aim up at the treetops and flash their strobes and capture images of things you can’t see with the naked eye, colorful orbs and veils and vortexes, lots of stuff. Not every time, but fairly frequently.
The response of supposed “scientists” to these images is very interesting. They remind me of Galileo’s contemporaries, refusing to look through his telescope. You’d think they’d be going, “Wow! What are these things?! They appear to have an internal structure kind of like amoebae and they appear to be about the size of softballs and they seem to have some means of propulsion and staying up in the air, they can move up as well as down, they can move against the wind. Why can’t we see them within the visible spectrum? Do they have mass? Can we calculate their maximum speed? Can we characterize their behaviors; what attracts or repels them?” Instead they all yawn: “Obviously dust particles on your lens; water droplets on your lens; you need your camera repaired; maybe you need cataract surgery,” if pressed they’ll threaten psychiatric intervention. That works, that makes the problem go away. They lump these phenomena in with crop circles, whatever, “Another loony on the phone, must be a full moon, ho ho.”
Well, back in 1920 H.P. Lovecraft wrote a short story about a scientist who developed a resonator that could activate the pineal gland and allow people to see things not normally visible, including creatures swimming or floating in the air. Now go look up recent studies of the effects of activating the pineal gland through the use of chanting or other sonic stimuli at certain frequencies, and the relationship of the pineal gland with the optic nerve, and the growing consensus that one of the functions of the long human childhood is teaching children how to SHUT OUT a lot of their sensory input in order to concentrate just on what we need to gather food and avoid predators and jump to our feet when the bell rings in the government youth propaganda camp, which is why people consuming psychoactive plant sacraments talk of being “re-awakened,” seeing the world in a way that can make our workaday drudgery, fighting our way up the corporate ladder, going into debt to buy a better Entertainment Center, seem downright silly. Which is what really frightens the dominator culture, of course, the idea that we might stop this race to borrow and spend and “consume” — that people might wake up, look around, escape their control.
Instead of consuming these sacraments to see what it’s all about, far too many of your anthropologists write about how the indigenous tribesmen light the fire and where they sit and the fact they chant for hours, but they never grasp what the chanting is about, that we’re a thin-skulled species and our brains and our pineal glands can respond to musical vibrations at certain frequencies, which is why Tibet is full of temple bells. Read Terrence McKenna.
Well, I asked myself, what if there really was a resonator? What if Lovecraft left a notebook telling where it could be found and re-activated? What if it revealed something about the 31 parallel dimensions that quantum physicists now tell us may be layered like ribbons all around us? Do the creatures there love us just the way we are, or would they prefer us with a little ketchup?
Q. You’ve been relatively quiet the last few years. Even before your departure from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, you seemed to have switched to a focus on Nevada issues more than national ones (not that Nevada hasn’t had a big national issue or three with Cliven Bundy!). Was this by choice? A regrouping, a desire to be less in the fray? Or was it something else?
A. Recruiting and motivating young Libertarians is easy in a way but you start to wonder if you’re actually helping, or if you’re diverting them from more useful pursuits. Young people come to the movement when they realize government screws up everything it touches, that freedom is the answer. As Ernie Hancock says down in Phoenix, “Freedom is the answer; what’s your question?” Government “health care” isn’t about allowing you choices over your own body or even saving money, it’s about state power over a vast new constituency that can’t escape because, after all, everyone wants “free health care.”
Eager young Libertarians are convinced if we just find the right candidate, the right slogan, paint enough yard signs, the American people will hear the message of less government and more freedom and we’re going to turn this thing around. But of course the great strategy of the socialists to see to it the majority of Americans either receive government benefits or get paid more than $100,000 a year to ADMINISTER government benefits has finally succeeded, so it’s now true that if voting could change anything they’d ban it. Election night comes and everybody votes AGAINST the guy they’re more afraid of, AGAINST Republican Tweedle-Dumb but FOR interchangeable Democrat Tweedle-Dumber, and meantime they’re telling you “I can’t vote for someone as different as a Libertarian because you guys can’t win so I’d be throwing away my vote, and besides, you want to legalize drugs.” And our guy gets 2 percent of the vote, and at the next party meeting 90 percent of your gung ho young campaigners are gone, gone for good.
So you’ve got a movement that has to grow by a factor of ten every four years to remain the same size. You’re not just running up the “down” escalator, in the rigged game of American electoral politics you’re trying to run up a “down” elevator shaft.
To sell 5,000 or 8,000 copies of a trade paperback on our issues you’ve got to hit the road, travel all across the country, speaking and signing books at conventions of Libertarians and gun owners, “Yay, Vin, you’re great, why don’t you run for office?” Right, run for office and come home two years later and tell them, “We’re going to get around to those good Libertarian issues, trust me, we’re going to legalize drugs and machine guns and get rid of the income tax and the Federal Reserve, but you’ve got to understand how the political process works, first I’ve got to accrue some seniority . . .” Insert masturbatory gesture here. It eats up your time and your energy, it’s pretty exhausting and meantime the blue-gloved goons are groping you coming and going, it starts to feel like a bit of a treadmill. You’re the paid entertainment, really, not so much different from the guys who set up down at the local Holiday Inn on Saturday night and play “Brandy, You’re a Fine Girl.” They enjoy it, the fans enjoy it, it’s groceries on the table, but pretty soon you realize the world is moving on without you.
And of course my day job WAS at a daily newspaper and the Internet started to destroy the daily newspapers, which they probably deserve for becoming so calcified. Especially after 2006 they all down-sized. Some closed and the rest retrenched, increasingly their mantra was “Concentrate on local. They can get their national news from TV and the Internet for free; all we’ve got left to sell that they can’t get anywhere else is local high-school sports and the local water board rate-hike hearing. So you try to be loyal employee, you try to pitch in and help out, though I did draw the line at “Stop writing this radical stuff that offends all those new Obama voters out there,” and of course the whole effort was doomed, anyway. They put the ad guys in charge and their idea of editorial content is some gray stuff in between the ads that won’t offend anyone. But advertisers aren’t going to pay higher rates for fewer readers reading a shrinking newspaper full of oatmeal with no raisins. Before long they’ll all be free twice-a-week tabloids that they throw in your driveway; some ads and the TV listings and Mrs. Smith’s Sixth Grade class taking a field trip to the Alamo or the local sewage treatment plant.
And the paper where I was employed happened to be the Las Vegas Review-Journal and that particular newspaper made a unique and very bad strategic decision in 2010 to hire this outfit called Righthaven to sue people for using their content online without permission, a decision I had nothing to do with, by the way. Their corporate counsel assured me it wouldn’t affect people who ran my syndicated column but a lot of Web sites including the Lew Rockwell site dropped me like a hot potato, they figured “Why take a chance on getting sued?” so years of gradual progress in getting my Libertarian stuff out there to a wider readership was gone, just like that, within a month or two, in the year 2010. My attitude has been “It happened; move on,” while Cat feels it was huge.
But mostly I think it goes back to that not wanting to be Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits singing oldies at the senior center. I hope I don’t get hate mail from Herman’s Hermits and their fans, that music was a lot of fun in 1966, OK? I also loved Edison Lighthouse and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders and Tommy James and the Shondells, “I Think We’re Alone Now,” OK? Love it, really. But I wanted to break out and use whatever talent I’ve been given as a writer to go a little further. After 20 years it started to feel like I could dig out an old column, graft this week’s news peg on the top, run it out there, all the regulars would say, “Yay, Vin, that’s the stuff!” So if anything I probably stayed in daily newspapering too long. They whined my columns were too long when they hit a thousand words but it’s like being the guy who serves up the little Vienna sausages and shrimp on toothpicks and you never get to cook the entree, the main course.
Q. Writing books is hard, often unrewarding work. TToJ is good, but you’re likely to face an uphill battle, first to get it noticed by readers who don’t know your work and second to get it accepted by those who do know your work but don’t want you going in a new direction. What keeps you going in the face of all that inertia?
Q. The work is its own reward. I suppose those not lucky enough to ever feel a call think we’re making it up, but I pretty much have to write these books, it’s a calling. What’s important is to get centered, to get clear, whatever the trendy term might be now, to listen closely to that inner tone or voice and write what I’m supposed to write. Then the stuff flows, it’s not a battle, because you’re doing what comes naturally. Parts of it are what they call automatic writing, it comes in bursts. No outlines, outlines are deadly.
Where did they get this “outline” idea? I think the faculty advisors who supervise people trying to get their Masters in English literature teach them to present an outline because that makes the advisor’s job simpler, instead of slogging through pages of drivel you spend 60 seconds looking at the outline and you tell them “OK, your thesis is that Emily Bronte was left-handed, that’s good. All this stuff about how learning-disabled children were mistreated in Victorian England takes you too far afield, the faculty committee won’t be comfortable with that because they won’t be familiar with your source material, leave that to the History Department; just stick with the left-handed stuff and you’ll be fine.”
So all our English teachers teach all the kids to write from outlines and where does that leave you? It’s time to write Chapter Four and your outline says you have to pick up your characters who are starting to look like dead cockroaches tied to marionette strings and dance them from Point D to Point E, where the outline says they have to end up 20 pages later, and they damned well better not “come to life” and say or do anything unplanned or unexpected because it’ll knock the whole outline for a loop, and you’re no longer a writer, you’re a mortician trying to pose the embalmed corpses in realistic tableaux mordant. Is that French or did I just make that up?
I had a literary agent, years ago, signed a contract and everything. He later got famous, wrote some book about how to write a blockbuster novel, said the most important thing was to work from an outline, of course. He’d have lunch with someone from a publishing house, get in touch with me and say, “They want a fictionalized biography of David Bowie; right up your alley given that you play in that rock band and you’ve got that part-time radio show and the way you know pop music and all; send me an outline.”
So I’d do some research on Davy Jones, which was Bowie’s real name long before they cast a really short kid from the chorus line in the Broadway Show “Oliver!” to be one of the Monkees and kind of tied up that “Davy Jones” name. Then I’d agonize over what I could bring, what part of my personal vision could somehow be made to intersect with this assignment, so I wouldn’t be a candidate for the loony bin, suicidal with frustration if I spent the next nine months working on this project that some editor dreamed up over a corned beef sandwich on 23rd Street. Finally I’d send in the outline and Al’s response would be, “That was weeks ago! That train left the station! They were looking for a quickie paperback but now they’ve changed their minds! Can you do me some kind of horror thing that involves plastic surgery? Need an outline; tomorrow would be good.”
Only years later did another author point out to me that, since this guy never sent me any reports from publishing houses on the actual manuscripts I sent him, on my own writings, he wasn’t really circulating my stuff at all, he just had me as part of this bevy of hip young hopefuls who he was going to try and pair up with the right story idea until something clicked.
And of course they ALSO love to work from outlines because when you’re pitching a concept at a story meeting it’s got to be quick, between the pickle and the coffee.
So eventually you have to make a decision, are you going to schmooze up to the right people and hope you can convince them you’re fast enough and cynical enough to grind out this formulaic crap, or not? They’re always looking for last year’s hit, only slightly different. If last year’s hit was a cop buddy movie with a white cop and a black cop, this time let’s try a straight cop and a queer cop, or a male chauvinist cop who gets assigned a feminist lady partner who should look a lot like Tyne Daly. Of course it always leaves them behind the curve when something really new comes along, then they go chasing after spinoffs of THAT big hit; if “Andy Griffith” and “The Beverly Hillbillies” struck gold, let’s try “Petticoat Junction” or “Green Acres” or “Gomer Pyle.”
I used to try and play the game, we printed up softbound Advance Review Copies of “The Black Arrow” at least 90 days before the official release date and shipped them off to Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly and a hundred other trade publications and book review editors who set up all these complicated rules for how to get a book reviewed, but it’s a rigged game. If you’re not Doubleday or HarperCollins, if you don’t already have a contract with Baker & Taylor to get your books into Barnes & Noble, none of those people are going to review a book from a small publishing house. Why should they bother? Their whole protection racket fortunately appears to be collapsing now, a lot of them are going bankrupt and being bought out by the Germans and they all richly deserve it, calcified dinosaurs thudding to the ground left and right.
The time is right for these books about Matthew Hunter and Chantal Stevens and the gang at Books on Benefit and their unusual friends. The re-awakening of interest in these psychoactive agents, these entheogens, is huge, thanks to the Internet. It’s amazing to me that it’s been almost 50 years since Frank Herbert dealt with some of these same themes in “Dune,” which was hugely popular, it resonated with a generation. There should be a whole literature on this topic by now, but where is it?
It’s Online, for the most part. Readers can find a lot of interesting information on this stuff at sites like Maps.org or Erowid.org or The-Nexian. But fiction can bring new people to the discussion, and the fiction has been lacking. We hope to kick-start that, Cat and I are hoping we’ll generate a little discussion on our Web site, VinSuprynowicz.com.
The book will be there for those who are ready for it, who are supposed to find it. As the first in the series, I wanted it to be compact, accessible, something people could enjoy and easily follow. Not a sprawling epic, we may head more in that direction with the next one, but “Testament” has a limited cast of characters operating in a limited setting over a period of a few successive days. It’s complete in itself and only you and the readers can tell me if it’s potent enough, if it’s satisfying. But it also says, “OK, did you get that? Are you with me so far? Good. Now hang onto your hats, kids, because here comes ‘The Miskatonic Manuscript,’ the road signs warn there may be dinosaurs, and we’re not going to be slowing down to go back over the introductory material; no one allowed on this ride who’s not at least THIS tall.” :-)