Enter: Our Girl Reporter, almost so hip she can’t see over her pelvis, looking like she’s been tossed out of a TARDIS in mid-flight.
Her targets: (1) Primo jive turkey Robert N. Lee, who appeared in Shimmer #17 and now stands accused of writing (and doing the cover art for!) a decked-out series of novellas set in the 666ties. (2) Paper shaker Julia Rose Sevin, who stands accused of editing the work out of its incomprehensible primordial slop. (Alas, it contained no dinosaurs. Or did it?!)
Will Our Plucky Girl Reporter survive or will she bug out and call in the heat? Spoilers, sweetie.
So, why the 60s? Why not the 20s or the 80s, or do more decade-delights await readers?
I was born in 1967, it’s always been a decade with a lot of cultural weight in my life, like it is for everybody else who came after. I mean: it’s THE SIXTIES.
There’s a lot of personal weight there for me, too: my father fought in Vietnam — we spent the first couple years of my life there. My dad became a communist and SDS member and labor organizer when he came back, then hippie tripped out to California, where my parents became Jesus People, like lots of hippies around the same time.
The scene in “Califormication,” where you first meet Manson, and he’s sitting on pillows, surrounded by women combing his hair, that’s based on a real thing. My father — we lived in the San Francisco bay area in the seventies, for some context — and his hippie church friends used to go out and argue with teams of guys from other religions on weekends. Like…freaking You Got Served, only mixed with the opening of Airplane!, where Robert Stack marches through the airport punching cultists begging for donations. Is how I imagine it, anyway. Like religious softball league or something. Sometimes in Santa Cruz, where we lived, or in San Francisco or Berkeley or wherever.
Anyway, so one time my dad and his friends got invited to debate the heads of the Love Family, this Children of God offshoot cult, at their compound or whatever in The City. And the head asshole was sitting there the whole time with these women around him, combing his hair, this total bizarre sexist power trip thing. So that’s where I got that. That’s a real thing.
JRS: I was going to make a snarky comment about how “PFFFFFFT, if Robert writes a collection about the eighties, he can find somebody else to edit that overexposed hogwash” or something, but the truth is I really thought the sixties were totally played out, so the theme had me hesitant about this series until I read it. His approach seems to be to ignore popular conceptions and appetites entirely. 666ties neither affirms nor deconstructs some well-established, narrow-scope sense of the sixties. Rather, he finds tidbits of the most interest to him (which are interesting because he is interesting), which have been the least fictionalized, and spins them out into something fresh and self-sovereign.
RNL: That’s…pretty cool. I mean the part about trying to throw out what The Sixties means, that is a big part of what I’ve tried to do in the stories, but I don’t think we ever had a conversation where I stated that, as such. So yay: I win all the writers.
My social media feeds have been exploding with Dr. Who chatter, being that this week sees the arrival of the 50th anniversary of the show. Talk to us about the genesis of this week’s story, “Live Lady of Down Town,” its influences, and exactly how awesome that DW theme music still is.
I got the idea for “Live Lady of Down Town” when I showed my girlfriend, Evonne, that photo of Delia Derbyshire, the most famous one. The hair band, bent over the tape deck. And this was after I’d told Evonne all about Derbyshire — I can’t remember how we got on the subject, except it wasn’t watching Doctor Who. We were talking about electronic music one night.
I showed her that photo and Evonne fell in love with it immediately, the way people do, she thought Delia Derbyshire just looked so cool. And the thing is: that photo didn’t look cool at all back then, probably, to most people anyway. It looked like a weird girl doing techie stuff–boy stuff. It takes decades of all kinds of things changing to get to Evonne’s excited first response: “She looks like a DJ!”
That all went through my mind and I pretty much had the whole idea for the story right then, in an instant. Actually getting it done and the structure of the thing and etc. took a while, but I knew I was going to write a story where the Doctor Who theme kicked off rave culture and wide popularity of electronic dance music way early, and Delia Derbyshire got all the credit and fame she missed out on in this life for her significant accomplishments, and then some.
The importance of that piece of music is immeasurable. It touches on a thousand different geekdoms, and it’s not like Derbyshire was the only pioneer in what would later become more automated and form the basis for a thousand different types of interconnected musics based in samples and loops and breaks. But: she’s a big one, and plus: she did the Doctor Who theme! Which isn’t the first electronic theme or scoring for any film or television, but it’s the first massively popular piece of electronic music that sounds like all the new wave and hip hop and industrial and disco and house and techno and etc. etc, etc, that would follow. You can actually dance to it–also a rarity among SF themes, certainly. The KLF proved that forever by mixing it with Gary Glitter, and giant crowds regularly dance to exactly that music at Orbital shows.
It wasn’t much of a leap from there to: Delia Derbyshire Becomes the World’s First Superstar DJ, Helen AmeriKKKa.
Anyway, we’re going to watch the Doctor Who 50th on Saturday, of course, but we’re both mostly excited about An Adventure In Space and Time, on Friday. Derbyshire’s a character in that BBC movie about the creation of the show, and I guess we’re more Delia fans than the Doctor’s, really. (And I started watching Doctor Who in the seventies, lest that be taken as a slight to the show — I loved the show as a kid, it’s been so surreal to see it come back and this time become so popular in the US. Crazy. That Gaiman episode about the TARDIS made me all misty eyed. There, I said it.)
Tell us how the 666ties came about? Was it always a collection of stories? Which story actually came first?
I thought of all these SF and fantasy and horror stories set at different points in the sixties, all around the same time. A couple of 666ties stories are older ideas I liked but never did anything with and they came together as I started thinking about a decade’s worth of stories. But mostly, I had a story lots of editors liked, and other writers who read it did, too, but it didn’t sell, “The Live Lady of Down Town.” And for whatever reason, writing that one, set in an alternate 1960s, made me start coming up with ideas for other 1960s stories that bubbled up to the top of the heap quickly, like some story ideas do.
That was a year or so ago, that I thought about doing this, first. I think I told Julia about it a few months later, and she was like “You should do that.” She’s been a booster since I told her about it, pretty much.
JRS: I did not hate “Live Lady” on first read, I found it entrancing, but I’m embarrassed to say it was way over my lil’ Millennial-Gen head and I just. didn’t. get it. The parallel stories being told in opposite order, I don’t even remember it that way, I just remember it as being all mish-mashy timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly, and I didn’t know how much of it was totally made up and how much of it was just legit sixties but outside of my baby knowledge. When we went to assemble the collection last month and I did my editorial pass, I totally got it.*
*False. I still needed help from Robert to understand what kind of global historical differences he was implying, and what the real Derbyshire history was, because I’m not familiar with it like he is. I don’t feel like my ignorance significantly hobbled me as an editor, because something really stellar about Robert’s work in general, and about this story’s alternate history in particular: enjoying these stories isn’t an exercise in identifying precisely which battle details or trade agreements the author has introduced or changed, and smugly savoring the results unfold realistically in a very hard-sf-mentality kind of way. The non-historical content in 666ties is so incredibly imaginative and mindbending (in a way that makes the 60s just such an obvibrilliant fit) that the dry academic questions of “Where did the line blur history, and why?” is the last thing on your mind. You’re already breathing blue stuff in the deep end of a great story.
Let’s talk about the Potential for Controversy with these stories. We have talked some in email about having to write to your truth; you can’t worry about who’s going to read it or how they may interpret what you wrote. You have to write it as you see/hear it, and someone somewhere is going to Get It. But is there a balance to be kept? Was there a temptation to tone down potentially controversial subjects/language?
Wow, that’s not a can of worms or anything.
I guess of the stories out so far, “Finest Kind” is the obvious story to address here. I turned Ayn Rand into a rapist witch who’s got a beard marriage with Kenneth Anger in “Califormication” and “Live Lady of Down Town” is about teenage girls going out and doing drugs and having loads of fun doing so, but…”Finest Kind” is about black people. And it concerns black American issues, and Martin Luther King’s murder, and civil rights v. black power in the sixties, that clash. And it centers around racist humor and The N-Word. Plus: Elvis Presley is basically like those cops who killed Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, feet up in the courtroom, chewing Red Man and smirking. On steroids and crack and acid.
So: there’s a lot of opportunity for people to take offense at the story, for a wide range of reasons, some of which I might even sympathize with. I thought a lot about Is this even a story I should write? Evonne was like “Whaaa?” when I first told her the initial idea, which…involved Captain Whizbang and his power word, from the get go. She warmed up to it when I built on the idea anyway, and then told her the story in much greater detail when I had it. I told a few people about it, and when it was written I sent it to people I know who read my stuff for me sometimes, first readers. I haven’t gotten any feedback from anybody about it being offensive to them, far from it, actually.
I don’t rate people being offended very highly on my list of things to worry about, though. I started out writing horror stories, and that’s my first love, genre-wise, and…horror is all about offense, from the gentlest ghost story to something like A Serbian Film or Hostel. There is no horror story you can write that doesn’t offend someone — they’re all about the plain fact that we’re going to die, at heart, putting that front and center instead of wherever you tuck it to get through your days. Indeed, there are whole religious bodies who will forbid their faithful reading your stories, if you write horror stories, and children will likely have them taken away at even the most liberal grade schools.
I suppose, outside horror, there are many stories you can write that can’t possibly offend anyone. But who’d want to?
Who would want to, indeed. Hepcats, join your intrepid Girl Reporter back here on Friday, where we talk more 666ties, and totally don’t go off the rails…nope, not us, no way.
Want to hear some sounds of the 666ties? Check it: