Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Arrogance | 2008 | On Forgetting "

10.20.08 3:52 p.m.

For a writer only one form of patriotism exists: his attitude toward language. 

-Joseph Brodsky

 


Slouching Towards Atlantis

I look into my rearview mirror at Melanie knitting in the backseat and then over to Hannah, mouth slightly agape as she dozes in the passenger's seat, and I flash to how this will look in the biopic. Three writers on a road trip to a boring little town in New Jersey where they will put forth their ideas for the next graphic novel Cave Drawing Ink puts out. This will constitute our protagonists' first collaboration of many. I begin casting our roles (Hannah should be played by Mageina Tovah, Melanie by Ellen Page, me by some vaguely attractive man but please not Cillian Murphy), not caring that the actors will be too old by the time anyone cares to realize one of our talents.

The topic of this anthology is Atlantis. No other information was given in the email I received weeks ago. I researched a bit but I can't find anything especially compelling about the concept to exploit. I will just do the best I can with the chapter I'm given, though I start to sketch out as a potential character a girl named Ariel born a couple of years before Disney's The Little Mermaid who is tired of all things aquatic. I don't even know that she would fit in the story that we will cobble together, but I would feel unprepared and uneasy if I had nothing to present to the other writers. If worse comes to worst, I can crumble her into a ball and throw her at them while I make a daring escape.

During our pre-road-trip sleepover with Hannah, Melanie came up with a back story for our version of Atlantis, Atlanteans discovering America owing to BBC radio broadcasts after having been kept out of the world since the time of the Roman Empire (Atlantis was one of the great empires in the universe Melanie spins). Thanks to the broadcasts, they speak English with British accents and are equipped with the sea version of steampunk technology, but they are also grossly unprepared for the indelicacy of American pop culture. It isn't a story, but it is a foundation I am eager to embrace. I tell Hannah and Melanie that we will push this idea as a united front, assuming that their being the only two females of the eight writer team will act as a controlling majority. We control half of the X chromosomes.

After far too long on the New Jersey Turnpike (a road to Hell in no way paved with good intentions), we arrive at a large and tasteful house. A broad man with a shaved head waves us in and I wonder if this is really the home of a writer. Aren't we supposed to live in cramped studio apartments? Was I misled? As we enter, I note that there is two decades difference between some writers, Melanie being the youngest and either our host or a guy named Ben being the oldest (Ben, in fact, makes several cultural references and then asserts he is dating himself so I think he wishes to be the eldest, even if he is not). I recognize some of the names, but I cannot place who wrote which story in Rise of the Outlanders, so I cannot immediately feel positively toward any for their prior contributions. I have to start them on neutral ground and hope they all rise in my esteem.

Once our editor Lena appears, we begin our discussion. The writers are uncertain as to how one writes a comic about Atlantis and makes it worth reading. "Aquaman" is spat as an insult a few times before we can even get properly into the conversation. Given that I know little about that character despite his generic lameness in the superhero canon, I just shrug and wait for the dust to settle. I encourage Melanie to offer the back story she has created, which she does with nervousness that makes her voice too eager and her hands too shaky. There are some murmurs, but I think it is too much like a "traditional" Atlantis story and therefore nothing that they would care to write. Some ask who picked the topic and are assured it was the idea of the publisher, Ori, and we'd better abide it in some way or face his ire.

Ben takes control of the meeting, slowly shaping the idea of an Atlantis themed hotel in Camden, NJ (chosen because it would be absolutely the worst place to make a flashy hotel) that, over the course of our eight interrelated stories, sinks into the ground. It can involve Atlanteans, espionage, comedy, and drama and is an ironic take on the concept. It takes us three hours, three pizzas, four bowls of snacks, and countless cups of soda to get to this point, all of us struggling to get this idea off the ground. But it isn't just a rehash of the invasion in Rise of the Outlanders, which was the general fear among the writers. That it is different is almost enough. No one wants to read "Atlantis Attacks!" nor do we want Cave Drawing Ink to be seen as a one trick pony.

I get home and Lena sends me a message, telling me that Ori is vexed and does not want the story we spent hours creating. Within twenty-four hours, several of the artists publicly refuse to have anything to do with this project (even those not previously attached), stating that they wanted to draw seahorses and mermaids fighting, not a hotel. Some pipe up that this hotel doesn't exist in Camden and why would anyone want to go to a hotel in Camden, missing the point by something of a wide margin. The writers bite back, instigating the flickers of a flame war. Suffice it to say, the hotel idea sinks and is lost.

The project is put on hold for days and all our work scrapped. I feel embarrassed to have dragged Hannah and Melanie into the argument that rages in our inboxes. I reaffirm that I am keen to write whatever story I am assigned, even as other writers publicly put in their resignation. (Fewer writers equals more available pages for those who remain.) I throw Hannah and Melanie's interest in with mine, though I don't actually have their promises that they are still interested. I placate Melanie and Hannah separately, assuring them that, as we really now are a controlling majority, we will do something good with the outline we are given. They grumble, but they continue their allegiance to the project.

Ori sends an email that details a more fantastic and grand vision of the story, but it is something with which I can happily work. As I mention my continued interest in having my name in another book and grasp that this will be one story broken down into chapters rather than interrelated short stories, I am asked if I will be the one to corral the writer and get them moving. The glimmer of Head Writer, even for a graphic novel for which I am not receiving payment just yet, is too appealing to deny and I do feel that I can do something good with what I am provided.

In a bit more time, we five remaining writers have created a stable of characters, some of whom are actually quite clever. Their stories and interactions start meshing and developing relationships, from the banal to the ridiculous. Suddenly, I am deeply excited to be a part of this project which has the potential to be truly great.

The biopic casting can commence.

Soon in Xenology: Memories.

last watched: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
reading: Krakatoa
listening: Highly Evolved

" Arrogance | 2008 | On Forgetting "

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.



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