TATB Guest Post: How a Decades-Old Simpsons Gag Became My Least Popular Novel Ever by Stephen Kozeniewski

Today we have one of Novenber’s giveaway authors guest posting on the TATB blog. Please welcome horror and sci-fi author,

Stephen Kozeniewski

 

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There is a certain generation for whom the words “I call it…Billy and the Cloneasaurus” will always have a magical, almost transformative meaning.

Actually, I don’t know if “generation” is the right word.  “Cadre?”  “Cohort?”  Something else that starts with a “C?”  A “group,” let’s say.  Yes, that seems generic enough.

 

For this “group,” this “cohort,” this “Generation Simpson” if you will (he said, immediately negating the premise of his whole last paragraph) the ability to spout Simpsons quotes at one another, both in- and out-of-context was (and probably still is) de rigueur.  For every situation there is a Simpsons quote.  For every quip, a caustic response from Patty and/or Selma.  For every stupid statement, a Ralph Wiggum-ism against which to compare its profound stupidity.  And for every terrible idea there is the sad, unwittingly cribbed brainchild of Seymour Skinner (nee Tamzarian): Billy and the Cloneasaurus.

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I don’t honestly know what happened to Generation Simpson.  I mean, I know I’m still here.  And when I must, I can pick up my phone and text “So long dental plan” to any given friend from high school and receive a near-instantaneous reply of (say it with me now) “Lisa needs braces.”  But what of the promise that one day our (completely stolen and repeated by rote) ideas would enter the mainstream?  What of the hope that one day Simpsons quotes would replace Beatles lyrics as the lingua franca of newspaper headlines?

Well, aside from the collapse of print publishing, the answer is “I don’t know.”  (And bonus points if you just read that in the testy tone of Carl Carlson replying to Lenny Leonard’s query “Did I?”)  I just know that it did.  I can recall the exact moment it became clear to me.

The year was dickety-ten.  (We had to say “dickety” ’cause the Kaiser had stolen our word “twenty.”)  This story is 100% true, by the way.  I had been called back to active duty by the army after my honorable discharge two years before.  Two wars were still raging and folks just didn’t feel like enlisting, God bless ’em.  So it fell to veterans like me, people who had been out just long enough to be signing mortgages and birthing dependents, but not so long that we had forgotten which end of the rifle to point forward, to spackle in the holes in Uncle Sam’s service roster.

 

So I’m in Ft. Benning, GA, without a television on a Sunday night, something which has not occurred to me, oh, I think ever.  Not even when I was actually at war.  (Props, it must be said, are to be given to the good people of the USO and AAFES for that, although I was luckier than many.)  So I trudged reluctantly from my billet to the dayroom, and popped into a chair, one of dozens of identically-crafted, low-slung seats, differentiable from one another only by the ghastly color of the faux-comfortable cushions.

Eight o’clock in the postmeridian on a Sunday night.  Or, to use the local parlance, twenty-hundred hours.  Since time immemorial (well, okay, except for that five-year Thursday experiment from seasons two to six) Simpsons time.  And The Pelican Brief was on.

The Pelican Brief.

 

Why anyone would watch this movie in the second decade of the twenty-first century is beyond me.  But to do so while The Simpsons was merely a flick of the dial away seemed a sacrilege of the highest order to me.  I looked around the room.  Every vapid, dead, soulless eye was locked on a young Denzel Washington and an already gone-to-seed Julia Roberts.  It was like they had all forgotten what time it was, and what day of the week.

“Isn’t The Simpsons on?” I asked.

The silence made me ask myself, “Am I so out of touch?”  A moment later someone finally answered me.

 

The Simpsons?  Is that still on the air?”

That moment I died a little inside.  Society had pulled a cruel, mean trick on me.  What I was with wasn’t “it” and what was “it” seemed weird and scary to me.  (Although, still, to this day, I have to wonder…The Pelican Brief?  Really?  The Pelican Brief?)

If you’ll oblige me just a moment or two longer I am, in fact, wrapping this all up.  If you’ll fast forward about a year and a half I was driving home from work and reflecting upon what a miserable piece of work is a man.  We get up, we go to work, we punch in, punch out, all the while knowing that anyone (literally anyone) could replace us.

I think I was wondering at the time what it was, really, that made my boss so much better than me that she could tell me what to do.  And I just didn’t see it.  As far as I could tell we were peers, intellectually, physically, in every way that mattered.  Truly, I felt like every worker was a cog, eminently replaceable.  Pull my boss out and plug me in.  Pull me out and plug in Joey Joe-Joe Junior Shabadoo, and the end result would always be the same.

I began to wonder what would happen if we were all literally the same.  Corporations being as they are, might see the value in interchangeable employees, just as Henry Ford had seen the value in interchangeable parts a hundred years ago.

What if everyone were a clone?

This idea, as you may have guessed, was the germ of the novel referenced in the title of this article.  I developed the story, wrote it, and had it published.  From what I can tell from what little feedback I’ve received it’s good.  Groin-grabbingly good, even.  Sharp, witty, good writing.  (I must point out that this is the consensus of others, not my own words.  I’m not some kind of…self-flattering guy.)

Yet, oddly, my novel doesn’t sell.  No one’s moving the paper.  Or, um, shuttling the electrons.  It’s fallen flat.  And I have to wonder why.  Why has my clever little clone story never reached the (admittedly meager) success of my prior work?

And I have to think it’s the title.  I tossed around a couple of ideas for the title.  A World of Jims springs to mind.  (This was at a time when I was considering naming all of the clones “Jim.”)  But ultimately I had to go with my gut, and finally bring to fruition a throwaway gag from a Simpsons episode that first aired in 1994, when Principal Skinner suggested that he would write a Jurassic Park knockoff called Billy and the Cloneasaurus.

My though was that Generation Simpson would rally to my cause.  Who among my middle school friends wouldn’t want to own a real-life copy of Skinner’s preposterously named work?  I even had to fight (well, not that hard, really, because they’re really good, author-centric people) with my publisher to keep the title.  He was worried people would think it was a children’s book, rather than a dark, Brazil-esque piece of dystopian horror.

“No,” I assured him, “I will capitalize on the success of The Simpsons.”

To date it hasn’t happened.  It’s made me cry out to an uncaring universe, “Where my ‘Dils at?”  But I hold out hope.  I hold out hope that somewhere out there lies a vein of untapped potential, a veritable gaggle of cheese-eating surrender monkeys who will finally flock, (flock, I say,) to pick up their very own copies of Billy and the Cloneasaurus.  After all, it’s a perfectly cromulent book.

 

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Now go check out Stephen Kozeniewski’s website and/or stalk him on twitter and make sure you enter November’s Dystopian Novels Giveaway, which includes a signed paperback copy of Billy and the Cloneasaurus! 

GO TO THE GIVEAWAY

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TATB Guest Post: But Our Vampires Are Different by Stephen Kozeniewski

Today we have one of October’s giveaway authors guest posting on the TATB blog. Please welcome horror and sci-fi author,

Stephen Kozeniewski

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“My vampires are different, though!”  It’s such an oft-repeated line, there’s an entire portal of pages for it on TV Tropes (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurVampiresAreDifferent).  It’s so common, that I consistently see reviewers say, “No vampires, and yes, I know yours are different.”

 

I guess the ubiquity of that phrase says one thing about vampire authors: at least we take our worldbuilding seriously.  It’s a common lament that fantasy authors will say, “You know, they’re Tolkien- style elves” or, “You know, it’s a Warcraft-type orc” and call it a day.  I guess because vampires are so common and come with so much baggage, vampire authors at least like to lay down the rules for their own work.

 

I find there are two basic methodologies for doing this.  Authors will either treat their vampires like strangely exotic animals whose idiosyncrasies all have a scientific explanation (“The Strain” is a good recent example, or “Underworld” is a slightly older one) or they’ll treat them like nonsense magical creatures who can do whatever the author’s imagination likes (such as in “Buffy” or “True Blood”). 

 

For myself, I mostly split the difference.  I don’t hate the idea of trying to make vampires scientifically plausible, but folks like Guillermo del Toro have already taken a crack at that and I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to add.  I do kind of dislike the whole “vampires can do whatever we say they can do because magic” method.  Because I mean, how, physically how, would a two hundred pound man turn into a six ounce bat?  Exactly how do fangs become hollow things you can suck blood through, and how do you retract them when you’re not aroused?  Where do they go?  Does anything in nature do these things?  Snakes have fangs but they always have fangs, and they’re hollow for injecting venom, not for sucking blood.  And tadpoles can gradually evolve into frogs, but they can’t turn back, and they certainly can’t go from tiny to giant and back again.

 

So I didn’t want to worry about every little aspect of my vampires having to jive with some kind of scientific principle, but I did want them to at least be reasonable physical beings.  Which meant a couple of rules:

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1.)  Creating vampires is more like giving birth.  You know the old math trick that if you take a penny and double it thirty times you’ll end up with ten million dollars?  This is my problem with easy peasy siring, or bringing across, or turning, or the blood kiss or whatever you want to call it.  In HUNTER OF THE DEAD only very powerful and ancient vampires can grant the Long Gift (hey, I had to come up with a new term, my vampires are different, after all) and they’re not always very good at it.  Sometimes people have miscarriages or their children are born with deformities.  It’s the same way with my vampires.  Sometimes when trying to turn someone they simply die, other times they become subhuman ghouls.  It’s not always just a bite and a turn.

 

2.)  Ditch the fangs.  As I said, fangs are cool, but they don’t make much sense and I feel like writers have come to rely on them as a crutch.  If someone can give me a working explanation for retractable fangs, I will gladly rescind this statement.  So my vampires have ordinary teeth, and when they need to drink blood, they use a razor blade.

 

3.)  No mesmerism.  Like fangs, I’ve come to think of mesmerism as a cheat.  It’s a way to have humans witness a vampire story, then be able to erase their memories later.  It’s a reset button, basically, and I think its crap.  So my vampires do have humans working for them, but it’s not because they’re hypnotized.  It’s because they’re convinced.

 

4.)  Shapechanging is right out.  I intend to at some point in the future tackle werewolves in a similarly reasonable-but-not-too-reasonable manner, and I will probably address the matter of a six-foot man bulking up into a nine-foot killing machine.  But a man turning into a tiny little bat just does not work for me.

 

5.)  Your humanity dies with you.  After a century and a half of literature trying to humanize vampires, we’ve reached a point where vampires are basically just angsty regular people with special powers.  I don’t like that and I’ve never liked that.  I think a vampire should never be mistaken for a human, and vampires struggling to regain their souls constitute a trope so common it’s lost all merit.  So my vampires lose their humanity and it stays lost.  You can appeal to the better angels of their nature…except they haven’t got any.

 

And that, my friends, is just a few examples of how my vampires are…uh…dissimilar.  🙂

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Now go check out Stephen Kozeniewski’s website and/or stalk him on twitter and make sure you enter October’s Vampire Novels Giveaway, which includes a signed paperback copy of Hunter of the Dead!

GO TO THE GIVEAWAY

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