Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Key Emerges: Mad Love + Revolution

For most of this month, my work on Bad Company has been stalled, and that has interfered with all my other projects this month. I haven't even been writing any of Spanner. However, the key to unblocking Bad Company has finally emerged. It's the answer to the burning question: What could possibly be more controversial than a Blackwater-type corporation like Dictel trying to take over America to force it to intensify the colonial oil wars in the Middle East? How about this: the self-destructive pop singer who is the novel's heroine falls in love with her own sister! The trick, of course, is connecting these two. The connection is the Beckets, the clan of military aristocrats who own Dictel. The youngest of the Becket siblings, right-wing New Age guru and tyrannical stage mother Drusilla Becket (think JZ Knight or Elizabeth Clare Prophet crossed with Lynne Spears or Dina Lohan) is the mother of Charlie and Desiree Thomas. Colonel Tom Becket (the irony of his name is deliberate), the patriarch of the Becket clan and chairman of Dictel, considers his wayward nieces a liability to the clan; when Charlie and Desiree fall in love, he declares that they are blackening the family honor and orders their murder. And so the final confrontation between Charlie and the Colonel becomes inevitable. "Mad love" thus provokes political revolution. I'll explain...

One concept that the Surrealists played with was something they called l'amour fou, or mad love. This can be defined as: obsessive and/or forbidden love that causes social upheaval and even political revolution. In the final issue of La Révolution Surréaliste (#12), the editors asked:
  1. "How would you judge a man who would go so far as to betray his convictions in order to please the woman he loved?"
  2. Do you believe in the victory of admirable love over sordid life or of sordid love over admirable life?"
"Mad love" means, basically, love that can drive people to violate social norms and even their own moral codes, love subversive by its very nature.

Now take the case of the two sisters who fall in love — in Bad Company, Charlie and Desiree. Sisters born to an aristocratic clan (the Beckets, who claim direct descent from Oliver Cromwell, and therefore to be the true American royal family) whose political power depends in large part on their reputation for moral purity or at least probity. (It is no coincidence that Tom Becket bears the name of a Christian saint.) The Becket clan need the support of the Christian Right if they want to be able to seize power, overthrow democracy, and establish America as their kingdom. This is a family that still swears by arranged marriages. Sister love would obviously upset the Beckets' plans for supreme power based on Christian theocracy and divine-right kingship by depriving them of Christian fundamentalist support.

Charlie and Desiree know this. And so they say things like:
Desiree: "But Mother says we're ruining the Becket family reputation."
Charlie: "Good. They deserve it."

Charlie to Desiree: "I will love you beyond all reason, and make love to you as much as I can; I will marry you, my very own sister, and make you my wife. Society and government will try to destroy us; God and Satan will join forces against us. But you and I are warriors. If necessary, we will fight the whole world and spit in the face of death. We will fight until we win. Nothing can get in the way of our love. Not even death."
(The above lines of dialogue are not yet final, of course; they are always subject to editing as I complete the second draft and begin the third. But you get the picture...)

Two things came together to provide the key to unlocking Bad Company. "Mad love" was the second. The first began as a vague obsession with yuri manga that began in the mid-1990s when the influence on me of Camille Paglia was heaviest. The "sister slash" part was there in the background until I wandered into one of the NaNoWriMo "Erotic Fiction" forums on incest and stumbled onto a link. This link led to a site called Sisters in Love (warning: adult content!). From a translated yuri manga entitled "My Sister's Lips" that I had read last month on the (warning: ditto!) forums, it struck me that even the most blazingly erotic story about two sisters in love could portray what can only be called pure love. The testimonials on the Sisters in Love site reinforced this with a vengeance. The love of the two sisters Charlie and Desiree Thomas, as it has emerged in my writing of Bad Company, is of course pure love with an increasingly intense sexual component. But it counts as "mad love" — that is, dangerously subversive — because of the Beckets' extreme political ambitions and Mafia-like oversensitivity to blots on their family reputation, upon which the Dictel takeover attempt depends. And as so often in my fiction (you don't know it yet because it's been restricted to my personal "Project Notebooks" until now), an attempt to find happiness (true love between sisters, in this case) brings down the wrath of jealous gods; if not Jehovah himself, at least those institutions with godlike power known as church, state, and corporation.

Something else to consider. The sisters' aunt, Dr. Willa Richter-Thomas (Richter being her mother's name) is an open socialist who frequently quotes Leon Trotsky. The founder and leader of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, was one of Trotsky's most passionate defenders against Stalin's murderous persecution. When the two met in Trotsky's Mexican exile (Breton was moved to awed silence due to what he called his "Cordelia complex" or inborn tendency to hero worship), they cowrote the "Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art", signed by Breton and the Mexican radical painter Diego Rivera. What I have in mind is this "equation": Trotsky × Breton = Mad Love + Revolution.

My strategy for storytelling often involves these two steps:
  1. Start with a fantasy, however kinky or overly idyllic.
  2. Spike and harden it with a stiff dose of harsh reality.
The second step is what has always distinguished my comics from the general run of slashy fan fiction. Over the years, this strategy has become so intrinsic to the way I write that I now find it taking over my novels, too. And so now it provides me with the means of organizing Bad Company, that mess of loosely connected storylines that still refuses to become a real novel. Until, I hope, now.

Breton ended his novel Nadja: "Beauty must be CONVULSIVE, or it cannot be at all." This is the spirit in which I have begun to write my stories. On this note, I will conclude this entry.

Back to Spanner‘s World...

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