[GUEST POST] Ernest Hogan on The Making of ‘Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song’
Ernest Hogan is the author of Cortez on Jupiter, High Aztech, and Smoking Mirror Blues, as well short fiction in Analog, Amazing, Tales of the Talisman, 2020 Visions, Space Horrors, Flurb, and other publications. He is working on ebookization. His progress can followed on his blog, Mondo Ernesto: http://www.mondoernesto.com, and his Chicanonautica posts on La Bloga: http://labloga.blogspot.com.
This is going to take some time travel: back to my early days as a writer, as an artist, as me. Back to my hometown of West Covina, in SoCal, just down the San Bernardino freeway from Los Angeles. It was the dreary, post-Watergate mid-Seventies.
You think things are bad in this recession?…it ain’t nothing compared to the life in the smothering fallout of Nixon. People actually thought that the world had come to an end. The future? What’s wrong with you, kid? There ain’t gonna be one! Science fiction? You gotta be kidding!
So there I was, the first person in my Chicano (my last name is the result of an Irishman passing through New Mexico) family to go to college. Wise folks told me there was no hope.
Yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing. I avoided the student loan thing, because I couldn’t see how owing my ass to the government was going to help me. I actually got disillusioned with the Great American Cult of Higher Education–as far as I could see, if I got any kind of degree, the only thing I would be able to do with it was teach, and I’ve never felt comfortable in a classroom.
Hell, school has always seemed like enemy territory.
So I did my best to learn what I could, while it lasted. I tried to have a little fun, but it wasn’t easy. Art classes made me into a paint-spattered maniac. I wrote science fiction stories and sent them to magazines–got a lot of rejection slips. Yippie!
I ended up experimenting with abstract expressionism. Throwing paint around suited my personality. This slammed me into the problem of gravity always pulling the paint downward, interfering with the composition. Jackson Pollack solved this problem by laying his canvases on the ground. I had a vision of Jackson Pollack in zero G.
About this same time Harlan Ellison was saying that science fiction needed more memorable characters. Pollack in Space seemed like a good lead. I also wasn’t satisfied with how art was depicted in the genre.
I started experimenting with writing about Chicanos, inspired by my family and people I know. It energized my work in a way I never thought possible. And SoCal was full of graffiti and murals–what would that be like in the future?
And some of the first probes to Jupiter were beaming back incredible images. Artists weren’t supposed to be interested in science–I had to do something about that.
Eventually, I wrote a novella about Pablo Cortez, freefall splatterpainter. I sent it around, got some near misses, but no one bought it.
After a while, I took Ray Bradbury’s advice that if you still believe in an unsold story, cut it down by about a page and send it out again. I had begun to sell stories, and realized that length was important. So I did a cubist reconstruction (that modern art stuff actually came in handy) of “Guerrilla Mural of a Siren’s Song” to a marketable length.
Unfortunately, by this time–the Eighties–the short fiction market had dwindled to practically nothing, and the few editors around gave me confused and even hostile reactions.
Then Pulphouse came along. Editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch bought the story. I wasn’t sure if anybody read it until years later.
Luckily, this was about the time that Ben Bova asked me to send him an idea for his Discoveries series at Tor Books. I did the equivalent of shoving a stick of dynamite up the story’s ass and took notes on what came splattering down on the landscape to make Cortez on Jupiter, which, though not a financial success, did become a cult novel for folks both in and out of the Global Barrio.
(Note: There are no copies of the original uncut novella. Sometimes I get mad and destroy my own work. It makes me feel better, but these days, my wife stops me.)
In going over the story, for inclusion in the Alien Contact anthology, and Cortez on Jupiter, I noticed a lot of stuff that folks think are hip for state-of-the-art science fiction. Guess I was ahead of my time. Maybe Pablo Cortez’s time has come at last.
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