What is your greatest temptation:
I’m still trying to figure out how to get out of answering this question, but my best bet—which also is clever marketing genius on my part, inserting my novel into the first question–is to look at my comically anti-heroic and extremely acquisitive Allan in CommWealth and his puerile fascination with the model Erica:
The front door opened to his ring. “Well… Allan,” Erica Thora said stiffly.
God, she’s a piece! Does she know exactly how much of a bastard I am? Guess the news is everywhere by now!
“Hey… yeah… is Richard in?”
“He’s in the living room. Look, it’s almost eight. I’ll be late for my tryout if I don’t get a move on.”
Allan sidled in. Okay, so she’s pissed. I admit the whole deal looks bad.
Erica stood six feet tall, with short dark hair, a round face, thick and kissable lips, deep brown eyes. She wore a tight red sweater outlining her enormous sensuous knockers. And tight black pants. Wasp-waisted to boot. A model. Allan couldn’t help but look her over. She put on a tight leather jacket, breasts thrusting everywhere, and zipped it up.
God, she’s fantastic! Richard’s so lucky!
A huge plate of nachos with guacamole and jalapeños, and two very large and salty margaritas. Of course, I can’t remember the last time I had either of those.
Are you kidding? I’m a guy. I just cover myself properly in public. Although maybe someday I’ll get a great big gray military-looking overcoat; I’ve always wanted one.
What is your greatest weakness (example: like mine cars)?
I hope this isn’t one of those job interview questions where you try spin your weakness into something you think will be of great advantage to your prospective employer, as in: “My weakness is that I write every night and produce novel and after novel after novel and I just can’t seem to stop …”
A weakness is the form of temptation/obsession to acquire might be flashlights, clocks, and wrenches. Don’t ask me why. I’ve learned to not buy these when I see them.
If you could have any kind of car, what would it be?
A 1973 VW Beetle engineered to 2017 standards, but still looking identical to 1973. It would be red-orange. Surely automotive engineers could do that if they really wanted to.
Your dream home – mountains or ocean?
Ocean, on the beach, with a disposable house on stilts which could be abandoned in the face of a hurricane. It would have minimal replaceable furnishings. I’d probably have one of my favorite paintings in there, but it would be small enough that I could stash it in the back seat of my 2017 1973 VW in the event of apocalyptic weather.
What inspired you to become a writer? To write this book?
1950’s Grade B science fiction movies got me started in the second grade. Then fifth grade assignments to write short stories, based on the current week’s list of a dozen new words to master, really sparked an upsurge in creativity. But in high school the movie 2001 floored me and inspired me to take the writing much more seriously than I had before.
CommWealth came from a long detailed dream. I labeled the anti-hero “Allan Larson” in my initial write-up of the dream the next day, though of course it was the dream “I” experiencing this bizarre plot. Allan/me was thus demonstrating from the start his easy adaptation to the property-less society as he requested every object that struck his fancy and hauled it all back to the mansion he’d booted someone else out of. The dream was so complete and compelling that the first draft rolled out effortlessly.
Do you have a daily writing routine? If so, please share.
If possible I prefer to work in the morning, especially for rough draft work, as I’m freshest then. A session of two to three hours is ideal. All other writing takes place in the evening after work. I always have something cooking as I navigate each day by what project appeals to me, which one has the most energy resonance. I write just about every day.
I do almost all my work on my laptop, though sometimes I cut up printouts and tape notes to notecards which I can physically sort across a large table. I have a 1940’s Royal manual typewriter I sometimes use to bang out early notes. If any prove useful I’ve found I can scan and OCR the results.
What is your favorite book?
My favorite author/book is probably Franz Kafka and The Trial, which I’ve read several times and have also listened to as an audiobook. The fact that Kafka is more and more regarded as a humorist (especially in Europe) resonates deeply. His biographer Max Brod recounts scenes of Kafka laughing as he reads portions of The Trial to a literary group, whose members are also finding the book deliriously funny. To me there’s a psychological dimension of this humor that goes far beyond what we might now call “black comedy.”
What is your favorite movie?
2001: A Space Odyssey. This film really jolted me when I first saw it in March 1969 (though it had come out a year earlier) and was a catalyst for deciding to become a writer; never mind that I’d been writing since the second grade–I just didn’t have the confidence to declare myself a real writer until 1969.
Who is your favorite historical figure?
Abraham Lincoln fascinates me because of his rich psychological makeup. Ulysses S. Grant is also a fascinating figure to me because of the courageous, if also cold and calculating manner in which he prosecuted the end of the Civil War.
In your books, who is your favorite hero and please introduce him?
My favorite hero of this book is the completely over-the-top anti-hero Allan. The insanity of the six-month-old CommWealth system, in which all private property has been outlawed and citizens are required to share everything, finds its expression in Allan Larson as he glibly procures electronics and a Porsche in the first scene. Allan is a narcissistic playwright and actor who forces Forensic Squad to stage his mediocre play Cabaret. Supercilious, clueless, and manipulative, he’s claimed a mansion in Linstar Heights, surrounding himself with expensive cars and gadgets. He both needs friends and is quick to betray them. As a writer he thinks he should express his buried truths, but he’s too fearful to find out what they really are, and when crime tempts him, he sees it as just another avenue to fulfilling his needs. He considers himself too creative to be bothered making backup copies of his writing, and it’s only by luck that he gets a digital copy of Cabaret back after his laptop is claimed by another citizen along with all his wide screen TVs, sports cars, and motorcycles. Though he has a certain measure of charisma, he’s basically a loser, and the only way he can get his love object Lisa is to demand thirty days’ ownership of her as per CommWealth regulations.
Who is your favorite heroine and please introduce her?
In CommWealth, Erica Thora, the beautiful model girlfriend of bicycle mechanic Richard, initially seems to be a two-dimensional background figure, especially when Allan, tired of the apparently brainwashed Lisa, begins cataloging his lust for the physical attributes of the exceptional six-foot beauty. Yet Allan is shocked to find out that the buxom model is really thirty-seven, six years his senior, and mature and decisive in ways that terrify Allan and in fact are unknown to her own boyfriend Richard. Erica’s father, a policeman, taught her how to shoot everything from hunting rifles to semi-automatic weapons, and it’s her courage and practical insight that finally challenge the folly of CommWealth. She would definitely be at home in a Robert Heinlein novel.
What do you have out now? Excerpt, blurb, book trailers
The CommWealth system, introduced just six months previously, has created a society in which there is no legal claim to any kind of private property. Any object from your house to the clothes you’re wearing can be demanded by anyone, to be enjoyed for thirty days before anyone else can request it. As actors in the Forensic Squad theatrical troupe adapt to this giddy chaos, CommWealth probes their breaking of the Four Rules sustaining the system, and several members navigate a twist of betrayals, double agents, and murder to find themselves leading a suicidal revolution.
Excerpt, during which Richard’s secret writing, the object of a property claim by a mediocre writer, becomes exposed to the CommWealth inspector:
“Dammit…” Richard flung himself back into his seat. “So what do you want?”
“I’m sure you do know what I want,” Hardy said crisply.
“I sure don’t. Forgive me, most glorious sir, but I’m just so full of ungenerous greed that I just can’t think right these days, you know. So why don’t you lay it all out for me in all your compassionate wisdom?”
Jill sighed. Hardy pursed his lips. Jill saw he was suppressing a smile.
“Of course, it has to do with this,” Hardy said, pulling the newspaper from beneath his laptop and aiming his CommScan lens at it. “We see that this newspaper exists at the Cup of Fog at 208 North Carson Street on Monday, December 18, and was open to the page containing this particular full-page notice, strongly implying that all the persons in this room are familiar with the contents of the notice.”
“Jesus!” Richard said. “So you guys want it now! Sorry, but this other twit claimed it first.” He laughed bitterly. “Maybe you can get it thirty days from now!”
“You really don’t understand, I see. Are you aware that works of art, including writing, are of a different order than, say, coffee pots and tennis balls?”
“The thought had crossed my mind a few times.”
“I’m speaking of Modal Property Assignations, Mr. Stapke. CommWealth Central recognizes several grades of MPA’s, though not many people seem to realize this. Perhaps it’s our fault. People have been having so much trouble memorizing the Four Rules, that…well, life is complicated enough, you know.” He strained through an offensive little smile and then steeled his features at Richard’s frown.
“The MPA on works of art,” he went on, “is as follows: artworks are considered taxable property, and taxes shall be paid to CommWealth Central on a monthly basis.”
“Taxable?” Richard exploded. “That’s insane! There aren’t supposed to be taxes! That’s the whole point of CommWealth! People just ask for what they need! So who needs taxes? Who needs money, for that matter?”
“But the point is, many people don’t realize they have certain needs. They spend their lives in ignorance,” Hardy countered. “So CommWealth determines what their needs are, and allocates resources accordingly. Thus we need taxes in certain cases. It makes distributing so much easier, you know.”
“You—you’re saying—I owe taxes on unpublished writing?” Richard said.
“What the hell would I pay taxes with? We don’t use money anymore—or at least, nobody has much of it anymore. Does CommWealth want some old bicycles?”
“Oh, no, you misunderstand completely. I see I’m not such a good explainer, Mr. Stapke. There’s a special MPA Writer’s Tax. You owe—let’s see, I would roughly calculate your output, based on this newspaper ad, at between one and three hundred pages per month—about—let’s see, seventeen percent. That’s not too bad.”
“Wait a second—I never said I actually had any writing. I was just being hypothetical. This Horranger guy assumes I have writing, you assume I do, but really—someone just made this up. I don’t write. I’m a bicycle mechanic.”
Jill put her hand to her mouth.
Oh my God! We agreed to lie—but—this is CommWealth! This is treason to CommWealth! Richard’s ruining my business! My life! What am I going to do?
No! You aren’t that sort of coward! Not anymore! Don’t let them hurt Richard! Follow the plan. No matter what. Burn your damn bridges behind you. It’s fate! Fate!
“Mr. Stapke,” Hardy said, tapping something ominous into his laptop, “let’s assume that your entire last statement was hypothetical. In that hypothetical case, in which you are a mere bicycle mechanic, of course you owe no Writer’s Tax. But, since you do have writing, and since you are a writer, you owe seventeen percent.”
Richard opened his mouth and shut it. “Seventeen percent? Hypothetically speaking, seventeen percent of what?”
“Of your output, of course. Let’s say you produce two hundred pages per month, maybe fifty-thousand words, as you do seem quite prolific. Of that, seventeen percent, or thirty-four pages, or eighty-five hundred words, would be sent to the CommWealth Central Tax Assessor’s Office.”
“What?” Richard and Allan both cried.
“If you produce more than say, five hundred pages a month—if you’re a real barn burner, that is, it goes up to fifty percent. So, of course, it’s best to stay around two to three hundred. We know that nobody wants to lose half his writing.”
In addition to several literary novels in various stages of development, I’m working on a science fiction series from another publisher, and I just released a fun experiment in which I took a sixth grade science fiction story that decades later sparked that series, drew sixty-five illustrations for it, and self-published it as a picture book. Somehow the ludicrous kid story works with the modern illustrations and comes off as an adult work. Though I never intended this as a serious writing project, I’ve never done anything quite like this before and the whole effort has been deeply satisfying.
Where can we find you? (Social media, web site, etc.)
Web site: www.sortmind.com
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/smithmi
CommWealth is available at: