Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Little Death - the Introduction

According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, the top 10 causes of death in the United States in 2007 and the number of people affected were:
Heart Disease: 696,947
Cancer: 557,271
Stroke: 162,672
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 124,816
Accidents: 106,742
Diabetes: 73,249
Influenza/Pneumonia: 65,681
Alzheimer’s disease: 58,866
Nephritis, Nephrotic Syndrome, and Nephrosis: 40,974
Septicemia: 33,865

There were 30,622 suicides and 16,110 murders during the same year.


A Little Death is directly influenced by The Virgin Project by Kevin Bose and Stasia Kato. That ground-breaking work dealt with something that happens at the beginning of almost everyone's life: the end of virginity, the beginning of sexual adulthood. A Little Death addresses the other end of life, one we will all have to face, some sooner than later. It looks at how we think we might die, how we would rather die, or even how we dread we'll die.

When Kevin heard I'd thought about creating a different version of the personal-experience anthology The Virgin Project, he dove headfirst into helping. At the time I had just finished another book and working on some much-needed home maintenance. Before long, I began to experience the usual in-between-book blues, when nothing I can do next seems fresh, funny or profound enough. After years of producing books and attempting to always raise the level of my own work, these weeks of indecision and frustration are normal for me.

Within a few weeks, I was receiving repeated emails from Kevin with lists of anonymous descriptions of death. At last I could just paint the house and think about what I was going to do with the ideas I'd received.

This is the first time I've done anything that can be considered a full-length genre book. In this case, it's something that Kevin is calling BOATS: Base On A True Story. Tom Beland's True Story -- Swear To God can be seen as the granddaddy of the form. My own The Desert Peach is, in its own way, a BOATS; I was never making any of that up.

What Kevin -- and now I -- are doing is a bit different. It's very hard for drawn book authors to find artists, and artists in many cases find it difficult to work with writers; the horror stories about collaborations gone wrong could give Gilbert and Sullivan nightmares, and form their own BOATS anthology. This form takes a few anonymous lines from dozens of people based on a single subject and fills it out with art.

There are many reasons why BOATS is anonymous for everybody but the artists. In the case of The Virgin Project, anonymity protects the contributors so they can display very personal moments in their lives without embarrassment of complications; "graphic novel" is a loose distribution term based on volume of pages, but in this case it may be accurate about the subject matter.

A Little Death is anonymous because I'm something of an Art Witch; if I publish it, sooner or later, it will happen. In The Virgin Project, everything vibrates with truth, because it is non-fiction and in the past. Because nobody can be dead and tell you about it, or at least not provably so, A Little Death has to be in the future; this is one case where the term "speculative fiction" actually reflects the contents. The title is, of course, a pun on the French phrase La petite mort, a euphemism for orgasm. In Rolf K├Ânig's Jago, the character Gronzo says, "Death is like a great orgasm; it's hot! You're free!"

Since recent political controversies concerning the question at what point we are dead -- especially whether or not brain death constitutes death -- the medical community is re-defining death as heart failure. Hard to argue with that; when the pump stops pumping, we're dead, irregardless of what turned off the switch. At the time this list was posted, it was more about the old folks' diseases than the traditional engines of human demise. These days, not a lot of us are eaten by lions, although we can get killed by a mountain goat if we push the question.

The best fictional portrayals of death on television were on Dead Like Me.

Most of these stories were drawn by me, but at least one of contributors insisted on doing his own. You'll have to admit his Icelandic hard-headedness got it right. In return, he's the only contributor other than me whose identity is public, and he gets to tell you how to find more of his work. And I'm not so concerned about art-witching him into anything he doesn't want, because this is obviously exactly what he wants.

"As Kjartan grows older, his sense of humor grows darker. A survival adaptation, probably. If you regard fools as free entertainment, then it's not so bad there's so many of them. He's available for commission or what-not thru Good manners and amusing subject matter get you discounts. Rudeness and sick subjects... well, assuming he answers you at all, you'd better be obscenely rich.
For all its horrors, it's still a wonderful world, and Kjartan intends to enjoy as much of it as possible before he goes completely cyborg."


Glenn said...

I thought "La petite mort." specifically referred to someone losing consciousness during orgasm.

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Donna Barr said...

It's ONE of the meanings. The only one most Americans know.

Glenn said...

Ah, our American "exceptionalism" again, always going for the most dramatic. Well, I have lived, and now I have learned a touch more. Thanks.

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