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Fellow Travelers on the Ghost Road

Don’t you wonder sometimes about sound and vision and the telling of stories? I know I’m not the only one who does.

There is a handful of living writers that I consider kindred spirits, because of their writing influences, because of their writing processes, because of the themes they touch on, or simply because what they write feels like it was pulled directly out of my own dreams.

Mancunian Jeff Noon is one of those writers, and SPOILER ALERT this post is mainly about him. Ever since I read an interview with him in which he said he was strongly influenced by the weirdness of Silver Age superhero comics, I knew his surreal, post-cyberpunk novels Vurt and Pollen were coming from a similar place as my own writing. Tragically, I missed his book Cobralingus when it was out on the shelves, and it’s only now–when it’s long out of print and only available for the kinds of prices reserved for eccentric, wealthy book collectors–that I stumbled across this extra from the book that further cemented Noon’s status as a kindred spirit (or as he said on Twitter, a “fellow traveler”).

I’ve written about how the way I compose and perform poetry is influenced by such things as vaudeville and burlesque, Dada and Surrealism, and postpunk music. But my prose is also influenced by poetry, theater, and music. I’ve been pondering how I could structure stories like songs, with verses and choruses, for a while now. I’ve been incorporating “sampling” into fiction, splicing words and phrases from other sources into the prose. Reading about the song development of David Bowie’s album Earthling around the same time I read Noon’s extract from Cobralingus got me wondering how I could build a story starting with loops of samples and original text. Being influenced by Tristan Tzara and William S. Burroughs, I’ve incorporated cut-ups in my poetry and prose for years, but this piece by Noon on remixing text sparked even more ideas on using samples, cut-ups, and loops in the process of writing fiction.

And then there’s collaboration, which I’ve also written about before. Most writers are pretty solitary, which makes a fair amount of sense: if you’re a creative introvert, sitting alone with pen and paper or typewriter or computer, drifting into your solitude is a really good way to express your creativity. But when I dream of the world I want to live in, I tend to dream out loud, and I don’t generally like doing it alone. Insecurity and social anxiety aside, I like interacting and working with other people. I know some writers who have collaborated on short stories and novels, and the description of how Jeff Noon collaborated with fellow writer Steve Beard on their “Mappalujo” project is tremendously fascinating and inspiring to me. It’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to work on with another writer.

The great thing about finding kindred spirits is how much you can learn from them, how you can be sparked and inspired to try new things and really let yourself go all out. A whole lot of people will try to drown out your inner voice and tell you to get in line and do things the way everyone else does. It’s not always easy to tune those people out or to shout them down, especially when you feel all alone.

I don’t feel all alone. I know there are writers walking the same road I am. I’m still not entirely sure how to make my own way down this road, I get self-conscious and stumbly, and it would be great to find even more writers who want to take this route. There’s still a lot of work and play and experimentation to be done with treating writing prose like writing music, incorporating samples, loops, splices, and remixes in fiction. Doing it in collaboration with others would be fab.

In the meantime, I will sit right down and keep doing what I’m doing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.