Monday, 24 September 2012

The Voodoo Guru: Research - How Not to Sell Your Soul to the Devil...

Unless you are not a very bright author with a massive ego instead of a grounding in reality, writing books about homicidal maniacs and serial killers does not automatically make you one. I have been made aware of a few writers who tried to make their strange fantasy world a reality, with unpleasant results. You can Google the 'Murder He Wrote' case as one example.

However, there's another phenomenon, where the publisher's marketing and audience turns the hard work of writing and research efforts around on the writer instead, as a determination of their personality. Reality by proxy. Eccentric characters who write, and perversions of all types, sell pulp copy.

Quite a lot of that speculation going on for a few names this year. But in this instance, it's not the genre you may assume which has got my hackles up. Or my goat. Pun intended.

Apparently, even after an author is dead and mostly forgotten, certain niches of society have an interest in maintaining a bit of gossip about them...

Participating in a charity walk over the weekend (as stunt double for my boss's husband, who couldn't make it that day), I got the virtual tour of bits of town I don't usually see (not being a dog owner myself, who has to walk anywhere regularly - I take exception to the necessity of keeping empty plastic bags in my pockets when I'm not a crime scene investigator). And as it was my boss's church charity shebang, lots of the passing anecdotes were theology or charity-related.

And then my boss asks me out of the blue if I ever read any "Arthur Weakly" - hmmm, no? Maybe she got his name wrong, she thinks. And explains as a qualifier that he wrote Satanic and occult novels, and pointed out the house we were passing, that he used to live in. No, upon questioning, she hadn't read them either.

Now, I already know that my boss would love it if I ever admitted to being a Satanist, because that would mean extra bonus points to level up with Jesus by shanghaiing me as a convert. Sadly, though, I am not interested in taking up any religion where there is a book/bible/text/scroll/anything written down involved. IKR?! Not what you'd expect from an author... Technically, you'd think I was writing my own Holy Babble, if not already pimping someone else's.

So I changed the subject to the fact that I don't really read any horror, as the only time I picked up any Stephen King to have a look at it, I just felt like he was shouting "I'M STEPHEN KING!" on every page, and I couldn't get past the post-modernist author-ego of 'Misery' to be bothered to do anything other than check he dies at the end. But Dean Koontz is all right. Mostly because I can't picture Dean Koontz when I'm reading his books. It helps not to see an author's mug, tongue caught between teeth during spellcheck, sweating over their keyboard out of the corner of my mind's eye - that's all I'm saying.

But I wondered what was so special about this "Arthur Weakly", never mind Satanic occult books, that I should have heard of him, or done any reading in my own navel-stud-gazing time, while inventing my own fantasies not to make a reality out of, under any circumstances...

So after a bit of creative Googling, I came up with the real "Arthur Weakly", who turned out to be 'Dennis Wheatley'. No big name as far as I was aware. And a quick look at WikiStalkier kind of gave me the lowdown on a prolific writer who did the same sort of research for his books as Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle et al. And having given his bad guys some occult leanings, and his heroes some paranormal evils to defeat, unwittingly found himself being marketed as some sort of literary prince of darkness - because it sold pulp copy by the truckload.

He apparently resented the fact that he was being misrepresented as a person, as an individual - that instead of gaining respect as an educated, thoroughly-researched author of his work, he was assumed to be knowledgeable due to perceived 'practices' pointing more directly to a personal involvement.

One nicely vague anecdote I noticed was 'He once had lunch with Aleister Crowley'.

In the author's head, this is what is known as 'having tea and doing research'.

But in the crazy mad marketing associate/occult fan's head, this is what is known as 'they drank the blood of a virgin and burnt a goat at the secret altar in the basement of the Savoy Hotel'.

Now, I do know something about Aleister Crowley. The gentleman in question did whatever the voices in his head told him to do. In his mind, this represented the development of a new religious culture. In my mind, this represents the potential for a large amount of medical drug trials going to waste, while people watched to see how many virgins would get naked for the madman.

As I mentioned to my boss in passing at the time, AC also spent his last days in Hastings, where I used to live. Where he had contact with my former more elderly boss, whom he took a dislike to, and sent some lackeys round to graffiti on his property. The scribbles were found and washed off, and poor dear Mr AC passed away in the night, leaving behind some mixed reviews and a small issue with Brighton Borough Council.

But back to the mysterious codename Arthur Weakly, aka Dennis Wheatley, author of many many books in which good fought against evil and the darkness, while the fans rooted for the wrong side, and the publishers cashed in. Mr. Wheatley eventually, it seems, sold out to the desires of the fans and publishers and released 'Occult Collections' of his works, allowing the cult following to take on cinematic form and a life of its own.

Then the interesting part. Unlike AC and his descent (or do I mean dissent?), Mr. Wheatley moved to a house facing 'Church Road' in Lymington, and according to 'Wiki' shortly before his death was granted absolution by the Bishop of Peterborough. He had a regular Christian funeral and regular documentary mentions, in which no borough council took offence and apparently nobody got naked or spontaneously donated blood or anything.

So - sounds like a regular Christian guy to me... who probably felt he had to put in some big Christian effort right at the end - in case he wound up with his ashes mixed with goat entrails by some shiny-eyed occult fanatics, and smeared all over his publisher's big fat sweaty leather wallet.

(N.B. This would NOT have ensured he remained a contemporary household name, or protected his books from the copyright ownership disputes which followed).

So, as a cautionary tale regarding research and marketing, whatever author/marketing image may sell books today, may be a hot poker up the ass tomorrow. Or at least, the fear of posthumous hot pokers and their insertion into various orifices, demanding attention by the Bishop of Peterborough to remedy, and living within shouting distance of places called 'Church'.

And you don't ever want it known that you had lunch with your special area of research. Once WikiStalking gets hold of it, that's like telling everyone you keep sex slaves under the stairs, not even of your own species. And Brighton Borough Council probably still have that old policy handy, for any eventuality of the results of such thorough creative research.

BUT, I hear the crazies in your heads saying, what if it's an elaborate double bluff? What if that was exactly what a famous closet Satanist would do??

Well, I met a Satanist once. His bedroom window faced a massive cathedral. So I asked him what it was like, having to live in the shadow of God.

"Oh, no," he said. "God has to live in the shadow of me."

Well, before you all fall to the ground worshipping Wiki, contacting your publishers demanding virgin goat sacrifice expenses, and start throwing holy water at my house, may I point out that this Satanist still lived with his parents in their suburban terrace, and no, he did not get any sex out of it.

And he was quite short too, so not a very big shadow.

My boss still thinks these things have power. That authors like Wheatley risked getting sucked in to things that they 'researched'. But so far I don't see any shrunken heads on her desk, or body-parts in jars collecting fluff at the back of her fridge, and she does church missionary work including advising African communities against going to witch-doctors. Which she would have researched to be knowledgeable on, in order to give such advice. And they're the last people she wants to be actively 'involved with' or 'linked to'. But then she's also a born-again Christian, so something succeeded in influencing her before - and maybe that's the kind of thing an actual convert would justifiably fear. Because it either all has meaning or significance to be justified - or none of it does, and none of it can be justified. And if you're committed to one where the core belief is that there is a polar opposite to protect humanity against, the 'dangers' of the other have to be perceived to be as real as your own affiliations.

In other words, are you a Jedi or a Sith?

Many authors like to project some sort of enigma, and many in the past were connected with government agencies, such as Ian Fleming - I've got no issues with that. What the author chooses to project is up to them, like Aleister Crowley. Probably had more than his fair share of nudity (although the quantity not likely to have been matched in quality), and not enough sleep for his sanity, by the sound of things.

But when the author/artist DOESN'T get to choose, is groomed or marketed a certain way to shift the product volumes, or finds themselves facing the psychotically-focused attention of a corner of society that they are uncomfortable with - that's different. That's finding themselves to be misrepresented purely for the benefit, success, credibility and profit of others.

That's like doing a huge amount of dedicated work and research for a charity into the prevention of pet cruelty, only to find you have been made a poster-boy for illegal dog-fighting...

Or, conversely - that you have spent your life cheerfully lighting black candles and stringing bird skulls from trees, smelling of patchouli, drawing the fastest salt pentagrams, and researching exotic mushrooms, only to find that you have been nominated as Target Convert of the Year by your local well-meaning Bible group.

At some point in your life, or your career, it's possible at some level or in some stage of social development that you may find yourself misrepresented. Or misjudged, purely on assumptions of others, and the perspective from which those assumptions arise. But there's no need to go to extremes to prove you're one thing or another. Just be yourself.

As for the double bluff thing - don't waste the energy. You'll only end up confused ;)

L xxxxxxx

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