"Be confident in yourself and follow your dreams."
Bill Ectric: Tales of Brave Ulysses
Bill Ectric wants to erase the line between mysticism and science, often blending the genres of mystery, science fiction, psychological drama, humor, and metafiction. In January 2013, Surtsey Media will publish his new, definitive edition of Time Adjusters and Other Stories, featuring the title story about an insurance company that uses new light-bending technology to capture images of future disaster areas so they can unfairly deny coverage, as well as the totally bizarre and unexplainable tale of The House and the Baboon.
Bill’s interview with jazz legend David Amram is included in the LitKicks book Beats In Time: A Literary Generation’s Legacy, edited by Levi Asher. On the internet, his writing has been featured on Literary Kicks, Candlelight Stories, The Beat, Red Fez, Empty Mirror Books, Lit Up Magazine, 99 Burning, and Zygote in My Coffee.
Bill is appears as a commentator in Steve Aylett’s independent film, Lint the Movie, starring comic book writer Alan Moore.
How did the idea of the “Cut Up the Stolen Scroll” come about?
I had been reading books by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, and reading a lot about the Beat Generation on a web site called Literary Kicks. I wanted to write something that reflected my interest in the Beats. I wrote a couple of poems using the cut-up method pioneered by Gysin and Burroughs, but of course, they were abstract and not very accessible to mainstream readers. I wanted to write something in straightforward prose that would maybe introduce the idea of cut-up writing to people who never heard of it, and also, hopefully, fans of the Beats would find it entertaining. I was playing around with one of the online cut-up programs. It was called a “cut-up machine.” The idea popped into my mind, what if someone created a random cut-up that seemed to actually mean something to someone else entirely? And my natural inclination is to make it sinister. It would have to be something that put the person in danger, like an Alfred Hitchcock thing. I knew that the Kerouac “scroll” was on display – that long roll of paper that he typed a novel on so he wouldn’t have to pause to insert another sheet of paper.
I think he did that with two novels, On the Road and The Dharma Bums. Of course, he rewrote parts of it before it was published, but, I digress. The more I try to answer your question, the more I realize I don’t know how I came up with the exact plot. The story almost wrote itself. I pictured it like one of those PBS Mystery television shows. In one of those shows, I think it was a Sherlock Holmes episode – not the new one, this was years ago - in one scene there was a nude model posing for an artist or something. It was not very explicit, more like, in the background, probably so it would be okay for young people to watch. Anyway, I confess, I got the idea for Lilac posing nude in my Scroll story from that. Everything else, as far as I know, was totally my own. I pictured Lilac’s father as James Caan and his assistant as Joe Viterelli, the actor one who played “Jelli” in Analyze This. And honestly, I still believe Cut Up the Stolen Scroll would make a great movie or TV show.
Even the title is an example of playing with syntax. Originally, the story was called "Cut Up" and the subtitle, in parentheses, was "the Stolen Scroll." I wrote it like this: Cut Up (The Stolen Scroll). I changed it to "Cut Up the Stolen Scroll" because, in the story, Lilac nonchalantly tells Jim to literally cut the scroll up to get rid of it, so as to not get caught with it in his possession. That's really an important theme in the story, and I think Jack Kerouac would have liked it, because what I'm pointing out a contrast between the two college students, Jim and Lilac. Jim admires the Beat philosophy of living in the moment and unloading excess baggage, but ironically, he is looking for importance in an old relic from the past. Lilac, even without realizing it, wants to live life in the real and present world and places no importance on what amounts to dead paper and ink. She's more Zen that Jim and probably doesn't even think about it.
Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?
Without hesitation, my answer is Benjamin Franklin. He is possibly the coolest, most brilliant dude ever. My main interest in Franklin are his accomplishments as a writer, journalist, editor, publisher, and printer. Besides that, of course, he was a scientific researcher who invented the lightning rod, bifocals, an improved heating stove, and other things. He was a musician. He was America's diplomat to France and one of the founders of the United States. His autobiography is free on Kindle. It's a good read. I haven't even named half of Franklin's accomplishments, but of everything he did, my admiration keeps returning to his work in the media. I would like to be like Ben Franklin in the media. I don't know what I would ask him if I could meet him. Maybe just listen to what he had to say. He was a major figure of the American Enlightenment.
I also wish I could have met William S. Burroughs.
What mistakes of the Beat generation would you want to correct?
Some of the Beats were involved in thievery and violence. We romanticized this, to some extent, the same way we romanticize pirates like Blackbeard or Captain Kidd, but if I were on a cruise ship, I wouldn’t want modern day pirates to attack us and take our money and threaten our lives. A certain amount of crime was probably inevitable, because some laws punish people for committing victimless crimes like smoking marijuana and so-called “obscenity,” so the bohemian artists and free thinkers were sharing jail cells with burglars and car thieves. Another mistake, further along during the sixties, I think the counter-culture blew their chance to keep LSD legal by scaring everybody. Instead of introducing it slowly and responsibly, they just threw it into society’s face, and encouraged anyone to try it in any environment, which naturally resulted in some bad trips.
Which motto of the Beats do you like best?
I would say, "Affirm life." This is a condensed paraphrase of John Clellon Holmes' article "This Is The Beat Generation," which he wrote for the New York Times Magazine in 1952. Holmes said, in part, "Unlike the Lost Generation [after World War I], which was occupied with the loss of faith, the Beat Generation is becoming more and more occupied with the need for it . . . It is a will to believe, even in the face of an inability to do so in conventional terms." He goes on to say, "The hot-rod driver invites death only to outwit it. He is affirming the life within him in the only way he knows how, at the extreme." I don't drive hot-rods and I don't invite death. I don't fear death but I enjoy life.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from your hippie era and European trip?
The exultation of being in the classical Mediterranean world of my youthful books and dreams was incredibly heady.
One memory I have is when some friends of mine had moved into a multistory apartment building in Rota, Spain. That building and most of the surrounding buildings were radiant white in the sunshine. We were on the roof with some girls, rubbing suntan lotion on them and they on us, and we had these big Bose stereo speakers up there, cranked up really loud, with wires running from the speakers down the steps to my friends apartment. We used to drive to Morón Air Base to buy state-of-the-art audio equipment. We were listening to Live Cream, Live Cream Volume II, and Deep Purple’s Machine Head, and people on the roofs of other apartment buildings were waving to us and dancing. We were drinking rum & coke. This one Spanish girl had diet pills that were legal to buy over-the-counter, amphetamines, and someone had hashish. When Cream played Tales of Brave Ulysses and Deserted Cities of the Heart, I remembered a line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses about striving with gods, balanced by Percy Shelley’s warning in Ozymandias that all great things must fall, so I knew we weren’t gods but we were certainly sons of God, and it was a moment to cherish.
Another memory I have could best be expressed by quoting, if I may, a passage from my book, Tamper:
We camped out on a beach in Algeciras, Spain. Under the black, star-cluttered fabric of night, we looked out in awe at the mystical, mythical ocean, where the dark silhouette of the Rock of Gibraltar sat covered with its own stars, which were really lights from windows of houses, hotels, offices, or restaurants — distant civilization. A song by WAR called Four Cornered Room zoomed and whooshed and wailed from our battery-powered cassette tape player, blended with the wind and circled our heads with profound transcendence, while Jim passed his pipe around. Our scalps tingled as the ocean-as-biggest-thing-in-the-world swelled outside and inside us, DNA swimming through an electric womb sea.
Are there any memories from Hettie Jones, David Amram, Larry Keenan and Pete Brown, which you’d like to share with us?
Hetti Jones doesn’t live in the past. She obviously enjoys talking about experiences in Greenwich Village in the 1950s & 60s with Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and others, but she is very involved in her present-day writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women at Bedford Hills, helping the inmates find their voices and express themselves.
Larry Keenan was so open and generous. He asked me I would like a print of one of his photographs. Of course, I said yeah! Instead of just one print, he sent me an envelope full of prints, all signed with his initials. He gave me good advice on working with programs like Photoshop. He said, “You need to put miles on the mouse,” in other words, keep on working at it.
I interviewed David Amram by telephone. That was his idea. He thought it would be more personal than email, which it was. He expected me to record it, but I had no recording device to attach to my phone, so I just took notes furiously of everything he said. It was worth it. The cat had a lot to say and some strong opinions on the current state of the music business.
Pete Brown was, like the other three, very generous with his time. He came across as humble. On a hunch, I asked him if he ever met Alexis Korner, the seminal British blues-rock musician, whom I had met once in the 1970s, backstage after a concert in Roanoke, VA. It turned out that he had known Alexis quite well. He told me about some of the venues they shared, like The Marquee.
You had pretty interesting book: TAMPER. Where did you get that idea?
I like to think of Tamper an alchemical alloy consisting of three literary elements and a catalyst. The three elements are mystery, autobiography, and metafiction. The catalyst is Richard Shaver.
I’ve always been fascinated by unexplained mysteries: Ghostly manifestations, UFOs, and all kinds of arcane knowledge. I write this book, in part, for people who share that fascination.
When I was in Spain and Morocco, in the early 70s, no matter what was going on in the foreground of my attention, there was always a thought running through the back of my mind, “someday I will write all of this down.” Of course, not everything in Tamper happened exactly as it did in real life, but some of it is closer than you might think. For example, the “leprechaun man” Agan, whom Whit meets in Malta, is based on a person I really met in Tangier, Morocco. He really performed the threatening gesture that he does in the book. I also wanted to convey the awe and wonder of my childhood. When I was a kid, the very air seemed charged with magic. And also my darker thoughts and feelings.
Metafiction is fiction that consciously uses literary devices as part of the story, like Nabokov did in Pale Fire by including a poem “written” by one of the characters in the book, and footnotes to the poem by another character in the book. There is also a bit of historical fiction in Tamper.
The catalyst came when I read about The Shaver Mystery on web sites like Shavertron. Richard Shaver was a real-life writer of science fiction in the 1940s, for pulp magazines like Amazing Stories and Fate. To me, he was like the “Ed Wood of pulp science fiction.” Not a great writer, but very enthusiastic. He wrote about an underground race of evil creatures who surfaced at night to capture human beings and carry them down into their lairs. These creatures, called Deros, could tamper with the minds of humans by projecting weird thoughts into our heads. Shaver claimed his stories were true. At first people assumed he was just saying that for publicity, but he was very insistent that he had seen these creatures and that they were projecting terrible thoughts into his mind, which he called “tamper.” It was later discovered that Shaver had spent some time in a mental institution. When I was a kid, I sometimes heard noises late at night, and my imagination would run wild. I thought, why not take it a step further? The main character in Tamper, a boy named Whit, can relate to Richard Shaver because he is tormented by dark, indistinct murmurings. “Tamper” ties the book together. As the boy grows up, tamper can be a metaphor for teen angst. When an article about Tamper appeared on Literary Kicks, someone who had read the book posted a question to me in the comment section, asking if Whit was molested as a child, which would definitely qualify as tamper of the worst sort. I chose not to give a clear answer because I want every reader to bring his or her own meaning to the text.
What advice would you like give to Whit?
What advice would I give to Whit? I would say, even as you take on the responsibilities of an adult, don’t lose the wonderment and magic you felt as a child. There is nothing wrong with you. Be confident in yourself and follow your dreams.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Everything. I feel as though I live in all the times of my life. I’m in Florida, Spain, and Virginia. I’m 18 years old and I’m 58 years old. I’ve written one novel, I’ve written five novels. Well, in this present time, Tamper is my only novel but I see the others in my mind. They already exist on the timeline.
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