Sunday, May 30, 2010

Guest Blog: Amelia Shackelford "Taking the Risks"

Today, our guest blogger is Amelia Shackelford. Amelia is a fiction writer based in Atlanta, GA, and has received her fair share of advice from great minds.

In the spring of 2004 I was an undergrad at Georgia Tech and an unpublished author. When people asked me what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be, my answer was simple. “I’m a writer. I want to write.” But, as yet, though I talked the talk, I was just beginning to learn to walk the walk. I saw myself as a Writer with a capitol W, but I wasn’t published. To the literary world, I was nobody.

Your heroes are human.That spring William Gibson came to Tech touring his new novel, Pattern Recognition. This man had been successfully living my dream for as long as I’d been alive. His writing had informed and inspired mine. In short, in my mind, William Gibson was not a man but a Hero, and from the moment I heard Gibson was coming, I knew what I had to do.

See, I had this first edition paperback of his first novel, Neuromancer. It was beat to hell. I had read it over and over again. It had been my travel companion up and down the East coast and across to the West for years. Like a child’s most ragged stuffed bear, with an eye missing and the fur coming off in patches, it was my most beloved and prized possession. And I was about to get it signed by the Man, by My Hero.

The day I found out I was going to have the chance to meet my hero, I ran home from class, threw my bag down and ransacked my room. No luck. I searched everywhere. I knew it had to be there somewhere. I made a trip to my parents’ house that weekend, tore up my old room, the living room, the garage…

The book was nowhere to be found. I knew I had it. There was no way it was gone. It wasn’t lost, but it wasn’t in my hands.

I racked my brain. No one had ever been allowed to borrow it. I tore my boyfriend’s house apart, searched through my living room, my roommates’ rooms, and the day of Gibson’s signing just kept coming closer. Instead of looking forward, I kept wishing for just one more day, just one more day to find The Book.

Finally, inevitably, the day came. I still couldn’t find it, but I was not to be defeated. I headed to the book store early, purchased a copy of Pattern Recognition and asked the cashier, “Oh, and could I grab one of those Post-it notes?”

Standing in line, just a few adoring fans back from the front, the next guy in line asked me what I was having signed. “Oh, just the new book,” I shrugged, “And this Post-it,” I smiled slyly. My inquisitor looked at me, knitting his brows together, “What?”

I explained my predicament and how important it was for me to get Gibson’s signature in my copy of Neuromancer at almost any cost. His response? “Woah, that’s a really specific request. I don’t think he’ll do that…” This guy was too nice to say it, but the way he shook his head, the dismissive look at my poor little Post-it (stuck on the tip of my pinky finger) said it all: “What makes you so special?”

And what made me so special? Like I said, I was no one. What do you call an unpublished writer in the literary world? Nobody.

I shrugged, started to answer, but our conversation was cut off. The Man had arrived.

After Gibson gave his reading, he opened up the floor for questions, and I made my move.

“Where did you get the idea for the film in Pattern Recognition?” It wasn’t a brilliant question. It was nothing new, and I was sure he’d had to answer it before, maybe countless times. I almost didn’t ask. I almost kept my hand down by my side. After all, I was just some kid. Sure, I fancied myself a writer, but who was I? Nobody.

Your heroes are human But, no. I had a mission. What made me so special? The guy behind me in line didn’t know, and neither did Mr. Gibson. I had to show them, and that wasn’t gonna happen unless I took the chance. It wasn’t gonna happen unless I quit worrying about having the most brilliant question, about being nobody. It wasn’t gonna happen unless I opened my mouth.

“Funny you ask that,” Gibson smiled. “When I was in college, I took a lot of film classes, and I’d always volunteer to run the projector, mostly so I could get some extra sleep during class. I think somewhere in there, all these old black and white films reflecting off my eyelids got stuck in my subconscious...”

Twenty minutes later, I was standing in front of him. He was signing my copy of Pattern Recognition, and I was still nervous, still feeling like just about nobody, like maybe the guy behind me in line was right… when what do you know, I found myself asking him another question I was sure he’d answered a hundred times before. “So what happened with the movie Johnny Mnemonic? I mean, it looks like your world, and there are so many elements from Burning Chrome and the Sprawl trilogy, but… well, it just doesn’t fit together, and, well…”

“Actually, I wrote the screenplay,” he chuckled and paused.

“Oh really?” I was taken aback.

“Yeah, it was supposed to be a comedy, with a lot more Dolph Lundgren running around in a loin cloth.”

I laughed out loud, “Oh, god, really?!”

“Yeah,” Gibson laughed with me, “There were two problems. First, Speed had just come out, so all of a sudden Keanu Reeves was an action hero instead of a comedy star. Second, and probably even bigger, the production company was afraid of the religious right crucifying us over all the Cyber Jesus jokes.”

“Wow,” I shook my head, “It all makes so much sense now!”

Right about then, his handlers were getting a little fidgety, trying to move me along. In relaxing into conversation, I had almost forgotten my mission, and now was my moment, so I opened my mouth. “Oh, before I go, Mr. Gibson, I have a very special request...” I explained how I couldn’t get my hands on my book, that I was an aspiring writer, and how much his work meant to me. He smiled, took the little piece of yellow paper from me and signed it, “The Official William Gibson Emergency Post-it.”

What makes me so special? Nothing, kid. I wanted something. I wanted it real bad. And if you want something, you gotta take that risk. You gotta open your mouth and ask. Your heroes? They’re just humans. Talk to them. Ask a question. Something good might happen.

Amelia Shackelford is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Science, Technology and Culture. Her work has been featured in print in the Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology Opus 3 and The North Avenue Review. She's also been published online in Monkey Bicycle and RUMBLE Magazine. You can also look for Amelia's work in the forthcoming Sybil’s Garage No. 7. Amelia currently splits her time between writing, serving coffee to the masses and answering the question, "So why did you get an English degree from a technical institute?"

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