Saturday, June 25, 2016

There's a Circus in The Cauldron

Lions and Tigers, World War I, and the Salem Witch Trials

The opening paragraph from The Cauldron, a science fiction novel featured in the current Storybundle:

Freida was purchased from an outfit in Birmingham and towered over the other elephants, dwarfing even Trilby the Ponderous Pachyderm. She weighed nearly nine thousand pounds, and the flies attracted to the considerable amount of dung she produced made Petey cringe. At least he didn’t have to shovel it.

What’s a circus and an elephant…from the 1920s…got to do with a book about aliens and self-discovery? I suppose I should just say “read the book.”
The longer answer is that my co-author, Gene DeWeese, wanted the Cole Bros Circus in the story. He had a big old book about the circus, and he was fascinated by the circus’s history. The circus is still operating today ( 
He was going to mail me this book, “lend” it to me, so that I could study the circus and “get it right” for The Cauldron. But I knew how much Gene treasured his books…his collection was scary-impressive…and so I didn’t want to trust one of his favorite books to the mail. We were going to meet at Culver’s for lunch—one of his go-to restaurants for cheeseburgers and custard—so I could look through the book; but his doctor appointments kept getting in the way.
Instead I scoured the Internet for tidbits on that circus; and circus history in general. Now, admittedly, the circus does not play a big part in the book and does not occupy a big chunk of pages. But it is crucial to the plot, and it required a good bit of digging to “get it right.” I didn’t mind. I like research.
The Cole Bros Circus has survived for more than a century. Since 1884 the circus has brought the smells of straw and sawdust, cotton candy and animals to “children of all ages.”
William Washington Cole (1847-1915) started with W.W. Cole’s New Colossal Shows in 1884. At the turn of the century it became the Cole Bros Circus and was purchased by Canadian Martin Downs and his son James. It traveled throughout the West, and scheduled sessions at mining camps, remote boomtowns, and military bases. During the Great Depression, Jesse Adkins and Zack Terrell bought and rebuilt the circus to rival Ringling Bros. Some of the gorgeous parade wagons from that time are on display in the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.
In 1935 Clyde Beatty was featured…and so he gained a mention in The Cauldron. The elephants and the great cats are in there, too, as well as a couple of characters who are tasked with saving Earth.
What passed for the midway... I pulled that from my memories of walking through various circus grounds when I was a kid. I’d seen Ringling Bros performances, Shriner’s circuses. I even edited an anthology called Circus (a CD horror compilation…Gene DeWeese had a story in it).
How awesome is that? Putting an old-time circus in a SF book? Well, I thought it was awesome, and certainly nothing I would have thought up on my own. I enjoyed where Gene DeWeese pushed me. He taught me a lot. I miss his phone calls and working with him.

There are other unusual elements in the book—a piece of the Salem Witch Trials, Gene’s idea; a WWI battlefield, my idea…I’m a WWI game-player and have tons of WWI history books; a fishing resort in Indiana, both our notions. Oh, and I had to add Ancient Egypt…because I was studying Egypt at the Kenosha Museum at the time.
The circus is in there more than once…
…because it’s a circus and because Gene wanted it in there.
And that’s frigging awesome to put a circus in a SF book with aliens and such.
Next time I’ll talk about that fishing resort and how to wrap memories into a novel.

Two reviews of The Cauldron:

THE CAULDRON is a gripping, fascinating journey through what seems at first like one man's nightmare—impossibly far-fetched yet eerily plausible. I couldn't stop reading until it was done. Wow, what a book!
–Ed Greenwood, creator of The Forgotten Realms

THE CAULDRON is a stunning effort, aglow with interesting venues and incidents, and three characters I wish I knew personally. A fine job by Ms. Rabe and the late Mr. DeWeese.
- Mike Resinick, five-time Hugo Award winner

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Stirring the Cauldron

The book used to be called Mnemorphosis, but Gene DeWeese said he didn’t like the title and asked me to come up with something else. We settled on The Cauldron…’cause the tale really involves one. He also asked me to write it with him. Wow. New York Times bestselling SF author Gene DeWeese wanted to share a book with me. Of course I was on board.

I’d met Gene many years ago when I worked for TSR. He’d written a Ravenloft novel, and I called him when I was trying to put together a big author signing at a Barnes & Noble in Racine, WI. He was one of many participants, and we sat next to each other and talked about books and cheeseburgers. His favorite restaurant was Culver’s.

I’d published some of his short stories in various anthologies, and I’d read many of his books, including the Star Trek hardcover novel Probe, which he got credit for on the inside, but not the cover ‘cause it had already been printed. Gene wrote that book. Great Trek book, by the way. His Man From Uncle novelizations were also much fun. I think my favorite of his, however, was a mystery: Murder in the Blood.

Anyway, Gene wanted help with this book. He had a handful of chapters finished, and a great outline, but he was having a helluva time writing. He’d been to doctors on and off, and they couldn’t put that proverbial finger on what was wrong.

I charged ahead. It was a MARVELOUS premise, and I was so yippy-skippy happy to be a part of it. I’d write a chapter, send it to Gene for his approval and comments, and while I was waiting I’d work on the next. He’d call me saying he was having trouble with the file. I saved it rich text, I got an old WordStar program off eBay and used that…as he liked using WordStar. I saved it a half dozen different ways, and I’d talk him through opening files.

He got another computer and had someone set it up for him. It helped a little; he certainly had a much easier time with email. But sometimes I would email the files to his wife, and she’d open them and put them on his computer.

Sometimes I would read him the chapters—he liked chatting on the phone—because he had more computer problems. Toward the end, that’s what I settled on. Calling and reading him the book as I went along. It was more fun that way.

It was AMAZING and WONDERFUL and sometimes admittedly frustrating working with Gene DeWeese, and I thank God I had the opportunity to write with this genius of a fellow. He taught me a lot about science fiction.

And writing.

And life.

Eventually the doctors came up with a diagnosis, and hence all the computer problems he had made sense—Lewy Body Dementia. See…sometimes we’d repeat the same conversation twice in a day or in back-to-back days. And sometimes he’d call me because the world was becoming cruel to him and he wanted to hear about my dogs.

He said to me, as I neared the end of the book: “Jean, my mind is slipping through a sieve.” But there were these glorious brilliant parts of that mind that continued to shine through. I wished I could have sold the book while Gene was alive. It sat for 18 months on a NYC editor’s desk as he “mulled it over.” Finally, I had my agent pull it, and I later approached Kevin J. Anderson and WordFire. A good home for The Cauldron.

The Cauldron is in my not-at-all-humble opinion, a marvelous SF yarn about life, death, and everything in between and after. It is Gene DeWeese’s awesome plot, spiced with an elephant and an enigmatic circus clown.

I’ll tell you more about that circus in the next blog. He insisted on the circus.