It’s a valid question, whether someone told you “they said it would rain,” “they said to pack a sweater,” or “they blew up the Death Star.” Someone out there gave you some pretty good advice even if it’s just, “hey, you might want to cancel that vacation to Alderaan.” Regardless of the specifics, no one seems to know exactly who they are. Since no one would tell me, I figured I would eventually have to make them up.
Like a lot of people my age, I went through a conspiracy theory phase. I think this is because of the intense desire to see history not as a roiling morass of insanity, but as a consciously guided story. Even if the Secret Masters are irredeemably corrupt, their mere presence would be comforting. But then I read Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War, and if there’s one take home from the colossal clusterfuck of the French and Indian War, it’s that nobody’s in charge. This ship has no helmsman, and it’s rushing willy nilly through a field of icebergs stuffed with dynamite and Somali pirates. Go read about Tanaghrisson washing his hands with the brains of Joseph de Jumonville sometime, and then tell me about how everything is going to plan.
Conspiracy theories always have giant plot holes (it’s one of their defining features), but the one that always got my dander up was how the hell many people are employed by these things? If they’re always watching, always moving us around like pieces on a chessboard, where do they find the manpower? This would take, at bare minimum, two-thirds of the population watching the remaining third. My point is that there’s a lot of work to be done if you’re going to control the world, and not all of it is fun. And that’s where Mr. Blank comes in. Combining this manpower shortage with the idea of “they” and adding my year of working for that sociopath of a boss gave me a basis for writing the book.
At this point, I had written Nerve Zero (formerly Subspace) and had stalled out on The Dollmaker. I knew outlining was the right way to start a book, and thought maybe I should try that out. If you’re going to do a conspiracy novel, you have to have 23 chapters. There’s really no other choice there. So I wrote the numbers 1 to 23 on a blank sheet of paper. Chapter 1 would be the intro, chapter 23 would be an epilogue of sorts to mirror the first, and since chapter 12 was dead in the middle, it would be the fulcrum of the book. That’s where the mystery would get thrown into sharper relief and show Our Hero just what he’s dealing with.
A quick aside: I felt really clever having a main character without a name. It ended up making queries a royal bitch. Just know this before you decide to do it.
Anyway, I had an idea that every chapter would be an encounter with a different conspiracy and its representative weirdo. I mapped out what I thought was a more or less logical descent into the Information Underground going from relatively normal with folks like V.E.N.U.S. and the Masons to the freaks like the Servants of Shub-Internet, but that could have been the booze talking. Most of the conspiracies and groups are “real” if you go by the deity test, namely that someone, somewhere believes in them. The two actual deities that appear in some form, Anamadim and Shub-Internet, are not my creations. Shub-Internet seems to be an ironic postmodern belief, and might be better known by his titles: Eater of Characters, Beast of a Thousand Processes or the Lag Monster. Anamadim was something I found on News of the Weird, and after a descent into that terrifying subculture, I knew I had to do something with it. On the upside, I learned a couple of the spells designed to invoke her.
Initially I wanted to avoid using cryptids, but in the process of my research, I soon realized that was impossible. Every other conspiracy mentions aliens, and the big monsters like Bigfoot, chupacabra, and Nessie were all over some of the odder forays into weirdland. Eventually I just embraced it and decided the whole thing takes place in an entirely more awesome version of our world. This has led to the chupacabra becoming the unofficial mascot of the book, something which makes me deliriously happy. Maybe Mothman would make more sense, but Mrs. Supermarket has a morbid terror of him, and the idea of a Mothman plushie staring at us while we sleep is the kind of thing that keeps her up at night.
Mr. Blank ended up being the easiest book to write but the hardest to edit for a very simple reason: I wrote it basically using my own internal monologue. What you’re reading is more or less how I think, except my sense of humor can best be described as “Lovecraftian” and I have much better taste in music. I wrestled with the resolution of the mystery, coming up with two options and presenting them to Mrs. Supermarket. She emphatically chose the one in the book, which I’m pretty happy with. In any case, it’s more of a Chandler story, where the plot is somewhat incidental.
Though it took some doing to find a home for Mr. Blank, I have to say, it has the best one I could have hoped for. Candlemark & Gleam is far and away the best publisher I have worked with. It’s not just that Kate Sullivan, the head honcho and one of my editors, is a mad genius, but that as the hardest working woman in books, she focuses her terrifying brainpower for my benefit. There really aren’t enough nice things to say about her and my other editor AnnaLinden Weller. Suffice it to say if they ever need a kidney, I’ll hook them up. I can get them a kidney by three o’clock, with nail polish.
Parents aren’t supposed to have a favorite kid, but I think writers are allowed to have a favorite book. Mr. Blank is it. And because of Candlemark & Gleam, it’s also the prettiest one. Eris would be so jealous.
Check out Clint’s write-up on Wondercon, my next convention stop. Or look at Erik’s description of anti-inspiration with Vampire Dentist.
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