The History of Hearers of the Constant Hum (part 2)

There was a time in my life, not that long ago, when I was convinced the entire human race would dissolve into gray goo. I’ll explain in a moment. I was obsessed with the idea of “progress,” and how the term is truly subjective. What some perceive as progress (iPhones, SpaceX, baconnaise, etc), others view as regression, focusing more on what we lose from these advancements than what we gain.

Everything I was stuffing into my head back then had some connection to the idea of progress. Eventually I came upon the three-part documentary series TechnoCalyps, and still to this day it’s one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen. Long story short (and a bit of a spoiler for the documentary, I suppose), there’s a theory that nanotech robots have the potential to infinitely self-replicate, destroying the entire biosphere by feeding on organic matter, humans included, until only grey goo and the nanobots remain.

The theories presented in TechnoCalyps are wild and likely not to happen, but still they terrified me to no end. I couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. Still can’t. Any time life’s got you down, I highly recommend watching this documentary. You’ll see that things really aren’t as bad as they could be, haha.

Anyway, so in this state of mind, I was developing my pitch to the publisher, and suddenly I randomly remembered an episode of Unsolved Mysteries I’d seen sometime in the 90s. When they aren’t terrifying, human brains are kind of hilarious in they way they work. There I was, trying to come up with a cool idea for a book pitch, and my brain just kept flashing images from Unsolved Mysteries. I could even hear the theme song playing in my head.

The episode I remembered that day was the one about the Taos Hum. If you’ve never heard of the Taos Hum before, it’s basically a constant buzzing sound that really annoys about 2% of the population in Taos, New Mexico. Why only 2%? Because the other 98% can’t hear it at all. The source of the hum is unknown, but there are several theories of what it could be, none of them very interesting, in my opinion. After a little research, I discovered this phenomenon is happening all over the globe.

Then, like the Television Man from my other novel Automated Daydreaming, my brain quickly “changed channels” and all of a sudden I was thinking about David Cronenberg’s body horror classics, such as Scanners, Videodrome, and The Brood (okay, I admit, I’m always thinking about Cronenberg movies, but still). Then click I was on to another channel, another thought: Toynbee Tiles.

Yes, I know it’s random, but this is actually how my brain works.

Sometime in the 1980s, mysterious plaques began appearing on the streets of Philadelphia. Literally on the street. These plaques, now known as the Toynbee Tiles, were all adorned with cryptic nonsensical messages that really creeped everyone out. Eventually, the tiles were traced back to a local artist, and while I agree that it’s a pretty interesting project, I have to admit that the reveal was a bit underwhelming. In my head, there seemed to be something much more sinister going on.

Toynbee Tiles (image from Wikipedia)

The last piece of the puzzle fell into place as I thought of a book I had read earlier in the year, The Selfish Gene by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. In this book, Dawkins introduces meme theory, which is essentially the idea that thoughts are living things, seeking to replicate within as many hosts as possible, like a virus.

Are you starting to see the connection now?

My thought was that if one of these memes, or thoughts, could actually do physical harm to the body (like a Freddy Krueger-version of the nanobot horrors from TechnoCalyps, attacking from within the host’s own brain), then how could this meme be transferred?

I needed a way that caused the meme to replicate slowly. I wasn’t interested in writing a pandemic novel. I wanted to write a body horror novel. So how could I achieve this?

Perhaps the protagonist can hear something that others can’t… a strange, cryptic, nonsensical message that he becomes obsessed with… what if hearing these words caused the meme to spread? Or better yet, what if the meme was so strong, that the protagonist became obsessed with finding a way to get other people to hear it for themselves? What if he was successful? If this meme could cause physical damage to the body, would that be the end of the human race?

My mind was running wild with ideas. I couldn’t write them down fast enough. I was scribbling things like “colony collapse disorder” and “brain transplants” and quotes from Carl Sagan. By the time I was through, I knew I had a story bigger than I’d ever had before. I had a novel, and it was time for me to start writing it.

The next few posts will feature interesting factiods and shouldn’t require as much reading as this or the previous post. Special thanks goes out to anyone who actually read this! Hope you all are enjoying it so far.

Until next time…

The History of Hearers of the Constant Hum (part 1)

The other day I was thinking of the three books we’re publishing this year, and the history behind them. As some of you may know, both Hearers of the Constant Hum and Automated Daydreaming have been published before, and the stories of how they came to be couldn’t be any more different.

Over the next week or so, I will serialize the history of Hearers of the Constant Hum in the form of bite-sized posts. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the experience, or possibly even become inspired by the many things that inspired me while writing this novel!

So, where to start? Unlike Hearers itself, which starts in medias res, let’s be bold and tell this story from the beginning

In the years leading up to the novel, I was an active member within the weird fiction and bizarro fiction circles, having published several novellas (including the bizarro western Doom Magnetic! and the truly unclassifiable The Brothers Crunk), as well as countless short stories.

In December of 2012, I was invited to participate in a pitch session for a weird fiction publisher. The session was unique, to say the least. It involved around 50 writers in total, pitching an unlimited amount of ideas to the publisher, who would then post them anonymously and have the same group of writers vote on what they felt were the best pitches of the bunch. It was pure chaos, but a lot of fun. Writers were pitching everything they had, and many of them were just making stuff up on the spot, pitching something new every few minutes.

When it was all said and done, there had to be somewhere around a thousand pitches in total. Two of those pitches belonged to me. For the life of me, I can’t remember my first pitch, but I remember the second very well:

“Bill Krang records insect conversations onto cassette tapes and labels them THE CONSTANT HUM. Others cannot hear insects in the same way, so he has dedicated his life to discovering how to share their message with others.

Ashok burn right hand of men. To Neptune, rebirth in blue fire.

Years pass and now Krang notices the peculiar phrase graffitied on the sides of buildings and written on mysterious tiles half-buried in asphalt. What does it mean? Is it a warning? A threat? Are there other hearers of the constant hum? If so, where are they?

In his search for answers, he manages to dismantle all he ever thought he knew about everything.

Can you hear it?”

This pitch, of course, was the inception of Hearers of the Constant Hum, and was the second highest-rated pitch of the session!

As exciting as it was, it was also downright terrifying. Now I have to write a novel? I’ve never written a novel before! Am I ready?

For those of you who may not know, writing a novel is hard work! Everyone starts in the same boat: with a blank page, conflicting ideas, and an infinite amount of directions in which to begin. The trick is finding the best possible direction to go, or in other words, the best possible way to tell your story.

A writer typically doesn’t enter the world of creative writing with a novel. It’s something that is worked up to, something that requires a certain amount of focus, determination and skill. Now that I think of it, being a masochist very well may be a requirement, as everyone’s first novel is essentially just a series of merciless beatings.

If memory serves me right, the first draft of Hearers took about 14 months to complete. Here I am holding up the printed manuscript on March 4th, 2014, the night I finally finished it:

I look tired, right? I was exhausted! But, man, there’s nothing like the rush that moves through you while typing the final words on a creative project, especially something as massive and demanding as a novel.

But where did the idea for Hearers come from?

Well, if you’re interested to know, you’ll have to wait for the next post…

See ya soon!