Cuyahoga! is a 75-page sci-fi short story by Carl King.
It was self-published digitally on 11/11/11.
Cover Illustration by Lance Myers.
NOTE: You don’t need to own a Kindle or iPad or Nook to read this story. If you buy the Kindle version, you can read it on any computer using Amazon Cloud Reader.
Take a tour through small-town adolescent Hell in Cuyahoga!, the new philosophical sci-fi novella by theOffice Fellowship winning author Carl King. Adam Newmann is at war. He works a job he hates in a town he can’t stand. His best friend is a beat-up jukebox he calls Ted and his only other companion is Dave, a dim-witted giant who tries to convince Adam to start a cult. Carl King breathes life into a misfit cast of characters including an evil ukulele wizard, a day-glow pop princess, and a girlfriend who may or may not be completely imaginary. Adam must figure out if he is the only one in Cuyahoga who sees The Truth (or whether he’s truly out of his mind) while fighting off an army of Meme Zombies and the hypnotic gyrations of Yum-Yum LollyPOP! and her minions.
Interview With The Author
Q: This is your first serious attempt at writing a piece of fiction. Why?
A: I spent the past few years studying filmmaking, animation, screenwriting. Cuyahoga! was to be my summer screenwriting project for 2010. My first feature-length screenplay for live action. I wrote it up as a premise, and I won a writing fellowship to a writer’s club in Santa Monica called theOffice. Good. Next step? I spent something like a year fighting my way through the screenplay, both at theOffice and at my local neighborhood public library. It just wasn’t working for me. Incredibly frustrating. The story in my head wasn’t being represented in screenplay format. It was a good story, but the dialogue was bad, the characters weren’t interesting, everyone who read it agreed it was awful.
Q: What were the limitations you encountered?
A: The worst thing about being a beginner screenwriter, is that you’re writing ideas that might never be brought to life — and even if they do, they might actually be terrible. So even though you’re filling a page with words, you’re not getting any experience. When you hand it to an actor it might suck. And you have no way of knowing (unless you’re already a director or actor). There’s a disconnect. It’s like sitting around and writing food recipes but never being able to afford to cook, buy ingredients, or even turn the stove on.
Q: How was writing in prose different?
A: First, I loved the idea of having an end-product that I could entirely create myself, with no crew and no budget. How much of a budget do you need to type into TextEdit on a Mac? As long as you have a beat-up 4-year-old laptop like I did, you can write anything you want. There’s zero concern for production. Second, I have this theory that screenwriting is for Extroverts. I haven’t proven it to be true, but I think that to be a good screenwriter you have to be in touch with expressing meaning through actions and dialogue. And I’ve never been good at expressing myself through speech or walking around in a room with people. I’m an INTJ. I spend most of my time in my own mind. People make me uncomfortable. I don’t know how to small-talk, I don’t like eye contact, I want to spend most of my time alone, and I’m borderline Asperger’s. I’m not very empathetic, and I’m not interested in mundane topics. I don’t identify with the rabble. The gossip, the scandals, whatever is popular at the moment. I think you need that, to be effective at dramatic screenwriting. Finger on the pulse. With prose, I could get inside the head of my weird protagonist and be more direct and literal, rather than hinting at what he was thinking and feeling. One moment in my life can consume me with analysis, self-doubt, and conflict. And I enjoy writing from the point of view.
Q: What inspired you to write this particular story called Cuyahoga!
A: First of all, in early 2010, I discovered a Militia Radio website. It seems to be gone now. There was a show called Buckshot’s Survival Hour. And I was captivated by this sub-culture. There would be call-in reports from the field, about them training and mobilizing their troops. Preparing for something big. I was so happy to listen in on people who were passionate about their own little world, in a very intense way, but not concerned at all with Los Angeles. It was an escape. I ended up hearing a broadcast from Ohio. And it brought me back to some childhood memories. My grandparents were from Cuyahoga County, and it always said that on their license plate when they came to visit Florida. So it was a word that stuck with me forever. I used it as a chant in a song that never got released on the How To Sell… album. Another inspiration was a Dave Grohl interview, where he said that music culture is like a pendulum. Where everyone gets dressed up and puts on a show, then the next decade they reject that and want to be authentic. Then they go back the next decade to putting on a show. I’m old now, so I miss the days before internet and cellphones. Instant Access has devalued so many things. It’s most definitely destroyed our attention spans. I remember how special it was to me, to take the time, go to a library and request old copies of printed magazines, and hunt through them for interviews with bands I liked. I remember tracking down Mr. Bungle’s manager’s phone number and calling her at least once every couple of months to ask when they were going to make a new album. I remember this feeling back then, living in Venice, FL, that years would go by and it was possible that nothing interesting would ever happen again. That everything might be over. There was no way of finding out anything. You never knew there was a new album until you saw it in front of you in the store. And if you were like me, you’d buy multiple copies because you were overcompensating from years of cultural starvation. Those few things that really meant anything, you’d never let them go. There was less hype, fewer pseudo-events, and life was experienced more directly and in-the-moment. I’m a big fan of Neil Postman and Daniel J. Boorstin. It’s confusing to me that the world continues on like it does when their books have already been available for decades. I wanted to express that feeling of confusion and frustration.
Q: Why did you dedicate Cuyahoga! to Dr. Erik Von Markovik?
A: Because I believe he’s right about everything. His videos, his books. A lot of people hate him, think he’s a charlatan. But I think he’s stumbled upon information about humanity that is more important than anything talked about in the news. Wars, starvation, disease… these are all secondary problems. It was while studying his work that the premise of my short story appeared.
Q: What are some of your stylistic influences, as a writer?
A: Always, forever, David Lynch. He opens the box, shows you something is inside, but then closes it again. “Sorry, that’s all you get.” In my daily life, I’m an extremely analytical and judgmental person, and so is my wife. She organizes her socks with a spreadsheet. We’re rational and strict people. So the repressed side of me appreciates things that seem magical, like UFOs. Most often, when it comes to a piece of art, once I understand something I lose all interest. I can see how it was made, and it dies. That comes from being a person who puts things together for a living, understands all the little pieces. And that’s why Lost and Battlestar Galactica died as soon as they tried to finish them. To me, good art has no beginning or end. You have to sense that it continues on without you, in both directions. Which is part of what made Watchmen such a rich experience. Alan Moore started with the sequel. Same as Star Wars. We start with Episode IV? What? All this stuff happened before? The worst thing you can do is go back and show and explain all of it. It’s like the JJ Abrams Mystery Box.
Q: Did you intentionally avoid explaining certain scenes in the story?
A: It wasn’t an intentional trick or technique. But it allowed me to leave things as they were, meaning only what they meant in the frame of the story. In my adolescence, I found meaning in a lot of things that were only for me. I didn’t necessarily understand why I would do certain rituals. My life was sort of an inside joke. I wanted to tell the story of how confused I was in high school. And how confused I still am. There are references to some of my old friends. Things we used to do when we were bored and had no hope of ever escaping our small town.
Q: Yes, but why did you really write this story?
A: Because Los Angeles is a Cargo Cult. Meaning, the people here think that if they assemble all the body parts of a bird, it will come to life and sing and fly. Or that if they act like a rock star, practice their scales, wearing the correct costumes, and putting a bunch of gear endorsement logos all over their album, they’ll be Steve Vai. “He did these things, and got those results, so if we do these things too, we’ll get the same results.” It doesn’t matter what niche they’re going for, they all do it. There’s this culture of pretense, and you can tell what someone is pretending to be by which cookie-cutter dialect of industry jargon they use. It’s failed reverse engineering. In the meantime, you hear the words “Excited!” and “Great!” about 3,000 times a day. And if you don’t join in, people act like there’s something wrong with you. “Why isn’t he pretending to be happy all the time?” or “Poor Carl, he’s so miserable, he doesn’t know how to play the game.” I’ve spent so much time and energy working for other people, selling my skills, directing videos, designing websites, executing someone else’s ideas. So I wanted to throw all that mindset out and make a dark piece of art that I could release myself, and no one could tell me what to do. It feels good.
Q: If you hate the internet and cellphones, why did you choose to publish it digitally as an eBook?
A: Because it was cheap to do, and I like the iTunes iBooks Reader. I think they’ve created an elegant interface. The moment I first played with an iPad and flipped through the pages, I thought, “I have to publish a book on this.” It’s so simple and clean. I went through all the steps myself. Wrote it, hired an editor, put the final files together in Indesign, hired Lance Myers to do the cover illustration, got approved as an iTunes publisher, bought the ISBNs. And at least it’s an actual story I’m putting on the internet, instead of more silly pictures of cats.
Q: Yes, but how are you going to be able to retire by age 40?
Q: Do you think you can just give up music and start over, and get good at something else? You’re a musician. You can’t write.
A: There’s this strange belief, mostly perpetuated by musicians, that music is “the one true art” and everything else is inferior. It’s almost like a fear of doing anything but music, because of what it would mean. It’s like music is supposed to be the only thing you’re good at — like you’re this living archetype of the unknown songwriter who failed at everything else, sacrifices everything else, can’t make any money, sleeps in his car. And wow, at the last minute the world discovers you’re Charles Ives. It’s like musicians don’t want to ruin the myth. You don’t see that same narrow-mindedness, to such a degree, in other art forms. I was always bored by music that didn’t mean anything. Symphony #5,007. So I loved having words and ideas and visuals attached to a piece of music — so long as they mutually-supported the theme or expressed the same concept. Because I never wrote any songs purely based on music theory or scales or rhythms. I think that’s soulless. My music was about alienation, anger, depression. And some beauty. And revenge.
Q: Who should read this short story?
A: Strangers. People I don’t know. It’s too embarrassing to think of people I know reading it.
Q: Why is it only a short story? Are you too weak to write a full-length novel?
A: Yes, because good writing is exhausting, mentally. I’m not talking about grammar. I’m talking about expressing meaning through abstractions, connecting with The Truth. I only had the patience to spend every morning for 5 months on it. Short stories are probably just right for me. I’m in awe of someone like Ayn Rand who lived like that for most of her life. I like doing too many other things, like typing fake interviews with myself.