Weird Tales: Erik Amundsen on Where We Get Fat

Ann VanderMeer • December 15th, 2007 @ 1:41 pm • Culture

Writer: Erik Amundsen
Weird Tales Story: Bufo Rex (Weird Tales Issue 347, Nov/Dec 2007)
Writer Bio: Taken broadly, Erik Amundsen has had an interesting life; he’s been a baker, an itinerant schoolteacher, worked for two governments and gotten in bar fights overseas. He now lives at the foot of a cemetery in central Connecticut where he writes nasty little stories and poems that shuffle around in the night when he’s not looking. Or at least he hopes it’s them; something’s got to be making those noises and it’s not the furnace.

***

Where We Get Fat – A Little Meditation on a Question I’m Told that Authors Hate.

So when you reach the point that someone calls you an author, or, really, any creative professional, and word gets out and everyone knows what you’re doing in there when you say you’re just combing your hair, you start getting these questions. There really ought to be a warning; these questions are like a flock of infinitely old vultures that sit on some very high perch over the desert and wait for you to try to cross. Fortune and glory, so I’m told, sit somewhere on the other side of the hardpan and timothy, but there aren’t any trade routes and there aren’t many caravans, and really, you make the crossing on your own. The vultures are going to see you, and they’ll know, the moment you’ve crossed into their kingdom.

The one that concerns me today is neither the most terrifying nor the most infuriating, but it’s persistent, and it turns up in the damnedest places, and a lot of us like to answer this question when we’ve got an answer to give, but no one likes to fall under the shadow of its wings.

So, where do you get your ideas?

 

I don’t have an answer for that question, myself. I can tell you where I got this idea or that one, but they don’t all come from the same place, they just marinate in the same fatty tissue.

Anyway, the question is never where do you get your ideas, but where can I get my ideas. It’s a good question, and like all the best questions, nobody is qualified to answer it; but since doing things for which I have no qualification whatsoever is kind of a hobby of mine, I’ll kick it around a little. Because, hell, I’d like to know where I can get my damned ideas, because some mornings, you wake up having spent your night running around a Möbius-strip prison for the spiritually insane, chased by a spider whose legs are clear as icicles and whose head is housed in a metal cage because his bite is poisonous beyond all comprehension, and some mornings you wake up having given a presentation in your drawers.

Yesterday morning, this morning; it’s nice to have an idea kicking around in your head, but where do you get the next one? That’s when the shadow passes over.

Gary Larson, creator of the comic strip The Far Side, was the first person from whom I remember ever getting a straight answer; it was in one of his collections just after his retirement from making comics. Unfortunately, I was, at the time, too young to start drinking coffee. Still, thanks to the strange wonder of the human brain, I think of him whenever I ask myself where the hell I am going to go to get an idea; I think of a particular strip, showing a farm scene, with a boy at the fence waving to a farmer on a tractor, driving through fields full of lumpy globs. The caption below reads “Where we get fat.”

The brain makes nifty connections; that’s its job, and so, from the question to the strip and the strip to all the things I’ve learned over a very short career, thus far. Getting fat is a process, and I feel a lot more comfortable speaking quasi-authoritatively on that subject than I do on writing, it doesn’t happen by itself and it doesn’t happen quickly, but it’s kind of difficult to pick out any point in the process. The brain also likes dealing with events, rising action toward a climax, with its dénouement and all those consequences (I don’t knock it; I hope it will keep me in beer money, some day), but no one ever asks about the process.

That’s probably not true at all; and, anyway, I’m asking. What do you do with your ideas when you get them? I can only hope I’ll keep getting mine, but what I do with them is an ugly thing. I’ll be really surprised if I ever complete a story with the single-sided spiritual prison and the ice legged spider. I won’t be surprised if those things pop up in stories together, or separately, or if they pop up in several places in different forms. There are some ideas that do jump up fully formed, and I’m not going to wave them away if any come my way (note to aforementioned ideas: come my way), but I don’t rely on them and I don’t know of anyone who does.

Down here on my fat farm, things tend to bubble out of different patches of earth, crop up on different trees and bushes, appear among stuff that I was pretty sure were brush and weeds, and even sometimes jump out of the ashes of things that definitely were weeds that I thought I burned. Some of it goes nowhere; most of it goes nowhere. It loops around, sets out a sprout or tendril and dies. Others get grafted and cross-pollinated; some of it gets taken into the kitchen and boiled or beaten or blended together, and then thrown back in the fields. We grow a lot of different things from night soil on my fat farm.

4 Responses to “Weird Tales: Erik Amundsen on Where We Get Fat”

  1. JeffVanderMeer says:

    Thanks for a great post–and I loved “Bufo Rex”. Brilliant stuff.

  2. Divers Hands says:

    I always give the exact same answer to that question, and as far as I know it remains the only honest answer I have ever given to any question. So, where do I get my ideas from?

    I steal them.

    Some are stolen from dreams, some from the weird shit my subconcious regularly coughs up and into my forebrain (and I swear that someday I’m going to find the story that precedes Mickey Mouse telling a dead priest in that horrible squeak of his “Its like that German fellow said: God is dead.”), many and many are stolen from other people – usually precipitated by the thought “Hey, that was neat but I would have…”. In the end however, I steal them. And I’m not picky about from where. Ideas are bloody hard to come by.

  3. Val Ford says:

    Where do I get my ideas?

    Well, it depends. I read, almost voraciously, and I dream very vividly. Songs and scents trigger odd images in my head, and those can spark a story. I can be baking bread, for example, and have a scene flash into my head.

    And then there are the ideas that flow on a 6-hour car ride after a night of drinking…but I’m older now and those don’t happen quite as often… ;)

  4. Twelfth says:

    The only question I find more intimidating than this is “which X influenced you?”, because I have no damn idea. If I did, I wouldn’t be “influenced” by them, I think I’d be stealing from them directly. It a question which I think the inquirer is best qualified to answer.

    Also, thank you for twisting my brain just a little bit this morning. It took me a while to understand that the phrase “…given a presentation in your drawers” was meant literally and not as some kind of victorian euphemism. ON the other hand, that’s probably exactly what would happen to me if I had the dream you described prior to that.

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