A Writing Biography, Part I: First Efforts in The Gore Book
I wrote my first stories in July 1960 in Fair Haven, New Jersey, around the time of my second operation for a head injury in a car accident earlier that year. I was seven years old.
My friend Sabin Russell and I began collecting our new science fiction stories into a loose pile of paper which grew to be about an inch high, unbound, never placed in a box or folder. These sheets came to be called The Gore Book. The paper was probably blank, not lined, because the front side of each page was a landscape-mode illustration, the back side the actual story, written again sideways or “landscape,” and if the paper were lined, the handwriting would have been perpendicular to it. The stories were usually just one page, though some went to three, and involved monsters, aliens, spaceships, and, of course, “gore.” I believe my first story, which may have been the first story in the resultant Gore Book, was about a jet pilot whose oxygen mask came off. [The accompanying illustration is similar, though it dates from a couple years later.]
We thought of “gore” not as blood but more as background violent civilian deaths, necessary to our plots, like the hordes of extras buying the farm in the Grade B 1950’s science fiction movies we were nurtured on, including The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The Giant Behemoth.
So why was I too scared to finish watching The Giant Behemoth? (At least I think that was the movie in question.) Sabin and I had declared we’d both watch it on TV that evening, he at his house, me at mine, alone in the downstairs recreation room with my parents out for the evening. But I got freaked out during the first scene and turned it off. Later I felt ashamed of myself for failing to see the movie through, as if I’d somehow failed our Gore Enterprise. Despite my mortification I’m sure I told Sabin I didn’t finish it. It would have been impossible to fake my way through any subsequent analysis of the film, as I vividly recall us doing with Journey to the Center of the Earth. But I can’t recall his reaction.
Our collaboration was the birth of MSSR, though I don’t think we called it that just yet. Of course MSSR was a subversive tweak of the USSR, the Ultimate Enemy we were brought up to fear.
The Gore Book grew steadily. We each contributed half of the stories and drawings, but each of us created his own work; we never collaborated on a story. I don’t recall any strict order to the finished products. Probably our first stories were at the beginning, but I think after that new items were filed in no apparent order. There is something about the end of the book that still gnaws at me. But I can’t remember what it was.
I recall both of us being fascinated and horrified by the Mars Attacks trading cards, but these came after The Gore Book’s demise and were not an influence. I could be wrong, but it seems as if Mars Attacks helped spur the second set of my writings, The Blue Notebook, of which more later.
We kept the loose pile of The Gore Book at my house, adding to it for the better part of a year, I think to the spring or summer of 1961. I’m assuming it had some sort of title page like “The Gore Book,” because how else would my mother so readily have gotten wind of its unholiness?
Two warm sunny days finished it off.
In the recreation room one bright morning, the same room where I’d wilted before the opening scenes of The Giant Behemoth, the same room where I’d read the Classics Illustrated versions of The War of the Worlds and From the Earth to the Moon while crunching rock candy on carefree afternoons after school, my mother informed me that she’d found our Gore Book and, worried about our sanity, had thrown it away. I was chagrined but found I could accept this outcome, figuring that she was probably right about the dark directions our stories were taking, and I passed the news to Sabin, who also accepted this verdict.
But some time later—a few days, a few weeks, time enough for us or have put the book out of mind—we chanced upon it in the garage, again on a summery day. It had been placed in my sister’s doll baby carriage, an inch of loose paper, our Gore Book, still in existence. To this day I’m touched by the fact that my mother really could not bear to destroy our writing.
But Sabin and I looked at each other and decided to throw away the manuscript on the spot. Remorse? True worry about the state of our kid souls? Some existential recognition that the manuscript simply no longer belonged on the planet? In any case The Gore Book immediately found its way into the Valhalla of erased literary works.
Yet throughout The Blue Notebook series of stories I wrote later, most of them 1962-63 after the move to Maryland, I persisted in using the word “Gore” as a description of what I was writing. Many of my science fiction stories were in fact simply titled “Gore.” The companion black notebook of drawings contemporary with The Blue Notebook is also just called “Gore.” Sabin even came up with the concept of “Comedy Gore,” and we continued to exchange “Gore” and “Comedy Gore” via letters for years as MSSR lived on beyond The Gore Book.
Copyright 2014 by Michael D. Smith
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