Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Curse of Sally Tincakes—Brad R. Torgersen

"The Curse of Sally Tincakes" began life as a workshop story in the-curse-of-sally-tincakesLincoln City, Oregon. It is the fraternal twin of my Nebula and Hugo award nominated cover story, Ray of Light, which appeared in the December 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction & Fact.

For Tincakes, our assignment was to write a story about curses.  That was it. Just, curses. Well, I knew going in that the bulk of my compatriots were going to hit it from a fantasy angle: sorcery, witchcraft, occult, voodoo, et cetera. Me being me, I immediately thought -- not of demonic or mystical curses -- but of sports curses. The Curse of the Bambino, The Curse of the Black Socks, The Curse of Muldoon, et cetera. I also wanted to write a story that would be sufficiently science-fictional to sell to the editors who were familiar with and had enjoyed my previous work.

So, my thoughts turned to racing.

Now, the idea of the futuristic or "space race" is a recurrent concept in SF -- the pod racing sequence from the first of the three Star Wars the-curse-of-sally-tincakesprequels being a notable high-profile example. Contests of speed are as old as human civilization, so it stands to reason that we'll still be having them long after we've become a truly interplanetary people.

And as long as we have races, I suspect we will have racing curses too.

The story itself grew from this assumption.

To tell it classically, I knew I needed a young, somewhat brash protagonist, and an older, grizzled veteran to act as both mentor and foil. I also needed to come up with the curse itself. Racing, like boxing, has a history of parading beautiful women in swimsuits for the delight of the (assumed, mostly male) crowds. I decided to make my story about a curse imposed by a bikini girl done wrong -- which seemed to dictate that my protagonist would also need to be a woman, because when women take on other women it can be a practically evil thing to behold.

Of course, Jane Jeffords doesn't believe in the curse. Why would she? She's a child of her (future) era. Curses? Hah! What a load of crap.

Thus the story unfolded.

The workshop's reaction was generally positive. Dean Wesley Smith in particular seemed to like it. "This is NASCAR on the moon!" he exclaimed. Send it out, he said. Right away.

I did not expect it to get the cover spot in the 28th issue of Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Nor did I expect it to the-curse-of-sally-tincakesgarner such a fantastic piece of artwork. The digital painting by Nick Greenwood is like a photograph from my own mind; he captured the signature image of Jane -- riding her Falcon – that perfectly. It's truly one of the great pleasures (of being a writer) being able to see my words translated through the creative lens of talented illustrators. Nick's piece in particular really knocked my socks off. Is he telepathic? I wonder.

On a deeper level, "The Curse of Sally Tincakes" deals with rejection and loss, as well as the will to persevere: despite the odds, despite setbacks, despite people telling you to quit when what your heart wants is to go all the way. I've said it before in other spaces that I am not a fan of downer stories, trendy and "realistic" as they may be. And while Tincakes doesn't have a Hollywood ending per se, I like to think the message is clear: the real difference between winning and losing, is having the courage to never give up.

Of course, I have to thank editors Scott Roberts and Edmund Schubert for their enthusiasm and insight. It's often said by professionals that no story is perfect, just finished. Or is it that no story is finished, simply abandoned?  Ed's comments were thus: something's dangling there at the end, we need more 'oomph' to make this thing matter.  Redressing the details leading up to the ending, I went in a direction Ed didn't expect. And with a little banging and cutting, it came out rather good. Good enough, anyway, for IGMS standards. Which is plenty good enough for me!the-curse-of-sally-tincakes

It's been terrific fun seeing my story headlining IGMS for the last couple of months. And I will treasure the Nick Greenwood artwork forever, as a stupendous realization of my character Jane Jeffords at the height of her personal drama: fists gripping the control bars, calves and legs clamped to the sides of the Falcon, the rear engines slewing dramatically as Jane's competitors jockey in the distance. And of course, Sally herself overseeing it all, her Hollywood grin belying a sinister intent. Marvelous. Simply marvelous. Thank you Nick, thank you Scott, thank you Edmund.

--Brad R. Torgersen

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