Monday, 25 June 2012


Americans were in touch. They knew of me. I was behind the wall. My Iron Curtain. I had intelligence product. They wanted me to share. A tentative overture was made. The agent in question trailed a coat in my path and I picked up the bait.
   What’s this? An offer of help. Go over to the other side. Share the goods. Increase knowledge and understanding. Make the world a better place. All good points. Too good to be true? The offer was persuasive. You know how it is. They try to be subtle about the friendly warning.
   I retreated. Had anyone noted this exchange? They’d opened files on me, in the States. So there was no going back to the way things were before. I’d been tested on multiple fronts. They’d been lying in wait for me, all along.
   It’s different behind the Iron Curtain. Oh, those Americans can operate here. With an iron fist, maintaining control of the product. But that’s not how they operate in the Land of the Free. They share the product. Evaluate. Run it through the committee.
   Alien, to me. And yet…
   Freedom to write draws me. Have I been a prisoner of my own writing? Fighting my own personal COLD WAR? I’m walking along beside the high wall, on my side of the divide. There’s a checkpoint coming up. I have a rendezvous to keep. More contact. The Americans made overtures.
   They want me to see things their way. Infiltrate a group. Objective. Generate intelligence product and share it with the Yanks. Everyone wins. Even me. They know that’s not how I operate. So who do they send, over to my side of the wall, to convince me?
   She’s a cool uncustomer. On this assignment, she goes by the name Eastwick. They chose her because she’s worked on my side of the divide. She’s written and put out material without letting anyone else see it first. That’s given her a taste for how I’ve operated all these years.
   Hard to break free of that, after so long. Now the Americans want me to defect. Join a group for writers. Write fiction, by committee. Collaboratively. With fellow scribblers chipping in and offering their opinions.
   Yes, they want to see my intelligence product and evaluate it before it is passed up the line for general consumption. The Americans want me on the team. They want me to defect. Sacrifice everything I believe in. My one-man awkward-squad viewpoint, my lone writer status, my reclusivity, exclusivity. They’d be pleased if I came in from the cold.
   Eastwick spells it out. I can cross over, and go into the warm. Rejoin the human race. Commit to a new ideology. It’ll be best, for all concerned. Most especially for me. She wants to help me. Is that asking too much?
   Our brief chat in the shadows carries with me all the way back to base. Her offer is genuine. She finds it hard to fathom, this stark idea. I don’t care if you like my work. Just as I don’t care if you don’t like my work. That’s why I don’t submit my work to a group of writers. Critique group is an alien phrase, to me.
   I’ve had time to think it over. The concept haunts my dreams, and I wake in a cold sweat in some bare cell that will see better days. Though not today. The Americans hold out the prospect of a new form of freedom. Would I be foolish to pass it up?
   Eastwick meets me again. This time, I make an excuse and cross over to her side of the wall. We can move more freely there. I can express ideas that wouldn’t go down well back where I came from. She offered help. I said I’d look into it.
   My plans ballooned. I built up files on people. Groups. Places I could infiltrate. This even started to affect my business-plans. I could see several different ways of tackling the project. But I needed more information. So I asked Eastwick for help.
   She went into her own files and gave up intelligence product. Careful, Eastwick, that’s how the treacherous double-game is played. The operator on the far side of the divide makes reassuring noises and walks off with your silverware.
   We aren’t playing that game. She hits me in the stomach with a knee-strike. The information in her files matches mine. There’s an incident from her past that chimes with an operation in my files. A long-buried grenade detonates. My business-plans change all over again.
   I’m called away. The meeting is inconclusive. She’s expecting an answer, or a statement. With a keen mind running over the details, it’s likely that Eastwick thinks I’ll back out of the deal. I was just testing the water all along. That sort of manoeuvre.
   Now I’m back. And I’m walking along the wall, to the rendezvous. That checkpoint’s coming up. I haven’t decided either way. And that is no news worth turning up for. Eastwick will shrug and leave it in my hands. That doesn’t happen.
   I’m sandbagged from just outwith my peripheral vision. There’s a vague image of Eastwick, on the far side of the checkpoint. So it can’t be her doing. Oh. It’s her accomplice. Vanderkarr. She comes along playing spy games of her own.
   That brunette look flummoxed me. She was blonde when we first met. Cheap trick. The trenchcoat was the giveaway. Too late, now. Vanderkarr trots out a rough game, reading off her script, playing the good cop.
   They know I’m here, discussing defection. So things could get quite sticky for me. What if it became known that the Yanks made overtures? Cover blown, options crushed, breathing-space folded away for the duration.
   Vanderkarr comes in out of the blue and puts the assignment to me. She wants to set up a cell inside another network. Share intelligence. Collaborate with multiple agencies. This is a step away from the critique group. Something else entirely.
   I catch sight of Eastwick climbing into a so-called taxi. Her people are driving it. She flashes her Jane Doe identity papers and heads back to the States on her Missy Biozarre passport. The critique group was bait I’d never take. Vanderkarr offers the softer target. She makes it sound as though I have no option.
   The maddening thing is, she’s right. Vanderkarr plays things tight. She’s trying to persuade Eastwick to dive in and participate in this too. Eastwick’s position is exposed. Too many angles. She has a passion for starting to write a short story that automatically qualifies as a novel. Writing a short chapter might not be enough to satisfy her craving for words. Vanderkarr is in. She’s trying to show that her fear of writing is gone. I’ll be writing for committee. Not how I operate. We could all be dragged down flaming.
   Vanderkarr crashes my party. Helps me up after sandbagging me. Here’s the thing. I’d already offered the Americans a deal not far-removed from the mission Vanderkarr was proposing. I would set aside my dislike of collaboration, and make room for the Americans in a Kindle book. (Clanjamfrie.) A chapter each.
   I’d tie these 10,000-word short stories together as if by magic, and put a free Kindle book out on all contributing blogs. There were no takers. These agents were too busy. I altered my plans. However, I’d exposed a vulnerability in my one-man viewpoint.
   Now Vanderkarr took advantage. She proposed a watered-down version. Lower word-count. Operating to a deadline. How could I resist? The assignment conformed to my views. Write your story. Edit your story. Publish your story. Just do it.
   Except, Vanderkarr stressed a random collaborative element to the mission. She called it BLOGVEL. A Hungarian soup-dish, as I recall. BLOG NOVEL. I switch to COLD WAR thinking, and call it NOVBLOG.
   The originator of the novel kicks off with chapter one, then links to the next chapter’s author on another blog. That chapter follows a week later. The list of contributors is known before the process begins, and chapters are assigned according to preference…
   Do you want to write near the beginning of the story, or do you delight in the notion that you are following on after many chapters? Painting the last few sections of the floor. Unless there’s a strong demand for a different method of finishing, the original author handles the last chapter.
   Vanderkarr tells me I NEED to do this. After my offer to her, it’s hard to knock this one into the stony ground with a bloody shovel. I think it over for a few seconds. Well, it’s not a critique group. I temporarily reject Eastwick’s standpoint. Take a step at a time. Vanderkarr’s option is softer. Easier to like. The stars are fading from the circles running around my sandbagged head.
   “Okay Coach, I’m in.”
   We leave it at that. I have to return to my side of the world. There’s a name, in a file. A rendezvous. And a timeline. My contact is Michelle Simkins. She’ll kick off the intelligence assignment. Somewhere down the line, Vanderkarr will pitch in. I’ll be there, carrying the can a short distance to the next author in line. We’re trying to keep the barn from collapsing by getting water to the scene in time. This isn’t a critique group. It’s a novel, written by many participants. Eastwick might put in an appearance. Or, fogbound, she’ll miss the rendezvous. You know how these gigs go.
   I’ll be writing by committee. Defecting. My COLD WAR is thawing. I’m reluctant to kill my blog. What will this experiment in intelligence gathering and sharing lead to? Find out next week, when I write a chapter in response to whatever someone else came up with this week.
   Self-publishing is a mad science experiment in writing. Sometimes, things seem a step too far for me. Eastwick helped me take a step nearer a step too far. There, I stopped and pondered. Vanderkarr swung me around in another direction.
   Will the barn hold up, when the last bucket of water is thrown on the fire? That’s down to Michelle Simkins and her chain of assistants. Of which I am now one. Write to a deadline. With a feel for a story. Maintaining consistency. Paying tribute to what went before. Carrying that can a little further.
   Write your story. Edit your story. Publish your story. That much hasn’t changed.
   What of the future? Will I return to my side of the divide? Siberian exile? Gather as much intelligence as possible on all these Americans, and then sneak back over the wall to my fortress there? That’s one option. Depends on whether the barn falls…


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