It is my pleasure to have Peter tell you about the Flotsam trilogy: Exile, Frost, and Crusade. It's still one of my favorite works by him.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO NOSTALGIA AND COLLECTIVE PERCEPTION
I started writing Flotsam because all my friends were watching Supernatural and raving about the show. In reality they probably raved about all sorts of things, but the bowerbird like brain only remembers the bits that make for a good story, and in this instance this came down to three details:
- the decidedly late eighties/early nineties influences in the soundtrack
- two brothers driving around in a black chevy Impala, fighting evil
I still haven’t gotten around to seeing Supernatural, which will probably cause some friends to break into my house and force me to watch the entire series, but that combination did get me thinking about what an Australian version of supernatural would look like. In the aussie version of that, I figured, it would be a guy driving around in a ute with a dog in the back.
And in that idea, Flotsam was born. The ute and the dog never made it into the book, but the music sure did. The day before I started writing, I went down to my local music store and picked-up their complete supply of Guns N’Roses albums. Appetite for Destruction. Use Your Illusion I & II. G’N’R Lies. Songs I hadn’t listened to since I was fourteen years old and just starting to figure out how much I disliked living on the Gold Coast.
I spent a good hour listening to Paradise City on repeat, which had become a very different song in the twenty-five years since I’d first heard it on the radio. It surprised me how nostalgic the song had become, how much it was laced into my memories as the song that understood the ironies of living in a place most people go to for a holiday.
But the nostalgia was the easy part. The city was where it got tricky.
THE ACCUMULATION OF NAMELESS ENERGIES
One of my favourite scenes in Don Delillo’s White Noise takes place where Jack and Murray visit THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. Murray settles in and comments on the inherent irony of tourism and collective perception.
“No-one sees the barn,” he says. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”
There are few things that have resonated with me quite so much, in fiction.
Given time, any place, any city, will begin to accrete stories. Eventually those stories harden into a specific narrative, a thing that overlays the experience of being there. There are stories that feel like they’re are built to exist in Los Angeles or new York, stories that are naturally set in Paris or Berlin. Go to those places, and you’re consuming the stories as much as the city.
The Gold Coast doesn’t fuck around. Its narrative is built on tourism. The quick trip in for a few days at the beach and local theme parks. Schoolies week, where flocks of recently graduated high-schoolers hit the tourist spots and party. Family trips to Coolangatta, away from the crowds.
It’s easy for tourists to lose sight of a place, simply because their repeating the experiences of those who came before them. But it also makes the Gold Coast a weird place to grow up, because that narrative is so strong, so central to the city’s existence, that it makes living there outright weird.
I had friends who drove cabs on the Gold Coast, and passengers would routinely ask where they were from. The idea that someone resided there permanently - a resident of a city a population of over a half-million people - was deeply unfathomable to the tourists.
BEING HERE IS A KIND OF SPIRITUAL SURRENDER
Another quote from White Noise, which I kept my computer as I wrote.
California deserves whatever it gets. California invented the concept of lifestyle. This alone warrants their doom.
If Australia has a place that sits in the national psyche like California does in America, its Queensland. And if there’s a bit of Queensland most Australians wouldn’t miss, should it slide into the sea to kick off an apocalypse, it’s the Gold Coast.
The accumulated stories about the Gold Coast are all about anonymity and waiting for something bad to happen. For a city people love to visit, the fiction surrounding it universally touched by darkness and loathing.
I went into Flotsam intending to give the city everything it deserved, but the surprise of writing Flotsam was discovering exactly how much the Gold Coast meant to me.
Guns N’ Roses did that, way back at the beginning, bringing back all the memories of nights spent wandering the beaches when no-one else was around, or laying claim to little bits of the Coast for art when it wasn’t a particularly art-friendly city.
I’d intended to focus on the mutability of the Gold Coast with the story, but I kept finding islands in the chaos. Little bits of reliability that served as touchstones for me, when I lived there, and bits of the story.
It’s still a deeply weird city, custom built for horror and urban fantasy stories where things tend to lurk behind the shifting population, doing bad things to humanity. But, much like Keith Murphy, there’s a party of me that is never really going to leave.
Peter M. Ball is a writer from Brisbane, Australia. His most recent book is Crusade, the third novella in the Flostam series about Ragnarök and the Gold Coast, and his short stories have appeared in publications such as Apex Magazine, Eclipse 4, and Daily Science Fiction. He can be found online at petermball.com and on twitter @petermball.