Debate, Roleplaying, Neo-Psychophysics, and Writing
by Donald J. Bingle
So, how did I get here?
More precisely, how did my story, "Artists Only," end up on Carnival and what is a mild-mannered corporate and securities attorney doing writing short stories and screenplays? Sure, I was a Thespian in high school, but so were plenty of people, and even though they hung out with the theater crowd way back when, they gravitated into rather ordinary, non-creative lives once they grew up. Its hard to say. It may have been the kazoos.
You see, when I was in high school, a friend and I created the Greater Naperville Area Magumba Marching All Kazoo Klan Band. It caught on with our friends and soon we were marching in parades, electing a Kazoo Queen, and doing the Stars and Stripes Forever in four-part harmony. Like many silly things, it probably would have ended in high school if it wasnt for the poster I saw at Student Activities Night during Orientation week at The University of Chicago.
Wanted: Keeper for the Worlds Largest Kazoo.
Back when U of C was in the Big Ten, they had the Worlds Largest Drum, Big Bertha. But then, the University President, William Rainey Harper, declared football antithetical to everything a university stood for (this is the man quoted as saying Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I lie down until it passes.) and dropped out of organized college football. The University of Texas acquired the drum and, last I heard, was still using it.
Well, in the late sixties, U of C started playing football again, so some students from the Students for Violent Non-Action (Im not making this up!) went down to Texas and stole the drum to drive it onto the field at the first game (not at half-time, just when they happened to arrive being pursued by the cops). Since they had to return the drum to Texas, they decided that they had to have the worlds largest something, and so they created the Worlds Largest Kazoo and named it Big Ed, after then-University President Ed Levi, who would later become United States Attorney General. They built a giant kazoo, handed out specially-made fezzes at games, and cavorted about, playing Ode to Joy whenever the team got a first down, which wasnt very often (the team scored 14 points my sophomore year). Anyhow, I entered the scene several years later, when the instigators of Big Ed had graduated and, indeed, the Student Activities office was looking for a new Keeper.
They were a bit nonplussed when I asked to apply for the job, scrambling to find a University employment form in which I dutifully recorded the highlights of my past kazoo experience. I got the (non-paying) job. Im not sure anyone else really wanted it. A few weeks later, my picture appeared in Sports Illustrated leading the U of C Kazoo Band Fez Faction at halftime at some poorly-attended game. (I would have scanned in the picture for this CD, but it would probably have violated somebodys copyright and an author has got to respect those.) Apparently high school craziness would continue in college.
Silliness did not, however, remain confined to football games. Having been in forensics in high school, I sought out the debate team. They immediately put me to work carrying a sandwich-board around campus advertising a public debate. The topic: Justice may be blind, but she hasnt lost her sense of taste. Far from the boring rapid-patter index card reading of the usual national-topic debate (you know, the kind where you debate all year whether the federal government should provide a comprehensive program for this or that), U of C was on the parliamentary debate circuit. In this kind of debate, the topic changes every round, you have (depending on the tournament) somewhere between 30 seconds and 30 minutes from the time you get the topic to begin speaking, and the Affirmative team is known as the Government and may place the debate anywhere and anytime they want in some parliamentary body: Congress, the College of Cardinals, or whatever. The topics were varied and, frankly, weird and subject to a lot of interpretation. Best of all, heckling was allowed, just like in Canadian and British Parliament.
I tended to specialize in really off-the-wall interpretations of topics and delighted in setting the debate so as to disadvantage my opponents. Things like setting the debate in German parliament between the wars, with our team being the moderates and identifying the Negative Team (known as the Opposition) as the Nazis or somesuch. It was, in essence, roleplaying debate. I enjoyed it, was reasonably good at it, and later coached it while I was in law school. As coach I somehow managed to snag a trophy as an audience member at a tournament at the University of Illinois for a barrage of heckles during a final round.
Of course, I thought the silliness would end once I took my bar exam. Law firms are pretty stuffy places. That was when my much younger brother introduced me to roleplaying games, you know, like Dungeons and Dragons. Over the next twenty-five years (wow!) I played dwarves, elves, kender, paranoid clones, Ewoks, Wookies, princesses, thieves, archeologists, wizards, adventurers, animals, lycanthropes, and even a bug and a sword, mostly in RPGA sanctioned tournaments, becoming the top-ranked player of classic tournaments.
That led to writing tournaments for the Dungeons & Dragons, Paranoia, Chill, Timemaster, Bond, Dream Park, and Battle Cattle game systems. That got me into writing product for publication for many of the same systems. I also bought the rights to the Timemaster roleplaying game system (you can still buy a copy of the game at www.orphyte.com) and did a number of things for it, including inventing a fake science, neo-psychophysics, to explain the natural time-travel capability of the Demorean race.
In the meantime, I had headed off to become General Counsel of Boston Chicken (during its successful period). My highly tolerant employer (I negotiated getting GenCon off every year before I accepted the job) delighted in my extra-curricular writing and encouraged me further by letting me write skits for the annual holiday party and emcee things like franchise development award presentations and Chili cook-offs with top ten lists and other stuff.
So, when I left that job, I jumped into writing in a bigger way: movie reviews for Knights of the Dinner Table (you can find those and others at www.orphyte.com/donaldjbingle, a screenplay (For Queen and Queenie, last seen leaving Jim Carreys agents office with a recommendation to Jim Carreys manager), and a short story that actually grew out of the whole neopsychophysics thing and was a meld of science fiction and theology. With a few changes and a lot of placing assistance from Jean Rabe, it became my first published short story, Elemental Conversation.
Others followed, including a Dragonlance story (kender + glaciers + a fear of hypothermia) and even a novella (yet to actually come out, but sold all the same). You can see my full writing resume at www.orphyte.com/donaldjbingle. I even did a treatment for a science fiction/psychologically-oriented television series and, yes, managed to work in neo-psychophysics.
Elemental Conversation was really the last time I did a short story on spec (i.e., without a request for a story on a given topic). Instead, I have found a way to revisit the old days of parliamentary debate. If you tell me you need a civil war story or a cat mystery or a celebrity ghost story, I sit down and write one, using the same technique we used for parliamentary debate find an odd twist on the topic and go from there.
That brings us to this Carnival, for which Jean told me she needed a spooky story about a macabre carnival. I didnt want to do anything about clowns or carnies or the midway games or ridesI figured everybody else would be doing that. So I tried to think about something about carnivals that nobody tended to write about. The one thing that I could think of that carnivals had in abundance that was pretty much ignored was canvas, lots and lots of canvas. From there, it was a simple move to thinking up something spooky about canvas and a main character that would care about that aspect of canvas.
Stealing from my own history, I started out the story with that character painting a cigar box a cigar box much like the one I painted as a kid and, believe it or not, sits to this day on my bookcase. The picture you see with this CD is actually a scan of my own cigar box (making me a published artist now, I guess).
Since my story was submitted to Carnival, I finished my second screenplay, Extreme Global Warming. You can find out more about it at www.extremeglobalwarming.com or www.greensword.org. And if you just happen to know a famous Hollywood producer or agent or just somebody with a whole lot of money who has a soft spot for authors who play kazoos, debate parliamentary style, create fake sciences, or play roleplaying games, feel free to pass the website on to them. They might want to make the movie.
Hey, stranger things have happened.