In the weeks following SCOOTER NATION’s release, I have been blessed with very positive reader comments through social media and face to face meetings. A recent speaking engagement revealed that readers were not only ‘getting’ the dark humor, but that they wanted more of it. What could be more encouraging?
As a gonzo mortuary revenge piece, SCOOTER is many things. Characters play it straight for the camera even as the world around them disintegrates into chaos. Their narrative should not be trusted. With everyone cloying for a different result, protagonists and antagonists will say anything to get what they want. Lines blur as a result such that readers can’t always count on their heroes to be heroic especially when backed into a corner.
What if heroes are villains and altruism is priced? This is what SCOOTER NATION asks and what the characters almost without exception struggle to answer.
The closed world of a funeral director is rarely glimpsed owing to the strictures of confidentiality scrupulously maintained by industry professionals. In SCOOTER NATION, the second novel in A.B. Funkhauser’s Unapologetic Lives Series, confidentiality, or more keenly the silence naturalized by a desire to protect the privacy of others, leads to inflated misunderstandings underpinned by a culture of myth and lore. What follows are a chain of events both comic and chilling.
E X C E R P T
Krause looked like she was going to cry: “Don’t you knobs get it? We’ve been sold to the Flexor Group. I just know it.”
Carla stiffened. “What did you see? Who did you see?”
The death business was a small, closed community with few strangers. Everybody knew everyone else and their business too.
“I only saw their feet,” Enid replied. “Black shoes. Square toes.” Her face whitened. “Loafers!”
Scooter Creighton dropped his lighter. “Are you sure? No mistake?”
“No mistake. I was wearing my bifocals. There can only be one person behind this.”
The ancient intercom on the garage wall crackled to life. Jocasta Binns had found them: “Put the damned cigarettes out. Meeting starts NOW.”
Scooter Creighton nodded meaningfully at his companions. The rude bitch was clearly on a roll. Like most funeral homes that hadn’t caught up to the twenty-first century, Weibigand’s had a front door equipped with a tinny doorbell that sounded whenever the door swung open. More modern establishments employed greeters or hostesses that manned large semi-circular hotel-lobby like desks for a more personal touch. But Weibigand’s, experiencing a steady decline in business year over year, lacked funds to pay for such a person. So the bell, on duty since the 1930s, was the only way to know that someone had come in. It had not sounded.
“Jocasta turned the bell off!” Enid shouted. “Why the hell would she turn the bell off?”
There were only two possible explanations: Either some non-staffer had been assigned to stand watch at the door and had shut the bell off, or the doors were being locked and the bell wasn’t needed.
“My god,” Carla gasped, thinking of the square-toed, black leather shoes that, beyond any doubt, now stalked the hall above. Though there were many, only a single pair held any relevance.
Every profession had its own share of false gods and banal superstitions. Those, carried forth on a wave of feverish gossip backed by assertions that everything said was ‘true’, gave rise to fantastic mythologies that made a chosen few more significant than they actually were. Graeham Grissom of B.H. Hoage, for example, was the undisputed embalming god of their age while “Count Floyd” Aiken could ‘will’ new business into being with a stroke of a pen. That old age, arthritis, early-onset dementia and the public’s annoying preference for cremation over medieval embalming procedures decreased the field of competitors, and so guaranteed Graeham’s mantle in the first instance, had nothing to do with the stories spread: he made esoteric concoctions in the old Hoage basement that rendered his people ‘pliable’ ‘natural-like’ ‘soft to the touch’ and even ‘warmer’ without the slightest sign of decay, even after a fifty-four day hold. The same held for Count Floyd. No one could turn a prearranged funeral into an ‘at need’ simply by sending a get better card, yet Floyd’s people did die suddenly whenever he did, whether sick or not. That the deceased had crossed the century mark in every case had little to do with a great tale.
But there were other stories out there: stories not so benign and infinitely more sinister. Some, it was said, enriched themselves through the weak willed. These were the mendacious pocket-liners who evaded the law and curried favor with popular opinion regardless of talk.
These were the ones to watch…
The little group assembled in the Weibigand garage knew that fear and felt it now because it was right on top of their heads. Scooter Creighton, jaws clenched, ground the words out first, like a metal vise in need of oil: “It’s Clayton. He is in the building.”
Reviews for the novel Kalki Evian are coming in and with a new promotion in the works, Malay Upadhyay is certainly keeping busy. Malay has been to the blog before, so I feel especially glad that he was able to take some time with the questionnaire and visit us again. Ever thoughtful, Malay takes as a muse, Beauty ‘in toto,’ which suggests to me that it must be everywhere. Something to consider…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Malay A. Upadhyay grew up in the Eastern provinces of paradoxical India. It was a childhood of anomalies – a different spacetime, where he could not understand a friend’s passion for books on one hand even as he wrote for school elocution on the other. Recently back to contemporary Earth, he conceived many of the techno-economic ideas described in his book – Kalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea – at Bocconi University in Milano. His Blog of a Fly subscribes to the elusively effervescent, ephemeral connection among beings across space and time. That is after all, a belief that underlies every piece of literature ever written.
Every choice we make leads to its own unique consequence. To change the consequence, therefore, one must travel back in time to change the choice. But what if such change, instead of altering our future, simply created another – one that came to exist simultaneously with our world?
This is a story of how one such moment of love led to two parallel futures; a story of how your choices have an impact far beyond the world you know; a phenomenon that we had sensed, and wished for, all along. Set in Italy, while one timeline scales a city of the future where not just people but also things like money evolve, the other cradles itself in an amalgamation of contemporary Europe with ingredients of a new age. Step by step, the story embarks on a journey in a parallel world that we all live in but rarely see.
Because of the literary style, this is not a book to pick up and read during commercial breaks on television. At first, the words teased me. That’s how different the author’s approach is in this masterpiece. I wondered how long it takes to grasp a new concept. But what prompts us to judge anything? Perhaps it’s another way of thinking—subtleties emerging in and out of consciousness to give us understanding. Of course in a book, you can’t gather information by shape, sound, smell, or feeling, but words can create them in your mind.
Malay approaches deep subjects in a novel way. His glimpse of the future is so real and so logical that I almost believe it will happen. But, in this book, we can take nothing as it first appears.
The plot expands in a manner that is slow enough to allow comprehension, via an overview of events. You could imagine yourself holding a camera, diving in and out of each person’s mutterings to capture pictures displayed in your mind rather than on a screen. The plot is pleasantly thought-provoking, and questions the reality underlying all our concepts.
Throughout the story, you follow two sets of people in their own scenes. The main characters are wounded, perplexed people who must learn to trust, to adjust to living in different surroundings, and to change their way of thinking. Omnipresent point of view, written with panache and flair, allows you to understand the elusive interplay of every character’s reaction.
I came away from reading this book with a new awareness and a questioning mind.
—Francene Stanley, Author, STILL ROCK WATER and more
The grasses were longer than usual, partially discoloured and flowing flat. Fridgeon watched their restlessness as they waved in position with the flowing water that seemed to have drowned them eternally. The current was notably strong and she had never bothered to check where it came from. For, the canal had been artificially made centuries ago. It had served its purpose well, though the purpose itself had altered from time to time. There were two, to be precise, threading across the south-western parts of the city; straight lines meeting a couple of kilometres south of the centre of this radial city, carving out a piece angled approximately at thirty degrees from a largely circular piece of pie that Milano was.
Fridgeon stood on the right bank of one of these – the Naviglio Grande – a few metres away from where the two streams met. She remembered having taken numerous walks on the narrow streets that lined both banks. She could recall the knocking of her stilettos, like many others, on that charming pebble-draped surface of the road. The tiles, though, were now embossed with sensors that scanned the footfalls to immediately activate messages or projections of a particular shop every time a person crossed its perimeters. That was the order of this new world – one that bore shiny new elements embedded in structures that continued to fashion traditional exteriors.
Cars were not allowed and it bode well for the walkers as well as the chain of restaurants that set up their tables outside for multiple rounds of apertif – a kind of buffet – that the Milanese fancied in summer evenings. She remembered having spent hours popping in the dozen varieties of those little savouries, baked or fried and topped in familiar ways, while she held on to the thin stem of a conical glass graced with il vino that regularly moistened her lips as she idly chatted with Jelzan, feeling every wisp of the gentle cool breeze at play. He loved the apertif, she thought and remembered how she had craved it herself. Why wouldn’t she? It was her outlet from the confines of a home that had come to comprise her world for most part. Jelzan had never been one to socialize much but his reservations ever since they had moved to the city had particularly dwelt upon. Nonetheless, he usually managed to balance the lack of comforting family friends. So prey to her own naivety, amidst her forgetfulness and a generally unassuming line of thought in the little period of her residence in Milano, it never occurred to her to question his state of affairs.
She looked at the stretch ahead. It was early morning and the sun had swathed the pavements and the water alike. The tables had been stacked inside the shops and the street was largely empty except for a few tourists. She looked at the opposite bank. A thin stream of water – barely a foot wide – flowed into an alleyway like a distributary of the canal itself. It was housed under a slanting red-tiled roof supported on bamboo sticks with several large slabs of stone placed slanting along its left bank. The place had been used for laundry once but now served purely for aesthetic purposes. The canal itself had been aimed to allow trade of goods to and from the city but now lay idle, tasked with reminding one of the richness of local heritage.
Her slender arms looked quite out of place on the metal fencing. The arms converged to fingers that gripped each other with an unusual firmness. She was staring at the long underwater plants that had been allowed to grow, then bent almost entirely so as to minimize their overall reach above the soil and as if that was not enough, submerged in flowing water that would not offer a moment of respite. That was, until winter came when the water would be drained and the plants left to shiver and freeze. Fridgeon felt amazed at this thought – she had never considered the Navigli as anything short of beautiful. Suddenly she found herself too aware of the ironies at play.
The canal had changed functions, which itself was an unimaginable eventuality for those who must have toiled for months and years to build it. Those workers had had a singular objective in mind, one they had consented to, found a valid reason in and had clung their hopes with. Little could they have known as to what becomes of their efforts long after they were dead. That, in a nutshell, seemed to be the truth with every human invention. Objects evolved and changed, either in structure or in functionality. “Things in this world often take a turn you never expected them to, even long after you are gone,” she mumbled. The words had unsettled her further. She stood uneasy and straight, looking no longer at the water but keenly into the distance. Is this what is at stake now? She wondered as she stepped back and took a deep breath under tightened jaw muscles over her slightly raised chin. There was no time to waste.
What are your thoughts on muses and do you have one?
Muses are a natural catalyst of the human condition. As long as you feel something about anything, you are bound to discover one that influences you more than others. I think if one can find a muse in one’s very existence, that’d be the pinnacle of free thought and unrestrained artistry.
But this is not an ideal world and so, yes, I do have a muse – beauty. It lies in my memory, as the sound of a moan, the sight of drooping eyes, the pain of facing an inevitable farewell, the quiet touch of a smile you are left with. And the idea that it was all surreal, omnipresent and evidence of an astounding world that has been playing itself out without our knowledge. The muse. A muse that makes the few decades I have seem too short for answers. Characters have a great capacity to love, yet they’re starved. Why do you think this happens in fiction and in real life?
Everyone is capable of loving. But those who have a capacity to share it, to express it, will always find themselves starved. How can a glass pouring its wine into another complain that it is not receiving enough simultaneously? In the physical universe we occupy, it is not possible. The question then is whether it gets its wine due when it stands still. The answer is a matter of expectations. For, any glass that has truly enjoyed pouring itself out for another, truly revelled in the satisfaction of watching the other glass fill up with wine/love, will never feel the same enjoyment receiving it in return. Isn’t that the very law of nature? There are donors and there are recipients. If one truly wishes to experience love, one needs to understand just how it is expressed by these two polar opposites. Not everyone can love in the same way. But everyone can love.
Fiction is made of two elements – what we experience in real life, and what we miss out on. Either way, it is made of our feelings, our beliefs. And that is why the principles which govern us in reality end up being reflected in our stories. Like they say, the big problem with disguises is that however hard we try, it is always our self-portrait.
Without giving spoilers, would you say you’re a “happy ending” writer?
Yes. Absolutely. It does not apply to individual chapters or parts, but to the overall story. If an end is not happy, it is not the end.
What would you like to be remembered for?
For making people believe they can set examples of their own.
If you could dine with any historical figure living or dead, who would it be and why?
Tolkein. I’d like to understand what made him create an alternate world.
Hitler. I’d like to understand what fuelled his passion.
Ashoka. I’d like to understand what secret he saw that changed his perception of this world.
Buddha. I’d like to understand how leaving his wife and kids for enlightenment was the right thing to do.
Past, present or future? Where does your mind dwell?
All three. I do not believe in forgetting one’s past, for that is where the lessons are. And to cherish one’s memories – with their mistakes, pain and achievements – is to respect one’s own being. Dwelling on future is inevitable because that is where the incentives to go on are. But it remains my genuine attempt – and objective – to prioritize the present.
What informs your writing most?
Curiosity, speculation, the internet.
Growing up in the Seventies, school kids were encouraged to think globally and act locally. Have you ever flirted with this philosophy?
I must have, in my previous life, which is where I probably was in the seventies!
Guilty pleasures: we all have them. What is yours?
I wonder if this question is ever answered with complete honesty! I’d say it is to escape on a me-time with some movie and food, every once in a while.
Your greatest victory?
I’d prefer to save this one for later. These are things I have achieved because I decided to rely on an approach whose efficacy we only always speculate on – one was based on having faith, pure and almost senseless; the other was a chain of Sherlock-ish deductions. And both were in extremely high risk situations.
Tell us about the one that got away. Person, place or thing.
Europe. The great artistry of our time. I made a choice and that was its price.
What are some of the overriding themes in your work? Do you have a favorite?
Human thought is at play in most of what I write. So the script tends to become very analytical. And because I have never preferred anything to be straightforward, some amount of brainwork is always required.
Who do you admire and why?
Grandpa, dad, mom, uncle, friends, certain people in history, a fly… That is the problem when you venture out to find greatness in everything.
Are writers fully formed works of art or works in progress?
Everyone, everything is a work in progress. That is the very idea of evolution – always happening, at varying speeds and forms. It is the central tenet of my book ‘Kalki Evian – The Ring of Khaoriphea’, where not just people and societies but also things like money evolves. So how can a writer be any different?
THANKS MALAY. SEE YOU ON THE PATH…
TOMORROW: AUTHOR TONY RUDZSKI CONFRONTS THE QUESTIONS AND LINKS US UP TO THE UNDEAD
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