Hey. Want to see a video? David D. Levine has brought us something that I think you’ll like. Now, I have a soft spot for David, so I’m not at all impartial. He and I were in a writing group back in Portland and I think he’s a darn fine short story writer. He’s also a really good reader. This video is a combination of those two skill sets.
So watch “Letter to the Editor” and then let David tell you about his Favorite Bit.
DAVID D. LEVINE
I think my favorite bit of the “Letter to the Editor” video is The Claw.
This video is basically just me doing a dramatic reading of a story I wrote for John Joseph Adams’s forthcoming anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination. The first draft of this story was about a famous comic book mad scientist — one who is famous for implicating his superhero adversary for the loss of his hair. I never named the scientist or his rival, but the editor said that was still too close to a copyright violation and I had to change the story to be about a character of my own creation. This change made the story much better in a lot of ways, but I had to come up with a new character name and origin story. In the end, the two questions answered each other: it was his hand, not his hair, that he had lost, and the cruel nickname with which the media had saddled him was Dr. Talon.
The revised story was accepted, and as the release date drew near I had the opportunity to read the story at a convention panel about the anthology. The reading was phenomenally well received, so much so that I read it again at the same convention, and again at another convention shortly thereafter. The crowd reaction was so fabulous, and the nature of the story was such, that I decided it would be a great idea to make it into a video. But I had one major production problem: what kind of prop could I come up with for Dr. Talon’s prosthetic claw? It had to suit the name, it had to look good, and most of all it had to be cheap.
As I began my search for a prop, I knew exactly what I was looking for: a toy called “Awesome Arm” (http://www.tk409.com/images/arm/6.jpg) which I had wanted when it had first come out but had never bought. But when I looked around, I found that, although there were a lot of other people with fond memories of this toy, the few who had them were not letting go of them. There were none to be found on Ebay or any of the other auction sites.
So I sent a query to a few costumer friends of my acquaintance: do you have, or can you build, some kind of mechanical hand prop? This turned up a few suggestions, but nothing completely satisfactory, and I began to think about using a rubber glove with bits of aluminum foil glued to it. But my friend Julie Zetterberg Sardo passed my query along to her friend Carol Ann Zebold, and Carol wrote to me saying that she had a mechanical hand prop that might suit my needs.
It was the Awesome Arm itself! And she offered it to me for a comparative pittance (in fact, she insisted on selling it to me for less than I first offered).
The actual prop, when it arrived, turned out to be as good as as I’d hoped. It was a right hand, as specified in the story (in fact, no left-handed Awesome Arm was ever manufactured), and it was lightweight, fully articulated, and quite scary-looking. All I needed to do was sew a sleeve extension to cover my real hand and it was perfect for my purposes. It provided a great, character-specific means of expression in the video and was tons of fun to work with.
My original plan for the video was simply to film myself with a webcam, which seemed appropriate for the story, but when I mentioned the project to my friend Robin Catesby she immediately stepped forward and offered to help with the filming. She provided lighting, props, and cinematography services and also edited the final video into shape, including some nifty static effects to cover the transitions between takes. The resulting video is far better than I could ever have produced by myself.
So now the video is done and is available for the world to see at http://youtu.be/NkOuPyILWx0. I hope you’ll find the story and performance engaging, and when the anthology is available I hope you’ll buy a copy. (That’s The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams, available for pre-order now and on sale everywhere on February 19. See http://www.johnjosephadams.com/mad-scientists-guide for more information.)