The Crow MurdersBy Jonathan Ball • Aug 7th, 2008 • Category: Reading Horror(s)
When I was a child, long before I decided to become a writer, I used to tell stories to cows. I also told them jokes, and sang them songs by “Weird Al” Yankovic. This was fine training for a career as an experimental writer.
After I started growing bored of realist fiction and lyrical poetry (which I still enjoy, in doses, but have only the occasional impulse to write), the audiences to whom I read started reminding me of those childhood cows: the glazed stares, the occasional lazy shuffle away, the way they kept their eyes on me as they ate, as if I might rush headlong towards them at any moment. The polite (and appreciative?) lowing.
(I have since found that audiences dislike being compared to cows. Why is this so? What creatures are more peaceful, more contented, more at home in their surroundings? Is serenity now a vice, to be reviled? In any case, I always enjoyed riling up the cows.)
Cows aren’t easy to upset. They take the world in stride. If you run at them, they’ll run away, but who wouldn’t? And if you walk up calmly they’ll just keep a safe distance. They’ll listen to pretty much anything you have to say, nod along, and low a little when you pause for breath. You have to say something special to freak out a cow. Cows have seen it all. They watch their buddies walk into a slaughterhouse and never walk out, and don’t get too worked up. Even if they are next in line.
My worst public readings are those ones where people just clap and clomp away. And my best are those where people fidget, wanting to leave, wanting to fight, or wanting my phone number. But all of those stories are boring, which is why I’ve been talking about cows instead. For a period of about two months I took to spilling water on myself during every reading, which at least made things a little less predictable for the audience. But my strangest reading was both my worst and my best experience, and the tale worth telling.
At the time (and to date—the reading was only a few months ago), I was working on a novel called The Crow Murders. This book concerns the work of an allegedly fictitious author Richard Crow, and instead of reading my own writing I elected to read some of the work of Crow himself. I prepared the audience by beginning with the encyclopaedia entry on Richard Crow, followed by work from the Crow Archives. I tend to be secretive while working and so this was the first time anyone, even my friends, had heard anything specific from the work-in-progress.
The reading was followed by a question and answer period, in which I refused to deny the existence of Richard Crow. Instead, I regaled the audience with various rumours concerning this reclusive author. I was approached by a number of people afterwards who claimed to have enjoyed me greatly, and avoided by others who presumedly did not enjoy me as much. A group of students from the US thanked me for exposing them to an interesting Canadian author.
You’re wondering about the promised strangeness. Well, shortly thereafter, I began receiving unusual items in the mail. Tattered envelopes with no return address, and things like “Factoid #7: crows never fly into windows,” “Factoid #47: crow meat is a delicacy to crows,” and “Factoid #86: a group of murders is called a crow” typed neatly inside. Handwritten recipes for “Crow Stroganoff” and “Grilled Crow Breasts” in a hand I don’t recognize. A condolences card with a picture of a hummingbird covered up by a drawing of a crow. Entries torn out of some journal concerning an unnamed writer’s encounters with crows. An article about rare albino crows that have been spotted in East Vancouver. I even returned home from a short vacation to find a bag of black feathers hanging from my doorknob… with a DVD of The Crow: Wicked Prayer nestled among them.
I might be concerned for my safety if these various—should I say fans?—correspondents?—well, if whoever these people are (numerous typewriters and a few different styles of handwriting are involved, and some of the mail appears to come from BC) weren’t so playful. As it is, I’ve discovered a way to work most of these materials into my novel. More interestingly, I’ve also received e-mail from some of the main characters in the book… they seem dissatisfied with the story so far, and are threatening to sue me. I would like to see them try.
Thus, the event turned to be both my best and worst reading experience, certainly the strangest. The best because of the strange deluge of artwork I seem to have inspired. The worst because I was upstaged by my audience, by way of a mysterious correspondence that continues as I work to finish the book. Which reminds me that I have to check the mailbox.
Jonathan Ball is the author of Ex Machina (BookThug, 2009) and the forthcoming Clockfire (Coach House, 2010). His film Spoony B has appeared on The Comedy Network, and he holds a PhD in English from the University of Calgary. Visit him online at www.jonathanball.com.
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