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Writing WETWARE

[Another excerpt from my memoir-in-progress, Nested Scrolls.]

Odd as it now seems, it was only in 1986, with Wetware—my thirteenth book—that I started writing on a computer. The previous dozen manuscripts were all typed, with much physical cutting and pasting. Sometimes, if I couldn’t face typing up a fair copy of the marked-up and glued-together final draft, I’d hire a typist.


[Our three cyberkids.]

But with Wetware I was ready to change. Sylvia, the kids and I went up to Charlottesville and visited the only computer store in the area. I ended up with what was known as a CP/M machine, made by Epson, with Peachtext word-processing software, and a daisy wheel printer. The system came with a Pac-Man-like computer game called Mouse Trap that the kids loved to play.

Although I knew a lot about the abstract computers discussed in mathematical logic, it would be several more years before I grasped how my kludgy, real-world computer worked—the whole schmear about copying software into system memory was a mystery to me. For the moment, all I knew was that I had to run two or three big floppy disks through the machine just to start it up.

While I was gearing up for Wetware, I’d started what I thought was going to be a short story called “People That Melt,” and I sent the story fragment to William Gibson, hoping that he’d help me finish it, and add some snazzy Gibsonian touches.

He said he was too busy to complete such a project, but he did write a couple of pages for me, and said I was free to fold them into my mix in any fashion I pleased. I think Whitey Mydol’s “ridgeback” Mohawk that extends all the way down his spine was Bill’s idea.

As I continued work on the story, it got good to me, and it ended up as the first chapter of Wetware. As a tip of the hat, I put in a character named Max Yukawa who resembled my notion of Bill Gibson—a reclusive mastermind with a thin, strangely flexible head.

Once I got rolling, I wrote Wetware at white heat. I think the actual keyboarding of the first draft took about six weeks. I made a special effort to give the boppers’ speech the bizarre beat rhythms of Kerouac’s writing—indeed, I’d sometimes look into his great Visions of Cody for inspiration. The book was insane, mind-boggling, a cyberpunk masterpiece. A couple of years later, it would win me a second Philip K. Dick award.

But no matter how fast and well I wrote, the money wasn’t coming in fast enough. I was going to have to leave freelancing and get another teaching job.

One Response to “Writing WETWARE”

  1. Alex Says:

    Wetware is indeed a cyberpunk masterpiece, I especially like Chapter 2 “Christmas in Louisville”. Della going back to her parents for Christmas, the way she loves and loathes them at the same time. By coincidence the only time I was ever in Louisville was Christmas Eve 1990. I saw Warren Zevon play a great gig…


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