Today I launched the fundraiser campaign for 16 Maps of Hell*: The Unraveling of Hollywood Superculture (*with a Rough Draft of the Exit).
24 hours ago, it was just called Maps of Hell: The Unraveling of Hollywood Superculture. The longer, clumsier, but also more playful (and accurate) title was my original choice, back when I was still trying to convince my agent to represent the book. He dropped out when I hedged over taking out the “16,” after that I decided he was probably right, and embarked on seeking a publisher on my own. Over a couple of months, I approached every seemingly suitable publisher that accepted submissions (not counting a few conspiratard ones I didn’t want to be affiliated with, such as Trine Day). They all either ignored me or rejected it.
I finally gave up and went to my POI & VOK publisher, Aeon. They didn’t get back to me either! It was then that the chain of events, summed up in the campaign video, began. This was a couple of weeks ago, when a Mysterious Stranger came though Hope, and volunteered to build an index. The day after that, the day after I had decided to self-publish, Aeon finally got back to me. They rejected the book as too big a project for them to handle.
How and why did I go back to the more elaborate title, less than a day before launching the campaign?
Here’s what happened. Yesterday morning, I was talking to my sister. Just before I signed off to open the thrift store, she said she had something to tell me. I said it would have to be quick, and she said it would be. She agreed we wouldn’t have time to discuss it, but she would leave it with me to think about. She then described the following:
Our father, Nicolas Horsley, died on the 16th of January, 2004. My sister’s husband, possibly, died on the 16th of February, 2000. Our brother, Sebastian Horsley, died most probably on the 16th of June, 2010. (Both men died of a heroin overdose, and were not discovered at once, so the exact date is unknown.) My sister then reminded me how, when Elvis died, on 16th August 1977, our brother had been mean to us about it. While we loved Elvis, he, a punk rocker, hated him.
My brother’s hero was Marc Bolan. My sister had just found out that Bolan died exactly a month later, on the 16th of September, 1977.
I mentioned then something I had only learned last year from my wife’s brother: that the Chinese word for four (四, pinyin: sì, jyutping: sei3) is similar to the word for death. Because of this, there is a superstition in East Asian nations around the digit 4. It is called “tetraphobia.”
And 16 = 4 X 4.
Leaving my sister with this nugget, I went to open the thrift store.
While I was rapidly and somewhat manically ordering the many new donations, in my Terminator-style of working, I came upon a pile of vintage magazines that my wife had put behind the counter. There were several on the Kennedys commemorating their deaths, and then there was a small stack of Elvis mags, with a small poster on top. The Elvis poster & mags were published after his death, and prominently highlighted the date. One of them was even called 16 Magazine! Another had “16 color photos” emblazoned on the cover.
I told my wife about it when she came in to relieve me. She said the magazines had been donated the day before, along with some wall posters which she had hung up. I had already noticed the poster on the wall, and we went to look at it. Like the other paraphernalia, it had August 16th clearly marked on it. (As it happens, this is also my wife’s birthday.)
Now, the day before all this happened, I had been walking with my wife and I suggested she might add my brother as a prominent figure in the forefront of the cover of Maps of Hell. I suggested she could splice him with Robert Downey Jr, because, before he died (the last time I ever saw him), my brother had asked me if I thought RDJ could play him in the movie version of Dandy in the Underworld (the resemblance is striking, to me at least).
My idea was that including my brother/RDJ on the cover in this way would underscore the “soul rescue” purpose of the book, which after all was about exploring Hell, and since certain indications are that, after he died, my brother ended up in a not-so-good place. (I write about the parallels between his death and Heath Ledger’s in the first chapter of the book.)
In passing, on this “soul rescue” aspect, another thing happened yesterday that may be related: I received an email from someone who wrote that reading Prisoner of Infinity had caused their memories of childhood abuse to come to the surface, first as affect, and then as partial memories of events. It occurred to me that a book may sometimes be more than a book.
Another strange synchronicity: a customer called Noel was in the shop when my wife came in yesterday. Noel has family members working in a hospital in Mission, and it was Noel (as I mentioned recently) who told me the media was exaggerating the numbers of corona virus cases in BC. Because of this, a week or two earlier, I had been trying to see if my wife knew him (I didn’t know his name), and I had described him as looking like RDJ. She realized who I meant at once. I’d also told Noel this, and I repeated it to him yesterday, once I confirmed who he was. He laughed and it was obvious he was pleased by the comparison.
It was after that I told my wife about the weird Elvis 16 syncs. Excited by all the number “wangus,” I was thinking out loud about how to get “16” into the Maps of Hell campaign. I asked her how many illustrations she had done for the book. She thought it was around 20 (actually 23). “Maybe we could make it 16,” I said.
It was then that it hit me. I built the book to very precise dimensions, like a house. It is structured 16 chapters with 6 sections in each (96), with four introductions, each with 2 sections (8, which is half of 16), totaling 104 sections (16 X 6.5). All the chapters are roughly 10,000 words. Hence including 16 in the original title made sense, because it was a finite operation with very precise limits. Limits, like death is a limit.
I reminded my wife of all this. She said she preferred 16 Maps of Hell to Maps of Hell. The deal was done. At time of writing, the campaign has raised £715.99
Warning: This book may rescue your soul. But it is not for tetraphobes.