Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

My Copley Square

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Tortoise and Hare at Copley Square

The first work of fiction I ever sold for money was a novelette called “Inversus,” which first appeared almost a decade ago in Analog Science Fiction and Fact. It was a heavily revised version of a story that I wrote while I was still in college, based on the premise of a series of mysterious deaths whose victims all suffered from situs inversus, a condition in which  the organs of the body are a mirror image of their usual orientation. For reasons that are too complicated—and frankly implausible—to explain here, my protagonist concludes that these deaths are, in fact, the result of uncontrolled psychokinesis, caused by an undiagnosed second condition: that is, the victims are killed when their minds involuntarily destroy their surroundings. It isn’t a bad idea for a story, but initially, this premise was all I had. And it wasn’t until I figured out exactly how this psychic activity would physically manifest itself that I really had a plot.

The turning point was the idea that one of the characters would think he was being stalked by the creatures from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, when in fact the manifestations were being created by his own mind, as the objects around him seemed to come to life in terrifying ways. This tied in neatly with the phenomenon of situs inversus itself, and also gave me an excuse to dive back into Carroll, as well as such modern commentators as Martin Gardner, which is always a pleasure. I also decided to set the story in Boston, where I was attending college at the time. The challenge, then, was to find locations in the city that would lend themselves to interesting set pieces, particularly ones that I could connect back to Alice. And at some point, it occurred to me that my character would want to confront these creatures at the largest looking glass he could find. To my mind, this meant only one place: the John Hancock Tower, the largest mirrored skyscraper in the city.

Tortoise and Hare at Copley Square

One day, then, I took the train out to Copley Square, where I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to figure out what would happen next. I paid the admission fee to go up to the viewing platform on the top floor of the Hancock Tower, which gave me a good view of the entire city, and wandered for hours in the surrounding streets, looking at everything through the eyes of my central character. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to find, but it had occurred to me earlier that a statue or other piece of public art might come to life, forcing my character to pursue it, or be pursued by it, giving me a convenient way of proceeding to the next location. The challenge was to find a suitable object that would tie back into the themes of the story. And as I looked around the square, I noticed a pair of bronze statues. I didn’t pay much attention to the first, but when I got close enough to see the other, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the statue of a rabbit.

I’ve never forgotten that moment. It was one of my first experiences researching a story on location, and the most vivid instance I can recall of feeling that the universe itself is conspiring in the creation of a story. Those moments are rare, but they’re the reason I go through the rest of the process: for the sense, as fleeting as it might be, that the world is telling you that a story is meant to be. The result is one of my favorite memories of my life as a writer, and it’s the first thing I remember when I think of Copley Square. In the ensuing story, the rabbit pulls itself out of the ground and leads my character on a wild chase, much as Carroll’s White Rabbit did, but of course, the statue itself isn’t really a rabbit at all. It’s a hare racing with a tortoise. As the plaque at the site says:

Tortoise and Hare at Copley Square was created by Nancy Schön, as a permanent tribute to the runners from all over the world who have participated in the Boston Marathon.

Written by nevalalee

April 17, 2013 at 9:00 am

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