Writer Joan Vinge published her last novel a decade ago. But she’s back on the publishing scene with the adaptation of this summer’s Cowboys and Aliens.
Vinge says adapting the script for the printed page took her back to one of her earliest story loves–westerns.
“My first great love was “cowboys”—I cut my teeth on countless TV and movie westerns, and played “cowboys” with the other kids on my block as often as I played with my dolls,” Vinge tells Tor.com.
Vinge goes on to write that working on the project ranks on her list of “personal bests” “not just because I always liked cowboys or aliens, or because I got to immerse myself up to my eyeballs in history and ethnography” but because it helped her face some personal demons.
“This is the first book of mine to come out in ten years—because nine years ago I was in a car that was hit by a fifteen-ton truck. I walked, more or less, away from it. But I was left with a closed-head concussion. (Don’t ever let anyone tell you that’s “not a serious injury.” It is, as too many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can testify.),” she writes. “Like certain characters in this story, I know what it feels like to lose your identity, or your soul’s reason for existing, or the one thing besides your life that you thought could never be taken away from you.”
“I watched an out-of-control truck come at me out of the darkness, and in my disbelief—like the citizens of Absolution, NM—I thought a monster with glowing eyes was coming for me. And then I thought, quite seriously, “I’m going to die.” No time for my life to flash before my eyes—although I did think of my half-grown children, and all the stories I had left to tell. Like anyone who’s seen a lot of movies, I’ve heard many characters gasp, “I can’t die yet, I have too much left to do—” I always thought those words were a hopeless cliche. But that was virtually word for word the last thing that filled my mind,” Vinge says. “Miraculously, I didn’t die. If my life was fiction the story would have ended there—triumphantly, if a little melodramatically by most standards.”
But life goes on. And so, echoing the movie in another way, a demon in the night was only the beginning of the real trouble, for me. For several years I wondered if the various parts of my brain would ever again agree that they were really an inseparable whole, and cooperate for the greater good—which was the only way I could overcome the “alien attack” that had wreaked havoc in my life, most specifically with my career.
““Write what you know,” writers are often told. That may seem a little ridiculous when it comes to writing science fiction, but it still applies. I’ve never have a desire to write about my own life as thinly-disguised fiction; and yet everything that happens to and around a writer becomes grist for the mill of creativity. Imagination is a balloon; experience is the string that keeps it from flying away… and empathy is the hand that guides the string,” she says.
“So in that way the car accident, and what came after it, became for me a microcosm of what the individuals, and fractious factions, in Cowboys & Aliens were facing: They had to realize they were all part of a whole, pull themselves together and act like one, before they have any chance of overcoming their truly formidable foe,” Vinge writes.