High Strangeness: UFO Casualties

Thursday, June 1, 2017

UFO Casualties

Sad but true: there are several fantastic UFO stories that I was unable to fit into my new book, The Close Encounters Man, and it still hurts me deeply that I had to cut them.

I can admit it now: when I turned in my manuscript to my editor at Dey Street Books 10 months ago, it ran a tad long. Like, 80,000 words long. To put that in perspective, the entire book was only supposed to be 80,000 words, and that's how many words I went over. Apparently I am very bad at this whole word counting thing.

Does the legendary Betty Hill star map represent the system of Zeta Reticuli?
There's a saying in the writing business called "Kill your darlings," which refers to a writer's need to be ruthless with his or her material. I always use it with my screenwriting students when helping them start to edit their own precious darlings, and I stress that making cuts to your own work is absolutely the hardest thing in the world for a writer to do. But it is absolutely unavoidable.

Fortunately, my wise and patient editor worked with me to get the manuscript down to a length that wouldn't give his boss a coronary, and in the end we arrived at a manageable 110,000 words. So, I got off easy, but the editing still hurt. Among those words that I had to cut were some of my all-time faves. Words like "it," "the," "orb" and "argle-bargle." Yes, I used argle-bargle in a sentence and it had to go. Well, that's not entirely true: my Australian connection Bill Chalker used argle-bargle in a sentence and I quoted him. Still, same result.

(NOTE: the definition of "argle-bargle" is "copious but meaningless talk or writing; nonsense," which makes it a particularly apt word to be used in a discussion of UFOlogy; or in this blog!)

The good news is that I can still use the stories that I had to cut, and I am in talks with my editor right now as to how and where we can post or publish these excerpts. Between this blog, my page at the HarperCollins website, and any number of magazines or websites, we have lots of options.

And here's where I turn to you, my readers, for help. Which, if any, of these deleted stories do you most want to read? 

  • I wrote a killer chapter about the 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville "alien invasion" story, which has always been one of my favorite UFO tales. I even interviewed Geraldine Sutton-Stith, the daughter of Lucky Sutton, one of the original witnesses, but in the end the whole chapter had to go. Ironically, this was one of the first two sample chapters I wrote to submit to literary agents! But, the deciding factor was that Dr. Hynek was only peripherally involved in the investigation, and so it wasn't essential to my narrative.
  • I presented documentation that, in the three days leading up to Dr. Hynek's fateful March, 1966 press conference at the Detroit Press Club, a half-dozen different people suggested to Hynek that "swamp gas" was probably behind the infamous Dexter-Hillsdale, Michigan sightings. There is ample evidence that Hynek did not just pull the swamp gas explanation out of his ass to cover for the Air Force's supposed inability to solve the case, but as this story was already taking up two chapters of the book I had to severely condense the sequence of events that led to the swamp gas press conference.
  • I wrote a lengthy account of the dispute that arose between Dr. Hynek and Dr. Carl Sagan concerning Marjorie Fish's remarkable solution to Betty Hill's star map. Hill, you may recall, claimed to have been shown the map by an alien during her 1961 abduction, and years later she drew the map under hypnosis. Fish spent years trying to decipher the map until she found a match that suggested that the aliens came from the system of Zeta Reticuli. Carl Sagan did not like this one bit, and he and Hynek engaged in a lengthy squabble over Fish's findings that played out over several months in the mid-1970s in the pages of ASTRONOMY Magazine . What makes it even more fun is the fact that the then editor of ASTRONOMY seemed to think that Fish was on to something, and so he sided with her and Hynek! It's a fascinating story that exemplifies the lengths to which scientists like Sagan will go to defend the scientific orthodoxy, but in the end it had to be cut. The primary reason was that Hynek and Sagan presented their arguments in this affair largely by proxy, through the work of their graduate students, and as I already had plenty of material on the Hynek & Sagan conflict, this part of the tale was not essential to my book. Also, I don't know why, but the current editors of ASTRONOMY had no desire to talk to me about this odd chapter in their magazine's history.

There are more, of course, but these are the three darlings that it hurt the most to kill. Now that I have a chance to revive them, which should come first??
Post a Comment