If it is once again one against forty-eight, then I am very sorry for the forty-eight.
Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925), British Conservative politician, prime minister. Quoted in: Daily Telegraph (London, 25 Oct. 1989), referring to the 1989 Commonwealth Conference.
That quote from Margaret Thatcher accurately sums up my reasons for putting out the book, The Symposium of Justice back in 2004. Recently at the Annie Oakley Wild West Showcase in Greenville, Ohio many of my friends from there had been talking about my 2004 book and how prophetic it now seemed in 2011, and it took me on a journey down memory lane about the content of that artistic work. As I ate Chinese food from a fairground vender my wife and I had a discussion about just how crazy many of the things I wrote about in The Symposium were at the time of its publication, and ironically how true many of those things had become in a world that is clearly headed in the direction of events written about in The Symposium of Justice.
My publisher back then was against the entire book. There were many arguments about content, which resulted in a rushed publication date. The editor who was working from an office in Paris quit altogether leaving the entire editing process to my wife, who can read and edit basically, but she wasn’t a professional editor but she stepped in to meet our deadlines. The conflict basically went like this, “Mr. Hoffman, what are you thinking? You open the book with the attempted rape of a young girl by a disgusting pedophile. You have old women who are terribly rude dissected by some future race of aliens thousands of years in the future. You go off on some tangent where there is a dragon slayer hunting dragons! Then you have a group of rebels launching an attack on Washington D.C. with flying cars! ARE YOU CRAZY! You’ll get no positive reviews within the United States. No paper will provide an endorsement. No TV station will touch this material. I mean you’re main plot point is that you have this vigilante running around in the night like some kind of Batman character using bullwhips to punish criminals, and trying to free society from a mind control device that is emitted in radio waves which affect the brain and make people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do! Mr. Hoffman, we advise you to rewrite this material, to stick with the primary storyline of the vigilante and expand on that character arch. You need to make this novel much more contemporary (progressive). As it is now, it belongs in a dime store saloon in Nevada, 1890. This type of pulp literature won’t even resonate with young people in the comic book market! The main character, this CLIFFHANGER/Fletcher Finnegan has absolutely no weaknesses. He seems to be a superman able to fight off thousands of enemies all by himself! Where is the conflict in that? What is he afraid of? Even Superman had Kryptonite which gave him human appeal. Your character is the perfect man, and there are no perfect men, so how can the audience relate?”
I remember that conversation so well because I was standing on the phone in the middle of Comp USA at the time buying a new computer and the French editor, exasperated with me put her boss on the line, another French guy who spoke good English, but definitely had a French accent as he spoke, every word had a kind of accentuated thrust at the beginning of each sentence. My publisher at the time was a Canadian company. Being my first book, I couldn’t get the big New York publishers interested, so I turned to Victoria, Canada, capital of British Columbia to a publisher who would carry the title if I put up the upfront cost of publishing, which I did. My editor and company contact however was in the Paris, France office which is why they even took the time to speak to me, because I was paying them upfront. That company was purchased by an American firm a few years ago and they are now located outside of Indianapolis, Indiana, and they still carry the title only under different ownership. But even under those conditions, the publisher of my book had serious concerns. They hadn’t seen anything like it and weren’t sure what to do about bringing it to the market place.
In duress prior to a rewrite my wife and I took a trip to Niagara Falls and stayed at the Marriott Fallsview Hotel and Spa to get away from our normal environment for the weekend and talk about what to do about the book. We went to Canada because the publisher was in Canada and I wanted to put my mind in a unique setting so I could think clearly on the issue, and Clifton Hill like Gatlinburg and International Street in Orlando, Florida is a hotbed of commercialism, audaciousness, and imagination. Walking around the commercial districts targeting an international audience which seemed appropriate since The Symposium of Justice was an international publishing effort my wife told me, “It’s your book, your vision. I think it’s great. It’s our story, it’s about our struggles. It’s your autobiography, your heart, your soul. If you want to change it to match the publisher recommendations it’s your call. It’s also your writing career.”
She looked at me, the blinking neon lights of Clifton Hill glittering in the slight chill of an October, Canadian evening and said, “it was you who ran around in the night with your whips trying to catch that rapist and protect your family, it was your family the police targeted because you wanted to expose that drug trade they were covering up, it was you who worked that second job as a cook to make up the financial difference of what we needed as a family, so you could spy on the local teenagers and find out who the dealers were, it was you who have spent nearly two decades reading mythology and philosophy in your “spare” time. If you want to listen to some French chick that’s about five years older than your own kids, just so you can sell more copies of the book, then do it. It’s your writing career. But think about what you admire, the artists you’ve enjoyed who society sometimes takes a century or even more to appreciate because the writer is so far out ahead of the rest of the world. The ideas you stick by in this book will follow you all your life and then some.”
Chapter 1: Scarface the Rapist: A convict is released from jail and encouraged by law enforcement to harass the pubic with fear by raping a young girl, so the public would support more law enforcement. The rape is interrupted by a vigilante named Cliffhanger who beats the rapist to near death with two bullwhips leaving the community split on how they feel about it. Cliffhanger gives the young girl a manifesto called “The Symposium of Justice” to be published in the local newspaper which includes Cliffhanger’s Ten Rules for living, and numerous stories written by Cliffhanger to make the argument publicly on the merits of the vigilante versus the rule of law.
Chapter 2: Stereotypical Reality: is the story published in the town paper of two vain women who are contemplating why they should live forever. One of the women is extremely wealthy and is considering a new technology called cryogenics, to freeze her body upon death to be awaked at some future time when technology can revive her. This woman realizing that she is virtually immortal becomes audaciously arrogant and rude to other people as the natural wisdom of age is interfered with the illusion that death is not on her horizon, so she reverts to a teenage mindset. When the public has had too much of her rudeness she is killed and revived in the distant future to find an alien race has found her body and is using it to perform genetic engineering to build slaves for themselves.
Chapter 3: The Veil Master: The mayor of the town hires an assassin to kill Cliffhanger for interfering with his plans with the rapist. The assassin is an arm of “The System” a progressive global group of which the mayor is attempting to climb in political power. The mayor reveals that the entire town is under a scientific experiment he is developing for “The System” which emits a radio wave that directly affects the pituitary gland in the human brain and makes citizens behave impulsively in ways they can control. The mayor explains to the assassin that if the results of his town are positive, then “The System” will be able to employee the same “mind controlling” methods all over the world.
Chapter 4: The Perilous Bed: Another story published in the town paper which Cliffhanger introduces his Ten Rules for Living to the community, hoping to fight off the mind control methods of “The System.” It’s about a young knight who wants to marry the daughter of a much respected noble. He thinks that by cutting off the head of a dragon, it will earn him the right to ask the noble for permission. The noble turns the dragon head offering down, but invites the kid to attempt to stay on a magical bed, in a magical room that will hurl three perilous tests at the young man. If the kid survives, he earns the right to ask the nobles daughter to marry him. (This was a story intended for my son-in-law which he understood)
Chapter 5: The Overman: A grill cook, the fastest man around who is mysteriously wealthy and married to the much respected town council woman Misty Finnegan, works with the local teenagers at a popular restaurant in town. Fletcher Finnegan has frequent duels with the local teenagers who respect the older man very much, but consider his thoughts “out dated” for the times. Fletcher seems to be particularly interested in a young girl who works at the restaurant as a cashier, who is the older sister to the little girl who suffered the rape attempt. The cashier is currently dating a kid who also works at the popular restaurant called, Republics. That kid is a known drug dealer and argues often with Fletcher Finnegan about morality.
Chapter 6: Return of the Flying Tigers: Another story published in the local paper to justify the vigilantism of Cliffhanger. America is in a civil war. The coastal regions have turned against the interior of the nation. A group of video game freedom fighters are recruited by an old man to lead a rag-tag offensive against the nations forces stationed over Washington D.C. Using M400 Skycars, the old man hopes to have a tactical advantage over the best defense the military has in scoring a psychological battle for the resistance by bombing the air craft carriers stationed at Annapolis Military Academy.
Chapter 7: Fran Calls: A follow-up story in the newspaper is about Hurricane Fran when it hit Chapel Hill, North Carolina and a group of tree trimmers head to the region to help with the clean-up and get rich over the insurance claims. As the work dries up, fights break out among the workers that could lead to death as everyone fights for the remaining money left as civilization returns to the region in the wake of the disaster.
Chapter 8: The Veil of Knowledge: The town mayor takes the assassin and the assassin’s personal army of specialized killers to the location of the mind control device, which is hidden in a water tower just outside of town. They are all given medallions which absorb the invisible radio waves leaving them immune to the effects of the powerful impulses. A plan is set to capture and kill Cliffhanger brutally by setting a trap.
Chapter 9: Tabernacles of Joyless Lust: A newspaper story about a real-estate agent trying to repair a deal gone bad. The agent is in an affair with her boss who is using the relationship against the woman plunging her into a law suit against her clients whom she is particularly fond of.
Chapter 10: River Dual: The mayor and his assassins raid the riverside home of a local gunsmith for two reasons. They want to make an example of the man for his support of firearms, and they hope to lure Cliffhanger out into the light of day for an epic battle which is exactly what happens. The mayor and all his assassins, except for the primary one, are killed in the battle. The primary barely escapes with his life.
Chapter 11: The Other Side of the Fence: The last newspaper story to be seen by the public, a young divorcee has found herself in the arms of a very abusive man. The man appeared to be everything a young woman dreams of until she leaves her husband and lets the new man move in. Once the man is in her home she finds he’s not what he advertised, and is now in fear of the man not only for herself but her young child.
Chapter 12: Salad Bar Goddess: The assassin is sent to an upscale restaurant near the town where his career took a nose dive. This “hit” given to him by “The System” is a chance at redemption for his failure at the river. His target is the outspoken Fletcher Finnegan who has been all over the newspapers and television recently speaking out against the policies of “The System.” The assassin’s job is to locate the man, kill him in a highly public place in front of his family, and send the subtle message to the town that resistance is futile. At the restaurant where Finnegan is reported to be at, the assassin sees the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen at the salad bar. He recognizes the woman as Misty Finnegan, whom he remembered the slain mayor had been trying to get into his bed, and was denied much to his frustration. The assassin is then shocked to find that the woman is strangely unconcerned about his presence as she returns to her table where her small children are eating with her husband, making eye contact with the assassin several times with pity on her face. Then the assassin makes eye contact with her husband and discovers it is he who is the target of his assassination. It is Fletcher Finnegan himself, and he is aware of the assassin’s presence also, as he stares him down from across the room. The assassin looking into the eyes of Finnegan is startled to see absolutely no fear there, which is an emotion he is not prepared for. He had never met a man without any fear behind his eyes of any kind. It was at that moment that the assassin had seen that same look in the eyes of Cliffhanger, and that the two men were one in the same.
The assassin is filled with envy, at the direction of his sad and pathetic life. He suddenly realizes that his entire life has been nothing more than slavery to “The System.” He is jealous of Finnegan for being enough of a man to be able to have a woman like Misty Finnegan, because such a woman could have her pick of any man. And she didn’t pick Finnegan because of money, prestige, or any level of power. She picked him because he was good. And no woman of any worth would ever want the assassin for anything other than being a thug, a brute, a mere puppet to his masters.
The assassin realizes that if he wanted to do one good thing in his life, he’d let Fletcher and his family live, because he was on the wrong side, clearly. He nods to Fletcher and proceeds to leave the restaurant where he throws himself in front of a truck on a highway to commit suicide. The assassin knows that “The System” will hunt him for not completing the contract so he’ll be killed eventually anyway. At least this way, he can do it on his terms.
I remember when the Pulse Journal came to my house to do an interview about my book when it came out in the spring of 2004. He wanted to talk about my whips but wasn’t sure how to make such depressing topics appealing in a newspaper article to the general population. I had the same trouble at book stores and other media events, where the focus of the story was on my use of bullwhips, but nobody wanted to touch the content of the story, rape, murder, civil war, mind control, drug trafficking, spies, global conspiracies, it was just too much for the general public to accept, and the media was lost in how to cover it.
The book was obviously extremely anti-progressive, which was well before anybody was talking about what a progressive was. It sold to my friends in the Western Arts community who bought it because the hero had a whip and it reminded them of Zorro, but they were uneasy with the heavy political overtones and scientific basis behind the mind control plot, as were many people who weren’t prepared to deal with such things.
I reminded them that the old Republic serial called Zorro’s Fighting Legion had a similar story line. It was over the top stuff and fun, but it also taught kids valuable lessons about fighting for what they believed in. But as many of them told me then, society has “outgrown that kind of entertainment.”
It took me a while to get over some of the self-criticism I had about the book because every aspect of it was uphill. But as my wife had told me, “why are you writing this? Is it to become wealthy, is it to have a career as a writer, or is it to create a work of art that will stand the test of time?” I picked the later.
It has been only recently where people who have bought it have made excited comparisons to Atlas Shrugged and other kinds of art work that has direct appeal to those in the Tea Party movement. Well, I didn’t even know about Atlas Shrugged when I wrote Symposium. I wrote Symposium based on observations I had been making about the direction of the world, and I wanted to put those observations into a format of “pulp fiction” that people understood and could relate with to articulate that message.
A cowboy friend of mine approached me at The Annie Oakley Festival last weekend and told me, “I thought you were a little off the deep end when I read that book 7 years ago, but you know what, it don’t seem so crazy now.”
I smiled at the guy. “Who would have ever thought?” He was there when I did book signings of that book all those years ago and the public bought it because they saw me performing and wanted something of mine to take home to their friends with my signature in it. Most people didn’t understand the book at all, and told me as much the following year. But the people who did were people many would consider “conspiracy theorists.” I had people travel the length of the country to meet me the following year just to shake my hand because my book, “spoke to them.” But in talking with these people, it was obvious they were the social extremists out there and while I appreciated their support, I was frustrated that the general population just didn’t get it.
At a film festival a few years ago Gery Deer laughed at the small line of people who seemed to follow me everywhere I went, he’d call them “Hoffman’s radical groupies.” He knew the obsessive type; they were similar to those who frequent Star Trek Conventions, and Star Wars events. Only these were “conspiracy theory nerds” and they would line up to have their picture taken with me.
“Hey, they’re fans. Be happy you have them. Some artists work their whole life to get one fan that will drive across the country to have their picture taken with them.” He’d pat me on the back. “You have a nice little handful.”
At the hotel in Cleveland, at a film festival where I won a screenwriting award for a different project, but had been receiving a lot of comments about The Symposium she said to me at the pool while I was swimming, “Do you remember the homeless guy in the movie Always, who Richard Dreyfuss as a ghost was talking through. The homeless guy was one of those guys who just saw too much, and was close to the edge of death, so close that he could see beyond his surroundings. You’re like that only you have learned to function in the world like a normal human being. Many of these people haven’t learned to do that. They see TOO much, so they seem crazy to the rest of the world that is really just half asleep. That is the pain of being too awake, is that you run the risk of having your brain fried.”
She was right, and this comment went back to the one that started it all back in Niagara Falls, that time and perception would catch up if I let it. The important thing was to put it down on paper and let the art speak for itself.
This is fresh on my mind now, because more and more people are thanking me for writing The Symposium of Justice and even though I have put that book on the shelf and am moving on to new projects, it gives me great pleasure to know that it is touching people’s lives. So to those of you who wanted to know the story of how that book came to be, and why I don’t talk about it much, it’s because for one, I think it’s cheesy when involved in high-profile cases like I am, to always be pimping a book. That book for me is something that has meaning beyond these current years, so it’s not important to me to have my ego massaged with a boost in sales. It’s more important to deal with the issues of the day, which currently is protecting S.B.5 and fighting school levies which are obvious crimes against the tax payers. But the creative side of me does enjoy knowing that people are touched by something that was extremely difficult, and controversial to create, that fell short of my quality standards because of the circumstances under which it was produced, but the heart of the project remained uniquely in place because I had angered everyone involved in publishing and marketing to bring to being something that was WAY out in front of the political curb.
And for that I’m very proud. When you take on an endeavor where you are outnumbered by a lot, and you stick to your guns because you know in your heart that you are right, it feels wonderful to have that weight lifted off your shoulders as the times prove that the numbers against you were wrong, as usual.