Bill Ectric kicks weirdness into a beautiful high gear with his novel, Tamper
by Dan Brown, originally published in Folio Weekly, August 10-16 Issue
Mention the word “occult” to some people and they twist their pious panties in a bunch, indulging diabolical visions of cloaked figures intoning forbidden chants. But the most direct definition of this misunderstood and much-maligned word could quite simply be “knowledge of that which is hidden” – or even arcane truth. One could argue that prior to the church being codified, Jesus Christ himself was a teacher of the occult, preaching a fairly radically mystical and, in some ways, forbidden doctrine.
Jacksonville writer Bill Ectric makes no claim to the second coming, but he’s no stranger to the occult in its truest sense. He has devoted much of his 50-plus years on this side of the “boneyard” studying weird and esoteric knowledge. Unlike many seekers of wisdom who attempt to shroud themselves in pretentious pageantry (i.e., much of the contemporary New Age movement), Ectric has chosen to pepper his investigations of “the other” with good old American skepticism, a rock- and-roll vibe and, perhaps most importantly, an open-minded sense of humor.
His debut novel, Tamper, is homage to the pulp writers who inspired its creation, a fun and freaky mystery and coming-of-age story the author rightly describes as “The Hardy Boys meet William S. Burroughs.” The story centers on the adventures of hero Whit and his best friend Roger, who are pulled into a supernatural treasure hunt spanning the course of several years, which leads them to some weird scenes indeed. The novel deals with the duo’s obsession with B-movies, encounters with weird phenomena like screaming skulls and vanishings on the island of Malta, possible drug-and-booze induced psychosis, and the writings of real-life fellow sci-fi oddball Richard Shaver (who coined the term in the book’s title to describe how “underground mutants” had been “tampering” with his brain).
Folio Weekly found it wise to do some of our own tampering with a few questions aimed at author Bill Ectric’s cerebral cortex.
Folio Weekly: How would you classify the book?
Bill Ectric: Over the past few years, there has been an increase in a form of writing called “meta-fiction,” which is written as if it were true; even to the point of using footnotes, historical references, excerpts from fictional manuscripts, and historical fiction. I love that kind of stuff. If I read an anthology of short stories, I also read the index for the sources and dates of publication of each story. So, sometimes I call my novel meta- fiction, but that scares some people away because they expect it to be obscure and hard to follow – and it’s not.
FW: Tell us about your interest in pulp sci-fi author and “Hollow Earth” conspiracy theorist Richard Shaver.
BE: To me, Richard Shaver is to science-fiction writers what Ed Wood is to film directors. These are guys who have fans and followers because they were such enthusiastic hacks that their work is fascinating on a quirky, kitschy level. Having said that, I should add that there are probably also people who believe Shaver’s “hollow earth” stories, just as there are people who swear they were literally abducted by beings in UFOs.
FW: Tamper has elements of phenomena and weirdness that seem almost anecdotal, like ghost stories or campfire tales. Are any events in your book based on real-life events?
BE: Some of it. The part about Whit dreaming about a bag of bones and then really seeing it on the side of the road – that happened to me exactly like I describe it in the book. The section about seeing “ghostly” writing over a doorway inside a dome actually happened to me and some coworkers when I was in the Navy.
FW: Was it a deliberate decision to self-publish Tamper?
BE: More than anything, my decision came from impatience. I have to be careful what I say here, because I’m sure most publishers and literary agents are good, professional people, but it seems like so many of them have requirements designed to weed out anything that is hard to classify.
FW: What are you writing these days?
BE: I’m writing a sequel to Tamper. Some people, mostly women for some reason, tell me they wish it had a happier ending. They say things like, “I hope you don’t feel the same way as Whit (the main character in the book).” My answer is, I didn’t write Tamper for people who have necessarily found what they are looking for. I’m a happy adult now, but I told myself that I never wanted to forget the angst of being a troubled teenager.