by Phil Geusz
©2006 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved
I made my first post to the TSA in about 1997 or so. (A real columnist would look up the exact date and time, but I'm lazy. And incompetent besides; I've not been able to access the TSA's archives since forever.) In any event, it's been about ten years or so.
My first story wasn't much. Inspired by one of the many too-common furry 'spooge' sites, it was based on a rabbit TF done by aliens. I'd written stuff before; most notably in about 1986 I'd tried to write a Star Trek novel entitled The Palnadian Dilemma. This wasn't a bad book, actually. Or, at least the eighty pages or so I wrote by hand before writer's cramp put me out of action wasn't too bad. Indeed, over the next few years the Star Trek film franchise featured, again and again, ideas and images I'd developed in Palnada. (These included zero-gravity fights with hovering gobbets of blood, an emotional and religion-obsessed sibling for Spock, and more.) Most original of all, however, I tried to pit the crew of the Enterprise up against a no-win scenario.
Maybe if I'd titled the thing The Kobayashi Maru Dilemma, I'd have gotten somewhere...
Anyway, I pretty much gave up on fiction after that for a long time. Making the worst mistake of my life, I tried to be a 'normal' guy and get ahead at work. I sought advancement, recognition and promotion like everyone else, and for a time was fairly successful. But, somehow, I just couldn't wrap my heart around it. The higher I rose and the better I did, the more I realized that the real promotions came to those who went drinking together at places I'd never fit in, and who sat around and talked about things which were of absolutely no interest whatever to me. In short, my level of competence was not and never would be an issue in my career. Who I knew and who I partied with, that was what mattered. And, me being me, I'd never get it right.
My life kind of imploded then; I was in my mid-thirties, and suddenly realized that for the second time I'd built my life on a foundation made of sand. Nothing at work really mattered except the paycheck, and I'd broken my heart merely in order for others to get ahead. Career-wise I was pretty much trapped, and I wanted to take part in a major uprising within my labor union anyway. So, swearing never again to be caught in that particular snare again -- and, thankfully, I have not -- I fell back into the lowliest position available to me, fought and won my uprising, and turned my attentions to writing tales for the newly-discovered TSA.
The TSA, "Transformation Story Archive" in full, is nearly a 'dead letter office' today; I suspect it hasn't been updated in half a decade. But back then, it was one of the top fiction sites on the Internet. Even today its associated mailing-list is still very much vibrant and alive; I posted a tale to it less than a week ago as I type this. It was to this mailing list that I devoted myself, after finding that it was filled with people just as strange as I was. There, I discovered the joy of communicating with others whose interests mirrored my own, who I didn't have to try and explain things to over and over again. Frankly, for the first time in my life, I found myself associating with creative, kind people whose IQ was a good fit with my own. It was no wonder, I slowly began to realize, that I found everyone at work to be dull, including the engineers and management.
They were stupid! What a joy it was to escape them!
Since then, I've never looked backnot even once. The TSA and the larger world of 'furry' (most specifically, furry literature) beyond it has become the mainspring of my life. Maybe a week after that first posted story, I began another, called Going Vegetarian. That one got such good reviews that I decided to make a series of it, spawning Cold-Blooded Killers, The Root of All Evil, Singhe-ing For Your Supper, Hare Raid, and Warrens of the Mind. When I was finally done, a TSA-member suggested I collect all six into a novel, and another suggested the title. (Thanks again, both of you. You know who you are!) And, many, many, many rewrites later, Transmutation Now! is finally on the verge of becoming a real, honest-to-god paper book from Raccoon's Bookshelf. And, even better, people actually want to buy it.
I was invited to write Blind Pig next after that; my very first story in that setting features the inviter in question literally pushing my character through the famous Gin Mill's front door as my way of thanking him for making the effort. (Thanks, Brian!) I've been writing Pig off and on since then, the current tally of stories being so high that I honestly haven't any idea what the total might be. I grew enormously as a writer thanks to the Blind Pig; I mark Butch and The Blade and Death Is Real as perhaps marking the two most important growth points of my career to date, and Seizing the Acorn marks a rebirth of my writing after a long, dead period as well. I keep returning to the Pig when things are bad, just as my character keeps right on sipping his Jack Straffords in the quiet corner in the back after he's had a bad day. The Pig is where I go to heal as a writer. I've learned many, many things about writing and about other writers there.
It was the Pig that led me to one of my finest publication credits. My TBP story Graduation Day, which I never considered to be above mediocre in quality, was selected by Fred Patten as one of the top transformation-themed furry stories available for his upcoming collection Best in Show. Not only that, but in recognition of my 'stature' ("Huh?" I asked, reading the e-mail in question. "What's that?"), he asked me to write the 'transformation' section-header for said work. I was trembling like a leaf as I sat down to write my two-three page mini-essay on the genre. But, I am pleased to say, those same two-three pages remain the finest bit of non-fiction I've ever written, and constitute one of the few pieces of my own work that I am truly and unequivocally proud of.
Show won several awards, and sold well enough to be picked up (via a small-press publisher) by Wal-Mart, Borders, and Amazon under the new title Furry!. Due to the untimely death of the owner of this small-press outfit, I don't expect Furry! to remain long on the shelves.
But, by God, it's still there as I type this. A TSA story! At Wal-Mart, of all places! Who'd'a thunk it?
My next novel was, if memory serves, Corpus Lupus. Corpus is easily the darkest thing I've ever written, and I have to admit that's saying something. I've always had a dark and violent streak in my nature, nourished by years of reading history and real-life combat memoirs. At the time I wrote Corpus, I was deeply fascinated by the concept of writing about ideas so powerful that they were enough to carry the story all by themselves. In this case, the idea was that magic was real, and existed in a modern-day world much like our own. But in this world, God hated us with implacable determination, and as proof He'd arranged things so that magic only worked when powered by horrific human sacrifice. This led me to all kinds of strange places; in many ways, Corpus was the most interesting of my works to write. However, it was also one of the most disturbing. For years I intended to add one more tale to the end of the work, but have never been able to bring myself to.
Now, I never will. Corpus Lupus, too, is now available on real, honest-to-God paper, published by Raccoon's Bookshelf. It'll never hit Wal-Mart, if they have half a brain (the contents are far too controversial for them). But it's for sale too, if only on-line. And, people are buying it. It is hard to express what a humbling experience it is, to have someone pay to read your darkest musings.
I've had one more big success as a writer recently. Or, more correctly, I've had an artistic success; the pay was peanuts. My TSA story Adoption Process was included in the collection Twisted Cat Tales, selected by a non-furry editor and collected in a non-furry collection. (I should also note here that my good friend and fellow furry-writer Fox Cutter's The Last Lion is also included in this volume. Indeed, it was he who pointed out the call for submissions to me and without him I'd never have even submitted my story to start with. Thanks again, Fox!) Whether it's justified or not, there's a certain credibility to be gained by being published in the 'mainstream' and I must say that being selected for this collection was one of the greatest moments of my life so far.
So, where is this all going? Somehow or other, after years of writing primarily for the TSA (but also for a few other venues), I've come to a place where, as I type this, I have not one but three books on the shelf for sale. Two of them, I can drive down to Borders and look at any time I want to; the other is available on the Internet only. However, I am very proud indeed of then all.
And that's why I'm writing this article. Tonight, I feel like the luckiest man on Earth, and ultimately I owe it all to the TSA and to the other members of the furry fandom who've enjoyed my work. My dream of becoming a recognized, official-type author is coming true; indeed, already has come true in a limited sort of way. The pay isn't much, but I've found far more joy and fulfillment in writing fiction that I ever got from seeking promotion and trying to find success in the 'conventional' world. No, writing doesn't pay much in monetary terms, not much at all. Man, however, does not live by bread alone.
So, as I've said in other places and on other days, thank you again, TSA, for making my life worthwhile. Thank you especially, Thomas Hassan, who created the Transformation Story Archive in the first place. But I am indebted to each and every one of you who've supported my work with kind letters and gentle critique as well.
Thank you. I most sincerely thank you, one and all. I owe you more than I can ever possibly repay.
Editor's note: Mr. Geusz' memory of his initial encounter with the TSA-Talk mailing list is reasonably accurate. His first post was #13885, timestamped 5:47:43 PM on 11 June 1997... and here it is:
From: pgeusz at edge.net (Phil Geusz)
I've been lurking for about a week trying to figure out if there's any protocol for submitting a story. I've got one that is just a quick rewrite away from daylight. Do I just send it, or would that be impolite?
Yes, I'm a newbie and as green as grass.