Object Permanence: Photography, Memory & Immortality

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

If you’ve read slumber. and you’ve gotten some kind of idea about what Conditional Immortality is about, then you might have noticed that I have a tendency to write about certain things. I like movies, I like photography, and I like the concept of immortality. I’ve had my quirks since I was very young, but this whole thing about immortality has really sat with me since I first got my hands on an Anne Rice novel (don’t judge me, please). I was fascinated by the concept of living forever, and the incredibly thinly-veiled homoerotic subtext. I’ve always liked photography, digging through my family’s photo albums and demanding that my mother tell me who was included in the photos. Most of the time, she could tell me, but sometimes she couldn’t. I guess when I was sitting there, a child of no more than ten or eleven, staring at these people that I did not know, I wished that they could talk and tell me their stories.



Just a small taste of my antique camera collection - along with some of my books. Do not judge my Nicholas Sparks novel. The Longest Ride is a classic.


If you follow my TikTok, then you’ve already seen Hank, the haunted photograph of an early 1900’s heartthrob with kind eyes. I picked up Hank when I lived in Michigan, along with a huge batch of other pieces of photography. Since Conditional Immortality isn’t out yet, what you don’t know is that photography plays a huge part in the story. One of the main characters, Leo, has a robust personal collection of photos he’s taken over the 167 years of his life. Unlike my mother, however, he can tell the story of everyone in them.


At the junction of immortality and photography, I find there’s a niche I like to sit in quite comfortably. I was recently speaking with my editor (hi, Bryn!), and we started on the topic of this junction. What I said, and what has sat with me, is that the concept of “I was here once, and it’s different now” is a real driving factor in my writing. When I went to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I would delight in standing on movie sets and in famous places because Humphrey Bogart was there once, and now I was too! James Dean had been here, standing in this spot, and now I was standing right there. It’s like the past was so close I could touch it, but it would never be that time again. When I write about characters that are immortal or close to it, there’s a different kind of melancholy that comes with being in a place you were once. Maybe you know the feeling. Maybe you go to visit your parents who still live in the house you grew up in and you look at the dust in the corners or at the counters that once seemed so high, and you feel a little pang in your chest. Maybe you’ve gone to see your old school or a park you used to frequent, or even just your hometown, and everything looks just a little different. They tore down that old movie theater or put a walk-in clinic where the Blockbuster used to be. There’s a certain kind of sadness knowing that things won’t ever go back to the way they were, a tangible pain that makes you feel the passing of time in ways you didn’t understand when you were younger.


Now, if we take that same feeling and multiply it by two or four or even ten – think about how much pain it would cause you to come and see a place again after a hundred years. After a thousand. The things you used to love, the things that made the place familiar and comfortable, are all gone now. There’s no one there that would remember you, or the way it used to be. You become an island of memory, all alone in the knowledge that you used to be here once, and it’s different now.

I listened to the podcast Dolly Parton’s America when it came out (I am a die-hard Dolly Parton fan), and in one episode, they delved into how a singer in Kenya is famous for her cover of “Tennessee Mountain Home”, even though she hasn’t ever been to Tennessee. They talk about how Nelson Mandela played “Jolene” when he was in prison. Most significantly to me, they talk about the origins of the word “nostalgia”. Anyone who has perhaps taken a medical terminology class and an Ancient Greek class (just me?) would be able to break down this word into its parts. “Nostos” – home. “Algia” – pain. One of the guests discusses this, how Dolly’s music transcends distance to be able to invoke the same painful longing for a feeling of home. I liked this so much, it ended up in Conditional Immortality. Leo talks about how he thought returning to his childhood home to live out the remainder of his numbered days would perhaps make him feel better, but all it does is remind him of how much time has passed and how there is no one in his family left now.


I’ve been making a lot of noise on Twitter about writing a vampire love story (the gay vampire love story we all deserve), and for a minute I had to pause. Another story about a bunch of immortals? But then, how could I resist? How could I not write a story about a pair of lovers who keep finding one another, being with one another and breaking it off only to find each other a century later and forget all about how they never work out? Because in the end, if you live for that long, all you want is someone else who remembers how it used to be. Not just yourself, alone on the island, but a companion who was there, too. Someone who can hold your hand and say, “We used to be here, and it’s different now, but at least we have our memories of this place together.”


Before I go, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for sticking with me through a brief dry spell there! Work got a little wild and maintaining this website and blog is its own full-time job.


Hopefully next time, I can give you all a final release date for Conditional Immortality, as well as information about pre-orders.


Until next time,

JACK

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