Monthly Archives: August 2010

Figuring it out as I go along: A Beginning Screenwriters Angst

    I’m about to start working on a new screenplay which shall be called The Cob. I won’t tell you what it’s about at all because that would ruin just about everything and I would never write another thing on it. But I am about to start writing it. It’s my fourth unproduced screenplay in the works. The three others have been read by a few select friends and a couple of completely anonymous screenplay contest editors. I’m pretty proud of all of them, actually. Two of them I wrote with my best friend, Jon. They are comedies and I still think – given both of our particular neuroses regarding writing – that it’s a complete miracle that they are finished. Of course, by finished, I mean they have a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve rapidly realized that being done doesn’t mean they are finished. It just means they are in a state of completion.

    This is the fourth and I am writing it alone for the moment.

    That said I would like to take a moment to describe my ‘process’ – that much hated word for writers. Well, much hated and much loved. Personally as much as I love hearing about other writers process I also can’t stand it because it generally fills me with so much unneeded information that I can easily get bogged down into hysterics. I mean that literally. If you’re not careful, learning how others do things can be the authorial equivalent of CIA torture techniques. But for whatever sadistic methodology my brain contains right now I have decided to impart some of my present wisdom in this here blog for posterity. This means that many caveats and warnings must apply. First and foremost is the caveat that all methodologies discussed herein are subject to change – random, wild, mind boggling, and sudden change. And I’ll leave it at that. More caveats and warnings will be shared as they come up in my brain and in future postings.

    The first thing I do when starting a project is dream it up. Okay. I know that that sounds like the biggest ‘well, duh’ moment but its only one of many and I want to try and be clear about the entire process. Any story starts with the idea. I’ve read that you must have a strong idea or you shouldn’t write it. I sort of kind of agree with that actually but then completely think its nonsense in the same breath. Any idea is a good one if you make it good much like any idea is a self indulgent piece of dog shit if you make it into one. Most writers don’t know the difference between the two well enough. I’m not going to claim I do either because here I am writing this which could be self indulgent dog shit for anyone concerned. But here, for posterity, is a general rule: If you get hurt and feel all defensively emotional about the finished product, chances are you have just written a self indulgent piece of shit.

    An idea, standing alone, is a naked man in a snowstorm. It may be strong and tough and whatnot but if you don’t put clothes on it it will still die. So make the idea stronger by wrapping the story around it. This is the tough part. To explain more specifically just start with whatever the idea is. Maybe you saw someone standing in a particularly evocative pose, maybe you have a line of dialog, maybe you have a location in your head – what that needs is the circumstances that it came about. Any one of these things is a good enough start for fiction – but you have to work out what that is and how it fits in the story. For instance, Paul Thomas Anderson wrote (according to his own reports) the screenplay for Magnolia based upon the music of his friend Aimee Mann. Granted the movie is full of this music but it is a movie and not a music video and therefore a story happened along at some point.

    Generally I take the idea – taking for example the case of the evocative pose – and add a character first. Who is it that is standing that way and why? I guess that’s the best way to start. Just asking yourself basic questions. You might find that the story is happening all on its own. That said, here is another general rule for posterity: do not cling to the basic idea like a drowning man to a wall safe. This is pretty essential. Through the process of working out who this is and why they are standing or staring off or picking their nose the way they are you may discover many other things that have nothing to do with it. This is because one little thing may lead you to another and another. You may find yourself interested in the character and no longer care how they came to be standing against the ancient coke machine smoking a pipe. If you insist that they need to be there at some point you will start directing them there and it’s a bit like trying to guide a three hundred pound gorilla on a leash. It can be done but it’s not recommended, takes a lot of training, and might end up in catastrophe.

    So that’s where I’m at right now. I have the idea and the characters and a scene or two and that’s all. But that’s how I work. I like it that way. It’s a bit more skin of your teeth. That said I am nowhere near as averse to outlining as I once was. Outlining saves a great deal of time and psyche. Trust me. I’ve tried it the other way only to discover a hundred pages in that it doesn’t make any damned sense whatsoever. This is not a good realization to have. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to crawl under a rock for fifty years.

    I understand that this is all a bit vague. Sorry. It’s going to be. I’m sort of piecing this all together as I go along. You could also level the critique of: What does this jackass know? He’s never been published or produced so clearly he can’t have any valuable information. I don’t claim to have any valuable information. Or I should say the information is valuable if you find value in it. My job, right now (aside from getting the screenplay started) is to put it out there. Also, if you should have that critique after reading this I would caution you to look in your mind for the self indulgent douchebaggery mentioned above. It’s very likely there and you might want to have it surgically removed before putting your own creative works out there for the whole big bad world to read.

    That’s all for now.

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Categories: Writing | 1 Comment

Humans From Earth Pt./Stanza/Chapter/Act 1/3/2/1

    On the Planet Adnusii there is a College of Astrolinguistics. In fact, it is more accurate to say that the Planet Adnusii IS the College of Astroliguistics. It’s a nice place, as far as planets are concerned – nice trees, red skies that reflect blue water in a dizzying sort of way, gigantic clams that cause a great deal of distress when they open and close their mouths because of all the people who have built houses on them, and linguists wandering about consulting with hypercomputer data streams that flow languidly into several large seas. The seas themselves, filled with astrolinguistic data from all across the universe, make for some very nice surfing for tired or frustrated Astrolinguists from all across the universe. It’s very convenient, surfing on these data waves because it means you never have to stop working unless you really just want to hang ten that day.

    Of course some of the species studying and working at the college are not very adept or even capable of surfing and they have, in good course, invented a host of cocktails brewed from the liquid datastreams – most of which cause whatever biological language processors species possess to go quite wrong along with whatever language is stored in the head, and the head itself. The traditional Hangover from a Phoneme Cocktail is that the linguist in question must take the next month off relearning their native language or risk speaking gibberish for the rest of their lives. This, in and of itself is confusing because to the untrained observer it would seem that the entire population of Adnusii has never bothered to sober up after drinking the Phoneme cocktails and just continue drinking them. This is not true, of course, as an Adnusii Clam would tell you if it had ever learned to use it’s tongue for anything other than walking (though residents of the clam occasionally use the gigantic miles long tongue to slide down and into the Data seas.)

    Whether you sit idly on the beach wishing you had feet to provide a good balance on a surfboard or spend your time gargling interstellar syllables in one of the many unintelligible bars one of the most common conversation topics you are likely to hear is of the nature of the phrase ‘Fortune is a cruel mistress’.

    It turns out that this phrase exists in one form or another in every species in known space and quite a few species to whom space is something they only have a passing acquaintance with. It’s permutations are vast – the city of Lifsabit on Adnusii is devoted to storing these permutations and calculating a suitable word that can be spoken in all languages to stand in for all of the phrases – some of which can be enormously complicated: Shit Happens is one of the simplest but there is also “Rocks pressed into small plates after millions of years under pressure and oceans that were created to support life sometimes raise themselves to the surface after geologic time and volcanic reactions and then are discovered by civilizations that pulled themselves from a primordial ooze only to extinguish themselves or go for a nice long swim only to be eaten by a primordial alligator that has opted not to pull itself from the ooze. These plates sometimes contain food that the civilization has made from various means and according to their own devices and tastes and seasoning and sometimes that food is really not that good and sometimes someone’s uncle who is visiting and has drank too much beer dashes the plate against your skull for no apparent reason.”

    There are theories that ‘Shit Happens’ is one of the first phrases ever calculated by civilizations of any size and nature no matter if they pulled themselves from primordial ooze or the much more common ordial ooze and as such it is granted the status of a universal concept and an astrolinguistic foundation. There are further theories that this phrase alone could unlock any language encountered in known space (or, they add hastily, unknown space – which is far more common) So long as you know for certain that the speaker is uttering his species variety of this phrase anything can be translatable.

    The great project that the city of Lifsabit embarked on nearly two hundred years ago was to simplify all of the phrases and cultural nuances of the phrase into a simple, agreeable utterance that could be used everywhere. Unfortunately, as so often happens when a scientist (or worse yet group of them) has a great idea that they think everyone should quite rationally follow for the benefit of all beings, their suggestions have all been not just ignored but not even blinked at – as though they are the proverbial invisible elephant in a very very large universe sized room. This, of course, has led to a very large drinking problem in the city of Lifsabit which has, circularly, produced an even greater number of these words and a definite decrease in the publication of research papers from that city.

    It all goes round, you see? Which, incidentally, is actually another permutation of the phrase in question.

    Also incidentally Captain Townes Martin Conifer had recently blown his nose on an old copy of the Journal of Lifsabit Metaphonetics and quite unexpectedly uttered the phrase “Soap” which is only a phrase when you consider its amalgamated phonetic cultural context.

    What is not incidental is the fact that he meant it. Every word of it.

    Sophie looked at him, pretty certain that he had just swore somehow but having never heard the word before she could not adjust it to any sense.

    “Excuse me?” She said.

    The captain looked past her at the derelict ruins of the old colonial lifepod she lived in. In the gaping hole that should have been where a door might want to be he saw a three hundred year old poster from some rock band he’d never heard of. There was a bed made of something he hoped was dead that had been fashioned from the old shelves. It was horrifying to consider just how many generations of humans had called this thing home. It looked like an egg that had not just cracked but smashed, rusted, groaned and would prefer not to be looked at for shame.

    That said, the porch was pretty nice.

    “Do you mind if we sit?” He said finally, indicating what he thought might be a chair on the porch.

    “Why? Is there a problem?”

    He scratched his floppy sandy colored hair then did the same to his sandy colored handlebar moustache. One of his sparkling blue eyes jumped it’s socket nervously and propped up an eyebrow at an angle it was uncomfortable with. He didn’t want to seem ungenerous or mean-hearted or un captain like the thought of being any of those made him feel a bit queasy and un captain like.

    He tugged at one of her more prominent arm tattoos, trying to drag her away from the prying ears of Ernesto as though he were about to conspire which in one way he was. He knew that the Computer would be more than pleased to have a unique and LIVING colonial specimen rather than the virtual ones he had to deal with. Though there had been absolutely no detectable change in Ernesto’s stoic expression he could tell that the thought of letting a Colonial loose on The Turtle was the computational equivalent of puppy dogs at Christmas.

    He sat on the thing that might have been a chair. It looked like a cross between a squashed piano and a rotten tomato.

    “Look.” He said. And she complied much to his growing discomfort. “It’s not that we can’t take you with us. In fact, in a way, we intend to do just that – just not quite in the way you think, you see?” In fact she did not. All she saw was the pained look on his face but she couldn’t identify if that was because he was saying something he didn’t like or that she didn’t like or simply due to sitting on her kitchen table. It was, of course, due to all of these factors.

    “What do you mean? So you’re going to take me with you but you’re not?”

    “Yes. Something like that. Only you won’t actually move.” That didn’t seem to cheer her up at all. “I just don’t think it would be proper. I mean, to have someone like you wandering around our ship. It’s really a big ship, you know, and I wouldn’t want you to get lost, or, or, or, smell up anything.”

    She looked at the ship. It was about the size of a football field but of course she didn’t know that as she had never seen a football field in her life.

    “It doesn’t look so big to me. I don’t think I could get lost in it if I tried.”

    “Why would you try?”

    “I wouldn’t.”

    “Why not? Getting lost can be a lot of fun once you catch the knack for it.”

    “What? Look…”

    He did. What he saw was not very promising. The girl was a wreck. In fact wrecks would complain bitterly of the comparison. Both of her arms were well tattooed or at least he thought they were. It could be that it was just another layer of grime. It was hard to tell at that distance which was actually really close – close enough that you should be able to tell. Her hair was a variety of color, all of them brown and it looked as though it was allergic to water. More accurately water was probably allergic to it and caught the plague whenever it came into contact. He found himself wishing she was telepathic because every time she opened her mouth to speak his teeth cowered in fear.

    “You take me with you or you don’t get the carrot. That’s it. I need to get off of this piece of shit. Seriously. I’ve been here for, well, forever. And it’s time. Time to get out. Really. I’ll say please.”

    “Please don’t. It’s just very irregular. I don’t think Earth would approve not to mention I don’t think Susie would appreciate…” He thought of her wandering around the gardens. His stomach churned a moment. ‘Somewhere underneath all that… whatever it was… she might be pretty.’ Some part of his brain said helpfully. The other parts thought it was a good joke and had a hearty laugh. The first part insisted, petulantly.

    He looked around at the remains of the life support pod again and the human impulse towards compassion shined mournfully in his sparkling blue eyes.

    “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to… Besides, we’d be moving you from your home. I mean, this is your home and all and…” The thought, though vaguely horrifying, was kindly meant.

    “Look, if it’s illegal or anything I won’t go. I mean, I’d hate to put you out or anything.” Colonists had a distant but convincing pull towards illegality in that very few of them did anything that wasn’t but all knew with a certainty that to be caught was to be put to death. Colonial Law was arbitrary, quixotic, foolish, delusional and extremely unforgiving. It was also portioned out by anyone who thought it might be a good idea at the time or hadn’t quite had enough booze to suit themselves.

    “I legle? What’s that?”

    “illegal as in, against the law? You know what the Law is don’t you?”

    The captain considered the Law. It had been thoroughly defeated by sense centuries ago and was now whispered of only in circumstances where you wanted children to do something they had no inclination of doing. Even in that diminished role it was far less effective than ‘wolves might get you’.

    Hundreds of miles above them, appearing suddenly out of deep space, something that looked remarkably like Sophie’s Kitchen table pulled to a screeching and menacing halt in the atmosphere.

    “No it’s not against the law it’s just… irregular.” He said finally. “I’m not sure if it can be done. It’s complicated.”

    Of course it wasn’t. The truth was he didn’t want a foul smelling filthy human aboard his ship. It was not a kind thought and for a human from earth unkindness was an event of some note and discomfort – like putting your face in a pit of vipers. It was starting to alarm him how unkind he was being.

    With great effort he took a few deep breaths, trying to wade through the waves of stink surrounding him. He was about to say something definitive. He knew it because of the expectant look in the girl’s mud caked eyes. He just wasn’t sure what it would be yet.

    “All right. Fine. Deal.” He heard someone say.

Categories: Science Fiction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Piranha 3D Movie Review

Every once in a while a movie comes along with such a brilliant vision, such impeccable timing in terms of world events, such a stellar cast that it seems fated to be an instant classic. You see the trailer, the excitement begins, building slowly until you can’t wait to see this great blockbuster and tell your friends that you were the first to see it. A movie about prehistoric fish devouring a stand in for Lake Havasu all done in glorious toothy 3d should have been that movie – but it isn’t.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this movie. There are the basics of course, Prehistoric toothy fish, body parts, gallons of blood, fake boobs, bad jokes. I suppose it delivered on all of those in spades but for some reason I left feeling a little cheated. The DNA of this movie is obvious and if you think you have seen this before it’s because you have – but not in a while and it relies on your fond memories of how much fun a bucket of blood like this once was. Perhaps a little too much.

To say there is nothing new about this movie is like saying every baseball game is basically the same. It’s true and misleading at the same time. Usually in films like this what works is its ability to paint perfectly within the lines of its genre, adhering faithfully to the rules of a creature feature/bucket of blood type film. In one sense we need the familiarity with the genre – it is what makes it a ball game after all. You wouldn’t play baseball with golf balls for instance. In another it’s just too old a convention and throughout the sixties and seventies and eighties there was such a deluge of these films that you really do need them to revise it in some way, update it, make it relevant again, or at least hilarious.

Piranha achieves none of this. It colors so strictly between the lines that it feels at times like a paint by numbers movie. The humor strains itself too much for a laugh, the action is tired and predictable, the special effects even seem aged not by intent but by stale vision. The acting – well – any fool that would go see this for academy award winning performances by Elizabeth Shue and a cast of cameos should really have their head examined and probably have someone to monitor their bank accounts for stupidity.

I really wanted this to be a fun movie and I guess, in some ways it is, but there really isn’t enough of it to go around. It’s diluted by so much of the same that it’s the cinematic equivalent of looking for a specific drop in an ocean. Unfortunately it isn’t so much an attempt to reboot a much maligned but much adored genre as it is an attempt to add another piece of junk to the pile.

So I’d have to say, much to my chagrin – because I really am very fond of the long lost creature feature – that I probably won’t remember this one next week. Bummer.

Categories: Movies | 1 Comment

Humans From Earth pt.stanza.chapter.act 1/2/2/1

“Okay” said the man uncomfortably, shifting his weight a little. “maybe it would be a good idea for some introductions. You do still do introductions don’t you?” He asked.

    Sophie squinted at him as politely as she knew how which was not very polite and in fact made it seem to the receiver of her squint that they had just said something incredibly stupid.

“I mean, I’m not exactly up on the customs of you Colonists these days…” He added uncomfortably while trying to narrowly avoid her skeptical squint without looking like he was. It didn’t work very well. He felt the broadside of the squint on his stubbly cheek like a sunburn and tried to find an interesting rock to stare at – preferably one that would be at a more oblique angle from the direction of her gaze.

“Us colonists?” she finally responded to the back of his head. “Are you trying to say that you are not from the Colony of Biter IV? You’ve got the shifty eyed look of one of them.”

“If you wouldn’t mind me asking,” He said. “When, exactly, was the last time you saw a colonist from Biter IV?”

“Never. I just heard about ’em.” Sophie responded. “I’ve heard their shifty eyed.”

“Well I don’t know about that.” He was relaxing a bit now. The conversation seemed to be going a bit better in the light of her apparent lack of knowledge. “It seemed to me their eyes stayed in the right place the last time I saw them.”

“Oh yeah?” She said defensively. “And when was that?” Something about this human was really starting to irritate her, probably the method he chose to travel in. Everyone knew that Aliens were the only things that were supposed to be wandering around on big silver saucers. It was an affront to everything she believed in.

“Oh.” He looked around at the spectacled man behind him. “Last week wasn’t it?”

“Yes sir.” Said the spectacled man. “Last week Tuesday. Excuse me miss, but what day is it? Tuesday?”

“What’s Tuesday?”

The first man, the one in the shorts and strangely adorned bowling shirt, looked at her. Bowling shirt guy. She thought to herself. He probably has a name but she was sure she didn’t want to know it. It was the look she once had given her brother when he mentioned joining the war with glee and a starry eyed wistfulness. It made her feel like maybe that expression had accidentally found itself on her face and she had to fight back a momentary urge to punch herself in the mouth.

“Tuesday is one of the days of the week. Don’t you name your days here anymore?”

“I named this one ‘the day some jerks ruined my day’day. If that’s what you mean.” She replied.

“Well, that’s sort of on the right track but generally they’re shorter. Good job on being creative though.” Piped up the spectacled man.

“Jerkday then.” She said.

Bowling Shirt Guy coughed politely and appeared for a moment to be confused about which expression was more delicate to use in this situation. It was roughly at that moment that a Mutant bunny tried to maul the one girl of the group, Miss Pouty Puffy Lip. She didn’t scream or cry out as she was expected to do but instead grabbed it in mid flight and seemed to hug it.

“Ahhh Bunny!” She cooed with glee. The bunny, held in the embrace of this lunatic bared its fangs and spit at her trying to nuzzle her equine neck with its very unsoft teeth. “Ernest, look! It’s a bunny! I always wanted one!” She yelled at the Spectacled man now known as Ernest.

“What the hell happened to it? Does it have rabies?” He said.

“No no no. It’s just genetically confused that’s all.” She replied, trying to maneuver her hand around its thrashing head to pat it. “Here little fella. It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you.”

“It’s going to kill you though.” Sophie replied.

“Nonsense.” Said Pouty Puffy Lip. “Bunnies don’t hurt people. They’re cuddly and they love to be snuggled. I just talked to one the other day about the subject, in fact.” She held the bunny tightly in the crook of her arm like a headlock as it opened and closed it’s bristling mouth in a mixture of rage and horror – trying to chomp anything that came within range of being chomped. The other hand scratched at the soft fur at the back of it’s neck. In a strange instant the bunnies eyes clicked open. Even though bunnies should not have expressions, this one was clearly in shock with just a dash of strange recognition. Once that passed it closed its eyes and smiled.

“See?” Said Pouty Puffy Lips. “Snuggly!” Indeed the bunny had completely relaxed. She had never seen one of them smile before, generally because she did everything in her power to kill them quickly before they got that close. She had to admit –even though it took a bit of revulsion to do it – that it was almost cute.

“Look.” She said, hoping that her eyes weren’t goggling quite as much as she suspected they might be. “I’ve had a day already. I’m getting tired of all of this standing around. I have trees to milk and goats to chew.”

“Right.” Said Bowling Shirt Guy. “Sorry about all of this. Susannah get’s carried away with her job a little. Very enthusiastic at times.” Pouty Puffy Lip looked up from her still tightly clenched blob of soft downy fur capped with gigantic teeth and smiled broadly. She had to admit, it was one of the cleanest and toothiest smiles she’d ever seen on a human and it, like the now docile bunny, unnerved the hell out of her. Human teeth were not meant to be white. Nor were they supposed to be straight and she couldn’t remember the last time she’d see quite so many of them.

“You’re not really human are you?” She said.

“Oh yes. From Earth. I thought we’d mentioned that already. Sorry. My name is Captain Townes Martin Conifer, this is my Biological Expert Susannah Brown and her husband and the Turtle’s computer, Ernesto Brown. And you are?”

“Annoyed.”

“That’s a strange name. Well, Miss Noyd. As I mentioned we’re trying to procure one of your carrots if that’s possible.” This time he smiled. She wondered what it was with these so called people insisting they were human by proving how much they weren’t. He too had an impeccable row of white – not brownish yellowish – teeth.

She squinted at him again, this time as she would have at her father when he insisted that the President of Florida was going to visit in the morning and she needed to clean the goats with that small weird plastic stick with the bristles stuck in it that seemed to have no other purpose other than meticulous goat cleaning. Her squint didn’t have the desired effect. He continued to smile. His pearly white teeth glittered in the sun.

“You want one carrot. Am I right about that?”

The Spectacled man coughed politely which caused Bowling Shirt Guy to look at him.

“Oh yes and a few potatoes if you have them. And if you don’t mind my biological officer has taken a liking to your Bunny here.”

“Well you’re welcome to the Bunny. I’ve never heard someone want just one carrot though. And usually when they come to get them they have guns. And they don’t ask.”

“Well we thought we would be polite. Besides we don’t have guns. We’ll happily pay you for them.”

Payment was a novel concept she’d heard of in tales of a mythological nature. It was always a concept she’d liked about in tales, however. If she understood it correctly it meant that someone would give something for something else. She didn’t quite understand the point of it, of course, as it was just a matter of swapping stuff and she already had most of the stuff she needed except the one really big big one that she often wished for.

“What’ll you give me for it?” She said, squintily.

“Well, I understand that you colonists used to trade little metal disks or small chunks of nicely printed paper. We have a lot of that if you would like it.”

“I haven’t got a damned bit of use for something like that.”

The spectacled man stepped forward confidently. “How about a toothbrush?” He said, producing a Meticulous Goat Cleaner.

“I already have one of those.” She said.

“Really? That’s actually quite shocking.” He said, putting the Goat Cleaner away.

It was the Captains turn to be squinty. “Well, what would you consider a fair trade for the items involved?”

Trade was another term she’d distantly heard about. It was up there with buying things as in it was something that happened in fairy tales and long gone stories of the olden days which everyone knew hadn’t ever really happened. There was something in her, however, that was keen on the idea but that really isn’t too uncommon. Who doesn’t want to live a fantasy? She figured she could play along until one of them pulled the requisite gun used for such transactions.

“I want off this damned shitpile.”

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me. I want to be gone from here. Off of this planet. Gone. If you want my carrot and some potatoes my going trade is that I’m coming with you. I’ll throw in the Rabbit for free.”

The captain cleared his throat hoping that when it cleared it might push the appropriate words out with whatever it was that was in there.

Categories: Science Fiction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dear Grizzly Sow

Honestly I do not use the term ‘sow’ as a pejorative. Seriously. It’s really what you call a Mama Grizzly only that doesn’t sound quite as good in sound bites. But whatever. I apologize if I offended any grizzlies who prefer the term ‘mama’.

Of course you know what all of this is about. Lately certain humans who otherwise might try to load you and your cubs with an excess of lead have been appropriating your image and demeanor for their own political purposes. Personally, I don’t object to this terribly. It’s bound to happen. I just thought you might like to be informed. Also I would very much like to let you know that the awful thrumming sound you occasionally hear over head marks a great time to take yourself and your adorable cubs under the nearest available cover. Preferably something that repels heavy chunks of lead being thrown at high velocity. Oh yeah and if you happen to see a big chunk of meat lying around without it being attached to an animal, it’s good policy to leave it be. I’m just looking out for you.

But while we’re on the subject –

I understand that you’re fiercely protective of your cubs and all. I think that’s terrific. Really, I do. I mean, what kind of legacy are you leaving behind if you’re not leaving any cubs behind? I get it. But let’s be honest, every once in a rare while one of those people you’re so keen to maul may be a scientist, or a teacher, or the flower delivery person, or a book seller. Not everybody under the sun is out to get you. Some of them actually want to try to help, you know – point the way to a better trout stream or give a sick cub some reading material because he’s been sitting in front of the television watching Jersey Shore too much.

In the long run it really doesn’t do you a great deal of good to Maul EVERYONE who has an opinion different from yours. I know you think you know best for your children. We all do. Honestly. The trouble is sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes – we’re wrong. I know that might come as a shock but trust me it’s true. Perhaps you could moderate your Mauling position every now and then and try to determine if the person about to be mauled warrants it. It’s a bit of a difficult process but it can be worth it. Basically it means instead of growling over people and bearing claws and teeth, you try listening and understanding. It’s really not that unpleasant once you get the hang of it but it does require stepping away from what you consider your ‘nature’.

Anyway. I just hope all this helps. People don’t much like getting mauled any more than Mama Grizzly Sows like lead being thrown at them. Just an FYI.

Thanks,

Your completely non-tasty servant

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

“All the damned vampires…”

So. I’m poor again – unemployed which means more time to muddle through some writing. Not that I’m doing it. Unemployment has a tendency to, well, kick one in the proverbial balls and therefore, and consequent to, you tend to lose your will to be productive until you are looking through loose change trying to see if you can put a spittle of gasoline in the tank to go to an interview that may or may not pan out.

But whatever.

It also means I find myself with abundant time to read. Unfortunately it also means that I find myself without a suitable book, or at least one that suits me and my present flattened attitude. So off I go to the bookstore with my meager savings and to what do my wondering eyes does appear, but a host of bloodsucking teens in full malaise gear!! Or should I say, girl teens in giggly malaise gear. I honestly didn’t know that giggly and ennui could be put in the same room together but apparently I’ve been missing out in life since the days when I wiled away my bleak teen existence in my basement bedroom listening to The Smiths. Things have indeed changed.

These days bleak can indeed coexist with bubbly. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. It can be written in sparkly letters on the covers of trapper keepers. Do they have trapper keepers anymore? I’m sure if they do they will be adorned with the visage of some immortally pale teen with a dental issue. For evidence of this you need look only so far as your local bookseller. Go to the children’s or young adults section. Carry a dead cat. Swing it three times and let it go. If you don’t hit a book with a vampire in it I will eat the dead cat. Or if it isn’t a vampire may I suggest the other possible Dramatis Personae: Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bennett, Mr. Darcy, or (a slightly smaller chance) any number or combination of Bronte’s.

Personally I’m a bit disgusted on so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.

Look. I’m a good old fashioned American guy. I love Elizabeth Bennett. Wait, that didn’t come out well. I love the Bronte’s. It’s getting worse. Jane Austen, she’s my gal. Honestly. Now before I go and emasculate my Amercanninity further may I just state… Ah screw it. Nothing can help my case now. Let me just state that I prefer each of them, in turn, within their respective pages. I’m not adverse to literary license and let’s face it – he who doesn’t appreciate Elizabeth Bennett – Zombie Slayer just isn’t worth my time at all. But this is getting ridiculous.

My last tour of the ‘Literary’ section of the bookstore was like a grand romp through a clothing catalogue display circa 1825. There were more Empire waists and bonnets in attendance than were housed in all the greatest families of England in that year. It seems that everyone who writes is writing some dredged up romance teetering on the graves of some very capable and long deceased authoresses. What happened?

While the film industry resurrects every eighties TV show and produces such a massive pantheon of comic book movies that Olympus and Asgaard can now be seen on a daily basis quivering with rage, the literary world sinks deeper and deeper into the festering graves of a long past century. Here’s an idea: How about those who write – please stop borrowing other people’s imaginations? I don’t want to see Lizzy Bennett anymore, except where she richly belongs – between the covers of Austen’s original. I don’t want to see Austen, wandering the darkened streets of Bath solving crimes like a Georgian Jessica Fletcher.

And I am definitely done –DONE- with the Gothic Vein. Shit. Put a stake in that mouldering old bastard already.

I’m very happy that Edward and his ilk have given the Beatles Bereft teens of this generation something to coo about. (Though to be honest I think teens of every generation are pretty resilient in finding things to coo about) I’m happy that it’s gotten them to read and discuss books. If I have to hear those discussions, though, nothing will stop me from attempting to stab myself in the chest with a pointy stick. I’m not so happy that Edward and his ilk have left the generation of boys growing up nothing to hope for and therefore a dismal excuse to sink into their disgusting slurry of shitty video games. But hey, I suppose that just secures the future of the free world for women – who will soon be the only ones capable of reading.

It sucks being a teen boy. I mean really. I remember it with considerable nausea. If you’ve never been one before I highly suggest you try it sometime. See if you last a full day with your self esteem intact. We all resign ourselves to delivering up all our self respect through the high school days to whatever sacrificial altar is set before us: Sports, status, achievement, girls, parents, the local law enforcement buzz-kills. We hope that once we make the jail break from the teenaged years we can slowly start to recover, rebuild, or create from scratch. Some of us make it – many of us don’t. And yeah, you may say that the world is still owned by men and all of the glass ceiling stuff. It’s true. We suck, still. But the cultural deck is stacked way against us and with glossy jerks like Edward around causing all the available eyes to swoon, it starts young.

If you ask any girl of a certain age which one they prefer they will invariably have one of two answers. If you ask any straight boy of any age which one they prefer I can fairly guaranty only one answer: Kick either (preferably both) of them in a place where even a Werewolf or Vampire is guaranteed to feel it. The point of this is that when I was a kid of that age I muddled my painful way through the all too shitty days of High School by burying myself in a world of books, adventure stories, horror stories, hell, I even really enjoyed Vampire stories back then because they were vicious and dangerous and they jumped out of the dark and scared the ever living hell out of you. But no more. An adventure, such as it is, has become a trip to the mall for cute shoes. Vampires don’t lurk in shadows anymore. They sulk on bookshelves and on the sides of girl’s lockers. (and worst of all they provide a great target for certain types of boys to mimic to get what they want – you know what I mean?)

I would despair – and actually as a thirty something adult I do despair which is why I am writing this – at the state of the literary world. I think it sucks. I’m trying to do my little bit for it here and there but man, I can’t help thinking of that poor kid I once was, rooting through the available world of culture and finding nothing but a noisy videogame for solace. I can’t help but feel for that guy, longingly looking at bookshelves, wanting to read, and finding nothing worth reading: “Guess I’ll play Halo 45.”

I don’t really quite know how to fix this gaping chasm of the cultural gap. I do know that, if I were fifteen again, I would probably be even more suicidal than I felt I was at the time. I know I would look around desperately for something to believe in, something to get me through the day, a hero, a thinker, something, anything and I would find only empty husks of men barely able to support their own weight much less the responsibility of being adult. Sports stars, movie stars, rap stars, where does a kid go?

Well… Hit the books, pal – if you can even find them anymore. They’re all buried somewhere under that giant pile of adorably pale puppy dog eyes and pointy teeth. Let’s admit it – the damned game system is boring as hell anyway. You only do it because it’s the only thing you can do where you know you won’t get yelled at.

Hit the books, pal. I’m serious. And if you don’t like the stories you find there start writing your own. Find a door somewhere in the diminished experience you’re allowed to have at your age and crawl through. For me it was science. I read a lot of it – that and the horror stories of Stephen King and HP Lovecraft – where vampires were still scary and not cuddly.

Hit the books because the video game world doesn’t care that you finished Halo for the fortieth time on Legendary level. It doesn’t care about much of anything, really – not even giving you a decent story to chew over. It cares about your money and it will destroy your brain if you let it so that you won’t be able to tell what is good, interesting or intelligent anymore.

Alright. I’m done ranting. I’m sending this out completely unedited ‘cuz I was just in the mood to soapbox. I apologize for any inconsistencies or the crappiness of the essay form – at which I was never good and which has since denied me access to graduate studies. Yeah. I’m bitter. Grrr….

Categories: Writing | 1 Comment

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago regarding how to judge a book or movie and it came down to a simple practice which I will seek to employ above all others. I think this simple little ditty can replace any four or five star critique or thumbs up or thumbs down which are far too vague to do any good to anyone. I mean, let’s be brutally honest here – five stars? Everyone knows that any critic worth their salt will regularly withhold five stars for such things as The Second Coming or Michael Bay films or Titanic. (Pardon me I just choked on my own vomit.) Then there is the thumbs up and thumbs down junk. Seriously – I would be a terrible critic if I did anything of the sort because there are so many different criteria in film or literature. ‘Was the prose good, visually stunning, poetical etc? Yes? Thumbs up. BUUUUTTTT…. Were the characters stereotypical amalgams of pre packaged cultural junk? Yes? Thumbs down. So it is with this that I usher in the new criteria: ‘Will I remember it next week?’

You might think this can’t possibly work or you might think I have early Alzheimers but the fact of the matter is that I find that we are in such a culturally loaded world these days that my brain will only store so much junk before tossing it out the side windows of my ears. Between endless reboots of films and television shows from the eighties, the general lack of anything original being produced by anyone, ever, and the fact that everything is about as fresh as bread recycled into breadcrumbs and then re-pasted back into a breadish shape by the brainless gnomes of a commerce oriented cultural lego factory – I think fond remembrance is about the best that anyone can expect.

And so I bring you The Gun Seller – by Hugh Laurie. Yes. THAT Hugh Laurie.

I don’t know why but it seems I’ve been circulating amongst his works for a while now – stumbling upon them, actually. Maybe it’s because a few people have said I look like him. I doubt it. That has never motivated me before. It certainly isn’t due to his portrayal of Dr. Gregory House – I don’t watch the show regularly and I have a severe allergic reaction to Englishmen playing Americans and vice versa. (ironic considering the plot deeply involves just that) I find Laurie a very good actor playing an American part but then I just wonder why that’s necessary – you see what I mean? Like Maggie Gyllenhal playing a very good Englishwoman – I don’t understand the need for it. Aren’t there good English actors who could do just as well and couldn’t Dr. House just be English? I don’t get it – but please refer to the opening paragraph for the beginning of this diatribe where I obliquely point out the dismal state of creativity and the fiendish overlords who squirt it out in pre-generated dollops. I will continue this at length somewhere else but right now I’m overdue for a review.

The Gun Seller is a thriller about the strange paths life can take when evil corporate overlords collude with diabolical government agencies and wrap up a former English soldier in their tangled webs. Quite predictably the conclusion is that life can get downright unpleasant, not fun, a real drag. It is this ‘drag’ that we object to whenever we pick up the news, listen to the news, see the news on the street, throw a brick through the newses window or on the off and horrible chance that the News reaches out and calls us just to chat. The news sucks and the news – such as it is a semi accurate reporting of the whole crappiness of human existence – is really best to be faced head on, chin up, shoulders squared, and laughing hysterically.

The news, as far as we are forced to be aware of it, is filled with tales of evil corporations manipulating events and situations to economic advantage. It’s a familiar story that our hero becomes involved with, entirely believable in the ever jaundiced eye of our current awareness. This story, however, rolls along and around like a wonderful rollercoaster, never stalling on boring details best left to nuclear engineers or sonar operators like SOME writers might. Ahem. Ahem. For example:

”You know what a Glaser slug is, Thomas?” He spoke softly, almost dreamily.

“No Rusty” I said, “I don’t know what a Glaser slug is. Sounds like it’s a chance for you to bore me to death instead of shoot me. Off you go.”

What’s wonderful about this book, and believe me – it’s just what the doctor ordered for my current state of literary malaise – is that Americans have suitably supplanted the demonized KGB agent of past spy thrillers. What makes it even better is that everything is so thoroughly witty and tongue in cheek that it’s difficult to take any of the very realistic peril with much seriousness. This is, of course, the best way to take peril as the hero so aptly demonstrates over and over again. Americans ooze their murky moral mess throughout this daring little novel, they creep in all the appropriate corners, bristling with menace, working their cunning evil schemes. Being an American I envy their cunning which I am no longer certain we’re capable of. These days it seems we’re more the thug on patrol. Broke a window- “Yeah? So what? I did it. Whatchu gonna do about it?” Invade a nation for spurious reasons (I used SPURIOUS!!! FTW!!!): “And?, we’ll do it again if we feel like it.” I have to say, as an American, it’s really refreshing to see the demagogic tables turned.

But what makes this even better is the irrepressible humor of it. I could have expected this sort of humor from the weirdo co-creator of Fry and Laurie. I should have expected it, but somehow I just almost didn’t. Well, I sort of did because I bought the book but I have to admit I was a little surprised at just how effective he was at writing it. Laurie manages to thread his hero Thomas Lang through so many misadventures without weakening him one bit, without making him a complete buffoon, and without diminishing his resolve to the extent that this unlucky, hard boiled, accidental super spy comes through the story very heroically and yet still funny. Even at the most dire of times Lang is good for a great quip, clearly demonstrating that the best way to muddle through the evils of an evil world is with a bit of a laugh at the expense of it and yourself.

Not since Douglas Adams have I read such brilliantly topsy turvy descriptions of things and I am very much a description type of person.

“He was uglier than a car park, with a big, hairless skull that dipped and bulged like a balloon full of spanners, and his flattened, fighter’s nose, apparently drawn on his face by someone using their left hand, or perhaps even their left foot, spread out in a meandering, lopsided delta under the rough slab of his forehead.

And God Almighty, what a forehead. Bricks, knives, bottles and reasoned arguments had, in their time, bounced harmlessly off this massive frontal plane, leaving only the feeblest indentations between its deep, widely-spaced pores. They were, I think, the deepest and most widely-spaced pores I have ever seen in human skin, so that I found myself thinking back to the council putting-green in Dalbeattie, at the end of the long, dry, summer of ’76.”

I love description that can make your head spin madly, whether its poetically beautiful as in Fitzgerald or just mad as in Laurie and Adams. Nothing irritates me more, frankly, than a dimwitted writer with nothing to say about the big, wide, scary, beautiful world around them. You might as well knock me unconscious with stinky cheese. The Gun Seller hangs its many hats on these descriptions and I couldn’t be happier trying them on with glee. It’s not the story, which is twisty and turny and very good, but it’s the narrators irrepressible viewpoint on that story that makes this novel so good.

Anyway. I’ll remember this one next week and the next time I see House I will curse the fates because I would much rather Laurie be in front of his typewriter than on my TV. And now I am off to watch episode 5 or 4 of the first season of MI5. Whichever one he guest starred in.

Verdict: Memorable

Categories: Book reviews | 1 Comment

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