She Was Dead To Begin With

I was alone that morning in the library when the strange woman returned the book that did not belong.

That sentence has been in my head (and on paper) for about six years now. It’s the first line to a story. I think. The thing is, I have no idea what the next sentence is. I’ve tried figuring out who “I” am[1], who “The strange woman is”[2] and why the book doesn’t belong.[3] The number of possible  permutations of all three variables is staggering. And I think I’ve decided that they don’t matter. Nothing I could come up with could improve on the story. I think that one sentence is the story. The universal I, a hint at longing, lust or love and the deliverance of knowledge arcane, foreboding and possibly forbidden. Anything else i might have to say on the matter would just be embellishment. This story is a little longer than six words, but it fulfills the same quality as that exercise in concision: economy of language, precision of word choice, reliance on and acceptance of the profound and multiform variability of the English language, it’s nuance speaking volumes in single vowels. More importantly, it’s an exercise in knowing when to stop.

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1. which is more than the usual existential conundrum, as there are quite a few possibilities besides myself, narratively speaking.

2. Is she very strange? Merely peculiar? A little eccentric? Does she walk with a limp, have a glass hand or an eye patch? Or is she just inscrutable? Perhaps she’s a Manic Pixie Dream girl? A femme fatale? A mousy, gangster’s moll with a lisp?

3. I’ve determined it’s at the very least not the usual sort of wrong book, as in it simply comes from another collection. It should be a portentous book, full of omens and riddles, possibly in a cipher, maybe in a made up language. I toyed around with it containing the secret history of the United States, but then i read Crooked little Vein and decided that well was dry.

A Bridge from the Past to the Future that Never Was

Don’t mind me, I’m just going to spill a few links here so I can find them later. This is a reference post of cool things that, for the astute, will give you an idea of what the new book is about, since I mentioned nothing concrete in the previous post.

A flickr set of the great French illustrator and writer, Albert Robida. A contemporary of Verne, he wrote farcical futuristic satire about what sort of life we’d be living in the 20th century, as seen form the late edge of the 19th. Brilliant bizarre stuff.

A couple of links to dictonaries of old timey slang and one on how to talk like Frank Sinatra. In case you were wondering and I know you are.

An interesting article on everyone’s favorite topic, sex tourism. Kids love Thai lady boys!

And Steampunk Magazine has released issue 7 into the wild.

The Story Thus Far, Part 8: When the Fail Whale Calls Your Name

What do you do when the story goes off the rails like, as John Rogers put it, a burning train full of pantless clowns?

You bury the dead and walk away, preferably in slow motion while “Everyone” by Van Morrison plays on the soundtrack.

So, that’s basically what I’ve been doing these last few weeks, ignoring the blog and burying the dead story that was formerly The Man From Planet X. “But what happened?” says nice kind hypothetical you, “I thought everything was going well. You had a plot outline, a structure, your characters were humming along and everything seemed like it was moving towards Miller Time.”

Well, see that’s the thing. Sometimes, you can do everything right and one day, the story just has an aneurysm and falls down on the kitchen floor.

What happened was this: the plot stopped working I was running in circles, trying to figure out how to move the characters from one contrived set of circumstances to another in a way that would be entertaining, both for me and the reader. And it wasn’t working. The circumstances of the story were too contrived. I had a lot of cool stuff and fun characters but everything they said and did was flat, pointless and required an epic level of disbeleif to be suspended on very thin wires. It wasn’t fun or alive. Worse, it wasn’t my story.

At some point, the tale had turned into some wrote bit of sci-fi pablum. Just another Saturday matinee thriller where something weird and lifeless and hollow happened for no real reason other than the thought that hey, it be kinda cool if a time traveling astronaut were to get in a fist fight with Transhumanist fascists dressed like Lady Gaga. You see? That’s not me! That’s not the story I wanted to tell. So, for now at least, Major Tom will remain lost in space. Maybe at some point in the future, I’ll bring him back down to Earth and see if I can’t find something worth his time. Until then, he’ll just have to remain a junkie, strung out on heavens high, reaching an all time low.

Luckily, this is where plan B comes in to play.

“What do you mean, plan B?!” says hypothetical you. “There was no mention of Plan B when we started this trip!”

That’s because there’s always a plan B. Its a given. If you want to write for fun and profit, you’d better have more than one story to tell, otherwise, it’ll be a real short trip.

Plan B in this case is another novel that I had been tinkering with. I already had all the character notes, a skeleton of the world built and enough of a plot to get the ball rolling in short order. Turns out — and I’d completely forgotten this — I’d already written the first five chapters even. reading over them again after nearly a year or so, I found they worked really well, so much so that I can’t for the life of me remember why i set this story aside. In the last week, I’ve already roughed out nearly three more chapters.

And here’s the best part: I already feel a lot like I’m home in this story. Like it’s already worn in and I just have to pull it out of the back of the closet and put it on my feet. There’s something to be learned here: that sometimes, the real way to succeed as a writer is to fail. Fail hard. Fail gloriously. Then pick up and take what you’ve learned and start again.

Yours is an Unoriginal Sin

The iPad came out this weekend and the backlash is in full form. “Why would I want a big iPod?” says the computer geek, pushing his glasses up his nose. “I already have a netbook running Red Hat Linux.”

Saying that you wouldn’t want an iPad because you already have a laptop is missing the point.The iPad isn’t designed for or marketed to the tech savvy or computer literate. It’s not for geeks who want to build websites in their spare time (and neither is it for tinkerers, hackers or makers). It’s for people who don’t see a use for a laptop, because they only use desktop computers at work, to write reports or run spreadsheets, and can’t imagine why anyone would want to spend their spare time doing something that looks like work. It’s for people curious about this whole Youtube/twitter/facebook/ebook thing they keep hearing about. The iPad is cheaper than a laptop, and  marketed as a thing that does simple stuff for people who don’t normally play on computers. It’s for consuming media as fast or as slow as you want it, not for playing Net Cowboy in the digital wilderness. It’s a spork, not a Swiss Army knife.

Tech savvy tinkerers can use it too, as a way to separate their social media playtime form their working on a laptop time, so it does have that geeky, gadget fetish factor. But that’s a secondary market. The iPad is the machine that will introduce your grandma to facebook or let your macho buddy who doesn’t do all that nerdy computer stuff read an ebook or play a game. Neither will be frightened by having to sit down at a computer. Because it isn’t a computer. it’s an iPad. It isn’t for the faithful, it’s a missionary machine.

Being of the geek faithful, you may have a hard time wrapping your head aorund the idea that Uncle Steve made a new toy for the dumb kids to play with. That’s OK. Your only sin is being too imaginative. You wanted something that would change the world and what you got was just another cool gadget. I’m sure once you get one of your own though, you’ll get over it.

Not The Perseus You’re Looking For

Over at Salon, Martha Nichols asks, why can’t Hollywood make good mythic movies?

Watching the trailer for “Clash of the Titans,” I know as surely as the Oracle of Delphi that this movie will be foul. A remake of the 1981 film — fantasy classic to some, pure hokum to others — it will swoop upon us April 2.

Here’s what I wonder: Why has no halfway decent director made a film about the Greek gods and their attendant nymphs and heroes? I don’t mean contemporary retellings like “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” I mean a movie that re-creates the Greek gods on their own terms.

Think about what James Cameron or Peter Jackson could do with this material — the original stuff from Hesiod and Ovid and Apollodorus, which is so much better than toga-clad extras and grunts fighting giant scorpions.

We could expand this question: why can’t Hollywood make good movies? (which are our myths)

Like Martha Nichols, I’m a huge fan of mythology and like all mythology buffs, I was weened on that particular sub genre known as Greek Mythology.[1] This is where a lot of our culture comes form and some of the greatest, most dramatic stories are told there. But they remain only on paper. The thin shadows of these tales that get made into films are a disappointment, because they lack the scale, the grandeur and the sheer weirdness of the source material. The reaosn is simple: money.

Hollywood movies cost tens of millions of dollars to make.[2] And being concerned with the bottom line before anything else (if anything else, sometimes), producers want a sure thing. That means shaving off the sharp points that might cut or sting and hacking off anything that might offend the small minded bigotries of Real Americans.[3] So: no art for you. All that incestuous, bloody tragedy, that lascivious intent and dark, squirming beauty that makes the myths live is omitted. Instead, we get soldiers killing monsters and saving the (always white, usually blond) princess. Sweet dreams and good night. Don’t think too hard about what it might mean, it’s just shadows on the cave wall.

Which is a shame because if you were to make a straight up, bloody myth, with gods and goddesses scheming and plotting for petty reasons and thwarting the dreams of man, you could make millions.[4] There’s a reason these stories have persisted for three thousand years: they speak to our hearts and tell us about ourselves. Whenever you watch a  movie and feel it’s lacking something but can’t tell what– this is what! It lacks the tragic beauty of myth.

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1. Fun fact: the Greek myths aren’t all Greek. They come from a wide range of cultural source material, some of it Egyptian, some of it Persian, all filtered through a loose conglomeration of Greek authors who lived centuries apart and came from different Hellenic cultures, even. Greece isn’t a huge place but it was by no means a monocutlure. it was more like the crossroads where a dozen different cultures (Spartan, Mycenaean, Thracian, Athenian, etc.) all met and swapped their best stories. It was the original crossover comics, the first mash ups. You think adding zombies to Jane Austen novels was fun? How about a movie where the Athenians fight the zombie armies of Hades? You don’t really even have to stretch the myth too far to fit it in.

2. These days, the big tent pole action pictures start their budgets at 100 mil. Avatar cost 500 mil. Half a billion dollars. There are countries in Europe with GDP smaller than one movie. This is why the story that movie tells is so bland and predictable. In order to recoup that much cash, there was no room to take chances.

3. We used to call them yokels. Now, they’re the GOPs base and their Queen, Sarah Pallin, is jealous and petty, like any good would-be goddess.

4. And as Nichols points out, making the cast more multicultural would actually be closer to the source material, so your world market comes built in.