Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: What is the trial of the century?

The trial of the century was not about that. It was not about all the blood in the sports star's other car. It wasn't about the color of his skin or how many tenths of a man that made him. It was not about whether he could vote for president, or whether he could vote in the PTA meeting about strangers teaching your children strange things. It was not about separation of the lab and the pulpit. It was not about foreign ethnics rounded up, caged and nearly exterminated. It was not judged by a single authority, or a tribunal, or a jury of its peers, or a million men marching at the city on the hill. The trial of the century was judged by a jury of millennia. Like always, they found the century guilty.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Transgender

Thanks for all the positive feedback! This story is down for the time being as it's being submitted for potential publication.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Fifty Blank Pages

I’ve got a new gimmick for novels that no one will even know is a gimmick until they finished the book. I’m putting fifty blank pages at the end of my next novel. It's terrible for trees, but I'll print on recycled paper if that will fix things up ecologically. It's just got to be done. I've got to fool readers into believing the book is longer than it is.

As much as they might want to, most readers don’t ride a book. They're smart and critical and look for all the clues. They can decipher the theme behind Gatsby’s riches before the first party is over. They register that a third of the way into Stephen King's Dead Zone, Mr. Smith has only begun to get the powers the plot revolves around, and judge King’s efficiency. They catch not only foreshadowing but all character and plot details to build a mental schematic of what is possible in the book, and thereby predicting what's to come. In building such schematics nothing is as useful as book geography - that is, what page you're on out of how many pages are in the book. They simply can't have figured out the killer in a twist-a-thon mystery with a hundred pages left. The terrorists must have an escape plan if they're busted with so many pages left to go.

Everyone does this, which is to say: I do it, and do it often enough that I can convince myself that everyone else must. Hey! Don't shy away from that. That's Dostoyevsky-level introspection and honesty right there. I am a repentant asshole when I read; I constantly apologize and keep on sinning. There are a few wonderful readers who sink deep into the book and turn the last page in the hopes that there’s a brief final chapter on the inner book jacket. These wonderful people will forgive so long as the book is good (that part I’m working on), while the schemers require a scheme. Their reader's foresight is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night, knowing no matter how hard I plot, whether my audience can or can't predict exactly what will happen, that they will expect something to happen based on the typographical real estate remaining.

Very few writers can beat the schematic-building readers. That’s why I’m doing this. Fifty blank bonus pages at the end of my next novel so you’ll be sure there’s another reveal. Is she really his mother? Were the jewels real? Surely I’ll reveal it in the end. Except those twists are stupid and I’d never dream of including them. Instead I’ll give you the space to invent your own filler, which you might have hated had it been there.

You'll think there are sixty-five pages left when there are only fifteen. By this means you’ll remain comfortable, not bracing yourself for detachment. It’ll tie up before you’re ready, when you’re still at the height of feeling and full of schemes about where this is going. Fifty blank pages will be the painting of the tunnel on the mountainside, or the sharp turn that sends the coyote off the cliff, or whatever your favorite Roadrunner analogy is. The main character dies in the shoot-out, is pronounced dead and does not make the miraculous recovery you thought he would because those next several dozen pages aren't part of the plot at all. They're simply recycled red herrings.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Correlation and Causation

I have this mental image of a guy in black and white stripes carrying a bag with a dollar sign on it. He's cornered by men in cowboy hats.

He goes, "Now, now. Correlation does not imply causation."

One cowboy goes, "Only two kinds of people say that: the guilty and the GET HIM!"

Not sure what happens next.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Imaginary answer to an imaginary question asked by Charlie Rose in an interview that never happened

"There’s so much to read now. We take for granted what really only came to be recently. There is no barrier between the old and new Literature. With Project Gutenberg, Google Books and similar services, thousands of classics are clicks away. There’s no charge. You don’t even have to go to the library. It’s not this way for the whole world, but for our part of it there are no book burnings and a library banning something doesn’t make it unavailable. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is free on who-knows-how-many websites. The barriers are down, not just in accessibility, but in what used to be able to go together. You can buy the last Harry Potter book and the first Charles Dickens book in the same order from, and buying them together might qualify for free shipping. Nearly all the classics in our language can be found, and more people are writing right now than ever before. Tweets, blogs, bad poetry and long novels – it’s pouring literacy out there, at the same time as it’s never been so easy to get a copy of The Odyssey or Anna Karenina. That’s exciting. That’s why my reading habits are so weird. I don’t understand a Science Fiction author who only reads Sci Fi. I’m doing Good Omens right now, Brave New World next, then Walter Isaacson’s Einstein biography. I read a classic, then history or science, then contemporary popular fiction, then another classic, then a magazine, then a short story anthology, then comic books from Japan. Comic books from Japan! A hundred years ago, were there comic books in Japan? A hundred years ago there was no way you could have even found out sitting in a living room in America. Today you can type it into a search engine and find out. Back then typing was rare, search engines didn’t exist, and the answer was unimaginable."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: Magical Science

Magic and science have never been at odds. That would be like science being at odds with gravity or electricity. Science is about how things work. There were times when the scientific community didn’t understand electricity, but with study they got it to go through wires and power our televisions. Magic is merely a force, be it Eldritch, demonic or divine, that we didn’t understand, no different than lightning was to the Neanderthals.

The feud wasn’t between magic and science; it was between magicians and scientists. Magicians were always a private lot, rarely sharing their knowledge with each other. That’s why you had pyromancers, geomancers and necromancers instead of generalmancers. In their own way, wizards were scientists in that they tested and analyzed their own knowledge. They were most unscientific in that they wouldn’t share, especially not with real scientists.

Real scientistis intimidated the magi with their steam engines and cannons. Today conservative magicians will claim the elders were protecting their arts from exploitation, from a scientific community that turned knowledge of combustion into guns and bombs and knowledge of disease into biological warfare. Yet we have enough records of armies of skeletons to know magicians have never been entirely pacifistic.

They hid their knowledge because a man who knows how to build a gun and summon a fireball will put everyone else out of business. Conjurable pet griffins and magic carpets had a hard enough time competing against the locomotive. But if engineers knew how to manipulate magical forces, like summoning that fire? The locomotives would become so efficient that competition would be impossible. You could light up entire city electrical grids with one thunder spell. You could, and we did, hire demons to protect your internet firewalls so any hacker who tried passing it suddenly went blind. With empirical reason, we knew magic better than the ancients in mere years. We just had to get magic into the lab.

Shame what happened to the magicians. The smart ones moved into scholastics. Some actually teach science history, since they were around when magic broke into science (or vice versa). Others returned to their tribes, to continue playing witch doctors. They didn’t want to move on with civilization, where they’d be amateurs at their specialty.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bathroom Monologue: “Today’s Writing Prompt: Death” or, He Died on the Keyboard

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