Saturday, March 10, 2012

Another Surface

You may have noticed the weird story I posted yesterday. It was surreal even for my tastes, and came about when a certain track came up while editing. Ed Harrison's "Surface" is perhaps the most stirring song on the preposterously evocative Neo Tokyo. With your assistance, I'd like to play a little experiment.

Writers, readers, general thinkers: load up the song below and close your eyes. In a few minutes, please share what this song brought to your minds. I doubt it'll be what my Surface was, but am keenly curious for just what you get out of it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Surface


I’m standing on the platform when everything goes yellow. It’s not bright yellow; it’s yellow, and it’s bright, and it’s so bright that every wall and rail and commuter is reduced to contours. I look around for the outline of my wife in the mess of once-people, breath catching in my chest when I recognize her down there, a silhouette of black triangles hurrying along the tracks. Hurrying away, away from me, toward the streaming yellow beam. It’s only when I notice the light is approaching, racing to greet her from the tunnel, that I hear the greasy thumpa-thumping of its engine.

I tell myself it’s all a dream as I drop to the tracks. As my ankles give and I collapse to the gravel, I tell myself I never know I’m dreaming. My head pounds to ask when I met this wife, and my heart beats to ask why I’m not running after her yet. I’m running.

The brightness is so intense I taste the illumination. It’s baffling that I can still see her through all that yellow. In a tunnel where I can’t make out my own hands, I shouldn’t know that she’s naked. My trench-coat flaps around my ankles, threatening to trip me, and I yank it off mid-stride, holding it out, offering to shield her from that oncoming brightness. My yell is louder than the train’s thumpa-thumping, but not louder than the light.

She continues toward it, into it, away from me, away from safety and sensibility. She continues for longer than it should take, and soon we should have been run over, or wiped out by the light. There are no bricks in the tunnel walls. There is no gravel left. We are running in the yellow, I with the coat overhead, like a kite I hope will take flight underground.

I can’t catch her. She has always been faster than me. When did I meet her? How many times has she been faster than me? If she’s not real then I can go back to the platform and wake up - but I’m more frightened for her than any thing in reality. The platform has nothing for me. I just have this cheap cotton shelter for her, and it’s urgent, urgent I scream into the light, that she take it, not me, not whatever I want out of her, just this so the light can’t have its way, and I know you can hear me, and I know you don’t care, about what I say, or about yourself, or about fading into nonsense, but please just take it.

I trip over the coattails the same instant she turns to look at me. She’s so severely silhouetted that I can’t make her back from her front, and yet I know that she’s looking. I fall into her, and she catches me, and the coat swaddles around her, and I scramble until I’m between her and the light. Locomotive? Nightmare? Hell? I hug the coat over her shoulders and cease to mind.

In the yellow, we become one black shape. I have never been happier.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Music for Editing


This is a follow-up to Music for Writing. Because it's easier on me minute-to-minute than composition, editing my work often takes more hours of a given day. I can do more of it before my syndrome kicks back. Between January and March I got my beta readers' copies back and set about editing my first full novel in several years, and so amassing a supportive musical library was pretty important. I can't edit in silence anymore than I can compose; I need to block out the real world to tinker with the fictional one. Like Music for Writing, I'm hoping to share how certain music helped in this process. Please share your own favorite artists and albums in the Comments. You never know who you might help.

1. God is an Astronaut’s Discography
Though an egregious repeat from Music for Writing, I have to tip my hat to these folks again. I honestly don’t remember a single track that I listened to, though I went through five albums in just one day of editing. No band I know organizes an album with such consistency and flow, and no band I know is quite so useful at blending into the background of my thoughts.


Whereas in composition they could set sweeping or oppressive moods, here, with the volume turned down slightly, they became an excellent tool for keeping me alert. The trick is all its musical valleys lulled me into relaxing, and moved so slowly that I wasn’t conscious of how they carried back up, so that sometimes I managed to excite myself psychosomatically. There are so many siren-like moments in those songs, none as jarring as a police car, rather exhilarating in precisely the way I need when trying to convince myself to streamline one more fight scene.

2. Roque Banos’s Machinist OST

This album is more of a scalpel than a knife. You do not edit a love scene to “Trevor’s Lair.” Alright, maybe you do – and if you do, let me read that sucker. But I only turn this on for scenes of loneliness, eeriness, Horror before Horror arrives, and old-fashioned mystery. Banos channeled old Twilight Zone and Hitchcock soundtracks, even importing the wonderfully ridiculous theremin that strikes me with a suburban sense of unease. Though I wrote about a prison rather than suburbia, there were four particular chapters what Banos’s vibes drew me into the proper frame of mind to revise. It’s also just plain fun to read your creepier material out loud with this playing in the background.

3. The Final Fantasy 13-2 OST
However lame it makes me seem, “Paradox” was the battle theme of these edits. Not editing during fight scenes, but the rallying track I’d put on as I paced my room and convinced myself to spend more time at the computer. By about the 0:50-mark, the inspirational swells goaded me into trying to get these characters out alive. Worked every humiliating time.


At four discs, this was clearly a collaboration effort, though resting primarily on the compositions of Masashi Hamauzu, Mitsuko Suzuki and Naoshi Mizuta. I had to trim out the high number of vocal tracks from my playlist as lyrics only distract me (though some of the English lyric tracks are hilarious). Whatever you think of the franchise, it has a great history of music design, and this is one of the strongest entries. Both the “Knight of the Goddess” and “Paradigm Shift” tracks were useful at gearing me up to resume writing after short breaks.

4. The Vanquish OST
I’ve played and beaten Vanquish, and I’m still surprised there was three CDs of music in the game. Masafumi Takada and Erina Nawa’s three-disc compilation that scored an unusual Japanese action game, relying on some military themes, some rock and techno, utilizing many of the same slow-to-fast patterns and percussive rhythms even with synethetic instruments to mimic ambient sound patterns popular in Hollywood war films.


The first track (naturally titled “Title”) is like splashing water in my face. On several 8:00 AM’s, I queued it up directly after splashing real water into my face, relying on Takada and Nawa’s tunes to carry me editing into noon. For a three-disc set it follows remarkably well, and I seldom realized I was on another disc until I paused. I discontinued using it not because the music got stale, but because I associated it so strongly with marathon sessions that I began to resent it. I recommend listening, but in moderation.

5. Michael Giacchino’s Lost OST
Giacchino makes sweet and sweeping use of his orchestra, which is particularly calming when played at low volumes. It seeps into the background, blocking environmental noises and coaxing concentration the best of anything I’ve used since Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill albums. 


Giacchino earned bonus points from me with his penchant for punny track titles (“The Eyeland,” “Thinking Clairely,” “Charlie Hangs Around”). There are certain songs that benefit as strongly from association as anything I can recall, with “Locke’d Out Again” always pulling me into the emotional space of watching Terry O’Quinn in full pathos. That’s a handy tool.

6 & 7. Uyama Hiroto’s A Son on the Sun and Supergiant Games’s Bastion OST
In the final week of editing my nerves were shot and Writer’s Burnout was alarmingly close. I’m used to going to bed with my hands shaking; it’s less comforting to wake up with them doing that. My neuromuscular syndrome didn’t want the book to end, and I applied every trick I could to get around it. One of the best things I did was dump all my old music, which I’d spent months of emotionally attaching to long hours of work, and try new albums set at very low volume, as though overheard from another . Does music from other rooms calm anyone else? I have a serious mental compression issue there; it puts me in the headspace of leaving a party that’s gone too long, sitting out the rest of the evening and kicking the shoes off my swelling feet.

Okay, so I’m crazy. At least I own it.


I bounced between these two albums in particular. They have little in common other than not sounding like normal music, and having no words (tracks with words, naturally, were pruned). Bastion is a patch-work of Cajun, Middle Eastern and Asian influences, while Hiroto’s tunes are the most tranquil stuff. For me there’s a less rational common denominator: many of the early tracks on both albums keenly sound like the end of a day.


If you haven’t disregarded me for babbling about imaginary parties and days ending, then hopefully you’ve figured out why this kind of music is so damned useful to an overstressed mind. I couldn’t fool myself or my syndrome into believing the work was over, or even convince myself the work was as close to being over as it was. I could, however, use breathing and music to let myself know that this would be alright – it would only be a few pages, a few changes per page, a few alterations per song. At my sickest in months, I sat back in my chair and worked at the pace I could manage. The music helped. I can’t ask for more than that from music.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bathroom Monologue:The Reading Test


Go to the Bestsellers' section. Pick a book, any book. Buy it and go home. Open to the first page, and open a word processing program. Begin transcribing the book word for word.

If you correct some grammatical errors, you might be a copy editor.

If you clarify phrasing and streamline events, you might be a full-blown editor.

If you can't help but wreck the whole novel and change the directions it goes, you're a writer.

If you pour your critical thinking into interpretation of those words rather than changing them, then God bless you. You're the audience and we need you to get back to that bookstore immediately.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: If you could go back in time and kill the child Hitler, preventing his rise to power, would you?

"No. No, and it's nothing to do with abhorring child death. Children are selfish, whining, smelling, self-soiling, infinitely needy little shells of humanity. I guarantee the child Adolf Hitler would not woo me with his cuteness or tiny mustache. I'd leave Hitler alive because I know we can beat him. He takes his advantages and commits his atrocities, but eventually he mismanages his militaries, undervalues the Americas, and shoots himself in despair. It is only briefly tempting to throttle the infant Hitler and prevent a Third Reich, a second World War, and the invention of the word "genocide." But the Europe you leave without Hitler is still a Europe bitterly anti-Semitic, economically ravaged, and endlessly bellicose. Looking at the child playing and finger-painting, you are forced to realize he does not take advantage of history. He was an agent. World War I hasn't even happened yet and you think you'll leave the world a sunnier place. I fear that a more cunning person or politic will fill the Adolf Hitler-shaped void in history. The replacement will come from the same underground discontent, and the same well of hatemongering crackpots who would slaughter and unify.  What you're gambling upon isn't even that they'd seize power. It's that they won't have more progressive military plans, that they won't capitalize on the nuclear bomb before the U.S., and that they won't start the Final Solution earlier. You are gambling that what replaces this child will be something we defeat. As much as I grieve for what he grows up to set in motion, I can't trust the motion to tend itself."

Monday, March 5, 2012

True Stories of John 19: John's Memory Mocks Him, OR, Returning from the Grocery Monologue


Lita: What was that comedian’s name? On the radio before?

John: Was he a comedian? I thought he was just a storyteller with a nice audience.

Lita: Okay, but what was his name? I want to look him up when we get home.

John: I don’t know. Fredrikson?

Lita: It was not even close to ‘Fredrikson.’

John: Fred, maybe? I don’t know; I suck at names. Okay? Fredrikson? Flintstone? He grew up Catholic.

Lita: Was it Catholic?

John: He said he’d been one for twenty-seven years and… eleven months, maybe. Contrasted that with being a Buddhist for three weeks. He kept making those tired jokes about Catholicism making his personality fear- and anger-based. He converted because he… Don’t look at me like that.

Lita: Don’t look at me looking at you. Keep driving, and keep doing that. Keep emptying your mental pockets. I’m testing something. Why did he convert?

John: He met a Llama who held his hands and touched foreheads with him, and he only articulated that it made him feel good. Blessed his rosaries for him. He needed it because his dad was dying, I think from cancer, and his wife was dying from some lingering injuries following a car accident they were in on I-95 where their car flipped five times.

Lita: You’re sure it was five times?

John: I remember. And he was really angry that both of these deaths were coming up at the same time, and full of dread, and he considered suicide for a minute, and I got pissed at him for looking at life and God like the only meaning was in everyone living forever and never getting sick, which stands as the most willfully naïve bullshit of all time. And his wife had to go to a hospice three times.

Lita: Three times?

John: She was in one for four months, he said, though I got confused since he said you were only allowed there for a few weeks, since they expect you to die. So maybe the four months was actually adding up all her time there, or it was that this case was really that extreme and she kept surviving. And I liked the story where she was high on morphine, and sitting up in bed, and wanted to “surprise” him, but could barely speak, and that this did surprise him. Very funny, though probably only works out loud. I was trying to work out if you could pull that off on the page.

Lita: You remember trying to translate a joke about his wife’s morphine haze from stand-up comedy into writing?

John: Well, yes.

Lita: And what’s his name?

John: Burke? Something longer. Burketson?

Lita: This is eerie. You’re a writer.

John: So what?

Lita: That novel you just finished isn’t five hundred pages of calling everyone “the guy in a car accident” or “the wife on morphine.” You use names to mark and remember everyone in every situation.

John: …But it’s the only thing I don’t remember about him. You’re making fun of me.

Lita: Some days I want to climb inside your head and pedal.

John: This is abstract mockery. This is the Cubist version of hazing.

Lita: You don’t even know what Cubism is.

John: But I know the name!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Alternative Ending to Little Red Riding Hood


One upon a time there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood whose grandmother was kind of sick. Her mother sent the girl to her grandmother’s house with a basket of food and medicine. Wanting to be over with it as soon as possible, and so took a shortcut through a woods that was clearly marked as a wildlife preserve.

On her way through, a wolf stopped her. He complimented, “What a big basket of goodies you have.”

“I wish they were for me,” she said.

“Where are you taking them?”

“My grandma’s house.”

“That's nice of you. Is it far?”

“About half an hour. Why?”

And so he ate her right there. True story.
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