Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Monologue for a slightly tipsy Stephen Fry who may have forgotten he’s still on stage

“Wouldn’t be caught dead with Naked Lunch. Caught stone dead. I wouldn't be caught dead, but still upright, my corpse sodomizing a chained five-year-old boy, with a copy of that book. Though without it, I don't know where I'd have gotten the idea for the evening."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: What You Need

I’ve done everything. I listened to you bitch for thirteen straight hours. I missed work to stay up with you. I bought your greasy comfort food, and I threw it out and cooked chicken breast when you started bitching at the mirror about your waistline. I talked you out of calling him, then I told you it was a good idea after you did it anyway. I paid for the liquor, and I held your hair while you tossed cookies. I cleaned the bathroom and made you six different hangover remedies. What did you do when you sobered up? You started crying at photo albums again. So I’m doing this. This is what you need.

You take this end here and stick it on your chest. Right over the chest. Grip it firmly. Now when you squeeze, it latches on and zaps you with subzero molecules. It would flash-freeze a polar bear’s balls. All your ventricles and tissues, just like that. Simultaneously these clamps will extend in and grab the whole mess, so before your blood stops pumping you can pull it out, have a look and dash it on the floor. You can watch it shatter on the linoleum and finally get what you want so bad: you can die of a fricking broken heart.

Excuse me if I don’t watch. I’ve got to go pay the landlord.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: At Death's Daughter

This dialogue sprang out of a brainstorming session for a new Fantasy world. They've just suffered a mass demise of various cosmic beings, leaving messengers and executors woefully busy. One such executor, a winged man in a suit, stops by a girl's apartment to drop off her inheritance. It's a large and rather unruly scythe.

Moffet pushed the thing back across the table with two fingers, like the angel might take it to the back and have the chef whip up something better.

"No. I don't want it."

"You have to want it." The man folded his arms, refusing to pick it up. " It's rare. It's a multi-functional device. It could only be more desirable if it had an Apple logo."

"I don't want the scythe."

"You should want the scythe."

"Well, I don't."

"Fine. There's still good news."

"And that is?"

"Your mother wasn't unfaithful."


"Olivia Constantine was an absolute, one-hundred-percent lesbian. Your father was not that gardener you've heard about."

"Don't bother sticking up for him. He ran out on us."

"No, he moved because there was a new green house. He's actually just two counties over, and he doesn't think about you ever because he's not your father. Your mother never slept with him or any other man. She found them quite gross from her first day seeing a wee-wee on the playground to her last night in the hospital."

"Uh-huh. I guess she molded me from magic clay."

"Don't be petulant. You were immaculately conceived."

She rolled her eyes over the scythe, the man's suit, and his stupidly handsome face, giving the whole business a sweeping dismissal.

"That doesn't happen."

"Does too. Happened to you."

"Don't tell me I'm Jesus. I'm agnostic."

"You're getting a special delivery from a ghost. You're gnostic now. And you're not any sort of Sloppy Seconds Coming. He was a better dresser and conversationalist." He pushed the scythe across the table towards her, using the same two fingers she had. The blade made a sphincter-tightening scrape across the tabletop, though it left no mark. "He wasn't the first to be immaculately conceived, though, or the last. There have been at least six hundred immaculate conceptions this year alone, and it's not even cold yet. Snow makes those Winter Gods get kinky."

"That's ridiculous."

"You know what's ridiculous? That a lifelong lesbian can make eye contact with a man just once in public, and the first time somebody calls her a slut, the consensus is 'Guilty.' That, by the way, is how most immaculate conceptions get covered up. Statistically insignificant, and you never catch a ghost boinking a girl on film, so of course she's a dumb whore."

"Okay, now you're ridiculous." She rose, jerking a thumb towards the door, and accidentally pointing it at the only picture of her mother in the entire apartment. "Get out."

He rose along with her. He was unfairly taller.

"You think that's ridiculous? Think how many immaculately conceived prodigies have been aborted. Let me tell you, at least three of them would have changed the world if their moms hadn't flushed them. Their fathers knew it, too. Planted them down here to prove a point to all the other gods."

"And what was the point of predestining a bunch of aborted messiahs?"

"You ever see a horrible plane crash?" He stuck out his pinky and thumb, turning his hand into a mock airplane. It sailed down across his smile and crashed into the adjacent palm. "Thing's on fire before it hits the tarmac, airport crew swear they could hear the screaming over the engines, and whatever mangled survivors crawl out of the smoke spend the rest of their life in nightmares?"

"What could the fucking point be in that?"

"The point? Why should they bother stopping it if you won't? It's your fucking world. You strapped yourselves to a rocket built by the lowest bidder and fired it into weather you weren't paying enough attention to. It's your damned plane, your damned fault, and it's your scythe now."

He stooped just low enough to meet her gaze. Those two fingers came back, nudging the scythe to the very edge of her side of the coffee table.

"Here you go. Do whatever with it. I only did this as a favor to your father anyway. I'm going to go sprout wings and do something you don't believe in."

Something stupid made her touch the scythe. Not take it. She wasn't that stupid; only stupid enough to touch it with two of her own fingers. Enough of a gesture to make him pause.

"You said I didn't have a father."

"I said your mom wasn't knocked up by any man."

"Okay. In the world where you sprout wings and think you're clever, just how did I immaculate my way into the world?"

"Baby, you just inherited a scythe. Notice you spent your whole life wearing hoodies? Where'd you think you got that?"

"Mom loved them."

"Maybe that's what attracted him. Goodnight. Enjoy your immortality."

And then he wasn't there. Ghost, angel, nutter - now he was only absent. Moffet thought she saw a glowing wing pass by her window. Then she thought again. No, that was not what she felt like having seen today.

She still saw the scythe, though. Ugly black, both dulled and too dark to go with anything in her wardrobe. She hunkered down over the thing, breath leaving no fog along the blade. She nudged it with two fingers. It jostled to no particular affect. There was no particular affect about the thing until she actually picked it up.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Very Smart

"You have to stop telling people you're dumb. You're very smart. You're smarter than them, and it unnerves them when they hear you cut yourself down. They ask you to look over their taxes. They look at you when someone mentions thermodynamics. You watch PBS and read articles on the internet that are longer than one page. You calling yourself dumb means they are all barely functional slime pods. Barely sentient pustules of DNA. That's very rude. And don't say that they have skills you don't. Yes, she fixes your computer. She also thinks you ask her because you're too busy learning astrophysics to pick up mundane nonsense. And it's not nonsense to her most of the time, only when she's in the knowledge radius around you. That's what you do to people. You can't cut yourself down or you drop the whole thing on them. I'm sorry that you're smart, and I'm sorry that you're too stupid to know you're smart. But this is your burden. You have to carry it. Pick it up just as soon as you finish the weekend crossword puzzle."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

7 Things I Want From Novels

Recently T.S. Bazelli put together a list of the things she’d like to read in a novel. Some of her points were appealing (“Magic with serious consequences.”), but I was left wondering just what mine would be. We should keep such inventories as readers so we can acknowledge the writers who take such risks, and as writers so that we can attempt to fulfill them if no one else will. So here's my current tally. I focused on things I don't see often enough. The tally is incomplete. I guess it will remain incomplete until I die. Somebody remind me to do a draft on my deathbed.

1. Humor at its own expense. Not sarcastic, not wry or counter-cultural, not essentially “meta” or any other postmodernism that allows people to avoid direct feeling. Preposterous humor that exposes and cherishes quirks. This culture has an excess of humor that can only make me nod in concession that the writer was somehow clever. It's so plentiful I now read it as dead inside. I want you to actually make me laugh. Douglas Adams, Gail Simone, Stephen Fry, Jeff Smith and Mary Roach have all pulled this off, so I know it's possible.

2. Main characters that form a strong artificial family. They've elected to care for each other, tease and torment, stick up for each other, even support to irrational degrees. Think Lupin, Jigen and Goemon. Think Aragon, Legolas and Gimli. Hell, “A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a…” is one of the most boldly diverse casts in literature. Whether we watch them meet and develop together like the ka-tet of The Dark Tower, or they simply seem to have always co-existed like the surgery team from M*A*S*H, I will follow you anywhere for those clusters of people that just go together.

Poster art from Lupin the 3rd: Castle of Cagliostro. How we got an anime franchise out of a series of dimestore French novels, I don't know.

3. People possessing supposedly deviant characteristics who are not defined by those characteristics. I'd be much more interested in a gay character that was defined by his love of collecting Russian nesting dolls than by his sexuality.

4. Sex other than fucking. Fucking is not only tasteless, bland, and more base than sentimentality while managing to lack the soul – it’s also played out to the point of eye-rolling cliché. It doesn't even essentially bond characters anymore. It's both masturbatory and only good for masturbation. If you're going to write sex, have characters getting it wrong, being vulnerable, confused or cracking up laughing. Give me something distinct, something personal rather than prurient. I’m thinking of James Clavell’s hilarious all-dialogue sex, or Stephen King’s teens who don’t understand why it’s nothing like media led them to expect, or Ethan Coen comparing it to having your genitalia stuck in a paint mixer (“for the full quarter hour”). Or you could not have it at all. When it doubt, don't have it at all.

5. Absurd characters who relish in their own absurdity. One of my favorite character traits is that of Marvel’s Bullseye, a supervillain who wears a ridiculous costume because he actually loves the garish fashion. While few of us are that way (or have the guts to buy the wardrobe), most of us have our own absurdities. The state of satire has left many of us thinking the height of creativity is pointing out someone else's flaws, sheltering and reinforcing our own habits of being. The dubiously mature take on this in literature is to reveal the deep desire in some Gatsby-esque tragedy. Well folks, Jay Gatsby is dead. Give me characters who live their personal absurdities.

"It's perfect," he says, not comforting his tailor at all. Art by Steve Dillon, an interior from Bullseye: Greatest Hits.

6. Characters who survive and have to deal with circumstances. Death is often a cop-out from consequence. One of the best books I've read in recent years is Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is all about living through the damages of tragedy. The survivors come out of it monumentally messed up, leaving it far more interesting than if they'd all simply died in tragedy. I cut slack for works that truly earned the punch, like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, but these are the exceptions. The best fiction can offer us ways out of deep depression and hardship. Mediocre fiction can at least be more interesting than “He was sad, and sadder, and even sadder, and then he died."

7. Take me into another view. I don’t need to agree with their morals, religion or actions. In fact, it’s better if I don’t. Humbert Humbert and Hannibal Lecter are not people I'd want to be around. They are fascinating on the page. Characters can exceed being mouthpieces or pawns for an agenda. If I even suspect you're trying to convert me you've already lost. I'll turn against you and rip apart your novel with a critical acumen I've been building for years. Most readers can do the same. I'm not asking for propaganda. What I love are those characters so broad in scope that they are twisted within things I'd never accept personally, and which I can sympathize with on some level. Plenty of the best Horror operates using such literary sympathy. I have a sense of smell, was raised by both of my parents and have never come close to an obsession that would lead me to kill, but I am left feeling deeply for Grenouille in Patrick Suskind's Perfume. That's success.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Twinkle, Twinkle, Jesus Christ

Jesus Christ Superstar
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in God's eye

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little lights,
Twinkle, twinkle, Jesus Christ,
what have you sacrificed?

This is a song merger I've done over a dozen times in the bathroom. It always falls apart after two stanzas, because neither song is worth much after the initial flourish. Hope this gets it out of my head once and for all.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Whitewashing Covers Monologue

To hear this excuse rather than just read it you can either click the triangle on the left to begin streaming audio or click this text to download the MP3. Enjoy!

I thought that question would come eventually. The cover.

He is a pretty, pretty white man. I don’t even think he has follicles. Look at that. Why couldn’t they airbrush my author photo like that? God, I look even more like an ogre than usual when you have me lying in print next to this guy.

This is supposed to be Zhange. That’s what my editor told me that the art department told her. He doesn’t look like a Zhange. He looks decidedly like a Fabio. Like a Theodore. Like a Donovan.

For the record, Zhange is not white. I was not included in discussions about the cover art and do not have any contractual say about it. I was not happy about the decision. My agent says it looked like I bit into a lemon when I first saw it.

My alternative would have been to return my advance, breach my contract and have my publisher sue me whenever I tried to publish the novel in the future. I’m hoping you all liked the book enough to forgive me getting it published. That choice was my prerogative. How much you resent me is yours. We are left with four options.

The first is we can remove the dust jacket, like this. I brought some silver pens to autograph the exterior cover so you have something else to look at than blue hardcover binding.

Second, I brought these other permanent markers so we can make him mauve, or orange, or put him in blackface. I’ve been practicing on advanced copies. I’m getting good at it.

The third option will cost you a dollar, because it cost me about that much to print up these stickers. Full page white stickers on which I’ve written the title of the book and drawn this non-racial stick figure. He’s got a sword and everything. Look at that bad ass. There’s also this wide white area on the side where I’ll write whatever autograph you feel like. “To Cindy, please don’t take the stick figure as a body image role model. Jesus God, that’s a controversy I don’t need right now. Ex-oh-ex-oh, jay-see-double-yew.”

The fourth option is that when you come up I can give you the address of my publishers. You can take it and write very intelligent letters, which you will mail to them because the time it takes and postage you pay convinces corporations more than any angry Facebook petition. You can forward the address to your friends who like the book, and they can write their letters and spread the address on to others. When my publisher sees that there are however-many literate people who buy books and don’t mind or actually like people of other races and ethnicities on their covers, I can make a stronger argument the next time they put out an edition.

Please don’t boycott the book. Please don’t wait for e-books to kill paper books. Please don’t pirate a copy and think that some racist in the art department justifies it. Instead, please realize that some of the boundaries I attempted to push inside this book are a lot bigger than the cover. As angry as some of you are, and as angry as I got with them in private, I am still grateful to most of the people at that company. They got the words in my book to you. In the process of doing that, they did something offensive and we can spend the rest of the Q-and-A talking about it. I think we’ve got the space until eleven. I’ve got time. I’ve got water. Let’s go.

Next question?
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