Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Rapture Plan

"You can't be serious."

Saying it didn’t stop his roommate from tying the rope around his waist. Oliver threaded it through his belt-loops and double-knotted it over his fly. He shook the knot at Tom like a phallus of wisdom.

"You never know when the world will end. This is just as good a theory as any."

"No, it's not. Some radio guy in the middle of nowhere is not as good an authority as all the world's physicists."  Tom folded his arms. "And if God did yank you to Heaven, do you really think a rope is going to stop Him?"

Oliver laughed, tossing the loose end of the rope at Tom. It deflected off his shin.

"It's not supposed to stop God. If I get called up, you and anybody else nearby grabs onto the rope. I figure Jesus can't disagree with saving people."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bathroom Monologues: Possible Origins for Him. 14.

I don’t expect you to believe it. You haven’t believed anything I’ve said, have you? But it’s all his idea. It’s always been his idea. I think he wanted a me even before he invented one.

My wife was the most patient woman alive. She put up with every failed career choice I ever set my heart on, even the stand-up stuff. I’d do anything for her. But overtime wasn’t making the bills for the two of us, so when she said there was a kid on the way? Couldn’t turn down any opportunities. Fell in with a group of hoods. We were robbing chemical plants, selling patented secrets off to the Scarecrow or LutherCorp or whatever.

He came down on us like black rain. Broke a guy’s jaw. Tossed the ringleader off a scaffold. Kicked me in the solar plexus, knocked the wind out of me and sent me into a bubbling vat. If I’d been able to breathe, it’d probably have killed me to suck that stuff in.

Instead he dragged me out by my ankles. Dumped lye on my face to counteract the acids. Even though he was saving my life, I was begging him not to kill me – “Have mercy, I’ve got a kid on the way.”

Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him kill someone directly. That rule about him might be true. He doesn’t like to murder. He likes to use you.

While I was crying into a mirror, he made me the offer. This hair. This skin. I was perfect to play a monster. Play a mobster. Terrorize the public, kill as many corrupt officials as I could until he showed up. Then go down in one punch.

I did it. Pretending to be insane to stay in the asylum was the hardest part. Whenever the doctors started to catch on, I had to make up a new story to throw them. Pharmacist-gone-terrorist. Avenging a slain circus act. Taking inspiration from other costumed killers. Eventually I even believed a few of my stories. That’s when I thought I was going mad. The company you keep in there will do it for you.

Two months later, he planted the explosives and key cards. I looked like a genius escape artist. Found psychotropic laughing gas and directions to City Hall stashed a mile ahead, in this makeshift cave hideout he built just for me.

The routine came on quickly. He embellished it more with every breakout.

“Claim you poisoned all these fish.”

“Hijack this freighter.”

“Challenge me from on top of this skyscraper.”

And always, the order to do something increasingly stupid when he arrived, get caught, go down. Do not collect two hundred dollars, go directly to Arkham. Abide for the next breakout. Read the occasional paper praising him as the dark knight, protecting his city from unimaginable fiends.

I never saw a dime. He pays a perpetually inflating sum per breakout through a phony life insurance policy. It goes to a single mother in Gotham Harbor. A widow. Apparently her husband was a night watchman and got killed one night on duty. Thugs didn’t even leave a body for them to bury. Poor woman went into labor when she heard, and suffered the doubly poor fate of giving birth to baby boy with cystic fibrosis. If he’s going to live any sort of life then he needs intense care, and it’s so expensive.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Humans on The Fall

“If you take the humans’ account for it, the War of Heaven was fought over them. God made them and liked them so much that He ordered the angels to love humans more than they loved Himself. One bigwig angel dissented and sparked a war to love the guy who made everything rather than humans, and his cause has been deemed the greatest evil ever since. Why you would believe the human account of this war, I don’t know. Check in early enough and humans thought their city was the center of the world, with the sky fixed overhead. A little later, and their planet was center of the universe. A little later, and their sun was. A little later and it’s their choices that spawn all the infinity of multiple universes. So when they say the Fall was because of them, be a little skeptical. I heard it was over the drapes.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Want to Write The Last Unicorn: Peter Beagle’s Effect on My Current Novel

When I finally whittled them down, there were seven ideas that could sustain themselves as novels. There was the epistolary about a Superman analog dealing with real world crises; there was the rich widower who feigned brain damage to get away from his family; the one about thieves in a forest that perpetually vanishes. Those might show up in print some day, but I decided on a different novel, because I had my heart set on writing The Last Unicorn.

It was Borgesian of me. Peter S. Beagle beat me to The Last Unicorn by several years. Even in the current literary climate of intellectual theft, where it’s both profitable and fashionable to reboot Frankenstein or continue Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, writing something even that even aped The Last Unicorn would be ugly. It’s a distinct novel, and I’m here to do my own work.

I didn’t want to write the exact book. I wanted to write my Nobody’s House, about a prison break of monsters. Succubae, centaurs, triclopes, imps, wizards, serial killers, sentient balls of snakes, and one petty crook caught amidst them. There are no unicorns or red bulls in the entire place. Beagle didn’t come to mind until I started writing it and seeing what was so appealing unfold. What I desired were certain characteristics Beagle he’d instilled into his novel.

The Last Unicorn is unusual for a Fantasy novel. It grows grim enough to satisfy Gothic fetishists, yet has a romantic sincerity that speaks to our gentler natures. Its linguistic complexity and referential breadth are so great that effete professors can nod at it. It opens as accessibly as any YA book, though not a page of it reads as restrained or sanitized for any audience. Where it goes light or sweet, this is because of eccentricity rather than pandering.

Oh, and it’s one book. The Two Hearts written four decades later isn’t fooling anybody; there is no sequel to The Last Unicorn. It doesn’t call for one. This isn’t Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time. The characters reveal themselves, grow and act sufficiently for a single book. Beagle’s little work has a beginning, a journey, a goal and a conclusion. We do not come back for the next year of classes at Hogwarts. It is a defining non-franchise. That makes it a rarity in the Fantasy canon, where series rule the earth (and bookshelf). How charming an idea, another world all in-between one set of covers.

That non-franchise trait is part of its accessibility. It is one book, scarcely over two-hundred pages, that completes the engagement. Anyone could pick it up, even those who only read a couple of Fantasies per year. They wouldn’t have to worry about when the next volume came out to get the ending.

Nor, in engaging with it, are there dense political schemes or magic systems to learn. Such things are the marks of greatness in Gormenghast and Lord of the Rings, but there is a charm to a book’s world being only what it is. Unicorns are this way. There are caravans of illusory beasts. You can trap magical creatures in the tides. Things are strange and weighty. To the sharper reader, it reminds us that our reality would be ridiculous if we didn’t live in it.

Not that my project necessarily shared all those traits. My stories are often preoccupied with how ridiculous our world is for having us live in it. Our ideas of romance differ, or are least differently skewed. As my characters grew, I let them go and redefine Nobody’s House into something utterly different. I became more influenced by Pixar’s mastery of parallel concerns and seeded motivations. And like any good work, it soon influenced itself more than anything in the real world did. The most Nobody’s House and The Last Unicorn wound up having in common was they both featured a bunch of monsters.

Well, that’s not true. The most they have in common is a theme. You see, The Last Unicorn is not a complete world. It is a character’s complete experience of a world. There’s a lot more haunting this world than what we see on the way to Haggard’s castle. So, too, in Nobody’s House, there’s much more than what goes on in the prison after the breakout. But you get one character’s complete experience of it.

It’s been humbling, in typing the last chapters of the book, to see how potential sequels open up. Fantasy is a series-dominated market, so I have gut inclinations to let it keep going. The survivors had more they could do – in another story.

But there’s this unicorn poking me in the conscience. I told her, “Your book’s more for kids, you can’t influence me like that."

She scoffed and told me, “Yeah, you read it three times.”

You can’t win fights with imaginary unicorns. Whether there’s a series following Nobody’s House, and whether audiences demand one, this will be a complete story. One quite a bit longer than two hundred pages, and one with very different populations. To the best of my knowledge Beagle never wrote a succubus tonguing a satyr to death, nor about a room of mutilated children waiting for story time, nor about slapping a giant spider across the mandibles and telling him to man up. Like every other writer who inspired some ideal into me, I’ve gone and written nothing like Beagle. I don’t know what he’d think of this book. It’d be wonderful, though, if some day he read it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Limping for the Cure, OR, More of this was said than you’d think

“No, I'm happy to join the Walking for the Cure. There's only one problem with this: even before I messed up my knee, I was a sluggish bastard. So mine will have to be the Slightly Slower Walk for the Cure. It's okay if I lag behind, right? I’ll go all the miles, even try to make the other slow cure-seekers laugh. We'll have our own supportive walk, found lagging directly behind the bolder, better-conditioned Original Flavor Walk for the Cure. That’s feasible, right? The Crawl for the Cure? The Sad, Zombie-Like Shamble for the Cure? No, I've got it. The Walk for the Walk for the Cure. We’ll get our own sponsors. We’ve got a good cause.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Stopped Cold

They didn’t need shackles. Away from his homemade mechanics, Victor Fries was frail. He looked still frailer in grey boxer shorts, hunched over a chair that was bolted to the floor. He squinted into its stainless steel table’s surface, watching his breath fog at it. Half a degree higher and Fries would keel over. As it was, he wouldn’t have the energy to lift his hands from his lap. That was the nature of his condition, and at this point, they weren’t granting him any more amenities at Black Gate.

Warden Winslowe didn’t care to sit. He stood there in pleated khakis, arms folded behind him.

“I don’t want you in my house anymore, Victor. You’ve broken out four times. This is your fourth re-admission. I’ve tried palming you off to every other facility, and they simply don’t want to accommodate you. They have enough overpowered murderers in Fawcett and Metropolis. Every time you break out, more of my staff die. Do you know how many families won’t see their spouses anymore because of you?”

Fries’s upper lip twitched. He didn’t answer.

“You don’t care. You only care about yourself and your wife, in whatever order it feels like today. Which is fine. I’ve got an offer.”

Winslowe brought one hand around. It held out a manila folder. He placed it on the table and flipped it open. Glossy wilderness photographs spilled out over some yellow legal forms.

“Fifteen acres in the wilds of California. They’re a hundred miles from the nearest house. It’s gorgeous. My brother was going to retire there, before AIG ate his retirement portfolio. I bought the land with half my pension, and I’m offering it to you.”

He sifted through the photographs with his middle finger. All were verdant, save one. It flared orange underneath Fries’s nose.

“You and your nearest neighbors share something in common: wildfires. In the next three years, both your fifteen acres and that summer house one hundred miles away are guaranteed to burn to the ground. Global warming, arid California weather, overforestation – lots of causes. None you can solve by shooting someone.”

The photograph made a little snapping noise when Winslowe placed it on top of the others. He tapped it to make certain the man was paying attention. Still Fries wouldn’t speak.

“I got this idea when you froze Gotham Harbor last week. So you like it cold? Your new neighbors would like it cold. It being just ten degrees colder at the epicenter of the danger zone would add decades to the livelihood of the entire region. Once it’s safe, you keep the acres. I’ll sign them over. You’ll kill me otherwise, I’m sure, and I’ve got half a pension left to look forward to, and a wife.”

He adjusted his glasses, checking Fries’s face to see if the next verbal nudge would have effect.

“She’s named Nora, too. Coincidences, right?”

It didn’t. Fries simply frowned into the glossy wildfire.

That was okay. He had to keep going.

“You’ll be at the top of the list for federal grants. Their state economy sucks, but there are companies interested in your tech. They’ll pipe you money and parts in exchange for patents. You can build whatever you want out there, so after it’s colder you can spend all your time thawing out your Nora. There won’t even be a road for some drunken teenager to drive up and harass you from. Just some capes flying overhead every so often, and a daily check-in at a camera station.

“I’ve got your Nora. She’s not on the planet anymore – the Justice League has her up on that satellite. It’ll take you decades to get up there. But if you lower things ten degrees and go two years in California without an incident, I will get them to sign her over to you. At the same time you will get access to WayneTech health and research facilities. I have their CEO’s signature in that folder. They’re on board. Their resources – not some you steal off the back of a truck, but their full, up-to-date resources, will be at your disposal. WayneTech will watch the hell out of you. Probably kill you if you make a suspicious keystroke. But it’s better than any deal you’ve stolen for yourself so far.”

He tapped the wildfire photo, just so Fries would have to look at him. The man’s eyes flickered slightly, acknowledging the finger in the way of his snapshot vistas.

“This is the best chance you’re ever going to have of saving Nora and having a place where the two of you can actually live. Screw it up, and you end me. No half a pension, and likely no ever seeing either of our Noras again.”

Fries’s eyes continued roaming even after Winslowe removed his hand. They roamed ice-capped mountainsides and hills of pines.

Winslowe left him with it. They’d turn the temperature down in a few minutes, when he was back in his office on the other side of this damned building. Fries could take all the details in then.

His hand was on the doorknob when the inmate spoke.

“Say hello to Nora for me.”

He’d forgotten how grating Fries’s voice was. Shameful as it was, the room was already so chilled that the voice tipped him over the edge. Warden Winslowe shivered.

He turned from the door. Fries was still hunched vulture-like over the table, regarding the contents of the folder. One of his hands now rested on the paper, fingers holding two apart to examine a signature.

He opened the door without looking away. He wanted to make sure the man was still sitting there when he left.

“Take the damned deal,” he repeated to himself all the way to his office. “Take the damned deal.”

For Icy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: One Thousand, Nine-Hundred and Eighty-Four Good Reasons

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