Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: And They're The Snappiest Dressers

Mine is the model family. My wife hasn't sagged a millimeter in twelve years. I can't remember a time when we weren't at the breakfast table, savoring that same toast. Maggie's always got a joke, one hand in the air for gesticulatory illustration. Our kids are always smiling. Every morning, midday and night, Bart is steadfast over his Math homework. You'd think Maggie's wisecracking would shake him, but he never complains. Nobody in this family complains. Some days it's trying to live with only three walls, and a third made of glass - but privacy's overrated when you've got such a family to show off.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Dear Child

Dear Child,

   The life you're going to lead is not what we wanted for you. Please, at least believe that your mother loved you with all her heart. I’ve only got this one letter to convince you.

   Your mother wanted children her whole life. She talked about having them on our first date. That sort of thing scared off most men – lucky me, for being patient. She kept legal pads all around the apartment jotting down names that were holy, professions of power, favorite colors and recipes you could share. You were going to be her life.

   Flora. Your mother’s name was Flora.

   Flora grew very sick. Complications arose with cysts in her ovaries. We were given the choice to abort you at a low percent chance of her survival, or risk birth and a lower percent chance of either of you surviving. She was hellbent for the latter until she came up with a third option.

   I didn't even believe in pacts and curses. She talked me into it, because as much as I was ready to love you, she was my life. In the middle of a night, she summoned this thing into a bedroom. It poured out of her eyes and she collapsed on the carpet, leaving me to make terms with the thing. I was just afraid for her life. I'd never even imagined this sort of thing, so I clung to just two things: that you both survive. It’s my fault. I should have paid more attention to his terms.

    You were born five weeks later. There was a lot of blood. I had to wait this infuriating distance from the operating room. I prayed. I prayed to the demon that she’d live. And she did. She even got to hold you. I wish you could remember that.

   Flora died of an infection two days later. The doctors didn’t know how to treat it; it hit her brain too fast. Her father pushed me to sue, thinking some of the equipment wasn't sterile.

   I was trying to make up my mind over what it was when the demon returned. He had followed the contract, you see? You both survived the birth, and now he wanted his payment. He claimed you.

   Hurt can make you do very stupid things. If you do anything in your life, don’t follow hurt to action. You need to understand that because there will be a lot of it in your life, and you can't let it make you foul up.

   I was in a world of it. I copied your mother's ritual in the middle of a night and summoned another demon. One that eats others. I gave her whatever she wanted to find and swallow him. She even let me watch. I enjoyed it until I threw up. The original demon, he cursed me. It didn't matter. He wasn't going to follow up on anything, and I don't rightly care if something comes for me tonight.

   My demon took its price. You. And I knew it. Somewhere inside my anger and bile, I knew you were what she'd take. But there was no saving you. There was only not letting him have you, even if it meant putting you in the hands of another.

   Your father is a very stupid man. I don't know what happens to you. If you grow up hating me, or wanting to kill me, I'll deserve it. Come in the middle of the night if you ever get free. But please, know that your mother loved you so much.

   Your father,

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Notes to My Younger Self

Year One: Stop crying.

Year Two: You can't read. You're an idiot. This is normal for your age. But stop crying.

Year Three: All those things you like? Keep liking them. But could you get your parents to buy a second one of all of them, and put them in a box in the attic? Because that stuff will pay for college in twenty years.

Year Six: Crying in a department store didn't get you your way, did it? Jesus Christ.

Year Eight: It's convenient this is your favorite number. Have you put much thought into it? In a year, your favorite will be behind you. Let this soul-crushing revelation open your eyes to the terrors of temporal existence. Eight is going to leave you.

Year Nine: The children around you were born idiots. They didn't even know how to shit properly for years. Please, for all that is holy, ignore what they like and dislike. They are all still idiots. Whenever you hesitate over something, ask yourself, "Do I dislike this thing, or do I want the approval of people who dislike it?" The second answer is always wrong until it starts interfering with getting a job. You don't have to get a job for a long time.

Year Eleven: Do not read until after you're diagnosed with asthma. Okay. Ready? Ready? Good. Asthma is actually not fatal. All that crying? The adults thought you were an idiot because you are. Also, you grow up into a huge douchebag who enjoys his own errors. You've got a lot of amusement ahead of you.

Year Thirteen: Whatever you do, don't go to the doctor or hospital in November.

Year Fourteen: You did. It wasn't in your control. You actually didn't want to go, and that's going to stick in a fetid irrational part of your brain for the rest of your malpracticed life. You've got a lot of suffering ahead of you. Real suffering, not this trivia you've overreacted to so far. I want you to know it's entirely worth it. If I told you why, that'd ruin living. But I will advise to lighten up as soon as possible.

Year Fifteen: So that guy who wrote to you from the future last year seems like a lying asshole, right? Well he's not much of a liar. He is, however, someone you would absolutely hate. Horror of Horrors, he's convinced God isn't out to get you. He's way too cheery, helpful, almost shameless in the things he'll admit. Cartoons you won't tell your brother you watch? He goes to conventions about them.

Year Seventeen: You've got a lot on your hands. No bombs for you. Just, if you could read G.K. Chesterton and Shirley Jackson now, you'll be smarter.

Year Nineteen: Please leave your dorm room more often.

Year Twenty-One: Worst Valentine's Day ever, right? Wait, has that happened yet? Uh. Yeah, no, Lauren's great. She doesn't... wait, I'll be back in a year.

Year Twenty-Two: Did I screw up the time/space thing there? I don't know what I'm doing here. How about you write your past self? I'm kind of busy catching up on the novels we were always postponing.

Year Twenty-Three: Write more novels, you lazy tool.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

5 Musicians Who Made Me a Better Writer

Music is the one art-form I’ve resisted learning much about. It’s part of a long-term personal study to test if ignorance really is bliss, but it’s also because purely unconscious reactions to music are so helpful to my writing process. If tracks can elicit or sustain strong emotions for me, I have a much easier time writing the related plots out. Today I’d like to share five musical influences that have made much of my current novel possible.

1. Hans Zimmer
When the six-armed homunculus stood atop the prison, swatting pteradactyls from the sky and out into the monsoon, Hans Zimmer was there.

Nobody does bombastic music quite like Zimmer. He’s so good at the “big” sounds that I just assume soundtracks like Lord of the Rings belong to him. But fine, he didn’t compose “Minas Morgul.” The Dark Knight and Inception soundtracks have stuck with me longer for writing anyway. I keenly remember sitting in the theatre for Inception and thinking, “I need this track. I can put this on and finish that vampire story as soon as I get home.” And a week later, it worked like a charm.

Along the way he’s also had temporary hits with me – soundtracks that helped for a few months. A League of Their Own, The Last Samurai, Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean all have their catchy bits. I’d do jumping jacks if Zimmer scored any film adaptation of my books. Partially because that would mean it’s a big budget movie and I might hit the bestsellers list thanks to it.

In case you’re wondering, the homunculus fight song was “The Dream is Collapsing.”

2. Igor Stravinsky and those other Amazing Old Fellas
I’m uncultured. I first heard Stravinsky mentioned on the now-defunct Games For Windows podcast, when Shawn Elliot asked if videogames would ever have their Igor Stravinsky, the game designer who was great at everything he tried.

“Bullshit,” I told my speakers.

Then I listened to Stravinsky’s work. While not every arrangement stirred me, he had an astounding batting record. I played his discography and discarded plot ideas. I composed arguments set to “Duo Concertant for Violin and Piano- IV. Gigue” – The way one beat of violins ends and another picks up/I can hear where one person stops and the other picks up in bickering.

And just like that, there was a chase scene to “Moderato alla breve” from Symphony in C. At least two dramatic reveals came from “Allegro moderato” from Symphony In E Flat.

He doesn’t have the one great theme that I keep going back to like other classical composers. Even in revisions, when I have to walk around thinking over a problem, I’ve gone to “In A Major, Op. 92- 2nd Movement- Allegretto” from Beethoven’s 7th. I adore Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and am always trying to get fightscenes to work with it. Probably my all-time most inspiring song is Ode to Joy. I’m a sucker for the immutable greats. But Stravinsky’s work has somehow served as more versatile inspiration. I go to each symphony and movement less frequently, but the overall body is an inspirational toolkit.

3. Akira Yamaoka and Silent Hill
Akira Yamaoka is quite possibly the most talented sound designer I’ve ever witnessed. He composed the soundtracks for the Silent Hill videogames up until and including the Homecoming installment, and provided the score for the first Hollywood adaptation. He composed tracks to draw eeriness from a foggy screen, the somberness of sitting at the bedside of a dying lover, and terror from being chased by a giant wielding a meat cleaver. Part of his charm is an unmatched ear for ambient sound, and a similarly unmatched talent for blending it with traditional instruments, so that a guitar and the screeching of a steel door harmonize, as do static and a cello. Industrial sounds are as natural as any instruments, so that once you’re used to his style, there’s no novelty. This is just the way the music expresses itself.

Just as the Horror games benefitted from association with masterful music, the music has since taken on the benefits of association with that series. But I don’t write ripoffs of Silent Hill to this music. I summon it for frantic scenes, or ominous, or even serene ones. As creepy as Silent Hill gets, Yamaoka imbued it with some of the most tranquil songs I’ve ever heard to reaffirm places where you were safe. I’ve probably listened to the most hours of his music, both while writing and not.

My record is nine straight hours of one tiny track, “Silent Heaven,” looping as I wrote, went to bed, woke up the next morning and kept going to a breakthrough. Something in that track completely synched with this malicious disembodied voice I was writing into a character’s head. I’ve never had another experience like it. I presume the dorm mate downstairs hadn’t, either.

4. Ed Harrison
I have been trying to track this guy down. I think he’s got a tiny network on LinkedIn. He composed NeoTokyo, a soundtrack for an indy mod of Valve’s Half-Life. So he didn’t make a videogame soundtrack; he made the soundtrack for a fan-made spinoff. And it’s incredible. The music tops Bladerunner for noir and futurepunk feel. If he somehow reads this, please shake your own hand. You’ve got two, after all.

The album quickly became another toolbox for me. Songs latched onto and abetted particular instances of plot.

Walking the halls of the prison lost in thought? “Tachi.”

Encountering an alien creature larger than anything on this planet? “Out.”

Discovering the one room of people who not only need his help, but deserve it? “Beacon.”

Recently revising those scenes in the novel I’m left thinking, “It wouldn’t have come out this way without that song.”

5. God is an Astronaut
Being so uncultured, I don’t listen to many full albums. I just pull the songs I like and junk the rest. God is an Astronaut is a rare exception; I’ll pop in one full album and let it go. The music is so carefully constructed that the tracks move elegantly into one another, at least elegantly against each other. There’s nothing jarring about writing to All Is Violent, All Is Bright.

I sheepishly admit that if that album does go to a wildly different place at the end, I haven’t noticed. By the end I’ll have gone where I wanted in the prose. More times than with any other band or composer, I’ll finish a short story or chapter and realize the music ended a long time ago. God is an Astronaut delivers me into emotions that I can’t pull up on my own, but I can sustain. It’s like kite launching.

And if I surface from unfinished fiction, I’ve had great luck with hitting PLAY again and closing the deal. Enormous thanks to friend and podcastmate Max Cantor for introducing me to them.

So this is the music that’s meant the most to my writing in recent years. Please let me know what works for you. I'm always curious to expand my influences.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Law of Conservation of Magic, OR, Hotel Bathroom Monologue

"Science says energy cannot be created or destroyed, but science will do anything for money, including break the law. It will, for instance, determine which locales have the highest density of elfish genes in the human population. Demographics and genetics will narrow it further. Once you purchase the appropriate children, social science will help you break their spirits and breed them. Traditional magic will keep your tower invisible and unnoticed. Their spare energy will fuel the spell. The bulk of their energy, though? Yours at the click of a button, wherever and whenever you please. 4G grand wizardry, energy created, dispensed and crowd-sourced by modern science."

Monday, August 8, 2011

True Stories of John 12: Otakon 2011

5:55 PM: Walking to elevator of hotel. The Sheraton's lobby features a grand piano. Patrons are playing videogame and movie tunes on it. I get the theme to Halloween as I wait for the elevator. It’s going to be a good weekend.

8:47 AM: The first person to cut in front of me in line while complaining about how rude everyone is appears. She does her job swimmingly.

8:52 AM: First broken escalator encountered. Panic abounds.

9:05 AM: Waiting for a premiere. There’s a fellow with an “Otakon 1994” shirt in front of me. That was the first year of the convention. Youngsters behind me mock him for having no life. They are silenced when he begins getting cell calls begging him to come back to work.

10:45 Stuck behind perfectly nice couple on the escalator. They are stuck behind a high elf in high heels and a thong. The guy is eye-level with the thong. He looks very happy until his girl notices. She looks severe. Then she says, “I’d hit that, too.”

1:01 PM A Captain America cosplayer attempts to arrest a Cobra Commander cosplayer. It’s going to be a good weekend.

2:53 PM I pass at least the tenth person who is at least one hundred pounds heavier than me. For at least the tenth time, my reaction is that nothing is wrong with them, but that I should exercise more. I don’t know how this works, but it keeps happening.

3:50 PM: Pass a legless Speed Racer cosplayer in a wheelchair. I try to highfive him, but he ignores me. I presume he couldn’t see me through the blinding brilliance of how awesome he is.

4:52: A guy in a Flash t-shirt holds up a line of at least two hundred people because he’s so slow.

5:10: Go to dinner at the Pratt Street Ale House. The best French fries anywhere. Look at the TV for an update on the budget issue. CNN proclaims: “BREAKING NEWS: ‘We don’t know what is going to happen.’” I don't check the news for the rest of the weekend.

5:58: The point at which so many “clever” t-shirts are seen that I hate all of them on principle. It’s scientifically impossible for even the funny ones to be funny anymore. Please stop buying your clothing from websites.

9:20: Otakon gets religion? An absolutely ripped Vega, a bunny girl and someone whose costume is pretty much being naked look envious and lonely in a corner as a Jesus Christ cosplayer is swarmed for photos.

8:00 AM: I shower. I brush my teeth. I apply deodorant. Doesn’t seem novel and noteworthy? You haven’t been to many conventions.

8:42 AM: I attempt to exit the hotel through a locked door. It is directly next to a door clearly marked, “Please exit through this door.” Humility is checked.

10:10 AM: A doctor is mistaken for a cosplayer.

2:15 PM: There is a 100+ person line to get on the escalator upstairs. Upstairs awaits a 200+ overflow line to get into the 500+ person line to get into the theatre and take any seats that are empty after the current screening. Anyone already in the room is free to stay for the next event.

2:50 PM: Visit a different set of lines and talk to a staffer about room clearing. A gigantic line continues to form while we talk. When we conclude, I ask if I have to go to the back or can I step back in where I was. He flinches like I’m going to hit him. These poor bastards. He looks so relieved when I say I’m not going to give him trouble over it and walk to the back.

3:01 PM: Halfway during my tenure on the giant line, someone in the middle of the 500+ person queue asks, “What is this for?” I see him leaving a minute later.

3:30 PM: A man of Middle Eastern descent is mistaken for a Sayid from Lost cosplayer.

8:18: At the Q&A with a certain director, one fan has the balls to ask why these stories always follow the same formula. I don’t think his point is valid, this movie’s actually different in its focus, but damn that takes something to ask. The MC actually instructs the crowd to shout him down.

8:30: I have a great seat at the center of the theatre. I overhear staff chatting that a long line of people have been kept outside the theatre for at least an hour and are furious. I go to the back of the room and watch. A long-haired kid sprints from the entrance, up the aisle and dives bodily onto my former seat. Better than whatever I would have watched from that seat.

8:33: Pass a couple looking for seats. One asks, “Where do you want to sit?” The other answers, “Japan.”

10:00: See a grown man fall on his head on concrete mid-dance. I’m old enough that this signals bed time for me.

10:22: The best elevator ride. I am dressed in khakis and a button down, because I forgot to stop being an adult. I shared this elevator with some samurai and furries. As I walk out, I say, “Have a good night, everybody.” They respond, “Goodnight, Dad!”

 8:50 AM: Apparently I’m really nice. Whatever I said during checkout, the clerk extends a hand and offers to high five me. I could do with more of this in my life.

9:42 AM: Am bombarded by the soundtrack from Glee. After three songs, I ask the purveyor if the purpose of that show is for explicitly less talented musicians to cover music that I know is better than that. The purveyor is not happy.

10:32 AM: Am introduced to the “brassica napus” flower, otherwise known as “rape blossoms.” You learn something every day.

10:58: Overhear hushed, gossipy arguments on how horrible some girl is. These people seem personally offended at this girl’s selfish behavior. It’s two minutes before I realize they’re discussing the movie I was just at.

3:00 PM: Apparently Batgirl can do more than walk now. She flashes me as I exit the Baltimore Convention Center. I think what a funny way that is to end the weekend.

3:15 PM: Apparently someone else had a better idea for how to end the weekend. As I’m walking to the light rail, something stirs to my right. It is a giant African American man. He tackles me from the sidewalk and into oncoming traffic. I try to shove him back to the safe place where people go and realize, no, I’m not very strong. I ask if he’s okay. He says, “No, I’ve really got to take a shit.”

4:30 PM: Apparently someone else had an even better idea for how to end the weekend. I exit the light rail to visit my grandmother. We visit Wegman’s, a grocery store. We walk through the ice cream aisle and find the Death Gods from Bleach pushing a cart. Grandma smiles softly at them and asks me, “Are they your friends?”

Final Score:
Apparent males cosplaying as Link: 4
Apparent females cosplaying as Link: 8
People of absolutely androgynous gender cosplaying as Link: 1
Green Arrow: 1

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Russians on the Minotaur

To hear today's monologue either click the streaming triangle on the left or click here to download the MP3.

My English is not so good. Your word? "Immortal?" I do not care so much for it. Have you seen end of time? Seen magic man-like-bull there? No? Then why say this word? I ask, does your man-like-bull breathe? Does he have big bull nose? Does chest go in and out? Because I never met immortals needing to breathing. I am thinking, this man-like-bull? He dies like man. He kills a man? He kills five men? Okay. I am Russian commander. I send hundred men down maze. He kills one. He kills five. He works. He breathes harder. He gets tired. Does not look immortal no more. That is how Russian solves Greek problem. You stay here with your "immortal" and your English grammar. I go do work.
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