Saturday, December 22, 2012

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas (At War)

This was posted under duress. My full apologies for this thing existing.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
The Pentagon sent to me:
Twelve drumlines drumming,
Eleven specialists sniping,
Ten sergeants sleeping, 
Nine generals posturing, 
Eight drones a-flying,  
Seven SEALs a-swimming,
Six guys a-laying,
 Five useless things,  
Four polished turds,  
Three French leaves,  
Two armored cars, 
And a cartridge in an MRE!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: A Necessary Getaway

He moved north at the first opportunity. Way north. He cut all ties, even to his mother, which was the hardest on him. He was a mama's boy.

His hair went white from all the stress, including his beard. He took that as a sign to change his appearance and began dressing in pants as soon as they were invented. All the sedentary hiding made him gain tremendous weight, face filling out, giving him rosy cheeks in the snowy environment.

He stayed in doors as much as possible, but always came out around his birthday. It was too lonely, even with the elves that had found him and made camps all around his house. They fashioned him thick, orthopedic boots and gloves that comforted his scarred extremities. It allowed him to take up carpentry again.

The gregarious wee folk did so much for his spirits that he reached out to a similar-sized people: children. He still only went south around his birthday, but brought a sack of the toys from his workshop for those boys and girls who had the right attitude. There were always more gifts to give, too, as the elves copied his work and began production for every decent child.

And associating with children turned out to actually help, for in his old life he had been an average-sized Jew, but to them he was a giant. So his new identity was a jolly mammoth with a white beard and a bag of presents. He was safe. No one down there ever guessed that Santa Claus was an alias.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: The Sleeping Beauty Incident

The wizened fairy buzzed around The Prince’s head like a halo, shooing him into the chamber. He bowed at the threshold, taking in the musty room. A bed wide enough for ten consumed more than half its breadth, sheltering a solitary girl who couldn’t have been a day older than himself. Her slenderness, and that porcelain complexion, haunted him from first sight, because this wasn’t first sight. This was the girl from his dreams.

The Prince knelt on the covers, hands hovering over her shape, uncertain how to go about this. She was so pale, and her breathing so shallow that she could have slept in Death’s arms.

“Go on, go on,” the old fairy coaxed from the doorway. “She’s been dreaming of you, too, for so many years.”

Heart thudding against his ribs, The Prince lowered until he finally felt her breath sweeping his cheek. He took the narrow peak of her chin, holding his breath for fear an exhalation would blow her away in the breeze, and pressed his mouth to hers in a kiss he’d dreamed nightly for months. She moaned into his mouth, body arching under him, and he lowered his left arm to sweep her from the bed. Yet as soon as his hand touched the small of her back, a palm thrust into his forehead, pushing him away, and her body lurched, curling into the covers and burying her face in the pillow.

“Five more minutes,” she mumbled. “Just five more minutes…”

The Prince furrowed his brow and looked to the window. The wizened fairy was checking her watch.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

10 Elements of Reality Not Allowed in Fiction

No one would put book shelves in a cemetery. Cut it.

Realism is allegedly the goal of fiction. It’s alleged exclusively by real people, which seems somewhere between a bias and bigotry to me.

Regardless, realism is cherished in fiction. We coddle F. Scott Fitzgerald for nailing a feeling, or a poet for putting a thought we’ve all had into verse. Meanwhile an implausible romance is shameful, someone walking in at a convenient time is contrived, and nearly every character is accused of being unrealistic. Realism is considered a requirement for good storytelling – except in a million different cases. Here are ten of them.

1. Characters have the same last name and no relation to each other. Happens millions of times every day in the real world; has happened, perhaps twice, in the history of fiction.

2. Coughing, sneezing and hiccupping for no reason. Someone in my family gets the hiccups at least once a week, and never because they’re nervous a dragon is nearby.

3. “Uhm, uh, you know, well, like, it’s just – you know what I mean.” These oral pauses allow real people to gather the best wording for their next point, although it’s a tiny minority of fictional characters who ever use them. I’m most acutely aware of this dissonance when I’m editing novels; I spend hours a day cutting every needless word, and become absolutely irate with everyone I meet who talks like an actual person.

4. Characters notice a conflict between each other, talk over their opinions honestly, figure out a simple compromise, and drop the issue. Half the editors I’ve met would chastise you for squandering conflict if you wrote sensible resolution.

5. A heart monitor flatlines because a node disconnected. This has not only happened to me, but is by far the most common cause of flatlining for every medical technician I’ve ever talked to. People whose business is to save lives make fun of your fiction about life and death scenarios.

6. The “good” political party wins and yet the “good” party members are never satisfied no matter what the new administration does. They become deeply jaded by what they identify as the failings of their leaders, seldom recognizing much of their disappointment stems from their own ignorance over what is plausible. Our real would actually be a great satire about idealism and phony pragmatism.

7. Cold wars. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. spent decades embroiled in one, and the closest they came to blows was psyching each other out over missile placement. You seldom see a Dark Lord who the rest of the world just refuses to trade with, and who fails so catastrophically to lead his giant tyranny that the capitalists have to sneak him loans.

8. The neighbors losing their shit the night after a Horror movie/novel when it turns out eighteen people have been stabbed to death and the mailman was actually a sadomasochistic zombie. I don’t know about you, but if somebody revs their motorcycle too loud my neighbors obsess about it for years. The closest fiction gets is in a sequel, years later (or one year later, on the anniversary), and then those nervous locals are just introduced for body count.

9. The superhero that just does the right thing because it’s right. A pragmatic idealist motivated by his or her own mind, not a personal tragedy or preposterously corrupted city. What’s funnier is our popular misconception that all superheroes are already like this. Actually, even Superman isn’t that anymore.

10. The serial killer who is impossible to catch because law enforcement is incredibly complicated bureaucratically and logistically, not because being crazy is a mental superpower.

That ought to be enough to get us started. Do any others come to mind?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Consumed Podcast 14: The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey

It's a particularly polarizing episode of Consumed this week as all three of us congregate over The Hobbit. There's high praise and analysis for its visual style, Howard Shore's score and many points in the acting, but also heavy questions of pacing and how the surprising number of fight scenes are handled. I seem to have stunned Max with one claim about "amateurish" elements toward the middle of the podcast. We get deep into it, so if you want a fix for Peter Jackson's latest, then this is the podcast for you.

You can download Consumed #14: The Hobbit right here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Mr. Mines

You don’t know I am, so let me introduce myself: I am the woman who hammered that shrapnel into your ankles and knees while you were under.

You’ll be reassured to know every piece came from one of your landmines. None were the one that took my son’s legs, though I tried to find some. It would have been even more appropriate. As it is, all the charred steel now shredding your muscles and tendons is stuff you bought and put out there.

The handcuffs are for your own safety. If you pulled those shards out, you might bleed to death or get an infection. Mothers are very worried about infections. Did you know one summer when he 11, while playing soccer, he got such a bad gash that he needed injections in his calf every three days for four weeks? Of course you didn’t think about that, just as I don’t care what you were before you became a warlord or whatever you think you are.

We’re ten miles from your nearest compound. That’s a lot of walking to do with your joints full of metal. It might even be impossible, but maybe you’ll get lucky and waddle your way into screaming range for one of your lackeys.

I’m going home now. My son’s funeral is tomorrow, because he didn’t make it back to base, what you left of him. He only made it ten miles. Ten miles with no legs. Can you imagine?

Well, you will.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: “Love is in the air.” –Anonymous

“Wrong. Nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide are in the air.”

“No, you’re wrong. That is the air. I’m in the air, from ground level up five feet and fewer inches than I’d like, and several cubic feet around for that elevation. I’m as in the air as I’m ever in the water of a swimming pool.”

“No, those elements are what makes up air. It’s like you having a heart and lungs inside you.”

“Yes, but it’s poor grammar to say I’ve got a heart in me, even though most living humans have one. A heart is a part of me; it is me. I’ve got half a fish taco in me. It’ll be part of me later, and part of the septic.”

“That is not the same as pretending ‘love’ is in the air.”

“So pheromones don’t count?”

“They’re a stimulant, not love.”

“So love isn’t a chemical?”

“All brain reactions are chemicals. That’s all love is.”

“So I’m in the air, and I’ve got brain chemicals in me, and love is a brain chemical. Therefore love is in the air. Find my wife around here and stimulate me a bit, and there’ll be an excess of love running rampant.”

“That is definitely not the same as pretending love is floating around.”

“What if someone skywrites the letters L-O-V-E in the sky?”

“Then you could say it. But nobody does that, and you know that. You’re just saying that to annoy me.”

“Sure, but I love doing it. It’s in the air.”
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