Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Editing Better

“I'll tell you how to make it better. I can't do crap to make it sell, or tell what this agent prefers, or what resonates more with Heartland audiences. I can only tell you how to improve every single paragraph, and the plot strung along them. Somebody else can tell you what they'd like better. I won't argue with them. They'll be wrong. All of them will be wrong if they disagree with me, but I won't argue. Everybody has an opinion. Mine just so happens to be correct and will guide you to producing the best art. Whether anyone else agrees? I don't see why you’d care.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Heat of This Sun

Clark always insisted he was an alien. As young as three years of age he would lead friends on play dates into his barn where he alleged his parents had buried the ship on which he’d reached earth. They never found it, and he never manifested the alien powers he claimed he was supposed to get from sunlight. All it did was earn him the nickname “Unvampire.”

At five years of age, Clark began convincing girls on the playground to let him save them. It was his duty as a more evolved alien god-man. They would pretend to be trapped on top of the jungle gym, or that the slide was on fire, and he would run across the yard to pretend his incredible hearing was picking up their distress. How the fires were slain by him blowing on them was chalked up to imagination.

How the house fire began is still a matter of contention in the county. Clark was nearly burned alive trying to pull his mother from beneath a collapsed beam. The local paper has a heart-wrenching photo of the child kicking a firefighter for pulling him outside and, to quote, “stopping me from saving them.”

The tragedy begat several years of transitive living, with foster parents who all had praise for the boy’s intelligence and drive, but all reported he was simply too outgoing to fit in. He wanted to captain sports teams, be head chef at dinner, and yelled over every argument. His second foster father was an engineer, and tells the story of how the boy redirected sunlight through his glasses into a heat ray unlike anything he’d ever seen. The experiment conveniently destroyed the glasses and half their garage, and was largely thought of as apocryphal until his teens.

At age thirteen he lived at a shared home in a particularly nasty part of Chicago. It was almost as soon as Clark moved in that a series of grisly murders began along the waterfront, each a helpless young man or woman. The sites and times were spaced so that no one was able to create a narrow field of subjects. Not until Clark. With amateur blogging and diligent photo evidence of what was available to the public, he was able to lead the police to the murderer within only two weeks. It was a disturbed homeless man, whom psychiatrists later testified didn’t even know he’d done any of it. He’d squatted only a few blocks from Clark’s shared home.

Solving the gruesome killing spree launched him into a sort of regional celebrity. He was consulted on further cases, though solved none, and charities soon raised the funds to send him to the college he deserved. He had a plethora of glowing references and was admitted at the age of 16 to MIT.

Clark had the knack for engineering and immediately bonded with other top students and professors in key programs. He claimed he’d always loved rockets, and dedicated his post-graduate work in alternative fuels to a roommate, who died tragically from taking the wrong prescriptions. Clark revealed staggering breakthroughs in fuels only a month later, and patented enough that he was able to fund vast improvements in Chicago’s slums. To both orphans and astronauts, he was heralded as a hero. In retrospect, it seems bizarre they let him go up in that shuttle. It was all about stardom and reigniting the American passion for space.

There are doubts. While the alternative fuels initially tested producing no carbon emissions, the temperature of the planet has raised dramatically in the last three years during their adoption. Scientists still struggle to explain the cause. It would be too ironic if he had to wait for Clark to return and fix it for us. He’s already done so much, and we don’t even know what he’s up there looking for.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: An Ode to the Towel

Hark and grace unto this invention: the towel. Yes, you can dip it in barbecue sauce, or nutrients for later sucking, or hail a spaceship with it, but there are other uses.

Here, humanity has said, “I have this wetness all over me and no biological recourse against it. I would dry it with my hair, only my hair is wet.”

And what was humanity’s answer? To create a rectangle of something else’s hair to get wet for you, with as little effort as a brief application and a tap. Or a scrub, or a rub, or a flossing motion that you really ought not to try when other people are around. It absorbs wetness even better than human hair, and is thus an improvement on evolution, a superior portable toupee that you can wear over your head, or around your genitals, or as a cape, unless your friends are judgmental pricks.

They are cheap, efficient, and do a job evolution utterly failed at despite having shat us out of the ocean by several million years of effort. Some will say the towel is an extended phenotype, a necessary invention of our evolved brains. These people are trying to help evolution reach the towel rack. Even fundamental forces of history and biology want in on the towel.

Here’s to it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Last House in the Sky is Done & Next Big Thing Award

I said there’d be good news today.

Well, Last House in the Sky is done. It’s not a Rough Draft. It’s not a First Draft. It’s in the hands of a test-reader, and off to betas soon after that. My mad love project, sending heists into the post-apocalypse and crossing cars with dinosaurs, is growing on up. With good health and luck, I’ll be querying it by summer.

Recently T.S. Bazelli tagged me for the Next Big Thing question series. I sat down with these last night to celebrate. Let me know what you think of my answers, and how the book sounds to you.

---What is the working title of your book?
“The Last House in the Sky.” People seem to like it.

---Where did the idea come from for the book?
Intense friendship is one of my favorite themes in life and fiction. I love those small units of incredibly diverse characters, who you’d never imagine tolerating each other, yet whose bond is unquestioned. It’s often testy and tested. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are one. Lupin the 3rd and Samurai Champloo are prototypes of this. You get this intense samurai, this horny lock-pick, this Noir marksman – they should hate each other, and yet they never turn on each other. I could read or watch those bizarre dynamics for hours.

There was a week, I think it was the summer after college graduation, that I stuck three fictions in a car, with a far off destination, and made them talk until they revealed who they were to me. Soon I had my voices, of the aristocratic sociopath hopelessly in love with a lesbian, and that master-thief lesbian who willfully abuses his affection, and the failed sidekick who hates them both but can’t do better. Then they arrived and stole the sun out of the sky. These three have been with me ever since, and I kept going back to them, knowing eventually they were going to get their own book or series. I just needed to find the right heist.

---What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A trio of misfit thieves seek to steal the last shreds of civilization from an apocalyptic cult, who'd otherwise waste them blowing up what remains of the world.

---What genre does your book fall under?
Secondary World Fantasy, but also Heist and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, since the world has suffered a series of civilization-ending catastrophes every 200-300 years. It’s really a Post-Post-Post-Post-Post-Apocalyptic novel. Survivors have almost gotten the hang of surviving by now.

---Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d love a Studio Ghibli adaptation, even though their adaptations are notoriously loose. Anyone who worked on Castle of Cagliostro and Princess Mononoke could make this work in animated form.

Casting people is always hard for me since I don’t write thinking of my characters that way. They’re distinct, they have their own physicality, and so the impulse is to get a lookalike or someone who played a role that’s anything like this before. Let me try to ghost-cast The Trio…

Ninx Anzhel: The boss of a group that pretends it’s democratic. Rosario Dawson keeps coming to mind. I have a soft spot for Clerks 2, and she was a doorbuster in 25th Hour. She can balance flippancy and confidence in the crucial way, and turn it up later.
Randigo “Randy” Chambers: Son of hero-parents. Sidekick of the greatest hero of previous generation. Utter failure, now a nudist and wheelman. Aren’t I insulting someone by casting them? I don’t know. Maybe Kunaal Roy Kapur? Or anyone from Attack the Gas Station.

Egal Vineguard: He’s a triclops, so either I’m asking some great actor to wear a prosthetic over his head or we’re in CGI territory. Perhaps the best shot would be WETA-style cinema magic with Mark Hamill as a voice. He’s an incredible voice actor, and was a bit of the original voice-inspiration for Vineguard. Vineguard is the perpetually upbeat, shrewd and educated man who simply will not stop pursuing Ninx. So, Kevin Kline would be great. Matt Keeslar would make me happy. The triclopes in the part of the world I’ve written are Caucasian, but I’d also love to see (or hear) Souleymane Sy Savane try this. I’m willing to bet in five minutes he’d be the definitive Vineguard-voice.

---Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’ll seek representation and send out a package to houses like Tor and Angry Robot – places I’d love to work. It’d be funny if this beat my previous novel to press.

---How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It was May to September to write the rough draft, interrupted miserably over the summer for all number of events and travel. That was about 90,000 words. I’ve only just finished the perfectly clean draft this month. It’s off to an alpha now, and betas soon.

---What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Thieves are archetypal in Fantasy, and humorous Heist Fantasy is precedented in the mainstream in both Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence. The Last House in the Sky has a harder edge than Artemis Fowl, with more emotional development and maturity along with all the woeful immaturity that makes life worth living. Gentleman Bastard Sequence, which thus far is master-class Fantasy, is still more cynical and political. There isn’t enough of a world left in my Frontier for that much politicking, and is always defined by the personal experiences of these characters. Even the world-building is restricted to what they think and experience; I give plenty of references to the bigger world, and you can connect dots, but there won’t be chapters of exposition on something they barely see.

---Who or What inspired you to write this book?
At the beginning of May, 2012, I was more or less done with edits on my previous novel and waited on theta readers. I knew I’d be in a holding pattern for final edits and submissions to agents and editors, and I didn’t want to spend all that time producing nothing. I had about five novel ideas and couldn’t pick which was best, and so asked friends. One asked what ever happened to The Trio. That incepted me. I’d convinced myself it was their time by that evening.

---What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Besides heists and road trips through the Post-Post-Post-Post-Post-Apocalypse, driving in an ancient gremlin car among seas of glass, the bones of giant demons, and herds of dinosaurs feuding with carnivorous robots? A triclopic swordsman facing down a bulldozer? Mutually assured sexual harassment? Inter-dimensional lock-picking?

Then there’s this little promise. If you’ve ever read my blog, you know I strive to write from my heart. Weird as it is, this sort of madness is what is closest to my heart. This is as pure John Wiswell as it gets. That means heart, and that means heartbreak, and heartbreak is always funny.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Too Many Humans in Fantasy Novels?

As I began wrapping up the latest draft of Last House in the Sky, a new fear struck me. Good God, I’d made everyone humanoid. It’s terrible when Fantasies squander their secondary worlds with people and people-shaped beings, so many Star Trek guys of the week.

Four main of the characters were human. A fifth was a triclops, who was psychologically different, but physically about a “Star Trek” away from human. Skin tone, size, aerobic make-up and head-shape only go so far. Now he introduces us to imps, with their suicide-fetish and heads full of horns, sphincters and surgical implants that no one will accuse of being human, but still, the overall body is vaguely human-shaped. Not good enough.

Well, but that sixth main character was a decapitated gremlin head. She walks around on prehensile ears or combustion-powered prosthetic bodies. That was less humanoid.

Of course, she invented one of the key antagonists of the book: automatons. Giant spherical drones that suck you through vents. Enormous and hungry construction equipment. A little better.

And sauropods are everywhere. An ankylosaurus gets a big scene. Compsognathus. Brachiosaurs. Hadrosaurs, even Premium Hadrosaurs. Many references to the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the filet mignon of lizards.

Dorads, the sentient balls of snakes that form gestalt consciousness, in this novel to administer drunken church services. Nine-legs, granting a little radial symmetry to the background. Likewise, land-squid. Oh, the land-squid.

I’m still feeling self-conscious about all those human characters, though. I’m woefully failing the arthropod equivalent of the Bechdel Test.

Next time. Next time.

Some good news coming tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Foot Stopped Working: MRI Day

Some time since my original post I began experiencing a similar numbness and loss of control in my right foot. It began with the outer toes, just like the left. As though fearing it's being out-shined, now four toes are perpetually numb on the left and I have to consciously exercise them to make sure when they operate. Today I felt the loss of control in some calf muscles. It's back now, which is a relief. I wasn't able to identify which muscles went out on me.
On Friday I had a spinal MRI. Blood tests came back almost entirely negative, which was great in that I didn’t have any of those diseases, but disappointing in that I didn’t have an explanation. It’s worthwhile trade; it’s simply a disappointment-balance I want to note. In brainstorming other horrible bodily malfunctions we crossed my history of back problems; after I learned to walk again in Middle School, it would go out as often as four times a week on me. So the hypothesis is that some lingering vertebrate problem or pinched nerve is hampering my legs. Seems plausible enough to warrant manipulating magnetism for my benefit. They rarely let you manipulate magnetism when you want, like in traffic or in a queue.

MRIs fascinate and soothe me. A lot of people complain about claustrophobia and the noises – both of which are sensible complaints. If some jerk behind the glass hit a button, the platform could easily crush you to death. It’s the most immediate representation of how medical science puts our lives in other people’s hands.

The MRI operator offered me headphones with four varieties of music: 60’s, 70’s, Hip Hop, or Classical. I chose Classical, and as I was elevated into the ceramic doughnut of magnetism, I was treated to the most foreboding piano solo imaginable. If you imagine a montage in any movie where the main character goes to the hospital, gets tests and gets bad news, this would be playing in the background. I almost hit the emergency button because I was laughing so hard. It got better when the piano was overridden by the MRI noises itself.

The noise-canceling headphones did not work against the brute force of the MRI machine. Those noises bother nearly as many people as the claustrophobia, but I like them. It sounds like someone is hammering in the next room, and several times it’ll sound like a circular saw, only not as constant, instead broken up into deliberate patterns. The noises are loud and startle a primal part of the psyche; but they’re habitual, highly intentional things as well. The cacophony is too deliberate to be ruckus. That’s good science there.

I see my primary care physician about it tomorrow. We’ll find out if the problem lies in my spinal column soon.

Fine, here's a goatee picture.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bathroom Monologue: Debt Game

It goes like this.

The plumber wants the coins. He doesn’t know why, but he’ll scarcely ever turn back in his furious pursuit rightwards of the shining golden GIFs.

The player wants the plumber to have the coins. They’re a detached score, extra lives, the promise of hidden unlockables, and most of all, rotating motivation to make the plumber run faster into stimulation.

The designer wants the player to want the plumber to have the coins. Getting hooked on this feedback loop will mean the player will play it longer, play it more often, buy the sequels, the t-shirts, the cellphone skin, the tie-in movies. Then the designer will be able to feed his family.

The publisher wants the designer to hook the player on getting the plumber those coins. Employing and taking the work of such a designer means greater profits for the release quarter, shareholder satisfaction, brand awareness and stability. The publisher can turn this into an institution.

The investor wants the publisher to find the designers that can hook the players to do dumb crap. Then the yields will be up, dividends may begin, and the portfolio will be rosier. The investor can watch the publisher’s daily NYSE rating tick up and down with news, reviews and sales figures of the designer’s game that the player is playing. The chart goes up and down and ever rightward, like the trails of someone jumping.

They all have less time than they think. Neither plumber nor investor knows why.
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