Fiction

Story Prompt


They drained a canal in Paris and this is one of the things they found.

A boombox, in the water, ruined for now but could it be restored? Could someone with a pair of fifty pound bags of rice dry out the components, flush out the mud, and wipe away the neglect? Could this thing be saved?

It wouldn't be practical (that's a lot of rice to use on an electronic device. That much rice could feed a lot of hungry people. But so could break dancing.

Break dancers feed the soul. They take the performance aspect of the Humanities into the streets and they move around, they take the music that works for their routine and they create something new. A breakdance team with the ability to draw people in can perform on the street for a few hours and make some cash. People can't help but throw money at breakdancers nowadays because it's so rare to see artistry like that. Instead of dressing up like a superhero, a select few of the elite breakdancers can turn everything you know on its ear and make a sheet of cardboard look like a glass floor.

Was there a rivalry that put this boombox at the bottom of the canal? Which faction and which group went to war and accomplished this battle task? Above all else, the boombox goes in the water or we don't win, they said. War is over if boombox goes in the drink, and you have to want it to make it happen. That's cold. Throwing someone's boombox in a canal is like cutting off an arm by accident.

I can imagine a jealous lover throwing the boombox in the canal. Love me, or lose me forever. If you're going to choose the boombox over me, guess what? It's already on the bottom of the canal.

Was there regret for throwing this thing into the water? There's little chance for regret after a prank like this. Waste of a good boombox, man. Waste of a good boombox.

Of course, they're going to pop this thing open and it'll have an Electric Light Orchestra cassette in it. Goddamn, I'd have thrown that thing into the water. Maybe I did when I was in Paris years ago and forgot. I hope they don't find my fingerprints. This is exactly the sort of crime that can be pinned to me because I've never been saintly about such things.

Fiction on Television

[...] Clarity is an overrated component of storytelling. James Ellroy’s The Big Nowhere, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and David Peace’s Nineteen Seventy-Seven are three of my favorite crime novels, and I don’t think I could explain their plots with a gun to my head.
What matters in crime fiction is feeling. It’s attitude, atmosphere, dialogue, mood. It’s the idea of one or more individuals going up against institutions of great power. It’s the idea that the underworld exists, right in front of you, all the time, and you just have to look.
For all the smoky bars, midcentury modern houses, poker rooms, and trips up north, True Detective’s second season had no sense of place. Somehow they set a crime show in Los Angeles and made Los Angeles seem boring. This was a failure of writing, which relied too often on telling and not showing, and it was a failure of the revolving door of directors behind the camera.
You know what show does have a sense of place? The Walking Dead. That's a show that puts you in a place where you have to know the characters and know where they are living before you can fully comprehend the horror of what they face on a day to day basis. This is as much about good storytelling as it is about something more basic--the budget for a season of scripted television.
On TWD, we've seen the following seasons and the following places: the gravel quarry and the horrors of urban Atlanta. Herschel's farm. The prison and Woodbury. Terminus and the road. Alexandria. Think about those settings--they're all firmly embedded into the psyche of the viewer because they are heavy with meaning.
You will never forget that quarry and the hasty camp where everyone gathers around their tents and Dale's Winnebago. The forays into Atlanta and the final attack on the camp, which forces them to abandon the people buried there and take to the road demonstrate a command of place that you just can't expect out of a six episode first season. This use of rural settings would really come to fruition when they discovered Herschel's farm in Season Two.
What I remember about the farm is that it was a set that featured an amazing house and sweeping fields and vistas. The survivors had normalcy there, even though they camped a ways away from the house and went on a series of dangerous forays into the communities around it. There were so many indelible scenes, especially with the well and the barn that took the familiar and made them horrifying. This is what would have been of great benefit to True Detective Season 2--an established sense of place that would combine familiarity and depravity.
Seasons three and four of The Walking Dead used the prison setting as an anchor and that made budgetary sense. They could film outdoors and indoors and use sets that were spare and full of recurring themes. The tombs within the prison were full of caged walkers and could be opened up when needed. When Rick Grimes spends an episode or two at the end of his wits, the black rotary phone becomes a finale callback for Merle, who grabs the unhooked, dead phone and takes it with him, tormented by the same demons. These simple elements could have been used in other forms when telling a crime drama about Southern California.
Now we've seen Terminus, the church, the road, the barn, and Alexandria. These are all elements which inform the storytelling and have become vastly more complex due to the fact that the show is more successful. The simple outdoor setting has morphed into an actual walled development of high-end energy sustainable homes. Virtually every show on television could benefit from understanding the importance of place, setting, and physical location as it relates to how the stories are being told on The Walking Dead.
Everything I've discussed would be a boring, no-frills set anywhere else. These sets provided a place where clarity could happen in the story while leaving a great deal of ambiguity about what lay ahead. These sets were all of the basic elements found in suburban Atlanta and rural Georgia--hardly the kind of thing you'd see on network television, if at all. And yet there have only been a few "boring" detours during the long history of The Walking Dead. Sometimes, the boring places work better than expected in terms of telling the story and keeping the viewers interested.

Woody Allen

The point of every Woody Allen film now seems to be a masturbatory fantasy of "old man screws young woman" nonsense:
The film critic David Thomson has described Allen as “a major-league fantasist, in which he is the central figure,” adding that “his mingling with attractive actors and actresses has been an immense fantasy inspiration to him.” Irrational Manfantasizes about murder, but also, less intriguingly, about its protagonist being an object of extraordinary desire to everyone he meets. The news of his arrival on campus is buzzed about by students and teachers alike. “I hear he has affairs with his students,” says one young woman excitedly, while an older professor remarks that the appointment will “put some Viagra in the philosophy department.” Upon arrival, Lucas has the charisma and heavy-lidded, wackadoodle charm of Phoenix, but he’s also a mess—overweight, sweaty, and inebriated. Still, neither his washed-up appearance nor the uninspired nature of his classes (“Philosophy is verbal masturbation,” he tells his students) seems to lessen his appeal.
Perhaps I am oversimplifying things, but how does that succeed as art when the vast majority of Woody Allen films are never seen by the public? Who goes to see these films? How do they end up being revered such as they are?
I apologize for asking dumb questions, but I am a man of simple ideas and thoughts and I have no fucking clue why anyone would bother engaging with a Woody Allen film? Does the world have an endless supply of attractive young women who only want to sleep with aging, insufferable men?
If it does, shame on the morality police for not doing more to stop Woody Allen characters from soiling the future hotties of this country.

A Show That Predicted Our New Reality


A decade ago, ESPN weathered the controversy over the show Playmakers. It represented ESPN's futile effort to become a real broadcast network. It was fiction--it was a piece of art, to be honest with you--that tried to give ESPN the credibility it had frittered away by showing ridiculous trash sports for years. To go from filler programming like Australian Rules Football to a scripted drama that was on par with the shows on entertainment television brought ESPN a great deal of praise.

The problem was, the praise and the ratings weren't enough to get the show renewed. It was really controversial and it broke new ground. It showed the inside-baseball stuff about football that people regularly consume on Deadspin and on a number of other websites. The NFL begged ESPN to kill it and ESPN is, if nothing else, a whore for the three major professional sports leagues and the NCAA.

People need to understand the three biggest problems that the NFL is facing right now--concussions, racism, and homophobia. These issues could come back and cause the league to collapse under the weight of endless lawsuits. Playmakers was an excellent example of how a show with artistic and commercial qualities was able to reflect this reality back at society and inform while entertaining. How many shows actually ever do that well?

What people don't get is that the younger players have moved beyond sexual orientation because they have lived in the culture as it is, not as it was. We are a long way away from the normalization of sexual identity and orientation--call me when Tom Cruise and John Travolta have their badly-needed moment of clarity and honesty. The older part of the NFL--the players who have been around for a while, the coaches and the front office personnel--still live in a world where institutionalized homophobia is how Jesus would have wanted it.

ESPN failed to see the value in being a patron of the arts instead of a splayed-out whore for a collection of billion dollar franchises. That's why I always laugh when I see comments from ESPN's ombudsman. Really? A critic on the payroll? Give me a break. ESPN will never search for its soul.

How Many People Stop Reading Entirely?


This is an interesting development for people who think there is still a market for the printed word.

In my opinion, the rise in the number of people who don't read books does not mean that people are not reading. I think it is more a case where what they read has evolved to the point where the book is an irrelevant item in the lives of many.

Have you ever walked into someone's house and noticed whether or not they have books? An absence of books means one of two things--either they don't read them or they have a robust E-reader or tablet and have no further use for books. I can sympathize with that--I have books that are in Rubbermaid containers precisely because there isn't room for them. Should I chuck them out or should I save them?

The E-reader market has tanked in some ways because of the flood of mediocre material (people trying to cash in) and because the devices are unstable. When you think back about all of the people who are holding Nooks and Sony E-Readers (hey, that's me!), there's almost no solution that looks like an upside. How do you carry around a library full of books on a device that is rendered obsolete in mere months? How many people are going to create a fully digitized library that has to be stored in the cloud or ported around or copied and re-copied? People are more likely to do that with the music they care about. Books, like old albums or songs that are tiresome, fall away.

And, yes, I thought of this as well. Literacy isn't an issue:

The percentage of people who are not educated but can read? Is that increasing? I have no idea. I suspect that it is.

Complex, inaccessible, and pretentious literary offerings don't actually kill off readership--they simply turn people away from writers but not the medium itself. Stephen King is widely read because he delivers; being able to deliver isn't the same as being good or bad, but there's no way King could be considered a bad writer.

I don't know if people stop reading so much as they stop trying to engage written forms of entertainment. The human need remains. What fills those needs has evolved and changed with the technology.

The Hobbit Films Are Fan Fiction and Nothing More


Christopher Orr's review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug eviscerates Peter Jackson and deems the liberties taken with the original material "egregious." So much for purity.

The gauntlet against "fan fiction" has been thrown down, and linking Jackson to this amateur practice is akin to trying to derail a franchise that isn't going to be stopped by a critic (which would be impossible at this point). If anything, the backlash against Orr will be a blip on the radar if it blows up at all.

If these Hobbit films are really not that great, the critics will have to try to be heard over the massive marketing hype that will guarantee an audience for a franchise that has billion dollar implications. They will be silenced by indifference or worse. There's too much money at stake. And that money is why Jackson rewrote the material in order to pad it out into a three film megaproject. The only part of this series of films that Jackson cares about is the battle scene at the end. The entirety of one film could probably be that battle in order to satisfy Jackson's fetish.

As soon as he introduced a beloved old character and an entirely new one designed to make the film more marketable to young women, he entered the shady world of fan fiction. His ideas are no better or worse than yours or mine and even though we haven't made any other billion dollar film franchises work, it doesn't change the fact that Jackson looked at a classic book and decided to rewrite it. For money.

I don't think that this material warranted a trilogy; good God, they probably wanted to split the last film in two just to make that much more cash. It works as a book precisely because it is one story told in one reading. It is an adventure tale for a young audience. It was never intended to make Harvey Weinstein a billion dollars.

Shakespeare in the Digital Age


Exposing old books and manuscripts to more interaction and more scholarship is a good thing; however, I sometimes wonder if there isn't an unhealthy fixation on certain eras. The fixation on all things Shakespeare means people rarely get a chance to expose themselves to the people who lived fifty or a hundred years before or after him and if there are no collections, no emphasis on those parts of the canon and no exposure to the best and the brightest, not all of whom lived at the same time of course, then they will further suffer and be ignored.

If someone could be exposed to Richard Brinsley Sheridan, John Skelton, or Thomas Carlyle in such a ways as to evaluate their works and compare them to their peers, could they not elevate these literary giants to the level of Shakespeare? Or would bias doom them all? Ben Jonson could easily challenge those who claim that Shakespeare was the greatest English writer. I hope they are putting out his works digitally as well.

Shakespeare invites a lot of bias. Why not let people argue that he wasn't as good as they say he was?

Did Peter Jackson Ruin the Legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien?


It would seem fitting to revisit the idea that director Peter Jackson made unconscionable changes to the material used in the original Lord of the Rings triology. What with The Hobbit now out and people grumbling about it, there's a good reason to delve into the subject at hand.

Christopher Tolkien has worked on properly organizing his late father's literary estate. This article talks about that effort. But, I think we need to remember that it was New Line cinema that should have been credited with being as evil as any other entity:
The lawyers for the Tolkien Estate, those of the Tolkien Trust, and Tolkien's publisher HarperCollins demanded $150 million in damages, as well as observers' rights on the next adaptations of Tolkien's work. A lawsuit was necessary before an agreement was reached in 2009. The producers paid 7.5% of their profits to the Tolkien Estate, but the lawyer, who refuses to give a number, adds that "it is too early to say how much that will be in the future." 
However, the Tolkien Estate cannot do anything about the way New Line adapts the books. In the new Hobbit movie, for example, the audience will discover characters Tolkien never put in, especially women. The same is true for the merchandise, which ranges from tea towels to boxes of nuggets, with an infinite variety of toys, stationery, t-shirts, games, etc. Not only the titles of the books themselves, but also the names of their characters have been copyrighted. 
"We are in the back seat," Cathleen Blackburn comments. In other words, the Estate can do little but watch the scenery, except in extreme cases-- for example, preventing the use of the name Lord of the Rings on Las Vegas slot machines, or for amusement parks. "We were able to prove that nothing in the original contract dealt with that sort of exploitation."
Hollywood's penchant for creative accounting screwed the Tolkien estate for years after the successful release of the original trilogy and now we're going to face yet another series of lawsuits and negotiations over the profits from The Hobbit? Ugh.

What surprises me is that there is no discernible backlash against Jackson, his producers and financiers, and the studio that will release the films. There is no significant threat to the commercial success of these endeavors, save the overall displeasure with the films that seems to have taken hold, and there is nothing in the way of a credible backlash. At the very least, you'd think that, if the son of the man who wrote the books has called it all an evisceration, then there should be some sort of serious effort to thwart the films from being wildly successful.

That backlash will never arrive. What is different now is that the people who built the Tolkien legacy--the young and the old and the literary and the linguistic--during the 1960s have largely surrendered to the crass commercialism of the age and are irrelevant to the discussion. They can bleat on about how it was all ruined, but until someone can agree upon who the rightful culprit really is, the films will go on and the books will gradually diminish in importance.

What a shame.

Where Are You Going With This?


I'm not sure where she's going with this; the story seems to be about chocolate eggs and less about the marketing aspect of creating something that will deliver for the various companies that have a vested interest in profiting from the Easter bunny phenomenon.

There aren't many side stories as to the day-to-day operations of the Easter bunny. Things happen. People fall into production machinery. There are labor unions to deal with. There was one time that the Easter bunny had to deal with a trucking union strike and his solution was to hire scabs and have the striking truckers driven out of town by hired goons, also known as Pinkertons, and then charge the government a surcharge on several contracts in order to make up the difference. It was a pretty rough situation, and, when all was said and done, a couple of the guys from the union ended up wearing a wire so that the Feds could indict someone--anyone--on a racketeering charge that ended up being thrown out on appeal.

He's a rough bastard, and he doesn't mind telling you that.

Martin Amis Forgets


Martin Amis had this to say about literature, and his new book:
And the book is a kind of satire of contemporary England—a member of its underclass wins the lottery and enters its tabloid class. 
Satire is—I wonder how helpful it is as a category. It was once defined in apposition to irony, in that the satirist isn’t just looking at things ironically but militantly—he wants to change them, and intends to have an effect on the world. I think that category just doesn’t exist in literature. No novel has ever changed anything, as far as I can see.
This is a fairly ridiculous thing to say (Sinclair Lewis anyone?) because books have had enormous impact since their creation. Novels have changed a great many things. One of the most influential novels in human history is, of course, Uncle Tom's Cabin. You would think that an Englishman would grasp this, since Harriet Beecher Stowe was treated as if she were royalty in England after the publication of the novel.

I think it would be fair to say that Martin Amis is not going to be known for his ability to give great answers to interviewers. This is not a knock against him at all.

The Easter Wolf Writing Project


There are four writing projects that I am planning on completing this year. I would like to get them planned out and written well before the end of the year, but things do come up. However, I don't see any reason why they can't be finished up and ready to go for next Christmas.

I don't have any set order for completing them, although I am hoping to get The Easter Wolf up and running by Easter in order to give people an alternative history of the celebration of Easter from an American marketing perspective. Living in Germany has made me aware of the fact that not everyone celebrates the same holiday the same way. It's a much bigger deal here than it is in the United States. I have found a great vehicle for a new telling of the behind the scenes machinations of Easter that I thought was worthy of getting out there.

The oldest projects are the ones that center around Norman Rogers and his self-deluding trip through the popular culture. The two best stories I have are set in different times. I have a lot of source material for these projects.

The Chasseurs is at the full writing stage. There isn't much research left to do. I have enough source material to complete the project. All I need now is time. Because these portals exist as blogs, I have to keep adding material in order to maintain interest. Which is no problem--I have the chance to do this. But, really, these sites should be fully-realized websites, and not blogs. For now, Scribd is the preferred method of publication. I would expect that this will change in the future, although I would think that this would be because Scribd doesn't give me the flexibility to fully self-publish material as of yet.

Consider this the January update for these projects. More to follow.