Friday, July 29, 2005

episode four: director's commentary

SPOILER ALERT: read Episode 4 before reading this!

It is the sound of loneliness. The whistle on the AM radio as he slowly turns the dial left to right to left again, trying to find a human voice. I wonder how many people actually hear this these days? I don't think there are many analog radio dials anymore, and not many people listening to AM. There really is a creepy, lonely, electronic whistle when you're not quite tuned into a station. At night you really can pull in radio stations from distant cities. I used to spend hours turning the dial, looking for those distant human voices. Riding in the back seat of the car on a cold winter night with my dad trying to find the radio station that belonged to that tower in the distance is one of my earliest memories. We were just driving north to my granparents back then. Just a three hour trip but that's an eternity when you're just a few years old.

“This is for Bobbie!” the man screamed, pulling a knife from his jacket and driving it into the professor’s belly. This actually happened in my Psych 100 class! Well, sort of. They guy just made a lot of noise and said weird things and staggered out of the room. The point was the same. 120 witnesses all saw a completely different event. I guess in the past they actually shot the professor with blanks, but the event was just too traumatic for students and they didn't want to risk lawsuits and they had to tone it down.

“Well, he wasn’t wearing them but he usually does. You could tell by the dents on the sides of his nose.” Milo's ability to remember details about a person is inspired by a story I read about A. Conan Doyle. What few people realize is that Sherlock Holmes was actually inspired by a real person, a professor of Doyle's, who could just glance at a person and tell what they did for work, what their habits were and so on, all from their calluses and the wear of their clothes and such.

I put a song in my head, Gonna dress you up in Mylar/All over your body. Madonna’s inane lyrics stick like molasses and are almost impossible to get rid of. Yes, I know these are not the lyrics to the song. Milo hates Madonna so much that he can't bring himself to sing the lyrics right, even in his own head.

“What do you know about the history of the world?” There are a whole lot of lines throughout Castles that are actually taken from the lyrics of 80's alt rock songs. One of the best of these songs is The History of the World, Part I by The Damned which is actually a big inspiration for this whole thing:

No one alive and no one left
Nobody cares or ain't you heard
Looks like I'll take my dying breath
In the history of the world

There's some foreshadowing there, but I'm not going to say any more.

It is as if all history was caused by a few hundred kings and generals and presidents, and the occasional scientist of two. It really flabbergasts me that to this day most people don't even give a second thought to what history is. The sum total of human experience has been reduced to what can be tested on multiple-choice fill in the oval with a number two pencil exam, with propaganda and lies mixed in.

Grampa pulled something from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a ring. On it was an emblem I’d never seen before. It had a circle at the center, and from it radiated eight arrows, almost like a compass rose. “This is our sigil. The sign of the 27th letter, and the invisible helping hand." My friend Dustin Ruoff has this same ring. He bought it because he thought it was cool, even though he had no idea what it meant. I'm not sure who was the first to use this symbol. It figures prominently in many of Michael Moorcock's works as the symbol for Chaos, and is used by Peter J. Carroll in his text Liber Kaos as a representation of the five dimensions of Chaos Magic Theory. I don't know if Carroll was inspired by Moorcock, or if Moorcock was inspired by Chaos Magicians, or if the similarities are just coincidental (I know, I know... there are no coincidences...). I'm using it in both the Carroll and Moorcockian sense, and its appearance here is a special treat to the followers of either. Understanding that this is a symbol of Chaos is not critical to the narrative. However, if you are a fan of Moorcock, then you might be wondering if Grampa's motives are perhaps a little more sinister than Milo realizes, and if you're a Chaos Magician you'd either be getting jazzed or pissed off at the idea of a Chaos Magic action hero...

The 27th letter idea comes from The Invisibles by Grant Morrison, though he borrows heavily from everywhere so I doubt that he was the first to come up with it. I love the idea of there being letters in our alphabet that nobody knows about. Our language dictates what we're able to think about. In Spanish, for instance, there are verb tenses that we don't have in English. Spanish speakers can think about timein ways that English speakers can't. So if we had extra letters, we'd have new words, new meanings, new ways to think of things. The "invisible helping hand" comes from Adam Smith, a 1700s philosopher that believed that a free market was the solution to the worlds problems, and the "invisible hand" of enlightened self-interest would make people act to the benefit of society even when they were acting completely selfishly. I loved the idea of mashing Morrison together with one of the fathers of modern Capitalism.

“The Cure... Depeche Mode... Hüsker Dü... have you heard their latest album? It fucking rocks! I’ll bring it over. At least you’ve got good taste in music! Alright, here we go.” He pulled an album off the shelf. It wasn’t one I’d expect. Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall. Another "treat" for people in-the-know. Castles is set in the early eighties. However, there is nothing about the story being in the eighties that is critical to the narrative, so I don't call a whole lot of attention to it since it isn't important now (it will be if I ever get around to writing the sequels!). However, if you were a fan of bands like The Cure when they first came out and you were buying them on vinyl, you'd know exactly when this story took place, and you'd be one of the "elite". I got this idea from Joss Whedon. In shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, he's always putting in little references to things that maybe 1% of the audience will get. Like the scene in the final episode of Buffy where they're playing D&D and Andrew calls the dragon he's attacking the other players with, "Trogdor the Burninator". If you're a fan of Homestar Runner you know exactly who Trogdor is and find this hysterical. If you aren't you probably didn't even notice it. I love these little "treats" though. It makes me realize that there are people out there who are every bit as much of a geek as I am.

Oh, and everything Syd says about Judy Garland is true, by the way.

I’ll bring Zhang Yongwei over. He’s been teaching me. He’s like 2 dan which is really high for someone his age. Don’t call it Go though. Call it Wei Qi. He’s very touchy about the Japanese and says they stole everything good about their culture from the Chinese. It is standard for Chinese to use both first and last names when refering to somebody. Hating the Japanese for stealing their culture is also common, and not altogether unjustified.

There are two kinds of students who come to a school like this. Kids who can’t afford to go anywhere else, and kids who get sent here by their parents because they think it will get them away from the drugs, or whatever else they think they need to get their kids away from. This was my perception of the University of Maine, Orono, when I was a freshman there. I'm sure that this is true of a number of colleges. It isn't altogether innacurate. At the time, however, I was a lot more cynical than I am now. I didn't realize that there was a third group, those who were there because they love Maine and love their families and want to stay close to them. Back then I just felt trapped.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

episode four: secret origins: Golda

They say that "any similarity to persons living or dead is completely coincidental" and that's all bullshit. For it to be true the author would have had to have grown up in a complete vacuum, with no exposure to another human, ever. Any fictional creation is an amalgam of people the author has known, or read about, or seen on TV. I suppose that some mega-genius author might be able to spontaneously generate characters that are completely original and in no way inspired by anyone or anything outside the author's imagination. If a writer told me that this was the case with them I'd be more likely to consider them to be lying or deluded.

That said, I've never actually "met" Grampa or Milo. This is to say, they are a mix of so many people that I can't put my finger on any attribute that makes them like one specific person. Golda, on the other hand...

Her name was Martha. She was "the new girl" at my high school. She didn't dress fashionably and she wasn't skinny. She was also from Talmar Wood, Orono's low-income housing development. Being from Talmar was a social and academic death-sentance at the highly cliquey and heavily tracked Orono High. She was the kind of girl who boys shoot spitballs at to see if they can get a reaction, and when she doesn't react, they shoot more. I didn't shoot spitballs, but I didn't do anything to stop it either, and I felt guilty about that, but better her than me, I thought. She was so quiet I had no idea if she was really shy or actually "challenged." I never bothered to find out. She was from Talmar, after all.

That summer I worked in the cafeteria at the University. Martha was one of my customers. She was attending the University as part of the Upward Bound program. She was a different Martha. She had an entourage of people who followed her around and laughed at her jokes. She seemed the exact opposite of the person she was in school. I saw her on campus when I was biking home from work one day and stopped to talk. Her face was tan but her laugh lines were still pale. She smiled so much that they never got the chance to tan. Her face was covered with fine blond hair. They call it lanugo on babies, but it is supposed to fall off shortly after birth. It was so fine that it was invisible ordinarily, but if you were close enough and the sun was shining on her face, it was as if the sunlight caught there and played above her skin.

We hung out together during her breaks from the Upward Bound program. She was witty, intelligent, worldly, beautiful. I was enthralled. It wasn't my first crush, but it was the first time I ever got close enough to actually talk to the object of my infatuation. She was one of the first girls I ever touched, though it was never anything more than a kiss.

It was the first time I ever got the "You want too much from me," line. Sadly, it wouldn't be the last. There are three lines used to terminate potentially amorous advances, and if you've ever used them you should feel ashamed. "I really think of you as a friend," is a classic. How do argue with that? So the people you date aren't friends? Okay, I'll promise I won't be there when you need me. I won't listen to you or do anything nice for you, ever. "You're too good for me." Oh, no I'm not. I'm horrible. I'm a worthless piece of shit. I'm every bit as lousy as you are... "You want too much." At the time I wasn't aware of wanting anything from Martha. It was confusing and heartbreaking and I had no idea how to change myself to be the person she wanted. Of course I had very little experience with other humans at that point. There was lots I didn't understand.

There's a rare kind of cancer that only affects the males in the family. In the space of a few years Martha's father and brothers died from this cancer. Can you imagine what this would have been like for a teenage girl? For anyone? Seeing the people you love die a painful, horrible death, only it doesn't end there. The financial ruin forcing you to live in Talmar, the worst part of a mediocre town that looks down on you just because of where you live. To go from a school where you are popular and have friends to one where shitheads shoot spitballs at the back of your head all day every day...

Did I want to much? It doesn't matter. Martha was going through things I couldn't comprehend at the time. While I like to think I could have been loving and supportive and helped her through that painful time the truth was I was immature and selfish back then, and what should have been a lifelong friendship ended stupidly.

I have no idea where she is now. Last time I saw her she was self-destructing spectacularly. Last time I heard of her she was in Las Vegas. She didn't come to the 10-year high school reunion. Not that that is a suprise. Orono wasn't very nice to her.

So Golda is a Martha from a parallel Earth where the bad things never happened, where her parents grew old together and her brothers' kids can't wait to go play with their favorite aunt. I hope the Martha of this world is happy & healthy, wherever she is. She deserves it.

episode four now online

Get it while it's hot!

Initially I'd planned on doing 10 chapters, 10 pages each, double-spaced. Only I forgot to double-space so I wound up writing a lot more than I intended. By the fourth chapter, the story had taken over and was telling me how many pages to write, instead of the artificial, arbitrary limits I'd set before. I stopped fighting it and the tale became a lot more compelling, with new characters, more background, interesting and unexpected (even to me) twists. Enjoy!

Friday, July 08, 2005

Words of Wisdom from Raymond Chandler

From Raymond Chandler's "Notes on the Mystery Story":

"A mystery serial does not make a good mystery novel. The "curtains" depend for their effect on your not having the next chapter to read at once. In book form these curtains give the effect of a false suspense and tend to be merely irritating."

Wish I'd read that earlier. In trying to rewrite Castles into a novel I found that to make it work it would have required huge amounts of revisions. It all makes sense now.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Castles: Now Creative Commons Licensed!

I just marked up the Castles site with a Creative Commons license (attribute, non-commercial, share-alike). Download, redistribute, rewrite the content you find here freely, with my blessing. The Creative Commons are one of the most important groups working in the world today for reasons I won't get into right here, right now.

There are a number of reasons I chose the CC license. I think people have gotten very weird about creativity. Not too long ago people believed in spontaneous generation, or abiogenesis. That is, that things like maggots came to exist spontaneously in rotting meat out of nowhere, and so on. Current copyright law seems to rely on some mythic form of "originality," that new ideas can generate from nothingness, and not be derived from anything that has existed before.

Oh, please!

Look at Done Deal and tell find me one truly original script that has been sold. Listen to any song in the Top 40 and find me one idea that hasn't been expressed before in a thousand other songs. Of course there are a few geniuses, an occasional visionary who says something new, creates something no one has ever seen before, but these are incredibly rare. The rest of us just re-interperet the work of those who came before us. Anyone who tells you different is either lying or deluded.

This isn't a bad thing. It is who we are. Culture exists through the transmission of ideas. If we weren't reusing and remixing the work that has been done before, civilization would cease.

In Castles, I've tried to be as new and original as possible, but I'm no visionary. Many of the ideas are based on extensive research and anyone with access to a library and the Internet could have come up with the same ideas. On the remote chance that I'm the first person to put together these ideas this way, should I now say, "No, you don't repeat any of these ideas to anyone." Other ideas are conclusions I've come to based on observable evidence that anyone else could have come to also. Should I keep these ideas locked away, too? Other parts were inspired by every book I've read and loved, and I consider the book an homage to the writers who made me love reading. A number of them are actually mentioned in the book. While I hope that there's nothing in the book that is specifically like any author, I suspect my writing style is a montage of everyone I've ever read.

I write because I have something to say that I feel is important. I hope that people find my ideas worth repeating and worth developing. At the same time, I've worked really hard on this, and if someone find that these words have monetary value, I want a cut! The Creative Commons license lets both things happen.

Finally, I'm doing it for H. P. Lovecraft. He just might be an early American "Creative Common." He encouraged others to take his ideas and run with them. As a result, almost every horror writer of the 20th Century (probably the 21st, too) has written novels and stories that fit withing Lovecraft's "Cthulhu Mythos." Many movies too, including my favorites, the Evil Dead trilogy. Would Lovecraft have had such a lasting impact if he hadn't shared his universe?

Castles is my first novel, and while I don't think there's enough there to warrant a "Mythos," hopefully by the 50th novel, I'll have created such a vibrant and well-realized universe that others will want to create characters to inhabit it and new stories to perpetuate its history. The Creative Commons license seems like a great way to help make this possible.

Plus, I love the new "developing nations" CC license, allowing commercial versions of my work in developing countries. I think Castles would make a great soap opera. I used to be a big fan of Mexican soap operas when I lived in Portsmouth and got the Spanish station. They seemed like such better quality than American soap operas. Castles could be a sort of Dark Shadows crossed with Mexican soap opera thing. How cool would that be?

episode three submitted for your approval

Well, it was a heck of a long time getting that one up there! If you've been paying attention to 100 Cups of Coffee, you know why it took so long. And I'd intended for the chapters to come out weekly! I've got to get it in gear if I'm going to finish the 50 novels I'd planned on writing. Edgar Rice Burroughs published his first novel at age 36 and wrote 50 during his lifetime, so that's my new benchmark.

Chapter 3 is where the story really starts taking off. It makes me realize how much rewriting I have to do to the first two chapters, still. If you've stuck with it for the first two chapters, here's where it starts paying off. Enjoy!

Friday, July 01, 2005

the worst thing

Some things are so terrible that if you wrote about them as fiction you'd exceed the reader's willful suspension of disbelief. People just couldn't possibly do things like that in real life, could they?

They do.

If I hadn't met the boy myself, I might not have believed it.

The boy was a prisoner in the juvenile jail I used to work at. Those weren't the terms they used, though. He wasn't a prisoner, he was a "resident." And it wasn't a jail but a "Youth Development Center." Those euphemisms are lies, though. The "development center" was still punishment based, as if you beat someone down enough they'll somehow become better people.

But how much punishment does it take to correct what happened to this kid?

When he was younger his father nailed him to the floor. It made it easier for the father to rape his son. That isn't a figurative "nailing" but literally, his father drove nails through his hands and feet into the floor to that he couldn't stuggle, couldn't get away.

Things like that can't possibly happen though, can they? Not in real life....