The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: January 6, 2020 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is EVERYWHERE! I do columns here on this blog that are a mix of my personal adventures concerning a subject and pieces that will help others interested in that subject. At the moment, I really only like five things…WRITING (and the supporting READING): Behold! I give you the Scribbler’s Saga column. I will relate parts of my life as a writer, provide a review of properties I’ve read and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.Additionally, when I just need to fill my cyberspace with actual writing, whether short one-shots or small pieces of the greater whole: Author’s Assortment.MUSIC: I’ve been talking big about composing music for a decent while now. As I figure out how to fish or cut bait in this area, you, Dear Reader, will read all about it in the Composer’s Counterpoint column. Posts may include my Woody Allen-esque frustration with thinking I’m better at music than I am, reviews of music, tools and the presently rare live shows. Again, part of the mission is to interview other musicians.TABLETOP RPGS: Yes, I play Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, I can go on for hours about the time I played a thief that hot-prowled the villain’s house and walked out with a suit of armor. But, that was a long time ago. It’s time to make new stories. It’s time to see if I can create adventures other players want to play. As with the other columns the content of the Dungeoneer’s Diary, will mix the personal and journalistic.ILLUSTRATION and VISUAL ARTS: While I myself don’t draw, I do okay with a camera and certain apps. The Imager’s Impression column will probably be less frequently advanced, but will discuss my appreciation of pictures and the people who make them. And when I make more images with my script kid tools, the results will go here.MOVIES: Yeah, I thought I would skip writing about movies. Start laughing now. So anyway if I’m bloviating about movies, it  goes here in the Filmgoer’s Flamethrower.There will be times when columns will cross over, because working on a fun dungeon will spark a novel idea that may cause me to pull out the harmonica…Lastly, if you came to the site for my older content click on one of the many pages that will provide links to nearby archive sites. Happy Reading.

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Jingle Bells! Batman smells! Robin laid an egg! And Joker got away!

Of course, these joke lyrics come to mind the minute one of the DJs on KUSC chose to tell me about the fuzzy history of the Jingle Bells Christmas carol, while also casually dropping in that the song is The Joker’s favorite holiday tune. We’ll leave all commentary about the better than even chance I sang the joke lyrics in the car, at least a half octave flat (I only believe I can write the music, Ducky) for our sister column, Composer’s Counterpoint…or never.

But, it is a good segue for discussing the literary trope of the one villain that consistently gets away. Four examples immediately spring to mind: Joker, Wo Fat (original), Professor Moriarty and Murdock. There are others I haven’t used my library card on…yet. In the most reductionist sense possible, where tropes, clichés and metaphor live they’re perhaps the same villain…until they’re not.

Joker gets away. The unnamed murder clown bedeviling Batman’s easy path through Gotham’s underbelly of crime either gets away or figures out how porous the security arrangements at Arkham Asylum really are. A pop stand with paper thin walls that can’t seem to hold the top five members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, so I suppose I could do this post asserting Riddler Got Away, but for the song tie in.

One of these days, I’m really going to have to pitch this geek fight at my comic book store – “so if Arkham Asylum can’t actually hold whatever villain the current writer chooses to have break out and they keep appropriating to fill in all the tunnels, dimensional cracks and other means of physical egress that don’t involve scary good lawyering, why is the facility still open?” A good question that I’m sure has already been asked but not by me. Rooted in a couple real world examples.

Alcatraz Federal Prison closed after the escape attempt that Clint Eastwood dramatized for the movie. The crumbly concrete around the vents popped open on the way to the roof were deemed too expensive to fix in an old structure exposed to sea air. So most of the inmates went to Fort Leavenworth.

The Nazis pressed a historic schlöss (castle), Colditz Castle, into service as a POW camp. Enough prisoners took their oath to attempt escape as a means of tying down as many soldiers as possible behind the lines guarding prisoners that they cut through serious rock trying to get out. The tunnels still exist despite attempts to fill them in that you can see them on the tour (one of many bucket list items, I guess).

Anyway, Joker gets away. Joker escapes. In my own sporadic fan fiction meanderings with the Batman franchise, I stopped using the Joker as the main villain. Not because I haven’t enjoyed all the actor portrayals of the murder clown over the years, but everybody else reaches for the Joker without trying to come up with something one of the other villains could and should pull off.

My most recent abandoned effort, I had Harley Quinn attempt to dig Joker out of Arkham. They romance in his cot and Joker, like Colonel Hogan, stays inside because he can bust out anytime he likes, but he hasn’t a good plan to screw with Batman and there’s this other fella making trouble. Considering that this story suggests that Batman and Catwoman are about to replay Rear Window, I asked experts for someone who wasn’t Joker, Riddler, Penguin or Mr. Freeze. Answer: Film Phreak.

Joker at a deep psychological level is a little different than the other Always Gets Away villains in this post. Smarter people than me go on and on endlessly that the murder clown represents chaos and a dark reflection of Batman’s own tragic backstory. The clown doesn’t seem to do anything but for to fuck with the Bat. All kinds of dark nasty storytelling ensues, yet when Professor Wurtham lied about comic books damaging kids, he chose to focus on the assumption of Batman buggering Robin to the exclusion of the representation of apparently motiveless evil represented by the Joker. But, I digress.

Anyway, the other villains in this discussion are a little more similar to each other at the level of analysis. They have understandable motives. Making money. Advancing Red China’s cause. Making money killing people. Perhaps Murdock from the reboot version of MacGyver comes the closest to The Joker’s sense of pure evil.

Mac attempts to pose as Murdock with the assassin’s help (cooperation with the court) and blows a meeting with prospective clients – “MacGyver, my job requires a personality that makes normal people’s skin crawl. When you come off as this normal, those nice people needing my help instinctively know something is wrong.” Mac among his other talents (but no guns) is a good actor who takes direction well. The next meeting goes well…

In a general sense, the Always Gets Away villain serves as a device to provide the hero with a sense of still being mortal. Original Wo Fat appears in the pilot episode of Hawaii 5-0 (aired in the middle of the first season) and appears about twice a season until the very last episode. Danno and McGarrett foil the plot, but Wo Fat either hides behind diplomatic immunity or gets on a plane to China just before the arrest can be made. Considering that the team always got everyone else starting with the poetry spouting wife killer in the first episode, you get the sense of the slave in the Roman triumph posted at the honoree’s ear – “remember, thou art mortal.”

James Patrick Moriarty exists as a similar archetype. Sherlock Holmes is too smart for everyone else (paging Irene Adler). So you need someone that can think his way to a draw with the World’s Greatest Consulting Detective.

The most recent film version of this conflict depicted this as a mutual litany of next steps. First, Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) mentally recites his plan. Moriarty (Brendan Gleeson) mentally recites his plan that takes into account Holmes’ plan as if telepathically clueing into the shared ether. They fight and…

…both fall over Reichenbach Falls. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle intended this moment to end the series. But, he caved to fans and publishers wanting more, only to have footmen and cabbies complain about Holmes “not being the same since Reichenbach Falls.” Ah, fans never change…it might blow up the universe if they made sense.

Bringing the thought back around to the murder clown, this sense of the equal and opposite that can’t survive without the other becomes far more pronounced. Joker pulls off some especially dark deeds depending on how constrained the writer feels by the more relevant of the, presently defunct, Comics Code, movie rating or TV rating systems. In The Killing Joke, Batman tells Joker – “Joker, if we keep this up one of us will die.”

Will the trope survive except when depicting past eras on the page? All of these villains who keep coming back whether presumed immortal because of the vat of toxic goo, or simply depicted as the equal and opposite to the hero are creations from before the Internet. The Joker gets away waiting for his next vicious inspiration, but he needs to hole up somewhere.

In Gotham set between 1940 and 1990, Joker rents a new apartment/lair and starts drawing on the walls in crayon. Batman and any minions have to call people like every known landlord in the city asking about either gents with evil laughs and clown makeup white skin or people who smell of too much theatrical face paint hoping to look normal. Holmes’ London didn’t even have phones and the consulting detective never had enough Baker Street Irregulars to waste on trying to find the villain before he surfaces for the next plan.

Meanwhile, based on the theory that we use the Internet the same way no matter what we call each ourselves, could a villain get away more than a few times? I have friends telling me they can even break Wit Sec analyzing the data correctly. Google knows everything…

Realistically, the trope will survive. Writers can make most things possible with our usual Step, Kick and Shuffle toe dance. The creativity of the attempt becomes the thing. Enjoy your returning villains…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Once upon a time (about a week from this writing), I kept busy with a crossword puzzle (see post, eventually). At some other point, I’ll go into why crossword puzzles have been so good as distraction recently, where doing several fistfuls at the same time eats up two things the scream building inside and a lot of my blog related writing time. I trust you noticed the recent lack of give a damn on this blog?

Anyway, one puzzle stood out among all the others. And I turn it into a writing prompt to force myself to write prose on a day when holidays and the thing I’m dancing around not actually relating to you all conspired to make my chapter prose have as little give a damn as my blog posts. I see a clue that lands on Wolf in the vertical and dressmaker Vera Wang’s surname across the horizontal.

How do you put wolves and a dressmaker/designer with a niche doing wedding dresses in the same story? I’m sure those of you paying attention already have my answer…

A young dressmaker lets a mysterious gentleman with an exacting order for a surprise wedding dress get close enough for a kiss. Waking up afterwards brings the revelation of her status as Queen of the Werewolves with responsibilities and

And if I toss this setup into the Saga column, I just ended the post. I got an idea. I acted on it. And I told you where I got it so you get to replicate my nuttiness. Let’s get lunch.

But, I have other columns. Counterpoint for one, which exists for two reasons. The much delayed opera and that I sometimes hear theme music when I meet a new character. Frantic snippets of instrumentation that hide once I get a few sentences down on paper. Sometimes, it comes back a bar at a time…

Truthfully, the Power of Suggestion can sometimes guide my hearing the appropriate theme music. In this case, the proposed mugging of the real life wedding dress lady’s reputation by asserting she’s really a Werewolf Queen…in a society just stupid enough for one person to show up at her door with silver bullets. Obviously, a name change must happen sooner than later.

Of course, if Ms. Wang had honked me off in some way, I could keep her name in the text. Make use of the legal principle of ridiculousness as a partial work around for defamation. To wit, Werewolf Queens are reasonably not thought to exist and thus reasonable people wouldn’t believe that Vera Wang, appearing in an obviously fictional novel about werewolves, is one and thus she wouldn’t suffer damage. Just ask the proprietors of the D.C. area pizzeria named by Alex Jones how they like that strategy?

Anyway, the above paragraph comes to me by way of John Oliver and Last Week Tonight’s recent emergence from the gag order levied by a SLAPP-suit loving West Virginia coal baron. Mr. Oliver ended his season with an over the top musical number calling said douchebag all kinds of nasty otherwise actionable things. Ah, contempt and rage as a driver of culture. As for Ms. Wang, I’m not even married to bitch her out over an expensive wedding dress that I’m traditionally not on the hook for, anyway.

But, suddenly thinking about crazy musical numbers opens a switch in my head…my mostly dormant orchestration/arranging switch.

Her Hairy Majesty wakes up in her shop to see a mess. Chicken blood. Feathers everywhere. Hunks of stray cat due to her gentleman caller goofing and underestimating her hunger. Every dress on the floor except the one she thought she did for the man’s offscreen fiancé has been ripped in the struggle. He tells her she’ll live longer running away with him to Vegas…

I don’t know. Start off slow with a soft but insistent bell, maybe a D? Wait six bars, a harmonica builds the progression as she follows the line of gore to the carefully protected dress behind the point of sale station.

Will I actually do the above? It was only a few bars misheard after goofing on the necessity to avoid pissing off people who haven’t done anything to me and thinking in probably the single most conventional orchestration method. More importantly, I haven’t gone past this scene on the page. There will be other more discordant notes as we go along.

Anyway, I’ve adroitly turned a thinly disguised brag post about getting an idea that you didn’t into a sort of article about dramatic orchestration. Enjoy the nutty and I’ll be back when I actually know what the Werewolf Queen’s actual theme music is…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

In the spirit of Nelson Algren’s Three Rules for Life from A Walk on the Wild Side – Never play cards with a man named Doc – Never eat at a place called Mom’s – Never sleep with a woman whose troubles seem greater than your own – we sometimes expand the list to include fonts of wisdom like, never shoot pool at a place called Pop’s. And my personal favorite, never eat anything bigger than your head. Sounds like good advice…until you set out to do the musical equivalent.

My proposed opera series Tales of the Angel Association stalled about ten seconds after I changed my mind about not doing it. And the stall has little to do with the looming terror of knowing, except for free-styling on the mouth harp, that my last intelligible notes played from a score came from the woodwind section in sixth grade. Before I get there I have a huge writing problem…all kinds of epically large pieces written for other media that might not condense into an opera, movie, radio drama or book. A large steak, indeed.

The earliest pieces come from a novel that I leave unfinished because the circumstances of inspiration have changed. I changed comic book stores (the setting). And a certain woman, the direct sue me inspiration for a secondary villainess filling pretty much the same niche as Milady De Winter (go figure), disappeared back into the ether. But, there is a key element that I didn’t even know I was leading up to when I stopped the book. It must remain.

Negatively inspired by Mark Millar’s Wanted, I set out to show that if superheroes are possible that there will always be superheroes even after the villains kill them all off. Waiting in secret, the spandex gene or curiously radioactive meteor will always strike Earth at fairly regular intervals, shorter than the time between planet-killer asteroids and much longer than the time between dentist visits. The villains can’t murder in their cribs all of the people who could become spandex heroes…can they?

I envisioned a regular guy with more than a little science and chemistry working at a thinly disguised version of my then current comic book store. While beset by the unwanted attentions of a female stalker (at the time non-fiction) who also happens to be the public face hatchet of the secret cabal of spandex villains that had long since killed off or driven into hiding all the spandex heroes in the world, the comic book store guy falls for a young lady that almost wanders into the store by mistake.

The hatchet lady for the Legion of Chaos attempts to kill her rival and a couple other women investigating a dead writer who happened to be a good friend of the comic book guy. The comic book guy finds the techno-magical solutions to save these ladies while they linger near death giving them superpowers in the process. This sparks a covert war between the comic book store superheroes and the villain bosses because there just aren’t any superheroes anymore, Ducky.

And with all good literary universes with too many characters many threads converge into one. The trio of fem-zombie heroines track the villains to a graveyard in Ohio or some such place where the official grave of a former spandex heroine awaits her reincarnation to come and take the spear. But, the villains know about the “wait twenty years and the next version will come” limitation on this particular hero and have set an ambush that caught the next three reincarnations.

But, the fem-zombie trio, the fourth reincarnation that needs the spear, her college roommate, the return of a character that just barely passes the Six Points of Dissimilarity standard concerning the Superman archetype and the actions of two spandex femmes that work to destroy the Legion of Chaos from within all mix it up among the gravestones. Enough force is brought to bear that the ten villain Legion (of which only two villains have been written) is driven from their perch astride ten-percent off the top of the whole world’s economy, global scale protection payments, only to return next week with a new plot on this same Bat-channel at this very Bat-time.

So that is one thread where this big ass fight in a forlorn cemetery among the barn owls and crickets that has to stay in the opera or at least be sung about as backstory in all kinds of arias and duets.

Next, we get to the other threads to the same hyper-dramatic story of a team of heroes that call Los Angeles home (so sick of how Marvel depicted Los Angeles). Working concurrently with the thread leading to the Excalibur moment among the dead, I also worked on a lighter moment where guided by information on Meetup the new set of heroes that should’ve been wiped out by the Legion including survivors of the graveyard rumble meet about a year later to pool resources and make a team.

This part of the overall mythos exists as an excuse to put six (later seven) spandex people into the same living room to tell their origin stories, drink punch and tap hands to form the Angel Association (they are more than one and they live in the City of Angels, you can only reinvent the wheel a few times per franchise). About four of the original characters exist on paper and for one character at least one attempt to put this same story into a screenplay.

But, there is something missing…a narrator or Doctor Watson. I envision a teenager the single contrast to everybody else either being middle twenties or ageless and just looks that young. Again because most times dealing with 80 years each of mythology and the Big Two comics publishers and you don’t reinvent the spandex wheel, she merges with another teenaged personality to just barely be different from Iron Man.

This character also serves to save the Angel Association from a previous mistake making certain characters be too close to real life. I needed a lawyer protecting the interests of the team and its members and the implosion of another novel (long story, already said too much) deprived the team of its first attorney. So the young lady in the armor-symbiote suit just needs a father who can be the lawyer and I absolutely need to go as far and as public domain as possible from the original mouthpiece as possible.

Marcus Tullius Cicero the Elder (of the Latin placeholder text among other contributions to civilization) is a good way to go, the real guy is safely dead over two thousand years. And, yes, this is the beauty of this kind of writing, explaining how he’s still alive to be a lawyer with a big house in Beverly Hills is sort of my metier – “Rumors of my gruesome assassination at the hands of Marc Antony are greatly exaggerated.”

Adding the daughter of Cicero to all of these extant pieces, the abandoned novel (which might’ve been too closely based on real people, I got lucky), the original stories written in third person and the daughter’s narration in first person, makes for an unwieldy set of books. At least, the latest version of the book has an easy out for the otherwise ugly shift between third and first person – “This next part was told to me by…”

Meanwhile through all of this and my other projects, I’m going back and forth with other media for the Angel Association. Will it be a radio drama? A partial script exists using the story beats from the Metal Goddess-narrated version of these stories. Will it be an opera? Initially, I said no (see post). Now, I say yes.

Why? This huge over the top and completely operatic story with dark villains and many concepts sure to scare kids has over the eight or nine years of sporadic development become my narrative barnacle or white whale. I can’t walk away. I think Michael Corleone would get it – “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in!”

And so here we are, I’m going to work on the basis for what will be more than one epic scale interlinked opera (at least doing the librettos, ask me in the Composer’s Counterpoint column about the actual music) for a long time. I have very nearly 200 pages of material from all these other sources causing the current problem of shaping the story. Opera aficionados have the same inability to sit still more than three hours at a time, as anyone else.

Clearly, I’ve cut off a steak currently bigger than my head. Now, once I procure the right steak knife and right oven with which to keep the plate warm, I can move slowly and eat well for a long time. More later. Get back to writing, you fellow definitions of personified laziness!

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Sometimes, I don’t get to sleep quickly. The mask to deal with the blinky lights on the surge strips and morning sunlight through the window goes on and I’m still awake. I switched over to decaf except when I hunt other people’s coffee out of the house. I exercise when I remember. So most days, I’ve eliminated the usual suspects and still…

Well, to cut through the build up, I think a lot on those nights when it may take a few extra hours to nod off. About story material. Or my own halting attempts at music, which lands these thoughts here in this music column instead of the Scribbler’s Saga. The most recent skull session screaming behind my eyes that kept me awake involved my most recent eschewing of my superhero/spandex characters as the subject for the opera that I have so famously claimed in this column give me ten years, Ducky (see post).

As you may recall, I didn’t want to do The Tales of the Angel Association as an opera, despite really wanting to see someone do Batman in the style of Siegfried or something. I fretted about the stagecraft required to put a soprano as the girl in the iron suit and a mezzo as the actual suit on the same flying rig. Dark litigious nightmares referencing the ill-fated Spider-man musical froze me in the door. All you need to know is that these fully conscious spitball sessions that happen between Lights Out and Get Up It’s Almost Brunch simply don’t give a shit.

Of course there are trigger cues for spending an unknown number of hours going over and over with what your children will do when you immortalize them in ink. I was at my regular writers group with a couple guys talking about music, including what we like, the resources available and how we learned. I’m pretty much slowly on track to learn the rock star way; pick up a guitar and go.

In the conversation, I mentioned Thomas Adès and Tom Cairns’ opera The Exterminating Angel mentioning and exaggerated the A over High C hit by the second female lead on the Met Stage as a G over High C. One of the guys said something like, “really, and she still has her throat?” And there was an inevitable reference to Spinal Tap that even in the opera world – “Ours goes up to eleven!”

So I get home after the session and I get to thinking about how I need the time asserted in the previous post to make sure I use all my music tools to do the notes up nice. But, Just Another Drunken Dwarf, which at the moment is just a title from story dice, is either going to be an opera or just another goofy idea in my list of ideas. I prefer the former so I get myself asking – “what’s my first step?” The word LIBRETTO promptly flashes before my eyes in red neon.

Ah, right, the same advice I give myself when contemplating a huge in scope screenplay or novel…write the pig and let the producers figure it out. I was just going to start Dwarf with the libretto, easy-peasy, lemon squeezy. But, I haven’t actually seen a libretto. Yes, Google is my friend; I find a PDF online where someone posted instructions for kids probably at music camp or something. I save it as a place to start and go to bed.

And you heard the part about how the night time story session doesn’t always give a shit? I roll to the right. I roll to the left. Am I composing/creating the drinking song that, by definition, defines the main theme of Just Another Drunken Dwarf? Without hitting too much of the obviousness of The Student Prince? Absolutely not. Characters that speak to you in the dead of night don’t take turns or wait in line.

Still, I roll right. And back over to the left. What I see on the screen made by my sleep mask isn’t fantasy dwarves raising steins and slaying orcs. I kept seeing my spandex people. I heard the blended part of Metal Goddess flying around stage; their duet admittedly still running towards the goofy like Kill the Wabbit (it’s early, I have time to shake off Wagner as interpreted by Bugs Bunny, or not).

I straighten out my posture sleeping on top the bed (Southern California during a scorching August, Ducky). I roll over yet again. I see an interesting duet for the secondary characters of Metal Goddess’ parents, a man that used to be Cicero and a woman that used to be Athena’s body. This is a marriage that has lasted a long time and somehow what I’m seeing is a tandem hug and something like Leo Delibes’ Flower Duet (again it’s early, we’ll see).

Finally, I sleep and get to enjoy the regular old and typically forgettable three-reel movies we call dreams. I don’t know how long the session went; I can’t tell time with my eyes closed and my watch on the table. It felt like it could have been hours. I woke up at the same time I would’ve had my spandex characters not shouted at me. I didn’t feel any obvious sleep deprivation. It could just have easily been forty-five minutes on a hot evening fighting for just a little more breeze.

So what does this mean? Did I just cave to the voices and agree to put Tales of the Angel Association on paper as the superhero opera the world seems to cry out for? I don’t know. I do all kinds of strange shit. But, in looking over the PDF for the libretto I realize that I could just write the libretto just in case I never do get my shit together to do the notes properly…

As always, we’ll see when we see.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Now that I’ve burned the ships behind me on the Trojan beach, it’s perhaps high time to inventory what I can actually do to get started, not counting, of course, the actual process of Ass Flopped on Couch, Stare at iPad Music App Until Something Makes Me Tap Keys. Most composers should have a basic idea of what their work might sound like before starting. And arbitrary as hell, I will start with the sounds that might be everywhere just under the surface of all of our lives, environmental sounds (or noise from the perspective of the people below me).

Typewriters.

One benefit of starting my journey as a wordsmith arrogantly porting over the voices from his muse (I facetiously assert mine as Calliope and note that she gets stereotypically PMS when I don’t work for more than 24 hours) to the currently frightening world of untapped musical possibilities, typewriters. I have four, including two manuals, because in my ongoing appeasement and propitiation of Sweet Callie as a novelist there just ain’t no excuses for not pounding keys, Baby! Not even a failure to pay the electric bill or the end of Post-Industrial Civilization as we know it.

Not all typewriters are created equal. I don’t mean this the way I might get snobby nostalgic about my harmonicas, bell kit, recorder, Chinese flute, or even the out of tune banjo atop a key bookcase (all stories for a later post). Depending on how the factory gnomes put it together hoping to assist the next Hemingway or Faulkner beat the stuffing out of the literary world; Qwerty the Office Dragon (or merely Office Ogre for those that can really type) will sound different from machine to machine.

My favorite of the quartet is my white Olympia. This manual was sold to me when I surrendered a Royal portable that had the kind of mechanical flaws that suggest put a bullet in the horse it’s the only humane thing to do. The man at the typewriter repair store said things like “built in Germany, mechanically solid and recently refurbished” and got $300 out of me. On the writing side of this equation, even not using Ollie because those newfangled ‘puters still put out a siren call, I feel reassured having her ready for either an attack of do it to prove I still know how or an actual failure of the lights. Why? Mechanically solid usually means the machine can sit patiently a decent while on a desk until you the owner figures out how to take his thumbs out of his ass.

In a musical sense, Ollie presents to her composer a deeper click-clack on those keys that most of the others in my possession. Especially, since I have tons of heavyweight (20lb and 24lb) typing paper, which also affects the sound quality for the budding composer seeking to write what he knows into a piece. I can see duets and quartets juxtaposing each machine as a slightly different voice in the story of the music with possibly my various computer keyboards throwing in their quiet by comparison tones, just because no one likes being left out of the party.

The electrics in this story also have interesting sounds to them that add something to the musical narrative (everything is story to me). The keys hit the paper with slightly different tones for which I suppose I’ll have to post some samples of all my dragons (I don’t type fast enough to demote these ladies to mere ogres) so you hear what my choices are. The cool part considering Madame Brother and her sister, Madame Selectric, is the whir between keystrokes evocative of, well, even after dethronement by the computer, the hum of the Late Industrial office to be captured in music.

And then you do the Google search to find that surprisingly not a whole lot of typewriter music immediately pops out of the ether. At the top of the page will almost always be Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter with clips of various performances. This piece neatly fits in with YouTube’s preference for short clips and sounds light and breezy…until you see the percussionist’s hands.

He’s not typing so much as playing the drums because when you don’t care about the black ink on the page you can go much faster to the typing speed close to 100WPM seen in Anderson’s work. If you actually type that fast on a manual, to my way of thinking, the monster devolves well past ogre to Russian Blue kitten seeking milk. Good to know, the composer that pokes along with two fingers thinks. A rhythmic juxtaposition for the piece to do both regular typing and high-speed percussion.

Raid the kitchen.

Since this post is all about improvised instruments that we might all have in our homes, depending on the qualities of your cookware just drop something on the tile floor and see what rings back up. I have at least one saucepan that produces a verifiably pleasing tone and have yet to drop other cookware. And – CHHHHHK! – that was my downstairs neighbors metaphorically hanging me from the nearest yardarm for any possible condo noise infractions after hours.

Bad jokes aside, it seems people have been improvising music out of their kitchen goods for a long time. Should I save money and tape two spoons together or allow myself to get rooked at the music store buying the professionally manufactured instrument that has become an occasional feature of Folk and Bluegrass music? Depends on my bank account when I decide – “Yup, needs spoons.”

So far the most interesting sound in my kitchen is my coffeemaker. Brew coffee, the same four cups nearly every day, and yank up the top to allow the pent up steam to escape. It gurgles and rattles, but never exactly the same way twice. Sometimes it’s loud. Sometimes you get ten seconds out of the throaty noise. And other times you just have to whine – “is that all there is?” I’m thinking it will go well with the typewriter…or not.

Raid the big drawer in your desk and/or tool cabinet.

Rubber bands, an even poorer man’s jaw harp? Capture the squeak of dry erase pens? We’ll see once I start having to face the silent iPad app and blank score page. And with that, we’ll resume our previously scheduled procrastinations…

Update: the electric typewriters have since been unloaded upon the Salvation Army

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

A typical Jacobs Special fistfight…

Punch. Kick. Hard elbow. POW-POW-POW! Side kick. TH-WHAACK! Punch. Punch. Triangle block. KA-POW!

Of course, I do sometimes drop in a sentence or two about who’s winning, or if the hero might just gas out (fights are mini stories and John Steed needing a breath and cornerman to keep going kind of covers the internal All Is Lost Moment). Pretty much though I just do the moves and the vicious sound effects to go with ‘em.

The influences always come back to two things: Adam West Batman and the average Popeye dust cloud fight with Bluto. Seems to me that stripping out the subjects and objects from what would otherwise be complete sentences like – Popeye switched open the other eye and thrust his knuckle sandwich right at Bluto’s kisser – creates confusion. A natural state in many fights.

When I do go against my base style seen in Paragraph Two in favor of the turgid Mike Hammer inspired prose, I guarantee you my next sentence is ALWAYS about flying canine teeth. I get to be that vicariously bloodthirsty in my work, the way Popeye animators facing studio Hays Code censors couldn’t. It isn’t lost on me that a probable emergency creative solution to an arbitrary restriction, I’ve elevated to high order art.

Anyway, my personal predilections for equal helpings of confusing fight prose juxtaposed with turgid aren’t really the point of this post. Except as a hook to talk about how sound effects can affect how we write across all the many media.

Where to start? Ben Burtt tapping steel tension cables that held up telephone poles getting a sound onomatopoeically transcribed as – PEEEEW? Puh-lease, forty-year-old Star Wars solutions, while brilliant, should be a jumping off point to other sounds, not the landing place. Besides, I’m partial to – ZZZT! – or ZAP! – for all things laser, taser and Joker’s hyped up joy buzzer. I’m guessing I associate a fairly classic visual here, that of the lightning revealing the victim’s skeleton. Okay, maybe lasers realistically work with a much different onomatopoeia, but in my books…nope, don’t actually like landing on the Writer as God theory, not out loud.

Yes, I have had Sound Effects as an academic subject in film class. We clapped when someone figured out a key sound to go over a breezy desert-scape on the Avid box: microphone, cover with paper, rub it on the wall. And when I still regularly watched DVD/BLU-RAY extras I learned about celery sticks as a key tool on the Foley stage…and wet T-shirts.

I’ve also held the mic on shows and have that Executive Producer moment with the earphones on, “now, if we could only get her to sound like that in real life.” That one earned two clicks on the mic from the boom guy, Audio/Radio for “Yep, but I can’t say it at the moment.”

I suppose all of this is the longwinded way of saying sound is such a HUGE part of the world I experience and therefore write about. I blame the Adam West Batman show…not really. But, with every – POW! KAPOW! SOCK-O! & OOOF! – I was done. Well, there was also Speed Racer with all those cool crash sound effects, but they weren’t printed on screen…they barely count for the purpose of this post. Though I find it odd that I had to fight harder to watch Speed than Batsie, but I digress.

And then I learned to read with comic books being a key way station between the books Mommy reads to you and George Smiley metaphorically suplexing Karla the Evil Russian. Sergeant Ernie Rock busted out quite a bit of – BUDDA-BUDDA! – for going full Rock N Roll on the Tommygun. Still trying to figure the .50-caliber machine gun belts that never came off his shoulders, except when captured. That and the whole thing about walking out of the Battalion Aid Station thirty-six hours after taking a sucking chest wound to lead Easy to victory dressed in mummy bandages. But, I digress…

You write like you read. With all of the above, of course, I’ll put a protagonist through the windshield of a yellow Lamborghini (one of many 18-scale toy…uh, inspiration aids in my living room). As I remember that moment, I went for it with – SCREEEEECH! CRUUUNCH! – and maybe described the falling glass with an actual sentence.

How did my protagonist walk away from that one? I went with It Was All a Dream, but honestly by letting the reader know in the first sentence. Further proof, Ducky, that I have perpetrated just about every cliché under the sun without remorse.

In addition to reading comics for other reasons like that even as a mostly educated fifty-cough gent, reading is easier with pictures. I have cool sound effects to greedily anticipate. My favorites – SNIKT! – for Wolverine’s claws. KTANG! – for banging metal together (haven’t used it, yet. Coming soon!). Maybe I’ll bust out a few – THROOOOOMS! – on a just because basis. And maybe I’ll make something up that gets copied by the next bloodthirsty honorary Teenaged Mutant Ninja Scribe to come after.

One caveat, just as you will only see printed sound effects in comics panels covering big moments, prose will always run home to Mama in favor of either complete sentences or fragments that mimic sentences (like stripping out the verb To Be for overuse). I think I bust out my sound effects because I’m bored with the previous three paragraphs. Insight…I think.

Anyway, I’ve just adroitly blasted off a lot of words perhaps about nothing, or even deceptively about lots of things writing related. Things like, “it’s okay to take two left turns away from The Way Things Must Be Done.” Or stop reading this blog long enough to invent your own style, methods and proclivities. I won’t tell.