The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: February 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

Smoking Lizard is BACK!

I’m starting over with a column approach where the content will be 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 four 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 coverage or a review of properties I’ve read or seen and tools I’ve tested, post essays about writing and hopefully interview other writers.

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.

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.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

My first thought reading Danica Shade: This Party’s Soo Dead written by my friend, Joe Burns – my most useful superpower must be what I call the Missing Scene Alert. I have generally been able to feel my way through structure at an intuitive level leading to “I noticed something that should be on the page and isn’t.” But, let’s discuss what this book is and the many things that are great about this short but vastly entertaining tale before letting pesky things like a question only slightly less impertinent than those that arise at or from a current year Presidential press conference spoil the soup. 

Danica Shade is a young lady, or she-drow (dark elf for those who didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons during their misspent youths) with a decided fondness for the modern Overworld city of Los Angeles. Ms. Shade once worked for the Federal Government in capacities best likened to – “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” – and has since retired to enjoy zombie-themed first person shooters with her best friend among the humans, the diminutive nurse/seamstress Kaylee. Danica has seemingly abandoned her subterranean homeland and formal speech patterns, despite the racism of surface dwellers, in favor of bloody crimson mayhem delivered with a smile, snark and pop culture references (to the extent that the three aren’t synonyms repeated for triple emphasis).

A word about the author arbitrarily inserted here between describing the character and getting to the meat of the story. Mister Burns and I share time at a comic book-centric creator group somewhere in the South Bay (for me it’s easier to use the comic book group for my midweek writing session than to drive to the Valley). And neither of us pencil, ink nor color being writers, thank you very much.

Despite being comic book fans who can wax craptological about our formative books, I certainly feel an unconscious and unintended bias towards people who draw. So Mr. Burns hit on a brilliant strategy to keep up with the product arms race among the creators: do illustrated prose to introduce a character and create fans for eventual Kickstarter campaigns for graphic novel sequels without breaking the bank paying an artist. Yes, I will copy this with my own work when I figure out how to find my own ass with a hunting dog and a map.

So back to the bone-crushing adventures of Danica Shade, she of periwinkle skin and pink hair, as she is continually interrupted one Halloween weekend by dark forces intent on keeping her from the first person shooter Zombie Dawn 7 (FYI, a quick type of the title into Wikipedia brings us to www.FunOrb.com an IRL mobile gaming site that probably wouldn’t go near the console versions depicted herein). Whether it’s two racist douchebags mugging a another she-drow from home or Danica’s past as Secret Government Agent walking uninvited through the door with a mission dossier in hand. And I do mean bone-crushing, counting up the broken knees, elbows and ribs in this gruesome dark tale is almost as fruitless as keeping track of the repetition of Brain and Spock’s Brain in the eponymous Star Trek:TOS episode.

Adventure walks in the door the night before Halloween in the form of Jackson, Danica’s former handler recently moved over to Homeland Security Arcane Threats Division. A necromancer, Malachi Gideon, is being imported by a corporation that stole the Obelisk Gate to open a portal for purposes of world domination. Danica has a day to organize an invitation to and costume for the corporation’s Halloween party.

Kaylee breaks out the pushpins to make a costume whining about the Plus One on the invitation until Danica cracks. They enter a castle allegedly built by witches in 1200 CE, despite Europeans not arriving anywhere near California before about 1600 CE. Danica parts with Kaylee in the bar amid the pulsing beat of loud House/Techno music and sets out to save the world…

I found reading this generally awesome story completely pleasurable. I’m a sucker for bone-crushing fistfights clearly inspired by roleplaying games where heroes and heroines come from unlikely places and beat back the Darkness one more time. And I couldn’t help enjoying Danica’s smile, snark and pop culture references as she personally depletes the Southern California contingent of foul Undead Beasts with quite a bit of humor.

But, you did hear me lead this review with missing scene? We now come to the faint whiff of liquorish flavor to go with the sugary taste of Red Vines. During the lead up to the Halloween party, Danica consults a local Arcanist (wizard), Cullen “Cole” Drake for the skinny on Big Bad Malachi Gideon learning the intel in the dossier is completely FUBAR because Necromancer Malachi Gideon should, in strict point of fact, be substituted by Lich (Undead and Extremely Powerful Former Necromancer) Malachi Gideon. Cole relates this information with such fear in his dust filled office that you expect him to blow Los Angeles immediately (or yesterday with a time travel spell).

However, Cole sticks around to take over as the mission support voice on the earbud (see Tom Arnold in True Lies) from Pixie, a gnome hacker sure to appear in future stories. The sharp reader simply asks the question – shouldn’t we see Danica and/or Kaylee’s attempts to persuade the reluctant Cole to join the fight on the page?

Yes, this is a short story/novella and most cool but extraneous things that would fill the novel, movie or Wagnerian opera versions of this story need excising. But, letting a moment where Danica would need to ask for help isn’t, to my eyes, one of them. One apparent flaw amid a gem of a head-breaking introduction tale to a character likely to thrill us for years? My friend is basically ahead of the game.

I will close repeating that I really enjoyed the read. And wax craptologically about the actress likely to wear purple makeup for the movie role…Scarlet Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence? Oh, and to tell you I paid Joe for my copy, which hopefully counteracts the friend conflict of interest reading this review, at least a little…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

“So, here it is, Mr. Mill, Gone With the Wind meets Of Human Bondage…in space,” says the unnamed screenwriter. 

This somewhat fictionalized scene from The Player highlights the average writer’s love-hate with what has come to be called the Player Pitch. We really don’t want to give said pitch, rather wanting to launch into the Real Pitch – “It’s about a girl who sells advertising space for radio…” But, we do have to live with the short form pitch, because it’s how we get permission to give the Real Pitch from people who believe their time more valuable than ours. There is, of course, at least one Real Pitch you never want coming out of anyone’s mouth – 2.0 Battlestar Galactica, Player Pitch “Exodus in Space,” Real Pitch…I can’t say it without blowing gray matter through your ears!

The inevitability of certain things eventually gets us to where we find things to like about things that define douche. We come to decide that the Player Pitch can actually be fun…I recommend smoke a bowl and go with it as a mental strategy.

My preferred version of the Player Pitch construction is a three part affair, “X meets Y filtered through the lens of Z.” The reason for this for me, the filtered through the lens part has a way of having a more creative way to tell someone “it’s a space movie” than Gone With the Wind meets Of Human Bondage…in space.

In this example that I basically pulled out my fart hole, (I have yet to either read, see or look Of Human Bondage up on Wikipedia) “in space” doesn’t tell you very much. As space movies go there are a wide range of choices. Filtered through the lens of Star Wars says long settled galaxy, civilization decaying from within and an almost magical faith that space wizards use to change the world. Filtered through the lens of Star Trek says the wide-eyed joy of the nonviolent ways to drop over the edge of the map just to see what lives there. Filtered through the lens of 2001 says a long arduous journey that reminds us that we bring our worst aspects with us as we explore. In space, becomes trite and not descriptive when you have other choices.

It follows that a writer better know all three elements of his or her pitch construction going into the room. See the movie. Read the book. We have library cards; use them or lose them.

And we are instructed in Save the Cat to only choose hits for our X, Y and Z. Since I think Blake Snyder represents good ideas about structure taken to the ridiculous (cookie cutter) extreme, may I suggest picking the three elements that best describes your story, even if one of the elements died in the marketplace?

I’ve seen Gone With the Wind, a story about resilience in the face of losing everything both personally and culturally due to sweeping changes to one’s world (what’s left when you boil away the rose-colored glasses about slavery). We’ll see what Of Human Bondage does for this hypothetical pitch when I actually dive in and read. Now, let’s go back to the Z element? Star Wars? Star Trek? 2001? Avatar? Does it have to be “in space?” How about underwater? Abyss?

I jest in this vein because we need to steal our fun where we can. That’s my point here, a speaking convention that The Player largely exposed as the height of Hollywood douchery can be fun. Yes, fun.

Picture, if you will, a post-apocalyptic wanderer armed with an ancient rapier looted from a museum… Oh, sorry, I’m lapsing into my recently derived Real Pitch for Homer the Barbarian: The Honey Queen and the Taxman’s Wife. So a story about a taciturn dude, the frisky witch hot for the dude and the Evil Witch/Queen Bee in the faraway castle? “Conan the Barbarian meets Wizard of Oz filtered through the lens of…”

Conan the Barbarian is obvious. A guy on the road with a sword with an almost monosyllabic vocabulary who finds high adventure. I have yet to decide if Homer will “steal a crown of his own to wear upon a troubled brow.”

Wizard of Oz speaks to the road quest story where the protagonist forms a team to defeat the witch in the dark castle. Certainly, the Honey Queen ain’t checking out because Dorothy splashes her with water. And despite my musical ambitions, we aren’t Off to See the Wizard.

Despite the assertion of this article that maybe my fellow writers should see the Player Pitch as a source of fun, I can’t claim to have started from the pitch. Desperate to maintain myself as a novelist keeping up with the comic book arms race in a key writing group, I’ve started and stopped several comic book projects. I freak out over the high bar of entry to comics if you don’t draw (the only thing ruder than please work for free among these people is I voted for insert name of orange President here). I stop and go back to the novels.

I hit on the idea of doing a photo manipulation book. Somehow, I hit on a barbarian I could play myself. Conan becomes obvious.

But, once I saw how boring the antagonist would be once he realized he had no reason to chase the Tax Wife, I added the Honey Queen. Evil queen in the castle. She casts a spell on the visible villain to keep him in the game. Wizard of Oz.

And now, we come to my Z element. It’s a post-apocalyptic story. In order to have the bad guy catch up to Homer and Hilary when everybody rides bicycles, I put the pissed off husband on a…motorcycle. Can you guess my full Player Pitch?

“Conan the Barbarian meets Wizard of Oz filtered through the lens of…Easy Rider,” sayeth the amused author. Of course, I could dive in deeper here. Have the guy on the road hog get loaded in a New Orleans cemetery and whine about his mother? Well, maybe the book will merely present the lyrics to Don’t Bogart that Joint, play it safe for now.

Basically like everybody else, I developed the pitch after starting to write. But in theory, have fun with the pitch then start writing.

So there I was tryin’ to be nice, have Vader and Jyn Erso over for a peacemaking tea. And this happened…

DV: You stole the plans to the Death Star!

JE: I’m a consular attaché from Alderaan – COUGH! – I don’t know anything about plans!

DV: If you are a diplomat where are your credentials? You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor! Take her…oh, yes, I’m alone. 

JE: CCCCHHHHHHHHHHH! AAAAAARRRRGGGH!

SFX: SNAP!

Some people just can’t be in a room together…

An Incompetent Misadventure of Mickey Mouse Politics and Keystone Cops Tradecraft

The weapons of a battle subsequently declined…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I apologize for the political undercurrent in what is supposed to be a non-political “writer assisting other writers blog.” There are concepts that a crime or, more importantly, a cyberpunk writer can use for their stories. This post counts on that basis. But, if you still ain’t convinced, FO it’s my stupid story and I’m telling it. I will call it The Time I Fucked Up Pulling Off an Online Houdini Act and Dropped Grand Plans to Contribute More Directly to the Great Resistance to Der Gröpen Führer’s Administration.

I woke up on Post-Election Wednesday like many other urban Californians wondering what Faustian Bargain Der Oränge Führer made to scoop up the 80,000 votes in three key states needed to steal the White House. I felt anger and a generalized fear of the worst case scenario eschatology that seems to be what the Professional Left needs people like me to feel while we organize for war. To a certain extent, I still feel these things, but in just a few weeks I’ve walked back a lot of my ardor for war. I’ll get to that part later in this narrative.

I was going to blog. Like the Little Drummer Boy, my words are all I have to give. But, we now live in NSA-Off-the-Leash-Land where I expect Edward Snowden to get accidentally shot or jailed within eighteen months now that whatever small country is hiding him might crack under American pressure. I would rather be a live literary symbol kicking shins and running away than a dead or jailed martyr to Free Speech where they’ll kill my ass on the inside not with shivs and ass-rape, but simply taking away my pen.

Thus, the blog needed me to disappear at least enough so that G.N. Jacobs didn’t have his name on it. But, the best Houdini acts in the modern world really require winding up in Tahiti with a fishing pole and a babe in a grass skirt without a fucking cell phone. So already a fatal wound to a dumb-ass plan. But, I had to make my mistakes in an unconscious semi-Freudian way to realize I made my dumb moves because I wasn’t doing this stupid political blog anyway.

The Caged Tiger blog as I would’ve called it has so far been been a exercise in preachy douchery and let’s put it down with a bullet to the head before someone gets hurt. I’m sure I goofed my tradecraft semi-intentionally, but hey I now know what disappearing acts take to pull off and can actually write fictional variations of a cyberpunk Blank (someone without an active citizen file) character.

First off, disappearing is a cash-only business unless the Marshal’s Service uses their muscle to create a whole new credit portfolio for a witness in hiding. This meant in my steaming rage I needed new el cheapo gear that I could treat like the way One Percent bikers might treat a Japanese brand motorcycle…not well. Internet connections leave traces so using my current gear is like robbing a bank without a mask and then mooning the security cameras with my address and phone number tattooed onto my left butt cheek.

A quick hit on my three minutes of research told me that new email addresses require a phone number entered onto the setup page. The email provider wants to text or email you just in case you screw the pooch and forget your password. But, you’re trying to set a literary ambush for Der Gröpen Führer and his goons, you can’t use the Sprint iPhone with all the bells and whistles known to be in your name.

Similarly, I needed a computer cheap enough to throw off the cliff to the right while running left that lasts about as long as it takes for the SS to start shooting. After which, I was going to put on my lie face (the same one I use at the Post Office when asked about liquid in the mail). I knew I wanted a complete firewall between me and my fictional alter ego, second cousin to Harvey the Rabbit; I must buy one of those inexpensive Lenovo machines.

I buy a likely thrash-wagon machine and a pay as you go phone with a $15 card all with cash at a local Best Buy. I had my phantom name picked out just in case, but you don’t need a name for the phone if you pay cash. Of course, most providers of pay as you go phones have a default setting where you end up getting billed monthly at rates cheaper than most smartphone plans, in this case pay as you go means no long term contract to justify them giving you a good price on an expensive smartphone. You are still robbing the bank barefaced and mooning the camera.

Pay as you go doesn’t become the semi-mythical burner phone we’ve heard about on cop shows unless you, the purchaser, understand that you have to consciously choose the no plan option. This is where you buy the phone with cash and chase it periodically with phone cards from the provider also bought with cash. The clerk will offer to set the phone up for you, but if you do remember no plan, act naturally and don’t drop your real name into the sales chitchat. He or she might remember what you look like, but can’t give the cops your name. I chose to do my own setup elsewhere, I’m not a CHUD when it comes to tech setup.

The Lenovo goes to a coffee shop where I use the WiFi for setup. Now we need the fake name I prepared. Computers want a name, a phone number for recovery purposes and since we’re talking a thrash-wagon running Windows 10, Mini-HAL wants to automatically guide me through a Outlook/Hotmail/Live account setup. This is required because this account forms the basis of the Microsoft account on which we get Office 365 (I have commented in earlier archived posts how much I hate the subscription model for my writing tools. Apple still sells a version of Office that works with the mobile apps to go around paying Microsoft the rent. Microsoft doesn’t. When doing things on the up and up act accordingly). Luckily, it’s pretty standard to get a year free, if you setup a fake email.

I use my picked out name. I went with a name slightly modified from the name of a guy who tried to screw me over on a movie a long time ago. Yes, I can hold grudge and imagine Der Cheëto Führer’s stormtroopers booting the door looking for me and busting him. I changed the name more because the real dickhead is Hispanic and I’m not. I went with an Anglo sounding close cognate. Believability.

I open up an Outlook account and get my free Office 365 using this fake name. I defer entering the burn phone number until later in the session because I want to set it up online using this connection away from my house. But, I eventually do because you can’t cheat this part of the system. Luckily, inventing my nom de guerre gives me all the information Microsoft actually needs: name, phone number and ZIP code (if required I could’ve given the asshole’s address, but I wasn’t asked. Don’t volunteer extra information doing this).

I decide to wait on starting up the foreign blog for a few days. I want to get used to the keyboard. I type the introductory post. I refresh in my mind why I haven’t liked Windows in a long time, but I’m going to put up with it to fight the good fight.

But, you did hear me say I fucked things up ever so slightly that a determined stormtrooper on the keys would still burn me down? I lost the 3”x5” card on which I’d written down the password to this first Outlook account and the burner number. I don’t panic, I know how to click Lost Password…right up until Microsoft gets crafty and turns the procedure into an interrogation where I needed the old password to make the new password. I’m having an existential Yossarian moment, if I had the old password, I don’t need a new one.

I throw up my hands in a Fuck it Moment and set up a second Outlook account. Office 365 still runs on the old account for one year. Then I either get a new semi-disposable thrash-wagon or come up with a reloadable debit card paid for in cash to buy next year’s subscription (remember cash only or they trace your credit and debit purchases). Not liking this idea.

At some point in this botched recovery, I texted my regular phone from the burn phone. I was prepared to try this lie – “Hey Officer, I meet a lot of writers and this guy asked me for my Word templates to start writing and like a moron I emailed them to him. He thanked me by text.” But, let’s get real here, are you starting to see the Keystone Cops quality to my disappearing act?

I write a few more posts venting my furious and righteous anger against Cheëto Hitler. I dither setting up the foreign blog.

The point was to use my burner number to set up a variation of cagedtiger[random number] [at] google.com.fr or however France assigns top level domains these days. The thinking was that the French version of Blogspot is on a French server allowing French authorities to tell American authorities to go fuck themselves when they come calling with the international subpoena – “Leave us alone, you arrogant American swine! This blog tells the truth and does not advocate any violent solutions! Concepts that used to matter even under American law!”

I didn’t get that far so I don’t actually know if opening up a French Google account using a burn number with an American 424 area code is A) possible or B) just stupid once the goons have a reason to do digital forensics. But, that one is a go with it and smile and wave like the Queen moment. I’m not getting on a plane just to buy a French burn phone…talk about chasing good money after bad.

The good thing about the delay in creating the French blog was it gave me pause to take stock in this whole Der Cömbover Führer thing and my need to bloviate about it. I have journalism training earlier in my life. I love good journalism, even if I’m just not in a place where I can chisel $50 per article/post working in print/digital. I write essays when I need to and perhaps my annoyance re-reading my intended posts is overly harsh, but…

The position essays at the beginning of the blog would likely be great, or at least eminently readable. I’m good at what I do. But, once I finished establishing my Moderate Kill All Sacred Cows attitude designed to have a blog that also pissed off lefties for their many stupidities that made Der Smäll Pënis Führer and his goons possible, this Caged Tiger blog becomes a news recap blog…ugggh!

For the most part, other commentators are eating up all the clickbait porridge faster each time our raging infantile sandbox bully unleashes yet another tweet-storm. As a lone dude with a blog, maybe I pick up readers with a nice turn of phrase. However, suddenly I’m in race to post first commenting on the same shit everybody else is. And we all hate the guy for the same reasons, so except on my best days explaining things my work would just sound like the same noise. And I fully intended to keep up my novels and regular blogging, do you see the hint of delusion here?

I think I instinctively knew I was delusional from jump, which might be why I accidentally on purpose made my tradecraft mistakes. I don’t really have the time to knock the rust off my political bloviating skills, so I get lazy and inattentive creating about four ways my nom de guerre links back to my real name. Yeah, I just shot my fantasies of literary hard elbows leading to the possibility of chatting up all kinds of fems at protests in the foot.

So what now for me? My mission segment is distraction and entertainment. I’ll stick to that. Luckily, for the moment I’m white, a dude and after this post going as silent on social media as my big mouth, ego and perniciously cute cat videos will let me. I’ll outlive and outlast the fat orange bastard while reading what I need to stay informed as a voter. Not telling you if I do anything else for the cause.

So now you have some insight into how not to pull off a digital Houdini. You can create characters for your story or…sorry, I officially admonish you not to try anything you read in this post for real, even though under American law a person has the right to use any name he or she likes unless there is intent to defraud. And no, I’m never telling you my now abandoned nom de guerre, I might still need the fictitious fellow for once last duty – getting me the fuck out of Dodge before nightfall.