Archive for April 5, 2018

Paging Harvey Dent…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

New writers sometimes demonstrate a huge bundle of raw nerves that after a while makes the rest of us want to avoid them until they’ve chilled out a little. Case in point, I recently Facebook friended a writer that ended up asking me variations of the same question at least five times – “Do you think I’ll do well?” I ran out of ways to say – “I don’t know, but part of your idea seems new enough to my hearing that you might have a batter than usual chance once you write the book.” And I had to wait until today to carefully compose the text that said I would always try to help them, but that repeating the same nervous nelly question over and over again seemingly trolling for a negative answer to look for a reason not to write, wasn’t winning them tolerance.

Writers that sell out to their muse and show up as often as they can to put words on the page learn fairly quickly to get past that initial stage of I can’t do this. Words appear on the page or they don’t (paging Yoda) and we learn to push aside our fear until after we have a manuscript, script or comic book script in hand. We’ve all been there. We come to know the fear as an illusion probably reinforced by scared, angry or jealous naysayers in our lives. It is sometimes impossible to convey this to a new writer until we realize that while we can be supportive, that we also can’t hold their hand as they write.

What does supportive look like? In the several Facebook groups I’ve joined, a writer asks a more technical question than the above writer and I and others answer. Someone asks about shifting the writing focus between two leading characters, the thread generally answers with many variations of – “sure, why not?” Another writer posts about reading a post that told what not to do when writing a memoir, things they had already committed to paper. Again the thread went with – “it’s your story and you should simply tell your story your way.”

My addition to this thread went like this – “I think you’re dealing with some memoir editor looking to shed work or something. If so, he needs a vacation not to take it out on the rest of us. It will take a while to get over this and try writing through it, see what happens.” Another favored response is – “write that fucker into the book.”

Getting back to the writer that most exemplified this phenomenon; I gave opinions when asked. When asked books or short stories, I said books suggesting that there seems to be more reward on the backend. When asked about a story element that modestly piqued by interest and led to the conversation shifting to Messenger and the repeated questions, I said I thought it would be new to other readers as well. At all times, I made sure I spoke from a place of opinion that admits I could be wrong, because promising brilliant success sight unseen and sight unread seems like I’m lying through my teeth. Not supportive at all.

And each time this writer needed to repeat a variation of the question, I did give variations of the answer. In one, I explained about how less than 10-percent of the whole American population reads consistently and that three percent of that first number is all it takes to be enough of a bestseller for the writer to make a living and have Hollywood come calling. I explained that while sociologists might think that to be terrible, the writer can look at it as being able to relax because appealing to your hypothetical one million readers is easier than trying to pander to everyone.

In every variation, I made sure to reiterate variations of you can’t know who your audience is until you write the book. I also tried at least one variation of your question requires me to make a guess that is a Red-Black or Heads or Tails bet against a market that changes every thirty seconds. Similar variations hit on the quote from William Goldman from Adventures in the Screen Trade – “No one knows anything.” I said things like yes, there are things you can do to give yourself better chances like good writing and better editing, but while bad books usually get crushed in this crucible so to do good books that did everything right. And still the writer needed to fish for an opinion that exposed their nerves.

I do completely understand about making that leap into the first book. I’ve written elsewhere about the scared family member that popped me out of a writing zone into the only complete (no words of any kind) Writers Block I’ve ever experienced that lasted eighteen months. And I’ve talked about crappy English teachers versus the couple good ones. And I’ve lived through the nasty backbiting on a film set that manifested, in part, with nasty comments (post to follow eventually) about not being “a real writer, just the guy with the money.” I’m still here so this is how I know things will nearly always work out if you can only shut up and do the work.

The writer expressing this much fear and excessive need for validation just can’t hear. They can’t hear that even without unique story elements, as this writer had, they should write the story anyway. They can’t hear – “Yes, Agatha Christie got to the They All Did It ending first with Murder on the Orient Express. We haven’t read your version.” They need to wallow in their fear as an excuse not to write.

After five repetitions of the inane question about doing well, I wanted to slap the writer around, hook up the parachute and throw them out of a perfectly functional aircraft. Tough love, all I have to give at this point. Mind the ground, Ducky. Enjoy the rollercoaster. Enjoy that your whole career is defined by the next coin toss and no one can shield you from failure. Enjoy that we’re masochists that want to do it all over again next month. As long as you please just write the fucking book!

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What I assume is the port in question…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“I always find it interesting that pretty much every screenwriter is guilty of Conspiracy.” – Evil Stepfather #2.

Who is Evil Stepfather #2? He has a name, a Wikipedia page and, more importantly, children whom I’m glad I no longer have to call step-siblings that I don’t want back in my life by poking this bear, so Names Change to Protect the Guilty at all times. And as you may guess, I hate quoting something he said during a private conversation about my writing while visiting him at a Central California Club Fed prison, but he did have a point. We do cheerfully commit Conspiracy every day.

Case in point, after a bunch of months just being okay with the two or three Facebook groups that don’t mind me blasting around the links to this blog, I joined about six more groups. When I figure out how each group wants deal with most writers joining up to insure a larger cadre of readers versus maybe I over promoted my blog, I’ll get busy. Until then, there are posts to reply to that thankfully don’t involve the white noise that defines our age. One of which came from the thriller group…

A woman posted that she wanted to have a character kill off the victim by going for the nearly hundred-year-old classic of arranging a crash on a secluded road preferably with a sharp curve. She needed help because her research told her that cutting the brake lines is less of a thing that it used to be. One reply doubled down on the slashed lines suggesting jagged cuts to make it look good after the fact. Another reply suggested bleeding the brakes while providing instructions from Google to achieve the same effect. A third suggested advance knowledge of the route spraying an oil slick and then spraying ice over the slick to delay discovery.

So once you include my reply that’s five people that just got charged with Conspiracy, the original author for asking and the rest for giving an answer. Crap! Don’t get me started on jail! Luckily, as a practical matter for the administration of justice a charge and conviction for Conspiracy (fancy Legal-Speak for sitting in a room and plotting crimes with other criminals) usually, but not always, requires for there to have been a crime committed.

A case in point, the Ed Wood of the 21st Century, Uwe Boll just made a legally indefensible online assertion comparing his movie Rampage to the upcoming Dwayne Johnson action movie of the same title seeking redress in court. Mister Boll’s movie, when you look at the pitch, seems inspired by the earlier 1997 North Hollywood Bank Heist. The Rock movie is completely different.

The point for this post is that if time travel were a thing or if Mr. Boll had produced his movie before the big shootout, then the cops could go after him, in theory. Well, if you don’t also factor in that if you actually make a movie and can demonstrate the only connection between filmmaker and criminal getting ideas from that movie, there’s a First Amendment adjacent argument that the filmmaker didn’t intend to commit any crimes and just made a cool movie, thus is not culpable. Sound legal thinking, until perhaps the Orange One and his goons get ahold of the exceptions for use against writers likely to oppose him (Sorry! The white noise does leak through from time to time).

What are the exceptions? Organized crime figures have been convicted not only of conspiring to do the crimes of the past, but also the crimes of the future. Now those who are more paranoid than I am are already wondering if the Orange One will start sending out minions with orders to create the conditions that change the circumstances of writing a book into making the case for Conspiracy. Put another way, what would happen if Tony Soprano had filmed all of the meetings at the Bada-Bing Strip Club with the intent of cutting this footage into the ultimate mob movie that covers up the conspiracy? Entertaining legal performance art to be sure.

But, ultimately I’m more interested in how I metaphorically committed conspiracy this time around than anything else. You know, give suggestions to help an author drive a car off the road? My reply was this…

The killer has access to the car and uses the data/auxiliary port under the steering wheel to hack the data system.

Mister Jacobs, from where do you get your bloodthirsty ideas? Simple things really, like watching the guy from the Auto Club replace my battery.

My battery died a few days ago. It had lasted exactly as long as the original was warranted to last when the wagon originally rolled off the Toyota production line in Ohio, about three years. I decide to have the guy replace the battery on the spot. The car’s here. I’m here. He and his truck are here. Replace the battery now, don’t waste more of my time.

We chat. Part of the replacement process is that he dives under my steering wheel to hook in a patch from his portable battery to the Aux Port. This is supposed to keep certain settings that are held in the car’s RAM active while he changes out the battery. It didn’t work because I think the battery had been dead a while by the time he got there. You don’t lose the radio settings, the remote locks or the trip odometers, but you do lose the stored engine data. And the clock. Basically, because I haven’t been on the freeway since the replacement, I feel guilty that my MPG average only reflects my city driving.

So when the lady posted her need for murderous assistance, this was in the back of my mind. We don’t look under the steering wheel unless we dropped coins onto the driver side floor mat. I might have been vaguely aware that with all the chips in the engine monitoring system that there would be some kind of port to check things when needed. I hadn’t looked for it until the guy showed me.

I admit to the truth that most days I do a lot of guessing and then focus my research later and came up with this scenario. The killer inserts a flash drive or other similar data card that fits the port uploading the hack into the car. This is based on knowing that all USB ports after the 2.0 type provide both power and data access through the same opening. Thus, I reason out that car manufacturers would do the same thing with these ports. Reason out, not know for a fact that the power port and data port are the same things; again do all research after the first draft to save time.

Then it becomes about choosing which version of the murder by the hacked data system do you like better? Probably, most would go with a GPS hack intending mayhem from sending the victim to the wrong neighborhood. Seems like it leaves a lot to chance.

We’ve already seen TV episodes that assert that a villain can hack the electronics between turning the steering wheel and mashing the brake pedal and the intended results. At the moment, I’m not sure if this emerging trope is even possible because the steering wheel or brakes might be isolated from any other data systems in the car. It looks cool on TV, but until I do my own three minutes of research or see something from either White Rabbit Project or the new Mythbusters on the subject not buying it completely.

What I do know is that the chips in your car monitor the engine and can shut down the car when extreme conditions are met. For instance, if your car detects too much carbon dioxide in the wrong places the car may shut down early to save the engine. Now we’re cookin’ with murder gas, I think.

Use the hack to create fall sensor readings to kill the engine at the wrong time, like, say, directly in front of that tractor-trailer hauling a port container that might be tailgating. That was my plan. And then I got to thinking, that depending on how much mass and kinetic energy the truck brought, the airbag might be a problem.

So now the killer who already has access to the car to install the hack through the port also takes the time to switch out the airbag cartridges for ones that will deploy limp bags so it looks good when the cops look at the wreck, but still put the driver through the windshield. Ooops! I just douched up a sound plan violently executed today with a wrinkle that adds complexity and poor execution tomorrow. No one’s perfect the first time out committing the grievous crime of Conspiracy.

And I haven’t even gotten to the part about the other post where a quick check of the arsenic page on Wikipedia helps another author figure out the historical availability of the classic poison…two counts now.