Archive for July, 2019

A suspiciously symmetrical face…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Also known as things quickly extirpated once in film development and in some cases earlier…at the hands of the cover artist.

A ruined face replaced by a Hero Scar…

From this distance of more than twenty years, may I assume we’ve all seen Robert Altman’s The Player by now?

Richard E. Grant played a British film director bound and determined to storm America and Hollywood with a pet project, essentially rubbing our noses in his smug opposition to capital punishment. A DA decides he’s sick of convicting minorities and goes hell for leather to convict a white woman, just for the principle of equal treatment under the law.

The proposed plot. The DA gets his conviction. Tragically falls in love with the convict. Discovers late in the third act she was framed and rushes at the eleventh hour to stop the execution…

This fictional Brit starts the process piously asserting, “no stars, no happy ending because that’s reality!” We all saw the representative clip at the end of The Player. Bruce Willis uses a shotgun to rescue Julia Roberts while smugging for camera – “traffic was a bitch!” A character gets fired in the screening room for blasting the sellout Brit for “caving.”

But, did Mr. Grant’s character actually cave that much in the context of storytelling as we know it? A question to include the context of writing specifically for North America (Hollywood’s home break despite the rise of China and the rest of the world) and the larger context of the artsy-fartsy Hero’s Journey model long asserted as universal? Did he cave? Or just acknowledge the inevitable that shouldn’t have taken the venal suits at the studio to tell him?

Obviously, the first “cave” was stars. The venal bastard suits controlling the purse strings simply refused to write checks based on the line of credit proffered by the studio’s institutional lenders until Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts, or their hypothetical equivalents signed their agreements. Depending on how we use the word “star,” perhaps now we should note that the concept exists throughout the arts, sports and most of life. Has always existed. And serves several related purposes.

When Sir Lawrence Olivier went balls out playing the title part in The Scottish Play people in the crowd remembered this performance eagerly awaiting when Sir Larry would pull off The Scottish Movie. A star in this case represents doing something so well that we remember to use the work as either something to copy or something to do the exact opposite…sometimes both. Rewarding preternatural skill.

Marcus Tullis Cicero the Elder has more stardom as a writer being 2,000 years dead. He famously lost out to Marc Anthony, hands cut off and nailed to the Senate door. But, because the words he wrote, letters, speech transcriptions and a couple attempts at pseudo-Stoic philosophy have survived into the Modern Era, he defined European prose for quite a few centuries. He even wrote text we use as placeholders – lorem ipsum.

When we use star in this context that can also include champion as a synonym, you just want to slap Mr. Grant’s character around. Greatness is where we get inspiration. In my own work, I like to say, “I don’t compete with living writers. They don’t do me and I don’t do them. Besides, I’m too busy chasing Shakespeare.” And on the music side, where at the moment my mouth just wrote checks my ear can’t cash, it’s a nice fantasy to imagine my music at Disney Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel.

Is it any wonder that my favorite two episodes of The Twilight Zone are both titled ‘A Game of Pool?’ The deceased star offers a game to the determined up and comer. Winning comes with the responsibilities to take over from the old champion. Losing means being the guy who lost. Both versions served as a vehicle to remind the audience that while it is good to strive, it means nothing if you don’t take time out to live…even just to sneak out to Disneyland or something.

I like to think that Mr. Grant’s character realized that stardom isn’t all bad for a movie and just went with it trying to get the best stars possible for the movie. Yes, there is a tawdry side to stardom that the suits in the movie wouldn’t care about the “right” stars, just any stars large enough to open a capital punishment movie. They had armed themselves with box office numbers and exit polls from other movies.

They knew the movie die would without stars and the happy ending. They also declared that a movie with dudes in prisons would need a hetero sex scene. And they adroitly let this upstart director shoot his ending betting that the test audience in Pacoima would chasten him and he would agree to fix it with reshoots that were always in the budget.

When I saw this moment in the screening room, I imagined dialogue that wasn’t in the movie. Either Michael Tolkin (the writer) or Mr. Altman had these words and cut them because of Too Many Words on the Screenplay Page, or they had a simple failure of imagination. Imagine this, Bonnie (Laurie Metcalf) goes off about the “sellout” and Mr. Grant’s character still drops in the line about the “old ending didn’t test well in Pacoima” with his face generally signaling relief. What if he also says…

“I realized I might not have needed the old ending.”

“What do you mean?” Bonnie asks.

“I’m bashing capital punishment in America, the home of the barbaric practice with the intent of convincing more Americans to shift their values. When faced with the well-stated objections from the people in this room, I asked myself if doing it their way still does that. Do I get the same mileage out of this happy ending that still trades as much on the finality of death and human fallibility as the old ending but lets the audience off the hook emotionally?”


“How the fuck should I know? It’s a risk either way. Either I guessed right and just became Preston Sturges with the Common Touch or I won’t be back, except to take the offspring to Disneyland. Ask me when it opens.”

Speaking personally this character’s initial resistance to the Hollywood method makes more sense if he shifts the question from No Stars to “Dear God, can we get the right stars!” He is right to ask for stars better fitted to the movie. Would Robert DeNiro and Julianne Moore have been better for The Player’s movie within a movie?

And we like to believe the question can also be, “can we use this part to create a new star, while bulking up the other roles with established stars?” Often Hollywood’s casting decisions cause the audience to shout at the screen – “Really, you gave that role to Ryan Gosling? He doesn’t do movies like this well!” Well, the audience segment trained by incessant film coverage in the media to think they know these things, at least.

As for the happy ending part of the discussion, Mr. Tolkin, who also wrote the novel, has a point about Hollywood ceding sad endings to…Europe. Sad endings are a part of our collective narrative tradition and yet, if it were up to Hollywood no movie not labeled Shakespeare or Star Wars would have a sad ending. George Lucas got away with the tragic ending to Revenge of the Sith by reminding people that Return of the Jedi that they’ve already seen finishes the story. And having enough power over Star Wars-land to avoid reading studio notes also can help.

I suppose we should play for the middle ground where Hollywood busts out a tragedy once in a while and the rest of the world doesn’t always have to reach for “they all get cholera and die” as is the stereotype. These things seem cyclical; Marvel tossed two popular female characters off the same ledge to get at the Soul Stone. Ask me every six months or so to see how we did.

Scars. This part of the essay is an outgrowth of the stars question. You hire a star to play X part described in the book as severely damaged about the face. How long do you think this lasts? Sometimes this gets wiped out long before movie development by the cover artist.

Two examples (see pictures). The female characters pictured were both described as having survived similar variations of getting jacked up by shitty father figures (I’ll feed that one to a more overtly feminist writer). Nether description made it to any kind of promotional art. One at the hands of the cover artist and the other slaughtered by the whole filmmaking process.

Parrish Plessis (Nylon Angel) leaps off the page described as exceedingly tall, dark haired but with a slightly flattened face and badly set nose to go with her black leather. The last two didn’t make the cover. No filmmakers involved.

Similarly, Hester Shaw in Mortal Engines is described as having a face to frighten children. A destroyed eye. A sliced up ear. Massive facial scars. To be replaced in the movie by a single beauty scar hidden behind the red scarf. Many filmmakers involved reaching the same decision as a single cover artist.

There are reasons. The hero scar is cheaper in both time and money to apply to an actress and future star cloned from the pretty end of the human gene pool. And I’m sure Peter Jackson might’ve heard his version of the Venal Suit – “what is the fucking point of hiring a star if we put so much latex on her that we might not know she’s in the movie?”

Yet, the novelists in question persisted, at least for the book, continuing as planned with messed up female characters. Brave? Dumb? I guess that depends on how loaded I get on any particular day.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Thieves lurk near parked cars, some of whom I haven’t even dreamed of for my die cast collection…yet. So after tapping Play to get back to the movie after updating my wishlist, I decide they must be thieves because they’re led by Giovanni Ribisi trying to look like car thief while also not looking like said car boost (at least to the folks in the movie). A quick tap on the cloned key fob or light just so touch on the slim-jim and the thief is already on your car seat imagining the wealth to own this ride. From here we have the title to tell us the car will be Gone in 60 Seconds.

How do you remake a classic car chase film, made so by being about 15 minutes of boring but instructive narrative and at least 60 minutes of just one car chase? Hire Nicholas Cage. Pay somebody to craft an actual script, even if it feels underwritten (see below). Hire other good actors to enjoy a few fun blastorama months doing a movie in Los Angeles featuring fast cars that they at least got to sit in. Sometimes this is all you need for all the movies likely to land between Star Wars 46 and Doctor Zhivago 2: The Escape to Lara.

Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) steals a sweet pasta rocket and promptly gets distracted at a stoplight by the tomato in the shotgun seat next car over. Engines rev. The car thief puts the boyfriend at the wheel in his place. But, now the cops are on the hunt who follow Kip back to the hideout.

With the police bearing down, Kip and his guys skedaddle having chosen a location with easy escape routes. Approximately, twenty high end cars are left behind. One member of the crew splashes the shopping list painted on the wall with more of the blacklight paint. He obscures only part of the list leaving the listing for a particular car visible should another blacklight enter the warehouse. Another crew member smashes the blacklight on the way out, a plot point to keep the cops in the game. Everyone escapes. For now.

Atley Jackson (Will Patton) travels out of the city to find Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicholas Cage) gainfully employed at his go-kart track somewhere in the warm interior of California. Atley explains to the former leader of the best car boost ring in California just what happened and how much trouble his younger brother, Kip, is in. Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) fronted $10,000 and didn’t get his cars. Calitri will kill Kip, if something isn’t done. And so, the dramatic proposition that carries over from the original movie unfolds: steal 50 high end cars on an impossible schedule, four days for prep and the thefts taking place in one 12-hour period at the end.

The police in the form of Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Detective Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant) get a vote. As do a rival car theft ring (until easily disposed of at a diner hosting cops on their Code 7). The big bad Calitri gets his vote too, what with his promiscuous use of a car crusher to dispose of enemies and other deadbeats.

In strictest terms, I should be trashing this movie every which way. One, when’s there’s cars on the table, I grade on a generous curve. Two, even with the script concerns listed later the integrated whole is better than you’d think. Three, this movie is also proof that the right cast will elevate an underwritten script into something good enough to play endlessly on basic cable.

On the plus side, this movie trades on the creative team getting lucky in the character meetings well ahead of production. A guy, Sphinx (Vinne Jones), that doesn’t speak? Cool. Sway (Angelina Jolie), the union-mandated girl who exists to romantically frustrate the protagonist? Cool. Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall), as the old-timey chop shop man who can identify a car from the roar of its engine. Extra cool, a substantially more interesting part.

Equally on the plus side, the great majority of these characters, even the ones not highlighted, get at least one scene that sort of acts as their “Now is the winter of our discontent” monologue that clues the audience into who they are and why they’re here in this movie. We get short snippets about bemoaning the lack of craftsmanship in auto theft while commenting on the death spiral between boosts and manufacturers over building an unstealable car. We get variations in motive, the thrill steal and Robin Hood. And with general uniformity, what this cast does with facial expressions and body language serving the bios fed at the meeting and not from the actual script saves the watchability of their respective characters and the movie.

We also get a decent older brother-younger brother abandonment conflict. Decent, as in some other writer would take five minutes to say more with the scenes between Mr. Cage and Mr. Ribisi. Could it have happened here? Maybe, but we’ll never know now.

Surprisingly, Angelina Jolie milks her turn as Sway for all the cookies. Described as the girl that Memphis wanted to take with him leaving town, but she wasn’t ready. And she went straight anyway because the fun factor boosting left the city with Memphis. Of everybody in this movie, Ms. Jolie and Sway do the most to make what must be functional and boring on paper spring to life on screen.

But, the things that are good about this movie are in different lighting (a blacklight pun, anyone?) the things that suck about this movie. The characters are set up pretty well with a web of longstanding interactions hinted at, but I can think of several of these threads that actually need to be on screen to have a legitimately good movie that doesn’t need my generous curve. Missed opportunities for other movies titled Gone in 60 Seconds.

What happens if the events of this movie put Memphis and Sway, however temporarily, on opposite sides? Don’t know, no one wrote this script. Even with a sex interrupted scene involving a gearshift and voyeurism upon the randy citizen and date who don’t know they’re about to lose the sweet pasta rocket parked out front, the paper version of this relationship needs the goose. On film, who cares? It works as is.

What happens if somebody staring at that horrifically blinking cursor realizes there exists loads of setup for a three-way generational conflict among the car thieves? We have the old guys, Otto and Atley aged out into supervising positions. Then in the middle Memphis comes back to town to put the old gang back together. And then we have Kip’s crew and the possibility of these clashing character styles and this doesn’t really go anywhere.

This also ties in with the fact that most of the characters on Kip’s younger crew really don’t belong in this movie. Tumbler (Scott Caan) gets in his moments. But, except for a certain character assigned to order pizza and collect laser cut keys from a dog given laxatives no one else on Kip’s crew stands out enough to avoid consolidation into two characters instead of four. A road less traveled for some other writers in the future.

All of the above is still covered by my blanket “Grading on a curve, a generous curve” opinion of this movie. The stunt driving and film techniques of the driving sequences are enough to hold most people’s interest. But, now we have the one thing where it’s harder to grade on my curve. The money chase named…Eleanor.

Eleanor, in all incarnations of Gone in 60 Seconds, is a 1967 Shelby 500 GT Mustang fastback. The protagonist steals this car last tripping the big chase either defines the whole movie (the original) or simply provides the climax. We remember the seemingly plotless original movie because Mondrian (original director H.B. Halicki) runs from every cop in Los Angeles and then switches out the broken but still magically drivable Eleanor 1.0 for the pristine Eleanor 2.0 at a car wash receiving line.

Taken as its own thing, this movie’s Eleanor chase is not bad, if also not particularly awe inspiring. It does what it does and sets up the fist and gunfight that buys Kip clear of the villain and Memphis clear of the cops. And I’ll take any kind of Evel Knievel jump on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It just seems to me that the one place where the remake filmmakers really want to kiss the old fans’ asses is this chase. I suppose the short way to say this is that Eleanor looked too good with only minor damage to mirrors and cracked steaming radiator compared to the legendary damage of the original movie.

So there we have it, an underwritten but joyfully overacted movie on a day where these concepts cancel out (sometimes they don’t). A good reason to explain years of – “Gone in 60 Seconds is on.” – “Cool! Let’s watch!” – even after missing three commercial breaks. And what is my personal writing lesson? “Sorry, Eleanor, you want somebody a little gentler telling your story.”

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Dim torchlight flickers across the ancient clay bricks. The nearest manhole is somewhere over there across the open stream of sewage yet to be enclosed in concrete due the city sanitation department promising to get to it soon. The ordinary pungent smell assaults the nose, quite a bit of orange and wet banana peel tonight.

Surprisingly, few things move in this space except for the sewage outflows high on the walls. No rats. No cats. Nor even the alligators legend says must be around her somewhere. Silence and perhaps an air current spreads across the rippling surface of the effluvia.

The residential outflow gates pour more into the broth. And other things…Is that a toaster? Or the guts of an old VCR? The outflows move with the consistency of bacon grease congealed halfway back to solid. Globs of white fibrous objects join the grease floating on the surface. Slowly, the fat and wipes circle towards each other like objects hurled towards the event horizon of a black hole.

It rises like a kaiju shrugging aside the sludge on the surface attracting all like material to it. It grows with each glob of grease patched together with the nearly ubiquitous wipes. Eyes open revealing a preternatural hatred of all that is not it. Seemingly moving against the poo current, it sidles over to the broken electronics left out on the side of the sewer. ZZZT!

A quick hit from the open 220 volt socket accretes the new mass to the old mass with the reassurance the new will speak to the old. And now it realizes it’s time to find other sources of nourishment gnashing teeth. It slowly sinks under the water trusting the current towards the sewage treatment plant will…

It is the Fatberg.

When I finally care enough about the narrative uses of the globs of congealed bacon grease, wipes and lumps of solid – “holy shit you flushed that instead of putting it in a landfill!” – to write an actual book, the prose will get better (editing). For now, it admirably sets up my posit of a fat and poo monster sure to add to the nightmare of our modern sewage systems, some over a century old.

Where did I get the idea? Pictures surfaced two years ago of a serious fatberg that clogged up an older section of the London sewers. Described as having the mass of at least ten tons (Tons with a T, Ducky), the lump got lodged. The guys in the hard hats said – “we think we can unclog this drain in…oh, say three weeks.”

I promptly forgot all about it until a couple weeks ago, when I needed to feed the beast that is this blog. Do a screenshot of the news photo of the London obstruction, sweeten it with zombie eyes and mouth…pretty much a picture in search of a monster. I apologize for it taking two years to put the Fatberg into our collective nightmare space. Writers are supposed to be a little more ruthless than that.

So how does a sewer problem become an actual monster? You might notice my capitalization of Fatberg to indicate the monster and the lowercase to indicate that the word fatberg is already in use to describe what is simply an annoyance of modern life? A fatberg just sits there and you call a plumber when the sewers back up. A combination of lye, bleach, physical means like a drill and maybe extreme measures like thermite and it’ll clear soon enough.

Crud-balls that just sit there until the plumber comes have got to be the very definition of boring. The fatberg isn’t sentient even at the basic level of needing to hunt more fat (people have enough of that). Nor does it steal from the advanced class syllabus, needing to get revenge on surface dwellers polluting its home.

How do you create enough thought for it to know I’m hungry? And this is where I bust out – “don’t reinvent the wheel” – that lands us back in Frankenstein-land with the old standard, electricity. You’ll notice in the sample text above the existence of old electronics and the open outlet I didn’t tell you about (I told you I rushed this prose in this post where it doesn’t matter), until I needed it. A current, that has universally stood in for almost all other processes associated with Life.

And it wasn’t just me with the failure of imagination to come up with another reason the Fatberg absorbs more mass to itself and then hunts outside of its comfort zone. I spoke with a bunch of my comic book peeps on this recently. None of them had any other ideas, one even reminded me to “it’s always going to be electricity.”

I did mention a book where the electronic trash in the Mississippi River accumulates enough circuits to reach what my fellow SF writers might call the Sentience Singularity. Put too much tech too close together an the theory says sentience becomes inevitable. Conveniently forgetting we already have lots of tech cheek by jowl all over the world, either this singularity level is higher than we can presently imagine or it too needs some extra cause…full circle back to – “shoot some lightning at your fat monster and go get lunch.”

Probably the Fatberg in the above text wouldn’t need to jolt itself on the open outlet every time it added fat and wipes. Unless each piece of monster is intended to be individually capable of breaking off from the whole to go mug those poor folks at the Antarctic research station (The Thing) while the main mass f**ks up New York, the extra mass doesn’t need shocking.

That would be like me doing weird mad scientist stuff to make sure the cheeseburger I had today is sentient before I ate it. I just need the protein and the pretense of a few vegetables, not a meal that potentially talks back. But, the example above is intended to be illustrative for you, Dear Reader, when you write you own books and RPG campaigns.

Now we move onto the advanced class of monster design. How does it move?

The obvious answer here is it lets the currents of the sewers do the motion. At least in low power mode when it might be hibernating a bit to save up energy for the big hit on Fleet Street. But, the best monsters combine the sense of a home range/milieu with the ability to leave the fens near Baskerville. That Swamp Thing draws power from his bog, but can also mug those dumbass picnickers less than a few minutes from the edge.

For water motion, we have the drift technique. We also have the possibility of complex structures forming that work like the water jets last seen on the Red October sub in Hunt for Red October. Say an interior chamber on the Fatberg that makes use of increasingly smaller diameters to force water through pushing the beast forward. Realistically, I likely still need some kind of pseudoscience replacement for the musculature found in most creatures. Some kind of structure similar to a tongue that forces water through.

Aha! I just explained why it hunts people. We are more than fat with proteins that make muscles. It eats people to make these complicated motions possible. Which also leads us to land motion.

If the always hungry Fatberg can make a flapping tongue-like structure to swim against the poo current, it can also make legs and arms with which to climb those slimy, rusted ladder steps up to the manhole cover. Land motion is almost a given simply to solve the problem of a monster too rooted in one place. People tell stories about the sewer monster and then don’t go in the local equivalent of the ocean where there might be sharks (Jaws). Eventually, it has to hunt until it finds resistance of another high order predator.

Now to go extra wild…air motion. Can Fatberg fly? This one will be up to the writer/DM depending on how much mescal they dropped into their beer. The pseudoscience here isn’t for the faint of heart…the sewer is also filled with poo.

So far, we’ve talked about fat, protein and the solid non-flushable wipes (baby wipes are honest on the box about non-flushable, other wipes aren’t). But, if we really need Fatberg to fly, we just imagine a burn chamber that collects poo and lets this rot down to methane. A spark from the many live electronics in this icky story and instant rocket. Also a third method for moving in water.

So here we are. A Fatberg sewer monster going the extra mile to ruin people’s days. A few thoughts how to explain the beast when pissed off readers send emails and players whine. But, monsters have weaknesses…

Pretty much a fat, wipe and poo monster isn’t really going to evolve too far past its origin. Lye breaks up the fat, so less call it +2 to all attacks when the players happen to have sodium hydroxide handy. Fires helps in some circumstances, but usually only when the beast is slightly dry. Throw a match and…FWOOSH! We hope. The DM gets to pick a number between -3 and +3 to fit the exact circumstances in his sewers.

Hit points. Pretty much a Fatberg will spike HUGE. A ten ton beast is what 300-500hp (more?)? This pretty much reflects size and that so far removal of the real fatbergs takes a lot of hard labor.

And here we are, highlighting the beginnings of what could be a great monster in the hands of the right writer or DM. Yes, I just grossed you out, the point of the post. And I do I actually have to bust out the obvious message of do better about what we flush?

I know give this beauty a flash-bang! Cooool! Heh-heh-heh!

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

A panther or other Big Cat upgunned with stun grenades? Yep, my mind at work. But, only if I grok enough fake biology to make it seem plausible. But, first a potentially typical encounter…

A particularly striking black cat lounges out on a slight rise nursing her four cubs watching for danger. The young squeal and mewl for their turn at the milk. The breeze shifts the direction of wave of the brownish knee-high grass. Her mate roams the edge of their territory; she smells him coming back.

With the shift in the wind comes a shift in the sounds carrying across the plains of this interface zone between savanna and the nearby forest. Ears twitch. Footsteps across the soft earth. And suddenly the taste of the milk changes. Cubs instinctively stop feeding allowing the mother to reach for them with her prehensile tail placing her bulk between her children and the majority of the hostile smells approaching from upwind.

The hunting party edges closer spears at the ready. Slowly spreading out on the crawl. They have a beautiful pelt for the wall just within grasp. The mother raises her tail straight up, a last warning. The hunters crawl closer. And then a hatch of flesh opens up on her flanks and…

…with a quick flick of her tail, she lobs an object much like an ostrich egg but perforated like a wiffleball into the largest concentration of hunters. KER-BANG! At least a million candles of white light join about 170 decibels of ear splitting painful noise. The hunters blink trying to clear vision and hold their ears uselessly against the raging tinnitus. Minutes later…

We will stop to acknowledge a natural pause point in the narrative where an appropriately aggressive novelist or DM has a decision to make. Does the stun-cat use the distraction described above to grab her babies for the ride on her back in order to skedaddle to an alternate lair? Or does she step down hill silently like the bobcat/panther/tiger she’s basically built like and start eating or slashing throats? I have an opinion discussed below, but once this post goes up stun-cat ceases to be purely my thing. Mayhem will vary.

Okay first, how did what looks like a majestic black pelted panther or like another locally appropriate Big Cat pretend-o evolve the extra firepower of a naturally occurring stun grenade aka flash-bang?

In the pen draft of this post, I envisioned a creature with a lifecycle almost as complicated as the Xenomorph from Alien, at least since giving the movies back to Riddley Scott. I will attempt to summarize.

The female stun-cat mates usually after a chase she initiates while describing the result as noisier than alleycats in a rumble. The fertilized embryo is moved not to the uterus but to one of twelve of her grenade pouches where the embryo forms the wiffle-egg structure with an inner layer of metallic magnesium and ammonium perchlorate. When threatened, instinct opens up the egg pouch with the thickest layer of flash-bang mix. The cat reaches in with her prehensile tail and makes the lob.

To basically anticipate the hecklement from the joker in the back (a kindred spirit most days), I made rules. Two-year gestation with four phases. The first three are egg phases that either last seven months or until the mother needs the egg to defend herself. For the last phase, the embryo is shunted back to the uterus for a standard live birth.

An egg that is detonated early is swallowed and held in the next stage longer until the next normal detonation time. Eggs must be blasted on or before the seven months are up. If an egg goes through all three bangs before the 21-month period is up, the mother’s body shunts the embryo to the uterus for a longer than normal regular pregnancy to the usual potentially slight detriment to Mama. Whenever an egg reverts back to being an embryo in utero, the female stun-cat ovulates the exact number of eggs to keep her grenade pouches filled. The Circle of Life.

Other than that I didn’t see the stun-cat as very much more ripped than whatever Big Cat they’re going as for Halloween. Enhanced smell. Excellent vision including low-light. A stalk and pounce predator. Craftiness to recognize when prey is trying to spot them. You’ve watched National Geographic, so have I.

It seems to me that the flash-bang should be enough mayhem for most DMs to nail players for reading ahead in The Monster Manual. Personally, my opinion on whether the stun-cat attacks or flees after lobbing her child is that in most cases she flees. Looking at the paragraphs above, the long gestation period and limit of twelve egg chambers pretty much creates a built-in ammo problem.

A stun-cat that attacks after throwing the first device might have to throw another grenade. And another. Monsters/creatures/hungry animals tend to evolve behavior that keeps them alive. Fleeing in this circumstance seems smarter. But, assume she’s hungry enough and who knows how Raw Dwarf on the Half-shell will taste? Mayhem will vary.

Other random thoughts about stun-cats.

What does the male do?

I assumed a fanatically bonded pairing. So I figured that if he senses the threat first, he growls a certain way, puts out a changed pheromone cocktail while stroking his mate’s back. She opens up a hatch and he makes the throw. Everything else proceeds normally. After that what does a male leopard do?

What do they look like?

Whatever Big Cat is most appropriate to the environment. If the similar terrain on Earth gives you tigers, stun-cat comes to the party in orange or white with stripes. Or spots. Or that shiny black pelt. And if her home planet is mostly pink? Meet the pink stun-cat.

I personally would add the caveat that the cheetah with the extra speed might be unbalancing for the purposes of a game. To have the stun grenade, the basic camouflage and hunting instincts of a Big Cat and cheetah speed might be too much in one beast. But, you know your players and readers best. Mayhem will vary.

Which leads to the last three questions.

How do you defeat them?

The same way you hunt lions: upwind, good cover and a trusty projectile. If you can see it in the tall grass you can shoot it with a trusty Winchester. Or you need lots of people wearing earplugs and welding goggles to get in close for the mass sword whack moment. In game terms, let’s call it between five and eight or so hit dice and natural armor of the pelt more or less like a suit of stiff leather.

Can I make them into people (player characters)?

Sure, why not? Just because I didn’t think that far ahead, doesn’t mean you can’t take the ball to advance my fumble. Certainly giving Larry Niven’s Kzinti the extra oomph of a long standing cultural-biological imperative for liberally tossing around flash-bangs…yeah I see those possibilities.

It’s just that the post for stun-cats as PCs and other characters seems likely to go three times as long describing an actual culture and the average individual’s relationship to that culture. I don’t have that kind of space on this blog.

You do realize this whole post is probably biologically impossible and that there are few cases where such a creature could eat the precursor chemicals to make the magnesium powder and ammonium perchlorate described in the egg’s reactive layering, right?

See what I mean by anticipating the heckle from that wonderful guy in the back of the room? The egg thing is pretty much what it has to be looking up STUN GRENADE on Wikipedia. As for how do you eat the right chemicals out of prey animals or the local carrots or something, I’m just goofing around with the basic premise of – “yeah, give a panther a flash-bang!” – all without sparking up a single fatty. Pretty much, I just played my hole card – “suspension of disbelief, Ducky!” – a good way to end any post.

60-Minute Man drawn by a friend…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

How do you begin your stories? You have several choices. An action open, a fistfight or something? A character open, your main character exists in a spaces both mental and physical that you describe? Setting, that orange you left out on the counter will rot as soon as next week?

Do you like Jane Austen going all witty about successful men going in search of a wife (a setting open disguised as a character open)? How about Melville having Ishmael wax blowhard about why he has to go whaling, but only on a Nantucket vessel taking a whole chapter (character)? Truthfully, I do variations and blends of all three and presumably you’ll learn to do the same. I have no preferences in my technique (or yours), just that it reads well.

A superhero overlooks Chicago from a height near to but not quite the formerly Sears Tower. He announces himself to the city in the tone of the more dramatically convenient of a stage whisper or Shakespeare soliloquy, just without the iambic pentameter. He throws himself over the rail looking for a fight.

Seems like this introduction is mostly a setting open. Towering concrete, rebar and glass at night as a battleground. Ooh! Of course, I robbed Batman and the union-mandated brooding over Gotham while standing between the gargoyles of Gotham Cathedral scene. I don’t reinvent wheels I don’t have to.

Possibly, the careful reader gets to chime in that 60-Minute Man’s introduction in his much delayed first appearance also has elements of the other two approaches? Certainly, I hinted at his character that whatever his flaws (a wandering eye for the ladies), he always moves forward. Additionally, I teased the fistfight to come having him leap over the railing.

What’s the why of a scene like this? Just because, mostly. And knowing I absolutely don’t want to go anywhere near the next scene in the story, the first of many moments in a law office discussing trademarks, sponsorships, reputation, public appearances, merchandising and a fierce game of paper football. An important scene that says what the story is about, but shit to open on. It’s not like we haven’t read Save the Cat and the harping on the Opening Image as one of the fifteen beats, right?

Things get even more interesting when you give me time due to the normal desire to get it perfect to experiment with the beginning (or ending). Or if, say, my ego tells me it’s time to come out of retirement as a screenwriter. I screw around with everything on the second go around all the time.

For my novel, Blood & Ink, I need to establish the heroine, Anna Victor. I put her in as valedictorian having to give that stupid speech. She drops her robe revealing pink man-catchers. Her mother promptly chews her out on the drive home to Los Angeles. A character open that reveals the chutzpah on this one and establishes the mother-daughter relationship. All of which is intercut with the vampire villain eating some other young lady that had no chance. I’m not stupid do action to establish villain and break up the main scene.

For the much delayed script, I did another variation of a character open. Fearing that I don’t have the kind of breathing room I want in a 120 page script, I’m just not going to waste time watching Anna’s pink skivvies (I’ll get caught looking, but not stupidly, Ducky). Good thing film has a cliché technique that prose doesn’t have: the tracking shot across the photographs on the character’s desk.

Dad and older brother are astronauts on a secret mission to Mars? A picture of both in their orange flight suits. Need to establish Anna’s ADHD? A picture of her taking neuro-feedback treatments with a lot of electrodes stuck to her head. For the mother-daughter relationship I did more than put a picture on the desk, Mom calls. Paging Mick Belker.

The rest of the scene where people actually talk is all about Bobby, the adorable little boy ghost that follows Anna home from the haunted house in Pacoima. In the book, Bobby follows the nice lady home. He serves as surrogate child, sidekick and unintentional plot obstruction resulting in Anna turning him over and shaking him from the ankles to see what drops out of his bottomless pockets. My script just has him being a little boy left to his own devices while the grown ups try to work; he thinks a friend with astronaut relatives is so cool and re-enacts the Apollo 11 landing at her desk with officially licensed toys that Anna didn’t provide.

So far I might’ve stiffed the action open. Got one, sort of. A rich heiress rides inside the body of a mysterious rookie firefighter trying to experience anything other than being an heiress for her book. All versions of this story: short story, incomplete script, incomplete graphic novel script, two different incomplete passes at a novel pretty much start with INT. BURNING HALLWAY. I mean the story’s about fire, right? And we can cite union bylaw here, right?

Yes and no. I actually start the story originally titled Ride Along (changed for obvious reasons) on the assembled Ladder Nine team tensed up in the stairwell ready to go through the door like paratroopers waiting for the green light. As much as I love big speeches before action scenes (Crispin’s Day, anyone?), I’m always going to poke fun. It also introduces the team while delaying the reveal of the mount program and then we do the big fire scene.

I’ve gone over the same 2,500-5,000 words and 6-12 panels again and again; nothing has changed in this open…ever. It’s as powerful as the come. Likely, it also beats the alternative…showing the main character getting into her infamous hair pulling, slapping and punching rumble with another heiress curiously much like Paris Hilton (does this count as a Save the Cat moment?). I’m not stupid, cut as soon as possible to the fire.

Some characters will, of course, scream out their opens. Batman broods atop Gotham Cathedral. A surgeon races time and blood loss to get the bullet lodged in the pound of flesh nearest thy heart. A sniper adjusts three mils right in the gentle Baghdad breeze going 800-meters minaret to minaret. Yes, I’ve written all these moments.

You’d think that having been there done that with all these opens in the past that I’d somehow have the next one locked in. You can stop laughing now. If you have all your writing decisions all sewn up like that, maybe you’re done as a writer. A fate worse than death.

Last example to prove my point. How do you present a young lady who is a witch serving as magic consultant to the LAPD, but who also couldn’t resist signing up for the police academy against her parents’ wishes? A crime scene (setting) to reveal the horrific aftermath of a magic fight? A cute father-daughter moment (character) where the father, a senior LAPD commanding officer, wants one last moment playing up the cadet and hazing thing, only to be deterred by his daughter’s special cat?

Or the current version set a few days earlier where the cadre run the cadets long enough to puke on the parade ground (character and setting) as a way of having the main character make friends with an important ally? Or how about skipping past all of this and just almost blow up the house (action) as part of a magic ritual?

Decisions, decisions. I’m still in that stage where Magic Scene Investigator can go any which way unfettered by the inevitable – “Make an end of it, Buonoratti!” – that must eventually balance against the exploratory fun of these projects. I’ll get back you when I know what’s what.

Clearly, I don’t have a preference nor end all be all answers on this or many other subjects. The point here was my confusion and that I can and should only just show you what your possibilities are. Then I should just set you loose with library card and Kindle account and get out of your way. The rest is up to you, as it should be…