Archive for December, 2020

The Point of Smoking Lizard

Posted: December 10, 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

Joe Michael Straczynski once commented on a DVD track for his highly influential show Babylon 5 – “I had two ideas for space station shows. One was all the wars and great alliances. The other was a smaller concept about how people might live on space stations. Both stalled until I realized they were both the same show.”

Writers, except when really angry or exceptionally lazy, get ideas all the time. No, I won’t show my appalling list jotted down as fragments on up to a couple sentences. Some are full ideas with plots and characters ready to jump. The rest are just pieces. I suspect my list evenly splits between the two. One of many reasons to keep the list in the first place is to make sure that we can cross-reference the new idea that seems so brilliant, except for that one part that…with all of our older ideas that might actually fix the missing piece.

As you might guess, I don’t put pen to paper without my own example to echo and enhance what Mr. Straczynski has to say about combining ideas. More on that later. Back to Babylon 5

The great alliances and wars part of the show involves a created community led by human military officers on a space station in neutral space who discover a great secret concerning some of the older spacefaring races that forces a titanic shift in the affairs of the galaxy. Over the course of millennia, two ancient races have locked into recurring cycles of a grand conflict that involve the newer races as allies choosing sides. And then the various allies discover the two sides have the same goal, assisting the newer peoples of the galaxy to advance, but have chosen two diametrically opposed methodologies. Order and Chaos.

The Vorlons do Order always asking – “who are you?” – and act like galactic Boy Scout Troop leaders organizing alliances, campouts and all kinds of opportunities to learn from teamwork. The Shadows do Chaos asking – “what do you want?” – and have made a career of encouraging the greedy and power hungry to piss off their neighbors and kick over anthills on the assumption the hive will be stronger when rebuilt. The rest of the galaxy eventually learns this and asks both to leave the galaxy. A nice five-year plot.

You’ll notice one glaring lack in the two preceding paragraphs…character. Oh, sure there are a couple great scenes to be had from this plot that can hint at certain characters like when the Shadows finally get to explain their side. Still kinda thin.

The second space station idea for Mr. Straczynski came loaded with character. It answered many questions about what these people do between their big moments. They wash socks as part of personal ritual. Or ask pointed questions like – “how far they go on the first date?” – trying to gauge a new species’ ability to fit in with the station community. And then they have to go to the doctor for advice about a “food plan.”

One character gets picked to be the union-mandated alcoholic and in some episodes has that used against him. People worry about getting fat. Or how they might bond over picking fights in the casino. They play pranks on each other just to see the target get angry.

This second space station idea came loaded with people that by themselves didn’t have anything important to do. Enter the first idea with wars, great alliances and many things for which we shake our hands and say – “ooooh!” Symbiosis in the best possible way, because – “Dumbass, they’re the same idea!”

And now, my similar epiphany that blends at least three separate brain farts maddeningly teased out of the ether in pieces and parts about like how fast food chains put together chicken nuggets…

Item One. In the vein of Dream Big and Steal from Literary Classics, we have how I typically interact with The 1,001 Nights, the four-volume unabridged translated by Burton version. Just because it’s a monster book about Scheherazade telling stories to avoid getting beheaded by her pissed off husband doesn’t mean I’m not going to steal the idea of a narrator with huge personal stakes telling and hearing stories. This is even with the fact that my edition has the well-known stories (Sinbad, Ali Baba and Aladdin) buried deeper in the text than I’ve gone.

What with the heavy reliance on Djinn, other supernatural creatures and even a couple appearances of Count Iblis (Lucifer) in the original text, there’s clearly no way my grand homage/emulation/naked rip off won’t have many supernatural characters. I do have to admit that I only got as far as angel in this part of the idea for my narrator.

Your presumed commentary at this point is sure to run to – “Okay, Mr. Jacobs, an angel is your narrator, but to which angel do you refer, they’re still characters…or should be.” And as you might guess, not having an answer is what left this idea on my list. Despite, the fact that we really only seem to have two, three if you count Jonathan Smith (Michael Landon) from Highway to Heaven, angel character archetypes from which to draw. 

Michael fights and kills things. Gabriel does the music and announcing. Mister Smith acts almost like Kwai Chang Caine going on permanent walkabout trying to help people. The rest are as anonymous to the story as FedEx drivers or perhaps the ninjas that dress like stagehands in Japanese theater and kill characters, but I digress. If your angel isn’t Mike or Gabe, you still have to invent a character. The lack thereof will stall any project.

I have one other thing to casually mention…the ambition. At this point in development, I know I’m circling closer to an angel filling in for Scheherazade. I don’t know which angel or why at this point. And like everybody with an early idea to copy the Classics, I’m just going to go bigger – “Yeah, Baby! The 2,001 Nights!” Like Spinal Tap, my amp “goes up to eleven!”

Item Two. One of my recent (less than a year) otherwise fruitless jags back into screenwriting landed me on – “I know, I’ll do Twilight Zone with a twist so I can have fun with some short but weird storytelling!” My twist ends up being the proposed title of the show, a creepy house in the mist overlooking a lonely road…House in the Mist. People who don’t know they need something roll up to stay for the night and…

Depending on the nature of the breakfast burritos I had the morning I sit down to write, the possible episodes can go anywhere. I haven’t been in very many grand old houses, but I’ve learned (metaphorically at least) to always check the closet. The real question is what’s on the other side. Edible and tasty burritos might lead to the wish fulfilment of, say, Fantasy Island. Crud probably gets us to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe probably without Lucy Pevensie having very much time for tea with Mr. Tumnus.

My thought process for the house part of this pastiche leads to no episodes, but a wraparound framing device for four. A little girl visiting the house with her parents gets up late at night searching for water. At the end of the hall, she sees a light on and enters to see four men sitting around having coffee talking about the doings of their clients. Men with recognizable names…

I’ll take a moment to make some linkages between Twilight Zone and The 1,001 Nights. How similar are the two properties? Anthology. Weird. Wonderous. And do we get to make a connection between Scheherazade and the version Rod Serling played of himself as the narrator? An essay for another day.

At this point, I still need a character with…motivation. Another way, I suppose to ask the nature of my main character/narrator. I know I’m going to feature an angel, likely due to one of my run-home-to-mama story tropes having to do with angels managing the hostile takeover and/or leveraged buyout of other pantheons. 

How did the angels give the Olympians the sumo shove when people stopped believing in them? Did they make accommodation for the deities they deemed not to bad? Offers of lateral job transitions to, say, Athena? Or kill them all? I do too many of these stories mixed in with all my other wonders. Leading to…

Item Three. My previous franchise character becomes successful enough to live in a big house with her husband and three daughters. Suddenly a fourth little girl, a foster daughter, just shows up one day and tries very hard to fit in, but she’s an outsider. With the tendencies highlighted in previous paragraphs of course this young lady is a Fallen Angel struggling to come home and performing penance as a human child.

And now I have a character. Someone really sorry for tempting humans and playing to our weaknesses and vanities who must listen to and tell the stories affected by her past actions. Three elements pulled from the ether over a period of upwards of six years. Keep all ideas and don’t be afraid of the fragements… 

Are you sure, Sir?

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

Elections, like this last one, aren’t good for me. In keeping with the official “I just help writers” non-political stance of this blog, I’ll leave it at they’re good excuses to freak out over things that haven’t happened, yet. Mostly, because of the need to lash out at the people who voted for the other guy. I promise to be less vague about who I thought the other guy was writing the dealer’s choice of autobiography, memoir or an angry letter to the New York Times.

I take walks late at night. Usually the walk is just about – “Ooh, a full moon, Blue Moon if you’re keeping score!” – or – “Cool! I can actually see Orion and Mars tonight!” – or even just listening to the crickets going nuts in the sagebrush in the city’s intentionally open spaces. However, the election intrudes and I sometimes start the walk raging at people who have otherwise done nothing wrong. I react to the logic of who they like and how these candidates speak about all of our abilities to write without getting leaned on by dipshits that just shouldn’t that much state power in the first place. 

I do have an opinion about which candidate scares me more based on who’s likely to get first at-bats in this area, but I do have to acknowledge my side also has these concerns waiting in the wings. I mention this to keep obfuscating my political opinion for the purposes of this blog that doesn’t get to be this political. All you need to know, my response to censorship of any kind – “Fuck you and the white horse you rode in on…Sir.” – will cause problems should either veil of douchebaggery fall.

Believing the other guy to be the one promoting the more immediate threat to me as a writer, I freak out at the start of the walk raging at family members and friends. If the worst happens, they will have supported the force that put me in jail or executed me. In some cases, I get pooh-poohed because the worst might not ever happen, but pooh-poohing is the single worst way to start talking these things out. 

This all builds into looking like a raging nutter off his meds (nighttime, no one sees) on the outbound leg. Walks by themselves are good for getting over this bullshit however temporarily. On the home leg, I remember that I still love these people and that you shouldn’t buy tomorrow’s problems a day early. 

However, going out angry usually means waking up the next morning sad and depressed. Stay in bed all day sad or consume too many donuts and chocolate-laced coffee sad…take your pick. Accepting few excuses about myself, I have shifted the too many donuts part of the story to eat cereal and try to do something about it in the day’s writing quota more days than I haven’t.

In an effort to chill out when not on these walks I’ve gone in for all kinds of distraction. Baseball (Padres showed up for a great season, yay!). Football (Hey, fellas, we don’t support the Chargers anymore, so maybe show us the East Coast game that turned out to go into overtime?). A few extra go arounds on most things Star Wars and/or whatever shiny object crosses my path on the presently open streaming service. And I also write. All worthy pursuits, until you realize that like most drugs, the good parts about Liquid Distraction are over too soon.

A couple days before the election, I wallowed in the sad at my computer. I decide to check in with a good friend’s blog having forgotten for a couple days. The premise of Tale of Adequacy, a pointy-eared Alien American schoolteacher and superheroine’s daily life acts as the web comic illustration for my friend needing to vent…including an incessant trashing of Aquaman’s total uselessness to the Justice League team. There are ponies (not terribly tolerant of My Little Pony outside the context of this blog) and all kinds of Magic the Gathering (so far, I’ve missed this gaming boat) references and team-ups…with Donut Man, most recently, but there are others.

As shown in the panel above, Cap leans against a roof parapet sharing coffee and donuts with Donut Man. Cap has “generic, Silver Age Alien American superpowers” is teamed with hero having “a complete dominion over coffee and donuts.” Donut Man semi-breaks the Fourth Wall to speak for my friend to let people in on the joke and act of mass distraction that teaming up with a pastry hero is. He says he’s only useful in certain pastry related situations.

And now because I’d spent too much of the preceding couple days sad and yelling at no one in the room and that I’m also occasionally just a contrarian crank, I’m now suddenly acting like Donut Man’s life coach. It is now a matter of honor that I playfully pop off about the possible uses for these super powers in a real spandex fight and I’m going to do it in the blog’s comment box and not texting him as I normally do. A nerd fight can also act as a writing challenge to keep the gears oiled.

I made four points.

One. If the comic book physicists and lawyers rule it so, Donut Man also has access to unlimited coffee. I’m instantly flashing to The Hunt for Red October and Captain Ramius (Sean Connery) smashing the political officer’s head on the table. Then to cover his tracks, he splashes tea everywhere and works up a good bit of shocked, shocked! Thus, coffee is a slip and fall substance.

Two. Complete dominion of all things pastry means being able to come up with donut dough. Screw the mix just right and the consistency can range from thick and sticky gumming up machinery and gluing people to the floor to watery and runny. Runny donut dough is also a slip and fall substance.

Three. This complete dominion also presupposes an unlimited supply of raw materials. My high school chemistry teacher demonstrated raw flour’s flammability throwing it in the air and setting the cloud alight with a match. BOOM! Burning villains’ eyebrows off or worse is nothing to sneeze at. Other ways to be useful might include having access to rum because some donuts use rum-soaked dough…150-proof rum? Or an unlimited store of cooking oil. Oh, right more ways to torch and deep fry bad guys, so pretty much the same category of spandex weapon. Moving on.

Four. The post is still about my friend throwing his own hard elbows entertaining himself in his own way, so I have to acknowledge his thinking with – “never underestimate his ability to give his enemies diabetes.”

Once I’d posted these four points, I suddenly had all kinds of better to my day. I started my walk that evening in a much better frame of mind. I didn’t worry about the upcoming election. And I was happier, all because as I walked, I silently gamed out all kinds of fights in which these superpowers could affect the outcome and save the day. I woke up better, too.

Okay, that basically covers my personal psychology at the moment. This is still a blog that tries to help you all get through your writing day. Can this kind of nerd fight help you? Probably, don’t know…not sure.

For those of you that still need to ask how it only took me a few minutes to bust out my four suggestions for how Donut Man actually helps in a real fight I can retort with…at this point I’m an underpaid professional at these kinds of things. Also Known As repetition, repetition, repetition and, you guessed it, repetition. Start slow and small and don’t pop any ligaments. 

Really though, I have to admit that I’d already created a similar character, Captain Cupcake. Due to an almost Bride of Frankenstein origin that doesn’t need further explaining here, she wakes up with the ability to extrude any chemical substance she can imagine married to a voluminous cybernetic database of applied chemistry solutions which can include cooking. So, I’d already gamed out this lady’s ability to lay olive oil or, worse, 10-W-40 motor oil on the steps as the hero team escapes the villain base amid the union-mandated explosions. As a matter of policy, admit when the wheel already exists.  

Not all nerd fights are created equal. The flavor referenced here is the fun kind where we roll up our sleeves and discuss things like how Superhero X teams up with Superheroine Y. Or discuss what the logical consequences of Spandex Story Element A that might’ve been overlooked by the original creators. Or, even to discuss how tired we might be of certain interpretations of certain 80-year-old characters where their core wound/inciting incident gets referenced at every turn when that origin is all over Wikipedia.

You’ll notice the word discuss highlighted three times in the previous paragraph? Talk it out, don’t yell it out. Otherwise, prepare to get kicked out of the store as the friend referenced and promoted in this post has done many times – “you have no idea how many times I’ve actually had to break up real life versions of The Silver Surfer Kirby v. Moebius fight from Crimson Tide.

Above all, I see this kind of nerd fight as a problem-solving exercise that can help with more than the chess game of how powers work. Could someone writing a nut busting family squabble benefit from gaming out that fight and the subsequent make up (or bellyflop from the Ten Meter Platform, if the story is a tragedy)? Maybe. Maybe not…don’t let me tell you your writing process. 

The game out session/nerd fight that we do when we’re alone is visually indistinguishable from going completely insane. But then again, everyone with a cell phone who uses Bluetooth earbuds looks insane until you get close enough to see the technology in their ears. Semi-facetiously, I suggest that either the writer understands about not getting caught and/or this bit of wisdom from The Madness of King George – “I have recovered my ability to seem.” – or they have the discussion with somebody real in the room.I thank my friend for teeing up a playful snark fest where I get to pop off about a character he created and didn’t think was anything more than a one-note joke. Which then allows me to distract myself from my lingering sadness at a story for which my meager attempts to change had already been recorded…and reveal a tiny bit of my writing process.

Anyway, reciprocity requires dropping in the link at least twice so that you may enjoy for yourselves. Remember, steal your fun and writing techniques (to the extent they aren’t direct synonyms) wherever you may…