Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Advertisements

By G.N. Jacobs

Bruce Wayne read all the right papers with both feet up on the recliner feature of the wheelchair. Selina found an unusual for her stillness on the other side of the room stylishly laid out on a sofa with shoes off tearing up the latest romance novel. Somehow she’d become a character from Downton Abbey fully dressed in red to read silently with her husband and she hadn’t scratched anyone’s eyes out.

For his part, Bruce practiced the parts of his life that could happen tied to a chair like sniffing the air to guess her fragrance and the more important emotional undercurrents underneath. Boy, is she pissed about the silence, he thought enjoying a quick imagine of her in her work outfit suddenly ripped apart to reveal even more skin. He pushed the reports aside and help up his hand.

“Toss Episode One here, Selina,” Bruce said.

“Huh, Darling?” Selina asked innocently. “You want to read…”

“Yes, you hot sexy lit minx, I want to read your total crap but page turner bodice ripper,” Bruce said with his warmest smile.

“I’m not done, Bruce.”

“You’re on Episode Two of a series, Lina,” Bruce observed. “You can toss over the first one and quiz me at dinner.”

Selina held up the indicated volume giving it a teasing waggle. “Quiz me? About this book?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? It’s written a little complicated.”

“Darling Wife, it’s a romance novel written about to how an eighth grader likes her words with all the big nasty sex words added to keep away the YA crowd,” Bruce said showing much teeth to his smile. “Now if I can’t follow along then it’s pretty clear all the money put into the Wayne Foundation meant to get me through school was wasted.”

“True. You’re a smarty pants.”

“We agree on that at least,” Bruce said. “How about this, if I can’t manage and my lips move while I read you get to come over and read it to me. Tutoring for the quiz.”

Selina flushed almost as red as her dress finally allowing the full meaning of quiz to catch up to her. She lobbed over the book into his hands for a soft basket catch.

“Bruce, is my husband supposed to proposition me like this?”

“When he wants to reassure the wife that there aren’t any younger Russian tomatoes named Natasha, abso-frakking-lutely.”

“Are you sure, Dear?” Selina asked sweetly. “This book…”

Bruce held up the book to show off the cover of the woman in a cocktail dress approaching the man in the story with a rope tied in a bondage knot held behind her leg. A finger pointed out the detail.

“Selina, the cover gives it away as discreetly as a publisher might allow,” Bruce said enjoying the repartee too much. “If the acts implied by this cover don’t happen by Page 50, no let’s be generous, Page 70, I’m going to make you send the whole series back to Amazon. And trash these people on Goodreads. False advertising.”

“Okay, Love, more seriously you’ve never indicated…”

“That when the love of my life is on the board my squeamishness about this sort of thing goes straight into the toilet,” Bruce answered.

“Squeamish?” Selina probed. “I meant to ask about that.”

“They sometimes call him, The World’s Greatest Detective,” Bruce said. “It means to play him on TV, I had to read at least one boring ass scholarly book on the subject. Teaches the knots and safe words, but doesn’t make it seem fun. You do that.”

Selina flushed redder and blew a kiss. “You buried the lead. I love you works equally well for what you want.”

“Maybe, but I love you also works to thank you afterwards,” Bruce observed. “And I do.”

“What?”

“Love you.”

“I know.”

And so they read their respective books eyes bugging out with each salacious passage. Curiosity finally killed off the cat. She closed her book after moving the paper clip pressed into service as bookmark.

“This is too good,” Selina said. “Where is this boring scholarly work?”

“Behind you, third shelf from the floor, six from the left,” Bruce said. “Of the many thousands of books from all eras in the house, I keep the ones I’ve read and don’t really like in this room.”

“Now, you’ve really buried the lead.”

“Maybe.”

“You were bored and too lazy to ask Alfred for a book from another room.”

“Yes, Dear.”

“And burying the lead going the long way around ends with…”

“You…well, promising a compromising position. Instead of silently reading together like characters from a BBC show. A good day’s work don’t you think?”

By G.N. Jacobs

The bloke with green hair lay back in his cot hands behind his head. Bloke, he thought to himself mentally regaining his true American accent. Maybe I shouldn’t sign up for the play about the Cray Twins. Thoughts that promptly brought about the man’s trademark giggle fits that had scared more than a few politicians and small children, to the extent the two were separate concepts.

The guard in the gloomy grey hallway always made a check the minute the murder clown called Joker started laughing. The man had mentioned an older brother Joker had completely forgotten about as one of the inconsequential Little People. Well, one day they’ll let him try to kill me.

“Joker? Is your joke actually funny?” Guard Melton asked with the trepidation of a man convinced the next shoe would drop on his shift.

“No,” Joker said with his usual uncontrollable hisses and giggles that echoed shrilly off the walls. “Go back to beating that poor fellow three cells down. I miss his screams.”

The guard shook his head through the slot and bulletproof window fighting his anger over the aspersions to his character. Still, someone seemed to turn the screws on that other guy…

“Whatevs.”

“Oh, see about marching Harley in here for a conjugal,” Joker insisted. “I’m due.”

The guard walked away from the cell in exactly the opposite direction from the screamer’s cell. Joker smiled learning something new. It wasn’t Melton making the man scream; Joker needed a new plaything.

Joker used his memory and imagination to see the scene outside his window watching the shadows play out on his dreary cinderblock wall. One day he would have to check to see if the boat horn he heard far off over the hum of Gotham was really a yacht filled with coeds wrapped up against the icy sea breeze in clingy but still warm dresses. They couldn’t all be negligently holding cosmos, stingers and apple-tinis.

He also listened to the rhythm of the block. Melton joined another guard on the gun tier. Joker sat up in the dim light from the harbor and Gotham Narrows in the window. He had a problem to work out on the wall in UV ink.

The black light carefully hidden next to the pen in the Bible he no longer needed to read revealed a search. He asked written questions hoping to find answers.

WHO IS BATSIE? PROFILE – A: GOTHAM RESIDENT. DUH? OF COURSE, MOST SIGHTINGS IN GOTHAM. GEOGRAPHICAL ANALYSIS. B: A TRUE BELIEVER IN THE WAY GOTHAM USED TO BE, BUT PERHAPS NEVER WAS. C: EITHER RICH AS HELL OR FUNDED BY SERIOUSLY WELL FUNDED HIDDEN DO GOODERS. ALSO OBVIOUS, THE CAR, THE SUIT, THE BAT-BRANDED SHARP STABBY THINGS.

Joker stopped writing a moment to flex his fingers. The UV ink pen had a small barrel that didn’t allow for a comfortable grip. His elbow and fingers screamed bloody hell at the slight but persistent affront to his tendons. The stores at Arkham Asylum were so tightly controlled that asking for rubber pencil grips that any fourth grader had for standardized tests would spark a search.

DRESSING UP IN VAMPIRE FETISH GEAR IN ORDER TO BREAK BAD GUYS’ ARMS WITH IMPUNITY AS A LAST GASP OF ORDER IS NOT A NATURAL ACT. LEADING TO…D: BATSIE IS HIGHLY LIKELY TO BE SOMEONE THAT GOT BEAT UP OR SOMETHING AS A YOUTH. CROSS-REFERENCING POSSIBLY FILTHY RICH WITH VIOLENT TRAUMA IN YOUTH KEEPS CIRCLING BACK TO BRUCE WAYNE.

Joker blew on the ink attempting to dry the neatly printed letters that somehow managed to remain straight and level across the wall despite the absence of the guidelines available in most notebooks. He smiled running a finger over the already dry musings of a determined man. The pen flicked in his hand to drive more ink from the back of the reservoir to the felt tip.

PROBLEMS WITH BRUCE WAYNE THEORY. SEEN ON THREE OCCASIONS WITH BATSIE TOGETHER IN THE ROOM. RESEARCH INTO HIS FRIENDS SAYS HE COULD ASK OTHER DO GOODERS WHO CAN MIMIC OTHER PEOPLE. SUSPECT ASKING MARTIAN MANHUNTER AS MOST LIKELY. IF BRUCE WAYNE IS BATSIE, ALSO CAN’T DISCOUNT SHADOWY SELF-EFFACING BUTLER, ALFRED. BRITISH MILITARY RECORD SHROUDED WITH SO FAR UNBEATABLE DISCRETION.

RECENT PROBLEM, BRUCE WAYNE REPORTED AS LAID UP WITH BROKEN LEG FROM RECENT SKI ACCIDENT. BUT, BATSIE ALSO REPORTED BY SEVERAL SCAREDY CATS ON THE STREET. REPORTS ARE CONFUSED POSSIBLY BLÜDHAVEN DO-GOODER NIGHTWING TAKING SLACK. MORE LATER.

With that Joker put the pen and black light in their hiding place and set about imagining the next conjugal visit with his lady fair. Right about at the part where the MPAA would get frisky with the NC-17 rating on this particular fantasy, the murder clown felt a moment of ask and she’ll appear.

“Mr. J,” Harley Quinn said in a disembodied whisper that still let her high-pitched voice that reminded of a famous sitcom matriarch come through. “Is it safe?”

Joker held his hand to his heart letting his ruby red smile extend ear to ear indicating actual joy.

“Harley, sure, I’m not a dentist,” Joker said with surprising warmth mixed with the menace.

Harley resolved through the exterior wall underneath the high window. She wore the short skirt and fishnets version of her many red, white and black outfits derived from the character archetype from Italian comedia d’arte. She had needs the short skirt signaled but her face registered non-comprehension of his oblique joke.

“Dentist, Mr. J?” Harley asked. “I don’t like that game.”

“Never mind, an old movie, My Love,” Joker said softly anxious to get his hands on her bare shoulders. “I was expecting you in a few days wearing the red wig or something.”

Harley held up a platinum and titanium bracelet waggling her wrist. “A new toy, Mr. J.”

“Do I have to worry about how you convinced your new friend to give you this gadget?”

“Ask me no questions, I tell you no lies, Mr. J,” Harley said hoping to never answer the question. “It’s a game changer, Mr. J. Break out?”

Joker had long since given up counting the times he’d simply let the love of his warped life have her moments covered either by prison exception or a more blanket ask me no questions, I tell you no lies. The blonde cutie with the face made more so pushing her into a vat of green toxic goo always came back, rarely used her refrains concerning other men and sometimes whispered about the women as foreplay. A good arrangement.

Harley made use of the silence to step into his personal space brushing his nose with her lips. They sat together on the cot. She pointed at her neck and Joker nibbled the spot enjoying the homemade hypo-allergenic version of Rivera #4, the most ubiquitous female fragrance in the world. She moaned until…

“Mr. J, I can walk through walls now, do you want to break out or not?” Harley asked with rising impatience.

“No, My Love,” Joker said at last. “I don’t have a plan and this cot on the public dime is almost as good as any on the outside.”

Harley dropped a dress strap and bounced on the bed. Her ruby lips showed the screwed up green vegetable face of a woman that thinks her man is nuts. But, getting laid under the noses of the bulls also had its advantages. She took his face in his hands and kissed that red scar-smile dead center.

An hour later, the return of Guard Melton on his scheduled and appointed rounds caused Harley to roll under the cot where the blanket hanging down could hide her. Joker pretended to roll over the other way stealing the sleep that reassured the guards. She came up for air when she heard the heavy boots striding down the concrete floor.

Back in his arms, she kissed as a way to make forward progress dressing against his hands that wanted more. When he let her get dressed except for the last strap still akimbo, she descended into his hug listening to his heart.

“There is someone new in Gotham,” Harley reported in her softest whisper yet. “I’m hearing about black market unregistered drones changing hands. A friend across the river in Blüdhaven said she thought that Nightwing punk came over for the night a few days ago. And I’m hearing that some stickup boys got shanked by someone with a sword. And then the Bat showed up.”

“I know, Harley,” Joker said. “I haven’t decided yet, if I’m staying here for now because it’s more fun with you inside or if it’s too crowded out there.”

“Mr. J,” Harley said adding a little bit more whine. “I do what you ask, but I don’t like this sneak into the can game anymore than your stupid dentist game.”

“Soon, Harley, soon,” Joker said. “Do you really have to leave?”

Harley took a long moment and dropped the other dress strap.

By G.N. Jacobs

Bruce had waited out Selina’s absence for the long planned rubber chicken event with a listlessness that not even the empty flashy promises of the latest gaming console could alleviate. The game he wanted to play he promised not to crack the shrink wrap until she came home. The similar game probably built on the same engine seemed like more of a training tool and too much like his life, three short days ago. Zombies make so much better, Bruce thought just before reaching for the leg scratchy thing to get under the plaster.

Selina blew into the house with quite a bit of noise raising her voice to, “Honey, I’m home!” Bruce put down the controller pausing the game he really didn’t want to play and listened to the sounds emanating from her entrance with Alfred at her heels. She made way too much volume for regular people that typically only lived in 1,200 square feet on the fourth floor, but perhaps just enough to carry from the south entrance through the main kitchen all the way up to this comfortable room with a huge TV.

He listened to his wife narrate the entrance with the many rooms in between. The words were more prosaic than her usual foreplay but they did the job considering that her mission was to make sure she took off her evening gown and makeup in favor of her game play uniform: jogging shorts and belly baring T-shirt. Her words induced shivers.

She found her way to the night’s designated game room having thrown a robe over the promised ensemble, her one concession to the winter cold. The mister spun his chair around appreciating even the robe. And that she’d forgotten to mention the blanket large enough for two on the couch.

“Good, you saved it for us,” Selina said cooing the minute she moved close enough to hear his heartbeat.

They played for perhaps two hours straight saving a fictional city from the undead. For some reason they fell into characters reminiscent of the British Avengers, John Steed and Emma Peel, as they shot nearly every frakking walker that could be found in the head. Bruce spoke in Received Pronunciation as if he’d actually gone to Oxford. Selina mugged her way through Ms. Peel’s barely restrained goddess sex bomb dialogue. Whatever, the zombies died in droves…

At the two hour mark the game changed, the way some games of poker change with mixed company and lots of alcohol or weed put in play. Selina dared Bruce to accomplish ever more impossible feats according to the many fans of the game with either a piece of clothing or act of affection on the table. And then she lost on purpose, an act of mock submission.

Alfred modestly regretted what happened next wheeling a cart with coffee and cookies into the room. The writhing blanket on the couch proved all he needed to see. He silently covered his mouth leaving the cart by the door. He thoughtfully flipped the switch on the coffee urn that would keep the fluid warm for hours. And he backed out of the room using more stealth than he’d ever done in his classified youth. Once out of the room, he did ask himself the inevitable how do they do that with the cast question.

Still later with the southwest view into the mostly unspoiled forests and other foliage west of Gotham proper framed by stars that Van Gogh just barely rejected for Starry Night framed in the window, Selina fell into Bruce’s arms under the blanket. He winced feeling just a little bit of…

“Oh, sorry, did that hurt?”

“No, Lina, I’m fine.”

“No you’re not,” Selina said. “You look like Alfred tried to feed you Brussels sprouts. I’ll move. There.”

“Thank you, Lina.”

“I rest my case, Bruce.”

“I love you, Selina.”

“I love you, Bruce.”

“Now what, Lina?”

Selina shrugged. “I don’t know. We agreed to stop to leave the next few boss levels for another night. We’ve also used up us for the night. Maybe discuss if Lina is really the pet name you want for me?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

Selina cocked her head thinking about it. “Nothing. But, I still don’t have one for you. Not one that doesn’t involve him, at least.”

“I am him.”

“Only in the sense of it gives you a lot of…”

Selina closed her mouth and said nothing further as she lay her ear on his heart. She put her arms around her husband.

“You’re my wife, you should be able to say everything you need to,” Bruce said.

“Not this, Bruce,” Selina said in the soft voice of a little girl wishing to take back unfortunate words. “It would only come out mean, judgy and psycho-babblely when you could say the same things about how I interact with her.”

“You are her.”

“God, you’re so wonderfully obtuse in all the right ways,” Selina said.

“Thank you,” Bruce said kissing her nose. “Though here we are safely ensconced in the one structure on the planet where we should feel safe and we’re still speaking around the subject: him and her.”

“I only trust the…basement for that kind of honesty,” Selina said.

“Some days, so do I,” Bruce said finding the button that…

“You called, Sir?” Alfred asked pretending not to see his employers acting like the viewer’s choice of teenagers or newlyweds.

“Have you run a bug sweep or cleared the Manor airspace of drones?” Bruce asked.

Alfred pointed out the leaded window with a view of the grounds leading out over to a panorama that included the city and the ocean beyond. More importantly, Selina’s perfect eyes compensated for the dim lighting in the room and the darkness outside to reveal the hovering four-rotor drone just outside. Three other drones silently edged up to the intruder.

“I suppose the next bit I should ask how prudish does Madame feel about her relations with her husband?” Alfred asked with an absolute British deadpan that not even Monty Python could match. “I will proceed accordingly.”

Selina put a finger to her ruby lips clearly weighing the options. Bruce couldn’t help his laughter and lust at seeing her wicked cuteness. He put a hand on her hip feeling her soft skin.

“Will your countermeasures erase the recording held on the remote drive?” Selina asked.

“No guarantees, Ma’am,” Alfred said. “But, I do have a frequency trace and Lucius Fox’s latest nasty blighter malware will handle the request in most circumstances and, at least, prove inconvenient to the opposition in the rest.”

“Do it, Alfred!” Selina hissed.

“I see, Madame,” Alfred agreed. “Manor, harden all Internet access points and execute EMP protocol!”

With that the three drones surrounding the intruder machine glowed blue at the nose like power plants about to detonate transformers. The lights flickered. The TV shifted from the HDMI port to the composite port where the old-timey stereo was hooked up. Music blared for a second, The 1812 Overture, a version with real cannons, and then faded. The drone fell to the grass outside in a smoking heap.

“Hey, I wondered where I left that CD!” Bruce said surprised.

Alfred looked out the window with a self-satisfied smirk. On the way back out the room, he stopped to kiss Selina’s forehead.

“We’ll see if that helped,” Alfred said. “As for bugs, Sir, Madame, the last sweep of this wing completed yesterday. Will there be anything else?”

Bruce shook his head. Selina tossed off a cute snort. Alfred backed out of the room pausing near the untouched cookie and coffee cart.

“And there have been cookies and coffee waiting for you,” Alfred said.

With that he left the room. Bruce and Selina broke out laughing having been caught by the house mother.

Burt West pounded his fists on the console as it flickered three times. The screen then flashed STORAGE MEDIA COMPROMISED. Not even yanking out the cables could stop the cascade failure across his drone system and computer. And then the sparks flew catching onto the cheap linen drapes.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Depending on where I last left things, I love the in-between on many projects. The perpetual toe dance between getting forty new ideas a year onto to my list for later thought, writing/typing preliminary chapters to make sure I actually understand my idea and work intended to just “flop the fish on the deck, or go home” is just Tuesday for me. I must love it a little, I do this so often.

When I get an idea, I mull it over in my head for hours. Sometimes I land on a title, but usually I’m thinking about the characters, setting and maybe the antagonist. Sometimes I have a title and somehow have to live up the promise of the title…truth in advertising. And don’t get me started on a certain movie title that over sold what was on screen, but I digress…

One example of having what should be enough to create a draft in three or four months, but for all the other puppies clawing and whining for attention somewhere in my dinosaur pea brain…The Gunfighter Oratorio. A simple thought process really…at some point you’re just going to have to write a rip-off/homage to the Hobbit and call it a day. Specifically, start with a party and all these focaccia dwarves just invited themselves to the shindig leading to a quest to rid the world of dangerous tools.

As of this moment, I’ve already thought up the character and where he lives. And I’ve also thought up the “things I do differently,” a.k.a. The Six Points of Dissimilarity (a legal standard that means the difference between sued and – “HA-HA, MF! SUCK IT HARD!”). Fairly early in the process, I’m thinking: Thorin is a woman, no hobbits nor dwarves, the band of fourteen is, in strict point of fact, a band bringing along their instruments, the quest McGuffin is related to music (stole it from a horror novel idea, no reason it can’t appear in both) and the minute I decided upon a fantasy world with six shooters, the piece was always going to have its title.

I’ve done a couple test chapters establishing a comfortable house in the wellbit land of Haven (people don’t usually reinvent the wheel when they name things). The landed gentry-man splitting the difference between Bilbo and Frodo lives in this house playing his viola contemplating that his impending run for Mayor may require an adventure.

His guests arrive in ones and twos creating a party where there had been none; finally, the object of the party shows up last, their sister and cousin escorted to meet her betrothed in a faraway land. Sparks fly and when the guests mention that they need both a viola and a fourteenth for the journey, the host leaves home.

And that’s about as far as I’ve gotten. Other stories, maintaining this blog, doing a few more pages of my great comic book and the occasional side trip into TV Land all mean I have to pick a small number of these ideas just to scratch something off the list. My uncle once said, “I’m continuously impressed how you keep working and eventually publish things.”

Currently, the in-betweens that really matter involved an repurposed assassin clone falling in love with a widower as they delve into the secrets of her existence and save the world from hidden enemies. Or there’s been a decent amount of work recently on the two sisters from Trademark Safe Tatooine who band together despite loving the same man to save their planet from excessively greedy and destructive commercial exploitation. Until the next idea makes another left turn…

And there is still another book, a complete rewrite of my (hopefully only) tragically destroyed Crimes Against Elves. Five years grieving for the old version despite pretending it didn’t matter is enough. People asked “can’t you just take the parts that offended her out?” No, I either rewrite the whole thing from jump so that what needs to change doesn’t stick out where everyone sees it and gives me shit for leaving such glaring plot holes. A process that takes five years.

Nothing about how I handle my many in-betweens necessarily should inform how you handle your in-betweens. Yes, I try to keep my distraction to just a few projects keeping them hot and doing my words on a daily basis; that’s as much writing tip as I know how to give in this case. Fight to keep your gnat attention span focused on just a couple things; the other gadflies will still be there.

In addition to the simple incapability to maintain linear thought on just one project for more than six weeks, here’s what I’m thinking is also going on. The places I go when I write are just too damned entertaining in the sense of both places and the people living there that the imagining is sometimes enough to keep me entertained. Screw the words!

Of course, I can’t screw the words forever. The writing does two things. Help me understand what the purely visual part of the imagination didn’t actually tell me about, say, the Obsidian City. And I have to write it if I’m going to share the adventure. So here we are stuck in many in-betweens where I’m having all the fun (sorry), but I do write at least four times a week. I’ll get there…eventually.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

I have a complicated relationship with any sort of writing manual, but most especially the ones meant for screenwriters. You’ll hear me decry the cookie cutter feel of newer or lazy writers that use these books to the exclusion of all other considerations. Then I’ll launch into a discussion about a plot using the lingo – “In Star Wars what is the All is Lost Moment?” – “Obi-Wan raising his saber to give the others time to get away with the Death Star plans.” I don’t hate them completely, just misuse thereof.

So new rule: read all writing manuals, especially the ones primarily dealing with classic structure, after writing the first draft of your first work.

Now for the why. These books all harken back to the works of Joseph Campbell who in turn drew on Carl Jung, the pioneer psychoanalyst that taught us about narrative archetypes as a way to understand why we do things. Jung’s presumed thinking: people go crazy in ways that become eminently predictable once they start telling their stories that reveal personal needs.

Thus, when the doctor repeatedly hears the same general stories, humanity has a universality that shows up in our narrative. Identify the needs in the story, cure the patient. And the theory says that while the physical cause of being Napoleon versus the guy in the next bed being Alexander is the same, the reason for the divergent delusions will show up in the narrative heard in therapy concurrently with administering the drugs. At least, Jung moved the field past the nonstop sexual dysfunction of Freud, but I digress.

Joseph Campbell attacked the problem from the other end as a folklorist. He went out and tried to gather stories from as many sources as possible. Apparently, across many cultures he found a commonality of that leads to many of the aphorisms that still guides writers – “Two basic stories, a prince/outcast/farm boy leaves town or the stranger comes to town” – “Stories involve the metaphor of the dangerous quest creating the circumstances for the protagonist to grow into his true self” – “Characters fall into highly recognizable categories: farm boy, princess, orphan, rogue, absent father, monarch etc. etc., that Jung would call archetypes” – “We tell the same seven (fifty?) stories” – “You have zero conflict to drive your story.”

There are modern folklorists trying to shoot bullets at Campbell’s work. Because I’m just the guy writing the stories and not a professional folklorist, I have zero tools at the moment to decide whether it’s just popular to shoot bullets at work that might be too connected to the bad old ways. Or if Campbell missed key examples of stories that were dramatic, but didn’t follow the exact pattern of the Hero’s Journey identified in his work. Much actual scholarship to follow.

What I do know is this, I wrote a book with a vampire sitting pretty in a metaphorical castle trying to exert his will upon a young lady forced to make a choice between the un-life offered by the vampire and a full life in our world with lovers, husbands, jobs and the next adventure. As Mina Harker nearly cracks, but comes roaring back to stick Vlad between the ribs, so to did Anna Victor trick her vampire lover into a tandem embrace only to fuck his ass up with a Dixon-Ticonderoga Number Two pencil. It was only, like, three weeks ago that I even admitted – “Oh, wow! I just rewrote Dracula only changing little things like the journalism setting and made Anna the woman that drives like she should go pro! My bad!”

We really do tell the same stories over and over.

The best explanation for this presumed universality is this. People once shared the same campfires telling the same stories. When the truthful story about Hork and his rumble with a lion gets boring with repetition, then guided by the joker heckling the story from the far wall, the story evolves to take on the characteristics of Herakles killing the Nemean Lion, a true monster.

It is possible that the exact structure outlined in the books that I deride as Do X on Page Five, is even more completely ingrained than I want to admit. The good parts of the story which the bastardized theory says creates a biochemical response in the form of epinephrine, endorphins and other psychoactive hormones that are basically addictive. And because we all once shared the same caves, really good stories play well across the whole world because of the ancient memories of jonesing for the same stories.

Back to my suggestion for a new writer to read these books after completing the first draft of their first work. If it holds up that structure is an ancient species memory encoded in our genes by these chemicals, then the writer wouldn’t need the book to tell them Do X on Page Five. They will get there themselves simply by writing the words allowing the apparent semi-conscious thought process do the work for them.

If you add in that I wrote a book where it has taken me eleven years to admit that I mugged Bram Stoker for his literary lunch money, we can assume that the books you read up to the point you start writing will influence your work guiding your structure. Let your subconscious mind that includes your memory of the books you like do the work for you.

Part of my love-hate with writing manuals of this kind is that I’ve come to believe that it’s a cart-horse problem. Do things in the best order for you watch your story soar. Front load your story with worry about the book telling you to Do X on Page Five watch your misery sometimes block you from writing anything at all. For me it comes down to write the stupid book now and worry about the according to Hoyle structure later.

I’m not saying you should never read these books. We all live in the common narrative with access to the same tools and it helps to understand them. I believe our subconscious minds will get us close on the first draft, but we still need help when moving to the second draft. Read the books you think you need to when it’s time to edit your work into all subsequent drafts. This is similar to the practice among screenwriters of placing their scenes on cards and playing with the order to see what really works.

Of course, none of what I suggest applies to someone on their second project. Once you’ve read these books, they can’t be unread and to one degree or another they’ll guide your subconscious, semi-conscious and conscious thinking in the future. This is a good thing when you have experience to deal with different stories, but first time out it sucks to have to listen to you worry about silly things when I just want to tell you – “You used to be five and you made up shit goofing around with your friends and it was probably brilliant!”

Anyway, this is a suggestion like many others. At least someone will pipe up – “I beg to differ, they need to deal with these concepts upfront.” And if reading the manuals first helps and you don’t freak out about the punctilio of Do X on Page Five, then do it your way. Just write the book and enjoy the process.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Assuming you care for the why of the silence about the superhero opera bloviated about some months back; I don’t have anything remotely like a libretto. At the moment, it’s a character problem and so Scribbler’s Saga. I have too many heroes…

My characters now collectively referred to as The Angel Association have mentally evolved over the years. Starting out as adjuncts of a SF/Horror franchise where the main characters of the two primary series of interrelated books interacted with the supers, changes became necessary. The stories largely remain.

Mostly twenty-somethings in perpetual search of the good job, promotion at the job they already have, the next musician to sign and a worthy partner, the association stands ready to protect Los Angeles against all comers. All of that survived largely intact. But, for most of the time thinking about it, there were only two villains…for a hero association now expanded to well over fourteen heroes. If there are only two villains, they’d pretty much have to be Galactus and Thanos at the three falls tag team match.

My best villainy so far: a trademark safe Joker and an ill-defined dude in Roman armor (must’ve been watching Looney Toons that week). Suddenly, I’m sitting on two psychos turning Los Angeles into Gotham West without anyone making for a challenge, even at the level of Brainiac or Sinestro. And there aren’t any Galactuses, Thanoses or Darkseids (the advanced class ready for the third opera) yet to appear in this story. I need more and better variety.

I may have had an easier time making heroes, but in a way what happened here is what happened with with the villains only sooner. Which leads us to the several related meanings of team building.

In the first sense, team building is all about putting the team together. Nick Fury just shows up in your house, helps himself to your coffee and leans on you hard about joining the Avengers Initiative. He has your file being the dumbass that admitted – “yeah, I’m Iron Man” – on TV. He has Captain America’s file. Hulk’s file. Thor’s file. You get the progression.

Pretty much S.H.I.E.L.D. has set loose strategists, chess players, comic book fans and a snotty AI to achieve what real world comic book fans yell about every Wednesday, who wins the fight and why? That when upscaled to the marquee team mimics my current problem…do these characters belong in the same fight, let alone the same spandex clubhouse/lair?

I probably need to read more about how Stan Lee devised his characters with the art staff, including but not limited to Jack Kirby. Did they sit around goofing on concepts for characters completely at the expense of how they would be used? Or once they had the team did they start playing games like “we’re doing a volcano villain do you think we should borrow Ice Man from the X-Men?” Judging from the comics, either they did that intentionally from the start of each book or they naturally got to the same place afterward taking the temperature of the readership likely to send in letters to Stan’s column. Go left, go right, the road is usually the same.

Or we could discuss a friend (a primary source for me), who famously can’t stand that Aquaman is an A-list founding member of the Justice League. Visit his store on Sunday and ask him about Aquaman – “What does he bring to the team? He’s the water super. He talks to and controls fish. He swims real well and helps his friends win underwater. He’s also pretty strong. Okay, cool, until you understand who else is on the team. You have Superman, a largely invulnerable alien who survives in vacuum who is also the apex of strength plus all of his other godlike powers. You have Green Lantern, a crazy brave man given a ring limited only by his imagination. You have a Wonder Woman who pretty much has all of that strength plus the Lasso of Truth. I could go on, but we can stop here now that we have the Top Three of the League who all have powers that can be used to replace Aquaman on the team. In fact, just about the only thing he does that helps might be to summon up a tuna sandwich for lunch!”

Underneath the Comic Book Guy trash talk, listen carefully…my friend has spent a lot of time doing the tactical analysis puzzle. Superman and Green Lantern really don’t notice being underwater and the rest of the top tier can simply figure it out. An opinion I don’t completely share; I like to think I’m writer enough to figure it out knowing that Aquaman is part of the team. And fans seem to love him.

Back to my characters, the heroes pretty much rolled off my smoking word processor. I’ve already done much of the imaginings for the heroes and how they fight together. Trademark Safe Batman plots and plans. Trademark Safe Wonder Woman makes cookies and provides the emotional leadership that belies that she gets most of her power from being a retired Fury. Trademark Safe Flash adds speed and the take no prisoners attitude of a feminist school teacher.

When I feel ready to speak more directly about the archetypes I folded, spindled and mutilated for my own purposes, you’ll get to see who else I’ve looted to keep LA safe. But, fourteen heroes and two villains still is a slaughter for the good guys. The heroes don’t do well with slaughters, narrow victories will do nicely.

The easy temporary solution is to act in another sense of team builder, that of a general manager looking at a looming trade deadline. Needing at least eight villains of great enough heft to make things interesting for the reader, I simply took two heroes and sold them to the Yankees for a metaphorical $80,000, players to be named later and at least three draft picks. I hope my nonexistent mistress appreciates the starring role on Broadway.

One former hero eats data. She touches computers and flash drives and destroys the data contained within saving a copy to her regular long term memory. But, she also eats the onboard biological programming and memories built into a living brain, a mind flayer in skirt suit for those of us that play RPGs. Brains simply taste better.

And I thought she was the tortured hero sorry for killing somebody in the past trying to make do like Lestat saying, “well, you can eat rats, but they taste like shit.” Her power very easily drives her crazy, especially now that the ink just dried on the trade agreement. I did leave it open for her to be the subject of a redemption plot. You get one.

The second former hero in this trade is my Trademark Safe Green Lantern that I killed off in the backstory. My villain team slaughtered off the original heroes in the spandex version of Order 66. My Green Lantern analog went with the rest. And now he’s back from the dead as a wildcard villain with no love for the Legion of Chaos. Trades are such wonderful things.

I still need up to three more villains. I have other old notebooks to peruse from earlier passes at these characters where I tried to figure out where they fit. There might be some good villains, we’ll see. Or something will just come to me.

Throughout the whole lengthy development process, the mix and match game of what makes a good team has played out constantly with each pass of the pen and keyboard. Hopefully, you’ll do the same with your characters. With that…Go Home!