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By G.N. Jacobs

Bruce Wayne carved the snow raising up a wall of white around the high school kids literally doing the same thing, attempting to get lucky in the lodge. Heather Fallon whooshed behind shouting something about how the boy owed the girl a nice dinner and room. And then the happy couple carved left into the black diamond part of the run where steep, bowl, empty and YIPE governed the description.

Judging the skill of his partner as she leaned into her turns and cutbacks, Bruce knew she was better than her giggly demeanor in the car suggested. Why he felt nothing about trusting his instinct…and the snippets of heartbreaking data heard from sources. Eventually, this ski trip would go bad and all that remained was to find out why Heather had come this far.

Bruce shot a glance over to the spot on the right of the snowy hill where Alfred had picked from the topographical map. Two figures in white that most eyes wouldn’t pick out at this distance sat in the snow sharing Alfred’s signature chicken soup. One figure wore his white in the form of pattern disruptive fatigues. The other wore hers as a pure skintight catsuit for lack of a better word. Her cowl had tiny protrusions that many likened to actual felines and she wore her purple lensed goggles on her forehead. Good, she got my message, Bruce thought.

The plan required Bruce to pull left into the bowl away from his backup. Stifling the smile he felt on the inside, he lightly leaned into the turn. The kicked up powder obscured Heather behind him.

“I wondered when you’d really come out to play!” Heather shouted. “First one down calls and the other obeys!”

When this particular powder trail settled back to the slope, the six goons hidden in the snow at various places in the middle of the run stood and jumped into the chase. Bruce committed to the bowl on the left where angels and ordinary skiers feared to tread. Heather blew a kiss and waved her men forward.

Further up the hill, Alfred held back Selina with a strong hand. “We need to see if that’s all of them.”

“He needs help!”

Alfred counted off and seeing no more goons lowered his hand. “Go for Heather. I have the rest.”

With that Alfred unzipped his weapon case producing a shotgun with a long hunting barrel that had been printed in green camouflage good for summer. He’d wrapped the butt and part of the foregrip with bright green gaffer’s tape and written NON-LETHAL ONLY on the tape with a Sharpie. Once he’d set the shoulder strap to keep the weapon in front of him, he pushed Selina down the hill.

The bowl, a nearly vertical feature where expert skiers looked good doing cutbacks nearly leaping down the hill, loomed. Even further to the left lay a straight downhill part where the skier could catch air or die based on landing correctly.

Bruce shook his head and decided on the bowl. He had three seconds until he hit the point of no return for any of these dangerous choices. Two goons sought all the air they could leaping off the moguls. Gravity brought them closer.

BOOM! The already loud 12-gauge shotgun reverberated off the nearby cliffs. Luckily, this whole ski run had been posted with the signage promising that all avalanche remedies had been taken courtesy of a management that preferred not to be sued.

Alfred had loaded modified taser shells in keeping with the officially non-lethal ethos of his employer. This shell added fins, vanes and heat seeking head to assist guidance towards its target. The seeker centered the warm purple blob of a hot human being and the controls moved to make it so…

ZZZZZZT! A combination of the taser prongs and adhesive on the blunt face of the shell buried into the first disposable goon. A man who actually wore a red T-shirt under his black tactical skiing gear. For good measure – ZZZZT! – the taser shell added a second jolt to make sure.

Driven by a need to actually have a meaningful conversation that included an apology for the recent past, Selina became the craziest skier on the hill. Screaming like a banshee she pulled on her ski poles seeking to pull every micro-joule of food energy in her body. She bent her knees and chose the largest mogul to hit.

Bruce mapped out his course down the steep parts using the top of the bowl with an outlet into the downhill. Left. Right. Walls of snow rose up with each cut. Quick flashes looking over his shoulder told him that Alfred had dropped at least three goons into the snow. Selina had closed with Heather to a distance of a perhaps five feet.

The women leaned into their chase shouting the kind of insults that women just shouldn’t hear. The nearest goon reached behind with his ski pole to release his boots. And this flying man bellowed at full volume falling downhill. Bruce crouched down letting the body fall overhead possible cracking a shoulder on a rock.

Bruce – BOOM! BOOM! – reacted over his shoulder seeing Alfred drop the final two goons with his taser shells. Selina had caught up to Heather on skis and had yanked the skiers away from the bowl and steep downhill onto the edge of the intermediate part of the slope off to the right.

Selina and Heather fought amid the discarded skis and poles. Punch. Kick. Block. POW! SOCK-O! Kick. Block. Chop. Slap. And then Heather found the reach for Selina’s dark hair peeking out from her orange ski cap. Pulling hair changed the fight.

Selina brought up her fingers trusting the studded claws in her gloves and broke free. Heather hauled off with a left hook to catch Muhammad Ali unawares. Selina – TH-WHACK! – saw stars taking this fearsome shot. Heather finished this part of the fight and quickly snapped on a mismatched set of skis to resume the chase with Bruce.

Bruce led the way down the hill. The few skiers not involved slid to a stop to pull out the cells phones to get the video. Four expert, possibly Olympic level skiers fell/drove with the gravity. Selina scrunched down into her crouch trying to steal a few more inches with Heather.

Bruce landed squarely centered over his skis. Heather and Selina landed together throwing hard elbows every which way somehow maintaining their collective balance through the hard landing. The many hipsters capturing the moment for social media hooted and hollered, possibly easily impressed. Alfred followed behind barely touching the mountain and leaping into a spectacular airborne show that included him acrobatically falling through Pitch, Yaw and Roll.

Bruce landed zooming into the lower bunny hill portion of the ski run. Selina’s struggle ended well…sort of, when she threw the mother of all hard elbows at Heather and pushed the redhead into…Bruce Wayne. Alfred landed perfectly just in time to see a tangle of bodies rolling down the snowpack.

WHAM! CLANG! Bruce and Heather hit the metal chair lift all kinds of wrong. CRAAAAACK! And that was Bruce Wayne’s left leg. Silence filled the valley allowing the fluffy powder to fall back to the slope.


By G.N. Jacobs

Peter Parker breathed easy feeling his pre-match ritual as a wave of tingling that started in his toes washing up to the nerve endings on his scalp. He had other sensations loosely classified as tingling that didn’t apply tonight, which said a quiet night in New York or…right Chicago, the show was in Chicago tonight. He hummed the Battle Hymn of the Republic with made up lyrics about his opponent tonight swatting his hands together beating a crescendo likened in the wrestling and MMA press to Mahler’s Funeral March for its devastating psychological effect on the other guy in the Octagon or ring.

Peter had just finished the part in the song about pile-driving yet another sweaty man-child with a sweet disposition outside the arena into the mat until he begged for mercy. The other senses he didn’t talk about when it was his turn to combatively take the microphone kicked in revealing in the form of hairs standing on end that someone entered his locker room. The Tarantula Hawk.

“Hey, Hank,” Peter said as he turned to see his opponent and sometime friend.

Henry Hawkes raised a hand shifting the line of his ring entrance costume, a bird-man suit with feathers and plastic beak. “Hey, Pete.”

The wrestlers stood close to clasp hands and chest bump. Standing about the same height, there proved great disparity in the respective builds. Henry filled out his just under six feet physique with the muscles most come to expect from professional wrestlers. Peter might have been the same height but, while he had all kinds of definition, he just couldn’t build the same muscle mass requiring waivers to fight in the Open Class in both wrestling and MMA.

“Look, Pete, I know you like to be alone in the five minutes before show,” Henry said. “But…”

“But, Brock and minions dug their heels in and locked out the writing staff,” Peter said. “Your worst kept secret is you’ve been romancing Heather in Story and you don’t want to use the choreography for tonight.”

“Yeah, the size of it, Pete,” Henry said.

“You sure? You win,” Peter said.

“If she’s not writing it, who cares?”

“Sure, you have any ideas?”

Both wrestlers nearly killed the show shrugging instead of stepping up with an idea.

“Crap, we’re doomed,” Peter said softly as the chanting of the crowd out on the floor rose up through the many walls of the arena. “Usually, this is…”

“Where you admit to your worst kept secret being that you’re the anonymous douchebag crank fan that writes to Story suggesting all kinds of inventive stories to play out,” Henry probed. “Heather tells me stuff, Bro.”

“Yeah, but I’m totally screwed on the fly here.”

“Heather also tells me you’ve never written for your own character, Spider-Man,” Henry said in a teasing tone. “Some kind of ethics thing, she thought. She also said ‘give it time.’”

An idea struck Peter with the metaphorical weight of more than enough bricks to suggest an actual good idea instead of horrible that merely sounded good, like the classic – “It was a dark and stormy night” – by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It played out with chuckles almost leading to full guffaws.

“See, Pete, I told you Heather was smart,” Henry said.

“Whatevs, Hank,” Pete said. “You still win. Do me a favor, have your manager call MJ in.”

“MJ, the redhead card girl?” Henry asked. “Oh, I see. Your second worst kept secret.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure anything else?”

“I’ll have Frank switch us with Tom and Mike’s match,” Peter said. “We might need a few minutes of rehearsal.”

“Good to see someone has an idea, Pete,” Henry said.

They bumped fists and Henry left the locker room.

The air in the arena just beyond the tunnel could go to anyone’s head. Word that Spider-Man and Tarantula Hawk would square off for the first time in the Chicago pay-per-view had spread. Within three days offering a pound of flesh nearest thy heart to a scalper might get you a nosebleeder seat in the top rafters that not even the basketball team in residence liked selling.

In eighteen months, Peter had come to complete awareness how much the crowd charged him up going from a local act from New York to a splashy middle of the card performer that hyped up the crowds. Already the wrestling press speculated why Spider-Man in his green spandex suit hadn’t moved up in the narrative ranks where they could write a championship story for him. Peter had perfected the art of “no comment” and “I just wrestle here,” further stoking the talk.

Back to the present, Mary Jane Watson played her part. She wiggled with the extra firepower expected of a card girl suddenly promoted to the narrative instead of eye candy. She put her arms around Peter’s neck.

“Finally, Tiger,” MJ whispered blowing warm air scent with the mint of her recently brushed teeth. “I’ll be a good wishbone.”

“You sure?”

“Of course, we go semi-public with us doing the kissy-face. Hank plays heel and grabs me. You spool up going pistols at dawn over my pretty little head. You lose at just the right moment. I slap Hank showing that I’m worth fighting for. The bookers set up a rematch…hopefully after Brock makes nice with the writers. I miss anything?” MJ said in a listing tone to her whisper.

“No…wait the slap wasn’t…”

“Improv, Tigger,” MJ asserted in a whisper. “I’m part of the scene too. I slap Henry or I don’t play. I only play fickle witches when there’s a paid writing staff.”

“Oh, okay,” Peter agreed. “You know, you didn’t actually answer the question.”

“Yes, I did,” MJ said adding the kind of wiggle reserved for the hotel or a few minutes from now. “Actress, Tigger, I play things for a living. You won’t believe this, but that telenovela audition in LA I didn’t get was going to have me play exactly this kind of scene.”


“Yeah, Pete, something like that,” MJ said.

With that she brushed his face with her lips and pulled down the mask before swatting him on the ass as his entrance music and wild cheers rose to a fever pitch.

The bare bones of the match. Spider-Man taunted the Tarantula Hawk at the microphone, something about being the first spider in the world to survive the dive bombing attack of the dreaded tarantula hawk. Henry threw off his feathered entrance costume and expertly expressed that the redhead on the green spider’s arm had also promised the bird-man the same affections. They slapped each other and called out vicious deadly insults.

The match began in earnest. The crowd ate it up catching its collective breath watching MJ sell being the damsel caught in the middle between Titans. When grabbed she showed off being far more fleet of foot than either wrestler spinning just so and hitting every mark. She emoted worthy of that telenovela part that she couldn’t decide between such strong men.

In the ring, Peter and Henry busted out every trick they’d been taught in both wrestling charm school and an actual acting class. They did pile drivers, suplexes and several backhand slaps while stomping the mat to create the illusion of fearsome blows. The jujitsu moves brought the crowd to a fever pitch.

Tarantula Hawk had an aerial motif and gracefully used the top rope and turnbuckles to go vertical. At just the right moments, Spider-Man found new ways to use the web-shooters at his wrists to use webs to gain the upper hand. He laid a clothesline across the ring pushing the temporarily grounded Tarantula Hawk into it. He swung through the lights eating up the rising cheers from the crowd with a spoon.

Halfway though the third round, Peter and Henry shared a nod. The shifting tides of the choreographed match turned permanently against the spider. Peter mimed running out of web fluid frantically begging his corner man for more cartridges to no avail. Henry then took three passes slowly dismembering his opponent’s equilibrium.

The match ended when the Tarantula Hawk threw Spider-Man into a guided cartwheel to a landing flat on his back. Good thing, Peter had gotten used to large bodies falling on him. Henry grabbed MJ’s elbow only to – THWHACK! – get slapped for real. MJ then played up coming to the aid of the stunned spider. The crowd built the noise well past 105 decibels. All three players in the scene had to mentally fight to refrain from bowing.

By G.N. Jacobs

The society page photograph landed about as well a crash test dummy dropped from a great height with depleted uranium bricks tied to its feet. Previously, while any image of Bruce Wayne and some other woman could give Selina Kyle a brief nasty moment, this one capturing a ski trip to Vermont was the first after her own very public breakup. At least she’d timed it before having to treat the deposit as a walkway or sitting through the final dress fitting. Shrieking, she threw a coffee cup against the wall.

Selina wore a rare white version of her “work” outfit to blend in with the snow and watched people carve down the slopes only to climb back up in the chair lift. The body language on the redhead holding an elbow that she thought would be hers just made her scream inside. She lowered the binoculars wrapped in white canvas to adjust the tape covering the lens to prevent flares with the sun high and behind her prey.

She sat in the snow trusting the electrically heated long-johns to keep her seat warm. Two thousand meters down the hill, Bruce carved left showing off for his new arm candy. Red laughed. Bruce laughed but with an undercurrent of sadness that suggested this one would be like many others, temporary even without Selina’s dark fantasies of helping this inevitable breakup along.

Resting her elbows on her knees, the rational part of her fought to have her stand up and trudge through the thigh-high snow out of sight of the commercial ski run for the next Uber out of the resort. The growing irrational part stewed up all kinds of animus towards the woman. The skiers took the next chair up to go again.

Selina watched this with naked eyes and lenses fuming at her missed opportunity. She broke off a stick from a nearby fir tree to sketch her plans in fresh patch of powdery snow. Using stick figures, Selina contrived to push her rival off the hill, while Bruce and friend carved up the upper slope of the intermediate-expert run.

By the time, the skiers had made it halfway down racing around the small handful of other uninvolved skiers cutting up huge rooster tails of powder worthy of the videos typically looped in certain Hawaiian themed hamburger chains, Selina had sketched five more plans. Plans with comically increasing complexity. She needed an 800 number that didn’t actually exist.

About ten feet to her left, a mound of snow she’d discarded as part of the natural environment moved. Silently a man wearing snow camouflage with a pattern known to be British issue from thirty years ago stood up out of his hide shaking off the powder. Stepping carefully, he approached Selina from her blind side. She didn’t notice being fully engrossed with the doings of Bruce and the redhead.

“Ms. Kyle, I thought I might find you here,” Alfred Pennyworth said gently. “Up until now, such jealousy has been completely unlike you.”

A moment after her surprised yelp, she calmed down ever so slightly. The older man’s stealth rivaled hers leaving Selina to wonder what Gotham would have been like if Bruce and Alfred switched places more often. He put out an arm as he sat next to her and she curled up in the embrace with a sense of trust that few engendered.

“I want him back, Alfred,” Selina said with the tone of a little girl apologizing for a huge mistake.

“Of course, you do, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said softly. “I taught Master Bruce everything he knows about reading body language. When you made up that big noise about breaking it off because he needs his pain to be the most effective version of himself, you were lying.”

“And faithful father figure that you are, you told him?” Selina asked in the tone of already having the answer.

“Yes,” Alfred said. “But, he already knew.”

Alfred and Selina sat silently a moment watching the antics further down the ski run. Bruce and friend found an empty part of the hill with which to show off and do tricks. It was now that she noticed that Alfred’s camouflage included a backpack and two shoulder bags. One clearly contained some kind of shoulder arm. The other was a Thermos that the man unslung from his shoulder. Meanwhile, the skiers completed another run and made their way to the lift again.

Selina watched Alfred’s face as he unscrewed the cap allowing the aroma of chicken soup to fill the air. The man expected something to happen that had yet to occur. He handed over the first cup to Selina and poured the spare for himself. He raised an eyebrow taking in the repeated plans for mayhem scratched in the snow.

“Remove the snowy mis-en-scene and you might have a future writing Roadrunner cartoons,” Alfred observed.


“Your plans to enact what can only be termed Biblical vengeance upon an interloper, Ms. Selina,” Alfred said pointing to the snow. “Let’s see. Plan Two requires a catapult and rocket skates. Plan Three is quite novel, repurposing the paint on train tunnel gag to make a tiger pit in the snow. Plan Four utilizes a rocket toboggan. Plan Five…actually neither I nor the gatekeepers at Looney Tunes would decipher it. So omit that one when you apply. Plan Six, you parasail.”


“Speaking at the level of pop psychology, these ornate cartoon vengeance plans are your rational self fighting against your irrational self that came up with Plan One,” Alfred said. “You don’t really want to push your rival off the cliff on the back side of this resort.”


“You’ve cleaned up the real reason you broke it off with Master Bruce,” Alfred said. “You’re annoyed he didn’t wait a bit longer before ‘moving on’ and you want some way back.”


“Yes, he is,” Alfred said. “You have my support in this regard. You and he have been circling towards this moment for nineteen years, four months and six days.”

“Almost to the hour,” Selina said whistling. “Support? Based on…”

“The things you said during the break up moment are true for literally all other serious contenders for the position of Mistress Wayne,” Alfred said. “But, you are the most likely to find that middle ground where he continues his calling, but finds time to be happy at home. Like a police officer or Special Ops chap. So you have my support.”

Seen through binoculars, the skiers leaned over their skis at the top of the hill. Alfred’s reassurance warmed up Selina almost as much as the chicken soup. And then she thought things out.

“Hey, wait! I’m supposed to be here!”


“He picked that redheaded fluff bomb because with her enhanced features, she’s most likely to piss me off to lure me here!”

“A side calculation, Ms. Selina, but yes.”

“Side calculation? And you’re going to spill about bringing a rifle to a normal ski trip, when?”


“Wait! She only plays a fluff bomb on TV!”

“Bacon in the pan, Ms. Selina.”

“He’s baiting some kind of trap for her! The loveably moronic love of my life is camped out in a deadfall trap…Oooh! If he lives I will kill him myself!”

“And now we’re barbecuing with gas, Ms. Selina.”

“I didn’t bring skis.”

“I have two pairs with poles still buried in my hide,” Alfred said. “One should fit you and has boots to match.”

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

It’s amazing how much weird writer/musician/creator stuff lands on me through my Facebook feed. Just have to have that programmable music box, where I’ll likely be the weirdo composer writing for harmonica and said music box? Facebook. That amazing inconvenient ReMarkable digital writing tablet (see post)? Facebook. And don’t get me started on several links promising to make me a better writer, yet again…Facebook. And then there was the link to I Write Like [dot] com.

A simple promise…insert quite a bit of text in the box and they’ll tell me the published writer with an actual career or legendary deceased status that my writing most matches. Oh, wow…yet another bit of catnip for me to while away the two minutes this app takes out of my not actually writing time! Sign me up.

Long story short, I came up Cory Doctorow. And just because I’ve been around enough Internet oddities, like Facebook’s algorithm and everyone’s love/hate with the same, I’m going to run these things twice. Hell, I’m even going to do the old fashioned thing and click through from my Google prompt, just in case, and use different blocks of prose. Still, Cory Doctorow.

I’ve never read Mr. Doctorow, whom, until I looked him up on Wikipedia, I’d assumed was related to the other Mr. Doctorow, E.L. Doctorow. Apparently, Doctorow is as common as Smith in some parts of the world. Learn something new everyday from Wikipedia (except when Wiki is wrong). Full disclosure, I at least have a couple old paperbacks written by E.L. Doctorow, deemed absolutely irrelevant to this story, on my cluttered bookshelves. And you’ll understand why I’ve yet to read him too…as in have you seen my personal library?

Intrigued by the result of Cory Doctorow, I did quickly download the ePub/Kindle files for one of his books. As of this writing, it’s still unread and driven by whatever personal deadlines I put on me for this site; I just went ahead with this post. I figured I’d just talk about what I perceive about my own style (assuming you can trust me to see without blinders).

But, I did pay attention to a few tidbits in Mr. Doctorow’s biography as reported on Wikipedia and Amazon, just in case there’s is something to the theory that certain aspects of writing style related to similarities in background. We are both more or less from the Gen X cohort and his extensive publishing record is that of someone who didn’t self-diagnose as an ADHD poster child.

He writes about technology and related issues with far more expertise than me. I just break machines and software and write about the experience with an eye towards letting people know how the tech actually makes the user’s life and productivity better. In this vein, despite being asked over the years to plug the right cables into the TV or the stereo system by even less technically proficient family members, I’ve always seen myself as a technological chimpanzee.

I pound keys until I make it work and learn in the process. And you better believe there’s a direct reference to the famous thought experiment of infinite chimpanzees with infinite typewriters eventually producing War & Peace. I am a smarty pants which shows up in odd ways.

The most interesting similarity, sort of, between Mr. Doctorow and me is in our feelings about copyrights. He very much believes that current copyright law and procedure are slightly restrictive to how things work in the new digital economy and should be adjusted accordingly. For my part, when it comes to my words no way am I nearly as progressive; I write a book, no way do I not fight for that copyright under the current law throwing the kind of elbows to make your grandchildren feel it.

However, I have said this, “if there were some way to ensure the musicians and composers still got paid fairly, I would advocate for rules that only apply to music that acknowledge the largely derivative nature of the art form.” This is simply because we live in a musical universe where the drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven becomes the setting for The Star Spangled Banner. Or John Brown’s Body becomes The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Or that We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore and Oh, Come All Ye Faithful share the same tune. And let’s not forget that pretty much every third title in the Classical database is “Variations on a Theme by…” But, of course, more on these subjects to come later…in my composing column.

So anyway, I’ve listed some basic however tenuous similarities between Mr. Doctorow and myself. It will fall to someone else who has actually built an academic career analyzing the interplay between the background and life arc of the writer and the style of how those words appear on the page to say more. I just write, Man. And dark ugly truth, I hoped for Alexandre Dumas as translated into English. Pipe dream there.

And so now we have the artless segue to what I perceive about my own style versus Mr. Doctorow, so that when we collectively put my books side by side we’ll see if this site’s algorithm knows its stuff.

First off, I try to avoid To Be sentences which might be the first indicator that I have approximately three minutes of journalism training including reading Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style. I will assume that Mr. Doctorow with his considerably more than three minutes journalism training and work experience was taught to write more or less the same way. We’ll see when I quiet the noise monster that sometimes keeps me from reading, instead of writing, and I block out the time for his book. Score one for common training methods creating a common style instead of any high-falutin’ psychological analysis.

I shoot for paragraphs of three to five sentences of maybe twenty-five words each anchored by an active verb. Again, see the bit above about which books I read and classes I’ve taken for why my style looks the way it does. But, I also drop in sentences with a single digit number of words where I’ve semi-consciously dropped out the To Be construction. My memory of the millions of words written to date says this is a direct consequence of several journalism classes, mixed with just sitting down to do my words.

If you put the points of the preceding paragraphs together, you’ll understand why me writing like Alexandre Dumas defines pipe dream for the next three centuries. In the 19th Century the writing ethic of short sentences had yet to take hold. And then you have to figure that Dumas wrote in the French of the time and that I would be taking style cues from one of many translators, not exactly the same thing. I must just love any story with swords and has a cool bunch of friendship, the kind that start with a fistfight.

Getting back to my style, it’s pretty clear that I break my own rules when I feel I need to. I have a bunch of and so, first off and other transitional indicators in this very post. And other times I strangle these quirks in their crib when I edit. I love me my ellipses and M-dashes. I probably continually give Mr. Blatz (the good English teacher of my past seen through rose colored glasses) conniptions concerning my fluid usage of commas, until I get to edit the damn thing.

A style has more to it than than sentence structure. Choice in content also applies. I write oddball stuff with an occasional hint of black humor. Comes from being the kid that read the Bible cover to cover by the time I was fifteen. Pretty much, I have Greco-Roman mythology backwards and forwards and do okay with the Norse. I read Shakespeare because I can having flushed how certain bad teachers tried to kill the Bard for me.

I seem go for a small handful of basic character types. Sometimes I’m just knowingly doing Bilbo Baggins, the stalwart fellow of good cheer launched into a great quest by external forces. Other times, I’ll do an empire building story where a kinder gentler version of Julius Caesar builds a unified society and then prevents it from degenerating into tyranny. I also greatly respect journalists and certain kinds of lawyers more than even Shakespeare says I should. And sometimes, I’m just doing an off-kilter version of myself acting out my fantasies of any of the above. Lastly, all of my characters are either huge music fans and/or play instruments as is my current aspiration, loving it LOUD.

Presumably, these points will be where Mr. Doctorow and I will diverge the most in the side-by-side analysis. It was fun to learn these things even if the egotistical part of me wants to get into the database so that people will one day write like G.N. Jacobs. Don’t worry, there are pills for that. So with that…get back to your own writing!

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“Every time I get out, they pull me back in!”

With apologies to Michael Corleone, what pulls me back in are certain comic book and pulp characters that still circle like buzzards over a carcass in the desert. Specifically, Batman…and now at the risk of sounding like a Big Two Editorial Department famous for – “reversing a reversal that had already been reversed” – I’m back in Gotham, my version at least.

When I last swore off comic books characters moved over to fan fiction to get the story out of my head while waiting for my ship to come in, I was trying to force Wonder Woman into a marriage with Batman where she then takes over Wayne Enterprises. In previous posts, I covered the fact of a mild feminist objection to Wonder Woman, of all fictional strong women, marrying into her brass ring and then winning knife fights in the boardroom. Really, I also created the far more lethal failure of imagination as to why the story involved either Batman or Wonder Woman when nothing about the story as it fleshed out needed anyone in a Four-Color Spandex suit.

So what changed? Well, after a year of buildup, Catwoman recently backed out of marrying Batman citing that the Bat’s ongoing existential unrequited rage over being an orphan was necessary for his role as Gotham’s protector. Essentially, allowing Bruce Wayne to have his pain scab over and finding a small bit of happiness positively scared the shit out of DC’s Editorial Department. Many fans, tired of dredging up version after version of the alley mugging behind or near the Monarch Theater, blew up online.

This conflict expresses divergent views about what the Batman fandom wants from the character. Do we stall Bruce Wayne/Batman’s character arc in the metaphorical second act where he remains the tireless force of justice for Gotham City and will never permanently land on any woman, let alone Catwoman (his soulmate, hands down accept no substitutes)? Or could the writers make a case for scabs forming and the momentum of years of being the Bat keeps driving him forward? I’m in the let him get married and explore the relationship camp whenever this subject comes up at the comic book store.

Official Batman hasn’t helped much deciding between the two extremes of his character arc. Batman goes dark and grim. Batman lightens up, possibly as a result of the Kefauver-Wurtham Hearings that killed the Golden Age. Batman goes dark and grim, again. Batman has yet to lighten up a second time.

Where the average fan falls on this spectrum probably says a lot about how old they are and what their version is. A devoted fan of Adam West Batman can appreciate Michael Keaton Batman or Kevin Conroy Animated Batman, but still loves Adam West. Fans of other Batmen will usually say nice things about Adam West, sometimes with a believable straight face.

It matters because the Adam West show is the ultimate expression of Batman who seems to act like emotional scabs have formed and he’s just getting on with things as a detective and unofficial reserve officer of the Gotham Police Department. Yes, he’s a billionaire playboy with the ladies mostly as protective cover for his secret identity (a feature of all versions of the character), but he doesn’t wallow in the pain over the mugging that made him.

Adam West Batman cracks jokes – “Commissioner, one of them would be after Gotham. Two would be after regional power. Three of them and they want America. But, all four of them could only be after the world itself.” Or “Admiral, you sold off a submarine and you didn’t even get a drivers license.” Adam West Batman also parked in the Batmobile with Catwoman and danced the Batusi having great moments with all three actresses playing the Cat.

Many other versions of Batman have made use of movies having looser rules because the ratings system can replace the network Standards & Practices Department. This style of Batman wallows in showing the murder of the Waynes in the first movie in the series. Batman growls “I’m Batman” when trying to intimidate bad guys. And the Bat never seems to crack a smile.

The few examples of movies that played against this trope were so uniformly bad in failing to understand that a lighter Batman doesn’t have to mean an unreservedly stupid Batman that the suits that decide these things must be scared of taking their hands off the pendulum. Everyone loved Michael Keaton Batman, but divided on Christian Bale Batman between “good for the prevailing style” and “fuck you, Man, take a throat lozenge!”

So it is this larger context that guides my rumination about my current trip to Gotham to report the story. My list of needs, stories I can toss off for free to help drive eyeballs to this site. A concern that putting original work up on my site and my Wattpad mirror page damages the ability to publish that work for money later. I really want to see the Bat and Cat as a couple. And nothing about Batman is going to let me get out clean, like Michael Corleone.

Even still I had to wake up one night recently with the idea that I can’t explain beyond I get cool ideas all the time and I write them down to get back to them eventually. I solved the is this really a spandex story question by simply pushing Bruce Wayne down a ski slope in Vermont where he promptly breaks his leg and he sends out telepresence robots to control Gotham. I solved the let him be happy question by assuming that Catwoman had other reasons to break off the wedding the first time and simply comes home to take care of her man like Grace Kelly did for Jimmy Stewart.

And I continue to assert jettisoning Wonder Woman out of the story cycle works narrative miracles. Catwoman is a jewel thief and there’s no way she stops…completely. I see her as breaking into places with jewels she wants only to take selfies wearing the rock before putting it back. Batman gets his revenge by making her write the security report. Basically, Batman told in the style of a Tracy-Hepburn movie. Why not, can we not have some fun in Gotham?

However, there is another hidden purpose to putting Batman in the same house as a strong committed woman whether Catwoman or Wonder Woman (if absolutely necessary). Some people question Batman at a philosophical level that expresses discomfort with Gotham needing such a damaged billionaire to dress up in vampire fetish gear to break criminals’ and other poor people’s arms. I won’t go so far, but I have observed that speaking charitably Batman might be what Gotham needs, but what has Bruce Wayne the billionaire playboy done for his city?

The easiest way to mine this discomfort with the prototype spandex vigilante is to throw him in with a woman who will force him to actually use his philanthropic foundations as more than cover for the Bat. Wonder Woman is an Amazon rooted in love; she could’ve pushed her husband into a soup kitchen. Catwoman would be better than this coming from Gotham’s worst neighborhoods and she’s known and cared for the Bat for far longer.

All of this wakes me up one night for Batman: First Person Bat. An excellent way to have fun while saying one or two things that matter. But, please don’t take this to mean everything is all worked out here in Gotham, I still need to figure out which of the many villains available across the DC mythology need to show up to ruin the Bat and Cat’s day. Villains are good.

But, then again maybe I simply wanted to make the picture of Batman in a cast flopped on his couch with TV remote learning yet again about “500 channels and nothing on.” Check back later if I stay with this story…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Oooh, a new screenwriting app! And that’s all the thought process for downloading and playing around with Untitled required. I’ve spent a worse $2.99 in the App Store, several times.

My eyes opened seeing the ad on Facebook, pretty much the first time an app pulled my heartstrings in Zuckerberg-Land. Usually, I get suckered into picking up that, still unused, programmable music box where I use a provided hole punch to create music. Or perhaps I could talk about the videography rig for my iPhone? Never mind, while many of these purchases go in the category of keeping my creative options open, I do use writing apps. Even screenwriting apps.

I suppose the other question to settle for all three of you that consistently read this blog is…so back to writing screenplays after many months piously swearing off the form? Yes, I went to a friend’s screenwriting group and suddenly wanted to join in at the cool kids’ table. I even started a screenplay…uh, a teleplay in strict point of fact, a two-night miniseries as initial cover for an epic sure to glaze over a few eyeballs as a film.

Now, I don’t need very many writing apps. I have Final Draft, Word and Google Docs. But, Untitled had an interesting pitch video where the app promises that the scribe doesn’t have to toggle between the various elements that have been rigidly part of Screenplay Format since jump, but we can, instead, type modified prose to get the same results…a screenplay your agent might love. I can afford $2.99.

Using the app was a mixed bag of brilliant features and other stuff that induces shrugs and sighs of, “whatever.” On the plus side, the app does what it says it will do, help the screenwriter bang out a first draft with some allowance for organizing the notes that feed that writing. On the meh side, there were a few things, mostly on the file management side that weren’t quite as advertised.

When you first download the app, you’re presented with a screen that toggles between the Edit Page and the Preview Page that shows what everything looks like as a screenplay. The idea is simply to type with a syntax that mostly mimics the straight ahead knucklehead prose I use to transport you to Gotham for an alley mugging. Presumably if you were to get anyone who actually makes this app drunk, they’ll tell you how you’ll save a few seconds here and there if you just type instead of having to click on the Slugline, Action, Character, Dialogue, Parentheses, Shots and Transitions.

Considering that Screenplay Format has so many Tab changes, I’ll always shout out to the ladies in the old-timey studio typing departments that did this on a typewriter and pay for a good app. Promising to translate directly from prose is the next brilliant idea in screenwriting. You just have to learn the syntax.

They’re outside the suburban house during the day creates – EXT. SUBURBAN HOUSE – DAY – when you toggle from the edit page to the preview page. Okay, cool, we have Scene Headers, a.k.a. Slugline down. The very next sentence is automatically placed correctly below the slug as Action. We can tell the crew to find a house in Pacoima for the exterior shot. Or the writer can type the slug normally on the Edit Page to get to the same place.

I must mention an interesting quirk about Scene Headers that I’m not sure the app makers fully appreciated when they made the upload. The phrase during the day/night is absolutely and rigidly part of the syntax for Scene Headers so it eliminates certain tricks you’ll learn on other screenwriting apps that allow dumping the time stamp in the header. For me this quirk only matters because I write Science Fiction.

Using Final Draft Mobile, I write quite a bit of – EXT. SPACE – headers without the time stamp. I do this because day and night are meaningless constructs in orbit where there is no atmosphere to scatter and expand sunlight into night and day. The crew reads this and prepares to bring the right lights to the shooting day, but old hands will tell you that the time stamp is meaningless for interiors when you can darken any window you like to mimic – INT. HOUSE – NIGHT – and space shots are just models photographed indoors. But, with Untitled my headers for scenes in space must be written as They’re outside in space during the day leading to – EXT. SPACE – DAY. Extra words!

Regular typing with periods creates blocks of Action, the majority of the words in a script. This is where Untitled shines living up to most of its hype. I have few negative observations here, though I did find interesting quirks in the line spacing between blocks of Action that sort of violate how we’re taught Screenplay Format in writing class. Scripts separate Action blocks using double spacing and most apps automate this (another reason for no typewriters ever in screenwriting), but Untitled doesn’t forcing you to hit Return twice to get these results on the Preview Page. More keystrokes than I was promised.

Another cool thing, Character and Dialogue are handled together with something that mimics prose. The writer just writes – “Mary get the door.” said Bob – and when the words are rendered on the Preview Page it comes out perfectly. Score one for the new kid.

Price should always be part of a purchase decision. Right now, Untitled is $2.99 and may go up to $4.99 when the current sale ends. Final Draft Mobile is currently $30 (I picked it up during the initial sale for $10, nyah-nyah!). Fade In Mobile is about $6.99. Writer Duet’s new mobile app is free (review pending). And there are other apps all over the map hanging on. I see Untitled playing well with writers that haven’t already jumped on the Final Draft train. Score one, almost, for the new guy.

Where the app really helps its case against Final Draft Mobile is in how it looks in the display. Hopefully, the accompanying pictures do justice to what the Edit Page looks like, where the writer types or finger taps creating words using a font that I want to say is Arial Bold, but is really some other similar font. The words are larger on my iPhone screen than the same words from Final Draft Mobile rendered in a Courier variant. Larger and bolder is good when a writer whose optometrist already said he’d lost the ego battle against reading glasses at least two years ago.

I also have the iPad version and all of the above applies, but for the positive exception that this version does a better job of making the syntax guide easier to use and click out of so you never lose track of how the app has been built to write. Both versions do an excellent job of toggling back and forth between the Edit Page and the Preview Page which renders the text as a script in anally perfect Courier all tickety-boo.

At this point, I should be happier than, “I’ve spent a worse $2.99.” And as is the case most of the time, the file management at the back end didn’t land perfectly. The Untitled app promises that you can translate the file for export in a variety of file types: PDF, Fountain, Final Draft (FDX), Text and a couple others.

I’m laser focused on getting my scripts all neat and tidy for Final Draft output. Everybody else on a project has insisted on FDX file extensions because all of their productivity software requires this type of input. So realizing that I can choose to fight the 800-pound gorillas in Hollywood who deal with content or the similar primates in charge of format, I took the easy way out and decided to focus on content. This means everything new needs to speak well with Final Draft.

Once I had my pages just so on the Preview Page, I clicked through to export as a Final Draft file. Apple products allow the user to shift files between compatible apps without using email or Air Drop, so this I do. And then I check what the file looks like moved over to Final Draft. Key elements like Shot and Transition didn’t appear on the screen the way they do when I type these things in Final Draft.

My immediate solution for things that looked great on the Preview Page but ended up in the wrong places in Final Draft was to export the pages as a PDF and email them to myself. I had the attachment open on my iPad while I typed these words on my iPhone. And there is my meh reaction in a nutshell…if I’m typing things twice you’re not helping my workload.

So to recap, Untitled has a nice looking interface and an interesting prose to script typing syntax. The writer pays for this with a few quirks concerning line spacing in Action lines and issues with file management trying to make all of this talk to Final Draft (I didn’t try it out exporting to Fountain or anything else). I’ve spent a far worse $2.99…like that annoying ass police siren app. Never mind and get back to writing!

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

In Fiction-Land there was a gruesome murder last night, Mr. Qwerty ended up splayed out over a stack of leather bound books with a carriage return bar jammed through his right ear. The gore was considerable…

Okay, I’ve done better writing about how imaginary people get whacked by other (hopefully) imaginary people. Probably would spike up the blood spray and the chunks of bone and brain, or something. All to lead a post about keyboards.

I suppose we all love-hate Mr. Qwerty who helps us talk to HAL and the many varieties of Mini-HAL. When things work right, we tap keys and words appear. When they don’t, I curse you to an interesting life of cleaning our skin flakes from that insistent bastard with toothbrushes and Goo-Gone. And that’s before we smash him, like Pete Townsend doing his Fender guitar dirty, when the words don’t appear.

A short recap of the basic why of the keyboard, hereafter a named un-indicted coconspirator in all kinds of literary mayhem. The keys were placed QWERTY, AZERTY or AWERTY style because the various dudes inventing the manual typewriter thought the key placement of lots of consonants on the left side with most of the vowels and rest of the letters on the right would enable quick typing without jamming keys.

America and Britain went for subtle variations of QWERTY and other countries with Roman alphabets landed on several variations of the other main types (look up which is which on Wikipedia). And the sound of the clackity-clack changed offices forever. So do we like the typewriter as a primal force of feminism (yay, women can have jobs outside the home that don’t necessary involve cooking, cleaning or sex)? Or was the advent of the typing pool as much a screw you to women (we’re just going to relegate this boring repetitive job to women despite being dimly aware of repetitive stress injuries long before the scientists published papers about carpal tunnel syndrome in the 1980s)?

What this meant for me was that as it became clear that typing would be required for every college paper conducted outside the pressure cooker of a timed blue book exam, I had to take a typing class a prerequisite for going to an expensive college prep middle school. Taking a class wasn’t the end of it. I had to practice to even begin to maintain my (completely artificial, I know now) 40wpm typing speed.

I hated typing practice almost as much as I’d hated piano class in my earlier youth. So I’m just the sort of kid to take cues from Eddie Murphy doing his infamous riff on Mr. T as the (I thought) ultimate fuck you to the people making me practice. Let’s just say that if you ever want to get a rise out of a conservative but otherwise decent weekend father like mine to the point where his first verbal reaction was – “does he need to see a shrink?” – write three pages with a lot of out there sex.

Luckily, Mom had my number – “no, he was just angry that I made him type stuff.” She also went on to say that she thought my words were amazingly creative and that I should one day write for Playboy. Never mind that Mr. Hefner’s operation doesn’t actually publish stories like what I’d written, because as a men’s lifestyle magazine the stories and articles are meant to be read after absorbing the pulchritude and represent a counterpoint to the sexy metier. She wouldn’t know, she falls outside the target market.

During these years, someone invented a computer that you could have at home and the office. For the earlier part, I lived vicariously off my friends’ Mac 1.0s and PCs because for most people you really should wait for Moore’s Law to start grinding down the price down before buying the box your kid might not use until they really need it (college). And I got over whining about typing.

The salient point, the powers that be kept Mr. Qwerty gainfully employed adding a few function keys. They did it because they assumed the first users would be women crossing over from the Royals and Selectrics in the office. We launched ourselves into the cybernetic age with a familiar keyboard, cheerfully it seems.

Everything is now mobile to the exclusion of every other consideration. And we find ourselves at the first technological decision point since the invention of the typewriter and it’s rooted in the tricky balance between small enough to fit in a bag and large enough to comfortably fit our hands that haven’t gotten smaller to match. A small keyboard weighs less, but gives away some typing comforts. A large keyboard feels good under our fingertips, but ruins the line of the carry bag sticking out at odd angles.

As you may guess and sometimes read, I’m all over the map with my gear. I sometimes wonder if I should bust out some poetry that pretty much compares the trade offs a writer makes finding his Goldilocks equipment to a story of an eternally cursed individual unable to find a good pair of shoes. Certainly, I’m just now grooving on images of Ernest Hemingway found next to Sisyphus and Tantalus in Hades pounding his writing table angry at the millimeters worth of hot and cold porridge in his gear design.

As you can see from the pictures, the smaller the keyboard the more likely the designers will move keys around to make things fit. The fold up keyboard that when closed might create confusion with a jewelry box holding a necklace had a mostly good layout where the Shift Key on the right doesn’t conflict with the Arrow Keys, at the expense of moving the hyphen key into the subordinate keys found only by tapping the Function Key on the left. No bueno, I love me my carefully executed hyphens and M-dashes.

The small keyboard that comes in the red bag was an earlier purchase for a since replaced mini-iPad. It had a good layout for everything; hyphen key where it’s supposed to be, Bluetooth works with my phone and the Right Shift Key isn’t hidden behind the Arrow Keys. Cool, except that the board is small enough that the typing feel is all about my hands diving in and around each other just a millimeter off from Goldilocks.

My current mobile keyboard is wider laterally and folds up the outer keys over the center of the board. The Bluetooth works with my iPhone. The Hyphen Key isn’t hidden behind some other key function accessed by the Function Key. It’s about a foot wide and types okay, so what’s the catch? The Right Shift Key is buried to the outside of the Arrow Keys such that the typist quickly learns to take his/her right hand off the keyboard to push Shift. Nearly every word needing a capital letter seems to have a home on the left side of the keyboard, which becomes important because we’re taught to push Shift opposite the letter key pushed.

In the great scheme of things, a writer continuously trying to find a tool that Goldilocks might like once she has to type her letter of apology to the bears for her acts of trespassing isn’t much. If I’m like this over $40 keyboards, imagine me as a violinist before getting famous enough to acquire a Stradivarius? But, that last bit is for the music column on a later day. Anyway, I’m temporarily at the Close Enough for Government Work stage of my eternal search for the right gear. Get back to writing!