Well, have you ever read
Roald Dahl’s “Man From The South”?
art by Edwin Georgi
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Well, have you ever read
My mind plays peculiar tricks on me.
Nice tricks, but tricks nonetheless.
Without my being consciously aware of it, my mind will plant seed / lay track for complex developments in the stories I write.
Case in point:
A couple of weeks ago I started my dark barbarian fantasy story.
At the time I thought I’d have a 2,800 – 3,500 word story when done.
I passed the 10,000 word mark last night and anticipate going to at least 12,000 – 15,000 before I’m done.
The more I wrote, the
richer that world became.
As soon as I had the basic idea,
I knew how the story would have to end.
What I didn’t have was a
coda or denouement for it.
When I started it, I didn’t have a specific weapon in mind for my protagonist. About 1,000 or so words in I gave them a battle axe then, about 3,000 words in, decided to have them visit a weaponsmith to modify it into a weapon I’d originally created for a villain in Thundarr The Barbarian.
ABC’s Standards & Practices (i.e., the censors) took one look at my design and passed on it but the idea
festered sat in the back of me widdle head all this time.
When I decided to give the protagonist this modified weapon, I realized I had my coda: A scene in which said weapon would be used against the #1 Baddie.
But the way in which it’s used against #1 Baddie practically begged a sequel story, so I thought, okay, once this story is done I’ll think about a sequel.
Of course, once the weapon was modified by the weaponsmith, I had to show it in action.
Now, my story needed three key scenes to work: Big, Bigger, Biggest. A minor bad guy provided the impetus for the Bigger scene, but that was pretty much his whole contribution to the story.
Well, with the modified weapon, he soon found himself on the receiving end of some Major League Karma after his Bigger scene was finished.
A satisfying end to him, and a good bridge to the next scene, the Biggest.
That scene required a major bad guy, and I envisioned him as a plausible Bluto, a malevolent Bud Spencer.
The major bad guy had to arrive at the locale by ship; my story is set in a location that has a real world / historical parallel (i.e., the Mediterranean) that required it to be accessible by ships.
In the course of the story, various characters roughly fill us in on the geography of this fantasy world: The Northern Lands (i.e., Europe), The Eastern Lands (i.e., the Middle and Far East), The Southern Lands (i.e., Africa).
While not mentioned specifically, this world has nothing but open seas to the west.
So my protagonist goes to meet the major bad guy as their ship arrives (at this point in the story the protagonist is not aware of who the major bad guy is; when they recognize the major bad guy it sets the ball a’rolling towards the climax).
And when the major bad guy disembarks, he’s wearing a mask to hide his identity (which makes sense because his motive in the story is something a lot of other people would want to stop if they knew he was interested in it).
So my protagonist is escorting the major bad guy to the scene of the climax, still not knowing who he is…
…and then my protagonist realizes through
the disguise it’s not a him but a her.
The Mongols national myth says there was a mother with five sons, each by a different father. The mother held out her hand before them and showed that while each finger (and thumb) was independent, they were also linked together…
…and if they closed in to form a fist, they could strike at their enemies.
And all of a sudden my major bad guy became a Mom with three sons she wants to make god-kings of The Northern Lands, The Eastern Lands, The Southern Lands.
Much better motivation than I originally thought out for major bad guy.
And then the sequel I envision after the death of #1 Bad Guy suddenly popped into sharp focus, and it would involve Son #3…
…because my protagonist, after disposing of Mom, would then go after Son #1…
…but somebody would tip off Son #2 and he’d come looking for my protagonist…
…and the aftermath of that would be the original sequel idea I envisioned.
If they each average 15,000 words, then I’ve got a novel.
With everything else I’ve got on deck, it will probably take me a minimum of four years to finish the stories, using them as a palette cleanser between other projects.
NOT the protagonist in my story!!!
 Figuring Robert E. Howard’s Kull (whom I actually prefer over Conan) was the only other major fantasy character to carry such a weapon.
 Actually, they said something along the lines of “HOLY #%@&ING %#@&! ARE YOU INSANE?!?!? YOU CAN’T PUT THAT IN THE HANDS OF A SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON CHARACTER!!!”
 Because I’m too damned lazy to try to come up with story ideas for five sons.
 Hey, ya need a little variety, ammiright?
I’m using Expresso, a nice little editing app you can use for free online, to digitally prep the manuscript for “The Most Dangerous Man In The World: The Lost Classic G.I. Joe Episode” for re-writing / polish / final copyediting.
Expresso does not replace a human carefully going over a manuscript, but it speeds up the process by drawing attention to weak verbs, run on sentences, etc. I’m a little less than halfway done with the preliminary pass of the manuscript thru Expresso; the free version can’t seem to handle more than 1,500 or so words without freezing up so I’m feeding the story thru two or three scenes at a time.
Expresso finds the most problems with my writing in the non-action scenes; it seems to like my action and combat writing just fine.
As with most writers I’ve got several projects going simultaneously, including a very dark barbarian fantasy which I mentioned previously. I wrote a scene for it the other night which “works” insofar as it conveys the necessary information the story requires at that point but does so in a really awkward and way out of character manner for my protagonist. Expect that to get severely re-written once I finish the handwritten first draft.
The cartoon above pretty much sums up my feelings once I finished writing the scene.
Adam-Troy Castro recently kicked off an interesting discussion regarding the connect / disconnect between artists and their works.
It’s an ancient debate:
How much of the artist’s personal behavior impacts the quality of the art?
How good does art have to be to justify being enjoyed separate from knowledge of the artist?
There are a lot of artists out there with truly shitty behavior. Not just cranky / snarky / hit-the-bottle-too-much behavior but murder, betrayal, treason, bigotry, genocide, etc., etc., and of course, etc.
And there’s no one-size-fits-all pat answer. You tell me Jerry Lee Lewis acts like a loon, married an underage teen cousin, knocks back pills and booze like nobody’s business, discharges firearms recklessly, says stupid and outrageous things, well…yeah…that’s what he does.
You listen to his music, you’re listening to the work of a madman. You’re not shocked that his kind of music comes from that kind of person.
That’s his brand.
And, yeah, I know a lot of people roll their eyes at the term “brand” thinking it’s just Madison Avenue jargon but there is validity to the concept. Your “brand” is how the public perceives you; it’s different from a reputation which is a personal evaluation about you. A lot of people with crazy balls-to-the-walls brands have reputations as trustworthy individuals because behind their brand they are professionals who honor commitments and show up on time and do what they promise. You can trash a lot of hotel rooms if they know you’ll make the show the next night.
When Jerry Lee’s first cousin televangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggert gets caught again and again consorting with prostitutes, well, Jimmy takes a hit while Jerry gets a pass.
Jimmy’s brand was undermined by his personal behavior.
Now, none of this is to excuse bad behavior, but if you’re planning a career for yourself, plan one with the largest sandbox to play in. Fred Rogers had a long and honorable career because he never deviated from the Mr. Rogers brand; he was happy inside that particular sandbox and it served him well.
But if you decide to get in a Mr. Rogers-size sandbox, you can’t suddenly hop out and run over to the Jerry Lee Lewis sandbox to play.
If you want to play in both boxes you can, but you have to establish yourself in advance as the sort of person who can play in both boxes.
Bill Cosby and Woody Allen have specifically built careers on either being staunch moralists or in asking probing questions about morality. By the very nature of their subject matter, their work and their lives were inextricably intertwined. Egregious bad behavior raises legitimate questions about how valid their observations are.
In Cosby’s case, an apparent long career as a serial rapist draws into question the legitimacy of all the morality expressed in the Fat Albert and Cosby Show episodes; those programs often take on a creepy tone now in their new context. In Allen’s case, having neither the self-restraint nor the common sense to avoid entering into a relationship that was certain to have a devastating impact on many peoples’ lives makes one wonder if Allen ever really meant anything he said in his films, or if it was all posturing to suck in a specific type of audience.
To Allen’s partial defense, he repeatedly warned people he was not the person he appeared to be, that he harbored deep and vile secret thoughts, and that he was capable of terrible behavior. The problem was those things were always said in the context of a self-depreciating interview in which Allen joked about other aspects of his life: His audience did not take his statements seriously.
It’s like having a friend come over to your house and jokingly say, “Lock up your silverware because otherwise I’ll steal it” and you laugh and have a good time while they’re visiting and the moment they’re gone you realize your silverware is missing.
“Well, I told you I was going to steal it!”
Yes, but not in a way that anyone truly believed.
There are writers — Charles Bukowski or Jack Kerouac or William S. Burroughs — who are far more open and honest than Allen ever was with their personal lives. We can appreciate the beatific words from their typewriters because they have acknowledged their sins and shortcomings and have said their work is an attempt to reconcile their demons with their angelic longings.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Google Lewis Carroll or Charles Dickens and scope out their pretty egregious bad behavior. In both cases it was widely known at the time, but never brought to the public’s attention in a manner that affected their sales (though for Carroll it ultimately cost him much socially).
They needed that social hypocrisy in order to present a brand for one thing while indulging in behavior that completely undercut what they became publicly associated with.
In Dickens’ case, what he wrote is now seen as a window into the past, not necessarily as something with exact applications today. In Carroll’s case, as too often the case for other fairy tales as well, what he wrote has been whitewashed and divorced from its original purpose and context.
Conversely, Mary Wollstonecraft used her notoriety to gain an audience for Frankenstein and her other works, including her political writings.
Ironically, that gave her freedom she probably wouldn’t have found had she not been associated with Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron.
Back to the question at hand:
When and how to judge the work in relation to the artist?
Again, no easy answers. There are times and circumstances when many crimes can be forgiven in the light of one transcendent moment, there are others when an entire oeuvre should be cast aside.
Ultimately, we have to judge our decisions on what to keep or discard by what we are.
 Holy #%@$! That fncker’s 80 years old and still touring!!! Geeze, with six sets of alimony payments I guess he has to.
 That blade cuts both ways. If you wrote speeches for Ku Klux Klan leaders and other white supremacists and do not have a public come-to-Jesus moment where you denounce your past, don’t expect the book you write about Native American spirituality under a Native American pen name to stay on anyone’s must-read list no matter how good the contents may be viz The Education Of Little Tree. Likewise if you claim to have a tragic past as a hard-scrabble street thug and dope addict but turned yourself around, then you better have a rap sheet to back it up, viz A Million Little Pieces.
 Burroughs in particular. Long before he burst into mainstream attention, he was one of many early beats who led a reckless bohemian lifestyle. He killed his wife Joan Vollmer, herself a young poet in the beat movement of the early 1950s, in a drunken William Tell game at a party; she put a cup on her head for him to pick off with a pistol shot and he blew her brains out. That the horror and guilt and self-loathing at what he had done forever changed him and ultimately set him on his path as a writer is a valid observation, nonetheless Vollmer’s death is too often treated as a footnote to his success and not a monumental tragedy in her own right.
 It’s not always bad behavior that undercuts one’s brand. Too many clowns die tragic deaths, Robin Williams being among the most recent. For him a lifetime of severe depression was held at bay by the brand of a zany comedian; after establishing himself with that brand he expanded on it (but never truly left it) by veering off into comedy drama, then drama with humor, and finally straight drama. We can look back now and see the arc of his illness in how his brand shifted and expanded. Because he successfully expanded his brand towards the end, Williams will live on in the public memory a lot longer than others who just presented their manic side to the world until their demons caught up with them. Williams is tragic, they’re just sad.
At 10pm on the nose last night, the first draft of my G.I. Joe Kindle Worlds’ novel “The Most Dangerous Man In The World” was completed.
The book has been a long time a-gestatin’, and even though I have a re-write and polish yet to go, it’s now in the close-to-being-done stage.
After I do a quick spelling & grammar check on it, it will lay fallow for a few weeks. During that time I will get “The Rustlers Of Rimrock” ready for release.
“Poor Banished Children Of Eve”, my World War Two-era “Lord Of The Flies” with Catholic school girls story, has been ready to go for some time. As soon as “The Rustlers Of Rimrock” is ready to go online, then “Poor Banished Children Of Eve” will go up and I’ll start the polish on “The Most Dangerous Man In The World”.
That book will go up next, followed by “The Rustlers Of Rimrock”.
What have I got on deck past that?
Quite a lot, actually.
The next book is going to be a big massive multi-character farce based on a real life incident. I want to do some “Serenity” stories (my “Serenity”, not Joss Whedon’s). I’ve got three novels in stall-mode that can be restarted, some older books that may be printable after another re-write, then six or eight new novels waiting their turn in the hopper.
And that’s not counting the various
short stories I currently have in circulation,
or a couple of side projects I’m involved with.
“The Most Dangerous Man In The World” took so long to write because I’ve been out of the Joe-universe for quite some time; I had to research all the characters and vehicles to make sure I got them correctly.
If I’m asking Joe fans to buy my book, the least I can do is to make it as consistent as possible.
Right now, I have to go clean a comforter our cat barfed on.
Ah, me, the thrill a minute life of the literary set…
Where we at?
The “WWII-era Lord Of The Flies with Catholic schoolgirls” is ready to go, has been ready to go for quite some time.
I don’t want to upload it prematurely, however, because that runs the danger of squandering the work. The plan is to launch it as the first of three books, all coming out within a short period of time to one another (I’m aiming for three books in as many months).
The modern Western with teen girls saving horses is in first draft, with one pass through on the editing. I want to spend at least a couple of weeks going over it before making it ready to upload, but when I can devote full time to it I should see it complete in three to four weeks.
“The Most Dangerous Man In The World: The Lost G.I. Joe Episode” is nearing completion, I’m at the start of the climactic battle.
But it’s slow going, a tough slog. I’ve been out of the Joe world / mindset for quite some time, and while some of the characters come back readily as old friends, for the most part I’ve had to do a lot of research and double checking.
If I’m going to pitch this to readers as an authentic G.I. Joe story by an authentic G.I. Joe writer, I’ve got to do my homework and make it as accurate as possible.
I have no illusions that I’ll pull it off 100%.
I’m sure there will be lots of
details I’ll miss or garble up.
Back when we were doing the series, I didn’t have to know the proper name and nomenclature for every vehicle and weapon; I could just write “The Joe tanks fire at the Cobra tanks” and let the animators and storyboard departments worry about what it looked like.
Not this time. This time I have to maintain a patina of consistency. (Though I’ve got to say Hasbro themselves were never sticklers for consistency, and frequently the same vehicle or weapon would have radically different capabilities from toy to TV show to comic book to card game.)
Once “The Most Dangerous Man In The World” is completed, it’ll sit aside for a few weeks as I go over the Western, then as the Western is with beta readers, I’ll do my re-write on the Joe book.
It will be extensive because I am writing this one large, throwing everything in and often creating some redundancies that will have to be attended to.
The plot isn’t going to change
but beats will be tightened.
Once the first draft of “The Most Dangerous Man In The World” is complete, things will start to move quite rapidly. God willing and the crick don’t rise, I may have all three for download available by mid-September.
Well, I’ve actually been enjoying quite a creative spell. Since the first of the year I’ve written six short stories of varying length, and am about halfway through another. I’ve also got several short stories I wrote last year that I’ve polished and have started on the rounds.*
I’ll give them five or six chances to find a paying home then post them here if nobody buys them.
On top of that, several poems (mostly short) and a handful of essays.
The short story I’m writing currently (parallel to “The Most Dangerous Man In The World”, one by collegiate composition notebook, the other on my iMac) is expanding as I write it. I first thought of it as a short story in the 3,000 word range, but now I’ve reached the 6,400 word mark and am still adding stuff.
It’s expanding because the world it’s set in is getting richer, more complex. It’s a heroic fantasy story but one that’s sufficiently different from most stories in the genre to stand out.
It features a very dark protagonist (dark in more than one sense of the word) and its hard to reconcile their actions with any sort of conventional heroic morality, which I think is what makes them so interesting.
It’s not going to have a happy ending. Evil will be vanquished, but it will still not be a happy ending.
And for those anxious to read “The Most Dangerous Man In The World”, I’m making progress. But the short stories are flashes of fire, not a long slog, and as such I can complete them in just a few days (typically; this one is running longer but through no fault of its own).
I’ve got a big novel planed, dozens if not potentially hundreds of characters (most small walk-ons, but still crucial to the story; it’s similar to The Simpsons insofar as the support cast builds the reality of the premise). It’s not going to be a science fiction or fantasy story, but I think most people will enjoy it as a pretty broad farce and satire on small town morality.
And past that?
I’ve got tons of stuff in the hopper. I have books where I have started on them years ago, hit a good stride, then slammed into a wall.
I’ve learned for me that when that happens it’s foolish to attempt to force anything; it will only ring false and have to be thrown out and redone. So when the next book is done (i.e., book #4, the small town farce) then I’m going to go back through these stalled out stories and see if my subconscious has come up with any ideas.
Right now I have enough ideas on tap to keep
me occupied for the next decade, if not longer.
* If you’re wondering how I’ve managed to increase my creative productivity, it’s because I am under one helluva lot of stress in my personal life and writing is the only safe outlet. My books tend to be upbeat and optimistic since I don’t want to spend all that time with a downer story, but the short stories have been very heavy and dark recently. I cannot relax and I find myself getting constantly bombarded by new squalls and pressures. It’s coming out in the short fiction, and even when the stories read light, the core tends to be rather heavy.
How many people could be happy?
In the next five minutes
In the next five years
What would it take
To make all these people happy?
Not with shallow smiles
But hearts burning with flames?
What would it take
And who would take it?
text © Buzz Dixon
Mi amigo John Shore is hard at work on a new novel, Ashes To Asheville, which, in the time honored tradition of Charles Dickens and Armistead Maupin, is being serialized in a newspaper, in this case the Asheville Citizen-Times.
I’ll let John describe it:
“It’s the story of Tammy, a 45-year-old mother of two grown children whose husband of 22 years … well, let’s just say critically disappoints her.
“For 10 years she taught art and painting at a San Diego junior college. She thought her life was settled. And suddenly she discovers that it’s anything but. This launches her into what is, to say the least, an unsettling time for her.
“In her anguish, Tammy flees her comfortable life in San Diego for the home of her beloved half-brother, Charlie, who lives in Asheville.
“And if you’re going to be thrust into an intensely wrenching, soul-upheaving season of your life, in which so much of what you know, or thought you knew, about yourself is essentially up for grabs, then Asheville is certainly a spectacularly unique place to have that experience. It sure proves to be for her, anyway.”
Check it out. As a former resident of Asheville (and with family members still living there), I can say he’s capturing the flavor and spirit of the town in a really well crafted story.
art by Arthur Sarnoff
Beast by John Byrne [tm] Marvel
The Instagram account will still be the source of most new picture posts of the kind shown here, with Facebook and Twitter getting linked from that.
But I set up the Tumblr account so it will be easier for people to share the stuff I do…and I do want you to share it. Something I do for money, some things I do for fun. The silly captions are fun.