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dragon on the hill

23/08/2016

the new road
curls around the dark hill
like a fiery golden dragon
ascending to heaven

a year ago
it was just an idea

a year before that
not even a thought

what will it be
a year from now?

text © Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report August 21, 2016

21/08/2016

A productive weekend.

I stumbled across a writing prompt that initially struck me as being pretty damn useless.

Writing prompts are tricky things.  Too often they’re just meaningless generic ideas (“Write a story about a cat!”) or too gimmicky (“Write a story about a cat but don’t use any vowels!”).  Finding a source of good writing prompts is always a blessing since a good prompt will light the fuse on an idea that can turn into a good, quirky story.  Most people / books / websites that offer prompts fall into the first two categories, but some of the better instructors / coaches can find or create prompts that give you just enough specific details to generate a vivid idea yet remain vague enough to let you explore that idea on your own.[1]

This particular prompt was a pretty generic one, but as I turned the phrase around in my head, I saw a not-very-obvious opening, one that I’m pretty sure violated what the original intent of the prompt was but who cares, it got the creative juices flowing, right?

I had the idea Friday night; Saturday we were visiting Soon-ok’s mom.  I took along a collegiate notebook with me[2] and starting writing at her apartment.

I completed about half the story there and the other half when I came home,[3] clocking in at about 2,000+ words.

It’s not a good story — not yet, anyway — but it’s a good idea for a story and the skeleton is there and mostly fleshed out, so it’s going to be merely a matter of transcribing it and working on it on the computer.

I have several other stories in my notebooks awaiting their turn at beings transcribed:  The aforementioned barbarian fantasy story, a one-act play, a couple of closet dramas[4], several fictoids, poems, and essays as well as a ton of free floating notes, all of which need to be transcribed and transferred to the particular story folders where they belong.

All this on top of the various books in their various stages of development.

Speaking of which….

I printed up the first draft of The Most Dangerous Man In The World so I can start polishing it over the next couple of weeks.  I did a very light format / grammar / spellcheck on it as I was prepping it to be printed, but not nearly as detailed as the one I’ll do on the manuscript itself.

I’ve found for longer works it’s better to print out a hard copy and then work on it with a red pen.  I print it on three hole punch paper and put it in a notebook with a number of lined school notebook paper in the back.

This was as I’m writing if I have any edits or additions that can’t be scribbled in on the margins, I write ‘em on the lined notebook paper and stick ‘em into the manuscript at the appropriate place.

(Short stories tend to not get that kind of attention from me; their virtue — at least in my eyes — is the primacy and immediacy of the story telling.  I do go back and proofread and polish, but typically just on the computer, not a hard copy.)

Anyway, I’m all lined up for The Most Dangerous Man…  I’ll tackle it as soon as I finish my edit on The Rustlers Of Rimrock.

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GI JOE 1st draft

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[1]  Back in the day we used to buy a copy of The World Weekly News, the ultra-low grade black and white red-haired stepchild to The National Equirer tabloid, and read it aloud at Ruby-Spears.  TWWN was the home of Bat Boy and such insane headlines as DOCTORS SUCKED THE FAT FROM MY BODY (which — surprise-surprise — actually turned out to be a factual piece on liposuction, which was just then coming into vogue); it was always good for a laugh and at least three or four story ideas.  Not a bad deal for $.25.

[2]  If I’m working in an office for a studio or publisher, I prefer yellow legal pads; you can scribble stuff out quickly, tear it off, and pass it along to the poor schnook who has to decipher your writing and enter it into the document or script.  For personal use I prefer the collegiate notebooks; you can’t tear the pages out easily, which discourages anusoids from helping themselves to something, and they’re easier to carry.

 [3]  I’ve discovered that whatever media I start a story in, I tend to prefer to finish it in that media even if I’m going to transcribe it to another format for final use.

[4]  That’s the technical name for ‘em:  Short stories that are told almost entirely through dialog.

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I Do Not Like The Other Executioner

18/08/2016

I do not like the other executioner

He has no appreciation for the niceties of our business

The condemned are entitled to know their offence

They are entitled to be informed of the imminence of their death

They are entitled to prepare themselves, to appeal to their god, to set their mind in order, to think on their families for one last time

When I execute someone

It is with all the solemnity due the situation

They await me in a small room, handcuffed to a chair

I enter from behind, but step around to face them

I speak to them, call them by name

I inform them of the court’s decision

I tell them their hour is at hand

I give them a few moments to compose themselves

I listen to their last words

And then I execute them

I do so with quiet dignity

These may be criminals

Enemies of the people

But they deserve their humanity

Even at the end

My so-called colleague, however

Steps into the room behind them unannounced

Gun already in in his hand

And before they can turn to see who has entered

Blows their brains out

I have complained to the warden about the mess he leaves

But the warden has chosen

Not to get involved

In our workplace disputes

I have criticized my colleague

About his brutal methods

He shrugged and said,
“We want them dead. Nothing they say or do will change that. Why waste time? It’s not like they’re going to appreciate anything we do for them after we kill them. So why waste the effort?  Dead is dead.”

It is thinking like that

That makes this world

A less pleasant place to live

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I Do Not Like The Other Executioner

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© Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report August 9, 2016

9/08/2016

The last week proved to be very good for me creatively.  Thanks to participation in Beth Bornstein Dunnington’s writers workshop on Sunday* I now have the first draft of four short stories that I’m going to get circulating in the next few weeks and five short-shorts (or fictoids, as I like to call ‘em).

You’ll be seeing those (i.e., the fictoids) over the next few weeks.  The four short stories are pretty short — most around 800 or so words, one almost twice that length – but I think they’ll be fun reads once I finish polishing them.

No progress on the books but since I knocked off a number of short works I’m not bugging out on that…yet.  But I do need to get those drafts completed ASAP.

the jewel-hinged jaw

In my last writing report I mentioned a method of creating a character that (IIRC) Samuel R. Delaney discussed in his book The Jewel-Hinged Jaw.

I don’t think Delaney claimed this as his own but credited another writer with it; however, I can’t remember who that may have been so, Chip, if I’ve short changed ya, my apologies…

This is what you need to create the basics of a character:

  1. A name
  2. A gender
  3. An age
  4. An occupation
  5. A physical description
  6. An emotional description

To whit:

Jane is a tall, effervescent retired librarian.

Jack, 24, is a stocky, sour auto mechanic.

Brian is a moody dark-haired high school student.

Betty is a pensive middle-aged housewife in a wheelchair.

You’ll notice how it doesn’t take very much to create a character in the readers’ minds.  Give them just a few pertinent details and they’ll fill in all the blanks.

And you don’t have to break each component down: 
Names often indicate gender as well, a high school student by definition is a teenager, etc.  (And clearly “occupation” is not limited to what their actual workaday job is.)

But those 6 basics are all you need to ground a character; you can build on it from there.

Jane, the tall, effervescent retired librarian, is clearly a much different person from John, the cantankerous 40 year old corpulent librarian, who is a different person from Joan, the shy, gawky tween intern librarian, who is different from Juan, the elegant trim 30 year old librarian.

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*  I’ve known Beth as a fellow scribe since my animation days and highly recommend her workshops; check out her blog for more info (and, no, I didn’t travel to Hawaii; Beth was holding a special workshop in Venice [no, not Italy, California].).

 

 

 

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On The Convention Trail (Nerd Con Aug. 26-28, 2016)

4/08/2016

on conv trail 1950_04 ed_cartier_gnomepresscalendar

I’ll be at Nerd Con in Escondido August 26 to 28, participating in panels devoted to classic 1980s animated shows and featuring such illuminaries (hey, did I work on that show?) as Flint Dille, voice actors Michael Bell (Duke, Firefly, Swoop, Sideswipe, Plastic Man, and Grouchy, Handy, and Lazy Smurf among others) and Gregg Berger (Grimlock, Skyfire, Long Haul, Outback, Spirit, plus tons more).

SEE YOU THERE!

IMG_5444

Greg, Nerd Con organizer Joe Troutman, Michael, & yrs trly

 

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up the long ladder and down the short rope

2/08/2016

the German hangman
did his job as
competently
methodically
efficiently
as stereotype
demanded

each client
(he refused to think
of them as victims)
came trippingly up
the tall stairs
(thirteen in all)
to make their last stand
on his trap door

he’d slip the hood
over their heads
drape the noose
around their necks
then at the Americans’ command
=yank=
the lever and
dispatch his clients
into the next world

in honor of
the gum chewing
wise cracking
Americans
he wore a plain black suit
with a bright bow tie
it added a festive
circus air
to the proceedings

trip-trap-trip-trap-trip-trap
up the stairs they they’d come
like those billy goats gruff
in the old
fairy tale
and crash-boom-bang
down they’d go
yanking to a sudden
neck-breaking halt
at the end
of their six-foot
length of fine hemp rope

he did his job well
and none of them
suffered
at least not
physically
and if their souls suffered
well, not his department
was it?

he never dressed
so gaudily
in the past when the Nazis
employed him
he wore
a black frock coat
and a tall hat
with a black satin ribbon
just like
an undertaker

he was supposed
to add
dignity and weight
to their murders

for certain people
the Nazis
wanted to observe
the niceties
they wanted to pretend
there was law and justice
behind what they did

not the Americans
oh, no, not the Americans
get in
get out
quit mucking about
was their motto

and they viewed
the executions
of the courts’
sentences
impatiently
not as sacred-yet-profane
rituals to be
observed

because he had been
employed as a civilian hangman
before the war
the Nazis
had deemed him
fit to execute
their legal judgments

not everybody
the Nazi state
executed
was undeserving
of their fate

his lot
was to dispatch
the murderers
thieves
rapists
unfortunate enough
to be caught
committing those crimes
against fellow Aryans
(really
if they wanted
to indulge
in such things
why didn’t they
volunteer
for the special action units
on the eastern
front?)

relatively few
of his clients
between 1939
and 1945
were political
offenders
and even those
were usually convicted
of some other crime
no matter
how spurious

it wasn’t like
he was herding people
into gas chambers

the Americans
held him
for a short while
in this very prison
waiting a decision
on what to do
with him

it was a bespectacled
American major
who brought
the offer
to him

“gum?
sorry, no cigarettes to offer
I don’t smoke
any how
Hans –
(we are
all “Hans”
to them
thought the
good German
hangman)
” — here’s our
situation
we got
some Nazis
who need
hanging
and you been
doing a fine job
hanging folks
for the Nazis

“now
we can hold that
against you
and hang you
as well
or we can
let bygones
be bygones
say you was
only following
orders
and say
all of
the hangings
you participated in
were
legal
legit
criminal
hangings
not atrocity hangings
you catch
my drift?”

the good German
hangman
caught the American major’s
drift immediately
(I can operate
the gallows
for these
squeamish louts
or I
can ride it)
and set to work
arranging the protocols
for the G.I. run
executions
in the spring
0f 1947

by then
the war crime
trials were
winding down
and ex-Nazis
and former colleagues
were either settling in
to many long decades
behind bars
or else
on the fast track
to getting their
necks stretched

truth be told
it was a little
disconcerting
to look
in the eyes
of men
whom he
once worked
before sending
them to
hell

some times
they would look
at him reproachfully
as if to ask
how could you
do this to me?
but the good German
hangman
never acknowledged
them
he just
stood them
in position
over the
trap door
pulled the hoods
over their heads
adjusted the rope
around their necks
and yanked the lever
that
sent
them
to end
their
lives

he had known these men
talked to these men
had been solicitous
when they told
of the hardships
their families
were going through
because of
the war
and while
these men
may have been
monsters
in other prisons
and with
other
victims
(they
had victims
not he)
they committed
no unspeakable
horrors
before him
they were just
bureaucrats
functionaries
sinecures

but still
if the Americans
were satisfied
with their guilt
and were willing
to overlook
any tenuous
connection
he might
have shared
with his clients
well
who was he
to say they
were wrong?

and in the end
it wasn’t really
so different
now was it?

and who
was he
to disagree?

he was
after all
just the
hangman

and the responsibility
always belonged
to somebody
else

words © Buzz Dixon

when one door closes another one opens CAP

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Writing Report, July 25, 2016

26/07/2016

Not as productive a week as I’d hoped.  I did quite a bit of writing but mostly for the blog.

Actually, it ended up a lot more productive than when I uploaded the first draft of this post.  Over the last two nights I managed to write the last 3,500 words of the barbarian story, bringing the total word count to about 15,500.  The final draft may be a little longer, may be a little shorter:  There are a few things I know I’ll have to flesh out, there are doubtlessly plenty of places where I can trim and tighten things up.

On the whole I’m happy with it.

I am facing a couple of minor problems, though.  The first is a matter of staging:  I have seven characters in a room and four of them have to leave in a precise sequence in order for the rest of the climax to work.

They can’t just saunter out, either; there’s some pretty grim urgency to this, like being trapped in a burning building (only what’s facing them is infinitely worse that a mere burning building).

But my original staging of this part of the climax is coming across rather clunky and clumsy; I’m going to need to redo it significantly in the next draft.  I’ve opted to complete this scene based on how I’ve started it because once they are out of this particular area they head off in separate directions, each to fulfill a specific function for the story’s climax; however, I’m going to have to go back and plot out the moves on paper so the staging makes sense in the final draft.

The second problem is easier to solve and will be solved in the next draft though for consistency’s sake I stuck with what I started using in this draft:  My protagonist’s name reflects the ultimate origin of the story idea, a joke based on another well established character.

Since that character is not public domain, I couldn’t use that name, but I did find a real name that was suitable for my protagonist and fairly close to the original well established character’s name as well.

Thing is, I think that name would work if I’d kept the story down to 2,800-3,500 words.  In it’s original conception the story, while not a parody, would have been recognized as a pastiche of the original character and so the new name would have been excusable.

But a 15,000+ word story carries a different kind of weight, and if I’m going to expand it with not one but three sequels to bring it to novel length, then what was excusable as a short story becomes too coy and works against the book.

So my protagonist will acquire a new name when I move into the next draft, but one that I think will work even better:  Somewhat more exotic sounding, and less obviously connected to the original well established character.

And speaking of names, a rough writing rule of thumb I’ve stumbled across while doing this story:

  • If a character appears in only one scene to fulfill a single specific function, you may refer to them just by their occupation or general description (a courier who delivers an info dump message, a cop who writes a parking ticket to make the protagonist’s day worse, etc.)
  • If that character appears two or three times but always in the same function they can still be identified just by generic description though giving them a hint of individuality doesn’t hurt (say the cop writing a ticket is a running gag)
  • But if they’re in two or more scenes with at least two different functions they need a name and some sort of personality; they’re full fledged albeit minor characters now (the courier delivers a message then fights a duel unrelated to the message)

Samuel R. Delaney, in his book of essays The Jewel-Hinged Jaw (IIRC), referred to a method of creating characters that another writer had devised (alas, that writer’s name I cannot recall!).  I’ll share that with you in the next writing report.

the jewel-hinged jawHighly recommended; go get it!

 

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listening to nino rota

25/07/2016

i’m listening to nino rota

soundtracks for fellini films

and I am transported back

to happier times

times without care

times of hope

times when a good future beckoned

 

the music reminds me

not so much of fellini

but of other films

that I would see at

the various revival houses

scattered around los angeles

 

ah, that phrase

revival house

sounds religious doesn’t it

well, why not

the movies

are the mythology of the world

and los angeles is rome

to hollywood’s vatican

a religious experience indeed

 

when i went to the revival houses

not so many years ago

my favorite film makers

spoke to the human heart

asked questions about what

we find right and wrong

moral and just

in this world of ours

 

and i would come away

feeling that at least

there was some

common language

for decency

for hope

 

now

i can’t watch the films

of some of my favorite film makers

because they have revealed themselves

to be so badly flawed

so hypocritical

that i cannot believe

anything that they put on the screen

 

lesser film makers

more cynical

more base

but more honest

being cynics

offer no hope

just a belly laugh

at our fate

 

the old revival houses are shuttered

just as churches are closing down

all across the country

the revival houses

stopped showing movies

stopped sharing dreams

and turned into stores

to sell carpets

and then smart phones

and then 99-cents or less

and then closed for good

like a cemetery

dug up

and bulldozed over

for a freeway

 

i look

at my neighbors

and people

whom i called

my friends

and ask

who are you

where are the good spirits

the camaraderie

we shared

in those dark theaters

under those glorious dreams

where are they

 

there is a new spirit

stalking the land tonight

and it is ugly

and selfish

not giving a damn

for others

or the pain

it has imposed

an ugly spirit

sucking everything

into a deep dark void

of self interest

not realizing

like a snake

consuming

its own

tail

that

it

is

damning

itself

 

i hear nino rota’s joyous music

and I want to be

back in that time

when we sat

in the dark

and shared

a tear

and a laugh

nuart flyer edit

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Fictoid: two ladies from the south

22/07/2016

Edwin Georgi - ever read Man From The South

Well, have you ever read
Roald Dahl’s “Man From The South”?
art by Edwin Georgi

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Writing Report: July 19, 2016

19/07/2016

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[1] 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[2] 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[3] 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[4]

…and the aftermath of that would be the original sequel idea I envisioned.

Four stories.

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.

animated thundarr opening

NOT the protagonist in my story!!!

[1]  Figuring Robert E. Howard’s Kull (whom I actually prefer over Conan) was the only other major fantasy character to carry such a weapon.

[2]  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!!!”

[3]  Because I’m too damned lazy to try to come up with story ideas for five sons.

[4]  Hey, ya need a little variety, ammiright?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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