Monday, July 29, 2013

Updates, Tropes, Musings

I don't know what to write about today, so I'll just update you on my work.

For those of you who enjoy the Donovan Schist stories, the third installment is well beyond the idea stage. It has actually been smelted, forged, and beaten into something resembling a story. It's still a long way off from publication but I just thought I'd let you know that the series is alive and well. Or alive anyway. This is Donovan we're talking about, not the Care Bears.

That poor guy is something of a damage-sponge, isn't he? Someone, upon reading Cruel Numbers remarked how in noir the protagonist is always beaten and bleeding by the end. I hesitate to make sweeping generalizations, but it definitely seems to be the case with noir I've written.

I realize this, as I glance back over the third story, and I worry that I'm falling into the Trap of Tropes. I tried hard to make Vacant Graves satisfyingly different than Cruel Numbers without compromising the world or characters. [SPOILER ALERT] The next one takes place in Manhattan again, so certain similarities to the first are inevitable, especially the physical state of Donovan by the end.

I've given it some thought and I think that the persistence of noir characters is kind of their draw. Nothing illustrates persistence like soaking gunshots with a stiff upper lip. Noir characters are by their nature anti-heroes, so we can't look for moral behavior to make us like them. They might do a good deed every now and again, but it's really their survival that keeps us interested, the David vs. Goliath aspect of a single human taking on a brutal system.

Or maybe we just enjoy reading about Donovan's pain, I don't know.

At any rate, I'll let you know when I have a date for the next round of Donovan-torture-prose.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Circles or Something

"This show is a lie, son. Don't believe it. Tinkerbell is really a bitch."

I'm not usually that guy, but this was one of those rare moments I couldn't help myself.

Needless to say, my wife was not pleased.

But it was the truth, goddammit. The Tinkerbell I remember was a bitch. She pulled people's hair and colluded with the enemy. Yet now Disney started this complete whitewash  that depicts her as--gasp!--a nice fairy.

It raises a bunch of interesting questions for me. On the in-universe, ridiculous side: why doesn't Tinkerbell appear on Jake and the Neverland Pirates, especially during "The Return of Peter Pan" episode? Maybe it's because she ditched Peter Pan and, in going on her own, has turned over a new leaf and become a nice fairy. Maybe Peter Pan was making Tinkerbell mean.

Alright, no more in-universe speculation, I promise.

As a case study in changing archetypes, Tinkerbell is fascinating. In many ways, her resume at Disney has paralleled the earlier trajectory of fairies in popular folklore.

Just like the Tinkerbell in 1953's Peter Pan (and the play before it), fairies in premodern literature weren't very nice. They were, in fact, downright mean. Remember Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream? He was actually kind of scary. A character tells us that Puck "frights the maidens of the villagery" and will often "mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm."

He wasn't a pixie-dust throwing, lovable little cherub. He was a shape-shifting lunatic. The only thing that protected all of us from this pint-sized psychopath was Oberon and let's face it, the Fairy King wasn't a philanthropist either.

At some point (scholars usually say the Victorian Era) fairies were transformed from sociopathic pygmies to cuddly children with wings. Ironically enough, Tinkerbell was, despite her bad attitude, one of the "new" fairies. Her own career, meanwhile, was the process in miniature: she went from a bipolar ball of hate to this CGI'd blond who just wants to do the right thing.

Some folks in Internetland write about the change to fairies in a smug manner, as if the original scary fairies were "real" and modern people are dupes for imagining fairies could be nice. It's that same sort of smugness people use when they complain about "sparkly vampires."

But art doesn't exist separate from its audience. There is an undeniable sort of Heisenberg relationship between consumer preference and artistic creation. If readers enjoy the new archetype, at what point do we acknowledge it has changed? Let's be frank: I don't really like my vampires to be reflective. But if every new book adopts that trope, if the bulk of readers decide they want to be able to find vampires in the dark with a strong flashlight, who's to say they're wrong?

The new Tinkerbell movies are up to number four, so someone's buying them. There are four nice movies about Tinkerbell and a mean one. At what point does the nice Tinkerbell become the real one? Does the Mean Tinkerbell character get extra consideration because she's older or does the 4-1 ratio matter?

Of course, there's other Tinkerbells out there. Disney is only one permutation of the Peter Pan story. But the point remains: archetypes change, same as everything else. We can't expect ideas to be stagnant any more than we can expect mountains to resist erosion.

For those who dislike this simple reality, look at this way: when the archetype goes in a direction you don't like, now you have the chance to be unique. When all vampires are disco-balls, you have the chance to introduce scary ass opaque leeches and shake things up.

But then, of course, Team Glitter will have the right to complain when the bloodsuckers go dark again. And the cycle will repeat.

Anyway...I am, to an extent, a fan of the post-Victorian pretty fairies with insect wings and a sweet disposition. But deep down, I like the scary ones too. So rather than choose my poison, I figure I'll dodge the cycle and just use them both when I get the chance.

I'll let you know when that time comes and you, in turn, can let me know if it works.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Every once in a while, you stumble on a story that makes you wonder if Hobbes was right. I remember the first such story I encountered, probably about twenty years ago. As a kid I read the newspaper every day. My interest began with the comics, sparked onto the horoscopes and advice columns, then caught enough oxygen to fan across the entire paper like a scrubland fire.

This incident caught my attention when I was in fourth or fifth grade and blew my little mind. I wish I could link it, but this was an Orlando Sentinel article from twenty years ago.

Anyway, you'll have to trust my memory (a dicey proposition, I know). The facts are pretty simple though: one group of Central Florida golfers (Tribe A) tried to play through the hole being used by an earlier group (Tribe B). Tribe B took offense, words were exchanged, and the two groups attacked each other. One of the men hit another with a golf club. The club broke, which might have deterred a lesser man but not this guy. He then used the broken golf club to stab his opponent repeatedly. Nobody died but the stab victim went to the hospital. The rest, of course, went to jail.

I must've read that article a hundred times, laughing harder and harder with each pass. Golf was supposed to be this civilized endeavor, the hobby of refinement and here were these bruisers going at each other like a Five Points street brawl.

The incident didn't just provide humor for me. It was one of those emblematic stories of my childhood, a frank bit of evidence that some people--no matter how they dress or act--are animals. Maybe more than some, I don't know. Ask me on a good day and I'll say they're in the minority. On a bad day I'll tell you it's everyone.

I'm reminded of this because of a recent event in Brazil, which you may have heard about. If you haven't, here's the link. Every part of this story is bad. Each step of the way, you think "This can't get worse" and yet it does...right up until the gory finish: a blood-splattered triumph like the end of an Assyrian siege.

I realize that they take soccer, er, futbol, very seriously down there but this is shocking nonetheless. It's harsh evidence that the social contract is frail, that civilization is a thin enamel easily scrapped away by the slightest provocation.

There is a counter argument, of course. Rousseau would argue childhood is nasty and competitive, turning docile creatures into monsters. He would argue society is the real source of savagery, driving people to do the things they do.
I won't pretend to have an answer. Even if I did, I'd probably disagree with it tomorrow. And that answer would probably be depressing as well, which leaves me with no choice but to end this post with a picture of Oolong the Pancake Rabbit:

Saturday, July 13, 2013


It's been a busy week. I finally found some time for myself and ran into those two out in Davie.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


It's singular for graffiti, in case you didn't know. Graffiti is an interesting topic. I am annoyed by graffiti, except the odd case where it's art, and yet I love to read ancient graffiti because it crystallizes how the common folks felt when the sources otherwise leave them mute.

Maybe I dislike graffiti now since people don't have to spray paint signs to get their point across, they can instead find a computer and use this fancy new invention called the internet.

Or maybe I'm just a hypocrite.

Anyway, I was at a hospital much of this week (hence the late post) and, given the amount of coffee I imbibed, the restroom was a frequent scene for me. This hospital had peculiar locks. They swung the opposite direction of how locks usually swing. I couldn't tell you now what direction locks should swing because it's such an intuitive thing that you never think about it until faced with an oddball lock. Now I know I wasn't the only one who noticed this problem because the first bathroom I used (2nd floor surgical prep) had a black marker notation (including a helpful arrow) scrawled on the wood around the lock. I chuckled and felt vindicated that someone else noticed this irritating reversal of the norm. Later, I was visiting someone in a recovery room (3rd floor) and THAT restroom also had helpful graffiti on the door. This notation, however, was in a different hand and a different color marker. Apparently there's no shortage of markers in hospitals, so administrators should get their locks right if they don't want helpful graffiti all over their bathroom doors.

All of this puts me in mind of college. I stopped once to use the bathroom in Engineering and was pleasantly surprised to find equations and a Tolkien quote scrawled inside the stall, showing that although engineering students had different taste, they were no more mindful of college property.

My favorite college incident, however, was to be found on the 2nd floor of the UCF library. Some joker decided to attack fraternities with his pen, instigating a graffiti-war between Greeks and non-Greeks (seriously, we should call the latter 'Trojans').

I've never quite understood the need to divide and subdivide into tribes and clans, but I read with fascination as these two groups rattled their spears at each other with vulgarity and witticism. The conversation was so delicious that I went to the next stall and read it's interior as well. The vicious battle had, to my delight, spilled over into this stall as well, though there was a significant neutral addition: a helpful chart someone created giving people the opportunity to rate their bathroom experience. Later writers added categories to the chart when they felt their particular type of bowel movement wasn't represented.

I guess some contemporary graffiti has delighted me as much as ancient, so it's fair to say that I'm not as anti-graffiti as I thought. Graffiti tends to be either troublesome and distracting or interesting and witty, in other words, it's art.