Chinese Triads and Velociraptors

It’s been a while since I’ve had a dream worth sharing on ye olde intertubes. And Halloween is for wacky stuff (and weddings!), right? I had two doozies the other night:

1.) Dreamt that my car — yes, Sir Blimey, the lime green Jeep, skeleton-look-alike, and inspirer of The Jade Skull — was picked up by a tornado and twisted around a few feet. I frantically tried to accelerate away, only to be picked up higher and dumped into a ditch, my car ruined and steaming.

Upon exciting Sir Blimey, I began to run away from said tornado when I found a velociraptor a midst a series of boulders. Living in a society where such things were common, I knew had to run back into the tornado-filled danger zone in order to warn the Hunters (in my dream, I knew they needed a capital H) because it was their duty to destroy the ‘Predators.’

Three of them shuffled me and about thirty other survivors into a creepy abandoned warehouse so as to seal off the exits and protect us. I went with a male Hunter and his lady new-recruit in order to check all of the rickety doors, thinking that being next to a killing machine would prevent the Predator from eating me alive.

Next thing I know, we’re securing a door and a velociraptor looks through the little window, steams up the glass just like in Jurassic Park and we hear a scream as another one eats another Hunter in the stairwell below us.

Once back with the room filled with survivors, I watched in horror as the Predators broke in and started eating people.

Gruesome.

2.) Dreamt that I was in high school with a lovely teacher named Miss Joon Yuen (which is a Korean first name and a Cantonese last name, I know) and my friend had gotten amnesia from breaking her arm. In order to restore her memory, my other friends and I needed to break into a schoolbus in order to concoct a machine to fix memories. We asked Miss Yuen’s permission and she told us to be careful.

Once outside, on our way to the schoolbuses, we had to cross through a tent where the Chinese Triad was hanging out. My red-headed friend snuck in, intent on hacking into the Chinese Triad Internet and saving our amnesiac friend. My brown-haired friend and I tried to stop him, knowing the Triad wouldn’t like it, but we had to sneak in as well to stop him from getting killed.

We got the okay from a spiky-haired Triad member who cleared us through security, only to have to hack into the Internet first and erase everything it had so as to prevent our red-haired friend (who was now buddy-buddy with the Triad leader) from getting in trouble.

Upon exiting, we were accosted by another, sunglassed Triad member who knew that the spiky-haired one had betrayed the entire mafia by letting us in. The dire consequences of this were that my friend, Laura, who was set to marry the spiky-haired Triad member, now had to marry the evil sunglassed one!

Knowing that she was unhappy, not marrying her true love, Miss Yuen intervened, and she was actually an ancient Chinese Fox spirit with blue skin and silver hair!

Before the grand Fox/Triad Wedding Fight, I woke up.

Poop.

It’s no wonder Synopsis rhymes with Nemesis

Part of the ridiculousness absurdity charm of submitting to different agents is a.) they all want different things and b.) they all want different lengths of different things.

Most go like this:

  • Query letter
  • Synopsis
  • Sample writing

Easy-peasy. I can do that in my sleep. (In fact, I had a dream the other night where I was writing query letters, but not to agents to publish a manuscript, but rather to Illyria Illyria from Angel, asking her if she could take me to the shrimp world.)

Anyway.

Some want a 10 page synopsis. Totes, yo. I can do that. Some want a one page synopsis, which was incredibly difficult. Suddenly the 450 page novel I worked a year and a half on is now reduced to a one page no-frills, no-chills, no-spills dried out husk of what said novel should be.

After much struggling and rewording and laboring, I got it down to one page.

The next agent wanted one paragraph.

It’s a good thing I was writing on my desktop and not an easily-throwable laptop. (Never trust technology that you can throw out the window, I always say. I’m looking at you, phone.)

The hard thing about synopses is that they are not a movie trailer, they’re not a blurb on the back, and they’re not a pitch. After trying to hard to hook people’s interest and to sound as “in-a-world”-y as possible, to write a non-partial, non-prejudiced account of a novel is incredibly boring. I looked at my synopsis of Byron and just about fell asleep.

Or maybe I’m doing this wrong…

“Paradise Circus” by Massive Attack ft. Hope Sandoval

Here’s a free double-whammy of depressing-ness! Hope Sandoval is known as the voice behind Mazzy Star, a 90s psychedelica band, whose most famous hit is “Fade Into You.” My favorite off of that same album, however, is “Into Dust.” It’s haunting, chilling, and on more than one occasion, made me cry when I’m driving into work at the coffee shop at five in the morning.

After Mazzy Star disbanded, Hope Sandoval had a solo act, and, more recently, guest stars on Massive Attack’s latest album, Heligoland (Virgin, 2010). The great thing about Massive Attack — besides their awesome radicalness — is their changing repertoire of vocal talent. Others have included the lovely Sinead O’Connor, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz and Blur fame, Guy Garvey of Elbow, and Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio. Star-studded, right?

It’s unfortunate that when we feel a stone,
We can roll ourselves over, ’cause we’re uncomfortable.
Oh well, the devil makes us sin.
But we like it when we’re spinning in his grin.

Love is like a sin, my love,
For the ones that feel it the most.
Look at her, with her eyes like a flame.
She will love you like a fly and never love you again.

Oh my goodness, do I love this song. No only is the music haunting with subtle, heart-beat like percussion, but the simplicity of the few piano chords then blooms into an orchestral wall-o’-sound that is enveloping and beautiful. Hope Sandoval’s just right mix of breathiness and pout convey the emotional breadth of the song.

It’s an interesting concept, thinking of love as a sin, which, in its turn, is caused by the devil. Free will is taken out of the situation entirely, hitting a person unexpectedly, driving them out of themselves, much as love is wont to do. A greater force — the devil, not usually associated with love, but as I wrote a 94 page thesis on the devil, I can say, with no exaggeration, that it’s not THAT out there — causes the hurt and the aggression that love can spawn, especially an unequal love. Flames, flies, stones — these are all antithetical to God, to good, and are associated with devilry. Love, in its unrequited, crazy-obsessive form, can lead to this crushing area of heart-break and betrayal.

And the betrayal comes in with my favorite line, “but we like it when we’re spinning in his grin.” (Some say that last word is “grip,” but the symbolism is so much better if it’s “grin!”). This is allusive to Dante’s Inferno, in which the three greatest sinners — Brutus, Cassius, and Judas — are in his mouth (and now, forever in my brain, spinning as well.) Their sin is betrayal of Julius Caesar and Jesus, respectively.

Love has a way of making us be someone that we’re not. We pretend to be better, funnier, more extroverted, or even change our tastes to suit what we think the other person wants. At its core, this type of love is dangerous because a person can get lost, refuting themselves in order to please someone else. It’s this type of self-betrayal that leads to “flames,” and in a later verse, a smile made out of them. In contrast to the devil in Dante’s Inferno, which is freezing because he’s so far away from God’s warmth and love, a person can burn up and be consumed by the rush of being someone they’re not.

The inversion of the coldness of the devil as opposed to the intensity of the flames plays off of the title. It’s a circus — a long-standing tradition of reversing traditional values — of Paradise. What should be one of the most sublime feelings is, instead, a vacuum of suffering and delusion. Love burns, but sometimes it’s not a assuaging kind.

This shows the trickster aspect to the devil. In the West, we’re so used to the Puritanical version of a being so powerful that he is at odds with God, causing people to sin, that we forget most of the world has a slightly more sympathetic viewpoint, in which the devil is more of a rascal, running around, subverting people’s beliefs only to show them the ridiculousness of their own actions. Sometimes, the devil can do some good, by being bad, as we learned from our Faust. An awesome book about said Devil is the trilogy by Jeffrey Burton Russell, beginning with the excellent Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity.

I read all three when writing my thesis, along with several other tomes about the different aspects that the devil has played throughout his varied career. I had to convince the librarian checking me out that I wasn’t in a cult.

This trickster though, can take love and subvert it into something harmful. Are there lessons to be learned from such a thing? If we can roll ourselves over, yes.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian* Flynn is one of the New York Times Bestsellers that I sometimes read in order to connect with the average reader to see what the hullabaloo is all about. I’ve done this with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and even that Dan Brown monstrosity The Da Vinci Code and rarely am I left impressed.

This time was no exception either.

TL;DR version: interesting writing style and formatting that is squandered by unsympathetic characters and a drawn-out plot.

Story is simple: guy (Nick) meets girl (Amy). They get married. On their fifth wedding anniversary Amy goes missing and there’s talk about murder. Nick is the suspect because, duh, he’s the husband and the story unravels, revealing both Nick’s and Amy’s sides of the story chapter by chapter until the truth sets no one free.

I will say I was impressed by the format of the story — Nick’s events traveled further past the days Amy is “gone” and Amy’s are moving closer to her disappearance until they meet at the end of part one — because it allows for your sympathies as a reader to shift from one to the other as more and more information is revealed. First you side with Amy as she relates how her and Nick fell in love so many years ago. Then, to Nick as Amy’s strange and obsessive behavior is slowly revealed. Then again, back to Amy as more information about just what Nick has been up to stomps around the stage.

It’s not really a mystery, but there is some suspense around whodunit and if there even really was a crime. But that suspense slowly peters out and there isn’t much tension left behind after the big reveal, which is about two-thirds the way through the novel. After that, it’s just a boring third act that has to tie everything together before a flat ending.

I also found it difficult to connect to either Nick or Amy. Both are incredibly well fleshed out and Flynn has the amazing ability to write multiple points of view. Nick’s voice is drastically different from Amy, who has several voices of her own, so that I didn’t even need to see a title telling me who was narrating, the voices were so strong. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re both despicable in their own ways and have little to no redeeming qualities.

Everyone loves a good villain. No one loves whinny, weak, and self-pitying fools who both get what they deserve in the end, which is neither satisfying nor cohesive. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth after finishing this novel — which took me six months because I kept reading other things at the same time.

Three stars out of five. The writing style is brilliant and refreshing; Flynn’s observations through the characters of Nick and Amy are amazing (ha!), but the plot and the ending were too flat and bogged everything down.

*My fiance and his twin think it’s hilarious that Mulder and Scully’s names can be reversed so they’re Sculder and Mully. Now I’m left not being able to remember which ones are the right ones.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

The Terror by Dan Simmons is a 2007 book about the Franklin Expedition, a doomed Northwest Passage endeavor that failed spectacularly when all of the men were never seen again after being trapped in the frozen ice for three years.

TL;DR Version: Very dry and slow beginning with lots of fruitless and repetitive details, but pays off at the end with an interesting interpretation of what really happened steeped in mythos and humanity.

I’ve read novels by Simmons before — most notably 2009’s Drood that was a pointless exercise in editorlessness — and was rather turned off. I like description and I like wordiness, but there comes a point when I just stop caring about what’s happening — even if what’s happening is super exciting, like ZOMG PEEPS IS DYING FROM EPHEMERAL POLAR BEARS — because of the repetition of lists of people’s names and where things are on the ship in specific, nautical detail, and even cycles of events.

Simmons tells a story well, but gets bogged down in minutiae, effectively stopping any terror or dread from creeping into the novel. The creepiest bits, as usually happens with horror novels — not that this is a ‘horror’ novel per se, it just has many a horror element in it — are in the beginning as each chapter shifts temporally until the past catches up with the present and the story moves fairly straightforward from there.

It starts with the men already frozen in ice for the second year in early 1848 around King William’s Island (which they thought to be a Land before realizing it wasn’t connected to the mainland of Canada) and bumbles back and forth between a giant, polar-bear like entity killing the men whilst they are trapped and the rough beginnings of the expedition that should never have taken off in the first place.

Simmons does his homework; everything is meticulously researched so that events play out as historically accurate as possible until the world lost all communication with the Franklin Expedition when they abandoned their ships to the ice in April of 1848 and decided to walk to open water so as to sail south toward the Back River. The accuracy lends atmosphere building and enriches the hopelessness of the world these 19th century Royal Naval sailors found themselves in, but some things are best left out so that the reader can either decide to fill in details, or so that the story isn’t weighed down with unnecessary lecturing.

And I understand how that can be difficult. There are times when I write an entire outline for the background of a story that’s ten pages long, only to use one paragraph from it. Not using the rest is frustrating, but necessary.

The ending, however, is where this book really saved itself. I was going to dismiss it as another slightly creepy yet still rather uninteresting Simmons novel, until the last 150 pages (it’s a good 650) that detail, much like The Walking Dead, how the survivors of such horror — the elements, scurvy, starvation, food poisoning, evil polar bears — turn on each other and become their own destroyers. Once the book becomes more human and less of a historical report, Simmon’s excellent character development drives the story and it becomes unstoppable. I finished the last third of the book in one night, wanting to know how the remaining survivors deal with the horrible consequences set in motion against them.

It’s not surprising that AMC has decided to make The Terror into a television series, since it shares so many themes with one of the best character-driven shows in the last five years.

Four stars out of five. My own conceptions about the novel were turned around by the end, but that still doesn’t even out the repetitive nature of the beginning.

Dr. Kilduff or: How The Powerpuff Girls Taught Me to Love a Pun

Dr. K was my high school literature teacher for two years and he always had this thing about not using anything outside of the text in order to analyze it. Thus, a Plath poem entitled “Daddy” could not, ostensibly, have anything to do with her father. Or, rather, if it did, we couldn’t talk about it.

I never liked that and I finally figured out why: upon rewatching the PPGs, I realized that the majority of my sense of humor came from that show.

Puns? Got it.

The novel I’m trying to get published STAR CROSSED OR: THE CONFOUNDING CALAMITIES OF BYRON THE CAD AND MARIETTA THE ZOMBIE is filled to the brim with puns. They say that puns are the highest form of comedy. Even Shakespeare (eyebrow waggle) used them. SHAKESPEARE. And this dude.

One of the chapters has a subtitle about a Flouring Assassin. It’s about a little girl…who’s becoming an assassin…and SHE’S COVERED IN FLOUR. Or another chapter that tells the future with tea leaves. I call it a Pourtent of Tea. Ha! Even gardening puns make it:

“I can’t even tell if that’s a lie or the truth, it’s so disturbing.”

“My honor!” he snapped back.

“Is so neglected that it’s beginning to wilt from a lack of attention. Nothing I say or do is going to make a damn difference. Does it look like I have a watering can?”

“Hidden beneath the folds of your skirt I’ve no doubt you have at least twenty different ways of killing people and I assume that in assassination school they did teach you how to kill someone with a watering can if given the opportunity.”

“Yeah, the class was called Tenderizing the Garden–”

Absurdity? Yep.

There are zombie fleas that eat the insides of your hair follicles until they eventually burrow into your brain. People electrocute zombies back into life a la Victor von Frankenstein (a distant cousin linking the Shelley character and the Marvel villain*) and they go insane remembering the people they ate when they were undead. And even a slang spoken by street-dwelling triplet junior assassins:

“Swiss worm cheese, they told me you was. Dancing with the squirmies and drinking with the lord of the unforgettable yawn. To see you here, though, flesh peddling and boot stomping for wagon bits makes a Spittle use his hard-boiled noggin.”

They’re well educated street urchins.

A slightly unreliable narrator who bursts in inappropriately? Check.

The story is told in two parts. The first from Marietta’s perspective. The second from Byron. TRUST NEITHER. In fact, I don’t even think you can trust me. The narration shifts slightly from a close third on her and a close third on him, but affects the personalities of them while simultaneously telling about their lives.

Even now I have difficulty keeping it straight, and the point of view is something with which I struggle. That just means a little more editing to get it tight.

Catchy theme song? Uh, no. But I’m working on it.

But what this means is that in some parallel universe where my works are analyzed and critiqued, no one may ever dream of relating it to PPGs if they have a teacher like Dr. Kilduff. And that is just a travesty. It is the things that shape and mould us into the writers we are. And while it’s not imperative that one know everything about a particular author’s biography in order to analyze any works by said author, it often sheds light in the most mysterious of ways.

*Victor von Doom and Byron share a thing! They both believe they are horribly disfigured, due to only a small scar on their faces. Source. I mean, c’mon, guy. IT’S NOT THAT BAD.

From the Powerpuff Girls episode “Schoolhouse Rocked.” I’ll just leave this here:

Ms. Keane: Well, girls, I think Mr. Wednesday taught us a valuable lesson here today.

Bubbles: Education is the progressive realization of our ignorance?

Ms. Keane: No. Don’t turn your back in the middle of a dodgeball game!

Narrator: Oh, Ms. Keane! Under your rule, school is cool!