Though The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti‘s not officially released until early September, it looks to be slipping through Amazon already. And that seems to me to be a good time to explain it a bit. Or, not explain it, but explain around it. And not like this, but with this running journal-thing (my first ever) I kept for the seventy-two hours it took me to write it. That Three-Day Novel Contest, yep. Which, if I could find a way to make a living doing one of those every weekend, then I guess I’d do pretty well for about a year, at which point I’d of course have to die. Anyway, the week after that contest, I read this journal-thing, and my knee-jerk reaction — pretending, say, I was reading a journal-thing somebody else had been keeping — was that something wasn’t right. At some very fundamental level. And also I kind of knew that I shouldn’t show to this to anybody.
So far, too, this is getting the award (derision?) for shortest post ever.
Anyway, lost in the surf of Duma Key right now, and looking forward to snagging The Plague of Doves afterwards. Writing this novel too all the while, which I just keep expecting to self-destruct. But somehow it just keeps unfolding. And I guess that’s good, but, too, I’m about the last person in this situation who’d know, either.
So a while back, I started a list like this but it got all out of hand, yeah, turned into that House of Fiction thing, which was really just a version of this other post, I suppose. When all I really wanted was something short, to pin up by my monitor, help me keep it between the lines, all that. Except of course writing ‘rules,’ I mean, Vonnegut‘s laid them down, Elmore Leonard‘s done it, Twain‘s got them, Palahniuk‘s messed around with it, and Orwell has too, and of course Stephen King has. And then there’s stuff like this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and of course this, and I agree with just about all of it (except the bad talk about mutants; sand mutants rule), even down to stealing some of them (‘incorporating’), but still, I guess, am either vain enough or blind enough — and I’m thinking vanity and blindness aren’t that unrelated, really — to think that I have to have my own list. Maybe just for me, for that little empty space by my monitor. Something like this:
Working on a new slasher right now, and leaning towards making it a screenplay, mainly so the form can keep it reined in for me, somewhat. Too, this time, I’m doing what I’ve never done: thinking it all through ahead of time. Which has involved a lot of re-watching, a lot of thinking. And, on the idea that reasoning from first principles (or at least memory) is somehow a pure way to get to something at least in the area of truth, I’ve been intentionall ducking Carol Clover and all the other slasher analyses out there. Just because I want to figure out what the slasher is, not simply agree with people smarter than me. And, here’s what I’ve got so far — those pieces without which a slasher isn’t really a slasher, and in no really good order :
Third installments of a franchise the audience is in love with are very difficult to pull off. Nobody says Alien3 or Return of the Jedi or the third Scream are their favorites of the series, right? Even Godfather III, as good as it might be, is overshadowed by the first two. Granted, by the third installment, the success of the original and its sequel have given this latest incarnation a serious budget to work with, and all the marketing is in place, and some of the principal actors are probably even still signed on, but—for this sequel to the sequel to capture instead of divide the audience, it has to walk such a tightrope of formula and originality; it has to do what the original did and find a way of doing it which isn’t tired. This is why the two follow-ups to The Matrix, while pretty brilliant in their own right, at all levels—story continuity, effects, series escalation—still paled in comparison to the original. What The Matrix did, which just blew the audience away, was show how this reality we’d bought into was a construct. The next two installments could no longer surprise us with that, but instead had to assume it, and try to pull the carpet out in some other, more subtle way. In fact, the only ‘third’ that might have done for the audience what the original did was Friday the 13th’s, the one where Jason got his mask. Which Terminator 3, following the unapologetic slashers Terminator and Terminator 2 were, might should have paid a little attention to*. But yeah, I know: without James Cameron’s story sense, that is, with him saying the story was already told, what else could have happened, right? I mean, Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, what it is essentially is an extension of everything Cameron laid down in the first two installments. So how could it have gone wrong?
Was poring through some story or novel the other day, to submit it, and realized, now that the story was more or less in place, at least until somebody else jammed their hands into it, that all I was looking at were the words, the sentences. Which is nice, yeah, makes a piece feel ‘done.’ Like Carver’s supposed to have said, he knew it was time to step away from a piece when all he was doing anymore was changing commas (but yeah, look at the differences in his “The Bath” and “A Small, Good Thing,” which “The Bath” became).
Man, if everybody doesn’t have a list, right? I’d guess, if I took the time to look, somebody’s already got one like this, I mean: things they’re tired enough of in horror to make a public plea that those things stop, lest the whole genre cave in or something. Or, really, those things we get tired of in our chosen reading areas (assuming we use the marketing terms [Western, Horror, Romance, Thriller, Mystery, Erotica, Historical, ‘Literary,’ etc] instead of just ‘Quality’ and ‘Not Quality’), without them how could the genre ever be parodied, right? And parodies, aside from being this big extended in-jokes that make us feel clever, they also tend to purge the genre of a lot of what’s become extra. SCREAM did this in 1996, say, BLAZING SADDLES in 1974, etc, though, stuff like DATE MOVIE or SCARY MOVIE, I don’t know: they’re parody, sure, but I suspect that, like with its cousin satire, there’s generative parody and destructive parody. The reason SCREAM and BLAZING SADDLES worked, I think–ie, added to the genre by critiquing it–was that, beneath the laughs, they were a horror movie and a western. Just funny, self-aware ones. This isn’t to say NAKED GUN was necessarily a parody of the police procedural, however; I’d say it’s more like just a comedy with cops in it.
For a long time now I’ve gone to bed early
For a long time now I’ve been writing “title shot” in the back of every book I read, along with a/the page number. Most, anyway. All it means is that this (page) is the first time the title of the book appears in the book itself. Just something I’ve been tracking for years and years, with the idea of going back someday, synthesing all the ratios (“if a title’s to appear in a book, it’s usually not before the seventy-fifth page,” etc). But I’ve got just thousands of books, and I’m always lending them out and forgetting where they are, so my data set here’s hopelessly jumbled, and I’d rather write stories than run numbers anyway. And, I mean, breaking a book down to numbers is pretty foolish too. Really, growing up I just played a lot of that Glass-Jawed-Joe boxing game on my old Atari or whatever, and would always get caught up against the ropes, the announcer saying over and over again, “Body blow! Body blow!” So now I scribble my book-version of that in the back of whatever I’m reading.
In today’s trend-oriented publishing climate, you need to either be the celebrity-of-the-moment or you need to have a bulletproof plan to plug into what’s hot, what’s guaranteed, what there’s already an audience for. And, sir/madam/etc., that you don’t already know my name from the tabloids should suggest that, while not infamous for killing or raping or stalking somebody, which is pretty much the standard for literary potential, I know, I have nevertheless, through a thorough though necessarily shallow study, come up with a story idea that’s less of a gamble than 99% of the publishing opportunities you probably have sitting on your desk right now.