The western may be one of the few if not only genres where character development is actually at crosspurposes with audience expectations. We don’t want the passing-through cowpoke/gunhand/lawman/whatever to actually change, do we? Isn’t it all better if they stay the same? Granted, maybe a more intense version of themselves, of the self they’re trying not to be anymore, as in Tombstone, or even a reversion to who they used to be, as in in Unforgiven, but still, in neither of those westerns do you have the protagonist really learning something, having an aha moment about himself, or his place in the world. The only epiphanies are plot-specific: ‘They went that way, Jeb,’ or, ‘So that cattle baron is behind all this . . . ‘

Just thinking this because, yeah, in Appaloosa — spoiler, spoiler — a character does actually change. And it feels strange. Is the western stepping forward, or is ‘drama’ putting on a cowboy hat for a hundred and twenty minutes?

Not sure.

But of course, too, Appaloosa hits a lot of the western conventions along the way to being different from the rest (even The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada was finally conservative, I think), and even manages, some twenty-three years after Rustler’s Rhapsody and Silverado (themselves of course eleven years after Blazing Saddles, just because Blazing Saddles set the bar so high for horse comedy), to not just inject some humor into the proceedings, but to make it a fundamental part of the experience. Not just buddy-cop banter either, but a sense of the comedic that penetrates camera angles, infects the soundtrack, and, yeah, makes us smile. Meanwhile, people are getting shot a lot. Well. Maybe not ‘a lot.’ Enough, though, I suppose. The days of Commando bodycounts are maybe over anyway, Rambo notwithstanding. Too, who knows why, but I of course very loudly applaud how unexpendable Indians are in Appaloosa. Granted, they’re still just a plot device, another obstacle to overcome if this great land is to get all tamed, but still: I think only one of their horses gets shot, yes? And that’s even on purpose, with some Quigly-shooting. Thank you, Appaloosa.

And, talking conventions and the hitting of them, one particularly interesting one is the range war. Only, here, the ‘range’ is a woman, and the two disputers for her hand are the most powerful good guy and the most powerful bad guy. who of course hate each other. Kind of fun, especially as it leaves the deputy suddenly in the position of mediator, solver, fixer, all that. Which of course (spoilers still) necessitates that he leave, because that’s how soldiers are treated in the western: after they serve their purpose, they have to ramble on. There’s no place for them in ‘normal’ society. But of course their exit’s always explained away by their own wanderlust. And we usually buy it too, I think.

But none of that’s what I really meant to be talking about here. All I meant to say was that the ending of Appaloosa, as conventional and time-honored as it is — cowboy, horse, hard-hearted beautiful girl left behind to pine (her hair even blows in the wind mournfully), a convenient sunset, even a windmill, I think — it doesn’t quite satisfy. Not in the carrying-smoldering-coals-in-a-horn way a thing can dissatisfy, I mean, where we wonder if it’s really over, but in the it-could-have-been-better way. Like at the end of Mi Familia (Jimmy Smits, 1995, pretty cool), it’s all set up for him to teach one of these new kids to dance. But then, I don’t know, it kind of just fades out, doesn’t extend itself, won’t take that chance. Appaloosa doesn’t either, I don’t think. However, what use to just complain. Especially if you don’t have something better. Or that you (I) at least think’s better. Like this: instead of it ending as it does now, with the deputy walking his horse into the sunset, no real words of parting between him and his long-time friend and idol, how it should, or could end is with a variation of the joke that’s been threaded through the whole thing: Virgil Cole, standing in the street, reaches up, grabs his (ex-) deputy’s horse’s bridle, gets all dusty/misty (this is how cowboys cry), and says something like “I feel all — all — all dis . . . discon — What’s the word I’m looking for, Everett?” Before, see, Everett’s always been Virgil’s walking thesaurus, so Virgil can come off more educated than he really is. This time, though, Everett, he’s a changed man. Not a sidekick anymore, but a hero in his own right. “It’ll come to you, Virge,” he says, reining his horse away then turning around, leaning on the pommel of his saddle. “It’ll come to you.” Then bam, cut to a close-up of his mustahce-filtered smile and he’s gone, and the look in Virgil’s eyes is one of “what’ll come to me?” His younger self riding away at a slow, almost pondering, come-catch-me pace, of course. Just long enough for the credits to roll. And somewhere in there, a harmonica.

It’s by Roger Ebert, in his review for Nights in Rodanthe: “Paul doesn’t evacuate because of some dialogue he is made to say.” I don’t see how I could love anything more than that. It’s even better in context, too. And, as for why I was reading about Nights in Rodanthe. No idea. I was feeling around, seeing if Blindness was going to be watchable (pun?), then got all excited about Appaloosa, and suddenly, bam, there I was finding that beautiful and perfect line (only other movie write-up line I’ve ever loved this much, almost, was a non-review somewhere did for The Astronaut’s Wife, where, instead of actually commenting on the movie, they re-presented a condensed/mocked-up form of the script, which exaggerated all the weaknesses etc. It was beautiful and perfect, had Johnny Depp wearing a pink boa, I think, but even the day after I read it (years and years ago) I wasn’t able to find it again).

Too, I am still an inveterate listmaker:

and, a while back — which, linking back to myself feels a lot like Lost finally stooping to show flashbacks from the island, sorry — I was wanting so bad to post an image of my still-hero, Phineas and Ferb’s Dr. Doofenschmirtz. But alas, there weren’t any around to nab. But there are now:

dr d

too, rereading that post, I think I should have also put that “Lonegan’s Luck” story in the list above, as I’d guess it’s right on the edge of being real with New Genre. will post here when/if I know for sure.

another thing that should have gone on the list (I should maybe start a list of things I forgot to put on the list, and that I evidently don’t have the ability to go back and add to the list): almost done with another novel here. This weekend? Who knows. Started it at the front of summer, got terrified of it, used having no home for eight or ten weeks as an excuse to not write it, but finally have got the nerve to finish it. I think.

also, I’ve been (of course) pricing zombie masks lately. and werewolf masks. in addition to the standby pirate and Jason costumes already on the hanger. found a pair of perfect lizard loafers to go with my zombie suit, too, right size and everything, but then they disappeared somehow. but there’ll be more.

and, finally, Lakeview Terrace. I can’t stop thinking about it. May have to watch it again, as I’m pretty sure it conforms to all of the conventions of the slasher. Which would of course explain why I can’t stop thinking about it.

oh, wait, before that: I think I also have a zombie-piece coming up PopMatters. about which I’ll say more later.

too, I’m very excited about Appaloosa. maybe it’ll even be the next Tombstone, somehow.

So, the LOST writers claim not to be lost at all. They’re not just reeling the episodes out from nothing. It’s all going somewhere, somehow, some perfect way. Moreover (first time I’m using that word. cool, yeah?), they also guarantee that this crazy upside-down inside-out unfantasy island, it’s not some form of limbo or purgatory, where dead non-MILLENIUM (the Kristofferson one) plane passengers go, and I’m guessing they’ve probably — and this would just be good marketing, because the audience right now needs the stories they ingest to ‘matter,’ where ‘mattering’ is pretty much qualified by how ‘real’ or ‘truthy’ the thing is, which, in LOST’s case, comes down to, well this: —* also suggested in some sidelong way that neither is this some side-dimension, some parallel reality. Rather, it’s our world, it’s deeper into our world, it’s the world we could step into at any moment, as establised by six famous ones actually stepping back into what would seem to be our world.

So, to start all over again: there’s going to be an explanation, and it’s likely not going to be of the TOMMYKNOCKERS / SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW (etc) kind, that there’s some extra-terrestrial ship or artifact crashlanded deep down somewhere, its sentient exhaust smoke really winding that ‘perturb’ dial around on our sense of reality. And, what’s that leave, right? It’d seem that, with this set of building blocks, there’s only so many ways to stack them. I mean, after aliens and the afterlife and, I don’t know, ghosts I guess, the only explanation I can come up with is the FINAL DESTINATION one: a passenger standing in line in Australia one unfine afternoon, flashing forward (for a few seasons, so far) to what’s about to happen, should she or he step up onto that plane.

But which character? Yeah. My vote’s Walt, the comic book kid, though Locke’s the more obvious selection, as if this is anybody’s fantasy, it would seem to be his, as all the pitfalls and pratfalls seem engineered his way, albethem very indirectly sometimes. But his is a devious mind, especially when just making it all up on the fly. But then too, it could be Kate or Jack or Sawyer’s escape from their current host of problems, from the things going on in their lives that aren’t just all that pleasant. By abducting all these people in line with them, though, spinning stories around each of them every which way, until they’re all connected so improbably it seems to be insisting on its fictionality (‘fictitiousness?’), they can, after a season or two, just lean back into this web of wishful fabrication, ignore the real world for a while.

I don’t know.

Could be there’s twenty more ways to stack those blocks (one which I’d hope would involve that foot — am I remembering right? a giant stone foot from CLASH OF THE TITANS? surely not). Or some more magic number Hurley’d know, or know to be afraid of anyway.

Just thinking about all this as a form of pre-HEROES/FRINGE-debut excitement, I suppose. But because I want to be thinking about it too. And still am: really, maybe the better way for LOST to finally pull the curtains, better than a kid waking at the end anyway, blinking away this sticky, seasons-long dream (um: say), would be the way PREY went out, how ENTERPRISE fizzled, the ungrand bows NOWHERE MAN and KINDRED and WOLF LAKE and FIREFLY and BOOMTOWN all took. Or had to take. I mean, even to a lesser degree, X-FILES and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, each slowing down to a permanent stop not because of lack of interest or poor writing, but because contracts weren’t renewed, things were said that couldn’t be unsaid, and because it was decided that it was just the story that mattered, the premise not the cast. So let somebody else be worried-face Jack, bring in another supermodel for danger girl Kate, do a casting call for loveable scamps who can play con men. Let that happen and we’ll all just file out of the living room, not be all concerned with what this island’s going to turn out to be. I mean, that might be preferable, at least for the people behind the pen for that last episode, trying to wrap the series up all neat, with an already nostalgic bow, something like Sam telling Diane to have a nice life. And maybe even meaning it.

But it is possible to wrap it up perfectly too, yeah. The way THE SOPRANOS did, and it was supposed to be unwrappable, unconcludeable. There’s no neat end for soap operas, is there? Even ones as well written as that. Except, then, man, that last episode nailed it, hit a finale so perfect and resonant and powerful that whenever “Don’t Stop Believin” cues up these days, ESCAPE flashing in my head (please, please, let it all work out), if I’m in my truck, I about have to pull over, park, make room for Carmela, walking through the doors of that diner all over again, the look on her face the most pure expression of contentendness, of possibility, of denial that I’ve ever seen, at least since Garner’s Jim Rockford. The tails of her overcoat lifting in the most perfect way.

In LOST terms, her coat tails lifting, if this is Walt’s long glimpse into the future or whatever, then the capper would have to be him grabbing that rail beside him, taking his dad’s hand, and stepping up onto that plane any damn way, just for the chance of adventure. Because he’s a dreamer, yeah. And it’s infectious.

Which concludes this broadcast.

Thank you, and good night.

instead of an Indian head looking sideways

___________________________

* and that’s not a Squidward-looking emoticon, either. rest assured that I will never ever ever do that, or any emoticon-like thing. that’s not what letters on a line — text, prose — is about. very little makes me less happy, really. those kind of smiley faces have the exact opposite of the intended effect, I think.

I’m there tomorrow night, Family Guy* territory. Reading stuff aloud. Maybe eating a cookie or two, answering questions. Here for more specific type of info.

Too, thanks to my students, I’m now hooked into Salad Fingers. Better late than never, I figure.

____________________________________________

* which I’ve still yet to ever see an episode of — though I did accidentally tune in once, some Star Wars tribute/mockery stuff going on that looked pretty intelligent. fun, at least. if I knew it better, though, I could maybe snag some image of somebody reading stuff aloud there, use it here. but alas.

a Clevenger nodFRINGE, yep. Best series opener I think I’ve seen. And that’s including the white bears in LOST, the aliens in X-FILES, the space jellyfish in STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION, the plummeting cheerleader in HEROES, the (if I’m remembering correctly) sewn-up mouths in MILLENIUM, the look on Tom Vail’s face when Alyson denies knowing him in NOWHERE MAN, and even the tomfoolery in BRISCO COUNTY, JR. Too, they’ve set the dynamic up well, it looks like. That’s always the trick with serial drama: come up with a formula that can spit out episodes without ever quite ratcheting up to the truly ridiculous. It’s why detective shows tend to work more than anything else — because you just plug the same team or p.i. or whatever into a new ‘case.’ It worked in the stars too, for Kirk & Company, was even their mandate (okay, ‘mission’). And Olivia Dunham, she seems to be consciously modeled on Julianne Moore’s character in THE FORGOTTEN. Which is a good choice. And the show itself, at least the debut, seemed to be cobbled together from things that had worked elsewhere. Again: smart. And, granted, we could see most of the twists coming, but the level of the writing, for me at least, didn’t lessen their effect any. It maybe even made it better, in that it was satisfying that the things you didn’t want to happen finally didn’t happen. [ spoiler alert . . .] Like, say, what a mistake it would have been to have given her a steady guy. You never want your protagonist to be so stable, right? To have any kind of homebase to return to? And the block-letter, in-scene-yet-invisible-to-the-characters location title things (surely there’s a less clunky name for the effect), they’re the coolest. And the effects this lot was able to get away with, especially the zombies on a plane part. Very impressed. Throughout. Will be there til it’s over, but’ll be watching this one again before next week, too.

from trying on just a whole lot of women’s clothes:

1) While I can wiggle into 9/10 pants or slacks, 11/12 is a lot more comfortable.

2) Extra-large in a blouse isn’t even a large in men’s sizes.

3) People will watch you, if you carry enough blouses and pants suits into the dressing room.

3b) That makes it better, really.

4) Even when I’ve got them on, still, women’s clothes are hard to get into.

5) Stretch pants are the answer. Reason: they’re so much easier to (not) button backwards. And, if you can find one with rhinestone (see: ‘dazzle‘), then you’re really going places*.

5b) Stirrups, however, are not the answer.

6) Girl belts are endlessly complicated. Especially fancy ones from the eighties. But this is no reason not to buy them.

7) Blouse fabrics are so much more excellent than the leftovers guys get. And billowy see-through sleeves are the best invention ever.


* like, trick or treating.

From Ledfeather. Was digging through an old box today and came across it, but now can’t find it on my hard-drive. Anyway, it’s the one I talk about in the author’s note at the end — the one that pretty much started the whole novel. It was supposed to get included in the book, too, an endpaper, on the back cover, something, but somehow isn’t. So, in lieu, here it is now (lo-res, last-minute scan, sorry).

LF-moose

The story on this pic is, I don’t know: Ledfeather? All I know, and all anybody knows, I think, is that it turned up in some of Housing’s files up on the reservation, and they figured it had more to do with the Game Office than Housing, so they sent it over. Then it got tacked onto a bulletin board. End (beginning) of story. It’s from 1923, according to the signature thing there.

Too, the first version of the cover for Ledfeather, it incorporated that image. And was a serious cool cover, too:

LF-zero zero one

If only I could. But this would definitely be in there, right along with the TOTALL RECALL/2001 saga:

“The ‘Road to Perdition’ novelization was a nightmare, frankly,” Collins says. “I went after it for obvious reasons — I didn’t want a ‘Perdition’ novel written by someone else out there. I proceeded to write the best novelization of my career, staying faithful to David Self’s script — which was already fairly faithful to my graphic novel — but fleshed out the script with characterization, expanded dialogue scenes and just generally turning it into a quality novel of around 100,000 words. After I submitted it and had the New York editor say it was the best tie-in novel he’d ever read, the licensing person at DreamWorks required me to cut everything in the novel that wasn’t in the script. That I was the creator of the property held no sway. I was made to butcher the book down to 40,000 words.”

excised from the LATimes. and thanks to Scott over at Slushpile for posting about it. would have loved to have written some BURN NOTICE, too.

Though, to be honest, I don’t even think there’s links yet for just all of this:

  • Right before Valentine’s Day 2009, I’m in Chicago for the AWP Conference. The panel I’m on: “Digi-Analog: Bringing Together Print, Online, and Alternative Delivery Methods for Literary Journals, led by JW Wang. You may know him from Juked.” Don’t which day that panel is yet.
  • I think I said this earlier, but can do it better now: March 18-21, 2009, it’s FC2’s annual Writers on the Edge. This year in Ceurnevaca. Not sure if I’m released yet to post the workshop descripts for the other writers doing this, but I’ll post mine anyway:

    ANAEROBICIZE YOUR PROSE
    So one argument and I don’t necessarily disbelieve it is that punctuation is just a parasite that all it is is the side effect of writing words down in these lines that it’s just a clumsy visual approximation of the natural rhythms of speech that in prose fiction are pretty much exactly what’s supposed to lull the reader into a state where the story can work or or a better way to say it maybe is that that unbroken patter and burble and spike of words is what transports the reader not off the page but into it face first ankle deep and evermore. But yeah, sometimes a comma sure is nice, right? Here we’ll talk about this, both in terse, nervous, over-punctuated sentences we try to laugh off and in long unbroken fragments that wander and forget themselves and then find each other in surprising ways. And we’ll do some writing as well. And never stop

  • Sep 4 at 7:30 in something called “Old Main” here at CU Boulder (which I’m now live at), I’m doing a reading, kind of to debut Ledfeather (which is now slipping through Amazon, as I understand, though I don’t think review copies are even out and about yet) and The Long Trial of Nolan Dugatti. Maybe it’ll get recorded somehow; if so, I’ll try to link/post here, maybe.

is the author of 22 or 23 books, 250+ stories, and all this stuff here. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, and has a few broken-down old trucks, one PhD, and way too many boots

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