Is It The Future Or Is It The Past? A Post-Mortem on Cooper’s Journey

Welcome back! I hope you had a good week. Mine could have been better, as physical issues put the kibosh on cooking out for Labor Day, but such is life.

Quick update on writing: I have finished the final versions of Chapters one and two in Came to Believe, and am now up to Chapter three, which is a whole new chapter and may take a little longer. But things are moving forward.

This week I want to talk about theTwin Peaks ending. Yes, THAT one. I won’t belabor the point, but I’ve talked about the show at length and it’s been a huge influence in not only my writing, but my overall thinking and worldview. Today I’m going to look back at one of my older posts, about Dale Cooper as the Magician, and see how close to the cut I was in some of my predictions and share some thoughts on the ending of season 3.

First, let’s look at my predictions for a season 3 Cooper:

How do we know he must ultimately ascend? Because he fails in facing his dark side. The show ended with one hell of a cliffhanger, his (doppelgänger) body possessed by Laura Palmer’s killer while he was trapped in the Black Lodge, a victim of his own failure to overcome the darkness within him. It’s fairly easy to extrapolate where the show would have gone from there…In order to become a master magician, the apprentice must face his or her own demons in what is known as the Abyss, represented by the High Priestess, whose light helps the apprentice pass through.

From there, Cooper would likely have learned to turn back the darkness inside of him, return, and reclaim his body, at which point he’d be transformed and truly be a master of the two worlds.  I imagine we would have seen what lay beyond the Black Lodge, as well. Even without seeing the completion of the journey, it’s easy to say that Cooper will become accomplished in both worlds.

I would argue that, while I could not possibly have predicted the way that Season 3 would go (and am ultimately ambivalent about the stuff surrounding Cooper’s journey), I pretty much nailed this one, even down to the High Priestess in the form of Janey-E,  but didn’t count on the contours of the journey or where he would end up, probably due to my own naiveté about the journey to mastery.

First, to the prediction of Cooper turning back his own darkness, I hadn’t really thought through that leaving the lodge would entail an unearned redemption; that Cooper’s reliance on outside factors would initially be his undoing.

To summarize where we are up to the point of Cooper’s reawakening in Episode 16: Cooper enters the Black Lodge with “imperfect courage” and confronts his shadow self/doppelgänger, who is working in league with Bob. Terrified, Cooper flees, loses to this shadow self, and ends up trapped in the waiting room for 25 years while his evil side rampages in the real world.

Eventually the planets literally align and it’s time for Cooper to come out of the waiting room; to, in essence, wake up from the coma. But the problem is that Cooper has not earned this awakening, and his shadow self is not so eager to give up control now that it’s held it for so long. It sets up a trap, sidetracking him to the glass box in New York (and in the process opening the door to something far darker) before sling-shotting him to the location of Mr. C’s tulpa, Dougie Jones.

In the process Cooper’s most powerful weapon, his intellect, is stripped from him, and he ends up in some netherworld between coma and waking life, with his body ambulating and his consciousness aware of what’s going on, but the connection between the two severed. This, I would argue, is where Cooper attempts once again to cross “the abyss”.

Now where I failed in my previous thinking – and possibly where Cooper failed – is in the thinking that he would have to do this alone. Quite the opposite, in fact. I would argue that one of the lessons of the series (and one that Cooper himself repeats in the show’s endgame) is that we cannot do it alone; though he faces trials, he has the support of a supernatural guardian in MIKE, an older mentor in Bushnell Mullins, and the High Priestess herself, Janey-E, who acts as a combination advocate and protector during Cooper’s path to rediscovering himself.

By the time Cooper awakens, when he hears the echo of a name from another lifetime and shocks himself into awareness, he has “had his heart filled” by the people around him. So it’s difficult to call the path through the abyss of Dougie-Coop just Cooper’s own path.

So yes, Cooper awakens and is full of purpose. One would even say…mastery? Full of courage, he sets off at once for Twin Peaks to confront his shadow self. There’s just one problem: he never actually gets to confront that self. That task falls to another “fool”, Lucy, whose husband was chosen by the white lodge to set these events in motion. And the task of defeating Bob falls to another of the White Lodge’s chosen few, a young man named Freddie. Cooper simply ends up being a ringleader here, not the master of his own destiny.

I was myself a fool when I thought that Episode 17 would make the perfect ending for the series. It would not, because again Cooper has not completed the journey. I think that’s reflected in the fact that he seems to observe the last moments of that episode from a distance, acting within the scene but also watching himself in the form of an overlay on the screen. He has, essentially, been cast back into the abyss. I haven’t quite puzzled together why “the Fireman” chose these other agents – that could be an entry for another time I suspect – but Cooper soon takes it upon himself to try to change the past altogether, to erase Laura’s death and reset the timeline.

Well now, I’m not going to talk about Judy, in fact we’re not going to talk about Judy at all. I’m still chewing on the whole Judy storyline and why MIKE and Cooper undertook this mission. That’s a murky bit of storytelling that I’m not going to wander into right now. Regardless, Cooper fails in his mission to save Laura (I’m sensing a pattern here) and ends up crossing worlds once again to try to find Laura’s “soul’ and take her home to her mother. Not going to spoil the ending here, but I think in the end we finally see Cooper reintegrated with the darkness in his soul, for better or (arguably) worse. There is a quite a bit of Mr. C in his mannerisms here. Does he fail in this ultimate mission? Lynch and Frost leave that ambiguous, at best, and by the end there’s still the lingering question of how much of the story really occurred at all and how much was in this version of Cooper’s head.

Ultimately success or failure really doesn’t seem to matter; mastery lies in the journey itself, which is why Cooper seems to be doomed to wander forever, repeating events with slight variations, over and over again. That is where I myself failed to understand the nature of mastery back in 2011. There is no real end-point for true mastery. It’s an evolutionary process. You may reach a peak that looked massive to you from the starting line only to find another, larger peak in the distance. So Cooper moves from the more present, physical dangers of BOB to the more identity-driven danger of Mr. C and on to the metaphysical dangers represented by Judy and this new reality. These could be seen to represent the magician’s journey from the physical to the ethereal (BOB), crossing over into the astral (the lodge and Mr. C) and now on into the spiritual and the very nature of the universe itself.

So we literally leave Cooper on the path (a street). There are plenty of places for the story to go from here, but if this is where it ends, I’m satisfied with Cooper’s journey.

But that doesn’t get into the other stuff, where I feel Frost and Lynch failed, and failed badly. I’ll talk about that another time.

Mulholland Drive, Character Progression, and Illusion

Slow week last week and I fear this week will not be much different, as I am in class starting tomorrow afternoon and lasting until Friday. It’s kind of frustrating, as this is typically the time when I ramp up my word count heading into the productive months of September and October. Unfortunately, the move, this class, and something else (that I currently can’t discuss but is potentially very exciting) have been eating up my time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still writing about 8,000-9,000 words a week, but it’s not the level that I’d prefer. Anyway, just wanted to vent some frustrations.

On the writing front, I’m taking a break from editing and am digging into the all-new Chapter Four. Quite the fascinating chapter, as this is the first real glimpse at Dean interacting in more of a real-world environment and not being controlled by his addiction. We also meet fellow sex addict Peggy, who previously served as a sponsor for Lindsay, Dean’s future wife. She still serves in that role but gets a much-expanded presence in the latest draft, providing Dean and Stephen with information on sex addiction and why they should consider going to a recovery group for it. The reader learns more of her history and it sets the stage for what happens with Lindsay and Peggy later in the novel.

It’s always fun when bit characters step up and fill an expanded role. Sometimes it happens because they’re interesting and deserve to share the spotlight; other times it’s a necessity of the story. This one is a bit of both, and I think it ultimately strengthens the novel. Hoping to at least get that chapter knocked out this week.

In other news, Mary and I have been re-watching Twin Peaks and recently discovered that Mulholland Drive was not only supposed to be a television pilot but also would have starred Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horn, a Twin Peaks character. David Lynch had also made statements that the movie still shared a common universe with TP, so we decided to watch it (in my case, re-watch it). This led to watching Lost Highway last night, as Mary had not seen that one either.

I’ve spoken before about my love of David Lynch, but re-watching the show and these films has cemented it. Watching this many of his films back-to-back also reveals a common language and approach to storytelling, such as the use of red and blue to denote different emotional/spiritual states, red curtains, and yes, even bare breasts (wow never realized how much he has those).

It finally occurred to me that it’s pointless to ask whether his stories actually “happened” and have supernatural elements or whether they happen in the characters’ heads. In Mulholland Drive he almost explicitly states that any alternate worlds/dreams are one and the same as a character’s thoughts. He does this a lot, actually: see any time a character talks about having a dream and it comes true, such as the Winkie’s scene at the start of Mulholland Drive, which informs the viewer that this is not all fantasy or dream.

To me, this is key to understanding all of his films: a person’s emotions and thoughts might as well be reality or some form of it, as they ultimately leak out and have an impact on everything surrounding that person. He just presents a more literal form of this “leakage”. It lines up with the old magickal theorem that a magician can direct what happens in his or her life by altering patterns of thought, behavior, and ritual (otherwise known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in more base terms).

So his films, to me, are essentially an attempt to show you a character’s inner world via the literal language of film, almost a new approach to bridging film and the written word.

With that in mind, I suspect that, much like the circular portion of Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive is a story told in reverse – we see the events that lead up to the start of the picture toward the end, and those provide the key for understanding what comes before. I’m convinced that the world of the movie’s first two hours is the afterlife, but an afterlife that is driven by the emotional states and experiences of the main character. It flirts with some Buddhist principles, specifically that individuals are a combination of habits, memories, sensations, desires, etc., which come together to present the illusion of a single, unified being.

In Mulholland Drive we see Diane’s pieces broken up and scattered to form different personas and situations that also appear to be singular, unified beings but are ultimately part of a bigger illusion. These parts are being directed around by a higher power (represented by The Cowboy) and need to be combined in certain ways for Diane to understand who she “was”. In this way, she can be set free of the cycle of reincarnation, represented by the blue box.

I don’t know, just a theory. The best thing about these films is that Lynch leaves a lot of answers waiting for you to find them, but you have to seek. Again, much like magick. That’s why he’s so influential on my own more fantastic works.

Now I’m itching to write something like that again. Perhaps soon.

On Beauty, Innocence, and Broken Wiring

warning_pageWarning upfront: this might be a slightly uncomfortable topic, one that looks at the roots of sex addiction and the abuse that creates it. I want to talk about it because the psychology behind it increasingly driving my next book and I’ve actually learned something from writing about it. Imagine that!

Yesterday I mentioned that my protagonist, Dean, is addicted to hiring prostitutes who are college freshmen, typically of the “barely legal” variety, and I want to talk about that a little today. You see, there’s something more going on with him that goes beyond an obsessive early-book need to possess women as if they were rare cars: Dean’s fundamental operational wiring in his brain is broken, though not permanently. Here are the relevant paragraphs that have made me think more about this:

Her face shifted and he caught a glance of the child that had so recently disappeared into this budding woman.

It made his heart ache. He had no idea why he found the combination of beauty and innocence so intoxicating, surely something from his distant past, but he didn’t worry about that. He was no monster; he had no desire to steal away her remaining naiveté, but at the same time it worked like a powerful aphrodisiac. He simultaneously wanted to protect her and fuck her.

Now make no mistake, gong into this I did not personally understand this point of view; it came from the testimonies of more than one sex addict in the course of my research into the topic. It initially repulsed me, but I couldn’t let it go for some reason. I didn’t have a problem understanding the underlying sentiment: plenty of beautiful, innocent things can make you pause and re-consider the very context of life. Baby bunnies, kittens, and puppies come to mind without too much effort. The very concept of their existence is a fragile, precious thing and worth consideration as an important part of the life cycle.

My misgivings lay in sexualizing this, for what I hope are obvious reasons.  I simply don’t look at something innocent and beautiful and start to feel any of those stirrings. The impulse to protect, yes, I absolutely get that, like I said, it’s a fragile thing in a chaotic, dangerous world. But sexualize? Why? What could cause such a thing?

I honestly failed to comprehend right up until I wrote Dean’s story and the pieces started falling into place. Without giving too much away, something traumatic happened to Dean when he was on the cusp of puberty, which is not at all uncommon for sex addicts. Current psychological theory for why sex abuse causes sex addiction is complex, with many different reasons coming together to create a web of maladaptive behavior, but basically the concept is that an abused person seeks to recreate their trauma and master it this time. This is why you’ll sometimes hear about rape victims who then go on to put themselves into extremely dangerous situations.

This is essentially what Dean is doing. The innocence and beauty in his life was stolen from him at a very vulnerable age and in a sexual manner. The people who should have protected him for one reason or another failed to do so, leaving him open to the dangers of the world, which ultimately consumed his own innocence. When Dean becomes entranced by the quality of beauty and innocence in others, on one level he recognizes some lost component of himself and wishes to protect it, but at the same time the assault has crossed up the wiring in his brain so that when he recognizes this rare and precious trait it’s inexorably associated with sexual trauma.

Essentially, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a hell of a thing that screws with you to the very core.

Combine all of that with the addict’s core belief that “I am inherently a bad and unlovable person” and we get the mess that is Dean Rohrer’s brain at the opening of Came to Believe. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that his behavior or any similar behavior is a good thing – it’s a destructive adaptation that destroys lives. But it doesn’t arise in a vacuum and it can’t be fixed without some understanding and attempts to correct that behavior.

So the bulk of the book is about him untangling those threads and learning to appreciate the beauty in life without compulsively sexualizing it – essentially breaking the compulsive patterns. It’s not an easy path for him, nor is it for anyone who has to follow it in real life. There are many pitfalls and sometimes the slightest thing can throw someone off the rails of recovery (as it does for Dean), but it is possible. I’m hoping that Dean’s redemption rings true for folks. We’ll see. I’ll share more on the dynamics of addiction and trauma as I go through the book.

The Jerk Line

HannibalBeing married to a fellow writer can be an illuminating experience. Mary and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on what makes a compelling story. She, for instance, can’t stand post-apocalyptic stories and war movies and I’m not the world’s biggest fan of musicals, though some are all right. One thing that we do agree on, however, is the importance of compelling characters. We don’t always agree on what makes a compelling character, but fascinating ones can keep either of us hooked on a story for far longer than we should be (hello most recent season of Hannibal).

Which brings me to the point of this post and something that’s been knocking around in my head the last few weeks: how do you find that line where a character goes from sleazy but interesting to just a total turn-off slime ball? I call it the Jerk Line. It’s a valid question more than ever now that I’ve transformed Came to Believe into a more linear story.

DentistYou see the protagonist, Dean Rohrer, is a sex-addicted small town dentist who actually begins his journey as a cocky creep. He hires expensive Freshmen from the local university who highlight as hookers for one reason or another. He has a thing for “barely legal” women. He’s a seemingly incurable porn addict, and he exploits a legal loophole in order to avoid jail time and/or a fine. Of course, there’s also a thoughtful, tortured guy underneath it all, but the more linear structure of the story demands that he begin as a shallow creep who slowly finds that shining gem of a person within him. The book is about him seeking to become a better person and the various ways that he fails before creeping up to the line of being what he hopes to be.

depressed-manNow the previous structure accounted for this. We see uber-creepy Dean, but we also see a more broken, humbled Dean in the future who still has severe problems but is a little more sympathetic. The problem I faced was how to make uber-creepy Dean interesting even if he wasn’t fully sympathetic yet, and where was the line between creepy and too much to take? How did I keep from crossing that Jerk Line?

The answer, as it turned out to be, was a leveler. A humbling experience that dials back the creepy just enough that the new person begins to emerge almost immediately, albeit at a snail’s pace. We still see him have plenty of compelling jerk moments, but we also witness him humbled, at a low point, and ready to at least feign some change to get himself out of hot water. It’s a start toward him being a genuine human being and I think it will teach me more about the balancing act of writing an anti-hero.

Oh, and on that note, finished up the re-sequencing and am starting on the new version. I had feared that my original opening sentence would be lost, but I think I found an even better one:

“Try as he might, Dean Rohrer could not remember the name of the gorgeous young redhead sitting in the passenger seat of his BMW X5.”

Says a lot about the guy and the situation right away. Pretty happy with it. So far so good! Now to start the day proper…

No One Going to Turn Me ‘Round: The Big Star Story

The title of the post is a reference to something in the post. Get it? Okay, let me dive right in. Saturday afternoon my mother sent me a Facebook message to check out the documentary about the band Big Star on Netflix (It’s Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me for you curious folks). Not aware that such a thing even existed, I jumped at the chance, as I’ve loved Big Star going back to the early 90s when R.E.M. name-checked them in a few interviews and I discovered the Replacements. Oh, for those of you who don’t know the Replacements song, I present Alex Chilton:

So. Watched the documentary Saturday night, and it really affected me. I’m sure some folks aren’t aware of what happened with Big Star/who the band was, so thumbnail version: Memphis band starts up and recruits Alex Chilton, who was lead signer for the band The Box Tops (who had a few big hits). The vision for the new band was to form a sort of Beatles for the ’70s, blending psychedelic sensibilities with a rawer feel, sort of Lennon and McCartney meet early Rock’N’Roll. the architect of the band’s sound, though I did not know it until I watched the documentary, was a Memphis songwriter named Chris Bell, who would play guitar, sing backup vocals, and help write songs alongside Chilton.

The band’s first album, #1 Record, is…well, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re into power pop it’s almost a holy grail. Early reviewers said that almost every track on the album could be a single and it’s no lie. I mean, listen to this and remember that it’s from 1972:

For my money, that’s one of the greatest power pop songs ever written. It’s not quite the Beatles, but it ranks up there. For a variety of reasons, the album never hit. Marketing was inadequate and best and their distribution sucked. In the documentary they tell stories of people calling the studio asking how to get copies of the record because they couldn’t find it.

ChrisBellAfter the failure of the album Chris Bell kind of lost his mind. He erased the master tapes and attempted suicide. The band debated even going on, but after a successful show for critics decided to go for a second album. Bell didn’t make it through the early stages of the second album, absconding to France after contributing to two songs and a handful of demos.

If the distribution for the first album was bad, distro for the second was an unmitigated disaster. It managed to sell even fewer albums, barely leaving the warehouse, as their record label, Stax, started to have financial problems. By the time they recorded their third album the label was done with supporting the band and didn’t even release it; it wouldn’t see the light for day for many years. The remainder of Big Star imploded shortly thereafter.

IamthecosmosChris Bell, in the meantime, returned to the US and ended up working at a restaurant while trying to write songs for a potential solo album. Alex Chilton tried to help him get it out there by putting together a 45″ for him between 76 and 77. He recorded quite a bit of material for the solo album, but it would never get released in his lifetime. He died in a tragic car accident in 1978, never knowing the ultimate fate of his music.

That brings me around to why I’m posting this story: I found myself relating most to Bell’s story. Here was a guy with a vision, something a little different from the mainstream. He was troubled, yes, and likely would have struggled even if Big Star had become a huge success, but he understood the quality of what they were doing and how it could move people. It doesn’t surprise me that he went crazy when they failed to find an audience, especially with so much of it out of their hands.

BigStarWhat really gets me, however, is that Big Star is now a well-respected and well-known band. They had an enormous influence on a huge swath of bands and are covered to this day. Bell has even been cited as a member of the “27” club, of rock legends who died at 27, with his name in the same breath as Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Janis Joplin. He’s posthumously recognized as a genius songwriter.

Yet he saw none of it. I can’t help wondering: if you told him that he would be recognized for his songs but wouldn’t see it until after he died, would he be satisfied? Would that be enough? It made me ask the same question of myself, and I think it’s something that speaks to a lot of us who continue to plug away even without the defined mainstream success.

For those of us who don’t define success as material gain, is the potential of posthumous recognition enough? I had to really think through it, which is why I took my time posting this. I think yes, it is. My definition of success is speaking directly to someone, no matter where or when, communicating some of my own reality and finding a common ground with that person. I’m inherently never going to be first party or even second party to that process, so why would the limitations of time matter? I can’t speak for Chris Bell and what he might have said, but it does help a little to know that he achieved something for which he fought so hard. Let’s hope others of us can do the same.

Going Deeper: Five Characters Who Are Older Than They Appear Pt. 3

Hey folks, first up apologies to all those people who left great comments on the blog over the last week. My spam plugin got all screwed up and basically everyone got flagged as spam. I think that’s fixed now. Bummer because you guys had some great comments; so great, I thought I’d respond here so they don’t get lost.

Cindy recommended the Tin Drum: “Have you ever read The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass? It’s a classic in German literature about a boy with the mentality of an adult who decides never to grow up, I think around age three. Very bizarre and there are a few love affairs between the “boy” and older women that were really controversial.” Very interesting!

Marie also commented on the girl who played Esther in Orphan having to hit on the father and yeah, that’s a tough one. I *think* the movie handled it well, she never got wildly sexual or anything, but I’d have a hard time with my kid playing the role, too. I’d imagine they were on-set. All right, now on with the list. Here are the links if you’d like to read Part 1 and Part 2. To recap, here is the list so far:

5. Claudia from Interview with the Vampire

4. Eli from Let the Right One In

3. Esther from Orphan

2. Wolverine from the X-Men

Okay, time for #1, and I think it’s something of a curve ball because it doesn’t occur to most people who watch the movie – which, to me, makes it all the more devious. Cobb Mal

1. Cobb and Mal from Inception. What? I know, right. Didn’t even occur to me upon first viewing. For those who haven’t seen the movie, the central concept revolves around the ability to lucid dream and people who can enter other folks’ dreams to steal secrets. The main character, Cobb, has some sort of dark past revolving around dreams that is slowly revealed as the film goes on.

We learn that the deeper one goes into dreams – dreams within dreams within dreams – time becomes much slower and the world becomes more malleable (it also appears to be tied to the collective unconscious at that level). City  We also learn that Cobb and his wife Mal went into the dream world together, several layers deep, and spent an entire lifetime in a city of their own creation. It’s never quite clear how much time they spend down there, but it seemed to have been around 50 years, something like a week in our time. When they come out, they’re mentally between 70 and 80 while still appearing in their late 20s-mid 30s. The resulting mental disconnect drives Mal over the edge and into suicide.

Later in the film, when Saito enters that world, Cobb follows him and appears to hunt him for quite some time. Again, we don’t learn how long that takes, but by the time Cobb finds him Saito has aged another 20 to 30 years. Add that on and by the end of the film Cobb is somewhere around 110 years old (if indeed he is back in our world, which is highly debatable), despite looking like this:

Cobb

One of my favorite little “fast facts” about what I think is a great film, though I know not everyone feels that way. I also chose it because time manipulation is about to become a very important element of the Among the Dead series. Age and identity is going to be a very malleable thing, which throws a kink into the idea of a “Chosen One” for all ages.

So there you have it, five to one. Any other suggestions for the list? I can talk about some of them next week, when I’ll be looking at Ancient Astronauts.

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Outtatime: Five Characters Who Are Older Than They Appear Pt. 2

Hey everybody, welcome back to my ongoing series about Characters Who Are Older Than They Appear ™. Quick recap for those who might have missed last week’s entry, this list is about fictional Peter Pans, characters who are…well, older than they appear for any number of reasons. Typically, Vampires.

Typically.

Typically.

As I stated last week, this series is inspired by my very own character, Tommy, a 9,000-year-old man in an 8-year-old’s body, put there by a glitch in the Multiverse.  Last week, we looked at #5 and #4 on the list, respectively Claudia from Interview with the Vampire and Eli from Let the Right One In. To continue with a theme…

Esther

3. Esther, from Orphan. Right away, let me say that her inclusion here is a spoiler, so apologies for that, but the movie is, what, four years old now? I think it should be safe to talk about it. For those folks who haven’t seen the movie (and I’m sure there are quite a few), Esther is adopted from an orphanage by a loving family who are looking for a child to love after a tragic miscarriage. Right away Esther shows some odd behaviors, heavily favoring the father while trying to push the mother out of the picture. It all culminates in an intensely weird and controversial twist in which it’s revealed that…okay, here’s the spoiler:

Esther is actually an adult woman with a growth disorder who poses as a child to gain access to families and ends up killing them, making it look like accidents. She doesn’t kill them intentionally, but as you can guess from her MO she’s very unstable and it almost always ends badly, especially after she makes advances toward the fathers. At the time I thought the twist sucked, but something about the story brings me back now and then so it had some lasting effect.

One of the creepiest angles about the “forever young” character is the full-blown sexuality of an adult in the body of a child. It unsettles us, and for good reason. It’s also almost impossible to ignore when writing a character like this, so even Tommy has some (rather tame) moments like this that creep out the other characters.

wolverine-poker-1-550x245

2. Wolverine/Logan in eight million pieces of fiction. Wolverine might actually have been my first exposure to the trope, right around age nine or ten. It seemed such a magical premise at the time: imagine a man who was still young and vital despite having experienced the early 1900s. I’m sure it had something to do with creating characters like Tommy, some connection way back in the dusty recesses of the subconscious.

Anyway, if you don’t know Wolverine’s story, he was born with a healing factor that allows him to rally from just about any injury. One of the most important side-effects is that it significantly slows his aging process to the point that he should be well over 100 years old but only appears to be about 40. The factor doesn’t make him immortal or even eternally youthful. He will die. In fact, he’s akin to a shorter-lived version of my own Aetelia, who remain youthful and vibrant to a very old age and are extremely difficult to kill. I hadn’t made the connection until this moment. Hmmm…

So let’s review where that leaves us:

5. Claudia, Interview With the Vampire
4. Eli, Let the Right One In
3. Esther, Orphan
2. Wolverine, X-Men

One more entry to go, one more post to go. Who could it be? Hmmm…

Top

See you next time.

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Judge Me By My Age: Five Characters Who Are Older Than They Appear Pt. 1

Welcome, welcome. I’m kicking off a new set of features for the site, kind of marrying the old style of Muse features with the new focus on the fiction itself. Tip of the hat to fellow author Marie Loughin for inspiration on that front and helping kick my butt into gear.

For the next few entries (roughly until the middle of next week), we’ll look at five characters in pop culture – mostly movies and novels – who are much older than they appear. This topic centers around one of the main characters of the Among the Dead cycle, Tommy. Born 9,000 years ago in a very different-looking version of the fertile crescent, Tammuz got his start as a scholar in pursuit of the knowledge of the really ancients. The Station tells the story of his discovery and how he ended up trapped in a child’s body, providing vital impetus to the story of City of the Dead, but we’ll get to that later.

For now, let’s start at the bottom.

claudia-interview-with-the-vampire-7

5. Claudia (Interview with the Vampire). I can’t point to one character as the “inspiration” for Tommy, but Claudia sure had a lot to do with his existence. For those few who haven’t read the series, Claudia was a six-year-old girl (twelve in the movie) turned into a vampire by Lestat in a particularly horrific turn of hubris and a desire to hold onto Louis. One of the more uncomfortable aspects of her character was the development of human female desires and traits in the body of a child. Tommy’s case is a little different, as he begins a man and ends up in a child’s body, but there are echoes of Claudia’s feelings for Louis in the relationship between Omarosa and Tommy. I tried to avoid the squick factor. I really did. But those characters practically insisted that they be lovers. Anyway, divorced of the ickiness, Claudia’s tale is actually quite fascinating. She’s a slave to others’ perception of her as a child, and it’s something that Tommy struggles with over the course of the series as well.

Eli

4. Eli (Let the Right One In). I guess it was inevitable that this list contain a lot of vampires, though Tommy himself ended up in his predicament through a strange glitch in the system that maintains the Multiverse. Eli shows up suddenly as a mysterious neighbor in this movie and the boy next door is immediately fascinated with her. As she explains once he learns her secret, “I’m twelve…. but I’ve been twelve for a long time.” Eli is conflicted by her place in the world in a very different manner from Claudia. Where Claudia and Tommy struggle with others’ perception of them, Eli has more directly embraced being both a “child” and the nature of being a vampire, but seems to suffer loneliness from living inside of that world that is only alleviated by the arrival of the protagonist, who struggles to understand her world. It’s an interesting angle, and one that could work well for a future story with Tommy.

And that’s it for this entry. Watch over for two more entries in this series over the next few weeks. Your hint for next time:

Hint Hint

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Fiction Wednesday: A Plethora of Reviews

Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday, and we’re back to the format of olde thanks to finishing the previous books up and starting some new stuff up. I have three reviews this week, so obviously a lot has been going on. Let’s dig in.

This week I’ll review C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and Bioshock: Mind in Revolt, the Bioshock Infinite tie-in by Joe Fielder. I’ll also talk some about Jayde Scott’s A Job From Hell and The Great Cholesterol Myth by Stephen Sinatra and Johnny Bowden.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

BlackSunRising

Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. 

I admit it: I’ve procrastinated in writing this review because my feelings on this book are conflicted. I can clearly trace its influence in my own work now that I see it with clearer eyes, but its flaws are also much more obvious.

Let’s start with a recap of the story: the Reverend Damien Kilcanon Vryce (yes, seriously) comes to the city of Jaggonath (again, yes, seriously) with the intention of helping his church return to its warrior roots. Early in his time in town he meets the Lady Ciana, a Loremaster who specializes in using a magic force known as the Fae. Through the story, we learn that the Fae is a natural force of the planet Erna that functions as something of a defense mechanism for the planet’s native life. The Fae is highly responsive to emotions, both good and evil, and can be manipulated by both properly educated humans and humans with an inborn ability (also known as adepts).

With me so far? Good. The Fae can also manifest beings based on human emotion; these beings are known as Demons and feed off of all kinds of emotions, including fear. There is another strain of demons that feeds off of memory. Fairly early in the novel, these demons attack Ciani, robbing her of her abilities and thus setting the plot into motion as Vryce and his companions travel to retrieve Ciani’s memories.

The characters are a mixed bag. Some, such as the dangerous adept Gerald Tarrant, are fairly well-realized, with a great deal of depth and complexity. Tarrant is easily the best character here, though, and a prime reason for reading this novel. Other characters, such as the Lady Ciani herself, present little more than a surface impression and leave us with more questions than answers. This becomes a bigger concern when it comes to Ciani’s “true” nature, something that Vryce alludes to on more than one occasion but never truly fleshes out. I’d love to know more about Ciani, but, unfortunately, her amnesiac state renders her as little more than an ornament in the story.

The plot works well enough but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The central conceit of Tarrant’s involvement is that he attacks Ciani as well and wishes to regain his honor by helping her to retrieve her memory. To do this, he risks death on multiple occasions, something that he has studiously avoided to this point. The intimation is that Tarrant is growing and changing, but his path to that change isn’t entirely clear. Another character, whom I won’t spoil here, also joins in on this trip, but her motivations are somewhat murky as well.

And that’s my overall problem with the novel; while it holds together somewhat well, there are some questions that need answers for the entire thing to work.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the story itself is pretty damned good and held my attention all the way through (there’s a reason I’ve long considered this an underrated gem), but it does have its problems. Overall, worth a read, but with some caveats.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. 

A strong experience that falters toward the end but still held my attention all the way through. Now let’s back up a bit and talk about the elements of the story. First, and most importantly, let’s discuss the characters, as they are the strongest aspect of this novel.

The book centers around Todd Hewitt, the only boy left in a town of nothing but men on a planet where women have become extinct and men’s thoughts are audible – and visible – to all. Todd’s transition to manhood is fast approaching, and he can sense that something is amiss about this transition but can’t quite put together what it all means; that is, until he meets a stranger in the swamps. I can’t give the identity of this stranger away, as their appearance is an important early twist, but soon Todd learns that things aren’t quite what they seem. Todd is a boy, and there’s never any doubt of that. He’s boisterous, he misspells words, and he has trouble with the word “ain’t.” He’s also been conditioned to live and think in a certain manner that, for the most part, lines up with the values of his hometown, though we soon learn that Todd is unique, a good person in a den of vipers. He’s a fleshed-out character that’s just fun to be around.

Todd’s constant companion, his dog Manchee, also manages to steal the show. Where a talking dog (did I mention that animals also talk on this planet) could be annoying, I just couldn’t help but root for the little guy.

The story itself is compelling, with plenty of twists and turns and good pacing that kept me entertained most of the way through. Sure, a few moments of emergency feel a little contrived, but it’s preferable to the story dragging during those portions.

That said, the last quarter of the book has some problematic elements. The much-teased reveal of what “really” happened is clear from a mile away and leaves the reader with a feeling of “oh, was that it then?” It’s not entirely surprising that Todd doesn’t catch on to what’s happened, as he’s still a child and stuck in the mindset of his hometown, but it’s sold as a surprise to readers that ultimately falls a bit flat. There are also issues with the story’s resolution; while it does technically have a climax, the falling action following that climax is a bit short, leading into a cliffhanger ending. I don’t have a problem with cliffhangers themselves as part of an understood series, but my issue lies in the relatively short time between climax and cliffhanger.

In the end, however, these are fairly minor issues that don’t ruin the book at all. It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in a unique idea in Young Adult fiction. Will surely be reading the sequels.

Infinite

BioShock Infinite: Mind in Revolt by Joe Fielder (with Ken Levine).  I received this book as part of a pre-order bonus for the video game Bioshock Infinite and picked it up as a light read between some heavier, longer works. Sold as a means to introduce characters and set the stage for events in the game, the story follows the events that occur when a psychologist is assigned to deconstruct the personality of notorious anarchist Daisy Fitzroy, leader of a group known as the Vox Populi. The story plays out in what is essentially screenplay format, as a series of transcribed audio logs of interviews with Fitzroy.

The idea has some promise; the format itself could lead to some clever mechanical tricks by the author. Unfortunately, it really fails to follow up or use the format to any great effect. It feels more like a way to shorthand the story and get something out under a deadline. There are some interesting character moments here and there, but too many times it feels that we get from Point A to Point C in a character’s development without seeing the Point B. This is an unfortunate drawback to the format, as it wouldn’t make sense for the psychologist to record the “Point B”.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend the story on its own merits. It’s worth a look for the hardened Bioshock fan and is thankfully a quick read, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly enlightened or entertained.

Jobfromhell

A Job From Hell (Ancient Legends #1) by Jayde Scott. Still very early on in this one. The basic concept is that a young woman takes a job as a housekeeper at a secluded mansion in the Scottish Highlands and craziness ensues as she follows the lead of her shady brother. So far the writing is a little uneven and I’m having some trouble mustering interest, but it has some decent reviews, so I’m hoping that it picks up soon.

 

 

great-cholesterol-myth

The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will by Stephen Sinatra and Jonny Bowden.

This book represents something of a new phase in my reading. Now I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a health nut, but I have developed a healthy respect of and fascination with the cutting edge of medicine, especially as it relates to heart health and cancer prevention. For ages, I thought that a lot of the prevention side of things had been decided: you need only listen to your doctor’s advice, follow it, and everything should be just fine. Then I ran head-long into my IBS issues and learned that a lot of accepted wisdom about “safe” additives to food were making me sick. I began to wonder what else might be a bit off and how I could better safeguard my health. It’s somewhat out of scope, but I’ve developed an eating and supplement regimen based on the latest discoveries in what causes cancer and heart attacks/strokes; this book represents another step in that direction.

It takes on the myth of cholesterol’s role in causing heart disease (it’s involved, for sure, but not in the way that popular culture has informed us) and offers ways to protect your health. I’ll have more to say in the review, but so far it’s matching up with my research and offering a few insights that I hadn’t been able to connect due to, well, not being a doctor. Worth a read at this point.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: A Coldfire Knife

Hey, welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday. This should be a rather quick week, as I find myself embroiled in two long-ish novels (Amazon says that they weigh in at a combined 992 pages, so roughly the length of a Stephen King novel). They’re long, but let me tell you, I’m in dark fantasy heaven at the moment and, as usual, find a common thread running between these two books. Great stuff, so let’s take a look at C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

BlackSunRising

Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. My second read through this book, and I’m gaining way more from it on this go-around. It’s been 16 years since last I read this series, so you can only imagine how different the subtext reads from this new perspective. The first read-through led me to believe that Gerald Tarrant (that guy on the cover) was little more than a psychic vampire. That reading holds up somewhat, but there’s a deeper, more sinister reading as well, full of an underlying psycho-sexual current that eluded a 21-year old Jonathan.

It’s quite fascinating, actually. Let’s lay the groundwork first: Black Sun Rising takes place on Erna, a planet colonized by humans about 1200 years previous to the book. Erna has never quite taken to humans and possesses an inherent defense mechanism against outsiders that humans call The Fae. This Fae is highly responsive to human emotion and can manifest wraithlike beings based on those emotions – lust, for instance, can create a succubus; fear can create monsters, and so on. The resulting wraiths are collectively known as demons, though we see that they have decidedly different species and races.

The Fae’s responsiveness is not just a negative feature, however; it also means that humans can learn to make it obey their will by strictly controlling their emotions and using clever rituals and symbols to bring their subconscious in line with their will. This turns the Fae into Erna’s version of magic, with all the boons and drawbacks that typically come with such a force. I think it’s a very refreshing concept and a great way to meld sci-fi and fantasy together.

But as humans have shaped the Fae, so too has the Fae shaped humans; certain people now have the innate ability to see and work the Fae. These humans, known as adepts, are revered and highly sought-after in certain circles. There are some religious subtexts to these abilities, with one of the main characters being a priest, but I’ll touch on that in the future. For now, just know that one of the central characters, Lady Ciani, is an exceptionally talented adept who runs a shop in the City of Jaggonath.

With me so far? Good, because here’s where that creepy sexuality starts to pick up. Demons feed on humans’ emotions and/or memories, tearing out the core of their humanity and leaving them empty shells (or outright killing them, depending on the expediency of the situation). The demons do this because, like their victims, they, too, are empty husks. They seek a more well-balanced life and, in some ways, to become human.

I think you can see where this is going. It feels like a dark mirror of rape in our world, where someone hijacks another’s body and spirit for their own ends, often due to a feeling of emptiness or a yearning to be more powerful. This subtlety did not present itself on my first read-through, but I can only assume that had something to do with my inherent naiveté at that age because this metaphor slaps the reader in the face and draws upon the reader’s discomfort to describe the attack’s horrific nature.

Not much of a spoiler since it happens in the opening scenes, but a pack of aggressive, rare demons attack Ciani, draining her memory and, unexpectedly, severing her connection to the Fae. This renders her a “normal”, vulnerable human. This leads to some moment with which even I’m not altogether comfortable; for a while it’s hard to read her increased vulnerability as anything other than a means to get the male characters moving. She even becomes a bargaining chip at one point, a powerful woman reduced to little more than an object. It’s uncomfortable reading, but I think it’s supposed to be just that – there’s an inherent horror to the situation.

This happens to Ciani not once but twice, and after the second time she begins to get close to that crime’s perpetrator (admittedly he restores what he takes), which makes the reader even more uneasy. Upon reflection, however, the attraction makes some sense, as the perpetrator is the story’s equivalent of Satan and makes a compelling offer to her. Who else but the devil would make such a deal with the very person that he rendered vulnerable?

If my recollection is correct, she does get out of the mess and is stronger for it, making this a story of survival and ultimate triumph over trauma. My understanding of the complete arc of the analogy is still somewhat incomplete, so I’ll reserve judgment for the final review.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. Boy do these two books work well together. This one is also about a world colonized by humanity; this one also feature(d) native forces who were hostile to humanity. This one is also about discovering that your view of the world was incomplete. The parallels are endlessly fascinating.

Todd is more than just a boy growing up in the dying town of Prentisstown – he is the last boy in Prentisstown and, as far as he knows, the last human boy on this planet after a virus ravaged the residents, killing half the men and all of the women, leaving the remaining men with a disorder that renders their thoughts visible and audible to just about anyone; the resulting cacophony is known as “Noise”. The virus also gives animals the ability to talk, and so Todd’s constant companion, Manchee, is a small dog that keeps up a light-hearted patter (it works a lot better than it sounds, trust me).

Talk about intriguing concepts.

Todd’s world is full of the angry Noise – it’s all he really knows, and he craves a quiet spot, traipsing off into the woods to find those places where he can only hear the speech of the animals. While on one of these expeditions, Todd discovers a “quiet” spot in all the noise, and that discovery begins to tear apart his predictable world.

I’m loving this book and can’t wait to write the review, though I’m not even at the halfway point and it has lots of time to fall apart. I trust Ness, though – he seems to have a good idea of where this is all going, and I’m happy to go along for the ride.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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