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.

Face-up to the Afterglow

Back again. What is it they say in Twin Peaks? Ah yes…

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Did I mention I’m a big fan of the show and can’t wait for the return? I’ll have to get around to that post about the show’s symbolism someday.

Anyway, last week I examined why I left the dark fantasy/horror genre; today I’d like to discuss my issues with self-publishing and the indie community circa 2012, which boils down to bad behavior, specifically the sockpuppets, reviews for cash, and endless Goodreads. Obviously not every or even most indie writers participated, but enough that I became uncomfortable associating my name with the movement.

At first I hoped to set a good example, but the events that I described last week made me quite aware of my own irrelevance and I became frustrated, sad, and exhausted. It didn’t help that I felt very insecure and had no idea what I wanted, either. Of course, knowing the genesis of my own issues doesn’t change my struggles with them. I had to work through them.

Truth is, I didn’t understand what I wanted from my career. I was chasing the dream of mass readership without understanding what it would take to achieve such a goal. Pollyanna as it may seem, I thought that I could write what I wanted and the market would come to me, not understanding how rare such an event can be. I would need time to come to terms with this; in the meantime, I decided to walk away, divine just what I needed, and reinvent my career.

Best decision I ever made. No regrets whatsoever. I realized that money is not a motivating factor for my fiction. It’s a “hobby with benefits” for life. Of course, I still want some external rewards, specifically some recognition. Nothing wrong with wanting that, but it won’t fall in my lap, either. I recognize the uphill battle that I face, and I’m ready for it. In fact, I’m working on some plans to get there, which I’ll talk about next time.

Drafting

Last week I described my new writing process, in which I focus on each chapter, honing it to a fine point using a multi-pass system, each ending with a 10-minute free write highlighting the needs for the next pass.

Execution of the second pass relies on the free write but does not necessarily use it as gospel. Chapter 16’s notes mandated a deeper dig into Dean’s feelings on using drugs in the hospital waiting room in order to highlight why he went ahead and did it anyway. That was a must, while a note about the new meth head character’s (she was still the young mother in the notes) abusive boyfriend got cut when it didn’t make sense in the context of their discussion.

With the second pass done, it’s time for another free write, this time focusing on theme and nuance. The notes for the third pass of Chapter 16 re-introduced the boyfriend as part of a short exchange in which the meth head, now known as BC, tries to gain Dean’s confidence. Here you see a key difference: in the second pass the boyfriend stood as a throwaway line to explain BC’s past. In the third pass he shows how she uses anyone in her life as a tool. Key difference in usage that highlights the importance of theme in the third pass.

Each chapter gets a minimum of three passes, with a few getting up to five, depending on what the chapter requires. Critique group fits in here somewhere as well, as their changes are included in the final pass of this draft.

Still not clear on the final editing process, but the goal is to make it much quicker, reading through it as a novel in its own right, taking notes for changes. This should prevent a chapter-by-chapter redo, allowing for smaller touch-ups and corrections, but each step has surprised me thus far. Expect to see more on that in the future.

The Drug

Ativan-Oral-pictureAnd now we talk about Ativan, AKA Lorazepam, and its role in the novel. Introduced in 1977, the drug is a hypnotic intended to treat anxiety (Dean’s initial intended use), insomnia, and acute seizures. It has a high physical addiction potential and, sadly, impairs memory loss, which leads to the practice of using high doses as a date rape drug. It’s also sometimes used a pre-anesthetic, to help calm the patient and inhibit memory formation as anaesthesia is performed. It’s relatively fast-acting, hitting the system much faster than most drugs in its class, which is also important to the story.

Speaking of drug class, Ativan is a benzodiazepine, or benzo. Benzos work on the brain by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA, a chemical which enhances sedation. These drugs are known for being highly addictive, having a quick onset of tolerance, and generating a horrific withdrawal, which can include amplified anxiety, muscle spasms, psychosis, and hallucinations, to name just a few. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this withdrawal, have a video of a guy who took benzos for far too long. Keep in mind that he only took these as prescribed.

Dean used Ativan in college to help him get through tests and quit cold turkey when he realized that he had become addicted. He stayed clean for close to 20 years, but he couldn’t resist when his friend and dealer, Goose, offered them as payment. Here’s a teaser of that scene:

Goose, it seemed, had a sense of mercy, for he shook his head. “Naw. I think I’m ready to go home. Can you drive me? I normally wouldn’t ask, but…”

“Of course you would,” Dean said, and they both laughed.

Goose shrugged. “Guess you got me there. I’d appreciate it, though.” He dug in his seemingly never-ending pocket, producing a small, tight ball of tinfoil. “This should cover my gas.”

Dean took the foil ball without quite comprehending. “This…uh…”

Goose patted his hand before withdrawing. “I meant what I said about you needing to calm down. It’s a handful of atties. That’s some good money right there.”

He stared at the ball, licking his lips, a roaring in his pained head. He shouldn’t take it; once you built a physical addiction to benzos that shit stuck with you. He had not forgotten the pain of withdrawal. “I don’t know if I should…”

“You should, and you will. Doctor’s orders. Now can we please get out of here?”

Don’t open the door to pain, his father had said, and he knew it to be the truth, but a tickling in the back of his brain kept taking him back to the good times. It hadn’t all been pain; in the early days the drugs had eradicated all anxiety, allowing him to focus, work hard, and, most importantly, avoid any emotions whatsoever. Wouldn’t they help just a little in dealing with the frustration of quitting his habits? No anxiety about being alone forever, no fear of what he might dig up in his past, just sweet bliss. At last he nodded and slipped the ball into his pocket. “Yeah. Let’s head home. I could use some sleep.”

“Good man,” Goose said, and patted him on the shoulder. “Onward, Jeeves.”

The message here is nothing so facile as “don’t do drugs”. Ativan has helped me to fly in situations where I would have been terrified and I think they can be a great tool in limited use. Dean’s problem is more that he’s on a slippery slope with an already-shaky sobriety. The drug opens him up to behaviors that put him in jeopardy, ultimately leading to a mistake that will haunt him for years.

Next week we’ll talk about Dean’s relationship with his parents and his propensity for prostitutes. How’s that for alliteration?

This week’s photo was taken at the remains of a motel just north of Front Royal, Virginia. I don’t know a whole lot about the General Lee Motor Court, but it appears to have been a decent place back in the mid-20th century, as seen here:

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Not much remains today. It’s difficult to access by road, but I did get a shot of the rusted hulk of a sign, which perfectly captures that “lonesome yet comforting” aesthetic that I described last week:

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That’s all for now. See you next week, with our Valentine’s Day special!

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.

Coffin Hop Day 4: The Haunted Places of the World (Fiction) #coffinhop

Happy Saturday, you Coffin Hoppers! Having fun with the Hop so far? I know I am. I’ve already discovered some great authors on this hop, and hope to find more as the days progress. As always, you can scroll down to the bottom of this post for more information on the Coffin Hop, but for now, let’s take a look at the…

This is a two-day event. On the first day, we’re looking at some of my favorite fictional haunted (or mystical) places. Tomorrow, we’ll look at five real, legendary places. I know the title is Haunted Places, but I don’t necessarily mean “haunted”, I just mean those places that get under your skin and stay there.

One of my favorite fictional subjects, as evidenced in Abby the Hero, is the forgotten places of the world – the places where reality and myth merge. You’ve probably encountered one or two of these places in your own life; places that touch a nerve within you, without you even understanding why. I grew up near a lake that covered a submerged cemetery, and let me tell you, that place has never left my imagination. That’s the kind of place I’m talking about.

Now on with the list…

5. Haddonfield, Ill (Halloween). This one was an obvious choice; Haddonfield, in my mind, equals horror. Haddonfield is located in Livingston County, Illinois 3.5 miles northeast of the county seat of Pontiac. This north-central Illinois community is known for its Haddonfield Harvest Festival and high school football team, the Haddonfield Huskers. Haddonfield is also a town haunted by the events that took place on the Halloween nights of 1963, 1978, and 1988, at last banning the celebration of Halloween after another massacre in 1989.

Haddonfield had its ghosts, though; by the time Michael returned to town in 1978, the old Myers place had a reputation as a haunted house, and rightfully so, for Michael took up residence there almost as soon as he returned.

Haddonfield was named for real-life Haddonfield, New Jersey, co-writer and co-producer Debra Hill’s hometown. The second film also establishes that the murders of Laurie’s friends took place in the northwest section of Haddonfield on a street called Orange Grove. The real-life addresses for the houses used for the Doyle and Wallace residences are on Orange Grove Avenue in West Hollywood, California (credit to the Horror Wiki for these facts). Continue reading

Aniko Carmean’s “Stolen Climates” and 90s EPs

So, let’s talk about horror fiction. Let’s assume that, like me, you enjoy horror fiction – books, movies, what have you. Tell me now, how do you like your horror fiction? The gist of my question is whether you prefer your horror scary, yet ending on a note of triumph, or bleak, with every twist or turn leading down a dark, dangerous alley and nary a happy ending in sight? If it’s the former, well, more power to you. If it’s the latter, Aniko Carmean’s Stolen Climates is for you; at least, I know it was for me, but I generally like my fiction with a side of bleak.

Stolen Climates introduces us to Genny, her husband Malcolm, and their daughter Linnae. The family is house-hunting in the small Texas town of Breaker (think Troll 2’s Nilbog crossed with Twin Peaks). They endure the house shopping tour from hell, rejecting increasingly disturbing houses as their real estate agent takes them on a tour of rural decay. In a rush, the family finally decides on the last house, a place called The Argentine that was essentially abandoned by its previous occupants and shows some disturbing accommodations, such as metal shutters that are to be lowered at night and an ax covered in old blood.

From there, the craziness increases exponentially, encompassing the strange occupants of the only hotel in town, the proprietor of the only diner in town, and a pair of odd twins. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the seeming oddity of the townsfolk becomes a bit clearer as the novel proceeds, reaching a nice, logical – though heartbreaking – crescendo. Let me warn you, though, the book became almost impossible to put down during the second half.

I’ve seen this novel compared to the original Wicker Man, and while that might seem like high honors (and it is), it’s far from hyperbole. I got a very similar vibe reading through it from outsiders looking in on the seemingly odd ways of an ancient order all the way to the circumstances that surround the family. I can’t say too much else without spoiling it, but if you liked Wicker Man you should like this.

My only quibble is that the family acts a bit odd themselves at the beginning of the novel. It’s a little confusing and at times I felt like the family must have something else going on as well – it’s still a little hard to understand why they stay with their house hunting after their initial few houses are such abysmal places, but that question had been long forgotten by the end of the book. It’s a very minor false note, and didn’t detract from my enjoyment at all.

This book also does not pull its punches whatsoever, and I love it for that. I’ve seen too many horror novels and movies recently pull back at the moment where good, compentent horror should be pressing the point, bloody and/or gory as that point might be. Stolen Climates has no such compunctions and the author clearly knows what makes for good horror. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it. For my money, I’ll never look at a breakfast burrito in quite the same way.

Overall, I recommend Stolen Climates without hesitation. Ms. Carmean shows that she not only has great influences but can also pull forth fresh life and ideas from those influences. That really sums up my experience with this novel: fresh, yet familiar, and I think that’s one of the best things that a story can do. She’s currently working on a new series, and I’m excited to see what comes next.

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Today, of course, is Monday, and Monday is the day when we update Found Music – at least, for now. This week I’m bringing you a two-fer of EPs that focus on a 90s sound:

It’s EP week again, kiddies! I figured it was only fair to give you a couple of different options since there’s a good chance I won’t be able to update next week (trip to Las Vegas – wedding – long story). Thankfully, these are both pretty good EPs.

You can go check out Inward Eye and Skiploader now.

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Agent Dale Cooper as the Magician: One Chants Out Between Two Worlds

Welcome to the second in an ongoing series of entries relating to the trumps of the Tarot deck and how characters and situations in fiction relate to those trumps. My first entry about Agent Dana Scully as the Fool, or Zero Card, was a pretty big hit, and I got lots of requests to continue through the trumps, so I figured why not? It might not be easy, but it could at least be fun. So here we are.

This week we’re looking at the first “real” trump, the Magician. Given the magician’s role and his esoteric function, my thoughts immediately went to Obi‑wan Kenobi, specifically in A New Hope. I think you’ll understand why he felt like a natural fit as you read about the Magician, but I decided he was a little too obvious. I’d also like to try to stay with protagonists rather than supporting characters as much as possible, so today we’re talking about everybody’s favorite coffee-swilling, pie-eating FBI agent, Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks.

That’s right, another FBI agent, but it’s just a coincidence, I promise. I’ve never really associated Cooper with Mulder and Scully or Twin Peaks and the X-Files, though I guess the comparisons are obvious. I just felt like the two had more differences than things in common; X-Files was sci-fi, while Twin Peaks was fantasy. Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Twin Peaks or Agent Dale Cooper, the series started with the murder of All American girl Laura Palmer, and Agent Cooper was sent to investigate. If you’ve seen the prequel Fire Walk With Me, you’ll know who perpetrated the killing and that it was part of a series of ritualistic murders, but we didn’t know that going into the show. Nobody knew who killed Laura Palmer, and that was one of the big points of the whole thing, the focus of advertising for the show.

In typical David Lynch fashion, the show started messing with your mind pretty much right off the bat. There was the infamous log lady who talked to her log (and that log might have contained the spirit of her husband – it makes sense in the context of the show), the one‑armed man who spoke of strange worlds, and of course the backwards-speaking little man, the Man From Another Place.

I didn’t get to watch it when I originally aired, so I can’t imagine what an experience it was for somebody watching it as it aired, given how it was completely unlike anything on television at the time. I was lucky enough to catch the show in the late 90s with a friend who had a complete cassette collection of the show. We did a marathon in one weekend of at least the parts of the story that counted. We left some episodes out because the show kind of lost its focus after they figured out who killed Laura Palmer. They really only started getting serious toward the end of the second season with the threat of cancellation looming, connecting Palmer’s murder to a lot of other weird metaphysical events that influence my writing to this day.

But hey, all that aside, we’re here to talk about Agent Dale Cooper, hands-down my favorite character of the show. Cooper was the perfect combination of Mulder and Scully, before either of those existed. He combined Scully’s analytic side with Mulder’s willingness to expand his mind and accept “extreme possibilities”, as Mulder used to put it.  One of my favorite scenes is one in which Cooper has the sheriff and deputy set up bottles for him, and he throws rock at the bottles to make determinations on the disposition of the case. These determinations were based on whether he hit the bottles and where the stones ended up. It’s a wonderful bit of quirkiness that introduces you to the character and shows us a little bit of how he combines the two approaches.

It’s great that when he finds himself wrapped up in a world that he doesn’t understand, he just goes with it; you don’t see him freaking out. He just incorporates those strange events into his theories as part of finding the bigger picture rather than saying something is just not possible. I really like that. He doesn’t limit himself with dogma, which makes him the perfect candidate for the Magician. There are other reasons, too, which we’ll explore, but it’s that approach, a willingness to accept anything in pursuit of the truth, that really makes him, in my mind anyway, the definition of the Magician.

So what, exactly, is the esoteric definition of the Magician, anyway? In some ways, the Magician is a helper character. In other respects, he is what the Fool seeks to become, and from yet another angle he is the character who shows the Fool the Path to the adventure itself (and I’ll explain why I see Cooper here in a bit). The Magician represents the connection between Heaven and Earth (or rather, spirit and flesh, a mastery of both the Apollonian and Dionysian), a simultaneous existence in both places; “as above, so below”. You can see this in the card, where he points to the heavens and the Earth at the same time. He also represents mastery over the elements, as you can see the major arcana of the deck laying on the table and in his hand: the wand, the cup, the sword, and the pentacle.

I think you see where I’m going here. He never appears in the guise of the Fool – upfront there is more to him, as we first see him monologuing with his ever-present cassette recorder about  the beauty of nature and Twin Peaks itself, as well as his happiness to be there, rather complaining about being sent to the ass-end of nowhere for a case. As time goes on and he discovers there are more supernatural elements to the case, he passes through the trials through which a magician must pass through in order to become master of two worlds.

Spoiler alert. We never really see Agent Cooper ascend to mastery, an unfortunate victim of cancellation, but he was clearly on the path to becoming the master of two worlds, both ours, and the world of the Black Lodge, something of a gateway between our world and a third, as-yet-unseen world. We may not see it, but all the elements are there, and David Lynch is well aware of esoterica, as he’s shown in several discussions on his work.

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 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 if you look at the Tarot deck and the Hero’s Journey. 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.

Think Luke Skywalker in the cave; like Luke, Cooper faces his dark side and fails. The end of season two of Twin Peaks roughly corresponds to the point The Empire Strikes Back where Luke hangs upside down on that antenna on the bottom of the Cloud City.  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’ve run incredibly long here, but I have one more point to make. Cooper can also easily represent the Obi‑Wan Kenobi side of the Magician, as he represents our own personal guide into the journey of this world. You might scoff at this, but this seems well within Lynch’s intentions to involve the viewer in his work.

Whether he’s forever stuck in the purgatory of the Black Lodge, Dale Cooper is one of my favorite characters.  He’s sharp, he’s weird, and he’s unintentionally funny. He made my first viewing a sheer delight, having no idea where his depths lie, despite claiming to be a simple man. Hmm, maybe I’m due for a rewatch.

The New Flesh: Ten Genre-Defining Movies Pt 1

This concept was inspired by my friend Paul’s own post on his list of 10 Movies that Scared the Beejezus Out of Me. Since he had already covered horror and I agreed with most of his list, I didn’t see a point in doing my own version for horror movies (though I do have another idea for the approach of Halloween).

What I did take from his post was…well, I work in a strange genre, at least as far as I’m concerned. While I technically straddle the line somewhere between paranormal and urban fantasy, I’m not comfortable defining my writing with either of those labels. There are, however, other writers who do the kind of thing I’m trying to accomplish: China Mieville, some of Clive Barker‘s work, and Grant Morrison‘s work on the seminal Invisibles comic series. But I have trouble nailing down exactly what this genre should be called.

So I thought, rather than using a label, I could compile a list of movies that have built the idea of this genre in my mind. I’ve come up with the top ten genre-defining films – those that best define what I’m trying to accomplish. Some of these may intersect with a “most influential” list, others may not. Eventually I want to do a book list as well, but that is still in its infancy and I’m quite sure I haven’t read the best examples of those.

Oh, and a note: again, these are in no particular order, simply the order that they came to mind. I know I couldn’t possibly rank these.

10. Videodrome. I first saw this movie as a youngster. I couldn’t have been older than six or seven, in fact. It blew my mind, though. I couldn’t totally understand what was going on, but the visual aspects captivated me. I worked really hard to try to understand what was going on. Unfortunately, upon re-watching it I realized that I had created a lot of my idea of the plot out of whole cloth, but I also realized how much it accurately predicted about our lives today. I see how it became so influential in my work, and I have a soft spot for it. Cronenberg created something that combined thriller, sci-fi, and horror, though it’s often referred to as “body horror”, which seems somewhat meaningless to me. It was the original inspiration for Entanglements, though the only thing that remains is the central conceit of the brain creating reality. I couldn’t start my list without this movie.

9. City of Lost Children. A genre-bending weird-fest that you have to watch a few times before you can really grasp what’s going on and what some of the symbolism means. It was a coin flip between this and Delicatessen, but ultimately I chose this because I’ve seen it more. I mean, a dystopian future where a scientist steals dreams? Nothing could be more “Jonathan”. This is one that, for me, has been more influential in terms of symbolism than the plot, which sometimes veers into the nonsensical. Highly recommended, though.

8. Dark City. At least, the Dark City that I imagined based on its teaser trailer. But even the movie itself is very influential. It dabbles in a lot of concepts that are near and dear to me: alienation from other human beings via societal constraints, the feeling of being someone in a world that you don’t 100% understand, the ability to bend reality, and altering perceptions by changing the context in which the character operates. It also examines the question of what memory is and its role in determining the nature of an individual and his or her personality. That’s definitely  something I’d like to explore some day.

7. Donnie Darko. It’s become something of a cliche, but I don’t care, and ironically, while the director’s cut presents a better, more cohesive story, I prefer the dreamlike quality of the original cut. The brain has to make more jumps to fill in the blanks. It also explores some of the qualities I mentioned in Dark City. Being someone in a world that you don’t understand. Trying to understand that new context and retain your humanity in the middle of it, as well as reality-bending and time travel. Those are some of the things that fascinate me and show up in my work quite a bit.

6. Lost Highway. Tough call here, but I went with Highway, Lynch’s underrated gem. I liked Mulholland Drive, which is basically the same story explored from a different angle. I love Blue Velvet (probably the best and explores another concept that I enjoy, the world beneath a world). Twin Peaks is just amazing. But this one calls me back because it came along when I was trying to figure out what it was that defined my writing. When I saw the film, something clicked for me. A lot of people seemingly couldn’t understand the plot, but it just made sense to me. It plays with some of the themes previously mentioned: alienation, reality-bending (although in the character’s mind this time), strong psychological themes, and the ultimate question of how to define reality.

So those are the first five. Maybe you’re getting an idea of what I’m talking about now – films that challenge consensus reality in creative ways. Tomorrow I’ll look at the next set, which should be pretty interesting.

Down with the Sickness and the Hybrid Approach

This is going to be an interesting week, as I’m transitioning from one medication to another and at the moment I have quite a bit of brain fog, in that I’ll be clear for a little while and then the next thing I know my brain is just shot.

The interesting thing is that I’ve really gotten in a groove when I sit down and write with music – not typically my most productive form of writing. Yesterday I sat down and just pounded out a bunch of words while listening to this band Battles (finally “discovered” them upon learning that I had already had a couple of their songs before). Even though I felt like I was about to keel over, I was able to channel the characters and let them take over.

Right now my side-effects are dizziness; light-headedness; what they call “brain zaps“, which are moments of being completely lost in the fog; and exhaustion. Combine that with the insomniac properties of the new medication and, well, I’m just having a grand old time. But I’m dedicated to keep going. I view my writing as a legit job, and as such I can’t take too many days off, considering that last week I was a little bit short of my word count.

Before I get into today’s topic, I want to carry out an accounting of where I am in my process and what comes next. I’m very, very close to the end of Corridors of the Dead now. If I stick to my usual schedule and don’t have too many hiccups, I expect to have it done by the middle of next week. I follow a process where I write the story in my head and have a few days’ lead time before it gets to the page, and I’ve reached the end in my head.

The next step, as mentioned yesterday, is finding some beta readers, then setting the book aside for a week or two while I dive into the next book, which I haven’t started in my head yet but have a lot of details about. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s going to be a nod to Videodrome and Twin Peaks. These two stories were very influential for me.

Of course, the mockup for the cover is complete, as I said. I see a few changes that I want to make, a little tweaking, but for the most part I think it’s ready to go, which is pretty exciting. I also plan to do some research into the Print on Demand options this week then talk to the guy who’s been doing my graphic design work on what to do for the spine and the back. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; there’s some time, as I don’t plan to make it available until Thanksgiving.

Already things are starting to come together in my head on how to run my writing and self-publishing as a business. I’m getting ideas about how to set up incentive plans and an overall business plan. Having a finished product will be a really good start. Obviously, there are still some edits to be made, but I think it’s close right now, probably the closest I’ve ever felt upon finishing a first draft. I think that’s a product of internalizing a lot of things that I’ve learned over the last six months.

Now let’s talk about the original goal of today’s entry: how to blend character-driven and plot-driven. All I can really give you is my approach, because while I’m always aware of this, I haven’t studied it closely in other works. Meaning it’s a topic that I’l likely come back to in the future.

My own approach is that I start with the kernel of an idea and slowly add things on to it – like with this next novel, I woke up one morning with the idea of bringing the idea of Videodrome into the 21st Century (which is not entirely what the book will end up being about after all, rather the spark of the concept). As I drove to work, as mentioned before in how my process works, I dictated what I had in mind and new ideas.

Where I’m going is that I take these ideas and generate a loose, three or four paragraph write-up of what I want from the story, how I envision the story from my perspective. Then I get to know the characters, though this can be part of the plotting process. This is the case in this new novel – I already have images of the characters in my head, can hear their voices speaking to me.

While I’m doing this I also do any necessary research.

This is the key, however: having both an idea of the plot you want, even if it’s not going to be the ultimate plot. If I showed you the original plot of Corridors of the Dead from last November to now, well… Then you have to be aware of your characters and in tune with them. Spend time with them. Once you start getting into the writing of it, leave your preconceived notions out and yourself open.

At times your characters will stubbornly refuse to go down the path you want. If you hit a scene where your characters suddenly flatten out into cardboard cutouts and nothing is moving, that is the time to sit down and really think about what the character wants in that scene and how they would react. They will surprise you a lot of the time. As a matter of fact, in my rewrite, they surprised me so much that only three scenes came over from the old book. It’s basically a new story with the same characters.

What I’m trying to say is, in order to achieve that hybrid, you have to do the work of both: of a character-driven story and a plot-driven story. You have to have a solid concept of the plot (so you do the work of plotting) and you have to do the work of getting to know the characters. There’s none of this one-or-the-other business. At least, from my perspective.

I’d be interested in hearing what others have to say about how they plot and what their approaches are.

I’m looking at this week as plot and character week. The next entry is twofold: one is about how to get to better know your character. The second is part one of a two-parter on my top ten influential books, the ones I think of as my personal “pantheon”. This comes from an idea that I first saw from Paul Dail and which he drew from Worlds in Ink. I’m looking forward to it!

Inside the Black Lodge: Emotion and Symbolism

You probably recognize the work of David Lynch, the creator of Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, etc. etc. I’m a huge fan, and have learned so much from his works, but it’s kind of funny that I discovered Lynch in such a roundabout way. I’ve written before that I was a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan in the mid-to-late 90s, and when the band did a song for the Lost Highway soundtrack, it drove me to check out the movie. I was enraptured with what I discovered.

While on the surface the story seemed confusing and non-sensical, essentially about a man who is accused of killing his wife but didn’t do it, yet goes to prison and becomes someone else then circles back around to being himself again at the end (a parable of the denial and insane logic that murderers often go through), I realized that there was something much deeper going on there. I realized that Lynch was using something that I’d wanted to use in my own work for some time, a sort of allegorical storytelling.

It’s tough to recall at the moment, but I have certainly written entire stories that were a meta-narrative for something that was going on below the surface. On the surface, it might seem like a simple story of a knight rescuing a princess, but in truth the story is about a man fantasizing about overcoming his failings and how in that process he is letting his wife down. That’s just one off of the top of my head.

At the time, I was a fairly young writer, late teens, early twenties, so my ability to pull this stuff off was not very good. Seeing Lynch at work, though? Wow. It was inspirational. The problem, however, is that Lynch works in a visual medium, where it is a hell of a lot easier to use symbolism. That’s not to say that you can’t write an entirely allegorical, symbolic story. Plenty of authors have done so.

The problem is that I think it becomes a lot more difficult to do when you’re working in a written or oral tradition as opposed to a visual tradition. I can confirm this in my own life because when I attempted to be a painter, it was a lot easier to carry out this sort of thing as compared to executing it in my writing. Paint two items in tandem, an odd juxtaposition, and you’ve told a small meta-narrative.

Now that’s also not to say that what Lynch is doing is easy, because the history of film is littered with people who tried to do what he does successfully.

If you check my about page on this very site, you’ll see that my goal is to try to bring some of that sensibility to the written word. I’m not quite there yet. In the original version of my book (originally called Torat, almost a different entity from what now exists), I attempted to really dig in and get my hands dirty with the symbolism. The problem is that I found I was losing readers with it. I’ve learned that in such situations, the goal isn’t to say what is wrong with these readers, it’s more to ask why am I not reaching these readers? The problem is that I was coming at it from a purely symbolic point of view and seeing that while these symbols may have been cool and heavy with meaning, it was only personal meaning. The problem is that that symbolism wasn’t resonating with others and it was also important to build a good story structure to engage the reader and make that symbolism emotionally charged.

You can be as symbolic as you want, but if your story is flat, no one is going to give a damn.

This makes me realize that I could probably start building some symbolism into things once I’ve already written the story. Perhaps build in some allegory once the story itself is ready. Maybe, like theme, it’s something to be captured in later drafts, say the second or third draft.

As I write that, I realize that the story I’m writing does have symbolism built into it, and it’s still pretty successful, I think. I’m drawing on some steampunk imagery and some images that I’ve had in my head for years and years, pouring them out onto the page. They do have some significant meaning for me, but they may also translate to others. The steampunk…well, maybe not so much, but some of the imagery used in the Corridors of the Dead certainly resonate. They go back to my initial inspirations reading horror, my experiences with Clive Barker and Stephen King, as well as some of the stuff that Lynch has shown me over the years.

Now, using symbolism and allegory in a story is certainly not for everyone. There are some great, straightforward, mainstream writers who would absolutely suffer for its usage. It’s just not in their wheelhouse.

But those artists who get it right? They get my seal of approval. Maybe one day I can be one of them. But for now, I think I’ll just learn what I have to learn.