The obsessively-devoted fans among you may have noticed that I tweeted something Tuesday about having finished my final read-through of She Returns From War prior to submitting it to the Robot Overlords. Today is the day that submission takes place, and I have a whole mess of thoughts about it. Since you stopped by, I suppose I should tell you that I’ve embedded a virus into this post which locks out all browser functions except page scrolling for ten minutes. That should be enough time for you to read and contemplate my earth-shattering reflections on the writing process for my second book. Ten minutes also happens to be exactly how long it takes Dr. Mario to divine the cure for the virus.
First of all, I want to acknowledge and thank all of the wonderful, insightful, and necessarily harsh beta readers that helped me get a bead on the revision process: AA confederates Wes Chu, Laura Lam, Mike Johnson, and Rob Haines; family and friends Mel, Nancy G, and Bill; and my Ideal Reader, the beautiful Tori. Without their selfless commitment, tireless line editing, and shrewd suggestions, I would have been stuck carving a metaphorical monument in the desert without anyone standing at a distance shouting, “Dude! Noses do not look like that!” Then, when my bulbous, misshapen monstrosity was subjected to the world’s scorn, I totes would have rage quit on the spot.
The experience was not without instructional value, either. Given that I have only one other episode of novel composition and revision under my belt, my sample size is nowhere near large enough to generalize these findings. However, you should still have about eight minutes left on that browser lockdown, so here we go:
1. Taking a break doesn’t result in the subatomic destabilization of the universe – When I first decided to put the manuscript down for (what ended up being) a month, the idea terrified me. It flew in the face of my own dichotomous work ethic and the advice of every writer who has pontificated on the subject of dedication. However, as it turns out, not much happened. Not only did I not miss my deadline, but none of my beta readers even noticed the seam where I abandoned the narrative in favor of vicariously slaughtering eldritch horrors and gangs of roving marauders in Skyrim. A word of warning, though: this only works if you’ve made good headway and still have some room to breathe. I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone who is brushing up against a deadline.
2. Revisions come in many forms – Stephen King advises writers to cut out 10% of their first drafts. I know writers who completely restructured their books during the revision process. Thus, when my final version trimmed a scant 1.5% off the word count and featured no major plot alterations, I found myself beset by an angry, flapping horde of doubt moths. They inconsiderately flitted about my ears, their wings whispering that I had not done enough. Horrible, dust-covered bodies rubbed against the open wounds of my insecurities. I fought them to a stalemate with my final read-through, however; while not perfect, I’m happy with how the manuscript turned out. Very happy, as a matter of fact. I’ve yet to see what the Overlords think of it, but it seems that the amount of revision isn’t directly proportional to the quality of the manuscript in all cases.
3. Finishing a contracted novel feels very different from finishing a casual novel – This one surprised me. When I finished The Dead of Winter, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. A milestone had been reached, a Rubicon had been crossed, a baby had been fired out of a cannon, etc etc. One more life goal to check off. Finishing She Returns From War, however, brought a new and unexpected sensation: immense relief. Yes, I still felt the heady rush of “Holy shit, I just finished writing a book”, but there came attached a gigantic helping of “Thank God I didn’t fuck up.” I can actually relax and have hot, sweaty, guilt-free fun now. Or I could, but…
4. I no longer remember how to have fun – During both the writing and revision processes, my gaming was essentially limited to AFK mining in EVE , and my recreational reading only happened on the bus in to work. Since finishing my final read-through two days ago, I have spent my evenings engaged in the following “fun” activities: A) spending 60 minutes yelling profanities at the singularly hardest boss fight in Xenoblade Chronicles; B) napping; and C) making a spreadsheet in Open Office to make calculating production costs in EVE easier. I hope this affliction is temporary. If it isn’t, I suppose there’s nothing for it but to get to work on my next book.
After the triumphant collaboration on 2008’s REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA, a film hailed by The Hollywood Reporter as “the next Rocky Horror Picture Show”, director Darren Lynn Bousman and writer/actor Terrance Zdunich had no where to go but down—ALL THE WAY DOWN… TO HELL. These showbiz black sheep invite you dive into the ashes with them on their groundbreaking, new musical film fusion event, THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL. In THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL, sinners are invited to a theme park where they endure the repetition of their transgressions. What chances do a conniving kleptomaniac, a gullible teenager, and an obsessed father stand when facing their own moral failings? Lucifer and his colorful cast of singing carnies invite you to grab a ticket to THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL to find out!
One expects certain things from a film titled The Devil’s Carnival. Bizarre carnies, sinister tents, judgments grumpily pronounced by the Prince of Darkness. Darren Lynn Bousman and Terrance Zdunich deliver on all of these points, but their manner of delivery provides some interesting and unexpected twists to what initially seems like a played-out theme.
Pulling from hell’s tried-and-true legacy of contrapasso, Zdunich’s Lucifer has established an afterlife that crafts punishments to fit any given sinner’s primary flaw. A career thief bets her soul in a coin toss for a chance to win a gigantic diamond; a girl with a thing for bad boys is seduced by a smooth-talking, knife-tossing greaser. What gives this underworld its unique flair is the spirit in which these punishments are doled out. Rather than espousing the classic motif of eternal agony just for shits, Lucifer administers each sinner’s fate as a sort of trial, a theme that should come as no surprise to those familiar with Bousman’s filmography. The Great Deceiver wants to know if his latest tenants have learned from the sins that brought about their untimely deaths. Although their ultimate fates are not surprising, the film gives the impression that our sinners could have avoided them by not falling for the obvious traps set before them. The closing number confirms this theme as the Traitorous Angel decides to offer grace for sinners at a lower price than they might find in heaven, here portrayed as the workshop of a doll-maker (Paul Sorvino) who may or may not share family ties with Tony Soprano.
What really sets this film apart, however, is the music. As a general rule, I am not a fan of musicals; I believe the genre is perfectly suited for satire and should only be given a serious tone if death threats are on the table. The Devil’s Carnival is a rare example of the exception to this rule. The songs move effortlessly through the film’s many moods, capturing everything from the energetic insanity of the carnies to the introspective grieving of a father for his son. Zdunich himself only sings one number, modestly taking a back seat to the film’s other talent. Said talent includes Emilie Autumn, Skinny Puppy‘s Ogre, Five-Fingered Death Punch‘s Ivan L. Moody, and Briana Evigan (whose smoky, seductive voice is tragically wasted on the likes of Step Up 2). With solid arrangements and clever lyrics supporting them, these artists supply the Carnival’s heart and soul.
Despite its strengths, the prominent cast also ends up being the film’s largest pitfall. Bousman commented on this very issue during the showing I attended, saying that having over a dozen main characters in an hour-long film cuts screen time for everyone. Characters like Alexa Vega’s Wick and Bill Moseley’s Magician felt tacked-on, a sort of in-joke for fans of Repo! The Genetic Opera. I don’t fault Bousman and Zdunich for giving the larger roles to those who never dwelt in the shadow of GeneCo; they were making a different movie, after all. Still, making posters for the minor characters leads one to think they will have a larger role than they actually do. There’s a reason Star Trek never showed red shirt guys in episode trailers.
My other complaint can and should be taken as a compliment: The Devil’s Carnival ends far too early. Lucifer’s decision to put heaven out of business has scarcely left his lips when the credits begin rolling, eliciting agonized groans from the audience (or maybe that was just me). I want more of this underworld. I want to see how God(father) reacts to Lucifer’s ambition. I want to know how the carnies came to serve the Fallen One. The world Bousman and Zdunich have created intrigues me, but all I can do for now is listen to the soundtrack and hope they receive enough support to continue the story.
“And all throughout the land,
There was the sound
Of stirring macaroni.”
—Everyone Got Laid, The Billy Nayer Show
Such were my initial thoughts upon hearing the big announcement yesterday. Despite the hundreds of hours I’ve put into Skyrim (many of which occurred during the months I was “working” on my book), I am not at all excited at the prospect of an Elder Scrolls MMO. When the announcement first popped up on my Twitter feed, the most dominant emotion it provoked was exasperation. No gushing, no flushing, not even the ghost of a “I’ll check it out at some point.” Just pure, unadulterated “Ugh.” Imagining the look on my face makes me feel dirty, like I should go put four-inch gauges in my ears on the way to pick up some lime-green sunglasses.
This is odd on several levels. First, as previously mentioned, I have played the shit out of Skyrim, and I haven’t even finished the main quest line on any of my toons yet. My mods are scarce, my unexplored locations scarcer, and–as promised earlier on this very blog–every peasant girl has a horse to ride because I am as wealthy as I am lawful good (on one toon, anyway). It’s exceedingly rare for me to put this much time into a single-player game, but Skyrim just so goddamned big. Whatever the quality of their storylines, Bethesda knows how to make worlds that are a hell of a lot of fun to explore.
Second, I love me some MMO’s. Had my father’s economic philosophies been switched at birth, I would no doubt be the embodiment of the basement-dwelling loser, forever glued to my tricked-out, parent-purchased PC, hoarding achievements like candy and out-earning Chinese gold farmers. I’m not entirely sure where the sense of overwhelming satisfaction I get from such activities comes from, but I know I’m very susceptible to it given the right circumstances. I’ve spent scores of hours farming mats to craft a weapon for one of Tori’s toons when I run out of shit to do on mine. Were I free of the need for employment, I would surely be one of those mad multi-boxing fools that most players pity in a slightly jealous manner.
Why, then, am I not tripping over furniture that foolishly placed itself in the path of my excited frolicking? Because we don’t need another high-fantasy MMO. The genre, while worthy in its own right, is so completely played out that developers heralded for their innovations in the wider MMO field still can’t break away from it. Both Guild Wars 2 and Tera are bringing exciting new things to the table, but their vehicle of delivery still involves two-handed swords and iron-clad mammaries. When it comes to setting, even JRPG developers–whose reception among fans is usually in direct proportion to how classic a game feels– have shown more forward thinking than MMO developers in the past six years.
This is all the more puzzling given that Bethesda owns the rights to Fallout. Yes, Skyrim was more of an immediate commercial success than anything they’ve produced to date, but I have a rather strong suspicion that many of Skyrim‘s fans have no interest in an MMO. When they realize that it won’t have Skyrim-caliber graphics combined with a multiplayer style reminiscent of Fable, they will lose interest. A Fallout MMO, while still suffering from sloppy combat and life-threatening concentrations of the color brown, would have at least given fans of the genre a different setting to explore between bong hits.
But no. Instead, Bethesda is playing it safe and going the route of the chainmail bikini. Unless they manage to top both Tera and Guild Wars 2 in terms of hype and innovation, their star in the MMO sky promises to flash for a moment before vanishing forever.