Melancholy Donkey

Author’s Blog

Another Musical Note

I apologize for the absence; I’ve been working through some things.  But here’s another intersection of Becoming Phoebe and music.

There is a scene in the book in which Phoebe expresses her opinion that what Caitlyn listens to aren’t really love songs, because love is hard.

“I was the other way. I just wanted to fit in so I liked the same silly love songs everyone else did.”
I grimaced. “Those aren’t love songs.”
“What do you mean? That’s all they’re about.”
“No.” I shook my head. “They’re about something else. Passion, maybe. Or just silly. They make love sound easy. It’s not. Love is
“I’m not sure I like where this is going,” Caitlyn said evenly.
I pushed on. “Love isn’t the fun stuff. Love is about having a bad day and knowing that you can go home and if the other person has
had a good day, that will make your day better. And it’s knowing, when you’ve had a good day, that it’s your responsibility to make
your partner feel better.”
“All right,” she replied. “I can buy that, but I’m not sure how that refutes anything I said.”
“A love song needs to explain that you need someone so badly that you can’t imagine giving them up, even on those days when they’re
really annoying or when they’re doing something destructive.”
Caitlyn looked at me for a moment then levered herself to her feet. She took two steps and sat down in my lap, facing me. “Did I do something recently to prompt that, or is it just a general observation?”

I had a couple of different pieces in mind as real love songs when I wrote this.  At the top of the list was Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”  The whole So album is in the Phoebe playlist I’ve mentioned, even though a couple of the tracks on it (“Sledgehammer” comes to mind) aren’t really appropriate to the book.  The songs that are, though, fit so well that the album went on.

The best version of “In Your Eyes” comes from a 1987 concert film, P.O.V.  Unfortunately, for more than 25 years, it was only available on VHS.  Fortunately, in 2012, he released a complete remaster of So, with a couple of different deluxe editions.  One really expensive limited edition had the Athens concert that formed the core of P.O.V. on DVD.  I’m not shelling out the $120 it would take to buy it, but I do have the $20 version that has the audio from the show, and tracks from this are on youtube.

I’m including two videos here, one taken from the VHS, which has lousy sound, but the visuals of joy, especially that of Youssou N’Dour, is amazing.  And there’s a strictly audio cut from the 25th anniversary album, which has great sound but no visuals.  It takes both to really appreciate this version.

New Fiction

As promised, here is a possible opening to a new novel.  It’s very rough and would need to get trimmed down and reworked before it could go anywhere, but hopefully it gives a feel.


As the car came to a stop at the top of the semi-circular drive, Walsh grabbed her bag and started to exist.  Randolph’s hand grabbed her shoulder, bringing her to a halt.  “Don’t fuck this up,” he repeated.  She stared at him a second longer than necessary before opening the door.

As she stepped out, the warm breeze carried the scent of hibiscus to her nostrils, mingling with other flowers, and freshly mown grass.  They decorated the front of the mansion, but she could smell other varieties just out of sight.  She tried to identify them as she fell into step behind Randolph.

He led her up to the door that stood open, and pulled out his badge to show to the uniformed cop standing guard.  “Special Agent Randolph, FBI.”  He strode past without waiting for a response and Walsh flowed in his wake.

A plainclothes detective intercepted him in the foyer.  “Why are you?”

“Special Agent Randolph, FBI.” Read more

An Idea!

I need a good source for learning some of the tricks of a police procedural? I think an idea for a next novel is gelling enough in my head to actually start work on it. Granted, all I have so far is a beginning, a rough idea of the ending, a partial setting, and 3-4 main characters, but it’s a start. I still need, oh, the entire middle of the story, including just what the underlying mystery is.
It isn’t quite a police procedural, though it has a lot of those elements, albeit set 40 years in the future. I’ve watched a bunch of TV shows and read some books (mysteries have never been a big genre for me; I’m coming at this more from the science fiction angle), but nothing comprehensive enough to be comfortable writing it yet.
I hope to have something written this week that might be the opening of the story, or might be heavily edited into a scene in the middle, or might not appear in the eventual book at all, but it should give a feel for it. When I have it, I’ll post it on my blog.


The second half of Jessica Jones convinced me to change one thing from my previous post: there’s more blood shed as the series goes along.  Episode 10 is soaked in it.  It’s very different from the gore in Daredevil, though.  In the latter, it’s just people beating each other up.  The physical violence in Jessica Jones is different.  It’s an outgrowth of the psychological, emotional violence.  It is substantially more shocking, but in no way gratuitous.  It is a visual representation of the evil inflicted or set loose by Kilgrave.  Think about the phrase, “Death by a thousand cuts,” and whatever you come up with, its use in the show is almost certainly worse, not just because of the “what,” but because of the “who.”

The most important thing that I hadn’t yet seen by the sixth episode is the real character of Kilgrave.  Over the last seven episodes, he becomes, not only terrifying, but very, very real.  He has depth, and the portrayal rings true.  One of the most horrifying things about him, and one of the most accurate, is the way that he can’t conceive of what he did to Jessica Jones being rape.  At his core, he truly believes that he is giving her what she wants, even if she can’t see it yet.

Too often in superhero comics, and the screen representations of them, villains embrace the idea that they are evil.  They cackle as they rain death and destruction, and their motivations are entirely, and consciously, self-aggrandizement and evil.  That’s just not how human beings work.  Even the evil ones almost always have a grander justification for the things they do, a cause that can put a sheen of morality upon their action, even if it deludes no one but themselves.

That’s Kilgrave.  Yes, he thinks that he’s entitled to everything he wants.  Yes, he is willing to do horrible things to the people who get in his way.  But it’s all in service to the goal of making Jessica love him as much as he believes he loves her.  To make her understand.

That is the mindset of so many abusers.  They don’t understand that they are damaging their target.  They don’t understand that they are raping someone.  They’ve managed to convince themselves that taking what they want is really doing good.

In Becoming Phoebe, I never dwell on the mindset of Phoebe’s last foster father.  I didn’t think it was important to the story I was trying to tell.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t think about it.  In his own head, he isn’t a monster.  He really believes that he is trying to raise her properly.  There is a rationale behind his actions, albeit a twisted, monstrous, evil, and subconscious rationale.  He is, in a small way, Kilgrave, and thinks that what he does is right.

And that’s the most horrifying thing about both of them.

Jessica Jones

Jessica Jones is that most precious of things: a story that I haven’t seen before.  It’s brilliant, and brutal, and often very hard to watch.  It comes with trigger warnings, and if asked to specify, all I can answer is, “Yes.”  It doesn’t have the gratuitous bloodshed of Daredevil, but it touches on psychological trauma so broadly that almost anything is implicated.

The core of the show is the title character, who has super strength, dealing with the trauma of having been under the sway of Kilgrave, a man who can control minds and make people do whatever he wants.  Much, though not all, of what he did to Jessica Jones goes unstated, at least through the six episodes I’ve watched so far.  Through the writing and the acting of Krysten Ritter, this is a plus.  The horror is conveyed through the character’s behavior and reactions to those around her; making it explicit would likely reduce the impact, so the only specifics shown are those necessary for the plot.

What it reminds me of more than anything is Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, the Swedish TV adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, of which The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first part.  This is deliberate on the part of the makers of Jessica Jones.  Beyond just being reminiscent of it, there’s a shot in the fifth episode, with Jones sitting on her desk, that is identical to the one on the poster for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the Swedish version, not the American).  There are any number of other moments that evoke its predecessor.

David Tennant of Doctor Who fame plays Kilgrave, and he’s really fucking scary.  Vincent D’Onofrio is great in Daredevil, but it’s completely over the top.  Tennant’s Kilgrave is usually understated.  Unless he’s angry, he never raises his voice or threatens.  He just calmly tells you what he wants you to do, and you do it.  He casually discards those for whom he has no use, and uses the rest for whatever grand or mundane task he needs done.  He obsesses over Jessica Jones, for reasons that are not yet clear, and leaves a trail of shattered human beings in his wake.

Carrie Ann Moss plays an attorney who is slippery, manipulative, and vile, and it remains to be seen just whose side she ends up on, other than her own, of course.  Eka Darville plays Malcolm, about whom I won’t say anything else because it’s best to watch him without preconceptions, but is great.  And Mike Colter is Luke Cage, a Marvel character who, for me at least, is so grounded in the 1970s and early 80s, that it’s interesting to see how he has been updated.

I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Shiny New Toy Syndrome

I finished Season 2 of Daredevil yesterday, and, while I didn’t like it as much as the first season, it was still very good.  It also ends on a number of, not quite cliffhangers, but definitely things that end with question marks rather than answers.  They all demand at least one more season to deal with, and it had sounded like there would be one.

Now, maybe not.  Marvel/Netflix has announced that they will be doing a Punisher show to go with a Luke Cage show, and then they’ll be rolling out the Defenders.  Unless they are going to drastically up the amount of resources they are deploying, something has to get squeezed, and Daredevil Season 3 is the thing that hasn’t been confirmed.

The excuse is that fans are demanding a Punisher series.  I’m dubious about that specifically, as I’ll get to, but the general idea is bad enough.  Netflix is new at this game, but Marvel has been dealing with comic book fans for decades.  You would think by now that they would have learned that blindly following the short term clamor of what the fans are demanding without a long term plan was a surefire route to disaster.  Apparently, they have all of the institutional memory of a fruit fly, or the financial industry.  How many times is it now that the comic book industry has almost been destroyed by Marvel, DC, and other suspects chasing after the latest din of noise?

It’s Shiny New Toy Syndrome.  A character is introduced in a supporting role on a show, and everyone thinks he’s fantastic.  So, they start the chorus of calls for that character to get his own show.  It would behoove Marvel to eventually figure out that that’s fools gold.  What has made Daredevil and Jessica Jones (about which more in the very near future) so popular is that they are exquisitely crafted stories.  The creators knew what wanted to say before they scheduled the shows.

Read more

Drama vs. Real Life

I’m nine episodes into Season 2 of Daredevil, and I have very mixed feelings about it.  On the plus side, The Punisher is a vastly more interesting character here than he ever was when I read his comic book back in the 1980s and early 1990s.  Granted, I didn’t read it very often, because I not only didn’t like the stories, Frank Castle was a large part of a trend in comics that I found repugnant.  (The nadir came when Keith Giffen tried to parody the genre with Lobo, and its fans thought he was serious.)  So, I may not have given him much of a chance.

This version of him, though, is compelling.  Jon Bernthal gives him depth, and he plays off the other characters well, especially Karen Page.  The contrast between him and Elektra is marvelous, given their very different backgrounds and motivations.  The shadows thrown by the soldier who goes on a killing rampage to avenge his family vs. those of the rich girl who got into the vengeance and killing game on a lark is startling, and the way they trap Daredevil in between them is fascinating.

There is one very serious problem with the show, though.  It has a bad habit of doing the same thing over and over again, pretending that it’s character development.  Matt Murdock is routinely out late and fails to uphold his responsibilities to those around him; Foggy yells at him; Karen gives him a very disappointing look; rinse and repeat.  Something comes up in a way that points out that Karen has some dark secret; she looks troubled and displays guilt about not telling anyone about it; rinse and repeat.

In real life, this sort of thing happens, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good storytelling.  One of the keys to good storytelling is to give it the illusion of real life, but actually doing something different.  This happens on a number of levels.  You’ll hear people tell aspiring writers to listen to the conversations around them so that they can write dialogue realistically.  This is bullshit.  Writing your dialogue the way people really talk to each other just turns it into a mess.  You listen so that you can learn how to write dialogue in a way that the reader can envision as real while you also smooth out all of the things that would make it so annoying to read real conversation.

Character interactions are the same.  In real life, we find ourselves in perpetual ruts where the same series of events happen to us over and over.  Hopefully, we either enjoy those events, or we eventually figure out how to break out of the pattern.  In fiction, though, there has to be consistent progress.  You have to walk a very fine line between developing the characters and having them change so fast that it is jarring.  The first Thor movie made the latter mistake.

Daredevil is making the former.  There has to be some advancement on the “Matt Murdock is an inconsiderate, irresponsible asshole” front other than Foggy just yelling at him some more.  It has to go somewhere.

Beyond that, having a protagonist that is an inconsiderate, irresponsible asshole is itself a tricky line to walk.  So far, I’m not sure that Daredevil is up to it.  I’m still enjoying it, but it’s going to have to become less repetitive for that to remain true.

Phoebe’s Music

I promised a post about the music Phoebe prefers, and here it is.  I describe it in the novel as “avant garde industrial”.  I should note that, while I’ve listened to some of what she likes, my expertise in this music extends just far enough to fake it for a blog post.  So, I’ve likely misinterpreted some things, and someone more familiar with it could probably point to other things Phoebe probably likes that I’m totally unaware of.

By “avant garde” industrial, I don’t mean Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, or anything else you’ve likely heard on the radio.  Phoebe would probably call them sellouts if anyone bothered to ask her.

There are two bands actually named in the story, in back-to-back lines of the scene where she and John are at Homecoming.  Neither is really one of her favorites, though she likes them both.  John mentions Coil as someone you can’t dance to, while Phoebe counters with Savage Aural Hotbed as one you can.  The former is pretty much John coming up with the first name in the style he can think of, as Coil was quite influential.

The Savage Aural Hotbed reference is meant to signal something else.  They are a local Twin Cities band that is built around percussion, especially with created instruments.  They use grinders, metal pipes, and, in one case, a band saw to produce music.  I like them quite a bit, though I have to be in the right mood.  Having Phoebe mention them was intended to signal to anyone familiar with them that high school age Phoebe is really paying attention to the Minneapolis area beyond just wanting to play hockey here.

Of the bands that Phoebe would consider her favorites (and keep in mind that I’m drawing from a very shallow knowledge of the scene to pick them from), the one you are most likely to have heard of is Skinny Puppy.  They do what’s called “electro-industrial” and heavily use synthesizers and studio production to produce their sound.  This is the song “Shore Lined Poison” from their 1990 album Too Dark Park and it’s a fair representation of the style Phoebe likes:

Pushed to name Phoebe’s favorite band, I’d go with Einstürzende Neubauten, which roughly translates as “Collapsing New Buildings”.  Formed in West Berlin in 1980, they are known for making custom instruments out of scrap metal and industrial tools, much like Savage Aural Hotbed, though the resulting sound is different.  Like a proper fan of an avant garde art form, Phoebe thinks Einstürzende Neubauten went soft after a couple of decades and, if you can get her to talk about it at all, will adamantly say that she prefers their work from the 1980s and early 1990s to what they’ve been doing since the turn of the century, which is a lot less harsh than their early music.  It isn’t exactly her favorite piece, but the video gives a sense of how the band operated:

Age of Ultron

I spent most of Avengers: Age of Ultron thinking it was pretty good.  Not as good as the first one, but there was definitely some interesting stuff there.  The name “Natasha Romanoff” is probably never going to stop bugging me, but I like the character a lot.  Tony Stark’s schtick is starting to wear thin, but he’s the only one of the principles that I’m tired of.  Mark Ruffalo is a much better Bruce Banner than Ed Norton was.  So, good.

Then the final fight scene happened.  As a fight scene, it wasn’t bad, though more than a bit predictable, but the underlying premise was so phenomenally stupid that it all fell apart.  If you manage to lift a small city into the air and drop it from a couple of hundred feet, thousands of people are going to die.  If you lift several hundred thousand feet into the air and drop it . . . thousands of people are going to die.  Pretty much the exact same thousands of people.  It will not be an extinction level event, or even anything close to it.

The damage caused by a meteor impact is a function of two things: its mass, and the relative velocity at which it hits the earth.  Actually, it’s the square of the relative velocity.  That relative velocity of a meteor when it hits the earth is usually somewhere around 50,000 kilometers per hour.  The dropped city couldn’t be falling at a rate more than a tiny fraction of that.  It won’t be carrying more than 0.1% of the energy of an asteroid of a similar size, and probably a lot less than that.  So, Ultron’s plan to wipe out humanity was a colossal failure even before the Avengers showed up to stop him.

Aside from which, if it had been capable of generating an extinction level event, the Avengers’ plan of breaking it up so that it wouldn’t do so much damage would have been pointless.  It wouldn’t have changed the total mass falling to earth*, and it wouldn’t have altered the velocity very much.  The amount of energy created by the collision would have been close enough to the same either way as to make no real difference.  I almost said the very same thing about Guardians of the Galaxy and shooting down Ronan’s ships that were crashing into the city, but let it slide.  The U.S. Navy learned trying to fight off kamikazes in 1944-45 that, once a plane had begun its suicide dive, shooting it down might alter the trajectory into causing a miss (though it also might alter the trajectory into a hit; hitting a ship with your plane turned out to be harder in practice than you’d think), but it wouldn’t lessen the damage, which was mostly caused by bombs and fuel.

By that point, Avengers: Age of Ultron had exhausted my forbearance on these things by claiming that the whole Internet has a central hub in Oslo and that you can get the nuclear launch codes through hacking.  (You can’t; the military of all nuclear countries keeps those offline and, indeed, most of them have secure communications channels through parallel networks that don’t interface with the public Internet.)  This kind of stuff matters.  I accept that superpowers alter the way that physics works somehow, but these sorts of things essentially assert that the Marvel Universe doesn’t operate on any principles that we recognize, and, indeed, we can’t make any assumptions about what effects various actions will have.  That eviscerates any dramatic power it might have because there’s no way to relate to it.

I keep saying that a movie doesn’t have to insult my intelligence just because it’s about superheroes.  It really doesn’t.  Anyone who has taken even a high school level physics class ought to recognize the idiocy of this movie.  Either no one involved recognized this problem, or, more likely, they don’t care.  As I’ve said before, Joss Whedon’s world building has a tendency towards the inept, and working within a 140 minute time limit, lots of which is filled with fights and effects, doesn’t allow him to fully deploy the strengths that allow him to salvage Buffy or Firefly despite the amateur hour background.

It’s very frustrating.

*Okay, pedantically, it does reduce the total mass by a tiny amount that is converted into energy.  It’d be less than a gram of the entire city, so we can ignore it.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. vs. Daredevil

I like both of these shows, which is an understatement in the case of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Daredevil might reach that level, but I’m only three episodes in and I’m still forming opinions.  Regardless, the trend that I vastly prefer the Marvel TV shows to the movies continues.

Both spend a lot of time on characters.  Daredevil has an even lower budget than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so it has even less to distract with.  It’s more brutal, on several levels.  But the biggest difference is in the visual styles of the two shows.

The cinematography in Daredevil is much more striking than in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  It uses camera angles for odd perspectives, accentuated because the sets are typically much less brightly lit.  It plays with shadows.  At times I find it almost annoying, as if it’s meant to distract from the things I’m more interested in.  That hasn’t crossed any serious lines, though.

One thing I really like about Daredevil is how the characters look.  On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., everyone always looks perfect.  No matter the situation, Chloe Bennett and Elizabeth Henstridge, especially, have flawless skin and their mascara is just right.  Yes, they’re very attractive, but it lends to an air of artificiality to the whole production.  It’s not just the ridiculous gadgets, the science that works more like magic, and the plots that don’t hold up if you poke them very hard.  Just the way the characters look screams that this isn’t real.

Obviously, none of that bugs me too much, given how much I like the show (or how much I like Buffy, which has the same issues), but it’s noticeable.  Daredevil is very different.  If anything, the fight scenes are even more over the top ridiculous, but the look is not.  It’s true of everyone, but especially Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page and Rosario Dawson as Claire: they are made up to look as if they aren’t wearing any makeup.  (And, yes, that requires a lot of makeup; without it, people don’t look at all natural on film.)

It’s refreshing.  Karen Page is still gorgeous, and it’s a more authentic attractiveness than anything you can find on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.