Who Is The Vampire?

Posted: January 15, 2019 in Uncategorized

A vampire? You decide kids…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Concerning Facebook, I seem to have quite a few Pacino moments – “every time I get out, they pull me back in!” The latest came in the form of a writer posting about wanting to write a vampire story and being stuck because of how large Twilight looms in our recent consciousness. My advice, I gave two variations of the same suggestion; develop a story independently of the vampire and then add it back in later.

My assertion backing up this advice: a vampire story is first and foremost a story that can be read and understood even without the bloodsucking. Yes, changes will occur the minute Elisabeth Bathory bathes in young virgin blood, but they will be minor compared to the core story. And, yes, I just validated all the writing manuals rooted in the Hero’s Journey, even the ones I barely tolerate. Part of the reason you can do things this way, a vampire used to be human, speaks dramatic dialogue and wants something he/she isn’t getting…a character, the same rules apply.

Let’s leave aside that the poster rolled over and splattered chum for a certain type of commenter waiting to pounce with variations of “read other vampire stories like Dracula,” or “simply do the opposite of Twilight.” Okay, read or at least see the movie is sort of helpful in the case of the Bram Stoker. Do the opposite of Twilight is less so, but I digress.

Okay, so the dark and lush tale of Vlad the Impaler all vamped out in his spooky castle high in the Wallachian mountains gets to be my first example. What is the story told without a single fang, bloody neck or bat framed by the full moon? It’s a creepy, obsessive love triangle turned ugly and stalker-iffic.

Mina Harker nee Murray travels with her husband Johnathan Harker in the Romanian backcountry that used to be called Wallachia. The dark roads and local superstitions serve to portend a dark but ultimately transformative narrative. Mister Harker intends to help a mysterious and reclusive count with estate matters. Despite the misgivings of the neighbors in the village at the bottom of the hill the couple contrives to spend the night at Castle Dracula.

The count becomes enamored of the young Mina recognizing qualities of his long dead wife. The initial stay becomes a highly charged knife dance for Mina’s hand. The count’s female hangers on or ex-wives move in on Mr. Harker as distraction. The count has limited success that goes as forward progress. The visit ends.

The count packs up his roadshow with his faithful servant and follows Mina to London to continue the pursuit. Mina’s best friend, Lucy dies at the hand of the count. Mina and Jonathan with the help of a knowledgeable expert turn the tables and track her stalker back to his home in Romania for a fateful conclusion where Mina chooses the man she wants.

Could you tell this story without anything vampiric? Yes. Abraham van Helsing becomes more of an alienist advising Mina on the ins and outs of obsession and the dark sexual urges popularized in the recent work of Sigmund Freud. Maybe you drop the character altogether. But, people actually using their library cards and streaming accounts would immediately go – “this sort seems like that Dracula movie.”

Are there other stories possible in the vampire genre that don’t get underfoot with Twilight? Yes. One of my personal favorites that I 80-percent guarantee you haven’t seen Razor Blade Smile has another take. The story of a female vampire assassin on a multi-decade mission to hunt down the members of a small offshoot of the Illuminati bent on word domination.

Okay, the actress is pretty, gets naked and spews all the pseudo-Cockney attitude of a character likely to show up in a Guy Ritchie film, but pay attention to the twist. The leader of the Illuminati group turns out to be the vampiress’ equally vampiric lover. All the humans killed in the middle were just callous sacrifices to the fact that living for centuries has a way of ruining the fun of sex. Violent role playing prior to renewing vows with monster sex.

If you aren’t thinking – “wow, are there ways to tell that story about a human billionaire and his bored wife setting in motion a violent set of events designed to renew their spark?” – you aren’t paying attention. Maybe the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey Part Five: Fifteen Years Later? Please, anyone? I can dream.

What was my actual advice? I used up a lot of paragraphs saying this writer should put aside the vampire for the moment and come up with a character that wants things from other characters likely to be resisted by the other characters…drama. The writer stays away from the vampire just long enough to figure out the story between all these characters writing either a non-bloodsucker trash draft or a serious outline. And then adds the vampire back in later.

Like the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich thought experiment to teach people to give precise directions, I said something that wasn’t fully explained in the previous sentence. I said they should read the trash draft or outline and decide who in that proto-story acted most like the vampires they wanted to present; that character is the vampire and everyone else are the humans.

What I didn’t say is that I felt sure that this writer waking up one day saying, “I’m going to write a vampire novel” would have their subconscious mind do the heavy lifting guiding one or more characters towards behaviors easily switched out for a vampire later in the process. My bad, even when we give incomplete directions the world still lands on edible PBJ sandwiches…most of the time.

Even reading this suggestion back I’m a little bored so let’s go nuts with my second suggestion to do the same thing, develop a story that can then be adjusted to vampires later. My second simpler suggestion, pick a story that doesn’t have vampires and rewrite it so that it does. Pay attention, this is where writers of posts like me expose our favorite books; I used Three Musketeers as one example.

Which of the many rich characters in Alexandre Dumas’ classic would most likely be revealed as a bloodsucker? And depending on the choices how does it change the story? Do we go with Milady De Winter, famously played by Faye Dunaway the only time I could stand watching the movie? Do we go with Cardinal Richelieu? Athos? Porthos? Aramis? Le Comte de Rochefort? Or even D’Artagnan?

Considering that Dumas sneaked two books into one serialized narrative we have choices. The first part, The Queen’s Diamonds, shows young D’Artagnan arriving in Paris with his father’s sword to make his way as a musketeer. The Gascon quickly makes friends with the three friends, falls in love with the Queen’s trusted handmaiden, Constance, and saves the Queen from the political and personal consequences of a rashly thought out affair.

The second section, Milady’s Revenge, starts two or three days later and Milady De Winter simply wants to wipe out D’Artagnan by all means expedient. Cardinal Richelieu lets out a big sigh and writes her a warrant making the impending violence legal, largely because the lady is good for all kinds of dirty deeds done dirt cheap. People die.

The cardinal revealed as the vampire in the new version turns the story into a metaphor about great players divorced from the rest of humanity by their position and perspective, or more than is already on the page. As always, I have few opinions about pitches until I see something on the page, but the great Christopher Lee (Rochefort in the Salkind production) did once quit playing Dracula in the Hammer movies when he saw a script where the vampire pretty much had become Dr. No. But, hey, good writing saves many silly pitches, we’ll see.

For those of us that paid attention reading the book, Milady De Winter is so obvious a choice to be nominated the vampire. Especially in the later revenge chapters she tries everything, poison, seduction, threats to Constance and hired assassins just to wipe out the uppity Gascon and his annoying musketeer friends. She will not lose.

The later chapters are already an awesome cat fight between women tied up too tight in whalebone corsets with D’Artagnan caught in the middle. Milady also needing to drink Constance’s blood? Wow! I’ll skip the other possibilities for space and repetitiveness and trust the reader will spark their own story engines.

Cool! I busted out 1,500 words suggesting a good way to get past this scene where a writer grips their head, “Twilight is such a huge thing that I don’t know what to do!” Develop a story that works without vampires and see where that takes you. It may help and sure is more constructive than the many repetitions of, “do the exact opposite of Twilight,” or “vampires don’t sparkle ever” in the feed. Though the people saying to read a wider set of vampire stories for ideas, I think are trying to get to the same place as me in fewer sentences.

With that this post is over, go home! Carry garlic with you…

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I Write Like…

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

It’s amazing how much weird writer/musician/creator stuff lands on me through my Facebook feed. Just have to have that programmable music box, where I’ll likely be the weirdo composer writing for harmonica and said music box? Facebook. That amazing inconvenient ReMarkable digital writing tablet (see post)? Facebook. And don’t get me started on several links promising to make me a better writer, yet again…Facebook. And then there was the link to I Write Like [dot] com.

A simple promise…insert quite a bit of text in the box and they’ll tell me the published writer with an actual career or legendary deceased status that my writing most matches. Oh, wow…yet another bit of catnip for me to while away the two minutes this app takes out of my not actually writing time! Sign me up.

Long story short, I came up Cory Doctorow. And just because I’ve been around enough Internet oddities, like Facebook’s algorithm and everyone’s love/hate with the same, I’m going to run these things twice. Hell, I’m even going to do the old fashioned thing and click through from my Google prompt, just in case, and use different blocks of prose. Still, Cory Doctorow.

I’ve never read Mr. Doctorow, whom, until I looked him up on Wikipedia, I’d assumed was related to the other Mr. Doctorow, E.L. Doctorow. Apparently, Doctorow is as common as Smith in some parts of the world. Learn something new everyday from Wikipedia (except when Wiki is wrong). Full disclosure, I at least have a couple old paperbacks written by E.L. Doctorow, deemed absolutely irrelevant to this story, on my cluttered bookshelves. And you’ll understand why I’ve yet to read him too…as in have you seen my personal library?

Intrigued by the result of Cory Doctorow, I did quickly download the ePub/Kindle files for one of his books. As of this writing, it’s still unread and driven by whatever personal deadlines I put on me for this site; I just went ahead with this post. I figured I’d just talk about what I perceive about my own style (assuming you can trust me to see without blinders).

But, I did pay attention to a few tidbits in Mr. Doctorow’s biography as reported on Wikipedia and Amazon, just in case there’s is something to the theory that certain aspects of writing style related to similarities in background. We are both more or less from the Gen X cohort and his extensive publishing record is that of someone who didn’t self-diagnose as an ADHD poster child.

He writes about technology and related issues with far more expertise than me. I just break machines and software and write about the experience with an eye towards letting people know how the tech actually makes the user’s life and productivity better. In this vein, despite being asked over the years to plug the right cables into the TV or the stereo system by even less technically proficient family members, I’ve always seen myself as a technological chimpanzee.

I pound keys until I make it work and learn in the process. And you better believe there’s a direct reference to the famous thought experiment of infinite chimpanzees with infinite typewriters eventually producing War & Peace. I am a smarty pants which shows up in odd ways.

The most interesting similarity, sort of, between Mr. Doctorow and me is in our feelings about copyrights. He very much believes that current copyright law and procedure are slightly restrictive to how things work in the new digital economy and should be adjusted accordingly. For my part, when it comes to my words no way am I nearly as progressive; I write a book, no way do I not fight for that copyright under the current law throwing the kind of elbows to make your grandchildren feel it.

However, I have said this, “if there were some way to ensure the musicians and composers still got paid fairly, I would advocate for rules that only apply to music that acknowledge the largely derivative nature of the art form.” This is simply because we live in a musical universe where the drinking song To Anacreon in Heaven becomes the setting for The Star Spangled Banner. Or John Brown’s Body becomes The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Or that We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore and Oh, Come All Ye Faithful share the same tune. And let’s not forget that pretty much every third title in the Classical database is “Variations on a Theme by…” But, of course, more on these subjects to come later…in my composing column.

So anyway, I’ve listed some basic however tenuous similarities between Mr. Doctorow and myself. It will fall to someone else who has actually built an academic career analyzing the interplay between the background and life arc of the writer and the style of how those words appear on the page to say more. I just write, Man. And dark ugly truth, I hoped for Alexandre Dumas as translated into English. Pipe dream there.

And so now we have the artless segue to what I perceive about my own style versus Mr. Doctorow, so that when we collectively put my books side by side we’ll see if this site’s algorithm knows its stuff.

First off, I try to avoid To Be sentences which might be the first indicator that I have approximately three minutes of journalism training including reading Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style. I will assume that Mr. Doctorow with his considerably more than three minutes journalism training and work experience was taught to write more or less the same way. We’ll see when I quiet the noise monster that sometimes keeps me from reading, instead of writing, and I block out the time for his book. Score one for common training methods creating a common style instead of any high-falutin’ psychological analysis.

I shoot for paragraphs of three to five sentences of maybe twenty-five words each anchored by an active verb. Again, see the bit above about which books I read and classes I’ve taken for why my style looks the way it does. But, I also drop in sentences with a single digit number of words where I’ve semi-consciously dropped out the To Be construction. My memory of the millions of words written to date says this is a direct consequence of several journalism classes, mixed with just sitting down to do my words.

If you put the points of the preceding paragraphs together, you’ll understand why me writing like Alexandre Dumas defines pipe dream for the next three centuries. In the 19th Century the writing ethic of short sentences had yet to take hold. And then you have to figure that Dumas wrote in the French of the time and that I would be taking style cues from one of many translators, not exactly the same thing. I must just love any story with swords and has a cool bunch of friendship, the kind that start with a fistfight.

Getting back to my style, it’s pretty clear that I break my own rules when I feel I need to. I have a bunch of and so, first off and other transitional indicators in this very post. And other times I strangle these quirks in their crib when I edit. I love me my ellipses and M-dashes. I probably continually give Mr. Blatz (the good English teacher of my past seen through rose colored glasses) conniptions concerning my fluid usage of commas, until I get to edit the damn thing.

A style has more to it than than sentence structure. Choice in content also applies. I write oddball stuff with an occasional hint of black humor. Comes from being the kid that read the Bible cover to cover by the time I was fifteen. Pretty much, I have Greco-Roman mythology backwards and forwards and do okay with the Norse. I read Shakespeare because I can having flushed how certain bad teachers tried to kill the Bard for me.

I seem go for a small handful of basic character types. Sometimes I’m just knowingly doing Bilbo Baggins, the stalwart fellow of good cheer launched into a great quest by external forces. Other times, I’ll do an empire building story where a kinder gentler version of Julius Caesar builds a unified society and then prevents it from degenerating into tyranny. I also greatly respect journalists and certain kinds of lawyers more than even Shakespeare says I should. And sometimes, I’m just doing an off-kilter version of myself acting out my fantasies of any of the above. Lastly, all of my characters are either huge music fans and/or play instruments as is my current aspiration, loving it LOUD.

Presumably, these points will be where Mr. Doctorow and I will diverge the most in the side-by-side analysis. It was fun to learn these things even if the egotistical part of me wants to get into the database so that people will one day write like G.N. Jacobs. Don’t worry, there are pills for that. So with that…get back to your own writing!

The Inescapable Bat

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“Every time I get out, they pull me back in!”

With apologies to Michael Corleone, what pulls me back in are certain comic book and pulp characters that still circle like buzzards over a carcass in the desert. Specifically, Batman…and now at the risk of sounding like a Big Two Editorial Department famous for – “reversing a reversal that had already been reversed” – I’m back in Gotham, my version at least.

When I last swore off comic books characters moved over to fan fiction to get the story out of my head while waiting for my ship to come in, I was trying to force Wonder Woman into a marriage with Batman where she then takes over Wayne Enterprises. In previous posts, I covered the fact of a mild feminist objection to Wonder Woman, of all fictional strong women, marrying into her brass ring and then winning knife fights in the boardroom. Really, I also created the far more lethal failure of imagination as to why the story involved either Batman or Wonder Woman when nothing about the story as it fleshed out needed anyone in a Four-Color Spandex suit.

So what changed? Well, after a year of buildup, Catwoman recently backed out of marrying Batman citing that the Bat’s ongoing existential unrequited rage over being an orphan was necessary for his role as Gotham’s protector. Essentially, allowing Bruce Wayne to have his pain scab over and finding a small bit of happiness positively scared the shit out of DC’s Editorial Department. Many fans, tired of dredging up version after version of the alley mugging behind or near the Monarch Theater, blew up online.

This conflict expresses divergent views about what the Batman fandom wants from the character. Do we stall Bruce Wayne/Batman’s character arc in the metaphorical second act where he remains the tireless force of justice for Gotham City and will never permanently land on any woman, let alone Catwoman (his soulmate, hands down accept no substitutes)? Or could the writers make a case for scabs forming and the momentum of years of being the Bat keeps driving him forward? I’m in the let him get married and explore the relationship camp whenever this subject comes up at the comic book store.

Official Batman hasn’t helped much deciding between the two extremes of his character arc. Batman goes dark and grim. Batman lightens up, possibly as a result of the Kefauver-Wurtham Hearings that killed the Golden Age. Batman goes dark and grim, again. Batman has yet to lighten up a second time.

Where the average fan falls on this spectrum probably says a lot about how old they are and what their version is. A devoted fan of Adam West Batman can appreciate Michael Keaton Batman or Kevin Conroy Animated Batman, but still loves Adam West. Fans of other Batmen will usually say nice things about Adam West, sometimes with a believable straight face.

It matters because the Adam West show is the ultimate expression of Batman who seems to act like emotional scabs have formed and he’s just getting on with things as a detective and unofficial reserve officer of the Gotham Police Department. Yes, he’s a billionaire playboy with the ladies mostly as protective cover for his secret identity (a feature of all versions of the character), but he doesn’t wallow in the pain over the mugging that made him.

Adam West Batman cracks jokes – “Commissioner, one of them would be after Gotham. Two would be after regional power. Three of them and they want America. But, all four of them could only be after the world itself.” Or “Admiral, you sold off a submarine and you didn’t even get a drivers license.” Adam West Batman also parked in the Batmobile with Catwoman and danced the Batusi having great moments with all three actresses playing the Cat.

Many other versions of Batman have made use of movies having looser rules because the ratings system can replace the network Standards & Practices Department. This style of Batman wallows in showing the murder of the Waynes in the first movie in the series. Batman growls “I’m Batman” when trying to intimidate bad guys. And the Bat never seems to crack a smile.

The few examples of movies that played against this trope were so uniformly bad in failing to understand that a lighter Batman doesn’t have to mean an unreservedly stupid Batman that the suits that decide these things must be scared of taking their hands off the pendulum. Everyone loved Michael Keaton Batman, but divided on Christian Bale Batman between “good for the prevailing style” and “fuck you, Man, take a throat lozenge!”

So it is this larger context that guides my rumination about my current trip to Gotham to report the story. My list of needs, stories I can toss off for free to help drive eyeballs to this site. A concern that putting original work up on my site and my Wattpad mirror page damages the ability to publish that work for money later. I really want to see the Bat and Cat as a couple. And nothing about Batman is going to let me get out clean, like Michael Corleone.

Even still I had to wake up one night recently with the idea that I can’t explain beyond I get cool ideas all the time and I write them down to get back to them eventually. I solved the is this really a spandex story question by simply pushing Bruce Wayne down a ski slope in Vermont where he promptly breaks his leg and he sends out telepresence robots to control Gotham. I solved the let him be happy question by assuming that Catwoman had other reasons to break off the wedding the first time and simply comes home to take care of her man like Grace Kelly did for Jimmy Stewart.

And I continue to assert jettisoning Wonder Woman out of the story cycle works narrative miracles. Catwoman is a jewel thief and there’s no way she stops…completely. I see her as breaking into places with jewels she wants only to take selfies wearing the rock before putting it back. Batman gets his revenge by making her write the security report. Basically, Batman told in the style of a Tracy-Hepburn movie. Why not, can we not have some fun in Gotham?

However, there is another hidden purpose to putting Batman in the same house as a strong committed woman whether Catwoman or Wonder Woman (if absolutely necessary). Some people question Batman at a philosophical level that expresses discomfort with Gotham needing such a damaged billionaire to dress up in vampire fetish gear to break criminals’ and other poor people’s arms. I won’t go so far, but I have observed that speaking charitably Batman might be what Gotham needs, but what has Bruce Wayne the billionaire playboy done for his city?

The easiest way to mine this discomfort with the prototype spandex vigilante is to throw him in with a woman who will force him to actually use his philanthropic foundations as more than cover for the Bat. Wonder Woman is an Amazon rooted in love; she could’ve pushed her husband into a soup kitchen. Catwoman would be better than this coming from Gotham’s worst neighborhoods and she’s known and cared for the Bat for far longer.

All of this wakes me up one night for Batman: First Person Bat. An excellent way to have fun while saying one or two things that matter. But, please don’t take this to mean everything is all worked out here in Gotham, I still need to figure out which of the many villains available across the DC mythology need to show up to ruin the Bat and Cat’s day. Villains are good.

But, then again maybe I simply wanted to make the picture of Batman in a cast flopped on his couch with TV remote learning yet again about “500 channels and nothing on.” Check back later if I stay with this story…

Untitled Writing App

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Oooh, a new screenwriting app! And that’s all the thought process for downloading and playing around with Untitled required. I’ve spent a worse $2.99 in the App Store, several times.

My eyes opened seeing the ad on Facebook, pretty much the first time an app pulled my heartstrings in Zuckerberg-Land. Usually, I get suckered into picking up that, still unused, programmable music box where I use a provided hole punch to create music. Or perhaps I could talk about the videography rig for my iPhone? Never mind, while many of these purchases go in the category of keeping my creative options open, I do use writing apps. Even screenwriting apps.

I suppose the other question to settle for all three of you that consistently read this blog is…so back to writing screenplays after many months piously swearing off the form? Yes, I went to a friend’s screenwriting group and suddenly wanted to join in at the cool kids’ table. I even started a screenplay…uh, a teleplay in strict point of fact, a two-night miniseries as initial cover for an epic sure to glaze over a few eyeballs as a film.

Now, I don’t need very many writing apps. I have Final Draft, Word and Google Docs. But, Untitled had an interesting pitch video where the app promises that the scribe doesn’t have to toggle between the various elements that have been rigidly part of Screenplay Format since jump, but we can, instead, type modified prose to get the same results…a screenplay your agent might love. I can afford $2.99.

Using the app was a mixed bag of brilliant features and other stuff that induces shrugs and sighs of, “whatever.” On the plus side, the app does what it says it will do, help the screenwriter bang out a first draft with some allowance for organizing the notes that feed that writing. On the meh side, there were a few things, mostly on the file management side that weren’t quite as advertised.

When you first download the app, you’re presented with a screen that toggles between the Edit Page and the Preview Page that shows what everything looks like as a screenplay. The idea is simply to type with a syntax that mostly mimics the straight ahead knucklehead prose I use to transport you to Gotham for an alley mugging. Presumably if you were to get anyone who actually makes this app drunk, they’ll tell you how you’ll save a few seconds here and there if you just type instead of having to click on the Slugline, Action, Character, Dialogue, Parentheses, Shots and Transitions.

Considering that Screenplay Format has so many Tab changes, I’ll always shout out to the ladies in the old-timey studio typing departments that did this on a typewriter and pay for a good app. Promising to translate directly from prose is the next brilliant idea in screenwriting. You just have to learn the syntax.

They’re outside the suburban house during the day creates – EXT. SUBURBAN HOUSE – DAY – when you toggle from the edit page to the preview page. Okay, cool, we have Scene Headers, a.k.a. Slugline down. The very next sentence is automatically placed correctly below the slug as Action. We can tell the crew to find a house in Pacoima for the exterior shot. Or the writer can type the slug normally on the Edit Page to get to the same place.

I must mention an interesting quirk about Scene Headers that I’m not sure the app makers fully appreciated when they made the upload. The phrase during the day/night is absolutely and rigidly part of the syntax for Scene Headers so it eliminates certain tricks you’ll learn on other screenwriting apps that allow dumping the time stamp in the header. For me this quirk only matters because I write Science Fiction.

Using Final Draft Mobile, I write quite a bit of – EXT. SPACE – headers without the time stamp. I do this because day and night are meaningless constructs in orbit where there is no atmosphere to scatter and expand sunlight into night and day. The crew reads this and prepares to bring the right lights to the shooting day, but old hands will tell you that the time stamp is meaningless for interiors when you can darken any window you like to mimic – INT. HOUSE – NIGHT – and space shots are just models photographed indoors. But, with Untitled my headers for scenes in space must be written as They’re outside in space during the day leading to – EXT. SPACE – DAY. Extra words!

Regular typing with periods creates blocks of Action, the majority of the words in a script. This is where Untitled shines living up to most of its hype. I have few negative observations here, though I did find interesting quirks in the line spacing between blocks of Action that sort of violate how we’re taught Screenplay Format in writing class. Scripts separate Action blocks using double spacing and most apps automate this (another reason for no typewriters ever in screenwriting), but Untitled doesn’t forcing you to hit Return twice to get these results on the Preview Page. More keystrokes than I was promised.

Another cool thing, Character and Dialogue are handled together with something that mimics prose. The writer just writes – “Mary get the door.” said Bob – and when the words are rendered on the Preview Page it comes out perfectly. Score one for the new kid.

Price should always be part of a purchase decision. Right now, Untitled is $2.99 and may go up to $4.99 when the current sale ends. Final Draft Mobile is currently $30 (I picked it up during the initial sale for $10, nyah-nyah!). Fade In Mobile is about $6.99. Writer Duet’s new mobile app is free (review pending). And there are other apps all over the map hanging on. I see Untitled playing well with writers that haven’t already jumped on the Final Draft train. Score one, almost, for the new guy.

Where the app really helps its case against Final Draft Mobile is in how it looks in the display. Hopefully, the accompanying pictures do justice to what the Edit Page looks like, where the writer types or finger taps creating words using a font that I want to say is Arial Bold, but is really some other similar font. The words are larger on my iPhone screen than the same words from Final Draft Mobile rendered in a Courier variant. Larger and bolder is good when a writer whose optometrist already said he’d lost the ego battle against reading glasses at least two years ago.

I also have the iPad version and all of the above applies, but for the positive exception that this version does a better job of making the syntax guide easier to use and click out of so you never lose track of how the app has been built to write. Both versions do an excellent job of toggling back and forth between the Edit Page and the Preview Page which renders the text as a script in anally perfect Courier all tickety-boo.

At this point, I should be happier than, “I’ve spent a worse $2.99.” And as is the case most of the time, the file management at the back end didn’t land perfectly. The Untitled app promises that you can translate the file for export in a variety of file types: PDF, Fountain, Final Draft (FDX), Text and a couple others.

I’m laser focused on getting my scripts all neat and tidy for Final Draft output. Everybody else on a project has insisted on FDX file extensions because all of their productivity software requires this type of input. So realizing that I can choose to fight the 800-pound gorillas in Hollywood who deal with content or the similar primates in charge of format, I took the easy way out and decided to focus on content. This means everything new needs to speak well with Final Draft.

Once I had my pages just so on the Preview Page, I clicked through to export as a Final Draft file. Apple products allow the user to shift files between compatible apps without using email or Air Drop, so this I do. And then I check what the file looks like moved over to Final Draft. Key elements like Shot and Transition didn’t appear on the screen the way they do when I type these things in Final Draft.

My immediate solution for things that looked great on the Preview Page but ended up in the wrong places in Final Draft was to export the pages as a PDF and email them to myself. I had the attachment open on my iPad while I typed these words on my iPhone. And there is my meh reaction in a nutshell…if I’m typing things twice you’re not helping my workload.

So to recap, Untitled has a nice looking interface and an interesting prose to script typing syntax. The writer pays for this with a few quirks concerning line spacing in Action lines and issues with file management trying to make all of this talk to Final Draft (I didn’t try it out exporting to Fountain or anything else). I’ve spent a far worse $2.99…like that annoying ass police siren app. Never mind and get back to writing!

Musings on Keyboards

Posted: November 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

In Fiction-Land there was a gruesome murder last night, Mr. Qwerty ended up splayed out over a stack of leather bound books with a carriage return bar jammed through his right ear. The gore was considerable…

Okay, I’ve done better writing about how imaginary people get whacked by other (hopefully) imaginary people. Probably would spike up the blood spray and the chunks of bone and brain, or something. All to lead a post about keyboards.

I suppose we all love-hate Mr. Qwerty who helps us talk to HAL and the many varieties of Mini-HAL. When things work right, we tap keys and words appear. When they don’t, I curse you to an interesting life of cleaning our skin flakes from that insistent bastard with toothbrushes and Goo-Gone. And that’s before we smash him, like Pete Townsend doing his Fender guitar dirty, when the words don’t appear.

A short recap of the basic why of the keyboard, hereafter a named un-indicted coconspirator in all kinds of literary mayhem. The keys were placed QWERTY, AZERTY or AWERTY style because the various dudes inventing the manual typewriter thought the key placement of lots of consonants on the left side with most of the vowels and rest of the letters on the right would enable quick typing without jamming keys.

America and Britain went for subtle variations of QWERTY and other countries with Roman alphabets landed on several variations of the other main types (look up which is which on Wikipedia). And the sound of the clackity-clack changed offices forever. So do we like the typewriter as a primal force of feminism (yay, women can have jobs outside the home that don’t necessary involve cooking, cleaning or sex)? Or was the advent of the typing pool as much a screw you to women (we’re just going to relegate this boring repetitive job to women despite being dimly aware of repetitive stress injuries long before the scientists published papers about carpal tunnel syndrome in the 1980s)?

What this meant for me was that as it became clear that typing would be required for every college paper conducted outside the pressure cooker of a timed blue book exam, I had to take a typing class a prerequisite for going to an expensive college prep middle school. Taking a class wasn’t the end of it. I had to practice to even begin to maintain my (completely artificial, I know now) 40wpm typing speed.

I hated typing practice almost as much as I’d hated piano class in my earlier youth. So I’m just the sort of kid to take cues from Eddie Murphy doing his infamous riff on Mr. T as the (I thought) ultimate fuck you to the people making me practice. Let’s just say that if you ever want to get a rise out of a conservative but otherwise decent weekend father like mine to the point where his first verbal reaction was – “does he need to see a shrink?” – write three pages with a lot of out there sex.

Luckily, Mom had my number – “no, he was just angry that I made him type stuff.” She also went on to say that she thought my words were amazingly creative and that I should one day write for Playboy. Never mind that Mr. Hefner’s operation doesn’t actually publish stories like what I’d written, because as a men’s lifestyle magazine the stories and articles are meant to be read after absorbing the pulchritude and represent a counterpoint to the sexy metier. She wouldn’t know, she falls outside the target market.

During these years, someone invented a computer that you could have at home and the office. For the earlier part, I lived vicariously off my friends’ Mac 1.0s and PCs because for most people you really should wait for Moore’s Law to start grinding down the price down before buying the box your kid might not use until they really need it (college). And I got over whining about typing.

The salient point, the powers that be kept Mr. Qwerty gainfully employed adding a few function keys. They did it because they assumed the first users would be women crossing over from the Royals and Selectrics in the office. We launched ourselves into the cybernetic age with a familiar keyboard, cheerfully it seems.

Everything is now mobile to the exclusion of every other consideration. And we find ourselves at the first technological decision point since the invention of the typewriter and it’s rooted in the tricky balance between small enough to fit in a bag and large enough to comfortably fit our hands that haven’t gotten smaller to match. A small keyboard weighs less, but gives away some typing comforts. A large keyboard feels good under our fingertips, but ruins the line of the carry bag sticking out at odd angles.

As you may guess and sometimes read, I’m all over the map with my gear. I sometimes wonder if I should bust out some poetry that pretty much compares the trade offs a writer makes finding his Goldilocks equipment to a story of an eternally cursed individual unable to find a good pair of shoes. Certainly, I’m just now grooving on images of Ernest Hemingway found next to Sisyphus and Tantalus in Hades pounding his writing table angry at the millimeters worth of hot and cold porridge in his gear design.

As you can see from the pictures, the smaller the keyboard the more likely the designers will move keys around to make things fit. The fold up keyboard that when closed might create confusion with a jewelry box holding a necklace had a mostly good layout where the Shift Key on the right doesn’t conflict with the Arrow Keys, at the expense of moving the hyphen key into the subordinate keys found only by tapping the Function Key on the left. No bueno, I love me my carefully executed hyphens and M-dashes.

The small keyboard that comes in the red bag was an earlier purchase for a since replaced mini-iPad. It had a good layout for everything; hyphen key where it’s supposed to be, Bluetooth works with my phone and the Right Shift Key isn’t hidden behind the Arrow Keys. Cool, except that the board is small enough that the typing feel is all about my hands diving in and around each other just a millimeter off from Goldilocks.

My current mobile keyboard is wider laterally and folds up the outer keys over the center of the board. The Bluetooth works with my iPhone. The Hyphen Key isn’t hidden behind some other key function accessed by the Function Key. It’s about a foot wide and types okay, so what’s the catch? The Right Shift Key is buried to the outside of the Arrow Keys such that the typist quickly learns to take his/her right hand off the keyboard to push Shift. Nearly every word needing a capital letter seems to have a home on the left side of the keyboard, which becomes important because we’re taught to push Shift opposite the letter key pushed.

In the great scheme of things, a writer continuously trying to find a tool that Goldilocks might like once she has to type her letter of apology to the bears for her acts of trespassing isn’t much. If I’m like this over $40 keyboards, imagine me as a violinist before getting famous enough to acquire a Stradivarius? But, that last bit is for the music column on a later day. Anyway, I’m temporarily at the Close Enough for Government Work stage of my eternal search for the right gear. Get back to writing!

The Right App, The Right Pen?

Posted: October 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

By now, Dear Reader, you’ve figured out that I distract as easily as the average Thieving Magpie, especially with shiny objects (technology) on the line. Time to get a new iPad rolled around mostly a defensive move to stay ahead on the ongoing app update arms race (one day I will actually keep a device until the onboard battery dies…just kidding) and so I got just the one I thought I needed an iPad Pro with Apple Pen.

The technological lure of going paperless, except in key places proves irresistible, if I can find the right note taking app to go with it. And then I used the pen learning about the trade offs inherent in any technology. More on that later, first the app search. Or even a little bit about the Apple Pen. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

The Apple Pen, also sometimes referred to as Apple Pencil, is the latest and mostly greatest shiny new thing figuratively pulsing BUY ME in the Apple Store or other tech retailers. It’s white about the size of a Dixon-Ticonderoga pencil (size is important in this story) and it reacts with compatible Apple screens (newer iPads, iPad Pros and eventually new iPhones) to help people write, draw, ink and color things on screen.

I had seen about three of these at my Wednesday comic book creators group and everybody else creator group in the hands of artists doing artist things. They seem happy in the sense of not complaining, though one friend wrapped his up with quite a bit of baby blue electrical tape for a super wide grip (getting there with size). Using their artist specific apps they grind out pretty impressive work. Monkey see, monkey do, so obviously when I deal my old iPad back to the Apple Store, I’ve got all this in mind for the replacement.

What the Apple Pen does is mimic a wide range off writing, erasing and drawing tools. Depending on the apps you buy, you’re supposed to replace ballpoint pens, pencils, ink brushes, paint brushes, markers and maybe even crayons. Artists need these tools presented in mass quantities designed to create pictures meant to maximize images with trillions of colors. Writers need a note taking app that allows for doodling, but generally mimics pen on lined paper.

During this time, I’ve made some kind of amusingly douchebag commitment to myself to write more first drafts by hand instead of straight to type. I picked up a bunch of ballpoint pens by Cross, mostly to say I have good pens. But, just because the mechanical guts of each is exactly the same not all are created equal. For instance, the small pen with the rubber stylus tip really serves as a replacement ink cartridge when I run out. Why? It’s even smaller than the Apple Pen and the couple three times actually writing with it just didn’t sit well with my hands and wrist.

Before my purchase, I’m slashing out words related to the various chaotic imaginary worlds with which I will thrill you (apologies, I do need some hubris for this job). Of my pens, I naturally gravitate to the larger barreled ones with diameters somewhere between 9mm and .45-caliber bullets.

Concurrently, I use 6” x 9” spirals as the cheapest way to have lots of writing area that still fits in my bag. And I can write straight through for two hours straight, or more. All of this works together to leave my arm a little sore at the elbow and sometimes the wrist, no matter what tools I use. But, I maintain that the bigger pens causes less stiffness in my joints than the small ones.

So of course, in hoping to achieve the same effect of scribbling away on my many paper notebooks, on which I then spill coffee and/or freak out and throw into the recycling because I shouldn’t need so much paper, I buy technology where the writing tool is smaller. A trade off between writing ergonomics and green. So now, iPad and Apple Pen in hand, I need the right note taking app.

I start with the app branded by Moleskine; they sell 6” x 9” notebooks with nice covers. They swear that Ernest Hemingway used their products back in the day. I’ve used their paper notebooks and they’re fine, if you can afford to pay four times as much over the generic spiral and can refrain from spilling coffee. During this time I investigated note capture pens (see post), the Moleskine option that I hated was the poor by comparison competitor to Livescribe (also a part of this story).

So despite not exactly liking my two previous experiences with all things Moleskine, I download the app that promises to digitally emulate most of their 6” x 9” notebooks: lined, unlined, graph and storyboard with possible later in-app buys for other classic notebooks. Someone really didn’t do their coding homework with regards to making the Apple Pen work the way a writer needs them to work.

I couldn’t find much in the way of a ballpoint emulation where the stylus presents a uniform width of letters; I tend to write using nibs between .5mm and 1mm and just like it that way. Instead, getting distracted and leaving the Apple Pen nib paused on the writing screen trying to take a moment to consider the next word had a tendency to bleed onto the imaginary page like a fountain pen. The pencil feature proved hard to read and…Bye, Felicia!

Next, the simple act of changing keywords in the App Store brings me Notes +. The tools presented include something more like a ballpoint pen. The words all come out uniform in either the default width or the one I chose and I could expand with other tools and a wide range of other tools and paper emulation. Problem, sometimes on both the screen and saved file words that I wrote would arbitrarily disappear as if Big Brother is randomly censoring me from Fiction-Land. I really don’t like having to write over and over so…Bye, Felicia!

About this time, I feel discouraged that the Apple Pen is an expensive paperweight and the iPad has only replaced the old one as an extra data screen. But, I’ve only tried two out of at least six apps. I changed the keywords slightly and find GoodNotes 4.0, a name I recognize from the old days when note taking meant typing with a little bit of drawing capability. The early version I had saved the output to other computers as impossibly small files that you’d need a magnifying glass to read. But, it’s been a few years. I do the download.

Good thing I did. I finally found the note taking app that gave me a consistently readable printed text on screen and kept every word I wrote until I erased it. Success! I have my app even if it cost me $14 in mistakes to find this app. Yes, I suppose I could almost pretend to be an artist with a few of the extra tools I don’t yet need, but until I need something I don’t need to learn it.

So I set up GoodNotes 4.0 to have individual notebooks ready for several of my upcoming books. And a general notebook for all the small pieces necessary to keep my in progress projects moving forward. I’m happy, until…my elbow stings.

So now that I have my app, I use it enough to resume the stiffness in my elbow. I do thirty seconds of research on writer’s elbow, a subclass of tennis elbow. Most of the advice I can do. Regular breaks, yes. Ice the elbow and wrist, yes. Stretch things, yes. Good posture, especially sit up like at school writing on a flat surface instead of balancing the notebook/iPad on my knee, yes. Wider grips on my tools, just as soon as I find the right store. But, write from the shoulder, who are we kidding?

My handwriting or rather printing style has developed from years and years of possibly doing things wrong that packs a lot of words into smallish spaces. I’m not sure that I can unlearn this style to put the heavy lifting onto my shoulder, which leaves treating the currently minor stiffness (it doesn’t hurt just yet) in my wrist and elbow in terms of battle scars justly earned – “These wounds I had upon Crispin’s Day.”

There you have it, a slightly rambling exploration of note taking apps to help writers do their work mixed with some of the physical costs of all that writing. I’ve already sold out to my Muse (Calliope, I think). I’m not stopping, so I have to do things slightly differently. More later, as I learn it.

Post’s over! Go home!

Universe Protectors #1-2

Posted: July 19, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

In addition to finding time to work, joining certain creator/writer groups have been berry, berry good to me in terms of finding new things to read and splash around here on this blog. My friend, Jose Cardenas, has created the next bit of comics fun to distract from hey, Greg you going to read an actual novel before the next Ice Age? – Behold! Universe Protectors.

First off, it’s clear I’ve spent too much time figuring out the archetypal patterns of nearly everything I watch and read. So throwing Steve (possibly surnamed Baker), a mysterious figure dressed in green pseudo-Greek armor and a scarf/cape that quite frankly don’t take no shit off nobody, together with Caroline and Val should immediately spark the reader to Three’s Company with Super-powered Teenagers. Yes, Dear Reader, I just read a sitcom pitch just dying to hit TV somewhere, I’m guessing either Freeform or MTV.

The comparison of the potentially comic misadventures of Steve the Magic Killer Scarf-Man and Caroline and Val the Indeterminately Powerful Foster Sisters to the known comic adventures of Jack, Janet and Chrissy will hit the savvy readers in the head like certain tomato juice commercials from the era. A guy and two ladies clustered together in the same apartment or derelict hotel room, in this case, with the ever present danger of aliens out to kill them…it’s unavoidable. Steve is Jack. Caroline is Janet. Val is Chrissy, even down to the slightly naïve ditzy behavior.

Archetypes aside, the read goes for fun, a little bit violent (spandex characters, Ducky, can’t avoid a bit of bloodthirsty) and fully colored. It opens on two girls mugged in an alley by three ruffians and the gent soon to be revealed as Steve Baker leaps into the fisticuffs. We don’t quite see the green of the armor because dark alleys and muggings usually land on the page with blues and purples to convey lots of shadows. Three shots are fired and Steve’s scarf takes action independently of the armor and any other superpowers in this soup. The girls who have yet to reveal themselves appear to be gushing spandex groupies, for lack of a nicer word, and invite Steve home in part because he’s hungry and needs a bath.

Steve has a nightmare/memory in the bath about the alien that attacked his family when he was a young lad. Mom and Dad gave him his ring and died without telling him what it does. Steve leaves the girls’ apartment after quite a bit of back and forth about where the moral limits of the Hero Saves and Then Shags the Damsel trope (even weirder given the allusion to Three’s Company) are. He feels glad to have the bath and meal and then…

The monster that killed his parents attacks him on a roof. Said monster promptly wipes the asphalt roof with the poor lad. It’s curtains, curtains, I tell ya. Well, until the girls put on their rings and take their shots saving Steve’s bacon. Very quickly the three ring-holders decide that since the monster know about all of them and they should live together for protection, until they can figure out what the rings do and how to survive. Add in a bit of “we don’t actually know what they do, our parents never told us” exposition and we’re caught up through the second issue.

In general, the reading experience landed in the great amorphous area between a really great comic book and a mostly normal comic book. I loved the art, also the result of Mr. Cardenas’ multiple creative talents. Said art style pops off the page as Hey, I really like anime, the way I’m slowly beginning to grok, “Yeah, that sonata I’ve never heard before I’m guessing Mozart.” Anime/Manga style: round eyes, Val as the ditzy girl who’s tech proficient and so on…it’s just kind of odd to see this type of character design in a book where the reading style is the left to right of English books.

My favorite panels have to be the big fight that lets us in on the still slightly amorphous powers of Steve and his two new friends. They blues and purples of the alley mugging hit just right and Mr. Cardenas figured out how to have the last ditch beat down on the part of Steve’s scarf, of all things, be a major surprise in a world where few things actually seem new.

If I had to start looking for find fault, the writing independent of how Mr. Cardenas’s art sort of saves the whole read struck me as average but likely to improve with time. I enjoyed the setup, but my mind still read the dialogue with an eye towards trims and a bit of arrogant what I would do. In a similar vein, I was hoping for a little bit more differentiation between the three characters now sharing the same apartment. The plot device of power rings instead of mutations, cosmic radiation accidents, alien orphans sent to Earth to escape the destruction of the home world has a way of muddying up what this trio does as individuals.

I referred to Steve as a variation of Magic Scarf-Man (referencing the first fight that he wins), a cool power and stupid superhero name. But, other than that Caroline and Valerie can put a smoking hole in the average bad guy’s back, I have no idea how they differ from the Jack Tripper of this story. I’m so used to Green Lantern rings allowing the user to only be limited by the imagination that my lack of understanding of how these three characters differ and complement the team they just formed. And there are almost no closeups of the rings…

By contrast, I think of teams in these terms – Okay, let’s put the girl version of Iron Man together with the mute girl that does friction. Oh, let’s have a little fun with the porn star version of Power Girl. So I’m not sure what the team will be like because they all seem to have the same ring that could do the same things. Three people that do the same spandex schtick might be great for world threatening fights, but if you’re looking for complementary powers that make for an interesting mix and team dynamic…not so much.

A last note about the names in this comic book series, I’m glad that Mr. Cardenas went with Universe Protectors instead of trying to give these three superheroes cool names as the title of the series. The best I came up with was a facetious Magic Scarf-Man while having no idea how to name the girls because we don’t really see what their specialities are using their rings of power. Mister Cardenas has several more issues of fun comics with great fight choreography to answer these questions of whether we will be able to tell Jack, Janet and Chrissy apart.

All in all, the read hit me in a place where I can see the possibilities…if only. Right now the series feels like something that could get really good in future issues. And I will be watching for Issue Three.