Monthly Archive: December 2010

Interview! With me.


Well, someone’s still interested in Your Humble Author here. I’ve been interviewed by The Novel Road:

Me: Lunch with you and any author (except Sean) you choose, from throughout history or today, and why.
Jeff: Lunch with Ferrell! The mind boggles. I’ve seen the man drink. It’s disgusting enough. Who would want to watch him eat? He reminds me of BrundleFly.

Myself, of course, forming a stable time loop that in essence grants me immortality.

Go on, check it out. You know you want to.

Maze by Christopher Manson

The Maze by Christopher MansonI can still remember the day we figured out Room 29.

Being a nerdy kind of guy my entire life, I went through a period of being enamored by puzzle books, in the sense of entire books being a puzzle. The first one I came across, and the one that remains, in my mind, the best example of them, was Maze by Christopher Manson. I don’t remember how I found it; by the time I came across it the contest portion (offering a $10,000 prize to the first person who successfully solved it) was long over. I didn’t care about the contest; the book itself was unbelievably cool.

There were others. There was the Merlin Mystery, which was unbelievably complex and zero fun. Zero, zero fun. Maze remains my favorite, by far.

Maze is a book that is also, literally, a maze. Each page of the book contains a drawing of one of the rooms of the maze – basically the pages are the rooms. The conceit is that you are part of a group of people who enter the maze along with a less-than-helpful guide, who narrates your progress (or lack thereof) through the maze. In each room/drawing there are doors marked with numbers; you choose which room to go to next by selecting a numbered door and then turning to that page. In the drawings and the text are clues both to which room to go to next and the overall puzzle. Your goal is to find the shortest path from room 1 to room 45 and back out again, and to decipher and answer the riddle hidden in room45.

It’s fucking genius. Part of it is the writing. Here’s the text from Room 1:

…the entrance hall of the Maze. They looked carefully at the bronze doors, trying to choose. The uncertainty of visitors is one of my little pleasures.
“It’s easy to get lost,” I said helpfully. “This can be a sinister place.” The sun glared at me through the gateway.
Something was ringing behind one of the doors. They spent some time trying to decide which door it was, not understanding that the silences of the Maze are as eloquent as the sounds.
“Decisions, decisions,” one said. “Too many decisions.”
“The story of my life,” said another.
“We don’t want to be late,” said a third, opening one of the doors.
“Nary a soul to be seen,” said the first, peering into the gloom.
I waited patiently for them to choose which was to go … into…

The sense of every little thing – every word, everything in the images – being a clue was enervating. I would pore over every room seeking clues. I drew matrixes of rooms, trying to figure out the shortest route. For a while we were stymied; we could not figure out how to cross over to what seemed like the second half of the maze, we kept dead-ending. And then one day I was examining Room 29:

Room 29

And we realized we were missing a door. We’d seen #8, #40, #35, and #2, but there’s one more door in there (unnumbered doors don’t count). Can you see it? It was pretty exciting when we finally did.

In the years since failing, pretty convincingly, to solve the riddle (our triumph of noticing the hidden door in Room 29 was our last intellectual Win with this) I’ve occasionally attempted to capture (i.e., steal) the tone of this little puzzle book for my own writing, with little success; the images are at least 50% of the atmosphere. In fact, I even attempted my own ersatz version of the Maze a few years ago (it was a Geocities web site, believe it or not). Check it out, if you want, but don’t complain to me if it makes no sense!

Monday is Guitar Day

Epiphone Les Paul CustomYou might think what with writing incredible novels, putting out my own biannual zine, and doing costumed Superhero work at night (I am, it can now be revealed, the Pork Avenger), I wouldn’t have time for other pursuits. Yet I sit at home in my cave-like office and actually compose and record songs on my wee guitars. That’s right! It’s time for moar geetar music from Your Humble Author. Download them and weep:


The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.

The Box: Do Not Want

Boxing Helena

This ain't the first time a movie about a Box has totally sapped my will to live.

I’m not entirely sure when this blog became nothing but half-assed movie reviews. I’ll have to launch an investigation. Until I figure it out, just be thankful that I throw myself on Crap Grenades so you don’t have to. In other words, I sat down and watched The Box starring Cameron Diaz the other night, and now that my week has been ruined you are safe from this horror.

The Box is a movie based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button”, written way back in 1970. I have something of a Writerly Man Crush on Matheson; not only have I loved most of his writing, but he’s endured, which isn’t easy. I’d like to think someone like Will Smith is going to make a travesty out of one of my books decades after I’m gone, but chances are slim.

The basic premise is this: A financially strapped couple are visited by a mysterious man who gives them a box with a button. He tells them that if they press the button, they will receive $1 million, and someone “they do not know” will die. That’s the same premise as the original story, more or less. The original story, of course, ends pretty quickly. It’s creepy, and it’s effective – hell, they’re still adapting it forty years later. I’d call that effective.

The movie, unfortunately, grinds on for quite some time after this set up. Forget Cameron Diaz’s unfortunate accent. Forget that I am increasingly convinced writer/director Richard Kelly was merely impenetrably lucky and not a genius when he made Donnie Darko. The simple fact of the matter is, The Box starts off with a terrific premise (albeit one given to the filmmaker by the howling ghost of a much better storyteller) and then completely and utterly fails to develop that premise into anything nearly as good.

This is a pretty common problem for writers. The high-concept idea is not that hard to come up with, but plotting is frickin’ hard. It’s easy enough to imagine a world where robots have rebelled against us and rule the world, it’s difficult to tell a story around that premise. If you doubt me, try it.

What Kelly does with his solid-gold premise here is flail about and come up with a ridiculous reason behind the premise, and then he doubles down on that ridiculous reason and dares you to drown in the ridiculous. Which is audacious in its way.

<— SPOILERS AHOY! Turn back now if you don’t want this story ruined for you. —>