Friday, March 30, 2007

A Place to Stand

Last night I caught two episodes of the Travel Channel's latest, 1000 Places to Go Before You Die, based on the best-selling book of the same name. (A copy of which my 2005 Clarion students kindly gave me as a parting gift. Or maybe not so kindly. Maybe they were suggesting I go to Borneo and stay there.)

Anyway, what Travel Channel did was interview 900 couples to find a couple of attractive young newlyweds named Albin and Melanie, and now is zooming them around the world, to thirteen countries in fourteen weeks, in order to catch the sights and be filmed while catching them. Attractive hosts, gorgeous scenery, deluxe accommodation, what's not to like?

What's not to like is that the producers neglected to provide one of the essential elements of travel narrative.

Point of view. Or, if you like, attitude. Or, if you like, edge.

Archimedes said that given a place to stand and a long enough lever, he could move the Earth.

But you have to have a place to stand.

Albin and Melanie aren't given a place to stand, and they didn't bring one with them. All the places they visit are presented empty of context. The only thing we learn about the history of Venice is that George Clooney recently stayed there. The only Venetians we meet are those whose job it is to deal with tourists. Otherwise we watch Albin and Melanie deal stand in front of St. Mark's basilica, and visit a glass factory on Murano, and take a ride in a gondola beneath the Bridge of Sighs (the historical context of which has to do with the film, A Little Romance).

They say "Wow!" a lot. And, "Oh my gosh!" And Albin, or whoever is narrating, mispronounces a lot of foreign words.

(I can imagine future episodes. "Wow, it's the Taj Mahal!" "Oh my gosh, it's Angkor Wat!")

It doesn't help that their accommodations are princely. They don't stay in any ordinary Venetian hotel, they stay in one on a private island, where Mr. Clooney stayed. The odds of meeting actual foreigners, or having an actual Venetian experience, is about nil.

And in Venice--- the home of many famous painters, and positively lousy with frescoes, mosaics, and paintings--- they never saw a single work of art! It takes genius to avoid stumbling across art in a place like Venice.

Many of the best travel writers have loads of attitude. And if they don't put a place in its context, they at least have a context that they bring with them. Wherever he went, Evelyn Waugh never stopped being a grumpy old English guy, mad at foreigners for being foreign and mad at the English because they weren't Catholic and mad at the Catholics because they weren't his kind of Catholic. There's always a point in Paul Theroux's adventures where he gets fed up, and he stays fed up for the rest of the trip, and watching him turn angry and snarky is part of the fun.

And then there are the stylists. Right now I'm reading one of Patrick Leigh Fermor's memoirs, about walking across Europe from Holland to Istanbul in 1933, the year Hitler took power, and the style is gorgeous and evocative, and he lets Horace and Tacitus provide the context, plus our own knowledge of what happened in history. I only wish I understood the Greek and Latin tags.

Jan Morris is a perfect empath--- she can always sniff out the heart of a place, and in an amazingly short time.

Anthony Bourdain is a great travel journalist, because he's always looking for unconventional angles, and because his membership in the Great International Brotherhood of Cooks gives him access to a lot of people. Even in such a travel-worn place as Paris he manages to find the guy who's making absinthe from 19th century equipment. His piece on Los Angeles managed to avoid Hollywood entirely, and dealt with diners, ethnic food, real neighborhoods, and an amateur roller derby league. Plus, being a New Yorker and an ex-junkie, he's got attitude to spare.

And, as I mentioned in an earlier post, he ate the pig's anus in shit sauce, because the Bushmen offered it to him, and they are poor and he is not, and he didn't disrespect them.

Even if you find Rachel Ray's bubbly personality irritating, at least she has a personality.

Which brings us back to Albin and Melanie.

The sad fact is, if I were on that show, I don't know if I'd do much better. The whole point of the show is to see the places that are in the book, and to be seen seeing them. ("Oh my gosh, it's Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Club!")

It's a checklist. You make a checkmark next to whatever you've just seen and move on to the next. Albin and Melanie might have loads of attitude and knowledge, but it's all left on the cutting-room floor because this just isn't that kind of show. This is the show where you get to travel like a fabulously rich person, surrounded by cameras, with an entourage that stands between you and the plebs. This is what it's like to be George Clooney, except without his intelligence or politics or talent.

You have to wonder what the 899 rejects were like.

What applies to travel writing applies to writing in general. The lesson I would give my students (assuming I had any) is this:

It matters what you bring to the table. It isn't enough just to tell a story, you have to leave a piece of yourself in the work. You can be grumpy, you can be snarky, you can be bubbly, you can be optimistic or megalomaniac or depressed. You can be all of the above.

But you've got to have a place to stand. And, with a long enough lever, you can move the world.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Who Knew?

So I have now discovered a previously unknown demographic: that strange and heretofore occult overlap between the fans of science fiction and professional ice hockey.

Yes, my signing at the New Mexico Scorpions game was a success! (Or at least, a success in the category: previous signings with me in them, not taking place at an SF convention.) I sold enough books to pay for my gas, the fast food I purchased at the concessions stands, and had enough left over for a margarita or two.

Plus the game was fun. I haven't seen a live hockey game since I left Minnesota at the age of 13--- I mean, hockey in the desert, isn't that at least a little weird?--- so I'd forgotten how much action there is in hockey compared with other major sports. Never mind the home team got humiliated with an 8-3 loss. I had nothing at stake.

Do publishers know about this new demographic? Is there some way we can enlighten them?

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Virtues of Repression

This topic has been inspired by mention of Samuel R Delany in an earlier topic, Tour de Force, below.

I am moved to ask the following question: Is repression good for you? Or, if not for you exactly, for art?

Take Delany as an example. In his early career, it was forbidden, particularly within our commercial genre, to write explicitly about what, for the sake of euphemism, I shall refer to as "transgressive sexuality." As a result, Delany was forced into a series of artful and highly successful maneuvers in order to write about his interests/obsessions while still producing successful commercial fiction. His early work won a great many awards and influenced any number of younger writers, including me.

Now that the weight of repression has been lifted, and Delany can write explicitly about his sexual interests, including a number of books that are frankly pornographic. (Delany embraces that term, by the way.) I find his fiction less interesting, and the porn, at best, depressing. (I except Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand, which was the terrific first half of a novel. I eagerly await the second half, twenty years on.) The only award Delany has won recently has been for his autobiography.

Or look at Roger Zelazny. He was a natural fantasist, but when he began writing there was no commercial fantasy available, so he had to write a kind of semi-fantasy that was disguised as science fiction. In the early novels there was always a tension between the science fiction overlay and the wild fantasy that was trying to break free, and Roger played on that tension like a master. Later, when fantasy had become a commercial genre and Roger could write outright fantasy, I found the fantasy less interesting.

Repression is good for business, because it makes people work harder at their jobs than at being happy. Is it good for fiction as well?

Was anyone interested in the breasts of Justice until Ashcroft draped them? Is football more intriguing when you never see the ball? Does Tokyo become more interesting when you have to pretend that Godzilla does not exist?


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Tour de Force

I just reread Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness for the first time in maybe thirty years. I'm not sure how I missed it during that time, since I regularly reread Roger's work. Perhaps I failed to go back to the book because my personal copy seems to have gone missing, so when I decided to reread it I found the book's out of print, and I couldn't find a copy in a local bookstore, so I had to borrow a copy from a friend.

Be that as it may, my reaction to the novel this time was different than it had been on previous readings.

My reaction this time was something like, Holy fucking shit! What a fucking tour de force!

I've been known to attempt tour de force myself. Sometimes a writer just wants to show off his skill before his audience, like a Renaissance artist producing one of those canvases that has armor, lace, flowers, porcelain, fruit, and a dead bunny, all worked beautifully into the composition.

And so, sometimes I write passages just because I can. Gabriel entering the Escher-like oneirochronon in Aristoi, Maria manipulating the Now in Angel Station, the first appearance of the Burning Woman in Metropolitan . . . while these scenes carry the plot forward, they're also intended to showcase my skill. I want you to read them and go waaaaaaaaah.

Sometimes you find an entire novel that's a tour de force. Gravity's Rainbow, say, or Lolita. Those are two successes: most often a novel-length tour de force fails.

Creatures of Light and Darkness is one damned tour de force after another. There's a part written in verse; there's another part written as a stage play. There are gods onstage. There's the amazing scene of Temporal Fugue. There's the Agnostic's Prayer. There are about a dozen point-of-view characters, not all of which are named, and one of which is the shadow of a horse.

As a novel, the book is less successful than its individual scenes. I think this is what I responded to as a young reader--- I had thought of it as dealing with some of the same themes as Lord of Light, but less successfully.

But now that I write for a living, I know how hard all of this was to pull off, and I am agog. Picture me with a tattered paperback in my hand, and my mouth hanging open. (No, on second thought, don't picture me that way at all.)

Having read CoLaD again, I wanted to know more about the book, and because Roger is no longer available to ask, I contacted his biographer, Jane Lindskold. She told me that the book was written in the mid-1960s, as an experiment, with no intent to publish. (Roger was working for the government in those days, and didn't need to publish in order to eat. He wrote a number of things without intending to publish them, though only one of them was a novel, so far as I know.)

Chronologically, this is around the time Roger began working with the Amber books. (Roger's books were not always published in the order in which he wrote them.)

We may thank Samuel R Delany for the fact the book was published at all. Roger was describing the book to him, and Chip was urging him to publish it. "But I can't publish it," said Roger, in effect. "Part of it's written in verse! Part of it's a stage play! Part of it is written from the point of view of the shadow of a horse!"

"That's exactly what the field needs!" Chip said, or words to that effect.

And he was right.

And he's more right now than ever.

Can we manage to get this book back in print, so everyone can read it and go Waaaaaaaaah?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"Heinasirkka, heinasirkka . . . "

In honor of St. Urho's Day, which is Friday, I'd like to send you all a card.

I've had St. Urho in mind this spring, since our weather is so far proving ideal for the propagation of locusts. I hate the little buggers flying about and eating every leaf in sight, and will do my best to abolish them, perhaps by repeating St. Urho's immortal words, ""Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen!" ("Grasshopper, grasshopper, go from hence to Hell!")

For those of you unacquainted with the life and miracles of St. Urho, please refer to the following ballad (written by Richard Mattson and Gene McCavic, probably in a tavern in Virginia, Minnesota).

It should be noted that the ballad is written in the dialect of my boyhood. When you picture me as a child, assuming you ever do, you should imagine me talking very much like this.

Ooksi kooksi coolama vee

Santia Urho is ta poy for me!

He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds. '

Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen

Braffest Finn I effer seen'

Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes

Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour

Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.

Tat's why tat kuy could sase toes peetles

What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let's give a cheer in hower pest vay

On Sixteenth of March, St. Urho's Tay.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Little Jeeves in the Morning

If you can't have Jeeves to gently wake you in the morning, at least you can have his voice. Or Stephen Fry's, anyway.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Monsieur Vidal

As I've been driving about the state, I have been enjoying an audio book of Gore Vidal's latest memoir, Point to Point Navigation, as read by Vidal himself.

I admire much of Vidal's fiction--- not so much the historical bestsellers like Burr and Lincoln, where he's so busy trying to shock us with the behavior of our elders that it gets in the way of his characters, or Myra Breckenridge, an artifact of the Sixties which fails to escape its decade, but the works that grapple with humanity as well as history, like Washington, D.C., possibly the best political novel ever written, and the magnificent Creation, which I wish I'd written myself.

Along the way I have also enjoyed his science fiction novel The Smithsonian Institution, admittedly a trifle, in which time travel rescues Vidal's great love, Jimmy Trimble, from death on Iwo Jima. If the book had been in genre it would have taken the science a little more seriously, but by the end I was impressed by Vidal's genre-riffic mastery of technobabble. It also contains the unforgettable line: "Beware Mrs. Grover Cleveland. She is a notorious chicken hawk."

Vidal's earlier memoir, Palimpsest, is superior to the present work in that it has a character arc--- it's about how Gore Vidal became Gore Vidal. In this latest, Gore Vidal is already formed at the start, so the book is about Gore Vidal being Gore Vidal, and how much you enjoy it depends on your tolerance for rambling anecdotes about the famous and for Vidal's cynical take on American politics.

For myself, I've always been refreshed by Vidal's straightforward claim that (1) the USA is an Empire, and (2) that it has a ruling class, into which he, Vidal, was born (but which he consistently betrays). What other writer could crack the facade of the suave William Buckley, and produce the following threat: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."

Class, Vidal wrote somewhere, is the most difficult subject for American writers to deal with as it is the most difficult for the English to avoid. Vidal did not avoid the subject.

[For the record, Vidal's family has been involved in American politics since the 1690s, his grandfather was Senator T.P. Gore, his father was FDR's air minister and the founder of three airlines, he's the sort-of stepbrother of Jacqueline Onassis, and he's run one time each for congress and the senate. He counts Jimmy Carter and Al Gore among his cousins.]

I had almost missed Point-to-Point Navigation, because I'd made the mistake of reading the reviews, which condemned the book for its rambling structure, its repetetiveness, its politics, and the relentless name-dropping. The book is repetetive--- it could have used a good copy-editor--- but the politics, sexual and imperial, give it spice; and its rambling structure is perfectly suited to Vidal's life, style, and lifestyle, all of which admirably evade consistency. As for the name-dropping, it's not Vidal's fault that he's not a pleb, and that he was on first-name basis with the Kennedys, Tennessee Williams, Princess Margaret, and Federico Fellini. Perhaps the celebrity anecdotes would have been tiresome if I'd read them all in one go, but since I was listening during trips to the supermarket or to the library, I found them tasty.

And Vidal has always had bad reviews, because he's always had enemies. Academe disliked him because he became a major literary figure without ever having gone to college. Time and Life hated him because they thought he was anti-American. The New York Times condemned him for decades for his unconventional sexuality. In his essays, Vidal his given as good as he's got, or better. It helps that he's in his mid-eighties now, and has outlived most of his enemies. (Throughout both his sets of memoirs, he peers into other people's autobiographies and zestfully tries sets the record straight.)

As I listened, I mostly spent my time chuckling at the Vidal wit, but occasionally he produces a passage that just knocked me flat. One of these is his his clear-eyed account of the death of Howard Auster, his companion for fifty-odd years. It's a piece of prose that most writers would give a decade of their lives to have written.

As for the Vidal wit, there are many examples online, but in P-t-P N he modifies his earlier statement, "Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television." He would not give this advice, he says, in the age of HIV, or its electronic equivalent, Fox News.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Lure of Africa

I was viewing the Travel Channel last night, and caught the Namibian adventures of celebrity chef and novelist Anthony Bourdain. (And has anyone out there read his fiction, by the way?) During this episode, Bourdain joined a group of bushmen for what he described as the worst meal of his life, beginning with what a menu might describe as "l'anus de cochon dans la sauce de la merde," pig's ass in shit sauce.

I thought, as I was watching it, "They never told us about this in Jon of the Kalahari."

Jon of the Kalahari, as I'm sure few will remember, was a (mostly forgettable) feature that ran in the back pages of Gold Key Comics' Korak, Son of Tarzan. (In those days, postal regulations required that magazines have more than one feature.) Unlike the Tarzan stories, which were set in a timeless Burroughsian landscape, Jon's adventures took place in a more or less contemporary Africa. They were moderately educational, informing readers about bushmen and the Namib, as viewed through the adventures of Jon and his native sidekick, T'Kou. The most memorable thing about them was the Jesse Marsh art.

If they had gone into methods of cooking warthog butt, I might have found them more compelling.

Though interested enough in bushmen and their ways, it was the more fantastic realms of Burroughs that had the more persistent and pernicious influence on my childhood. I probably came to Tarzan first through the comics (read to me by my father), then the movies, then (when I had learned to read myself) the books. So my boyhood visions of Africa were infused with a heady mixture of warring tribes, greedy white adventurers, Tuareg slavers with their trusty Tower muskets ("thundersticks"), lost civilizations, dimwitted colonial officers, ferocious bull apes ("Kreegah!"), the noble savage, and Tarzan's Ape-English Dictionary.

The comics were relatively enlightened on racial matters. Sure, the hero and his family were white, but there were also any number of intelligent African supporting characters, beginning with the wise Waziri chief, Muviro. When I finally came to the books, Burroughs' racial attitudes stood out by contrast. ("I think Edgar Rice Burroughs is a racist!" I remember chirping to my bemused mother, age seven or so, when coming across a particularly malevolent passage--- and these were the cleaned-up versions I was reading, rewritten in the 1940s to remove the far more offensive stereotypes of the original texts.)

Racist or not, I ate up Burroughs with a spoon. I suppose if I read them now, I'd find them a disappointing mashup of Rider Haggard, The Jungle Book, and English pukka-sahib India adventures, but in the latter half of my first decade, I was ready for Tarzan. As my elders did their best to instill in me the values of civilization, the appeal of the boy raised in the jungle by apes was obvious.

It helped that I was familiar with the wilderness. Though I lived in a small city (Duluth), there was a forest literally in our back yard, and another one across the road in front. Occasionally we would see deer or moose. My relatives all lived in the country, which (as they lived in northern Minnesota) means that they lived in isolated steadings in a large, dark, wild wood. (Revisiting the area a few years ago after decades away, I was genuinely struck by how isolated everyone was.)

So picture young Walter Jon of the Mesabi trying to knap a spear point out of granite. (For flint you go to Michigan) The result was not sharp, but it was at least spearpoint-shaped, and I bound it with twine into a poplar haft and set forth into the woods for adventure. I got pretty good at chucking that spear. In the woods I had a tree house, just like Tarzan of the Movies. I set snares for rabbits, and caught a number of them, but I was not ready for the adventure of butchering and the carcases were left to rot in the woods.

The second feature in the back of the Tarzan comics was another influence. Brothers of the Spear featured two sworn brothers, the black Natongo and the white Dan-El, who were respectively the exiled princes of two kingdoms, Tungelu and Aba-Zulu, the latter of which seemed to be one of those lost white African civilizations that Tarzan was always stumbling across. Brothers of the Spear was the first comic I know of where the black guy got equal billing with his white cohort--- and both wore neat, short dreadlocks, by the way. By the time I encountered them, Dan-El and Natongo had become kings of their homelands and married the equally beautiful Tavane and Zulena, but continued to have adventures together, fighting Arab slavers and wily native chieftains. (For all the racial equality displayed by the Tarzan titles, the only consistent villains were Arabs and Tuaregs.)

All this got mashed together in my overheated juvenile brain. Poplar spear in hand, I vanquished Tuaregs, rescued the occasional princess, repelled assaults on my African kingdom (which seemed to have a rather Toltec architecture, come to think of it), and defeated deranged Nazi scientists (well, if you're going to have lost civilizations, why not lost anti-civilizations?).

I wrote several of these adventures in what I called "novels," and which I illustrated in crayon. Neither Kipling nor Russ Manning would have been threatened by my abilities. Fortunately none of these efforts have survived to disappoint any hypothetical biographer searching for evidence of precocious talent.

This unreal Africa, defended by my granite-tipped spear, continues to occupy an odd little corner of my memory, a lost civilization in its own right. As no one but I ever lived there, I remain its solitary prince, stalking the vine-covered walls of its ruined city, waiting for discovery by the outside world.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Color! Fantasy! Glory!

More pics from our surprise carpet show.

The shiny ones are silk.

The one Melinda Snodgrass is fondling is a vision of paradise, with animals, trees, fountains, and one very happy guy.

The Turks Were Here!

The Turks turned out to be legit. They swing this way every year, working their way through the South and Southwest, to sell any carpets they failed to sell at the big Atlanta carpet show.

So a van filled with a million dollars' worth of Turkish carpets turned up in our driveway this afternoon, and Ali and his partner, whose name was something like Silber, unloaded several dozen of them and spread them around our great room.

The first carpet they unloaded was a large madder-red carpet with a black and gold geometric design. (Last year we bought a madder-red carpet with a black and gold geometric design from their Cappadocian showroom. They had our data! This was totally unfair!)

"We brought this one for you," Ali said.


We admired that carpet--- it was like the one we'd bought last year, only higher quality and larger--- and tried it out under the dining room table. It looked like it belonged there.

I didn't want to dicker till my friends turned up. By now I have begun to get a handle on the ways of Turkish business. "Can I get a commission on anything my friends buy?" I asked. Ali said yes, indeed I could.

Nine friends turned up. I'd been expectiong more. Ali and his friend began to unroll carpets.

All were hand-made out of wool hand-dyed with vegetable dyes. Some were geometric, some had flowers. All were traditional patterns except for the geometric types, where the patterns are unique to each family. Each had the pile hand-knotted to the warp and weft with the Turkish double knot. Each was a unique work of art.

So we started with smaller carpets. Then the carpets got bigger. Then the carpets got more elaborate, with silk mixed in with the wool to make the patterns jump. The colors shifted depending on what end of the carpet you were standing on. The richer carpets shimmered when they moved. We said "ooooooh."

Then we saw sumaks, which are woven carpets without pile, but with brilliant designs in silk embroidered on them. Then we the carpets woven entirely out of silk--- shimmering brilliant colors, and luxurious to the touch. These were seriously unaffordable. We said "aaaaaaah."

By the end of the show, there was a foot-high pile of carpets in the great room.

Only two of our friends bought, but one bought five or six carpets, including one of the silk ones.

The whole time everyone was sorting through the carpets they had chosen as possibilities, there was one carpet that we all quite liked, with pale red colors that literally shimmered as we looked at them, but it wasn't suitable for any of our houses.

It took Ali and his friend about 45 minutes to stuff all the unsold carpets back into their van.

Soon all business was concluded except for ours. There was the big 6x9 madder-red carpet on which our dining table had been sitting for the last three hours. And we had tried various carpets on the living room floor, because with recent alterations the living room has become a little dark, and I thought a carpet in there might brighten it.

On a hunch I put the orphan carpet there, the one that everyone liked but that no one could figure out how to fit in their home. It looked wonderful. Suddenly the living room was a warm, bright, homey place. I talked to Kathy. We both liked it a lot.

Time to dicker with Ali. Time to dicker like hell.

He pre-empted me. For the big red carpet, he offered it for the same per-square-foot price we'd got on the Cappadocian rug--- except the new one was higher quality, and the Cappadocian price was amazingly good in and of itself.

And the plucky orphan rug that everyone had liked? That was free. That was my commission.

"We should do this every year," Ali said. "Make it a tradition."

Ayah! Call me next February!

We had three guests left by the time all business was concluded. We sat in the hot tub and watched the sun set and the partial lunar eclipse climb up through our cottonwood tree. A sublime way to end a glorious day.

When I came into the house, I discovered that one of the cats had vomited on the new kitchen carpet. It's now been baptized into the family.

Then we went to the Luna Mansion for dinner, which was yet another triumphant conclusion to a day already full of triumphant conclusions.

I'm uploading pictures of the new carpets, but they don't do them justice. The pictures are a moment frozen in time. The carpets change--- they shimmer in the light, the colors always moving.

After I'm done with this post, I'm going to go roll on my carpets. I like to get tactile with my acquisitions.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Expository Lumps, Part VII: Just say it.

So how often have you seen this scene in bad movies: the villain has captured the hero, and (before dismembering him with a laser or chucking him into the piranha tank) proudly boasts of his accomplishments and plans. And then of course the hero escapes, and uses his knowledge of the enemy to thwart him.

What kind of awful hack would write a scene like this today?

Well . . . I would. In fact I've written this kind of scene twice, in Voice of the Whirlwind and in Aristoi.

I would like to be able to say that the difference between this scene as depicted in bad movies and the scene as I write is that I'm the one who's writing it. Yes, damn it, I'm that good!

Here's the dilemma. At some point somebody's gotta tell the reader what's been going on and who's been doing it and why. The ideal person to make this speech is the antagonist. But who's he going to talk to? His own henchmen already know the score.

Here's the trick.

You've got to give the antagonist a reason for making the speech other than the fact that the plot needs him to. The weakest reason I've come up with was in Voice of the Whirlwind, where the villain had just been shot and was high on painkillers, blabbing away. In Aristoi, the baddie was trying to convert Gabriel to his cause.

I can't tell you why, in my current work, why the current antagonist is so thoroughly briefing the protagonist, except that it's a damned good reason. To say anything more would be to give away too much of the action.

But here's another thing I did. I put his speech in the form of a soliloquy.

I had started it as a dialogue. But one of the parties in the dialogue didn't have that much to say except "Uh-huh" and "Go on" and "Tell me more," and I began to fall victim to the "bobblehead syndrome," where the characters are constantly nodding and narrowing their eyes and opening their eyes wide and and shuffling their feet and playing with cigarettes and otherwise reacting to what the other person is saying, and it was getting repetetive.

So I thought: Look, only one person has a story to tell here. So let him tell it.

Stand on your mark.

Face the camera.

Say your lines.

If the lines are good enough, they'll carry the thing.

If the lines aren't good enough, I'm sure someone will tell me.