Creative Control

Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist

His fists were as big as babies.

Below is a response to my buddy Duck who asked, in the previous entry, for details of a detective novel I once wrote to my girlfriend, in a world where language was a living thing–like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? except with words and phrases instead of ‘Toons. I would have posted it as a comment, but there are too many words for LiveJournal to accept as a comment.

That sounds fantastic! Tell me now.

Let me regale you with the impetus, first, because it makes little sense without it.

My girlfriend’s Wu-Tang name, you see, was something like “Vangelic Princess,” and we wondered what the word vangelic meant. The dictionary includes no such word. So I started writing her a detective noir serial in which a gumshoe played by myself takes the case of a “woman-walks-into-the-office” played by her. She was trying to find a word that nobody believed to exist.

Beyond that, I’d say you have to read the novel. It’s highly self-indulgent but it gets off a few moments of what I felt were inspired whimsy, such as the confrontation between the detective and affirmed lowlife Punctuation “Punch” Mackenzie at the Dangling Participle Bar and Grill, or the passages excerpted below:


. . .There must not have been a trap at all. That was the only logical conclusion.

I remembered, though, that logical criminals don’t set elaborate traps—they use the simplest methods available if they want you dead. A year and a half ago, I’d been knocked unconscious and placed in a complex death machine, devised by the verb cleave, which had long since been driven insane by its own dual definition, meaning both “to join” and “to separate”. The machine, however, was itself designed contrarily, and it destroyed itself before it had ever had a chance to do anything to me. Cleave had been arrested and sent to a hospital, where, last I heard, it was undergoing Illogical English Therapy under the competent auspices of Dr. Parker Driveway.

The library was a dark and looming presence. The building was ancient, made of dark gray brick, and was surrounded by thick foliage. The parking lot itself was surrounded by a hedge a few feet high, which was neatly maintained by a staff of four people—three of who couldn’t actually read English, which I always found somewhat ironic. The rooftop was capped with gargoyles that had obviously been placed there to ward away all the bad demons who wanted to infest the library—because everybody knew that when demons got loose, the first thing they wanted to do was pick up that Tom Clancy novel they’d never gotten around to reading.

The rain began to pick up in brief surges of wind that threw water into my eyes. I was a few minutes late, but I’d expected the mysterious paperweight thrower to be here earlier, and I was making it his responsibility to find me. I shivered and sniffed. In addition to the pain in my back, I hated my contact for picking a meeting location, time, and climate that were directly out of any old and tired detective novel formula. Dark building, rainy evening, lightning and thunder, the whole nine yards, I had a real bone to pick with whoever this person was.

The problem with being a private detective is that everybody has read detective novels. They assume that you are a private detective very much like the ones they’ve read in novels, then they start to think that you want them to interact with you like characters out of those detective novels; which you really would rather they didn’t. The additional problem is that it forces you to behave like the detectives in the detective novels—which, to be honest, isn’t that bad; we got into this profession because of those same novels—and then some detective novelist writes a book using you as the model, when you’re only acting like somebody else’s fictional detective character. And then somebody reads that detective novel…it’s a vicious, vicious cycle, and I was going to catch pneumonia and die from it.

All of my cases stuck with me, in a strictly organizational sense, but the only one that crossed over from the mental file cabinet into the realm of genuine torment involved a friend of mine. Cameron Payne was my old college roommate, who I’d lived with for two years before I’d decided to head to the academy. After graduation, Cam had gotten himself a job working as a speechwriter for a gubernatorial contender, and as far as I could tell, he’d been doing an excellent job of it—every time his employer made a public appearance, he gained about three percentage points in the polls. Cam would meet me for drinks on slow evenings and we’d discuss rhetoric until the bars kicked us out.

And then the bodies started appearing. The word vow was found, stuffed in a sewer pipe, and shortly thereafter, the words oath and promise surfaced in a city several miles away. All three words were terribly mangled, almost beyond the point of recognition, and it was only after solemnly and swear were found, bound together, in yet another city across the state that the police had finally decided to label the occurrences the work of a serial killer. By the time I’d noticed that the bodies were following the trail of Cameron and his gubernatorial candidate, pledge was discovered, a skeletal shell of itself, in an alley dumpster.

I still have nightmares about the first three minutes after the police and I broke into Cam’s house. The rooms were filled with subdued words and phrases, many of them slowly twisted into ugly, meaningless versions of themselves, pasted onto cotton-bond stationery and repeating themselves over and over again, as if trying to remind themselves what they had meant before Cam had gotten hold of them. We found guarantee in a back room, hungry and scared, but relatively unharmed. Cam had been leaving its synonyms intact until after they’d served their purpose in his speeches, after which he’d coldly disposed of them. When Cam had taken the witness stand, I’d wanted to scream that he shouldn’t be brought anywhere near an oath, that it was a travesty that he be allowed to swear to anything.

It was easy to be suspicious of everybody after that case. I’m sure I’m a better detective for all of it, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I wish it hadn’t happened.

And that’s more or less how the novel is. Incessantly clever, for good or ill.

Current music: MP3 list, XTC, “We’re All Light”

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This entry was posted on May 19, 2003 by in Writing.
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