Author Archives: KDAlex

An Island of Adventure

The IslandYou know, I’ve often mentioned how I write like Michael Bay directs. For better or worse, that’s the style I’ve become comfortable with. It’s something I enjoy. Ever since I started going to the movies, I’ve always made it a point to go seek out the big summer blockbusters. I’ve always enjoyed the ones whose production costs often top out at more money than you or I will ever see in our lifetime. I don’t think I can ever recall thinking to myself: “Hm. The trailer makes this movie look like a scintillating metaphor for the human condition. I -MUST- see this.”

But I believe it can be said that even Michael Bay in his most basic form studies the human condition. His characters usually tow the line around everyman style characters, or even those that just don’t fit in. His characters are human. They are you or me. And they are in way over their heads. And when you can see these characters rise up to meet the often over-the-top challenges, the story they tell is almost one of inspiration.

But at the end of the day, it’s still a formula for good storytelling.

From Indiana Jones to Bad Boys, Michael Bay seems to have played a huge role in my popcorn intake. And that’s the story I’m going to tell today.

Popcorn movies are derided for their simplistic plotlines, their gratuitous violence, and frequent hammy or poor acting. But, such is the nature of the beast. And I love every minute of it. To me, Michael Bay is to cinema what Lester Dent was to the pulps. There’s something about the rhythm and cadence of his films. Everything builds nicely into one giant crescendo of brilliantly twinkling broken glass. It’s violently beautiful. The man is the best hack in the business. And you know what, he just doesn’t give a damn.

To me, books are entertainment. They are films that play out in the theater of your mind. And the entirety of the purpose if entertainment is – well – to entertain. To turn off that critically analytical part of your brain and just enjoy the ride.

The Island stars Ewan McGregor as Lincoln Six Echo, a man who clearly doesn’t fit in. From the opening moments of the film, you can see just how out of place he is living in this utopian society. From the moment he wakes up to the flashing LED displays warning of an irregular sleep cycle, to the analyzation of his urine while he is in the bathroom. It’s a strange world that plays out perfectly from a visual standpoint as white track-suited people mill about in perfect harmony while black suited controllers watch their every move.

The residents of the compound live and hope for “the lottery” so that they can be transported to the Island, a tranquil place known as the last bastion of humanity after a deadly contamination wiped out most of the habitable world.

The kicker of course, is that there was no contamination. The perfectly picturesque island they see the vision of every day is no more than an illusion. The world still lives and breathes as it ever did. The residents are no more than fleshbags holding valuable organs. Each time the “lottery” is drawn, another angel gets its wings. Lincoln Six Echo, in a beautifully filmed discovery finds a moth flying inside the secure compound. If the moth is alive, then surely the world must be.

This sets off a high octane action-adventure in which Lincoln Six Echo breaks free from the compound and meets the real Lincoln, who turns out to be a perfect caricature of everything that’s wrong with people. The man is greedy, conniving, and manipulative. While the clone is kind-hearted and world-wizened.

Oh. And there’s explosions too. Explosions that would make Mr. Torgue very happy.

In truth, The Island blew my mind for the first time in recent memory. And I think all of the pastiches and cliches of a science fiction film or story, if let out of the care of Michael Bay’s watchful eye would have fallen flat. It’s in the way he captures a single moment in time that really just — evokes the perfect image of a world gone.

So. What can you learn from this or any of Michael Bay’s films as a writer?

Entertainment, in its most basic form exists for one purpose: To entertain. If a film or a book can function on its own basic structure as means of entertainment, then whatever message or theme you desire can be threaded through the needle.

Visualization is key. Study a frame, a scene, a moment in time to learn the subtle nuances and help you capture the perfect image.

Don’t be afraid of the critics. They exist to criticize.

Don’t be afraid to show the little things in life. If your characters are human or cyborg or even alien, they all have feelings, quirks, and things that just make them who they are. Let them shine.

No News is Bad News

Reality has taken a strange turn of events lately, becoming fiction and arcing out into quite possibly the greatest spy story since the Cold War.

There’s a saying in my line of work, it involves a couple of expletives and the rationale that truth is stranger than fiction.

Consider the news coverage over the past several months, the conspiracy theories that have popped up and the whistle blowers who are making history.

When we write fiction, there are always certain beats that you aim to hit. And when I long for inspiration, sometimes the best medicine is a quick trip to the television and a tune in to the nightly news.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I do live in a rather strange place. We have face eating zombies and killer bees. Primordial forests and dank swamps. But it wasn’t a local caper that caught my muse this time.

No, it was something on a more global scale. I won’t get into the specifics, or even mention the incident for fear of coloring this blog political in any way. So, instead let’s focus on a few general beats that every story needs to succeed. Every night when you watch the news, there is always a beginning, middle, and end to every story. Heck, that’s why they call them stories. News media operates in a reverse pyramid formula where the most important element is mentioned first. You can take that theory and apply it to fiction as well. All good stories should start with the most important thing that has ever happened to your character. It’s something that triggers the rest of the plot to move forward.

Let’s take a news event and break it down:

Catalyst – Every story begins with a precipitating event that sets your main characters on a collision course with destiny. In this case, something that has far reaching global implications. Do we hold Pandora’s Box? Did we just set off a nuclear bomb or leak a secret government plot?

Reaction – The main characters react to the catalyst, sometimes in strange or unusual ways. Sometimes even more mundane. Do we flee the country? Blast off to space? Vow to seek revenge?

Romance – Do the characters fall in love? Fall out of love? Do they sacrifice their relationship to save the world?

Climax – The chase is on, the reaction boils over and spills into a global conflict. The gods have awakened and they are angry. Pandora’s box is open. Nuclear winter is here.

Resolution – Does your hero go to jail? Get the girl? Save the world? Or tragically die trying to do the right thing?

It’s not just news that we can draw inspiration from. I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. Not because I believe in them, but because they tell a great story and lead to some awesome What If  moments. If I recall correctly, Stephen King writes most of his books under a “What If?” scenario. Let’s take a few of the more common conspiracy theories and break them down into a story.

Chemtrails:

Certain conspiracy theorists believe that every time a plane flies overhead, its contrail is a secret mixture of chemicals used for mind control, population control, weather control, or any other sort of illicit means you could think up. So – let’s play What If.

What if your main character is an air force pilot, retired. Let’s call him Jim for ease. Jim flies for GloboAir. Before a Trans-Atlantic flight, he is approached by a shadowy man in a business suit. The man claims to be from the TSA and there’s been a threat to the security of the plane. The federal government received “credible information” that a terrorist organization was preparing to shoot down a commercial airliner as it passes through the 48th Parallel. The shadowy man offers an alternative flight path that leads him, his crew, and his passengers safely out of harm’s way. The detour he is provided secretly takes him into a military operation in which his plane has become a weapon of mass destruction. The chemtrails that his plane are set to leave will result in a monster tsunami that will destroy a large city, which would open the country up to a mutually beneficial trade agreement as the USA helps them rebuild from their disaster. Jim discovers the secret plot while in the bathroom and vows that he will not become a pawn in a global chess game. He ignores the new flight coordinates and his plane goes off the air traffic control flight path. Military jets scramble under the belief that Jim’s plane has been hijacked. Now Jim is on a race against time to save his passengers and the world.

Bermuda Triangle:

The Bermuda Triangle is more of a supernatural conspiracy in which people believe that there is a strange reason so many ships or planes disappear in the North Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, between Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Popular victims of the Bermuda Triangle include Amelia Ehrhardt, USS Cyclops, and the creepiest to me, The Connemaria IV.

Let’s play What If.

Jim, the fisherman runs a charter vessel off the coast of Florida. He accidentally sails into the Bermuda Triangle, where he is accosted by the ghosts of the Connemaria IV. A chase ensues as the ghosts attempt to destroy Jim’s vessel. While fleeing, he ends up running aground in the middle of the ocean. There he discovers the lost city of Atlantis and falls in love with a beautiful siren named Janis. Jim becomes the target of an assassination attempt when Janis’ boyfriend, John finds out. The assassin fails and accidentally kills the king with poison meant for Jim. Now Jim is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and trapped by people he could never hope to understand.

Elvis:

One of the longest running conspiracy theories is that Elvis Priestly never really died.

Elvis Priestly, Knight of Thorns, had to fake his own death so that he could begin his secret life as a vampire hunter. Seriously, how fun does that sound?

There are plenty of other conspiracy theories out there that are ready to burst with creative energy. Operation Northwoods, MK-Ultra, Psychic Warfare, New World Order syndicates, and dozens more beyond that. So, don’t get discouraged when you hit a stumbling block or can’t think of the next great story. Just know that whatever impetus you need to propel your muse back into life can be as simple as a click away.

 

The Bokor’s Daughter

It is said the Bokor serves the Loa with both hands. 

For good or for ill. 

Elise, my father, was many things. None of which were a good man. Once I was gone, the hardest part was in him letting go. 

I remember the long night he cried to Baron Semadi to not dig my grave. It took two days for my body to rot. 

And six days before I walked again.

The term “zombi(e)” has been a part of american pop-culture since the pulp age of literature. Their cultural significance goes back much longer.

George Romero may have invented the zombie, but Haitian Vodoun have known about their existence since the dawn of their civilization. The Zombi is so ingrained in the Haitian culture, that to create one is as much a crime as pre-meditated murder.

I am neither scientist nor philosopher, and I’m certainly not a medical doctor. But there are plenty who are and who were. Sometime around the late-80’s, a guy named Wade Davis had pontificated on the scientific reality of zombies. He focused on the case study of a man by the name of Clairvius Narcisse.

Narcisse was, for lack of a better term, a trouble maker. He defied the common acceptability of Haitian culture. He placed a tin roof on a a hut that should have been thatched, he refused to allow his brother the use of his land to feed his family. And considering social-norms, he was almost a complete and total prick.

It is believed that his brother, feeling the slight from the denial of his land consulted a Bokor, a kind of mercenary magician. The Bokor created a zombie powder, which was used to turn Narcisse essentially into a zombie.

After checking himself in to a hospital for a number of medical complaints,including coughing up blood, Narcisse ended up being pronounced dead by western doctors.

He said that shortly before being pronounced dead, he felt as if his skin was on fire with insects crawling beneath it. He heard his sister weeping as he was pronounced deceased, even felt the sheet being pulled over his face. Although he was unable to move or speak, he remained lucid the entire time. Even as his coffin was nailed shut and buried. He even had a scar on his face from when a nail was driven through his face. He said that while he was underneath the earth, he felt a strange floating sensation as if his consciousness was almost above the coffin. He lay there for an unknown about of time until the Bokor and his henchmen dug him up, where he was immediately beaten into submission, bound, gagged, and spirited off to a plantation where he lived for the next two years while being force fed a single meal a day.

That meal contained Datura, a strong hallucinogenic that is called the zombie cucumber. It causes extreme delirium and total amnesia, among many other symptoms. Narcisse later recalled that his time spent on the plantation was full of days where the world seemed to pass by in an almost slow-motion haze.

Scientific analysis of multiple powders revealed ground up bones, ground up glass, urticating bristles, toads, and all sorts of other witches’ brew ingredients. There was a commonality to the powder though. Tetrodotoxin. The poison inside of a puffer fish that has been known to cause a near catatonic or death-like state.

Keep the myth behind the legend in mind.

Because sometimes, the truth is more terrifying than the fiction.

The Terrors of Adolescence

A chill wind blows. Beneath the starry skies a lone finger pokes out from the ground, a shock of white in an otherwise blank landscape. The plains stretch out beyond the horizon, an endless ocean of green-gray grass. Footfalls sound behind you, the crunch of underbrush and new frost startles you. Slowly, you turn expecting the worst.

The scythe falls before you can cry out. A hollow laugh echoes across eternity.

It all has to start somewhere. At some point in some of your lives, someone had planted that tiny spark inside your head that blossomed into wildfire. So, it has been and so it will continue onwards, cyclically until the end of time or storytelling as we know it.

Here’s my story:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away paperback books were actually displayed inside grocery stores, not relegated to the smallest section next to the greeting cards, dog food, or laundry detergent. At the time, I had been excitedly following my family into the grocery store weekly for the newest releases in the Disney adventures. Somewhere around the summer of ’92, my parents rounded the corner in the little buggy and we made our way to the junk food aisle. And that’s where I saw it: A little picture of a house, some bumpy gooey writing, and a picture of a creepy house front and center. The title gave me goosebumps.

I begged my parents to buy it for me, and against their better judgement they caved. I took my new prize home and ran to my bedroom. Turning the pages with Cheeto-laced fingers, I dove in and didn’t come up for air until the last page.

The book was called Welcome to Dead House. It was written by a guy named R.L. Stein.

And it was the largest, scariest, most awesomest book my ten year old brain had ever digested.

I wanted more.

Now, Goofy’s Great Adventure Part 39 wasn’t good enough. R.L. Stein was my gateway drug to the world of the weird and macabre. And like all good addicts, I was out chasing the high. If Goosebumps were only coming out monthly and I was reading them in a day, I needed to fill up the other 29 days.

But Walden Books was far away. And Blockbuster was so much closer.

My parents were a terrible influence on me. They let me rent things I had no business renting. It was somewhere around the autumn of 1993, and I was no longer the cute organ grinder with the toy monkey. Now I was the cute vampire. Or the cute werewolf. I stumbled upon Nightmare on Elm Street, and it scared the crap out of me. I still hate hospitals.

So yeah. That was the end of that phase for another year or two. I still read my Goosebumps when they came out. And then I went back to watching things more age-appropriate. Things like Darkwing Duck and the Gummy Bears (bouncing here and there and everywhere…)

I had to have all of the action figures. To occupy my time between new Goosebumps releases, I would wander over to my toy box and stage epic battles of most epic proportions. The Ninja Turtles forged an alliance with Darkwing Duck to defeat the evil Shredder. Occasionally, my super powered parakeet would swoop down and claw at the faces of heroes and villains.

When my parents would yell at me to play outside, I would go outside. And my action figures would come too. Sadly, the super-powered parakeet had to stay indoors.

And it was outside that I learned just how scary things can be. You see, I had a much older kid that lived next door. He was a junior in high school, which was old enough to be an elder god to my ten year old self. And that first time he popped out of his window wearing a halloween mask, I thought he was.

Over the rest of the year, he encouraged my friend and I to go for a ride in his “time machine” (garbage can) that he promised he could take me all the way back to prehistoric times. I was excited at the prospect. Dinosaurs were cool. And so, he put a blindfold over me and picked me up and dumped me into his garbage can…I mean time machine.

Which he then carried into the woods, leaving me there to fend for myself and find my way back to civilization. It was one hell of an adventure that led me to discovering the ancient evil that lived in the lake at the edge of my neighborhood. It’s name was Gomar, and I was terrified.

And damned if I didn’t think it was real. Over the remainder of the summer, my neighbor (Gomar) would pop up unexpectedly and terrorize my friends and I.

So, we did the only thing we could to defend ourselves from Gomar and his hordes of gremlins and demons. We teamed up Power Ranger style and punched and kicked at the air, I mean the monsters, up until Gomar finally acquiesced our superiority.

But that got me to wondering about this evil being that lived in my lake. Where did he come from? Did he want to steal our butterfingers?

School started and the little wheels spun endlessly until the hamsters in my brain gave up the ghost. I couldn’t stop thinking about Gomar. My questing led me back to my fascination with the macabre and the reality. It turned out there was a really wicked shark attack in the lake behind my house (it was actually the inspiration for “Jaws”). And there were all sorts of nasty battles during the revolutionary war within minutes of my neighborhood.

While researching the evil within my home town, I inadvertently stumbled upon HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. Which only led me down the path of least resistance. It was there that I discovered a man named Dean Koontz, almost by accident really.

And it was for the second time in my life I was truly terrified.

I had watched a movie called “Fire in the Sky” the night before school. Big mistake. After all but crying myself to sleep, I found solace in the fact that Monday was library day.

Think I was 11 or 12 at the time. And as fate would have it, I found a book called “Winter Moon” by Dean Koontz. The cover had a beautiful picture of a full moon and the cover copy convinced me to open it up and take a peak.

I checked it out and came back for more. The Bad Place, Lightning, Mr. Murder, and Cold Fire followed. It seemed someone else had thought evil existed within small town America. And he aimed to keep the suspense high and the brow mopped until the very last page. I dove in headfirst and spent the next several years poolside, bus side, or taking hits between classes. I was addicted again. And it was amazing. I kept up until I couldn’t take any more. And that’s when I found The Dark Tower.

If Dean Koontz taught me that ordinary men and women could do extraordinary things in the faces of extreme challenges, Stephen King taught me the magic of simplicity. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Sold.

My mind drifted back to Gomar as my English/Creative Writing teacher gave me my first chance to write a story. Michael Wilfrey was born from two middle school kids caught up in a war older than time. It was pure dreck, but it was an “A” and it was all mine.

As I grew up, my reading habits changed, my writing habits began to take shape. I discovered Jim Butcher, who led me to the Lester Dent method of plotting, which only led me to discover Doc Savage, who then introduced me to Solomon Kane and Conan the Barbarian.

But my addiction still lingers, I still try to chase that high. Zombies, ghosts, devils and demons… I just can’t get enough.

Maybe it’s because I’m still trying to solve my little Gomar problem.