writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Novel, Part 4 – Fearful Symmetry

BRIAN SAYS:

“So, where do we go from here?”

That was what Chris and I said to each other, probably at the same time, probably at a bar, when we sat down to talk about Fearful Symmetry, book 2 of the “Shattered World” series. Okay, it was very likely we said it at the same time, because the person who asks the question first doesn’t have to bear the burden of answering it, and we were most definitely at a bar, because that’s where we do our best thinking. Yes, I said thinking. The good news is we already had a bit of a blue print going into this. Believe it or not, we planned ahead while we were working on book 1, The Shattered Visage Lies

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writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Stories, Part 6

BRIAN SAYS: 

People often ask us if there is anything autobiographical in the Drunk Comic Book Monkey series. The answer is absolutely yes. After all, the series is a collection of short stories where Chris and I are the main characters, so it stands to reason that there would be plenty of experiences to draw from. Now, some of what we’ve experienced in the books, aside from going toe-to-toe with monsters and aliens, happened to us only in the fictional world, such as waking up in a Tijuana jail cell, waking up in a Canadian jail cell, waking up on a deserted beach, but we’ve sprinkled some bits of real life throughout. One story that comes to mind is “The Day the Drunken Comic Book Monkeys Stood Still” in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Sciencey Tales of Science Fiction.

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writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Sci-Fi Novel, Part 1 – The Biggest Bounty

BRIAN SAYS:

Have you read The Biggest Bounty yet? If you would like to, you can grab a copy via this link here and then the rest of the blog entry will make sense. Now that you’ve read it I’m sure you noticed that it’s a swashbuckling science fiction with action, adventure, intrigue, milk, and a little bit of comedy thrown in for good measure. This is book 1 of the “Zeus and the Pink Flower” saga where the two protagonists had just recently met and started working together. Chris and I wanted to start at the beginning and follow these two throughout their careers. As such, there were two things he and I wanted to touch upon with this book.

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writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Anthology, Part 1 – TV Gods

BRIAN SAYS:

“Are we sure we want to do this?” I asked. 

Chris exhaled, slowly trying to blow doubt and insecurity out of his body. His eyes shimmered with the start of tears. “I think so?”

“Oh… oh, God… no…,” Christine muttered, realization crawling up her spine like ants.

“What are we talking about?” Jeff asked. 

“Jeff, run. Run, run now, run fast, Jeff, just run,” Christine whispered.

Knowing Christine well enough, Jeff heeded her warning without question. He jumped from the couch, knocking the tray table over, and stepped on the cat’s tail as he sprinted for the door. Fingertips fractions of an inch from the doorknob, Chris and I thwarted his escape by yelling in unison, “We’re going to publish an anthology and you’re going to be the editor!!”

Jeff fell to the floor and writhed, screaming, “It burns! IT BURNS!”

“Are we sure we’re ready for this next step?” I asked. 

“Well, we’ve published one anthology already, as well as three story collections, and dozens of magazines,” Chris answered. “It’s the next logical step.”

“IT BURNS!! BURNING BURNS!”

“So, what’s the anthology going to be?” Christine asked. 

“IT STILL BURNS! IT BURRRRRRRNS!”

I shrugged my shoulders. “How about we call it ‘TV Gods’? We’ll ask the writers to take their favorite TV shows and their favorite mythologies and mash them together.”

“BURNING ME! IT BURRRRRR… wait… that’s not a bad idea,” Jeff replied as he sat up and grabbed his mead, the aloe rub for his soul. “I think I even have a story idea already.”

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writers, monkeys, beer

The Journey: Struggle

In our previous installment of The Journey, we learned about different business types. We also learned that the world loves it when Brian gets laryngitis. Let’s see what else we can learn when it finally comes time to form the business….

The Journey
“Struggle”


With most endeavors in life, there are two ways you can do things – either the cheap and difficult way or the expensive and easy way. Walking to work is very very cheap, but probably not the easiest thing to do. Driving to work will save your sanity, but cost your wallet dearly. Starting a corporation is no different. Since both Chris and I are college graduates and my alter ego is an accountant (my superhero identity, of course, being “Sasquatch: Devourer of Mass Quantities of Food!”), we thought we could take the cheaper way to start a corporation. We’re no strangers to research and/or a little hard work, and I don’t seem to have the same phobia as most of society toward paper work (another super power, perhaps?), so we decided to roll up our sleeves, show some American spirit, and do it ourselves! Well, it was a good idea at least.

The biggest problem we faced was where to begin. We were ready to fill out any and every form we could find. But which ones? And in what order? Of course, federal forms and state forms are different animals. That are untamable. With sharp, pointy teeth. We went to our state’s website, but that only helped to a certain extent. It listed all kinds of forms, but it told us neither the specific forms we needed nor the proper order in which to file them with the state. And the federal government? Fahgedaboudit!

We did manage to figure out how to file for a fictitious name, though. Filled out the form, wrote out the check and off it went. The interesting thing about that was our lawyer later told us that the procedure wasn’t in place to protect us, but it instead protected the public FROM us, letting the good citizens know that we would be operating business under the name Fortress Publishing, Inc. A piece of paper and a small ad in the local newspaper were supposed to protect the public from Chris and me? The comedy just writes itself: Two bald men went on a rampage in south, central Pennsylvania, drinking all the beer and eating all the hot wings the region had, but before all hope was lost, they were thwarted by… an official government document!

As you can probably surmise by now, Chris and I caved in and took the easy, but expensive, way out. We hired a lawyer to create, and file with the state and federal governments, the Articles of Incorporation, the agenda for the initial Board of Directors meeting, and corporate by-laws. We then had an accountant friend of ours help us get our tax ID number, sales tax numbers, and “S” Corporation status elections, for both state and fed. It was certainly a lot of paperwork considering we live in a paperless society. However, we did find solace in knowing that we had experts involved. Certainly, we would have overlooked a form or two or filed them in improper order, undoubtedly creating a scenario very similar to Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil.”

In the meantime, our third partner decided not to participate in the corporation. Of course, his money wasn’t going to participate in the corporation either. The true beauty of the situation was he decided to tell us AFTER we put his name on the Articles of Incorporation, elected him to the Board of Directors, and made him an Officer. So, for our first official Board of Directors meeting, we had to un-elect him from all of the above. Remember, as a corporation there are certain rules you need to follow, including the occasional Board of Directors meeting with legible minutes, election of officers, issuing stock, yadda yadda yadda. However, we hold all our business meetings at the local Hooters, so they aren’t quite as boring as they may sound. Before you ask – yes, the local Hooters is very conducive to conducting official business. We may now be CEOs and Presidents and all kinds of official sounding titles, but we’re still writers at heart and we find the environment very emotionally stirring.

One of the more exciting (and I use that term very loosely) things about becoming a corporation is the “corporate kit.” Chris and I are men, so when we heard the word “kit” we immediately translated it to “cool toy.” Tools come in kits. When you buy a grill, it comes in a kit-like box – and there are very few toys cooler than a grill. So, we were pretty amped up when it came. It was basically a large notebook with a sheath. There was a section for minutes, record keeping and the corporation’s stock certificates were located in the kit as well. SWEET! There were only twenty certificates, so we decided to use only two (one for Chris, one for me) and not all twenty. There was one item that caused the clouds to part and a ray of light to shine from Heaven upon it – the corporate seal. It looks like any standard paper crimper that any Notary Public would have. But it was OUR corporate seal! We paid for this! There was a certain sense of pride we had discovered in following through with the creation of a corporation. We showed that pride by putting our mark on any piece of paper we could fit between the plates. Every scrap paper in my office, every one of my son’s pieces of artwork on the fridge, every receipt I could find. I was so maniacal with it the dogs ran and hid in any room I wasn’t.

Even though it was quite a struggle (that we eventually solved with our checkbook), starting our own corporation was kind of a rush. We get to honestly say we own our own publishing company. And no matter how hardcore “down with the institution” you are, you can’t help but have an extra swagger in your step knowing you are legitimately a President or VP of a corporation. So, now what…?

Next Issue: “Foundation.”

Post Script: This article was originally written well over a decade ago about events that occurred even farther back in time. The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made significant strides in making information about starting a small business readily available, especially with their recent website, business.pa.gov.
writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Stories, Part 4

BRIAN SAYS:

For this installment, the stories that we’re going to deconstruct are four that can only be found in The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness: Reflux Edition. From here on out, we’ll just refer to it as Reflux. What is Reflux? Other than that burny feeling your insides get when thinking about either Chris or me? It’s the special edition of The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness. This limited print run can only be purchased directly from us at any of our various appearances (check here for where we might be next) or from our website, here. What makes Reflux different from the original edition? Well, we added three stories, rewrote four stories, and after EACH story is a behind the scenes look of what we did or drank to come up with the story. It’s like the special director’s commentary DVD of your favorite movie. Why did we rewrite four of the stories? Well, we’re glad you asked.

One of the stories I decided to rewrite was “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. The Wendigo.” Chris wrote that story in the original version. He did a fantastic job with it, continuing our adventure from our time in Tijuana chronicled in “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. La Chupacabra.” However, when we first brought up the idea of our characters facing the wendigo spirit, we each had vastly different takes on the subject. Chris portrayed the spirit much like Algernon Blackwood did in his tale many years ago. It lent itself well for what Chris did with the story, but my favorite versions of the wendigo were always the more Hollywood style – the ravenous creature possessing a person, turning them into an insatiable cannibal. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Algernon Blackwood version of the wendigo. But after we released the original version of Scary Tales, we learned that many people don’t know what a wendigo is, and even fewer have heard of Algernon Blackwood. When we decided to do Reflux, I jumped at the chance to tell a story using one of my favorite spirits not sold in a liquor store. I also took the opportunity to make a few jokes about Canada. Because, you know, Canada.

The other story I rewrote was “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Zombies.” This concept was actually what started the whole nonsense of us writing ourselves as characters in horror stories. At the time, I was not a fan of zombies. Over the decades, the typical zombie story evolved from inept young people struggling to flee from shambling corpses that can somehow utter the word, “Braaaaaaaaains,” to a more sophisticated study of human nature where survivors could be more dangerous than the zombies themselves. When Chris wrote the original, he did a fantastic job of taking the zombie story to a unique place (the zombies in question were not actually undead, instead they were under the mind control of the nefarious Potato People) as well as tell a compelling story using dialog only, with zero narrative. Even though I enjoyed his vision, I still wanted to see a traditional zombie story filled with traditionally stupid characters. Namely, Chris and me.

Since the characters of Chris and Brian spent so much time in a restaurant thinly veiled in fiction called Melons, I thought it would be funny if Chris and I won a “golden ticket” to visit the headquarters. Little did we know it would be much like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory! Not only did I want to up the fun factor, but I also wanted to add to the body count. Scary Tales is a book about horror stories, and zombies are always eating people, so the zombies in this version of the story eat people. Of course, they deserve to be eaten since they do what the characters do in the zombie stories of yesteryear that I detested – drop weapons right after successfully using them, or sacrificing themselves for the rest of the group when there’s another option that would allow everyone to escape unscathed. Of course, I also decided to have fun with the source of zombie-making contagion. Yes, you guessed it – the goat.


CHRIS SAYS:

…And cut. Ok, that’s a wrap, guys. Good job and we can continue filming tomorrow… Oh, hi! I didn’t hear you back there, you sneaky creepers! Thanks for visiting us on the top secret Fortress lair… oh, wait… it’s top secret… so, what was Brian going on about? Reflux? Yeah, I know a thing or two about that. Come on over here where we can talk.

Four stories from the original collection got a complete makeover in Reflux. Brian wanted to tackle Zombies and The Wendigo because he simply envisioned them as something other than what they were in the original edition of the book. And I’m glad that he did. He took both stories back to their more Hollywood roots and it brought out more of that delightful lunacy that you all know as The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys.

For my part, I wanted to try to work a slightly different angle with “Spider.” The original is classical zaniness and a favorite of ours to do at readings. I’m always a sucker to twist up a good classic into knots, so I wondered what would happen if I made “Spider” follow a traditional European fairy tale format, complete with a stranger and gifts and all of that. As we had begun to work in Jeff Young more as an antagonist, I thought it would be great fun to continue this theme (it wasn’t until Brian and I met after the first round of story re-writing that we found out that we had both taken this tactic). The framework of the story is largely autobiographical as Brian had told me just weeks earlier how he had blown up two mowers in a span of a few days. For someone who only mows twice a year, this is no small task! Brian’s accountant, financial justification for the events of the story… well, that just makes me laugh a little bit on the inside. He’s read it. He still hasn’t denied that he would rationalize it similarly….

“The Blob” was a story for which I had no reference. There is no literary equivalent that I’m aware of and I have never seen the movies pertaining to it. I enjoyed Brian’s take on things (who doesn’t love a good mad scientist?) and I stopped to wonder what semi-autobiographical reference I could use in which we were mad scientists… hmmm… oh, yeah… at one of our Fortress excursions we may have relived the good old college days and some of our less than wise mixologies. At the forefront was some good, old-fashioned, gummy candy. Couldn’t possibly cause any harm, right? So I threw in a little Ghostbuster humor and mixed it with a few fifty piece wing platters and voila! Speaking of gummy candy, I think it’s… ummmm… clean out the pantry day! National holiday, you know. Gotta go! Bye!
writers, monkeys, beer

The Journey: Reconnaissance!

In our previous installment of the journey, we learned all about printing. Well, we learned a little about printing. And we may have learned that Brian might not be Batman. Ahhh, who are we trying to fool? We all know that Brian is Batman. So, let’s take a peek at what happens when we try to educate ourselves about starting a business….

One of the more difficult things about being regular working schlubs like us trying to step outside of our preordained caste and start our own publishing company is finding time. There’s never enough of it to do what we need, to muddle through the regular day-to-day activities such as work, pay bills, spend time with the family, pay bills, feed the addiction to eBay, pay bills, do the chores, pay bills, etc... Then add to the pile, “small business start-up” and the pile becomes perilously close to toppling over, crushing all beneath it. Jac fell victim to such circumstance, no longer able to commit. Fortress was now down to three. 

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writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Second Novel, Part 1 – The Devil’s Grasp

BRIAN SAYS:

Tom looked at me, nodded his head toward Chris, and said, “You know he writes, right?”
I replied with, “Ummmmm… no.”
Turning to Chris, Tom pointed to me, and asked, “You know he writes, right?”
Coincidently enough, the reply Chris gave sounded oddly familiar. “Ummmmm… no.”
Tom then summed up the future partnership that Chris and I would form with one word: “Idiots.”

That little tale about the endeavoring spirit of human nature took place almost fifteen years ago, about ten years after we first met. Yes, I just said that it took ten years for each of us to figure out that the other wished to be a professional writer, which only happened by the assistance of a third party. Not only is it a testament to how well men actually communicate with each other, but even if the conversation somehow came close to the subject, then inevitably something would distract us from it. One time Chris and I accidentally forgot to go to the local bar to pick up women [The Ferrell/Kattan skits you’re envisioning now really aren’t too far from the truth], because we got past a difficult level in the latest Star Wars video game and wanted to keep playing. Why is any of this relevant? Because the first thing Chris and I worked on together was The Devil’s Grasp.

Of course, before we put the proverbial pen to paper, we sat down and compared notes: How long we’d been writing, where we’d gotten published, what we liked to write, how many more levels there were in that damn Star Wars game, why the beer pitcher was always empty. We discovered that we were in the same stage of our writing careers – a few things published in small magazines. So, the next obvious step was to write a novel together.

By this point in time, I had already written two novels; one solo, one with another writer. Neither amounted to anything more than experience, beer drinking, and good times. Luckily, I was able to bring all of that to the table when Chris and I FINALLY stopped playing Star Wars and started talking about the novel.

CHRIS SAYS:

Testing! Testing! Is this thing on? It is? Well, hi, folks! Let’s see here… video game… beer pitcher empty… be right back! I’m not so sure this thing truly holds 64 ounces!

While we were walking around the used car of our writing aspirations, randomly kicking tires and jumping through open windows, we discussed genre and found that we both have a keen interest in fantasy, though we had largely gotten there via different paths. As a kid I had read the “classics” and many of my days had been wholly consumed by them. Tolkien, Le Guin, Leiber, Howard… they made me want to swing a sword, to hurl spells of magical creation, to be the size of a mouse running from dark wizards, or to be seeking the advice of an alien seer. Brian was familiar with more modern, but not less important, works found on the cinema screen or comic book pages.

As we were discussing tropes and quests and magic, we also confessed to each other that we both had an interest in horror and here seemed to be a way to differentiate our piece from other more mainstream fantasy. As all of this involved far more discussion and learning about another dude that either of us had done in quite likely our entire collective lives, we took a break and went to our respective homes to do more thinking. We both typed up a short page or two – essentially of list of “do’s” and “don’ts”.  This is really how we began the process of collaborative writing. Passing chapters back and forth, each trying to outdo the other by putting characters into perilous situations and challenging the other to save them.

Over the next few weeks, we established goals and outlined chapters. Afterwards, we each picked a chapter that we wanted to work on and set monthly word count goals. On the designated day, we would meet up and go over what we had done and where we envisioned the characters going next. We always outlined a good 5-6 chapters in advance and worked on different chapters, writing towards the day of the inevitable passing off of a chapter to the other person, back and forth until revision time...<shiver> I still get chills thinking about revisions… slimy, putrid… out of what miasma they crawl, I know not, but they are certainly welcome to go back whence they came! <shudder> I think I got some miasma on me….
writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Stories, Part 3

BRIAN SAYS:


Holy wow! It’s been less than a year between postings! Tell your friends! Tell your neighbors! Tell your Priest! We’re heading to Crazytown and I think I’m the Mayor! Okay, I might have oversold it a bit. Sorry. It’s just another post pulling back the curtain that separates Chris and me from the rest of the world.


So, the last time we deconstructed some stories from our short story collection, The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness (available here and here), Chris and I looked at a couple of our favorites. This time, we’ll take a look at a couple that really stood out for us. Or me, I’d have to say it’s the last story in the book, “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. The Devil,” for many reasons.


As we were writing the book, we went along our merry way doing some goofy things that led to unanswered questions. Beer Pants. Talking to animals. Dying more than the average human being. Why there’s a goat in a few of the stories. As we were finishing up the rest of the stories, we were running out of opportunities to explain ourselves. It finally dawned us to do one final story where we match wits with the devil. Better yet, we force Jeff to match his wits with the devil. And it worked.


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writers, monkeys, beer

Deconstructing the Novel, Part 2 – The Shattered Visage Lies

BRIAN SAYS:

Okay, now that we’ve gotten into some form of rhythm with this blog thing, let’s revisit a concept we introduced a few posts ago – Deconstructing the Novel, where go behind the scenes of our first published novel, The Shattered Visage Lies, to answer questions, give novel writing advice, and discuss some of the concepts within the book. Last installment, we discussed what the title means, or at least what it means to us. For this installment, we’ll shed some light on what we’ve been hearing about the protagonist and antagonist – Michael and Marvin. Don’t know who they are because you haven’t read the book yet? Don’t worry, feel free to take a moment to grab yourself a copy, in print or eVersion to peruse. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Have it? Read it? Good. Let’s move on.

First of all, as you have now learned from reading the book in one sitting, the novel is an ensemble piece. In it, nine different people discover they have super powers. For the most part, we go over the discovery, exploration, and development of these abilities in detail for most of these characters, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that we have a definitive protagonist or antagonist. However, Michael and Marvin stand out as those concepts, respectively. Interestingly enough, these two are also usually the least favorite character and most favorite character, respectively. And we did that on purpose.

“What? You purposely made your protagonist the reader’s least favorite character?” Yes, we did. I want to remind you, though, that he’s not a detestable character. He’s just someone who can be likeable one moment, and then a jerk the next. Just like all of us. We are all the protagonists in our own individual stories. None of us are liked by every secondary character in our own individual stories. That is what we want to reflect with Michael. He’s a regular person, just like all of us, doing his own thing, just like all of us. He can be nice, he can be a jerk; he can be likeable, he can be not likeable. Just like all of us. When we follow up the “Who is the least likeable character?” question with “Who is the most relatable character?” the answer to that is usually Michael.

Michael is the reluctant hero of the story. Most reluctant heroes of popular stories are so because they lack confidence, usually because of doubt that is bred by the inexperience of youth. I’m looking at you, Luke Skywalker. That is certainly relatable to anyone. However, we wanted to explore a different, yet relatable, reason for Michael’s reluctance – comfort. We all get frothing-at-the-mouth fussy when the cable company changes the channels on us. We’re red-raging and ready to turn to Yelp, Facebook, Reddit, the Better Business Bureau, and/or a voodoo witch doctor because The Food Network is now channel 48 when it was channel 47 just yesterday. None of us want to change our routine because of forces beyond our control, and we certainly don’t want to take on added responsibility if we don’t think it’s at least congruous with what we’re sacrificing. Neither does Michael. He’s a man in his mid-thirties who has everything he wants in life. Sure, he’s a bit spoiled in regards to certain things, and he sometimes doesn’t filter the words between his brain and his mouth, but he loves his family; his wife and his daughter are his world. Gaining a new, very powerful new ability means he now has to learn how to use it, and be involved with a whole new community of people he’d rather not associate with. This new ability means change. It means a disruption in his routine. A sacrifice he doesn’t want to make. These burdens make him fussy.  Just like the rest of us.


CHRIS SAYS:

           When we talked about the direction that we wanted this book to take it was clear very early on that Brian and I were both interested in creating a likeable antagonist…it’s just fun. We had a few ideas about how we could accomplish that, but as we hashed through them, tossing them aside like dandelions from a spring bouquet, a very obvious solution surfaced. If we simply make the character relatable to the reader, then even when the necessary philosophical issues arise, the character can remain true to himself, which also keeps him believable.
           Quite simply, then, Marvin was born. Overworked, underappreciated Marvin who is surpassed by those half his age for one inconsequential reason or another. A dreary routine has taken the pep from his step and a stagnant lifestyle has taken a stranglehold on his view of the future. Marvin in a nutshell. Possibly he has the power to improve himself, but not to affect all of the forces around him that would need to be bent to his will in order to create real change. Until one day…
           As Marvin develops his powers, he uses them to improve his lot in life, enhance his interest in things, most notably his marriage, and wreak a little bit of revenge on a few people who, quite frankly, don’t necessarily do much to warrant sympathy at their plight. All the while still walking that tightrope of relatability to the empathetic reader. While Michael is whining and bemoaning and remaining passive, Marvin becomes an all action kind of guy…sort of a fantasy fulfiller…or that is our hope anyway.
           Gradually, of course, he becomes more and more despicable and the dichotomy between good and evil replaces some of his relatability with the reader, but the roots are still there because the character can remain true to himself even as he becomes less “human.”
           It was an interesting experiment in characterization and Brian and I are often intrigued by reader’s comments about Marvin and what the future holds for him. Do you need a Marvin fix or are you hoping to explore new villainy? For now, it’s still shrouded in mystery, but later this year all will be revealed.