One and Only, Chapter 4 (continued but not concluded)

As I mentioned in the previous entry, last week sucked. It sucked so bad that I only managed to post part of ONE AND ONLY, Chapter 4. Basically, I was high AF on allergy medicine, I terminated a professional relationship with a friend (it was the right decision, but still hard), and I found out a cat I rehomed will soon need to be put down. Though I still wrote every day, I could seldom put down more than a page worth of material. Everything was clouded. Focus was limited.

This week has been slightly better, but I’m still far from 100%.

On the flip side, I got completely caught up in in the game DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. I finished playing today and my awe has not gone away. It’s a truly extraordinary game. Even if you’re not a gamer, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s exactly what I want to see in terms of interactive storytelling. It employs the sorts of tonal shifts that really get me excited about art.

On Tuesday night, while recording the show I co-host with Kelby Losack and J. David Osborne, I got a bit heated when we discussed so-called “cancel culture.” Getting things off my chest that I’ve more or less stayed quiet about the last 3 years felt good. This isn’t damage control or anything. People who know me know that I’m kind. I don’t need random people on Twitter to think so. I also don’t think I said anything unkind. Being an artist or someone who cares about the arts often means you hold free expression sacred. I want more diverse voices in art and (maybe especially) politics. Even those of people with whom I disagree. That should be a given, but it is not.

I’d like to tie all of this into today’s chapter of ONE AND ONLY (you can catch up on previous chapters here). I think it’s important to focus your thoughts into what you’re writing that day. Make each moment revolve around your narrative like planets around a star. That said, it’s not always possible, and it’s equally important to let go and embrace chaos, too. Everything began as chaos and to chaos we will return.

This isn’t the rest of the chapter because, like I said, I’m still not 100%. But it’s more of it. I’ll try to post more between now and Monday. Fingers crossed. Thoughts and prayers. Jack off on a hyper-sigil. Whatever works!


3

My astral journey took me to Caroline’s house in Quincy Ridge. I drifted, unseen, to her bedroom window. The room beyond it was dark. I tried to get closer to the glass, tried to will myself through the glass, but couldn’t quite manage it.

She wasn’t in her room. Out with friends, I guessed, but wasn’t it late? It was a school night, after all.

I drifted downward toward the picture windows that looked into the living room. The lights were on and her father was pacing. Her mother was sitting on the sofa, face buried in her hands. Something was very wrong.

I tried again to press into the glass. I tried calling out. The house kept me out. My voice would not speak. Panic fluttered through me. Someone’s powerful hand took hold of me. I rushed back to my body. It was like waking from a dream, only if I were hungover. Everything felt heavy. My eyes snapped open.

Dad was leaning down over me. His hand squeezed my shoulder hard.

“Dad, what the—”

He released me and took a step back. The darkness of my room obscured his expression.

“I thought you were having a nightmare,” he said.

I sat up and shook my head.

“It wasn’t a bad dream. I think my friend’s in trouble.”

Even in the dimness, I detected his frown.

“What are you on about?”

“I… Maybe it’s nothing.”

He stood there breathing heavily. Matching my breaths. We were both at some end. We’d run out of rope. I knew he hated that he had to take care of me like this. I hated that he thought he had to take care of me like this. Like I couldn’t take care of myself. But I would take care of Caroline. Wherever she is, whatever’s going on, I had to find out and help her.

I had to go looking for her, even if it meant disobeying my father. Even if it meant scaring him and breaking his heart anymore than I already had. Some things were just worth the risk.

“If there’s something you need to tell me,” he began.

I took a deep breath, did my best to sound nonchalant.

“I’ve been trying to reach Caroline. She’s probably just out with friends, but I … I don’t know. I just want to talk to her. With everything going on, I just feel, well, really alone.”

Dad took a step forward and touched my shoulder again, more gently this time.

“You’re not alone, okay. You got me. You got Sheila.”

I knew he meant well, but he didn’t understand anything. He hadn’t been my age in so fucking long, there was no way he could hope to understand what I’m going through. Sure, he’d buried my mother a couple of years back, but he knew she was sick. She’d been sick a long time. It sucked, but it was the way life was. Me, I was trying to fix things that I had fucked up. At least with trying to resurrect Marybeth. With Caroline, it wasn’t my fault, I just wanted to help a friend. He had no idea what that was like. He didn’t really have friends. He only knew how to be a parent. And he wasn’t even good at that.

“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound appreciative.

“You’re going to be okay.”

“Yeah, I know.”

He gave me a hug, and I hugged him back. I waited to hear his footsteps fade away from my door before I prepared to sneak out of my house.

Visual Novels & Tonal Shifts

I’ve spent a good portion of this week playing DOKI DOKI LITERATURE CLUB. It’s a game that came out about four years ago in the visual novel genre. For those not in the know, a visual novel is a game that’s designed like one of those old “choose your own adventure” books. It’s an interactive story, complimented by art and visuals, but the graphics are a lot simpler than traditional games.

This game has completely absorbed my imagination. You play a high school boy who joins a literature club at the urging of his female friend Sayori, only to find it populated by three other ridiculously cute young women. The apparent object of the game is to woo one of these girls with your poetry, but there’s an important twist. DOKI DOKI isn’t a dating sim, it’s a horror game. And when the horror comes, my GOD. It doesn’t jab you in the face or kick you in the gut. It takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.

I’m not finished with the game yet, but with its darker elements now in gear, I’m even more engrossed than I was before. The tonal shift is so dramatic. The structure of the story, so surreal. It’s a wonder why such dramatic changes aren’t used more often in art.

I have my suspicions about American audiences wanting their serviceable, formulaic stories. Art that doesn’t challenge them too much and never makes them feel unsafe. I’ve nothing against that sort of thing, BUT I think it is important to challenge ourselves sometimes. It’s important to step out of our comfort zones. A dramatic tonal shift in the story your telling can be a huge boon for that story. I’m not sure if I can find a way to do it in my free ongoing serial ONE AND ONLY, but it is something I want to keep in mind for it, and future projects.

From what I understand, Asian cinema has been employing these dramatic tonal shifts for a while now. Outside of the original FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, I can’t think of any American movies that have embraced this technique.

I think the reason that a shift in tone or genre can be so effective is that life is not one genre. So, even if your story is pulpy and larger than life, a dramatic tonal shift will affect your audience in a visceral way. It will make your unreal work seem more real, at least on a primal subconscious level, because the change will mirror the changes present in life. Life has moments of tenderness, horror, somberness, joy, and laughs. Oftentimes, these moods shift with little warning. Sometimes when the change comes, it takes a pipe wrench to your kneecaps and puts a slug in the back of your head.

That’s not always the experience I want with my fiction–I like a good Marvel movie like anyone else–but it’s something I’d like to see more often. More irreverence. Weirdness. Tonal shifts that take you in a whole new genre. That’s the shit that sings to me.


Some of you may remember that I have a Twitch channel that I mostly ignore. After I’ve played through DOKI DOKI, I’ll probably play it again and stream the experience there. Playing visual novels is probably the most comfortable way for me to use that channel.

Saturday Morning, 12/19

No thesis for the blog this morning. Just updates.

Ten minutes. That’s about as long as I spend on Twitter each day. That’s about all I can stand. During those ten minutes, I promote what I need to promote, and then I check in with a select few people whose feeds I find interesting. Shoutouts to Clare, Autumn, Eve, Chandler, and Joe. I’m so much better having limited my time in that dreadful place.

Writing time this weekend will be dedicated to my paranormal romance between a woman and a world-eating blob from outer space. It’s a collaboration between myself and Wile E. Young who you should all be reading.

I’m currently reading HITMAN, the autobiography of wrestler Bret Hart. It was published over a decade ago, but I never got around to reading it due to its intimidating page count. It’s nice to be finally diving in. Hart wrote the book himself, unlike many in his field who use ghostwriters. He has a matter-of-fact, Hemingway-like prose style. It’s a very engaging peek behind the curtain of pro-wrestling from the territory days to the early-2000s, as well as a touching portrait of his tumultuous relationship with his father and eleven (!) siblings.

Speaking of wrestling and writing. PANDEMONIUM, a book cowritten by myself and Ryan Harding, hit the (virtual) shelves this week. You can read it for free on Kindle Unlimted or grab it on paperback. I’ve wanted to write a wrestling book since I entered the publishing game, but the right idea eluded me. All that changed after I revisited the DEMONS franchise. Produced by legend Dario Argento and directed by luminaries like Lamberto Bava and Michele Soavi, these Italian films contain all manner of demonic carnage. After exchanging some emails with Ryan, we decided to write a tribute to those flicks set in the world of hardcore wrestling. It’s the most fun I’ve had writing anything, and I think that will translate for readers.

I’ve also been playing Phasmophobia on Steam. If you’re into co-op ghost-hunting, you’ll probably enjoy it quite a bit. I’m still learning the ropes. I’m not much of a gamer, but there are some games I do genuinely love.

Anyway, I’m going to try to do these more often, so stay tuned.