Authorial Ambivalence

In this chapter of Scumbug Scrambag, the Scumbug chases the daughter he kidnapped back to Earth.

I’m really not sure where I’m going with this story, even though I have the ending in mind. It was fun to write at first, and it still is, but I don’t think I pulled off the concept I had imagined. That’s why it took me so long to work up the urge to finish this chapter.

And that’s okay! Writing is just making things up, so it doesn’t always turn out right. I feel like I’ve learned about the narrative craft regardless of what I might consider a failure—probably even moreso because of the failure.

So, let’s make quick lists of things I like and things I don’t like in Scumbug Scrambag.

I like:

  • The Little Prince aesthetic of visiting different planets which compare different philosophies about the relationship between parent and child.
  • Leon the Professional aesthetic of a less-than-innocent little girl meddling with the group-politics of organized crime, but in space.
  • The bizarre discrepancy between those two aesthetics.
  • The Scumbug’s hilarious misunderstanding of humans and their culture.
  • Humanity’s leadership being the bad guy all along, because the Big Cheese is just a word for greed.

I don’t like:

  • The nonsense timelines. If we’re to be believed in this chapter, about ten years have passed. I like the idea of Julia tragically losing her childhood and coming to terms with the person she’s become, but faster-than-light travel by multiple parties at different relative speeds—even don’t know how much time is supposed to be passing between scenes. Is it possible to untangle the story at this point?
  • The nonsense plots. I’m glad I tried having complicated Machiavellian twists with the ambassador fooling intergalactic hitmen, and the fact the plots are nonsense is sort of a silly social commentary, but things which don’t make sense aren’t really fun to read.

Unfortunately, those two points make up the basic plot and structure of the narrative. So, if I wanted to do anything with Scumbug Scrambag, I’d probably start from scratch.

But still, I had fun writing this, and I can always harvest it for ideas. If you’ve read any or all of this, I’d like to thank you.

One chapter to go. Let’s finish this.

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The joy of not knowing what you’re doing

This time in Scumbug Scrambag Julia defeats Lady Mantis and her sisters by teaching their brood about spaghetti.

I hope it’s abundantly clear that I’m just making stuff up as I go. That’s how fiction works, in my opinion. I started with just a short note for each chapter, like “the Scumbug gets an assassin eaten by their kids.” Everything else is sort of improvised.

I say “sort of” improvised because I’m not like a comedian doing improv onstage. Once I’ve improvised something, I get to erase it and replace it or edit it. Even though the actual process of writing is improv every step of the way, the “final” product is the latest selection and ordering of improvisations.

I say “final” in quotes because I’d like to revisit some/all of these stories at some point and spruce them up. Edit them, rethink them, maybe rewrite them bottom to top. I think some of my favorite writing has come from combining half-baked ideas into one complete narrative, so even if a story doesn’t turn out how I want, it can be recycled or made into fertilizer.

At the moment I think Scumbug Scrambag holds up okay. The plots and counterplots don’t quite make sense, I think, but it’s hard to write political intrigues, even tongue-in-cheek ones about alien oozes and evil ambassadaddies. And yet I was able to write it anyway, and it’ll be easier to make it right now that it’s written. That’s the joy of not knowing what you’re doing.

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The Little Prince

The Scumbug has taken Julia to a tiny planet in the Big Empty, the space between galaxies infested with Easy Cheese, whatever that means.

I read The Little Prince for the first time just a few weeks ago. It’s a novella, and there are pictures, so I wonder why I never bothered reading it before. I guess it was just time for me to read it now, while I’m writing Scumbug Scrambag, because I think I want to hit some of the same notes. Besides Julia now living on a small planet, I think the rest of Scumbug Scrambag should present a Little Prince-style message about what it means to be a kid, an adult, or a mortal in general.

Most characters in The Little Prince never interact with any other characters except the Prince as he visits them on their isolated space-rocks. Meanwhile, on The Little Prince’s Earth, adults interact only via a rigid, empty worldview and are therefore might as well be on isolated space-rocks.

I suppose Scumbug Scrambag is something like Leon the Professional told in the style of The Little Prince. We only meet two humans:

  1. Earth’s ambassador, a morally bankrupt but thus financially successful tech-CEO
  2. and Julia, a little girl who’s grown up coping with a world run by people like the ambassador.

Oh, also a bodyguard who got beat-up in chapter one, and all the ambassador’s bodyguards, but they only exist to be killed by evil alien hit-men, so they don’t really count. It’s the fact they don’t count that counts.

Aside from humans we meet aliens who, as the Scumbug suggests, fit into one of two categories: those who eat their parents, and those who eat their offspring. That relationship continues a cycle called the Big Cheese.

Flaybos wouldn’t dare eat their jeorbs. Flaybos exist to be eaten by jeorbs who continue to tell their story! That’s all a flaybo is! Eating their jeorbs would be like eating themselves.

The seahorse protects his children and sends his salary back to his home-planet. Metaphorically, he lives his life for them and they therefore “consume” him.

Germa the Gerbil knows his momma could’ve snapped him up with the rest of his clutch.

In the next chapter, maybe we’ll see how Lady Mantoid’s species works—but I’d say we’re due to see another alien eat the hand that feeds it.

And how does the Scumbug fit in? It claims to have eaten its kids, but what could it’s parents even beBigger sludge with bigger lumps?

And… us? Where do we fit in? Are we doomed to be like the ambassador? I hope not.

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On Language

A while ago one of my cats caught a lizard, but the lizard’s tail popped off. The cat was so confused the lizard managed to escape.

I tried to catch lizards when I was a kid. My friends warned me “hey, the tail might pop off and the lizard will escape.” Eventually I caught a lizard and held it in my hands long enough to show it off to my parents and toss it back into wild suburbia. I knew the trick to catching lizards before I had the chance to fail like my cat.

I wish I could’ve told my cat “hey, the tail might pop off and the lizard will escape.” I guess the lizard is glad I can’t spill the secret across the species-barrier. Worse still, my cat can’t tell other cats. My cat might see another cat chasing lizards and remember that the tails pop off, but he can’t warn them about it.

I wanted to tell this story because my mom and I had a vacation in Japan. In Hokkaido I have a host-family I visit every few years and I was glad to introduce my host-mother to my biological-mother.

The host-family cooked takoyaki, balls of octopus-pastry. My mother bravely served herself a few.

Atsui,” said the host-mother, meaning “it’s hot.” I nodded as I served myself.

Atsui,” said the host-mother’s daughter-in-law. I nodded again. The octopus-balls must have been super hot.

Atsui!” said the host-mother again, with increasing urgency.

I nodded again. They were hot. I got it.

“Ow!” My mom spat octopus-ball. “These are hot.

I face-palmed. My mom didn’t speak Japanese.

Translating had challenges I hadn’t anticipated. I’m fluent in English on a good day and I understand Japanese like a trained chimp, but translating from English to Japanese and back sometimes broke me. Aside from the usual issue of ‘not knowing what the heck someone just said,’ I would absentmindedly translate my host-family’s Japanese into simpler Japanese to my blank-faced mother who couldn’t understand it any better coming from me.

I think there’s a Thinkstr video in here somewhere about how language creates understanding which exists in a bubble with a semipermeable membrane. Since I can speak roughly two languages I can access meaning on either side of English and Japanese—but the language-barrier messed with my theory of mind, causing me to misinterpret how other people viewed the world. Like a toddler who hasn’t realized other people have their own perspective, I thought my mom had information because had that information.

Properly translating would require understanding my host-family and repeating the information in English. I could barely do the first of those, and that occasionally led me to forgetting the second.

Have you ever had any funny problems with language-barriers, maybe involving cats? I’d like to hear about them!

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PS. The latest Thinkstr is about Godel Escher Bach, a treatise on formal logic, and Rick and Morty, which features a character named Mr. Poopybutthole. Give it a watch!

Leon the Professional

In part two of Scumbug Scrambag Julia and the Scumbug retrieve a spaceship while humanity cuts a deal with Germa the Gerbil.

When I described the idea for this story, someone mentioned Leon the Professional, a movie about a hitman protecting a twelve-year-old girl. I watched it. Let’s talk about it!

First of all, wow is the little girl in that movie sexualized. Leon’s love for Natalie Portman is fatherly, but she busts out singing Like a Virgin and Happy Birthday Mister President dressed as Madonna and Marilyn Monroe. It’s seriously off-putting, like, wow. She’s meant to be 12.

Second of all, I like little Mathilda deciding she wants to be a hitman. The evil guys who killed her brother are the final villains of the movie, and she initiates those confrontations by venturing out to them herself. Its narrative is efficient—no lose ends, and the beginning causes the end.

Scumbug Scrambag should be very different even if it steals inspiration.

First, eight-year-old Julia shouldn’t have such a Lolita thing going on. I think her calling the Scumbug “Scumdaddy” will be the beginning and end of the sexual tension. While that explicit tension is played for laughs, implicit themes about child-trafficking dominate the plot.

Second, I don’t think Julia wants to be a hitman, even if her backstory is hilariously tragically dark. I’m not sure what her deal is, but I do think, like Mathilda, Julia will initiate the final confrontations by setting out on her own. The Scumbug has serious misconceptions about how the universe works, and Julia will have to set them straight.

Overall, I’m glad I watched the movie. It’s always nice to see what’s been done with the story-elements I’m playing with, and it makes me consider how I want to approach tropes I’ll inevitably butt against. But wow it’s uncomfortable watching Natalie Portman telling Jean Reno she loves him. Phoo boy.

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