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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The Latest Thingie I’m Doing

I just posted the first chapter of Scumbug Scrambag today! It’s about an alien ooze who works as a hit-man for an intergalactic crime-family, but now goes on the lam to protect an eight-year-old human girl.

This is the latest in a series of thingies I’ve done. I think doing thingies is good for me. I enjoy feeling productive and making thingies to show people. I guess that’s why I’m making pictures again, too. People like pictures. I do, at least.

I think Scumbug Scrambag will be under 40,000 words, a short novella. Unlike a lot of stories I’ve written here, I’m not really sure where it’s going? I’m trusting my idea of a virtue-wheel to buoy me and named the chapters after things which I think should happen one way or another. The Scumbug has a strict notion of morality and it’ll be tested in the coming chapters. Is it true that every life-form either eats its parents or its kids? Even if it is true, is it any sort of thing to teach an impressionable young child like Julia?

And which side does humanity fall on? This first chapter paints the ambassador representing Earth as kind of a dickhead. He was apparently willing to kill an orphan for political points against the mysterious Big Cheese—the ambassador is the kind of life-form who eats his kids. But is that ruthlessness really what humanity needs right now? We’d better hope Julia eats him first.

And what about Germa the Gerbil and Lady Mantoid? Where on the spectrum will the Scumbug settle? Who knows? Certainly not me.

I think I’ll post a new chapter every two to three weeks, but no promises. I’m running a marathon in Japan, soon, so my schedule’s a bit up-in-the-air.

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Phoenix Wright and Moving On

Jonas and company engage in a trial to determine whether Alphonse gets paid or pays out. If Alphonse can’t keep his mouth shut, he’ll lose everything.

I’m not a lawyer. I don’t even know any lawyers personally. Luckily, accuracy is hardly relevant to courtroom-drama. Fudging it is probably more exciting than the real deal.

Have you ever played the video-game Phoenix Wright? I haven’t, but I’ve watched those boyish nimrods The Game Grumps play it, and it’s exactly what I’m talking about. Phoenix Wright is a defense-attorney in a world of cartoonish mystery. In court he spars with the prosecutor using a system of legality which only vaguely resembles reality. The law is flexible because Phoenix Wright is in a game, and a game is supposed to be fun even if going to court is usually like pulling teeth.

Likewise, I’m not concerned about realism in this court-case, just making a compelling back-and-forth. I want Alphonse to lose for his inability or unwillingness to understand how others perceive his actions, and his simultaneous egotistical attachment to his public image. I also want as few new characters as possible, so I limit myself to Alphonse’s lawyer Lloyd and Judge Fairfax, both of whom have limited roles.

And, uh, that’s a wrap. Thank you so much for reading all this way (about 40,000 words total, a proper novella!). I’ll periodically reread and edit this story; I think Jonas’ and Whitney’s relationship needs some work, and I should probably learn more about horses eventually. My writing motto is “First get it down, then get it right.” Let me know if you have any comments, or noticed any plotholes, or anything like that.

Eventually I’ll start a new writing project, but I’m not sure what it’ll be quite yet. I’ve got a few ideas bumping around.

In the meantime, why not try reading another story, or checking out my YouTube channel?

Stay frosty, and don’t bet your legs unless it’s a sure thing!

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Names

Will Jonas keep his legs? Alphonse won’t give up so easily. In the meantime, let’s check out some names.

I choose names for my characters based on whatever feels right, and there’s no objective rule for that. Jonas. Alphonse. Naira Nightly. Mike Mann. I think these names are pretty nice to say. I can change ’em when I like.

More importantly, I think, they all start with different letters. Here are the named characters so far that I remember off the top of my head:

Bronson (Alphonse, Father, and Grandpa)
Champ
Craig
Danny, Debra
Georgie Masawa
Hermes
Jonas
Kevin
Mike Mann
Naira Nightly
Sandra
Whitney

I think that’s it? Other than that it’s anonymous men in leather and unnamed athletes. Hardly any characters have last names.

“Craig” and “Kevin” start with the same sound, as do “Jonas” and “Georgie,” but that’s okay. When I read I find myself not really pronouncing names in my head, just seeing them and moving on, so a C is different enough from a K and a J from a G to distinguish the characters’ names at a glance. Conversely, Champ and Craig start with the same letter, but they’re rarely mention together and the “Ch” is kind of a unique character on its own.

As for Naira Nightly and Mike Mann, alliterative names sound like comic-characters a la Peter Parker and Bruce Banner. I figure they take up less reader head-space that way. Georgie Masawa gets the odd-one-out non-alliterative name because he’s special and cool and important and maybe I’ll change it later I dunno.

Next time, let’s see if Alphonse can wring a positive public-image out of this mess.

The Aftermath
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After the Race

With just one chapter left in this race, Jonas is mere miles behind the horse. Will he keep his legs?

Well, yeah. It’s a story, and stories often have predictably happy endings. But the end of the race won’t be the end of the story as a whole; I think Alphonse needs a reckoning.

So here’s the plan: Alphonse’s media scrutiny will prompt a criminal trial and we’ll learn more about the Bronson-family’s finances. Alphonse will flee prosecution by holing up in his estate, attending his own trial by video-conference. Jonas, Whitney, Kevin, Hermes, and Sandra will have to combat Alphonse’s silver tongue before he manages to go the way of his grandfather and brush his dirty deeds under the rug.

Craig will initiate the end of his plan: he’s got Alphonse’s ten-thousand-dollar toothpick with a complete audio-recording of the race up to mile 75-ish, demonstrating the depth of Alphonse’s depravity. Alphonse is at Craig’s mercy and doesn’t even know it yet. We’ll see what Craig demands from him.

Man VS Horse doesn’t just relate to Jonas VS Champ. Superiority and social-structure are integral to this story. Is Alphonse a ‘man,’ who decides his own destiny, or is he a ‘horse,’ slave to impulse? Craig flies Alphonse’s helicopter—chauffeuring him, like a horse—but if Craig makes off with the Bronson fortune, then he was actually pretending to be a horse on his way to greatness, and Alphonse was a horse pretending to be a man.

Alphonse oversimplifies society, dividing people into ‘men,’ like him, and ‘horses,’ like Jonas, who are means to an end for men. But truthfully, there is no such division, and Alphonse’s delusions only harm himself and everyone around him.

Father Bronson was evil. I mean, he ground horses into glue and shot Georgie Masawa! But he was a subtler evil. He didn’t have a hundredth of the media-attention Alphonse will attract. I won’t say “a certain amount of evil is okay,” but at least Father Bronson controlled his evil, instead of being controlled by it. Maybe this fictional world would be better-off if bad-guys were all like Father Bronson, not Alphonse or his grand-dad.

Or maybe their world is better off with obvious evil, like Alphonse? At least now they know where to look.

Next time, let’s watch Jonas win his legs.

Last 10 Miles
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Intense injury

Jonas and Whitney are tricked into $20,000 of debt to Alphonse Bronson, and Alphonse takes the opportunity to inflict Jonas with a terrifying injury.

I mentioned here that Man VS Horse is inspired by Stephen King’s Misery and an anime called Kaiji: The Ultimate SurvivorIn these stories the characters lose fingers, get needles under their nails, and have their legs chopped up. Man VS Horse hits all those marks, or at least threatens to.

Alphonse is inspired by Kazuya Hyoudou, one of the bad guys in Kaiji. Kazuya revels in setting up macabre gambles in order to prove his perverse worldview. We learn his perspective is warped by a childhood memory of his mother, and also his father is a dickhead, too. Kazuya tries to explode peoples’ heads and drop Kaiji off a building.

I used to get nervous about torture in fiction, and still do. Do you remember in The Princess Bride, Wesley gets strapped into a thing that makes him scream? That creeped me out as a kid, even though I think it was sorta played for laughs. Even today, stories about catastrophic injury give me the heebie-jeebies, but now I’m sometimes morbidly curious, too. Everyone can relate to the fear of harm, and that makes it an ancient staple of fiction.

I try to make it quick. Needle under nail, gunshot, boom. Most of Jonas’ running-troubles worsen gradually over time: thirst, hunger, a blister, fatigue. I hope the sudden loss of a finger caught you off-guard even though I warned you at the beginning of the chapter.

I promise Jonas will win the race and keep his legs, but without this scene, I think the threat could come across as hollow. I want readers to believe Jonas might lose his legs, even if everyone knows it’ll be okay because it’s just a story.

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Timing

By mile 70, it’s getting dark and spooky.

This is a bit of an issue, because by my own reckoning, it’s only about four or five in the afternoon. When Jonas was around mile 31, Kevin was just waking up at 10:00 AM. According to this website the sun shouldn’t finish setting for another hour or so, at least.

Lemme show you a quick spreadsheet: the first column is the mile number, then the next column is Jonas’ time on that mile, then the total time elapsed since the start of the race, then Jonas’ average pace thus far. The last column shows the current time, based on Kevin’s alarm at 10 AM, in red.

spreadsheet.pngI’m not stressing about the realism of the race’s chronology right now. By changing the time in the red box, I can adjust the whole column at once. Maybe Kevin sets his alarm for 11 AM, or noon. It’ll be whatever makes sense when all’s said and done.

I’ve watched some documentaries about ultra-marathons, and it seems the races normally begin early in the morning, before sunrise. So the beginning of the race is about right, but I don’t mind changing it a little.

I’ve also made a little elevation map. So far it doesn’t look too ridiculous.

elevation.png

See you next time!

Next 12 Miles
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PS. The first time I wrote this, Georgie Masawa was a Tarahumara, from a South-American tribe of natural runners providing campfire-legends for ultra-racers. I think the running community at large first learned of Tarahumara from the book Born to Run.

This draft, Georgie is more mysterious and the Tarahumara are only briefly mentioned. For me to use a real tribe would require, like, research, man, and could come across as exploitative. I think Georgie’s more meaningful when he’s more abstract.

Race Map

Jonas is behind the horse again. Bummer.

I made a little map of Alphonse’s estate. By my reckoning the Bronson Estate must be about a million acres—the size of Rhode Island—which is ridiculous, but not too ridiculous.

The race started and will end at the front gate, where Kevin, Whitney, and Hermes were held up. Then every ten miles, there’s a fork in the trail. Whoever gets to the fork first gets to choose which direction the race goes. There’s are mountains around mile 10-20, 25-30, and 60-70.

The green inner wheel is the service road Kevin and Hermes are driving on, which meets the trails every ten miles.

I hesitate to make this more detailed. I think a map of a fictional setting is only helpful insomuch as it empowers the story. Being too precise would just limit my ability to hand-wave inconsistencies away (or change things later, if I have cool ideas). There’s no canonical map, just this sorta abstract one.

See you next time!

Next 10 Miles
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The Halfway Mark

Jonas the ultramarathon-runner has finished fifty miles in about seven hours. Apparently the record for a fifty-miler is just under five hours, which boggles my mind. I’ve taken about as long to run about half the distance, and it kicked the crap outta me.

Jonas is supposed to be an elite runner, so I don’t think his accomplishments thus far are too much of a stretch for a fictional story, but the second half of this hundred-mile-run will take him much longer. The last fifty miles of the race should make the bulk of the book.

So far, each ten-mile-section has taken 2,000-3,000 words, so the text is about 12,000 words. I had hoped this story would be around 60,000 words, on the lower-end of a young-adult thriller, but it seems like it’ll end up around 30-40,000 words, more of a novella.

The text should balloon after this not just because Jonas is getting fatigued, but also because more people are entering the story. The story started with just Jonas and Alphonse. Now we’ve learned more about their backstories, families, and friends, so there are plenty of characters to bounce off each-other. Social-media-guru Kevin will eventually get crowds of news organizations involved. As more people spectate, more complicated scenarios will demand more text.

Just like Whitney says the last six miles of a marathon are as hard as the first twenty, the half-way point of the race isn’t necessarily halfway through the narrative.

In fact, I think the story has just started with the introduction of Georgie Masawa. We finally understand Alphonse’s goal in hosting this run: he wants to defeat Jonas to emulate and surpass his father.

Meanwhile Jonas is in way over his head pursuing his own goals: he wants to win back Whitney, and he has his own personal beef with the Bronsons. This hundred-mile run is years of tension coming to a head.

See you next time!

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Water Backpacks

This time in Man VS Horse, billionaire Alphonse reveals that if broke ultramarathoner Jonas loses this hundred-mile-race against a horse, Alphonse will take his legs in retribution. Hoo boy.

Anyway, I keep mentioning ‘three-liter water-backpacks.’ I figured I’d explain what I meant.

CamelBak Hydrobak 0.8L Backpack | Backcountry.com

This is a Camelbak; maybe you’re seen or used one before. It’s basically a slim backpack with a balloon inside you fill with water (or soda, or wine, or whatever, if you’re adventurous). Some Camelbaks hold one liter, others hold up to four. Mine holds two liters of water, and it’s really a lifesaver. When I used to plan twenty-mile runs, I had to consider where all the local water-fountains were so I could hydrate. A Camelbak freed me to run basically anywhere.

I’ve never run far enough to justify refilling my Camelbak mid-run, but Jonas drank about a liter per ten miles. If he can’t meet his crew soon, he’ll be in trouble.

Cross your fingers!

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