Summary of #TwitterFiction stories: #ForeignPlanets, #PopulatedWound, & #FertileCrescent

Planets (collage)

Presently, I have three #TwitterFiction pieces cycling as an #EchoChamber (in which pieces are posted daily at a certain time which echo one another verbally, visually, and/or thematically): #ForeignPlanets (daily at 5:30 a.m.), #PopulatedWound (daily at 4:30 p.m.), and #FertileCrescent (daily 11:00 p.m.). They have been ongoing for several months, so here is a brief summary to catch you up:

#ForeignPlanets (5:30 a.m.) is the story of Far Clooney, a matter transmuter and  inadvertent destroyer of planets, and her adventures in an unexpected version of outer space with gravity, breathable air, and an abundance of animal life.  As Far’s powers and awkwardness lead inevitably to planetary destruction again and again, she is given a task by Teddy Roosevelt (or one version of Teddy Roosevelt, a bitter and cantankerous old space pirate called King Antiphon) with stopping the Red Rage Moss from turning outer space thoroughly unpleasant and chock full of murder. Teddy Roosevelt suspects the responsible party is the Great Grambell and his Alchemy Robots who live in the Gravity Planet, a Jupiter-sized mechanical planet responsible for the unexpected gravity effects in this particular outer space. After several diversions in which Far Clooney has a compressed long term relationship with a nightmare named Cosby Rose (whose Bleeding Ghost powers allow him to possess inanimate objects and become a giant), kills an evil creature called Michel the Mountain of Screaming Mako Sharks, and meets her sister Greta who likewise has the ability to transmute matter (even more clumsily) and bend time, Far and Teddy Roosevelt (along with Teddy Roosevelt’s companion, a giant composed of putti angels called Clarke) arrive at the Cancer Planets, a series of eight planets connected by bridges orbiting the Gravity Planet (the Monster Planet, the Birth Bridge, the Planet of Mercuries, the Planet of Crystal Music Boxes and Sleeping Lion, the Marriage Bridge, the Planet of Falcons and Shadows, the Supplication to God Bridge, the Planet of Blue Marsupial Pockets, and the Planet of Captain America Shields). The planets are tumors, and the person who has grown these tumors (who lives at the center of each planet) may be able to give Teddy Roosevelt info about his old friend/rival Taft. Teddy Roosevelt claims Taft can help them invade the Gravity Planet though each Cancer Planet is inhabited by creatures created by Taft himself because Taft may have powers similar to Far’s. Far’s exboyfriend Cosby Rose also happens to be on the first Cancer Planet, making things as awkward as they always are with Far.

#PopulatedWound (4:30 p.m.) is the story of the Birth Monsters of Hell and one particular nightmare named Boodlepax. Hell is a tangible place where customers pay to be tortured. The system is maintained by connemara stars which heal any injury, and the whole place is run by Hell Corporate who employs as grunt workers Birth Monsters, humans with complex and absurdly grotesque birth defects. Boodlepax, a nightmare (which is a type of Birth Monster born concurrently with humans in Nightmare Land) looks like a barn owl with more human mouth and arms, and his poor communication skills and timidity make him ineffective in his job as Hell’s Devil’s Advocate, convincing customers they don’t need to be tortured. When two torturers named Judson and Europa inadvertently kill a customer, Boodlepax feels indirectly responsible, so he goes on a quest through Nightmare Land for the Resurrection Star, a type of connemara star that brings back the dead. When he comes back to Hell with the Resurrection Star, he finds an apocalyptic messiah named Sophie Echo has already destroyed it, so he tries to find Judson and Europa. Meanwhile, another messiah named Joy Metzkey (with her best friend Hope Lesko who has no power and only seems present for the sake of snarky quips and requests for Joy to kick somebody’s ass as she seems most adept at doing) is digging up a buried wolf named Fenrir who was presumed dead though a connemara star has kept him alive underground. Joy is a member of the Communion of Saints, agents of angels who protect birth monsters. They are also allies of the Salvation Wolves, an organization of benign and hyper-intelligent wolves (and secretly all the world’s wolves are part of this same organization) who have vowed to protect all that is good while committing no violent acts. Fenrir had infiltrated a group of Promusaurifex (the same group responsible for creating Hell) to investigate the theft of Tiny Hotels, a mechanism by which the Promusaurifex enslave shrunken humans to ride inside of their bodies (in some extreme cases creating whole cities inside their bodies) and the mechanism by which Salvation Wolves send those they eat to a paradise inside their stomachs. He has discovered that a mysterious entity called Father Hospital is trying to steal the secrets to creating Tiny Hotels in a plan to murder the sun (the sun is secretly a Birth Monster named Twelvedoe). Now Joy, Hope, Fenrir, and Boodlepax are on a mission to find Father Hospital, stop him from murdering the sun, resurrect her with the resurrection star if need be, and perhaps in the meantime find out the fate of Judson and Europa. They are inspecting all the groups that use a Tiny Hotel to see if Father Hospital has attempted to steal their secrets (and each of these groups parallels a Cancer Planet in #ForeignPlanets), starting with Ken Champion, a Father Hospital devotee who has used Tiny Hotels (given to him by Father Hospital in a an act of kindness, he claims) to turn tiny sentient puppets into a sort of anabolic steroid to strengthen athletes for the coming apocalypse.  One of Ken Champion’s clients, Holt Hefter, has told them that the next best group to investigate is the Forgiveness of Sins (long time enemies of the Communion of Saints who allow people to work off sins by externalizing them as monstrous deformities, giving them access to great power, and doing grunt work for an entity called the Blackhole Rainbow) because they may have enslaved his crush, Lisa Porpentine. Strategically, Joy is spreading the word that Boodlepax has destroyed Hell singlehandedly and is likewise aiming to destroy all of Hell’s allies and enemies.

#FertileCrescent (11:00 p.m.) is a murder mystery featuring eccentric detective Burdeneye Parnassus who has rented a house in a neighborhood called Fertile Crescent to spy on brother and sister Tom and Amanda Wood who live side by side only three streets down from Burdeneye’s new house. Their estranged father wants to find out if the Wood siblings are happy (and advances only as far as hiring the flaky and frustrating Hope, Tom’s wife, as a babysitter). Burdeneye uses trips with his one and a half year old son, Cole, around the neighborhood in his wagon as pretense for spying, and he uses his son’s geniality and curiosity to overcome his own intense social anxiety (for which taking on the detective role was meant to be a remedy). Burdeneye gets sidetracked, however, when Cole finds a piece of broken ceramic dentures with the word “Oloi” stamped on the side. This coincides with observation that the woman who lives on the dirt road behind him has ceased her regular 4:30 a.m. appearances, and the hefty, often-scarred man who lives with her, her son perhaps, seems to bury something big around the time she goes missing. Burdeneye decides he must pursue this murderer to keep his young son safe because protecting his son is the only happiness this broken man has ever managed. A conversation with the burly son, Holt Hefter, sheds little light on the situation but gives him the names of two residents of Fertile Crescent as clues: Murdergod and the Bird Man. After finding a manuscript called “The Birth of Murdergod” in which the author describes an attempt to create a mountain of corpses, Burdeneye discovers a mass grave hidden in a communal garden behind the Woods’ homes. He then meets the “Bird Man,” Goose Faberbacher, a former kids’ show host who tells Burdeneye that Murdergod, who lives in this neighborhood, once came to him for advice on performance but was too arrogant and short tempered to take advice. Burdeneye concocts a plan to host a talent show for the neighborhood’s children which the egotistical Murdergod couldn’t resist, and then Goose Faberbacher could point him out. Suspecting Holt Hefter is secretly Murdergod, Burdeneye invites him, but Holt in turn invites Burdeneye to “The Train,” which he claims is a literal train out in the woods surrounding the neighborhood, woods too thick to even walk through. Later, Burdeneye discovers men carrying coffins down the street late at night and dressed as weird creatures are part of a group called the Opopanax Conies living in the thick woods near The Train, so Burdeneye agrees to go with Holt Hefter, assuming all of this is connected somehow. It turns out, however, that The Train is a very popular performance space, and entrances through the thick woods are disguised by optical illusions.  The performance space is used for wrestling matches, and Holt Hefter seems to be the most beloved hero, Doctor Axehandle, fighting villains like the masked Father Dragon and Big Baby.

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Summary of the “Seven Mountains Echo Chamber” Stories

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Presently I’m live tweeting a series of stories called the “Seven Mountains Echo Chamber” in a structure I invented called an “echo chamber” — in other words, a series of stories posted in increments over time that echo vertically but horizontally tell a linear story (see for example “Seven Minutes to Midnight” or #7m212 from last fall). As this is perhaps a hard structure to follow, here’s a simplified guide to make it easier to jump on board midway. This is the basic schedule:

5:30 a.m. #ForeignPlanets

3:00 p.m. #UnknownWorlds

4:30 p.m. #Babylon

7:30 p.m. #PopulatedWound

11:00 p.m. #FertileCrescent

Here’s a summary of each of the stories already in progress:

#ForeignPlanets (5:30 a.m.) is the story of Far Clooney, an inadvertent destroyer of planets. Far discovers one day she has transmutation powers just as she falls on a small ice planet ruled over by a monstrous space pirate named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt takes pity on Far, but Far soon destroys the planet  in a misguided attempt to save it. They flee through an unexpected version of outer space with gravity, breathable air, and an abundance of animal life. Teddy Roosevelt finds out from a comprehensive library inside a nearby tree planet that Far and her sisters, Claire and Greta, may together be able to eliminate the threat of red rage moss wiping out the teeming animal life, but they must find Claire and Greta and fight off the Alchemy Robots, creatures upon whom Far’s transmutation powers seem to have no effect. As Far’s powers and awkwardness lead inevitably to planetary destruction once again, she is plucked out of this adventure and placed into another by a godlike doe named Sevendoe who recruits Far to build a body planet — a planet made from a giant body — to infiltrate the army of Vampire Gorillas ruled by Michel, the Mountain of Screaming Mako Sharks, to save a monster called Old God from being turned into a body planet himself. Far finds out, likewise, her two sisters, Claire and Greta, have been recruited to make body planets with their own transmutation powers, but they both believe they appeared magically in their own perfect place: Claire on an isolated island where she gets everything she demands and Greta in a heaven full of babies. The Vampire Gorillas have agreed to allow Far to visit her sisters as long as she doesn’t reveal the paradise is fake on threat of execution of her friend and fellow adventurer and former lover, Cosby Rose, the Bleeding Ghost. Now that she’s convinced Claire to explore beyond the island and climb a lapis lazuli mountain, she must somehow find Greta, save Old God and Cosby Rose, and escape the Vampire Gorillas.

#UnknownWorlds is the story of Old God and The Broken Heart, two birth defect monsters who work as villain thugs because it’s the only work they can do. Old God is a giant who walks on all fours and wears a diaper, but he can summon lightening when he pounds the ground. The Broken Heart is a giant, disembodied heart who floats around inside a silver gyroscope-like machine; his tendrils can send victims into a heart broken paralysis. Old God and The Broken Heart love each other — as best friends and brothers in a common effort — because no one else will. Their job requires them to be beaten up and mocked by heroes, and the villain who hires them too often screws them out of the pay they’re owed. This has made Old God bitter and cynical, trusting no one but Broken Heart. Broken Heart is more often compassionate and tries to find the best in everyone despite knowing there’s little chance of any situation turning out well for them. Old God does have one other person he admires, however: a villain named Unknown Worlds. Unknown Worlds is a Promusaurifex, meaning he has a whole city full of slaves living inside his body, giving him power — except unlike the normal Promusaurifex, Unknown Worlds is filled with imaginary creatures. When Unknown Worlds displaces and flattens the entire country of India, Old God wishes somebody like that would hire them instead of their normal duplicitous a-holes. As if in fulfillment of this wish, Unknown Worlds soon arrives and whisks them off to his flattened India. He reveals that he’s actually flattened India to shock the world but created a paradise for all the residents below the surface. Unknown Worlds now considers them all his children though Broken Heart doubts his sincerity. Unknown Worlds hires Old God and the Broken Heart to discover who has made a mountain that has suddenly appeared on his flattened India. As they ascend the mountain, they discover a mysterious empty city and floating above this mountain, as if inside of a sphere, seven mountains pointing inward at each other. They then discover that the one who appears to be responsible is Broken Heart’s brother Hank, a hero who bullied Broken Heart his whole life. He has with him a team called The Orchestrals — a ragtag team of superheroes bent on revenge against Unknown Worlds including remnants of the Hospitalers, a team based on medical/crusader gimmicks, and “Murdergod” Ford Fordham — though their role in the creation of the city has yet to be revealed.

#Babylon is about Packer Seen in the small town of Oloi who makes an observation that brooks don’t babble, they whisper. Vivaldi, the local crazy person, tells him he just brought an end to the world. Later, Packer is sitting in his quiet place on a small hill outside of town when he sees Vivaldi, whom he views with pity and curiosity because of an exile status to which Packer relates, riding a horse up and down a nearby brook. Packer then observes a sideways tower growing out of the brook winding along the same shape as the water’s path. Vivaldi tells him this is the Tower of Babel which took an ancient war to suppress in its previous incarnation. He also says Vivaldis are fruits from a tree called The Red Priest that grows near the Vatican. Vivaldis are tasked with keeping the Tower of Babel from returning to existence. Packer comes back later alone and finds the tower has now grown bigger than the brook, and there is a monster in terracotta armor lurking, still and silent, on the tower’s side.

#PopulatedWound is part of the “Boodlepax and the Birth Monsters of Hell” series about a small, barnowl-like monster tasked with convincing customers not to pay to be tortured in Hell. His mouth is a paper rectangle floating an inch outside his face through which he must force his words, so often others fail to hear him or simply ignore him. He’s undaunted by the obstacle of his small size and weak voice because the torturers in Hell are so kind to him: these torturers include Mr. Peyzer who wears a red wedding dress and uses needle and thread to torture, treating each torture like the perfect aesthetic creation; then there’s Judson Almanac, the pacifist burnout with giant immobile stone wings who always finds a way around torturing customers. One night when Boodlepax has an especially unpleasant experience at his poetry group, he visits Hell looking for company and ends up helping deliver food to prisoners whose life is less pleasant and whose torture is less beautiful than paying customers, and there he encounters a mysterious woman named Sophie Echo whose prison cell is set up like the luxurious room of a captured princess.

#FertileCrescent is a murder mystery featuring eccentric detective Burdeneye Parnassus who rents a house in a neighborhood called Fertile Crescent to spy on brother and sister Tom and Amanda Wood who live side by side only three streets down from Burdeneye’s new house. His job is to find out for their estranged father if the Wood siblings are happy. He uses trips with his one and a half year old son Cole around the neighborhood in his wagon as pretense for spying, and he uses his son’s geniality and curiosity to overcome his own intense social anxiety for which taking on the detective role was meant to be a remedy. Burdeneye gets sidetracked, however, when Cole finds a piece of broken ceramic dentures with the word “Oloi” stamped on the side. This coincides with observation that the woman who lived on the dirt road behind him had ceased her regular 4:30 a.m. appearances, and the hefty, often-scarred man who lived with her, her son perhaps, seemed to bury something big around the time she went missing. Burdeneye decides he must pursue this murderer to keep his young son safe because protecting his son is the only happiness this broken man has ever managed. Now, he must somehow complete his investigation into the happiness of the Wood siblings while trying to find out if a murder has even taken place only a few feet behind his home. A conversation with the burly son, Holt Hefter, sheds little light on the situation but gives him the names of two residents of Fertile Crescent as clues: Murdergod and the Bird Man.

Tips for the Moral Teaching of Creative Writing, Part 1: The Mogan of Primary Values

I’ve been discussing what’s most problematic about the present philosophy and technique of teaching creative writing, and I could probably write a hundred more posts on this subject, but upon request I’ll speak in the positive: how to teach creative writing – despite the problems, despite the inherent impossibility, despite it being primarily a matter of self-discovery. While it remains impossible regardless of what you do, there are plenty of ways to point in the right direction better than surface (empty craft) and subordination (representation fetishism).

You have to start with something missing from every workshop experience and written pithy tippy tip I’ve ever seen: Primary Values – Primary Values are the justification of craft; craft is not its own justification. Primary Values are singular to the writer – despite any incidence of overlap that might seem to reveal a pattern – and can’t be universalized. To proceed without recognition of primary values is to proceed blind. It’s to follow religious doctrine with no concept or love or fear of God. Speaking of which…

Here’s an exercise: draw a Mogan, a six-pointed Star of David. You can use any image if you’re not into the whole God thing – a simple triangle would be fine, but that doesn’t quite have the bi-directional movement of the Mogan, but as long as you get the concept, do whatever the hell you want to:

At the top point, in the position of the source or the demiurge or however you want to conceive of it, you place your Primary Value, the value of a piece of literature, for example, that is the first, irreducible value of the text. This implies that no text can have value without this element. If you say the Primary Value is footy pajamas, no text can be good without a reference to footy pajamas, and everything else is justified by its ability to allow the reader to access the reference to footy pajamas. This is the hardest thing to find in many ways, so this can be the last thing you find once you fill out the other two spaces.

In the middle – in a single space or in a word cloud since this is not three absolutely distinct units but a spectrum of value – you place Non-Restrictive Values. These values are non-restrictive in that good stories have these elements, but it is possible for a story to be good without these elements. This is where most of the pithy, superficial tippy tips of much of the workshop experience belong. Good stories have strong verbs and not adjectives … well, good stories are possible without strong verbs, so that’s not a Primary Value, just one of many ways to access the Primary Value.  The third element is Personal Opinion, so the middle is Non-Restrictive in this sense as well. Elements in this area can make stories that you can recognize as good without necessarily liking them.

Fill up the bottom with Personal Opinion (essentially this is all just opinion since no art can fully escape that, and “value” is only a fancy way giving opinion more strength, but here I just mean stuff you like at the most personal, informal level) – so just dump in everything dump the kitchen sink of story elements you like, whether or not they would necessarily make good stories for everybody. So many workshops I’ve seen place these Personal Opinion elements as the Primary Values. A workshop leader may struggle with getting students to Non-Restrictive Values and away from just Personal Opinion, but that’s just halfway there. You’ve got to climb all the way up the Jacob’s Ladder to Primary Value to have a clear understanding of how stories work – and, in particular, how your story works.

One way to find this is to take writers you like and try to figure out why you like them based on this scale. Say, for example, you take three writers you like who are somewhat different. Figure out the commonality between them and whether or not that is Personal Opinion, Non-Restrictive Value, or Primary Value.

Here’s an example: I’d take Franz Kafka, Kurt Vonnegut, and Louise Erdrich – three writers I really like who are different enough to make the sample work. One thing that stands out is that I like monsters. Kafka has great monsters, Vonnegut’s aliens are great monsters, and Erdrich may not make monsters central, but she’s certainly monstery in much of what she does. But clearly I recognize that good stories are possible without monsters. So that’s just Opinion. I might then propose that good stories involve characters caught in incomprehensible situations beyond their control, and this, in turn, gives them some goal and some obstacle in achieving their goal. I’m crawling inch by inch to Non-Restrictive Value from Opinion because I can recognize when someone else achieves this, writes a story with the markers of greatness, but fails to use the monsters I love so much and, therefore, writes a story I would not normally like. So I keep getting closer and closer to primary value, continuously asking myself, “Can I honestly say a good story cannot exist without this element?” You can also do this with writers you hate but others consider good. I can do this with Raymond Carver. I can ask why I disdain “Cathedral” so much. Well, I don’t consider self-important drunken douchebags interesting characters, but I can recognize the way he’s treating character may be valuable. I find easy metaphors obnoxious, but I can see how they can work well within stories in other ways. I recognize from my Kafka/Vonnegut/Erdrich exploration that I do value the juxtaposition of the banal and sublime, and Carver could be said to achieve this somewhat in “Cathedral” maybe.

But the main goal is to find the Primary Value. I’ve known my primary value for years: ecstatic stimulation of the direct experience that breaks down the distinction between self and other. Once I discover it through this process or any other process, I can then recognize every other element on this scale as a means to get to this end. Primary Values are, as I said, singular to the writer, but if you can honestly say this is the main thing that gives any text value, then that gives the writer a reason for writing and the goal in crafting. Without that reason and without that goal, what are you actually accomplishing? What happens instead is that the Primary Value goes unaddressed, and the workshop proceeds with one assumed Primary Value that may not apply to others – this is especially a problem when these others aren’t yet aware of what they value. Workshop leaders certainly can teach from their own Primary Values – why wouldn’t they – but the assumption that this is the only one in existence is egregious.

Just because values are singular to individuals doesn’t mean we can’t debate them. An environment with only one assumed Primary Value and no room for debate leaves little room for self-discovery. Primary Values function kind of like religion: you can believe passionately in them, you can defend to the death the rightness of your Primary Value, but you also have to recognize others have different Primary Values and have just as much right as you to have them.

For example, I criticize representation/subordination as a Primary Value because I’m afraid of the harm this causes to literature – to so thoroughly devalue the ecstasy of direct experience as mere representation – but, like a religious belief, I recognize the right of others to feel this way while still recognizing the negative effects. If a religion justifies the oppression of women, I can bewail the oppression of women without suggesting the suppression of someone’s right to a set of beliefs. To believe that one set of beliefs is the only set of beliefs is morally irresponsible. Too bad the system is set up presently to honor only one anachronistic and oppressive set of beliefs.