Behold the latest sexual absurdity from Mandy de Sandra…
Literary novelist Colin Winnette is ready to let loose after manning the McSweeney’s booth at the Miami Bookfair. Colin drives down to America’s party and paradise spot–Key West, but something strange has washed upon the shore. Colin encounters a slew of colorful characters partying down south, including a hash tagging twink mooching off an old queen, a sexy CIA spy, and Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild fame. The good times end quickly as they must find way to stop the gay zombie sluts of Key West.
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By Scott Cole
With the Evil Dead remake in theaters now, I thought it might be time to take another look at the original Evil Dead remake, Evil Dead II (aka Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn). Though it’s billed as a sequel to the original, it’s really more of what the kids these days are calling a “reboot”. It’s much more of an oddball film than the original, and by far my favorite in the series.
Our hero, Ash, travels to a remote cabin with his girlfriend for a little getaway. Unfortunately for them, there are sinister forces in the woods, and within the first 6 or 7 minutes of the film, Linda has been possessed, then quickly beheaded and buried. From there, things get much, much weirder.
By the time Linda’s decapitated corpse crawls back out of her grave, re-capitates herself, and performs a dance routine in the woods before attacking her lover with a chainsaw, we know we’re in bizarro-land. After that, we’re treated to a little bit of everything: evil tree monsters, inanimate objects bursting into laughter en masse, the Necronomicon, a demonic severed hand flipping off its former owner, even a time-travel portal to the Middle Ages. Not to mention Henrietta and her fruit cellar.
As far as I’m concerned, Evil Dead II has the perfect blend of horror and comedy – something that’s just not easy to do well in film. It’s also the true genesis of the Ash character as he’s regarded today. Sure, he was in the original Evil Dead – but it wasn’t until part two that he truly became the slapsticky, one-liner-spewing badass we all know and love.
Evil Dead II may be one of the most beloved weird films there is. It’s got some genuine chills, plenty of physical comedy, and gallons of blood. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun. If you’ve seen it, you know this, and it’s probably time to watch it again. And if you haven’t…well, then what’s wrong with you? Please shut off whatever machine you’re reading this on, and go remedy that situation now.
By Patrick Wensink
Like always, we had nothing. We asked for a word of inspiration.
“Mark Twain,” an audience member called out.
My partner, Emily, and I were standing onstage with our heads completely empty. I hadn’t thought about Twain since high school and I doubt she had either.
There was a beat of silence. You could hear a guy clear his throat. Someone’s ice shuffled in their glass. That nervous quiet weighed a ton.
Emily and I were doing an improv show with our troupe. We had to entertain a roomful of people with only “Mark Twain”. The crowd expected us to build a whole story with realistic characters and a believable setting and a compelling plot. Plus, we were supposed to make them laugh.
We had absolutely nothing in the tank, but we weren’t panicked. We prepared for this cold start and, frankly, we kind of savored it. We trusted ourselves and knew the best material comes from a blank slate.
“Mark Twain…Mark Twain…Mark Twain,” I said in an accent I’d never used before. I started with nothing, but that quickly changed. This unfamiliar accent sounded like a guy in prison to me. Ah ha! I thought. “The prison library sucks. All they have is copies of Tom Sawyer.”
“Yeah, Sanchez,” she said. “That book’s horrible. You can’t hide a spoon inside of it or nothing.”
“Don’t sweat it, Carl,” I said. “I’ll just swing by your cell when I tunnel out.”
With three quick lines we had the foundation of a story. From there, we built a 10-minute skit about inmates. Sanchez wanted out of the big house. Carl, surprisingly, just wanted to eat Sanchez. The audience got what it came for, laughs included. Two minutes before the scene, Emily and I had never thought about cannibalism or jail breaks. But we knew a few simple improv rules and trusted our instincts to build momentum.
After the applause, standing to the side of the stage, I realized something that never occurred to me before: This is just like starting a novel from scratch.
Whether you are standing on a stage with nothing to say or staring at a page with nothing to write, it’s not unnatural to look for the nearest third-rail to kiss. You are talented. You are smart. You are creative. So it should be easy, right? But mental obstacles can block a story from ever beginning; sink a book after 50 quality pages; or sputter a novel several drafts deep.
But it doesn’t have to.
Improv theater performers tame this unknown anxiety to create lasting stories right before our eyes. Anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Who’s Line is it, Anyway? or seen famed troupes like The Second City or Upright Citizen’s Brigade probably wonder how they do it.
Are they good bullshitters?
Are they lying and have these skits rehearsed?
Are they just lucky?
The answer is “no”. The skills improvisers use to knock an audience out are the same ones writers can use to spark their creative fire and torch a reader’s eyebrows. Ace improvisers like Tina Fey, Drew Carey and Amy Poehler know a few simple structural rules and have the courage to make something positive from their screw-ups. And they never look back until the curtain falls.
I’ve been an improviser for four years, working with Louisville, KY’s legendary Project Improv. I’ve been a writer for much longer and have just seen my fourth book published. Before my prison escape/cannibalism epiphany, nobody ever told me how closely related improv skills and fiction writing skills are. It’s shocking how well the two pair together.
The biggest rule of a great improv scene is establishing CROW(character, relationship, objective and the where) and establishing it quickly. Usually, we get all the pieces within the first three lines of a scene. CROW builds a strong dramatic platform where anything can happen and you can create a story without worrying about getting stuck. In the above story, Emily and I automatically followed this rule, even though we had no clue what would happen. This attitude keeps fiction writing just as fresh as a stage show.
CROW represents the four principle characteristics a good story must establish.
CHARACTER—Who is in this scene? So many bad improv scenes struggle because we don’t know who this story is about. While, yes, great short stories and novels usually unravel a little more slowly than the first three lines of the book, but just stick with me here.
Give characters a quick personality trait or a job or a role. Even if it’s not what you aimed to write about, force it in there. This sounds counterintuitive, but you might be surprised with the results. And, hey, if you don’t like it edit it later. A good improviser moves forward and doesn’t look back. You will, too, when you start writing like an improviser.
For example: Maybe your character is perpetually nervous, maybe he’s aconstruction worker, maybe he’s just an asshole. You have an infinite amount of choices, but each one builds a unique person.
Also,most improv scenes start off with only two characters on stage. Your fiction will be the same. Feel free to toss that caveat in the trash when we’re done and have all your stories begin in the middle of a GE board meeting. But for now, it’s one-on-one.
RELATIONSHIP—An audience will lose interest just watching two dudes talking, even if what they are saying is interesting. A relationship instantly raises the stakes and begins building up that precious momentum. Establish a relationship between your characters immediately. Make it Priority #1.
Just like with character traits, jump into the pool and never even plug your nose. You don’t have to be sure what kind of relationship your story needs (Relationship examples: Lawyer/attorney; father/daughter; coworkers) just apply one and stick with it. Establishing relationships will draw you and, eventually the reader, further into this world.
As a rule of thumb, it helps the creative wheels to turn if these characters already know one other. Familiarity means you can drop them into the middle of a conversation or a plot and they don’t need to waste time introducing themselves like a dinner party. Familiar people are good. Strangers are bad. Period.
NOTE:If you already have a relationship idea for a story, feel free to apply it. However, don’t fight yourself if you feel that relationship changing. That’s a gift from your subconscious to your conscious mind. Sign for that package and take it!
OBJECTIVE—Okay,you have created two simple characters with a relationship. Awesome. That’s like packing a PVC pipe full of nuts and bolts and gunpowder. In other words, your scene now has the potential for a lot of interesting stuff to happen. Light the wick on your literary pipebomb with one swift line of dialogue: establish each character’s objective.
Kurt Vonnegut must have been an improviser at heart, because he said, in his Eight Rules for Writing:
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
To want something is to have an objective. Wanting something is probably our most basic emotion. It instantly makes your characters more human and more enjoyable to write. A character wanting something she does not have shoves a plot into motion instantly. Instant momentum!
Your characters can want a glass of water. Your characters can, like my example, want to escape from prison. Your characters can simply want a hug. Want a divorce. Want a million dollars. Want to get rid of an adoring fan.Anything, large or small.
Even better is to have your two characters wanting different things. Conflicting things.He wants to get married while she wants to commit suicide, for example.
Hitting your objective early in a story gives it the momentum to roll for hundreds of pages if need be.Review any stalled story you have previously written and if it’s sitting there idling at page 50 or 100, it’s probably because your character has what they want or never wanted anything to begin with. Provide your story with a momentum-filled shove in the back by giving them a new need or want. The story will soon be roaring again.
Read practically any detective novel and you’ll see this rule being worked to perfection. A gumshoe hunts for a clue, finds the clue, but then realizes it’s only the tip of the iceberg and needs a more complex clue.
WHERE—Where are these interesting people who have such compelling objectives? It’s a simple question, but it gets overlooked all the time. When your characters deliver a quick nod to their location it paints the entire scene in vivid color. That moment locks the scene in a reader’s imagination and greases the skids for the story to develop at will.
Emily and I didn’t need to go into excruciating detail about the smell of the prison or its frigid temperature or how cramped the library was. We simply agreed it was “a prison library” and let the audience’s imagination do the heavy lifting.
Obviously, there’s room for adding depth to a location later in your work. For this lesson we’re just working through the first flickering seconds of a written story like it was an improv scene.
Here’s the easy part for improvisers and the hard part for fiction writers: set your location with dialogue. Sure, a narrator can say the spaceship cockpit was “lined with chrome and flashing lights.” That’ll work. But if you have a character talk about the setting, you also get a shade of their personality in the process.
In my improv example, Sanchez said “This prison library sucks”. Bingo. We were in jail and he was not happy about it. There’s a lot more richness than if a narrator simply told us.
Not every improv scene is a winner. Not every book goes on to become The Sun Also Rises. But chances are, when things go wrong on the page, or worse, when things go boring it’s because CROW was not established.
Setting CROW in stone is the first improv rule we’ll master with our fiction.
When you have this down cold, you’ll never feel creatively directionless at the keyboard. Even better, you’ll be able to keep these rules in mind when you’re editing a story that somehow failed.
Quickly weaving CROW into your story will help you become a lean, mean story-generating machine. You’ll never get hung up again.
Patrick Wensink is the bestselling author of Broken Piano for President (2012, Lazy Fascist Press) and three other books. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post and many less-reputable sources.
He has been a longtime improviser and teaches workshops on the relationship between improv and fiction at Litreactor.com. He lives in Louisville, KY.
Ever wonder what Cthulhu does while the stars aren’t right? Here’s your answer….
By Sam Reeve
Today’s film for Japanese Horror Month is another Takashi Miike masterpiece. The Happiness of the Katakuris is a farcical horror-comedy-musical that is both live-action and claymation.
A family has moved out to a house in the country to start a bed and breakfast near where a highway is proposed to be built. They’re discouraged at first because no guests are coming, but eventually a few start coming in. Unfortunately they all die in their rooms in bizarre ways, which leads the family to bury them in order to save the reputation of the inn. The highway plans change, which means they have to move the bodies, and lots of craziness ensues.
WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH IT: This movie is sure to make you laugh, and it’s always entertaining and surprising. Besides an already ridiculous plot, there are insanely cheesy and hilarious song and dance sequences (including one with DANCING ZOMBIES), a compulsive liar love-interest who regales us with tales of his links to the British monarchy, and an explosive volcano!
But don’t just take my word for it, watch this trailer!