Redbox Monday: Dunkirk

Lean and stark, tense and compelling, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is chalk full of his trademark style, while at the same time shows the director stretching his creative legs. It’s a different take on the war movie genre, and one well worth a viewing.

Movie Rating: (3.5 / 5)

The movie opens with a group of British soldiers walking down a street in the titular town, one that we would find oh so charming in a vacation ad today. Leaflets drift down like autumn leaves, and we eventually learn that these flyers show an image of the area surrounded by arrows and some words of warning for the Brits. I guess the Nazi military decided to spend time and resources on trolling the enemy instead of, y’know, bombing them? Whatever. Nazi’s like trolling, I guess. Anyway, while these six or seven soldiers take a moment to themselves — one tries to drink from a hose, another tries to relieve himself — they begin taking fire. As they flee all but one gets picked off.

The lone survivor makes his way to the beach in a sequence largely free of dialogue. Yet the mood and emotion have been conveyed: isolation, fear, desperation. It is here that we are introduced to our main three storylines. First, we’ve got “The Mole,” which is the beach and the men trying to get off of it. Second, is a civilian boat called “The Moonstone” that has been requisitioned by the Navy to aid in the evacuation, though the boat’s owner — Mr. Dawson — and his sons — decides to take it upon himself to help the trapped soldiers. Third, three spitfire airplanes try to keep the Nazi airforce from bombing the poor sods just trying to get home.

Each of these storylines is given a time: The Mole is given one week, the Moonstone is given one day, and the Spitfires are given one hour. Fans of Nolan’s work will quickly recognize the director’s love of non-linear storytelling structure, and though it’s a little confusing at first, the distinct time frames in which each storyline takes place soon begins to sharpen. Nolan’s mastery of this type of structure begins to shine through about a third of the way through the film as the visuals begin to echo each other and eventually converge into a tremendous climax of bone-deep dread. But, on the whole, it’s not his best work in this regard.

Dread is probably the best word to describe the tone of this film. It’s not an action movie like Saving Private Ryan, full of quick cuts and explosions. Instead, the pacing is slower. Nolan lets shots linger a lot longer than he normally does to add to the bone-chilling sense of, well, dread. The dogfights between the Spitfires and the enemy planes don’t contain any shots of planes whizzing past the frame with quick banks or stunning feats of aeronautical pizzazz. No, the audience is brought to the edge of their seat by one burning, drawn out question: will the pilot be able to shoot down the enemy plane before it bombs the ship with all the soldiers on it. On the times that he does, you’ll let out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding.

Nolan, who also wrote the screenplay for this movie, breaks from his usual conventions in another way: a distinct lack of dialogue. Nolan’s films are often dialogue-heavy, especially concerning exposition. And indeed there is a scene involving an exchange between British officers in which they explain the stakes to the audience. But there are also long stretches of dialogue-less scenes and sequences with the story largely being told through visuals. This is good. Movies are stories told through pictures, after all, and any information that can be conveyed visually should be, and dialogue should be as lean as possible. It’s nice to see Nolan pushing himself as a storyteller in this regard.

Where he falls short, however, is in the area of character. None of the characters are fleshed out, and that makes it hard to become invested in anyone’s survival. The most I can say about the main guy we’re following from the beach is that he’s a British soldier who wants to get off the beach. That’s it. That’s the extent of his characterization. We never even learn his name.  We never get to know the characters enough to sympathize with them past their specific story goal, so there’s no real great sense of triumph when they accomplish anything. The characters on the Moonstone (a father and two sons) get the most development, but even that’s pretty minimal.

This was done on purpose, I think, as Nolan was treating each character as part of a collective, rather than as individuals. It was a portrait of a society as a whole trying to survive, not an individual. And this works to some degree, but if any of the characters died, I wouldn’t be all that hurt by it. In fact, I’m pretty sure we just lose track of a character. I have no idea if he lived or died, and didn’t realize this until the movie was over.

Overall, though, the movie was ambitious and well-executed. Nolan challenges himself enough to keep it from just seeming like a standard Christopher Nolan movie, and that keeps it fresh and engaging. On the other hand, this is far from being one of the best movies about WWII, and if you’ve grown a little fatigued with this particular subject matter, this probably isn’t the movie for you.

I do want to point out two things: one, Hans Zimmer continues to be one of the best movie score composers today; two, the movie weirdly went back and forth between having black bars at the top and bottom of my screen and taking up the entire thing (though maybe that’s just the disk I had).

Special Features Rating: (0 / 5)

There were no special features on this disk. I assume that the actual Blu-ray comes with multiple disks when you buy it and the special features are on a separate one. This may happen from time to time on my Redbox rentals, especially with big tentpole movies, which is something I had not considered when I started this series and its format. Oh well.

Redbox Monday: A New Series

Over here at Ye ole LessThanRhyen I’m always on the hunt for new topics to blog about. I waffle about writing. I harass you with recipes. I bludgeon you about the head with my unholy manifestos about how THE DEMON-OTTER WILL RISE UP TO SLAY US ALL AND EAT OUR INTESTINES OFF IT’S TUMMY WHILE FLOATING IN A RIVER OF OUR BLOOD. And that’s all well and good, but I’m still often at a loss for what to write about. I mean, I guess I could write about the difference between linear structure, dramatic structure, and narrative structure again but no one really wants that.

Thus, this new series.

It’s not a surprise to anyone who knows me that I love movies. Sci-fi/fantasy are my favorite genres, but I’ll pretty much watch anything. Romance, period piece, buddy cop, musicals, you name it. I’ll watch them all, good or bad. I mean, shit, I made it through four of the five Twilight movies. (I only got about ten minutes into the fifth one, then Edward made that bullshit comment about “Now we’re the same temperature,” as if that’s one of the most romantic things anyone could ever say and I was out. No, I don’t know why that bad line in a franchise of bad lines was the straw that broke my camel’s back, but there you have it.)

And in addition to loving movies, I love watching the special features on movies. I’m the asshole who’ll watch the makings of or watch the movies with the commentary tracks on. I’ll watch the deleted scenes and bloopers (EVERY SINGLE MOVIE SHOULD ALWAYS COME WITH A BLOOPER REEL, I DON’T KNOW WHY DON’T). I’ll spend hours watching every single featurette on a DVD or Blu-Ray while my wife passes out next to me because she’s bored out of her gourd.

Thus, the idea:

I’m going to rent movies from Redbox and babble to you about them.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

On Fridays while I’m at the supermarket picking up whatever I need to make dinner that day, I’m going to rent a movie from Redbox. Then I’m going to watch said movie — assuming the Tiny Human lets me. I’m also going to watch all of the extras and special features at some point over the weekend. And on Monday I’m going to post my review here on the rambly blog.

This will be in addition to my (semi-sort-of-not-really) regular blog posts on Thursdays.

First there’ll be a review of the movie itself. This will consist of a (hopefully) spoiler-free summary of the film followed by my thoughts on said film. I’ll be focusing mostly on storytelling aspects — pacing, character motivations, structure, etc. — but I’m sure I’ll mention random cool shit that I enjoyed, or how I thought the director wasn’t fit to handle anything fancier than the camera on his/her phone.

Then I’ll talk about the special features. Was the commentary track insightful and not just a bunch of “let me tell you about this funny thing that happened on set that day” nonsense? Were the featurettes engaging and interesting? Did the deleted scenes add anything to the story, or was it a good thing they were stricken from the movie? Were the bloopers funny? That sort of thing.

Both sections will get their own star rating. It’s entirely possible that the movie will get a four star rating and the extras a one star. Or vise versa. Or any combination therein, really.

Good? Good.

So next week will be my first review.

See you then.

Daddy Loves Lettuce Wraps

And Daddy gets what Daddy wants or he goes and gets the belt and then your rump gets red and sore so FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PAY ATTENTION AS I ABUSE YOUR FACE WITH AN UNPROFESSIONAL, CURSE-SPICED RECIPE FROM SATAN’S OWN COOKBOOK. And, yes, it’s possible I’ve been drinking, so what? That’s what I thought. Now listen as I tell you how to make a chicken lettuce wrap.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: lettuce wraps sound lame.

“Lettuce Wraps.”

I’m not sure it’s even possible to make them sound cool.

Like, LETTUCE WRAPS, ALL CAPS, GROWLED IN A CANCEROUS WAY.

Ehhh, swing and a miss.

Maybe it’s a marketing issue? Needs rebranding?

LEAF BOWLS.

Nah. Not really.

LA LECHUGA DEL DIABLO.

Better, but still not there.

THE SCALP OF THE GREEN GIANT STUFFED WITH FIRE-ROASTED COCK.

Could be?

You know what? Screw it. This will be so declicious, it doesn’t need a kick-ass name.

It just needs kick-ass flavor, and the way we do that is with a moist, steaming dollop of Guy Fieri’s DONKEY SAUCE. Ha ha ha, no, seriously, kids, don’t put anything Guy Fieri touched on your food, it’ll taste like those weird exxxtreme pubes he has on his face. That’s what those are, right? He just glues his dyed pubes up there around the taco-hole he calls a mouth?

Hm.

Let’s talk about this food, and not Guy Fieri’s crotch-face.

The great thing about this recipe is that it’s very customizable.

I like to have some choice in my life, and I like my recipes to reflect that. I don’t want to just follow a prescribed list of ingredients and instructions. I want the freedom to choose, say, BULL NUGGETS instead of CHICKEN THIGHS. Because this is America and this is the land of do as you please and take what you want, and I goddamn will! If I want to use cabbage instead of lettuce, then there’s not a damn thing you can do about it! AND IF YOU TRY TO STOP ME, I’LL CUT OUT YOUR HEART AND MINCE IT WITH A PAIRING KNIFE.

Man, it’s quite possible that it isn’t a good idea to drink while I do these things.

Welp, too late.

Let’s get on with it.

You’re going to need:

SOME KIND OF LETTUCE. It needs to be the kind of lettuce you can fold up like a little botanical taco, a little wallet you can hold in your hand. This lettuce must work as a food container. If you have some particular affinity for a specific type of lettuce, hey, you do what you want. Iceberg is cool but has no flexibility. Romaine is a reliable option but has same problem: it’s as rigid as an English school headmistress. I like Boston or butter lettuce.

SOME KIND OF PROTEIN. I use chicken thighs for this, not chicken breast because, despite the tantalizing name, chicken breast is the dullest fucking protein outside maybe tofu. (Relax, vegetarians, there’s nothing wrong with tofu, but we all know it’s just a flavor-sponge.) Chicken breast is the meat equivalent of off-white paint. Here, I want flavor. Which means I want fat. Which means I want chicken thighs. You can do something else, of course — pulled pork shoulder, ground beef, the sweetbreads of a door-to-door salesman. Or hell, use chicken breast. I don’t care. Hate yourself with bland white meat. I’m not your mother, and I don’t control you, despite the microchip I implanted in your brain. It doesn’t work, c’est la vie.

SOME KIND OF VEGETABLE. Pick one vegetable that will complement your protein in the lettuce wrap. Don’t be greedy — I said one vegetable. I wouldn’t pick an onion because that’s going to go in there already. Kinda. Sorta. No, I mean, choose another vegetable or veggie-like product. Like, some white mushrooms or Shiitake. Or green beans. Or snow peas. Spinach. I don’t fucking care. Commune with your Personal Jesus and make a decision.

SOME KIND OF ONIONY THING. Lots of options here. I prefer shallots here because you can get the flavor of onion and garlic together, and you can soften them nice and caramelize them or make them crispy as you see fit. By the way, “caramelize” is a poor term because it makes me think something is covered in caramel and that is a crass lie. You don’t promise caramel if there’s no caramel. You don’t do that to a person. That’s like waterboarding. It’s just like it. Anyway, other oniony that’ll work: sweet onions, red onions (which are better left raw here), spring onions, leeks, or ramps. Ramps, of course, make every hipster foodie motherfucker like me basically cream our drawers every spring. They have, like, a 17-minute window of availability at your local farmer’s market and THEN POOF! GONE.

SOME KIND OF CRUNCH FACTOR. I demand that my lettuce wraps act as a divine symphony of unholy textures inside my crass, base, human mouth. I prefer nuts for this (ha ha ha no, not those nuts, you weirdo). You could do a “nut mix,” or you could throw a handful of Brazil nuts in there. Cashews and mac nuts make for a nice addition. Shit, I don’t know, throw in a mix of sunflower seeds and pepitas. Or just the broken teeth of a foot-kicked puma.

Got all that covered?

Good.

Now, it’s time to assemble.

You will cook your protein in the manner of your soul’s yearning. When I use chicken thighs (six of ’em for two people plus leftovers), I grill them for somewhere around six minutes on each side, making sure the meat is salted and peppered before it ever feels up the grill-fire. Then I let the meat sit for, like, five minutes so the juices get sealed in (MEAT MUST SLEEP) before dicing it up to go into the pan.

While your meat is resting, cook up the oniony bits. As noted, I use diced shallots. Here again is another CHOOSE YOUR OWN CULINARY ADVENTURE moment because you can choose which oil you like best. I hear some ominous things about vegetable oil, which is maybe true or it’s maybe spooky anti-science bullshit, but whatever. Either way, though, vegetable oil is about as interesting as chicken breasts. Coconut oil lends a nice taste, and olive oil is always a solid option. Just make sure it’s real virgin olive oil, which is to say, made by temple virgins.

Shallots. Soften. Or crisped. Whatever.

Then throw the diced chicken thighs into the mix.

The vegetables must also go into the pan: punished for they’re vegetables and not meat.

Brown the meat; soften the veggies a bit.

Now it’s SAUCY TIME.

*oils beard, whips off pants, starts dance music*

Wait, no: sauce time. SAUCE time.

*washes beard, applies pants, turns on sensible music*

Into the a mason jar goes:

A tbsp sesame oil.

A tbsp soy sauce.

A tbsp rice wine vinegar.

2 tbsp minced ginger.

3 tbsp Sriracha.

1/4 cup hoisin sauce.

Lid goes onto jar. Shake, shake, shake.

Then pour it into the pan. Cook another, mm, say, five minutes.

In the meantime, it is time to clean your lettuce. I clean the lettuce because I assume it was touched by a hundred people before it ended up in my basket, including but not limited to: a flu-addled groundhog, a syphilitic farmer, a just-masturbated produce stock-boy, ten sticky-fingered elementary-age school-children, and Guy Fieri. So: wash your lettuce. And then dry your lettuce.

Now: add the crunchy bits to the pan. You don’t need them to cook long. Also add one or two herbs: Thai basil or (if you like the taste of soap) cilantro. Dice as you see fit, stirred around good, mmm. If you’re so inclined, squirt a little sesame oil in there before removing immediately from the heat (cooking too long after will soften the crunchies, take the flavor out of the herbs, and dull the sesame oil).

Scoop into a serving receptacle (bowl, dish, elk skull).

Put lettuce on a serving tray (cutting board, plate, shell of a rare sea turtle you killed).

Now, assemble lettuce wraps.

Lettuce in your hand (or robot mitten or lobster claw or whatever ends your arms).

Spoonful of the yummy concoction into the lettuce.

Fold, spindle, mutilate.

Eat.

You should be hearing angels singing to a cacophony of loud electric guitars.

You may be sexually aroused.

You’re welcome.

Doom-Baby Comes To Clevengertown

“I think I’m feeling something,” my wife says.

Well, goodness me, that could mean a whole host of things. Hunger? Terror? Happiness? Existential terror at the prospect of a meaningless universe where the only constant is the slow march toward entropy? You peed yourself?

But oh. Oh. She means contractions.

They’re not bad yet, they’re small and lazy, like warm bay waters lapping up on a pebbled shore. We eat dinner. We watched Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (my mom was in town and she hadn’t seen it).

She makes it most of the way through the movie. By the end, however, she’s kneeling on the floor, hunched over the coffee table clenching her whole body. With each contraction, she tries to go to her Zen place. Breathes in, breathes out. Nose, mouth, nose, mouth. They come every 10 minutes or so.

We wait.

***

The wife, she suffers. Me, I watch. And do my best to time these contractions and wrap my brain around the idea that something was really happening. I mean, I knew my wife was pregnant, but I didn’t really know we were going to have a baby. That’s just insane, right? There’s no real way anyone would let me have a child, right? I shotgun microwave burritos and chase them with Sriracha roasted cashews at 2am, waking up that morning with a level of heartburn that could bring down a wooly mammoth. So how am I supposed to keep an infant healthy?

Anyway, the wife wants to go to the hospital, so we pile in the car at midnight.

We make the 40 min trip to the hospital. I’m pretty sure they’re going to send us home.

***

Send us home, they do. The nurse performs a cervical check, which means she basically goes elbow-deep and flicks my wife’s tonsils with her thumb. She inform us that my wife isn’t even 1cm dilated yet. We pile, babyless, back into the car to drive home. The wife is very upset about having to go home, coming very close to tears.

We we get home at 2am. I get my wife situated on the couch with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and Parks and Recreation on the TV. I feel guilty about it, but there’s nothing for me to do but sit and watch my wife squirm in pain, so I go to bed.

***

I wake up and the contractions are worse. The waves have gotten bigger. These are Oahu pipes. Surfer’s paradise.

Crashing hard against the rock.

But they’re pretty far apart and the duration and time between each one are inconsistent, so we can’t go to the hospital yet. We continue to watch episodes of Parks and Recreation. Early labor is dull as watching ice melt. I rub her back. I get her ice water, but it’s not as though every moment is a circus. Not yet at least.

***

My wife throws up. The contractions are closer together and more consistent. I call the hospital, they say come in.

Back to the car at around noon. My mom, after having watched her daughter-in-law suffer for half a day, is crying as she sends us off.

“Why was your mom crying?” asks my wife, her voice shaky and breathless.

“Because she doesn’t like seeing you in pain,” I reply.

“Then why aren’t you crying?”

Thanks, honey. Now I feel like a grade A asshole.

***

At the hospital the nurse comes in and uses my wife’s cervix as a wristwatch, and informs us she’s only 3.5 cm dilated (she needs to be at least 4 to be admitted to the hospital).

But the contraction waves are tall. Pier-breakers. Dock-collapsers. Each one hitting like a fist. With each, the wife grabs the rails of the bed, holds on like she’s on a ride.

But not a happy ride. This, like a log flume through fire and bees.

The whole time, though, she’s polite. She doesn’t yell out. No cursing. She’s nice to me the whole time even though I can do little more except stand over her juggling ice chips and head rubs. It gets so she can barely speak: her words are breathless rasps, and even the effort it takes to make them is hard-fought.

And she promptly throws up again.

“I’m just gonna write down 4cm,” says the nurse.

The relief on the wife’s face is instantaneous. Like clouds parting and a priapic ray of sunlight thrusting through.

***

We’re taken into a large room where my wife is hooked up to an IV and given some opioids to take the edge of the contractions while we wait for the epidural. I’d heard stories of epidurals taking forever to arrive, and sometimes they never do. I’m scared this is what’ll happen because–even with the opioids–my wife’s whole body twists with each tsunami crash. She’s like a sailor on that boat in that movies except here there’s no George Clooney. He was sort of a dick in that movie anyway.

But the anesthesiologist arrives in a timely manner, they get her hooked up, and everything calms down. We have time to get our bearings. My wife is happy, smiles even. She thinks she can fall asleep so the nurses leave and I convert the couch to a bed for myself, and we both prepare to get some rest.

With everything calm for a while, I worry: is this really happening? Where is everyone? Am I ready to be a father? Did I just pee myself?

***

The next few hours pass by in a blur of ill-focused snapshots as I’m awoken periodically by nurses coming in to check on my wife. They push buttons. They flick the IV drip.

I learn that I look as lost as a fawn in New York anytime I wake up because the nurses keep asking me if I’m okay.

***

I’m awoken one final time. She’s 10cm dilated.

Shit just got real.

I don’t really want to look. But I can’t help a glimpse at one point. My first glimpse of our daughter looks like ambrosia salad with a  toupee on top of it. An unformed deflated head that looks like gelatin. Gelatin covered in hair.

Birth is both a miracle and a misery. Like Buddha said, all life is suffering. He meant it in a good way. Or like in The Princess Bride: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

My wife is surrounded by a cheer squad of lunatics. Doctos in doctor garb, nurses, me, all cheering her on to push push push, bear down, push past it, keeping going, breathe in, push, stop, relax, do it again. Everything is red faces and sweat and bright lights and lots of pain and yet despite that there’s this airy, eerie feeling of euphoria, this blissed-out top-of-the-rollercoaster sense of promise and possibility that hints at a secret truth, a truth that says yes, indeed, all life is suffering, and that all the best things in that life require effort and pain and sometimes even misery to succeed.

***

“What color is her hair?” asks my wife.

“I dunno,” says the nurse. “Blood colored?”

***

Over the last nine months I’ve seen scads of videos of mothers birthing babies, and in every video is one moment I dread: the baby emerges, she’s purple, she’s blue, she flops over like a rubbery puppet whose strings just got snipped, and then they have to jostle her–only a second, maybe two–to get her to resurrect, a rebirth in a birth. I’m not looking forward to this.

Her head pops out, eyes closed. They corkscrew her body out and my wife shivers with the strange sensation. The baby’s beet red, and then, not even a second having passed, she cries. No prompting. They give her an Apgar score of 9, which is pretty damn good, I guess.

Then she’s with Mommy. Her crying quiets as she hears her voice.

***

I cut the cord. Which is about as easy as using safety scissors to slice through raw chicken breast.

***

They take her. Just for a few minutes. For the cord clamp, the measuring, the weighing, the warming.

I hover over her as they do all kinds of shit in the robotic embrace of a Robbie-the-Robot looking thing called a Panda Warmer. A tiny part of me cries out–No, that’s the wrong device! She’s not a panda! This insane robot is going to try to feed her bamboo!–but the fear is gone as they warm her up and squirt some goop in her eyes and suck out some other goop from her face.

Then she’s back with Mommy.

The wife looks up at me with wide, confused eyes and says, “There’s a human.”

I kiss her forehead. “Yeah,” I say.

And then, just like that–*snap*–we’re a family.

***

Anya Marie Clevenger is next to me on the couch, sucking on my wife’s boob as I type this. She’s cluster feeding now, which means she likes to eat a lot in short order. She’s like a shark the way she shakes her head and approaches the nipple.

The kid’s got witch nails, and is hell bent on tearing her own face off.

Her skin is as soft as the toys you give babies.

Today she looks like a baby. Moreso than she did when we first got her when she looked like an angry little goblin man, a changeling who stole our original child.

She cries. She’s cute. Sometimes she makes these faces that look like she’s on the edge of a smile. Other time she looks like Popeye. Or, perhaps, “Poop-Eye.”

She didn’t lose much of her birthweight, so she’s a good size. Kid’s a rock star. And the brightest star in our constellation. And a hungry little sonofabitch.

She kinda looks like me.

Like I said, miracle and misery.

Cooks And Chefs

I like to cook. I don’t always get to because I sometimes don’t get home from work until after 6 o’clock, and my wife and I are both hungry and we just want to eat NOW. But when I do have the time, I enjoy the process of cooking a meal for my wife and I. A process that begins, really, when I walk into the grocery store (or I guess it could be argued that it begins when I decide what I want to make and write out a shopping list, but whatever).

I enjoy picking out ripe produce, searching for quality meats, and even reading the ingredients lists on certain goods to make sure it’s real food and not food-products that have been molested by science. I like prepping and chopping. It’s easy for me to forget everything but the food on the cutting board and the knife in my hand. The smell of grilling onions or sizzling steak is one of the best smells in all of existence. It’s why Flavor Jesus invented the stove.

But I’m not a chef. I’m a cook.

By this I mean that I generally follow recipes. Taken from websites, magazines, books, my mom’s emails, I follow these step by step instructions pretty much to the letter, only diverging when I realize that I don’t actually have a certain ingredient. Out of baking powder? Well crushed babies teeth make a fine substitute. I only know how to make two or three things without glancing at a recipe.

Chefs, on the other hand, don’t need to follow recipes. They can look at the ingredients before them—the chicken gizzards, the leeks, the rice, the endless list of spices—and they can throw together a delicious meal. They can do this because they’ve learned, through formal education and trial and error, what each of these elements do. They know which spices will complement each other, what flavors will overpower others, and how much of everything will work together to create not only a satisfying meal, but one that will target the pleasure receptors in your taste buds and fire flavor-lasers with sniper-like accuracy right into them.

This is why pro chefs can take a sample of a soup or whatever that one of their sous chefs have made, deduce what’s wrong with it, and determine the solution. The exact right ingredient that the vegetable minestrone was missing. They can do it because they know what each element does. What its purpose is.

They know what each tool in their tool belt does.

Why am I blathering about this?

Because writing is the same way. I think.

Now, cooking metaphors for writing are hardly original. Brandon Sanderson has definitely compared them, and I’m fairly certain Chuck Wendig has done it once or thrice himself. Apparently, we word-nerds are all obsessed with food. Go figure.

Anyway, I submit for your consideration that the same quality that separates me from Alton Brown is the same thing that separates me from Stephen King.

(Well, okay, there’s probably a lot more that separates me from those guys in both respects. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it’s what separates me from the chef at my local Zephyr and me from… oh, I don’t know. Some non-bestselling author.)

Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin can all create master word-meals because they know what each ingredient does. And, more importantly, they know how to use them. Gaiman knows which adventure story would do well with a seasoning of wonder. Guin can tell which story tale needs a side dish of mystery. King knows how to marinate his horror-meats in some romance for extra flavor.

(No, the metaphors are getting away from you. Ha! Shut up.)

Anyway.

The point is, when creating a story, they can look at all the “ingredients” they have in their pantry and choose the right ones for their tale. Just as a chef knows which seasonings or sides or sauces or which animal they need the gall bladder of, a storyteller knows which elements are required to bring out the sweet or savory flavors of their stories. And more than that, they know how much of each element the story requires. McCammon is not overloading his tales with the narrative equivalent of five cups of paprika into his story-soup. A little bit of humor goes a long way in his horror books. A pinch. A dash.

And this is the level I’m striving to get to. To get to the level of chef. At least in terms of being a writer. I’ll never be a chef in terms of… y’know, being a chef. But as I try to improve my ability as a storyteller, it behooves me to examine each element I mix into my story. To put it under a microscope. To ask myself what does this element do? What effect would it have on the story? On the reader? On the characters? That way I can use them with a deliberate purpose. To be as precise with my narrative choices as Anthony Bourdain is with his culinary ones.

That’s what I’m striving for.

Okay, I’m done yammering.

I’m hungry (for some reason).

I’m gonna go eat something.

Maybe an egg sandwich.

If you don’t like egg sandwiches, we can’t be friends.

Favorite Horror Novel

Halloween is coming up.

So, I want to know what your favorite horror novel is. Or, fuck it, let me know the oeuvre of an entire horror author.

Past or present.

To be clear, I’m not looking for what you think the best horror novel is.

This isn’t necessarily about quality.

I want to know which one is the one you love. The one that forced you to sleep with the lights on for a month.

The one that caused you to start wetting the bed (seriously, though, seek professional help about that. It’s gross).

Start recommending.

(Fine, you want mine? Hell House by Richard Matheson. Stephen King himself once said, “Hell House is the scariest haunted house novel ever written. It looms over the rest the way the mountains loom over the foothills.” Though, you can’t go wrong with the works of Robert McCammon.)