BP: Mail Order Super-Heroes #1

Tim Munn drtimphd at gmail.com
Thu Dec 7 23:05:48 PST 2006

Tom Russell wrote:
> Tim Munn is back!

Yes I am!  Thank you for having me back!

> It's been a sad long year for the UTMFC (DC), a year in
> which we've had only a poem and a few discussion posts to sustain us.
> But now, we've got a brand new shiny number-one to drool over.  And so
> I'm very happy.

Very sad indeed.  I realized though, looking through a hardcopy list of
my posts earlier, I only need 3 more issues (on top of what I'm going
to be posting) to tie last years posts.  I can say, that will almost
_surely_ happen.  :)

> Part of that might have to do with the fact that Martin's posted twenty
> stories in the last three months.  (Martin stares at HAIKU GORILLA and
> clears his throat.)

I could be like this if I get typing.  Bob & Charlie 1-3 are waiting,
as is the Vocab Challenge (I LIVE FOR THE CHALLENGE!!!!) tale with
mini-series, Mail Order Super-Heroes #2 which is 1/4 done, and another
mini-series which is 1/2 done (this one has come quick and hard; it
nearly knocked my socks off).

> Tim and I have several things in common.  For starters, we're both
> Michiganders, and we're both fans of Tom Russell. ;-)


> I have a
> great deal of admiration for Tim, Mitchell, Martin, and all the other
> RACC masters of the short form.  To make me laugh and think and to stir
> my emotions in the space of two or three pages is quite an
> accomplishment.  Especially that last one.

Sometimes I think that I'm getting perhaps a little too good for the
short stuff.  I would like to go longer eventually.  One of those
mini-series is a whopper; it wants to be a huge mini-series; two or
three issues going to at least Boring Man length.  I don't really mess
with how long or short something wants to be.  On issues of length, I
go in with a Bob Ross mentality: 'Whatever little tree or mountain
wants to live in your world, just let him live there.  The painting
will grow up around that tree or mountain into a work of beauty.
Remember, there's no Bad Accidents, only Happy ones.'  I let it flow
out; one take is all I need.

It does change just a little if I either hand-write or type first.  The
typed writing I think might be a bit better:
Possible Man #1-4 (I can't remember right off whether any of this was
hand-written, I want to say #3-4 had a few parts)
Pointless Posting Man #1-3
Boring Man

Bob & Charlie #1-3
Mail Order Super-Heroes #1-2
Pointless Posting Man #4 (I'm pretty sure this goes here)
No-Point Lad & Dismal-Hope Kid #1-6

Even though the typed has my better writing, it's more
spur-of-the-moment writing.  It also has lots more mistakes and story
that just doesn't fit or no story at all.  I took two pages out of
Boring Man because, as No-Point Lad would say: 'It was pointless.'
Pointless Posting Man #2-3 had a _ton_ of stuff taken out.  Its also
the stuff that takes me the longest to write.  As I said in the Notes
to Possible Man #4, the first paragraph or so was going to be in
Possible Man #3.  How long has it been since a new issue of Possible
Man?  I initially started Boring Man back in November '04, having
several different versions at once, finally letting it sit until
inspiration came in the form of a Miracle Pooch.
Mail Order Super-Heroes #1 was relatively unscathed, except for a tiny
part in the Roger/Challenger/Erin scene.  The same pretty much goes for
PPM #4, but there I didn't have enough story (the Radical Librarians).
As for No-Point Lad/Dismal-Hope Kid, it just got out of hand with
note-taking.  I was writing ideas about how the story could move
forward before realizing too late that it had ground to a halt.  And it
was getting better, too!  This is where I want that looseness to be,
with the hand-written stuff, not the typed.

> In POSSIBLE MAN # 4, Possible Man visits his ailing grandfather at an
> Old Folks Home.  His grandfather passes away.  It's strange how deeply
> the story moves me, even a year later.
> I mean, I knew the character was going to die from about the moment he
> was introduced.  Grandpa's last words are unabashedly sentimental.  The
> story lacks polish.  There is no poetry to the words, no truth about
> life and death unearthed.  And yet-- and yet...
> There's *something* there.  Something that does more than tug on my
> heart-strings.  And then I realize it, it's right there-- it's the
> relationship between Possible Man and his grandfather.  It's not a
> particularly unusual relationship.  But it's real.  It sings.  It's an
> idea and it's more than that, it's an emotion.

I'm going to either post or email something like Behind the Scenes of
Possible Man eventually, telling the real-life sad story behind
Possible Man #4.  Someday...

> And it makes me tremble to think: if Tim Munn can effect me this way,
> if his work can move me to such naked emotions now, just think what
> he's going to do to me when he arms his sentences with swords-- sharp
> and elegant and ready to cut you and make you bleed.
> And this, above all else, is why Tim Munn is a writer to keep your eye
> on.  Because there's something there, there's some talent.
> And I'm not saying that this talent exists without skill or style.
> What I'm saying is, Tim is still evolving.

Evolution, baby!!  IT ROCKS!!

> What are some of the areas that Tim needs to work on?  Well, first and
> foremost is clarity.  Strong prose, whether it's the short sharp shocks
> of Hemmingway or the elegant verbal gymnastics of Proust, communicates
> clearly, effectively, and concretely.
> Too often, Tim is a bit vague or, worse, subtle.  Now, there's nothing
> wrong with being subtle-- if you know how to do it.  I, for one, have
> no idea how to be subtle, and so I telegraph all my points in big bold
> letters.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had the same problem-- not bad
> company, that.

I'm working on this.  It's all in the brain-to-page process.  I try to
remind myself: 'Hey, people aren't going to get Point Z if you don't
show how they get to Point A first.'   Or something like that.
I'm not angry or anything, but the story is only as clear as it will
show itself.  That has happened many times with myself.  I don't know
if I have the right tools to write, say, Possible Man #4, and worrying
about that fact, I never write PM #4.  These moments, such as Possible
Man #4 or Mail Order Super-Heroes #1 are the best moments for me to do
my work.  If I don't, most times the story is covered with dirt or a
hazy veil, becoming a memory to be discovered in a sort of memory-pool
long after I'm gone.  At least, that's how I hope it to be; to give
someone else a chance to write what I've thought.  Which is where I
struggle with clarity, having those basic sets of tools to create
something now, or use the advance tools, creating that same something
two, three or heck, ten years from now.  I'd rather have it now than
just two years from now.  If I don't, it's going to pass me by, and
I'll never have it.

> Let's take a look at a short excerpt from Mail Order Super-Heroes # 1
> to illustrate the difference.
> > 	"Hello, miss...?"  He asked, helping her into her own seat from
> > beneath his large cape.
> > 	"Stop-Drop-and-Roll Lass," she replied, returning a smile.
> > "Thank you."
> > 	"It was a pleasure," he smiled rather oddly.  "You can call me
> > Challenger.  *I live for the challenge!*  That's my catchphrase."
> Now that is a perfectly respectably bit of character comedy.  " *I live
> for the challenge!*  That's my catchphrase."  It's big, it's bold, it's
> comedy-- it gets a laugh, and endears the character to us.

I couldn't stop laughing myself.  :)

> That's excellent craftmanship, Tim: everything we need to understand
> the joke is right there.
> > 	She smiled and nodded.  "I like a challenging crossword, myself,"
> > she said, turning her attention to the commander.  "Sir, I'm very
> > sorry.  I had a bleeder-"
> > 	He looked to her with a crooked eye.  "I didn't know, Erin.
> > I'll call up someone else to take the mission, if you'd like?"
> > 	It took a moment, but realized his mistake.  "Oh no-no-no!!  Not
> > that sort!  At the hospital where I work, Cityland Memorial.  I had a
> > bleeder _there_.
> Here, on the other hand-- I mean, c'mon, Tim, you've got a menstraution
> joke, for chrissakes.  And in this case, you kinda botched it.
> I mean, sure, the joke's there-- I _did_ figure out that's what he
> thinks she means by "bleeder"-- but it's too subtle, too coy.  And,
> really, when it comes to bodily functions, there's _never_ any reason
> to be subtle. :-)
> The joke's there, but it's inbetween the lines.  The most important
> thing about a good joke is that all the parts be visibly in evidence.
> Here's three ways you could spruce up that joke to make absolutely sure
> that everyone gets with the "flow":
> (1) Invoke an obvious symbol of that time, such as a tampon or sanitary
> napkin.  Perhaps a secretary can be on hand?  Hmm... A little laboured
> and forced.
> (2) You could have a bear in the office.  Upon hearing about the
> bleeder, Roger Rampage can say something like, "Run!  Run for your
> life!  The bear will smell it on you!  It can't be around women during
> that... that time!"  But if you were going to do that, I would make
> sure that's not the _only_ reason the bear is there.  I'd bring him
> back at the end of the story/installment to give him another
> punchline-- that way it "pays off" the bear.
> (3) If you don't want to come out and say menstraution, trying being
> subtle in a different way.  Instead of "He looked to her with a crooked
> eye", why not try "His face went whitish-green, perspiration lactating
> from his brow in hideous, twisted fear"-- though, really, you'd want to
> play up either the fear or the state of being physically ill-- one or
> the other, not both.

It looked better on paper...  I was pumped that I wrote something...
er, yeah.  It was a total botch.  MOSH #2 wants to be more dulled down
(at least right now).  It'll have jokes, yes, but it wants to be
slightly more serious.  Or maybe just wear the Serious Suit...?

> Though, technically, in this joke's structure, the misunderstanding
> isn't the punchline.
> > A construction worker over at the BarCo building
> > knicked himself with a nail gun.  Fortunately it didn't hit any major
> > arteries or blood vessels."
> > 	He nodded.  "We'll send him our best wishes Erin.
> And that's a nice capper, right there-- very business-like, very funny.
>  I think if the injury was humorous and improbable that it would have
> added a little something-- but, y'know, so would a bear or a
> perspiration-lactating brow. :-)

I almost didn't put this last part in.  I was going to have Roger
Rampage grunt.  That was it.  *grunt*

> Of course, you could make the misunderstanding the punchline by
> restructuring the joke.  Show us Erin and the construction worker first
> in a scene beforehand, maybe have him explain how he got his injury--
> kick it up a few notches, make it funny in and of itself-- and then
> have her go to see Rampage.
> The reader knows what she means by bleeder-- but Rampage doesn't.  You
> could pay this off quickly by having her explain the misunderstanding,
> or you could milk the gag for all it's worth.
> But what would be the point of having a scene at the hospital?  If it's
> just there for the joke, it's not really pulling its own weight.

I actually thought of this as well, the Hospital part.  One scene in a
hospital all for a (bad) joke wasn't going to make it.

> But what you could do is take your first bit of
> introspection/exposition-- apropos Roger's frequent need for Master
> Lawyer-- and move it into the hospital scene.  This would allow the
> Roger/Challenger/Erin scene to move on unhindered, instead slowing down
> your intro for Erin in this story-- the only place where things have a
> right to be slow.
> But this chunk of text does bring up another point:
> > Heroes Alliance Chain of Command.  Well, maybe with the exception of
> > Possible Man... and maybe her father, Master Lawyer.  Oh, that was the
> > best reason for her nerves right now.  Those two-dozen (and she thought
> > at least a few more) times her father had defended Roger in lawsuit
> > after lawsuit; bringing home file after file, treading back and forth
> > between desk and liquor cabinet, file in one hand, drink in another;
> > calling Roger every name in the book and a few other choice expletives
> > that her mother had made her swear never to repeat.
> *Why* does Roger so frequently need Master Lawyer to defend him?  *Why*
> does he incur so many lawsuits?  I assume with a last name like
> Rampage, he might have a bit of a temper problem.  But if you were to
> state this explicitly, it would have a better chance of taking hold in
> the reader's mind, it would tell us something about him.

I actually have a plan for this (I guess it would have been better if I
came forward with it here?), the beginning of not just Rampage's need
for Master Lawyer's skills, but quite a few others need for them as
well.  It's also kind of tied into Master Lawyer's origin, which I've
decided to post elsewhere  (it's somewhat of obvious-- the title, and
the situation-- so if I told, I'd be giving it away).

> And if you were to make it specific-- if you were to provide a concrete
> example (preferably a funny one) of a lawsuit incurred, then chances
> are, it would stick in the reader's mind, and provide another laugh.

It's not funny at all.  None of them.  Seriously.

> Always, always, always be specific.  It's not that you need a lot of
> details, or that you need to, as Martin says, describe furniture-- it's
> just that you need the _right_ detail, the different detail, the one
> that sings.

Kind of going back to my overly long points on writing:  When I
describe, it's sometimes down to the furniture.  Or it's just vague.

> Now, you did account for the interruption in the flow of the story by
> having Roger Rampage call her on it, in this bit of text that brings up
> another point:
> > 	"Erin," it was Roger, not Waldron, but Rampage looking at her with
> > great concern.  "You spaced out on us there for a minute," he said,
> > much softer than when he first spoke.  "Are you sure you're all
> > right after the bleeder?" Roger asked, kneeling beside her, his
> > concern much more prominent in his blue eyes.
>  Unless someone's read Possible Man # 4, they would have no idea that
> that hero's real name is Roger Waldron.  They could infer it from the
> later juxtaposition of
> > sent in a few bruisers, Possible Man and a couple of other men.  They
> > gave him the once over, to show that we mean business."  He eyed Erin
> > carefully after this, gauging her reaction.  He knew from certain
> > sources that Erin Lawson and Roger Waldron were an item, and he knew
> > full well what Roger could do to a young heart.
> --but, if people don't make this connection, it's just confusing.  You
> should establish earlier that Roger Waldron is Possible Man, state it
> outright, so that there's no confusion.

Right.  I went into this thinking that people would have read PM #4.
There could have been someone for example like Mitchell, a newcomer
here, who never read Possible Man #3 or #4.  Man, I'm kicking myself
now because that was so obvious!!!

> There were a couple passages, though, that were remarkably clear and,
> to my mind, also clearly remarkable.  The first part of the
> introspection that later segues into Roger Rampage's legal troubles--
> > 	Erin grew nervous, for several reasons.  First, she was concerned over
> > what type of mission; what evil-doers would they encounter?; would they
> > have henchmen and/or traps?; would she have to use her abilities?,
> > which she herself was incredibly vulnerable to.
> -- is an *excellent* use of semicolons and mid-sentence question marks,
> probably the best use I've seen in a long, long time.  The question
> marks keep those questions nice and sharp-- without them, they would
> lose their inquisitive ring.  And the semicolons do what semicolons are
> supposed to, linking the questions into one larger question, one larger
> idea-- an idea that communicates her anxiety and her novice status.
> Though the last line seems out of place-- a word seems to be missing.
> But it's still a wonderful passage, Tim.

I got stuck here.  I knew the obvious reason, which was her own
vulnerability.  I got to thinking on this for awhile.  It went from
what Erin wanted to say to how I would say it.  Immediately after I
wrote this part, I wasn't too happy with it, honestly.  It was
definitely shorter in length that Erin wanted to say, but something was
getting in the way of the translation, maybe like rain-fade you hear in
those Comcast commercials.  I remember feeling like I was losing the
story at this point, which could be the reason why the last sentence
seems short.  What would you have written?

> Here's an even better one.
> > 	Erin started behind Challenger, but was stopped by Roger.  "You
> > leave only after he has left the building.  He's only wearing
> > underpants and you're just a little girl!"  Like all slips of the
> > tongue, he caught his too late.

This was a real-life slip of the fingers.  I caught mine too late, but
it works just fine.  :)

> > 	She didn't wince, wasn't surprised.  It's what she got ever
> > since she'd taken her first Heroes Alliance Placement Test when she
> > was fourteen.  It's what she got when she had parents like Master
> > Lawyer and Atomic Lady; their rubbing elbows with some of the legends
> > of the Heroes Alliance through Law & Science, and the up-and-coming
> > kids like Possible Man.  She was in on the action, too; one parent was
> > always at some conference or another, and, wouldn't you know it!,
> > there'd be no babysitter to sit for little Erin or her siblings.
> > Great opportunities in Super-Hero-ing come through meetings like this,
> > both parents and crotchety legends would say.  All it got her was Roger
> > Rampage (and countless others before, and most certainly after) calling
> > her a little girl.  She was an adult, but to them, she'd always be
> > Matthew and Alexandra's Little Girl.
> This is god-damn perfect, Tim-- incisive, clear, and real.  What it
> lacks in concrete details it more than makes up for with sincerity,
> texture, and smooth grace: a pulse, a style.  It _moves_ and has
> _life_.

That's exactly what I was thinking of, life.  Perhaps a little of my
own, but the large part being Scenes In the Life of...  This was the
clearest scene in the life of Stop-Drop-and-Roll Lass.  The only thing
I'd change, is the word 'Super-Hero-ing'.  It looks and sounds mighty
strange.  I'd change it to 'Adventuring', it sounds more...

> And I really love how you bring that phrase, Little Girl, back in the
> end...
> > "Erin, when you talk to your father tonight, tell him I'm going to
> > need his services.  This could be the nastiest yet," Roger said, a
> > smile forming at the edges of his mouth.  He turned to view Cityland
> > below, and caught the reflection of a small fire burning in his
> > wastebasket.  If only she weren't Matt's Little Girl...

I added the last at the very end, while I was typing it up.  After I
initially wrote this, I knew there was a little left, a sentence, maybe
two at the most.  I left and returned to it several times, trying to
get that last sentence.  It came to me in a dream the day before it was
posted.  I had gold.  :)

> It's a damn good structural instinct, Tim-- you bring a phrase or joke
> or image back, and it ties it all together, it gives it some oomph! and
> a push forward-- forward and into the next issue, presumably.

Well... who knows what Stop-Drop-and-Roll Lass is thinking?

> And if I seem a bit heavy on criticism this time around, it's only
> because I'm President of the UTMFC (DC)-- because I think by this time
> next year, Tim'll be knocking my socks off with dynamite prose and
> gut-busting joke construction.

Yes, certainly.  I'm going to try to make the Vocabulary Challenge
Story with accompanying mini-series good, and the second mini-series I
think is good.  I'm going to do extra work on that one; #1 is complete,
but I think it needs some work on it.  It seemed unfinished.

> All of you, keep your eyes on this one-- because he's got something
> special, and he's getting better all the time.  This one piece of
> fiction-- only the start of a story, really-- is deeper and more
> resonant than BORING MAN SAVES CANADA--- and, for the most part, more
> comprehensible, too.  His word choices and sentences are getting
> better, his structure has improved, the gags more thoughtful and the
> ideas bigger.

Big Ideas, that's me.  :)

> You mark my words: Tim Munn is one to watch.
> ==Tom


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