Aaron Cael

Character scavenging


The guy across from me on the train is middle-aged, white, and wearing a cream colored Members Only jacket. A pristine Vancouver 2010 USA Olympic Rowing baseball cap and big black work boots scuffed to dark green. He’s also intently fondling a big pile of plastic gold necklaces. The cheap beaded kind like you’d get at Mardi Gras for dramatic acts of public service.
The problem is, I can’t use him.
Writing fiction backs you into something of a corner when it comes to characters and events. You have to select images that establish the rules of the world you describe, staying within a certain boundary of plausibility, yes, but more importantly staying on message. So while the New York Metro area provides a wide variety of oddballs, desperadoes, schizophrenics, and weirdos of every stripe, that variety must be curated.
It becomes a matching game. What bizarre stranger best matches the mood of the part right before the breakup? If I’m setting up the feeling of desperation, who should I put in the background: the elderly black man in the boiler suit with the gold spray-painted briefcase dancing to his walkman or the white guy with gray Bozo hair who backstrokes across the floor, eyes squinted shut, in various public transportation hubs?
But gold beads… naw I can’t use it. Would be too cheap a metaphor for fruitless grubbing for wealth, too close to clutching a rosary, too random for anything else. The Members Only jacket and the boots combo, though. I might use that next time I’ve got a hot date.

Brooklyn/Beszel/Ul Qoma


Last night I met a friend for a drink at a place called the Brooklyneer, a Brooklyn-themed restaurant in Manhattan. To stress the weirdness of this, let me over-explain: this is a bar that takes its decor, name, and menu inspiration from another sector of the same city. Like you would open a Thai restaurant that takes its inspiration from Thailand.
To stretch that metaphor, much like many Thai restaurants take their menu and decor from one specific, popularized region of Thailand (Bangkok/Central) and its culture without specifically declaring that distinction, the Brooklyneer is not pulling from all over Brooklyn (pop. 2.5 million, roughly the same as Nevada or Jamaica)  for its cultural selection. No, it’s aiming squarely for the culture of what I’ll call Brooklyn Export, a consumer-friendly style that is pretty thoroughly entrenched in the Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick neighborhoods of Brooklyn with swaths of Red Hook, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Park Slope as well. Dark wood. Antique motifs. Ethnic flourish + hearty American fare. Craft/Organic/Artisinal/Etc. In this sense, Brooklyn is being referred to not so much a place as a brand. A promise of a certain consumer experience. Thai restaurants, Disneyland, dude ranches, etc.
This isn’t weird at all. This is what the globalized world does and has done since antiquity. Greek wine merchants in Phoenicia, the courtly trappings of Central American Empires brought north to the Mississippi River Civilizations, goddamn red-doored English pubs everywhere. What’s weird is the location. The proximity to its inspiration.  2.4 miles, walking distance. In under an hour (half an hour if it’s urgent and you’re running) you could have that same Brooklyn Brewery beer, that same kimchi-topped hotdog in your hand.
It gave me a feeling of the shattering of location-based culture. That even export versions of a local culture could be had in damn near the same spot as its original version still stands. I wrote down on a napkin: “hall of mirrors. The Starbucks in a Starbucks”
And enclaves/exclaves… I got thinking about China Mieville’s excellent The City and the City, a crime story about investigators tracking murders through a divided city that overlapped in places, divided not by walls but by a scrupulously maintained unseeing by both populations as their lives overlapped on the streets.

A quote:

“You cannot train yourself to successfully and sustainedly unsee and unhear — you do them all the time, but they also fail, repeatedly, and you cheat, repeatedly, in all sorts of small ways. The book mentions that several times. It is absolutely about absolute fidelity to those particular urban protocols, exaggerations or extrapolations of the ones that I think are all around us all the time in the real world; but it’s also about cheating them, and failing them, and playing a little fast and loose, which I think is an inextricable part of such norms.”

Like Besźel and Ul Qoma in Mieville’s novel, New York has its own overlapping territories. Places adjacent that seem to live in different times, different countries. A physical substrate, yes, but that’s just what holds up this multitude of shared hallucinations, holograms folded through each other, shimmering in the concrete-amplified wet heat of summer. It’s a city with all four-dimensions stretched and broken and chewed on by use, neglect, experimentation, by an infinite number of schemes to squeeze one last dollar from it all.

Naturally, the beers were $7. It’s in Manhattan, after all.

Mirror Displays for OS X / Hackintosh

Sort of a niche post here but a vital one if you use a Hackintosh netbook to get things done. (Somewhere there’s a Venn diagram with circles for Nerd/Writer/Mac Enthusiast)

You may have noticed that hooking up your Hackintosh to a projector gives you a very pretty light show but nothing resembling actual screen action. This has screwed me on a few presentations/demos/movie nights when it would have been great to carry just a little plastic netbook to feed into a projector instead of lugging some more capable beast around.

A lovable coder named Fabian Canas fixed that for you with a nice, free app called Mirror Displays that toggles between screen modes. Give him sandwiches, ambrosia, and fancy words of praise.

Using it can be a little tricky, though. Basically, download it, drop it in your Applications folder, etc. Then, get your mouse right over it when you plug into VGA. When the light show starts, click it. Things should resolve beautifully. There, now you can fit a whole projection setup on your bike’s handlebars.

Book as app

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “Book as app” idea, coming at it from the perspective of a man who regularly shouts in public “no, I don’t want to download the goddamn app, I just want to navigate the fucking website with a modicum of dignity.

So… that’d be rule number 1: the app has to have a very distinct reason to exist. Something that it does in app form that justifies the space taken on the user’s phone. This points toward a search for what essential appiness this story needs or would benefit from.

In a nutshell, an app would be:

A central way of navigating the mixed content that hovers around the central narrative, the stuff that exists in that shadow zone between promotional material and narrative extension. Also, possibly extend this to a delivery method for the actual chapters of the book should A) serialization be an attractive method and B) there’s demand to read the thing on a phone/tablet/palm-straining mid-size tricorder thingy.

It would make a bit of sense too because apps are a fairly big part of the narrative. They deliver info that drives the plot, they set the mood, they mediate interactions between characters and between various narrative threads. It’d be natural to recreate those functions in the relationship between the reader and the story.

This would also allow/require me to get rid of the notion of authoritative boundaries of the text. No official version. The scraps, cut scenes, leaked bits, side roads will have equal footing/be just as canon as the central stream of text. Sure, there will eventually be an object, a death tree chunk of novel that will be the final word for those who like a final word. But this story rewards the impulse to seek ephemera. The app is kind of a guide to that ephemera, a scrapbook for it. (This means you have to come up with a scheme for judging and recycling the bits you’re editing out. Use your scraps.)

Obviously still working out the specific functions to accomplish this. Thinking out loud, etc.

Questions About Format


I keep getting stuck in thought loops on the subject of how format/medium shapes the reading experience and how to compromise that with the realities of time/effort/$$$ of creation.

– – –
Screen vs. Physical object
LCD vs e-ink
7″ vs 4″ vs 10″ vs Goddamn, no one’s going to try to read this on a Blackberry are they?
epub vs azw/mobi vs pdf vs invent your own, you fancy little man
– – –

And then all the considerations of size, binding, distribution method, and cost for a physical, probably paper, book, zine, or reading object. If I was dealing with a publisher to breeze my beautiful little thoughts out to the minds of the world, it’d be something I’d think about in an idealized way and then gripe about how my grim corporate overlords know nothing and screwed up my perfect vision. As that I’m DIY-ing, my options are wide, wide open but the money to do much just isn’t there.

For me, finding a format to work for a given piece of writing involves running through these questions:
1) How long is it?
2) Any pictures?
a) Do these pictures need to be precisely placed?
b) Do they require color?
3) Any videos/links/computer-specific things?
4) How vulnerable is the reading experience to distraction?
5) What are the relative merits of it being easily reproducible or carefully crafted?

Here’s something we did a few years ago that was especially shaped by Questions 1, 4, and 5. FU1K: Fiction Under 1000 words. A print and fold short story. A physical reading experience that was easy for the reader to print, transport, and have a distraction-free reading experience. More background on that here. I think I might try this again.

FU1K: Crescents
FU1K: Submarine

These are questions I’m batting around as TITLE takes shape as a physical thing. One thing I’d love to do is release each issue in a completely different form.
Ex: Issue #1: Zine. Issue #2: Loaf of Bread. Issue #3: Geocaching App