sowing dragons teeth [notes]

Unhitched chapter notes …

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This chapter is a good example of what happens when you panic as a writer.

This was originally the “going home to see dad” chapter and that’s what it ended up being, only it was way too long – like 10k words long – so I had to slice it up. Then it was too short, so I poked at it and chipped away, and added as much as I could, and then I got scared because I only had 700 words left and no dialog between the boys! I didn’t want to cut up the flow of his interactions with his dad, so I reworked it, and then I fucked it all up again, and it made no sense! Then it was a pile of notecards, and I went back to the drawing board. I stared and stared and grew monumentally frustrated and I threw the cards away.

I dug the discarded cards (?) out of the trash after a cup of tea and a hot bath and then writing magic happened.

I sat back down and wrote out the whole damn thing, and it now contains one of my all-time favorite scenes: Hopper’s conversation with Red Dragon. It’s brief, but I love it.

Backstory: I recently explained to a friend what it’s like to write like this (without a complete story and publishing as I go). I don’t have 30 chapter outlines waiting to be fleshed out. I have 5 or 6 random ideas and a pile of prompts and that’s it. You’re all literally watching this overly complicated story unfold in real time.

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I, as the writer, am tasked with providing you, the reader, a story that you can follow. But as I write, I’m leaving two distinct trails of crumbs from the first page to the last. The bread is for you and follows the plot. The corn is for me and allows for plot stitching and continuity.

You, the reader, are stepping closer and closer to me as I walk backward through my own story. I’m trying not to fall, though I can’t see where I’m going. I leave you bread as I go, but I have to be careful. If I dump too much, you’ll flock and feed and I won’t be able to coax you to continue. If I space the crumbs too far apart, you won’t know where to go and you’ll get lost.

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This is also a classic piece of literature about cannibalism.

I want you to follow me, but not catch me so I have to stay a few steps ahead. I am the blind that’s not only leading the blind, but I’m feeding you and taking care of you when you falter.

If I do my job, the bread should lead you out of my deep, dark forest alive, though hopefully, catastrophically gutted – a noble but terrifying goal.

The corn trail, however, that’s different, and this is where Red Dragon comes in.

All through my story, I talk about events, characters, objects, and places that may or may not seem relevant at the time. I mention Hopper’s childhood, Vegas, John Lennon, Hop’s bible toss, Vonnegut, Junebug, and more … with absolutely no idea if it will come up later. I’m not joking, it’s all a crapshoot.

I’m literally leaving a trail of prompts for myself to follow because I’m publishing this bastard as I go. This is both monumentally difficult and incredibly satisfying! When I get to call back to a crumb that I left myself and have it make sense, it feels amazing, like it was meant to be! Fate loves me! I’ve done it with a bunch of shit already, but the Red Dagon thing slays me (pun your goddamn right intended).

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Me, with a well-planned plot. This is how you art, right? RIGHT?

So back in Missouri (in A Bunch of Fives), if you remember correctly, Sin was chatting with randoms on the radio. He was changing his handle and being weird and Cowboy was noticing the ease with which he drops in and out of character.

Side note: Sin’s handles in that chapter, reflect his first 5ish kills in the book Hannibal Rising.

  • Butcher (Paul Momund) – Momund’s profession was a butcher
  • Sweet Cheeks (Enrikas Dortlich) – first willful cannibalization of cheeks
  • Looter (Zigmas Milko) – one of the looters to cannibalize Mischa
  • Shotgun (Mueller) – Hannibal shoots him in the chest with a shotgun
  • Acid Mouth (Vladis Grutas) – who was put on trial but walked due to a witness “having acid poured down her throat”

So back on I-55, Hero talks to Red Dragon as Butcher, and they resume their conversation about “Japanese women having sideways pussies”. That’s the exact nonsense that made Hannibal kill Momund in the first place if you all read Hannibal Rising. Momond insulted Hannibal’s Japanese aunt so Hannibal beat him with a frozen leg of lamb and then followed him out to a lake where Momund was fishing. Momund threatens to rape Hannibal (why?) who then guts him with a sword.

Thomas Harris was a maniacal madman when he wrote Hannibal Rising, but it is so much fun pulling this shit out and reusing it.

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Moving on … Butcher is back at it with Red Dragon on the CB, finishing their conversation, and Hopper’s disgusted by it (naturally) and snaps. I love this because it’s Hopper that calls him “one ugly bastard”. You would not believe how long I laughed at that. Days. DAYS. Mr. Empathy calling the cleft-affected Red Dragon an “ugly little pissant” who has to take Butcher’s sloppy seconds! God damn, I’m laughing like a little bitch right now because we all know where this is going!

Or … do we?

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“You better fucking run, Hopper.”

Can I get a high five for A+ usage of that gif?

But seriously, Butcher is playing with Red Dragon on the radio when Hopper gets pissy and instigates all this tension, and Butcher hands him the mic and says “do as you will”. OMG, I just can’t with these boys. It’s too much! I wasn’t even going to bring Red Dragon into this, and fuck, now I’m committed!

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So yadda, yadda, we get a few pieces of backstory …

“You, uh, you get along with your folks?” I ask. Tread lightly, Hop.

He snaps out of his daze and lights his smoke. “I did, somewhat,” he says before stopping.

“I’m betting that fruit’s a bit too high for me to reach, eh, Butch?”

He snickers and nods, taking a long drag. “I’ll say, my family didn’t deserve the hand they were dealt,” he sighs. “They fought a war on all fronts, and I’ll leave it at that.”

That reality hits me like a sack of bricks. He would have been maybe ten when the war broke out. “I, uh, … I’m sorry to hear that. We had the luxury of four thousand miles of water keeping us safe. Hell, you grew up on the front line.”

He slowly nods and presses his hand tight against his mouth as he inhales his smoke through his fingers. He’s holding back an avalanche of something, but I don’t have the heart to press it.

Why does this make me want to hug them both? *Sigh* Oh, because I know what happened to Butcher and you don’t. By the way, I gave him a backstory using pieces of Harris’ shitstorm (OMG, I’m sorry, Mr. Harris! I just feel like it wasn’t as good as your other work! I loved it though! Please don’t hate me!), but I twisted Harris’ origin story to make Hannibal a little less vengeful, though I may keep all the fart jokes. (Seriously, TH?! I love you, though.)

All the Johns Hopkins stuff was researched so Butcher could be a student surgeon in the 1950s. Hopkins was pioneering better hygiene in medical facilities at that time, so I mention that.

As for Hopper’s backstory, you don’t learn a lot but you do get the fact that a neighbor helped pay for his education. My mom is the one that actually yelled at me about his story. “How the hell did a poor Cajun boy go to college and have a car? That’s ridiculous!”

“But mom, it’s just what happened.”

“Well, it’s wrong.”

“What about the murdering and cannibalism?!”

“That’s a different kind of wrong. Anyone can kill, cut up, and eat a person. But no kid that poor would’ve gone to college and had a car.”

“But you did!”

“That was the 70s! Not the 50s!”

“Oh, shit; you’re right! Help!”

Then she helped me work out how this could all be possible. Bless you, my dear sweet mama who puts up with my Hannibal nonsense. (She whispers, “Do they have sex in your fiction?” And I lean in close and say, “Not really; you should totally read it.”)

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And then Will-Hopper-Rocket-Cowboy muses …

I’d been imagining him as a phantom – a creature that simply materialized one day in Detroit when I was having a breakdown over a cold breakfast. He’s felt as abstract as the shadow, and as surreal as the night we killed the mugger. You can slaughter a man alongside a monster; you can dine with a devil; hell, you can fuck a shadow, but you can’t open up to these creatures. The more pieces he gives me – the further back his timeline spreads – the more I’m forced to see him as a person with a face and a name, despite our ever-changing epithets.

My mind must have wandered too far away for too long, because he clears his throat. “Are you building another prison?” he asks, and my attention is drawn back into the truck.

“No,” I sigh. I was tearing one down.

My chest. Fuck. Every time. *gathers pieces of heart from the ground like nothing’s happening* I’m good … I’m fine … just don’t look at me!

Then we finally make it to Baton Rouge. I hope it doesn’t feel like it ends abruptly. I had to split the chapter due to the overwhelming length. Here’s Hopper’s house inspiration!

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Hop’s home isn’t that close to the woods though (you know, in it), but I thought you may be curious to see where I drew my descriptions. BTW, it’s for sale. It’s a gem, and also full of amazing opportunities to photoshop crime scenes!

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Beautiful hardwood floors and a free mattress with no obvious stains! Okay, some are obvious – still free.

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A bag! 

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Clean up after your murderous rampage in this cozy cottage kitchen!

I made another book reference, too. The bar his dad frequents, The Hateful Snake, was in Red Dragon,

The Hateful Snake bar was in a storefront with the windows painted dark green. The vehicles parked outside were an odd assortment, big trucks looking bob-tailed without their trailers, compact cars, a lilac convertible, old Dodges and Chevrolets crippled with high rear ends for the drag-strip look, four full-dress Harley-Davidsons.

Sound about right for a bar in Baton Rouge.

On a funny side note, did you guys notice how I kept making Hopper disgusted by all the shit his dad does that he, himself, does in the show? Of course you noticed – sleeping in his living room, fixing motors on the carpet, working on his the boat in the shed … I just thought it was fun.

And this:

Nothing looks different, except for the quantity of rubbish piled next to all the rusted boat trailers and cinder blocks.

Hopper wouldn’t have said rubbish. He’s American and would’ve most likely said trash or garbage. I made him say rubbish because I wanted to imagine Hugh in this role, accidentally slipping into his British accent for a second. Don’t judge me. This all literally plays in my head like a mini-series.

You know what I have yet to discuss? All my chapter titles. Do you guys know what “sowing dragon’s teeth” refers to? It’s an idiom that means to do something that inadvertently leads to trouble.

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Cadmus Sowing the Dragon’s Teeth by Peter Paul Rubens

The phrase refers to Cadmus, from Greek mythology, who killed a dragon and, on instructions from Athena, sowed its teeth. The soldiers that grew from the teeth fought each other until only five remained.

If you enjoy my writing, please consider dropping me a comment here or, if applicable, on AO3 or by supporting my hot beverage habit on Ko-fi. Thank you!

—joanielspeak
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