With a name like Gideon Ernest (the surname need not be mentioned here), he would either turn out to be a wimp or a ladies’ man. There could be no middle ground; that much we know and we’re sure of. That he was small of stature placed him firmly, by the hand of the all-powerful author, in the camp of the former, where all the kids prefer to stay inside on hot summer days, in the air conditioning. It’s safer. The big bad world outside occasionally jumps up to bite you, unlike the softly upholstered innards of the prototypical suburban house.
But appearances can be deceiving. Good authors know this; that’s why we put characters like Gideon Ernest into the word processor and hit frappe.
Gideon Ernest, for instance, may have looked like a dweeb, he may have tipped the scales at just over a hundred and twenty pounds wearing his birth control glasses and his trademark white button-down shirt and black polyester trousers…but he was a killer.
They say clothes make the man. But a real man makes his clothes do whatever the hell he tells them to do, even if it means broadcasting a certain image that doesn’t quite line up with the truth. In Gideon Ernest’s case, he had a reason for looking like a total nerd. And for working at the local Seven Eleven hawking Slurpees from noon to night. It is a reason no one will see coming.
Appearances can be deceiving. We’ve said that before. But that was precisely why he had been written into life: to confuse the crap out of the reader for as long as possible.
Because that’s what good writing means.
Take this, for instance: Gideon Ernest walks to work on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and sometimes Sundays. Why? Because he’s selling you something. You the reader may think he’s selling you pseudo-cute nerdiness and the occasional chilled beverage or Slim Jim. You may even snap into all that. But what he’s really selling as he walks innocently into the Seven Eleven for the millionth time is the idea that he’s just your average innocent pantywaist. Mister milquetoast is selling you the idea that his shirttails are connected to his white cotton sock tops by way of elasticated stocking garters that keep everything just so. It’s a uniform he wears. It’s always the same, day in and day out. Why? So that authors can deceive readers so thoroughly that eventually the readers are so taken with the ruse that they actually want to be deceived.
The change occurs. It begins skillfully, so that the reader does not perceive its germination. A customer, one of the regulars, is at the Slurpee kiosk, self-servicing sloppily, getting some Coca-Cola flavored slush all over the machine, and it drips onto the floor. This sort of thing has happened millions of times before. This selfsame customer has also, many a time, strolled right up to the register and then held up the line by ordering a different brand of cigarettes, preferably ones that Gideon Ernest has to search for, each and every time. But today, the customer suddenly remembers that he wanted to buy five different kinds of Lottery tickets, insisting on paying in cash—using all his loose change. Most of it is nickels and pennies.
And when that happens…
Gideon Ernest turns out to be Billy Badass. He appears to be a freak of modern science. His white button-down shirt begins to rip asunder, revealing mountainous slabs of tanned and bulging muscle. His polyester trousers were designed to have “a little give” in the seat and thighs, and God knows as Gideon Ernest his body never availed itself of such a textilic engineering marvel, but as Billy Badass the fabric begins to show signs of strain. Indeed, as the metamorphosis progresses, the trousers inexplicably shed their lower extremities, now appearing to be a sort of beachcomber gentleman’s capri, complete with jagged hems just at the top of his now bulging and shapely calves.
His glasses remove themselves from his face as his rapidly growing—and tanning—body rips his white shirt into miniscule shreds that fall away and disappear without a trace. The glasses, having barely escaped their own kind of doom, now transform into a shiny black male robot hawk. The hawk cock swoops around the room shrieking its fury at the various convenience store patrons, wide-eyed customers holding Twinkies, bad coffee, useless newspapers, and the odd half case of piss water domestic beer. The mechanized black bird returns to its master’s now prodigiously wide shoulders, spreads its wings, lowers its head, and shrieks once more.
Billy is now fully manifest, an awesome replica of the perfect Tom Selleck moustache now perched upon his upper lip. Billy Badass then reaches beneath the counter for what one can only assume will be the sawed-off 12-gauge. But ah, dear reader, thou dost assume too much. The author is still ahead of you by a mile, and this will be a cliché of an entirely different sort. From under the mild and unassuming Seven Eleven counter, Billy Badass, purveyor of fine low-cost dessert wines and certain smutty periodical publications, produces a gleaming custom made masterpiece of weaponry.
At least five feet long, as much for the visual effect as anything when this story goes to print as a graphic novel, his weapon is a Gatling gun with five barrels, already rotating with electric whir, ready to fire, fed with belted ammo. Only the ammo, naturally, isn’t ammo. No, to satisfy certain requirements for irony, the belts that feed this monster are linked to the change drawer in the cash register.
Billy Badass, who is now incidentally glistening with sweat and covered with grime from the pyrotechnic explosions that just went off in the cigarette case overhead, stands under a shower of sparks and winking fluorescent lights as he lowers the pentapotent muzzle of the weapon into the face of the regular customer.
Again, the reader expects Billy Badass to speak his lines a certain way by now, now that the author has established certain cliché criteria. But that’s where dear reader is wrong again.
You see, Billy Badass isn’t a man at all, and the robot cock isn’t what, certainly by now, you’ve assumed, is a sidekick. No, in fact, the ungainly eyeglasses-cum-transforming bird is the master, and Gideon Ernest-cum-Billy Badass is his wee little pet. Therefore, when he speaks, the language is garbled and unintelligible by all but the most rabid fan of Battlestar Galactica.
And all of it conspires to produce the Everest of accomplishment for any author: the moment when the reader says, “Whoa. Didn’t see that one coming.”
And then Billy, formerly Gideon Ernest of the Seven Eleven and now robo-puppet of the Cylon master race, speaks, his finger on the trigger of his Gatling money gun, his handy autotranslator dipping into the dank commonness of the English language of the Earthlings: His voice gnarled and metallic, his says with extreme prejudice, “Keep the change!”
We hear the ratatattat, we see the offending customer blasted by spare quarters and pennies, jerked up and back off his feet into the Hostess pies display case, everybody else dives to one side, Billy is standing there like Rambo blasting everything with his five foot long gun, holding it with one arm, screaming in rage. The robo hawk takes flight just as the ceiling gives way under a massive fireball caused by a supersonic dime slicing through an exposed gas main, and the whole place goes up in flames.
The robo hawk flies away to its mountain lair.
A new plan will soon be hatched.
And Book II will be out soon. This is how it’s done.