Nick Mamatas: Some Hells (for writers)


Nick says:

There are innumerable hells in which a writer can find himself or herself, and no heavens at all. Sick narcissists don’t deserve heaven, after all, and there’s a gateway to hell on every page someone might write. I suppose the following list can be seen as yet another set of “tips” or “writing advice”, but this list is not meant as advice. If anything, it is a map, created by a wide-ranging reader and often-frustrated teacher. Heaven is not on this map, and worse, it is the sort of map that needs to be read while still folded up as often writers exist simultaneously in several locations at once.

And now, some hells.


They get worse as they go.

The Hell of Sighs and Cringing is where many aspiring writers go. Their stories are all finger-wagging or unsophisticated revenge tales. Stop doing that, they hiss at the reader, but they are the ones who should stop. There is never a need for a story about the importance of fair-dealing, or that serves to make valid the claim that good fences make good neighbors, or that one should always be true in romantic relationships, or never molest children. These stories cannot persuade readers who love molesting children or cheating cashiers at the grocery store, and those readers who agree with these theme don’t need to read them. The road to this hell is a hope for a just universe, and perversely these very inadequate writers think that if the universe were just, they’d be its God. In the very depths of this hell some very experienced and acclaimed writers are frozen in ice, moaning that it is so unfair that the novel is superfluous to the culture. Let me tell you this, my child and my children: get down on your knees and thank Jesus that the novel is culturally superfluous, and that these monsters are encased in black glaciers of futility and uselessness forever.

The Hell With No Exit is definitionally inescapable—no hell is escapable, but this is the hell of failing to escape via escape. All fiction is “escapist” on some level—even weighty classics or experimental fiction promise escape from our personal problems (which lack thematic resonance and thus a sense of importance) and from the gray world of sense-making respectively. Writers are readers initially, and often especially enjoy the sense of escape reading offers. Their writing is designed to cultivate that escape…but writers cannot escape a prison any more than a live-in warden can. Even on vacation the warden is still thinking about his responsibilities back home. In the hell of escape, there is no escape. These writers obsess over their settings or characters, fetishizing them—making them ever stronger, which just makes the prison walls thicker. Attempting to get ones creations to approach some “reality” won’t allow a writer to escape into it as their work will never be real, and once in this hell they can never escape from it.

The Hell of Being Covered in Scar Tissue These writers can’t help but pick at their scabs—the injuries of early childhood, of their seminal (and semenal!) sexual experiences, or even (the poor dears) the trauma of memories of the first good books they ever read. Their writing is the expression of a grudge, and even lacks the social sanction of moral instruction. The grudge can never fade, the wounds never fully heal. The writers make sure of that, by raking their nails over their skin purposefully, in order to stay hurt and stay writing. In this hell, the scarring is truly permanent, as it can outlive the writer’s own flesh. Why do writers drink? Not to numb the pain of life, or of their special awareness—it’s anesthesia for daily self-administered anti-cosmetic surgery with rusty scalpels. Self-loathing is a powerful emotion; if you don’t start off as ugly and as fowl as you think you are, you’ll be sure to end up that way in this hell.

The Hell of Idiot Slavery is the home of many successful writers, especially those pre-occupied with story. The more sophisticated, but no more intelligent, denizens of his flaming hell may call it “Story” or “narrative”, but they all just mean the same thing: stuff happens so that readers can be happy. Dumb readers, usually. In this hell, there is only one story, and on some level everyone knows it—that’s why they speak of “the story” and not “stories.” Stephen King attempted to escape this hell once, but instead found himself shouting at a catering hall full of other authors during the National Book Awards as though addressing resentful high school students in a Maine classroom. What did he see in his hell that drove him so mad? Simple—he thought he was in another, better hell, picking his scabs, but he wasn’t. Story is like being chained to an oar, rowing a boat through a dead sea, only to one day realize that the drums have stopped, the overseer has abandoned ship, and the hold was always empty anyway, but you row on because you are still chained and there is nothing else to do except wait to starve. Then you recall that you had bought a passenger ticket and put the chains on your wrists and ankles yourself, for fun.

The Hell of Endless Vomit Here, you never eat, you only spew. The “food” is inserted anally, and roughly, on a continuous basis via some devilish and rubbery reverse-enema kit. Here are the writers of what used to be called “potboilers”, and also of instructional material, ten-dollar joke books (like this one), spam e-mail advertising copy, press releases for cigarette companies, scripts for industrial films about electroplating, and the like. Once, this was a higher hell, because sometimes the potboiler or instructional guide actually did pay enough to allow one to write one’s good novel. However, all hells are full to bursting now, and as supply goes up and demand stays constant price falls and so all those damned to this hell can do is plant themselves on a tubular rubber spike, open their mouths, and aim streams of projectile vomit at one another, forever. It’s all instructional guides, service journalism for tourists, and advertorials about boner pills. In the midst of the great plain of this hell, bombarded from every direction, are the writers whose writing-advice guides outsell their novels or poetry collections, and those to credit for some other writer’s superior career.

The Hell of Being Tossed off a Cliff Forever These poor writers didn’t even realize they were in hell until rough hands grabbed them, dragged them to the edge of the nice meadow in which they were having a picnic lunch with their agents and editors, and off they went. The cliff never ends, but the rocks and branches protruding from the cliff face get harder, sharper, and reach out to buffet limbs and bang heads. Though there is a constant rain of writers falling from the cliff and bouncing off the walls, every single writer thinks he’s the only one in this hell. This is the hell of former best-sellers, cult authors whose work has fallen out of print, writers who cobble together unsuccessful self-publishing schemes in the hope of looking productive for the sake of a community college job, and all those people who published one short story or article in a decent venue one time. The mere fact of having formerly published doesn’t bring one in to this hell; it’s the continuing to write, or the giving it up, that sends writers here.

The Hell of The Spike In the Head Thousands of pages, all useless and stupid. Beginner mistakes, ossified and valorized for years. Some decent reading material on the shelves, maybe, but nothing in the brain. It may take years of people in this hell to decide that they are “ready” to submit their work, or take a course, or show their friends, and the spike in the head throbs and burns. When they’re critiqued, it’s an attack, when they’re casually rejected, it’s a lie. Every writer is a sick narcissist, but these are the worst of the lot, untreatable and incorrigible. What they see in their “mind” just isn’t what is on the page. Writing is intuitive, but reading is supposedly an exercise in ruthless logic—they badger and browbeat and demand why why why they’re not any good, cite chapter and verse (and imaginary conversations) that explains why their stuff really really is good and makes perfect sense. But the world won’t listen. And worst of all, this hell is proof that Dante was wrong—one cannot descend or ascend. You may be in three hells, and you’ll always be in three hells, but there is no way out.



I Am Gripped By A Strange Sudden Passion…

Gary Burghoff stars in M*A*S*H

Gary Burghoff as Walter “Radar ” O’Reilly in MASH

… to write a MASH fanfic called “Radar’s Brother.” It would fit into a “Haunted WW2” collection monkey I’ve been thinking about for… sometime now.

Briefly: Radar’s older brother served in WW2. Whatever Radar’s latent psychic powers might have been, his brother’s powers were far greater. Quick tight short story. The government recognizes Radar’s brother’s abilities right away, and they use him in covert operations as a psychic throughout the course of 1939-1945. It has to end tragically with Radar’s brother’s death, and the government covers everything up. Radar and his family receive a letter, a medal, a flag. Radar idolized and loved his older brother. He is devastated. He never recovers from this loss. And this is why poor Walter O’Reilly is so twitchy and weird when he’s serving in Korea in MASH, wielding only a shrapnel of his brother’s power when he’d freeze and whisper, “Incoming.”


MASH was one of the first “adult” TV shows I was allowed to watch as a child, and I was instantly fascinated by the character of Radar. Yeah, we all love Hawkeye—whatever—but Radar was weird, man. He was a misfit, a man-boy with no “real world” experience, sweet and gullible to a fault. Also, he had extra exceptional hearing, or he was psychic. He knew when the choppers were coming in with wounded. “Incoming.”


“Just write it down, write it down now. Because you will forget it.” — Warren Ellis


This is Kirby: Galactus-Centric, My Son’s Graphic Education, and a Few Words from Stan Lee



All Hail The King. Happy Birthday, Mighty Jack Kirby.

My son is ten years old. He draws comics all the time, and he’s into everything. All the Marvel and DC characters, the ninja turtles, kaiju, all the shit that’s on the kid tv channels (some of which are actually very charming), but fuck me, time and again, when he finds an image online that he likes that is a Marvel character, nine times out of ten, man—


It’s Jack goddamn Kirby.

(And not just Galactus. I’m just using three images of the Big G to make graphic points. I’m into unity these days.)

When my son brings me an image he likes and it’s Kirby, I’m always delighted. I always take the time to trace and point out the visual elements of the picture, how it works—big, small, contrast, perspective, light, dark, etc—and he gets it. I see it in his work the next day.

In full disclosure, I should say I do NOT offer such detailed analysis to every comic image Damien shares with me. Example: If it’s Superman punching through a planet and it’s awesome and it’s drawn by Jim Lee, I’ll look at it and concur, “Awesome!” But I won’t talk about it the way I talk about Kirby.

This might be my son’s favorite Kirby image:


My son is ten years old. If he could paint the Mona Lisa, it would look like this. Two of his favorite characters in pitched battle with superb graphic design—look at that hand, man!

Rounding this out with a few words from STAN LEE, cribbed from Neil Gaiman’s Tumbler

Stan Lee, 1968:
 … And we talk it out. Lately, I’ve had Roy Thomas come in, and he sits and makes notes while we discuss it. Then he types them up which gives us a written synopsis. Originally-I have a little tape recorder-I had tried taping it, but then I found no one on staff has time to listen to the tape again later. But this way he makes notes, types it quickly, I get a carbon, the artist gets a carbon…so we don’t have to worry that we’ll forget what we’ve said. Then the artist goes home…or wherever he goes…and he draws the thing out, brings it back, and I put the copy in after he’s drawn the story based on the plot I’ve given him. Now this varies with the different artists. Some artists, of course, need a more detailed plot than others. Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean I’ll just say to Jack, ‘Let’s make the next villain be Dr. Doom’… or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it. He’s good at plots. I’m sure he’s a thousand times better than I. He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing… I may tell him he’s gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I’ll give him a plot, but we’re practically both the writers on the things. 

All Hail The King.


Rewind: Kemper Norton, “Helston Music Fayre 1994”

Helston Music Fayre 1994, from forthcoming ep “Lowender”

I can’t stop listening to this damn track. Download it for free and find more at Kemper’s site.

(Special thanks to Kemper and The 4am.)


My Short Story THE LAST STAR IN THE SKY is now available as a Kindle Single


No, it’s not “new,” but I thought making LAST STAR available at the dreaded evil amazon might grant this beloved little story a bit more exposure and longevity. The formatting is finally up to my standards, and it’s cheap, too! 99 cents. If you have a little one, or if you have a soft spot in your heart for the story logic of old fairy tales, I gently tilt my chin. Give it a spin. And tell your friends.

THE LAST STAR IN THE SKY by SIMON DRAX available at amazon




Yes, blue. Blue is the new red.

You might remember I mentioned that I’m writing a series of essays on Twin Peaks for a forthcoming anthology. I’ve written one essay, some sketches, but I’ve become overcome by a passion to spill all the brain cells I have left regarding everything I think and feel about the “start” and the “end” of Twin Peaks, FIRE WALK WITH ME. I already have 100,000 words in my head regarding this remarkable movie, but the more I thought about it I realized I should watch it again. Easier said than done. A beloved film, but I didn’t have a copy of it. Netflix has the entire series, but not FIRE WALK WITH ME. Had to buy a 10 dollar used copy. Watching, and making copious notes TONIGHT. And yes. Blue is totally right. More later.

The owls are flying.



Gloomy Psych Folk for a Monday Evening: Muscae Volitantes by Gyron V


It’s not dreamy and light. Song titles include Killing for SatanShepherd of the Owls, and A Blood-Red Rose of 49 Petals. There are echos of Leonard Cohen, The Smiths, Pink Floyd. Give it a spin.

 Muscae Volitantes by Gyron V


Anime 101, a draxian list for a friend, part 1 — MIGHTY ATOM

Others may disagree, but in my opinion anime really starts here:


I haven’t seen this since it was shown on American shores sometime after its run in Japan, when I was like three or four. It was a shock to revisit it today. So dark by today’s standards for children’s television, so surprisingly funny, violent, and inventive. It’s 26 minutes long. If you’re having a gloomy Saturday, I promise this will brighten your day. And oh man, I can’t wait to show this to my son.



I’m cutting and pasting this from BoingBoing because the art is just too beautiful—I want to hold it and stroke it and love it and name it George.

Art in the Infographic Age

Artists Tom Whalen and Kevin Tong break into the sophisticated, rapidly growing world of infographs with their exhibition, Info•Rama.

No one wants to read anything any more, or so I keep reading on the interwebs. Which is one reason why infographics have become the preferred method of delivering news and information for newspapers, magazines, and online-only publishers. In fact, data visualizations have been around since at least the Victorian Era, and savvy schoolteachers have long known that if they pair pictures with text in an engaging way, kids tend to pay attention.

Now two artists, Tom Whalen and Kevin Tong, have merged infographics with fine art in an exhibition called Info•Rama (August 23 – September 17, 2014) at the Phone Booth Gallery in Long Beach, California. Consisting of a dozen limited-edition screenprints, six by Whalen and six by Tong, the exhibition features colorful charts on leafcutter ants, an homage to the P-51D Mustang (“The most recognized and celebrated American fighter of the second World War”), the component parts of an Extravehicular Mobility Unity (we know this device as the spacesuit) and a diagram detailing Samurai armor worn in feudal Japan.

“Kevin reached out to me more than two years ago about the possibility of putting on a two-man show,” says Whalen of the show’s genesis. “We were both fans of each other’s work, and after a lot of spitballing, Kevin, who had just created an infographic-style poster for “Breaking Bad,” threw out the idea of a show full of infographics.”

The result is a dozen images on topics from technology to nature. “I worked on the octopus first,” Whalen recalls, “Kevin started with the leafcutter ants. We didn’t have a hard-and-fast list of subjects at the beginning, but my son is a train fanatic, so he was the inspiration for the transcontinental-railroad piece.”

With most of the printing handled by DL Screenprinting in Seattle (Ohdanielsan of Los Angeles printed Tong’s Spacesuit and Zeppelin prints), the series features small edition sizes (no more than 100) and dimensions from 12 inches tall by 36 inches wide (and vice versa) to the more standard 18-by-24. “As varied as they are, the sizes are all suited to standard off-the-shelf frames,” says Whalen. And while both artists would obviously be happy if some of their prints ended up on a few living-room walls, discounts are available to teacher who wants to use Whalen and Tong’s infographics in their classrooms.

Photo IDS:

Kevin Tong


Leafcutter Ants

12 x 36 inches

Ed: 60

Printer: DL ScreenprintingPrint

Nikola Tesla

12 x 36 inches

Ed: 100

Printer: DL ScreenprintingPrint


18 x 24 inches

Ed: 80

Printer: OhdanielsanPrint


18 x 24 inches

Ed: 80

Printer: Ohdanielsan

Tom Whalen Print


12 x 36 inches

Ed: 90

Printer: DL Screenprintinginfographics_P-51mustang_dev1

Transcontinental Railroad

36 x 12 inches

Ed: 80

Printer: DL Screenprintinginfographics_P-51mustang_dev1

P-51 Mustang

18 x 24 inches

Ed: 75

Printer: DL ScreenprintingPrint




12 x 36 inches

Ed: 100

Printer: DL Screenprinting


HEXES the sex and wicker special [NSFW]


Photo by Ellen Rogers


Sex is thrilling, liberating, and weird.


Woman in the Dunes, 1964, Full Movie

 TROY by Sinéad O’Connor

SIX FEET UNDER (David and Keith)

“TRAINING,” Girl on Girl Bondage

Featuring Fi and Chanta

And finally




Brilliant Wicker Man poster by Richard Wells

It can be found here


via @gfstudio

Dundrennan, Scotland, 1993


via @mrsdarkly

and finally


 a Doctor Who story treatment by Simon Drax

wicker dalek variant comp

Britain, 1142 AD. We begin in a torture chamber, mid-interrogation of a “witch/pagan,” a female follower of the mysterious “Iron God of the Wood.” Two characters are introduced: Witchfinder Koenig, a young man, cold and efficient but NOT cruel and sadistic: Koenig is almost clinical in his pursuit of “evil;” and Counsel Carter, also young, supposedly poly-sci but really a fool ruled and spooked by his own libido. The two men have been friends since childhood.

Carter and Koenig trade quick notes on the situation: the growing menace/fear of the Iron God Cult, as well as the ever-weirder habits of Lord Jagged [Koenig’s direct boss, Master of “West London,” and the story’s number 2 villain].

As Carter and Koenig focus on the interrogation of the witch, Carter is feebishly aroused by the witch’s torment, but Koenig just wants to get to the bottom of things, directing the torturer to continue the questions: “Who is your god?! What does he tell you, what does he say?!” The torture is ratcheted up, disturbing Carter and even causing the usually cool Koenig discomfit as the question is repeated, “What does he say?!” and the witch finally gasps, “He says…” she lifts her bloody face and it is horrifying. “The Iron God says EXTERMINATE!” An energy beam belches from her mouth and there is gore and death in the chamber! “EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!”

The TARDIS: The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith have a disagreement about the nature of fame, funny rapid-fire dialogue which escalates into a heated match: which of them will be more famous, the Doctor or Sarah? The match ends w/ the Doctor “winning” and Sarah going away in a huff. The Doctor feels bad. He goes to his [special] bookshelf to find something to cheer Sarah, and comes across something extraordinary: a book from Sarah’s future, a beautiful book w/ glowing reviews, etc, a book Sarah herself will write in just a few short years! How wonderful—

But the Doctor realizes the book shouldn’t exist. Something’s wrong.

He consults the timestream. Something is very wrong! There is a Dalek manifestation when and where one did not exist “previously” on pre-industrial Earth! [By “previously,” this story takes place after the events chronicled in Genesis of the Daleks wherein the Doctor failed to halt the birth of the Daleks yet managed to slow their progress by “at least a thousand years.”] But now—! Has the Doctor’s “failure” on Skaro somehow made matters even worse? This is a question that will haunt him throughout the story.

Oh, the Doctor is not pleased. He flies with wrath to the control console. “But what’s this?” Sarah plucks the book jutting sloppily from the Doctor’s pocket—her book. She is delighted, of course. “Take a good look,” the Doctor snarls, “by the time I’m finished, that book will never exist!” Sarah wails “But noooo!” as the Doctor throws the TARDIS in gear and they are bound for 12th century England.

London is a pit! Mud, rain, miserable. The Doctor fiercely drags Sarah along. She complains only a little; she has secreted her future book under her coat. Soon they are at the dungeon seen in the prologue [the doctor having traced the burst of Dalek emissions], and the Doctor demands to interview the Dalek Pagan Lady (who has supposedly been executed, and many whispered utterances are quickly offered to affirm this) so the Doctor has to settle for Carter and Koenig; words/threats/demands ensue between the Doctor and Koenig; the Doctor learns all he thinks he needs to know and has nearly word-danced Sarah and himself out the door but are stopped by the sudden arrival of Lord Jagged [statuesque, always in shadow, cloak, very Christopher Lee]. Straight away Jagged knows the Doctor is an enemy, “Search them!” Out comes Sarah’s book, the dealbreaker! (“I told you to leave that in the TARDIS.”) Jagged seizes the book and orders the Doctor and Sarah taken to some dreadful place, but there is a break for freedom, a fight/chase/fight culminating in the Doctor being hauled away and Sarah free, but alone. She knows she must rescue the Doctor—but she also wants her book.

Sarah navigates the scary streets to Lord Jagged’s looming tower. [At this point in the story it will have been firmly-hinted/established that Jagged is, A: somehow connected to The Iron God of the Wood, and B: involved with the disappearance of many persons (especially young women) from the village; and, C: He is evil and scary and bad]. Sarah befriends a grubby street urchin (who will very intentionally channel Billie Piper as Rose Taylor, so let’s call her Lilly); the girl promises Sarah a way into Jagged’s tower, and together they infiltrate the gloomy fortress.

But Lilly the street girl is a lure: it begins as a scary adventure in dark subterranean rooms, and initially Sarah trusts/feels for Lilly. Then Lilly turns weird. Increasingly strange in the dark. And they are not alone: Suddenly, the street girl has found her best friend, just behind the curtain! They embrace with laughter. White teeth. Sarah feels genuine creeps and attempts to abort, but just like that she’s surrounded by a cluster of street urchin teenagers ala Brides of Dracula (except it’s the 12th century—they are filthy and grubby and by no means ethereal) and they drag/drive Sarah up into the tower, through doors and up stairs, shrieking, laughing at her, pulling at her hair and her clothes and ripping them a little as they bind Sarah’s hands behind her back, driving her into Lord Jagged’s WICKER DALEK THRONE ROOM where Lord Jagged stands statuesque, Sarah’s book clutched in his hand, and behind him—THE DALEK!

Meanwhile, the Doctor is also a prisoner and facing a supposedly terrifying torturer. “For the last time, WOT is THIS?” Not the Sonic Screwdriver but a different gizmo, the “TARDIS-FETCH” gizmo, and there is fun w/ wordplay and gizmos for a bit: the Doctor torments the would-be tormentor by ridiculing him, mimicking his voice, making the big idiot cry, but the Doctor has no time for such nonsense! He knows this Jagged bloke is very bad news and a key player in the “Dalek Presence,” and he knows Koenig knows it, too. Koenig is torn: he has sworn allegiance to Jagged (etc), but at the end of the day Koenig wants to know what the hell is really going on—the truth, the big score. “I don’t believe in God, Doctor,” Koenig will say at some point, “but I would very much like to have a word with The Devil.” [Must also insert K’s “fear/appreciation” of the woods, the mysterious cult, the Iron God; it’s not just Lord Jagged.] Koenig needs answers. So boom, he springs the Doctor, who rather nastily retrieves his all of his gizmos from the leather-masked big baby. Koenig has a confession: he has secreted the Pagan Dalek Lady away, she still lives! Koenig will allow the Doctor to examine her, and off they go. “Oh, and there was a young woman with me…”

Quick inter-scene with spooky, minimum detail: Sarah, captive in Lord Jagged’s Wicker Dalek Throne Room, her blood and brain pulsing, waiting for the moment to attempt her escape/strike. There is the ominous and silent presence of the Dalek, which is lit from behind by a constant and flickering red glow. The vampiric ragamuffin Lilly coos and paws over the bound but defiant Sarah as the other “Brides” swirl about. And there is Sarah’s book. Jagged is mad for Sarah’s book! “Oh,” he breathes, whispering of vengeance and freedom, “Oh, the blood will flow!”

The Dalek shrieks, “THE-BLOOD-WILL-FLOW.”

Carter has kept watch over the Pagan Dalek Lady in the burned-out ruins of a castle by the sea. She is pretty much a zombie, head tilted, repeating The god says exterminate. The Doctor examines her. No higher brain function. Worse, she’s some kind of low-tech cyborg puppet. Koenig doesn’t believe it. The Doctor slices her open to prove it. Carter vomits. But there is no gore, no blood: the Pagan Dalek Lady’s internal organs are all shriveled, and there new bones fashioned from plant stems and pulleys and gears made of wood, batteries fueled by chloro-something-acid, all wonders pointed out by the Doctor to the fascinated Koenig while Carter is endlessly sick in the background. It’s weird tech, but the Doctor’s seen the basic bio-mech interface before—on Skaro! He snaps the Pagan Dalek Lady back together, zaps her with the sonic screwdriver. She shudders, marches off. “Basic function: return to point of origin (or something).” Soon she’s a shadow rapidly disappearing down the spooky tunnels of the ruined castle. The Doctor + K + C follow. Koenig knows where the tunnels will eventually lead: Lord Jagged’s tower.

Jagged’s eyes blaze. “Leave us,” he says to the vampire babes and they split, leaving Jagged to spin some scary shit for Sarah, some it bullshit, some of it truthful [“The Schism Manifest”], with the Dalek repeating certain scary words and phrases for emphasis in ALL CAPS but the whole time Sarah’s working her way free as Jagged leans in real close and creepy, he’s got Sarah’s Book open and he’s jabbing at a Dalek-centric illustration and just as he reaches a scary climax, BOOM, Sarah lets Jagged have it. The Dalek is silent during what should be a gripping sequence of “real violence.” Sarah wins! She dashes away, book in hand, as Jagged asserts loudly (to the reader, the vampire girls, the universe) that she will never escape the tower! And he must have that book!

“JA-RED…” says a distinctly different Dalek voice, and Jagged freezes.

Meanwhile, deep underground, the Doctor says, “But we’re already here!” to Koenig. “Why not confront this Jagged bastard now?” They are at the end of the tunnel, directly beneath Jagged’s tower. Koenig and Carter are about to lose their nerve, warning of Jagged’s strange powers, when the shit hits the fan, they are attacked by the vampire girls. The Doctor sidesteps the melee, letting the two buffoons deal with it [there can be a funny hiss/snarl fight w/ the Doctor defeating one of the vamps w/ the Sonic used as if the gizmo were a cross in a Hammer film], and the Doctor slips away, still following the Pagan Dalek Lady.

Throne Room: “JA-RED.” Jagged’s caught. He turns to the red glow behind the silent Dalek. It is the voice of The Iron God of the Wood, aka The Wicker Dalek, itself. It is elsewhere. [Important: the designation “Wicker Dalek” is never used at any time, it is always TIGOTW, and later, “the Dalek.”] Their dialogue will reflect their dynamic: Jagged has long been a thrall of the Wicker Dalek, he wishes to usurp him. But the Wicker Dalek is well aware of Jagged’s puny human ambitions! “YOUR BETRAYAL WAS PREDICTED! CALCULATED! COUNTER MEASURES HAVE BEEN ACTIVATED!”

Throughout London, dozens of people go “Urk!” and start to twitch. Folk are transformed into creatures similar to the Pagan Dalek Lady, and as a gathering mob, they advance on Lord Jagged’s tower. In the tunnel, the Pagan Dalek lady springs to life and tries to zap the Doctor. We see a glimpse of Koenig and Carter losing ground to the vampire girls. Sarah’s in total absolute blind darkness (faulty scary staircase), but the black of the Tower about her thunders with crazy voices far and near as the Wicker Dalek proclaims to Jagged that “All-will-fear-the-Iron-God-of-the-Wood-as-never-before, all-will-believe-that THE BLOOD WILL FLOW! BELIEF WILL BE THE FUEL AND THE SCHISM MANIFEST WILL CONSUME THIS PLANET!!!”

Sarah saves the Doctor from the PDL. “You found the Dalek? Before me?!” And from here until they are separated again (page 9 of this synopsis), it will be full-out Tom Baker as the Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith in high-form as these two old and ready friends trade notes [important lead-ins to later reveals: Jagged, Book, S’s doubts about the Dalek], they trade insults and even one or two laughs as they batter a path through the dark scary tower, a gallop that concludes with the big showdown in the throne room.

Vgrrrls + Lord Jagged are defeated/forced back. The horde of Dalek people are pounding, scratching on the locked doors of throne room, screaming EXTERMINATE and trying to gain egress any way they can (windows, walls, death beams shooting off, it’s total chaos). The Doctor descends on the silent black Dalek and rips it apart. It is rusted and rotted and empty. [Yes it is empty.]

This is your Iron God of the Wood!” the Doctor booms to everybody. “A puppet controlled by Jagged!” Some of Jagged’s secrets will be revealed, his ingenious manipulation of scavenged technology from the long dead Dalek (only partially correct) and the Doctor will go on for a bit about the folly of mankind’s love of superstition and fear; the Doctor thinks he’s won. He hasn’t.

“DOK-TOR,” says the Iron God, aka the Wicker Dalek, communicating via the previously unseen weird terminal, and it is a mirror or a pool, an arch perhaps, a “low-tech/ supernatural” device in the Throne Room. We “see” only a flickering image on the other side, a blur of trees.

The Wicker Dalek (i.e., the living organism that was once inside the Dalek armored carrier) is physically elsewhere, deep in its fortress of forest and shielded by thousands of worshipers. Jagged has served the Wicker Dalek for decades, providing a “big city” chapter of the cult of the Iron God where a steady stream of followers literally gave their Blood and Belief—which fuels the Wicker Dalek. It has been collecting human “belief” for centuries and converting it into a weirdo form of energy that will power a terrible weapon, The Schism Manifest, which the Wicker Dalek intends to use to destroy the Earth.

Jagged hisses at the Doctor, “Let us fight the Iron God together!” (Note: they do not. Jagged is a very bad man.) “The book,” he insists, “contains the secret!”

The terminal becomes a weapon. A giant flat beam blasts out, narrowly missing the Doctor, slices through the throne room wall, shoots across the London sky. More blasts. The terminal goes berserk with blasts of light, worse than a disco. They’ve got to get out of there. The Doctor summons the TARDIS w/ gizmo seen earlier but as the T materializes it is struck by a random beam and damaged. Doctor and Sarah jump inside but the Old Girl really didn’t like taking that hit: lights flash, the T is sick. No matter! The Doctor forces her to warp in ways she shouldn’t, because he has a fix on the exact physical coordinates of the Wicker Dalek, he’s found it, he’s going to kill it.

But the TARDIS is too damaged. It is struck again in “mid-flight,” either by Jagged’s tower, or by a new, direct assault from the Wicker Dalek itself, using a fraction of the Schism Manifest energy. Anyway, ZAP.

The TARDIS is ripped in half. Pieces literally fly apart across the sky. Sarah and the Doctor are separated. Dramatic exciting free-fall stuff, hundreds of feet up. Sarah’s book is torn in two.

We stick w/ Sarah following her ejection from the sundered TARDIS at a height of several hundred feet. She survives, but suffers a debilitating injury, a dislocated shoulder. Also, she’s been flung miles away across the countryside, landing deep in “pagan country,” w/ warring, roaming tribes. Without overdoing it, Sarah’s injury will add realistic gravitas to a few minimal but gripping pages of material similar to an episode of “I Survived” wherein the harsh realities of staying alive in the wilderness alone while hurt is revealed as (obviously) no picnic. Her frame of mind becomes understandably challenged. The Doctor’s dead, she’s going to die alone, she’s going to be eaten by animals, etc. On the verge of giving up, Sarah is found by members of a tribe at war with the Cult of the Iron God of the Wood. She understands their words! And she realizes that the Doctor must still be alive (the Time Lord’s gift of understanding all language) and this realization gives Sarah hope. A hunky member (Cameron) of the newcomers [whom we will call the Grey Elk Tribe, both names placeholders], forces her shoulder back into joint (ouch). There is debate as to what to do w/ Sarah— she fell from the sky (perhaps they saw the TARDIS explode a day or so earlier?). The Grey Elk folk aren’t sure how the pretty sky lady fits into the weird big picture, and as they are making war on the Iron God cult, they can’t take any chances. Sarah is forced to march with them as their prisoner. The Doctor is alive, Sarah tells herself; he will find her.

Of course the Doctor’s alive. But he thinks Sarah’s dead.

The Doctor easily survived his fall from the broken TARDIS, his long scarf barely aflutter. The Doctor lands not too far from civilization, i.e., London, where he reconnects w/ both Carter and Koenig. The situation w/ the horde of Dalek people has been resolved. No sign of Jagged, whose tower has been completely destroyed and fallen to rubble; Jagged is gone, presumed dead; yes, we will see him later.

But what does it matter?! The TARDIS is destroyed, and the Dalek he came to kill not only still lives but thrives in a way the Doctor could never have imagined: Earth is in dire, imminent danger! And Sarah—oh, Sarah Jane. He will deal with that grief soon enough. He has to kill the Dalek.

The Doctor: “I have gravely misjudged the situation, and now matters are worse. Deep in the woods, the Dalek has been worshiped as a deviant God for countless years, perhaps even centuries, and it has channeled that worship, stored it as a form of energy. Belief is power. And even now the Iron God’s power grows! [Koenig confirms that Iron God hysteria is at an all time high.] You see? Fear is belief. Belief is power. And the power of belief can split a world in half! Which is exactly what the Dalek intends to do!”

The Doctor knows there is an upcoming astronomical event, harmless but spectacular; rumors swirl of an über Iron God festival/orgy/ritual; the Doctor reckons the Dalek will capitalize on the sky-show to whip its followers into a frenzied climax! He’s extrapolating, but this gives the Doctor’s quest to find/kill the Dalek a deadline.

His tools/arms are not much. Screwdriver, a few other gizmos, a newly adopted impressive walking stick, and the first half of Sarah’s damn book. Koenig reminds the Doctor of the intensity of Jagged’s conviction that the book is somehow vital to defeating the Iron God. “Hmm. Yes,” the Doctor replies. Sarah’s once-beautiful book is, for the record, A Collection of Lesser Known Folk Tales of the British People. “I read it. Skimmed the second half, and indeed, there was a bit of nonsense that might very well be relevant to our predicament. I would very much like to read those pages again! Pity, that’s the part of the book that’s missing.” [The “relevant” part of Sarah’s Book will remain missing until the end.]

The Doctor embarks on his quest, and the inherent tropes will be played up w/out going crackers about it: the Doctor striding forth, kind of shaggy and beat up, big staff in hand, leading his charges into the dark forest. Along for the jaunt are Carter and Koenig and a gang of expendable footsoldiers (including a new supporting character, a young woman, a tracker/ranger hired by K). There will be traveling bits: on the trek the Doctor says, “No, we are not going to Stonehenge. Out of the question. No Stonehenge!” Time will pass (compressed; and it might be interesting to mirror the construction/pattern of Sarah’s hellish first days in the wilderness), and there will be minor adventures, all built around key sequences for this section of the story:

  • The Doctor finds various components of the broken TARDIS, each fragment a weirdo object of some kind, broken memories of shapes and vehicles (helicoptor, alien craft, crazy stuff) the poor old girl had once been. The Doctor collects each piece as he finds it, “compressing the file” on a molecular level and storing it in one of his gizmos.
  • We check in w/ Sarah, and via her hunky attentive captor we learn more about clans rising up against the Iron God; the difference of philosophies is touched upon; there is a nighttime raid by enemies on the Grey Elk camp; Sarah proves her worth.
  • As the Doctor marches, he will (seemingly unintentionally) raise an army of his own followers: folk he’s dazzled, folk who hate the Iron God of the Wood.

They sight the lair of the IGOTW. The Doctor and crew make plans to attack and infiltrate. Perhaps they even throw an initial “punch” then withdraw.

That night, The Doctor wakes to the sound of the Dalek calling him. He rises, follows the voice. It has all the markings of a dream sequence. It is not. The Doctor moves through the forest and is soon surrounded by legions, thousands of the Dalek’s followers (their appearance should be savage, unique), gathering out of the darkness in ever increasing numbers to peer at the Doctor as he passes, leading finally to…

The big reveal: “The Iron God of the Wood was not made iron; it was made of wood. Some stone too, but mostly wood.” The Wicker Dalek resembles the basic “Dalek model” except it is “rough hewn” and constructed of wood (see above) and it is approx five times bigger, the height of the trees, and it is really, really old. A verbal pissing match between the Doctor & the Dalek ensues. [They have a lot of ground to cover in the course of this conversation: the origin of the Wicker Dalek, how it became a figure of worship, the decay + failure of its original armored chassis and the how/why of its current wooden housing, the building of the Schism Manifest and the WD’s intention to set it off like a bomb and destroy all life on Earth.] Their conversation deploys the usual weapons of intent/philosophy/history; the Dalek really rubs the Doctor’s face in the reality of his situation—Time machine destroyed! Best human friend DEAD! Time Lords are pathetic, etc. The clincher: “YOU HAVE ALREADY LOST, DOCTOR! THE FUTURE HAS BEEN REVEALED!” The Wicker Dalek has seen the conclusion of Sarah’s damn book, witnessed through the com-portal w/ Jagged in the Throne Room! And the Dalek zaps the Doctor w/ a scary vision of inevitable defeat: flames, the Doctor screaming, pain, ruin. [The specific visual details will be seen again for showdown at the end, but with an additional conclusion, of course.] The Dalek gloats, sends the Doctor away; after all, it is not time to die, not yet. When the Doctor doesn’t split, the IGOTW followers pick him up and cart him back to his camp. The next day, the camp/fortress/lair of the IGOTW is just gone.


They find the biggest chunk of the TARDIS yet, the part containing the core. Cool visuals required. Yes, the Doctor can fix everything from here, but not easily and not quickly, it’s too messed up. And there is no sign of the second half of the book.

Then the mood begins to brighten, just a bit, not too much: the tracker reports that the woods are filled with loyal supporters of the Doctor, many clans strong. And Sarah is alive! [“One clan brings a strange lady who fell from the sky…”] The Doctor and Sarah are just on the verge of being reunited; so the mood isn’t so much “we’re going to win,” as one of cautious, refueled determination, perhaps there is a chance of victory—

When they are betrayed. By Koenig!

The Doctor is suddenly, shockingly laid low—by Lord Jagged!

For Koenig has met The Devil in the Woods, the Devil is Jagged, and Jagged has seen the future, because Jagged has the 2nd half of Sarah’s damn Book.

Koenig regrets betraying the Doc, but here the young witchfinder reveals his true nature: pragmatism. He’s hitched his wagon to the side that’s going to win: the future.

Captured, the Doctor spits venom and rains scorn at Jagged’s notion of the future, with his genetically engineered vampire babes (now hissing under their heavy cloaks and hoods, not liking the daylight at all, their skin bruised and mottled with sores and burns), and Jagged himself, patched together w/ some artificial apparatus following the injuries suffered in his tower—he’s pathetic, yet triumphant, as well as horrific: Jagged and his new goons are torturing and killing the Doctor’s immediate party (the Doctor’s big armies being a day’s travel behind them).

The following sequence should be brutal, scary, graphic. Jagged’s completely lost it, they are killing people left and right, and the Vampire chicks are lapping the blood up from the mud.

They kill Sarah’s hunky friend. They execute poor Carter. Boom, dead.

And the big celestial event is fast approaching. Jagged’s a fool and screwing everything up; the Wicker Dalek will destroy the planet.

Desperate, the Doctor cunningly tricks Jagged into a duel of some sort, a challenge. (The bait TBD, something Jagged can’t resist). He accepts the Doctor’s challenge, ups the ante w/ something really dreadful—Sarah’s life will hang in the balance, and if the Doctor loses, her death will be MEGA dreadful. Anyway, the challenge/duel is very physical and taxing and scary—perhaps with strange weapons or tech—the Doctor nearly loses but he does not, he comes from behind to win it like Rocky. [Perhaps Koenig intervenes/assists? Chance of redemption?] Triumphant and bloody, the Doctor drags the defeated Jagged close and he breathes, “I know I will truly lose Sarah, someday. But not today.” Pause. “Not after the day I’ve had.” BAM!

With Jagged defeated (finally) and both halves of the damn book in his possession, the Doctor gives the second part a careful read.

He is nonplussed!

“What is it, Doctor?!’

“It would appear that I must die!”

The Doctor goes to face the Wicker Dalek and its legions of crazed believers—so many thousands they cover the horizon! It’s twilight, and weird colors are swirling across the sky, the big event is starting. A hush falls over everything, the trees, the land.

The giant wooden Dalek looms above the Doctor. They fight first with insults. “MY FOLLOWERS FEAR ME FAR MORE THAN YOUR FOLLOWERS LOVE YOU,” etc, and views are exchanged regarding the truth about human nature (a personal favorite of this author’s), as well as “belief” and “the future.”

“Oh, I believe in the future!” the Doctor cries, “but this” he holds up the book “is not the future!” He scoffs. “The details of the future, written down in a book, pre-posterous!” And he appears to torch the book, very dramatic. Shock ripples across the Dalek followers, as the book carried very real street cred. “IT MATTERS NOT!” the Wicker Dalek booms. “OBSERVE!” And the sky starts its super big show, it’s time! A big column of light shoots down from above, blasts the Doctor, he’s on fire! He screams. The crowd goes wild!


The sky rumbles! The whine of the Schism Manifest begins!

But it is really a lightshow concocted by the Doctor, utilizing harmless particles and streams and stardust from the very real astronomical event. He needs to swing the barometers of belief in his favor, he needs thousands of witnesses to see him as “the Wise Man, the Doctor” die in battle against his foe, the Iron God of the Wood, die in a blaze of fire—then rise again. In victory.

The whine of the big Schism Manifest machine reaches a crescendo then fades, replaced by a new roar, the thunder of the Doctor’s army, rising out of the hills behind him, as the Doctor stands and gives the signal to attack.

“Your followers might fear you more than mine love me—but my ARMY is BIGGER than YOURS.”

There is the clash of bodies and armor and swords and such. Perhaps the Doctor fights his way to the Dalek, perhaps he smashes his way inside the ancient wooden mechanism and tears out the living Dalek lifeform itself; perhaps final words are spoken before the Doctor crushes the sad creature to a pulp with his bare hands.

 Or perhaps he tries to save it. And perhaps we’ll never know. Because those big fight scenes with thousands of combatants? All sorts of things can happen.

But however the above elements are arranged and sequenced, it ends with the Wicker Dalek defeated, it ends with this visual: the giant wooden structure of the Wicker Dalek on fire against the sky.

There will be an epilogue with the Doctor and Sarah, both parts of her battered book on her lap. [He torched a fake, so easy, yet so potent, even the Dalek probably bought it.] The Doctor couldn’t destroy Sarah’s book. Not after all that.

“That damn book,” the Doctor will rumble. “You know, when I found it, I meant to show it to you as a way to make you happy.”

“I am happy,” Sarah will tell him. “It’s still a beautiful book, and I’m happy I’ll write it.”

 The epilogue will serve as a chance to answer any lingering questions if they need answering, as well the secret of the chapter that had Jagged and the Dalek so excited… an essay about a myth that went missing, a myth about the wise mage who defeated a false god, and how all records of that myth seems to have been systematically erased. As if someone had a time machine, plucking all trace of the story from history. “Hmm. Imagine,” the Doctor will grunt. So there is a chapter in Sarah’s book that attempts to reconstruct the myth, with drawings and woodcuts, which led Jagged and the Dalek to form excitable but inaccurate conclusions.

 The epilogue will also (ideally, quickly and elegantly) allow the Doctor some interior brooding as he repairs the TARDIS, questioning the forces that drove him, obsessing about the corners he cut, the way he cheated, how he manipulated many persons to spill their blood for his cause. He comes to no conclusions, of course. But he will think about it. He can’t help it; he steals tech and ideas from the trashed Wicker Dalek in order to rebuild the TARDIS.

But not too much hand wringing, though.

The real swell of the epilogue is to have the Doctor and Sarah sitting together, enjoying the other’s company. They will revisit their thoughts on the nature of fame, “Who will be more famous?” Myth and legend has some new resonance, now, the persistence of ego, of vanity, and that which survives.


Ah, what the Hell. Happy Sunday, kids


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