LX Commentary #23: So Much Better

After reading the slapsticky, Monkees / SNL sketch inspired first draft, my longtime first reader / editorial voice of reason Jon Mack commented on sections that were “witty banter for the sake of witty banter.” It was fair criticism that got me thinking if there was a way to have witty banter with a purpose.

I landed on an idea of two characters defeating a villain by annoying him to death, with earlier scenes planted like Chekhov’s non-sequiturs. Interesting in concept, but not the most flattering way to pay tribute to your favorite musician as the star of an album oriented fan fiction project. That fact bothered me for a few drafts—especially when a release date was set and the project got real.

Writer’s block? All you need is love in the key of animals and the music from big pink.

One day I sat on my couch, taking a break from recording a rough audiobook version Benji would listen to before giving his final approval. The full Benji Hughes catalogue was playing on shuffle. My eyes landed on a framed print of Nancy Prator Hollinghurst’s watercolor portrait of Benji used for the Songs in the Key of Animals album cover. Beside it hung a lyrical Beatles quote exclaiming “All You Need Is Love.” On the stereo Benji sang about love. I wondered how many times the word love appeared on A Love Extreme. The little Songstress in my brain reminded me that the greatest songs were written about love. It took a real long time for me to figure out, but in that moment I understood the way the greatest songwriter you’ve never heard of defeats a music hating tyrant known as King Evilon is to WRITE A BUNCH OF AWESOME SONGS. DUH!!!!

Draft version of the back cover, with one lyric per chapter and Benji’s hair from the cover of A Love Extreme visible on the poorly edited L.

Invigorated, I dug up the draft versions of the lyrical collage from the back cover artwork. I also spelunked my archives of interviews to find quotes on Benji’s songwriting process. It only amounted to 4ish new paragraphs, but it made the climactic scene—say it with me—so much better.

Another referential goal of this chapter was to have it overlap with All You’ve Got To Do Is Fall In Love as a tribute to the time I saw Benji Hughes try to play both “So Much Better” and “All You’ve Got To Do Is Fall In Love” simultaneously during his month-long Largo residency back in 2010. (With Jackson Browne singing the former!)

As long as we had a card game (“You could end up winning all my money playing cards…“) and an overlap with a previous chapter, I figured I might as well get cheeky with an overlap to a previous book.

“Seeing the maid of honor reminded me of the Hearts tournament” is the opening line to Chapter 13 of Timely Persuasion. 13 years later it’s the second line to Chapter 23 of L Extreme. Originally included to amuse beta readers (and see if they were paying attention…), I decided to keep it after a couple of readers unfamiliar with TP dug “Stop me if you’ve heard this one before” as a chapter opener.

To pay tribute to the overlapping live songs, the gang literally goes back to the scene at the end of All You’ve Got to Do. They arrive just as that chapter ends, paying off the closing line that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense initially. 

“She dreamed of the arrival of her knight, but slept through the arrival of a king and his army of card playing companions.”

Speaking of not making a whole lot of sense, on the surface this little time travel interlude sending everyone (including C & Frank!) back into Jessica’s body as inhabited by Heartman & Songstress is a head scratcher. Story-wise, it shows another aspect of how powerful Evilon’s magic is while providing another hint at the ending of the book hidden in plain sight. Hopefully it’s so much better when you figure it out…

Tidbits:

  • According to Marlowe’s manuscript analysis at AuthorAI, the longest sentence in the whole book is Benji’s recap here. “Just like I described in the true story of how L and I met that you didn’t believe even though my telling you at all was a risky move that triggered a contractual breach and caused you to lose your memory and your nickname and is now culminating in a showdown with an evil king to determine the ultimate fate of our souls.” Not a bad summary.
  • She Vannihilated that L!
    I tried to coin a better term than “in a Vanna White fashion” to describe Benji’s arm motion, but couldn’t write or say “Vannihilated” with a straight face.
  • “Or the popular bowling movie someone else narrated” is all the more amusing imagining it read aloud by Jeff Bridges in his LILILIL narrator voice.
  • Had a Mandela Effect moment while writing and editing this chapter. I swear the queen of spades is called the Black Mariah with an H, but it seems that’s a character unrelated to the card game. (Or just a common mistake.)
  • Frank says he and Evilon “once had an allegiance, but no longer.” The backstory I had in mind was all of LILILILwhich technically happen after the events of L Extreme, but since the future is behind us and the past is all we can see that’s what Frank is referring to. (Do we call that frontstory?)
  • “We both seek the same thing. We just see it from different rooms.” is a quote from my favorite song off Spirit Guide, the Benji Hughes album disguised as a 47 minute single. I refer to that track as “Forces” even though an official title isn’t listed.
  • LOVE IN THE MAGICAL MUSICAL MASTER STAR
    Can you find the sentence? We don’t think you’ll figure out what it’s really all about. (Hint: One letter needs to be flipped upside down.)
    You really can rip up Frank’s business card and use the letters to spell LOVE IZ MUZIC, EVILON HATES MUSIC, and a few other things—including a sentence that uses every letter.
  • The word “love” appears in the lyrics to A Love Extreme 51 times. (70 if you count derivatives like lovely or lovers). “He used the word love fifty-one times, beating rhymin’ Simon at his own game.” (52 if you count the album title, inspiring the 52 pickup ending to the card game.)
  • Speaking of Paul Simon, I couldn’t resist calling back to the earlier Paul Simon joke while giving my wife one more jab about our “Paul Simon isn’t great late night driving music” debate from years ago. Stop me if you’re heard this one…
  • More Frankenstein quotes from the public domain for Frank to use: “Happy and beloved as I have been, is it not hard to quit you all? This was then the reward of my benevolence.”
  • Originally “Evilon was evigone” was the chapter ending line. But as the next chapter evolved, it made more sense to shuffle some of that intro into this outro.
  • C accepted the book and the pen. “I’m only allowed to write on one page? What if I wanted to write on a few pages. Maybe in the corners?”
    I imagine Frank’s diary looking similar to the book from The Neverending Story, replacing the auryn amulet on the cover with one of the chocolate unicorn rocket ship coins. The coin I made up, inspired by the line “If you were a rocket ship, where do you think you’d fly?” from “Why Can’t You Be Happy?” mashed up with “And a unicorn chasing rainbows” from “Zebra.”
  • If forced to choose, I’d probably pick “You can write this in your diary love: It’s who you are, not who you try to be” as my favorite Benji Hughes lyric. In the paperback, my wife supplied the handwriting for this line.
  • Also in the paperback, I used my own handwriting to number the pages—playing the role of C for a final meta laugh. (Ebooks are cool, but physical copies can add another level with fonts and illustrations ebooks aren’t quite ready for.)

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