The City of Smoke & Mirrors Writer Commentary (Part 3 of 3)

armadillofc

The final product. Cover design by Sean Ali.

And here we go. Finally. The third and final writer commentary on my first novel, The City of Smoke & Mirrors. I’ll be honest here, folks: I’m brutally self-critical about these chapters. Particularly this book’s ending. Looking back, I hate it. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself. See for yourself when you get to my commentary on Chapters 30 & 31.

As before, a fair warning. I’m diving deep into spoiler territory here. If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend doing so before reading this commentary.

This last time, I’m commentating on Chapters 21-33.

Chapter 21: Harvest Clues

-The chapter title references the Harvest Blues Festival in Fredericton. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never attended. Every year, I’d mean to, and then it’d come and go before I realized it. Usually, I was too busy with work and forgot to book the time off.

-In my head, the covered bridge Dill drives through is the same one in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice.

-Here we really see Dill’s nose go to work. My research has essentially turned me into an armchair expert on armadillos. I scoured the internet for any and every fact I could on armadillos. I contacted some experts on the little critters, including William Loughry and Mariella Suprerina. They answered many silly questions, like whether a carapace of Dill’s size could stop a bullet (it can’t). In this case, I learned that armadillos can smell up to 20cm below the ground. Given his size, I figured Dill’s sense of smell is better than that. I mention here that armadillos can smell bugs six feet underground and that’s a vast overstatement. If I’d written it today, I’d have made it clearer that Dill might be able to. On a good day. If he’s not smoking.

-Originally, Alana stayed in the car. I realized it’d be more dramatic to have her out of it. So I came up with the excuse that she had spare clothes in the trunk. Maybe a cheap out, but it worked, right?

-Dill unearths Uncle Emillo’s skull, along with a gold tooth. He wasn’t named at the time, but Emillo made a cameo in a picture back in Chapter 15, when Dill was investigating Alana’s office. Little hints like that were usually written after the fact. I needed some way for Alana to identify the skull and the gold tooth seemed right for a mobster. So I threw it in here, then added the clue to Chapter 15.

-In retrospect, I’m a little unsatisfied that Dill finds The Daymaker just lying around. He should’ve done more to earn it somehow. Then again, maybe that would’ve felt too video game-like. Heh, even as I was writing the part where he opened the box containing The Daymaker, in my head, I was hearing Zelda’s theme for opening treasure chests.

-Heh, when I was writing the part where he opened the box containing The Daymaker, in my head, I was hearing Zelda’s theme for opening treasure chests.

-Fortunately, one of the first things he gets to do right after is use it. Again, in retrospect, I could’ve made it funnier that he was shooting again. Like he’d gone through withdrawal or something. Then again, I guess he’s kinda busy here.

-Some people were pissed when Mickey got hurt. So was I! I love animals, especially cats and dogs. But we were two thirds of the way through the book and the stakes had to be raised. Sorry, Mick.

-The third and final of Don Komodo’s goons – Eli Jones – makes an appearance. I’ll talk more about Don Komodo’s creation in Chapter 28. Eli’s a carryover from my tabletop wrestling role-playing days. As I said earlier in the commentary, I think the book is too crowded and Eli’s another that shows that. At this point, Dill should’ve run into more Buzzard security or maybe The Buzzard himself (or someone that works for him). Introducing Eli this late into the game when the focus should’ve been on The Buzzard was a bad call.

-Still, it did showcase that Dill’s world is still populated with some superpowered folk. That Eli can take The Daymaker in the face (and knee) with only a stumble shows that. And you know…throwing a tractor. At some point, I’d like to a whole book focused on Eli, his powers, and his connection with Don Komodo.

Chapter 22: Return to Nevermore Bay

-The title pays homage to the Ninja Turtles story “Return to New York,” which has been used several times in their history. Originally, it was the comic book story where the Turtles return to New York after The Shredder defeated them and they spent time on April’s farm. The story was adapted several times, including the first live-action movie. After spending time on a farm (though nowhere near as relaxing), it seemed like an appropriate chapter title for Dill.

-As I mentioned earlier, Cattie’s character was merged with the veterinarian Dill and Tony meet in the hospital, along with a vet Dill would have met here. She was one of Tony’s exes. In a move I should’ve done more in this book, I merged characters to simply things.

teenagemutantninjaturtles-themovie1990dvdrip-axxo1863_zps8ce4af70

Definitely Tony on the right. Maybe Julianne Moore, after all, since Cattie’s an older woman.

-In my head, Cattie is played by either Julianne Moore or Judith Hoag (April from the 1990 Ninja Turtles movie). Oh, and I always pictured Tony Castillo played by Elias Koteas from his Casey Jones role in the same Turtles movie.

-Ugh, I used the phrase “deer in headlights” in the last chapter, too. Way to overuse the idiom, Piers. You hack.

-It kind of became a running joke that many chapters ended with Dill getting knocked out. That gag carried into the next book, too. Not sure when I’ll get tired of the gag, because let’s be honest: Dill getting knocked out is hilarious. Still, he actually got to sleep of his own volition for a change, this time.

Chapter 23: Signalling out the Commish

-It wouldn’t be a proper Batman homage if I didn’t have at least one rooftop scene with the “Bat” signal, right?

-I threw one hell of a curveball with this scene. My friend Kyle was screaming at me, “Who?! Who the hell is it if it isn’t O’Neil?! All his officers are there, too! Who is The Buzzard?!” It’s incredibly satisfying, as a writer, getting that reaction to the mystery I was weaving.

batman-returns-bat-wings-e1375149203379-I imagined The Buzzard standing on the rooftop, wings outstretched, just like Batman in Batman Returns.

-Getting shot square in the chest with The Daymaker should’ve killed The Buzzard, I think. Even with his armour, I don’t think it would’ve stopped the firing power of a .44 Anaconda Magnum.

-It’s a little weird and too convenient Dill already knew the address. Sloppy.

Chapter 24: Reaching Out

-This chapter was meant to be something of a breather before the main event. I think it works okay, but it’s honestly largely unnecessary. It sets up some things for later, like the FBI crashing the party, but I think it all could’ve been cut without losing much.

-The pearls became something of an afterthought with everything else going on. In retrospect, I think they complicate the story more than needed. Not sure what I’d do, but I’d figure a way of getting Dill to Nevermore without them. Gloria Charbar didn’t really play much a role in the big picture, either. At one point, I considered the whole thing to be a set up by Don Komodo, and Gloria was in fact, his new wife. But it felt below Komodo to be together with anyone like that.

-And again, the whole Alana/Reggie/Paul love triangle was handled pretty sloppily. I really was juggling way too much for a short book.

page-ras-03-Aside from being a doting father, I’m still getting a handle on Dill’s dad. He’ll eventually make a full appearance, I promise. One little tidbit: I imagine Dill’s father played by Dileep Rao, known for roles in movies like Inception, Avatar, and Drag Me to Hell.

-The bit with his father demanding Dill say “I love you” rather than “love you” came from my girlfriend at the time. It was kind of weird, but I indulged it. Her explanation mirrored Dill’s dad’s explanation.

Chapter 25: Bulk Warehouse Threat

-Warehouse #27 is, of course, another reference to Detective Comics #27, featuring Batman’s first appearance.

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My armadillo bible, basically.

-“My night peepers kicked in.” Fun fact I learned after this: an armadillo’s vision is actually really lousy. As William Loughry & Colleen McDonough says in their book, The Nine-Banded Armadillo: A Natural History, “It seems likely that armadillos experience their world visually as consisting mostly of blurry shadows. So night vision might not be a “super power” for Dill, after all. In fact, I’m considering giving him glasses in a future book. He’d hate every second of that, so it’d be hilarious. It’s still something in the works for now, though.

Big spoilers are coming for next few points, including the identity of The Buzzard. If you haven’t read the book by now, this is your last warning:

-While brainstorming a good first story for Dill, I posted a joke on Facebook: “Clark Kent can’t be Superman! Clark Kent’s just some country bumpkin!” My fellow nerdy friends joined in with similar comments on other superheroes. I chimed in again with, “Batman’s just a myth put on by the Gotham police department!” I suddenly thought: huh…what if he was just a myth? What if there were a dozen different officers that dressed up like that? I considered a flying bird of prey creature that hadn’t already been taken by superheroes or villains, I finally thought of The Buzzard! Well hot damn, I had me a plot.

-I don’t know if anyone caught it, but I tried distinguishing the officer’s personalities through their actions and dialogue. They weren’t very deep characters, and since there were so many of them, it was rather tricky. Another problem with trying to juggle so many characters in one book.

-Why the hell didn’t The Buzzards have a better security system in the Aviary? Dill just steps through a side door? Bah. They would’ve thought of that.

-If I’d focused more on The Buzzard and take out Komodo, the pearls, etc, I would’ve had more appearances or references to internal affairs.

-Originally, I’d written it that The Buzzards snuck up on Dill without explanation. My girlfriend pointed out that Dill’s nose would probably pick them up. She was right. Fortunately, Dill’s a type-A personality who gets lost in thought. So that’s how I wrote it.

-Even though I hint throughout the book, I feel like this chapter is kind of an info dump on The Buzzard army. Dill sort of stumbles into it and they reveal their plans. The Buzzards are kinda dumb, aren’t they? I didn’t intend them to be this dumb or sloppy.

-And then O’Neil calls? Man, they are dumb.

-When I imagined this scene, the first thing I thought of was Dill leaping and crashing through the skylight. Still not sure if the logistics work out, but screw it. It’s a story about a mutant armadillo. I can get away with a little theatrics.

-Really not sure how Dill manages to do such a leap, let along run away, with a broken ankle. It’s like an injury that only appears when it’s convenient.

-“You son of a labradoodle.” I hate this lame insult, but it was the best I could think of. Then again, maybe it adds something to Dill’s character: sometimes, those one-liners are crap and even he knows it. This comes up again in The Dame was a Tad Polish, when he’s put on the spot.

Chapter 26: Beat Feet, Dill!

And we see some Buzzards are outfitted with wing-suits. This really came out of nowhere, didn’t it? If I’d written it now, I probably would’ve introduced them sooner. Like, say, when Dill was escaping the farm.

-Even though I do like the action in this, it kind of makes The Buzzards look like idiots who can’t handle one guy. Then again, they likely aren’t used to working together in such a large number all at once.

-Huh. Darwyn Dini was paralyzed, but not killed. Which means he wouldn’t be present at the big confrontation in O’Neil’s office, right? Well, that’s interesting. Excuse me. I need to make a note somewhere.

Chapter 27: Good Evening, Commissioner

-Obviously, the chapter title plays on Batman’s visits with Commissioner Gordon.

-You have no idea how satisfying it was to write, “Siddown, Gordie.” I’d be been wanting to write this confrontation through the whole damn book.

-Dillo Roulette was fun to play with here. As I said earlier, you’d see Dill’s other interrogation techniques. This one’s definitely one of his more extreme methods.

-Dill takes a real beating here. I was partly inspired by the beating the Old Town girls gave Marv in Sin City.

-Oh hey, a wild Internal Affairs appears! With almost no build up. When Dill made a second mysterious phone call back in Chapter 24, it was supposed to be to I.A. Again, my handling of I.A. was pretty sloppy, looking back.

Chapter 28: Chapter 28: Cavalry’s Arrived. You Sure You Want it?

-Agents Neal and Morrison are named from comic book artist Neal Adams and writer Grant Morrison. They’ve never worked together, but they certainly made a name for themselves in their respective Batman work. Neal Adams, especially, has been called the definitive Batman artist by many. Agent Adams, I believe, is named after artist Arthur Adams. Or maybe I just used Neal Adams twice and created two agents. He’s a big enough influence on Batman to earn that.

-Even though the I.A. agents confused things even further, it created a theme for Dill: any possible good turn blows up in his face; especially if it’s one of his hair-brained ideas.

-Heh heh, now that I’m re-reading it, I forgot about Dill giving fake directions. Pissing people off since 2013, that’s Dill for you.

-And here we go: after all the build-up, Don Komodo’s first appearance. Many readers love his foreboding presence through the book. Almost everyone’s favourite line in the whole book is his, “Who among you would like to be first course?”

villians-donkomodo

Imagine Komodo without the spikes or wings. That’s how he looks now.

-While we’re here, why don’t I reveal the writing origin of Don Komodo? I once played a massive multiplayer online game called City of Heroes. They released an expansion: City of Villains. I jumped on the opportunity to create some bad guys. One was a mastermind, a class that allowed you to have minions like robots, ninjas, etc. I played around with the game’s wonderful character creation system and randomly placed a dragon’s head on a normal person’s body in a 3-piece suit. I tweaked it a little and boom, I had a character. Brian, my roommate at the time, batted some ideas around for a name before we settled on Don Komodo (since he looked like a komodo dragon). The character started without wings or a tail, and he was smaller. I decided on his story: he was cursed with a human form and was slowly getting back his power – and original form. As the character leveled up, I tweaked the character further. His mastermind army were street thugs. I started off with two or three, whose names were – well, No Nose McGraw, Toasty, and Eli Jones. When I changed Don Quasimodo to Don Komodo, it seemed natural to transfer his cronies over, as well.

-If it isn’t obvious, Don Komodo is Dill’s arch villain. He’s Dill’s Lex Luthor or Joker. You can bet you haven’t seen the last of him.

-It’s more than a little ironic that The Buzzards spent so long dismantling organized crime, slaughtering criminals, only to be slaughtered right back by Komodo. That’s a thread that I didn’t even realize until after I’d written it. Happy happenstance, I suppose. If I’d planned it better, I would’ve made this thought more impactful.

-The Oolong Leaves of Shiang Yang Ye were inspired by regular visits to David’s Tea with my girlfriend. She’d spend the time reading while I worked on the novel. When I’m trying to think of a name for something – a street, a last name, etc – I’ll scan the area I’m in. I happened to see “oolong tea” on one of the store’s tins. Not sure where Shiang Yang Ye came from, though.

-Something I realized about Don Komodo: he’s bored. He’s lived for thousands of years. He’s seen it all. He’s experienced it all. He’s probably killed someone in every possible way imaginable. The only reason he hasn’t killed Dill is simply that Dill amuses him. He doesn’t see Dill as a threat. Then again, he doesn’t see anyone as a threat. He’s an immortal who was once a dragon. We’re so beneath him that he couldn’t give two craps about any of us.

-Tony rushing in with the K-9 unit was planned early into the book. It was too funny an idea to pass up.

Chapter 29: Get Him!

-“The floorboards begged for mercy under the weight of all those involved in the giant brawl.” I’ll say! Good lord, this is a crowded office. You have Dill, The Buzzards, the three I.A. agents, Don Komodo and his three cronies, and now Tony and a small army of dogs. Did Commissioner O’Neil have a basketball court for an office?

Chapter 30: Not So Easy Rider

-I struggled like hell to figure out this book’s ending. I knew I wanted Bison to make a surprise, last minute appearance. I knew Feliz Caras would end things. Figuring how to get them there left me confused for weeks. Finally, I said ‘screw it,’ and had them appear with little explanation. I hate it. I’ll get into that more in the next chapter.

-Really, as much as I love Bison, he had no place here at the end. He comes out of nowhere. Why would he suddenly help Dill? Yeah, he respects him for taking the ass-kicking, but it’s kind of sudden. I don’t know. I have a lot of problems with these last two chapters before the epilogue. Too many sudden reappearances without explanation. Almost deus ex machina. Almost, because a true deus ex machina would be introducing an entirely new element to the story that hadn’t been explained or introduced before. At least Bison and Caras Feliz were established in the book.

Chapter 31

-The problem falls squarely on Feliz Caras: he just doesn’t work as a character for me. As I said, he was originally intended to play The Joker role for The Buzzard: his biggest threat. But with so much going on in the book all at once, he got lost in the shuffle. I tried to keep him in the book rather than remove entirely and I think that was a mistake. I tried explaining his presence and backstory, but like The Lark, I don’t think the explanation works when you really think about it.

-The last minute reveal that O’Neil was a racist asshole was new within this scene, too. I tried to add some things to his backstory throughout the book, but it was a weird thing to crowbar in at the last minute.

-If I were to re-write this book now, I would’ve had it end with Dill and O’Neil. No Bison, no Caras Feliz. Although, Komodo might’ve been the one to finish O’Neil off; to end the war between The Buzzards and the mafia. That would’ve made a better, less crowded ending.

-Honestly, I don’t know how readers felt about the ending. I’ve not heard many criticisms about it. As you can tell, I’m really not a fan of it at all. It’s one of those things where I realize what’s wrong with the book, but it’s far too late to do anything about it now. Hindsight is a bitch sometimes.

Chapter 32/Epilogue I: The Mourning After

-Boy, Gloria Charbar sure got forgotten after Chapter 2, didn’t she? As I said before, if I’d written the book now, I’d probably do away with the pearls altogether, somehow, and focus on The Buzzard more.

-Paul gets one of the Buzzard suits as a parting gift. Not sure when I’ll pull that dangling thread.

-Kind of awkward the way the pearls are explained away here, too. I’m not sure if a crematorium furnace can burn pearls to ashes, too, honestly. I think they could. Either way, they’re barely a footnote in the end, aren’t they?

Chapter 33/Epilogue II: What’s Old is New

-See? I told you Mickey would be okay. Come on, he’s retroactively named after Mickey Spillane. Of course he’d be okay.

-The Los Violence poster is hinting towards a future Dill adventure. I’ll need to seriously rework Caras Feliz before I feel comfortable enough tackling that one.

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed this. If and when I finish Dill’s third adventure, I’ll have to do commentary for The Dame was a Tad Polish.

About Nick C. Piers

Writer and creator of the Armadillo Mysteries, I've had a passion for the creative arts all his life. I'm an avid comic book fan, a DDP yoga practitioner , and urban cyclist.
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