Gone Girl Milks Sonoma County

The fallout from taking my wife to see Gone Girl wasn’t that she would be inspired to destroy me by writing a fictional redux of our marriage (I’m doing fine with that myself), or that I had to to rid our home of boxcutters lest I find myself wearing a so-called Columbian necktie. No, the fallout came in the form of a heated mid-movie discussion about milk.
You see, The Contessa is a member of the natural and organics foods trade and is consequently susceptible to stimuli that I am not. For example, during a scene in which Ben Affleck’s twin sister, Margo (played with admirable chin-ability by Carrie Coon), is having breakfast, my wife happened to notice that the brand of organic milk in the frame was Clover, our local Sonoma County brand.


Now, as a champion of all notions Sonoma County, I might have cheered had I noticed. Not so, the Contessa, who was incensed that a film purportedly taking place in Missouri would have a regionally-produced dairy product from Northern California, which she was emphatic was distributed in the “Show Me State.” Took her right out of the movie. I didn’t really notice, but later, to prove her wrong (or right, as it turned out to be), I called the Town and Country Whole Foods in Missouri and lo and behold, they indeed do not carry Clover brand organic milk. Why would they? They have their own local organic dairy industry and perhaps even their own version of Clo the Cow — Mo the Cow, perhaps? Get it? “Mo” like the abbreviation of Missouri, “MO?” (In back of every great brand marketer is a husband who thinks he can make up clever names for cartoon animals.)

Our Gone Girl experience reminded me of a documentary I once saw about autism spectrum disorders wherein a subject’s eyes were tracked while he watched a film. Whereas neurotypical people are inclined to follow the expressions of the actors thus gleaning emotional information about the characters, this particular subject’s eyes were instead drawn to the configuration of the on-set lighting. I’m not sure what this is supposed to say about autism (I mean, it could have been a really boring film with terrible acting and exquisite lighting design) or, for that matter, my wife, but I’m more than satisfied that as individuals we’re doomed to have relative, subjective experiences. We see what we want to see. Gone Girl, like any film, is really just a Rorschach test at 24 frames per second. What’s scary to one is dairy to another.

I tried to reach Clo the Cow — or at least her PR department — for comment. They didn’t reply. I suspect Clo’s handlers didn’t want to draw any additional attention to their product’s placement in the blood-soaked thriller. That said, Clover’s cameo is just the latest in a long line of milky murders.

For my money, the assassination of Senator Jordan in the original Manchurian Candidate, is the creme de la creme of bullets and bovine byproducts. The bullet first pierces a carton the Senator is holding so we see a gush of milk instead of blood (a nice touch by director John Frankenheimer).

Killing Sen. Jordan and Jocie

The effect is replicated in the Scandi-Noir adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters, in which a milk carton takes a bullet for a corporate headhunter and part-time art thief.

Also, there’s a Sean Penn reference I won’t make for reasons of respect and SEO.

The milk in Gone Girl doesn’t take any bullets. In fact, it isn’t even moved, it’s just a bit of set dressing on a Hollywood soundstage doubling for a Missouri apartment.

After all, it’s just, as Clo would say, a “Mooovie.”

3 Brilliant Reasons to Serialize Your Novel

The revolution will be serialized. As it?s always been. Much of episodic entertainment, from our favorite shows on Netflix or premium cable to the summertime superhero blockbusters, are issued in discrete elements that comprise a whole story. Comic books have long functioned in this manner, ditto popular literature, which was once serialized in newspapers and magazines. Now, serialization is back, representing to some, a vanguard in publishing. It can also be an integral part of your creative process.

This is what I?ve found creating Quantum Deadline, a sci-fi crime romp that comically explores the death of newspapers through the foggy lens of a reporter tripping through the multiverse. Like many authors, my project found its first iteration as a National Novel Writing Month novel ? last November, I arranged 50,000+ English words in a manner that produced the general effect of a novel. Despite the fact that the result was an unholy (if occasionally inspired) mess, I remained committed to seeing it through the bitter end of a Kindle download.

1. Accountability

I put it in the proverbial drawer through the winter to cool and found when I exhumed it the following spring, I was ready to rewrite it. That said, there is no ?National Rewriting Your Novel Month? and I loathed the notion of working alone sans the esprit de corps I?d experienced with NaNoWriMo.

I tried. I failed. I had no sense of accountability or ?ticking clock? to compel me back to the work. Not that I was enthralled with the prospects I perceived in the book, it?s just that, as a career-long newspaper columnist, I?d grown accustomed to a weekly deadline. And someone to enforce it. With a speculative, self-generated project like Quantum Deadline, there was neither a deadline nor an irate editor to make me deliver. That?s when I began to think, “You should serialize your novel.” I?needed to feel accountable and I needed a schedule ? two aspects of serialization that I here-to-fore hadn?t realized were possibilities.

2. Create a Minimum Viable Product

Moreover, I suspected serialization would allow me to “course correct” if I found that my readers were losing interest or recognize possibilities in the work that I hadn’t. I think of it as akin to The Lean Startup concept of creating a “minimum viable product” that allows for pivots between plot points.

?The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere,? writes Eric Reis, The Lean Startup?s main advocate and author of a popular business tome of the same name.

If we replace the term ?startup? with the word ?writing? the path to serialization becomes self-evident. Instead of hunkering down, alone in the back of a Starbucks, the premise of releasing iterations of your work while refining it allows you the opportunity to grow and create community around it in the meantime.

The trick is to be responsive to the concerns of your readership rather than defensive. You?re creating a feedback loop, not a combat zone. You don?t need to completely alter the vision of your paranormal YA romance when your readership is flagging, nagging or otherwise bagging on your work. However, you do have the opportunity to make adjustments in the next installment (and retroactively as well ? serial readers are very forgiving, I find, so long as you point to relevant changes that improve their enjoyment of the work).

3. Build Community for Your Work

Likewise, authors are advised to read Austin Kleon?s excellent book Show Your Work!, which extols the virtues of sharing your creative process as a means of cultivating an audience. Much in the same way film studios invite entertainment reporters on set to drum up interest in a film prior to its release, Kleon suggests sharing your process and inspirations as you create. This notion also dovetails nicely with ?rewriting in public? through serialization.

Writing a serial not only creates both context and momentum for one?s creative output, it cultivates community with your work as its rallying point. Chapter by chapter, week by week, you steer us deeper into your creative world ? a world we may not have seen were it not for the revolutionary resurgence of the serial. As Gil Scott-Heron said, ?The revolution will put you in the driver seat.?

Originally published at TuesdaySerial.