Two early short stories

from elementary school


I was nine when I wrote that. Today, I describe it as joyous and bizarre. My use of point of view, even at that age, had already left the realm of sophistication and entered the realm of the absurd.


Check and mate. I love the simplistic, condescending instructions on this worksheet. “Isn’t it fun to ‘make believe?’ ” I think the child who wrote this is already familiar with make believe. “It is fun but it isn’t easy to write a story.” No shit. And yet, for me, somehow I suspect writing this story was fun and easy. If a psychologist had read this, they might have seen early signs of schizophrenia. Today, I describe THE TEMPETURE Fairy as extremely creative bordering on psychotic.

THE END

Google end letter

“This is the end, my only friend, the end”

Photo by Leonorah Beverly via Foter.com under CC BY-NC-SA

I was transferring all my domains out of Google Domains the last few days and Google asked me why I was doing that. It was a message from the Domains product asking for feedback, so I gave them some.

I don’t expect them to write me back as Google has never, ever written me back when I’ve sent them a bug report, suggestion, compliment, or complaint, but I decided this will be the last thing I ever write them and I have to say I feel closure.

Google Domains is great..the best domain manager I know of (beautiful, simple, powerful interface).

However, after..

– having my documents (novels—I am a published novelist) censored (prohibited from being shared) in Docs due to “inappropriate” content,

– Docs being unable to scale to handle large documents,

– The new Photos program automatically uploading everything it could find from everywhere on every device, including my porn, to Google’s servers (for my convenience),

– Picasa image and album links being intentionally broken (screwing up tons of existing blog posts and web pages), and my web albums deleted, destroying scans of my journals

– and Google in general failing to treat me like a respected customer by even responding to my complaints about censorship (the main issue)..

..I have made the difficult decision, as a long-time customer of many Google products, to stop using Google entirely (a process which is taking me weeks given how deeply I was using Google).

My books are legal, protected free speech under the US Constitution. They are critically acclaimed. To have them censored by Google is ridiculous, and I refuse to use any of your products ever again as a statement of protest.

—Matthew Temple
author of Things Said in Dreams and 21 other novels, memoirs, and nonfiction books; programmer of systems at LexisNexis, Anthem BlueCross BlueShield, SIG and many other companies; inventor of new kinds of 1-dimensional cellular automata; former Google fanatic now at clownfysh@my.com

You gotta draw the line somewhere.

Conversation with Joan

as she read mURdEr cLuB cANDy


Some of an email exchange with Joan Barbara Simon as she read my novel mURdEr cLuB cANDy:

Joan:

Have you ever done meth? I’m reading Candy on her trip and whilst it sounds convincing to me, who am I to tell, I’ve never been there. Is it enough to have observed someone to be able to depict the experience?

ME:

Yeah, about 10 years ago. I have first-hand experience.

Now, I’ve gone the other way..even stopped drinking alcohol over two years ago..works better for me this way.

Joan:

Have you ever really watched a snuff video, Matthew? Did it turn you on?

ME:

No. It’s not something I’ve sought out. I don’t think it would bring me or anyone any joy.

The closest I’ve come to that was about 10 years ago someone in film school ambushed me, showing me a Faces of Death video of someone fatally shooting himself in the head. It did the opposite of excite me. I was extremely disturbed by it. It is something I wish I could un-see.

It is not pleasant for me to watch other people hurt, even in small ways. Sexually, I’m most excited by watching the other person get off, be pleasured..that’s what makes me tick. Moderate, mutual, consensual pain is ok for me. Maybe not that moderate. But consensual. Having power over someone doesn’t excite me sexually or otherwise. Not into power, think it’s for amateurs =) Except for mild power fantasies like a mutual consensual rape fantasy for example. Political power, social, sexual, whatever..infantile. No psychologically, spiritually mature person has a real need to control another. Not how I imagine grown ups treat each other. I have seen documentaries that show some people are only sexually excited by violence, not by others’ pleasure. They can’t help it; I don’t judge them. That doesn’t happen to be me, though.

Joan:

I’m totally squeamish. When the music gets scary in (even the most harmless) films, there’s me, diving under the duvet..

..and yet there’s something about violence that turns me on..

..can’t explain it..

..but I’ve never watched a snuff and I’ve never done drugs.

I get you (apart from the consensual rape..isn’t that an oxymoron?)

in Verses Nature we’ve got Carmina, who is the indignant victim of conjugal violence, yet the willing participant in love games with Tatar; games involving belts, barbed wire, bottles and other instruments which are never named, instruments leaving bruises which she carries home with her like trophies. I don’t need to explain that, to smooth out the inconsistency or make facts rhyme. We don’t rhyme. That’s the beauty and the fascination of it. Of us.

ME:

I almost asked, but I was afraid to discuss it any further. But I’m glad to know where you come out on it.

I may be more turned on by sexual violence than I think..I sure write about it a lot. I can certainly say I find it fascinating. Rape fascinates me but I don’t think, in the actual situation, I’d be able to get it up, because if the victim was distressed I would feel for them too much to enjoy myself. But I think about it and have role-played it. Truly, I find it fascinating and boring at the same time!

Normal violence is uninteresting to me. Just like shooting someone or beating someone. Torture is more interesting. Sexual torture more interesting. Mental manipulation more interesting. I don’t know, Joan, we’re strange creatures =)

Yes, consensual rape..it’s an oxymoron. Doh!

We don’t rhyme..one is not going to find a better summation than that, my friend. Well said!!

But the proof is in the pudding..my actual porn collection? 100% solo women masturbating. I like to see women happy (without having to see other men). I’m very straight, and very into seeing a woman get off. Very boring, perhaps, but it’s a pretty rock-solid measure of what I really like. Lol.

There’s a few men in some of them..I don’t hate my own kind that much =)

Joan:

I’ve never bought/had a porn mag. I remember coming home from school one day and my dad was at home with a friend of his. There was the cover of a porn film on the mantelpiece and I could see what I would then have called women’s privates. I left the room to get something and when I came back, the video had gone.

Porn would bore me, I’m sure. It’s all fake. I like what goes on in my own mind more. Sometimes it gets me going so much that I cum. Hands-free. Just my wild mind and my nerves out in the open.

I’ve just finished MCC and can’t make up my mind if I need a week to recover or if I should go right back to the beginning and start reading all over again.

Thank you for an amazing experience. Palahniuk, go back to your trailer park!

ME:

Thank you..thank you so much for reading it and sharing your reaction.

I will leave you to your imagination and open nerves..imagination is the best.

Joan:

To call this a stone cold masterpiece is right on. I can’t wait to showcase this on my blog! Do you think I could include some of our correspondence? I’ll always show you what I plan to publish so you can give it the green lights before it goes live. I think the conversations are great blog material if we have the courage to share it, precisely because they are authentic. But I don’t want you to think that any of this was premeditated. I can still ask you other questions which my re-reading of MCC will throw up; questions on style, or about the characters, etc. In fact, I’ve got one right now: Tell me more about Liss. Why did you create/need her? She’s quite savvy for a nine year old..in fact, what inspired you to come up with the plot?

ME:

Thanks for not laughing me out of the room at my boastful description of the book. I’m the last person with any objectivity to judge it. But as I think back on that book, I do think it has a technical..I can only say mastery..where stuff just came together correctly.

You are welcome to use any correspondence! I would love that. No need to give me a green light ability..I trust what you do. I’m honored that you’re choosing to write about it. I love the book and I don’t mean as its author..I mean as a person who is now equidistant from it with you. By the way, I recommended it to you, as I hinted at before, because I thought its mentality bore some similarity to your own. I am not trying to butter you up, but due to this book’s stylistic irruptions and subtlety I don’t think there are many people who would appreciate it as you have — and that is a special gift you have given me.

I started with the title, as I often do. I had notes for a quite different story which I abandoned the morning of starting writing, as I often do! I like to plan a story and then abandon it and write something entirely different.

This story is constructed from a few different angles, quite simply, and they just came together better than the mere author could have known:

– The title just came to me from my subconscious. It suggested at least a three-way ambiguity: does it mean a murder club led by someone named Candy or is it a statement of someone’s objective to murder a club called Candy or is it a description of hard drugs: murder club candy, candy being the drugs? I liked these ambiguities very much and felt I had a title I could write to.

– I am a huge fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and every derivative I can get my hands on. Even have a crush on Alice. But I feel the story has a problem: Alice doesn’t have to do anything to escape Wonderland. I don’t feel she earns her escape. In short: I think she should have had to kill the queen. Then her escape would mean something. Alice would have had to tarnish her morals in a way she would always be haunted by, in order to escape the queen’s world. I just always thought Alice should have killed the queen, and it’d been on my list of things to do as a writer, for a while, to re-tell Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with Alice killing the queen. That happens here. Liss gets stuck in a Wonderland of sorts with her dad, led by a man in a white bunny suit (the white rabbit) and Candy is the queen in the sense that she is the lynchpin keeping this crazy party weekend going. Liss several times stresses to her dad that she needs to get home by Saturday morning for her Pilates class..same as Alice’s goal..she just wants to go home! Candy is keeping her there, like the queen, and in my version Liss has to kill the queen to end the party so that her dad will wake the fuck up, start being a parent, and take his freaking daughter to her Pilates class!!

– The specifics of the pool house drug weekend and the bars and the work environment and work characters are taken from real life..an exaggeration of a real party weekend from my history. Some elements are totally made up. Some elements are scenes straight out of my life.

– The one-character-per-chapter idea, I stole, like I stole the plot from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. That’s probably why this book works as well as it does: it’s all stolen, either from Lewis Carrol, real life, or William Faulkner in this case. As I Lay Dying does this same one-character-per-chapter design. I always admired it. I copied it. But I took it a step further and gave each character her own formatting and punctuation. Mostly I did this not for innovation’s or creativity’s sake but to make it easier to read..the reader knows, without even looking at the title of a chapter, which character they’re reading by the differences in formatting.

– Where did Liss come from? She’s the main character — we start with her and half the chapters in the book are from her pov. I guess she’s me. Frankly, a lot of life has felt like an out-of-control party to me, a dangerous, pointless party, whether it be work or family or literal parties. She’s a kid in an adult’s world — no power (except she takes some) — and I have felt like that often. The world makes no fucking sense to me. Stuff like this really happens. People do crystal meth with their kids. Jobs reward ass-kissers with no talent while a few diehards work quietly in the background to keep everything running. Rich kids like Candy are running around the suburbs of LA lighting people’s houses on fire for fun and breaking their things and assholes like me are (were) so bored with our lives that we went along for the ride. Liss is the out-of-control, scared me who finally does what is necessary to get back to normal life and learn some fucking Pilates. But that’s the point of the ending: the whole book, Liss encounters mostly untrustworthy, dangerous adults. Now she’s at her class awaiting her Pilates teacher. The ending, “She’s here,” is supposed to suggest the question: Is this going to be a good adult or a bad adult? Should we/Liss be glad that, “She’s here?”

– The front quote, “The only way to catch tiger cubs is to go into the tiger’s den.” First of all, it’s a fortune cookie (like a real fortune cookie from the real world), and they order Chinese that night, so the [very light handed] implication is that this fortune was Liss’s fortune that night. And I guess there is no second of all..it explains itself differently to each person.

– At some point in the Candy drug monologue starting on page 191, there is a secret message written in the bold words..after a certain point, if you read just the bold words, this secret message un-weaves itself from the rest of the text. There’s no hidden message in her first drug monologue but the wildness in formatting rises and falls with her high. I wrote this book during an 11-month mostly sober period but I drank alcohol strategically when writing Candy’s scenes. I wanted to make them crazy, so I got crazy and wrote some crazy stuff. The rest of the book I wrote sober.

– The “Mondo marcio, eh?” (Rotten world, right?) phrase was written by my sister for the purpose of this book. I employed her help in this one spot where I couldn’t come up with just the right phrase. The concept of “rotten” was perfect for the sentiment I was trying to get at earlier in these notes by saying the world is crazy and people do meth with their kids. I combined this with “Ma petit poire” (My little pear) to get the phrases working together, in French and Italian, to give the idea of rotten fruit..or the juxtaposition of fresh fruit in a rotten world. I think, technically, this is one of the book’s best moments.

– Along these lines, I thought it would be really a turn if we spent this whole book thinking Liss’s dad is completely irresponsible and that’s awful and blah blah blah and then when she gets home things are worse! At least her dad doesn’t hit her!!! Her dad is irresponsible, dangerous, neglectful, but he loves her, he’s sweet to her. Liss gets home and we find out that maybe it was better she was with her dad and not her mom all this time!!! Hahaha. Mondo marcio, eh? =)

I could say a whole lot more and it’s obvious that I don’t mind talking about my book and myself. But I’m going to stop here and just deeply thank you, Joan, for making the effort to read my book and being someone who can appreciate it. It’s a gift to me — and so are you.

Your brother in words,

Joan:

Matthew, William Faulkner was to be the subject of my thesis until about half a year before the thesis was due, then I switched to the Canadian feminist, Nicole Brossard. I read and admired As I Lay Dying too. Some bowl-me-over passages in there (as in The Sound and the Fury). The book was given to me along with the recommendation to dare to write my novel in the first person. So, we have that — Faulkner — in common too!

MCC is a masterpiece, no doubt about that. What you call the book’s irruptions is a large contributory factor to its success. If people are put off by it, they’re not your target audience. Having said that, I really do think your miles better than Palahniuk and he’s extremely popular, so you never know. Actually, you don’t even need to know. You just need to do your thing and not worry about “them.”

The novel emerges, only partially under the author’s control. True talk! In this uncontrollable/uncontrolled space is where genius lurks. We have to trust it. I’m attaching a few pages from the introductory chapter of my thesis where I talk about the dialogical relationship between the author and her/his work. This passage sums up how I proceed. Need not be the case for everyone.

I get what you’re saying about Alice, about the need for more agency. When I say her name, I also think of a snake’s hissing. Follow up associations: Adam & Eve, innocence, tree of knowledge. You opt for a pear instead of an apple; that’s ok :) Your Alice makes a mockery of our notions of childhood, like it’s a room you may choose to inhabit or get chained up in.

This book definitely deserves more exposure, Matthew. I admired Things Said in Dreams. MCC is..I can’t find anything that fits, that does it justice. It’s better than Faulkner, too, and yet you’ll have a hard job to get scholars talking about you cos they’re so cosy on their closed circuit. One of the reasons why I turned my back on academia. I got two of their most coveted qualifications just to show that I can, but it doesn’t mean I’m like them. I’m like you.

Hug from you sis,

ME:

BTW, I used different music for different characters to help get their different cadences.

Liss was several songs from Bizet’s Carmen.

Dad was “The Four of Us Are Dying” from Nine Inch Nails’ The Slip.

God, I wish I remembered what the others were. I have only guesses.

Winnie might have been Vangelis’ “Conquest of Paradise.”

Jacobi might have been the “This Devil’s Workday” from Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News.

Candy..how can I not know Candy? Ugh.

Not that it matters.

But thank you so much for talking literature with me. You’re opening up a conversation I so often only have with myself.

I have to thank you for your compliments.

I’m not one to get a big head..I think the book is the most important thing, not the person who wrote it, you know, but..

Your acknowledgement of my work feels really nice.

Thank you. I owe you in ways I will probably not be able to repay but I can at least give you my thanks.

Joan:

I owe YOU, Matthew. This is the best book I have read in a long while. It gives me hope that there are people out there who do not succumb to mere surfaces!

Have to say:

from your MCC notes:

“I don’t believe in the publishing industry anymore so this book is going to be really good.”

Love THAT!!

ME:

HA! I forgot about that note!!!! =) There’s definitely a relationship!!

Joan:

How did your belief in the publishing industry impact on your writing, Matthew (and why did you let it???)?

ME:

You’re asking the hard questions, Miss Simon, and I expect nothing less. I’ll be completely honest with you.

When I wrote my first book, Snowbunny, that’s exactly what I thought the cutting edge of what I could do, was. It was stylistic, and I believed “the publishing industry” would embrace it as genius and publish it. I was universally turned down with the reasoning that my book was “too experimental” — and turned down laughingly. In my view, if your book isn’t experimental, then you haven’t written anything at all. That discouraged me, as back then I had publishing and writing tangled together in my mind.

In my next couple of books (Things Said in Dreams and Camp Lake), I continued to write exactly what I wanted to write — I think that’s shown by the content of those books (they’re very me — they’re my soul). But again, no one wanted to publish them — and I knew TSID at least was worth publishing. TSID they didn’t like the ending — too realistic — they wanted a school disaster book without the disaster and I was like: this is the actual life American kids are living. This isn’t an exaggerated book, this is (with respect to the disaster) more or less real: military personnel on school grounds, children using military weapons in mass killings that they wouldn’t have had if the military hadn’t made them in the first place, etc. They definitely didn’t like the idea of the main character being a passive psychopathic killer who lets the whole thing happen — but I wasn’t about to write some Wonder Woman character who saves the world — that’s not realistic (and it’s not who most readers would be able to relate to — I wrote the protagonist as the person/position most people would be in, in such a situation..a bystander..the book is about bystander evil). Anyway. Fucking literary agents wanted to re-write my book (“We could publish it if you change the ending.”) I was like, no, that’s not how this works.

With Camp Lake, several agents said they personally liked it but they could never get a major publisher to touch a religious book. I was like: It’s not a religious book!!! Did you read it?? It’s about a bunch of murderous incestuous druggie twenty-somethings who happen to be working as counsellors at a Christian camp doing a horrible job watching over their campers — as their youth group leaders did to them when they were young — the book is about not living up to your responsibility as a caretaker of youth. And..the spiritual journey of the main character is that of a Christian moving toward being an atheist. That does not a religious book make!! It has to take place at some kind of camp — and it needs to be specific or it won’t be believable (as any liar knows). They were like, Nope, sorry, major publishers won’t touch anything with a Christian angle. And I thought to myself: bet they would touch it if it was some marginalized religion — then it would be edgy and cool. But to write a book taking place at a Christian camp — unacceptable.

So I wasn’t writing books just to make them publishable..clearly..I failed at that even as a side goal. But after my literary agent interactions for those first three books, I had lost any illusion that these people were into finding good books and publishing what they liked and believed in. It was all about the sales, the perceptions, and a certain kind of moral gatekeeping that made me lose respect for literary agents and any publishing house that would rely on them. There was a freedom, therefore, for MCC because I really didn’t think anyone but me would ever read it.

I’m not fool enough to have ever (ever, in any context, in school or since) written something for someone else — I write for myself, so I can live with myself — and baby, can I live with myself =) But there is a freedom that thought in the MCC notes gives me, above even that..at this point I’m so far off the publishing path I doubt I’ll ever get back on.

Maybe, to close the loop, I have to say:

With MCC on, I felt one less eye looking over my shoulder.

And in conclusion, from ME:

This has been some great correspondence!

Joan:

This has been an amazing, intensive, inspirational exchange! And the good thing is..there’s more to come :)

Love,

ME:

For me too, Joan — amazing! I’ve felt really brought back to life in the literature department with our recent talks.

/deep bow

Joan:

Deep bow returned.

Writing roots

Protector and friend

Page from one of my early notebooks

There was a writer on Twitter—initials CJ. I read CJ’s book. Thought it was raw. Thought it was true. A rare find—and so was CJ. We talked a little. And in our most important conversation, she was saying she wanted to get writing back to..back to..she wasn’t sure what. And I said, “Back to when we were in high school and we wrote in notebooks.”

And she said, “Yes.”

We weren’t trying to “get published” back then. We weren’t planning on showing those notebooks to anyone, except maybe half a page to our closest friends to explain our theories of the world.

We weren’t primarily writing those notebooks with the intention of sharing them at all—we were almost exclusively writing them for ourselves. High school was the wilds of Final Fantasy and Zelda, we were mages, and those were our goddamn spell books. We needed those books, not to impress anyone, but to survive.

That was getting back to the root of why we were writing in the first place, for me and CJ. We wanted to get back there. Fuck Twitter. Fuck the internet. Fuck publishing.

And then CJ really did fuck Twitter, the internet, and publishing—she disappeared. Deleted her Twitter. As far as I know, ended her blog. I can’t find her or her book anywhere.

Maybe she got back to her roots?

I remember when I decided to unpublish Things Said in Dreams, I got back to my roots and for me it was a big change in direction and it felt so good. I had been trying to “get published” for so long—assuming that’s what one did when one had written books—that I was on auto-pilot, and I had forgotten the root at which I had begun to write fiction:

When I was in the 5th-10th grades, I read the first books that made me idolize novels. I had never been so impressed with anything in all my life, than those first few great books—and I wanted to do it! Simple as that: I wanted to write a great book. And I may spend the rest of my life trying.

But notice:

Nowhere in the root of my desire did I ever say I wanted to publish a book. Nowhere did I ever say I wanted to be a famous writer. Those are fine for whoever wants them. But they were never in the root of what I wanted. Letting go of my list of literary agents, stopping all efforts to commercially publish my books, has felt right for me because it fits with the original idea of writing as planted in my head. Writing and publishing are distinct enterprises—I’m perfectly happy to be free of the latter.

Based on my brief but rich conversations with the author CJ, I have played extensively over many novels with my note-taking, outlining, and composition processes, sometimes taking a single-document approach that is very much like one of those messy, mage notebooks we all kept in high school—a garden of words and worms and moss and little sproutlings that with enough tilling and enough sunlight, sometimes turns into something readable and wild. And even though in some ways I’m moving into directions that weren’t even possible when I was in high school—I live-write every book now, showing my in-progress work at every stage in the composition process (so instead of being private, my notebooks are completely open)—I try to remain aware of that epiphany that CJ and I shared, and stay connected with the roots of my writing.

Writing for me first happened in the 4th grade, as journal writing—introspection that saved a sensitive boy from a harsh school, learning to talk hard situations out with myself in a little brown notebook my teacher gave me.

Then writing became a way to play with my bipolar disorder: listen to Michael Jackson and write poems, using both to amp up my mood to incredible heights—and to feel incredible sadness. A way to learn how to feel the highs and lows only a bipolar person can feel..and—to some degree—to control them.

Then came my notebooks. They were protector in school environments that continued to be too harsh for my sensitive head and heart to handle—and in a way they acted as friends when I didn’t have any.

Now I have written 22 books. And you know what? They’re the same thing to me now as my writing was in its root: introspection, a way to understand my emotions, protector—buffer between me and a world too harsh for me to interface with directly—and friends where friends are in short supply.

I don’t want that to ever change. I always want to be a black mage in a dangerous high school lunchroom, with my hoodie covering my head, roomy sleeves, carrying my notebooks containing spells that I use to keep myself moving and breathing and vital in an environment that, psychologically, spiritually, and intellectually..wants to kill me and every other creative person alive.

Short Stories

Selected from 1991–2016


Read for free now

I am not a short story writer. I don’t understand the form. However, over the years, I have written a few and these are most of them.

Stories included

  • A Wedding in June
  • Tina Marie Jones (and her sister’s name is Shelly)
  • Jessica’s Pussy
  • Sushi Date
  • Anna’s Corner
  • Mercy
  • Tennessee Dirt
  • Victoria
  • Racism and Ageism in Chicago

Tone as super element

One aspect to rule them all

Paintings by Francis Bacon

In art, tone is a special super element that rules them all. There are many aspects to a work of art, some shared between media, some not. Painting has palette, shapes, form, depth, thickness of the pigment, composition. Dance has pace, fluidity, architecture, and many others. The classic elements of story I learned in school are character, setting, plot, point of view, and style. Here too there are many others: theme, scope, scale, variety in sentences, show versus tell versus suggest, who gets the last word, specific versus general, and zillions more. And there is the master element: tone.

Tone is special.

If you get tone right, it means—it implies—that you got everything else right.

You can’t get everything else right without also (as a matter of implication) getting tone right.

You know those old timey dolls where all the limbs are loose until you pull a piece of string, then everything tightens up into an erect figure? That string is tone.

(The first part of that video shows a doll kind of like what I’m talking about—I’ll try to find a better video.)

Tone is a master element in that it is so difficult to get right. Watching student films is an amazing example of this. Student directors, almost 100% of the time, completely miss the mark on tone. They try to make a scary scene..the audience laughs. They try to make a funny scene..the audience sits stone faced. When you try to achieve a certain tone as a student filmmaker, it is a very humbling experience. It shows how rare a skill effective filmmaking is. In fact, being able to get tone right is basically what makes a person able to make movies that work, versus not being able to do so. It is a meta skill that few people achieve consistently, and it is the mark of broad understanding and/or intuition. Try to make a short film that accomplishes a certain tone and see how elusive tone is.

Consider a movie with perfect tone: The Silence of the Lambs. You will not find a movie with more perfect tone—though many equal it.

Tone has lots of fascinating definitions, but a simple one is note. That is not much different than what I mean by tone here.

Silence hits a perfect note. It rings like a bell, all the way through the cycle of the vibration from impact to decline. In order for this to have happened, every other element of the movie had to hit a perfect note: story, script, acting, blocking, production design, cinematography, sound design, score, editing, casting, directing. Silence never messes up. Never. There are no “but”s about The Silence of the Lambs—no place where you say, Yeah, it’s a pretty good movie, but.. No. Everything is perfect, even scenes that are tone pitfalls, like the scene where the police bust in on Hannibal’s treatment of his mobile cell in Memphis. If there is a story god, then she designed that scene to be tone hell—a fucking bear trap. That is a scene that only the most talented team of filmmakers could have (and did) pull off, achieving perfect tone when everything about the scene invites it to be mistakenly humorous or cheap. They wisely based the key shot on the work of an unquestioned master: the painter Francis Bacon.

The position of Boyle’s body after Lecter has disemboweled and hung him from the cell was specifically based on the work of painter Francis Bacon.

Probably anything short of this technique would have resulted in disaster. But whoever made that decision knew they were in dicey tone territory, and falling back on Bacon’s established tone was a flawless move.

The movie I can think of that did this most quintessentially is Alien. Without the art of H. R. Giger, there would be no Alien. That art, and that look, is an integral part of Alien’s tone.

But anyway, that’s all I have to say: there are elements of art, and then there are super elements. Tone is one of the super elements. If you got tone right in your art, then you got everything else right. It is a master key, a linchpin, a keystone. It is the string running through those silly limp/tense dolls: if it is pulled tight, then by definition so is every other element.