April 25: “When the Nines Roll Over” by David Benioff

Hello, Story366! Here we are on Monday and all I have to report is that it’s a Monday. But it’s also the stretch run for the semester, the school year, less than two weeks to go, then finals. I should be swamped, but really, I’m in the calm before the storm, much of my grading done, the last wave of assignments due next week. I’m savoring this lull for sure.

Take last night, for example, when all I did was lie around on the couch, recover from the Cub Scout camping trip, and watch the Game of Thrones season premier after the family went to bed. In case you’re into the show, don’t worry, I won’t give up any spoilers, but my Game of Thrones history is this: I watched the first few episodes when they premiered back in 2012, the year we moved to Missouri. With packing and settling affairs, I lost track of the show, which happens. I thought it was good but sexually violent show, the depiction of Daenerys, this teenage girl, forcibly taken on her wedding night, and many nights after, rough. Then I moved, we didn’t have HBO for a while, and I forgot about Game of Thrones, not really thinking about it again until the Red Wedding incident, my interest reestablished. I started watching again, but didn’t get into it into it until last year. Since the cliffhanger at the end of season 5—over a year ago now—I’ve really delved into the lore of it all, watching fan videos, official videos, all the episodes again, and also started reading the books right at the end of last year, a pursuit derailed by this very project—I haven’t read a word of them since January 1, Story366‘s birth.

Yesterday would have been a good day to post on David Benioff, then, to celebrate the return of the show, as Benioff is one of the chief writers and producers of the show. This fact eluded me until last week, when I perused Benioff’s collection, When the Nines Roll Over, on my pile. I picked this book up at a used store last summer, but never made the connection, recognized the name. With that whole season premier thing behind us, it’s a good time to get recognize Benioff’s stories.

Before Game of Thrones, Benioff wrote several movies, including the Brad Pitt Troy, the Wolverine origin movie, and 25th Hour, which is based on his novel. It seems like Benioff broke in with this novel, got to write the screenplay, and just took off from there, yet, he still wrote stories, and since I write stories, I think that’s pretty cool. Does he still write stories now that he writes and produces this enormous television megahit? Probably not. But my excuse for not writing stories most days is that I’m watching shit that Benioff writes. He wins.

I personally hope he does write stories again. After reading some of hi, I’m a fan of what he does. I read a couple from When the Nines Roll Over, one called “De Composition,” simply because it originally appeared in Faultline, and I’ve had a story in Faultline;  However, I started with the title story, “When the Nines Roll Over.” It’s the first story in the book, and a long one, but I love it.

“When the Nines Roll Over” is the story of Tabachnik, a major label record scout who has found the talent of a lifetime, Molly Minx. She is the lead singer and songwriter for The Taints, a small-label operation out of Jersey, and it is Tabachnik’s job to sign her away from that small label. The story begins with Tabachnik at a club, watching the Taints open for another band. Tabachnik knows his job will not be hard—he has money, power, and a lack of morals on his side. He knows Molly Minx will be his, that if he plays the cards like he knows how to play them, he’ll get his signature, plus a whole lot more. The story, then, is how he persuades her to sign, what happens after.

I can’t name another story like “When the Nines Roll Over,” the pace at which it moves, the type of character that Tabachnik represents, so confident and determined and unscrupulous. On his way to achieving his goal, he screws over every person he meets in the story, including Molly Minx, with whom he also starts a relationship. It’s not like Tabachnik is some young stud—he’s just powerful, in possession of the kind of power that makes beautiful young divas leave their boyfriends, change their names, sign long record contracts, and move in with you into your swanky LA domicile.

The real trick here is despite all the immoral things that Tabahcnik does, Benioff still makes him likeable. It’s all part of this confidence, this voice, Tabachnik believing he is just, he is right, and that he will succeed every step of the way. Even when he’s screwing over The Taints, particularly SadJoe, Taint drummer and founder, who, at the beginning of the story, was in a serious relationship with Molly Minx (now Serenity), it seems more inevitable than evil. Coming from Tabachnik’s point of view, what happens is what’s supposed to happen, that there’s no chance of things going down any other way. It’s a sign of a fantastic, complex character, and a great writer.

I just watched season 6’s premiere again while typing this up, and I wonder how much of David Benioff’s skills overlap between TV and short stories. Is “When the Nines Roll Over” at all cinematic? It’s long and visual and includes a lot of great dialogue, so maybe. But that’s unfair, isn’t it, to look for a different style just because he went on to have success with a different medium, sort of like it was unfair of me to make assumptions about B.J. Novak when I read his book a couple of weeks ago. I really gotta stop that, especially since both writers are so good at both. No reason to assume anything less. I want to read more Benioff—I have the rest of When the Nines Roll Over—and then I’ll take whatever I can get, however it’s conveyed to me.

David Benioff