Guest Post: Light My Spacefaring Cigarette Up

Today, I bring you a guest post by by Kenneth Mugi about coolness and where you might be able to locate some pointers on creating that coolness.

 

Coolness.

Some folks got it, some people haven’t. They haven’t got the languid air, indifferent stare or wind-swept hair required. When a crisis comes their hearts pulse and they ask about the weather instead of keeping calm and calling the Doctor. They’re the wannabes, the should’ve-beens, the coolness-is-subjective-anyway citizens.

As a person, that’s fine. I don’t have to be cool. I don’t even have to be square. I can be a circle and make friends with a rhomboid. As a writer though, it’s not possible for me to toss aside the lounging, cynical detective with flat shoes and a disdain for her job. She exists, and when I write action and adventure, I need to have her saunter across my pages as if she belongs there.

Unlike warmed-up celebrities, I can’t egotistically aspire to redefine the word either, I need to know what ‘it’ is. And if my reading days tell me anything, then (some) other writers do too. They’ve forgotten Dean McCoppin, from The Iron Giant and Rick Blaine from Casablanca. Their characters have too many emotions, share too much about their histories, and when trouble hits the spinning space-station, they talk about their kids.

What those writers don’t know, what they can’t know, is that it’s at that point I roll my eyes. Right then, when the indifferent, husky-voiced, chain-smoker opens up about their life after a wild night of sex, I want to be reading another author’s work. I want to be watching something else.

I want to be watching Shinchiro Watanabe.

A couple of published auteurs have said that you shouldn’t start writing until you’ve read a 1,000 novels. I think people shouldn’t create cool characters until they’ve devoured all of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo…in Japanese. (English subtitles are permitted.)

First, there’s Spike. He’s a bounty hunter who eats instant ramen, smokes and wakes up terrified about his artificial eye. How did he get this thing? We’re not told. He wears a blue suit, fights people even while on the verge of death, and is constantly wondering if this time is going to be his last.

We learn he was a badass Yakuza, just. What he did though, we need to fill in the blanks.

When he’s threatened with imminent doom, he smiles, and pulls the trigger on his semi-automatic. Jazz plays as he does this. Jazz, man. Off-beat cuts that break through your psyche and make your fingers tap.

At the end, when he knows he’s about to go to his possible demise, he tells one of his travelling companions he has a robotic eye. That’s it.

She wishes he hadn’t told her.

Coolness.

He’s got it.

Then Shinchiro Watanabe reaches into his bag of characters and gives us Mugen and Jin. Samurai are inherently cool. They’re like ninjas in that regard, but they wear kimonos and speak in short, punctuated phrases. So you’ve got to dig deep if you intend to stand out in the sub-genre, Samurai Champloo does.

Jin wears glasses that are fake. He has an immense vocabulary; he barely says anything. When he grabs the hilt of his katana a little more tightly than last time, that’s him showing his emotion. He wants to be the strongest samurai in Edo, he’ll fight anyone for the title.

Coolness.

Mugen is a wild, self-trained fighter from the islands down south. He never shuts up. He talks in impolite Japanese, uses a form of break-dancing in his fighting style and is constantly taking risky jobs. He often gets tricked by female characters and acts on impulse.

He asks for no help, and Koza, the one woman he loved, betrayed him. Then he trusts her again, even though he knows better, and gets betrayed once more. He tries not to hate her, tries not to love her.

He’s Mugen, he wears red.

Coolness.

There’s a scene. Possibly one of the greatest scenes ever directed (in my humble opinion) where Mugen gets his revenge. Koza has just finished manipulating him, and is going to collect her ill-gotten treasure with her new partner. Mugen’s limping and wounded, but he heads to where the pair is traversing—the top of a cliff. The sun is setting, the three of them (Mugen and the duo) are simply silhouettes walking towards each other from opposite directions. Discordant music plays in the background.

The boyfriend runs to attack, Mugen kills him in a single stroke. He continues towards Koza. The music builds. He walks past her, doing nothing.

Coolness.

The same music is used again, later in the anime, for a fight between Jin and a blind, female assassin. We, the audience, expect a victory. Jin loses, badly.

Coolness.

Shinchiro Watanabe’s got it. His works are covered with it. Colours splash out of the screen, characters growl and mumble but don’t ask for mercy. They know fate has already decided their lives’ parameters, they know they’re traversing pre-destined paths yet they still fight. Revolver in one hand, sword in the other—Shinchiro’s characters shuffle through their existence and show us what it means to live on the other side of square.

One day, I might touch the hem of his flowing kimono with my writing. One day my characters might wink a little more knowingly, they might banter a little more angrily—but until then, you need to watch Shinchiro Watanabe’s works if you want to write cool. He’ll open the universe to you, and show you a world where indifference is an art form.

 

Kenneth

 

Promo Note

Kenneth A. Mugi doesn’t direct anime, but he writes fantasy tales with violence and swearing aplenty. You can find his latest work, The Salvation of Yellow, on Amazon.com or read his most recent short stories on his website: http://www.noshovelshere.com.

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20 Questions Interview

One of my lovely friends from Vision writers is doing a series of interviews with 20 questions and here’s my interview with him :)

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White Noise

I hate silence. I am a chatter box (not a surprise to those who know me offline), and I love to sing in the car, I even prefer to do housework while listening to audiobooks. I like having a soundtrack to life.

But you need to focus when editing – no music, no audio books, no yammering with someone. A rock and a hard place (for me anyway ;p ).

Cue awesome rainy day soundtracks like Rainy Mood.com. White noise. Something nice to keep life’s sound track jogging along but uninvasive enough to give your full concentration to work.

Does anyone else suffer from a need for noise? What do you like to use?

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Vision Writers – An Open Meeting

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Brisbane Writers’ Festival 2014 – Our Stories Unfold

At the start of next month I will be attending the first writers’ festival in which I am a presenter.

As long time readers well know, I’m Vice President of Vision Writers, Brisbane’s speculative fiction writers’ group. Instead of having our usual meeting in a room in Brisbane Square library we will be having an open meeting at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, showing people how we run a meeting, how we critique, how we help each other grow as fellow writers.

On Saturday 6th September at 4pm you can come to the State Library Queensland and check out how our meetings run. We’ll be critiquing pieces just the same as we always do, giving people an insight into what it’s like to be critiqued. Attendance is free and you can find more information out here on the Brisbane Writer’s Festival homepage.

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Ego Boost

AAlogoJust the other day I learned the Aurealis Awards have changed their website location from AurealisAwards.com to AurealisAwards.org . Expecting the old page would go down soon I went through my posts linking to it to try and avoid any dead links.

While checking it out I came across a fantastic ego boost. The official judges’ report for the 2013 awards, which details what the judges thought of each individual piece. Curious, I checked out ‘Short Circuit’ (pg 13 if you want to look for yourself) and this is what I read:

This superhero-style short story was whimsical, playful, and delightfully more-ish. The panel was effectively unanimous in expressing the hope that there would be more stories forthcoming within this milieu.

Well, I’ll just strut around for a bit with my thumbs hooked under my (imaginary) suspenders.

It also makes me glad there are a lot more stories in this world. I’ve been wanting to find an artist and have them done as a comic, but perhaps I should write them instead? If you want to get more of a feel for the extended world, you can find out a little in the ‘For Fans’ page for Short Circuit and I’d love to know if you think it would be better as graphic novel or written word.

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Australian Spec-Fic Authors Challenge 2014 – July Round-Up

trouble twistersA few months back the lovely Shaheen at Speculating On Spec-Fic ran a competition giving away a set of four books. For ages I’ve been wanting to read a Garth Nix book, but always ended up reading other stuff. The give away was offering the first four books of the Troubletwisters series, written by Garth Nix and Sean Williams (a double dose of Aussie authors!) so I entered and won!

Unfortunately, I’m not the target market for this series. This series is aimed at middle grade readers and I’m in my thirties, but I figured there’s been more than a few YA titles I’ve loved, so I might as well read them.

Before I start in on what I didn’t like let me assure you, there was plenty I did like, the only problem was, I had to wade through approximately 100 pages of one of my fiction pet peeves: the trope of the protagonist being kept in the dark by others with no more of a reason than the plot isn’t ready to divulge it yet.

‘Not now,’ says Grandma X.

‘Here, drink some memory erasing hot chocolate,’ she says.

‘You’ll find out when you’re ready to know.’

Are you kidding me? Please tell me I’m not the only person who hates this particular literary device. At the end of the book the reader is given a bit more of an answer as to why secrets couldn’t be revealed earlier, but even that answer is not very satisfying and it reeks of  the author needing a reason to have done it so coming up with a reason.  The book even ends with the twins being told there will be more non-answers in the future for the same frigging reason and I wanted to beat my head against the wall. No. None of that for me please.

Because of these non-answer shenanigans the first hundred or so pages plodded along, then we even got a dose of the old ‘thinking the person obviously helping you is a bad guy’ move. This is all right in my opinion if the reader genuinely thinks they might be a bad guy, but when the character is blatantly helping (despite being a douche about answering questions) it feels rather cheap.

Now to the good stuff. Once the action kicks in things get good. The slow lack of plot becomes a quick moving river of action and a certain amount of velocity kicks in. I’m certain I read the last two thirds in half the time it took me to read the first third. The kids start actually taking action to look for answers since Grandma X is the weird queen of being evasive, then doing something question provoking right in front of them. Actual problems kick in and things get really quite fun.

There was also some nice set up for a few things in up-coming books(or what looks like it at least), which promises some fun and pain.

The powers of the various gifted in the story (I particularly love the father) and overall ideas in the story are really cool concepts, and I can see this being something the target audience could really get into. If they can get past the start – which I feel might be even more maddening to them since it’s kids being told no by adults. Or perhaps they’ll sympathise and things will go swimmingly.

For my August read I’ll be jumping headfirst into Kaleidoscope(I’ve raved about how much I wanted this book to exist in this post) since it just arrived in the mail today :)

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July Goals Round-Up 2014

I feel like I talked a big game in my halfway check-up and then fumbled the ball.

As far as goal one – the revision of Written By The Stars – honestly, the size of the task daunted me. The current lesson in Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel is the world building one, and I need to assess the world in every single scene. Blearg! I’m going to really try and buckle down on this one.

I started the ‘Princess Paladin’ idea I mentioned in my last goals round up, and what I thought would only be around 5,000 words looks like it’s going to round out around 10,000 to have the ending that I’m looking for. Of course I’ve done the old writer trick of having an idea mid-writing and have chased the rabbit, so it might end up being cut back down to 5,000 but we’ll see. So far I’ve written 5,000 words of the first draft.

I’ve watched a few webinars in pursuit of goal four, but it’s just reenforcing my belief that there’s only so much that free webinars will teach you (not to mention 90% of them finish trying to put the hard sell on you of ‘you must sign-up within the next 48 hours for this amazing discount‘). After ten or so of them and reading 1,000+ blog posts with advice for writer’s you start to hear either a lot of the same or a lot of conflicting advice. One good one to check out for marketing though (with no hard sell involved, no sell period actually) is ‘How Not to Be An Evil Marketer‘.
Anyway, I’ve got to put some gumption into it for the rest of the year. How are you all going?

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Australian Spec-Fic Authors Challenge 2014 – June Round-Up

In June I was quite caught up in reading classics I’ve intended to read – some for as long as since high school – and… well, I kind of forgot to read my Aussie spec-fic book for the month. Then I realised I read a lot more Aussie spec-fic than just novels, I regularly read some great Aussie magazines. Last year I  mentioned Aurealis, but I also thoroughly enjoy Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

51cover_229_317Aside from an awesomely hilarious name ASIM is packed full of fiction. They jam quite a few stories into each quarterly issue and some of these stories, well, there’s some corkers like ‘Non Smoker. Good Sense of Humour. Must Like Chickens’ about a talking chicken roommate(made extra funny to me because I have a friend nicknamed Chook) and a really different science fiction piece called ‘Suckers For Love’ about a tentacled alien and his search for true love. No, I’m not joking, ASIM love to print the light-hearted stuff as well as the deep.

ASIM is a long running Australian publication, having started back in 2002 and has shifted frequencies a few times over the years (Wikipedia still lists them as a bi-monthly production).

cover40bigAfter the bevy of fiction, often there are book reviews and other articles at the end and special features like tributes to certain authors.

You can get esubsciptions or print subscriptions (if you’re Australian you pay less :) what a nice change ;p ).

Andromeda Spaceways love to publish broadly throughout the spectrum of speculative fiction, as further evidenced by their ‘Best of Sci-Fi’, ‘Best of Fantasy’, and ‘Best of Horror’ collections. On a slight side note, they’re awesome to submit to as their process lets you know how close you came to acceptance and I’ve always received feedback from them.

I recommend grabbing a subscription and finding out how great this magazine is for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

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June Goals Round-Up 2014 + Halfway Mark Check

This month just passed I wrote a new short story ‘The Ashes’ and got excited about an old idea in a new time period. I also came up with two more hilarious ideas for short stories I will call ‘Princess Paladin’ and ‘Choose Your Underwear Carefully’. I also found out I’d had my flash fiction piece ‘Anything To Fit In’ recently published(you can read it free here). So my third goal is going quite well.

I’m stuck in the world building lesson for Written By The Stars’s revision. As you can imagine there’s a lot of world building with fantasy, and there are lots of checks the lesson has me make, so goal one is moving along, if somewhat sluggishly with the aide of goal four.

And now, the half way mark has been reached, so my mid-point check up:

In regards to goal one (final revision and editing of Written By The stars) I’m a bit behind where I had hoped to be on this project, but should easily have it knocked off by year end.

Goal two (finishing the first draft of Keys, Clock, Quests), yeah… haven’t done much with this goal at all sadly, but I’m only at the halfway mark of the year, still plenty of time to turn it around. I must admit though this one keeps being prioritised last. I suppose something has to be though…

Goal three (continuing to write and submit short stories), I’ve written a few, ideas for plenty, and submitted quite a few, even had two published so far (Nightfall in the anthology 18 and Anything To Fit In on the website 365 Tomorrows) so this one’s been going quite well.

Goal four (keep learning), I’ve done a few webinars (though I think I’m starting to reach the point where webinars don’t seem to be teaching me anything I haven’t heard before), have taken a couple of Holly Lisle’s courses (How To Revise Your Novel and How to Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck(the flash fiction one is free), continued to attend my critique group (this is one of my favourite leaning tools and I can’t recommend it enough – a good writers group helps you learn and grow through receiving feedback and giving your own). I think this one’s moving along nicely.

All up things are going smoothly, but I can do better ;p

How are you all going?

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Losing Patience With…

I’m beginning to lose patience with television shows where the entire episode’s drama revolves around the protagonist not telling the truth to someone when they need too.

To clarify, I’m fine with this premise when the truth will hurt someone, or for some other reason needs to be kept a secret. Those are fine. But when the truth is being kept back for no good reason (apart from the writer got lazy and decided this was a great way to create some tension) all it does is irritate me.

Ok, admittedly I’m someone who pretty much just says whatever I’m thinking (and whenever ;p ) so I’m the type who usually tries to explain what’s happening, and not everyone is like that, but when the main character is not telling her best friend she is also hanging out with some old work friends who she ran into a second ago(by happenstance) and just ends up running between the two groups causing anger and confusion and the WHOLE thing could be solved by taking two seconds and explaining things and the only repercussion of doing so is you might be a bit embarrassed in front of the old work colleagues all that happens is I, as a viewer, am frustrated.

If you are going to have a character keep a secret, give them a reason. Make the secret a good secret. Like one character killed someone protecting her friends, but she doesn’t want to burden the other friends (who have a lot on their plates at the moment) with her feelings. She also doesn’t want to make them feel guilty, or like it’s their fault, so she has to internalise all of it.

Sorry for the rant, just in this last week I’ve seen this done at least three times and, well, I’m losing patience.

Is there a device/cliche like this that drives you to distraction? (Permission to rant granted ;p )

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