The zombie apocalypse began so long ago, yet we’re still trawling the lakes for corpses, using brains as bait to lure them out.
I find myself at the start of a major project, a place I have been so many times. Yet rarely have I wound up at the end. This time I’m thinking about what it is that I’m doing, what I want to be doing, and why I want to be doing that. Writing a book shouldn’t be as difficult as it is for someone like me who loves reading and writing. But I’ve been cursed with a short attention span, and if things don’t catch on, they usually fade out to nothing. I’m also a compulsive hoarder, so I’ve collected quite a number of half-finished – or barely started – manuscripts over the past couple of years. In fact, it’s only with things like NaNoWriMo, where I try cramming something massive into an incredibly short space of time, that I manage to get something novel length into a complete first draft. Never further than that.
I find planning helps.
And now, as I stare at the screen, contemplating how I should approach my space western, tentatively titled “Once Upon A Time On Mars”, I’ve begun to compile a list of things that inspire me. It started with things directly related to the project at hand. At the top of the list were things like Fistful of Feet (Jordan Krall’s bizarro western novel), Doom Magnetic (William Pauley III’s bizarro space western novella), the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Cowboy Bebop. Then the narrator character gathered inspiration from the narrator in the Big Lebowski. And the revenge plot and non-linear narrative took inspiration from Tarantino. Then it sort of shaped into a list of things that are western, space western, sci fi, things that shape my writing, or things that shape my way of thinking. And that brought me around to some things that when I watched them or read them, they left a real impact, such that my head goes into a spin just thinking about them.
I love stuff that’s subtle and intricate and delicate, yet not clouded with standard, everyday drama, but stuff that’s deeply psychological, layered and complex, sometimes dark, confronting, and extremely uncomfortable. In particular, I’m fascinated with gender representation in texts, and particularly with texts that subvert (or at least, mess with) the dominant representations of masculinity. I’m tentatively naming it post-masculine, going off ideas that such representations of male characters take them outside the boundaries of male expectations that have existed for so long in western culture, yet seems to constantly slip under the radar while feminism is being debated full force.
Why can’t men talk about emotions and thoughts and feelings?
It’s something I’d like to approach in my own writing, and it’s something I really respect in the works of other people. I guess you could say this is my driving factor, my search for an identity that doesn’t need to mould itself to masculinity and patriarchal standards to be happy with myself. And that’s something I haven’t been able to put into words before.
I’d like to take note of the texts that have blown my mind and helped me to come to a better understanding about myself and about my own thoughts and actions.
Starting with the most recent, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
I think the best way of describing this show is that it’s like those angler fish. You see something shiny and awesome and you think “I wonder what will happen if I try to grab it.” So you try to grab it and it moves away playfully. And you try to grab it again and it moves away playfully. You want it. You want it real bad. More than anything in the world. And when you do get it, you find that it’s attached to this monstrous creature that feeds off the vulnerable.
The show follows a 14 year old boy as he pilots his robot thing and attempts to destroy angel things to save the world. But he is burdened with many, many things. Of course, at his age, all he wants to do is fit in, to be a normal child. To hang out with his friends and talk about girls. He is at a constant crossroads between the life he wants and the life he’s destined to live. His father is a cold bastard and he keeps himself at a distance to his peers. It would have been so easy for this show to turn out like all the other massive awesome kids fighting shit and saving the world tv shows out there, and while I’m sure all those other shows aren’t completely void of any emotional and psychological themes, this show takes it to the next level. I watched the whole 26 episode series in 5 days, cramming the last 6 episodes into one sitting so I could finish it before work. What happened was that by the time I’d watched a few episodes and started to get to know the characters and care for them, the psychological themes turn up a notch or two. And when it feels like it’s settling down again it just explodes again. Shinji Ikari, the main character, is a real traumatised child, and without saying too much, his psychological turmoil gets turned right up. Instead of making the story about the big robots and the angels and saving the world, the show becomes a story about a child going through an existential crisis at a crucial point in his life. Phenomenal.
Keeping with the Japanese, I’ll move on to one of my most inspirational idols; Matsuo Basho.
I’ve mentioned him here several times before, but I can’t undervalue the importance he has had on my writing and my way of perceiving writing and my way of perceiving the world. When I read his haiku, I find it so soothing. There is peace and beauty and nature to his writing. He gets in touch with a delicate and beautiful world that I often fear is lost to the current world. But I can take comfort in the idea that enduring the bleak and ugly will bring me strength and harmony and allow me to tap into this delicate and beautiful world that Basho has recreated in his writing. Probably some sort of yin-yang zen philosophy in there somewhere.
I remember studying poetry last year and learning the haiku form and reading Basho’s poetry for the first time and the impact that had on me. To me, Basho is the ultimate poet.
Next, I’d like to mention the work of Don Hertzfeldt. In particular, his films “Everything Will Be OK” and “I Am So Proud Of You.” These are two short films following the life of Bill.
These films are some of the most powerful films I’ve seen. They’re kind of like Neon Genesis Evangelion in that at face value they don’t look like anything outstanding. But the power is in the words, the storytelling. Don Hertzfeldt is an independent animator and true genius. These two films (with a third on its way) are all hand-drawn with simple-looking characters acting out a very deeply bleak story. There’s black humour running throughout his work, but “Everything Will Be OK” and “I Am So Proud Of You” are just so relentless. Bill endures the worst life has to throw at him as he tries to make sense of his life. Everything is larger than Bill. His life feels like it’s out of his control. What good is a small choice to the world at large? What is one person in a timeline stretching both ways to infinity? Can you ever truly understand the ones you love? Don Hertzfeldt has a way with words, and his films demonstrate this, and string together a narrative so completely brilliant and devastating it’s difficult to comprehend that all of that came from one man’s head and illustrated on his paper.
And while I feel like I could list a number of other inspirations, I’ll keep it to four and mention a book I read this year which is quite comfortably one of my favourite books. DBC Pierre’s “Lights Out In Wonderland.” I’ve loved this book ever since I read the opening few lines. They go like this:
“There isn’t a name for my situation. Firstly because I decided to kill myself. And then because of this idea:
I don’t have to do it immediately.”
And from there it goes, gaining momentum as Gabriel goes on an existential journey, looking for the perfect moment to off himself. It’s darkly addictive. We’re on a journey with Gabriel to find the point to his pointless searching for something ill-defined. Whoosh, a limbo, a wonderland journey, searching for something fantastical, this book is wild, riveting, decadent, and psychologically captivating. A character on the brink of suicide and trying to figure it all out. What leads a man to this? It’s not your normal everyday thought, and he’s not on your normal everyday journey, either. He doesn’t think like normal people, and his situation is a little messed up, but there’s nothing wrong with being different. There’s nothing wrong with liking things that other people don’t like. There’s nothing wrong with going against the grain if it’s what you really want to do. I love the books and movies that I do because they help me define myself. They help me to come to terms with who I am. I’m a guy doing an arts degree. I’m interested in writing and poetry and weird books and films and music because I want to be able to think for myself and not be judged as a freak or a faggot or whatever because I don’t like cars and sports and objectifying women and solving things with aggression like other men do. Is that wrong? I don’t think so, but so often it feels like a lot of people feel it is wrong. Don’t hate me until you’ve tried to know me and understand me, until you’ve tried my way of life. Obviously, you can’t truly know me, but trying means a lot more to me than pretending I’m a normal guy.
After twenty years of living in country Western Australia, I’ve finally discovered a country called Japan. It is a country populated entirely by Japanese people. I know, amazing, right? And it turns out they’ve got these comics they call “Manga” and cartoons they call “Anime”. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking: “Slow down there, hombre, you’re going a mile a minute. I can’t possibly take all this information in!” Well, whatever.
Actually, I collected Pokemon cards when I was a kid. Probably because everyone else was doing it. But the only book store in town didn’t sell Manga, and none of our two TV stations (eventually… four) broadcast Anime. I think this is because the TV people and the book store people know that absolutely no Japanese people live in country Western Australia. Something like that. So, yeah, whatever.
So I moved to the city where the kids grew up with a few more TV channels and they got shows like Pokemon and Dragonball Z and junk like that. Power ups and battles and shit. You can learn all you need to know about these types of shows from suff like this and this. I think I have memories of watching a Digimon movie at a friend’s house and a film which I believe is called Porco Rosso in year 8 Japanese class. The first anime film I bought was called Interstella 5555, the musical set track-for-track to Daft Punk’s album Discovery. That was only a couple of years ago.
Since then, I’ve become absorbed with all sorts of genres of books and films and such, although I never really bothered much with comics. I remember reading Richie Rich and Archie and Simpsons comics, just a couple of volumes of each here and there, sometimes I got them just to pass time in long road trips. Other than that, it was just the Newspaper comic strips, Garfield and Zits and Calvin and Hobbes, and whatever was in the Disney Adventure magazines I used to read.
That was a very long time ago.
No masked superheroes, no fighting crime, no secret identities, no justice.
It wasn’t until February of this year that I bought my first graphic novel; V for Vendetta. I saw the film a few years ago and I enjoyed it, and I read the graphic novel and I loved it. And the guy who wrote it also wrote the graphic novel for another film I enjoyed; Watchmen. And it, too, was brilliant. Alan Moore is a fantastic comic book writer. And then I picked up a collected volume of the first eight volumes of The Walking Dead series. It was pretty awesome, but after I finished the compendium I had no idea where the story was going. The characters had gone from place to place, fighting off hoardes of zombies and occasional squabbles with other real people/isolated communities. What frusted me was that it didn’t end and it hasn’t shown any sign of an end. Which I guess is more true to the situation, but really, after a while it gets exhausting and starts to drag.
The next logical step to checking out different genres and formats was to give the manga a go. There were a few that I was looking to start with, such as Uzumaki, Ghost in the Shell, Battle Royale (well, I’d prefer to read the novel first), amongst others, but the one I started with, as recommended by a friend who is a bit of an anime/manga/comic book enthusiast, was called Akira. I’d never heard of it before, so I thought, yeah, whatever, I’ll check it out. Six decent volumes (considering how quick it is, comparitively, to read comics) of psychic/telepathic children, a cyberpunk looming apocalypse backdrop, bike gangs, military testing facilities, underground resistance movements, an all out war between telepathic experiments, it’s pretty full on.
There is a lot of action. There’s a lot of plot development and character development, and the magnitude of the story is huge. The artwork is brilliant and the story just keeps building up and building up and each volume has so much going on at times it feels a little difficult to follow all the different threads unraveling at the same time, but it comes together fantastically I found myself hanging out for the next volume to arrive on my doorstep, and by the third one I didn’t want to wait to read one at a time and ordered the last three volumes in the one go and pretty much read the last half of the series in one and a bit days.
I’m keen on checking out the movie adaptation of the series, but really, this is exactly why I wanted to have a poke around with manga, there’s a lot of stuff out there I haven’t looked into, there are bound to be quite a few gems in there. So while I won’t go out reading everything I can find on manga, I’ve got something, a reference point to compare other books and series to. Akira is top quality punk-ass cyberpunk manga of epic proportions.
or remain obscure and mysterious. I mean, whatever works, really…
So what’s going on with me right now is that I’m right at the end of the uni semester. One short essay over the weekend and I’ve got six weeks off. And then a year from now I’ll have completed my undergrad creative writing/literary and cultural studies course. And a year after that, I’ll have completed my creative writing honours. That’s my plan for two years from now. It’s good to have a loose plan, although I won’t be surprised if things go off on a tangent…
But it helps to try to do as much for myself now, to have a few nice achievements under my belt by the time I get there. So right now, I’ve got three short stories awaiting further details from the places I submitted them to. The Expansion Peach has gone to the bizarro flash fiction blog/journal, The New Flesh; Pterodactyl Eggs in the Supermarket has gone to the central bizarro community – appropriately named – Bizarro Central (which I contribute non-fiction writings to); and The Slow Hanging has gone to the Australian speculative fiction print journal, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I’m fairly certain some, or perhaps all, of these submissions will be rejected. But it’s not my first rejection, and surely won’t be my last. The idea is that I’m sending my writing out there and at least getting people to consider my writing, to think about that.
Now, over the next six weeks, I plan on making use of my time off from uni. I’m working three days on and four days off, so I’ve got a lot of time to myself. I’ve bulked up on books in preparation for the break, and I’ll most likely get around to watching a lot of movies/tv shows too. And most importantly, I’ll be spending a lot of time writing. I’ll hopefully keep on submitting short stories everywhere, and fingers crossed, one publication picks me up. But all this time is really great for working on something a bit more ambitious than flash fiction.
First, I’ll set the scene with a bit of music:
For me, writing is about style and imagination. Finding something unique and saying it in an interesting way. Or taking ideas that are already floating out there and giving them your own unique kick, producing something that is inimitable. So why the Cowboy Bebop theme song?
Because it’s fucking awesome, that’s why!
Well, there’s a little more to it than that. I’ve recently had the urge to check out some anime and manga. It wasn’t something I was interested in growing up, so I thought it was time to see what the fuss was about. So I started reading the manga series, Akira, and I watched Cowboy Bebop and completely adored it. Over the past couple of years I’ve taken an interest in sci-fi subgenres, and genre-blends. Steampunk, cyberpunk, biopunk, etc. Not a fully fledged fandom, but an interests in the aesthetics of what’s going on there. It’s a ‘style’ in addition to being a ‘genre’. And my latest thing is the space western.
I’ve started watching the odd western film here and there, a bit of spaghetti western, a bit of acid western, and now with Cowboy Bebop, I’m getting into space westerns. But being a space western isn’t the only reason I like the show. It’s heavily stylised in the genre, but it also goes out of its way to establish a solid musical style, too. I went for Cowboy Bebop because it seemed like more than your run-of-the-mill anime series. As with any genre/art form, there’s the stuff that’s entertaining and easy enough to watch, and then there’s shit that takes things to another level. Cowboy Bebop felt a bit like that for me.
And half way through reading Akira, I’ve got a sense of “holy shit, that’s epic” going on, a sense of style and a drive to tell a story that is beyond the capabilities of other writers. Of course, other writers have the capability to write their own masterpieces or whatever, but what I want to do is find my own style and tell my own story like no one else can. Mostly, what I like to do is play around with genres and styles, and my latest thing is the space western, so that’s where I plan to start my six weeks off. I’m using my short story, The Slow Hanging, as a reference point to where I am and where I want to be, and I think I’ve got a pretty good idea as to what I want to do over the break.
I’ve done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) twice now, and if it’s taught me anything, it’s that planning helps a lot. Which is a little difficult for me at times because I write a lot of stuff off the cuff, take ideas and just run with them, and I have the problem with longer projects of either dwindling out aimlessly or twisting a story to fit what I planned for it, and causing it to lose its spontaneity and excitement and fall flat. What’s worked well for me for my creative writing over the past semester is to make notes when I’ve got ideas, and branch out from those and link ideas together in a way that feels natural to me. Although, my new technologies final assignment almost broke me, with a choose-your-own-adventure blog that required careful planning which at times didn’t look too far from this:
I’d love to write a novella in my six week break, a bizarro space western that expands on my short story and fleshes out those themes and expands on some plot points and ideas and develops the style into something a whole lot more rewarding than a short story. I’ve planned a lot of “big projects” over the years, novels, novellas, poetry collections, short story collections, verse novels, and back when I wrote more music I wanted to do albums and soundtracks and stuff like that. My main problem with almost all of these projects was that I didn’t really plan for them. I started then got distracted by something else. As you can probably tell by the amount of tangents I tend to go off on.
I think I’m probably going to do a fair amount of brainstorming, developing ideas, making notes, scribbling on paper, and probably writing a few interconnected short stories before I start writing a novella. The writing part isn’t hard. Getting a decent word count up isn’t hard. Getting a decent story and working on it and making a piece of writing that is not only drawn out to some length, but also well written, stylish and unique is the part that causes the most problems. And finding time and motivation to put in all the work for it.
What I find really helpful is knowing people are reading my work, and being able to get feedback from them. So hopefully, I can get other people interested in my project to spur my interest on, and hopefully these six weeks won’t go to waste.