A Restful(?) Week

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I have quite a few projects lined up for this year. Also, by “luck” of the draw, I had to drive to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory on Christmas Day and stay through New Years morning. So, I decided to take this first week of the new year as a low-pressure week to unwind from the stress of the holidays before jumping into new projects.

One of my Christmas presents this year was a model of the spaceship Bentenmaru from the anime Bodacious Space Pirates (Click on the title to see my discussion of the series). My wife included a copy of the movie based on the series, Abyss of Hyperspace. The movie was pretty good. It’s essentially an extended episode of the series and doesn’t add much to the bigger story arcs. Still, it was great to see Pirate Captain Marika Kato, the crew of the Bentenmaru, and the Hakuoh Academy Yacht Club back in action.

bentenmaru-box

The model itself was an import from Japan made by Hasegawa Hobby Kits. I’ve had fun building other anime space ship models from Japan. Most of those were Bandai kits. As with the Bandai kits I’ve built, the actual assembly of the model was smooth and the model includes lots of detail. Unlike the Bandai kits I’ve assembled, this one came with a generous sheet of decals. This is where my week of fun and pleasant diversion morphed into challenging learning experience.

Now as someone who has enjoyed building models since I was in elementary school, I’m no stranger to water-slide decals. So, I didn’t think I needed instructions for applying them—useful since the instructions that came with the kit were in Japanese. However, as I began to apply the decals, I discovered that they were both a bit thicker than the American decals I’ve used and seemed to have less glue. The result was that I found them a challenge to stay in place and several started to peel up again as they dried, instead of remaining stuck to the model!

I ended up going out to the internet to find methods for rescuing the decals. I found one site that recommended sticking them down with a little watered-down white glue. This worked for a few of the smaller decals. I was able to rescue a few of the decals by applying a tiny drop of superglue underneath with a toothpick and pressing the decal back down. The biggest decal was on the base—the series logo. That one went down easily and seemed to stick well, but as it dried, its edges seemed to lift up. My attempt to rescue it led to the worst disaster of all. One forum I read suggested sealing the edges with clear nail polish. I’m sorry to say, clear nail polish melted these decals. Fortunately, I’d only tried on a small area and only did a little damage that I was able to touch up with some paint.

Eventually, I found my way to a forum for Gundam models, another Japanese hobby company focusing on mecha. Their video for decal application suggested that I was applying the decals correctly, but that I should also use a clear liquid called decal set after applying them. I’ve been aware of decal set, but I have never found it all that necessary on the American models I made. I picked up a small bottle and tried it on the last couple of decals on the Bentenmaru and they did indeed seem to stick down better than the ones applied without decal set. In the end, I’m pretty happy with the results, though I’m a little concerned that the model won’t age well if decals peel up and fall off.

bentenmaru

If anyone reading this has built Hasegawa models with decals, I’d be interested in any tips you have. If the model doesn’t hold up to time, I may attempt it again. If so, I want to go in with as much knowledge as possible!

Because of the decals, the model took a lot longer than I expected and wasn’t really as restful as I hoped. Even so, it did clear my mind and gave me a change of pace for a few days before leaping into new projects. As writers, we’re often told we have to write every day and apply every waking hour we’re not writing to marketing our books. I think it’s important for writers to step back from that and realize that they’re self-employed business people. Everyone burns out if they don’t take a break once in a while. If you’re a writer, remember to be a good boss to yourself and give yourself some time to play—whether it’s some time relaxing on a beach, indulging in a hobby, or even taking a class. It’ll pay dividends in your efficiency, and who knows? You might have an experience which could be used in a future story.

Nostalgia

Back in January, when I wrote about Cowboy Bebop, I mentioned that I’ve been a fan of anime since watching Gigantor in the early 1970s. Johnny Sokko Out of curiosity, I looked up some information about the series and its creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama. It turns out that Yokoyama basically invented stories about giant mecha, which have practically become their own genre within anime. Yokoyama also created another series which I remember fondly from my childhood, which was known in the United States as Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot.

This latter series was actually live action and told the story of a boy named Johnny Sokko who commanded a nine-story tall robot, decked out like an Egyptian Pharaoh, but commanding an arsenal of amazing weapons. Johnny’s remote control was a special wrist watch, tailor-made for playground imitation, and he helped secret agents battle an evil organization known as the Gargoyle Gang. I remember this series as one of the coolest things I ever saw as a kid. I always felt a little sorry for Johnny Sokko because he had to wear a tie, but I’d wear a tie, too, if I had a giant robot to command. In my research, I discovered that episodes of Johnny Sokko are available through some streaming services and I downloaded one. I expected it to be cheezy fun and I wasn’t disappointed, but I had to work to see the cool I did as a kid.

In the 1990s, Japan’s anime creators went through a phase of remaking the classic series that inspired them. Yasuhiro Imagawa planned to remake Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot as an anime, but only got the rights to use the giant robot and Daisaku Kusama—the kid known to us in the United States as Johnny Sokko. That’s a little like getting the rights to remake Star Trek but only getting to use the Starship Enterprise and Captain Kirk. There’s no Spock, no Uhura, no Klingons, no Federation. Yeah, you could make something that looked like Star Trek, but it wouldn’t have all the magic fans remember. Imagawa, though, had a flash of inspiration. He found he could get the rights to use characters from all of Mitsuteru Yokoyama’s other manga series.

The upshot was Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still. Giant_Robo_-_The_Animation Set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk-inspired world, it tells how the evil organization called Big Fire tries to gain control of the world’s energy resources. Standing in their way are the Experts of Justice, a group of superheroes from Yokoyama’s manga teamed up with Daisaku Kusama and Giant Robo. It features amazing music performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and choir and it took six years to produce the seven episodes of the series. I hunted down a copy both to see what the result was like and I was also intrigued by the fact that the director shared a surname with the antagonist of my novel The Brazen Shark. As it turns out, my almost 50-year-old self sees it as being almost as cool and my 8-year-old self found the original. This is a remake done right!

In this age of easy self-publishing, it’s actually fairly easy for an author to revise and release new editions of their work if they hold all the publishing rights. Given how well Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was re-imagined into Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still, I completely understand how an author can look back at their work, see improvements, make them and release new editions. However, I do advise some caution in this. For a great example of why, look no further than George Lucas and his re-issues of Star Wars. Although Lucas has made his special effects look nicer than he could in the 1970s, he’s also angered a lot of fans by tinkering with a movie they loved and adding elements they didn’t find necessary. Over twenty years passed before a remake of Johnny Sokko and his Flying Robot was attempted and even then, it was under the helm of a new, albeit reverent, creator.

I look back at my earliest novels such as The Pirates of Sufiro and Children of the Old Stars and see plenty of things I’d change if I wrote those novels today. Despite that, I know there are readers who find plenty to love in those novels and I’d want to be careful to enhance and make better, while not taking away those elements readers find charming.

So, are there any examples of remakes or re-imagined movies, television series, or books that you thought were especially well done? What made the remake work for you?

Victorian-Inspired Fantasia

This past week, I’ve been focused on revising my novel The Brazen Shark based on notes sent to me by me editor. My goal has been to tighten the novel in places, show not tell in others, and generally work to make the prose paint the pictures I want it to paint. This novel makes a break from the wild west setting of Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. I’ve been having a great time making a trans-Pacific airship voyage with Captain Cisneros, and having Samurai Imagawa Masako match wits with the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev. I even wander the streets of Meiji-era Tokyo with our heroes Ramon and Fatemeh.

OldPhotoKyobashi

There’s a definition of punk rock over at urbandictionary.com that essentially reads as follows: One fellow asks another, “What is punk?” The second fellow kicks over a garbage can and says, “That’s punk!” So the first fellow kicks over the garbage can and says, “So, that’s punk?” To which, the first guy responds, “No, that’s trendy.”

Moving the action in my series from the western U.S. to Asia is one way I kick down my own garbage can. Hopefully it helps to put a new layer of “punk” in my “wild west steampunk.”

With that in mind, I came across a discussion this week about the definition of steampunk. The problem is that steampunk often gets the off-handed definition of “Victorian science fiction.” Well, some steampunk certainly is Victorian science fiction. It’s also true that for many readers, “science fiction” encompasses anything even remotely fantastical from paranormal horror to stories of space travel to stories of crossing over to the realm of faerie. And, the thing is, I’ve seen steampunk stories that would encompass all of those.

Another problem with calling steampunk “Victorian science fiction” is that it doesn’t do justice to how broad steampunk is. It’s not just a literary genre, but a music genre, a visual arts genre, even a lifestyle. Thinking about it, the phrase that popped to my mind is “Victorian-Inspired Fantasia.” Paraphrasing Merriam-Webster, a fantasia is a work in which the creator’s fancy roves unrestricted.

What I like about this definition is that it seems to cover all of the steampunk I can think of. It covers the diverse musical styles that steampunk bands play. It covers science fiction set in the Victorian age. It covers post-apocalyptic stories where people have returned to Victorian technology. It covers creative costumers who might start with some Victorian clothing and modify it, taking it in new and unusual directions. The definition also takes into account the punk element, because when you rove unrestricted, you’re liable to kick down a garbage can or two.

Have you heard or do you have a definition of steampunk that you particularly like? If so, feel free speak up in the comments.

Time for Yourself

This past week I finished the first complete draft of The Brazen Shark. I phrase that as “first complete” because I’m the kind of writer who does a lot of revision as I go, so it’s not exactly a “rough draft” or a true “first draft.” In fact almost everything but the last chapter has been through some level of revision. However you count it, reaching the end of new manuscript is something of a milestone, so I took a little time for myself this week. I’m a fan of anime and I love to build models. Recently, I found a model of Captain Harlock’s ship, the Arcadia on eBay. I spent a couple days this last week building the model, shown next to the Starship Enterprise.

Arcadia and Enterprise

As an aside, I show these two side-by-side because they are, according to their manufacturers, almost to scale with each other. So, if you ever wondered how big Captain Harlock’s ship was compared to Captain Kirk’s, you now have a pretty good idea. I also find myself wondering what might have happened if Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi had encountered Captain Harlock and Mimay in that cantina in Mos Eisley instead of Han and Chewbacca.

Returning to the topic at hand, the point I want to make is that I think it’s important for writers to take some time and just play. Now your play and mine may be different. I like building models. You might like playing golf or a favorite musical instrument. You might like gardening or watching movies. It doesn’t really matter what you do, these things give your mind a necessary respite before moving on to the next project.

I have a short story I need to write and I have at least one, possibly two more revision passes to go on the novel before I turn it in. However, if I went straight into those things, I know I wouldn’t be effective. I’d slog through and I might get the job done, but I wouldn’t be happy with it.

I also recognize that there’s a lot of pressure to spend time on social media, market your books, write new stuff, and possibly have a day job. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like anyone is going to give you the time you need to have a break. In short, no one is going to give you that time. You’re going to have to have the discipline to make that time. In much the same way that your recreation may be very different from mine, the time you take may be very different. I took a couple day block after several intensive work days. Others might take an hour a day. Still others might plan half a day a week. Different strategies work for different people. Find a strategy that works for you.

I will note that after a couple of quiet days not thinking about writing, I almost couldn’t stop ideas flowing on that short story I need to write. That’s what I’ll be working on later today. Then, with that little bit of space, I’ll definitely be ready to tackle those revisions, which means, hopefully, book 3 of the Clockwork Legion will be available to you soon! In the meantime, the first two novels, Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves are available right now. Just follow the links to learn more.

Artistic Inspiration

As a writer, I sometimes turn to artwork for inspiration. Danforth-painting A number of years ago, I bought the painting at the left from the wonderful artist Liz Danforth. As I recall, this was painted as an illustration for a collectable card game, but I liked the mysterious western story it implied. I asked myself who the lawman was and who was the mysterious figure lurking outside the window. Over time, as I worked with the characters and made them my own, the lawman became the owl-like, bespectacled sheriff, Ramon Morales. The figure outside the window seemed perhaps Arab or Persian, could be male or female. I imagined a witch, but as the character came to life in my mind, I realized she was really a healer who was misunderstood. If I were to describe Ramon and Fatemeh from Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves, I don’t think you’d see the characters in this painting, but the painting started the creative process rolling.

Speaking of the novel I’m writing, I managed to get stalled out over the holidays. It wasn’t really writer’s block or anything of that sort, just life getting in the way and being busy. I had to push past the inertia to get writing again. ornithopter While at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in Long Beach last month, my artist’s table was next to the Nathaniel Johnstone Band. Nathaniel’s wife is the amazingly talented Laura Tempest Zakroff. I came to admire her artwork and asked if I could pay her to do a rendition of the owl ornithopters from my steampunk books. The illustration at right is the result. The feeling of adventure inspired by the mechanical owl in flight made me want to leap back into that world again and continue on.

For Valentine’s Day, my wife gave me a lovely knitted turquoise Jackalope. jackalope His contented expression and metallic antlers speak to me and suggest story ideas. I don’t know yet where a jackalope or something like one will appear, but I’m guessing it will happen sooner or later and it might well happen in the book I’m writing now.

If you’d like to meet Ramon and Fatemeh and see the owl ornithopters in action, try out a copy of Owl Dance or Lightning Wolves. Following the links will take you to pages where you can read sample chapters and find a variety of buying choices.

Has a piece of art inspired you? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

A Collaborative Adventure

Myranda and Fish

Today I’m in Albuquerque, getting ready to hear my daughter Myranda play bass in the New Mexico All-State Symphony Orchestra. She’s worked hard to be there. The last three years, she made the All-State Concert Orchestra. Making symphony is a step up in prestige for her and I’m proud she succeeded in this goal.

As a writer, I love symphonies. At the basic level, the music often inspires my writing, making me think of stories. At a deeper level, I think it’s fascinating to see how all of those instruments come together to make a piece of music. Hollywood director Nicholas Meyer once said, “The director is a bit analogous to the conductor of a symphony orchestra. It’s a collaborative adventure.”

Of course, writers often work alone, and the creation of a story or a novel doesn’t always feel very collaborative. However, at the fundamental level, a story is like a song and a novel is like a symphony. The writer uses the words like a composer uses notes. When the right words are used, its wonderful. When that doesn’t happen, the story or novel grates.

That simple analogy aside, I have to say my best experiences as a writer have come from genuine collaboration. They’ve come when I’ve worked with an editor to improve an outline or to make the words in a finished work shine.

I’ve also had great experiences working with artists illustrating my work. I know some writers who get very disappointed when an artist doesn’t interpret their writing exactly the way they imagined it. I actually find it fascinating when that happens. Sometimes it tells me I wasn’t as clear in my writing as I thought I was. Sometimes I see new things in my own writing that I had missed before. If I’m lucky enough to get the illustration before I’ve finished polishing a work, I’ve been known to go back and use elements from the illustration in the writing, making the process truly collaborative.

My only regret about being in Albuquerque this weekend is that it coincides with Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California. I had an excellent time participating as a writer the last two years and I hope I’ll be able to return next year. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop in. You’ll see the magic of Dyno Staats, hear music from such fabulous artists as Abney Park, Unwoman, and Lee Presson and the Nails, and much more. Clearly, though, it was important to celebrate my daughter’s accomplishment and I look forward to seeing many of my Southern California friends at San Diego’s Gaslight Gathering this spring!

EPIC Finalist and Givens Interviewed

I just learned this morning that Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory with my story “Amazons and Predators” was named a finalist for the 2011 EPIC Award for Best Anthology. To learn more about the anthology, drop by the Mundania Press page for the anthology or Amazon.com

We’ll learn who the winner is in March. In the meantime, I wanted to send out a big congratulations to all my fellow contributors:
D.C. Wilson, Hildy Silverman, Chris Pisano & Brian Koscienski, Trisha Wooldridge & Christy Tohara, Lee C. Hillman, Robert E. Waters, Bernie Mojzes, C.J. Henderson, James Daniel Ross, Darren W. Pearce & Neal Levin, Jeffrey Lyman, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Kelly A. Harmon, Jason Franks, Patrick Thomas, David Sherman, Elaine Corvidae, James Chambers, John L. French, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail.

Also, I wanted to take a moment and mention that there’s an interview with Laura Givens at All Pulp. Laura is the art director of Tales of the Talisman magazine and she’s done the cover for several of my books including The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, Heirs of the New Earth, Space Pirates, and Space Horrors. If you’re interested in exciting art, you should definitely drop by and check out the interview!