Nanowrimo 2014: Deadlines Are The Best Creative Tool

So, in one more day National Novel Writing Month starts. Surprisingly I have a premise and managed a rough outline despite writing in a genre I know little about.

Part of the reason is that a deadline can be a very effective tool to get you going. Of course, this is the point of Nanowrimo period. Knowing you only have a week or less though to get an idea, set down a premise, and have a rough plan to start writing is also helpful. There’s no time for self-doubt; you need words on paper and you need them now. For a writer, usually writing is the exact opposite. No one forces you to write, and it’s easy just to let time pass by. Having to blitz out an idea in a week or less can be a decent motivator.

The origins of the story are remarkably hazy for something thought up days ago. With other stories, I can trace images and inspirations very easily, but this project seemed based on little more than intuition and serendipity. Fitting for magical realism I guess, but unusual. Two elements came together to guide this.

The first element was thinking on magical realism, and the first chapter coming to mind. The four main characters of my book are remembering someone who has just died. That was it, and then the ideas just came from there. It’s interesting how ideas can flow from just a single chapter. I need to explain their memories, and then the object of remembrance, how he died, why he died, what killed him, and more. A small starting point, but enough to build the book on.

The second element was Scheherazade, from the Arabian Nights. I was thinking, and I remembered her sister, Dinarzade from the book The Vizier’s Second Daughter by Robert F. Young.  Young is an unusual science fiction writer; unlike many, he is focused on how men relate to women. I had the thought of Dinarzade, and then Scheherazade came to mind. She fits into the framework of the story, and I had the second part of the plot. One boring management class later, and I had sketched out a very rough outline of chapters.

I still have a lot of work to do. Mostly I need to read for information and texture. I need to read the following books:

  • Ray Bradbury, his short works and general novels.
  • Morte D’Arthur
  • The Arabian Nights (of course, duh)
  • Several Magic Realism works, such as Notleia mentioned in the last post.
  • Aesop’s Fables.
  • The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

And quite a few more. I need to get texture as well as ideas.

I need a title, too. I have all four of the main characters named, but not a single idea of what to call the book. Go figure. Seat of the pants writing is rather messy.

I can’t really share much about the book beyond this now. Once Nov 1 hits, I will get underway writing and discovering the work. I’ll post character info, sample chapters and more. I can’t guarantee it will be the best work, but that’s what future revisions are for. Again, if anyone else is doing Nanowrimo and wants a friend to encourage their writing, comment here with your name and I’ll add you. Thanks to everyone who voted on the poll, and I hope you’ll like the result.

 


Nanowrimo 2014: So it looks like…

…magical realism for the win. Not entirely what I was expecting.

Magical/Magic realism is an odd genre. It’s best described as a form of literary fantasy based on folklore and myth, with several quirks of its own.

  • A reticent narrator. This means the narrator isn’t really amazed or shocked about what’s happening, or tries to make sense of it. This guy just grew a pig’s tail? Well okay then.
  • Making the mundane magical. This is tough to explain. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, a traveling tribe of Gypsies display their wonders to a small village. the most wonderful thing? A block of ice. The magic works with the mundane to elevate it, not supplant it.
  • Not escapist nor pulp, but literary. Still trying to pin this one down.
  • Metafictional.
  • Often exotic or concerned with cultures outside of the west.

It’s not a genre I have much experience with, but in a way this is good. Nanowrimo is designed to stretch your muscles and lift you out of any ruts you are in, and writing in an unfamiliar genre is sure to help as well. I already have ideas coming to me, and it’s going to be an interesting experiment to say the least.

Like usual, I’ll be detailing the process on the blog. It will be different than past years because I’m going into this much more “seat of the pants” than previous years. All of two days planning and plotting, and then the blitz begins.


Nanowrimo 2014: You Decide

It seems like I blinked, and suddenly it’s almost November. November means National Novel Writing Month, which is an informal challenge to writers to sit down and crank out the first draft of a novel in thirty days. It’s a fun, exhausting experience designed to break you out of your comfort zone some and get you to do what you dream of. You can also network with other participants for socializing, encouragment, and feedback.

I’ve done it for two years prior, I think. First one I succeeded, with a draft of a horror novel called Welcome to Dead City. The second one I failed, trying to write a mecha novel called Atlantisjack. Ended it with about 30k words or so. I might have also skipped it one year.  You can see my Nanowrimo page here. This year I’m going to do it a bit differently. I’m going to let the readers of this blog decide what genre of novel I should attempt this year.

I didn’t include hard science fiction because I don’t think I can accomplish it in 30 days. Hard SF requires a lot of research to do well in a subject I’m not the best at, and Nanowrimo is more about seat of the pants writing.  If you vote Young Adult, Middle Grade, or Other, please comment and mention what specifically you’d like me to write. This is just to determine genre, and I’m not looking for suggestions beyond that, or even full ideas for a book. I just thought it would be interesting to see what the readers of this blog would like.

Oh, one final note; generally all of these books will have Christian themes to some level. So the only specifically Christian genres I listed are end-times and supernatural, because those are genres in themselves. I toyed with including “light novel” as a genre, for the anime fans here, but they tend to be all genres. If it’s appealing in spite of that, you can use “other” to request it. Dieselpunk is like Fallout 3 or Bioshock, if you don’t know what it is. Any other questions or comments, please ask. As I participate, I’ll post information about the book, and if I complete it, I’ll offer a revised draft to anyone interested to read and give feedback on.

I have about a week till it starts, so voting will effectively end the 30th. If anyone else is doing Nanowrimo, feel free to add me as a friend. Other than that, have fun voting and writing!


Time And Sorrow: Amakusa 1637

amakusa Time travel is a common subject in manga. Especially during the Edo period, which I suppose you could compare it to the desire to relive the Victorian years in fiction. Amakusa 1637 is a time-traveling shoujo manga which both adheres to and breaks this mold in ways that are profoundly Christ-affirming.

In modern day Japan, the tomboyish Natsuki and her friend Miyamoto are sparring in a Kendo match. As they fight, a massive earthquake rips through Japan, causing untold devastation and wounding Miyamoto as he shields Natsuki from falling rubble with his body. Flash forwards five years, and the two of them along with four other friends are on a cruise, enjoying themselves and preparing for graduation. Once again, tragedy strikes; the ship is sunk, and Natsuki awakens by herself on a lonely beach. However, there is something terribly wrong.

Natsuki has landed in the Edo of the past, more specifically in the year 1636. The year before the Shimabara rebellion, where oppressed Japanese Christians rose up in revolution against their lords led by Shiro Amakusa.

However, history has changed; Amakusa is thought dead, lost at sea. And Natuski looks exactly like him. Then her friends also begin to show up, but it’s apparent that not all of them landed exactly at the same time as each other. And not all are friends of the Christians…

The Shimabara revolution is a dark time in Japan’s history. About forty thousand Christians were killed, and it led to the complete extirpation of Christianity from Japan. Christianity was suppressed so successfully that the only surviving sects went deep underground into hiding, only to reemerge hundreds of years later when the ban was lifted. The events of it were novelized by Japanese Catholic writer Shusaku Endo in his book Silence, and it’s a horrifying read.

Amakusa 1637 is surprising in that it deals with this very, very respectfully.

Natsuki knows of the rebellion and its horrific toll on life, and she resists her destined role as the one to step into Amakusa’s shoes. But circumstances compel her to save the lives of others, and soon the legend of her as an angel from paradise possessing Shiro’s body and touched by God grow. It’s surprisingly well done, because while the miracles have naturalistic explanations (mostly from technology that made the trip from the future with them) a case can be made that still they only were possible due to the miracle of time travel at all. And unusually, the Christians of the time period are not shrine maidens in disguise, but real believers, who mention when they are baptized and who see the hand of God in action. I don’t think I’ve seen many manga get Christians like this one does.

There’s plenty of historical intrigue, and some intriguing twists due both to the nature of time travel and the six friends each having their own destinies awaiting them in the Edo of the past. There’s also no skimping on the realities of the brutality of the period and the persecution of Christians during that time, either. There’s a lot of sorrow here, and much of it is also a part of the lives of the time travelers as they must adapt to this new, barbaric past. One panel deserves to be put here in full, as Natsuki describes our future to a bunch of children:

paraiso

That to them, our future is Paraiso, paradise. We live in a miracle, where Christians are not killed for their beliefs, and can celebrate Christ openly. This is not something to be scorned or forgotten in favor of mild slights. Natsuki’s fervent desire is to change history and to prevent the massive slaughter that had happened in Shimabara. And throughout it, even if what are miracles to the people of the past and commonplaces to things like us, the legend of Natsuki as a messenger of God grows.

And there are many parallels to the faith, including a very well-done redemption scene similar to Paul. Walking on water. Daniel in the lion’s den. Paul’s Jailer. Mary Magdalene. Not exact, but you can see the themes even as the situations are different. Not many manga interact with Christianity as well as this one does, and Christians will find a lot to like in it.

I’m only half-way through the story, so I can’t say how it will turn out.

Ratings-it’s going to be R due to some yuri and yaoi hints. Both of them are handled pretty well; the yaoi is due to a specific, tormented individual and is actually used in part to lead him back to God. By this I mean his coerced lover was a Christian who modeled compassion even in those situations, and managed to plant the seeds to his eventual redemption. The yuri attraction is there too, but unusually it is not fulfilled; the person loves Natsuki and is captivated by her, but will not take it beyond that. It’s a very unusual use of those tropes.

It’s also R due to the violence, adult situations, and a scene of nudity. It’s not too graphic, but the persecution of Christians was not something nice or able to be rendered in PG standards. There’s a lot of death, but Natsuki always strives to save life even with her own prodigious kendo skills.

So despite the rating, I’d recommend Christians to read it. Very few manga treat Christianity with this level of respect. For comparison’s sake, two of the most known portrayals of Amakusa or the Shimabara rebellion were the absolutely sick depiction of it in Ninja Ressurection, and Amakusa as a sorcerer and last boss in SNK’s Samurai Showdown series. This is like a breath of fresh air. You can find scans on the net, as I don’t think it was ever brought over to the west.


Peak Otaku: Gonna Be the Twin-Tail!!

I’m not really a highbrow anime fan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I choose the worst in the world to watch. Usually though, I can find enjoyment in anime others don’t like, no matter how stupid the premise. I liked Infinite Stratos, Dog & Scissors, and even Wanna Be the Strongest in the World! at times. But now I’ve watched the first episode of Gonna Be the Twin-Tail!! and I think I’ve hit my limit. We’re at peak otaku here; a premise so stupid that they can’t even explain it.

twintailwuv

Summing up the entire point of the series, sadly.

Soji is a young teen who has just started a new school year. He really likes twin-tails.

Twin-tails are pigtails pretty much, but in anime they tend to be heavily linked to moe and certain types of characters. Long sharp twin-tails are tsunderes or maybe ojou-sama’s, hot-and-cold girls and queenly girls. Short ones tend to be babyish or cute characters, and there’s some variation to what they symbolize. Soji really, really likes them to the point of monomania.

You're going to hear this a lot. Get used to it.

You’re going to hear this a lot. Get used to it.

One day while in his family’s shop with his childhood friend (also a twin-tail, of the tsundere variety) he meets a mysterious woman who begs him to accept a bracelet. It’s soon apparent why, after she transports them both to the site of a sentai (live-action hero show, think Power Rangers) styled invasion of the earth by aliens headed by a lizard man. Their goal? To drain the power out of twin-tailed girls, for reasons that no one explains because its too ludicrous.

Soji is appalled, although the only visible effect seems to be to destroy a person’s desire to put their head up in twin-tails. No really, that’s it; one victim seems perfectly fine after, but has no desire to change her hairstyle back. Whatever the “attribute power” twin-tails had, she’s not missing it. When he is told that he has the power to stop it by transforming due to the bracelet he was given, he enthusiastically does.

Into what looks to be a ten-year old girl.

Not even sure of the implications of this. You like them so much you want to be one?

Not even sure of the implications of this. You like them so much you want to be one?

Now gender-bender anime don’t usually have the strongest explanations why the hero transforms into a heroine. But what’s unique about this episode is that they don’t even bother to explain why. Even Kampfer, which is one of the worst anime of recent years, had a decent explanation why its hero had to become a heroine each time he needed to use his powers. But like the invasion’s need for twin-tail power, this is waved off completely probably because the writers couldn’t find a way to justify it with a straight face.

Soji wipes the floor with the lizard guy, saving the day. Tail Red is now on the scene.

What’s bad about this episode is that it’s not really playing it to parody, but the subject matter is impossible to play straight. There are some elements of parody, mostly in the childhood friend and the way she can’t stand him spacing out over hairstyles. But the series just isn’t as funny as you’d expect, and is sort of an action-comedy.

What’s more is that the jokes just fall flat, beating the twin-tail fetish into the ground. For some reason the villains just aren’t harvesting twin-tail power, they also have a fetish for it; the main villain in this episode has to resist the moe of a grade-schooler in pigtails and asks to touch Tail Red’s twin-tails before he expires. It’s too much to really work, because they keep hammering you over the head with it.

I guess the twin-tail power gets stored in these. He actually uses them for an attack.

I guess the twin-tail power gets stored in these. He actually uses them for an attack.

It feels like we’ve hit peak otaku with this episode, because its an anime totally in thrall to the specific fetish an otaku has that it’s not even enjoyable or internally consistent on its own. A moe anime can be moe and still be fun to watch if you don’t care for that style too much, but this is so focused on the singular monomania of liking girls in twin-tails that it doesn’t work as an anime. When you can’t even bother to explain decently why your main protagonist has to change genders just to transform (there’s a very brief response saying “well, this is the price power demands,” begging the question) it’s hard to care about the plot. Even Infinite Stratos had some fun in between Ichika’s denseness and the rotating fetish fuel that was his harem. This one is for die-hard twin-tailer lovers only.

For Christians, it’s PG-13. The women who offers Soji the bracelet in one ludicrous scene offers her large breasts as an incentive for him to take it, but aside from that there isn’t much in the way of offensive content in rating terms. The constant focus on twin-tails as a fetish will probably turn you off unless you really, really, really like the idea.

If the series gets some depth and explains why Soji has such a platonic love for twin-tails that he actually wants to be one, it might be good. There’s actually some commentary about this and in gender-bender anime in general that can make for discussion. What’s unusual about modern gender-bender anime is not that the switch is done for comedy, or for reprisal on a horndog character. It’s done because more or less, the guy is better as or wants to be a woman. He identifies, loves, or is identified with what are perceived as feminine virtues. This might be a subject for another post, though.


First Look: Fall Season 2014 Anime, Part Five

Even MORE anime. So many in fact, that I lost count of how many parts I’ve done.

Girlfriend Beta…do you need a waifu? Here’s a collection of a ridiculous amount of them in the guise of a slice-of-life anime. This one killed D.M. at about ten minutes, even though he likes slice of life. Cute girls with cute accents do cute things together. I don’t mind cute girls, though I have a tolerance; something like Is the Order A Rabbit or Kirino Mosaic is too sugary for me. But this anime based on a ridiculously popular smartphone dating sim is just about introducing its cast of waifu material and not much more. Well, unless you want to play “identify the famous voice actress.”

Bonjour Sweet Love Patisserie is five minutes of the opposite extreme. Very fluffy shoujo with reverse harem potential surrounding a girl attending a famous confectionary school on a scholarship. Of course, it’s in a frickin castle, and all the instructors are bishonen boys. The brief running time only lets the cast be introduced in the first episode and little else. I actually think that the five minute length helps this series, because it’s so stereotypical that I doubt it would have made any use of a full 22 minutes.

Rage of Bahamut: Genesis  is a lot better than you’d expect an anime based on a CCG to be. After a breathtaking introductory sequence straight out of Final Fantasy where summons battle, we are sped to the present day of a fantasy kingdom. Surprisingly there’s a heavy western influence, with kingdom names like Wyaterp (Wyatt Earp,) western clothes despite using swords instead of sixguns, and an absolutely silly opening chase set to spaghetti western music.

The roguish bounty hunter Favaro is on the run from the ex-knight Kaisar as he does his day-to-day life of collecting bounties. When his tall tale of a secret route to the icy kingdom of Helheim attracts a mysterious woman seeking a guide, he’s about to find his life is going to get a lot more difficult.

This one feels a lot more high-concept than the usual anime, and might be one of the better ones of the season. Shoutout to MedeivalOtaku, this one has your name written on it.

In Search of the Lost Future has the members of an astronomy club help out their school with crisis intervention, as they try to build a planetarium for the school festival and deal with the budding love both open and unrequited between their members. However, tragedy strikes, and the visit of a mysterious girl from an unknown time and place may be the only key to fix things.

It’s unusual because it starts off slice-of-life, and ends of dramatically. Seems to be a fair amount of anime following for better or worse a P.A. Works format; slice of life with group dynamics and science ficton elements. This one might be time travel, might not be.

Laughing Under The Clouds takes us back to the Meiji era, the age of rapid westernization and the end of the samurai. Three brothers living as heirs to a shrine and sons to a famous swordsman eke out a living ferrying criminals to the massive prison in the middle of lake Biwa. However, the skies are clouding over, foretelling a great cataclysm over the land. But more mundane things vex the middle brother Sora-can he ever be as strong as his eldest brother?

It’s got an interesting opening and a hint of troubles down the road. It also has a comic focus to go along with its more serious moments.

Lord Marksman and Vanadis involves a young nobleman, Tigre, who is captured during a blood battle between his nation and the nation of a beautiful War Maiden. Said maiden takes a fancy to him, and makes him her prisoner. Now Tigre must deal with her rather blunt enchantment with him, as well as the reality of being a prisoner and a bit of a performing animal.

Plenty of warfare and intrigue are slightly marred by the fanservice aspects of the War Maidens.

***

Ratings.

Bounjour is probably G. Typical Shoujo. Laughing Under the Clouds PG, but may hint to more violence later. In Search is PG-13, and Bahamut is probably a hard PG-13 maybe R. Vanadis is R due to anime nudity, and fanservice. Not sure what Girlfriend Beta is, but it’s probably PG/PG-13 at tops; waifu shows tend to be more platonic than anything.

I have to say this batch has the most percentage of hits out of all the anime I’ve seen so far. All of them save Girlfriend and Bonjour have intriguing plots, and this group has a lot more traditional fantasy in it. There’s a fair bit of violence and mature situations to make up for it, though.


Five Cool Things, October 2014

1. The silliest wrestling match you’ll ever see.

Watch veteran wrestler Hailey Hatred go against…three junior high school students?

From the Japanese wrestling promotion ICE RIBBON. Cutest wrestling gimmick ever goes to wrestler Neko Nittai, whose entire vocabulary is the word Nya! and who acts like a cat throughout the whole match. Watching her win a tag team championship is one of the most heartwarming things I’ve seen in wrestling. She’s so happy.

It really shows you how tough Japanese wrestling is. These are junior high school students, and yet they are taking more bumps than not only WWE Divas, than even WWE wrestlers themselves. And this is a gimmick match. If you watch some of the other promotions, like Pro Wrestling NOAH, they do amazing things.

2. Getting Chuuni in the hood.

The end theme to Love, Chuunibyou, and Other Delusions mixed up with Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pools, some Roots, and some Nujabes. It manages to defy expectations by being awesome beyond belief. It’s scary how well the vocals match the beat.

3. Do not eat!

How does Yeti from Muromi on the Shore get any cuter? She sings.

The entire song is Yeti trying to convince Harpy not to eat Muromi, with Muromi herself joining in the end. Cuter than a box of a hundred kittens. Pi pi pi piiiii.

4. One dedicated crowd.

As if a live-action concert of U’s song Snow Halation from Love Live wasn’t cool enough, it’s front of a massive, fired up crowd. How fired up? At 3:12, the point in the song where in the anime, the lighting on the stage changes, EVERY SINGLE FAN brings out orange glowsticks to reflect it. A football stadium worth of fans.

5. Taking Flight

There’s a cool Christian webcomic called Shelter of Wings that deserves your support. The artist looks to be really talented and draws in an excellent manga style. Worth a look, as Christian manga is few and far between.


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