Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Church of Joss Whedon

joss-whedon-is-our-leader-now

When I was on the promotion trail for Vanguard Prime: Goldrush, I did an in-store Q&A where I cited Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a big influence on my writing. The brilliant Leanne Hall, who was leading the Q&A, turned to the audience to take a quick poll: How many of you are familiar with Buffy the Vampire Slayer? To my surprise, only one hand went up.

I had just assumed that Buffy had permeated culture enough that everyone knew what it was. Of course, it didn’t occur to me that most of the audience was 10 years old, and that Buffy had been off the air for the entire time they’d been alive. Thankfully, I had Leanne there to help explain the show, given that she too was a Whedonite and had encountered a similar situation at one of her own events.

But the fact that nobody had heard of the show really threw me. You see, I was such a big Buffy fan while growing up that, when I went away to leadership camp in Year 11, my drama teacher instinctively knew that he should tape the latest episode for me so that I wouldn’t miss out on seeing it (proving why he made such a good mentor…and just how much television-viewing habits have changed since I was in high school).

That fanboy love continued onto the spin-off series Angel, and from there onto Joss’s other TV work, including the modern classic Firefly and the under-rated Dollhouse. In fact, I was such a fan of Whedon that I’d follow him anywhere. I’d try to pick out the lines that were his in the movies he’d script-doctored, including Toy Story, Titan AE, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and the original X-Men. I sought out the hardback graphic novel that collected his entire Astonishing X-Men comics run. And nothing can describe the heartbreak I felt the day I found out that the cinema I was working at had hosted a Q&A session with the man himself…a year before I started working there!!

Those of you unfamiliar with Joss might ask why his work inspires such loyalty. Is it the intriguing plots, the insightful use of theme? Or is it the witty dialogue that’s proven so influential it’s had a trope named after it? Well, yes, it is those things. But at the heart of it is his focus on character.

In short, Joss creates characters you love. They range from idealistic to cynical, erudite to streetwise. They’re flawed, but they’re always trying, and that’s what makes them so relatable. And once you feel like they’re close friends, like they’re family, that’s when Joss will throw a curve at you and break your heart…and though it’ll be through hot salty tears, you’ll love him all the more for it.

Through his work, Joss taught me to be a better writer. Through his interviews, he taught me the importance of including strong female characters in your writing, and why men shouldn’t shy away from considering themselves feminists. He taught me that smart and funny equate to cool, and that while high school may be hell, it’s a hell that can be conquered.

That’s why it was so heartening to see him hired by Marvel to direct the first Avengers movie and, when it succeeded, to see him jump to the top of the Hollywood A-list. And while I’ll gobble up every detail I can about Avengers 2 to find out what Joss has in store for us next, I’ll content myself in the meantime with seeing his take on the work of one of the few writers I’d rank higher than him (and I think he’d happily agree with me on that score).

So if you’ve never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I heartily recommend you check it out. And when you’re done, I’ll happily welcome you into the Church of Joss Whedon.

We’re getting jackets made.

 

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My ‘Wild Card’ Mixtape

I’ve written before about the role that music plays in my creative process, and specifically the hand it had in writing the first Vanguard Prime book. Now that the second book in the series, Wild Card, has been on the shelves for a few months, I thought it’d be safe to write about the music that inspired certain scenes.

But for those who are still yet to read it, don’t worry! I’ll do my best to keep things as spoiler free as possible.

So let’s kick things off the best way you can – with a bit of David Bowie!

‘China Girl’ by David Bowie

‘China Girl’ would have to be one of my favourite Bowie songs…or at least, it’s one of my favourite Bowie songs to sing along to (I may or may not have performed a karaoke rendition at our huck’s party). That said, it’s a bit of an odd addition here as it didn’t directly influence the writing of Wild Card; I didn’t craft any scenes in my imagination while listening to it, it didn’t conjure up any particular imagery in my head.

What it did do was inspire not only how the Knight of Wands dresses when he’s out of uniform, but his appearance in general as well. The suit/trench coat combo Bowie wears midway through this video is the point-of-reference I used when describing the Knight’s attire as he and Sam jet off to the lecture they attend.

More than that, I remember thinking how unique Bowie’s eyes are, and how I’d like to incorporate the one brown eye/one blue eye look into a character one day. And then I figured, why wait?

So that’s how the Knight came to have one blue eye – it was only later that I realised that his mismatching eyes and the backstory for how he got them also resembled that of Spike from Cowboy Bebop. But you can’t always take everything into account, and being a Bebop fan I thought it was appropriate.

Note: If/when you watch this video, I would like to point that yes, it is a little racist and no, I have no idea if it’s self-aware about that or not. I’m leaning toward that being the case, given that Bowie’s talked about how the lyrics are an anti-racism message.

 

‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ by David Bowie

Continuing the Bowie train, we have this song. Originally used in the film Cat People, it would rocket back to fame when used in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. I remember thinking how powerful and evocative it was. And though it sounded a little dated, it sounded dated in the best of ways. Tarantino used it as his story was leading into the final act, with one of his characters preparing themselves to do battle (essentially). I would play it as I imagined the flight that the Knight of Wands, Goldrush and Solitaire take to the World, readying themselves for the fight to come.

And though I thought the lyrics worked wonderfully for that (especially as the Knight of Wands is associated with fire in tarot, and I wanted to harken back to that motif in the songs I used), the lack of originality bugged me. Which is why it was fortunate that I soon ran across the next song…

 

‘Cities Burning Down’ by Howling Bells

If you haven’t heard of them before, Howling Bells are a fantastic Australian band fronted by the brother/sister duo Juanita and Joel Stein. I saw them play over ten years when they were known as Waikiki, and I’ve been a fan ever since. When I heard this song, I knew it fit even more perfectly for the scene I had in my head than the Bowie song did. I can’t listen to it now without thinking of the Chariot flying over the Hong Kong cityscape, its passengers preparing themselves for the darkness that lays before them.

 

‘Me and the Devil Blues’ by Robert Johnson

There’s a conversation that happens in the book regarding the music of Robert Johnson. My publisher was uncertain about keeping it in, given that it’s a bit of a dated reference that’s not exactly “down with the kids” (not that she put it like that…not that anyone would put it like that). But it was important to me that we maintain it, as I felt very strongly that it reflected on the character who was depicted listening to it.

If you’ve not heard about him before, the mythology that revolves around the blues musician Robert Johnson was that he sold his soul to the devil to attain his musical ability. Johnson wrote more than a few songs that referenced this oft-repeated urban legend, with Hellhound on my Trail probably being the most famous of them. I picked Me and the Devil Blues, however, as I felt the lyrics were even more indicative of the character listening to the song.

 

‘It’s a Fire’ by Portishead

Following the conversation about Robert Johnson, an altercation breaks out that leads to a pivotal moment in the book. Without wanting to be too spoiler-y about it, a button is pushed and things get very…uh…explode-y?

I imagined this sequence slowed down and with all the ambient noise stripped out, leaving only the imagery…and this song, which continues the fire motif surrounding the Knight of Wands. It’s not a big, rousing number to finish on, but it’s certainly a beautiful one.

And that would be it. While there are still plenty of other songs I could write about, I wanted to pick just a handful that I felt had the strongest link to the text. If you’ve already read the book, I hope this gives you a chance to revisit it, or at least that it’s provided some extra insight.

But if you’re yet to read the book, well…I hope I haven’t ruined anything for you.

‘Til next time!

Notes from a Wayward Writer

Hello.

You may have noticed an awful lot of tumbleweeds rolling through this place lately. That is, if you’ve been back to check in at all, given how long it’s been between updates. The reason for that is that I’ve been away. Really away. In fact, for all of May my wife and I were overseas on our belated honeymoon.

Though our wedding was in December, we decided to delay our honeymoon until midway through the year. Partly it was because the weather would be better in the northern hemisphere. Mostly it was because organising a wedding, a house move and a honeymoon all at the same time seemed like a form of torture, exquisite though it may have been.

I had intended to blog while we were on the road and…well…didn’t. But now that I’m back I fully intend on getting back in the swing of things. I thought I’d start by offering you a little insight into our time on the road, which included a few days in Venice.

At events I’ve done, I’ve recommended to any aspiring writers in the audience to keep a journal handy, especially when travelling. That way, you can note down the things you see and use them for future reference. More than that, it’s simply a good writing exercise, forcing yourself to become more observant of the little details and find a creative way to encapsulate them.

My wife and I made a game of writing down what we’d seen each day, eventually ending up with three pages worth. I won’t bore you with all of the notes, but here are a few so you can get an idea of what I mean;

The smell of leather wafting from shopfronts. Masks in windows. Lime-green moss. Pinks, putties, pastels and creams. Green window shutters. Computer print-out tributes to the recently deceased. Ironwork bars spotted with rust. Waterbuses that slam against every stop. Squiggles of light in the black evening waters. The rattle of suitcases over stoney streets.

And so and so on. Some are more original than others, I’ll grant you. The thing to keep in mind is there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it. Just write down what you see. Worry about the poetry of it later. The side benefit is that you end up with a record of your trip, even if you’ve never been one to keep a diary.

From Venice we went to London, driving up through the UK to Scotland, before heading over to New York. With every country we went to, I meant to write down notes of what I saw each day and unfortunately never got around to it. Just goes to show that sometimes the hardest advice to follow is your own.

In fact, I got a lot less writing on the trip done than I’d hoped to, but now that I’m back I’m looking forward to getting back into it.

Of course, it doesn’t help when there are distractions available, such as the art exhibition we went to on the first Saturday we were home. I’ve been a fan of Neon Genesis Evangelion since I was a teenager and the original series was aired on SBS. Since then, I’ve collected the Platinum Box Set and, from there, eagerly awaited the release of each new movie in the “Rebuild” series, where writer/director Hideaki Anno revists the series and reinterpets the story with updated animation and a divergent plotline.

Anime fans who also happen to be Vanguard Prime readers will no doubt see the influence that Evangelion had on VP, given that both series revolve around a teenage protagonist who’s reluctantly drafted into saving the world by an international military operation and the female Major who acts as his handler. In fact, the red jacket that Major Blackthorne dons in Goldrush was intended as a joint shout-out to both Akira and to Major Misato Katsuragi from Evangelion.

Yes, I know she's a Lt. Colonel in 'Rebuild'. But she'll always be a Major to me.

Yes, I know she’s a Lt. Colonel in ‘Rebuild’. But she’ll always be a Major to me.

With the upcoming release of the third film in the Rebuild series, an art exhibition has been touring the eastern states of Australia, showcasing the film’s production art. Thankfully, we got the chance to see it before it finished up its run in Melbourne.

And if the art were for sale, I'd buy the heck out of it.

And if the art were for sale, I’d buy the heck out of it.

I’d hoped that there’d be some merchandise for sale to add to my nerd hoard, but unfortunately the pickings were slim. I’ll just have to content myself with the bits-and-bobs I picked up during our trip (photos of which I fully intend to show off…at some stage).

In the meantime, the edit for Vanguard Prime: War Zone is keeping me pretty busy, as is the edit for Red Alert, the e-book novella that will be getting released before War Zone to help promote the series. New readers and old should both be interested in Red Alert for a variety of reasons. Namely;

1) It’s an all-new adventure that follows the whole team and is over a quarter of the length of one of the full-sized novels

2) It features a whole host of new villains

3) It’s 100% free!

Pretty cool, huh? I’ll make sure to post more details about Red Alert as they come through, as well as whatever info I can share about War Zone ahead of its September release (like, for instance, the brand new cover that Chad McCown has illustrated and that I can wholeheartedly say looks fantastic).

‘Til next time.