Start Again

You probably haven’t read my book Akayama DanJay. Not many people have. But I’ve been submitting queries to publishers, and I’ve heard a query sounds better if there’s a sequel in the works, and I’ve have some ideas kicking around anyway, so here we are. In the first chapter of Akayama DanJay: Blind Faith we see what happens to Jango after he sets Dan on fire.

In this commentary I’d like to outline my hopes for the book. That way, if I mess up, I can point to the commentary to explain what I meant.

Akayama DanJay is a faux-anthropology psychedelic trip a la Carlos Castaneda, wrapped in a giant anime space-robot fight which provides a tangible secular mythology. My goal was to mix religious iconography with cheesy pop-culture to provoke the sensation of spiritual experience in people who don’t think they can have one. The winning robot is obviously the one whose philosophical outlook matches my own self-righteous worldview, preaching kindness eternal and niceness when circumstances permit.

The book is politically masturbatory at times, with Dan’s arguments with Leo, but I tried to restrain that political masturbation to a context which clarifies that neither of those characters has it all put together. The overall message is (I hope) a non-partisan treatise on how to exhibit unconditional compassion without being a doormat.

If someone read that book and enjoyed it, then I think they’d enjoy a sequel which got even more pretentious and meta. At the very least, that’s what wanna write. The first book was all about accepting impermanence, so Blind Faith will be about accepting the existence of suffering. A third book in the series would be about accepting non-self to complete the whole wabi-sabi aesthetic I’m spinning, but that’s for another time.

It’s easy for Jango to accept the existence of suffering, because he’s a Virgil who spent decades studying the Mountain. He screams when Nemo eats him alive, but he knew it would happen and climbed up to Nemo anyway. Being eaten alive is Jango’s role in a cosmic plan he’s proud to take part in, because his suffering will lead to others suffering less.

Not everyone is so selfless. There are people who would gladly let others suffer out of convenience, or even cause suffering for profit. Akayama DanJay: Blind Faith must be about dealing with those people in a skillful manner.

To convey such a message about suffering, we’ll dig into Professor Akayama’s past. Akayama confessed to causing a whole lotta suffering by creating the Hurricane, but even that will pale to what we’ll learn. I want the reader to condemn Akayama for her involvement in atrocities, but feel uncomfortable doing so because of her role in rebuilding the universe. As a symbol of the godhead, Akayama has an implicit get-out-of-jail-free card because her actions have metaphorical heft—but I figure any godhead worth its salt should be able to handle all the punishment it knows it deserves. When we eventually forgive Akayama, we’ll be forgiving a secular image of the creator for the suffering we must endure as sentient beings (or, if not forgiving, hopefully at least understanding).

I also want to continue blurring the line between the mundane and the divine by having the “real world” characters like Dan, Jay, Faith, and Beatrice interact with “actually real world” characters like Lucille, Akayama, Charlie, and Daisuke. This should tie the esoteric fights between philosophies (represented by anime robots) to the interactions we have every day. Like in Akayama DanJay, small things in the mundane world should have big consequences in the divine world (of anime robots).

In the end, I want the reader to have endured the unspeakable, but feel stronger for it. I want you to feel like you’re a giant space-robot, because in a pretentious cosmic sense (my favorite kind of sense!), that’s exactly what you are.

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Leon the Professional

In part two of Scumbug Scrambag Julia and the Scumbug retrieve a spaceship while humanity cuts a deal with Germa the Gerbil.

When I described the idea for this story, someone mentioned Leon the Professional, a movie about a hitman protecting a twelve-year-old girl. I watched it. Let’s talk about it!

First of all, wow is the little girl in that movie sexualized. Leon’s love for Natalie Portman is fatherly, but she busts out singing Like a Virgin and Happy Birthday Mister President dressed as Madonna and Marilyn Monroe. It’s seriously off-putting, like, wow. She’s meant to be 12.

Second of all, I like little Mathilda deciding she wants to be a hitman. The evil guys who killed her brother are the final villains of the movie, and she initiates those confrontations by venturing out to them herself. Its narrative is efficient—no lose ends, and the beginning causes the end.

Scumbug Scrambag should be very different even if it steals inspiration.

First, eight-year-old Julia shouldn’t have such a Lolita thing going on. I think her calling the Scumbug “Scumdaddy” will be the beginning and end of the sexual tension. While that explicit tension is played for laughs, implicit themes about child-trafficking dominate the plot.

Second, I don’t think Julia wants to be a hitman, even if her backstory is hilariously tragically dark. I’m not sure what her deal is, but I do think, like Mathilda, Julia will initiate the final confrontations by setting out on her own. The Scumbug has serious misconceptions about how the universe works, and Julia will have to set them straight.

Overall, I’m glad I watched the movie. It’s always nice to see what’s been done with the story-elements I’m playing with, and it makes me consider how I want to approach tropes I’ll inevitably butt against. But wow it’s uncomfortable watching Natalie Portman telling Jean Reno she loves him. Phoo boy.

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Inspirations

In Homer VS the Dwarf Aria brings her minotaur to the market to sell him, but he proves a force to be reckoned with in a game of table-war.

In this commentary I want to talk about my inspirations for this story, and what I hope it becomes.

Although the idea of a minotaur following “twine” is obviously related to greek myth, and I feature my own twists on the typical gamut of fantasy races (elves, dwarfs), the biggest inspiration for The Minotaur’s Board-Game is the anime YuGiOh. I enjoyed the show as a kid, and while it becomes more ridiculous every time I remember it, I still look back fondly on the series with a campy nostalgia.

In YuGiOh, a boy with improbable hair is possessed by an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who’s great at card-games. He wins every card-game he comes across and saves the world with the luck of the draw. The audience is rarely worried about whether the pharaoh will win, and more eager to see how he wins.

I already spoiled this in the last commentary: Homer the minotaur will win all his table-war matches. He’s not possessed by a pharaoh or anything, but his outsider’s perspective will let him surprise his opponents. I don’t think there are so many table-war games in this story that the reader to get bored of seeing Homer win; I hope the reader will be eager to see how Homer turns the tables, and yet still be surprised when he does.

One major joke regarding YuGiOh, among people in the know, is that the characters basically ignore the card-game’s rules. Occasionally YuGi’s catapult-turtle launches Gaia the dragon-champion at his own swords of revealing light, or whatever, warping the rules to give our protagonist a win. I hope to sidestep this by making up my own game, table-war.

Table-war has few, if any, explicit rules. The gnomes, impeccable machine-creatures, arbitrate each match with their own undisclosed guidelines meant to recreate real life. This way I get to focus on the back-and-forth of combat instead of worrying about a concrete set of rules and whether my characters are following them. The structure of the game is based less on YuGiOh’s hand of trading cards, and more on Warhammer 40k’s table of miniatures; I’ve never played 40k, but its tiny warzones are a striking image.

Another inspiration is The Turk, a book about a 1700’s clockwork machine which played chess. Spoiler alert, it was a hoax: someone hid under the table and directed the machine’s movement. Today we’ve got Deep Blue and other powerful computers which can whup humanity’s ass at chess and basically any other board-game, but a clockwork machine is a still great symbol.

My original conception of this story would have Homer, the minotaur, forced into a box to operate a Turk-style table-war machine. Sort of a Pixar’s Ratatouille thing. I still like this idea, and maybe I’ll return to it, but I’ve decided to have Homer fight against a machine in the final chapters; he’ll face a The Turk/Deep Blue style robot to prove that his unique, creative perspective is more valuable than pure computational power.

Another inspiration is modern warfare. Long-gone are the days of trenches; today we have drones and satellites which abstract war, and the internet delivers propaganda at light-speed. Likewise, in my fictional world, there is no actual war, just table-war. No one dies in battle; their game-pieces die, and the real person they represent probably doesn’t know or care. Rather than diminishing the effects of war, I hope table-war lets my fantasy setting comment on the nature of leadership in our modern era. How do you command people? How do you relate to people you could send to die in your name?

Still, in terms of what I want the story to achieve, I mostly want to have fun writing, because I enjoy writing and I think it’s neat.

But besides myself, who am I aiming the story toward? Honestly, I’m not sure. I hope the story is appealing to all age-groups, but I think I’m writing for people not much younger than me (24) of any gender. I’m minimizing the swearing and adult themes, so maybe I could claim it’s for young adults and teens.

Anyway, thanks for reading. If you’d like to read more, check out the table of contents or follow my site to receive emails whenever I update.

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