By the pulp thing, we meant AIR PIRATES. FLYING OVER THE SAHARA. WITH AN UNIDENTIFIED SUPER VILLAIN. Seriously.
And, yeah, just let your influences show. People will always see them no matter how hard you try and hide them, and you should be proud of them. Think of Terentino. He’s made a career on influences that spins to his own vision. No one works in a vacuum, you’re just building off the work of others. If you tried to tell stories that didn’t have a grounding in the collective psychological landscape, you’d spend thousands of pages building it up so your story could resonate with people. Eventually, though, you’ll hit a unique voice and a different way of writing that sticks.
So, what’s “The Ball” about? Or do you not want to give anything away?
Pfft, I don’t give two tugs about giving stuff away. Little Trans-Metropolitan reference, if you’re familiar? I’ve never really cared about spoilers, unless I think they’ll ruin a really big twist. Hell, I watched Cowboy Bebop from start to finish, knowing Spike would die at the end before starting the first episode. Still loved every minute of it (might want to add one of those little spoiler tags, so as not to ruin Cowboy Bebop for anyone reading who hasn’t seen it, also, apologies if you haven’t, it’s well worth your time). But I’ll get back to The Ball a bit later.
I always liked “sky pirates,” even if they trumped the term up to some ridiculous level of affection in Final Fantasy XII. Plain ol’ “pirates” is what I refer to them as in my little SteamPunk world, though I do tend to have a slightly different take on what they’re about. Manny’s a bit more of classic persuasion, drifting from port to port and taking what isn’t his for the thrill of it, whereas my boys are more adventurers of the “morals just get in the way” category.
And yeah, I suppose writing for your audience, using all that shared fictional experience, is a bit like a scientific paradigm. You can write that thousand page book to prove some simple scientific concept, but the first 900 pages are going to be devoted to proving basic laws of physics and chemistry first. Easier to just rely on the paradigm and assume people know what you’re talking about. That being said, I hate to think I’m just riding the Steampunk fad. Have you been to conventions lately? A t-shirt I saw at a booth kind of summed it up: Brown is the new Black. At least among nerds. But whatever, I’ve loved Final Fantasy for some twenty years, primarily because its environs twist “appropriate period setting” out of proportion at every opportunity. I love the turmoil and invention of Victoria’s time, and I love the art and social upheaval of of the period between the Great Wars. If I pull it off and someone looks back and says, “well Steampunk was very trendy when he was writing these,” I’ll still be pleased I successfully mashed the two eras together.
Now, a little story about Manny. Manny isn’t really mine. Well, maybe a little. I’ve actually been tossing around the ideas that go into the larger story, which at the moment I can only think to refer to as SteamPunk (capital P, and if it isn’t obvious, I’m pretty bad with the titles…), for several years now. Originally I thought my characters might fair better in a Cyberpunk environment, because that’s about the only place I could see an airship and some of the techy gizmos I wanted them using coexisting. Then someone introduced me to the term “steampunk,” and a lot of things clicked (namely things from my nerdy childhood I always loved, some Final Fantasy titles, Firefly, Newsies, which I will defend despite its immense shittiness). Started re-tooling the world to make the period fit, and somewhere along the way, I teamed up with a friend who has been an avid gamer (of the pen and paper role playing genre) since he was like six. Anyway, we decided that it would be incredibly fun to make ourselves a new gaming system (alternative to D20, GURPS, Fuzion, etc.), and our first goal in this vein was to make an enjoyable, easy to use Steampunk RPG. This one is definitely titled SteamPunk, capital P (I don’t really have a good title for my stories, they’re just falling under the same heading as the game for now, because I’ve been basing the game;s setting on my imaginary world).
So, when we were kicking around ideas before we got into actually hammering out a system, our little group of nerds all had their own very unique characters they wanted to see make it into a campaign. My partner in making the system invented Manny, with a bit of help. He had an idea for a character, an airship pirate, whose theme song would be “Compañeros,” a tune from the Grim Fandango soundtrack (this LucasArts adventure game, if you’re not familiar). Well, I pitched a few ideas to my accomplice, which he thought were all quite good, such as Manny’s name (outright stolen from the main character of Grim Fandango, a conscious reference I had really hoped someone would notice, particularly as in the video game, he is Manny Calavera, and all I really changed was calling him Manny O’Hara, the Calavera), and a little bit of family history, making him the son of an Irish pilot and a Mexican village girl.
While trying to come up with a good introductory campaign, or even just session, while sitting in a class on 19th Century philosophy, I hit upon some really good ideas that would get my players wrapped up in my world pretty quickly, though I definitely fit the idea to appeal to Ian, the owner of Manny. The story needed a few different starting locations, namely the passenger ship and the unsuspecting town of Béchar, a disaster of some sort, the sabotage and crash landing, and enough intrigue to make the players interested in continuing their little romp, which is where my boys come in, and the elusive Catalyst, a sort of villainy character the players could eventually hunt down and beat some answers out of. I started sketching out the airship, just to give myself a real tangible environment I could describe to the players, and about 3 months later, I was in that Fiction class needing a concept for my first short story. I took the class hoping it would get me to write out some of my story ideas, and this was a solid opportunity.
Funny thing is, after the fact, I found out I took a few liberties with Manny that Ian never intended. For example, Ian’s Manny is a lot more like Felix and Sa’id, in that he’s young and adventurous, not the retiring cutthroat, trapped in the throes of a mid-life crisis. I don’t regret the change, because I think it made Manny a much more identifiable character, and gave Jacob some common grounds on which to interact. But the point is, Manny is a borrowed idea that I think will still serve me very well in introducing players and readers to my little SteamPunk world.
Sorry, I seem to have lied. That was quite a long story. Anyway, The Ball!
I came up with The Ball about two nights before the second short story was due, and finished the final revisions about 5 minutes before I had to email a copy to the professor. Everyone really loved Manny and Jake, but I didn’t want them thinking they were my stars. The boys, Felix and Sa’id, were really the Sherlock and Watson (not to confuse anyone’s role with Watson, there’s a third character who fills that “normal person viewing the abnormal” role who comes in a bit later), while Manny was more the Jefferson Hope (A Study in Scarlet) or John Douglas (The Valley of Fear), whose life they get tangled up in (again, I mentioned I’ve been catching up on Conan Doyle). I needed a good romp to show off the heroes, as they’d come across as a bit hollow in OtS, and it made for prime real estate to introduce some of the other members of their crew. I’d go into how I went about coming up with the story, but I’m hoping that, “What is your writing process like?” will be a question soon, so I can go into the whole thing without posting an uncalled for wall of text without seeming like a self-indulgent asshole (though I suppose I’ve ruined any chance of that by asking for the question…oh well).
So, The Ball features the team a little later in their lives, while their attentions are preoccupied by a much larger matter than double-kidnapping some young girl. I won’t get too specific, because maybe you’ll want to use the story, and spoiling it outright seems like a false step. I would’ve pitched it sooner, but it’s not quite as “pulp” as OtS, it’s a bit more about showing off the characters and their relationships. Basically I chucked the crew into a high-toned and fancy to-do up at the fort (a little Pirates of the Caribbean quote, perhaps?), with some comical consequences. I’ll let you decide if it was worth the paper it was printed on.
Sorry for the massive response for such simple questions, but I started answering about a minute after waking up and finding the next question in my inbox (Fridays off with this new job, very enjoyable), and then added some nicotine about halfway through, so the word-vomit became unstoppable. Also a little note: I’ve written a second file, sort of a follow-up to the story. My professor thought I should indulge the “Agatha Christie-esque ‘missing scene'” as part of my final project. I wrote it about half an hour before my portfolio was due, and never felt all that committed to the result, but it’s worth mentioning.
Personally, I think that in genre fiction you have two responsibilities: 1. To make coattails for others to ride on. 2. To ride some coattails till they’re tattered and falling apart. Then hem them back together in a new form.
So, what conventions around Dallas do you hit up?
Not many, really. Last summer a friend of mine dragged me to AnimeFest as preparation for A-Kon the next spring. At AnimeFest, we got invite to ArkansasAnimeFestival, so we hit that up as a sort of road trip adventure. Then finally I gave A-Kon a shot this last May. I wasn’t that impressed with any of it, to be honest. The most fun I have is in the game room (board games, etc.), just talking to people. Other than that, it’s just a shopping adventure with some really smelly people.
I read your answer out loud to my brother. He laughed.
Would you consider yourself part of the geek/nerd clique then?
Oh my yes, just not so much the Japanophile/weeaboo/anime “enthusiast” type. I actually speak the japo-knees, but the whole “omfg I luuuuurv Naruto” thing makes me nauseous. The only anime I was ever able to get into was Cowboy Bebop, which is a masterpiece that transcends medium, and Detective Conan, which was dubbed and rebranded as Case Closed by Funimation in the states. Ran on Adult Swim for a while like 8 years ago, if you happen to recall it.
I’m a bit more the general nerd/gamer type. I play an excessive number of video games, occasionally dabble in the pen and paper role playing (ala Dungeons and Dragons), and just generally geek out over very specific things, which is really the key aspect of the subculture.
Obviously I’m riding the Steampunk trend, which any current convention will show, is the new thang. As far as the “clique” part goes, all of my friends are of the same genre of person, so I guess I’m part of the group.
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Is this where we put the to be continued part?