Monday, October 20, 2014

Inspirations for In the Shadows of Myrmidons

Now I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, his ideas are cool at times, but his writing style just doesn't do much for me. I've read a few of his books, and tried to like a few others without success, it just didn't work out. That's no bash on him, it's just a fact, though I did enjoy his book, "On Writing".

Somewhere, I once had seen a list of novels King had read while he was writing certain novels of his own. I don't recall any of them, and couldn't tie his story to elements in anything he was writing, but I thought it was interesting that he read so avidly while still pounding his own stuff out. It was also cool to see what kinds of stuff a man like him read.

I'm not, and never will be on that level of Stephen King, but this blog is for those who have read the novel (link) or wonder what inspired writers to do what they did. Nowadays especially, most of the original ideas are used up, so people (Tarantino, and also those in my generation especially) are often left doing "homages" or outright plagiarism of the cool stuff we liked. I hope that the stuff that ended up in Myrmidons is original enough not to be a ripoff, but gives credit to the greats that came before. I certainly did try to spin things a little differently than my predecessors, and made extra efforts not to totally be enslaved to the tropes.

So here's what inspired me. While I have read a lot, I did a lot less as I was writing a novel, therefore, most of what influenced me was from the visual medium. TV, Movies, and videogames that I watched during the process or long ago. Though to be fair, my personal writing style for novels was irredeemably influenced by the Star Wars novels. You'll note that in Myrmidons, it's got a touch of that style, the heroes are together, split up for a bit of adventure, reconnect and finish together. It's hopefully not too formulaic, and I certainly didn't do it on purpose. I just found it to be a fun way to read stories, have multiple storylines going, and keep a reader's interest when I read. It's probably why I find it hard to read many novels that don't have multiple storylines like that.

At any rate, here's some of the fictional stuff that influenced me at least. I hope it's not too much of a giveaway to the magic. Most of these are film. There's not too many spoilers, so here goes.

The gangs and overall tone of the story:

Kung Fu Hustle - of course inspired the creation and central threat of the Pink Shirt Gang. The Axe Gang was deadly, but at the same time kind of silly. They were a serious threat, and absurd. The whole movie bounced back and forth between the two. One minute, a dude get bit on the lips by a poisonous snake, the next, someone is dying at the hands of an assasin.

This, more than anything, I hope set the tone of the novel and the threat to our heroes. Snake and his friends deal with some serious stuff, but there's also some silly moments. So the tone of Kung Fu Hustle was the biggest influence, and the rest was the idea of in deadly, yet silly/dancing gang taking everyone else over.

On a side note, Stephen Chow's "Flirting Scholar" is also hilarious.

Last dragon - kind of the same sort of deal here. The tone influenced the Myrmidons novel. Our hero, Bruce Leroy, was facing a serious threat in the form of Sho Nuff, and Eddie Arcadian was a thug, but at the same time, the movie had plenty of funny moments.

Intentionally or not.

This movie also has a quasi modern, urban setting which wasn't so much an influence, but did help add flavor in the editing process and in adding a few references.

On a movie night, this film would make a good double feature with kung fu hustle.

West side story - in the original version of the story, Nick had a scene with Snake and friends having a smug-off with their antagonists which involved Shakespeare banter and singing and dancing gangs. Singing and dancing gangs were somehow a staple of the original version of Myrmidons. This to me of course brought West Side Story to my memory. Unfortunately. I did rewatch it, and I'm sure it influenced me somehow.

Feel free to analyze that one.

The Warriors - this movie is highly overrated, though still worth watching. It's bad enough that I'm surprised they never watched it on mst3k. But in spots its bad in a good way, and that's what saves it from riffing probably.

I watched it to be inspired and didn't get much out of it. My main take away was probably the idea of absurd gangs and that helped me think outside the box...I guess. Then again, Nick and I had always envisioned eccentric gangs. Maybe it just showed me that colorful gangs still can be a serious threat.

The Cross and The Switchblade / Run Baby Run - though there is a movie for Cross, I didn't watch it. Rather, I read the books. Not only are these two books, one of the greatest true life stories I've ever read, they helped me see the real side of gangs, and most importantly, the human side.

Though I wanted the gangs in Myrmidons to be serious, but still a little silly, I also wanted them to feel real and be human.

These two books here really show the bleak side of life in the gangs. Though Myrmidons doesn't do these books justice, I hope that they at least helped me touch the subject with some respect.

The superheroes:

Batman Begins - in high school when Nick and I wrote this stuff, realism wasn't a prime thought. For me, that changed with Batman Begins. Batman showed not so much the gritty side of superheroics, but rather what they might look like for real if someone started doing hero stuff.

Batman definitely inspired me to try adding a level of believability to Myrmidons, and that realism also, I hope, helps me put a new and unique spin on super hero tropes and clich├ęs.

Because I'm Batman!

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm - I wish I had rewatched this movie earlier. It's the best Batman movie out there. I'd say the main take aways were the super hero origin being told with a love story as well as the hero facing a present threat or two.

This movie is epic, and so complex for "kids" fare. It's a masterpiece.

Unbreakable - mainly this movie was a realistic take on a superhero. That's what I got from it.

Buffy (movie and tv) - I guess it inspired me somehow...

Mainly in how it shows a high school student trying to live life, get through school and fight monsters. I'd advise against wasting too much time on it though...

The Incredibles - ah yes, The Incredibles. This film is also great, and the main take away here was that super heroics could be outlawed. And that some heroes would escape and lie low, still doing good.

Though to be fair, Nick had posed the idea of some sort of official authority presiding over super hero affairs as far back as 1997, suggesting that some sort of legislation had been in effect. We then toyed with the idea of rules and bylaws that super heroes were to follow. Initially this judicial authority was just a neutral bureaucracy chafing the heroes, things changed.

I took it a little bit further after influence from the next two entries

They Live - the idea that our perceptions could be clouded by, I guess, alien technology to blind us to their presence as they run the show among us, was quite terrifying. Not to mention that it makes the battle look that much more impossible.

In Myrmidons, somehow this has been done to all of humanity to erase the memories that superheroes had existed. Some nefarious villain had defeated the heroes, and effectively erased them.

I guess the connection to They Live is that the masses had been deceived.

Dark City - is another film that plays with memory, and how humanity has been messed with by sinister forces to forget the truth. In the movie, men in black (MIBs) alter the memories of each person, and the landscape to experiment how different people experience the same memories.

In Myrmidons, Mr. Suit seems to have a way to do this telepathically, but it's more tied in with the larger conspiracy, yet to be revealed.

A bigger influence on me than this was reading about UFO abductions as a kid, where false memories are said to abound, and men in black often appear. I'd say Dark City just showed me how those ideas could work in a fictional setting, and overall, I didn't take alot from it, or they live. Though together, with the Incredibles, a conspiracy storyline was born! The X-Files was probably another influence as well.

Boys From Brazil - speaking of conspiracies, this film is about one of the biggest conspiracies of our modern era. Namely, that the Nazis survived WWII (really, many did, but who knows if it was like this or not) and were plotting a rise to power in the future. Brazil had them trying to clone Hitler. While this film didn't directly inspire the Nazi conspiracy in the deep background of Myrmidons, it helped solidify it.

It only makes sense that if Nazi leaders and mad scientists still lived after the war, they'd be up to no good. This movie was a cool movie, and the idea of Nazis continuing in the background with weird genetic experiments was the main take away.

Weird Al's song "Midnight Star" also gives us one last clue how such a conspiracy ties into the story, for those few stalwart souls who make it to the end of Myrmidons.

And my friend, Mr. Lee said the only PC bad guys are robots, aliens and Nazis...

Mitchell (as seen on mst3k) - Mst3k has been a huge influence on my life, and you'll probably pick out more than a few references to MST3K throughout the novel. The most overt, of course would be Police Liaison Officer Mitchell.

I don't think I even need to explain it.

Earthbound - the videogame, Earthbound was also a huge influence on this novel. The masks worn by Los Tiburones were inspired by the Sharks from Earthbound. (Given that I am now an official supporter of the the Cronulla Sharks Rugby Team, this is especially fitting I guess).

I would also say that a number of other references are probably also made throughout Myrmidons, and if Myrmidons was a videogame, I'd want it to be like Earthbound.

Also, the Handsome Phils were going to be the Handsome Toms originally. The Handsome Toms are enemy puppets that appear in Earthbound, but somehow the name Phils jumped out at me, and I went with it.


So there you have it.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

The (I wish) Art of the Myrmidons Novel

One of the biggest inspirations for Nick and I to start writing this story and the rest, was the art of our friend and fellow student, Kevin. He used to (and still does) draw manga style, and we wanted him to draw us. So he did.

That drawing inspired us to create the characters that eventually became Snake, Frank, and Connerlee.
As much as we like his art, he has been unable to help us with illustrations or a cover for the book. Mainly because he's busy doing some of his own projects.

So to help support his work, here is where you can find some of his drawings. If you want to see his illustrations in our book, bother him. Otherwise y'all will have to wait till I get better at drawing.

He's also done some fan art for Castlevania, which sadly is not shown. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Phantom Bowman

Perhaps the background post you've all been waiting for. Perhaps not. Especially since this is only like the third blog post on a blog that no one reads, about a book no one has read.


As with the rest of these blogs, I'll assume you've read the novel "In the Shadows of Myrmidons" and that you got here because you wanted to know more about what you just read. If you randomly found this, please go buy the book!

Alright. Phantom Bowman.

The Phantom Bowman, aka Roberto D'Imperio, owner of Single-Handed Sandwiches. This character was a recent addition to the Reptilian Authority mythos, and in fact, was never part of it originally.

Robbie's origin as a character is something like this. When I was rewriting and reworking what wad originally "Shadows" and wasn't sure if it was a Reptilian Authority story, I had the Snake character becoming a vigilante and taking back his school. Part of this was him using a bow and arrow like Green Arrow or Hawkeye...I mean Robin Hood. (Keep in mind, this was in 2009, BEFORE CW's "Arrow"). I thought it was not reasonable to have a teenage kid just taking up a bow and arrow to fight crime.

He needed a mentor.

Enter the Phantom Bowman. Robbie, the retired Bowman would serve as mentor to Snake. I chose an archer character because at the time, Batman was (i suppose always is) popular, Superman wasn't feasible as a mentor and the coolest street level superhero (besides another unfeasible, Powerman) was Green Arrow. Which made me think of Robin Hood. And really, I didn't want to rip off Green Arrow, I just thought at the time (again, pre-"Arrow" 2009) that an archer was underappreciated. Further, as I've said before, Snake was always meant to use a bow and arrow in the future. So an archer just made sense.

To make the Phantom Bowman differ from from the more well-known archers, I tried a few things, nothing major. I was going to go with Golden Archer, as a pun on McDonald's, but Squadron Supreme had already beat me to that. The color was too bright anyways,  so I opted for a darker gray and black scheme. Which makes more sense than the more colorful options, especially in an urban environment.

The intended darker color scheme made me think of ghostly things, which reminded me of the word phantom, and from there a plot point in Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Thuvia, Maid of Mars" where there are an army of ghostly archers called "phantom bowmen of Lothar". Despite the obviously occult origin of those Martians, the name is cool and sounds like something a young vigilante (and probable Burroughs fan) would take as a crime fighting pseudonym.

After Robbie's forced retirement(s) from superheroics, he does his best to let things go and live a normal life as a small business owner in the neighborhood he once defended. Though his basement setup and eagerness to take Snake as an apprentice make it obvious he never gave it up fully, but was only biding his time.

Rest assured, Book 2 will answer some questions and hopefully show the elder Bowman in action.


Moped Mob - Stranger Than Fiction

In developing the story for "Myrmidons" I had to come up with various gangs to serve as threats. Most of them were "scenery" for lack of a better word. Most of the original gangs that Nick had devised in the 90s were forgotten, save for the Vendors and the Stockboys.
In real life, gangs, for the most part, are not a laughing matter. "The Cross and the Switchblade", "Run Baby Run" and numerous articles clearly demonstrate that gangs are not to be glorified, nor are they funny. On the other hand, a number of gangs have flashy elements, or even a touch of the absurd. Like these or my friend who told me he was robbed by a gang of transvestites on the beach.
As a result, I tried to do justice to the threat gangs posed,  while still making them colorful. In doing so, the Moped Mob was created. Essentially they're just a gang that rides mopeds, and at the time, I never thought such a thing would happen in real life.
I was wrong.
Apparently art and life are more intertwined than we think.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Real World Origins of the Pink Shirt Gang

For those of you who have read "In the Shadows of Myrmidons", you may be wondering about some of what you've read. Hopefully you enjoyed the story nonetheless.
At any rate.
What in the world was I thinking when I came up with the pink shirt gang? What kind of street gang wears pink dress shirts? Does it mean anything?
Journey back with me to 2003 through 2005. If you're in my target audience, you would have been maybe in the 4 - 9 yr old range, and probably barely old enough to remember fashions of that time. Well, the origin of the pink shirt gang starts there.
The first Reptilian Authority story (now, "In the Shadows of Myrmidons") had always featured Snake and his friends fighting and overcoming the gangs of Alphacowomooga High in addition to the usual elitist jerks prevalent in most high schools. Actually, I found middle school to be worse in that respect, but high school had a few punks I recall. 
When this story was revised from where it had started, a more solid threat than several gangs was needed. Like a big gang taking over. Also, it hadn't helped that Nick had lost his original story, and neither of us recalled all of the details, and so starting over helped me to realize we needed something.
Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and I think this also can help you aspiring writers out there, inspiration is all around you if you look. Here's how it hit me. At the time, several factors were at work serving as inspiration for the Pink Shirt Gang.
First, I had been hanging out with a guy for a little while, and he had been in a gang before, which did inspire me as well. Though maybe not how he would have liked. He was new to the church I had been attending, and he was quite fun to hang around with. At some point he ended up with a girlfriend and we all hung out together alot, and she was equally fun to hang out with. Since neither of them could drive, I spent time with both of them together and separately, and at one point his girlfriend and I went clothes shopping. (And yes, this was completely platonic on my part).
We went to Express For Men, and as I looked, I was quite taken by a pink dress shirt. I tried it on with appropriate gray pants and I really liked it. It just looked nice. But, I couldn't afford it though, and so it went back to the shelf. Or rack...
Some time later I was at a Vietnamese restaurant, and there was a man outside in a purple dress shirt. He didn't look especially thuggish, so I'm not sure how I thought of it, but the idea of a villain (or many villains) wearing a purple dress shirt took root. Pink won out in the end because I liked it more, and it was shorter to write.
More inspiration was to be found in the Axe Gang from "Kung Fu Hustle", specifically their opening dance number and how the leader takes over more and more gangs that take up the dance with him. I found it absurd that such a dangerous, and ruthless gang would be dancing so professionally, and i loved it. This flamboyance served as inspiration for me to apply similar attitude through the dress and eccentricities of Chaz and the Pinkos. Add to this the fact that I'd read (but never verified) that pink used to be considered masculine. Nowadays, getting beat up by a guy in pink may be humiliating, so there's that. Plus wearing pink might invite insults, which would be grounds for more fighting.
Looking back, this sort of application of style is actually a legitimate way that gangs can manifest themselves. The Gentlemen of Bacongo take flamboyant dress nearly (ok, totally) to an extreme and settle their disputes not with fisticuffs, but a fashion showdown. I highly recommend reading up on them and checking out pictures. Incidentally the Gentlemen of Bacongo served as inspiration for Snake's dispute with Top Jimmy.
So the Pink Shirt Gang was born through finding inspiration in just random things, then taking those and trying on various ideas. After sufficient tinkering, a hopefully unique and enjoyable villain. 

- B.

Also, buy the book here! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

In the Shadows of Myrmidons: A Young Adult Paranormal Novel

This blog is for the fans. There aren't many, yet, but maybe, one day...just know that I'm just a regular dude.
"In the Shadows of Myrmidons" is the culmination of quite a few things. It is the first novel I've written, which also makes it the first novel I've written with Nick. It's also a major departure from where it started. It's the fulfillment of a dream, a longing, from my 7th or 8th grade days when I realized I wanted to write novels. That was after reading and being awed by Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" trilogy. Lastly, "Myrmidons" was probably also the motivation for my majoring in writing in college. 
It started in high school. Nick was randomly in my German class the first week of school, and we were both new to the school we were at. He couldn't handle the 85 minutes of German everyday (neither could I, I endured the semester due to the presence of cute girls and the hope the German would click, but then I dropped class a week before class ended, after the teacher swore at me in English) and he transferred to the French class two doors down. On our way out of school everyday, we would chat.
Fast forward, we ended up in English together, and lunch. There we talked about 80s popculture, movies, music and videogames, BEFORE you hipsters made it cool. And we were outcasts for it. Maybe we were just proto-hipsters.
Though I should give you hipsters credit for rediscovering the cool stuff that had been cast aside.
At any rate, as we hung out and finagled our class schedules so we could hang out more, we came up with ideas for stories. Admittedly,  most of these...ok, all of these except one were basically (non-porn) fanfiction. I take the Fifth as to which series'. Inspired by Nick's first story, I came up with a prequel story. Inspired by that, Nick came up with another prequel to that, which would serve as the origin story.
Probably these were all rough drafts at best.
Graduation happened, and with work I didn't have time or interest to write stories any more. Well, that and wasting time with games and movies. I put stories on the back burner. I can't speak for Nick,  but I'm sure something similar happened with him. I had also become a Christian and so also did spend some time trying to figure that out as well.
It wasn't until I hit about 23, and I had a huge crush on a girl. It wasn't mutual, though I had thought it was, but that and severe dissatisfaction with my job made me feel something deep within my soul. I had to do something, but I wasn't sure what.
So one day, I farted out a really dark sequel story to these stories we'd written years previously. It wasn't great. It had some good ideas, but that's really it. Despite this, at the time I thought it was amazing. So, I figured before I tried to get it published or do anything with it I needed to go back and rework the old stories.
I reworked my original prequel story as a script. A friend said that at least it was fast paced. Yeah, it probably sucked.
But I still thought it would be worth revisiting after I reworked what would be the whole origin story. But again, I let distractions get the better of me, though I did retool some of the ideas for the origin story and came up with the villain of Chaz, as the origin never really had had any real threat. Nick and I did meet occasionally to hammer out a rough story for this, but our schedules differed greatly and I did my part to avoid writing by attending college again.
As those ideas sat on the back burner, I went to college and started looking into other religions, in addition to UFO stuff. I never rejected my faith in Christ, but I was growing doubts. Ironically, it had kind of started with me looking into UFOs for story ideas.
After graduating school, and after recovering my faith in Christ through reading the Bible, I sat down to write what was to become "Myrmidons". I did so with massive amounts of prayer, and eating up all of the Bible teaching and Christian alternative theories about various topics. Which influenced the story I would say.
Because I was taking my faith seriously then, I had a few more tweaks to make to the story.
Unfortunately, I was also avoiding Nick for really stupid reasons and was trying to find a way to rewrite this story without him. Thankfully,  the Lord reconciled us. In truth, I had felt convicted in my heart about trying to do so, and re-reworked it back into this storyline and ironically it helped us get back together, though not as often as we would like. But that's a different story.
At any rate, the most major tweak I made to the story was giving Snake a mentor in the form of Robbie, the former Phantom Bowman. This character was brand new. That also brought up other problems though, namely, why didn't Snake try to enlist the help of superheroes to take down the obviously super powered Chaz?
In an early draft, I had him do just that, but it didn't really work out having superheroes all over. Even with the Bowman there to help, it just didn't play right having other heroes around. Otherwise,  why not just write about them?
So I invented the conspiracy theory/cover-up that superheroes had been outlawed and "disappeared". A sort of twist on an idea of Nick's. Thankfully, that opened up more story possibilities and gave some of the characters things to do, and it also added a "you're on your own" and "what your doing is illegal" element to the story and Snake's actions. It also helped me come up with the Sunset Men, the enforcers of that government conspiracy.
Upon reflection, I guess this whole outlawed superheroes and hero metor sort of is unintentionally a Jedi Order / Ben Kenobi element. It was also used by "The Incredibles" and "Watchmen", but again, it was less to imitate that, and more to avoid imitating the Big Two's surplus of metahumans. 
Also, I let the old man live!
At any rate, adding Robbie as a former archer was there to set up Snake's archery prowess, because at a later point in an older version of the series Snake was to be an archer of sorts. That may get reworked.
Probably the last change, and the most major since the addition of Robbie is to include the demonic entity Myrmidon in the story. The reason for doing this is yet future, but I knew if I was to use him later on in any form, he had to be introduced in this story. Plus, his presence adds a little strangeness to the story. He never had a real name in the past, but as Nick had told me about his ideas for a team named "the Myrmidons of Hope" and I titled this story what I did, I knew I had to exploit the symbolic potential of the title and thus the demon Myrmidon was at last given a proper name.
With those changes in place; new characters changed or added, old ones removed, and a motive to write this story from as much of a Biblical perspective as possible, "In the Shadows of Myrmidons" was born. After many various revisions and hurdles.