Category Archives: Mashup

W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises DVD coverDirected by Hayao Miyazaki for Studio Ghibli, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the aeronautics engineer who designed the infamous Zero fighters used to attack Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Some viewers dislike the film for its fiction (Jiro’s wife did not die of tuberculosis, for instance), some for its pacing, some for its glossing-over of the death and destruction his planes caused. There was offense at the way his wife was portrayed, and offense at the way he treated her. Some viewers were either offended on Jiro’s behalf, thinking the added fictions dishonored him, and some were offended that the creator of the Zero was the focus of an animated film.

Regardless of detractors, the hand-drawn animation and the beautiful colors are beyond excellent. There’s a night scene in Germany where the elongated and distorted shadows of men running through the streets are stunning in their realism, and the clouds throughout the film are nigh photo-realistic.

The story — which borrowed heavily from an unrelated novel, The Wind Has Risen, by Tatsuo Hori — is interesting, and the dialogue is often sharp and funny.

It’s an homage to love and dreamers, and is a film well worth seeing.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Clint & the Gang

Took this photo at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, Missouri, last summer:

classic Clint Eastwood Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2014, KB)

classic Clint Eastwood
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Makes me downright nostalgic.

So does this, although the artistry is somewhat less than that performed on ol’ Clint:

classic Star Trek crew Hollywood Wax Museum Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

classic Star Trek crew
Hollywood Wax Museum
Branson, MO (c2013, KB)

Maybe Westerns and outer space, mashed together, is why I love Firefly so much, and why I can’t escape the Old West influence in my writing, whether that be space opera, modern fiction, or even medieval fantasy.

I was raised in the West and the South — I live on the cusp of the West even now — and that independence of spirit and manner of speech creeps in, even when I’m not aware. Not gonna fight it. Just gonna embrace it.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Miss You: Why Emotion in Storytelling is Difficult to Get Right

I_Miss_You_-_Korean_Drama-p1As past blog posts reveal, one of my weaknesses as a storyteller is emotion. How do I get it right?

There’s a kdrama (Korean television drama) I’m watching now that I’ve been avoiding for months. It stars some of my favorite actors. It has great reviews. What’s my problem?

The story is heavy. It involves events I’d rather not witness or experience, and emotions I’d rather not feel, vicariously or in reality. Not because I don’t recognize them, but because I do. Despite the drama and the fiction, and the improbable though not impossible plot, the actors make it real. Characters might sometimes over-emote–or do they? We viewers would like to think so from our safe distances, but there are moments that parallel uncomfortably close to our lives: betrayal, loss, anger, grief. Love.

The fiction is the events; the truth is in the characters–how they act, react, relate, think, feel, speak. Volumes are communicated without a word being spoken. Oblique dialogue simmers with subtext.

It’s darn good writing.


The show’s title–I Miss You–is sentimental but apt. I’m only halfway through the series, and have no idea how it ends. Were it just a melodrama or just a romance, I’d probably never touch it. (To be honest, my viewing is like my reading–eclectic–thus the qualifier “probably”.) However, it’s also a mystery, dagnabbit. I’m a sucker for a good mystery.

I’ll compose an addendum to this post once I’m finished with the series. Meantime, for those interested in a romantic comedy that’s more than the genre moniker implies, check out another kdrama, A Gentleman’s Dignity. It features a core group of four friends who were fellow troublemakers in high school, and though they’re now forty and successful, they never quite grew up. (For over-emoting, though, the immature younger sister of one of the architects takes the prize.) For a solid, time-twisted, taut, suspenseful mystery with a strong romantic element and some of the best visual storytelling I’ve seen in a good long while, watch Nine: Nine Time Travels. Word is that ABC is looking into developing an American version, but I don’t know how a remake could equal the original.Nine-_Nine_Times_Time_Travel-p1

Back to the original topic: getting emotion right in storytelling. I know it when I see it. I know it when I read it. Why, then, is it so dang difficult to write?

This, I think: Emotion reveals the writer, and there’s only so much of me I want you to see.

Monday, December 2, 2013
The End (or, what I think of the series now that I’ve finished watching all the episodes), and spoilers:

I’d watch it again. In fact, it’s on my wish list of movies to add to the DVD library.

The last episode wraps up story threads, but skipped parts of the story I wanted to see, and yet expanded on material that, while okay, coulda been left out. But I’m not saying it was a bad ending. It’s a happy one, with the now-grown young lovers being married after all their years of separation and heartache.

Some viewers thought the villain was the real hero/protagonist of the story, and they might have a point. If he hadn’t existed, most of the story wouldn’t have happened. The teenagers would likely have been separated due to class differences, and the boy might never have been pushed to overcome his fear and grow into a decent adult–which was his life goal, especially after witnessing the mess grownups had made of their lives and his.

The young villain might never have become murderous were it not for the actions of his elders, who were greedy, selfish, cold, and murderous, too. Though their deeds, in and of themselves, did not achieve the elders’ desired ends, they set in motion tragic events, and unleashed the latent killer residing in what was likely an already twisted mind.

He lured others into his circle, held them there by manipulation and guilt, and delegated some of the killing .

The girl was beaten by her father, later kidnapped and raped, then separated for over a decade from her family and friends, who the villain said had abandoned her.

Much cause for tears and emotion in this story, thus the catalyst for this blog post.

Some viewers wearied of all the tears. These weren’t necessarily temper-tantrum tears, or explosions of grief, but had the appearance of unbidden tears, those that come when memory overtakes us, or when physical and mental exhaustion overwhelm us, when we’re repentant or sad or angry, and can’t stop the emotion.

There comes a time when a body is all cried out, though, and so weary of the tears that they dry up.

I thought I was in a no-cry zone in my own life. Until my father called with news about his wife, who is dying of cancer and refusing treatment. I choked up, and tears came before I had any notion they were there.

As a storyteller, I need help writing emotions: I don’t want them leaking all over my manuscript, but they need to be present and real.

As a viewer, I pretty much want the same thing: real, but not overdone to the point of cheesiness or “Oh, dear Lord, make it stop!”

As a person, well– Life’s messy.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cowboys and Vampires


The newest story by John Whalen is a dandy yarn, a Western-horror mashup that could shoulder up to Stephen King and Louis L’Amour with equal comfort, and yet maintain stature as a creature all its own.

I like a good mashup, especially when it involves my favorite genres. Westerns and science fiction, for instance — FireflyCowboys and AliensJack BrandA mashup is a hybrid, a crossover, the combination of two or more types of stories in order to create something fresh, interesting, fun.

Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is just that. It makes no apologies, doesn’t wait for the reader to catch up or get used to the idea, but dives right in with classic vampire lore conventions in an Old West setting.

Don Pedro slays a vampire — his beloved daughter Theresa — then hires hunter Mordecai Slate to find Kord Manion, the undead seducer who turned her.

The twist? If he wants to be paid, Slate can’t kill Manion. He must bring him back so Don Pedro can execute Manion.

Not recommended, and Slate says so, but the rancher insists, and so begins the hunter’s journey that eventually leads him to Rio Verde, a town that is anything but verdant ever since the drought came and sent most of the citizens in search of greener pastures. A passing cowboy with a dark sense of humor nicknamed the town Rio Muerto, and the appellation stuck.

When evil is unleashed, innocents die, a despairing alcoholic reverend regains his faith, a dishonored doctor displays how honorable and skilled he really is, a long-separated young couple find one another, and people take stands they never expected. Whalen doesn’t drop the reins of either genre: There are gunfights and fangs, wagons and coffins, townfolk and bloody necks, and one fast-paced tale that doesn’t turn in directions the reader might expect.

There’s more to the story, a few small yet powerful twists at the end that deliver enough surprise to keep the action interesting all the way to the last line.

Although readers of the first printing of Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto might encounter a couple perceived anachronisms — the use of slang terms BVDs and reefer — these are actually plausible for the times. The first term is the abbreviation for the name of a company (Bradley, Voorhees & Day) founded in 1876, and known for manufacturing men’s and women’s undergarments. Now, however, they only produce men’s underwear.

When I asked the author about the use of “reefer”, he responded with this bit of interesting trivia:

I included marijuana in a couple of the scenes because it was in use in Mexico back then. If you want a reference here is a discussion by an expert, Isaac Campos, who appeared on a PBS show in 2010. He says it was in use in Mexico starting in 1850. Sources indicate the term “reefer” wasn’t in use until the 1920’s. But I figured since the word is a corruption of the Mexican Spanish Grifa it was probably used down there back then by the hip and the lowdown. Maybe not but I think it adds a nice surrealistic touch to the scene.

There is another anachronism, but it may have been corrected by the time this review posts, so I’ll not list it here. In addition to being a writer, I’m a book editor, and have a difficult time turning off that part of my brain while reading for entertainment. However, the writing and the story were so strong, even the unnamed anachronism couldn’t spoil the ride.

Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is the latest story featuring Mordecai Slate, Monster Hunter. Other titles and summaries can be read here.

For more about the author and his inspiration for this story and the character of Mordecai Slate, read the interview at The Western Online, a webzine featuring artwork, articles, fiction, and all things Old West.

Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto is currently only available as an e-book, but Whalen is considering issuing a paperback version, as well.

Visit Flying W Press on Facebook, or keep up with Whalen via his blog.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,