Two Opposing Crime Comedies

It is interesting to have a specified niche genre of dark crime comedy. These are the sorts of stories that take us into the underworld of criminal affairs, where the threat of death (or worse) seems to be a rather prevalent theme, yet things are light-hearted enough where we laugh most of the time.

Easily enough, morbid topics are flipped into funny ones.

fc64a43b176b81970da1d47ddc2b56c1I recently watched Snatch for the first time, as well as my second viewing of Pulp Fiction. Let us discuss and compare the successes and failures of these films as stories.

In terms of gritty scenes too-insane to actually be considered plausibly real, both these movies have both in abundance. As viewers, we’re not only put in at position to see things from the perspectives of criminals, but actually relate to them. After all, criminals are also human beings, however coked up or cold blooded or greed-driven they may be, with motivations and (sometimes) personalities. The more interesting characters are the ones whom you come to “know,” and end up rooting for — despite them being one of a slew of bad guys.


If you watch this movie for the first time, place bets on which of these is the good guy.

As something of a novice Tarantino viewer, I actually know next-to-nothing about Guy Ritchie (Snatch), though some light research showed he directed the more recent Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

The movies were OKAY.

Setting aside their other works, though, comparing Pulp Fiction and Snatch as standalone films shows more than a few things in common, yet they manage to stand apart.

Both films are, of course, crime thrillers. Both feature the perspectives of a rather extensive cast, each interwoven in the overall story arc. There’re quite a few moments of morbid comedy (also known as black or dark comedy), leaving us smiling and laughing at the utter misfortune of more than a few characters. Perhaps most of all, both flicks have a rigged boxing match as one of its central plot elements.


Certainly there are significant differences between the two movies as well — the narrative style contrasts quite a bit, with Pulp Fiction doing the whole “show don’t tell” thing, while Snatch does a helluva lotta telling. Turkish, one of the two “good guys” (the best among the criminals to which we can relate and root for, I suppose) of Snatch, also plays the part the occasional narrator. Hearing Jason Stathom spoonfeed us plot and character details is a stylistic choice, I’m thoroughly aware, and as I endeavor to consume more and more varied media, I’ve been slowly coming to the conclusion that British films really enjoy their protagonist-narration.

Pulp Fiction, conversely, has no narration at all, but there is no lack of talking. I know I referred to Pulp Fiction as doing a lot of showing, not telling, and this can be done despite the preponderance of dialog. Tarantino movies tend to have profound or, at the very least, above-average ambitions when it comes to what characters say to each other. People in his films – Pulp Fiction being no exception – talk like complex, intelligent adults, bringing up concepts, debates, and philosophies that I wish I could have on a casual basis.


This makes for interesting characters in between action scenes, and let me tell you, the action and tension in both these movies is great, but action can only take a story so far. If nobody cares about the characters it doesn’t matter what happens to them — and we care about characters who stand out, whether it’s through profound dialog or otherwise.

Certainly in some cases, the utter lack of dialog can make a character. Take Clive Owen’s performance in The Bourne Identity. He barely says a goddamn word but gets a lot of screen time, and we really get the impression of what kind of person he’s like.

clive assassinBack to Snatch, it’s a fun movie, and it was one of those movies I’d heard of more than ten years ago and finally got around to seeing. An old high-school friend went so far as to say it was the best movie ever, but then we know how teenagers are prone to hyperbole. Regardless, an aura of mystery always surrounded the title; what could such a movie with such a peculiar name have that could make it someone’s “all time favorite”?

To put it simply, after ten years of not seeing it, I finally did, and I’m not really sure what the big deal is. The overall story arc feels incomplete, almost as though the budget ran out before filming (even editing) was completed. Like I said, though, it’s fun — the characters are fun, and yes there’re great bits of dialog to be found as well, but by the time the credits abruptly rolled, I found myself throwing my arms in the air.

What, precisely, was the point of this?

Pulp Fiction, with its nonlinear storytelling (something of a Tarantinoism, so I’ve heard), memorable characters and extremely quotable moments, stands quite apart. A character is seen shot dead, and it’s much to my disappointment (and, presumably, that of the audience), as we’ve come to enjoy him, or at minimum get to know him, thoroughly. Then the story jumps back in time, and we get one final scene with him — it’s almost as though the writers of Pulp Fiction enjoyed John Travolta’s character too much to let him just be killed off.

I’ve yet to watch a Tarantino film that I didn’t enjoy, though their roughness sometimes leaves me a little worn. I end up saying things to myself such as “I won’t be seeing that again any time soon.” But then again, I’ve been feeling a bit in the mood for some Kill Bill. post-19458-Quentin-Tarantino-Game-of-Thro-mRur

Importance of Gender in Fiction

Sexuality and gender in writing brings up a whole pile of subtopics. Each come with its set of obstacles – some more subtle than others. This post is an attempt to make some observations, ask some questions, and perhaps incite questions of your own.

As easy as it is to get into the tirade of how ridiculous ‘feminine’ armor is depicted in fantasy media, that is not what this post is about. I already touched on that in why I hate elves.

No really, chill.

There, settled.

A peer in my writing group once raised a question about changing the gender of one or more of her characters. The question concerned how the characters related to the audience, and this is not an unusual question when crafting any kind of story.

The agents always ask: “To which demographic are we marketing this?” and the fellow-writers will ask “To whom are you writing this – a specific group or yourself?” Then the philosowriters may ask: “If there was no such thing as gender, would your story still make sense?”

It is no secret as to whom the majority of games and movies of the fantasy genre are aimed.


I’ve reached the point where the amount I’m turned on is directly proportional to the practicality witnessed.

Setting that madness aside, gender plays a role in how we relate (or don’t) to characters, certainly, because as much as the feminists — the real kind of feminism, which preaches equality — will have you believe otherwise, there are some differences between the sexes that can cause barriers.

At least in the context of relating to fake people in a book.

I like to ask the question, “Does the gender of the character have anything to do with the story?” Like, if s/he is a male, does that make whatever job their holding more or less believable? If s/he is a female, does that put her motivations in question?

Unless your character is a lumberjack with a heavy interest in, I don’t know, cars or something (whatever the hell it is men find interesting), it might stretch the imagination to find this character to in fact be a lumberjane.

If the answer is no, and you can apparently swap the gender of a character without any major plot implications, then why are they that gender in the first place?

As for me, I ended up facing this question about three years ago, in my own writing. I realized the Novel Project that I’d been working on had something of a preponderance of male characters. An obvious side-effect of…

  • being a male writer
  • the setting/occupations of the PoV characters
  • stereotypes of the genre and age (medieval-esque fantasy)

Those of you who know me moderately well might recall my insistence on referring to myself as a fantasist, and while there’s no shortage of heroines in that genre (gods, sometimes it feels over saturated with them), the question boils down to “WHY is the character [insert_gender_here]?”

The following is an excerpt from an article at, concerning the way in which women are portrayed even by one of the currently eminent fantasy author, George R. R. Martin.

“…Right now I’m reading a book from mega-selling fantasy author George R. R. Martin. The following is a passage where he is writing from the point of view of a woman — always a tough thing for men to do. The girl is on her way to a key confrontation, and the narrator describes it thusly:

“When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest …”

That’s written from the woman’s point of view. Yes, when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing. “Janet walked her boobs across the city square. ‘I can see them staring at my boobs,’ she thought, boobily.” He assumes that women are thinking of themselves the same way we think of them.”

In my manuscript, I ended up changing one of my pivotal PoV characters from male to female mostly out of a desire for a balance in the cast, but also as something of a challenge.

In the first writings, Zayne was an old man, but by the time any readers would meet the elder I had since swapped him out for an old woman. This not only meant formatting the manuscript a bit (like changing all the [he said]’s to [she said]’s), but forced me to reconsider why he was a man in the first place.

Turns out there was no particular reason for having him of a male persuasion, and as a double-bonus I found Zayne’s character significantly more fun to write. A snarky, quick-witted and vengeful old crone comes as something of a comical surprise to other characters (and, I hope, readers as well) when the stereotype for a grandmotherly-looking old lady – the likes of whom might be expected to be pulling freshly baked cookies out of an oven or serving hot sweet tea – is turned on its head.


I find both the character and the performance of the Queen of Thorns to be hugely inspiring. Been a long time since I saw her last playing Lady Holiday in the Great Muppet Caper.

Overall, Zayne’s personality did not change much after the transition, and I’ve always thought it liberating (as well as an active challenge) to write a character of the opposing gender. If anything, she evolved, because it opened doors to her personality that I hadn’t considered before.

WHY did she give up prospects of marrying in favor of a career as an ambitious merchant? WHY does she view the women of her culture as weak and dependent for seeking nothing more than to adorn themselves like hens hoping to be plucked?

Back to the question. Should a character’s gender be reconsidered in an effort to make them more ‘relateable’ to your intended audience?

Perhaps. Though, I’ve found that over the course of my literary adventures the question of whether the character was male or female didn’t really influence whether I liked them or what they did or said was convincingly possible. If Tyrion Lannister were a snide, pint-sized woman, or if Illidan and Malfurion Stormrage were twin sisters instead of brothers, I wonder whether they would be as interesting to me back in the day?

Though I will admit that Conana the Barbarian doesn’t really work for me.

Zula, on the other hand, was a unique and special kind of badass in Conan the Destroyer.

Zula, on the other hand, was a unique and special kind of badass in Conan the Destroyer.. This is a great example of a canonically male character being swapped for a female portrayal.

Unless the character is talking about something exclusively in the realm of the feminine (such as, say, childbirth), or perhaps the social pressures present in the story affect the character’s demeanor and, by extension, the plot direction of the story arc…then I am inclined to say that the gender doesn’t really matter.

So I say, choose the gender that you feel works best for who the characters are, not who you’re trying to sell it to.

Therefore, I encourage you all, as much as myself, to ask yourself why. Why is a character a particular gender in your story?

Did you have it planned? Did it ‘just happen’ as lots of creatives like to claim? Was it the product of perhaps unlabeled, subconscious stereotypes? Or perhaps some other, specific reason?

Two Desceptively Good Horror Movies

I’m going to talk about movies that came out years ago.

A spoiler warning would be superfluous.

I first saw The Descent in theaters sometime around it’s American release, which would mark my first viewing around 2006. I remember liking it then.


It’s a horror movie, and to that end you instantly know there are going to be some familiar tropes. Aesthetically pleasing characters (a group of them, in fact, imagine that), a secret held amongst the members of this seemingly tightly-nit group of friends, and of course the “hey lets get ourselves in a dangerous scenario” cliche.

Not long ago, I found myself treated to The Cabin in the Woods, an utterly trope-ridden film that seems to have set out to do that purposefully. Cabin in the Woods is a critique and deconstruction of horror films — forcing us to address what we like and what we don’t like about the genre.

Lately I’ve been increasingly respectful of Joss Whedon’s work.

To that end, the movie itself is cleverly written in that there’s almost nothing original about what you see in it. However the manner in which it is tied together is rather revolutionary; personally I like to think that it offers an explanation for why horror movies exist. The cliches, the tropes, the familiar themes – it’s all part of a cyclic ritual to please bloodthirsty gods.


Whose hand is this? I’d venture a vote that it’s yours.

One might go so far as to suggest that the “old gods” (a clear homage to H.P. Lovecraft) in the film are metaphors for the audience. We as viewers have arrived to witness a show, whether at a cinema or taking the effort to play the movie at home. We demand retribution for the crimes committed by the various characters, we demand mercy for the innocent, and most of all, we demand blood.

As the viewers, we decide whether a film exists (is playing) or not (turning it off, and the stories of the characters never play out and remain suspended in paused limbo forever). We also ensure the continued real-world Hollywood industry by repeatedly paying money to see these recycled movies at the box office.

I’ll tell you one thing I look for when watching a movie, particularly those in the horror genre.

Something different.

Something that’s more than the same elements of a story rearranged with slightly different faces and a slightly different biome. Cabin in the Woods manages to not only bring forth everything that is familiar, because that’s mostly what horror flicks — particularly those from Hollywood — seem to have become.


I share their expression whenever see a poster or commercial for the next scary flick.

I’m not sure how many times I could re-watch this movie (I’ve read other reviewers say they can and have quite a bit), but I can easily say I count it as extremely memorable for its clever subversion of tropes and critique of not only the producers of these kinds of movies, but the consumers as well. It is, as people in Dungeons & Dragons circles call it, meta and thoroughly self-aware, however it never once breaks the fourth wall.

Go see it.

Back to The Descent (2005). Now here’s a deceptively good movie, if Rotten Tomatoes has anything to say about it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s got familiar horror movie elements, but I would like to emphasize that it’s not a Hollywood production. The people behind this one came from across the Pond, and while filming was done in the U.K., the setting for the story takes place in South Carolina, USA.

Much like how The Cabin in the Woods utilizes familiar tropes, we see a group of close-knit friends (though all-female, which is an interesting production choice, as there’s an absence of the typical alpha male character) delving into a dangerous situation of their own volition.

Guess how many live.

Guess how many live.

They’re adventurers, in possession of what is suggested to be extensive caving experience. They’re a group of physically capable people, and for once they look the part. Unlike the rail-thin plastic dolls we see so oft-depicted on the silver screen like in Charlie’s Angels. Or most every movie containing an Action Girl.

Naturally, the characters discover more than they could have expected down there. Between claustrophobia, the way out being sealed by a cave-in (resulting of course in a “no way to go but forward” scenario), and injuries from plain old-fashioned accident, they encounter what really attracted me to this movie at first: the creatures.

Troglodytes, subterranean hominids that look and act like flightless bat-human hybrids. With a sickly pallor and blindness to boot, they rely on acute hearing and pointy teeth to get around down there, and the creatures themselves were conceptualized a little more thoroughly than your average monster. There’re hints of tribal organization, with females and motherly vindication being witnessed. These aren’t mole people, either.

But the creatures are not what have me thinking highly of this movie. In fact, they aren’t a hugely scary element, although you do find yourself fearing for the characters.

The jump-scare reveal was pretty awesome, though.

The jump-scare reveal was pretty awesome, though.

What makes this movie interesting is the change that occurs in the protagonist, and ties nicely with the double entendre of the title. Sure, the ladies go and descend into a deep dark cave, but the main character – Sarah – also undergoes something of a descent of her own.

You see, in the opening scenes, we witness the tragic loss of Sarah’s husband and daughter in a car accident. The movie takes place a year later, after she’s been subject to psychotherapeutic treatment (evident in medications she’s seen taking during the one-year-later reunion with her adventurer friends). We also see that she’s prone to nightmares and, possibly, hallucinations, and as one of her friends points out, among the host of obstacles one might encounter in the Underdark are …well, hallucinations.

Naturally, the first time she sees one of the creatures her account is immediately dismissed by her peers and the expected “I told you so,” moment occurs later. But Sarah’s descent into madness is intriguing because it allows her to survive the coming obstacles.

A normal person might scream their head off after tumbling into a pool of flesh slurry. A normal person might be too overcome with guilt to mercy-kill her wounded, immobile friend before getting eaten alive by man bats. A normal person might freeze in panic at the sight of her friends being picked off one at a time.

But Sarah isn’t normal; to put it in less gentle terms, her mind snapped like a dry and brittle twig sometime between the trauma of her husband’s family and the bloody deaths of her friends. She thus underwent a sort of metamorphosis, into a human animal, arguably as savage as the troglodytes around her, and it is this metamorphosis that allows her to survive.

If you're cool then you know what this is. If you don't, you can get an idea form the title of the card.

If you’re cool then you know what this is. If you don’t, you can get an idea form the title of the card.

Add in the drama of a certain betrayal that I’d rather not spell out here (because if you still haven’t seen the movie, what I’ve talked about in this review actually doesn’t spoil all that much), and you’ve got a story that really stands out in the horror genre.

One of the better, modern horror flicks I’ve seen in awhile, and I’ve always felt it deserved more love.

Oh and there’s a sequel. You needn’t concern yourself with it.

Addiction in Fantasy

I started reading Dune again.

I’ve said it before, but I encourage you to read it if you haven’t.

To catch up those unfamiliar, a central theme of the books (though I keep primarily to the first one) is a commodity known as melange, colloquially known as “the spice,” in a science-fiction future set approximately 24,500 years after the 21st Century. Melange is a naturally-occurring substance from the fictional planet Arrakis (otherwise known as the titular Dune) that proves to be the focus of high politics and war, being of pivotal economic importance. When consumed, the spice provides life-extension and, in some, a degree of prescience, which is essential for deep-space travel.

Basically, the concept is that mechanical computers are, to put it lightly, long since out of fashion, and calculation of warp-drive jumps through space is done by human minds. The spice is required (to augment the navigators with prescience) in order to predict whether or not the ships will collide with obstacles (such as asteroids, planets and suns) as the travelers careen through the Known Universe.

In other words, no spice, no interstellar travel, no empire. It was important stuff, oft-cited that one briefcase of the spice could buy you a planet.

But apart from granting extended lifespans and the ability to peer into the future (to a limited degree), melange also had the effect of being highly addictive – and withdrawal is fatal. Extensive, long-term use apparently had the effect of warping the human body, turning the Navigators into beings that were simply “human once.”

Frank Herbert was not afraid to make a variety of drug references in his work — some of an experimenter himself — and it is the use of these things in storytelling that I write about today. Addiction is a powerful thing, something not to be discussed lightly, as it is in our lives – all of us – even in its most minute forms. Johann Hari talks about how we look at and treat addiction in our world now in his excellent TED Talk.

But in Dune, not only is a major plot device a mind-expanding drug, but the use of addiction as a means of controlling an individual is employed in another, less over-arcing plot point. Another drug, called semuta, is the apparent addiction of choice for the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s guard captain, Nefud — an interesting study all its own, as the drug taken alone doesn’t do much, but after taking semuta, it is triggered by listening to “semuta music,” which apparently activates it while in your body. In any case, it is also highly addictive, and the baron uses this as a means of controlling Nefud.

The Dune novel is about many, many things, and cannot be summarized easily. A soul once asked whether the book was an allusion to marijuana — it isn’t, at all, and one guy does a damn good job summarizing what the book really is about here. But when we talk about addiction in terms of a plot device, or as a motivation (incentive?), or even simply something to spice up the story or character, we have the makings for something that is very believable and convincing.

There is even a website dedicated to geek-themed cooking recipes, not least of which this Dune-inspired one.

And if your idea of drug addiction is associated primarily with the so-called hard-drugs like cocaine and heroin, consider that non-outlawed drugs are bloody everywhere, from caffeine to nicotine to alcohol.

Humans are flawed and prone to fill the void (or as Johann Hari from the TED talk would put it: the lack of connection) with something – anything – whether its the chemical response to the artificial euphoria of cocaine, or what I’ve heard described as the contentedness bestowed by marijuana, or the pleasurable escape from reality provided by video games, television and Facebook. These are real things the likes of which each of us, or just as often someone we know, must contend with at some point or another in our lives.

Speaking from experience, and without any official medical testing, I’ve come to believe I have something of an addictive personality — that is, I’ll latch onto something as a means of escape even when I know I ought not be doing it, and it usually takes the form of video games. It’s all too easy for me to lose more hours than I can count at a game such as League of Legends and World of Warcraft, both of which are expertly crafted games made for the express purpose of forever being uncompleted.

As something of a pseudo-ex-gamer, I found myself going into a relapse not very long ago, and then it hit me – if I had enemies who would seek to control my activities (or lack thereof), what would they do to exploit my weakness? What would be a subtle, sinister way to prevent me from being productive, or otherwise prevent me from treading down a path that someone might otherwise not want me to do?

Disclaimer: I know I’m not remotely important enough to have an individual enemy of that caliber.

But if I did, they would probably see to me having in my possession a powerful computer system, like the ones I used to build for myself in the past, loaded with easily-accessed and notoriously addictive games, like the aforementioned LoL and WoW. Hell, I even went through a Hearthstone phase a few months ago.

Would it that I were to win a lottery, the prize of which being said gaming PC, for example. The world probably wouldn’t hear from me for some time in such a scenario.

This line of thought inspired me for a character I’m writing, a flaw of whom is a penchant for drinking. Now, what would someone of power need to do in order to keep this character under control? Provide the easily accessed alcohol, of course – and in a manner so as to not rouse the character’s suspicions. Here’s a glimpse into the character, as well as a bit of a plot-element for my Work-In-Progress:

Radh lost someone dear to him, and not for error of another, but that of his own. He is convinced she died because of him, and unable to come to terms with overwhelming guilt, he crawls into a wine bottle — but before doing so, he also saw something he shouldn’t have, something that a trusted ally would otherwise want to keep secret.

The ally, a high-ranking and influential individual, is threatened by Radh’s possible recollection of the Thing He Shouldn’t Know. Thus he sees to putting Radh in a safe, secluded location and, rather than simply having Radh killed, the undoubtedly more secure of options, the ally will instead engineer an environment in which Radh will take to drinking himself stupid again.

Out of context, and written purposefully vague as it is, I would expect readers to look at the above few paragraphs which fingers scratching their heads. It’ll be clear when the novel is released, which is also why — as I’ve said in the past — I’m so paranoidically avoidant of sharing specific details.

In any case, addiction is a powerful character trait; old school Sherlock Holmes was a cocaine addict, and the otherwise extremely likable Jonathan Clemens from Alien 3 had battled with a morphine addiction. Not to mention Dr. Gregory House.

Do I draw that addictions are required to make a successfully interesting character? Not necessarily — but they can add depth to an otherwise shallow one in need of it, or provide a glimpse of another facet to someone we thought we knew. A character trait like this can help us paint the picture of a Functional Addict or, if used (arguably) lazily, supply the motivation for just about any nefarious activity.

I know what I’m doing with this information. Have you any ideas for yourself?

The First Time I Wish I Was At E3

E3 has come and gone, and naturally I – like much of the world’s populace – was unable to attend. In fact, I confess little interest at the time; for so long have I been up to my neck in other things that I’ve rarely been able to indulge in actually keeping up with video game news, let alone actually play anything.

Though, much like the acorn, I am small largely inconsequential, but I dream of forests.

It would appear that the participants of the Electronic Entertainment Expo has had more than a few dealings with dreams this year.

Stepping back a bit, I want to say that I’ve hardly kept up with this stuff for the last few years. Much like my views on the Movie Industry have gotten increasingly jaded (directly proportionate, perhaps unsurprisingly, to my apparent acquisition of age), so too have my views of the Gaming Industry similarly degraded.

The cynic will say that it is not one’s perception that has degraded, though, but in fact has undergone augmentation. Whether this is from age, or a legit declination in quality of the media, is up for debate.

E3 of 2015 shattered that pretext for me. Like I said, granted I haven’t kept up with things lately, so perhaps it could be said that my insensitivity threshold has also lowered, so it’s easier to be Wow’d by the graphics and concepts and gameplay mechanics. I stand before you and say no, that is not the case. At least not to the best of my perceptions; games are less interesting these days because they’re more and more the same, and in a desperate attempt to make something different, a lot of developers have resorted to ‘ye olde schoole’ tried and true techniques; like Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze’s obvious throwback to the ancient 1994 release, Donkey Kong Country, which is a side-scrolling 2-D platformer.

That’s not necessarily a criticism, by the way. Very few games translate seamlessly from 2-D to 3-D environments, just look at Sonic the Hedgehog and Megaman. Some transitions are passable.



Others are not.


Still, developers will come out with a new title and I’ll look at it thinking, “Alright, so it’s Tomb Raider but with robot dinosaurs.” Again, don’t get me wrong, this looks pretty cool. In fact the concept is rather neat, but already I can see how its not exactly breaking new ground. For many of us, that’s enough, or else they wouldn’t keep making these Over The Shoulder shoot + roll games of which I’ve seen a hundred and one reincarnations.

Except for works of art such as The Last Guardian, the teaser for which I saw back in 2009. 2015’s E3 showed that yes, the project is in fact still alive, and looking better than ever.

Truly this is a game of masterwork visual storytelling; without a word of exposition or any kind of preamble, I find myself holding back tears from dropping down into my palak paneer as I watch the footage in my office chair. I never really had any interest in spending money on expensive consoles like the Playstation 4, but on seeing this the thought crossed my mind.

Yet even the raw emotions evoked by The Last Guardian, emotions the likes of which might be ascribed to pure adolescent wonder (and the sheer joy that I can only dream of experiencing, that moment we always see when a character realizes that Magic is Real), step aside for but a moment in silent awe at another thing that graced the light show of E3.

Seven Days On A Vietnamese Farm

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to visit a friend’s hometown in rural Viet Nam, near the central regions. Three of us traveled; a university student from Tazmania who I’d come to befriend, the girl whose hometown to which we were headed (also a dear friend), and myself.


The following is a brief recounting of what happened, and how it has – in ways both surprising and unsurprising – it has influenced my writing.

And, it should be noted, that this marked the first time an American or an Australian (or any foreigners for that matter) had ever visited this part of Viet Nam and, furthermore, weren’t just passing through. I heard that once, and only once, since the War, had there ever been a foreigner – a Chinese person – visiting this area, and he had been denied any lodging and sent on his way.

So, to state it more clearly, my friend and I were the first Westerners to ever come to this part of Quang Tri Province since the Vietnam/American War.

We took a 1-hour flight from Sai Gon to Hue, the historical capital of the country, then took a taxi to the bus station. From there we boarded what they called a bus, though in truth it was a van that served the same purpose. For a the equivalent of a few dollars each, we traveled as far as it was from my old hometown in Upstate New York to New York City (a fair I fondly recall costing as much as $25.00, one-way) — 3ish hours of bumpy under-construction highway and, after turning off the main route, we came upon dusty, sometimes-paved roads.

We passed through the narrowest part of Viet Nam, where I could practically see the border on one side and the coastline on the other. I could look out the right-side window, to the east, where rice fields stretched across flats that seemed to end at the horizon, where an unseen ocean acted as a border. Looking out the left window, to the west, I could see the mountains of Laos.


After finally arriving, our host-family treated us with royal hospitality, and any translation responsibility was left entirely to my trusted friend. My and the Tazmanian’s Vietnamese is limited (and furthermore, the pronunciation of the local dialect varies greatly from south to central regions), and the English skills of the family hosting us was virtually nonexistent. To our great enjoyment, the Tazmanian and I learned a host of new words in a very short time.

Vegetarianism is not common in the region, though to my relief they did have some concept of what that meant. Word was sent before our arrival that I don’t eat meat, and as such local-made tofu was prepared for me every day. Legit, local tofu – đậu phụ (dow-foo) – I even visited the neighbor’s house in which the stuff was boiled, churned, and pressed.


Also they had a buffalo. Those were around.

The woman there made it every day, and appeared to produce it for the village. Bricks of it cost us quarters, and the first time they wouldn’t even accept payment, happy as the lady was to provide me with something to eat.

The area was populated almost solely by farmers, and Communism has destroyed any sense of spirituality (except for the worship of Ho Chi Minh, of course), such that Buddhism is pretty much nonexistent – thus few if anyone practiced vegetarianism by extension. In any case, the host-family was more than willing to accommodate me, the tofu eaten being hands-down the best I’ve had in my entire time spent in Asia.


The vegetarianism was much easier to understand than my lack of fondness for drinking.

They drink beer every night, and loudly, and proudly, proclaim that they “drink the most beer in all Viet Nam.” I’ve heard this rhetoric in other regions, leaving me no choice but to conclude that the Vietnamese people to derive a sense of honor/pride from what privileged foreigners might label as widespread alcoholism. Recognizing that everyone says this, usually with a beer bottle in their hand at any given time of day, I merely shake my head at why this is something to be proud about in the first place.

I’m not fan of beer, and this is something many Vietnamese have great difficulty understanding.

“You’re a man. Therefore, you drink beer.”

There really isn’t room for argument as far as they’re concerned, since it is such an embedded ritual at this point that beer is drunk with most meals (and often in between). To have a visitor – particularly one of a rare and unusual-looking breed such as myself and the Tazmanian – inevitably called for drinking beer from one house to the next much in the same manner as people go bar-hopping.

As such, I am repeatedly thrust into the situation of “Hey, you’re a foreigner, drink beer with us.” And after repeatedly making it clear that I don’t like to drink (I am especially sensitive to when someone forces it on me, something that happens frequently here), there is at least half a chance that they’ll disregard my odd and clearly unmasculine behavior as some oddity among foreigners.

My Tazmanian comrade, on the other hand, drank more often than me, which mostly placated their incessant desire to fill me with cheap, disgusting alcohol. I knew, of course, that nearly every gesture of this sort was made in an act of welcome and hospitality, but the concept of “No thanks,” to drinking beer is about as clearly understood as “No thanks, I’m full,” is understood when at the dinner table visiting your grandmother’s house.

It takes anywhere between hours and days for this concept to sink into the heads of people I meet.

Many roads between each villagers houses were connected by dusty roads like this, with trees lining space between plots.

Many roads between each villagers houses were connected by dusty roads like this, with trees lining space between plots.

The house in which we stayed was a mere fifteen minute walk from the beach, where we went almost every day for a swim in warm, bathtub-temperature saltwater. The beaches were far from pristine, and more than once I witnessed local farmers’ children playing with hunks of styrofoam in the water as makeshift toys; garbage washed ashore from the sea or cast aside by locals.

You could erect massive statues made of the all the empty bottles we stepped over, and the thought crossed my mind, and seeing as this was even remotely a tourist area, there could only be one source left from which the trash accumulated. Sun-bleached propaganda posters looked to do little in preventing locals from littering or cleaning up the beaches.

The dunes were quite unmolested, though.

The dunes were quite unmolested, though.

In spite of these unignorable details, I loved going to the beach, and as I said we went almost every day – once even late at night, where I discovered to my initial horror the bioluminescent plankton. It was mode rad.

We were awakened by roosters nearly every morning, and my Tazmanian buddy had the presence of mind to bring several sets of ear-plugs with him, and only on such mornings as I employed the little foam wonders was I able to sleep later than 6:00am. But not before developing a distinct lack-of-fondness for a particular rooster, however, that sounded like nothing short of a dinosaur.

That one godsdamn chicken sounded – no joke – just like this fellow here, an orc from Lord of the Rings. (1:42 – 1:44)

This in fact inspired a section of prose for my novel-in-progress, where a character is rudely awakened by an intrusive chicken. It served to fill a hole that otherwise had me stumped for months, and after inadvertently being accosted by the crowing of proud chickens, I managed to get through another of my frequent Blocks.

No building in the entire village was made of wood. In what I have learned to be the typical Vietnamese fashion, every structure is built of rebar-enforced concrete. I even came across “picket fences” along the road that were designed to look like your typical wooden fence as seen on T.V., but made out of slabs of painted cement bolted together.

No doubt the better to withstand the yearly typhoons I’ve heard stories about.

One of the plots behind the house in which we stayed.

One of the plots behind the house in which we stayed. They do biodiverse farming, with various fruit trees having pepper-plants crawling up each trunk.

Days before being assured that no rain would come to the region during our stay, a perpetual downpour came upon us that lasted for half a week. During this time I found myself largely confined to the house, which was much to my enjoyment as the air got significantly cooler and I, at last, had some time to simply do what I hoped to do on this excursion: spend some time writing.

I did manage to churn out about 2,000 words of prose, which is pretty good compared to the last few months, and some, like I said, was in part inspired by that godsdamn chicken. But nary a moment passed when I went unbothered, whether by the family summoning me to play cards games like Blackjack, eat a meal, play with local children or just to accompany someone on an errand.


Some errands were more scenic than others.

I met the Town Drunk, a man who spoke slurred gibberish that was “Not Vietnamese.” But much to my own amazement, another individual, a boy of fourteen who, from a clear though unidentified mental handicap (he was taken out of school on account of his inability to learn), fit the trope, cliche, whatever, of the Village Idiot. I found myself wondering whether this was something uncool to ponder, because regardless of the boy’s condition, there was only one like him, and the setting seemed apropos for the stereotype. He, also, was described to “talk a lot but he doesn’t actually say anything.”

As someone thoroughly familiar with mental handicaps (which has instilled in me a deeper-than-average sensitivity to the word “retard”), I found him interesting, but there were more barriers between us than culture and language.

I ate tamarind on the roof of their house, saw a seaside sunrise, played with kids (both that of villagers and goats), walked along dry riverbeds and drying rice paddy fields, and traversed massive sand dunes. We even delved into what remained of an old Viet Cong tunnel, dug under a hill and still quite stable, a place where sound and light did not travel more than ten paces, and using nothing more than the lights of our smartphones, we plumbed its depths before having to turn around and come back out.


The experience was about as Freudian as it gets.

Through it all, us foreigners were met with warm greetings and frequent invitations to eat, drink, and play. I had very little time to myself, which was expected and oddly appreciated.

From this experience I derived a small pile of inspiration, as well as simple “down to earth” concepts of how things are made and how people live in a less-than-urban setting. These aspects of life readily and easily translate to writing fantasy, which more often than not takes place in a medieval-esque world devoid of plumping, laundry machines, and freezers.

Even just going somewhere, like the dunes or the tunnel, brought more reality to how I might later describe such scenes. Sand squeezing between my toes or damp air pressing against my lungs, a spike of seething, genuine hatred towards an unevolved fowl.

Impressions: Citizen Kane

The last time I saw Citizen Kane might have been about sixty-five years after its release. With a fuzzy memory I recall seeing it in a dark room at the far corner of the miniscule college campus I attended at the time. The Art of Film, probably one of the best classes I had ever taken.

There, us pupils were subjected to such cinematic pieces as Blue Velvet, Laurel & Hardy’s The Music Box, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Citizen Kane.

It’s also no secret that any self-styled movie critic could hardly call themselves such without watching this, so I’m fully aware that there are a thousand and one reviews, impressions, and otherwise “why this movie is good/bad” articles to be found out there. I’m not going to waste your time telling you what the movie is about, because if you haven’t seen it it means you need to; not simply as a consumer, but as an aspiring writer, film-maker, story-teller; whatever you choose to call yourself.

I was prompted to rewatch this movie when a friend showed me clips of a movie known as The Room, by Tommy Wiseau. Entertainment Weekly has called it “The Citizen Kane of bad movies.”

tommy wiseau

With a $6 million budget. Somehow.

These days, The Room is something of a cult classic, a title the likes of which I had heard whispers and – despite the pleading of a trusted associate whose opinion I trust – have no intention of seeing. CinemaSins, one of my favorite YouTube channels, does a good job at tearing it part – in eight minutes or less.

Watching Citizen Kane again, I couldn’t help but recall only fragments of the plot; sure there’s significance to name “Rosebud,” and before firing up the movie I remembered a few bits Spinning Newspaper-styled montage. But I found myself re-enjoying what I suspected to possibly be an overrated movie.

It’s not secret that Citizen Kane is considered a great piece of film in most circles, but as I found myself describing to a friend with whom I shared it, it’s not just about consuming the media. For me, it’s about learning the language to describe why it’s good, to appreciate the more subtle aspects of filming, such as the cinematography. The story of Citizen Kane is masterfully told in part because it transitions between a multitude of perspectives – not one of them being Kane himself – instead from those of various important people in his life.

And the cinematic transitions between the scenes shows a higher degree of planning and artfulness than I tend to see in movies these days, whose primary concern is – without argument or shame – focused on special effects over substance and story.

I’ve been toying with this very concept; to write a novel (series) following a character whose perspective is almost never written. What s/he does and says is conveyed entirely through the eyes of close friends, family, co-workers, whatever. If pulled off well, this is tremendous storytelling because it leaves the true feelings and thoughts of the central character-in-question up to interpretation – leaving more than a few things up for debate and discussion.

A successful story is not one that simply entertains, but leaves you thinking after the book is closed, after the screen fades to black, after the game credits begin to roll. Double plus good if you can share these experiences with other people.

Watching this also prompted me to refresh my memory on the central actor, Mr. Orson Welles himself. He is perhaps most remembered from rolls such as The Godfather, and the radio drama of War of the Worlds.


This is priceless. The little Nihilist in me is pleased.

But what I feel like not enough people know is that is final role in film was the voice of Unicron, a planet-eating robot from Transformers: The Movie (1986).

Robot Badass

A movie composed of animated robots set to a backdrop of 80s hair metal. Count me the fuck in.

Long live the legacy of an actor that has left more than a huge impression on the film industry, that I fear not nearly enough people know about. Do yourself a favor and learn more about Orson Welles.