Stories are not bound by pure words, impeccable editing, cream paper, and perfect-bound hardcovers. In this series, I sit down with other storytellers to talk about their works, how they came about them, and any surprises they found along the way.
For my inaugural post, here's when I sat down with the ever-talented Benjamin Chee and Wayne Rée (The Rolling Ronins) and talk about their first collaborative work together - a short-story-turned-comic named "Mr. Memphis".
Wayne, what inspired you to write “Mr. Memphis”?
I don't know if it's a bizarre side-effect of my Catholic upbringing or just a love for villains that was nurtured by all the cool bad guys from the shows I watched while growing up, but I've always loved writing stories about devils. One of the first stories I ever wrote way back when was about Lucifer and his best friend. Because of that fascination, the Faustian bargain trope, likewise, holds a special place in my heart. The western setting of the original short story was inspired by the atmosphere of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "Red Right Hand". I think there's even a line in the original that references the "dusty black coat" line from the song.
Ben, Wayne’s book “Prompt” had many other stories, not to mention the fact that Wayne has other very interesting short stories. So why Mr. Memphis?
When I thought of adapting something Wayne wrote, I went through both of his books. There were a few stories that I liked a lot (The one with genesis-in-a-cup was my close second, but I can’t figure out what to do with it that ‘Sandman’/‘Lucifer’ didn’t already), but I picked MR MEMPHIS because I got flashes of images from it. I could imagine what it looked like as I was reading it, I could think about it easily in terms of images. It might have been the strong setting, the way the characters play off each other, or the dialogue. There might be also that part of me that loved ‘True Grit’, ‘Westworld’, and all those cowboy movies I watched as a kid, itching to do something Western.
Any characters you particularly enjoyed the company of? And would you: Have dinner with them? Travel with them? Or get into a fist fight with them?
Ben: Lou! I’d like to hear the stories she has to tell. My wallet won’t last at the pace she’s selling me drinks at, though...
Wayne: Lou Ann is probably the only really good person in the story. She strikes me as the kind of woman I'd love to share a drink with and who'd have the best stories to tell.
One of the most distinct traits of Mr. Memphis is the juxtaposition of two very different settings - Wayne wrote it, influenced by wild westerns, while Ben drew it, influenced by wuxia and clan wars. What, in your opinion, made it work in this form?
Ben: 'Westworld’, ‘East Of West’, and ‘The Sixth Gun’ - three visual works I liked a lot that fuses the Western genre with sci-fi/fantasy in a way I found quite unsurpassable. From there, I thought about what I would do differently with MR MEMPHIS if I were to adapt it visually. I grew up on Chinese wuxia tales (read all Louis Cha’s 14 books and more), TV shows, and movies, so that’s an aesthetic I really wanted to try my hand on. It dawned on me I could marry the two - if only to see what happens when you have wuxia characters speaking English that is not horribly-translated subtitles!
I felt that the Silk Road and the Wild West share something common - rugged gold rush adventurers and rich costumes, settings that one could use to inform their surrounding, intent, so combining elements from these two makes a nice juxtaposition but also not jarring. That might've been what worked.
Wayne: What made it work? Simple. It was Ben. When he approached me about adapting the short story, he told me that he wanted to keep the western dialogue, but place it in a wuxia setting and I immediately loved that idea. Everything from the characters' looks to the locations were designed by Ben. He's the one who found that perfect balance between the two genres.
Ben, most of your works have been done solo - how is it like creating something with another storyteller?
With MR MEMPHIS, in particular, it was pretty hands off, so I’m grateful for that. I had a lot of free rein and managed to work on the visual and story-telling adaptation the way I wanted to, so that felt good!
Wayne, on the other hand, you have worked with many other artists - how was this experience similar or different?
Up until now, almost all of the comics I've worked on have been developed from the ground-up with the artists. This was different because "Mr Memphis" is an existing story, so it was more of a surprise every time Ben would send me roughs or the fully inked pages. It's similar, however, in the sense that, as with all my past collaborations, I'm working with someone who's a storyteller and who understands their medium very well, so I do what any smart comic writer would do when working with someone like Ben – I get out of their way and let them do what they do best.
Has there been any feedback that surprised you the most / been the most memorable?
Ben: I enjoy feedback that tells me the adaptation was successful. Also, there was a person who browsed the book and on the first page exclaimed WOW WHAT AN UPLIFTING STORY and I still stand by my reply: “It gets...better”.
Wayne: The direction the story takes in the third act has surprised a few people, which pleases me to no end. This was my love letter to the Faustian bargain, but I didn't want it to be that straightforward. That, and the shock that people get from the first page, which was one of the scenes that Ben added to make the story work as a comic. I think my favourite comment from someone, upon flipping to that first page, was something like, "So... not a lighthearted book then?"
Without giving away too much - now that a certain character has been taken care of, what’s next?
Wayne: For the world of Mr Memphis, Amos and Lou Ann? Nothing planned. In my head, this was a done-in-one story. Also, this is the devil story that I'm proudest of writing, so I'd rather it be my last devil story – at least for the foreseeable future anyway. For work with Ben? Well, I absolutely love how "Mr Memphis" turned out as a comic. It's like that story of how Trent Reznor said that "Hurt" ceased to be his song when he heard Johnny Cash's cover. "Mr Memphis" is a Benjamin Chee comic that I'm so happy to be a part of. So, if the right story comes along, I'd jump at the chance to work with Ben again. Hell, even if he wants to go ahead and elevate any of my other prose pieces to a whole new level, he is always welcome to.
Mr. Memphis is one of your many self-published works. If there are any other works you’d like to promote, you have 20 words - go!
Ben: GUIDEBOOK TO NANYANG DIPLOMACY is like a punk version of 1915 Singapore history, out on Kinokuniya and BooksActually!
Wayne: You can get the two "Yellow Princess" comics I co-created for a special price at my website: https://waynereewrites.com/
Where can we get Mr. Memphis?
Wayne’s webstore! Or look out for Rolling Ronins at cons we’re heading to! At least for now.
Benjamin Chee adores food, stories, pixels, and historical novels. He makes comics set in a food-centric universe. 'Liquid City Vol. 3' and 'Asian Monsters' collected his short tales. Found online at charsiewspace.com
Wayne Rée is the author of 'Tales From a Tiny Room', co-author of 'Prompt', co-creator of 'Yellow Princess', and an editor and contributor to 'Pulp Toast'. More importantly though, he loves cold pizza. You can find him internetting at waynereewrites.com
Get your copy of Mr. Memphis here. Once again, I hope you've enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more features and indie works coming your way!
If you told me a decade and a half ago that there’s hardly any speculative or urban fiction in Singapore or in Southeast Asia, I would’ve believed you. If you told me the same thing today, I’d say you’re either uninformed or just picky.
In an effort to read more and introduce as many of you to the many speculative, urban, and adventure stories from this part of the world, I’ll be embarking on a quest to read 100 speculative / urban / adventure fiction books set in, and by authors who are based in Southeast Asia.
The criteria was simple:
Not a very long list, but here are some of the books I’ll be picking up (among many others):
And that’s only scraping the top of the list. I’ll be posting what I’ll be reading for the over the year on my Instagram (@joelynalexandra), but you can also join in and check out the other books I’ll be reading with the hashtag #100SEASFF.
Happy reading and see you! (Hopefully with your nose in a book)
Come roll with us, perhaps you’ll find that story you’re looking for.
Just slightly more than a year ago, Jerry, Wayne, and I sat in a cafe and talked about a storyteling collaborative, one that will help incubate and provide resources for our stories to come to life in independently-published books, comics, or whatever medium that’s best for the story.
Fast forward a year later, and we’ve been boothing as a team in various pop culture and indie events, all with the same storytelling motto - Entertain first.
While our first collaborative book, Mr. Memphis, came out during Comic Fiesta 2017, we also decided to have all six founding members of the Rolling Ronins chip in and showcase all our works in the an annual for our supporters and readers to enjoy.
So for now, please enjoy a snippet of what I contributed:
The Ronins Annual #0 is not for sale - however, do keep a lookout for our booths. Perhaps you’ll be able to get a copy during our appearances at various indie / pop culture events!
For more information on the Rolling Ronins, click here
Two years ago, I finished the first draft of Cross Navigation. It went through an editor, a rewrite, and another rewrite of the novel’s plan. In the end, I decided to put the project on hold indefinitely for another project I was working on on the side.
I ended up writing it during Nanowrimo last year, and I’m quite glad to say that it has been a more enjoyable writing journey with this project instead.
Therefore, I’d like to share a teaser (the first 500 words) with all of you here. I hope you’d like the premise.
The Flavour Chronicles #1: The Saccharine Vote
Replica (noun) –
Singapore was the nation that developed “Replica”, a meal replacement cube to feed the masses and increase work efficiency in light of the global crop failure and international famine.
Central House National History, 2035
PART ONE: RAIHANA
Year 2035, Central House – Master Control Server
“Come on, come on!” Reza muttered under his breath.
His fingers trembled as they hovered over the keyboard, shaking a little more than the 10 degree blasts from the air-conditioner can account for. Shoulders jerking up with every sound, he fought his senses to focus on the download bar inching towards its finishing line.
“Rai will cover me,” he mumbled under his breath. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have heard anything; but I’ve been stuck in the vents with nothing but the mild whirring of the servers and my own breathing to entertain myself since we infiltrated the building. The faint rhythm of my brother’s typing tapped against the back of my mind while I kept the white glow of the server screen in my sights.
The glow continued to frame the corner of the server.
Then, a familiar beep. And a swish of a sliding door.
“After all the OT we pulled last week, you’d think they’ll at least give us a break…” the whine of a disgruntled technician echoed close.
“Hmph, you’re one to talk,” his partner said, “You copped out three of the five nights!”
The footsteps from the technicians grew louder.
I gripped the weapon in my pocket. Reza exhaled.
The footsteps stopped.
“Did you hear that?” the non-whiner said.
The glow flickered and I heard the faintest click of a thumb drive leaving its port before I heard Reza grabbing his bag. I watched him hug his bag close and made for the nearest server box and waited.
I crawled down to the hatch nearest to him and waited.
“I thought I heard something.”
“It’s just the AC, let’s just get this over and done with.”
“No!” then the non-whiner paused, “There’s someone else here, I saw something.”
Reza counted the rows before his escape – three server boxes. The footsteps grew louder. He inched to the next server box, back firmly against the machines.
Darn it, what happened to ‘Raihana will cover me’?!
“Shit!” the non-whiner said, “Did one of you forget to log off?”
“This box is restricted,” whiner replied, “No one’s supposed to have access.”
My eyes widened as I watched Reza at the corner. He lifted his foot gingerly, placing his sole in the middle of the web of wires standing between him and a clear passage out. Spotlights from the technicians’ torches waved around the walls, narrowly missing his silhouette as he skipped past the wires and crashed into the floor.
I rolled my eyes and jumped.
Stay tuned for more work-in-progress posts to come!
In an effort to flex my writer / storytelling muscles a bit more, I’ve decided to revive my pieces derived from Nika Harper’s Writing Challenges from Wordplay on YouTube. Since this month starts with the Short Story, here’s what I came up with.
Prompts: Unbridled enthusiasm & A guy walks into a bar
The Other Currency
“House special, please,” Warden said, “Extra strong.”
The barkeep chuckled as she tucked her flopping fringe back behind her ear. With a single swoop, she poured and mixed parts of club soda, cola syrup, and pomegranate juice into a shaker before giving the drink a rinse and tumble. Pouring out the soda in a tall, clear glass, she smirked at him.
“A little too enthusiastic for your first time here, aren’t you?” she asked.
He did nothing except smile sheepishly in response, reaching for his drink.
“So,” the barkeep continued, wiping the walnut bar while she kept her gaze trained on this newcomer, “How did you get in?”
“I have my ways,” Warden replied with a wink.
The barkeep smiled back with that kind of smile you see curling at the side of a mouth of someone being snarky. Her gaze shifted from his eyes and face, down to where his fingers fumbled around with an incisor-like shell pendant hanging around his neck. Inching a couple of steps away, she ran her fingers on the underside of the bar until they found a switch, and she let the pads of her fingers rest against the device, as she continued her conversation.
While the small talk continued, the bar crowd came and went in regulated batches, as they were meant to. Halfway through their conversation about the upcoming Sugar Tax, the barkeep’s attention went beyond Warden’s right shoulder, square on another stranger at a high table at the far end.
Knocking his knuckles lightly against the metal table, the sounds created a beat one could only associate with music pumping out from the rich areas. Dressed in a casual suit, face clean shaven, and hair back, the barkeep pushed the button under the bar.
“If you’ll excuse me for a moment,” she said to Warden, before leaving her post.
Warden’s gaze followed her as she exited from behind the bar and headed straight for one of the bar’s bouncers. Hiding behind his drink, his eyes traced their gaze from the corner to the same stranger the barkeep saw just a few moments ago.
Then, his empty glass hit the bar with a clink.
“I see you’re new here too,” he said after taking a seat next to the stranger.
“Likewise,” the stranger answered, “What’s your story?”
Warden raised an eyebrow.
“Everyone who finds themselves here have something up with them,” the stranger explained, “So, what’s your shtick?” Instead, Warden shifted in his seat, leaned in and said, “What do you want to know first?”
“How much are you asking?”
“I don’t trade currency.”
With the slightest movement, Warden leaned in further and stroked the top of the stranger’s right forearm. “The world cannot run on money alone,” he said, his forefinger tracing its way to the tip of the stranger’s sleeve.
“Knowledge and information, however,” Warden continued, his eyes locking onto the stranger’s, his free hand sliding off the table.
Then, his eyes went from the stranger’s to the mark peeking from underneath.
“Is a different story.”
The stranger bolted, only to be chained down when Warden grabbed his wrist with the stroking hand. Before the stranger could do anything, Warden’s free hand came over the table and tasered him right in the tattoo.
Screaming, the stranger retracted his arm and fell onto the floor, writhing and jerking against the aftershocks from the stun gun, now pocketed on Warden’s belt. The latter turned around, walking past a bar full of people now with their eyes locked on him, one hand on their drink, their other hand on some kind of a weapon aimed at this dark, tattooed guy walking through the bar at the moment.
Reaching the bar, Warden reached into his pocket and placed a photograph on the table.
Cautiously, the barkeep took the photo – an exact match for the stranger now lying in the middle of their speakeasy – and flipped to the back.
“Now, can I assume that I’ve passed the audition?” Warden asked.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece, and stay tuned for more pieces from writing challenges in the upcoming months!
My adventures with in urban speculative fiction.