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Before The Bos published the first chapter of Avatar: Guardian, before Twilitlink graced the fanon portal with Avatar: Wanted, before the canon and fanon wikis were even merged, there was a talented writer named Manzai on here. Featured fanon author, four time featured article author and winner of the Outstanding Author Fanon Award, Manzai is here today to talk about his current fanon series, Avatar: The Heir of Ban.

  • Hey Manzai! How are you doing today?
    • I am well. Thanks for selecting me for a fanon interview!
  • What do you think of how this site has grown and changed since you first made your account on here?
    • Well, you recently congratulated me on my fourth year of membership on the wiki, so you know I've actually been here for a while. Avatar Fanon was actually a separate wiki when I started, if anyone remembers that. But even though I started a long time ago, I was in college for most of that time so I was usually very busy. So what ended up happening was I would check in sometimes when I got an itch to write, but then I wouldn't check in again for months, so sometimes I would come back and find the site totally different, like with a new background skin and buzz about totally different things on the fanon portal or the news section or something. Actually, I should say sometimes I would come back and find that suddenly there was a fanon portal or news section. But I never felt there were any really negative changes. I feel like more people have gotten more involved in it, it has gotten easier to use, but most importantly the culture on here has stayed pretty welcoming and supportive. But I do tend to just stick to my own stuff and stay in the fanon section; I'm still not that active in the social aspects of the site, so make of my assessment what you will.
  • You completed a fanon on here called Enemies and Traitors over two years ago. How do you look back on that? Has your writing style changed since then?
    • Actually, that dates back longer than that. I think I actually wrote that in 2007 and posted it on this other fan site called Distant Horizons (I don't go there much anymore, but maybe I ought to give them a deferential plug since that's where I got started). Then it sat around on my computer for a while until I got a little more active on this site and went, "Oh, hey, I ought to post that up." I haven't read that in a while, but to answer your question, I do find the style more amateurish, and I can see like problems that I'm aware of in my writing now in there except they're more prominent. Now I'm more aware of these things and I try harder to fix them, but I still see them creep through. I can also see similar themes to my current story come up in it, however. The idea of family, for example.
  • How did you get started writing Avatar fanfictions?
    • I remember I watched the first season and got really into it as it went along, to the point where I was on Distant Horizons and looking into other fan sites and stuff by the time Book 2 started. And I guess I started the way most people start, I just found myself coming up with plot bunnies because I couldn't get enough of the show. The format of the show, particularly at that point in time, also let me feel confident enough to write it, because the mythology of the show was contained to just 20 or 30 episodes, but you could also tell it was really rich and developed in the creators' minds. Even now I could probably name all the episodes in order if I really tried, which is what makes me feel like I understand it well enough to write it.
  • How did you get started writing in general?
    • I actually have been writing in some form since I was very little, like 6 or something. I would write books about made-up animals and then draw them, which I guess was a form of fan fiction because I was probably trying to emulate Dr. Seuss books like On Beyond Zebra. And when I got older I got into other things, particularly Star Wars, and I remember writing stories set in the Star Wars universe using original characters when I was about 11 or 12. I didn't know what fan fiction was at that point but those stories were clearly fan fiction. I remember I also had this really epic, ambitious science fiction story I was trying to write around that time, which I still have in a notebook somewhere. The Lord of the Rings movies came out around that time and I remember writing some story set in that world too. I guess I just always had this urge to expand on a story when I got really interested and absorbed in it. When I wrote stories for school or something I usually got praised, so I just got more and more into writing.
  • What are some of your common inspirations? It seems like you have a lot of different sources you draw from.
    • I like to have a wide range of sources to draw from. I don't know if I have common inspirations across all the stuff I write. I just try to sift through the stuff I'm already interested in, but I also seek out other stuff as I start to understand what kind of information I need for the specific story. For Heir of Ban the biggest new element is the Hei Chaoliu gang stuff, so for inspiration about that I went to lots of different sources. I tried to see what I could get out of things I was already interested in. Like I was already into kung-fu movies, which helped when thinking of action scenes and martial-arts related stuff. I also already liked that anime Samurai Champloo, which had an arc about the Yakuza so I got a few ideas from that. Then I started seeking out stuff. I started throwing western and Asian gangster movies into my Netflix queue, I watched some of The Wire, I watched this documentary series on the History Channel called Gangland. I saw this great documentary about the son of a famous drug kingpin from Columbia and how he deals with his father's legacy. But then I go to other stuff I'm interested in for other specific chapters. Like Chapter 9 will be a mystery story with horror overtones, so I looked into classical Japanese ghost stories for that. There are some chapters where the main character goes to the Southern Water Tribe, so I did some general web searching about Inuit culture and I watched this movie that dramatizes an Inuit myth called Ataranjuat, (which I later found out Mike and Bryan also drew on when designing the Water Tribe look and culture). So it's lots of different things. I'm still looking for more and more information because I'm still writing the story. I try to get sources that can inform me both about technical or logistical stuff, like how a gang operates day-to-day or how it is organized, but also about the mindsets and relationships of people in my characters' positions. How do gang members relate to each other, for example. I look at both fiction and non-fiction sources for both of these sorts of things. The other thing I try to do is just kind of have my radar on in the background scanning for ideas or useful material all the time, no matter what I'm doing. Everybody gets bombarded with a lot of media all the time, but if you develop this kind of filter for information related to the projects your working on you can get good ideas and information from all kinds of unexpected sources.
  • Can you tell us about your current fanon series, Avatar: The Heir of Ban?
    • Heir of Ban kind of deals with the idea that anybody can be born as the Avatar. The main character is Avatar Zhengyi, who is born the son of the leader of a major organized crime group in Ba Sing Se. When he is discovered to be the Avatar, his father's second-in-command, One-Eyed Wu, kills his father and proceeds to raise Zhengyi for the next fifteen years, under the pretense that Zhengyi's father was killed by a rival gang. Zhengyi is happy to just work as an enforcer for his father's gang and plans to take it over one day. But one night Zhengyi discovers that it was actually Wu who did it, so he attacks him. But, because Wu taught him earthending, and paid his other bending teachers, Wu knows all the flaws in Zhengyi's technique and Zhengyi can't defeat him. One of his father's other friends jumps in and saves him, so he is able to get away. From there, he decides to go on a journey, sort of like what Aang does, to train up so he can come back and defeat Wu. At first he only wants to get revenge on One-Eyed Wu and take over his father's gang, but over the course of the journey his perceptions about things and his goals begin to change.
  • How did you come up for the premise of the story? It’s unusual for an Avatar fan fiction.
    • It's funny you say that, because I feel like currently there's a trend toward "elsewhere fics" involving other Avatars ever since LoK came out. Actually, that's kind of how I came up with it. I first came up with the idea a long time ago when AtLA was ending. At that time the trend was toward stories that continued the series and usually involved the world falling back into war. So I wanted to do something that could be a large-scale threat that an Avatar would have to deal with other than a war, so crime was the first thing I thought of in answer to that.
  • Can you tell us a little about the main character?
    • I don't really remember why I wanted to do a story about an original avatar character, but I guess it had to do with wanting to sort of play with the premise of the original series. Aang's character arc mostly had to do with him accepting responsibility, but he was always basically a good person. I wanted to do an Avatar who starts off as, (at best), a jerk. Aang also seemed to kind of come out of a vacuum. Prior to the series, his only relationship is with Gyatso, and he also lived a monastic life, trying to eliminate earthly attachments. At least that's how I saw it. Zhengyi is sort of the opposite of that, in that the conditions of his birth completely inform who he is at the start of the series, and he has zero interest in doing anything more than running his clan, which he sees as some sort of proof of his strength. He really sees himself as his father's son, and thinks leading his family's clan is the only thing that will give him any worth. He knows that Avatars are traditionally supposed to protect the world, but because of how he was raised, he basically thinks that's for suckers and he's entitled to spend his life doing what he wants. Of course, this is all when the story starts out. The bulk of the story is how he has adventures and meets people who cause his attitude to change over time. But at different points he struggles with it and relapses into this thuggish mentality.
  • How much time did you spend creating the Hei Chaoliu clan gangs and their background history?
    • Well, in some ways it took effort, but in some ways it was easy. The Hei Chaoliu is closely based on the Triads and the Yakuza, which are sort of the equivalents of the mafia in China and Japan (respectively). That's why the crime groups in LoK are called Triads. They're popular subjects for movies and TV, at least in Asia, and there are also lots of legends and stuff about them, and sometimes they even play a role in actual history if you do enough digging. So on the one hand a lot of stuff just comes from real life and I inserted it into the Avatar-world framework. Actually, if you look at the initiation ritual in Chapter 3, that's very close to the real Hong Kong Triad initiation ritual. That's supposed to be a very closely guarded Triad secret. I made it slightly different, because theoretically the Triads are supposed to come after anyone who gives away their secrets. Of course, I just looked it up on Wikipedia, so if they actually plan to do that they're going to have a lot of people to come after. I also added some stuff related to the Sicilian mafia and modern American street gangs to fill in the gaps. There are references to a Hei Chaoliu code of silence, which is closer to the Sicilian concept called omerta more than anything I could find on the Triads or Yakuza, but I'd say 90% of the Hei Chaoliu is based on Asian crime groups. I did have to research that stuff a little bit. I suppose I only did a few weeks worth of research before I started initially developing the idea, but like I said above, I've really never stopped looking into the subject. After a while I stopped specifically seeking out research materials on the Triads and Yakuza, but if a question or something comes up while I'm writing I'll go back into doing research, or if I'm watching a gangster movie and some sort of really cool idea or set piece comes up I try to fit it in.
  • What way do you go about developing a storyline from the beginning, before you start writing?
    • When I came up with the concept for the story I knew what themes I wanted to explore and what the main characters' general arcs would be. They were sort of embedded in the initial concept. So I had a start point and end point and filling in the middle is really what constitutes the writing of the story. I think about what sort of experiences would cause the characters to change, and then I'll write a chapter around one of these. I first write a synopsis for each chapter, which is just notes that summarize the major plot points of the chapter. Going from that, it's not that hard to write the actual prose of the chapter, but it does take time to make sure you give everything that occurs in the story an adequate description. If you go on the Heir of Ban main page you can see synopses for the chapters that have them already, but there's still a gap in the middle, so you can see how I wrote it from the ends inward. Those chapters don't have synopses, but I do have some ideas of what needs to go in there and hopefully I'll think of them when I get there and have a better idea of the course of the story. I've even considered writing some of those based on input from readers.
  • What advice would you give someone who’s relatively new to writing fanon?
    • I think what I said earlier about developing a filter for information and material that is useful to your current project is good advice. I would also tell people to try and use what they enjoy about writing. Like for me, one of my favorite things is when I find a really good story hook in the course of my research, so I do a lot of research and my story has a relatively realistic bent. If you really enjoy doing detailed descriptions or something, you might produce something that's more poetic and is more like a sequence of singular scenes. But that's not what I particularly like to do when writing, so I wouldn't try to write something like that, because for me it would just be a slog. And for someone who doesn't like research, they probably shouldn't try to do a gritty, realistic story because they wouldn't enjoy writing it. Of course, a person's tastes could always change, so I'm not saying you should limit yourself. And you always have to do some research and some work on imagery and some work on character building and so on. You always have to do at least some work on every aspect of your story. But it's a matter of where you put your focus. If you write in the way that you enjoy you will have more fun and you'll probably come away with a better story.
  • What’s your favorite episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender?
    • I like the ones that focus on characters training and/or the nature of bending (which kind of go together), so my favorite episodes are ones like Sokka's Master, Bitter Work, and The Old Masters. I guess Bitter Work if you really want to force me to pick. I watch a lot of kung-fu movies and stuff, and I tend to like the training sequences in those too, or in something like Rocky IV or Karate Kid. I'm a sucker for a good montage.
  • How do you think the first season of The Legend of Korra compared to the original series?
    • I think anytime you have a sequel, prequel, or remake to something it's better if you can judge it on its own merits rather than as just a follow up. I think LoK does have certain differences from the original series in terms of tone and structure and stuff, but I always felt that made it different, not bad. For me, I wouldn't want to see something that was too similar to the original series anyway. LoK had some flaws, but I always thought it was better than the majority of the cartoons on TV anyway. I think it's a worthy successor.
  • What are some of your interests outside the realms of Avatar and writing?
    • I have a full-time office job that takes up most of my time, but that's not interesting. I am trying to write more original fiction. There's a link to the one original story I've completed on my profile. I also teach a tae kwon do class, which helps a little with writing fight scenes and stuff. I watch movies a lot too. I sort of fancy myself a film buff.
  • Anything else you want to add?
    • If people want to know more about Heir of Ban topics, many of them have their own pages in addition to the actual chapter pages. There's a page on the Hei Chaoliu, for example. My profile page has links to all the Heir of Ban pages, as well as links to al the other stuff I've written. That's a good place to go for someone looking for like an index of my stuff.

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