Some time ago, I submitted a story about a retired superhero to a specific market and it was picked up for publication in their anthology titled, “We Were Heroes”. Shortly after that, they accepted a second story for the same anthology.
The first story, titled, Everything Breaks Down, Even the Jackhammer is a tale of self-loathing and forgiveness on a personal level. It tells the story of Jackhammer, a powerhouse hero, who has come out of retirement to be a witness at the execution of a metacriminal.
The second, a first-person slice of life seen through the eyes of a man once godlike in his power but now drained of most of it. Forgotten but Not Gone tells the story of Quasar as he attempts to soldier on in a world where nothing fits any more for a man who tries to hold on to some kind of code.
Both of them will be featured along with more than a dozen other stories (one of them from a personal favorite author of mine – Frank Byrns) when the book hits the shelf February 29, 2016. You can pre-order the anthology now at the Martinus Publishing website, and you can see the full contents list HERE.
Expect more shameless self-promotion as the date draws near!
So I’ve been asked to take a look at things that are blessings in my life and take note of them. This is an interesting thing for me, as I’m not one who generally sees the bright spots. I’m more the, “Hey, look. This is broken,” kind of person.
But y’all know me: I’ll do anything to be liked (Thanks to Richard Harding for that one – if you haven’t read ‘The Outrider’ series, shame on you, and NO you can’t borrow my copies). To that end, I’ll take a look at a few things, and see what I can make of them. I might even make bullet points and stuff to make it more visually pleasing! Whee!
- I’ll start with the one that should be the most obvious, and yet is frequently not mentioned — certainly not to the extent she deserves. Back in September of 2012, I made contact with a lady for the first time. We began to talk back and forth and things progressed from there. Last October, she married me. I joke and tell her all the time that this is a point against her overall sanity, but she’s brought out a lot of me that I thought was dead. It’s entirely because of her that I am writing again. It’s because of her that I bother to even get out of bed some days (or staying in on others, but hey, that’s between us). Thanks for everything, Kae. I love you.
- An extension of the above, but a blessing in her own right: my daughter. Yes, by definition, she’s my stepdaughter, but I don’t see her that way, so semantics can go suck it. She teaches me new lessons in life on a frequent basis. I’ve learned from her as much as she has from me. Oh, and, she’s a million times cooler than anybody else’s kid. So there. Hi, D! Look! You got your own bullet point! Yay!
- Mentioned above, but here ya go: Writing. I know, right? Seems weird to mention, but a few years ago my desire to put words on paper had vanished. Lost in a mix of grief and anger, and expected never to return. Still today, it’s kind of a bitch to find the right words to drop on track, but at least now I want to do it again. Even when I’m sitting here at the screen, struggling to assemble the ideas that flash through my brain into some semblance of coherence, and there’s that part of me that is telling me to just walk away, I have another part reminding me how much fun it can be to tell that story.
- Support structure: I’ve got friends and family that have been there for me, even when I know they’re thinking, “Damn, he’s being a dick today.” There are so many of them that listing them individually would make this look like a phonebook more than anything readable. Y’all know who you are.
- Materially, I’m blessed to have a home and food and all the things that make life easier and smoother on a daily basis. It can be so easy to take these things for granted and forget that there are people the world over who would consider the simplest of them to be Manna from Heaven. Seriously! Obviously there are people in poverty stricken areas (even here, in our ‘enlightened’ nation) who would consider themselves fortunate to have them, but… Imagine some dude in the 1400’s digging on electric lighting, central heat and air, purified water, refrigerators and microwave ovens! “Check this shit out, homes! It’s called Velcro. You’re gonna love it!”
- I am blessed to have family. A series of close calls over the past few years have threatened some of that, and the fact that we’re still running and gunning is a wonderful thing. In that vein, I would like to thank modern medicine, and those who practice it.
- I’m sitting here with a device on my lap that when I was a kid was the topic of science fiction. A computer that ‘back in the day’ would have taken up a warehouse fits on my lap. Take a minute to think about that one. This laptop, back then, would have made NASA cream. Look down at that cell phone you carry and realize that tech has advanced so fast and so far in the past fifty years or so (it’s because of the reverse engineering of alien technology, of course). I was present for the emergence of the personal computer, the cell phone, the video game (PONG still kicks ass, by the way). I’ve seen cars go from gasoline to unleaded to gasohol to ethanol-infused, and watched as items once the stuff of dreams became so commonplace people don’t even think twice about losing them.
- Health is one of those things that we sometimes don’t really think about or just take for granted, right? Well, mine’s pretty decent. I’ve got a few issues here and there (who doesn’t?), but nothing debilitating.
- I am, of course, blessed to have great taste in music. Y’all should know that by now, right? Cool.
- I dig coffee and it’s a good companion most days. Some days his friend Scotch comes along and wants to play, too, and that’s cool as well. Seriously, though, I started drinking coffee way back when beside my grandfather. I still have memories of him, sitting at the table in their kitchen, sipping his coffee from an olive-green Melamine saucer while his wife made dinner in a big cast-iron pan (Spanish rice was always a favorite treat, and man, did she ever know how to make it!). Throughout the years, I’ve tried coffee with many a weird additive (yes, cream and sugar both count), but I always come back to just pouring it into a container and drinking.
- On a note mentioned above, I’m blessed to have memories. Primarily memories of people that were important to me, but memory in general. I spent a good ten minutes just remembering time spent with my grandparents while writing that last point. Memories are all any of us have left of them.
- I’m blessed to be American. Knock it if you want (we all do), but it’s a great country. Yep, it has flaws. Nope, I still don’t wanna trade it for a life in Myanmar.
- I’m blessed to have spent time doing sec work ‘back in the day’ because I got to see a whole slew of bands before anyone ever really knew who they were…and I saw them from the stage. I also worked a lot of greats either working their way back up, coming down from the heights of their career, or simply playing in smaller venues. I stood on stage with the Ramones, folks. You think pharmaceuticals will give you a four-hour erection? Try being up there beside a band you loved since before high school.
- I have come to know an ‘extra family’, for want of a better word. Men, women, and persons with no distinct gender identity. United in a love of community and magical expression. Drummers, dancers, singers. Artists, creators, and innovators. We may only spend a few days together now and then, but I love you all. “Holy shit! He expressed an emotion other than anger!” Yeah, yeah, I know…
- I’m blessed to have rolled about and played with the creations of such visionaries as Samuel Colt, Gaston Glock, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and Eugene Stoner. You gents, and those like you, taught me that jigsaw puzzles could be assembled into something more than just a picture. I have enjoyed getting to know them all. Few topics these days draw more ire than firearms, and I suppose I will hear from someone not happy that I have referred to them in glowing terms. I don’t give a fuck. I like them.
- I see a blessing in the acquisition of knowledge. I believe it is important to learn something new as often as possible. It may be something as simple as the mass of a standard paper clip, or as complex as the connection between string theory and vibrational healing, but learn something, damn it. You weren’t put on this mudball to be stupid. For the Heathens among us, does not the AllFather want you to learn? Look to his sacrifice and know that an extra few minutes to read about a topic, or watch a YouTube vid on how-to, isn’t that much of a hardship!
- I am blessed by having received the knowledge I have. Some of it came at greater cost than I wanted to pay, but that’s life, right? I learned skills that will stay with me for a lifetime. Some of those I have passed on to others so the knowledge stays alive, and I urge everyone to teach at least one thing to another person. Share that love. I can build fires, skin animals, butcher sufficiently to supply my family with meat, grow food, repair a couple of things here and there (though I’m better served breaking them), drive, type, spell, and nail things together in a way that makes them stay attached for a while. There’s a laundry list (yes, including laundry) of things I’ve learned to do. Some things I am better at than others, but that applies to everyone.
There are other things I could put on this list, folks, but for someone who is just trying to recognize things that are blessings in a life he often views through a very dark lens, this is a pretty impressive start.
I walked into this list with some trepidation. It was a prompt for the fiction group I’m in, and I went back and forth for a while about whether I should write about the blessings of an alien-hunting cyborg, but in the end I decided I’d just play the hand I was dealt. I suppose if it ain’t Aces and Eights, I’m doing pretty well.
With that I will sign off. May your Thanksgiving (should you celebrate/commemorate it) be wonderful, and thanks for reading this far down. It’s cool that you stuck with me!
Duggan was ugly by most Folk standards, and he knew it. His bald head was crisscrossed with scars and his beak-like nose had been broken more often than he could remember. A close encounter with an axe-wielding hare had taken his right ear. His plastron was awash in graphically violent tattooed threats and the entirety of his shell was decorated in kill markings. He would never make it in civilized society, but the big turtle didn’t care. It wasn’t civilized in the hole that he and his partner occupied. It was hot and still in there, and Duggan was bored.
“Hey, Lissa,” he called. His voice was a deep, sepulchral thing, garbled not at all by the butt of the unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth. He always had one there, and only a very few of his fellow troops had ever heard him speak without it in place.
“Send it,” Lissa replied, without turning her attention away from what she was watching. She had her paws wrapped around a rifle, and the stock of it was snugged up tight into the pocket of her right shoulder.
“I thought these dipshits were supposed to move by now.”
“Should be any time.”
He tapped at his chron. “Naw, fam. Shoulda been by now. Maybe half an hour or so ago.”
“Then stop bitching and get your ass behind that nailgun. If they move, we gotta zap ’em first. You want McEnroe and BigButt to win?”
He made a snorting sound. “Those two couldn’t beat you to the punch if you gave them a five-second lead.”
“I don’t intend to give them the chance,” she said. Nimble fingers made a minute adjustment to the holosight atop her rifle without her moving the weapon.
Duggan checked the belts leading into his machinegun again. The waiting was what killed him. The boredom of holding his position while waiting. Once it all dropped in the pot, Lissa knew he’d be the usual killing machine the crew knew him to be, but at the moment, he might as well be chewing off his own claws.
“Me either,” he muttered, patting the stock of his weapon. A garish drawing of a screaming rat was painted on the butt.
“The Cap says we’re in for a lot of action on this one,” Lissa said.
“His mom’s in for a lot of action.”
She laughed at the familiar joke. “Supposedly they dropped in a battalion of rabbits the other day.”
“Good,” Duggan said. “Can’t wait to get me some ears.”
“Frayker said he’s gonna be the first to get some,” she countered. The words were barely out of her mouth when Duggan was back with his usual.
“His mom’s gonna be the first to get some.”
“What have you got against Frayker’s mom?” she asked.
“Not as much as I did last night.”
“Damn, dude, that’s just ugly.”
“So’s Frayker’s mom.”
The two shared a round of laughter. The commentary was an easy back and forth thing with them, and spoke of partners who had held similar conversations many times in the past. Duggan cracked the seal on a canteen and slurped noisily at the warm water inside it. When he offered it, he finally got Lissa to take her eyes off the firing line. She gripped the canteen and hoisted it, pouring water past tiny pointed teeth. Taking a second mouthful that she let sit for a while before swallowing, the mongoose turned back to her rifle. Duggan drained another slug from the canteen before shoving it back into his belt.
“Thanks,” she said. “I was getting kinda dry.”
“Same same. Figured if they aren’t moving, we might as well get a drink. Hell, I’d have brought some of Smitty’s wine if I’d known they were gonna just sit out there on their tails.”
“That shit’s nasty,” she said, a shudder rippling down her back.
“Nasty? Girl, I watched you drink your body weight in that!”
“Think that’s when I decided it was nasty,” she explained. “The hangover that next morning was a thing of legend.”
“Well, if you’re interested, I’ve got a couple bottles back in the hootch when we get out of here.”
“Beats another night of that local beer,” she said, pragmatism winning over flavor.
“That isn’t beer. That shit’s right up there with that grey pasty stuff in the mess hall.”
“Right? What the hell was that?” Lissa asked.
“I don’t know, but it tasted like ass,” he said, leaning against the front wall of their hole. Above them, the logs shifted enough to send a cascade of yellow dust down onto them. Neither of them took any real notice. The dust was a way of life and they had grown used to having it in everything they ate, drank, or slept in.
“It did,” she agreed. “Y’ever wonder whose side the cooks are really on?”
“I could see you cooking for the toothies,” he said. “Today’s special is cyanide casserole, you beady-eyed shitsuckers!”
“I got a nice hot meal for ’em right here,” Lissa responded as she grinned at his comment. She patted the forend of the rifle. “Let one of ’em pop up their ugly little heads and we’ll see how hungry they are.”
“I’m hoping for more than one,” Duggan said.
“Company strength ain’t just one.”
“I know. I was just saying.”
“I know,” she repeated. “I’m just picturing a couple hundred dead toothies all stacked up in a pile, waiting for the fire units.”
The comment brought a smile to Duggan’s face. “I’ll take mine well done,” he said.
“Aww, damn, man. Why’d you have to equate them to food? Now I ain’t gonna be able to eat my bucket of grey ass-paste when we get back.”
His chuckle began quietly but a moment later he was struggling not to burst into raucous laughter. “Pretty sure that’s a country song,” he said when he had recovered somewhat. Lissa giggled.
“It was raining out, and I couldn’t eat my –” she began. Her voice cut off and she leaned deeper into the rifle butt. Duggan needed no words to tell him what the gesture meant and he stood up into the firing slit beside her, gripping the machinegun and slipping the safety.
The rifle barked beside him, the action cycling and ejecting an empty casing that bounced off his hardened head with a pinging sound. Three hundred meters out, a flash of crimson in the air announced her hit as clearly as any range monitor could have.
“Dinner’s served, you needledick bastards!” Duggan roared as he squeezed the trigger. His boredom vanished as the big weapon thundered and hammered itself into his shoulder. He was home again.
Well, it took me forever, but here it it, folks. I finally got around to creating an email sign-up list. This will enable you to keep up with what is going on with my writing, with an occasional newsletter sent straight to your inbox. Your newsletter may contain links to fresh new bits of fiction here, news of book releases, media appearances and anything else that seems fun. I’m not going to spam you, let me assure you of that. You won’t be opening your mailbox every day and screaming invective at me (unless you’re sad that I didn’t say hi that day, in which case, “Hi!”).
Email subscribers will be the first to see (and vote on) upcoming book covers. You’ll be given sneak peeks at upcoming projects. Any time my stories are published in other formats or locations, you’ll be notified so you can check them out. You won’t be dependent on possibly catching a notice on social media feeds that flood you with a million posts a second.
And, as a special bonus to the fans, when you sign up for the news, you’ll be sent a link to a subscriber-exclusive Firedrake short story. Firedrake: Amnesty tells the tale of Drake’s attempt to retrieve a witness from the clutches of one of the Mob’s feared enforcers. It will not be released as a book for sale, and will not be included in any anthologies or collections. This is the only place you can find it, and it’s free!
So, you have a choice: There is a sign-up link on the sidebar over to the right (See? Right over there!) or you can simply click the link provided HERE.
I look forward to keeping in touch with you all!
My story, “Team 17” will be in this anthology. Steampunk ghost stories – how can you not want to read that?
I recognize several of the names in there with me, and can’t wait for the release date!
Fiction Fridays – Walls
A Note: This week is not so much fiction as exorcism. Please bear with me.
Pale tan things, their flat and sterile surfaces broken by power points, oxygen inlets, and racks of equipment. A silent television hangs from the ceiling, its empty black gaze a counterpoint to the autumn scene on the painting that lurks beside the shelf of boxed gloves. Brilliant oranges and reds add a splash of color between the blue nitrile gloves and the matte grey of the electronic eye.
The walls watch as he struggles to breathe, as the machine bound to his face whines along with his labored inhalations. They see the pain flash across his face as he coughs yet again, a thick, wet sound that echoes through the cavity of his chest. It is the sound of gelatin sucking free of the mold, and it rips at him as he fights to spit the filth from his red-tinged mouth. They smell the hint of corruption, overlaid by the scents of disinfectant and nervous sweat.
The walls watch as the machines spring to life, gauging his blood pressure and graphing the beats of his heart – a heart that holds love for his family and has thundered through war and peace. They see the drops that slither through the tube, drained away from inside him to gather in scarlet columns within the suctioning machine that feeds from him as if a vampire has been mechanized and emplaced beside his bed.
The walls see the uneaten meal on its tray, his body too weak to stay awake long enough to spoon food between the cracked and bloody lips. They see him as he tries to rest, while machines suck poisons from his body and pump air into tortured lungs. They hear the wheezing and the beeping, the organic and the electronic blending into a twisted symphony.
The clock ticks away the seconds, each one stacking atop the ones that have come before it to remind the walls that they may be static, but time marches on, and their steadfast nature will prove no defense.
They see the staff – nurses, technicians, therapists, doctors, and even those who slip stealthily into the room bearing food or drink and empty cans of trash. They see the sudden bustle of activity as he requires additional care, and they witness the selfless response from those who do not even know him, but still treat him as if he were their own.
The walls look on in silence as friends and family move into and out of the room, eyes and spirits haunted by exhaustion on par with his own, but still smiling and joking with those present to avoid confrontation with their own madness. The walls know the jokes. This is far from their first exposure to them.
The walls hear the begging and the prayers, the wishes whispered and the promises made to anyone who will listen. They see the tears and the gritted teeth, the hanging heads and the worried glances. They smell the fear.
Through it all they bear witness to lives changed forever by those who take up space within their confines. They do not judge. They merely watch. The walls have seen everything. Do not envy their visions, nor their memories. The walls have borne witness to countless scenes such as these, and they know that there are many more to come.
*Dedicated to the staff of floor 2, Oklahoma Heart Hospital. Thank you.
Fiction Fridays – (Changes)
Zeke’s memories of the war were filled with blood and fire, and there was so much of it that plagued his mind on any of the long nights. Oh, there had been camaraderie, of course, but those happy moments were small in comparison to the horrors that had come from the ratholes and the slippery, stinking close combat that had come to dominate his dreams.
His claws, wet and dripping with blood and ichor that he did not want to remember. Ears pounding with the continued gunfire. Fur stained a deep brown up both of his arms from the quantity of blood he had spilled.
He looked at the papers and took another long drink of his coffee. The writing was small but his eyesight was still keen. He knew what he was doing. It just felt strange, going back into the world that had spawned his nightmares.
“It will be different this time,” he said aloud. His lies echoed in the apartment.
There was little to slow the sound. He sat in a simple chair beside a small table. A vidscreen was on the wall but had never been turned on in the whole time he had occupied the space since arriving on this planet. The kitchen was where he spent most of his active time, cooking and eating at the short stone-topped bar, and then cleaning in preparation for the next meal. Beyond that he had a latrine and a shower, and a bed that was far too comfortable for an old campaigner. His clothes took up nearly no space in the large chest of drawers inside the bedroom.
“Fuck it,” he said, giving up the fight for excuses. The pen made thick black lines as he scribbled his name in the blocks.
Seven signatures and nineteen sets of initials later, and he was through. He picked up the comm and dialed the preset.
“Zeke Sharn,” he said in a flat tone when the other end of the call opened. “Come and get it. I signed.”
He closed the comm, cutting off the honeyed words that spilled from the other party. He drained the rest of the coffee and headed for the bathroom, dropping his clothes on the floor on the way in. Brilliant white LEDs lit his muscled form in automatic response to his entry. Scars formed a roadmap of bitter memories across his exposed flesh, and they stood out in stark relief against his grey fur. He had long since stopped seeing them as anything more than decoration, nothing greater or lesser than the colorful tattoos that had faded through the years.
He stepped into the shower and turned it on as hot as he could stand. He was toweling himself dry when the door chimed. He wrapped a black-and-grey patterned kilt around his hips and walked to the front. The portal opened to reveal a dun-colored dog in a business suit and a tall, lanky cheetah wearing some kind of jumpsuit. He had a holstered pistol at his waist, but these days that wasn’t unusual. It was the beret on the big cat’s head that caught Zeke’s eye, and a moment later a grin stretched his lips up over the rows of sharp teeth.
“Long time, badger-boy,” the cheetah said. Zeke chuckled and nodded, and then stepped back to wave the pair into the apartment.
“Papers are on the table,” he said. The suit went to collect them, and Zeke turned back to the cat. The two slapped a tight grip that turned into a brief hug with emphatic back-slapping.
“Didn’t expect to see you here,” he said. “Hell, I didn’t expect to see you anywhere.”
“I got out too,” the cheetah said. He looked around the room, shaking his head. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”
“You know I’m not much for decoration.”
“Not even a picture, and I’ll wager there’s dust on top of the vid.”
“Not so much,” Zeke said with another grin. “There would be but I keep it clean.”
“Old habits, eh, Sergeant?”
“It’s just Zeke.”
“Not once you sign in under me.”
“You’ve got that kind of pull? I thought this was a corporate gig.”
“It is, and no, I don’t have any stroke. I am, however, gonna tell the big brass that you’re crazier than a gutted weasel and that if you aren’t on my team you’ll cause no end of trouble for them.”
“And they’re going to believe you why?”
“He can sell it,” rumbled the dog. He was approaching the pair once again, tucking Zeke’s paperwork into a leather valise. He extended a paw and Zeke took it.
“Zeke Sharn.” When the dog answered, his words came in a string that had little space between them and tumbled forth at high speed.
“Cyrus. Cyrus Love. Don’t make fun of the name. Welcome to ArCorp. I’m your liaison. I’ll be helping you acclimate to the company. I figured I’d play it cool while you two reunited. Captain VonHogan tells me you saved his life a few times.”
Zeke and the cheetah erupted into laughter at a shared memory. After a minute, Zeke shook off the mirth.
“Sorry. I’m a shitty host. Would either of you like some coffee? Water? Or…well, that’s about it.”
“We’re good,” VonHogan said.
“All right, Captain,” he said, emphasizing the title. “That’s gonna take some getting used to. Not just Tarlen any more. Last time I saw you they had you fast tracked for a Sergeant’s slot.”
“A lot happened while you were gone.” The tone was no longer jovial. Now it spoke of horrible memories, the kind with which Zeke was all too familiar, and Zeke hurried to change the subject.
“So when do I start?”
“You are employed as of now, Mister Sharn,” Cyrus explained. “We will take you back to the headquarters building where you will meet with our personnel department for processing. You’ll receive your identification card and your salary and benefits package will be discussed with you at that time.”
Zeke looked at the smirk on the face of the tall cheetah. “What are you hiding?”
“Me? Nothing. Well, mostly nothing. Once you get finished running around and being told how welcome you are in ArCorp, I’m gonna run you down to the armory and get you properly outfitted for training. We’ve got liftoff in thirty days.”
“Liftoff? To where?”
“Metatropic shithole they call Z262. Colony ships are going in and we’re gonna be part of their security.”
“What are they expecting?” Zeke asked. Cyrus stood beside the pair, completely blocked out by both of the warriors.
“Initial data shows some indigenous life similar to dinosaurs, if smaller. Reptilian and amphib, lots of spikes and teeth. That ain’t the good part, though.”
“The colonists are miners. This Z262 place is apparently rich in industrial grade gems. Diamonds and rubies. Emeralds. Sapphires.”
Zeke’s lips peeled back across his sharp teeth again. “Which the rats would love to get hold of for their laser program.”
VonHogan started bouncing on his feet like a child at a party. He mimed a dance. “And that means squirrels. When they show up we’ll be waiting. See why I wanted you?”
Zeke raked a set of claws across his scalp, scratching at the tips of his ears. “What makes you think I want to play again, Tarlen?”
The cheetah laughed and turned to look at the suited dog. “You know, Cyrus, in this universe you can change a magazine, a diaper, or even a river’s course if you want. But the one thing nobody can change is the fact that Zeke Sharn hates squirrels. This time, he just gets paid better for killing them.”
“Z262 is thick with gems,” Cyrus repeated. “It is probable that there will be an incursion of some kind once the mine is established.”
Zeke shook his head. He knew he would soon be plunged back into the depths of the same fighting that haunted his dreams. He had known it from the moment he spoke with the ArCorp recruiter. VonHogan was right, though. Given half a chance, Zeke would go after squirrels even if he wasn’t being paid. He excused himself and ducked into the bedroom. He grabbed the only things there that mattered. The beret that matched the one VonHogan was wearing went up onto the top of his angular, striped head and the knife that had been his constant companion for years went into the waist of the kilt. Everything else he simply abandoned, walking away from this parody of a life with no regard for it whatsoever.
Today I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Nicholas Ahlhelm, creator of the Lightweight series, about a teen superhero who can manipulate gravity, and the problems he is encountering both as a metahuman and a human. Nick is the man behind Metahuman Press (where my very own Firedrake series saw its birth), and he’s helped an awful lot of folks getting into superhero stories to get their start. He’s also one of the founding members of the Pen and Cape Society, where his history and expertise can be shared with other authors.
Nick, welcome! Pull up a chair. Coffee’s up and your cup is waiting. So what’s up with the Man? How have you been? Family doing well?`
I’ve had better summers. Slipped discs and neck surgeries were new to me until July, but I have a wicked new scar to show off to all my friends. All the stories I can now make up about knife fights should also help my mystique as a writer of action. “I almost died, but you should see the other guy,” can now finally be part of my regular conversation.
But no, seriously, things are going well for me, hanging out with the kids and doing a heck of a lot of writing.
Sweet! So what I’m hearing around the watercooler, so to speak, is that you’ve got a Kickstarter going for the next volume of Lightweight. Tell me what you’ve got going.
The first two volumes of Lightweight’s saga, Lightweight: Senior Year and Lightweight: Black Death were both rousing successes, far and away the most successful writing I’ve ever done both critically and in sales. But I set out to make a series when I started to write them and a series is what I want to deliver. Lightweight: Beyond is the first book in the next chapter of Lightweight’s life, as he finds himself stranded on a whole different world called Nill. He’s got to survive there even as he becomes the center of another battle between forces beyond his control. And if that wasn’t enough, Millie will have to deal with the old threat of Carrie Bates back on Earth. Her story will add another wrinkle to the history of Lightweight, introducing the world to the Golden Age Lightweight.
Oh, man. That sounds cool. What have you got in mind for the stretch goals?
The big two stretch goals are the releases of two more Lightweight novels planned for next year: Lightweight: Golden Age and Lightweight: Universal (tentative title). If they’re unlocked everyone at the $15 pledge level or higher gets them as digital ebooks free or will be able to add them on in print for just $10 a piece. We can also unlock a series of Lightweight bookmarks to $15 or higher backers. The highest stretch goal will unlock The Adventures of Lightweight, an anthology set during the first year of Lightweight’s career that will feature a new story by yours truly as well as 5 or 6 tales by other writers. That will only go into production if we reach the $2800 level however.
You’ve been at this one for a while. How long have you been writing in general?
The coy answer is I’ve been writing all my life. Lightweight took much more simplistic shape way back in my high school days. But I’ve made a go as a professional writer for about five years now, dating back to my first novel A Dangerous Place to Live. It’s a bit rough around the edges, although I did do a re-edit of it just last year. Freedom Patton is actually still one of my favorite creations and I want to return to him again sometime soon.
Wow. That’s quite a bit. So tell me this: What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
I think the world would be a sadder place without storytellers. I think stories reflect important traits of the human spirit. Without them, we aren’t really people, just another animal. I particularly love writing super powered fiction because it allows me to take on the hero’s journey.
What did you enjoy most about writing the Lightweight series so far?
Lightweight has been one of my favorite creations for decades before I started any plans to publish his adventures. So I have a lot of fun bringing him to life year by year, hopefully for many decades to come. I love hearing fan’s responses to the work as well. I have received far more feedback for Lightweight than anything else I’ve done, almost all of it positive.
Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, are they part of a larger overall theme, or are they just there because that’s who they are?
In a way, I think super powered fiction is underrepresented in its own right. It certainly is getting more and more releases every year but super-powered heroes and prose are still a new combination.
I do set out whenever I write a new story to represent the world around me. That means that everyone will not have the same features as me. Lightweight has its share of multi-national and multi-ethnic characters, and they will expand even more in the next volume, especially as I introduce characters that aren’t even human.
As to the story so far, I’ve said before that Millie is as important a character as Kevin in the ongoing adventures of Lightweight. She’s also the daughter of much older parents that are around seventy when she turns eighteen in between Black Death and Beyond. They happen to be African American and Korean as well, which influences Millie’s relationship to everyone else. This leads to a rather tragic consequence in the pages of Black Death, that I wouldn’t want to spoil.
Nope! No spoilers here! Two questions, though, that are pretty solidly matched to someone who writes a lot of superhero stories:
1: What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn’t so?
I think most people assume some kind of generic superhero setting, where everything looks like what Marvel or DC is doing in comics and movies. Sure, Lightweight is set in the modern day, but a large chunk of my fiction is cemented securely in a moment of time. I’ve got three different historical novels currently in the works. This year’s action in Lightweight will feature time travel back to 1950, a time barely touched by any Marvel or DC franchise.
2: What is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?
I think the biggest mistake most fans make about superheroes is that they’re a genre at all. I think it was Steven Grant that first defined superheroes that way and he couldn’t be more right.
Superheroes are just a trapping. In many ways, they are just another setting, rather than a true genre. They can fit into anytime or any place or really any genre of fiction. They will probably end up in a science fiction setting a lot sure, but heroes can be as easily put into historical fiction, romance fiction or mysteries as they could modern adventure fiction or futuristic sci fi.
Nicely said. Well, now, other than the Lightweight series, what projects are you working on at the present?
I’m wrapping up a story for the Airship 27 charity anthology Legends of New Pulp while also working on more chapters for my Walking Shadows web serial (set in the same Quadrant Universe as Lightweight.) And I’ve got a couple anthology stories I’m working on including a chapter in a new super-team book and the second volume of Horror Heroes. And always more Lightweight.
Busy man! So what do your plans for future projects include?
I have a couple more chapters of Quadrant coming soon. I also have a couple independent novel projects that are mostly done and just waiting for me to put in a few thousand words and then give them a second pass. And again, more Lightweight.
Since I’m obviously not good at reading minds here, let me ask you this one: What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
I’m not sure if there’s any question that hasn’t been asked, but I’m still trying to figure out why someone hasn’t already came running in to try and scoop up the option yet. If Lightweight wouldn’t make a great superhero TV series or movie, I’m not sure what would.
Aw man! See, I wasn’t gonna come right out with that. I was, however, going to throw this furry ball of cuteness at you: If your character Kevin was a lemur, how would he help the other lemurs battle those mean meerkats?
By throwing a big rock at them with his gravity powers obviously. Or call on my buddies, the Wild Kratts, as they seem to have really close links to lemurs. (They also happen to be regularly viewed by both my kids, the older of which grew up on Zoboomafoo.)
Oh, yeah! Man, I miss Zoboo. Always a fun critter to watch. Well, Nick, it’s been great chatting with you. You should come by more often. In the meantime, you get fired up on the new Lightweight chapters. Folks (you know, like me) want to see what happens next!
Ladies and Gents, once again, I will point you to the links Nick has provided for the new Kickstarter. While I’m at it, I’ll throw in links to his personal website, blog, and probably a pizza joint or something just to make life interesting. See? They’re right down there!
Nick’s Blog, SuperPoweredFiction
The original, the one and only, MetaHuman Press!
And one more time, the new Kickstarter, so you can have a hand in making the next chapters of Lightweight come true!
“Why so serious?”
We have all heard that line, brought to fame by the acclaimed performance of Heath Ledger as the Joker. It seems it needs some examination, though, in this more modern adaptation of the four-color world where, as fans, we became familiar with the massive list of characters we enjoy. Superhero stories are getting darker — not just in tone, but in shade.
Recently, we saw the release of the first group picture from DC’s “Suicide Squad”.
See anything interesting about the image? The only thing that stands out is the body of Harley Quinn and the shirt of El Diablo. Everything else blends in. It hides. Even the reds of Deadshot and the bits of blue here and there are muted.
Look at the pictures for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.
More BvS imagery HERE
The bright blue and red of the iconic Superman costume has been toned down. Wonder Woman has gone to a dull bronze tone for her armor. Batman…Okay, so there’s not much change there since the modifications after the Adam West days. At least Batman can claim that his raison d’etre has pretty much always been to vanish into the dark and emerge to terrorize his foes.
Rest assured, I am not simply throwing DC under the bus, as it were. Marvel’s characters, in their various incarnations, are being modified as well. The brilliant shades made famous in the comics are being replaced by black leather with subtle team indicators. X-Men, I’m looking at you here…
Set and costume design has gone black. Colorful costumes? Not so much. They don’t offer the same tactical advantages as a dark grey for urban use to help blend in with the concrete, or black to hide in shadows. Realistic looks at the genre have prompted the change to more accurate examples of what would constitute a good costume choice. Why should a character stand out, when that’s only going to put him in the crosshairs that one extra bit?
Why? Because they’re superheroes (and villains). They are — for the most part, at least — supposed to stand out. These people are larger than life. Their position alone demands that they stand out. The costumes were a way to announce their presence. They were a part of the personality of that character.
Wolverine in bright yellow? That’s someone who is telling you, “I’m coming for you, and there’s no need for me to hide it. You’ll see me coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Daredevil in the deep blood red with the horned mask? Personification of the demons that infest all humans and have come to life within Hell’s Kitchen.
Realism has taken hold. Writers who “reboot” the characters look for more and more plausible methods of creating them, for fear that an audience might say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.”
So we can accept a talking tree and a raccoon with a machinegun because they’re aliens, but might have trouble believing that whole radioactive spider thing? After all, we know that radiation doesn’t grant superpowers, right? Suspension of disbelief is a requirement for the big-name supers. Sure, we can all see how a vet with a history of excelling at special operations might one day become Punisher, but what of those with origins most unrealistic? Plastic Man. Swamp Thing. Doctor Strange. Flash. Remember, kiddies: Lab accidents don’t make you a hero, they just make you disfigured…and frequently dead.
So we carry on and we keep retconning the characters to make them somehow more believable. We change the lab accident to a previously unknown genetic mutation, with three or four levels of scientific theory to add plausibility. We make collapsible flight suits. Cybernetic implants are replaced by weapon-mounted targeting systems. We take out the raw humor that came from characters that are vastly different from the humans with whom they are interacting. TV and movies have taken many of the characters we have known and loved for decades and made them simply members of the “Trained by ninjas” trope to describe how they achieved superhuman proficiency.
In the process, we rob a little more of that brightness and elation that came from cracking open the pages of a comic and reuniting with your favorite character for a while.
“Exposure to cosmic rays” was good enough to make Reed Richards turn into Mister Fantastic, while simultaneously giving every other member of his party different abilities. We smiled and turned the next page, waiting to see what the rock-hided Thing would do next.
Lightning strikes a rack of lab supplies and showers Barry Allen in them. He’s the Flash now. Interaction between the electricity and various chemicals is all the explanation needed. Note to true fans: Yes. I left out Jay Garrick and the Hard Water. I went with the origin that was repeated to make Kid Flash. Someone get that lab a lightning rod. Seriously.
Stephen Strange and his post-accident Muppet hands meet the Ancient One and study hard, becoming the most powerful Sorcerer on Earth.
Don’t even get me started on Cable.
Movie folks: We can just accept it. You need not spend 45 minutes of a 90 minute movie telling us how Captain Cuttlefish came to be the hero that he is. Let him be that hero! We came to see a superhero story, not to be behind the scenes in a CSI documentary. For those of you who prefer that behind-the-scenes element, my apologies for having a different stance.
My point is simply this: Don’t be afraid to embrace the outlandish. Superheroes, supervillains, and all the associated super-stuff can be wild and different. Let them wear brightly-colored suits — and yes, even have capes. When a man can fly around the world fast enough to stop its rotation and reverse time, I think we have already decided that realism is not necessarily point number one.