Sharing The Love: Superhero Fiction

Today I’m going to do something that just might be crazy: I’m going to spotlight superhero novels that aren’t mine.

I’ve grown to like working with other indie authors to cross-promote their books, and I always enjoy hosting blog tour stops or conducting interviews with fellow indie creators, so in principle this is no different, but I admit it’s an unusual decision to give some stage time to books that, in a sense, are in competition with mine.

So why do it? For starters, superhero fiction as a genre needs some attention. Fantasy, horror, sci-fi, they all have very significant presences on Amazon, and you can find websites aplenty dedicated to genre fiction, but there’s not much out there promoting superhero fiction — which, as a genre, is fairly small and for that reason underrepresented.

Also, I’m simply not a competitive person, and I don’t believe that the best way to attract people to my work is to trash other creators and their work. I’ll be honest here, I want people to choose to spend their money with me first. I want the best-reviewed books. I want the top spots on Amazon’s best-seller list for my genre. I want readers to consider my series the best of the bunch. But I’m not going to achieve these goals by pissing all over “the competition”; I’m going to achieve these goals by pushing myself to produce the best stories I can and making damn sure my books are top-quality. As the saying goes, extinguishing another’s candle does not cause mine to burn brighter (or something like that. I’m feeling too lazy to look it up).

So in the interest of camaraderie and community and cooperation, here are some titles that pop up alongside mine on various Amazon lists. I will start with my own work because, hey, I do still have a series of my own to promote (insert smiley-winky emoticon here). Click on the links to jump to that title’s Amazon page, and maybe find something new to read!

Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins by Michael Bailey – Average Amazon rating:4.7 stars

AF CoverIt was the worst summer of Carrie Hauser’s life, and the weirdest: it was the summer her parents announced they were getting divorced, and when a dying alien passed on to her his fantastic superhuman abilities.

All Carrie wants now is to settle into her new home in Kingsport and get her life back to something resembling normal – but that won’t be easy when her secret is discovered by a group of teenage super-hero wannabes, who need her help to discover why experimental military drones have been wreaking havoc in town.

Their search leads the fledgling super-team to Archimedes, an artificial intelligence that will do anything to escape its virtual reality prison and enter the real world.

However, the kids aren’t the only ones with an interest in Archimedes, and the super-teens soon find themselves caught in the middle of a longstanding feud between Concorde, Kingsport’s high-flying hometown hero, and his nemesis, the deadly mercenary Manticore.

Save the day? Sure…as soon as school lets out.

Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon – Average Amazon rating: 4.4 stars

Wearing the CapeWho wants to be a superhero?

Hope did, but she grew out of it. Which made her superhuman breakthrough in the Ashland Bombing, just before starting her freshman year at the University of Chicago, more than a little ironic. And now she has some decisions to make. Given the code-name “Astra” and invited to join the Sentinels, Chicago’s premier super-team, will she take up the cape and mask and become a career superhero? Or will she get a handle on her new powers (super-strength has some serious drawbacks) and then get on with her life-plan?

In a world where superheroes join unions and have agents, and the strongest and most photogenic ones become literal supercelebrities, the temptation to become a cape is strong. But the price can be high—especially if you’re “outed” and lose the shield of your secret identity. Becoming a sidekick puts the decision off for awhile, but Hope’s life is further complicated when The Teatime Anarchist, the supervillain responsible for the Ashland Bombing, takes an interest in her. Apparently as Astra, Hope is supposed to save the world. Or at least a significant part of it.

Super Villain Dad (Cape High Book 1) by R.J. Ross – Average Amazon rating: 4.4 stars

Supervillain DadYou’re probably wondering why we’re trying to be so quiet. Well there’s a reason. A really BIG reason. He’s standing over there–no–to your right–no, THROUGH the fence. Yes, on the other side of the big, nasty looking security fence that is literally shaking because of electric jolts. Yes, him. He’s pretty scary looking, right? He’s got to be six five, and he’s got the face of a serial murderer. It’s all sharp and needing shaved. And that whole skin tight prison body suit thing–it’s really not fashionable at all, I admit. What? Why’s he got a streak of white in his hair? Well, see, that’s why we’re here.

He’s a super villain.

So why is an innocent little freshman like me and her annoying twin brother sneaking peeks at him through a prison fence? Well…

He’s our father. At least, that’s what we think.

Super Powereds: Year 1 by Drew Hayes – Average Amazon rating: 4.5 stars

Super PoweredsKnowledge is power. That would be the motto of Lander University, had it not been snatched up and used to death by others long before the school was founded. For while Lander offers a full range of courses to nearly all students, it also offers a small number of specialty classes to a very select few. Lander is home to the Hero Certification Program, a curriculum designed to develop student with superhuman capabilities, commonly known as Supers, into official Heroes.

Five of this year’s freshmen are extra special. They have a secret aside from their abilities, one that they must guard from even their classmates. Because for every one person in the world with abilities they can control, there are three who lack such skill. These lesser super beings, Powereds as they are called, have always been treated as burdens and second class citizens. Though there has been ample research in the area, no one has ever succeeded in turning a Powered into a regular human, let alone a Super.

That is, until now…

Powered (The Powered Trilogy Book 1) by Cheyanne Young – Average Amazon rating: 4.5 stars

PoweredMaci Might’s sixteenth birthday is supposed to be the day she’s awarded Hero status. But thanks to a tiny anger problem and a questionable family tree, King City’s elders think it’s best if she doesn’t join the Hero ranks. Determined to change their minds, Maci will break whatever rule it takes to prove she’s Hero material. As her hair darkens and her anger grows, everyone turns against her except Evan; a childhood friend turned scientist who may be able to unlock the secrets hidden in her DNA.

When a villain attacks King City and her dad is held prisoner, Maci discovers a truth she refuses to believe. She may not be a Hero after all—but this time the Heroes of King City need her more than she needs them. And she won’t let them down.

Powered is the first in a trilogy.

Looking for more superhero fiction? Then check out the Pen and Cape Society website!

Weekend Shenanigans

At last, it’s back to work on Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer!

The author during his outing as a medieval plumber, and no, that is not a joke.

The author during his outing as a medieval plumber, and no, that is not a joke.

Last weekend I was otherwise occupied working the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, mostly with my wife (Veronica of Storied Threads), and one day with my friend Scott Kegler, assisting him with his street act for the show…not that he needed me, because the man is a dynamo of comedy. Watching him was a serious education in the art of clowning.

I got to work the faire on my favorite of the show’s theme weekends, Time Travelers Weekend, when patrons are encouraged to go a little crazy with non-period costuming. My wife took advantage of the looser rules on participant garb and helped mastermind an Avengers-themed presence among other merchants and the gaming crew. As you can see from one of the photos, no less than Clark Gregg himself approved of the Marvel-inspired surcoats created by my wife.

My friends Carlos, Greg, and Artemis in their cool Marvel kinghtly surcoats.

My friends Carlos, Greg, and Artemis in their cool Marvel kinghtly surcoats.

That weekend also featured the Doctor Who costume contest, co-judged by my wife, who dressed for the occasion in her Tenth Doctor-inspired ensemble, and our friend Krystal (the winner was a kid who built with his family’s help a full-sized Dalek outfit).

My wife and Krystal hosting the Doctor Who costume contest.

My wife and Krystal hosting the Doctor Who costume contest.

My wife in her Loki outfit and a friend as the Enchantress.

My wife in her Loki outfit and a friend as the Enchantress.

My friend Christian after a dramatic reading of book three. And yes, he read it in character. It was a riot.

My friend Christian after a dramatic reading of book three. And yes, he read it in character. It was a riot.

Credit where it’s due: photos by Lauren Dubois, Eric Tetreault, and Jamie Tarbell.

Cruel Summer – A Brief Update

I got an unexpected day off today, so I’ll be putting it to good use working on Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer — which, at present, stands at about 35,400 words, almost the halfway mark.

I hope to get another good chunk out of the way today, since it’ll be the last chance I get to work on it until next weekend. I’m at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire this weekend, then it’s back to the daily grind for the rest of next week, but then I’ll have all of Saturday and Sunday to sit on the couch, pound at the laptop, and keep the Halloween horror movie goodness rolling.

By the way: as soon as Cruel Summer is out of my hair, I plan to keep the workaholic attitude firmly in place, because I’m already mentally laying out book five, which will be entitled (drumroll, please): Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups. Book four is going to be a darker story, and I suspect readers are going to need something a little lighter afterwards (I know I will), so book five will be a collection of mini-adventures that will pair up various characters in the AF universe. The game plan is to have book four out by March 2015, and book five out by September 2015.

Sharing The Love – The Halloween Series (Part Two)

I managed to sneak in some writing time Friday, which is noteworthy because my writing weekends are gone for a while (to attend a friend’s wedding and to work the Connecticut Renaissance Faire — in the Storied Threads tent for a couple days and as a street performer with my friend Scott).

The Strangers posterI picked up on my Halloween movie watching where I left off last week and started the day with The Strangers, one of my favorite modern horror movies. It’s the kind of movie that unnerves me despite repeated viewings, much like its spiritual kin Halloween. The Strangers also emulates Halloween in that it uses sound to superb effect, though in a different way. Whereas Halloween used its soundtrack to enhance the scares, The Stranger uses silence to ratchet up the tension. There are long stretches of near or total silence, punctuated by bursts of sound that are enough to make you jump.

One of the best moments in the movie requires a decent surround sound system to fully appreciate. One of the masked killers is walking around outside the house, and if you’re in the middle of a surround sound home theater system, you get to hear the footsteps circling around behind you — and trust me, if you’re alone in the house while watching that moment, it’s doubly creepy.

F13 Final ChapterI switched gears a little after that, moving from slow-burn horror on to masked killer mayhem (I like to keep my Halloween movie-fest thematically linked) in the form of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Friday the 13th: A New Beginning.

It’s an interesting transition between the first three films in the series and the next three. The original trilogy, made between 1980 and 1984, held onto the horror film aesthetic of the 1970s. They had a more raw, gritty feel that made them more effective than the franchise’s later entries, which had a more vivid, slicker 1980s vibe. A New Beginning really suffers from this, and that’s one of the reasons it’s one of the weakest chapters in the series (I say this knowing full well none of the movies are truly great, or even good).

For fans of the slasher genre, the Friday the 13th series is all about the spectacular kill scenes, and A New Beginning falls down hard there; the kill scenes feel timid and restrained compared. Add to that some of the worst acting in the franchise, flat humor, and TV-movie cinematography, and you’ve got a total package that makes one wonder if this movie was cranked out by the studio simply to keep the franchise alive while they thought of something better to do with it.

Sharing The Love – The Halloween Series

It’s October! It’s officially Halloween season!

Friday the 13th posterHalloween is my favorite holiday, and every year I have my own little lead-up celebration in the form of a continual horror movie marathon. This is the time of year I pull out all the old classics, and I got an early jump on things when I stumbled across Friday the 13th on SyFy last weekend. The channel showed the first three movies and I happily let them run (even though I own the entire series on DVD).

I will be the first to admit that the Friday the 13th franchise really is not the best of film series. Some of the entries are downright terrible, trite, and more about gross-out kills than legit scares, but I have a soft spot for them. When I was a kid, the fondly remember Movie Loft on channel 38 (back when UHF was a thing) showed the original movie, mostly unedited for gore, and it freaked the hell out of me good…especially the final jump scare at the end.

Fun little side note here: years ago I wound up working a show with Taso Stavrakis, who aided and abetted Tom Savini on the make-up FX, and provided the hand that held down Kevin Bacon for his death scene — which puts me two degrees away from Kevin Bacon.

The next day, I decided to indulge in a “slow burn horror” run, movies that take their sweet time building up tension before going batshit at the end, and I started off with The Shining, mainly because I had just finished re-reading the book for the third time. I’ve had a strange obsession with this movie ever since I was little. I remember seeing ads for it on TV and thinking it looked like the best scary movie ever, after Halloween (more on that in a bit).

The Shining PosterOf course, none of my family would take me to see such a movie, so I had to settle for grabbing the novel…which, I would like to note, mysteriously disappeared before I could read it. Fortunately, our town library was well-stocked and didn’t blink at a 10-year-old checking out a Stephen King book.

I re-read it in high school, when I went on a hardcore horror novel binge, and again recently, and it wasn’t until the most recent re-reading that I fully appreciated the fact that if you were to remove all of the supernatural elements — entirely, or just play them as background rather than something that actually existed in the story — you still have a great horror tale about a man slowly losing his mind and wreaking havoc on his very trapped family.

I know King is no fan of the movie, but I absolutely love it. The atmosphere, the tension, the slow build toward the end…it still holds up for me.

As does my next selection, Alien, another movie that, as a kid, I knew mostly through TV ads, by reputation, and through other media (Alien: The Illustrated Story, which I read in a bookstore and lusted after for many years before finally snaring a copy of the reprint when it was released a couple of years ago).

Alien PosterThere are a few spots where the movie shows its age — Mother the computer, Yaphet Kotto wrestling with what is clearly a mannequin — but man, it holds together otherwise, and the chestburster scene remains an iconic moment in movie history. I recall reading some interviews with the creative team, which wanted to create a “haunted house in space” movie, and I think they nailed it pretty well. Re-watching it makes me lament all the more the missed opportunity that was Prometheus.

PS: Despite what the poster image I use here suggests, I watched the original cut of the movie. The director’s cut has some interesting changes, but it also has one of the ballsiest shots in the movie: in the scene in which Harry Dean Stanton goes looking for Jones the Cat, Ridley Scott adds in a POV shot looking up into the cuts of the ship, up at the jungle of swinging chains — and the xenomorph is HANGING RIGHT THERE and you’d never see it unless you knew it was there. Love it.

The day ended with my all-time favorite horror movie: Halloween. The original not the remake. God, no.

Halloween PosterOnce again, this is a movie that, as a kid, I fell in love with simply through the TV ads. The ads alone creeped the fuck out of me, and once again, when my family refused to take me to see it, I got my hands on a copy of the novelization (which, I’ve learned, is one of THE most sought-after out-of-print books out there. Who knew?).

A few years later, NBC showed Halloween on TV — heavily edited, which I find funny considering that it is such a bloodless movie — and I watched the entire thing from between my fingers. I was terrified of going outside at night for years — YEARS afterward, because I was convinced Michael Myers was out there somewhere.

As hinted above, I am no fan of the Rob Zombie remake. It’s everything the original isn’t: loud, gory, and legitimately scary, in part because Zombie makes what I consider a horrible mistake in trying to explain Michael and give him a backstory. In the original, he was a mysterious force of evil. He had no motive. He was the boogeyman…and he remains my favorite boogeyman.

Fun fact: studio heads saw an early cut of the film, before John Carpenter added the soundtrack, and they weren’t impressed. They changed their tune once Carpenter added the iconic soundtrack.

Artwork Is Work

Passing this along for consideration by all the artists out there, from my friend Marrus: Wanna Eat? Charge for Your Work.

Also? While you’re over there, you should maybe go check out her art and buy something.

Thank You, Readers!

As you may know, Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect became available for the Kindle this past Saturday, and thanks to the amazing response, this happened:

Screencap 10 2

That’s book three sitting at the number 10 spot on the Kindle top 100 paid best-seller list for my genre (superheroes). Yes, for the first time, one of my books cracked a top ten list!

I can’t think of a better way to mark one year since the release of the first AF novel, Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins. Yep, it’s been a whole year since I dove headlong into the great self-publishing experiment, and I definitely have no regrets. In fact, this weekend’s big win kept me motivated in a huge way, and I knocked out a nice chunk of book four.

Yep, work is well underway for Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer! This is one of the AF stories I’ve been dying to tell. It’s going to be a bit darker than its predecessors, but I trust everyone will hang tight for what’s sure to be a wild ride. My goal is to have it ready to go by March 2015, so stay tuned!

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