Event Announcement: Arisia 2016

ArisiaLogoIt’s Monday, attention spans are short, so I’ll keep this brief.

If you’re going to be in the Boston area around January — January 15 – 18 to be precise — I’ll be appearing at Arisia 2016 at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel along with J.M. Aucoin. We’ll be selling and signing copies of all our books, so stop by, say hello, and then check out Boston’s longest-running sci-fi/fantasy convention.

Oh, and a fellow by the name of John Scalzi is this year’s guest of honor. You definitely want to say hello to him.

Cruel Summer – Print Edition! (And Other Stuff)

Art by Patricia Lupien
Art by Patricia Lupien

For those of you who have been waiting for the print edition of Action Figures – Cruel Summer, sorry for the delay, but the wait is at last over! The hard copy version is now available on Amazon, so go get it!

The Kindle edition has been flying off the metaphorical shelves since it dropped last week, and has been hovering near the top of two best-seller lists, which gives me plenty of incentive to keep cracking on book five, Team-Ups.

I’ve mentioned book five quite a few times in the past couple of months, so you might be wondering exactly what’s going to happen in the next installation. For starters, the book will be tonally more in-line with the first three books in the series. I make no apologies for running dark with book four — it wasn’t a story that could be told with my usual lighter touch — but believe me, I’m happy to get back to stories that are more on the fun side.

The big curve ball for readers in book five is that it will consist of a series of vignettes — self-contained stories each spotlighting a different member of the Hero Squad as they recover from the events of book four. Here’s a sampling of what’s coming…

  • The King of Pain deals one last blow against the Squad, and it could shatter the already fractured team forever.
  • Matt and Nina Nitro set out to apprehend two escapees from Byrne Penitentiary, but things don’t go as planned after local hero (and noted jerk) Deuce X. Machine lends an unwanted helping hand.
  • Carrie spends quality time with the Quantum Quintet.
  • Missy begins her formal training…with the Entity, but the mysterious vigilante has an ulterior motive.
  • Stuart follows Dr. Enigma into Boston’s underworld to recover a powerful magical artifact, but an old enemy stands in the way.

Book five will culminate in a major revelation as Carrie — and readers — finally learn exactly where her powers came from…and that her fantastic abilities come with a price.

Cover Me!

The end of the novel creation process is somehow the most anxious, maybe because all the work on my end is done, and I’m left waiting for others to do their jobs — necessary, since my editor Tori and my cover artist Tricia have those…oh, what are they called again? Oh, yeah: lives. They have lives.

But when they start wrapping up their respective jobs? Oh, the thrills, the chills, then non-stop excitement!

Getting the cover art is probably my favorite part of the process. That’s when it really starts to feel like I’m creating something real.

AF Cover

When I conceived of the cover for the first novel, Secret Origins, an idea came to mind right away: I wanted to see Carrie, the main character, in front of her school locker, her superhero costume hanging in the background. I felt it nicely suggested the two main elements of the story, and Tricia nailed my concept right off.

Coming up with a concept for book two, Black Magic Women, proved a lot harder. I wanted the same kind of vibe, a cover that hinted at the story, but was not as vague and abstract as novel covers tend to be. I love the comic book cover vibe, and wanted to stick with that, but every concept I thought up simply didn’t work. The images were too weird, or would have made for a crowded, cluttered image.

Flummoxed with that particular approach, I scrapped it in favor of something a bit more iconic. Comic book covers have a lot of classic images that get recycled, homaged, and parodied over and over — the “hero cradles dead comrade against a background of mourning friends” image, as seen on Uncanny X-Men #136 and Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 come to mind — so I thought, why not try for something like that?molly-quinn-superman-unbound-wondercon

Tricia played around with a close-up shot of Carrie pulling open her shirt to reveal her costume underneath, a la Superman, but rejected that right off. “All it was was a boob shot,” she said, and she’s right, as the lovely and talented and delightfully geeky Molly C. Quinn (at right, obviously) demonstrates from a promotional appearance for Superman: Unbound.

Tricia moved on to a more generic, but still dynamic in-flight moment, capturing Carrie as she soars above the city. This was her rough:

AF Cover Draft 1

You know what I really like about this, and it’s a small but significant thing? Carrie’s proportions are realistic. She’s not some skinny, leggy supermodel type; she’s a teenage girl.

Tricia’s plan was to show Carrie soaring over Boston, and that rough with the city backdrop looked like this:

Cover Rough 2

For the next draft, Tricia went back to the main figure, to flesh her out some more.

Cover Rough 2

You can see that in this version, Carrie has a sash around her waist. I asked Tricia to lose that for two reasons: one, it was a little too Captain Marvel-esque, and I didn’t want to draw comparisons (I also did not want to step on Carol Danvers’ fashion toes; the sash is her thing); and two, I refer to Carrie wearing a more practical belt as part of the ensemble, something in which she can keep money and her phone. Besides, I like superhero outfits that embrace practicality. If you were wearing a skintight outfit, you’d want pockets too, right?

Tricia made the tweak, finished the inking, added color, and dropped in the background.

Cover Rough 3

Looking good! The next step was to add the color effects…

final front_nocover

And finally, the text, and voila! Behold, the fully finished cover art for Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00009]

 

All that’s left now is for Tricia to finish up the back cover, and this baby is DONE!

Neil-ing At The Feet Of The Master

Not much to report on the Action Figures front right now. I received a new batch of editing notes earlier this week and plan to go through them tomorrow or Sunday, and that’s about it there.

Saturday I get to spend part of the afternoon with none other than Neil Gaiman, who will be holding a talk at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts entitled “Myth, Magic, and Making Stuff Up.” I am beyond excited to be attending this. I’ve been to one of his book signings before, in Cambridge, during his Anansi Boys tour, and he was funny and charming, and after he signed my copy of American Gods with what he deemed the worst signing of the name “Michael” ever, he apologized profusely and made sure my name was very tidy when he signed my wife’s copy of Anansi Boys.

The man himself. Image gakked from the MFA website.
The man himself. Image gakked from the MFA website.

I am oddly proud to own a book signed with one of his less graceful inscriptions.

Anyway, book signings are one thing, but to attend a dedicated lecture on the craft led by Neil is thrilling beyond words. I don’t care if he doesn’t answer questions, mine or anyone’s, or if he doesn’t stick around to say hello to people personally, I just want to sit there and soak up whatever he has to say. I want to learn from someone whose work I love and, in a way, has served as a long-distance (and unknowing) mentor.

Through his blog I’ve picked up on some interesting and valuable lessons about the process of writing that have helped me immeasurably.  Best example off the top of my head: back when he was working on The Graveyard Book, he wrote one day how he was stuck somewhere in the middle of the story, and how middles tend to confound him. The beginnings of a story were easy, he said, because that’s when you’re laying down your ideas and introducing characters, and endings, while intimidating, were about bringing all the pieces together and reaching the climax of the creative process.

Middles, however? That’s when a lot of stuff has to happen to connect the Point A of the beginning and Point B of the ending, and drawing that line isn’t as fun or easy.

As it happened, I was in the middle, literally, of my Bostonia manuscript, and having a mother of a time getting through it. I knew important stuff was happening, but writing the middle third felt way too much like work. The words didn’t flow. The ideas didn’t flow. I worried something was seriously wrong, that my creative mojo was suddenly gone, or that the story was revealing itself to be a dead end and I would never finish it. I didn’t know struggling with the second act was not unusual…not until Neil said so.

It took a long while — several months, in fact — to get through that rough patch, but after reading Neil’s blog post, I stopped freaking out about it. I’d work on it as much as I could, until I felt I hit a roadblock, then I’d walk away, let the manuscript sit and let the story percolate in my head for a while, and hit it again when I was ready.

If I get even ten seconds to speak to Neil directly, I plan to use the time to thank him for his advice. I know he’ll have no idea what I’m thanking him for, but I’ll know. Good enough.