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.

Action Figures – Issue Two – An Introduction

Benchmark time! Draft four of Action Figures – Issue Two is done, and now it’s off to my editor-slash-sister-in-law Tori for a final review. That means it’s time to start chatting this thing up.

So, what happened in book one?

Well, you could always buy a copy and read it, but if you’re going to be that way…

In Action Figures – Issue One – Secret Origins, we met the Hero Squad, a group of aspiring super-heroes — Carrie “Lightstorm” Hauser, Matt “Captain Trenchcoat” Steiger, Sara “Psyche” Danvers, Stuart “Superbeast” Lumley, and Missy “Kunoichi” Hamill — as they embarked on their first adventure. The teens ran afoul of Archimedes, a renegade artificial intelligence; the deadly mercenary Manticore; the mysterious mastermind known simply as the Foreman; and local super-hero Concorde, leader of the Protectorate, who tried (and failed) to ground the fledgling super-team.

What’s book two about?

Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women picks up a few days after the events of issue one. There’s no rest for the weary Squad as they find themselves in the middle of a feud between the necromancer Black Betty and Dr. Enigma, the Protectorate’s expert of all things magical and supernatural. The prize is the Libris Infernalis, a book of powerful dark magic — powerful enough to summon ancient demon-gods capable of laying waste to the planet.

What else happens?

The team learns more about their super-human capabilities thanks to Doc Quantum, leader of the Quantum Quintet and one of the world’s greatest minds; Missy undergoes some frightening changes; the Squad meets the Entity, the Protectorate’s mysterious fifth member; and Nina Nitro shows Carrie what it takes to play in the super-hero big leagues.

There’s also a little bit of romance in store for Carrie, but I would like to assure readers, there are and will continue to be NO LOVE TRIANGLES.

Hey, man, why the hate for love triangles?

One: they’re overdone. Every bloody YA series has a love triangle, it seems. Two: they’re a cheap, lazy way to generate tension in a story. There are better, more interesting ways to explore romance in a story than simply playing the Archie-Betty-Veronica card. Three: they can overwhelm the other, more important things going on in the story. In The Hunger Games series, the idea of a young girl being forced into government-sanctioned gladiatorial games gets overshadowed in media stories by the Katniss-Peeta-Gale triangle. Oh, yes, let’s focus on the cutesy romance instead, downplay the tragic death of hundreds of children over generations in the name of keeping the poor in their place.

But I digress…

Anything else I should know?

Make sure to read the acknowledgements in the back of the book, because I’ll be adding a little Easter egg for readers.

When will book two be available?

My goal is to have it out in March. That will depend in large part on how quickly my editor and my cover artist finish their respective jobs. I don’t like to be pushy or set hard deadlines on people who have other, more important responsibilities, so things will wrap up when they wrap up.

Will the book be available for the Kindle?

It will, although the e-book version will probably come out after the print edition. Formatting the manuscript for Kindle is a whole ‘nother project in itself.

Stay tuned for updates as they become available!

Action Figures: Covering The Cover

When I made the decision to self-publish Action Figures, it was a foregone conclusion that my buddy Tricia Lupien would be my cover artist.

Aside from being a good friend for (yow, feelin’ old here) 18 years, Tricia is a talented artist, a geek girl before geek girls were cool, and someone who deserves a co-creator credit for this project. The majority of the characters in the story are my creation, but two basic concepts popped out of her head many years ago while we were, for pointless fun, creating goofy superheroes. Out of that session, two names stuck with me: Psyche and, no kidding, Captain Trenchcoat.

(An aside: this same fit of insanity also produced such oddball characters as Disaster-Man and William Wail-Ass, the World’s Mightiest Scotsman — who, FYI, gets a mention in the novel).

I won’t go into the convoluted mental process that led to those early concepts becoming actual characters nearly two decades later, I just wanted to provide a little background. As Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story so I can tell you this one.

The point is, Tricia absolutely deserved the opportunity to create the cover. I’d be King Jackass if I did not ask her. Fortunately for me, she agreed and set to work.

The logo, previously unveiled here, was the first thing to become reality. Seems like a minor thing to get jazzed over, but it was one of those “Holy crap, this is really happening” moments.

The first cover rough showed up a week later. I’d pitched to Tricia the idea of the main character, Carrie, standing in front of her high school locker, in which hanged her superhero outfit. I thought it would hit two of the story’s main elements nicely.

Here is the first rough, based on that concept:

CoverRough1
Action Figures front cover – first draft

Pretty good for a first shot! We chatted a bit about how to punch it up a little, to more clearly illustrate the superhero element, and decided to add a glow effect around Carrie’s hands (hinting at her super-power), adjust the image to expose more of the locker, change how the costume was hanging so it was more visible, and add some newspaper clippings with convenient and obvious headlines — fairly simple changes.

Before those were implemented, Tricia produced a line drawing of Carrie herself, giving me my first look at her as something other than an image in my head:

Carrie, solidified.
Carrie, solidified.

Yes, she is a foosball player in this rendition, but that’s why it’s called a “work in progress.”

The important part is it captured how I wanted Carrie to look: like your basic all-American girl.

The first color draft came next, and wow, amazing what color adds to the overall product!

Action Figures - in color! (A Quinn-Martin Production)
Action Figures – in color! (A Quinn-Martin Production)

You can also see that Carrie has been made more prominent to fill up more of the space, which was an excellent call on Tricia’s part, that the costume is definitely more noticeable, and that a placeholder glow effect has been added to Carrie’s left hand (which, you’ll notice in the first rough, was down). Improvements all around!

The penultimate version added some details to the locker (newspaper clippings), filled in the background color, finished off the super-suit hanging against the door, and punched up the hand glow.

More is more!
More is more!

At this point, there was nothing left to do but some fine-tuning. Tricia punched up the newspaper clippings a bit to make them more visible, added an impressionist version of Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. album cover (Carrie is a big fan of The Boss), and added the last of the text.

And so, without more ado, here it is: the full and finished cover for Action Figures – Issues One: Secret Origins!

The final cover, along with the spine text!
The final cover, along with the spine text!

But wait, there’s more! I also received the back cover, and here is a section featuring Carrie’s friends/teammates. What’s really cool about the character designs is how perfectly Tricia portrayed them based on my rather general descriptions. This is, verbatim, what I sent her for descriptions:

Carrie herself I imagine as an all-American girl, blonde and blue-eyed, pretty but not glam. She’s 15 years old, and I’d like her to look real-world 15 and not Hollywood 15 (meaning early 20s). [The others are] Matt Steiger (Captain Trenchcoat), a boy with messy black hair and a perpetual smirk; Sara Danvers (Psyche), a pale girl with long, unruly dark hair…she doesn’t look goth so much as she looks badly anemic and sorely in need of some conditioner; Stuart Lumley (Superbeast), a throwback metalhead with long brown hair and an “I’m kind of awesome” attitude; and Missy Hamill (Kunoichi), an unstoppably spunky and energetic half-Japanese girl. All of them are 15.

So here’s the whole team:

Artwork from the back cover.
Artwork from the back cover.

The best part of this entire process reaching its conclusion?

The book will be ready for sale next week!

That’s right, all I have to do is upload the PDF of the full, finished cover art once I get it from Tricia, and Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins will be available for sale as a paperback novel and as an e-book from Amazon,com! Believe me, you’ll know when it’s officially on sale.