The Action Figures Diversity Report 2015

Last year, I took a look at the cast of my books to see how well I was doing in representing women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. I did this because I’d been reading a lot of articles and essays about how the entertainment media, in particular TV and movies, have been falling down on the job in giving audiences something other than stories featuring straight white male protagonists. If you Google “representation in media” or “diversity in media” you’ll find a treasure trove of data confirming that visual entertainment needs to seriously step up its game when it comes to giving audiences diverse characters.

The issue has been on my mind again recently, but for a different and even more distasteful reason: reactions from what I’ll call “audiences of privilege” to efforts by some media companies to increase diversity. Specifically, some of the reactions to recent pushes by DC and Marvel to attract what can be rightfully called “non-traditional readers” — meaning women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.

This should be cause for celebration. Attracting new readers, people who might not have shown much interest before in comics because they found none of the current titles appealing, strengthens the industry with an infusion of new blood (and, not at all coincidentally, cash).

Yet there’s been no small amount of push-back from the old boy community. They’re accused DC and Marvel of “pandering” to diverse audiences…because when you give, say, women more female characters and update their costumes to be less sexualized, that’s pandering to women, but keeping her in the same skintight leotard is, somehow, not pandering to men.

Top: not pandering to men. Bottom: pandering to women. Art by Kris Anka and Frank Cho, respectively, images courtesy Marvel Comics.
Top: not pandering to men. Bottom: pandering to women. Art by Kris Anka and Frank Cho, respectively, images courtesy Marvel Comics.

(FYI, “pandering” means “to do or provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable.” If someone wants to step up and explain to me why it’s unreasonable to give non-straight white male readers characters they can identify with, go right ahead. I’ll enjoy watching you dig your own grave with great amusement.)

I received a little bit of push-back myself on Action Figures – Issue Four: Cruel Summer, which explicitly establishes certain characters as openly homo- or bisexual. A reviewer on Amazon said I was getting “too politically correct.” Hardly a scathing rebuke, but what does it say about any reader when adding diverse characters is succumbing to political correctness rather than endeavoring not to be mindful of the fact not everyone in the world is straight, white, and/or male?

I admit, it took me a while to adjust my own thinking on this issue. I began the series open to creating diverse characters, but did so with the attitude that their diversity had to mean something. It had to matter to the character and the story. I didn’t want to simply throw in a bunch of diverse characters for the sake of it.

Then I read a few things on Tumblr (which, for once, provided me with civil, sane discussion points rather than a profanity-laden, anger-driven rant) that opened my eyes. I can’t find the original post to quote it verbatim, but the argument was, essentially: why do diverse characters have to have a deeper reason to exist? Real people are different for no reason other than that’s how they are. Do you walk up to an African-American and demand they explain why they’re African-American, and challenge their right to exist if they can’t provide a satisfactory argument?

The other post that made me rethink the way I approach storytelling stated that sometimes, simply seeing a diverse character in a story is enough. Giving the character depth and meaning is great, making their diversity meaningful is a lofty goal, but for some audience members, it is very gratifying and encouraging to see a character who is fleshed out, fully realized, isn’t a lazy stereotype, and matters to the story, and just happens to be someone of color, or just happens to be gay.

I understand some of you might be rolling your eyes at all this because it none of this matters to you. Well, guess what? As William Shatner said, you’re not the only one living on this planet. It might not matter to you, but to someone else, it matters a lot, and frankly, I’d rather piss off someone who complains about diversity than someone who complains about the lack of it — because those in that latter category are right.

I’d like to think I took some positive steps toward a more diverse cast with book four, and I’ll give you a head’s up now that the following updated cast list contains a few SPOILERS (capitalized to grab your attention!), so if you haven’t read book four yet, you might want to stop reading now.

  • Carrie Hauser/Lightstorm: straight white female
  • Matt Steiger/Captain Trenchcoat: straight white male
  • Sara Danvers/Psyche: lesbian white female
  • Stuart Lumley: male, one-quarter African-American
  • Missy Hamill/Kunoichi: half-Japanese female
  • Edison Bose/Concorde: straight male
  • Bart Connors/Mindforce: gay white male
  • Natalie Guerrero/Nina Nitro: straight Hispanic female
  • Astrid Enigma/Dr. Enigma: bisexual white female
  • Dr. Gwendolyn Quentin/Doc Quantum: straight white female
  • Joe Quentin/Rockjaw Quantum: straight white male
  • Megan Quentin/Megawatt Quantum: lesbian white female
  • Kilroy Quentin/Kilowatt Quantum: straight white male
  • Farley Quentin/Final Boss: white male (sexuality TBD because he’s only six. Give him time)
  • Tisha Greene/TranzSister: African-American transgender female (heterosexual by virtue of her current gender)

I dare say I have the LGBTQ spectrum well covered, and I readily admit I am more comfortable presenting these kinds of characters because it’s what I’m familiar with. I know a lot of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, at least one asexual individual, and one transgender person (that I am aware of, at least) through the renaissance faire community, and I encounter these people frequently at the pop culture conventions I work with my wife.

Obviously, my failing continues to be in presenting people of color in prominent roles. There are many minor supporting characters of color, but few in any major spotlight role. Let’s see if I can correct that as I move forward with the series.


The Action Figures Diversity Report

I’ve been a cautiously optimistic fanboy this week, due to the news that Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is in development as a series. American Gods is one of my all-time favorite novels, and I’m curious to see how it translates to the screen — even more so after reading that Neil has asked the producers not to whitewash any of his characters of color.

That got me to thinking about the diversity of the Action Figures cast of characters, and whether I was doing a good job of representing a variety of genders, sexual orientations and identities, and races. As a bit of an internal exercise, I went through the main and prominent secondary characters and tagged them, and here’s the result:

  • Carrie/Lightstorm: white female
  • Matt/Captain Trenchcoat: white male
  • Sara/Psyche: white female
  • Stuart/Superbeast: male, quarter African-American
  • Missy/Kunoichi: female, half-Japanese
  • Concorde: male
  • Mindforce: white male
  • Nina Nitro: Hispanic female
  • Dr. Enigma: white female, bisexual
  • Joe Quentin/Rockjaw Quantum: male
  • Gwendolyn Quentin/Doc Quantum: female
  • Meg Quentin/Megawatt Quantum: white female
  • Kilroy Quentin/Kilowatt Quantum: white male
  • Farley Quentin/Final Boss: white male

You’ll notice that only one character, Dr. Enigma, has a distinct sexual orientation. Three other people on the list are homo- or bi-sexual, but their respective reveals are tied to story and forthcoming (if not in book three, definitely in book four).

You’ll also notice that the cast is primarily white. Eight characters are explicitly described as white, nine if you assume at least Rockjaw or Doc Quantum are white (which is a natural assumption, considering the kids are described as pale-skinned with very light blond hair).

If I start adding prominent tertiary cast members (the kids’ parents, recurring supporting characters), things don’t necessarily get more colorful, so to speak. Missy has a Japanese father, Stuart has one half-African-American parent, but the rest of the parents are white (implicitly if not explicitly). Much of the supporting cast is of unspecified ethnicity, which can be good or bad; readers can fill in the blanks and assume these characters are people of color if they like, but I could also take a bolder stance and say “Character A is a person of color.”

My concern with establishing as canon that a character is someone of color is that it would wind up as little more than paying lip service to diversity. I realize it could be argued that simply having a person of color present is enough, that it makes them a presence in the story, but I want the character’s ethnicity to matter, to the character or the story, and not become a throwaway element — but, as the writer, it’s incumbent on me to do just that, isn’t it?

I am pleased with the gender balance. Of the above-listed characters, half are women, and two are in leadership roles (Carrie and Doc Quantum). Additionally, the male characters are portrayed as comfortable with that, and I’d like to think that sends a good message all around.

If I were to give myself a grade for diversity in my novels, I’d give myself a solid B-minus, at best. I could definitely do better, and hope to as the series progresses.

Action Figures – Issue Three Rough Cut Preview!

So, remember earlier this month, when I unveiled a piece of teaser art as a thank-you to readers after I hit the “100 sales in one month” benchmark?

Yeah, well, over the long holiday weekend, I broke the 200 copies sales mark, and hit a new personal record for sales in a single day, AND cracked Amazon’s top 50 list for my genre. That deserves another special thank-you, right? Well, here it is: a special “rough cut” preview of chapter one of Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect!

What is a “rough cut preview,” you ask? Simply, it’s chapter one from the first draft, which means it is completely unedited. That means there will be typos, there will be wonky sentences, and there will be changes by the time the book sees publication (which, FYI, is this September — tentatively), but the chapter will appear in the final product more or less as you read it here.

BTW, based on the word counts of my first two books, this sucker’s at least halfway done. Once my duties at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire are done, I’m taking a weekend to catch up on my writing. I’d like to have draft one wrapped by the end of June at the latest, draft two by the end of July, and then it’s off to the test readers!

One important final note: if you’ve already read either or both of the first two books, I’d appreciate it if you took five minutes to leave a favorable review on Amazon. The positive reviews I’ve received so far played a crucial role in attracting new readers, and it never hurts to have a few (or lots) more. Thanks!





It’s been a weird winter.

Weird by my standards, I mean; life hasn’t been normal for me since I got my powers from a dying extraterrestrial, but feuding sorceresses and demons attempting to literally raise Hell on Earth? That’s a bit much, even for me.

Still, I would happily run out and fight every demon in creation to get away from the man who might well be my greatest enemy ever:

My mom’s new boyfriend.




Ben sits on the opposite corner of the couch, looking as uncomfortable as I feel. We stare at each other in silence, our mouths set in a line that, at a glance, might pass as thin smiles.

“Dinner smells great,” he says, acknowledging the mouthwatering aroma of my mother’s lasagna, a hearty dish so dense with pasta, cheese, and assorted meats you could use it to patch potholes. It’s one of her A-list meals, one she trots out for special occasions.

“Mm. Yeah,” I say. Not much else to say about that, really; “food smells good” tends to be a self-affirming observation.

Cue awkward silence the second.

“I’m not good at small talk,” Ben says.

“Me either. Well, the point of this dinner is to give us a chance to interrogate each other, so let’s get to it. When did you start dating my mother?”

“Uh, couple of weeks ago? We’d gone out before, with after-work groups, I mean,” he begins. I unconsciously dig my fingernails into the armrest, and his voice dissolves into nonsensical white noise.

A couple of weeks ago, my mother enjoyed a Friday night out with some co-workers. She didn’t come home until Saturday morning. She told me she had too much to drink, so she spent the night at a friend’s place. It’s important to note, she told me this while staring at the carpet, guiltily, as if I’d caught her stealing money out of my purse. Conclusion: her “friend” is sitting across from me now, and they did not simply have an innocent little sleepover — and now, they’re a thing. An item. A couple.

I accept certain realities about my parents’ divorce. I know, logically, their marriage is done and gone. I know they’re never getting back together. I know they would eventually move on and find someone else. I didn’t know it would happen for Mom this quickly. I mean, come on, she and Dad were together since high school. And now, six months after the split, she already has a new boyfriend. That’s what pushes me past mere discomfort and into the red zone of anger.

It takes a supreme effort of will to stomp that anger down and, for the sake of civility, say to Ben in a steady, level voice, “That’s cool.”

“I know she hasn’t mentioned me to you at all,” Ben says, though he doesn’t seem bothered by this, “but she talks about you all the time.”

“Often through clenched teeth, I’m sure.” Hey, I’m realistic. I know I can be a pain in the butt.

“No. No, it’s all been good.” I cock a skeptical eyebrow. He smiles. “Okay, it’s been mostly good. I get the feeling you two are a lot alike.”

“That’s what Dad thinks,” I say, putting a little too much emphasis on Dad. Scale it back, Carrie. Mom and I have been on relatively good terms lately, don’t screw it up by chewing out her —

Her boyfriend.


Mom emerges from the kitchen, carrying a plate of cheese and crackers. “How’s it going out here?” she says.

“Fine,” we say in unison.

“Good,” Mom says. She sits in the easy chair near Ben — close enough to make it clear they’re together, but separated enough to put me at ease. That’s the theory, anyway.

“We’ve been talking about how you two met,” I say.

Panic flashes across Mom’s face, ever so briefly. “Oh?”

Ben jumps to the rescue. “She was appropriately bored. There isn’t anything terribly romantic about two co-workers deciding to date.”

“I may have fallen asleep,” I say. Mom relaxes, smiles in relief, then excuses herself to tend to dinner.

Apparently, we set the tone for the evening right off, because dinnertime conversation is sparse, dry, and inoffensive. There are no inquiries more probing than “How is school?” and “What do you do for work, exactly?” — standard getting-to-know-you chit-chat. The bland discourse continues through our dessert of tiramisu and espresso. Now, normally, Mom likes to throw a little Bailey’s Irish cream into her espresso, but this time around, she takes it straight, and doesn’t offer any boozy additives to Ben. Now that I think about it, she never broke out any wine for herself or Ben — thus minimizing the chance either of them might let something embarrassing or scandalizing slip out.

That’s when it hits me: this night wasn’t about us trying to impress Ben; they were trying to impress me.

Ben, thankfully, doesn’t linger long after we finish dessert. He gives Mom a chaste good-night kiss on the cheek (girlrage rising), tells me how nice it was to finally meet me, and away he goes. He’s barely out the door when Mom hits me up for my opinion.

“Well? What do you think?” she says hopefully.

I highly doubt my approval, or lack thereof, matters for much, but I say, “I liked him.”

She buys it, but Mom’s not going to let me leave it at that. “Honestly?”

No. “Yeah. Honestly.”

“I want you two to get along.”

“I think we got along fine.”

“Good,” she says. “I expect you’re going to see each other quite a bit.”

“Cool,” I say, and I head upstairs.

“Carrie?” I pause. Mom wrings her hands anxiously. “You really like Ben?”

No, Mom, I hate him.

“Yes, Mom. I like him.”

She smiles, and in that moment, I realize what an exceptionally skilled liar I’ve become.

I’m not proud of this.



Guilt and anger keep me from falling asleep right away, and I spend the night fading in and out. I wake up feeling like five miles of bad road, as my dad likes to say — less than ideal condition for enjoying a day of birthday festivities.

Not mine, mind you; my birthday is about two weeks away. No, today is for celebrating the sixteenth anniversary of one Matthew William Steiger’s entry into the world. Today is also February 29, which is appropriate; it’s an odd day for an odd kid, who I expect will take full advantage of his privileges as the birthday boy and call for a day of odd activities.

After wolfing a couple of strawberry Pop-Tarts and power-chugging a couple cups of Mom’s wretched coffee, I hike over to Sara’s house.

“Hey,” she says, then furrows her brow at me. “Where’s Matt’s present?”

“Well, crap,” I say. “Back at my house, because I’m a moron.”

“Let me finish breakfast, and we’ll run back and get it.” I follow Sara into the kitchen, where she proceeds to wolf down a corn muffin like a contestant in a corn muffin-eating contest. Stuart eats with more restraint.

“Better slow down, or I’m going to have to Heimlich you.”

“I just want to get out of here.”

I’m about to ask why, when Mr. Danvers appears in the kitchen, dressed in a dark blue suit. “Oh, hello, Carrie,” he says. He doesn’t wait for my response. “Sara, I really think you should go with me.”

“I told you, I have plans today,” Sara says through a mouthful of muffin.

“And I told you, church is more important than that Steiger boy’s birthday party. You can go after church.”

That Steiger boy?

“Yeah, I could. Or, I could go to the party right now, like I planned. Come on, Carrie.”

Sara brushes past her father. I follow, offering Daddy Danvers an apologetic smile, which he does not return.

Once we’re out the door, I ask, “What was that all about?”

Ugghhh. Dad’s in one of his moods,” Sara says. “I don’t know what set him off, but all week he’s been all gay agenda this and liberal media that, and this morning the fair-weather Catholic decided it’s time to church up again after, like, a year of not going.”

“And he asked you to go with him.”

“More like he ordered me to go. Mom, he asks, but she’s got the Get out of Church Because I’m Jewish Card to play.”

“Fun. Frustrating parents must be the motif today.”

“Uh-oh, what’s going on now?”

“Mom has a new boyfriend.”

Sara’s jaw falls open. “No way.”

“Uh-huh. I met the new suitor last night. Ben and Mom and I, we had a lovely little dinner together,” I sneer. “Ben was so interested in me and my life and my friends. He wanted to know all about me so we could become the bestest of friends.”

“I don’t know how to ask this delicately,” Sara says, “but do you think this is the guy your mom spent the night with that time?”

“Oh, I know it is. Mom was twitchy all night.”

“You didn’t bring it up?”

“God, no. Things were uncomfortable enough without me saying, ‘Oh, hey, Ben, quick question: did you get busy with my mother?’ ”

Besides which, bringing up that touchy subject could backfire on me, big-time. Earlier this month, Mom caught me in an ill-thought-out lie — a necessary lie, told to cover up a late night of super-heroics, but badly executed nevertheless — and I confronted Mom about her (alleged) hook-up to deflect her interrogation. It worked, and she hasn’t brought the matter up since — and she won’t, but only as long as I don’t push her to admit that yes, she was “with” Ben. I’m not sure whether this is blackmail or extortion. Either way, it’s another item on my big list of Things of Which I am Ashamed.

“Can I ask you something?” Sara says. I know what that means: she wants to ask me a question I might not like, but doesn’t want me to blow up at her. “Do you think you might be misdirecting your anger?”

“Misdirecting my anger?”

“Yeah. You know: you think you’re angry at Ben because he’s dating your mom, but you’re really angry at your mom because she’s with someone who isn’t your dad?”

“Where’d you get that from?”

“You spend a lot of time talking to a psychologist,” she says, referring to Mindforce, “you pick up some things. Well?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Is Ben a decent guy?”

I shrug. “I guess. He seems okay.”

“Look, you know I’m on your side, but maybe you should give him a fair chance, and not hate on him right off when he hasn’t actually done anything to deserve it.”

Hmph. Aren’t I supposed to be the grounded, rational one?”

Sara smiles. “I’m expanding my repertoire.”

Meet Carrie Hauser

My friend and fellow author J.M. Aucoin invited me to take part in a “blog hop” project, which I thought was pretty cool in concept: an author answers seven questions about the main character in his/her current or upcoming novel, tags off to another author, who then does the same thing. So, here is my entry.

First, I formally accept the tag-off from Justin, whose entry is right here, and tag off to T. Michelle Nelson, who previously interviewed me for her blog, and Amy Rachiele, who interviewed me for her Uxbridge Community TV show Book Talk.

Now, for the seven questions…

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Small Headshot
Artwork by Patricia Lupien.

My protagonist’s name is Caroline Dakota Hauser, but her friends call her Carrie. She’s fictional, but inspired by many young ladies I’ve met through various professional channels who possess her more positive traits: intelligence, maturity, independence, and self-confidence.

2) When and where is the story set?

The when is “now-ish,” meaning the present day, but it’s not anchored in a specific year. The where is Kingsport, a fictional community on the South Shore of Massachusetts.

3) What should we know about him/her?

Carrie is the daughter of recently divorced parents, and she moved to Kingsport with her mother, who was looking to start a new life. Carrie is very much her father’s daughter, and her love of Bruce Springsteen, James Bond movies, and The Hobbit were all inherited from her dad. Her stubborn streak and tendency to argue she inherited from her mother.

More importantly, she has super-powers, which she received from a dying extraterrestrial she chanced across (hey, things like this happen all the time in comic book universes). After moving to Kingsport, she was discovered by a group of super-powered teens, and joined them to form the Hero Squad (she didn’t choose the name).

final front_nocover

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

I’m answering these two together, because they tie into one another quite closely.

Carrie, like a lot of teenagers, is simply trying to figure out who she is, but a lot of people interfere with her attempts at self-discovery: well-intentioned adults like her parents and teachers, who often don’t listen to what she wants for herself; those with more selfish motivations, such as schoolmates who simply want to tear her down; and super-villains who want her (or rather, her alter-ego Lightstorm) dead.

However, while these and other obstacles make Carrie’s journey much, much more difficult, they keep her focused and driven. By trying to deny her what she wants for herself, her challenges only make her more determined.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

Again, taking two related questions at once.

There are two full novels already available: Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins, and Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women. You can read the first two chapters on this website (check out the links on the left), as well as a free short story here.

Work on book three is already underway, and the working title for that is Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect. My goal is to have it finished and out by this fall.

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!

Odds And Ends

With the manuscript for Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women out to my editor, it’s time to move on to the cover, which is proving something of a challenge.

Coming up with a concept for the cover of book one was remarkably simple; it was one of those “it just popped into my head” moments, and even after giving the concept some cooling-off time, to see if it was still a good idea once the thrill that comes with the act of artistic creation died down, it held up. I threw the idea over to my cover artist Tricia Lupien, and she nailed it right away.AF Cover

The cover achieved what I wanted it to achieve: it hinted at the nature of the story without spelling it out. It also avoided the trap I see on so many other novel covers: it wasn’t such an abstract image that it told you absolutely nothing about the story.

It further avoided another trap common to self-published novels, in that it wasn’t absolutely wretched (like these regrettable entries).

Book one was such a cakewalk, I assumed I’d have similar luck with book two, but no. I wanted to utilize the same approach and present a cover that teased the story, but every concept I came up with didn’t stand up to the cooling-off test — mostly because the end result would have been a crowded image. I’m not a great artist, but I grasp composition well enough (thanks in large part to my time at the Kubert School) to know when an image is too cluttered.

While it pains me to do so, I asked Tricia to play with something more general, that drew inspiration from some of the more familiar comic cover tropes (i.e., the hero walking away, as if in defeat, a la “Spider-Man No More!”; or the anguished hero cradling the body of a dead comrade, a la “I love my dead Dark Phoenix!”). The back cover will now serve the intended original purpose of the front.


In case you missed it, which you may have because I didn’t post anything here, the print edition of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins is now available at Barnes & Noble’s website!

AF on BandNLast month I submitted the novel to B&N hoping to have it added to their catalog of in-store items, but apparently its sales need to be better for that. However, they added the book to their website, so I’ll take that as a minor victory.


To tweet or not to tweet is the question I’m asking myself.

Full disclosure, I hate Twitter. I simply don’t get it. It’s like Facebook for the ADD crowd, with the self-absorption factor cranked up to 11. I’m as guilty as anyone for posting trivial fluff on my personal Facebook page, but Twitter, to me, always seems to encourage people to report on their every little activity (“Just peed in nastiest restroom ever #employeesmustbleachself”).

Yet, like any social media outlet, it has a lot of potential as a marketing tool, which is why I encouraged my wife to set up a Twitter account for Storied Threads.

Apparently, a lot of indie writers are turning to Twitter, sometimes in favor of Facebook, to promote their work, mainly because Twitter feeds every post to every follower, unlike Facebook, which decided to monetize news feeds by limiting what people see from pages they’ve liked, thus encouraging people to drop money to expand their posts’ visibility.

The question is, do I take advantage of a viable marketing tool, or cling to my distaste for the Twitter platform?

Of course I’m going to swallow my contempt in order to pimp myself. Duh. Go follow me on Twitter at

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:

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.

Adding To A Character

This Boston Globe piece about a controversial T-shirt got me to thinking a bit about my YA manuscript and how it caused a somewhat similar controversy. Go read the story then come on back.

Twice while reviewing my manuscript for typos, my sister-in-law implored me to abandon a rather small and mostly insignificant character trait for Carrie, the main character in Action Figures: her weak math skills. It’s a stereotype, she said.

Well, perhaps. I did some quick research, and it looks like there is no crystal-clear final word on the common belief that girls do worse in math than boys. A lot of stories and studies I found maintain that is indeed the case, many dispute it, others say it’s conditional on any number of factors (including, no kidding, whether the society in which the girl is raised is “sexist”).

I decided to keep it for two reasons, even though it may raise some hackles.

Carrie is presented as attractive, funny, personable, and, most importantly, intelligent, but a perfect heroine is neither easy to relate to nor much fun to read about (or write, for that matter). She has to have recognizable flaws to be interesting, relatable, and realistic, and her lackluster aptitude at math is one of them — and I dare say that because she is highly skilled at English, is computer literate, and generally a nimble thinker, sucking at math in this context will be more palatable than implying girls suck at math but, as the T-shirt suggests, rock the house when it comes to shopping and dancing.

Reason number two I’ll explain in a more roundabout way.

When Joss Whedon was working on The Avengers, he had the Hulk redesigned. In The Incredible Hulk, the Hulk himself was ripped like a serious bodybuilder, but in The Avengers, he was softer, less defined. Joss explained that by setting the Hulk’s physique at a perpetual 10 as in The Incredible Hulk, he had nowhere to go when he got angry; his physicality was static, whereas in The Avengers, when the Hulk got pissed, his massive muscles became suddenly more sharply defined, a visual cue that his anger (and, if you know the comics at all, his strength) was rising to dangerous levels.

It’s conventional narrative wisdom that a character in a story must undergo a transformation, end the experience different than how he or she began it, or what’s the point of telling the story? If Carrie was good at everything in school, she has one available direction: down. That would have been a legitimate option, but it’s also a legitimate option that she could be less than adept at something and improve, and I just happened to choose math as the subject (but — not to spoil anything — she does in fact boost her grades a little by the end of the book thanks to some knuckling down and studying hard. Stay in school, kids!).

And, really, there are other things going on with Carrie that are more significant, important, and interesting to read (and write) about than how she’s doing in her classes. It’s one small part of a larger whole, and I’m hoping readers don’t get so hung up on Carrie’s math skills that they miss the rest of the story.

Action Figures – What It’s About

Things are in a bit of a holding pattern while I wait for my sister-in-law to finish her final proofread and for my friend Tricia to start on the cover artwork, so I’m going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what my soon-to-be-self-published YA novel Action Figures is about (an what it’s not about).

This is the one-paragraph summary of the novel that led off many a query letter:

Carrie Hauser never expected her parents to get divorced. She never expected to get dragged halfway across the state to start life over in a new town. And she definitely never expected a dying extraterrestrial to give her superhuman powers.

(I hate writing these summaries. They make everything sound so meh.)

But, since I’m not writing a query here, I get to be less formal in describing the concept, so here it goes: Action Figures is a sci-fi edged superhero story focusing on a group of teenager superhero wannabes as they get dumped head-first into their first adventure. The story is told from the perspective of the aforementioned Carrie Hauser, a 15-year-old girl who, as the story opens, is still reeling from her parents’ sudden divorce and getting ready to start her new life in a strange town (“strange” having multiple meanings here).

I chose Carrie as the narrator because, first and foremost, she was by far the most likeable and sympathetic character (and a lot of fun to write), but I also liked the idea of a superhero story featuring a female protagonist.

Joss Whedon once remarked when asked “Why do you like to write strong female characters?”: “Because you’re still asking that question.” That’s especially true in the superhero genre, where male leads outnumber the female leads by a HUGE margin. Batman appears in five titles, Batgirl and Batwoman have one each, and that’s just one of many examples I could cite. The comics industry has gotten better about opening up to female readers, but they still have a long way to go (and, in my opinion, the industry is not doing itself any favors by producing clumsy ‘female-friendly’ fare like Marvel’s new line of teen-friendly romance novels).

One of my goals with Action Figures is to provide a superhero story that is accessible to female readers, especially younger readers, more through providing them with an interesting heroine rather than through some ham-fisted attempt to girly it up. I’m not toning down the action and/or punching up any romantic story elements, I’m just telling a fun superhero adventure story that just happens to star a girl.

I’m also not infusing the story with a heavy-handed morality tale. This is not — at the risk of showing my age — an ABC Afterschool Special. This is not a “very special episode” deal. Sure, it’s somewhat inevitable that the stories will touch on issues that are not unfamiliar to teens, but the adventure elements are not going to take a back seat to exploring the issues-du-jour through the characters. It’s awkward and obvious and detracts from the point of the book, which is to give readers something fun to read.

So, that’s a basic intro to the novel. Down the road I plan to post a couple of sample chapters so folks can get a taste of the story and, hopefully, find it so much to their liking that they want to read the whole thing.