Weekly Update – November 8, 2016

Kind of a quiet week this week.

WRITING PROJECTS

Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins:  Audiobook recording in progress — and is in fact close to done! My narrator had a sudden attack of the ick just as she was getting ready to finish off her recording session and had to take some time to rest and recover her voice. After Jen is done I have to listen to her stuff, take notes on anything I’d like redone, send the notes to her, and give her time to re-record sections, so there is still a lot of process ahead, but we seem to be on-track for releasing this in time for the holidays.

Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play: In the editing process.

Action Figures – Live Free or Die: In the editing process.

Action Figures – Issue Seven: The Black End War: Got some good work in on The Black End War over the past week. I had to put it away for a while to give myself time to lay out the second half of the story, but I have a solid game plan and I’m eager to get the ideas down on metaphorical paper.

Action Figures – Issue Eight: On the back burner for a while so I can focus on book seven. Still toying with subtitles but nothing’s jumping out at me.

Action Figures – Issue Nine: Because I’m a bit of a workaholic, I’ve been working on some rough plotting for book nine, which will feature Dr. Enigma and the return of a couple of old enemies. I’m also planning to transplant a few subplots I’d originally set up for book eight into this story. The subplots in question did not really have time to develop in book eight so I’ll be using them here.

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – book three: Yep, I’m also doing some rough plotting on the next S&L book, which is currently going under the working title of Blades of Glory. Once I have first drafts of AF seven and eight out of the way I plan to get to work on this next.

APPEARANCES and EVENTS

MISC.

Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Cover Artist Spotlight: Tricia Lupien

Here’s a quick little thing over on my Tumblr page spotlighting the art of the AF series by my friend Tricia (apologies to Tumblr followers who are going to end up seeing this twice).

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.

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.

From Hell’s Heart – An Action Figures Short Story

It’s here! The new AF short featuring Dr. Enigma, From Hell’s Heart, is up! You can go read it right now on this page.

EDIT: The broken link is now fixed. Sorry about that!

Remember, next week the Kindle edition of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins goes on sale for 99 cents for three days only, September 9 through 11. Grab it for yourself if you haven’t checked it out, or buy a copy for a friend. The week after that Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women goes on-sale for three days only, then after that, Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect makes its debut!

Pasts Imperfect – Cover Reveal!

First, a quick reminder that an all-new AF short, From Hell’s Heart, featuring Dr. Enigma, will debut tomorrow! The story will be up at 10 AM EST, and hopefully that will tide everyone over nicely until Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect  (now available for pre-order at Amazon) becomes available later this month.

Now onto the big item today, the full, finished front and back covers for AF3, courtesy of my ever-reliable cover artist Patricia Lupien. And check it out: I have my first-ever reviewer blurb on the cover!

BookCover6x9_BW_350_v2

More Announcements Than Humans Should Be Allowed To Have!

September is Action Figures month! I declare now, so mote it be.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00009]

Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect is in its final stages of preparation and is now slated for a September 26 release — which happens to mark one year since Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins debuted! This is still a bit of a tentative date because things can always still go wrong, but that’s what I’m gunning for.

Once I nail the date down a little better, I’ll be taking advantage of Amazon’s new pre-sale feature for indie authors, which means when book three is officially available, it’ll be automatically delivered to your Kindle!

To build up excitement for the release, I’ve got several things planned for the weeks preceding book three’s release…

  • Wednesday, September 3: Action Figures – From Hell’s Heart, a brand new AF short story starring Dr. Enigma, will be posted on this website.
  • Tuesday, September 9 through Thursday, September 11: the Kindle edition of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins will be on sale for 99 cents!
  • Tuesday, September 16 through Thursday, September 18: the Kindle edition of Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women will be on sale for 99 cents!

This is a perfect time for new readers to jump on-board. If you’re already a fan of the series, let your friends know about these upcoming sales, or maybe drop a buck or two yourself and get them as gifts.

I’ll post updates as these benchmarks arrive, so stay tuned!