Arisia 2016 and the Lessons Learned

This past weekend, J.M. Aucoin and I shared a table in the artist/author alley section of Arisia 2016, a long-running fantasy and sci-fi convention in Boston. This was our first time pimping ourselves out at a major convention, so we had no idea what to expect, on pretty much any level beyond what sort of people would be attending — which is why we took a chance on doing the show, because we figured if nothing else, we’d be surrounded by avid readers with a taste for non-mainstream fiction.

Sleepy Authors
Justin and I by the third day of the show. Sleep was the enemy. Caffeine was our friend.

It was a long four days, and while neither of us made enough money to allow us to run around our homes pumping fists full of cash in the air while chanting “USA! USA!” we did well enough to warrant making plans to go back next year, armed with some valuable lessons that’ll hopefully lead to greater financial success. Sorry to sound so mercenary, but realistically, money is and always shall be a factor here.

Some of the things I know I learned…

Stay for the whole show. Stay for the whole show. For the love of Cthulhu, STAY FOR THE WHOLE SHOW.

Our area was supposed to have eight or so tables for other writers and small artisans. We had that many tables, but few of them remained full throughout the weekend. One artist stayed for two and a half hours on Friday and then left, never to return (bear in mind that Friday is NOT a great business day here, as the con is only open for a few hours in the evening and most folks use that time to check in, get a lay of the land, and scout out where the good parties are). Another showed up very late Saturday and didn’t bother to come back Sunday or Monday. People running a bake sale didn’t stick around for more than three hours either Saturday or Sunday, and never showed up Monday. Even those who did show up for all days tended to close up shop well before closing.

I understand the frustration of sitting there, watching people go by, sometimes without ever even glancing at your table, but you can’t sell your stuff if you aren’t there to sell it. Justin and I both made sales within the last ten minutes of the last day, as did our author neighbor Calandra Usher (who, along with Jim McDonald, completed our happy little literary corner). Leaving early shows poor business sense.

It’s also inconsiderate to the neighbors. When con-goers see too much empty space, they go the other way, which doesn’t help those who stick it out — and those of us who did stick it out already had challenges to overcome…

Location, Location, Location

The artist/author alley area was, for reasons too complicated to go into here, moved out of the vendor area proper and into an escalator landing — which, to be fair, wasn’t an awful space. Anyone entering or leaving the vendor area had to use those escalators or the nearby elevator, so everyone saw us. However, we were back against the wall, which gave people more than enough space to skirt by us and never get within pitch range.

And I admit this is probably a matter of personal perception, it often felt like the traffic was never as heavy as it was in the vendor area proper, where my wife was set up (Storied Threads, plug plug). Justin and I already spoke to the area manager, who was very receptive, so perhaps next year we’ll get a table in the vendor area proper.

And Here’s the Pitch…

Once we caught someone’s eye, we had a precious second or two to draw them in. Justin was much better at this than I was because he’s more outgoing than I am, so I know I have to raise my game here. Once they got to the table, we had to pitch our books in a manner that enticed the potential customer into buying but wasn’t pushy. I hate hard sell tactics. They always turn me off, especially when there’s a whiff of guilt-tripping involved (“If you don’t buy my stuff, I can’t pay my mortgage!” — and yes, I have in fact heard that exact pitch before).

We had our “elevator pitches” down pretty well, but they could use some improvement. I know mine could stand to be more informational and less generic.

Justin gets interviewed for the TyroTV YouTube channel.
Justin gets interviewed for the TyroTV YouTube channel.


While I had no idea what to expect at the show, I definitely did not expect to be interviewed twice, or approached by someone in the early planning stages of a convention focusing on non-mainstream fiction, or meet a freelance editor looking to make connections within the indie author community. Thank god we had a ton of business cards to hand out.

However, I can’t help but feel we missed out on some other networking opportunities, opportunities we initiated rather than received. Something to think about.

Price Matters?

One of our big hurdles was the fact we were selling print editions of our books, which cost more and our less likely to inspire impulse purchases…or so we thought. People were surprisingly willing to cough up $12 or so for a full-length novel, more so than they were to pay $5 for Justin’s Jake Hawking short story collection; he moved more copies of Honor Among Thieves than the Hawking omnibus.

Nevertheless, I have a project in the works to create my own low-cost book to serve as an introduction to my two series, for the benefit of those who are intrigued enough to look into my work but might not feel like making a serious investment.

I also plan to take a page from Calandra and Jim’s metaphorical books and look into selling e-book editions of my work directly at cons.

“It’s you!”

The high point of the weekend came when a man came wandering toward our table, his eyes fixed on my display banner, and asked me, excitedly, “Are you Michael Bailey?” He was a fan of the Action Figures series — and, as it turns out, knew my cover artist Tricia back in high school. I’ve never been fanboyed over before. It was both extremely flattering and incredibly surreal.

The Recognition Factor

Justin and I got a hint of how powerful a social media presence can be. Perfect strangers recognized Justin from his Tumblr account, while my book covers got an ongoing response of, “Wow, those look really familiar!” In both cases, it helped attract people to our table who might otherwise keep on walking. Now we have to find ways to increase that recognition factor so we can parlay it into sales.


Cyber Monday Deals, Announcements, and Updates!

Final cover art for "The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot - Scratching a Lich." Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien.

Happy Cyber Monday, shoppers! Hope everyone had a good holiday and none of you had to work on Black Friday.

First up in my self-promotion-filled post for today is a reminder that the Kindle edition of The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot: Scratching a Lich is on sale today only for 99 cents! Get it for yourself or as a gift for someone who enjoys their fantasy tales with a healthy dose of humor.

If swashbuckling fiction is more your speed, fellow author J.M. Aucoin’s books Honor Among Thieves (Hope & Steel Book 1) and Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters (A Jake Hawking Adventure Collection Book 1) are also on sale today for 99 cents.

Now, back to me, with some updates on upcoming books.

First, Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups has, unfortunately, been pushed back again. I apologize for the delays, but this is an unavoidable pitfall of life as an indie author. The book itself is done, but the cover art is in-process as time permits. My awesome artist, Tricia Lupien, has other professional and personal responsibilities that sometime take precedence over my needs, and in the art world, there’s a saying: “Do you want in now, or do you want it good?” I’d always prefer quality over speed, so I’m happy to give Tricia the time she needs to live up to her own high standards.

Team-Ups is now slated for an early January release, so you’ll have something nice to spend your Amazon gift cards on (hint). I’ll be posting preview chapters in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!

Next, I’m happy to report that over the holiday weekend, I wrapped up the first draft of Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play, and began work on what I’m calling, for now, Issue Six-Point-Five, which will be released as a short story on this website. Be advised, it’ll be a while before it sees the light of day. Specifically, it will be released after Action Figures – Issue Seven: The Black End War, which is tentatively set for a spring 2017 release.

I know, I’m a miserable tease.

It’s Not Always About Me

Just a quick post today, because I’ll be spending most of the day at Hartford ComicCon, scouting the place with my wife as possible vending venue for Storied Threads next year.

Yesterday I assaulted everyone with news about the release of The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot, so today I’m giving some space to a couple of my fellow indie authors so you can learn about their stuff.

First, my friend J.M. Aucoin’s Jake Hawking collection, Jake Hawking and the Bounty Hunters, is on sale for one week at 99 cents to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which starts today (arrr, yo ho). Click on the cover image below to jump to Amazon and order that.

And then Mark Aberdeen has just released the second installation of his Dex Territory series, Knight and Dex. Once again, click the cover image below to go spend some money on him.

If you absolutely must indulge your need for Strongarm & Lightfoot, the best way to do that (aside from pre-ordering the Kindle book, hint) is to hit artist Patricia Lupien’s RedBubble store and pick up something with her awesome cover art on it. It looks something like this:

Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien
Art and Copyright Patricia Lupien


October Book Fair(e)

CTRF AuthorsBeware! Multiple cheap plugs ahead!

Today is the last day to grab advance tickets for the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, which begins on October 3 and runs for four weekends at the North Haven Fairgrounds in (duh) North Haven (double duh), Connecticut. I bring this up for several reasons, many of which are shamelessly self-serving.

For starters, it’s a fun show and a great day out for the whole family. Many, many of my friends will be there performing in one capacity or another, my wife will be vending her awesome wares, and seven different authors — including me — will be there to sell and sign copies of their books. Here’s the complete schedule for your planning pleasure:

  • Saturday, October 3: Erin Thorne (Losers and Their Friends; Deals Diabolical)
  • Sunday, October 4: Michael Bailey (self-explanatory, I think)
  • Saturday, October 10: R.A. Salvatore (the Drizzt Do’Urden novels)
  • Sunday, October 11: E.A. Rappaport (the Legends of the Four Races series)
  • Monday, October 12: J.M. Aucoin (Honor Among Thieves; the Jake Hawking series)
  • Saturday, October 17: A.L. Davroe (the Tricksters series)
  • Saturday, October 24: Deborah Ann Davis (the Love of Fairs series)

Check out the CTRF authors series page for updates.

Author Interview – J.M. Aucoin Discusses “Honor Among Thieves”

Hey, folks. My friend Justin is getting ready to release his new book, Honor Among Thieves (Hope & Steel Book 1), which is now available for pre-order for the Kindle. Here he is to tell everyone about it!

JustinTell everyone about the new book and what inspired the story.

Honor Among Thieves is the first book in the Hope & Steel series. It takes place in early 17th Century France, during King Henry IV’s reign and about a decade after the French religious wars ended.

In the book, we follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, and Jacquelyna Brocquart, a lady-in-waiting for Queen Marie de Medici. Both are unwillingly thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown and could throw France back into chaos and civil war.

As for inspiration, I’ve always been a huge fan of swashbucklers and the historical adventure genre. I’m a carnivore of all things Three Musketeers. I love the high adventure, the weaving of fictional plots with historical events, and the camaraderie of the characters. I’m also a fan of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series, which is full of swordplay, history, and a dash of realism. So I tried combining both into the Hope & Steel series. You get a lot of high adventure in the plots but with the gritty realism of life of 17th Century France and all its consequences.

Your previous releases (the Jake Hawking books) were all short stories. What drove you to tackle a full-length novel?

It’s funny, Honor Among Thieves gave birth to the Jake Hawking Adventures in some ways. I was in the middle of a major re-write for Honor Among Thieves and I was getting a little frustrated with the process. I was struggling to fill major plot holes and I was second guessing myself on what point of views to keep and what to cut. I needed to step away from the project, but I also hate going too long without writing anything. I need to feel productive or I get grumpy. So I decided to write a few piratical short stories. Nothing serious. Nothing grim. Just fun, light-hearted tales. And voila! Jake Hawking, Little Queen, and the crew of the Broad-Wing were born.

Doing the Hawking stories also gave me my first taste at self-publishing, which was good. The trio of short-stories and then the omnibus collection let me ease into the industry and figure things out without like hiring a cover artist and formatting for Kindle and Createspace.

But it’s always been my plan to write full-length novels.

Is this the first in a series for this character or a stand-alone novel?

This is the first book in what I hope becomes a long-lasting series. I have the first four books more or less outlined in my head, but I’m hoping for a long and prosperous career of fighting for Darion and company.

This is your first new release in more than a year (since Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters (A Jake Hawking Adventure Collection Book 1), released in April 2014). What took so long?

Rewrites. Day job. Procrastination. Take your pick!

Honor Among Thieves has been about three or four years in the making. It was the first full-length novel I actually completed (I had tried and failed at completing novels a few times prior), so there was a lot of problems with the first draft. It was way too long (140K words), and the second half of the novel didn’t really jive with the first half. It was a perfect case of the story taking a life of its own and running away from my outline.

So I basically torched the first draft and started over. I thought I would be able to use large chunks of the original copy in the second draft, but I think I rewrote about 90% of the book. In the middle of all this is when I took a break and let Hawking come to life. Then I went back and finished it. Sent it out to test readers. Went over their feedback and then hunted for an editor, which was a bit of a nightmare in itself. Finding one that was good and also in my budget was tough. It’s one of the harder parts of being a self-pub author.

I really wanted this book to come out last October, but I also didn’t want to rush things. Delaying it eight months was the right course, I think.

And, of course, I still need a day job to pay the bills, so that’s 8-10 hours of possible writing time gone. I get writing in during my lunch break and I try to do some writing after work, but some days the brain won’t have it, so an hour or two might be all that I get done. It makes getting projects done a slow process.

How research-intensive was this story?

A lot. I wanted to fictional characters to interact with historical figures and weave fictional plots into real world events. I also wanted to paint a picture of what France was like in 1609, and not just what we all assume it was like because of the movies. So to do that I needed to do a good amount of research into what was happening and who was in charge and doing what, and who liked (or didn’t like) who, etc. for this time period.

Amazingly, my local library (Boston Public) didn’t have a lot of books on King Henry IV of France or that time period. It seems to be a very un-sexy era for researchers. However, I did find a lot of research material via Google Books that I was able to download for free. I found about 10 books from Google Books in total and bought a couple of more online and in local bookshops. I also looked for maps of France and Paris from around the time, so I could get street names and bridge names correct for the early 17th Century.

Readers shouldn’t take my portrayals of historical characters as gospel, but a lot of research went into this swashbuckler to get things right. I want to get people interested in the era and have them do their own research after.

I’m going to assume there are plenty of action sequences. What was your process for putting those together?

What’s a swashbuckler without a little action, eh?

There’s a good amount of fighting in this novel. Far more steel is brandished in Honor Among Thieves than in the Jake Hawking Adventures. Darion’s a former soldier turned highwayman; he’s young, proud, and can be hot tempered. Drawing steel is how problems get solved in his life – for better or worse.

But unsheathing one’s sword is a serious affair. You don’t draw your rapier unless you were absolutely certain you were ready to use it. It’s not like modern Olympic fencing or even HEMA/SCA rapier combat. It meant life or death.

So I try to approach my action scenes in the same way. I don’t just throw in a fight scene for the sake of a fight scene being there. Action scenes need to serve a purpose in fiction. It needs to convey some new information about a character, solve (or create) a problem, or further the story somehow.

We have to talk about the cover, because it’s pretty kick-ass. Did you have any input on the concept, or was it all left to your cover artist?

HAT Cover

I absolutely love this cover. Graham Sternberg made it for me. He’s a good friend of mine from my fencing circle and also a fantastic artist, so he was perfect for the job.

The concept of the cover was a little of my idea and a lot of Graham’s idea. When we started talking about what the cover should be, I wasn’t sure what I wanted it in terms of action and setting, but I knew what I wanted the overall feel and tone of the cover to be. I wanted the cover to convey the action and sense of urgency of the story, and I knew I wanted it to look like a painting. I wanted the brush strokes and the roughness of a not-so-quite-finished painting to be seen. I also wanted more jewel and earth tones, so it would be a little different looking than the Hawking covers, which use a lot of primary colors.

So that was my main contribution. Graham did the rest. He came up with idea of doing a wrap-around cover, so the front and back is one artwork – which I loved. He drew up about half a dozen pencil sketches of ideas based off the plot of the book. From there I chose the ones I liked and gave some feedback based on what I saw and he would go do what he did best until we had the final design.

What’s the next project?

Got a few projects in the works, all at different stages.

I have a stand-alone pirate revenge story that’s about 20K words in. I think that’ll be my “I need to work on something different” project when other stories are becoming obstacles. I have an idea for a pulp mystery/suspense series that I’m aiming to work on – at least for a little bit – in the fall. I think that’ll be a novella length project. And I’m world building, off and on, for a possible fantasy series, but I don’t expect to actually write that for some time.

Of course, once Honor Among Thieves is published I’ll start the second book in the series. I have a general outline all set; it’s just a matter of filling in the details of the plot. There are some bread crumbs in book one that’ll lead to book two.

I think I have the classic dilemma of too many ideas, not enough time!

Shopping Small: The Indie Author Edition

Over on my personal Facebook page, I indulged in what has become an annual tradition, in which I pimp out my many creative friends’ small business endeavors and exhort folks to spend some holiday cash with them instead of big box stores that dupe you into getting up at the ass crack o’ dawn on Black Friday so you can fight massive mobs for a limited quantity of deep-discount sale items.

I’ve decided to do something similar here for the benefit of my many indie author buddies, as well as for anyone who might be looking for some new hidden gem of a book. Click on the images to jump to (or the appropriate direct sale site) to grab a copy.


Obviously I’ll start with my own books, but I won’t belabor the point since 99 percent of this blog is dedicated to that. Go here and you’ll fund all the links you need to grab any or all of the Action Figures series, or check out this post to learn how you can grab signed copies.


Jake Hawking and the Bounty Hunters – J.M. Aucoin

SYNOPSIS: The Caribbean. 1715. Jake Hawking — pirate, rogue, and scourge of the Spanish Main — is known for his quick blade and cunning wit. It’s earned him some friends in the Caribbean, but it’s also earned him his fair share of enemies. The governor of Havana has hired three of the most dangerous bounty hunters in the West Indies to track and capture Hawking and his crew. It’s not an unusual predicament for a pirate to find himself — hunted to the end of his days — but if the Spanish governor manages to persuade the lot to fly under a single banner, it could make life a little more interesting than Hawking wishes.

With the giant ex-slave Little Queen and the rest of Hawking’s crew aboard the snow-brig Broad-Wing, they’ll need every ounce of wit, sail, and steel if they’re to survive and out duel the bounty hunters. Included in the collection are the first three Jake Hawking short adventures — “A Pirate’s Honor”, “The Royal Bounty Hunter”, and “Little Queen’s Gambit” — previously only available as eBooks (also available on Amazon). This edition also includes a foreword by J.M. Aucoin, the original single story artwork, and four bonus pirate stories and swashbuckling poems.

Inspired by the swashbuckler tales of the early 1900s as well as the likes of Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks, the Jake Hawking Adventures promise to thrill readers with swordplay, daring, intrigue, and plenty of high adventure.


The Stocking Dead – Dean Calusdian


A sleighful of pop culture satire and a splattering of the zombie genre, The Stocking Dead will chew at your funny bone and gnaw on your heart strings.

It’s the day before Christmas and all the elves of christmasville are getting ready for santa’s big ride, but one of Santa’s helpers isn’t so merry.

Nothing ever goes right for poor little Wendell. Bored at his job, picked on by the toy shop bully and unnoticed by the elf of his dreams he hopes that somehow this Christmas will be different.

His problems are about to get worse. Much worse.

When a bite from a toxic bunny starts turning all the residents of Christmasville into flesh eating fiends, Santa’s winter wonderland becomes an undead wasteland.Wendell and a small band of survivors must desperately attempt to escape the carnage, but the zombie plague is spreading faster than Christmas cheer.

With all hope dwindling, it’s up to our holiday heroes to save Christmas, but can they even save themselves?

Wight Christmas – Rob Borkowski

SYNOPSIS: Wight Christmas, a flash fiction short, tells a cautionary tale of the consequences of interfering with holiday spirit.

Saving Christmas: A Feel Good Macabre Tale – Jess MacLean, Dan Desilets, Rhiannon McCulloch

SYNOPSIS: It’s all your fault. You could have stopped this from happening. Belief in Santa Claus begins to fade and Christmas is in jeopardy. Santa is despondent and his well meaning elves take it upon themselves to “Save Christmas”. Try to remember that their hearts are in the right place as the blood begins to fly.

Saving Christmas is a lighthearted romp through the “Feel-Good Macabre” genre. As you laugh, sigh and cringe your way through this delightfully grim tale, remember this. You are just as awful as we are for enjoying it.


Ricky’s Spooky House – Micah Edwards, Tom Brown

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the greatest storytellers ever, and you’d like to share him with your kids. But isn’t he too scary? No longer!

Ricky’s Spooky House, the first in the Li’l Eddie series of books, is a retelling of Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher. The beautiful pictures and entertainingly tamed story would horrify Poe, but will delight children and parents alike.

Saving Santa’s Seals – T.M. Murphy, Adam Taylor

SYNOPSIS: When 8-year-old Ryder asks Santa to help his Uncle Ted overcome writer’s block and create another amazing story, he cannot know that they’ll both be getting the best present ever–a wild adventure. But is it real, or just a wonderful Christmas dream?


The Life and Death of Lily Drake – T. Michelle Nelson

SYNOPSIS: For Lily Drake, slaying vampires is easy…Dating them is the hard part. Lily Drake is your everyday hard-working single mom…until a gorgeous vampire shows up on her front door who she mistakenly assumes is her blind date for the evening. As one crazy scenario after another unfolds, Lily finds herself falling in love with two vampires, slaying the evil ones, and being prophesied as the savior of the entire undead race.

Deciding between pizza and Chinese take-out will no longer be one of the hard decisions facing Lily Drake once she is immersed into vampire society. Humanity or immortality? That doesn’t hold a candle against this question – which of the two handsome vampire cousins? The Life and Death of Lily Drake is not your typical vampire love story. It’s a tale about the humorous mistakes a woman makes simply trying to survive not only life, but the dating scene. How will Lily manage working full-time, taking care of her young son and fighting the undead at every turn? Lily will have to figure it out, but who better to save the world than a mom?


Mobster’s Girl – Amy Rachiele

SYNOPSIS: Gripping my chest is the only way to hold myself together or what’s left of me will fall out. The past week has enlightened me on one thing-I don’t care. Megan, Mobster’s Girl I didn’t even hesitate. I took two strides and blasted him in the face with my fist. He was ready for it this time-unlike in church. He tried to hit me back but I ducked and smashed him again. Antonio, Mobster’s Girl You can’t help what family you’re born into or what lies they keep from you. You can’t help it if they mold and shape you just the way they wanted. Are monsters born or made? Antonio and Megan have a timeless issue. They were told to stay away from each other. They try, they really do. But they are drawn to each other. Antonio is eighteen and the up and coming mob boss of Palmetto, New Jersey. Megan is a girl uprooted from the grassy plains of Ireland at the age of five. Now she’s seventeen and faced with horrors she never thought existed.


WHACKED – Scott Kegler

SYNOPSIS: A full-length comedic play, “Whacked” follows the life of Jack Murphy, whose wife walks in on a private moment and makes an embarrassing discovery the night before Thanksgiving. The next day, all the in-laws come to celebrate and promptly notice something is not quite right in the Murphy’s little love nest, so they decide to play the parental guessing game. The family of course overshoots numerous times causing the pressure to mount and explode into an array of immoral confessions, misguided religious interventions and plenty of excessive holiday drinking. A Thanksgiving farce stuffed full of sex, family, awkwardness and hilariously needless shame. In the end, the message is clear that (of course) everyone is blameless for their own self-gratification— but that doesn’t make it good dinner conversation.

Boston ComicCon!

I spent my weekend working Boston ComicCon with my wife, and as always, the cosplay watching was one of my favorite parts.

My now-autographed copy of Solo Avengers #12, featuring Amanda Conner's first published work.
My now-autographed copy of Solo Avengers #12, featuring Amanda Conner’s first published work.


Before I get to that, I have to share my happy fanboy moment. Writer/artist Amanda Conner, one of my favorite comic artists, was at the con, so I dug out my copy of Solo Avengers #12, which features her very first published work. This is an original copy, which I’ve held on to throughout the years (and through several comic collection purges) because I really liked her art — so much so that I wrote to Marvel and praised her work. Marvel ran the letter three issues later.

I have no idea why her artwork struck me like it did, I just knew Amanda would one day be big in the industry, and that I had to keep that comic no matter what.

I brought both to the con for Amanda to sign, and when I presented her with the issue with my letter, she exclaimed, “I remember that letter!” Apparently, I had authored her very first fan letter. She signed that issue too, adding a very nice inscription. I guess this stands as an object lesson to people trying to make a career of their art: a few sincere words of encouragement from a complete stranger can be very powerful.

Amanda Conner's note to me. You can see my name at the top edge of the photo.
Amanda Conner’s note to me. You can see my name at the top edge of the photo.

Now, onto the cosplayers. BCC wasn’t quite as cosplayer-heavy as some other shows, but they were out in force. Here are some of my favorites…

My favorite costumes of the show. The really cool part? They were two individual cosplayers who just happened to bump into each other.
My favorite costumes of the show. The really cool part? They were two individual cosplayers who just happened to bump into each other.
My friend Laura as Pepper Potts (on the right, obviously).
My friend Laura as Pepper Potts (on the right, obviously).
My friends Lara (who, cheap plug, runs Black Cat Tours in Salem) and Kate as two iterations of Captain Marvel.
My friends Lara (who, cheap plug, runs Black Cat Tours in Salem) and Kate as two iterations of Captain Marvel.
Kate again as Black Widow (bonus fun fact: she is Russian, and she can kick your ass), my buddy Justin (the Jake Hawking series) in his award-winning Assassin's Creed outfit, and some guy who shouted "Geronimo!" a lot. Weirdo.
Kate again as Black Widow (bonus fun fact: she is Russian, and she can kick your ass), my buddy Justin (the Jake Hawking series) in his award-winning Assassin’s Creed outfit, and some guy who shouted “Geronimo!” a lot. Weirdo.
Arya Stark, complete with Needle and Nymeria.
Arya Stark, complete with Needle and Nymeria.
A very cool and subtle Kamala "Ms. Marvel" Khan.
A very cool and subtle Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan.
My favorite part of Mad Magazine!
My favorite part of Mad Magazine!
Usagi Yojimbo. Please note the raised eyebrow. I love little touches like that.
Usagi Yojimbo. Please note the raised eyebrow. I love little touches like that.
My wife with one of the many Deadpools. Head to for the full story on their meeting.
My wife with one of the many Deadpools. Head to for the full story on their meeting.

Sharing The Love: Jake Hawking & The Bounty Hunters

See that cover, the one below this paragraph? That’s the cover for my friend J.M. Aucoin’s new Jake Hawking omnibus, Jake Hawking and the Bounty Hunters.

The book collects his three Jake Hawking short stories and adds some new material. This is the first time the stories are available in print format, so if you’re not a fan of e-books (like me), you can finally read the stories. Just click the image and it’ll take you to Amazon, where you can spend you money wisely.

PS: When you’re done reading it, go leave a review. Seriously. Indie authors benefit greatly from positive reviews, so don’t slack off.

Anatomy Of A Bad Cover

cover-lowrestrimCover art has been on my mind a lot lately. As previously mentioned in this blog, I rather agonized over the cover concept for Action Figures – Issue Two: Black Magic Women; I noted the conceptual similarities between the covers of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins (by my artist Tricia Lupien) and the forthcoming issue of Ms. Marvel (by Annie Wu); and my buddy J.M Aucoin recently unveiled the cover art for his upcoming Jake Hawking omnibus (which, I add, I am looking forward to, since I am not a big e-book reader).

Cover art is a pretty critical element of the final novel package, and an element that a lot of novice authors overlook or ignore. Pop over to Lousy Book Covers and you’ll see how wrong covers can go, and I think that will serve as enough of an explanation as to why good covers are important. I mean, would you pick up any of those books?

Comic Book Resources recently posted a harsh, but dead-on, analysis of the cover for the newest relaunch of DC Comics’ Teen Titans. At first glance, the artwork (by Kenneth Rocafort) looks pretty damn cool, but CBR delves into its flaws in terms of concept, composition, and how it presents its characters — in particular Wonder Girl, who CBR maintains is sexualized to a ridiculous degree. It’s hard to disagree.

Teen Titans CoverThe background clearly suggests a high school setting is involved, and the book is called Teen Titans, so it’s not unreasonable to assume we’re looking at a teenage girl — and teenage girls do not look like that (not without the benefit of no small amount of plastic surgery).

It’s easy to dismiss criticism of Wonder Girl’s look as pointless fretting over sexed-up comic book females because that’s what comic book females look like, they’re idealized versions of real women, so shut up already and enjoy the book for what it is, but chances are, the people saying that are all guys who like their super-heroines to look like Victoria’s Secret models, but that’s one reason why such representations are so subversive: they send a message to readers that this is the norm for female characters.

This cover is the latest misstep for DC Comics’ “New 52” relaunch, which also shrank Starfire’s already skimpy costume, reimagined Harley Quinn as a pole dancer, and turned Amanda Waller, one of DC’s best characters, period, from a big, middle-aged African-American woman into a young, skinny, sexy African-American woman, because reasons.

Someone needs to show DC the memo that girls and women read comics too. Better yet, they need to show them Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel and show them how to do a character redesign right.


A Game Of Questions

My friend and fellow writer J.M. Aucoin recently finished reading Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins, and he asked me to participate in a little author Q&A, something he’s done with other indie authors. That Q&A session is now up at his official website.JMAucoin

Not one to let it go at that, I decided to reciprocate, and get Justin chatting about his Jake Hawking shorts, his novel project, writing in general, and personal hygiene. Here’s what he had to say…

Pirates, huh? Why pirates? What makes piratical fiction attractive to you as a writer, and what makes them attractive to readers?

For me it’s the swashbuckling. I grew up on reruns of Guy William’s Zorro and Disney’s 1993 adaption of The Three Musketeers and in both cases it’s good defeating evil at the end of a sword. And for a five-year-old Justin, that was enthralling. I must’ve gone as Zorro for Halloween for five years straight as a kid (not that much has changed in my adulthood).

But I think people enjoy pirate stories and other swashbucklers because it’s a classic form of escapism. It allows readers to go back in time and vicariously live a life of adventure and danger without having to put their own lives on the line. The stories tend to be pretty romanticized – especially pirate tales – and full of fun action. Armed with just a rapier and a dagger, characters in swashbucklers can change the world, and that’s a very tantalizing idea for folks. 

Why did you start out with short stories first? Why not go for a full-length novel? 

It sort of came for two reasons.

I had two novels already written but they weren’t in publishing shape. One of them is still in editing mode and the other is archived for the time being. Editing and revising the novel was going terribly slow last summer – to the point of frustration — so I decided to work on something new. I had just finished reading The Fortunes of Captain Blood, a collection of pirate short-stories by Rafael Sabatini. I was thoroughly inspired to start my own pirate series in Blood tradition – a pirate who out-wits his opponent and not just blows them to pieces with his cannon.

The second reason was I wanted to give self-publishing a try. My writer-friend Jack Badelaire has had great success with his World War II action series, and it inspired me to give it a shot myself. I figured a smaller project would be easier to start off with. Something a little more contained to help me figure out the self-publishing ropes and how to go from a first draft to a final product. But titles sell titles, so I decided three short-stories would perform better than just the one in terms of sales. 

Speaking of novel-length works, what’s going on with that project? Give us your sales pitch, and when do expect to make it available? 

Oh, man. Soon I hope. The first draft was good, but needed a lot of work in some areas, so the first half is being rebuilt from the ground up. I’m hoping once I get to the second half it’ll be more revising and less rewriting. So that’s still on going. If all goes well, I’m hoping to make a deal with the devil to get it out this summer. *fingers crossed*

As for what it’s about… it’s the first in what I hope becomes a long swashbuckling adventure series. First novel is tentatively titled Honor Amongst Thieves. It takes place in France during the early portion of the 17th Century under King Henry IV’s reign. France is still healing from the Wars of Religion and is on the verge of becoming a major political power in Europe. Our hero, a soldier turned highwayman, gets a little more than he bargained for during a midnight hold up in the countryside. Soon he’s pulled into political court conspiracies and finds himself well over his head. I’ve tried mixing the grittiness of the Captain Alatriste series with the high adventure of The Three Musketeers. So folks can expect a lot of swordplay and some political intrigue. 

Back to the Jack Hawking series. You mentioned a possible omnibus edition collecting the three shorts. How’s that coming along? 

Still the plan, but things hit a snag last summer. I hired someone to do the cover art (different artist than who did the solo covers) for the collection as a way to make it stand out from the solo bits. But months went by and the cover never got completed. So now I need to go back and find someone else to do the cover art.

And therein lies one of the great challenges of self-publishing – juggling multiple projects at once. Since I’m editing Honor Amongst Thieves and the Hawking solo shorts are doing well, creating a collection edition is a bit lower on the priority list.

I should probably go and do that soon, eh?

Jake Hawking Series

The character of Little Queen seems to be a favorite, both for you as a writer and among fans? What’s the attraction? And where did the character come from? 

She was a happy mistake in some ways. I originally wrote Little Queen as a male. I wanted to create this large, former-slave turned pirate who was called Little Queen by the slavers and her fellow slaves as a way of further demeaning and emasculating him. He was supposed to be the silent but deadly type who overlooked Hawking’s safety. But I used the pronoun “him” only once in the first draft of A Pirate’s Honor, so a few beta readers read him as a her.

And it was love at first sight…

The character took a whole new level of awesome and became more interesting and compelling to me as a woman. She’s not only a female pirate, but also a former slave, so she’s been through a lot emotionally and physically. She’s also highly feared and respected among the rest of Hawking’s crew and other pirates to the point that buccaneers seek her out to try to prove their own prowess. She’s second in command on the Broad-Wing and the crew recognizes this and has no qualms with it. It may be a bit of a modern sentiment, but I’m writing for a modern audience. And woman pirates are far from being pirate myth, too. Anne Bonny and Mary Read being the most famous lady freebooters known to history, but there’s also William Brown, a black woman sailor who pretended to be a man in the service of the Royal Navy. She had quite the remarkable career, as well.

What I love most about Little Queen, though, is she action-focused. She’s a shoot first, ask questions later type. One reader described her as a pirate version of Xena because of her fighting prowess and the myth that proceeds her wherever she goes, which I love. And her demeanor is a perfect complement to Jake Hawking who prefers to use his wit before his sword. So I think people enjoy the dynamic she and Hawking have, and appreciate the deep and platonic friendship they share. Little Queen’s life as a slave has made her very untrusting of folk, but she’s also extremely loyal to her friends, so she’s a complicated and exciting character to explore as a writer, and as a reader.

I have big plans in store for Little Queen.

We were talking recently about the challenges of writing action sequences. How do you approach action scenes? Do you map them out in advance, or let them happen organically as you write? 

Pretty organically. I’ll know how it’s supposed to end more or less, and any major points in the skirmishes, and sometimes I’ll get ideas for really cool fight sequence as I’m drifting to sleep, but I let the action scenes write themselves for the most part. Of course, sometimes the fights go differently than I first envision it, but that’s part of the fun of writing, right? Watching as your characters take over your story. I try to make each character I write have their own fighting style, their own tendencies, and preferred weapons. And their personalities and emotional state can be seen in the fights – if I’m doing it right, anyways.

Writing ship to ship battles is a bit more challenging, mostly because it’s hard to write naval battles without double entendres creeping onto the page. Editing those out at least make me chuckle as I hit the delete key. 

Follow-up question: when you write swordfights, do your backgrounds in stage combat and fencing – and, what the hell, hockey – come into play? 

Oh yea. Definitely. And it’s a balance between both worlds, too. I study and practice period fencing manuals, so I have a strong knowledge of the technical skills and terminology used in the era. But if I were to just describe a sword fight using strictly that knowledge, the fights would be very dull and too technical for the average reader to enjoy. So I steal the basic idea from stage combat in that the fight needs to tell a story in itself. Even with swashbucklers, where sometimes guys with flashing blades come out of the woodworks, random fights shouldn’t happen – or rarely happen anyways. There needs to be a reason for the fight, and the readers should learn something about the characters in that fight.

At the same time, it’s historical fiction, and die-hard readers of the genre love those tiny details, and some are pretty fluent in the ways of period fighting. You want to quench their thirst, too. So it’s a balance between the two, though I tend to learn heavier on stage combat background because of its entertainment value, and sprinkle in period fencing as a garnish.

Alas, not so much with my hockey background, though maybe I’ll write a fight scene where Little Queen hipchecks someone into a bartop and then she, Hawking, and the Broad-Wing crew drop the gauntlets for a good ol’ fashion donnybrook. 

Best film adaptation of The Three Musketeers, and the worst, and why respectively?BBC Three Musketeers 

Do miniseries count? If so, the 1966 BBC adaption is the most accurate book to film adaption. They actually have all the musketeers’ servants in the movie and, hell, Brian Blessed is Porthos. And when I say Brian Blessed is Porthos, I mean that he is Porthos. It’s like Dumas wrote the character knowing that it’d be the perfect role for Blessed.

If we’re disqualifying miniseries because it can do the book in 10 or so segments, than I’d have to go with Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers or Gene Kelly’s The Three Musketeers. Kelly might be my favorite d’Artganan and Oliver Reed my favorite Athos. Those two movies do a great job are translating the book to a two-hour movie without it feeling like huge gaps of the plot are missing.

As for the worst adaption, that might have to be The 4 Musketeers. It’s a French adaption in with a sci-fi/fantasy twist. In that movie, Milady de Winter does die at the hands of Athos, but she made a deal with the devil, literally. So she comes back from the dead and has super natural powers. D’Artagnan also has this white falcon that brings him good luck or something, Richelieu is a crazy catlady (that’s actually historically accurate, though; he had upwards of 14 cats!), and the musketeer cassock looks like a graduation gown. The English voiceovers are also atrocious, as is the sound effects. It’s really just all around awful.

We’ll put it this way. My fiancé isn’t allowed to make me watch Manos: Hands of Fate again and I’m not allowed to make her rewatch The 4 Musketeers.

Also, Asylum’s modern take on the musketeers is downright awful, but with a charm that only Asylum can achieve.

Neither of us shave very often, but I think you shave less frequently than I do. What’s up with that? You know it makes you look like a hobo, right?


Now that you know Justin better, go read A Pirate’s Honor (A Jake Hawking Adventure) on the Kindle — only 99 cents!