And it is a happy February, because today begins the five-day free promotion for the Kindle edition of Action Figures – Issue One: Secret Origins. The full novel is available until the end of Friday, February 5, so if you’re a new reader or a current fan who wants to introduce a friend to the series, you can — respectively — pick it up for yourself or send a copy as a gift. Just head on over to Amazon to download it now.
For you readers who are all caught up on the series and have been chomping at the bit for Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups, your patience is about to be rewarded. Tricia began sending me peeks at the cover-in-progress, which is through the preliminary color work stage. Here’s a sneak-peek of the front cover from earlier on in the process…
Yep, it’s a classic “heroes on a rooftop watching over the city they’ve sworn to watch over” shot. Fans of the series will probably recognize the faceless fellow as the Entity, and the hint of a foreground figure you see will be Missy “Kunoichi” Hamill. I’ve seen Tricia’s rough sketch of Missy’s new outfit and I can’t wait to see the finished version of her, and of one of my favorite characters to write, Nina Nitro, who will be on the back cover.
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.
(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
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 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.
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.