Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play Sneak Preview!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my editor Julie finished her work on Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play, and I spent Saturday implementing her corrections and suggestions. I have yet to do a final read-through and polish, but it’s ready enough to give you all a taste of what’s coming in a couple of months!

SPOILER ALERT! Don’t read this if you haven’t read Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups!

***

First, the official back cover text:

One of our super-heroes is missing.

It took a devastating attack on Kingsport to reunite the Hero Squad, but their reunion proves short-lived after Lightstorm vanishes following the battle, leaving the team without its most powerful member at the worst possible time.

Damage Inc. is back and more dangerous than ever, thanks to the mysterious mastermind known only as the Foreman arming them with enough firepower to take on the Hero Squad — but for what sinister purpose? The Squad is determined to find out, but the answers could cost them dearly.

Psyche takes center stage for this game-changing chapter in the Action Figures saga, which includes the bonus short story, Action Figures – Live Free or Die.

This is when everything changes!

PART ONE: ONE OF OUR SUPER-HEROES IS MISSING

I tap my headset. “Lightstorm? You there?” I say. “Lightstorm, respond. Lightstorm? Carrie?”

“Hm? Sara?” Meg mumbles, my rising panic rousing her from her nap. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. Carrie went off with one of the aliens. I had her on the comm but she dropped off all of a sudden.”

“I’m sure she’s okay, hon. Carrie can take care of herself.”

“No. Something’s wrong.” I stumble to my feet as a painful burning sensation fills my chest. For some reason I look up into the sky, as if I expect to see Carrie hovering above me. I cycle through every channel on my comm system, listening for her voice. There’s nothing on the secure Protectorate channel, nothing on the military or police bands…oh God. Oh God

“Meg, something’s wrong!” I squeal, even as some distant corner of my brain argues that everything’s fine, I’m overreacting, there’s some rational explanation for this.

There isn’t.

Carrie’s gone.

 

ONE

“Sara!” Meg shouts. “Wait!”

Kingsport Heights Beach is still total chaos. The military works to clear the battlefield of debris and bodies both human and alien. Police officers try to clear space for ambulances to get in and pick up those lucky enough to have survived the fight but not so lucky they can reach the edge of the hot zone on their own power. Meg and I dash past Concorde as he confers with a group of men and women, all of them in some kind of uniform. He calls out to me. I don’t stop.

We weave through the maze of wrecked cars and demolished military vehicles, skirt past a cluster of black sedans bearing government plates, past a dump truck transporting alien battlesuits and weaponry to the beach to be secured inside the dreadnought, and jump down onto the beach itself, where the Vanguard stands watch over its prisoners. They’re all aliens — for-real aliens from outer space. They brought this war to Kingsport, and one of them must know where Carrie is.

“Where is she?” I charge at one of the Vanguard aliens, a thing built like a gorilla with leathery skin and a second set of T-Rex arms set into his chest. He’s big and intimidating, but he retreats as I run up to him. “Where’s Carrie? What did you do with her?!”

“Honey, easy,” Meg says, pulling me back.

“They took Carrie!”

Meg spins me around. “Sara, you’re not going to do Carrie any good if you’re freaking out. You need to cool down and think.”

Meg squeezes my arms, and I feel her strength flow into me, quite literally. It’s a smart move; she knows my empathic abilities pick up, sometimes involuntarily, on other people’s emotions, and she uses that to inject some much-needed calm into me. The adrenaline flushes out so fast my head spins. Meg’s grip tightens to keep me from falling over.

“Psyche, what’s wrong?” I look past Meg to see Concorde approaching. He’s hurrying as best as he can, but he took as much of a beating as anyone. He needs to rest but he’s not going to let a little thing like possible internal bleeding slow him down, not when there’s work to be done.

“Carrie’s gone. She went off with one of them,” I say, gesturing toward the Vanguard. “She hasn’t come back.”

“I’m sure she’s —”

“Don’t tell me she’s okay, Concorde, and don’t tell me I’m overreacting,” I snap. “Something’s wrong. Carrie’s gone. I know.” I turn back toward the gorilla alien. “Where’s my friend?”

Gorilla grunts at me. A squishy-looking alien, who reminds me vaguely of Patrick from SpongeBob SquarePants, says something incomprehensible to Gorilla, who responds with more grunts.

“This is a problem,” Concorde says.

“No it’s not. They can understand us. Do you have any more of those translator things?” I say to Gorilla.

He furrows his sloping brow at me. He’s considering it — I think. Whatever wavelength these beings’ brains operate on, it’s not compatible with my powers; I can’t read their emotions, much less their thoughts.

With a snort, Gorilla reaches into a belt pouch and hands me a pair of small, pale yellow blobs. I press them into my ears and — “Ohh, gross,” I moan. It feels like I’m shoving wads of cold snot into my ears.

“Not a pleasant sensation, is it?” Patrick says.

“No, it isn’t.” Oh, hey.

“Astounding. Why the matrices don’t fry their primitive little brains,” Gorilla says, his voice not quite matching the movements of his mouth. That’s distracting.

“I can understand you, you know, so start talking. Where’s Carrie?”

“Commander Do has escorted your friend to Kyros Alliance Central, on Kyros Prime.”

“Escorted? Or taken?”

“Your friend went of her own accord.”

“Yeah? Then when is she coming back?”

Gorilla hesitates. “I cannot say,” he says, and oh, I do not like his apologetic tone. “The Alliance is in the midst of a significant crisis, the likes of which we’ve not seen in generations. The Council of Generals has called in Vanguardians from every allied world —”

“Carrie isn’t part of the Vanguard,” I say, but Gorilla shoots that argument down.

“She possesses the astrarma,” he says, referring to the alien tech that gives Carrie her powers. “She is Vanguard.”

“But she is coming back.” I mean it as a question. It comes out as a demand.

“Maybe. If the council decides she’s —” Patrick begins. Gorilla makes a jabbing gesture. Patrick shuts right up. “Sorry,” he mumbles.

“The matter is out of our hands,” Gorilla says.

***

Gorilla abruptly dismisses us so his people can focus on securing their prisoners and all that tempting alien tech in the dreadnought — the Nightwind. The Kyros Alliance is supposed to dispatch another ship to remove the Nightwind, but Gorilla — Lieutenant Bote Maasuur — has no sense of exactly when that might happen. Optimistically, it could arrive within a few hours, he says, but Kingsport could wind up playing host to a crippled alien warship for a day or two.

“That’s one problem on a very long list of problems,” Concorde says, calling to order an impromptu meeting of the Protectorate, the Hero Squad, and the Quantum Quintet. “Entity. So glad you could finally make it.”

I jump when I realize the big leather-covered weirdo is looming right behind me. He wasn’t there a second ago, and I never felt his presence. How does he do that? Is he an alien too? That would explain a lot.

“I’ve been here the whole time,” the Entity says in his creepy monotone.

“We never saw you,” says Kilowatt Quantum, who may be the unsung hero of the battle. He can generate focused electromagnetic pulses, which generally aren’t very useful, but when your opponents are all wearing fancy powered battlesuits? Extremely useful.

“Exactly,” the Entity says.

“He was here,” Missy says, and that’s good enough for Concorde.

“All right. We have two big issues to address,” he says, “and the first is Lightstorm. She’s apparently gone off with the Vanguard’s commanding officer to Kyros Prime, wherever that is. It seems she went of her own free will but we have no idea if or when she’ll return.”

I expect an outburst, for someone to say, “There has to be a way to get her back!” or for Matt to throw out one of his so-insane-it’s-brilliant ideas, but all I hear is a heavy, resigned silence.

“That means we’re that much more short-handed, and that brings me to problem number two,” Concorde continues. “The Kingsport PD has been decimated. I spoke to the chief and his rough estimate is that two-thirds of the force is dead or injured. The governor plans to declare martial law in Kingsport in the short term, at least until the dreadnought’s been removed. Distasteful, I know, but it’s necessary.”

“And in the long term?” Mindforce says.

“That’s where we come in. The chief plans to call in some favors and see if he can borrow some officers from surrounding communities, but it won’t be enough. Until the department can rebuild, we’re going to be pulling extra duty.”

That’s a noble thought, but we’re in no condition to sub in for a school crossing guard much less the police. Most of us are so exhausted we can’t see straight, and a few of us took some nasty hits from the aliens’ hypervelocity weapons. Nina Nitro is toughing out a gunshot to the abdomen until all the injured civilians have been cared for; Rockjaw Quantum literally had chunks of his rocklike skin shot out; and Stuart is covered in bruises.

I tell myself it could have been worse. I glance over at the olive drab pavilion tent the military set up at the edge of what used to be a public baseball field. That’s where they’re storing all the bodies until they can be removed. It’s a harsh reminder that any one of us could have wound up in there.

“I have too much free time on my hands anyway,” Nina says, trying and failing to hide how much pain she’s in.

“You are going to heal first,” Concorde says. “We all are. As soon as we clear out, anyone with an injury is going to the hospital. Everyone else, go home and get some sleep. The National Guard will keep watch on the dreadnought until the Vanguard sends the recovery ship.”

“Which will be when?” Matt asks.

“Unknown, but from what I gather, the Vanguard isn’t thrilled about leaving advanced tech accessible to what it considers a primitive culture, so I suspect they’ll do their best to clear it out ASAP. I informed Lieutenant — Maasuur, was it?” Concorde says, looking to me for confirmation. “I informed Lieutenant Maasuur we’d guard the ship in the meantime, but he plans to leave a couple of his men — er, people — um…”

“Let’s go with people,” Doc Quantum suggests.

“He plans to leave two of his people behind to keep an eye on the prisoners and, I suspect, to keep us honest until they get back.”

“You mean they’re leaving?” Matt says.

“The Kyros Alliance has its own version of the Prime Directive,” I say. “They’ve already violated it, like, a thousand times over, but Lieutenant Maasuur doesn’t want to stick around and make it any worse.”

“Will he be returning to Alliance Central or whatever they called it?”

“I see where you’re going. Good thinking,” Concorde says. “Anyone want to sacrifice their phone?”

***

When Matt told me what he had in mind, I offer up my phone without a second thought.

I find a relatively quiet corner of the battlefield to record my message then give the phone to Lt. Maasuur. He promises he’ll deliver it to Carrie, but that’s all he can promise. It’s good enough. It has to be.

Lt. Maasuur orders First Rank At Mo Ke — a particularly bizarre alien with a cylindrical body, three stumpy legs, and a matching set of arms — and Lt. Commander Fast, who looks like a giant snake, to stay behind and keep an eye on things Earth-side. They decide to station themselves inside the Nightwind so they won’t distract the humans. Or maybe so we won’t distract them? I imagine we look as weird to them as they do to us.

I stand there on the beach and watch Lt. Maasuur and his people take off, rising into the sky until they’re tiny pinpoints of light, until those pinpoints wink out of sight. Meg tries to pull me away, but I don’t want to leave. I want to be here when Lt. Maasuur comes back. He could come back at any minute.

I feel so helpless and useless.

“Hey.” Meg wraps her arms around my waist and holds me close. “You’ve done all you can. Nothing left to do now but wait.”

“No. There’s one more thing I have to do,” I say. I’d give anything I had to avoid it, but there’s no way out of this. “I have to tell Christina her daughter’s been abducted by aliens.”

The Action Figures Diversity Report 2016

Two years ago, I decided to take a look through my Action Figures series to see how the cast was shaping up in terms of diversity and representation.

This bit of introspection was prompted by the American Gods TV series, then in the early stages of development (now in the casting stage, if you haven’t been keeping tabs on it). Neil Gaiman took a firm stand on the principle that the producers should honor the novel’s racial diversity, and that got me to thinking about how my cast of characters stacked up in terms of diversity.

I repeated the exercise last year to see if I’d stayed the course, if not improved upon matters. I’m doing it again this year for the same reason. I’m honestly not looking for any pats on the back for being mindful of presenting a variety of genders (and gender identities), races, sexual orientations, etc., but I do want to keep myself honest, and putting all this down in writing helps me better assess the state of things.

What I do find gratifying is how my readers accept cast diversity without question or, better yet, without resistance. Only once has someone chided me for being “too P.C.”, specifically because I made it clear some of my main characters were from the LGBTQ community — and at least that individual didn’t go the extra mile and accuse me of “pandering” to non-straight white male audiences, so I’ll file that one in the “There’s Still Hope” folder.

So here’s the main cast line-up as it stands as of the latest book (Issue Five: Team-Ups), so be warned there might be mild spoilers if you haven’t read too far into the series.

  • 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)
  • Tisha Greene/TranzSister: African-American transgender female (heterosexual by virtue of her current gender)

So really, nothing has changed here since last year. However, with Team-Ups I had the opportunity to flesh out the supporting cast a bit. I introduced Bo, Tynan, and Ashlyn, members of Kingsport High’s LGBTQ student group (they are, respectively, a bisexual white male, a bisexual African-American female, and a lesbian of unspecified ethnicity); Peggy, a potential love interest who has a mild physical disability; Zina, a Korean girl with an eye for Matt; and made Gordon, Stuart’s brother, a more prominent supporting cast member.

What still challenges and intimidates me is in how I present all these characters. I want their differences to mean something and not be throwaway elements of their characters, yet I often read how important it is for characters of color, LGTBQ characters, the disabled, etc., to simply be there. They don’t always need to have a flashing neon sign pointing out how they vary from a cis straight white “norm,” they just have to exist within the story, because visibility matters and readers will pick up on this.

Hopefully readers have noticed, and not just because I’m pointing it out now. If it takes posts like these to get readers to notice, I’d say I’m doing something wrong as a storyteller.

Weekly Update – March 1, 2016

Starting today, I’m going to try something new to help cut down on the long stretches of nothing that sometimes inflict this website. Every Tuesday, I’m going to run a quick recap of my various projects so readers can keep tabs on where everything is in their respective processes.

And I’d like to remind everyone that visitors can comment on any content on this site, so if any of you have any questions or comments about anything, the Tuesday update post is as good a place as any to hit me up.

WRITING PROJECTS

Cheap Thrills Rough 1Cheap Thrills Digest: My editor, Julie Tremblay, turned in her edits on my upcoming collection of short stories on Sunday, and I’ve finished implementing the corrections and formatting the book. Now all that’s left is the cover art, which Tricia is working on now. We’re running with a concept that invokes old pulp adventure magazine covers, as you can see on the right.

Action Figures – An Adventure in Babysitting: My first AF short is part of the aforementioned shorts collection, so I took advantage of the fact Julie gave it a new polish and posted the revised edition on the website, where it originally appeared.

Action Figures – Issue Six: Power Play: I’m working on my final pre-editing stage revisions this week, but I’m not planning to send it off to Julie quite yet. I have to recoup some expenses from prepping Issue Five: Team-Ups (which is selling very well, I’m happy to report), and I’m hoping to get another project squared away first.

The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot – Assassins Brawl: This is that other project. My goal is to have the follow-up to Scratching a Lich finished in time for a fall release. I’m about a third of the way through the first draft, so we’ll see how it goes.

Action Figures – Issue Seven: The Black End War: About a quarter of the way through the first draft. I’m taking my time with this one because it’s a fairly radical departure from the series. No tentative release date set.

APPEARANCES and EVENTS

I have three tentative and one confirmed book signings on my calendar. First, I’m on a short wait list for the New Bedford Bookfest this weekend. This is a new event that filled up very quickly, and the organizers are already planning a fall bookfest. With events like these there’s always a chance that another author might bow out and I’ll get a last-minute call to participate, so my fingers are crossed.

Next, I’m waiting to hear back from the organizers of the Worcester Local Authors Fair, hosted by the Worcester Public Library, and the spring OtherWhere Market at Mill No. 5 in Lowell. My applications are in and I expect to get into both, which are scheduled for the beginning and end of April, respectively.

Finally, I’ll be kicking off the 2016 Meet the Author series at the fall Connecticut Renaissance Faire. It’s the second year for this event, and I’m delighted the producers decided to make it an annual thing. I’ll be there on October 2, Sunday of the opening weekend, so come on by, say hello, and enjoy a great show.

MISC.

Fellow super-hero author and old friend Mark Aberdeen (the Dex Territory series) gave me a nice little shout-out during an interview with Rave Reviews with Nonnie Jules. Go give it a read!

Team-Ups In Print!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00018]Happy Monday, all. I’ll keep it quick: Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups is now available in print!

You can go grab your copy now from Amazon, or purchase it directly from me by clicking the Buy Now tab at the top of the site. As a bonus for buying it directly, I’ll sign it for you and include an Action Figures bookmark!

Weekend, Ho!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00018]Just a couple of quick announcements as I head into a weekend of writing…

One, I’ve received, reviewed, and approved my proof copy of Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups, which means the print edition should be available at Amazon at some point during the weekend. I’ll post something here when it goes live, or you can keep an eye on the Kindle edition item page. I’ll also post a direct purchase link on my Buy Now page so you can grab a signed copy.

Two, next week my wife and I will appear at Mill No. 5 courtesy of Artsylum for its Meet the Creators series. We’ll be there starting at 6:30 PM next Friday (February 26), so you can come by, say hello, and grab one of my books (I’ll have copies of all my books available) or something from Storied Threads.

A Brief Announcement – Pasts Imperfect, Cruel Summer Available For Direct Sale

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00009]I’ll keep this brief since this really is nothing but a plug for Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect and Issue Four: Cruel Summer. Specifically, both books have been added to the site’s online store and is now available for direct purchase from me as a signed print edition, and as an e-book in epub and mobi formats.

AF 4 FinalIn case you’re wondering, it will be a while before I offer direct e-book sales for Issue Five – Team-Ups. It’s doing very well on the Amazon charts, which boosts its visibility to potential new readers, and I don’t want to cannibalize that benefit quite yet. For now you’ll have to grab the Kindle edition through Amazon.

Settling In For A Cold Weekend

This is definitely shaping up to be a great weekend to hunker down inside and cozy up to a good book.

In my neck of the woods (central Massachusetts) we’re facing effective temperatures of thirty below zero with wind chill factored in. Yikes. I plan to spend the weekend inside with my fuzzies and my laptop working on the next installment of The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot, which now has a working title of Assassins Brawl.

Next week I’ll cap off my work on Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups. My cover artist Tricia just finished her work on the print edition cover, which looks a little something like this…

Art and copyright Patricia Lupien.
Art and copyright Patricia Lupien.

That badass on the back cover is Nina Nitro, FYI, who has some nice moments in Team-Ups and some good stuff coming her way in the near-ish future. I still have to order and review my proof copy of book five, but my hope is that I can get that taken care of next week, after which point the print edition will be available on Amazon and directly through this website.

Finally, I’d happy to announce my next public appearance, which is scheduled for later this month. I’ll be participating in a “Meet the Artists” series hosted by Artsylum, located in Mill No. 5 in Lowell, MA. What will make this extra-cool is that I’ll be sharing the spotlight with my wife Veronica, who will have some of her Storied Threads goodies available! We’ll be there on Friday, February 26 starting at 6:30 PM. Come say hello!