All-New, All-Different

While I fail to see the problem with the recent rash of changes Marvel has completed over the last year or more, you need look no further than the comments sections of just about any post on the internet announcing one of them to realize that there are some very vocal people out there who don’t really care for what’s going on.

It starts with a cry that these are marketing ploys; something akin to the Death of Superman in the sense that it won’t last too long and was only done to drum up new sales. I fail to see the problem from this angle as it’s the prerogative of a company to be successful. If that success means changing something, even briefly, to become more profitable, then that’s probably something the company should do. It’s just good business.

It continues with a cry that these marketing ploys are “pandering” to a more diverse audience to broaden Marvel’s readers. I also fail to see the problem here, aside from the use of the word “pandering”. Again, a successful business targets a broad base of consumers. Why be exclusionary? From a strict business standpoint, the more people you have reading your books the better.

After these two logical arguments have been presented as to the business of running a major comic label, detractors will continue their line of objection by stating that the changes to the characters in the story makes Marvel’s integrity questionable at best. That replacing beloved characters like Steve Rogers or Bruce Banner or the Odinson with equivalents such as Sam Wilson or Amadeus Cho or Jane Foster, respectively, does some sort of massive disservice to the story and the community at large.

Of course, the logical argument to this is that, if one actually reads the comics involved, then one would see that the replacements and changes are all integral to the story. Story is the important part, after all, and it wasn’t as if Steve or Bruce or even the Odin-born Thor were removed inexplicably from the Marvel Universe. They continue to exist. They continue to affect the ever-unfolding fabric of the Marvel Universe because they couldn’t just be brushed aside. Their story goes on though they might not get quite as much of the spotlight as they once did.

“Oh,” say the commenters, “But, we don’t want the all-new, all-different. We want more of the same.”

To these particular dissenters, I reply: Why? Steve Rogers has been around forever and, when he died briefly not too long ago, Bucky picked up the shield until Steve returned. There was even a period where Steve was just Captain Steve Rogers, letting Bucky continue with the Captain America moniker for a while longer. Not quite as many were upset with this. Steve’s story went on, Bucky’s story went on. The story allowed for this to happen.

We know why, though, don’t we? We know why the Sam Wilson handoff – even though it was perfectly in line with details of the story – didn’t pass as quietly. It had nothing to do with integrating mechanical wings into the stars-and-bars motif, either.

It’s the same reason that so much controversy was generated when a woman picked up the fallen Mjolnir after Thor Odinson was rendered unworthy. It’s also the same reason people are going insane that a Korean man (who has been a staple in the Marvel Universe for longer than most “fans” probably know) is slated to replace Bruce Banner.

It’s the same reason that Miles Morales freaked so many people out back in 2011.

When I was a kid, I grew up reading comics. My first love was the X-Men (followed shortly by Batman, but that is another blog entry).

I loved the X-Men because it was a team of people with crazy powers. All the characters had such different voices and looks. It was vibrant and different and some people looked practically inhuman (not a cross-reference). It was way different than watching reruns of Challenge of the Super Friends because not everyone was running around in a mask. They showed the X-Men at play as well as at work. There were actual inter-character relationships working there. It was intricate and engaging and not just good guys/bad guys because you had characters like Wolverine – the consummate anti-hero – and Magneto – the guy who was bad but not really but really but not really. You know what I mean.

No, I didn’t really have all these feelings when I was a kid because I didn’t know how to define them. As an adult, I can tell you about this with much more articulation. I liked the X-Men because they were all different.

The X-Men were all outcasts from society; sometimes because of their powers but, more often than not, because of their appearance. I related to them because I was in a similar predicament, growing up a different color from most of the kids around me. I was a pariah, I was looked at differently, and I always hoped I would find out someday that I was a mutant. Aside from Wolverine, my favorites were Beast and Nightcrawler because, out of the lineup at the time, they were the least human in appearance. Also because Beast was super smart and Nightcrawler could teleport (a power I coveted highly).

As I got older and the comic progressed, somewhere in my early teens, I related to the two of them even further. Nightcrawler had a crisis of faith and became a Catholic priest for a time (something that, until I was like 12, I had possibly considered) and later, Beast continuing to mutate into something more feline, getting further away from his humanity.

My point (before this backstory drags on any further) is that I loved the X-Men because they took in anyone. They gave a home to people who were dealing with some serious issues. I related to that because, as a weird, intelligent, brown kid in a white neighborhood, I never really felt like I fit in. It’s why I continued to read comics. It’s why I wanted to write. I realized because of the X-Men that there might be a hero out there who was like me.

Marvel expanding its universe to be inclusive is possibly the best thing they could have ever done. Introducing characters like Miles Morales and Kamala Khan… Elevating characters like Sam Wilson, Carol Danvers, Jane Foster, Amadeus Cho, and even Laura Kinney (that’s X-23 to you noobs)… This is what we need. The little kid reading three-month old issues of X-Men Classic about Wolverine and Storm (mainly) taking on the Brood – one of the first comics I ever owned – is cheering for the kids who are picking up the books now and finding heroes to whom they can directly relate – showing them that they can be super, too.

Purists will brush off this entire blog entry. I wonder, honestly, through the veil of anonymity that is the internet, why they call themselves “purists”.

A true comic book purist accepts canon as gospel. What the company says goes. If they say Steve Rogers had his serum stripped from him, then he has. If they say Bucky didn’t want to pick up the shield again, then he does not. If they say that Sam Wilson was next in line for the throne, then bow to your new king and STFU. A comic book purist would accept the changes and be excited about the directions the story will take from this point on.

Instead, these “purists” seem to be more concerned with the color of Sam’s skin and what it means that a strong Black character is holding the shield and bearing the mantle of Captain America. They get upset about the rumors that Peter Parker wants to retire from crime fighting to run his new company (which, admittedly, was built by Doc Ock as “Superior” Peter) and hand the role over to Miles Morales, a half-Black-half-Puerto Rican kid who has proven himself an amazing (not reference humor) Spider-Man in another universe. The rumor is that Banner will do the same (or be otherwise depowered), leaving room for Amadeus Cho to put on the purple pants of destiny.

“NO!” they scream, “You’re taking away our heroes for the sake of colorwashing the cast! You can’t just make all that history disappear!”

Colorwashing, by the way, is a despicable term. If you use this, please unfriend me and never come here again.

No one is taking anyone away. They are staying. No legacies have been eliminated. No timelines have been changed (well, unless you’re Spidey, then who knows). Their stories go on. And, as far as them not wanting to see action anymore, can you blame them? How many times has Peter Parker skirted death, caused the death of loved ones, cause property damage… how many more happy returns can there be? If someone else is capable, can’t he put down the power and the responsibility and let it be taken up by someone a little younger? Someone who has more of the drive? Hasn’t Peter deserved a little bit of the reward for all that risk over the years? Steve Rogers has been fighting for America since World War II. Can’t he have a little break where he’s not freaking dead?

Don’t even get me started on Banner…

The “All-New, All-Different” Marvel Universe, in my opinion, is shaping up to be fantastic. People will hate it. We know why. It is nice, however, to see one of the big comic labels recognizing that diversity is important. Not only does it allow the kid that I was see someone more like me being a superhero, but those kids like me will also read stories that are more relatable to their own lives.

DC has miles to go before they can even think of catching up. In fact, if DC did something similar now, THAT would be the real disingenuous pandering marketing ploy.

Keep making mine Marvel. Marvel, please keep making Marvel ours.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Fear Fear the Walking Dead

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: There are spoilers for Fear the Walking Dead in here. If you haven’t watched up to Episode Three and you’re sensitive to those kind of things, come back later when you decide that it really doesn’t matter how badly I spoil this suckfest for you.]

Watching Fear the Walking Dead reminds me why I wrote the Unlucky Seven books they way that I did.

Too often in fiction, the writers create a world in which something crazy or unbelievable happens for which there is, apparently, no precedent. This is a common trope but one that I think needs to be called out. It’s a particularly frustrating one to deal with for the consumer of the product if those consumers are already familiar with the subject matter.

When I say no precedent, I mean that characters in the given story have no idea of previously written fiction about the subject matter.

You see it all the time in comic books; an origin story where people decide to become costumed heroes as if the concept never ever existed anywhere. They have adventures like the same sort of adventures never happened in anything they’ve ever read before. The major comic book universes exist in a reality where superhero fiction was never a thing.

I wrote Unlucky Seven in a universe where everyone understand exactly what is happening to them based on the proliferation of superhero fiction.

What I will call the Clueless Universe trope is far too prevalent in fiction and can be especially frustrating when applied to specific genres.

That said, let’s talk about how this makes Fear the Walking Dead borderline unwatchable.

After watching last night’s episode three with some of my friends (a tradition carried over from the parent show if for no other reason than continuity) I realized something: we have not shut up and watched through any of these episodes. We are screaming at the screen constantly because of the overwhelming level of ostrich syndrome exhibited by the show’s characters. Specifically, last night, the small family holding up in the suburbs waiting for daddy to get home.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yes, I care so little about this show that I don’t bother to keep up with names.]

Their heads are so far in the sand that, even though they have power and cable at a relatively undisturbed house in the suburbs far from any of the horrors of downtown LA, they refuse to turn on a television or a radio to gain any valuable information instead relying on asking each other “what’s going on?” in an unending circle of stupidity – as if one of them is going to suddenly gain some divine knowledge on the situation as they sit around and play Monopoly like it’s family game night and not the dawn of the zombie apocalypse.

They peer through the blinds, make stupid mistakes like shining flashlights outside during a rolling brownout, convince themselves that their neighbor – who has dead eyes and is growling and pawing through their backyard fence to get at their tasty bits – is just sick and in no way harmful. Even though she has been at the back fence all night, reaching longingly toward the house full of delicious live human flesh, they continue to give her the benefit of the doubt the entire time. This after dealing with at least two different walkers previously in the same day.

While I appreciate the writer’s attempts to show people struggling to deal with the beginnings of a worldwide crisis, the gullibility level placed on these protagonists is simply staggering. The only conclusion we can draw is that it falls into the previously mentioned trope: the world of The Walking Dead must have had absolutely no zombie fiction to look back on to help aid with the survival or even outright prevention of the zombie apocalypse.

Is this a world without George Romero? Was there no original Night of the Living Dead? No sequels? No remakes? None of the basic knowledge of zombies that someone could have some kind of clue as to what the “walkers” actually are when the shit starts tenuously dripping into the fan and is poised to hit full on? I mean, the only kid with any inkling as to what was happening made a shiv to defend himself. A SHIV. SERIOUSLY. Get a nice one of your mom’s kitchen knives at least, dude. You should know better than to rely on something so makeshift in the beginning. Save those shiv-making skills for when you’re in a Woodbury- or Terminus-type situation.

I’m ok with the characters being reticent to take a “human” life (or whatever) but come on. You know what Mrs. Tran became. You know she’s not reaching through the crack in your fence to try to give you a hug. Not to mention the fact that you just iced another neighbor in your living room after he looked up from his dog chow with a not-so-right look on his face. The writing isn’t just on the wall as to what is going on in this world, it is blazing fire, three-hundred stories tall. People are turning into zombies. Zombies die when you get them in the head. They are not friendly no matter who they might have been before they died. Get with it quickly or get eaten.

Would any of us act differently? Yes. Mostly because we have shows like The Walking Dead and other, older, more revered reference material to look to for assistance. Would we put our head in the sand? Sure, some of us would. I don’t think that we would be having family game night after watching our neighbor across the street get eaten on top of a deflated bouncy castle. These characters are so helplessly written (except for the barber-dad who we have termed Latin Carol) that they seem even more improbable than the cast of the main show in the way they escape and kick ass. They are a gross caricature of those who would be in the vicinity of Ground Zero should the outbreak ever occur. I am not as prepared as some of the people I know should “shit go down”, but I like to think I would be able to handle myself at least slightly better than these chumps.

I honestly have a hope that every character on that show gets bit or eaten because their ignorance demands it. They are not Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Carol, or any of the others who have had to make the really hard choices. They are not survivors. They are zombie food. I know, I should give them time to develop that hard outer shell our usual gang has but, to be honest, I don’t care enough about this group of ignoramii to want to watch them make the transformation.

I will continue to watch this show because of the connection it has to the main show. I just think that, after five previous seasons of zombie ass-kicking, it is a little too late to go back to the well and see how people reacted to the start of the thing. A prequel involving one or more of the main characters of The Walking Dead would have been much more interesting (Michonne’s backstory, anyone?). Showing us strangers who would rather pretend the world isn’t crumbling around them rather than adapting to it is not the kind of thing I was looking for in a spinoff.

They drove to the hospital. In LA. In the middle of a full-scale riot. With zombies. And they drove right by like “NOPE” like it wasn’t a thing. Like, “whoa, hey, look at those cops unload on that old lady in a hospital gown. Glad their cruisers aren’t blocking the road. Glad there aren’t thousands of residents trying to barge their way into the ER for treatment. Nope, an LA hospital in a zombie riot is just a breeze to drive through. Wave and say what’s up.

Not to mention their flatbed truck was left parked and pristine in the middle of the street right next to where people were chucking molotovs into other random cars. Fancy that.


Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The Obligatory Sequel (I wrote another book)

The sequel is complete.

In fact, it’s currently on sale here if you’re interested.

If you’re a new reader to the Unlucky Seven universe, let me welcome you and congratulate you on your good taste (or bad taste, as it may be). You have my personal thanks for buying/borrowing my stuff. I hope you enjoy and leave positive feedback on Amazon. Only positive, though. If you didn’t like the book, just pretend you never read it and go about your business. Or write me some hate mail. I’m honestly waiting with baited breath for hate mail.

Yeah, I wrote a second book. This one didn’t take me quite as long to complete. The first Unlucky Seven book took forever. Ten years to distill down to what is now available for reading. The Obligatory Sequel, from pen to published, took one year, one month, and one day from the release of the first book.

Honestly, I never thought I could write another complete book in such a short amount of time. Until the first Unlucky Seven was published, I had never ever actually finished a novel that I had started. There are notebooks full of prior attempts; tons of word files untouched for God knows how long with a few scatter-brained chapters thrown together and abandoned due to loss of interest or lack of motivation or both. I always wanted to be a writer but, to be honest, I never thought I would be able to finish a book properly. Now, here I stand – two titles to my name. I feel slightly accomplished.

The first one was much more difficult to write. It was always the plan to have U7 be a series of books. Beginnings are always the most difficult part of the writing process. Now that the world was built (at least, a large enough portion on which the characters could roam), I had a bit more room to breathe. I didn’t have to describe familiar settings (like the cave or Lisa’s front porch) or familiar characters. I could say, “Phalanx and Budda were in the cave” and readers of the first book can simply plug in the particular playset and action figures they devised while reading the long-winded descriptions in the first book. It’s freeing.

This is also why The Obligatory Sequel is shorter in the page count. In the interest of full disclosure, while designing my cover, I had a mini panic attack regarding the thickness of the sequel’s spine. I was freaking out that it wasn’t as long as the first and convinced myself that I would be looked at as a hack because I couldn’t keep up with the amount of words or pages of my first effort. It took some prodding from people I know to help me realize that regardless of page count, the story is solid and reads solid. I guess page count is an overrated statistic. People are more likely to pick up a nominally sized book rather than something that looks like a War and Peace style epic.

It may have taken less time and there may be a smaller page count/word count, but, please do not think this was an easy process. At times it was absolute agony. I blew up entire chapters and started from scratch after they were finished. I changed my outline in its entirety no less than three times. I had cheerleaders pushing for me to get through it. I set myself up for my own deadline because I kept telling people that I would have the sequel available at the next Steel City Con in August. Between those cheerleaders and my burgeoning fanbase, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I pushed hard to get this done and I turned in a damn good product, in my opinion. I am kinda proud of myself. I really do hope you enjoy it.

What’s next? I have some other projects I’m collaborating on with my editor/writing partner and I’m going to be devoting time to that before I really get around to writing the (tentatively titled) Inevitable Trilogy – U7 book three. I have a few ideas and, if you read the sequel, you’ll know that there was a big reveal in the end which will most definitely be addressed as soon as possible (I really really want to write her really bad).

Also, some interest has been shown in an Unlucky Seven prequel. It would focus on Agent Williams and his role in the early days of the Project during World War II. It would require a lot of research just because I don’t want the history to be wrong. Also, it might not be as much of a comedy (given the stoicism of the main character). When I started writing U7 and came up with Project XIII, I realized that XIII wouldn’t be an arbitrary number. There were twelve other incarnations of the Project leading up to it. I had a timeline somewhere. I had background. I wonder if there would be any additional interest in all that coming to light.

I ask you, U7 fans: What would you rather see first? The Inevitable Trilogy or Tales from the Project? Seriously, let me know, because I’ll start writing whichever one soon.

I’m not promising a deadline this time, though.

Again, thank you all for your support. Tell your friends about U7. Spread the word. You are in on the ground level of a fandom. You’ll get hipster cred for liking this before it was cool. Remember, too, there’s still a prize for the first U7 cosplay who comes to me at Con!

Speaking of, make sure to hit me up at Steel City Con August 7, 8, and 9! Come and get your print copies! Autographs! Pics! High fives!

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—


Just wanted to throw out that I’m going to be doing an Author Q&A on Wednesday June 10 at the Carnegie Library of Homestead.  Here’s the event page if you want to RSVP.

Also, Spike and I will be returning to Steel City Con this August.  I will hopefully have copies of the sequel for sale by then.  I am working diligently, don’t worry.

Short post.  That is all.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

In My Absence…

You may have noticed that I’ve been away from the blog since February.  I’m not ignoring you.

I’ve been busy working on the Unlucky Seven Sequel (still as yet untitled).  You’ll be pleased to know that as I’m writing this I’m in the middle of chapter 17 out of an outlined 26.  I’m still looking at a mid-summer release (around July/August) if I can continue on this pace.  No joke, some of this stuff has been particularly difficult to write and I’ve had to blow up half the outline and retool the narrative at least twice already.  Rest assured, I have a plan.  I will not be GRRM or King and promise a series only to stall somewhere in the middle and not make good until years later.  Any of you who bought a book from me at the most recent cons should know that I meant what I said and it’s in process.

There are so many things I’d love to blog about.  I actually have a list but, by the time I get to any of the topics, they’ll likely be moot or out-dated.

I wanted to write more about Con life and how it’s been a serious blast, even though it is some pretty hard work.

I wanted to write about the straight-up anger from portions of the fanbase at the All-New, All-Different Avengers line-up in the comics and how the diversity of that new group is actually going to help to save comics rather than, as some fan-boy purists would have you think, destroy the legacy of great heroes.  I wanted to mention how much I love Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Jane Foster Thor, Carol Danvers, Sam Wilson, Spider-Gwen, and all the other heroes of the evolving Marvel (616) Universe.  I also wanted to mention the morons who can’t accept that all their favorites aren’t boring muscly white men anymore.  That one may come up again later depending on the temperature of the internet.

I really want to talk about the writing process and everything I’ve discovered over the past few months.  I wanted to let people who have that nagging story idea or that manuscript they’re just not a hundred percent sure about that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I want to encourage more people to enter into the self-publishing game and put their stuff out there.  I actually spoke at a panel about this at Sci-Fi Valley Con and I also have an Author Q&A coming up at the Carnegie Library of Homestead on June 10th (so, if you’re local to Pittsburgh or you want to travel to see me, go here and let me know you’re coming).  I’m not usually one for self-aggrandizing (no, seriously, I’m not) but I’m going to do my best to get people to put their necks out there and take a chance on themselves.

Oh, and as far as the sequel goes…

If you’re one of my readers and you want to see the first three chapters of the new book, shoot me an e-mail through here.  I’ll get it out to you ASAP.  Subject to minor revisions/editing but they’re pretty solid in my opinion.  Always open to feedback.

I promise I’ll be back to a regular blog schedule as soon as the sequel is over.  Trust me it takes all of my effort to keep moving forward and I actually feel guilty talking time away from it to address you but I feel you deserve to know what is happening.

In the meantime, o my brothers and only friends…

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The Color of Words

I am half-Indonesian.

Strangely, this isn’t something I normally talk about.  It has a lot to do with my repressed anger toward my Indonesian father for running away from my American mother the minute he found out she was pregnant, ‘lo those thirty-plus years ago.

My Uncle, my father’s brother, is one of the people I respect the most in my life.  He’s my only connection to my heritage on that side of the family and, over the years, he has done everything he can to keep me in touch with my roots.  This has been especially difficult for us because he lives on the other side of the country.  In more recent times, I’ve been looking up things about my heritage on my own which, I won’t lie, consists mostly of recipes and cooking tips because Indonesian food is absolutely amazing.  Food culture is just as important as any piece of history or tradition in my opinion.

My Indonesian roots have wound in and out of my life and have always remained a sort of side thing for me.  Not that I am ashamed in any way – in fact, I’m proud to be an Acehnese Indonesian – but growing up it was not something that was often discussed.  Quite honestly, when my Uncle would come around when I was younger, the cultural traditions he would attempt to pass on to me (especially in front of other people I knew) seemed embarrassing.  No one else in my life, black or white, had this kind of deep ethnic thing aside from Pittsburgh Hunky traditions (my mom’s half of my ethnicity) which were common place.

In the environment in which I was raised, I really never thought anything of my brown/olive colored skin.  I wasn’t raised to think I was different than anyone in my predominantly white school, church, neighborhood, etc.  To my mind I was just another kid.  To other kids (at least early on) I was just another kid.  To my few close friends now that I’m very much into adulthood, I am just me.  There was a long time, mostly during high school and part of college, where I most definitely felt like an outcast.  I thought it was because I was the stereotypical alterna-kid with, at first, a grunge fashion sense and super-long black hair that put me just outside the norm.  Eventually, that fashion sense evolved into a more metal/gothy thing which kicked me even further to the fringe.  I was the weird, nerdy, mostly unpopular guy who, in your adulthood, you friended on Facebook just to see if he had actually become the serial killer you always thought he would be.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how many of those ostracized feels were likely because of the color of my skin.

I am a brown person who was raised in a white situation.  I am the large square peg to the small round holes of typical societal castes.  My interests were varied enough that I could slide up along side and associate with most of the cliques in my high school, but never truly fit.  Eventually, I found out (in a very hard way which I’d prefer not to discuss here ever) who my real friends were.  Some of them were people I grew up with from pre-school, some were fellow misfits in high school, and some of them came from me socially reaching beyond the typical teenaged experience and joining my current table-top gaming group (I’ve been there since I was fourteen – eighteen years – and we’re still playing the same game once a week).

The people who stuck with me have never seen me as anything but me.  They’ve taken me as I am and never asked a question nor looked at me sideways.  These people know who they are and know that they are family to me.  I state this because I don’t want you, dear reader, to think that I am some lonely sobbing societal outcast writing this to gain your pity.  I am anything but.  I am only using this first batch of words to qualify myself and show you where I’ve really come from to address a topic that has very recently become extremely important to me.

As you probably know if you read this blog on a regular basis (i.e., the once or so a month that I actually post new content), I wrote a book.  If you don’t know, it’s called Unlucky Seven and revolves around a group of twenty-something nerds who gain super powers, realize they’re in the middle of their own origin story, and make fun of all the tropes and clichés that go along with it.  They do all this while dealing with some of the more difficult aspects of having these abilities in a real-world setting and being pursued by a shadowy agency – Project XIII.

One thing you may not know about my book is that most of the characters are based on real people.  I won’t tell you who those people are but some names were changed and no specifics were given specifically because I recently discovered how fandom treats people in those types of situations and I didn’t want to feed the trolls.

One name that remains unchanged is Justin.  If you know me as nothing but J.P. Bidula, you should be able to connect the dots.  I’ll give you a moment.

While I understand it is typically a literary no-no to name one of your main protagonists after yourself let alone having it actually BE yourself, if you read the book, you’ll find that Justin is no Gary Stu (that’s a Mary Sue for dudes – look it up if you don’t know the term).  He is not an idealized version of me though most of his dialogue is based on things I would actually say in these situations.  One reader went so far as to tell me that he “hates Justin” because he’s “too bitchy and whiny”.  This was a friend of mine who knew the character was based on me and he wasn’t doing it just to bust my balls.

Like me, the character of Justin is over-analytical, overly-cynical, cautious near the point of cowardice, quick-witted, generally surly, intelligent, possessing of total-nerd-recall (able to reference pop-culture in a single bound), confused about his life, mostly unsure about the steps he takes, physically myopic, and overweight.

Also like me, he is a person of color.

This was something that had not come to my attention until another reader approached me, knowing the character was based on me, saying that they were so happy there was a person of color as one of the lead protagonists.  They enjoyed knowing this detail even though I was not very descriptive of race in the book.

I never considered until that moment the kind of impact that “revelation” would have.  I never considered it a “revelation” at all, to be honest.  The real revelation that happened at that moment occurred in my mind.

There are not many protagonists in any kind of fiction that fit to me.  I suddenly realized that by writing myself into this story and publishing it, my book now had a main protagonist who represented the nerdy, overweight, etc. etc. half-Indonesian people out there.  I feel that I am a very unique person but was rapidly introduced via conversation to the idea that this uniqueness carries over to the character of Justin and that uniqueness makes him a potential icon for other people of color.

My mind was blown.  What I, for a long time, had thought of as a just another middling sci-fi superhero story (albeit funny and brilliant, if I do say so myself – hurry up and buy) could be considered a rallying flag for people of color.  I realized that I am a writer of color and it means something that I’ve produced a novel where characters of color are not just horrible stereotypes.  I wrote a book where the dialogue is very natural, where everyone has a brain, where people – regardless of race or creed – are just people and aren’t defined by anything other than their desire to make sense out of and cope with an incredible situation.

This reader’s words touched me deeply.  They really reinvigorated me to the entire Unlucky Seven universe.  I spent most of my winter since Con (and some time prior) being burnt out and mulling around the first three chapters of the sequel, doing everything I could think of to market the first book and being very disinterested in putting hands to keyboard to meet my goal of a published Unlucky Seven Book 2 before the next Steel City Con in April.

When this topic was broached and I realized what an impact the diversity of my cast could have, I felt a sudden burst of energy.  If nothing else, my book meant something to that one reader.  If for no other reason, I would continue on for the sake of this wonderful reader who took something away from a brown/olive-skinned, (largely) imperfect and (apparently) relatable protagonist.  As long as that one person would keep reading with satisfaction, I would keep writing if only for them.

The same reader applauded my inclusion of the interracial relationship between Zoey and Chaucer.  They are some of the only characters in the book whose races were clearly defined.  These descriptors were not added for the visual benefit of the audience, necessarily.  Zoey and Chaucer are two purely fictional characters (as opposed to most of the U7’s group based on real people) and I defined them more for myself than anyone else.  I didn’t feel I needed many descriptors for the real people because I knew what they looked like (even if the reader doesn’t).  Chaucer and Zoey are visually defined, to me, by their descriptions in the book and the subsequent drawings that resulted from them.

I don’t use many color descriptors in my writing.  For the most part, unless clearly defined, I leave the depiction of a character mostly up to the reader’s imagination.  I do specify things like height, approximate age, hair color, eye color, mode of dress, etc. but never really skin tone.  In Chaucer’s case it’s mentioned that his skin turns from brown to pale green.  In Zoey’s case, it’s mentioned that she was pale and (somehow) got paler.  Budda’s skin goes from white flesh to blue-gray stone.  Other than these examples, not much else is mentioned in the book with any specificity.

Speaking of the walking rock garden, I was talking with the real-life Budda (a huge fan of the book) about how he pictured some of the fictional characters because I was curious if my visions of them came across in the writing.  We went from Zoey and Chaucer (who he pictured as I do, thanks to descriptors) and then we moved to everyone’s favorite psychotic Superman analogue, Agent Moorsblade.  I told Budda that I pictured him as a larger-than-life super muscular dude, kind of like a Joe Manganiello (a fellow Pittsburgher and good reference point). Budda said, “He can’t be Moorsblade.  He isn’t black.”

I cocked my head at him and said, “Where did you get the idea that Moorsblade was black?  He’s a giant white man with alopecia.”

Budda shrugged and said, “I always pictured him as black.  Specifically, I pictured him as Michael Clarke Duncan with the accent from The Green Mile.”

It was interesting.  I had never really thought of it, but I suppose it goes with the given descriptors.  Large man, extremely muscular, intimidating, bald, speaks with a super deep southern-accented voice.  Without re-reading again, I’m not sure I ever put a color descriptor on Moorsblade.  It might break more hearts than just Budda’s to set the record straight, but Moorsblade is white.

Another character who needs some clarity is Agent Joey Briggs.  She’s another of the fictionals on the Project team.  The best descriptors I gave to her also did not involve skin color directly.  I stated she had blue eyes, raven hair, and light skin.  Most people will pull an image of Zooey Deschanel or Katy Perry into their minds when these are the only things mentioned.  Joey’s light skin is, in fact, black.

To be honest, I’m not offended by anyone’s interpretation of my work.  I’m not going to complain on the internet should fandom ever really kick in that people are getting my characters races wrong.  If you want to picture someone who is white (either realistically or fictionally) as a different race, I will not judge you.  I wanted my story to be that way.  Characters are how they are in people’s imaginations, sometimes even with the proper “racial descriptors” in place in the canon.  Your particular version of Justin, if you don’t know what I really look like, may turn out white or black or brown or purple et al.  That’s ok by me.

The women of U7 have also been mentioned by more than one reader.  They are strong and, really, they were written to either dodge or actively fight/rail against the negative tropes against women in fiction, specifically, women in comic books.  While I know Marvel is taking some great strides towards breaking the mainstream glass ceiling for female heroes with books like Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and the canon female Thor and DC is slowly trailing behind with the new (old) Barb Gordon Batgirl (with whom I have problems once again being ambulatory, but I think I talked about that once), Harley Quinn’s role in Suicide Squad, and to some extent Wonder Woman, female characters in comics are typically support roles.

I like that my ladies kick some ass and do things on their own terms.  Nary a damsel to be found in the bunch.  Try that shit and they will END YOU.

In the end, my budding fandom, do not be upset at me should some kind of TV show or movie ever materialize because I WILL take an active role in the casting (if bureaucracy or whatever permits) and I WILL make sure that the choices fit my vision.  Justin is going to be played by an actor who can most closely resemble me and my God-given skin tone.  There is diversity in my cast.  I am proud of that and I will not let that be white-washed away.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

An Indie Author’s Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I don’t think you’re typically in it for middle-aged indie authors but I figured I had nothing to lose by trying.  I’ve been writing this sort of letter to bookstores and publishing houses and literary agents and they’re just as invisible and elusive as you are.  At least with you I can keep the format a bit more relaxed and I’m actually more assured of receiving a positive response (or, in fact, any response at all).

There are some things I want for Christmas this year that are a bit more intangible than I would be able to ask from my loved ones.  They’re also things that, I understand, won’t be available Christmas morning or any time in the very near future.  They are, however, achievable and will not exhaust your magic in granting them to me, should you feel they are deserved.

First and foremost, I would like a broader and more active reader base for Christmas.  I’m not asking for J.K. Rowling or GRRM numbers of devotees (certainly the same level of fanaticism would be nice) but if you could take my fans from the five I know are there and double them, please, that would be fantastic.  Give me the grassroots start I’ve been looking for.  Give me the people who won’t rest until they’ve shoved my book in the face of everyone they know in hopes that they will read it.  Give me peeps who will retweet, like, and share.  Give me someone who wants to ask questions about their favorite characters or wants to actually see the sequel released.  Give me people who will give me feedback.  Give me people who are shipping characters.  Give me the crazies.  Give me the random person on the street wearing a U7 logo pin.  Just give me something a little bit more.

Second, give me new readers.  Not the same as my first request.  I would also like people just to read and review my book.  Every reader is a potential five stars.  Every star means that my book has a chance to get featured on Amazon.  That means more readers and more stars.  It perpetuates.  In essence, this is the gift that keeps on giving.  At least, in theory.

Third, give me a bigger hammer.  I’ve been trying to hammer my way through the sequel but I’ve hit a wall and the current hammer I have is apparently not big enough to get me all the way to the end.  I would very much like to have this book done by the time the next Steel City Con rolls around in April.  Plus, they say that the more books you have on Amazon, the better your visibility as an author.  Don’t know how true this is but I would like to find out on my own.  If not a bigger hammer, then someone (see item one) to encourage me to fight it out and keep moving forward.

Fourth, more fan art.  A.C. Mickey is a great artist and is just the style I want.  Give me more of her stuff, please.  If anyone else is interested, poll them.  I’d like to see what they make of my characters.  This also relies heavily on item one.

Fifth, even though I like the grassroots thing, getting out there and pressing the flesh and making sales on my books, I would very much like some help with distribution or backing.  Give me a house/agent/something, doesn’t have to be super-major, that’s interested in picking up the book.  I’d still do as much grassroots as I could, but it would be nice to have someone to help with the heavy lifting.

Lastly, I would very much appreciate a little more self-confidence.  It’s hard out here but everyone knows that.  Give me something that will allow me to have the balls to actually buck up and preach from the mountains how awesome my book is without feeling like a pretentious scumbag and without thinking of the parts that I believe to be flawed.

I know that I’m not on the nice list because I’m a dick most of the year.  I’m a funny dick, at least, you have to give me that.

Unlucky Seven should be on the nice list, though.  It’s done nothing but good for me in just about every possible aspect.  If you don’t want to help me with any of these things, think of the book and do it for the book.  It’s a good little book and deserves to have a great first Christmas.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Keep fighting the good fight.


—end transmission—