U7 Book Three Status Report

It’s been a while.

 

I feel it necessary to apologize.  I haven’t been very forthcoming with shorts, news on the third book, or news of any kind, really.  I’m doing my fans a disservice through lack of communication and that’s not the kind of author I want to be.  That being said, here’s what’s been happening.

 

Back at the beginning of June, I lost my day job.

It was the first time in my adult life that I have been unemployed.  I was laid off due to cutbacks within the company for whom I was working.  It came as quite a shock.  I had a job which I never thought I would leave – at least, not until this writing stuff really takes off.

This hit very hard at first.  Two days after my dismissal, I was at Sci-Fi Valley Con in Altoona.  I was very much not in the mood to interact with people and spent most of the weekend at my booth quietly applying for unemployment benefits and searching through job listings.  I was cool on the outside, but panicked on the inside.

After I got home from SFVC, I resolved myself more to working on my resume and applying for jobs.  When I wasn’t doing that (which is, in PA, mandated by the state that you have to do), I was admittedly sitting around and feeling sorry for myself.  I could have done a lot of writing.  I should have done a lot of writing.  Instead, I wound up moping around, playing video games, watching movies… anything to keep me from thinking about my current predicament.

I should have been writing this entire time.  In fact, I tried.  I started a short.  It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.  I started it again.  Same result.  Crushing depression told me that I was a hack and it didn’t matter.  I was reminded that I did have fans and that I did have an obligation to them and that consistent and transparent communication (as well as maybe a short) would be for the best.

 

I ignored this because I am stubborn.

 

It wasn’t until Steel City Con in August that I really understood that.  I realized that my fans are real (no offense if you’re a fan and reading this, I know you exist, just, like, it’s hard to recognize that when you’re depressed).  A lot of you were asking around about book three.  I kept saying I was working on it.  This was true at the time, I just wasn’t working hard.

I spent the last weeks of August agonizing over the outline for book three.  There are still maybe two shorts I want to write before starting on the actual book but I needed to know where the story was going.  This is especially significant after receiving some constructive criticism about book two from a fan at Sci-Fi Valley Con.  They said they didn’t like The Obligatory Sequel as much as the first book because it wasn’t as funny and became more a traditional superhero ensemble drama rather than the action-comedy they liked.  I could see that.  Not as many jokes as there were in the first one in the interest of advancing the overall plot.

This had my head spinning as my original plan for book three spiraled out of control, getting into the drama of the plot, trying to come up with twists and reasons and lore.  I was backtracking the story of certain characters wondering where their stories started and contemplating throwing in mind-blowing twists leading to massive crazy expositions and explanations of everything people might have been curious about.  Filling in all the cracks and creating even bigger ones.

 

Then I realized that none of it was funny.  Nothing I was putting down on paper was even necessary.  Writing entire histories on certain characters was necessary only for me but wouldn’t really be necessary for the readers.  I started over.  I was rethinking the plot, the motives, the jokes… the direction I was going would have wound up focusing on one specific character and had no gravitas for the rest of the cast.  It took me a while to figure out how to adjust it so that I could retain all the elements of the storyline I’d been working on and get the other characters more involved and invested.  It took quite a while to get there but I finally did.  I just wanted to be able to do all of this while still making you laugh and sparing you a lot of the long-winded details.  If you know me personally you know that I love long-winded details so you can imagine how tough it was to self-edit in that aspect.

You’ll still wind up getting hints or even full explanations of some of the canon backstories I’ve written down (I know you’re all curious about Phalanx 81623 from the epilogue of book two, for instance) but a lot of the lore behind some of the things (specifically Project related lore) might not ever be revealed.  You should know, though, that I have a bible just so I can keep things straight on my side.

 

The Tuesday after Labor Day, I got a job offer.  I accepted and am now situating myself in a new office doing a similar job to that which I was doing previously.

 

As I started planning for the next step in my life, I found myself reinvigorated about the writing.  On my last weekday of freedom, I churned out the majority of the outline for book three – revamped, retooled, prepped to be plot-driven while remaining pretty damn funny.

I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s the working atmosphere.  I have modes, I suppose, and when I was unemployed, my mind told me that I wasn’t in work mode.  I had many ideal days over the summer in which to accomplish work; sitting on my porch with a jug of iced tea, my laptop, and a pack of smokes.  Nothing of any consequence ever came out of it.  I just couldn’t feel the rhythm.

 

I have been wanting to write this post for a while.  I felt you deserved to know what was happening.

 

As soon as my work situation is stable and I am through being onboarded and trained, book three writing will begin.  If you haven’t yet, I would recommend checking out the shorts that have already been posted.  There are going to be some consequences to the actions taken in those shorts within the third book and I want you guys to be prepared.

I’m planning on releasing a U7 2.5 which is going to compile the shorts into a (very short) book.  There will likely be at least two shorts exclusive to the print version, so make sure you pick it up when it is ready.  I’ll be making announcements when that happens.

 

Thanks for continuing to read and bearing with me as my real life gets back on track.

 

Keep fighting the good fight.

 

—end transmission—

How Santa Works Now – A Brief History

There is a man who lives in the frozen arctic north.

Despite all reports regarding shrinking polar ice, his home remains standing in one of the most remote places on Earth.  Literally, no one – aside from he and his immediate associates – have ever traveled there.  It exists in a place which is scientifically proven to be the farthest point from civilization, above water, on the planet.

Originally, this man lived in a village far south of his current domicile.  During the early winter – the darkest days of the year – he would cheer people up by bringing hand-fashioned toys for the children and necessities for those with more responsibilities.  His tradition was beloved by the public and he was a very giving man.  His philosophy was that he should share the warmth in his heart with others in order to make the winter that much more bearable.

Seeing his success in the small snowy village, he thought about expanding his operation.  He used his sleigh and some of the indigenous reindeer to deliver his heart-warming goods to other nearby areas to help them through those dark, cold times.  As his delivery radius grew year after year, he found himself in need of help.  He recruited the people of his home village to help him fashion toys and gifts, enough that everyone in his region would get one thing they needed or wanted to help cure the winter blues.  He was himself a jack-of-all-trades but, by teaching his workers the basics, they became masters of their own.

As his workforce grew and his range continued to expand, he found himself creating a grand design.  If he could bring this kind of cheer to one region of the world, why not bring it to the entire world?  It remained a pipe dream until one night he spoke of his ambitions to one of the village elders.  The elder revealed that he was familiar with the Ars Arcanum of the older world and that there were ancient incantations which could help him achieve his goals.

Through the use of forgotten ley lines, the elder and the man cast a spell found in a dusty grimoire which would re-position their village to a hidden place of power – this most remote part of the world, away from the prying eyes of the ever-advancing world of man.  A place where their use of this magic could remain secret.  Their intentions were noble and they knew if any of these powers got into the wrong hands, they would be misused.

They enchanted his sleigh next.  As the distance was now vast between his home and those to whom he brought cheer, it made sense that his conveyance should fly.  The trick to the spell, however, was that the sleigh would need constant forward momentum in order to stay aloft, which meant the work of his already famous reindeer would continue.

With his village and workforce now operating in secret and the ability to range further than ever, he began to visit every village he could on the night of December 25th.  The cheer he brought helped to retain the magic he had been granted.  His gift giving was close to a holiday mentioned in the grimoire but far enough away to allay suspicion of any true magic being used.  It wasn’t until much later during the Reformation that this would, coincidentally, be officially recognized as the birthday of Jesus and therefore named Christmas.  That is another story altogether.

Though his range was larger than it had ever been, he still felt it wasn’t enough.  There were people out there who were in need.  There were those who required something to sustain them through the frigid winter to come.

He and the elder enchanted more sleighs.  They gathered more reindeer.  They trained some of the burlier men in his employ (he being a mountain of one himself) in his gifting procedures.  They broke the world up into regions for his self-made doppelgangers.

Over time, these gift-givers grew their own style, name, and reputation based on their region.  None of them would ever top the original who, despite having accrued quite an burgeoning empire over the years, still made his own rounds personally.  The idea of gift-giving grew so much that people began giving each other gifts and creating their own winter cheer.  His idea was spreading.  The time of year became the season for giving.

He liked this so much that he decided to add a bit more mystique to his routine and that of his compatriots.  They would only come while people were sleeping.  They could continue to give gifts, but their visits would no longer be the center of attention.  The holiday he had fashioned would become about celebration with family and friends – togetherness in the face of the bleak season to come – rather than concentrating on the arrival of him or one of his lieutenants.

Time pressed on and population expanded.  Considering the workload and the facts, he decided that adults were providing their own cheer through togetherness and the gifts they gave to each other.  He decided to turn his efforts fully to children and the village, which had now become nearly a factory, switched exclusively to toy production.

This was done for a secondary reason, as described by the grimoire.  While the magical energies of a younger world put the spells in place, belief in those magics was what kept them empowered.  Adults, with a more concrete and cynical view on the world, had no time for what came to be told as legends or fairy tales.  If he could retain the belief of at least the children – more powerful in its nature due to their innocence – he could continue his operation indefinitely.

This was important as he came to rely on magic.  An enchantment kept his camp hidden.  Spells kept himself, his workers, and his lieutenants from aging.  He possessed flying sleighs and what would become known by fantasy gamers everywhere as the original bag of holding.  Unless he was able to pay the upkeep through belief, everything he treasured would fall apart.

The legends used to spread belief in he and his cause began to homogenize and pool together.  He was starting to be recognized as one man with different names who circled the globe in one night, giving presents to all who deserved them.  Building on this, he decided to make his lieutenants a bit more uniform.  Belief would remain strong if it was in one entity.  He had no personal thirst for power or worship, it was done only to retain a strong belief in what he and his compatriots were doing.

As the centuries pushed on, things grew more difficult.  More lieutenants were required.  Different magics were scavenged from the grimoire allowing the gift-givers to enter through tight open spaces, mostly chimneys or other ventilation systems, to get where they needed to be.  These were feats of individual magic, however, and tended to exhaust the user.  Rumor was spread of this (and it spread fast), sparking a tradition of milk and cookies being left as a snack along with the occasional carrot for the well-known reindeer.

The legends continued to unify and eventually the most recognized name given to what was still believed to be the solitary gift-giver was Santa Claus.  The visage of the original had been seen and passed down through the ages for so long that, in the early decades of the 20th century, it was brought into prominence by a rather ambitious soft drink company via their advertisements.  This put belief at an all-time high.

This was both a blessing and a curse for the gift-givers.  They were now busier than ever.  Consumerism was kicking in.  Children were no longer happy with handcrafted toys and they wanted things which, logistically, couldn’t be made at Santa’s factory.  Things made from plastic and cardboard.  Things with motorization and circuitry and, eventually, advanced electronics.  Much to the dismay of the big man, if he wanted to maintain belief, he would have to buy into it.

He sent some of his best off to college to learn about marketing techniques and trend tracking among other business acumen.  His staff, once expert craftsmen, were being moved from manufacturing to import/export.  The icy village in the middle of nowhere became a business hub, the grimoire continuing to provide all the magic they needed to gain access to phone lines and internet connections without the need of bringing in people from the outside.  They would buy the toys they needed to meet demand.

Santa himself became less like the foreman of the holiday and more like the CEO of an idea.

He had since given up his personal sleigh route.  Mechanical forms of propulsion were now powering technologically upgraded sleighs bearing his trusted lieutenant.  They flew out at Christmas in droves of thousands, continuing his legacy.  His job was now an executive position.

Years prior, he had taken advantage of part of his legend created by his adoring public: the naughty/nice theorem.  While he originally felt that everyone should get something at Christmas, he could see the point parents were making by invoking his name to bring their children to order.  As all the other work was being done by his subordinates, he decided to make it a real thing and started a new department of his operation.

He didn’t use the ancient magics to accomplish this.  Instead, he created a spy network which rivals any currently in the world today.  His representatives are everywhere.  They watch the entire year.  A report is eventually given off to the Naughty/Nice Department for evaluation with Santa himself handling the cases under heaviest dispute.  The NND tends to keep their paperwork off his desk as much as possible, but there are some cases which require his personal touch.  He trusts his staff to make the right decisions most of the time.  After all, they’ve been with him for centuries thanks to magic.

He also trusts his marketing staff to do the right thing.  They’ve not been wrong once in targeting the hot toy of the season.  They use a combination of trend analytics and department store Santas (their ear to the ground) to make their determination.  They give an annual presentation to the big man himself, send the results to acquisitions, and they order as many units as they can,  To this day, this is how children wind up getting that impossible gift – the one that is constantly out of stock.

Sure, sometimes their parents battle it out with other people to get the last one on the shelf and lose yet, somehow, one still winds up under the tree.  This is thanks to the NND.  Upon naughty/nice determination, the NND can inform the warehouse who then places an item and contacts the parents regarding a pickup.

Strangely, these “it-toys” can be recursive.  Once acquisitions places a huge order before the season, it can cause a massive shortage in that particular item and, through media – both traditional and social – can cause a run on the market making Santa first the cause and then the solution of the big toy rush.  This is easily overlooked and forgiven as the warehouse is always emptied of the “it-toys” by the end of the season and the manufacturing backlash always guarantees that the kids who didn’t get a pass from the NND will get one after the holidays.

Perhaps the most interesting transition that has occurred within the last thirty or so years is that neither Santa nor his lieutenants make personal deliveries anymore.  With the advent of security devices and the rise in home defense, it was safer to allow himself to become a legend rather than remain a fact.  He and his staff continue to reinforce the myth with random acts of holiday magic here and there, just to let the world know that he is still around.  He leaves the spread of belief and the true perpetuation of his legacy up to parents.  Sometimes they don’t realize how real he actually is.  Still, every year he mounts up on his old-fashioned reindeer-driven sleigh and makes a few laps around the world.  You might spot him if you look closely.  When you’re the figurehead of an operation this big that has been going on for as long as it has, you have to make at least one real appearance.

In closing, remember the big man this Christmas.  He may have ancient magic at his disposal, but he can’t give you world peace or any other conceptual gift, as much as he would like to.  Ask him for something tactile, though, and chances are he’ll either make one available to someone you know or he’ll find a way to get you one himself.  Belief is down more and more every year and he needs that to keep things going so he’s willing to overlook the fact that you are a 35 year-old looking for a NES Retro (please help, Santa!) in exchange for a little extra help in the magic department.

You may not see him in person, kids, but that’s just because he has a pretty big corporation to run.

Also, if you’re looking for a couple of signed first editions under your tree, I know a guy.

The Fandom Menace

There’s this theory going around the internet – isn’t there always a theory going around the internet? – and it’s been around for a while. Of course, I am just now picking up on it, along with many other people, due to the uptick in a certain fandom based on an upcoming, highly-anticipated, and amazing-looking sequel.

I’m going to talk about it, but only as part of the overall point of this entry. Promise you won’t go away because of the certain name you see below and I swear I’ll make the rest of this article worth your while.

Promise?

Pinky-promise?

Ok.

The big theory is that Jar Jar Binks is a Sith Lord – the real Phantom Menace titular to Episode I.

Lest you think this is some laughable fan theory made up to grant significance to what is viewed as one of the worst Star Wars characters of all time, I compel you to look at the evidence for yourself.

I’ll wait here while you check it out. You really should before we go any further.

Welcome to mind blow land. I’m not going to present the entire theory here, that’s why I posted the link. Please, seriously, click through and check it out. It’s important to the next few paragraphs but I suppose not the entire article as a whole.

Now, some of you may view this with a skeptic’s eye, as I originally did. Some of you may even say, “Lucas isn’t that smart,” but I would persuade you to think of your qualifier for that. Most of you feel betrayed by Lucas BECAUSE of Jar Jar Binks and his stupidity. But what if – WHAT IF – all of this was true and Jar Jar’s presence was justified by making him the most powerful Sith Lord in the universe? How would George Lucas look to you then? How would you feel knowing that the buyer’s remorse you felt for your midnight Phantom Menace tickets resulted in what could have been the most amazing reveal in all of film history?

None of us would have seen it coming. If I could wax hypothetical on the theory for just another paragraph or three, I would like to posit some quick ways this would have changed everything about the prequels. For the better. Maybe for the amazing.

Count Dooku was the shoehorn replacement for Darth Jar Jar in spots. I think the reveal would have happened at the end of Attack of the Clones. Instead of battling Count Dooku, the Jedi would have had an epic lightsaber battle with Darth Jar Jar who would instantly drop the stupid Gungan accent and suddenly be quite smooth and intellectual. He and Anakin would have some words with “Little Ani’s” heart being broken after realizing his childhood friend was a Sith Lord all along. They fight, Jar Jar gains the upper hand – maybe even says some words to convince Anakin to come to the Dark Side – and he is the one who cuts off Anakin’s arm. Then we get the Yoda vs. Jar Jar fight which would have been an epic achievement in CGI (maybe, probably, maybe not?).

This would be a much clearer influence for Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side than Palpatine blah-blahing some old story about Darth Plagueis the Wise and his ability to resurrect and retain life. Hell, Jar Jar himself could have been Darth Plagueis the Wise. My personal theory is that Jar Jar may have even been Jedi Master Saifo-Dias who supposedly ordered the Clone Army from Kamino. I’m probably wrong there, but, if Jar Jar is a missing and high-ranking Force adept on either side of the coin (or both), he could fill many holes that exist in the legends by being that “unseen” character.

Either way, Anakin’s betrayal by Jar Jar at the end of Attack of the Clones would have been brutal but his old, innocent friend seducing him to the Dark Side would have been much more interesting. Jar Jar always approved of the love between Padme and Anakin. He would be very understanding and accepting (and greedy) regarding their prophecy fulfilling children. I couldn’t even imagine the after-effects of the whole ordeal. Would they have killed Jar Jar by the end of Revenge of the Sith or would he have escaped, leaving us to wonder where he was during the events of the Rebellion? We’ll never know.

We will never know. That is the most important takeaway from this theory – we will never and can never know what exactly Lucas had in mind. Even if he confesses – which I would advise him to do immediately – that the Darth Jar Jar theory is real, we will never get to see those movies. We will never get to hear that story. Why? Because we all dropped the ball. Hard.

The reason I made you promise to stay with me at the beginning of the post was that mentioning the name Jar Jar Binks is nearly guaranteed to shut people off immediately. You think of his stupid face, his bumbling, and his meesa-yousa bullshit and you immediately want to change the channel. We ALL hated Jar Jar. We hated him so hard and so publically that articles were written about it. Hate mail was sent to Lucas because of it. The pressure of the fanbase purely hating on this character made Lucas change his plans, as evidenced in tweets and interviews.

We killed Darth Jar Jar with the unbridled hate of the collective internet before Lucas had a chance to perpetrate the end of his scheme. We were tainted by the “Greedo shot first” incident and thought he was completely off his rocker. Jar Jar put us all over the edge and made us lose faith. Lucas became a joke and, ultimately, sold to Disney because he knew that no one would ever trust him to make a good Star Wars movie again. That’s not to say that The Force Awakens doesn’t look amazing, but I digress.

Fandom banded together and pressured a creator so hard that he ditched an entire master plan for fear that people would boycott any movie which would assign an important role to a character as conceivably ridiculous as Jar Jar. I remember before Attack of the Clones came out, there were rumors that Jar Jar would become a Jedi or something like that and I remember pounding my fist on a bar and cursing Lucas’ name if he made it true. Little did I know that almost fifteen years later I would be sitting here looking back at that me as part of the problem.

The same sort of thing happened to J.K. Rowling when info leaked that, after the Battle of Hogwarts and the defeat of Voldemort, Harry would become a squib due to the loss of his connection to the Dark Lord. Fans and forums went apeshit and caused J.K. to bow to pressure and “fix” the ending.

That’s really where all this talk was going.

Fandom has a huge influence on the way modern creators craft a story. This is a pure and important fact and, perhaps, a peril of being a storyteller in the internet era. The power of internet fandom can topple dynasties in hours if they disagree with something happening on a given show or in a movie or in a book series. Fandom can become militant. Fandom can tear down worlds. Fandom can hold stories for ransom.

As a storyteller and a universe builder, my question is this – Is this the right thing to do? Should an author/filmmaker/showrunner bow immediately to the pressure of the fans? How does this compromise story elements? How much should this change the overall plot or goal?

I am not speaking out about fandom in general as I am part of it. I have written (in my head if not in word files hidden deep within my vault) the way I thought Lost and Harry Potter should have ended. I am vocal about how I think things should progress in shows (which ultimately don’t materialize). I have my own ideas of how things should go if I would write them. I am deep in the fandom of certain things but I have learned in my old age to trust in the writers for the most part. Not that they are always right, but as fandom, we should respect that it is their story to tell.

There have been moments during reading/watching where I have angrily shaken my fist or been outwardly vocal or even cried due to a plot turn or a character death or a stupidly implausible whatever. There have been characters in things that I really wanted to die who make it all the way to the end and vice versa. That is part of the emotion of the narrative.

Nothing can ever satisfy everyone within a fandom. There will always be some hate for certain characters/events/situations/places but in the end, the creator of that story should stand firm and not bow to the demands of the fandom. The fandom should respect the source material, even if it’s not created yet.

On the other side, some fan service is ok, but never at the expense of the narrative. Bowing to fan pressure to the narrative is the reason Jango Fett was the source of the Clone Army – because people just couldn’t get enough of Boba that there just HAD to be a way to shoe-horn in someone in Mandelorian armor flying Slave I and generally being an overall badass. I know I keep going with the Star Wars references but the way the fandom influenced the prequels is, in my opinion, why they were so awful. Lucas put out the Phantom Menace and we all (myself included) hated it. We railed so hard against it that he took all of our suggestions into account when proceeding to Episodes II and III and those turned out to be garbage to the point of being completely disavowed by sections of general nerdity.

If you need a more contemporary example, think about the phrase “if Daryl dies, we riot,” and tell me that doesn’t influence a certain group of showrunners.

As an author, I have to tell you – trust us. We have a plan. Even if you don’t think we do, we totally do. We have this stuff lined up. We know the direction things need to go. We have already decided who lives and who dies and we’re very sorry if that somehow puts out your favorite character but that is the story we are telling. Sometimes these things are unavoidable. By all means, if a character is killed off, you can always push for a prequel. Or an alternate universe. But, let that character stay dead if the author says they’re dead. There are enough Jean Greys out there.

And, if you don’t like the way things are going, be cool and wait it out. Let things unfold without the backlash. If we had, we would have Darth Jar Jar. And it would have been amazing.

Have an opinion on this topic? Feel free to voice it in the comments. I’m interested in fandom’s opinion on this. Also, if you’re interested in joining the Unlucky Seven fandom, let me know. I want one so bad.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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.

Sigh.

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—

Events!

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.

https://www.facebook.com/events/956567171041542/

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—