Brand New Day – Day’s End

It’s a curious thing finishing the same book a second time. As I put it to my brother and anyone who would listen at the end of March, the ending was exactly the same and completely different. The same general things happened, but all of it happened in different ways. Ways I was a lot more proud of then I was with the original. So proud that I thought I deserved to stop worrying about writing for a while.

And so proud that here I am, in mid May, still on hiatus. A hiatus that’s gone for a lot longer than I intended. One from which I’m now trying to work myself.

But one that’s particularly hard to work out of because there’s no book behind it. I didn’t realize it when I took my break, but I’m a bit too far gone now; the result of the Brand New Day is that I now… can’t get anything done in my life unless I’m writing something beneath it.

It’s actually the last thing I ever expected, but it makes sense; I’m a writer, so how could I be at my very best if I’m not writing? But it’s deeper than that; there’s a discipline about the task that keeps everything else reigned in. When I was writing War of Exiles, I was dieting and working out every day. I was rationing my money wisely and being diligent about my job searches, not just kind of getting defeated by them.

The only thing I wasn’t doing was seeing the people I really wanted to see and having a solid social life. That I sequestered away, and it’s probably part of the reason why I crashed so hard with this hiatus—a part of me totally doesn’t want to stop hanging out. The problem is, I did a complete 180 with my responsibilities; I’m not dieting or rationing my money or looking for jobs as often as I should. I know I haven’t completely given up in any one of those aspects like I could’ve, but I’ve definitely regressed. Into someone I don’t want to be. Into someone without a plan. Without a road to travel.

What I want to be is someone who realizes that road for what it is: the road my characters travel. The adventure that they have. Only with finishing the book and this stupid hiatus do I realize that their adventure is mine too. And just as it’s scary for Lethe to give up the simplicity of his childhood for the servitude he lives now, it’s scary for me to do what needs to be done. To accept that I have to combine my writing and other endeavors with my friends; to accept that those two worlds can’t just be separate so I can embrace either one of them at an easier pace. It’s just not how life works and it isn’t the life I want to lead.

So Brand New Day is over. And I’m glad to take all of this from it; the realization that the life of the writer isn’t so different from the life of anyone else. We work and we play and we dream. But we do it for our characters. We do it so we can show others their dreams and troubles, and our own.

Because if we don’t live for our characters and our stories, then we live for nothing.

Brand New Day – Week 24 – All in Good Taste

So, I’m winding down to the end of this time in my life. For that reason, I haven’t been too diligent about updating this blog (or, ya know, seeing friends); I’ve finally worked myself into a really productive writing schedule that’s actually supporting multiple projects at the same time. And, it’s seen me through probably more chapters in the past month than I’ve written in the past 4 combined. Do I wish I could’ve found this schedule and devoted myself to it months ago? Of course, but hey, discovering this stuff–working it into my life and devoting myself to it–is what Brand New Day’s all about, so I can’t complain. What matters is, I’m on schedule to finish the outline within the next two weeks and then devoting 100% of my time to looking for a new job (instead of 20% of it).

Being so close to the book in the past month has taken its toll though; I realized the other day, while working on chapter 14, that I had no idea whether the book was… I guess I should say “marketable.” The characters were chatting about the course of action and while reading it over again, I thought, “Will this be boring?… Is this boring?”

My brain replied with, “Well… You did just have like… a huge action scene. And this chapter is really engaging.”

To which I said, “… 8 | …,” because I realized that was not an answer.

Now, alone, that’s not a problem–I definitely ascribe to the mantra that a writer should write what they enjoy, not what they think others will enjoy. I could’ve just remembered that and shrugged the whole mess away.

But… this had happened about… I dunno, a days after I realized (finally) what the plot for the rest of the series would be. Now, you’re possibly confused by that–how the hell could I not know what the rest of the series would be like?–so let me explain; I’m more of a… casual brainstormer (I’m making up terms). I can (and totally do), just sit down and put pen to paper and ideas come out. But really, for me, the best ideas come out of nowhere when I see or hear something that triggers brainstorming when I’m not even trying. Usually what I get from a trigger is an image that I then expand on slowly. Most of the time, it’s a character doing something (a kid frantically painting a rune over and over again while a battle happens nearby, for example).

And that’s the kind of thing that happened with the plot for both sequels of The War of Exiles, which, ya know, was awesome.

Only it turns out the rest of the plot is heartbreaking.

It was either on facebook or twitter (@TheGrandSilence) that I mentioned how I hoped a character wasn’t going to die in the chapter I was currently working on. I… don’t remember if that happened (#blatantlie), but the fact is, that can always happen; I try to be as open as possible with events, leaving it up to the characters to choose what happens while I set them in different, crazy settings. Turns out though that writing like this can accidentally lead to intense bouts of depression; my characters are like… more than friends, and all they have is really rough times coming. I’m personally getting a bit jaded with character deaths, but suffice it to say that I’ve found something far worse; the second installment in the series is going to be really tough to write (if I get the opportunity to write it at all).

So, the uncertainty and the depression set in a short while back. Well, not depression, but sadness–I cried (#HoldYourViolinsTilTheEndPlease–#TheyllJustMakeMeCryAnyway). Regardless, the result was a day or two’s break, with all sorts of questions: Was this seriously worth it? Should I even bother? Are the questions the sequel’s going to pose too dark? Is the way they’ll be conveyed going to just make everyone unhappy? Was this whole Brand New Day thing stupid? Should I have just tried to get the original book published and then just try to get a steady job instead?

Well… ultimately, I realized that because the questions and themes of the sequel were so damn serious and heavy, I had a responsibility to write them down–a responsibility to the character who goes through the absolute worst of them first, and (if it so happens that this series gets published) a responsibility to the public second, as a writer, to not pull punches or sugar coat anything.

But, still, that left a residue of “Is this good?” A film of “Am I writing shit again?” and “Are people going to want to read any of this?”

And then, Ronin of HotMop Films (@RoHotMopFilms) posted this video on facebook.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a video that was as perfectly timed as this one. As perfectly timed and, as a result, as validating; I had already at least gotten over this hurdle, right? I realized the first version of the book was terrible and I’d already worked past that. I didn’t give up.

No. I didn’t. And I won’t.

A Brand New… Vamlemtime’s Day Tribute to Baelbericht, the “War of Exiles” Character Who Got Away

If there’s one thing I love to do on this blog, it’s say one thing and be all, ” ‘S fuckin’ right, dude. S’a way to do it!” but then totally come from the other hand with, “<sigh>… Yeah… That’s the… way to do it. *sniff*”

So, hey, I thought I’d do some of the latter to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. And, ya know, maybe talk about writing at the same time—maybe stumble upon some kind of meaningful, important concept… maybe.

But, really, the learning—the important concept—shit’s not important. What’s important is paying tribute to a character who, I realized earlier today, totally did not make it to the rewrite of War of Exiles. Ladies and gentlemen, this post is for my friend…

<3 Baelbericht <3

So last year, Week 13 of Brand New Day, I wrote a post that was all about how I’d deleted a character. That was Ozi, who I’d called “the Laughing Ghost.” Still love that guy, still totally going to use him somewhere else (and I’m really excited for that), but this isn’t about him. In that post, I talked about how great and important it was to delete a character and chapter that were just not working with the rest of the plot. That’s still a good and healthy thing to do because a lot of aspiring fantasy writers (and I’ve totally been guilty of this) tend to add way too many ideas to one world or plot. The result?

Well, think of it like cooking; you’re trying to make your first dish the very best dish ever, which isn’t the worst idea, only you try to do it by adding in everything that sounds delicious… which is, like, everything in the cupboards. There’s already a jalapeno in there (intrigue?), but fuck it—empty the jar. Chocolate (romance) is awesome, so I’m going to throw that in there! Wait! Lemons (Jar Jar Binks)!? Going in! That last one was a joke, but the point’s gotta be clear; whether or not these elements are good or bad, they can’t all work jammed together with no rhyme or reason. Even a trained chef can’t make every single awesome element work in the same composition (i.e. why Dinosaurs aren’t in Game of Thrones). The discerning writer knows this and it’s ultimately why deleted scenes / characters / chapters happen.

But sometimes, deleted scenes are awesome and that’s what this post is (supposed to be) about.

Baelbericht was an awesome character who I really loved. He was a barbarian (they aren’t called that in my story, but I don’t want to get into the mess of naming analogue races [or, ya know, the mess of analogue races] right now, so I’ll just say barbarian). He had an awesome weapon that was so cool I’m not even going to talk about it. I will say that his shoulder guards were bear skulls (only the skulls were faced inward, so that it looked like he’d shoved his arms down their throats)… Not really sure how that armor worked out visually, but it was a cool, smaller detail on a character I liked a bunch.

Of course, the thing is though, I totally didn’t remember he wasn’t in the book, which says a lot about my capability to love things, right? But months ago, I’d planned out exactly how and when he would make his appearance in the rewrite.

It just didn’t happen.

So am I going to go back and write him in? Well, of course not. That’d be ridiculous and although I’m on a really awesome writing schedule right now, I don’t have time for bullshit like adding a character into chapter six and editing back up to twelve.

And really… Looking back at this character who I’d thought was so damn awesome, at this point, is like looking back at another time in my life. It’s perhaps, the same reason why I took out Ozi; I’m different now in the same way that the rewrite is different. Two years ago, War of Exiles was something else. Something I enjoyed at the time, but something that was, ultimately supposed to be a really quick project written by someone who definitely hadn’t read enough fantasy or tried to do anything more than create analog races (in a written story, at least [the series I started planning back in high school had a bunch of original races that I often go back and tinker with]).

When it came down to it though, the me I am now, nearly at the end of this extremely weird time in my life, just didn’t remember Baelbericht. Somewhere between figuring out (and always [always] writing down) exactly how my characters feel and just which twists are / should be hinted at in a scene, I’d completely forgotten to put in the generic dude with the crazy bear armor and the wicked cool weapon. And the plot (sorry, Bael) totally forgot as well. Because it isn’t a plot about giant warrior dudes battling zombies with their electric guitars (I swear that never happened in the first draft); it’s a plot about emotional people with real problems, thrown into a terrifying situation and trying to get out of it (add a bit of jalapeno).

So what’s my point here? How is this even a Valentine’s Day post? What does it have to do with anything?

Well, a major part of love is letting go, right? Whether it’s letting go of insecurities so you can trust someone or letting go of the one who got away so you can find someone else, goodbyes are essential for love.

So I thought it was appropriate I say goodbye to Baelbericht tonight.

I know I’ll see him again somewhere down the line, and I know that when I do, it’ll be awesome and he’ll be a real character. But for me, it’s just one of those Valentine’s Days that’s all about letting go.

Brand New Day – Week 15 – You Don’t Look Back

I was sitting at an old friend’s house. She (let’s call her Claire), like a lot of other friends, moved abroad last year, but she stopped by for the holidays to see family and friends.

So I was glad to get an invite from her; not to be dramatic, but via a bunch of different events, I lost nearly all of my social ties last year. I’m glad that very few of them were seriously bad breaks, but it’s still hard to have your entire social network disappear in the course of a few months. In a way, it’s easier to deal with someone who up and stops calling. Or someone who suddenly decides that they don’t want to hear from you anymore—at least at those times, you can be sure (if it’s true) that they’re the assholes in the situation. Having your best friends all move abroad though? Seeing a lot of them get engaged and move out of the state? Having some move across the country? Or into a new job that demands all of their time? And all at the same time while you try to break ground on an endeavor that requires you to be completely alone nearly all of the time? Somehow, it’s worse. You can text, you can meet them online, but that’s it.

Anyway, I’m getting off topic. So, I’m sitting there, and I’m glad to be there. But it’s a surreal experience. Claire’s little sister is there, who had been a little kid the last time I’d seen her. But she was a teen now, complete with Uggs and a smart phone she never put down.

To boot, another of Claire’s friends was there. I introduced myself to her and Claire jumped in with, “Don’t you guys know each other?”

And then I realized we did. We’d met…

Back in 2002? Downstairs, in Claire’s basement, where we and other friends at the time were playing D&D. This friend (let’s call her… Megan?) came over for some reason, and for a reason that I didn’t understand at the time, Claire invited her in to watch us play D&D. Now, adding fuel to the obvious, raging awkwardness of the moment, Megan was (and still is) extremely attractive. So much so that my reaction at the time was to stop talking. No, people, I was not, in any way, a lady’s man. These days, I definitely get by, but I’d still be extremely uncomfortable starting a conversation with a beautiful woman who walks in during a D&D session. I’d like to think most people would be, because, hey, aside from being caught murdering someone, I’m not sure there’s less of a turnoff than being behind a 3.5 Player’s Handbook and a pile of dice when a woman first meets you.

But, hey, whatever, I thought. That was ages ago, and rightly so, because it was.

And that’s just the thing. It was ages ago. Everything is now.

More than any other time in my life, the past few months have been the most extreme hard reset I’ve ever experienced.

  • I’d say 80% of my best friends moved far enough away that I couldn’t just hop on a train and see them.
  • Of the remaining 20%, I’ve only been able to stay in touch with about 15% (that’s the thing about having exes you’re still attracted to as friends [especially at a time when you’re always depressed about being alone and every else has moved on]).
  • I lost my job because Borders went out of business. So not only did I lose all of the acquaintances and social interaction that came with that job, I lost a stable source of income I could’ve used to have new social interactions.
  • And every single chance at romance that I thought I had quietly went away.

So all that’s left me with are the occasional hangouts with the extremely amazing 15% of my close friends who are still left (I can’t thank you guys enough), and… me.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Having this time alone has allowed me to take a serious, honest look at myself and my life—to change things that needed to change and figure out what I wanted from everything. And I’ve done so well enough that when Megan eventually brought up her engagement at Claire’s house, I smiled and congratulated her (perhaps moreso because a younger, shittier version of myself would’ve been jealous about it).

But it’s the only reward in a sea of silence and temperance. I had dinner with Claire, Megan, her mother and sister, and I smiled and listened to them talk about their lives, grateful that there weren’t questions about my own, aware the whole time that I’d be leaving soon to ride a bus back home—a trip I hadn’t made in years. Aware the entire time that everyone else was moving on and I wasn’t. Trying to reap confidence from the thought of the book, how well it was going, how I was still on schedule.

I gave Claire a goodbye huge around 9 PM. She had to get up early to catch a plane back to Florida. I don’t remember the exact farewell I gave her, but I remember walking away.

Away from the memory of the summer job where I’d met Claire. Of parties we’d gone to and experiences we’d shared as buddies with her other friends. Of my other friends, completely unrelated, and the days when I’d always had a set hangout day with them. Of old jobs and old acquaintances who were simply gone now. Of hands I would never hold again and the almost unfamiliar curve of long gone lips.

I didn’t look back. Because you don’t look back at things you know won’t ever return. You just walk on and try your best. Keep on the unfamiliar trail, no matter how difficult it is, and hope that you find something worthwhile at its end.

Brand New Day – Week 13 – Things Unsaid

Last night, I decided to delete a chapter and a new character from the book.

Don’t freak out! Doing this hasn’t set me back at all. To the contrary, getting rid of an entire chapter and a new character who wasn’t exactly helping is incredibly healthy. Particularly for a first time writer who intends to submit to agents with strict guidelines for manuscript length; part of the reason I’m rewriting War of Exiles in the first place is that the original version was over 100 pages too long.

That wasn’t the entire problem though; it was too long and there were so many unnecessary plot points that I didn’t know what to delete and what to leave in. It was like looking at a tower of bricks loosely stacked on a tangle of wooden chairs and being told that you had to pull out half the bricks and chairs without bringing down the tower. In contrast, deleting Chapter 4 when I’m only up to Chapter 7? Getting rid of Ozi entirely? Saving him for a short story? Completely worth it.

In retrospect, the inability to make this kind of cut is what left me with a 461 page, bricks-and-chairs-golem of a first novel. And to me, it’s one of the things that separates an amateur from a writer who really wants to improve—the ability to be your own worst critic. You can sit back and judge everything else until your face turns blue (which most amateur writers do all the time anyway), but until you can do the same thing with your own work, you’re just wasting your own time.

And this is true for every kind and level of writing; after being a college tutor for nigh on seven years, I can tell you that the major flaw of students is a very common inability to pass judgment on their own work or deal with it from others. The amount of times I’ve had students get impatient with me because they didn’t want to acknowledge a grammatical error as a mistake is absolutely uncanny.

But really, nearly everyone is guilty of this crime. No one wants to accept criticism, particularly because half of the writers out there, who all seem like worthy readers, are usually waiting to shit on your work so they can feel better about themselves; I’ve actually had a trusted writer chuckle as he dismissed a short sample—of my outline. I remember sending it to him and thinking, “Do I even need to add ‘it’s an outline and I’m sending it to you because I need real, constructive criticism, or else why the hell would I send it in the first place; this isn’t to show off at all—I need help, not a snap and a headroll?’ No. He’s a good writer. He’s actually going to help, not take this tiniest opportunity to be a shithead.”

Lesson learned? All writers are readers, but not all writers are good editors. And, also, some writers are such amateurs that they’re absolutely in love with passing judgment because it makes them feel special. More important lesson learned? I’ve been that asshole reader. And, to the person whose manuscript I read, I’m sorry you had to deal with me being a total amateur.

Getting back on topic though, an inability to proofread and copy edit is only the basest facet of the amateur writer’s folly. A more mature form is the inability to trim; despite what many people think, the important difference between “we will have been there ten times” and “we’ve gone ten times” isn’t the subtle nuance of tense that imparts a delicate nugget of specific meaning. No, the important difference here is that “we will have been there ten times” wastes the reader’s time and bores the crap out of them. In my experience, there has almost never been a time where a flowery phrase couldn’t be reworded and trimmed into something far more engaging.

Take something like, “Then, he pivoted to his left, took out his well-sharpened dagger, and lifted it up as he struck!” With something like this, the writer felt it was necessary to give you a lot of extra details. The subject didn’t just pivot, he “pivoted to his left”. His dagger was “well-sharpened”. He “lifted it” as he struck. Fine, but none of those details are necessary. Look at how much more engaging this simple edit is: “He pivoted, drew his dagger, and struck!” There’s no filler to dull down the intensity and slow the action. And all of that nonessential information should be provided by other means anyway; we should know from this character’s personality that his dagger is well-sharpened. We should know that he’s a skilled fighter who would know which way to pivot—and really, in a basic, human way can infer that he pivots in one direction anyway and it really shouldn’t matter which way he chooses regardless. It shouldn’t matter how he lifts his dagger either, for that matter. But sometimes, people fall in love with the very particular scenes and actions they have in mind. And the inability to let go of that, to make scenes simpler and more engaging—the inability to embrace the things unsaid—is the heart of the amateurs’ inability to edit themselves.

And somewhere further down the line, there’s the inability to remove whole chapters, characters, and their plot lines.

Now, am I saying I’m the most epic writer of all time? No. I’m just saying that I’m incredibly glad I cut out Chapter 4 and Ozi. I know I’ve got a long way to go to being an author, but I think I’m getting there.

Brand New Day – Week 9 – When the Night Comes

When I was young, I used to get upset when the night came. A better word would probably be “afraid,” but that implies that I was just scared of the dark (which I was, but it isn’t that simple). I used to be afraid that the day was ending and I didn’t do enough with it. It’s a weird thing for a kid to be afraid of and eventually, I did get over that whole thing.

But I felt it again the other day. In the same way a Summer wind can smell just like a friend’s old house in Ohio, or the way sunset on a hot day with a large fan in the window can inexplicably remind me of playing the original Resident Evil with my brother, sunset the other day brought the fear right back.

It was definitely diluted; the original feeling was really a childhood fear of death, which is super morbid and not where I was. The new and improved version of the fear was just time-based; I looked away from Skyrim, saw that the sun was going down and realized I’d only been awake for an hour. Sure, I would be up until the sun came back for a while allowing me more than enough time to get things done, but would I?

Suddenly, I realized all of the things I’d missed lately: parties I couldn’t make it to, hang-outs that I canceled, outings I kept putting off; all things that work on a normal schedule I’d managed to completely invert for myself by playing Skyrim until 6 or 7 AM—sometimes later.

And all of it, the staying home, the backwards sleep schedule, was part of a self-sustaining funk that resulted directly from the major writer’s block that hit me late last month. I’d been incredibly optimistic about completing the outline and possibly first draft for my book in six months. But then chapter 6 came and… well, I didn’t discover what writer’s block is like because I’ve definitely had it before, but I did get a refresher course without pesky things like work and hanging out to bring the instant gratification.

But seeing that I was losing the sun a few days ago made everything simple. The fear came back—a small worry at the back of my mind—and suddenly I felt guilty. Because I was letting young Louis down. I was letting myself fail—letting myself be defeated. Even after getting over the block, I was letting the funk beat me; time was passing and I’d been so lax with everything, from working out to writing. I remember looking back to Skyrim and realizing I’d already written a review for it; I didn’t need to keep playing it. Especially when there were a ton of other things I did need to start doing. For starters…

Step 1 – Sleep and wake up like a human being, not a mole man. 

Step 2 – Finally stop being afraid that your final take on chapter 6 is terrible, give it a once over, and move to chapter 7. 

Step 3 – Start working out again. 

Step 4 – Start writing down every story idea you have and working on short stories like you were supposed to so you can have something to fall back on in case writer’s block happens again. √

Step 5 – Finally update your own blog… 

Brand New Day – Week 3 – Caught Between the Bell Curves

It’s Thursday night. I want to knock out a post before I get to bed; I’m going to Queens Comic Con tomorrow with Kenney Broadway and Chaos Mechanica. It’s an outing that was pretty exciting until I 8PM hit earlier and I realized that I somehow didn’t get anything done for my book today.

I know that’s not exactly fair—I made business cards today. And edited a few of next week’s posts. And worked out my schedule for Comic Con. And worked a bit on my big contribution to this year’s Con (a post for Infinite Ammo that’s still incredibly unfinished considering how complicated it’ll be to execute [thankfully Darth Healthcare {we’re just full of code names on that site} volunteered to help, but even the third of its writing portion, which I started months ago, is still unfinished and needs a ton of tweaking]). Still though, the goal was to roll out of bed, lay down on my couch and do that weird thing where I brainstorm by staring up at the ceiling (and maybe dozing off) to figure out exactly how the next chapter is supposed to work (which always leads to me crossing out the first few pages I get from the brain storming session and rewriting them later, after I discover the way the chapter should really go while doing something as unrelated as, say, petting a cat [as far as efficiency is concerned, it’s about as roundabout a way of writing as using brackets within brackets to steer myself away from a point {I swear I’ll stop this now}]). I was set to wake up and write just as I was ready for this whole Brand New Day thing to be relatively simple.

Relatively, as in I knew it would still be hard, yes. But I didn’t know I’d have so much work to do for Infinite Ammo that I’d realize the sun went gone down and wonder where the time went on a daily basis.

It doesn’t help that I feel determined to be unhappy; when I’m home, I wish I was outside. When I’m hanging out with friends, I wish I was out walking (I have a weird thing with taking walks and traveling), or home writing. And it’s not like I’m ungrateful or don’t want to hang out with my friends, I just want to do everything at once and I can’t. It’s really frustrating. Now that Chaos Mechanica and I have made a site that’s still going strong and has gotten nearly 3,500 hits, it’s lost its professional luster; all that there is for me is finishing this novel and possibly starting other ventures I’ve considered lately. There’s now a gratification curve to what I do, which, now that I say it, is possibly the same reason why I probably don’t feel completely gratified when I hang out; it’s not that the people I spend time with are lame or unfulfilling friends. It’s that… Well, you’ve probably loved someone so much that you didn’t know what to do when it didn’t work out with them, no matter how hard you tried.

Well, I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m caught between the bell curves and it’s a silent kind of unhappy that I try not to talk about to anyone. I want to finish more of this book every week. And I love her and miss her so much that I’m writing about it on my blog like this is high school.

Okay. Deep breath. One of those problems I can fix. The other I can ignore.

It’s time for bed; I can brainstorm/write on the train (where, oddly enough, I do my best drafting). I can spend a few hours at this Queens Comic Con, meet up with other friends afterward, hopefully go to Occupy Wall St. like I’ve wanted to. All of that is important.

One day at a time.

‘Wearing the Cape’ by Marion G. Harmon – Probably the Best Hero Fantasy Novel You’ve Never Read

A few months ago, Marion G. Harmon contacted me about doing a review for his first book. I was immediately flattered (an author? Writing to me? With a request?).

I was also apprehensive, because I’m honestly not in the business of pulling punches; if I don’t like something that even a friend has written, I’m going to tell them so. I’m not a jerk about it; I don’t revel in telling people “their writing is terrible” like some of the writers I know—I tell them because, as an amateur writer who’s been working hard to get published for over ten years, I think the most important things for a writer are a) to get honest critiques about his or her work and b) to be able to accept those critiques, understand them, and learn from them.

All of that said, I accepted Mr. Harmon’s request, hoping I wouldn’t have to write a follow-up “so… I’m going to be very honest in my review…” email.

Ten pages in, I realized that I wouldn’t be writing that email.

I could go on and tell you “I’m a really hard critic” and “I usually (and literally) throw bad fantasy novels away before I hit page one hundred.”

Instead I’ll just say that Wearing the Cape, is, in all honesty, not just a good hero fantasy novel—it’s an awesome and important one.

The Premise

The novel follows Hope Corrigan, a young teen who just had a “breakthrough”—an event that awakens super powers in her. She finds herself now a part of the super hero world—a world which is surprisingly realistic in this novel (I’ll get back to this in a minute). Now following a course that steers her away from her own plans and the life she expected, Hope finds herself fighting alongside her childhood heroes against horrors that she never could’ve imagined.

Maybe this doesn’t sound revolutionary to you. That’s fine; it wasn’t exactly the freshest concept to me either. But Harmon manages to snag your interest and keep you entertained throughout, always serving up something fresh to keep you engaged (whether it’s a conspiracy to murder a government official at a convention, a solo investigation into the whereabouts of a dark vigilante, or an attack from an emotionally triggered, hero-hating super villain).

On top of all of that though…

It’s Incredibly Realistic

Think of it like this; you’re one of two people: the kind who reads comics and the kind who doesn’t.

  • If you’re the kind who reads comic books, then you’ve probably never questioned half of the things that happen in them. You read an issue of Superman and probably say, “Well, of course he caught Lex Luthor! He’s incredibly smart!” instead of, “If he’s so damn smart, why doesn’t he ever see Lex coming?” You read Spider-Man and say, “Oh no! He ran out of web fluid again!” instead of, “Seriously? Why doesn’t he carry around a million cartridges of web fluid at this point? Why doesn’t he use science and make cartridges that last longer?”
  • If you don’t read comics, you’ve always questioned these things, adding a pinch of, “Why the hell do these guys wear spandex, btw? Would anyone really do that?” And you’ve never experienced the wallet crushing addiction of single issues (good for you).

The thing is, there’s a magical breed of people out there who are perfectly in the middle; people who do question comics and the worlds they propose but who still read them because they love them.

Marion Harmon is one of these people. And he also happens to be a good writer.

Wearing the Cape really shines because of this; as I said earlier, the world Harmon gives us is a surprisingly realistic look at super heroes. Not the kind of gritty, noire, but-I-still-have-lightning-powers-and-a-humongous-revolver-(or-something) realism that you would find in a graphic novel either. What Harmon has done is show us our own world as it would be if there really were heroes. Although he doesn’t bog us down with it, Harmon puts his characters into situations that involve things like government sanction, disaster response (hoo-boy does he ever), and (most unexpectedly important) actual team battle tactics.

Like I say, he doesn’t bog the story down with it, but he gives us enough to make us realize what a real super team would actually be like. You’ll wind up rubbing your chin and saying, “Huh… Yeah, I guess their primary function would actually be crisis control, wouldn’t it?” or “I guess they wouldn’t just be able to kill super villains whenever they wanted because of public image.” I’m sure there are comics that have hinted at points like these, but I can promise you that none have given readers such an informed, cohesive, and interesting look from that perspective.

The most surprising part of that perspective is the battle tactics aspect; when you’re done with this book, it’ll feel silly when you read the next issue of GL and find Hal flying into a stand-off with a mysterious new villain with absolutely no information about what’s going on. And, yeah, where is he supposed to get his information from? The answer—a ton of places the average super hero comic just doesn’t consider.

All That Said, the Flair Is Still There

I just have to say that doesn’t mean there are no costumes and everything you love about heroes. Hope is a costumed hero (she takes the mantel of “Astra” and works with and meets a retinue of charming [and charmingly named] heroes called the Sentinels, their leader a weary, southern, Superman-powered hero named Atlas). The twist here is that Harmon also makes sense of this whole powers business; unlike most comics, Wearing the Cape presents readers with a very, very real sense of danger for his characters by illustrating that even ones like Atlas (and Astra, who has the same power set) are easily beaten by the right counter power (say, several, high-powered blasts from an electrokinetic) or practical things (like flying directly into a solid object).

There’s also a social twist that adds more flair to being a hero though—in a world that’s exactly like our own, heroes wind up being celebrities that civilians mimic; most notably, musicians adopt personas as pretend super villains to appeal to young audiences (because, seriously, wouldn’t they?), although the trend carries over to general fashion as well. Touches like these make civilian life surprisingly present in a genre where it usually isn’t.

So Is There Anything Wrong with the Book?

I honestly can’t say there isn’t, but both of my issues are small.

The first is teen slang; Harmon does an awesome job of giving us a protagonist we like in Hope Corrigan. She’s intelligent but spunky, responsible but so spirited that you can’t help but like her. Chances are you won’t like when she uses words like “woogy” though. Or rather, it’s not that you won’t like her; it’s just that those moments may grate on you if you’re anything like me. Even so, they’re few and far between and ultimately don’t detract from the read; I just think that it’s important for you to remember that you are reading a young, teen girl as a protagonist, complete with slang like “woogy” and a few moments where she, possibly, prioritizes things that you (if you’re, say, a Hellboy fan) may find it painful to read about.

The second isn’t actually a problem—it’s more of advice. There will be a moment when a romance kicks into full throttle. It will nearly come out of nowhere, but (but) if romance is not your thing, you don’t have to worry about it suddenly dominating the rest of the novel (as I worried it might); this is not a romance story, and I promise you that if you hang around for it, you’ll get to a truly epic battle and an ending that will definitely leave you wanting more!

Want to give Wearing the Cape a shot? It’s available in paperback and ebook format at Amazon!

Brand New Day – Week 1

Last week, on Wednesday, the 14th, I worked my last day at Borders. The rest of that week and the weekend that followed disappeared in a bunch of Borders closing parties (and the hang-overs that followed).

Yesterday, Monday, the 19th, was a brand new day. In short, it was the beginning of my gamble to finish rewriting my first fantasy novel, The War of Exiles, within the next six months. And it began with a few wake up texts from Ronin at Hot Mop Films, asking me what time I’d be in. And, no, it wasn’t that I’d forgotten—I just thought we’d discussed the projects they wanted to recruit me for enough through email (and I also didn’t expect to sleep in ’til 11a.m. [memories of waking up at 4 o’ clock in the morning for Borders shifts that started at 6 are already so distant]).

This, in all honesty, was not how I expected the first day of the rest of my professional life to start, but there are worse ways. The meeting got me up, got me working, and (probably more importantly than I’d like to imagine) got me outside. It was still a little annoying though—not because I’m not excited to work with Hot Mop again, but because I was planning to roll out of bed and get right to work on chapter four of WoE. But now the entire day’s flow was thrown off; I’d get home and someone would be on Xbox Live, or there’d be something to work on for Infinite Ammo. There’d be no time to—

Wait. No. To hell with that.

When I got home, I ate dinner, opened the outline for WoE, and worked from 7p.m. to 5a.m. (allowing for the short breaks that often plague writing [which I hope to siphon out in the next few weeks because, seriously, ten hours?]). Not the amount of work I was expecting, but the amount I had to do because I could (there were at least five more times when that same voice came back with things like, ‘Well, you don’t need to write this character’s bio right now. Leave it for tomorrow! You’ve been at it for like, 8 hours!’ and ‘You don’t need to figure out this cultural detail right now. There’s always tomorrow,’ but each time I fought down the arguments and just didn’t stop]).

Today is Tuesday, the 2oth. And a brand new day.

It started with a wake up text from Chaos Mechanica, asking what stories were ready to post on Infinite Ammo. I spent an hour or two editing two of them and making and assigning images to both. Now, I’m moving on to writing ideas and drafts for Hot Mop.

And I’m also doing “alpha bullets” for chapter five of WoE.

Because the outline for chapter four is finished.

And now, completely unlike Louis from last week, I know I can get it all done by tonight.

Because now, every day is just another, oddly busier work day than I ever knew at Borders. And I’m absolutely loving every second.

Saying My Goodbyes

This isn’t going to be another extremely bleak post; despite the title, I’ve decided that it won’t because, although I still stand by everything I said in Preparing for the Storm (despite how embarrassingly true all of it was), I’m determined to not be as depressed as I was when I wrote that post.

Today’s my last day at Borders at Columbus Circle. Not because I’ve been fired or found a new job; it’s the last day that our store will stay open. Tonight, coworkers have another night of drinking planned, but when I wake up tomorrow, it’s time to get to work.

The thing is, the more pressing matter for me isn’t the work because I’m more excited for that than anything else; seriously, I was approved for a Press Pass to Comic Con earlier this week because of my work on Infinite Ammo, and with that I felt so insanely validated that I’m suddenly absolutely certain I’ll be able to handle this insane, 6 month deadline I’ve assigned myself.

What’s bothering me now is that it’s the last day at Borders; what would happen today only sank in last night when an old coworker of mine, Bill, left. He’s an older man with a great sense of humor, but always kind of gruff; he would do his job and only talk to you to poke fun or make bitter jokes about Borders. He also always left without saying anything to anyone. But yesterday, his shift ended at nine and he didn’t just slip out. I didn’t understand why at first, but when I realized he was giving out hugs, it occurred to me that I’d never see Bill again; he was leaving and he wouldn’t be at any of the parties or dinners. We wouldn’t be forced into the same place ever again for any reason.

We each live with our own cast of characters, their closeness to us determined on their level of development (round or flat). It’s not that some people are more interesting than others; it’s that only some are comfortable enough around us to show us who they really are. And it’s when these people step off-stage, their parts finished, that it hurts the most. Whether it’s time or not–and usually, it feels like it’s not–these people have to move on to someone else’s stage to be watched and loved.

When Bill was leaving, it made me realize that it would be like that for everyone; unlike any other place I’ve ever worked, Borders was full of round characters. Because unlike any other place I’ve ever worked, we let ourselves be charmed and charming. I’m not saying everyone was awesome, but nearly everyone made their mark and said their words and gave us their moments and now, today, the last of us would have the stage pulled from under us. Tomorrow, and very suddenly for me, we would all be missing our scene.

And no, it’s not like we can’t make new ones; I, for one, am amazing at making scenes wherever I go. : )

But it’s an incredible understatement to say I will miss everyone I’ve worked with at Borders at Columbus Circle. Unfortunately, it’s completely impossible to also explain the countless reasons why and thank everyone responsible. If you worked with me, if you were my friend, then thank you. Thank you for contributing to one of the best work experiences of my life. And if I haven’t heard from you in a while, please feel free to text me or write because I bet I miss you (I do that pretty easily).

If I don’t know you, well, thank you for reading this love letter anyway. And thank you for being a witness to this very serious turning point in my life.

Now, I’m heading to my last day at Borders. Tonight, party. Tomorrow, the real work begins.