Thoughts on Irredeemable

Boom! Studios has become one of my favorite comic publishers. The Traveler, Extermination, and the Hypernaturals are all excellent titles. But the one that I want to talk about today is the one that Boom! launched with – Irredeemable.

Irredeemable asks the question “What would happen if the world’s greatest hero became the world’s greatest villain?” The initial reviews of this that I saw likened it to what would happen if Superman went bad.

I was skeptical at first. Back in the 90’s there were several storylines where Supes went bad. They all revolved around one central story element. LOIS DIES. No matter what else Superman endures, what horrors he stops, what terrible things he encounters, the one thing that snaps his psyche like a twig is the death of Lois Lane. These books all followed a pattern: Lois dies. Supes snaps and decides that he’s going to run everything on planet Earth from thereon in, and woe to anyone who stands in his way. He usually kills off most of the other superheroes (off camera), except for Batman, who despite having no superpowers of his own, somehow manages to stay off Supes’ radar. Batman ultimately leads a team of non-powered heroes against the Man of Steel, several of them die, but Bats whips out a chunk of kryptonite at the last possible second and kills Superman, who repents with his dying breath.

That’s kinda what I figured I’d find in Irredeemable.

Was I wrong.

Warning – Spoilers Ahead

Irredeemable tells the story of the Plutonian, Earth’s most powerful hero, and his tragic and terrible fall from grace. The series opens just moments after the Plutonian’s gone bad, and he begins his reign of terror by killing Hornet, this world’s equivalent to Batman. Hornet never stands a chance. In fact, he makes it two steps into his Hornet-Cave (Hornet Nest? They never did name Hornet’s hideout) before the Plutonian breaks his legs and then vaporizes him with his heat vision. We’re led to believe that Hornet had stuff in his cave that could have stopped the Plutonian, but after killing Hornet (and his family) Plutonian destroys the cave, too.

We move back and forth between the present and the past, seeing the events that led up to the Plutonian’s fall. We see how as a child, the Plutonian bounced from foster home to foster home, because the families didn’t know how to deal with a toddler who could lift a couch or shoot lasers from his eyes. We see how he led a Clark Kent-ish double life, crushing on a co-worker as Dan Hartigan, while wooing her as the Plutonian. When he finally reveals his identity to her, she freaks out on him, claiming that he’s made a fool of her. We see how his super-hearing let him hear all the nice things people said about him, while also enabling him to hear every crack and jibe about how he wore tights.

It goes on and on. And eventually, all these things erode the Plutonian down and he breaks. A handful of the remaining heroes eventually do manage to subdue him, but not until millions of people and most of the heroes on the planet are dead.

The thing that really disturbed me about this series was how identifiable the Plutonian was as a character. This guy who turns bad and lays waste to the planet and his former friends shouldn’t be someone a reader can sympathize with. I’ve heard people say that Superman is hard to identify with, because the guy’s damn near perfect. He’s strong, fast, smart and stable. He has a big heart and he’s generous and forgiving. The Plutonian was like that, but after working hard to be good and always doing the right thing, he starts to feel taken advantage of. Eventually, he resents the people he’s worked so hard to protect. “You bring wonder to their lives,” he says in one issue, “and it’s never enough.”

Who hasn’t felt unappreciated at one point or another? Who hasn’t felt taken advantage of at one time in their life? Who hasn’t thought about just saying “fuck it all” when the bullshit gets too high? Those feelings are what make the Plutonian a relatable character, and Mark Waid is an absolute genius for pulling it off so beautifully. There are moments in the series where you think maybe, just maybe he’s not irredeemable after all, that he might turn it around, and then something happens to push him back. By the end, he’s turned completely evil and it’s obvious there’s no going back.

Long story short, if you like comics and you like a good story, you owe it to yourself to pick up Irredeemable.

 

Announcing SYNC

I’m proud to announce the latest installment in the Caulborn arc, SYNC:

When an omniscient demon corrupts the Chroniclers and taints time itself, it falls to Vincent Corinthos to set things right. Along the way, he’ll face deadly enemies who have plotted his death for years. Problem is, he hasn’t met any of them yet. Time travel is such a bitch…

SYNC is a 15,000 word short story and is available from Amazon and B&N.SyncCover

 

 

5 Magazines for Writerly Inspiration

In his recent post on creativity, Chuck Wendig states that writers should read more non-fiction than fiction. He says that you’ll find truly weird things in nonfiction that you can jam together to make new & unique fiction. I agree completely with this, and wanted to offer out 5 places you can find fodder for your fiction in the “real world.”

Popular Science – a great place to learn about new technological innovations, like a process that turn a human’s skin into plastic or how to build your own wrist-mounted crossbow.

Popular Mechanics – a sister magazine to Popular Science, Popular Mechanics’ll tell you the ins and outs of hybrid technology, offer out new insights into what’s going on at Area 51 and give you the low-down on Navy SEAL gear.

WIRED – Ever wonder how a self-driving car would work? Or how your memory can be voluntarily erased with a pill? How about reverse-evolution, where chickens are given dinosaur powers? No, I’m dead serious. Read WIRED for stories like that.

National Geographic – This one needs no introduction. Lost cities, recently-discovered species, and gorgeous photos of ancient art and artifacts for your viewing pleasure.

BusinessWeek – BusinessWeek is a great place to find stories on political scandals, industrial espionage and big business gone horrifically wrong. It’s a great resource worth checking out.

So there you go, 5 magazines that you can pull from. All of the above-listed magazines are available for the iPad as well as in print, so you can get them whether you prefer digital or print mags. Any others you’d recommend? Sound off in the comments.

 

Green Lantern: Power and Detachment

Some superheroes loan themselves to what I’ll call “armchair hero-ing.” You know the feeling. You sit there and go, “Oh come on, why doesn’t Superman just fly around the world again, rewind time and stop all the crimes before they happen?” You’ll notice no one does this with Batman. No one second guesses Batman.

However, I find myself doing this a lot with Green Lantern. GL is one of my favorite heroes, and the amount of power his ring gives him loans itself to these kind of thoughts. And then I read Green Lantern #2 (part of the New 52 line) and had an epiphany. A really super-powered character is most effective when they’re detached from the situation they’re in.

Let me give some context around this issue to illustrate. The upshot is Hal Jordan (GL) is now under the tutelage of his former enemy, Sinestro. The pair come upon a collapsing bridge, complete with a car about to go over the edge and a hot girl already falling. Hal has an emotional reaction. These people are in trouble and he needs to save them. That’s Hal’s motivation – save the people. Hal jumps into action, flies down, grabs the hot girl and wills a giant magnet into being to pull the car to safety.

Sinestro intervenes then, undoing what Hal’s done. Suddenly, the car and the girl are falling again and Sinestro tells Hal to watch and learn. Sinestro exerts his will and the bridge repairs itself,  and the car and the hot girl are teleported back onto the bridge. Injuries, property damage and everything else has been undone. Simultaneously.

So what’s the difference? Simple. Sinestro doesn’t care about the people on the bridge. All he wants to do is restore order to a chaotic situation. There’s no compassion for life in his actions, just cold calculation.

Compare these actions to a fight scene later on in the same issue, where a Yellow Lantern attacks Sinestro. Given Sinestro’s sprezzatura earlier, you think he’ll use his ring to explode the Yellow Lantern’s heart in his chest, or teleport him into the center of the sun, or a million other nasty finishing moves worth of Mortal Kombat. But that doesn’t happen. Why?

Cuz in this scene, Sinestro’s pissed off.

Gone is the cold, calculating tactician. Instead, Sinestro conjures a giant green broadsword and drives it through his enemy’s chest. This fight was personal, and Sinestro handled it in the same way Hal was going to handle the situation on the bridge – emotionally.

I think that’s part of what makes it possible to relate to GL. Without that visceral approach to hero-ing, there’d never be any tension to his stories, no nail-biting moments, nothing. In short, he’d be boring.  No one would want to read about a character like that. And while it may make us sit back and say, “well why doesn’t he just…” we love him just the same.

 

Stealing Time to Brainstorm

So in the last post I mentioned that I could bang out 1,000 words in 30 mins, but I needed to know exactly what I was going to write about. That brings me to today’s topic, Stealing Time to Brainstorm.

In perfect world, we writers would have unlimited time to invent new characters and worlds. We’d just sit back with our feet on our desks, hands laced behind our heads and invent and destroy worlds, all while wearing a Joker-esque grin. However, if you’ve got a day job and familial responsibilities, just getting that solid 30 mins to write can be a colossal effort. So how do you find time to brainstorm?

Well, you’re probably going to have to steal that time. Here are some places I’ve been able to take from:

The Commute – the drive to and from work is a great time to brainstorm. You can’t actually write, but if you’ve got a smart phone, chances are there’s a voice recorder app you can download for a couple of bucks. Myself, I use a little Sony voice recorder. Just chatter away and replay later. If you ride on a train, you can work on a notepad if you’re worried about having tech out in the open. I heard that Peter V Brett wrote the Painted Man on his smart phone while riding the train to work.

The Lunch Break – the 30 mins you get at the middle of your day is a good spot to brainstorm or jot down some ideas. Two things to remember when doing this. One, you need to work uninterrupted, so you might need to take lunch in your car or someplace your coworkers won’t find you. Two, make sure you’re back to your desk on time. You don’t want to find yourself with tons of time to write because you’re suddenly unemployed.

The Workout – exercising is another ideal time to brainstorm. Again, actually writing can be tricky, but your trusty voice recorder will do in a pinch. Keep in mind that you may sound a bit like an obscene phone call during replay, depending on the intensity of your workout.

Monotonous Tasks – dull repetitive tasks, like folding laundry, yard work, or doing dishes are ideal to mull things over. Plus, it makes for a great interview answer when you can say, “Yes, I came up with that scene while I was folding my Spider-Man boxer shorts.” Not that I have Spider-Man boxers. I don’t. Mine are Superman. Shut up.

So there you go, 4 places to steal time from so you can brainstorm ideas for your writing. Any other times you’d suggest? Sound off in the comments.

3 Tips to Maximize Writing Time

I’ve said before that I can write about 1,000 words in 30 mins. Thing is, in order to do that I have to know exactly what I want to write, and I need to be able to block out any potential distractions. Here are some tricks I’ve found help me keep on task –

 1 – Unplug from the Internet. As simple as this one sounds, it can be damned hard to do. “Hmm. I’m stuck on this scene, let me check my email real quick while I ponder…” TWO HOURS LATER… or “Gee, I need to look something up. Let me pop on Wiki…” SEVEN HOURS LATER or the deadly “You know, I think I’ll just fire up Warcraft and check on some stuff in the auction house…” THREE DAYS LATER….

If you’re working on a computer that’s connected to the Internet via an actual cable, unplug it. If you’re on wireless, disable your card (most systems have a hot key combination that lets you do that.) If you find you’re still giving into the temptation that is the Web, there are apps that will block you from getting online.

When I got serious about writing, I dual-booted my netbook to Windows and Linux. The Linux distro I used didn’t include drivers for my network card or wireless adapter, so it was impossible for  it to get online. Also, since I don’t know a damned thing about Linux, I couldn’t screw around with anything other than the word processing program that was on the desktop.

 2 – Block out the noise. Screaming kids, traffic, people with leaf blowers, all these sounds can knock you right out of your writing groove. Some folks listen to music while they write. If that works for you, rock on. But if you’re like me, music can be as jarring as the sounds you’re trying to shut out. Fear not, there is a solution. Get a recording of white noise (no, not the band). I have a recording of an air purifier that I listen to when I write. It’s a constant low hum that’s easy for me to mentally block out, and it covers any distracting background noise.

 3 – Write someplace you won’t be bothered. If you work in a cube farm and have ever tried to write on your lunch break, you know how well that goes. The lunch break should be sacred, where you can do whatever you want while enjoying your peanut butter and nutella sandwich. However, that one guy will always come over and interrupt you, despite the fact that your sandwich is clearly visible and broadcasting the “Fuck Off I’m Eating” sign. To combat this, I’ve found that camping out in an unused conference room or even going out to my car for the duration lets me get the words out.

So there you go, 3 tips to maximize your writing time. What other tricks do you have? Sound off in the comments.

The Author’s Pledge

If you’re a traditional, self-published, or indie author, raise your right hand and repeat after me.

I am an author.
I am a professional.
I will have my work edited before it is published.
I will never argue with a reviewer about their opinion of my work.

Most likely, you’ve already made this pledge without realizing it. If you have, awesome. If you haven’t, it’s time to think about how the world sees you. This past weekend, I went looking for additional sites where I could submit my books for review. I found a growing number of sites are declining self-pubbed books, citing either poor editing or poorly behaving authors as the reason.

Here’s the thing, folks. As writers, we can’t be the editor of our own work. We’re too close to it. We’ll miss things. An editor can help you find those weak spots in your work and shore them up, as well as catch any spelling or grammatical errors.

As for poor behavior, we need to accept that not everyone will like our work. That’s just the way of things. Pick your favorite book by your favorite author and then check out that book’s reviews on Amazon. Guaranteed you’ll find 1 star reviews there, written by someone who thinks this book you love is the biggest piece of crap that was ever penned.

That’s one person’s opinion. Sure, it’s disappointing, but you never argue with someone about it. I racked my brains trying to think of a time when a writer would be justified in arguing with a reviewer. The only thing I could come up with was if the reviewer said they hated your book because of the puppy eating robot in chapter 7, and your book doesn’t have a puppy eating robot. In that case, I think an author would be justified in sending off a short note saying, “Hi, thanks for reading, but I think you’ve got me confused with someone else.” But if the reviewer says they don’t like your book because of the plot, because they didn’t like the way you developed your characters, or anything subjective like that, you don’t say a freaking word to them about it.

To the reviewers out there, thank you all for reading. Whether you love or hate my books, I appreciate that you took the time to read them.

For the writers, have you taken the pledge? Sound off in the comments.

Hero/Villain Relationships

When you’re a kid, conflict between two people can usually be boiled down into a world of  black & white. You have Good Guys and you have Bad Guys. And despite the odds being stacked against them, the Good Guys trounce the Bad Guys, who are led away saying pithy things like “Curses, foiled again.”

As we grow though, those one-dimensional relationships aren’t as satisfying. So to spice things up, here’s a list of possible ways to introduce some gray into that black & white world.

Hero vs. Villain Who Thinks He’s in the Right

Some of the best conflicts are the ones where the villain really believes what he/she is doing is the right thing. Think Batman/Poison Ivy for this. Ivy is an eco-terrorist who believes that people and corporations who pollute the environment should be killed, usually via poison or turning them into trees. In Ivy’s mind, she’s doing the right thing, protecting the planet, and Batman is an obstacle in her way.

Hero vs Villain Who Thinks He’s a Hero

You can have a lot of fun when you go beyond a villain who thinks he’s right, and transcends to where the villain actually believes he’s the hero. Think Superman vs. Bizarro here. Bizarro is a backward copy of Superman, and on Bizarro world, the best way to help someone is contrary to what we’d think of as common sense. Case in point, when Bizarro encounters a kitten stuck in a tree, he believes the cat is harming the tree and chases the cat away. Supes always had his hands full trying to get Bizarro out of Metropolis and back to his home world. In this scenario, Bizarro genuinely believes that Superman is the villain, because Supes is trying to stop Bizarro from “doing good.”

Hero/Villain Love Interest

There’s something to be said for good folks being attracted to bad folks. Batman and Catwoman are the most famous good/bad couple out there. Bats usually recovers what Catwoman steals, but for some reason, she rarely winds up in Arkham with the rest of Gotham’s criminals. Why is that, you think?

Hero/Villain Friendship

Marvel Comics was big on having two characters who were enemies in costume, but friends out of costume. So Peter Parker and Harry Osbourne were friends, but Spider-Man and the Green Goblin were bitter enemies. When Spidey realized who was under the Goblin mask, he had to deal with the emotions of fighting and ultimately imprisoning his friend.

Hero vs Villain of Duplicitous Nature

This one’s fun because the Villain has a secret identity that he is either unaware of or can’t control. The Lizard from Spider-Man is a great example of this. Curt Connors develops a process to regenerate his lost arm using reptile DNA. But the process goes awry and turns Connors into a monster. Spidey has to subdue the Lizard without harming him so he can restore Connors to his normal self. This is different from the Villain Friendship entry, because Curt Connors has absolutely no control over what his alter ego does.

Any hero/villain combinations I missed? Which one of these do you enjoy reading about most? Sound off in the comments.

Thoughts on Ergonomics

There aren’t many occupational hazards to being a writer. Unless you write in a treehouse, a fall from a great height while writing is unlikely. You’ll never develop black lung disease as a writer. You probably won’t drown while writing unless you’re on a defective submarine, and it’s doubtful you’ll get shot unless your name is Richard Castle.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, however, is another story. It’s something that can really mess with a writer’s livlihood. I was diagnosed with it a few years back, and it forced me to make some changes in how I work.

The biggest change I had to make was my posture. I’m a sloucher. After thirty or forty minutes at the keyboard, I’ll be half out of my chair, stretching across the table to reach the keyboard. I was never the straight-backed-fingers-held-at-perfect-home-row-position sort of typist, and that’s probably what did the most damage. I have to make a conscious effort to keep my feet planted firmly on the floor, but it helps. This site talks a lot more about the specifics of how to keep good posture, and offers some advice on how to avoid fatigue.

I also changed my writing tools. I always liked the Microsoft Natural keyboards, but the latest models are too big for my hands. I found a company called Kinesis, and their keyboards can be customized to fit your hands and preferred layout. I’m currently using a Maxim keyboard and the thing is a dream to type on.

I also changed out my mouse. I found that even if I was just surfing the web, I had a tendency to lean forward on the arm that was mousing. I couldn’t break that habit no matter how hard I tried. So instead I switched to an Evoluent mouse. This mouse has what’s called a handshake grip, which repositions your arm so the bone is against the table. Now if I lean, I’m not putting pressure on the meat of my arm. That alone went a long way to providing some much needed relief.

Any of my fellow writers deal with chronic wrist pain or carpal tunnel syndrome? Sound off in the comments with what helped you.