Velveteen vs. The Multiverse

multiverseChristmas came early this year, with the realization that Seanan McGuire’s second Velveteen book, Velveteen vs. The Multiverse, was finally available on Kindle. I stopped what I was doing, bought it, and read it in two long sittings.

If you haven’t read the first book yet, Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots, or my review of it, go here. If you’ve read the first book, go here and grab the sequel.

What? Still here? Shame on you. I’m not going to give any spoilers, I’ll just say that VVTM more than fulfills the promise of VVTJSP. Seanan stuck the landing perfectly and with style, now go give her your money! I may, or may not talk more about it later. For now I’ll note that what I thought was a Kitchen Sink universe may well have been a Single Origin universe–you just don’t see it unless you squint. Clever, totally McGuire, and an awesome read.

-M.G.Harmon

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Castle and Cerebus Shifts

CastleI didn’t think I’d actually write about this, but I just can’t seem to let it go. I’m a big Castle fan. Well, not big–I don’t buy memorabilia, follow series news, or even know anything about the cast. But I’ve seen every episode and own all the seasons on DVD, and that’s pretty big for a boy who just isn’t that into mystery series. Perhaps it’s the crazy mash-up that is the show: it has been called a “combination of Moonlighting and Murder, She Wrote, albeit served with a generous helping of Law & Order and seasoned liberally with Nathan Fillion’s natural wise-ass charm.”

In any case, it’s always fun to catch on a Monday night (or Tuesday morning). I love the character of Richard Castle, and wish I could find my own Katherine Beckett. But here’s the thing: the show’s not perfect. It’s a high-wire act, balancing between humor and drama…no, actually it swings back and forth laughing and waving wildly. As the show progresses the writers develop the technique of dropping one or three outright insane episodes into every season, interspersed with episodes that are red and gritty. I think I’ve mentioned before somewhere that the show doesn’t so much suffer from Cerebus Syndrome (and it’s reverse) as enjoy it tremendously.

Normally this is part of the fun, but it takes a great deal of writerly dexterity to pull it off, complicated footwork, and recently the writers missed a step. No, they pretty much tripped over their own feet and face-planted into the audience right in front of the judges. It was bad. So bad, that I want to hold it up here as an example to other writers.

DON’T DO THIS.

castle married

No, I don’t mean “For the love of Pete, don’t get married!” But this is the scene where Castle and Beckett become Casket, a “consummation devoutly to be wished” by many Castle fans, especially after the series ended last season on a cliff-hanger instead of a wedding led up to by many episodes. And therein lies the problem. After a season-long buildup last season, and a romance-arc climax then deferred, a few episodes into the new season they decide to just do it–get married. It was very well done; I didn’t cry, but only because of my Y-chromosome.

But. They tacked Castle’s epiphany and re-proposal and the Wedding of Richard Castle and Katherine Beckett (with family only), on the end of one of the show’s Silly Episodes! A cliched silly episode! It is almost a truism that, if a television series lasts long enough, there will come an episode which completely rips off Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. The Main Character gets knocked out, or drugged, or has a near-death experience, or just dreams, and finds himself living in a world without him. Or in one where he made significantly different decisions. He wakes up, having learned the lesson of blah blah blah… They even broadcast the theme at the beginning of the episode by having Castle reference the movie. And they had fun with it: Castle spent much of the episode “re-meeting” Beckett and the rest of the detectives, finagling his way into their case, and Learning His Lesson. I laughed. A lot.

But then Castle wakes up, realizes no matter how screwed up things are right now he and Beckett are Meant To Be, and re-proposes. She says “Yes,” and fade to the minister and the vows. Wait, what? I’m not making this up. I wish I was. As much as I enjoy the show (and the Honeymoon Episode was hilarious), I wanted to attend a Castle convention just to punch a writer or two.

Because you can’t do that. I mentioned the show’s penchant for Cerebus Shifts at the beginning of this rant, but there are rules. Well, a rule. It’s called Keep Your Promise To The Viewer. Let me give you an example: Wearing the Cape. I ended WtC on a somewhat tragic note. Once I realized I was going there, I went back through my manuscript and made sure that, as humorous as the story got at times, the reader never forgot that the stakes were Life and Death and sometimes Death was arbitrary. Early on, I informed the reader what kind of story this was, and I kept my promise. To do otherwise is to lose readers.

The Castle series writers forgot that: they flirted with Mood Whiplash. Actually, no flirting was involved–with both the canceled wedding last season and this Wonderful Life/Marriage episode, they slapped the viewer upside the head with a wet fish. They tried to pull off what they normally pull off beautifully episode to episode, something deeply silly, then something serious, but in the same episode. It didn’t work, and the whiplash was extreme.

I’m willing to bet that now the writers are listening to fan backlash and wishing for a time machine. Did it kill the series for me? Hardly. As I said, the next episode was hilarious and note-perfect (and next week’s looks to be one of the more serious ones). I still love the writing, love the acting, love the fun. But I’ll continue to love the series despite their having muffed this crucial character-arc climax so badly.

Come to think of it, there are a few scenes in my books that make me feel the same way in hindsight. But once it’s written, it’s written. All you can do is go on to the next story, and I’ll go on watching Castle as long as they keep getting it right 90% of the time. Who am I kidding? 75% of the time. It’s still that good. Besides, watching someone as smart and professional as Kate Beckett put up with a goof like Rick Castle–and even find him adorable–ventures into the realm of wish-fulfillment for me. He’s a lucky dog. Which was kind of the point of the whole hallucinatory episode. -M.G.Harmon

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The Trials of Constantine

Constantine

Well that was disappointing…

So, I recorded and watched the pilot episode of Constantine, after looking forward to it for months. All I can say is… Meh. Which is too bad; so far this season, DC had been batting pretty good. The Flash got off to a good start, and so did Gotham. I had high hopes. So what went wrong?

Okay, well first off Constantine just didn’t scare me. For all the occult and horror elements, it feels pitched as an action-show. By that I mean that the main character is on top of things and doesn’t come across like he’s skating on the edge of disaster at all. He’s not worried, so I’m not worried.

Oh, you say, but he’s tormented. Nope, not that either. Sure he checked himself into an insane asylum hoping that professionals could drive him insane enough to forget. But he never feels actually, you know, driven enough to check himself into an asylum and have volts shot through his brain.

Then there’s his co-star, Beth? Oh yeah, Liv–I remember because of the blood and cockroaches. She goes from “This can’t be real!” to “Okay, this is real and I can trust this guy with no razor and a trench-coat,” in about two scenes. Um, okay.

At least he looks like John Constantine? A valid point, given that the last one looked like this:
Constantine 1 But here’s the thing: say what you will about Keanu Reeves’ range as an actor, he was note-perfect in the movie. Sure, he acted like a depressed, don’t-give-a-flying-*** burnout who was racking up exorcisms to try to win his way into Heaven, but in the end he fought because somebody had to and at no point did he act like he thought he was actually going to win; he fought because it pissed him off to let the Bad Guys win without a fight. And in the end he showed he had a soul by passing on Satan’s offer of more time, asking instead to spend the favor on getting an innocent woman out of Hell.

Which brings us to Astra (funny coincidence on the name…). This Constantine’s mistake damned her to hell, and himself, but it was his mistake. He check himself into the loony bin hoping to forget that what he’d done and what is waiting for him. So when talking to an angel, does he ask if there’s any hope of saving Astra? Nope, it’s all about him. At that moment the character absolutely lost me; every move he makes is completely selfish (yes, I know that’s Constantine, but you have to give a main character some redemptive trait or the reader can’t connect with him at all).

Last gripe: it didn’t help that every time Constantine said something, I imagined the same line being spoken by this man:supernatural-s08-e23-4

And guess what? Misha Collins does it better.

Enough of the gripes: how would I fix it if I had a time machine? After all, a few writers read this blog and might be curious as to what I think would have helped.

First, Supernatural already did all this, and better, so look at that show’s early seasons. The Winchester boys always acted like, as mad-prepared as they were, they were never more than just one step ahead of “ending bloody” (Dean’s nice phrase).

Second, the main character, at least of the pilot and the first few episodes, should have been Liv. We should have seen it through her eyes as her world went crazy and this scruffy and mysterious guy shows up. Pile on the atmosphere, the suspense, the shrieking I’m Going To Die moments followed by the What The Hell Was That breakdown moments. The story of Constantine’s failure and damnation and what-the-Hell approach to life should have been dragged out of him over a bottle. With the hint at the end, in John’s Touched By an Angel moment, that he might be able to save Astra and it involves keeping Liv alive and sane.

Oh yeah; and hire Misha Collins. Somebody’s already taken away his razor and issued him the trench-coat.

-M.G.Harmon

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Epicosity and Consequences.

Godhead

I love the look on GL’s face.

Seeing the launch of this new Green Lantern arc has got me thinking of epic scale–what I like to call “epicosity”–and consequences in superhero worlds. Because, let’s face it, if we’re talking about flocks of ringbearers and not one but two worlds ruled by Clark’s Law (Apokolypse and New Genesis), we are talking about world-shattering epicosity.

Epicosity is a must for superhero comics. After all, if you give someone superhuman powers then you need to confront him with problems commensurate with his new ability to “handle it.” Green Lanterns, people given Ultimate Tool/Weapons that make a single ringbearer an obstacle to any invading alien fleet, can’t be expected to fight street crime. Well, they could, but it would be boring.

But here’s the problem and the reason I don’t avidly collect every superhero comic title any more, even for the heroes I really like–and especially the reason I don’t pay much attention to Big Event crossovers (unless they look really interesting). For true epicosity to matter, events must have consequences and even for the winners. The bigger the events, the bigger the consequences. To use a real-world example, let’s look at World War Two.

World War Two literally Changed The World for Everybody, in ways that range from huge to trivial. Looking at the winners, war-exhaustion accelerated the decline of the British Empire, catapulted the US into global superpower status, and gave Russia hegemony over Eastern Europe. In the US social changes wrought by the war included the groundwork for advances in equal rights (and the virtual burial of institutionalized antisemitism), and the end of eugenics as social policy. And then there are the big technological changes: nuclear bombs/nuclear power, computers, rockets, etc.

Looking at the losers, Japan and Germany went determinedly pacifist, transforming in ways that nobody looking at them before WWII would have imagined. All this is what happens in Real Life (TM). But on a true societal scale–or even a personal scale–this cannot happen in comics. Never. Well, almost never.

The problem is simply this; unlike great universes of fantasy or science fiction where the stories take place Elsewhere, distant from us in time or space, superhero fiction takes place in the Here and Now (mostly). As such, it is a cousin to the urban fantasy genre with its own set of memes/tropes/themes. One of the unstated themes of superhero fiction, outside of storylines (and possibly whole comics) dedicated to Breaking the World, is Minimal Impact. Alien invasions on a scale of War of The Worlds may take place, and afterwards the world goes back to normal.

On that note, the Tom Cruise WOTW movie made me seriously yearn for a sequel showing What Happened Next as the movie’s characters survive in a country as shell-shocked as the fought-over territories of Europe after WWII. Part Two would have been the immediate aftermath (martial law, shortages and food-riots, rebuilding), Part Three a new economy and society beginning to incorporate alien tech while ramping up military development, Part Four the UN military expedition to Mars as back home trans-human technology really begins to take hold…you get the idea.

Essentially, before things can change too much there is a Big Reset. Or worse, the epic event simply gets ignored in later comics. Either way, things return to normal.

There are two reasons for this, one genre-related, the other an artifact of the publishing environment. On the genre side, the superhero genre is by definition modern fantasy; with some notable exceptions most superheroes live in something closely approximating the Real Word (if not Real New York). It’s a world of cars and cellphones, mortgages and media. It’s Reality Plus Superheroes, no matter what the strangeness of their personal origins; if you let the strangeness created by capes themselves have a real impact, let alone the strangeness brought in by the frequent world-shaking threats, you very quickly have a brave new world which isn’t our own.

This Minimum Impact Rule isn’t a bad thing; it preserves the default normality of the superhero setting and thus helps us to project ourselves into it. But after a while the lack of change from all the alien and extradimensional invasions is hard to ignore.

The second reason, the publisher’s reason, is that popular superheroes are moneymakers. Readers love them as they are, and if you change them too much then you lose your market. And forget about the biggest change: death. Arthur Conan Doyle got so tired of Sherlock Holmes that he killed him off, fans revolted, and publishers threw money at him until he brought the Great Detective back. Nobody ever believed that Superman would stay dead.

Is Superman with Wonder Woman now? Don’t worry, they won’t last and eventually Clark and Lois will be together as is Meant To Be. Is Bruce Wayne actually happy? Wait a few issues and someone close to him will die.

This is not cynicism; this is simple recognition that, no matter how much you might love some characters and want to see them get Happy Endings, that’s just not going to happen. There is no near parallel in other fiction for comic’s eternal reset. It would be like imagining the Lord of The Rings being published episodically over the space of ten years, then reset and reimagined to be told again. It could be fun, especially if you like the style and cleverness of the retelling, but you won’t morn for Borimer; he’ll be back.

So, what does all this mean for the Wearing the Cape series?

Well, nothing yet. Astra is still growing, both as a character, and in her impact on the Post-Event World. I made a commitment to myself when I started writing the stories that Hope Corrigan would grow and her world would change around her (and not just because of her). So far I think I’ve stayed true to that commitment, but as the series progresses I’m going to have to make choices. Will Hope develop a new and stable love-interest? How fast will she mature? How much impact will her adventures have on her world? After all, I implied in the very first book that she becomes rather pivotal.

All these choices will mean changes to the series’ formula, and may mean a change in the demographics of its fan-base; after all, readers who love Astra love her for who she is, but who she is will change over time. This may make her “more,” or “less,” but it will definitely make her different. Certainly I dread eventually seeing reader comments like “I liked her better before ‘X’,” but I cannot and do not wish to freeze her in a series of episodic adventures which end with her pretty much the same as she started.

It will be an interesting adventure.

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Small Town Heroes Paperback Edition

Small Town Heroes, CloseThanks for everybody’s patience! Small Town Heroes took much longer to finish than I expected, and I hope it has been worth the wait. Also thanks to everyone who ran out and grabbed it as soon as it was up, SMT has been doing at least as well in Amazon’s Superhero category as the previous books. And now for everyone waiting for the paperback edition, it is also available through Amazon here.

Now that it’s done, I don’t mind saying that I worried for awhile there. It took longer than I would have liked to find new cover artist who could do justice to the covers done by Viktoria; the even better news there is it looks like Jamal will be the principle artist for the RPG as well. I have floated the note that the working title for the next Wearing the Cape book is Ronin Games, and this one will “return” to a plotline I had developed for Astra and the Young Sentinels in Japan. I won’t point to a release-date, but I will say that I will work  very hard to make it happen sooner than happened for Small Town Heroes.

On the RPG front, things are looking better and better for using FATE as the base system, and I will let everyone here know when playtesting begins again. On that note, I want to give a shout-out to a group of my readers in England who tested the game using Cortex Plus to create their heroes; they told me what happened in Great Britain following the Event, and it’s going into the final rulebook!

Anyway, hope everyone’s enjoying Small Town Heroes; as always, comments more than welcome, and thank you to everyone who has taken the time to put up an Amazon review! -M.G.Harmon

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Small Town Heroes

PosterNow one of the most popular Sentinels in Chicago, past scandals notwithstanding, Astra is the team leader of the Young Sentinels, the newly formed junior team. But on their first big solo-outing away from Chicago, the Young Sentinels fall into a new scandal, one which could cost them the team. And Astra has a dream visit from Kitsune, the odd shapeshifter-thief who precipitated the battle between the Sentinels and Villains Inc. the year before. The dream warns of a fresh disaster, in a town Astra has never seen before and that may not actually exist.
Astra’s efforts to find the place from her dream leads to her “recruitment” by the shadowy Department of Superhuman Affairs, as she leaves the team behind in Chicago and learns more about the DSA’s secrets than are good for her, faces old enemies, and discovers a little town called Littleton.

Back Cover Blurb

I am happy to announce that the official release date for Small Town Heroes will be September 30th! The awesome cover for my fifth book is brought to you by the combined efforts of Jamal Campbell (figures) and Jessica Cheng (background), both up-and-coming artists.

The Kindle release should be available on the 30th; the paperback release will take a couple of more weeks. Once both are available I get to turn my efforts to the project that has increasingly focused my obsessions this past year–Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game–as well as a writing project or two I had to move to the back-burner. The great news with the gamebook is that both Jamal and Jessica have agreed to work with me on the rest of the gamebook art. I am seriously considering a Kickstarter campaign so that I can pass them more money than my current budget allows, and I certainly hope that I can have them with me on future book covers.

So set your calendars for the 30th; I look forward to what everyone has to say, here and on Amazon.

-M.G.Harmon

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Updates and Musings

 

Atlas Close-Up

First, good news! The alpha-draft of Small Town Heroes is finished and off to my readers. Since I rewrite as I go along, there will be some changes after I get all the comments in but no major ones. Which means even with final rewrites and edits I am still on schedule for a September 30th release date (I had hoped to have the cover to show you here, but will post it soon). So for all my frustrated readers–I am so, so sorry and I feel your impatience. The wait will be over soon.

Second, I’ve been taking a break from the book for a couple of days to decompress while waiting for comments from my alpha-readers, and that gave me time to think about other things. One thing I should share is some good news/bad news: the bad news is I have decided to drop the project to make Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game using Margaret Weis Productions’ Cortex Plus game system. Which is a shame: I spent quite a bit of time over the last year mastering the Cortex Plus system and put together a trial-balloon “rulebook” for some willing playtesters so that I could field-test a few rules modifications and see how Astra’s world looked as the background for a tabletop RPG, and a dedicated band of playtesters devoted some good evenings and weekends to testing it out for me.

However, due to miscommunications (mostly on my part), I misunderstood the nature of the Cortex Plus Licensing Program: I cannot make a stand-alone game using their system. For awhile I thought I might be content to wait MWP’s release of their forthcoming Heroic Roleplaying corebook and then release a WtC sourcebook for it with the company’s blessing. However, they have not made any representations concerning the release-date of Heroic Roleplaying other than “by the end of the first quarter next year if not sooner.” And even those representations are not set in stone; nothing official has appeared on their site.

So: in the interest of not wasting all the work done so far (I have a great artist and a graphic designer, and of course the background pages for the Post-Event world are mostly done), I have decided to proceed with the project using the Open Game License system Fate. It was a close look at another RPG property, The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, that convinced me the Fate system could do the job handily. The good news is that that is what will occupy my time the last quarter of ’14. And even the playtesting done on the Cortex Plus WtC will not go to waste: after MWP finally releases Heroic Roleplaying, I can and will produce a WtC sourcebook for it.

So now I’ve been entertaining myself with dreaming up Hero Aspects for the game: Aspects are a huge part of Fate (and BTW, if you’ve never played a Fate game but are curious, you can download Fate Core for free and with its producer’s blessing at DrivethruRPG.com). Looking on TV Tropes for inspiration, I have come up with: The Paragon, The Anti-Hero, The Action Hero, The Driven Hero, The Company Hero, The Celebrity Hero, and The Reluctant Hero. Thinking about it, the Post-Event World has a lot of Company Heroes and Celebrity Heroes, something you don’t see too often in the comic books (Booster Gold is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, although I’m sure there are more).

So that’s all for now. Everyone have a great September, I promise to post the cover as soon as I get the finished piece, and trust that I am counting the days!

-M.G.Harmon

 

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Problem Fixed.

Okay, I think this is it: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wearing-the-Cape/337250462961380

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Finally Getting With New Media!

FacebookI have finally gotten with the program and created a Facebook page for the Wearing the Cape series! (Click on above picture for the link.) I will be posting updates and art there, as well as related links. Feel free to post comments there, and even heckle me now and again: from now until I finish the draft of Small Town Heroes, I will be posting my daily word-count progress. This should be interesting.

-George

UPDATE: PLEASE STAND BY.

For some reason nobody can access my page but me yet. Working on it.

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Plagiarism Addendum

Addendum Note: Since writing the previous post I have been following the internet-shadow of this incident. Mullins (the plagiarist) has deleted her Facebook account and her pages have been removed from Amazon and Goodreads. In short, she is not getting away with this. A part of me feels sorry for her; she may be a desperate person, with real need for money, who thought she could make a quick buck using a “forgotten” work (published 20 years ago and no longer owned by a publishing house). I would have more sympathy if she had bitten the bullet and fessed up when discovered, rather than resorting to vicious attacks. Carpet-bombing the author’s own Amazon reviews with 1-star reviews is a nasty tactic that makes an author like me–dependent on Amazon ratings for my sales–shudder and want bloody retribution. Alerted, Amazon deleted the attack-reviews–but if you want to do something else for the author, she is offering her plagiarized book, A Bid For Love free on Amazon now; if it’s your kind of thing (it’s categorized as Christian Romance), download it, read it, and giver her an honest review. As for Mullins, I hope she will make amends, be able to learn from this, and move on–perhaps even write again, this time for herself (she must have some talent, or she couldn’t have carried off even a plagiarism). 

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