Wearing the Cape: the Kickstarter.

Cover Flight

Coming soon, to a Kickstarter page near you!

I have been telling everyone that, once Team-Ups and Masterminds was behind me, I would be focusing on Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game to drive the project through to completion.

So now the good news.

Although the Kickstarter campaign will not be launching in December as planned, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s why; unlike most Kickstarter projects, when this Kickstarter campaign launches (hopefully in January), the primary product to be funded will already be finished. What this means is that Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game will already be fully produced as a downloadable set of game rules. That’s right, it will be an ebook, fully laid out and with all the art, ready to read, enjoy, and play.

I realize this is not the “traditional” way a game is produced by crowd-funding; I decided to take this route because I had no idea if I could actually do it. Yes, I have years of roleplaying game experience. Yes, I found a great open-source game system, readily adaptable to the task of bringing the heroes and world of the books to life. Yes, I have five years now of self-publishing experience.

But a roleplaying game? Designed, produced, indie-published without the backing of an established game company? I had no idea if I could do it, or how long it would take, and I have seen too many Kickstarter campaigns that promised everything and a set delivery date, then folded years later promises unmet. I wasn’t going to do that.

So I wrote a draft of the game, solicited playtesters, found the artist. Found another artist. Found a third artist. Got help with the graphics and layout (lots of help). Went through two rounds of playtesting, with veteran Fate players and novices. Sought and received the input of two seasoned writers of Fate System games. Payed the art and development costs as I went. Found a small press willing to do the full print run of the quality gamebook at a reasonable price.

As a result, I will be able to promise everyone who decides to back this dream project two things: 1.) the week the Kickstarter campaign ends, they will be receiving their tickets to download the full copy of the finished game, and 2.) the instant the campaign ends, the small publisher will receive their money and commence printing of a fully prepared book.

In short, the purpose of the Kickstarter will be to fund the printing and distribution of several hundred quality hardback edition of the gamebook.

But that’s not all the Kickstarter is going to be about; like most Kickstarter campaigns, this one is going to have room to grow.

First, I’ve found a dice company able to stamp high-quality custom dice; as a Stretch Goal Add-On, Wearing the Cape fans who want custom dice to play their game with will get them as part of a deluxe package.

wtc-dice(Don’t panic; the game will be perfectly playable with standard Fate Dice or  6-sided dice.)

Second, Kickstarter campaigns form communities of enthusiastic people with lots of input to give, and I’m going to take full advantage of that. I have decided to produce, as a second Stretch Goal Add-On, Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans.

Barlow’s Guide will be a sourcebook. The core game only has room for around 30 pages of background for the Post-Event World, and only the Sentinels—as seen at the beginning of Wearing the Cape—are fully written up. Most of the campaign background only deals with The Event and it’s aftermath in the US. So Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans will go far beyond that. The sourcebook will hugely widen the background, to include experiences of The Event in other countries and describe how many parts of the world dealt with superhumans over the 10 years between The Event and the beginning of the series. Wearing the Cape fans will be polled for places and capes they would like to see in the sourcebook.

Also, there will be a limited number of pledge slots for fans who want to put their own cape characters into the official Post-Event World! They will need to pay extra for the excellent character art that will portray their personally designed heroes  (I have gained the commitment of the artist who did the cover art for Team-Ups and Crossovers for the individual pieces).

Throughout the 35-day campaign, I will be publishing Kickstarter updates tracking the ideas and work to go into Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhuman—which will also be released as an ebook within 3 months of the end of the Kickstarter.

Will there be anything else? I’m not sure, but if the campaign does as well as I hope then I am considering adding a third Stretch Goal Add-On: a special hardback edition of Wearing the Cape, re-edited and with interior art pages.

What will all this look like? That’s still a bit up in the air, but I’ve roughed it out like this.

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game (PDF): $15.

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game (hardcopy): $55. (PDF copy and US/Canada shipping included.)

Hardcopy with Dice: $70.

Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (PDF): $15.

Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans (hardcopy): $45. (PDF copy and US/Canada shipping included.)

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (ebook): $8.

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (paperback): $20. (Includes ebook)

Wearing the Cape, Special Edition (hardback): $30. (Includes ebook)

A Barlow’s Guide entry for your hero: $250 (Includes WtC:RPG hardcopy, PDFs for WtC:RPG and WtC:BGtS, and a print of your hero.

And if all goes well, backers will be receiving their e-copies of WtC:RPG in February. Thoughts, anyone?

M.G.Harmon

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Dead-Tree Edition Finished!

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Hello everyone, just thought I’d catch you up on the latest Team-Ups and Crossovers publishing news.

The Paperback Edition is Out!

It’s always a huge relief to get the last step of publication, the print-on-demand paperback edition, out of the way. Readers who are waiting for the print edition can order it today at the Createspace online store. It will take a few days to become available on Amazon.

Glitches and Fixes.

Some purchasers of the ebook may have discovered an infuriating glitch in the file; on some ebook readers, large blocks of text were whited out in the Astra Gets Grrl Power short story. The easy fix to this was to change the reader’s background to sepia (or black), but how is anyone to know that? Fortunately, we were able to discover the bad code creating the problem, scrub it, and re-upload a fixed ebook file to Amazon. In cases like this, Kindle Direct Publishing sends out notices to all previous purchasers alerting them to the fix and offering the option of updating their e-copy. Hopefully everyone has received one (if you haven’t, contact Amazon).

The good news in this is that, although it caused production of the paperback edition to run a little late, we also found a few typos and grammar errors that escaped the final edit-round. They have been fixed in the re-uploaded file (and of course in the paperback edition file).

Sales and Ratings.

It’s always nervous-making, the first 3 or 4 weeks, wondering how the new book will perform in sales and waiting for reader reviews to begin coming in. I’m happy to say that reader reception of Team-Ups and Crossovers has been very gratifying. Although released later this year than I wished for, T&C has enjoyed robust sales and tracks to do at least as well as Ronin Games did last year. Also, with just under 40 reviews, Team-Ups and Crossovers looks poised to continue the 4 1/2-star run of the rest of the Wearing the Cape books, so thank you to everyone who has posted thoughtful/critical reviews on Amazon!

Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game.

I now get to turn my undivided attention to getting WtC:RPG ready for the December Kickstarter campaign. The art continues to come in, and the writing side is nearly complete.

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This project has been a dream of mine, and I’ll be glad to see it finished!

That’s it for now; if I don’t post again in the next week, have a wonderful Thanksgiving! Remember, it’s the family, not the turkey, that counts.

M.G.Harmon

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The Radical Moderate 6: Chill, Everyone.

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I went to sleep last night with the election undecided. I woke up this morning to learn that Donald Trump had won. I also woke up to find half the country losing its mind.

I did not vote for Trump. I am a constitutional conservative/classical liberal, yet despite the fact that a Hillary Administration would almost certainly have further eroded our constitutional rights, I couldn’t give Trump my vote; it’s the first time in my life I haven’t voted for the Republican candidate at the top of the ticket. So let’s say that this morning I’m feeling mixed emotions.

But I have one thing to say to both sides of this year’s bloodless war (because that’s what elections are).

Chill, everyone.

And I mean that sincerely.

A little perspective might be in order, here. For those who were politically active or aware, eight years ago when President Barrack Obama, our then most left-leaning US senator, won the White House, there were people on the Right firmly convinced that he was going to create a corps of Brown Shirts, put dissenters in re-education camps, etc.

Didn’t happen, of course, but today a significant number of otherwise intelligent people are convinced that Donald Trump is going to inaugurate a wave of government thuggery against racial minorities, against women, against homosexuals, against illegal immigrants, against everyone not of the Master Race (and I use MR intentionally, since many of them pretty much think Trump is Hitler).

But that’s not going to happen, either.

And yet the fear and despair is very real. I’d be tempted to call it overblown, except I remember many feeling variations of all this when Reagan won, when Clinton won, when Bush won, and when Obama won. Reagan was going to trigger WWIII, Clinton was going to abolish the 2nd Amendment and socialize the country, Bush was going to sell the country to his cronies, Obama was going to (see above).

Why is that?

It’s really very simple. Everyone has the quite rational fear that the opposition’s victorious candidate will try and push the country in a direction they won’t like. That’s what elections are about. That makes the day of their loss a day for gloom, naturally.

But the fear? I have a rational and intelligent friend who wrote on Facebook this morning:

 “I woke up this morning and cried. My heart is broken and I’m terrified of walking out my door. I don’t know if violence against people like me, people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, is going to be state sanctioned or not.”

Another wrote:

“Sanity lost the Executive and Legislative branches tonight. And, there will be seats to fill on the supreme court in short order. All the branches of the US government are now poised to bring about the apocalypse. There may not be a minimum safe distance, folks.”

And why shouldn’t they? After all, the liberal pundits are saying pretty much the same thing.

“We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time.

“We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law.

“It turns out that we were wrong.

“I don’t know how we go forward from here. Is America a failed state and society? It looks truly possible. I guess we have to pick ourselves up and try to find a way forward, but this has been a night of terrible revelations, and I don’t think it’s self-indulgent to feel quite a lot of despair.”

Paul Krugman

“Our little gathering broke up in confusion, with more than one of our guests wondering if they would actually have to move. It’s something that I, as a native-born, white male — some of whose family were probably in this country circa 1620 — will have to consider, too, if my wife and I are to have any form of health care before we reach Medicare (assuming that Medicare will still be there, either). These are words I never thought I would have to write. This has indeed been a campaign full of surprises, and I fear it will take away all our words for good.”

Kevin Baker

And of course, this is the way they think about those who voted for Trump;

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I will say it again: Chill. I would be saying the same to those on the Right in despair if Hillary had won.

Because this is what happens with every election; both sides demonize the other side’s candidate and voters to an extent that you would think, listening to them, that civil war is imminent. That the triumph of Fascism of The Left or Right is imminent. That the winning candidate is Hitler.

Underlying all this, naturally, is The Syllogism.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

During the heat of the election season, with candidates, supporters, and political pundits on both sides throwing every possible accusation of EVIL at each other, of course The Syllogism prevails. And on Election Day this means that, in the eyes of half the country, in the ashes of their loss, the ignorant, the stupid, and the evil, won.

Some people never recover their mental footing after an especially rancorous election; if you thought that Bush Derangement Syndrome was bad (and yes, Obama Derangement Syndrome), just wait till you see Trump Derangement Syndrome.

A little more perspective; when President Obama won, coming into office with a Congressional majority ready to help him advance his agenda, many Democrats believed that the voting shift foretold a Permanent Democratic Majority. Some Republicans thought so, too. It plainly wasn’t so. Yes, from the perspective of the Right great damage was done, but the Permanent Democratic Majority failed.

There will be no Permanent Republican Majority. And in the meantime, while from the perspective of the Left, great damage may be done, there will be no goosestepping gestapos knocking on their door. There will be no state-sanctioned violence against them. This is not the End Of America. It’s not even The End Of America As We Know It.

There are two reasons for this.

First, the great majority of those who voted for Trump are not, despite the frothing of much of the press, ignorant, homophobic, xenophobic, racist, sexist, haters. Just as when President Obama won, Trump has been swept into office by a protest-movement. And for most of the people in this movement it hasn’t been about racism, sexism, etc.; it’s been a populist and anti-establishment movement. Trump managed to pitch himself as the populist anti-establishment candidate, and won. The poisonous Alt-Right didn’t elect Trump, in fact they hurt his chances just like the racialists on the far Left hurt Hillary; both sides declared the other to be the full embodiment of their lunatic fringes. No, Trump won because he seized the tide and ran against a candidate just as noxious to the Right and much of the Middle as he was to the Left and much of the Middle.

That means that the above meme from American NewsX got it wrong, and America has not been revealed as Conrad’s new “heart of darkness”. As impossible as it is for many to believe, last night most Americans on both sides voted  with good intentions.

Second, we are a constitutional republic. While respect for the limits of federal power (and especially of executive-branch power) has taken a beating in this past administration, the checks and balances built into our system remain strong and so we’re not going to go the way of Venezuela. The Right has managed to take both the executive and legislative branches of government; well, the Republican Party has been in this position before. So has the Democratic Party. It won’t last, and while it does the Republican party is far from monolithic; factions within the party will check its excesses.

Meanwhile, despite recent erosion of the 1st Amendment, respect for our constitutional rights and liberties remains high; American citizens who voted Left are in no more danger now than American citizens who voted Right were before. Racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities are not in danger, any more than religious folk and gun-owners have been in danger under the Obama Administration. The Right is not now about to commence a march into fascism; it couldn’t even if it wanted to.

That’s the beauty of the American constitutional system. It thwarts all attempts at radical and rapid change.

The winners will exult for a time, until the more optimistic ones find that Trump is no more a wonder worker than President Obama turned out to be. The Right will win some legislative and policy victories. Then the pendulum will complete the rightward swing of its arc and swing left again. The cycle will continue.

Meanwhile:

dont-despair

Be kind to your friends and neighbors. Many of them have had a bad time.

M. G. Harmon

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The Radical Moderate 5: “Choose! Choose the form of the Destructor!”

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“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”  (H. L. Mencken)

I promised myself I was going to let this election season go by without putting my political opinion out there. Because it really doesn’t matter what I think. Alas, I find it irresistible, rather like an impending sneeze or some less polite bodily exclamation; the internal pressure is too great. So, here’s my opinion.

November 8th is going to be a sad day.

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Why? Because whoever wins everyone is going to be disappointed. The close to 50% of the country who voted for the loser will be disappointed immediately, while the 51%+ who voted for the winner will spend the next four years being disappointed.
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I honestly don’t know if the political party whose candidate wins will be better off than the party of the candidate who loses. If the Democrats win, they will elevate one of the Left’s most morally and intellectually unfit politicians in modern history to be the figurehead of their party. If the Republicans win, they will elevate one of the most morally and intellectually unfit public figures in modern history to be the figurehead of their party. I’m not sure either party can survive that, and I’m reasonably certain that political leaders and thinkers on both sides are now wishing for a do-over on their respective party primaries. Alas, too late!
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This might actually be a good time to go back and reread my previous post on The Worst Form of Government. At the end of that post, I wrote “In this election cycle, vote for the candidate most likely to sustain and strengthen the worst form of government.” I’m honestly not sure that it’s possible to make that choice this time around; when your choice is between deep and blatant corruption and potentially frightening incompetence, it’s hard to decide who to pull the lever for. If you vote for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for an evil; there’s a strong moral argument to be made for picking a third-party candidate or None Of The Above.
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Would it cheer anyone if I remind you that we are not voting for a king or dictator on November 8th? We are voting for a president, and, whichever candidate wins, our next President will be hobbled by constitutional restrictions and deep unpopularity and public distrust. We have made the worst of all possible choices in our primaries this year, and must now choose a destructor, but we can survive him or her. If necessary, impeachment is as much a part of the Constitution as elections and either of their VP-picks would run the Executive Branch and represent America better.
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So go vote. Then have a drink. Or get a hug. But vote; the worst form of government needs to hear your voice.
M.G.Harmon
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And We’re Rolling.

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So, Team-Ups and Crossovers has been out a week. What’s in a week? About 1,000 sales, that’s what. TUAC has hit #1 in one of its Amazon Categories at least twice, and would have hit #1 in the Superhero Novel category were the space not completely crowded out by vampire erotica. In general I’ve been quite happy with the launch; a couple of things are great, a couple of things not-so-great.

Great: The Amazon Reviews. With 15 Amazon Reviews up so far, TUAC has a solid 4 1/2 Star-Rating. Thanks, everyone who has taken a few minutes to review the book there—and I encourage everyone who enjoyed the latest Wearing the Cape book to go there and make their feelings known! (This is me being subtle.)

Not-So-Great: A couple of errors slipped past the editing process, including a code-error that causes some readers to show large blank spaces in the Astra Gets Grrl Power story. There is an easy fix; just change your reader’s background color (sepia is fine) or highlight the blank spots. However, I am working on the problem, and will re-upload a fixed file as soon as possible before asking Amazon to send all current owners a notice of the fix. (Once Amazon approves, you’ll be able to download a corrected copy.)

Other things.

There has been great buzz on the Velveteen-crossover stories, and readers have been lamenting that the first two Velveteen Vs. books are no longer available on ebook. Well, Seanan McGuire knows this, and so for her fans she has kept the individual stories that make up the two book available to read on her author-blog:

The first story is Velveteen vs. The Isley Crawfish Festival. Enjoy; it’s fascinating to read from the beginning and see how her superhero-concept evolved over time (plus it’s hysterically funny).

Dave Barrack’s Grrl Power fans have really been enjoying the Astra/Halo crossover story, and he has set up a page dedicated to talking about it. For anyone who hasn’t yet bought the book and intends to, I highly recommend going to Dave’s page and clicking on the book cover image to go to Amazon; if you do, then Dave will make a little extra money for the sale (and for a full-time indie writer/artist like Dave, every little extra bit counts).

Reception of some of the stories have been mixed. A few readers have not appreciated the voice of K.F. Lim. One reviewer thought A Traveler’s Tale the worst story in the book. I knew going in that, with the shifts in style between many of the stories, most readers would enjoy some stories more than others. I would love to hear back from everyone as to what their favorite stories were and why.

So talk to me. Let me know what you think we did right. Tell us what made you laugh. And thank you for all your support.

M.G. Harmon

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Update: Team-Ups and Crossovers Released!

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Just a quick update! The final stages went much more quickly than expected, and Team-Ups and Crossovers is now available for Kindle on Amazon!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M9GOOQB

As mentioned before, it will be available in paperback within a couple of weeks. Everyone have a great Halloween Weekend!

M.G.Harmon

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Team Ups and Crossovers

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Typhoon, Velveteen, Astra, and The Mighty Halo. Not quite the finished cover-art, but close…

So I’m two months late. I’ve learned two things this year; 1.) I don’t multi-task at all well, and 2.) writing short stories is as hard as writing novels. Well you live and you learn, especially when you have no choice but to scale that learning curve, and Team Ups and Crossovers is now in the finishing stages of editing and I can talk about it.

Team Ups and Crossovers started with simply remembering how much I enjoyed the Marvel/DC crossovers. You know: Spider Man vs. Superman, the Justice League vs. The Avengers, etc. The comic writers had tremendous fun with them, and certainly a lot of readers did as well. Crossovers have actually become quite the fiction-trope, fueled by the internet’s powers to spread fanfiction far and wide (some of it as good as or better than the source material). Fanfiction.net is a guilty pleasure of mine, where you can find just about every kind of crossover you can imagine. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supernatural, Castle/Firefly, Naruto/The Avengers, or Harry Potter/Buffy/Avengers/Firefly.

Of course most of these crossovers are less than serious!

I don’t read as much as I’d like to (I could read every hour of the day, but it cuts into writing), but I am currently enjoying several superhero series and it occurred to me to approach a couple of authors to see about co-writing a collection of crossover stories, the idea being that something happens to catapult Astra into a cross-worlds journey through several superhero universes. I was very fortunate; both of the authors whose universes I was most interested in being allowed to play in answered back affirmatively.

Seanan McGuire

I’ve reviewed her stuff here before, but I’ll say it again; Seanan’s Velveteen Vs. stories, taken together, give us one of the most imaginative superhero universes out there today. Velveteen, Jackie Frost, The Princess, Polychrome, Action Guy, Victory Anna, and many more are all original, delightful, fully realized characters inhabiting mostly stock superhero-types. The action in her stories spans the gamut, from foiling mundane crime to cosmic adventure, and while she peppers Velveteen’s world with a lot of joke-villains (good jokes!), her serious, plot-driving bad guys are serious, scary, and real. Real people under the powers, with believable motivations. Seanan is very, very good at portraying convincing evil.

Unfortunately for me, Seanan writes hard. I don’t think a year passes without her turning out at least three titles. On top of that she does the convention circuit, so she really didn’t have time to write or co-write a crossover story. Fortunately, when I reached out to her she admitted that while she hadn’t read my stuff she’d heard good things; she kindly gave me permission to write an Astra/Velveteen crossover, and approved the two linked tales I came up with for adventures in the world of Super Patriots Inc. I hope I got Velveteen right.

Dave Barrack

I don’t know who introduced me to Grrl Power. I think it was one of my readers. There are a lot of online comics out there today, but Grrl Power is in the top 10%. I rank it up there just below Girl Genius and Schlock Mercenary. Dave is both the writer and artist of Grrl Power, and while his art has improved since the first pages, his humor has always been first-rate. I encountered the series when it was already two years in, and reading Sydney/Halo’s first “adventure” (of course it was a bank-robbery) I laughed so hysterically I couldn’t keep reading. So of course I had to ask Dave about an Astra/Halo crossover.

Dave has been writing/drawing his webcomic full-time for two years now, but he said heck yeah and together we were able to co-write a hilariously fun story. Naturally Astra plays the straight man to Halo’s insanity. I don’t know about Dave, but I had so much fun with it that the door is always open to a sequel.

K.F.Lim

Funny story. I don’t respond to most reader reviews, but some I do. Some reviewers ask questions. Others make suggestions. When a reviewer addresses me in any way I take that as permission to respond as I would to fan-mail. I met KF on Goodreads, where she critically gushed over all of the then-published books in the series and proceeded to ship Hope hard with another major character. (For those not familiar with the terminology, ship is short for relationship; fans of well-loved characters will often ship them with other characters with whom they think they should be romantically involved). KF shipped so entertainingly that I had to ask her where she was getting it from; I expected some throwaway comment back, but KF is a lawyer and she laid out the subtext she read into certain scenes in the first few books and argued a case so convincing I can’t unsee it now. Not that things progressed that way of course, but that was the beginning of a long and enriching correspondence relationship.

KF wrote the last short story in Team Ups and Crossovers, in which Hope meets a very different CAI team after returning home from her cross-world adventures. My sole contribution was style-editing (after grad school law she writes too correctly). Her dialogue is dead-on and hilarious, she nailed Astra near-perfectly, and the new capes she introduces, beginning with Typhoon, are wonderful. I predict that many readers may find hers the most entertaining story in the book.

Publication Schedule.

As has become the practice, Team Ups and Crossovers will be released in Amazon Kindle format first, on November 1st. It will be followed within a few weeks by the print-on-demand edition. Again, I apologize for the lateness of the book, and hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it!

M.G.Harmon

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In A Good Place

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Which of these two doesn’t look comfortable?

Jean Paul Sartre once wrote “Hell is other people.” He also wrote “Like all dreamers, I mistook disenchantment for truth.” Neither statement has much obviously to do with The Good Place, a great new TV comedy.

WARNING: EVERYTHING FROM HERE DOWN IS PRETTY MUCH ALL SPOILERS

Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) opens her eyes to find herself in a relaxing office waiting room. On the white wall opposite her couch, WELCOME! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is written in bright green letters. Michael (Ted Danson) welcomes her into his office, where he tells her that 1.) she’s dead, and 2.) she made it to the Good Place. The Good Place is kind of a pastel, Disney, planned community Heaven reflecting no religious expectations in particular (every religion apparently got it around 5% right, except for one stoner who guessed 95% of it while high on mushrooms).

Eleanor is introduced to the neighborhood; apparently the Good Place is divided into minutely planned districts, each with 322 residents chosen for their compatibility in this afterlife utopia. She is introduced to her soulmate. All looks rosy.

Except she’s not supposed to be there.

Yes she’s Eleanor Shellstrop, but no none of the memories she sees played on a This Is Your Life screen are hers. She wasn’t a selfless lawyer who saved convicted murderers on death row, or who rescued orphans in war-torn failed states, or cleaned up disaster sites, etc. She was a salesperson for a shady company pushing useless “drugs” on old sick people, an utterly self-centered human being with no apparent redeeming qualities. There’s been a mistake.

Of course she doesn’t want to be discovered and kicked out of the Good Place, so she prevails upon her soulmate, Chidi Anagoyne, in life an ethics professor, to teach her how to be good.

I watched the premier last night, it was delightful, and I highly recommend that everyone catch it and judge for themselves. Especially since I have a strong suspicion that Eleanor and everyone else is being lied to. Something…benevolently sinister is afoot. Can something be benevolently sinister?

Here’s what I mean.

In the first few minutes, you learn that Eleanor’s neighborhood is brand new; everyone arrived more or less at once and gets the same group briefing in the form of a charming video presentation.

What are they are told? That everyone in life accumulates what is, for lack of a better word, karma; deeds which make the universe better go in the positive side of the ledger, while deeds which make the universe worse go in the negative side. Upon death the score is tallied, and only the small fraction who achieve incredibly high scores (as Eleanor had supposedly done) go to the Good Place. Everyone else goes to the Bad Place; a place Michael and his assistant can’t tell you anything about, but from the brief audio-clip sounds pretty unpleasant. Back to this in a minute.

You also learn that Michael was formerly an apprentice; Eleanor’s neighborhood/district is the first one he’s been allowed to design and build on his own. He isn’t even human. He’s far from infallible, and the Good Place’s universal assistant, Janet (who knows everything and can get you anything you need), knows more than he does about what’s going on. But she’s like a protocol-bound artificial intelligence; she has no free will and can’t violate privacy and so on.

You also meet Eleanor’s neighbors: Tahani Al-Jamil, a self satisfied 1-percenter jet setter who constantly name drops her associations with famous people (Princess Di, Johnny Depp, etc) and her Good Deeds, and her soulmate Jianyu, a Buddhist monk who still maintains a vow of silence (possibly in self-defense).

So here’s the thing; Eleanor herself spots the problem with this setup (mind you, she sees only that it’s unfair to her). How can a sorting system that puts only the very best in the Good Place and everyone else in the Bad Place be at all fair? Shouldn’t there be an Average Place? Like Cincinnati?

Eleanor also complains that Tahani hardly seems better than her: “She’s a condescending bench.” (You can’t swear in the Good Place.) Tahani is proof-positive of the instrumental definition of Good being used by whomever sorted the departed into the Good Place and the Bad Place; her obvious motivation for Doing Good in life was to score social points. She did good in life because it made her Better than You; this motivation for doing good soundly has been soundly rejected by every major religion (the Bible, especially, is full of condemnation for the sort who do good for praise and bragging rights).

But apparently motivation doesn’t matter. Apparently.

One last fact; Eleanor quickly learns that when she does something bad, it affects the whole district. Comically so, with rains of shrimp and garbage about which Michael can do nothing, among other things. So she can’t even be secretly bad, she’s got to learn how to be good or the situation will quickly go to hell, figuratively and possibly literally speaking.

Remember I mentioned that something about all this seemed benevolently sinister?

Point #1: Eleanor can’t be there by mistake. The system got her name, place of birth, and date (and method) of death, right. But it got everything else wrong? I don’t think so. I think she arrived with a forged history. Who forged it, and why?

Point #2: This is Michael’s first solo job, and he seems a little out of his depth. Janet knows more about what is going on than he does, and she’s not helping.

So, what is going on? I have a hypothesis, one I’m not going to share yet. Maybe if someone in the comments gets close I’ll discuss it. In any case, I look forward to watching The Good Place; I think it’s a comedy meant to completely and deliberately bend your mind and make you think. I hope it is; it shows great promise.

M.G.Harmon

 

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Suicide Squad Completed the Mission

 

Suicide SquadNot the Good Guys.

So, I saw Suicide Squad this week. I’m going to spoiler the heck out of it, so 1.) DC comics fans should go see it, and 2.) stop reading until you get back.

We good? Okay then.

Unlike Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad didn’t try and reinvent its characters (I recently commented somewhere that I enjoyed BvS because I went in expecting to see Frank Miller’s version of both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel and wasn’t disappointed). Suicide Squad is a show about a bunch of evil supervillains who have been drafted to undertake suicidal missions when only metahumans (or Humans With Extreme Whupass Skills) can do the job. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

So, on that basis, how did it do? Well, I found it entertaining in spots (mainly any scene Harlequin did anything in), and not a waste of my time and money.

But I probably won’t get the DVD.

Which is sad, because it had a lot o potential and overall was very well done. Good casting, good acting, good dialogue, good action. It was good.

But here’s the problem: there wasn’t a single character in the show in whom I could become emotionally invested. There was not one single character who grew in any way because of events. There was no karma for the characters whose bad decisions led to the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of human beings.

And not because there weren’t opportunities. Here’s a few missed ones.

Deadshot: a soulless hitman who has one human moment. He’s captured by Batman because he’s not willing to kill the Dark Knight when his own daughter (who is the only thing he loves) is there to see him do it. His revealed heart’s desire much later in the movie? It’s not to make sure his daughter has a good life; it’s to kill Batman.

Captain Flagg: a soldier dedicated to protecting America no matter the cost or evil required. Except that when he has to choose between keeping EVIL from breaking loose and killing hundreds of people, and keeping his girlfriend safe, he chose his girlfriend.

Amanda Waller: the woman whose ambition is to protect America from metahuman threats any way she must. Except that it’s her actions that directly lead to the world-threatening threat that the Suicide Squad is mobilized to defeat. Along the way, Waller casually sacrifices innocents to ensure that there will be no blowback on her for having done what she did.

Killer Croc: a man-beast condemned by his monstrous appearance, who has rejected humanity because humanity rejected him. Nope. No change; he finished the mission because otherwise he’d die, and he got a wide-screen TV out of it.

Harlequin: willingly driven insane by the Joker, then abandoned to be captured by Batman. Completely loyal to Mr. J from beginning to end, told Diablo (who regretted losing his temper and incinerating his wife and children) to “own it. We’re all monsters here.”

Were there any sympathetic characters in the show? Well, there was the human host of Enchantress (DC’s version of Zule from Ghostbusters). Captain Flagg’s girlfriend, she was a true innocent in the whole mess, but she wasn’t a central character.

So, no strong character arc for anybody; the movie could have overcome that by giving meaning to the conflict. Like the Dirty Dozen fighting the Nazis. Sure they were SOBs, but they were fighting evil SOBs. The fight against evil is ennobling.

Except, as mentioned the Big Bad Threat the bad guys were sent to defeat was instigated by Amanda Waller, who paid no price for all the death she caused (five with her own pistol because “none of them were cleared for any of this.”).

So, it’s merely-human bad guys fighting godlike bad guys, evil vs. EVIL, to end a threat that they themselves created. In the end, nobody changes, nobody grows, and nobody gets what they deserve (which is a bullet for each of them).

But Harlequin was fun to watch, and may be getting her own movie; hopefully in which she can grow. And the action is fun, spiced by witty dialogue, and the Joker was dead-on perfect. So Suicide Squad wasn’t a home run, but it wasn’t a strikeout either. It was a solid swing of Harley’s Good Night Bat, worth the price of admission.

M.G.Harmon

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Update and Words of Encouragement.

It has been way, way too long since I posted here. I am very sorry. Hopefully my silence did not dim your joys in any way, but life has been distracting me way too much. Bad writer! I will try and be better. That said, I only have a few things to say today, mostly updates (and a little gentle mockery).

Teamups and Crossovers

2016’s book is still in the works, moving forward, getting done, and any other phrase for not done yet. It should have been finished by now and I am never, ever, ever pursuing two projects simultaneously again. (Sigh.) The good news is that two authors (one collaborative, one with an original piece) have turned in two very fun stories. At this point it also looks like the book will also include a new and updated glossary and an extensive background section to make it a kind of resource for series fans who want a deeper look at the world. Current projected publication date: the end of September.

Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game

Also much-delayed, partly due to factors beyond my control. Factors being a euphemism for artists. The upside is that the delay has allowed for a much more extensive review-and-playtest phase than I originally anticipated, and I modestly believe that the result of the extra time will just be a much more awesome game. If I’d known what a pain this project would be before I started it, I probably wouldn’t have started. On the other hand, once it’s finished it will be one of my proudest achievements to date. Because it will be awesome. For those of you who don’t peek at my Wearing the Cape Facebook page, here’s a little sample of the art:

Astra Flight

The gamebook itself is going to be a thing of beauty. Not a coffee table artbook, but very nice looking nonetheless.

And the Encouragement.

As most of you know, I am an indie-published author. Since self-publishing my first three or four books, I have been approached by a few smaller presses offering traditional contracts; the drawback being that they couldn’t offer me a level of earnings better than I was already making in straight royalties.

Naturally I decided that my success was because I was brilliant.

However, I had an epiphany today due to a humorous post on Facebook. It was this image:

Warning: NSFW (you will be laughing too hard).
Back Blurb

This! This is the golden secret to writing success! What are the three most desired protagonists in romance writing today? Vampires, Vikings, and angels. Also hot: a whole family of unbelievably gorgeous seductive man-cake (perfect for a series). So this inspired author decided that nothing could be better than a family of seven Viking vampire angels! It’s just so, so…I think I may cry.

Seriously (not really), not content with the mind blowing, giggle inducing wonder that is the back cover, I had to research it. The book this back-blurb belongs to is Kiss of Pride: A Deadly Angels Book by Sandra Hill. Behold the cover.

Kiss of Pride

I will not quote from the gloriously insane prologue (please please please use Amazon’s  Look Inside function for that, but again, not at work). I will give you the opening lines of Chapter One.

Vika Siggurdson hadn’t had sex in a hundred years, and he was not in the greatest of moods. The last time had resulted in two hundred years being added to his penance, and it hadn’t even been good sex.

This. Is. Beautiful! It promises Vikings, immortal vikings, immortal and sexually frustrated Vikings! Boom!

For one insane moment I considered picking up a free sample of Book One on my Kindle just to keep the giddiness going. However, I regretfully decided that too much exposure to this wonderful insanity would destroy my ability to write even as semi-seriously as I do.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, my epiphany.

Sandra Hill’s Deadly Angels series averages a 4.6 Amazon Star Rating. The first book in the series rates only a 4.0, but they go up with one of the later books a 4.8 and the latest a 4.7. How in the waking world could this possibly be? Well, Sandra has found a niche. Yes, it’s a Viking-vampire-angel niche, but it practically had to be there. In similar fashion, I stumbled upon the New Adult Superhero Story niche when I wrote Wearing the Cape. Both are underserved niches, so like Sandra, I didn’t have to be a great writer to do well in it. I only had to be a good-enough writer.

Hopefully I have gotten better, but my point for all you aspiring writers out there is this; polish your craft, yes, but there is a lot of competition out there, so if you want to get published while you’re still just good-enough (or noticed when you self-publish) then you need to find an underserved niche. Find your Viking-vampire-angel niche. But, and here’s the catch, you must commit to it. To serve it well, you must cast aside every thought that whispers But Viking-vampire-angels are just silly. So, from a certain perspective, is a teen superhuman who dons a cape and mask and takes a codename.

Now isn’t that encouraging?

M.G.Harmon

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