Mysteries of Amazon, And A Drawing.

Zombies are like credit card payments. If you keep getting rid of the minimum amount, you’ll never win. (From X-Heroes by Peter Cline.)

Amazon has become like its namesake river; deep, dark, populated by secret tribes of headhunters and cannibals…a mystery uncertainly navigated. A short while back I made the pleasant discovery that Amazon was mining purchaser’s archives for highlights.

That’s right; if you highlight passages in you new Kindle ebook, when you sync with your archives you pass on you highlights, bookmarks, and other bits of reader-activity to the men behind the curtains. While Orwell was obsessing about Big Brother, the Salesmen picked apart our privacy for selling pitches.

So now, on many novels published electronically, if you go down past their Amazon reviews, you will find a section called Popular Highlights. In theory, these are bits of the author’s wit and wisdom, lines that resonated deeply enough for the reader to stop and highlight it. Thus the source of the awesome quote that began this blog-post.

Another one: Neurotics build castles in the sky. Psychotics live in them. Psychotherapists collect the rent. This one is from Sugar and Spice, the British psycho-thriller Kindle bestseller by Saffina Desforges. Fourteen Kindle users underlined that one.

I suppose I could be disturbed by this latest piece of electronic transparency, but as a writer I’m feeling too warm and fuzzy right now. On my Wearing the Cape Amazon page, I found ten selected highlights. Of course one of the highlights was simply Villains Inc., Episode One: Preemption. Apparently nine Kindle users decided to highlight the last-page announcement of the sequel’s opening episode. Three others were highlighted quotes from English authors (Shakespeare, Johnson, etc), and one was a nursery rhyme. But five were mine–including perhaps my favorite line (if a writer can have his own favorites), Mrs. Lori’s acerbic dismissal of higher education.

But this got me thinking. One of the things I’ve really missed, with my fairly small alpha and beta-reader pools, is reader input. I am grateful to the Amazon reviewers who have gone beyond the standard thumbs-up (or thumbs-down), to tell me why they liked it, who they liked, etc. And feedback does make a difference; Bite Me is being written because of readers asking for more Artemis. But, being greedy, I want more.

So, here’s the deal: I’m getting ready to re-release the trade paperback of Wearing the Cape, with minor editorial corrections and a brand new, and truly awesome, cover. And I want to hear from everybody. So everyone who posts a reply, at least five sentences long, telling me their Faves (favorite characters, favorite lines, favorite scenes…), goes in the hat. When I publish the new edition with its new cover, one lucky poster gets a signed copy.

Feedback. Give me feedback. Believe it or not, it does make a difference; who knows what comments might shape the next Astra story.

Warning: WtC and VI spoilers follow; do not continue if you have not yet read the books.

15 thoughts on “Mysteries of Amazon, And A Drawing.

  1. George,
    Loved both the books. Fortunately (unfortunately?), I didn’t find WTC until VI was already out so I didn’t have to wait to continue the story. I read stuff like this pretty regularly and I have to say that the first thing I like about this story is the premise. Anyone can become a superhuman and the powers are reflections of their own personality and strengths. Your powers match your personality. This is so smart imo and I also like how some of the most unlikely people are bestowed with the greatest power. I also love how there are no limits to the types of powers or their limits, and it can all be explained by one unknown catalyst. I love the possibilities that this leaves open. I love how Astra responds to tragedy. She seems like someone I could have grown up with, still worried about what her parents think. I love the twist of Iron Jack and how he did what was best for his family, how he can provide some advice in tender moments. I like the dynamic of Ms. Lori and Hope. Ms. Lori seems like she has some secrets. Atlas’ story line really affected me. I was a little depressed after all that mess (shades of how I felt at the end of “The Amber Spy Glass”) which I think is a testament to how well that thread was written. I don’t trust Rush. I like Shelly, although I don’t know how I feel about the Galeta deal. I like when she was always available to Astra giving her the edge in the field. I like the idea of the super villain Sief Al Din who is given unreal power through religious ideology. I would have liked a little more description and background on him. Bottom line is I LOVED these books and I’m really grateful that your going to keep the franchise going and not quit after one book like “Soon I Will Be Invincible” (no offense to Mr. Grossman). Super hero books are meant to have multiple adventures imho and I love that your doing that.

    1. Yes, I also liked mainfraime-Shelly. While I’m not totally thrilled at the idea of moving her in to a physical shell, I do think it’s exactly what she would do, given the opportunity, and so I can’t fault the story’s logic there.

  2. One of the most intriguing characters for me is the (now) dearly departed Atlas. He became a super hero at quite a young age ( like Astra) and was really the first super hero. The way he dealt with that and his subsequent fame and perceived responsibilities was interesting and gave a good deal of insight into him as the person behind the mask. I will say that I was disappointed a little that he and Astra never got to have their dream together but loved the way that relationship and tragedy informed Astra’s character later on. All through this series I’ve been excited to watch these characters grow into their roles. Can’t wait to see what Artemis does in New Orleans! Write on!

    1. Actually, that was something that fell flat for me. Don’t ask me to explain why, because I can’t; I just didn’t particularly like them as a couple. Maybe it was too quick or too easy, or maybe just too cliche, but I was expecting something different.

      I guess I was hoping she’d move past her girlhood crush and develop a more platonic mentor/apprentice bond, rather than just falling in to each other’s arms. While I loved everything else about the book, that was the one thing that didn’t work: the romance between Astra and Atlas.

      However, I do like the way, in the second book, that relationship “stains” her, and she has to work on rebuilding her public image. That aspect seems spot-on, and it’s exactly what I’d expect.

      In fact, the girl-crush turning romance is probably what would happen in the real world, despite the fact that I’d be against it. What I’m not sure of yet is whether their relationship would last, with all the stresses of the job and the other things that would be constantly trying to rip them apart.

      1. I’m glad to see the mixed response on Astra and Atlas’ relationship; it was intended to be both real-world and problematic because of the age-experience gap. And there were no guarantees–in fact there is a hint in VI that, had Atlas not died, it might not have worked out. One of the themes I played with in the story was uncertainty; in real life we are seldom sure of the rightness of our decisions, and often the ultimate consequences of our actions take years to work themselves out. I like to think the two of them would have gone through their share of epic fights and adjustments (they are VERY different people, after all) before coming together in a true partnership.

  3. Personally, I like Hope’s best friend turned computer simulation. As a computer geek, I love the thought that perhaps, some day, I could enter the virtual and leave behind my corporeal existence. The way Shelly was literally in Hope’s head created a special relationship between the two of them that would be entirely unlike anything two people could normally share. Of course, I also just like Shelly’s personality in general.

    I also loved that you have not entirely followed the villains and heroes formula. The good guys and bad guys don’t turn out to be quite what you expect; for example, the Teatime Anarchist turns out to be something other than just a simple terrorist.

    Also, I’m not sure if you have read or listened to Jeffrey Derego’s Union Dues stories, but both his society and this one are very much how I would expect the real world to deal with superheroes: register them, then make them follow a special set of rules. Unlike a gun, which you can take away, you usually can’t remove a super’s powers without either maiming or killing them. So turning them in to a combination of circus sideshow and law enforcement professional is exactly what I would expect to happen. In the real world, you could never have a Super going vigilante like Superman; instead, as we’ve seen in both the Spiderman and Batman movies, the cops would see the superheroes as more dangerous than the criminals they’re stopping.

    Mostly, though, I read stories for the characters. I love getting to know these people that we meet through the art of storytelling. I love getting to know Hope, her family, and the rest of the Sentinels, and as much as anything else, I want more WTC just so I can get to spend more time with Hope and her companions.

  4. What I find fascinating about super hero stories is the development of the hero how they learn to deal with their powers and what they do with it. In Wearing the Cape I liked seeing Hope develop and learn about her powers and I was hoping to see more of that in Villians INC, but the story moved at such a fast clip that the hints at getting further training with Watchman never happened. During her battles with Villian-X Astra seemed like she was adjusting and getting stronger. Now I am wondering how she matches up against someone like watchman. Villian-X was already pretty strong then Hecate boosted him, so I am still wondering how she matches up with Watchman. It shouldn’t matter who is best, but I like competition and want my favorite Atlas type to be number one or near the top of her super hero type. You hinted at it in book one that Astra’s powers were a progressive type, so we see her evolving and I find it interesting and would like to read more about it. And finally I love the epic battles. In Wearing the Cape that battle at the military base was the best and Sief Al Din was one bad you know what. Astra seems to be making it a habit of taking on these unstopable villians. In Villians Inc you teased us with the dome battle, but that was a skirmish and I was begining to think it was just going to be more of a mystery magic kind of story, but in the last episode I got my epic battle! Well battles one was off screen 😦 . And the way I understand it Shelly temporarily cannot interface with Hope, because she is using her link to run the robot body. If it gets destroyed it will free up that link. Her mind still resides in the quantum computer not the robot. And I also enjoyed Astra’s interaction with the police and seeing her use her other powers to help them solve cases.

  5. My boyfriend and I are reading this series together and really enjoy it … for different reasons. I enjoy the way you have captured a young girl bursting into womanhood who is still fascinated with all things girly, like the fashion and color of her costume all while she is protecting those weaker than she. I also love how she kicks butt! LOL Dennis enjoys the way it is written from the perspective of a young, innocent teen who is thrust into a very different world of politics, villains and superheroes, while still trying to maintain and protect her old world of her friends, family and school. We are learning about this world from HER perspective. It’s a lot of fun.

    HOWEVER, we can’t find an electronic version of Episode Three anywhere and don’t want to jump to Episode Four without it. Who knows what relationship changes we will miss if we do. Any suggestions for how we can purchase Episode Three?

    1. I am glad you’re enjoying the books! I did try for a balance between “girly” and “kick-butt.”
      I took down Episodes 2 and 3 a couple of weeks after releasing the complete novel; purchasing 2,3,and 4 would cost the reader $4.50, where the single novel is only $2.99. I put up Episode 4 (for $1.50) for those who had already bought 1,2,and 3. I felt it would be cheating to ask people who have already spent $4.00 to spend another $2.99 for the last chapters AND the three episodes they’d already purchased, but if you’ve only bought Episodes 1 and 2, then the full novel will cost you just the same ($2.99 vs. $1.50 x 2) and you’ll have the story all in one place (also, when I put the four episodes together it benefited from a final edit; there are a few small grammar and word-choice changes).

      1. Dennis went ahead and bought the whole book and started reading “Episode 3” (whatever chapter that was) last night. We just couldn’t wait to see if we’d won the trade paperback. Besides, we’re both hooked on ebooks now. We’re looking forward to however many more Cape stories you’ve got. As soon as we’ve finished the book, we’ll leave some 5 star reviews at various sites. ;-))

  6. I more or less stumbled across Wearing the Cape, and was hooked. I enjoyed how you’ve explored the implications of supers in a world that in many ways still conforms to reality; for example, the way that the Sentinels put considerable emphasis on photo-ops and public relations, not something I recall seeing in the comics during my misspent youth. Another interesting slant is the notion that in Illinois, at least, socially sanctioned heroes are officially members of the state militia – again, pretty plausible. I really got a chuckle out of the nod to the merchandising of superheroes, including plushies and reality TV series. I think that Astra’s comments at the beginnings of several chapters in either “Wearing…” or “Villains, Inc.”, to the effect that most of the work she does is a matter of rescue & disaster response rather than stereotypical hero-on-villain-superbattles, really rang true. I was also much impressed with Hope’s backstory, of which we’ve heard relatively little so far. We know that she has a deceased sister, and we know that she is herself a cancer survivor. It would be most interesting to see more of how these events made her who she is. When I bought Villains, Inc., I bought all 4 episodes at once, not noticing that they’d been assembled into a single download, so perhaps I have a slightly out-of-date version–but I noticed that somewhere between book 1 and the end of book 2 episode 4, Graymalkin the cat had changed gender from “He” to “She.” Maybe Hope’s cat has had an emergence? In any case, I am eagerly awaiting both “Bite Me” and the science fiction comedy that you’ve mentioned writing afterward.

    1. Whoops. Gray’s gender-change entirely escaped me. So far nobody else has noticed… I enjoyed looking for the humor in a reality-based superhero world: the idea of Capes, a reality-show like Cops, just made me chuckle. One item that got dropped out of WtC was a reference to a superhero fighting championship league (their version of the World Wrestling Alliance). A fun idea, but there wasn’t room.

  7. Copypasted from goodreads:
    First, thanks for the wonderful story. Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc. were two of my reading highlights of 2011. I’ll give this a shot for my girlfriend, who refuses to read anything digitally. My favorite character was unsurprisingly Artemis, but my second favorite character was the under utilized Shelly. I really enjoyed her interaction with Astra and would have like to see more of it. Plus I think there is a very interesting plot line for someone who, for all purposes, can never grow up. Basically a female Peter Pan story. My favorite scene was Artemis and Astra watching that first sunrise together after Artemis was cured. Favorites quotes: “Too much knowledge rots the brain. Unless it’s the practical sort, such as how to fix my car or operate on my heart. Sometimes I think the more educated a person become the more useless he is to the rest of us.” “No backing down, no giving in. I pick my fights, but I fight to win.” “I can deal with the things I know and the things I don’t know. It’s the things I don’t know I don’t know that always bite me in the butt.” “Good things come. Bad things come. Accept both with equanimity.”

  8. George,
    I just finished reading Villains, Inc. and I have to say this has been one of my favorite reads of the last year. I love how the characters seem so real and personable. Artemis isn’t just a token goth/emo girl, she’s got depth of personality and a reason for being the way that she is–and it was awesome seeing her grow as a person and embrace her role as Blackstone’s right hand vamp. Hope seems like a girl that I could have gone to college with, and everything about her breakthrough just felt real-her worrying about her friends and family, her personal life, her reactions to being suddenly thrust into the media limelight, and especially how she gets after an intense fight. Atlas was awesome. At first, he seemed to be a generic “Superman” type, with a boyscout moral set, and I love how you inverted that by slowly introducing his flaws and humanity. Detective Fisher was a great character, and the revelation about him near the end was so interesting I broke out in a grin.
    The battles were amazing, and even more so in “Villains, Inc.”
    As for the world itself, I love the special attention you placed on the social/economic implications of a world suddenly faced with the existence of superheroes, top to bottom. From the movies, reality shows, the plushes, the cosplayers, the clubs, etc. everything felt plausible and logical. Overall, a great book, five stars on Amazon. Incidentally, is there an email list I could join so that I get a notification when “Bite Me” comes out? I want to follow Artemis’s adventures asap!

    1. No mailing list–but keep your eye on this blog; I will of course be posting news of its release. Glad you’ve enjoyed the first two books!

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