Month: November 2014

The Last Superhero – How it came to be

TLS Twitter HeaderIt may sound absurd but don’t be naïve. Even heroes have the right to bleed.

Back in 2008-2009 I had an idea for a story focusing on a retired superhero. Songs like 3 Doors Down’s Kryptonite and Five for Fighting’s Superman inspired me to create a superhero character exploring a more intimate, human side of it. That’s how Steven S. Waldorf came to be. The last superhero to roam the Earth.

My friends and family liked the idea and a first draft was born. A first draft that was passed around and read and edited and I thought I had it so I started posting chapters on my Tumblr.

That was when one certain person told me to stop and rewrite the whole thing. To say I was angry is an understatement. If so many people liked it why couldn’t he?

Still, I do listen to this one person I shall not mention by name since he’s old and wise. I stowed the manuscript and waited, not for the world to change, but for my world to change.

Four years and a couple of books published later, I decided to revisit this story, rewrite it from scratch. My world has changed considerably. I’ve been married for 10 years and life has given me a bunch of lessons about love, family, friendship, and loss. All this, of course, spills into my writing and what was once a novella has blown up into a 93k words novel with not only science fiction elements but fantasy and thriller too.

THE LAST SUPERHERO was reborn with a vengeance. A story that has lived inside me for years grew to what I believe is its full potential.

So, what’s the story about?

An aging superhero marked by rejection and tragedy meets a young woman that will put her life on the line to save him from his nightmares. Literally.

Steven S. Waldorf is the last superhero to roam the Earth. He’s been living in seclusion for 28 years and only now is coming back out into the world. Giana’s a twenty-nine year old woman trying to keep it together while searching for a way to get out of a rut. They meet one night when he saves her from getting mugged and that sparks a relationship between them that will throw her right into the center of his continuous unknown-to-the-world torment.

See, Steven’s got the power of telekinesis and can project fantasies into people’s minds, this last one being his most controversial power and the culprit of his torment.

But you’re going to have to read the book to know more about it.

I like to call it a sci-fi fantasy story for the non-sci-fi fantasy reader. It’s, above all, a love story between two people who’ve been through a lot and are able to find solace in each other.

Roles are switched, and it’s the superhero the one that needs to be saved from his internal battles. It’s a psychology thing, using Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego theory and research on dreams from people like Carl Jung.

The writing style

Last year I published a short story called At the Corner of Mars and Neptune (FREE 11/25-11/26 2014). I’m going to steal Stacey Cochran’s term and call it a noir romance. With it I wanted to try out a looser type of writing than the one I use on The Caregiver Series, a more poetic one, resembling how I talk to myself (yeah, I do that… a lot).

Knock. Knock.
He looks at me. I look at him. We both know.
I stride to the door faster than he can reach an outstretched hand to me.
Turn the doorknob, hold my breath.
Open the door and the punch lands square on my face.
“Hey!” Noah exclaims.
I’m on all fours, trying to get up, when a foot kicks me to the side.
“He’s clear!” I shout when I see John closing the distance. “Don’t hurt him, he’s got nothing.”
“He’s a cop!” He’s pointing a gun at Noah’s face. “What the fuck is wrong with you, bitch? Bringing cops in here?”
I have to get up. Noah’s holding his hands in the air—so policeman of him. The pink straw pointing at his face, as if it was looking at him and telling him: you’re fucked.
“Leave him, John. He’s leaving now.”
“He better.”
“Go fuck someone else, John.”
“You,” he turns to point the gun at me now because I’m on my feet again, “stop fucking around.”
“I never fuck around.” I push the gun barrel out of my sight. “I said he’s leaving.”
John lets a couple of beats pass. Like techno, just the bass of his chest marking each one. He lowers the gun, turns to Noah. “Next time I see you ‘round here Imma a pop one in your skull, you fucking pig.” And exits like he’s some kind of warrior, looking down at us, flexing his chest muscles so he looks bigger.
Noah runs to me, checking my face. I slap his hands away.
“Go. Before he comes back.”
“Your cheekbone is busted.”
I touch it with my fingertips. Yeah, it’s open. “Whatevs. Just go before he comes back and kills you.”
“Meet me tomorrow. Ten. You know the Greek restaurant a couple of blocks from here?”
“Yeah.”
“There.”
“Okay.”
He gives me another look, his eyes stray to the place in my face sporting the open wound. Go, I mouth, shoving him out the door and locking it. Locking him out. Locking me in. And I don’t know why but I’m silently praying he makes it out in one piece.
~ At the Corner of Mars and Neptune – Chapter 3
That story got some nice praise from readers and fellow authors so I decided to give it a shot with this book too and was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.
I park in front of his house and turn the car off.
Shiver again at the thought of that cop.
I’m not telling Steven. No.
Deep breaths.
It’s early in the afternoon and I don’t know why I’m doing this, but I need to see him.
And I’m out of cigarettes.
He ain’t got a phone so I can’t call him up and say ‘hey can I come over?’
So I get out of my car, walk up to the gate, and search for something like an intercom or even a bell.
Nope, no such luck.
Gate’s locked and the path to the door is pretty long.
How tall is this wall?
Do I really want to see him that bad?
Ponder.
Use the padlock, tap it on the gate a couple of times.
No answer.
I am not shouting his name and I am not honking either.
I’ve climbed walls before. And this one’s got some sturdy looking ivy branches.
Grab one, wrap it around your wrist, pull on it, think it’ll hold.
And it does. It will.
Move the fuck over Tarzan, ’cause here goes Jane.
Just like one of those rock climbing walls people are so amused by, only this surface’s flat and slippery, and I’m not wearing a harness.
Some small scratches on my hands and I’ve made it to the top.
Who’s awesome, eh? Who’s fucking awesome?
Get off before someone drives by and sees you straddling the top of the wall like it’s a horse.
Grab some branches and lower yourself.
Easy. Easy.
They say it’s the climb, man, but going down is nerve-wracking sometimes.
Crack.
Crap!
~ The Last Superhero – Chapter 8
I thought my editor would hate it. The style, the story, the characters, everything. Until she read it and told me “I can honestly say the most compelling story I’ve read in longass while has been yours.” That made me feel somewhat better. Here’s to hoping you all enjoy it as well.

The Last Superhero – Music ♪♫

I’m close to publishing my next novel, The Last Superhero, a sci-fi fantasy romance about the last superhero to roam the Earth and the young woman that turns his life around. It’s a superhero story with a twist, exploring the human side of things instead of the usual/fantastic. More on that in next posts, I promise!

Right now we’re working through the edits for a December launch. Yay! And I want to start writing about it, kind of get the ball rolling.

One thing I do when writing is listen to music that either appeals to the characters or helps set the mood for a scene. It’s something I’ve written about before so I won’t bore you with details, what I’ll give you, for now, is part of this book’s playlist. Enjoy!

There’s plenty of action in the book and for those parts I have my own special “war” playlist:

Interview with author Stacey Cochran

Earlier today I had author Stacey Cochran over at my Artistikem Facebook Author Page chatting about his novel EDDIE & SUNNY, currently needing your vote over at the Amazon Kindle Scout program. The interview went so much better than I thought it would (I was super nervous!) and it gave me a change to flex my interviewing muscles. Stacey’s a wonderful author and person and I’m glad he let me be part of this. So I decided to transcribe it and post it here for all to enjoy.

A bit about the book:

EddieSunnyCover.jpg.w560h730

The love story to end all love stories.

Eddie and Sunny have never had much in life, save for each other’s love. For months they’ve lived out of a car with their young son. A tragedy on the road one night turns the couple into fugitives of the law, separates them, and eventually leads each to believe that the other has died and all hope is lost. A passionate, triumphant conclusion follows as the very essence of love, hope, and the American Dream unite in a novel of beautiful simplicity.

Go nominate it here https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/M7D0F455B1R5, it only takes a couple of seconds!

And now, for a transcript of our interview:

Me: Hey there! Thanks for stopping by. Can you introduce yourself for those who don’t know you yet (and totally should by now 😉 )?

Stacey: Thanks so much. I’m happy to be here. I’m a writer. I live in North Carolina. My novel Eddie & Sunny is in the Kindle Scout program this month for 30 days.

Me: What is Kindle Scout and why did you decide to go for it?

Stacey: #Kindle #Scout is a new program at #Amazon. The purpose of the program is for the imprints at Amazon (Thomas & Mercer, Montlake, 47N, etc.) to discover novels that are unpublished, yet have a strong potential for sales. Books are allowed a 30-day campaign to earn as many nominations from fans and readers as possible. The books with the most nominations in 30 days are given consideration for a publishing contract, $1500 advance, and good royalty rates for five years.

Me: It sounds like a really good idea from Amazon, staying up with technology and customer participation. What drew you to it?

Stacey: That’s a great question. I’ve been trying to find a home at one of the Amazon imprints for years… dating back to the earliest Encore days, in fact. I think I was the first person to interview Cayla Kluver, who was the first Amazon Encore author. I realized that Amazon was doing very, very smart things in publishing and wanted to be a part of that team. So, I had this novel Eddie & Sunny out with my agent, and he mentioned that he’d heard about this Kindle Scout thing. I read about it, and thought it suited my skills as a self-starter and so decided to enter Eddie & Sunny into the program. It just so happens that I was chosen for the first wave trial of Kindle Scout. So the book launched its 30-day campaign period last Sunday, and I’ve been working hard ever since to earn nominations for the book. Have been blessed with an extraordinarily supportive group of friends who have helped me along the way.

Me: Before we dive into the book, I’d like to ask: when and why did you decide to become a writer?

Stacey: Another great question, Astrid! I didn’t totally understand that writing was a “profession” until I was about 19 or 20. That was when I met my first published novelists. I’d been “writing” fiction and poetry as a kid and teenager, and I actually submitted a short story to Random House when I was 17. Random House was the only publisher I’d heard of, and I read the address on the copyright page of a book, and I sent them a short story written on an electric Smith-Corona typewriter.

Me: Oh wow! And how did that go?

Stacey: I actually got a personalized response from the publisher. They passed (Random House publishes books, not short stories 🙂 ) but it made an impact in that I learned that people would respond if you wrote something good, in earnest, and submitted it. That would have been around 1991. Have pretty much been writing obsessively ever since.

Me: Actually sending it out is a step lots of people never get to. It shows you’ve got drive to get out there and do things. How did you come around self-publishing?

Stacey: Another great question! When I was in grad school, I worked on an academic journal (http://www.thoreausociety.org/reading-room/concord-saunterer) I was an editor for three years and worked on publishing that journal from scratch once per year. That taught me a LOT about how to format, compile, use a computer, printer, cover design, etc. This would have been 1998-2001. That experience played into my understanding of how to publish a book, if you were to do it on your own. I completed my first full-length novel in 2002. Began submitting it the traditional way, to agents, editors, going to conferences, etc. I followed up that first (terrible) novel with a Private Eye novel. The PI novel ended up being selected as a finalist by St. Martin’s Press for the 2004 PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest by the late Ruth Cavin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruth_Cavin) Still despite this early recognition I could not find a good fit in terms of an editor, publisher, etc. And I worked very, very hard to find one. For about four years. At this same time, I’d hear occasional stories of writers who had self-published and “broken out.” Then in 2004, Lulu.com launched, and I decided to give that a try. I was one of the first authors to publish there. Around 2006 (?) I tried publishing an audiobook on my own with Podiobooks.com.

Me: I see a pioneering trend with you!

Stacey: And a stubborn “don’t ever quit” mentality that has pretty much driven me my whole adult life. At one point I think I’d collected over 3,000 rejection letters.

Me: That’s the best mentality to have in this business.

Stacey: That combined with a little grace, compassion, and humility can go a long way in life.

Me: Ok, so, let’s lasso this towards the book. You’ve talked about your experience working on a documentary about homeless women and children and how it inspired this story. Can you talk a bit more about that?

Stacey: Right, so a buddy of mine asked me to work on a film series he’d been commissioned to shoot regarding life in a homeless shelter. I was the camera operator and we did interviews with (mainly) women who lived in the shelter with their kids. The rooms where they slept were filled with bunkbeds, maybe 20-30 per room, and all these amazing folks lived there and were going to school, trying to get jobs, trying to get back on their feet. This affected me emotionally. Profoundly. I wanted to write a novel through the lens of compassion that pulled from the emotions that I felt at that time. Something that would try to illustrate the dignity of their lives. I settled on a love story between a couple that was homeless with a young son, and another child on the way.

Me: How long did it take you from that filming experience to actually sit down and start writing it? Did you have to process it all before writing or did you get to it right away?

Stacey: Great question. The timeline is a bit hazy in my memory. The novel itself took three years to write. As it’s only 50k words, that’s a grindingly slow pace to write a novel. The process was such that I would not allow myself to write until I fully and intuitively knew it was time to write a scene. It had to be torn from me, so to speak. And I refused to just put words on the page to meet a word count for a given day. It was more about patience and letting my life experience and thinking about a novel filter out all the clutter and put the absolute *right* scene on the page. I originally thought it’d be a novella, around 30k words because around 2011 or so that was actually an optimal length for self-publishing a book as an ebook. When my agent read the novel, he felt very strongly about it. Read it flat-out in less than 24 hours and said it was the best “sociological” crime fiction novel he’d ever read. So, naturally he didn’t want me to self-publish it. It’s actually a very simple story. There’s no complicated stylistic issues going on in the book, flashbacks, unclear narrators, etc. Timeline jumps, etc. I wanted to tell a simple story, sequentially through time, with the “camera lens” squarely on this family the whole time.

Me: Sounds a lot like a good candidate for an indie film.

Stacey: Well, if someone made this story into a film, they’d have something very, very big on their hands I suspect. At least my agent thinks so. I mean it’s a fucking love story of down-and-out people who deserve a break in life. It’s a story of the triumph of the human spirit. Eryk Pruitt would probably win all sorts of awards if he adapted it!

Me: I’m super curious about your process since, in your first video of the campaign, you choked up while reading the excerpt (which starts with a father and son prayer), fact that leads me to believe this story’s coming from somewhere really deep/close to you and I know you’re a wonderful father to your kids. I really want to ask you: what part has fatherhood played in your writing?

Stacey: Excellent question. You are an amazing interviewer, Astrid.

Me: Aww, thank you!

Stacey: I have had the absolute hardest time reading this story in public. I tried to read it at NC Writers’ Network a few years ago and it just did not work well at all. There’s something happening in that opening scene that absolutely stirs my emotions in a way unlike anything else I’ve ever written in my life. I think it’s the combination of innocence, graciousness, love, and compassion that this father/mother has for their child, despite being absolutely destitute and worthless in the eyes of society. That tension is very close to my heart. Being a parent changes everything. Having a child, a special needs child at that, turns your entire life inside out. There is *no way* you can be selfish or self-absorbed around your children. They simply won’t allow it. They become the focus of your entire life, and compassion, love, caring, kindness, patience, perseverance, all of that must rise to the occasion for the rest of your life. My life is no longer about me. It’s about my wife and children. That shift in perspective was central in my mind when I began Eddie & Sunny. The funny thing is, being a writer is the most self-absorbed profession on earth. Maybe quite literally. And so having children pulls you away from that. And ironically, it allows these moments (a book tour for example) to work because you’ve earned it in a way. You’ve earned “me” time.

Me: I was afraid to ask about that, the self-absorbing quality of writing. Because I can see where you’re coming, only from another light, having been the sister to a special needs child. I see you and Susan and I see my own parents.

Stacey: Life is all about balances and compromise. To me anyways. And if all you live for is your writing, that doesn’t seem balanced. And ultimately the work will suffer.

Me: I’m choking up a bit here so maybe next question and then a wrap up? Since I’m awful at genres… Can you talk about the “noir romance” genre? I read in another interview that you wrote three different endings for this book (which I think is completely nuts), how did you come around this genre? Or did it force itself on you/the story somehow?

Stacey: You should seriously become a professional interviewer. These are great questions.

Me: You’re the second person to tell me this, I’m starting to believe it.

Stacey: It’s true. So, well, “Noir Romance.” I wanted to tell a love story. And I wanted this family to have absolutely nothing at the start of the novel. Nothing except the clothes on their back and love, grace, and their shared past and struggles. I was reading lots of Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, Raymond Carver, William Gay, Larry Brown, Flannery O’Connor. But these two genres aren’t usually considered in the same sentence. Romance and Noir. In a lot of ways, their genre tropes are diametrically opposed. Chic lit is about as far afield from noir as anything you could possibly write. But ultimately it’s a love story. It just happens to feature characters you would not ordinarily see in a “romance” novel. And I wanted their to be a crime at the start of the novel that propels the story forward. The result very much straddles genres and is probably most appropriately called a “Noir Love Story” or “Noir Romance.” If it had to be put on a shelf in Barnes & Noble, it’d probably go on “mainstream fiction” or “crime fiction.”

Me: And don’t get me started on those people that read romance and think it’s equal to bodice ripping.

Stacey: Right, any talk of genre tropes is likely going to create debate about what is stereotypical of that genre. Genre is problematic by its very nature. Lives aren’t easily categorizable. Why should books be?

Me: This is why I say I’m awful at genres because I like to write and read stuff that resembles life and how it flows. I’ve got criminals all over my books but I like to show how they’re human too, their lives isn’t crime 24/7, they’ve got families and loved ones and such.

Stacey: Which is why people need to check out: http://www.amazon.com/Corner-Mars-Neptune…/dp/B00CQI093C.

Me: Thank you!! One last thing before we wrap it: Any tips for new writers looking to publish their works? Any marketing tips?

Stacey: Embrace new technologies, no matter how fearful it may be. And try to find your most authentic self in your writing, the things that make you vulnerable and embarrassed and that you don’t want anyone else to see. That’s what we want to see.

I want to thank Stacey Cochran for being so awesome and everyone that tuned in! Remember to nominate Stacey’s book over at https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/M7D0F455B1R5, it only takes a couple of seconds and you’ll be backing a heartfelt, beautiful story!