Category: Behind the Writing

The End Stirs Mixed Emotions.

I have always been honest with my readers. I am experiencing a sense of sadness, akin to mourning the loss of a loved one. I approach writing “The End” for Night Covenants. It is coming together as planned and the characters are following directions. I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t prepared for the profound sense of dread. I’m attempting to come to terms what that statement means.

“Part of the Journey is the End”

– Tony Stark

Photo Credit: Mihail Macri

Nighthawks started in seventh grade. Nick Leonard and myself spent the our time after school swapping comics, talking about superheroes and day dreaming about what if we had powers? We didn’t advertise our geekery for fear of being ridiculed. Being the brilliant children we were, we decided to start our own comic. Nick spent his afternoons drawing powered characters while I wrote out melodramatic scripts. I used these characters for my creative outlets. They allowed me to work through the angst of my youth all while saving the world. They became like family.

We never made our comic, but the groundwork remained, hidden in a box in the attic.

At thirty, my parents moved. Childhood belongs were sorted and I donated most of my youth to charity. However, I found a notebook containing Nick’s drawings, old floppy disks and a few printed scripts. I had been writing for a few years and I recognized the potential for a story. It needed to mature and the world needed development, but our tween selves had started something that needed to be finished.

Vanessa transformed from a member of an invading alien race to a tender hearted telepath outcast by society. Skits became Dwayne’s sister and learned to fend for herself in a cruel world. Magus, a magical shaman with the ability to bend reality, well he got deleted because that was just batshit crazy. Even their location moved from New Haven Connecticut to Boston, Upstate New York and Chicago.

Only one character remained as he was created: Conthan. Conthan has always been me, there is no denying it. As a child, he was the man I hoped to be, a hero who in the face adversity could confront him demons and do what’s right. As an adult, he reminds me to roll with the punches, appreciate life, and remain connected to the people in my life. Conthan has become my alter ego where I get to explore a world different yet similar to our own.

Five books later, the Nighthawks have evolved. There will always been a need for heroes, but maybe not these heroes? I’m still writing the final chapters, so I don’t know what the story will bring. Eventually I will reach the final page and have to write “the end.” Truthfully? I’m a bit scared. At first I was concerned I would run out of ideas to write. With nearly a dozen outlines ready to be written, that’s not my concern. So why the melancholy? I’m saying goodbye to the only people who literally understand my every thought.

Their story will end, but mine will continue. There’s a sense of dread losing this support network I’ve manifested in my head. The grieving process has already begun. I’m currently in denial, trying to imagine the next story in which I’ll meet these characters. But even if I write it, I know we won’t be the same people when we reunite. It’s to the degree that I’m forcing myself to write, knowing every word puts me that much closer to a finale. Eleanor’s first letter rings oddly true.

Mr. Cowan,

As you ponder the situation laid out in front of you, it is clear that things will never be the same. Before you are many decisions, but alas, beyond this point I cannot see nor predict your future. You are an element that seems to defy the strands of probability. I fear that before you lies a path that will test the fortitude of your soul. I wish I could give you more than a simple direction. I have done everything in my power to see you safe to this point. I wish I could tell you that somewhere on the other side of the darkness will be you, standing triumphant. However, I cannot. For that, I am sorry. What I can do is start you on your hero’s journey.

Go to Sarah.

With Regards,

Eleanor P. Valentine

While wading through the mournful victory coming, I am working to end the story in a way where the characters and the fans give their best performance. I want there to be a sense of closure and a hopeful eye to the future. I want to believe the best has yet to come. I guess there is only one way to find out?

So thank you reader for being along for this epic journey. There is more to be had and growth underway, but thank you for being part of my story. It’s been amazing knowing that there are so many people along for the ride, supporting, interacting, and lifting me up. I have no words that truly show my appreciation. For now, thank you.

Culture Sourced in Experience

Malibu Rock, Malibu California

I had a long post about diversity and its importance in literature. I talked about ring born into a diverse world on a military base. I reminisced about growing up in the white washed world of northern Maine. I pontificated about a lot, but I wasn’t saying much. Now that I’m sitting in California, swept up in the diverse cultures intermingling, I feel I’m finally understanding what I was attempting to say. My identity, what makes me, well, me is but one thread in a beautifully woven tapestry of mankind.

I’ve lived all over the eastern seaboard of the United States. My father was in the military and we moved frequently. I grew up with this exposure to rich and vibrant cultures. My closest friends came from Korea, Polynesia, and Zimbabwe. I’ve been blessed to know that my family’s history and more importantly our unique and far from the status quo. I sit in a cafe in San Luis Obispo California, and there is a subtle beauty in occupying space with histories vastly different from my own.

I grew up different, a feeling that for the most haunted me. As a teen all you want is to fit in, but when you know there is an underlying difference than your peers, you begin to ostracize yourself. It’s only later in life I took the opportunity to embrace these differences and as they say, “Let my freak flag fly.” And fly it does.

So how does this impact my writing? I started traveling in the past few years as part of “life is more than work” lifestyle change. I needed an adventure, something to take my out of my bubble and start letting me see something bigger than my little slice of life. The more of this wonderful world I see, the more I feel the need, no, the urgency to include it into my writing. Let’s be honest, the diversity in literature movement is strong, but it has a long way to go. As a cis white male (even a gay one) I feel obligated to bring this richness into my writing.

Representation is something that has become a hot topic in the literature world. There tends to be three camps: bigots, those who believe the story dictates representation (bigots) and those who feel a story can be expanded to include representation. Originally the cast of the Nighthawks fell into the second camp. Other than Vanessa being labeled as “green,” I let the reader imagine who they wanted. In a moment of clarity, I recall saying it was a coward’s move. I stand by this epiphany, and let me just say, my writing has flourished because of it.

Dav5d is an autistic black man. Conthan and Dwayne are gay. Jasmine is a Mexican-American Catholic, Alyssa is Muslim and never once have I thought that this interrupted the story. In truth, I chose these aspects of their identities based on the students in my classroom. In each class, this is what I see, and the more I thought about it, I thought it important to let them know, “I see them.” This became such an important aspect for me, that it even worked itself into Night Legions as Azacca (a man with MS) uses the phrase to let his parishioners know that he sees the individual, the soul of a person.

There is an authentic aspect to this as well, and I’ve been called out on it. I speak very openly about how Conthan was always meant to be “me” and in my first book I was terrified to make him gay. What would fans think? What would those crazed superhero folks bring up if I made him more than the overtly effeminate homosexual (and there isn’t a damned thing wrong with that either!) A reviewer brought it up, loved the book overall, but found an awkward approach to the initial spark between Dwayne and Conthan to be contrived and reeking of a straight man terrified of writing gay characters. I was caught.

By book three, Conthan and Dwayne’s relationship is undefined and messy in the fact it’s not labeled in a neat box. Rarely have my relationships been as simple as calling a man my “partner” or “boyfriend.” I’ve had many “friends with some weird romancing.” I’m letting their relationship hover (they’re trying to save the world after all) and by Night Covenant, we get a solid definition, and not the one I think many fans will see coming.

But why is it important? Can’t readers just ignore these labels and let the reader plant themselves into the story? Truth is, the world is white washed to a degree that even people of color read characters as white unless otherwise stated. I would much prefer to remove this and let the reader know there a clear visible person they can connect with. Will I get them all? No, of course not. But I can show representation, broaden my reach and begin working toward a story that reflects the real world. Now, I hope that when a person picks up one of my novels they can stop and say, “That’s me.”

Write the stories we needed as kids. I needed these stories. For the next generation, I will do what I can and continue to question my own definitions, because the world outside my window is diverse, rich, and needs to exist to make my novels more than a story. I want characters a reader can connect with. I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I’m aware of it, and I’m working at it. I will continue to work at it.

In Every Heart Lies a (Super)Hero

X-Men fascinated me as a kid and remains my favorite comic to date. Here are a group of individuals whom the world hates and fears, and yet despite persecution, they continue to fight for a greater good. These heroes are a reflection of ourselves and what we aspire to be in times of need. Superheroes aren’t about powers, they’re about a hope of our own potential.

Superheroes aren’t about powers, they’re about a hope of our own potential

I grew up gay in the Northern woods of Maine. Let’s discuss growing up being hated, ostracized, and ridiculed. I was different even before I understood the word. I hid with comic books, receding into a world of fantastical stories, except, in the comics I read, those who were different didn’t hide. X-Men presented an alternative narrative, a window into another world in which I embraced my differences and stood up to injustice. The greatest moments in comics aren’t the use of adamantium claws or telekinesis, they’re the moments when the hero stood and said, “No more.”

I wanted to be a hero.

As an adolescent, I related most to X-Men’s Rogue. This young mutant discovers she has the ability to steal powers, but every time risks killing her victim. Stories revolved around her questioning this curse and how she wanted to be “normal.” Her teammates would ask why she would want to give up this gift, and as an adolescent, I sympathized with this quest for normalcy. But despite her internal struggle, she reluctantly fought to save the same world stoking her inner demons. The first time I threw a fist in school, it was to silence a bigot. My knuckles hurt and I left covered in bruises, but I walked away with a sense of pride. My differences made me a mark. My stature made me strong. For the first time, I let go of an internal struggle and felt the pieces of my identity fall into place. I started my quest to become a hero.

I continued to read comics as I formed my sense of self. I sympathized with Rogue’s desire for normalcy, but I started to see these differences as a strength. I started to see myself as Colossus, the soul of an artist with a moral compass always pointing North. Reluctant to take up arms, Piotr Rasputin used his gifts to protect his adopted family and make the world a better place. While my muscles may not be quite that large or my hide quite so steely, as an adult, I understand the struggle to do what’s right in the face adversity. As I read about firefighters rushing into burning buildings and police officers returning children to families, I see the world has heroes. We as a society look on wondering, “If I were in their shoes, could I be heroic?”

I spend copious amounts of time wondering about the legacy I will leave on the world when I die. I am a teacher by trade and each day I stand in front of a room filled with tiny potential villains. Some of my wards have discovered who they are, but for the most part, they are just beginning to explore who they may be for the rest of their lives. It’s not easy, and in the world we live in, there are so many screaming voices demanding they be one thing or another. In my classroom I am Charles Xavier, an individual demanding the best and giving them safe refuge from a world that quite frankly, needs to shut the fuck up. On most days, I feel like a useless employee, but every once in a while, I walk away feeling like a hero.

When I started writing, it was an outlet to poke fun at a job that made me miserable. My characters were comical and thrown into outlandish situations similar to the Scooby Doo and the gang. The Suburban Zombie Series isn’t a life changing piece of literature but a coping mechanism, an escape from a dull workplace into something more lively. It was while looking through notebook from middle school that I found comic scripts created by kids who were different. Sitting in a dining room drawing and writing away, they tried to make sense of a world where they didn’t quite fit in. Nighthawks is an homage to the heart of those kids. Even as I wrote the first book, I found myself caught in an internal struggle, one I’m not entirely proud of. I might be playing at hero, but not every fight was a victory.

I might be playing at hero, but not every fight was a victory.

I knew I wanted a diverse cast, a group of people that represented the melting pot of America. I made conscious choices, my point-of-view characters include two white men, an older white female, a hispanic female and a female gargoyle. The first round of writing had the characters all with similar backgrounds, but as I felt they looked like a white washed collection of identical storylines, they needed something beyond my personal experiences.

For the supporting cast, I decided to step outside my comfort zone with a Muslim female and a black male with Aspergers. Alyssa, a proud first generation Muslim American originally wore a “head scarf.” But as I worked my way through the first draft, I thought, if I were that young individual, one who wore a “head scarf,” what would I think? Is this the hero I’d want to look up to? I set aside the fear and delved into Muslim culture, learning all I could about the hijab and its representation. I was nervous. I still am. But I created a character, a hero that struggled to be an example for those like her.

Meanwhile, my main protagonist, loosely based on me, I shied away from for fear of being known as the “gay” author. I watered it down, fearful again of my own identity and the potential pressure of fans. In Nighthawks, Conthan and Dwayne are hinted at being gay, but I awkwardly let it slide, refusing to pick a clear path for them. I was able to hide behind a complex storyline and a long series of actions. But ultimately, I found myself thinking back to the reason I first read comics. Where was the hero I’d look up to? In Nighthawks, I hadn’t found him, in Night Shadows, I made sure it happened.

The man can tear open black holes and teleport. In the books he’s one of the most powerful men in the world. However, his abilities have never made him a hero. The moment he owned his uniqueness, I found myself respecting the man. More than respect, I found myself standing in his shoes asking myself, “Given the same circumstances, could I step up and be the hero he’s become?”

I am never entirely sure.

It’s about seeing our best selves on the page working through our fears to do what’s right

It’s never been about the powers. It’s about seeing our best selves on the page working through our fears to do what’s right. We watch these overwhelming odds, these injustices, and we read imagining that like the superheroes we follow, we could follow in their footsteps.

In our hearts, we hope we are the heroes.

The Night Quartet meets The Second Trilogy

I haven’t been writing. Scratch that. I haven’t been writing words worth keeping. I reached 12,000 words into Night Covenants before I realized I disliked one of the characters so much there was no redemption. Consider the arc the character needs to complete the series, I found myself deleting a lot of content. It’s just beyond my reach and I’m grasping. Like every book before when this is happening, I’ll continue writing until that moment of genius strikes me and I’ll be set. Until then, I’m ramble persistently.

Meanwhile, while I stumble in the dark looking my muse, I have completed proofing the audio edition of Night Shadows. Narrated by the always amazing Robin J. Sitten, I continue to be impressed. There is a magic the first time you hold a physical copy of your book, but even more amazing is the first time you hear somebody else read your words. In her sophomore production in the Children of Nostradamus Universe, Sitten continues to amaze and impress. I might be more excited for Book 2 over Book 1. I’m sure it will delight the masses. Now to start pestering her about availability for Book 3.

And while this won’t make a huge difference for fans, it does impact the future of the Children of Nostradamus Universe. I have decided to expand the universe and focus the next series on Eleanor P. Valentine, the psychic who serves as the catalyst for the Nighthawks. But because the books take place in the same universe I had to find some way to begin labeling them in a way that lets readers know what books belong to what series. The Children of Nostradamus will remain as the “universe” label, but Nighthawks, Night Shadows, Night Legions, and Night Covenants will become “The Night Quartet” and the first book in the new series, Second Sight will be book one in “The Sight Trilogy.” Not a big change for the reader, but it officially allows me to expand the universe. The Night Quartet might be coming to an end, but the Children of Nostradamus is far from done.

Now to begin plotting the next leg of this adventure. Stay frosty everybody.

A New Generation of Creativity is Coming

I get a random message from Kate Conway, “Want to be on a panel at this teen conference?” I haven’t done much in the way of cons or panels this year. But she’s energetic, it’s for teens, so I say sure.

Best possible decision.

The teens are working on presentation boards of their literary masterpieces and as I wander through checking them out, I can’t help but think, “Damn, these are good.” It’s always awkward being the old guy in the room, even more so when you decide at lunch to go sit with a group of teenagers. Pro Tip: Find the brightest colored hair and the kids with unusual hats. They’re always the most fun. It started awkward, but by the end, we were discussing gender politics, trans representation, and wielding teen angst as a powerful storytelling device. I happily read a lot of young adult by adults, but it’s always missing something unique. Listening to this group of four talk about their stories, it was apparent that teens themselves need to tell their stories.

The Cape Cod Teen Writer’s Conference was ran like a well oiled machine (No matter how much Kate Conway argues.) The panel had amazing questions, both thought-provoking and honest. I was happy to sit among K.R. Conway, Natasha Friend, Mick Carlon, Kathryn Knight, Katie Bareyl, Jim Hill, and Kristine Carlson Asselin. We talked about motivation, love of our characters, and what keeps us writing. The range from jazz inspired novels to erotica was discussed openly and truthfully. We didn’t talk genre politics, marketing, or publishing. It was a return to what turned us from writers to authors. I have to admit, it’s rare to see adults have that conversation with young people. I left energized and ready to go be a creator.

Listening to stories about alien superheroes and universe hopping explorers, I can say there is a wave of creators coming who have found new spins on stories to tell. If a young person in your life is interested in writing, foster this. School will steadily beat the creativity out of them and leave with a hatred for reading and writing. In such a heated world, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and those feelings need to be directed somewhere.

With all that being said, I’m back to writing. We have new audio in the Children of Nostradamus Series on the way, a new release with Night Legions and steadily working on Night Covenants. This series is going to end with a bang. I’m already choked up and I’ve barely gotten into the story. Stay tuned folks, it’s going to be a rollercoaster!

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