Category: Behind the Writing

Bangor Comic & Toy Convention: All Merch Must Go

Day Two of the convention (which is technically day three) and it’s finally come to a close. There was something very different about the second day, people were more casual but they were very willing to open their wallets. I talked to a woman and her son about art school and about life up home. I talked to a couple of people about how to get agents and publish work. I even talked to a comic book shop on how to best get my book into stores. People were awesome.

I also had a great time hanging out with Amanda, Derek, and Seana and chit chatting. I got some more time with my new favorite wingman. While the kiddo didn’t help me sell books, he did show me how to properly drool. I am not an expert. Beware.

I’ll write a much longer post tomorrow when I’ve slept for more than a few hours!

Bangor Comic & Toy Con Day 1: The Babying

I don’t have much time before exhaustion overrides my ability to write. I drove to Maine yesterday and set up my booth at the Bangor Comic & Toy Convention. It has been an awesome experience at every turn. For some a complex event, it’s being run efficiently and the host (Bangor Cross Insurance Center) has been unbelievably welcoming of the geeks. The docent says to me, “I’ve never seen people so excited to show off what they love.” I have to agree.

I’m not alone here. It’s almost like a high school reunion at this point. Amanda Kahl (the cover artist of Suburban Zombie High) and her husband, Derek Brewer are at a table behind me with their young one. Amanda is the person who convinces me to do these crazy things. What I’ve learned: geeks are awesome, everybody from your past appears, and if you’re in the market of picking up men, borrow your artist’s child.

Currently my bald mini-me has more likes on Facebook than any post I’ve ever made about my books. I shall begin to use this child to market my books. In the meantime, check out the photos and I’ll be making a much more extensive post when I’m not about to pass out!

Second Floor Balcony Looking Up

IMG_6187I cried. Last night, in Western Massachusetts, in the small town of Northampton, known for their vibrant music and equally loud art, I had the opportunity witness a man I have idolized for years perform his art on stage. In a small community whose dnizens wore more hemp than my days at a hippy college, I had the chance to be moved passionately by the hoarse voice of a poet. It hasn’t been since I stood before Hopper’s Nighthawks have I been moved to tears by art.

I won’t attempt to explain the emotion I experienced due to the words of poet. While I can not speak for the entirety of the crowd, I can say, the beloved fans who cried in his presence and thanked him for being their courage showed me words have power. He spoke of being bullied and having a difficult life and while I think any and everybody can access these sentiments, it was his perspective on feeling that struck me as the most inspiring.

“I wish I could feel as intensely as you do,” were words my ex told me after a class we took together. I do. I feel beyond a point many would call healthy, my moods rise and fall with the stimuli around me so drastically it can be overwhelming. My greatest fear has never been the loss of my mind or being crippled, but losing my ability to feel. While I sat there and listened to him weave tales about his childhood relationships and the people who have inspired him, I found somebody who not only felt as intensely as I do, but has found the words to express it.

Iron HorseI am still finding those words. Crafted and manufactured, I am banging away at a keyboard hoping the string of vowels and consonants until I can say, “That’s beautiful.” I’m not there. Yet.

I shook his hand and told him I was a high school teacher. I told him how I discovered him while raising an army of students to combat bullying. While he told a story about his best friend dying, he had to pause and collect himself. After formulating my exact words I had the opportunity to say, “Because of you, there is another generation of poets being told its okay to shine.” With a scratchy voice he said a simple, “Thank you so much.” The man who is inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and beauty makers was humble enough to say thank you.

I might not be a poet, but I do believe in speaking your truth. We are connected by this invisible thread known as the human experience, and for many of us, it can be difficult to see how we’re woven into a greater tapestry. But there are moments. When sitting in an old building with a stained stage and floral beers, you find a room full of beings with who you are connected.

Sexuality in my Writing

Human-Rights-Quotes-16As a high school teacher, I watch my students declare who they are, often without fear and frequently cheered on by classmates. As National Coming Out Day has come and gone, I think it’s only appropriate to be the role model I wish I had as a kid. I am gay.

To be honest, I haven’t pondered how this impacts or affects my writing. I’ve never gone out of my way to be defined by my sexuality. However, in writing I find I tend to write what I know, and I thought it only appropriate to address this facet of my life present in my writing. I decided easiest to write responses to the questions I’ve been asked over the years.

Do you think there are difficulties in being a gay author?

Honestly? I haven’t come across any at this point. I’m sure for larger authors, there is the typical gossip surrounding their personal lives, but for me, nobody has brought it up. I think because of my audience, if it does come up, they will most likely accept it and move on. I like to think if the Science Fiction community is willing to deal with interspecies relationships, gay characters are no problem.

Have you met any objections from readers?

I grew up in a small town in northern Maine and the idea of being gay was definitely persecuted. However, as I wrote, “I.Am.Maine” and talked about growing up in Maine, my readers surprised me. There were several stories about being gay, being bullied, and falling in love in a town that shunned same-sex relationships and my readers would write me with, “Glad to hear you’re happy.” I feel there was a transition in the decades between when the story started and where the town is now. I think as I grew up, so did the views of my readers. If there were any objections to my casually discussing my sexuality in my childhood, not one of the many readers mentioned it. It was a fear I dealt with when writing the book and I decided to gamble. I won. It was a victory that will stick with me and reminds me that people are inherently good and willing to go along on my journey.

Do you write gay characters into your writing?

In Suburban Zombie High, the only gay character is Victor. He’s modeled after my perception of the military when I was a kid. His being gay is in juxtaposition to the ideal image he has of being in the military. He finds his definition of gay changes over the course of the book. When he comes back for the sequel he understands the irony of being gay and being in the military and has no problem poking fun at himself. His friends accept him with their jokes and it is simply a characteristic of his overall person.

In my Children of Nostradamus series, during one of my edits, as I was giving more back story to a character, I discovered he was gay. I’m not sure why, but for some reason, I was shocked. He defies many stereotypes and out of nowhere, there is a flashback to his boyfriend leaving him which turns into the catalyst of his journey. Now as I’m writing the sequel, I find it being explored even more and it spills over into the dynamic with his comrades at arms.

Because I haven’t had the need to write the sexuality of my characters for the plot I’ve avoided it. However, I finally decided that by avoiding the topic I wasn’t doing them justice, I was trying to dodge a potential bullet. As I try to diversify my character’s ethnicities and cultural upbringings, I feel this will be another think that helps readers connect to the characters. I wish there had been more when I was younger, even in passing.

Do you think there is difficulty in writing gay characters?

Yes. When writing a straight character, I can assume that 90% of my readers have an experience to draw on and weave into the character. However, for a gay character, I think it requires a bit more explanation, and for those fearing the backlash, it has to be slowly introduced. We assume the characters we read are like us, to find out differently can be jarring. I also think we rely on reader expectations, and to have a character who doesn’t fit their preconceived notions, it can be met with disdain. Creating a character who is different from the reader and doesn’t fall into a neatly defined category or stereotype requires the writer to do more work which can be difficult if it’s something we’re trying not to focus on during the story.

Were there any series you read that feature gay characters?

My mom once brought home a book by Lynn Flewelling called Luck in the Shadows. She had it signed by the author and I decided to read it being a devourer of Fantasy at this point. It wasn’t until the second book you discover the main character is very open about his sexuality. Later the two characters begin a romance. I was stunned to believe there were gay characters in literature, especially in the Fantasy genre. While I had read books that alluded to a character’s sexual orientation, she simply presented it without pomp or circumstance. I always appreciated the manner in which she handled their relationship. Later I would read books by Poppy Z. Brite who I fell in love with in the horror genre as she features gay main characters, both good, bad and everywhere in between. Her descriptions while brutal and often times horrific, were a break away from any stereotypes I could imagine. It showed me there was a vast array of rich characters out there that I did have things in common with.

While I’m not sure how it will pan out in my writing down the road, I’m happy to have overcome my own insecurities to the point where I can write them into a book. I’m hoping as I move forward with my current series I can find the balance I need as a writer to feel I’ve done my gay characters justice within the context of the story.

Answers to Questions Behind the Writing

IMG_4670Why did you decide to write about zombies? – Carol
Late one night as a child, the then Scifi network aired, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in black and white. This movie would define a genre for me and to this day I think back to the amazing storyline and the complexity in which Romero weaved his conflict. In every story, there is a conflict the characters must overcome. In his movie, the zombies were a threat, but the conflict wasn’t with the undead, it was with the living’s primal urge to survive. The zombies weren’t the conflict, they were the catalyst. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the vampire is the antagonist. For Romero, zombies are more of a backdrop and the insecurities, fears, and lack of trust in this band of survivors is the real conflict.

I was a monster fan, watching movies far beyond what a child can understand, but I was captivated. However, I always came back to this idea of the villain and their relationship with the protagonist. Dracula is in an intimate battle with Harker, threatening to steal his one true love. As Dracula is defeated Harker wins. There is no winner with zombies. A character is faced with an immediate threat, and while they may win, their victory is only a reminder that they will continue this fight until they die. The story remains, the character’s battle is with their reaction to a world they can not survive within. Because of that, I’ve been fascinated with the psyche of the characters that force me to ask, “If my life’s work was trying to survive, would I survive myself?”

On your new book, what has been the hardest aspect of writing a zombie novel? – Jason
I wish I could say it was finding interesting ways to kill zombies in a suburban mall, but I’ve thought about it so much, I’ve got a mental list. In Suburban Zombie High the most difficult challenge was taking a group of stereotypes; the cheerleader, the jock, the minority, the goth, the crazy, and having them grow while maintaining a connection to an archetype the reader easily identifies with.

In this novel, Cadence takes the helm for a good portion of the story. In the first book, we see her as a goth, angsty, borderline whiny artist. With the joke being played out, I had to develop her a bit further. In the SZH: The Reunion, she’s set aside her paintbrush, channeling her angst and the zombie apocalypse into becoming a zombie writing, best-selling author. Even Olivia, who we are introduced as a vicious, snarky, vapid cheerleader had to grow. Her refusal to grow beyond a cheerleader and join the New England Patriots cheerleader allowed her character to refute growing up.

Unfortunately, I feel if a zombie novel is about the zombie apocalypse, the book is going to be one of the dozen books I’ve already read. I emphasize it being about the character’s reaction to this backdrop. In SZH: The Reunion, we have new characters experiencing zombies for the first time, we have a group of students who have ‘been here and done that’ and then we have veterans who have done this so often they’ve become desensitized. The difficulty is trying to pull out those strands and weaving a story about characters that are relatable without retelling the same story.

How do you come up with your ideas? – Susan
I was discussing an idea that is percolating in my head for a short story, and this question came up. My initial response was, “They’re just there.” For some reason, it has never occurred to me other people may not have this detective agency in their head, on a quest to unravel new stories. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t have at least a dozen moments of, “Oh, that could make an interesting story?”

I would say nearly all my stories come from my childhood fascinations. There was something about growing up an only child that really emphasized this idea of “playing pretend.” From having to explain how my Transformers were transported into a world with giant Turtles capable of Ninjitsu, to being certain if I worked hard enough, I could develop super powers. These stories were adaptations of things seen on television, novels or comic books. I’m certain the majority bordered on plagiarism, but story-telling had to start somewhere.

Later, I’m looking back at these stories and finding ways to pull out the unique strands into a larger story with an adult perspective. However, Suburban Zombie High is unique in the fact the story itself came to me in my adult life. I held a job requiring me to oversee extremely dysfunctional suburban teens and one day I had the thought, “If the zombie apocalypse happened, you’d all go down.” But I thought about it, I had a student in my class who I was convinced could survive, partially due to the sharp sting of her insults. The story emerged as I realized even in my imagination, the pain in the butt students would emerge victorious.

%d bloggers like this: