Happy Bookaversary, Yesterday’s Demons

Yesterdays Demons Cover Final (Small)
My Yesterday’s Demons page contains a sample chapter, character introductions, and purchasing links.

This month marks the one-year bookaversary of Yesterday’s Demons! My debut novel was published in eBook on April 12, 2016, and the paperback edition followed on April 22, 2016.

I’ve mentioned many times before how the publication of my novel was a dream come true. Even one year later, it’s just as thrilling as the first day I saw my book — my book, you guys, omigosh I wrote this — listed on Amazon.com.

If you haven’t read it yet, visit my Yesterday’s Demons page for a sample chapter, character introductions, and purchasing links. If you like YA-friendly fantasy or JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star, you’re going to love it.

And since a bookaversary is grounds for a celebration, I think it’s time to hand out a little treat. It’s been a long time since I dropped any hints about the next book in The Verdant Revival trilogy, Tomorrow’s Shepherd, and according to my Project Tracker, the second draft of that book is now 21% complete!

ProjectTracker-2017-04-14

Besides the book’s title, I’ve previously mentioned that the book would focus not on Siv (the protagonist of Yesterday’s Demons), but on Siv’s friend Fritz. The Verdant Revival features three main characters — Siv, Fritz, and Cassie — and the three of them take turns being the main character.

It’s time I dropped some new information about it, so here goes. On Twitter, when I reached the 100,000-word milestone during the writing of the book’s first draft, I mentioned the 100,000th word was “gravity.” What I didn’t mention was… that’s sort of a spoiler, albeit one you can file under “When I read the book I’ll look back on this and say, ‘Ahh OK I get it now!'”

But to be more specific and less annoyingly coy, I’ll also say that “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked is a big, key number in my personal soundtrack for Tomorrow’s Shepherd. So many of the lyrics apply to the story of Fritz and his efforts to learn how to wield his power of hyper-intuition, especially:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!

(Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

That’s all the hinting I can give you for now. I’m only 21% done with the second draft, after all. But I can’t wait to get this one into your hands.

Deus vobiscum.

I wanted to love Batman vs. Superman

You guys… I need to talk about Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

I know it came out a year ago, but I’m hopelessly behind the times. I don’t see most movies until they come to Netflix or DVD.com, even movies I really want to see. And I really wanted to see Batman vs. Superman. The first time in movie history Batman and Superman shared the screen? Sold! Wonder Woman joined them, too? I’m there opening night (in spirit anyway)! It has cameos from The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman? Shut up and take my money!

I knew it didn’t get positive reviews, to put things generously. But I figured, I’m a fan! It was made for me! I’ll love it! And the trailers looked amazing. That shot of the DC Trinity on screen together for the first time…?

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Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Glorious! I don’t think I stopped smiling for days after seeing that first trailer.

And then, just a couple of weeks ago, I finally saw the movie, and… and..

rzev1And I felt like Barry Allen visiting his dad in prison.

Much like the Transformers live action films, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is what I call a YouTube movie. I’ll watch individual scenes from it over and over and over. But the movie as a whole? Never again.

So how did this one fail so badly? Let me count the ways:

Too Dark
Hey, I know how it is with comic book hero meet-ups: first, they fight, then they band together. But the fight between Batman and Superman was more than just fisticuffs. Batman was going to kill Superman. That’s not just too dark for me, that’s too dark for Batman! Didn’t anyone remember his “no kill” rule?

Batman was also way too liberal with the use of machine guns on the Batmobile and the Batplane. A few times, explosions caused by vehicular gunfire pretty clearly killed bad guys. Maybe it’s just not cool in modern day America, but Superman is not the only hero with a no kill rule. Batman is, too.

It was a filmed comic book script.
I once looked forward to another Zack Snyder directed comic book adaptation: Watchmen. And once was enough for me on that one, too, because I felt like it was too literal an adaptation of the comic book. Specifically, it was in the pacing. It was paced like a comic book, not a movie. Batman vs. Superman had the same problem.

For example, there’s a scene in Batman vs. Superman where we hard cut to the front yard of a Kansas farmhouse. Clark Kent is looking at the stars. His mother walks up to him and gives him some advice. Then, cut. Next scene.

In comics, this works fine. It’s a one-page scene, and a narration box at the top left of the page says, “Smallville, Kansas… The Kent family farm…” But in a film, I’d barely even processed that we were back at Clark’s boyhood home in Smallville, Kansas before the scene was over. It felt extremely fast-paced — Flash-paced, you might say — and not in a pleasant way.

“Save Martha!”
So this one is well-documented, and I don’t need to beat a dead horse here. But let me just emphasize, again, that Batman was ready to murder Superman the same way a common criminal once murdered his parents, and if that weren’t wrong enough, he was stopped only when he learned his mother and Clark’s mother had the same first name.

Now that’s just dumb. But what makes it worse is: Batman should have already known Martha Kent’s first name at that point. We know Superman has figured out Batman’s identity because, during their fight, he calls Batman “Bruce.” But at Lex Luthor’s party, it is strongly implied that Bruce also knows Clark is Superman, what with his pointed criticism of the Daily Planet’s coverage of Superman. And the film’s climax reveals Lex Luthor has figured out Superman’s identity also.

Now I’m OK with Lex Luthor determining Superman’s identity, so long as the greatest detective in the world also knows, especially since Batman has been obsessed for two years at this point with preparing himself to face this “alien threat.” But the man who is always prepared for anything would also have run a full dossier on Mr. Clark Kent. He’d know where he lives, what car he drives, his annual income, his favorite breakfast cereal, who he spends his time with, and who his family members are.

But I’m supposed to believe that Batman only realized Clark’s mother and his mother shared a first name moments before driving a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s chest?

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The standard Picard facepalm is not enough for this one. Only the Picard double facepalm suffices.

On the bright side, Wonder Woman was awesome
I called Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice a YouTube movie because I will watch scenes from it over and over again. So I don’t want to be a complete negative nelly. There was a lot I really liked in this film.

  • Batman’s costume looked great — like right off the pages of Frank Miller’s Year One or Dark Knight Returns great.
  • The secret entrance to the Batcave opened underwater, and the Batmobile had to jump off a ramp to reach it. I was giddy.
  • You could feel the love between Clark and Lois. I’m a fan of stories in which those two are married, so I dug that.
  • “Maybe it’s the Gotham City in me. We just have a bad history with freaks dressed like clowns.”
  • The modern takes on Alfred and Lex Luthor were bold and worked really well for me. Today’s rich folks may not have butlers, but they do have directors of security. And Lex felt like an evil Mark Zuckerberg. I loved it.
  • The picture of Wonder Woman from World War I. The surveillance footage of The Flash in action. The underwater camera that caught a glimpse of Aquaman. The glimpse into the origin of Cyborg! Justice League, baby, Justice League!
  • And this. Every… single… moment. Of this:

As soon as Superman and Batman stopped fighting, and as soon as Wonder Woman joined the boys, the whole movie took an 180-degree turn for the better. Those final ten or fifteen minutes are my favorite scenes from any superhero movie that doesn’t star Heath Ledger as The Joker.

And I guess that’s why despite the fact that Zack Snyder disappointed me with Watchmen, despite the fact that he disappointed me with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’m still going to be there on opening night (which is to say, one month to the day after it becomes available from DVD.com) for Justice League. It stuck the landing.

There’s a very meta moment in the first trailer for Justice League where Commissioner Gordon tells Batman, “It’s good to see you playing well with others again.” On the surface, this is a hint at the Bat-family, and past Batman partners like Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing. But it’s also a clear statement from Warner Bros. that its next DC Comics film isn’t going to be like the first 95% of Batman vs. Superman. It’s going to be more like that last 5%: fun and hopeful.

I’m sure hopeful that one doesn’t turn out to be a YouTube movie, too.

I’ve written for Batman and X-Men (sort of)

Yesterday’s Demons was not my first published work. That honor goes to Batman #455, cover dated October 1990. Did I write the main story in this issue? No. Did I write the backup story? No… it didn’t even have one. What I wrote and what was published in this issue was… a letter!

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Image: DC Comics

batmanletterDear KC and Denny,

I have just finished BATMAN #450 and I can only describe it in one word. WOW! The art was superb, as we have all come to expect from Jim Aparo, but the storyline was most excellent and intriguing. I could never imagine a Joker who couldn’t laugh at things, or refused to tell jokes. It will be very fascinating to see a three-way duel between the Joker, Batman, and Mr. Base. My only complaint is that Bruce shipped Tim off to Japan. Oh, well. I guess I would do the same after what the Clown Prince of Crime did to the old Boy Wonder.

Keep up the tremendous work — this is the best comic on sale today.

Mike Ripplinger

That right there is thirteen-year-old me trying to sound studious, professional, and about double my age at the time. If you want to know what I was really like at that age, check out the contribution I made to Uncanny X-Men #282 about one year later. Uncanny X-Men #282 features the first appearance of Bishop and the first appearance of my name in a Marvel comic. Here I am not making any effort at all to appear calm and rational. This is just me being the fourteen-year-old fanboy I was.

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Image: Marvel Comics

xmenletterDear X-Crew:

Concerning UNCANNY X-MEN #277, I can’t do a single thing until I write you on this issue. Incredible! First-rate! Phenomenal! Superlative! Gambit!

I know you’re sayng “Huh?” to this last remark, so let me explain. Gambit is my favorite X-Man and this issue featured him the most since #273, where the Wolvie fight was great. To see him say to the fake Wolverine, “Bang, you dead” nearly brought tears to my eyes. That’s how much I like Gambit. Keep him around for a long time, but keep him mysterious.

More reasons UNCANNY #277 was great. The script (“Bang, you dead”), the art (namely page 6, frame 7; page 19, frame 3, and, of course, page 24, frame 1), the return of Colossus in metal form (even if he is controlled by Shadow King. But could Piotr rejoin the X-Men? Please!), Gambit, Professor X’s return to Earth (do I see the leader the mutant teams need so badly?), Gambit, and Gambit.

You don’t know this, but I like Gambit.

So, make Colossus and Rogue X-Men again, and keep Gambit in the team. Or I’ll meet you in a dark alley and say, “Bang, you dead.”

Mike Ripplinger

Hoo boy, I should have won the Pulitzer for that one, shouldn’t I?

What I remember most about these letters is that I just knew both of them would be accepted for publication. I remember arriving at the comic book store’s parking lot the day Batman #455 was available and thinking to myself, “The letters on this issue’s editorial page will be about #450, and mine will be there.” And after I bought it, I remember returning to the car and just casually mentioning to my dad, “Yeah, so they published my letter in Batman.” And I just knew they were going to publish my Ode to Gambit in Uncanny X-Men, too. It was an early example of the intuition I would learn to listen to more often later in life.

Another memory of having these letters published was that they got me a pen pal! A man from Nigeria wrote me a letter after seeing my name and address published in Batman #455. I exchanged a couple of letters with him until the letters started to request that I ask “Mommy and Daddy” to send him money and American clothes. To make this easy for me, he even included his clothing sizes. It was like an early 90s, pre-Internet version of a Nigerian prince email scam.

I’m not sure whether or not they’re even still publishing letters to the editor in comic books these days. Maybe such discussion now takes place entirely on message boards and on Twitter. But having these letters printed in two of my favorite comic books sure was a thrill to me back when I was a teenager. And you know what? It still is.

Excelsior!

Being an introvert parent with a large family

When published five years ago, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking opened the floodgates of articles, blogs, and more books on the topics of introversion and extraversion. For me, this discussion has been eye-opening and life-changing. I understand things about myself I never did before. It turns out I am profoundly introverted, so much so that I’ve earned perfect scores on “How introverted are you tests?” and ranked 90% introverted or higher on personality type surveys.

I read a lot about my fellow introverts and our challenges and victories, and I’ve found one common theme in particular that bears mentioning. This is purely unscientific, but in my experience, I’ve found that when it comes to parenting, introverts tend to favor small families. I feel like the ideal number of children for many introverts is zero to two. And I’ve definitely gotten the impression that anything considered a “large” family is nerve-wracking or downright horrifying for a lot of introverts.

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Me and all six of my kiddos with a family friend.

So all that being said — hi, I’m the world’s most introverted introvert, and I am the father of six children. Being the highly introverted father of a large family carries with it lots of challenges, but even more rewards.

Noisy people everywhere, everywhen
The number one challenge: you’re always with a large group.

One of the primary differences between extroverts and introverts is the effect of social interaction upon us. It’s energizing to extroverts and draining to introverts. Some introverts unwind after a day of work in a chaotic, loud, open concept office by going home and spending a quiet evening with their partner and children, or with a small group of friends, or — the introvert cliche — alone. This downtime is necessary. It’s how we recharge, so we’re able to return to our busy, busy, busy job the next day. But for me, there is no such thing as retreating home to myself or to a small group. I live with seven other people. Some days, I’m with smaller groups during the work day than in the evening.

My situation is perhaps compounded by the fact that all six of my children are nine years old or younger, and they’re perfectly normal for those ages — which is to say, they demand a lot of attention. They need interactions with me, guidance from me, fun time with me, discipline from me. They each need this every day, and not just for a few minutes per day. And did I mention there are six of them?

The lack of solitude or even small group time can be overwhelming. The demands put on my attention can be overstimulating. And then there’s the noise. My three-year-old and one-year-old are loud. They can’t help it. They don’t understand “inside voice” and “outside voice.” When they are angered or wronged, their reaction is always an 11; they don’t know how to respond at a lower, more subdued level. And as for the older children, sometimes they fight and yell loudly, as kids do, but most of the time they get along and play together with so much excitement they… still yell loudly. They shout when they’re excited, they all talk at the same time, and their raucous belly-splitting laughter is the best sound in the world… but it’s still loud. Regular, normal familial contact — conversation, a family meal — can be tiring at best and overwhelming at worst due to volume level and the number of overlapping voices.

Most meaningful relationships
If my unscientific guess is right, and most introverts prefer zero-to-two children, I’ve just outlined a scenario that is highly unappealing to most introverts. If so, let me tell you, my fellow innies: you’re missing out.

Despite the challenges, I wouldn’t trade my situation for any other, and the primary reason why has to do with another defining trait of introverts: we crave meaningful relationships. We hate phoniness, we hate superficiality. Instead of idle chit-chat about the weather, we’d rather have a deep conversation about our innermost thoughts or dreams or those of others. By our choice, we may have far fewer friends than many others, but after we’ve decided on a friend, we go all-in.

Our spousal relationship is probably the deepest, most meaningful one we’ll ever have, but we all have at most just one spouse. (Well, except for polygamists, I guess.) Having a large family means having more of the most meaningful non-spousal relationships you’ll ever have: parental ones. Your relationship with your child is one in which the child is entirely dependent on you for physical care, affection, spiritual guidance, and education. Your children are young and innocent, and they want to hear and grok everything you have to say. It’s an introvert’s ideal relationship!

It is an honor and a privilege — and a great responsibility — that I get to provide an example to six little ones. Many introverts feel we’re misunderstood by society, possibly even marginalized. The thesis of Susan Cain’s Quiet is that the world has an extrovert ideal and doesn’t place enough value on introverts. As a parent, you get to change that… at least for your children. I try to show my children that a leader doesn’t have to be a tyrant and that words spoken softly can still have a loud impact. If we want the world to look at introversion and extraversion as two separate but equal ideals, we have to start teaching it somewhere.

How to focus outward when we want to focus inward?
There’s so much more I could say on this topic, and I will. This is the first in a planned series of articles about being an introverted parent. This series is not intended to lecture anyone, or to tell anyone how many children they should have. I hope that it speaks to introverted parents with any number of children. This also isn’t meant to brag about how great introverts are, or about how great I am. Quite the opposite, it’s part of my self-discovery journey, because — confession time — I often don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

My favorite dictionary defines introversion as “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” I know the definition of introversion can be a controversial topic, and the first time I read this, I thought, That’s a terrible definition! It makes me sound so self-centered and selfish.

But here’s a hard truth that no amount of self-deception can change. While I might not like to admit it, left unchecked, selfish and self-centered is precisely what I can become thanks to my introversion. And being selfish doesn’t jive very well with parenthood, a rather permanent state of life that demands near-constant sacrifice for the well-being of your children, especially in their first couple of decades. So how can I balance the sacrifices I must make (and want to make) for my family, while at the same time reminding myself that self-care isn’t selfish and is necessary to keep me in a state of being a responsible, loving, unselfish parent?

If you’re an introverted parent, I’d love for us to figure out the answer to that question together. What are your biggest challenges? What brings you the most joy? Leave a comment here, send me a message on Twitter, or use the Contact page to send me a direct message.

March 2017 Status Update

I did my taxes last month. This was the first year I got to report royalty income on a 1099-MISC form, thanks to sales of Yesterday’s Demons. That was a nice problem to have.

Let’s take a look at the current status of my Project Tracker:

projecttracker-2017-03

I’m 7% done with the second draft of Tomorrow’s Shepherd, but honestly, that number is a little high. I bumped the bar to that percentage last month after I thought the first two chapters were done, but then I spent the rest of the month going back through chapters two and three, fixing up a few more things. I’m still not done with those two.

I mentioned in my 2016 Year-End Status Update that for a while during the drafting of the book’s first draft, I experienced some writer’s doubt. I wasn’t sure what I was writing was Not Crap. Specifically, that time was while I was writing the book’s first few chapters. I’ve finally zeroed in on what the problem was. It’s a writing problem I’ve never had to deal with before.

Tomorrow’s Shepherd is the sequel to Yesterday’s Demons, so characters and plot points from Yesterday’s Demons will inevitably be mentioned. But I also want the book to stand on its own for readers who — for some odd reason — haven’t yet read Yesterday’s Demons. And since I like that book so much, I want to tell these new readers all about it. Or more accurately, I want my characters and narration to talk all about it.

But I don’t have to go into the incredible level of detail I want to. And it’s bad if I do. The problem I finally realized was this: the early chapters of Tomorrow’s Shepherd were just telling too much about Yesterday’s Demons, and it was slowing down the pace of the story. And that’s an especially big problem because Tomorow’s Shepherd starts with a fun three-chapter action scene.

To sort through the mess, I wrote on my whiteboard “TS Chapters 2 and 3 — justify your existence.” Underneath that, I wrote down every reference to Yesterday’s Demons in those two chapters. And once I did that, I performed a brutal analysis. Every reference on that board was only allowed to stay in the story if (1) it was absolutely necessary and (2) it was communicated at exactly the right time — no earlier, no later. If it failed the first test, I said to it, “See ya.” If it passed the first test but failed the second, I found a new, more appropriate place for that particular item.

This might sound like a dull exercise, but this is actually my favorite part of writing. It’s like refactoring in software engineering — all the code you need is already there, you’re just making it better via improved syntax and more accurate placement. So that’s what I’ll be doing for a while on this new book. I can’t wait for you to read it, but only once I make sure all of its elements are in the proper order.

Girl Scout cookies for breakfast

Halloween is all about candy and Thanksgiving is all about pie, but Christmas is all about cookies. By the time January comes around, most people are all cookied out. On top of that, the New Year is when resolutions of healthier lifestyles are most common. January is probably the least cookie-friendly time of the year.

So it’s always particularly impressed me that the Girl Scouts choose January as their cookie season. It’s like they want to give themselves the biggest challenge possible. “Sure, ladies, we can sell a million boxes of these cookies. But can we do it right after Christmas? Can we sell them outside of Wal-Mart to folks going inside to buy new workout clothes?” They can, and they do!

imag0437And now Girl Scout cookie cereal is a thing!

Thin Mints
The moment I opened my box of Thin Mints cereal I noticed it smelled exactly like Thin Mint cookies. Blindfolded, I wouldn’t have been able to differentiate the cookies from the cereal.

Regarding taste, the cereal tastes basically the same as the cookies. The only difference is in texture. The cereal is a bit drier than the cookies, probably because of the lack of frosting. Eating it with milk helps with this. And the cereal has a puffier, more airy texture than the cookies. In other words: just as minty, but not as thin. And I am quite OK with this.

It’s a good thing the taste is so similar to the classic cookies because as a cereal, there isn’t much variety in your bowl. There’s no mix of cookie pieces and marshmallows, for example. It’s just Thin Mints, for better or for worse. I’m not sure what you could add to this to provide additional variety. I can’t imagine the mintiness of the cereal would make it work well with berries or bananas. But this cereal is good enough that I’m willing to have more to try out a few possibilities.

Caramel Crunch
I can’t give the same praise to Caramel Crunch. This cereal is supposedly inspired by Samoas cookies, at least based on the fact that a Samoa is right there on the box. But if it came in a generic yellow box with nothing but the word “CEREAL” pasted across the front of it, darned if I’d be able to link it to Girl Scout cookies in any way.

Caramel Crunch doesn’t look or smell like Samoas. It’s all caramel, with just a tiny hint of chocolate. Is caramel or chocolate the first thing you think of when you think Samoas? I wager you first think, “Coconut!” But there’s no coconut to be found here.

This was just bland. I found myself wishing I had some Cocoa Puffs to mix together with it. I ended up just adding some Thin Mints to my bowl, which made it better, but only because now it tasted like Thin Mints. The caramel flavor disappeared.

So General Mills is .500 on Girl Scout cookies cereals, which is still well above the Mendoza line. Don’t miss Thin Mints, but take the money you’d spend on Caramel Crunch and give it to the girl on the sidewalk in front of the grocery store for a box of Samoas.