First post-daylight savings time. And at 5:30ish. Pretty. But booooooo.
First post-daylight savings time. And at 5:30ish. Pretty. But booooooo.
Because they’re pretty, that’s why.
Hope you’re having a lovely Sunday.
So far, so good. We’ll see how goes from here.
Today is November 1st, which means the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, in which newer writers are encouraged to write a novel in the space of the month. To my mind the challenge is not to write a good novel, or even a salable novel, but just a novel — a story of sufficient length to be called a novel (NaNoWriMo uses 50,000 words as a marker, which is actually slightly short for modern novels — 60k is usually the lower bound — but even so). “Good” and “salable” come later. The real advantage to NaNoWriMo, at least in my mind, is to get folks who are intimidated by the length of a novel to realize that it’s not actually an intimidating number of words if you just plug away at it, every day. That’s in fact how writing gets done.
I don’t have a lot of handy information on how to tackle NaNoWriMo — if you’re a new writer and you want some help on that score, Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbelestier have a whole stack of NaNoWriMo advice columns here, which I can heartily recommend — but I do want to offer some encouragement to folks who are wondering if the “just power through a novel in a month” idea is a good, useful or even sane idea. So, lean in, people, and hear my secret:
Lock In? My novel that was released this year? Totally a NaNoWriMo novel.
Which is to say that the vast majority of it — roughly 90% of its 80k length — was written last November. I had written a previous version of the book that did not work at all and had to chuck nearly all of it, create a new main character and substantially revise the storyline to accommodate the new character. And I was looking at a December 1 deadline.
So what did I do? Well, I sat down in front of the keyboard every single day in November and wrote at least 2,500 words. And piled up the pages. And at the end of the month, I had my novel. It was done. And then I sent it in. And then I slept for a week.
I did it that way because at that point I had to, deadline-wise. But the fact of the matter is that it was possible to do it that way because every day I wasn’t writing 80,000 words, I was writing 2,500. That’s ten pages, double-spaced. Totally doable.
And how did it turn out? Well, in my case, pretty well. Lock In’s got some of the best reviews of my career, was a best seller on several lists including the New York Times hardcover list, and it’s been optioned for a television series. Bear in mind I’m a professional novelist and this is what I do and that I wrote ten novels before this, so obviously my personal experience as a writer comes into play here. But none of those things would have been possible if I didn’t first just sit down and write the thing. Writing the novel — getting it done — is the key to anything and everything else that can happen to a novel.
So yes: Writing a novel in a month can happen. And that novel you’ve written in a month can perhaps go on from there. But first, sit down and write it. Put it into words and don’t worry about anything other than getting it down on the page. A couple thousand words a day and you’re on your way. You can revise and shape later, worry about whether it is good and whether you can sell it later. For now, just get it down. It’s not rocket science, it’s just work. And you can do it. I know because I did the same thing, last year.
Well, the folks at Shipwreck (the group that puts these writing contests together) have posted my winning entry. It’s here.
Warning: It’s very much NSFW, will probably be a little kinky/disturbing for those of you who aren’t kinky/fans of erotic fanfic, and if you haven’t read Watchmen (which you should, it’s terrific), or at least watched the movie (less good, but okay, whatever), you will miss most of the references and clever bits and it probably won’t be as funny as it would be if you knew the work it was riffing off of.
Got it? Okay, go have fun with it, then.
And I don’t think you want to make her angry, do you?
Some thoughts on Jian Ghomeshi, about whom I feel entitled to opine because I was once a guest on his show — talking about the little fundraising thing I did last year which included RAINN, an interview which now in retrospect is sadly ironic.
(For those of you not up on this, Mr. Ghomeshi was a radio show host in Canada, who was let go by the CBC because of then-mysterious reasons. Mr. Ghomeshi took to Facebook to allege that he was fired because he participated in consensual BDSM play which was now being used against him by vengeful exes, and sued CBC for
wrongful termination “breach of confidence and bad faith.” Since then a number of women have come forward to allege totally non-consensual abuse and/or harrassment at the hands of Mr. Ghomeshi.)
So, a numbered list.
1. There’s nothing wrong with consensual BDSM play; if that’s your thing and you can get other people to go along with it in a safe and consenting manner, then you kids have fun with that.
2. Suddenly smacking the hell out of someone and/or choking them without prior discussion or agreement is pretty much the opposite of consensual BDSM play, now, isn’t it. (Note: this is a rhetorical question. The answer is: Yes, it is the opposite.)
3. As a matter of law (to the extent that I know anything about Canadian/Ontario provincial law, which I don’t so I might be entirely wrong), Mr. Ghomeshi is innocent until proven guilty.
Currently there is no criminal investigation against Mr. Ghomeshi. (Update, 8pm: Toronto police have opened an investigation.)
4. The procedurally laudable governmental presumption of innocence does not mean, however, that as a matter of opinion, one cannot believe the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi. As a matter of personal opinion, I believe the women who are coming forward and saying that Mr. Ghomeshi attacked, abused and harassed them. I could be wrong, but I don’t really think that I am.
5. I think it’s possible that Mr. Ghomeshi deluded himself into thinking these attacks equated to consensual sexual play, which is both not an excuse at all, and a good argument for availing one’s self of educators in that particular field who can teach one how to do one’s play safely and to know what “consensual” actually means. However, I think it’s rather more likely that Mr. Ghomeshi, who is a full-fledged adult and someone with some evident facility for words, was in fact quite aware that what he was doing was not in the least consensual and relied on his position at the top of the Canadian cultural heap to protect him from the consequences of his actions, as indeed it appears to have done for a very long time.
6. If what is alleged against Mr. Ghomeshi is true, and to reiterate I rather strongly suspect that it is, then his being fired from the CBC is, bluntly, the least worst thing that could happen to him at this point. If the allegations are true, he deserves a stint in prison, full stop, end of sentence.
7. It was canny of Mr. Ghomeshi to try to frame his assaults in the context of BDSM, but also disingenuous and false. BDSM is not my thing, but I know a lot of people for whom it is. None of them would see what Mr. Ghomeshi did as something relating to their particular kink. Attacking someone without their consent isn’t about sexual gratification, it’s about the assertion of power — the ability to say “I can do this to you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And sure, maybe Mr. Ghomeshi got a rise out of that, too. But at the end of the day choking a woman who is not consenting to the experience and saying it’s BDSM is akin to stabbing someone in a bar and claiming it was a martial arts test match. Again, BDSM isn’t my thing, but it’s a thing I know enough about to know that what Mr. Ghomeshi was doing wasn’t that.
8. The irony of the above point is that if it really was about BDSM (which it was not), then there was no reason for any of that to happen. What little I know about BDSM is that those who enjoy it are happy to share and to teach and to provide a safe space for that enthusiasm. Mr. Ghomeshi, I am certain, would not have lacked for willing, consenting partners — if this was really about consensual sexual exploration and enjoyment. But, again, I don’t really think it was ever about that.
9. I don’t know Mr. Ghomeshi other than through a very brief professional encounter. I don’t envy the people who do know him who are now learning about the allegations and who suspect that they are true. What do you do with a friend like that? Do you drop him? Do you maintain he is your friend but acknowledge what he’s done is wrong? Do you fight for your friend, right or wrong? One of Mr. Ghomeshi’s friends addressed this in a post of his own, which is worth reading. I don’t have any answers for this one. I know what I think I would want to do; I don’t know if it’s what I would do because I’ve never had to be in this situation. What I can say is that I hope I never am in this situation.
10. To reiterate, because it’s important: I believe the women who have come forward to allege assault and harassment. It’s been noted by other people better able to testify on the subject that one of the most radical things you can do when a woman speaks up about abuse and harassment is to believe her. Which initially seems like an incredible statement to someone like me, who is almost always believed by default when he chooses to speak up about something. I have that luxury. Not everyone does. It’s a fact I strongly suspect Mr. Ghomeshi knew, and used.
You may recall that musician William Beckett created a fantastic song for my novel Lock In (and if you didn’t, here, have a listen). The song, also called “Lock In,” really captured the mood and tone of the novel in a way that I hoped it would, and I’m happy to say that even if it were a song utterly unassociated with my book, I would still love its anthemic vibe. It’s fantastic.
I’m happy to say that William and his label Equal Vision Records have now made the song available as a single to download. You can get it through iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and through Equal Vision’s Bandcamp page. It’s also on streaming services including Spotify and Rhapsody.
My advice: Get it! One, because it’s great and worth getting on its own merits. Two, because William needs to eat, and buying the single is a way to encourage that whole crazy “eating” thing. Three, because did I mention it’s a really good song? It is.
Once again, thanks to William for making this song. It’s amazing to have it inspired by something I wrote. I never get tired of hearing it.
It went very well, I thought. As I’ve noted, I went to Los Angeles in order to meet with TV and film folks and to pitch them some stuff (and also, well, me). Some of the things I pitched are even things I haven’t put into books yet! You can do that, apparently. I’m happy to say that contrary to the general opinion of LA types being smarmy and insincere, all of the folks I got to meet, at least, were smart, engaged and very much the sort of people you would want to do business with, and I’m not just saying that because I would like to do business with them.
I also met with the folks at Legendary, who I am, in fact, doing business with (they have the option on Lock In), and come away from that meeting very optimistic about the future of that book as a TV series. There’s not much I can talk about publicly there — I just told you everything I could tell you about it, actually — but I can tell you I think the Legendary people get it, with regard to the novel. And, well. That’s always a positive.
This is where I could caution any of you from reading too much into anything I’ve noted above. Most meetings in LA are just that: meetings. You go in, you have 20 minutes of someone’s time, it’s generally pleasant, and what comes out of it is usually nothing other than getting into the room with interesting people who might do business with you at some point, if the stars align correctly. That’s valuable in itself for reasons that are largely intangible in the short term. I would love to have something immediate come out of the meetings this round, of course. But my feeling about it is: Let’s see what happens next.
(It helps that I do things with my time other than making movies and TV series, mind you. I still get to eat no matter what happens in Hollywood.)
So, in all: A useful trip to the City of the Angels.
I capped the week yesterday by heading to the Cleveland doing a morning keynote for Ohio librarians, in which I talked about science fiction, my career and various other topics. Librarians are some of my favorite people — they are almost by definition deeply engaged in the lives of books and authors — and it’s always nice to spend time with them.
And now I’m home. And I have nowhere I have to be other than here for the rest of the year, which if you’ve been keeping up with my travel this year, is kind of amazing. My plans for the rest of 2014: Write. And write. And write some more! And then, when doesn’t seem possible that I could even write another word — write again. It’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.
Go on. It’ll be fine. I should note that she will want to kiss you directly on the brain. And she might chew through your skull to do it. But that’s okay! Look, she’s doing it to me right now and I have toj syabbgt that it asgbn’t effackebted meb at allygueruyreuiyrer;;;bieur’=-
And it is Thursday, at least here, and so here I am, in Cleveland, or more accurately its nearby neighbor Twinsburg, to talk to librarians. As I am a big fan of librarians as a general class, this is not exactly an onerous assignment. And then I drive home! Which is on the other side of the state. And then I see my family for the first time in several days! So, uh, yeah. This is probably the last you’ll see of me here until tomorrow, is what I’m saying. Have fun on the Internets without me until then.
When I started writing Shadowboxer in late 2008 I had three small children. I was breastfeeding the youngest. My abdominal muscles were shot. Large chunks of my day were spent crawling around on the floor and I got most of my exercise by pushing a stroller. I was also managing a website for my partner Steve Morris, whom I’d met as a martial arts student. I learned the difference between traditional martial arts and fighting in Steve’s class. It was all made clear to me when an enormous dude dealt with my perfectly-formed punches and kicks by picking me and my karate brown belt up and casually chucking us across the room.
When Steve and I eventually started the website we got a lot of enquiries from people disillusioned with traditional martial arts and looking for a practical way to train for real. Nearly all of those people were men. Some of them were men who trained women. I felt that women were being condescended to by many of these guys. Instructors offered traditional martial arts with little contact or light contact only, or ‘ladies boxercise’ or some canned ‘self-defense’ moves that they taught to women because they themselves had no idea how to fight for real. It wasn’t just in the UK that this was happening. Even though organizations like the UFC and Strikeforce were already big in the US, the focus was in combat sports was heavily male-oriented. Most of the women who got press coverage were ring girls.
I admit that I became frustrated. I got tired of the macho attitudes of many of the martial arts instructors whose commentary and questions came through our site. I was annoyed that an awesome fighter like Gina Carano was getting media attention based primarily on her looks—as if the physical prowess and skill of female fighters meant nothing. And I was sick to death after years of being compared to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by people who thought they were complimenting me.
But I couldn’t do anything about it. With a ruined abdomen and milk-filled breasts, I wasn’t in any position to do hard training. I was living on very little sleep, and I had reproductive hormones running through my bloodstream like crack—only instead of making me high they made me gentle. Hell, if a sentimental ad came on TV I’d be in floods of tears.
The only way I could deal with my frustration was to write about it. I wanted to explore what it might be like for a young woman trying to break in as a fighter, and I wanted to know what would make her want to do that in a culture pitched so hard against her expression of physical violence. I kept asking questions, I listened to the little voices in my head—yeah, I know, that doesn’t sound too good but it’s how I do it—and pretty soon Jade started talking to me.
Jade Barrera is a Dominican-American mixed martial artist—a cage-fighter—but she’s named after the Mexican boxer Marco Antonio Barrera, whose epic 2005 match against Jose Morales made a big impression on me. I based Jade’s persona loosely on a sixth-grade girl in my class in New York City many years ago; I’ll call her L. L was the smallest kid in the class and also the fiercest. She would start it up with people on purpose, just to make sure they knew she wasn’t soft. Except L. was soft. She would bring in pictures of her cat and when no one else was around she’d show them to me and tell me stories of her cat’s exceptional adorableness.
So, in the opening scene of Shadowboxer, Jade sees a martial arts movie star mistreating a stray cat, and she becomes unhinged. She leaves the movie star’s nose somewhere west of his face and finds herself in big trouble with her trainer. He wants to get her away from the media, so he sends her off to his family’s gym in Bangkok, Thailand, for fight experience. In the US, professional fighters have to be eighteen to compete. In Thailand, they start much younger.
Muay Thai is one of the hardest sports on Earth. It’s also a link between Thailand and the rest of the world, with martial artists from all over the world living in training camps so they can eat, breathe, and sleep Muay Thai fighting. This cross-cultural contact drives the plot of the book; it’s while she’s fighting in Thailand that Jade gets caught up in crime with a supernatural bent, crime that will follow her back to the US and change the course of her life forever.
There are a lot of fight scenes in this book. There’s plenty of detail about Jade’s training. But here’s the thing: even back all those years ago, before the current focus on ‘kickass women protagonists’ had taken hold, one thing I knew for sure was that I wasn’t going to let Jade be the only significant female character. Nor was I going to conflate winning fights with being heroic. Because there’s more to being strong than thinking with your fists. Anyway, strength isn’t the only virtue a person can have. There are plenty of admirable things for girls and women—for all people— to do that really have nothing to do with ‘strength’ as such, but everything to do with living honourably in a world full of darkness and compromise. I hope this is reflected in the variety of female characters I’ve written.
I started out asking myself what would make a teenaged girl aspire to be a fighter, and the process of writing Shadowboxer led me and Jade together on a journey through Jade’s own violence and through the violence and evil of others. It’s only on the other side of this violence that Jade finds a fragile understanding of what is worth fighting for in life.
And yes: I do personally happen to think that stray cats are worth fighting for.
At the moment, taking a little breather on the Fox lot, on a bench underneath a shady tree. And then off to lunch with my agent, because one should always have lunch with one’s agent. It’s a nice if weird life. Hope yours is going well today, too.
Just thought I’d check in and let you all know things are just lovely here in Los Angeles at the moment. Wish you were here! All of you! And maybe you are all here, on the 405. Because, the 405, man. What a mess.
I’m getting up very early tomorrow morning to go to the airport for a trip that takes me first to Los Angeles, where I have two very solid days of business meetings, and then to Cleveland, where I am delivering a breakfast keynote to a conference of Ohio librarians. All of which is to say that between going to sleep tonight and waking up on Friday, I am not likely to have much time to moderate comment threads here, particularly ones in which GamerGate, etc are discussed.
So when I hit the hay tonight (Saturday), I’m turning off comments until (probably) Friday, when I am back home and have had a good night’s sleep (The exception will be this week’s Big Idea piece, which will have comments on). Likewise you should expect posting here to continue but to be relatively minimal during the week, on account of meetings, plane trips and desire to sleep when possible.
The good news for me is, after this trip is complete, I do not have to go anywhere else for the rest of the year. Given how packed with travel this year has been for me, this is kind of amazing. And it’s good for you, too, since I have to finish The End of All Things by the end of the year, and I find it difficult to write while traveling. No travel means focusing on the book, which means you’ll have a new novel next year. We all win!
So: If you’re commenting somewhere on the site, you have, uh, a couple of hours to wrap things up. Get to it, and comments will be open again on Friday.
A very fine collection of books and ARCs to show off this week. Let me know which ones you wish you had in your hands, down there in the comments.
Pretty cool looking, I have to say. It’s a wrap-around; the front cover is on the right side of the image. A larger version is here.
And here’s what I think of politics here in 2014: Nnnnnnnnggggggggghhh. Or, to put in perhaps more contemporary terms, 2014: The Year I Literally Just Could Not Even.
Which is not to say that I’m not voting. I am voting. What I mean to say is that this year I don’t really feel anything other than complete fatigue at the whole political process. Broadly speaking, the Republicans are frothing ideologues, the Democrats are incompetent, and it appears that in general the relevant voting public will prefer frothing to incompetent, since FiveThirtyEight thinks there’s a better than 60% chance the Senate majority will go to the GOP in the election — although not by a lot, so, yay, I guess?
What that will mean in real-world terms is a lot of parliamentary blockage and/or presidential vetoes of Republican legislative initiatives for the next two years, which I’m fine with (see my opinion of the general state of the GOP above), but which means another two years of high-level stupid on the federal level. But inasmuch as we will get that even if the Democrats do, in fact, barely manage to keep the Senate: Meh. And, yes, I know it’s rather more complicated than that, but I’m telling you how I feel about it all. This is how I feel.
(Mind you, if the GOP takes the Senate, I think there’s a reasonable chance of the GOP in the House finally voting to impeach Obama for the heinous crime of being Obama, although I’m sure they’ll find something else to pretend it will be about. And then Obama will be acquitted in the Senate trial and we’ll establish the hard fact that the modern GOP, when given the opportunity, will try to oust sitting Democratic presidents via the impeachment process just because. Also, I think Obama would love for the GOP to impeach him. There is pretty much no downside for him if a bunch of a white male GOPers impeach a sitting black president on what will amount to complete bullshit charges. Dear House GOP: Don’t be giving Obama one more rope-a-dope.)
I should note that the federal elections are largely outside of my purview this time around. The only federal-level election I need to vote on is for my House representative, who is now and will continue to be John Boehner, who in his entire OH-8 electoral history has never gotten less than 61% of the vote, and isn’t about to blow that streak this year. I’m not voting for Boehner, but doesn’t mean he won’t win. I am as always comfortably resigned to the fact. There are no Senate races in Ohio this year.
On the state level, it’s almost certain sitting Ohio Governor John Kasich is going to win in a walk, not because the people of Ohio love him (general feeling: meh), but because his opponent Edward FitzGerald is better known for parking with a woman who was not his wife than for any of his policy points. I’m not voting for Kasich, but as I don’t like to reward abject incompetence, I don’t think I’m voting for FitzGerald either. I might vote for the Green Party candidate, just to see what it feels like. To be honest, the only state office race I’m really worked up for is Secretary of State, because incumbent John Husted is a tool who went out of his way to make it harder to vote in Ohio. Fuck you, Husted. I’m voting for your Democratic opponent, Nina Turner (although, again, Husted sits on a comfortable margin and will likely win).
Indeed, because of where I live in Ohio, and because of the general trends in the state and in the national races, it looks like a good(ish) year for GOP in general. I’m not a fan of the current iteration of the GOP, which is putting it mildly, so this does not please me intellectually. But speaking as a straight white man of comfortable income, the GOP isn’t going to do me any harm, personally. It’s everyone else who might eventually feel the pinch. This is where I remind all y’all that folks like me already get a ton of advantages; you don’t have to keep giving us more through the political process.
And I think this is why I find it very difficult to get worked up about this particular election one way or another. It’s basically a status quo election. Things might change, but not by much, and at the end of the day the essential problems of our political classes will not be fixed to any degree. This isn’t an epochal election, it’s just killing time until 2016.
Now, I could be wrong: I’m the first to say that my personal political crystal ball has been notably cloudy in the past. But this election doesn’t feel like there’s much there there. I’ll be voting. But this the least enthusiastic I’ve felt about it since I’ve been able to vote. Maybe that means something. We’ll see.
So a few days ago, it was suggested to a faction of the hot, pathetic misogynist mess known as GamerGate that launching a boycott of Tor Books was a possible “action op” for them. This was quickly shot down, no doubt in part because the person suggesting it was Theodore Beale, and no one at this point actually gives a crap what he thinks about anything. However, last night I went on another Twitter tear on the subject of GamerGate, and I woke up this morning to a few chuckleheads bleating to Tor about what a terrible person I am, in order to, I don’t know, get Tor to talk to me sternly about having opinions on the Internet, because apparently Tor is my dad. So maybe this push to boycott Tor because of me has legs after all! Hooray!
That said, my takeaway from these furtive attempts to make me shut up about the fact that GamerGate is basically a bunch of terrible human beings being shitty to women, up to and including threatening them and publishing their personal information online in an obvious attempt to silence them is to be just a little bit sad. Not because a few of these human-shaped pieces of ambulatory refuse are trying to do it, but because they’re thinking too small about it.
I mean, seriously, boycotting just Tor Books? Why limit yourself? Sure, it’s the largest publisher of science fiction and fantasy books in North America and possibly the world, but it’s just one imprint of Tom Doherty Associates. There are several other imprints, including Forge, Starscape, Tor Teen and Seven Seas. You should boycott those, too. That’ll show me!
But even then, you’d be thinking too small. Tom Doherty Associates is itself just one appendage of the publishing giant known as Macmillan, with offices in 41 countries! It publishes thousands of books a year! What a target! You should boycott all of Macmillan. Man, I’m quaking in my boots just thinking about it. But even then, it’s small potatoes, for Macmillan is just one part of the mighty Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, with annual sales in the billions of euros. Boycott it all! No doubt all of Stuttgart shall fall into a shambles at the thought.
But even then you are not done, boycotters! For you see, I am crafty and have diversified my revenue stream. I have many publishers and many people I work with. You must punish them all for having me in their midst. All of them. And not just the tiny imprint or sub-company that works with me directly. That’s what a coward would do. And are you a coward? Well, yes, probably, because the tactics of GamerGate have been astoundingly cowardly right from the start. But still! Think big, my friends. Your boycott must not just take out a few targets, it must nuke them all from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
With that in mind, here are your other boycott targets:
In the UK I am published by Gollancz, which is part of Orion Publishing Group, which is in itself part of Hachette, which is part of Lagardère Group. Crush them!
In audio, I am published by Audible, which is owned by Amazon. Surely it is worth giving up your sweet Amazon Prime subscriptions to make Jeff Bezos shake in his chinos!
But wait! We’re still not done. Because as you may know I have TV deals! One is with FX, which is owned by the Fox Entertainment Group, which is part of 21st Century Fox (yes, it’s 21st Century Fox now. Look it up). You will need to boycott it all. Yes, even Fox News. Be strong! It’s for the cause!
Another is with Syfy and Universal Cable Productions, which is part of NBCUniversal, which is itself part of Comcast. So for this one, some of you will have to give up cable, and possibly your Internet connection. Keep your eye on the prize! It will be worth it!
My third TV deal is with Legendary TV, which is part of Legendary Pictures. And you’re thinking, whew, at least they aren’t part of a multinational corporation! True, but they make films that are distributed through a number of film studios, including Warner Bros (basically, all the DC Comics movies) and Universal. They also own both Geek & Sundry and Nerdist Industries. Noooooo! You can’t get your nerd on anymore! Stay focused! Your pain will make victory that much sweeter!
So, in short, in order to effectively punish my business partners for me having thoughts you don’t like, all you need to do is boycott three of the five major US publishers, two of the five major film/television studios (plus selected product of one of the other ones), and the largest single online retailer in the world. Which, well. It will keep you busy, at least.
Which, to be clear, I am fine with. While you are off whining to these corporations about me, perhaps you will be too busy to, you know, threaten death, rape and assault against women who also dare to express thoughts you don’t like. And you know what? I think that’s a fair trade.
So please: If you’re going to boycott a company because of me, at least do it right. Do it big. There are all your targets, laid out for you. Go get ‘em! I’ll be rooting for you, kids!
And in the meantime, just remember this:
Still true, people. Still true.
Superheroes are fun to think about, but superheroes are often sort of one-dimensional, cardboard characters. In the real world superheroes would be more complex — and like real human beings possibly not perfect. For the novel Misshapes, Alex Flynn uses literary x-ray vision to go behind the “super” and look at a world these folks might really live in.
What if superheroes weren’t so super?
I grew up on comic books and movie superheroes who were bastion of justice and goodness. The past decade has seen some darker heroes but they were pretty light in my youth (my Batman did, after all, have nipples on his batsuit and brooded much less). At the same time a lot of my real life heroes when I was younger rarely lived up to these ideals. I was a big Mets fan as a kid and idolized the 86 World Series winning Mets. I still have a Daryl Strawberry signed ball in my childhood bedroom. But after a number of drug busts, assault charges and bleach filled water guns I learned that these weren’t quite the best role models. I feel like a lot of kids who were fans of the NFL after the recent scandals may be experiencing something similar.
When we started the book the great recession had just hit, and the failure of banks and other institutions brought the idea that many of the people in the business community who we once thought of as almost supernatural in their abilities, were not only fallible, but in some cases criminally negligent in their desire to manipulate the system to their own ends. The strains of an increasing class stratified society were starting to show and it was not a pretty sight. People were losing their homes while those responsible got million dollar severance packages and sailed off into their private world of yachts and oceans with no culpability.
When we started writing the book it was just about a girl dealing with rejection from a super school. Like if Harry Potter got kicked out of Hogwarts. We love Harry Potter and other hero stories, but we wanted to hear the tale of the kid that didn’t get in and still made good. But as we built the world, instead of a fantastical utopia with mustache twirling villains, we ended up reconstructing our own world but with people with powers but might not necessarily be super. Based on the way money, power, institutions, business, private schools, celebrity and politics can all interact and corrupt in our world, we started to see how, superheroes wouldn’t necessarily fix these problems, but would likely just get woven into the mix.
We didn’t want to construct a world with rare powers and secret identities, but wanted to build a universe where powers come in degrees, there utility is not based on some standard measure but on how society see their value, and that most of being a “hero” involved the same image management, press, and advertising as being a sports star. In the Misshapes, the town Heroes live in an upscale community above the town and are often involved in less than heroic activities. Also, in a world were real people can fly, instead of action movies, documentaries are really important, although they are more staged—like The Hills or the Kardashians—than true to life.
Also, and the central thrust of the book, there are people who have powers who are not Heroes, because they don’t get into hero academies and society thinks their powers have no value, called Misshapes. This group faces discrimination from society, in part out of resentment of those who have powers, and in part, out of an almost ingrained animosity that resembles racism. We intentionally left the definitions vague because being a Misshape is, like race, gender or class, a socially constructed concept
In our world, and not a clear thing like you often find in fictional works about superheroes. Most villains, usually after they do something wrong, are labeled Misshapes.
Everyone remembers the line from Uncle Ben in Spiderman, oft quoted in freshman philosophy courses “With great power comes great responsibility.” The maxim pre-dates Uncle Ben, and even has biblical antecedents, but we all know if from Ben. The reality is that while the statement is morally accurate, it is not factually accurate. There’s another saying, not often found in comic books, from Lord Acton* “Power corrupts.” This, in turn, is factually true. In the world we find people with power acting with impunity and immorally, even though they should be acting in a more moral fashion.
However, we still hold them up for praise and are shocked when they fall. In part because we want to believe Uncle Ben and want to ignore Lord Acton, instead of learning that we ourselves must be responsible and hold those who wield power accountable. Applying these lessons about the world to a fictional one with superheroes is the big idea of our book.
However, the idea is just the background. On top of that is the great story of one girl learning how powerful she is and how the world she once believed in is not as it appears. Also, there are some pretty damn cool melees with lasers.
*Acton was likely, like Uncle Ben, quoting another source but his succinctly quote is worthy of the attribution. “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”