Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Dark Knight, Reviews, and Interviews

I finally got the chance to see The Dark Knight Rises on the weekend, and as much as I enjoyed the movie it’s impossible to watch it now without thinking of Aurora, the terrible events that took place there, and the victims who are either no longer with us or will never be the same.

One of those victims is Caleb Medley. Caleb, left in critical condition after the shooting, is facing a $2 million dollar hospital bill as he’s one of the estimated 50 million Americans without health insurance. His friends and family have set up a website where you can read more about Caleb and make a donation towards his medical costs, or simply send him some words of support.

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On a lighter note, Vanguard Prime: Goldrush is in bookshops now and has already received its first review, and 4 out of 5 at that!

I had a brief “career” as a movie reviewer years ago and always found it perplexing when filmmakers would react with hostility towards negative reviews. I have a slightly better understanding of it now. Not that I plan on ever reacting with hostility, but now I know how exposed you feel in sending a piece of yourself out into the world and having it indifferently dissected. Hopefully it’ll get easier with time…or maybe I’ll just stop Googling myself.

One thing that makes it easier is the beautifully-crafted armour that Penguin’s dressed the book in. Illustrator Chad McCown has posted the full, wraparound cover image, sans text. I think you’ll agree, it’s impressive to say the least. As much as I love how all the characters are depicted, I especially love the Knight of Wands and Gaia on the left, and the moody silhouette of Major Blackthorne in the middle.

And while I’m updating you on all things Vanguard Prime, I feel I should point you in the direction of the very first interview I’ve done for the book, with Megan Burke of Literary Life. There are more interviews to come, and I’ll make sure to link to them as they go up.

One piece of media that took me completely by surprise was the listing of the Vanguard Prime book launch at the Sun Theatre in Jason Steger’s column. Surely this is only in the online version, I thought to myself. Not so! I picked up this weekend’s edition of The Age and sure enough, there it was! I’m still recovering from that one.

 ‘Til next time…

The Passage of Time (Or, The Novel Has Landed)

Biggest indicator of a lack of research? Starting a sentence with the words “According to Wikipedia”.

But! According to Wikipedia (and a bunch of psychologists and stuff) one’s perception of the passage of time is relative to one’s age. In other words, the older you get, the faster it feels like time is passing. That seems like a particularly cruel characteristic of the human mind – that you only start appreciating the time you have on Earth at the same point you realise that it’s running out.

This semi-morbid observation is a long way of saying…Vanguard Prime: Goldrush is being released tomorrow.

That piece of information again; my book, the first in a new series that I’ve been going on about for what feels like aaaaages now, is going to be available in bookshops everywhere (well, all good bookshops everywhere. Well, all good bookshops in Australia. And New Zealand.) from tomorrow, July 25.

…I may have gotten a little too detailed there.

In any case, the older I get the faster time passes, making it feel like only yesterday that the offer came through from Penguin. I’m sure it’ll be only a blink of the eyes before Book 2 is released and Book 3 after that.

Which reminds me; there’s been some confusion about the series being a trilogy. While I’m signed for three books, my hope is that the series is popular enough to warrant additional entries. So if you read it, and you like it, make sure to recommend it to everyone you can so the story can be continued.

Also, if you read it and like it, then come along to any of the events that’ll be happening over the next few weeks/months. I’ve added details about the event with Eltham Bookshop, and will be adding details about a second Sun Bookshop event momentarily (yep, that’s a second event, after the launch…which you can still RSVP to!).

So with all that said, I think it’s time to go off and celebrate. I’m gunna crack open the fancy M&Ms.

 

I’m Not Racist, But…: On Race & Genre Fiction

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant in writing this post.

Race is an incredibly sensitive topic and it’s very easy to come across as either self-righteous or horribly misguided…especially when you’re a pasty Australian guy who’s so pale he’s practically blue. But I’ve had this idea brewing in my head for quite a while now and I thought it was best to express it. If that expression comes off as a little garbled or preachy-sounding, I hope you’ll bear with me.

Growing up a white, middle-class kid – and a boy, at that – I never had to search very far to see myself reflected in the fiction I consumed. From He-Man to James and the Giant Peach, there were white, fair-haired representations of heroism in plentiful abundance.

In fact, every main character in just about everything I read or watched contained a white male hero facing off against the threat of the day. Quite often he’d be aided by something as exotic as a girl, equally fair-haired, or perhaps a talking animal sidekick. People of colour, however, were few and far between…though sometimes they’d be included in a villainous capacity by especially dunderheaded storytellers.

As I got older, I started taking notice of race a bit more. My preteen brain was blown when I discovered that Spawn, the Image comics character created by Todd McFarlane, was a black man…or at least he had been before he’d been killed by his employer and resurrected as a soldier of Hell (long story).

Not only was Spawn black but so was his supporting cast, including the wife he’d left behind on Earth and the best friend who’d married her in Spawn’s absence. Though I’m embarrassed to admit it now, I was a little confused at the time as to why McFarlane, a white guy, would make all his main characters black. Didn’t that make it harder for him to relate to them? Didn’t it make them harder for him to write?

I also remember loving The Lion King around the same time, and being frustrated by the critics who denounced the racist and homophobic overtones contained in the film. How could The Lion King be racist? It was all about animals, not people! Of course, it didn’t occur to me that if you take a bunch of negative cultural stereotypes, apply them to your villain characters and get those characters voiced by actors of colour, you’re practically begging to be accused of racism.

It wasn’t until uni that I started looking beyond the surface details of plot and the knee jerk defensiveness of saying “It’s just a story” (four of the worst words to ever say about storytelling; stories are more than a series of events told to keep us entertained. Stories can be weapons. They can be balms for the soul. They can enlighten and broaden the mind. Stories are never just stories).

At uni, I learnt about post-feminist and post-colonial theory. I learnt to analyse the themes of a work, to look at it from angles other than the straightforward. But it was outside of uni – in fact, it was an essay I found online – that really opened my mind to the issue of race.

Shame by Pam Noles, written in response to the TV adaptation of the Earthsea books, is a deeply personal piece where the author ruminates on the depiction of race in science-fiction and fantasy. When I read it in 2006, it changed my world view.

Vanguard Prime doesn’t come out for another two weeks (July 25th! Bookshop near you! /shamelessplug) so the characters I’m about to discuss won’t mean much to anyone at this stage, but when I was creating them I kept in mind the story Pam Noles told about being a child desperately looking for a depiction of herself in the stories she loved.

Sam Lee is a 14-year-old kid whose sudden manifestation of superpowers forever changes his life. Invited to join the superhero team Vanguard Prime, he finds himself rubbing elbows with the idols of his youth. Those idols include Agent Alpha, the VP universe equivalent of Superman or Captain America.

When creating Agent Alpha, I initially went to the obvious place of picturing a white male with a shiny white smile and slick blonde hair. Very vanilla. Very predictable. Very boring. In this post-Obama world, wouldn’t the more interesting thing be to take the Superman paradigm and place an African-American in that role? And so Agent Alpha became, in his secret identity, Michael Malik Khalid.

And then there’s Sam himself. The name “Sam Lee” generated quite naturally. The thing that kept repeating in my head when I was trying to work out who the main character of the book would be were the words that Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, said about what made the world famous Wallcrawler so popular; that, beneath the mask, he could be anybody. Black, white, Asian. Anybody. It doesn’t matter.

As noble an idea as that is, it lasts about as long as it takes for Spider-Man to remove his mask…and then you discover that his name’s Peter Parker and that he’s another middle-class white guy (at least, that’s still the case in the mainstream Marvel universe. In the Ultimate imprint, Peter’s recently been replaced by Miles Morales, a half-black, half-Hispanic kid. When the announcement of this change was made, it was sadly met with a great many accusations of it being due to “political correctness”…I think the same people who use the excuse “It’s just a story” are the same people who rail against “political correctness”).

I wanted to offer kids from any background the feeling of inclusiveness that Stan spoke of when he talked about the notion of Spider-Man being “anybody”. Partly in tribute to the man himself, but mostly because of its ethnic ambiguity, I chose the name ‘Sam Lee’ for my main character. The majority of the book is written from Sam’s point-of-view, and beyond his clothes he never describes his appearance. Prose could provide the ambiguity necessary for any kid, anywhere, to place themselves in Sam’s shoes.

Of course, I couldn’t help but slip in a sly reference to what I felt Sam’s cultural background was…a reference that the editor who read the manuscript picked up on and asked me about when we sat down to discuss the book. That information would eventually be passed onto the book’s designer and illustrator; you can keep things as vague as you want in the text, but the reality of the situation is that you’re going to have to put an image on the cover, aren’t you?

Not one but two people close to me commented on Sam’s Asian appearance. They asked if that was an attempt to sell the book overseas, specifically to the Asian market or to manga fans. And I can’t think of a more perfect example of why we need more racial diversity in genre fiction, if not fiction in general, than that.

Not thinking about race is a luxury that’s afforded to white people because we’re the ones on top. We’re everywhere, and so are our stories. Try and subvert that, even just a little, and it results in consternation, if not outright hostility. You need look no further than the response to the mere suggestion of Donald Glover being cast as Spider-Man, or the actual casting of Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor, or the racist rumblings about the casting of The Hunger Games film, as evidence of that.

I have one more phrase to add to the list alongside “It’s just a story” and “political correctness”. It’s “I’m not racist but…”. Is there any other phrase that’s more likely to preface a racist statement? The only way I can think of it being used in anything but a bigoted fashion is “I’m not racist, but I really think we could use some more ethnic diversity in this story.” Then I’d agree. And I’d probably get accused of being PC as a result. Not that I’d mind.

The Lessons of History

As I was driving to work this morning, I caught a few minutes of a talkback segment discussing the cutting of history classes in the Victorian education system…or at least that’s what I thought it was about. Turned out it had more to do with the teaching of Australian history rather than history in general, but it was enough to get me thinking.

The idea of History being an increasingly unpopular subject – spurious though that idea may be – doesn’t strike me as being all that absurd, even though I studied both Modern and Ancient History right through to graduation. The reason it rings a note of truth is the pressure we put on kids to decide right now who and what they want to be, forcing them into a position where they select courses based on a myopic criteria of what’s most practical for getting them into uni, leaving subjects like History to fall by the wayside.

I remember spending Years 11 and 12 under an increasing sense of pressure, like every test I took and every assignment I handed in was a building block towards my future. If I chose the wrong course, if I got the wrong grade, my career prospects and my entire life would suffer as a result.

Well, I did choose the wrong courses. I did get the wrong grades. And while I would never minimize the importance of education, I would also say to kids to relax. It’ll be okay. If you haven’t worked out what your passion is, if you haven’t worked out exactly what you want the arc of your life to be, it’ll be okay. Life doesn’t end at 18 because you got a C when you needed a B. It doesn’t end because you took History instead of Geometry or Economics. It doesn’t end because you don’t know what exactly you want to do for the rest of your life right now.

And if you don’t know what you want to do, work out first what you’re passionate about. It’ll flow from there. I had no idea what I should do after graduating, but I always loved to write. I ended up studying Creative Writing at uni, despite it not being the most practical choice to make. My first book is getting published in two weeks time. Things work out.

History is easily confused for fate, but only when looking over it in retrospect. When you’re living it, it’s hard to know what choices to make, and impossible to know where your path will lead you. But remember; there is no test big enough, no final score bad enough, that will keep you from ultimately living a happy and fulfilling life.

And now, with all these words of worldly wisdom said, I’ll shuffle back off to the retirement village to reminisce about the days where music was something you could buy and physically own, and mobiles were something to be hung above a baby’s crib.

‘Til next time.

Where I’ll Be & What I (Haven’t) Been Doing

With the release of the book getting closer and closer (July 25th! Have I mentioned that lately?) events are starting to lock into place. Kicking things off will be the launch at the Sun Theatre and Bookshop on 1st August, which everyone is more than welcome to attend…just make sure you RSVP! From there, there’ll be events with the Eltham Bookshop, Tim’s Bookshop and a few others that I’ll need to confirm details for before posting about.

 

I’ll also be appearing at the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival as part of the Sports Stars and Superheroes panel, details of which can be found on the Events page. And though it may be a bit early to talk about it, I’ll also be recording my first television appearance in the next month. More details to follow!

 

When I first set up this website, I had lofty ambitions of blogging with great regularity and bedazzling wit, much like other authors such as Neil Gaiman and Jay Kristoff. I really don’t know how they do it, because keeping to a regular schedule has proven pretty tricky for me so far. Now that the book’s release is nearly here, I’m going to make a real effort to post more…and if I don’t, make sure to harass me into action!