The Secret Origin of Gina Beale

I’ve written my first novel.  Well, it’s not really my first.  It’s the first one I deemed good enough to unleash onto the public.  Gina Beale: Into the Fire has been several years in the making.  I certainly didn’t think it was going to take that long when I started it.

Since working on The Flying Turtle Show and a handful of comics starting in college, I’ve focused on writing scripts.  It made sense, since it was a love of comic books, film, and sketch comedy that first interested me in writing.  Plus, I’ve always been drawn toward collaborative projects.  Anyone who knows me can tell you I thrive on getting people together to work on something.  It’s a big part of why I make a living in recruiting.

Unfortunately, things just weren’t panning out.  I’d gone through a series of aborted projects because neither myself or the people involved could give them the focus they needed.  I sometimes blamed it on unreliable collaborators, but I wasn’t any better.  We were all adults with kids, jobs, or other responsibilities that didn’t allow us to get together regularly or for enough time to make things work as well as they should’ve.  A short film was never completed.  A comic book only got half done.  You get the idea.

I decided I needed to focus my creative energies in a direction where it would just be me, working on my own schedule, and on my own ideas.  That meant I was going to switch to prose.

It wasn’t like I didn’t have ideas for books.  I’d just been putting them aside for another day.  When ideas come to me in the form of images, I know I’m cooking up a comic or film script.  When they come as characters and concepts, it’s probably going to be a novel or short story.

One issue: my prose writing stunk.  My dialogue was sharp enough, as I’d been working on that for years.  I think I had a good head for character arcs, plot, structure, etc.  The problem was the only descriptions I’d written for several years were in scripts, where you only have to worry about communicating directly with your collaborators.  Sure, you need to get all the details in, but they don’t have to sound pretty.

Starting with short stories would’ve been smart, but I come from the “go big or go home” school of thought.  I dove right into a novel idea I’d had for years, with characters based on my friends from high school.  I called it Me and the Guys.  It was a dark comedy about estranged high school friends whose reunion goes off the rails when one of them is accused of murdering an old classmate.  There’s some good stuff in it, but after a third draft there was no getting away from the fact that it just wasn’t coming together.  I couldn’t get the tone quite right and the end result wasn’t much better than what I was showing to my fellow students at WMU my sophomore year.  Trust me, none of them thought they were reading the work of the next great novelist.

It was heartbreaking to put Me and the Guys aside, but the writing was on the wall.  I followed it up with a book about a small community going through the recession, which shifted the point-of-view from chapter to chapter.  That came out better and while I couldn’t make the entire book connect, some of those chapters became short stories that showed real progress.

I was a bit flustered by this point.  I had these grand, ambitious books in mind but they died as I put them on the page.  That’s when my wife came in, like she usually does.  She suggested I just write something to have fun.  Maybe the end result wouldn’t be the novel of the decade, but it would be at least good enough to show people.  She pointed to the “romantic thrillers” she’d been reading, telling me I wrote at least as good as those guys.

I spent that night rolling her advice around in my head, thinking it might be fun to write something that drew on a lot of the interests I’d accumulated for years (mythology, ancient history, hero stories, etc.).

Then, with no effort whatsoever, Gina popped right into my brain.  I instantly knew everything about her personality, that she was descended from ancient gods, that she had a career in Human Resources, her ethnic background, that she’d been adopted, and that she fought monsters with a table leg.  It felt less like I created her than she’d been sitting in an undiscovered corner of my brain waiting for me to find her.

By the way, I still don’t know why a table leg.  You’d have to ask her.

So, I had this great character, but what was she going to do?  Once again, it all came tumbling out of my head with almost no effort.  She was part of a group descended from ancient gods that fought monsters from mythology.  Her boss would be Athena (my favorite member of the Greek Pantheon), she’d be trained by the Maori god, Tu, and the antagonist would be Marduk, the patron god of ancient Babylon.  I also knew that the organization she belonged to would be well past its prime.

There were a couple other elements that became important.  First, I knew Gina would not fit in well with her fellow, male colleagues.  It’s become clear to me over the years that a blunt, sarcastic woman is not as appreciated as a man with the same personality.  Also, I knew there wouldn’t be any love interest.  There was no place for it in the story.  Frankly, there shouldn’t have to be, but even breakthrough female hero characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer had romantic problems as a main theme.

It struck me the former point could be part of what made the book stand out.  Counter programming can be a good thing.  It’s why I went with the tag line I did (“No vampires. No love triangles. Just a woman beating on monsters with a table leg.”).

It was an odd time to write a book, as the following years turned out to be the busiest in my professional and personal life.  I’d finished the first draft in about a year, and reworked it over the following year.  The next steps were arduous, and took much longer than they should’ve.  I managed to line up a good editor, Carol Davis, who really understood the genre and gave me great feedback.  A couple friends saw the end result around this time, and they had good things to say.  In the end, I felt confident enough to slap a cover on it and get going.

Then 2014 happened.  I’m not going to get into the details, but I’ve never been so happy to see a year end.  I spent a good part of 2015 getting myself back to square one, but Gina never left my thoughts.  By the time 2016 was starting up, I was ready to get going again.  I did my research on cover artists, finding James T. Egan (of Bookfly Designs), who knocked my socks off with the cover you see on my book today.

So the book is now off my desk and in the world.  I’m happy with the end result and I hope a lot of people decide to try it out.  The marketing push is just starting, and in a lot of ways it’s more intimidating than any other aspect of this journey has been.

It’s okay, though.  I trust Gina to beat the odds.  It’s what she does.

 

GINA BEALE: INTO THE FIRE is now out on Kindle and in paperback.  Check it out:

https://www.amazon.com/Gina-Beale-Into-Dan-Trudeau-ebook/dp/B01NBN2E0N/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487289311&sr=8-1&keywords=Gina+Beale

 

The Force Awakens, and the End of the Star Wars Cannon

On October 30, 2012, George Lucas announced he was selling Lucasfilm to Disney for over $4 billion.  Many fans, unhappy with Lucas’s recent management of the franchise, met the news with relief and excitement.  The prequels were always going to hang over his head.

Shortly after the acquisition, Disney announced they were continuing the core film series (no surprise).  They also declared the Expanded Universe was no longer considered cannon (meaning part of the official Star Wars story) in any way.  For those not in the know, the Expanded Universe encompassed all the licensed books, comic books, and games set in the Star Wars Universe.  This was met with outrage by fans of said books, comic books, and games, but, frankly, the Expanded Universe stories were never cannon.  Lucas had made that clear many times.  Fans of the EU derided Disney keeping things like Jar Jar Binks, but disregarding the cool stuff they’d invested in.  The thing is, determining cannon has nothing to do with quality.  Trust me, I would rather read Heir to the Empire five times in a row than sit through The Phantom Menace again, but only The Phantom Menace counts.

Disney shortly announced a new series of books, comic books, games, spin-off movies, and TV show (Rebels) that would be part of the Star Wars cannon.  If they produced a book about what happened between Episodes V and VI, it was something that officially happened.

This has been more or less accepted by fans of the series, including those who felt their love of the Expanded Universe had been dismissed.  The thing is, none of it is cannon since Lucas parted with the property, including the main films.

Now, Lucas was never the sole author of Star Wars.  Film is a collaborative medium, after all, and even the films he wrote and directed himself (Episodes I-IV) had input from others.  That said, he was the final decision maker on the six original films (and the Clone Wars TV series), and nothing went into those movies without his thumbs-up.  He may not have been the sole author, but he was the final decision maker on what was and wasn’t going to be the characters’ stories.

Fast-forward to pre-production on Episode VII (The Force Awakens).  Lucas had given the new creative team his outline for the film, but they decided to go with another approach and tossed it aside.  Now they were well within their rights to do this.  Lucas sold the property to Disney without any requirement to use his outline.  Also, Abrams and company were probably correct in determining that Lucas’s story wasn’t the best direction for the series.  The ramification of this decision, though, was that the new films will now be in the same category as the Expanded Universe.

Imagine thirty years from now, Disney has a crisis and has to sell Lucasfilm to another company.  That company announces they have Lucas’s outline for Episodes VII-IX, which they’ll use to make new films.  Also, all the Disney supplementary works will be set aside, like the EU, and they’ll be putting out their own spin-off films, comics, TV shows, etc.  Since they’re working from Lucas’s notes, they’ll declare their Episodes VII-IX will be the real entries in the core film series, unlike Disney’s.

But that won’t be ironclad either.  Lucas’s original outline for The Empire Strikes Back involved Luke finding his father and sister in exile.  During the pre-production process, the whole thing was simplified into making Darth Vader Luke’s father and writing the sister out (before making her Leia for the third film).  Those changes were made while he worked on the script with others.  The filmmakers of the hypothetical films would still have to hammer their own scripts out, probably making similar changes without Lucas’s sign off (I’m assuming he’ll be gone).  That would be enough to claim that they’re not totally in-cannon either.

At the end of the day, the rock-solid, cannon story of Star Wars will be Episodes I-VI and the Clone Wars TV show.  Everything else will be elements future owners of the property can use or ignore based on their own plans.  It doesn’t matter how good or bad Disney’s material is.  We may all have a great time watching it, but it’s all fan fiction from this point forward.

 

Don’t forget:  My book, Gina Beale: Into the Fire, is on Kindle now and can be purchased HERE.  It’s a great read, but only if you like great reads.

 

 

Gina Beale Unleashed

Miss me?  It’s been a while, but my blog will be up and running again in the weeks ahead.  So what have I been doing instead of writing posts for this?  I’ve been writing a book, and that book is now available on Kindle, with a print version to shortly follow.

 

I’d like to introduce you to Gina Beale.  Once upon a time, she was a Human Resources Representative at a Chicago medical tech firm.  That was before a run-in with an ill-tempered ifrit (think like a genie, but scary) revealed her to be descended from ancient gods.  That’s when Gina took on her new career with the Collegium, an organization of said ancient gods who keep mankind safe from old threats (monsters, rogue gods, etc.).  It sounds much more fulfilling to Gina than corporate work, but she finds out she doesn’t exactly fit in with her alpha-male colleagues or boss, Athena (Greek Goddess of Wisdom).  She’s going to have to get past that, though, as Marduk (Patron God of Ancient Babylon) has set out to make the world pay for forgetting him.

 

That’s okay, though.  Armed with her trusty table leg, Louie, Gina’s ready to beat the snot out of anything he can throw at her.

 

So, look out for new postings here and in the meantime, order yourself a copy of Gina Beale: Into the Fire HERE on Amazon.

 

Review: Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman (#1-2)

SOME SPOILERS BELOW

I was pretty happy when DC announced a digital-first Wonder Woman series featuring rotating characters doing out-of-continuity stories.  As we saw with The Adventures of Superman, giving creators free reign on these characters can, at their best, inject them with energy often lacking in their monthly titles.  I’ve loved Azzarello’s run on the character, but I was excited to see some other takes on the Amazon Princess.

 

The first storyline, stretching over the first two issues, comes to us courtesy of Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver.  For Simone, it’s a bit of a homecoming to the character.  Many of current book’s detractors pine for the days when she was calling the shots.

 

The story, “Gothamazon,” sounds good on paper.  Batman is out for the count and Oracle (good to see her again) brings Diana in to take care of an unraveling Gotham City.  Batman’s rogues gallery has teamed up to take over the city and Wonder Woman goes right after them.

 

It’s a great set up, but a mixed bag in execution.  Simone seems to be working against the page count on this one, as it starts big before getting tied up (literally) too easily.  A couple of big dramatic moments both don’t pay off (the Amazon army) and aren’t sold well (the Harley/Catwoman team up).  The real stand-out moment of the book comes when the villains find themselves bound by the lasso of truth and made to confront the fears that really drive them.  It shows that Simone understands these characters at their core.  This includes WW herself, who is not just a fighter, but a healer like Batman could never be.

 

Van Sciver’s art is interesting, as I might not have guessed it was his work if his name wasn’t attached.  Gone are his distinctive, heavy shadows and detailed line work.  Instead, we get something closer to what might be considered DC’s house style.  I’m on the fence as to whether that’s a good thing for this story or not.

 

So Sensation Comics is off to a decent start, but I was hoping for a more unique reading experience.  The good news is I’ve seen the upcoming creator list and I’m sure the series will deliver some interesting WW takes in the near future.

 

Snowpiercer – About That Ending

I checked out Snowpiercer on VOD last week.  It’s great when something turns out to be just as entertaining as you hoped it would be.  It reminded me how exciting watching Terry Gilliam movies used to be.

 

My only hesitation about seeing the movie had to do with its concept, as I’m tired of heavy-handed science fiction allegories about a dystopian world where a privileged oligarchy makes the masses live in squalor.  Joon-ho Bong (along with co-writer Kelly Masterson) has crafted a movie, though, that works beyond the clichés that bog down lesser efforts (I’m looking at you, Elysium).

 

The difference is in the film’s characters.  The story Curtis (Chris Evans) tells about when they first arrived on the train packs way more of a punch than the generic story arcs from characters in similar movies.  The guy’s come a long way since his days wisecracking as Johnny Storm.

 

One of the biggest topics of conversation has been the ending and what would happen immediately afterward.

 

***BIG SPOILERS AHEAD***

 

So we have two characters who have survived the horrific crash.  There may be others, but we don’t see them and can’t assume.  They see a polar bear walking around and the movie ends.

 

If you go online and check out discussions, a lot of folks point out that a) two people isn’t enough to keep the human race going and b) there’s no way a polar bear would even still be alive, as they need to eat things too.

 

It reminds me of a bit I remember from many years ago, when a comedian was talking about watching the Gilligan’s Island Harlem Globetrotters movie with a friend.  The Globetrotters are playing a charity basketball game for the island’s orphans against evil basketball robots, programmed to defeat them.  Gilligan comes into the game and his friend says, “Yeah, right.  Like they’d put Gilligan in.”  The comedian’s reply: “So you were buying everything up until that point?”

 

In Snowpiercer, the last members of the human race are living on a fast-moving train with tracks that never degrade in horrible environmental conditions, sides of beef materialize out of nowhere, enough bugs exist to become an endless supply of protein bars, and, wait a minute, why do they even have to be on a train in the first place?

 

And yet, after buying all this through the whole movie, a good number of viewers are questioning whether the hopeful ending is actually bleak.  Sorry, but it is a hopeful ending, because Snowpiercer is a metaphorical film from top to bottom.  The focus is on what it represents, not how well it would hold up in reality.

 

As I noted before about The Dark Knight Rises, how well we accept a metaphorical story depends on how emotionally invested we are in the characters and storyline.  If we’re into it, we roll with plot and logic holes.  If we don’t care, they stick out like a sore thumb.  I cared about the people in Snowpiercer, so none of the questions I asked above matter.  It’s also why most people questioning the logic of the movie are only flummoxed by the end.  Things have concluded and for the first time, you’re not caught up in what’s going to happen next.  Your brain now has room to think, logically, through what you’re seeing.  I did it for a moment before catching myself.

 

So it doesn’t matter if the bear would just kill them, or if the bear shouldn’t even be there.  Curtis has rejected the false (yet convincing) choice Willford gave him.  He’s chosen humanity over the machine.  All that’s left are the next generation, freed from their parent’s mistakes, on a planet where life is returning.

Check This Out – Scalped

Back in the distant 90s, there was a huge wave of crime films, mostly inspired by Quentin Tarantino.  I remember sitting through trailers, wondering when I’d see one that didn’t involve guns.  While it produced a good number of movies, most were quickly forgotten and the movement petered out.  Lucky for us fans of fictional ne’er do wells, TV and comics picked up the ball and carried it into a golden age. 

 

When it comes to TV, The Sopranos, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, Justified, and Breaking Bad (among others) set the standard.  At the same time,  comics such as Stray Bullets, 100 Bullets, Jinx, Criminal, and procedurals like Gotham Central were breaking the same sort of ground, though they were met with much less fanfare across the pop culture landscape (they’re comics, after all).  I enjoyed all those series quite a bit, but Scalped has stayed with me like no other.

 

The book was written by Jason Aaron with art by R.M Guera.  It takes place on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation, populated by the non-fictional Lakota tribe.  It’s the story of Dashiell Bad Horse, an angry, unpleasant local who has returned years after abandoning the place, just in time for the opening of the new Crazy Horse Casino.  The casino is run by Lincoln Red Crow, who also happens to be the Tribal Council President and Sheriff of the Tribal Police.  It’s also the community’s worst kept secret that he’s the reservation’s crime kingpin.

 

Red Crow has a soft spot for Dashiell, as he and Gina Bad Horse, Dashiell’s estranged mother, were both activists back in the day.  They went their separate ways after the murder of two federal agents, with Gina sticking by the cause while Red Crow went down a more lucrative path.  Dashiell quickly establishes a place for himself in Red Crow’s organization, which is exactly what was supposed to happen, as he’s actually an undercover FBI agent.    

 

Dashiell has been blackmailed into this, as going home is the last thing he wants to do.  He’s described by his boss, the unpleasant Agent Nitz, as a “borderline sociopath with deep-seated anger.”  Nitz is one of the most thoroughly unlikable characters in the history of fiction.  Takes one to know one, I guess.

 

One of the remarkable things about this book is how it transforms our view of Dashiell as things progress.  For a little while, I was wondering if I even wanted to continue reading a story about a lead character I had so little empathy for.  As his story was fleshed out, I found myself wanting very badly for him to turn out okay, and a little heartbroken when he steered in the wrong direction. 

 

The book pulls this off with almost every character.  I really can’t think of a one that didn’t turn my expectations for them on their head.  Aaron and Guera play the long game, though that means it takes about two collections (around twelve issues) before things really get humming.  Seriously, if you’re doubting your interest at the end of the first collection (Indian Country), just keep going.

 

Like all great long-form stories, the book expands well beyond its initial premise.  It touches on the overall plight of Native American reservations (sometimes described as a third world nation inside out borders), the challenge of being an individual while still part of a community, the ramifications to your loved ones when you join a cause, and other big questions in an organic way.  Nothing feels forced or preachy.

 

The book is a master class in dialogue, pacing, character development, and world-building.  It avoids easy answers and out-of-nowhere plot tricks all the way to the end.  It’s been picked up by WGN America as a live-action TV series (HBO really dropped the ball on not grabbing it), though I don’t know what stage of development it’s in right now.  You should pick it up right away, as I can’t imagine a TV adaption, no matter how well it’s done, living up to the original.

Spider-man and the Curse of Adulthood

Every story has a beginning, middle, and end.  It’s an obvious statement to make, but it’s the bane of most creators working on popular characters today.  With exceptions like Harry Potter, most iconic characters in western culture, from Homer Simpson, to James Bond, and Superman, have stories that never end.  If they ended, really ended, that would mean the end of some very lucrative franchises.  As a result, those characters stay stuck on the part of their story Joseph Campbell referred to as the “Road of Trials,” where the hero faces a long series of confrontations from a variety of enemies.  When that gets old, they reboot and start over from the beginning.

This continuous publication has been particularly tough on Spider-man.  Marvel has been struggling for years to keep his story engaging, from magically erasing his marriage to having Dr. Octopus take over his body.  Movies and animated TV shows keep rebooting him to a teenager, but the comics’ story is part of the larger Marvel continuity.  You can’t take Peter Parker back to a kid without dragging the whole universe with him.

Every character goes through ruts, but Spider-man’s ruts outnumber his peaks by a large margin.  A truly great Spider-man story is rare.  Think about it: what is Spidey’s equivalent to The Dark Knight Returns or All Star Superman or even The Winter Soldier?  I’d argue the 616 Spider-man hasn’t had much in the way of truly great stories since maybe the Gerry Conway era.

Spider-man is, without a doubt, one of the great fictional characters of the last one-hundred years.  Some would argue he’s the greatest comic book character of all time.  So what is it that keeps him from knocking it out of the park?

The key to understanding any superhero is understanding what their story is about.  Superman’s story is about the ideals of Twentieth Century America.  Batman is about a man of privilege getting a cold dose of reality, and then using his privilege to help his city, no matter what the cost to himself.

Spider-man has a shorter shelf life because his story is about growing up.  In his teenage years, he gets a surprise dose of power (puberty), pays the price for wielding it recklessly (which of us didn’t hurt someone in our teen years?), and then tries to find a balance between being responsible and happy.  Once he becomes a successful adult, the story is over.  So, Spider-man’s problem isn’t that he’s stuck on the Road of Trials.  His story ended and the books just kept going.

So when does he become a successful adult?  When he gets the girl.  The girl in this case being Mary Jane Watson.  Yes, he’ll continue to have problems, because becoming an adult isn’t about not having problems.  It’s about finding a balance between what he must do and what he wants to do.  Mary Jane is an independently successful, smart, and assertive woman who will be his rock when he’s at his weakest.  It’s the ultimate happiness for Peter.  The end.

This puts the character’s writers in a pickle.  In order to keep the story going, it has to become about something else.  If it becomes about something else, it’s not the classic dynamic Spidey fans are looking for.  As a result, the stories tip too heavily towards soap-opera style plots, where superficial threats drive the action.  Only a handful (maybe Kraven’s Last Hunt or The Death of Jean DeWolff) have any emotional punch.

Yes, the McFarlane/Larsen era proved a sales boom, but that had more to do with the book’s visuals and EXTREME (!!!) villains.  Superior Spider-man was also popular, but that was Otto’s story, not Peter’s.  The most highly regarded book about Peter from the last twenty years seems to be Ultimate Spider-man, because it could set the clock back.

I’d even argue that Spider-man 3’s Achilles heel wasn’t too many villains or the part where he turned “evil,” but that Spider-man 2 brought the story to its natural conclusion.  There was nothing left to say.

So what is Marvel to do?  Sure, they can undo Peter and MJ’s marriage, but that’s a temporary, and gimmicky, Band-Aid.  In order to continue Peter’s story, you have to change the theme, and that means moving the character in a direction a lot of fans aren’t comfortable with.

J. Michael Straczynski came the closest to doing this.  He was broadening the scope of what it meant to be Spider-man and challenging the character’s assumptions.  I love when he tells the story of how he learned “With great power comes great responsibility,” the response he gets is, “And then what?”  I’m frustrated to this day that his run crashed and burned before reaching its potential.  It could’ve opened the character up to new worlds of possibility.

As it is, I feel sorry for any writer taking on the book now.  Spidey fans are still asking for Marvel to do something brand new with the character, as long as they don’t change anything.  That is a heavy cross for any creator to bear.

POST NOTE:  I have ideas if anyone from Marvel is interested.  Just saying.