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

 

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The Art and the Artist (or Roman Polanski: International Fugitive)

Many years ago, I went to one of my first comic book conventions and met a writer/artist who I’d practically worshipped since I started collecting in the mid-eighties.  It was my first time meeting someone I considered a legend.  It couldn’t have been more of a let-down.  The guy acted like I was wasting his time, shrugged off my compliments, and chided me for not bringing books from his latest series to sign.

I was nineteen and the experience was demoralizing.  How could this guy, who created stories I loved, turn out to be such a tool?  Today, getting very close to forty, I’m grateful for the experience.  It was my first, and best, lesson in separating the work from its creator. 

It’s an idea that makes sense on paper, but can be tough in real life.  If you read a novel that touches you deeply, how can you not want the author to be a great person?  After all, their art is a product of their self-expression.  How can they touch so many people with a book, movie, etc., if they’re shallow in the day-to-day?

Well, it happens.  It’s not unlike the psychologist who guides people to a better state of mind, all while their own life falls apart.  People often don’t make sense on paper, so I worked very hard at keeping my hopes in check going forward.

But does it hit a point where you can’t separate the two?  Take Roman Polanski.  He’s one of the all-time great directors and probably still has the talent to make great movies.  The problem is the whole “him raping a thirteen year-old and fleeing the country after the trial didn’t go his way” thing.  I know he has his defenders, but if some guy down the street did the same thing, no one would feel sorry for him.  I understand the guy was screwed up, but if he’d just done his time this whole thing wouldn’t be as big of a deal. 

There’s a part of me that says it’s still okay to see his movies.  They’re not about raping thirteen year-olds, after all.  Isn’t what goes on in his life a separate issue from the content of his films?  What about Orson Scott Card?  Or even Woody Allen?  Every time I read someone talking about boycotting their work, I see a reply about how their personal opinions or issues have nothing to do with the work itself.

But do certain creators take it to a point where it’s no longer about that separation, but instead about supporting a career of someone you don’t think deserves it? 

I think it does.  I don’t shell out any more money for Roman Polanski films.  I can separate the artist from the art once he’s either turned himself in or shuffled off his mortal coil.  I’ve also decided the same thing for Woody Allen, though that one hurts a lot more.  While his good-to-bad ratio has tilted more towards bad in recent years, he’s still important to me as a creator.  Twenty years ago, his movies opened my brain up about film making as a craft. 

Of course, he could also be innocent, but when the victim herself steps forward to say he did it, I’ll fall on the side of not giving him any more of my money.

It’s not a perfect stance to take.  I buy products all the time that are probably made in conditions I don’t agree with or the money goes to causes I don’t support.  There comes a point, though, where it’s thrown in your face and you can’t ignore it.  It may not be perfect, but you could go insane trying to be right all the time.  If you take a realistic look at life, you know you have to choose your battles.

So I’ve chosen to not support certain artists in the present.  I’ll make the effort to separate them from their work when they can no longer directly benefit from it.  I think that’s as good as I can do for now.

 

By the way, I (and some friends) had dinner with Bruce Campbell about a year after that comic con incident.  The guy was as cool as I’d hoped he’d be.  It was good to know sometimes it can work out that way.  

Review: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Century: 2009

This is my GoodReads write-up of the latest, and last, LoEG chapter.

While I’ve enjoyed the post-Black Dossier LoEG work more than others I speak to, I still find myself disappointed by its conclusion. I respect Moore and O’Neil’s changing of the tone from adventure to meditation on fiction and have been happy to flow with the change as it happened. I’ve always enjoyed walking through the world, fictional and real, from Moore’s perspective.

This latest book, however, reveals his Achilles heel: satirizing modern culture despite his shallow experience in it. I understand his points about franchises and corporate entities spoiling imagination but I don’t know if current popular fiction is really worse than the era his main characters come from. This is especially true of the Harry Potter series, which he puts in the cross hairs in 2009. His criticisms of the boy wizard and his world ring hollow. It makes me wonder if he knows anything about the series beyond the first two books, as the themes and characterizations Rowling presented are far richer than he acknowledges.

It’s likely he hasn’t dug deep into Harry Potter or much else and that becomes a problem when you’re looking to skewer it all.

That said, the book is still full of surprises along with some great character bits. I personally love the James Bond concepts he throws around. Also, I can forgive a deus ex machina when the person delivering it is that unexpected. As always, O’Neil’s artwork is great and I’ll have fun poking through the details over the next couple of days.

Alan Moore and Frank Miller were the great comic creators of my youth. While they’re both no longer creating their best work, I’ll take Moore in a reduced form any day over Miller’s descent into (unintentional) self-parody.

Before Watchmen: The Year’s Biggest Non-Event

If you heard a popping sound  this week, chances are it was the sound of geeky heads exploding over DC Comics’ announcement of their Watchmen prequels, all printed under the banner Before Watchmen.

For those of you outside the comics community, who may know of Watchmen because it’s one of the few series to escape into the non-comics world, this is the equivalent of someone making a sequel to Citizen Kane.  Watchmen is our sacred cow and not just because it’s one of the greatest graphic novels of all time (it is).  What makes Watchmen special is because it was instrumental in pushing the boundaries of what superhero comics could be.  There was nothing like it before its debut and creators have killed themselves to make something like it since.

Alan Moore (the writer) is angry about this.  Alan Moore is always angry but it’s worse when he has a reason.  Dave Gibbons (the artist) gave a weak statement of support with a clear “I really wish you wouldn’t have done this” subtext.

The biggest surprise is the talent they lined up for them.  Two, Brian Azzarello and Darwyn Cooke, are favorites of mine.  Their inclusion gave pause to what would’ve otherwise been an immediate feeling of disgust.  Since then, I’ve read several opinions, pro and con, and have a clear feeling on the subject.

When it comes to the books themselves, I’m indifferent.  It doesn’t matter who is working on them.  Watchmen is a complete work and I have no interest in digging further into its back story.  I don’t mean this to reflect poorly on the talent.  If Darwyn Cooke he has a story to tell about The Minutemen, who am I to tell him he can’t?  Just don’t expect me to buy it.

Here’s what irritates me:

“It’s our responsibility as publishers to find new ways to keep all of our characters relevant,” said DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee. “After twenty five years, the Watchmen are classic characters whose time has come for new stories to be told. We sought out the best writers and artists in the industry to build on the complex mythology of the original.”

Really?  Hey Dan and Jim, Rorschach isn’t Superman.  He’s not an open-ended character without a complete story who gets reinterpreted over multiple generations to keep him relevant.  We know everything important about him.  His story has a beginning, middle, and end.  He’s a complete creation.  You don’t need to “keep him relevant”, just visible. You’ve done that.  You’ve sold a lot of Watchmen books in the last five years and he’s so interesting people went to the movies to see a so-so interpretation of him.

You know what, though?  I shouldn’t be arguing with their statement.  Why?  Because it’s BS.  Anyone with a brain in their head knows this isn’t the result of a creative impulse.  DC has a bankable property, they don’t need its creators’ permission to use it, and they’re confident they can finally get away with doing this.

I don’t know Brian Azzarello (which might be good because I’d probably annoy the hell out of him) but I have enough respect for him to assume he’s doing this out of a true creative impulse.  But his book wouldn’t be happening at all if not for DC’s desire for a cash grab.

I’m not against said cash grab for moral purposes.  Moore feels DC screwed him on Watchmen and he may be right.  I know they’re not keen on him either.  I’m not interested in reffing a fight between an increasingly bitter man and a bottom-line minded company, even if the man is my favorite writer in any medium.  These things are murkier than many want to acknowledge.

What I’m irritated by is that DC has a lot of momentum right now and a rare chance to grab readers’ attention for almost any project.  They can put great writers and artists to work creating this generation’s Watchmen.  Instead they’re wringing everything they can out of the original.  It runs counter to what they were doing in 1986, when they opened up the potential for sophisticated artistic expression in mainstream comics.

Don’t get me wrong.  I read a lot of DC Comics.  I’m a defender of the New 52 initiative, if not all the individual books.  That’s why I’m so disappointed to see them drop the ball on the follow through.

I won’t be buying these books.  They may turn out to be solid reads but I don’t like what they represent.  I also won’t spend any more time writing or arguing about it online.  Ignoring them is the best way to insure they fade away.  The only exception is if you’re at a book store and you see someone checking out the Watchmen books on the shelf.  We have a responsibility to make sure they know which one is the real thing.

Mr. Jeremy Brown

In a college field stuffed with creative writing programs, I think WesternMichiganUniversityis a below-the-radar gem.  I met a lot of great people over my years there.  My first workshop professor, Bill Olsen, is an accomplished poet.  Stu Dybek, an award winning short story writer, taught fiction.  Bonnie Jo Campbell was the prize graduate student at the time and Arnie Johnston really helped me understand the broader world of being a writer.  My favorite experience, though, was Jaimy Gordon’s fiction class.  She just won the National Book Award for her novel, Lord of Misrule, and her workshop has been a highlight of my life.

It was in her class that I met Jeremy Brown.  I don’t know that we shared a single word before I read his first story.  The title eludes me but it was about VC zombies in the Vietnam War.  It was insane, unpredictable, and reminiscent of the pulp stories I’d grown to love.  The class loved it too.  They loved it so much that when I offered some constructive criticism, several came close to calling me an asshole for doing anything other than heaping praise on him.

They were more sensitive to my comments than Jeremy was, as he wrote down what I said.  I don’t remember my first actual conversation with him.  It’s like one minute he was just a good writer in the class and the next we were hanging out.  Before long we were working together at Barnes and Noble and when I started up The Flying Turtle Show, he was on board.

Fiction classes were always more fun if he was in them with me.  If a fellow student was flipping or wigging out, he’d kick me under the table to try and get me to laugh.  I’m glad I never did because I don’t think they would’ve appreciated me giggling while they went off the deep end.  I also remember us being given the assignment at the bookstore of vaccuming out the ceiling vents.  When we kicked on the Shop Vac, it sprayed dust out the vents, covering the cafe customers in a grey cloud.

Jeremy remains the most creatively talented person I’ve ever met.  First, he wrote great stories.  The first few things I read by him were crazed mixes of horror and humor, featuring a man trying to turn himself into a wolf, a satanic pizza delivery service, and other similar concepts.  The writing was quick and funny, without the feeling of effort you often find when others attempt the same tone.

He was also sharp in both writing and performing sketch comedy.  I get pissed off thinking about how easy it came to him.  The guy was completely at home on stage and though I don’t think he loved doing it, he was a hell of an improv performer.  He wrote my favorite Flying Turtle sketch, “Furry Candle”, and another I’d love to produce someday called “Code of the Clans”.

On top of these two areas, Jeremy is also skilled at horror make-up, costume, and prop design.  He also does wilderness races where he climbs mountains, paddles canoes, and fights bears (I don’t know about the last part but it wouldn’t surprise me).  Oh, I almost forgot to mention he’s trained in MMA fighting.

You get the idea.  After years of chasing other pursuits, Jeremy has honed in on becoming a professional writer.  First, he wrote a couple of young adult mystery books for Scholastic (the Crime Files series).  Now, his first novel has been published.  For the record, he called it Suckerpunch long before Zack Snyder decided to punish us with a movie of the same name.  It’s already done well enough to warrant a sequel.  This doesn’t surprise me as its MMA hero, Woodshed Wallace, is a perfect protagonist to build a series around.

The book is filled with the type of funny, pulpy prose I first read years ago, with a bit more polish on it.  Jeremy has been a big help to me in recent years, as he’s helped guide me through the minefield of trying to get an agent, let me use some of his material in my book, and wrote the intro for it.  It’s not often you get a good guy and a good writer in the same package.  This is one of those times.

Make sure you check out Suckerpunch: http://www.amazon.com/Suckerpunch-Jeremy-Brown/dp/1605422258/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310411713&sr=1-1

His website:  www.jeremywbrown.com

My Work Returns to the Stage

Sketch comedy is my first great love as a writer.  I spent several years in my early twenties doing The Flying Turtle Show, where I worked hard at developing my voice.  The sad part was the show ended just as I was putting out my best work.  I set the sketches aside for years as I put my energy into comics, film scripts, and my day job.

As I was in the limbo between being laid off and starting up again as an independent, I starting fleshing out these ideas into full sketches.  Most were simple, two-character pieces inspired by my experiences since the show ended.  Last year, I found myself sitting on several years’ worth of short scripts without much to show for their creation.  That’s when I decided to collect and publish them.  The result was my book, Hold On to the Good Stuff.  The Marx Brothers inspired the title, as they made sure to never let go of their best stage bits.  Over the years they worked them into their movies and promo pieces.  Like them, I didn’t want my good material going to waste.

The book’s been out for almost a year now and I’m happy with it but at the end of the day, scripts need to be performed.   I’d been noodling with the idea of producing them again (and several for the first time) before contacting the St. Clair Theater Guild with the idea of producing it through them.  We’ve nailed it down now and the live show of Hold On to the Good Stuff will be hitting the stage on August 26 and 27 in St. Clair, MI.  Auditions are coming up on June 8 and I’m looking forward to putting my work in front of an audience again.

The first time my work was ever performed for a real audience was the first Flying Turtle Show, performed at Dirty’s Cafe in Kalamazoo, MI back in 1996.  I had two nights of weird dreams beforehand and when a big crowd showed up for it, the fear of stinking of the stage landed on me.  I lamented making Trappers the first sketch we performed.  It was about two animal trappers in the city who caught a jogger in a bear trap.  I realized before going on it was my weakest sketch (I didn’t include it in the book).  I can’t even begin to express the divine relief I felt when it actually got laughs (much thanks to Earl Brown and Jeremy Brown for making it work).  I’m hoping for a similar experience in August.

So please come check it out and if you haven’t already seen the book, I promise you it’s worth the investment.  You can buy a hard copy or download it at:  http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/hold-on-to-the-good-stuff/11273150?productTrackingContext=search_results/search_shelf/center/1

The Force Is With Us?

You’ve probably heard something like this before:  Star Wars was the first movie I saw in a theater and it blew my little mind.  I saw each of the original three films multiple times in the theater and probably around a hundred times since then.  Though it kicked off the blockbuster culture in Hollywood I’d argue that until Batman in 1989, there were no other movies on its level for my friends and I.  The Indiana Jones movies were close but they didn’t create a whole other world for adventure to take place in.

Things are much different today.  Star Wars is still really popular but  it’s not the same experience for kids now as it was for us.  Instead of three movies coming out three years apart, they have novels, a TV show, the prequel films, comics, etc.  For us, the events before that first battle over Tatooine were a mystery.  What was it like when there was still a Jedi order?  How exactly did Darth Vader turn to the dark side?  Who is Luke and Leia’s mother? 

I spent several years after Return of the Jedi finding out if any of these questions had answers.  There wasn’t much to go on.  Even finding interviews with George Lucas was tough because back in the olden days we didn’t have this fancy interweb.  Was I the only one who heard rumors of books existing that told the story of Episodes I-III?  It turns out the idea that books existed before the movies came from the fact that the Star Wars novelization came out a year before the film.  If I’d known that I would’ve been able to give up the search a lot earlier.

By the way, that novelization had a short summary of what happened before the original movie that gave the only answers I was ever able to find.  In just over a page it laid out how the Republic had fallen as Palpatine took over as Emperor.  It was the most exciting page I had ever read.  The novelization of Return of the Jedi also revealed that Darth Vader’s injuries were a result of being knocked into a “molten pit” by Obi Wan Kenobi.

I’ve formed the opinion that Star Wars has lost much of its magic as Lucas and others have filled in every blank space.  I used to get excited imagining a squad of Jedis going into battle together.  We’ve now seen that a hundred times.  No need to wonder how Yoda handled a lightsaber fight.  He has one every other week.  We now know what Anakin was like and who the twins’ mother was and it was, um, uninspiring.  Plus the books and comics have charted out a history of the galaxy stretching thousands of years before the films and hundreds of years following.  I haven’t read many of them because the one’s I did depressed me by turning my favorite space opera into a soap opera.

So am I being a grumpy old man thinking what was once magic is now routine?  Is my whole point of view because I experienced the original films as a child?  Let’s face it, you can’t love any movie as much as an adult as you could then.  Or am I right in thinking that Lucas has dimmed Star Wars‘ luster by turning it into just another franchise?