Tuesday, April 23, 2024

15 Action/Adventure Tropes That Need To Die a Painful Death


Tropes. Ya gotta luv 'em. Without them, we'd have no shorthand to convey information with pages of unnecessary narration that disrupts the flow of our stories. Based on stereotypes and cliches, they can help and they can hurt. When they help, it only bolsters the "contract" between writer and reader. When they hurt, they can say things about both the writer and the work you may not like. The trouble is, usually, that they weren't intentional. It's just that the trope popped into your head without really thinking about it and you followed it to develop your story. 

The following list is 15 such tropes that I believe need to die a painful death, and none too soon. 

In addition to my list below, are there any that really grate you like sand at the beach? Let me know in the comments below. 

Sexist Tropes


1. Women are only good story fodder for being loved and being saved. 


Thankfully, I see lots of evidence of this one changing, at least in commercial fiction from the big publishing houses. That's because they follow marketing trends and realize the world isn't the same place it was in the 1930s or 1950s (even much of the 1970s). However, I still see a lot of this used in independent and small-to-midsize houses that are trying to recapture the glory days of men's fiction. Guys, you can still be heroes without every woman in sight becoming the damsel in distress or love interest. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Twist it a little. Have the guy who sees every woman as a potential date get labeled a misogynist or creeper. Have the dude who assumes the woman is in trouble get his ass handed to him and have to be saved by her occasionally. Share the time as the hostage between the sexes to keep it balanced. Write heroic women instead of heroic men as your next protagonist. 

2. Men who punch and shoot their way out of problems are the only real men. 


This one is also a throwback to earlier adventure fiction, but it hasn't begun to show signs of fading. Today's TV and movies (not just books) are filled with the macho types who (while they might also have a brain) primarily use their fists and firearms to solve problems. Again, the world has changed and no matter what morons on Twitter (I'm still not calling it X) say, this outdated idea of the alpha male is no longer the prevailing goal for men. Men can be smart and caring too, and can even refuse to throw a punch. It won't make them less heroic. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Have the male hero use strategy and deduction rather than threats and fights to get what he's searching for. Watch a procedural thriller rather than a Jason Statham shoot-em-up next time you feel like taking in a movie. Have the smart guy in your story get the win and the glory. Embrace the regular guy as a hero. 

3. The ability to kick, punch, or shoot are the only skills that make one an adventure hero. 


This one is hot on the heels of the previous one, but it applies not only to males but to females as well. As the action/adventure genre started to change, they only updated the window dressing. Instead of kick-ass men beating the shit out of villains, writers created kick-ass women beating the shit out of villains. A side problem this has created is the "ball-buster" heroine who exists only to make men feel emasculated. Now, don't get me wrong, way too many incels feel that just about any powerful female character who doesn't need a man is a ball-buster, AND THEY'RE WRONG. Anyway, back to the point... there are far more heroic qualities than physical strength and military prowess. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: It's similar to the ways mentioned above. Avoid writing women as men inside. Try to avoid writing men as cavemen inside. Embrace the other attributes of heroism such as honesty, loyalty, strategy, bravery, etc. 

Homophobic Tropes


4. The gay best friend.

This one was a necessary stop-gap that initially helped writers and publishers embrace diversity and include gay and lesbian characters in their work. But it became more of a stop-period instead of a stop-gap. Writers and filmmakers became satisfied with gay side characters, in much the same way black characters started off relegated to servant or sidekick roles in books and movies. I'm convinced this trope remains primarily because it can be a safety net to keep writers from embracing the LGBTQIA+ character as the hero instead of a sideline character while still ticking a diversity box.

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Go whole hog. Let the LGBTQIA+ character take the spotlight and be the protagonist. But do your homework. Don't write a stereotype. (Of course, this applies not to just protagonists but side characters as well. Don't be satisfied writing stereotypes. Talk to people. Get to know them.) Or write characters (main or otherwise) who are allies to the community or in their baby steps of learning to change if you don't feel you can do justice to writing a member of the community directly in an honest way. 

5. All LGBTQIA+ characters must have at least one stereotypical trait so "norms" can tell they're not hetero.

This one was a shorthand that helped the writers who took advantage of the "gay best friend" tope. Remember that bit about getting to know people and doing your homework as a writer? Well, they didn't. Singling out certain so-called "flaming" traits allowed some writers to include gay caricatures without actually including gay characters. It was the equivalent of writing black men known only by their basketball prowess or lengthy endowments. It was, in a word, total bullshit. A high-pitched voice, coifed hair, or a bit of a swagger when you walk does not a gay character make. We need to do better.

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: This one is so easy. Step out of your comfort zone if needed. Get to know people. Learn that people are just people. Then write them that way. After all, there's no way all straight characters would want to be identified by bad hair or constantly lusting for each member of the opposite sex they encounter.

Racist Tropes


6. Skin tone or nationality has any bearing on the quality of one's character. 

You would think this one would have died a long time ago, but sadly, traces of it remain. It's particularly easy to vilify someone of a nation your country sees as an enemy. In the '40s Nazis were an easy way to create a villain without having to give them any other traits than just being a Nazi. Some of that kind of thing is considered okay, but when just being German or just having a different pigmentation is your marker for being either a villain or even being a sort of saintly hero (simply by virtue of birth), that was what my kids like to call a "no bueno." It's more often applied to characters of Middle Eastern descent (the Muslim terrorist) today, particularly in thrillers. Or even the "Mexican Cartel" stereotype. The "noble savage" is a particularly overzealous usage of this trope, as if the addition of the word "noble" makes it any less offensive. On the other hand, assuming a lower character or intelligence for a dark-skinned or Asian character is more straightforwardly vile. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Stop. Just stop. Period. Stop it. Don't be an asshole. If you remotely think that this is a justifiable way to portray someone's internal character, go take some classes in being a good human being. A caveat -- if you are writing asshole characters, it's okay to let them think this way, but don't make it an admirable trait. 

7. The white savior. 

This one is an old one, but it still sticks around. We can trace it back to early adventure stories like She and Tarzan all the way to newer stories like Dances with Wolves, Avatar, and The Last Samurai. It started as a way for European writers to tell exciting stories about exotic locales while not having to learn much about the populations in those locales. It became terribly prominent in the world of comic books as well, with everyone from Sheena to Iron Fist embracing this trope. It actually has roots in the missionary zeal of early Protestantism, where "selfless" white men risked life and limb to go take the gospel to native peoples, all the while seeing them as a sort of lesser being in need of white culture and white religion to reach a higher, more civilized peak. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Flip it over on its ear. Have the so-called "exotic" be the savior to a group of white people. Have a member of the indigenous group rise up as the hero instead of having to bring in an outsider at all. Have the white guy in a strange land be the learner only and not the savior. Or have the self-proclaimed savior be a fake (The Man Who Would Be King) or just so inadequate to the task that he/she/they do more harm than good. 

8. Indigenous locals are exotic and trigger some kind of "otherworld" intrigue. 

If there's an indigenous group, they are special to the story in some kind of magical, supernatural, or extraordinary manner. Even the fantastic Indiana Jones flicks embrace this overdone and racist trope. There are two ways of approaching this trope, both of which need to end. The first is to add an indigenous group to your story when you need a "lost civilization" to trigger your hero's story beyond the gates of, well, maybe not Hell, but Normal. The second is to hide the weirdness and have a big reveal later that just proves the hero should have been on high alert around such a "not-normal" group he/she/they encountered. Fantasy can get away with this trope more often than other adventure stories because fantasy writers aren't limited by human races and skin colors and cultures and can custom create worlds and peoples. Phantastes and Alice in Wonderland are fantastic examples of this, one using fairy beings and the other using a whimsical world of animals and other strange beings such as playing cards.

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Take the exotic out of indigenous. In order words, let them be your portal, but don't make them so other as to be weird. Let them be a normal small town with local businesses, not a voodoo village with people secreting the back alleys at night. Have the weird happen at home instead of "in a land far away." A lot of modern urban fantasy uses this fix effectively, such as Neverwhere.

Other Prejudiced Tropes


9. Priests/Clergy are always the villains.

As the world changes and becomes less religious (or at least less Christian) than it used to be, writers, who are particularly known for their more progressive ideas in many cases, started to turn the clergy into villains. We can see this in classics like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and in modern works like, well, the various evil nuns in horror films. Of course, there was noting wrong with the freedom to assign even the clergy the status of the bad guys. We see this in The Crucible and in the hundreds of witch-burning characters throughout the '60s Hammer explosion. The trouble comes with the trope's overuse. Nowadays, it's an automatic assumption that if there is a religious character (a priest, a preacher, a neighbor), he/she/they will be either the villain or at least a jerk. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: It's okay to write anyone -- anyone! -- as the hero or villain. But don't stick to one type as your go-to for either. Keep readers guessing. Play against the trope. Is the aloof, quiet priest genuine or is he hiding something sinister? Is the religious woman next door really as bad as she lets on or does she have a trauma that is causing her to act that way? Just like when it comes to race or gender, people are people. Don't let a prejudice against religion cause you to fall into writing stereotypes whenever people of faith show up in your work. 

10. The moral high ground is the most satisfying. 

This one is the opposite of the previous trope. This is the one where writers make the assumption (without realizing it, most often) that the character with the moral high ground (often religiously motivated regardless of faith) is the happiest and most satisfied one. It can also be that this character becomes the most altruistic one. The idea comes from the notion that a person of some belief is a better, or at least happier person. There are years of European history behind this thought so it's not going away anytime soon. Not only that, but it is also typically applied to Buddhism and other Asian religions. That's a potentially dangerous pairing of this trope and that of "the exotic indigenous people" trope. But they're both hogwash. Statistics tell us that religious people have similar percentages of depression and divorce. And often the person who takes the so-called moral high ground invites only more stress and self-doubt into his/her/their life. Often, this trope plays out with the "sage" character in non-fantasy stories, as a character presented as the morally upright one is able to help and guide the protagonist to the best choice in the journey. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Let your moral folks be wrong, even when they believe they are right. This doesn't mean necessarily making them villains, just letting them fail to be the sage. Make them have to learn a lesson along the way too, even if they're just side characters. Allow them not to have answers or to confess doubts. Allow them to hurt. Allow them to hurt so much that they end up hurting others. Let them be human. 

11. Heroes never make immoral choices. Villains never make moral ones.

This one I learned to avoid earlier as a writer. I had a writing mentor at the time share this helpful tidbit with me: Always give your hero at least one negative trait and always give your villain at least one positive trait. The same thing holds true for the choices your heroes and villains make.  I know it was en vogue in the days of yore for villains to be all bad with no redeeming qualities and heroes to be all good (with white hats and all), but when you do that, your story suffers. This is one of the things I so loved about Haggard's She. Ayesha is a tyrant, yes, but she loves deeply, and even that positive love is her downfall as it leads to intense jealousy. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: As my former mentor said, always give your hero at least one negative trait and always give your villain at least one positive trait. Let the hero choose selfishness, not always saintliness or even goodness. Let the villain choose benevolence, not always malevolence. Nobody is one thing and one thing only, no matter how easy that makes your plot. Think more deeply. Build more complex characters. 

Overdone Tropes


12. The chosen one. Period.

This is probably my most hated trope. I am so sick of the chosen one. Don't tell me Buffy the Vampire Slayer got it right. It was overdone long before that even (as good as that show was, it would have been just as good without the "In every generation..." speech in the intro). It's even worse when it's an almost messianic character. Spielberg, for example, will go out of his way and risk a good movie just so he can put a "Christ-figure" in it (look no further than ET the Extraterrestrial and AI: Artificial Intelligence). There's nothing intrinsically wrong with it. But it has become the go-to story for fantasy and even some sci-fi nowadays. Need a plot for your epic novel series? Oh, you need a chosen one. IT'S JUST SO FREAKIN' OVERDONE. Can we please let Harry Potter and Wheel of Time be the nails in the coffin of this one and move on? Think of something new. Okay. Rant over. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: If you actually want to use this trope, please, for god's sake, flip it somehow and make it your bitch. Let the chosen one get the calling wrong as in Life of Brian or Wholly Moses. But I still feel it's best to skip the chosen one completely and have the "well, you were available and willing" one rise to the occasion instead. 

13. The unwilling hero who changes his/her/their mind to save the world.

Cozying up beside the chosen one is this way overcooked trope. It's not enough that he/she/they is chosen by prophecy or fate or God or the giant spaghetti monster from space, no, they also have to play out the same damn story in every novel, movie, and television series. It goes like this: 

What do you mean, I'm chosen?
I don't want to be chosen.
I'm going to run away and not be chosen.
Then I have a lightbulb moment and I change my mind.
Okay, I'm ready to be the chosen one now. 

OMG, there are other plots, you know. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: Burn it. Okay, I'm kidding. If you insist on walking this old road, do the unthinkable and have the chosen one accept the calling and fail... badly. Maybe the hero has to be saved by a sideline character. Maybe the chosen one is a dupe who is being public to protect the real chosen one. Let a non-chosen one be the protagonist and keep the chosen one off to the side as a peripheral character. 

14. Gunmen have an endless supply of bullets.

This one may be less of a trope and more of a cliche. But while everyone plays semantics, let's just say that Colonel Shoots-A-Lot should have run out of bullets, shells, cartridges, etc. by this point. That rifle doesn't hold that many bullets. That shotgun only shoots one or two shells at a time. And that automatic rifle runs out when the clip is empty. Besides, as a writer friend of mine pointed out recently, sometimes a reload scene can be cool too. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: This one has an easy fix. Make sure your hero has extra ammo. Then give him/her/them a place to hide to reload. If anything, this downbeat will build more of a wave of pacing into your action scene. A wave needs peaks and valleys, after all, and slowing down your prose for a reload could be the magic your story needed. 

15. Clever banter for the sake of being clever.

As much as I love the dialog of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tarantino films, it didn't take long for the talking everything about nothing to get old really fast. Dialog must serve your story. It must move the plot, show characterization, establish backstory or exposition, something!. If it can be easily cut from your story without affecting anything at all, well, if wasn't necessary. No matter how cutesy or witty it was. Now, that's not to say that characters can't talk around things that are important to them. Unlike in his poor imitations, that's what makes Tarantino's dialog work -- just like that of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver. They understood that human beings will do almost anything to avoid talking about what's really on their minds. 

Ways to play off this trope to fix it: You only have two options to fix this one that I can see. (1) Cut it. Just deal with the pain and snip the hell out of it and toss it in the trash or save it for a story where it might actually matter. Or, (2) rework it to make it both witty AND needed. Let it be the thing your characters use to avoid the thing they really need to discuss to save their marriage or to deal with one betraying the other and defecting to the enemy, that kind of thing. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Show Me A Hero audiobook is almost here!

For the first time since its initial release in 2011, Show Me A Hero, my magnum opus of superhero stories will finally be coming out as an audiobook! 

Read by Allison Cashman, the new audiobook release is unabridged and clocks in at a whopping 13 hours (plus 8 minutes) of spoken story. Cashman has a BA in Theatre Performance and a Certificate in Voice Acting from Wichita State University. She performed as a Grade School E-learning voice actor for MagiCore Learning for 2+ years and was a character voice actor in The Horologist's Legacy videogame.

Show Me A Hero will be an Audible exclusive. More information coming soon!

Friday, April 19, 2024

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTION PRESENTS TOWERS OF METROPOLIS Vol 2

Airship 27 Production is thrilled to announce the release of their latest title, “Towers of Metropolis Vol 2.” In 1927, German filmmaker Fritz Lang created the silent science fiction masterpiece, “Metropolis.” It remains a monumental work of imagination wherein the struggles of mankind are challenged by the soulless evolution of the mechanical age. Here, in this setting of mile-high towers of wonder, the secret sufferings of the past collide with the shining ambitions of the future. And yet, the citizens of “Metropolis” remain ever slaves of the present.

Here in this second volume of new stories, writers Dexter Fabi, Carson Demmons, and Harding McFadden revisit Lang’s supercity where all times collide and only the pure of heart can truly survive.

Artist James Lyle provides the 12 interior illustrations and cover, while Art Director Rob Davis handles the book design.

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTION – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!

Available now at Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This Week's Theme Is, Well, Theme

I know this opening paragraph isn't going to win me any fans in a blog about writing action-driven genre fiction, but I'm just going to write it anyway. I can't tell you how often I've heard fellow writers say in convention panels that they don't really think about or care about theme because they just want to tell a fun, action-heavy story that entertains a reader and leaves everything the same when it's over. Well, I cringe every time I hear that. I really do. 

Why? Because (1) it means those fellow creators don't really understand what theme actually is and (2) they're totally full of shit. 

Yes, I said it. 

Theme Is Historically and Contextually Important for Stories

I teach high school English in addition to writing, and our current unit is one about Short Stories and the art of small fiction. We've read Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Alice Walker, Raymond Carver, Ambrose Bierce, and Louise Erdrich. Each of these writer's stories continues to resonate with readers because they say something and do more than just "pass the time." 

Now, just so you know, I'm not only referencing the kind of stories we read in English Lit classes, I am an avid reader of detective, horror, sci-fi, and pulp hero stories. The best of these genres too, in addition to wanting to tell a ripping yarn, also have themes that elevate them beyond just being fun, action-heavy stories that entertain. 

In fact, I'd go so far as to say the reason they can entertain in the first place is because they have something to say to the reader. Stephen King writes about childhood trauma carried into adulthood... a lot. Raymond Chandler writes about personal loss transmuted into public good. Walter Mosely writes about changing racial norms and trying to overcome them. Ray Bradbury writes about whimsy being the basis for both technology and horror. Stephen Donaldson writes about how our bad decisions play a great hand in determining what we think of as our fate. The Golden Amazon tells us about absolute power corrupting absolutely while The Spider tells us that sometimes fighting evil can taint us with some of that evil. 

Don't get me wrong, the trouble with much "Literature" with a capital L is that it has a lot to say but fails to entertain. However, that doesn't make the opposite a better, more honest option. It's equally a failure to write a story that entertains but fails to have something to say. Those stories (and trust me, I've read more than a few in old Pulp mag reprints) disappear from my brain almost immediately. 

It's the ones that do more that stick around, even if they're not the best written or the kind that gets anthologized in high school and college textbooks. Theme isn't about longevity. It isn't about your Literature class. It isn't about being discussed at author forums and writing conventions. It's about every story being itself. It's about every story, no, your story mattering to someone, anyone, a reader out there. 

Again, writing with a theme doesn't mean said theme has to be an indicator of high art. Some may. Some may not. But ultimate, for me, it gets down to this statement from Abbie Emmons: 

If we don't understand why what's happening matters to our characters, we don't know why it matters to us. 
(from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot3jkbmBKsc)

I want to break that down into two parts. 

What Is Theme and Why Does It Work?

The first part of Emmons' statement is "why what's happening matters to our characters." That covers PLOT and STORY. Plot is exactly that, what's happening to our characters. Story is why it matters to them. Plot alone can't sustain a story, either novel or short story. It's why even bad horror movies usually involve a character trying to overcome some kind of trauma instead of a generic anybody (except when that's the central theme -- that it can happen to anyone) as a hero or most often final girl. The horror of the killer/ghost/monster is what enables them to process that trauma (loss of a kid, family member, sight, job, etc.) It's what is at stake beyond simply living and dying or beating the villain. It's that awesome marriage between plot and CHARACTER. Get those two together with a bottle of wine and some Wynton Marsalis, and trust me, soon you'll see a baby called story. 

Story then determines your THEME even if you're not planning it out on the front end of storytelling. It's this second part of Emmons' statement: "why it matters to us." 

This is where, I'll admit, a lot of the issues genre writers (particularly pulp writers) can have with theme begins. Theme usually involves change, or at least the opportunity to change, or failure to change. But, the argument goes, pulp heroes aren't supposed to change. That's the whole point of reading their stories. They have a fan base because they're consistent characters. 

I agree. There are certain things about certain characters that can't change, at least not permanently. Frank Fradella had a saying while I was Vice President of Cyber Age Adventures/iHero Entertainment that went like this: "Don't blow up Cleveland; we're going to need that later." 

This works to the benefit of some characters, particularly those who can face their flaws, traumas, and issues and still refuse to change no matter the pressure they face. Batman often faces the need or desire to kill the Joker, and the theme of that story is not whether he actually will or not, but how he walks that tightrope. That can be compelling every time even though the reader knows there's no way Bruce is going to pull the trigger. 

On the other hand, this works to the detriment of some characters, particularly those who are perfect and have no flaws or struggles, no matter the pressures or issues they face. It's the one reason I've never been a fan of Doc Savage. I don't mind that he is physically perfect and always wins, but he never struggles with anything. He never faces any failure in his past or present. He never struggles with emotional baggage. And rarely does his support cast. They can be as flat as cardboard cut-outs. 

I know, if you didn't tune out at the first paragraph, that comment about Doc Savage just sent many of the rest of you running for the hills. 

I present Superman as a counter to the good Doc though. Although Clark is the pinnacle of physical perfection and the sheer embodiment of American values of mom, baseball, and apple pie, he still struggles. He knows that his superheroic identity puts those he loves in danger, so he fights to keep it secret, which can screw up his everyday life (with work, with Lois, etc.). He also faces doubt when his choices for winning don't include an "American values" option. How does a man with a perfect record choose between two bad options and then live with the consequences? Those are great Superman stories. Of course, the best Superman stories figure out a way to choose neither but it doesn't come easily, hence "why what happens matters to the characters" is still a part of the story. The theme of trying to remain true to your own nature is also a theme. But without a conflict that forces that theme, a hero like Doc Savage never changes for different reasons than Superman. 

Note: Maybe this happens in other Doc Savage novels, but in the several I've read before I gave up, Doc Perfect is never allowed to have a flaw or less-than-perfect choice to confront.

What Isn't Theme?

I hope you didn't miss this sentence just a few paragraphs above: "Story then determines your theme." Theme is always an organic outgrowth from your story. Now, remember, story isn't plot. Story is plot and character working together to make the plot matter. 

That's why many writers who may not consciously write with a theme in mind tend to have them show up by nature of the kind of characters they write, the kind of stories they tell, and the kind of outcomes that happen in those stories. As most writers know, it's a difficult thing to keep yourself out of your stories -- and not just in a Mary Sue or Marty Stu way. The beliefs that have guided you through life, the ideals to which you ascribe, the politics you try not to discuss at Thanksgiving -- all of that stuff seems to find a way to seep into your work as if it escapes through your fingertips as you type. (Hell, maybe it actually does. That's as good an explanation for it as any other I've seen.)

If you can't find it yourself, and you're any writer worth your storytelling salt, don't worry. Astute readers will find it for you. Even if you're one of the writers I was talking about in the first paragraph. You still end up writing variations on a theme, and the sum total of your body of work will shine a spotlight on it. Just be warned, sometimes those themes may not say the kind of things you want to be said about your writing. (Such as women only exist for saving and men who don't punch their way out of trouble aren't real men, but that's an essay for another day.) 

Nor is a theme a moral. We're not talking about fables or allegories when we talk about theme. Yes, the best of those still have themes. You can't turn a page in Lord of the Rings, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, or even "The Little Match Girl" or "The Ugly Duckling" without bumping into theme. But the moral isn't the theme. Themes can lead to lessons as we confront things about ourselves as readers, as writers, as critics, etc., but the lesson itself is never the theme. 

So, all this to say: Don't be afraid of the concept of your story having a theme. Don't be afraid to talk about it or bring it up at convention panels. And for god's sake, don't think that decrying the concept of theme from your position behind a table or podium at a conference or convention makes you somehow more honest than other writers. That's about as honest as being an ironic hipster. If your work resonates with someone, you have a theme that reader has identified and identified with -- even if you didn't intentionally approach the work with a theme as you pantsed your way through writing. 

Yes, I acknowledge that even Doc Savage has a theme that folks resonate with. I see my own hypocrisy just fine, thank you. (LOL). 

To paraphrase Aerosmith: Theme on, theme on, theme on, theme until your writing dreams come true! #sorrynotsorry

Friday, April 12, 2024

THRILL SEEKER COMICS ANTHOLOGY #1 NOW AVAILABLE!

THRILL SEEKER COMICS ANTHOLOGY #1 is now available on IndyPlanet to purchase either a print-on-demand copy of the comic that will be shipped to you and/or the option to purchase a digital copy. 

We appreciate the support from many of you this year so far with the release of the premiere issue and hope you’ve also been enjoying the THRILL SEEKER COMICS webcomic featuring MS. TITTENHURST: FINDER OF LOST THINGS that has been running each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please check out the new book, the webcomic series, and the main Thrill Seeker Comics website if you haven’t visited lately.

Thanks!

Scott McCullar 

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Keith Giles: Un-Boxed-In and Un-Hindered

Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang's "Tell Me Everything." He is also the co-publisher of Quoir Books. Keith and his wife currently reside in El Paso.

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Keith for my first "live" interview here on the blog. 


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Prefer the audio-only podcast version? Click here.

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Visit Keith at the Following Links:

Saturday, April 6, 2024

[Link] The Scariest Books Ever, According To Stephen King

Mario Tama/Getty Images
by Michael Gordon

If you say the words “horror novelist” to the average person, one name will inevitably come to mind: Stephen King. The man is synonymous with horror and has been ever since Carrie was published in 1973. On top of being a prolific writer, though, King is also an equally prolific reader who devours at least 80 books every year. Here are 40 that managed to scare even the Master of Horror himself!

Read the full article: https://recommended.spin.com/s/scariest-books-says-stephen-king/?as=799&utm_source=Organic&bdk=0

Friday, April 5, 2024

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTION PRESENTS I, BARBARIAN

“There once was an age of men before the dawn of pre-history, when magic ruled and heroic warriors fought with blood-drenched swords in vicious battles for treasure, power and honor. It was a time undreamed of, faraway in lost eons of time, where lived the most heroic men and women who had ever trod the earth under their momentous bold and brave hearts. In I, Barbarian, I try to recreate those adventures.

One such hero, was Conan The Barbarian, created by Robert E. Howard. These incredible stories touched my heart and soul as a young man. They sang their songs boldly and honestly. Those stories, and others like them, by Howard, and others writers, made up my youth and are imbedded in my consciousness today -- even so many decades later.” From the Introduction by the author.

Gary Lovisi is one of New Pulps most prolific and admired writers. Here, in this amazing collection, he offers eleven fast paced, colorful pulp tales of mighty swordsmen, tempting witches and dastardly wizards. Accompanying him on these adventures is artist Ron Hill who provides both the cover and interior illustrations. Art Director Rob Davis puts it all together. These are stories intended to make your blood race with the fever of High Adventure in the Age of Heroes.

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTION – FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!!

Available now from Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

[Link] The 50 Best Horror Books to Read

From Stephen King classics to true crime tales, thrills and chills abound in this list of some of the most frightful reads of all time.


by Meg Donohue and Emily Burack

The horror genre is not for everyone. Assuredly, plenty of people don't understand why some actually seek out the feeling of being afraid. And that's perfectly fair, but this list is not for those people. This is for the people who can't get enough of the creepy crawlies and heebie jeebies—the ones who want to know more about things that go bump in the night.

If you're looking for a thrill and you're pressed for time, there's no shortage of horror movies that will do the trick. There's nothing like a good jump scare, for sure, and contemporary scary movies will certainly leave you with nightmares. But, there's something to be said about a scary book. As books do, it requires more of an investment from you, the reader. With that comes more of a build-up, more tension and therefore, more of a payoff. The phrase "page turner" is thrown around a lot when discussing books, but when it comes to the horror genre, nothing could be more suitable—and there's no time like the present to dig into a terrifying tale.

No matter what flavor of fright you seek—from mysteries to books with a twist, and from demons to the real life stories behind some of America's most wretched killers—there's a scare for every type of horror fan. If we may lean on the beloved Goosebumps tagline, "Reader beware, you're in for a scare." In no particular order, from classics to new releases, here are 50 of the best horror books of all time.

Read the full article: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/g38025995/best-horror-books/

Friday, March 29, 2024

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTION PRESENTS STRONG ADVENTURES BY TYLER AUFFHAMMER

Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to introduce a brand-new pulp hero to our reading fans. 

Meet Harvey Strong, a globe-trotting adventurer who seems to attract trouble like a magnet. In this first collection, Strong is pitted against the ancient Cult of Alkubra; the Cobra. Travels to the jungle of Ecuador treasure hunting and battles Nazis in Iceland. 

New Pulp writer Tyler Auffhammer whips up an old-fashioned hero to give Indiana Jones a run for his money, while artist Ron Hill provides the interior illustrations and cover for this first volume. So hang on to your hats, pulp fans. This one is going to be a wild non-stop action-packed ride.

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTION – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!

Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Brian K. Morris: Give Me Permission and a Word Count

Brian K. Morris is an independent publisher, freelance hybrid author, business mentor, Facebook famous YouTuber, occasional actor, "award-winning" playwright, and former mortician's assistant. A professional freelance writer for over 20 years, Brian has been a full-timer since 2012. 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest book is The Terrors. It’s a reimagining of the classic Nedor Comics character, The Black Terror. It caters to my love of crime stories, old comic books, and outrageous conspiracy theories while being mindful of the time’s attitudes toward the under-represented.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

I grew up on the Doc Savage and Shadow reprints, as well as Superman comics, so I enjoy working with characters who do the right thing, and who use their gifts to improve the lives of others, just because it’s the correct thing to do. Also, that when life gets weird, someone will step up to be a little weirder and fix things.

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?

I grew up in the country in my formative years where I didn’t have any playmates. So, I filled my idle time with comic books and television, back when the latter was still a luxury. 

When I read everything and the four TV stations we could get ran out of cartoons, I started making up my own adventures for my beloved characters. However, I was doing cross-company team-ups before anyone thought of putting Superman and Spider-Man together. Heck, it was before Spider-Man even came around, but that’s another matter.

I loved making up stories and when my mother informed me that someone received money for putting words inside the balloons of my favorite comics, I was off to the races. 

What inspires you to write? 

Sean, you’ve probably heard people say that creativity of any sort is like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it becomes to use it, right? Well, what if you get to the point where you can’t stop doing arm curls? Not that I do in real life, you see. But I love the act of creativity. I love the challenge of crafting stories, regardless of where the characters originated.

I’ve been privileged to work with some great creators on their amazing IPs like Abraham Snow, Captain Steven Hawklin, Conrad von Honig; or the original Skyman. I’m flattered to be asked to participate in the party. I also get a kick out of mining the Public Domain for properties like The Black Terror or The Blue Circle, or using them to inspire new versions like Vulcana. 

Give me permission and a word count, let’s see what happens.

What would be your dream project?

I can’t pick just one. I’d love to write a Superman story or two, whether it was in the comics or prose. Same with Doctor Who, any of the Doctors, although I hold a warm spot in my heart for Colin Baker’s version. I also wish I could get the rights to an old television series called Sliders. I love alternate world stories and that show and that show was one of my favorites. But I’m going to send out some pitches soon, so I might get my turn with some of my favorite characters from other media.

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one it be, and what would you do?

Again, only one? 

I submitted a science fiction story involving the Mandela Effect that never saw print, to my knowledge.I would love to rewrite that story to give all the ideas I crammed into the tale room to breathe. It was around 5,000 words and it needed to be a novella. It was a case of taking everything I knew about the Mandella Effect and trying to stuff it into a story, but removing the plot to make all that nonsense fit.

What inspires you to write?

I openly fanboy over my wonderful friends in the writing community. I love the work of so many of them, that I want to keep working, keep improving, so I remain worthy to stay in their company.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

You deserve a better answer than the obvious, and that’s “all of them.”

But if I had to pull some names from the mix, I’d say Don Pendleton, Harlan Ellison, Stan Lee, Steven Moffit, Roy Thomas, Richard Sapir, Warren Murphy, Denny O’Neil, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, along with my friends in New Pulp…and I’ll stop now because that list will change before I finish this sentence.

Where would you rank writing on the “Is it an art or is it a science” continuum?

When done successfully, I think writing starts out as more a science than an art on the writer’s part. We need to know the rules of grammar, punctuation, story development, etc., or know an editor who does and won’t give a rip about our feelings. And we need to know those rules if only to recognize which of them we’re breaking and why.

I won’t speak for other writers, but I don’t believe I get to call my work “art.” I intend to create entertainment. Anything loftier than that, I leave the categorization to others, preferably several decades after I’m gone.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding time to do the non-artistic parts of my business, mostly promotion of myself and my friends.

As for the creative act itself, the most challenging component is plotting. The story needs to be different from what everyone else has done or is doing, supplying genuine surprises for the reader, and remaining true to the characters at their core. The balancing act for all that is my greatest challenge.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not?

They most certainly do! Like I said, I’m inspired by reading their work. I love knowing such talented people…and I’d drop names like they’re hot, but I don’t want to leave anyone out by accident. I hope they know who they are because I like to remind them. 

What does literary success look like to you?

That’s a great question… and this is a stalling tactic. 

It’s easy to judge success by financial standards. I make no bones that my ultimate financial goal is to bring my wife Cookie home from her nine-to-five to edit for me, and others, full-time. 

But literary success to me means that people enjoy my work, talk about it favorably, share my work with others, and maybe leave me more reviews on the platform where they bought the book.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

Get the power strip ready because I’ve got the plugs! #alwayspromote

I’m currently working on sequels to The Terrors and Vulcana: Rebirth of the Champion, as well as some short story pitches for some anthologies that delight me.

Currently, I'm also editing an anthology about one of my creations, Doc Saga, an ageless white shaman. This character first appeared in Pulp Reality #2 from Stormgate Press (#alwaysprmooteyourfriends). The book will contain new stories from Cindy Koepp, Clyde Hall, Paul Barile, Rick Bradley, and Charles F. Millhouse, along with myself. 

In addition, I hope to get my first audiobook out based on my best-selling book, Santastein, with the vocal talents of David E. Laker, as well as one based on The Terrors.

As if that wasn’t enough, I should have a novel coming out in 2024 from another publisher, as well as a series of short stories from another still.

Plus, I’m still doing my blog, “Every Blog Deserves a Name,” for my Patreon friends.

For more information, visit:

www.RisingTide.pub for information on my books, my broadcasting, and how to join my Patreon team, as well as my monthly insider information e-mail. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

[Link] How One Group of Global South Writers is Decolonizing Literature

by Pritika Pradhan

During the pandemic lockdown, writer and editor Bhakti Shringarpure, like many people, found herself seeking to rebuild connections online. At the time, she was living in Nairobi, Kenya, as a Fulbright scholar, and Covid-19 struck at the exact moment when her monthly literary salons had begun to pick up. Continuing the work of organizing book talks and literary gatherings, as she had for a decade as the editor of WARSCAPES magazine, now seemed impossible. However, by attending a weekly Zoom film club with friends, Shringarpure realized it was possible to have lively intellectual conversations online, across different time zones.

Isolation soon gave way to a new sense of community. “Mainstream publishing swallows independent and small presses, and with bookstores and similar spaces shut during the pandemic, it felt like an urgent moment for building community around books that may never see the light of day,” Shringarpure said in an email. Together with longtime friend and collaborator, Suchitra Vijayan, founder of The Polis Project and author of Midnight’s Borders: A People’s History of India, Shringarpure established the Radical Books Collective, an online community dedicated to organizing book clubs on politically progressive books.

Today, a year later, Radical Books Collective is a fast-growing initiative with an international audience of general readers, academics, intellectuals, and book lovers. As its name suggests, “radical” books are the primary focus: fiction and nonfiction by authors and presses whose progressive, left-leaning politics and engagement with difficult topics such as police abolition, climate justice, feminism, and migration, are often hard to market to mainstream publishers and media outlets.

The format of the book club meetings is unique and suitably egalitarian: an hour-long discussion on the book is followed by a meeting with the author, whom readers can engage in conversation. Writers featured on RBC include Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah, Amitav Ghosh, Monique Truong, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, and Mohamedou Ould Slahi. An upcoming series titled Reading African Women will feature LA Times Book Prize winner Véronique Tadjo, Nigerian-American novelist Chinelo Okparanta, and Kenyan poet and novelist Khadija Abdalla Bajaber.

“Organizations like the Radical Book Collective offer an alternative literary space for like-minded authors and readers to find each other and to share ways of thinking differently.”

“Our format succeeds because it is amazing to bring books and writers together in events and podcasts, to think about these collectively as radical in different ways, support small publishers, highlight translation and ignored corners of exciting creative production, and have smart people chat with writers,” Meg Arenberg, RBC’s managing editor, said, “This is the way one shifts the conversation.”

The impetus to shift the conversation in publishing towards greater diversity has long preceded the pandemic. Despite commercial presses publishing more writers of color, LGBTQ writers, and writers from other historically marginalized communities, the inclusion of diverse literary voices in mainstream publishing remains a work in progress. The Black Lives Matter protests resulted in increased scrutiny of the publishing industry, which highlighted the persistent, systemic imbalances and prejudices faced by writers and publishing professionals from racial, sexual, and other minorities, such as the racial disparities in pay revealed via the hashtag #PublishingPaidMe.

Read the full article: https://lithub.com/how-one-group-of-global-south-writers-is-decolonizing-literature

Friday, March 22, 2024

Show Me a Hero, Sean Taylor's Classic Cyber Age Adventures Omnibus, Gets New Printing!

For Immediate Release

Atlanta, GA (March 22, 2024) -- Cyber Age Adventures classic collection, SHOW ME A HERO, gets a new printing and re-release! That's right! All of Sean Taylor's heroes and villains are coming back for another go-round and will finally be available for sale again at convention appearances and online. 

"Sean is a writer of the first order and his stories have always exhibited a literary bent that’s allowed iHero to defy the preconceptions people have about superheroes in a prose format," says Frank Fradella, founder of iHero Entertainment and Cyber Age Adventures

His omnibus collection, SHOW ME A HERO, features 35 of his superhero stories and all of his "Anytown Gazette" articles that support the stories. Clocking in at more than 500 pages of stories Dwayne McDuffie called "More fully-rounded, more realistic and, as a direct result, more human than all but the best superhero comic book work," the volume hasn't been available at conventions or in-person appearance for almost 15 years. 

Praised by folks ranging from Dan Jurgens and Tom Brevoort to Barbara Randall Kessel and Tony Isabella, this collection features such fan-favorite characters as Fishnet Angel, The Fool, The Grandstander, Marble Girl and Living Doll, and Starlight. 

"I've never been as proud of a book as I was when SHOW ME A HERO was first released," says Tayor. "And I'm still just as proud to see this new printing become available. I think after the success (and failings) of so many superhero movies, the public is primed all over again for Cyber Age Adventure's blend of literary fiction, pulp fiction, and tights & spandex tales."

The new version of SHOW ME A HERO is currently available as a trade paperback for $19.99 (https://www.amazon.com/Show-Hero-Sean-Hylton-Taylor/dp/B0CVTB7NW8/) from Amazon. The previous edition is still available for Kindle (https://www.amazon.com/Show-Me-Hero-Sean-Taylor-ebook/dp/B00916KDVU/).

Sean Taylor writes short stories, novellas, novels, graphic novels, and comic books (yes, Virginia, there is a difference between comic books and graphic novels, just like there's a difference between a short story and a novel). In his writing life, he has directed the “lives” of zombies, superheroes, goddesses, dominatrices, Bad Girls, pulp heroes, and yes, even frogs, for such diverse bosses as IDW Publishing, Gene Simmons, and The Oxygen Network. Visit him online at www.thetaylorverse.com and www.badgirlsgoodguys.com.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Movie Reviews for Writers: Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane

 

If you are a fan of pulp fiction or hard-boiled detectives in particular, Mickey Spillane isn't a name you're unfamiliar with. This documentary, written by Mickey's oft-time writing partner Max Allen Collins, can tell you all the reasons why that's true. 

"Mike Hammer was not the first fictional private eye," says Otto Penzler. "While Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were successful and well-known, they never approached the kind of success in terms of readership numbers or magnitude of recognition that Mickey had. If it weren't for Mickey Spillane creating the basic mold, the other writers would have had a hard time inventing it. 

"You were influenced by Mickey Spillane whether you've read him or not," says author Parnall Hall, "because every other private eye writer is influenced by Mickey Spillane."

As true as that is, I prefer the way author Miriam Ann Moore phrases the same idea: "Nobody ever hit a noun against a verb like Mickey Spillane." 

So, what can such a renowned writer teach us?

Write your own kind of moral code


Remember that you don't answer to anyone but yourself. You are not beholden to your church or parents' religion, or even the community standards in which you live. You do you, as the cliche goes. 

But, be warned, that kind of freedom can get you in trouble with that church, those parents, or that community.

Says Penzler, 

"In the mid-1950s an author named Frederick Wortham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent which primarily attacked comic books as supposedly a cause of juvenile delinquency. The only author he attacked aside from comic book writers was Mickey." 

And it wasn't just Wortham. Spillane was catching hell from lots of different critics, as the narrator expounds over clips from his movies. 

There was a storm of controversy over Spillane's strong sexual content and violent action scenes. Along with comic books and rock and roll, Spillane was blamed by commentators as a prime cause of juvenile delinquency. Spillane was blasted as a prime mover in America's moral decline.

 Loren Estleman, author of The Amos Walker Mysteries, explains futher.

We were a very Puritan Nation right up through the 1950s, and it was only at that point that the old standards and barriers began to fall, and I think it was through people like Mickey Spillane getting out there and effectively butting his head against the wall that made those walls collapse. It wasn't violence or sex for the sake of violence and sex. It was there to propel the characters and to propel the story along.

Mickey himself makes it clear that he was never one to shy away from sex or violence. "Sex and violence are punctuation marks in the story," he says. And not just those two topics either. He also didn't shy away from addressing politics in his work, according to Penzler: "He was not afraid to write about politics, and he was not afraid to write about politics from a point of view that was not necessarily the most popular in the say, Eastern establishment of New York publishing."

All of that way of thinking (and of writing) made its way into Spillane's work because it came from his background. He wasn't an ivory tower author, but a regular Joe who wrote. As he says:

It's kind of like a blue-collar existentialist where you're talking about people trying to think about what's right and wrong, but on the everyday level of the "Who's on my ass today?" or "Who's going to, you know, kill me?" or "What what kind of decision can I make uh to keep my myself alive and still try to do the right thing?" 


Look for opportunities


As a blue-collar writer, Mickey was always on the lookout for paying work. Never one to rest on his laurels of Mike Hammer's success, he also turned to short, two-page detective yarns in the backs of comic books. 

There was some postal regulation that in order for them to get mailing permits for the subscriptions on the comic books they had to have a certain amount amount of text material. Now you got 25 bucks a shot for two pages of these things. Now this usually would take about 10 minutes to write, 20 minutes to write, but at that time 25 bucks was a lot of money, and you could write four a day you're getting $100 a day when a hardworking man out there is making 35 a week.

(Personally, I'd love to track some of these.)
 

Something will define your work


Spillane knew his work well enough to know and accept the fact that there would be certain trademarks or habits would mark it as his own. He didn't try to fight those kinds of identifiers or re-invent himself to keep fans and critics surprised. He accepted both his style and any limitations and wrote the way he knew Mickey Spillane could write. 

One of those marks, as the narrator recounts over a scene from I, the Jury, was his endings, which began as early as I, the Jury. 

"The swift violence of Mike Hammer's retribution was matched only by Mickey Spillane's abrupt punch to the solar plexus endings." 

It's something Mickey was proud of. 

Baby, when you're writing a story, think of it like a joke with a great punchline. Get the great ending, then write up to it. 

The ending was a make-or-break moment for him, says Collins. "One thing Mickey was very clear on in his work and even enunciated was that the first chapter sells the book the last chapter sells the next book."

Spillane cared so much about the importance of his story endings that he once put $1000 on the line in a bet with his editor. 

I said a perfect book is written with the climax on the last word of the last page, so if you took the last word away you wouldn't know what the book was about. When I turned in Vengeance, I turned it in without the last word on the last page he just asked, 'What was that word? What was the word?' 'Give me a thousand bucks. He gave me a thousand bucks. I gave him the word."

Screw the critics


According to Penzler, Mickey was able to speak directly to readers so critics despised him. They not only thought of him as low-brow and common, but also vulgar in his writing. It was a sentiment Mickey didn't allow to get him down. In fact, he often turned in back in his critics faces. Says he:

I went to a tea party, if you can imagine me at a tea party, you know, but anyway there they had this funny little guy who was a very self-important fellow. He came to me, and he said what terrible commentary in the reading habit of the American public that you have seven, the seven top best sellers in America today. Whatt I could think of to say but was, well, you're lucky I didn't write three more."

He knew that critics didn't call the shots, not really. It's the readers. "Critics don't decide anything," he says. "Publishers don't decide anything. No, no, the public is the one who decides everything."

He was equally hard on the writers in that equation. "Writers don't have talent. Writers have mechanical aptitude."

Everything must be done with the reader in mind. 

Don't get full of yourself


But that idea of being tough on the writer kept him humble, kept him true to his blue-collar way of approaching his life and his work. Sure, he was a best-seller. He was a movie star even. But he never embraced the kind of highfaluting way of letting that think himself any kind of star. In fact, he didn't even like to refer to himself as an author.

I am not an author. I am a writer. A writer is on a day-today job all the time. He's writing. This is a job for him. He's making money to keep the smoke coming out the chimney. I don't want to go out and dig ditches every day of the week.

I think we could use a lot more Mickey Spillane's in this business.