Saturday, July 18, 2015

Time-Traveling with the Justice League

Scott D. Parker

Summer being summer, I often take time to remember past summers and past vacations. The summer of 1982 peeked itself out of my memory recently when, of all things, I listened to the Fatman on Batman podcast with Brad Meltzer. At one point, Meltzer mentions his first comic book being one of the annual crossovers between the Justice League of America (JLA) of Earth-1 and the Justice Society of America (JSA) of Earth-2. That got me to thinking that those crossovers typically landed in the summer months. It was the Big Event in Comics before they made comic book movies.

I have read many of those crossovers throughout the years, but the one that really sticks in my mind was the giant JLA/JSA crossover of 1982. This story, “Crisis on Earth-Prime,” was so huge, that it included a third team: All-Star Squadron. The five-part tale spanned two titles: JLA for three issues and All-Star Squadron for two.

A quick note for folks who don’t know how these things work: the JLA lives on Earth-1. They are the heroes you know: Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Flash, Green Lantern. The heroes of Earth-2, the JSA, are those we originally saw in the 1940s: Starman, Hawkman, the Green Lantern with a cape, the Flash with a helmet. Both of these groups live in their respective 1982s. The All-Star Squadron, however, are heroes whose main stories take place in World War II. There’s a bit of retconning in there, but it doesn’t take away from the story. These heroes are Johnny Quick (another “Flash”), Firebrand, Liberty Bell, and Steel. Earth-3 is an earth where only the villains have super powers. Their group is the Crime Syndicate and they are all parallel versions of main heroes. Earth-Prime is our earth, the earth where heroes like this exist in comic books.

Anyway, not to get too deep in the weeds here or nothing, but the saga starts with the JLA about to meet their JSA friends…when the Crime Syndicate bursts out of the time rift machine and takes out all the JLA. What makes this a neat idea is that the JLA put the Crime Syndicate in an inter-dimensional jail back in the 1960s. So, if you read this issue in 1982, you had a reference to events that happened 20 years in the past.

There are lots of time shenanigans that go on in this story, but the main villain is Per Degaton, a Hitler-like depot who convinces the Crime Syndicate to steal the nuclear missiles from Earth-Prime’s 1962 (thus causing World War III there) and bring them back to Earth-2 in 1942. (Get that?) Degaton is a real villain who first made his appearance in comics in 1947. Not giving away anything here since this is a thirty-year-old story, but the ending of the entire tale is very reminiscent of “Back to the Future.” Because the heroes win (shocker!), time is set right. I found the ending to be quite satisfying in that there was a great adventure that no one remembered.

I’m not sure if this story is collected in a trade paperback or not, but I’d recommend hunting around your comic story for the back issues (JLA 207-209 and All-Star Squadron 14-15). This re-read has made me pull all my All-Star Squadron back issues and start to read them again. 

The fond memory I have of this story arc was from the summer of 1982. My dad, great uncle, and I traveled to Alaska to fish. I was fourteen and loved comics more than fishing. One of these five issues was left on the plane. I saw it and immediately was captivated by the cover. I love those old roll call covers you see there. I knew the big crossover was due, but hadn’t seen it yet on the spinner rack down at the 7-Eleven. Seeing that issue was all I needed to know: the big summer event was here. Now, I just had to find the other four issues. Ah, life before the specialty comic stores or the internet...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Too much 'POP' in your culture?

Over at the wonderful RIVER CITY READING blog is a discussion about too much pop culture in a book. Check it out.

A group of bullies are like the goons from Power Rangers.
People are staring like that scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
A lucid dream like Vanilla Sky. Computer simulation like The Matrix. A fantasy life like that episode of The Twilight Zone.
It is relentless.
I've read much crime fiction that leans too much on the STUFF of the world, rather than the world. In order to tell you that the investigator is smart, the author has him listen to some obscure Bartok because we all assume classical music lovers are smarter than, say, fans of NKOTB.

My problem with dropping in pop culture is that much of it feels dropped in, used as a short of shorthand for character creating, for building the world.

The other part I dislike about it is that it's a sort of "aren't I clever" wink to the reader about something cool and vague, the sort of reference Captain Rhatigan would make in the third season of Star Blaster.

I haven't read the book discussed over at River City Reading, nor have I read the author's earlier work. For all I know, I could love the pop culture references. I could feel as if I were in on it, if it were full of Tom Waits nods and references to early Starsky and Hutch episodes.

But that's the thing. We talk about this some in my short story class over at LitReactor. One of the worst things you can do when you're writing is to alienate your readers. If you're writing Star Blasters fan fiction and want to use references to that world, that's great. But, see, what I want from a book is for it to be its own world. I want the writer to take me to a place that's new, tell me a story I haven't heard before about people I can fall in love with.

Tell me a story, author. Don't try to prove how cool you are.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

To Read or Not to Read

by Holly West

I've never read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (TKAM). It wasn't assigned reading at my high school and I never got around to reading it later in life. As I discussed in this recent post, there are lots of classic books that fall into that category for me. I have this vague feeling I should probably make reading at least some of them a priority, but then I turn back to the most recent download on my kindle and read that instead.

(For those of you who are interested, that book was Anonymous-9's HARD BITE. I finished it last night and enjoyed the hell out of it).

And now that I think about it, I've never even seen the film version of TKAM. As such, I have no pre-conceived ideas about the book or, specifically, Atticus Finch. What I know of it comes only from its iconic status in American literature and culture.

So with this said, I didn't have much of an opinion or reaction when HarperCollins announced it would be publishing GO SET A WATCHMAN (GSAW) in July 2015. Many people I know did have opinions, however, so the issue of whether or not it should be published was widely discussed in my social media feeds. And now that the initial reviews of GSAW have been released indicating that the much beloved Atticus Finch might not have been the hero some have come to love in his earlier incarnation, there's been another flood of opinions on the subject.

Some have said they refuse to read the new book based on speculation that Harper Lee didn't want it published. Others have said they'll happily read it for a host of reasons, but mainly out of love for TKAM.

Both books have now risen to the top of my to-be-read pile. I'm not so much interested in the controversy surrounding GSAW as I am in examining how Harper Lee first conceived Atticus versus what he became in TKAM. I think we can learn something as writers from seeing how Lee took one element of an existing manuscript (the adult Scout's childhood reminiscences) and used it to create an entirely different book. The writer in me is fascinated by that. But I also think we can learn something about ourselves as a society, too.

Keeping in mind that I haven't read either book yet, one (TKAM) seems to portray an idealized vision of race in America--how we might like to view ourselves--while the other (GSAW) presents a more realistic portrayal of race relations in the 1950s that unfortunately continues into the present. I understand that this might be a simplistic view of both books, especially considering its based completely on hearsay. We'll see how my perceptions change once I read them.

My hope is that Lee did in fact want GO SET A WATCHMAN published. I haven't read every article on the subject, but as far as I can tell, there's no concrete evidence it was done without her consent. Not that there aren't legitimate questions surrounding its publishing--though I'm in no position to say. I suppose if Lee came out and said unequivocally that she did not want it published, I wouldn't read it, but I don't think we'll ever know for sure.

I'm writing this now, before I read them, because I have no history with nor emotional investment in either book. I'm simply an interested bystander who now wants to learn more.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tom Piccirilli

I heard about Tom Piccirilli's death on Saturday as Peter Puma Hedlundwas playing "The Waltz of Death" on the nyckelharpa. It was a coincidence sure but these two will now forever be linked for me.  

Others who knew him better have written far greater tributes.

Nick Mamatas:

Here's how good he was. A couple of years ago, I left a copy of The Coldest Mile on a bus in Seattle when Olivia and I in town for the Locus Awards. I had used my Virgin America boarding pass as a bookmark. I got a Facebook message from a stranger who found the book and said he'd like to send it back to me. It was a cheap mass market paperback, not the sort of thing anyone would miss or have a sentimental attachment to, but when this guy found the book, he started reading it, and was hooked. And he knew, because of the bookmark, that I hadn't finished and that I needed to. So he contacted me and mailed the book back to me at his own expense, then filled his Kindle with Tom Pic.
Stephen Romano, Brian Keene

Tom Piccirilli had that rare gift of being able to tap into his emotional raw spots. Those places that other, lesser writers fear, those places that others turn away from? Those places were where Piccirilli lived. His fears, his desires, his hopes were all on the page in very honest ways.

Here are two of my favorite essays by Pic. The first is one of the very few "what is noir" type pieces that cuts right to the heart of the matter by avoiding many of the pedantic arguments and making an emotional one. 

I want to read about men pushed to the edge, corrupted by the world, destroyed by their own vices, who face down the worst part of themselves every hour. Sometimes they win against their own baseness and frustrations. Sometimes they are consumed. Hope springs eternal. So does terror.

The second was a blog post that came out of nowhere but scared me and moved me in it's raw openness.

And then drops us back into our real selves. And at least one element of that fantasy is comprised of daydreams–the common and average daydreams that fill out my common and average life. The people I miss are returned to me. The ones who were never born are there for me to cuddle and protect. It's what happens when my mind wanders. I drift. I dive into the page. I call back to memory. I get swept away. Sometimes it goes so far that when I'm snapped back into myself it's something of a shock and I feel like someone's thrown cold water in my face. I suck air through my teeth like I've been holding my breath for minutes. Maybe I have. That's the power, the pain, the gift and the disappointment of trying on someone else's skin. Even if that someone else looks exactly like me.

I was such a fan of Pic's essays that I contacted him about pulling them together in a book and publishing a collection of them through Snubnose. We sent a couple of negotiation emails back and forth and came to a "verbal" agreement. Then he got sick. It's a shame we were never able to pull that book together because I don't want this side of his work to be forgotten.

Tom Piccirilli had a fierce imagination and his work was filled with a rare, raw honesty. He will be missed.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Guest Post: Samantha Bohrman

by Samantha Bohrman

Fear, the Crime Writer’s Most Essential Tool or A Crime Writer Goes on Vacation

When my lovely and talented friend, Kristi Belcamino, invited me to write a guest post on this blog, she gave me the directions: “write about the life of a crime writer.”

“Crime writer” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you meet me. I’m petite. My glasses are crooked. I’m usually holding a baby. If you needed a Band-Aid or directions, you might ask me.

My life isn’t very crime writer-y either. This week, I’m on vacation with the kids in the Black Hills. In the spirit of maxing out our family vacation, we’re hitting up all the attractions: Reptile Gardens, the 1880 Town, and this afternoon, the petting zoo.

Even though I’m in mommy mode, my inner crime writer is along for the ride. Walking through Reptile Gardens I thought about how I might kill characters using reptiles or what would happen if all the poisonous snakes got out. Who would be the most likely to survive? Would I make it? Could I save my kids? I bet three quarters of the people at Reptile Gardens were thinking the same thing, a normal reaction to a fifteen-foot crocodile, I think. Plus, it’s basic biology. (Disclaimer: I don’t remember if I took biology.) People who imagine worst are probably better prepared to survive when it happens, reproduce, and nurture lots of little worst-case scenario-lings. Assuming, it’s a healthy dose of crazy.
Because I’m not actually a psychologist (I bet you already guessed that), I went to Google for verification. According to Psychology Today, people who engage in “catastrophic thinking” should manage their dark thoughts by also imagining the “best case scenario” or addressing the problem by talking, having a plan, that sort of thing.

Psychology Today totally missed another way of managing catastrophic thoughts: writing them down and selling them. That’s what I do. Well, I haven’t sold any yet, but hopefully soon. Catastrophic thinking isn’t a problem if you enjoy it and make money, right?

For me, Reptile Gardens or one of its creatures very well might end up in one of my books. One of the crocodiles already made an appearance in my forthcoming novel, Ruby’s Misadventures with Reality. It was just one line, but all those creatures are in my dark and deadly file collection. They’re also in my family photo album!  (Just like some of my real family!)

You’d think the petting zoo would be safe from my dark imaginings, but I couldn’t help but imagine the baby farm animals in someone’s freezer next year. We embraced that reality and went out for hamburgers after petting the baby cows.  
In conclusion, if you want to read books where characters incur various injuries and suffer embarrassment at all of the amusement parks I’ve ever been to, you know where to look. Ruby’sMisadventures with Reality is out July 14th.
About Samantha:
Shortly after graduating from law school, Samantha had three children and started writing novels. She never looked back, though she suspects her husband has. Ruby’s Misadventureswith Reality is her first book, but hopefully not her last. Connect with Samantha on Facebook, Twitter, and at