Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween hallucination

It’s a strange feeling to meet your character in the real world.

I’m told that Sir Terry Pratchett visited the set during the filming of the TV version of his excellent novel Hogfather. He had a cameo role in the production, sharing a scene with perhaps his most iconic character, but actually running into the guy was a little jarring. You see, his co-star was Death—the Grim Reaper himself—robes, scythe, and all. Death makes a personal appearance in nearly every novel in Pratchett’s Discworld series (37 of 39), and takes center stage in Hogfather, where he takes over the role of a Santa-Claus-like figure after the fat man’s untimely demise. (Imagine children waiting up for Santa and getting a skeleton down the chimney instead. Exactly—hilarious!) So you can imagine Pratchett’s reaction when the first person he met on-set was a 6’7” Dutchman in a black robe with a polished white skull for a face. On the one hand, it’s delightful to see the fruits of your imagination brought so vividly to life. On the other, it does tend to make you worry about your sanity—and, in the case of Sir Terry, your impending mortality as well.

So here’s what Johanna looks like in her custom-tailored Peregrine costume, which you’ll all be seeing later on the cover of the collected edition of Masks:

I was happy to find the costume came out pretty close to Nicole’s original drawings. The tunic turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected—any big sewing project always does—but I think it’s still within the abilities of a talented sixteen-year-old with sufficient motivation. The real problem was appliquéing the Peregrine insignia on the back, which was probably eight or ten hours’ very fine and fiddly work. (Next time I design a superhero costume, the insignia is going to be a circle or something just as easy to sew!)

I’m rather proud of the pin, though. I was unable to get a metal fabricator on board, and unlike Rae, I don’t have access to a metal shop, so I had to make do with polystyrene and the judicious use of a Dremel rotary tool. It was my first time using a Dremel, and I am inordinately proud that I didn’t injure myself in the process. Last time I checked, I still held my high school’s record for the largest number of objects broken in a single chemistry experiment, so I fully expected to spend my weekend in the emergency room, but I didn’t even come close to cutting myself, and with a little touch-up paint, the results weren’t too bad. My only real complaint about the pin is the mirrored finish; I don’t think Rae would wear anything that reflective, but I didn’t know how shiny the plastic would be when I ordered it, and it was either that or take my chances applying silver paint to flat black styrene. Still and all, not a bad job, and any little inconsistencies can be fixed digitally when I take the cover photos.

Still and all, it was weird to look at. I’ve known Johanna for years, but as soon as she pulled that hood up over her hair, it was like someone else was standing there. She borrowed my favorite black bandana to use as a facecloth, something I’ve done myself as part of other costumes, and even though I’d seen and handled every part of the costume while making it, something about seeing her pull the bandana up over the bridge of her nose transformed her into someone I didn’t know in quite the same way. I found myself taking mental notes on little things—the way the folds of the bandana settled around her neck when she tugged her mask down, the way her eyes moved in the shadow of the hood—as if I were observing a stranger.

So this is what it’s like to hallucinate, I thought as I put my camera up between myself and my creation.

There was a little bit of pride involved (hey, look, my character design actually works!) and a little trepidation (gee, I hope this doesn’t look stupid to everyone else), but mostly it was just weird. I remarked that I was probably more excited about seeing Johanna in the costume than I would have been about wearing it myself. Johanna asked why.

“Because,” I said, “if you dress up as my sixteen-year-old character, it’s cute. If I dress up as my sixteen-year-old character, it’s creepy.”

But that wasn’t the only reason, of course. There’s more than a little of me in Rae, and I can’t help wondering … if I start dressing up as my own creation, how will anyone tell where she ends and I begin?

Will I still be there at all?

Oh, well. Happy Halloween, everybody!

Friday, October 28, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 15

All right, I confess. In my head, this is labeled “werewolf hugging chapter.”

Not that hugging a werewolf is the whole reason I wrote it this way. I knew when I outlined the book that Rae was going to have to go from kicking Moon’s ass to being his friend in a fairly short stretch of time, if only so she didn’t come across as the sort of bully she’d spent her life fighting against. As I was writing the fight scene, my thought process went something like: Yeah, she’s winning! My character’s a total badass! … Oh, cool, I’ve always wondered  whether silver worked on Moon, and now I know … hey, isn’t this kind of like what that big mean kid did to Rae when she was little? … oh, great, my character’s a hypocrite … I hate my life.

Writers’ egos are fragile things. Hence the hugging.

Seriously, though, I really like the fact that Rae solves her problems this way. She’s one of the least touchy-feely girls I’ve ever written, but weirdly, her think-like-anybody talent lends itself well to empathy, and here she’s learning to use that in a fight. Combat empathy. It’s weird, but it works. And it’s priceless just for Trevor’s reaction. I guarantee you that nobody has ever solved a problem for him by hugging a werewolf before. He’s so far out of his comfort zone, he can see the curvature of the earth.

And oh, yeah, then we go back to the PLOT!

I was pleased to hear from a couple of commenters that they didn’t see Moon’s kidnapping coming. It’s always nice when that happens. I never know which surprises are going to work and which aren’t, but it looks like this one did. And then, of course, the Masked Rider appears, as he always does in this kind of situation. And then there’s running and hiding.

Originally, a couple of drafts ago, this scene had Rae and Trevor hiding from Cobalt, and Trevor grabbing Rae’s hand to keep her from hyperventilating. I like this version just a little better, not least because it provides a much more immediate threat. Hiding from a kidnapper is one thing; hiding from the angel of death is a lot more primal.

And then there’s the mystery of Trevor’s burned hands. Did you guys like that one? We’ll come back to it, never fear. It’s all tied in to those nightmares in Chapter 2, and there’s a very specific reason he freaks out when Rae asks him about it.

You might have noticed Trevor’s injuries becoming a motif in this story—the scars on his back, for example. That’s definitely intentional. Partly it’s a result of gender dynamics; I needed to have one character show the physical cost of being a mask, and it made sense to have that character be the one who’s been at it longer. Add to that Trevor’s tendency to lead with his face (literally—that’s why his nose has been broken) and he racks up quite a collection of injuries, which reflect his emotional scars in a lot of ways that make this writer happy. There’s also the fact that a boy with scars, in American culture, might be a hero; a girl with scars is a bit more likely to be perceived as a victim.  That’s not to say Rae won’t pick up a few scars of her own, but we will probably see more of the stories attached to them.

This week’s song is a bit of a stretch, but it really is the song I had in mind while I wrote the tunnel scene. It’s a commissioned song Tom Smith wrote and included on his album Sins of Commission 2. And that’s literally all I know about it. It seems to cover the history of a relationship—which apparently turned out well—but I heard something a little different in it.

The first time Nicole drew Rae and Trevor holding hands, I scribbled a line from this song in the space between them: “I hold your hand / It feels like home …”


Monday, October 24, 2011

Cosplay for slackers

Happy one-week-from-Halloween, everyone!

As you can see from the photos, I’m hard at work on the Peregrine costume for Johanna, my cover model. Our deal requires me to finish the costume by Halloween so she can wear it around her college campus. (Of course, she has to hand out bookmarks while she’s doing that!) So now you can see how the tunic is coming along. I made it out of black cotton twill, durable and machine-washable, using this set of instructions for making Renfair-type tunics. The trim is actually scarlet quilting fabric (Kona Rich Red, if anyone cares, and it is a rich red when it's not under fluorescent lights). The side slits and the hood, of course, are my own additions, but they’re coming along well. I’ve never made a full-on costume for anyone before, but I’m finding that years of sewing odds and ends and occasional garments for myself are really coming in handy.

You can see the trim is already on the sleeves, and the sash is done. There’s one really complicated bit left—the hood and facing—and then it’s just a matter of appliqueing the insignia, making Rae’s kit pouch for the small of her back, and finding some sturdy gloves. And making the facecloth. Hmm, maybe there’s more than one complicated bit left after all. And then I have to make the pin for her hip, of course, but I’ve got an idea for that. Power tools! You should probably seek cover now.

Owing to a recent (but not entirely unexpected) death in the family, I’ll be a little AWOL from the interwebs this week. Chapter 15 will go up as expected, though, so no worries there. To tide you over until you next hear from me, here are two ridiculously easy last-minute Halloween costume ideas, for those of you who haven’t been badgering your friends since summer to make you superhero suits:

L-R: Sugarplum fairy, candy corn, car, candy ninja, candy cane.
1. The (NINJA) shirt in my store is based on one that I originally made as part of a Halloween costume last year. The idea was that no self-respecting ninja would actually wear such a shirt, and that therefore the shirt was the perfect cover for a real live ninja, because no one would expect the wearer of such a shirt to actually be a ninja. (Has my logic made you dizzy yet?)

The costume was mostly helpful because it adapted well to a last-minute costume requirement: I was supposed to be working a Trunk or Treat event with a couple of friends, and found out only the day before Halloween that my costume was supposed to have a “candy” theme to fit with the décor on our car. I grabbed an index card, a Sharpie, and some tape, and affixed a little sign to the shirt above the word (NINJA) that read (CANDY). Thus the Candy Ninja was born, and I got to spend the evening creeping silently up behind people and offering them lollipops. I think I was the spookiest thing at the whole event.The shirt is available in unisex, women's, and women's plus sizes.

2. This year, however, I’ve gone with a different T-shirt-based costume—one utilizing this handy (and very cheap!) “Cosplay Slacker” shirt by Aaron Williams of PS238 fame. It’s $5, and the cheapest shipping the manufacturer offers is Priority Mail for $9.15, so customers within the continental U.S. can get the whole deal by Halloween for $14.15. My shirt hasn’t arrived yet (I only ordered it yesterday evening), but they do say that shirts ordered on Monday generally arrive by Friday, so I’m confident that I’ll be Halloween-compliant by the 31st. It’ll do for answering the door for the four groups of trick-or-treaters we get each year, anyway. And the shirt pretty much sums up my attitude toward dressing up—it’s for other people, mostly my characters and my wacky friends.

More photos of Johanna as the costume evolves …

"Strike a pose", I tell her, and this is what I get ...

Friday, October 21, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 14

Please, please, PLEASE do not try to jump onto the roof of a moving train just because I wrote about it! My characters are trained professional lunatics, and the physics of what they do is just a wee bit more complicated than I made it sound here. Do not try this at home. EVER.

There. Now I probably won’t get quite so many letters from angry, grieving parents. 

Frantic pleading aside, I do think the train-surfing scene is a fun one. This is another bitty fragment of the original Masks, taken from a short story that featured Rae and another character working out their feelings for each other while train-surfing. (Sorry, romance fans—this story predated Trevor, so he wasn’t Rae’s dance partner.) That story, in turn, was based on an issue of Nightwing that came out while I was in high school in which Nightwing and Robin (Tim Drake—so yes, my two favorite Robins were both in the story) did the train-surfing thing while blindfolded. The Nightwing story was basically a way to cram a lot of exposition and a little male bonding into a story with lots of neat visuals and very little plot. And it led to this exchange:

Me, I didn’t notice the lack of plot at the time—I was busy staring at the pages and thinking, “Someday, my characters are going to do this.” And now they have. That’s another one to check off my bucket list.

Hey, at least I didn’t make them do it blindfolded. I have some pity.

Quick note for the birdwatchers: yes, there are occasional merlin sightings in Los Angeles. I know, because a merlin buzzed my car on the 110 Freeway once, just south of the Pregerson Interchange. It was a merlin, not a peregrine falcon or anything else. I got a really good look at the plumage, what with it being six inches from my windshield. (I drive a very small car; perhaps it mistook me for a rodent.) I later did a little research and figured out that my merlin, which I saw in late winter, was probably just a-passin’ through. You don’t normally see them this far south in summer, but I didn’t feel it was stretching the truth too much to have one take up year-round residence in the city. We have flocks of feral parrots, after all; why not a merlin? So please don’t send me angry letters about my bird being out of season. I know she is. She’s just insane, like so much of the rest of the local wildlife.

Trevor gets stitches in this chapter, too! This was probably the most fun element of this chapter to research. I’ve blogged before about how a friend lent me her suture kit and taught me how to stitch people up, and how terrible I was at it. Rae’s experience is fairly accurate to mine, except that she’s more freaked out by the fact that she’s working on a person, not a block of foam.

Believe it or not, Trevor’s trick of talking about something incredibly distracting can actually help someone calm down in an otherwise panic-inducing situation. It does not work for everyone, however, and if Trevor hadn’t known Rae as well as he does, he would have run the risk of distracting her too much, and getting a needle stuck somewhere he wasn’t numb. Rae is the sort of person who defaults to handling a crisis rather than full-on panicking, and usually only needs a small nudge to snap into her crisis mode. I’ve had this happen to me a couple of times—for most of my life, I’ve been the person who called 911 or pulled out the drowning victim or whatever while other people around me screamed. Later, after my part in the crisis was over and the paramedics or police had arrived, I would sit somewhere and shake or otherwise freak out. (Interestingly, I can almost never switch into crisis mode when I’m the one having the crisis; it has to be someone else bleeding, screaming, etc.) Several of my friends have figured out that I don’t need much of a nudge to start barking orders or grabbing wet towels or whatever else I think I need to do. I’m pretty sure one or two of them have done exactly what Trevor does here to get me to stay calm; I know I’ve done it to others. Don’t try this at home, though, unless you’re pretty sure the freaker-out only needs a small push to become useful. Too much distraction is a rather dangerous thing, especially when the distractee is handling a needle.

And oh, the growly thing in the storm drain. Some of you have already guessed, I’m sure, but you’ll meet him next week, and I guarantee there will be at least one BIG surprise. (Evil smile.)

This week’s soundtrack is an old song I heard on the radio while outlining Masks. It reminded me of my train-surfing story and the old Nightwing issue, and I knew then that I was going to have to shoehorn a train in here somehow. With apologies for the hair, I give you Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train”:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pocket Coyote gets medieval!

I’m up to my eyeballs in revisions this week—getting everything done for the collected edition of Masks—so this week I’m making do with an interesting photo and a few random observations/teasers/spoilers from the later chapters of Masks.

First, the photo! That is Pocket Coyote sharing the frame with the lovely Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest “medieval noir” mysteries. Ms. Westerson is the only living mystery author whose books I collect, and it’s partly because of her richly drawn medieval world and her alternately poignant and hilarious character interactions. Even when I don’t care about finding the murderer (which is frequently the case even in the most well-written murder mystery), I’ll keep reading to find out what happens to Crispin, a disgraced former knight with a penchant for wine and Aristotle, or his sidekick, Jack Tucker, a street urchin and former thief who’s trying to grow up just like Crispin (much to Crispin’s chagrin). If you enjoy a good medieval murder mystery with a dollop of sex thrown in, I can’t recommend this series enough. And no, I’m not being paid to say this—unless you count a nifty plastic souvenir sword that doubles as a ballpoint pen.

Ms. Westerson was signing books and giving a presentation on Canterbury Cathedral at Book Carnival in Orange yesterday. After much wheedling, I managed to get a photo of Pocket Coyote lounging among Ms. Westerson’s collection of “visual aids”—he does seem to have his eye on the sword, doesn’t he? In retrospect, I’m glad I got him out of there when I did.

And now, random things I noticed while revising:

1. I really seem to like the word “vicious,” but only in revisions. It shows up twice in red ink and not at all in black. Odd.

2. Once the Masked Rider starts talking, he really doesn’t know when to shut up.

3. Rae has one of the more interesting methods of dealing with her childhood traumas. I sort of wish I could do something similar, but unfortunately I don’t have the cooperation of the Angel of Death.

4. I can check one more item off my bucket list; I got a superhero to make a “your mom” joke.

5. In writing “Talisman,” I almost had Trevor use just five smooth stones in his sling, a la David and Goliath. I eventually rejected the idea because I couldn’t think of a way for him to take out all his enemy’s footsoldiers with just five rocks and still have enough ammunition for the final fight. Evidently I forgot that I’d already done a David-and-Goliath homage at the climax of Masks. Next time someone asks, this is why Trevor uses more than five rocks in “Talisman.” That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

6. My favorite line from the climactic chapters of Masks: “Ain’t you read your fairy tales? The little girl lost in the woods is dangerous. Your enemies don’t know their stories. Otherwise they’d know better than to let you near the witches and the wolves.” I may have to put that on a T-shirt …

Friday, October 14, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 13

I don’t have a huge amount to say about this chapter, what with having a book to finish and all, but I’ll make a few passing remarks:

1. I’m rather proud of filling an entire chapter with girl talk. I sort of missed the formative years of female friendships—didn’t have any friends without Y chromosomes between the ages of, oh, 9 and 15. So I approach dialogue between girls and women from a slightly antiseptic, anthropological perspective, and it doesn’t always work. But it works here, and I’m improving, and I’m proud of that.

2. I’ve mentioned before that Tammy Hoffman is based on a real person (so is Soleil, but I’ll bet the real Soleil won’t recognize herself, so I’m probably safe). So it’s with great and dubious pride that I state that all of Tammy’s lewd remarks came from the real Tammy. All of them. I texted her late at night, asking for dirty jokes about Trevor, and this is what I got. This isn’t even all of it; she made me cut some of the really strange ones. Try to envision someone with my imagination being friends with someone who can, at the drop of a hat, become a bottomless fount of dirty jokes. It’s amazing I don’t write scenes like this more often. And yes, we’ve had conversations pretty much like this, although I like to think I’m better than Rae at changing the subject.

3. The big shadow behind Soleil in the illustration: This is a venerable institution in mainstream comics and I'm rather pleased that Nicole managed to include it. I have honestly lost track of the number of times I've seen a webbed shadow looming up behind Peter Parker, or a pointy-eared shadow looming up behind Bruce Wayne. It just seems to be a visual trope of the genre, and it's nice to see it show up in a story that is very much about that genre. Also, on a side note, Nicole stole Soleil's bunk bed from the actual bunk bed where my actual college roommate actually slept. My roomie, however, looked nothing like Soleil.

4. Music! This week’s song was stuck in my head most of the time I was working on this chapter. It’s a piece I learned to sing while I was taking voice lessons in college; it comes from the musical She Loves Me. The plot of the musical has been made into movies oh, about a million times, most recently as the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan rom-com You’ve Got Mail. The story is that a young woman and a young man, both employees of a large store, are secretly carrying on a romantic relationship via pen-pal letters. Neither knows the other’s real name, and they’ve never exchanged photos, so neither one realizes at first that the coworker he/she most despises is the same person he/she is pouring his/her heart out to on paper. This song comes from early in the show, after one of the young woman’s coworkers asks her how she can be in love with someone she’s never seen, whose name she doesn’t even know. The woman insists that she doesn’t need to know her lover’s name or face, because she knows all about who he is inside. This turns out about as well for her as it will for Rae … and the young man in the musical comes out well ahead of Trevor. But now I’m dropping spoilers, aren’t I?

I give you “I Don’t Know His Name,” from She Loves Me, performed by (I think) Barbara Cook: 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Help! I'm a prisoner in a T-shirt shop!

Okay, for the record, I did not set out to be a T-shirt salesman. Saleswoman. Whatever. I didn’t start writing stories just so I could sell T-shirts. But since I’ve had people ask me for months now when I’m going to start selling this or that T-shirt I made for myself on Cafepress, I have opened a T-shirt shop just so I can write instead of selling T-shirts. And that makes sense to me.

So here are the three shirts I’m selling so far, in their many variations, and where they came from.

1. The “Remember Who You Are” Shirt: I designed this one for Comic-Con this last summer, and I and my companion walked comfortably around the con in the ladies’ version. After I posted the art on Facebook (a version of it is the MASKS profile image, as you might have noticed), two or three people either posted on the page or contacted me privately, asking where they might buy such a thing. It had never occurred to me that other people would want to turn themselves into walking billboards for my book, but my mother always taught me that if people want to buy something and you’re willing to sell it, you don’t actually have a problem. So here are those shirts, in three variations: unisex (or men’s, if that helps, though I wear this cut a lot too), women’s, and women’s plus size. I apologize for the plus-size version being more expensive; Cafepress charges me more for those shirts, and it didn’t seem fair to charge more for the cheaper shirts just to compensate.

2. The (NINJA) Shirt: I actually have a hand-painted version if this that I made last year as part of a Halloween costume. I blogged about wearing it to the emergency room. Well, my brother saw me painting the original shirt and demanded one for himself, and he started wearing it to his dojo all the time, and now everybody in the dojo wants to buy one. Since Rae also wears such a shirt in one of the chapters—written in on a whim at two in the morning—it made sense to sell the shirt here. You may buy the (NINJA) shirt in any color Cafepress sells; my original is black. This shirt, too, is available in unisex, women’s, and women’s plus sizes.

3. The Sometime Superhero Jersey: I admit, I made this one just to see whether I could. Nicole’s haunting illustration for the first chapter of Masks has stuck with me as a good representation of the promise of the story, and it also features Rae in her Peregrine costume (unlike, oh, the first half of the book!). I wanted to experiment with putting Nicole’s moody ink-wash art on a shirt, and a black-and-white baseball jersey seemed like a better fit than a plain white or black shirt. Plus I wanted to design something with three-quarter sleeves, because that’s my favorite sleeve length. So here it is. Be warned—because it’s a unisex shirt, the sizes run a bit big, so if you’re debating between two sizes, ladies, get the smaller one.

So there you have it. Ordering through Pocket Coyote will take you directly to the Cafepress page. And I know the shipping seems absurd--but WordPress had no good way for me to note that if you're already buying a shirt from Cafepress, all other shirts ship for just $0.50 each. I’ll probably add more T-shirts as I get the ideas, or the art, for them … a friend is designing a Soleil shirt, and as soon as Nicole coughs up the art I want to make a “Team Trevor” shirt entirely for my own amusement. But in the meantime, whatever shall I do with myself?

Oh, right. I could write some more …