Monday, January 30, 2012

What's next for MASKS

Well, Masks is rapidly barreling toward a conclusion over on Pocket Coyote, I’m working on the ebook, and people are starting to come at me with that special glass-eyed stare and ask, “When is Volume 2 coming out?”

Yeah, okay, only two people have asked me that, but I hate conversation enough that I’m going to blog about it so I can refer people to this blog next time they ask. So this is a time-saver for me, and a sneak peek for you guys. Win-win, right?

(Don’t give me that hurt look. I like talking to all of you, I really do … it’s just that I have to curl up in a ball for an hour afterward. I used to get migraines from chocolate, too, and it didn’t stop me from loving it—or eating far too much.)

(There was going to be a point to that anecdote, I swear.)

So what’s next in the magical world of Masks? Well, without giving too much away, I can tell you that the current serial will end with Chapter 32, after seven months of weekly superheroic action. The main plot will be tied up at the end of the serial—we’ll find out Cobalt’s secret, the good will end happily and the bad unhappily (well, mostly; I have mentioned that I like to kill off characters, right?), and most of the trailing threads will be tied up. There will be a clearly identifiable ending, with just a bit of a teaser for future adventures. Then we’ll take a break. Just a short one.

No whining, now! How many TV shows produce 32 episodes in a single season? Or air one episode a week, without interruption, for seven months? This stuff takes time to produce, and I’m working three jobs, so there will be a little bit of a delay before the action picks up again. You’ll probably want a bit of a lie-down after Chapter 32 anyway, and if you’re absolutely desperate for more Masks, you can buy the Volume 1 paperback or the ebook (available soon!), each of which contains a previously unpublished 4,500-word short story, “The Missing,” that takes place after the end of the first serial and drops lovely little clues about the second one.

Oh, did I say second serial? Yes, there’s going to be one. I’m not getting as much traffic as I’d like (invite your friends, for God’s sake, it’s a free book!), but I’m getting some, so I’m planning a big Volume 2 launch. Just not yet.

I have to finish work on The Novel before I do anything else, and work on the ebook and a couple of videos, but I expect to start writing Volume 2 around the time Volume 1 wraps up on Pocket Coyote. To tide you over while you’re waiting (or recuperating), I’m planning my usual madness for Free Comic Book Day, a big free story that, er, doesn’t have a title yet but will be a complete rip-roaring adventure and also set up quite a bit of what happens in Volume 2. This story will expand the Masks universe by introducing three heroes who haven’t appeared in the series before—one of whom is the Black Mask. That’s right, the Black Mask will actually show up in person instead of in grainy video footage, he’ll bring two unlikely pals along with him, and you’ll get to find out at least one rather embarrassing secret of his. That story will hit the web—as a PDF, as a Pocket Coyote entry, and as a free download—on May 5, 2012. There will be pictures, although I’m not sure yet who will draw them.

Meanwhile on Pocket Coyote, there will be more news, regularly—the release of the ebook, at least two (maybe three!) videos, and lots of spoilers about Volume 2, which I hope to start up sometime in early July. I’ll be ramping up the advertising, too, and there will be opportunities for you guys to get involved in promoting the Masks universe.

Because I really do need your help, folks. Tell your friends and family, tell strangers, tell your Facebook buddies—this series is awesome, and you can read all of it (well, except the bonus features) for free! And because some of them will very sensibly point out that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and ask what I’m getting out of all this work, you can tell them that as long as they’re looking at the site, I’m getting exactly what I want—eyeballs. All I want is proof of concept; I want a bunch of people reading my stories each week so I can shove my raw traffic numbers in the faces of people who think nobody reads my stories. I want people to read my stories. You like to read my stories. You are people. Win-win.

As for what’s in Volume 2 … well, I can’t say too much without giving away the ending of Volume 1, but let me see how many hints I can drop. 

1. Dead people will turn up in unexpected places.

2. Romance will bloom in other, equally unexpected places.

3. Trevor’s foxhounds will catch up with him.

4. Rae will make a new friend and a new enemy, perhaps at the same time.

5. The secret cause of the superhero purge will be revealed.

6. There will be a truly ridiculous amount of running, punching, and stuff blowing up.

7. Trevor will get kissed and concussed again (probably in rapid succession).

8. Rae will wear leather pants, but not for the usual reasons.

9. The Masked Rider has a plan.

10. There will be a cute fuzzy animal in a prominent role. And Moon and Soleil will be in the story, too.

There, I think that’s enough spoiling for now, don’t you? I can’t wait to see what happens next …

Monday, January 23, 2012

Time is stolen

One of my favorite authors, Michael A. Stackpole, has said he has a Post-It note stuck to his bathroom mirror, where he must look at it every morning. It says, “Time is stolen.”

It’s true.

You want to write? Steal time for it. The time you spend writing is time you should spend doing the laundry, going to work, or socializing. Or sleeping. I find I need stretches of at least an hour without interruptions, so I do a lot of my writing in coffee shops with my phone turned off, or late at night when the rest of the house is sleeping. That’s time I could spend working, or looking for more work, or talking on the phone, or (maybe) sleeping more than five hours a night. It helps that I hate talking on the phone, but the rest of it I do miss.

Nevertheless, I steal the time. And I’m not especially sorry about it, no matter what I tell my friends when I make sad faces and explain that I just can’t make it to the party.

So this week I’m stealing time from this blog to work on The Novel. You’ll all thank me later.


Okay, fine, here’s a picture of two Pocket Coyotes to tide you over until I surface again:

Bye now!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Urban fantasy, MASKS style

This is hilarious. And fascinating.
I’m not a great fan of the “princess” novels of Jim C. Hines, where he reimagines fairytale princesses as action heroes. I’m just not into the princess thing; call it a matter of taste. But I almost suffocated laughing when he recently tried to replicate his main character’s pose on the cover of the first book … and then proceeded to try imitating the poses of other fantasy cover girls to point out how ridiculous they are. He’s in good shape, and he’s a good sport, but it’s just too snicker-worthy for words (more pictures at the link above): 

And then things got really interesting! 

You see, LiveJournal user Ocelott took Hines’ idea a step further, trying to replicate the poses herself (with the advantage of being both female and a former dancer, albeit with a bad knee) and then tried imitating male poses from the covers of well-known fantasy hits like Ariel and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels. And as you’ll see if you read her comments on the photos, she found the female poses uncomfortable and impractical for fighting, while she found the male poses natural, strong, and sensible for the characters being portrayed. Harry Dresden really could use his staff from that position, either to throw fireballs or to crack somebody in the head. But what the hell does Mercy Thompson think she’s doing?

The point of all this, of course, is that female fantasy heroines are posed to look sexy first and strong second, if at all, while men are almost always posed to look just plain strong, and maybe a bit mysterious if they have time. They get more practical clothes, too. These are all points that have been made many, many times, and I at least have accepted them as part of life for as long as I’ve been able to read. Women on book covers look stupid; what else is new? 

But while I was looking at Ocelott’s photos, I got a fairly brilliant idea. 

In Masks, Rae is almost never posed for sex appeal, either on the cover or in my illustrations. This is partly because I’m not drawing to appeal to horny teenage guys; I’m trying to convey plot points and create a sense of drama. Mostly, however, it’s because I’m just not a very good artist! I have to sweat blood over even a two-figure illustration, and it still comes out looking sort of weird to my eyes, so I’m not going to try to throw sex appeal in there if I’ve managed to get the anatomy and physics mostly right. I have enough trouble making sure Rae’s eyes are on the same level—I can’t be bothered to try a swaybacked Wonder Woman pose into the bargain. So even when you see Rae’s butt, it’s because she’s throwing a shin strike at Trevor, not because she’s got such a great butt:

 (Fun fact? Both the figures in this shot used male models. Rae was originally a random guy on a martial-arts blog, and Trevor was my older brother, a martial artist who graciously let me throw a shin strike at his ribs and then take a picture of him blocking it.) 

Yes, you’ve discovered my secret: Rae looks like a real person because I couldn’t afford fake people, and it turns out using real people looks better. (At least, it does when you’re as lousy an artist as I am.) Rae’s pose on the Volume 1 cover looks natural and anatomically possible because I made it the old-fashioned way, by dressing up a real person and taking her picture. If you have that costume, and a patient woman of the right build, and a window for light, you can replicate that shot with very little trouble. 

All of which gave me an idea! 

I liked Ocelott’s gender-bending pictures so much that I decided to see if I could turn out some cool-looking Rae pinups based on her “male” poses. It was also a great chance to show off the new haircut Rae will have in Volume 2 (people who’ve read the end of Volume 1 know why!). Here’s my first attempt, based on a Simon R. Green cover and Ocelott’s resulting photo. I gave Rae a staff because she doesn’t really use swords, but I could easily envision her picking up a stick or a pipe:


Not bad, huh? She looks kind of badass! 

Then I tried the popped-collar shot, which made me smile because it means Rae has borrowed Trevor’s jacket. You can see him in the background there, wondering what on earth is going on. Good fun, this!

 And now I come to the shot that originally inspired this blog entry. I saw this photo on Ocelott’s page and my first thought was, “Damn, Rae has to do that. Even if she doesn’t have the chest for it.” I just loved the set of Ocelott’s head and shoulders, and I wanted to try it with Rae. First I tried it with the staff again:

And then—just for a stretch—I tried it with a coyote. Not Pocket Coyote, mind you—an actual coyote who appears in Chapter 29. He even (spoiler alert!) reappears, giant-sized, in Volume 2, so this is technically canonical. I had to change the position of Rae’s arm because she’s touching fur, not pulling a staff, but it still mostly works, I think.

Real people. Awesome art. Who knew? Oh, that’s right. Me. And you guys. 

Do we rock or what?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Handmade stories

Once, I wrote all my stories by hand.

It was a matter of necessity; for some reason, I couldn’t think straight while staring at a computer screen, and couldn’t compose at a keyboard. I had to work out my stories with a pen, on paper, before I did anything else. I needed the smell of paper and ink, the scratch of a point along pale blue lines, the nervous fingering of pages if I was going to write anything of value. (All of my old notebooks have slightly dingy edges where I’ve riffled the pages over and over in order to think.)

I made three different attempts to learn touch-typing before I began using my notebooks for practice. Keying in my handwritten words, something finally clicked, and now I can type far faster than I can hand-write.

And now it’s the other way around. I have to compose at a keyboard because I can’t write fast enough to keep up with the sentences flying through my brain; typing is as close as I can come to thinking speed, because I don’t have to form the letters. Perhaps someday I’ll have to use dictation software and write at a speaking pace, although at the moment I can’t seem to compose out loud, and anyway I don’t live in a place that takes kindly to hearing me talk for hours on end.

But when I’m busy, or stressed, or unable to carve out that lovely hour or two to hammer out a chapter, I go back to the old methods. I carry around a notebook and a pen, and jot down sentences and paragraphs as they occur to me. Quite a lot of The Novel is getting written this way, just because it’s being sandwiched between other things … and also because it just seems to suit The Novel better. There’s something handmade about the story, and not just because a key plot point involves the hand-copying of contraband books.

I realized this recently when I noticed I had nearly filled up the spiral journal in which I’ve been keeping my notes on The Novel … and remembered that I had seen a duplicate of that journal on the clearance rack at Barnes and Noble months ago, and impulsively bought it as a backup. I dug it out of a box with surprising speed; I knew exactly where it was, as if it had been waiting for me. Normally it only takes me one notebook to make a novel, but this one’s taking two, because so much of it is turning out to be handwritten. And some nervous little part of my brain realized last summer that I was running out of pages, and that I would desperately need more. I’m not usually that prescient; this story has really moved in and colonized my brain.

There’s something different about this story—something tactile about it. I’m used to characters murmuring in my ear, but these voices have funny harmonies to them that remind me of my feeble attempts to play the guitar, so much so that I can almost feel the strings against my fingers. I’m currently working on a chapter in which the two main characters are trapped in a cave for several hours during a storm, with nothing to do but talk to each other; little bits of the scene often come to me as I’m settling into bed at night, and for a moment I can almost feel the body heat of whichever character is speaking, as if they were sitting next to me. I feel like I’ve left my fingerprints all over the characters and the world, even though it’s the most involved fictional world I’ve ever created, and the characters are the most vivid people I’ve ever written—the most not-me, in other words. And so perhaps it’s no surprise that I feel the need to have that pen back in my hands. The edges of my notebook pages are getting dingy.

They say handmade is best. I can’t wait to see how The Novel will turn out …