So, a lot has happened since I delivered the Magicians Impossible manuscript to my editor at Thomas Dunne Books on January 6th. Manuscript was received, I received the rest of my advance, and took a breath to orient myself after what was a long haul project.
Since then … a lot more has happened. Word started getting out; some book blogs picked up word on Magicians Impossible, the dedication and acknowledgements were written and submitted so the book could be sent to the printer’s for those galleys to be sent out to reviewers in April. July 4, 2017 was fast approaching.
Then… things changed.The original release date of July 4th was always fluid, with my hope they’d move it up to June 27 so people could get the book in hand before the summer officially began on the long weekend.
That was my hope, anyway.
Instead, the sales, marketing, and publicity departments, along with my editor, jointly decided that an autumn release date would be better for the book.
Which is why Magicians Impossible will now be released September 12, 2017. I’m told through the grapevine that the higher ups at St. Martin’s Press (where Thomas Dunne Books, my imprint, has its home) feel Magicians has the potential to do much better in the fall market, which is typically when the big five release their major titles. It’s a huge vote of confidence in me and Magicians that they would make such a decision.
[As an aside, a friend who worked in sales at a UK publisher for years said it means SMP wants Magicians to be an anchor of their Christmas line-up. So, Merry Christmas to me]
What does this change? Well, nothing in the short term, except now we have a little more time to get the whole machine up and running. My agent, Jodi, and I are meeting with the SMP team in early April to plot promotional, marketing, and publicity strategies – and she and I will be strategic on our own as how to maximize the new release day, the months leading to it, and the ones following.
Anyway, to keep up with what’s happening with Magicians Impossible, I now have an author page up at the MacMillan Books website. I also have a Facebook page you can swing by and like for more updates.
And, of course, the book’s available for pre-order at fine bookstores everywhere.
I made mention in the previous update that I’d be leading up to the book’s July release with a series of entries about things I discovered about writing and process. That’s still happening, but for obvious reasons is being delayed a couple months. But I’ll have some new non-Magicians related material up sooner than later. I hope.
To call 2016 challenging is to undersell it. It was certainly the most difficult year I’ve endured, and that’s just on a personal level. Caring for a 1 year-old while managing a career as a writer is no easy task. There have been frayed nerves, sleepless nights, and the ever-present worry that this is pretty much it for me and my career; that I can’t do both those things without failing at one of them. And yet, I’m still here, you’re still here, and we need to be because 2017 will probably be worse. It’ll take away people and things we love, the bad guys will keep winning. This is the beginning of the winter George RR Martin’s Stark family keeps telling us is coming.
But it’s important not to give into that despair. You have to fight, you have to strive, you have to marshal resources and press on. Because capitulation is not victory. It will feel like it for a while, but those things you’re trying to hide from will find you eventually.
Think of it this way; we all have some sort of comfort food. Some meal that you love, less because of what it is than what it represents. For me, it’s the traditional roast beef diner my grandmother used to make. The roast was always a little dry, the gravy a little starchy, but I’ve spent the last twenty-three years trying to re-create. But that really isn’t the point; the point is when I do make it, I get a minor taste of what that meal represented; the closeness of family, the smiles, the laughter of people now long gone. There’s warmth to it, and sadness. It’s nostalgic, the comfort meal.
As Michel Houllebecq wrote;
Nostalgia has nothing to do with aesthetics — it’s not even connected to happy memories. We feel nostalgia for a place simply because we’ve lived there; whether we’ve lived well or badly scarcely matters. The past is always beautiful.
That’s comfort food; and art can be comfort food for the soul. Books, movies, TV, music … those perennial works you return to over and over again, not because they remind you of happier times, but because they remind you of a time in your life that you survived. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my artistic comfort foods.
Bond. James Bond.
I grew up with James Bond; the Roger Moore ones specifically, because they were the first ones I saw. I remember how a Bond movie would often be the ABC Saturday night movie; the World Premiere of Moonraker or something Over the last month and a bit my wife and I watched (in reverse order for some reason) the Moore Bond series, and the Dalton ones. We’re now into the Brosnan era. There’s just something about them that gives me a warm feeling, and that, I think, has been their success; by offering us what we want while tweaking the formulas ever so much. From Octopussy on I saw every Bond in the theater, including Never Say Never Again, though I shamefully confess I missed Spectre, being a newly minted parent my movie watching was pretty much impossible. To this day remains difficult – last I saw in the theater was … actually, I legit can’t remember. It was summer, I know that. Maybe X-Men Apocalypse (which was terrible by the way). Did I mention the year that was has been rough? Well, yeah. No time for movies.
2. High. Degrassi Jr. High.
Not much time for TV either, though one seminal series turns 30(!) next year. Yes, on January 18, 1987 a little Canadian TV series called Degrassi Jr. High made its debut on TV. My friends and I in the States all mocked it, for its cheesiness, for its obviously plotted by adults for kids aesthetic. But we still watched it. When the final TV movie “School’s Out” aired five years later, I think everyone in school must have watched it because the next day all people could say was “You fucked Tessa Campinelli?” Over the following years it aired in reruns, was relaunched as an enormously successful show called Degrassi that’s still going strong. But now, 30 years on, it’s become comfort TV, for me anyway, because of the cheesiness, because of the plots, because of the amateurish nature of using non-actors. It even makes a brief cameo appearance in my next novel. Those kids are all in their 40s now – and I’m sure the ones who grew up not watching it but actually watching in secret still remember the theme song.
3. God Save the Queen
If you know me this will come as a shock, but I grew up listening to Queen. First instance was in 1982, and at my new school, had to participate daily in a thing called the Health Hustle. This was an initiative to include mandatory physical activity for school children (recess twice a day was not enough apparently). So when the announcement came we were marched to the gym, where a teacher led us through the health hustle routine of jumping jacks and running in place. I had no idea what or why it was, but there was music on the PA, and that year the music was Queen. We Are the Champions, and We Will Rock you in particular (along with some other songs and bands I’ve forgotten, though I think bad Leroy Brown was one of them). That was my intro to Queen, though they would pop up periodically through my life in the next decade. I even remember the day Freddie Mercury passed away. Bohemian Rhapsody climbed the charts once again. To this day a Queen song takes me back to those years and memories.
Just don’t ask me to do the Health Hustle.
4. Stand By Me
People ask me who my favorite author is, I typically say Joe R. Lansdale because he’s awesome and everyone should read his books. But for various reasons Stephen King holds a special place in my heart and it was seeing Stand by Me in the theater that summer that prompted me to seek out Stephen King’s books – specifically the novella The Body, which the film was based on. I remember the surprised gasp that tremored through the theater when “Based on a novella by Stephen king” appeared on screen as the end credits rolled. That Stephen King? It bore some investigating, and I did, scoring a used paperback of Different Seasons the novella collection containing The Body (and Apt Pupil, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and the lesser-known The Breathing Method). I read The Body first, and was shocked by how dark it was. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was mournful in a way the movie wasn’t. The sadness at lost friends, and lost years, suffuses every page of The Body, and in the years since I think I may have read it every year or two. I get older with each read, but Gordie LaChance, Chris Chambers, Teddy Duchamp, and Vern Tessio remain the same age I was when I saw Stand by Me. As a father to a young boy, it resonates even deeper now. Revisiting The Body is like revisiting old friends; ones you’ll never forget.
5. The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of …
Of course I can’t leave 2016 without mentioning comic books. My career as a comic book creator has been on hold ever since our child was born, and I descended into the world of Magicians Impossible, but I hope to get back into making comics in 2017. To prepare for that I’ve been rereading several seminal titles, the greatest of which, to me, remains Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. Everything’s been written about Sandman, its influence, its importance, over the last twenty-five, almost thirty years so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Nothing. But for me it’s as unique as it was when it first appeared; both cosmic in its scope and intimate in its reach. I’d read periodic issues of it when they first came out, but it wasn’t until 1999, when I became a screenwriter by trade, that I had the money and the time to collect the trade paperbacks, and read them from start to finish. Maybe it’s the fact that it told a complete story. Maybe because every turn of the page felt strangely familiar. Reading it now it’s like an artifact from an earlier age, where my career as a writer was just beginning. But mostly because this story, like all stories, mattered to me, and had the power to change myworld, starting from the smallest speck of dust.
So, as we close up shop on 2016, I encourage each and every one of you to indulge in a little comfort food over the holidays. Listen to that album. Watch that movie. Re-read that book. Get some rest, see some family and friends. And when 2017 arrives, be prepared to fight your hardest for those people and things that mean the most to you.
January 12, 2017 (Addendum)
There’s one more bit of comfort food I have to add, and it’s this …
Netflix has every Star Trek series available to stream, and I’ve begun what looks to be an epic re-watch of the Original Series. It’s been years since I watched any of these episodes, and i’m reasonably certain that, despite it being my favorite of the Trek series, I actually haven’t run the entire series. There’s episodes I’ve seen, ones I remember vividly (working a summer at a Star Trek exhibit in the mid 90s will do that to you), but many I have never seen or have no recollection of – mostly season 3 episodes, natch. So It’s going to be a fun little ride the next while. Lord knows I’m going to need the distraction.
I’m about to drop a major truth bomb on you. Sitting comfortably? Good. here it is:
Writing is work.
Yes, there’s art, yes, there’s craftsmanship to it; but make no mistake it is work.
Say it again:
Writing. Is. Work.
It’s hard work too; anybody who tells you otherwise is probably the same person who says “Oh, I always wanted to write a book or a screenplay – they seem easy enough,” but waffle on why if it’s so “easy” they never bothered to try. Writing is deadlines. Writing is submissions. Writing is rejection. Writing is redrafts and notes and edits. Writing is being handed your check and shown the door and someone else taking over and rewriting you. It is a job, and some days just getting the job done is the victory.
One question I like to ask the aforementioned who say “I just want to take a year off and write” is this even simpler one; “why”? What’s the end-game with your imagined year-long sabbatical?
Get your book published, obviously. Get your screenplay produced. Get your play performed.
And when that doesn’t happen, what then? Do you take another year off to write another? Or do you chuck it, and say, “this is bullshit”, which it often is (but you get used to the smell after a while).
Believe me, I know of what I speak. I just sold my first book. I created a critically acclaimed book series. I’ve had two screenplays produced, along with a mini series, and been a hired gun on three different childrens’ TV series. That’s my last 18 years so to speak (if you look at iMdb).
What you don’t see are the rejections. The passes. The turnarounds. The rewrites that obliterated my screen credit. The film/TV/comics/novels that didn’t happen.They were all hard soul-crushing, back-breaking work, and they’re all currently gathering dust.
Which brings me … to G.I. Joe.
Now I’m going to divert from the main thread for a moment. It’s all because of my son, really. He’s at the age of exploration right now which means he gets into everything. And by everything I mean everything. So it was only a matter of time before he discovered what was in those longboxes I had in the living room.
Yep. My comic book collection, which has followed me around pretty much everywhere since 1984. So it was only a matter of time before grabby hands got his little mitts on them.
The damage wasn’t too severe; some were creased and folded, but I managed to get them away from him before the damage was permanent. And really, I’m not one of those “must remain mint” types. There are 30 years worth of comics squirreled away in those boxes, but today I want to talk about one title specifically.
From roughly 1984-1986 G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (w: Larry Hama for the most part, art: various, including Herbe Trimpe and Marshall Rogers, Todd McFarlane and Andrew Wildman among others) was my favorite comic. It was actually the comic that started me buying comics on a regular basis. More astute readers – ones “in the know” who for their part will agree “knowing is half the battle” – will likely agree that 1984-1986 was the heyday of the toy and comic line. I had a pretty solid collection of the comics – the first 50 issues – but by 1986 I was falling out of love with the Joes. I had other interests – music, girls, movies – so the exploits of these Real American Heroes were less important. I still bought the book though mostly out of loyalty, but even then my comics buying had changed and I was gravitating more to Swamp Thing and Hellblazer and The Shadow and Sandman. Judging by my collection as it stood I tapped out around issue 70 , save for a minor buying-binge of issues in summer of 1993. But after I re-sorted them, I realized I was pretty close to completing the set. And I thought to myself; with eBay and other resources, why not finish the finish the series? So what I did, and over the last couple of months, completed the set. And I then read them, all of them, start to finish.
Reading them through an adult perspective, what was really amazing to realize now is how much of the series was informed by the Vietnam War, and Hama’s experiences there. It’s hard to remember now but in the 80s Vietnam was everywhere – a decade after the war ended America was finally starting to come to grips with it, and with how it treated its veterans. You saw this in movies like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, and TV like China Beach, The A Team, and Tour of Duty. Even Magnum P.I. was a ‘Nam vet.
But Larry was the one who introduced me and my friends to Nam, making its most popular character Snake Eyes a vet, along with Stalker and Storm Shadow. And that was a thread that ran through the entire series run, up to and including issue 155, the final issue, in which Snake-Eyes pens a letter to the son of a former colleague planning to enlist in the army. The war was the thru-line of the entire series; it kept on changing lives years after it ended.
It wasn’t always pretty; by maybe 5 years into the run it became formulaic; new characters were introduced, they got a moment to shine, then you never saw them again. A catastrophically ill-conceived crossover with the Transformers in the 90s pretty much killed the series, which limped to its conclusion a year later. The readership, which began as kids in the early 80s were in college now, and they’d moved on. I know I had.
But you can’t fault Larry and his team for the missteps. They had a job to do and that job was to support the toy line. They were handed the characters and story-lines to use, and they did the best they could. The fact GI Joe lasted 12 years is a testament to their great work. It was one of Marvel’s top selling books for a time, and the back issue market was ridiculously expensive.
What it all boils down to is Larry had a job to do and he did it, to the point that when IDW picked up the GI Joe license, they invited Larry back to continue the original line from where he left off at issue 155. With the toy line pretty much dormant he has the freedom to tell the stories he wanted. But that doesn’t denigrate his work on the 80s run on GI Joe at all. His task was herculean and for GI Joe to remain so good for so long, that takes talent. That takes work.
So what has G.I. Joe got to do with writing?
Because writing is about getting the job done.
It’s about telling a Robocop story that satisfies network and fan expectations, while working in some personal stories into it at the same time. it’s about charting the end of the world in all its ridiculous SyFy carnage while still telling the story you originally wanted to; about a person who devotes his life to crazy conspiracy theories and finds out one of them is coming true in the worst possible way.
It’s about the work.
The reason I’m most excited creatively about Magicians Impossible is because it meets the criteria of a personal project and a mainstream one. It’s got a major publishing house in its corner, it has a great team of editors and designers aboard, and it’s being released next summer.
But it was hell to write. Easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever undertaken. And that was before our child was born, roughly mid-way through the writing. Then it became nearly impossible. I look at that first draft and I can pinpoint the exact moment I became a parent. The quality of writing drops precipitously and never really recovers. Still, I soldiered on, even when in the act of creation I realized what I was writing was not working, that there was a much better way to tell the story, and somehow between the endless overnight feeds and chronic fatigue, I managed to figure out just what the story was about. Even when suffering a major back injury that meant the longest I could sit and type was an hour before the pain became too much, I still wrote. And in the end, Magicians Impossible is by far the best thing I’ve ever written, and the one I’m most proud of.
I did the work because writing is work, and it is my job.
That’s the lesson I take from reading these old comics with new eyes. Because sometimes getting the job done is the point.
Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.
*UPDATE: Someone asked me if I included GI Joe Special Missions (the short-lived spin-off from the main title, published bi-monthly between 1986 and 1989, focusing on stand-alone missions) in my big read-through. Not initially and not as part of the overall run. But after I finished G.I. JOE I decided what the hey, and went thru the 15 or so copies of Special Missions I owned. Boy am I glad I did! G. I. Joe: Special missions are consistently closest to “Classic” G.I. Joe stories – darker, more violent, more intense, more realistic. Plus nearly the entire series was drawn by the late great Herb Trimpe – who for this guy anyway remains the quintessential Joe artist. I’m in the process of tracking down the remaining issues of G.I. Joe Special Missions now.
**UPDATE UPDATE: after some mulling over (and on the advice of a fan) I decided to pull the trigger and start into the TPBs of the IDW continuation of the series, written by Larry Hama, which picks up after the events of issue 155. I have to say this was a great decision. It’s like Larry, free of the demands of introducing new characters and vehicles every couple of issues, is finally getting to tell the GI Joe stories he’s always wanted. Reading these new stories is very much like catching up with old friends. And after the year we’ve had, sometimes old friends are the best ones you have.
So we’re back from Summer, right? Back to work, back to the normal routine, yes?
Then feast your eyes on this:
And this …
These are the first two cover treatments for my debut novel Magicians Impossible coming from St. Martins Press and Thomas Dunne Books.
When they arrived I immediately gravitated to the first cover – “Smoke-head” as he’s affectionately known. But #2 is quite beautiful if I do say so myself. The decision making process was a tough one, so I put it out to some closer friends and confidants, some industry pros and the like. And in the end we settled on …
Which was a little bit closer to the spirit of the book – Harry Potter meets James Bond.
But it was still not … quite … there …
There it is.
Damn. It’s like this book is actually happening or something isn’t it?
Well, it is, which is why Magicians Impossible is being published on JULY 4, 2017, from Thomas Dunne Books;
Jason Bishop’s world is shattered when his estranged father commits suicide, but the greater shock comes when he learns his father was a secret agent in the employ of the Invisible Hand; a brotherhood of spies wielding magic in a covert war. Now the Golden Dawn; the ones responsible for Daniel Bishop’s death and the death of Jason’s mother years before have him in their sights, and his survival depends on mastering his own dormant magic abilities.
Yet enduring the Invisible Hand’s rigorous training may not be enough to turn the tide. Jason’s first mission ends in disaster and he’s captured by the enemy. Taken to its leader – the enigmatic Red Queen – he’s ready for anything; except the bold claim that the Invisible Hand are the real threat; committed to using mastery of magic to subjugate the world with only the Golden Dawn in opposition. They claim Jason has been fighting for the bad guys all along, and he’s the only one who can tip the balance of a war that has raged since creation.
But in a world cloaked in mystery and magic, whom can Jason trust? The Golden Dawn, who claim to hold the secrets behind Jason’s mysterious lineage? The Invisible Hand, who’ve been more of a family than his own family ever was? One thing’s for certain; the magic Jason Bishop has been struggling to master is telling him not to trust anyone.
Now, I’m going to cop to something here: I was a MAJOR pain in the ass to the publisher, to my editor, to the design team, to my agent. I kept asking for tweaks and changes. This is largely owing to something I discovered about myself years ago; that while I have perfectly realized visions for how I want something to look I’m terrible at articulating what that is. Someone once mentioned Stanley Kubrick was the same way; those legendary hundreds of single takes of Shelly Duvall screaming being case in point.
That said, I apologize for nothing. It’s my book – my first book – and if I don’t fight for my vision who on earth will, right? Right!
You can pre-order Magicians Impossible on Amazon. You can also pre-order from your local independent bookseller and I strongly recommend you do so if you can. Indie bookstores are the lifeblood of the community. Any bookstore, really, is that and they’re sadly a dying breed. But if you can pre-order please do so. The more pre-orders there are tells the publisher people are interested in this book. That affects, well, everything, from advertising to promotion to publicity.
Anyway, there’ll be a lot more Magicians Impossible stuff on this website soon, including what’s shaping up to be a major design overhaul of the entire place. I hope to be updating a lot more too as the book approaches publication. Then there’ s going to be signings, book tours, and a few other surprises along the way.
Everybody has one: the Greatest Summer Of Your Life. The one that stands out above all others. I consider myself fortunate that I have had many summers that stand out.
Summer 1994. My first full summer living in the big city. I have money from crewing music video shoots and a few weeks break and end up spending it at the same best friend’s place while his family is away on holiday. We barbecue, we drink, we hang by the backyard pool, we throw parties, and hit the hay as the sun rises. For three glorious weeks I’m the most relaxed I have been and ever will be.
Summer 1999. The year I go pro. It’s a great summer, not because I have leisure time because I most certainly do not. It’s a lot of hard work, lots of writing, but the stage has been set that every season subsequent is me, working from home, writing, and earning a living at it. 17 years later I’m still doing it.
Summer 2015. I become a dad, and while sleep is lacking and stress is high, it’s perhaps the most incredible experience I’ve ever had.
But Summer 2016 looks to be over before it’s begun, because Magicians Impossible is coming in with notes and edits from my editor, and a timetable for completion that means the next three months are given over to that.
Back on March 1st when I delivered MI, I decided I was taking a break for a month. My first real “time off” from work in a couple of years. That, and the fact I was still recovering from a serious back injury and I needed time to rest and recuperate and clear my head. And I did just that … for maybe 10 days. The writer’s brain is never really idle; after a couple weeks of rest and relaxation and being “dad”, I needed to start something new. I began outlining my next book project, and outlined and began scripting new comic book project.
Where those two projects will fit in the grand scheme remains to be seen but both are on the backburner while I tackle the Magicians rewrites. And Squadron, well, where that goes is anyone’s guess, but it has the potential to completely disrupt and dominate my life for the next several years.
So there’s going to be something of a slow-down on this website the next little bit, until I get atop all the work stuff. There will be updates here and there but of the short and punchy variety, like this one.
But rather than just leave you with “I’m going to be away for a bit, I leave you with this. I’m not one to talk about fatherhood because there’s no shortage of people that do, but I leave you with this thought that came to me on Father’s Day as my wife and I took our son to a nearby park to hear some live music.
When you’re young, your first intro to music comes from your parents. Their music becomes your soundtrack. Long car rides for me are always associated with The Beatles and Stones and Simon and Garfunkel and Gordon Lightfoot and ABBA.
Then, when you’re older and in school, it’s your friends music that becomes yours. You bond over it For me it was MTV and Much Music, Prince and Thompson Twins and U2 and INXS. There’s Top 40 and College radio. That’s your soundtrack.
Then, in your later teens, you want to carve out your own identity. You reject the mainstream and find your own path. Depeche Mode. Sonic Youth. Nirvana. In my case the underground became the mainstream for a brief moment before fading back into obscurity. or maybe it’s you who fade.
Life takes over. Music is not as important. You have a job, and bills, and college loans, and just trying to get by living.
Then, you start getting back into it. You find new music, new bands. The White Stripes. Coldplay. Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Or, you dig back to that time music meant the world. You find stations that play the music you listened to in your teens. You find you like the music you used to rail against because it reminds you of those years when you were young and you were looking out the windshield at the road ahead instead of the rear view and the road behind.
Then you find you’re listening to the music your parents listened to because it reminds you of them.
Then you become a parent yourself and your child first experiences the music you listened to. Then they discover their own music. Then the cycle repeats.