Masked Mosaic — Canadian super heroes and how I could’a beat Rick Mercer to a gag

A lot of people blog about themselves. That’s what many readers find interesting — often popular blogs being quasi-diaries. I’ve never been that good at the “personal” stuff. I’ve written extensively on the internet for years, but it tends to be opining on topics outside of myself.

But every now and then I gird my loins, swallow my faux-humility, and do the PR thing.

So there’s this book out called Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post here).

It’s a collection of prose super hero tales (ie: no pictures) set in Canada, basically following in the footsteps (or is that bootsteps?) of things like the popular Wild Cards series, or the British anthology Temps. The title “Masked Mosaic” playing on the phrase “cultural mosaic” that is often used to refer to Canadian society.

And I have a story in the book called The Secret History of the Intrepids.

Given I write incessantly about Canadian identity, pop culture, and science fiction, needless to say, a lot of those themes collide in a book like this. And I’d love it if people actually bought it (though I haven’t actually seen anything but my contribution yet). I’m not getting anything from plugging this. The writers were paid up front, so if the book sells ten copies or ten thousand copies, it won’t actually improve my bank account at all.

But I’d still like the book to do well. For the sake of the publisher. For the sake of the writers (like me) just to get our work out there. And most important — because of what I write about Canadian pop culture and how Canada can be just as entertaining as anywhere else. I mean…you can’t get more unpretentious that super heroes, can ya?

The irony is, if the book doesn’t do well, it doesn’t really mean much — books come and go. However, if it doesn’t do well, I suspect that those who are violently opposed to Canadian pop culture will gleefully cite it as “proof” Canadian pop entertainment won’t sell.

Here’s what Claude Lalumière wrote about my story: “In many ways, The Secret History of the Intrepids is the most straight-up, classic superhero story in the book. D.K. Latta’s intimate familiarity with the superhero genre informs this entire robustly entertaining adventure, which is also a deftly imagined alternate history.” Okay, um, yeah…Claude is the co-editor of the book (with Camille Alexa), so what’s he going to say? “Man, this story sucked eggs!”??? Still, I thought it was a nice description.

The Secret History of the Intrepids is a super hero story set in that seminal age of super heroes — World War II (super hero comics blossoming during that conflict). But it’s an alternate reality history — and the trick was to do a story that would resonate with people who know how my fictional history has diverged from the real one, while being entertaining enough that even if you don’t, it won’t matter because the story is still an enjoyable romp even if you don’t “get” the in jokes.

I use “in joke” with caution. The story is not a comedy piece. But there is definitely a whimsy, or a winking nod, to the scenario and concepts. As the editor once said about my style, I write with a kind of dry wryness.

I conceived the idea about a dozen years ago. I’ve been a long time comic book reader, and also had a nostalgic fondness for retro World War II comics like The Invaders, All-Star Squadron, and a run of Wonder Woman comics published in the 1970s. I suppose because of the inherent light/dark dichotomy. The fun escapism of super heroes contrasted with the horror of humanity’s greatest folly…war.

A big inspiration behind the story was the comic book The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (also turned into a big budget movie). The irony is, I wasn’t a big fan of the comic (I actually liked the movie more — though it received terrible reviews) but I liked the concept used by the author, Alan Moore. An Englishman, Moore drew upon familiar British (and European) literary icons including Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll, etc. I wondered if something like that could be done for Canada?

My conclusion was — no. I mean, short of teaming up Anne of Green Gables and Duddy Kravitz — although, say…

Well, maybe next time.

But I did figure out a novel, Canadian spin on the idea, by interweaving real life, as opposed to literary, figures into the story. What’s funny is that though I hadn’t considered this when writing it, I began to wonder if it might actually be an entirely unique spin on the super hero mythology. Except…I sort of infer that at least another story in Masked Mosaic uses a similar conceit — but that actually makes it all the more intriguing if there’s something inherently “Canadian” about the idea.

Anyway…

So there I am, over a decade ago, toying with this idea for a super hero story set in an alternate reality WW II — and I didn’t do anything more with it. I figured anyone interested in publishing a prose super hero story probably wouldn’t be much interested in the Canadian aspect…and anyone interested in the Canadian aspect would probably turn their nose up at super heroes. So I just let it sit in my head.

Until Tyche Books announced they were looking for Canadian super hero stories. Even then I think I submitted a couple of other stories first — including a story I really like called “Good Guys and Bad Guys” but which I’ve never found a publisher for.

So I sat down and — finally — wrote up The Secret History of the Intrepids.

Now where the creative process became interesting (at least to me) was how much of the original concept was retained…even as I fleshed it out in literally just a few days. It was almost as though after leaving it in my brain for all those years, everything clicked into place almost as though it “wrote itself” as the old writing cliche goes.

Y’see, a dozen years ago I had four characters: The Northern Lama, The Oracle, Powerhouse and, though I won’t name him here, a buckskin-wearing gentleman with no powers. ‘Cause as any super hero fan knows, in a super powered team, it’s the guy without super powers who is cool.

I knew their secret identities, I knew their powers. I just didn’t know what the plot would be, and I knew I’d need one or two others to make a proper “team”.

Those four characters remain in the final story, unchanged. But when I sat down to force myself to fill in all the other gaps…it came surprisingly easy. I figured out why they were together (a government project…which resonates with other Canadian super heroes like Captain Canuck and Alpha Flight)…which immediately suggested who brought them together. I needed a vector into the story…which immediately suggested a narrative focus and yet another character. I needed another member of the team, and after settling somewhat unsurely on her…actually found I loved her inclusion, and her super power (which arose almost instinctively out of the character).

And since I was basically throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, I decided to toss in ideas of Canadiana and fantasy that I had been toying with for even longer than the super heroes themselves — probably going back to seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time as a youngster and imagining a Canadian adventure movie starring Nick Mancuso as an Indiana Jones-like bush pilot. I’m not kidding — that really is how my brain works! I would see a hit Hollywood movie and immediately fantasize about a Canadian equivalent.

The result? The Secret History of the Intrepids. And, yes, for those of you over the age of thirty…I used the term Intrepid deliberately.

Actually, one thing I regret about the story came about recently.

You see, it was too long. As part of the “alternate reality” concept, I had broken up the story with inserts supposedly giving us a wider sense of this parallel world — quotes from books and the like reflecting back on the “significance” of the events in the story. Some of which were left out of the final edit, understandably, because they didn’t add to the plot. So one of the cut bits included a reference to an (alternate reality) Hollywood movie in which Canadian radical Norman Bethune is depicted as American. Now the reason that becomes funny is that just recently I came upon a bit from the CBC comedy, The Rick Mercer Report. While spoofing the Hollywood movie Argo (and the way it undervalued Canada’s contribution to the story), the RMC concocted a mock trailer for a Hollywood bio-pic of Bethune…in which he is portrayed as American.

Darn it! I could’a beat Rick Mercer to the punch(line)!

Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll release a “director’s cut” of the story — including the bit about how the events in the story were later turned into a 1970s movie starring Donald Sutherland and Genevieve Bujold.

Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories — available at Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Tyche Books, and elsewhere. Featuring the soon to be literary classic, The Secret History of the Intrepids (or, um, is that taking self-promoting hyperbole too far?)

C’mon, admit it — you’re a little curious.

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4 Responses to Masked Mosaic — Canadian super heroes and how I could’a beat Rick Mercer to a gag

  1. Pingback: 4/4/2013 Superhero of the Day: the Intrepids | Matthew Elmslie

  2. Pingback: Masked Mosaic: The Authors’ Perspectives | Tyche Books Ltd.

  3. Kevin says:

    Just got my Masked Mosaic copy last night – starting to read-through now. This “Secret History of the Intrepids” is genre GOLD. Stop whatever you’re doing and crank out a book of short stories of these guys!

    • Administrator says:

      Wow, thanks for that — nothing says a story works like people wanting “more”! Given how high the quality is in the stories (that I’ve read so far), and the diversity, Ill take such kind words as a real compliment. I’m actually a bit jealous of some of the other pieces — including “Circe and the Gunboat”!