I have a story in the new anthology, Imps & Minions (from tdotSpec). Edited by Don Miasek, K.M. McKenzie, and David F. Shultz, Imps & Minions is a speculative fiction collection (running the gamut of science fiction and fantasy) using as its unifying theme stories about and/or from the perspective of henchmen and villains’ sidekicks.
I used to be a bit reticent about writing stories for a specific publication’s theme. From a purely pragmatic POV, if the story failed to make the cut, I’d be stuck with a story possibly too niche and idiosyncratic to send out to general publications. But there can by a fun creative challenge in setting out to write a story to fit certain parameters (and equal fun in seeing how you can push and test the boundaries of those parameters). Of course it helped that I’ve had some success selling to such specific markets recently.
Anyway…so I decided to try my luck and write something for Imps & Minions.
But because it’s a bit of a crap shoot getting accepted (submitting anything is, but especially when it’s for a specific theme) I decided I’d write as much for myself as for the selection editors. Imps & Minions’s guidelines said they were open to a variety of speculative fiction genres — from High Fantasy of elves and demons, to Hard SF of aliens and robots.
So I decided to write a story set within the idiom of…superheroes.
Now the thing is: I like writing about superheroes. I’ve discovered at this stage of my life that it may be my favourite genre (or sub-genre) to write in. I suspect most writers have favourite sub-genres or themes. The horror writer who writes stories variously about monsters and serial killers and demonic possession and so on — but whose passion is writing haunted house stories. The SF writer who writes techno-thrillers and far future speculation and first contact stories — but really loves writing about robots. Etc. I’ve written (and had published) stories of SF, fantasy, and horror, in various of their off-shoots and sub-genres — stories I like and am proud of — but having grown up reading comics, in a weird way, I think I feel most comfortable writing within the superhero milieu.
I kind of regard superheroes as the great narrative onion — there are so many layers you can peel back. Most short stories have two or three layers, but superhero stories can have five or six.
So once I had the anthology’s theme (henchmen and villain’s sidekicks) and I had selected my idiom (superheroes) the story itself unfolded fairly quickly before my mind’s eye.
Called “Glimpsing Samson,” it looks at the world of superheroes and supervillains from the perspective of a minor sideplayer — in this case Solomon and his brother Zeke who are a couple of petty crooks (Solomon, the narrator, ambivalent about this life-of-crime) who find themselves draw into the orbit of supervillainy, slowly pulled deeper and deeper into that world. Viewed one way: it’s a low-key story about family loyalty and moral choices. Viewed another way: it’s an outlandish tale quirkily exploring the conventions of comic book super-folks from the perspective of the (normally) nameless figures on the peripheries.
I used the analogy of a “narrative onion” earlier, talking about “layers” — and one of those layers can be a winking nod at the conventions of the genre while (hopefully) telling an accessible, stand alone story. So as the brothers find themselves moving from gang to gang we also get a sense of the different strata of supervillains, from light-weight baddies like The Sudoku Sultan (my riffing on “gimmick” Old School villains like The Riddler, but imagining what a modern variation might be) to increasingly powerful and dangerous characters. Along the way we get glimpses of the spectrum of superhero archetypes, too.
The story juggles being both serious, but also wryly quirky, cognizant of the inherent absurdity of the superhero milieu; character-focused while also giving a sense of a bigger world; told in little scenes and moments while slowly unfolding a plot that drives us toward a climax; having a bit of action, some thrills, some plot twists, while also having some emotion. And most of all, being a fun, enjoyable read. As I say: layers.
Does it actually accomplish any of that? Or is it a turgid slog to get through? Obviously only you can judge that for yourself. Hopefully if you do buy Imps & Minions you’ll also post your opinion on the book (and maybe my story, for better or worse) on Amazon, or Goodreads, or your own blog, or Twitter feed, or wherever.
Seriously — it can’t be stressed enough how much word-of-mouth (or keyboard) is important to a book’s profile…and to the writers.
Now when writing “Glimpsing Samson” it required caulking up the corners with a sense of an existing superhero universe. After initially considering creating superheroes for this story, I decided it would be easier to simply draw upon pre-existing ideas I had. You see, as I mentioned I really like writing superhero stories (having had stories appear in the anthologies Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories and Tesseracts Nineteen: Superhero Universe). I liked it so much, I ended up writing a whole slew of stories set within my own (Canadian) superhero universe — even though I knew there was next to no likelihood I could find a publisher for them. It was a purely creative exercise driven by a need to pursue a muse. So when I was writing “Glimpsing Samson” I decided to simply draw upon that pre-existing universe — my Masques universe (the term I coined for superheroes — specifically Canadian superheroes). When “Glimpsing Samson” required superheroes to make brief appearances (or get referenced) I made them, in essence, “guest” appearances.
So in “Glimpsing Samson” we have appearances by a character called The Beaver, and allusions to another character called Confederation Man (both Canadian allusions if ya didn’t know). In the context of “Glimpsing Samson” they are peripheral, enigmatic figures — but they are also central figures in their own stories in The Masques Chronicles (specifically Vol. 2). The Beaver in a story called “The Beaver, The Bear, and The Eagle” and Confederation Man in a story called “Rumours of Glory.” So essentially “Glimpsing Samson” could be seen as a story taking place within my “Masques Universe.”
A little peek at how this universe thing works: in “Glimpsing Samson” there’s a supervillain who’s a hyper-intelligent, talking polar bear called Professor Polar (I direct you back to my point about superhero stories having layers, including where the gritty and realist rubs shoulders with the absurd and whimsical). In the story we are told Professor Polar is from an alternate dimension and is Confederation Man’s arch foe. Nothing more is said about that, in large part because it’s irrelevant to the story of Solomon and Zeke that is being told here. However in the Confederation Man story in The Masques Chronicles, Vol. II, we are told that Confederation Man himself originally hails from another dimension so — ah hah! — we can then speculate about whether they come from the same dimension. (Whether we’ll ever learn the truth or falsehood of that inference only time will tell, depending on whether I can get enough people reading these stories to want to read more). I should stress: this is irrelevant to “Glimpsing Samson” and is unnecessary to enjoying the story (it’s more in the way of an Easter Egg, to use the DVD term).
Oh, I hear you mutter: The Beaver? Confederation Man? Aren’t those kind of silly names?
Well — yeah. But that’s my point about the inherent absurdity of superheroes. Superheroes are all about leaning into the absurdity and seeing if you can persuade your readers to suspend disbelief enough to take it seriously. I mean “Captain America,” “Spider-Man,” and “The Flash” are kind of silly names — except that we’re used to them by now. (Part of the point of my Masques Chronicles experiment was to imagine a generations spanning superhero universe ala Marvel or DC, picturing a world where we grew up with Canadian superheroes — and themes — being as ubiquitous as American ones).
Which brings me to my plug/plea: if you enjoy “Glimpsing Samson” in Imps & Minions why not delve deeper in my Masques Universe by buying one (or both) of my Masques Chronicles collections (or my other superhero-themed collection, The Fellowship of the Midnight Sun — or, indeed, any of my books)? The stories in The Masques Chronicles are more squarely “superhero” stories — with the heroes front and centre, and the stories revolving around adventure, thrills, and mysteries. At this point I’m not really expecting to make any money off them — but I’d love people to post some reviews, just to know what they thought of them (for good or ill). They were labours of love and yet I still haven’t a clue as to how readers react to them (I have a couple of books with 5 out of 5 ratings on Goodreads — which is pretty sweet — but even those don’t actually include any comments).
(One day I’ll maybe relate the frustrating story about how a legitimate publisher seemed all excited about publishing my Masques Chronicles — a real publisher, with a real distribution network. But after trading e-mails back and forth for, literally, months — the editor constantly reassuring me that they were eager to work with me and that it was going to happen — it became obvious to me that, um, it wasn’t. To this day I don’t know what was going on: whether he was just stringing me along for some nefarious reason, or whether there were problems behind the scenes that derailed some of their publishing plans. But it was disheartening, I can tell you).
Anyway, go out and buy Imps & Minions — exposing you to the works of a myriad of writers (no doubt many far more talented than me — and I might write more about the book once I’ve had a chance to read it myself). But, maybe, if you’ve got the inclination, also consider buying some of my books (if only to learn who The Beaver is, or what brooding secret motivates Confederation Man).
Above all: post reviews. Even more than money, writers (and publishers) need word-of-mouth, feedback, etc. (I mean, yeah, writers need the money, too, but in order to build a readership we need people talking about the work first!)