The Story Behind the Story–A Real American Hero and Laser Rifles

Okay, my blog has been deader than the Jar-Jar Binks fan club. So in an effort to blog more and get more action on my website (action, pow!), I’m going to start telling the story behind some of the stories I’ve written over the past couple of years.

I love novels. I was born to write novels—but I also like short fiction because it is a playground, it is a proving ground, and it is practice, wonderful practice. My friend used to say whenever I wrote, no matter how small the project, it was like a jazz musician working on their chops.

So without further ado, here is the first story behind the story and an example of me working on my chops.

In July 2014, my story POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS COMMANDER hit the streets, and soared to a #1 position in Amazon’s Kindle Worlds Action/Adventure category. Well, it’s not like it’s my story because I wrote it with the fabulously talented Peter J. Wacks, so it’s our story, a G.I. Joe story, and it’s funny, poignant, and one reviewer called it heart warming. There’s also lots of killing and laser rifles.

Like Dr. Evil. “Lasers.” Why lasers?

I’ll get to that.

It all started out in the 1980’s. I was what they called a latchkey kid. I’d get home from school to an empty house and I’d watch T.V. from about three o’clock to ten o’clock every night. Not a lot of friends for me. Real people were too scary.

Luckily, I had my imaginary friends. Like Liono, Optimus Prime, and the G.I. Joe team.

I watched a ton of G.I. Joe and loved every laserblast. Yeah, laser rifles. I’m getting there. I’m getting there.

Flash forward twenty years. Um, make that thirty. Hollywood came out with not one but two G.I. Joe movies. And yeah, not the greatest cinema ever, but I adored the movies. I got to be thirteen again, and being thirteen again, I didn’t care about an iffy plot or flat characters. I just wanted action!

In G.I. Joe: Retaliation (the second movie), they have ninjas fighting our heroes on a mountain side, dangling off ropes, and sword fighting. How cool is that?!

I posted on Facebook that I loved G.I. Joe. Just a quick post that probably alienated some people, but at least I wasn’t talking about religion or politics or Doctor Who. Aaron? Liking G.I. Joe? Really?

Yeah. Love it.

I was at a poker game with some author types, and Quincy J. Allen saw the post and suggested fan fiction, like funny fan fiction. He had heard of someone looking to co-write a satirical G.I. Joe story. The idea hit me immediately. What if Cobra Commander had PTSD (as in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)? What if he was in a clinic with one of the G.I. Joe guys who was also suffering from PTSD? The story would write itself.

I thought nothing of it until I got a call from the managing editor at WordFire Press, the big cheese, Peter J. Wacks who was wondering if I was serious. I was.

We wrote it. I didn’t have time, but for this story, I made time. I wrote on airplanes, I wrote in hotel rooms after a long day at my day job, and after an exhausting conference, on barely any sleep, I pounded out ten thousand words in a day.

We polished. And it’s now live on Amazon.

Of all the things I’ve written recently, it’s my favorite. I mean, really, I researched, I watched G.I. Joe cartoons, I read wiki after wiki, and at first I wanted to use pulse rifles, or normal machineguns, but after watching the old cartoon, I couldn’t help but use laser rifles. Thanks to toy collectors, I researched the model #’s so the weapons the characters wield are real. Kind of.

Thanks to Michael Haspil, I put in an epilogue about PTSD because yeah, knowing is half the battle. And thanks to my mom, the EMDR therapy in the story is as realistic as I could make it for characters using “laser” rifles. My mom is a kick-ass therapist and is very patient with me.

The coloring books in the story were Peter’s idea, and while I was uncertain about including them, it’s one of my favorite scenes. Cobra Commander and Gung Ho are coloring together, and of course I wanted to use Hasbro coloring books, My Little Pony and The Transformers. We couldn’t use the real names, so Peter called them My Little Horsey and Shifterbots. Shifterbots! Brilliant. Cobra Commander and Gung Ho fight over who gets which one. It’s funny.

At 17,000 words, it’s a quick read. I hope y’all enjoy it. And of course, if you read it, leave a review!

Who knew that all that afternoon T.V. growing up would pay off?

This story is my first professional sale (cha-ching) and the first story I’ve written that has hit a bestseller list.

Thank you, Peter J. Wacks, for inviting me in and working with me.

Yo Joe!





Why Suicide?

So my next book, LONG LIVE THE SUICIDE KING, is coming out in April of 2014.  This is gonna be a tough one, folks.  This doesn’t have the nice little hook that my first novel, THE NEVER PRAYER, had.  Demons, angels, love, Twilight-esque themes—that was easy to sell.

Suicide?  Not really what some people want to read about.  Others, well, they want an “issues” book, right?  My wife loved to come home in middle school and read all about the afterschool special topics of the day: drug addiction, surviving divorce, teen prostitution, et cetera.  And yeah, suicide is in there as well.

I’m going to be talking a lot about suicide in the coming year, and I’m going to have to answer the question: why suicide?

What do the experts say we should write about?  Write what you know.  And I know about suicide.  Ask anyone I went to high school with.  Everyone knew I was on the edge, and some thought I did it for attention, and some thought I did it to be cool, but I was suicidal because I found normal, dull, boring life completely overwhelming.  I wanted to die.  Or I wanted answers to the big questions: why are we here?  What is the meaning of life?  Is there a God?

In my book, my hero goes around asking people why they go on.  He asks the question, why not suicide?  Not many people have a good answer to that question.  Or maybe a lot of people don’t want to admit that they even have self-destructive thoughts. Or maybe, for many people, they are happy, or at least fairly content, and they don’t think about suicide at all.  And never have.

I truly hope there are such happy, contented people out there.  I have my doubts.

I would love to be fairly content, but I’m not.  I need answers, and here I am, thirty years later. I still want answers.  I’m not suicidal today, but that’s because I understand now that I don’t have all that much time left, and there are cool things in this world, really cool, not-to-be-missed stuff.  And I’ve learned not to trust what I think.

So I wrote a book about suicide, about the search for meaning, and it has all the themes I love to write about: atheism, drug addiction, hope, and hopelessness and love.

I love my little book.  I’m proud it’s going to find a way out into the world.

Step Two Concluded: The Path to Hope

Step Two: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

A lot of people say that the principle behind the 2nd step is hope, and I think that’s right. We hope that we can be restored to sanity, that we can live at peace with ourselves and with our writing. Yes, a lot of writers become very successful and they fight and spit and growl through the process, but that’s not my ideal. And again, I say, if I can write and handle the writing game sanely, everyone wins. I win, my critique group wins, my family wins, everyone.

But if I fight and spit and growl my way through the stress of creating, then querying, then publishing, then marketing my writing, well, it’s hard to be around all the negative energy day in and day out.

At some stage, I had to embrace the idea that me writing was good for the planet. That stories are worth the time it takes to craft them. Not just for the entertainment value, though that does have its place, but for the experience of enjoying and relishing a fine story well told. I would argue that the world is better because of Harry Potter and the Twilight novels.

I have to have hope that my stories can only make human life bearable for those who read my sometimes dark, but still hopeful books. I love the idea that the story I’m working on now just might be the next Hunger Games. Odds are it isn’t, but what if?

And while I’m pursuing that “what if,” I can play the writing game and not be full of fear, self-doubt, self-loathing, or just plain crazy.

I can be a writer who has courage and dignity. That’s the hope, and through the steps, I’ve found a lot of peace even when things have gone from bad to worse.

Because at my core, I have hope.