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Author Spotlight: George Sirois

george sirois - authorInterview by Michelle Lynn.

An interview with George Siroiswww.georgesirois.com

What are the titles of your works, and can you tell us a bit about them?

“Excelsior” is a young adult / science-fiction novel, the first part of a trilogy. It tells the story of 17-year-old Matthew Peters, who has been spending seven years writing and drawing his own webcomic about a character named Excelsior, who is from the faraway planet Denab IV. Matthew is visited by an older woman who tells him that she is from planet Denab IV, and everything he has been writing and drawing have actually taken place. So now, with Excelsior’s enemies growing in power on both Denab IV and Earth, Matthew realizes that he has the opportunity to become the hero that he thought only existed in his imagination.

“From Parts Unknown” is a five-part science-fiction / sports serial that is currently available on eBook as one complete file. The main character is Stephen Barker, a man who is trying to provide a living for his family by getting on the roster of the only sport left in America: the GCL (Gladiatorial Combat League). The company is a combination of the over-the-top characters & good guys vs bad guys storyline of professional wrestling and the reality of boxing & mixed martial arts. Stephen unknowingly becomes a pawn in a behind-the-scenes battle of control over the league between the current champion and the top villain in the company, and is turned into a monster of a man stripped of his identity and humanity. While his wife tries to find him, she discovers that the GCL is not only providing entertainment for the masses, but it is also used as a tool of distraction and stripping of people’s rights by the US Government.

The first of two “Excelsior” sequels – “Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey” – is currently being edited and prepped for a November 2016 release.

Who’s your favorite character from your books?

It’s easy for me to say Matthew Peters is my current favorite, since I put so much of myself and my late cousin Matthew Peter Henkel into him. He’s the ultimate in wish fulfillment, getting to be a hero that he thought was just his idea.

But looking at all the completely fictional characters, I’d have to say my favorite is General Hodera, a truly ruthless woman who is in the top ranks of the Krunation Empire. While my main character has been sitting in my head for a very long time, Hodera came to be during the rewrites of the original novel. I had a big, tall, force-of-nature like being that would really strike fear into the hearts of the Denarian people, modeled after The Undertaker in WWE. When I told my editor about him, she asked, “Can it be a woman?” Best. Suggestion. Ever. When I took the character and reworked him into a her, she leapt to life and became a truly delicious villain. I loved her almost from the beginning, and I got to use a lot of space in “Ever Upward” to further explore her character. I can’t wait to show you what she’s really made of.

In your book, “Excelsior,” Matthew is a comic book writer and illustrator before he discovers the world behind what he thought he was creating – how did you come up with such a unique storyline?

It really goes back to 1992. When I was in grade school (1985, to be exact), I created some characters with my friends based on everything we grew up watching: Star Wars, Transformers, G.I.Joe, Voltron, etc. We were just killing time between assignments in school, and when I lost contact with them, I kept picking at them. I knew there was something there, but I didn’t know what. Anyway, in 1992, I was in between my sophomore and junior year in high school, my grades were less than stellar, and I was in summer school taking English over again. It wound up being a blessing in disguise, because one of the things we did in this class was watch the 1981 movie Excalibur, which is all about King Arthur. At that time, I was thinking about coming up with a new character, and after seeing this, I knew I wanted him to be a legend within my little universe, a god made into a man, striking down his enemies with his sword. I took elements from Arthur, Jesus Christ, and Optimus Prime and he just came to life.

The original story of Excelsior was all about the character being reborn through someone on Earth, and back then it was an adult who was a comic book writer. When I decided to start writing the novel in 2008 that would be the definitive take on him, I realized itha hads started his own webcomic, so I borrowed that element from him and named Matthew’s uncle after him as a thank you.

Have you always loved comics and superheroes? If so, which one is your favorite?

I’ve always loved both comics and superheroes, more comic book films than comics themselves. The characters grabbed me from the start, and I still love them to this day. It’s almost cliché to say Batman is my favorite, but there really is something special about him that has allowed him to endure in so many different forms.

I’ve also been a fan of Transformers, ever since I heard that they were getting a Marvel comic mini-series and animated series on Sunday mornings. Optimus Prime very quickly became a personal hero of mine, and he always will be.

Matthew gets thrown into a new world pretty quickly, yet is quick to adapt and strong throughout. What are the keys to writing a character like this?

I’m confident in saying that Matthew is not a wholly original character. He’s the form I chose to go on what Joseph Campbell referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.” He’s in the same boat as Luke Skywalker, Marty McFly, Neo, Alice, and all the other main characters who are thrust into an extraordinary adventure. I wanted to make sure that he was capable of becoming this hero, but not ready to jump in with both feet since he believed he would be giving up everything he was. I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s not always a flip of the switch for me when it comes to major milestones. Doubt lingers, confidence has its ebbs and flows, and that’s what Matthew deals with in both “Excelsior” and even more so in “Ever Upward.”

Were there alternate endings that you considered?

Kind of. When the barebones elements of Excelsior’s trilogy came together during my high school years, the first two parts were more or less how they wind up in these finished drafts but the third part was different, more than a bit darker. But after I discussed it with my editor, she convinced me to steer it in a different direction, and now I’m confident that the third part is going to wrap up Matthew Peters’ story in a very satisfying way.

What authors have inspired you to write?

I’ve been a huge fan of William Goldman’s writing ever since I saw The Princess Bride, and I went on to get his “Adventures in the Screen Trade” books that gave me the confidence in my own voice. And I wanted to be a storyteller of any kind when I saw the original Star Wars. That really got me into my love of science-fiction / space fantasy.

What age were you when you started writing?

I had been creating characters since I was nine years old in 4th grade, but I didn’t start filling notebooks with text until I was 14 years old in 9th grade. By that point, the characters had evolved to the point where I couldn’t really draw them anymore. My very limited artistic ability had hit the proverbial wall, but I wanted to keep going with them, to give them detailed origin stories, let them interact with and fight against each other. As time went on, and my writing in high school improved, I incorporated my high school friends into the stories, making them supporting characters, which got them wanting to read them. That was a lot of fun, and I almost wish I still had those notebooks today. (I say “almost” because, if they’re as bad as I remember them, it’s probably best that they stay in the past.)

Do you ever experience writer’s block?

Sometimes, but more often, it’s – as Kevin Smith once called it – “writer’s laze.” If I’m not in front of my monitor hacking away at my work-in-progress, I lose the momentum and find myself either on social media or in front of the television in the middle of the latest Netflix marathon. Thankfully, I know now what gets my momentum up and running again, and that’s a deadline. I asked my publisher to let me know when they would like to launch “Ever Upward,” and once I got that, it suddenly became a little easier to sit down and edit one chapter after another.

Do you work with an outline, or just write?

I’ve done both. When I did the first draft of “Excelsior” in 2008, I knew the beginning and I knew the end. That was it. It was up to me to figure out what happened between Point A and Point B.

The outline for “From Parts Unknown” wound up being the original novel that I published through iUniverse in 2002. I was under the impression that I was just going to punch up that one, update the technology, and incorporate a subplot I had been thinking about ever since I got the rights back from the publisher. But as plans will do, that plan went awry in the best way possible because only scraps of the 2002 novel remained, and it went from a 234-page novel to a 550-page serial.

Before I started writing “Ever Upward,” I wrote an extensive outline and worked on it with my editor. That helped out a lot and became a map for me as I went through all the different twists and turns with this story. I think with the third one, I’m going to do another outline, but I want to see if I can make it not as detailed as the second, so there’s more room for me to embellish when I get to actually write it.

Do you ever get sad when you realize that the characters that you’ve created aren’t real?

Not really. I’ve taken enough elements from my life that my characters have some form of reality attached to them. Matthew Peters feels real to me because of how he’s an amalgam of myself and my cousin, and I’m grateful to the one to take him on the adventure he’s on now, since it keeps my cousin’s name alive. And Excelsior has been with me for almost 25 years, so I can’t imagine my life without him.

Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?

The original versions of both “From Parts Unknown” and “Excelsior” were each different challenges. “From Parts Unknown” was finished in July 2002 BK (Before Kindle), and self-publishing was still looked at as the “last option” for writers. I sent it to an agent acquaintance, and he suggested I self-publish since it catered to a very niche market. That September, I came across iUniverse and they offered a setup package of just $199, which included a free hardcover upgrade. I took a shot, the book was launched in November, and it literally came and went without much of a whimper because I had no idea how to market myself or my book.

When I was working on the rewrites of “Excelsior” in 2009, I opted to self-publish that one because I didn’t want to just throw away the rights on these characters I’ve known for so long. But by this time, I had a website, I was writing regularly for a successful pop-culture website – 411Mania.com – and I was more confident in this particular story. So I set up a crowd-funding “Early Bird Special” drive where all participants would guarantee their own signed copy and their names would be listed in the back of the book in the acknowledgement section. That drive brought in all the money I needed for setup at

Infinity Publishing, everyone’s copies, and mailing of copies to everyone out-of-state. It took a while for that money to come in, so it was a stressful time while I was working on my edits, but it felt great getting it self-published without having to pay a dime.

If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you would change?

If I knew what “From Parts Unknown” would go on to be, I would have just shelved the 2002 novel without releasing it at all.

Can you tell us about your upcoming book?

It’s going to be hard to say too much without giving away elements of the first one, but here goes…

“Ever Upward: Part Two of The Excelsior Journey” picks up six months after “Excelsior” (in Denab IV time, so SHOULD BE five years in Earth time). I gave myself three commandments for this one: I wanted it to be longer (the first book is less than 80,000 words and this one is between 110,000 & 115,000 words), I wanted it to go deeper into Excelsior’s mythology, and I wanted it to be darker. All three are definitely accomplished. We’re going to take a much bigger look at Denab IV itself, we’re going to go inside the hierarchy of the Krunation Empire, General Hodera will be given a much bigger role, we’re going back to Earth to catch up with Matthew’s uncle Jason, a major character from the original will come back to life, there will be a major battle on the 70th floor of Rockefeller Center in New York City (with cameos by former Top of the Rock colleagues), and we will not only see the complete origin of Excelsior himself, but also that of his greatest enemy.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

I’ve had people say that “Excelsior” is clichéd, which makes me want to say, “Of course it is, it’s my take on Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” so that doesn’t really bother me too much. The toughest critique I’ve gotten is that it’s under-written, and I understand the way of thinking behind it and I won’t fault them for saying it. I’ve always been story-driven, and I just want to get on with telling the story when I feel I’ve given enough description.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – be afraid to write a crappy first draft. Get it on the page, get the story out, and commit to going back and fixing what you have. Almost every bit of writing comes from rewriting, and you can’t rewrite from nothing.

Thank you George for sharing a bit of yourself and your books with us.

What others are saying about George Sirois:

“Thank you, George Sirois, for making me feel like a kid again.”

“This story grips you from the beginning and does not let go. I was blown away with the author’s ability to build worlds, and quite frankly, this is science fiction at its best.”

“Sirois has done a fantastic job of borrowing small elements of familiarity from comic books and cartoons and combining them into an amazingly original and fantastic story.”


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The Great Bobbert

The Great Bobbert by Debbie Manber Kupfer - Flash FictionBy Debbie Manber Kupfer

(A Flash fiction from the world of P.A.W.S.)

“Popgoes! Hey, Popgoes! Come back here! Where is that weasel?”

The Great Bobbert scratched his head unleashing a cascade of bluish purple powder from his long straggly orange hair. His many pockets bulged with a multitude of objects: cards, rings, whistles, coins, scarves, and balloons – all the tricks of the trade for a working clown.

He rushed through the park, puffing and panting, accidentally kicking a squirrel in his path that chattered angrily at him.

“No need for that kind of language,” muttered the clown.

“Now, where is that pesky weasel? Ah, there he is. What the . . . ? Is that a kangaroo? Where did it come from? They’re certainly not indigenous to Missouri, or at least I don’t think they are. Did it escape from the zoo? I wonder if there’s a reward?”

Clowning no longer was as lucrative as it used to be, especially as weasel food had become so expensive of late, so Bobbert was always looking for a way to supplement his income.

“Maybe if it’s not from the zoo, we can use it in the act? Maybe Popgoes is arranging a contract. Good weasel – they’ll be extra Purina Weasel Treats for you tonight.”

Cautiously the clown moved forward. “I wonder if it’s fierce. It doesn’t look fierce, but you never know. Appearances can be deceptive. Look at Popgoes. Everyone thinks he’s so cute, but he’s a devious little bugger with a nasty bite!”

“Popgoes, come here!”  The weasel looked up at the clown and then leaned towards the kangaroo as if sharing a joke or a secret.

Without warning, the kangaroo bolted out of the path. Bobbert pounced and grabbed his weasel before it followed. “No, you don’t,” he said, and returned the struggling Popgoes to the felt hat on the top of his orange thatch. Resigned the weasel sat there surveying the world around him.

“Now, let’s go see what happened to that kangaroo.” He scoured the park looking for the wayward critter. He saw squirrels and rabbits galore, and plenty of locals walking their dogs. He asked a couple if they’d seen a kangaroo, but they looked at him as if he was crazy.

Finally, winded and dejected, he sat down on a bench next to a boy with dark messy hair. He looked vaguely familiar.

“Hey Kid, have you seen a kangaroo, around here?”

“No mate!” the boy said smiling. “Now, why would there be a kangaroo in the park?”

“Joey!” a voice called from the other side of the path.

“Gotta go!” said the boy, and bounded off, but for just a second it looked to Bobbert that he morphed into a small brown kangaroo.

“I must have drunk too much schnapps,” said Bobbert, shaking his head. “Come on Popgoes, let’s go home.”

You can read more flash fiction, poetry, and general silliness in Tea & Dark Chocolate by Debbie Manber Kupfer.

 

The Love of Writing

 

ladybugWritten by Debbie Manber Kupfer

 

At eight years old I turned into a ladybird. The story prompt in the Puffin Post said to choose a creature and write a story from its point of view. I spent days wandering around my house and garden in Barking, a working-class borough of London, peering into my dad’s magnifying shaving mirror and imagining my life as a tiny red, spotted crawling thing. Then I wrote that story and sent it off to the magazine and I waited.

Two months later I tore open the envelope that held my Puffin Post and scanned through the pages and there was my name in print – Deborah Manber. I’d got a mention for my ladybird story. And so it began: my love of words, of dreams, of stories (and as that first story involved me turning into an insect, I guess my love of shapeshifters started here too.)

As a child I filled notebooks with tales. I wrote a series of school stories, based around the playground. I even remember the titles – Rodney and Me (about a large Old English Sheepdog that hung out around the school playground – the only dog I ever truly was comfortable with), The Day the Workman Came (about when the playground was torn up and the equipment reminded me of huge monsters breathing fire), and Parents Week (a week when we got to go out to work and our mums and dads sat in the classroom. I didn’t understand back then that the parents might actually have enjoyed the swap!)

Each time I wrote another tale, I escaped – escaped from the meanness that surrounded me in that playground, but back then I never put the bullies in my stories (that would come later when I wrote P.A.W.S.) My stories were my refuge and apart from that one tale I sent to the Puffin Post, I never shared them with anyone.

Over the years I would continue writing. I wrote letters to an imaginary boyfriend in my teens. And as he was imaginary he wrote me beautiful letters back and sent me a handmade Valentine!

During college I wrote bad poetry in a black bound notebook that I believe still sits in a box in my basement. Maybe someday the kids will clean out the basement and find the poetry and laugh at their mom. My own mother, I discovered a couple of years ago, used to keep a diary when she was a kid. I found it when I was helping her move and she let me keep it. It’s a treasure. She wrote mundane stuff about her everyday life, which is fascinating to me today, but also in the back of the book are two stories she wrote. So maybe this writing thing runs in the family.

Both my kids write – my son recently started writing fan fiction for a game series he likes to play online. I felt very privileged when he let me read some of it a couple of nights ago (“but no editing, Mom, OK?”) Privileged and surprised. He has more confidence in his writing than I ever did at his age.

Since I’ve been published my mum has read each of my books and enjoyed them even though fantasy isn’t really her thing. My father enjoyed the genre, but sadly passed from this world before I became a published author.

Today I still find comfort and love in words. If I’m particularly tired or sad, I can sit down at my computer or just with a piece of paper and pen and write out an escape. Sometimes I’ll tear up the words, sometimes I’ll save them and eventually share them. But either way after writing it down I feel a little better.

Creating a Fantasy Supervillain

Written by
Christopher Mannino

As a speculative fiction writer, I’m always looking for new and interesting creatures. Often villains and magicians in fantasy have special abilities, things they do that are beyond normal,and might be terrifying.

Imagine, for instance, a creature with visual omnipresence. Omnipresence means that you can exist everywhere at once, able to see and witness everyone and everything. Unlike an omnipotent character, who knows everything, an omnipresent character would be able to see everything themselves. It’d be impossible to keep any secrets from this godlike ability, because everywhere you go, whether sleeping or awake, the character’s there, watching. Imagine for example, Sauron with visual omnipresence- he takes one look at the Ring- book’s over in chapter one. Same thing with Voldemort, President Snow, Darth Vader- you get the idea. Even in history this idea is terrifying. Want D-Day or the next drone strike to be a secret? What if the villain sees everything all the time? In nearly all fiction, the protagonists do things the villains aren’t aware of. Crafting a story around this feat is daunting.
Let’s make this super-villain more three-dimensional. As of now, he just has a superpower, albeit an impressive one. Imagine the villain also has a supernatural means of transportation. While he’s still able to see everything anywhere, he can’t actually get to places without traveling. We won’t let him fly directly, that’s too Marvel Universe for us, so instead we give him a flying car. Yes, he can hop on a flying car and travel rapidly to any location in the world. How fast? Let’s assume he can get anywhere he wants within a single night, even making multiple stops. Scared yet? This character can see everything, and now get anywhere within one night. It’s like having a TARDIS with the viewfinder always switched on.
The guy’s still not interesting enough, though. Let’s give him some minions. All villains have them. This character’s got dozens of them- all enslaved to his will. They do whatever he says all year round, making anything he asks for. Yeah, now we’re cooking, a character with visual omnipresence, able to travel anywhere within a night, who has a horde of servants.
Now we need to stop focusing on the evil/supernatural aspects and give our character some personality. President Snow and his blood breath and love of roses, Darth Vader’s persistent asthma and respirator- that sort of thing. Hmmm… well, let’s start by making the character fat. Too many villains are really thin and gaunt. It seems the skeletal look usually frightens people, so let’s make our character as chubby as possible. In fact, give him nice red cheeks, almost comical looking.
Let’s also give him a backstory. Maybe he used to be a farmer. Yes, he was a farmer long ago, before things went terribly wrong. His mother used to say “Plant, plant, plant! Plough, plough plough!” He’s never forgotten the last thing his mother demanded, asking him to hoe the fields, right before the accident. To this day, the guilt around her final words consumes him, and he can’t stop repeating them.
This character, by now, should be truly terrifying. Let’s take a look at what he might look like, if an artist was to draw a rendition:

Click HERE to see an artist rendition.

And no, I won’t even get into the obsession with little kids. That’s too frightening, even for me.

Suspension of Disbelief

How far will a reader stretch their imaginationWritten By

Jeffrey Collyer

For most of us, the suspension of our disbelief is quite natural when we’re reading works of fiction. That’s not necessarily true for all genres and all books, of course, but certainly within the fictional world I inhabit, it is. And for a large number of YA books it’s certainly true.

 

Whether it’s paranormal, urban fantasy, dystopian, or my own genre of traditional fantasy, there are core elements of the story that revolve around things we just wouldn’t believe in ‘real life’. After all, whether it be dragons or powerful magic; whether the story includes traditional dwarves and elves or whether it tells of more original strange races; these are all the stuff of imagination. We don’t expect to see trolls walking down the local shopping centre, but we’re quite happy to belief they’re real on the written page.

 

It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved the fantastical in books – within the pages of a mythical story I can retreat from the cares and worries of life. I can transport myself to another world and pretend I am soaring with powerful dragons, or use magic to protect those I love. In short, fantasy requires me to allow the impossible – welcome it even.

 

But our suspension of disbelief only goes so far. We often expect the characters we’re reading about to be in mortal danger. Thus, a sword through the heart will still kill the hero. After all, what’s at stake if the characters we love are invulnerable? What do they really overcome if the outcome is a foregone conclusion?

 

For me, there are other limits to my suspension of disbelief, too. For example, take the guy on the image above. Now I’m sure he’s a lovely chap, and I really hope he finds love. Really, I do.

 

But if the story I’m reading finds a twenty-year old supermodel gorgeous woman falling for him, I’ll probably snort and put the book down. Why? Because that sort of thing just doesn’t happen in real life; at least not sufficiently often to make it believable. I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for magic, but not so much for relationships: I expect those to be realistic.

 

The limits of your suspension of disbelief may be different from mine, but I’m sure there are things – maybe small nuances of daily life – you just couldn’t accept much change to. While all the while you’ll happily accept the werewolves, or the zombies, or whatever the ‘magic’ of your story involves.

 

So our willingness to go along with the fantastical has its limits. Within the parameters of the world that has been built (even if it’s a twist on our modern world), we expect normality to rule, and if we read something that seems contrary to that normality, then a part of us rebels against what we’re reading: our satisfaction levels with the story fall.

 

All of that said, there are some elements of fantasy stories that would still struggle under scrutiny, but which as a reader (and, yes, as a writer) I’m happy to gloss over. This is true especially within portal fantasies, like my own – where the protagonist is transported from one world (usually our modern world) into the fantasy setting.

 

For example:

 

  • So main boy/girl suddenly ends up in strange world and, hey, everyone speaks a form of modern English. Wow, what a coincidence! Okay, sometimes in fantasy the characters of the magical realm will use a more formal version of English, but basically it’s English from the last couple of hundred years. Amazing.

 

  • The writer has two choices here. First, they can have foods within their fantasy world that are all familiar to those of planet earth – again we have the same issue as above. Really?! Alternatively, they can come up with all new foods, or some kind of hybrid between the two. If it’s a portal fantasy, then the new foods option has the problem of our recently transported heroes suddenly hit with a diet unlike anything they’ve come across before. What would that do to their digestion? Well, we’ll just ignore it. It’s for the best really. No, really it is.

 

  • Every magical realm in pretty much every book has horses. They’re convenient to get places quickly. They may have other strange animals, because – well evolution has happened differently in this other world of course. Except for horses, which weren’t even global on planet earth until people started transporting them across the seas.

 

  • I sometimes think it would be amusing for a main character, in the middle of an extended scene where the fate of the world hangs in the balance to say, ‘Sorry villain, but can we take five minutes please? I need a pee.’  What about body odour and bad breath? Our unwitting hero can come from a comfy 21st century home and not be remotely bothered with completely different standards of hygiene. Two months trekking through wilderness, interspersed with sweaty battles. No problem – won’t even notice. Good looking girl; she wants to kiss you. Won’t even notice the fact that she hasn’t brushed her teeth, well, ever.

 

I’ve thought about these issues myself in my own stories, but with a couple of exceptions have mostly decided to ignore them. While I could come up with something to explain the fact that everyone speaks English within the story, I decided it would be pretty tedious for the reader, and overall would do more harm than good. It’s something readers are used to and will accept, so despite the fact that it’s not believable I’ve left it alone. Hey, it’s a story. People will suspend their disbelief.

 

What about you? Anything you’ve read, and gone “Hey, I can do the suspension of disbelief, but this is taking it too far”?

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