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Deconstructing the Novel, Part 1 – The Shattered Visage Lies

BRIAN SAYS:

Okay, after an intermission, we’re back. Let’s just blame the small hiatus on vacations, shall we? Anyway, if you can’t tell by this installment’s title, we’re going to start going behind the scenes of our first published novel, The Shattered Visage Lies, including answering the most asked question we’ve been receiving about the book – what does the title mean? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you what it means. Well, what we think it means, anyway. In case you haven’t read it yet, feel free to take a moment to grab yourself a copy, or an eVersion to peruse. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Have it? Read it? Good. Let’s move on.

When it comes to the great debate of Marvel vs. DC, I find myself on the Marvel side. I won’t bore you with ALL of the details as to why, just one: how the denizens of their respective universes react to super-heroes. Up until recently, the citizens of DC’s United   States love their super heroes. The general populace of Marvel’s United   States does not. How do you think we, as a nation, would really react to those with super powers? How would you react to a real life Super Man?

One of the ideas we wanted to explore was the classic, “What would you do if you had super powers?” Don’t forget – you can’t choose which one(s) you get. You get them, now deal with it! You might even be a half-animal / half-human mutation. Would you tell anyone that you have them? Heck no! Would you put on a mask and fight crime? Doubtful. I think most people would be afraid of them at first, then try to figure out how to use them to their advantage.

I’d like to think of myself as a good person. (Okay, I’ll give you a moment to laugh.) I certainly don’t think I’d become villainous or create an evil lair or have henchmen if I had some kind of super power. But I do know I would try to find ways to make money from it! Telekinesis? Vegas, baby! I’d get that roulette ball to make me a millionaire! Telepathy? Still Vegas, just at the poker tables. Mind Control? Yep, same place – the Vegas poker tables. Super speed? Lucrative sports contract! Super strength? Same lucrative sports contract, just different sport. But, that’s just me.

I’ve always found origin stories fascinating, because it’s usually an ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance. And it would always make me mad when, in the comic books, a character’s origin story is told within a few pages. Inevitably, they would always jump into a set of tights and don a coordinated mask and either fight crime or cause it. But why? The motivation behind their actions was what I was more interested in. That was one of the themes we wanted to explore in this book. We didn’t limit the demographic of power receivers to pretty faced teenagers, either. We gave them to the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the religious, the apathetic. Of course, it wouldn’t be a super-powers book without bringing these characters together!

Okay, we decided to write the book to see what happens to a person’s id, ego and super-ego when given super abilities. So, where did we get the title, The Shattered Visage Lies? Well, I’ll let Chris explain that one….

CHRIS SAYS:

Hello! So Brian covered the topic of super powers and in so doing put his on display: an unconscionable belief in Freud. Sad. But that’s not why you’re here, is it? Of course not. Where did we come up with the title of the book? What was the underlying theme that we hoped readers would pick up on? Well, I’m glad I asked….

In the case of The Shattered Visage Lies, many of you are likely familiar with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias” and have correctly guessed that this is the origin of our novel’s title. It’s a favorite of both Brian and I and we wanted to pay a little bit of a tribute to some historical literature, but that’s the boring part of the story. “Ozymandias” has a sister poem. Shelley and his friend, Horace Smith, wrote dueling sonnets with the same title, both incorporating similar base themes. Smith’s poem is a bit more circular, suggesting that the future and the past are related and never as far from each other’s view as we might hope. A horribly understudied poem, Smith later renamed it and, alas, many have forgotten the poem’s origin.

In the case of Shelley’s sonnet, however, not much need be said about the poem’s power of longevity. Whimsically enough, this is the poem’s central point – that the endurance of art outshines the works of leaders and empires. It is here that we find the true reason for the name of our book. It is a message Brian and I agree is crucial to our continuance as a functional society…a message we would be wise to share with politicians and kings alike for it is the nature of rulers to be granted power, which causes them to seek more. According to John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Hubris is the stepping stone to inhumanity and we all benefit from its departure.

Now that we’ve discussed the title, let’s move on to the major theme of the book and how that relates to the title. In essence, it’s about deconstructing personality. Science can map every person’s physical being, breaking a body up into its most basic components. But what about personality? Is there a way to unravel a person’s personality and examine it in a fractured state to understand our thoughts and emotions or are we simply too filled with interwoven pieces to allow for our personality to be untangled and examined? “The mirror never lies” unless it’s broken, so if you’re looking at a shattered visage in a mirror, are you really looking at yourself? If we add this component or remove that one, do we stay the “same person” or is a new persona created? It’s intriguing…intriguing enough that it inspired us to write a book about it.

Until next time!

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The Journey

BRIAN SAYS:

We’re back!

We decided to start off with the first installment of our series of articles called “The Journey.” For those who are not familiar – when Chris and I began our illustrious careers as writers, we had a syndicated internet column called “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys” where we babbled on about comic books and the world of entertainment in general. “The Journey” is a series of articles detailing some of our exploits into the world of micro-press publishing. We thought it might be interesting to reprint them. So, here is the first installment. Let us know what you think!

The Journey

“Origin”

by

Brian Koscienski
&
Chris Pisano

Are you tired of the rejection letters? Have you thought about self-publishing? Did you ever wish that you could read about a couple of knuckleheads trying to start their own publishing company to see what’s really involved? Well, you’re in luck. We’re those knuckleheads.

As with any set of characters involved in comics, we have origins as well; reasons for our actions and motivations to elicit a sympathetic reaction from the reader. I’m Brian, the self-appointed mouthpiece of the group. Chris and I have been friends for well over a decade, but we had to muddle through the first seven years of friendship before we realized that we both shared dreams of becoming writers. “Why’d it take seven years?” you may ask. Well, we’re men and we share our feelings as often as Sally Struthers shares a sandwich with third-world children. And to be up front with you right now, expect “because we’re men” to be used as an excuse for many of the dumb things we’ll do during this arduous journey.

Just so you can truly understand the characters better, let’s just say that I’m the type of guy who would talk Chris into wearing capes and climbing to the roof of a two-story house, convinced we can fly. Chris is the type of guy who would talk me into trying it from the second floor balcony instead. I’m the type of guy who would then push Chris off the balcony to see if the whole flying experiment will work. Now, I’m not mean-spirited, mind you, just very driven, very zealous and often very misguided. Chris’ job is to fix these things.

Upon discovery of our shared desire to write, we decided to partner up and write a novel. As with any great idea, it was hatched after a few brews at the local bar. During a surprise moment of clarity, we decided to write a fantasy novel (the swords and horses, dragons and wizards kind) and quickly came up with settings, plots, characters and the dream cast of who should star in the movie version. Things were going very smoothly for us. I would write a few pages, inadvertently place the characters in precarious situations, then send the script to Chris and say, “Your turn.” This process worked, and worked well for over eight chapters, until one fateful day when my wife gave me too much free time, allowing me an opportunity to stroll to the “back issue” section of the local comic book store.

Forgive us, but to continue we must briefly revisit the Dark Age of comic books. Yes, the nineties. Marvel had all their “X” titles do a seventeen part cross-over three times a year; the Avengers were fighting whole wars underwater, in space, and through time; most of the other titles struggled to remain comprehensible (seriously, did anyone really understand the whole “She-Thing” idea?) all finally culminating to the Onslaught fiasco. What was going on over at DC? Superman died, Batman broke his back, Robin laid an egg while the bat-mobile lost its wheel and Joker got away. Independents weren’t much better with their plotless stories of T & A cloned “heroines” and heroes so large they’d make a Mr. Olympia contest look like a junior high chess club. Like some of you, the industry let us down and wore us down, giving us no other alternative to stopping all subscriptions and pray that one day the industry would refocus on writing. Well, as we found out, some prayers can be answered.

I never truly walked away, though. Thanks to eBay, I was able to feed the addiction of collecting, needing only a cursory glance through random issues to remember why I stopped reading them. Thusly, I only needed to visit the local comic store for bags and boards. One day, I had two hours to spare before I had to meet my wife for something. Two hours is a long time for a person all too willing to don a blanket-style cape and jump from a roof to fly. Curiosity pulled me past the “supplies” section of the store, right to the letter “A” of the back issue section. There it was – my radioactive spider, my gamma bomb – Alias #1.

Within minutes of finishing that issue, I went on-line and ordered the complete series. With a Galactus sized hunger, I went back to the comic shop and devoured every Max title I could find. So enamoured with the imprint, I went to Marvel’s website to learn more, however, only one word caught my eye – Epic.

Like so many aspiring writers out there, I couldn’t help but find, and click on, the menu option labeled “submission guidelines.” Can you see where this is going? Yep, my brain flooded with so many ideas that it would have given Charles Xavier an aneurysm, and immediately called Chris to convince him to veer off the novel path onto the road of comic books. Having learned there is very little difference between a jump from the roof and a push from a balcony, Chris quickly agreed. In fact, he kind of liked the idea.

Then came Gabe and Jac (pronounced Jake). Since the idea behind Epic was to submit ideas from a preformed team, we needed artists. Chris brought in Gabe while I brought in Jac, each with a unique style. Holding up our end of the bargain, we penned three scripts, one for a Ghost Rider idea, a Guardians of the Galaxy idea and a Moon Knight idea. Both Gabe and Jac fell in love with the Ghost Rider idea with such vigor that we had to write a second script to keep the artists from fisticuffs. All of us were proud of the scripts and had high hopes for the future. Unfortunately, reality has as habit of taking good feelings away from non-established writers.

Three rejection letters later, Epic folded before we could come up with any more ideas. However, we didn’t need to – our own thoughts and ideas took over. Completing script after script, original ideas were popping up faster than mutants in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately, so was the phrase, “We are not currently looking for writing submissions at this time” on every publisher’s website. Finally, we had it. We couldn’t take it any more. We had another great epiphany, again hatched over a few more brews at the local bar. We’re going to start our own damn publishing company.

Fear not, intrepid reader, for we will certainly keep you abreast of our situation. Every folly and foible shall be well documented for your information, or amusement for those of you sadistic enough to enjoy watching the turmoil of a butterfly attempting to escape a spider-web. If all goes well, then hopefully other aspiring writers will take something from our example to blaze their own trail. If we fail, then at least a few lovable losers from Pennsylvania will show you in great detail what not to do…

Next Issue: “Assemble!”

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