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Deconstructing the Novel, Part 2 – The Shattered Visage Lies

BRIAN SAYS:

Okay, now that we’ve gotten into some form of rhythm with this blog thing, let’s revisit a concept we introduced a few posts ago – Deconstructing the Novel, where go behind the scenes of our first published novel, The Shattered Visage Lies, to answer questions, give novel writing advice, and discuss some of the concepts within the book. Last installment, we discussed what the title means, or at least what it means to us. For this installment, we’ll shed some light on what we’ve been hearing about the protagonist and antagonist – Michael and Marvin. Don’t know who they are because you haven’t read the book yet? Don’t worry, feel free to take a moment to grab yourself a copy, in print or eVersion to peruse. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Have it? Read it? Good. Let’s move on.

First of all, as you have now learned from reading the book in one sitting, the novel is an ensemble piece. In it, nine different people discover they have super powers. For the most part, we go over the discovery, exploration, and development of these abilities in detail for most of these characters, so it’s not entirely accurate to say that we have a definitive protagonist or antagonist. However, Michael and Marvin stand out as those concepts, respectively. Interestingly enough, these two are also usually the least favorite character and most favorite character, respectively. And we did that on purpose.

“What? You purposely made your protagonist the reader’s least favorite character?” Yes, we did. I want to remind you, though, that he’s not a detestable character. He’s just someone who can be likeable one moment, and then a jerk the next. Just like all of us. We are all the protagonists in our own individual stories. None of us are liked by every secondary character in our own individual stories. That is what we want to reflect with Michael. He’s a regular person, just like all of us, doing his own thing, just like all of us. He can be nice, he can be a jerk; he can be likeable, he can be not likeable. Just like all of us. When we follow up the “Who is the least likeable character?” question with “Who is the most relatable character?” the answer to that is usually Michael.

Michael is the reluctant hero of the story. Most reluctant heroes of popular stories are so because they lack confidence, usually because of doubt that is bred by the inexperience of youth. I’m looking at you, Luke Skywalker. That is certainly relatable to anyone. However, we wanted to explore a different, yet relatable, reason for Michael’s reluctance – comfort. We all get frothing-at-the-mouth fussy when the cable company changes the channels on us. We’re red-raging and ready to turn to Yelp, Facebook, Reddit, the Better Business Bureau, and/or a voodoo witch doctor because The Food Network is now channel 48 when it was channel 47 just yesterday. None of us want to change our routine because of forces beyond our control, and we certainly don’t want to take on added responsibility if we don’t think it’s at least congruous with what we’re sacrificing. Neither does Michael. He’s a man in his mid-thirties who has everything he wants in life. Sure, he’s a bit spoiled in regards to certain things, and he sometimes doesn’t filter the words between his brain and his mouth, but he loves his family; his wife and his daughter are his world. Gaining a new, very powerful new ability means he now has to learn how to use it, and be involved with a whole new community of people he’d rather not associate with. This new ability means change. It means a disruption in his routine. A sacrifice he doesn’t want to make. These burdens make him fussy.  Just like the rest of us.

CHRIS SAYS:

When we talked about the direction that we wanted this book to take it was clear very early on that Brian and I were both interested in creating a likeable antagonist…it’s just fun. We had a few ideas about how we could accomplish that, but as we hashed through them, tossing them aside like dandelions from a spring bouquet, a very obvious solution surfaced. If we simply make the character relatable to the reader, then even when the necessary philosophical issues arise, the character can remain true to himself, which also keeps him believable.

Quite simply, then, Marvin was born. Overworked, underappreciated Marvin who is surpassed by those half his age for one inconsequential reason or another. A dreary routine has taken the pep from his step and a stagnant lifestyle has taken a stranglehold on his view of the future. Marvin in a nutshell. Possibly he has the power to improve himself, but not to affect all of the forces around him that would need to be bent to his will in order to create real change. Until one day…

As Marvin develops his powers, he uses them to improve his lot in life, enhance his interest in things, most notably his marriage, and wreak a little bit of revenge on a few people who, quite frankly, don’t necessarily do much to warrant sympathy at their plight. All the while still walking that tightrope of relatability to the empathetic reader. While Michael is whining and bemoaning and remaining passive, Marvin becomes an all action kind of guy…sort of a fantasy fulfiller…or that is our hope anyway.

Gradually, of course, he becomes more and more despicable and the dichotomy between good and evil replaces some of his relatability with the reader, but the roots are still there because the character can remain true to himself even as he becomes less “human.”

It was an interesting experiment in characterization and Brian and I are often intrigued by reader’s comments about Marvin and what the future holds for him. Do you need a Marvin fix or are you hoping to explore new villainy? For now, it’s still shrouded in mystery, but later this year all will be revealed.

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We’re baaaaaaaaack!

So, there is a bit of a delay between our last post and this one. We apologize for that, but [INSERT LAME EXCUSE HERE]. Hopefully, you can understand and sympathize. In fact, we’re so lame that we’re using the same lame beginning from two posts ago. Don’t worry, we do have a cranium-rectal extraction planned to take place soon. Anyway….

If you recall from an earlier post waaaaaaaaay long ago, we promised to reprint 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 third installment. Let us know what you think!

 

The Journey

“To Arms!”

 

The day of Friday, July 2nd 2004 was a surprisingly pleasant day. Warm enough to remind us that it was summer, but cool enough to mistake it for spring. Nary a cloud in the sky, the sun had free reign to exercise its will upon all who beheld it, especially two adventurers in south, central Pennsylvania. That was the day Chris and I played hooky from our respective jobs to visit local print shops.

Our original plan was to visit the area print shops on Monday, the 5th, seeing how both our places of employment were closed for the Independence Day holiday. It’s quite embarrassing, the amount of time between formulating our original plan and realizing that if both of our employers were closed, then logic would dictate that the area print shops would be closed as well. However, we quickly recovered by coming up with a reasonably good idea. Using my vast knowledge of Excel, we created an easy to use pricing grid, so the shops could quickly drop in what they’d charge for different quantities and different page counts for both full color comics as well as black and white. Little did we know what amounts they’d be dropping into those grids!

The day started with breakfast at the local diner. Chris had a coffee and a bagel. I, Sasquatch, ate two eggs, a side of bacon, a slice of ham, hash-browns, three chickens, a sheep, and a frightened villager attempting to flee. Never underestimate the importance of a good breakfast. While in the diner, we (very uncharacteristically) prepared for our day by charting out our stops and in what order to hit them. That included a printed map of Harrisburg and surrounding suburbs with annotated and footnoted visual approximations of where the various print shops were located. Our waitress took one glance at our notes and was speechless. Chris told her that I was the guy from “A Beautiful Mind.” We can only assume that she requested to her manager that someone else wait on our table, because that was the last we saw of her during our time there. Oh well. Onward and upward.

I was excited. I felt adventurous and entrepreneurial. It may have been the sugar, but I felt like fighting crime, rescuing a damsel in distress and saying, “I’m Batman!” Chris showed his enthusiasm a different way. After arriving at every destination he would scream, “Dude, stop standing on my car yelling like a lunatic! And take that mask off – no one believes you’re Batman!”

The journey itself went smoothly. I could say that my parents were right about reaping the rewards of good organization and executing a well thought out plan, but I’ll instead say it was a fluke that things went so well.  The first place we visited was a smaller shop known more for business cards and wedding invitations, but they were close by and we were itching to start. They warned us that they were probably not going to be competitive, but they took one of our pricing grids and talked to us anyway. And we learned a couple things – it takes them awhile to compile a price, so we weren’t going to get any figures that day, and the printing term “bleed” means artwork that goes to and beyond the borders.

As can be expected with any comparison-shopping, there were some snafus along the way, specifically the people we were dealing with. One guy actually laughed at us. Now, we’re very aware that when the representatives from most places were smiling at us it was to stifle a laugh. And we’re pretty sure the guy who laughed was “visiting the Astral Plane with Dr. Strange” in the back room before we came in. We had another place tell us that their services were meant for “more business related customers.” There was also the hole-in-the-wall that was located in an all but abandoned lot in the seedier side of the neighborhood that we dared not enter. We simply (and probably wisely) drove on by, crossed it off our annotated and footnoted list, and sought out our next target.

There was one place that has dug itself into my brain like a mental tick, though. The address took us onto the typical specialty shop and café laden market street of the typical picturesque small town, America. However, the print shop was difficult to find, for it was hidden behind the market street buildings, accessible only by alleyway and parking lot. Being curious monkeys, we ventured into the crooked building that could have served as a prohibition distillery, despite the summer afternoon breeze carrying with it the “Dueling Banjos” tune. Holding true to the ramshackle environment, we were greeted with, “Who’s there? What do you want?” by a scowling man, seemingly ready to grab his shot gun and start shooting if he suspected us to be IRS agents after his moonshine. Yet, we talked to him anyway, because we heard that this shop offered some of the best prices. The conversation was uneasy and pensive, the underlying tension of walking through a field of set mousetraps.  He must have spent too much time inhaling ink fumes or exotic paper particles, because during mid-thought he’d space out and change the conversation thread more often than an obsessive-compulsive with the flu changes handkerchiefs. We were both happy to leave; neither of us having to squeal like a pig.

For the most part, the people we talked to were wonderful and very helpful, quick to answer all of our questions and share any knowledge. We got an education – one that could have only been acquired through the experience. One particular shop excelled at that. Every person there not only treated us well, but were also excited about what we were trying to do, asking us more questions than we asked them. Except for one conspiracy diatribe about “the paper company bastards” all meeting in secret locations every year to collectively raise the price of paper, we felt very comfortable with them. They also got bonus points for every member of the staff having their own micrometer – even the receptionist!

After visiting a dozen different print shops in one day, we rewarded ourselves with an all-you-can-eat stromboli and pizza buffet. As a side note – a beer never tastes any better than at 2:00 in the afternoon when you have the day off and the rest of the world is at work! Alas, our adventure concluded with a late afternoon showing of “Spider-Man 2.”

Yes, we also searched on-line for national companies who print comic books more often than the local ones we visited. We won’t bore you with all the places we found and contacted. I’m sure you’d find the same places we did by simply typing in “comic book printing” in any search engine. However, we will tell you that if you’re planning on doing a black and white comic, then The Small Press Co-Op might be the place for you. They had the best prices for what we were looking to do and (judging from the sample they sent to us) they do quality work.

All in all, if anyone reading this is thinking about self-publishing, then we suggest you do as much research as possible about printing since it is the most important part of the publishing process. Even though we’re probably going to use the Small Press Co-op, the experience of taking a day off work to visit local printers was an invaluable piece in the education puzzle. Hell, even if you’re not planning on self-publishing, we suggest you visit some local print shops anyway – you might find some good moonshine….

Next Issue: “Reconnaissance.”

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Deconstructing the Stories, Part 2

BRIAN SAYS:

Look at us posting another entry within a year from our last one! It’s like we’re trying to keep some form of schedule. Crazy! Anyway….

If you recall from a loooooong time ago (last year), we started a blog segment called “Deconstructing the Stories” wherein we wanted to take you behind the scenes for our short story collection, The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with this work – it’s a collection of short stories by Chris and me featuring ourselves as characters of horror stories. If you’d like to familiarize yourselves with this book before we continue, you can order a hardcopy here or here (Amazon) and you can order an eVersion here. Okay, so now that you’ve read the book from cover to cover, the first question you might have is how we came up with the idea in the first place. Well, we went over that in “Deconstructing the Stories, Part 1.” The second question you might ask is how we’re allowed to mingle with regular society. We don’t know either. The third question might be which stories in the book are our favorites. Okay, we know the answer to that question!

For me, I would have to say it’s “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. La Chupacabra.” First, it was the first story first written, firstly, and you always remember your firsts first. First is a funny word if you say it too many times. Anyway, it became the first story we wrote because when we made the list of creatures we wanted to tussle with, the top three monsters were obvious (vampires, zombies, werewolves), and even some other monsters made the list with very little thought (blob, ghosts, the devil, a slasher), but the ones that quickly intrigued us were the little known ones, such as the chupacabra. How were we going to write a story about a topic with only a handful of resource materials and even fewer recognizable tropes? For this whole book to be successful, this was one of the first questions we needed to answer.

Chris and I started off waking up in a Tijuana jail cell. One of the potential pitfalls of writing a piece where you’re the main character is that there is a chance that you’ll include an inside joke or a reference that only you know. Chris and I constantly joked about waking up in a Tijuana jail cell. So, we had to gut-check most of our jokes – are they too much of an inside joke for the readers? With that question in mind, we moved forward with the story and jokes, trying our hand at different types of comedy ranging from the subtle (arguing with a goat) to the absurd (a French speaking Mexican character).

With this story, we also inadvertently came up with two important items in the “Drunken Comic Book Monkey” lore – the beer pants and the goat. The beer pants are pretty self-explanatory. Whenever we (the characters) needed a cold beer, we’d procure one by reaching into our pants’ pocket. At the time, we (the writers) didn’t know how the beer pants worked. For those of you who haven’t made it to the end of the book yet – yes, we do explain how the beer pants work. Then, there’s the goat. The goat who can outdrink us. Throughout the Drunken Comic Book Monkey series, we pride ourselves in our drinking abilities. Sadly, that pride resonates in both of us as characters and writers. We added the goat with supernatural alcohol stamina as a joke. It’s a goat! Who can outdrink us! That’s funny! At the time, we didn’t realize that the goat was going to be a fan-favorite character. I mean, we should have guessed that was going to happen since the goat is a recurring character not named Brian or Chris.

After finishing “DCM vs La Chupacabra”, we set the tone and answered a few questions we had about the project. We also realized that we could dip back into the pool of characters that we create along the way, such as the goat and El Tigre Grande. Plus, it’s just a fun story! So, that is why this is my favorite story of the book.

CHRIS SAYS:

It’s completely cliché to say that choosing your favorite story is akin to picking your favorite child. So I’ll forgo that approach and say, instead, that the line is thoroughly untrue. It’s nothing like trying to pick your favorite child. The difficulty is that it’s easy to like stories for such vastly different reasons that it’s often difficult to choose – unless you have a sound process to determine what matters most to you. It just so happens that I do….

Oh those many years ago, Brian and I found ourselves perched atop barstools (where else would you find the two of us?), laughing like asylum escapees over this whole Scary Tales of Scariness idea. We were taking turns playing “Oh, yeah? Well, then I’m gonna…,” concocting a potential story idea giving the other person more agita than the previous story idea that caused eczema for the soul. It was hysterical! Well, it was hysterical for the two of us. Looking back I realize that no one else in the Hooter’s restaurant shared in our enthusiasm. In fact, I remember thinking at the time that our neighbor consumed his wings at an impossible pace. I may have thought then that he was practicing for a wing eating contest, but, alas….

When I first blurted out that I wanted to do a story where we face zombies, because Brian hates zombies, I quickly coupled it with the idea that there would be no speech tags. Sure, they can be used to convey a character’s frame of mind, but I often view them as the speed bumps of the written word, merely serving to slow down both the reader and the writer. Robert Heinlein often had two characters engage in pages of back-and-forth dialogue that was thoroughly successful without speech tags, so why the heck not give it a shot? In fact, I even went so far as to challenge myself to do the entire story as dialogue, not a single word of narrative to grace the pages! I appreciate effort and authenticity as a reader, which I knew going into things would be a fair challenge with the recent popularity of zombie stories.

The story came out so quickly that I actually found it difficult to be an amanuensis for my muse. But she, my shrill harpy of a muse, continued to harangue me, reminding me that deadlines were created specifically with procrastinators like me in mind, so I did my best to avoid in the moment editing on the first draft. As I typed I was fully aware that I’d never thought up the ending to the story. At this point, it was the first story I’d written for Scary Tales of Scariness, so there was no other material available for me, no previous story to use as a tie-in… and then it hit me that I could make this piece the tie-in story. Brian hates open-ended stories and if I went to him with my very first piece and told him there’s no real ending, he’d blow a head gasket. How perfect was that? I could do what I do best: be a further annoyance! And as I worked towards the pseudo-ending I matched up the ridiculous notion of “The Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. The Potato People” as the successor story and how that could ultimately lead into the “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys vs. Cthulhu” story, which Brian had already challenged me to write sans any dialogue. Thus a trifecta of stories was planned out amidst the clacking of the keyboard keys.

It’s been mentioned to me in the past that I’m a pretty simple guy (usually as a somewhat less than obscure comment on my mental faculties, much like an amoeba being a simple organism). If my ultimate criterion for determining my favorite anything is the annoyance of my Fortress Publishing, Inc co-owner, then I guess I’d have a difficult time trying to argue to the contrary any point concerning my simplicity as a human being. Or an amoeba. But I think I’m perfectly okay with that….

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The Journey, Part II

We’re baaaaaaaaack!

So, there is a bit of a delay between our last post and this one. We apologize for that, but [INSERT LAME EXCUSE HERE]. Hopefully, you can understand and sympathize. Anyway….

If you recall from an earlier post waaaaaaaaay long ago, we promised to reprint 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 second installment. Let us know what you think!

The Journey

“Assemble!”

by

Brian Koscienski
&
Chris Pisano

Now that Chris and I decided to take the big step into self-publishing, it’s time to begin. Okay. Where?

When beginning a journey such as this (and from what we’ve heard it’s a long, arduous, nasty, pain-staking journey), we felt it was important to define our goals in great detail. What did we want from this? Of course, fame, fortune, and hot groupies topped the list, but we decided to keep our goals a little more realistic and attainable. After a little soul searching, again at the local bar, we decided that we simply wanted to publish something. Anything. Even if it was just one comic book, that would be enough.

Once we figured out that our primary goal is to one day walk into the local comic shop and see our creation on the shelf, we brought it up to Gabe and Jac (still pronounced Jake). Gabe is a seemingly mellow person, and he has successfully fooled all whom believe that. The reality is his mind works like a bag of microwave popcorn, without the bag. When Chris and I met with Gabe, we told him our plan and asked if he wanted to be a part of it. He froze for a split second, many free flying kernels suspended in mid-pop, contemplating the words he just heard. Then the microwave restarted and the popping commenced, until **ding** when he said, “Yeah. Sounds cool. Let’s do it!” Jac, on the other hand, is a husband and father of three, but he said he was in. Then the four of us sat down for our first meeting.

Of course, the very first thing on the agenda was choosing a company name. We needed a group identity, a super hero team name if you will, before we could continue. One of us remembered that during one of my profanity-laden tirades about receiving another rejection letter from Epic a week prior, I said something like, “If they are the House of Ideas, then we are the Fortress of Ideas.” Thus, Fortress Publishing was born, and we were born from it.

With the most important task behind us, we went over what we needed to start this company and conjure up an estimate of how much cash would be necessary to get what we didn’t have. Since we’re men, it was our reflex to throw out the instructions and start building; any left over parts be damned! We fought hard against that reflex and decided to go with the standard checklist. Beer. Check. Little voice that said, “Guys, you shouldn’t do this because you don’t know what you’re doing and you’ll drive yourselves more insane.” Check. More beer to drown out the little voice. Check. Okay, all the primary tools were accounted for, time to move on.

Falling back to our goal of “just produce something, anything” we decided we should shelve the idea of offices, limos, and company jets for the short term. That meant we’ll all just be working from our homes, using our own computers. Since we didn’t want to use anyone’s house or phone as the business address or phone number, we decided to rent a mailbox and simply get a dedicated cell phone. Each would cost us less than $150/year. Check. We don’t know much about the industry, but we did know that the software packages of choice are currently PhotoShop, Illustrator, Quark, and a couple others. Between the four of us, we had those. Check. Of course, we’d need our own website. Those don’t cost much, but to actually have someone set it up for you, does. However, we know enough people willing to do that for a case of beer, so we’re good to go. No matter the micro or macro economic climate of this ever-changing world, the beer barter system is alive and well. Check. That left business set-up, accounting, advertising, and inventory costs.

Before we could get into the business set-up and accounting, we needed to figure out which business entity we wanted from the choices of sole-proprietorship, General Partnership, Limited Partnership, C Corporation, S Corporation, LLP, or LLC. Seeing how many choices we had, we almost ran screaming. However, we were able to immediately drop a few from the list. A sole-proprietorship is exactly how it sounds — one, and only one, person owns the company. It’s very easy to set up and very flexible in terms of finances (it’s easy to put in and take out money), but that one person bears the responsibility and liability for the company. A partnership is like it sounds also; a group of people pool their resources to form a company. It’s also pretty easy to set up (although, a written partnership agreement should be made and signed by all partners) and is financially flexible. But just like the sole-proprietorship, all the partners are held personally responsible for the company. A General Partnership means all the partners actively participate and make decisions, while a Limited Partnership means only one person actively makes decisions. A corporation is its own separate entity, a living breathing whole other person in the eyes of the law, with shareholders, board of directors, officers, the whole nine.

After looking at our organizational options, we, like possibly some of you right now, slipped into a partially catatonic, Homer Simpson state where a stream of drool flowed from our chins as we dreamed about doughnuts. Glorious doughnuts. So, we crossed a few off the list. Sole Proprietorship didn’t work for us – we all wanted to actively participate since we were all going to be contributing money. That kind of made crossing off Limited Partnership easy as well as an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership – a limited partnership with less legal liabilities). A C Corporation has great liability protection, but it seemed a bit extreme since it’s difficult to put money in and take money out, so that got scratched too.

We were then left with General Partnership, S Corporation and LLC (Limited Liability Company). Every once in a while, when we’re sober, we’ve been known to be reasonably intelligent, so we decided that we would do more research before next meeting about the three remaining organizational structures.

Next on the agenda was accounting. Since I’m an accountant, we decided I’d do the accounting. For those of you who may be contemplating starting your own business, fear not, accounting for a small business is much like balancing your own checkbook, except you have to categorize your expenses. There are some tricky things, though, so I do recommend you at least talk to a public accountant. However, they are pretty expensive, so keep your questions concise and learn how to do the bookkeeping yourself. Mmmmm, glorious doughnuts.

Finally, we talked about inventory. Since printing was another topic we knew nothing about, we knew we had to do some heavy, in-depth research. And that is a whole separate story…

Next Issue: “To Arms!”

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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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Deconstructing the Stories: Part 1

BRIAN SAYS:

Welcome back! Chris and I hope you’re enjoying our blog so far. As we mentioned in our very first post, we wanted to do a segment called “Deconstructing the Stories” where we’ll be going behind the scenes of some of our short-stories that we’ve had published. Well, here we go!

For “Deconstructing the Stories” Part 1, let’s take a look at “Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in: Scary Tales of Scariness”. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with this work – it’s a collection of short stories where Chris and I wrote ourselves in as characters of horror stories. If you’d like to familiarize yourselves with this book before we continue, you can order a hardcopy here at the Fortress Site and you can order an eVersion here (Smashwords) or here (Amazon) or here (B&N). Okay, so now that you’ve familiarized yourselves with the book, the first question you might have is how we came up with the idea in the first place.

As with most ideas that Chris and I have, we ultimately found inspiration at the bottom of a beer pitcher. But there were a couple things that happened before that.

As Chris and I were creating Fortress Publishing, Inc., we attended a few conventions to gather intel and generate some ideas. One convention in particular was the Pittsburgh Comicon and one particular comic book that we picked up was “Living With Zombies” where, as you may have guessed, the creators wrote and drew themselves as characters surviving the zombie apocalypse.

A few months later, Chris and I were at our monthly shareholders meeting (yes, Fortress Publishing, Inc. is REALLY a corporation) at Hooters. Much to the chagrin of the waitresses, our meetings would last 6+ hours and would deteriorate into silly debates, often loud and slurred. This one happened to be: Zombies, Pro or Con.

I find zombies little more than moving scenery while Chris believes that they represent man’s inherent fear of blah blah blah blah blah. During a particularly heated part of the debate (and for those of you who don’t know us, “heated” really means we entered the “giggle like a couple of preteen girls” stage of our drunkenness), Chris blurted, “I’m gonna write a zombie story with us as characters!” I replied, all too loudly as well, “Oh yeah? Well, I’m gonna write a vampire story with us as characters! And they’re gonna be the new, hip, sexy kind who wear black leather and listen to techno music!” We then paused in our bickering, ignoring the looks of indignation being cast at us by the waitresses and other patrons, and let the concept of writing ourselves as characters into stories percolate in our alcohol addled minds. We then looked at each other and asked, “Do we really want to do this?”

CHRIS SAYS:

Do we really want to order more beer? Duh! Oh, wait…Do we really want to work on this project that, in a more sober frame of mind, would likely be less appealing than shouting “all in” while holding a deuce and a seven, unsuited? We assessed our current situation as publishers. At that point, to date, we were the proud publishers of a few slick looking magazines and a graphic novel. A few nice beginner projects, but hardly the stuff of publishing legend. Brian and I both love short story anthologies and hoped that eventually the magazine arm of Fortress Publishing, Inc., would lead us down the path to publishing a few of them. From that aspect we were pretty darn amped about giving this project a shot.

As writers, we had a few short stories and some poems published, but we clearly wanted to get some more writing experience. We had no large writing projects looming so as we began to flesh out this project, we decided that this was a great opportunity to attempt to write in a few different styles, work with an outside editor (potentially), work with deadlines (shudder), find an illustrator, practice re-writes, find a printer we liked, and assemble a novel-length piece into a computer file that the printer would accept. All in all, this was a more daunting task than merely writing a few stories, and a few more pitchers later we found that we were pretty excited about the whole project and the experience we would get out of it.

While the creative coals were still hot, Brian and I started throwing out story names and suggestions at each other. Some of them made us cringe. Others made us cackle in a manner worthy of the forcing the employees to ask us to leave. But that didn’t happen. Instead, one of us got the bright idea that we should be capturing these ideas for future reference (the other argued…because, hey, it’s what we do). Fortunately, we not only write down our ideas, but somehow managed to stow the notes in a place where we actually came across them the next day.

Now, in all truth, Brian and I took far different approaches to the potential selection process. We both loved the ideas that made us titter uncontrollably, but Brian really focused on his past movie experiences, while I delved into the literary vault of my mind and dug out some of my favorite Gothic reads. Brian was noting themes and tropes, while I was methodically examining very specific works that focused on a specific atmosphere or style. In the end we wound up with a nice blend of horror that we thought we could poke fun at through unique twists, while maintaining a sense of respect for the original ideas.

Tune in next time when we deconstruct our novel “The Shattered Visage Lies”…

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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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