Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Joe Sergi - Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures - Author Interview
1. How did you come up with the title?
As this is the second book in a trilogy, I wanted to come up with names that reflected that the books were related. The original titles for the books were Sky Girl: Rebirth, The Adventures of Sky Girl, and Sky Girl: the Return. Then, one day I mentioned my book to a friend, who thought it was odd that I was writing a series of novels about a stewardess. Apparently, sky girl was slang for a female flight attendant. At the same time, I was re-watching the Indiana Jones trilogy for the umpteenth time and noticed that my DVDs had been re-named “Indiana Jones and the” before the original movie names Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom. (It was always Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) At this time, JK Rowling was also doing the same thing with her Harry Potter books. So, in order to communicate the comic book aspect of the character and book across to the reader, I started each book with “Sky Girl and the Superheroic.” After realizing that Sky Girl and the Superheroic Rebirth sounded unpleasant and messy, I changed it to Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, which fit more with the theme of the book. The second book became Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, and the third became Sky Girl and the Superheroic Return. The title ties all three books together and also clues the reader in to the comic book aspects of the character and story as being in the superhero genre.
2. Is there a message in your memoir that you want readers to grasp?
Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures is a fun story that I hope entertains. At a deeper level, it is about taking responsibility and growing up. I hope DeDe will serve as a role model. She is independent and strong and knows what she wants. But, she is also responsible and knows what she has to do. How she handles that, tells a lot about her character.
The move to have a Sky Girl, as opposed to a Sky Boy, was a deliberate decision. This is true for two main reasons (other than the obvious reason that I think female characters are fun to write.) First, I wanted to explore how superheroines react to conflict differently than their male counterparts and show how those different reactions turn comic book conventions on their head. A great example of this appears in the current book (Sky Girl the Superheroic Adventures) when Sky Girl meets Penny Pound, another heroine. The typical comic book convention is that the two characters would fight first over a misunderstanding and then team up to take on the real villain. As you will read, Sky Girl's resolution to that conflict is unique and therefore less clichéd. Another example of the distinction between how girls and boys resolve conflict plays out in the third book, which is coming out next year. In one scene, a villain wants to prove he's the best by challenging Sky Girl to a fight. Sky Girl responds, "Let me get this straight, you're not going to hurt anyone or steal anything? You just want to fight to prove you’re better than me?" Bad guy nods. Sky Girl says, "Okay, you win. I’ve got better things to do today." Then, she flies off, leaving a dumbstruck villain alone in the street. Faced with the same situation, a Sky Boy would probably take the challenge, fight, lose, and eventually emerge victorious in the inevitable rematch (probably with a new costume and chromium cover). The books explore these conflicts in a comedic way, because of course, Sky Girl’s best friend Jason (a diehard comics aficionado) finds her responses quite frustrating.
The second reason I chose to write about a female superhero is much more personal to me – the birth of my daughter. As a proud geek daddy, I wanted to share my hobby with my daughter and looked for characters to inspire her. Sadly, I found very few. With a couple of exceptions, most of the female characters from early comics were merely eye candy fawning with unrequited love over the male protagonist or were relegated to the role of guest star (or even hostage) in their own books. Even the few that started as everywoman characters rapidly developed into über pin-up babes in the 1990s and 2000s. In keeping with this trend, I tend to get a lot of Sky Girl sketches from fans and professional comic book artists that are far too suggestive for a16-year-old heroine. I try to address this phenomenon in subtle ways -- like having DeDe dress down Jason when he makes a sexist joke – or with Sky Girl’s refusal to put a symbol on her chest or wear skimpy clothing. Thankfully, things have gotten a lot better for the modern female comics character, but the industry still has a long way to go. Female characters should have the same chance to grow, develop, and overcome adversity, just as male characters do.
My hope is that Sky Girl represents a strong female role model who always tries to do the right thing. She isn't perfect. She makes mistakes. But, she learns from her mistakes and, most importantly, she never gives up. In Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, Sky Girl has to deal with some heavy emotional things like the death of her father, the fact that her mother is moving on with another man, and the ever-changing relationships around her. But, just because she allows herself to be emotionally open and vulnerable, that doesn't mean she is weak. Dealing with adversity makes her that much stronger when she triumphs over it.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
The Sky Girl story takes place in a small New Jersey suburban town named Colonia. And while some of the names of the locations in the books are fictitious, the places in the Sky Girl books are real. Like DeDe, I grew up on Hartland Court in Colonia. And while some of the names have been changed, you would certainly recognize the location if you see them. For example, DeDe’s school is based on my alma mater, Bishop George Ahr High School. Of course, when I attended Bishop Ahr, we didn't have evil chimps or giant robots. But I haven't been there in years, so that may have changed.
Colonia, New Jersey, still continues to be the primary setting in Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures. However, given that this book is a series of interrelated adventures, as opposed to an origin story, I was able to include a lot more locations outside of Colonia. A number of locations in New Jersey are featured in the book, including: an attempted robbery of the First Bank of Colonia; a secret portal located at The Edison Memorial Tower and Museum in Menlo Park; and a hunt for the Jersey Devil in Jenny Jump State Park. I should also mention that there are cameos and references to many of the unique NJ places from my youth, like Merrill and Roosevelt Parks, the Menlo Park Mall, and the Krauzers convenience store where I used to buy my comics, as well as some imagined places, like the Colonia Memorial Cemetery.
When the first book came out, I was pleased that The Home News Tribune and USA Today touted that Sky Girl was Central New Jersey's first Superheroine. I’m not sure how accurate that statement is, but she is certainly Colonia’s first superheroine. If only I could get her on the Wikipedia site for the town.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
In the Sky Girl books, the main character, DeDe, is an only child who lives with her widowed mother, Dianne. But, this wasn’t always the case. In the first outline of the story, DeDe’s mother had remarried and had another child, who would have been around 8 years old (the character’s name was Andy, based on my middle name.) I planned for Andy to be DeDe’s pesky little brother, who would serve as mostly comic relief (especially after he learns DeDe’s secret and tries to blackmail her). DeDe’s stepfather, James Peck (Jimmy Stewart+Gregory Peck), was going to be perfect in every way. This would have infuriated DeDe since he had essentially replaced her father. At some point very early on, it became apparent that these extra characters only complicated the plot and didn’t add anything to the main story. I also found that DeDe’s dislike for her step-father for such a long period of time diminished her likeability. So, they were cut from the novel. I believe the books are much better after this change. But, sometimes I miss having Andy and James Peck in the book.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
As funny as it sounds, the hardest part of the book was keeping track of spelling. Sky Girl takes place in a multitude of dimensions. There are aliens, villains, and magicians in the book, each of whom have a unique speech pattern. Not to mention that the story contains numerous fictional scientific and magic devices. While it was certainly fun making up these devices (the Forget-Z-Not, a memory eraser created by the villainous Professor Z, is one of my favorites), I had to keep a separate dictionary to keep track of them. I soon realized why Bruce Wayne just puts the word Bat in front of his equipment; it makes it much simpler and easier to keep track of.
An additional challenge was Jason’s dialogue. Jason uses perfect English and doesn’t use contractions. This is deliberate. As a result, Jason’s dialogue is some of the hardest to write in the book because of the conscious effort it takes to not use contractions. I have to read it out loud and stress every consonant.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I don’t know if this qualifies as “writing” but I learned a lot about picking the right publisher. The decision to choose a publisher can be very difficult. With the first book, I had the choice between the subsidiary of a large publishing house and small press start up. The large press wanted me to sign away all rights, including the ability to write my own sequels. So, I went with the start-up. It was a decision I would come to regret. Not only was I responsible for most of the up-front costs and for promoting the books, but the start-up did not make royalty payments on sales before going out of business. Worse than that, the company did not offer any discounts to bookstores or bulk purchasers, which limited sales. It was a very expensive lesson that could have been avoided with some upfront research.
I think that I made the right choice with the second book. I went with Martin Sisters Publishing. Martin Sisters Publishing is very focused on supporting their authors. There is even a community of published authors that share ideas on marketing and promotion. And while small presses are more limited in their mainstream brick and mortar distribution outlets, the internet has made the small press model more viable. Sky Girl is available at all online booksellers and can be ordered in brick and mortar shops and chains. Given the fact that the first book sold primarily at comic conventions and book festivals, a small press author discount, which in my experience is much bigger than the ones offered by large and midsize publishers, is essential. Finally, with the small presses, authors have more control over their intellectual property and the marketing of the material, which suits me fine.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
There really wasn’t a light bulb moment. I have always been a story teller (much to my parents’, and teachers’, chagrin). I always smile when people ask me how long I’ve been writing. I think the real answer is forever. Some of my earliest memories including laying in the back seat of my parents’ car during long road trips creating comic books based on my favorite Saturday morning cartoons or writing the screenplay for a Star Wars inspired opus, complete with the marriage of Luke and Leah (I had even cast the movie with neighborhood kids when we finally realized that none of us owned a movie camera.) In high school, I often annoyed teachers by taking the most mundane assignment and giving a unique twist. (For a career fair assignment on employment advancement, I outlined the steps that could be employed by the President to manipulate the Constitution to create a monarchy.) In college, I was once accused of plagiarism because “a business major could not possibly be this creative.” In law school, I wrote articles and edited scholarly journals and magazines. Currently, I work as a senior litigation counsel for a government agency. As a litigator, you could say I have been a professional non-fiction writer for decades (and quite frankly earn much more per word than I will probably ever make writing fiction.)
As for my career as an author, my first real fiction publication was in an issue of Trail of Indiscretion Magazine that came out in 2009. I met the publishers at the Baltimore ComicCon and was so impressed with their magazine that I wrote the first draft of Death Imitates Art on the train on the way home. Death Imitates Art is about an author, who is promoting his novel about a Cult at a science fiction convention. He meets a group of warriors who thinks that the cult is real and madness ensues. I submitted it and, although they liked the concept, a lot of rewriting was necessary. I learned a lot through that story—especially what not to do. That same year, I became a semi-finalist in the Who Wants to Create a Superheroine contest sponsored by the Shadowline Imprint of Image Comics. That experience taught me that comics have their own language. Afterwards, I enrolled in all of Andy Schmidt’s Comics Experience classes to help learn all facts of the craft.
Since then, I have learned a lot about writing and comics. I have written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, sci-fi, and young adult genres. My first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. In addition to appearing in a few comics anthologies (Indie Horror Magazine, Aliens Among Us, and Don’t be Afraid), this year I released the sequel to Sky Girl (Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures) through Martin Sisters Publishing and edited a comic anthology, Great Zombies in History through McFarland Press. I also write a regular column on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org).
When I don’t write about zombies, aliens, and superheroes, I work as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed government agency and am also a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law where I taught Unincorporated Entities.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
This is a really hard question. There are so many great authors. Ray Bradbury is certainly at the top. JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books are masterpieces that I can read over and over again. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series is better than some of the Star Wars movies. Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, and Roger Stern changed my life with their comic book writing. Brian Michael Bendis and Robert Kirkman changed it again when they came on the comics scene. So I have to punt on this one and not give my favorite author. Instead, I will give my favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (I don’t think Harper Lee counts as my favorite author since I’ve only read the one book.)
Not only is To Kill a Mockingbird a compelling story with amazing prose and symbolism. But, there are a lot of lessons to be learned from Atticus Finch. Although Superman is my favorite hero, Atticus is a pretty close second. In fact, I have been told that when I was very young, my mother was reading me the scene in the book that takes place at the court house right after Atticus defends the rights of Tom Robinson. All the townspeople stand up as Atticus walks by (“Stand up Scout, your father is passing.”). Apparently, I interrupted the narrative and announced with determination, “I’m going to become a lawyer.” And I did.
9. Tell us your latest news.
In addition, to the Sky Girl book, this year I edited a comic anthology called Great Zombies in History through McFarland Press. I also write regular articles on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org).
Great Zombies in History is a new graphic novel anthology released from McFarland Press. I met a talented group of writers through Andy Schmidt’s Comics Experience writing classes and we decided to form an independent comic imprint called Elevator Pitch Press to showcase our work. We have released several anthologies that have ranged from horror (Don’t Be Afraid) to grind house (Girls with Guns) to science fiction (Aliens Among Us). Great Zombies in History is an anthology of historically accurate stories, but written to include zombies. For example, I wrote The Zombie War of 1812, which features the real reason that Washington, DC was burned during the war. Rob Anderson, writer of the best-selling Big Dog, Inc. book, Rex: Zombie Killer and who acted as editor on the original project, did a story about how zombies helped King Leonidas and his army of 300 Spartans hold their own against immeasurable odds.
I should also mention that I write regular articles for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF.org) on the history of censorship in comics. It takes a lot of work to do those columns, but I believe the CBLDF is an important organization and am glad to help them in their mission to protect comic creators against censorship. I recently did articles on the rise and fall of romance comics, a before and after analysis of the comics code on reprinted books, and detailed histories of Sheena, Superman, and Wonder Woman. People with an interest in discovering the history of comics or censorship should check them out.
Next up for me, is my first non-fiction book, Comic Book Law, Cautionary Tales for the Comic Creator, from McFarland Press. It’s not a secret that I am an attorney and I find that when I appear at shows, I am often asked about the legal side of the business. People are always asking about the latest case or the history of a certain character. My upcoming book came up as a result of some my guest appearances on Comic Geek Speak and articles I’ve written for Ape Entertainment’s now defunct Comics Now! Magazine. Basically, Comic Law features the stories behind the cases. For example, most people know that DC Comics was sued over Superman by his original creators, but they probably don’t realize that the case was a roller coaster ride that took almost 70 years to resolve. In addition, the book provides guidance, but not legal advice, to comics creators who want to understand the basics behind concepts like copyright, trademark, contracts, and censorship and how they relate to the comics industry. And while Comic Book Law is certainly not meant to be a “how to” book, there are a lot of good and bad examples of what creators can do to protect themselves. In addition, these behind the scenes stories should also be entertaining to non-creator comic book fans as a peek behind the curtain of the industry they love. For example, the book discusses the original inspiration for Josie and the Pussycats, explains why Captain Marvel became Shazam, and discusses how the Comics Book Code nearly killed the industry and resurrected the superhero.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just to say “thank you.” Readers are awesomely dedicated to books. I mean sure, as a writer, I have to be dedicated to creating the story and provide entertainment. But at the end of the day, I write for me—because I have a story to tell. I would write if no one ever read it. (For evidence of this, you should look at the sales figures for some of my earlier work). Readers on the other hand, have no such compulsion. They spend their valuable time and money on someone else’s work. There are a lot of great books out there by some amazing authors (living and dead). As a result, these people don’t need to take a chance on me (or any other unknown), but they do. I really appreciate that. And nothing is more rewarding than someone coming up to me at a show and telling me that they really loved my book, or that it is their daughter’s favorite book, or that they made (or had someone make them) a Sky Girl costume for Halloween or a ComicCon. If you want to know a secret, book festivals and comic conventions aren’t that lucrative for me (I rarely ever make my table cost). But, writing is pretty solitary, so the chance to meet people is priceless.
To these people, I say “Thank you!”
I will also have copies and be signing the book at some upcoming show appearances, some of which include: Baltimore ComicCon (September 7-8); The Collingswood Book Festival (October 5), New York ComicCon (October 10-13), and the Festival of the Book (October 19). These shows are great fun and a wonderful place to connect with readers. I’ve even had a few old and young cosplayers come up to my booth to show me their Sky Girl costumes, which was extremely flattering.
About the Book
Being a teenage girl is hard enough, but for DeDe Christopher, it is proving impossible. In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. Last year, DeDe discovered that she possessed fantastic abilities that were strangely similar to those of a comic book character named SkyBoy.
With the help of her best friend Jason, a self-professed comic geek, DeDe accepted her legacy and became Sky Girl. Now, DeDe must learn what it means to be a heroine as Sky Girl faces the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy, including the clever Quizmaster, the beautiful Penny Pound, the enigmatic Jersey Devil, and the magical MissTick.
DeDe must also face personal challenges as she discovers the secrets of her late father and his connection to Skyboy--secrets that will affect Sky Girl’s destiny.
Prices/Formats: $6.99 ebook, $15.95 paperback
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Publisher: Martin Sisters Publishing
Release Date: May 31, 2013
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
About the Author
Joe Sergi lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife and daughter. Joe is an attorney and a Haller Award winning author who has written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, scifi, and young adult genres. Joe is the creator of the Sky Girl series of novels and the editor of Great Zombies in History. His first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. Joe is a life-long comic fan who regularly writes on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. When not writing, Joe works as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed US government agency and is a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law.
Links to Connect with Author:
Author Web Site
Book Web Site