Friday, November 14, 2014

A Friend and Muse—Meeting James Matlack Raney

A FEW years ago, I came across an author on Facebook who had recently published his first middle grades novel, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves. I bought it on Kindle initially so I could read it during my school's Read-A-Latte, a day when we could bring our classes to the library and just have them read books, enjoy some coffee or hot cocoa, and a light snack. Well, all of my classes participated in this event, and I finished the novel in just a few periods, finding it a refreshing and engaging read for all ages.

This was my first exposure to James Matlack Raney.

Since then, I have read the second book in the Jim Morgan trilogy—Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull—and this book blew me away with the vibrant imagery, spot on characterization, and fantasy world elements that I enjoy so much. Not long after reading the first novel, we started chatting on Facebook, and since then we've talked about our own books, writing in general, book publishing, promoting through social media, etc.

He was also kind enough to help me with a film treatment I was asked to write for my own debut novel, Task Force: Gaea. We spent hours over the course of a few days discussing this project, and his advice on books to read on the subject was invaluable. I am truly grateful for all of the time and effort he put into helping me make my project as strong as it could be. Not many people would take time of our their own lives to help someone they hardly know like that—he's truly a good-hearted person.

Having read James' works and talked with him, I found myself inspired in my own writing. A gifted writer, his advice and thoughts on various topics have come across as helpful without being the least bit condescending or pedantic. He truly knows his stuff. As I finished my second novel (and now my third), I can honestly say he was integral in helping to inspire me as a fellow author and a friend.

A few months ago, he re-purposed his blog—Storygazing—to showcase author's short fiction and poetry, and I was humbled when he asked me to contribute as well. The works that those authors have posted have been some unique and inspiring pieces, truly evocative of the inspired mind. As like minded storytellers, we both appreciate the written word and the effect it can have on others. My hope is that Storygazing will become an ongoing repository for creative works that people will enjoy for years to come.

Recently, while I was in Los Angeles for Bent-Con, I had the opportunity to meet James the night before I left, and it was like meeting an old friend. I have to admit: I was a little nervous. He's a role model and a sounding board, and I hoped I wouldn't make a fool out of myself. Our three-hour-long conversation couldn't have been more at ease, however, spanning comics, books, writing, movies, school, and even my favorite topic, Wonder Woman. 

Whenever I meet author friends, I feel like I'm meeting a member of an extended literary family, and in this case, I was meeting a brother. My hope is that we can make that meet up a yearly occurrence when I am out in Los Angeles.

It's not often one gets to meet a Muse, and I feel especially lucky to have had the chance to chat with someone whom I respect highly and for whom I want nothing but success.

Writing is a journey for the author as much as it for the reader, and reading compelling stories that can stand the test of time is something we all enjoy. I've only been an author for a short time (although I've been a writer for as long as I could hold a pen), and knowing others who would rather sit and write than do much else makes me feel more validated.

James' third novel in this series, Jim Morgan and the Door at the Edge of the World, comes out December 1, 2014, and I've been waiting quite a while to read it. You should definitely join the adventure of Jim Morgan—you won't be disappointed.

As his bio states, "James Matlack Raney grew up all over the world, in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Now he calls Southern California home, writing adventures and occasionally living a few of his own," and I think we're all the better for it!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Holy Bent-Con, Batman—What a weekend!

Some conventions leave the most lasting impressions, and this year, Bent-Con 2014 certainly has etched itself into history as one of those. Held in Los Angeles at the Marriott Burbank Convention Center, this LGBTQ event brings together geeks, artists, creators, cosplayers, celebrities, and vendors from all over the world. Attending this extravaganza has only a little to do with me as an author—I truly go to see my friends.

This year, I had the great pleasure of meeting my friend Cyn Duby, who describes herself as "a solitary eclectic hedge and kitchen witch with Native American and Celtic leanings," and is a fellow author; she has a piece of my heart. We shared a suite this year which undoubtedly put us in the center of the action. Arriving late Thursday evening, we spent the rest of that evening just getting acquainted in person (we met on Facebook through mutual friend, Jezza Smiles, who unfortunately couldn't make it to Bent-Con this year). The rest of the weekend resulted in frivolity and madness that cannot be described in words. Suffice it to say, we had a hilarious time. Her daughter Stevie Montoy helped me tremendously by sitting at my table when I was away, selling books, and just being a good sport in helping out throughout the weekend.

Friday brought about setting up my table, something that establishes my base of operations for the duration of the convention. To one side of me was Jim Cartwright, friend and fellow author of the Las Vegas Bandits series, and to the other was Ashley of Monkey Minion Press, maker of posters, magnets, T-shirts, art prints, and so much more. Here is where I spotted my first "con" purchase, a print of Wonder Woman that I had originally seen on Facebook (eventually gifted to me by Cyn as an early birthday present). A few tables down was The Ninjabot, another wealth of art prints, and they have the Origin series which includes a stunning piece for Wonder Woman (that I ended up buying).

Top: Sean Maker, Jody Wheeler, Viktor Kerney, and PK Eiselt; Bottom: Michelle Lagos, Bellz Jordan, and Tomás Prower

Before I go into more detail, I want to thank those who make Bent-Con happen. Specifically, I have to thank Sean Maker, the president and founder. He has a big heart and warm smile, and he has become a dear friend as well as has Viktor Kerney, director of Outreach. Of course, I can't forget Jody Wheeler, VP of BC, and PK Eiselt, gentlemen I have come to know and respect over the past three years, and Bellz Jordan, someone I have known in passing, but would like to get to know better. This year, I also had the pleasure of meeting Michelle Lagos, Director of Programming and Talent Relations, and Tomás Prower, author and Youth Outreach coordinator. I hope to work with Tomás more in helping Bent-Con bring in the younger audience. Plus, I need to thank all of the volunteers and anyone else who makes Bent-Con so special.

Now for the main reason I go to Bent-Con...

Peter Saenz, Boston Blake, and me
To say I have friends who attend this event would be misleading—these people are family to me, some of whom I met online over a decade ago and only just recently met in person. These guys have my heart: Boston Blake, actor; Peter Saenz, author of Coven of Wolves as well as contributor to a few anthologies; and Phil Jimenez, writer/artist for Marvel and DC Comics, are brothers to me, and we share a tremendous longstanding love and respect for Wonder Woman. Missing from this 'family reunion' was another brother, Michael D'Alessio, who was unable to make it this year, but he was there in spirit. I had the privilege to meet artist Glen Hanson, someone whose work always leaves me breathless. Boston, Peter, Viktor and I had one of our Wonder Woman-themed dinners on Friday night, and the following night, Jase Peeples and Glen joined us for the second dinner devoted largely to our favorite Amazon princess.

Viktor, Peter, Boston, me, and Phil Jimenez
Some people I have met in person only in the past few years (having known them through message boards and Facebook), and they, too, make up my extended family. Augie Pires, who fought through illness to come to Bent-Con on Sunday, has tremendous energy and passion for our mutual comic book love, Wonder Woman. I was thrilled that he made it. Cosplayer extraordinaire and all-around sweet guy, Chris Riley—someone who has an endearing spirit and an appreciation for the LGBTQ fans of the art that is cosplay—helped make this weekend so enjoyable for me. I also had the opportunity to meet a longtime online friend Nick Corrin for the first time, and he is one of the sweetest people I've ever met. I joked with him about "snubbing" me last year since had walked by my table numerous times, but then he left BC without saying hello. This year, he made a concerted effort to spend time chatting, and I'm so glad he did.

Me and Chris Riley
What truly amazes me is that every single one of these people I met online, whether it be comic book message boards or Facebook. I can't imagine not having these people in my life—we laugh together, argue about comics over dinner, talk about each other's work, and listen to industry professionals talk about the impact so many issues has on comics or cosplay or novels or life in general. A few years ago, I started this journey as both a convention attendee as well as a traveling author. If you haven't been to conventions, you really don't know what you're missing.

In case you're wondering where the cosplay pictures are, I'm choosing to highlight the friends and family I have here at Bent-Con. If you look on Facebook, NewNowNext, or The Advocate, you can find all the cosplay pictures you like. And, if you check back next year, you might just see me in my cosplay debut. Yes, I am a cosplay virgin, and I have just the costume to begin that other side of my life. But, that's for another entry... Shhhh... but let's get back to the people to which I want to devote this blog post:

Augie and me, 2013
Chatting with Robert Chandler has always been a highlight of my Bent-Con weekend, and finally had the opportunity late in the weekend. David Reddish, an author of Sex, Drugs & Superheroes: A Savage Journey Into a Wretched Hive of Scum and Supervillainy and The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus, was also fun to spend time with, but we both agreed we needed more time next year. Artist Terry Blas has so much talent it scares me, and I had to get a Starlord print he did if I bought anything. Although I didn't get the chance to spend much time with them this weekend, I did get a little time to chat with Zan Christensen of Northwest Press, Jon Macy, and David Mizejewski. A.J. Catalano, an exceptional artist, and I had a chance to talk about a possible project we'll do related to Task Force: Gaea. Hush hush for now!

Artist and friend Steven Garcia arrived late due to traffic, but he did show up, with all his spectacular art (I bought three pieces!). With him was the ever-adorable Chet Barbour! I didn't have the chance until late in the weekend to see E. Robert Dunn, but he lives in South Florida, so I am sure we'll grab coffee sometime when I am down that way. A fellow Long Islander, Greg Fox has been one of my favorite people for quite some time, long before I ever met him. He writes the Kyle's Bed & Breakfast comic.
Me, Peter Saenz, and Greg Fox, 2013
I loved meeting Keith Chambers and his boyfriend Angelo Martinez—two sweet guys who had the cutest costume elements (and Keith came to my writing workshop)! Zachary Ledbetter gives awesome hugs, and we did have a chance to chat a bit throughout the weekend, but I hope to have more time to hang with him next year. Joey Dennis and I had only a quick hug hello, but I did see him randomly around the con. Next year, Joey, we sit and chat more! Lex White and David Cook (dressed like Arrow) stopped by my table—I enjoyed finally getting the chance to meet them in person. My across-the-aisle neighbors, Flex Comics, have the superbuff James Jamess and Jeremy Agapitos.

David Cook, me, and Lex White
My friend Jezza Smiles was unable to make it, as were Butch McLogic, Michael Annetta, William Thomas Damon, Paul Charles, and Joe Palmer. I missed them!

New to my friends list this year were artist and aisle-mate Jacob Mott as well as fellow artist Patrick Fillion who is with Class Comics (NSFW). Across from my table was the incredibly talented Rebecca Hicks with Little Vampires, and her Wolfie is just so adorable! My friend Cyn introduced me to Jasun Mark, producer/director with Titan Media (let's just say that it's NSFW). I also can't forget Billy Konstantine—he made an excellent Iceman!

ON SATURDAY, I facilitated my first convention workshop, Character Development 101, and although I only had five guests, we had a successful session, and one of the participants, Josh, who was looking into animation, felt like he had truly learned some new things that might help him in that medium.

Terry Blas and me
At 3 p.m., I attended my friend Boston's lecture, Wonder Woman: The Kink in the Golden Lasso, and this was an incredible discussion of Wonder Woman's history as well as issues like patriarchy, image adjustment, and her role in society. At 6:30 p.m., I participated on a panel, Spiritual Themes in Comics and Alternate Media, with Cyn, B. Dave Walters, and Buzz Dixon. After one of our famous Wonder Woman dinners (Peter/Viktor/Glen/Jase/Me), my fellow Amazons and I visited with Phil Jimenez for a while before attending a party in Zan's room—we actually chatted about cartoons! That's geeks for you!

Glen Hanson and me
SUNDAY went well, and I finished the convention having sold 17 of 20 books. Anne Rice and her son, Christopher, made an appearance, and then the exhibitor room emptied—quickly. Saying farewell to my Bent-Con family is never easy, and with big bear hugs and talk of next year, the convention came to a close.

It's not just the common interests that tie people together; it's the memories we create, the love and friendship we foster, and the networking we do to create bigger and better projects that can make a difference in the world.

Peter Saenz, me, and Billy Konstantine

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

For the Love of a Woman

Every day, my newsfeed flows with images of the one literary character who literally lives in my house.

I’ve been a Wonder Woman fan ever since I can remember (probably around 8). Since then, I’ve surrounded myself with comic books, figures, toys, and other paraphernalia resonant of a more childlike past, back when I could get lost in my own world without the benefit of C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe. It didn’t take much to travel through a portal of my own devising to get to Themyscira (then, Paradise Island) and imagine what life would be like on an island with immortals surrounding you, or to know that inner peace that I would find being around others who share my interests for a few millennia.

Today, I am still surrounded by all of the trappings of the Amazon princess, and those items do indeed provide inspiration for me on many levels. The magic and mythology of Wonder Woman has ensnared my heart, and while that might seem odd for a man my age, I feel that I’m more connected to the world around me because I have a passion that makes me smile. I share this passion with many people—some of the best friends I could ever ask for—and I’m just happy that I can be myself. Life is way too short to be anyone else.

I’m lucky that I have something that inspires me, fuels my inspiration to write, and emboldens me. I can see pictures of just about anything in my newsfeed, but whenever I see HER, regardless of the artist (and I see these images every single day), I can’t help but smile and stop for a moment. She represents so much more than a superhero. Her image stands for feminism, peace, compassion, love, wisdom, knowledge, and power (not just physical power, either). People use her insignia to show that they, too, are truly potent. Her eagle or the =w= is an icon, an archetype.

I like when I have to explain to someone why I feel for her the way I do. I feel like I’m breaking down a wall, opening up myself just a little so others can see just how I view this character some consider fictional as non-fiction to me. She exists. She’s real. Look around the world, the Internet, TV, etc.—her presence permeates culture.

As the song says, “Change their minds and change the world.” That’s what I do in the classroom, and I’m who I am today partly because of my love of one woman. Ain’t she a wonder?
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