Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Happy Hour Podcast with Johnny & Duce Interview

Hey! So, I spent Free Comic Book Day with my friend Brian Wenzloff and his family while they were raising money for an MDA Muscle Walk while at Emerald City Comics in Clearwater, FL. It was a phenomenal time watching people get excited about comic books—something near and dear to my heart, too. Brian, his wife Nicole, and his sons, Brighton, Shane, and little Oliver (yes, named for Oliver Queen) were there, and I enjoyed so much helping them be a part of this experience. I hope they were able to raise some money for such a worthy cause.

Brian at one point in the day introduced me to Johnny and Duce with their Happy Hour Podcast, and they asked me to sit with them, in the middle of the store, and be interviewed. Well, how could I say no! Check out the interview below. It starts at 41:00 and lasts about 20 minutes. And check them out on Facebook at Happy Hour Podcast with Johnny and Duce, as well as on Soundcloud.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Me love Superman vs. Bizarro!

Just finished Superman vs. Bizarro, written by John Sazaklis with art by Luciano Vecchio. Man, do I love Vecchio’s art. Opening the cover reveals the endpapers splashed with DC villains on one side (the left side—how appropriate) and the heroes on the right side. The first few pages give a brief bio of both main characters, facing each other, and that creates an interesting visual already. This five chapter book tells the story of two kids, Marc and Anna, and their trip to Metropolis. They encounter Bizarro and, ultimately, Metallo, before finally meeting Superman. This is an action-packed and riveting story about heroism with some underlying messages about safety and support. Even though Metallo does play more of a villainous role when you would think Bizarro would (from the title), the story comes back around to Bizarro at the end. In my opinion, Superman and Bizarro needed a common enemy for this story to work.

As a teacher, I especially enjoyed the higher level vocabulary used as well as the glossaries in the back: one for Superman, and one more Bizarro. You can also find some thought-provoking questions geared to make an active reader think about the story and how it relates to him or her. Easily a favorite children’s book, and I’m certain adults would enjoy it as well (I know I did). Whether or not you’re a comic book fan, you’ll want this book in your collection. Sazaklis knocks it out of the park with this one.
 
You can buy it here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Sazaklis and Vecchio empower Wonder Woman!


Just got my copy of Wonder Woman: An Origin Story written by John Sazaklis and illustrated by Luciano Vecchio. First, the cover is striking, with a beautiful rendition of Diana smiling—always love seeing her smile! The back cover highlights her powers (and no sword, which is always a plus for me). One of the first things I noticed was a glossary of words; as I am an English teacher, I think this is a huge asset to any children’s book. That certainly puts this book in a positive light right off. I absolutely love that Diana is “confident…determined…and has a heart of gold” in her first scene. Now, that is the way to begin a story about the Amazing Amazon. Seeing the gods involved in her birth was another plus, although my preference would have been to leave Zeus out of it (although he is currently her father in her own comic). But! That doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of a beautiful splash page of Hippolyta holding the newborn Diana. Diana is adventurous, and this quality begins her position as a role model. Her wanting to go out into the outside world to help warmed my heart, and I love that she wants to be a hero. When she says, “Show compassion to one another,” I got teary-eyed. That’s the Diana I love.

Overall, I found this book quite heartwarming and endearing. Diana’s strength and capability shines—Sazaklis and Vecchio have done the Amazon princess proud. The discussion questions in the back of the book make me happy. Picture books are great ways for young readers to learn about stories, but this book has vocabulary and questions to challenge the mind, something Diana would want in those who read about her. I look forward to reading other works by Sazaklis and Vecchio.

Buy it at Amazon.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Task Force: Gaea Trivia aka Bet You Didn't Know...

In rummaging through a box of notes from the eaaaaaarly days of the first novel, I found some things you might find interesting:

Original design for PortalBearer
I originally planned on using a pseudonym of "David Chauncey," using my grandmother's maiden name.

The original title of the novel was The Olympus Corps after a short story of the same name I wrote in high school. It later became Task Force: Gaia—Destiny's Talisman.

The original premise was Star-Trek-meets-Greek-Myth.

The location for the ancient society was called Arvador, a name I created before I changed it to Arkadeia.

The book was divided in two parts: Dike (pronounced DIE-key) for Mortal Justice and Themis for Divine Justice. This premise was scrapped later.




  1. Danelos Fairmont
    • Originally Danaelos. Name shortened for ease of pronunciation.
    • Mother: Lydia; Father: Mark (Apollo in mortal form, unbeknownst to Lydia or Dan).
    • Brandon was born first.
    • Mark "allegedly" dies on an oil rig. Lydia gives up Brandon for adoption to Mark's best friend, Zachary Jeffries. Dan was born a short time later (Lydia was pregnant before Mark died).
    • Zachary consoled Lydia, later marrying her. Lydia was a teacher (not an Arkadeian queen).
    • Dan was a teacher for the gifted, not an archaeologist.
    • Originally, the sword was made of adamantium.
  2. Brandon Jeffries
    • See above about birth and parentage.
    • Much of his character remained the same in the later years.
  3. Aleta Halston
    • Originally Rebecca Halston.
    • Much of her character remained the same in the later years.
    • Her origin involved going to Ancient Greece to the first Olympic games where she saves a couple by throwing a javelin to stop a runaway discus. The couple was Zeus and Hera. Zeus endows the javelin with the power to call forth his lightning.
    • Danaelos had created a feather charm that hid her winged form from regular people.
  4. Sarah Jacobs
    • Sarah's parents were married until her father and brother were killed in a car accident.
    • She was a nuclear engineer that handled waste disposal.
    • Her abilities have remained the same.
    • Her original codename was Elemental.
Cover mock up before the days of PhotoShop.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wonder Woman, Korra, and the Mother Goddess

I have a friend, well, he's more like a brother. We share an intimate bond where we appreciate the connection we have to two heroines: he is bound to Korra, while I am bound to Wonder Woman. The reasons aren't the important part, but what is important is the connection itself. We, like other friends of mine, are inextricably woven to these women, and I think I understand why. Well, at least part of the reason, anyway.

Millennia ago, when the most primitive of societies first emerged, they found comfort in a deity or entity that would encompass all of their beliefs. From the paleolithic period, societies had goddesses to worship: as early as the paleolithic period, Venus of Willendorf existed. Egypt had Isis, Sumer had Inanna, Crete had Atana, and Babylon had Ishtar. Greece, perhaps the most well known ancient civilization for gods, had Gaea, and Asia Minor had Cybele. Canaan had Astarte, and even the ancient Hebrews, before their monotheistic shift, worshipped Asherah.

All of these Mother Goddesses encompassed fertility, growth, nurturing, love, healing, and even war. From these grew the polytheistic societies of the world, namely Greece, with the Olympian gods. Each of the female entities embodied these characteristics to some degree—even virgin goddesses like Artemis also had fertility and childbirth as their purview. Qualities of the Mother Goddess grew within each of the goddesses who came after, with a deep-rooted connection the earth itself being at the core. Nothing else can happen without the Earth.

I became fascinated with the Mother Goddess idea when I taught the Hero's Journey (the Monomyth, according to Joseph Campbell). Many books I taught contained figures tied to the ancient maternal ideas, and by understanding the connection we have to them, we also understand our connection to other individuals as well. The ultimate ideal is to connect to the source of all power—the earth on which we live. Two of the heroines that fall into this milieu are Wonder Woman and Korra.

WONDER WOMAN was born from the clay of the earth, and brought to life by a combination of her mother, Hippolyte's, loving touch as well as the grace of Aphrodite (according to George Perez, Artemis, Athene, Aphrodite, Hestia, Demeter, and even Hermes were involved). So, in essence, Love and Earth combined to provide life to the champion of the Amazons. Perez's Demeter, goddess of agriculture, told Hippolyte: "I, Demeter, grant [Diana] the power and strength like that of the Earth itself!" We draw strength from our Earth Mother throughout our life, through plants and animals that grow upon it. Through that, we are tied to Diana, as she is nurtured by the goddess Gaea. The Mother Goddess idea pervades all aspects of Diana's life, especially since her people worship the goddesses and draw strength of body and spirit from them.

Like the early Mother Goddesses, too, Diana brings to the outside world a combination of attributes: compassion, love, wisdom, and strength. Through her actions, we are supposed to learn more about what it means to connect with that feminine ideal, that nurturance that keeps us grounded and forward-thinking. Another female figure grows from this as well—a waterbender from the Southern Water tribe.

KORRA, the girl from the Southern Water tribe, was born into the Avatar cycle, taking up that mantle without hesitation. Her role in the world is to learn all forms of elemental bending so that she might bring balance. The four elements: earth, fire, air, and water, each speak to different attributes of human nature and, although the Mother Goddess concept doesn't exist in the world of the Avatar, it is the influence of the Mother Goddess that allows for the existence of this reincarnated responsibility. One female who controls all the elements speaks to a larger concept of motherhood: nurturance and protection. Korra is steadfast in her willingness to protect those who cannot protect themselves; she not only draws from the energy around her to bend it, but she also has the ability to heal—through her waterbending. Ultimately, we find ourselves drawn to her because of her link to the most basic parts of existence, the elements that make up the world. She becomes a goddess figure in that she can attain the Avatar state, having merged with the spirit of peace and light, Raava. This female energy, linked with Korra, makes her an even stronger Mother Goddess figure.

The strength of the female, of female energy, of the most basic of nurturing sources touches a part of us that hearkens back to our ancient origins. We find comfort with these heroines, seeing a piece of ourselves in them: the heroic, the compassionate, the strong, the protective, the wise, and the empowered. Through Diana and Korra's connections to their inner power, they remain vital and relevant. Where Diana is the Amazon brought to life by the gods and Korra is the human inheritor of a vast responsibility, each remains true to her beliefs and her abilities. Perhaps that is one lesson we can also take from them: stay true to what you believe and what you can do, but always strive to be better. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

RainbowCon 2015—Panels I Can't Wait to Attend!

Panels provide some of the best insight at conventions, especially when dealing with topics that bring about conversation. I'll be a guest of RainbowCon this July in Tampa, and among the many panels to attend, three have caught my eye. I may be on some of them or at least in the room, but I can already tell they'll be worth the time investment.

Heroes and Heroines with Disabilities. Not every hero/heroine has to be perfect, and that definition can certainly very depending on whom you ask. Heroism doesn't always have two working legs, or arms, or even eyes. Sometimes a hero may not have what some would consider a traditional mindset, too. Who's to say that someone who is mentally challenged couldn't perform heroically in one form or another. This panel will be a forum for exploring the parameters of heroism within the scope of what being 'disabled' means. Barbara Gordon, once known as Batgirl, was shot by the Joker and paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair. This didn't stop her from becoming Oracle, the eyes and ears for many heroes. Actions of valor and compassion do not have limitations or requirements, perhaps the only one really being the ability to discern right from wrong. The question worth exploring is, would a reader embrace a hero or heroine who doesn't fit the cookie cutter example of a 'superhero'? I, for one, want to know what people think on the subject.

Writing Diversity. Race, religion, ability, sexual orientation—these provide the parameters for much of the diversity in literature. Being an author as well as a teacher, I anticipate the exploration of this vast area of discussion, hoping to learn more about what other writers do in their books as well as what other books readers want to see. My novel series, Task Force: Gaea, has gay characters in Dan Fairmont aka Aegis, and a black female character in Dr. Aleta Halston aka Talon. The world we live in, and even the worlds of fantasy, has been painted with a broad brush that holds many colors. When writers blend certain colors together, they create a panoply of diversity. Knowing many of the authors who will be attending this convention, I look forward to bandying about ideas regarding what types of variety they include as well as what they feel is deficient in the genres.

Women in Fiction. The idea of women being sidekicks or back up or even the 'damsel-in-distress' archetype is changing. With so many heroines in the milieu of action/adventure/sci-fi/fantasy, the landscape is evolving to include so many powerful female figures. I made it a point of including powerful women in my own books, from Dr. Aleta Halston to Sarah Jacobs to Alkinoë, the wife of Apollo and queen of Arkadeia. They don't have to overshadow the men, although that isn't a bad thing, but they should share in the action. This conversation needs to happen with both men and women in the room so that authors and readers alike can explore what the future holds. As a feminist, I want to know just what others see and want to see. 

If you want a different convention experience, come attend RainbowCon this summer in Tampa. These three panels are just part of the myriad conversations that will be taking place in that weekend. If you're local, stop by; if you're not, check out their website about hotel information and make a trip to Tampa Bay. I know I'll be looking forward to meeting you (or seeing you again, if we've met before).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Avatar: The Last Airbender—A World of Value

Lately, I've been posting pictures and ideas from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Some of you might be curious as to why. Of all the television shows I have watched, these two espouse ideas of morality, intelligence and planning, innovation, faith (in higher power as well as one's own abilities), honor, wisdom, and conviction in a way I have never seen before.

Aang's naïveté becomes one of his greatest assets, becoming a staunch idealism necessary for an Avatar, but also for a human being. As an airbender, he has tremendous ingenuity and whimsy that allow him to grow into a creative and thoughtful individual. Mastering four elements is much like mastering our own various strengths, and once we have done that, we can approach our own obstacles with greater confidence.

Katara, from the very beginning, believed in Aang and his ability to change the world. It takes a person of great fortitude of spirit to be that devoted to the success of someone else. As a waterbender, she has a fluid personality, one that can be nurturing and healing, but also can be protective, even to an extreme. She has faith. That doesn't have to be in a higher power as much as it could be in an ideal or in a person. That also takes strength of character.

Sokka, although goofy at times, has an ability to plan and strategize that grows as the series progresses. He tends to be the comic relief, but he also has that same steadfast loyalty to Aang and his mission. While not a bender, he has strengths that sometimes go beyond the spiritual.

Toph, the rough, blind earthbender, is one of my favorite characters. She has a strength from the earth itself, and a stubbornness to go along with it. Her confidence (cockiness?) comes from her ability to surpass her physical limitations without sight and become someone who has vision. She creates metalbending which, in and of itself, is an innovation to their world, and that provides another metaphor of solidity and strength.

Zuko, a firebender, is a complex young man. He embodies honor. From early on, his drive to reclaim what he sees as lost honor drives him forward to accomplish many things, and that also means he has to work through issues with his father, Ozai, and his sister, Azula. He becomes a man forged in a fiery crucible, one of suffering and rejection, and also, like fire, can create as much as he can destroy. What started out as an arrogance borne of royalty and privilege becomes a confidence that becomes a foundation upon which the Fire Nation can grow into prosperity.

Iroh, Zuko's uncle, is also one of my favorite characters of all. He stands by Zuko from the very beginning, never abandoning his nephew, despite his decisions. He knows that Zuko will find his own path when he is ready. Some of the wisest words in an animated series come from Iroh. His lesson about the four elements to Zuko is, by far, one of my most treasured ideas. It mirrors the ideals of the Avatar. In truth, I think a bender of any element should appreciate, respect, and learn from the other three to achieve balance. One of the messages behind this series is that we can all become Avatars when we have mastered ourselves.

Azula's passion and Lady Macbeth-esque qualities make her a fun character. She becomes the opposite of Zuko. Where Zuko is sensitive with an underlying sense of right and wrong, Azula possesses a stalwart decisiveness about what her role should be. In some ways, I think she becomes a role model. She's a strong female character, like Katara and Toph, who forges ahead for what she wants. While her motivations may be misguided, she strives for the best she can be (unfortunately, disregarding those whom she regards friends). Where Zuko moves from a driving "madness" early on to a more grounded individual, Azula moves further into a darker place, ironic for a firebender of her skill.

I'm sure some of you have others ideas to share about this series, but these are mine. I'll formulate my take on The Legend of Korra soon. That series, while stemming from Avatar, has a starkly divergent feel, one that moves my spirit in an altogether different way.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Wonder Woman and Korra—Fantasy Meets My Reality

Wonder Woman / Korra by Stanley Lau (artgerm)
I’ve been having some conversations with a friend about connections to characters like Wonder Woman and Korra, and the more I think about it, the more I see how much being a lover of fantasy is just a large part of who I am and won’t change. Decades ago, I latched onto the fantasy genre (novels and comics) because I needed escape from this world into one where there were individuals more powerful than I was who could lead by example. I felt powerless for many reasons in my youth (fear of coming out, for one), and I saw the possibility for more from these otherworldly characters. Strength came from purpose, not necessarily physical attributes; higher powers interacted with these characters, guiding them in tangible ways (when I had felt abandoned by my own higher power); and, these characters inspired not because they intended do, but rather, because they just did by their actions. Back then, these characters—yes, fictional characters—spoke to me like nothing else did.

As an older adult, I don’t have the same needs, but I still feel connected to these characters. That may seem childish to some, but what they represent to me goes beyond—into potential. I can never be an actual superhero or character imbued with magical powers, but the idea that I can be something more all the time is what remains appealing.

I like having friends, some older adults like myself, who feel the same way. We find our path, our anchor, our impetus to move forward in myriad ways, and talking to like-minded people keeps me focused, ironically enough, on the real world.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fatherhood of a Different Sort

Since 1993, I've been an English teacher, and I like to think that my students are, in essence, my children. I do help nurture them while they're in my class, but they were born to (and/or raised by) other people. Those people, in most cases, had the distinct pleasure of seeing their child from birth all the way through adulthood. Despite the fact that I have the ability to adopt children (having none of my own), I realistically won't, for reasons beyond this post. I've made my peace with that, actually.

I do, however, have children of my own. You're thinking, "Didn't he just say he didn't have kids?" I don't have the flesh-and-blood sort of children, but I do have offspring that came from the fruit of my... mind. My characters came from the blessed union of my inspiration and me. I know that sounds a bit odd, so I should explain. First, I have two sons: Danelos Fairmont and Brandon Jeffries. These boys are everything a father could want and more. 

Left: Dan by Silver Jow; Right: Dan by Mike Hamlett
Let me introduce you to Dan. My firstborn, he's an educated man, someone who takes excellent care of himself physically, mentally, and spiritually. He's a college professor of Archaeology and Antiquities at Boston University, a school where I would love to teach. Being a hero means he has to take care of himself, so he works out regularly (I wish I had his exercise regimen) and eats pretty healthily. Unlike his old man, however, he has long, black hair and blue eyes. No milkman here—he really is my kid, I swear.

He enjoys puzzles of all kinds, especially when it comes to figuring out prophecy, and loves crosswords. He's chosen a different spiritual path than I have since he's taken a sacred pledge to Gaea and Olympeia, the spirit of Mount Olympos. Hey, it makes him happy. While some kids go off and get tattoos, Dan wears a manacle that shows his allegiance to the goddesses to whom he's devoted himself. When he was old enough, I gave him his first weapon, PortalBearer, and he's mastered it like any good son would. He 'came out' to me when he was in his early teens, something I have no problem with, of course, and—like me—he's monogamous. I'm really proud of Dan for all his accomplishments, taking up with the U.N. Task Force Division.

Left: Brandon by Silver Jow; Right: Brandon by Mike Hamlett
My other son, Brandon, looks a little more like me (when I had more hair). He's my "tree hugger" son, the one who works as a zoologist also through Boston University, but he tends to work on making sure the animals are where they need to be. He's also like me in that he loves to be outdoors, hiking, camping, running, etc. Like Dan, he also takes excellent care of himself, eating organic food, avoiding processed products, and working out, but he stays more in shape from his outdoor activities.

His spirituality comes from his connection to the sky mostly, and looks for guidance in the stars. I tried to tell him he had taken on quite a bit, trying to find his path that way, but he's a stubborn kid. He has an amulet, something he never takes off no matter what, and it allows him to channel the abilities of the Zodiac signs. This boy has a heart of gold, and his connection to Virgo confirms that. Brandon doesn't have a devious bone in his body, and he would have been a Boy Scout or something similar if he could have. He, too, works with the U.N. Task Force Division, alongside Dan, and they're like brothers.

Now what kind of proud poppa would I be if I didn't tell you about my two girls, Aleta Halston and Sarah Jacobs. They are the apple of my eye.

Left: Aleta by Silver Jow; Right: Aleta by Mike Hamlett
From an early age, Aleta loved working with animals, birds especially, so when she wanted to go to medical school, who was I to argue? She graduated with a few degrees and expertise in genetics. The day she became Dr. Aleta Halston was one of the proudest moments in my life. My little girl—a doctor. Now, she's like me in a few ways, but the most obvious one is my sarcasm. This girl can wound with words in a way that makes some people nervous. Yeah, she got her razor sharp wit from me. Sometimes, her headstrong nature gets in the way of her relationships, and she hasn't had a serious boyfriend in a while. Baby steps, I say.

A father can't always be there when his little girl gets into trouble, and she was caught in the middle of an accident while doing genetic research. She'd developed a machine that could transport malignant cells from a body; this would work wonders with things like cancer exploration. One day, she ended up inside her machine while an albino eagle was also inside. When she came out of the hospital, she found she'd been genetically fused with the eagle. The first day I saw her fly—literally fly from the nest—I nearly cried. Okay, I did cry. When she came of age, she received her silver javelin, the one that gives her access to lightning. That's my girl.

Left: Sarah by Silver Jow; Right: Sarah by Mike Hamlett
My second little girl (not sure I can call her little since she's all grown up) is Sarah. Like Brandon, she's my "earthy-crunchy" child, someone who likes playing with clay, and is really down-to-earth in more ways than one. When she was old enough to understand certain things, she decided to become Wiccan, something I highly encouraged since I thought it would give her perspective. Not sure where she gets her red hair from, but she has that fiery spirit to go along with it. Of all my kids, she's the most artistic, making pottery and sculpting. A precocious child, she didn't have any problem speaking her mind. That's probably why she and Aleta get along so well.

At that special age girls get when they start pulling away from their father, I realized she needed to be able to protect herself, so I gave her a ring that lets her manipulate the four elements: earth, fire, air, and water. I didn't want her to get ahead of herself, so she can't actually create those things, only manipulate them. Merging her Wiccan beliefs with her understanding of the ring, she's actually quite a powerful young woman. But, if she's not careful, she could lose control, and that wouldn't be something I'd like to see.

I'm as proud as any father could be with my kids. They have their idiosyncrasies, as all kids do, but I raised them pretty well (or, at least I think I did). They do grow up fast, though.

If you'd like to read more about them, their stories are on Amazon.
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