Rethinking Game of Thrones

I’m very much behind on this one, but I’m currently reading the Game of Thrones books (or should I say the Song of Fire and Ice books?). I started the first novel several years ago and read a little over a hundred pages, but it wasn’t grabbing me. So, I left the bookmark in, put it back on my shelf, and moved on to other books.

On a whim recently, I decided to give George R. R. Martin’s series another chance. I just picked up where I left off, and this time I found myself appreciating how well done it is, and how engrossing. I’m about halfway through the third book, A Storm of Swords.

(And I’ve watched the first two seasons of the HBO series, but the books come first … until the series runs out of book source material, of course.)

I love the technique of alternating POV characters. The world-building is extraordinary; it’s almost like a historically plausible fantasy epic, and the gradual introduction of those fantasy elements is intriguing. More important, the characters remain grounded in humanity, for good and for bad. And Arya Stark is quite possibly the greatest child character created for an adult series.

It’s not a perfect series, of course (what is?). The second book, A Clash of Kings, while still very good overall, drags a bit too much at times. Personally, I could do with fewer sex scenes (and less nudity in the TV series). And never mind all the blood and guts—the incest is what’s truly disgusting. This is not a fantasy world I’d want to live in.

So, I’m certainly not a hardcore GoT fan at this point. Nevertheless, I finally see what so many others have seen in it all this time.

This is why I don’t like to bash books that aren’t working for me. In some cases, it might actually be just a bad book, but it could also be that it simply didn’t work for me at that point in time. I could have been in the wrong mood or the wrong frame of mind, or perhaps its flaws just bugged me more than others. No book is perfect. No book is beyond criticism. At the same time, a book that’s deeply flawed may still resonate with some people.

We’re not smarter just because we hate what everyone else loves or love what everyone else hates. There are certainly well-established principles of storytelling that are worth paying attention to. Ultimately, though, reading is a subjective experience.

I started reading Game of Thrones and didn’t like it. I resumed reading Game of Thrones and am enjoying the series. Which me is correct?

So here’s why I write…

I recently reread George Orwell’s famous essay, “Why I Write.” In it, he ascribes four primary motives to writers: egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose. Different writers will feel a stronger pull from one or two than the others, and the precise balance might shift over a lifetime, but those four motives drive much of the prose that exists and will exist throughout the world. I’d be lying if I claimed immunity.

Looking at my superhero novel The Flying Woman, I can see those four motives playing roles of varying sizes.

Ego certainly factors into the equation. I would like to think otherwise, but that would be self-delusion. There’s a line in the musical Hamilton that goes, “God help and forgive me, I want to build something that’s gonna outlive me.” And yes, I’d like that, too. I won’t live forever, and I can’t take any books with me, but I can leave them behind and hope they endure.

Along those lines, I also wanted to write the best superhero novel ever. There are certainly many good and even great superhero prose novels out there, but which has the reputation as being the pinnacle of the genre in this medium? I’m not saying I succeeded—that’s ultimately up to the readers, not the writer. But after a lifetime of reading superhero comics, I wanted to put my own stamp on the genre.

Aesthetic enthusiasm is more a motivation for editing than writing, but I do certainly appreciate aesthetics and value their importance. I’m happy to take the time to ensure the correct word is always in the correct place, and unbroken walls of text often look plain ugly. Dialogue must always “sound” right and flow with a natural rhythm.

So there’s some aesthetic enthusiasm in the mix, but I wouldn’t call it my reason for writing in the first place.

When I was a newspaper reporter, the historical impulse was by far my strongest motive for that particular type of writing. My job was to present people and events as they were, and to provide readers with enough information to help them form their own conclusions. It was never my place to tell them what to think.

With fiction, and especially superhero fantasy fiction, I’m obviously not presenting factual accounts or even slice-of-life drama. But I do strive to present human nature as it is—the good, the bad, and the ugly. And stories of superheroes and supervillains can tell us quite a bit about ourselves. It’s no surprise that superhero origin stories are often great coming-of-age stories, too.

In The Flying Woman, a young woman acquires powers she never expected, and she has to figure out how to become this perfect superhero even though she knows she’s nowhere near perfect. Effectively, she has to figure out how to become the adult she needs to be. The development of a superhero, then, is another way to show how a person matures.

So maybe that’s not quite a “historical” impulse, but it’s adjacent.

And then there’s political purpose. I generally steer clear of this, as I believe partisan politics and fiction don’t mix (though perhaps that is a type of a political opinion).

Writing a female superhero lead might get me involved in current issues of representation in entertainment. Maybe I’m just looking through rose-colored glasses thanks to a youth of reading X-Men and watching Star Trek, but to me, a female superhero already seemed every bit as natural as a male superhero. As I type that, I worry that I sound like I’m pandering, when that’s the last thing I want to do.

In my mind, the way to reduce any disparities in representation is simply by writing (for example) a female lead in a matter-of-fact way, without any overt agenda. I wrote Miranda as a person first and foremost, not a “strong female superhero protagonist.” I focused less on issues that are unique to women today and more on issues that are common to both men and women—fear of failure, accepting responsibility, new responsibilities conflicting with previous ambitions, striving to live up to others’ expectations, and so on—the universal, timeless issues where we can find common ground, not the contemporary identity politics that can divide us … the broader human nature that I mentioned earlier.

So I wrote a non-political female superhero. The statement is that it shouldn’t be a statement. Is that political in a roundabout way? Anti-politics as a type of politics? I’ll let others decide.

That wraps up Orwell’s four motives, but I’ll add one of my own: the joy of creation, of building something new.

Sure, I’ve drawn on elements already present in the culture—established conventions of the superhero genre, themes others have previously tackled, tried-and-true plot structure, and so on. But I assembled those pieces in my own unique way, to create something that only I would have created.

There’s nothing like that thrill, though maybe this is just another form of egoism. Who am I to argue with Orwell?

Originally posted at Silver Dagger Book Tours.

Sequel: The Sequel

I encountered an unexpected obstacle while working on the sequel to The Flying Woman. After months of writing and revising, I realized I was actually working on the third book in the series. Unfortunately, math tells us that among the second and third books, the second should come first.

The main issue was that I jumped too far ahead in time, inadvertently skipping much of Miranda’s development as a superhero. The first book is all about accepting the responsibility and building the superhero persona, but how does she get good at it? How does a superhero receive training when she’s one of her world’s first ever?

That gave me a way in to an actual second book. I don’t have a title yet, but I’ve got the premise locked down. Describing the premise in too much detail would risk spoiling the first book (which you should of course read first), but it involves a superhero/fantasy genre mash-up.

There’s an old comic book trope in which the superhero gets sucked into another world, dimension, or reality and gets involved in whatever conflict is going on there. The superhero figures out who the good guys are, helps them out, and eventually finds a way home. It’s not my favorite trope, but the reasons for my ambivalence showed me how to make it work for my story.

In the comics, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, these outings would often feel inconsequential. Yeah, it might be fun to see a familiar character navigating an unfamiliar environment, but these issues tended to feel like a break from the main storylines, the superhero equivalent of a vacation. Then the main character would return home, and that would be that.

The concept fits perfectly in the Voyage and Return plot type, in which “[t]he protagonist goes to a strange land and, after overcoming the threats it poses or learning important lessons unique to that location, they return with experience.” In the old-school comics, though, the superhero didn’t always come away with any lasting lessons.

Experiences in far-off lands should leave indelible marks, especially on a young superhero who’s still trying to figure it all out. And thus I have my second book.

Admittedly, this puts me a bit behind schedule. However, I’ll be ahead when it’s time to resume work on the third book (unless I realize the third is actually the fourth).

My goal is to have the second book out this fall, though it’s too soon to promise that. I’d rather take extra time to get it right than put out something below par.

So in the meantime, continue to enjoy The Flying Woman.

‘The Flying Woman’ soars as a Book Excellence Award Finalist!

I’m thrilled to announce that I have been recognized as a Book Excellence Award Finalist for my novel, The Flying Woman, in the Fantasy category.

To toot my own horn, my book was selected based on criteria such as writing, design, and market appeal.

To see me listed among the finalists, please go here.

Released last fall, The Flying Woman adapts the superhero genre for the novel medium. The story follows a young woman learning to accept a responsibility far greater than anything she ever contemplated. It’s an entertaining time for superhero fans, whether in middle school or middle age.

And work on a sequel, The Silver Stranger, is under way!

Join the fun by getting your own copy of The Flying Woman here.

Upcoming events

I’ll be at three thrilling events in the near future. If you’re nearby, come check it/them out!

The Hanover Book Festival — Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Building in Mechanicsville, Virginia. Come meet a bunch of Virginia authors!

Hayfield Comic Con — Saturday, May 4, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia. The students are organizing this event, and they’ve got some fun events lined up, including an Escape Room. Plus, this will be an excellent place to celebrate Free Comic Book Day!

GalaxyCon Richmond — May 31 to June 2 at the Richmond Convention Center. I will truly be a very small fish in a huge pond here, but I will have a table, so come say hello!

Help me support the 2019 Walk to Cure Arthritis

One in four Americans have arthritis, and this number includes about 300,000 children, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

The 2019 Walk to Cure Arthritis is taking place in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, April 27. I encourage everyone to follow the link and make a donation.

I’ll be donating, and on top of what I already intend to donate, I’ll also donate all book and ebook royalties I earn today, Wednesday, April 3. (This is a personal promise from me, and only I am responsible for it. No other person or entity is responsible except me.)

So, please consider making a direct donation via the above link, and that would be wonderful. Or buy any of my books today, April 3, to increase the amount that I will donate. Or do both!

Thank you!

Up next …

The Flying Woman came out about five months ago now, and thank you to all who read it, are reading it, or will read it. In the meantime, I’ve been hard at work on the sequel.

I’m not nearly done yet. I’ve got maybe two-thirds of the first draft written, and I have the rest plotted out, but plenty of work remains ahead.

Nevertheless, I thought I’d share the title. So here’s what appears when I open the manuscript’s Word doc:

More details on The Silver Stranger will follow in the coming months.

For now, if you’ve read and enjoyed The Flying Woman, please tell your friends, and that will help The Silver Stranger materialize faster.

I always appreciate everyone’s support.

Superheroes Must Aspire

I rewatch Superman: The Movie at least once every few years. I don’t expect to ever give Man of Steel or Batman v. Superman a second viewing.

Not one of those three movies is perfect, not even the 1978 classic. Did we really need Lois Lane’s aerial poetry slam? Or a Superman who could turn back time, thereby achieving a feat that Cher could only sing about? Of course not, but those are forgivable blemishes when we consider Christopher Reeve’s pitch-perfect portrayal of the first and greatest superhero.

Christopher Reeve’s Superman gave us an ideal to aspire to. Sure, we can never be him, but we can put others first, help people to whatever extent we’re able, conduct ourselves with dignity and maturity, and generally strive to be the best person we can be.

Compare that with the more recent movie Superman, a terrifying, joyless, godlike figure whose parents encourage him to put his own needs first. (The course correction in Justice League is too little, too late.) That Superman is nothing to aspire toward.

Superheroes should never terrify the innocent. In some cases, the responsibility can terrify the superheroes, but they work through any fears and rise up to the challenges before them.

The one recent DC movie that got it right, Wonder Woman, also isn’t perfect, but Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a heroic, aspirational character who does what’s right, even when others assume there’s no hope of success. That’s the most important aspect.

The Marvel movies give us superheroes who are more flawed, but they’re still striving to be better. The first Iron Man movie shows Tony Stark rebuilding himself into a better man, literally and figuratively. Thor must prove himself worthy of his power. Ant-Man needs to get his life back on track so he can be a better father. Spider-Man screws up, but he takes responsibility for his mistakes and makes things right.

The powers have a wish-fulfillment appeal, but they also serve as a metaphor for improvement, for becoming something more than we are. And a strong moral foundation is necessary to use those skills properly and in a way that benefits other people. The focus isn’t on feeling superior to other people—it’s about being superior to who you were yesterday.

There are right ways and wrong ways to develop. The villains are the generally the ones who have stumbled down the wrong path.

So how does a superhero develop? A superhero should be a great role model, but how does that superhero become a great role model? After all, nobody is perfect. We all remember the mistakes we’ve made. Who are we to set an example for others?

The development of a superhero is what The Flying Woman (and, ultimately, the entire TERRIFIC series) is all about, and it represents maturation of any sort, whether someone is trying develop into the best teacher for their students, the best parent for their children, the best professional at the top of their chosen field, or generally just the most responsible and productive adult they can be while striving to make their part of the world a better place.

Superheroes aspire. They can make mistakes, experience setbacks, and struggle to find the correct path, but they work to better themselves so they can better the world.

Find The Flying Woman on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. For a chance to win a Kindle copy, enter the giveaway on Goodreads by December 19.

Goodreads Giveaway! Enter for a chance to win a Kindle copy of ‘The Flying Woman’

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Flying Woman by Daniel Sherrier

The Flying Woman

by Daniel Sherrier

Giveaway ends December 19, 2018.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

It’s the season of giving, so I’m giving Kindle copies of The Flying Woman to 100 readers in my first-ever Goodreads Giveaway. Click the above link to enter.

Thank you to all who show an interest, and I hope everyone enjoys the book.

‘The Flying Woman’ — The Press Release!

Below is the official press release for The Flying Woman. Check it out, and then mosey on over to Amazon and add the book to your Goodreads shelf.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Author launches novel series featuring female superhero

‘The Flying Woman’ tackles secret identities, responsibility, and fear of failure

Nov. 28, 2018 – How do you act like the perfect person when you know full well you’re nowhere near perfect? That’s the question at the core of “The Flying Woman,” a new superhero novel by Daniel Sherrier.

In “The Flying Woman,” the impossible has become reality. A masked man possesses extraordinary powers, and he’s using those fantastic abilities to fight crime and pursue justice. Meanwhile, Miranda Thomas expects to fail at the only thing she ever wanted to do: become a famous star of the stage and screen.

One night, Miranda encounters a woman who’s more than human. But this powerful woman is dying, fatally wounded by an unknown assailant. Miranda’s next decision propels her life in a new direction—and nothing can prepare her for how she, and the world, will change.

“While superheroes dominate the film, television, and comic book landscapes, the genre has made less of a dent in prose fiction,” Sherrier said. “I took that as a challenge—how to adapt a genre created for visual mediums into a novel?” Continue reading