Category Archives: Guest Blogs

Garden of the Gods: An Interview with Author Stephen J. Stirling

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen J. Stirling about his latest novel, Garden of the Gods. I was lucky enough to read it early and found it to be an concise and poignant thriller. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes what I call ‘introspective action.’ That is, the kind of book that is action-packed, but keeps you pondering its message and themes for days afterward.

This is something of a first on this blog, but it has given me the idea on having other authors on to talk about their work. For now, though, let’s talk to the man himself about Garden of the Gods!

cover

Hello, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you on Sector M! I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with another author about their methods and body of work. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Thank you for having me! I always enjoy my chats with the leadership of Sector M and our glimpses into the future.

Let’s talk about your latest book, Garden of the Gods. Without giving too much away for readers, what can you tell us about the story and your influences for it?

The story itself revolves around a Native American tribe in the northeast Arizona desert. But Garden is largely a statement about worship—any worship—how it enriches our lives and what belief for each of us is really all about. The fact that we live in an age that needs religion so badly was the driving force behind writing this story.

I remember that Alan Moore used to say that the plot of a story is wholly different from what it’s about, meaning the themes, allegory, morals, and all that good stuff. So, what is Garden of the Gods about?

Well, Garden of the Gods is about Native Americans, their rich heritage, their connection with the past, and their hope for the future. . . (and it is also about monsters). But to call it a simple action/adventure would do the story a disservice. The story’s subplot proves that every resolution within this book was motivated by faith, or the lack of it.

The book is a period piece, in more than one sense of the term. What kind of research and preparation did you do about the time period, the various species you include, and native tribes when writing it?

The American southwest is a treasure of unique people and, as of yet, not wholly discovered zoological life. It is a human and animal ecosystem in constant flux, breathing and pulsating with the drama of life. Writing is a funny thing. You begin researching one topic, and end up somewhere entirely different. The Native American people against the backdrop of wartime America was where I tried to focus my research—I wanted to do them and their heritage justice.

When you are writing a book, what is your method? Are you more of a ‘planner,’ who outlines everything in great detail ahead of time, or are you more of a ‘gardener,’ who throws characters into a situation and lets it develop organically without preconceived notions of the outcome? Where you do you fall in that continuum, do you think?

This question is very important, and my answer is—yes. You think you’re one kind of writer who has all the characters lined up and ready to do what they’re told, and suddenly they turn on you. They come out fighting and you’re left to clean up their messes. I guess you could say I fall somewhere in between the two methods.

Let’s talk about your main character, Matt Hayden. He strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as many two-fisted pulp-era adventurers, like Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, and perhaps even a hint of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. What were your influences and thoughts when creating your leading man?

Hayden is a hero cut from whole cloth, at the same time with a huge wrinkle broadening him into a sympathetic strength that is instantly likable. I did craft him between literature’s Allan Quartermaine and living legend Bring Em’ Back Alive Frank Buck, and yet the combination makes him unique among American characters.

And what about the secondary and/or support characters? What were their roles when placing them into the overall ensemble?

Read the book carefully and you’ll discover that every character has a religious angle. Every character worships something. Every character (even “non-believers”) believes in something. Every character has to fight for something, and every character has to abandon something in the process.

The Nyah Gwaheh, the armored bear, has a very complex role in the story. In some ways it serves as the primary antagonist, but it’s clear that it has a deeper, more symbolic role to play within the narrative. What sort of metaphor does it represent?

The Nyah Gwaheh is a living parable of religious value and the things that we worship, whether we know it or not. He is the driving force of the book.

Any chance or thoughts on a sequel? No pressure…

Oh good, because I don’t see a sequel in the future. I think I’ll leave the characters to their own devices for a while.

This last question is pretty free-form. What would you like the readers out there to know about your book? Anything you like. Here, I’ll hand you the proverbial megaphone.

13-megaphone-graphic-free-cliparts-that-you-can-download-to-you-t4pvba-clipart

Well thank you! I’ve never used a proverbial megaphone before. I’d like to leave you by saying I hope others will find as much joy in reading this book as I found in writing it; and if they find an introspective moment—or two—to contemplate their own spirituality I will have accomplished even more.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat, Stephen! It’s been a rare pleasure.

The pleasure is mine! Thank you for your interest in my project and your insightful questions. Talking with you has been a rare treat.

Take care now, and don’t be a stranger!

 

There you have it, folks – right from the source himself. Garden of the Gods is on bookshelves now at Deseret Book stores. It’s also available in print or digital format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

CHECK. IT. OUT.

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Brian’s Comic Contemplations II — The Miles Morales Syndrome

[Brian is a HUGE Spider-man fan. In all my travels, I have never encountered a bigger fan of the wall-crawler. Here are some of his thoughts and opinions on the State of the Spidey.]

Now that my first rant about Deadpool is ancient history, I thought I’d offer Matt another break from the blogging grind with another guest submission before he changes his mind. So here are a couple of similar issues that leave me bewildered when it comes to the comic book world.

Watch out, here comes the Spider-Man...

Just your friendly neighborhood…yeah, you know the rest.

At a point several years ago, Marvel decided they needed a new, more modern Spider-Man. One that reflected the cultural realities in the U.S. population. So, they introduced a new Spidey. A boy named Miles Morales. They then “killed” the character Peter Parker.

This is something that really chaps my Boo Berries. Look, I realize that comic book and movie companies are influenced by marketing departments. And I know we live in a politically-correct, inclusive society. Hey, I welcome that. Not complaining. But why slough-off the development of multicultural characters?

Why take the cheap route? Once again, indolence, I assert.

All this back and forth with the Spider-Man identity prompted some good things in the comic world. Notably, the Spiderverse storyline and, by some extension, The Superior Spider-Man tales. But it also spurred on the dubious debate as to which Spider-man would be introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). With the huge success of the Iron Man Franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers, Marvel had its mouth watering to reclaim the legendary web slinger and (perhaps correctly) add him to the already impressive MCU roster.

He's got radioactive blood...

As it should be.

Of course, this is all after Sony pictures launched and failed two cinematic iterations of the character. (Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield). Regardless of what you think of those movies, Marvel thinks they can do better. And their current box office track record may make for a compelling argument. At last look, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe had grossed an astonishing $7.787 billion at the worldwide box office. (And that was before Ant Man.)

But then the debate started as to which Spidey they would add to their upcoming Captain America: Civil War film – as an introduction back into the MCU.

What?

The “debate” has long since been settled with Marvel finally deciding that our old buddy Peter Parker would get another kick at the can instead of Miles Morales.

Don’t get me started about the casting. (Tom Holland, Asa Butterfield, etc.) I have no idea what the logic was there, but suffice to say, this wall-crawler, for better or worse, will be more akin to a Spiderboy than a Spiderman. Going back to the era when Spidey/Peter Parker was a high-school teen is a decision that may or may not work. I started reading Spiderman comics at about Amazing Spiderman #40 with the late, great John Romita Sr. back in the late ‘60s, and by then, he was becoming a Spider-MAN, but I won’t quibble with the youth-movement approach to the MCU story, because I DO understand the tactic. And it does bear continuity with the early stories. So, fair enough.

Take a look...overhead...

Spider…um, man?

But a while back, I read a blog by an, evidently, selfish individual who submitted that there was no place for a white Spider-man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – clamoring, “Enough Peter Parker!”  Well, Sir, THAT is YOUR opinion. Yes, I’m sure there are others who may share your view. Lord knows, I’d certainly hate for you to have to take into account the opinion of someone who has been rooting for ‘ol Petey since I was old enough to read.

Despite being the white-bread character he was originally conceived, Mr. Parker became, arguably, the most popular Marvel superhero, and has remained so for over 50 years. That’s focus group testing you can’t ignore.

Go change the identity of Batman or Superman… leave Spidey alone! (No, I don’t want that either, but you get the point, right?)

You want more ethnic /socially representative characters? By all means! Have at it! But do me a small favor, get up off your cognitive arses and use your imagination!

Here’s a novel idea: Create! Make up a new character – See Female character rant below. Don’t just “mail it in” with a convenient reiteration. Do the work. EARN your way to popularity. The way that Stan Leiber and his little science nerd did back in 1962.

Spins a web...any size...

So, what do you REALLY think, Brian?

Stop ripping off other people’s ideas. And YES, I’m looking at characters like you, John Stewart!

There’s already fantastic, ethnic characters represented in comics: Black Panther, Falcon, Spawn, Vibe, Luke Cage, Firestorm, Cyborg, etc. – It CAN be done!

BONUS CONTEMPLATION:

Female Versions of Almost Every Character – Why do comic book companies feel compelled, or perhaps obligated, to create a female version of a popular character? It comes off as SOOO contrived… and repetitive – and uncreative. It’s not that I don’t like female heroes. They’re great. But it’s like saying, “Let’s market a pink keyboard.” It takes character creation to a mass-production mentality. I.E; Nice shirt does it come in plaid? Marvel and DC already wallow in a sea of sameness with heroes, why take the easy way out with female characters? Comic writing should be a creative art form. Not a flippin’ mimeograph.

Rant over. Attack at will. 🙂

[Do you agree with Brian about Spider-Man? Yes? No? Let us know in the comments!]


Brian’s Comic Contemplations – Of Regeneration and Sloppy Writing

Since no one who reads Matt’s blog knows me from Black Adam, I’ll give you a quick profile: I’m in the advertising business, and I’ve been reading comics (Marvel) for around 49 years. ‘Nuff said. (I don’t want to bore anyone with the gory details of my Paris to Dakar failure in ’98, or my savage war with the peanut butter industry – I’ll simply leave that to your imagination.)

Anyway, Matt – being quite an intelligent fellow – often regales me with his detailed knowledge of Greek history, movies, and comics. (Notably the DC side of comics, of which I am intrigued by, but largely ignorant.) So when he encouraged me to throw in my two cents on his blog, I was anxious to oblige.

I figured, in an effort to foment some fun thought and discussion, I’d start by hitting a few comic-world opinions you may, or may not agree with.

Here goes:

Wade Wilson

The Merc With A Mouth.

Deadpool – Is it just me, or has the writing for Deadpool become lazy and cyclical? I LOVE Deadpool. The character, the irreverence, the cheeky format that allows them to go to places most comic characters can’t go. But lately, every time I pick up a DP title, the story seems to include some sort of dismemberment for Wade.

Wade sets into “whatever” plot. He encounters a baddie. And the baddie (no matter what his skill level) eviscerates, or disembowels, or amputates, or shoots & stabs him. Naturally, because of his miracle healing power, he generally (arguably?) prevails.

But isn’t Deadpool supposed to be some kind of expert fighter/swordsman/assassin/marksman? Why the inept bumbling with EVERY villain? Every time? I present the following from Marvel’s own Deadpool profile:

Deadpool is an extraordinary hand-to-hand combatant and is skilled in multiple unarmed combat techniques. He is a master of assassination techniques, is an excellent marksman, and is highly skilled with bladed weapons (frequently carrying two swords strapped to his back). He is fluent in Japanese, German, Spanish, amongst other languages.

(For laughs, let’s juxtapose Deady’s stats with say… Hawkeye, who, despite having no real super powers, has (mostly) managed to dodge fatal attacks and dismemberment.)

Deadpool

DEADPOOL

Hawkeye

HAWKEYE

Deadpool’s natural physical attributes have been enhanced. Deadpool’s musculature generates considerably less fatigue toxins than the muscles of an ordinary human being, granting him superhuman levels of stamina in all physical activities. His natural strength, agility and reflexes have been enhanced to levels that are beyond the natural limits of the human body. Deadpool’s agility and reaction time are superior to those of even the finest human athlete.

So how come Mr. Pool keeps getting shot in the face? Is it just for our amusement and titillation? Are the writers so lazy they can’t think of situations where Wade might actually show enough skill to NOT get his arm chopped off? Or is it simply because Wade is so crazy he doesn’t even try to avoid injury?

I’m not saying I never want to see Wade get abused, but once in a while I’d love to see him take care of business without being mutilated. (Sigh) Am I just gettin’ too old for comics? GOD forbid… but maybe.

BONUS CONTEMPLATION:

Marvel-Comics-Classic-Wolverine-Costume-Yellow-Blue

WolverineSee Deadpool rant. I have the same issue with Mr. Howlett. (Loss-of-healing-factor issues notwithstanding.) I know he comes at enemies like a weed whacking tank – with little thought but, OCCASIONALLY, I’d like to see Logan’s vaunted “Samurai training” and 100-year fighting experience pan out BEFORE he takes a sword/bullet/laser to the gut. JMO, of course, but is it too much to ask?

Again, if Spidey, Cap, Clint Barton, Daredevil, Batman AND Robin can dodge fatal knife, bullet, and death-ray wounds successfully for 50(+) years, why can’t Wolverine and Deadpool once in a blue moon? Throw a little love to character profile continuity.