Archive for the ‘Brothers in Arms’ Category

How to build a real life superhero costume on the cheap


Writing superhero fiction is a tricky thing. The tech possessed by heroes tends to need to be more fantastic than what we have in real life, simply for convenience in storytelling. After all, why worry about realism in a world where people can fly and shoot laser beams out of their eyes?

But you also have to keep things somewhat grounded in reality. The suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and eventually you can reach a point where a reader’s mind calls bullshit on you. I push that limit a lot with Bobby’s gear in the Sidekick series and have been called on it. Readers will accept anti-grav boots, but bulletproof boxer shorts? Get real.

The idea of a costume to conceal a crime fighter’s identity dates back to 1936 when Lee Falk created the Phantom, arguably the first modern “masked man” vigilante. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster invented the modern superhero with Superman in the 1938, they dressed him in a sideshow strongman’s outfit to stress his strength and added a cape to allow fluidity of movement in their art. Then with Bill Finger’s designs for Batman in 1939, the idea of a functional themed costume became reality. These costumes served their purposes and set the standards for creators like me to this day.

So I was thinking recently, what if I wanted to create a superhero outfit today? Something that would make it easier for a person, should he or she be so inclined, to go out and fight crime in their spare time. Granted, intense training would be required and a budding superhero would be most effective in peak physical condition, but there would still be weaknesses that the costume would need to help.

DISCLAIMER. This post is for entertainment purposes only. I am not suggesting anyone out there actually try being a superhero. It’s dangerous. Do not sue me if you do something stupid.

The Head

Most superheroes wear masks, thanks to Lee Falk, but a mask alone is not sufficient protection today. We don’t have comic book tech to help us, so we need real life possibilities.

Let’s start with a helmet. The Premier Crown JCR100 Riot Duty Helmet offers a lot of neat features and will withstand some pretty nasty blows. It also offers enough room for some of the features we will be adding to it.

opplanet-armasight-dark-strider-night-vision-scope Instead of a mask, why not go with something functional as well as disguise worthy? I chose the ESS Profile NVG Military Goggles from Safety Glasses USA. Good eye protection, and the tinted lenses will also keep your eyes from being recognized. Eventually, however, you might want to replace these with the new Israeli Lightweight Night Vision Goggles when they become available. Until then, if you need night vision, try the Armasight Dark Strider Gen 1+ Night Vision Binocular (pictured), which seem to be the least bulky option.

north-7700mask You’ll also need something over your lower face. The North 7700 Half Mask will hide your nose and mouth, provide some protection against pepper spray and tear gas, and also help distort your voice if you need to speak. Remember, the bad guys you will be up against will not have any delusions of being honorable and obeying laws against certain anti-personnel weapons, so get the most protection you can.

Finally, there is room under the helmet for earphones, so try something like Kinivo BTH220 Bluetooth Stereo Headphones linked to a cellphone stashed safely away so you can stay in constant communication. And since you won’t want to call the cops with your real number, go with the Burner app!

The Body

Why does Batman have a big yellow target on his chest? Because that’s where he’s the most protected. Yeah, the super-cool lycra suits artists like to draw might look good, but unless you are nigh invulnerable, they’re worthless. Body armor is the way to go.

The best bet is to get everything you need in one handy kit: the M2100 Disturbance Control Kit. It provides you with a vest, shin pads, forearm guards, and groin protection with a nifty carrying bag. Its vest isn’t bulletproof, however, so you’ll want a ProMAX Concealable bulletproof vest to go underneath everything. And when it’s warm outside, you may want to add a personal cooling system to your gear.

The Feet

I’m going to assume speed is of the essence, instead of some specialized need like climbing, so I selected the Timberland PRO Mudsill Low Steel Toe from Zappos. Steel toed protection, lightweight, and traction. Good running shoes for when you’re chasing down the bad guy.

Weapon and Tools

You will need some kind of weapon when facing down a supervillain. The one I decided upon doesn’t come stock, and will need some gadgeteering on your part to work perfectly.

taser-c21 Start with a Taser. You’ll probably want two: one with cartridges that you can stash in your utility belt (see below) and one that you are going to jury-rig into your glove to deliver a trademark Knock-Out Punch!

Wire the leads into the glove that you will wear on your dominant (punching) hand. Wire one lead to a steel band lined with a ceramic center worn over your index finger like a ring, and the other to an identical band around your little finger. This way it’s unlikely the two electrodes will come into contact accidentally, and the ceramics will provide extra insulation to protect you.

Then wire the trigger into a button you can easily reach with your other hand. When you go to deliver your punch, squeeze the trigger with your other hand as you deliver the blow. Pow! Incapacitated villain for about 30 seconds; more than enough time to secure the evildoer.

Speaking of which, you’ll want some disposable zip-tie handcuffs to secure your villain while he waits for the police to arrive. Always keep a few on you.

Add in the usual necessaries like a flashlight, first aid kit, and an energy bar or two all held close to you by a freakin’ Ninja Utility Belt!

Finishing it off

Over top of all this, you’ll want the actual costume. Sure, you can be gaudy and decorative, but if you’re more into function than style, you can’t beat some flame-retardant coveralls. If you must, add on a cape, too

The Bottom Line

So how much will all this cost? Not as much as you might think! I’ve been keeping a running total, and everything in this entry can be purchased today for under $2,500.00. That’s allowing you $200.00 for the outer costume and cape. If you want to pick up a prepaid burner cell phone that you can swap SIMs in, add on an extra $30 to $700 depending on how nifty you want it to be. I suggest cheap because going into battle with the baddies will tend to take its toll on electronics.

Again, I don’t recommend going out and fighting crime on your own. But from a writer’s standpoint, it is nice to know it’s possible, and not just for a millionaire playboy!

“Grumpy Cat” for the Atari 2600


I’m in one of those lacunae that pop up in the middle of an author’s life from time to time. My editor gave me a heads up that the first round of edits for Brothers in Arms will be arriving in my mailbox imminently. Once it does, I will need to drop everything to review the changes and notes, and start out on the rewrites stage.

Of course, being hip-deep in Crush Story could have been an obstruction. To prepare myself to go back into the universe of Bobby, Sarah, and Gabriel, I needed to get Jason and Sam (from Crush Story) out of my head. So I put the novel aside to clear my mental palate and be ready to work.

Of course, my brain doesn’t like being inactive. It wants challenges. It wants to create. So I wrote a video game. To be specific, I wrote a game for the Atari 2600.

SONY DSCFor those of you under 30 (which honestly is most of my fanbase) the Atari 2600 was the first widely available reprogrammable video game system. It pioneered the ability to change games by plugging in a different cartridge. It popularized the joystick as a control medium. And it led the way for every system that has come since. The games were simple, but addictive and compelling. And while today people might sneer at the bad graphics and simple sounds, from 1978 through 1982 it was state of the art.

The main challenge in writing a game for the 2600 is to make it as small as possible. The average game for the 2600 is 4K. That is one ten-thousandth the size of “Angry Birds” on your phone. And you only had 128 bytes of memory for your variables. We don’t even talk in bytes any more, only in millions (Gb) and trillions (Tb) of bytes.

So I sat down to write a game. All of the best 2600 games made up for their simplicity with great theming, backstories, and creativity in imagery. So I decided to make my game about Grumpy Cat.


For the action, I recycled a concept I’d used three decades before when I taught myself game programming for the Atari 800 by writing a game called “Herple” which I never released. Your character moved around the screen while being chased by a number of different enemies, trying to collect items that popped up in random places. Easy mechanic, but one that can become challenging when your opponents start to move really quickly.

The theming for the game fell into place naturally. Tardar Sauce wants to eat in peace. But the universe is out to annoy her, which it always seems to do. The player needs to move Tardar Sauce around the screen eating the “noms” (the yellow dot in the screen above). Simple goal, easy to grasp.

Of course, a game needs obstacles, so I created a bunch of “monsters” that would chase through the screen in different ways that the player would have to maneuver Tardar Sauce around.

GrumpyCat.bas.bin_2I came up with five obstacles based on things that Grumpy Cat hates. I drew a smiley face, which would represent happy people. I drew a rough representation of a camera to represent a photographer out to get the meme picture of the year. I drew a Valentine’s heart to represent the concept of love. I drew a “Bluebird of Happiness,” which would flitter up from the bottom of the screen, and I drew a Shiba Inu Doge.

One of the tricks in creating the game was for each of the five “monsters” to move differently, essentially having different artificial intelligence code for each. I made the Happy Person the simplest, moving from the top of the screen to the bottom while chasing after the player as it does so. It moves the slowest of all the monsters.

The photographer moves down the screen twice as quickly as the happy person, but is the same speed as the happy person in going from left to right.

GrumpyCat.bas.bin_8The Doge is the toughest enemy. Like the photographer and happy person it will chase you down, but while it moves from top to bottom at the same speed as the happy person, it’s twice as fast in moving from left to right. At higher speeds, you have to try and get above the Doge as quickly as possible, or it will chase you down.

For the hearts I needed something different. They also move from the top of the screen to the bottom, but I didn’t want them to chase Tardar Sauce down. Instead, they will pick a direction (left or right) and move in a diagonal as they move down until they hit the side of the screen, at which point they just move straight down.

The Bluebird of Happiness was tricky. I decided that it was way too easy to just hang out at the bottom of the screen to dodge enemies before moving up above them, so I had the bird move up the screen, flittering back and forth randomly as it did so. You can’t hang out near the bottom all the time without running the risk of running into the bird.

216562503-mainI have some folks out there play-testing the game (as I call it, poking it with a sharp stick) right now, and will be fixing bugs and making improvements with an eye toward releasing it. Of course, since Grumpy Cat is trademarked and licensed all to heck, I won’t be able to sell the game. However, I will make the binaries available for anyone who wants to play it. And I’ll probably have two cartridges manufactured of the game: one for myself and one for Tardar Sauce’s owners as a thank you for not suing me.

If you know a thing or two about 2600 emulation and homebrew games, or want to learn, you can check out the thread about the game at AtariAge.

Something for the Fans


I’ve gotten a couple of tweets sent my way from parents whose kids enjoyed Sidekick. It still boggles my mind that there are people out there who are not only reading the words I wrote, but are apparently hooked on it.

Right before Sidekick came out, I posted a Prologue here on the blog to set the scene for readers, offering some action that took place in the days leading up to the start of the book.

As we wait for Brothers in Arms to come out some time in the new year (sorry, it took me longer to finish than I would have liked), there are going to be some readers who will get antsy waiting. There are probably a few who are already antsy because the first chapter of Brothers in Arms was included in Sidekick.

I had considered writing a new prologue for Brothers in Arms and posting it here, but there are some problems with that idea. First off, the prologue for Sidekick already existed; it was a scene that was drastically cut down from the first draft that I did a quick polish on to post here. I don’t have anything like that for Brothers in Arms, so I’d have to write something from scratch.

And if I’m going to write something from scratch, I want to make sure it gets into the hands of those who appreciate it, and are willing to work for it. In short, I want to make sure it gets into the hands of the book’s fans.

So here’s what I’m proposing. If you want a sneak peek into what’s happened to Harbor City in the 18 months Bobby’s been away, write me a letter. No, not an E-mail, not a Facebook message, an actual letter. Send it to me care of my publisher:

Pab Sungenis
c/o Month9Books
4208 Six Forks Road Suite 1000 10th Floor
Raleigh, NC 27609

Everyone who writes will, I promise, get a personal letter back from me with something special: a drabble I plan to write in the next couple of days featuring a scene from the point of view of the kid who will become the Squire. That’s right. Bobby’s getting a sidekick of his own, and you can be one of the first people outside of my publisher and critique partners to get to know this character, and do so in a unique way.

And while I love and appreciate my adult readers (since I’m also an adult reader of YA fiction), I especially want to hear from actual kids who have read the book. So if you’re under 21 and you write me a letter, I’ll include a signed autograph sticker you can put in your copy of Sidekick, and maybe something else cool, too.

Some fine print for those who are as paranoid about their privacy as I am (or more): I may share some of what you say along the line, but I will never, ever, ever reveal your full name or address to anyone. Ever. I swear. All I will ever use your address for is to send you swag. It will not be sold, given, or even whispered to anyone else.

So I hope to hear from you readers out there. Happy New Year.

Don’t “flatter” yourself


The other day I came across a blog entry from author P.T. Dilloway which all but accused me of plagiarism because I called my hero the Scarlet Knight, and so did he.

Basing the title for his entry on the old chestnut that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” he proceeds to tear Sidekick a new one essentially because he’s annoyed that I dared use the same hero name as he.

“Anyway,” Dilloway gripes, “I think what annoyed me the most by the end is there’s no fucking reason he had to call his character the Scarlet Knight.”

Actually, yes, there was. I’ve discussed that before. The “Scarlet Knight” is an homage to a failed sitcom project I undertook with Kris Leeds back in 2004. When I started writing the book I knew I wanted Bobby’s powers to be technology based and not a result of mutation, meta-genetics, or some other weird origin. I wanted his powers to be relatively believable for a teenager. Plus I wanted him to have a big, honking sword. So I took a name that I’d used before for a hero.

My manuscript (then called Squire) was finished on November 29, 2009. Draft manuscript was picked up by my publisher in March, 2012. Final edits were done in the summer of that same year, long before Dilloway’s book hit the shelves. The appearance of both of our books in that short space of time is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence. And had mine hit the bookshelves before you, I wouldn’t have any right to gripe, either, because it’s a coincidence.

He continues: “[T]he name was just some random name the author picked that could have come from some superhero name generator.”

Not really. For this one you have to blame my buddy Jeffe Boats. When he read and critiqued our spec script in 2004, he suggested changing the hero’s name to “Scarlet Knight” from the original “White Knight,” because otherwise people might think he was a Klansman.

Anyway, the only people who have a right to bitch about either of us using that name are the Rutgers Athletic Department. They predate both of us.

Next: “It is slightly gratifying in an evil way to see it only has 1 Amazon review and a lower rating on Goodreads than mine.”

Well, I hate to say this, but Goodreads (while a wonderful social forum for book lovers) is not a way to judge quality. It’s too easy for someone to game ratings there. I’ve seen ratings for books that haven’t even been published yet, so it’s quite obvious that those ratings aren’t actually from readers. Goodreads can help you find your next book by helping you find people with similar tastes and seeing what they said about what’s out there, but you can’t go by star ratings.

As for Amazon, in the end it’s not reviews that matter but the bottom line. As of this writing, Dilloway’s A Hero’s Journey is ranked #416,374 in the Kindle store. Sidekick is at #158,487. I also have A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Columbine ranking in at #197,265. The only book of mine that Dilloway is currently outselling is the three year old Go To Hell. Those numbers will change and fluctuate, of course. But do not count number of reviews as the end-all-be-all.

Moving on, Dilloway says “Like pretty much all other superhero novels I’ve read, his is aimed at the mainstream people who still associate superheroes with Adam West’s Batman. He’s the Joel Schumacher to my Christopher Nolan in that I tend to take a grittier take on it.”

Actually, I prefer to think of myself as more Denny O’Neill to his Grant Morrison, but I’ll take the comparison as read.

The main problem with this comparison is one basic fact that too many writers overlook.

“Superhero” is not a genre!

It’s a character type. At best it’s it’s a category. Batman stories are not the same type of stories as Green Lantern stories, or Hulk stories, or Legion of Superheroes stories. They are aimed at different readers, different audiences, and different tones.

Sidekick is not a superhero story. It’s a young adult coming of age story where a boy finds his place in the adult world and tries to juggle responsibilities. Bobby’s being a superhero is secondary. That was just how I chose to develop the story. And Brothers in Arms is a young adult story about coping with loss and adjusting to fatherhood. It’s just that this new father wears high-tech longjohns and fights crime.

Dilloway’s A Hero’s Journey is an adult noir thriller with urban fantasy overtones. There is nothing wrong with that. But it’s a completely different type of story from the one I told. The two can’t be compared. Sidekick could not have been written as an adult thriller. The story would not work. And A Hero’s Journey could not have worked as a young adult novel as written. The two books deserve to be judged on separate terms.

One last topic to touch on, and while I’ve saved it for last it’s the first paragraph in Dilloway’s article. “There are a lot of books out there where I read them and say, ‘Jeez, how did this ever get published?’ Followed closely by ‘How did this [expletives deleted] get published and my book can’t?!’ There is a somewhat similar form of professional jealousy when you read a book that involves similar material to yours and while that book might be more popular you can’t help thinking, ‘OMG, this sucks!'”

I often feel the same way. I felt it myself recently. But the basic question of “how did this ever get published?” I’ll tell you in one word. Persistence. Okay, a second word. Synchronicity.

I spent over two years shopping Sidekick. I sent out 112 queries during that time. This was the nicest response I got:

I think you have a fun premise, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite find myself connecting with the narrative as I would have liked, and I’m just not confident enough that I’m the one to make this stand out in such a competitive marketplace.

What happened is that along the way I’d done some networking. I worked with my friends at YALitchat to fine tune the query and pass it past a couple of agents there. When Month9Books was just starting up, one of the founders remembered my discussion of the manuscript and asked for it. That led to the sale and publication.

Publishing is a very competitive business, and a lot of it is timing. Sometimes good manuscripts get squeezed out by the success of something else. If I’d written Mall Bats a year before Stephanie Meyer published Twilight instead of a year after, for example, I might have had a better chance of selling it. Instead, Meyer’s creations saturated the market for vampire novels and a quirky one like mine just didn’t fit in. So Mall Bats will probably sit in the bottom of my virtual desk drawer forever because the timing was wrong.

To be honest, Dilloway’s A Hero’s Journey is not a bad book. He’s a good writer. And if he tries his hand at Young Adult I will happily refer him to my publisher. But the lesson is not to wallow in professional jealousy. Keep writing, keep pitching, keep networking. The cream really does rise to the top, although sometimes it takes longer than we would like.

Cut, print. Moving On.


I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
– Douglas Adams

Four months late, but better late than never, I have finally handed off the first draft of Brothers in Arms. It’s now in the hands of my capable editor, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Feeling a need to get away from “genre” books for a while (since my last four books were genre) I’ve picked my next project: a YA “bromance” called Crush Story. It’s the story of an infatuation triangle (or more of a polyhedron) between a gay boy, straight boy, and the girl stuck between them. It’s a story I’ve wanted to write for the better part of a decade, and now is my chance.

I hope to record a few more chapters’ worth of audio commentary tomorrow, now that I don’t have that huge overdue manuscript weighing me down. Thanks to everyone out there for their support and their patience.

Damn the Word Processor, Full Speed Ahead.


I have a delivery date for my next novel, Brothers in Arms. My editor, Rae, wants to see a four page synopsis with all major plot points by October 17.

Rae does not understand how I write. I cannot write a synopsis to save my life. Especially for a story that is still developing. You see, I know the beginning (actually, I’ve written the beginning), I know the end, and I know a few points inbetween. But my characters don’t like me telling them what to do beyond just steering them towards where they need to be. So I have no idea what is going to happen for about 75% of the book, and won’t know for sure until I write it.

That’s how I write. It’s the only way I know to write, too.

So what can I do to make the deadline for this impossible task? Simple. I have to make it a moot point.

I have to finish the complete first draft by October 17. 65,000 words in 28 days.

An impossible task? Not at all. I wrote the first draft of Sidekick (coming out in March, and the book Brothers in Arms is the sequel to) in 28 days as well, during November 2009. Sidekick’s first draft was 68,000 words, so there’s no reason I can’t do this.

Along the side of this blog you will now find a little bar detailing my progress. Taking out what I’ve already written, I need to write 2,107 words a day to make this deadline. I invite you to join me on this tour. I will try to find time to keep everyone up to date.

Batten down the hatches, here we go.