Archive for February, 2013

A prologue


Can’t wait for Sidekick to hit the bookshelves? Neither can I.

For those of you unable to wait, here’s a little prologue. Something to set the scene for the story, and get you ready for the action.



I forget what college I was visiting when my life changed forever. It was one I ended up not applying to, anyhow, probably mainly due to the memories of getting the news. It was somewhere in Florida, and I only remember that much because I appreciated not freezing my ass off in the middle of January.

My college tour buddy, improbably, was a junior who lived at the rowdiest frat house on campus, and he’d arranged for me to stay at the house instead of a dorm room. Not being completely unappreciative of the social aspects of college life, and having once been described by someone who didn’t really know me as “viciously polite,” I decided not to spurn his offer. It would probably give me a better look at how the guys on the campus really operated, not to mention increasing the possibility of having something somewhat resembling a good time.

As should have been expected from as stereotypical a fraternity as the one putting me up for the weekend, the booze and other forms of chemical refreshment flowed freely. I didn’t partake myself partially due to my “always on duty” hero training, but mainly because I never cared for them anyhow. I never liked losing control of my faculties, and I’ve found that being the only sober guy in a crowd has its own benefits. Drunk and stoned people can be fun to watch sometimes.

The altered consciousness of my companions that morning, out trying to toss a football to each other and having a singular lack of success at doing it, made me discount the initial shouts of “Dude! Up in the sky!”

Never having had the knack for shared hallucinations, I didn’t bother to look upward. The next bit of description had made me curious, however. “It’s that…that dude! Ya know-the one in the white and gold outfit?”

White and gold? It couldn’t be. The drugs taken by the guys who were supposed to be showing me around the school were creating hallucinations remarkably like someone I knew.

“Yeah, what’s his name. Polygon?”

That was more than I needed to hear. If Uncle Hank (better known as Paragon, but far be it from guys in the state of consciousness my hosts were in to keep track of which word of more than two syllables they were using) was this far away from his home turf and in costume to boot, then something was going down.

Something bad.

I excused myself by saying I was going for a jog, although something told me that my compatriots probably wouldn’t even have noticed if I’d disappeared. They’d probably assume that I had been another hallucination and go right on with whatever it was that they thought they were doing.

I plotted a course to take me away from the frat house and from the other buildings on campus and started off at a brisk pace. This way, if Paragon being in the neighborhood was just a coincidence, I’d look like another jock out to abuse his knees and ankles in the name of physical fitness. And if it wasn’t, he’d stand a better chance of finding me along the road instead of in a crowd. It would also make it easier for him to approach me subtly, which would be vital if he was in costume and I wasn’t.

After a couple of miles jogging along that highway, I could see Uncle Hank in the distance standing by the side of the road. He’d changed out of costume, a cinch for someone as quick as him, and was staring at me. So it wasn’t a coincidence at all; he was in town to find me.

My mind raced through all of the issues I would need to deal with. For one thing, if I was being dragged into action, what was I going to wear? I didn’t have my costume. Hell I hadn’t worn the costume at all for months. Uncle Jack and I had come to an understanding when I’d set my mind on making it into college, and I’d managed to at first restrict and then completely stop my nocturnal activities. If I’d still been active they could have just pinged my signal watch, but having managed to stay out of the long johns as long as I had meant that the only person who would reach me through my watch would be Mickey Mouse, and all he would have to tell me was the time.

More importantly, what was so vital that they would have to call in the sidekicks, including a sidekick who had officially gone inactive? It took me over half of the distance to reach Uncle Hank to realize that the reason he was here was not that he was here to see the Squire, but to see Bobby Baines. And that it was something even more important than a disaster warranting dragging a sidekick out of retirement — something so important that it required a human touch. On top of it all, a civilian human touch.

That meant real disaster, the kind that wouldn’t mean the end of the world in a literal sense, but certainly The End Of The World As We Know It in a metaphorical sense. I poured on the speed, breaking from a jog into a sprint, and Uncle Hank started walking towards me, sensing my newfound sense of justifiable urgency.

I broke my stride and slowed down as the gap between us closed to next to nothing, and was gasping for breath when I finally rendezvoused with Uncle Hank. I somehow found the wind to form two words, which I chose carefully. The look on his face, a kind of profound sadness only someone as good and pure as he could have, told me which two words to use.

“What’s wrong?” I gasped.

He took my hand, in a gentle and caring way. “Bobby, I’m so sorry. It’s Jack.”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence. From the moment you first put on a costume you plan to have someone give this speech to you. Or about you. I wouldn’t have heard Paragon if he had finished, anyway. The numbness was settling in. I struggled mightily and found the lung capacity for four more words.

“Give me a lift?”



The story continues in Sidekick: The Misadventures of the New Scarlet Knight, on sale March 12 from Month9Books!

“I Could Do That” vs. “I Wish I Could Do That.”


There are two reactions most people have when reading what someone else has written.

One is “I could do that.”

The other is “I wish I could do that!”

Most people assume that we would rather have people think “I wish I could do that” — admire our flowing prose and six-dimensional characters as they lose themselves in the universe that we hew out of the chaos of the blank page in six glorious days like the gods we are — instead of looking at our prose the way someone looks at a Jackson Pollock painting and think “pfft. I could do that!”

Me? I’d rather people think “I could do that.”

You see, when people have that reaction to your work, it means you’ve been more successful. You make it look effortless. Your plot flows out of your characters naturally, and your dialogue sounds like people really speak. People think “I could do that” because your work is so real that they don’t notice all the work you went through to make it that way.

Take, for example, John Finnemore. When I listen to his radio sitcom Cabin Pressure my first reaction is always “I could write like that.” Then I listen more carefully and I notice the craftsmanship. I realize that it isn’t Martin Crieff and Douglas Richardson having banter back and forth; it’s Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Allam playing roles quite unlike what they’ve become known for. But the dialogue seems so natural — so real — that for a moment you lose yourself in the magic.

Essentially, if they think they could write like you, they’re seeing the art. If they wish they could write like you, they’re seeing the artifice.

And I’d rather been an artist or artisan than artificial.