Continuity for Babies

As a comic book geek of long standing, I love continuity between disparate projects, especially when background details in one book mean something in another one. In short, I dig background continuity. That’s why I wrote my Brookdale “unseries” the way I did.

As a parent, I find myself reading the same books to Leia over and over, to the point of considering some self-medication as prescribed by Dr. James Beam.

So when a series of books employs Point A to make Point B a little more delightful, I just have to give a shout out.

I’ve never met Jim Benton, but I have four of his board books on Leia’s bookshelf, and she really likes them. That may be on Mr. Benton’s native talent or that his books for some reason compel me to use extremely exaggerated voices when I read them aloud. In any event, they’re fun, they’re quirky, and they work.

They also all interconnect in subtle ways. Which makes me go from appreciating them to flat-out loving them.

Let’s begin with Mr. Benton’s ode to the creative urge and the artistic temperament, Piggy Paints. In Piggy Paints, Piggy — spoiler alert — paints.

But see what he paints:

Piggy Paints

Note Piggy’s sensitive yet bold exploration of swine’s cruelty toward swine, via the insertion of the predatory feline as a liminal figure.

Yes, Piggy is painting pigs (and a kitty in the middle), but take note of his specific style. It will come back to us soon.

But for now, let’s move on to Five Stinky Socks:

art from Five Stinky Socks

Extreme olfactory unpleasantness apparently warps the temporal continuum. Astutely observed.

Just remember those socks for a moment, as we peruse our copy of Mr. Benton’s Where’s My Fnurgle?an examination of Man’s quest for inner light and spiritual guidance, externalized as a mischievous sprite.

art from Where's My Fnurgle?

Personally, I didn’t even know I had a Fnurgle, much less that it was missing, until I read this book.

See that? No, not the Fnurgle! The artwork on the wall! It’s a Piggy original for sure! Lovingly framed and hung with pride and care. The Fnurgle lives in the same universe as Piggy.

More importantly, as we turn to our fourth Benton book — Robot Kitties — we see something quite familiar…

art from Robot Kitties

Everywhere indeed! These robot kitties were churned out by a Foxconn facility that also builds iPhones.

Not only do the titular mechanical cats live in the same world as Piggy and the Fnurgle…they live in the same damn house! The wall and carpet and TV are the same — the couch, lamp, and end table match the chair, lamp, and table in Where’s My Fnurgle? This is the same room, in the same house, shown from a different angle. (In fact, it’s entirely possible this shot is from the Fnurgle’s window-leering vantage point!)

And what about those stinky socks? Well…

more art from Robot Kitties

While creating art is a wetware-driven imperative for Piggy, painting piggies is merely how robot kitties pass the Turing test.

As this image from Robot Kitties reveals, those socks get around — one kitty is trying on two of them, even as another kitty employs its built-in PlagiArtist 2.0 software to mimic Piggy’s painting style.

My friends, the conclusion is inescapable. These four books — from the deviousness of the Fnurgle to Piggy’s pathological need to paint to the invasion of the robot kitties to the reek of the stinky socks — all take place not merely in a joined Bentonverse, but in the same domicile.

As I said at the start, I’ve never met Jim Benton…but I think we maybe read the same comic books growing up. Anyway, I want to thank him for giving me something to think about as I read to my daughter again…and again…and again…

“The King of Killers” Comes to Japan

Game is coming to Japan, under the title The King of Killers! You can check out the cover — once again by the amazing Sky Emma — below.

Japanese editionAs with the Japanese edition of I Hunt Killers, the publisher has included an afterword by a prominent Japanese critic, this time Ms. Naomi Hoida. She writes (translated from Japanese):

Game is the second book of a trilogy which revolves around 17-year-old Jasper “Jazz” Dent, whose father is the worst serial killer of the 21st century.

I read the Japanese edition of I Hunt Killers early this summer. I confess, apologetically, that I might have underestimated it (a bit) as a “YA mystery.” However, I was totally blown away and fascinated by this one-of-a-kind thriller. The moment I closed the book, I began longing to know what would be going to happen next. Anyone who has already read it would relate to me and would thus join me in giving “thumbs up” on the launch of the Japanese edition of Game.

I Hunt Killers was a brilliant blend of the lyrical feel of a coming-of-age novel and a gripping, suspenseful thriller, which would probably sound antonymous.

The story opened as a female naked body was found in a peaceful town, Lobo’s Nod. Jazz, who was watching over the site full of cops, realized that it was the beginning of a serial killing. As the sheriff in charge didn’t buy his theory, Jazz began his own investigation – soon proving to be right. Having thoroughly trained by the most notorious serial killer of the century, Jazz was able to read criminals’ minds. He began using his skills to the fullest to chase the faceless murderer.

While you do see gruesome descriptions in I Hunt Killers, you would also notice the positive tone that runs throughout the work. This “fresh” feel owes much to the coming-of-age side of the story. It can never be easy to live as the son of a serial killer, especially in a small town where everyone knows who he is. However, Jazz has the courage to face the dark corner of his mind and tries to move forward. His struggling efforts cast a ray of hope on the work. I should also mention the contributions by Jazz’s friends Howie and Connie, whose sincere relationship with Jazz is a salvation for him.

And now we have Game. As the middle installment of the trilogy, the story develops and expands further, and it gets more thrilling.

Even if this is your first encounter with Jazz, you will do enjoy the story. To be honest, however, I recommend you reading I Hunt Killers first, so that you will have a better understanding of the masterfully woven plots and the deep concept of the entire series. This is far beyond a mere entertainment.

Several months since Jazz’s father broke out of prison, Jazz is visited by a NYC detective, Louis Hughes. The detective asks Jazz for help in investigating a series of murders by the “Hat Dog Killer”, who carves images of a dog or a hat into his victims. Hughes thought that Jazz would make a breakthrough in the investigation. Jazz wonders where or not he should go, but his instinct to hunt killers leads him to the Big Apple. As he looks into the case, he begins to find its connection with the copy-cat killer whom Jazz helped police capture in the previous book, and with his own father.

Game is a real page turner, and the coming-of-age tone seems to be more subtle compared with I Hunt Killers. However, you’ll find more character developments about Jazz’s girlfriend Connie, who follows Jazz to New York and involves herself in the case, and about Howie, who stays behind in Lobo’s Nod and helps Jazz in his own way. What further growth will they show by the time the trilogy reaches the end, and what about the story?

Having put down Game, I cannot wait to know what would be going to happen next. You feel so too? Good news, the Japanese edition for the third book, Blood of My Blood, is planned to be published in May 2016.

[Read more…]

WiRL: “Goodnight, Mommy”

Technical Difficulties image

Episode 34: The One with Technical Difficulties

Barry is now a Colonel. Leia gets sick for the first time ever. Is Amy Schumer’s book deal ridiculous or merely insane? Barry’s obsession with quoting Stephen King. An insult levied at the entire movie-making and movie-loving world. And Morgan can’t stomach a book.

Stories I Never Told: Bruce Wayne for President!

Bruce Wayne introduces himselfThis one is of slightly more recent vintage than the others in this series, probably the late 1990s. Influenced, I am pretty sure, by Ross Perot’s bid for President as an independent candidate.

Because, well, Ross Perot = eccentric billionaire and Bruce Wayne = eccentric billionaire, so you do the math. Seemed very obvious to Young Barry, a story ripe for exploitation.

We would open on Batman in darkness, struggling to get into his Bruce Wayne suit and tie. There’s a loud voiceover; someone is introducing someone very important.

Batman is actually sweating as he attempts to get into Bruce Wayne’s garb. Something is wrong and the voice keeps going on and on, until suddenly a curtain is pulled back as the voice says, “…introducing the President of the United State, Bruce Wayne!”

And there he is, half-in and half-out of his Batman costume, revealed to the world.

It’s a nightmare, of course. One of many he’s been having ever since a consortium of moneymen and politicians came to him a week ago, encouraging him to run for President as an independent candidate.

“You’re young, good-looking, and popular. You have a record of being tough on crime, but you’re also known as a compassionate philanthropist. You can’t lose, Bruce. Think of the good you can do.”

And he does think of the good he can do. He thinks of it every night as goes out to stop crime as the Batman. In a good night, he can prevent maybe a dozen crimes. Solve maybe three more unsolved cases. In his spare time, he can help the police, dropping ideas into their laps that will help them solve dozens more. His mere presence — his legend — is a deterrent throughout the city. But — he wonders as he crushes a thug’s jaw — is that anything compared to the power of the Presidency?

He goes to talk to Superman. For advice. Perspective.

BATMAN: Can I be honest with you, Clark?

SUPERMAN: When have you ever NOT been?

BATMAN: Sometimes you annoy me. I think of what I could do with your powers. Change the world.

SUPERMAN: That’s not my job. I’m a steward. I protect the status quo. Anything else would be interfering with human destiny on a scale I don’t like to contemplate.

BATMAN: Then how would that be different from me being President?

SUPERMAN: The difference is that the people would be giving you the power, not a yellow sun. They’d be ASKING you to change their world. And hey, Bruce?


SUPERMAN: Sometimes it annoys me, too.

Ultimately, Bruce would choose not to run because he realizes it would put him under such a microscope that his identity would be revealed…and no one would vote for Batman.

But at the end, he wonders — is he just using that as an excuse? Is he so obsessed that he’s turning down a chance to change the world because he loves the feeling of righting wrongs personally, not in the abstract?

And he wonders — what does this mean about him?

A nice, simple, done-in-one character piece. I liked it then, and in all honesty, I still like it now.

I seem to have a dim memory of one of the Bat-books feinting in this direction some time in the 2000s, but that’s the closest DC has ever come to plucking this one out of my brain. Interestingly, a few years after I came up with this, though, they did have Lex Luthor run for President…and win!

How It Happened: Boy Toy

One of the questions I am asked most often is, “Where did you get the idea for this book?” Or, sometimes, “What was your inspiration?” I mean, I get this all the time.

So I figured I would start up a series here called “How It Happened,” stepping through my career book-by-book — in publication order — to answer precisely that question!

Until the publication of I Hunt Killers, the question I got most often was, “What inspired you to write Boy Toy?” (Now the question I get most often is, “What’s the best way to kill someone?”)

Well, here’s the story…

In the county where I grew up, in 2001, a substitute teacher was arrested for having sex with multiple male students. As the story played out, we learned that she was basically conducting orgies at her house with 15- and 16-year-old kids.

Here’s a story about it.

Boy Toy hardcoverThere were photos of her with the newspaper stories, of course, and she was pretty cute. I became sort of unhealthily obsessed with the story — it was nearly identical to so many others, including Mary Kay Letorneau’s. What the hell was going on with these women? What were they thinking? I started to see patterns emerging in the “hot for teacher” cases — young, attractive, usually married women, just beginning their careers…and then throwing them away for the thrill of illicit sex.

A friend of mine who worked in the county school system joked that the case was really tough, that the county had to provide grief counseling for the boys who weren’t involved. Ha-ha, right? Poor guys, didn’t get to fuck the hot teacher.

That made me start to think about a cultural hypocrisy that is well and truly ingrained in us. Namely, that if the roles had been reversed — if a male teacher had been hosting orgies at home with teen girls — we would have strung the guy up by his balls without so much as a preliminary hearing.

But when it was a young, attractive woman and boys… Well, break out the champagne.

To this day, when I mention the subject of my second book, people chortle and say, “Good for him!” Or “Lucky kid!”

And I was wondering: Why?

It occurred to me that we never hear from the boys in these cases. They’re minors, so they’re protected and we never know their names or how they feel about what’s happened.

Because it’s become a cultural axiom that any boy who has sex with an older woman is “lucky.”

But rape is rape, and I had a feeling that maybe those kids weren’t so lucky after all. And maybe I could tell that story.

Boy Toy paperbackA couple of months before I sold my first novel, I was in New York, having lunch with my agent. I knew that she would be submitting The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl soon and I wasn’t sure what I should do in the meantime. Should I just start on my next novel?

Absolutely, she said.

The problem was, I didn’t know what my next novel should be. After all, I hadn’t sold anything yet. Yes, I’d written a YA novel and I had an agent trying to sell it, but… What if it didn’t sell? Should I really write another YA novel, in that case? Or should I try something else?

Ultimately, after talking with my agent about it, I decided to give Boy Toy a shot. I did a little research, started reading about baseball, and I was working on the early chapters when I got the call that Houghton Mifflin wanted Fanboy & Goth Girl…and my next book!

Good thing I was already working on it, eh?