Why Superheroes?

While I love a great many different types of stories, the superhero genre has always had a certain appeal to me. After all, I never considered being a writer until I discovered comic books — X-Men, to be exact — and even today, the superhero genre is one in which I proudly plant my flag.Batwoman_(52_11)

Granted, the term “superhero” can have a pretty broad definition. Most will agree the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Daredevil are superheroes. But is Batman? Is Spawn? Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The Punisher?

Superheroes are all the rage today, what with the near-ubiquitous nature of superhero films. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically, is largely responsible for the mainstream popularity of the genre. And I think the reason superheroes speak to so many is because they represent a reality in which there’s some semblance of control.

Let’s face it: things are really scary in the world these days. And there isn’t anything the vast majority of us can do about any of it. What can I, just a 36-year-old dude, do about international corruption and espionage? What can I do about school shootings? About the hate that has seemingly run rampant everywhere?

For the most part… not much.

Superheroes leave us feeling less helpless in the face of such horrors. Want the wicked wiped off the face of the Earth? There’s the Punisher. Want to believe it’s possible to exact justice on evildoers in the aftermath of personal tragedy? Maybe Batman’s more your speed.

Bounty-Small

Artist: Kendall Goode (@kendallgoode on Twitter)

Serve your country in spite of not being what one might consider the ideal soldier? Captain America. Want to serve your country and community, even after it’s cast you aside because of who you are? Batwoman. Some mystical ring decides you’re worthy of protecting… oh, you know… space?! Green Lantern.

Superheroes tap into that deep-rooted desire. They show us a reality in which the big scary things can be defeated. They give us hope that the individual can make a difference on the world at large, even when reality continues to slap us in the face and tell us no.

That philosophy guides me every time I sit down to write one of Jill Andersen’s stories. She took up the mantle of Bounty because of her desire to do right by her hometown, her need to serve beyond what she can do with a badge on her hip. Early in her law enforcement career, Jill saw that being a cop only accomplished so much. If she wanted to do more, she had to become more.

Most of us can’t become more. So we turn to stories of those who can.

It’s not about the superpowers or the costumes. Not really. Stripped of the flash and the bright colors and the larger-than-life villains many of them face, superheroes reflect everything we wish we could be — both individually and as a society. We’ll never leap tall buildings in a single bound, and we’ll never lead the wicked in handcuffs to Arkham. But so long as we have heroes who can and do, maybe the world isn’t quite as hopeless as it seems.

Then again… the powers and costumes are pretty kickass, huh?

 

Bounty has been nominated for a TopShelf magazine Indie Book Award!

Official SealIt’s a big deal for my debut novel to even be nominated — and there are plenty of perks therein — but if by some stroke of luck I actually win, then there’s no end to the awesomeness that would ensue. Mostly I’m just jacked that someone thought enough of my work to nominate it. That’s pretty damn cool.

Anyway, check it out!

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Check out Cunegan’s work here.

You Can Write That Novel — Even if it Feels Like You Can’t

I am participating in the Writing Contest You Are Enough, hosted by Positive Writer.

Let me let you in on a dirty little secret:

Bounty FinalFor the most part, I tend to not believe in myself. Not just as a writer, but in general. That’s just how I’ve always been. I tend to be hard on myself, to think I can’t accomplish something, that I’m not good enough — even when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

As I type this, there are five full-length novels on my bookshelf with my pen name on the spine. Those same five novels are also loaded onto my Kindle, as is the short story I re-published back in late April. If there’s one thing I shouldn’t experience self-doubt over, it’s my ability to write a book.

And yet…

The human mind is a strange, fickle thing. Sometimes, it doesn’t work properly. Sometimes, it works against you. One day, I’ll wake up completely content with my station in life; the next, I might wake up desperate to quit my job, go back to bed, and tell all my problems I’ll deal with them later.

I have a ton of book ideas that are in various stages of development. Incomplete manuscripts. Half-baked ideas that haven’t quite gelled into something publishable yet. The inklings of a book plot that refuse to develop into something more substantial. It’s simultaneously invigorating and overwhelming. But here’s the thing to remember:

It can be done. I know because I’ve done it before.

Bounty and Notna are characters and stories I originally created when I was in middle 36384932school (let’s just ignore the fact that was over 20 years ago). They were originally meant to be comic books; I was going to be the next Jim Lee, the next Todd McFarlane. But along the way, I fell out of love with art — then writing.

I eventually got the writing bug back, but not the art bug. Oh, the art bug tried making its return, several times. But the magic was never quite there, even if the stories I mentioned above were. So I began the arduous process of trading in my panels and word balloons for prose.

I won’t lie; it was a difficult process. There were plenty of false starts. There were a lot of sleepless nights where I wondered if maybe these stories weren’t meant to be. But — and if you take nothing else away from this post, this is the important part — I kept plugging away. I kept trying.

And on June 1, 2015, I published Bounty.

Six months later, Blood Ties went live. Six months after that, Behind the Badge. In the span of a little more than a year, I went from unpublished, boy-I’d-love-to-write-a-book-someday to an author with three novels to his name.

This past October, I published Notna, meaning both of my childhood stories were finally out there for the world to see.

I’m not a bestseller. Far from it. But I am published. I’ve introduced characters who have been a major part of my life to the world. There are people who love these characters as much as I do. My series has a long way to go — I can’t envision a day in which I’m no longer writing a Jill Andersen book — and there are plenty of other books that need to be written.

There’s even a second series poking around in my head.

I’m not saying all of this is easy. There are still days when I’m blocked. There are still days in which I can’t bring myself to actually put words on the page, no matter how desperately I want to. There are even days when I just don’t want to. But I imagine that’s true of just about any job, and the fact is, whenever I doubt myself, all I have to do is look at my bookshelf.

If you have a story (or several) in you, let them out. Even if it takes years. Don’t compare yourself to other writers, even your favorites. Write your story, tell your tale. Worry about publication and sales and all that later; for now, today, focus solely on putting those words on that page. Even if it’s just a sentence, a paragraph.

You can do this. Trust me. There’s nothing stopping you.

After all, my dream came true. Why can’t yours?

 

Official SealBounty has been nominated for a TopShelf magazine Indie Book Award!

It’s a big deal for my debut novel to even be nominated — and there are plenty of perks therein — but if by some stroke of luck I actually win, then there’s no end to the awesomeness that would ensue. Mostly I’m just jacked that someone thought enough of my work to nominate it. That’s pretty damn cool.

Anyway, check it out!

About J.D. Cunegan
J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

On Joss Whedon and Feminism

Be careful who you anoint as a hero.

On Sunday, Kai Cole — Joss Whedon’s ex-wife (who you may recall from Much Ado About Nothing and her hand in “Once More With Feeling,” the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode) — penned an article detailing Whedon’s mistreatment of her over the years and how he’s basically a big, fat hypocrite for riding his faux feminist credentials to fame and larger projects.

First thing: I have no reason not to believe Cole. The only reason to summarily dismiss her article is to further perpetuate Whedon’s undeserved reputation and/or further advance the very patriarchy we were led to believe Whedon was against.

Now, the main point…

This doesn’t surprise me, because honestly, I never bought into the narrative of Joss Whedon, Feminist God (TM). Sure, I enjoyed a lot of his work; I’ve spoken on that at length on this page before. But to elevate a white cisgender male to such a status was always destined to be a fool’s errand.

Spoiler alert: white men — even the well-meaning ones — are poor role models.

The proof of Whedon’s lack of feminist bonafides is clear as day for anyone willing to see it. There was how he treated actress Charisma Carpenter when she became pregnant leading up to season 4 of Angel. There was a reported storyline for a potential season 2 of Firefly that involved Inara, Reavers, rape, and potential suicide. There was the entire premise behind Dollhouse (a show that was fantastic at times, but the premise was… yeeeeah).

The fact that Whedon is friends with Adam “Tea Party shitlord” Baldwin.

The fact that Avengers: Age of Ultron featured a contrived romance between Bruce and Natasha (written as a way to keep Bruce from losing control) and that Natasha considered herself a “monster” because of her inability to have children. Claim studio interference all you want, but Whedon was that film’s writer and director — and he had the name and the geek cred to push back against the studio if he really wanted.

And come on, did you see the snippets of that Wonder Woman script he penned several years ago? Let’s all be glad that’s not the version that wound up on the screen — and hope he doesn’t screw up Batgirl (though he probably will).

The fact is… people claimed Whedon to be a feminist icon because in 1997, he helmed a genre TV show with a female lead when such shows were still a rarity. And he just… ran with it.

Some of his work will always be important to me — how Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel saved my life cannot be erased by any of this — but to sit there and hold up a white male geek as an icon for feminism when there are so many better role models — female, of color, of different sexual orientations and genders — speaks to everything wrong with geek culture and America as a whole.

Generally speaking, a white male is overly vocal about how much of a feminist he is likely isn’t much of a feminist.

My opinion of Whedon was a human being has taken a hit, but not as much as some other people because I didn’t believe the hype. I’ll always love BuffyAngel, and Firefly, but I think it’s time we start being more careful and more aware of who we put on pedestals — and start demanding receipts from those who boast about just how good an ally they are.

Bounty and Comic Books: An Origin Story

Before we get started, look at this awesomeness.

I commissBounty-Smallioned comic book artist Kendall Goode (@kendallgoode on Twitter) to draw a piece depicting Bounty, the hero of my Jill Andersen series of novels, and as soon as I saw the finished product in my inbox… well, I’m not sure there are words for the sound I made. But suffice it to say, I love the piece, and it perfectly exemplifies what I think of when I write this character.

I’ve made no secret of the influence comic books have had on my work. Nor have I hid the fact that Bounty, when I first created her back in 1997, was a comic book character. She was supposed to be on your local comic book shop every month, not available on Amazon.

But life is funny sometimes.

These days, I’m a novelist. Not because I’ve outgrown comic books — I still collect them, after all — but because I’ve become a much better writer than artist. It’s an evolution borne out of necessity (as most evolution is), but even as I have morphed Jill and her world into prose, the panels and word balloons are never far from my mind.

As I type this, I’m toying with the plot for a potential Bounty graphic novel. I have no timetable for this project, but I do want to see it through — and the above image is all the motivation and inspiration I need. I love the Jill Andersen books; I love that I’ve matured enough, as a writer and as a person, that I can write these stories. I love that readers love Jill as much as I do.

But I want to bring Jill home. She deserves to be immortalized in a graphic novel. That was where she started. Hell, that’s where I started. Without discovering and getting hooked on comic books when I was in middle school, I doubt I’m a storyteller right now. I don’t know what I’d be, but I don’t think I’d have “published author” among the things about which I can brag.

Who would draw a Bounty graphic novel? Well, that’s one of the hang-ups.

It sure as hell won’t be me (see above). Right now, Goode is my choice… but then there’s the issue of payment. I would never ask an artist to work with me without proper compensation — to say nothing of how much money we’d agree to split on any potential sales. In a perfect world, a comic publisher would pick up my script and all of that would take care of itself. But a Plan B would be nice.

So for that reason alone, the Bounty graphic novel might be way down the road. But it is something I want to do, it is something I’m writing. But for the time being, Jill will have to stick to prose, with only glimpses like the above image keeping the dream of her going back to her roots to spur me onward.

Some readers have compared Jill to Daredevil — a comparison I find flattering after having watched at least some of the latter’s Netflix series. One reader said Jill was like a cross between Lara Croft and Deadpool, and my fans are well aware of all the Batman references I throw into these books. Jill is a comic book character in a novel world — and as great as superhero novels are (there really should be more of them), just once I’d love to sell someone a Bounty comic or graphic novel.

One day, that will happen. One day…

A Female Doctor: Perspective from a Non-Whovian

Geek confession: I am not a Whovian.

I’ve never seen an episode of Doctor Who. Haven’t even wanted to, really.

The premise seemed weird. I didn’t get it. Steven Moffat was a thing.

Mostly the last one.

But now there’s news that the next Doctor — the 13th — will be a woman. After 12 straight white dudes, Whovians will finally see a woman — Jodie Whittaker, to be exact — emerge from the TARDIS.

That’s a big deal, no two ways about it. And to be perfectly frank, I’m now interested enough in Doctor Who as a property that I might give the show a try once the new Doctor starts. What some would call novelty, I call opportunity.

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I love female protagonists; for the most part, I prefer them to their male counterparts. Part of it is, historically, the latter was all we had. For so many decades, the white male hero has been so prevalent in genre fiction that he was ubiquitous.

Even with the deviations from that norm of late, the white male hero still outnumbers all of the other gender and racial identities multiple times over — so keep that in mind the next time some “true fan” gets all whiny on social media about how PC culture and the SJWs are ruining genre fiction.

I don’t need stories that affirm my life experiences anymore. I want stories that push me, make me think and feel in different ways. Protagonists that aren’t the “default” (read: white and male) do that in ways the “default” never can. I’ve been so well represented in genre fiction in my almost 36 years on this planet that I’m… kinda over it.

When I first created Bounty, back in the late 1990s, I did so because I didn’t see a ton of comic books at the time starring female leads. There were plenty of female superheroes, but most of them, from what I could tell, were part of ensemble casts. Other than Wonder Woman and Witchblade, I didn’t see many solo female-led books.

So I decided to change that.

I don’t need to be represented anymore. But there are so many who do, and I want to devour their stories. That means greater diversity in character — but also in writer, in creator, in director.

A female Doctor has so many possibilities. Imagine how much more plentiful those possibilities are if the writing team and those directing each episode are also more diverse.

Diversity is not a dirty word. It is a necessity when it comes to understanding the complicated, ever-changing world in which we live. If a British TV show about a time-traveling alien with two hearts can now contribute to that, then I say all the better.

 

Follow J.D. Cunegan on: Amazon | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Patreon

 

On Passion

“Passion. It lies in all of us. Sleeping… waiting… and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir… open its jaws and howl. It speaks to us… guides us. Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have? Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love… the clarity of hatred… the ecstasy of grief. It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow. Empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”

The above passage, a speech from the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Passion,” is but one interpretation of passion itself. It’s an admittedly dark take, fitting in perfectly with a TV show in which the titular character’s boyfriend had just gone evil and began exacting his unique brand of treachery in a personal way. But I think passion is more than all that.

Though it does bear asking: without passion, what are we?

DSCN1724I have two true passions in life: auto racing and writing. Everything beyond that never really evolves past “interest.” Baseball is an interest. Video games are an interest. They’re great, they bring me happiness, but if I had to go the rest of my life without them, I could do it. Racing and writing? Without those two things, I’m not me. Without those two things, I might as well be little more than a name carved into a hunk of stone.

But how does one differentiate between interest and passion? Well, think about when you get up in the morning. When you crawl your achy, sweaty carcass out of bed, scratching at that itch buried in your dirty, unkempt hair, what’s the first thing that brings a smile to your face? What’s the one thing you have to do? Not in the “if I don’t do this, I don’t get paid” sense; I mean in the “if I don’t do this, I feel incomplete” sense.

The truly lucky among us have the same answer to both questions. I’m not quite there yet, but I’d like to think I’m on my way.

It became clear to me a long time ago that I could never actually be a race car driver or work for a race team. Despite my love for racing, I’m not what you’d consider a car guy. I can’t take apart an engine or change a transmission; I just love watching the competition and immersing myself in the sensory overload that is being at a race. Hearing the roar of the engines, feeling that powerful purr in my ribcage, smelling the burnt rubber and the fuel, feeling the wind rush by as 40 of those ad-splashed suckers roar by at 200 miles an hour… there’s nothing like it, and I’m not sure I can adequately put it into words.

Probably why I haven’t written a story about racing. Yet.

NASCAR is my vehicular poison of choice, though I’m also partial to IndyCar, Formula 1, drag racing, sports car racing… if it’s got four wheels and an engine, chances are I have at least a passing (natch) fascination with it. I can’t go through a weekend without watching a race, nor can I go a NASCAR season without attending at least a couple races. Racing is in my blood, and it will be until the day I die.

As for writing… well, I have a visceral need to tell stories. To take in stories, realize how Me at Comiconthey make me feel, then do everything I can to make others feel the same way. I’ve been a writer, in one way or another, since I was in middle school; by now, writing is such an intrinsic part of who I am that not writing would be an affront to everything I’ve built for the last… almost 36 years.

Every time I read a comic book or a really good novel, or I see an engrossing TV show or movie, I come away with this jolt of adrenaline, this need to plunk my pasty ass down in front of my laptop and make with the typey-type. Every time I write a book, or a short story, or even a blog post like this, I’m scratching an itch buried deep under my skin that never truly goes away.

Every morning, I wake up with one thought: what am I going to write today?

Rarely, the answer is “nothing.” Those days are rough.

I say all that to ask that you all find your passion in life and pursue that. For there lies the route to happiness. If you don’t know what your passion is, that’s okay. If your answer changes over time, that’s fine too. We all grow and change. What you loved at 15 and what you love at 35 doesn’t have to be the same thing. Sometimes, finding your passion boils down to realizing there are only but so many hours in the day, and you have to give up something.

That thing you can’t give up? That thing you refuse to let go of? That’s your passion.

If there’s one piece of writing advice I could give (and only one), it’s to follow your passion. If you’re in the middle of a story you’re not passionate about, stop writing it. Set it aside (but never get rid of it entirely). Find what you are passionate about, and work on that. Time is too fleeting to waste it on something you don’t feel.

Share your passion with others. There is comfort and happiness in numbers. I understand how that sounds, coming from an introverted hermit like me, but few things bring me as much happiness as sharing my joy with like-minded individuals. I don’t even just mean selling books (though that it a kickass feeling, I won’t lie). Fanboying/fangirling over a favorite book, sharing tricks of the publishing trade that worked (or didn’t)… that sense of community only fuels my passion further.

If writing’s your passion, write. If it’s art, then paint or draw or sculpt. If it’s tinkering with the innards of a computer or a 1967 Pontiac GTO, then tinker away. But don’t let the hours and days pass you by without your passion. If there’s one thing you have permission to be selfish about in life, it’s your passion. Indulging in your passion is what gives you the strength and the drive to handle the parts of life you aren’t that jazzed about.

Got a full-time job that stresses you out? Make time before or after for whatever you love. Stressful family life? Tuck yourself away in solitude and take in whatever it is that makes you tick.

Because at the end of the day, Angelus was right. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.

An Ode to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So it’s come to my attention that Buffy the Vampire Slayer — and by extension, the Buffyverse as a whole — is now 20 years old.

First of all, no. I’m not that old.

Am I?

Alright, I am…

Secondly, this seems like an appropriate moment for me to sing the virtues of the Buffyverse, not just on its merits as a fictional universe that spawned two fantastic television shows and lives on in a series of hit-or-miss comic books, but as a creative entity that is almost singlehandedly responsible for where I am today.

To explain, a trip down Memory Lane…

When I was in college, I hit a rough patch. Between 2003 and 2004, my life turned to a dark place… so dark that I was almost a shell of myself. I was barely attending class, I wasn’t spending time with friends, I wasn’t really doing much of anything. I certainly wasn’t writing, and that fact didn’t bother me in the slightest. The days were just passing by, and I cared little for what they brought with them.

But in a fit of boredom one night, I didn’t change the channel after Smallville went off the air… and next thing I knew, I was watching this vampire (with a soul) setting up shop in a law firm, along with his friends — one of whom was a green-skinned demon with better fashion sense than I’ll ever hope to have. And even though I had no idea what was going on… I was hooked.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I was late to the Buffy party. Or maybe it was a shindig. Or was it a hootenanny?

Anyway…

You can thank/blame the movie for that. I saw the 1992 film when I was a kid, and I hated it. So when I heard they were gonna make a TV show based on that property, my first — and only — thought was, “Ugh, pass.” Even as friends kept trying to get me to watch the show, I refused… there was no way in hell I was watching that show.

To this day, I still get the I told you so‘s.

Anyway, I’m hooked. First Angel, then Buffy. I’m devouring these two shows as quickly as the DVD boxset releases will allow me (Netflix and Hulu weren’t quite a thing yet). I fell in love with these characters, I devoured whatever content I could find online. I spoiled the hell out of myself on everything, and yet seeing it unfold on the screen was still an incredibly powerful, moving experience.

I’d never had a TV show make me cry before. These two shows did — repeatedly.

But most importantly… I began living again. I started looking forward to doing stuff. I started going to class more. I began slowly dipping my toe back into the social waters. I eventually got up the courage to start going to therapy. And, slowly but surely, I began writing again.

It started off innocently enough; a friend had invited me to join an online Buffy RPG (or “online writing community,” as we called it) called Birthright. It was set years after the end of both shows, and the vast majority of the cast featured original characters, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I started off with a Watcher in mourning, and before I knew it, I was juggling six characters.

Eventually, Birthright turned into City Limits. New location, new storyline, same great writing and community. Those of you who have read Blood Ties might recall hearing about this community from the Acknowledgments section, and I mention that without this experience, I’m probably not here today with three published books to my name and several more on the way.

That’s not hyperbole. Without the Buffyverse, without the creative kick in the ass Joss Whedon and company inadvertently gave me, I eventually gathered the courage and desire needed to resurrect my long-neglected stories. I’m not quite sure what it was about Buffy and Angel that reignited my creative spark, but they did, and I am forever grateful.

That’s not to say I worship at the altar of Whedon; he’s not the feminist god people make him out to be (seriously, read up on what he did to Charisma Carpenter during Angel season 4), and his work isn’t as unassailable as some might suggest (Agents of SHIELD bored me to death and Avengers: Age of Ultron was one big bag of WTF), but without the shows for which he is best known (Honorable Mention to Firefly), I probably don’t start creating again.

I try to infuse a little of the Buffyverse in everything I write anymore, as my homage to one of popular culture’s most enduring properties and the fictional universe that, on its own, is responsible for the fact that I’m even here typing this. Two decades later, these shows are still personal favorites, and though I’ve seen plenty of great TV shows over the years, nothing has compared to — or inspired me as much as — Buffy and Angel.

(PS: If you’re a Buffy fan and you’re not watching this YouTube channel… you’re missing out.)