A Hard Truth and a Paradox

Typically, the more you do something, the better you get at it.

Seems simple enough, right? Isn’t that what we teach the youngsters among us? Practice makes perfect? No one is good at something right out of the gate? You have to work at whatever craft you want in order to become good at it?

Well, it appears this does not apply to writing books.

I mean, one would think that after writing and publishing five novels (and a collection of short stories), I’d be pretty darn good at this. One would think the more I do it, the easier it becomes.

Uh… about that…

Writing is a fickle beast, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to when it shows up. Actually, that’s not quite true… there are a few things that have come together to conspire against the act of putting words on the page (insert Russia joke here).

First of all, there’s that pesky thing called a day job. It’s great in a sense, because it pays me well enough that I can afford to invest in my writing. I can better afford such things as promotional services, cover artists, editors, conventions and the like. But it also drains me, the day-to-day hustle leaving me exhausted when I get home — so much so that writing, as enticing as it is during the work day, proves elusive after hours.

And yes, I realize that to some extent, that issue is my own lack of discipline. I readily admit I’m not as strong in that regard as I should be. I know as much as anyone that the real work of writing occurs when you don’t feel like writing. And yet, there are nights when I can’t bring myself to open that manuscript.

Even if I do open it? That blinking cursor just stares at me. Mocking.

The cursor hates me. I don’t know why.

It’s not like I’m bereft of ideas. I resorted to outlining in an attempt to (finally) finish Betrayed. I’m even fairly certain where to go with the next two Jill Andersen books, Bitter End and Big Apple. I’ve come up with several potential short story or novel ideas that are so outside of what I normally write that I’m excited to tackle them (I just… haven’t yet, though with one of them, that’s because it’s my NaNoWriMo project, and until the calendar reads November…).

I even had a short story I was writing for an upcoming anthology — from the same people who brought you Cracks in the Tapestry. But it derailed not even 4,000 words in, and I’ve yet to find a way to salvage it. That anthology might wind up happening without me.

Dec. 4 will mark two years since my last published novel. Two freaking years. For a guy who was once pumping out new releases every six months. What the hell? What happened? I thought this was supposed to get easier the more I did it, not soul-crushingly difficult.

I know part of the reason my sales are so bad is because I haven’t released anything lately. It’s generally accepted that consistent new content is the best way to get people to buy your stuff, and I have failed massively in that regard.

Maybe NaNoWriMo is the kick in the ass I need to get back in the game. But as it stands right now, I’m far better at daydreaming about writing than actually, you know, writing.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

 

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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 and art, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard, scratching a pencil over a piece of paper, or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Follow J.D. on FacebookTwitterGoodreads, and DeviantArt.

Eulogy for a Legend

Chances are, you’ve read plenty about what Stan Lee meant to people over the last 24 hours.DSC02394 At the risk of sounding redundant, he meant a lot to me, too.

See, Stan Lee — having been credited with mentally birthing such superhero stalwarts as Spider-Man, Black Panther, the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc. etc. etc. (in the interest of accuracy, let’s call him the co-creator — because without the work of such men as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, these characters would likely not be what they’ve become). — is who he is because those creations are what they are.

Superhero comic books are as popular and ubiquitous as they are today thanks in large part to Lee. His public persona, his cameos across several different adaptations… it’s probably safe to say that without Lee, the superhero genre and comic books as a whole would not be what they are today.

Lee was not the pioneer. But for a lot of people, he is synonymous not only with Marvel, but with comic books as a whole.

1656330-uncanny_x_men__1963__289I read my first comic book when I was 11. It was issue 299 of The Uncanny X-Men, and as soon as I read that, I decided  that a) I needed to read a lot more X-Men, and b) I wanted to write my own stories. I wanted to be a comic book creator. I wanted to tell stories that thrilled and entertained the way I was being thrilled and entertained.

Lee didn’t write that issue — or pretty much any issue during my lifetime. But he laid that foundation.

I met Lee in 2002, when I was in Los Angeles visiting a friend over summer vacation. He was doing a Q-&-A after a screening of Spider-Man (the first Sam Raimi film), and he just happened to walk into the ArcLight while my friend and I were getting tickets. I’m forever grateful that he took a few moments to speak with me and pose for a picture.

Later that night, I took a picture of Lee with my friend. This being the pre-digital camera, no-smartphone time period, I had to get these pictures developed. The pic of Lee with my friend didn’t develop. I am forever bummed about that.

But Lee, as larger than life as he often seemed, was no different than the rest of us. He loved telling stories. He loved introducing us to characters who were simultaneously out of this world and just like us. It’s often said that DC’s superheroes are gods who become men, while Marvel’s heroes are men who become gods. If that’s true, then Lee is the architect behind that.

I’ve spoken at length about many of my influences. Chris Claremont. Jim Lee (no relation). Michael Turner (RIP). Joss Whedon. Kevin Smith. But I guarantee you every single one of them would (and many have) pointed to Stan Lee as their influence. Lee was almost like the entire comic book community’s grandfather — and this really does feel like we’ve all lost a member of the family.

Lee made quite the impact in his 95 years on this planet, an impact that continues to be felt on the spinner racks and in the movie theaters and on our TV screens and with probably every piece of genre fiction that’s published. I know he’s impacted my work over the years, and I think it would only be fitting if a future book included a Stan Lee cameo of sorts.

It’s the least I can do for a man who played such a huge role in the genre I love.

I’m heartbroken over Lee’s death, but I am buoyed by the outpouring of love that has come his way in the day since — as well as the knowledge that everything he helped create, everything he put in place, will always be there for the rest of us. There will never be another Stan Lee, but there’ll always be a little Stan Lee in all of us.

Excelsior!

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.

 

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