Posted by Allison M. Dickson | File under : , ,
Proof of his actual existence!
Ian Thomas Healy is not only one of my best friends. He's my closest professional colleague and contemporary, and really the best one any writer can have. We're familiar enough with one another's work that we speak in a sort of "shorthand" when we edit each other's things, and some of the dialogues we've had could have ended weaker friendships, but it's only made ours stronger. I know that whatever Ian says about my work is 100% the truth. He isn't going to blow smoke up my ass; therefore, I wouldn't do the same disservice to him. I guess you could say we're writer twins with our own special language or something, and now he's on his very first blog tour and I'm thrilled to be among the stops he's making around the interwebs!

You might also be a friend of Ian's, and you might also say you understand what he went through to get his first book published, and sympathize with a lot of the challenges: signing with two agents who both retired before they could complete a successful sale for him, not to mention the heaps upon heaps of rejections from other agents and publishers for his otherwise quality work. But I had an insider's view of much of it, and I can say without a doubt that are few authors who have worked as hard and as tirelessly as Ian has to get published. And although I think the trials and tribulations have jaded him somewhat (understandably enough), when I feel like complaining about my unsuccessful query processes, I think of what he's been through and shut my trap.

Smashing cover art!
Sometimes I fear he works too damn much, and I've urged him to, you know, branch out a bit and maybe take up bowling or something (though he does watch hockey, so at least there's that). But he's about as stubborn and determined as any of the superheroes in his books, and so I know I'm wasting my breath. And even if he is a workaholic, it has paid off. I've watched his craft improve to the point where his first drafts look like most people's finals. He's challenged himself with a wide variety of genres from hard science fiction to western to steam/cyberpunk to high fantasy to mainstream YA, and he's done remarkably well with all of them. And while he's built an expansive library of self-published e-books, all his hard work has finally come to fruition with the publication of his brainchild, JUST CAUSE (and three other books in that series, still to be released) by New Babel Books.

I did not read JUST CAUSE in its original "epic" iteration. By the time I got around to it, he'd put it through a severe makeover, the process of which he detailed on another guest post on Monday at Gae Polisner's blog. The book I read was much like the one you would purchase (and why wouldn't you?) today. The main heroine, super speedster Mustang Sally, has just turned eighteen and is joining the prestigious superhero team Just Cause, a parahuman force that works in tandem with the U.S. government to help stop other parahuman threats. But a lot of challenges have been thrown her way, not the least of which is confronting the man who killed her father, and experiencing first-time love and all that fun stuff. We also meet a very colorful cast of characters in a universe so richly detailed, you quickly start to understand why Ian likes to spend so much time there. The book is a smash to read, and it's a great introduction to a universe that starts to feel like home in no time. I've had the pleasure of reading the current drafts of the other Just Cause Universe novels, and I can tell you you're in for a real treat with all of them. But again, that's another blog for another day.

I posed a few questions to Ian about the nature of his universe, both the real one and the fictional one, and I'll just let him take over from here.

Congratulations, Ian! You're finally published! What are you going to do now?

Not too busy to look like a cowboy, though
I'm going to sit back on my laurels, drink a lovely beverage, and watch my royalties roll in like the tide on a summer evening.

Yeah, right.

When have you ever known me not to have irons in the fire? I still have three more books under contract with New Babel, and at some point we will start working on the release of THE ARCHMAGE. I also have my self-publishing business to run, and I'm planning to put out at least two collections of short stories during the first quarter of 2012--one with Weird West tales about the fascinating little burg of Muddy Creek, and the other a collection of Officer Harry Blaine stories. He's a parahuman cop in the Just Cause Universe who doesn't want to put on tights and save the world; he just wants to do his job and go home to his family at the end of the day.

I have three NaNoWriMo books to edit and either release myself or send off into the industry (STARF*CKER, ROOFTOPS, and PROPANE JOCKEYS). I'm still working on getting my mainstream YA book THE GUITARIST out there into the hands of agents and publishers.

Finally, I have my new original writing to do in the upcoming year as well. That includes completing the sixth JCU novel, CHAMPION, which completes what I'm calling the Mustang Sally trilogy. Also on tap is a sequel to my ebook PARIAH'S MOON called PARIAH'S WAR. I will, of course, be participating in NaNoWriMo 2012, perhaps with the sci-fi murder mystery I've been toying with for a couple of years. And at last, there's this little steampunky piece of joy that I'm working on with a dear friend called THE OILMAN'S DAUGHTER.

And with my free hand...

What lessons have getting this book to market taught you as an author?

The biggest thing is learning to be patient. Being an experienced self-publisher of ebooks and a prolific producer of fiction has made me used to seeing a lot of my material get completed, edited, and released for sale in a fairly short turn-around period. JUST CAUSE was acquired at the beginning of May this year and released at the end of November, so just over six months from acquisition to release. At times, that has felt like an interminable waiting period, even though I know that in the world of publishing, a six month release is a blisteringly fast pace. I'm working on keeping that patience with my publisher. They're a small company and like me, they have other obligations besides just their books, and I am trying to keep that in mind. I keep telling myself "they wanted your work" and that helps a lot. There haven't been a lot of people in the industry who HAVE wanted it, so when someone does, it feels very much like a vindication of my years of strife.

I've learned that not only do things not happen nearly as quickly as I might want them to, but when they do happen, they happen very fast. That might seem like a bit of a contradiction, but when your turn comes up to get something done, the publisher has a small window and you'd better be ready to jump through it.

Tell us a little bit about your book. What would you say makes Just Cause different from other famous superhero teams like the X-Men or Justice League?
The story of how JUST CAUSE came to be is long and convoluted, and goes all the way back to my immediate post-college years when I was involved heavily in a role-playing game group. That was when Just Cause the team was first created. I haven't used any characters created by those players, but that was the era when I developed all the core teams of the JCU, including Just Cause, the Just Cause Second Team, the Lucky Seven, the New Guard, Divine Right, and the Young Guns.

The original Just Cause novel was a convoluted, multi-layered plot that stretched over sixty-odd years. After receiving well over a hundred rejections, I shelved it for over a year. Eventually when I pulled it back out, I ultimately cut all of the "flashback" sequences (which have since become plot seeds for future JCU novels), which stripped about forty thousand words from the original manuscript. I wrote twenty thousand new words and, following multiple rounds of revisions, wound up with the story that NBB acquired.

The Just Cause team is sort of a synthesis between both DC and Marvel universes (and I'll admit to being unabashedly a DC guy). Just Cause is a public organization, like the Justice League, supported by the government (in fact, during the Mustang Sally era, they're an arm of Homeland Security). The characters' identities are generally well-known, and they're not working outside of the law. On the other hand, they don't have the "cosmic" levels of power which many DC heroes have; instead, their abilities are more reasonable in scope, like among the X-Men. Nobody on Just Cause is going to reverse the flow of time or fling an errant asteroid into the sun or battle the gods themselves. Despite their abilities, they're very much "human."

What makes Just Cause different than the flagship teams from DC or Marvel is that they're accessible to newcomers. The Justice League has some sixty years of history backing them up, and the X-Men fifty. Although Just Cause has existed in my own setting since World War II, those stories haven't yet been told. Readers can get in on the ground floor and get to know these characters for the first time, something which can only happen in DC and Marvel when they reinvent the teams every few years. But even so, there's the constant weight of all that history which can intimidate potential new readers. Just Cause doesn't have that (yet). Right now, it's all still magical and new.

We all write from life in some respect. Which character in the Just Cause team would you say is the most like you? What is it about the Just Cause Universe that most makes you want to keep coming back to it?

I'd have to say Crackerjack. He's got my kind of attitude, if shorter hair. I find him to be a fascinating character. What would you be like if you could never be harmed? I rather suspect I would be a wiseacre like he is, and so in many ways, he is me. Along those same lines, writing a story with him as the main character would be very difficult for me, because I don't want to make him a Mary Sue (reference tvtropes.org for that), and as a writer, I'm more comfortable sitting off to one side, observing and recording and reporting what the other characters do instead of being on the front lines myself.

I keep coming back to the JCU because I really do love these characters. There are so many stories I want to tell, and so many characters I want to give their due and their moment in the spotlight. I've been reading comic books regularly now for more than twenty-five years, and there's something about superheroes that I can't just set aside for more "grown-up" fare.

Mustang Sally, a super speedster, is the main hero of this book. What do you think makes her a great hero? Is there a reason you imbued her with that particular power?

Another iteration of Mustang Sally,
 by Jeff Hebert
Mustang Sally is a great hero because she does what she must, even when she doesn't want to, even when she's afraid to, and even when she can't. She's humble, despite the fact that in the JCU, she's one of the first parahumans to approach the "cosmic" power levels with her ability to exceed the speed of sound on foot (read about that in my short story Graceful Blur, available from all fine ebook retailers). She responds to stresses like any human, and that makes her accessible to readers. When they read how she's unsure of herself, and afraid of the consequences of her actions or inaction, that makes her seem real, because we as readers can relate to her. I gave her super speed because I think it's a fun and recognizable power. Even people who have never read comic books can instinctively grasp the concept of super speed, and approaching it from a bit more of a hard science fiction angle makes it seem more realistic, despite its fantastic nature.

For me, the most important thing about writing a superhero is not her powers, but who she is beneath the costume. Whether the book is about a young man imbued with the ability to jump real high, or a prison guard who can generate a candle-flame at her fingertips, or a frightened girl who can create vacuum pockets, what matters is making them living, breathing characters with loves and goals and problems that define them instead of letting their powers make them into caricatures.
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Ian's ebooks can be found at all major online retailers, and you can purchase your brand spanking new copy of JUST CAUSE direct from New Babel Books or Amazon. You can also download it through Smashwords in your preferred format!