Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In between Troubles and Struggles.

Hello to all!

Since Johnny's next adventure, THE STRUGGLES OF JOHNNY CANNON, comes out in just a few short months (three months and a couple weeks, to be exact), I thought I might give you some insight as to what happened in between the two books.

So, Troubles ended on June 1st, 1961 (which just so happens to be my birthday, twenty years before I was actually born). Struggles picks up three months(ish) later on August 27th. During that time, talks between Kennedy (The US President) and Khrushchev (The Russian Chairman) grew more and more tense, in large part because of JFK's perceived weakness thanks to the Bay of Pigs invasion (remember that?). Because of the tension, Kennedy encouraged Americans to build fallout shelters in case Russia decided to drop nukes. Eventually, just a few days before STRUGGLES picks up the story, Khrushchev ordered a wall to be built that would become the symbol for the separation between America and Russia, the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, on July 21, Gus Grissom became the second American to go into space. On August 6, Gherman Titov was the second human to orbit the earth. And, in other uncharted territory news, on June 23, the Antarctic Treaty between the US, the USSR, and several other countries took effect. It was, by a lot of standards, a very exciting time to be alive.

But what about in Cullman, Alabama? Well, during those months between the books, quite a lot of things happen. For instance, Bob Gorman, still irate about what happened over in Colony and how his son responded, has been looking for ways to "tighten up the law" in the area, particularly in the way the Sheriff has been handling the black community. Eddie, on the other hand, has been keeping to himself. Summer has always been time for him and his mom to travel, but they did a lot more than usual over these couple of months, and even Eddie's closest friends (does he have close friend?) haven't really been talking to him at all.

Meanwhile, Mr. Thomassen, Pa, and Carlos have been doing their own thing. Now that Mr. Thomassen has his money back, he's moved on to a new personal goal. He believes the cause of most of the problems back in Cuba was the power held by the mafia and their corruption. And now he sees it taking hold in America. So he has hired Carlos and Pa to do something about it. What exactly? You'll have to read STRUGGLES to find that one out, but they call themselves the Three Caballeros.

But what about our hero and his own little trio? Johnny, Willie, and now Martha have spent the summer doing what kids do best, having fun and making memories. Although, for Johnny, he might not have made the memories he wanted to make, especially when it comes to Martha. But what exactly does that mean? I'll give you one hint as to where you can find that answer.

I hope you'll pick up THE STRUGGLES OF JOHNNY CANNON when it comes out on October 13! Don't forget to pre-order! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Troubles of Writing The Troubles of Johnny Cannon, Part 2: Willie Parkins

This is a continuation of a series I'm writing giving some special features and behind the scenes looks at the process I took to write The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. Part 1 was about discovering Johnny Cannon.

One of my favorite characters in the book (and, from what I've heard, a lot of people's favorite character) is Willie Parkins, the preacher's kid and Johnny's best friend. And now, thanks to the magic that is the cover to the sequel, The Struggles of Johnny Cannon, (now available for pre-order, by the way) I can give you his picture!

Willie Parkins, everybody!

Okay, as you might remember from Part 1 of this series, the story that became The Troubles of Johnny Cannon went through a LOT of revisions and rewrites. One of the many aspects that was added in the later versions that was an obvious improvement was Willie and his family, because Willie wasn't in the original story. He was missing.

Yeah, I wasn't the smartest writer at the beginning.
See, originally Johnny went off to Washington, DC to become a member of the top secret super-kid organization. So I didn't spend a lot of time fleshing out the people in Cullman. However, based on feedback I got from some people, I eventually added more to the story. And one thing I added was the idea that Johnny was banned from the Cullman Little League team. And so I had him get recruited by the preacher's kid to join the black team instead. And, since the kid needed a name, I named him Willie Parkins.
I did a word search. Willie was in this version of the story a total of six times.
So in this version, Willie served one real purpose, and that was to get Johnny to the baseball game, which was when he would get called to go to Washington.

And, thankfully, that version of the story didn't sit well with anybody.

Back to the old drawing board with the story, and also with this character that I could sense needed a bigger role overall. 

I rewrote the story again and added an extra scene at the end where Willie informed Johnny that they'd named the team after him and that the Colony Cannons had won the local baseball championship. And the whole time, I wished that I could figure out a bigger part for Willie to play.

And, thankfully, my agent informed me that this version of the book was even worse than the last.

So, my third time down at the drawing board, I wrote the first draft of the story that you've (hopefully) all read. As I was writing the first chapter, I needed to have Pa send Johnny to ask the neighbor if she'd mind cooking dinner. Now, my original plan was for it to be an old lady or something. But then, as I was typing, I absentmindedly had Pa ask Johnny to go fetch "Mrs. Parkins."

I stopped and stared at the screen.

THIS WAS IT!!! This was the bigger role for Willie Parkins! Willie was Johnny's neighbor. Of course he was. And Willie wouldn't be too happy with Johnny taking Mrs. Parkins away from their dinner to go cook for the Cannons.

As I wrote that chapter, everything clicked. The chemistry between Johnny and Willie on paper was too perfect. I literally felt like I had accidentally stumbled across a gold mine.

Later I wrote that he walked with a crutch, and that too felt like destiny.

Plus, as I wrote this final version of the story, I found a way to incorporate one of the characters from the earlier versions that I was the most sad about losing. Mercury, who had been a mysterious super-kid in Washington, now became a story that Willie was writing.

When I wrote the last line of the book, I couldn't believe there had ever been a version of the story that hadn't had Willie in it. In a lot of ways, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon is just as much about his story as it is Johnny's.

And, without giving any spoilers, I'm happy to say that The Struggles of Johnny Cannon is even MORE of that dynamic.

I can't wait for you to read it.

Go pre-order The Struggles of Johnny Cannon!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Debut Author Experience

Two years ago today (February 14) we announced that the world English rights to The Troubles of Johnny Cannon were acquired by David Gale at Simon & Schuster.

Obviously, this was a HUGE event for me. Not only was it a dream come true, but it also transitioned me (suddenly, I might add) from the "Aspiring Author" category to the "Debut Novelist" category. It was a very long path from selling the rights to the date of publication (February 14, 2013 to October 14, 2014), and many times along that journey (and, even more so in the months AFTER publication) I felt incredibly lost and unsure of what was happening (and this was WITH the ever present guidance from my amazing agent, editor, editors assistants, and many author friends online).

So I decided to help other authors who might be entering the same journey by giving you some observations I made about the process. And, since this is a bloggity blog, I'll do it in list form with awesome animated GIFs.

1. There is no normal debut author experience.
I have a few friends who were debut authors alongside of me, and I can attest from observation that none of us had the exact same journey. In fact, our journeys were barely even similar. 
Debut authors are the least identical twins ever.
Just picking from the litter, in the same year that The Troubles of Johnny Cannon debuted, so did these books:
Five authors, five books. And every single one of them had a different experience than I did. A couple of them were on shortlists for the Newbery Award. Some of them received rave reviews. The sales numbers varied widely. Every one of them was different. So, when you start your debut author journey, try as hard as you can to vow not to compare your journey with others. It will only cause you to self destruct. Seriously. (Trust me on this)

2. Your Publisher is as good at publishing as you are at writing. Probably better.
If you peruse a lot of the writing blogs online, you begin to get a general consensus that publishers are backwards thinking, archaic, clueless, and completely out of touch. If they actually understood the world today, they'd do X or Y, and authors can do a better job going on their own.
Tom Cruise didn't make it on his own. Think about that.
Are there examples where people found incredible success? Sure, but we all know those are the exceptions and not the rule. The reality is, having a publisher handling the publishing side of things really lets you know just how much you don't understand about sales or marketing, editing or design, and even how to set deadlines or how to deal with your own fragile ego. And the crazy thing is, you almost never hear publishing professionals talking about how they could make it on their own without authors. They get it. We don't.

3. You will be disappointed.
No, no, no, I'm not saying the entire experience will be a disappointment. (Although I suppose it could be. Like I said, everyone has their own experience) But what I am saying is that, at some point in the journey, something will happen that falls short of your unrealistic expectations. Because, trust me, you have VERY UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
Trust me, if you're expecting Zooey Deschanel, you have unrealistic expectations.
Maybe you expected to get really chummy with your editor. Maybe you expected to be flown out for big conferences. Maybe you expected to have phone meetings with the marketing team.Maybe you expected to have more input on the cover design. Whatever it might be, you're probably not going to get everything you expected. And that's not just from the publisher, either. Here's a list of some of my (I now realize very unrealistic) expectations for Troubles:
  • I expected hundreds of people to pre-order the book. (I mean, I know a lot of people. Surely they all love me, right? Turns out love has nothing to do with it)
  • I expected at least one starred review. (This one stung a lot, not so much any more. Fact is, you can't please everybody, and your first novel especially will have trouble, because of the unfamiliarity between the author and the critics/reviewers)
  • I expected to be mentioned in awards talks. (Thankfully, I let that one go after I saw the reviews were starless)
  • I expected my first week POS sales [actual transactions at bookstores] to be at least 1,000 copies. (This was mainly because I had NO IDEA how the market works, especially for debut, non-celebrity authors)
  • I expected my book would fizzle out after the first three or four weeks. (In actuality, it wasn't until after a month or so that I finally started seeing some real action and buzz) (I'm actually glad this expectation wasn't met)
So, here's the deal, you have to focus on what you can control in the process. That's the only way you won't be disappointed too much. You have no control over the publishing process, or over sales, or over reviews. But you do have control over how you present yourself, and what you write next, and how you work to network. So put your time and energy into that.

4. Success isn't what you think it is.
This goes along with the previous point, but it's worth emphasizing. You think you know what it means to be considered successful. You're wrong.
Or you just live at peace, Harvey. What about that?
See, when you're dreaming about becoming a published author, you look at the "success stories" and put your name into them. That could be you on the NY Times Best Sellers List. That could be you that they call at 4:15 am for the Printz award. You could be the one who headlines at BEA. You could be the one that they talk about in those year end articles about standout new authors of the year.

But that stuff isn't success. Oh sure, it's awesome. And nobody is going  to say no to having those things happen to them. But those things are popularity and accolades, neither of which are necessarily part of being a successful published author.

So what does it mean to be a success? It's simple, really. You already are one. If you've sold the publishing rights to your book, you succeeded. That thing you wrote got published. Now, try to succeed again and get the next thing you write published. And the next. And the next.

So listen to your publisher and do what you can to make sure THEY succeed at selling your book to the public.

And, more than anything else, remember who you are.
It's always time for a Mufasa gif.
You're a writer. So write, whatever you can, whenever you can. Just so long as you keep getting better at it, and keep writing better and better things, you'll make it past your debut experience.

I hope. (All signs point to yes)


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

COVER REVEAL: The Struggles of Johnny Cannon

I didn't think I'd ever love a cover as much as I loved the cover to The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. It was definitely a dream come true!

And then I saw the cover to The Struggles of Johnny Cannon. And, if it's at all possible, I think I love it even more.

Here, I'll show it to you.

Look at it! Isn't it so cool? Sam Bosma really blew it out of the water with this one (as he does all the time). And Lucy Cummins, the art designer, holy cow, she is so amazing.

And there's so many little details from the story in there. And THERE'S WILLIE! And THERE'S MARTHA! And it's so perfect, it's like the best thing ever.

Oh, and if you want to, you can now pre-order The Struggles of Johnny Cannon on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

(BTW, if you haven't purchased The Troubles of Johnny Cannon yet, now's the perfect time to do it.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Troubles of Writing "The Troubles of Johnny Cannon" Part 1: Discovering Johnny.

The Troubles of Johnny Cannon has been out for a few months now, and I thought you might be interested in reading some "Special Features" about the book. So I'm going to make a series of posts detailing the inspiration, the process, the evolution, the challenges, and the surprising joys of writing a novel that was over ten years in the making.

First up, Discovering Johnny Cannon.

Johnny, out of all the other characters in the book, went through the most changes from the moment I first started mentally writing it up to the day the book hit shelves.

When I first, first, FIRST got the idea, his name wasn't Johnny Cannon. It was Johnny Cross. He was seventeen, the star quarterback for his high school, and trying with all his might to hide a very intense secret. What was that secret? Well, it went a little something like this:

Yeah, when I was originally writing the story, Johnny was a half-angel.  (AKA, a nephilim)

Gosh, what was I even thinking? (NOTE: This all started in 2002, so this was well before Supernatural, or Percy Jackson, or anything else.)

As I went on, I began to realize that I really didn't enjoy writing a story that involved angels and demons and angel hunters and the like, so I tweaked it a bit.  I left the supernatural powers behind and instead made Johnny a cyborg.

Yeah, no, that wasn't much better. But it's what I went with.

I also changed Johnny's name from Cross to Cannon because I realized that Alex Cross was an established character and I wanted to avoid using a name well known. (Little did I know that Johnny Cannon was an animator for Disney back in the day and also is currently a politician in Alabama. I love it.) But the Johnny stuck because that was the name of both of my grandfathers, so I felt like it was important.

Anyway, I wanted Johnny to have superpowers because I wanted him to have an out of this world adventure. I wanted him to be recruited by JFK to fight communism along with other kids, and I wanted it to be awesome. (I'll get more into why I originally wanted this so badly in another post)

So that was the story I originally wrote. Johnny Cannon and the Bay of Guinea Pigs. A story about a kid who doesn't know he's part alien cyborg, who is super fast and super good with a gun, and who has super hearing and super strength. He joins a group of kids and together they try to hunt down a soviet scientist and also rescue Johnny's brother Tommy from the clutches of Fidel Castro.

I eventually dropped Johnny's age from seventeen to twelve because it worked better for when I wanted his origin to take place, five years after the story of PT-109.

In The Bay of Guinea Pigs, Johnny leaves Cullman in the middle of the night for Washington DC after Captain Morris comes to recruit him. Eventually, Johnny rises as the leader of the group and they head to Cuba to rescue his brother.

And, wisely, every editor in publishing rejected that story. 

But what I kept hearing was that everyone loved Johnny, but they didn't like the un-human part of his story.

So I worked it again, dissected it, and I found his true voice. It was the voice of every relative I have in the south. The voice of my grandfathers and my dad. The voice of myself, even.

Johnny became this kid who was nothing special, nothing to look at, and nothing but a hard-headed, stubborn, sarcastic kid who, somehow, did amazing things.

And that's the best kind of hero.

Want to read Johnny's story? The Troubles of Johnny Cannon is available wherever books are sold!


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"How Luthor Met Superboy" A review by Johnny Cannon

Like I did last time, I'm handing my blog over to Johnny Cannon, star of my book The Troubles of Johnny Cannon, to review a comic he probably read.

1960 was one of them years that felt really big. Elvis left the military and sang "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" The NFL announced they'd be starting a team down in Dallas, called the Cowboys. And John F. Kennedy started campaigning for the Presidency.

And, in Adventure Comics #271, we found out how Superboy first met Lex Luthor. Hot Dang!

See, it all started cause a new kid moved into Smallville and Superboy wanted to go over and say "Hey." But just when he was heading that way, some Kryptonite just happened to crash right in front of him. Thankfully, before he was ever an evil scientist, Lex Luthor was just hillbilly enough to drive a tractor and get that hunk of kryptonite knocked out of the way.

Yup, turns out Lex Luthor was a big fan of Superboy. In fact, he done got himself the craziest Superboy shrine there's ever been, and I got one myself under my bed. Look at this thing:

Well, anyhow, Superboy was so grateful to Lex for saving him and such, he figured he'd give him a present. And, since Lex told him he was aiming someday to be a scientist, Superboy did the only natural thing to do, he built him a whole high tech science lab. Then, to top it off, he did this:

Which makes perfect since. I mean, if you hear that some fella you only just met was interested in hunting, then of course you'd give him a fully stocked weapons locker and keys to a tank. Right?

But it sure made Lex happy. He went right ahead and told Superboy that he was gonna become famous cause he had a super awesome idea for a new formula.

Lesson here: If you got the power to snoop and you done gave some fella enough chemicals that he could probably blow up the whole planet, go ahead and snoop.

Anyway, Lex was so dadgum happy and pleased with what Superboy gave him, he done decided he'd do something to pay Superboy back. (But Superboy had made the lab to pay HIM back. These fellas needed a check ledger.)

Or you could make him brownies. Everybody loves brownies.

Anyway, of course when Lex tries to do his big experiments everything goes wrong, and of course Superboy comes in and saves him. But it ain't without consequences.

I ain't gonna lie, I think Lex looks better without the hair.

Yeah, that's probably true.

But the story don't end there. Lex somehow convinces Superboy that there ain't no hard feelings and that he actually did make an antidote for Kryptonite. So Superboy says they ought to test out the antidote.

Cause there ain't nothing dangerous about this setup at all.

So they go out, Superboy discovers that the antidote works, but then Lex tells him that there ain't no more. After that, Lex tries to prove himself to the folks of Smallville that he's a better hero than Superboy by building a tower that keeps them all warm during the winter (but winds up frying them all in the process) and making seeds that'll grow real fast (but then wind up destroying everything around them), and Superboy keeps showing up and saving folks like he always does.

Finally Lex gets real mad at Superboy and tries to kill him. But it don't work. 'Cause it never works.

See, I reckon maybe Superboy will learn that LL is a bad combination, right? Nope.

To read more from Johnny Cannon, check out my book The Troubles of Johnny Cannon!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"The Man Who Broke Supergirl's Heart" A Review by Johnny Cannon

Hello all! I've decided to do a semi-regular (meaning whenever I feel like it) review of comics from fifty years ago. Only, I won't be doing the review. Instead it will be the superhero obsessed kid who stars in my book, The Troubles of Johnny Cannon. Considering his story is set fifty years ago and he actually read these stories, he's probably a better authority. So, here goes:

Hey y'all!

I'm real excited to talk about Action Comics #320.

It's a real humdinger of a story, what with Superman meeting up with - say what?

Oh, you want me to talk about the OTHER story that's in there? The one about Supergirl?

Oh, all right.

Well, the story is called "The Man Who Broke Supergirl's Heart," and right there you know it's going to be as sappy as a tree. But, since you're itching to hear about it, here goes.

It starts with these alien fellas flying to earth, and they're scheming for something.
I mean, I reckon if they're willing to be knocked out for a century to avoid questions, you know they're scheming to take over the universe or something.

Anyway, they arrive and they set out to find Supergirl. But they ain't looking to kidnap her or nothing. They just start scanning her brainwaves, and also her folks brainwaves, to get an idea of what she cares for and what her preferences are when it comes to things.

And why would they do that? Well, it's cause they want to know what sort of fella she's most likely to fall head-over-heels for.
I don't know what makes that fella so darn special or nothing, but whatever. Anyway, once they've figured out what she'd like the most, they make themselves an android that looks exactly like Supergirl's dream date. They give him the totally normal name of Randor, then they set them up to meet by having him get stuck in a cave and, when she comes to save him, putting kryptonite in there so he winds up saving her instead.
I'm gonna have to use that line with a girl some day.

Anyway, eventually, they meet up again and he reveals that he's a prince from another planet. He invites her to be his queen. And, since Supergirl is such a smartypants, she says no at first, but agrees to visit. Once she visits, though, she decides to become his queen anyway, just like that. She didn't even care that she was abandoning earth. Dadgummit.

So she goes and sits in the queen's throne, and then this happens.
See, them dadgum robots, you just can't trust them.

So all the power gets taken away from Supergirl and given to that fella with the bad haircut and the mustache. Why did he come up with this scheme? Real simple.
Yeah, she ain't nearly as concerned with the fact that this fella just stole her powers cause he was bored as she is that her dreamboat is an android. But I guess you got to have your priorities.

Anyway, the fella tells Randor to get rid of Supergirl, and he reckons Randor will do it cause he ain't got no feelings to speak of. But jokes on him, cause Randor DOES have feeling to speak of, and he came up with a whole scheme from the very beginning.
Well then, ain't that something? So Randor tricks the fella into sitting in the power-stealing throne and gets Supergirl her powers back. But then some fellas shoot Supergirl with a death ray, and since she got her powers back, the death ray bounces off her (cause death rays act just like bullets) and hits Randor.
Which I reckon is about the saddest thing you've ever seen in comics, ain't it? And you know Supergirl got real mad about it, too. Cause this is what she did to them fellas that started the whole dang thing.
Yeah, she done marooned them on an uninhabited planet. Dadgum, she just sent them to starve to death or kill each other or whatever, she don't even care. They done hurt her little robot buddy, so she's gonna hurt them something fierce.

Well, I reckon maybe Supergirl ain't so bad after all.