Matt Adams certainly isn’t the first novelist to write a superhero novel. However, he’s one of the very few writers to write a superhero tale with the passion and knowledge of someone who actually knows a thing or two about comic books and superheroes. Whether it’s the real homages to the silver age of superheroes or the trivial allusions of everything from Star Wars to Metal Gear Solid, Matt Adams’s I, Crimsonstreak is an honest tribute to both comic books and fandom while refusing to be simply a superhero clone. We got the chance to speak to Matt Adams at ComicAttack about superheroes, future plans, and much, much more.
ComicAttack: Are you a plotter or a pantser when it comes to writing?
Matt Adams: I’m a little bit of both, actually. I start with an outline that includes the basic characters and plot points I plan to hit during the story. That’s my road map. However, I usually go off the beaten path. Sometimes characters get consolidated or eliminated. I know where I want to go in the story…but how I get there is something that develops as I write.
CA: What’s the biggest difference between what you had plotted out and what came to be in I, Crimsonstreak?
MA: I didn’t outline the first draft of the book (I now outline everything I write), so I can’t really answer that in terms of what I had in mind and what ended up on the page. I can say, however, that the basic plot procession didn’t change much from the first draft to the published version. The style of the book changed dramatically through several drafts; it became much more flashback-heavy in later iterations.The biggest difference from the earliest drafts to the final version lies in the characters. Warren IV, son of the Crusading Comet, was originally written as a weaker character. He was whiny, sheltered, and more stereotypically teenage angst-ridden. He was boring and “just along for the ride.” In later drafts, Warren IV became less teenager and more burdened. He was fighting the good fight with his father (and under Mortimer’s guidance) and fully aware that the mantle of the Crusading Comet would rest on his shoulders should something happen to his father. The earlier iteration of Warren was initially more trusting of Crimsonstreak, whereas Warren is now suspicious of Crimsonstreak’s motives.Mortimer P. Willoughby, on the other hand, changed remarkably little from draft to draft. The character I had in my mind jumped off the page. Some of his one-liners evolved, but the character didn’t change that much. He did end up shouldering a greater burden (the book suggests Morty runs the underground resistance against Colonel Chaos and the New World Common Wealth) than he did in earlier drafts.
The most significant change to the narrative involves Morty’s fate. In the original draft, he survives. I loved the character so much that the very idea of killing him off upset me. I didn’t even entertain the notion. As Warren’s character developed and the Warren-Morty relationship became more mentor-apprentice, the need arose for Warren’s character arc to have a more satisfying conclusion. He needed to learn something…he needed to BECOME something…and he couldn’t do that if he always thought Mortimer was going to be there to save the day. I agonized over this decision. I even blogged about it . Morty gets his “noble sacrifice moment,” but it’s not a throwaway. Warren learns from it and Morty’s decision also buys time for Warren to take action.
CA: It looks like Crimsonstreak took quite a few influences from the Flash, but are there any other characters that influenced the creation of him?
MA: The Flash comparison is unavoidable since Crimsonstreak is a super-speedster who wears red. I have a side character called Scarlet DashBoy who’s intended to poke fun at that comparison (the Flash, after all, is also called “the Scarlet Speedster”). I’m also a big fan of the Tick. I thought that series did a terrific job of playing with superhero conventions and turning them upside down. It had a madcap energy to it that heavily influenced the book’s style.
CA: Who are your major influences?
MA: I’ve read a lot of Michael Crichton, and while Crimsonstreak employs silly science fictional junk science, one day I’d like to write a bona fide Crichton-esque techno-thriller. Timothy Zahn is a favorite as well, especially his Star Wars: Heir to the Empire trilogy. I admire the work of J. Michael Straczynski in comics and TV. I also appreciate humor in storytelling…writers that come to mind include Joss Whedon and Peter David. And for something completely different, I also like historical biographies by Walter Isaacson and David McCullough.
CA: Both I, Crimsonstreak and your upcoming novel Red Plague have strong roots in the Midwest. Do you come from the Midwest, and what does the location bring to your stories?
MA: I was born in Indiana and still live there. Midwesterners have a wry sensibility about the world around them, something I like to explore in my writing because it makes for some interesting observations on society. Many of my stories feature a character with roots in places like Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, etc. It’s a bit of a different worldview than you see in a lot of other stories.
CA: You’re currently in the process of writing I, Crimsonstreak 2: The Crimsonstreak-quel. Can you tell us a little bit about it and what it’s like working on a sequel?
MA: I still haven’t settled on a real title for the sequel. The first draft is finished, which means I have a ton of rewriting to do. As it stands now, the book is set three years after the events of I, Crimsonstreak. Crimsonstreak and the other heroes are still mopping up after the events of the first book and trying to get the world back on track. Colonel Chaos, our hero’s father, is being punished for what happened with the New World Common Wealth. Right when things seem to be settling down, the Kiltechs (vengeful aliens mentioned in the first book) return to subjugate the world because, well, they don’t have anything better to do. You can expect more alternate dimensional tomfoolery, a riff on the Green Lantern mythos, the return of a beloved character, and a big dose of the poser–Scarlet DashBoy.It’s easy for me to get into the mindset of Crimsonstreak, but the dude can absolutely get exhausting from a writing standpoint. He has a lot of energy–too much, actually–and that comes through in his spastic thought process. It’s fun to revisit the character. A sequel means bigger ideas, new characters, and raising the stakes even higher. It’ll all come together eventually.
CA: Do you plan on writing stories that follow other characters in the Crimsonstreak universe or other superhero novels?
MA: In addition to a Crimsonstreak sequel, I have another idea percolating for a novel written from the perspective of Mortimer P. Willoughby, one of my favorite characters in the book. It would tell the story of Mortimer and how he came to be the assistant for the Crusading Comet, following decades of personal/professional history. I’ve just started outlining some of the main points for that. Morty has a rapier-like wit…and it’s fun to get into that character’s head. Right now, it exists merely in the idea stage.A project I’ve had around for a while has a superheroic spin as well. It’s called The Franchise, and it’s about a branch of nationwide superhero-for-hire businesses. While Crimsonstreak was a comedic take on the superhero genre, The Franchise is more in the vein of something like Watchmen. It pays tribute to the pulpy “mystery men” of old and takes a much different approach than Crimsonstreak. It has people with powers, action, and that sort of thing…but the characters live in a world where capes went out of style a long time ago. It’s also got an alternate history vibe to it, since it’s set in the 1960s.
CA: You stated that “It was the rise of ebooks, ironically, that led to I, Crimsonstreak‘s publication by Candlemark & Gleam.” How has the ebook revolution, as well as the explosion of superhero novels such as Wearing the Cape and Charlotte Powers: Power Down, affected your career?
MA: A couple years ago, I tried getting I, Crimsonstreak published in the traditional manner. I didn’t realize the book wasn’t ready for it and I wasn’t as prepared as I needed to be. After a few rejections (and let’s face it, everybody gets rejected), I put the book aside. I wrote another novel, which an agent requested before passing on it. I got into short stories, wrote another novel, and reevaluated where I wanted to go with writing. Around that time, ebooks exploded. I didn’t have a Kindle and didn’t know enough about epublishing.
I decided to correct that. I bought a Kindle, learned how to format ebooks (I mean this in the most modest sense possible–I learned very basic formatting), and decided I’d throw Crimsonstreak to the wolves of self-publishing. This was more about the process than becoming a Kindle Millionaire. I polished the book, sent it to some beta readers, and prepared it for publication. I got so far as to lay out some cover designs.
I stumbled into a Twitter book chat one afternoon and had a brief conversation with Kate Sullivan, the Mastermind at Candlemark & Gleam. I wanted to know where superhero fiction gets shelved (sci-fi, fantasy, etc.). She then commented that “there needs to be more good superhero fic in the world.” Instead of self-publishing, I thought it would be better for me as a writer to have someone help guide me through the process. I submitted the book, Kate accepted it, and I, Crimsonstreak went forward from there.
None of that would have happened without the rise of ebooks. I would definitely consider self-pubbing in the future–just look how well Wearing the Cape has done.
CA: What’s the experience like working with Candlemark & Gleam compared to self-publishing?
MA: I published a few short stories in electronic format just to get a feel for it. When you go the self-publishing route, you’re doing everything by yourself. If you’re not doing it by yourself, you’re paying someone to do it (cover design, ebook layout, editorial development, etc.). I have confidence in my ability to do this with short fiction, but not a book. I’m also not in a position where I want to pay for those services; I just don’t think it’s going to benefit me to do that at this point in my writing career. That’s not to say I’ll never do it. Self-pubbing can be very rewarding.
As a first-time author, I wanted some help.
The experience with Candlemark & Gleam has been terrific. I got the professional layout, the editorial help and copyediting, a terrific cover, and some promotional help as well. Since it’s a small publisher, there was no advance…but I didn’t have to pay for the things that would make my book infinitely better (editing, design, cover). I had input on every facet of the process. That means cover design, fonts, icons for section breaks, the back blurb. This whole thing has been a learning process, and I’m so thankful to have Candlemark & Gleam (and Mastermind Kate Sullivan) behind my book.
CA: You used to work in TV news. How was that like and did it prepare you for writing?
MA: I’m a media-minded guy. I think very visually and have an unhealthy love for factoids (as most people in TV news do). TV news is deadline-driven. You give me a deadline and I’m not going to miss it. I’m used to multitasking and finding ways to make a story feel unique. I’m also well aware of the power of the media, how that power should be exercised, and how easy it is to abuse. Journalism and media will continue to be a theme in my writing.
From a stylistic standpoint, writing for TV news has cut down on my tendency to overwrite (verbosity is a problem of mine at times). Part of the job in news is to make complicated subjects seem simple–you’ve got 25 seconds to tell a story, so you’d better make the most of it. Word choice and economy become tantamount. I’m not an overly descriptive, purple-prose type of writer…much of that is due to my background in news.
The appendices in I, Crimsonstreak are an extension of my news background. Many of the entries are newspaper articles that (mostly) follow AP Style.
CA: Do you have any interest in possibly giving comic book writing a go?
MA: I’ve certainly thought about it, although it’s a different medium from writing prose. I have a lot to learn about format and word economy. I used to draw comic books when I was a kid, but my artistic skills never rose above that level, so I concentrated more on the writing aspect.
CA: If you could take on one comic book series, what would it be?
MA: Let’s just do a whole series on Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man from the Marvel film universe. I really can’t get enough of that character.
CA: Marvel or DC?
MA: This is the comic book equivalent of a loaded question, isn’t it? I admire heroes from both publishers–influences from both run rampant in the book–but I lean toward DC simply because I feel like the characters are more iconic than Marvel’s stable. By that I mean DC’s primary heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) have a mythical quality to them. They’ve changed with the eras and been reinvented many, many times. It’s not that Marvel lacks iconic characters (Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America), but I think DC’s heroes are more archetypical while Marvel’s are more contemporary.
CA: What are some of your favorite comic books?
MA: I tend to read a lot of trade collections. Watchmen is a big influence–a layered, complex story interweaving things like history, psychology, and alternate reality. Death of Superman is another one I’ve read a lot. The writers bit off more than they could chew to resolve that one, but the initial parts were great (especially the “Rise of the Supermen”). I’ve read a fair amount of X-Men. Oddly, I read more of the Dark Horse Star Wars run than any superhero comics.
CA: If you could work with any artist (whether for a book cover or a comic book), alive or dead, who would it be?
MA: For a book cover, give me Drew Struzan. His work in poster art (particularly Indiana Jones and Star Wars) is phenomenal.
For a comic book cover, give me Alex Ross. His work with superheroes is jaw-dropping.