Home » Book Spotlights » Up Close and Personal with Joe Sergi, Author of ‘Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures’

Up Close and Personal with Joe Sergi, Author of ‘Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures’

Sky-Girl-Front-Cover

ABOUT SKY GIRL AND THE SUPERHEROIC ADVENTURES

Being a teenage girl is hard enough, but for DeDe Christopher, it is proving impossible.

In addition to cliques, books, and boys, she has to worry about capes, apes, and aliens. Last year, DeDe discovered that she possessed fantastic abilities that were strangely similar to those of a comic book character named SkyBoy.

With the help of her best friend Jason, a self-professed comic geek, DeDe accepted her legacy and became Sky Girl. Now, DeDe must learn what it means to be a heroine as Sky Girl faces the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy, including the clever Quizmaster, the beautiful Penny Pound, the enigmatic Jersey Devil, and the magical MissTick.

DeDe must also face personal challenges as she discovers the secrets of her late father and his connection to Skyboy–secrets that will affect Sky Girl’s destiny.

Purchase paperback from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Superheroic-Adventures-Series-Volume/dp/1625530277/

Purchase digital version from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Superheroic-Adventures-Series-ebook/dp/B00D4FHE7U/

Purchase paperback or digital from Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sky-girl-and-the-superheroic-adventures-joe-sergi/1115472264

The thing about me is that I am a writer because of George Lucas. 

Let me explain. I remember seeing Star Wars at the Uptown Theater in Washington when I was seven years old and I was immediately hooked on the George Lucas, Masterpiece. Why is this important to my writing career? Because after the show my mother bought me my first comic book (in truth, the first book I remember). It was the first issue of Marvel’s Star Wars comic with an adaptation of the movie (I’m sure I had read other books, but this was the moment it began). That adaptation became a series and I was hooked. Every month, I picked up Star Wars–first, by mail subscription (which took forever and usually destroyed the book) and then at my local comic shop, where I would check in every Friday to see if the new issue of Star Wars came in (anyone else remember Friday book day?). Then, one day, I was riding my bike down to the local Krauzers (think the New Jersey Version of 7-11) and picked up Uncanny X-Men 177. Kitty Pride lay dead at the feet of Wolverine on the cover. I devoured the book and it blew me away. Claremont’s writing had me hooked (of course I hadn’t appreciated that at the time) and I bought every comic that little spinner rack had—every week (as well as every back issue I could find at flea markets). The comic’s industry upped the ante in the mid-80s with DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths and Marvel’s Secret Wars and I knew I would be a fan forever (Especially after reading Byrne’s revamped Superman titles). I kept reading all through high school, college, and law school. Book day went from Friday to Thursday to Wednesday. I didn’t even lose faith after the dark days of the 90s. I stuck it out, and you know what, the books are better than ever. Recently, comics have attracted some really amazing writers both in the mainstream and independent markets (The artists have always been great) and I still spend a substantial part of my disposable income on these books. In addition, podcasts like Comic Geek Speak have created a sense of community among fans that hasn’t been seen since the 80s and 90s comics shops. In fact, I owe that first step of my writing journey, to the Comic Geek Speak Podcast, or more specifically their online forum of listeners. These fellow fans encouraged me to write my first comic and my first short story, which led me to write my first novel, and my eventual writing career.

When I first get up in the morning, I read and write.

There are two major philosophies that I have adopted for my writing career. The first comes from Ray Bradbury, who I had the privilege of meeting at San Diego ComicCon before he died. I asked him if he had any advice for writers. He said the best thing a writer can do is write. The second philosophy comes from Stephen King (in On Writing and not told to me in person), who said something like, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time to write.” So, I try to read and write all the time. On weekdays, I get up most mornings by 4:30 and try to read for at least a half hour (Saturday mornings are dedicated to read the week’s comics so I don’t fall behind.) On the writing side, I try to write creatively every day (I also write for my day job, but it is a very different structure and not very creative). I don’t hold myself to minimum page limits or time limits when I write fiction. Instead, I try to set aside 5 am to 7 am to write every day and see how much I can do. Some days it is very little and I end up throwing it away.

The most important thing in my life is my family.

At the end of the day, what else is there? I do a lot of things, but the most important thing to me is my family. You really have to make time for that. Whether it’s taking my daughter camping with the girl scouts and then writing stories after the kids are asleep. Or taking a red eye back from California from a hearing in order to go on a vacation, I do my best to get it all done. I have workaholic co-workers who believe that if they work hard now they will be able to spend more time with their children later. But, that sounds silly to me because if you wait too long, then your children will grow up and you’ll miss it. They grow up too fast as it is. A lot of people watch Mary Poppins and think that the story is about a nanny who takes children on wonderful adventures. The real story is about Mr.Banks, the businessman who “grinds, grinds, grinds at the grindstone.” He has to learn to connect with his children before “childhood slips like sand through a sift and all too soon they’ve up and grown and then they’ve flown and it’s too late for [him] to give that spoon full of sugar to help that medicine go down.” There are far too many Mr. Banks in the world

When I was growing up, my father owned his own business and he would get up long before any of us and then come home when my brothers and sister were all asleep. Still, he never missed a vacation (sometimes he joined us later), came to all the required school plays (where he proudly snored in the front row), and served as my little league coach. If one of our cars broke down, we knew he was only a phone call away. He provided for us and also was there for us. He has his faults, we all do, but I hope I can be half the father he was to my Sergi clan.

I love to travel to Theme Parks, in general, and Disney Theme Parks in specific.

I am a huge Disney fan. In fact, I got married in Disney World thirteen years ago in the shadow of Cinderella’s Castle. Wedding guests included Belle and the Beast, Lumiere, and, of course, Mickey and Minnie. When I need to recharge, I go to the Disney parks, or take a Disney Cruise. When travelling to California for work, I have annual passes and try to visit the Disneyland Park at least once (although I also admit to owning season passes to Universal Studios Hollywood and Kings Dominion as well). Now, I love experiencing Disney movies and parks through my daughter’s eight-year-old eyes. There is a lot of magic in the world. Kids see it and, if they are not paying attention, adults miss it. There is a magical escapism that Disney creates that cannot be duplicated anywhere else. (Although Universal Studio Island of Adventures comes really close.). Plus, the Disney customer service is the best on the planet. As a matter of fact, I just got back from a one week vacation to Disneyland and I am ready to head back, if only for an hour.

Of course, as a comics and SciFi fan, I also love the Universal theme parks. The Spider-Man ride is the greatest on the planet and the butter beer in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is to die for.

In my spare time, I try to figure out what spare time is.

I really hate to relax and am not happy unless I’m doing at least three things at once. I’m not saying I am productive because that would be a lie since many of those things I do are video games and keeping up on current television/movies. I’m also one of those people that doesn’t sleep very much. I get a couple of hours a night. That leaves a lot of time when no one is around. I used to watch a lot of television infomercials. Now, I use that time more productively and write. Of course, that assumes that there isn’t a new video game (I’m currently obsessed with Minion Rush and Injustice: Gods Among Us) or a craving to binge watch television show (I just finished re-watching all of Smallville and am on the last season of Enterprise).

One thing I learned about life was that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and if you just keep swimming.

I am proud to say that I have accomplished a lot in my professional life. I’ve litigated some of the biggest high profile cases in my field (and some of the largest in the country) and I’ve had the privilege of teaching law students at George Mason Law School. There have been a lot of naysayers over the years. But, you have to tune them out and, when things appear bleak, you have to just keep going. In other words, when faced with an angry horde of jelly fish, you should make like Dori from Finding Nemo and “Just Keep Swimming!” Accomplishing dreams is hard work. But it’s that hard work that makes achieving them so much more satisfying.

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of people tell me that I am too old to be pursuing a professional writing career. (Sometimes, when no one is around, I hear it from myself). But, here I am. I’m not sure I will succeed, but I know that if I don’t try, then I have already failed.

The sole mission I am on this earth is to hopefully make things a little bit better than when I came and challenge conventions.

We are only here for a short time and then we are gone. Hopefully, during my time I can help make the next generation to be prepared.

If you are asking what I would like to be remembered as in my publishing career, it would be as someone who challenged conventions. When I was shopping Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy around, several publishers were interested in the book but ultimately decided that the target audience for prose superhero fiction was too small. I do not believe that and hope that I can prove them wrong with my book. I do not believe that comic fans will avoid my book because it doesn’t have pictures in it. Similarly, I don’t think young adult, fantasy, and science fiction readers will avoid the book because it is about a superhero. There is a market for fun superhero stories and it does not matter what medium they are presented in, whether it be film, comics or novels.

I hope I am remembered for trying to challenge industry norms in an effort to reach new readers and dispel these misconceptions. I hope Sky Girl is remembered for helping me succeed in that challenge.

One little known fact about me that might surprise you is that I am a Supervillain.

In the Sky Girl books, the main character, DeDe, is an only child who lives with her widowed mother, Dianne. But, this wasn’t always the case. In the first outline of the story, DeDe’s mother had remarried and had another child, who would have been around 8 years old (the character’s name was Andy, based on my middle name.) I planned for Andy to be DeDe’s pesky little brother, who would serve as mostly comic relief (especially after he learns DeDe’s secret and tries to blackmail her). DeDe’s stepfather, James Peck (Jimmy Stewart+Gregory Peck), was going to be perfect in every way. This would have infuriated DeDe since he had essentially replaced her father. At some point very early on, it became apparent that these extra characters only complicated the plot and didn’t add anything to the main story. I also found that DeDe’s dislike for her step-father for such a long period of time diminished her likeability. So, they were cut from the novel. In short, I did something that the worst villain would never consider–I single-handedly wiped out the family of a superheroine. Personally, I believe the books are much better after this change. But, that doesn’t change the fact that these characters are forever gone and will never become part of Sky Girl’s world. I had become a supervillain. 

My favorite time of day is anytime I’m with my family.

Because my time is limited, it pays to have a supportive family. I have been married to my wife for thirteen years. I often joke that she is the only one who would put up with me. Although I think she would much rather do something (or anything) else, she is very supportive and reads my stories and listens to my ideas as I ramble on about superheroes, zombies and aliens. She is also my harshest critic and frequently informs me that my books are “not her genre.”

My eight-year-old daughter is more supportive than she will ever know. She accompanies me to conventions and book fairs (sometimes in a Sky Girl costume). She also gives hugs upon demand when the work gets tough or rejected, which is always helpful. What she doesn’t realize is that she is the inspiration for Sky Girl. As a comic fan, I wanted to bring her into my comic world and give her the same enjoyment I get from these books. But, as a father, I wanted to find a strong role model for her, which was lacking in the current pop culture. I created Sky Girl because she presents both a fun action story and is a good normal kid. I think she likes it since she is always asking to dress up as Sky Girl. And if you ever meet me at a show, there is a very good chance that you might just meet her. At the very least, I can at least show you a picture of her in her costume.

I am not going to lie and say things are perfect with my family. I get a lot of flack for not coming down for dinner when I’m finalizing a short story or for typing on my blackberry in the mall when an idea hits me. I also think it frustrates my family as to just how little money there is writing, especially in creator owned comics. I think Stan Lee once said that the best way to go into comics and end up with a million dollars is to start with two million. Every time I start a project, it’s with the goal of not losing too much money. I’m pretty sure the same has been true for my prose work (although, to be fair, I would be in better shape if I had actually received royalties from the first Sky Girl book). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I write because I love writing. Thankfully, my family understands this, it could be much worse. Writing is a pretty solitary thing. It is good to have people around you when you are not doing it. 

I love to write about triumphant heroes.

I love heroes. I love how they swoop in at the last minute and save the day with a one liner and a theme song. I can remember, at the age of eight, sitting in the theater watching Superman, the Movie. Margot Kidder had just fallen out of a helicopter and Christopher Reeve caught her. Strike that, Lois had fallen and Superman had caught her. He said, “Don’t worry miss, I’ve got you.” She yells, “You’ve got me, whose got you!” He brought her to a rooftop and told her that “statistically speaking, of course, it’s still the safest way to travel.” I cheered, the audience cheered, and all was right with the world. I still get goose bumps when I see that scene. Nearly thirty years later, I had the same sense of elation when Brandon Routh saved Kate Bosworth from a plane crash and told her that he hoped the experience didn’t put her off flying. “Statistically speaking, it’s still the safest way to travel.” Sadly, the remainder of the movie was not as good.

Everyone who looks forward to their weekly Wednesday comic book delivery knows who is going to win that battle. And no matter how dark the reign gets or even in the blackest of night, the heroes will fight the siege of that final crisis and ensure that they will have their brightest day and enter a heroic age. I love watching those and reading about those scenes. And now I love writing those scenes.

The most difficult aspect about writing is the editing.

The hardest part of writing Sky Girl, or really any work of fiction, is the editing–especially if you decide to cut something. For example, in the original draft, Dianne had remarried and DeDe had a little brother. Because of this, I had a completely different role for Michael Valjorge–he was going to be a school janitor that DeDe and Jason tried to avoid while they tested DeDe’s powers. In early edits, it became apparent that these extra characters only complicated the plot and didn’t add anything. So, they were cut from the novel and Valjorge came in as the boyfriend.

As funny as it sounds, the hardest part of editing the book was keeping track of spelling. Sky Girl takes place in a multitude of dimensions. There are aliens, villains, and magicians in the book, each of whom have a unique speech pattern. Not to mention that the story contains numerous fictional scientific and magic devices. While it was certainly fun making up these devices (the Forget-Z-Not, a memory eraser created by the villainous Professor Z, is one of my favorites), I had to keep a separate dictionary to keep track of them. I soon realized why Bruce Wayne just puts the words Bat in front of his equipment; it makes it much simpler and easier to keep track of.

Another issue that causes a problem for me is motivation to edit. I write because I have stories to tell. Far too frequently, I get the story on paper and that satisfies the need to get it out. So, I have to force myself to edit and then edit and then edit. If this occurs, I have to put it aside until the muse calls me back to it. Of course, that’s easier to do when you aren’t on deadline. However, if something is due, I just struggle through it and hope for the best. The other thing that occurs when you put your work aside for months is that you may lose the connection to the characters. This happened in a recent story I did called “The Tube” (in Indie Comics Horror #2 available in comic shops now) by the time I got back to the story, I had to rework the main character (from a school girl to a secretary) because I didn’t feel her anymore. I liked the way it turned out, but the original version was very different.

An additional challenge was Jason’s dialogue. Jason uses perfect English and doesn’t use contractions. This is deliberate. As a result, Jason’s dialogue is some of the hardest to write in the book because of the conscious effort it takes to not use contractions. I have to read it out loud and stress every consonant.

My most favorite aspect about writing is the readers.

Being a published author is awesome. While it is true that a writer is anyone who writes, it’s pretty cool that I can look at my shelf and see all the books I’ve written on my shelf and say, “I made those.” To know that after I am gone future generations will have the ability to see my imagination. But, by far, the best thing about being a writer would have to be the readers. I mean sure, authors are a pretty dedicated lot, who provide entertainment. But at the end of the day, I write for me—because I have a story to tell. I would write if no one ever read it. (For evidence of this, you should look at the sales figures for some of my earlier work). Readers on the other hand, have no such compulsion. They spend their valuable time and money on someone else’s work. There are a lot of great books out there by some amazing authors (living and dead). As a result, these people don’t need to take a chance on me (or any other unknown), but they do. I really appreciate that. So, the most rewarding part of being a writer is a no brainer. It is the people. I love going to conventions and meeting people to tell them about my books. I love the people that take the time to read my books and just come by and say hello and tell me they liked it. I just finished two days at Baltimore ComicCon. I am exhausted, worn out, and have no voice. But, you know what? I would not have traded that experience. I got to meet some great people and introduce them to my book. Some of them bought it and some of them didn’t. Nothing is more rewarding than someone coming up to me at a show and telling me that they really loved my book, or that it is their daughter’s favorite book, or that they made (or had someone make them) a Sky Girl costume for Halloween or a ComicCon. At my last comic con, two little girls told me that Sky Girl was their favorite book and they can’t wait for the third book. These people tell me their theories and guess at what will happen next. It was humbling. If you want to know a secret, book festivals and comic conventions aren’t that lucrative for me (I rarely ever make my table cost). But, writing is pretty solitary, so the chance to meet people is priceless.

To these people, I say “Thank you!”

There is a second, less tangible benefit of being a writer and that is the moment when you realize that your characters have come to life. For example, a major character doesn’t make it through the current book. I never intended for this event to occur. But, when I wrote that part of the story, I realized that there was no other way the tale could be told. Someone once said that a writer doesn’t tell stories, they discover them. When that happens, it is a great feeling. 

When I became a published author for the first time, I talked to Stan Lee.

In a strange coincidence, I received my first acceptance letter for Death Imitates Art (in reality, an email) while I was at New York ComicCon (as a fan). Specifically, I was on line for a meet and greet with Stan Lee when I got the email. If it was anyone else, I probably would have got out of the line. But, this was Stan, the Man, Lee. I told him I was a huge fan, he told me some jokes, and we took a picture. It was a great day all the way around.

The inspiration behind my book comes from the culmination of reading far too many great comics, finding far too few strong female characters and loving my daughter just enough.

I think it is fair to say that the entire Sky Girl trilogy was conceived in a comic’s podcast forum project and born out of a father’s love for his daughter.

Let me explain. I previously mentioned that the Comic Geek Speak Podcast is made up of a bunch of great guys that love comics. I have listened to them and appeared on their show for several years and am still an active member of their forums. It was on those forums that I learned about a proposed prose anthology, which would be written by the listeners of the podcast. I wrote a story called the Return of Power Boy, a story about a middle aged accountant, who may or may not be a superhero. (The anthology was never produced and the story was later featured in A Thousand Faces, the Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction where it won the Haller for Best Writer in 2010.) The story was a very dark tale of what happens when a supervillain wins. One of the very minor characters was the accountant’s four-year-old daughter, CeeCee.

Sometimes writers don’t create their characters, they channel them and that’s what happened with CeeCee. After the story was finished, I kept coming back to that little girl. What kind of life would she live, would she develop her father’s powers, and what would she do if she did? Well, CeeCee became DeDe, and the character of Sky Girl was born.

By this time, I had a daughter of my own. And I can’t help but think that this is what converted the very dark Power Boy story into the light-hearted story of Sky Girl. As a proud geek daddy, I wanted to share my hobby with my daughter and looked for characters to inspire her. Sadly, I found very few. With a couple of exceptions, most of the female characters from early comics were merely eye candy fawning with unrequited love over the male protagonist or were relegated to the role of guest star (or even hostage) in their own books. Thankfully, things have gotten a lot better for the modern female comics character, but the industry still has a long way to go. Female characters should have the same chance to grow, develop, and overcome adversity, as male characters do. DeDe is a strong teenager and not defined by the men in her life. The series is really about DeDe’s journey to find herself and become Sky Girl. She makes a lot of good decisions, but she also makes some bad and selfish ones. But, at the end of the day she hopefully ends up in the right place. I hope she inspires my daughter to make good decisions.

At one point in the evolution of the story, someone had suggested that I make the main character into a boy (because comic readers are predominantly male). That idea never caught on because I think women and men handle conflict differently. I wanted to explore how superheroines react to conflict differently than their male counterparts and show how those different reactions turn comic book conventions on their head. A great example of this appears in the current book (Sky Girl the Superheroic Adventures) when Sky Girl meets Penny Pound, another heroine. The typical comic book convention is that the two characters would fight first over a misunderstanding and then team up to take on the real villain. As you will read, Sky Girl’s resolution to that conflict is unique and therefore less clichéd. Another example of the distinction between how girls and boys resolve conflict plays out in the third book, which is coming out next year. In one scene, a villain wants to prove he’s the best by challenging Sky Girl to a fight. Sky Girl responds, “Let me get this straight, you’re not going to hurt anyone or steal anything? You just want to fight to prove you’re better than me?” Bad guy nods. Sky Girl says, “Okay, you win. I’ve got better things to do today.” Then, she flies off, leaving a dumbstruck villain alone in the street. Faced with the same situation, a Sky Boy would probably take the challenge, fight, lose, and eventually emerge victorious in the inevitable rematch (probably with a new costume and chromium cover). The books explore these conflicts in a comedic way, because of course, Sky Girl’s best friend Jason (a diehard comics aficionado) finds her responses quite frustrating.

At the end of the day, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures, and the character of Sky Girl is the culmination of reading far too many great comics, finding far too few strong female characters and loving my daughter just enough. 

The most asked question about my book is who in my life served as the inspiration for Jason and DeDe.

It’s interesting how many people I went to school with say to me that they have figured out that, “Nicole is so and so, or Jason is based on so and so.” Popular theories are that DeDe is based on an ex-girlfriend from high school and that Jason is based on me. Actually, I wish I could have been Jason. I was never comfortable flying my geek flag until I was much older. In that way, I relate much more to DeDe/Sky Girl. She’s trying really hard to be the cool kid on the outside, but really she’s almost as much of a geek as Jason on the inside. Instead, I base a lot of these characters’ traits on my nieces and nephews. Jason is actually an amalgam of several people I know in the comics industry. A lot of people, editors and reviewers mostly, have a real problem with the formal way Jason talks, especially the fact that he never uses contractions. They think it sounds stilted – but that is the point. There really are people that talk like him in the real world. I can think of four off the top of my head. There is a lot of Adam that comes from one of my best friends/neighbors growing up. And, although I generally like everyone, Nicole is based on some people (men and women) who sadly have gotten under my skin. Of course, because she’s so evil, this also makes her the most fun to write. And, much to DeDe’s and my dismay, I frequently give Nicole the best lines.

A lot of people ask for me to put them in my books. I think those people will be quite happy with Sky Girl and the Superheroic Adventures as I have managed to hide many Easter eggs in each adventure.

ABOUT JOE SERGI

Joe Sergi photo

Joe Sergi lives outside of Washington, DC with his wife and daughter. Joe is an attorney and a Haller Award winning author who has written articles, novels, short stories, and comic books in the horror, scifi, and young adult genres. Joe is the creator of the Sky Girl series of novels and the editor of Great Zombies in History. His first novel, Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy was selected Best of 2010 by the New PODler Review. Joe is a life-long comic fan who regularly writes on the history of comics and censorship for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. A complete list of Joe’s titles is available at www.JoeSergi.net. When not writing, Joe works as a Senior Litigation Counsel in an unnamed US government agency and is a member of the adjunct faculty at George Mason University School of Law.

 

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