Word Witch and Professional Daydreamer

Category: Guest Authors

A Chat with Nancy O’Toole Meservier – #IndieSuperheroSummer


Author photo of Nancy O'Toole

Hello friends, and welcome to the third and final interview of #IndieSuperheroSummer! Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Nancy O’Toole Meservier to the blog. Nancy is the author of Red and Black and it’s brand-new sequel, Black and Blue. This series is about fangirls turned superheroes, cute guys just trying to do the right-wrong thing, and an almost You’ve-Got-Mail type secret identity romance. In short, it’s simply adorable. Plus, we all know I have a soft spot for superhero stories that play into the splash of the genre, so I was really destined to like these books.

Nancy herself is also friendly and deeply enthusiastic about books (and comics!)–but then, what more would you expect from a librarian? You all should absolutely check out both her and her work. Come to her social media for the book talk, stay for the cat pictures. And on that note, let’s see what she has to say!

Tell us about your books! Where did you get the idea? How many books will be in the series?

Hello! I write the Red and Black series, which is all about Dawn Takahashi, a super powered fangirl with dreams of becoming Bailey City’s first superhero, and Alex Gage, a working-class guy who moonlights as Faultline, a henchman for Bailey City’s first supervillain. While the two clash at night, during the day, they can’t help but be drawn to each other in all together different ways. This leads to the question, what happens when you unknowingly fall for your nemesis?

I originally got the idea for the Red and Black series over a decade ago. I was obsessed with this super fun MMORPG called City of Heroes, which allowed you to create your own superhero and run wild in a sprawling metropolis. Once I created the character of Dawn, I found myself quickly filling in her backstory, which I hoped one day to turn into a web comic.

And well, it’s a good thing I can’t draw because the story was terrible. Dawn was a lifelong sufferer of an ill-defined soap opera illness. Alex was an atrocious, two-timing love interest. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. The story was (thankfully) shelved for many years until National Novel Writing Month back in 2014. A fantasy novel I was working on completely fell apart around the midmonth mark. I didn’t want to “lose” NaNoWriMo so I started a new novel that would eventually become Red and Black.

So far, the series has two books, Red and Black and the recently released Black and Blue. As for the future of the series, I’ve already put a lot of work into the next two volumes, so there will at least be at least four books. I’d like to release even more.

What first drew you to the idea of writing about superheroes?

City of Heroes was what first sparked the inspiration of Red and Black, but I don’t know if the series would have existed if it wasn’t for this explosion of superhero media we’re existing in right now. Around the time I wrote the first draft of Red and Black, I was obsessed with the television show Arrow, and movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having those types of stories in the forefront of my mind was probably a big part of what draw me back to these characters.

Your book is told in a dual POV between a hero and a villain. What drew you to showing both sides of this situation? And do you have any advice on crafting characters who do bad things for arguably good reasons?

When I originally started the draft for Red and Black, there was no dual perspective. It was only from Dawn’s POV. After a few chapters, I realized that this wasn’t working. Alex was underdeveloped as a character, and since Calypso was the type of villain that stuck to the shadows, Dawn would have no interaction with her until the end of the book, which left her severely underdeveloped as well. Adding in chapters from Alex’s perspective really helped to solve these problems.

As far as crafting characters who do bad thing for arguably good reasons, I think it’s important that you show the reader why they do the things they do. If the reader can connect to this “why” in some way, it will result in an emotional attachment which will make the characters far more sympathetic. Another way you can amplify this is by having villains that have suffered from genuine disadvantages, such as Alex’s financial struggles. Readers don’t like it when life is blatantly unfair to a character, and will end up feeling for them, even if they don’t necessarily agree with all of their methods.

I really liked the abilities that you gave to your superheroes and villains, especially Faultline. How did you come up with them, and was it hard trying to find fresh new abilities, or did the idea for them just come naturally?

When it comes to creating abilities, mine tend to fall into two categories. With some powersets, I just think they’re cool and want to play around them. But I think can be really impactful if their abilities are tied to their personalities/journeys in some way, which I did with both Faultline and Dawn. Faultline/Alex grew economically disadvantaged, which has left him with a slightly pessimistic perspective, especially with it comes to the damaging inequalities in society. Giving him an ability that literally shoved the physical faults of the world in his face seemed appropriate. That, and the fact that his abilities are fueled by his temper, something he can struggle with, also ties back to his character.

Dawn’s abilities, on the other hand, are rooted in his own insecurities. She sees herself as scrawny, weak, and shy. While in costume, she is brave, bold, and physically imposing.

As for how I came up with them, Dawn’s abilities were inspired by the character I created back while playing City of Heroes. I’m not going to lie, Alex’s originally emerged because I wanted a character who could smash things in a impressive way, but the more I thought about who he was, the more personalized his abilities became.

So far, I haven’t had any problems creating new powers, but I might feel differently once I’ve crafted a few more. So maybe ask me this question again once I’ve finished the series?

What are some of your favorite superheroes (not your own), from any media or franchise?

People always look at me strangely when I say this, but I love Squirrel Girl, and not just because she is arguably one of the most powerful superhero in Marvel Comics. Her strengths go far beyond her impressive fighting abilities. Sometimes she can outsmart her enemies. Other times (like with Kraven the Hunter), she can use empathy to see things from their perspective and urge them towards a better path. Squirrel Girl’s stories transcend typical hero versus villain storylines, and the comic (written by Ryan North) manages to do so in a way that is funny, smart and approachable. I’m going to be so sad when his run finishes up later this year.

Moving beyond comics, there are so many heroes to love in the MCU right now, but like pretty much everyone else on this earth, I see Tom Holland as the perfect Peter Parker. I could watch movies about him for years, I swear. And in the world of anime, I am a huge fan of All Might from My Hero Academia, who manages to be both completely ridiculous, and the embodiment of all that is pure and good about superheroes.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

While I love to write about brave superheroes running in and saving the day, that is so not me. I’m much more suited for support roles. That’s why I’d love to be able to heal. I know plenty of people whose lives are impacted by illnesses or pain, and I would love to be able to alleviate or outright cure them.

What are the best and worst parts of writing about superheroes?

The best part about writing superheroes is they punch things and get to have elaborate fight scenes on top of speeding trains where anything can happen!
I’m only slightly kidding there.

But seriously, one of the best things about writing about superheroes is they are perfect conduit for studying duality. There’s good versus evil and everything in between. The relationship between the strong and the weak. Our inner selves versus our public selves. Secret identities and masks provide so many opportunities to look at these really crunchy topics.

The worst part of writing about superheroes is remembering who knows what. Who knows character X’s secret identity, but not characters Y’s. Or who knows character Z’s backstory but isn’t saying anything about it. It’s a lot to keep track of.

Do you have any advice you’d like to pass along to aspiring writers (superhero-related or otherwise)?

Write the story you want to read. Your enthusiasm for the topic will clearly shine through and be felt by readers. Also, you’re far more likely to finish a book if it’s something that excites you.

Lastly, let’s get to know the woman behind the mask a little. Tell us one thing about yourself that you normally don’t mention on social media.

When I was a kid, music was such an important part of my life. I sang in chorus for years, played piano in elementary school, handbells through middle and high school, and even tried my hand at guitar and violin for a little while. As an adult, these skills are mostly gone, but not the desire to keep music a part of my life. Unfortunately, writing has taken up most of my free time, so this will have to remain a bucket list item. Ironically, I’ve found that musicians have been infiltrating my fiction lately. I’m working on a novelette for my newsletter where an important character is a talented flute player. And in book three, Dawn encounters a violinist. I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through my characters for now.

Nancy O’Toole Meservier is a vertically challenged librarian who spends her off hours writing fiction, reading, and thinking way too much about superheroes. She lives in Central Maine with two wonderful cats and one equally wonderful spouse. She is currently writing The Red and Black Series, which includes both Red and Black and Black and Blue.

Instagram | Twitter

Red and Black

Cover of Red and Black

Dawn Takahashai knows all about superheroes.

She’s been a fan of them for years. So when she’s granted an impressive powerset of her own, she dives right in, eager to prove herself as Bailey City’s first superhero: Miss Red and Black.

Her first challenge is Faultline. He’s powerful, smart and, as a henchman for Bailey City’s first supervillain, standing right in her way. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that under the mask, Faultline is Alex Gage, a working-class guy trying to scrounge together enough money to help support his younger sisters.

Dawn has no idea that the charming and seemingly straightforward Alex is Faultline. Alex has no idea that the adorably awkward Dawn is the superhero he clashes with at night.

And Dawn and Alex have a date next week.

A Chat with RJ Sorrento – #IndieSuperheroSummer

Author photo of R.J. Sorrento

Author avatar by Ballbots

Today I’m welcoming debut author RJ Sorrento to the blog! RJ is the author of Captain Stellar, a bright, breezy series opener about everyman Cal Bolden, who has superpowers given to him against his will, when all he really wants to do is live a quiet, normal life. I appreciated Cal’s gentle nature in this book, especially when contrasted against the extraordinary strength he finds himself with, as well as the struggle Cal has with simply finding his place in life. This is truly a coming-of-age story, about navigating the often confusing, conflicting desires that we have in our early adult years.

I haven’t known RJ long, but I was immediately struck by her friendly, open personality—and, of course, by the fact that we both write about superheroes with LGBTQIA+ identities. She’s also very active in the writing community on Twitter, so if you’re looking to make friends in that circle, definitely check her out!

Tell us about your books! Where did you get the idea? How many books will be in the series?

Captain Stellar will be a trilogy. I got the idea while brainstorming for NaNoWriMo in 2018. I also wrote an unexpected romance novella for one of my side characters, which will be released as an eBook in September.

What first drew you to the idea of writing about superheroes?

I’ve loved superheroes since I was a child. I’ve always been fascinated by people with special abilities and what they choose to do with those powers. And since I see little LGBTQ+ representation of superheroes in pop culture, I decided to write a series featuring queer people with superpowers. And everything I write features queer main characters so it only made sense.

Even when bad things happen in your book, the tone never shifts into gritty or depressing—something I really appreciated, especially in a book full of so much queer rep. How important was it for you to keep things optimistic for these particular characters?

My focus for this trilogy is positive queer rep. I grew up hoping for positive outcomes for LGBTQ+ characters, but most of their stories ended in tragedy. So I wrote this book to give queer readers hope and to educate others that LGBTQ+ characters can be interesting without being tragic.

This is your debut novel. What finally made you decide to publish, and what drew you to indie publishing in particular?

I’ve wanted to write a book since I was a child. I’ve written original short stories in my 20s, but they’ve been taking up space in journals and on my hard drive. So in September I outlined the Captain Stellar trilogy and wrote the majority of the novel during NaNoWriMo.
I decided to go the indie route to have control over the book cover design and who I chose as my editor. It has been a lot of hard work and more of an investment than I expected, but self-publishing has been a rewarding experience. I loved working with an illustrator who brought my characters to life on the front cover. My editor Charlie Knight is incredible and they really believed in my story. I’d like to be a hybrid writer with a combination of self pub and small press as I gain more writing experience. I’m proud to be self-published and truly appreciate the support of the Twitter writing community and my family & friends.

What are some of your favorite superheroes (not your own), from any media or franchise?

A few of my favorites are She-Ra (back from the 1980s, although I do love the Netflix revitalization, she was a major influence when I was a child). Batman, Ms Marvel (Kamala Khan), and Professor X are my top 3 comic book superheroes. I also love a good villain. The Joker and Kingpin are my top two that never cease to surprise me.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

Teleportation. I’d love to travel the world without an airplane.

What are the best and worst parts of writing about superheroes?

I love experimenting with their powers, testing their limits, and seeing what choices they make given the powers they have. The only limit is my imagination and I enjoy having fun with these superpowered characters. The hard part is making them vulnerable, especially my main character Cal Bolden a.k.a Captain Stellar, because he has multiple superpowers. So I show his vulnerability on an emotional level since physically he’s quite formidable.

Do you have any advice you’d like to pass along to aspiring writers (superhero-related or otherwise)?

Never give up. Someone is waiting to read your story.

Lastly, let’s get to know the person behind the mask a little. Tell us one thing about yourself that you normally don’t mention on social media.

I’m an open book on Twitter! Something most people on Twitter don’t know about me is my love of soccer. I’m a huge fan of MLS and Bundesliga, and I’m eagerly anticipating the 2022 World Cup. My favorite teams are Bayern Munich and Chicago Fire.

R.J. Sorrento is an indie author of the new novel Captain Stellar, the first book in a queer superhero trilogy. A writer of fiction with positive LGBTQ+ rep, she published her first novelette, Death at Sagehollow, a Regency-era murder mystery on her author website (www.rjsorrento.com). When she isn’t writing, R.J. can be found practicing speech-language pathology, wrangling toddlers, watching anime with her husband, or drinking strong coffee. She lives in the Chicago area with her family. Her second home is Twitter (@RjSorrento).

www.rjsorrento.com | Instagram | Twitter

Captain Stellar

Cover of Captain Stellar

Cal Bolden is a college dropout working a backbreaking construction job under a demanding boss. He has difficulty committing to his boyfriend, Jin, avoiding offers to move in together. On the night of a meteor shower, Cal’s life changes when a genius scientist named Dr. Almighty abducts him, giving him superpowers against his will.

Thrust into a laboratory hidden in Chicago, Cal meets Fernando and Margo, siblings with powers from Dr. Almighty. They promise to train him to reach his full potential, hoping to break free from their captor of ten years. As Cal learns to harness his powers, he becomes attracted to his handsome and mysterious mentor, Fernando.

Caught between Jin’s concerns about his disappearance and his unexpected feelings for Fernando, Cal flees the lab for a life without superpowers. When Dr. Almighty and his team of recruits threaten to attack the city, Cal must face his fears and fight as Captain Stellar before losing the people he loves most.

A Chat with Stefani Chaney – #IndieSuperheroSummer

Author photo of Stefani Chaney

Today it’s my genuine pleasure to welcome Stefani Chaney to the blog for the first interview of #IndieSuperheroSummer! Stefani is the author of The Opposition series, a story about a group of teenagers who sign up for a medical trial and end up with more powerful (and deadly!) consequences than they could have ever imagined. The first two books, Midnight and Liminal Boy, are available now in both ebook and paperback. My favorite part about these stories is far and away the characters. Whether it’s bossy and impulsive Jo, long-suffering Jamie, or sweet, tortured Langdon, Stefani brings everyone to life with realism and grace. You’ll fall in love a dozen times over—just in time to get your heart broken (in the best possible way).

In addition to writing her wonderfully engaging and grounded stories, Stefani is just a delightful person—always willing to cheer on my own writing process or provide cat pics as a balm after a bad day. So let’s get to know her a little better, shall we?

Tell us about your books! Where did you get the idea? How many books will be in the series?

The Opposition takes place in modern-day Montreal and follows a group of teenagers. Each teen signed up for a medical experiment that was supposed to help them overcome their various chronic illnesses. Instead, they were injected with a micro-sized implant called the REV (short for Regenerative Electromagnetic Virus) which feeds off their individual traits and gives everyone a unique ‘verve’ (aka a superpower). These verves are unstable and using them has horrible consequences. While some of the experiments are interested in using their newfound powers to help others and get revenge on the doctor who wronged them, some are more focused on finding a way to survive the implant.

The idea for The Opposition came to me when I was walking around Manhattan in the summer of ’14. It was my first time there. Being the people-watcher I am, I observed everyone I passed on the subway, the sidewalks, in the parks, wondering, ‘What would it have been like to grow up there? What kind of person does NYC produce?’ Out of nowhere, this image of two siblings popped into my head. A boy who had everything handed to him on a silver platter, and a girl who, well, a girl who got the fuzzy end of the lollypop. Two years later, those siblings became the Harding twins, who are at the heart of The Opposition.

There will be four books when it’s all done. Each book is told from a different character’s perspective and follows that character’s part in a larger story. The girl I created in Manhattan became Jolene ‘Jo’ Harding, the voice of the first book, Midnight. Langdon Moore, the first surviving member of the experiment, tells his part of the story in the second book, Liminal Boy. As for the voices of the final two novels, you’ll just have to wait and find out.

What first drew you to the idea of writing about superheroes?

I have always been a huge fan of mythology. Superheroes weren’t really my thing, not until this past decade when it occurred to me that superheroes are really just the current equivalent of those classic archetypes. In the past, everyone knew the tale of the Celtic gods. Today, everyone knows the story of the Avengers. Once I started looking at superheroes as our modern mythology, I became really invested in reading comics and watching superhero movies. As much as I loved those stories, I wanted to put my own spin on things.

The superpowers in your books have deadly consequences. What made you take something that’s often used as wish-fulfillment, and turn it into a burden?

Paranoia? A deep-seated mistrust of a good thing? Honestly, the idea that everything—even good things—can come at a cost is an important lesson. I believe there has to be a balance in all parts of life. Traditionally, superpowers are always a representation of what the hero ‘gives’ to help others and save lives. But a person can give and give until there’s nothing left of them. And then what? Superheroes are always putting others first. Realistically, that’s not always a good thing or a healthy thing. So, having a power that can kill the host when it’s when overused is my way of highlighting that need for balance and why it’s important to not become lost in your own good intentions.

Your characters span a wide range of diverse identities, from disabled to trans to gay and beyond. Tell us a little bit about how and why you chose to represent any of the diverse viewpoints you included.

Whenever I talked to friends or strangers about the latest superhero movie, there was always one common thing that stood out: about 90% of the people I spoke with weren’t straight, or cis, or abled. Before I started writing Midnight, I was feeling really down about myself. I didn’t see myself in any of the mainstream media. If I felt that alone, I realized all these people I had ever spoken to about superheroes must have felt the same way. And I wanted to do something about it. So, I wrote a world I would recognize into The Opposition. Jo has an auto-immune disorder. Jamie, her twin brother, is ace. Langdon lives with a form of agoraphobia. All three of those are things I have dealt with in my personal life. Putting this into a story for others to read has shown me that as much as we think we’re alone in our struggles, we’re really not.

What are some of your favorite superheroes (not your own), from any media or franchise?

I have so many: Poison Ivy, Deadpool, Captain Marvel, The Flash. Comic book-wise, Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is my absolute favorite. I mean, Hawkeye, in general, is my all-time favorite character, but Fraction’s version really gave Clint a heart.

Now, they might not count as real superheroes, but I have to give a shout out to the first superhero-ish media that ever got me in the feels: E4’s Misfits. I can’t say enough about that show and the acting. Rudy Wade is just the absolute best use of showing how an emotional state can control a power.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?

As awful as this sounds, I would really like to have the same power as Angel (a character from The Opposition). He has the power to rewrite the world to make things the way he thinks they should be. It’s not a flashy, party-trick power and using it has big consequences, but I’d like to give it a try. However, I know my characters would travel across dimensions to stop me if I did.

What are the best and worst parts of writing about superheroes?

The best part is making up your own rules of how the powers work, and that includes discovering which power is stronger than the other, who can defeat who in combat, who’s mentality works against or for them, etc. The worst part? Easy, giving them names. It takes me forever to decide on a character’s birth name, and now you’re telling me I have to go and create a whole other identity based on their alter ego?

Do you have any advice you’d like to pass along to aspiring writers (superhero-related or otherwise)?

Don’t worry about if it’s all been done before. I was really worried about creating unique powers when I started writing The Opposition. Really, the powers are just another detail. Writing a superhero story is just like writing any other story. It’s the characters that matter. Their heart and their goals. Once you’ve got that figured out, the powers and world will grow from there.

Lastly, let’s get to know the woman behind the mask a little. Tell us one thing about yourself that you normally don’t mention on social media.

I am an avid star-gazer! Sadly, I don’t live in a part of the country where there’s plenty of starry nights. Too much light-pollution. Still, I like to go out and look for whatever constellations are visible. I really would like to travel to see the aurora borealis at some point. I got to look through a high-powered telescope and see Saturn’s rings once, and that was one of the coolest things ever.

Stefani Chaney is the author of The Opposition series and the paranormal romance, The Moonlight Herders. Stefani graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and currently lives in Arizona with a clowder of cats. She likes coffee, puns, and letting her chronic illness know who’s in charge.

stefanichaney.com | Instagram | Twitter


Cover of Midnight

Liminal Boy

Cover of Liminal Boy

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