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Interview: Joe Sergi, Author of Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy

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I'm thrilled to offer readers a glimpse into the man known as Joe Sergi, who when not working for an unnamed government agency, is busy creating wondrous worlds for readers to escape to.  In addition to the publication of short prose stories and articles in the horror, science fiction, and superhero genres, Joe Sergi has also written for comics in the romance, horror, science fiction, and superhero genres. Mr. Sergi was selected as a semi-finalist in the Who Wants to Create a Superheroine contest, sponsored by the Shadowline Imprint of Image Comics, in 2008.Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy is Joe Sergi's first novel.

First of all, could you tell us a bit about Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy? What is the story about, who are the characters, etc.

Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy tells the story of DeDe Christopher, an ordinary teen with an extraordinary destiny. She begins to discover that she is getting super powers that are similar to a fictional superhero named SkyBoy. Luckily, her best friend Jason is a self-proclaimed comic geek. Together they try to learn what is happening to DeDe and must confront the all too real enemies and allies of SkyBoy.

What do you want readers to take away from reading Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy?

Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy is a fun story that I hope entertains. At a deeper level, it is about taking responsibility and I hope DeDe will serve as a role model. She is independent and strong and knows what she wants. But, she is also responsible and knows what she has to do. How she handles that, tell a lot about her character.

What was the most fun about writing Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy?

I really enjoy writing the dialogue between DeDe and Jason. For example, there is this fun joke that runs through the series involving the need for DeDe to develop good super hero banter. As every comic fan knows, every hero is responsible for learning how to crack wise in the face of danger. Perhaps these jokes provide a psychological advantage, throwing their adversaries off guard by making them angry. Maybe, the humor is their only weapon against the dark world of evil they inhabit. Sky Girl is still relatively new to the proper way to converse with the enemy. A fact Jason reminds her every chance he gets. He is just trying to help, but it doesn’t always come off that way.

What was the hardest part about writing Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy?

The hardest part of writing Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, or really any work of fiction, is the editing — especially if you decide to cut something. As examples, 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.

Do you have a favorite excerpt from Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy? Could you share that with us, please?

There is this fun segment where Jason grills DeDe on her secret origin. It was a lot of fun to write because, like Jason, I am a comic geek and have a head filled with completely useless information that would appear silly to a non-comic fan.

Here is the excerpt:

Jason flipped open his notebook and said, “Okay, let us see if we can nail down an origin for your great powers.”

“Origin?” DeDe asked.

“You know, an origin is like, where you got your powers — you know the origin of them.” Jason looked at his notes.

DeDe smiled, “You know you just used the word to define itself.”

Jason smiled back, “Now you are just being difficult. We need to find out how you developed those amazing abilities.”

DeDe rolled her eyes, “Great, more questions.”

Jason began to grill DeDe with questions from his notebook as they continued their walk home.

“Have you ever been near a radiation bomb?” Jason asked.

“Nope,” DeDe humored him even though she thought it was a very silly question.

Jason wrote in his notebook, as if checking off a list. “What about unknowingly being bombarded by cosmic rays?” He asked.

“Unknowingly? Not that I know.” DeDe gave Jason a smirk. “Get it — ’unknowingly–not that I know.’“

DeDe’s smirk turned into a pout when Jason gave her the “get serious” look. “Been bitten by any insects?” He continued.

“Ew, no!” DeDe really did not like bugs.

“No radioactive insects?” he pressed, just in case the answer would be different.

“No bugs of any kind,” DeDe was beginning not to like Jason.

“Been part of a secret government project?” Jason asked, as if this sort of thing happened every day.

“Duh! You’re my best friend, I think you would know,” she said, beginning to get annoyed at this whole line of questioning.

Jason ignored her annoyance and continued. “Are you the last survivor of a doomed race from a world not our own?” he asked, matter-of-factly.

“You mean before being born in a Hoboken Hospital? So, unless Hoboken, New Jersey is a world not our own, then, uhm, that would be a no.” She glared at him.

“Okay, I got the hint.” Jason combined the next three questions. He rattled them off in quick succession. “Okay, either struck by lightning while standing near experimental chemicals, or drank a weird magic potion, or been part of a satanic ceremony?”

“No! No! And, no!” DeDe shook her from side to side to emphasize her negative answers, “Does this mean you’re finally done?” she asked with exhaustion in her voice.

Jason checked his notes. “Oops. There is one more question. Have you ever been kidnapped by aliens?”

DeDe stopped walking and stared at him, “Aliens?” She thought of the lizard creature from her dream. Boosadah had reptilian features that certainly could qualify her as being an alien.

Jason looked at her. “What?”

“Never mind, it’s silly. I have not been kidnapped by aliens,” she said as she put her hands on her hips.

 

What kind of research did you do for Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy?

Given that the book takes place in a superhero world, you would be surprised at the amount of research I had to do. I learned how infrared cameras and electromagnetic pulses worked to accurately describe some of DeDe’s powers. I kept a map of Colonia, NJ, and the school to keep track of where things were happening in the book. Without giving too much away, I did a lot of research on mystic heroes and the Jersey Devil for the second book.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

I have a pretty unique writing process. I write all of my first drafts on my blackberry as emails, which I send to myself and edit later. It is a habit I developed during very long-standing room only commutes to my job. I really like the portability of the blackberry. I can jot down quick story notes or even write an entire chapter or short story on a plane ride. The main down side to my method is that the second draft has to be heavily edited since the original emails contain typos as they are essentially emails. The other downside is that I have lost numerous stories, because they were never sent, inadvertently deleted, or lost. I assume that carpal tunnel syndrome will set in some day.

Do you ever put yourself within your characters?

I recently wrote a horror story called the Prisoner for Tales from the Comics Experience where very disturbing things happened to the main character. I became so engrossed with the character’s plight that I had a hard time sleeping that night (or even the night after). Similarly, there is a scene towards the end of Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy where Jason and DeDe argue. I felt for both of them. At least, I knew they were going to make up.

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

When I do my final editing, I like to listen to movie and television soundtracks (usually very late at night). I have a very large collection, which runs the gamut from classic to anime to horror to science fiction. I can always find something to put me in the mood. For the final big battle scene in Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, I remember listening to Alias, Superman Returns and King Arthur. I should add that nothing is better for creating a horror mood than the score to Bram Stroker’s Dracula.

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

Inspiration can come from anywhere. A good example is the Debole Academy, the main setting for most of the book. The Academy is based on my high school alma mater Bishop George Ahr in Edison, New Jersey. But, the name Debole is the maiden name of one of my best friends.

How did you decide you wanted to be a writer? Was there any authors or books that made you think “Wow, that’s what I want to do – craft stories of my own for others to read”?

There really was not a light bulb moment. I have always been a storyteller (much to my parents', and teachers' chagrin). In high school, I wrote plays and short stories. In College and Law School, I acted in plays and did standup comedy. I also love books, movies, television, and comics. As an adult, I frequently find myself rewriting my favorite stories (regardless of the medium) and had so many ideas floating around in my head that it was inevitable that I would want to write them all down. Thankfully, I have had the encouragement from the great people on the Comic Geek Speak forum and talented teachers like Andy Schmidt from Comics Experience to help me on my way.

What makes you take that leap from “wanting” to be a writer, as opposed to “becoming” a writer? Many talk of being a writer and dip their toes in, but it seems there is often a sort of “push” to bring one over that wall.

Some people define that moment as the first ‘real’ story; others, as your first publication. So, I will quickly address both. My first story, and perhaps my writing career, can be traced to the Comic Geek Speak podcast or, more specifically, it was the forum associated with the show. Comic Geek Speak is a group of comic fans that do a podcast about comics. They are all great guys. On top of that, their forum is a friendly, welcoming place where people (creators and fans) can express ideas and be encouraged to try new things. The forum members had planned on doing a prose project. With some encouragement, I wrote The Return of Powerboy, my first story, in a few hours. And while the project eventually fizzled, I had actually taken a step towards becoming an author (The Return of Power Boy was recently included in 1000 faces, a Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction, Issue 10).

I remember the details of my first publication as if it were yesterday. Although I had published a few articles in high school and college, as well as some law review articles, my first fiction publication was in Trail of Indiscretion Magazine. I met the publishers at the Baltimore ComicCon. I was so impressed with their magazine that I wrote the first draft of Death Imitates Art on the train on the way home. Death Imitates Art is about an author, who is promoting his novel about a Cult at a science fiction convention. He meets a group of warriors who thinks that the cult is real and madness ensues. I submitted it and, although they liked the concept, a lot of rewriting was necessary. I learned a lot through that story — especially what not to do.

How do you come up with the names of your characters? It almost seems as though, as an author, you have the continuous fun of naming children!

I love naming characters. I try to work in family and friends whenever I can. I even have a running joke where I try to kill my friend Justin in every story (I actually have a romance manga story coming up in the upcoming Iconic 2 where I snuck him in a background poster for a memorial service since you can’t kill anyone in a love story.) And while I was able to use my close friend’s maiden name into the Debole Academy, I am more proud that I managed to make her married name into a foreign language. Similarly, I was recently able to sneak a friend’s name into one of my comic scripts as a sound effect.

Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy has a really fun name thing. If you think about Superman, all of his love interests have the initial “L.L.” (Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Lois Lane, Lyla Lerrol, Lola-La, and in some fan fiction Lex Luthor and Linda Lee (Supergirl)). Sky Boy has a similar connection with the initials DD (Dianne Dandridge and Donna Dominion, for example), so it is not a coincidence that Sky Girl is named Dede.

Were you an avid reader as a child? If so, what were some of your favorite books?

I have always been a voracious reader. As a child, I read the Dr. Suess standards and other picture books, but the book that has had the most influence on me was Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird since it inspired me to be a lawyer (my reading comprehension may need some work since I didn’t become a defense attorney like Atticus). But, I also loved comic books and wore out my copies of X-Men, Daredevil and Star Wars. I made my parents pack every single one of my comics for family trips (luckily we drove everywhere). I also remembered devouring Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which featured a romantic interlude between Luke and Leia. I also remember becoming very confused when I found out they were siblings in Return of the Jedi.

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

Between my day job, my teaching, taking Comics Experience writing classes (which I highly recommend), my writing, and the promotion of Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, I think the title should be something to the effect of Don’t Sleep or The 40 Hour Workday. With regard to my work on Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy, I would say Doing It All for My Baby.

What are you reading right now?

I read several completely unrelated things at the same time. For example, I am currently reading Arrowsmith: So Smart in Their Fine Uniforms by Kurt Busiek, Confessor by Terry Goodkind, Making Your Case by Justin Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner and Walt Disney’s Imagineering.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

I think the original Dragonlance trilogy by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman is excellent as is the follow up series. I also enjoy John Grisham, Scott Turow, JK Rowling, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Scott Golden. On the comic’s front, I really enjoy Alan Kirkman, Brian Michaels Bendis, Chuck Dixon, Geoff Johns, Chris Claremont, and Walt and Louise Simonson (who I recently had the privilege of meeting and moderating on a panel at Comic Geek Speak’s Supershow). I also like crossover people who write novels as well as comics like Denny O’Neal, Roger Stern, Neal Gaiman, and Brad Meltzer. I should also note that I am addicted to self help/improvement books and have tried to read every book and listened to every program by Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins.

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

This is a hard one. I think I would love to sit down with a young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, right around the time they were selling Superman to the predecessor of DC Comics. I can only imagine how excited they were and dedicated to seeing their character brought to life. With all that has happened since, I think the story of those early initial feelings of elation have been lost to time.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

Personally, in five years, I hope to be doing exactly the same thing I am doing today: telling stories. Admittedly, I would like to have more people reading them. I also still hope to be writing comics, science fiction and horror books. Of course, I wouldn’t turn down an exclusive to work with either Marvel or DC Comics.

Is there anything that you would like to add? That you would like readers to know about you or your writing?

I would like to thank you for having me on. Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy is my baby and I appreciate the chance to talk about it. When I was shopping it around, several publishers were interested in the book but ultimately decided that the target audience for prose super hero fiction was too small. I do not believe that and hope that I can prove them wrong with Sky Girl.

To help accomplish this, I throw out this unorthodox offer. If you decide to use Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy as part of your reading or book club, I will make myself available (in person locally and by phone for others) to talk to your group and answer questions about the book free of charge. The same applies to schools and libraries that want carry the book.

I should also mention that I am running a promotion with DCBService.com for the month of June so that if you order Sky Girl and the Superheroic Legacy (which, last time I checked, is on sale for 30% off the cover price), I will personalize each book, sign and date it, and include a sketch doodle on the inside cover of a character from the book.

Where can readers get in touch with you? Twitter, Blog, Facebook, etc?

My author website is www.joesergi.net. The official website for the book is www.skygirlnovel.com. I am on facebook and the book has its own fan page on there as well. I am on Good Reads and Comicspace (as Justice). I am also an avid poster (as Justice) on the Comic Geek Speak forums at Thecomicforums.com. Unfortunately, I have not yet broken the Twitter seal yet.

What are you working on right now? Could you give us a taste/teaser (aka excerpt) from your current WIP?

I have just finished a story entitled It All Started with a Mouse for World’s Beyond, which features a murder mystery involving a serial killer that murders animatronic robots in a theme park. I am also finalizing a couple of comic stories based on Public Domain characters (PT Barnum vs. Sherlock Holmes; a modern retelling of Don Quixote; and a Cinderella story with a male lead) for the soon to be released Iconic 2. Finally, I have just started a couple of comic scripts (a grind house inspired story and a supervillain heist story) as well as a few horror short stories.

Here is a short excerpt from All Started with a Mouse:

“It’s Lance,” Gwen continued, oblivious to Roy’s plans for her future. “He’s missing again.”

 

“Who’s Lance?” Roy asked as he looked up at the dragon.

Phil furrowed his brow, “Nobody’s seen him?”

“Who’s Lance?” Roy repeated as he squinted to see if there were wires on the creature. There weren’t any.

“I don’t think so,” Gwen replied uncertainly.

“We better go ask them then,” Phil said as he pushed the starry eyed Roy towards the castle.

“Humor me, I’m new here. Who’s Lance and who are we talking
to?”

Roy asked as he walked across the bridge toward the castle with Gwen and Phil.

Phil gave Gwen a wink. “New guy doesn’t know.”

“Really?” Gwen said in surprise. She then slapped Roy hard on the back, “New guy, you are going to love this!”

Roy became troubled. “Going to love what?”

They entered the lobby of the castle. A large sign on the far wall announced, “Rossum presents: Arthurian Legends.” Under the sign was the same picture as the poster. Roy peered at Gwen and then at the photo to compare the two. Feeling his stare, Gwen turned to him and caught his eye. The woman smiled as Roy quickly looked away in an attempt to avoid being caught.

A velvet rope cordoned off three separate queue lines that zigzagged across the room and led up to a loading platform. A young man dressed as a squire stood next to several different brightly colored ride vehicles, which were each shaped like a horse driven carriage. Roy noted that each vehicle was named after a knight of the round table. Roy followed Phil and Gwen around the outside of the ropes and into a red car with the word “Sir Galahad” stamped in gold lettering on the front of the carriage. Phil turned to the squire. “Hey, Chad, take us in about half way and then stop.”

The three people squeezed into the small seats with Gwen sitting between the two security guards. The squire pushed down on the lap bar and forced Gwen to sit closer to Roy. He noticed that Gwen’s hair smelled like lilacs. She gave him a shy smile as the ride started and the car slowly rolled into the darkness. Roy gave her a goofy grin just as the carriage dropped straight down into a dive like a roller coaster, leaving Roy’s stomach back at the entrance.

When Roy recovered from the sudden drop, he looked around and was amazed. Day had transformed into night and he felt as though he was transported to medieval times. He looked across what could only be described as an English countryside. Roy could smell the fireplaces and turkey dinners. A larger version of the exterior castle sat on top of a hill. The dragon was still circling the highest spires. All around him, animatronics characters acted out their chores. Knights fought by the castle while peasants milked cows or bailed hay.

Once it reached the center of the field, the vehicle stopped and the lap bar lifted. Phil got out first and took out a notebook. “Good enough, let’s interview the residents.”

Roy exited the car and followed Phil; he could feel Gwen staring at him. He turned to her and asked, “What is going on?”

Gwen smiled. “I cannot wait to see your reaction. It’s going to knock your socks off.”

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