Rummanah Aasi
  Today I would like to introduce you to James Mascia, the author of High School Heroes and Island of Dren. James is an English Teacher in Maryland, currently teaching at the high school and post-secondary levels. He is originally from New York and received his Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz, and then later obtained his Masters Degree in Education with a concentration in Literature and Writing from Dowling College. Please help me welcome James to Books in the Spotlight!

 Welcome and thank you for stopping by my blog, James. With graphic novels and movies based on superheroes are hotter than ever, your book High School Heroes fits right in. Can you tell us what inspired to write this story and how you became a writer? 

The idea first came to me after talking to a man at the Baltimore Comic Con. We were talking a few years back about how there were very few, if any, prose fiction about superheroes. So, I decided I was going to write one. The only thing was, I didn’t know what to write. In my experience, as I’m sure it is with most people, the only place I’d ever read about superheroes was in comic books. So, creating a new story, from scratch, in a genre it wasn’t actually designed for, proved to be a challenge.

  I entered a contest a month or so after this conversation, in which I had to write about something scary. That was all the contest wanted: something scary. I am never one to think inside the box, so when I first thought about what I should write about, I thought about the scariest place I could think of: a high school cafeteria.      Then, I thought about what could possibly make a place like the cafeteria even scarier for someone.

That’s when I came up with the first character, and the main character of High School Heroes, Christine. I decided that the scariest power she could have, scary for her anyway, would be that she can hear the thoughts of anyone in the room with her. It sounds like a cool power, but as I always ask, “What if you can’t turn the power off?” She is afraid of the cafeteria, because with a hundred different minds all crammed in at once, it is impossible for her to think for herself, because her head is constantly being invaded by the thoughts of others.

Anyway, while writing this first short story, I discovered Christine’s second power. When she concentrates on someone long enough, she can see everything in their brain, including their greatest fear. She can then use that fear against them.

    After writing this story, which was published in A Thousand Faces, I wrote a few more, all involving a teenage superhero. Eventually, I said to myself, “I have a longer story here.” And so I set to writing the novel. It started off being told from each of the four main characters’ points of view. But after a couple of chapters, I found it wasn’t working and decided to focus just on Christine’s story.

The first draft of High School Heroes took me nearly eight months to complete. Then another five months to edit, so it was worthy of being published. A lot of people don’t realize that you can’t just write a story and be done with it. To make it good and publishable, you need to edit, edit, edit. I can’t tell you how much work it was to edit everything. I must have read the story about six times from beginning to end, to make sure everything was perfect.

   Superheroes have been in literature for quite some time. Why do you think they are so popular? Where do you think they originated from?

    The first known superheroes originated back in the Ancient Greek times and there were probably superheroes even before then. These people weren’t called superheroes then, however, they were the demi-gods. Characters like Achilles and Hercules are probably the best examples of superheroes on Earth, but one could go so far as to say characters like Zeus, Athena and Hera were also superheroes.

     Why are they so popular? Well, in my opinion, part of the appeal of superheroes is the fact that even if only a fantasy, people can believe that a man can fly, or can lift cars over their heads, in other words, it helps people believe in something more than just the regular human condition. I also think the idea of being a vigilante and using special powers to take on the “bad-guys” appeals to people because deep down, there are so many people who wish they could do it too.

 Out of all of your characters, which one could you relate to the most? Which was the hardest to write?

   I have a little of each of my four main characters in me. And for me, they were all pretty easy to write, because I simply slipped into that part of myself when I wrote them.

Christine—She has my cynicism. She sees absurdity in just about everything around her and isn’t afraid to let people know she sees it. Her fear of crowds also stems from a fear of mine, although hers is magnified quite a bit.
Ethan—He has my fun loving side. He can take just about anything and turn it into a joke. The fact that he, the jock, is also the comic book geek is very reflective of my personality. While I didn’t play football in high school, I was pretty much the fastest runner my school had, which is also kind of like Ethan.
Peter—This is my shy side. Peter has a small, tight knit group of friends, and really won’t socialize with anyone outside of that group. While I am a bit more open than that, Peter is a bit like me in this category.
Savanah—She’s rude, obnoxious, and angry. Let’s just say, that when I get angry, I take no prisoners and tend to get very rude myself. This is pretty much Savanah’s entire personality. However, when you read about her, you’ll understand where the anger comes from. She does loosen up a bit in the sequels.

  How did you come up with the characters and their assigned abilities?

Well, as far as my main characters, it you’ll notice, all of their names are alliterative, much like the old school superheroes: Clark Kent, Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Wally West, Reed Richards. I decided that anyone with superpowers in my story would also have an alliterative name. So, I came up with the names: Christine Carpenter, Ethan Everett, Savanah Stephenson and Peter Perkins. Now, as I also stated earlier, I took an aspect of my own personality and used it to create the personalities of each of these characters.

  The powers would be the most tricky part, because I didn’t want any powers to overlap, and I didn’t want to make any one of the characters too powerful. So, I stayed away from Superman: no heat vision, no flying (at least in this book, for the sequels however, that’s another story), no super-de-dooper strength. I also wanted to make their powers fit their personality. Christine’s biggest fear is crowds, and in this book, every time she has to contend with a crowd, she is instantly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of voices in her head. Ethan, who is a jock or sorts, has super-speed, making him the ultimate player. Savanah is very angry, for a good reason which you’ll have to read the book to find out about, and I figured she could be kind of like Hulk, but not like him at the same time, and so, I made her strong (but not Superman strong). Peter was the most difficult, but I figured the power didn’t have to come from his personality exactly. I figured, the first time we see Peter, he could be skateboarding, and his skateboard would have a lightning bolt on it, as would his shirt. So, it would show us he could shoot lightning from his hands.

   You are an English teacher at the high school and other post-secondary schools. Has your job influenced in your writing in any way (i.e. voice of characters, pacing, plot, etc)?

Yes and no. Yes, because I do look for tings like theme, tone and character development when I’m writing. These are things I cover in my classes just about every day. No, it doesn’t influence it because I would generally put these things in anyway. If you don’t have good character development, then the book itself will feel rather flat, and when you write a scene correctly, the tone should automatically come out on the page. Now, I learned all of these things when I was in school, so I can say that I was influenced on that end, but I would say that being a teacher hasn’t influenced my writing as heavily as one might suspect.

  Who is your favorite superhero? 

I don’t know. I like them all. If I had to pick one, I would have to go with Green Lantern. His entire power works on his own willpower. Anything he imagines, he can essentially create from his ring. I think that is just about the coolest powers out there. However, if I was to be any superhero, it would be Superman. Just because he’s Superman and there is literally nothing he can’t do.

What message would you like your readers to take away from your book? 

That with or without powers, you can be a hero by simply doing what it right at any given time. So many kids would like to be a hero, but what they don’t understand is, that they are heroes everyday. Someone drops their books in the hall, and you stop and help them, you’re that person’s hero, if even for only a second. That’s what I want people to understand from this book.

You have written other books and stories. Is there any particular genre that you would like to write but haven’t explored yet? 

I have to say that there really isn’t a particular genre I want to explore. I mainly stick to the sci-fi and fantasy genres, touching a little on historical-fiction and paranormal at times, but I don’t really think about branching out beyond that all that much to be honest. I write what I’m comfortable with and what I enjoy reading. Yes, I will occasionally pick up a mystery, and I do enjoy them when I read them, however, I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable writing one. My mind doesn’t work that way, and no matter what, I’d probably throw in all sorts of elements that would make the mystery sci-fi or fantasy anyway.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, do you have a playlist that you can share with us? 

 I like good old fashioned rock music. Give me The Beatles, Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, Styx, Billy Joel, Elton John, The Who, Bon Jovi, U2 and pretty much anyone else that falls within this genre any day of the week.
When I write, I don’t listen to any of that though. Sadly enough, words distract me when I’m trying to write, so the music I listen to has to have no lyrics. So, I keep a bunch of movie scores, like Harry Potter, Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan and the like on my iPod to listen to while I write. But, I will say the music I like the most when doing my writing are the scores from the Final Fantasy games. The music in those is beautiful and thought provoking and helps keep me focused.

Besides writing, what do you like to do? What are your hobbies and interests? 

I slay dead people. Well, virtual dead people anyway. I play video games, go to movies, stuff like that. I read A LOT. I usually have a novel I’m working on, at the same time as reading some comic books, and I listen to audiobooks. So, at any given time, I could technically be reading 3 different things.

I like to travel too, which is good as a writer like me, because when I book appearances, then I have an excuse to travel. I went to Ocean City, MD for the first time only a few weeks ago, and had a grand time.

But then, thee is nothing like sitting down to a good old fashioned game of Risk. For those of you who have never played Risk before, go out to your nearest Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, whatever, and get a copy of this amazing game (while your there you can pick up a copy of my book too). There is no other game I can think of that is more fun, because after all, to win, you dominate the entire world!

Thank you again, James, for taking the time to introducing yourself to my readers and to your writing. I had a great time chatting with you. Readers, if you would like to learn more about James and his writings, be sure to check out his website.

 What if you were a teenager and discovered you had the ability to read minds? What would you do with that power? Those are two questions Christine Carpenter would like answered as she begins her sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson High School. She soon discovers she is not the only student Everett. They become friends, but their relationship is strained as they learn to cope with their powers while trying to keep them a secret from the world.

Christine’s questions are answered when a monster, lurking in the depths of her school, threatens to murder the student population. When it becomes apparent the monster is someone she knows, she
must decide whether to try and save him, or, if he must be destroyed, what might the consequences be?
3 Responses
  1. MZMollyTL Says:

    Between the fondness for Risk, the Maryland connection and the teaching gig, James sounds like an author and a person I'd love to get to know! Thanks for the interview Rum and I'll look for his books.

  2. Huh. I never stopped to consider the origin of superheroes before. Very interesting.

    And I like the message. anyone can be a hero, just by showing a bit of kindness. :)

    Thanks for the great interview.

  3. Great interview! I agree with the reason why superheroes are so popular. Most of just want to good and make the world a better and safer place :)

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