Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by J. M. Martin.
J. M. Martin wrote comic books and worked on-staff at Caliber Press - publishers of The Crow, Deadworld, The Realm, Kabuki, and more - throughout the '90s; while there he co-created a collectible card game based on Todd McFarlane's SPAWN® universe which sold in excess of $3M retail.
He was a Gold ENnie-award-winning managing editor (2001-2005) for Privateer Press, instrumental in building the Iron Kingdoms and Warmachine intellectual properties from the ground up.
He has also been a managing editor (2006-2008) for a nationally-syndicated magazine publisher called YOUnique, interviewing celebrities such as former UFC champion Rich Franklin and The Hunger Games movie star, Josh Hutcherson.
Martin recently started NineWorldsMedia.com, a company specializing in editing and design services for writers and publishers, and is the co-publisher and creative director for the newly-established Ragnarok Publications, publishers of dark genre fiction.
GUEST POST: More than Clint Eastwood in a Dress by J. M. Martin
When Tim Marquitz, Kenny Soward, and I started talking about unleashing zombies on the 19th century American West, our protagonist promptly slashed her way into the “Dead West” series. I will say that initially I had ideas influenced by George Romero and Sergio Leone with a Clint Eastwood-styled lead, but this vision of a female protagonist took us by the collar and she would not let go. She was raw and tenacious and ‘ballsy’ from the moment we started imagining her.
Now wait. Don’t stop reading. I know it sounds like we’re just taking The Man with No Name and dressing him in a woman’s skin...which I realize is a weird way of putting it. Okay, bear with me. Let me introduce her first...
Nina Weaver is half Shoshone Indian, an outcast, a girl who’s seen more than her fair share of tragedy in her hard-bitten 19 years. We established her as an overbold, unpredictable, and formidable presence from the very beginning. Right after she and her pa, Lincoln, roll into a trade town, she ends up crossing paths with unrefined men practically straightaway. In the first chapter of Those Poor, Poor Bastards (Dead West #1) Nina puts a rudely inquisitive George Daggett on his butt, and that’s before the wave of undead come sloughing through.
We wanted to set it up early that our lead protagonist was no pushover. Against the grisly backdrop of zombies and other Lovecraftian grotesqueries, “Dead West” was—and is—a character-driven series foremost. With a female lead we felt it important to establish she was both capable and strong to appeal to both genders in our potential readership—we can all agree that men and women are both attracted to strength in some degree, especially when it’s unexpected strength. Besides, these are hard times and unforgiving environments and it was important to us that we illustrate Nina as a product of her place and time. Nevertheless, strong doesn’t begin to describe Nina; oh, she’s much, much more than that.
If the reviews coming in for Those Poor, Poor Bastards (TPPB) are to be trusted I’m hoping readers will feel we’re properly expressing Nina’s complexity, especially for a female lead written by three men. A reviewer on Fantasy Book Review says, “The lead character, Nina, is fantastic. She is a survivor, she is brave, she is loyal, and she is quick to lend her services to those who need help. She acts like she is the shoot first ask questions later type of person, but she always holds back from pulling the trigger, willing to give people the chance to redeem themselves right up until the end.”
In a March 18th, 2014, article on SparkNotes.com’s MindHut entitled “Why Female-led Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories are the Wave of the Future,” columnist Paul Kirsh states, “The word ‘strong’ often accompanies the phrase ‘female character’ or ‘female protagonist’ [in genre fiction] because it’s not yet a given. The term should really be ‘complex.’"
So genre fiction and Hollywood both appear to be following this trend of female-led stories and I would like to think it’s more than mere sex appeal that is being employed to attract consumers. Certainly that is the immediate draw. Featuring Nina on our covers attests to the marketable aspect. We know people like pretty things, especially pretty things in action, but we are concerned with longevity and, for that, authors must deliver.
I asked my friend Mercedes M. Yardley, an author known for writing female-driven books, what she felt was the reason for the growing trend of women protags and she said, “Women are being heard. And writers/readers are open to diversifying. I think it's a very intentional pushback against male-dominated genres. Publishers are soliciting women writers more openly, and writing a female-led story is a way that men can not only show support, but open themselves up to different storylines. It's more acceptable for a man to write a female protagonist now. Not to mention female characters rock. Who wouldn't want to follow their adventures?”
In the aforementioned article, Mr. Kirsch goes on to say, female protagonists are “an emerging class...who internalize their struggles. Their combat prowess is notable, but...superficial by comparison to characteristics that resonate on a deeper level with the reader or viewer. Internalization allows for more complicated characters on a mental and emotional level.”
Kirsch hit the nail on the head. Through all Nina’s struggles in the physical world with monsters and men, her story is internal at the heart. She is beset by bodily conflict throughout TPPB and on into Dead West #2, The Ten Thousand Things, but it’s those moral and spiritual crossroads, and her developing relationships, that I hope will keep our readers enkindled (see what I did there?).
We’ve got the first two books written and the “Dead West” series is planned to run either five or six issues in its entirety. Join us, won’t you, as Nina Weaver goes all Eastwood on these deaduns and necromantic machinations, while at the same time hauling you through the muck on her not-always-purty inner journey delving into questions of faith, prejudice, family, love, friendship, greed, and, of course, survival.
The first two books in the “Dead West” series by J.M. Martin, Tim Marquitz, and Kenny Soward are available now at Amazon.com. J.M. Martin is also the Co-Publisher and Creative Director of Ragnarok Publications, publishers of dark genre fiction.