28 April 2011

Interview: James Mascia, author of High School Heroes

About a week ago, I got the opportunity to read and review James Mascia's High School Heroes. You can find the review here
I was also able to interview him.
So, without further ado, here is Mr. Mascia.

Describe High School Heroes in as little words as possible.
High School Heroes is about a group of teenagers who discover they all
 have amazing abilities. Christine is the main character, and she has the 
ability to read others’ minds. But even though a large portion of the book 
deals with the teens and their powers, the main focus of the book is really
 about their everyday problems and relationships.

Since you're an English teacher, and High School Heroes takes place in a school, do your characters resemble colleagues or students?
I can honestly say that none of my characters resemble any of my students or any other teachers in my school. When I write, I most enjoy it when I make stuff up. This includes the characters. It’s strange to say, but when I make a character up from my head, rather than basing it off someone else, he or she seems more real.
I also hardly ever portray anyone I know in real life as a character, because I wouldn’t want someone to get angry with me and say something like, “I would never do that! Take it out of your book!” Since this is bound to happen if I really did base it off someone, I steer clear of it whenever possible.

How did you get started writing High School Heroes and how long did it take?
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.

Did you have to do any research for the novel?
For High School Heroes, I did very little research. I mean, I looked up street names and such to make sure the story was as authentic as possible, but beyond that, I didn’t really do much research at all.
For the sequel, Camp Hero, however, I did a ton of research. Christine and her friends go off on a journey to Camp Hero, which is a place on the east end of Long Island. I did extensive research on Camp Hero again to make sure the setting and details about the place were as accurate as possible. There were also a few conspiracy theories I researched involving the place which the story revolves around.

While writing, do you see some parts of you (personality, behavior, etc) in  your characters?
While I don’t try to write other people into my stories, I have to say that I am probably in all of the characters somewhere. Let’s break it down by just the four main characters:
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.

You say on your blog it just 'clicked' about being an author. How did it feel to know what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
It feels great knowing what you want to do. The “click” you’re referring to, however, didn’t happen overnight.
I’ve always been inclined to write, but as a child I was always stubborn and wanted to be something more exciting like an actor, or an artist, or even a movie director. As you can see, no matter what, I always leaned more toward the creative fields rather than business or technical ones (numbers scare me sometimes). I would like to say I knew when I was just a little boy at age 4 or 5 when I wrote my first “book”. The book was called Garfield Takes a Bath, and I’m sure if you ask my mother, she still has it laying around somewhere. I wrote and illustrated it. So, I should have known, but alas, I did not.
Then, in high school, I should have known then I wanted to be a writer. Oh, I discovered I wanted to write, but that’s not the same as wanting to be a writer. One fine day, sitting in my school’s suspension room, I decided to not do the work my teachers had sent for me and instead read a book. It was at that instant that I said, I can do this, I want to write things. And yet, when I applied to colleges two years later, I still applied for the art and film schools.
However, like almost all college bound students, I was two years into my school, having taken absolutely no media classes, but quite a few writing classes, I decided to switch my major from Film Directing to Creative Writing. And I’ve pretty much called myself a writer ever since.
The moral of the story is: Sometimes you need to be kicked in the pants a couple of times before you realize your true calling.

What made you decide to write for younger audiences?
Mainly because I’m just a big kid at heart. I don’t know. It seems more natural to write from a kid or teen perspective rather than an adult’s. I read teen books, and I like them, so why shouldn’t I write them too? It’s not that I don’t also enjoy adult novels, but let’s put it this way. Most adults, at least in stories, act like kids anyway. Think about it, adults in novels don’t know what they want out of life, they get themselves into trouble, they’re constantly falling in and out of love—how is this any different than the typical adolescent in any of the novels you’ve read? So, why not just take adults out of the equation and write about kids?

What are your plans for the future?
I have a couple of different writing projects going on write now, most importantly, the sequels to High School Heroes. I have already mentioned Camp Hero, coming out this September. And I am currently putting the finishing touches on Hero Heist, which would be the third book in the series. I’ve also just started a new project that I’m calling Urban Jungle. I am not ready to release any details about this as of yet, but it’s going to be a good one.
Other than that, I would like to see some of my books made into movies. So, eventually I’m going to start pitching to people the idea of a High School Heroes movie.
Other than that, I just plan to continue writing.

Author's Website: Island of Dren
Contact: Here
High School Heroes:

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