Sunday, November 29, 2009


I’ve been writing professionally now for more than thirty years and you would think (well, I would) that, after all this time, the business of writing would get easier; that I’d be able to walk into my office every morning, sit down at the computer and just start working.

You’d think that—but it’s not true.

Even after three decades, every time I begin a new project it’s as if I’ve never written before.  As if I have no idea how to put two words together, let alone craft a plot, weave a theme, build a character.  I stare at the blank computer screen, then retreat to the kitchen for a snack.  I stare at the screen some more, then decide to clear off my desk.  I go for a walk, then come back and surf on over to Google to see what people are saying about me (sometimes a pleasant experience and sometimes a truly depressing one).

Eventually something shifts and I start slapping ideas down on the page.  Eventually, those ideas become a story.  And then the story—as has been discussed before on this blog—begins to take on its own life, begins telling itself, and, yes, miraculously, it often does become easy.

But starting?  It’s a nightmare.  The Terrible Business of Beginning can take hours, sometimes days, and, on rare occasions, it can take weeks of feeling like a half-insane trapped animal.  I keep looking for ways to bypass this particularly unpleasant experience, but, after years of angst and torment, I’m convinced that my seeming avoidance is a pivotal part of the creative process.  That those hours, days, weeks when my conscious mind thinks that it’s blocked, my unconscious is working away feverishly, prying open the door between the apparently real and the apparently imaginary:  tuning the psychic radio to precisely the right station so that the signals from the Land of Story will beam in loud and clear.

So I’ve learned, grudgingly (very grudgingly), to honor the process.  Doesn’t mean I like it; but I’ve at least reached the point in my life where I can recognize that those moments when I’m convinced that I’ve spent thirty years fooling my audience (and myself along with them) and that I’ll never be able to write again, are actually moments of genuine grace.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis


In my role as editor-in-chief of upstart publisher Ardden Entertainment, I feel it is my sworn duty to alert you to the fact that Flash Gordon:  The Mercy Wars—which collects the acclaimed (and not just by me!) six-issue mini-series by Brendan Deneen and Paul Green—will soon be available.  It was a delight to edit the series and to watch Brendan and Paul breathe new life into Alex Raymond’s classic characters.  

Also coming your way is Flash Gordon:  The Secret History of Mongo.  This is an anthology of all-new adventures, exploring the rich mythology of Raymond’s universe, with stories provided by yours truly and Shawn McManus, Tom DeFalco and Joe Staton, Joe Casey and Omaha Perez, Denny O’Neil and Mike Cavallaro, Len Wein and Shanth Enjeti, Jim Kreuger and Pedro Delgado and the aforementioned team of Deneen and Green.  If you’re a fan of character-driven space opera, I think you’ll enjoy both these collections. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Yes, I know I promised I'd have the first part of my "Meeting Lennon" adventure up by Thanksgiving, and that's just two days away, but this past week I've been having some minor (but annoying) health problems that have slowed me down considerably.  Profound, and heartfelt, apologies for not living up to my promise.  I'll try to get to the Lennon post as soon as possible:  I've been writing it in my head, it's just a question of getting it down on (cyber) paper.

While you're waiting, check out this link.  The video, of John Lennon performing "Stand By Me," was done for a British television show called The Old Grey Whistle Test—the host, Bob Harris, introduces the clip, putting it in historical context—but it was filmed in New York, at a recording studio called the Record Plant.  The picture below was taken that day and the guy playing piano is an old Brooklyn buddy of mine named Jon Cobert.

And guess who was sitting on the other side of the glass, in the producer's booth, watching the whole thing?

Enjoy!  And have a very happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


There's an excellent Beatles documentary, directed by Bob Smeaton (who also directed The Beatles Anthology), coming up later this month on the History Channel; but, of course, in the age of the internet, you don't have to wait that long to see The Beatles On Record:  it's right here for your listening and dancing pleasure.  There's nothing new or surprising, but there's lots of wonderful footage and in-studio chatter.  Better yet, the film doesn't dwell on behind-the-scenes melodrama:  the focus is strictly on the music, year by year, from "Love Me Do" to Abbey Road.   If you're a Beatles fanatic—and I know there are many of you out there—I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


As I think I’ve mentioned here before, my son Cody is a very skilled comic book editor, currently working for Devil’s Due, where his Major Project of the moment is a continuation of the cult-favorite Jericho TV series.  Jericho, Season Three:  Civil War is a six-issue mini that comes out November 25th:  the first issue—co-written by Jericho writer/producer Dan Shotz and another of the show’s writers, Robert Levine—continues exactly where the series left off when it was unceremoniously yanked by CBS a couple of years back.  I’ve been privy to the unfolding creative process and I can safely say that, if you’re one of the millions of hardcore fans of the show, you will love this.  The interior art is by Alejandro F. Giraldo.  Below is the first issue cover by Scott West.


While I’m plugging away, I should also mention that the first issue of Casper and the Spectrals, the Casper update I’m editing for Ardden Entertainment, hit the stores this past week.  It’s a fresh, fun reimagining of the Casper mythos, with a story by yours truly, Brendan Deneen and Todd Dezago, a terrific script by Todd and equally terrific art from Pedro Delgado.  We’ve worked hard to make our Casper a smart, all-ages comic book and I suspect that it will be enjoyed by kids—of any age—with a fondness for the Friendly Ghost.


Speaking of plugs—well, hair plugs—I recently stumbled across a site that may be one of the weirdest I’ve ever encountered on the web.  Yes, I know that’s saying a lot, but just click here and tell me that you don’t agree.  As this essay (one of the few posts from my Amazon Blog that hasn’t vanished into the merciless depths of cyber-space) will attest, I’m a total Shatnerd—but an entire website devoted to Shatner’s hairline?  As Kevin Costner observed in Oliver Stone’s JFK:  “We’re through the looking glass here, people.”

I’ve decided that the time has come to finally write about my long-ago encounters with John Lennon,  so be on the lookout for “Meeting Lennon, Part One,” which will be appearing here before Thanksgiving.   Promise! 

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Here's another piece from the Lost Amazon Archives that I thought was worth re-posting.


The older I get the more I realize that the most important thing any of us can do in life is strive to live compassionately, keeping our hearts open, treating others with understanding and, most important, simple human kindness.  “That which is most needed,” as Buddha said, in words that have echoed through my life for decades, “is a loving heart.”  I truly believe that the microcosm is the macrocosm.  That our smallest acts of compassion resonate across the planet.  That one heart can quite literally change the world.

Of course it’s one thing to make compassion an intention in our lives and quite another to live it.  Oh, I try, I honestly do, to be as good and decent a person as I can—I’ve been consciously working on myself, on my connection to the Divine, for more than thirty-five years—but the truth is, for all my work, for all my striving, I’m regularly astounded by my ability to say or do spectacularly stupid or hurtful things.

I’ve found that ninety-nine percent of the time, when I’ve done something to wound another person, I’ve done it unconsciously:  I was so clueless I wasn’t even aware of my idiotic actions.  When I discover my transgression, my response is usually the same:  guilt, misery, shame, and abject apologies.  (The first three, I’ve decided, are fairly useless.  The abject apologies are absolutely necessary.)  Then—what else can I do?—I get up out of my pool of self-pity and determine to be more conscious of my actions in the future, to open my heart a little wider, to be more aware.

That said, I think that no matter how hard we try to live our highest ideals, we are, at some point—and, I suspect, with some regularity—going to screw up:  say or do the wrong thing.  Make idiotic mistakes.  Hurt someone’s feelings.  The fact is we’re human—if we were meant to be pure and perfect angels we’d have been born with wings—so all we can do is our best.  Sometimes our best is extraordinary, sometimes it’s pathetic; but it’s the effort that counts, I think.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s wonderful 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (one of my all-time favorite books), the main character—a man who cares so much about his fellow humans that it’s driven him to the brink of madness—is asked to baptize newborn twins.  Eliot Rosewater then improvises a succinct, honest and heartfelt welcome to Planet Earth that concludes like this:  “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—:  ’God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

Those words, like Buddha’s request for a loving heart, have stayed with me for decades.  Neither quote is especially poetic, but both contain enough truth to change the world.

One heart at a time.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

Saturday, November 7, 2009


In May of 2006, Mike Ploog and I were in Washington, D.C., riding high at Book Expo America.  Abadazad, our all-ages comic book series that nearly drowned in the tsunami that was the CrossGen collapse, had been miraculously resurrected as a children’s book series, thanks to the benevolent spirit of Walt Disney and the brilliant efforts of Hyperion Books for Children vice-president/editor-in-chief Brenda Bowen.  So there we were, walking up stairs decorated with Mike’s art, strolling beneath giant posters of Zad’s beautiful, blue-skinned Queen Ija, and marveling at the fact that almost everyone in the hall had an Abadazad lanyard around his or her neck.  Drunk with delight, we signed advance copies of the first two books in the series—we’d contracted for eight, with the possibility of even more—and listened, with equal joy, as a Hyperion  executive all-but guaranteed us a second printing.  (This, after being told that The Road to Inconceivable and The Dream Thief had first printings of 100,000 copies each.)  The icing on the cake came at the Hyperion dinner on Saturday night, when we were approached by Michele Norris of NPR’s All Things Considered, who invited us to come on her show to talk about Abadazad.

The next few months found us finishing up work on the third book in the series—The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—traveling to Finland for the Helsinki Book Fair, doing signings and, finally, landing that NPR interview.  The night the interview aired, we watched, stunned, as Zad shot up the sales charts.  “Dreams come true and miracles happen,” as someone (I think it was me), once wrote in a song.

But by December of ’06, when I turned in the manuscript for the fourth book in the series, Historcery, we discovered that the good ship Abadazad had hit an iceberg—and we were sinking.  Sales, we were told, were disappointing (although healthy in the comic book market and with our friends in Finland and other Nordic countries) and it had been decided that The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—the best in the series, in my opinion—would only be published in England.  Brenda, who always believed in our story, and in us, was looking for ways to save Abadazad.  One thing she suggested was dumping the hybrid form—the books were part prose, part comics—and doing a straight-ahead prose novel (with new illustrations from Mike, of course).  Were we disappointed that the series hadn’t done better?  Absolutely.  Still, having seen Abadazad go through one death and resurrection, we were ready to see it rise again.  And the challenge of turning Kate Jameson's adventure into a novel—and actually finishing it in one volume—was a very exciting one.  But the excitement was short-lived—

—because, within a few months, Brenda Bowen—our champion, our guardian angel, our biggest booster—had departed the halls of Hyperion and we were left in the hands of...well, we weren't quite sure who.  Our spirits brightened when we learned that Brenda’s right-hand man. a smart young editor named Christian Trimmer, had taken Abadazad on:  Christian was a huge fan of our series and he very much wanted to see it continue; but, without a heavy-hitter like Brenda there to advocate for us, we didn’t know how far Christian’s enthusiasm would take us.

Our spirits brightened again when Christian told us that he’d spoken to Brenda's replacement (I honestly don’t remember the executive’s name), who, we were assured,
very much wanted to make Abadazad work.  After discussing different ways we could go with the series, what formats might be best, we were told to hang tight while The Powers That Be worked out a solution.  So, heartened and hopeful,  we waited.

And we waited.

And then, in the spring of 2007, the word came down:  No.  Just like that.  The gods of Hyperion had thought it over and decided, for reasons that never became clear, that they didn’t want to invest any more time and money in Abadazad.

We were finished.  Just like that!

Mike and I went through a shared grieving process, after which I, literally, slipped into my personal bed of despair.  In Victorian novels, there’s often talk of characters “taking to their beds”:  putting the back of a hand to the forehead, with a Lord Byron-like flourish, and collapsing among the covers, in a wasted, heaving heap.  Well, that’s pretty much what happened to me.  I had invested so much of myself, of my heart, hope and inspiration, in Abadazad that the cancellation of the series hit me like the death of a loved one.  Part of my depression certainly involved the loss of income.  As noted, we’d signed for eight books and those upcoming four were going to carry me—and my family—through the next year.  That’s not a small thing.  But that wasn’t the core of my despair.  What truly devastated me was the loss of those characters.  Characters?  No:  beloved friends.  I believed in Kate and Matt Jameson, Professor Headstrong, Queen Ija and all the rest.  Believed in them with every cell in my body, every vibrating particle of my consciousness.  With all my heart.  And now, I thought, they’re gone.  Trapped in some literary limbo, beyond my reach.  How will Kate ever rescue Matt from the Lanky Man, how will—


Characters trapped in limbo?

What a fantastic idea for a story!

That concept smacked me across the face, grabbed me by the throat and dragged me out of my bed and into my office, where I found myself typing furiously, outlining the tale of a twelve year old girl—Mehera Crosby—whose life is upended when her favorite book series is canceled; upended even more when she discovers that the characters she so loves are alive, trapped in a strange and deadly limbo—and it’s up to her to rescue them.  I called the story Mundus Imaginalis and writing that outline totally dissolved my foul mood.

For a few hours, anyway.

Once I was done detailing the major beats of the story, exhilaration passed and I crawled, exhausted, back to bed, wrapping myself tight in a cocoon of misery for a few more days.  Then I got up and went back to work.  Really, what choice did I have?  My ability to create goes to the heart of who I am.  No matter what projects may explode in my hands, what doors may slam in my face, I can always (well, once I lick my wounds) pick myself up and begin again.  As a writer I live, not from logic, but from imagination.  From a profound belief in the power of the impossible.  And, in the end, faith in the impossible is all I need.  (You can bet my buddy Mike Ploog feels the same way:  he’s rocketed on to other projects, bringing to them the same passion and brilliance he brought to Abadazad.)

Some weeks after Zad’s death, I found out that Brenda Bowen had landed safely at HarperCollins, where she was starting up a new imprint, the Bowen Press.  Contractual obligations prevented Brenda from discussing new material with me—or anyone she’d worked with at Disney—until the beginning of 2008, but, when Brenda and I finally got together over lunch in January of that year, one of the several ideas I handed her was Mundus Imaginalis.  

And that, I’m happy to report, was the one she loved.  

It took months—as it usually does—for the contracts to be ironed out but, eventually, I was off, starting work on a novel—the title wisely shortened to Imaginalis—that’s now completed and awaiting its June, 2010 release from the HC imprint Katherine Tegen Books.  (What happened to the Bowen Press?  In yet another twist in the tale, Brenda ended up leaving HarperCollins.  She’s now a literary agent, working for Sanford J. Greenburger Associates—and, I’m certain, doing it with skill, wisdom and extraordinary grace.)

I’d love to tell you that I know—to the bottom of my soul—that Imaginalis will be a spectacular success; but, if the preceding tale makes anything clear, it's that the only thing I know for sure is I don’t know a thing.  I certainly hope that Imaginalis does well, that it transforms my career, and my life, in magical, miraculous ways; but, if it doesn’t, I’ll take to my bed for a few days, bang my head against the wall, rail at the gods, whimper pathetically—and then get back to work, setting my sights on the next impossible goal.

Because I’m a writer—and that’s what I do.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis 

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Several years back, I was away on retreat at a spiritual center in South Carolina and I had a glimpse—just a glimpse—of how much of an illusion (what the Hindus would call Maya) this world really is.  Everything around me felt as insubstantial as heat trails wavering on the highway on a hot summer day.  The people I encountered seemed like they were weightless, unreal:  made of morning mist—or perhaps pixie dust.  I mention this because I’ve been reworking an old story of mine that deals with the idea that this life we’re living is as much a dream as the ones that fill our heads when we’re asleep; that, in fact, we’re asleep and dreaming right now—and, if we knew that, really knew it, we could become lucid dreamers and transform our world.

If this is true—and the older I get, the truer it becomes, not just philosophically but experientially—then it means I’m dreaming everything around me.  The entire universe (including all of you reading this) doesn’t really exist, any more than the people and things you encounter in a dream exist.  You are all reflections of my consciousness, of my vision of the world, of my vision of my Self.  A movie projected from my unconscious mind.  And here’s the paradox:

The same is true for you.
  Everything you see, everything you experience, is a dream dreamed just for you, for your amusement and unfoldment, for your awakening and ultimate joy.  I am just a dream you have dreamed.  This blog is just a dream you have dreamed.

And here’s the kicker:  You don’t exist.  And neither do I.  We’re both thoughts floating in the mind of the One Dreamer, the Only Dreamer, God Himself.  (I say He, but I could just as easily say She or It.)  It’s God’s dream, all of it, and He’s dreaming it through us and with us and—best of all—as us.

Think of it like this:  You’re writing a novel and become so immersed in your story, so in love with your characters, that you completely identify with your fictional world.  When you write the hero, you are the hero, when you write the villain, you are the villain.  Sometimes you even forget that you’re you, the writer, and that what you’re creating is just a story—and then the tale seems to start telling itself, your characters take on lives of their own.

This metaphor breaks down after a certain point, because—if a multitude of spiritual paths and traditions are to be believed—in the cosmic drama that is Creation, in the dream that the Only Dreamer is dreaming, the Divine Author doesn’t just imagine the tale, He consciously descends into his own story in order to awaken his characters to the truth that—much like a hologram—each one isn’t just a piece of the tale, each one is everyone and everything in the tale.  And more:  each one is the Author Himself, in an extremely clever disguise.  Some of the characters embrace what the Author is saying.  Some deny it.  Some hate the idea and oppose Him.  Yet, to the Author, it's all an essential part of a wonderful story.  Even the opposition.  Especially the opposition.  (Let’s face it, what good’s a story without a strong antagonist?  Well, I have a theory that it could be even better—but that’s another post for another time.)

If you accept this, even for a moment, the inevitable question that arises is:  What kind of dream are we choosing to dream right now (and if each one of us is the Dreamer, then it absolutely comes down to personal choice)—and what miraculous new dream can we manifest tomorrow?  Even if this is nonsense—the biggest load of pseudo-mystical, New Age, quasi-Eastern moonshine ever concocted—how much about ourselves and our world could we change if we lived as if we believed it was true?

This universe we inhabit is so unfathomably huge that no one perspective could ever capture more than a splinter of its magnificence (in other words:  everything I say is true—except when it’s not), so take the preceding as a Sunday morning brew of faith, hope and imagination.  I invite you to pour your own faith and imagination into the mix.  

And let’s see what miracles we can manifest, in this strange and wonderful dream we’re dreaming.

Next stop:  Imaginalis.

©copyright 2009  J.M. DeMatteis