Hiding Behind the Cowl

So a while back, I mentioned that I was going to edit a superhero anthology, with lotsa details TBD at that point. Mostly because life happens, and stuff, and until you get to the final product and the delivery date, everything can go sideways in a heartbeat.

Good news. Hiding Behind the Cowl is now available for ebook pre-order on all the usual suspects. There will also be a print edition that goes up for sale around the same time (there is no pre-order function for paper, so timing is more interesting.)

I wanted to do this because the best way to find fans is to borrow them from other writers. Put my story in front of people buying it to read your story, and hopefully they will add me to their list. It is a tried and true method for discoverability.

In this case, editing was an adventure, all by itself. The original spec called for stories between 10,000 and 20,000 words. This is longer than traditional short stories, because I wanted to do superheroic fantasy, and that requires backstory to establish the world, the hero, the villain, and their origin. And THEN, go on an tell a story. The short one ended up around 13k. Annie Reed’s story (Faster, first in the antho) ended up at 37k.

I got this frantic email because she was on a roll and already at 26k, with no end in sight and was afraid she was going to have to chop it hard and maybe break the story to get it back down to length. The joy of this kind of anthology (royalty-share rather than paid by the word) is that you can go way long and just tell the story. Hers came in just under novel length, and I expect her to add enough detail later to a second edition of the same story to push it up over 40k.

The other grand adventure was Michael Kingswood’s story (A Switch In Time, last in the antho). He was joking with me when he said that he didn’t really have any ideas, because the one he wanted to explore was something no editor would touch. And with good reason. His idea was a Klan true-believer who becomes a hero to fight for the down-trodden, as he sees them. Think batman in a white hood and you can see why many editors would say no and walk away.

I was concerned when he sent me his submission. I mean, seriously? It turned out to be a brutal read, because he got inside the head of an unabashed racist with super-powers who sees himself as the hero in his story. (Every villain is also the hero in their own story, but that’s a different discussion.)

The language is raw. The hatred visceral. The casual brutality leans off the page and pimpslaps you.

But the story is good. You have a character, in a setting, with a problem, to meet the classic definition. Several characters try and fail, and suffer personal growth as a result. Other characters never change, and show how far the hero comes, from the first page to the last one.

By the end, the hero redeems himself.

Several editors I chatted informally with all suggested I bounce the story. After the BLM movement last year, a number of people (whom that author occasionally refers to as Social Justice Warriors in the pejorative) don’t want anything to do with a story that explores the inner mind of a racist.

Tough. Deal with it. Forcing these stories to not be published is a disservice to the whole reason we do this, which is to tell stories. And speculative fiction as a genre has always been about dealing with uncomfortable topics, frequently political themes thinly veiled in fictional settings.

On the other side, I appreciate that the story will put a lot of people off. So he went last.

In an anthology, the story that goes first sets the tone for everything. Annie’s Faster does just that. Light, adventurous, coming of age and the joy of doing good. The story that goes at the end leaves the reader with the emotional signature. Again, pimpslapped, but hopefully the reader will stop and question themselves, as the main character did on his path of enlightenment.

At the same time, I put that story last because if I didn’t, some readers would put the book down and walk away in the middle of that story, and never get to the ones behind it. It is a balancing act.

Will I catch hell from fragile, little snowflakes who don’t think that other people’s views are as important as their own righteousness? Probably. Don’t really give a shit. In this instance, the one bitching will be left-wing, but on other things, the right-wing is just as narrow-minded.

But there’s more to the anthology than just those two stories.

Leah Cutter wrote me a lovely manga coming of age piece. JD Brink gave me the origin story of one of his heroes.

My contribution was another story in the Modern Gods universe (White Crane, Breakfast Dragon, others coming soon). I went historical with this one, setting it in 1952 in Boston, MA. The hero is a 32-year-old WW2 Army veteran, pretending to be a 16-year-old sidekick, because he is 5’6″ tall and skinny.

Oh, and Japanese-American. Nissei.

One Puka Puka. Varsity Victory Volunteers. 34th Engineering. 442 Regimental Combat Team.

A man with two purple hearts and a silver star. Who isn’t allowed to be American, even as an American hero.

The story is also not the one I set out to write. The themes ended up far more adult and interesting than I had planned, but it works. Dark, but not brutal. PG-13 unless you read close, then your brain goes to a hard R in a hurry. (Everything is off screen.)

And it sets me up to write a sequel this summer. I’m publishing half a dozen or so Modern Gods stories this year. The Breakfast Dragon in “Steam. And Dragons.” Kid Lexington here. Daoma Dan. Chef Tom. The Coffee Doctor.

You should buy Hiding Behind The Cowl. And tell all your friends to buy it. They’ll need to buy a lot of copies if they want to have a good book-burning, and I won’t be offended, as long as the checks clear.  Hell, if you need pallet loads, let me know and I’ll make you a deal on drop-shipping them to your bbq.

Because I can…

shade and sweet water,


West of the Mountains, WA