Dec 18, 2014

2014 Writing Recap

An Atlantic Monthly-style rundown of my keyboard activities during the year almost past...

Words of prose fiction written: approximately 400,000
SpecOps scripts written for Avengers Alliance: 8
Season 2 chapter scripts written for Avengers Alliance: 5
New episodes of Marvel Puzzle Quest written: 5
New Raid Event scripts written for Marvel War of Heroes: 13
Other things written for Marvel War of Heroes: 100+
Animation episodes written: 1 (Transformers: Robots in Disguise)
Books published: 6 (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow: The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane, Marvel Vehicles Owners Workshop Manual, Marvel Phase One: Captain America, Marvel Phase One: Iron Man)*
Books finished that will appear in 2015: 4 (Marvel Secret Wars, Marvel Phase One: The Hulk, Marvel Phase One: Thor, Marvel Phase One: The Avengers)*
Books unfinished that will appear in 2015: 3 as of now
Conventions attended: 3 (SDCC, NYCC, BangPop!)
TV shows appeared on: 1 (Top Chef, very briefly)
Radio shows appeared on: 1 (Maine Calling Book Club, discussing Carrie)
Words of original fiction published: 0 (first time since 2000; will be rectified in 2015)**

*Note: Amazon links included for convenience. I encourage you to buy my books (and all books) from your local independent store. Find the closest one via IndieBound.

**My story "For All of Us Down Here" appeared in F&SF's January/February 2014 issue, but that issue appeared in December 2013. So, you know, technically...

Dec 6, 2014

Holiday Shopping Note: Signed Books

If you happen to be planning to buy a book I wrote for a holiday gift, please buy it from a local store. If you would like a signed copy of a book I wrote, buy it from Longfellow Books in Portland and I'll go over there and sign it.

(This offer good year-round, but I like to mention it at the holidays.)

Nov 25, 2014

My Letter Advocating Police Cameras

Dear [Elected Representative],

This letter is a call for congressional action to mandate that every police officer in this nation be outfitted with body cameras. Further, I call for the disabling or loss of those cameras to be made an actionable offense. Outfitting officers with cameras will provide a powerful disincentive for rogue behavior and also make citizens aware that their interactions with police are being recorded. When all parties are on video, situations are much less likely to escalate to the point of violence.

In those jurisdictions where officers already wear cameras, both police violence and citizen complaints have been reduced. The presence of a camera keeps all parties—officer and citizen alike—accountable. Complaints about surveillance from police are disingenuous; if an officer is not acting improperly, he or she should have no objection to the existence of a video record of his or her actions. Those concerns are also outweighed by the imperative to maintain citizen trust in law enforcement, which is eroding everywhere and already nonexistent in many minority communities. Complaints about cost are also disingenuous in view of police departments’ eager spending on military-style hardware, which contributes to a dangerous oppositional mindset among officers and alienates them from the people they are supposed to serve and protect.

Police officers are certainly entitled to the prerogative of self-defense, but it is apparent that this prerogative operates quite differently during interactions with African-Americans than during other situations. When young white men can massacre people in movie theaters and schools and at political gatherings without suffering police violence, yet black men—and boys—are routinely gunned down on the merest suspicion of hostility, something is badly out of balance in the conduct of law enforcement in this country.

I challenge you as an elected representative of the people of this country—all of the people—to do the right thing for both the police officers of this country and the citizens who all too often find themselves without fair redress.


Alex Irvine


I am sending copies of this letter to Chellie Pingree, Bruce Poliquin, Angus King, Susan Collins, Eric Holder, and Barack Obama today. If you want to use all or part of it as the basis for your own letter, feel free.

Nov 20, 2014

Ursula K. Le Guin's Speech at the NBA Ceremony

I know I already talked about this, but if you are a writer or a reader or someone who has any interest in American arts and culture, you really should watch this speech.

Nov 10, 2014

The Luxury of a Messy First Draft

One of the things I have occasion to think about, a lot and in great depth (or at least the kind of focus that one hopes will result in great depth), is the difference between working on original and licensed fiction. I do a great deal of the latter, and enjoy it; I do not very much of the former, and would enjoy doing more.

Today I took an afternoon and sat with a pen and notebook working on a novel, all mine mine mine--and during the course of that work I started thinking about a signal difference in the composition process of a licensed novel when compared to an original novel. With disclaimers abounding about how every project is different etc. etc., here is the conclusion at which I arrived:

The great thing about an original novel is that your first draft can be an utter disaster.

With a licensed book you don't have time for the first draft to be a mess. You have to zero in, lock in, make something like a recognizable novel as you're going through in the early stages--or else you're never going to hit the deadline.

Con- (or ob-) versely, in the original novel I'm working on, I've got a notebook full of about 75 pages of stuff. I've got other notebooks for this novel too, but this is the one I'm working in right now because I dedicated it specifically to one portion of the book. (Why? That will make more sense when you read the book, which I hope will be in 2016.) In that 75 pages, I've written all kinds of stuff, and in that all kinds of stuff are three different versions of a crucial scene. I arrived at all of them in a completely organic and comfortable fashion, and I have no idea which of them will be in the finished book. But it seemed remarkable to me when I figured this out, because in a licensed book I would have written that scene the first time, called it good, and then started figuring out how to make everything else fit with it.

Not, I hasten to clarify, because I care less about one kind of book. (Although the kind of caring is certainly different). The reason for pulling the trigger on a scene after you've written it once, instead of semi-accidentally exploring it three different ways, is simple:

Time pressure.

Licensed books come in with insane deadlines, and the process of drafting them has to reflect that. Only in an original book, without external strictures or a pressing deadline, do you have the luxury of a messy first draft.

And a messy first draft is an absolute delight. I enjoyed this afternoon.

Now I'll get back to working out the licensed stuff, because I've got a book, wait, two...I mean, four.

Nov 3, 2014

Audio Version of "Wizard's Six"

Clarkesworld has done an audio version of my story "Wizard's Six," recently reprinted there after its original appearance in F&SF back in 2007. Have a listen...

...and if you like it, you can head over to PS Publishing and pick up Mare Ultima (print | ebook), a novella-length expansion of "Wizard's Six" and another story, "Dragon's Teeth," also from F&SF.

Oct 2, 2014

Happy Birthday, Marvel Puzzle Quest

Tomorrow it'll be a year since Marvel Puzzle Quest first appeared. I have the privilege to write this game (after Frank Tieri did all the hard work getting its initial Dark Reign storyline started), and I want to thank each and every one of the 3.7 million (and counting) people who have downloaded and played it. Here's an image with some cool info about the game, including the fact that it's the first Marvel game to feature the new Thor: Goddess of Thunder!

Sep 30, 2014

A Brief Rant on a Popular Meme

I confess that I hate this meme. Speaking as someone who has written a fair number of books, I can tell you that a) authors don't always know what they mean; b) even when we think we do, the book is often doing something else that we don't notice until readers point it out for us later; and c) once a book is out in the world, readers' understanding of it matters more than whatever I might think I meant at the time.

This is a thoroughly stupid and reductive meme. It's fundamentally hostile to what literature is all about.

There. I feel better.

Sep 16, 2014

Coming Up: Eight Books in Six Months

Here's a rundown of what I've got coming out between now and March...

Season 2 of Sleepy Hollow is just around the corner, and to get you warmed up for it, here's The Secret Journal of Ichabod Crane, out today!

Also, next month you'll be able to pick up the Marvel Vehicles Owner's Workshop Manual...

Then in November, it'll be Captain America and Iron Man kicking off the Phase One series of young-reader adaptations of the Marvel Cinematic Universe...


Then in January, Hulk and Thor keep Phase One going, while my prose adaptation of Secret Wars also hits shelves...


Then in March, the Phase One Avengers book! (For which there is as yet no cover...)

Also I've got five books in the pipeline that I can't announce yet. Whew.

Sep 13, 2014

Marvel Secret Wars Novel

Here's the catalog page for the Secret Wars prose novel I just finished up...coming January 20!

Covers to Marvel Phase One Books

Take a look at these beauties. I'm writing a series of middle-reader novelizations of the Marvel Phase One movies, taken directly from the films themselves rather than the scripts. This has meant watching the movies again a whole bunch of times. (My job's pretty miserable.) I'm working on the fifth book right now, but here are the covers for the first four:



Pretty cool, right?

Jul 14, 2014

Marvel Vehicles Cover

I used to have a Haynes manual for my old Land Cruiser. When I sold the Land Cruiser (nicknamed Igor), I left the manual on the seat for the next guy. Sad day.

To fill the void, I got myself this Haynes-style R2D2 shirt a few years later.

I still have the shirt, but now I also have the cover of the Marvel Vehicles Owners Workshop Manual...

It's out in October, and you should probably have one for the next time you run across an old Battle Van in an abandoned Oscorp warehouse, right?

May 24, 2014


There are shots so fundamentally stupid that no excuse will justify them. They exemplify lazy thinking, bad storytelling, and a total disregard for the intelligence of the audience. One often sees them even in otherwise enjoyable movies, which just goes to show you that even skilled directors are sometimes thralls to dumb traditions (or dumb executives who think they’re creative). Here are four shots that should never appear in a movie again save as parodies.


The long drop to one knee and both hands, with the head down, after which the head is slowly raised

Why: Let’s start with the physics of the situation. If you’ve ever jumped off something high, you know that you try to land with both feet braced evenly, more or less shoulder width apart. Why? Because if your feet are even, they keep your center of gravity between them, with the impact evenly distributed. If you land with one foot behind the other—as is necessary for this shot—the momentum of your falling body turns into sideways momentum because your center of gravity is not directly between your feet. It’s off to one side, which would tip the body that way unless the rest of the body was leaning the other way, which you can’t do if you’re busy trying to get both hands on the ground. Also, the leg bent to put a knee on the ground can’t absorb nearly as much impact as the leg with the foot planted, which again would mean that one foot takes more force and the falling body would overbalance. One more problem is that if you shift your torso so that your center of gravity is over your lead leg, to maintain your balance, you stand a pretty good chance of kneeing yourself in the face (actually facing yourself in the knee) and either breaking your nose or knocking some of your teeth out.

Then we get to the tactical reality of situations in which you might fall a long distance and desire to arrive in a combat-ready stance. If you’re fighting a dangerous opponent, why the fuck are you staring at the ground when you land instead of at the bad guy? If I’m Villain-O, and I see Hero Man jump from somewhere high and then take his own sweet time checking out ants and spent bullet casings and whatever after he lands, I’m on him before he can lift his chin and gaze pitilessly at me through his artfully disheveled forelock…unless I’m on a film set, in which case Villain-O will goggle uselessly at the posing Hero Man until one of them (probably Villain-O) gets the opportunity to commit the next sin on our list. Which is:


The grabbing of an opponent by the throat and lifting of said opponent off the ground

Why: This one is simple. If you’re strong enough to lift someone off the ground by the throat with one hand, you’re strong enough to crush that person’s larynx like an egg without lifting him off the ground. If your goal is to kill the opponent, all the rigmarole of lifting him off the ground and watching his feet kick uselessly in the air is an indulgence of sadism—which is boring, and also a serious failure of tactics…unless you’re on a film set, where someone has decided that the ol’ let-‘em-dangle-by-the-throat shot isn’t quite played out yet. A variation of this is:


The throwing of an opponent some distance away, followed by slowly approaching the opponent with an air of great menace

Why: Because if you’re strong enough to do that, you are also strong enough to put both hands on that opponent and strangle him, break his bones, or do whatever else you want to do in furtherance of your goal of killing him. If you are able to pick someone up and throw him across the room, you are already in control of the combat. Throwing an opponent across the room gives him a chance to recover and counterattack. In other words, you relinquish control. If the objective is to kill the other guy, this is dumb. There is no fight-to-the-death situation where the party in control has anything to gain by releasing the party being controlled…unless you’re on a film set where some kind of protracted fight is deemed necessary and everyone is too lazy to choreograph something that makes sense. And this isn’t only a problem with fight scenes. It pops up in simple conversations as well:


The tense moment in a conversation, when one party gets up and walks three or four steps away from the other party, then stops for no visible reason and delivers the next line still facing away

Why: Because nobody ever does this. In every single conversation in the history of humankind, each party either a) wants to continue the conversation or b) doesn’t. 

Let’s take b) first. If you don’t want to talk to someone, you don’t get up, walk away, and speak with your face turned away from that person. You might get up and walk away, but if you’re going to do that you don’t keep talking. You especially don’t keep saying things that demand a response. Why? Because you want the conversation to be over.

Now we’ll look at a). If you do want to talk to someone, you don’t get up, walk away, and speak with your face turned away from that person—because people can’t fucking hear you when you talk with your face turned away from them. They also can’t read your lips or see your expression or interpret any of the other nonverbal cues necessary to really get what you’re saying. Therefore it is not something you do if you’re trying to have a conversation with someone…unless you’re on a film set and the director is trying to come up with a way to change the shot with no narrative or character justification.


For the love of all that is good and right and holy—not to mention a love of good movies—all of these cliched, nonsensical, self-indulgent shots should be banished to the hell of Intro to Film seminars, where they may continue to serve as examples of how lazy people try to pantomime telling stories onscreen without actually doing anything but proving their own lack of imagination.