Wednesday, February 10, 2016

We Were Heroes Interview: Frank Byrns

Hello, and welcome to an all new series of author interviews.  The long anticipated anthology "We Were Heroes" will be coming out in 2016, and in preparation for this release we'll be running interviews of various contributors.

MTI:  Today I'm interviewing Frank Byrns, who contributed Night Terror.  Thank you for being here.

Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

FB:  Sure -- thanks for having me. Let's see -- I grew up in North Carolina, and after a brief stint in Arizona, I've spent the last fifteen years in Maryland, about halfway between Washington, DC and Baltimore. And for most of those years in Maryland, I've been writing and editing fiction of all kinds, but particularly superhero fiction. I have published four books of superhero fiction (check them out at, and also edited 14 issues of A Thousand Faces, the Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction. We published over a hundred stories in a little over four years -- the exact kind of fiction I think readers of We Were Heroes would enjoy.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

FB:  I've always been a writer, all the way back to grade school when I would write my own GI Joe and Robin Hood adventures. Early fan fiction, I guess. I made comics with some classmates, created Dungeons & Dragons adventures for others. I used to write a little newsletter for a backyard wrestling federation hosted on my neighbor's trampoline. I don't remember a time when I wasn't interested in storytelling of some kind, but I guess you could say I got 'serious' about it in the last ten to twelve years.

My favorite kind of story to write? I like human stories in genre trappings. I like to write superhero stories with very little punchy kicky stuff, no powers, and maybe even no code names that are still distinctly superhero stories. If you took out the superhero element, they wouldn't work nearly as well. I know those sound like terrible superhero stories, but it's a little hard to describe. Hard to write, too! They are crime stories, noir stories, with a little bit of cape in them. Hero noir. Something like that. (Not to say there's anything wrong with superfights and capes and supervillain deathtraps or any of those things -- I like to read some of them, just don't care to write them as much.)
MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

FB:  Just one? For my superhero stories, I guess I'd have to say Kurt Busiek's run on Astro City. I love the way it flips the narrative of  'what it would be like if superheroes lived in our world' to 'what it would be like if we lived in theirs'. A subtle difference in perspective, but one that I have always loved. Those books got me back into comics after a long absence, and they continue to inspire all these years later. 

MTI:  Your story appears in We Were Heroes, an anthology devoted to the theme of aging, retired, or out of their element superheroes and villains.  Tell us a little bit about your contribution to this collection.

FB:  "Night Terror" was written quite a while ago (originally entitled "Twilight", which didn't seem like a bad idea at the time) and when I saw the call for submissions, it just seemed like a natural fit. The jumping off point was the standard retired police detective who has the one case that he could never solve. You know the guy with the stolen copy of the case file he grabbed on his last day at the office, the one he pulls out a couple of times of year and spreads all over the kitchen table with a bottle of bourbon and some slow jazz in the background. And my thought was, I bet superheroes would have these, too. It kind of took off from there and became something somewhat different (as stories often do), but that was the genesis.

MTI:  Who's your favorite superhero (or villain)?

FB:  Daredevil. All the crime noir trappings, the Catholic guilt. Captain America, Batman, Green Arrow, and Hawkeye would round out my top five, but DD is my guy.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

FB:  Sure. I have quite a few things going -- I usually work on several things at once until one of them catches fire and demands to be finished. I am working on a couple of short stories -- one's a pro wrestler in the 1970s moonlighting as a bail bondsman that I'm starting to get a handle on. I am also working on a novella (probably -- could run a little longer, but I don't think it will) featuring Adonis Morgan, the guy who has proven to be my most popular character. And I've been trying to crack a novel for a while now -- I have a story that feels relatively fully-formed, I just need to find my entry point. To paraphrase a much better writer than I: I have the words, I just don't know what order they go in.

MTI:  Other than "Night Terror" appearing in We Were Heroes, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

FB:  I have a superhero story entitled "When None Pursueth" that will be appearing on the Ares Magazine website in the early part of 2016. That's the only thing on the docket at the moment, but there are submissions floating out there that will hopefully bubble to the surface soon.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good TV lately?

FB:  Sure -- I watch a lot of TV. (Too much TV?) My favorite show this fall had to be Fargo -- I loved the first season, but I found this past season to be essentially perfect. I like what I've seen from the first four episodes of SyFy's The Expanse -- looking forward to seeing where that one goes. I love watching Arrow and The Flash with my kids -- we're looking forward to Legends of Tomorrow in a few weeks, as well.  

MTI:  Can you tell us what the last movie you watched was, and what you thought of it?

FB:  Like most of America, the last movie I watched was Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I loved every minute of it. I loved being able to take my kids, the way my dad took me to see the originals, and the way my wife and I saw the prequels as a newly-married couple. Circle of life, and all that. Thinking critically, I don't know if it was a great movie, per se, but I really enjoyed it. And now that the board has been cleared and restacked with the new characters, I can't wait for Episode VIII. (I also watched a double feature of No Country For Old Men and A History of Violence on my parents' couch the day after Christmas -- Happy Holidays, everyone!!)

MTI:  Readers love samples.  Do you happen to have a story excerpt you'd like to share with us today?  (If you'd like to share a few paragraphs or a page of writing, this could be a good place for it.)

FB:  Sure -- here's a little bit from "When None Pursueth", appearing at the Ares website soon. The jumping off point for this one -- what if instead of landing in a cornfield in Kansas, baby Kal El's rocket landed in a back alley dumpster in Gotham City, and instead of being found by a kindly old farm couple... you get the idea.

The story was originally written for a long-ago abandoned shared-world anthology dealing with superheroes in the midst of an alien invasion. I thought it would be fun to approach it as a writer of a regular comic series taking the editorial mandate of a company-wide crossover and shoehorning into his own book as a tie-in issue. So here's a bit from (if you will) Godhammer #422, "When None Pursueth". 


            The first relief shipment disappeared a week ago; the second, three days after that. So I attached a tracer to the third, and watched as it went from airfield to UN warehouse to white unmarked panel truck to different panel truck, which parked itself on the curb while the driver locked the doors and went inside an 8th Street Thai massage parlor that is owned, if you dig deep enough into the paper trail, by Zito Properties. 
            Three minutes later, a different driver emerged, climbed in the cab, and made his way here, to the back door of Nada. According to the remote camera I placed here yesterday (identical to the one trained on the dock of every Zito restaurant in town – call it a hunch), it's the only delivery they've gotten all day. The implication is clear, as far as I can tell: Mr. Zero is taking the food relief shipments meant for the neediest residents of this town – three more grocery stores have shut down in my neighborhood this week alone – and using it to feed the richest. 
            You would think the city would have cleared out as soon as we realized that we were the focus of the Qraken force, but it hasn't. Among the rich and powerful, it's been almost business as usual. And why not? The Arsenal and their kind have always been around to keep their best interests at heart. For Zero's happy clientele, the invasion is just the latest in a long thread of the same, no different from the time The Unforgiven robbed their Savings and Loan or the time when Kuroikaze poisoned their water supply. 
            They're all still here because they want to be. Unlike folks on my side of the tracks; the only ones left there are the ones who can't leave. The ones who can't just quit their jobs: the police officers, the firefighters, the nurses. The teachers, many of whom won't leave until the last child is gone. They haven't left, so neither can I. Not that I've ever even thought about it.  
            Up on the rooftop, I tap the goggles stitched into my cowl, accessing my magnification lenses to get a better look at the giant goons who just stepped out the back door of the restaurant for a smoke break. Hmmm. This might go deeper than just the food angle – Zero's brought in some heavy hitters. I see Skull Krusher, Monkey Tom, Black Rhino. And you can rest assured that if Rhino's around – yep, there she is. Trouble. 
            The four of them standing there outside the same door, the one between me and Zero. I had expected one, maybe two, goons; it's been years since Zero's lifted as much as a finger with intent. But four – the evening just got a lot more complicated. 
            Almost on cue, I hear a pair of boots landing softly behind me. I say “landing” because I am positioned against the ladder that provides the only access to the roof from below – therefore, the newcomer must have come from above. 
            That, and I recognize the sound of the footfall. I should; after all, I taught him everything he knows. 
            “Hey, Pops,” he says. 
            Like I said: complicated.

* * *

            “Hey, Pops.”  
            It's the right thing to do, announce my presence like that. He already knows I'm here; I'm sure he heard me land. And it's not like I'm trying to sneak up on him. I mean, I could if I wanted to. . . I think. Scratch that – maybe not. He's pretty crafty, the old man. 
            I wonder sometimes how my life might have turned out different if the rocket that brought me to Earth as a child had crashed in, say, a cornfield in Iowa or Kansas rather than a dumpster in an alley in one of the worst neighborhoods in the city. Would I have still grown into the same man I've become? 
            But there's not much time for idle speculation these days. I wasn't found by some kindly old widower who might've stepped out of a Rockwell painting (as I imagine her); instead, I was found here, by Godhammer, about two minutes before some crackheads happened across me and sold me into white slavery, or worse. He took me home and raised me as if I were his own, and for that I am eternally grateful. But still, a guy can't help but wonder. 
            Of course, raising me as if I were his own meant molding me in his own crimefighting image. His apostle, he called me, only half-jokingly. My alien DNA gave me powers far beyond any Pops had ever dreamed of for himself; the miracle baby from beyond the stars, he called me. 
            “Hey, Kid,” he says. He still calls me Kid because he knows it bothers me. Worse yet, I know that he's doing it on purpose, because it bothers me, and I still let it bother me. I haven't been Kid Cosmo in ten years. I think his feelings are still hurt.  
            “Quite the murderer's row down there,” I say, mostly to change the subject, motioning towards the array of supervillains enjoying a smoke break below. “Zero must be running a helluva dinner special.” 
            “Yeah, something like that,” he says, no longer able to hide his irritability. I smile a little under my mask. 
            “Stop smirking,” he says. “What are you doing here?”
            I glance towards the northwest sky, which glows faintly, residue from this morning's terrible battle. “We could really use you out there, Pops,” I say. “On the front line.” 
            “You don't need me. You made that clear a long time ago.”
            We have this same argument, one way or another, every time I visit. It's been ten years, but sometimes you'd think I left yesterday. “No, I said we need you. Wildfire's missing, Peregrine, too – it's getting really bad out there.” 
            “My work is here.” 
            “Yeah, well, if things don't start turning around out there, there won't be any here left.” 
            Godhammer gives me his back, watching the scene in the alley below. “When I see a Qraken platoon on 8th Street, I'll let you know.” 
            “You do that, Pops.” I shake my head; the man has always had a singular gift for making me wish I had never come home. 
            “So this is, what, some kind of shore leave?”
            “Yeah, something like that.”
            Pops goes quiet a moment, watching below as Trouble grinds out her cigarette beneath a ridiculously long stiletto heel. She turns for the door, lingering long enough to give us both a nice clear view of the backless black leotard / fishnet ensemble that has been her trademark for as long as I've known her. She looks back over her shoulder coyly, then disappears inside. For a brief moment, I wonder if she saw me up here, the little performance meant for my eyes.
            “You gonna try and see Jackie while you're home?” Pops asks, snapping me out of long-ago memories.  
            “I did – this afternoon. My first stop.”  
            He nods. “Good. Bet she liked that.” 
            Pops may have taught me what it was to be a crimefighting machine, to be superhuman; but Jackie taught me what it was to be human. I think all three of our hearts shattered forever the day she walked out on him. 
            “How about you?” I ask. “You get over to see her much?” 
            He turns, unable to meet my eyes. “Not as much as I'd like. It's hard to see her like that, you know?” 
            I do know. I was there this afternoon. “Yeah,” I say instead. 
Black Rhino finishes off his cigarette, then follows Trouble back inside the restaurant. Two final puffs later, Monkey Tom does the same. Skull Krusher lingers a moment longer, watching as an F-22 screams across the sky at very low altitude, a Qraken starfighter in close pursuit. 
            “That's gonna be tough, fighting your way through that door,” I say, once my ears have stopped ringing.  
            “We could try the front door,” I say.
            “We?” Pops asks, a smile creeping across his lips.
            I nod. “For old times' sake.” 

MTI:  Well, I'm suitably hooked.  Thank you for that tempting sample, Frank.  For those who wish to read more of his work, check out We Were Heroes, coming February 29, 2016!

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