Tuesday, February 2, 2021

We Could Be Heroes

  We Could Be Heroes
Author:  Mike Chen
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0778331393 / 978-0778331391

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The way the bank teller shrunk back in fear captured everything."

Favorite Quote:  "If you're the one everyone relies on, if you take on people's burdens, sometimes there's just not that much left of you."

***** BLOG TOUR *****


Jamie is a bank robber, the self-proclaimed Mind Robber. Why? He is attempting to finance his escape to a simpler life far away from San Delgado. He logics his robberies by the fact that banks are insured. So, individuals will not be hurt by what he does. The insurance will pay, and only a corporate entity will suffer. That somehow makes it okay.

Zoe is a self-appointed vigilante protect of the city. She is food-delivery person for appearances, and Throwing Star in secret.

The Mind Robber and Throwing Star cross paths because one is a criminal and the other wants to stop him. Jamie and Zoe meet because they both attend the same meeting of a memory-loss support group at a local YMCA.

Much to their surprise, they learn of the other's secret identity. They also learn that they have more in common than they thought. Both have no memories of a time before waking up in an apartment with a note and a paid for lease. Both have extraordinary abilities. Jamie had the ability to read and alter memories. Zoe has incredible speed and strength.

They identify a connection, and so begins their search for their own past. So beings also a race against time to stop a bigger threat.

From that point on, the book is action packed with sci-fi adventures, superheroes, villains, and the two heroes. The story is also one of an unlikely friendship. That being said, the key to this book is investing in these two imperfect heroes. I do, up to a point. However, I do wish the characters evolved more. Their backstories are hinted at and briefly described, but in a book about at least one character wanting to resolve the past. the past is not developed. The connection between these two individuals over time and sci-fi iterations is also briefly mentioned. In a story of friendship, that history and the evolution of of that friendship over time is not explored.

On the flip side, the villain's reason for their villainy is love. It is briefly mentioned, but greater exploration would add more to the story. I want to know more, particularly to make the ending believable.

My favorite character of the entire book is Normal the Cat. I love the name because very little else in this book is "normal." The cat at times exhibits more emotion than the human characters. The point is made several times about how the cat reacts favorably or unfavorably to characters, how it shows love, and how it communicates. 

Overall, the story is quickly read and entertaining, but it seems to stop short of the depth that was possible. In some ways, it reads more like a middle grade or young adult book that simplifies emotions and relationships to be age appropriate. However, the book is marketed as adult genre fiction so that is not the case.

The book lives up to the originality of Mike Chen's other books. The development of the idea leaves me looking for more.

About the Book

An emotional adventure about two misfits who have extraordinary powers, but have forgotten who they were before. The vigilante and the villain must team up to stop a mad scientist who threatens the city, while trying to figure out who they really are.

Jamie woke up two years ago in an empty apartment with no memory and only a few clues to who he might be, and also with the power to read other people's memories. In the meantime, he's become the Mind Robber, holding up banks for quick cash. Similarly, Zoe is searching for her past, and using her new extraordinary abilities of speed and strength...to deliver fast food. And occasionally beat up bad guys, if she feels like it.

When the two meet in a memory-loss support group, they realize they are each other's best chance at discovering what happened to them. The quest will take them deep into a medical conspiracy that is threatening to spill out and wreak havoc on their city, and maybe the country. As the two get past their respective barriers, they'll realize that their friendship is the thing that gives them the greatest power.

About the Author

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter.

Q&A with Mike Chen

Q: What super power did young Mike hope to wake up with one day?
A: Completely serious -- when I was young, I would walk around and sometimes clench my fist, then imagine Wolverine claws coming out from between my knuckles. I suppose that means that I hoped to have Wolverine’s accelerated healing power that allows him to pop the claws (depending on which version you’re looking at). As someone in his early 40s, I would really appreciate that accelerated healing right now.

Q: What super-characters influenced Zoe and Jamie's development? Are there parallels you're hoping the audience will draw?
A: I wanted to riff off of the basic tropes of someone with mental powers (Professor X) and someone with physical powers (Superman). A lot of this book is based on existing comic book/superhero tropes and turning them sideways, so it felt appropriate to have these two common types of powers as ways to ground reader expectations. That way, when you start to really get to know Zoe and Jamie, you realize that beneath the traditional superhero/supervillain facade, there’s much more going on to their characters.

I should also note that the name “Mind Robber” is not my own. When I name characters in a book, I usually pick a theme to riff on, because I am terrible about coming up with my own names. Zoe and Jamie are from classic Doctor Who -- specifically, companions of the 2nd Doctor (Patrick Troughton). And “The Mind Robber” is the name of an episode from that era, though the eponymous villain has completely different abilities than Jamie.

Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: This book was originally based on a short story called “Anonymous”, which I’d published in the summer of 2017 in Storyteller Magazine (which is now defunct). In that story, it was a version of this book’s fifth chapter: Jamie and Zoe are arch-rivals similar to the book, but it’s an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting rather than a memory loss support group. The same themes inspired that story, which is essentially nature vs. nurture and the roles society assigns us. When those are stripped away who are we? Can people who were supposed to be enemies actually be friends?

When I expanded this to a full book, I decided that I wanted to write a friendship story -- not romance. Zoe is straight, Jamie is pansexual, so the potential is there. But there is a very conscious internal moment for both of them where they each consider that friendship is more fitting for them. I think as a culture, we don’t get enough emphasis on the importance of friendship in stories, or the importance of trust to maintain those friendships. I wanted to dive deep into that, but just with superpowers!

Q: Describe your main characters in 3 words.
A: Jamie: Careful, fearful, untrusting.
Zoe: Careless, impulsive, untrusting.

This is why they’re such good fodder for each other!

Q: What was the most challenging part when you wrote this book?
A: Even though all sorts of superhero shenanigans happen throughout the story, the heart of it lies in the chemistry between Jamie and Zoe. As soon as they’re forced to work together, their banter develops and it’s a very natural thing to write. I hit a certain stride in drafting where their banter became completely natural and I could basically put them in any situation and hear exactly how they’d interact. Because of that, I actually wrote too much banter and I had to do an editing pass to specifically cut dialogue. This is most significant in the second half of the book where Jamie and Zoe are waiting high up in a tree for someone, there was a whole beat where they’re just bantering about how ridiculous their situation is. But it didn’t move the story along, so it had to go, regardless of how fun it was.

Q: What was your most favorite part and why?
A: It’s hard to pick a favorite, because it really comes down to the moments where Jamie and Zoe are bantering with each other. If I have to pick a specific one, I think it’s probably a quiet moment where Zoe and Jamie are planning on infiltrating a building after a night of investigating. Jamie shows up with his plans ready to go and Zoe arrives while completely ignoring their plans. It’s very representative of who they are and how they work and just thinking about it makes me laugh even now.

Q: What's a typical writing day for you?
A: Before the pandemic, I’d write before my daughter got up, take a break at my day job at some point to do some light editing, then a little in the evening as well. When my daughter had a gym class or playdate, I’d use that time as well, in addition to spurts using Google Docs on my phone. Now, it’s a little more chaotic as we have to do home kindergarten, so it’s basically anywhere I can, whenever I can. I’ve started doing writing sprints of 15-30 minutes to try and work around fatigue and schedule. So there’s no typical writing day anymore, and I imagine the next six months will be this way.

There are a few silver linings, though. The sprint method has actually really been a great new tool, and I’ve found that in the stressors of 2020 and early 2021, writing is a wonderful escape for my mind. So even though it’s chaotic, writing is one of the things that’s keeping me going.

Q: Where do you like writing and why? Favorite snacks and/or beverages? Music?
A: I like writing anywhere quiet. Which can be anywhere, as I write on my phone regularly. But it’s often chaotic with a 6-year-old around all day, every day. Two things that have helped with this: 1) noise-cancelling headphones, which is a must-use with my daughter around when I need to think creatively 2) going for walks with my phone available. I find the natural rhythm of walking is very helpful, and when with Google Docs on my phone, I can make a quick outline of notes when it comes to me. I need all of this with quiet, or possibly soft instrumental music that I’m not too familiar with (generic zen spa music). If I’m familiar with it, it takes my train of thought, especially with lyrics despite being a huge indie rock nerd.

However, there is one essential and that is coffee. In WE COULD BE HEROES, Jamie’s obsession with coffee is modeled after my own.

Q: What was your last 5-star read and why?
A: Since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to read nearly as much as I want to (or watch movies or play video games or work out). But I did squeeze in HENCH by Natalie Zina Walschots, which is the other superhero book of the season. It’s a really clever take on the sub-genre -- unique but completely different from my own. Natalie looks at the destructive cost of superheroes through hard data, which is just a hilarious concept and she executes it with brilliant characters. We’ve jokingly discussed a crossover between our characters.

Q: How would your main character fare with a stay-at-home order?
A: I actually think Jamie would be totally fine with it. He’s a homebody anyways, so he’ll be staying at home with his stack of books, his cat, and his cup of gourmet coffee. If he does rob a bank during that time, it’d actually be easier because there will probably be fewer people involved, and thus his goal of keeping people safe will be easier.

Zoe, I love her but she’s not exactly the most careful type. I think she’d try, she’d really try to stay at home but she’d probably get stir crazy. She would, however, be really busy with her food delivery gigs, so she might be earning enough money to get a Netflix subscription rather than just watching free public domain movies.

Q: What author or story inspired you growing up or inspired you in some ways?
A: I read a lot of genre fiction growing up, particularly space opera, gothic horror, and of course superhero comic books. But I also read a lot of contemporary fiction, and I always found myself drawn to books that highlighted interpersonal relationships with a strong voice. That probably explains why Nick Hornby’s HIGH FIDELITY and ABOUT A BOY were the first books that made me think “I’d like to try this.” In fact, I signed my agent for my first book HERE AND NOW AND THEN with the pitch of “THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE as written by Nick Hornby.”

Q: Is there anything you can tell us about the book that is not a spoiler and not on the blurb? Something you'd like to share with us?
A: Through a special program, some book clubs were able to get advance copies of WE COULD BE HEROES. I was invited to chat with a library’s book club in early January, and they admitted that they typically read literary fiction and historical fiction. So this was out of their comfort zone, but they universally enjoyed it and said they would be recommending it to friends and family that don’t normally read science fiction. So I think that even though this is a superhero book that riffs on some comic book tropes, at its core it’s a story of unlikely friends that can appeal to readers of any genre.

Social Links

Twitter: @mikechenwriter
Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Buy Links

Barnes & Noble
Google Books

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