I had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Fredalla, Creator and Editor of Cyber Age Adventures, to ask him some questions.
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Lit.org: I like to start off with the generic author info question, so feel free to ramble on. Tell the masses who you are! Where you from, a little bit of general background info, that kind of thing.
Frank Fradella: I was born a poor black child... no, wait. That was somebody else.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but I didn't stay there long. At the age of two, I moved to Long Island (actually, others moved me, I was still too young to be lifting things), where I spent the next 23 years or so avoiding fame and fortune at all costs. Or at least it seems that way looking back on it.
Much of what happened during that part of my life is confidential. I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill... well... myself. Just really embarrassing stuff.
Lit.org: What is some of your favorite pastimes aside from writing?
Frank Fradella: Movies! I love movies! Movies and music, mostly. Beyond that, I like to play the occasional role-playing game or computer game when I have ten minutes to rub together.
Lit.org: I'm a big time movie fan myself. I saw Unbreakable and it reminded me of CAA. Very character driven. What did you think of it?
Frank Fradella: I thought it was fantastic. I think it'll open up the doors to more realistic superhero dramas coming to the Silver Screen. Stuff like the X-Men movie is very good, too, but there was still an element in there that just didn't feel... right. Perhaps because the X-Men film had to consider that much of their audience would be adolescent boys who would want to buy the action figures later.
My only gripe with Unbreakable is that is perpetuated the stereotype that comic books and superheroes are synonymous. They're not. X-Men, Unbreakable, or even the upcoming Spider-Man film, are movies. They're not comic books. People are confusing the medium with the message.
Lit.org: And speaking of role-playing, what are some of your favorite games? How did you get interested in role-playing?
Frank Fradella: For the longest time I played Marvel Superheroes Classic (Advanced). But I started out, some 20 years ago, the same way everyone else did. I played AD&D. Beyond that, I've played Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Star Trek (the original one), RuneQuest and a bunch of others, some of them for no more than one session.
Lit.org: Do you have a favorite Genre, Comic Book, Movie, Web site?
Frank Fradella: Favorite genre: You know, I'm glad you asked this question. I'm not fond of genres. For me, there's only the story and the setting. The second I start to think in terms of "genre," be it horror, mystery, horror or whatnot, I've already begin to limit myself. I've given myself boundaries.
Favorite movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hands down the best overall movie ever made. It had just about everything you could want in a film and did it all well. It just doesn't get much better than this.
Favorite website: I'd have to say that Flashkit.com and The Encyclopedia Mythica (http://www.pantheon.org/mythica) rank as two of the sites that I just adore. They're ultra-informative and well designed.
Lit.org: What do you read when your not writing?
Frank Fradella: I'm usually too busy to read anything but submissions, honestly. Every now and then, I'll pick up a book by an author whose work I like and read that. Robert B. Parker is a good example of that. Any time a new Spenser novel comes out, I'm all over it.
Right now I'm reading an omnibus of the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. I've never read much fantasy, but I just love his style. A good story is a good story, and Moorcock can write.
Lit.org: What is your professional and creative background? Did you go to school for writing, what got you interested in it? I know most writers don't often get to do it full time, is writing your only job these days?
Frank Fradella: I'm a high school drop-out, if you can believe it. I was such a pain in the ass in my youth (as compared to the sweetheart I am now) that the assistant principal actually took me aside one day and said, "Look. You're skipping classes because you're bored, and I can understand that, but all the paperwork is giving me a headache. Why don't you do us all a favor and get outta here?"
Which I did. I got my GED, spent some time in college, and it was there that I became the editor of the on-campus literary magazine. During that time, I found that I had a love for three things (in no particular order).
Writing. Macintosh computers. And being in charge.
Lit.org: Do you collect any comics now? If so which ones are you favorites and the ones that inspire you?
Frank Fradella: I actually haven't collected comics for years. I didn't feel like they were talking to me anymore. The editors in charge of those books had to consider that their advertisers were folks who make chewing gum and video games, which meant that the books had to be geared towards the consumers of those products. They're obviously still catering to the male adolescent fantasy which tends to glorify violence and objectify women. There is a reason, after all, why women only represent 7% of comic book readers.
(Let me add another site for people to check out. I think this place is hysterical. http://www.the-pantheon.net/wir/)
But still, there are stories which I'll go back to, even now. Gaiman's Sandman still stands out. Alan Moore's Watchmen has yet to be dethroned as the pinnacle of the art form. I enjoyed Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. I liked that a lot, actually. Alan Moore was also doing great work on Tom Strong when comics finally lost me.
I think that the comics medium has a great deal to offer, but most of it is done by independent creators who don't have to toe the company line.
In defense of the Big Boys, I would like to add that The Inhumans from the Marvel Knights imprint was amazing.
Lit.org: Speaking of Inspirations, what are some of your inspirations as a creator.
Frank Fradella: I still maintain that you'll always draw your best inspirations from the most painful moments in your life. As lousy as it is, joy just doesn't trigger the same kind of creative flood.
Lit.org: Do you see yourself more as an editor or a writer?
Frank Fradella: I'm a writer. Half the times I forget I'm an editor, too. I hate editing other people's work. I'm just a writer who wanted to write superhero prose stories. Nobody else was doing it, so I had no choice but to create a place that did.
Lit.org: Cyber Age Adventures (CAA) happens to be one of my personal favorite sites. It looks good and the content is top shelf. Your stories are well written and very consistent. But I have to ask, Why super heroes?
Frank Fradella: Oh, there's a lot of reasons. First and foremost, and probably the simplest answer, is that I love them. Always have.
I think that superheroes, especially for children, are a great empowering device. For most of us, we didn't grow up in an environment where your talents and gifts were lauded while your shortcomings were ignored. Most of us went through the public school system and kids are just plain viscous. I think superheroes probably provide a great creative outlet for kids.
How many times have you wished you could read someone's mind, or turn invisible? How many kids wish they could stand up to the kids who are bullying them by being invulnerable, or super-strong? That's because those are the heroes we grew up with. Kids today are more accustomed to the "dark vigilante" character and now they shoot each other in the halls like it's the Old West. Maybe that's a coincidence and maybe it's not. Who's to say?
Lit.org: Just for fun (what better reason is there) what would you say would be the best super power to have, and the worst?
Frank Fradella: Oh, that is such a subjective question. I think that people would most want to compensate for any weaknesses that they perceive themselves to have. Someone who is very short, may want the ability to grow like a giant. Someone who is very weak would love to be strong.
But some of the things that we've tried to show in our stories is that having superpowers doesn't really solve your problems. It just creates a different set of problems. Alloy, for example, is a character of ours who is immensely strong and invulnerable to physical harm. Downside? His skin is so thick, he can't feel most of the things that we take for granted. He can't shake hands with anybody without fear of grinding their bones into powder. He can't handle glass, or eggs, or anything that requires any sort of delicacy.
As for what the absolute worst power would be? I would have to say immortality, if it didn't come with some sort of invulnerability or regenerative power, too. Otherwise, you could get maimed, burned and ripped to pieces and never die. Not fun.
Lit.org: Where did the idea for CAA come from? Did you come up with all the flagship characters and the world yourself?
Frank Fradella: I can probably trace it back to Alan Moore's Watchmen. There's a section in there where a character named Hollis Mason has written a book called "Under the Hood." It's a memoir and in it he recounts his origins and such. The whole thing, despite being smack-dab in the middle of a comic book, is told entirely in prose format. I just loved how convincing the character became when delivered in that way and I wanted to read more of it. Unfortunately, nobody was publishing those stories a few years ago. So I decided to do it
It was also a way to force myself to write. I had absolutely no discipline back then. I knew that if I wanted to develop a body of work, I'd need a deadline to force me to do it.
As for the characters, a lot of them had their genesis at a gaming table. A bunch of friends of mine and I would get together once a week or so and play this superhero RPG. Many of the characters grew out of those sessions. But yes, all the characters are mine (except where noted -- I've brought in a few "guest stars" from time to time).
Lit.org: The Watchmen and RPG's... it's now wonder I like your work so much. Many of my own inspirations come from the same kinds of things. I also find I like to write while listening to 80's tunes. What music do you listen to when you write? Or to get you into the writing mood?
Frank Fradella: A lot of that depends on what I'm writing. I usually cue up music to suit the story I'm writing. A few weeks ago, when I wrote my first fantasy story, I listened to the soundtrack from Conan the Barbarian. If I'm writing something dark and gothic, I'll put on Danny Elfman. But most of the time, I have about 1000 MP3's ripped to my hard drive that I just put in random rotation.
Lit.org: And forcing yourself to a deadline, among other things, how do you keep the creative process flowing to overcome the urge to goof off instead of writing, or the dreaded writers block. I personally have never had writers block, but distractions can and do find ways to draw me away from writing. What do you do to keep yourself focused and creative?
Frank Fradella:I don't think there's any right way to get past writer's block. I had a terrible block for about a year once, and there was nothing I could do about it. The one thing that I am absolutely certain of is that, at the deepest core of my being, I didn't want to write. There aren't any exercises to help you with that. You've gotta want it. Once the desire in you comes back to life, you'll write again. But I think it was a self-defense mechanism for me, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case for many other writers.
When I finally got back to the keyboard, the single best thing I did to keep me focused was to get my cable TV disconnected. When I sat down to eat dinner, I popped in a videotape, but once I was done, I turned the TV off and went back to work. There was nothing else to do! About a year and a half later, I finally got my cable reconnected, but the working habits had been formed. I'm not in any great danger of being sucked in again.
Lit.org: I remember a time when you were considering closing down CAA and shortly after it was reborn with a revitalized sense of purpose. Can you tell us a little bit about that time in CAA history? What was it that made you push on?
Frank Fradella: Oh, you remember that, do you? LOL
At the time, we were a weekly magazine and I hadn't taken a break in more than a year. I kind of hit the wall there. I think that I believed in CAA a great deal and couldn't figure out why somebody wasn't paying me millions of dollars to do what I was obviously born to do. :-)
In the end, it was the overwhelming support from our readers that inspired me to go on publishing. We changed the format to a monthly, revamped the website and the rest is just business is usual.
Lit.org: Well, I'm very glad you decided to stick around. I've also read the many positive comments by readers of CAA in the Hero Worship section of the zine. And now you've won the 2000 Grand Prize at the 2000 Writer's Digest National Zine Publishing Awards (http://www.writersdigest.com/catalog/zineentrants.asp). Did the award confirm what your readers have been saying all along? That CAA is one of the best Zines around? How did you and the rest of the staff feel about receiving the award?
Frank Fradella: We're incredibly honored. not only for ourselves, but for all the other professional zines out there as well. This goes a long way toward legitimizing what we've been doing all this time.
And if you take a look around the Web and see some of the other zines, it really makes us feel good to know that the judges chose us out of all the other top-notch, high-quality sites out there.
Lit.org: I've noticed you do a bit of Web Design. I'm a web designer by trade myself and you could say I'm very biased towards the web. What's your take on this phenom everyone is clamoring to - the world wide web. How do you see this medium effecting writing and publishing and where do you see it in say five years from now?
Frank Fradella: I think we'll continue to see an explosion of creative work flood the Web as millions of artists, writers, photographers, etc. find that they no longer need a traditional publisher to deliver their work to the masses. But even then, the quality stories will rise to the top, and the online zines will pay rates equal to or more than those of print magazines.
The problem that remains to be solved is how to make any money from the Web doing publishing. People are accustomed to their content being delivered for free and only a very few sites have been able to stay afloat by charging for their content. I'll be very interested to see who comes up with a viable option that we can all adopt as a standard without alienating half our audience.
Lit.org: This has been a major interest of mine and many of the sites I visit frequently. Finding a way to make it work for the readers while at the same time making sure the people who make it all possible get paid for their much appreciated time and effort. I've also noticed CAA is selling merchandise, has anthology books collecting the tales of CAA as well as only posting the
last 3 issues in the archive. Have these things been as successful as you'd hoped? Or is their still room for improvement? With the fall of the dot com's (don't get me started) what change do you see is most necessary to make not only publishing on the web, but web sites in general profitable on the web?
Frank Fradella: The anthologies haven't been the windfall we'd hoped they would be, but part of that is the downfall of having such a faithful audience. The anthologies collect the stories that have previously been published on the Web, plus one or two new pieces, written especially for the book. Since most of our readers were there when the stories were available on the site for free, they've been, shall we say, reluctant to part with their hard-earned money now.
There is a viable model out there for the zine publishers of the world, but it's going to have to be adopted as a standard by all of us at the same time. It's not impossible to make money from the Web. Look at all the porn sites and personals/dating sites. It can be done, but people need to know that they're going to get their money's worth, and that they'll receive something that they couldn't get if they just went to one of the free sites out there. Value is the name of the game.
Lit.org: I've noticed that CAA is producing a Super Hero Role Playing Game. Can you tell us a little about that project?
Frank Fradella: Gladly!
I've been working on this game for years, behind the scenes. It's gone through so many permutations that it's actually something of a comedy routine around here now. The game that we have now bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the game I originally designed. But every time I had a new idea, or figured out a way to make the game better, I scrapped everything and started all over again.
The result is an awesome game that anyone can play. One of my main goals in the design was that someone entirely new to this sort of game can sit down with the book and be ready to play in just a few hours. The game is logical, easy and, most of all, a blast to play. Most gaming veterans will be pleased as well. The mechanics are complex enough to handle anything you can throw at it.
One of my favorite parts of this is that Gary Gygax, author of the original Dungeons & Dragons game, wrote a smashing introduction for the game. He really liked what he saw when he read the game and even offered a few helpful suggestions, which I later implemented.
The game will be released to the public on August 31, 2001 at Dragon Con in Atlanta. I'll be there, along with Sean Taylor and the esteemed Jade Walker, to roll out the game.
Lit.org: I've read a great deal about Gary Gygax and if he likes the game, I have no doubt that I will. He has often stressed the need for a complex enough system to make sure the game runs smoothly but no so much mechanics that it drags down the pace of the game. After all it should be about "role-playing" and not the cast of the die. I've been looking for a good super hero game since Marvel Super Heroes Classic was discontinued. Everything else was far too cumbersome to be very effective for Super Hero game play. What was the reason you decided to do a RPG? Keeping up with the RPG market I've seen companies folding almost
as fast as the Internet Startups have fallen. Was part of the decision the ability to publish and market the product online bypassing some of the traditional paths of distribution?
Frank Fradella: Not at all. In fact, the majority of our publishing efforts will be getting the books into print and having them distributed into game and hobby stores.
My reasons for creating a superhero RPG are two fold. First, since the Marvel RPG folded (or converted into a card game), the market was really lacking a great dice-and-paper superhero RPG that wasn't just loaded down with game mechanics. Champions was out there, but it gave me headache. I introduced it to my gaming group one night and we never played it again. I know a lot of people who think it's just the cat's pajamas, but it wasn't for us.
The second reason is that, even as I was playing Marvel (and it was a great system), there were things about it that bothered me. When I first started designing the CAA game, it had a great deal of similarities to Marvel. Eventually, I threw away everything and asked myself, "If I had to reinvent the wheel, knowing what I know now... what would it look like?" The answer to that question is the Cyber Age Adventures Superhero RPG. It bears no resemblance to the old Marvel game, and fixes all the problems I had with that old system to begin with.
If you can believe it, it's actually an easier system than the old Marvel game, and, in my opinion, it plays better.
Lit.org: Love Letters, Breaking up, Poetry. I'm getting the impression your a romantic. What's the story with this "love" stuff?
Frank Fradella: I think the Bard said it best. "The course of true love never did run smooth."
Lit.org: On the CAA website I saw that you had a devoted following on the Saturn Moon Titan. Once upon a time, I ruled that moon with many loyal warriors at my command before I expanded my armies and took over our solar system. What's the story behind your minions on Titan?
Frank Fradella: Well, there's really no accounting for taste. They're a sick little bunch, not at all what you'd expect from a poetry/writer's group, but they're lovable just the same. They've offered me permanent residence on Titan, but I explained that the commute to work would just kill me, not to mention dial-up fees for my ISP.
Still, they throw a mean party if you're in the neighborhood. But if I were you, I'd clear out when the circus dwarves arrive with their trained mule, Pinky.
Lit.org: What advice would you give to a beginning writer trying to make his mark?
Frank Fradella: There are two rules... no, not rules. Laws. There are two laws to which every writer should adhere.
1) Shut up and write.
Let's face it. If you're talking about writing, or thinking about writing, or complaining about how this editor is a jerk, or attending a writer's meeting, or hanging out in a poetry chat room... you're not writing. You wanna be a writer? Shut up and write.
2) Don't suck. (You don't really need this one explained, do you?)
Lit.org: I like to finish by giving you a chance to plug any upcoming projects you might have, CAA or otherwise. What's can we expect from you in the near future and down the line?
Frank Fradella: Well, I had lunch with a Hollywood producer today, and that seemed to go very well. Nothing was signed, but everyone seemed to enjoy the sweet and sour chicken.
Starting in January, when you visit www.cyberageadventures.com, you'll be in for a big surprise. Up until now, we've done the occasional site revamp and such, but this goes deeper. Without overstating it, we're going to take everything you love about Cyber Age Adventures and quadruple it.
We're already known as the future of superheroes, but we may just be the future of Web publishing, to boot.
You can also expect to see much, much more from us in the gaming arena. Stay tuned!
Chrispian H. Burks
Lit.Org Owner / Founder
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