I think I’d prefer Bigfoot. But maybe not T. Rex.
I’ve never been much of a fan of superheroes. Nothing against them, really, and Christopher Reeve was fun as Superman, but the whole trope of a single (or even several) crimefighters with unworldly powers battling a single (or possibly several) twisted villains to save the world just doesn’t make much sense. The actual threats to our world cannot be condensed into a single “bad guy,” or overcome by a single “good guy,” no matter what other-worldly powers he may have.
Of course these stories aren’t meant to represent the real world, but rather to be distractions from it. I have no problems with unreal worlds, at least the fantasy varieties; I’ve written stories about magic-users, sorceresses, earth mages, green mages. But I can’t quite get my mind around the difference between fantasy stories and superhero stories, even though I know the difference is profound.
So why, one might ask, have I contracted to write a lesbian superhero novella for a publisher who has invited me to do so? I mean, I do think that it’s a great idea to have lesbian superhero stories, and I’d really like to explore the theme in certain ways, but I’m having a very hard time getting inside the head of a superhero character. I’m probably going to tell the story from the perspective of her sidekick/lover, in fact. I’m hearing her voice already.
I know the general plot, or at least the questions I want to deal with. How would someone, in this case an Army Lieutenant stationed in Iraq several years ago, react to having a superpower suddenly thrust upon her by way of a tiny carved ivory goddess figure that literally falls on her from the crumbling roof of a cave eroded into the bank of a dry Wadi? How would the Sergeant (hiding there with her from approaching enemy fighters) react? Wouldn’t they both think they were going crazy unless I make this a world where superheroes are already known to exist, which I’d rather not do? Does telekinesis, the power in question, even qualify as a superpower? There must be a considerable learning curve involved, at the least, and quandaries about how to use such a power, how not to use it, and how to conceal it from, say, military entities with their own ideas of how to use her. In any case I know I have to get them away from the military, mainly because the publisher doesn’t want much of a political nature in the story. I want my superhero to do things like free female Yazidi and Kurdish women, some of them soldiers themselves, enslaved by ISIS, and to save Boko Harum captives in Africa, but instead I’ll have to show her battling sex traffickers and similar stock villains, and then at the very end hint at further adventures involving freeing women enslaved by unnamed nasty powers far away.
I do know roughly how my first chapter will end. The enemy doesn’t find them because the Lieutenant uses her new power to move stones and dirt in front of their cave to obscure it. Once out in the open, she exercises her “shadow hand” cautiously, tentatively, the Sergeant urging her on as they both come gradually to believe in what’s happening. The Sergeant, though, has begun to think about what all this might mean, how her Lieutenant/friend/lover may be changed forever, and is caught observing her with a bit of a worried frown.
“What’s the matter? Do you hear them coming back?” A stone sharp as an axe head floated into her waiting hand.
“Nope. No problem. I was just thinking now you’re a superhero, you’ll need a new uniform. Like in the movies. Sleek, skintight, low-cut here, high cut there…” Her gestures made the anatomical areas in question quite clear.
The swat on her shoulder would have staggered her if she hadn’t braced for it. Her jaunty grin was at least half relief that it had been delivered by an actual, familiar hand. Not but what the new situation might have other intriguing possibilities…
So there it is. I’ve contracted to write something that I don’t understand at all well, and I’m struggling with it. I’m accustomed to trying to balance on the edge between what I want to write and what readers will expect, but this time feels even trickier. What do people expect from superhero stories? How much or how little “real world” can I get away with? The readers probably want to get far away from the real world, and I can’t blame them. Do I have to keep to a simplistic good versus evil plot line? Just asking that shows that I’m in danger of “writing down” to my own faulty stereotypical view of the readership. Do I…do I have to go watch a bunch of superhero movies to see how they’ve evolved since the days of Christopher Reeve’s Superman? What have I got myself into?
Fortunately I have what should be plenty of time. And, on the bright side, at least I don’t have to deal with zombies.