Novel soup, or how to cook a superhero romance

Novel pre-writing is a lot like making soup. Here’s the stuff I threw in the cookpot for my Superhero Romance project, currently in raw draft and being beta-read:

  • Superhero romance. OK, for some reason I liked the setup. I read superhero comics when I was a kid and I associate them with serious fun. And of course there’s all the built-in drama of Secret Identities and such. Since the call said I could do M/M, F/F, or M/F couples, I decided to do one of each. The call also specified ‘no fanfiction’ which perversely inspired me to create this story out of nothing but borrowed ingredients. I went to our pals at Wikipedia and looked up Shakespearean comedy, because Bill the Bard did a fair bit of fanfiction himself, and knew how to do a remix on a classic and make it sing new songs.
  • I’d been talking with my Brain Sister about the current (dubious) notion that we’re living in “post-racial” America, so it seemed obvious to make my heroine a second-generation African-American superhero.
  • Bill the Bard, of course, gave me the idea of star-crossed lovers, and a small cast with lots of family conflict.
  • Again inspired by the ‘no fanfiction’ rule, I decided to introduce lots of popular culture references, so our heroine, Annie Brown, wears glasses that are “the standard Clark Kents” and another character refers to “Lois Lane Syndrome” (having a romantic or sexual fetish for superheroes).
  • Oh yes, and I saw the first Star Wars movie when I was a kid, and I loved the beat-up interiors and especially the interplanetary bar where just about everybody showed up. I turned it into a café, gave us Bertie the Barista (his mom named him after P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster). I had more fun writing the signage for the café than probably should be legal.
  • Since the café signage mentioned extraterrestrials, zombies and wizards, I decided they had to be on stage. Thus we got the steampunk wizard kids from another dimension, who think that the films of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are documentaries. (And that notion is itself a borrowing, from the film comedy Galaxy Quest) I borrowed one of my own characters, Rhonda the Hired Gun (Registered Intergalactic Soldier of Fortune and Certified Public Accountant) from a spoof comic book (Stella Starling, Space Cadet) that I created when I was 17. The zombies… well, are zombies, so they didn’t require much in the way of characterization, but are distinguished by being vegetarian zombies.
  • The story has no babies or cats in it, so there was a power vacuum for cute, and this place was promptly occupied by the steampunk wizard kids, who are magical tinkerers. Their costuming was inspired by images in Jeff Vandermeer’s Steampunk Bible, and their names… Tristan, Gunnhild and Griselda, come straight out of the Western Canon. I like names with lots of classic resonance.

I threw all of these ingredients in the cookpot, along with the idea that some superheroes might like their day jobs better than their Secret Identities, and that among themselves, superheroes probably had their own notions of glamor and nerdiness.

I gave it some time to cook down (most of July) and then I wrote 33,000 words of draft in 15 days. My nineteenth-century pulp-writer foremothers-and-fathers would be proud.

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