Hero Status sprang from my mind, fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus.
Lol, no. It was actually a painfully long first draft, followed by countless rewrites, beta feedback, and even more rewrites. Scenes were added, the structure tweaked, and the writing ironed out before it became the version you now read. But that’s pretty standard for most novels.
I’d almost forgotten about the bonkers early version I abandoned before going back and restarting the whole thing from scratch years later.
Way back in 2008, I started writing my first piece of superhero fiction for National Novel Writing Month in November. This was the precursor to Hero Status, though it’s pretty much unrecognizable. It starred not Dave but Elisa–or at least the character who would eventually become Elisa. She had a different name in this and a different origin, being an experiment of Dr. Sweet’s whom Dave rescued and adopted. The book was about her going off to college and dealing with Dr. Sweet’s attempts to recapture and brainwash her.
Looking back at the file, I made it about 24,000 words in before giving up. I moved on to other books, but something about the concept and characters of that old untitled novel kept calling to me. I began outlining a new version, changing Elisa’s character to being Dave and Val’s biological child and having her torn between her parents’ heroic and villainous legacies.
But I didn’t like that either.
Eventually it dawned on me: the daughter character wasn’t what made this idea interesting. It was her parents, the retired superhero and former supervillain, and the question of how two people with such conflicting morals and personalities could have such a stable, happy relationship.
Once I focused on Dave and Val, the idea for the plot followed, and Hero Status was born. But I still find that old version morbidly fascinating and thought you might, too. So here, in its unedited and awful glory, is the first chapter of the story that sparked The White Knight and Black Valentine Series:
Libby Freeman didn’t get the sex talk from her parents until she was seventeen years old. The car was packed with all her belongings, ready to go, but she sat in the middle of the couch in the living room. Across the coffee table her father was in an armchair, gathering his thoughts. Her step-mother took a seat on the arm of said chair, seemingly to bear witness, and a few awkward moments later it finally began.
“Libby,” her father said. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”
She looked at him attentively.
“When you’re off at college,” he began, “there’s something you might want to do…probably with boys…and…”
He looked at her to see if she had any idea what he was talking about, but her expression was blank.
“There are things that men and women do together,” he tried, “It’s a natural urge—not necessarily wrong, but when young people go off unsupervised…it’s easy to make mistakes. Do you understand?”
She shook her head.
He sighed. “In order for people to procreate…” He stopped himself. “Take your mother and me, if we wanted to have more children we—”
“You want to have more children?”
“NO,” both of them answered immediately.
Libby stared at them. Their awkward exchange of glances only lasted a moment.
“But that’s my point,” her father went on, “Even though everyone else might be doing it, you have to be careful, because you could get pregnant or catch a disease or—”
“Oh,” Libby said. “You mean ****ing.”
He stared at her in shock.
“Yes, dear,” said her step-mother helpfully.
Libby smiled, happy she’d picked up the topic of the conversation. “Okay. What about it?”
Her father was now completely off balance. “I—I just wanted to say…if you…I mean…you may find someone you want to…” He gave up. “Don’t do it until after you’re married.”
She blinked at him. “Okay.”
Mission accomplished, her father stood up and fled the room. Libby remained on the couch, slightly confused about the import of what had just happened. Then her step-mother walked over and handed her a small package.
“What’s this?” Libby asked.
“Condoms. The directions are on the back.”
She flipped it over and read the text carefully.
“Oh. I didn’t know they came in flavors.”
“Try strawberry first. It’s the best.”
If Libby Freeman was confused, it’s because she’d been getting mixed messages since she was thirteen.
Half an hour later, the Freeman family was in an SUV cruising north through the Florida Keys. They were now in sunny Key Largo, passing tourist shops and nationally protected beaches, palm trees and scuba tours, past trailer parks and adult super-stores. Libby stared out the window from the middle seat, massive piles of luggage encroaching from behind. Her father drove. David Freeman was the type of driver who went the exact speed limit and not a mile per hour over, thank you very much. He was a tall man, over six feet, and had the muscular physique of ex-military, despite being in his mid-fifties. His short hair was gray, his skin tanned by the sun, and he wore khakis and a t-shirt advertising a boating company. Although it wasn’t apparent while sitting in the car, he walked with a slight limp in his right leg.
His wife, Lorna, would only say that she was younger than her husband. It would be very unwise to bring up that she had to dye a few gray hairs back to black or that she didn’t weigh 110 like she had when she was twenty. Although she was proud to admit that her figure was still curvy in the right places, and she currently showed it off in a short sundress that was barely more than a beach cover-up.
Libby didn’t look particularly like either of her parents. She was small and lean with a build like a gymnast. Her blond hair wasn’t exactly curly, but it was too wavy to be considered straight. She had big blue eyes and freckles on skin tanned by growing up in the sun. She liked bright colors and was wearing a pink tank top with short denim shorts, complete with matching bracelets, necklace, and ribbons in her hair. Although she was looking out the car window, she wasn’t really seeing anything, as her attention was focused on the news broadcast over the radio.
“And in a statement today Tucker’s lawyer said that he will be appealing to the Supreme Court. Andrew Tucker, of course, the metahuman who after birth was put into surgery to remove tentacles he’d been born with instead of legs. Now wheelchair bound, Tucker is suing for what he says was an unnecessary surgery and the right, as a metahuman, to choose for himself whether his body should be altered. Obviously there’s a lot at stake in this trial and parties on both sides—”
David turned off the radio. “Libby, sweetheart, did you hear me?”
She blinked and sat up. “What?”
“I said tomorrow you need to go straight to the disability resource center and register with them, okay? The earlier you get it done the better.”
“I know,” she said with what she thought was little annoyance considering how ridiculously often he reminded her.
“It’s very important, Libby. They’ll give you accommodations—”
“I know. I’ll do it first thing tomorrow. I promise.”
She moped for a few moments, and then Lorna unbuckled her seatbelt and turned around to face her. “So have you talked to your roommate yet?”
“No, I guess I’ll meet her when we get there.”
“I bet you’ll be best friends.”
“I hope so.”
Lorna turned back around. “This dorm life sounds terribly exciting. It’s a shame I never got to try it out.”
It was three hours later when they finally got to Libby’s dorm, checked her in, and went to see it.
“Oh, God. It’s like prison.”
“Lorna,” Dave said warningly.
It was a small room with plain white walls. Evidently the roommate had already moved in, as one side was already full and decorated.
“No, I think my prison cell was bigger than this. They actually make her share this with another person? Dave, what were you thinking?”
“This is college life.”
“We should have bought her an apartment.”
“She’ll meet other freshmen this way.”
“And get her privacy violated by them.”
“I want to put my purple lamp right here,” Libby suddenly declared. “And the fuzzy rug right in front of the bed.”
“Go right ahead,” Dave said.
She smiled and skipped out to the car to start unloading. Dave gave Lorna a pointed look.
“See? She’s happy here.”
“That girl would be happy in a homeless shelter. It doesn’t help your case.”
Dave would have argued, except he honestly couldn’t remember an instance where he had ever won an argument with his wife.
Moving in took quite some time, mainly because Dave did it all by himself. Libby got distracted by arranging the room and forgot to help unload the car, and Lorna wasn’t one for manual labor (although she did bring up two pillows and Libby’s make-up case). Then they went out for one last family dinner and finally drove back to drop Libby off for good.
“Do you want us to help you unpack?” Dave asked.
“Nope. I can do it.”
“If there’s anything we forgot to bring, just use the credit card to buy it, okay?”
“And remember to go to the disability resource center—”
“—straight away. I remember.”
He looked down at her for a moment, and then they hugged tightly.
“You take care of yourself, okay?” he whispered. “You’re going to do great. I know it.”
They broke apart, and she gave a shorter, looser hug to Lorna.
“Knock ‘em dead, kid.”
Libby walked down with them to the parking lot and waved until the SUV was out of sight.
“She’s grown up so fast.”
“Really? Because she still looks like a kid.”
“I know. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”
“She doesn’t really look like much.”
“Just wait until you see her in action.”
They watched as Libby Freeman returned to her dorm. The first man caressed a faded stuffed rabbit with his meaty hands as his eyes followed her. The second man gave him a look and then asked.
“Do we have time to do this to her, though?”
“It won’t take long,” he said, taking a whiff of the plush toy. “I made her. She’ll come back to me.”
Not my best writing, and maybe not something I should put up on the internet. 😉 You’ll note that pretty much everybody’s name is different, but the core of Dave and Val’s personalities are pretty much the same, and they’re stealing the show even though it’s supposed to be their daughter’s book. Also, this is a pretty boring opening.
Most of you are probably sighing in relief that I completely rewrote this, but for those of you disappointed that you could have gotten an Elisa book, don’t worry. I have a story in mind for her that I’m planning to write after the main series is over. It will (hopefully) be better than this.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that practice makes perfect, and even if your first attempt at something is awful, you can try again and maybe come up with something great.
2 thoughts on “The Evolution of a Novel”
You are a brave soul. My own superhero fiction began like this. “When in doubt, start in school!” *Proceeds to write 5 chapters of boring school stuff where NO superhero stuff happens*. Ugh. Glad I decided to serialize it instead. Makes my writing so much punchier!
Haha! I’ve been there. It all seems so important when you’re writing it, but then you look back, and… not so much. 😀
And I love punchy serials!