Firstly, thanks to everyone for putting up with me twice in a month. I’m normally a lot more reclusive than this, but Lisa’s been very encouraging, and even a hermit can’t say no. :D So let’s get going, shall we?
Masks: Rise of Heroes is the first of a three-novel arc (and the first of six books in a series) about the (mis)adventures of Eric Plath – sixteen, gay, and not a superhero, unlike his friends. It was one of three YA novels I debuted when Torquere Press first opened Prizm Books, their YA imprint. I recently got my rights back, with my contract with Prizm expiring, and I’m now re-releasing it through Queerteen Press. With additional edits to smoothen rough edges and some minor tweaking of a few passages that have always bugged me with their muddiness, I’m now very happy – not to mention much more confident – to offer it up again.
It’s now in its second edition with a new cover image.
Rise of Heroes started out as a short story – an erotic adult story, at that – that I’d submitted in answer to an anthology call years ago (called Unmasked: Erotic Tales of Gay Superheroes). Rejected, of course, as yet another ding to my belief that I can write adult erotic stuff. It sat inside my folder for a few months until I received a request for material from Torquere Press, who’d said that they thought that I’d be one of a handful of TP authors who’d be interested in writing gay YA for them.
I doubted my ability to write from a teen’s POV at first but decided, why not? The worst they could do was reject my manuscript. Besides, I suck at writing erotic adult material, so there you go. The gay superhero theme turned out to be a promising one, so I decided to dust off the short story I wrote, purge it of all erotic elements, and expand it into a novel. As it turned out, Eric’s story wasn’t complete by the time I’d written the last chapter, so I thought then to expand it into a series and ended the Rise of Heroes with a mini-cliffhanger of sorts.
Eric Plath was – and still remains – my free therapist. As a fictional character, he’s always been the teenager I never was (ignore the fact that he’s male and gay, and I’m female and straight). He’s confident (overly so in some instances), brash, sassy, a serious drama queen, and always in trouble with his parents. I was the kid who hid herself in the darkest corner of a given room, vanishing behind a book, while everyone had fun around me. I never gave my parents any lip. I was a freakin’ Catholic School girl, for crying out loud, from kindergarten all the way to my senior year in high school. I suffered through hour-long rosary rallies during October. I forced myself to shed a tear when Pope Paul VI died because all my classmates were crying around me. Good lord, I was hopeless.
So writing Eric was like a fun, fun, FUN tumble into the rabbit hole, and I’ve never looked back.
I wanted to avoid writing him as a superhero because it would’ve been expected for me to do that, and I really wanted to do something different. After all, that would’ve meant lots of material for teen existential angst, with superhero otherness mirroring a gay kid’s sexuality otherness, in a manner of speaking. I wanted him to be an outsider and yet not, and it meant making him the non-genetically manipulated kid whose normalcy helps ground his superhero buddies. Yeah, he’s the outsider looking in, a hanger-on, so to speak, but he’s the one his friends depend on to keep their superhero feet on the ground. He doesn’t spare them his snark and his attitude. He marvels at their powers and is even jealous of them in some way or another, yet he treats them no differently from everyone else, doesn’t place them on any pedestal.
Unless it’s his superhero boyfriend, of course. In that case, all Eric wants is to get inside Peter’s pants while placing him on a pedestal.
Another reason why I avoided turning him into a superhero was that I wanted to explore teen issues from the perspective of an ordinary boy who’s trapped in extraordinary circumstances, with him being both observer and participant. It’s bad enough he’s got his Regular Joe Blow issues to deal with, with his Chemistry and Geometry classes making him want to retire to a monastery if he could; he certainly doesn’t need the craziness of all the superhero vs. supervillain activity exploding around him.
Besides, it messes up his commute.
The biggest reason was humor, which is kind of my default tone when it comes to writing. I wanted to show the superheroes as awkwardly kickass, their development never perfect, and I wanted Eric to be the critic who’s also fumbling his way through his own issues. Superheroes are campy, something that Joss Whedon understood very well, which was why The Avengers proved to be a great success (and why I love watching it again and again). You can certainly do angst when it comes to superheroes, go all-out gritty and dark a la Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight series, but for me, it’s all about embracing those campy elements and knowing when to have fun with the material. Magnifiman, the leader of the superhero pack, even talks a certain way – very silver screen, as Eric puts it. He even strikes a very heroic pose now and then that’s never lost on Eric.
I’d just finished writing the first draft when Perry Moore’s Hero was released. As I’d been holed up for months working on my books for Prizm, I’d remained in the dark regarding Moore’s debut novel and missed out on the buzz surrounding it. Of course I bought it and eagerly read it. And I loved it. It remains my all-time favorite gay YA novel even with what I feel are its flaws.
It was the first gay YA novel I’d read that’s out and proud of its fantasy elements while it uses them to explore contemporary LGBT issues. It’s not a completely escapist read, but I really appreciate the humor and the earnestness of the way it tackles Thom’s problems, which include his relationship with his father. It was also a much-needed reassurance for me as I’d wondered if going escapist with Rise of Heroes with a heavier emphasis on humor would be a good move.
It was also reassurance for me to be out and proud of my fantasy books for gay kids, when the overwhelming preference for gay YA fiction has always been – and continues to be – contemporary realistic (or issues-based) stories. I figured there’ll always be room, no matter how small, for Eric and other kids like him, whose experiences are nutty, weird, freaky, and everything in between, with the world around them hopelessly cockeyed and all the more fun – or even thought-provoking despite the comedy – for that.
In honor of Hayden’s visit today, she’s offering the chance for one lucky reader to win an E-copy of Masks: Rise of Heroes.
All you have to do is leave a comment right here on this post, and you’re automatically entered. Comments must be received by midnight Pacific Time on Monday, December 30, 2013. One winner will be drawn at random on Tuesday, the 31st, and contacted by email for prize delivery.