Monthly Archives: July 2008

Bones of Contention

A reader brought up an interesting point concerning the non-linear prologue in Heroes’ Day: should the action in a prologue take place before the action in the main narrative, or is it okay to jump ahead, then backtrack with the first chapter? Granted, the prologue should physically be placed before the first chapter, but does its content have to precede that of Chapter 1 as well? My stubborn opinion: of course not. A prologue exists to impart relevant information to the reader before he or she steps into the author’s world. This may or may not involve a step outside a novel’s time line. But I suspect the dilemma here is that I didn’t explain exactly (or roughly, for that matter) when Hades’ and Zor’s National Training Center meeting took place. It only becomes obvious several chapters in that they probably met in October, shortly after the Patriot Cup broadcast.

So, author oversight or planned factoid left for the reader to discover? I’m swearing by the factoid thingie. Anyone who’s kept up with my fodder over the years knows I have a habit of leaving it to my reader(s) to figure out certain small details. The hard part is getting them to trust that I’ve remembered to include the relevant information somewhere down the line. If Heroes’ Day had that coveted Tor logo on the spine, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue, but alas, it doesn’t, and so I must pull double duty, coming up with clever ways to impart this and that while steadily insisting that I’ve left out important bits here and there because it’s more interesting to find out along the way. I think it’s doable.

This comes as a surprise even to me: I’m reworking my first novel, Time Chaser, and plan to put out a “special” version of the book, with substantial new material, a modified ending, the “Breakfast with Chronos” novella in its entirety, and proper (read: sexified) cover artwork. I was never all that happy with the original paperback release; this is a chance to change history. For better or for worse (I’m hoping for the former).

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs was…okay. As others have pointed out, it (like Bender’s Big Score) seemed disjointed—though BBS was able to negate a lot of its shortcomings through its intricate time travel plot. Still, TBWABB does have merit, as evidenced by my new MySpace profile pic:

Oh, my!!!

Overall, however, Futurama just doesn’t seem to work as well in the long format as did, say, The Simpsons Movie. In the series, Fry and the gang seemed so much more resourceful; in the movies, they’re kind of just led along by the plot. And right there is another bone of contention: both Futurama movies are about the entire world being subverted without trouble by the antagonists (the scammer aliens in BBS, and now a giant tentacle creature in TBWABB). Ludicrous, yes, but otherwise retreading uncomfortably familiar territory. One has to wonder which unnameable horror from beyond will take over the world in Futurama Movie #3 (and #4). Nevertheless, despite the fact that neither Leela nor Amy got naked this time around, TBWABB wasn’t bad viewing. Stephen Hawking discovered a new form of crowd control; Professor Wernstrom posed in a Speedo; and let’s just say the movie’s ultimate punchline was 100% gross-out.

Here’s looking ahead to Bender’s Game.

The Heroes’ Day Companion

Demons, gymnasts, and treachery. That was the original premise for Heroes’ Day, back when it was just a 10,000 word short story titled, “For Little Girls Who Wish.” Now that the novel is complete and beginning its slow infiltration of various online bookstores, I think it’s safe to reminesce over what was, what might have been, and what should never have been.

Heroes’ Day came in three distinct drafts, with a handful of smaller minor edits sprinkled in between. The first was “For Little Girls Who Wish” / “The Spandex Hero.” Believe it or not, my idea was to have a young gymnast sell her soul to a local demon named Father Hades (you’ll notice I kept the name for the final draft—it tickled me so) in exchange for Olympic gold. Very original, I know. Monica (then named Danielle McAllister) was such a bitter little tart that I got sick of her early on. Hades was a plastic-looking demon who came and went in little puffs of smoke. Linda Baimbridge was a dude, a hack photographer (ala Joe Grifasi in Brewster’s Millions, I now realize). The whole thing had a wolf-on-the-prowl sort of feel to it. There was to be a demonic rape scene in which Hades siphoned off Danielle’s soul, but in order for that to work, I had to make her older, seventeen or eighteen—and that was pissing me off because I kept thinking, “She should know better. This is ridiculous. This is shit.” So, I filed “…Little Girls…” away and moved on to other things.

Phase two came during the 2000 Olympic Games, and was the result of a sudden light bulb over the head moment. I was working on something—an Urban Prophets story, I think—with the TV (muted) and the boombox on in the background. I happened to look up during a women’s gymnastics awards ceremony just as Mike Oldfield‘s “Summit Day” started playing—and an idea hit me about how elite gymnastics is the great facade event, all about poise and grace, neatness, prim and proper lines. But behind the scenes it’s like any other competitive sport: there’s blood, sweat, and tears, bruised bodies, bloodied palms, broken dreams. I knew this was one of the prime ingredients I needed in my hero stew, which now had some of the framework laid for a futuristic look at competitive athletics (Olympus, the Patriot System, global ranks, etc.). I set the main characters’ ages at twelve, and had them go to Olympus together as a brother-sister pair, with chapters alternating between their respective viewpoints. Cody, the brother, had to deal with Coach Hades’ merciless work ethic, as well as the detrimental side effects of a “standard” nano-therapy tonic meant to give him increased stamina and muscle mass within a short period of time (even in this intermediate stage of the book’s development, the pop culture cliches were there—meaning the boys were expected to be powerful, super-muscular, the girls small and dainty). Danielle, the sister, had to endure Coach Tracie’s strict dieting guidelines, as well as a sexually-abusive member of the Canadian boys’ team (an early version of John Matusik). I liked this revision a lot, though I ultimately chose not to stick with it because it was too much like Ender’s Game (which I happened to be reading at the time). But I was getting close.

I worked on other projects for a while, coming back to Heroes’ Day every now and again to add a note or two here or there. Finally, in late 2007, I sat down with the conviction that if I didn’t make things happen by the 2008 Games in Beijing, they would never happen. I started a new draft, and stuck with it, revising, editing, and polishing on through the spring of 2008. Along the way, I found Monica’s story, and I ran with it. There was still a hint of Ender’s Game in there, but the bulk was truly Heroes’ Day, a social science fiction novel about a gymnast, a gymnastics novel with an emphasis on social politics. And it wasn’t Stick It. That was important.

Of all the changes resulting in the final incarnation of Heroes’ Day, Monica’s evolution as a character was the most dramatic. In the beginning, I was still writing “young,” using my then-favorite elite gymnast as a crutch and defaulting to whatever angst-ridden tendencies I saw, read, or heard around me. Danielle was shallow, her emotions genuine enough, but her lessons learned in a “no duh” sort of way. That’s where the Ender’s Game influence once again came into play. Orson Scott Card wrote about children often, and he always made them intelligent, sophisticated, interesting to an adult audience (this was evident in his Homecoming series, for example). In short: I had to have Monica grow up even though she was still physically thirteen years old. Once that happened, and once she was based on herself and not on any real-life athletes, the story came, and there was no doubt that I’d at last made the right revision.