Monday, September 13, 2010

A MASKS Primer, Part One: What If?

We’ve had a bunch of new folk join the Facebook page of late (hi, Mr. Olson’s minions!), so I thought I’d take a detour this month and blog, in one convenient place, everything you need to know about Masks and how it came to be.

Masks is my first novel (at least, my first novel likely to be published). It’s based on a series of stories I began writing when I was fourteen years old (more on that tomorrow). It began with a question: what would it take to make me—a nerdy, emotionally scarred teenage girl who didn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone powers—a superhero? And after some thought, I came to a surprising conclusion.

All it would take … is one good reason.

Masks is about that reason. It’s about what takes people who may seem ordinary, or even weak or silly or cowardly, and makes them heroes. No matter what anyone else says or does. Everyone’s reason is different—but every reason matters.

In Masks, being a superhero is a career. There are superheroes in every major city on Earth … except Los Angeles (my hometown, as it happens). Here, an unknown enemy mysteriously killed off all the heroes about ten years ago, and almost no new good guys moved in to replace them. That’s where one of our two main characters comes in. Rae Masterson is fighting the good fight as Peregrine, a wisecracking heroine with an arsenal of tools and weapons that once belonged to the city’s dead “masks”. Rae is brave, intelligent, and passionate about doing the right thing. She’s also sixteen years old and completely devoid of superpowers. In any other city, someone in a cape would have picked her up by the scruff of her neck and called her parents, but L.A. is so short of heroes that even the cops look the other way. Someone has to stand up to the mad scientists and super-terrorists and monsters from the sewers, and Peregrine is all they’ve got.

Rae pours everything she has into her life as an amateur mask. She is estranged from her parents, who travel a lot and don’t know what their daughter does at night. She has no friends at school, where she makes fantastic grades (she’s scary smart) but also wears all black and a lot of goth makeup, so there are a lot of freaky rumors about her. As far as Rae is concerned, her real life begins when the sun goes down. As Rae, she’s lonely and cut off from other people and angry all the time; as Peregrine, she’s happy and free and has a purpose in life that includes kicking people in the face and playing practical jokes on supervillains.

Rae’s story begins when she sneaks out of school to stop a bank robbery. On her way to the scene of the crime, she passes a boy her age panhandling on the sidewalk. She doesn’t have any money on her, so she pulls the sandwich out of her lunch and hands it to the boy as she runs past him. Moments later, she’s changing into her costume in an alley when the boy walks around the corner and sees her!

That boy, of course, is our other main character. Trevor grew up in Chicago, where he has been training to be a mask since he was six years old. Trevor was adopted and raised as a superhero’s sidekick, so he’s already a master detective and a brilliant hand-to-hand fighter. He probably would have taken over for his mentor someday—except that his mentor disappeared, leaving behind a pool of blood and a whole lot of trouble for Trevor. Trevor has searched all over the world for the man he considers his father, and his last lead has brought him to Los Angeles, where he hopes to solve the mystery once and for all. There’s just one problem—something bad happened to Trevor during his odyssey, something so horrible he’s afraid to talk about it. The other superheroes have turned against him, and he’s on the run from some scary guys he refers to as “the foxhounds.” If he doesn’t find his dad soon, he’ll have a lot more to worry about than weird girls giving him sandwiches.

Trevor deliberately bumps into Rae in the alley, and he steals the key to her secret hideout so he can search it for clues. Rae, meanwhile, goes to stop that bank robbery—only to be upstaged by Cobalt, a well-known armored superhero who’s mysteriously in town and has no patience for superhero wannabes. Even when Rae turns the tables on Captain Catastrophe, the bad guy robbing the bank, and gets him to surrender, Cobalt’s still not happy. In fact, he pulls a gun and tries to shoot Captain Catastrophe in the face!

Now, Rae is just old-fashioned enough to believe good guys don’t shoot bad guys after the bad guys have surrendered. She tricks Cobalt into missing and saves Catastrophe’s life, but now Cobalt wants to silence her before she can tattle on him. Rae is forced to run for her life, and it doesn’t look like she’s going to make it—until she falls, wounded and slipping in and out of consciousness, on the doorstep of her hideout. With Cobalt right behind her. Just as Trevor’s coming out the door.

Trevor is a lot of things, but he still wants very badly to be a hero, and that means he can’t leave the nice girl to die. Trevor uses his long-neglected hero training to fight Cobalt off, and he and Rae are safe—but only until Cobalt finds a way to get them back. If they want to live to see next week, they have to find out why Cobalt wanted Captain Catastrophe dead, and stop him. And if they want to do that, they have to trust each other, which is the single hardest thing in the world for either one of them to do. Especially when they’re both keeping big secrets.

As Rae and Trevor work together, they learn a lot about the world of superheroes and how it works. They go to a bar full of supervillains and make some unexpected friends (and enemies). They cross paths with heroes, villains, and monsters—and one person who’s all three. They meet John Lawrence, a big glowing Boy Scout of a superhero who definitely has his own agenda. And they come to the attention of supernatural forces—a spectral coyote that has stalked Rae since her childhood, and a ghostly horseman called the Masked Rider whose appearance is thought to be a death omen for masks … and who is suddenly very interested in Trevor.

And in spite of all odds—and very much against their wills—Rae and Trevor find themselves drawing closer and closer to each other. Before the story is over, they’ll find out what that reason I mentioned really means—what really makes a hero. And they’ll find out whether saving the day is worth the price … when the price is losing the person you love.

Whew! That’s a lot of story! But worth it, I think you’ll agree. Tomorrow, I’ll post a second entry about how Masks went from scribbles in a secret notebook to a finished novel on its way to publication. And I’ll include a links to some free short stories and some other cool stuff. See you then!

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