Friday, May 6, 2011

Spilling the beans on The Serial, getting a seat at the lunch table ...

Once upon a time, there was a boy and there was a girl. And they met. And things went a bit wrong after that.

When I was seventeen years old, I wrote a short story called “The Hall.” It was the first story where Trevor Gray appeared, and the first story I had to publish with a warning label. In that story, Rae Masterson was running along the rooftops at night to blow off a little steam—but she was doing it in her civilian clothes, because it was too hot to wear her costume. She met a boy up there, also running, also in civilian clothing. They met, and they ran, and they danced in the way that roofrunning superheroes do. They fell in love a little, but they never exchanged names—Trevor was so quiet that Rae assumed he couldn’t speak. They met every Friday night to run.

Then the weather cooled, and Rae showed up in costume one night, and something rather unexpected happened.

Trevor freaked out. He spoke, for the first time—the word “No.” He looked at Rae with horror, and he disappeared into the dark, without an explanation.

A few days later, Trevor showed up at Rae’s school and began effectively stalking her, for reasons I won’t spill here. Suffice it to say he had a very good reason for suddenly putting her in the “bad guy” category in his mind. Their final confrontation, in which he flipped again from adversary to ally, was one of the better scenes I’d written up to that point. I had planned to have Trevor die in that story, but as we all know it didn’t work out that way, and he became Rae’s best friend and unlikely love interest. 

So why am I talking about all this, you ask? That story was written more than ten years ago, and I’ve said before that Masks is dead.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

I don’t set great store by rejection notices. As I’ve noted before, sometimes the reasons a work is rejected have nothing to do with that work—they’re personal to the individual or company doing the rejecting. And there were three major criticisms leveled against Masks when it was rejected, only two of which had anything to do with the manuscript, and the third of which led me to The Serial.

The first criticism, as I stated before, was that the draft was Frankensteined together—which only makes sense after so many cooks getting at the broth. There’s a simple way to solve that one—toss the Frankensteined draft.

The second criticism was that the whole thing was just too weird. I take this one with a grain of salt, since I’ve been weird my whole life and it hasn’t done me any harm, and readers seem to like most of my weird. But I know how to tone down a bit of the weirdness that wasn’t really working, and the rest easily falls into the category of “everyone thinks this is weird until they read it, and then they’re having it tattooed on them.”

The third criticism was that I didn’t have enough “name recognition.” Translation: I’m not famous enough to be worth anybody’s time. This seems to be the grown-up version of the popular kids in middle school who won’t let you sit at their lunch table because you’re not cool enough. Most of the people making this complaint didn’t seem to have actually read my manuscript, but submitting to a publisher by definition means trying to impress people who haven’t read your stuff yet and don’t see why they should.

Now, Masks has been rejected by pretty much every publisher there is. Nobody’s going to want to see it ever again, thank you very much, no matter how much I improve it. I’m not cool enough for the lunch table. There’s some interest in my new project (for now imaginatively code-named The Novel), but I fully expect to encounter at least the third objection on that, too. Organic writing I can do, weirdness I can do better, but I’m never going to be cool enough for that lunch table. I was born uncool.

But when I was fourteen and someone told me I wasn’t cool enough for the lunch table, I didn’t mope around. I went off and started writing superhero stories, and made friends with people who liked reading them, and by the time I graduated from high school I had a posse bigger than the popular kids’ club, and a few popular kids were whining to be let in.

Nobody is ever going to want to publish Masks. I’m a weirdo and I’ll never be cool enough for the lunch table. My complete lack of cool will likely be an obstacle to anything else I try to publish, ever.

So the way I see it—why not have a little fun?

Over the last three months, I went back to the world of Masks and threw out pretty much everything except Rae and Trevor and the basic idea of superheroes. And I started all over, with one goal in mind—maximum fun. It got me thinking about that rooftop, and how the scene stuck in my head for years, and how I was never really happy with the way Trevor reacted to that secret being revealed, and how it fascinated me that the relationship worked only as long as neither one of my protagonists knew the other’s true name. And I pulled a few pieces out of my head, and fitted them together, and eventually came up with a story I liked much better.

Rae feels younger in this draft, more inexperienced, but just as smart and no less determined to be a hero. Trevor has a few more shadows in his past, but he has a clear goal and will do some frightening things to achieve it. And they meet on the rooftop, and they dance, and they fall in love. And then things go wrong, and they have to fix them if they’re going to make this work—and oh, yeah, save the world, too.

Starting sometime this summer—in late July, I hope; I’d like to get the first chapter up before Comic-Con—you will be able to read their story, a chapter a week, for free. It will be delightful. It will be fun. It will be weird. And it will be worth the wait. (There will also be new art every week, but that’s a story for later.)

With luck, you’ll like it enough to tell your friends. That’s what I’m hoping for—lots and lots of people reading the serial on their computers and their mobile phones and their iPads and whatall else, without paying a dime. Subscriptions will be free. The archive will be free. That free part is important. I started a small cult, once. I’d like to start a big one now.

Because, you see, I’m not going to be submitting Masks to any publishers. As far as I’m concerned, it’s off the table. I own the copyright, and I declare it to be my personal playground—our playground, starting this summer. If there’s enough support by the time the serial finishes up, I’ll write the second “season” I’ve already got kicking around in the back of my head. That, too, will be free.

I would still like to publish books through a conventional publisher. I would like to be a grown-up author with grown-up books to her credit. I would like to work with editors and put out books that you guys can go into a bookstore and buy; none of that has changed. I’m still working on The Novel, and when it’s finished I plan to submit it. And I plan to write more books after that, each better than the last, and keep submitting them, until something happens.

But when the popular kids look at The Novel say that it’s very nice but I’m not cool enough to sit at their lunch table, I’d like to be able to point at my posse and say, “Really? You don’t want to be the person selling all these people something they desperately want to buy?”

Tomorrow I will put out a free story that I wrote before Masks was rejected, but that still works pretty well in the new continuity because it involves alternate universes anyway. There will be more tidbits in this blog, and links to the serial website when I get it up and running. Masks isn’t going anywhere. Pocket Coyote isn’t going anywhere. Welcome to the posse. Welcome to the cult.

Who’s up for storming that lunch table?

1 comment:

  1. Storming the lunch table...

    Gasoline... check. Styrofoam ... check ... Holocaust cloak, wheelbarrow ....

    Oh, wait, right, with the serial. Duh. Sorry.

    I'm with ye.