Tuesday, August 23, 2011

MASKS Commentary Track: Chapter 2

Trevor is the original problem child.

As longtime readers of this blog know, I created Trevor about ten years ago as a one-off character for a series of short stories I was writing called Masks. While nominally about a teenage girl learning to be a superhero without any powers, Masks was really more of an ensemble piece that gave me a chance to explore corners of popular fiction that interested me, especially those that related to superhero comics. Trevor appeared in the second story in the series, which tells you how excited I was to get to his concept.

Basically, Trevor boiled down to my seventeen-year-old self wondering what would happen if you took one of the really good sidekicks—one of the especially talented Robins, say—and whacked him upside the head with an extra trauma. I think I originally phrased the story to myself as something like, “Batman disappeared, Robin doesn’t know what happened to him … and things went very wrong when he went looking.” The story was mostly supposed to be a poke at the way kid sidekicks never seem to end happily, and a backhanded way to establish that the superheroic world of Masks was much darker and more character-driven than the plotty popcorn stuff I’d written previously. (Why did I feel the need to establish this? Because I already had a small but loyal readership who wrote me angry letters … more on them later.)

So why is a one-off character taking a co-leading role in this novel? For two reasons: first, because I felt sorry for him all those years ago, and second, because he rapidly became the most interesting character in the cast and has stayed in the top three ever since.

In the original story, Trevor was supposed to die a bloody but possibly redemptive death after trying to kill Rae (yes, really—I did say dark!). But even as a teenager, I knew my characters weren’t completely under my control, and I felt bad about doing all those horrible things to Trevor when he was fundamentally a good kid who just wanted to be a hero. I find that my stories work best when I treat my characters fairly (although my definition of fair may not overlap with yours), so I relented and let him live, giving him a chance to turn his life around and become less of a psycho. He repaid my kindness by taking over half the series, falling in love with my protagonist, and proving himself so consistently fascinating that I didn’t dare write him out. It took ten issues of the monthly serial for my readers to fall in love with Trevor the way I had, but when they did, most of them fell hard. Trevor was the second character in Masks to develop a hardcore fan base, and his relationship with Rae—good, bad, and head-scratchingly strange—became the heartbeat of the story. I’ve probably written this novel five or six different ways now, but I always come back to Rae and Trevor, because nothing else is anywhere near as interesting.

This version of Masks that you see on your screen is about the second-darkest version of the story I’ve ever written. (There was a version written for adults once that included considerably more violence and a bit more sex, but that was scrapped when my agent pointed out that I was writing for teenagers, and maybe I shouldn’t try quite so hard to write like Grant Morrison. I never liked Grant Morrison anyway.) Trevor’s journey is a mirror of Rae’s; she starts out as a happy-go-lucky, sunshiney girl, and plunges deep into the darkness inherent in being an adult superhero, while Trevor starts out in the darkest place he’s ever been and slowly claws his way back toward the light. (Interestingly, they end up standing in more or less the same place.) That meant I had to start in the nastiest part of the snake pit that stands in for Trevor’s brain in the beginning of the story. And that meant rolling his two worst traumas into the nightmare sequence you see here.

I’ve had sleep problems ever since I was a kid, and I rolled a few elements of my own recurring nightmares into Trevor’s and tried to maintain weird dream logic throughout, but this is mostly his psyche coming out to play. You will find out more details of these two scenes—the burning train and the blood on the carpet—as the novel goes on, but I hope they’ve whetted your appetite.

Then we come to Trevor and Moon. Moon’s one of those characters that I never expected to do much with, but he turned out to have a nice little arc that even I can’t always predict. I threw him in originally because I needed a kid with powers that physically disfigured him, and I had some dim idea that werewolves were trendy. Moon didn’t end up trendy, though, which pleases me mightily. I like how Moon brings out the pragmatist in Trevor, and shows that Trevor doesn’t really want to hurt anybody but is in a place where he feels it’s necessary. Most of all I love that Moon is the single character most likely to mouth off to Trevor, even though Trevor can hurt him terribly for it and has a really short fuse right now. Moon is always Moon, and that’s why I love him.

Incidentally, half my beta readers wrote notes in my margins asking if Moon and/or Golem might be gay. I had different ideas about that at different points in the writing process, and finally gave up trying to read the political winds and just let the characters make up their own minds. Their answer surprised me a bit, but it came from them more than it came from me, so I'm happy with it. I won’t spoil the answer for you, except to say that Golem directly addresses the question in a later chapter. Until then, you’re welcome to speculate.

This chapter’s soundtrack is “Cold Feelings” by Social Distortion. I have a little bit of a soft spot for Social D; I divided my childhood between their hometown and the birthplace of the Beach Boys, which might explain how I turned out this way. Anyway, a friend burned me a mix CD in college with “Cold Feelings” marked as the soundtrack to a nightmare scene she was writing, and the tune has scored my characters’ nightmares ever since. Yeah, I’m a thief. But you knew that. Enjoy. 

NEXT: Rae Masterson’s school days, the real-life Soleil and Tammy, and a little Hoobastank.


  1. Wait ... you're writing for teenagers, and you leave OUT sex and violence? With the Hunger Games being so bright and cheery (it makes Blade Runner look like a Christmas film in comparison), I'm surprised they didn't want MORE sex and violence. :)

    Granted, I'm against gratuitous violence in novels, and sex (which is always gratuitous), but what the hell.

    And, as someone who read the previous version of Masks, Trevor was far, far more screwed up in that one. It'll be interesting to compare the two when we get into later chapters.

  2. I left out Captain Catastrophe having an assault rifle because I decided I was trying too hard.

    And I said this version was second-darkest, not necessarily that Trevor was more screwed up. He really surprised me by turning out functional toward the end. I really have no idea what he's doing.