Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sometimes it still happens

Terrible iPad photo of midnight sketch.
Don't judge; the scanner is misbehaving.
Something really cool happened last week.

I was doing the dishes, as I recall--one of my favorite ways to avoid writing--when the crazy voices started up in my head. I've learned to love my crazy voices. They're the ones that say things like All the superheroes are dead; isn't that awesome? and What's the craziest thing that could happen in Chapter 10, and how can you make it even more psychotic? The crazy voices make the best stories. 

I had been feeding the crazy voices of late. The crazy voices live on good stories--both the kinds of stories that literary poobahs define as good and the ones that I just plain like. The crazy voices love Shakespeare plays and awful B movies. They feed on old radio dramas and random articles about World War I and strange conversations with my friends. The weirder the better. If it's bizarre and it holds my attention, the crazy voices eat it for lunch. 

Most recently, I'd been peering at set photos for the upcoming Winter Soldier movie (I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am for that thing) and thinking about characters with interesting, complicated, slightly scary backstories. I'd also been kicking around an old question of mine--an author of my distant acquaintance, whose work I much admire and with whom I've corresponded a tiny bit, released a story a couple of years ago set in the universe that had inspired Masks, way back when I was a scrappy kid of fourteen. And in that rather more recent story was a character who was briefly, mistakenly, called Trevor. 

I'm pretty sure this author was, at some point, aware of Masks, though I doubt he read it--he's a busy fellow. And the brief misidentification of an interesting, complicated character with a slightly scary backstory as Trevor had gotten me thinking. I didn't pick the name Trevor for its great significance to pop culture or superhero lore; I pulled it at random out of an old yearbook. (I think Trevor was in kindergarten when I was in seventh grade, or something like that.) There wasn't much outside meaning to the name Trevor. So was this beloved author's name-drop a reference to Masks? Or just a coincidence? I didn't want to feed my ego, as it could always stand to lose a few points, but the idea was intriguing. What if the name was this author's idea of a gentle poke at my hero, who could very easily end up looking a lot like that author's beautifully broken and slowly healing character a few years down the road?

And then the crazy voices whispered: Who cares if he did it on purpose or not? It's a damn good story either way. Because guess what?

What? (My crazy voices love a good dialogue.)

You know how Trevor doesn't have much of a backstory?

What are you talking about? He's a psychologically damaged former sidekick with a history as long as my arm. He's got more backstory than anyone else in the series, with the arguable exception of the Black Mask and Eagle Eye, and maybe the Masked Rider ... 

Yeah, but there's a hole in it. A big hole. You know that big hole that bugs you sometimes?

I don't know what you're talking about. There's no hole.

Is too. Right ... here!

Ow! Right in the plot cohesion! You're mean, crazy voices.

Whine, whine. This is why you're doing the dishes. Anyway, look what we found to fill that hole.

Stop saying "hole". What is that, anyway?

We take this character over here ... and then do this ... and that changes everydamnthing. And it even fills the hole. Right?

But he hasn't said anything about this incredibly important event. Ever. You've got to load Chekhov's gun before you fire it, stupid voices.

That's the beauty of it. You love Winter Soldier comics because there's always some new twist on his past, and the reason they never have to load that gun is ... ?

Because he's got memory problems. There's always something he doesn't remember.

And of all the people who'd be involved in this, who is the most likely to tell the audience about it ... and the least likely to know about it?

Oh. Ohhhh, boy. You are evil, crazy voices. 

We know. You're welcome. Want to break some dishes?

I've been working on Masks for fifteen years now. It's rare to get a big new idea on a project that's been going that long, especially when it concerns a core character like Trevor. Maybe I don't know Golem's backstory until I sit down to write it for the bonus features in Volume 1, but Trevor? Him I know. 

Right up until I don't. 

People can always surprise you--imaginary people more than most. And I'm really excited about this twist. It's going to require a lot of reworking of the outlines for later books, and that's a good thing. They were feeling a little stale. This is going to be lots of fun. All of a sudden I don't know where I'm going anymore, and I'm throwing the car into overdrive.

It's not supposed to happen a lot, fifteen years in. But sometimes it still does. 

And now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to sweep up some dish shards that have mysteriously appeared on my kitchen floor ... 

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