Monthly Archives: December 2015

Wonder City Stories, the Web Serial

I started writing the episodes of the serial with only a few ideas about characters and where I wanted the story to go, but didn’t snag and start posting until I knew what the ending of the first story arc was going to be.  I knew I was going to have a character be my “Maryanne”—who was the innocent, just-come-to-town lead point-of-view character in Tales of the City—and I named her Megan, but she grew as I wrote her in the first draft into the butch, queer, not-quite-eight-foot-tall daughter of a retired superhero named The Amazon.  Despite knowing about her first, Megan’s voice was difficult to find, and only really came together in the novel.

I also knew that Ira Feldstein, my octogenarian, Jewish, retired superhero Mister Metropolitan, was going to be a major character, and Ira’s POV voice snapped into place powerfully and immediately.  The fact that he was displaced from his own original timeline — or possibly not — came later, with all his fears that maybe he was just “losing it.”  My exploration of aging superheroes was not done with Ira; it came back with a vengeance in the third story arc of the serial.

Nereid, believe it or not, was going to be my mean girl.  But she fought me mightily, and quickly won the battle.  Traces of the mean girl can be spotted in her earliest episodes posted in the serial, and that was one of the things I had to change when I was editing/rewriting bits of the first story arc to turn it into the novel: making Nereid’s character consistent, and show more growth and backbone.  Nereid’s character got a major upgrade in the second story arc of the serial—which will be published as a novel called Ephemera in 2016—and I had to reconcile that Nereid with the first novel’s Nereid.

Finally, there was Suzanne Feldstein, Ira’s daughter-in-law, my token non-paranormal POV character.  She took some reworking as well for the novel; I wanted her to be a white woman with some clues about the world, but I also wanted to show her as being very stuck in the past.  I think I succeeded in getting early Suzanne to move fairly smoothly into the Suzanne we see at the end of the novel, the one who’s trying to get on with her life.

Strong supporting characters I didn’t expect included pretty much everyone, but especially Simon.  I adore Simon, my readers adore Simon: I didn’t expect, or even hope for, a Michael Tolliver/Mouse character (one of the best-known and best-loved characters of the Tales of the City books), but I got one anyway.

G originally didn’t work as well as, say, Watson Holmes, so she was kind of a struggle to write.  I finally realized why, as I was working my way through the serial.  As a result, her story leads into and drives much of the second story arc.  Watson has gone on to become one of my favorite recurring characters in the serial, along with her sister Death, who only shows up occasionally, but is awfully memorable when she does appear.

And then, of course, there’s Zoltan, who I loved enough to write an entire novella—”His Faded Idol”—about.  That novella may get blown out to novel length before I put it out; I have some ideas about things I’d like to do with it.  Hoping for that at the end of 2016 or early 2017. *fingers crossed*

I might start doing more in-depth discussions of some of the characters, or maybe a bit of Wonder City history now.  We’ll see what moves me to write in a few days.

Where did Wonder City Stories come from?

Sometime in early 1974, probably around the time I turned 6, I was standing around with my parents in a newsstand in Wilmington, Delaware. The magical ice cream menu failed to capture my attention as thoroughly as it had once upon a time, and I drifted over to one of those spinning wire-cage display racks to see what the especially colorful magazine covers were all about.  And this cover caught my attention:


I begged my parents for it, I pleaded, and finally, they paid the 20 cents for my first entry into the world of mainstream comic books, which was, coincidentally, my introduction to alternate universes as well.  (I knew full well that Superman and Batman normally did not have wives, much less children.  After all, Batman, at least, was too busy running around his 1960s show, in syndication, fighting crime.)

Nowadays, of course, I recognize the racism, misogyny, horrific Victorian anthropology, and awful bullshit social Darwinism of the story.  But it was shiny and colorful and I read the damn thing on my own because when I hit a word I didn’t know, my mother just handed me the dictionary.

I didn’t collect comics regularly until the 1980s because I was not one of those children with a regular allowance and 20 cents/25 cents/35 cents/50 cents (as the price rose) was a big deal to a middle-class family during the recession of the mid-to-late 1970s.  In the 80s, I had some jobs and was able to start collecting George Perez’s runs of Teen Titans and Wonder Woman, and cemented myself as a DC Comics woman.

I still love comics, but over the last couple of decades, I’ve gotten disillusioned with them.  There aren’t people like me in them, and when there are people who have even the slightest overlap with my existence, they’re singular, worthy of note, as opposed to all the straight white dudes all over the place.  I want fat women, butch women, queer women I can look at and identify with — and straight cis white dudes?  I’ve been identifying with your people for decades, you can learn to do it too.  And then there’s the people everyone else would like to see: people of color, disabled people, trans people, genderqueer people, asexual/demisexual people… the list goes on.

I was frustrated by the medium — I am not an artist, and the comics writing industry takes luck to fall into — and the “make your own if you don’t like ours” refrain.  But then, one day, as I was embarking on my lengthy work commute, I put in the audiobook for Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, and fell in love with his episodic, multiple-point-of-view format, as well as his queer characters in the 1970s and 1980s.

And that’s how Wonder City Stories, the web serial, was born.  It is, as I described it once, the lovechild of 1980s mainstream comics and Tales of the City, full of comic book and other geek references, people who get left out of comics, and multiple point-of-view characters.

More on the development of the serial next time!