Stories I Never Told

Stories I Never Told: Bruce Wayne for President!

Bruce Wayne introduces himselfThis one is of slightly more recent vintage than the others in this series, probably the late 1990s. Influenced, I am pretty sure, by Ross Perot’s bid for President as an independent candidate.

Because, well, Ross Perot = eccentric billionaire and Bruce Wayne = eccentric billionaire, so you do the math. Seemed very obvious to Young Barry, a story ripe for exploitation.

We would open on Batman in darkness, struggling to get into his Bruce Wayne suit and tie. There’s a loud voiceover; someone is introducing someone very important.

Batman is actually sweating as he attempts to get into Bruce Wayne’s garb. Something is wrong and the voice keeps going on and on, until suddenly a curtain is pulled back as the voice says, “…introducing the President of the United State, Bruce Wayne!”

And there he is, half-in and half-out of his Batman costume, revealed to the world.

It’s a nightmare, of course. One of many he’s been having ever since a consortium of moneymen and politicians came to him a week ago, encouraging him to run for President as an independent candidate.

“You’re young, good-looking, and popular. You have a record of being tough on crime, but you’re also known as a compassionate philanthropist. You can’t lose, Bruce. Think of the good you can do.”

And he does think of the good he can do. He thinks of it every night as goes out to stop crime as the Batman. In a good night, he can prevent maybe a dozen crimes. Solve maybe three more unsolved cases. In his spare time, he can help the police, dropping ideas into their laps that will help them solve dozens more. His mere presence — his legend — is a deterrent throughout the city. But — he wonders as he crushes a thug’s jaw — is that anything compared to the power of the Presidency?

He goes to talk to Superman. For advice. Perspective.

BATMAN: Can I be honest with you, Clark?

SUPERMAN: When have you ever NOT been?

BATMAN: Sometimes you annoy me. I think of what I could do with your powers. Change the world.

SUPERMAN: That’s not my job. I’m a steward. I protect the status quo. Anything else would be interfering with human destiny on a scale I don’t like to contemplate.

BATMAN: Then how would that be different from me being President?

SUPERMAN: The difference is that the people would be giving you the power, not a yellow sun. They’d be ASKING you to change their world. And hey, Bruce?


SUPERMAN: Sometimes it annoys me, too.

Ultimately, Bruce would choose not to run because he realizes it would put him under such a microscope that his identity would be revealed…and no one would vote for Batman.

But at the end, he wonders — is he just using that as an excuse? Is he so obsessed that he’s turning down a chance to change the world because he loves the feeling of righting wrongs personally, not in the abstract?

And he wonders — what does this mean about him?

A nice, simple, done-in-one character piece. I liked it then, and in all honesty, I still like it now.

I seem to have a dim memory of one of the Bat-books feinting in this direction some time in the 2000s, but that’s the closest DC has ever come to plucking this one out of my brain. Interestingly, a few years after I came up with this, though, they did have Lex Luthor run for President…and win!

How It Happened: Boy Toy

One of the questions I am asked most often is, “Where did you get the idea for this book?” Or, sometimes, “What was your inspiration?” I mean, I get this all the time.

So I figured I would start up a series here called “How It Happened,” stepping through my career book-by-book — in publication order — to answer precisely that question!

Until the publication of I Hunt Killers, the question I got most often was, “What inspired you to write Boy Toy?” (Now the question I get most often is, “What’s the best way to kill someone?”)

Well, here’s the story…

In the county where I grew up, in 2001, a substitute teacher was arrested for having sex with multiple male students. As the story played out, we learned that she was basically conducting orgies at her house with 15- and 16-year-old kids.

Here’s a story about it.

Boy Toy hardcoverThere were photos of her with the newspaper stories, of course, and she was pretty cute. I became sort of unhealthily obsessed with the story — it was nearly identical to so many others, including Mary Kay Letorneau’s. What the hell was going on with these women? What were they thinking? I started to see patterns emerging in the “hot for teacher” cases — young, attractive, usually married women, just beginning their careers…and then throwing them away for the thrill of illicit sex.

A friend of mine who worked in the county school system joked that the case was really tough, that the county had to provide grief counseling for the boys who weren’t involved. Ha-ha, right? Poor guys, didn’t get to fuck the hot teacher.

That made me start to think about a cultural hypocrisy that is well and truly ingrained in us. Namely, that if the roles had been reversed — if a male teacher had been hosting orgies at home with teen girls — we would have strung the guy up by his balls without so much as a preliminary hearing.

But when it was a young, attractive woman and boys… Well, break out the champagne.

To this day, when I mention the subject of my second book, people chortle and say, “Good for him!” Or “Lucky kid!”

And I was wondering: Why?

It occurred to me that we never hear from the boys in these cases. They’re minors, so they’re protected and we never know their names or how they feel about what’s happened.

Because it’s become a cultural axiom that any boy who has sex with an older woman is “lucky.”

But rape is rape, and I had a feeling that maybe those kids weren’t so lucky after all. And maybe I could tell that story.

Boy Toy paperbackA couple of months before I sold my first novel, I was in New York, having lunch with my agent. I knew that she would be submitting The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl soon and I wasn’t sure what I should do in the meantime. Should I just start on my next novel?

Absolutely, she said.

The problem was, I didn’t know what my next novel should be. After all, I hadn’t sold anything yet. Yes, I’d written a YA novel and I had an agent trying to sell it, but… What if it didn’t sell? Should I really write another YA novel, in that case? Or should I try something else?

Ultimately, after talking with my agent about it, I decided to give Boy Toy a shot. I did a little research, started reading about baseball, and I was working on the early chapters when I got the call that Houghton Mifflin wanted Fanboy & Goth Girl…and my next book!

Good thing I was already working on it, eh?


Kentucky Fried Lyga

Last week, I was honored to attend the Kentucky Library Association/Kentucky Association of School Librarians annual conference in Louisville, where I was presented with the Kentucky Bluegrass Award for I Hunt Killers. The award was great, the ceremony was great, the librarians were great, but even before all of that, I spent a few days in Northern Kentucky (so far north, the natives call it “Southern Ohio”), where I visited a bookstore, two schools, and a library.

Blue Marble BooksFirst up was Blue Marble Books, pretty much as soon as I got off the plane! A quick stop at the hotel and then I was at Blue Marble, where I talked about I Hunt Killers and After the Red Rain and answered questions and signed books and admired some appropriately bloody cookies.Deadly cookies

Goodnight Moon roomBlue Marble has a very cool room modeled after the classic Goodnight, Moon. Apparently every single item in the room comes from the book. That’s attention to detail!

Library display at Campbell County HighThe next day, I spent the day at Campbell County High School. I spoke to the entire senior class, then the entire junior class, then spent some time with a small group of about a dozen kids who were aspiring writers. In every case, I had a blast. The big groups were incredibly enthusiastic, and the kids in the small, focused group had some terrific questions. It was a lot of fun.

Newport Branch newsletterThat night, I spoke at the Newport branch of the Campbell County Public Library, where a twelve-year-old girl asked the most incredible, mechanical question about paragraph transition. I almost never get technical questions at these things — people always want to know big picture stuff. I was amazed and impressed that this kid was so deep into writing already, and I blurted out, “You’re kick-ass!” Her father was sitting right next to her. Fortunately, he laughed.

The next day, I awoke at the ungodly hour of 5:45am (seriously, even the sun was asleep) to make the trip to Boone County High School. Again, I spoke to two large groups (this time mixes of all four grade levels), then hung out with a smaller group in the library. This group had had to produce pieces of art inspired by I Hunt Killers, so I got toMe w/kids from Boone County High see some cool artwork and listen to some very, very gruesome poetry! They were a great bunch and we had a lot of fun.

That afternoon, I traveled to Louisville, where I had dinner with a group of librarians. The following day, I attended the KASL award luncheon, where I was formally given the Kentucky Bluegrass Award. I gave a talk on why I write what I write and why I take the risks I take, a talk made more amusing than it deserved to be when we discovered the projector was showing my presentation upside down!

As the luncheon wended towards its end, I was called to the podium again, much to my surprise. This time, I was presented with a certificate from the Governor of Kentucky, naming me a Kentucky Colonel.1 Now I’m in the same club as George Clooney, Muhammed Ali, Betty White, and Elvis Presley. How cool is that?

Needless to say, I was quite surprised — I didn’t expect two honors in the same day!

It was humbling to receive both awards, but I have to admit I have a special place in my heart for the commission from the Governor, mainly because now I insist all my friends call me “Colonel.”

Kentucky Colonel certificate

Thanks, Kentucky!

  1. Yes, just like Colonel Sanders. Read the link.

How It Happened: The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl

One of the questions I am asked most often is, “Where did you get the idea for this book?” Or, sometimes, “What was your inspiration?” I mean, I get this all the time.

So I figured I would start up a series here called “How It Happened,” stepping through my career book-by-book — in publication order — to answer precisely that question!

I had written a bunch of stuff. None of it what you might call “successful.”

The year was 2004. I’d published a very small handful of short stories, and some comic books that were — how shall we put it? — not well received. I had also written two novels, neither of which were inducing editors or agents to fall all over themselves while running in my direction. Still, those two novels were getting a better class of rejection from the usual suspects.

Fanboy paperback

One editor read the most recent of those novels and said (paraphrasing), “You’re close. Not this one. Show me your next one.”

I didn’t know what my “next one” would be, though. I was burned out and more than a little depressed, in my thirties and seemingly no closer to success than when I’d sent off my first short story at the age of twelve.

At the time, I was in a local writers group. We got together once a month and critiqued each other’s stuff. In the group were three published authors, so I benefitted from their experience and wisdom.

One thing they asked me about those two novels was this: How old are the characters? I never stated it explicitly. [Read more…]

WiRL: Paula Cole Was Right

What does Paula Cole have to do with Writing in Real Life? Find out in our new episode!

Morgan’s revision saga ends….and a new one begins. It’s OK to cry. Every book is different. What’s it like for spouses to critique each other’s work? Being in denial about your own writing’s flaws. The importance of giving a story time to breathe. Plus: Leia’s up all night for some fun. (We’re up all night to get lucky.)