How it Happened: Goth Girl Rising

GOTH_GIRL_PBThis is a pretty easy one.

From the moment people began reading The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl, I got The Question:

When does the sequel come out?

Not “Will you write a sequel?” Just “When?” The assumption was that I would.

And, truthfully, I didn’t plan on doing so. I figured the story was over and, yeah, it was an inconclusive ending, but I like stories that keep you thinking long after they’re done.

And then…

And then I wrote Boy Toy. And without really thinking much about it, I dropped in a couple of references to Kyra and even had her show up for a page (to say something really mean and really true, of course).

She was still with me, Kyra was.

At the end of the first book, Fanboy muses that he and Kyra aren’t superhero characters, that their life isn’t “Fanboy vs. Goth Girl.” That phrase kept coming back to me, and I thought, If I ever write a sequel, that’s what I’ll call it — Fanboy vs. Goth Girl.

I still had no plans for a sequel, but one day this popped into my head:

“Before she went and died, my mother told me to stop bitching about my cramps all the time.”

It was Kyra’s voice, as clear and as true as it had ever been. I wrote that line and the three or four that followed and then I told myself to stop it because, damnit, I wasn’t writing a sequel!

Except I was. Because by then I’d finished Hero-Type. And Fanboy had done really well and had a lot of fans, and Boy Toy had been critically acclaimed, but hadn’t sold well. Hero-Type had been the first book in a two-book deal, and given the sales on Boy Toy, I seriously thought my career was over.

So why not say goodbye with a gift to my readers, the sequel they wanted?

More importantly, why not write the book that had taken up residence in my skull and was making it difficult to think of anything but Kyra?

I knew that the book wouldn’t be exactly what people wanted…and I was OK with that. I knew that readers wanted me to pick up from the end of the first book and show Kyra and Fanboy becoming romantically involved.

But that was too easy. And nothing is ever easy for Kyra.

More likely, I thought, was that things would have changed dramatically after her aborted suicide attempt at the end of the first book. I knew that she would emerge from that experience changed, and not necessarily for the better. That her pain came from a very deep and very dark well, the sort of pain that is not easily expunged.

The title Fanboy vs. Goth Girl suddenly seemed to flippant for what I was attempting. I considered several varieties, including The Astonishing Return of Fanboy & Goth Girl, but settled on… Goth Girl Transcendent.

Or maybe not. I thought a little more and decided Goth Girl Rising worked. (As a friend put it, “What the hell does ‘transcendent’ mean and does anyone care???”)

As I’ve joked in the past, the book ended up being a meditation on being a Millennial woman because who knows better than a middle-aged man?

Still, it seemed to have worked. I got a ton of email from teen girls thanking me the book and marveling that I could get inside their heads so well. (My one super-power, I suppose…)

Fortunately for me, Goth Girl Rising wasn’t my last book after all. Also fortunately, I got to scratch two very personal itches with it.

First of all, I fixed a plot point from the first book. It’s always nice when you can retroactively paper over an oopsie. 🙂

Second of all, I wrote probably my favorite bit of indirect characterization ever. It’s something no one ever notices or comments on, but I love it. It happens when Fanboy shows Kyra a picture of the baby he was dreading in the first book. He says:

“See, that’s her. My sister. Well, half-sister, technically.”

In the first book, Fanboy is adamant that the baby a-brewin’ in his mom isn’t his sister. He repeatedly and consistently reminds people that she will be his half-sister.

Now, six months later, the baby has come, and he’s flipped his position. Calling her his sister and only half-heartedly mentioning that “technically” she’s his half-sister.

He’s grown up. He’s learned to love the baby he once referred to as an “alien lifeform.”

I kinda love that line of dialogue.

WiRL: “Let’s Put it in D&D Terms”

Oops! Forgot to post about the latest episode last week…!

Episode 42: The One where Barry Drops the Baby

A discussion of NaNoWriMo. A caution about holiday time in publishing and an invocation of Lyga’s Law. Should authors respond to negative reviews? Comparing books to babies. What would Morgan do if someone panned Gillian Anderson? Morgan looks to her past to figure out her future.

Let There Be No Doubt

I am a very happy geek these days.


“Morally Complicated YA”

UPDATE: In the time it took me to write and publish this post, the folks over at B&N have posted a terrific list! Check it out!

UPDATE 2: As so often happens in a world that moves at the speed of light, I’m a day late! I thought the PW article was new — turns out it’s 24 hours old, and people have already been writing about great morally complicated YA (under #MorallyComplicatedYA). Many thanks to Zoraida (in the comments below), and Katherine Locke and Sara Taylor Woods on Twitter for cluing me in. (Clearly, I should look at dates before I post… I was reacting off-the-cuff to what was in front of me, not knowing that others had already picked up the standard and begun marching! I didn’t mean — even inadvertently — to denigrate their work.)

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a controversy to argue about over the table. This year, rather than debating the Syrian refugee crisis, why not talk about today’s Publishers Weekly article on new YA author Scott Bergstrom?

The article has many in YA up in arms due to some comments made by Bergstrom that seem to, well, denigrate YA. Given that he’s a newcomer, it comes across a bit entitled and snooty. Especially since he’s got book deals in 16 countries, a movie deal, and a six-figure advance. In publishing, you can be a dick and people will shrug it off, but if you’re a successful dick, people hate you. [Read more…]

Stories I Never Told: Startling Stories — Rogers

Around the Turn of the Millennium, Marvel experimented briefly with the idea of some slightly “off-brand” versions of certain characters under the banner (pardon the pun that will make itself clear soon) Startling Stories. The idea was, in a nutshell, to take some characters and let a very talented creative team go at them without the burdens of continuity. If the notions panned out, they could be folded into the “official” continuity. If not, well, at least we got a cool story, right?

The first of these was Startling Stories: Banner (see, here’s that pun I promised you). It was a very unvarnished look at the Hulk by Brian Azzarello and Richard Corben. Slightly off-kilter, not entirely bound by continuity, but familiar enough that the differences made the story more powerful.

I came up with two Startling Stories notions of my own. The first was Startling Stories: Rogers. Yes, it was my own weird take on Captain America.

I actually have the original springboard proposal I wrote, so rather than recap the idea, I’ll just present it to you as I originally wrote it back in 2001-ish. And then I’ll be back at the end to talk a little more about it.

Steve Rogers knows all there is to know about being a Captain.

Steve Rogers is about to learn what it means…

…to be America.


In a hidden government compound in the year 2002, the men in their black, off-the-rack suits once again wake up the Captain. They bring him into the briefing room, remembering the cautions pounded into their heads:

“Do not engage in idle conversation with the Captain.”

“Never answer questions not directly related to the mission at hand.”

“Most important of all, never forget that Captain Rogers thinks that it’s 1947…”

During World War II, Steve Rogers volunteered to be injected with the Super-Soldier Serum, a chemical formula that imbued him with fantastic powers and abilities, making him a one-man army for Uncle Sam.

Do you really think they were going to let that slip away?

Hitler, the men in black tell the Captain, has new allies. He has made an agreement with forces in Colombia to import a deadly drug into the United States. He’s feeding our children poison, Captain Rogers. Something called…cocaine.

Don’t pay attention to their strange clothes and their odd weapons. They may even try to use psychological warfare by telling you bizarre lies, like Hitler is dead, or it’s already past the year 2000.

Don’t listen to them, Captain Rogers. Just do your patriotic duty. Interdict these drug smugglers and come back to base…

So begins Startling Stories: Rogers, an intense, ultra-modern take on Captain America by way of conspiracy theories and the dark side of the American Dream.

In 1945, as it became obvious that the Allies would win World War II, the U.S. government realized that with the end of the war they would also lose one of their greatest assets: the only man to survive Operation: Super-Soldier, Steve Rogers. With hostilities at an end, Rogers would be free to return to civilian life, beyond the control of the military.

So they began a grand cover-up. Rogers was placed in cryogenic freeze (“To help maintain your altered metabolism,” the doctors assured him) in a secret military installation. When needed—by Military Intelligence, by the CIA, by the NSA—Rogers would be thawed, awakened, subjected to briefings that convinced him that it was still the 1940’s…

And then sent out on covert missions against “Hitler” and the “Nazi menace,” threats that had been eliminated years ago.

“Wet works” behind the Iron Curtain. Black ops in Soviet-controlled territories. Even ultra-classified missions in the U.S. itself, infiltrating left-wing groups in the sixties and taking out militias in the nineties. The brainwashed “Captain America” has done it all through the post-War era, the ultimate Cold Warrior, still fighting World War II after all these years.

But then comes a day in the year 2002, when Rogers is sent to combat a growing narco-terrorist cell in South America. On the way, his plane hits rough weather and crashes. Leaving Steve Rogers as the sole survivor…

Loose in an America he could never begin to imagine.

With a wink and nod towards traditional continuity (his code-name of Captain America, his CIA contact named Bucky, cryogenic suspension, and more), Startling Stories: Rogers re-imagines Captain America for the twenty-first century, recasting him as an icon for a nation that is troubled, solipsistic, and deeply cynical. The question at its core: Can the values of the so-called “Greatest Generation” still be brought to bear at the Turn of the Millennium? Or is Captain America’s only function in the modern world to hold a mirror up to what has become a society of extremists and thought-terrorists?

As Rogers attempts to make sense of the new world he finds himself in—as well as the true nature of the government that lied to him—we will learn the answers to these and other questions. By the end of the mini-series, we will have delved deeply into the meaning of America, how it has changed in the years since World War II, and what place a man like Steve Rogers—and the government that spawned him—can possibly have in such a world.

We will also tease the audience with a notion that would be utterly taboo in the Marvel Universe: Is it possible that Steve Rogers (a man born in the 1920s and raised in the 1930s) is a racist?

Startling Stories: Rogers—Hold onto your flags, and get ready for the ride of two centuries.


So, let’s get that lingering question out of the way first: Nah, of course Cap isn’t a racist! But it occurred to me that he would be completely ignorant about the progress made in terms of race since World War II. So, I thought I would play around with this and have some fun by showing him being startled and shocked by, say, an interracial couple, or blacks and whites sharing a meal at a restaurant. He wouldn’t say anything, but it would be obvious that was stunned.

His eventual guide to the 21st century (an ex-CIA operative, natch) would notice his reactions, put two and two together…and assume the old man’s a racist. He would put Cap through a crash course in recent racial history, culminating in a video of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

And Cap would turn from the screen with tears streaming down his face and shock his handler (and, if I’d done my job right, the reader) by saying, “This is wonderful. I always wanted the Negroes to have equality!”

The handler would say, “Well, the sentiment is right. Let’s work on the language.”

Most interesting to me from the remove of many years is that my approach here parallels that taken with the Winter Soldier, created years after I conjured this mess. (As with Mark Waid, apparently Ed Brubaker and I are on a similar psychic wavelength.)