Read about writing powerful protagonists from comic books to lesfic with Hero(ine) Addict author Blythe H. Warren
For the first (and possibly last) time, I started writing a book knowing my title and nothing else. This is almost exactly the opposite of the standard timeline for my writing, which usually finds me panicking at the last minute over what to call the thing I’m about to send to my publisher. On one occasion, I was at such a loss for a title that I resorted to asking the staff and fellow patrons at a bar for suggestions. I realize that I should invest more energy in what I call my books, but I generally get so wrapped up in the characters and their stories that I neglect the title until the very end. But not this time.
It’s my friend Lynda’s fault. She’s one of those brilliant, witty people who seems like she should be a character in a book or a movie because real humans aren’t that clever. Except they are, and Lynda is one of them. She made a joke (the context of which I don’t remember), but damn my love of puns, as soon as the words “heroine addict” left her mouth, I knew it would make a great title and that it had to be mine.
At the time, I was working on my second mystery, but while I brutally and completely legally killed off a friend’s ex (trust me, she deserved it), I was also pondering just what might constitute heroine addiction. Did it have to do with traditional heroes like firefighters or doctors? Maybe it referred to the military. Or possibly it was a less celebrated heroism, like coping with mental illness or battling cancer. There were so many possibilities, but by the time I wrapped up my fictional (and oh-so-satisfying) revenge, I had settled on a more or less clear path. It started with comic books.
As a kid my exposure to comic books was fairly limited. My brother had a giant hardcover collection of classic comic books, and I flipped through its pages often, soaking up the origin stories of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and (for reasons I still don’t understand) the Submariner. My only other comic book tutelage came (somewhat peripherally) in the forms of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman and the cartoon Super Friends. I didn’t actually read comic books, possibly because of the extreme shortage of comic book stores in the microscopic town I grew up in, but more likely because my older sister Heidi convinced me to pool my resources with hers to fund vital acquisition of Barbie accessories (to be fair, I have zero regrets about dropping several weeks’ allowance on Barbie’s Golden Palomino, Dallas).
Making Eliot a comic book artist was rapidly becoming the best decision of my adult life.
Mine was hardly a robust comic book résumé, so to prepare myself for this book, I embarked upon some of the funnest research I have ever undertaken. I consulted a friend who’s basically a walking encyclopedia of comic books, I combed through the Chicago Public Library’s holdings looking for materials on the subject, and finally, I lost my comic-book-store virginity at Third Coast Comics in Rogers Park. I had no idea what I was looking for when I entered, but after a brief conversation with the owner, Terry, I walked out armed with a diverse selection of books and the path to understanding my character Eliot, a path that was paved with work like Bitch Planet, Monstress and the superior Hawkeye (a.k.a. Kate Bishop). Seriously, I got to read comic books for work. My job necessitated guilt-free viewing of superhero movies and tv shows. And just like that, making Eliot a comic book artist was rapidly becoming the best decision of my adult life.
Before I’d finished three pages of Bitch Planet, I understood what I’d been missing, and I couldn’t believe that I’d denied myself this experience for so long. Comic books are pretty much the embodiment of my entertainment preferences—impactful messages wrapped up in a disarmingly innocuous package. To the casual observer, they seem frivolous—pictures with word balloons, how deep could they be? As it turns out, the answer is incredibly.
The more I learned about the hidden depths of comic books, the more I understood Eliot’s character and, in a sense, myself. For Eliot, it’s not just that she, like the characters she draws and is drawn to, is unexpectedly complex, complicated and serious, but also that she connects with what’s beneath the surface. As a character she ends up being at least as much heroine as heroine addict.
In my case, I’ve realized that this unexpected depth is in complete alignment with most of the books, movies and tv shows that I prefer. My favorite tv show? Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the ridiculous title of which belies the often-serious content of the program. Yet that allegedly silly show has inspired decades of discussion, innumerable debates and at least one of my grad school essays.
With that in mind, I guess it makes sense that I would end up writing romances. After all, as a genre they’re frequently dismissed as being the snack food of literature—they’re guilty pleasures at best. How deep can they be?
For those of us in the know, the answer is incredibly.