Action Figures – What It’s About

Things are in a bit of a holding pattern while I wait for my sister-in-law to finish her final proofread and for my friend Tricia to start on the cover artwork, so I’m going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about what my soon-to-be-self-published YA novel Action Figures is about (an what it’s not about).

This is the one-paragraph summary of the novel that led off many a query letter:

Carrie Hauser never expected her parents to get divorced. She never expected to get dragged halfway across the state to start life over in a new town. And she definitely never expected a dying extraterrestrial to give her superhuman powers.

(I hate writing these summaries. They make everything sound so meh.)

But, since I’m not writing a query here, I get to be less formal in describing the concept, so here it goes: Action Figures is a sci-fi edged superhero story focusing on a group of teenager superhero wannabes as they get dumped head-first into their first adventure. The story is told from the perspective of the aforementioned Carrie Hauser, a 15-year-old girl who, as the story opens, is still reeling from her parents’ sudden divorce and getting ready to start her new life in a strange town (“strange” having multiple meanings here).

I chose Carrie as the narrator because, first and foremost, she was by far the most likeable and sympathetic character (and a lot of fun to write), but I also liked the idea of a superhero story featuring a female protagonist.

Joss Whedon once remarked when asked “Why do you like to write strong female characters?”: “Because you’re still asking that question.” That’s especially true in the superhero genre, where male leads outnumber the female leads by a HUGE margin. Batman appears in five titles, Batgirl and Batwoman have one each, and that’s just one of many examples I could cite. The comics industry has gotten better about opening up to female readers, but they still have a long way to go (and, in my opinion, the industry is not doing itself any favors by producing clumsy ‘female-friendly’ fare like Marvel’s new line of teen-friendly romance novels).

One of my goals with Action Figures is to provide a superhero story that is accessible to female readers, especially younger readers, more through providing them with an interesting heroine rather than through some ham-fisted attempt to girly it up. I’m not toning down the action and/or punching up any romantic story elements, I’m just telling a fun superhero adventure story that just happens to star a girl.

I’m also not infusing the story with a heavy-handed morality tale. This is not — at the risk of showing my age — an ABC Afterschool Special. This is not a “very special episode” deal. Sure, it’s somewhat inevitable that the stories will touch on issues that are not unfamiliar to teens, but the adventure elements are not going to take a back seat to exploring the issues-du-jour through the characters. It’s awkward and obvious and detracts from the point of the book, which is to give readers something fun to read.

So, that’s a basic intro to the novel. Down the road I plan to post a couple of sample chapters so folks can get a taste of the story and, hopefully, find it so much to their liking that they want to read the whole thing.