ON CREATING A HEROINE
By Dan Jolley
And not the independent, original stuff; I wasn’t like Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, coming up with the so-iconic-they’re-nearly-godlike Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I got my start writing Aliens stories for Dark Horse, went on to do some Vampirella stuff for Harris, and from there moved into the ranks of DC and Marvel. One of the works I’m best known for in the comics industry is a story called JSA: The Liberty Files, which was a sort of alternate-reality, “What If” tale that starred Batman and Superman. (It asked the question, “What if Batman, Superman, and several other well-known DC heroes had been secret agents in World War II?”)
Essentially, I spent the first big chunk of my career writing characters other people had created.
This had its pros and cons. On the pro side, I learned to adapt to different personalities and different voices early on, so that when someone said to me, “We need you to write a story for such-and-such franchise,” I could say, “Sure, give me a few days for research and I’ll cook something up,” with very little anxiety. On the con side—and it took me years to realize this—I didn’t get all that much practice creating characters of my own. I didn’t have to invent Batman’s character. I just had to make sure I did his characterization justice.
That began to change when artists Tony Harris and Ray Snyder and I came up with a project called Obergeist. It was a seven-issue comic book mini-series, and was the story of a schizophrenic, psychokinetic, undead ex-Nazi on a mission from God. Original? Very. Commercially viable? Eh, not so much. But that was the first time I had really applied myself to coming up with someone new.
Several years after that, DC Comics asked me to revamp an existing character of theirs called Firestorm. After talking it over with DC editorial, my proposed new character was officially established as Jason Rusch, a 17-year-old African-American kid from Detroit.
Firestorm fans lost their minds on the Internet. “How can a white guy in his thirties, from the South, write a 17-year-old black kid from Detroit?” more than one message-board poster demanded. They also offered up opinions such as, “I’m never buying this book!” and “You suck, Jolley!”
But here’s the thing: when I was fleshing out Jason Rusch, who was basically an original character even though he was tied to the existing Firestorm franchise, I never once thought, “Hey, I’m going to write the best African-American character ever!” And I sure as hell never thought, “Ooh, here’s my chance to write the definitive African-American experience!” I would never think that, or try to do that, because the message-board posters were right about one thing: I was a Southern white guy in his thirties.
What I did do was try to put my own experiences into Jason Rusch. I drew on what my own childhood was like, and channeled some of the friction I had had with my own father, and through Jason I tried to let people see the feelings I had felt myself. That was all I wanted to do: just put some honest feelings down on the page. I was hoping that maybe honest human emotions would work, no matter the age or ethnicity or region of the country.
Cut to: the first major convention I attended after Firestorm came out, which was Wizard World Chicago. I was sitting there at my table, stacks of Firestorm #1 around me, waiting to see what would happen. (I had received enough bile and hatred on the Internet at that point that I was sort of expecting some fan to try to kill me.) But what actually happened was that, on three separate occasions, small groups of young African-American guys approached me, shook my hand, and told me how real Jason Rusch felt to them.
I was freaking ecstatic. In fact, even years later, the same kind of thing occasionally comes up; I was at another show last year, and met an African-American artist who had read Firestorm all those years ago. He told me he had asked another friend of his at the time, “Is this Dan Jolley guy black?”
Gray Widow’s Web. Because I know there are people out there who are thinking, “How is this white guy in his forties going to write a multi-ethnic woman in her late twenties?”
Part of the answer to that is, “Very carefully.” I’ve spent a lot of time studying the way people talk and think and react to things, and I believe (I hope) that I’ve got a decent handle on feminine characterization. It seemed to work pretty well in my YA novel trilogy, Alex Unlimited, which starred an 18-year-old girl.
But the real answer is, “The same way I wrote Jason Rusch.” I’m just trying to be honest. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to grow up as a person of color, because I’m Standard White Guy #8. I don’t pretend that I’m going to change the world with my never-before-seen, bone-deep analysis of what it’s like to be a young woman in today’s world, because I’m just eaten up with Y chromosomes.
And I do hope readers will get to know Janey Sinclair, the titular Gray Widow, and see how she feels about things, and how she reacts to things, and either think, “Yeah, I’ve felt that way,” or “Yeah, I know someone who’s felt that way.” I hope they’re right there with her as she deals with staggering loss arising from horrific gun violence, and tries to give herself permission to feel happiness after spending years lost in guilt. I hope that honest human emotions carry across ethnicities and cultures and genders. And, I mean, I also hope readers enjoy the sheer volume of ass she kicks, and how cool she looks in her stolen suit of military body armor, and how much guts it takes to face an antagonist as skin-crawlingly awful as Simon Grove, and the struggle she deals with in trying to understand how she developed the ability to teleport.
But if readers don’t care about her as a person, if they don’t identify with her emotions, they won’t care about any of that other stuff.
So! Please allow me to introduce you to Janey Sinclair, the Gray Widow.
I hope you grow as attached to her as I have.
About the Author
Learn more about Dan by visiting his website, www.danjolley.com, and follow him on Twitter @_DanJolley
About the Book
Gray Widow’s Walk by Dan Jolley
Published May 13th 2016 by Seventh Star Press
“The only thing in this world you can truly control is yourself.”
Janey Sinclair’s ability to teleport has always been a mystery to her. She tried for years to ignore it, but when tragedy shatters her life, Janey’s anger consumes her. She hones her fighting skills, steals a prototype suit of military body armor, and takes to the streets of Atlanta, venting her rage as the masked vigilante dubbed “the Gray Widow” by the press.
But Janey’s power, and her willingness to use it, plunges her into a conflict on a much grander scale than she had anticipated.
Soon she encounters Simon Grove, a bloodthirsty runaway with a shapeshifting ability gone horribly wrong…
Garrison Vessler, an ex-FBI agent and current private defense contractor, who holds some of the answers Janey’s been searching for…
And Tim Kapoor, the first person in years with a chance of breaking through Janey’s emotional shell—if she’ll let him.
But as Janey’s vigilantism gains worldwide attention, and her showdown with Simon Grove draws ever closer, the reason for her augmented abilities—hers and all the others like her—begins to reveal itself. Because, high above the Earth, other eyes are watching. And they have far-reaching plans…
Gray Widow’s Walk is book one of the Gray Widow Trilogy, to be followed by Gray Widow’s Web and Gray Widow’s War.
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