I got to chat with the author of the upcoming young adult novel Lois Lane: Fallout, based on one of DC Comics’ most iconic characters. The book will hit stores on May 1st, but before that, Gwenda Bond discusses a few things with me such as her first encounter with Lois Lane, what this character means to women, and how she got this opportunity to tackle this story.
Ardo: First off, I wanted to talk about the fact that you’ve written books in the past like Blackwood, The Woken Gods, and Girl on a Wire. I wanted to know what drives you to write about teens. It seems to be the one thing you keep coming back to in your stories: young people.
Gwenda: A couple of things actually. I was always a writer. Always. As early as I could remember, before I could even write, I remember telling my parents that I wanted to be a writer, because I loved books and stories and always have. When I graduated from college, I wrote screenplays for a while and told stories that I wasn’t as excited about as I wanted to be. That was maybe around the early to mid 2000s when several friends of mine who wrote sci-fi/fantasy started to write YA and were among kind of the first wave of young adult writers—Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier in particular—and reading those books that came out around that time I had this “ah ha” moment. Like THIS is what I wanted to write about, and I think the reason that writing about teens is so appealing is that I don’t feel like I write for teens. I write about them if that makes any sense. I think my readership tends to be 50% adult and 50% teens, and I think we know that plenty of adults read YA and enjoy it now because we’ve all been there. I think the thing that’s so appealing about it as a writer and as a reader is that it really is a crucible. It’s a time in your life when you’re experiencing a lot of firsts: when you start to make decisions about who you’re going to be as an adult, when you start to see yourself as someone separate from your family and figure out what trajectory you’re going to take. I think that we all do that throughout our lives, which is one reason why adults enjoy reading YA. It’s because you get to see these things play out in a way that you don’t really get to see them play out in a lot of stories about adults even though we all do keep making these decisions. I think the other thing is just that YA as a marketing category is very broad so you can write in any genre. I’m pretty sure my books would’ve been different if they had been written for adults and that some of them would’ve been shelved in different parts of the bookstore. With YA, you can write and mix and match genres and not really have to worry so much about your readers’ not knowing where to go to find your book. So I think that’s really freeing. It means that you can maybe cast a little further field for a story than a lot of the people I’ve met, who write for adults, who feel like they get a lot more direction to stay on brand than YA writers do and that’s a real gift.
Ardo: What was you’re first encounter with Lois Lane?
Gwenda: My first encounter with Lois Lane that I can remember … I’m pretty sure it was Margot Kidder in the original Superman movie with Christopher Reeves. I love that movie. As a kid, it was probably one of the first formative screen experiences that I had. My brother was a comics reader, so I got to second hand read all of his comics. Also, I was very much steered towards Betty and Veronica, which I loved, but I read all my brother’s superhero comics too growing up including Superman. And I don’t know, there’s just something about Lois Lane. I feel like this is something a lot of Lois Lane fans have in common … that character really is iconic for a reason. She is really the first character that I think a lot of us encountered who is a strong, gutsy, working woman who’s also allowed to be vulnerable and isn’t punished for it. So I think that Margot Kidder and really the banter of that movie … I went back and re-watched it and was really amazed at how screwball His Girl Friday was, because I love those movies too so it made a lot of sense. Like I think I probably loved those movies in part because Superman was such a formative influence on me when I was a kid.
Ardo: What I find consistent in people’s love of Lois, especially for women, is that she is a gutsy reporter. It’s that she’s a very different type of hero from Superman. She offers an alternative to Superman, which is the person without the powers.
Gwenda: She has a job and she’s great at it. She’s a better a reporter than Clark Kent is, and she is the hero. She is very much committed to the same ideals as Superman, but she just has a different way of tackling things. I mean there’s also a reason that being a reporter was a great idea for Clark Kent, and I think that there’s a recognition there that telling stories about things that are wrong … that’s something that we, I think, all need to be reminded of from time to time. That there are very achievable ways that we can make real differences in the world, and Lois does represent that. The things that any of us can do on a daily basis to make change however small or large those things might be.
Ardo: One of the things that I really like and you pointed out is that Lois is a multifaceted character. She’s allowed to be a career woman, strong, valiant, but also vulnerable at the same time. It’s interesting, because right now there’s a hashtag going on #ToTheGirls.
Gwenda: I’m so proud of Courtney [Summers] for coming up with that idea. I love her. I love her books.
Ardo: She’s a gem. It’s interesting because when you’re seeing those tweets, I—myself as a young woman especially writing online about things like comics and books and so forth it’s—I feel like I need to channel a bit of Lois for that. One of her attributes is she’s well aware of her faults, but she’s also incredibly confident in herself.
Gwenda: That is one of the things that really appeals to me about the character too, and I really do hope … not in a heavy, message-y way, but I do hope that the teen girls who read this book, will see that in her … not as a role model because that sounds terrible and teens are past that. I think they’re more sophisticated than that, but I do think the kind of girls that we see in stories … stories work like reality and they reflect the options that we see available, and I think Lois is one of those characters who because she is pursuing what she’s perfectly suited to do, even when she screws up, she’s not self hating and is confident in her abilities. She’s always willing to get back up and go one step further, and that is something that there isn’t a lot of … well, there are more. I shouldn’t say that there aren’t a lot, but I do feel like there still is all the hand wringing about “oh, you know strong female characters…there’s too many” or you know “it’s become a cliché” and it’s like, well, we’re still correcting for decades when these things weren’t really represented or when women in comics—obviously there are a lot issues of portrayal there depending on the era and the characters—and you know, it does go back to this likability thing too. I saw this really interesting thing. Someone had reviewed one of the shorts that’s meant to introduce Lois, and they said that she was both likable and unlikable at the same time. I actually don’t buy into the likability or unlikability bottle, because I think it only applies to female characters, which is ridiculous, but I thought “well, that’s interesting.” I’m okay with that if what girls take away from that is “it’s okay to be unlikable sometimes,” you know? You still you can still be a character that people root for and you can still root for yourself and your own life if that’s what it takes to get the job done.
Ardo: I find that it’s interesting that this idea of likability is often used for female characters.
Gwenda: Only used for female characters.
Gwenda: Men are anti-heroes if they are unlikable.
Ardo: Exactly and I find that what people tend to forget when you’re dealing with real life people is that people are essentially a collection of things you like and don’t like about them.
Ardo: And hopefully because they’re your friends, the things you do like about them outweighs the things you don’t like, but, I mean, if you don’t … if there’s not that one thing you’re not a fan of or challenges you about that person whether it’s a difference of opinion and so on … it’s not exactly an exciting group of people to be around if you’re not surrounded by a whole host of personalities and perspectives.
Gwenda: People are complicated and crazy making and why shouldn’t female characters get to be the same without being branded unlikable? I think the confidence thing is huge, and that for me, it’s part of the core of that character that she believes in her abilities. And that’s still a really refreshing thing to see, and it’s something a lot of my characters share actually. I like writing about girls who are gutsy and confident, but still have problems because that’s how the real world works.
Ardo: It’s something definitely to think about, and I hope that the more people wade into YA, the more they get to see a lot of that; the various types of young women depicted there.
Gwenda: Agreed. Very much agreed.
Ardo: I am curious though to find out how you landed this awesome opportunity to write about Lois Lane and not just any Lois Lane, but a Lois Lane that I’ve dying to see: Lois in her teen years.
Gwenda: Honestly, I can only say that it was a stroke of luck. I almost feel like fate or whatever dropped it into my lap. My agent was approached, and I was asked if I was interested in doing it, and I said yes like immediately. It came together very quickly and I don’t know … everybody I’ve known for a long time that I have told when I got the job was kind of like “well, this is the perfect combination of assignment and writer,” and I was just really worried about screwing it up. Obviously, it’s a dream project, a real gift and I have so much freedom. I was basically asked “would you be interested in doing this Lois Lane in high school?” and my only question was how much freedom will I have to make decisions and shape this, because the last thing I wanted to do was to say yes to something where I will be forced to write a version of the character that I didn’t believe in. Then they were like “you will have a lot of freedom and we will obviously have to approve everything, because this is a very high profile character,” but you know, I think there was a lot of trust there and my editor has been great. Honesty, the feedback, the back and forth between DC Comics and Capstone … I feel we all have the same vision, and we’re on board with the book after I turned it in. I feel like all the edits and requests that were made just made it stronger, and nobody ever wanted to water anything down. Everybody really felt that this was a special project from the beginning and wanted to honor the character. I just feel really lucky that not only was I able to do it, but also execute it the way that I wanted to.
Ardo: I do know that in the comics community a lot of women are dying for Lois Lane to have her own solo comics series.
Gwenda: I’m dying for that. [laughs]
Ardo: So when this book was announced, I was out of my mind excited, but I also thought this was perfect because YA is a perfect platform for Lois to have her story told. You would have a great blend of comic book readers who love Lois, but probably don’t read a lot of YA who are brought into this series as well as YA readers who don’t really have a gateway into comics—or can’t find a way into comics—who would love this book as well. I’m into that because I was a book blogger first, and it wasn’t until the New 52 that I started reading comics as an ongoing thing. So for me it’s a great blend of both and I always advocate doing cross media promotion whether it’s books to comics, comics to books, or whatever just so we have more of a welcome mat basically for the book people to enter comics through.
Gwenda: Absolutely. I did want to write a book that the people who this character already means a lot to … that it would be a gift to them. I wanted to write a book that I could want to read about Lois, but I also did want to make it something that even someone who … I mean one of the things that’s interesting is that I assume everyone in the world knows who Lois Lane is but, you know, there are teenage girls who don’t. I have seen that and their reaction generally to the book is “this sounds really cool. I don’t really know that much about this Lois Lane, and she’s seems to have some connection to Superman,” so it will be interesting to see those people. They’re coming into this through Lois. They’re going to come into the Superman world through, Lois which I think has never really been a possibility before, but also, I feel like there is something about … I love comics and I love Marguerite Bennett’s one shot and a lot of Superman’s stories. I think it is exactly as you said. There’s room for so many versions of characters. I mean, how many different Supermans have we had over the years? There’s plenty of room for different types of Lois, but I also think one of the things that’s great about getting the novel … or one of the things that was great for me was the thing about novels that they do, that no other form of storytelling does as well, is the interior landscape of the character. Hopefully, it’ll be a real treat for people to get three hundred pages of what it feels like to be Lois, and I really did try to stay close to her voice and write this as I thought this teen Lois would be. People seem to be responding to that so far, and I would love to see comics because—again it’s a different media so it has different strengths—I would love to see different versions of Lois explored in comics and focus on her. Gail Simone was tweeting me yesterday and she said … we were talking about how Lois was one of the greatest characters ever created, and I absolutely agree. I think her character can do anything. She’s a great character to write.
Ardo: And people tend to forget that Lois was right there from the beginning right along with Superman in Action Comics #1.
Gwenda: She’s the first lady of DC Comics!
Ardo: She really is. I mean, she’s been around for seventy-five years. Lois is an old timer, and it’s nice to see her become a young lady this time around [Laughs]. You brought up people’s responses so far. I do know that on our site we already have a review by our books editor on “Lois Lane: A Real Work of Art.” I’ve read both short stories, and I personally loved “Cloudy With a Chance of Destruction,” which involves a science class. So I’m loving what I’m seeing so far, and I’m very excited. Also, Lois Lane: Fallout is actually coming out the same day as The Avengers sequel.
Gwenda: I know, right? Of course, there’s a Black Widow YA novel coming out this fall, and I’m real excited about that. I hope both of these do well, because I think that will convince people there’s a market for this, and I would like to see more of these stories. I think there are more Lois stories that can be told. It’s been really exciting, and I knew she [Lois] was going to have a mysterious online friend who would be Clark and that was part of the concept that they brought to me and that I was like “well, it’s got to be a little more than that. How did they meet?” It just seemed to make sense to me that if … Superman is the first superhero in Superman focused stories, so of course there are odd things starting to happen in the world, and there’s sort of super science because it’s a little more advanced, but it just made sense to me that Lois would be one of the first people to realize that things were happening that couldn’t be explained by the normal laws of nature. So I thought it would be fun to have them meet on a conspiracy theory type Reddit message board and that’s something that is also of this era and I wanted to do this to speak to this era via, as you said, a welcome mat. That’s a perfect way to put it.
Ardo: I’m totally for a Lois Lane centered story, but I have to admit—and I’m telling you that I’ve had friends who are YA bloggers freaking out over this as well who do know about Superman—that when we did see SmallvilleGuy, I started to freak the hell out. It was pretty exciting.
Gwenda: I know that there are people who will say that they wish there was no Clark Kent in the story, but to me these characters are better together, and it gives us a chance to see this relationship develop in a different way than we’ve seen it before. It’s one of my favourite parts of the Superman world: that relationship. I absolutely think you can tell stories about Lois without Clark Kent or Superman or SmallvilleGuy as he is here, but I also think why? If you have the opportunity to do that … it would never have even occurred to me to leave him out, and it’s one of my favourite parts of writing this in some ways and their interactions with each other because they’re just so much fun to write. I mean, I love that they’re friends first. I think just being able to see a relationship like that is also good for girls, because I don’t subscribe to the “damaged boys are interesting” school of thought at all, and I like writing healthy relationships even though she doesn’t know his real identity in the book. I still feel like it’s a pretty healthy relationship.
Ardo: I also love that this relationship that Lois and Clark have does evolve from coworker to friends to romantic interests.
Gwenda: Yeah, they’re equals. They see each other as equals.
Ardo: We do get a taste of SmallvilleGuy in the short stories so we know that Lois is opened up to the wider world of Superman. I did want to know—I have to ask this as a comics reader—how much of it was DC Comics saying “you know what? run with it,” and how much did you decide in terms of opening it up to the rest of the DC universe? Do you open it up to the rest of the DCU whether it was something as small as little nuggets or cameos for people like me who would really love it?
Gwenda: I think there are some things embedded in there for people … I didn’t want to be too heavy handed with it, because I didn’t want readers to be confused who were coming into this without a lot of comic knowledge as you said. Actually, DC Comics and my editor at Capstone have been remarkably open so I did put in … there are some things that are early versions of some companies that comics fans will recognize, and I have a handbook to Metropolis that is my most used research item that I bought off of Amazon as soon I got this gig, because I really wanted it to feel inhabited and map out what people know about Metropolis. So there’s definitely little things, and I think there are a lot of fun things. I really try to play with the fact that the reader in some ways has more knowledge of the characters, and I feel like to try and not do that is ridiculous because we do all have … most of us have a frame of reference for Lois/Superman. We know who SmallvilleGuy is even if these characters don’t know everything about each other. So there will definitely been some surprises and new stuff, but I did try to build in some little inside jokes and nods for fans just because it’s too fun not to.
Ardo: So Lois is finally in Metropolis starting her new life there. She’s determine to fit in and try not to be too Lois-y and has to deal with an interesting group called the Warheads. Now what can you tell us about the story and most importantly, how would you sell me this book?
Gwenda: This story is about a girl who is trying to fit in and put down roots for the first time in her life. Also, she gets the job—almost immediately—that encourages her to be herself, which is constantly in trouble and so when she sees a girl being bullied by gamers who play the same game as she does (it’s a high tech virtual reality game), she’s not willing to stand by and let that go. She’s willing to follow it as far as it goes. There’s a thriller aspect to this, but honestly, the way I would sell the book is that I believe it has all the elements that I love about Superman. It has high stakes, it has humour, it has characters that people can fall in love with, and it’s science fiction. It has some cool futuristic elements and if you look at the Tumblr that Switch Press did, it has a tag for Worlds War 3. That’s the game. So they’re called Warheads, because they’re a unit that fights together in the game, but they’re also part of a secret research project.
Ardo: Thank you for agreeing to talk to me. I’m excited for everyone to check out Lois Lane: Fallout coming out May 1st. I’m excited for you, and hopefully if it does well, maybe we’ll get to see more of Lois.
Gwenda: Fingers crossed.