According to the nursery rhyme, boys are made of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails and girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. I have my doubts that either of those recipes is accurate, let alone complete, but there are elements of these ingredients in all of us.
Books come from a similarly complex recipe. It’s not as simple as take characters, add plot and setting, and stir. If it were, there would be a lot more books. Novels need all the disparate elements to meld into a cohesive whole. There’s a kind of alchemy in it and not even the authors truly understand the nature of that magic.
As I was working on the second book in my Menopausal Superhero series, I was often asked where the ideas came from. A better question might have been: What were Going Through the Change and Change of Life made of?
There were three main ingredients:
Ingredient one: superheroes. I am a woman steeped in superheroes. I’m a lifetime comic book reader and watcher of television and movies featuring people in tights and capes fighting bad guys to save the world. My favorite heroes tend to be underdogs and reluctant heroes like Spiderman and Wolverine. So it’s no surprise that I wrote Jessica, an underdog of a character and Patricia, the most reluctant of heroines.
Ingredient two: mad science. I’ve long been fascinated with mad scientist characters, from Victor Frankenstein to Dr. Brent Cheevers (the Fly), from Dexter and his laboratory to Professor Utonium and his Powerpuff Girls, from Doc Ock to Lex Luthor. There’s something fascinating about these people of vision who can’t see the moral ambiguity of their own actions. The hubris and comeuppance arc never gets old for me.
Ingredient three: feminism. Notice something about all those examples? Lots of testosterone. For every female superhero character I can think of, there are ten male characters, and, sadly, they are often more fully realized and, therefore, more interesting. This is changing, but the superheroes of my childhood didn’t include many women with stories worth reading or viewing. Feminism, in the sense of a desire for equality for all people, is at the heart of me and at the heart of my work. I often joke that my novels would fail a reverse Bechdel test: there aren’t many male characters and they don’t get to talk to each other about something other than the women.
When my superhero, mad science, and feminism stew was brewing well, I mixed in a little bit of cheese a la Vincent Price, some pulp a la Flash Gordon, and a little personal anxiety about getting older and voilà! Menopausal Superheroes.
It’s fun, looking back and thinking about the different parts of my book and where they come from. It can also be a little frightening, when your characters reveal something you would maybe rather not admit you have felt or thought. Writing a book is a journey in more ways than one. Still, cooking up stories is a wonderful way to spend time and I feel lucky to have the chance to do so.