A few years ago an interviewer asked me why I write. The answer started another journey for me, pursuing tangents and in the process writing a book or three. Perhaps only other writers would understand that process. It happens.
As a kid I was big for my age, not necessarily a likely candidate for bullying. But I was picked on quite a lot. My guess is that the bullies in my school thought it bolstered their credentials or something, beating up a guy twice their size. But I was never much of a fighter. It didn’t help that I grew up in a family environment where two older sisters also picked on me a good bit. And my parents took us to church on a regular, if not weekly, basis. So, I was a true believer in turning the other cheek. That was until one day, I asked my dad about it.
Dad, who was a strong man of considerable size, confirmed that he believed in turning the other cheek. But then he told me. “I always try to follow what The Bible says. But if someone is stupid enough to hit me twice it’s okay for me to knock the tar out of them.”
That advice changed things. The next time a guy picked on me at school, I leveled him. Of course, the teacher saw only my response and I ended up in the principal’s office. The bullying stopped, though…for a while anyway.
When I wrote the first draft of Becoming Thuperman I wanted it to be a story about kids being kids, the feeling of endless summer on vacation from school, and overcoming the odds. I decided to set it in Normal, Illinois, just because I figured from the outset that the story would be anything but normal. Where the story and its characters took me in the telling became something well beyond my initial intentions. And, as I wrote it, I found it largely cathartic in dealing with some left other things rotted in my experiences as a bullied child. At the time I had no intention of ever publishing it. I did share the rough drafts with a community of fellow writers to which I belonged. Based on their feedback, I pitched it to my publisher as a coming of age story, which is the essence of the story arc.
BT deals with bullying, though not directly. Will is a runt with a speech impediment and low self-esteem. Like me, he has two older sisters. Unlike my sisters whose taunting was playful by comparison, Will’s sisters revel in tormenting him, especially when his mother is away, and the girls are left in charge. Sandra, the female protagonist and Will’s best friend, has a reputation for giving bullies bloody noses. She defends Will, which is something Will may not be proud of but he certainly appreciates the support.
The book deals with gender roles. Sandra is a natural athlete who convinces Will that he should try out for pitcher on the local Little League team. Also the book is about what might happen if children’s imaginations are allowed to flourish. And then the kids begin to discover their superpowers. Well actually, Sandra is sort of aware of hers well before Will notices either his or hers. Girls develop faster, after all.
From the outset, BT was intended as a MG/YA standalone book, which is something rare for me. I used to tell people that the reason I write serial stories is that I suck so much at coming up with endings. BT has a nice, satisfying ending. Yeah, like any decent little story it left a few things hanging in the balance. And the first few people who read the draft asked if there was anything more to come. Maybe, was my answer. That is always a writer’s answer, by the way.
Frequently the writer is the last to know when a story decides to become a trilogy or something beyond that. Although BT took place in the same universe as my other novels, when I wrote it I didn’t consider that its threads were connected to any overall arc, or that Will and Sandra might actually meet and interact with Brent Woods from Fried Windows or Lee Anders Johnston, Andy Hunter, Terry Harper and Caroline Henderson from One Over X. That occurred to me while talking with Jessica Reino, the fantastic substantive editor that my publisher assigned to work with me.
While reading through Jessica’s notes and suggestions, I decided that there was at least one more book to be told. We discussed where that story arc might lead and over a few sessions spanning a week, we outlined a rough plot for two more books. I had no idea what to call the second book in the series. I just knew that the last one would probably be called Thuperman & Cassandra.
I wrote the first couple of chapters for Book 2 in the early Summer of 2017. It felt strange, writing something for which I did not have a title. Tentatively I was calling it Being Thuperman. But the story wasn’t so much about that as a continuation of the process of becoming from the first book. Also, we’re introduced to Will’s Papaw and Mamaw, who are mentioned in Book 1. Will is close to them, more so that his maternal Gram and Gramps who live several hours away in a suburb northwest of Chicago.
The title for Book 2, Homer Underby (Release Fall 2018) came to me around MLB’s All Star Break. There was a hashtag on Twitter ‘homerunderby’, applied to the annual contest among professional baseball’s best long-ball hitters. When I first read the hashtag, I saw ‘Homer Underby’. I guess, after having worked for The Home Depot for nearly 13 years, I was conditioned to see ‘Homer’ as a name, referring to the little guy in the company’s ads. I had no idea where that would lead, just that it needed to be the title for Book 2 and it would be a character introduced in the book.
Homer Underby takes place in the week following the events of Becoming Thuperman. Will and Sandra’s idyllic childhood is about to be interrupted as intruders from the outside step in and force the pair of budding superheroes to utilize their extraordinary powers to save each other and their families. Will discovers that Sandra has not been completely forthcoming about her magic. And Will learns that he is more like his Papaw than his father, having inherited a family secret that usually skips a generation and that most of his ancestors considered a curse.
Will and Sandra are drawn into solving a decades-old mystery about the disappearance of a once prominent citizen of Normal and in the process learn that there is far more magic and intrigue in the world than either of them ever suspected.