“There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen
One rule we have when writing our West Pacific Supers novels is that our superheros are real people first and supers second. They’re super due to the decisions they make and ways in which they use their abilities, not because of inherently perfect personalities. In other words, we deal in Batmans, not Supermans. Our characters have unique histories with likes, dislikes, and experiences that color the way in which they see the world and react to it. They don’t automatically make the most heroic choices possible in a situation; instead, they make the choices that are most true to their personalities. Understanding what has shaped our characters helps us to write for them.
For example, take Camille, a character I’ve gotten to know through more than 15 years of roleplaying and writing. I definitely relate to her, yet occasionally I find her very frustrating. She’s like an old friend who I both dearly love and sometimes want to pound some sense into. Knowing her back story the way I do is what allows me to understand what makes her tick.
Camille had a rough childhood. Her mom moved around a lot, struggling with alcohol problems and bringing a string of loser boyfriends into and out of their lives. As a teen, Camille found some stability at the Hodges Institute Academy for Mutant Youth, but also ran around a lot and was definitely a wild child until Mr. Awesome, one of the founding members of West Pacific Supers, sat her down for a talk about the likely consequences of her behavior. She straightened up and became a key member of the team, getting her first taste of the fame and fortune of professional heroics. She loved it. She also idolized the team leader, Supersonic Cat (aka Sarah Minoli), but felt like a third wheel when Sarah began a clandestine affair with the much older team president, Dr. Hodges.
The death of Supersonic Cat sent Camille into a tail spin; she felt disenchanted and adrift. She met and married a folk singer named Jules, but she didn’t tell him she was a mutant – or a famous superhero – until she’d already accepted his proposal. When she got pregnant, she announced her intent to change her name to Nova Woman and replace her sexy miniskirt costume with something that reflected her increased maturity. The West Pacific Supers Governing Board balked, worried that in the very image-conscious Super Industry, the change would mean lost merchandising and sponsorship revenue. Infuriated, Camille did what she always does in a crisis: she acted quickly and thought later. She jumped to the Infinity Team in Chicago, where she did well until she over-committed to a super brawl and was seriously injured. After her second year, the Infinity Team cut her. She, Jules, and their daughter Meghan, relocated multiple times over the next few years. Camille made a disastrous attempt to lead her own charter team and finally ended up working in the Canadian Yukon. All of the moves, many of them due to unilateral decisions made by Camille, put a lot of strain on her marriage.
Everything described here takes place before the start of Rising Tide. It’s all baggage that Camille carries with her and it’s all part of what we keep in mind when writing for her. These experiences have shaped who she is far more than her super strength, cosmic energy blasts, and ability to fly. Anytime that Camille confronts a situation, the question we ask is whether she’s reacting purely on a physical level with her superpowers or whether her deep-seated insecurities, her fears that those who love her will abandon her, and her desire to put on a brave face and confident attitude for the world, are coming into play. To us, knowing all that’s she been through and channeling that into her personality, make her that much more of a real character and a believable hero.