WRITERS TELL ALL
Gwenda Bond is a Superhero Feminist Writing Powerhouse, and the Perfect Writer for Adults to Admire and Young People to Look Up To
Preface to one of my favorite interviews: I'm not really sure how I came across Gwenda Bond, a writer who is a powerhouse, a superstar in her own write, able to write for any generation but also treating them as intelligent as they are, and never writing down or up to them. I do know that I am, so far (I still consider this fairly early in her career--as I hope we get much more of her work) a very big fan of her Lois Lane series. In the trilogy, she does this strange and miraculous thing of both including and removing Lois from the superhero universe she is a part of and making Lois Lane a mystery-solving superhero of her own, outside of Clark Kent. One great thing about the series is how Gwenda is so talented and able o take all the major feminist aspects of Lois and magnify them, then couple this feminism with modern day America, with issues girls are facing, with their language and their technology and never once hesitating or compromising the need for perfect, refined storytelling that seems to come so natural to Gwenda. I think it's incredibly important to follow Gwenda's career--she's one of the most diverse writers I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. And do read everything by her, including her upcoming official Stranger Things novel--the idea of a genius like Gwenda contributing to such a major and magnificent world like that of Stranger Thing's is an amazing thing unto itself. I'm very excited for all the books Gwenda has to come, and I hope you are too.
Matthew Turbeville: Hi Gwenda, it is such an honor to get to talk with you, one of the trail blazing leading ladies of young adult literature, and about one of my favorite young adult series, your Lois Lane trilogy (so far). The books—other than having stunning characters—are remarkable with or without their ties to the Superman comic franchise, and while Lois’s relationship with Clark is certainly one of the central points of the series, it’s certainly not the beginning or ending of her story. Would you mind tell us how this series came into being, and how it worked out that you were able to virtually reinvent the legacy of Clark Kent, the man only crippled by Kryptonite (although in many pages of the books it feels like his love for Lois could weaken him as well)? How did you find yourself setting out on the path to write young Lois’s story?
Gwenda Bond: Thank you so much for your kind words about the series! Like many things about my career, the answer is that’s it’s still somewhat of a mystery to me. I’d published a couple of novels that had gotten some attention and been generally well-recieved, but which did not set the world on fire. Somehow the right person at DC Comics’ parent company Warner Brothers and the publisher Capstone decided I was a good choice to write a new series about a teen Lois Lane and approached my agent to see if I’d be interested. That it came together kind of randomly is funny, because I always say -- only half-kidding -- that the Lois books were something I’d been training to write my whole life. I got a journalism degree partially because of my childhood love of the character (and also because I thought that’s how writers made money ;) ). My day job of 17 years, which I still had when I got the gig, was working with reporters as a government public information officer, and of course I’d done some freelance journalism myself. And obviously I’m a huge comic book nerd who has always been Team Superman.
So my only question when I was approached was whether I’d have freedom on the project. The last thing I wanted to do was get the opportunity to give Lois Lane an origin story and have it be terrible for reasons outside of my control. I was told yes and everyone was very much true to that.
MT: Before digging into Lois Lane—the Lois Lane and the Lois Lane of the future you’ve created—what is your writing process like? Do you have a certain number of words or page counts a day? What is an average day like with you and your job writing the great American young adult novel?
GB: Ha! Flatterer! My process tends to change a little bit book by book, and working on something like Lois Lane or the Stranger Things book that’s my next project is different than working on one of my original ideas -- a little bit. For one of those “intellectual property” or IP projects, obviously I don’t own the characters or idea and there’s a third-party in the mix. The main way that changes things is two-fold. The first is that it works much better for everyone if you can all get on the same page up front, which means a detailed outline is absolutely key. And it’s also key for the second reason: these kind of projects tend to have a much quicker turnaround than what we usually think of as normal in publishing, which can be slow. So you’ll typically have less time for deadlines, and the book will also go through production faster and come out quicker. I actually really like all these parts of doing IP, and I only say yes to things that I will be as invested in as anything else I might write.
I wish I could bring the efficiency of my IP process over to my original work, but that tends to be much messier. I outline, but not in anywhere like the same detail and there’s a lot more trial and error. But in terms of the everyday mechanics once I start writing a book, they’re not so different -- I’m trying to hit a certain goal most days. I will tend to write in the mornings or the afternoons, a specific time that shifts for every book. I try not to work at night unless it’s absolutely necessary, because it can be really easy to work round the clock when you live in your office and that’s not healthy for you or the work. I also might take off a week just to read when I’m not actively writing something. But in general I’m happier when I have a book in progress, so I almost always do.
MT: The most boring question of all, but I hope it’ll help any of our readers who want to be the Gwenda Bonds of the future: what is editing like for you? Can you describe your editing process to us? How essential is it in writing any of your books?
GB: So. Essential. Drafting is my least favorite part of the process. If I’m any good as a writer, it’s all down to my strength as a reviser. I love revision. I love working with an editor who sees where I’ve fallen short and helps me get where I wanted to go or didn’t even know I wanted to go. It’s the part of the writing process I look forward to most. When I’m drafting, I’m just trying to get a thing that can be fixed. The fixing is the fun part.
For me, revision is all about clarity. Being able to step back enough to see exactly how to reshape something to make it work better. In a mechical way, I tend to take an edit letter, avoid the ms. for a couple of days after reading it, then dive in and work my way through in a very linear fashion. I did something new with Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds (which is an adult book, not a YA actually -- though I’m sure teens will read it) that I think may become part of my revision process, because it was so helpful. I took the art off one office wall and got colored index cards for various POVs and double-sided wall-safe sticky things and then I made a heading for each chapter and gave every scene an index card where I spelled out the major action, any changes that needed to happen, if it was an added scene, etc., and which also allowed me to see the distribution of scenes in various characters’ POVs. Then I put a sticker on each card as I finished revising it. It was great to be able to see the whole book, but also to see my progress as I progressed toward the end.
MT: In this book, you represent Lois as a sort of feminist icon. You see her relationship with Clark Kent, starting as an online romance that everyone in Lois’s life seems to respect because they know Lois is smart and competent and able to make grown up decisions for herself. How did you decide who Lois was—no matter what age, but especially as a sixteen-year-old—in order to write these books?
GB: This is such a good question! I did a lot of thinking up front about just that, who Lois is, what makes her, well, her. What parts of her core self have to be there or it’s either not a Lois Lane story or a bad Lois Lane story. Lois and I have some similarities in personality, which I definitely think helped me get a handle on her. But a lot of it came from her voice -- once I could hear that voice, she was there. This is how it usually works for my characters.
I always joke that Lois is a gift to write because you could put her in a room and she’d create a story. She is a plot-machine. Because she’s a character who is never going to be finished, she’s not going to sit still or do what she’s expected to do or what she’s told. She’s going to do what she thinks is right, always. And, to me, the biggest key to understanding Lois is understanding the difference between what she’s like outwardly and what she’s like inside. Lois is vulnerable, she second-guesses herself, and has worries and anxieties just like anyone… But she shows them to almost no one. Except Clark.
MT: What were the biggest hindrances to writing this series, especially considering it’s a reinvention of a decades old comic book story with innumerable film and tv adaptations? Were there ever times when you found that the history of Superman and Clark Kent as well as his relationship with Lois Lane were interfering with your own artistic integrity? In an even more direct question, did you ever feel that however Lois had been limited in the past would affect how you presented her to young adults in the novel?
GB: I definitely feel there have been bad Lois Lane stories. Sometimes whole decades of them! For anyone interested in the character’s history, I highly recommend Tim Hanley’s excellent book Investigating Lois Lane (and all Tim’s books are wonderful).
I approached this as a fan, and so part of my job was to tell the kind of story that would delight me as a fan of these characters. I was very lucky in that I was presented with a barebones concept (Lois as a teen, working for a younger Perry White) that I had the freedom to flesh out. Warner Brothers and Capstone were on board from the beginning with my vision for the books and I can’t think of anything I wanted to do that I wasn’t allowed to do, honestly. In the few cases where they had issues with minor things, I feel like the solutions ended up making for stronger stories.
It’s always nerve-wracking when you’re working with characters that people have a strong emotional attachment to already, knowing that if you get it wrong or if people don’t like what you do, you will hear about it. But at the end of the day, you can’t write with those voices in your head. You have to tell the story your way and hope for the best. That said, I am extremely grateful to the long-time fans of these characters who became the fiercest supporters of these books. It means so much to have people who care about them feel you’ve added something important to the history of characters that have been around so long and carry so much cultural weight. These books were an absolute honor to get to write.
MT: I know I’m not the first person to bring this up with the Lois Lane books—I’ve read reviews, there are people comparing the series to another favorite of mine--Veronica Mars—but how did you decide to set out and make Lois a feminist icon, especially for a new generation of impression of young people, young women and men alike, who needed this somewhat mythical figure to be humanized but also grounded in a very strong moral stance? While it can be argued about the morality of Lois’s actions at some points in the novel, do you feel that you wanted to set her as an example for her young readers—your young readers—in an effort to try and, perhaps, rewrite history, as much as many people may frown upon that today? Do you think there’s something important in correcting the views and issues minorities like women of all color, sexuality, etc, face today when facing issues of women in media in the past?
GB: Lois is a feminist icon. She’s one of the best known pop culture characters in history, not just as “Superman’s girlfriend” but for her job. That’s very rare. So, I absolutely wanted to preserve that and amplify it. I tried to load in as many references to exceptional women -- and especially female reporters -- as I could. When a teen tweets that they got the Nellie Bly google doodle because they read my book, I’m so happy (especially because she was one of the original inspirations for Lois’s character). And so on. At the same time, I’m a huge romance fan and a fan of the Lois and Clark relationship as a relationship of equals (the swooniest variety of romance). But I also wanted Lois’s relationships with her new friends, especially Maddy, to be important.
Anytime you’re writing a 16-year-old (or, for that matter, someone much older), they’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to be figuring out their moral compasses and what is okay and what’s not. Lois would never claim to be perfect, but she will figure out a way to get the job done and protect people.
Comics are a living part of pop culture history. Our images of these characters and how they’re portrayed will always reflect our cultural times, whether intentionally or unintentionally. To me, there’s always a way to preserve what’s important about the characters, what makes them who they are, while moving the depictions forward to reflect the world around us and how it has changed. It’s important that we keep adding components and telling new stories in these universes. I can’t think of anything better to do with stories about heroes than righting wrongs.
MT: One of the most enchanting aspects of you young adult writing—and do not take this the wrong way, I mean this in the best way—but it’s often hard to tell if you are writing an adult novel for young adults or a young adult novel for adult. How do you feel your actual writing style plays a part in benefiting all sort of marginalized youths, and how do you think it will continue to benefit these youths from generation to generation by not writing down “on their level” but understanding, in a way you seem to do, that you can write a young adult book without having to explain every other word, phrase, or character action, like I’ve read in so many less capable hands?
GB: Well, thank you. I really feel we’re in a golden age of YA and have been for more than a decade now. So I personally feel like I could list authors I think are excellent at this for days. ;) Teenagers can see through bullshit. They aren’t only reading YA and they have many and varied interests and complicated things going on in their lives. I would never talk down to a reader, no matter their age. When I’m writing, I’m thinking about the story -- that does mean sometimes thinking about how to make sure scenes land a certain way with the reader, provoke a certain reaction… But usually if I’m doing something that I like in a scene, I can be fairly confident it will also work for the reader or a certain subset of readers. I just tell the story and I load into it the things that interest me, and I hope will also interest readers.
And I am not afraid of using references in stories, because many of the things I love most I came to through looking it up after a writer referenced it in a story whether it’s TV or movies or books. In the age of streaming, everything lives forever. I feel like art is a conversation and it serves no one to pretend you’ll make it timeless by cutting your story off from that. (YMMV.) And now having written YA, middle grade (with my husband), and for adults (Stranger Things), I can say that the story dictates any difference in approach for me, not the audience.
MT: What did you think was the importance of introducing all of these characters as young adults, sort of as a prequel to the comics, especially when you’re introducing characters as iconic as Lois Lane, and on an ironic level in the sense that she has no idea how important these people will be in her future, Clark Kent and Lex Luther? More importantly, what do you think is the importance of having Lois believe so strongly in her future as a writer and journalist, and why do you think it is important for Lois to have such a strong—if not protective—support system?
GB: Part of the fun of writing these books for me is just what you say -- the reader knows things that the characters don’t about what’s ahead for them. You can use that to create tension and expectation, which I hope I did. There’s a playfulness to that element that feels like it fits with the way I see the Superman mythos, more light-filled, a place with banter and goodness.
It’s kind of astonishing to think about the fact that Lois has been around since Action Comics #1, just like Superman and Clark, and yet we really never had an origin story for her. Sure, we know a little about her backstory and there are a couple of stories where she and Clark meet as young people. But we tend to meet Lois as an adult woman who’s already a Pulitzer Prize-winner. The character of Lois still has so much room left to explore, even after 80 years. That does seem to reflect the ways in which male characters and their stories have traditionally been valued more than those of women. This is why it’s particularly rewarding to get to be a part of the work so many people are doing trying to correct that and not just for women’s stories, but for all the stories that have been underrepresented. I want everyone to be able to see themselves in these stories, and I want every young girl with a story to tell to know who Lois Lane is. Because Lois is a hero we can all be -- the kind of person who uses her talents and skills for the good of others, who doesn’t have superpowers, but who has a commitment to justice. And, written well, Clark Kent and Superman are the opposite of toxic masculinity, modeling respect for women and other people as strength.
MT: You carefully navigate the waters of how Lois wades into the areas of danger the novels present and how she gets herself out and save rthe day—and how she must sometimes be saved. I think that some feminists, myself including, want to believe women are able to fight and complete every mission entirely on their own, but I think what you’ve done often enough in the book, which is so important for young people to understand today, is walk a dialectic between Lois wanting to venture out and find the truth on her own and her need for companionship and help every now and then. After all, no man is an island, right? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
GB: One of the things that makes me angriest is when people call Lois a damsel in distress or act as if that’s all there is to the character. Sure, Superman has to save Lois sometimes. Guess what? Superman also has to save the world sometimes! But because of sexism it’s only an issue when it’s Lois, and ignores the fact that usually the reason she needs saving is because she’s a hero without any powers. Lois gets in trouble because of her commitment to helping other people, to getting the truth, to fighing for what’s right. If I were in trouble, I’d 100 percent trust Lois to help me out of it. Needing help is not the same as helplessness. We do all need people, and learning to be okay with that is an important skill. That’s definitely something I wanted to explore with Lois.
I also wanted to reflect on the ways in which Lois shapes Clark’s idea of what a hero is. He’s learning from her already about what it means to be Superman, what to do with the powers that he has.
MT: Would you ever consider writing an adult version of the Lois Lane books—I have no idea if you have ever written an adult book before, or if you would consider writing an adult book, but I would love to see, I don’t know, jumping twenty years into the future how Lois Lane is with and without Clark Kent, her love interest and partner, and who she becomes after you have reimagined her as a young adult heroine. Do you think you’d ever write a book like this, a bridge between young adult and adult, a way to show how Lois Lane is still an independent, career-and-moral-driven woman who won’t stop at any costs?
GB: I just wrote my first book for adults, Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds, and I already have an idea for another one. I like to write all the things. And I’d love to write these characters again in any incarnation. Actually, I did have an idea of a scene of the first time Lois and Clark are in a newsroom together as adults in my mind from before I even started the first book in this trilogy. I know exactly what I’d do with them there.
MT: Do you think there will ever be another Lois Lane novel in the future? Do you already have one in the works? As far as work-in-progress events go, you’ve got a pretty big one coming up—I don’t know if you want to share any information on that with our fans, but I’m sure they’d love hearing about your future work in general!
GB: For now, I’m afraid the Lois Lane series is a trilogy. I’m glad I was able to end at a place that felt right for an ending. But you never know! I also know precisely what the plot of a book four would be, whether as a novel or a graphic novel format.
Next up is the Stranger Things book, which will be out in February, and you can look forward to a whole new friend squad I got to create for Eleven’s mom Terry in it. And I’m hard at work on an unannounced YA that I’m having entirely too much fun with.
MT: Thank you so much for joining us, Gwenda. It was such a pleasure interviewing you and getting to know more about your writing, Lois, and yourself. Please feel free to stop by Writers Tell All at any time in the future. We love you and your work here. And please feel free to leave us with any commons or thoughts! Until next time, Gwenda.
GB: Thank you so much for this interview, Matthew. I appreciate your support and enthusiasm so much, and I can’t wait until I’m interviewing you about your own novels someday!