One of the cool things about publishing a book is getting interviewed. One blogger recently sent me a series of questions, and, while I enjoyed answering them all, one threw me. The blogger asked: Super-hero stories are quite common these days. What makes The Power Club unique?
It’s a fair question. Every writer should know what makes his or her book stand above the herd. In my mind, I’ve rehearsed an answer to such questions ever since I started writing PC. Yet answering that question for real requires the writer to take a good, hard look at his or her work, delve into personal reasons why he or she wrote the book in the first place, and connect those reasons with readers who will buy and (we hope) love the book.
It’s especially a fair question today with movie theaters glutted with Avengers and JLA movies. What makes PC—a story about kids with super-powers—different? One obvious answer is that these kids are forced to live in a place known as “the district,” which restricts the use of their powers and keeps a careful, perhaps sinister, watch over them.
But there’s more to it than that. Herewith is my attempt to give a more complete answer to “What makes The Power Club unique?”
1. PC is a deeply personal story which combines elements of real life and fantasy.
Growing up in the small Midwestern city of St. Joseph, MO, I dreamed of having super-powers and friends who had powers so we could form our own super-hero team. For a fleeting summer, a bunch of neighborhood kids and I, fueled by comic books and cartoons, pretended we were super-heroes. Then they moved on to other things (sports and cars), but I never did. In the back of my mind, I always wondered, “What if our super-team had been real?”
Also, I felt a sense of confinement in my neighborhood and hometown, just as Damon, the main character in PC, feels confined in the district. All the “real” super-heroes lived in New York or imaginary cities such as Metropolis and Coast City. I wanted to explore the world, but I was “stuck” in St. Joseph.
A third strand came from the realization that the world outside the safe confines of St. Joseph was a scary place (and it could be scary inside St. Joseph, as well). Suicide bombers and mass shooters were extremely rare in those days, but the world always seemed to be on the brink of nuclear disaster. Until I was almost 12, there were constant reminders that—as a young male—I could be drafted and sent off to fight in a war. When I was about Damon’s age, a cult led by the Rev. Jim Jones committed mass suicide. These events formed my perceptions of the world and fueled my desire to do something about them.
This isn’t to say that PC is based on fear. Quite the contrary, I hope readers derive a sense of hope and optimism from it. Yes, the world is screwed up, and there is much outside our control. However, we can do something about our own choices.
Fear, then, is a motivating factor in the book, and it hits Damon from all sides. He must contend with super-powered bullies as well as the district itself, which conspires against him. How Damon responds to these challenges determines who he is.
2. PC isn’t just about good guys versus bad guys. Sometimes it's difficult to know what a good guy should do.
Many super-hero stories succeed because they are comforting and familiar. We know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and we know the good guys will win after they overcome many obstacles. But in PC, the obstacle and the choices the characters make to overcome them aren't so clear cut.
The PC characters share at least one common obstacle: they are young. They don’t have the resources, independence, or experience of adult heroes. They must contend with real-world challenges such as going to school, obeying rules, and even attending birthday parties. All of these things get in the way of being heroes.
Damon and some of the other characters have to make difficult choices in order to become heroes. One character lies to her parents so she can participate in a mission. Damon must decide whether to kick another member out of the club. He also learns that the district, which is supposed to protect him, uses dirty tricks to keep him from becoming a hero. Sometimes, doing "the right thing" is hard when there are competing choices.
Being a hero is also dangerous business, and this is shown in the book. Stopping a scared mob is one thing, but going up against real criminals is another. Some members of the PC question whether they want to be heroes, and the sacrifices they have to make. So, PC turns this assumption on its head: Just because you have powers doesn’t mean you can or want to be a hero.
3. PC wasn’t written to cash in on trends and fashions.
Okay, I hope PC is a big success, and if it rides the current wave of super-hero popularity, so much the better. However, my goal is for PC to have universal appeal and to live on, be read, and be discussed for years. Though I don’t pretend to compare my book to Harry Potter, I think some lessons can be learned from J.K. Rowling’s series. HP is not just about a kid who wants to become a wizard; it’s about a kid who, bereft of a loving family, seeks to find his place in the world. This is something all kids everywhere can identify with.
Likewise, PC is about kids discovering their special abilities and trying to figure out what those abilities mean for them and the world.
That’s my take on what makes PC unique. For another perspective, here’s a gracious review written by the Blushing Bibliophile: