Jenn Gott

Word Wrangler and Professional Daydreamer

Wonder Woman of My Heart

Turns out that I was not, in fact, prepared to watch a solid, female-led superhero movie as a woman.

When I was growing up, I didn’t give much (if any) thought to sexism.

This was my privilege, as a child of the 1980s. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the women who came before, all of the battles appeared to already be fought. Look: there was nothing, as a child, that my brother could do that I couldn’t. Look: my parents were both dual computer science/math majors in college. (Look: both of my parents had gone to college.) Look: I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and none of the answers felt like they were off-limits to me. Look: I played with both Legos and Barbies, and so did my brother. Look: I was not raised to feel like I had to be a baby-maker when I grew up.

What was this “sexism”, I wondered, from my idyllic life? What were people complaining about? Surely that was a thing of the past.

When I was growing up, I didn’t notice the lack of female representation in popular media.

Was it just the books and movies that I consumed as a child? I still haven’t figured it entirely out. I hear other women my age complaining about it bitterly, the deep lack of admirable women and girls in the media of our youth. They aren’t wrong, but this is only something that I notice in hindsight. At the time, I was too busy inventing my own girl characters, and putting them in my head-canons without stopping to think about why.

As a woman, and a nerd, I’m acclimated to movies where my gender is reduced. Though I notice it now, though it bothers me now, I still can’t let it bother me too much, if I have any hope of enjoying the kind of movies that I enjoy. I give rave reviews to blockbusters that have one female character, and her primary role is to inspire the male heroes. I deconstruct them later, I discuss their problems later, but I put all of that aside while I am watching it. I get swept up in the powerful storylines, the epic music, the explosive fight scenes. I leave the theater feeling pumped.

You have to. You don’t even think about it.

Enter Rey from Star Wars. Enter the female Ghostbusters. Enter Supergirl on the CW.

And I thought, okay, so I am finally getting some representation, and it’s (mostly) awesome. I’m used to this, by now, this is a good trend. My life is still privileged enough that everyday sexism doesn’t really do more than brush the edges. I was fully prepared to love a summer blockbuster about a female superhero, directed by a woman.

I did not know that I needed it.

And then I saw Wonder Woman.

And then I was sitting in the theater, and a young Diana was running through the sunny haven of Paradise Island, watching the grown-up Amazonians. And then I realized that this whole movie was made for me, that this larger-than-life hero was made for me, that I was not going to be asked to take a backseat in my enjoyment, and that’s when I started crying.

I cried my way through every important scene, and grinned through the rest. And when the movie was over and I stepped from the darkened theater into the bright light of day, I did not have the same giddy euphoria that superheroes usually give me. I was not pounding my fist in the air and skipping across the parking lot. I got into my car, and I fought not to cry some more.

I’m still crying, when I think about it too much.

A couple of weeks ago, I gave the name of my books to a man I know at work. The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, he read. He knew my newest was about superheroes. “So it’s about a woman?” “Yes.”

All of my books are about women. I’ve never considered anything else.

This is why.

I’m still too raw from the movie to fully process what I’ve watched. I do know that I love it beyond words, though I also know that I cannot, in good conscience, rave about it without also leveling one major criticism. Can we set aside the joy for just one moment, to discuss the horrible implications of having someone with a physical disfigurement represent all that is bad and unworthy about humanity? It’s a problematic theme throughout the whole movie, and it comes to a head in the climax with a truly unforgivable moment. I am not going to spoil it, but I will say this: Patty Jenkins, you made a better movie than this. Such a message has no place inside of an otherwise exceptional blockbuster. Especially for the story of a character like Wonder Woman, who is supposed to be about love and a better way of living.

I’m lucky, that I am able-bodied and have the privilege of setting that aside to enjoy the rest of the movie. Because I can only imagine a disabled woman, crying at the sight of young Diana on Paradise Island, only to be slapped in the face a handful of scenes later.

You can do better. We can do better.

Diana, Princess of Themyscira, Daughter of Hippolyta, would want us to do better.

Mythic Storytelling, and the Everyday Hero

As an author with a brand new superhero book coming out, I’m finding myself acutely aware of any and all references to superheroes and comics. Which, let’s be honest, is so many—and I love it. I love the obsession with larger-than-life heroes, I love the spectacle, I love the hype. I am so annoyed that my schedule doesn’t work out for me to see Wonder Woman until Wednesday.

But anyway: most of the references are what you’d expect. News of another movie or TV show, or the latest update to the train wreck of what they’re doing with Steve Rogers in the comics (do NOT even get me started), or things of that nature. So I was surprised a few weeks ago, when I heard a new song that was sort of about superheroes. That’s… not really the medium I expect to encounter them in, and I was immediately charmed by the idea of songwriters getting into the game too.

The song is “Something Just Like This”, a collaborative effort between The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. For a long time, I didn’t really listen to it that closely. The cover of the single had a little kid dressed up as a superhero, and it referenced both Batman and Superman, and when it came on, I would just bob my head and keep writing. I learned the chorus pretty quickly, just through sheer repetition—but didn’t give it much thought. Something kind of comforting, I guess, typical love song lyrics where it’s like, hey, you don’t need to be a superhero to be important to me? Okay.

Not sure what made me stop and listen to the lyrics more closely. But here’s how the song starts:

I’ve been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
Spider-man’s control
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

The nerd in me wants to ask exactly what, exactly, Spider-man’s “control” is supposed to be about (I mean… his powers don’t exactly control things, the way that, say, Magneto does), but moreover, I was completely dumbstruck the first time that I heard this. Because the whole point of these epic stories, throughout all of human history, is that you’re supposed to see yourself in them, and this person… doesn’t? Which makes me wonder if that’s a common thing, to not identify with mythic heroes.

Listen, I’m not saying that you’re supposed to identify with the trappings of a superhero. Obviously not. Very few of us run around punching out bad guys, and nobody shoots webbing or flies faster than a speeding bullet. That’s not the point. Superpowers are not about the powers. That’s not why we like those stories. That’s not why we keep telling those stories, over and over, from Greek myths up to the latest summer blockbuster. What superheroes are supposed to do, is remind us of our own ability to stand up to injustice. To show us our inner strength. To inspire us to do better, be better, dig deeper. Keep going, even when all hope seems lost. They’re supposed to represent the best in us.

And for a song to just completely dismiss any connection with that message, especially in today’s sociopolitical climate, is kind of disheartening, to say the least. It also guts the later part of the lyrics: “[I just want] something I can turn to / Somebody I can kiss”. Really? So not only are we not identifying with the best of ourselves, we’re not holding our dearest loved ones to a higher standard either? Fine, so you’re not looking for “somebody with some superhuman gifts”—great, good, because you’re not getting that—but literally all you’re seeking is a warm body? I don’t know about you, but I’m a better person because my husband expects me to be. We hold each other up. Inspire each other to keep going, to do good even when it’s easier not to. Relationships (not just romantic) can easily serve the same role as heroic fiction, in that regard. This is another lesson that superheroes try to teach us: that love is important, that human connection helps us keep our humanity.

If it was just another love song, I wouldn’t be disappointed in it. I’ve come to expect terrible messages from love songs, once you stop and break down their meaning on a deeper level. But superheroes are supposed to be held to a higher standard, so that we in turn hold ourselves to a higher standard. And for me, that bleeds over into media about superheroes.

I do really hope that other songwriters pick up the idea, though. Even if some of them stumble and fall, I’d love a new subgenre in music to emerge. Because seriously, how wicked cool would that be?

Monthly Author Check-In: May 2017

What I’m Writing: The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, super-detailed line edits.
What I’m Reading: The Twenty-Sided Sorceress by Annie Bellet
What I’m Loving: Loop Habit Tracker (see below)

WIP Excerpt

When Jane was fifteen, she almost died.

This isn’t an exaggeration. It wasn’t that she was caught doing something and that her mom was going to, like, literally, kill her for it—no, this was actual, life-and-death death, and it had come so close that Jane had felt the coldness of its jaws against her skin.

Only six other people on earth ever knew this story, and those only because they were right alongside her when it happened.

It wasn’t as exciting as it should have been. Jane was out with her friends: Cal and Devin and Keisha and Marie and Tony… and Clair. Always Clair. This was the night of Tony’s sixteenth birthday, and he was pissed because his parents hadn’t let him schedule his driving test yet. Everyone agreed that this was vastly unfair. He was the oldest, and they’d been counting on him to be their ride. Now they’d have to wait who knows how long—God, maybe all of the way until summer, when Keisha would be next.

For seven teenagers stuck in the outermost stretches of the suburbs, this was as good as death.

They rode their bikes out, then, since fine, they didn’t have a car. Like a bunch of dumb kids. Tony wanted to do something different, so they were out hunting new hotspots to meet up. That’s what they called it, “hotspots,” like if they started hanging out there, then obviously all of the cool kids would follow. Never mind that it had never worked before. Tony had heard of an abandoned building on the far edge of town, a chemical factory that had been empty since the eighties. This seemed the ultimate height of cool, so they’d peddled out farther than they’d ever gone, the night sky stretching out endlessly above them. They roved as a pack, whooping it up and riding down the middle line of the road or in the oncoming traffic lane—feeling like total badasses—until they’d see headlights in the far, far distance, and then they’d all scramble not to collide as they jerked out of the way.

Years later, when Jane drew the version of this that didn’t happen, the infinitely cooler one that needed to appeal to the all-important 18–25 demographic, she’d crammed them all into a bumblebee yellow-and-black Camaro from 1973. There was beer in the backseat, and the hint that maybe someone had a joint hidden away for later. But in real life, they were on Schwinns and Walmart specials, helmets safely strapped to their heads, Pepsi and Snickers bars crammed into Cal’s backpack.

Oh, the mad month of May! Where do I even start? Where did it go?

Actually, I can see exactly where it went, because I started making heavier use of an app called Loop Habit Tracker this month. Basically, it’s just a chart of everything that you want to make a habit of, and each day that you complete that habit, you check it off. There are charts and percentages, too, which are addictively fun to watch grow in strength. The app sounds simple, and it is—that’s the beauty of it. I’ve tried various other productivity trackers and such before, including Habitica, which tries to turn your daily chores into an game, and none of them have really stuck because they all offer some form of punishment if you fail to make your goals. Listen, I don’t know about you, but I don’t need that kind of stress in my life, okay? Failing to raise my stats up, breaking my habit streaks—these are “punishment” enough to get my butt off of the couch when I’m feeling lazy. I get a thrill out of watching Loop’s charts go up, out of seeing a screen full of colorful checkmarks. So that’s working really well for me, and you should totally try it out if there’s a routine that you’d like to integrate into your life.

If you talk to me these days, I’ll probably make it sound like I am omg swamped with work, and on the one hand that’s true, and I am. The fun thing about The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, though, is that it’s teaching me a lot about editing that I never knew before, because it’s different than the other books I’ve released. Which isn’t to say that I don’t challenge myself with every book—I absolutely do, and if the book I am writing is too much the same as the books I’ve already written, I change it. And it’s not that I don’t learn something new from every book. But the others are all part of the same series, and as such, they need consistency in tone, in styling, in mood. The editing process is pretty much the same thing over and over again, because the problems are pretty much the same things over and over again, and the way to go about fixing them is kind of the same thing over and over again. I flip to editing, and I can basically do it on autopilot.

This book is different. This book, I have to use a whole different part of my brain to look at it. It’s absolutely delightful, and frustrating, and weird, to know how to edit one thing, and then throw most of what I think I know about the process away, and start fresh.

Such is the value of working on new things.

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Coming Soon: The Private Life of Jane Maxwell

It is with very great pride that I introduce to you my next book. Ladies and gentlemen and otherwise specified… The Private Life of Jane Maxwell!

Some people are born to greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them… and some are just drawn like that.

As the creator of a popular new comics franchise, Jane Maxwell knows a thing or two about heroes, but has no illusions of being one herself. All of that is shattered, however, when she finds herself swept into a parallel world—one where her characters are real, and her parallel self is their leader.

There’s just one problem: that Jane is missing.

Under a growing threat from a deadly new villain named UltraViolet, the team has no choice but to ask Jane to do the impossible: step into the suit left behind by her double, become the hero that they need her to be. But with familiar-yet-different faces all around her, budding powers that she doesn’t know how to use, and secrets ready to blow up in her face, navigating her parallel life proves harder than she ever imagined…


Is this part of a new series, or a standalone?

It’s going to be a series! Originally it wasn’t, but the truth is that the characters and setting are way too much fun to put aside. And frankly, whenever I tell people that I am now writing about superheroes, their whole face lights up—so, yeah, the people have already spoken.

When is it coming out?

This summer! If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know that I don’t like to get more specific than that, what with potential delays and Life Happens and yadda yadda, but this summer for sure. I imagine that it will be earlier, rather than later. Production is going really, really well.

How many of these books are there going to be?

As many as I can write! Unlike The Beacon Campaigns, this is designed to be an open-ended series that I can keep coming back to over and over again. I’ve already started on the next book, and I have loose outlines for at least two others.

Speaking of, this doesn’t mean the end of The Beacon Campaigns, does it?

Absolutely not! Praxis and Kaedrich are way too near and dear to me to ever abandon them, and I know that I have fans awaiting the next installment (love you guys!). But those books are big and complicated, and Book Four is a little bit different and a little bit more of a creative challenge for me, so I needed something else to keep my mind fresh. But don’t worry, I should have news on Whispers of the Ice in the next few months.

That’s it! I hope that you all enjoy this book as much as I have. It’s been an absolute blast to write, and I am so looking forward to finally sharing it with you. Remember, if you want release news as soon as it happens, be sure to sign up for my mailing list!

Monthly Author Check-In: April 2017

What I’m Writing: The Private Life of Jane Maxwell
What I’m Reading: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore / The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
What I’m Loving: NBC’s Powerless, which is vastly underappreciated.

WIP Excerpt

“Hey, but on the plus side,” Cal said, with entirely too much cheer, “you’re in for some great eats! Juanita makes a mean lobster bisque.”

Devin snorted. “You know that’s not really her name, don’t you?”

“What?” Cal said. For a terrifying moment, Jane thought that he was going to turn around to boggle at Devin—but just then a gray sedan with a pile of kayaks strapped to its roof swerved, cutting them off. Jane braced herself, but Cal had the situation well in hand.

“Yeah. That’s just what she lets you call her.”

Cal frowned. “Nah, man. I visit her all the time when we’re up there.”

“For the free food.”

“No! Well—yeah, sure. It’s damn good. But me and ’Nita, dude, we’re tight.” He took his hand off the wheel, crossing his fingers as he waved them in Devin’s direction.

“Uh-huh. Tell me, how many kids does she have?”

“Shit, you can’t expect me to remember something like that,” Cal said. He glanced over his shoulder at the approaching traffic, hopping lanes as he attempted to get back ahead of the kayak-happy sedan, which had greatly reduced its speed now that it was in the lane it wanted.

“Cal!” Amy shouted. “The exit!”

Research pile

I’m at the point in my book where I am doing a million things all at once. Researching the climatic sequences of superhero movies, and pouring over history books about comic franchises for Easter Egg names; trying to finalize the last two superhero names and one more villain’s name; reading my book out loud to get a feel for how the pacing and plot arcs progress; editing, editing, editing, as a result of my read-through; trying to figure out which ’90s girl-movie was Jane Maxwell’s favorite when she was a teenager. Some of these things are large-scale work, and some of them are the last tiny details; it’s funny how often those two get jumbled up right at the end. But this is a familiar feeling—it means that my book will be published soon. I already sent out the first cover reveal to my mailing list, and the public reveal on the blog is coming May 1st(!), so be sure to check back! Graeme is starting to work out details of the interior layout, though the bulk of that work is still waiting on near-finalized text.

I hope that this feeling never gets old. I hope that I am still publishing books in 10, 15, 20 years, the process as familiar as worn leather, and that it still brings me joy every time. Because 4 books in, it is still bringing me joy. So, so much joy. I hear all of the time how stressful publishing is, and I guess I can understand it, I mean, there’s a lot to keep track of. There’s a lot of work involved, especially when you’re doing it yourself instead of going to a publishing house. But, oh! It does not feel like work. At this stage I want nothing more than to work all day, stopping only long enough to eat. This is play. This is creativity and collaboration and expression. This is, quite possibly, my very favorite stage of the process.

Oh, who am I kidding? They’re all my favorite. Being an author is honestly the best job in the entire world.

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