August 5, 2019
A Chat with Nancy O’Toole Meservier – #IndieSuperheroSummer
Hello friends, and welcome to the third and final interview of #IndieSuperheroSummer! Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Nancy O’Toole Meservier to the blog. Nancy is the author of Red and Black and it’s brand-new sequel, Black and Blue. This series is about fangirls turned superheroes, cute guys just trying to do the right-wrong thing, and an almost You’ve-Got-Mail type secret identity romance. In short, it’s simply adorable. Plus, we all know I have a soft spot for superhero stories that play into the splash of the genre, so I was really destined to like these books.
Nancy herself is also friendly and deeply enthusiastic about books (and comics!)—but then, what more would you expect from a librarian? You all should absolutely check out both her and her work. Come to her social media for the book talk, stay for the cat pictures. And on that note, let’s see what she has to say!
Tell us about your books! Where did you get the idea? How many books will be in the series?
Hello! I write the Red and Black series, which is all about Dawn Takahashi, a super powered fangirl with dreams of becoming Bailey City’s first superhero, and Alex Gage, a working-class guy who moonlights as Faultline, a henchman for Bailey City’s first supervillain. While the two clash at night, during the day, they can’t help but be drawn to each other in all together different ways. This leads to the question, what happens when you unknowingly fall for your nemesis?
I originally got the idea for the Red and Black series over a decade ago. I was obsessed with this super fun MMORPG called City of Heroes, which allowed you to create your own superhero and run wild in a sprawling metropolis. Once I created the character of Dawn, I found myself quickly filling in her backstory, which I hoped one day to turn into a web comic.
And well, it’s a good thing I can’t draw because the story was terrible. Dawn was a lifelong sufferer of an ill-defined soap opera illness. Alex was an atrocious, two-timing love interest. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. The story was (thankfully) shelved for many years until National Novel Writing Month back in 2014. A fantasy novel I was working on completely fell apart around the midmonth mark. I didn’t want to “lose” NaNoWriMo so I started a new novel that would eventually become Red and Black.
So far, the series has two books, Red and Black and the recently released Black and Blue. As for the future of the series, I’ve already put a lot of work into the next two volumes, so there will at least be at least four books. I’d like to release even more.
What first drew you to the idea of writing about superheroes?
City of Heroes was what first sparked the inspiration of Red and Black, but I don’t know if the series would have existed if it wasn’t for this explosion of superhero media we’re existing in right now. Around the time I wrote the first draft of Red and Black, I was obsessed with the television show Arrow, and movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having those types of stories in the forefront of my mind was probably a big part of what draw me back to these characters.
Your book is told in a dual POV between a hero and a villain. What drew you to showing both sides of this situation? And do you have any advice on crafting characters who do bad things for arguably good reasons?
When I originally started the draft for Red and Black, there was no dual perspective. It was only from Dawn’s POV. After a few chapters, I realized that this wasn’t working. Alex was underdeveloped as a character, and since Calypso was the type of villain that stuck to the shadows, Dawn would have no interaction with her until the end of the book, which left her severely underdeveloped as well. Adding in chapters from Alex’s perspective really helped to solve these problems.
As far as crafting characters who do bad thing for arguably good reasons, I think it’s important that you show the reader why they do the things they do. If the reader can connect to this “why” in some way, it will result in an emotional attachment which will make the characters far more sympathetic. Another way you can amplify this is by having villains that have suffered from genuine disadvantages, such as Alex’s financial struggles. Readers don’t like it when life is blatantly unfair to a character, and will end up feeling for them, even if they don’t necessarily agree with all of their methods.
I really liked the abilities that you gave to your superheroes and villains, especially Faultline. How did you come up with them, and was it hard trying to find fresh new abilities, or did the idea for them just come naturally?
When it comes to creating abilities, mine tend to fall into two categories. With some powersets, I just think they’re cool and want to play around them. But I think can be really impactful if their abilities are tied to their personalities/journeys in some way, which I did with both Faultline and Dawn. Faultline/Alex grew economically disadvantaged, which has left him with a slightly pessimistic perspective, especially with it comes to the damaging inequalities in society. Giving him an ability that literally shoved the physical faults of the world in his face seemed appropriate. That, and the fact that his abilities are fueled by his temper, something he can struggle with, also ties back to his character.
Dawn’s abilities, on the other hand, are rooted in his own insecurities. She sees herself as scrawny, weak, and shy. While in costume, she is brave, bold, and physically imposing.
As for how I came up with them, Dawn’s abilities were inspired by the character I created back while playing City of Heroes. I’m not going to lie, Alex’s originally emerged because I wanted a character who could smash things in a impressive way, but the more I thought about who he was, the more personalized his abilities became.
So far, I haven’t had any problems creating new powers, but I might feel differently once I’ve crafted a few more. So maybe ask me this question again once I’ve finished the series?
What are some of your favorite superheroes (not your own), from any media or franchise?
People always look at me strangely when I say this, but I love Squirrel Girl, and not just because she is arguably one of the most powerful superhero in Marvel Comics. Her strengths go far beyond her impressive fighting abilities. Sometimes she can outsmart her enemies. Other times (like with Kraven the Hunter), she can use empathy to see things from their perspective and urge them towards a better path. Squirrel Girl’s stories transcend typical hero versus villain storylines, and the comic (written by Ryan North) manages to do so in a way that is funny, smart and approachable. I’m going to be so sad when his run finishes up later this year.
Moving beyond comics, there are so many heroes to love in the MCU right now, but like pretty much everyone else on this earth, I see Tom Holland as the perfect Peter Parker. I could watch movies about him for years, I swear. And in the world of anime, I am a huge fan of All Might from My Hero Academia, who manages to be both completely ridiculous, and the embodiment of all that is pure and good about superheroes.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
While I love to write about brave superheroes running in and saving the day, that is so not me. I’m much more suited for support roles. That’s why I’d love to be able to heal. I know plenty of people whose lives are impacted by illnesses or pain, and I would love to be able to alleviate or outright cure them.
What are the best and worst parts of writing about superheroes?
The best part about writing superheroes is they punch things and get to have elaborate fight scenes on top of speeding trains where anything can happen!
I’m only slightly kidding there.
But seriously, one of the best things about writing about superheroes is they are perfect conduit for studying duality. There’s good versus evil and everything in between. The relationship between the strong and the weak. Our inner selves versus our public selves. Secret identities and masks provide so many opportunities to look at these really crunchy topics.
The worst part of writing about superheroes is remembering who knows what. Who knows character X’s secret identity, but not characters Y’s. Or who knows character Z’s backstory but isn’t saying anything about it. It’s a lot to keep track of.
Do you have any advice you’d like to pass along to aspiring writers (superhero-related or otherwise)?
Write the story you want to read. Your enthusiasm for the topic will clearly shine through and be felt by readers. Also, you’re far more likely to finish a book if it’s something that excites you.
Lastly, let’s get to know the woman behind the mask a little. Tell us one thing about yourself that you normally don’t mention on social media.
When I was a kid, music was such an important part of my life. I sang in chorus for years, played piano in elementary school, handbells through middle and high school, and even tried my hand at guitar and violin for a little while. As an adult, these skills are mostly gone, but not the desire to keep music a part of my life. Unfortunately, writing has taken up most of my free time, so this will have to remain a bucket list item. Ironically, I’ve found that musicians have been infiltrating my fiction lately. I’m working on a novelette for my newsletter where an important character is a talented flute player. And in book three, Dawn encounters a violinist. I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through my characters for now.
Nancy O’Toole Meservier is a vertically challenged librarian who spends her off hours writing fiction, reading, and thinking way too much about superheroes. She lives in Central Maine with two wonderful cats and one equally wonderful spouse. She is currently writing The Red and Black Series, which includes both Red and Black and Black and Blue.
Red and Black
Dawn Takahashai knows all about superheroes.
She’s been a fan of them for years. So when she’s granted an impressive powerset of her own, she dives right in, eager to prove herself as Bailey City’s first superhero: Miss Red and Black.
Her first challenge is Faultline. He’s powerful, smart and, as a henchman for Bailey City’s first supervillain, standing right in her way. But that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that under the mask, Faultline is Alex Gage, a working-class guy trying to scrounge together enough money to help support his younger sisters.
Dawn has no idea that the charming and seemingly straightforward Alex is Faultline. Alex has no idea that the adorably awkward Dawn is the superhero he clashes with at night.
And Dawn and Alex have a date next week.