“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Today we are delighted to welcome Sarah Kuhn to the blog to talk about the Inspirations and Influences behind the excellent Heroine Complex.
Please give it up for Sarah!
With Heroine Complex, I basically wrote the book equivalent of my own personal candy. It’s a story about Asian American superheroines who get to do all kinds of fun things: fight and bond their way through complicated friendships, battle outlandish enemies like demonic cupcakes, and have hot sex with adorably nerdy love interests. Unsurprisingly, my inspirations came from a wide variety of things that are also like candy to me.
The “Ladies’ Night” issue of Uncanny X-Men
In this classic from the ’80s (written by Chris Claremont, penciled by Marc Silvestri), Storm, Dazzler, Psylocke, and Rogue (well, Rogue while she’s mind-melded with Carol Danvers, so sometimes it’s really Carol because Carol takes control when—you know what, let’s just say it’s complicated) decide to blow off some steam via a trip to the mall. There’s shoe shopping and makeovers and the X-ladies even go to a sort of Chippendale’s-esque club to watch hunky, shirtless dudes gyrating around. Oh, and they encounter a new young mutant named Jubilee. One thing I wanted to explore in Heroine Complex was the mundane side of superheroing—when you’ve gotten demonic goop all over your nicest spandex onesie or leather pants, who cleans up the mess? How do you maintain a social media presence? And what do you do during your downtime, when there’s no evil to be fought? I love “Ladies’ Night” because it delves into that very thing and shows us a different side of the X-Ladies as they banter, tease each other, and attempt to relax. Also, there is a Trying On Clothes Montage, which is one of my favorite things of all time.
The Heroic Trio
In this Hong Kong action classic from the ’90s (written by Sandy Shaw, directed by Johnnie To), three badass ladies (Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, and Anita Mui) team up to take down a nefarious supernatural foe—and to look fabulous in over-the-top superheroine garb like skintight red bodysuits and oversized goggles and voluminous capes that they somehow never trip over. When I saw this movie, it changed my world. Because even though I’d been obsessed with superheroes all my life, I’d never seen Asian lady superheroes—superheroes who look like me!—centered this way, as bona fide protagonists who get to do all the fun stuff protagonists get to do. (And one of them has a hot nerdy love interest!) Seeing Asian women go into superheroic combat together is an image I clung to and kept in my head the whole time I was writing Heroine Complex. So much so that I made The Heroic Trio a key point of bonding between the two main characters—seeing superheroines who look like them becomes a touchstone in their friendship and an important moment that sets them on their respective paths.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Middleman
These two shows (created by Joss Whedon and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, respectively) stand as two of my all-time favorites for many reasons and their influence on Heroine Complex is pretty obvious. Both focus on snarky, fast-talking heroines battling supernatural elements, both feature finely-tuned ensemble casts that constitute found families of characters (with a definite emphasis on female friendships), and both contain kinetic, set piece-y action sequences that aren’t afraid to be a little over-the-top and ridiculous. But perhaps less obvious is a key underlying element that informs both works—and it’s definitely something I learned from these shows as far as telling a story with a lot of humor.
Because though both shows approach their worlds in a fun, funny, often snarky way, they are also unapologetically earnest and unafraid to commit fully to their characters’ deepest emotions. When I first started writing fiction, I leaned heavily on humor as a defense mechanism—rather than going deep into a character’s feelings, I’d make a joke to cover them up. I was scared to fully “go there” because diverting to The Funny was always the easier path. Buffy and The Middleman showed me that you can have both—that The Funny and The Earnest can co-exist beautifully and that the best stories are often told when they do.
Actual Candy (well, desserts)
I wasn’t allowed to have candy as a child, which seems to have led to me being obsessed with all things sugary as an adult. Probably not what my parents were hoping for. Anyway, I’ll admit that when I wrote the demonic cupcake scene in Heroine Complex, I had an ulterior motive: I wanted to see what my friend JustJenn would come up with for the launch party. Jenn is an amazing lifestyle and food writer who devises the coolest geeky recipes for everything from Chewbacca donuts to X-Men cupcakes. And by the time you read this, I’ll either be stuffing my face with her demon cupcake creations or said creations will have turned into actual demons and taken over the world and we will be serving as their grateful human minions. Another specific dessert reference that made it into the book was a mention of delicious and incredibly creative San Francisco ice cream joint Humphry Slocombe and their signature Secret Breakfast flavor, which contains two things the Heroine Complex characters are very fond of: cereal and booze. Personally, I think food loves, hates, and vices make for key character traits, and I can’t wait to feed my protagonists even more delicious snacks in Book 2!
About the author:
Sarah Kuhn is the author of Heroine Complex—the first in a series starring Asian American superheroines—for DAW Books. She also wrote The Ruby Equation for the Eisner-nominated comics anthology Fresh Romance and the romantic comedy novella One Con Glory, which earned praise from io9 and USA Today and is in development as a feature film. Her articles and essays on such topics as geek girl culture, Asian American representation, and Sailor Moon cosplay have appeared in The Toast, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, AngryAsianMan.com, IGN.com, Back Stage, The Hollywood Reporter, StarTrek.com, Creative Screenwriting, and the Hugo-nominated anthology Chicks Dig Comics. In 2011, she was selected as a finalist for the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) New Writers Award. You can visit her at heroinecomplex.com or on Twitter: @sarahkuhn.
We have a copy of Heroine Complex to giveaway, open to all. Use the form below to enter and good luck.