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Some Days in the Life - Superguy
(or, Hearing from Gary)

Posted 4/23/99

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I heard from Gary Olson for the first time in a while, yesterday. Apparently thanks to this Journal. See -- put your life on the web like an exhibitionist, and good things can happen. Gary's doing well -- working on the third draft of his novel and any day now he'll have one of his stories appearing in a small press. He's a diligent writer who really wants to succeed, and he has the talent.

I met Gary through Superguy, which was and is an online superhero fiction universe thing that we both used to contribute to. It was strange, and weird, and in ways wonderful and in ways utter crap. It still exists, but only on life support. There was a day that a large number of us almost centered our lives (at least, our creative lives) around Superguy. Today, most of us aren't willing to discuss it in public.

Why, I wonder?

Maybe it was the subject matter. Superguy is a superhero list, and a comedy list to boot. Which means sometimes it was hysterically funny and sometimes it was epic in its scope and a lot of the time it was stupid, sexist and juvenile. I include myself in these. The absolute worst dreck I have ever committed to ASCII went into Superguy (specifically a 'serious' subtopic of it, and specifically a 'story' called WarHammer. It's repulsive). Some of the best stuff I've ever written is there too. Most of it's in the middle. And I was considered one of the better writers.

Gary Olson, referred to above, was the best of the Superguy writers. He was the most prolific, but he maintained a quality most of us couldn't manage. His style evolved and grew over time, and culminated in a very tightly constructed series. Which he finished and then moved on from. Most of us wanted to be Gary.

Superguy gave us an outlet for experimentation, too. Probably the best of my 'serious' stories was about a young girl trying to resist being broken. It had betrayals and abuses and tortures and psychology and a lot of other things -- my attempt at 1984 coupled with a dark romantic subtext -- the hero fighting the forces of nature. More than any quality of writing it did or didn't have (I'm not recommending anyone go looking for it), though, it had new styles of storytelling which I'd never worked with before. I did entire scenes in transcript form, for example. (I was working on a long term temp job at the time where I was producing verbatim transcripts of interviews -- I had begun thinking in transcript format, including all the ums, buts and curses.) The transcripts were usually interviews between the lead character and a psychiatrist working with the organization torturing the lead. The format not only added a certain verisimilitude to the proceeding, it had undertones. The conversations were supposed to be in confidence, but the reader was reading a transcript. Betrayal of trust....

No one would publish this story. No one. Not because of subject matter, but just because it isn't of publishable quality, even if it didn't have all the superheroic baggage (especially the comedic superheroic baggage -- this story was deadly serious, but I had characters in it named Trashman, Spandex Babe and Unorthodox Girl). But I got to write it and get feedback on it. I'm a better writer today for having written it. A much better writer.

All told, I wrote just under a million words for Superguy. If an average SF/Fantasy book is 300 pages long, that's not quite fourteen novels. Most of this was done in a five year period. Some of the storylines were paced as novels and were novel length as well. The last truly large project I did -- one called Fallout, meant to commemorate my '100th episode' of my series Adjusted Length Unimpeachable was almost 150,000 words and was written in six weeks, start to finish. 150,000 words. Six hundred standard double-spaced pages. In six weeks. For free. The last serious story I wrote for it -- called Year's End -- I wrote in five hours. It was a good story. Strongly characterized and a nice end-point (thought it wasn't meant that way at the time.) It was about 40,000 words long. That's thirty two pages an hour, where it's considered "intense" to write thirty-two pages a day.

I've never come close to that again. Perhaps I burned myself out in those 'fourteen novels.' Perhaps I'm missing my calling somewhere. But those experiences have taught me that I can write, I can write quality work, I can write in volume and I can write quickly. That gives you confidence. (Heck, after the first ten novels....)

Gary is the same, I'm sure. Other friends of mine are too. One or two still have some involvement with Superguy, though the list that once had an average of two posts a day now fields a single post in a three week period at best, and a single post in a six month period at worst.

Why did I stop? It stopped being fun. I was in one of the worst periods of my life, emotionally, and there were a number of people who had started really... well, trying to regulate it. When you've written thirteen and a half novel's worth of stuff, you don't want people who've written an informative pamphlet telling you what to do. So I stopped doing it. Others did the same. At the same time, a magazine called Mythic Heroes started up and I started work on that, publishing in it and letting those parts of my brain get some exercise there. My Mythic Heroes stuff was generally better than my Superguy stuff -- perhaps good enough for collation and publication elsewhere at some point. I had several stories ready to roll which sadly never went because the magazine folded. Small press fiction magazines are hard to make successful these days.

I even wrote comedy superheroes for it at one point. Paragon's Last Stand was a satire of the Superman mythos -- Paragon, the Lost Prince of a Dead World, the Diamond Hard Man, the Greatest Superhero of them All, is sick of it. He wants to retire, but he can't. There'll always be some menace he has to come out of retirement to fight. So, he gets together with his greatest enemy and the pair start trying to fake his death. Six episodes long, each episode getting more and more frustrating for Paragon. It was funny and fun to write. Its first issue was given the cover illustration in the plans (my second cover illustration).

Alas, Mythic Heroes went under and no one's buying superhero serialized satire. Maybe it'll be a novel sometime. I wish that cover would be used, though. One of my housemates at the time did the art for it and used me as the model for the archvillain. That would be a major kick. If that painting were online, I'd post it here.

Since 1996, when I wrote Year's End on December 31st, I've written precisely three things for Superguy. One was an attempt to rekindle some fun -- Journey into Normalguy, about normal human beings pretending to be superheroes. A few months ago, I wrote the first episode of Cheesesteak: The Loaf of Evil, since Superguy was moving into its tenth anniversary year and I was thinking about it. Someday, I may write a second, but don't hold your breath. In February, on the 10th anniversary of my first Superguy post (something that three unrelated events reminded me of -- I took this as destiny), I wrote a fast little ditty in commemoration of that anniversary.

I have no further plans for Superguy. The magic isn't there. Which means Gary isn't there, along with the people who I cheerfully wasted time in the early nineties with. If I'm writing, I'm working on From Nottingham to Runnymede or one of the Science Fiction short stories kicking around my head or an occasional contemporary short story. If I'm writing for free, it's either here or In Nomine stuff, and with luck maybe someday I'll get paid for something in that. (Paid in chewing gum and beads, I would imagine -- Role Playing Development or RPG magazine markets aren't places to get rich, these days.) The characters I used to write I revisit in online gaming when I need to, and they have a tendency to find their way into other fiction. We'll see.

It was nice to hear from Gary, though. He was an important part of my life for years, even though we only met a few times. He and I cowrote the first several chapters of a book that someday, in six redrafts, could be good. We worked on a short story that's gotten some good rejection letters. We've talked about working on other short stories. We've talked about keeping up with Round Robin, which is a long story quite a bit like the Superguy story but also different. We've talked about Rialto, which is an actively good story that he, I and John Bankert have been working on. We'll see.