Demons, gymnasts, and treachery. That was the original premise for Heroes’ Day, back when it was just a 10,000 word short story titled, “For Little Girls Who Wish.” Now that the novel is complete and beginning its slow infiltration of various online bookstores, I think it’s safe to reminesce over what was, what might have been, and what should never have been.
Heroes’ Day came in three distinct drafts, with a handful of smaller minor edits sprinkled in between. The first was “For Little Girls Who Wish” / “The Spandex Hero.” Believe it or not, my idea was to have a young gymnast sell her soul to a local demon named Father Hades (you’ll notice I kept the name for the final draft—it tickled me so) in exchange for Olympic gold. Very original, I know. Monica (then named Danielle McAllister) was such a bitter little tart that I got sick of her early on. Hades was a plastic-looking demon who came and went in little puffs of smoke. Linda Baimbridge was a dude, a hack photographer (ala Joe Grifasi in Brewster’s Millions, I now realize). The whole thing had a wolf-on-the-prowl sort of feel to it. There was to be a demonic rape scene in which Hades siphoned off Danielle’s soul, but in order for that to work, I had to make her older, seventeen or eighteen—and that was pissing me off because I kept thinking, “She should know better. This is ridiculous. This is shit.” So, I filed “…Little Girls…” away and moved on to other things.
Phase two came during the 2000 Olympic Games, and was the result of a sudden light bulb over the head moment. I was working on something—an Urban Prophets story, I think—with the TV (muted) and the boombox on in the background. I happened to look up during a women’s gymnastics awards ceremony just as Mike Oldfield‘s “Summit Day” started playing—and an idea hit me about how elite gymnastics is the great facade event, all about poise and grace, neatness, prim and proper lines. But behind the scenes it’s like any other competitive sport: there’s blood, sweat, and tears, bruised bodies, bloodied palms, broken dreams. I knew this was one of the prime ingredients I needed in my hero stew, which now had some of the framework laid for a futuristic look at competitive athletics (Olympus, the Patriot System, global ranks, etc.). I set the main characters’ ages at twelve, and had them go to Olympus together as a brother-sister pair, with chapters alternating between their respective viewpoints. Cody, the brother, had to deal with Coach Hades’ merciless work ethic, as well as the detrimental side effects of a “standard” nano-therapy tonic meant to give him increased stamina and muscle mass within a short period of time (even in this intermediate stage of the book’s development, the pop culture cliches were there—meaning the boys were expected to be powerful, super-muscular, the girls small and dainty). Danielle, the sister, had to endure Coach Tracie’s strict dieting guidelines, as well as a sexually-abusive member of the Canadian boys’ team (an early version of John Matusik). I liked this revision a lot, though I ultimately chose not to stick with it because it was too much like Ender’s Game (which I happened to be reading at the time). But I was getting close.
I worked on other projects for a while, coming back to Heroes’ Day every now and again to add a note or two here or there. Finally, in late 2007, I sat down with the conviction that if I didn’t make things happen by the 2008 Games in Beijing, they would never happen. I started a new draft, and stuck with it, revising, editing, and polishing on through the spring of 2008. Along the way, I found Monica’s story, and I ran with it. There was still a hint of Ender’s Game in there, but the bulk was truly Heroes’ Day, a social science fiction novel about a gymnast, a gymnastics novel with an emphasis on social politics. And it wasn’t Stick It. That was important.
Of all the changes resulting in the final incarnation of Heroes’ Day, Monica’s evolution as a character was the most dramatic. In the beginning, I was still writing “young,” using my then-favorite elite gymnast as a crutch and defaulting to whatever angst-ridden tendencies I saw, read, or heard around me. Danielle was shallow, her emotions genuine enough, but her lessons learned in a “no duh” sort of way. That’s where the Ender’s Game influence once again came into play. Orson Scott Card wrote about children often, and he always made them intelligent, sophisticated, interesting to an adult audience (this was evident in his Homecoming series, for example). In short: I had to have Monica grow up even though she was still physically thirteen years old. Once that happened, and once she was based on herself and not on any real-life athletes, the story came, and there was no doubt that I’d at last made the right revision.