Starting off my month dedicated to Superhero fiction, I have a guest post by the very talented J.L. MacDonald. A gifted artist and author, her Nightcat has become one of my favorite characters. Jen is also a Star Trek fan. LOL!
My character Nightcat is pretty new to the indie scene, having first been published in “Metahumans vs the Undead” by Coscom Entertainment back in 2011. She has since appeared in several short stories and a stand-alone novel since then.
“The Darkness of Shadows” recounts her origin story of how Nightcat was created to be the ultimate spy by having her DNA combined with those of various wild cats. The microscopic computers (nanites) in her bloodstream allow her to morph back into her human alter ego, Dana Harker. In her feline form, she possesses heightened agility, senses, reflexes and a healing factor. That being said, she’s not invulnerable. Her regenerative abilities are largely dependant on adrenaline and has limits.
It’s hard for even me to believe, but the first idea of Nightcat came to me about 20 years ago, roughly the same time I was getting into comics. While I liked the genre, I always felt that most female superheroes were basically the female version of an already existing popular male character. Like Superman/Supergirl, Batman/Batgirl, Spider-Man/Spider-Girl/Spider-Woman and so on. I was far better at drawing than writing back then so I decided to make a just-for-fun comic with a strong original female character.
I did up a couple of concept sketches and named her “Black Cat”. Once I discovered a character with that name existed already I renamed her to “Nightcat”. (Which I found out years later existed as a one shot Marvel comic) My Nightcat’s origin was similar in fashion to Weapon X or the Super Soldier: some secret organization was attempting to create the perfect spy.
Nightcat was originally a regular human in a costume, but when Disney’s Gargoyles came on the air, I was inspired to make her a hybrid instead. I decided to make her physically different to set her apart from other superheroes. Once I changed the basic design of the character, I tried to figure out what her costume would look like and took a very realistic approach in doing so. Nightcat was covered in fur, so she wouldn’t have any real need for a full spandex outfit. And since her secret identity was human, there wouldn’t be any need for her to wear a mask. I remember grappling with that decision because as far as I was concerned, a superhero (save Superman) NEEDED a mask. Looking back, I’m glad I did away with it. I find it allows her face to be more expressive when I draw her.
Unfortunately, back then I didn’t possess the necessary skills or patience to see through making my own comic so the idea was stagnant for quite a few years. It wasn’t until I met an aspiring screenwriter at a company retreat that I even thought such a thing would be possible for me to do. I can honestly say that without his encouragement, I never would have even tried to write the novel.
It was still daunting however. English wasn’t my best subject in school, and sitting at my computer having that blank Microsoft Word document mockingly stare at me, I continually asked myself what I was doing. Many times, I simply closed the file without writing anything. I can’t remember how long it was before I actually started putting words on a page.
All I really had in the beginning was one character and a very loose story outline so I made some guidelines for the universe I was creating: everything had to be scientifically plausible. This helped me out quite a lot and set the tone for that and future stories. It was still challenging to write, but I sat back and thought what it would be like for someone who is THE only superhero in town. How would she react to certain situations, how would she feel, what would she do after she mutated? If I couldn’t come up with an answer, I asked myself how I would react in that situation. I think most of the characters I created have some part of me in them, but Nightcat/Dana happens to have more of my personality traits than the others.
In keeping with the pseudo-realism of the series, I also wanted the characters to be thoroughly fleshed out. Physical descriptions and dialogue were easy for me to write, but I wanted to take it farther and give them ages, birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, the works. I sprinkled those little tidbits in here and there to add depth to the characters.
Once my manuscript was finished and edited numerous times I started submitting it to publishers. Getting published is a challenge in and of itself, but I also wrote in a genre that not many publishers look for. Back then I (erroneously) assumed that only good books got published traditionally, and if you didn’t get published, that meant you weren’t a good writer. I’ve learned over the years that that isn’t the case. Publishers publish what they figure will sell. “Well written” and “marketable” aren’t always the same thing.
When I was talking about it to a good friend of mine about the publishing challenges I was facing, she introduced me to A.P. Fuchs of Coscom Entertainment. He encouraged me to go indie, and while I was dubious at first, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that was the way to go. I would retain complete control over the characters and be able to tell the stories I wanted to tell. I could also market the characters any way I wanted. I love drawing and my skill level improved since my high-school days, so I could even create my own Nightcat posters, book covers and whatever else I could think of.
There is a bit of a misnomer that self publishing is incredibly easy, and yes it can be. But the reality is you’re not likely to list an ebook on Amazon, sit back and retire in 6 months. Self publishing takes time and dedication but among all that hard work, there is a lot of fun involved too.
I created Lion’s Share Press and on May 23rd, 2013, Nightcat’s debut novel was released to coincide with Dana’s birthday (I’m sentimental like that). The short stories “Marked for Death” and the latest “Burden of Proof” followed a few months later. Nightcat also has stories featured in Coscom Entertainment’s “Metahumans vs” anthology series. I currently have a second and third novel in the works and it’s my hope that “Where the Devil Dwells” will be available in the summer or fall of 2014. So long as I’m able to come up with entertaining Nightcat stories, I plan to keep writing them. The characters are almost like family to me, and even though I’m the writer of the series, I find myself wanting to learn more about the characters as well.
Before I sign off, I would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Jeffrey Allen Davis for asking me to be a guest blogger on his site. It was fun taking a trip down memory lane.
You’re welcome, Jen! And thank you for the honor of hosting your post.