Superhero as ordinary guy. Even superhero Dads can have problems relating to their daughters (especially when their daughters might be smarter than them).
Title: Flight And Family
Language: British English
Synopsis: Maisie Arthur, an un-gifted child of superheroes, must ally with her estranged older brother to expose the origins of a superpower drug driving its users mad. As deaths pile up, the conspiracy looks increasingly personal: at its heart, her father’s rise to fame.
Alone in her bedroom as the evening drew to a close, Maisie Arthur couldn’t feel less like a hero. That was fine. In the brittle quiet of the house, she felt something better: safe. Better safe than a hero any night of the week, and if a part of her wished otherwise — or wished she felt otherwise — it could join the small mountain of failed ambitions and expectations she had been accumulating all her sixteen years.
The muted tones of a television announcer drifting up from downstairs kept the quiet from becoming oppressive, its low drone a reminder that her mother, too, was home and safe, even if she could never be saved. He was out. In his absence, the very walls seemed to breathe easier, and while he remained absent, Maisie planned to escape into sleep. Or try; sleep didn’t come easily these days.
And then the phone rang, shattering her vision of an undisturbed night. The feeling of safety fled out the window.
Only one person could be calling at this hour. Maisie glared at the phone, sending up a prayer to the telecom gods. Please, let it be a wrong number. The phone kept ringing, vibrations carrying it close to the edge of her desk. Closer to her. Screw you, telecom gods.
She picked it up. A glance at the screen confirmed her fears: no wrong numbers here. Dread took up a perch on her breastbone, crushing and familiar. As tempting as it was to toss the phone out the window after her elusive safety, this was one problem she couldn’t avoid, not when the repercussions weren’t contained to her. She pressed answer.
“Father.” Her greeting came out flat.
“You took your time picking up,” said Sterling Arthur — superhero, celebrity, husband, and father. In that order.
“When lives are on the line, ‘I’m sorry’ won’t cut it.”
If lives were on the line, you’d be a fool to call me, Maisie thought. What she said was: “No, of course not.”
“Do better. You have more to prove than most, don’t forget.”
“I won’t.” As if she ever could. Her defining flaw was known by the world, but even without external reminders, the knowledge of it was nested irrevocably in her psyche. Unlike her two older brothers, unlike her parents, Maisie had no powers. In the eyes of her father, she had failed the family line.
“You don’t want to let me down, do you?” The implicit ‘again’ sat between them.
“Good. You’re going with your brothers tonight.”
The phone flexed under the pressure of her grip. “It’s a school night.”
A derisive exhale. “Worried about your future in academics? You’ve piss-poor grades at the best of times, and even if you didn’t — you’re an Arthur. You’re not shaming my name with cowardice.”
“The Kista warehouse.”
She had thought her stomach couldn’t drop any further. The Kista warehouse sat on the outskirts of town, attracting trouble like a rotting carcass drew flies. Kista Cars used to be one of the three biggest employers in Briston before they went bust ten years ago. Now the lot was abandoned, slowly decaying as all potential developers became mired in a bog of bureaucracy. Anyone with an inclination towards misdoing, from teenagers looking to drink in secrecy to more hardened criminal types, gravitated to its dark ruins. More recently, a local gang had moved in. Rumour had it they were dealing Flight.
Violent criminals, armed with knives, guns, and superpowers. A fun evening outing. Right.
“Can’t the authorities handle it?”
“You would rely on the police?” her father asked, quiet outrage coating the question.
“We don’t look to the police. If they’re not bought and paid for, they’re jumping at shadows. They can’t handle Superhumans. Not like us.”
Where do I fit into this ‘us’? Maisie’s thought went unspoken. No advantage existed for her against even normal people intent on committing crime. Against one suped up on Flight? It was like pitting a field mouse against a leopard.
Flight gave people superpowers. Some of the time. The powers varied in strength and utility, only lasting five hours if they manifested at all, but within those five hours, a select few could wreak devastation. Flight warped its user’s personalities. Sometimes the change was barely perceptible; other times they were driven into killing frenzies. Since its appearance on the scene thirty years ago, Britain had been gripped in a state of semi-perpetual panic.
Flight had, in more than one way, defined the course of Maisie’s life.
The panic catapulted her father into the stratosphere. Her brilliant, extraordinary father, born with the abilities other people risked everything to gain. He was a hero. One of The Five. As for Flight and her mother . . . in that direction lay sorrow.
“I could have died last time,” she said softly.
“But you didn’t. No more arguments.” The threat sat on his tongue: Live up to my dream, or I’ll stop. He could be bluffing, but if the threat was real, it wasn’t Maisie who’d pay the price.
She gave up, as she so often did lately.
“How will I get there?” There was little point asking why — it did no good, not since her father decided she was part of the family business, powers or no. In lieu of another target, she kicked her dresser, unsure if the brunt of her rage was directed at him or herself.
“Samson’s picking you up in half an hour. Be ready.” He disconnected.
Maisie sat on the bed, phone lowered to her lap. She thought she hated him in times like this. Real hatred, not simmering resentment that he never found her good enough. Her toe smarted from the kick. Tiredness hit her with the weight of a concrete slab, and her shoulders bowed under the pressure. It took her twenty minutes to drag herself up and pull on more appropriate clothing — not spandex; never spandex. Ten minutes later, Samson pulled up in front of the house.
Editorial comment: As I try always to be at pains to point out, there’s a lot of luck involved in submitting to agents; even if you’ve got the best opening in the world it just might not float that particular agent’s boat, on that particular day. I happen to like the “sub-superhero” genre, the books and films that deal with the superhero as a commonplace, real life intruding on superhero tropes, like the dry-cleaners losing your cape, or the car not starting. There’s quite a collection now – everything from The Incredibles to The Boys – and I thought both of those two particular works were very finely scripted.
So I’m immediately receptive to the premise of a non-supe girl stuck in a superhero family with ‘issues’. I’m almost tempted to say ‘Just send me the thing, now’, but I promise submissions a critique, so here goes.
There’s one slight problem with this opening. It’s pretty good, all told, but the first page is s-l-o-w, and the reason it’s slow is that you’re ‘telling’, rather than ‘showing’. Actually, what you’re doing is the even more common problem of ‘telling’ and ‘showing’. How so? From “Alone …” to “… answer” you spend 276 words describing Maisie’s rather poor opinion of her father. I would suggest you don’t need any of that ‘telling’. Nearly all of that entire page is encapsulated in the next two lines:
“Father.” Her greeting came out flat.
“You took your time picking up,” said Sterling Arthur – superhero, celebrity, husband, and father. In that order.
Now I wouldn’t suggest those are your opening two lines – they do need some kind of introduction — but do you see how much you actually show us in those twenty-three words? Everything is precise. “Father” is a very formal form of address. This is not someone who’s close to their ‘dad’. You have a kind of self-observational thing going on with “Her greeting came out flat.” It’s almost as if she’s listening to herself, observing her own reaction to her father’s call – again not the behaviour of someone who’s happy to hear from their parent. Her father’s first line throws down all sorts of pointers as to their relationship – perhaps the fact that her coolness to him is mirrored. No “How are you, love?” here. His opening comment is a rebuke. And then the assessment of him as a person “… superhero, celebrity, husband, and father. In that order.” I get the feeling (hope I’m right) that this is the free indirect thought of Maisie, because we’re immediately drawn to her. This is someone with a sharp intellect and who is a perceptive judge of character.
Is your opening page a deal-breaker? I don’t think so, because the writing thereafter is generally pretty tight, and openings are notoriously hard to get exactly right – any agent worth the title would know that – but if I were you I would tighten it up, and have more confidence in the precise and succinct nature of the next two lines to convey most of the message of the first entire page.
I’m going to give this a silver star. If I were an agent I’d definitely ask to see the rest, just in case I’ve unearthed the next “superhero as ordinary guy” story. I’d be aware that the book probably needs some revision, so I’d be thinking of good freelance editors I knew who did the more structural/developmental side of editing and who owed me a favour. You might, however, be unlucky and get an agent who’s not really interested in the genre, and then the first page of largely emotional exposition might turn them off.
Thanks for posting!
PS: My book, below, goes into some detail about free indirect speech/thought, if that’s a term you haven’t heard before.
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