YA Male Heroes – Interview with Chelsea M. Campbell

Hey readers! Welcome to part two of my blog project. Last week I introduced you to the wonderful Young Adult author John Dixon and his character, Carl Freeman, and his battle through a world of adventure and military combat intelligence. Today I’m diving into the superhero category and an author with a hero (or is it villain?) of her own!

With the excitement of all the new Marvel and DC movies, I’ve become a humongous fan of comic book heroes and villains. Captain America, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Star-lord, Rorschach, Loki – what’s not to like? Reading superhero comics and books are fun, regardless of what universe you’re in. But writing superheroes? Even more fun!

Introducing our next character – Damien Locke. In The Rise of Renegade X, Damien is about to accept his supervillain status and join his friends on the journey to become a bad guy. The only problem is that he’s about to find out the truth: he’s also half a superhero. And well? That changes everything. Filled with action, humor, and quirky one-liners, The Rise of Renegade X tells Damien’s story as he tries to figure out who he’s going to become even as both the good guys and bad guys stand in the way.

Chelsea M. Campbell is the author of The Rise of Renegade X, as well as its sequel The Trials of Renegade X and another to come. She agreed to stop by and answer a few questions and I was so grateful to have her along for the project as she shares her experience on writing both for males and writing Damien (who is a male), as well as her ideas on what makes Damien stand out in the young adult genre. Check out the interview below!

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  1. What personality traits or quirks make Damien stand out as a great character?

He’s funny and snarky and messes with people a lot, but for good reasons. He actually cares a lot about people, even if he doesn’t always let them see it. He’s also the kind of character you can rely on to be funny and still hold it together, even when everything is crashing down around them and their life is falling apart.

  1. What do you enjoy writing most about your character?

Pretty much everything in #1.

  1. Are there any flaws Damien has that you enjoy exploiting to expand the plots of the Renegade X series?

Oh, yes. The fact that he hates his powers is a pretty big one. And even if he doesn’t hate the second one so much, he hates what it means for him as he’s trying to figure out where he belongs. I also love exploiting his jealousy, his fears, and his need to belong despite being such an independent person, to name a few. And of course he screws up a lot and causes big problems for the people around him.

  1. Do you share any of the same traits Damien does?

I don’t think anybody’s ever asked me this before, mainly on account of the gender difference. When you write your own gender, people tend to think it’s you. When you write the opposite gender, people assume it’s someone totally different. But yeah, I definitely share a lot of traits with Damien. Out of all my characters, he’s the most me, even if we’re still different people, and the book is basically my voice and my sense of humor. One big thing that’s not the same, though, is that I’m terrified of electricity and I always wished I could fly as a kid. Obviously those things aren’t true for Damien.

  1. Ignoring any potential gender-related plots like romance and family, how different would the story be if the hero of your books was a female?

 

Other than the fact that I wouldn’t have written it? I’d like to say that of course the story would be exactly the same, but I know that’s not true. I don’t know if I would have had the guts to write about a girl who was so snarky and daring and not afraid to piss people off. I hate how much that’s true, that I wouldn’t have been able to write the book the same way and that I don’t think the audience would have accepted a girl with the same personality. But realistically, there shouldn’t be any difference. I am a girl writing this, this is my voice, and I relate to what happens to the characters.

  1. Do you believe that women can be a male character’s Achilles heel or the backbone of his triumph? Or both?

Definitely both. But I also think anyone can play those roles. Characters’ relationships matter and can’t help but influence them, just like in real life. And I think, especially in romantic relationships, both people play both these parts for each other. Because when you care about somebody a lot, they can be both a strength and a vulnerability. It’s like how strengths and flaws are often the same thing.

  1. Do you think the choices of your character are relevant to the women around him, or affected mainly by the adventure of the plot?

Damien’s choices are definitely influenced by the people who are important to him, and that includes the women in his life. I like stories that are more character-driven than plot-driven, so for me the other characters are always going to have more influence than anything else.

 

  1. All three of your main projects, including the Renegade X series, are told in the point of view of a young male lead. Do you find it’s easier to write boys, or equal to writing in the narrative of a girl? And if so, what are some of the struggles you’ve encountered when it comes to writing in the voice of an opposite gender?

It’s soooo much easier for me to write about boys. I love reading about both genders, but when I’m writing, I get really bored by female POVs. (See #5 above.) Besides just, you know, liking boys, I also get really caught up in gender expectations for girls. Society teaches contradicting things about girls, like that they’re supposed to be perfect and nice and never make waves, oh, and they’d better be attractive, too. But they should also kick ass and not do what they’re told and not care if they’re fat (but also not be fat), and they’d better not be stupid, because girls aren’t really stupid, but they’d better not be too smart, either, because that’s threatening. NONE OF THAT STUFF IS TRUE. NONE OF THAT DESCRIBES ANY GIRLS OR WOMEN I’VE EVER KNOW, INCLUDING MYSELF. But I still get hung up on it. So in a lot of ways, it’s easier to write about boys, because I didn’t grow up absorbing the same constraints about them. I feel much more free to tell a real story and have real characters I can see myself in when the main character is a boy. I haven’t really encountered any struggles with writing from a male POV during the writing itself, but occasionally I’ll see someone (either gender) complaining about how I just threw a bunch of sex jokes in to sound like a guy. This is especially annoying because it implies that girls don’t make sex jokes (sex jokes are about all I remember from junior high, especially sitting at an almost all-girls lunch table) or even think about sex or anything like that.

  1. What (or who) inspired Damien’s existence?

I wanted to write about a bad guy who had to save people. I really like writing about “bad” people who are annoyed about having to do good things, but who maybe, secretly, aren’t so bad. So I started playing around with that idea, and it developed into the character being a supervillain. And I thought the best way to totally screw up his life was to have him find out he’s actually half superhero.

10. A lot of people think that the young adult genre is dominated by female characters while others believe male narrated stories are making a comeback. How do you feel about that?

I have mixed feelings because, on the one hand, I’m a woman and YA is one of the few genres where female authors and voices are the majority. But on the other hand, this also causes problems for me as someone who writes about boys, since they can be a tough sell to publishers. I have gotten rejected on the fact that my book had a male protagonist. Not for Renegade X, or for any of my middle grade, but it has happened more than once. Because teenage boys supposedly don’t read YA, and because teenage girls supposedly won’t read about boys, especially if the romance doesn’t start on page 1. -__-

11. Do you feel female characters convey the emotional needs of a teenager better than males?

 

Honestly, I think it all comes down to how much emotion the author is willing to put into it, whether they’re male or female or writing about boys or girls. I just read Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, which is one of the best books I’ve ever read and is also about teenage boys and their emotions–along with the world ending–and this one and his other books just have so much emotion in them and definitely convey the emotional needs of the characters.

12. What advice would you give to striving writers with male lead characters, especially if they’re submitting to the young adult genre?

I wish I had any real advice for this, other than be true to the story and the way you want to tell it. Don’t give up. A good book told the way you want it is better than a mediocre or crappy book told the way you think other people want it.

Thanks so much Chelsea for the interview! So much fun! Be sure to check out Chelsea’s supervillain (heroes too) loaded book series, Renegade X, as well as her other books. You won’t be disappointed!

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