The Big Idea: Sarah Kuhn
Weddings: Blessed occasion or battleground between the forces of good and evil? Why not both? Sarah Kuhn looks at the Big Day in this Big Idea for her novel Heroine Worship, and how it turns out to be a very fine setting for more than just “I do.”
I love weddings.
I tear up scrolling through wedding photos of people I only sort of know on Facebook, swoon over very special wedding episodes of TV shows, and if I’m attending a wedding of someone I consider near and dear? Forget it. I still get teased about the embarrassing snuffles I couldn’t suppress when one of my friends walked down the aisle to a string quartet version of “The Imperial March.” (It was beautiful!)
I have a soft, gushy heart and seeing people celebrate their soft, gushy love will always get to me. This doesn’t mean I think everyone needs to get married or has to get married a certain way—I support your right (and think you should have the right) to get married or not get married however and whenever you want. But it does mean I’ve always had a burning desire to write a wedding book—specifically, a Big Fat Supernatural Wedding Book. That book is Heroine Worship, the second in my urban fantasy series about Asian American superheroines saving the world.
One of the Big Ideas behind the whole series was to meld the fantastical and the mundane in a way that felt just a little bit ridiculous, but also incredibly fun. I cite the TV shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Middleman as big influences—those are two creative works that accomplished this particularly well without ever sacrificing earnest emotion. So in Book 1, Heroine Complex, I melded the supernatural with everyday things: demonic cupcakes, superpowered karaoke battles. In Book 2, I did that with seemingly mundane events that are part of the wedding planning process: cake tastings, dress fittings, and the epic battle that is the discount bridal gown sale.
I had a lot of fun with this, with imagining what supernatural wedding-related set piece I could throw in next, but writing my wedding book certainly came with its own unique challenges. For one thing, while I was gleefully envisioning how to make a classically ugly bridesmaid dress actually evil in some way, I had to remember to make sure that all the wedding hijinks weren’t merely hijinks—they needed to be grounded in a solid emotional story arc for my heroine, Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang).
In the book, Aveda is appointed maid of honor by her best friend/co-superheroine Evie Tanaka (the protagonist of Book 1). Aveda is a character with the burning desire to be the absolute best at whatever she’s doing—she blazes ahead, hurricane-like, without thinking about the consequences. It’s always fun to give a character like this major obstacles she has to overcome, but I had to be careful not to pile on obstacles for the sake of wedding-related hilarity, to make sure each of the obstacles I was giving her made sense for her journey.
I eventually settled on the idea that she sees the maid of honor post as a mission like so many of her other superheroic missions. If she succeeds in giving Evie the best wedding ever, she’ll be able to prove herself as a friend (something she was not so hot at in Book 1) and regain the superheroine mojo she seems to have lost. That way, the main wedding storyline was tied directly to her emotional journey. I could trace the arc of both in tandem and it ensured that the wedding shenanigans I kept coming up with were relevant to the story and not just ridiculousness for ridiculousness’ sake.
Another challenge had to do with the fact that my protagonist wasn’t one of the two people getting married—but those two characters, Evie and Nate, still mean a lot to me (and to readers who were invested in their relationship in Book 1). I was super focused on Aveda’s personal arc since this book is from her POV and she’s the character who has to go through the most growth and change. That meant I was sometimes tempted to skim over or shorthand pieces of the wedding process in the story rather than giving them their due.
For example: the proposal. It’s a moment that’s supposed to be funny and sweet, but we’re seeing it through Aveda’s eyes—and her reaction isn’t the “awww” we’d get if we were seeing it from Evie’s POV. That scene initially felt a bit underwritten because I was only thinking of it as another step in Aveda’s arc rather than an important piece of the whole series involving other major characters. I went back and revised it through the final stages of copy-editing the book, taking into account what the other characters in the scene would be thinking and feeling as well, so that (hopefully!) it will give the reader a little “awww” moment.
The final challenge was more personal. Though I love weddings, I was a total stress case while planning my own. The day itself was beautiful, but my own heroine’s journey was fraught with sweaty dress fittings, pressure from relatives to do X tradition, and a sudden obsession with different kinds of cardstock. Writing a wedding book, I couldn’t help but re-live some of that—but like many writers, I dealt with it by using those feelings in the writing, giving them to my characters in a way I hope is authentic.
In the end, I got as emotional over my wedding book as I do at actual weddings—even though there was no string quartet version of “The Imperial March.”