This is part of a series aiming to annotate the entirety of the second draft of Stargirl, and is most definitely not to be taken as advice for anyone else who might want to write something! For more context, please see here.
Alright, let’s get started. Here’s a link where you can read the entire story – reading ahead is welcome but not mandatory. Heck, reading along at all isn’t mandatory, although this won’t make a lot of sense if you haven’t read the chapters.
I made this up because I needed something to say! I do think Gaiman and Murakami are probably the two biggest stylistic influences, although it might be just as valid to claim that Kafka or, like, WWE or Wizards of the Coast were big influences. David Bowie is probably the most consistent cultural reference throughout, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, but the writing doesn’t try to ape his; I wouldn’t say ‘fans of David Bowie will enjoy this story’!
This is the beginning, as you can tell. It’s the beginning not just of Stargirl the story, but of… the story of… Stargirl. That made more sense in my head.
The ‘Octobike’ conversation is the very first thing that I came up with, and from which the entirety of the rest of the story sprung. I was doing a creative writing module for uni and had to write 500 words of dialogue (I think that was the brief), and just wrote a back-and-forth conversation between two guys who were pretty sure the Octobike was a really good idea but had no idea what it actually was. This conversation sat around for a while, as I was gradually coming up with these other odd little snippets of the lives these two oddballs might live, working out who TM and Veggie were, until NaNoWriMo 2015 hit and I realised I needed a beginning. This seemed as good a start as any, and it hasn’t changed at all between drafts 1 and 2.
Here we learn, hopefully, a few things about our protagonists. (I see the triumvirate of TM, Veggie, and Ziggy – who we’ll meet in a moment – as really all sharing equal status as protagonists of the story, although it’s almost exclusively from TM’s perspective.) They are, for example, inventors (though apparently not very good ones), a bit sweary (I suspect draft 3 may swap out a few of the ‘fucks’ for ‘flips’, just because it seems a bit much on rereading), and, perhaps most importantly, giant weirdos.
We also learn a few things about the story itself: it’s going to be a little bit surreal, set in a world that is basically very much like the ‘real’ world but in which things can happen that are just a little bit more odd. It may deviate in some odd directions to ask questions that don’t quite seem relevant before returning to the point, even if the point is just to ask more questions.
TM and Veggie are introduced through this conversation that establishes them as not doing all that well with their business right now, then immediately wander outside and start discussing the nature of the universe (specifically, whether it’s infinite or in fact has boundaries). Conversations of this sort – that is to say, philosophical to the degree that they might seem really out of place when what’s otherwise going on can be really quite mundane, almost parodically so – will crop up a few times, and are intended to give some sense that the story is about more than just what’s down here on Earth, but about the universe as an infinite whole. We then get a reminder of practical concerns, with Veggie speculating on what the simplest product they could create for maximum profit might be, and then dive immediately back into weirdness when a girl dressed as Ziggy Stardust interrupts and gives them a history of the guy who invented cable ties.
Ziggy is being completely earnest, by the way, when she says that she’s dressed this way simply because it’s what some people told her someone from the stars would look like. What did she look like before (i.e. when she was asking the question)? I’ve no idea. I expect she’d look… completely unremarkable, but with some sort of completely inexplicable aura of remakableness. A bit like Veggie, in fact. Spoilers in white below now – highlight to reveal them if you’ve already read to the end of the novel.
In the world of Stargirl there is something I think of as ‘Star Power’, which is never really made explicit in the text but which you can detect throughout. Everyone has a bit of Star Power, with people who have a lot of it essentially just being extremely magnetic, charismatic, and able to subtly influence the universe to go the way they need it to. The characters who are actually stars have it in spades, of course, although it manifests in different ways: Ziggy hides hers, as a large aura of it wouldn’t be able to avoid just attracting people – Orion uses hers to become a star (in the celebrity sense), as it makes her just so darn likeable. Veggie has as much of it as any human on the planet, approaching even the level of some stars, and that’s partly why he’s able to act as a substitute for Vega at the end of the story. It may also go some way towards explaining how Ziggy forms such a connection with them so quickly.
TM and Veggie’s flat is, I imagine, just an absolute caricature of the tiniest space possible with every square inch covered with something or other. It’s perhaps a ham-fisted way of communicating that they’re really not in the best financial situation, but I can’t help but imagine this flat now, so there it is. Ziggy adores it because… well, because it’s her first real experience in a human life, and the overwhelmingness of it all is probably what she’s looking for. It’s authentic, something she can relate to.
Maurice Meow-Ponty and Michel Furcoat are one of my low-key favourite parts of the book. They’re named after French philosophers Maurice Merlot-Ponty and Michel Foucault, which perhaps gives some more suggestion that TM and Veggie might be a bit more sophisticated than they’d like to admit, and I really just threw them in because I thought they were funny and TM and Veggie would probably like to have cats. Spoiler again:
I’m really glad I was eventually able to find something for them to do; it’s only a small role, but the part they play in helping the gang escape from Orion and her dog Keelut was something I was happy to have come up with.
Things move a bit fast here, with Veggie offering Ziggy a position in their business and a place to stay. It’s typical of Veggie to commit everything to something he has no real experience with so abruptly, I think, although of course the real reason for his mostly-unexplained willingness to bank on this stranger is that I just couldn’t think of a logical reason to put them together and the story needed to move forward, so… this is what ya get!
The Inventors Incorporated inventions are deliberately useless, almost gleefully so. Some of them are so specifically useless that they will actually come in handy a bit later on in the story, if you can believe it; I like to think that what Veggie was saying in chapter one about it being a perfectly valid strategy to build things purely based on the strength of their punny name is completely true in this universe (mild spoiler: because of course, for someone with sufficient Star Power, creating something they loved and thought was hilarious would naturally be of real value because the universe would just sort of accommodate it).
Ziggy eventually prompts them to get out of the flat; I’m not sure how I feel about this. It feels like I just ran out of stuff to do and decided they needed to go do something else – NaNoWriMo encourages you to have these sorts of abrupt shifts just happen in order to keep the words flowing, but I’m not sure it really holds up.
This chapter, almost in its entirety, is another one of those odd, vaguely philosophical questions I mentioned earlier. Everything Ziggy says here does make a degree of sense, although it’s hard to identify whether she makes an actual point that’s intended to be a response to TM’s question about what she is. I think if there is a point, it’s probably that things are really what you make of them, and that if she decides to call herself something then that is what she is, regardless of how difficult it actually is to identify whether anything is in fact in nature any other thing you might decide to call it.
On reflection, I don’t know that I like TM’s perspective of Ziggy’s appearance (the narration is from his point of view, as we’ve touched on). I wonder whether the description of her as having these features that could be from all these various Asian places comes across as TM thinking that all Asian people look the same – I hope not, but I wonder whether that might inadvertently be what he seems to be saying. The idea was that Ziggy should look completely human, but for it to not be totally possible to identify exactly where on Earth she might be from; TM can’t place her features, and thinks at various points that various bits of her face look like she might be from various places in Asia (I decided to make her overall appearance Asian because I think it has a wonderful array of heterogenous-looking peoples; if she were white, I couldn’t see TM going ‘oh, her eyes might be Swedish and her ears are sort of vaguely German and maybe her nose is a bit Irish’, if that makes sense). I hope this does not come across either as TM being race-blind or as me thinking that Asian people are alien- or odd-looking, but I may need to rethink how this reads for draft 3.
At any rate, Ziggy’s complete change of appearance goes some way towards confirming that she really is earnest and supernatural, and not just some randomer claiming to be from space. She also displays – again, as she’s already had the ‘Cable Tie Guy’ bit – a peculiarly wide range of very specific knowledge on a variety of topics. Where does this knowledge come from? I have some vague ideas, but nothing too well-defined – spoilers again, tying into the previous ones.
It’s something to do with the way Star Power works, as are most of the otherwise difficult-to-explain things that characters do in Stargirl. Later we also get the impression that stars are, to some degree, capable of intelligently observing what’s happening on Earth while they’re hanging out up there in space, so I imagine all the stars probably pick up some obscure knowledge in their very, very long lifetimes. (Earth is the only intelligently populated planet in Stargirl, by the way. I thought I already had enough going on without aliens, so humans and stars are the only sentient creatures that there are. Well… sort of. We’ll come to more discussions about things that might or might not have minds of their own later in the story.)
And that’s the first three chapters of Stargirl! More to follow soon, with any luck.