She introduces herself as Roya Lajani, and then looks down at some pages in front of her as she takes a breath to start whatever conversation happens in these moments. But before she can speak, the door swings open and the man I recognize as Austin Adams breezes in, letting in a blast of ringing phones, heels clicking down the hall, and voices booming from adjacent rooms.
“Lola!” he says to me in a warm, cheerful voice and then winces as the door crashes shut behind him. Looking to Angela, he says, “I hate that fucking door. When the hell is Julie getting it fixed?”
Angela waves her hand in a Don’t worry about it gesture and watches as Austin ignores the seat next to her and pulls out the chair on my right. Sitting down, he studies my face, smiling widely at me.
“I’m a huge fan,” he says without further preamble, without even introducing himself. “Honestly. I’m just in awe of you.”
“Please tell me you’re working on something new. I’m addicted to your art, your stories, everything.”
“My next graphic novel is out this fall. It’s called Junebug.” I sense Austin leaning in excitedly and instinctively add, “I’m still working on it.” When I look back up at him, he’s just shaking his head at me in wonder.
“Is this surreal?” His eyes turn up warmly as his smile softens. “Has it sunk in yet that you’re the mastermind behind the next huge action movie?”
This line, in this situation—where I worry I’m going to hear a lot of empty praise—would normally make me hold my breath in order to tamp down a skeptical reaction, but despite being a big-shot producer and director, Austin already seems so genuine. He’s good-looking but totally disheveled: his reddish blond hair looks finger combed, he’s unshaven, in jeans and wearing a button-down shirt that he’s misaligned, leaving it longer at the hem on the right side than the left. The starched collar is tucked in on one side, too. He’s a very expensive mess.
“Thanks,” I say, balling my hands together so I don’t start to fidget with my earlobe or my hair.
“I mean it,” he adds, leaning both elbows on his thighs, still focusing only on me. I’m not sure he’s even acknowledged Benny yet. My knuckles have gone white. “I know we’re supposed to say that, but in this case it’s really true. I was obsessed from the very first page, and told Angela and Roya we had to have it.”
“Well,” I say, struggling to find something other to say than another thank you. “That’s great. I’m glad that it seems to have grabbed a little audience.”
“Little?” he scoffs, leaning back in his chair and glancing down at his shirt before doing a double take. “Motherfuck. I can’t even dress myself.”
I pull my lower lip into my mouth to crush the laugh that is threatening to burst from my throat. This entire situation was sending me into mute-panic territory until he walked in. I grew up shopping at Goodwill, we were on food stamps for a few years, and I still drive a 1989 Chevy. I can’t even process how this is going to change my life, and the sterile Stepford Sisters across the table only add to the foreign atmosphere of the room. But Austin seems like someone I can imagine working with.
“I know you’ve been asked this before,” he says, “because I’ve read the interviews. But I want to hear it from you, the true inside scoop. What made you start writing this book? What really inspired you?”
I have indeed been asked this before—so many times, in fact, that I have a standard, canned answer: I love the everyday female superhero because she gives us an opportunity to handle complicated social and political imbalances head-on, in popular culture and art. I wrote Quinn Stone as the everygirl, in the spirit of Clarisse Starling or Sarah Connor: she becomes a hero via her own bootstraps. Quinn is found by a strange, fishlike man from another time dimension. This creature, Razor, helps Quinn find the courage to fight for herself and her community, and in so doing, he realizes he doesn’t want to leave her to go home, even when he eventually can. The idea came to me from a dream where a big, muscular man covered in scales was in my room, telling me to clean up my closet. The rest of the day I wondered what it would be like if he really did show up in my bedroom. I named him Razor Fish. I imagined my Razor wouldn’t give a crap about my messy closet; he’d tell me to get the hell up and fight for something.
But that isn’t the answer that bubbles up today.
“I was pissed-off,” I admit. “I thought grown-ups were either assholes or fuckups.” I watch Austin’s green eyes go a little wide before he exhales, nodding subtly in understanding. “I was angry with my dad for being a mess, and my mom for being such a coward. I’m sure it’s why I dreamt of Razor Fish in the first place: he’s abrasive and doesn’t always understand Quinn, but deep down he loves her and wants her to be looked after. Drawing him and how he initially doesn’t understand her humanity but then trains her to fight, and eventually defers to her . . . getting lost in their little story was the treat I gave myself when I finished dishes and homework and was alone at night.”
The room is quiet and I feel an unfamiliar need to fill the space. “I liked seeing Razor start to appreciate the ways Quinn is strong that aren’t classic. She’s scrawny, she’s quiet. She’s not built like an amazon. Her strengths are more subtle: she’s observant. She trusts herself without question. I want to make sure that’s captured. There is a lot of violence and action there, but Razor doesn’t have a revelation about her when she learns to throw a punch. He has a revelation about her when she figures out how to stand up to him.”