Sunday, January 15, 2012


Sometimes the universe knows exactly what it’s doing.  Well, I believe the universe always knows exactly what it’s doing, but it only becomes evident to me on those ineffable occasions when the scales fall from my eyes and I see the cosmic magic at work all around me.  Case in point:

I've been developing an idea for an all-ages fantasy for a while now.  Unlike most stories, which grow from a plot nugget or a particular character, this one developed from a name, which dropped into my head one morning while I was sitting on the back porch with my wife.  (I’m keeping that name under wraps for now, so let’s call her “Jane Smith.”)  The instant the name appeared, I knew I was on to something—or perhaps I should say that something was on to me—but I had no idea what.  I decided to tuck the name (and a very intriguing name it was:  odd and evocative) away in the kitchen of my unconscious, turn on the psychic stove and see what cooked up.

As time passed, no story evolved, but “Jane Smith” didn’t go away; she was always reminding me that she was nearby and that, when the time was right, her tale would emerge.  I waited patiently but, instead of a story, what emerged were more names:  a list of wonderful—and wonderfully peculiar—names for characters that, just like my main character, I knew absolutely nothing about.  Where was the story?  When would it arrive?  (I felt like an expectant mother, frustrated by a pregnancy of undetermined length.)  Still, after so many years of interacting with the delightful, and sometimes elusive, entities from the Land of Story, I knew better than to force things; so, once again, I tucked the names away on the back burner of the psychic stove, turned on the heat and waited patiently for the kitchen timer to ring.  (Let’s dump this kitchen metaphor here:  it’s wearing thin.)  

In recent months, details of the story began pounding on the door of my unconscious.  I started to get a sense of who my main character and her cohorts were (among other things, I learned that "Jane" has the ability to ride the wind
and lives in the ruins of an old castle) and what their adventures were about; not enough to start writing, but certainly enough to keep me excited and intrigued.  In recent weeks, the pressure in the back of my head (which is where I actually feel new stories gestating) started building and that door began to buckle inward.  More details manifested, images began to form, plot elements crawled under the door, rose up and did a little dance across my mind.  If I was pregnant with story, it was now time to call the doctor and head for the hospital.  But, on the way there, something truly magical happened.

There’s an artist I know—he lives in Greece—named Vassilis Gogtzilas.  We met through my son, back when Cody was an editor at Devil’s Due, and I immediately responded to the energy and imagination of Vassilis’ work:  in some ways it reminded me of the work of my brilliant Brooklyn Dreams collaborator, Glenn Barr; but Vassilis’ art had a life, and an identity, all its own.  Since 2008, we’ve had an ongoing correspondence and Vassilis has been kind enough to share the evolution of his art with me.  We’ve talked, very vaguely, about doing a project together, but the stars never quite aligned.

Until the other day.

I went to the mailbox and found a sketchbook Vassilis published called Splat!  Leafing through it, I was impressed, as always, by Vassilis' work, but especially intrigued by a particular drawing of a young girl holding an umbrella, a castle far in the background.  There was a tone, a feeling, a gentle magic, in that picture that seemed different from Vassilis’ usual work.  More than any other illustration in Splat!, that one burrowed into my head and took up lodging there.  I was sitting by the piano at the time and, very spontaneously, almost entranced, started to play and sing a song about my lead character, “Jane Smith.”  As I was singing, I was gazing at the drawing of the umbrella-girl.  Somewhere in the middle of the song I stopped, my head practically splitting open, as I realized, with astonishment and delight, that the girl in the picture was “Jane Smith.”  Vassilis had sketched her, brought her to life, without even realizing it.  

I ran to my wife, showed her the drawing—“That’s her!  That’s ‘Jane’!”—then ran to the computer, sending Vassilis an email, telling him about the piano-side miracle he’d manifested and asking if he’d collaborate with me on this new story, bringing it to visual life.  A few minutes later a resounding “Yes!” arrived from Greece—and we were off.

Inspired by Vassilis’ drawing of the girl with the umbrella, I wrote an outline; and, as I wrote, all the elements that had been growing larger and larger in my pregnant consciousness—and quite a few that seemed to supernaturally appear as I typed—pushed out through the birth canal of my imagination.  New twists, new turns, new characters.  With a robust cry, a massive all-ages fantasy epic was born, one that has me as excited as any idea I’ve had in years.  At the moment, I’m writing character descriptions, Vassilis is designing those characters and their world and we’re both caught in the grip of our story; a story that would still be floating in the womb if Vassilis hadn’t (literally) drawn our main character down from the Land of Story and inspired me in such a magical, and transformative, way. 

When things like this happen—when creative miracles manifest before my widening  eyes—being a writer is the best job in the world. 

No, in all the worlds.

The umbrella-girl and one of her dearest friends

©copyright 2012  J.M. DeMatteis/artwork ©copyright 2012 Vassilis Gogtzilas


  1. That's awesome, JMD! Look forward to seeing the project manifest.

    My daughter is at that really cool age where she devours stories, and she's still young enough that I get to read them to her. (Read an issue of SUPERGIRL to her three times last night!)

    I lok forward to reading it to her!


  2. Thanks, David! Re: Supergirl. When my daughter was younger and I was desperate to find some appropriate comics for her, I gave her two hardcover volumes of late fifties/early sixties Supergirl stories and she LOVED them. Those stories would be viewed as "unsophisticated" by today's "adult" comic book reader, but they were filled with imagination and whimsy and they were utterly sincere.

  3. I'm glad to see a title like SUPERGIRL re-embracing the beauty and simplicity of an all-ages dynamic. It's funny (and sad) that for the past thirty years, it's been getting harder to find comics like that. I find that the 'sophisticated' comic often, not always, but far too often, lacks real imagination and soul.

    Judging by those pictures, I predict readers will respond to "Jane" for the same reason they still love Supergirl.

    She rides the wind and has adventures that make the Magic surrounding us so obvious only a cynical, 'sophisticated' adult could miss it!

  4. This new story also has scope. It's a BIG fantasy that crosses many worlds. For me it has the same feeling of excitement that I got when I was developing MOONSHADOW and ABADAZAD. We'll see where the story leads me...!

  5. I'd expect nothing less than a big fantasy from you, JMD!

    BTW, weird question: I know that there are ownership issues, but are you able to do an 'unofficial' crossover with ABADAZAD of the kind that Marvel and DC freelancers occassionally did? The ones where the writers used 'stand-ins' that are obviously intended to reflect their other universe counterparts?

    I remember a few nods to certain characters in my own reading experiences. Before her wedding to Peter Parker, for instance, Mary Jane ran into an old billionaire boyfriend named Bruce. After Hal Jordan went insane and killed the Guardians of the Universe, Bruce Banner ran into him in a Marvel Universe insane asylum.

    Since you write the kind of stories that span universes anyway, it wouldn't be unprecendented for one of your characters to run into, say, a reunited brother and sister pair that look suspiciously like Kate and Matt...

  6. I slipped a few of those Zadian doppelgangers into my book IMAGINALIS, David. There's a reference to an ancient kingdom and an ancient queen; in my mind it was clearly Abadazad and Queen Ija.

    As for that happening in this new's certainly possible. But that's the story's business, not mine. I just follow where it leads!

  7. Very the meantime, I guess that's my excuse to re-read IMAGINALIS!