The characters in David J. Schwartz’s debut novel, Superpowers, wake up overnight with super speed, super strength, invisibility, the power to read minds and the ability to fly. The author, however, had the power of persistence on his side. From the day he started writing the manuscript to its publication, six long years passed.
Schwartz admits his debut is a love letter to comic books. Yet it also plays with the notion of what happens when people have too much power and aren’t ready to wield it.
“The characters’ powers are a metaphor for the power used in the real world, in the political world,” he says. “The book is a fun and emotional novel about characters who are dealing with things beyond their understanding.”
Schwartz began writing his novel at a difficult time. “When Sept. 11 happened, I couldn’t write because I wasn’t sure that writing mattered,” Schwartz says.
“Eventually I created a narrator to channel those extreme emotions.”
And those feelings included a sense of frustration with the government. “I try to raise questions [through the novel] about the way the United States government uses power in foreign policy,” he says.
Schwartz enjoys stretching reality toward fantasy. “With a story like this, I’m really changing only one thing about the world—I’m allowing my characters to develop superpowers. I’m just looking at consequences and extrapolating what happens if you throw this into the mix. With any element of the fantastic you have to decide what rules you’re going to observe. All I wanted to do was throw this element out there and push it to ridiculous extremes.”
Of his artistic influences, which include Gabriel García Márquez and William Faulkner, he says being from the Midwest has had the most influence on his leaning toward the fantastic.
“I come from practical people, and in some ways I’m reacting to that,” he says. “An uncle once told me that if a book didn’t happen on his street in his town, he didn’t want to read it. I’ve always been drawn to the things that definitely couldn’t happen there.”
His agent, Shana Cohen, of Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency, raves about his book’s realistic characters. “Dave fantastically depicts five housemates as real, flawed characters dealing with everyday challenges as college students—and not-so-everyday challenges as superheroes. It’s an ode to superhero comic books and to childhood. He equates growing up with accepting that burden.”
Cohen is shopping his next novel, Goblin Market (named after the Christina Rossetti poem of the same title), which Schwartz calls “a punk-rock-meets-fairy novel.”
Schwartz has been writing for more than 10 years, but credits a six-week writing workshop he attended in 1996 as the catalyst to take himself seriously.
“I told myself then that I’ll just keep doing this until something sticks,” he says. “The No. 1 thing is persistence.”