The wedding was a huge and lavish affair. No expense had been spared. And yet Liam Lancaster's bride stood at the end of the aisle, about to take her walk towards her intended, unable to force her feet to move forward. Wanda wasn't sure what her problem was. It was ridiculous not to want to marry this man. He had given her everything, turned a small town nobody like her into a star.
"Stick with me, Wanda baby," he'd said to her over stale beer in the seedy pub in which she'd been singing. "I can make you powerful, successful, someone to be noticed…a star. You want that don't you, Wanda?"
And she had. More than anything she wanted the recognition she deserved. She'd spent too much of her life in dives like that. Too much of it being used by mean men and taking comfort in cheap whiskey. She wanted out and Liam had promised to give her that. A life of luxury and a stage to perform on. The world adored her now and all she had to do to keep it that way, to ensure she'd never go back to that life again, was to marry the man who had given it to her. So why did she hesitate?
Why didn't she see Liam as her salvation? What was she waiting for?
No, she wouldn't let herself think of that good-for-nothin' traitor. She'd thought he was her friend, but life had taught her yet another harsh lesson. People couldn't be trusted. Best to just move on, and do what you must to get to the top.
The music started and Wanda Detroit didn't hesitate any longer. Hundreds of envious eyes watched her as the former lounge singer made her way towards the man she would spend the rest of her life with. It was for the best.
And then suddenly she saw him-the Masked Figure. He'd been here all along, watching her. An elated smile spread over her face. He was what she had been waiting for. He was the reason for her hesitation. He was the man she loved. A man whose name she didn't even know.
"Dearly beloved…" the priest's voice was a low drone beneath the thudding of her heart. He moved towards her almost as if in slow motion. He was her destiny.
"What are you looking at?" Liam hissed, aware that her attention had wandered. She barely heard him. Turning, he noticed the presence of the Masked Figure, the man he had thought he had disposed of and grit his teeth. Clearly more drastic measures would have to be taken to ensure that Wanda was his.
"You were not invited," his voice was cold and soul-less. Wanda shuddered and suddenly saw her fiancé in a frightening new light. He pulled out a gun from the inside of his tux and pointed it at the Masked Figure. "Leave now, and I will let you live. Take one more step and you will die, that I promise you."
"Liam, don't! Don't hurt him!" She knew she was begging, but she didn't care. He was the only thing in the world that meant a damn to her and she was not going to lose him. Not this time. "Please Liam, I'll do whatever you want, just let him live."
"Don't grovel for me, Wanda," the Masked Figure said softly, "I'm not worth it."
"But you are," she insisted, "and if I lost you I…"
"Enough!" Liam shouted angrily. The guests of the church watched the scene with a mixture of fascination and fear. The Masked Figure wasn't just Wanda's hero, but the hero of the entire city. Nobody wanted to see him die. "It's bad enough that you've constantly foiled my plans. You will not have my woman. She's mine! Mine, do you hear me? And you shall not live to see her say 'I do'."
And with gut-wrenching horror, Wanda watched helplessly as Liam pulled the trigger…
She closed her eyes, unable to watch, but the sound of gunfire, prompted by the sounds of a struggle caused her to open them again. The Masked Figure and Liam were fighting viciously, the shot having missed. The gun had been knocked out of Liam's hand. Wanda watched helplessly as the two men dueled for her, praying to whatever deity might exist that the Masked Figure emerged the victor.
With a sharp blow to the jaw, Liam was knocked out cold. Wanda watched as the Masked Figure tied him to one of the Church pews. He had triumphed yet again.
Wanda let out a cry of relief as she threw herself into his arms.
"I thought I lost you forever," she murmured into the hollow of his throat. "How did you know to look for me here?"
"Wanda baby, I love you," the Masked Figure said gruffly.
"There's nothing I wouldn't do for you. Nobody can take you away from me.
You're with me, angel, and there's nothing either of us can do about it."
Wanda stared at him, tears clouding her vision as the priest cleared his throat. It looked as if a wedding might take place after all…
"So what do you think?" Lois Lane bit her lip and stared at the woman in front of her in anticipation as she set the manuscript in front of her down.
"I think you have real talent, Ms. Lane," the young editor said gently, as she met Lois' eyes, "but I don't think we can publish this book."
Lois felt her heart sink as she realized her novel was being rejected for the fifth time that month. What had started as a back-of-the-mind past time had become a full-fledged obsession in the wake of Superman's rejection and her non-marriage to Lex. In less than a week she'd had her entire world turned upside down, all for the sake of a man who had turned out to be one of the biggest criminals Metropolis had ever known. The confusion and heartache over nearly marrying a man she had never truly known at all, Superman's coldness and Clark's refusal to attend her wedding needed an outlet. And Lois had always wanted to write a novel.
Wanda Detroit had been an idea she'd been toying with for a while, but after the entire wedding disaster it had become Lois' passion. She used it as an outlet for all her fantasies of what she wanted to happen in her life. All the things that had gone wrong in the past few months she could fix in her novel. If nowhere else, she had control when she was writing and that meant a lot to her, especially now. She hadn't managed to work through everything like she had hoped writing the novel would help her do, but she did manage to turn out something she felt might be good enough to sell. Most of all, she needed to feel as if her work was valued again.
She didn't put her real name as the author of course. She had chosen the pseudonym of Laura Landon. The editors she submitted the manuscript to had known her true name, but she felt it best if the general public did not. She was (or had been before she almost married Lex), one of the top reporters in the city. It wouldn't do to have her readers know that she used her spare time trying to work though her feelings by writing a romance novel. Not that she had written much lately to be respected anyway…
Her work at the Planet just hadn't been the same after everything that had happened. She had lost some of her old fire, and didn't know how to get it back. The only thing she had cared about at all was finishing her novel. Now that she had, it was beginning to look as if it all had been completely pointless. Nobody wanted to publish it. It felt like nobody believed in her anymore.
"If you don't mind me asking," Lois' voice was tentative and she hated herself for it. The old Lois had never been tentative. The old Lois would take back her manuscript, tell the editor she was insane and vow to find someone who would appreciate her talent. And the old Lois would have succeeded. This new, frightened Lois was not as strong. She shook her head and took a deep breath, refusing to allow the new Lois to make her back down. "Why is it that you can't publish it? You said I had talent."
"And you do," the other woman smiled with a genuine warmth that Lois just didn't trust. She was finding it hard to trust anybody these days, most of all herself. "But this is just not you."
"Come again?" Lois stared back in confusion.
"Look," she leaned forward. Lois glanced covertly at her nameplate realizing she had completely forgotten the woman's name. Justine Caroll…"I'll be straight with you. I don't think you put your soul into this."
"You don't think I…what?" She felt hysteria rise within her
and fought to quench it. It wasn't Ms. Caroll's fault that she didn't know her,
didn't know how hard Lois had worked on that novel. "I've put nothing but
time, effort and energy into this for the last three months. It's been my whole
life! How can you possibly know whether I put my soul into it or not?"
"Frankly the potential is there," Justine replied, "but the passion, the realism isn't. This novel is nothing but a giant jumble of cliché's and bad stereotypes. A lounge singer named Wanda Detroit? A rich philanthropist who is really a super villain in disguise? A mysterious hero who appears in the darkness, never shows her his true self and yet whom she loves completely? And what about her friend…the guy who sticks by her through thick and thin and then just…deserts her for no reason? It just doesn't work for me. And it won't work for the readers either. They want complete characters, not caricatures."
"And you're saying mine aren't?" Lois' voice sounded remote and distant to her own ears. It hurt more than she cared to admit to hear this woman illustrate all the things that deep down she had known from the beginning were wrong with her novel.
"No, Ms. Lane, they aren't," Justine's voice was business-like, "but they could be. You have the potential to turn this into something with real depth. You just have to dig a little deeper. You're an investigative reporter, so I shouldn't have to tell you this. You need to give the readers more than just the bare facts. They need to care about Wanda. They need to understand her dreams and desires. They need to empathize with her. And they need to know why Liam is so evil. They need to know why her best friend deserted her. And most importantly, they need to know who the Masked Figure is, and what his motives are. That's honestly the largest problem with the novel."
"The Masked Figure is the hero," Lois said, though she knew it was a weak answer. "He's the man she loves."
"But why?" Justine asked her, not backing down. "Why does she love him? She doesn't even know him! Oh sure, he shows up and saves her when she needs him to, but what's his angle? Why does he fight crime? What does he do when he's not saving her? And why did she just drop everything and run off with him in the end? There are just too many questions."
Lois sighed, as she realized the truth in Ms. Caroll's words. She had written only the surface of her pain, hoping it would help her get to the root of it all. But how could she reach people on a deeper level if she wasn't even willing to do that with herself?
"You're right," she said finally after a long, painful pause. "I guess I just hoped that it would be enough. Thanks for taking the time to read it, Ms. Caroll."
"Please, call me Justine," she reached out and touched Lois' arm lightly, in an effort to keep her from leaving. "And I didn't say that you wouldn't ever be published, only that I couldn't publish this."
"What are you suggesting?" Lois' voice was controlled, but she felt her heart lift despite herself.
"Try again," Justine said simply, "but put your heart into it. Make these characters real people, with real hopes, fears and flaws. Make the readers feel what they feel and know why they feel it. Bring them to life. I know this is going to sound cheesy, Ms. Lane, but writers really should write what they know. Write something less outlandish and more real. Write something that's a part of you, not a fairy tale."
"Something real," Lois murmured more to herself than to anyone else. If only she knew…Justine nodded.
"I think it would work a lot better that way." Lois thanked her and gathered her belongings to leave. Justine spoke again before she did so. "And Ms. Lane? This is just my own personal preference, but…I'd ditch the heroine's name. Wanda Detroit is just…well, bad. And the Masked Figure is a little too…I dunno, comic-book like."
"But he's the main romantic interest," Lois protested, not liking the fact that her 'Superman' character was a problem in the book. He was the hero, the person who restored Wanda's faith in the human race. How could that be a problem?
"Yes, but he doesn't need to be there. You have the perfect romantic interest already built into the story, one that has far more emotional weight and depth of character than the Masked Figure."
"Who?" Lois wondered.
"Why, Charlie of course," Justine replied as if it should be obvious. "Her best friend! I mean, you had him confess his feelings for her and then he just disappeared. Look, I'm not telling you how you should structure your story, but I think it would work a lot better if you transferred all the heroics and altruism to his character and had Wanda - or whatever you name her - fall for him. Women don't always want the super hero…Metropolis has one of those and he's not someone the common woman can relate to. They want the guy next door. That's Charlie. Think about it, would you?"
Lois nodded mutely and left the office, her mind mulling over Justine's parting words. Was Superman really so unrealistic? And why would she want her to make Charlie the hero? How could she salvage the work she had put so much effort and time into? Would it really help her move on?