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"The Night Gwen Stacy Died" steeps a quirky love story in a superhero slant

A debut novel brings together Spider-Man plot and a quirky love story.

Sarah Bruni Credit: Christine Mladic Sarah Bruni
Credit: Christine Mladic

“The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is not your ordinary novel. Infusing a flair of superhero adventure, it follows a high school student slash gas station attendant, Sheila, who begins chatting with a young cab driver coming in to gas up. He calls himself Peter Parker. Next, he dubs her Gwen Stacy – Spider-Man’s first love – and they eventually embark on a road trip, mixing together comic book plot and a real-life urge to save people. Author Sarah Bruni tells us what – including poring over comics in Uruguay -- inspired her to spin this tale.

How did you get the idea for this book? It’s a very unique plot.

I actually wrote a collection of short stories that was a part of my MFA thesis project, and there was one 25-page story that featured a young man who was donning the name Peter Parker and pushing the identity of one of Spider-Man’s girlfriends onto this young woman at a gas station. I didn’t really know what this guy was doing in my story. I was not a big comic book reader at all. I was sort of interested in someone being audacious enough to take these steps.

Did you read comic books as a kid, or how many hours did you spend catching up on the story?

There was probably about a six-month period where I was reading the first 10 years of Spider-Man comics [on a CD-ROM set]. I was able to see the original pages, with the advertisements and the letters from the readers, and so I felt like every time I was sitting down to this, I was opening this time capsule. … You see how important the story was to people at a certain time, especially a particular kind of male reader.

You wrote this for years in several different cities. Did you ever think about moving on?

I wrote a collection of short stories, and then shortly after that I moved to San Francisco, signed with my agent. We were trying to do a novel in stories, then when it didn’t sell, I actually moved to Montevideo, Uruguay. That’s where I wrote the bulk of the novel manuscript. I went there thinking I had ditched the story completely and was interested in starting something new. But I wanted to put myself in a place where I was completely removed from stimuli and had time to write, so I was thinking of it as a makeshift writer's residency for myself. I brought all these Spider-Man comics with me, so I knew that there was a part of my mind that knew I wasn’t done with the story.

How were these characters inspired? Are you the kind of writer that feels they lead you, or did you have the outline ready from the beginning?

I don’t work from outlines. But I knew that I wanted Peter to have sort of a secret past, and I wanted something to do with his childhood. I think I realized fairly early on that there would be a brother figure, but I didn’t realize that I would be writing from his perspective, and that’s something that just revealed itself as I was writing it. I think I try to give myself enough patience to stick with characters, and they reveal themselves to me about where they might go. Sometimes it backfires, and sometimes it leads the plot in a new way.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison

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