JOINING THE G.I. JOE TEAM
Kindle Worlds author Bill Nedrow on the creation of Stiletto
How did you go about creating a G.I. Joe action figure?
This is the question I get asked the most when people ask me about the G.I. Joe Kindle Worlds Fan Vote, and the embarrassing truth that I'm forced to admit is that I didn't.
Every good story starts with strong characters, and every character must start with a purpose. I never set out to create an action figure; I wrote with the intention of crafting the type of G. I. Joe story that I'd always dreamed of reading. I'd hoped that G. I. Joe: First Salvo would resonate with other fans of the franchise, and when the overwhelmingly positive feedback I received informed me that it had, I began G. I. Joe: Honor. Along the way, I continued to try to craft a character-driven narrative that would stay true to the rich mythology of the brand while still providing a take on the story that was original and unique.
After G.I. Joe: Honor was published, I was contacted by Derryl DePriest, who wanted to congratulate me on my success. I took the opportunity to ask him about Hasbro’s plans regarding the G.I. Joe stories that Amazon was publishing. While I was excited about the enthusiasm that I was seeing from my fans, I also recognized that there were many who were missing out on a lot of creative things that were being done via this platform. I saw that a lot of fans were clamoring for more G.I. Joe content, yet they admitted that they weren’t reading some of the brilliant stories that were being made available to them.
My conversations with Derryl DePriest led to the first Kindle Worlds Author Panel at JoeCon 2015. I’d like to believe that the fans who attended that panel remember the eloquent words spoken by Justin Bell, the obvious passion for his craft on display by Troy Osgood, or the wit and humor of yours truly. I wish I could report that every G.I. Joe fan who sat in that conference room immediately opened up the Amazon app on his or her phone and downloaded a copy of each of our books and after greedily devouring them rushed out to tell his or her fellow G.I. Joe aficionados about the merits of each title.
In truth, what the few people who attended that panel remember is the announcement that Derryl DePriest made: that Hasbro would be sponsoring a contest that would allow fans to vote on a new character whose debut had been made in one of the Kindle Worlds stories.
If that statement sounds bitter, then let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I couldn’t have been more excited. It meant that more G.I. Joe fans would begin delving into the stories on Amazon (mine included) and that there was a remote chance that I would be able to one day walk into a store and find a character that I had had a hand in shaping hanging on the pegs. I had a difficult time focusing on my job or anything else during the next few weeks as I began to plan how I would promote my works and campaign for my character.
It was exactly ten weeks to the day that Derryl’s announcement had been made that I was given the bad news: I would be ineligible to participate in the contest.
Let me explain. G.I. Joe: First Salvo is set in the early 1980s and tells the story of how Cobra was formed and how the original fourteen member G.I. Joe team was put together in response to that threat. In that novel, I really had a chance to explore characters like Flash, Short-Fuze, and Grand Slam in ways that no other medium had been able to. Limiting the cast to the original team allowed me to bring characters like Zap or Steeler to the forefront, and I had a great time exploring their personalities and demonstrating what they brought to the team. When G.I. Joe: Honor came out, I introduced the next generation to the team (Snow Job, Tripwire, Doc), and I had just as much fun bringing these characters (who too often get relegated to supporting cast status) to life and highlighting their backgrounds, skills, and heroic qualities.
When you have such an exciting ensemble cast to work with, there is really no need to create new characters. Why create someone new when you realize that a character like Torpedo has been largely ignored for decades?
It was G.I. Joe brand manager Mark Weber who delivered the news. He had read my novels, and while he was extremely complimentary about what I had done, he couldn’t really identify a new character who could represent my works in the forthcoming contest. The only new character I had created was someone who served as Ace’s co-pilot for a few pages in G.I. Joe: Honor, and he was hardly representative of my works.
Prior to this, I had imagined that my representative would be Shooter. While she had been developed in the Larry Hama miniseries Declassified, she had unexpectedly evolved into a major character in G.I. Joe: First Salvo. I was proud of how I had shaped the character, and I had hoped that she would be used to represent my novels. Unfortunately, it had been decided that because she was a pre-existing character, this provided her with an unfair advantage when competing with other authors’ original creations. This logic made all the sense in the world, and I couldn’t argue with the verdict in any way. Still, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that the novels that I had worked so hard on wouldn’t be represented in the contest.
At this time, I was hard at work on G.I. Joe: Body Count, but I wasn’t thinking about the contest at all as I plotted this new story. I doubted that it would be released before the contest happened. All I cared about was telling another good story. I think I succeeded on that front, and two fortuitous things happened in the meantime. It was published before the contest took place, and to fulfill a need in the story, I created not one but two new characters.
G.I. Joe: Body Count has a big twist, one that I was able to make work because of my audience’s assumed familiarity with the characters I was writing about. In order to pull it off, I needed a character that fans wouldn’t recognize. Thus was born Stiletto, the Cobra operative whose connections to Mercer, Red Dog, and Taurus enabled her to infiltrate the G.I. Joe team. She wasn’t a central part of the story, but she served an important purpose. It was only later, when I realized that I was once again eligible to participate in the Kindle Worlds Fan Vote, that I thought about using her as my representative.
I suspect that some people expected to see Stiletto take on a greater importance in my next novel, G.I. Joe: Dishonor Thy Father. By the time it was published, Stiletto had won the contest and was in the process of being immortalized in plastic by the designers in Rhode Island.
It would be easy to let my enthusiasm go to my head and try to transform the character into the next Storm Shadow. However, I tried to remember as I scripted that novel (and continue to try to remember this as I work on the next) that the story is all that is important. Her Cobra affiliation now revealed, Stiletto has a role to play in the tale that I am telling, but it is not going to change because of the action figure I have standing next to my keyboard. Like Shooter, Stiletto is evolving in unexpected ways as I continue to write, but her development will never stand in the way of the narrative that I am crafting.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy writing a novella, G.I. Joe Legacy: Stiletto, about her when the chance arose, but that project had more to do with an opportunity than self-aggrandizing. The contest had brought me into closer contact with fellow contestants Jim Beard, Justin Bell, and Troy Osgood. As a college English instructor, I have made the acquaintance of a number of authors, but these three gentlemen are as dedicated and passionate about their craft as anyone I have ever met. It was Jim Beard who suggested that we write a four part story featuring each of our characters in round-robin fashion. Nobody knew how the story would begin until we read Jim’s opening chapter, and neither Troy nor Justin knew what twists and turns it would take once I wrote the second installment. Did I mention that each of our stories had to be written and published in a month and that there would be a ten year gap between one story and the next? Writing under these restrictions in collaboration with these wonderful authors really challenged me to rise to their level. If you haven’t checked out the G.I. Joe Legacy series on Amazon, do yourself a favor and pick them up today.
I wish I could claim that Stiletto's creation came about because of a brilliantly crafted Machiavellian scheme that won over the hearts and minds of G.I. Joe fans. In truth, I was just trying to stay true to something that has made the franchise so popular: good storytelling. In the end, I think that most of the fans who voted did so because they responded to the stories that Justin, Jim, Troy, or I told. Fans have a new figure to get excited about this year, but that's only the beginning.
Bill Nedrow has written four G.I. Joe books and one novella and they are all available on Kindle Worlds, alongside more than one hundred stories of original fiction from other authors. Check out Bill’s stories at this link: Bill Nedrow