Sam Maggs is no stranger to Marvel, and with her impressive list of bestselling books, comics, and video games, it’s no wonder that Marvel Press was immediately sold when she wanted to tell Nadia Van Dyne’s story in The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope. The book is action-packed and is already becoming a Marvel fan favorite. We sat down with Sam to talk about diving into Nadia’s world and the amazing story that is Built on Hope.
Tell us a little about the origins of Built on Hope. How did the idea of a novel come about?
I had a meeting with the fine folks at Marvel Press, and they asked me who I would want to write a novel about if I had the choice. Nadia’s name was the first one out of my mouth – and it was the Super Hero they’d had in mind for me, too! With my science background, my passion for LGBTQ+ characters, and my experience writing about female friendship, it was a perfect fit.
Nadia Van Dyne is already a well-known fan-favorite character from the comics. Did you find it challenging to expand on her story, and how did you decide what elements from the comics to explore?
It was exciting! I love working with established characters and worlds because it takes the pressure of character creation and world-building off, and really just allows you to focus on storytelling, lesson-learning, and relationship development. Fortunately, there isn’t a ton of history with Nadia – she doesn’t have seventy years of complex backstory to contend with, or anything – so I was basically able to pick up right where the comics left off and continue her story directly.
Did you do much research before you dove into writing Nadia and her team? What were your favorite sources to reference?
For sure! I pored over The Unstoppable Wasp comics, as well as a bunch of Janet van Dyne’s early appearances as the Wasp, and the recent Mockingbird series. I also re-read Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow novels to make sure I was nailing a similar tone (I love those books.) And then I read up on a ton of A.I. tech and where that’s headed!
Nadia’s story really highlights the fast-paced nature of today’s world. Was that an intentional challenge you had in mind for her before you started writing, or did that come later?
When I first started to outline the book, that theme was in my mind immediately. Probably because it’s a challenge I myself face, and I think a lot of teens face, too – we want to do everything, master everything, and it’s just impossible. But it seems like we never talk about that – so I wanted to bring it to the forefront of Nadia’s next story.
I really admire Nadia’s positive, determined attitude no matter what situation she is facing, and she’s a great role model for young adult readers. How was it writing for such a vibrant and clever character?
It’s honestly aspirational. I’m so much more cynical than Nadia, and writing for such a positive, optimistic character – someone who’s been through so much that she really should be a big grump, but isn’t! – really makes me want to be more like her. I think we all could be a little more like Nadia!
Built on Hope is sprinkled with fun science facts through the whole book (which we loved!) and profiles based on Marvel history; did you research all of them yourself, and did you have a process to condense some of the heavier topics?
Thank you! I did all the research myself, yes; I’d previously written two non-fiction books about women in science, and one encyclopedia of Marvel’s women Super Heroes, so I had a lot of experience with the heavy-duty research this book necessitated. Also, those books really honed my skills as a science communicator – making dense science both brief and understandable is definitely a learned skill. Also, I really enjoy it! I was also fortunate to have several wonderful scientists and doctors as consultants on the book to double-check me – Dr. Matt Conner, Chris Ceary, and Sarah Sloat.
How was it writing Nadia and Taina’s friendship? The two seem like opposites, but their friendship is so strong despite their differences.
Absolutely. It was so much fun. Nadia and Taina might have different approaches to life, but at their core, they both want to believe the very best in everyone, even if Taina wouldn’t necessarily admit that.
Was focusing on their friendship closer than some of the others a choice you made early in the writing process?
The G.I.R.L. squad is big, so I knew I wanted to highlight one in particular. Landing on Taina felt like the best call because a) she’s my favorite (don’t tell the others!), and b) she’s (as you said), on the surface, Nadia’s polar opposite – a realist to Nadia’s optimist. There’s a lot to play within that!
— Sam Maggs (@SamMaggs) August 6, 2020
YA novels often lack parental figures in them, but Nadia has both Bobbi and Janet as two amazing role models. What was it like to really bring those two positive figures into Nadia’s story?
The relationship I have with my mom is probably the most important relationship in my life, and I love that Nadia has so many strong, older women mentors to look up to. Like you said, we rarely get to see that modeled in media, but I think it’s really important to touch on – women’s relationships are key to our development.
Without getting too spoiler-y, do you have a favorite scene or moment?
I love the opening scene. I wrote the book largely in order, so it was the first thing I wrote, and it still feels the most Nadia to me. I feel like I knew her voice right from the start, thanks to Jeremy Whitley’s amazing Unstoppable Wasp comics.
Other than Nadia, do you have a favorite character from Built on Hope?
She’s there, in a secret cameo! You’ll have to read to find out who I mean, heh.
You’ve written for several other Marvel characters in different mediums, how did writing a novel compare with your video game or comic experiences?
Writing a novel is a far more solitary experience than writing for comics or video games. One of my favorite things about those mediums is the collaboration – you have all those other talented people making a thing great. With a novel, you have your editor and your IP holder, but largely the pressure falls on your shoulders. That can be scary but also very rewarding.
Do you see another novel in your future?
Finally, what do you hope fans who read Built on Hope will take away from Nadia’s story?
You don’t have to be good at everything. It’s okay to take some time off. Be good to yourself!
Thank you to Sam Maggs for talking with us about Built on Hope! You can find Built on Hope available online and in-stores now as well as on audiobook. Give it a read and let us know your favorite part!