So this late 60s old & married white guy walks into a bar and says:
‘Nothing too strong, I need to concentrate. I’m writing this fantasy book with three women central characters, two of whom are in a gay relationship and the other one has dark skin and used to be a serving maid-but…’
And the barman says.
‘Not serving you chum. You’ve had enough already-‘
Well I thought it was funny… in an observational ironic sort of way.
Just goes to show, sometimes you are either embracing a challenge, being hopelessly naïve or just plain insensitive.
It’s my damn book!
Anyway those of you who are still around. Pull up an allegorical chair, and if you are familiar with my posts you will already have your note books out and pages headed ‘Interesting’ or ‘Never Gonna Do That, that Way’ or ‘????’ or ‘Like, Wow!’
This is not a ‘How To’; it’s not much of a plug either. This is more of an account of one writer, writing what they wanted to write and why they wrote it.
Down to business.
The whole idea is actually to explain about three central characters. If these books ever sold thousands of copies the profiles and depictions might cause ructions for all sorts of reasons. This account is how one writer did what they did, how and why. As long as you subscribe to the view that at some stage the narrative and the characters may take over from a writer who themselves does not work with a detailed plan for a book
Characters in alphabetical order of First names
Arketre Beritt. (aka Flaxi)
Young. Pretty. Soldier. Likes Girls. Conflicted. When emotional or wheedling slips into her native faux US southern accent.
To avoid her being ‘alpha’ as ‘characters with an answer for everything can be irritating, she is a soldier way down the ranks, only gets told what high command thinks she ought to know, grumbles a lot; as a result of her battle experiences is in danger of slipping over the edge.
She likes girls. So what?
When you first meet this blonde, short and pretty ‘medician’ (think medic) you might believe, ‘Oh a kind, caring sort. How nice’. Then as the journey progresses, you gradually get to see her troubled side. A short blonde pretty girl tearing into someone’s face with their teeth does make for good contrast.
Southern accent. I like southern accents. Again so what? Anyway it’s part of the back story of the land of the Empire where things take place. It’s also fun to juggle with words, as long as you try and limit the use. It’s handy in that when she is being random stiff and formal she tends to speak without her accent (unless she’s being manipulative- oh she’s complicated person). ‘Flaxi’ is Karlyn’s name for her
Karlyn Nahtinee (aka Kitlin)
Uncertain of age but passes as ‘young’. Has her own logic. Doesn’t like boys. Has several ‘powers’. Athletic. Talks with a mangled London accent. Possibly not human. Uncertain ancestry was washed up on a shore.
The origins of Karlyn started long before I knew of Harley Quinn or Chyna (Farscape) and I was not going to be deterred, no sir. Even though I will be doomed to comparisons or stealing.
She is comic and irreverent, most of the time. Volatile and yearns for stable companionship. Displays an innocent emotional side when it comes to relationships. A number of contradictions; initially appearing scruffy and unkempt can be elegant and at times frighteningly regal and aloof, this hints to her possible past, which unfolds throughout the books.
A fearsome warrior, with a moral code, ‘they threaten me or mine, I kill ‘em’.
Her accent relates to her time spent in the large and morally questionable city of Elinid which is a complete steal on London and mode of speech is shared by a group of lesser characters. Again it’s fun to mess about with English, particularly as Karlyn makes up her own words, to the extent of mangling people’s names as a form of address.
Overall because she is who she is she cannot be categorised. Unlike her lover Arketre who is basically a trained soldier. ‘Kitlin’ is Arketre’s pet name for her.
Trelli (aka Whychie aka Trelyvana Waywanderer)
Young. Attractive. Trained Housemaid/Servant. Black-skinned. Orphan. Unwilling recipient of Powers. ‘Whychie’ is Karlyn’s fond name for her.
One approach in fantasy is having a character who did not want to be chosen for anything, anyhow, anywhere. Trelli as a babe was an orphan. She was raised in a sort of convent in a benign environment and found a job in a respectable household. She had spent five years building up her career of being the reason why The Hendrechan Family (her employers) could rely on their home being run very well. Because of their younger son’s dabbling in unsanctioned powers she now has these, and it takes a whole Vol I for her being sort of reconciled to them, even then because she is steeped in conventional and respectable ways is still wary of being tempted into evil ways. Still learning. Has given herself a ‘professional name’ to deal with ‘important folk’.
Because of her upbringing and her employment she is normally level-headed although being a normal person can get irritable and also has a tipping point. Has no interest in tracing her ‘natural parents’ as she feels she would have nothing in common with them.
If these books ever made it to the audio book stage I would ask if she could speak with a slight French accent, as she has grown up in land we would think of as southern France and probably came from the area now thought of as sub-Saharan Africa…..There’s no way I would try and impose any accent on her narratives!
The Parts Open to Criticism and Working With Them.
A Military Girl (in a military world)
Within Fantasy (and SF) it is often the case any major woman character involved in the business side of warfare should be Dry, Humourless, Very Efficient but with a vulnerable side just waiting to be opened up. And very predictable. Either that or they walk about being very stiff-necked and a foil for the central characters. Not so Arketre. She is from very low ranking beginnings and comes from a rural rough ‘n tumble background. It seemed to make sense she would grumble a lot at not get told much of the picture and although trying to be orderly to begin with, once left to her own devices tends to be a bit of a loose cannon. She has been through trying times, hence her propensity to get very dangerous when in battle, survival of her and hers being paramount. Although inventive is more settled when getting direct and plain orders. Her contradictions make her somewhat free of stereotyping. When it comes to romance, she has a bit of mischievous and fulsome past.
The Wacky One
Maybe it’s just me but it seems when I see something Manga-ish on TV there’s always this wacky character, usually minor and with a big nose or a lot of facial hair; Karlyn is none of those.
Nor is she devil-may-care, always generous of heart while dismissive of authority and possessed of a constantly quick mind or amenable buffoonery. This works in small doses but in a central character of 400+ pages soon grows ‘old’ and worse irritating. She has, literally her bag of tricks, has ‘powers’, is nimble, tough and deadly; she constantly chatters away displaying a skewed idea of the world. And just when you are settled down with that, there comes a cold, aloof side to her, which probably harks back to her origins. Because she is uncertain of where she came from and why she is very vulnerable when it comes to personal relationships, devoted to those close to her and is easily hurt. In short you can never be sure what she will be doing on the next page, never mind chapter. Because of possible ease by which a reader will be able to identify her with High Profile characters in other realms it was important to distance her, this was not easy. I might have failed. However when I write her I am not thinking of any comparisons. And this is good enough for me.
The Ordinary Person Who Never Asked for This (and their race)
The fact that Trelli had black skin, evolved with the book. Originally this character was going to be a daughter of the family, but the narrative never worked, kept turning into a continual damsel-in-distress. A valued servant/housemaid was far more likely to, being organised, level-headed with their own sense of purpose and mildly conservative. Having ‘witchy’ powers imposed on her would be a challenge and also a burden.
The location of her home town suggested a cosmopolitan environment and the lack of comment about the colour of her skin confirmed this, it also enabled a layer in the portrayal of place where being civically respectable and orderly was a paramount quality. That, Arketre doesn’t comment on race suggests she also grew up in a multi-racial background or has grown used to people coming in all ‘shapes and sizes’. Karlyn’s initial problem is that Trelli displays ‘Whychery’ powers, something Karlyn is supposed to be against, even though she has some herself. Eventually this is reconciled.
In the narrative the complexities faced by the major characters and senior support characters are such that no one cares about race. For some its simply a way of identifying a person or their possible place of origin. Once in Vol II racism rears its vile self out of a swamp of ignorance only to get slapped (literally) down and that was a means to demonstrate Trelli’s growing physical robustness, the confidence of Arketre and Karlyn in her ability to look after herself (and a smidge of romance- handsome over-protective fellow, y’know the sort )
Trelli is therefore a person, who happens to have a black skin. What is more important in the narrative is Trelli coming to terms with the responsibility and liability placed on her shoulders, the importance of her in the dynamic of the three and her learning to cope outside of her previously safe environment.
Romance (and Sex)
In the initial early drafts there were all sorts of romances; tragic, standard, comic and any premutation, and they all fell very flat and seem to drag characters in all sorts of direction which were not part of the flow of the story. In one theme, only thought thank goodness, Karlyn is gay, but Arketre assures her ‘her secret is safe’….urrgh! (It’s what happens when I don’t have enough chocolate).
When the idea floated in out of the narrative that Arketre might well be gay, for no other reason than ‘because’ an attraction and deepening feelings with Karlyn became seamless. Of course the notion would leave the whole work open to an accusation making lesbian women appear volatile, extraordinary, and ‘peculiar’. To which I have to say, this is a Fantasy work, folk live in a world far removed from are own, if they appear that way it’s because they are reacting to their environment. One is a soldier under strain. One is from an extraordinary background. You do not act ‘normal’ in those situations and anyway what is ‘normal’?
And of course, elderly male writing sex scenes between young women……just don’t try and defend yourself man. You have not got a hope. What can I say? I do like romance in my books, this couple are have fallen deep for each other I tried to portray their tender, caring sides in love scenes.
Having two (white) in love with each other and a third (black) was bound to cause issues and a certain jarring of the work, unless I went deeper into how people ‘work’ and remember my days of employment.
The central factor is the power; call it Ethereal or Stommigheid this is bonding the three women; this itself is a complex matter and it is never made clear whether it influences them or they as a trio or as individuals influence it. There is also a conjecture that even without it, they would bond anyhow. Originally Trelli is targeted as a source of concern by both Arketre’s commanders and Karlyn’s idiosyncratic mentor Meradat (think Inquisitor without all the usual tropes, predictable clichés etc), which is how they all meet.
Initially Trelli is terrified of her new situation and being ‘captured’. Arketre is sympathetic, Karlyn hostile. When later on Arketre gets ‘Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann’ on Karlyn, the latter finds Trelli is a source of friendship, through the confusion of The Ethereal. The first book lays down interactions of the three. Nominally, Arketre being Army is in charge, Trelli however by practice of her profession can be a strong influence, sometimes being dominating. Karlyn doesn’t get to lead but is a natural catalyst.
Both Arketre and Karlyn rely on Trelli for stability, the former because she is unsettled by the Ethereal/Stommigheid and as Karlyn is subsumed in it, Trellis is the reliable, understanding patient mentor in dealing with the proximity. Arketre in return being roguish is encouraging Trelli to take her careful steps into the raw outside world. Trelli understands Karlyn and why she is who she is, and Karlyn mentors Trelli in the deeper aspects of this power. Karlyn and Arketre are still in their honeymoon interlude, but are battle-hardened enough to be practical, Trelli sensing things troublingly deeper in both women is content and relieved they have each other. Having two rather physically tough folk near her gives Trelli a confidence to find her own feet in the changing world and develop her own life outside of the group
When one is threatened, the other two are there swiftly. When the three combine in battle so far they have proven to be unstoppable. Without one the others would be somewhat lost and much weaker in the struggle against malevolent forces.
Thus are the Patchwork Warriors, the Skirmishers of Steel, Fire and Lace loose upon a world, in battle against forces malevolent. As individuals they are who they are. I am still learning about them myself
I offer this therefore as one author’s journey, no more, no less.
Make of it what you will.