Question on a FB writers group: “Why is your villain a villain?”

My answer, for “The Codex of Desire”:
Ev’ora is the villain because her “greatest good” is her goal to remain the Most Potent Chieftess of the Tribes of the Inspiration — and her fertility is failing. Unless she produces eggs regularly, she will be overthrown and cast down, possibly even killed… and all the work she’s done to improve the lot of the Tribes will be lost.

Everything she does is in service to maintaining her role as queen of her people. And the MMC, who is a captive warrior from an enemy civilization, may provide fresh semen to stimulate Ev’ora’s fertility, if she can convince him to mate with her (since no male can be mated by sheer force). So she schemes, she kills, she manipulates — but as far as she is concerned, she’s doing it for the best of all possible reasons.



“Tell me about a character…”

Chronic pain is once again delivering a serious hit to my battery life, so today I’ll be addressing my response to a question posed on the Fiction Writing FB group several days ago.

The question: “Tell me about a character (or several) that you intended to have a small part for but ended up liking them so much that you gave them a much bigger part in your story.”

And my response:

The Chief Cook in my recently published novel, “The Codex of Desire”. He was the classic case of a character stepping out of the wings and grabbing a much bigger role for himself, just through the strength of his personality. (He also turned out to be EXTREMELY important to the FMC, but I don’t want to post any spoilers, so that’s all I’ll say about that.)

His name is U’nur, he’s a rare male who is not tied to a female’s harem (this being a matriarchal society), and he’s even rarer in being a genuinely kind individual in a species known for its predatory ruthlessness. He’s been watching over the FMC since she was hatched, although she doesn’t discover this until halfway through “Codex”. As well as being a cook, he’s an herbalist who creates medicines from plant extracts (one of which becomes central to the novel’s plot). The first time I noticed him was when he hailed the FMC out of the blue to offer her a bowl of meat scraps — prior to that I hadn’t even realized he existed — and he just sort of grew from there. 🙂


On further reflection today, I also have to acknowledge the Leader of the Furies, Fir’ala~Enk. She also came out of the darkness (literally out of the pitch-black night in the novel) and spoke in a voice so clear, so utterly hers, that I was instantly captivated.

Like U’nur, Fir’ala seemed to step from the wings and take centre stage as a fully realized individual. I never planned her, I never sat down and wrote out a character sheet for her, she simply existed as a distinct individual from the instant I “met” her. And she ended up becoming one of Tir’at’s deadliest enemies — but that’s another story. 🙂

NaNoWriMo 2018: “Where Darkness Falls”, The Understructure

I mentioned that 2018 will be my third take on “WDF” — the first being during NaNo 2011, the second during NaNo 2012. In 2011 I racked up 4072 words on the project, but in 2012 I managed to crack out 51874 words (winner winner, NaNo dinner!), which did not finish the first draft, unfortunately. For the next two years I worked on different projects (“Hateseed” in 2013, another win, and “Micro Noir” in 2014), then tackled “The Codex of Desire” (winner, 2015).

Come 2016 I listed “WDF” as my NaNo project, but after expending so much energy wrapping up the first draft of “Codex” that year I ended up taking a long rest that included November, and thus I racked up a zero word count for “WDF”. Subconsciously I was abiding by a profound inner truth: if I split my attention between two novels, I would never get “Codex” done. I’m one of those authors who needs to concentrate on a single major project at a time. So — “WDF” was set aside, as much as I love the damned thing, until “Codex” was finished, edited, and finally published.

Why do I say “the damned thing”? Because “WDF” (unlike “Codex”, which was elegant from the start and flowed as smooth as fresh cream) is without doubt a problem child.

For one thing, it takes place in 2038 in Chicago — a city I have visited only once, necessitating a HUGE amount of research and a lot of guesswork. (Why, oh why did I have to include the city’s underground tunnel system as a key aspect of the story? Because the story demanded it, that’s why! *lays head on desk*)

For another thing… did I mention it takes place in 2038? Cue a lot more research, and stretching my imagination to come up with appropriate technological advances. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun! But anybody who writes into the future is always a bit anxious, I think, about how well their novel will “age” as the year it’s set in draws closer.)

For another other thing, it involves a Southern Baptist main character, and I am SO anxious to portray the belief system with both its warts and its stellar points, just as I’m anxious to portray Wicca (Kavelin’s religion) in the same way.

Speaking of characters… neither Anderson nor Kavelin is particularly likeable at the beginning of the story, at least not to me. I adore them AS characters, but they’re both bigots and they’ve both got a mean temper on them. Yes, they WILL learn and grow as the novel progresses, but there’s a certain amount of anxiety involved in writing characters who aren’t congenial from the first paragraph.

And not lastly (but last for now), this project involves writing a scene toward the end which has torn my heart out even in the drafting phase, so I know that putting it down word for word will leave me shaken and probably in tears.

No, “WDF” is a novel that is going to stretch me and test me in ways that “Codex” did not (and believe me, “Codex” turned out to be both a marathon and a gruelling gymnastics routine).

And you know something?

I can hardly wait.

Bring it on, NaNo 2018! 🙂 Let’s get that first draft DONE!

Male Expectation, Feminism, and “The Codex of Desire”: Part 2 of 2

(You can find Part 1 of this article here.)

SPOILER ALERT from this point forward.

Remember how in yesterday’s post I said that in writing, things seldom work out quite  as we’d planned?

Oh man, did “The Codex of Desire” hit me over the head with that lesson, MULTIPLE TIMES.

Although the matriarchy-versus-patriarchy conflict was built into my earliest concepts of “Codex”, the original plot was oriented towards the main male character (Tir’at), and his feelings and actions. In that sense it was a standard “Big Man Hero” narrative — and I think that if I’d written it that way, the whole thing would have turned out elegantly enough, but.. well, probably a bit boring, to be honest.

Maybe a whole lot boring.

NOPE! The Writing Machine inside my head had completely different ideas, which it failed to share with me initially. I pounded out the first draft during 2015 and 2016, put it aside for one year and three months, then went back to re-read it in early September 2017 — yep, I could still stand to look at it, which is always a good sign. My hero was still engaging to me— always an EXCELLENT sign. I was poised to move ahead with telling Tir’at’s story, primarily from his point of view…

… but that didn’t last very long. In fact, it only lasted until mid-September 2017, when I took a “Why High Concept?” seminar with Lori Wilde during‘s SavvyWriterCon 2017. Lori had us all write out one-sentence pitches for our novels, and when I posted my first set of possible “hooks”, she told me outright:

“The slave girl is the protagonist. Make her the focus of your pitch.”

And just like that, lightning struck, the angels sang, and I realized:

Oh my God, I wrote a female Hero without even knowing I was writing a female Hero!

And that Hero was the lowest ranked slave in her society. But she was also the individual who got the action moving and KEPT the action moving, with Tir’at’s arrival in the Tribal settlement as her “inciting incident”.

So — Tir’at was NOT the Hero at all.

Do you know what Tir’at was?

He was the Damsel in Distress, that’s what — right down to being kept prisoner in a tower!

Okay, trope inverted without me ever intending to invert it. By now my head was spinning, and the vertigo only increased when I started thinking about what I’d actually written in more depth.

Who was Tir’at focussed on? Who got HIM moving? That’s right: the female Poet and the female Most Potent Chieftess, with the female slave Girn’ash supplying intelligence, suggestions, and plans to help him achieve his overriding “Oh, I’m so desperately in love with La’leet!” goals. He wasn’t just the Damsel in Distress, he was the Damsel Helplessly In Love, his “male” rationality completely overcome.

My male main character might have been the fulcrum that the novel moved around, but the actual powers that motivated him and manipulated him for their own purposes were ALL FEMALE.

And then the second realization struck:

Oh my Goddess, I inadvertently wrote a feminist novel!

And from that point on, my approach to writing “The Codex of Desire” changed radically, I believe for the better.

Want to know more? Tune into the “Femisphere” broadcast on September 20th, 2018 — or you can also catch it on replay through the CKUW archives, starting a day or two after the initial broadcast. 🙂

Any questions you’d like answered right now? Feel free to pop them into the comments!

Male Expectation, Feminism, and “The Codex of Desire” Part 1 of 2

One of the first interview requests I received in response to “Codex” was from the University of Winnipeg feminist radio show “Femisphere”. My spot will be airing live at 8:15-8:55 AM CST on Thursday, September 20th, 2018, and I’m looking forward to discussing the feminist themes which are such a big part of my novel.

SPOILER ALERT from this point forward.

In the “Codex” universe, an alien presence known as the Interstellar Codex arrived on Earth 67 million years ago. The Codex released a genetic engineering retrovirus into a large population of small (approximately raven-sized) raptor theropod dinosaurs who lived in the mountains of an area which would later become part of Western Alberta. Some of those dinosaurs sickened and died; others were unaffected by the virus; but in some of them the virus “took”, and reworked them at the genetic level to provide them with more efficiently structured brains, longer and more agile hands, and the ability to learn (and communicate using) the written word.

This last gift gave the new population their name — the Culture of the Word — and they relocated to a large nearby valley, leaving behind the surviving unaffected dinosaurs, who proudly called themselves the Tribes of the Inspiration and relied on spoken stories, poetry, and songs as a repository for their shared knowledge.

Possibly the biggest difference between the two populations, however, was imposed by the Interstellar Codex through a written decree: in the Culture of the Word, male must always be dominant over female. This was a mind-bending change from the ways of the Tribes, who had been matriarchal since the earliest dim memories marching back into the ages before they gained the powers of speech.

In “The Codex of Desire”, Tir’at~Esk, a proud Courier/Scribe of the Culture, is captured by the Tribes and plunged head-first into a society where he is expected to behave as a subordinate — and worse, he has caught the amorous attention of the Most Potent Chieftess Ev’ora, who is determined to coerce him into her harem. (She must convince him to submit willingly, since no male can be mated against his will and expect to produce viable issue,) Ev’ora has a lot riding on convincing Tir’at to mate with her: she hasn’t kindled in many months, and no Chieftess who is barren is permitted to continue as leader of her Tribe, much less of all the Tribes. Tir’at is therefore her “Illustrious Guest”, and she grants him a beautifully appointed “nest” for his comfort as well as the most delicious of foods and the most delectable of perfumes… but he is her prisoner, no matter how luxurious his prison.

When I started writing “Codex” (during National Novel Writing Month in 2015), using only the barest of notes, my plan was clear: Tir’at was the hero of this story, a brave and noble Warrior who proudly resisted the debased desires of the Most Potent Chieftess, and whose love for the Poetess he sees performing at a banquet is both clear-headed and pure. There was a sentence about a character named Girn’ash, the slave girl who served the purely plot-determined device of (somehow) uniting the two lovers and who would die for Tir’at in the end, but nothing more was said about her or planned for her. Above all, the story was Tir’at’s story, and he was always strutting around at the centre of events.

Here’s the relevant paragraph from my initial outline:

So far, the following background elements are shaping up to be important for me… in brief, the plot involves small intelligent feathered theropod dinosaurs and a tale of war, imprisonment, love-at-first-sight, secrets, lies, hatred, betrayal and murder in a social setting similar to the samurai vs ninja conflicts of 15th century Japan. Tir’at is the MMC, a brave young warrior of the Culture of the Word who’s been captured by the primitive Tribes of the Inspiration; La’leet is a beautiful young poet of the Tribes, whom Tir’at sees singing/dancing and falls instantly in love with; and Girn’ash is an ugly low-ranked female servant who has fallen secretly in love with Tir’at, who will end up conniving to bring him together with La’leet — and who will wind up dying for him, all in vain.

In short, Girn’ash was a throw-away character who existed only to assist and to glorify Tir’at’s story arc. Well… in writing things seldom work out quite as we’d planned. More about that in tomorrow’s post.