In October last year, I had the opportunity to interview Bryan Thomas Schmidt about his novel The Worker Prince, and we talked about the use of point of view (POV) in the novel, featuring an excerpt with sections from Davi’s POV and from Tela’s POV.
The sequel, The Returning, releases this month.
In this post, Bryan and I chat about the second book, and, in particular, the character of Tela. There’s also an excerpt at the bottom of the post, showing a scene featuring Tela.
Mae: Last time we talked, the conversation about POV turned to the challenge of writing for the opposite gender, and you talked about how you tried to approach each character as an individual, rather than a gender, but found that women can be “quicker to acknowledge the impact of emotions in their decision making” which provides some interesting opportunities in describing the character (in this case, Tela) and their motivations. What kind of feedback have you gotten about Tela as a character, and how readers relate to her POV, in the first and second novel?
Bryan: It’s ironic. One of the criticisms I got on The Worker Prince, my debut novel, was that I didn’t give some of the characters enough emotional depth. People wanted more. Now, on The Returning, book 2, I am hearing that Tela seems wishy washy. She’s got scenes of strong anger and frustration dealing with her career and her fiancé, Davi, and yet, she also has these little girl moments with her dad.
Mae: And part of that conflict comes from the resolution of The Worker Prince, right? [Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read the first book yet, be warned that we are going to discuss an element of the plot in this next answer. You could skip down to the next question if you want to avoid the reference.]
Bryan: One of the results of the events in The Worker Prince was the release of long disappeared prisoners, including Tela’s father, Telanus. Tela, like many girls, had a very close relationship with her father. But then, in her early teens, he just disappeared one day. He came into conflict with the Boralian Alliance government, and he was gone. She didn’t know if he was alive or dead. She and her mother heard rumors, but nothing concrete. And then her mother died, partially of grief, and Tela was alone. So Tela has had some major paradigm shifts all at once. One, she’s gotten her freedom for the first time and helped secure it by fighting for it. She’s never been free or a full citizen. It’s an adjustment emotionally and in other ways. Two, she’s got a boyfriend. She never really cared about that. Never wanted one. It just happened. But that’s significant. Third, her father is back and alive and in her life.
Mae: So, the challenge is to show how Tela reacts to all these changes — to show the range of emotions that she experiences — in a way that feels realistic, and doesn’t undermine the reader’s sense that she is a strong protagonist.
Bryan: Paradigm shifts are confusing to live through. I don’t know about you but I’ve had a lot of paradigm shifts since 2009. And during the time I was writing The Returning, I was the middle of some of them. When your marriage is falling apart due to your wife’s mental illness, you’ve been unemployed over a year and lose your second and part time job, find yourself alienated from friends and others by your wife’s behavior and the stressfulness of your life, then have to deal with bills, hospitals, police and other uncaring, cold authorities, you go through a lot of emotions. Paradigm shifts have that effect. With some people, you are angry and frustrated a lot. With others, you’re sad, depressed, emotionally unstable, weak. With others, you project strength somehow. It may be a front, but it happens. People may consider you confusing. That’s life.
Mae: Write what you know, right?
Bryan: As I went through paradigm shifts, I put my characters through them. And so the representation of their emotions became as complex on the page, in many ways, as my own emotions. I make no excuses or apologies. That’s life. Tela is still an officer, a soldier, a talented pilot, a woman, a daughter, a fiancée, a friend, and everything she was in The Worker Prince, but Tela’s life is messy and, thus, so are her emotions. I put her through a lot, but, don’t tell the others, Tela’s one of my favorite characters. She’s the kind of woman I’d like to have in my life.
Mae: She sounds like the kind of woman a reader would want in a novel, too! I’ll be rooting for her to come through all of this turmoil.
Bryan: Her story continues in book 3. The Returning ends on a cliffhanger. Much of this will come to a head and conclude in The Exodus next year.
Mae: I’m looking forward to it!
Readers, I encourage you to get a copy of The Worker Prince and The Returning now, and to be on the look-out for The Exodus next year.
Here’s an excerpt from The Returning featuring Tela interacting with her father:
Tela and Telanus crossed the street to the park opposite Miri’s building, holding hands. With every word her father said to her, Tela fought the urge to giggle like a little girl. She was just so happy to have him back in her life after all those long years of not knowing if he was alive or dead while he was in prison. Now he was there with her to talk to, give her advice, hug her and cheer her on. He was so proud of her that it was almost embarrassing. But she, in turn, was just as proud of him. She couldn’t believe she’d almost forgotten how great a man he was. She’d idealized him in his absence, of course, but now that he was here, she found the real thing surpassed her expectations. When he’d asked for a quick walk under the stars before racing back to Vertullis for his night shift with Sol, she’d been thrilled to oblige.
“What’s bothering you?” he said as she shivered involuntarily.
She shrugged as their eyes met. “Nothing.”
“Not the night air, girl. With you and Davi. You’ve been down all night.” She looked away. “Don’t lie to me. You’ve tried that on me since you could talk and I always see right through it.” He looped his arm in hers as they strolled together along the sidewalk dividing the park from the street. The strength of his muscular arms brushing against hers made her feel so safe. She had her daddy back. She was a little girl all over again.
Tela giggled. “It’s nothing. Just stuff.”
“Stuff what? With you and Davi?”
How did he know that? Sometimes it scared her—like he could read her mind. She wasn’t sure she wanted a father who could do that. “Yeah.”
“He really loves you. It makes me so happy to see.”
She sighed. “I know, Daddy. I love him, too.”
Telanus laughed. “Then what’s the problem, dear?”
“He treats me like some kind of glass doll or something. Like he has to protect me all the time.”
“It’s male instinct for us to protect our women. He doesn’t mean any harm.”
She stopped walking and frowned. They were standing near the preschool Tela could see from Miri’s window. Miri had commented how much she loved watching the kids play in the playground. “I’m a soldier, too. Not some housewife.” Pulling her arm from her father’s, she gestured. “I’m strong, talented, well trained. I can outfly him.”
Telanus grinned. “How many times have you proved that?”
Tela smiled. “A couple.”
“Well, take me up sometime, okay?” He whispered like they were co-conspirators. “I’d really like to see that.”
“I’m sure he’d love that.” They both laughed and Telanus looped her arm in hers again as they resumed walking. Even his scent took her back. He smelled like Daddy, the way she remembered him. She’d thought she’d forgotten that smell.
“Look. He cares for you. So, of course, he wants to protect you. I want to protect you. Don’t you want to protect him?”
She nodded. “Yes. And you, too.” Their eyes met and she giggled again. Why was she acting like such a boob?
“I’ve missed this, you know? I wish we could do it every night.”
“Me, too, Daddy!”
Telanus stopped again, pulling her around to face him and putting his hands firmly on her hips. “But you’re all grown up, Tela. From now on, our moments are limited. You’re an adult and you have to make your own life. And Davi’s a big part of that.”
Tela’s eyes misted. “There’s time. You can see me whenever you want. I’ll come to Vertullis more often.”
His fingers pressed to her lips to silence her. “Shh. You’re not listening. I couldn’t be more happy for you two. He’s a wonderful son and he’ll make a terrific son-in-law someday. Now I know you’ll be well taken care of no matter what happens. That’s all any father could ever want for his little girl, Tela.”
Tela hugged him, feeling the tears drip down her cheeks and onto his shirt at the shoulders. “I love you.”
“I love you, too, Little Girl. And so does he. A whole lot. Don’t let him get away.”
His use of her childhood nickname gave her butterflies. For years, she’d never expected anyone to call her that again. Tela blinked then reached up with the back of her hand to clear away the tears. “It’s just hard sometimes.”
Telanus chortled. “Relationships are the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s so worth it when you find the right one. And I know you, if I don’t help him out a little, you’ll keep pushing him away. You’ve always been so independent!” He pulled back and stared into her eyes. She giggled again. “Am I right?” Tela just smiled and nodded as their eyes met. He shook her gently as if knocking sense into her. “Okay then. Don’t mess this up.”
Tela stiffened and raised her hand to her forehead in a military salute. “Yes, sir!” They both laughed as he looped his arm in hers again and led her back the way they’d come.
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.