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Archive for October, 2011

Today, I have an opportunity to interview Bryan Thomas Schmidt about his new novel, The Worker Prince, which published on October 4.  An excerpt from the novel appears below the interview. 

In the excerpt, from Chapter 7, as Davi Rhii gets to know the workers on Vertullis, he also meets an intriguing fellow pilot, a woman named Tela, who takes an instant dislike to him. The problem is, Davi can’t keep his eyes off of her or her off his mind.

Mae:  In the excerpt, you have a section from Davi’s point of view, and then a section from Tela’s point of view.  How many point of view characters do you have in the novel? Why? What influences you as a writer in deciding when to add additional points of view? 

Bryan:  Twelve or thirteen. But there are four major ones and then some supporting characters who serve as POV characters for specific scenes.  I choose the POV character for a scene based on who has the most at stake in a scene and whose arc thus can be most advanced by said events. Sometimes, you can choose a character and advance multiple arcs just through the internal dialogue combined with the action/dialogue in ways you might have needed multiple scenes for if you’d chosen differently.

Mae:  Have you found it helpful in writing about romantic relationships specifically to include both perspectives? 

Bryan:  I learned about writing romantic lines in large part from both television-movies and Nicholas Sparks novels. I love the emotion Sparks packs into his vivid prose. And in both cases, these mediums use multiple POV characters to build tension and character and emotion in romantic plot lines. In this case, it served very well to advance both the Davi and Tela characters. In Davi’s case, we see his overconfidence being a liability for the first time. In Tela’s case, we see her feminine nature at war with her self-reliance. Those are just a couple examples of the layers involved but they show how advancing character arcs is aided by multiple POVs perhaps.

Mae:  Have any other authors influenced your use of point of view in your fiction? Who does this well, in your opinion?

Bryan:  Well I mentioned Sparks. I certainly admire how Ken Scholes handles it. I borrowed as well from Orson Scott Card, Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, and Mike Resnick, amongst others. All of them do it quite well. John A. Pitts stunned me recently with a skilled combination of 1st person and 3rd person POVs in the same book. Masterfully done. Some authors are most comfortable writing their own gender. 

Mae:   How do you find the process of writing a male character and a female character? Any insights into your process that you’d like to share?

Bryan:  Men and women are individuals, not genders. If you write them as stereotypes, they will be stereotypes and stereotypically boring. It’s important when writing characters to look at all aspects of individualism. How would Tela handle this situation vs. Davi, for example? And then find ways to reveal their uniqueness through actions and dialogue in the course of writing them. I do tend to deal with things on a more emotional level with female characters over male. Males express emotions more subtly through actions and such rather than women whose emotions tend to be more vocal and apparent, if even direct. And women are quicker to acknowledge the impact of emotions in their decision making whereas men tend to just act the response rather than reason or think it. “I don’t know why I did that but I just had to” v. “You hurt me and I had to make you understand by hurting you,” for example.

 

Excerpt:

FROM CHAPTER 7 – The Worker Prince

As Davi Rhii gets to know the workers on Vertullis, he also meets an intriguing fellow pilot, a woman named Tela, who takes an instant dislike to him. The problem is, Davi can’t keep his eyes off of her or her off his mind. Here’s some of what ensues…

 

A week after their argument in the corridor, Davi found Tela sitting at the controls of her shuttle, reading through maintenance charts. He took care to make noise as he entered the cockpit so as not to sneak up on her. She turned her head and frowned when she saw him.

“We seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot,” Davi said, sitting in the copilot’s seat. “I’ve been trying to figure out how it happened.”

“Maybe your charms won’t work on me,” Tela said. “I’m pretty good at seeing through people. Especially men.”

“Well, that’s just it. You seem to have taken some of the things I’ve said the wrong way,” Davi said, hoping she’d take another look.

“Like what?” Her eyes remained on the charts.

“I didn’t bring up your name in class to isolate you from the other trainees,” Davi said. “I was trying to pay you a compliment. I’m impressed with the way you flew the shuttle.”

“Well, thank you,” she said, still avoiding eye contact, focused on her charts. “But the last thing I need is people thinking you’re showing me special treatment. I’m there to learn the same as them.”

“And I’m there to teach you,” Davi said, “but someone with your flight experience is an asset for the entire class. You can help me to help them learn what they need to know.”

“I didn’t sign on to be a tutor,” Tela said.

“I won’t ask you to be, if you don’t want to,” Davi said. “All I’m asking is if they don’t understand something I’m trying to explain, maybe you can jump in and help me clarify it.”

“See?” She said, looking up for a moment. “You’re asking me to teach. No thanks.” Her eyes turned back to the charts as Davi wondered why he always seemed to choose the wrong words when he talked to her. A familiar buzz filled his stomach as heat rose within.

“Whatever you feel comfortable with,” Davi said. “The last thing I need is someone getting killed because they didn’t understand.”

“I wouldn’t let that happen,” Tela said.

“Good. I can use all the help I can get,” Davi said. “I’ve never been an instructor before. And I’ve never been a worker before either. It’s all new to me. I pretty much have to relearn who I am.” I wish someone would teach me how to talk to you!

“You’re doing fine. You explain things well,” Tela said, her blue eyes meeting his for a moment.

“Was that a compliment?” Davi melted inside like icicles in a desert. He smiled. “I might have to write that down. It might be ages before I ever get another compliment from you.”

She laughed, rolling her eyes. “Don’t get too cocky, okay? There’s always room for improvement.”

“Okay, so don’t get mad at me when I suggest areas you can improve,” Davi said. “It’s my job as your teacher.”

“You can’t improve on perfection,” she said, smiling. Was she joking?

“Now who’s cocky?” He teased as she laughed. “Some of the cadets seem to resent me because of my past. They don’t seem to realize, I’m on your side.”

“Can you really blame them?  You’re the Prince.”

Davi sighed, disappointed. “No, I suppose not.”

She slid back in the chair and her face softened a bit. “Give them time. They’ll come around.”

“I don’t suppose you could put in a good word for me?”

Tela’s face crinkled. “First I have to convince myself.”

“But you saw me at the rallies! Do you really believe—”He stopped as Tela broke into laughter. “You’re giving me trouble?”

She smiled and nodded. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Well, I’d better let you get back to your work here. I wouldn’t want anyone to know we actually had a civil conversation.”

She smiled at him and his heart fluttered. “You like making jokes, don’t you?”

“When it makes you smile like that,” Davi said. Her eyes turned quickly back to her charts. “Okay, well, thanks for letting me explain.”

She nodded. “See you in class, professor.” It sounded so formal. He contorted his face, and she laughed again, twirling strands of her hair around her index finger. “I’m trying to work here.”

He nodded, stood, and backed out of the cockpit. The conversation went better than he’d expected. She’d laughed and joked with him. It was a start. And she’d twirled her hair—was she flirting with him? Best not to make too much of it. For some reason, all the way back to the command center, he found himself whistling a happy song.

 

* * * *

 

Tired of watching Brie throwing herself at Davi, Tela had stormed out of the training room. It was disgusting, shameless—totally inappropriate in the classroom. She’d grown more and more irritated, until deciding she needed a breath of fresh air.

As she wound her way through the corridors, she started feeling silly. Why did it bother her so much? You don’t like him, remember? She’d known women who acted like Brie before. It wasn’t like she had any claim to Davi. They were barely friends.

Sure, things between them had settled down since they’d talked in the shuttle. He’d asked Tela’s opinion from time to time, and she’d done as he requested, helping him explain things when the trainees didn’t understand. So what was the big deal? Brie had every right to flirt with him. She’d acted like a fool. Why did she have such a tendency to do that when Davi was around?

She spent a few moments calming down, then turned back toward the classroom. Rounding a corner near the classroom, she spotted Davi exiting and heading up the corridor away from her.  He looked very discouraged. She hoped not because of her.

She followed him across the hangar and into a smaller cave on the far side, where the Skitters sat parked in several rows.

Long slender bodies topped with leather seats and two handlebars attached to a control panel, Skitters had been designed for recreational use, but were so fast and easy to handle, they’d been adapted for other uses. Borali Alliance ground patrols used them on a regular basis.

She stood in the shadows as he began looking them over. Two mech-bots entered through another tunnel and began working on some of the Skitters behind him. As she stepped out of the shadows into the cave, Davi looked up at her.

“Hey,” she said, with a slight wave and a smile.

“Hey,” he said, going back to examining the Skitters.

“How’d the rest of the session go?”

He shrugged. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Not even eye contact. So maybe he was upset with her. “Sorry I left. I needed some air.”

“I was disappointed you didn’t stay for your turn,” Davi said as he examined another Skitter. “Seeing someone actually succeed on the simulators would have been encouraging. I sure could’ve used it.” His voice sounded tired.

“Was it really so bad?”

“You tell me. You saw how some of the students did,” Davi slid into the seat of a Skitter, fiddling with the controls.

“Some of them are a long way from being flight-worthy,” Tela said, watching the mech-bots working behind him.

“Some make me wonder if they ever will be.”

It saddened her to see him so discouraged. He had always been so positive and supportive of the students. She wanted to do something to cheer him up. She took a seat on another Skitter and turned it on, hearing the steady hum of the engine and feeling it rise up off the floor to float on the air as she adjusted the controls.

“Come with me.”

“For a joy ride?”

Tela smiled. “Sure. There’s something I want to show you.” She waved toward the Skitter he’d been examining.

He shrugged, climbing onto the Skitter. The engine hummed as it rose into the air. “Okay. Lead the way.”

She slid the Skitter into gear and drove it out of the cave into a small tunnel. Davi accelerated his own Skitter and followed along behind her.

They emerged into the dense forest along a path. Sunlight streamed through the tall cedars, creating a patchwork of dark and light areas on the ground. The chirping of birds and insects blended with the hum of the Skitters as a light breeze tousled their hair. The sweet smell of cedar filled her nose.

Tela sped up, forcing Davi to speed up behind her. She admired the fluidness with which he maneuvered the Skitter. She’d never seen him fly, of course, but it seemed to her he must be as skilled as the commanders said. She wondered if he’d had much time to explore the forest around the base yet. She hadn’t seen him in the Skitter bay, but then she hadn’t been there much until the past few days herself.

She led him through several twists and turns then around a bend into a clearing where she pulled to a stop and waited for him to come alongside.

Amid cedars at the edge of the course on both sides there were several wood pylons with various markings. As his Skitter pulled alongside hers and stopped, she smiled. “Well, here it is.”

“What is it?” Davi said, trying to make sense of the pylons and markers.

“Our Skitter training course,” Tela said. “Aron asked me to set one up.” Why was she so anxious waiting for his response?

Davi looked around and smiled. “You did all this yourself?”

“Well, I may have borrowed some from a schematic of one of the Alliance’s training courses. With a few minor adjustments to compensate for ours being on land and not in outer space.”

Davi nodded, looking pleased. “This is impressive. You amaze me!”     

He’s impressed! She almost blushed. Why did she care so much what he thought? She’d never had time for men, not since her father’s disappearance. She’d been too busy for much of a social life.

“Thanks. Wanna give it a try?” She opened the side pocket on her Skitter and pulled out a helmet. “Gotta put on the helmet to see how it works.”

She slid the helmet on as Davi opened the pocket on his own Skitter and retrieved the helmet. As he began to put it on, Tela flipped the switch to activate the weapons simulator on her Skitter.

After they’d both adjusted their helmets, Davi nodded. “Ready.”

Tela accelerated and took off like a flash, zigzagging in and out between the pylons. Wind nipped at the skin of her face like tiny bugs. Trees passed almost as blur as she focusd on the markers and pylons. She glanced down at her control panel, verifying the weapons simulator was fully charged. The visor of her helmet showed a targeting frame as she passed the next pylon. Everything seemed to be working right.

The next pylon she came to, she maneuvered the frame to aim at the pylon and then hit the fire button. The visor image flashed as she hit the target.

She flipped her communicator on and keyed the switch. “Flip the red switch on to activate the targeting simulator. The black button on the joystick is for firing.”

She slowed down, allowing Davi to pull alongside as he fiddled with the controls. “Do you see it?”

“Yeah,” his voice came in through the helmet. “You did all this?”

“Well, I had some help. Go for a run,” Tela said, accelerating again and aiming as she came to each target.

Davi raced his Skitter alongside her, also aiming and firing. They raced in and out of the pylons, keeping pace with each other. The visor kept count in the bottom right corner of hits and misses. So far she had been dead on.

The total time for the course at full speed was less than four minutes. They reached the end in what seemed like a few seconds. She pulled to a stop as Davi stopped beside her.

“How’d you do?”

“Missed two.”

She smiled. “I didn’t miss any.”

“Well, you designed it. It’s my first time.” He said with a shrug, but she saw disappointment in his green eyes.

With an exaggerated shrug, she laughed. “Excuses, excuses.”

He scowled. “Wanna go again?”

Gotcha! She grinned and accelerated her Skitter like a rocket.

Davi raced to catch up with her.

They followed a curving path which took them back to the start of the course, and then both launched into it again. Davi gave it his best effort. She had to accelerate a few times to keep up with him.

As they neared the end of the course, he zipped in front of her. Her Skitter misfired. She groaned in frustration, pulling back alongside and getting back on course. He laughed as they raced onward, finishing the course in less than four minutes.

“Perfect score,” he said with a smirk.

That’s the Davi I know. She shook her head. “I missed because you distracted me.” But she knew his move to cut her off hadn’t been the only distraction. She had butterflies in her stomach.

“Oh right, like the enemy won’t ever try that,” he said, shooting her a look.

She laughed. He was right. They couldn’t count on total focus in a real battle. Maybe there were some things he could teach her on her own course after all.

“Shall we go again?” he asked, shifting excitedly on his seat. His voice had regained its usual energy, and she noticed the usual sparkle had returned to his eyes. The smell of adrenaline mixed with sweat wafted to her nose.

“Wanna switch sides?”

He nodded. “Catch me if you can!” He took off like a rocket.

She raced to catch up, determined that this time she’d be ready for any distractions.

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I celebrated Banned Books Week (Sept 24 – Oct 1) by reading a web comic.  I read Girl Genius from the first page (Nov 4, 2002) through all the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, to this Monday (Oct 3, 2011).  Nine years.  There are plenty of reasons to read this web comic, which is one of the best ever written.  It’s immersive and suspenseful and funny.  It’s won three hugos.  I love the writing and the art.  I’m a geeky girl who grew up with Dragon Magazine’s Phil & Dixie, and with the Myth Adventures graphic novel.  It’s steampunk, or gaslight fantasy — a genre that I write and cosplay.  The comic even has a smart likable pudgy blonde heroine with glasses!  Seriously, how could I not know and love this comic? 

How, you may wonder, have I not read it already? 

But, as I said, I read it for Banned Books Week for a reason.  This is something I was told not to read when I first found it maybe eight years ago.  I was forbidden to read it.  Living in America in the 21st century with internet access, there is very little written work that is forbidden to us. 

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to share this story, because it is bizarre and sad and personal, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are still boxes that we can put ourselves in that limit access to art.  If you are in a situation like this, and you happen across this blog, let this be a wake-up call to you.   

My first husband told me to not read the comic when I first found it years ago, because it upset him.  He didn’t want to see the easily recognized art on my computer screen.  I don’t even know if this part is true, but the reason he told me that he objected to the comic is because he said he once dated the author before she was famous and it upset him to think that he let someone so talented “get away.”  Yes, we were already married when he said this.  Later, as things inevitably got rougher between us, he told me once that he was hesitant to leave me on the off-chance that someone ever bought something that I wrote.  That would sting to happen twice, right?  This did my budding writer self (and confidence in general) absolutely no good at all.  I sent nothing to publishers for years.  Because I couldn’t imagine having to wonder if that was why he stayed.

So, long story short, I eventually wised up and left.  I’m now living a sweet beautiful life with a wonderful man who is much kinder to me, and has never forbidden me to watch or read anything.  And, now, I write.  And I do send works out to publishers.  And they do sometimes buy them.  And the wonderful man that I’m married to is proud of me.  But it’s not why he stays with me.

Reading that comic from start to current — watching nine years pass in story — reminds me how much my own life has changed, even as Agatha has experienced her share of crazy romantic ups and downs.  But throughout it all, she remains gloriously confident and in charge of her own fate.

I wish I’d had another ten years of her adventures to read this weekend. 

 

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