Focus on characters: Samuel of Seeds Among the Stars

Everyone loves a good villain, whether that means unflinchingly evil, completely twisted, or working for the wrong side. I’m rarely able to introduce a character I can’t connect with, so my villains tend to have more going for them than a will to cause harm. This is not always true, but in Samuel’s case it very much is.

My father, who read an early draft of Shafter, identified a little too much with Samuel and so couldn’t face him turning out to be the bad guy. The released version is a little clearer about his path, but I worked hard to keep that person my father identified with for various reasons.

Samuel is not evil. He’s not a shadow in the corner waiting to leap out at the innocent folks who wander by. Many would look at his wealth, respected position, and command of First City and think his life perfect. They could not be more wrong.

You have only to look a little deeper to see the cracks in his perfection.

He’s a failure as a father. He tried to crush his first son’s independence and drove Jared away. On the heels of that disaster, he indulged his second son so much Paul has little sense of character.

He’s driven by the expectations of ancestors (more by the myths than reality), and all he can see is how he will never measure up.

The original Samuel established this colony after he rose to power through disaster. Mechanical failures, combined with alien viruses, transformed what started as a well-supplied, well-funded colony expedition into a struggle for survival. Few of the elite colonists had any experience in real work. That first Samuel bought his way onto the vessel with money of the type the others scorned. It came from hard labor as much as inheritance. When the colonists had to face their true circumstances, though, Samuel and his family knew how to do what was necessary to establish a working settlement.

It’s a heavy legacy to bear, especially as their accessible resources have been tapped by the time Samuel inherits the position as grand polit. The young folks don’t see this as a challenge to overcome, looking instead to the stars and colonies of their own as Trina’s father had done. They didn’t care about the doctrines that pulled survival out of disaster, finding them out-of-date and limiting.

Samuel doesn’t want to be the one in charge when everything sinks back into the sands as if Ceric had never been colonized. Neither can he throw away what his ancestor created out of nothing. He can’t deny the doctrines laid down in the name of God. Those doctrines were necessary to carve a life out of the harsh, untouched planet they’d been given when little machinery remained. He held to them now out of respect and gratitude.

A Glimpse of Ceric from the Original Shafter CoverLetting spacers establish a base on Ceric, as his father had done, already threatened the principles underlying their colony. The weakness of relying on machinery didn’t stand out when seeing a small group of spacers bring forth buildings from the sand, and the hulking space ships landing and jumping off into the unknown. If not for that decision, the younger generations might never have looked to the stars. Samuel had seen the consequences of his father’s choice first hand. How could he make a similar one to let spacers bring the very machinery that had failed the first colonists into their lives? How could he let machinery extract the resources which lay deeper beneath the soil, denied to them within their doctrines?

But how could he not? Without the infusion of something new, Ceric would die under his watch, and the other polits refuse to recognize what the future holds. They refuse to make the hard choices, and will not let him make them for all of Ceric.

His is an uncomfortable position, and it’s one he’s put all his life toward shoring up. Samuel could have been like those who relished their wealth and position with little thought to the future, but it’s not his way. He’s responsible to the people he commands, but also to the memory of those who came before.

Meeting his lost granddaughter does much to shake his convictions, but it cannot change the person he was raised to be. She reminds him of what he lost in trying to press Jared into the image of a proper polit, but even that is not enough to lift the weight of the original Samuel’s gaze.

He’s a complicated person with pressures many can identify with. He also has some lovely moments of compassion and delight. It’s his choices that ultimately determine his fate. Villain or hero, there is a fine line between good intentions and good choices that can as easily tip toward the worse self as the better.

If you haven’t had the chance to meet Samuel, you’ll find his story unfolds in Shafter. The start of Seeds Among the Stars is available in eBook and print wherever you purchase your books. I do hope you sympathize with Samuel, as he deserves your sympathy, but his is not a path to follow, no matter how much his reasons seem sound at first.

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5 Interesting Links for 02-09-2018

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Tools (Archaeology)

A review of woodworking tools on the Northwest Coast of North America that offer insights into ancient lives.

Wattpad (Publishing)

An interview with one of the folks behind Wattpad looks at what the platform is intended to be, how authors are using it, and what future changes might look like.

Psychology (Life)

15 questions to ask when you’re feeling down that cover pretty much all bases. Not everything is relevant for every person, but odds are you’ll find something to break through the blahs.

Authors (Blogging)

Tips for making your blog attractive to readers new and old.

First Contact (Fiction)

A fun little science fiction story that offers a different result of first contact.

Safe Haven Sharable

Posted in Anthropology, Interesting Links, Promoting, Psychology, Publishing, Reading, Writing | Leave a comment

Price of Passion by Susan Napier

Price of Passion by Susan Napier I rarely re-read books because there are so many out there, but the right time, place, and mood had me queue up Price of Passion for a second time. I knew I’d read it before, and remembered a bunch of things, but still enjoyed the book. I thought it might be interesting to compare my original review with the notes I wrote down this time, eight years later, as different aspects stood out.

Here is the original review:

Price of Passion by Susan Napier was a very interesting take on the series theme of pregnant mistresses. In true proof that you can take an old idea and make it new, this story has a twist I couldn’t see coming at all, but when I got there, it made sense and worked on multiple levels. Add that the male lead is a writer, and I was quite amused. Unlike Dragonfly, this was pure candy and perfect for that role. Besides, it has a three-legged dog and a kitten. What else could you ask for? If that’s not enough, it also has wonderful personal conflicts, and the introduction of secondary characters who love to cause trouble for the male lead.

And my thoughts on the reread:

This is a delightful, somewhat old-style, Harlequin with neat cultural differences for Australia and interesting characters. It does fall under the assumption romance category, but there are reasons for what she believes, which drive her actions so that he assumes the rules are her own rather than a desperate attempt not to trigger his need to escape. The animals, a dog and kitten, are a good stand-in for the humans’ need for attachments, and though I’d read this before, the twist about her pregnancy came as a surprise, a sign there’s enough story beyond the traditional theme to stand on its own.

Despite this being about two people actively involved in a long-term relationship with each other, the story was one of discovery and seeing beyond the facade. They felt quite real, and the reasons for their defenses did as well. Interesting choice not to make everything come up roses at the end, but it’s a traditional romance so it still did for the two main characters, Drake and Kate.

I quite enjoyed the read, even though it never brought me to tears, so I wasn’t that deeply engaged with the characters.

Ultimately, the story proved an entertaining, quick read both times. I find it interesting how the twist caught me twice, indicating it is an unexpected turn on a very traditional theme, but one that works. Of course, the animals deserved a mention, and my notes about their nature and purpose in the story grew more detailed by the second read.

Have you found this kind of parity, but with a difference, when you reread? It makes me wonder what my notes on Pride and Prejudice would look like as I’ve reread that book a number of times…sadly, I’ve only reviewed it once.

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Focus on Characters: Sam of The Steamship Chronicles

Samantha Crill, or Sam as she prefers, first came to me many years ago, but I balked at the story. I couldn’t see how to be faithful to her nature while offering a character who connected with readers. You see, her first incarnation was feral.

If you haven’t read The Steamship Chronicles, at this point you might be wondering just what kind of feral I’m referring to. Let me introduce you to the concept of a Natural. Naturals are people who, around puberty or sometimes earlier, gain an amazing, and terrifying, ability to hear the cries of some mechanical objects. Those cries act like compulsions on Naturals, forcing them to change the mechanicals into whatever the mechanical objects desire with no thought to the human owner.

Hence feral.

When I wrote the prequel Safe Haven, Sam was not the main character, her sister and Officer Henry were. I thought the trouble with Sam being feral wouldn’t matter as much, but when I started writing her parts, I learned what I’d failed to understand before.

She’s not always feral. Most of the time, she’s a precocious child with a strong affinity to all things metal.

You see glimpses of the feral nature when she has a bout and falls into a fugue state, though, and for the longest while all I knew of her was within those bouts. Thanks to Safe Haven, I understood she’s only feral while under the demands of a machine.

I thought I had it all figured out and could start writing Secrets, the first book of The Steamship Chronicles. But, I still struggled with the entry point.

Secrets beings with Sam thrust into the greater world away from her family and in circumstances that would make the strongest of us shudder. Sam is far from the strongest, and her gift is affected by her emotional state. I was back where I started with a feral character, only this time she would be the lead. I worried people would have trouble connecting with her and so the story fell apart.

She might have been fascinating in a distant observation sort of way, but my characters want to be the type of people you like to spend time with. A feral Sam would have triggered all the same fears that drove the hatred of Naturals in my steampunk world, making my readers sympathize with the wrong side.

This is why Nat, her co-lead, came to be more than just another sailor Sam encounters. I’ll introduce him more thoroughly in another week or so, but his whole existence came around because I needed a character my readers could connect with. He grew from that point.

Then, even before I’d written the first word, Sam’s nature changed even more. I still managed to show the feral state demonstrated by the Natural Henry captures in the beginning of Safe Haven, so the reader is fully aware of the possibility and risk, but Sam herself became something different as she fights her nature for control.

I’m the type of writer most writers hate. Just kidding, but…I don’t decide how my characters are going to be. They come to me already fully clothed in personality and history. Sometimes, they even bring the main points of their story. Others times, like with Sam, I have to figure out what is going to happen, and only then will they tell me how it does.

That’s not to say they don’t change from that initial idea, as Sam demonstrates quite dramatically. That’s part of the reason I let characters like her simmer, sometimes for years, before I understand how to tell her story.

I described Sam to several of my writer friends, all of whom were fascinated and encouraged me to write the story. But, until I could find that connection, I didn’t try to shoehorn a feral character into the story. It would have broken The Steamship Chronicles beyond repair.

If you want to see how Sam’s tale came about for yourself, the eBook of Secrets is free at all online stores. Click the link to your preferred store on the book’s page.

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5 Interesting Links for 02-02-2018

Note: Videos may auto start with sound so be prepared.

Psychology (Prisons)

After being introduced to Norway’s prison system, North Dakota implemented something similar because the success was painful compared to U.S. prison experiences. This is a view of the transition through the perspective of those orchestrating the effort.

Photography (History)

A comparison of historical to modern images of New York City to explore how it has changed…or not. The photographs allow you to see cultural changes as well.

Women (Programming)

This article caught my attention because I have recently started using Duolingo to refresh and improve my Spanish. I’m a firm believer in the value of multiple languages as is the company. However, the reason why I’m including it here is more complex. As a female interested in programming, I faced a lot of hurdles. In fact, I came to programming very late in my path because of illogical bias when I was in junior high, which was more than likely unconscious.

This company has implemented a change in their hiring practices to improve their employee gender ratio not by imposing quotas or changing standards. Instead, Duolingo examined every aspect of their process for unconscious bias against female candidates from the university career fairs they attended to stripping identifying information from applications for the initial steps. I appreciate the approach not just for its success but because it recognizes a path to equality that removes illogical barriers rather than using quotas.

This is at the heart of the problem. Artificially inflating female hires does nothing to address the doubts about female capability and encourages a sense of special treatment. Duolingo chose an approach that identifies how female candidates are not given a level playing field and works toward true equal opportunity. The candidates, male or female, still have to win the job, but the female candidates are no longer forced to do so with a hand tied behind their backs. This approach would also work to address other biases as well.

Teachers (Interesting People)

While not the full intent of this homage to an excellent teacher, reading this account speaks to me about every wonderful teacher I had and the differences they made in my life. It makes me sad that I wasn’t as proactive as Scalzi in keeping in touch so they could know the impact they had on me.

Resources (Writing)

Need to find a name for a character, check an etymology, or just research something quickly? This is a list of various dictionaries, name generators, and other sites useful for stimulating the mind and helping you as you write. Be cautious, though. It risks falling into the black hole of curiosity that swallows hours.

Beneath the Mask is included in this collection introducing you to new romance series. The link below takes you to the “Sweet” category. Find links at the bottom of that page to other heat levels if you want to explore.

Posted in Culture, Heroes, Interesting Links, Interesting People, Programming, Reading, Research, Writing | 2 Comments