Front Cover of LoE Book 9 (artwork by Carol Phillips)

Front Cover of LoE Book 9 (artwork by Carol Phillips)

It doesn’t happen too often, especially in my case, but on select occasions your own characters can jump up off the page and surprise the heck out of you.

Such was the case with Stenibelle, a character I dreamed up on a lark.


I was working on The Shadow tech Goddess, a tale dealing with alternate universes and Extra-Planar Entities. Our hero, Paymaster Stenstrom, Lord of Belmont-South Tyrol, had been informed that there are many Wvulgroms. alternate versions of himself running around, all somewhat similar to himself but undeniably different–such is the basis of the entire Shadow tech Goddess storyline. It’s not an unfamiliar concept, we’ve seen it before in various media: fiction, TV, comics, films (the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror” immediately comes to mind). In many cases, these “alternate entities” are a study in opposites: good vs evil, chaste vs immoral, that sort of thing. In my case I wanted these Wvulgroms (qv=alternate entities) to be merely a product of their circumstance. They can be very different from the character we’ve come to know, or, they might be very similar, it all depends.

Back cover on LoE Book 9, featuring the irascible Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR (Painting by Carol Phillips)

Back cover of LoE Book 9, featuring the irascible Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR (Painting by Carol Phillips)

In the case of the Shadow tech Goddess saga, eight different versions of Paymaster Stenstrom are involved. They all have similar experiences: they all served as paymaster aboard the Fleet ship Seeker for Captain Davage, and they all bought the captain’s chair of the Seeker later on. They all had various levels of failure/success in the Seeker Affair, as it was known. Some had no trouble at all securing the Seeker’s chair, some had a bit of rough sledding, others failed spectacularly. One was imprisoned, one was enslaved in a sex pit, and one was killed.

At the end of Book 8, all of these various alternate versions are brought together in the smothering darkness of the Shrine of Boraster on the Planet Eng and sorted out, each sent on their merry way.

As I wrote the final scene, each Wvulgrom was brought forth and presented to the central version of Paymaster Stenstrom–all of them tall and handsome.

And then the 3rd version was presented. As I wrote, my fingers worked the keys all by themselves. The third version presented was a small, comely woman. I had established earlier in the story that the Wvulgroms of Paymaster Stenstrom didn’t all have to be as is, they could be of differing race, of differing species, and, of differing gender. Such was the case here–the 3rd version was a woman named Stenibelle.

Lord A-Ram told him: “In another universe, you are a woman, and you would be most proud of her.”

So, that’s all I had, just an odd revelation that he, somewhere out in the universes, was a she.


Stenibelle accosted by hookers on Hoffman Plate. (painting by Fantasio)

Stenibelle accosted by hookers on Hoffman Plate. (painting by Fantasio)

Shortly after I finished the first draft of the Shadow tech Goddess, I developed the idea of writing a series of smaller, shorter books detailing the activities of the alternate Stenstroms’ as pertaining to the main story. I started writing them all at once, but the one that stood out most in my head was Stenibelle, the female. I began writing a quaint story dealing with Stenibelle’s quest to discover the way to long lost Cammara, an abandoned home-world of the League lost for over 200,000 years. At first, Stenibelle had all of the “It Man” abilities the male versions of Paymaster Stenstrom have: super strength, invulnerability, flight via mind power, and so on. The only thing she couldn’t so was fire the NTH pistols, which require a male-hand to shoot. I wrote her as a demure, considerate woman doing her best for her House under bizarre circumstances.

I quickly got bored with her. Where was the growth? Where was the potential?  I really didn’t see it. I put her down for a long time and moved onto other stories. I considered deleting her altogether.

Stenibelle, Lady of Belmont-South Tyrol (painting by Eve Ventrue)

Stenibelle, Lady of Belmont-South Tyrol (painting by Eve Ventrue)

Then, it occurred to me that I’d been doing Stenibelle a great disservice. There was no depth to her, no agency, no room for personal growth. I’d been treating her with kid gloves, and she, though she had a great deal of power, was essentially helpless, like a princess in a tower.

Time for the gloves to come off. Time for Stenibelle to face the world. I was going to lay her bare and watch her grow into something new–not a perfect person, mind you, not invincible, not a cold, gritty tent-pole character, but a human one, full of successes and failures, remorse and joy, frailty and determination, and the capacity to better herself and her House.

First, I removed all of Stenstrom’s It Man powers. She still possessed all of her skills in Tyrol Sorcery, the vanishing, the lock picking, all of that, but no more super strength, no more flying and  TK’ing. I took away all of the vast sums of money Stenstrom has available to him and made her a pauper.  I also stuck her in prison. I made her angry and unsure of herself. I put her under the sway of powerful people and I addicted her to personality-altering Bolabungs.

Through all of that, Stenibelle had to make do, had to overcome poverty and addiction, had to learn to stand up for herself in the face of powerful people, had to learn to trust and seek help when it was needed, and to come to terms with her own heart. The character that grew before me was quite a welcome surprise, becoming more whole and complete than I has first thought possible.

I put her through a lot, and the person she became is something anybody can relate to and cheer for.

That’s what I was hoping for all along.

League of Elder Book 9: Stenibelle will be available summer 2015 from Loconeal Publishing.

copyright 2015: Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips, Fantasio, and Eve Ventrue





The Gender Reversal in Fandom

September 29, 2014

I’m not quite certain when it came into my head.

Stenibelle, by Eve Ventrue

Stenibelle, by Eve Ventrue

I think it was about four years ago. I had been thinking about ways to spice up my character Paymaster Stenstrom, the Lord of Belmont. Oh, I liked him well-enough, I was simply looking for ways alter the mood, to change him up a little and create some cool stories. I hit upon the idea of alternate realities and creating differing versions of him inhabiting differing realities. I allowed my thoughts to percolate, I imagined him as a rogue, a robot, a spirit creature of sort some, as an animal, and … as a woman.

A female Paymaster Stenstrom??

Eventually, I jettisoned most of the alternate ideas, focusing mostly on Paymaster Stenstrom with differing female companions, however, the thought of him as a woman stayed with me and I commissioned Eve Ventrue to paint a portrait of her. The portrait was amazing, and with that, I began writing. Three years and a pot-full of re-imaging later, I’m done and Book 9 of the League of Elder series, Stenibelle, is finished and under post-production.

A female Green Hornet and Kato at the Nashville Comic Con

A female Green Hornet and Kato at the Nashville Comic Con

I’d thought that changing the gender of my already established character was a pretty original thought, however, I might be mistaken. Going to all the Cons that I do across the Mid-West (GenCon, various Comic Cons) I see people Cosplaying characters of another gender all the time. The trend seems to have picked up steam in the last few years.

Mostly, you see ladies wearing “female-lized” versions of male costumes. You see lots of ladies dressed up like Captain America, Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman and a host of others, all customized to be tastefully feminine. Some of the female-lized costumes rolling around the cons are quite striking. Occasionally, but not as often, you see men wearing female costumes, the big difference being the men do not usually attempt to “Masculine” the female costume much.

I take this trend to be an embodiment of a new boldness and freedom that I see all over, that these characters (mine included) are for everyone with the drive and inclination to embrace. Did I come up with the idea of a female Stenstrom all on my own, or I did see something at a Con or on the streets and unconsciously build upon it into a realized work??

Book 9 Cover Concept (Carol Phillips)

Book 9 Cover Concept (Carol Phillips)

Who knows. Doesn’t make a difference. I just think it’s really cool.

Bowl naked


LoE Book 9 “Stenibelle” will be available in mid-2015 from Loconeal Publishing.

copyright 2014, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue and Carol Phillips

She was a woman whose face he could not describe, whose voice he would not recognize, yet, she haunted Paymaster Stenstrom’s thoughts.

There was one thing and one thing only that he knew for certain–he had failed her.

The Woman with the Gun (Carol Phillips)

The Woman with the Gun (Carol Phillips)

The mysterious Woman with the Gun appears at various spots in LoE Book VIII: The Shadow tech Goddess. She is a shadowy character whose identity and motives are unknown. Paymaster Stenstrom, the hero of the tale, believes he encountered her in the forbidden Ruins of Clovis, though his memory of his time in the Ruins is suspect at best. Searching his thoughts, he remembers encountering a woman in the dark under Clovis. He remembers her saying something, though most of what she said is lost to him. The only thing he could remember is that she claimed to be his wife, and that she had depended on him doing something, and that he had failed. Though he can’t recall what she looked like or even the sound of her voice, her memory nevertheless haunts him.

Later, Lord A-Ram and his fiancé, Lady Alesta of Dare, encounter her, and it’s through their account that a description of her appearance is made. Lord A-Ram had trouble sleeping one evening. As he lay there in the dark of his quarters aboard the Seeker, he became aware that someone was in the room with him. It was, according to A-Ram and Alesta, a tall woman with fair hair wearing some sort of flight suit complete with a life support harness and dangling air hoses. She wore thick treaded boots and carried a gun in a shoulder holster. That’s what A-Ram remembered most about her, her gun. Alesta recalled her hair was set and styled up, as if for an evening out despite her utilitarian garb.

The Woman with the Gun apologizes for disturbing their sleep. She tells A-Ram and Alesta that she is Paymaster Stenstrom’s wife and that she had travelled a long way to speak to them. She tells A-Ram and Alesta how much she admires them and how she longs for a day when she may invite them to her home and entertain them as cherished guests. Then, this proud woman towering over them both begs them to help her. She says without them all will be lost and her service to the gods will never end. With tears in her eyes, she awaits their answer.

stgcover-frontThe Woman with the Gun appears in LoE Book VIII: The Shadow tech Goddess, due out soon from Loconeal Publishing.

copyright 2014, Ren Garcia and Carol Phillips.

In what she thought would be the opening notes for the symphony of the rest of her life, the great Nether Day Ball in the city of Feren turned out to be one of the last.

“Lady Vendra of Cone” by Eve Ventrue

Lady Vendra of Cone, the fourth daughter of the prosperous Remnath House of Cone was well-loved by her family and had many friends. Thin and doe-eyed, she took such joy and care in anything she set her mind to. She was a very smiling young lady wearing the colorful Cone gowns with rare grace and charm. She was very unlike her eldest sister, Sephla, who was rather catty and argumentative and who had the social reputation as a hair-puller. Her father, Milius, was an importer/exporter of rare goods and often took Vendra with him. She marvelled at the great Fleet ships her father often shadowed for protection and often spoke in dreamy notes of wishing to marry a handsome Fleet officer some day.

When she came of age, her mother persuaded her to join the Posts. For a small initial fee, one could leave a letter in a general Fleet Posthole and any Fleet member who was looking to have a pen pal could respond and strike up a rapport. Vendra thoughtfully penned her letter and submitted it. She got many responses, though most she rejected. One, however, stood out. Lord Stenstrom of Belmont, a young Com officer aboard the Fleet Webber Amazing had answered her post. Vendra liked his simple wit and fine penmanship and decided to answer his reply. They soon, via correspondence, struck up a healthy friendship. With each exchange of letters, Vendra was more and more convinced that Lord Stenstrom was the man for her.

When all of the Cone daughters, except for Sephla who was on the BANNED list, were invited to the much-anticipated Nether Day Ball in Feren, Vendra immediately penned Lord Stenstrom a note and entreated him to accompany her.

She promised it would be an evening neither would ever forget.

Though she reserved final judgement until she met him in person, Vendra felt herself losing her heart to Lord Stenstrom, and when she saw him at last tall and handsome in his Fleet uniform, that was all–she was in love. They took an introductory swirl across the ballroom floor, every step a wonder. She tingled at his touch. They were such a fine pairing. After the dance, Vendra excused herself and Stenstrom went to get her a glass of punch. She gathered her friends and pulled them aside. She could barely speak she was so excited.
Lord Stenstrom.
Lord Stenstrom!
Everything she hoped he’d be.
A fine Zenon House.
“In love. I’m in love,” she told her friends, breathless, and they clapped and congratulated her.

In later years, as she sat in a daze in her dreary convent room on the nightmarish world of Carina 7, she would reflect back on that fateful moment, standing amid her friends, speaking so freely of the new love growing in her heart. She would reflect back on the great mistake she made letting Stenstrom go, of parting with him. She should have stayed and gotten punch with him.

She should have never let him go.

In her excitement, she forgot about her sister, Lady Sephla, and all the enemies she had rolling about Kana. She forgot about the social game on Kana, the one-upmanship, the tawdry little ploys ladies played upon each other.

“Lady Jubilee” by Eve Ventrue

Lady Sephla had enemies everywhere, and they had ears as well. It never occurred to Vendra that one of those enemies heard every word she said, of childish love, of beating hearts. It never occurred to her that one of those enemies would dare humiliate her in her sister’s place.

When she returned to the ballroom floor, she couldn’t find Lord Stenstrom anywhere. Where had he gone? She smiled as she checked the nooks and corners.

Where could he be?

And then she saw him, out on the dance floor with some silver-haired girl Vendra had never seen before. She tried to get his attention, to pull him away from the intruder, but she could not. That woman was nailed to him, eyes locked, feet in step. Eventually, arm-in-arm, they left the floor and vanished, probably retreating to some quiet alcove or terrace, the silver-haired girl taking what should have been hers.

She would later learn that silver-haired girl was Lady Jubilee of Tyrol, one of her sister’s most heated rivals.

The anger, the rage, the broken heart. It was too much. She threw all her colorful Cone gowns out her window, put on an ugly gray suit, and threw herself out as well. She survived her suicide attempt and went mad. Her family, not knowing what to do with her, committed Vendra to a convent on Carina 7 where they heard she would receive the best of care.

As her family departed in their transport, the dames of the convent converged on her room and slammed the door behind them.

“We have things to teach you, Lady Vendra,” they said, eager. “Wondrous things …”

–Lady Vendra of Cone appears in LoE Book VI: The Sands of the Solar Empire coming soon from Loconeal Publishing.

copyright 2012, Ren Garcia and Eve Ventrue

Lord Stenstrom of Belmont grew up under the heavy hand of his rather domineering mother. Many times he yearned to be free of her. But, as many young men do (most without knowing it) he selected as his choice of bride a strong-willed and forceful lady very similar to his mother. Lord Stenstrom gave his heart to Lillian of Gamboa, in essence replacing one domineering woman in his life with another.

"Lilly" by Eve Ventrue

Lillian, or “Lilly” as he calls her, is a socialite and artist from the land-locked Esther city of Gamboa. Though generally considered in the Esther social circles to be a rather unattractive and stork-like woman, Stenstrom found her to be tall and perfectly formed, blonde-headed and extremely attractive. Lilly is also quite talented. She is an artist whose paintings and sculptures were looked upon with high regard and she owned a small but profitable gallery in Gamboa.

Stenstrom was introduced to Lilly by his mother, Lady Jubilee. Always in her son’s business, she searched high and low for a suitable match for him. She had to be of the proper stock, have the proper pedigree and, above all else, she had to be normal and mundane. Given Stenstrom’s training as a Tyrol Sorcerer, it was very important to his mother that he have a mundane, well-grounded wife to counter-balance his forays into the occult. Lilly fit the profile to a tee and Lady Jubilee was very keen on her son taking up with her.

She summoned Lilly to see Stenstrom in the Chalk House on the manor grounds three times. On the first two occasions, Stenstrom refused to see her as he resented his mother’s intrusions. On the third time, however, his mother summoned a demon who was promised his flesh if he didn’t see her. Choosing the Lady over the Demon, Stenstrom met with Lilly in the Chalk House and found, to his surprise, that he liked her.

After that, he was smitten and Lilly grew to control every aspect of his maturing adulthood. She suggested he go to school in Bern. When he was lonely at school, she would always arrive in her coach to cheer him up. She suggested his join the Bones Club. She picked his friends for him. She picked his choice of occupation. She even, eventually, selected his “uniform”, his HRN coat that would become his personal trademark.

And, years later as Stenstrom made his way through space in a powerless, scuttled Seeker thousands of stellar miles from Kana and crawling with demons, who emerged from the lightless bowels of the ship carrying an arcane lantern … Lilly.

Normal, mundane Lilly …

copyright 2012, Ren Garcia and Eve Ventrue

"Lord Stenstrom of Belmont" by Eve Ventrue

LORD STENSTROM OF BELMONT serves Captain Davage aboard his grand Fleet warship, the New Faith. Stenstrom is a civilian aboard the ship and performs the role of Paymaster, a clerk overseeing and observing the ship’s pays and outlaying of money.

Stenstrom isn’t the normal sort of modest, unathletic fellow occupying the role of Paymaster. At 6’7 he is a towering man, taller even than Captain Davage. He is the son of the famed Fleet captain Lord Stenstrom the Older who commands the warship Caroline. He carries the traditional LosCapricos weapons of his House, the NTHs, a pair of pistols said to be capable of slaying virtually anything with a single shot. He also wears a long dark green coat once worn by the defunct Hoban Royal Navy–Stenstrom is rarely seen without his HRN. As a final odd note, Stenstrom wears a small mask covering his eyes.

He hails from the House of Belmont, an old Zenon House on his father’s side and the House of Tyrol on his mother’s. The House of Tyrol are an odd, silver-haired lot living on the eastern coast of Esther, and consider themselves a tribe apart, through no official recognition has been given to them as such. Stenstrom’s mother, Lady Jubilee of Tyrol, is a notorious socialite and suspected witch. Her indomitable personality is well-known–she was under Public Wergild for over twenty years, meaning someone had formally posted a vendetta against her. She bore Stenstrom’s father 29 daughters ahead of him as a result of an oath she took. She feared for the life of her husband as he spanned the stars in his Fleet ship and swore he would have no sons until his boots were firmly planted on the ground for good; thus twenty-nine Belmont daughters. It has been said that Stenstrom the Older had to resort to sorcerous methods of his own to gain a son, purchasing a questionable tincture on Bazz said to ensure the birth of a son, and thus Stenstrom the Younger was finally born.

Private Taara de la Anderson is one of Paymaster Stenstrom's closest friends (painting by Eve Ventrue)

The Blood Oath
His mother was said to be enraged upon his birth and swore to murder him in his crib, though she quickly came to love and adore her handsome son. Seeing the younger Stenstrom clamoring to follow his father to the stars, Lady Jubilee took steps … extreme steps to prevent him from joining the Fleet. Stenstrom has hinted she put him to an obscure ritual known as the Tyrol Blood Oath. Plunging a red-hot dagger into his heart, she made him swear he’d never join the Fleet as either a crewman or officer, least his wound burst open. She updated the Blood Oath over the years, adding the Astro Merchants, Billings and Merchant Marines to it. She was convinced the stars were no longer in his future.

A Tyrol Sorcerer
Paymaster Stenstrom is well-known for his ability to perform a number of feats considered to be Tyrol Sorcery taught to him by his mother. Though he has no Gifts of the Mind, he can fade into the shadows and pass unseen. He can also make small to medium-sized items appear and disappear with just a wave of his hand.

Flight From Bern
As a youth, Stenstrom went off to school at the University of Bern studying accounting (a pre-approved course of study). A disinterested student, his fiancée, Lady Lillian of Gamboa whispered in his ear and told him of a way to get around his mother’s curse. His oaths had made no mention of joining the Fleet as a civilian and she hit him upon the notion of becoming a Fleet Paymaster. The requirements of the position demanded he be an attorney or an accountant of vast tenure. Having no tenure, Stenstrom fled Bern upon his graduation and went into hiding in Calvert, accumulating his tenure at the barrel of a gun. Soon he secured a job as Paymaster aboard the Sandwich, a rusting Fleet frigate, which was illegally running Kanan grain spirits to the Xaphans. Due to his House standing and his fortune, he was not well-liked aboard the Sandwich and was widely shunned.

Lt. Gwendolyn, Lady of Prentess, threatened to knock Stenstrom's teeth out (painting by Eve Ventrue)

The Captain of the ship, a Lt. Dunkster of Carew, was caught red-handed trying to sell counterfeit spirits to the Xaphans and was forced to put out a call to the Fleet for help. The Fleet ship New Faith answered the call and ran the Xaphans off. When questioned, Stenstrom willingly took the blame for the spirit-running operation and allowed himself to be incarcerated. Captain Davage of the New Faith, had an extensive dossier on Lt. Dunkster and knew Stenstrom was covering for him. He was impressed by his loyalty and courage and was intrigued by his HRN and his mask. Davage released him from the brig and invited him to join the New Faith crew, replacing the retiring Paymaster, Lord Milke.

Stenstrom’s Mask
Along with his HRN coat and his NTHs, Paymaster Stenstrom is known for wearing a black mask at all times. The mask was a source of constant speculation until he revealed the mask contains several magical pieces of metal folded up in the cloth called “hermelins” which prevent his soul from being torn apart by demons sent by his mother. Without his mask, he’ll perish in short order.

Paymaster Stenstrom is introduced in Book IV as Captain Davage’s Paymaster aboard the New Faith. He will become the Main Character in the League of Elder Second Series starting with Book VII, The Sands of the Solar Empire, coming soon.

Copyright 2011, Ren Garcia and Eve Ventrue