LOE Characters: Sam

February 17, 2017

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The original painting of Sam by Fantasio. This painting became the standard for all future paintings of Sam

Without question, Lady Sammidoran of Monama (later, of Blanchefort) has been one of my favorite characters since she was introduced way back in Book III: The Dead Held Hands. As such, she’s also the most frequently painted character in my stable. I wanted to bust out a post celebrating her visual history as she has been interpreted by various artists over the years.

 

As in all things, she started out life very different than how she eventually turned out with lots and lots of sub-steps in between.

A LAUNDRY GIRL:

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Sam’s humble original look (Carol Phillips)

Sam started out as a simple servant, a laundry girl toiling away in the bowels of a Calvert Great House. There was nothing extraordinary about her at the time, except that she was rather brawny as a result of her labor-intensive life, and her odd ability to create mental projections known as Killanjo. There was no “Monama” at the time, I hadn’t even thought up the House of Monama yet. That’s how my creative process works, little by little, each thought building on the last. About half way through writing  Book III, I realized the direction I had been heading in wasn’t very interesting. Though I hated to do it, a drastic change was needed, and fast. I had created the House of Monama recently, and at a dinner scene there was a Lady Strella of Monama, a friend of Lady Sarah of Blanchefort. I’d written Strella as a sort of Goth, wearing black clothes and black makeup.

 

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Sam, wearing her steampunk goggles, by Eve Ventrue

On a lark, I suddenly flip-flopped plain, ordinary Sam with the much more exotic, gothic Strella. All of a sudden, Sam was the Monama and Stella was on the outs, though I eventually brought her back as a Fleet ship’s captain from the Remnath area of Kana in Book IV. As I created, Sam and her new Monama heritage got stranger  with each successive draft.

 

The pale makeup she’d been wearing previously became her actually skin tone. Her fingernails became deadly claws, in fact the entire House of Monama became an alien species native to Kana with a savage history where they were once four-armed beasts slaying everything in their past.

I continued to create. The brand new alien House of Monama blossomed before my very eyes.

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Sam, displaying many features of a Monama–claws, huge eyes, pale skin, massive hair, and no belly-button. She’s wearing her Snugs medallion which protects her from the cold. (Fantasio)

I imagined different tribes of Monamas huddled around their fog-bound ancestral home, Lake Monama. I imagined the Astralons, the Nebulons, the Cardinals and Fphenooks. I came up with the idea the Monamas were fast and strong, much more so than the Elders of the north. I also gave them their greatest weakness, a fatal susceptibility to cold, keeping them based in the south, and I made them very unfit for space-travel, slowly got sick and weakened when away from Kana until they perished.

 

Remembering my grandmother, I added the White Emilia flower that plays a large role in the Monama mating rituals.

And then I created the beast raging within all of them: the Berserkacide and the Killanjo demons from nowhere that tortured them without pause.

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Sam and her husband, Lord Kabyl (Carol Phillips)

In dealing with my German friend, Fantasio, I hit upon the idea that the Monamas don’t speak LC, or “League Common” as a first language. I changed them around to speak a family of Monama languages: Anuie, Conox and Systerel. At the same time, since they were speaking different languages amongst themselves, I figured there might be different types of Monamas as well–Big ones and little ones. I came up with the Greater Monamas, or “Anuians” and the smaller, more frequent Lesser Monamas, or “Conox“.  Of course I made my heroine Sam a Greater Monama–having her be little and stringy wouldn’t do.

 

SAM AND KAY:

Sam has always been associated with Lord Kabyl of Blanchefort, whom she would one day be wed to. Monamas have prophetic powers, Sam dreamed of “Kay” years before he was born in the cold north of Kana. She saw him every night in her dreams. Bucking a Monama tradition of abandoning her dreams by planting a White Emilia flower at the Wailing Wall, the remains of an old Anuian Fortress, Sam clung to them, hoping one day to meet in person and win the heart of this Elder boy whom she loved.

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Sam Dead (Fantasio)

Sam, though, was an unwitting pawn of a terrible outlawed being known as the Horned God, and was used by him to frame the saintly god Carahil. After a series of horrific events, Sam died as a Berserkacide, shot to death by her love, Kay. Put to rest in her tomb atop Dead Hill, Kay grieved for her for nearly a year.

 

But, Sam had foreseen her transformation into a Berserkacide and death. She had taken steps to either prevent the change, or to circumvent it.

Using the arcane Machine, Kay was able to Bring Sam back from the veil of death where they were shortly wed at last.

As they began their life together, Sam discovered that, while she was in her tomb out on Dead Hill, Kay had been seeing other people, and was enraged. That fact that she was dead while this was going on didn’t matter to her–she would have rathered he spend the rest of his long life alone and miserable.

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Sam waiting for #6 (Sarah Smith)

Displaying a long-lived  jealous streak, Sam grew to hate the woman who dared to conduct a relationship with Kay while she was dead. It was Domeneau of Holly, #6 of the Xandarr 44. As the 44 often came to the Telmus Grove to pray at the statue of Carahil, Sam often found herself out there, waiting for #6 to show.

 

Hey, nobody’s perfect.

As you can see, Sam has been painted a lot by various artists–this sampling displayed here is hardly all of the materials we’ve collected over the years.

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Sam Awakens, by Rebecca Sinz

Sam continues to be one of my personal favorites. I can’t wait to see what further treasures will be created.

 

Bowl Naked

copyright 2017 Ren Garcia, Fantasio, Carol Phillips, Eve Ventrue, Rebecca Sinz and Sarah Smith

STENIBELLE–A MARY-SUE??

January 1, 2017

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

It was bound to happen. Somebody called Stenibelle a Mary Sue.

It’s been over a year since we released  LoE Book 9: Stenibelle. Stenibelle is unique in the LoE series, it’s by far the shortest book of all, ringing in at around 54 thousand words–much shorter than my usual average of 125 thousand (Hey, I write until I’m done, then I stop. I conducted the story I wanted to tell, which happened to be 54k). It’s also the first book in the series told entirely from a female protagonist’s point of view, all of the other stories tend to be  male/female ensembles.

I really don’t like pitting one gender against another, highlighting one while denigrating the other, which seems to often be the case in many books. That approach tends to be extremely polarizing, and, for me, rather annoying. I like Humanist stories featuring positive cooperation and teamwork between the sexes.

 

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The original artwork of Mary Sue accompanying Paula Smith’s  “A Trekkies Tale”

A new term has popped up lately, and, like most things people catch wind of, everybody wants to bust it out and make  bold use of it. The term has gotten batted around the Sociosphere like a piñata. The term in question: Mary Sue, mostly in regards to the character Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

 

What is a Mary Sue? The term is loosely defined and can mean different things to different people. Mary Sue first came from a piece of parody Star Trek fan fiction by Paula Smith entitled: A Trekkies Tale, where a 15 year old girl named Mary Sue graduates as the youngest person ever from the academy, joins the Enterprise and quickly outperforms Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty,  takes command of the Enterprise, captures Kirk’s heart, out-Vulcans Spock, and dies a hero for which a holiday in her name is remembered ever after.

So, with that in mind, a Mary Sue is:

–A female character who outperforms all other characters in a given platform.

–A female character who has skills and abilities that are out-of-joint with her backstory.

–A female character who exhibits near flawless traits.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Rey character seems to exhibit all three of these criteria, though her full backstory isn’t known at this point, and, there’s always the wildcard of “The Force” to explain away pretty much everything she does: Rey could just be the greatest Force user …ever. When reading a book or watching a movie, you usually expect the characters you’re watching to grow and change in some way. With a Mary Sue (or as in her male counterpart, the Gary Stu) there’s no room for her to grow–she’s already perfect in every way. Such a character tends to be a product of lazy or just plain bad writing. In any event, such a character tends to be annoying, difficult to relate to and tends to make some people think that the film has a singular Feminist Agenda, and thus the conversation and frequent use of the term “Mary Sue” today when examining strong female characters.

So, back to my original thought–somebody read Book 9 and thinks Stenibelle, the female protagonist of the story, is a Mary Sue. Let’s take a look at the facts and see if that is the case or not.

A Mary Sue is a female character who outperforms all other characters in a given platform.

I honestly can’t see how Stenibelle outperforms anybody in the story. At the beginning Stenibelle is in prison, for failure and malfeasance of command during the Seeker Affair. She was captured in space, clapped in irons, frog-marched off her own ship by Lt. Gwendolyn and thrown in jail. She is saddled with self-doubt, self-loathing, is full of angst, full of self-pity and, though she, as a fully trained Tyrolese Sorceress, has the skills to escape from her imprisonment, she chooses not to as she wishes to hide from her problems.

It takes a monumental amount of tenacity and self-growth to not simply triumph in the end and conquer her personal demons, but to simply survive. Along every step of the way, her skills are put to the test and she fails as often as she succeeds. She also needs timely assistance from her allies around her, otherwise, she might nearly have been either killed or enslaved. Stenibelle does triumph, but it’s no day at the beach.

A Mary Sue is a female character whose skills and abilities are out-of-joint with her backstory.

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The VUNKULA , provided by her benefactor, Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, is one of Stenibelle’s most trusty weapons

Stenibelle has quite a few abilities that a common person about the League probably does not have, but, these abilities are all consistent with her backstory. She has the exact same training as Paymaster Stenstrom, thus, she was trained for nine years by her mother, Lady Jubilee of Tyrol, in the ways of Tyrol Sorcery. As such, she is able to Fade into the Shadows, essentially, to  turn invisible. She is highly skilled at picking various types of locks. She is a skilled herbalist and chemist, well-versed at creating and using Holystones for a variety of effects and can conjure them at will out of thin air, along with her deadly MARZABLE throwing daggers. Stenibelle is also highly proficient at using the VUNKULA of the House of Grenville, which is a powerful weapon she makes use of quite a bit. A former lover, Lord Geryron of Grenville, taught her how to use it.

 

Given all that, nothing Stenibelle does in the  story is out-of-the-blue or unexpected and is perfectly in-line with her background and training.

And finally:

A Mary Sue is a female character who exhibits near flawless traits.

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An unused piece of concept artwork, by Carol Phillips 

Essentially, this point means the character in question is nigh invincible, needs no help, and has no defects. As I mentioned before, Stenibelle is far from flawless. She is highly skilled, but is hampered by considerable self-doubt and inexperience that must be dealt with during the course of the story. She is crippled mentally and spiritually by past failures, and she needs lots of help along the way to discover herself, clinging to her friends, Lord A-Ram and Lady Alesta, for strength and guidance, and to her benefactor Hannah-Ben Shurlamp for financing and the exotic tools she needs for success. Even Bunged Up into a ruthless, heartless person by over-reliance on bolabungs, Stenibelle loses a brief fight with Lady Alesta–who is a monk, a Pilgrim of Merian. By the end of the story, Stenibelle discovers her confidence and her courage to become a truly formidable and seasoned adventurer, but it takes a long time and a lot of assistance to get her to that point.

 

So, given all of that, I’m not certain what story that person read to come up with the notion that Stenibelle is a Mary Sue. Perhaps he didn’t properly understand the term and simply busted it out in a review to sound current.

Who knows.

Stenibelle is a fully-developed human character exhibiting all the flaws, weaknesses, foibles, skills, potential, endurance and capacity for self-growth that we all have … she just happens to be a girl.

Bowl Naked
copyright 2017, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue and Carol Phillips

 

StG Characters: Kat

October 12, 2016

 

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Kat, by Carol Phillips

Every fictional character goes through a genesis of sorts during the creation process, be it big or small–it’s just natural for an author to either polish up or improvise bits to a character during the creation process, or to change their mind completely and start over.

 

It was doubly so for Kat in the upcoming LoE book 12: The Shadow tech Goddess: Kat. I changed her so much she really isn’t the same character as when I started.

I do that a lot, though. As I prepare no notes or pre-plan no outline for a story project, I tend to frequently change course, get inspired, add tid-bits, or, change direction entirely. I’ve cut lots of pretty cool stuff because I either thought I was treading over previously covered ground or could find no good use for the material. The Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy  is nothing like what I started out with–nothing.

And so, we come to LoE Book 12: Kat. First introduced in Book 8: The Shadow tech Goddess, as one of the 7 potential love interests for Paymaster Stenstrom across the universes, my original intention with Kat was to simply pull her off the page as is and resume her tale in Book 12 with little or no intro or preamble. In StG, Kat was a Black Hat sent with several others to infiltrate the Ruins of Clovis in the Kanan north and uncover evidence of the identity of the Shadow tech Goddess. It was, essentially, a suicide mission with the possibility of success remote at best.

 

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Kat, as she appeared in Book 8, The Shadow tech Goddess, by Eve Ventrue.

Kat was a Knife-class Black Hat, very mobile, very heady with micro-line Shadow tech. When Paymaster Stenstrom came upon her in the cold ruins, she was alone, her two nameless companions dead, killed by whatever lurks in the depths beneath Clovis. She was cold and uncaring, limber to the point of being rubbery and quite ruthless.

 

This somewhat limited character is what I hoped to make the heroine in Book 12. I made a good go of it, but, as I neared the completion of the first draft, I realized something.

Kat was boring.

It’s important for an author to be able to step back to see the naked truth as it unfolds before them. Though I loved the limber, blonde-headed Kat (I had based her off of Ginger Rogers), I had to face the fact she was not only a re-tread from previous characters in the series, she had no life. She was plain boring. Her transformation from Black Hat to loving Countess had already been done (as with Syg and Duchess Torijayne of Olyn), and her love for Paymaster Stenstrom bordered on the dreaded “Insta-Love”. I stopped writing. I knew action had to be taken.

 

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Proposed cover for Book 12, by Carol Phillips (Kat’s new wind-whipped Mohawk easily seen in the sketch)

I figured I’d go back, add a few scenes to the beginning of the book, flesh-out Kat a little bit and give her her own path. Shouldn’t take too long, I thought.

 

It would take half a year and about 40 thousand words before I was done, the “few scenes” I wanted to add took on a life of their own and Kat would never be the same.

I started from an elemental level, following Kat as she struggled to survive in the Black Hat’s horrid training facility, the Shade Church. I took away her mastery of Shadow tech, making her a novice in the extreme (though I would have to figure out a way to give her mastery back again by the end of the book). I gave her mentors, those watching her from afar, weeping as she suffered under the Black Hat’s heel.  I even included Kat’s sisters, those sent with her to Kana. I also added the gods, people in far away places, mystical items, the works.

I threw the lot at Kat, and her transformation was stunning. Gone was flat, boring, Kat, replaced by a remarkable new character, full of life, one that I was proud of. Fueled by these changes, I finished the book in no time.

Kat is in the initial stages of pre-production. It should be out by 2018.

copyright 2016, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue and Carol Phillips.

 

 

 

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.

OUT FROM THE DARKNESS:

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:

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