Tags: valley of shabathawan

Baby and me

30 days on writing: Entry #5

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5. By age, who is your youngest character? Oldest? How about "youngest" and "oldest" in terms of when you created them?

I know, I know, broken record. Not all of us write with the idea of serials in mind. That said, my own track-record includes a series of recurring characters; think (though it galls me to use such an eggregious example) of Salinger's Glass family.

With that in mind, the youngest character I've written is (here she comes again!) Ashera, whose birth I wrote as a flashback and part of whose childhood (roughly her 6th or 8th year; it varies with the draft. If ever I go back to it I'll decide how old she is for good) I chronicle in The Valley of Shabathawan. In fact, that novel was first intended to be about her, birth to young adult-hood, but another character elbowed the child aside and insisted the novel was about her. But more on Philomena Hawkins in Question 9, I think.

Oldest? That would either be Catherine from framing prologue and epilogues in a re-write of "The Question", which I talked about yesterday, or else Charles Sprelling, from a story I wrote in late 1983.

The former was an attempt to paint a portrait of a woman resting from her labours after a long life spent ensuring that her colony did not revert to a male-dominated tribalism or feudalism. I was trying (and, though perhaps somewhat lugubriously) to implicitly make it clear that having and raising children is not antithetical to feminism and personal liberty.

The latter was from a story called "Dominion", another of my early attempts at science fiction. (I'd forgotten that so much of my earliest stuff was SF, though considering my reading then, I shouldn't be surprised.)

In retrospect, the story clearly owes a great deal to Heinlein's "Requiem".

Charles Sprelling is a dying old man, the architect of a social Canada and its space program, who is dying of cancer and who manages to do himself in by stealing a space suit and floating off into the night.

I've just taken a look at it and find it frankly embarassing in its naive portrait of age, its baldly-written politics and info-dumped history, but I kind of admire my chutzpah in even trying such a story.

And I'm pretty sure, having now flipped through its brief pages again after many years, that it was written very much with Heinlein consciously in mind, both an argument and an homage, but certainly not a rip-off.

But it's certainly a story I have no desire to re-write.

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Baby and me

30 days on writing: Entry #3

30 days on writing, fiction, random gloats, writing, valley of shabathawan

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3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you're writing about fictional places)?

This'll be quick and easy: who the hell knows?

Well, that's not quite fair. In my case, character names and characters' locations come from all over the place, without any (conscious) method or even pattern.

Sometimes I'll give a character a name simply because I like it. My first attempt at a novel (no, you may not — not until I'm dead and buried — read it; some things are far better left to the imagination) was called Edwin, because, well, I'd recently met someone by that name and liked it. Liked him well enough, too, but I really liked his name.

In the case of Ashera Hawkins, the first name through a consult with the genuinely awesome The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, when I had realized that Ash's birth-mother was a flakey earth-mother type hippy who would naturally name her daughter after a goddess. The last name came from the woman who would rescue Ash from that birth-mother, but ultimate (of course) came from me and my memory of a beautiful and brilliant, slightly older and vastly more sophisticated woman I'd known during my time with the Youth Coalition for Peace. Yes, I'd had a crush on her, but also, I'd just liked her last name.

Orson I named "Orson" because a friend wrote a play which included a character based on me. Called "Orson". Which he told me meant "little bear". And so I, half-tongue in cheek, ret-conned my own stand-in character with that name as well.

But usually, I couldn't tell you why a particular character has the name he or she does. It's mostly a pretty arbitrary process, which might explain why I'm probably unhappy with them at least half the time.

Similarly, most of the stories I've written have been set in places I've been to or (more likely) have lived in. Usually Toronto, with most scenes in Kensington Market or near Queen West.

The major exception is the unfinished Valley of Shabathawan. The name of that Northern Ontario town I unabashedly stole from my mother. She hosted the drive-time show for CBC Sudbury for quite a few years and for a while (until management noticed what she was doing and told her to knock it off) weather reports and tongue-in-cheek public service annoucements for a non-existent town she called "Shabathawan". If I remember a'right, she called it that because it sounded Cree or something similar. In any case, I enjoyed the joke and liked the sound of the name and so decided that was where my novel took place.

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Baby and me

30 days on writing: Entry #2

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2. How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females

Once again the question kind of implicitly presumes a recurring, serial universe and almost suggests to me they should be dressed in long underwear and capes, or else sporting fangs and moaning about the unfairness of eternal non-life.

I got none of that, but ...

I've got a small bunch of characters. For those within the "Orson and Ash" world, the bunch is pretty small indeed.

There's my own dopelganger, Orson, who (really, folks!) is not me but who is admitedly based on me. He started out as a contemporary what if?-style thought experiment and has diverged ever since.

Orson also began very much as a second banana to Ash, a character based in part on aspects of myself and very much on two or three women I knew in my youth, along with a yard or two of whole cloth.

As kept coming back, in story after story, until I had to admit I was a little bit in love with her (I used to have a most unfortunate Thing for falling into unrequited and mostly unrequitable love with lesbians of a certain type) and, in retrospect, she might well have become a Mary Sue had I been writing adventure stories about her.

Most of my other characters in that universe were pretty much faceless spear-carriers — which is one of the major reasons that The Valley of Shabathawan continues to molder after two and a half drafts. But there is one exception, Philomena Hawkins, a woman who was meant to be a supporting player in Shabathawan, but who grabbed hold of the story from the outset, shoved the child Ashera aside and just wouldn't let go.

But I'll discuss that in detail with #19. Right now, I need to get down to serious work.

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