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I love movies and TV. In fact, I watch far, far more than I read these days. My readers also know I like to paint pictures in my prose, and I’d love to see this passage framed in film:

Vic started climbing again, her knees scraping against the stone. The rock was cool, smooth, almost clammy, but the handholds offered a solid grip. The darkness of the cleft soothed her eyes, but she forgot the throb in her temples when her head emerged into the light.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Bethniel sat cross-legged beside the opening; the captains lounged beyond.

The sinking sun blazed over a cacophony of arches and pinnacles towering above flat-topped mesas, ragged fissures, fluted ridges. Blue and gold, orange, purple, red, even pale green striped and swirled in intricate patterns toward distant blue peaks capped with white.

I’d also love to see my beloved characters brought to life, and while I’m indulging in the book-to-film fantasy, I’ll give myself a say in who should play whom.

Victoria of Ourtown

Vic sliced open the soldier’s shirt, handing Silla a swath of fabric to force between his teeth. “I hope they find you in time,” she said as she cut. Shrieks muffled, the man jolted and bucked, but her comrades held him. “I almost wish I could be there when the Relmlord sees this. I hope you’re still alive, so he can tell you what your punishment would have been, had it been me you found. Knowing him, he probably won’t tell you—he’ll show you.”

“You’re the one they wanted?” Silla asked over the man’s gagged scream.

Vic pointed to the name carved into the man’s bloody chest. “That’s what he called me.”

“Kara. Like the wizard.”

Vic shrugged, then read aloud the message she’d cut into the man’s skin. “I raped a girl I thought was Kara.” Standing, she touched her tongue to the blade, relishing the iron. “I really hope you’re still alive when your comrades find you. If you are, when you see Lornk Korng, tell him Victoria of Ourtown will never be his.”

Vic is intellectually brilliant, hard as nails on the outside, and fragile as glass on the inside. Michelle Duckett, a London model and photographer, captured that mix of smart, tough vulnerability beautifully on the cover, but who could replicate that on film? Vic is also petite—her diminutive size in relation to her enemy, her lovers, and her extraordinary telekinetic power is a deliberate contrast. I’d love to have Kate Mara or Saoirse Ronan read for the role.

Lornk Korng, Lord of Relm

Lornk had just taken her father from her, as he took her clothes, her hair, her self. Her head shrank into her shoulders, while his eyes grew larger, bluer as he watched. “You want me to have nothing but you,” she said, her voice clearer than she would have thought.

He laughed softly, stretching his arms out, then twining his fingers behind his neck. “I told you once—I want you to crave me. Why do you think that is?”

“So I’ll obey you.”

“Oh, I’ve had your obedience for months. What I want now is your devotion. The day may come when you will have the world in your hands, and I want you to hand it to me, without reservation.”

Lornk is a charismatic sociopath, and he would make a delicious role for any actor to sink his teeth into. In days past, Jeremy Irons or Ralph Fiennes would have played him spectacularly. During the Schindler’s List and English Patient era, Fiennes even looked exactly how I imagine Lornk. Fiennes would still be great, though he has perhaps aged a bit past the role; Michael Fassbender would now top my list to play Vic’s nemesis, even though he’s a bit young for it.

Ashel, Prince of Latha

“We meet again, Highness,” Lornk Korng said. “I regret under less comfortable circumstances.”

Fearing the Relmlord would see the recognition in his eyes, Ashel ducked his head. “I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“Oh, stop,” Lornk said irritably. “This ruse might have worked if we hadn’t met, but don’t insult me by pretending it to my face.”

“I’m not Prince Ashel—”

“Highness, it’s very simple. I have a document I want you to sign.” The guard held the paper so Ashel could read it.

I, Prince Ashel of Narath, wish for peace between the people of Relm and the people of Latha. I call upon my mother, Elekia of Reinoll Parish, elected Ruler of Latha, who came to her position through subterfuge and malicious intent, to end hostilities and withdraw all Lathan troops from Relman territory.

“You’re mad to think the prince would sign that,” Ashel said.

Committed to art over politics, Ashel loves music and revelry, but as the story unfolds, empathy and courage emerge as his defining characteristics. The actor who plays him must have the presence to stand as Lornk’s equal and opposite, as well as jaw-dropping good looks and a fantastic singing voice. I don’t know whether he can sing, but Ricky Whittle looks like Ashel, and would be phenomenal plumbing the depths of the character.

Los Angeles premiere of 'Pacific Rim'

Ricky Whittle

Geram of Alna

On the edge of the campsite, a Relman with arms thick as a ship’s mast dragged the prince into the trees. A wiry man and burly woman trotted alongside, eyes darting for pursuers. Whatever happens, don’t let him be captured. Idiot. Henrik let a green prince loose in Fembrosh with that stupid harp and tells me, don’t let him get captured. Geram followed them out of the copse and watched from behind a tree as they bound Ashel hand and foot in a dry creekbed. Listening, he picked out the voice of the Relman commander from their memories.

“Daniy,” Geram cried into their minds, “come here!”

The big one jumped and dashed off. Slipping from behind the tree, Geram put an arrow in the woman’s eye and another in the man’s chest. A slice across the throat finished him.

“It’s me.” He knelt and cut Ashel free. “Are you hurt?”

Muffling his thoughts, the prince sat up, rubbing his wrists. Blood seeped from a cut on his back, but he took a stoneknife off a Relman and headed back into the copse.

“No.” Geram held him back. “It’s all over now. We have to run for it.”

Selfless, stalwart, and supremely skilled, Geram is the one you want beside you in a battle or when your worst nightmare unfolds. One of Latha’s strongest Listeners—people with profound telepathic abilities—he’s a consummate warrior, and you can count on him to do his job, regardless of the cost to himself. I’d like to have Nick Cannon or Michael B. Jordan come in and read for Latha’s most loyal soldier and friend.

Earnk Korng

Pallid and sweating, his father raised himself onto an elbow and sipped water laced with harlolinde. In the frigid air of the cabin, he wore only a nightshirt, damp and soiled with seepage from his wound. “You know who did this to me?”

Earnk gazed out the window. “Yes.”

“Do you still think you love her?”

Earnk’s head swiveled to face his father. Lornk was grinning, his teeth and eyes cloudy, his face now shining with fever. Clenching his fists behind his back, Earnk shook his head. “Of course not. I’ve—that was an infatuation.” He cleared his throat. “I know my duty—to Relm as much as you. Count on it.”

“I’d like to.” Father’s smile relaxed, followed by Earnk’s shoulders. “But can I? You’re your mother’s son more than mine.”

Earnk is trapped between his fear of Lornk and his ambition to succeed him as Relmlord, but his unrequited love for Vic gives him the strength to defy his father. The actor who takes this role should excel at befuddled angst. Ryan Gosling or Max Thieriot both have a wounded, dreamy quality that would make them great fits for the role.

Bethniel, Princess and Heir of Latha

“The Senate took my birthright and handed it to my mother. They’re not going to take it away from her, and she’s not going to give it up until she’s dead. It’s what she’s wanted her whole life.”

Vic crossed her arms, a beat of sympathy in her throat. “This could be a suicide mission, and being captured is worse than being killed, when it comes to Lornk Korng.”

“But the title Heir only means something if the Senate agrees to the inheritance. They didn’t elect me Ruler because they believed I couldn’t handle it. I need to prove I can, or when the time comes, the Senate will pass me over again, and the throne could pass out of my family altogether.”

“Lornk broke me into pieces, Beth, and if I hadn’t escaped, he would have put me back together the wrong way round. I’m terrified what he’ll do to Ashel. I do not want him doing anything to you.”

“There’s no reward without risk, not for me anyway.”

Ashel’s sister Bethniel loves fashion and parties, but she hides a will of steel beneath her frivolous mask. Heir to Latha’s throne, she already has a ruler’s willingness to do the unthinkable, if the outcome will be in the national interest. Zoe Saldana looks exactly how I imagine Bethniel, although she is nearly twenty years older than the character (not that you could tell). I’d also like to see Zendaya or Jessica Lucas read for this part.

Elekia, Queen of Latha

“I’ve done nothing but test you since the day you arrived. But you passed, Vic. This is your prize.”

Trembling, Vic retrieved the dagger. Its blade was finer than any crystal; it balanced marvelously in her palm, but the sight of it sent hysteria beating up her throat. “It’s filthy. I can’t.” She sank onto the queen’s bed, itching with the memory of Lornk’s fingers.

“Don’t look at it.” Elekia pressed the velvet into Vic’s hands. “Don’t touch the metal. But when you get to Lordhome, cleanse it with his blood.” The queen pulled Vic’s chin up. Her fingers warm, they soothed the hysteria creeping across Vic’s skin and up her throat. “You are my youngest child, who came to me almost grown. I didn’t bear you, didn’t rear you, but you’re no less mine than the ones I nursed from my breast. I know you have the strength to do what you must, because you have my strength. Show it to Lornk. Then bring my son and daughter safely home.”

Elekia hides her passions and worries behind an impassive hauteur. She’s played a lifelong chess match against Lornk, and will use every tool and stratagem, including her loved ones, to thwart him. Thandie Newton, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Gina Torres all have the presence to portray this ice queen; Torres has the height too.

Wineyll of Narath

“How old are you? Fourteen?” The girl was only a hair taller than Vic, with eyes as wide as a harrier’s.

“I’m sixteen and I’ve been to Fembrosh. Like you, I went early, Marshall.”

“I doubt you went early for the same reason I did,” Vic retorted.

“Show her,” Beth interrupted.

Wineyll nodded curtly, and Ashel appeared in the room. Vic yelped and hopped backward, her stomach lurching. He wore his Guild robes and beamed at her, his eyes fixed on hers. Pulse throbbing, she tore her gaze off the image. “Is that wizardry?”

“Illusion. It’s entirely in your mind. I can trick your brain into seeing what’s not there.” Ashel vanished, and so did the princess. “Or make you think you don’t see something that is.” Bethniel reappeared.

“Wineyll is the most powerful Listener in Latha.” The princess grinned.

A young musician with spectacular telepathic powers, Wineyll is the ringer in Vic’s plan to rescue Ashel and wreak her revenge on Lornk, but this talented teen has a tragic past that may set the stage for Vic’s undoing. The reigning queen of troubled—and troublesome—teenagers is Maisie Williams, and I’d love to see what she’d do with the role.

MaiseWilliams

Maisie Williams

Did any of my choices surprise you? Who would you suggest play your favorite character(s) in A Wizard’s Forge?

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Diverse Fantasies

One month into the Trump Administration, at the close of Black History Month and as our social media feeds become ever-more contentious, I’ve been thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Half a century ago, in December 1964, King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. He spoke of the ongoing struggles of the Civil Rights movement, when people who only wished to exercise their right to vote were confronted with firehoses, police dogs, and murder. Then he said:

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

“The eternal oughtness” is really key here. When we talk about race and racism in America, we all too often point at the other side and say, “they ought to….” We all too rarely look at ourselves and thinking about what we ought to do. King gave us the answer in the same speech:

Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Unfortunately, right now, we’re in a period where revenge, aggression, and retaliation are presented as virtues, and love and empathy are disregarded and despised. I’m an optimist and believe that the current U.S. Administration’s policies are the step backward that precedes the two steps forward of human progress. That doesn’t make living through this regressive period any easier, when King’s children are openly judged by the color of their skin. As a white woman, I have never felt their humiliation, but as a human being, I have empathized with it. And I have suffered the shame of racism, when I’ve listened to relatives speak in hateful ways and, more directly, when racist assumptions about strangers and friends have crossed my thoughts. All my life, I’ve fought an internal war between a rational belief that people of color are not different from white people, and an irrational suspicion, rooted in my upbringing, that nonwhites are less (less smart, less trustworthy, less…you name it). I have always tried to speak and act according to my rational beliefs rather than my irrational suspicions. I haven’t always succeeded.

knownearthI suppose this internal struggle is why I’ve approached race the way I have in my fiction. The inhabitants of Knownearth descended from the racially diverse crew of a marooned spacecraft, and over the three thousand years that passed between settlement and A Wizard’s Forge, people have forgotten their earthbound ancestry and cultures and formed societies where skin color is no more remarkable than hair color. Moreover, the majority of Knownearth’s people (and most of the principal characters in A Wizard’s Forge) have dark complexions and wiry hair (so, in contemporary terms, they’re black). I wanted to posit a world where, as King hoped in another speech, people really are judged “not by the color of their skin.” This is motivated less by liberal bleeding heartism than by wishful thinking—I’d like to live in that world where black people aren’t unjustly arrested or killed simply because they’re black.

Does that mean I posit a culture where people are always nice to each other? No. In fact, the plot of A Wizard’s Forge is all about “revenge, aggression, and retaliation.” Cultures still clash, and Knownearth’s people haven’t found a way to “live in peace,” as King hoped for humanity. This is partly because a good story requires conflict, but also because I also think that human beings will always struggle between violence and nonviolence. But I do believe we, as a species, will in time overcome the “is” and achieve some measure of the “ought.”

The Problem with Male Protagonists

Leia

Recently on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wrote about “The Problem With Female Protagonists.” She cites some research in which both men and women perceive women to “dominate” conversations in which the women speak substantially less often and for less time than men, and also relates an anecdote in which her nine-year-old son asked, “Why do we only ever read books with girl main characters?” The question caused Eberhardt to count books in the family library featuring male vs female protagonists, and she found that the majority of books on both the children’s and adults’ shelves were headlined by males. The difference between perception and reality was the “problem” Eberhardt refers to in her title. Many readers believe female protagonists dominate the bookstore shelves these days, but in fact male authors and male MCs still hold the majority and the advantage when it comes to readers’ acceptance and accolades.

A few days later, I saw the above Star Wars meme and its accompanying threads. I left my name uncovered, so you can see where I weigh in on Leia’s role in defeating the Empire (and I stake an early claim on the Kylo Ren is a mole theory), but look at the other comment I’ve highlighted: “Nobody cares about the girls.” This remark was tongue in cheek, but the lively discussion following Eberhardt’s piece (325 comments and growing) suggests quite a few people agree with it.

Eberhardt’s piece and the accompanying discussion talk a lot about the insidious nature of sexism and how it creeps into everything. I’ve prided myself on writing speculative fiction from a feminist perspective. Vic, the titular wizard of my Woern Saga series is a woman, and she is no shrinking violet. I would in fact call her the hero—not the heroine—of this series. But, after participating in several discussions related to Eberhardt’s article, I realized something:

“He insinuated himself into every part of me.”

Vic says this line in A Wizard’s Forge, referring to the villain who holds her captive and tries to brainwash her into utter devotion. Years after escaping his physical clutches, she cannot shake free from his psychological hold. Yet while Vic speaks of a specific individual here, there’s also a universal “he” that directed some of the choices I made as an author. That was quite an epiphany, because I went out of my way to create a world where gender neutrality was the norm (Knownearth’s men and women are equally likely to be soldiers, political leaders, or prostitutes), yet I have to admit A Wizard’s Forge barely passes the Bechdel Test:

  1. Does the book have at least two named female characters?
  2. Who have a conversation with each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The answer is yes to all three questions, but

  • The majority of named characters are men, and three out of the four point of view (POV) characters are men.
  • And while Bethniel and Vic do discuss many things, including Vic’s destiny, they do talk an awful lot about Beth’s brother Ashel.

I, the proud feminist, surrounded my female protagonist with an all-male supporting cast of POV characters. I stand by the decision from a narrative perspective: each one undergoes a life-changing transformation in the novel. I also remind myself that three of the five POVs will be women’s in A Wizard’s Sacrifice (the next novel in the Woern Saga). Yet, I’m still amazed that so many men feature so prominently in my work. You might even say they dominate the conversation.