#atozchallenge: Q is for LGBTQ in the Mendaihu Universe

It took me a bit to think about this particular entry.  I wanted to do it justice, and I definitely didn’t want to make it sound like I was saying Hey, I have [certain kind of person] in my books!  Ain’t I progressive?  Where’s my gold star?

I try to give my characters some kind of depth when I’m creating them.  Some of them pan out, some of them don’t*, but most of the time I’d like to think I give them some kind of unique personality.  Someone I’d run into on a random day, have a conversation with, get to know as a coworker, and so on.  I’m fascinated by the quirks and habits of people, their strengths and their weaknesses, and how they use those bits of their personality throughout their life.

I didn’t set out to include any token characters when I started writing A Division of Souls.  In fact, I was doing my best NOT to do that.  Almost from the beginning my game plan was “Nah, that’s a trope/stereotype, it’s an easy out.  How do I take that one extra step to make it different?”  It’s kind of funny, really; each time I did try to write a stereotypical character, I completely failed at it.  I’d get a ways down the road in the story and get completely bored by this flat-minded idiot I’d created.  It’s the nonconformist in me, I guess…heh.

Anyway, when it came time to write the Bridgetown Trilogy, I wanted to create the most realistic characters I could, so I decided to pick up on various personality traits of people around me.  I was working at the candle warehouse by the time I started A Division of Souls, and it was quite the large warehouse, so I met and worked with a LOT of people of different stripes.  No character is based on a specific person from that time; it was just various traits I borrowed from quite a few people.

Did I plan on Caren and Sheila having a short romantic relationship?  I don’t believe I did…it was just a background thing that I’d come up with when I wrote the Questioning Room scenes in ADoS.  Caren was there to calm her friend down, and I knew they had a long and very close friendship, but it wasn’t until I wrote that scene that it just seemed right; it felt right to have them be very close physically and emotionally just then.  I thought about it for a few moments: what were their sexual preferences?  Sheila’s loud and free-spirited, and would probably be open-minded on that subject, so I felt she should at least be bisexual.  As for Caren…she’s more tense, more reserved, but she’s also quite open and honest with her emotions, so she might not have been truly bi, maybe just curious.  They never show any romantic feelings towards each other in public, but the reader can tell there’s still a deep connection there, even after the relationship is over.

As for Saone and Kryssyna…that was a little more deliberate.  I wanted Saone to be someone who did not fit in at all.  She’s intelligent, but not as smart as her sisters.  She’s Shenaihu, but she doesn’t measure up to her father’s high expectations.  She’s resourceful, but no one bothers to ask her for help.  She has all this great potential, but it seems everyone she’s supposed to impress won’t give her the time of day.  The only person who sees her for who she really is, is Kryssyna.  But why?  Because Kryss is honest, both with herself and with others.  She’s an ARU agent who has no time for judging others by their status.  She sees past Saone’s rank and place, and sees that potential.  This relationship, then, was going to be less about any sexual attraction than it was a personal one.  Kryss loves Saone for her drive and determination, especially when it’s to do the right thing.  And Saone loves Kryss because she’s always there to take care of her; she inspires her to keep going.  I knew then that was going to be a very strong, very long-lasting relationship.

I have no idea how other writers decide how to build their characters, to tell the truth.  I just know how I do it to my satisfaction.  There are a few other LGBTQ characters in the Trilogy, because it just made sense to put them there.  I won’t set out to write a specific type most of the time, I’ll just choose one at random and roll with it.  I’ll admit there is a bit of self-conscious selection: I may deliberately want to have a character be gay or lesbian, but I’m not going to shoehorn that trait in if it’s not true to the character.  Nearly all the characters in the Bridgetown Trilogy came to me at the inception of the scene, really.  I just choose to keep a very long and extremely varied list of possible traits to choose from and go with what seems to fit.  And that seems to work out just fine.


* – My trunked novel Love Like Blood was a good example of flat characters.  I had some neat ideas in that story, but it was my attempt at completely commercial fiction.  Most of the characters ended up all flash and no depth.  It was definitely not one of my best works.

#atozchallenge: P is for Alec Poe

Alec Poe - Keifer Sutherland

Q: What’s Alec’s origin?

A: Alec arrived the same day as Caren, on that very first day I started writing The Phoenix Effect.  I always make sure he and Caren are always standing on equal ground in whatever they do.  I based their work relationship a bit on Mulder and Scully from The X-Files, but more of it came from Kusanagi and Batou from Ghost in the Shell, as well as Deunan and Briareos from Appleseed.  They work extremely well together and are very close, and yet their personalities are quite different.
As for his name, I wanted one that sounded slightly out of fashion from everyone else’s.  He’s almost always referred to as “Poe” by Caren and his fellow agents.

Q: He’s got a Mendaihu name as well.  What’s that origin?

A: Alix Eiyashné [ey-YASH-ney] is not just a Mendaihu name, it’s his given birth name.  Alec was given up for adoption almost immediately after he was born.  His adoptive parents, Angela and Daniel Poe, are both academics and gave him a very robust education growing up.  He chose not to follow up with his birth parents and never met them, though his adoptive parents did keep in loose touch with them, if just to trade information on health issues and whatnot.  He finds out more about them, and himself, in The Persistence of Memories, much of it quite unexpected.
He very rarely uses his Mendaihu name, for very personal reasons.

Q: That’s Kiefer Sutherland in that picture.  Is Alec based on him?

A: Almost from the start, I envisioned him playing the role.  Strong but soft-spoken, good-looking but weathered by life.  Out of all the characters, Alec is the one that’s changed the least physically throughout the various drafts.  Whenever I wrote a scene with him, I pictured Sutherland acting it out so I’d be able to get the mannerisms down correctly.

Q: He certainly does seem to smoke a lot, doesn’t he?  People still smoke in the far future?

A: I’ll totally cop to the fact that I wrote most of Poe’s scenes for the first two books while I was a smoker back in the late 90s-early 00s.  I needed to give him a nervous twitch, and that was the first thing that came to mind.  He’s extremely aware of his habit and how it may bother some characters, so he’ll only light up if others around him don’t mind.  Caren isn’t the biggest fan of it, but she lets him do it anyway because it’s a release for him.

And yes, that’s a very good question!  You don’t see smokers as much as you did fifteen or so years ago, thanks to state laws forbidding it in certain public places, but back when I first wrote many of these scenes, it was rarely frowned upon.  It’s a habit/pastime that has evolved over the centuries but never quite went away.  Even now, vaping already has fans and detractors.  I chose to keep it in the Mendaihu Universe, having it still a thing.  It’s still not that healthy, but it’s not a taboo either.  It just is.

Q: He has a unique relationship with Akaina Shalei, the Mendaihu agent.  What’s with that?

A: This was a relationship that took me some time to figure out.  At first I was worried that I was forcing a match on him (after all, I’d put Caren and Anando together not that long before), but there was something about his first meeting with her that stuck with me, so I chose to play it out.  He’s quite the moody guy, and I wanted someone other than Caren to give him some kind of mental/spiritual stability and balance.  Kai is full of patience and positivity, and she immediately noticed Poe’s startling lack of it.  She willingly opened herself to him almost from the start, and he wasn’t used to that, at least not outside his immediate friends, which intrigued him and attracted him to her.  In the process, Kai learns calm her sometimes overexcitable spirit by learning to slow herself down when he’s around.  Poe changes the most in the trilogy, mainly because of Kai.

Q: Anything else?

A: He still lives in the same apartment that he grew up in with his adoptive family; he bought it from them when they moved north to New Boston Province.  His demeanor can be off-putting sometimes, especially when he’s distracted by his thoughts.  [His habit of not finishing a sentence is totally me, which drives my wife nuts!]  Like Christine Gorecki, he feels more comfortable being on the periphery than being the center of attention.  He’s a voracious reader, thanks to his adoptive parents.  He has an older brother in that family, David; he also had a blood-relation sister from his birth family but she died during the last Embodiment.  He’s quite the cook at home, when he has the time for it.  He might be a smokestack, but he rarely touches alcohol.  He loves both Caren and Denni like family, and will do anything for them.  Despite his gruff outer shell, he’s a big ol’ softy.

#atozchallenge: N is for Nick Slater & Sheila Kennedy – Team Two

Q: Why a Team Two?  What’s their origin?

A: When I came up with the Alien Relations Unit, I already had a plan that they would work very much like an extended family of sorts, very much like how a police station or a fire house would.  I saw them as similar to the units from animes such as Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell (Chief Inspector Dylan Farraway was based on Chief Aramaki early on before I decided to make him a bit younger), and Bubblegum Crisis.

I also wanted a few characters who were involved in the story, but not as deeply as Caren and Alec.  They would be a part of any investigations, they would react to situations very much the same way, but they were able to give everyone else a clearer point of view, thanks to their distance.

Q: Are they based on anyone in particular?

A: Not really; I really wanted to give them unique personalities separate from most of the other characters in the trilogy.  Sheila is that one person in your circle of friends who’s loud and boisterous and fun and most likely the first to get into a scrap; Nick is the outsider who’s just recently joined the group and is still trying to figure out how to fit in.  Both last names are Tuckerizations of 90s memories of mine: Kennedy is the former MTV veejay, and Slater is Christian Slater.

Q: What’s their background?

A: Sheila is from quite a large family, of which she’s the second youngest; her parents were also ARU agents (they knew Caren’s parents well), her older siblings (two brothers, three sisters) are agents either in the police or fire forces.  Her little sister is training to be part of the Governor’s Special Forces Unit.  She’s extremely proud of her family’s dedication to the city and is glad to be a part of it.  She joined the Branden Hill ARU the same year that Caren did; they met during training and hit it off quickly.  She and Caren had a brief and slightly awkward romantic relationship before they broke it off for professional reasons.  They’re both still great friends.

Nick is an only child, and his parents live just south of Bridgetown at an outpost not that far from the outer B-Town hamlets across the Sachers River.  He chose to become a cadet for the B-Town Metro Police and was assigned a position in South City Sector.  He stayed there for about five years before requesting a transfer to the Branden Hill ARU.  The reason for the change in unit is unknown at this time; he never revealed it to anyone, other than stating that he wanted to work closer with the Mendaihu.  [Sheila seems to think it’s because he worked with them so often in South City that he’s created a tight connection.]

Q: Are either of them Mendaihu?

A: Sheila professes not to be, though she has very strong innerspeak and soulsensing abilities and could very easily be initiated if she so chose.  She does not want to, however.  She’s fine enough with being the ARU agent that she is.

Nick grew up with no psionic abilities whatsoever, and he doubts he’ll ever acquire them.  To make up for his shortcomings, he’s trained himself to be an incredibly resourceful and quick-thinking profiler for the Unit.

Q: Anything else?

A: Sheila is fiercely loyal to her coworkers, friends and family.  She always speaks her mind, and more than a few times she’s gotten written up by her superiors for her actions.  Despite that, she’s still highly respected by them.  She likes a physical connection, so will always be touching someone on the arm when talking to them.  She loves to listen to music and always has something playing in the background, even if it’s a contraband radio in the patrol car she’s driving.  She works out a few times a week and has a devastating right hook.

Nick is the only person who smokes as much as Alec does.  He’s also a coffee fiend.  He’s a few inches shorter than Sheila and she likes to tease him about that, as well as him being a Wilderlander (i.e., someone who grew up in the sticks).  He looks up to Caren and Alec as mentors, even if he never comments on it, and he always appreciates their help and direction.  He’s friendly with almost everyone he meets, but he’s also got a surprisingly short temper and a low tolerance for bullshit.  He tends to play the straight man to Sheila’s wildness, sometimes to comedic effect.

#atozchallenge: E is for Edwin-Akandia Sensory Device

I’ll admit, this one was totally inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion, AKIRA and Ghost in the Shell.

While I was building up the background of the Alien Relations Unit, I was struck by the idea: is there a system or program that is able to take spirit readings, so to speak, on the same level of humans and Meraladians with the same psionic abilities?  Sure, nearly all of the ARU agents have some kind of ability they’re able to use in their job.  There are even special agents that are hired for their specific strengths; some have an exceptionally strong clairsentience (soulsensing by touch), clairaudience (strong use of innerspeak), maybe even claircognizance (reality seers).  Caren Johnson, for instance, reads at a high level of clairsentience, and has used it multiple times in A Division of Souls.

But what about those agents in the ARU and the B-Town Police Department and elsewhere?  How else would an agent like Nick Slater, who has little to no psionic ability at all, be a functioning part of this system?

That’s where the joint human/Meraladian techware company Edwin-Akandia comes in.  Working with the Provincial Governor’s Council, the Crimson-Null Foundation and Bridgetown itself, the company created a device that is able to read and process the energy waves of all sentient beings.  [Think of it along the lines of scientists that are able to read and measure the energies that are kicked out from the Sun and even distant stars.  Same theory, just enhanced and narrowed down to human level.]  The EASD scans the subject and then compares the readings to a vast database and provides a list of possible actions that subject may take, and reports their current location.

Its center of operations is in the Mirades Tower, and the system itself is in a geoscyhronous orbital satellite (Tigua Bay Station) above Bridgetown.  The operations are set up so that it cannot be controlled by a single unit; for example, the Alien Relations Unit has the clearance to use it only within its jurisdiction.  Any changes to the EASD system must go through the Provincial Governor’s Council as well as the Crimson-Null Foundation.

It’s not 100% perfect, but it’s quite reliable.  Some feel that Bridgetown’s community agencies rely on it far more than necessary.  There are also those who feel the use of the EASD is an invasion of privacy, though it has never successfully been proven.  There is no actual personal information in EASD’s database, and it is heavily regulated by the PGC and the CNF.


[Note: for those playing along, ‘Edwin’ is indeed a Tuckerization.  It’s named after Colin Edwin, bass player for Porcupine Tree, whose Stupid DreamLightbulb SunStars Die: the Delerium Years and In Absentia albums were on endless repeat during my writing sessions.]

#atozchallenge: B is for Branden Hill

Branden Hill Sector artwork, circa summer 2001
Branden Hill Sector map, circa summer 2001

Branden Hill Sector is considered the “collegiate” sector of Bridgetown, as it is home to multiple colleges and universities, including Spender College, the arts and architecture campus of Bridgetown University, Kuhlmann University, and Longwood College of Pharmacology.  It is also home to a number of museums and cultural centers.  Most of its dwellings are relatively small apartment buildings, a handful of SROs, and a small number of apartment complexes.  The community of Branden Hill (colloquially called “Brandhillers”) have fully embraced its ‘cozy’ image, and have strived to keep the sector from becoming too gentrified.  Most of the towers and high rises are in eastside, which borders Main Street Sector.  Due to limited availability of homes and apartments, the cost of living in this sector can be expensive.  It is cheaper to live in the more suburban westside (bordering West Brandenville and Swope Heights).  Some live in nearby sectors while commuting here for work.

Getting in and around BH is quick and easy; it contains three major subway branches and numerous shuttle paths.  A number of major thoroughfares run through the sector, including Baird Avenue, Krieger Avenue, Ormand Street, Shattuck Street, Guyton Street, Jamison Avenue, and Bridgetown Parkway.  Interstate 91 runs down its eastern border, with multiple access points.  Baird River Park is a greenbelt stretching all the way through the sector and is a local favorite on the weekends.  There are many shopping sections within the sector that provide wares and entertainment for its community.

The sector was named for the hill in the center of the sector, where BH Park now sits.  It was named after its original landowner, Joseph Branden.

The Branden Hill headquarters of the Alien Relations Unit is situated on the corner of Baird Avenue and Ormand Street, about a mile south of Branden Hill Park.  The headquarters building is one of the larger buildings in its neighborhood at eight stories, though its unassuming reniform shape and light color keeps it from being an eyesore.  The Unit is well-respected in this community.  Reporting here are agents Caren Johnson, Alec Poe, Sheila Kennedy, and Nick Slater; they are all reporting under Chief Inspector Dylan Farraway.  Christine Gorecki was a former agent here, though she has taken a leave of absence and is currently a registered soulhealer and private investigator.