#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: C is for Caren Johnson

Caren Johnson - Kristen ClokeQ:  What is Caren’s origin?

A:  Caren is actually the first new character I created for the trilogy back in 1997 when I started The Phoenix Effect.  I came up with her (as well as Alec Poe) on that first day of writing.  I’ll admit there was a slight inspiration from The X-Files which I was a fan of at the time, as I was looking for two investigators who were put into a situation they weren’t exactly comfortable with.

Q: She’s got a Mendaihu name as well.  Why is that?

A: Her Mendaihu name is Karinna Shalei.  [First name pronounced ka-RINN-nah].  She was given it by her parents, Aram and Celine Johnson, who were high-level Mendaihu adepts as well as agents for the Alien Relations Unit.  The Mendaihu blood runs extremely strong in her entire family.  She takes this name very seriously, and never uses it frivolously.  The same with her sister Denni; she will not call her ‘Denysia’ unless it is warranted.
The giving of Trisandi clan names to those from Earth is not considered appropriation by the Meraladians; they actually consider it a form of incredibly deep respect, as they feel these people are willing to completely embrace their ancient physical and spiritual connections with Trisanda.

Q: That’s Kristen Cloke up there.  Is that who Caren is based on, physically?

A: Yes!  In fact, she was inspired by Kristen’s role as Captain Shane Vansen in Space: Above and Beyond (of which I was a HUGE fan).  Someone who isn’t entirely happy with the role she’s been given, but that won’t stop her from performing it to the best of her ability.  Like Vansen, Caren is also someone who takes her responsibilities very seriously, especially when it comes to those she works with or mentors.  Caren connects personally and spiritually with everyone she meets.
I can even tell you the scene where it dawned on me that she’s definitely Caren: it’s a rare and very personal conversation between her and 1st Lt. Cooper Hawkes in the episode ‘Hostile Visit’, which takes place just before they’re about to head out on a dangerous mission.  This is definitely a conversation she’d have with Alec Poe.

Q: Her relationship with Anando Shalei seems to be somewhat unique.  Has she always questioned her relationships, romantic and otherwise?

A: No, not always.  The death of her parents really took a lot out of her emotionally, and because of that she keeps a specific distance from others, for fear of getting too close and then losing them as well.  She’s fully aware of this decision, and has never let it completely get to her, knowing full well that she has to move past that.
Caren’s connection with others is definitely unique; it was partly based on a few friendships and relationships I’d had where I simply clicked with the person on a deep level in a very short amount of time.  It’s not merely a romantic or sexual attraction she has with Anando, but a spiritual one.  And because of that, Caren is nervous at first, wondering how it could possibly work.  The longer they’re together, however, the more they learn to rely on each other for comfort, affection, and a firm base of spirit.
Her last serious relationship before Anando was with Agent Sheila Kennedy, though they both decided to end it due to their work situation and remain close friends.  They still flirt with each other now and again, mostly for the humor of it.
As for friendships, she is extremely loyal, and will always have your back.  She also has a very thin filter, so she’ll often say what’s on her mind, even if it bothers you.  She takes every kind of relationship seriously.  Especially the one with her sister.

Q: Anything else?

A: She often has trouble falling asleep at night, as she often lets her thoughts run rampant near the end of the day.  She’s been trying her best to fix that.  She has a scar on her thigh from a bullet grazing it during an investigation.  She has exceptionally strong night vision.  She can be very impulsive and impatient sometimes, which has gotten her in trouble now and again.  She’s got a very snarky sense of humor.  She won’t admit it to Poe (who will surely never let her hear the end of it), but she really does enjoy dressing up fancy now and again.  She’s an avid music fan and has quite a large collection; her tastes depend on mood and situation, but she has a soft spot for meditative music, especially when she’s had a taxing day at work.  She’ll always say her happiest moments are when she’s hanging out with Denni.

And yes, she has a theme song:  Lamb’s “Gorecki”.  It’s exactly how she feels about Anando, even if she has trouble articulating it to him or anyone else.

Lamb ‘Gorecki’ from Luke Copeland on Vimeo.