#atozchallenge: S is for Saisshalé

Saisshalé - Andrew WKQ:  Okay, wait, I gotta ask this first:  Really?  Andrew WK as the villain?

A: Heh.  Yes, and no.

Yes, Andrew WK!  When I picked the Bridgetown Trilogy back up in 2010 and started rewriting and revising it, it occurred to me that my original physical description of the character wasn’t quite working.  I’d originally envisioned Saisshalé as a cross between a beefcakey dude, a bouncer, and that crazy guy you cross the street to avoid.  That didn’t quite jive with his true nature, though, so I started thinking about it a bit more.  A short time later, I’m listening to one of my older mixes and “Party Hard” comes on, and it dawns on me: AWK is actually a SPOT-ON physical match!  So I ran with it, and come to find out, the more I saw him playing the role, the better my revision of the character started to be.  So it all worked out just fine.

And no, he’s not the villain.  He’s merely the spiritual opposite of the One of All Sacred.  He gets a few unnamed cameos in A Division of Souls, but he’s in quite a few scenes in both The Persistence of Memories and The Balance of Light.

[As an aside: it really is hard to find a serious picture of Andrew WK online that doesn’t involve him partying hard, making faces or jamming with his pizza guitar!]

Q: What’s the origin of Saisshalé?

A: Saisshalé [say-SHAH-ley], as mentioned above, is the spiritual opposite of the One of All Sacred.  I came up with him around late 2001 when I needed to have someone just as strong spiritually as Denni was.  He was to be her equal across the board: whatever action Denni took, he would respond with equal force.  This presents a serious conflict between the two, because they’re both refusing to back down from what they believe is the right thing to do.

He originally had a much longer, more tongue-twisty name, but during the 2010 reboot I chose to change it.  I wanted to hint at a kiralla background, so I chose to go with the very sibilant sounds, and referred to my Anjshé glossary.  It comes from the words sa’im (sah’EEM, a qualifier used to add grandeur or excitement) and D’haff Sshalé (djaff SHAH-ley, lit. ‘dark-minded reptile’ but usually refers to someone stubborn and/or cruel).  In short, sa’im + Sshalé = Saisshalé.  In a way, his name translates to ‘Grand Reptile’, a rather cocky reference to his spiritual history.

Q: What is his history?  He’s kind of a weird character.

A: He is that, but I love writing him, because he’s a let’s see how far I can take this kind of guy.  I go into more detail in TPoM, but the short version: he was known as a vengeance deity during Trisanda’s very early spacefaring years: he was known as a brilliant tactician who was able to plan out and execute incredibly complex war plans.  He ascended to deity status similar to Denni, actually.  However, just like Denni, he hasn’t completely ascended yet.

Q: Why is he feared?

A: Basically because he projects the personality of a sociopath.  He can be extremely friendly, but his actions can very frequently be seen as amoral.  He often claims that he only acts this way ‘because he must’.  [And here’s the rub: if you actually sat down and analyzed his actions with what incited them, especially with comparing his actions to the One of All Sacred’s, he’s 100% correct in saying that.]  That’s not to say he’ll tear off your head for no reason; he would never do such a thing, and would be offended by such an accusation.  In short: he’s a pure Shenaihu, driven completely by spirit and reason, even if that reason goes against expected social mores.

Q: Anything else?

A: Saisshalé is quite tall, about the same height as Governor Rieflin.  His connection to the One of All Sacred goes a bit deeper than anyone knows or expects…and we’ll see more about that in The Balance of Light.  His voice is low in range, but not quite bass; when he speaks, he uses both vocal and innerspeak at the same time, so his words hit you especially close.  He also uses both his muscles and Lightwork for his physical actions, so he comes off as frighteningly strong.  Despite his reputation, he can actually be quite friendly and chatty.  And absolutely no one knows what he does during his down time, not even me.

#atozchallenge: O is for the One of All Sacred

Writing a character trope such as a Chosen One can be tricky, because there are so many ways you can fall into the trap of being predictable.  Too often they end up as the reluctant hero (Neo in The Matrix, Katniss in The Hunger Games) or the easily distracted and imperfect person who needs to learn how to ascend in status (Daniel in The Karate Kid, Karou in Daughter of Smoke and Bone).  But they sell, and readers love them, so I won’t say it’s necessarily a bad thing.

With Denni Johnson, I wanted her to be all of that — a reluctant hero, easily distracted and imperfect.  But I also wanted her to be aware that she was being put into that situation as well.  That’s part of her role as the One of All Sacred: she’s aware.  Which ups the ante with internal and external conflict, doesn’t it?  How do you play the role of deity without being pigeonholed into the role of savior or superhero?  That was one of Denni’s first pronouncements, even as she was entering Moulding Warehouse for the first time: she was a deity, but she was a human, just like everyone else there.  Don’t expect miracles.

The role of the One of All Sacred within the Mendaihu Universe is that of overseer, really.  They don’t necessarily have to change the world or make it a better place…their role is really just to make sure its problems don’t spiral out of control.  The spirit of the One is resurrected every twenty to twenty-five years (roughly once a generation or so) to keep an eye on things, gauge where we are in our evolution, and make a few changes or tweaks if necessary.

Denni Johnson is the Ninth Embodiment on Earth.  [There were many embodiments prior to Earth’s, both on Mannaka and Meraladh, but that’s another storyline entirely.]  Right away she’d decided that instead of trying to play the expected role, she’d change it to something that made more sense to her.  That in turn changed the expectations of all the parties involved.  Her personal choices affected everyone else in the process.  Instead of turning off Nehalé Usarai’s awakening ritual, she kept it going.  She saw it as a way to start with a bit of a clean slate; no one was prepared for this move, so everyone’s on the same page and fumbling a bit, including her.

Giving her the awareness of her situation was quite the trick; in essence, she’s in a constant state of paying attention to what’s going on and having the ability to change events if necessary.  She needed to be able to think on the fly, accept that she may make mistakes, and know when to let nature and/or fate take its course instead.

On a more spiritual level, I had to make sure that she wasn’t exactly seen as The Goddess That Is (an analog to the main gods and goddesses of current religions, and who pretty much runs — not rulesthe known universes).  The One is more of an Earth Goddess, the one in charge of the planet.  The position has been held by all kinds of people; young, old, man, woman, Meraladian, Earther, and so on.  Each Embodiment had their own strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.  What makes Denni different?  Well…you’ll need to read the books to find out!


And then there’s Saisshalé.

As I’d said previously, there’s a yin-yang to everything in the Mendaihu Universe.  Yes, even the Dearest One has an opposing force, one who embraces chaos just as the One of All Sacred embraces order.  More about him on Friday.

On Extremes and Evolution

I’ll note this now: this is not necessarily a post on violent extremism, like the kind we often see in today’s news, but about how far a character will go to hold onto their beliefs, and why.

One of the themes that I’ve been thinking about for this new Mendaihu Universe is extremes.  I used it to some degree in the Bridgetown Trilogy, wherein many characters have their beliefs and emotions tested.  Is what they’ve always felt really the truth?  Is the kind of peace they’re fighting for really what is needed?  And what if what you perceive to be the truth actually is the truth, at least in your own reality?  How far would you go to fight for what you believe to be the right thing to do for everyone?  These were the universal questions, set upon a group of people.  I wanted not only to show how they progressed as their own person, but also as a collective.  Actions do affect everyone involved in one way or another.  It’s not just about the action itself, however…it’s about the consequences.

For the new Mendaihu Universe book, I’m looking at the same themes again, but this time on a personal level.  After the spiritual revolution that took place in the Bridgetown Trilogy, we now see its outcome, some generations down the line.  Without going into too much detail (partly because I’m still pretty much at the beginning of the story anyway), I want to examine how the actions of the past affect the beliefs of the future.  I want to see how these beliefs and rituals have changed, now that they’ve been commonplace for a significant amount of time.

The idea of extremes for this new project came to mind after watching a large number of historical documentaries about Britain, and a lot of Time Team episodes with my wife over the last few months.  Specifically:  today we have believers of various faiths, many of them reinterpretations or reimaginings or revolutionary versions of older ones.  Some faiths raise imagery, idolatry and destination to holy statuses, for instance.  I started pondering about something I’d thought of much earlier in my life, back when I was taking catechism classes.  I started thinking about what life was like when these Biblical stories took place; not just what the stories tell us in description or what’s given to us over the years with tapestries and paintings and whatnot.  This is where the Time Team episodes were coming in:  while watching Phil and Mick and Raksha and all the other Time Teamers troweled their way into the past and tried to reconstruct what ancient buildings may have looked like, I started thinking about the Bridgetown Trilogy from the same point of view.  What we see now, as we’re excavating the past, may be something completely alien from the original idea, changed and mutated by time and evolution.  It’s only when we take the time to not just look but understand what that past moment was about, do we get closer to the truth of that point in history.

First thought of course being: how would Denni Johnson, awakened as the the deity, the One of All Sacred in its last iteration, be viewed by those who follow the One some fifty to a hundred years later?  One of the first mentions of Denni in this new book is when a character sees an eight foot statue of her, complete with angelic wings, hands reaching down to all those who look up at it, near the same corner of the warehouse where she’d ascended to deity status in the first place.  I followed up with a few other ideas: new characters taking the names of those in the trilogy, following in the footsteps of their ancestors.  The human-alien relationship on Earth becoming closer in some respects and more tenuous in others.  And so on.

This is what I think about now when I’m watching a documentary or reading a book about something historic.  I’m not just being told a story about something that happened in the past; I’m also being given an idea of what thoughts, ideas and emotions may have been like as well.  I’m being given context to go with the story.  And this is what’s been going on with this new Mendaihu Universe story; I’m writing about a far future that’s trying to remember what the past was like, in order to learn from it and move forward in the right direction.