A lot of people ask how much of me is in my characters. The answer is ‘a lot, and none at all’. None of my characters is an avatar for myself, nor are their beliefs necessarily mine. But to write a character and bring it to life, you’ve got to be able to relate to something about that character—hopes, dreams, experiences, etc.
So you take good points and bad points, perspectives and memories, and tweak or twist them into someone else that you, the writer, can relate to. This requires, I think, a fair amount of empathy—being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world through a perspective shaped by that person’s upbringing, experiences and beliefs. I believe that the more you do this in your writing, the more it rubs off in real life, which is a good thing. I couldn’t write about a character I found completely uninteresting or utterly so unlike myself that I couldn’t find those touchpoints. And as bad as some of my villains are, there are some kinds of bad guys I wouldn’t want to write because I don’t want to inhabit that headspace.
Like many writers, I rely on my subconscious to bubble up solutions and ideas. Sometimes, when I re-read things I wrote a while ago, I realize that I unintentionally wrote in insights to real-life issues, or I can see how my characters in prior books were influenced by things I was dealing with at the time. My husband often picks up on these things quicker than I do, but then it’s easier to see for someone else than for yourself.
When it comes to creating characters, I still believe in heroes. Not perfect ones who never make mistakes. Rather, I like people who do the right thing even when it’s hard or costs them something, who soldier on and muddle through when things look bleak, who never give up because they’re too damn stubborn to quit. I like heroes who fight for loyalty to their friends and family and to their true selves. I want someone to root for, even if that person makes mistakes. I don’t enjoy stories where the characters are all reprehensible. My heroes may be battered, bloodied, weary, heartsick, and damaged, but they do the best they can in service to what they believe to be right.
The new Darkhurst series (beginning with Scourge, which launched July 11 from Solaris Books) raises the curtain on a different epic fantasy world. The kingdom of Darkhurst is made up of 10 independent city-states of the Bakaran League, each managed for the king by its own Crown Princes. The city-states negotiate trade agreements with each other, which is a cutthroat process because the stakes are high, not only for the benefit of the merchants and tradespeople, but also for the fortunes of the Merchant Princes and Guild Masters who oversee the raw materials and the production of goods for trade. The kingdom and the League are corrupt, with assassination so common that hired killers sometimes wound or kill those who work for a powerful noble to ‘send a message’ or express their displeasure.
In the Darkhurst books, Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde are undertakers. They belong to the Undertaker Guild, but beyond that, they have no advantage of social position. Corran, Rigan and Kell don’t know or care about the schemes of the nobility–until those rivalries and the dark magic that fuels them poses a threat to their lives and their friends and neighbors. When monsters kill people they love, the brothers become hunters and outlaws.
The first three epic fantasy series had main characters who fell from the upper levels of society and rose again from disgrace to save their worlds. In the Darkhurst series, our characters are tradesmen, a comfortable but tenuous existence which gets swept away as monsters and dark magic change their lives forever. They fall from the middle to the bottom, risking everything to do what they believe is right, even if it makes them fugitives and costs them dearly.
The workings of society–especially its trade and economics–also factor more in the plot of the Darkhurst series than in other series where the status quo disintegrated early in the books. As the Valmondes learn more about forbidden magic and monsters, they come to realize that little about their world is as it seems, or as most believe it to be. That’s a fun concept to play with as a writer, and the secrets run deep and painful.
Most of all, I’m excited and grateful for the chance to bring a new world and a brand new set of characters to life. It’s so much fun sharing the invisible people who live in my head with all of you!