I have four Red Sonja statues and two posters in my house. I once knew the real names of all the female American Gladiators. Don’t bring up Tonya Knight or Cory Everson around Chris unless you have a few hours to listen to exultation. He and I would watch Xena while wearing giant foam fingers that read: “#1 Warrior Princess.” We both like strong women – physically strong women – so there was no way we would write a high fantasy novel without having one. In The Devil’s Grasp, we have Dearborn Stillheart.
Dearborn is the Sergeant in the king’s special band of soldiers called the Elite Troop. As the daughter of a blacksmith who lost his wife, Dearborn gained muscle very early in life, and after an accident in her father’s shop left him struggling for money, she decided to join the army where she could use her size to her advantage. Being taller and more muscular than many of the men, she climbed through the ranks until she found herself second in command of the Elite Troop. She’s great at what she does, and that makes her feel uncomfortable.
With Dearborn, we wanted to explore some more modern issues that many of us, especially women, feel in our day-to-day lives. We all have our talents, special skills that come to us a little easier than to others, and sometimes we feel uncomfortable about that, maybe even a little guilty. Dearborn has great success as both a fighter and a tactician, skills that she seems to be blessed with. As a modest individual, she doesn’t like to better the men in her Elite Troop, but she will if she has to.
Another modern concept that we explore with her is career versus family. Most modern adults face this dilemma, one particularly affecting many women. All of us try to balance the two, but inevitably there are times when we feel like we have to sacrifice one for the other. With Dearborn, career is thrust upon her, because she feels she has no other option, no chance at family. She’s beautiful, but she is physically larger than most potential suitors. Even though she has the ability to better any man she meets, she lacks the confidence that a man would be able to look beyond warrior façade and see her for who she is.
Dearborn may be a warrior woman in a high fantasy novel, but she has plenty of qualities to make her many readers favorite character. How does it turn out for her by the end of the book? Well, we certainly aren’t going to tell you that here!
I love to read. In fact, I have always loved to read. My educational background is a hodge-podge of various literary styles and traditions, timeframes and points of origin, but my earliest and longest running love of reading is rooted in fantasy and science fiction. By sixth grade I had discovered role playing games, a burgeoning love affair that continued to blossom long after college had ended. It should probably come as no surprise then that the paths of my early life led me to discover Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K LeGuin, and Michael Moorcock, with the later additions of Raymond E Feist and David Eddings. All of these writers drew upon the strength of a central core of strong characters (usually human characters), but they also created wonderful support with their use of non-human characters.
Bale Pinkeye is an ogre. He is also a bumbler of great proportions, not just in terms of his physical size, but in relation to his bumblings, as well. He and his band of compatriots provide an excellent foil (and sometimes motivational point) to a group of ne’er-do-well thieves even as they provide us with some comic relief, not all of which is intentional on their part.
Bale isn’t exactly the brightest of fellows, so we needed to find a suitable motivation for him to stay involved with the proceedings of the book. Nevin and his friends provide that. Bale can’t stand to see the group of thieves “one up” the ogre and his little group, so he is constantly trying to think up ways to get one over on the elf, Nevin, and his human friends. Brian and I wanted their spatting back and forth to be fun and light-hearted, but as the thieves become more embroiled in the happenings of the book, then Bale, too, had to remain integral to the plot for more than just a mispronunciation of a word here and a stepped in road apple disaster there.
In order to do that, we created a character that was, at his core, meant to be likeable. He’s not formally educated, but does have some gems of “a priori” ogrishly wisdom that he occasionally shares with us anecdotally. He’s not a kind hearted sap, but he’s very content to keep his competitiveness non-lethal. If anything, he admires Nevin and his group and yearns to be more like them. And, as we learn throughout the book, despite his often gruff manner, he cares very deeply for his friends and displays an unwavering loyalty to them.
When it comes to throwing around his weight, Bale isn’t opposed to dishing out a backhand slap or breaking a limb or two. Intimidation is ultimately not his strong suit, though, and so he usually abandons the strong arm tactic in favor of something less suited to his physical attributes, which we hope lends itself to more fun for the readers. Occasionally he finds himself in the right place at the right time, though he’s usually standing on the wrong foot when he does. How does this all work out for him? Well, as the ogrish philosopher, Liber Praelectio, was fond of saying, “If you want to know how a book starts, read the beginning. If you want to know how a book ends, skip to the end. Those who actually want to learn something between the beginning and the end of the book read the middle.”