If you’ve been following me on Twitter you’re aware that I’ve been reading chapters of my novel Virago as weekly podcast episodes, complete with character voices. I’ll be honest – I’m too afraid to actually look at metrics. Some people can handle that kind of data, but for me that way lies madness. A handful of individuals have provided some encouraging feedback, so that’ll have to be enough for now.
If you are not interested in listening, the complete novel will be available in print and eBook format from Amazon again later this year. I don’t know when because creativity in the time of quarantine is a strange and uncertain thing. But the book is done, I’m just cleaning it up.
Once all the chapters are available, I’m going to distribute them through Spotify. Somehow! Haven’t gotten that far yet.
So for now, here are five things that I want people to know about this book.
One – The Basics
Virago is a 150k word fiction novel I wrote in 2014 and self-published in 2015. I’ve been refining, workshopping in different groups, editing, and otherwise fiddling with it since then. It’s part of a series I began working on in 2005, which so far is a 3-book series. Since I struggle with self-confidence and absolutely blow at self-promotion, it’s little wonder you’ve never heard of it. But I’m trying to be better.
Virago is what I call grounded high fantasy – there’s an invented world to explore, new lands and peoples to meet, strange creatures and magical forces, but most of the characters are realistic people trying to make their way. Very few people are doing things For the Realm. Characters deal with trauma (although they don’t know that’s what they’re doing), wonder what to have for dinner, embarrass themselves in front of their crushes or bosses, and worry about their friends. They also realize they need to change and struggle to do so.
Although Virago is inspired by medieval-style high fantasy like A Song of Ice and Fire, it is not intended to represent any specific historical period, especially not medieval Europe. It’s a realistic mishmash inspired by many different points in human history – like a more grounded version of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.
Note: Virago was originally book two of the series. Since it had more characters and took place in a wider world, I decided to rearrange the order. Now The Secret Wilderness is book 2 and functions as an extended flashback that fills in two protagonists’ back story.
Two – There Is LGBTQ Representation
Yes! There are LGBTQ characters with vital roles. Some have stable and happy marriages, some are struggling, some are single and living their best lives. Some characters are funny, some are serious. Best of all – these characters have their own place and agency in the world. Nobody was created to be killed to Raise the Stakes for straight characters.
Gay people in Northern Vitral have the same legal rights and protections as cishet citizens. There’s no difference.
There is a minor trans character because there have always been trans people throughout history, and she’s only minor because I’m educating myself to properly write a POV trans character in the future. I’m not there yet. I will drop a tiny spoiler and say – Fear not! She does not die.
Three – There Are People of Color
Again! There are People of Color with vital roles and agency in the story. Alas, none of the POV characters are People of Color in THIS book. However, a character introduced in this story is a POV in the sequel Barghest with a major role in the narrative.
So far I have only written characters who are White, Black, and Brown. This is because the story has been limited to areas where these groups live. All three live in the country of Vitral and are represented in the story.
Let’s have an infodump!
The continent of Sviaos is home to several different countries with Black populations. Sviaos is a continent in the southern hemisphere with a climate and biome similar to northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia. The oldest and most advanced country in Svaios is Wuoros, and its power has been a stabilizing factor in the region for thousands of years. Think ‘Vikings,’ but instead of pillaging other nations, they sailed their longships around the world and set up peaceful trade routes, enriching their culture through knowledge. The Wuorosans live in mountainous, timber-rich lands. They mine metals and jewels, and have built vast underground communities to escape their land’s harsh winters.
Armesans are the neighbors of the Wuorosans, and like most neighbors, they have been disagreeing for roughly a thousand years. Armesans live on a peninsula of Svaios that sees some of the harshest of the cold weather, so they must rely on trade with Wuoros and other nations for their food supplies. They are not above raiding neighboring countries.
I created Svaios as a Scandinavian-type setting because every time I saw Black people in fantasy, they were in African settings, wearing zebra and lionskins. I recognize the power and meaning behind that choice, so I felt like it wasn’t for me, a white woman, to work with that imagery. I also wanted to set my work apart. (In case you’re wondering – I do love Black Panther, but it came out in 2018, several years after I started my work and I never read any of the comics so that wasn’t an influence). I liked the imagery of Wuorosans in thick furs and velvets, amid elaborate stonework and dark green mountains, or settled into huge libraries and orreries, studying the universe’s mysteries.
The Hwaathi are inspired by the many Latin and Hispanic friends I’ve had while growing up in South Florida. Hwaath is a vast archipelago with a variety of climates, and the people’s skin tones range from fawn to sepia; their hair might be straight and black or auburn and textured or anywhere in between, their eyes light hazel or dark brown. Although they come from a variety of islands and cultures, they are collectively called ‘Hwaathi,’ a generality that sometimes leads to confusion. ‘American’ used as a noun doesn’t do justice to a large country with such diversity, and for Hwaathi it’s the same, although it’s not a slur.
The Hwaathi are a sea-going people who rotate islands in order to follow migrating fish schools. In the south, they domesticate dolphins and train them to herd fish into their nets. All Hwaathi have clan-specific tattoos so if they die at sea and their body is found by strangers, their name is known and their soul appropriately honored. In the cold north they wear seal furs, but further south they dress in linens. Yes, I love the movie Moana, but again, it came out after I had come up with my story.
Please note: writing People of Color in my fantasy novel doesn’t mean I imagine I am speaking for anyone. I know my lane and I stay in it.
Most importantly, while there are different races, there is no racism. That is beyond the scope of this book’s intention. There are old grudges, and generations-old prejudices about other things, but no racist language.
Four – It Deals With the Watch
Here’s a point I want to be very, very clear on.
I support Black Lives Matter. I believe that police departments in the US should be restructured and that new training should focus on de-escalating situations and resolving conflict. Accountability is desperately needed, qualified immunity is unacceptable. I recognize this is a wildly complex issue that won’t be solved anytime soon, probably not even in my life time. I’ve called the police and felt relief when they show up (there have been shootings and arrests and domestic disturbances in my neighborhood) but that’s the product of white privilege. Another part of that is living in Orlando, which had its own brutal mass shooting only 5 years ago.
Virago was inspired by works like David Simon’s The Wire, and Terry Pratchett’s Watch books from the Discworld series. I know some police officers. Growing up in US schools in the 80s/90s meant there was always a School Resource Officer roaming the halls, making friends with kids in the hope they wouldn’t be enemies later. A guy I went to high school with was a celebrated police officer who became a lawyer. Ten years ago I wrote courseware for police officers. And I certainly notice how many Bl*e Lives Matter bumper stickers share space with C*nfederate flags. Or worse, Punisher logos.
In my fantasy novel I tried very hard to show the complexities of a civic institution intended to monitor and correct behaviors. A geologic shift is required in modern policing, one that protects and serves both the watchmen (police) and the watched (citizens).
Five – I’m Very Proud of It
I’m a white cishet woman who likes to tell stories. I want my stories to be enjoyed by people outside my demographic and to mean something more than passing time, so it’s my responsibility to educate myself.
I think I have done a good job of that. The story is exciting, challenging, and entertaining, the characters fun, the writing decent, and a reader would definitely wish to escape into this world. I’ve been writing for twenty years – I don’t lack ideas or the discipline to finish things, or even the ability to take criticism – what I lack is the confidence to send them out into the world.
The voice work is my best effort. I’ve never had any voice or acting training, so if something isn’t working, feel free to let me know. This project seemed a fun way to kill two birds with one stone: make the story accessible to people who have time to listen if not to read; and live out my little dream of becoming a character actor.
We’re in a golden age of content creation. Creating and expressing creativity has never been easier, and with time and energy, I can reach the right audience. The downside of that is so can everyone else. There are a lot of talented, skilled, creative folks out there who also want to tell their stories, and unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day.
So I hope you’ll spend an hour or so with me each week when new episodes drop. And of course you’ll be able to read the novel later in the year (sometime). So far there are 3 books in this series, but I also have a sci-fi comedy series, short stories, and have plans for an historical horror novel.
Thanks for reading, I hope you’ll give a listen, and as always…
… Be seeing you!