Brown River Queen cover art

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Undressing Meralda

One of the rare pleasures of writing is seeing your characters come to life on a book cover.

Markhat and I could be twins!
After all, you live with your heroes and heroines while you write about them. You hear their voice in every line of dialog, see their face each time you describe an expression. You conceive them, raise them, educate them, shape their personalities. You give them their talents and their flaws, their good and and their bad sides. You dress them, and wake them. You put them to bed. Sometimes, you even kill them.

But unless you remove random faces from magazines or use this new-fangled thing the kids call 'the interwebs' to cut and paste images, you never really see your protagonist, except in your mind's eye, until the book's cover proof arrives.

I'm speaking of Meralda, since I just finished editing the first draft of her new book. With any luck, one day in the not so distant future the book will be published, and the very first thing you'll see on this published book is a cover.

And on that cover, you will probably find Meralda depicted. She's earned top billing as the heroine, after all, and her presence on the cover is well-nigh mandatory.

Before I say anything else, let me say this -- don't panic. Because I will have nothing to do with making the cover. I know my limits, and such a task lies well beyond them.

That said, I wondered if I might find an image somewhere that captured Meralda's look sufficiently well to merit passing the image along to the cover artist one day. Armed with Google, and caught between tasks in a moment of boredom, I searched for images tagged 'fantasy woman.'

Google dutifully returned hundreds of images. Most were stunning, since fantasy art is a rich, well-established field. But very few of the images evoked my Meralda. Why?

Well, it seems that most fantasy realms are plagued by winds of sufficient velocity to make keeping oneself fully clothed nearly impossible. Undergarments tended to remain, although in various states of disarray.

Don't even THINK about it, quoth Meralda.
Look, I'm no prude. Seriously, I'm not. But upon seeing the images, Meralda, who was looking over my shoulder, raised her right eyebrow and announced in no uncertain terms that if she were to be clothed in a handkerchief and a bit of string she would be very, very unhappy, and would likely remain so for the next three hundred thousand words

At a minimum.

It's one thing when ordinary people say that. It's another when your protagonist -- the star of the show, so to speak -- says it.

Which led me to wonder: Why did Meralda feel so strongly about this?

I suppose the answer is obvious. I wrote her as a bookish, intense person. An introvert. She'd be perfectly happy spending the rest of her life behind the closed doors of the Laboratory, as long as coffee and grilled cheese sandwiches were delivered at regular intervals. Yes, she does have a gentleman friend in this book, but he understands all this, and is happy to accept her as she is.

I remember wondering, when the first book was published, if readers would be able to connect with such a withdrawn protagonist. Meralda sounds a bit dull, to be honest, if all I had to go on was the paragraph above.

But she's proven to be popular. And she's fun to write -- dragging her, kicking and screaming, out of the Laboratory and then out of Tirlin altogether in this new book was quite an experience.

I suppose the best thing one can do when writing a character is to let the character start writing themselves. So, Meralda, don't worry about being handed a micro-mini-skirt, a bustier, and thigh-high leather boots for the cover shoot. Not going to happen. I have nothing against such covers, but to thine own self be true, and all that.

Is there a timeline for the release of the new book? No, nothing specific yet, although I will say it will be this year, and it won't be too cold. Vague enough?

Things To Come

Since the new Markhat is off to the publisher and the new Mug and Meralda is in the capable hands of my fearless beta reader, it's time to start something new.

I'm determined to start and finish a new Wistril story. If you're unfamiliar with Wistril the White Chair wizard and his wise-cracking apprentice Kern, you can read their first three exploits in the anthology below.

The new Wistril, which will end up somewhere between a long novella and a full novel, will be entitled Wistril Ascendant. I haven't visited Wistril and Kern since 2007, and this seems like an excellent time to drop by Castle Kauph and see what the boys have been doing.

I'll be posting regular progress reports here, every Sunday, so stay tuned!