“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Today our guest is Kate Elliott, prolific author of science fiction and fantasy. To celebrate the release of her most recent release, Cold Steel, the third book in the Spiritwalker trilogy, we are thrilled to have Kate over for a guest post about her Inspirations and Influences. (Thea is a HUGE fan of these books – stick around later for her review of Cold Steel!)
Please give a warm welcome to Kate, folks!
In the very first notes and sketches for the project that eventually became the Spiritwalker Trilogy, the two young women–for there were always two young women as the leads in Spiritwalker–were called Katherine and Bianca after the sisters in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
In the play, Katherina is married to Petruchio who tames her out of her shrewishness. Years ago I saw a delightful version of the play in which the director chose to interpret the famous scene where Kate submits to Petrucio by playing it as a joke that the two of them are perpetrating together as equals in order to yank the chains of all the people surrounding them who simply assume that it is a woman’s place to submit to her husband and that Petruchio has, indeed, tamed her when instead the couple express through their acting that they two together have come to a different mutually equal and respectful loving relationship.
One can certainly argue that the play is sexist in its depiction of the relations between women and men, and I’m not going to argue the issue one way or the other in this post. What stuck with me from that particular production was the playfulness, the shrewd banter, the quick comebacks, and the sense of equality. It subverted the usual message of the play.
The clash of equals who engage in a duel of smart comebacks is a narrative device I’ve always loved, and that is why both The Taming of the Shrew and the 1930s screwball comedies are among the influences under-girding the framework of the Spiritwalker Trilogy even if I did change the name of the two young women to Catherine and Beatrice.
In Spiritwalker, Cat and Bee are cousins who are as close as sisters, and one thing they do throughout the story is banter with each other. Their give and take is meant to be funny and to highlight their genuine affection.
But of course they aren’t the only equals in the story. There are a number of characters who can duel with both with words and with swords. For that matter any time The Taming of the Shrew and screwball comedies are mentioned in the same sentence most readers will naturally think of romance, not siblings.
Pride and Prejudice is not so much one of the direct influences for the story. It is certainly one of my favorite novels. But I wasn’t thinking of Darcy when the central male character enters the story; I was playing with a variation on the theme of the proud aristocratic nobleman who is exceptionally competent in his life and his skills, which in this case happens to be magic. This character type is a staple of Regency romances, and I was giving a nod more to Georgette Heyer and her successors than to my beloved Austen in this case.
In my earliest conception Andevai was meant to be about 30 years old and a highborn mage, but (as I have said elsewhere) as I wrote the first draft of Cat and Andevai’s initial journey together, he kept slipping out of that mold. I ended up discovering that his story was quite different because he was engaged in trying to find his place in the world rather than knowing exactly where he stood.
I soon decided I did not want him to be ten years older than the heroine because the age difference creates another sense of inequality, that of life experience, so I collapsed the age difference to four years (when the story opens she is almost 20 and he is 23 going on 24). Of course the moment he became younger certain elements of his personality changed yet again: he became more insecure while trying to hide his insecurities, more likely to allow pride (and his concern about how he looks to others) to dictate his behavior rather than feeling grounded and secure in his own self. The character I first had in mind would have been easier to write–figuring out Andevai took a number of rewrites–and had I stuck with that conception I think he would have been far less interesting than the man who is in the trilogy now.
What all this means to me as a writer is that I have to shake free from *my own* expectations. I have to be alert to the ways in which I default to familiar tropes.
Trying not to fall back into familiar patterns in storytelling is a constant struggle. For example it is familiar to retell another version of Beauty and the Beast (a lovely story with many delightful retellings and versions) but harder to flip the genders, something I also deliberately play around with in Cold Steel: he is the beauty and she is the beast. What does it mean to re-tell an old classic? If you flip it, how do you negotiate the terrain of, say, gender and our expectations of gender without just reversing roles? And what would reversing roles tell us, if we did it? How would it play right back into cultural stereotypes?
What I find is that I have stereotyped stories in my head that I have heard & read & been told over and over again so many times that, when I write, my thoughts and inclinations channel me down those well-worn paths.
Okay, there’s this girl, and she is an innocent orphan, and so that means she is fearful and hesitant but kind of slightly plucky too . . . No, wait. Is that really what I want? What if she is fierce and loyal and a bit too likely to say something she ought not because she can be rash? What if she laughs a lot and can find the absurdity in most situations? What if she will never give up? Never?
As a writer I have to realize and acknowledge that I’m headed in a direction being dictated to me by stereotypes, where I may not want to go, and then I have to confront the defaults and stereotypes that speak so loudly within my writing brain and figure out what I really want to do so that I do not keep telling a version of a tale I don’t want to tell.
For example, while I have talked about The Taming of the Shrew and Regency romances in this post because I’m discussing influences and inspirations, all along with the Spiritwalker Trilogy I intended to write a story in which the central relationship is between two women. I specifically shaped the trilogy to make sure that the love story element did not become the centerpiece no matter how crucial it is (and it is crucial). One way I did this was by not telling a story in which in the end a strong and competent man rescues the plucky girl. Rather, I tried to tell a story in which people rescue each other at different times because they each have different strengths. That’s because I love stories whose core is love and loyalty and generosity and friendship, no matter what hardships and obstacles the characters face (and I do admit to a certain ruthless authorial pleasure in placing hardships and obstacles and dilemmas and crises right smack in the way of the characters).
In the end I wanted to tell a story about two cousins, as close as loving sisters, who never give up on each other, who support each other ALWAYS.
What was my inspiration for that?
Easy: My sisters, my cousin, my daughter, my nieces and sisters-in-law. My mother and aunts. My dear friends who have never given up on each other, who support each other always, who have kept me going when things looked bleak.
I can think of no better love letter for them all.
About the Author:
As a child in rural Oregon, Kate Elliott made up stories because she longed to escape to a world of lurid adventure fiction. She now writes fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction, all with a romantic edge. It should therefore come as no surprise that she met her future husband in a sword fight.
We have ONE copy of Cold Steel up for grabs! The contest is open to ALL and will run until Sunday, June 30 at 12:01am. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!