Hello my darlings! Today we have an absolutely marvelous guest post from one of my favorite human beings on the planet, Philip Palmer. His new book, Artemis, just released last week and it looks great. I recently finished Philip’s previous novel, Hell Ship, and I thought it just as clever as its author. Please ask Philip any questions you may have in comments!
You might also be wondering about the winner of Juliet Blackwell‘sÂ Erotic Cozy Title Contest, all in honor of her release of Dead Bolt. Because of the time difference and people joining the contest late tonight (it’s Thursday as I write this), Julie and I thought it was only fair if she judge Friday, so we don’t miss anyone who enters after I go to bed. All this means is that she’ll be announcing her wiener on Monday, instead of today. So check back here Monday, and sorry about the confusion. It’s hard to organize a contest with someone on the other coast! 😉
BEING A WOMAN
I had the idea for Artemis a few years ago, very soon after getting a book deal for my first novel Debatable Space.Â Looking back at my notes, I see there are many major plot differences between my original concept and the finished novel. But the biggest difference of all is: Sex.
In other words, originally this story had a male protagonist.Â But by the time I came to write it, Artemis McIvor had come along.Â And instead of being a Guy story, itâ€™s very much a Grrrl story.
There may be deep psychological reasons for this preference for female protagonists. Or it may simply be that Iâ€™m accustomed to the presence of strong females in my life. I am in fact the only male in my house, which I share with my wife Sally, my daughter Bess and my female dog Lucy (youâ€™ll appreciate that I would not dare call ANY of these ladies a bitch.)
And I have fond memories of an SF novel I read in my teens called I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein, one of the all time great writers in the genre, who wrote the story a dying millionaire who pays a fortune toÂ have his brain transplanted into a new body; and ends up in the body of a woman.Â Itâ€™s years since Iâ€™ve read this book, and the critical consensus is that itâ€™s not that well written (since Heinlein was very ill during the writing process.)Â But I remember being blown away by it at the time, with its amazing concept of a man becoming a woman. (Hey, I was a teenager in South Wales, and Iâ€™d never heard of gender change surgery back then.)
Up till that point, Â you see, Iâ€™d been reading space operas featuring white Anglo-Saxon blokes exploring strange alien worlds.Â But this was the first time Iâ€™d felt what it was like to be someone very different to myself; someone female.Â THAT felt stranger than being yet another white bloke zapping aliens.
I tried to push this â€˜being someone differentâ€™ approach to its limits in Hell Ship, where the main character Sai-ias is not only female,Â sheâ€™s alien â€“ with tentacles and a carapace.Â And I have to say I felt very at ease being in her body. Indeed, for weeks after finishing the book, I yearned to go back to having tentacles and a cape.Â Oh, the joy of being able to fly through the air, coupled with the ability to drink eight pints of beer at once!
Obviously all writers have to inhabit the bodies of the characters they create; and all readers do the same.Â And indeed, one of the reasons Iâ€™m such a huge fan of Nicoleâ€™s Jane True books is that it gives me a chance to feel what itâ€™s like to be HER, to be Jane â€“ female, empowered, sassy, shamelessly sexual, and a selkie to boot.
If youâ€™re a typical shy male writer however, itâ€™s not often you get a chance to actually act out this fantasy â€“ of being a Someone Else, who happens to be a woman.Â Â But I did have that very experience a few months ago, during the script editing process for a movie Iâ€™ve written â€“ a film noir called Inferno.
Now film noir is the home and origin of the concept of femme fatale â€“ the double-crossing, ruthless sexy woman who stalks those means streets, screwing over men.Â Kathleen Turner in Body Heat is a classic sexy femme fatale. And Linda Fiorentino, in the brilliant and very funny The Last Seduction, is just as sexy and even more fatale. She is in short an evil ruthless scheming bitch! And I love her to bits, even though she has NO redeeming qualities.
The femme fatale Â in my movie, Elaine, is Welsh (donâ€™t laugh! Welsh people can be evil and scheming too!) and in order to get a firmer grip on the character, I did a â€˜hot seatingâ€™ exercise with my director, Marc.
Hot-seating is a technique I learned about many years ago when I was running writersâ€™ workshops at the Royal Court Theatre. Itâ€™s an actorâ€™s technique in which the actor sits in the aforementioned â€˜hot seatâ€™Â and has to answer questions about his or her character, but always in the first person.
For some years, Iâ€™ve been using an adapted version of this technique with writers, of varying degrees of experience. It always works, sometimes astonishingly well; even shy people can be transformed by this exercise into the very incarnation of the character they are channelling.Â And itâ€™s therefore a great way to create a character when developing a screenplay.
Oddly though, Iâ€™d never had this hot seating technique done TO me (itâ€™s by no means a standard script editing tool â€“ Iâ€™m pretty much the only drama script editor I know who does it.)Â But I briefed my director on how it worked, and away we went.
And boy, I became that evil scheming bitch.Â Â Every question I was asked, I knew the answer, in infinite detail.Â I discovered truths about my characterâ€™s childhood. I knew all about the lies she had told, including those that werenâ€™t in my actual story.Â I knew how she was able to get her way by playing mind games and exploiting her charisma.Â I knew her vulnerabilities and her fears.
I had by this point written Lord only knows how many drafts of this script; but it wasnâ€™t until I did the hot seat that I TRULY knew the character.
I even, at one point, got a little bit flirtatious with my red-bloodedly heterosexual male director.Â Luckily he called a halt to proceedings, before things got out of hand.
Ahem. Moving on.
It was, in short an extraordinary and empowering experience. Yes of course, as a novelist I do this all the time â€“ every character I create I â€˜inhabitâ€™ and feel and know.Â And as a reader I do this too; when I read one of Â Nicoleâ€™s books I BECOME Jane True; when I read a Lilith Saintcrow book I become, in the same way, Dante Valentine, or Jill Kismet. And when I read George R.R. Martinâ€¦itâ€™s out with the winter woolies.
But the vicarious experience of writing or reading a character is not quite so intense as actually acting out the role.Â Bear in mind Iâ€™m the worldâ€™s worst actor; Iâ€™ve never had the experience of standing on stage and pretending to be someone else. But by means of this hot seat exercise, I was able to make like a Method Actor, and BE my character.
And boy, I miss being evil, and sexy, and scheming. (Almost as much as I miss having those tentacles.)
Artemis herself has a few things in common with the character from my character in my movie;Â namely, sheâ€™s ruthless and scheming.Â But sheâ€™s very different in one major respect; she never lies.Â Artemis is a rare example of the â€˜reliable narratorâ€™.Â When she does bad stuff, she tells you about it; she may lie to get her way in the story, but she never lies to her reader.Â That makes her a more complex and more unexpected character than my Welsh femme fatale.Â
And if at some point I write another novel featuring Artemis, maybe I should hot seat her too;Â to feel the unique joy of being Artemis McIvor at first handâ€¦
What a great post, and what great advice for aspiring writers. I tell my students something similar about knowing their character’s ins and outs… even the things that would never come up in a book. But I’ve never thought about how productive it could be to actually workshop this idea. Needless to say,Â I’m thinking about how I can incorporate this idea into my undergraduate Writing Urban Fantasy course next semester.
If you have any questions for Philip, please ask them in comments.
And see you back here on Monday for Julie’s wiener!