Behind the Scenes: Why I Spared the One Brave Soul Between Me and My Undead Army

Let heroes break themselves against my army for sending a child to do their work.

Read and/or listen at Cast of Wonders!

On some level this tale speaks to ongoing social justice issues. Each new wave of a movement picks up on the issues the previous wave either caused or ignored. It’s fantastic, and infuriating, when teens and pre-teens step up to be the courageous activists and put themselves on the line while the adults — who have all the power — sit there, complacent and obstructive. Beyond that, this story was inspired by a tumblr post. The song VESSEL, by Devilskin, fleshed out the rest.

I’ve written lots of stories about tough love from the student’s side, drawing on my own experiences, but this time I wanted to focus on an older character, and thus, the teacher’s side. Tough love is really difficult to convey because it skates so close to abuse. In writing this villain, an objectively bad person, the task was to find good reasons for bad behavior.

Layla and Regan are both responding to an unjust world, but the nature of their responses puts them on opposite sides. Neither of them were taken seriously by the powers that be, and despite this, they never wavered from their paths; each going as far as to invite the other to join their cause. None of this would have worked if evil Layla fell flat.

By the end of the story, Layla’s forty years old. She’s absolutely committed to rebuilding the world, and — blasphemy of blasphemies — she’s having a great time! So often, villainous women and femme fatales are there to be sexy first and adversarial second. There’s some weakness at their core — like a longing for love, or a hatred for their rapist — that the hero (and by extension, the reader) can exploit. While the villain is there to be crushed, the villainess tantalizes like so much forbidden fruit —  she’s there to be tasted, split open, and conquered; or to demonstrate moral fortitude by abstaining.

Layla is impervious to all of this, because she’s happy.

She’s not a sidekick or an ingénue, she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be. She’ll cut down anyone who tries to stop her, and isn’t above betraying her teammates to advance her cause. Futhermore, she’s so settled in her power that she can recognize and lend aid to a kindred spirit, even if they wind up on opposite sides.

While Layla is driven by her cause, she’s not burdened by it. She was prepared to face down heroes at every moment, and it’s not her fault that no one showed until she was too big to stop. Similarly, no one took Regan’s warnings seriously, forcing her to face the threat herself and ultimately, that’s what got her the training she needed. By helping Regan become a viable threat, Layla gives Regan the respect that she herself feels entitled to; but she doesn’t sugar-coat what that means. She warns of the danger, and then lets Regan make her own choice. Both Layla and Regan position themselves to meet the enemy head-on, removing any question of the legitimacy of their victories. They take themselves, and each other, seriously.

I wanted to show the validating and enriching elements of an adversarial relationship. Men get that in fiction all the time. It’s someone else’s turn.

Finally, I realize (too late) that there are appropriative elements in the story — the most obvious being the Vessel of Mercy, a reference to kintsugi. The way I used the design has nothing to do with the art’s practice in our world, and the tale might have benefited from some in-world cynicism around the Vessel’s mythology, to draw attention to the ways in which conquerors and thieves steal history and context, as well as objects. For this, I apologize. I will be more considered in future.

If you liked this story, buy me a coffee!

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1 thought on “Behind the Scenes: Why I Spared the One Brave Soul Between Me and My Undead Army

  1. Emily

    I loved this story. Awesome female villain as protag + great mentorship + two awesome chars, + general great storytelling. Maybe my favorite cast of wonders story to date

    Reply

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