I like to think about what it would have been like to live in a different era in time and place. There are so many layers to this imaginary game: what would you wear, what would you eat, what would everyday life be like? What would you fear? What would you believe about how the world worked? I’m curious about all the details—how is food prepared and produced, how do people get from point A to B, what do women do about their menstrual cycle, what happened to people who rebelled against customs, social rules, and stated laws?
But that’s just the superficial layer of my interest. What I’m really fascinated by is how an external world intersects with an internal world. So often it feels as if we are almost entirely determined by our circumstances—we are whatever we are born into—the world around us shapes everything from our opportunities to our beliefs to our aspirations. It can feel unimaginable to consider something beyond that—some internal essence that is eternal, out of time and place. I like to give my characters that internal space. I don’t even know what to call it. Confidence? No, although that’s part of it. An iconoclastic bent? Yes, but. A rebellious nature? Closer. It has to do with an awareness of being the driver in one’s own life, an awareness of being able to choose one’s path.
That’s not to say that external circumstances have no determining force. They always do, and time and place have all kind of ramifications about the choices available to a character. But I’m interested in the point of friction between the outside and the inside, how that internal space rubs into the expectations of time and place. This can play out in so many ways: the rejection of God or family, the internal resistance against oppressive forces, the casting off of limiting notions of beauty or femininity or sexuality, and of course, transgressions in action—theft, sin, and murder. The friction itself is what makes it interesting, but without that internal core of strength inside a character, there isn’t any psychological depth to the rebellion.
I’m also interested in the acquiescence to these external pressures, the knowing surrender—I do it because they tell me to do it. I do it because I am afraid. I do it because I cannot stand the idea of the consequences if I don’t. Or, my all time favorite, I do it because I want to be loved. This would be the character who chooses the easy, proscribed path because they are concerned with pleasing others: they want their family to approve of them, or they want to win the love of an idealized other. Ultimately, if the character has the internal essence—and they always do, or we wouldn’t be reading about them—they get into conflict between pleasing self and pleasing others, and we get all kinds of interesting fallout.
This comes up because I’m writing a story about a rebellious girl in a stifling culture. It’s actually not that far off from the social circumstances most women lived in before the Feminist movements of the Twentieth Century, and many women in less forward-thinking places continue to live in today. Women in my constructed world can’t own property, vote, or participate in politics, athletics, or any public sphere. They are largely confined to the home, and their primary value in society is as a means for men to exchange wealth or power in marriage brokering.
My heroine has a very modern mind, a mind that doesn’t accept the idea that her only worth is as a wife, mother, and housekeeper. This is one reason this story is set in a fantasy world. I felt her way of thinking was almost impossible to set in Regency or Victorian London. There just wouldn’t have been the possibility of her being this iconoclastic. She wouldn’t have had any concept of the freedoms she needed to think belonged to her by right. So I made up my own city for her to live in, because I wanted her to have this strength inside her, this refusal to accept what the culture she lives in proscribes for her. The results have been entertaining, for me, at least. The book is called The Velocipede Races, and should be released by Luminous Creatures in Fall 2013.