Monday, December 21, 2009

Joel Shepherd

Joel Shepherd's books include the Cassandra Kresnov Series and the A Trial of Blood and Steel Series, which opens with Sasha. From his Q & A with Lou Anders:

Lou: So, tell us a little bit about Sasha, and how you came up with her.

Joel: Again, I like characters who break convention, and Sasha breaks a whole bunch. Firstly, she’s a fantasy character who reverses that old cliche of the common peasant who discovers they’re heir to royalty, or some other great destiny. Sasha was already royalty, but rejected it.

Secondly, she was born a princess but absolutely HATED everything that little girls are supposed to love about being a princess, and through a series of events becomes a warrior for a strange group called the Nasi-Keth. Not that she can ever stop entirely being a princess, and she still has relations with her family, but she’s certainly out of the power loop, to put it mildly. With too many little girls today still taught to love all princessly things, I found the idea of a princess who as a little girl would much rather play in the mud, ride horses (way too fast) and beat her siblings with a stick in pretend swordfights, just too irresistible. (I like to imagine Sasha sitting today’s little girls down and explaining that the fate of a princess in most realities is to a) marry someone old and ugly, b) spend all your life being told what to do by men of your family, your in-laws’ family (frequently including the mother-in-law from hell) and of course the priests of whatever dominant religion who will expect you to adhere to all their stupid, woman-hating beliefs, and c) to never ever have any fun at all).

And thirdly, I decided quite quickly that in order to become what she is in this patriarchal society, Sasha would have to be incredibly headstrong. That would make her a handful, to say the least, and some might say a nightmare, especially when she was younger. We see the personality type all the time today in top athletes— self-obsessed, almost pathologically competitive, and in Sasha’s case, prone to wild over-exuberance or temper. She can be a pain in the ass, but she has to be, because that’s the personality it takes to be what she is in this world. And I do think she manages to be lovable at the same time, because her heart’s always in the right place, and she’s absolutely selfless in her loyalty to friends and her belief in helping those who deserve it.

But it gives her this wonderful character arc over the course of a series of novels, because for her, this is very much about growing up, and learning to be less wild and more sensible, and arrange her priorities accordingly. Many fantasy novels have coming-of-age character arcs, but many of those are about someone powerless coming to power. Sasha already has power, by virtue of her skills, personality and circumstance—her coming of age is about learning to use it wisely.

Lou: I want to add, that one of the things I like about Sasha, as opposed to so many of the female protagonists on the bookshelves (and television channels) today, is that she isn’t superhuman. She is one of the best swordsmen of her world, but its because she’s mastered a more sophisticated marital art than the hack and thrust broadsword techniques of her peers. She can beat just about anybody with a blade, but she’s not supernaturally empowered. I imagine she would run in the opposite direction if caught out bare handed by a three hundred pound opponent, right?

Joel: She should...[read on]
Visit Joel Shepherd's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Crossover.

The Page 69 Test: Sasha.

My Book, The Movie: Sasha.

--Marshal Zeringue