Here’s the latest in the series of Behind The Scenes posts, focusing on the fifth Monkey Queen book, Redblade! This one is long, and there are spoilers a-plenty, so read on after the cut!
Those of you who have been following this blog for a while are aware that many of the characters and settings of the Monkey Queen series go back a number of years. Well, some of the characters in Redblade go back even further.
Way back in the day, when I was taking my first stabs at being a writer, I came up with a somewhat post-apocalyptic setting (magic returns, but brings chaos and natural disaster in its wake) and some characters to stick in there. It eventually evolved into a full novel, “Matchmaker’s Luck”. I still have the final draft, but it’s definitely in the “never to be published” category; there were some nice moments, but my writing still hadn’t found the shape it would take later.
But I always had a fondness for a lot of the characters, and as I started playing with the Monkey Queen setup, I began to wonder how I could work them in. One of them got lifted from his original setting and planted right into the first book - Windsor.
As I went along, my mind kept going back to a story idea I’d had in the same setting as “Matchmaker’s Luck”, of a young girl named Abby McKenzie with a magic sword forced by a sorceress into thieving. I worked up most of a plot before setting it aside. The name of the book? “Redblade”.
While plotting out Under The Stars Of Faerie and A Tiding Of Magpies, my thoughts kept going back to that character, and to the main characters of “Matchmaker’s Luck”, Charlie Main and Miranda. I toyed with bringing them into the Monkey-verse, at the same age as Michiko and Beth, but then I had an idea. Why couldn’t they have...aged? After all, it had been years since I had written the original story, why shouldn’t the characters get older? And they could be old enough to have a daughter who was Michiko’s age...named Abby.
I love those “Eureka!” moments.
Charlie was brought in with very little change - he’s still a bit snarky, a bit of a motormouth, and smarter than everyone else gives him credit for. The major change? Instead of the hustling second-hand dealer he was before, he gets in on the ground floor of eBay. Between that and San Francisco’s rent control, he can afford to pay for part of Abby’s tuition.
Miranda, however… Her name was changed, as a name that was just rare enough to work then is rather trendy now. Theresa was the name of a character in “Windmistress”, another novel that never got past the plotting stage, so I changed it. Miranda’s magical specialty back then was sound-related magic (I called it “audiomancy”), but I opted to change that to Theresa’s wind magic as well. I didn’t want to use the last name “McKenzie”, as we have a McGill, so she became a Drake. And her background changed from “runaway college student” to “interdimensional cop”. In spite of all that, her quietly sweet but stubborn and slightly prickly character stayed the same.
Henrietta’s roots go back even further, and this may be the oddest thing I’ve ever written: At one time, I was the gamemaster for a pencil and paper RPG based on the animated series Tiny Toon Adventures; it was a homebrew system based on the Teenagers From Outer Space game. (I am not making this up.) I created a number of NPCs for my campaign. Henrietta was one of those, and quite possibly my favorite, so when the campaign broke up I stole her for my own use. She had a friend named “Emily Edison” who was a total egghead, which made a lovely contrast to a cranky witch. With a slight refocus, a touch of kookiness and a name change (“Duncan” was a slight dig at masculine names being given to girls, and “Wizansky” was, well, the surname of a girl I had a crush on in junior high), she became Henrietta’s sidekick. I was glad when I could tweak the characters for Redblade, and they moved from friends way back when to lovers in the flashback and spouses in the present day.
I knew that Windsor had to play a role, and I was finally able to expand on what he did for the Emigres since he’d settled on Earth. I wish I could have played more with Pierre, but there’s always later books.
Remember how the original book was set in a magical post-apocalyptic San Francisco? That’s why Hitchcock was a raccoon way back when. Remember how I said that bawsons were originally based on badgers, but got changed to raccoon-inspired? It was so Hitchcock could be a bawson, and have his magic powers explained somewhat more logically.
And the characters I wanted to write the most ended up virtually unchanged. Dobrenyi is still the same mix of frightening and buffoonish, and the moment he called Michiko a “half-witted half pint”, it was like old times. And Ruckhorn is still the ultimate “Iron Butt Monkey”, stuck following Dobrenyi and suffering karmic payback all over the place.
So, with all the new characters, I decided to make an effort to make Redblade more new-reader friendly. Go figure. I’d love to find out if it worked - if someone who had never read a Monkey Queen book could pick this up and figure everything out without having read the first four. I also worked in a lot of details I hadn’t revealed before, like what Windsor does for a living and what the name of the town Michiko and Beth live in is, and added a few more as I wrote, like details on the dwarf and brownie Emigre communities.
Lady Midday is an authentic figure in Slavic folklore, but as we all know by now, in the world the Monkey Queen stories is set in, myths and fables can and do get twisted over the centuries.
As for Abby...hopefully I pulled off the trick of making her a character who meshes well with Michiko and Beth, who isn’t too much of a Mary Sue or a Scrappy Doo, who has her own personality and goals and unique voice. She’s already inspired a short story, and is playing a small role in the next three books.
And if I haven’t mentioned this already, I love the design Willow came up with for Abby! It looks like an anime swashbuckler, which is exactly how I pictured her! Bravo, Willow!
Favorite line: “If I survive this, I really need to work on my banter.”
Favorite reference: Not so much a reference, but the bit where Beth and Abby bond over Doctor Who. Beth doesn’t get her geek on enough sometimes, so I was glad to let her let it out.
Favorite obscure reference: Beth’s The Journey Of Earth t-shirt. (We can assume that there’s been an English translation of Willow’s debut graphic novel in Beth’s multiverse, as we wait for one in ours...)
Favorite obscure reference that doesn’t involve Willow: Read the start of Chapter 7. Then, read Awakened by awesome pal Shei Darksbane.
Runner-up for favorite line AND favorite obscure reference: “Somedays, you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
Did You Know: Some of the references in “The Names Of The Stars” are to things I originally came up with for...but that’s a tale for another day. Click here to read the story, or the “short story” tag to read them all!
Did You Also Know: The garter that Willow drew on Abby’s leg led to the short story “The Troll And The Garter”. Click here to read it!