I didn’t create Aura Lockhaven just to tell a cool story. Well, if you’ve read my website, you know why I created her and how she now has absolutely nothing to do with that original premise whatsoever. That is a good thing. However, when A Path of Stones solidified into something tangible, I did sit down to think about my underlying philosophies for that book and the rest of the series. So, for those of you who are interested, here is why Aura is like she is and what I hope to accomplish with at least her first three books.
With A Path of Stones, The Fires of Tallen Hall, and Scarlet Cloak, I’m answering my own personal goals as well as the complaints of the fantasy reading community at large. I hope.
1. I wanted to write the story I wanted to read.
The typical high fantasy is a neverending chain of interconnected books. Examples include Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth, and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series. Personally, I prefer a series of standalone novels in the tradition of the James Bond books or the Dresden Files. So, that’s what I’m doing with Aura’s story. The first three books are one story. From there, they are standalone, unless I need to split a story. Book Four, The Enchantress of Hartshorn, will focus on one week in Aura’s life as she struggles with, and comes to terms with, being the new official enchantress of her town. Elements of the previous books will be referenced, such as why some people are obsessed with her mother’s maiden name. That’s expected, and works without forcing the issue. But it won’t be directly tied to the first three books. Book Five will be similar but with a clearly defined villain, while Book Six will be a Lovecraftian ghost story centered around Elisabeth Lovejoy. The Hound of the Baskervilles with swords and spells. Don’t ask about the rest of the series. Aura hasn’t told me yet.
I also wanted to maintain the foundation that the hero or heroine is good and stands for something. I grew up in the 1970s, when movies were dominated by protagonists who were losers or despicable (The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, The Godfather, etc.). That changed with Star Wars in 1977. That was the first movie, outside the James Bond films and Disney, where the protagonists were good, stood for something worth standing for, and won. I want to continue that tradition in a world that has devolved into the anti-hero or worse, protagonists who are no different from the antagonists. Moral ambiguity is real in our world, but I see fantasy as a modern mythology — it entertains while it educates, encourages, and edifies.
Aura Lockhaven does the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do. She is motivated by compassion, and fights from a defensive posture. That does mean she gets her pretty butt kicked more often than she kicks. Good has boundaries it will not cross, while evil will do whatever is necessary to win. That adds to the conflict, would you not agree? Aura will lose from time to time. It’s inevitable. But that’s life.
2. I wanted a female protagonist.
Women are more interesting than men. If I give a sword, wand, or gun to a man, I know what he will do with it. If I give the same weapons to a woman, I don’t know what she will do until she does it. That is because we have 400 years worth of fiction with competent male protagonists, dating back to Cervantes and Shakespeare. We extend that much more if we consider the tales of the Norse, Greeks, and those from Asia and Africa. The first competent woman protagonist in American fiction was Scarlet O’Hara, while the second was Wonder Woman. Both appeared in my mother’s lifetime. Most appeared since I was born in 1963. I want to add to that list. It needs to grow.
Now, it is a fair question to ask how can I know what a woman will think and do? After all, I am a man. Stripped of the cultural conditioning, men and women aren’t all that much different. The basic difference I see is men think like a sword while women think like a shield. Together, they get the job done. Aura’s nation is one that still believes in men and women standing together against a common enemy (although the state religion is changing that). Besides, I’m married. Half of Aura’s personality is based on mine. The other half is based on my wife’s. Aura is essentially half English, half Welsh. My wife is half German, half Irish. So, I just ask my clearly better half, “What would you do in this situation?” and go with her answer.
3. I wanted to create a role model.
This is a dicey prospect. Deliberately creating a role model comes with a sizeable amount of hubris that can only be avoided with great determination. I want Aura to be a model for doing the right thing, letting one’s heart lead, and getting back up when knocked down.
I hadn’t expected her to be a role model for women, but apparently she is. That is out of my hands, and I am not complaining. Women need good role models. Half our species has been kicked around and confined to the kitchen and neverending pregnancies for 10,000 years. If a woman wants to be a mother and housewife, I will stand with her in total agreement, but it should be her own choice, not thrust upon her by a heartless cultural consensus. Aura is not a voice for Feminism or the career woman, any more than she is a voice for the housewife, much less the Religious Right (Aura is a Pagan). She is a voice for self-determination, for choosing one’s own destiny. I hope that works for both men and women. Interference by others in one’s destiny is a subject I will explore in future books. Let’s just say Aura’s greatest enemies don’t cast spells.
4. I wanted Aura to be real.
Aura is supposed to be a realistic and relatable character, while still filling the role of fantasy protagonist and fantasy woman. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with creating a character you’d love to date. I wanted her to be believable enough that the reader would have no problem seeing her step out of the book and sit down for a cup of tea and a good chat.
Aura is beautiful (although she doesn’t see it), sexy, and sexual, yes. If you want a flat-chested woman, go read Little Orphan Annie, don’t look at me. She does have endowments in the chest, but also the hips, thighs, and stomach. In other words, she eats and drinks too much and it shows. She also has a hump in her nose, which frankly I find attractive. She doesn’t wear much, but she has logical reasons, other than the standard of sword-and-sorcery bare essential outfits. Aura is a nudist, cloth absorbs magical power, and as an enchantress, seduction is one of her assets (it helps with diplomatic negotiations). Aura is also smart, competent, wily, and physically strong. She ain’t no bimbo. Aura may have the body of a 1980’s Playboy Playmate, but she has the mind of a PhD. Tell me what is wrong with that! Why can’t a woman be beautiful, sexy, and sexual, while also being smart, competent, and sometimes, lethal. Why does the smart woman have to be asexual and ugly, while the beautiful one is stupid? I also tried to make her class standing realistic. Aura isn’t a princess, nor is she a farm girl. She’s merchant class. In today’s terms, she’s the bar owner’s daughter who double majored in poetry and chemistry, and who now runs a perfume and jewelry shop.
Her greatest strength is the ability to listen to what other people say, add it all up, and arrive at the truth far ahead of anyone else. Half the time she thinks her way out of a problem, instead of using any magical power. But in the 21st Century, common sense is as rare as a glamour spell, so perhaps it does qualify as magic. Aura doesn’t need a man in her life, although she wants one. Wanting and needing are two different things.
She is also highly flawed. I gave her one of my own flaws — arachnophobia. Those are easy scenes to write! In the opening trilogy, Aura looks for validation from external sources, but so do 90% of us. She suffers from low self-esteem, which causes her to be less powerful than she can be. Between her volatile emotions and trauma-related panic attacks, she can be unreliable, and fall apart at inopportune moments. Sounds like many of us. Yet, she perseveres, and that is the greatest magic of all. Aura Lockhaven isn’t perfect. She’s real. That, ultimately, is our goal as humans — to be real in the face of tremendous flaws and overwhelming pressure from society to conform to its ideals of perfection.
The first two complaints are almost universal within the fantasy reading community. The third is my own.
1. The books are too big!
The average mystery novel is about 75,000 words long. Science fiction may reach 100,000. Have you seen fantasy books? They aren’t books. They’re tomes. You can kill a troll with those things. Most average 300,000 words. George R. R. Martin seems determined to best War and Peace. Not only are those books too big, but to get them to fit within any readable size (i.e. holdable), the font is often nine point. Those of us who are nearsighted hate you, Mr. Martin.
I determined that no Aura novel would exceed 150,000 words. If it does, I’ll split it into two smaller books. Hence, why the opening story is the worst fantasy cliche’ of all — a trilogy. I’d rather split the story into three parts deliberately than have it do so in your hands. Digital? You don’t want to pay the price for a file of 500,000 words. Size equals affordability.
Besides, I make more money, but you spend less, if I write sixteen 150,000 word novels instead of eight 300,000 word gargantuas.
2. The quest is always about saving the world.
Frodo set a bad precedent. This complaint is so true. From Richard Rahl to Jon Snow, the hero’s quest is always some colossal undertaking. I wholeheartedly agree. Saving the world is important, but most of us just try to save ourselves. A small, localized heroine needs a small, localized quest, and the Scarlet Enchantress of Hartshorn is about as localized as you can get. So, Aura’s quest in her first three books is to gain the power to help more people, and to discover the truth about herself. Her quest is intimate. For the remainder of most of the series, her quest will be to help whoever needs help, even if that someone is herself. That’s a bit more in keeping with the private detective novel, but I like it. Eventually, Aura may undertake to save her country, but it will be from the position of counselor to the monarch, not the warrior. In other words, Gandalf, not Frodo or Aragorn.
3. The hero undertakes the quest way too fast.
This is my personal complaint. Frodo set the precedent, but no one listened. He didn’t undertake the quest to destroy the One Ring until two-thirds of the way through the first book. On the other hand, Richard Cypher (later Rahl) seized on being the mythical Seeker in three paragraphs (Wizard’s First Rule). That is way too fast for my tastes. Aura doesn’t decide to meet the Order of Enchanters until chapter ten of A Path of Stones, and doesn’t accept the position of the Dyrgana (the explorer) until almost the end, and does both with great reluctance and much soul-searching. That’s the way I think it should be. One does not rock her own boat without much consideration and thought.
Not that you will readily see any of these philosophies as you read the Chronicles of Aura Lockhaven. I hope I’m a good enough writer to keep them hidden from all but my own eyes. But now, you know.