No Mortal business

Eddie, my first trans character, from the Tempest Series

When I was still living in Calgary, I put a story into a workshop. One of the critiquers, who I’m sure has gone on to have a much more enlightened point of view, seeing as how this was over ten years ago at this point, told me that if the main character was gay, it had to be important to the plot or to cut it.

I’m a big proponent of Chekhov’s gun theory of plotting (except when I was a kid, in which case it confused the hell out of me because the only Chekhov I knew of was the guy from Star Trek and I couldn’t figure out why a engineer from Starfleet was so important to plotting) but there was an assumed assumption in his advice, and that was being non-gay was “normal” and being gay wasn’t.

Eddie doesn’t appear Coral were his Bones until the very end of the story but he’s a driving force in No Mortal Business. Devon is as much an orphan as Finn is, but Devon’s parents died when he was so young he can barely remember the night they died or anything that happened before. He was three when it happened, and Eddie, who had been babysitting him since Devon was a baby, raised him in every way. He was ten when Eddie married Muriel, but even before he was part of a blended family, Devon had all the support he needed. Finn, on the other hand, was raised by a woman who was an older woman when she adopted Finn’s mother. When Finn’s mom died, Finn was six and his grandmother sixty. She provided for him as best she could, but the gap in their ages meant they were coming from two different worlds.

I have to admit I was a bit worried when I figured out Eddie was a trans man. I don’t say decided, because I didn’t decide he was anything. I was so afraid of doing “it” wrong. When you’re writing characters, whether the gender/orientation/race doesn’t match your own and the last thing I would want to do is hurt someone’s feelings. People bemoan about the “PC police” but I totally agree with Neil Gaiman’s idea that being “PC” is another way of saying “you don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings”. And trans people out there have one of the highest levels of suicide, abuse, assault and unemployment because of who they are. I think when you write characters who don’t match up to the label you wear, you have to be respectful first and foremost.

Does that mean you can only make your bad guys white, straight able bodied men? Of course not. You just have to realize that when you do, Hollywood has branded gender and sexual minorites the bad guy since there was a Hollywood. Being gay or trans has been shorthand for evil or serial killers for a very long time. Lesbian couples may be evil, but you know at least one of them is going to die. Bisexual characters are immoral sluts who might stab you with an ice pick. If you do choose to make your villain a gender minority, remember you’re not saying anything original or unique. It’s been done literally to death. If you still want to go on the well trodden path that makes a gender minority evil, remember the high rates of abuse real trans people suffer. Fiction and life imitate each other as two mirrors set up across the hall from each other, and their reflections of each other have infinite iterations.

Eddie, as a trans man, thinks of his surgery as a gallbladder removal, i.e., no one’s business. He doesn’t attend LGBT events, but doesn’t judge other people for wanting to. Finn’s a selkie and his nose tells him more about the world than his eyes do, and his nose tells him Eddie’s a man as much as Finn or Devon is.

No Mortal Business is out!

Even though Finn’s story is a trilogy, No Mortal Business book is a stand-alone story. Finn is home, midway through his two weeks off. Every Fae contract has a one day a year off clause as part of being a Fae contract. The two rules to know about dealing with Fae is that everything is negotiable and nothing is free. When Finn didn’t go back to his master at the end of his day off, Paul could easily have hobbled Finn or chained him down so that he could never swim again. Paul owned Finn. Humans have free will. Fae don’t. When they are owned, they are owned completely. The selkie brides of lore marry the fishermen who catch them as a matter of course. When Paul uses Finn, he has every right to. Finn’s body belongs to Paul as much as his service does.

But when Finn realizes that Paul managed to bind Finn to him without Finn actually making a deal with him, it means that the contract was fraudulent. And if the contract is fraudulent, it means that Paul had no right to Finn’s body. And if Paul had no right, it means that the sex he had with the man wasn’t sex, it was rape. Finn realizes that he cannot go back to Paul no matter what it costs. Finn has to come to terms with what has happened to him and he has to deal with what his future holds, free or not, with or without Paul. Giving up his one day of freedom in exchange for the two weeks with Devon is the last bargaining chip he has remaining. He’s dealing with powers far more powerful than the entire Pacific Ocean, and if there’s one thing the legends make clear is mortals who catch the attention of the infinite often suffer more than they win.

*no mortal business cover

If you read it and love it, it would be awesome if you would like to read how his story begins in Coral Were his Bones (Oh look! It’s on sale. So is Changeling…how convenient).

I’ll talk more about how much I love Finn’s point of view. He’s part sea lion, and sea lions are both fierce predators and vulnerable prey at the same time. That mix of can I kill it/eat it and will it kill me/eat me drives most of Finn’s thoughts even when he’s in his human shape. Devon believes that Finn is a human who can change into a seal, but that’s not what Finn is. Finn’s selkie. His sea lion (or for simplification, his seal body) is as much his body as his human body is. His tail, which is invisible and non-corporeal in his human shape is still there, and when Devon tweaks it, Finn feels the shiver running up and down his spine.

Alien POV (AKA writing about seals as fierce predators and nature’s power bar)

Writing from an alien point of view is about as much fun as you can have on your computer without needing a credit card. But it also can torpedo your book straight down to the depths of no-one will read this, even if it wins awards. Finn’s a half-human half-selkie who can turn into a selkie in a world where half-bloods are stuck with all the potential in the world and no ability to change.

I started to write about selkies because of shark week. You can’t learn much about predators without talking about their prey. I use seal rooks which are harem based with bachelor seals often pairing up being a thing. Seals are fascinating creatures. Did you know they are related to bears? That there are three kinds of seals? True seals (also called “crawling”, furred seals and sea lions, and walruses all within the seal superfamily? Each one of my selkies have their pelts. In No Mortal Business, the Pacific sea witch says she has enough selkie-pelts to carpet the ocean floor. Finn’s pelt is a leather jacket. It has claws and a tiny little personality that emerged all on its own and it has a total crush on Devon.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to writing alien points of view is that your main character has to be familiar enough that your reader can relate to it but different enough that the reader is reminded every time that the point of view sticks out that this POV isn’t entirely human. I cheated a bit; Finn’s dad is (mostly) human and he has a lot of human emotions that other selkies don’t have quite so much as. It’s kind of the anti-Spock. Selkies, much like Padme, can literally die of a broken heart. It’s the #1 killer of selkies, even taking sharks into consideration. There’s a couple times in the book that Finn is so heartbroken, it’s a good thing that his master still holds his heart or he would have died from how much it hurt.

When it comes to his point of view, though, he has an edge on most humans. Humans can train themselves to fake emotions well enough to pass lie-detector tests, but they have no ability to change the way they smell. So rather than say a character looked a certain way, Finn notices the way they smell, first. There’s only one person in the world he can’t smell well enough to see how they feels, and surprise, it’s not his lover. It’s his sort-of stepmother.

I love Finn’s POV for three reasons. For one, his human part allows him to use magic, but in order to fuel the magic, he needs lots and lots of calories, so he’s hungry all the time. It’s fun to feed Finn because after a decade of eating his master’s scraps, he’s just so grateful for every morsel of food he gets. I watched the trained seals in West Edmonton Mall. The dolphins were doing what they were doing because they enjoyed playing for the most part, but the seals were staring at their trainers to see if what they were doing was enough to get fed yet. That carries over in Finn’s point of view. He worries that Devon feeding him fresh raw fish is going to put him in the poor house.

Secondly, in No Mortal Business, he’s very concerned with his smell. Juveniles, especially young males don’t start to smell musky until after they reach sexual maturity so the alpha seal doesn’t kill them. Finn has never been allowed to develop an adult musk, and he works very hard at creating and maintaining one. He’s absolutely thrilled when Devon likes the new way he smells.

To keep selkie pups safe in general and not just from the alpha male, pups can’t transform into their seal self without their mother’s help until they’re going through puberty. Finn loses his mother when he’s six years old. Part of being a selkie means that their memories don’t fade or disappear, even as very young pups so he can remember his mom as vividly as though she had died last week instead of when he was a child. For the first six years of his life, his mother was the centre of his universe. When she disappears, not only does he not know how to function in the human world, he doesn’t meet another selkie until he’s twenty eight. His sort-of step mother helped in the how to make his pelt and figuring out how his plumbing works.

And that’s because, for my final reason for loving Finn’s POV, selkie sex is…complicated. Selkies aren’t like humans. They mate in a very specific pattern. In a mated pair, there is an internal partner and an external partner. This isn’t to say that all females are internal and all males are external, though. Trans characters exist and though Finn doesn’t know it, there are selkies who just don’t want to connect to anyone.

Most (but not all) females are internal while most (but not all) males are external. Your sexuality (gay or straight) has nothing to do with how you connect, but the percentage of external females and internal males are about at the same percentage as there are gay people in this world. But there are straight and gay internal males and straight and gay external females. The rarest in both genders are external straight females and internal gay males, which means if you’re an internal straight or an external gay male, you’re pretty much screwed, only not literally.

The good news is humans are plug and play. They can connect to any kind of seal. While any children the pair might have is not going to be able to turn into a selkie (except for Finn…Finn’s entirely his own category) if a selkie gives his heart to a human, the human ages at the same rate as the selkie, who can live up to 500 years if they aren’t eaten by a shark or get their hearts broken. Finn was tricked out of his heart when he was just eighteen, but for reasons that don’t need to explored at this juncture, he gave away his heart but got to keep his love for Devon. Most selkies are physiologically forced to love the one who possesses their heart, even if it was given up by hook or by crook.

Finn gave it up by crook, but the series is about his struggle to get it back. It took multiple, multiple drafts to rewrite their story, going back to the drawing board at least three times. But that’s also another story.

Finishing projects

I’m ten pages to the end of Book two of the Tempest. Last year was an incredibly productive year, but this year has been lost to rewrites. It’s a different kind of creativity. Rather than limitless possibilities where I could throw in a frost giant or two if I got bored, I had to make what was actually on the page be as interesting as possible.

Before I started selling stuff, I didn’t really put much energy into the rewrite process. I got some great critiques, but if it wasn’t glowing, I wasn’t great at taking constructive criticism. 

I didn’t really start selling until I moved away and had to leave my writing group, so I lost the constant feedback. My writing evolved. Someone had told me once, “There is no description, there is only POV” and I realized that there is nothing but point of view. Filtering everything through your main character’s point of view changed everything for me. 

But it basically made editing impossible. When the POV changes on the rewrite, it means that everything has to change from the sentence level. Editing becomes rewriting.

I usually feel a little depressed coming to the end of the story, but No Mortal Business is book two of three. Middlehill takes place over the course of two and a half years over the first four books. The Tempest from Book one to book three takes place over two weeks. Each story has a clear beginning, middle and end, but I don’t have to feel sad that I’m leaving the world. Book three is waiting in my hard drive.