What’s In a Name: Twiggy-what-now?

You guys, keep in mind that I read A LOT when I was younger. I could read because I read. And a lot of stories for kids are about animals, and those animals are always, ALWAYS from Animal Town.

That never made any sense to me! Gorillas are from Gorilla City? Why? I’ve never met a guy from Peopleville. Space puppies were from Planet Puptron. Cats were from Kitopia. Okay that last one’s not bad, but you get (or probably remember) the picture.

So there I was, trying to figure out what to name this troll-like creature I’d sketched during Trigonometry class. He was a forest dweller, and he had these leaf scythes. What should I call him? Twig? Leaferton Oakface? I liked the idea of naming his people the Hedge or Children of Scion. Back then I was real big into my thesaurus. Scion and Hedge were just too good to pass up, like naming a werewolf Remus Lupin and a dog guy Sirius (looking at you JK). And I’ll be honest, that’s clever. Hiding facts and riddles inside of a name. I wanted a piece of that clever pie.

But naming a forest dwelling character Twig would get me laughed straight out of Peopleville.

And then, inspiration:

I must have seen that episode years before, and Bart’s made up word just stayed with me. I love made up words. They’re maybe a little pompitous, but it’s my fantasy and I can write what I want to.

So then:

Twij’e Bo –

Pronounced: Twee-juh Boh

 

And for you wiseacres in the room, no I did not have a crush on a celebrity named Obejiwt.

 

Sincerely,

Shomari

 

Want in on the Brainstorm? Email me: author@sabiensquest.com

What’s In a Name: Ok, is it pronounced Ei Lata’n or Ei Lata’n?

Okay, I get it. Names can be weird, and weird names can be difficult to pronounce. A substitute teacher once asked if my name was Shannon during roll call. So I’m going to treat you to not only the correct way to pronounce Ei Lata’n, I’m going to give you it’s etymology*.

Ei Lata’n

Pronounced: 1) Eh-la-tawn,  OR  2) Ee-la-tawn.

She prefers the first pronunciation. I mispronounce it as the second all the time, so I figured I’d include it. If you’re in her presence and feeling squeamish, just call her Ellie. Trust me, she’ll allow it.

Back when I started writing Sabien’s Quest, I had this smart-mouthed friend named Jacquelyn, but everybody called her Jacquie. When I started writing this story I thought, oh I’m definitely putting Jacquie in there. I even quoted her. As a matter of fact, first draft Ei Lata’n is pretty spot on IRL Jacquie. Once I got to know the fictional character better, her words came through loud and clear and managed to stop borrowing from her IRL model. But I still kept one quote, because it makes me laugh every time she says it.

Now I knew early on that Jacquelyn Ana-liz Slashwind was going to be given a codename, but 007 was already taken.

[crickets]Female 1

Ugh. Ok I’m just gonna come out and say it. I had a HUGE crush on Natalie Portman when I started writing this book. Phantom Menace was still fresh in my mind and I was OB-sessed. I even saw that Where the Heart Is movie she was in. IN THE THEATER.

Shut up.

So anyway, as a way to get Natalie Portman’s attention I decided to name one of my characters after her. That way when this book is turned into a movie, or at least a radio-play, I would be able to declare my obsessions to the world and hopefully get to meet her.

So there you have it: Ei Lata’n is Natalie spelled backwards.

Be honest, how blown is your mind right now?

 *look it up

 

Sincerely,

Shomari

 

Want in on the Brainstorm? Email me: author@sabiensquest.com

Diversity n’ Stuff: OK, maybe it was wrong of me to laugh at LOTR

The other day I posted about Sabien’s appearance and how it kept him in constant danger. During that spiel I mocked the trials of Harry Potter, and Eragon, and the Fellowship. Well mocked is a strong word. The reason I laugh at HP and Eragon and the Fellowship most groups of characters you can think of are because they don’t look real to me.

Wait, wait, let me explain.

The world, my world at least, is mixed up. When I was kid my friends didn’t look like me, because there were plenty of kids around who didn’t look like me. When I was an adult my friends didn’t look like me, because there were plenty of adults around who didn’t look like me. Occasionally, I’m still an adult, but don’t tell anyone.

Because of all the name dropping I did last time, you know I’m a big comic book fan. I’d even go as far as to call myself a comic book nerd. My library as a 7-year-old consisted more of Spider-man than Seuss. I had X-Men trading cards and watched their ‘90s cartoon growing up. Nightcrawler was my favorite, and I still say “..nor iron bars a cage” because of Hank McCoy. As my reading tastes developed I stumbled upon a series by K.A. Applegate called Animorphs at a school book fair. There were kids on the cover changing into animals. I made my parents buy three of them on the spot.original-group

Now, I had just come out of my Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers phase and the Animorphs series was a smooth transition. Why? Well because the MMPR looked like me and my friends. Go ahead and look up the original line-up. I’ll wait.

Got it? Sweet.

Now, costume arrangements aside, MMPR was big deal for me. Like I said, I was reading and watching X-Men and Spider-Man at the time, with some Batman thrown in for good measure. When I decided to stop plagiarizing and just use my imagination, all of my stories revolved around versions of me that got super powers of some sort. And my friends were right there with me.  Unfortunately, if I wanted to visually identify with one of my heroes I’d have to be blue and furry, or not there at all. Until Zach the Black Ranger showed up.

And thanks to Mrs. Rather (3rd grade, Haude Elementary) I was exposed to the fantasy genre. She read The Dark Green Tunnel to our class and I never looked back. Again, this was a story about two kids who were in a new world, and had to hide, but looked just like everyone else. I didn’t immediately see the danger other than they couldn’t defend themselves. I don’t remember reading about any characters in an alternate world that didn’t already fit into the Europa based setting. Now this was of course years before I was introduced to Octavia Butler’s catalogue.

But then came the Animorphs. Rachel, Jake, Tobias, Marco, Cassie, and Aximilli Esgarouth Isthil. They were the best. Saving the world on the weekends from the alien invasion happening right under our noses. And their descriptions (as well as the cover art) reminded me of my friends and the stories I wrote. Girls were friends with boys, and not everyone was from the same family tree. There was even a part where their resident alien, Ax, took each of the other Animorphs’ DNA and created a human form.

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To me that was groundbreaking. In X-Men, if Beast or Nightcrawler gets shot with a human ray, they look just like Peter Parker. In an episode of Gargoyles, another childhood-era favorite, when the Gargoyles, that are purple and red and green and brown, get humanized, they get pale skin.

To me, Applegate with her Animorphs series acknowledged that humans don’t all look the same and aren’t derived from the same palette. It’s a simple truth, but I hadn’t seen much of it at the time. But of course, Star Trek acknowledged it immediately.

My father is a Trekkie. I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation playing in the living room as I went about my evening. Now I’m a Sisko man myself, but I’ve got plenty of love for Picard. And between the two of them, and even with Kirk, they were working with a diverse crew.

Even the Planeteers acknowledged that different faces from different places can save a world.

So there I was, at respective times in my life, seeing the Power Rangers, and the Planeteers, and space station Deep Space 9, and the bridge(s) of the Enterprise, and five kids plus one alien saving worlds.

And then PBS brought it home:

 

 

That’s a clip from PBS’s Puzzle Place. The episode is titled Rip Van Wrinkle, and I won’t fault you for checking out the rest of the series. It’s pretty cool. In that bit the Puzzlers have just read a picture book version of Cinderella and want to act it out in a play. But there aren’t roles for everyone.

I liked my fantasy stories with their magical gateways and mythical creatures (lookin at you werewolves) but there didn’t seem to be any room for me in them. I could get superpowers and save this world, but what about the others? Could I rule over Narnia? Was it allowed? And why can’t dwarves and elves and humans work together? Was their struggle supposed to be commentary on arbitrary differences?miles-morales-1-610x729

I felt there were actual differences with actual consequences that could be commented on as well. I laugh when I’m told Arwyn and Aragorn can’t be together because they’re different. And I chuckle when Harry Potter has to live in the woods to hide when his only distinguishing feature can be covered up with cover-up. I get that they are fantasy stories, but to me that’s unreal.

What if Harry and Ron and Hermione had to find a horcrux in India without detection? What if the Fellowship had to make a detour through Harad?

What if five kids and an alien were being hunted on an alien planet? [See Animorphs: The Attack (#26) for the answer.]

Now, why should science fiction with its lasers and spaceships have all the fun?

I wanted to make my characters’ lives as challenging as they could be. At home, Sabien’s weird looking because he has a hunchback. It gives him a complex. Ska can’t get a date because he looks like a skunk, not a wolf. And then they have to go out into the realm! Not only are they freaks at home, they stand out something fierce just walking through a random city in the kingdom. Maybe a needle can hide in a haystack, but a tree can’t hide in a meadow. So what’s a tree to do when it’s being hunted by lumberjacks and there’s no forest nearby?

 

Sincerely,

Shomari

 

Want in on the Brainstorm? Email me at: author@sabiensquest.com

 

Character Quirks: You Got That Good Hair

Magnificent. Ska. Penelope. What what what(!) is the deal with their hair?

This feels like a short one. Magnificent has tangerine-colored hair. Penelope has purple hair. Ska has a big ol’ white streak running down his otherwise pitch black hair. Why oh why do these folk have such weird hair?

I think it’s pretty. Have you ever seen someone with purple hair? They look awesome! I’ll admit, I thought orange would work well with Maggie’s coloring in my mind, and then when Christina Milian went blonde-orange (blorange?) with her hair, I knew I’d made the right decision.

Ska’s hair is a direct result of his inspiration. I mean you can’t just call a guy Skunkdaddy without being inspired. Don’t you know how nicknames work?

ButchSincerely,

Shomari
Want in on the Brainstorm? Email me at: author@sabiensquest.com

GoodKindles, GoodQuote

Yeah, I know Saturdays are my off day, but my book was added to the GoodKindles site this week. It came along with a pretty nifty quote:

 

“Representation is a big deal to me. I wanted to write a fantasy story for every kid. I never looked like the Pevensies or Harry Potter. I look like one of the Huxtables. My Fellowship of friends was pretty mixed-up looking. That’s why I wrote about Sabien and Ska. I had two big sisters growing up. They looked out for me. I want girls to know that action and adventure aren’t just for boys. That’s why I wrote about Ei Lata’n. And princesses don’t have to sit and wait in a tower. That’s why I wrote Magnificent. I want every kid in this world, boy or girl, to know that there’s a fantasy world out there where they can exist, too.” – Shomari Black, author of Sabien’s Quest

 

Sincerely,

Shomari

Diversity n’ Stuff: Why is Sabien black?

In college, a roommate of mine decided to drop a truth bomb:  he told me that comic books are racist. I laughed. Have you seen Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? How about Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster? Bob Kane? Bill Finger? If you don’t know these names, go ahead and Google ‘em. I’ll wait.

Got em? Sweet.

So “Smilin’” Stan and “King” Kirby created the big guns of the Marvel Universe: Spidey, the Fantastic Four. You name ‘em, they made ‘em. They wrote what they knew (albeit as allegory), and drew what they saw. Batman? Superman? Same deal.  But what about T’challa?

Exactly, Questors!

Now, check out Dwayne McDuffie and his creation Virgil Hawkins. Then look up Miles Morales.

I laughed at my roommate because if you wear glasses, it’s simple to write about someone who wears glasses. Story and plot twists are difficult enough to come up with, why make it even harder by writing about someone you can’t identify with?

(Although overcoming that identification hurdle comes later, and with research, and practice. But I digress…)

When I was 12 and 15 and [insert age here] Sabien was who I saw in the mirror, although his hair was a lot longer than mine. It was easy for me to write a story about a character who looked like me, especially considering the challenge within the story.

And what exactly is the challenge within the story?

Well when I was working on Sabien’s Quest initially, the Lord of the Rings movies were debuting. I’d read The Hobbit mind you but never got into that epic (gasp!). From what I saw of the movie previews regarding these sequel stories, there was some hiding involved, and the characters first stood out, well, because they were short. And Orlando Bloom didn’t want to help because dwarves and humans aren’t elves. And the group of them stood out because they were of mixed races.

I laughed again.princelesspreview03

When I was about halfway through what would become volume 2 of Sabien’s Quest: The Light, I got into Harry Potter and the Eragon series. Ol’ HP stands out because he has a scar on his head that maybe he can hide under his bangs. And Eragon can just disappear in a crowd if city guards are chasing him.

Now I understand that I’m not being fair to these characters within the context of their stories, but I took their situations to heart as I continued my story. You see, Sabien’s challenge within my story is that he is constantly exposed even as he’s hiding. Magnificent is constantly exposed even as she’s hiding. Zatella is constantly exposed even as she’s hiding. He’s a monk wandering the kingdom, minding his own business, but in this kingdom he’s a minority. Most everyone else he comes across has wings, whether they be big and feathered, or small and colorful. Not to mention his skin tone.

There’s no Africa in the Creator’s Realm. There’s Beaujin, there’s Gry’une, and there’s Ferlaa. Sabien has black skin and kinky hair, but he could never be defined as black no more than Frodo or Glinda or Kal-El could be considered white. But because the majority of free folk in the kingdom have pale white skin and wings of various kinds, it’s easy for a demon or a guard to pop into a scene and immediately spot the boy with dark skin and hair. And what’s Sabien to do? Wear a mask and gloves? Because that would really be inconspicuous ;).

So why is Sabien black? He isn’t, he’s just different, because it’s easy for me to tell the story of a boy in search of purpose and incapable of blending in no matter how dangerous the situation.

 

Sincerely,

Shomari

Want in on the Brainstorm? Email me at: author@sabiensquest.com

Come into the Brainstorm

Questors!

Shomari here. I was thinking the other day about just how much I love behind the scenes extras. I’m a big Whovian (well New Who. Nuvian?) and there’s nothing I like more than watching the Doctor Who Confidential bits where Steven Moffat looks straight into the camera and tells you about his favorite scene and where it came from. Or when Neil Gaiman discusses the birth of an idea. Or when Joss Whedon talks about cutting a scene from Serenity that execs thought would be too “Wonder Woman”. I love it. A lot of times people ask me where I got a name (looking at you ,Twij’e Bo), or where a character came from. So in the spirit of trivia and revelation I’m going to spend the next few weeks letting you in on a little behind the scenes action.

Welcome to Behind The Brainstorm!

angry_cloud_by_JaponicaChan

Look out for these categories coming to a Sabien’s Quest blog near you:

  • What’s in a Name?
  • Character Quirks!
  • Diversity ‘n’ Stuff
  • Origin of a Species

 

And if you have any whosit/whatsits that just have to be answered, send me an email at author@sabiensquest.com.