Oxen and Sociopaths: Writing Endurance
By Jay Lake
Green is one of my favorites of my own characters. She’s strong, fiercely independent to the point of being annoyingly pig-head, and very much her own woman. When I wrote the first volume of her story for Tor, Green, I was still introducing myself to this extraordinary young lady, and she was introducing herself to me.
As it happens, we’ve gotten along famously since. Her second volume, Endurance, is out from Tor this November, and I’ve just turned in the third, Kalimpura, for publication in late 2012. Green has had a lot to say, and Tor has been very kind to give me space in which to say it.
Writing Endurance was a lot of fun, but there’s two stories in particular I want to share. One is something that happened between writing Green and Endurance. I was working on a novelette called “Coming For Green”, about Samma, Green’s fellow Lily Blade aspirant back at the Temple of the Silver Lily in Kalimpura. After Green’s exile from Kalimpura, the temple had sent Samma out in an unsuccessful effort to call Green back to the city. Samma had sailed into a small Bhopuri coastal town when another character observed, through my typing fingers, that from the lack of smoke or screaming, Green was likely not present.
I literally stopped and stared at the words on my screen. The story had surprised me. Because, from the point of view of anyone who isn’t Green herself, my beloved character is a homicidal lunatic. I’d written Green from very deep within her point of view, and never thought about her from the outside that way. Green has reasons for everything she does, good reasons. But if you’re an innocent bystander, she’s awfully dangerous to be around. She’s a trouble magnet, and when people mess with her, my home girl always escalates. Walking away from a fight really isn’t in her vocabulary.
But I’d never understood how she looked from the outside. This little epiphany made writing Endurance something of a challenge because I kept second-guessing Green, kept second-guessing myself. The absolute, narrow-eyed certainty of the first book was gone. What I finally grokked was that Green in that book is also experiencing the first wash of self-doubt and questioning that comes at a certain phase of teen-aged life. She was having angst! Or at least the angst I was having, I could blame on her.
So weird, when one’s view of one’s own work can be so utterly shifted in a moment.
The other story I wanted to touch on is very brief indeed, and it concerns Endurance, both the ox at the beginning of Green and the ox-god at the end of Green. Green’s relationship with the ox as she played in her father’s fields is modeled a bit on my younger brother’s relationship with an ox that grazed in a field near our house in Taipei, Taiwan, when we lived there as children in the early 1970s.
This was a large brown and black ox. (Endurance is white, which is fine with me as I always carry an artistic license when plundering my own life experiences for story bits.) He was tied up in a field across the street most days. Like most oxen, he was preternaturally patient. Our amah would take my brother out for a walk every day (he was a bit less than two years old at this point), and they would tarry a while as my brother talked to the ox. Or “ock”, as he pronounced it then. The ox would simply watch him with liquid-eyed calm, which always seemed to imply a certain listening wisdom.
My little brother with the ox is an image that has always remained with me, and I finally got to use it in Green. Then I got to name an entire book after the ox modeled on my brother’s ox of long ago. So it is that story images transit from real life to the pages of a book, from the other side of the world and across intervening decades.
I hope you enjoy reading Endurance as much as I enjoyed writing it. Green has more adventures in her, but she wouldn’t be here without the help of Tor and the interest of you, the readers.
From the Tor/Forge November newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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