Digging Deep: Who is Violet Sharpe? Part 1: Her Name

If you went as far as reading the blurb, you will know that Violet Sharpe is the protagonist of Revived. But who is she, and how did she come to life – so to speak? In this series of posts, I’ll talk about the genesis of the character and what I like and dislike about her as a person (that’s right: there are things I dislike about the character I created. Those of you who have children may relate).

Note: In these posts I’ll try to avoid mentioning too many specific events from the book, but it’s almost unavoidable for them to contain spoilers. I’d recommend you don’t read them until after you’ve read the novel. On the other hand, if you’re just curios about the origins of a main character among many, please continue reading.

The name

I didn’t chose “Violet Sharpe” at random.

(this saves me from the idiot heap, I guess)

Allow me to confess one tiny little sin: I’ve watched Ultraviolet a dozen times. It’s one of my favorite movies, although I’ll freely admit it’s pretty terrible. But I love the aesthetics, and I love the main character. How can you not love someone who wins a fight against multiple opponents, each one as powerful as she is, because they’re “not as pissed of as” she is? Come on.

Right. Back on track. When I had to find a name for the protagonist, “Violet” was the first one that popped into my mind. Violets are ordinary, non-fancy flowers, and Vi is pretty much an ordinary, non-fancy woman. She has a complex personality, but if you tried to call her “special” or “unique” she would probably tell you off (with a lot more swearing than I just used). Unlike her unfaithful partner, Rose, who’s named after a more precious and sought-after flower, Violet is down-to-earth and strongly, perhaps even harshly, straightforward. That doesn’t mean she’s dull: on the contrary, Vi is a witty person who does a creative job (well, several creative jobs. Freelance work is tough). But she’ll tell you if she doesn’t like you, she’s painfully aware of her budget and she doesn’t really know which fights she should avoid picking up. On the other hand, there’s a kindness to her, and she tends to fight for other people instead of against them. She’s average in many ways, but she’s average good.

Violet as represented by Serena Marina Marenco

Violet’s family name, too, describes her to a certain extent. Vi’s main personality trait is sarcasm; in fact, it was quite fun to make her a walking avatar of snark. From a sharp wit comes the name Sharpe, which incidentally is also the name of a Bernard Cornwell character that I love. But as most things sharp, Vi is also fragile: bend her too much, and she can break. She’s not invincible nor above asking for help. In writing her, I tried to do my best to convey the idea that “strong” doesn’t mean “made of stone”. That even strong people can falter, cry, perhaps even fall due to their own weaknesses. And that they may take some time to get back up.

Oh, and while it’s only mentioned once in the entire book, Violet has a middle name as well. It’s Ellen. That’s because I have a huge debt of gratitude towards two amazing ladies, Ellen Abernathy and Ellen Joyce, whose precious critique and support helped me complete the book. I thought gracing my main character with their own name would be a good way to honor them. They deserve it.

Why do I write fantasy?

Well, technically what I write should be called “speculative fiction”, as fantasy is usually about magic and monsters. But I think the word “fantasy” does a better job of capturing the feeling of what I do, and the traditional fantasy fixation with worldbuilding is something I truly feel mine. Also, it may be just me, but “speculative fiction” kinda feels like the literary equivalent of “significant other”: technically correct, but dry as hell.

Anyway, I could give you a dozen answers to the title question. I won’t, because a) I’m lazy as hell, and b) because my answer was already kindly provided by someone else. I’m talking about R.A. Salvatore, who in the preface to the Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction wrote:

The trappings of a fantasy setting allow me to walk the hero’s journey, physically and spiritually, to examine the role of a god or gods without tapping the prejudices of real religions, to crystallize the responsibilities to self and community in the face of fantastical danger, and to play with themes of our own world, like racism and sexism, in a safe enough environment to allow both the reader and this writer to let down our natural defensiveness regarding our own foibles and look at the issues honestly.

This, more than anything, is the reason I chose to write fantasy. Note that none of what Salvatore says makes fantasy an easy genre to write; on the contrary. Writing a good story without the ability to “lean” on the real world can be as challenging as doing the research necessary to write historical fiction. The theme of a fantasy story might be universal, but the content is not, and the risk of producing something that’s unoriginal or naive is very high. But, hey, nobody ever said that writing is easy, right? Right.


Digging Deep: The Choice of the Language

This may sound weird, but you may have noticed that Revived, just like this post and the rest of the website, is written in American English. Nothing strange about that, uh? Lots of people speak American English. If you’re reading this post, chances are that you have a passing understanding of it, too.

There was a time, though, when I did not, because I wasn’t born in a country where American English (or any other kind of English) is the official or primary language. I am an Italian author born and living in Italy (surprise surprise! Well, not really). Some people may therefore wonder: “What made you decide to write this book in English?”

(actually, it was Glynnis Campbell who asked this question. Blame it on her)

Sit down, folks. This is going to be a long post.

There are several reasons for which I wrote Revived in English. The first one was a challenge to myself. The novel wasn’t my first published work in English: well before I began writing it, I had sold a few short stories to online magazines or publishers. However, I had never thought I could really write an actual novel in English. That’s one of the reasons I had started Revived with the intention of writing a short story. Then things got out of hand, as you already know if you’ve read that post. And it suddenly became important that I finished writing my first long work in English. You know those moments when you’re like “I don’t wanna get old and think ‘Why didn’t I do that when I still could?'”? It was like that.

Of perhaps that wasn’t actually the first reason. After all, as I already told you, I had written other stories before Revived, and they, too, were in English. Chronologically speaking, the first reason was a much simpler one: market size. English had 360,000,000 speakers in 2010; Italian had 59,000,000, or less than 1/6th (Wikipedia numbers, I know, but still). You may see see why I didn’t want to limit myself to the smaller market (although, as you may expect, it’s much harder to be noticed if you write in a language that spawned so many other writers, who are most likely better at their craft than you).

But wait, perhaps even that wasn’t the first reason. After all, if my only issue was market size, I should have gone for Mandarin instead of English. Or maybe Spanish. Perhaps the reason is different. I have begun reading stuff in English as a kid, when I first started gaming and roleplaying; a lot of my favorite material wasn’t available in Italian, so I had to find a way past the language barrier. I remember playing Diablo without really knowing what was going on beyond what was written in the manual (the only translated part of the game), slowing picking up a few things as I went; a few years later, I had decided that I loved a roleplaying game called GURPS, and since there was no Italian translation of the latest edition, I used to read the manuals with a dictionary at hand. Later came fiction, in the form of a few books that are still among my favorites: The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and Storm Front by Jim Butcher. But before that there were more videogames, Warhammer army books (I plead guilty), a few comic books and such. English has always been the language of magic and wonder for me, of fantasy and adventure, of everything special and amazing. I couldn’t think of a better language to write in: it’s so versatile and flexible, so precise and yet so vague, so technical and so poetic. Is it so strange that I chose it as my writing langue?

(also, how many other languages allow you to take “Something’s Something”, “Someone’s Something” or even “Something something” and call it a title?)

You know, perhaps there wasn’t one reason behind my choice of American English as the language of Revived. Perhaps there were several, and they were all important. Perhaps that’s your answer. Yes, I think that may be the case.

Oh, wait, you wanted to know why I chose American English? Too bad. I’ll never tell.

A Review for Revived!

Hooray! Revived was reviewed by Jasmine of Jazzy Book Reviews, who gave it an excellent rating of four (I kid you not!) undead thumbs up! You can find Jasmine’s review here. Here are some of my favorite bits:

Revived is a fun, sort of snarky horror story that takes traditional zombie lore and throws it out the window.

Character-wise, Vi is a likeable person. She’s a bit of a smart-ass, and occasionally her temper does get the best of her. But all in all, she’s a fun character. I really enjoyed the story because of her.

Every single person in the story gives you a reason to either love them or hate them.

If you’re looking for something different and not-so-traditional in the zombie/horror genre, look no further than Revived

Thank you so much, Jazzy!

Digging Deep: How Revived Became a Novel

It’s easy for writers to forget when to stop. It happens all the time: we begin something and we just keep adding to it, even after the novelette we had planned has already become longer than most full-sized novels. We feel like we have to put that character in, and of course that means we have to write a few scenes for them. Or maybe we love a certain plotline, even though it’s not really that relevant to the main story. Or we’re just verbose.

It’s much rarer for a writer to stop when they should be going, but it happens. Sometimes. It definitely happened to me when I was writing Revived. Back in the day, I was trying to enter the short stories market, and that’s what Revived was supposed to be: a short story, no more than 7.500 words long (I had a market on my mind, and they wouldn’t accept anything longer than that). And of course, being just an apprentice writer, I did what every inexperienced writer in history must have done at least once: I made up a bogus ending and stuck it in the story.

Lucky enough, I was (and still am) in a Google+ critique group that just didn’t let it pass. The critique I received made me realize the theme of the story was too complex to express is in 7.500 words or less, and that the ending was crap. More than that, though, a few people told me they wanted to read more of the story. They wanted me to go deeper, to explore the world I had created and dig out something tasty. So I went on writing.

I wasn’t flying completely blind, of course. While I didn’t have the ending of the story in mind until I got close to it, I already had some scenes. And more came out naturally as the story evolved in my mind. I’m not a great outliner, so I just let the story flow until I realized it had to end somehow, else I would just keep writing forever. So I thought about the most natural way to end Revived, and end it I did. Just when a story that was too short was about to turn into a story that was too long.

However, I found out that the ending of Revived was merely the ending of Violet’s story. There were several other characters I (and the beta readers) wanted to know more about, so there might be sequels 😉 But in the meantime, let me tell you I was happy to be able to give the book the ending it deserved. And I’m grateful I listened to those people in the critique group who told me to keep on writing. Without their help, Revived would have remained a short story with a crappy ending instead of a novel with a hopefully not-so-crappy one.

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Why I Chose Not to Use DRM

When I published Revived, I was given the choice of either using Digital Rights Management software (“DRM” in short) or not. Before we go any further, some of you may want to know what DRM is. According to Wikipedia,

Digital rights management (DRM) schemes are various access control technologies that are used to restrict usage of proprietary hardware and copyrighted works. DRM technologies try to control the use, modification, and distribution of copyrighted works (such as software and multimedia content), as well as systems within devices that enforce these policies

When I was given the choice, I immediately and without doubt opted for not using DRM. If you want to know the reasons behind my choice, keep reading.

As a reader/gamer, I’ve always been contrary to DRM. To put it bluntly, DRM seems to be tailor-made to piss of legitimate buyers. The very principle it’s based on is wrong: DRM limits your enjoyment of a product because someonesomewhere, may choose to distribute it illegally. This merely hypothetical situation is used as an excuse to limit a series of established consumer rights; such as the right to lend the book you purchased to a friend, which can be easily and legally done with a physical book – that, incidentally, is much more expensive to produce than an ebook – without anyone crying havoc. Or the right to move the book you purchased from one place to another, which is impossible if you bought a DRM-protected ebook on Amazon and later want to switch to a Kobo e-reader (or vice versa). Or the right to keep reading the ebook you purchased after the DRM it’s protected by falls out of use, meaning that newer devices won’t support it, meaning that it will be unusable. All of these rights disappear because of the possibility that someone may pirate the book. Does it sound fair to you?

Some DRM may also be actually detrimental to the user experience. This happens most of the time with videogames, with known cases of lower performances or games made actually unplayable by bugged DRM. However, there are reported cases of ebook DRM making ebooks impossible to read. Note that these issues do not affect those who downloaded pirate copies, which creates an absurd situation: legitimate buyers find themselves with a product that’s inferior to the one they could have downloaded from the Internet for free. Seriously?

As if all that wasn’t enough, DRM has one more, big issue: it doesn’t work.

That’s right: the software that’s supposed to protect books, games, music and whatever from being copied and freely distributed is simply irrelevant. Just look through any website that offers pirate ebooks for free. How many of those books were originally protected by DRM? Probably most of them. And yet, it didn’t make any difference. It takes around 2 minutes for a tech-savy person to remove the protection from an ebook (or a dozen of them) and upload it on the Internet. The moment someone buys an ebook from, say, Amazon, they are given both the code (the protected ebook) and the key to the code (their e-reading device). From there, it’s quite simple to unlock the ebook and make it DRM-free. Might as well avoid using DRM from the start.

To sum it up: DRM is both useless and harmful to business. Why should I screw myself up by using it?

P.S. Before someone accuses me of being a… what’s the latest fad? “Liberal snowflake”? let me tell you something: I fully support author rights. I believe that anyone who creates something should have the chance to make a profit out of it. But that doesn’t mean I will stand for readers being treated like garbage. I am in favor of a DRM-free publishing world because I want people to be encouraged to buy ebooks. Because I don’t want readers to feel like idiots after they paid money for something that’s available – albeit illegally – for free and in a better form. If downloading pirate books is wrong, then tempting people to do so is worse than wrong. And I will not stand for that.

Credits: Ubisof_DRM by Colony of Gamers