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.

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.

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.

Do you want to keep up to date with me and to receive exclusive, bonus content? Subscribe to my mailing list! Do you have anything to say about long short stories and short novels? Just leave a comment or send me an email!

Digging Deep: The Origins of Revived

One thing writers get asked a lot is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Neil Gaiman wrote a long and articulated answer that, being something written by Neil Gaiman, is worth reading. I, on the other hand, am going to give you a much shorter and simple answer to a much more specific question: how did I get the idea for Revived?

One day, I was reading Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I’m a big Sanderson fan, and while this book may not be among his best – due to the fact that it’s his first published work – it gave me a moment of clarity. For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a short summary of the premise: around the mystical city of Elantris, people have begun turning into bald, gray-skinned creatures that, while being unable to die, retain the ability to feel pain and hunger and can never heal. These Elantrians are exiled into the once-glorious city and treated like lepers. In the book, many people are shown having misconceptions and prejudices about the Elantrians, including the belief that their condition is contagious (it isn’t). In fact, it was a dialogue between two minor character about the nonexistent risk of contagion that made me think: “Elantrians have HIV.” Which was Ernestian mindspeak short for, “The ignorance and prejudice Elantrians are targets of mirror the ignorance and prejudice that target ‘different’ people in the real world.”

sanderson_elantris

If I recall correctly, that’s when I decided to write Revived.

Why did I choose to make it about sentient zombies, though? Because the modern zombie acts as a symbol for many things. It’s a symbol of consumerism, because it devours its prey blindly and without caring. It’s a symbol of antropophobia (fear of people), because it’s essentially a stranger that wants to hurt you for no real reason. It’s a symbol of corruption and disease, because it turns innocent people into something like itself.

Overall, the zombie carries with it a huge load of bad stereotypes. Which make it the perfect protagonist for a story about them.

3483781370_71674763e9_b

Just think about it: if sentient zombies existed in the real world, they would have an obscene amount of bad press. There’s a lot of fiction about zombies as mindless, hunger-driven machines that can and must be killed without remorse. Not to mention their appearance: pale bodies, a shambling gait, open wounds. Oh, and they don’t socialize with “normal” people, because of their eating habits and because “normal” people tend to see them as threats. They would be the perfect target for hate groups, who would probably drop the “normal” in the last sentence and clamor to make Earth human again. It doesn’t sound so far-fetched, does it?

Revived isn’t just a story about discrimination, though. There are a few other themes, including solitude, disability, forgiveness and self-worth. But the discrimination theme is the one that sparkled everything, and I found it while reading Elantris. Without that book, I may have never written Revived. So thank you, Brandon Sanderson. Now, if you could please finish Oathbringer so I can put my greedy fanboy hands on it, that would be great.

Credits: Cover of Elantris by Stephan Martiniere; “Take me to the zombies” by Esparta Palma