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.

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