And welcome to week 3 of the Seventh Valkyrie read along and director’s commentary, accompanying the launch of A Slanted Reflection.
You can watch the video version of this blog above. I go into quite a bit more detail in the video.
As always, gonna go over the format again. New readers beware! I’ll be going over spoilers like nobody’s business, and giving you the inside look behind the scenes of A Slanted Reflection. Fun if you’ve read the chapters! Less fun if you haven’t. So there’s my warning!
For this week though, we’re looking at Chapter 6, Chapter 7, and Chapter 8
Chapter 6 — A Caged Hound
Still Just A Human
We open this chapter with Val very much still recovering from his wounds (and likely to be less than full strength for a hot minute) after the confrontation. The persistence of little bumps, bruises, cuts, wounds, scars, etc. are something I like to make sure I keep track of whenever possible, which is a pet peeve I didn’t know I had from movies and TV before I got on some professional wrestling forums and heard about a concept called “selling”.
You see, “selling” as a concept in pro-wrestling is how you make the fights and events feel real. When someone works the leg, you limp. When someone works the arm, maybe you struggle to lift someone. When someone smashes your head with a chair, you fake a cut so that there’s blood (or you just actually cut yourself). Which makes sense. If you’ve ever seen how absolutely wrecked pro fighters are after like a UFC match, then just look a few up.
When you help your characters “sell”, it makes the threat that they’re overcoming seem worth overcoming, and it also makes them look even tougher. The opposite effect is called “no-selling”, which can be valuable if you want to show a vast power differential between someone and someone they’re fighting. But if no one takes damage, no one gets hurt, and there are no lasting effects to a fight, it just feels like action figures bumping together.
Every once in a while you come up on a character that is just fun to write. Sometimes you come up on a character that are an absolute thrill to voice. Rat was both. Not sure what exactly it is about that slicked back grease rat that makes me love him so darn much, but slipping into his accent and getting to mess around with Val is a hoot. Maybe I’ll make a buddy-cop spinoff with them at some point in the future.
Through Rat, we also get to see the first touch of the Machine King’s influence. A ghost in the shadows, but Val is slowly getting closer.
Not Friends, Not By A Long Shot
The dynamic between law and lawlessness is a big undercurrent in Edara. Earlier, BC talks a bit about how most freelanders have already well accepted that they’re just going to live beyond the Edaran laws, and combined with the fact that Edara is essentially a dominant, homogenous ethno-state, those racial conflicts are pretty much codified into their law.
That also creates an interesting dynamic between military, civlians, and prisoners of different races. In the cells, there’s definitely animosity towards the Edaran military, but it’s more of a gray area for Edaran prisoners. After all, most of them still feel like they’re above the freelanders, despite the fact that they’ve stepped outside of the boundaries that supposedly separate “good” Edarans from the “savage, unpredictable” freelanders. An interesting cognitive dissonance.
One of the things I really wanted to make a point of doing in this series was having some really badass, well-developed female characters. Not something you always see a ton of in fantasy, and I think the ones that have believably strong and interesting female characters always benefit from it. Also, it’s a challenging and fulfilling exercise to try to work beyond your own tendencies, experiences, habits, and biases to try to live life through another lens and find the same fulfillment as through characters similar to you.
No claims that she, or really any character with a different gender, race analogue, sexuality, or religious structure, because of course anything written from an outside perspective is going to be incomplete, but it’s something I strive for.
What Would Jesus Do?
And finally we come to one of the central twists to Val as the “returning exiled war hero”. No one freakin’ believes him! Now, this isn’t a totally new idea — I can think of Braveheart, parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and a few other movies and shows that played with the idea of someone not being believed when they’re a legendary figure — but I wanted to really dive deep and explore this one within a religious undercurrent.
So one of the things I like to ask is, “what if Jesus came back right now, but most people didn’t believe him or thought he was crazy?”
If he didn’t have any miracles or presence of the Holy Spirit to back him up, I think he’d get judged as everything from crazy to dangerously subversive at first, and that’s exactly the rap that Val gets. And only time will tell if he has it in him to rise to the challenge again.
Chapter 7 — Blackout
A Deep Dive into A Pit Party
There’s a joke here that my college buddies will get. Howdy boys. I’ll give you a minute to figure out why the header of this section: “A Deep Dive Into A Pit Party” should make absolutely certain that you get the joke.
Alright anyway, this chapter we get to see into the ins and outs of a Pit Party, and as it turns out, the people who work behind the scenes are having a much better time than the customers. My brief experience as a camp counselor, a bartender, and in the service industry have shown me that when the people behind the scenes get to party, they let. It. out. There’s just this anticipation of being surrounded and involved but having to be controlled and responsible that multiplies that eventual release.
And like everything else, that’s turned up to 11 in the Pit. Flare, a theater of decadence, is the best spot for this.
Why Can’t We Be (More Than) Friends
One thing that I feel like fantasy can get wrong sometime is the veritable palette (a spectrum if you will) of different preferences, sexualities, and personalities that people can have. Which is funny. You’d think in an incredibly vibrant world that’s been so thoughtfully imagined, you’d see more vibrance of different people, but I often find it to be different.
You can, of course, imagine how shocked I was when slowly encountering the real world after being a fantasy bookworm for ages. A little touch of New Orleans, a little touch of Atlanta, a little touch of Tamarindo, a little touch of Europe, and a few dances with substance and you see that things are far more complicated than you could ever capture.
I try to add a little bit of that rawness to the series. People are weird! People are freaky! People are sexy and horrifying! And when people are on drugs, they get realllllllll weird. In a funny, beautiful way.
The Dark Side of the Pit
And just like there are some wonderful sides of drugs and decadence, there are also some real dark sides to this place. People get lost in the Pit, just give up on life. People die at Pit Parties and no one really gives a fuck. BC is a badass, but she’s also a functioning alcoholic, habitually, emotionally, and chemically addicted to her smokes, and very quickly falling apart. These are hardened criminals and killers, and broken people all coming together and sharing a collective illusion of joy that other people get to experience once in a while and leave.
BC is clearly running away from the Machine King, and as she blacks out he’s there, and we see this combination of color and chaos reign in the late hours. Everyone’s out there in a feeling of free love and community, very hippie-esque, and in the middle of this some mercenaries show up and try to rape a girl. And BC just straight up murders them, in a very brutal way, and starts a brawl that is only narrowly avoided turning into way more death by the owners.
This is not an imaginary wonderland. We and BC are reminded of that all too harshly.
Something Borrowed, Something Booty Booty Booty Bop Bop Bop
A little side note on some of the characters in this chapter, and some of their homages. I voiced Klay just as I was finishing up Tiger King, so if you noticed his voice sounded an awful lot like Joe Exotic you were right.
Freedia, the flamboyant owner of Flare, is an homage to the absolute QUEEN of Bounce, Big Freedia. A New Orleans icon so powerful of presence she couldn’t possibly be anyone else. Everyone should listen to some Big Freedia today.
And the Jackal just sort of came to me. I kind of picture him played by Mahershala Ali, but with Morpheus glasses on. Very refined, and elegant, a contrast to the bloody business he deals in.
May and BC
Now this was another part of the chapter that took a few iterations to get totally right. The relationship with BC, how intense BC’s response to May would be, how intense May’s response to BC would be, how the history went, how much each of them knew — they were all factors that I had to consider and make sure went right to make this feel organic and real. Let the simulation run about 6 times before I got to a version I liked.
It’s funny how much blurry backstory becomes incredibly concrete for the necessity of a single scene. I like to keep things sort of general, so I can write moments that feel right, but every once in a while something will happen in a scene and I just go “oh shit. Well, looks like I need to invent a new sport.” Not telling which details here were an example of that though. 😉
Chapter 8 — The Gears Turn
Edda and Rowan
I’m a dog person (although slowly being convinced about cats because of my little cutie Stardust), and Edda and Rowan are super fun to write. I imagine a hybrid between german shepherds and big honkin’ wolves, with Edda the slightly smarter, gentler tracker and Rowan the bigger, more troublemaking, fighter and killer. Both of them have the same wide range of skills though, and did you know that some dogs can learn upwards of 250 commands? And I’ve only written like 14 so far!
The Moments of Weakness
Vulnerability is what makes us human, and even Val is not immune to this. Tired, injured, torn from sleep, caged, surrounded by his longtime enemy, seemingly outsmarted by the Machine King, and with his own nation seemingly against him, like any of us Val has a moment of doubt.
What makes Val a hero isn’t that he’s not ever afraid, or that he never gets hurt, or that he never loses. It’s the sheer will that drives him to overcome that makes him a hero.
And all it takes is that little spark, that little reminder of who he’s here defending, what he’s fighting for (even if it’s cast him out), to send the fire burning in Val again.
Escape from the New City
One of the ways I like to think about writing the Seventh Valkyrie is like I’m going sledding. There’s a lot of choosing the right clothes, polishing the sled, making sure I pick out the right hill, making sure I get there safely, hiking up the hill, and then preparing.
But then, you push off, and from there you just sink in and enjoy the ride. All of the setup, all of the ideas, all of the pieces just move.
That’s what scenes like this are. They’re releases of tension. 8 Chapters have built up to this set piece, and then everything is in place to just throw your hands up and slide down the hill.
Now it is interesting, because on occasion I need something set up — like for example, I need someone talented in waverunning for the getaway — that makes me change up something like six chapters before. It’d be like going down the hill and remembering you forgot your shoes. But that’s the fun thing about writing and the fun thing about metaphors. You can just kinda play around until you get it right.
See You Next Week!
You can leave a comment here and I’ll make sure to answer it next week! In the meantime, make sure that you’ve listened to or read:
Chapter 9 — Among the Twisting Streets
Chapter 10 — The Awakening Hunger
Chapter 11 — A Strange Presence
By next week!
In the meantime, stay safe, and in the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.