Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Q & A: How did you make Nico different from a standard prince-charming character? (and thank you!)

Nico is a character that has gone through a great deal of growth since 1997.  In the beginning, he was a stereotypical prince, perfect in every way right down to his blonde hair.  But perfect is boring.

The Evolution of Nicoveren Aristo Verdian

As a teen, I was lucky to come across How to Write Sci-Fi and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. This volume was my foundation for learning how to write.  The book suggested that the weakest characters in a story are actually the nobility.  They don't have the flexibility to go on adventures and they are always under public scrutiny.

Centernia has always had Castle Aurumice.  I needed to find a way to keep the castle, but tone down the nobility.  I couldn't quite figure out how until I was a college student living at RIT.  I lived five years in the dorms and loved every minute.  I was intrigued by the social dynamics, the arguments and the wonderfully crazy situations that occur when you lived in close quarters with a wildly diverse set of people. Through the years, I reinvented what I saw and twisted it into something new.

What if you had a castle without a clear nobility?  What if leadership could be passed from one person to another?  What if your castle was just a self-sufficient structure without servants, but people with a clear sense of purpose and career?  What unique rituals and unwritten rules guide the inhabitants of this castle?

In Book Two, readers will see the Ceremony of Brightpath.  Everyone born in the castle grows up both attending standard lessons and going through a series of apprenticeships.  At roughly the age of sixteen they're given a choice.  They may take a pile of money and seek fortune elsewhere, or follow a profession of choice within Aurumice.  Even if one takes the money, squanders their fortune, and comes crawling back, the castle still accepts them with open arms, (they just might not have the job they want).

I loved this idea!  A community in which everyone is taken care of.  No worries of food, childcare, eldercare, medical treatment or education.  Everyone has a roof over their heads, everyone shares, it's sort of like a hippy commune but with bicorns and ballrooms.   Life is never perfect, people argue, but when threatened from the outside they fight for their own.

Nico's Place in the Castle

Back to the evolution Nico.   I struggled for a while to figure out how Nico would act in this modified castle environment.  His father was a fighter with bravado and showmanship.  Nico wasn't like that at all, not really caring much for conflict. His mother was a character who still exhibited some monarchial traits, but Nico wouldn't care for formality or tradition.  The more I understood who he wasn't, the more I could understand who he was.  He finds himself as a leader in this scenario, but he doesn't want to lead, and easily passes control to Teren.

Nico is withdrawn but social.  He has an incredibly strong sense of loyalty to the people he cares most about— Teren, Misa, Kaity, Savina and then later, Jessica.  He's a follower, but level-headed enough to tell his friends when they're acting like fools.  In many scenes, he is the moral compass that steers the otherwise indifferent and overzealous personalities that surround him.  When Nico is caught in true crisis you see the influence of his parents, guiding him to lead and fight.

Nico's Mage Strength

For a while, Nico didn't really have any magical abilities.  Teren and Misa had their unique strengths but Nico floated along without anything special.  I began to ponder what if he did have a power, but it was unused.  I started to wonder who would have a magical ability that they willfully ignored? Maybe it was horrible and uncontrollable.  Nico's pure energy powers evolved, as did his foil in alcohol, and his overwhelming sense of guilt.

Once I had more sense of the character, I had to decide what he looked like.  In the beginning, he was essentially Jared, very blonde and attractive, but with a little more cat.  With the need to run away from this princely stereotype I took a step in the opposite direction, giving him dark skin, dark hair, and piercing blue eyes, (the stripes came later).  To this day, I still struggle with drawing a single concrete design for Nico. He has to be just right, and I don't feel like any drawing thus far does him any justice.

Working on the webcomic in 2010, I started creating designs for both Nico and the common spaces he occupied. I knew his private rooms would be filled with books, but I didn't know what else. Teren's chambers were immaculately clean, with evidence of his interests in music and art. Misa's rooms are an amazing unholy hell of earth and Centernia, complete with moldy pie hiding underneath a plethora of unfinished projects.  Nico was somewhere in between the two.

Nico gains Personality

There was a period of time in the late 2000s that I actually hated Nico as a character.  He bored and annoyed me.  I have old notes with my angry writing, 'why does she love him?!!!!'  I didn't want Jessi to fall for Nico because he is the lord of a castle, or because he is heroic.  Jessi needed to love him in a completely normal high school way.

The men I fell in love were always some variation of nerd.  They were insightful people who made me learn something new about the world but also shared my interests.  They were people who appreciated a good story and always wanted to know more about the way the things worked. The more I thought about it, the more I realized Nico had to have these qualities.

For a long time I feared creating a character I would care about. I didn't want people accusing me of basing the primary love interest of Centernia on my husband, (and for the record, Nico is hardly a perfect reflection of my spouse...Jamil writes software for a living and doesn't care much for horseback riding, I'm the one who owns a soldering iron, has a horse barn addiction and loves Home Depot).

I gave Nico the side of me that likes tinkering with things.  As a teen, I took apart toy cars and games just to see how they worked.  I liked to play with wiring and look at schematics.  When Nico started playing with electricity, it revealed an entirely new dimension to the character that I immediately knew was right.  He became independent of the rest of the castlefolk, following in the footsteps of Teren's father.

Nico lives in an old castle with decrepit wiring and rodents constantly making a muck of things. He's a person who is a bit withdrawn.  It seemed like an ideal combination for a homebody who just likes to fix things.  An ideal afternoon for Nico would consist of being wrapped up in some obnoxious technical problem, hands dirty and mind engaged.  He's also the type of person who wants to improve on existing structures.   Jessi arrives and Nico realizes she's a girl from a place where, unlike Centernia, electricity is not only legal, but in abundance.

When Jessi first meets Nico, she is oblivious to the magic and power of earth technology.  As a normal teenager, she takes for granted the everyday things that surround her until Nico brings it to her attention.  He teaches her what he knows and she runs with that knowledge.  This side of Nico was more important to me than any sexual attraction or princely benefits.  Jessica loves him because he is her friend, and like all true friends, they make each other better people.  Together they work on fixing and altering the world around them in a very tangible way.

I believe readers are drawn to Nico for his  human qualities.  If you strip away the cat-like physical features, the castle, and the tormentingly dangerous powers, what are you left with?  You have an awkward, kind, nerdy guy who has dysfunctional parents, but great friends to save him from the drama.  Nico is a reflection of the type of boy many readers already know, (or perhaps already love).  When you add back in the fantasy elements to this essential core, he takes on an exciting level of intrigue, strength and sexuality.  He's the type of person you either want to be or be friends with.

It's taken me over a decade to take Nico's character from cardboard prince to flesh and blood.  Now that he exists, I can't imagine writing him any other way.  I am ecstatic that people notice and resonate with his character.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reader Q & A: Rapidfire responses

Which Centernia characters do you ship?

I don't think the creator is allowed to ship, are they? Otherwise it becomes canon, and what fun is a ship if it becomes insta-canon? I will say I love hearing fan ship-theories.  The castlefolk are not exactly conservative in choosing bedfellows and some of your romance theories may be very true.

Is Malachi a sinari?

No, Malachi is not sinari. The castlefolk follow him easily because he was one of their leaders years ago.  He is charismatic to some and obnoxious to others.  It seems like there is never a grey area with Malachi, you love him or hate him.

How do you find the time to write and keep a full time job?

I work a thirty hour workweek formally and spend the rest of my time freelance illustrating and working on Centernia.   There are many days that the dishes may sit in the sink because the castlefolk are more important.  I don't play video games and I rarely watch tv.  Physical activity is of high value to me and I will run/walk/horseback ride often.  If it's close to a con and I'm creating new prints, my friends don't see me.  Everything is a trade off and every minute of the day can be used or squandered.

Who was the fourth mage involved in the Gate sealing?

This tidbit will be further illuminated in the future.

When is Book Two coming out?

We are still on track for a 2015 release!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Centernia Themes

Digging through the old Centernia archives, we uncovered a few gems created almost ten years ago. As I tend to write to music, it seemed appropriate Centernia have its own theme.  My husband Jamil skillfully composed these for me.

Two versions exist.  One has a softer more natural sound and the other relies more heavily on synthesizers.  Feel free to post in the comments which you prefer.

Centernia Theme: Spirit of the Castle


Centernia Theme: Forever a Guardian


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Creature Feature: Bicorns

The bicorn is one of the most iconic creatures in the land of Centernia.  In the southern lands and coasts of Galbrian they are known as the vishalli. In the east, they are called the demon chasers. They are an intelligent and dangerous creature, but when well-trained, a highly prized companion.

The species originated in the harsh arctic northern lands on the continent of Madierna. Bicorns have many very unique features, making them desirable mounts.  They are muscular and possess a resilient endurance, high intelligence and a wild fearlessness.  A single bicorn can easily cost four times as much as a well-bred horse.

Bicorns are largely omnivorous creatures.  It is believed in times of vegetative scarcity they rooted out grubs and other small dirt-dwelling insects.  Over time, this insect-eating trait grew to encompass larger creatures such as mice and squirrels.  Full-grown adult bicorns have been known to eat prey as large as a rabbit or fish, though mice and grubs are much more typical meal.

The northern lands are full of large predators.  Unlike their herd-mentality horse cousins, bicorns are more independent and just as likely to fight as they are to run.  Both males and females have very sharp horns, hooves and teeth.  Their hide is unusually thick, giving them protection against shallow wounds. When given no other options, an adult bicorn can be a strong match against a wolf or wildcat. In the wild, bicorns tend to travel in mated pairs or trios, increasing their defense against predators.  They are very good at fighting in tandem.

Bicorns have remarkable night-vision, making them surefooted on long trips through darkened forests.  They have powerful muscles, strong endurance, and a superior cunning.  They are not always the most lovable or loyal creatures.  When they do make a bond, they tend to be devoted to a single person.  Bicorns are long-lived with an average lifespan of seventy years, sometimes more in the wild.  They have good memories and little patience for those who annoy them.

There are many breeds of bicorn, the most well-known are the large warhorses drengalli, (colloquially called thunder rams).  These creatures are bulky and surefooted with an obedient temperament. Nico's blue stallion Moontower is a cross between a thunder ram and a common bicorn.

Bicorns are known for their beautiful colors, but this is not a natural occurrence.  Wild bicorns are typically grey.  Hundreds of years ago, a mage known as Graves Wywren altered the species.  Graves was a mage skilled with manipulating the living body on a microscopic level.  Able to see the blueprints of growth, (now known as DNA), Graves was able to change elements on a whim.  Over time, his changes would replicate.  Many of his experiments were disastrous, causing cancers and other deformities. Guilt-ridden for experiments on friends, Graves lived out most of his years on a secluded little farm in the northern lands.

During that time, Graves continued to us his skills to experiment on animals.   He discovered a few of his changes resulted in effects that were not harmful, among those the ability to change skin pigment.

It started with a small green patch on the shoulder of an old, blind stallion named Sunshine. The bold green patch of skin slowly spread across his shoulder as the skin cells replicated.  In a few seasons time, Sunshine was as green as summer grass.

When a traveling merchant spotted the bicorn, he offered Graves a large sum of money for the otherwise infirmed creature.  Graves realized the money could be used as reparation to families he had wronged.

Within two years, Graves' tiny farm was a rainbow collection of dazzling creatures.  Over time, he began experimenting with more than color.  More than one hundred variations of bicorn exist today, some with wings, fur, feathers, venom and other unique traits.  Graves' modifications often proved dominant, creating the remarkable array of bicorns now known through the lands of Centernia.