Monday, February 8, 2016

Beautiful People: In Which We Pretend I Have An Ounce of Romance in My Soul (and Interview My Characters)

For clarification: I believe I have claimed to have exactly 2.5 ounces of romance in my soul. 

That's a reasonable estimate. I have felt palpitations of the heart (when I see tiny baby creatures - or a really cool pair of shoes), and I sometimes feel lightheaded when I see an expertly crafted piece of art (whether it's a hand forged knife or a Monet). I will even admit to swooning over babies or particularly amazing voices (Hong Kwang-ho, I'm looking at you). But to sort of paraphrase a fictional character I can relate to, "Romance is, tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me."*



What's the point of this monologue, you ask? (Since you came here to read about my writing, not about me, I get it). Well, it's February, so the Beautiful People is, *you guessed it,* "Valentine's Edition." (Beautiful People is the Monthly Writing Meme hosted by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. To participate, click here.)

Anyhow, I love BP and really wanted to participate, so instead of digging up one of my unedited manuscripts with a romance,** I decided to go hunting one down in one of my WIP's.

Ironically, my NaNo from last year, The Butler Did It, starts off because of a bad romantic connection (the heroine's, to be precise). But for 5.7 thousand reasons, her story is about the polar opposite of romantic. So instead, I decided to interview a pair of sensational side characters who *official statement* "have nothing going on between them")

Confused? You can read more about The Butler Did It right here. And here's a tongue-in-cheek synopsis:

Ernestine Grey thought her life would be perfect when she disguised as a boy and ran away to the Citadel with her one true love, Lord Atlantis de Carrefour. But when Atlantis is (inconveniently) brutally murdered, Ernestine finds herself adrift in a world of manners, monsters, money, and under the thumb of Atlantis' unpredictable sister Sif. And what does the sinister yet efficient butler, Sydney Smith, have to do with everything?
Set in an alternate history where the continents never divided, and the outside world is overrun with monsters, The Butler Did It is currently a murder mystery that terribly subverts Cinderella and Victorian romances.
I didn't finish this project for NaNo, but I did make a good start. If I'm going to finish it (I intend to), I need to get to know every character and their motivations thoroughly. This is especially important as TBDI is trying to walk the line between absurd and authentic.

Today, I'm going to interview Sydney Smith (not his real name, exactly) and Pasifica de Carrefour (Sif). Since TBDI is in (MC) Ernestine's first-person perspective, I thought it would be fun to get more of the story from her more flamboyant companions' point of view, savvy?

Before we start - pictures and character descriptions! I actually managed to find some pics that looked like just what I was picturing for each of them (if you've never tried, then you don't know how difficult this is!!)
Sydney, in the flesh (actually it's Shota Matsuda, but whatever)

And his character description pilfered from a previous BP: 

Sydney Smith (?), Butler (?)- He is surprisingly young and scary. His spectacles seem to reflect rays of light into your soul. And he's so efficient, condescending, and capable that Ernestine sort-of hates him. However, his past is apparently linked in interesting ways to the de Carrefours, and Ernestine is determined to get to the bottom of it.

I picture Sif as having this dark , silent-film vibe (and looking a lot like Maude Fealy^)

Second pilfered description:

Pasifica (Sif) de Carrefour - Atlantis' scandalous and "wild" sister. She seems to be more irritated that her brother's murder put her in mourning seclusion than that he was murdered. She has a surprisingly crafty brain, and she daydreams about exploring lethal jungles and reporting her findings back to the Citadel.

And now, please humor me as I ask them these questions and "let"them answer for themselves.***


-Lady De Carrefour is a tall, imposing young woman with an inappropriately direct gaze. Though she is garbed toe to fingertips in impeccable mourning black, and quietly seated on the settee, something about her seems wild.
-Standing ramrod straight, somewhat to her left (the closest patch of shadow), is a pale, slim young man who appears to be of East Asian descent. Despite his youth, he's sporting a pair of spectacles that obscure his eyes and make his impassable face even harder to read. Based on his neat black suit and white gloves, he's probably a butler. He was introduced to you as "Mr. Smith," with no first name or title, so this seems a safe conclusion.
-R - Yours Truly, and my description is unnecessary (text in italics)

R-Shuffles notes, clears throat- "Good Afternoon, I hope you don't mind if we ask you two a few questions?"


Sif raises a brow, "I assumed that's why we're here?" Her tone is haughty, removed. Not very encouraging.


1. R-Clears throat again - "How did you first meet each other?"


Sif fans herself with an ebony-handled fan that has a pattern of skulls burned into it. "We met as children. Old Master Smith got himself a child in East Asia."

Sydney makes an intriguing, strangled sound, and Sif waves a hand. "Mr. Smith, you're part of this, did you wish to add something?"

"My mother was a diplomat," his voice is soft and low, so I have to lean in to hear. "She couldn't leave, and my father was the Head Butler to the de Carrefour house. He returned to the Citadel when I was young, and my mother remained behind. But they were married, and there was nothing untoward." His lip twists a bit, in scorn, perhaps?

2. I decide to address the next question to him first, "Mr. Smith, what was your first impression of her ladyship?"

Sif snorts (very unladylike), "Tell the truth, please. It won't leave this room."

Sydney shifts from foot to foot. It's the first unnecessary motion I've seen him make. "If my lady insists," there's a waspish hint to his voice now. "I thought she was a spoiled, wealthy brat. Like every other aristocratic child I had met. Rude, ill-bred, and too inclined to speaking her mind."

"What?" Sif's outraged shriek makes me jump. She finally turns to look at Sydney. "Excuse me?"
Sydney bows, but not before I catch the hint of a smirk, "You asked me to be frank."

"Not that frank,"mutters Sif, her cheeks flushing a bit. "Well, I suppose that's fair, if it's never leaving this room. It didn't even happen. And since none of this is happening, I want to you to come sit beside me, where I can see your face as you insult me."

Sydney sighs, "Due to our difference in station--"

Sif cuts him off, "Never leaving this room. As your superior in rank, breeding, privilege, position, etc, etc., I command you to come sit where I can see you."

Mr. Smith sighs heavily, but he comes round the settee and seats himself a proper foot away from her ladyship. And he refuses to look at her, focusing on me instead.

Sif gives him an irritated scowl, "Well, don't you want to know what I thought of you?"

"Not particularly."

Sif whacks his arm with her fan, and turns to face me. "I thought he was a girl. And once I realized my mistake, I thought he was a prissy, insufferable bore. And far too good at combat for a mere child."

Sydney's fingers clench a bit, but he remains silent.

3. "Well," I say, trying to smooth over the tension, "That seems like an inauspicious beginning. But you're friends now. More than friends, if Atlantis was ever to be believed. Which brings me to my next question - how long have you been a couple?"


Sif goggles at me, her mouth opening and closing soundlessly. Sydney starts, but he seems speechless as well.

Sif finds her voice first, but she sounds strangled, "What? I do not, do not perceive your meaning? Atlantis spread rumors about me? Why would he do that!?"

Sydney snorts now, "Why wouldn't he?"

Sif whacks him with her fan again, "Don't speak ill of the dead! Even if he was a pig, he was my brother!"

Sydney leans forward, clasping his gloved hands together and watching me over his spectacles. His eyes are extremely dark, nearly black, and his hair is inappropriately long for a butler. "Regardless of your source, it's all entirely unfounded. It's impossible for a lady and her butler to even be friends. And despite her lack of manners, my lady's reputation is without reproach. She has never committed the slightest romantic indiscretion, and she has a degree of restraint that her brother would have been wise to emulate." I know I'm not imagining the scorn now, though he is trying to hide it.

4. I decide to drop this line of questioning, but I note that the foot between them has decreased by about half. "How loyal are you to each other? Would you have a falling out over secrets or disagreements?"


Sif flicks her fan open and shut, almost as if she is nervous. "These are ridiculous questions, you know. No relationship is interesting without a few secrets. Otherwise I get bored too easily."

Sydney finally looks at her, and his mouth softens a touch, as if he wants to smile, "I am a butler to the honorable House de Carrefour. I am nothing, if not loyal. To the death."

Sif rolls her eyes. "Really, Sydney. You're so melodramatic. Of course he's loyal, it's the East Asian oath and loyalties and honor nonsense. I, however, am as fickle as the ocean and half as reliable."

"That's only part of the truth,"says Sydney. He drops his voice (as if I can't hear him), "My lady, don't use my first name."

Sif just swats him with the fan again, but this time, he stops it with a single finger.

Sydney continues, ignoring her frown, "I take pride in following the ways of my ancestors, true. But I have other loyalties that take precedence. And don't let her flippant tone fool you, My lady is at least as loyal to her house as I am. But to her ancestors . . ." Sydney steeples his fingers, and his expression is grim, "That depends on her ancestors. As might my loyalty."

Sif's eyes widen, and she goes a bit pale. 

5. I sense that there is an entire subject we are all just glossing over, and in the hope that this interview doesn't turn into a bloodbath, I continue to the next question. "Could stress put you two at odds? And if it came down to it, would you die for each other?"


Sydney's brows raise a hair. "Stress to dying for each other. That's quite a leap. I'd be appalled if my lady would die for a humble butler. And I'd also be appalled if something as commonplace as stress affected my professional or private relationships. That being said, I feel it would be my duty to place myself in harm's way, if my lady were in danger."

"Nonsense, Sif scowls at him, "You know full well that I can take care of myself. I'd be offended if you died for me."

"I didn't say anything about dying," muttered Sydney.

Sif continues to glare at him until he meets her gaze. "Well, I'm glad you don't intend to die yet,"she said at last. "I abhor serving tea, and no one is as efficient as you."

Sydney's lips twitched, "So glad to be appreciated, my lady."

Sif raises the fan, but Sydney grabs her wrist before she can smack him, "If you even try to do that again, I'm going to throw it out the window."

Sif tugs at her arm (not very hard) "How dare you lay a hand on me? And this is my favorite fan. If you touch it I'll cut holes in your shirts."

Sydney shakes his head, "Immaturity does not suit you."

6. I clear my throat, "Instead of squabbling, why don't you list five food or drink quirks that you know about each other. If you can."


Sif blinks at me, as if she had forgotten I was there. "Food . . . quirks?" She wrinkles her nose in thought, "Sydney has a lot of eccentricities. I've had many years to observe them. So I'll go first. He never eats with the other staff, ever. He abhors cold tea - and he takes it personally if we let it go cold. He always prepares tea himself, and never lets anyone else touch it. He is mildly obsessed with tea, and it's the only subject he ever becomes tiresome on. He hates boiled eggs, and steak and kidney pie." Sif leans back, looking self satisfied, "I could keep going for days."

Sydney (still has her by the wrist) clears his throat, "My turn." He looks at me, pointedly, his eyes narrowing over his spectacle frames, "If I'm eccentric, then I'm not half so eccentric as her. She will drink tea, regardless of the temperature, and she thinks nothing of it. She always takes cream and sugar in her tea, even if it ruins the delicacy of the flavor. She eats far more than is proper at parties, and then complains endlessly about being too full. She is overfond of wine and strong spirits, though she is much wiser about them than her late brother. Her favorite food is steak and kidney pie," his mouth curled in disgust at the last one.

Sif elbows him and frowns at me, "Whatever happened to discreet and honorable de Carrefours and all that?"

Sydney tugs her arm, pulling her against him, "What happens in this room, never happened."

Sif keeps her eyes on me, though she is blushing. "All men really are the same."


7. I decide that grinning is a bad idea and continue with a question, "Does anyone disapprove of your relationship?"


Sydney, expressionless and completely deadpan, "What relationship?"

Sif, almost at the same time, "He's the family butler. I'm the lady of the house. How is there anything reproachable about that?"

I note down that they are sitting completely next to each other and holding (gloved) hands.

Sif leans forward, looking suspicious, "You wrote down that Atlantis is full of . . . lies, correct? There is nothing going on here. It would be, practically illegal, not to mention impossible."

8."Yes, duly noted. Next question: what's your ideal date?"


They both look blank. Sif leans back, puzzled. "Day of the week, holiday, what do you mean?"

"No, a date, it's uhm, new slang for a 'romantic outing.'"

Sif's cheeks are burning again, but she looks angry. "Why on earth would we go on a 'romantic outing' if we're a butler and a lady?"

9. I put up my hands, "Hey, I didn't pick the questions! But just pretend, humor me. If you were in a relationship, what do you think would be a fun thing to do together?"


Sydney answers almost before I finish, "A week at the Hidden Sanctuary of the Brothers of Solitude. You have to take a week-long vow of silence, and time is spent in meditation, gardening, calligraphy, tea ceremonies, tending bees, that sort of thing. It's just what my lady needs after her trying last month."

Sif hits him with the fan, and this time she is successful, "No - that sounds like what you want to do. I don't want to go anywhere I can't talk!"

Sydney snatches the fan and tosses it behind the settee. "A place you can't talk sounds wonderful."

"But you still want her to come," I point out, afraid that this is going to derail again. "Lady de Carrefour, do you have a better suggestion?"

Sif freezes, "Monster hunting in the Amazonian wilds? That could be exciting. Or we could disguise as soldiers and explore the Siberian wastes. I love snow."

Sydney rolls his eyes, "I despise snow."

"Then don't come with me!"

Sydney smiles at last. "We aren't going anywhere. This is a pointless exercise in futility."

"Oh, yes,"says Sif, flushing and averting her eyes. "That's right."

Sydney sighs, and then kisses her gloved hand, "If you decided to go to Siberia, I'd have no choice but to follow, unfortunately. Your brother and father are both dead. I'd be highly irresponsible to let you go alone."

I glance from one to the other, "Don't go to Siberia just yet, please. I still have a few more questions."

Sydney looks at me, and I can see irritation behind the spectacles, "Hurry up then. They're tiresome."

10. "I think you've both displayed your personality dynamics - very opposite. And you fight plenty and do not mesh perfectly."


Sif frowns at me, "We're complementary. Like bitter and sweet. And we do not fight a lot."

Sydney snorts again, but he doesn't add anything.

11. "Well," I say, "Then what are your best and worst moments together?" I wisely decide to leave off "as a couple."


Sif shrugs, "None of the moments have been particularly notable. He's the butler."

"Likewise,"says Sydney, "She's Lady de Carrefour. Sometimes she is more reasonable, those are the good times. I suppose the past few months have been, trying."

Sif sighs heavily and leans into his shoulder. "My brother's murder has put a damper on things, and well . . . he was my brother." She looks at her lap.


12. I nod, trying to look understanding, "I see. That is difficult, I'm sure. So where do you see yourselves and your relationship in the next few years?"



Sydney frowns thoughtfully, silent a moment before he replies, "I suppose that one or both of us will probably be dead. Someone targeted Atlantis, there's been a slew of strange murders, the creatures outside the Citadel are proliferating and getting closer, and the earth has been full of tremors. Add Lady de Carrefours insane desire to go adventuring, and I'd give us, three years."

Sif straightens, "Excuse me? With our many skills, I think we could last at least five. Don't be such a wet blanket."

Sydney shakes his head, but he starts to smile, "With the amount of trouble you de Carrefours get into, I don't think that's likely."

Sif rolls her eyes and shoves him rudely, "Speak for yourself. But whatever is this relationship she keeps alluding to? As if we are, or have ever been, anything other than butler and lady." She scowls at me. "There is nothing inappropriate going on, except your bold and scandalous questions, ma'am."

Sydney pokes her, "Don't be rude, Sif."

"Don't use my name in public."

"We're not in public."

I decide to remove myself from the scene, and resist the temptation to peek back in the room after I shut the door. Let them think they can keep their secrets for a little while . . .


So there you have it. I enjoyed letting Sif (and Sydney) finally speak for themselves instead of being filtered through Ernestine (as fun as she is to write). And I feel like I learned a few things about their characters by the end (so this paid off).


What did you think? Would you want to read more about these characters? Should I just swear off Valentine's' Day posts and leave them to the pros? And for the last time, are they actually in a relationship? Sound off in the comments. (And applause if you made it all the way to the end - this is long!)



Footnotes:
*Despite the fact that I am not: handsome, rich, or male. Mr. Darcy and I can relate on a personality level (which is probably why I'm always confused at why most people I know think he's so dreamy, lol)
**I do have some books with romances - even a couple weddings. But as a writer, I tend to gravitate more toward unresolved sexual tension or attraction that's never acted on. You've been warned.
***I wrote this in a dash and only read over it once, so apologies for any roughness :P
I know brother, I know.