The Big Idea: Faith Hunter
Posted on February 2, 2016 Posted by John Scalzi 24 Comments
For today’s Big Idea, and for her book Blood in Her Veins, author Faith Hunter gets under the skin of her main character, and reveals why that character is often of two mind about many things.
Big Ideas are exciting and scary and sometimes dangerous. So, of course, I dare, perhaps far too often, in life and in writing. In life, it’s whitewater kayaking. In writing, I dared to create a series about a character who has two souls and two distinct voices.
Mind you, to me, voice is one of the most important things in writing. Together, authorial voice and character voice create and support so many of the other elements of writing—from tone, to atmosphere, to point of view, and even to character development. Two different voices meant two different … everything. Two different character arcs, two different reactions to conflict, two different thought processes, two different worldviews and two points of view. My two voices weren’t even the same species—the character I envisioned was a human with a mountain lion soul intertwined with hers.
My human character is Jane Yellowrock. She’s a Cherokee skinwalker (the version from the oldest pre-European, Eastern Cherokee, storylines). My fictional take on the old tales made her a being able to assume the shape and form of any animal for which she has sufficient genetic material, always keeping in mind the law of conservation of mass/matter and the peculiarities of genetics. This means that Jane’s magic is best suited to creatures of her own size/mass and gender. I like the physics and the genetics of my magic systems to feel internally consistent.
An orphan, raised in a Christian children’s home, with all the guilt, remorse, sexual hang-ups, and self-reproach that come with that, Jane starts out as a hunter of insane vampires—vamps who attack and kill humans. The series opens with her taking a job for the Master of the City of New Orleans, an apex predator blood-sucker with no hang-ups at all.
My mountain lion character is Beast, a contrary, opinionated cat (also an apex predator, like Jane’s new boss), who has very specific likes and dislikes. She loves hunting and a fresh kill, tolerates thawed steak—raw—and hates cooked meat. She loves lying on a rock in the sun, wants to hunt alligator the moment Jane and she arrive in Louisiana, finds vampires enticing, and likes nothing better than for Jane to go on long rides on her Harley, Bitsa, so she can take in the smells and claim territory, even if just temporarily. She also has strong feelings about Jane’s love life and what kind of person Jane should choose as mate. Beast is feisty, determined, and a killer, without the conscience, contrition, or self-reproach of her human-ish host. Even when she’s in human form, Jane can feel/hear Beast’s opinions, and she both battles and embraces them.
The way these two characters came together is revealed over the course of the series, beginning with a mountain lion attack in 1839. Jane was five years old at the time, but in that fight for her life, she accidentally worked black magic. She stole both the body and soul of the puma who attacked her, and inhabited the big-cat body for two hundred years, her magic keeping them alive far longer than the usual life-span of a Puma concolor. When Jane finally became human again, Beast was trapped within her. And those two diverse voices are what, I think, has given the Jane Yellowrock series an original tone and an audience that is still growing.
One of the ways I dealt with the two character voices in the first book, SKINWALKER, was to mention Beast—but not let her speak, as a separate character, until page twenty-six. Even then, Beast was permitted only one word. Hungry. And that, only moments before Jane shifted into her Beast form for the first time on the page.
When I write in Beast’s voice, she’s an animal who perceives the world the way a young cat might. Sounds are more penetrating, scents are heightened and powerful, colors and the intensity of light are totally different. Beast can’t see the color red. Jane can’t see in the dark as well as her Beast. Jane would describe a vampire as too pale, too demanding, too dangerous to the public, and a pain in the butt. Beast would describe the same vamp as tasty, a good choice as mate, and a good hunter of prey. Jane would say that blood is red. Beast would say that blood smells good-to-eat.
But I can never forget that they’re in the same body, experiencing the same things, no matter who is at the forefront of their consciousness, and whether they are in human or cat form. Over the series there has been an organic evolution where Jane becomes more like a mountain lion and Beast becomes more like a human. They’ve been broken and shattered in the same way and have drawn strength from each other. And in those moments where they come together and depend on each other, the two distinct voices I have worked to create swap DNA and become the same voice or a hybrid voice. I must admit, that was something I did not expect!
In the course of the now New York Times bestselling series (the tenth book, Shadow Rites, will be published in April), there’s been an emergence of different camps of my readers. Yes, Beast has her own fans, which pleases her enormously. She also has her own point-of-view stories in my nineteen story collection, Blood in Her Veins, on sale today.
I’ve been writing for many years, under various names, and Jane/Beast is the character, bar none, who challenges the writer in me most. Jane / Beast are unpredictable, demanding, playful, and hunters of prey, each in their way and own voices. They are, for me, the Big Idea.
Blood in Her Veins: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s
Visit the series page. Visit the author’s blog. Follow her on Twitter.
I love Jane Yellowrock. I have the whole series on audio book. :) I can’t wait for the next installment! April is too far away.
LOVE LOVE Jane Yellowrock!! Faith Hunter is a very talented story teller!
I’m always excited to get my own paws on a new Jane story. They never let me down!
I love this series, and all of Faith Hunter’s writing, really. Can’t wait to read the new stories in Blood in Her Veins and revisit old favorites.
And the Big Idea puts another dent into my book budget. I love Jane and Beast, and wish I could remember who originally suggested them to me, so I could thank them again.
I just downloaded “Blood In Her Veins” to my Kindle. If I sit right now, my day and errands are lost. Anticipation at its finest!
I love this series. Not only is it great urban fantasy, it’s a wonderfully woven tale of good vs evil, and a grand adventure. You’ll also find that what’s good and what’s evil isn’t so clear cut, even with vampires.
Love Jane Yellowrock and her Beast! Amazingly coupled! Well done!
Very excited to read this new installment to the Jane/Beast world!
I love Jane and Beast. I wouldn’t say Leo has no hangups but probably none in comparison to Jane. Hmm Beast may be why I have been crushing on Leo lately, when I feel like I don’t trust him so why would I LIKE him? I’m enjoying rereading some of the stories in Blood in Her Veins and having some new ones. Thank you Faith!
I definitely recommend this series. I’ve read all of them and enjoyed them a great deal. I’ll be buying this book today.
I am a huge fan of the Jane Yellowrock series, and I’m reading Blood in Her Veins today, and tring to get housework done, too. Jane is one of the most complex characters I have ever come across. Beast is part of her, but a separate, and very different character. Way cool! I’ve already got the next book pre-ordered. And let me just say this – I do not like vampire fiction.. not at all, and yet… this series is amazing! As long as I have money…I’m going to keep buying every one!
The bottom line to all this is that there are numerous female heroines in PNR/UF these days but there really is no one like Jane, she is a totally unique concept which is something only the best in this genre can say, too many are just slightly different versions of the same nebulous characters sadly.
Can’t say enough good things about Jane, Beast, and Ms. Hunter. Love the series and depth of world building and character development. It’s refreshing to find action packed books that still have time for the main characters to stretch their boundaries and grow. This is one series that hasn’t lost it’s soul (although it may help that Jane has a second soul in the form of Beast…ha!) as the story has progressed over many installments. Can’t wait to read them in order and sink my claws into the new novellas!
I adore this series! Jane and Beast are great together. They are also unique, and they continue to grow and evolve throughout the series. In contrast to many series which get repetitive or stale or outrageous as the series expands, the Jane Yellowrock books jare always fresh and just get better and better! I’ll be reading the new stories in Blood in Her Veins tonight! Then, I’ll reread the previously published stories and Dark Heir, while impatiently awaiting Shadow Rites to be released in April.
Beast is the best and Jane Yellowrock rocks! ♥
I love the interaction between Jane and Beast. Faith Hunter’s writing is tight and every word conveys information. Other writers could learn from her.
Book 1 on reserve at the library. I am very excited ti find a new series to enjoy.
Excited to have all the short stories, and a couple new ones, in one book I can wave at bookish friends to share the addiction. Really hoping I win a copy on this tour.
This is truly one of the best short story compilations I have ever read, and Faith Hunter is in my list of top 5 favorite authors to read. For me, that’s pretty big, because I read A LOT.
I celebrate every time I get a new Jane Yellowrock story! She continues to evolve beautifully as does her ever expanding circle of compatriots.
So excited to see another Jane Yellowrock book!
I love Faith Hunter’s characters Beast/Jane. It is interesting to think about the difficulty of having two souls in one body, and early in the series Beast thinks of Jane as Thief, not as part of herself. I think it echoes those aspects of ourselves that are primitive, that we feel are not-us, that we still have to make peace with in order to grow. In a much more kick ass package, of course. I got my copy of Blood In her Veins today, and I am excited!
I love this series! Jane is a strong female with a protective side and a snarky attitude! I love how she isn’t afraid to do what’s right, and learns from her mistakes.
“Faith Hunter” would make a great title for a novel.