Click here for the first part of this conversation. In this part, we discuss characters.
Where exactly did Syndi-Jean come from? You’ve written in your blog that she’s been with you, in a sense, for a long time.
She was born in my mind back in the mid-90s actually. Her mother was a character I wrote stories about as early as 1983, so, yeah, there’s a lot of history there. An issue that comes up in the books is concerning her father, supposedly a notorious Vietnamese warlord whose connection with Syndi-Jean’s mother is a whole other story by itself. That doesn’t actually come up, but it ties into the idea if a person would be the sum of her DNA or her upbringing, not that Syndi-Jean had a conventional upbringing.
The idea of identity also comes up in the character of Helen… or is it Hank?
It’s Helen if Helen is around, or Hank if Hank is around. That’s how Jeannie ultimately deals with that. In the first book, the gender issue is a momentary problem for her in writing, unsure of who to refer to, but she then settles that reference depending on who she’s facing. Helen is often the one she deals with, so all gender terms lean toward the feminine, until Hank comes out on occasion. I tried to make it clear that she doesn’t treat either differently.
However, the idea is that there is no split personality there, nor any gender confusion. It could be Hank started being Helen as an experiment. At one point, the argument was brought up as to the acceptability of girls dressed as boys but not the contrary. Helen would compare herself to Jeannie, someone who barely likes wearing a dress except on really special occasions. It often irks Jeannie that Helen is far more feminine than she is.
Most of all that was written years before gender identity became a far more talked about issue, but the basis for this Hank/Helen character goes back to an 80s-90s manga/anime, ‘You’re Under Arrest’.
I just figured updating the concept into my story was something I wanted to try, and she became quite an interesting character.
Like when Hank’s in the Dream-world.
Yeah, Syndi-Jean found it odd that the one person who seems so comfortable being a woman in reality was the epitome of manliness in a fantasy world of the mind; Hank the cowboy.
Was there any other agenda with this character?
Aside from adding what I hoped would be an interesting character, there wasn’t really any other message I was trying to create. How she affects Syndi-Jean is key, of course, as how Syndi-Jean affects or is affected by the other characters around here.
Aside from maybe two or three others, you don’t go in depth with describing any of the characters.
I didn’t think it was something very important, as was the issue of their past. Aside for the Japanese siblings, their nationality and culture being key to their interactions with Syndi-Jean, none of the others really needed that. That leaves it to the readers to decide on the characters themselves and how they might identify them. Syndi-Jean is a mix of the East and West, raised half her life in Penang, Malaysia, before joining The Facility. That’s as much as is in the books too. There are mentions of characters coming from India and Thailand and Australia, and by book three, we have another Malaysian in a minor role. Her cousin, Callie, is more American, so not many would imagine these two as relatives.
Add to all that the F.E.P., or more precisely, ‘aliens’.
Well, that’s a secret in the first book and out more in the second.
A foreign exchange program with alien civilisations.
Seemed logical, and the protocols for that was to ensure they could adjust to our atmosphere without too much trouble. And if that was possible, then we would adjust to their atmosphere too, so an exchange made sense.
And making a few of them key to the story? Particularly Becca. She’s practically Syndi-Jean’s partner in crime.
It was more like throwing her into the deep end with the human/alien relations, maybe? You sometimes don’t get who you end up with. With Syndi-Jean bunking at The Facility, it made sense for her to have someone show her around and help her acclimate to the place. Again, it was just a choice to have someone unique and different enough for her to interact with. Someone she would have to work with as well. And she needed a friend.
Ah, yes… her friends. A cross-section of almost typical personalities.
Just because they’re in an advanced environment, some behaviours have to remain familiar too, but to an extent.
Like Carol being a gossip, or John being a bullying ass?
Only at first. John was originally developed to be a romantic interest in the original drafts, but it somehow went some other way. That first little slight he had at her really turned things around and Jeannie pretty much took over from there, not wanting to have anything to do with him.
Doesn’t look that way going past book three tho.
Maybe, or maybe not. Their relationship, what there is of it throughout the three years, was something ultimately interesting to explore. Sometimes in life, these kinds of people can end up being best and true friends simply because they know where they stand with each other.
Feels a bit like Rory and Paris on ‘Gilmore Girls’.
I’m sure there are so many other examples than that.
Sorry, first one that came to mind.
John and Aeryn on ‘Farscape’ might be a better one. She wanted nothing to do with him at first and he weaselled his way in as time went by,
Aside from her friends, Syndi-Jean also has the typical mentor character in Remington.
Was he a typical mentor? He was more her guardian in that place, monitoring her activities and advising. But was he really training her as a mentor would? I thought that role was clearly defined once she got a different counsellor in Year Two.
Yet, he is leading one of her classes.
More like head of a project that she has to report to.
The relationship between Remington and Jeannie was an odd thing, maybe, but that was more due to his relationship with her mother. It was mentioned in the books that he was trying to recruit Jeannie’s mother, but that relationship was something else that was ongoing outside of the books. Looking after Syndi-Jean became a matter of survival.
And is he a psychic as well?
Well, now… he sure has his secrets that even Jeannie didn’t know. If she didn’t know it, she couldn’t write about it.
That was quite a trick too, that she doesn’t write everything despite the title being “The Syndi-Jean Journal”.
The story had to go on even if she wasn’t able to do it on a personal level.
We’ll touch on some of that next time.