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On Retiring One’s Bloody Beloved Characters by Kameron Hurley

On Retiring One’s Bloody Beloved Characters

by Kameron Hurley, author of the Bel Dame Apocrypha

I’ve written all sorts of characters over the years, but Nyxnissa so Dasheem and her band of hired rogues are the first I took across a full published trilogy. Nyx herself was an amalgamation of some of my favorite trash-talking, whiskey-slinging, 80’s apocalypse heroes. I first conceived of her after playing the part of Banquo in MacBeth in my high school drama class, which my theater teacher had set in a post-apocalyptic gender-swapping England that let me carry a whip and a sword and walk the stage covered in mint-flavored fake blood and chocolate sauce every night.

Gender-swapping all those bloody feuding lords was a lot of fun, and I started to wonder if I could write a heroine as scary as some of the ones we brought to life on stage.

Hard-ass Banquo and her fellow bloody women feudal lords became Nalah, the desert weary heroine in a short story I wrote at Clarion in 2000. I tasked Nalah with murdering her son, Eshe, at the whim of the foreign lord she served. There was blood and sand and matriarchies… but it wasn’t enough to carry a story. It needed something more.

That was really the trouble with my trash-talking apocalypse heroine – I just didn’t have a really good understanding of who she was, because I didn’t have a good handle on the type of world that would produce her. It wasn't until 2004 or 2005, when I scribbled down the line, “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert,” that I realized I was onto something.

What kind of person sells their womb? Why? What kind of world is that?

Writing God’s War was a process of discovery for me. The world and the people in it came into clearer focus as I wrote. It wasn’t until I’d nearly finished the first draft of God’s War that I realized I wasn’t writing about a particularly nice or heroic or honorable person. Putting Nyx into the world I did, and having her survive (if not thrive) in it meant I was actually writing about a borderline psychopath. But she was a relentless, single-minded sort of psychopath who cared just enough about a few things to keep her interesting, and I found myself sympathizing with her despite myself.

Who would each of us be, if we came of age in the same world, with the same experiences? Would you act any better, and live to tell about it?

Only Nyx would say something like, “Can we fuck about it later?” and “The cunt is not the heart.” Her dialogue always flowed fast and sharp when I wrote it, and often surprised me with its brutal honestly and needling malice. She was emotionally stunted and abusive. But she was very good at killing, and never pretended to be anything she was not.

There are many characters I got to know well while writing the Bel Dame Apocrypha – Rhys the terrible magician with the conflicted moral compass; Khos the big-hearted puppy with his desperate desire for a family; self-hating Inaya and poor little lost Eshe… but as I wrote the concluding scenes of Rapture, the final book in the trilogy, I knew it was whiskey-drinking, trash-talking, self-destructive Nyx I was going to miss the most. There was just nobody quite like her, and try as I might, I couldn’t think of another world that would spawn somebody exactly like her.

This was her world, her story, and it was done. And as freeing as it felt to have her take her last drink… it was a bittersweet sort of drink, because I knew she’d never take another one. Not with me, at any rate.

I hope to return to the world of Umayma in the future, but to be honest – it’s not so much Nyx’s world anymore. That’s the reality of writing a fantasy world that’s dynamic and not static. The world that created Nyx has changed during the decades in which the books take place. The world has moved on. So has Nyx. Now it’s somebody else’s world, and I look forward to telling their stories as passionately and crazily as I told hers.

But it won’t ever be quite the same.


Kameron Hurley is an award-winning, Nebula nominated writer currently hacking out a living as a marketing and advertising writer. She’s lived in Fairbanks, Alaska; Durban, South Africa; and Chicago, but grew up in and around Washington State. Her personal and professional exploits have taken her all around the world. She spent much of her roaring 20′s traveling, pretending to learn how to box, and trying not to die spectacularly. Hurley is author of the of the Bel Dame Apocrypha consisting of God's War, Infidel, and the just released Rapture.

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Paul Weimer said...

I first conceived of her after playing the part of Banquo in MacBeth in my high school drama class, which my theater teacher had set in a post-apocalyptic gender-swapping England that let me carry a whip and a sword and walk the stage covered in mint-flavored fake blood and chocolate sauce every night.

And now this image will haunt my dreams!

Kameron Hurley said...

It was a really fun production. I'm told I nearly got the role of Macbeth, but the theater teacher realized how much of the script we'd have to change to do that, and binned the idea.

The 10-minute costume change from bloody-killed Banquo (dressed in burlap and denim, covered in chocolate syrup) to ghostly Banquo (dressed in white and covered in baby powder) was a nightly ball of stress, tho.