Matthew Graybosch’s science-fiction thriller serial Silent Clarion, came to a thrilling conclusion today, and we’ve invited Matthew to give us a little insight into main character Naomi Bradleigh.
Naomi Always Steals the Show, by Matthew Graybosch
Naomi Bradleigh wasn’t snow-blonde with scarlet eyes at first. She wasn’t an Adversary, or skilled with an Italian side sword. Her father wasn’t a central figure in the Starbreaker saga. She wasn’t even a member of Crowley’s Thoth, if memory serves, but a session musician brought in to record the keyboard parts for an album called Glass Earth Falling. She wasn’t supposed to become the leading woman in my first novel, Without Bloodshed. She certainly wasn’t intended to get her very own novel, the recently completed Silent Clarion.
She was just supposed to get one scene. One scene, to please a girl called Naomi I was dating at the time. Instead, she stole the show. My wife says that another character of mine, Claire Ashecroft, is my id. If you prefer Jung to Freud, maybe Naomi Bradleigh is my anima. Or maybe I’m just being pretentious. :)
A Mind of Her Own
The girl I was dating at the time asked me if she could be in the story; Naomi wanted a cameo as part of the band Morgan Stormrider and Christabel Crowley were in at the beginning of the version of Starbreaker I had been writing at the time. The character’s surname came from the name of the English country house the real Naomi grew up in. But something funny happened after Naomi and I broke up and lost touch with each other.
I sat down to write one night back in 2000 while listening to the Ashes are Burning album by Renaissance, and found that a character I had written to please a girl had become her own woman. This Naomi wasn’t some quiet, bespectacled chestnut-haired goth content to sit in a corner of the studio and play a piano part someone else had written for her.
No. This new Naomi was older, and more mature. She was older than Starbreaker’s hero, Morgan Stormrider. She had warned him against becoming an Adversary when he was a young man, because she had been one herself. Not only had she served, but she was also a classically trained soprano and pianist with a love for rock and heavy metal.
Over the years, I found she had something to say in just about every scene where it made sense for her to be physically present. If there was a fight, she was there with sword in hand. But her voice was nothing like that of my ex.
Mistakes? I’ve Made a Few
The problem with being a man writing about writing a woman who not only becomes a co-star of sorts in one book (Without Bloodshed) and then stars in her own story (Silent Clarion) is that it is entirely too easy to wax self-congratulatory. It’s all too tempting to sound like this:
Check out this character I wrote. She fights beside the men, but is still feminine. She has agency. I didn’t use rape to develop her character. Aren’t I a good little writer man?
Thing is, I don’t deserve a fucking cookie for writing a character like Naomi. First, her first appearance in Without Bloodshed is at least a little problematic; she too easily accepts Isaac Magnon’s explanation for why he needs to get into her neighbor and former band mate Christabel’s house at face value.
Furthermore, while it’s true none of my women characters were raped (Edmund Cohen wasn’t so fortunate), I did show Naomi getting groped by a dirty cop trying to coerce a confession to murder from her. Moreover, I only showed her able to hold this cop at bay until Morgan, Eddie, and Sid arrived to help her. It would have been better to have her walk out of MEPOL HQ just as Morgan and the guys turn up, and say, “I wouldn’t have minded getting a cab, but I appreciate the ride.”
So, even though I’ve gotten praise for my women characters from women who have read Without Bloodshed, I could have done better. Moreover, I want to do better. I don’t care if lit-fic snobs think my prose is only workmanlike at best, but by Arioch I damn well want to be remembered for writing complex, twisty plots and believable, multifaceted characters regardless of gender. (Admittedly, it wouldn’t kill me to do better in terms of racial diversity.)
It was with that in mind that I first wrote a novelette called Steadfast, in which a younger Naomi took in a mission that brought her with a surviving subject of an old military experiment called Project Harker. This novelette served as the basis for Silent Clarion, the serial that concluded this week.
If Men’s Stories are Universal, Must They Be About Men?
Lately, there’s been a #StoriesForAll hashtag on Twitter started by YA author Shannon Hale, who’s concerned that boys are discouraged by their parents, siblings, and peers from reading books about girls and women because such books are “girl books”, and thus not appropriate for boys. But books about boys and men are for everyone.
I won’t claim to be a great feminist ally. However, Silent Clarion is fundamentally a story about a detective-type character on vacation who stumbles upon a mystery that gets real weird, real fast. It’s the sort of story that’s often written with a man as its protagonist, but I could see no reason why it couldn’t be written with a woman instead.
Furthermore, I saw no reason why I couldn’t write a woman from her own viewpoint, in her own voice. In fact, I welcomed the intellectual challenge of getting into Naomi’s head, and seeing her world as she would have when she was twenty.
Being Naomi Bradleigh
Yeah, I ripped the title off of Being John Malkovich. However, that’s what it’s like to write Naomi Bradleigh from her perspective. I had to try to think like her, and experience her appetites and desires. I had to try to adopt a female gaze, as opposed to the male gaze I’ve used before, even when writing scenes with women as viewpoint characters.
Moreover, I had to write a younger Naomi than the one readers of Without Bloodshed already knew. Naomi cultivated her collected, demure stage presence to avoid stealing too much of the limelight from Christabel Crowley. I had to avoid projecting it onto Naomi’s younger self, while still portraying her in a manner that would justify the cultivation of such a persona later in her life. She’s brash as a young woman, and perhaps a bit too forthright. I had to write the younger Naomi as a woman caught between her intelligence and training, and her inexperience and relative immaturity.
Have I succeeded? That’s for you to decide. Hopefully you enjoyed Silent Clarion even if my ambition exceeded my ability.
Full Silent Clarion playlist here at https://open.spotify.com/user/1238897208/playlist/4iBppi9lW4iw5oPUa9JuEv
My curiosity might get me killed. I thought I needed a vacation from my duties as an Adversary in service to the Phoenix Society. After learning about unexplained disappearances in a little town called Clarion, I couldn’t stop myself from checking it out.
Now I must protect a witness to two murders without any protection but my sword. I must identify a murderer who strikes from the shadows. I must expose secrets the Phoenix Society’s executive council is hellbent on keeping buried.
I have no support but an ally I dare not trust. If I cannot break the silence hiding what happened in Clarion’s past, I have no future. I must discover the truth about Project Harker. Failure is not an option.
Silent Clarion is a new-adult science-fiction thriller by Matthew Graybosch, set before the events of the Starbreaker novels. Meet Naomi Bradleigh as an Adversary, seventeen years before Without Bloodshed.