Raven Oak is here to tell us about how Earl, the lead character in “Class-M Exile” came to be…
The Making of Eerl
One morning, the birds were singing and the cats were complaining about their required food intake and the Seattle sun beamed directly into my eyes with fiery contempt for my sleep schedule. I sat up straight in bed and this book idea fell into my lap…
That’s not it, though it sounds entertaining enough I suppose. Much more so than how Class-M Exile actually came to be.
The life of a writer is full of long hours that stretch into years, saint-like patience, thick-layered skin, and a certain need to finish the sentence. I was awaiting the line edits on book one of my epic fantasy, Amaskan’s Blood, and at the urging of a few writing buddies, decided to attend the Locus Writers’ Workshop.
Christopher Barzak and Connie Willis were the teachers that year, and in the workshop, we were asked to think of an event that impacted us emotionally when we were younger. We were given fifteen minutes to write it as an opening scene. The event, which I wrote about in an article called Dreaded Differences, dealt with a small town’s reaction to someone different. It dealt with prejudice and bullying and all the things a child shouldn’t have to swallow so early in life. Even twenty-five years later, I remember the incident as vividly as the sweaty black leather interior of my first car during a Texas scorcher.
We were asked to rewrite the same scene with a science fiction or fantasy twist. For me, I chose to rewrite my friend’s first day at school, but rather than a human somewhere as mundane as a Earth, she became a rare human—alone in the world and seeking answers to her past. The main character, Eerl, was a professor with an unhealthy fascination for almost-extinct humans. Eerl was also an alien (as were all the other characters in the book) with a deep Texas drawl because that’s what he thought all hu-man’s must sound like.
The opening carried the slapstick of Robert Aspirin and mixed it with my sarcasm as I wrote the intro scene. The novella became a social commentary on how prejudice dwells within each of us, no matter what our race, nationality, creed, gender, or religion. The response that opening scene drew encouraged me to finish the story, though doing so was akin to a root canal.
I didn’t have time for a full-length novel (after all, I had a sequel or three to write for Amaskan’s Blood), nor did I feel the story arc was long enough for one. And honestly, after such a reaction at Locus, could I continue to carry that level of writing? Could I finish it with the bang the story needed?
I pushed through until I finished the damn story, but it took longer to write than most novels. Then I revised it. And I revised it again. I walked through the process as normal.
Only this novella wasn’t normal. Something about this story sang inside me. I’d dived into a character’s head in a way I hadn’t before. Don’t get me wrong—folks love the strength and the voices of my characters in Amaskan’s Blood. Characters, along with world-building, are what I do best—but Eerl was special. He was bold.
He was different.
In every way that my friend was the antithesis of Texas, Eerl was this odd juxtaposition of alien and ‘down home’. Writing this novella was unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It was a glorious experiment and often while editing, I wondered if I’d gone quite mad in my creation.
Despite having lived in Texas for 22 years, I did not pick up or adopt the southern slang. No blessing your hearts or talkin’ to ya’ll like the letter ‘g’ weren’t no thang. My husband could always tell when I was editing because he’d call and reach Eerl—or at least the voice of Eerl. The thick Texas drawl would creep through the conversation like honeysuckles through plywood.
Eerl could say what I couldn’t. He gave voice to my doubts about the sanity of folks living in the south—folks who believed that if you weren’t a gun-totting, church-going, straight, white Republican, you were in the wrong state. Heck, you were in the wrong country.
Weirdos and hippies need not apply.
For all that heart blessing, I never felt comfortable speaking my mind much as a child in Texas. Some folks argue that as an author, I should bite my tongue and remain impartial to the injustices of the world, but I say they’re wrong. Science fiction has always held with the practice of asking difficult questions and pushing the boundaries. Just like Eerl—my mad experiment.
As a child, I was often too polite and afraid to stand up against prejudice, but as an author, doing so comes with the job description—even one written in a Texas drawl.
Raven Oak She spent most of her K-12 education doodling stories and 500 page monstrosities that are forever locked away in a filing cabinet.
When she’s not writing, she’s getting her game on with tabletop games, indulging in cartography, or staring at the ocean. She lives in Seattle, WA with her husband, and their three kitties who enjoy lounging across the keyboard when writing deadlines approach.
Raven is currently at work on Amaskan’s War and The Eldest Traitor.
Her works are available in paperback and eBook formats at booksellers worldwide. You can find Raven Oak on: