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“True Gentleman” – a scene of Nathaniel and Clara in back story

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I have a pretty good idea of the shape of the Hawking stories to come, most of which will be about exploring how our heroes grow and develop into the future of their team. Every now and then, though, I find myself imaging how things went in their back stories, moments that probably won’t feature in the plays but helped shaped the characters that we know them as today.

This scene written during my completion of 31 Plays in 31 Days 2016 deals with an idea I’m surprised I’ve never noodled with before. One little character bit in the Hawking stories that I enjoy is the fact that Clara and Nathaniel met through Nathaniel’s older brother Justin, because Clara dated Justin before she and Nathaniel got together. Their mild romantic history is alluded to in Base Instruments; it was Bernie’s idea and he pushed to include it. Basically, as they are the same age (three years older than Nathaniel) they came out in the same year, and so met while attending the same parties. They courted for a little while, until Clara got fed up with his interest in other girls and broke it off. She and Nathaniel got together gradually after that.

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This little scene is from five or so years before the first Mrs. Hawking play, and depicts how their relationship began to change into something that would lead to falling in love, getting married, and having a couple of babies.

“True Gentleman”
By Phoebe Roberts

NATHANIEL HAWKING, a young gentleman, early twenties
CLARA PARTRIDGE, a lady his brother courted, mid twenties

London, England, 1875
~~~
(A twenty-three-year-old CLARA PARTRIDGE dashes in and paces, fuming with the beginnings of tears in her eyes. After her comes a twenty-year-old NATHANIEL HAWKING. Both are in evening wear.)

NATHANIEL: I say, Clara! Are you— are you all right?

CLARA: Why, Nathaniel! What are you doing here?

NATHANIEL: Pardon me, but I saw you dash out of the ballroom, and worried something might wrong. When Justin didn’t go after you, I thought someone ought to.

CLARA: Well! That’s very kind of you. Justin shan’t be following after me, not if he knows what’s good for him.

NATHANIEL: Whatever do you mean?

CLARA: I mean I don’t think I shall be seeing so very much of Justin anymore.

NATHANIEL: You mean— oh!

CLARA: Yes, well.

NATHANIEL: I— I’m quite sorry. He hasn’t— done anything ungentlemanly, has he?

CLARA: He’s Justin, isn’t he?

NATHANIEL: That prat. What’s he done?

CLARA: Oh, never you mind.

NATHANIEL: If he’s hurt you, miss—

CLARA: Oh, you know him! It’s only that he has a wandering eye. One grows weary of feeling like the plainest girl in the room.

NATHANIEL: Goodness, Clara, you could never be that!

CLARA: Oh, my.

NATHANIEL: I mean— forgive me, but— as you said, that’s his way. It’s no fault of yours that he’s an absolute rake.

CLARA: Perhaps not. But I’ve no patience for it any more.

NATHANIEL: Nor should you.

CLARA: I only hope I haven’t made a perfect fool of myself. Losing my calm with him and dashing out of the ballroom for everyone to see. Certainly I’ve ruined the last dance.

NATHANIEL: Not at all. I’m sure no one paid it any mind.

CLARA: You did. You had to run out here after to me.

NATHANIEL: Well— I hated the thought that you might be alone in your distress.

CLARA: Thank you for that. It’s quite kind.

NATHANIEL: Think nothing of it, miss. And, please… never think that my blasted brother’s conduct means you’re not beautiful. If I may say so… I don’t know how any man courting you could look away from you.

CLARA: Why, Nathaniel…

NATHANIEL: Oh, that was dreadfully impertinent. Now you think I’m just as much a rake as he is.

CLARA: Not at all. Quite the contrary… you are a true gentleman, Nathaniel Hawking.

NATHANIEL: It means a great deal that you’d think so. Is there anything else I can do?

CLARA: You’ve been a great comfort to me tonight. Indeed, I think I shall be presentable to return. You ought to go out and enjoy the rest of the ball. You’re shipping out soon for your tour of service, aren’t you?

NATHANIEL: If you can call it that. They’re sending me to Newcastle, of all places.

CLARA: Sounds as though you’re in for an adventure.

NATHANIEL: Indeed, fighting off boredom as I keep the logbooks.

CLARA: They’ll make a soldier of you yet. Well, if you’ll excuse me, I had best find a place to freshen up. I’d like to make my return more dignified than my exit.

NATHANIEL: Certainly, miss.

(He bows and turns to go. Just before he exits, he turns back around.)

NATHANIEL: Miss, since it will be so dreadfully dull away in the armory, it would be very cheering to hear a word from home now and again. When I have a moment, might I write you? Some letters might be just the way to pass the time.

CLARA: I would like that, Nathaniel.

(He smiles, then bows again and exits. She watches him go with a new interest.)

Vivat Regina and Base Instruments by Phoebe Roberts will be performed January 13th-15th at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel as part of Arisia 2017.

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What I learned from the Vivat Regina reading

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Categories: looking ahead, performance, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , ,

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Photo by Beckie Hunter.

I was extremely pleased with how the staged reading of Vivat Regina went this past Thursday. My actors did such a wonderful job bringing the story to life, I couldn’t have been happier with the representation of my work. I had a very nice audience who reacted appreciatively to it, making me believe the piece is in fact in a solid state. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make this possible.

Readings should not only exhibit a piece, they should also teach you something about it as its writer. What jumped out at me in this more than anything else was that people responded to the humor of it. I expected them to like the plot and character arcs, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that pretty much all the jokes got laughs. And I was told afterward that the funny parts were some of the most enjoyable of the entire play.

I would not say I am a particularly skilled comedy writer. But I do understand the value of lightening up a serious narrative with humor. A story like Mrs. Hawking’s, that of a frankly unhappy person acting on their rage and resentment, can easily go too far into the territory of “grimdark,” like Batman at his worst. That can get overbearing and excessively heavy very quickly. So I am extremely happy to hear that not only were my humorous moments in Vivat Regina genuinely funny, but they helped balance the serious parts rather than take away from them.

A lot of the humor is based in knowledge of the Victorian period, like when Nathaniel say that Newcastle was his grand military station abroad, so I was concerned it wouldn’t read. But maybe my audience was just smart, because most of it seemed to come across! Also the humor in Mary and Arthur’s banter in the scene with their first meeting seemed to do a lot to make people enjoy it. I very much wanted Arthur to come off as charming, and I think him being an effortlessly funny and sharp-witted guy helped. That scene was very cute, and did a lot to warm people to the relationship to come.

One thing I did not rely on was making any of the characters inherently absurd. I want this to be a story about people rather than caricatures, and I don’t want anyone reduced to a punchline. Take Clara, for example. Clara is a major source of comic relief in this piece, with her biting wit and mocking critiques of our hero. But I very much wanted her to be a substantial person whose humor came from the clever things she said, rather than from her being an absurd person. To annoy Mrs. Hawking, she intentionally behaves like a parody of the gossipy, self-absorbed society woman her aunt believes her to be, but it is put on, not her true nature. I was extremely glad to see that read.

What I take away from all this is that I should make a real effort in the future to include humor in the Mrs. Hawking stories. That’s a bit of a daunting prospect, as I know comedy is not my forte, but I’m glad to have gathered that information. I want these pieces to be as enjoyable and multi-layered as possible, and the lighter moments really seem to add a lot.

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Early development for Mrs. Hawking 3

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Categories: base instruments, development, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I won’t be able to truly tackle this for a while yet, as I have other projects that are currently more pressing, but I do have a fair bit of preliminary work done on creating the third installment in the Mrs. Hawking story. As I’ve mentioned in earlier entries, it will deal primarily with the three following themes:

– Mary’s establishment of what kind of protégé she truly wants to be.

– A hinting at Mrs. Hawking’s fear of her eventual decline into old age.

– The reaction of Nathaniel’s family

I’ve talked a great deal about the first two themes in this space. The third will be dealing with the first time Nathaniel’s involvement in Mrs. Hawking’s work (and his growing feminism, in sharp contrast to the common values of the day) is scrutinized by the by and large conventional members of his family. I’d like to have his brother Justin show up, to demonstrate a clashing ideology, and have his wife Clara actually be informed of what’s really going on and have to respond to it. I want to explore how Nathaniel will handle experiencing the threat of disapproval for basically the first time in his life, and realizing just how much at odds his new worldview is with the rest of society.

The case they shall be working in the course of this episode will be brought to them by a ballet dancer, in order to introduce the ballet motif that will expose Mrs. Hawking’s inner struggle. I haven’t figured out exactly what the problem will be, but it occurs to me that we’ve yet to see Mrs. Hawking deal with a true mystery. The problems in the first and second installments were entirely known quantities— return a stolen child, capture a miscreant hiding behind diplomatic immunity. I’d like to show her actually having to figure out what happened based on the gathering of clues and applying deductive reasoning. I enjoy mysteries a great deal, as the need to seek out more information is a compelling way to pace things, and I love the way it allows stories to unfold.

I struggle a great deal with titles; though I’m pretty happy with “Mrs. Hawking” and “Vivat Regina,” I rarely think I’ve come up with good ones. But I have an idea, at least, of what I’d like to call this third story. I’m leaning towards either “Base Instruments,” regarding to the imperfections of those people who struggle to deliver grand results, or “The Burden of Regard,” in reference to the weight placed on people from whom important things are expected. The first two have a quality of irony about them, which I would like to maintain in this third title if possible. Opinions on what works better are of course welcome.

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Notes on Vivat Regina: plot

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Warning: spoilers contained herein for Vivat Regina.

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In addition to character arcs, it needed an over-plot to give it structure, a mission for them to go on as part of Mrs. Hawking’s work. The idea for this one sprung out of the notion I had of a recognizable figure from this part of Victorian history coming incognito to the ladies to ask for their help. This figure is embodied in Mrs. Braun, who it is clear is not using her real name. I will not say her real identity right now, because I would rather not spoil it yet, but what I wanted was for the audience to have a suspicion who this person was even if they weren’t sure. She ties in nicely to the point Mrs. Hawking makes about of the problems of the establishment, even if you don’t fully grasp what her connection to the establishment is. After the first reading, Ben Federlin confirmed for me that it was interesting to leave some ambiguity as to who she was. But Lenny Somervell said that it needed to be clear enough that even somebody without any knowledge of Victorian history would still be able to have a decent guess. Certain other aspects of the story are more compelling if you can make that connection, so I wanted it to be accessible without necessarily being too obvious.

You may have noticed that her entrance into the story bears a strong resemblance to a similar scene in the Sherlock Holmes story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A German-accented person with a noble bearing that they are to some degree trying to conceal who at first introduces themselves by a false comes in as a client to ask a delicate task of our hero. This was a very intentional echoing, down to her line of “You may address me as Mrs. Johanna Braun,” in reference to “You may address me as Count Von Kramm.” I’ve always loved that story– indeed, I once played Irene Adler onstage –and it was fun to pay it that tribute.

I’ve talked at length about why I felt the need to include the subplot with Clara, which you can read about here. I wanted to introduce her for later inclusion, and I wanted the presence of a character who was not overawed by Mrs. Hawking the way Mary and Nathaniel are, but I struggled to figure out what service she could provide to the plot to justify her presence. What I decided to go with, suggested chiefly by my friends Aaron Fischer and Lenny Somervell who were kind enough to give their always-discerning opinions, was that she could basically provide some outside perspective. Their little world of society avenging is so secretive (they can’t tell people about it for security reasons, after all) that they tend to have tunnel vision about it. When Mary is unable to see that she’s been good for Mrs. Hawking, Clara is a fairly objective observer who can let Mary know what a huge positive influence she’s been. They also suggested that her personal reason for doing it can be that, in the service of protecting her husband from Mrs. Hawking’s wrath, she means to cultivate Mary as an ally and a source of information. It will and won’t work, considering the unusual circumstances, but I think it’s a believable motivation for Clara, and the situation will also lead into the possibility of her becoming a genuine friend to Mary.

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“Prowl After the Help” — scribbling on a future inclusion of Justin

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This scene, set sometime in the future of the Mrs. Hawking continuity, is between Nathaniel and his elder brother Justin, who’s a world traveler and a bit of a rake. I wanted to write a conversation between the two of them, and I settled on a theoretical moment where Justin is in London and has been starting to hit on Mary, which Nathaniel, knowing his brother, doesn’t approve of.

I wanted to show the brothers’ relationship as well as possible raise large plot-relevant issues, which I think I succeeded with. The one thing I struggled to accomplish was I want it to subtly reveal some of the classism in Nathaniel that he hasn’t confronted yet– that he may think of himself as high-minded, but that he considers attraction to a lower-class person to be vulgar for a gentleman –and I’m not sure I executed with sufficient clarity and understatement. It was too easy to gloss over “I’m not attracted to people beneath my class” with “I don’t sexually harass people at work” and “I’m married and so not paying much attention to any outside people romantically.”

But I think I did a good job characterizing Justin. He tweaks Nathaniel, who’s way more of a goody-goody, which is fun. And I love writing the relationship between them as brothers. “Frasier” is one of my all-time favorite shows, and the way they depict the brothers and their relationship really is the best part.

~~~

NATHANIEL: Just what do you think you’re doing?

JUSTIN: Why, making friends.

NATHANIEL: Bollocks.

JUSTIN: Such language!

NATHANIEL: Don’t play the innocent with me. I see how you’re prowling around Mary.

JUSTIN: You said she’s a lovely girl, I wanted to make her acquaintance for myself.

NATHANIEL: I know what you want with lovely girls.

JUSTIN: Well, can you blame me?

NATHANIEL: Stay away from her.

JUSTIN: Why ever should I?

NATHANIEL: She’s a sweet and decent girl. She doesn’t deserve to be led on by the likes of you.

JUSTIN: Led on!

NATHANIEL: I’ll not have you telling her pretty lies just so you can…

JUSTIN: So I can what, brother?

NATHANIEL: Get your own way. Whatever that is.

JUSTIN: Ha! Who’s playing the innocent now?

NATHANIEL: Don’t be vulgar.

JUSTIN: Ha! I should think you’d know me by now, old boy.

NATHANIEL: And you call yourself a gentleman. I mean, really, Auntie’s maid?

JUSTIN: What’s the harm? It’s not like she has some grand society reputation to protect. Unless you think Aunt Victoria would be cross?

NATHANIEL: No! Well, perhaps, but–

JUSTIN: Well, I’m quite used to weathering Auntie’s wrath. What, do you think she’d dismiss the girl over it?

NATHANIEL: I don’t think so– but that’s not the point.

JUSTIN: Aunt Victoria doesn’t have to know.

NATHANIEL: It’s nothing to do with Aunt Victoria, for heaven’s sake!

JUSTIN: Then what’s it to you? Unless you fancy her.

NATHANIEL: Justin!

JUSTIN: Shame on you, you’re a married man.

NATHANIEL: It isn’t that! How dare you?

JUSTIN: It’s just as well. Wouldn’t have thought you had it in you.

NATHANIEL: Of course not.

JUSTIN: She is lovely girl, though, isn’t she?

NATHANIEL: She is.

JUSTIN: And you were the one that brought her here. Are you telling me you’ve never noticed her?

NATHANIEL: I don’t prowl after the help.

JUSTIN: I’d forgotten, you’re far too lofty to spare a glance to a creature of lower classes. I confess, though, I’d rather begun to wonder.

NATHANIEL: About what!?

JUSTIN: About why you spend so much time around Auntie’s maid. The fine old boy hasn’t descended to the level of the rest of us, has he? Started to envy all the fun I have while you’re bound up in the monotony of married life?

NATHANIEL: Yes, that’s it exactly, Justin, I’ve installed my working class mistress in my aunt’s own house because I wanted to be just like my dear big brother. Mary and I, we’ve… rather made friends, is all.

JUSTIN: Friends.

NATHANIEL: Yes! Is that so unheard of?

JUSTIN: I’d say so.

NATHANIEL: There’s no harm in it.

JUSTIN: Still, it’s very odd. Just out of curiosity, what does Clara think?

NATHANIEL: Of what?

JUSTIN: Of your most harmless friendship.

NATHANIEL: Well… I don’t suppose she knows much of it.

JUSTIN: You mean you’ve kept it from her? I thought she led you so around by the nose you had no secrets!

NATHANIEL: I don’t! Not really! It’s only that I haven’t… brought it up as yet.

JUSTIN: Hmmm. And why is that, do you think?

NATHANIEL: Oh, wipe that look off your face!

JUSTIN: You must know what that sounds like.

NATHANIEL: It’s nothing untoward!

JUSTIN: Then why, my virtuous brother, must you hide it?

NATHANIEL: I don’t mean to. I only… I only don’t know how to do it. Tell her, I mean.

JUSTIN: Afraid she’ll cast the same aspersion upon your character as I have just now?

NATHANIEL: I’m afraid she might… misunderstand.

JUSTIN: Oh, why worry for it? You need never tell her if it will only make trouble.

NATHANIEL: I hate keeping things from her.

JUSTIN: Why prod the bear if you don’t have to?

NATHANIEL: She’s my wife, Justin, not some terrible monster from the woods.

JUSTIN: Wives, terrors, it’s all the same to me. But it isn’t even as if you’re deceiving her. If you’ve done nothing, then you’ve nothing to tell her.

NATHANIEL: It isn’t only that.

JUSTIN: What, then? Do you she think she wouldn’t believe you?

NATHANIEL: Not so much that…

JUSTIN: Or wouldn’t approve?

NATHANIEL: Perhaps. Of my reasons for spending time with Miss Stone.

JUSTIN: And what might they be? Beyond her more obvious charms.

NATHANIEL: Oh, you wouldn’t understand.

JUSTIN: My. Must be byzantine indeed if it’s beyond both Clara and myself. Well, brother, I hope you can find a way to make things clear one way or another.

NATHANIEL: I thought you advocated avoiding the issue entirely.

JUSTIN: So I do. But I know you well enough to see it won’t sit well with you. And if you’re keeping it from your wife, it must be something remarkable indeed.

12/11/13

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A female power fantasy

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Categories: character, development, influences, vivat regina, Tags: , , , , ,

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In the interest of artistic honesty, I feel I have to cop to the fact that in some ways, the character of Mrs. Hawking is a power fantasy. Specifically, she is a personal one for me, embodying many of the qualities that I happen to find particularly empowering.

She is a physically small person, but rather than be limited by it, it so fit and strong that she is a force to be reckoned with, and in fact uses her size to her advantage by being fast, graceful, sneaky, stealthy, and able to fit into unexpected places while avoiding notice. I am a small person often frustrated by its limitations. She has a lot of anger, but she gets to use to fuel her in her crusade. I am an angry person whose anger gets her into trouble. She’s asexual, free from influence by sexual interest or from the need to be sexually desirable to anyone. I’m not asexual, but sometimes I wish I were free from those things. She’s a loner, an introvert in the extreme, who feels no compunction about withdrawing whenever she needs to. I’m an introvert too, but I often feel like I’m not able to take the time to myself that I need. It even shows up in smaller ways. She bears a physical resemblance to my friend and frequent collaborator Frances Kimpel, who I often wish I looked more like. She has a background in ballet, something I find incredibly cool. All these things are a chance to make the kind of person I think would be powerful enough to be this kind of hero.

I’m not troubled by this. I think there should be characters that serve as power fantasies for women of the sort that men have in abundance. Batman comes to mind as an example, as he is rich, exalted, hyper-competent hero that is often considered to be above all comparisons, and incidentally happens to be a major inspiration for Mrs. Hawking. The trouble, however, is in not allowing such a character to fall into the category of Mary Sue. The problem with power fantasy characters is that if you make them TOO powerful, TOO aspirational and awesome and amazing in every way, then they stop being believable or real. So I need to make sure that when I write Mrs. Hawking, she has real flaws to her to make her a truly complex main character.

I wanted those flaws to grow organically out of her personality, so I used the flip side of the things that were powerful about her. “Your strengths are your weaknesses,” after all. Her anger issues mean she can be really nasty when she wants to be. Her loner nature makes her reluctant to accept help, to get close to people, and she has little ability when it comes to normal social interaction. Her pride makes it hard for change and grow when she’s been wrong. She is not a flawless crime-solving machine when she screws herself up this way. Despite her forward-thinking attitudes, she’s racist in the manner of her time, and sexist in a manner all her own. And she’s a damn pain in the ass to deal with a big chunk of the time.

I want those flaws to matter. Actions have consequences, and when you act like as much of a dick as she often does, it’s going to come back and bite you. I always hate in when main characters in her extremely intelligent, lone-wolf mold such as the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Gregory House are enormous assholes, but everyone around them seems to excuse their awfulness and the story lets them get away with everything because they’re so damn special. I’m specifically fighting that in my portrayal of Mrs. Hawking. She’s very special, but she’s also very awful, and I want both to have an equal impact on how people treat her.

It’s actually one of the reasons I wanted to introduce Clara Hawking. I wanted her so badly to be in Vivat Regina so she could function as someone who hasn’t “drunk the Mrs. Hawking Kool-Aid,” so to speak, to stand in contrast to the many characters who are in awe of her. Despite their occasion defiance and criticism of her, Mary and Nathaniel basically adore her. I’m always having to be careful to not write too much about people talking about how remarkable she is, because that would be unbearable and stupid. But Clara is someone who genuinely doesn’t think her virtues makes up for her flaws and holds them seriously against her. I hope to keep that element in the story from every quarter as would be realistic. Consequence-free behavior is anathema to dramatic, emotionally honest storytelling in my opinion.

I do believe it is possible to have a figure who counts as a power fantasy who is also believably human and imperfect. But it requires careful balancing. I hope I’m up to the challenge, and I plan on making every effort to succeed in that with this character.

I like her a lot, after all, and I want you to be able to as well. ;-)

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The art of names

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I have to say, one of my favorite parts of the writing and character-creating process is coming up with names. I like it when I can make them subtly significant, if only in my own head, or at least give my characters names I’m going to enjoy saying over and over again.

I’ve written about how Mrs. Hawking’s name is supposed to be deliberately disassociated from her in-universe, but behind the scenes it was carefully chosen. Her married name, Hawking, came first, because it’s a good solid English name and conveys her bird-of-prey nature. It took much longer to choose her first name, but I went with Victoria because I’ve always loved it, the “victory” meaning connotes her warlike nature, and because of the connection with the regnant queen. Stanton, her maiden name, also took some time to determine, and was chosen mostly because I like the way it sounds.

The character of Mary Stone basically just walked into my mind and introduced herself by name. I love when that happens, it feels as if I’m writing about a real person. Thinking about it, I think there was some influence from the fact that she is in some ways a gender-swapped analogue to Dr. Watson, and Watson’s wife is named Mary. I think Mary’s name fits her so well I’m kind of sorry that her surname will change when she gets married. I have given some thought to who her eventual husband will be, and while I don’t want to mention anything about him yet, I chose his surname with the specific intention that I shouldn’t mind using it to refer to Mary. Her middle name, Frances, came from Frances Kimpel, my model for Mrs. Hawking. I very nearly made Mrs. Hawking’s middle name Charlotte, after Mary’s model Charlotte Oswald, but I didn’t think it sounded right with the rest of our hero’s name. I plan on paying tribute to Charlotte’s name in another way in the future, though.

When I noticed that both she and Mrs. Hawking were named after prominent English queens I decided I would continue on with that trend where appropriate. That’s where her eventual Moriarty, Elizabeth Frost, got her name from. I’m kind of sorry that Nathaniel’s wife Clara doesn’t fit the mold, but I think it fits her too much to change. Their daughter Beatrice doesn’t quite, as there is no English queen by that name, but it was the name of the youngest Victorian princess. Reggie, their son, is so called because of course Nathaniel would name his son after his hero.

As for Nathaniel himself, he is named after my friend Nat Budin. Not for any particular reason, except that I like both Nat and his name.

Stephanie Karol, who read the roles of Celeste Fairmont and Grace Monroe in the Mrs. Hawking Bare Bones reading, commented that I seem to like naming patriarchs “Reginald.” Both the Colonel and the head of the society family in The Tailor at Loring’s End both have it. I like the name, but it does have kind of an old-fashioned masculine sound to it.

Cedric Brockton sounds solidly British and upper-class, perhaps to the point of parody, but I like the way it sounds. Ambrose Hawking came from the same impulse. It might be a little absurd, but I guess I have a taste for names like that.

Gabriel Hawking came from the fact that Gabriel is one of my all-time favorite names. I wanted something powerful and striking, given that the mention of the name has a rather totemic quality when uttered in this story.

Justin’s first name came from something silly. I remember thinking that Ryan Kacani, the actor who played for Nathaniel at the Bare Bones reading, looked like a Justin to me for some reason. So I gave that name to Nathaniel’s brother.

Johanna Braun, the name the client gives in Vivat Regina, was chosen because it translates from German basically to “Joan Brown,” as plain and nondescript a name as they come. There is a reason I wanted it to be so generic, but I won’t say what it is here.

Arthur Swann, also a character introduced in Vivat Regina, is also named in the vein of English royalty, though King Arthur is fictional. Also it’s my granddad’s name and I always liked it.

There’s also a bit of a bird theme going on. The Hawking family, Arthur Swann the police man, Clara’s maiden name being Partridge. It doesn’t have any specific meaning, but the presence of a bird name means that they are a character to watch.

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How to introduce Clara

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Even before I had any idea who the character of Clara Hawking was, I knew she had to exist. Nathaniel was to be in every way fitting into and profiting from the current social order, so part of that meant he had to be married. I’d already finished the script of Mrs. Hawking before I’d given her much thought. Once I considered her, though, it didn’t take long before I figured out what service she would be to the story, her weaponized traditional femininity existing in contrast to Mrs. Hawking’s complete rejection of traditional femininity. I think Clara has the potential to be a very interesting character, so I’ve been pondering how to bring her into things.

In the very early planning stages of Vivat Regina, I wrote a bit of Clara with the vague notion that she could be included. The very first thing I ever wrote of her was a monologue where she, under the guise of perfect friendly politeness, needled Mrs. Hawking for what a pain she is. It’s a pretty funny piece, and I’d like to use it in some form. But this, nor anything else with her, ended up making it into the first draft of the script.

There’s a lot to unpack with Clara story-wise, specifically about how she’s going to feel about Nathaniel’s involvement in his aunt’s work. I haven’t quite figured out what her reaction is going to be, but he’s been putting himself in danger to participate. He has an unusually close relationship with a maidservant, and while I’m taking liberties with the setting where I need to, that was unheard of in this time and place. He’s challenging a social order on behalf of women who don’t fit into their place in the world as comfortably as she does. And he hasn’t told her about any of it yet. How’s she going to feel? What’s her response going to be? I don’t want to dash that off; I think there could be a lot of interesting story in her and Nathaniel’s relationship.

But to include that in Vivat Regina would have tipped the focus a little too heavily on Nathaniel. While he can and will certainly take center stage sometime, it is important to me that these remain fundamentally stories about women. Mary and Mrs. Hawking, their relationship, their struggles, are to be prioritized, especially when we’re only into the second story.

However, after having put together a draft of Vivat Regina, I find it’s somewhat in need of a subplot. In its current state, it pushes along the course of the plot pretty unrelentingly, which is a fairly typical problem my work tends to have, at least in the early drafts. I find myself struggling to figure out exactly what would be the appropriate extra thread. But I suppose the obvious thing to include is Clara.

I’ve mentioned the problem with having her in– I don’t want to dash off any story I can tell about her, and I don’t want to shift the focus of this second piece too far away from Mary and Mrs. Hawking. But perhaps it’s possible to just introduce her for now, in preparation to deal with her more seriously in future stories. I am kind of already doing that with Arthur Swann, who makes his first appearance in Vivat Regina, and while he does serve a purpose to the plot, is mostly just being set up to feature more significantly later.

If I did that with Clara, I’d have to make sure she doesn’t feel tacked on or shoehorned in. She would have to be relevant in some way, without blowing her dramatic potential. I’m not sure how that could be accomplished yet, but it’s something I’m currently pondering. A solid, integrated subplot would not only improve Vivat Regina, I could use it as an opportunity to set up further stories in the series, which would make the overall series stronger.

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“The Other Mrs. Hawking” — scribblings on Clara Hawking

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Categories: character, development, scenes, vivat regina, Tags: , , , ,

After the Bare Bones Mrs. Hawking reading, Brad Smith, the actor who read for Cedric Brockton, commented that it might be interesting for the characters to encounter “the other Ms. Hawking,” as in, Nathaniel’s wife, and see what she thought of the whole business her husband had been drawn into. What I’d want to do with this character is make her a model of weaponized femininity– extremely happy with her place in society and her gender identity, but using it to her advantage as a sharp, strong femme woman. Of course, you can probably guess how Mrs. Hawking feels about her.

This was originally written on August 22nd, 2013, with the vague notion that it might become part of Vivat Regina, the first sequel and the second story in the series. I’m not sure if it will ultimately be included in that story, but I very much want to use it at some point, in a story where there is room for Clara to have a substantial role.

~~~

Day #22 – “The Other Mrs. Hawking”

MRS. HAWKING: You shall have the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Mrs. Hawking.

MARY: I beg your pardon?

MRS. HAWKING: Not me. The other Mrs. Hawking.

(Enter CLARA HAWKING, curvy and beautiful, in a flurry of activity and sweeping skirts.)

CLARA: Aunt Victoria!

MRS. HAWKING: Clara.

(She rushes over and kisses MRS. HAWKING’s cheek.)

CLARA: You haven’t visited us since Christmas! We were beginning to worry that you might have bricked yourself up inside that study of yours. Of course Nathaniel is glad to be seeing so much more of you. He says he’s enjoyed your time together immensely. Miracles happen, I suppose! And this must be Mary, your lovely housegirl. Nathaniel speaks very highly of you, miss. Of course, any girl who’s managed to last as long as you have in dear Auntie’s employ must be a saint! Don’t mistake me, dear, we do love our Aunt Victoria, it’s only to know her is to love her, and we know her! You must come to supper more often. I know you’re fiercely independent, but what is family for, if not to take care of widowed relations and see that you eat properly every once in a while? I know that left to your own devices, you might starve to death over your books! I’m sure you try your hardest with her, Mary, but heaven knows it can be like trying to push the boulder up the hill! And I’m sure you’ve been missing Sophia and little Reggie as much as they’ve missed you. We’d hate to think we’re allowing you to go on lonely. Now! I’ll have Jane fetch the tea things, and I’ll catch you up on everything about the children since last you came about.

(She bustles out.)

MARY: Good heavens. She’s…

MRS. HAWKING: Indeed.

MARY: And so…

MRS. HAWKING: Oh, my, yes.

(Pause.)

MARY: I love her.

MRS. HAWKING: You would.

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The Hawking family tree

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Categories: character, Tags: , , , , , ,

victoria_royal_family_1861_prince_albert_nine_children

Large families were all the rage in Victorian England. Guess who set that trend?

For most of the writing of the original draft, I did not give much thought to the specifics of the structure of the Hawking family. I wanted Nathaniel to share the Hawking name, so he had to be the blood nephew of the Colonel, which made him Mrs. Hawking’s nephew by marriage. But when I realized how much drama I could get out of bringing a large extended family in the story, I immediately started figuring out who they were.

Nathaniel is, in fact, the younger son of the Colonel’s elder brother Ambrose. Ambrose is an old-fashioned, self-satisfied man who very much regards himself as the family patriarch. While Reginald pursued a career in the military, Ambrose set himself up as an entrepreneur, building a venture capital firm that made its money in financing industry in the colonies. I decided Reginald was the younger brother so that I could parallel in him that manner with Nathaniel. As I mentioned, they are quintessential Victorian middle-class. Ambrose began the firm as a young man, but has since mostly ceded control of it to his sons. Nathaniel takes care of the books and the business end of things from London, while his elder brother Justin travels the world, investigating for possible investment opportunities.

Justin is a very different person from Nathaniel. Charm runs in the family, but while Nathaniel is sweet, romantic, and gentlemanly, Justin is more roguish, with a somewhat meaner sense of humor and a lot more self-centered arrogance. Nathaniel fell head over heels in love and married young, while Justin tomcats around; I imagine his good looks and charm make him very popular with the ladies.

Nathaniel’s wife of six years is named Clara, and they have two small children Beatrice and Reginald, named, of course, after his beloved uncle. Clara is designed to be in many ways the polar opposite of the other Mrs. Hawking; she’s totally happy with her gender role and her place in the world, embracing her femininity to get the things she wants accomplished. However, like her husband’s aunt, she has learned to use her harmless appearance to her advantage, and she is a complete master of the art of throwing shade from beneath a veil of polite conversation.

One of the biggest reasons I like plotting out the Hawking family is because of how they influence Nathaniel’s arc. Nathaniel begins the story very much a product of his environment. He comes from a family of very decent, upright people who take for granted the conventional wisdom of what men and women are like. Their traditional view of Victorian masculinity has shaped him with the sense of command and entitlement he shows at the beginning of the story. Their pressure for him to conform is also going to be a major obstacle in his growing past this.

Needless to say, the family does not get along very well with Mrs. Hawking. I think it’s mostly her fault, as she makes no secret of the fact that she dislikes them all, but they are hardly openminded about how different and weird she is, plus they do not have progressive ideas about the place of women. But she is forced to deal with them because, thanks to the Colonel marrying her, they are now her family and social norms will not permit that connection to be severed. So on top of everything else her marriage forced into her life, it inextricably bound her to people she has this much trouble getting along with.

This actually makes Nathaniel’s relationship with her very interesting. At the beginning of the story, his presence could not have been more unwelcome. Basically, her husband’s nephew, a young man with no blood relation to her, had the right to take full legal responsibility for her, and had no qualms about doing it. Making decisions for her, trying to control her. But he is growing, growing in ways neither of them never ever thought he would. Once he starts to make a real effort to get passed that patriarchal sense of entitlement and instead wants to help her rather than hold her back, he actually becomes a positive presence in her life. I think she is resistant to this at first, but in time comes to see him as important to her, even precious. Which for her is a pretty big leap.

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