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Mrs. Hawking has no code name

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

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At its most basic, Mrs. Hawking is a superhero story— an extraordinary individual who uses their abilities to make the world a more just place. The clear influence that the character of Batman has had on the conception of our hero helped solidify that. So I’ve taken a lot of cues from the superhero genre to figure out how to tell these stories. But because of this square grounding in such an established form, one way in which we deviate from it stands out as particularly strange. Like many superheroes, Mrs. Hawking has a secret identity, that of reclusive society widow. She does not, however, have a name for her hero identity, a code name by which her heroic actions are known, of the likes of Batman for Bruce Wayne and Captain America for Steve Rogers. 

I supposed it might be regarded as an oversight on my part. Admittedly, in the very, very earliest imaginings she was a little more of a straight detective than a superhero, so even though that quickly changed, that may have been the reason why it never occurred to me to give her a code name. But by the time I noticed the problem, I’d already written two stories, and by that point, I really didn’t feel like it could be retrofitted. Making it tougher for me is that, while in-universe she really doesn’t feel like the name Victoria Hawking represents her, out-of-universe I chose it super-carefully specifically BECAUSE I felt like it suits her so well. What could I choose that would fit her better?

So, I have come to the conclusion that she doesn’t really have one. But it IS a strange omission for a story of this genre, so does that have any difficult consequences on the unfolding? Does that mean that the only people who are aware of her are the ones that know her real name? She does operate a great deal on the fact that she seems too outlandish to most people to actually exist, but we know from moments like her conversation with Sir Walter in the first story that occasionally she deals with people from behind the anonymity afforded by her stealth suit. So how would people who realize there is such a masked figure in existence, but didn’t know her personally, refer to her? 

I tend to subscribe to the theory that you can’t name yourself in this way. It usually feels more organic— and let’s face it, less absurd —when the hero’s code name is chosen by popular habit. So there’s probably something they call her just for the convenience of having some way to talk about her. This actually becomes necessary to have an answer for as I work on installment three, Base Instruments it occurred to me that Nathaniel’s wife Clara is very socially connected and well-informed when it comes to the goings on of London’s ladies, and may very well have heard of this secret agent that helps women who have nowhere else to turn. I haven’t precisely settled, but I tend to think that they don’t have a name that could be considered a “Batman” equivalent, nothing so formal and declarative. But there may be some sort of title along the lines of “the Dark Knight” for her, perhaps even something like “the lady’s champion of London,” a phrase which has yet to be mentioned in-universe, but one I made up as a way to explain just what it is Mrs. Hawking does. 

There is one superhero name that does immediately jump out at me. While Mrs. Hawking’s dissocation with her married name makes it unlikely– not to mention too obvious –that she would use something about it to represent herself, it does become the clear progenitor for the name of the Hawks, the team that Mary eventually puts together to carry on her work. When she assembles a team of talented operatives to expand the reach of their work for justice, it will be Mary’s own interpretation of Mrs. Hawking’s missions. So, though I don’t think they will be completely insensible of the irony, they will consider themselves to be named in her honor. And I think that’s a fun twist on the convention of the superhero name.

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 9th at 2PM and 6PM at the Center for Digital Arts at 274 Moody Street, Waltham as part of the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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The arc-cycles that make up the story

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

My boyfriend and frequent artistic collaborator Bernie Gabin has been instrumental in the development of much of the plotting of these stories. While not a particularly dedicated writer himself, he is incredibly talented when it comes to forming the mechanics of a logical, internally consistent plot that unfolds at the correct pace, and I often consult him on related matters. It was he that first proposed I regard, and move forward shaping, the Hawking stories as a series of what I’ll call “arc-cycles,” stories grouped off in sets of three that each develop a certain central idea.

The first arc-cycle we refer to as the Origin Cycle. Mrs. Hawking, Vivat Regina, and the upcoming third one that does not yet have a title. The point of these is to establish the team, so to speak. We learn who Mrs. Hawking, Mary, and Nathaniel are, what obstacles they’re going to face, and how they’re going to build themselves into this little unit that works together and supports one another.

The second arc-cycle is less well-formed yet, but I know for certain that it will, as any serialized storytelling form must, involve upping the stakes. We will have established with the first trilogy that our three main characters make a formidable force for justice when they are banded together. But in this arc-cycle we will challenge that—we will up the challenge level of the things they face. I want to tell the story of Mrs. Hawking’s early life, in flashback in relation to a current case, that demonstrates why she’s become what she is today. I want to introduce Mrs. Hawking’s Moriarty, who will present her with her greatest challenge yet. And I want to send her up against that quintessential Victorian baddie, Jack the Ripper, whose violence against the most downtrodden and helpless women in society make him a perfect villain for our hero’s purpose. And all this will even culminate in the smashing of the new establishment in a way that changes the characters forever.

The third arc-cycle, then, will have to be about what’s built in its place. This is where the notion of the Hawk Family will come, as Mary proposes they become an organization rather than just a few stalwarts holding back the storm. I have even less of a firm notion of these, as they’re so far down the line yet, but I know that in all drama things that do not change die, and in serial storytelling in particular things must continue to grow into new forms. Changing the nature of the game is an appropriate direction for it to go, especially since Mary’s ascendance from Mrs. Hawking’s protégé to her successor will be a major theme of this arc-cycle. And if a different person is in charge, you can bet things are going to have to work a little differently.

Beyond that, I’ve no idea. I think at least for the moment that’s more than enough stories to tell. But who knows how far we can go once we get there?

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The talent for finding talent

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Categories: character, development, looking ahead, vivat regina, Tags: , , , ,

 

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One of the most central parts of the relationship between Mary and Mrs. Hawking is that they are better with each other. They can be and do things as a team that they never could before. While Mary’s major contribution is that she humanizes and challenges Mrs. Hawking, I always wanted her to add something of practical value to her mentor’s operations. So Mary’s unique skill set had to bring Mrs. Hawking’s work onto another level, as her protege, and the one who will carry on her work in the future.

She is never going to be as omni-competent as her mentor is, but she has things Mrs. Hawking never will. It’s Mary’s gift that if she cannot accomplish something herself, she can find the right person who can. She is an excellent judge of character, and she has a commanding, magnetic personality. She draws decent, competent people to her, and not only can she identify their strengths, she can convince them to make use of those strengths to good effect. We begin to see this clearly in Vivat Regina. She begins by encouraging Nathaniel to find his niche, and will make use of him once his specific talents become clear. She continues with Arthur Swann, a policeman whose bacon she saves before it occurs to her what value she might have of his acquaintance as well.

It’s actually a quality, or a variation thereof, I enjoy conferring on my young, up-and-coming heroes. When they are faced with opposition from other characters, it is a sign of their intrinsic personal value and powers that they convert those characters to their side and cause. Their way is not to destroy her enemies, but to turn them into allies and friends, which ultimately makes them stronger. People respond to them with, “I don’t know what else I might believe in… but I believe in you.” This is a trait I’ve also given to Tom Barrows, the protagonist of my screenplay The Tailor at Loring’s End, and to Josie Jenkins, the lead of the musical Puzzle House Blues.

You see, I want Mary’s destiny will ultimately be to form what I’m calling behind the scenes “the Hawk Family,” a team of society avengers that can take on even more and greater challenges than just the few of them could. This ability of hers, to seek out capable individuals and band them into an organization that makes the best use of their talents, will be what transforms Mrs. Hawking’s work into an even great force for good. That’s something Mrs. Hawking could never have done on without Mary.

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Across the universes

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Categories: looking ahead, supplemental, Tags: , , ,

It was suggested to me once by Jami Brandli, one of my excellent writing mentors at Lesley, that these Mrs. Hawking stories should exist in the same universe as The Tailor at Loring’s End and Mrs. Loring, stories I told about Fairfield, a small town in Connecticut, in the 1930s. They are set in fairly distinct milieus, but they both take place in more or less the real world and deal with somewhat similar ideas– they tend to be mysteries, and deal with themes like societal injustice, classism, and feminism. So there’s certainly something appealing about the idea. Thinking about it, the one other story-world of mine that I think could integrate into those others is The Stand, my series of cowboy stories from the American westward expansion period. It’s another historical fiction that takes place in more or less the real world. I like the idea of connections, that these various characters and story that I’m interested in could relate to each other in some way– maybe even meet.

The timelines do overlap a bit, but they are offset enough to curtail character interactions between the three. Space also makes for a real divide. The Stand takes place in 1849 in California, Mrs. Hawking in 1880s London, and Tailor at Loring’s End in Connecticut of 1934. To illustrate the point, it turns out that Mary Stone and Reginald Loring, patriarch of one of the important family in the stories, are about the same age. Which means, for example, if I ever wanted the leads of Mrs. Hawking and of The Tailor of Loring’s End to meet, Mary would be an old woman, and Mrs. Hawking herself probably wouldn’t be alive anymore.

But I would like to figure out some way to make connections between them. Character appearances, family relationships, that sort of thing. Bernie suggested that maybe Alice Loring from Tailor would be a good candidate for Mary’s eventual recruitment, when she assembles a team of heroic women. I also like the idea of some cool American cowboy– or more likely, cowgirl –showing up in London and bringing an adventure to Mrs. Hawking. Those two stories are thirty years, a continent, and an ocean apart, but perhaps an aged version of someone in The Stand or even one of their descendants. I’m not sure what the best way to do it is, but I would like to figure it out.

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Hawking, Incorporated

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Categories: character, influences, looking ahead, themes, Tags: , , , , , ,

One thing I will have to explore sometime in the far future of these stories is the eventual aging of Mrs. Hawking. I made a conscious choice to depict her as forty years old when our story opens in 1880, and though she is a remarkably healthy and fit individual, as time goes on she will have to face the inevitable truth that eventually everyone physically deteriorates.

I think this will be extremely hard for her. So much of her work, upon which she bases her identity, requires her being an agile infiltrator and a dangerous fighter, all of which require her to be strong, flexible, and able to endure, and heal quickly from, injury. I also think that the idea of becoming a fragile old woman terrifies her. Even today we live in a culture that devalues weak old woman, and I think her own distaste for weakness made it so that she could not help but internalize it. Coming to terms with being unable to do the work by which she defines herself will be one of the greatest struggles of her life.

In the second story, she is going to settle upon the idea that Mary will be the one to continue on her work when she can’t do it anymore. Mary is not only her assistant but her protege and eventual successor. But I think she has not yet really thought about how this won’t just be after she’s dead– there will come a point in her lifetime when Mary will have to take over because she just can’t physically do it anymore. I think that struggle is going to make an impression on Mary as well. And that is going to spur her forward.

As I’ve said many times, Mary is the dynamic force that will take everything that’s great about Mrs. Hawking’s work and ways and bring it to a whole new level. She is not limited by the old resentments and psychological baggage that her mistress is. I think she’s going to see the enormous potential they have to do good and realize that it doesn’t have to be just a few women against the world, the way Mrs. Hawking has always seen it. I think Mary is going to start bringing in more people, and making a true organization devoted to society avenging.

A big inspiration for Mrs. Hawking has always been the character of Batman. A brilliant, brooding, lone wolf detective simultaneously motivated and handicapped by old psychological wounds. We’re already heading toward something that resembles the Bat Family, as it’s called, the group of heroes associated with Batman. If Mrs. Hawking is our Batman, Mary is a combination of Robin and Alfred, both her assistant and protege as well as her lifeline against losing herself in her own darkness. In the upcoming second story, our “Hawk Family” as it were, will expand to officially include Nathaniel as well.

In the excellent animated series Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne goes through a similar struggle coming to terms with aging out of the ability to be a crime fighter. The solution there was to recruit someone new to be Batman who could act where our hero couldn’t, with the original Batman as his mentor and adviser. While Mary herself will never work in exactly the same manner as Mrs. Hawking, she recognizes the need for such ability. So I think eventually Mary is going to propose bringing in others who can expand the team, with Mary as their leader, and Mrs. Hawking as their trainer. In time, it may come to even resemble “Batman, Incorporated,” a concept from the comics where Batman essentially expands into franchises across the world, training people such that every city has a trained Batman to protect them. I love the idea of Mary recruiting youths (mostly women, but I doubt she’d turn away boys as well) and leading them as a team of society avengers fighting for justice, trained by their original and inspiration, Mrs. Hawking.

This would not happen until fairly far down the line. A great deal of adventure is to be had before then. But I think it would be an excellent evolution, and fitting consummation of their talents, to move in time to a point where brave young women are trained by fierce and cunning Mrs. Hawking and under the brave and sensible direction of Mary.

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