In my first entry to Shaping a Heroine, a series of blogs discussing the design of my novel’s heroine, Vespa Wynde, I talked about her father. Daemyn Wynde had always been easily identifiable in my mind as an amalgamation of Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. When I tried to identify a woman or women as character references for Vespa’s mother, though, picking someone proved an impossible task. Not that I don’t have a clear vision in my mind of who Utara Fireheart is – on the contrary, I do. Let me explain…
Utara Fireheart is a politician and an idealist. Superficially, that might sound a bit like Padmé Amidala, except Utara obviously didn’t die young after a tragic betrayal and never had to share a secret life with the man she loves. In fact, her marriage to racing legend and venturist Daemyn Wynde happened on the world stage of my fictional planet Prime. Superficially similar to the celebrity marriage of Leia Organa and Han Solo, except without the galactic tyrant father, Jedi Master twin brother, Wookiee third wheel, or Rebellion against an evil Empire.
Utara entered politics determined to change Prime – a world that for all intents and purposes considers itself bent more toward utopia – for the better, to fix the wrongs she observed growing up as the daughter of a diplomat. At times, I see pieces of famous women in her character – the brains of Condoleeza Rice and the steely determination of Hilary Clinton, for example, with a touch of Margaret Thatcher’s ruthlessness – but Utara certainly isn’t modeled after any of them as directly as Daemyn’s character design. Utara’s idealism emerged from a deep-seated need to protect and nurture things, and she believes nothing can stop her from obtaining her goals.
Once Utara had children, her priorities changed. While she still had her personal and political goals, the welfare of her children came above all else. This lioness and her cubs mentality will define her story and her relationship with her children, particularly her daughter. It’s not unusual to hear about famous actresses and singers who have put their careers on hold or readjusted their schedules to allow them to raise a family. My own mother, a career civil servant, did the same, and I know plenty of women who might be further along in their career trajectories had it not been for motherhood. So Utara became, in my mind, a very real projection of the choices many women face in their lives when they balance their own dreams with the well-being of the children they have borne into the world.
What I really wanted from her character was a means to represent motherhood without glossing over the difficult decisions mothers make each day. Should I leave the kids with a caretaker or stay home? Should I work longer hours so I can provide my children with more things, or work fewer hours and have less? At the same time, I wanted to create situations that real life women could relate to and learn from. As I formed the other characters in the political backdrop of the Primean government, I found that most of those characters were male, and I checked myself. What did that say about my world-building? But thinking about it more, I kept it in the story. Quite often in real life that is the dynamic I’m faced with, and in talking to other women in corporate jobs, they too often found the gender mix unequal. Putting Utara in that same dynamic is relatable and real to what I know, and I can use these moments as ways to show a woman working within that dynamic successfully.
Although Utara isn’t grounded in one or two iconic real life individuals, I hope her character will come across as real as her husband Daemyn. Most importantly, I hope readers find in her character some piece of the fabulous women in their lives.
Wynde is in full swing, just past the 120,000 word mark this week. I look forward to sharing the adventure with you.