Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Human 76 - How Maeve Came To Be

When I was asked by Lisa Shambrook if I wanted to write a story for a post-apocalyptic anthology she was developing, I jumped at the chance. Lisa had been a part of other anthologies that looked like fun, and this seemed to have even more potential. This offer came about because I had once asked her if she knew of any open anthologies like the ones with which she'd been involved.

Of course, it was only after I said yes that I stopped to think about what this actually meant. The original time-frame was short. I was already working overtime at my day job and had another story in process. On top of that, I'd never really considered a story of that genre (post-apocalyptic). And it wasn't as if I could just make something up that stood by itself. My characters had to have some interaction with Lisa's creations, Ghabrie and Nahria who were the central characters in what would become the Human 76 anthology. How could I do that without causing problems in another writer's story? How would it all tie together? Post-apocalyptic? What had I gotten myself into?

Still, I'd made the commitment, so I had to come up with something.

I came up with Maeve.

She's young, somewhere between fifteen and eighteen. She may not truly know how old she is. Being from the sparsely populated Northlands, she's had little social interaction, and is a bit na├»ve. Maeve doesn't have any special "powers" or skills. She can't leap tall buildings at a single bound—or even read. I didn't think there would be many schools left in a post-apocalyptic world.

In addition to being born into a disastrous situation, she has to deal with the stigma of having red hair. It seems a disease has targeted those with coppery curls sentencing most to an early death. Of those, the few who are still alive are mostly mutants, and they don't have the best reputation. Unfortunately for Maeve, people see her red hair and make that leap, deciding she's a mutant. And Maeve isn't very happy about that.

She's also a bit on the meek side, a giggly teenager who asks for nothing more than to spend time with her cousin making soap and growing herbs to sell. She's not someone with dreams of world domination or conquering evil empires.

Overall, other than the problems her hair creates, she's just a normal teenager.

Doesn't sound like much of a heroine up to this point, does it? Certainly not very exciting.

How did I see Maeve? What did I expect from this tale?

I wanted this to be a coming-of-age story. I wanted Maeve to have characteristics that the average person could relate to, meaning she just a young person working at store. Many teenagers get their first work experience in somewhat the same way by working at a small business, often a retail establishment. I also put her into a reasonably comfortable existence (or as much as can be expected in her post-apocalyptic world), then ripped her out of it, tossing her into a situation where she must grow and comprehend the true nature of the world, adapting as necessary. That is something we all do as we grow up. Well, we give it a good try. 

Yes, I've heard that starting a story where "everything is right with the world" doesn't grab the reader quickly enough, but that would leave me the problem of filling in the blanks through flashbacks or some other device. That could work in a novel, but with the length constraints of a short story, especially one that was running longer than requested by a considerable amount, using those methods would have taken too much space. Even if they were accepted by the anthologist, it wouldn't be fair to the other authors to take up extra space when they followed the rules.

So, what does Maeve bring to the story? How does she see herself?

She doesn't think of herself as brave or strong, but she does have an inner strength that comes to the surface, even if involuntarily, when required. And she's a determined young woman—she doesn't give up easily. Yet, even when forced, she's a reluctant warrior. In the situations that arise in The Song of Aiden, it is this contrast between her gentle persona and the harshness of her post-apocalyptic world that makes the story work. At least I hope it worked and that this contrast came through.

At this point, I have a character, but how do I work Ghabrie into the story? I can't just have her walk up to Ghabrie and say, "Hi!" I needed a situation to bring all the characters together. So, I decided on—romance.

What? Romance? Really? Me? I'm not a romance writer! I'm not a post-apocalyptic writer, either. I'm barely a writer at all! What was I thinking? I already had one sub-plot (the mutant / red hair thing). Would the romance be considered a sub-plot, too? How many sub-plots can a short story carry? What had I gotten myself into (again)?

All I can say is that's what popped into my head. I have no idea where all these silly thoughts came from. (Okay, I'm going to blame Beth Rhodes who, as a challenge, enticed me to write my first sort of romantic bit on her blog almost a decade ago.) Will it sound ridiculous? Unbelievable? Only time (and the reviews of the readers) will decide.

I can't tell too much more without giving away the whole story, but this may shed some light on how I developed the character Maeve. I can only hope readers enjoy the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

In the years since Human 76 was published, the thought has crossed my mind (more than once) to write a follow-up story with Maeve, one that fills in the gap, picking up where she leaves Ghabrie and returns to the Northlands before re-entering the Human 76 world. I can imagine a few adventures she in which she might partake. What do you think? Would you be interested in reading it? Let me know!

Human 76 is available from Amazon.

Cover image: Human 76 © 2013 Bekah Shambrook
Cover image: Human 76

© 2020 K. R. Smith All rights reserved


  1. Oh!! Yes!! I love it already.
    I can’t wait to read it.

  2. Oh hey. I’ve read this one. Ha!! I love when that happens. I shall reread. There is nothing like a good reread.

    1. Hi, Beth. Good to hear from you! I do owe you an e-mail and a review. Been busy like I never thought possible and I'm slowing down in my old age. I've posted a few Tweets about your latest book - I hope it helps!


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