Now that the Sorcerer is defeated and the dragon is dead, who is going to rebuild those towns? Who's going to fix that gate? What are they going to eat? This is the premise of my newest novel Dragon Removal Service. I think the basic idea came to me after watching The Desolation of Smaug a long time ago.
In that Tolkien story, a dragon does some serious destruction to a town. I mean half the film is the dragon knocking stuff over and burning it. Humans being human, someone would find a way to make money from all that dragon destruction. Right?
At first I thought it would be a setup: the dragon destroys the town, pretends to die, then the builders show up and make the real money (which they split with the dragon). Or maybe the war really is over, and lots of companies are rebuilding, but nobody wants to take on the harder jobs. Maybe a few evil orcs are hanging out in the area, maybe a few Devils Snare (vines from Harry Potter that strangle you), are still in the garden. Not enough to require a hero. But enough to be annoying. Who would clean it up? Who would fill that gap?
As an archaeologist, I've noted that when it comes to a difficult job that no one wants, it is usually the minority culture that gets it done. Since we are talking about hundreds of cultures spanning thousands of years, the word minority here just means: a distinct culture that must be aware of the rules of the majority culture, yet retains its own identity. They don't take on these jobs because the work is desirable, but because often it is the only opportunity given to them by the majority.
So for example, in 19th century Idaho gold-panning, the Chinese were known as industrious sifters of gold, taking on the difficult areas that were supposedly "played out", and making a profit. They worked much harder, for much longer, and were able to eke a living out of it. The Carbonari in Nevada were the same, Italian immigrants who worked to make charcoal for the mines. The Basque sheepherders of Wyoming also took on a difficult job that others did not want to do.
In Dragon Removal Service, I thought the clean up of left-over magic would be much the same. A marginalized group would take on the work, and try to make a profit from it. But who to pick?
I wanted to write a mix between Ghostbusters and a lighthearted middle-grade fantasy, such as the first few Harry Potter novels, or The Worst Witch. I knew my story would involve fun struggles against magic, and I thought children would be the best choice as protagonists, because I wanted them to be inexperienced at it, and I wanted it to be fun. But there were still several dozen choices about characters that I needed to make. And to be honest, I'm not much of a planner. I just write and see if it's good.
So how did I choose a girl boss?
I was in the process of starting two new businesses while I wrote Dragon Removal Service, and I was also teaching my daughters about business and negotiation (yep, I'm weird). So I suppose that's why I chose a girl boss, Gulchima Brixby as my protagonist. At the time I did not know that #GirlBoss was a thing (nor have I ever used a hash tag). I was just thinking about how my own children would act in this situation, and that carried over into the fiction.
I was also inspired by the equality I saw during a visit to Estonia, so in my mythical kingdom of Baltica, both men and women fill all roles in the society (see my posts on Kihnu and Estonia).
To be honest, the fact that Gulchima is female doesn't affect her nearly as much as the fact that she is 11-years-old. Nobody wants to hire an 11-year-old to fix their castle, and she inherits a construction company on page 1.
I casted about for examples of female entrepreneurs in fantasy, but I could not find many (certainly there are many strong heroines). One of the few examples I could think of was Pillars of the Earth (a historical novel set in the middle ages that also involves a construction project). In it a deposed noblewoman starts her own wool business and eventually builds up her business to the point she can support her brother, a knight.
I enjoy logistical stories like this, including Cold Mountain (another historical fiction that featured a female entrepreneur running a farm) and The Martian (a survival story where the male protagonist must plan what he needs to eat in order to survive).
So why did I choose a girl boss? I think because I wanted to teach my children something interesting. I wanted to create an example, of how someone would really act if she were thrust into that business situation, what mistakes she might make, what natural skills she might have. But everything is based on Gulchima as a character, not some version of "girls should act this way".
I'm hoping that fantasy writers create more small-business owners and less secret princesses.
Copyright (c) 2019 E.C. Stever