The Journey of SILVER BROWN

On Characters That Speak No Recognizable Human Language

In many a blog post of yesterweek, I’ve mentioned Act One of SILVER BROWN is pretty much complete. I’m not ruling out the possibility that it still might undergo a few more nips, tucks and organ transplants, but at least it’s at a point where I’m more or less satisfied with it. Acts Two and Three are both in an early-to-intermediate stage of their development. Like literary vestigial limbs. They will surely evolve into glorious eldritch tentacles dripping with digestive sucker juices and territorial musk, but for now they’re just stumps. Act Two is a little bit more than a stump, though. It’s the one I’m presently editing.

These chapters have something of a different feel to them compared to Act One. Act One details a critical moment in Florys MacNab’s career as a witch, and most of the supporting characters are other witches. Act Two sees Florys venture out into worlds beyond the Sisterhood to learn a host of horrifying cryptic truths her Lodge has hitherto kept from her. The supporting cast has almost completely changed. Characters that were only mentioned in passing or casually alluded to in Act One become much more prominent in Act Two. This blog post will focus on one of those characters in particular. Kent Fairholt’s trusty sidekick, the utility program Sherman dot Quebec Lima niner.


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This is an approximation of what Sherman looks like, although it might not be an actual picture of him.

It was established from the earliest drafts that Sherman can and does speak. His function within the narrative is as a voice of reason. A foil and counterpart for Kent Fairholt, frequently correcting him when he’s wrong. Kent’s conscience, personified. Or more accurately, mustelified. When Sherman speaks, Kent is the only human who can understand him. To Florys and other humans, Sherman’s utterances just sound like a series of clucks, squawks and chirrups. Hence, Sherman’s brainy sayings (at least the ones relevant to the plot) must necessarily be translated and interpreted for Florys (and ultimately the audience) by his significantly less brainy friend. The results may vary.

Throughout the editing process, I experimented with several different approaches trying to find the best way to represent Sherman’s utterances in the text. The earlier stages of the book’s evolution would feature Florys including phrases like “the ferret clucked and squawked” or “the ferret clucked and squawked some more” in her narration of the story (she seldom refers to Sherman by name, mostly out of disdain for Kent). The result was that Sherman came across like a one-dimensional character, saying the same old shit over and over again. After about the fifth time the ferret clucked and squawked, he started to get on my nerves. So in order to make him less Jar Jar Binksy, I found it necessary to expand his vocabulary a bit. That, and to present more of his lines of dialogue in an onomatopoeic manner as opposed to giving verbal descriptions of his utterances – a cue I probably took from the fight scenes in that old Batman series from the Sixties starring the late great Adam West…



His vocabulary would be expanded further still when Our Lady of 420 whispered in my ear one morning and casually suggested that he ought to be equipped with a vast internal library of sound effects. An idea completely compatible with the nature of the character and the premise of the book.

Sherman looks like a ferret and is frequently referred to as such by Florys, but beyond superficial appearances there is nothing ferrety about him. He’s actually a musteline utility program running within the Environment. An artificial intelligence, in other words. Like a walking Siri with fur. Hence, having a library of sound effects tucked away somewhere in his brain wouldn’t disrupt the suspension of disbelief too much. The sound effects come into play when Sherman is trying to accentuate a point he’s trying to make to Kent, using them almost like auditory emojis. Any selections from the library that take more than one word to convey are given in parentheses in the text. I think I recall J.K. Rowling using a similar technique a few times in the Harry Potter series, although I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head specifically in which chapters of which books.


Squawk! Roar, meow. Bark! (Screech of an eagle). Chirrup, cluck-cluck (something that vaguely sounded like a dump truck backing up). Coo, squeak.

– Sherman dot Quebec Lima niner

 

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The Bullhorn of SILVER BROWN

Kent Fairholt Has Hatched!

As is my usual custom whenever there’s a solstice or equinox, I have published a brand-spankin’ new edition of the Silver Brown e-book. Only one new chapter is included with this version, but what a chapter it is. It has a total of five segments, and is the first of three nonconsecutive chapters in the book to be narrated by some guy named Kent Fairholt. An ancient character who I first devised around 2011. Within the context of Silver Brown, he’s the white rabbit who leads Florys down the rabbit hole. Except he’s not a rabbit. He’s a guy. A cross between my brother and an old friend of mine who I lost contact with about ten years ago, with bits and pieces of various shady guys I’ve met in bars over the years. At least that’s who he was when I first created him. He’s still that guy, more or less. Currently rides a motorscooter, with a sassy talking ferret for a sidekick. A ferret who isn’t actually a ferret.


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“Click on me and I’ll smack you…”
The Journey of SILVER BROWN

Sherman: A So-Informal-That-Clothing-Is-Optional Introduction

I’ve been actively editing the manuscript over the last several weeks, gutting and reconstructing several chapters that I had written months earlier but still had a sliver of some ineffable quality that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. A certain not-yet-ready-for-prime-time quality. I wasn’t quite sure what that quality was before, but now that the chapters in question have been allowed time to breathe, doing the necessary killing of the darlings is a much easier task.

The portion of the book that I’ve revealed to the public so far actually represents a very small percentage of the totality of all that the book is. There are many more characters and wacky adventures to come. One of those characters is called Sherman. He’s a talking ferret – more accurately, a utility program in ferret form, a program capable of running other programs in the Environment. He could hypothetically appear in any form he wants to, given the fluid and malleable nature of the Environment. But a white ferret is his preferred guise, and the only one he really uses. Unless he’s in the mood to change colour. He is Kent Fairholt’s sidekick, confidant, chief science officer, cigar lighter and occasional weapon.

His name is derived from Sherman Avenue, one of the major thoroughfares in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, which for seven years was my hometown. Many characters in the book are named after streets in Hamilton – two other characters, Elmýr Garfield and the aforementioned Mr. Fairholt, were surnamed after the two streets to the immediate east of Sherman Avenue along Main Street. That was actually the part of Hamilton I used to live in, so it’s kind of near and dear to my heart.


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I like to link of Sherman as a sort of Google Assistant with fur. He processes whatever request Kent gives him, and always seems to be the expert on every question under the sun. Except that Sherman speaks in an ultra high-speed variant of Morse code expressed in the normal clicking sounds ferrets make. Since this book takes place at a date far off in the future when humanity has long forgotten about Morse code, Sherman’s utterances can only be interpreted and understood by Kent, who has special software installed in the microscopic computer in his brain that translates Sherman’s ferretese into something ordinary humans can readily understand.

Sherman also has a transubstantiation engine in his stomach. Whenever Kent needs something, be it a weapon, some kind of tool, or even just something to munch on, he can just ask Sherman for it. If Sherman feels Kent’s request is honourable and within reason, he uses his stomach to compile whatever it is that Kent needs, and regurgitate it out his mouth. If not, he just gets all lippy with Kent about the merits of his request.


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“I refuse to cough up anything with peanuts. You know damn well I have viruses, you bloody twit…”

The transubstantiation engine is not the only program that Sherman can conjure. He is also running a complete and thorough digital replica of Her Honor the Crocus Rupertia, Most Blessed Vicereine of Lodge No. 7714 of the Thirteenth Nation Sisterhood – a veteran cyberwitch of the most erudite disposition, and Elmýr Garfield’s late mother. Crocus Rupertia has a mind of her own, and frequently speaks to Elmýr using Sherman as her medium. I could tell you more about that, but then we’re getting into a whole other character and that’s really the subject of another blog post.