Where Did THAT Come From: Shenti and Her Family

Shenti and her family have probably the most complicated development history of any of my supporting characters to date.

The snarky Partisan spy with ideas about tailoring was originally a male character (yes, shades of Garak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), who sort of flirted with the hero’s sister and vice versa (yes, shades of Tora Ziyal from Deep Space Nine), and annoyed the heck of the hero in the process. I could see the hero’s annoyance very clearly, but the actual flirtation wasn’t working right in my head. As told in a previous post, the brother-sister dynamic wasn’t working right either.

When I realized Jetay needed a younger brother, not a younger sister, I decided to gender-flip the Partisan spy, and not push the idea of a romance track between the spy and Jetay’s younger brother unless it felt right. The gender-flip would help keep me from running too short of female characters, and it would keep the spy from being too much like Garak. (Who is probably the most widely quoted character to come out of that particular Star Trek spinoff, and single-handedly changed actor Andrew J. Robinson’s screen image from “that psycho in Dirty Harry” to “that Cardassian guy.”)

I found it surprisingly hard to “cast” the role of female Garak, until I saw a picture of Rachel Robinson (Andrew J. Robinson’s daughter) smiling like her father, and decided that Shenti wasn’t female Garak per se, she was Garak’s daughter. In my head, Shenti’s not a perfect visual match for Rachel Robinson, being more Middle Eastern looking, but she has the smile, the chin, and the light-colored, strangely compelling eyes. In spite of all the trouble I had figuring her out, I quickly discovered that Shenti was a lot of fun to write, and that yes, she might have a thing for Khed. That part of the original concept for the Partisan spy was back in play.

For the sequels to Shadow Captain, I had this idea that Shenti’s and Lanati’s parents would appear in the third book. At that point, I had a vague idea of Lanati’s parents as very dignified, dutiful upper class types who would contrast with Shenti’s mother (imagine Julia Childs with an enthusiasm for poisons and a dislike for short, smart-alecky engineers) and her father (a somewhat deranged victim of the mindbenders, partway between Regular Garak and Crazy Empok Nor Garak. Good news, he liked Khed. Bad news, he hated the White Knights, including Jetay.)

Then I saw the 2012 Italian language version of Nero Wolfe on MHZ, got curious about other Italian adaptations of English language literature on youtube, and the next thing I knew I was watching the same actor play Mr. Darcy in Italian Pride and Prejudice and Sir Mulberry Hawk in Italian Nicolas Nickleby. The severe cognitive dissonance gave me a headache. Out of this headache was born a new concept for Shenti’s father: Roukazor the Thorn Master, alias the Black Knight, still suave and snarky, but psychic this time. Also, more macho and rather less unhinged than the earlier version of the character. He actually has a fair amount in common with the hero of my failed “Space Sanjuro” story, but he’s not quite so emotionally armored, and he’s not the main character, so his belief in his own awesomeness doesn’t affect the story as much.

This in turn resulted in me changing up Shenti’s mother as well. She became Mauti, a quiet but tough pilot who inherited the “victim of mindbenders” backstory that had previously belonged to her husband. She handled the trauma a lot better than the early version of Shenti’s father had.

I learned all this about Roukazor and Mauti while trying and failing to write the Kindle Vella series Thorn Master. (See previous comments about characters who are awesome and they know it and how this unbalances the story.) Eventually, in March 2022, I unpublished the episodes I had put up on Vella, and put Thorn Master on the back burner.

By the time I decided to reduce the Star Master series to two books, I realized I would need to add Shenti’s and Lanati’s parents to the second book. (Still working on that, as I write this). As Shenti’s family gained in clarity and importance, Lanati’s shrunk, to the point where I think we will have only one or two scenes with Lanati’s father. But that is a story for another time.

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