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Teaser Tuesday: The Usefulness of Outsiders

Tuesday, May 28, 2019 - 07:35

I blogged once about how one of the things I value in a protagonist is standing outside the norms and structures of societal power in some way. It gives them more incentive to see the cracks in the system. The fact that all my protagonists are women in early 19th century Europe gives them a head start on that outsider status, though there were certainly plenty of women who didn't view themselves in that way. Ones who enjoyed and accepted the place that gave them in the world.

Roz is an "outsider" in comparison to my previous point of view characters in being of the working class. Even Serafina--who otherwise comes the closest--understands herself more as the daughter of a scholar than being from a laboring family. But Roz is an outsider in a much more useful way for story-telling, because she is still relatively newly come to the city of Rotenek and has only the barest familiarity with some of the people, habits, and trades of the city that others might take for granted.

The rivermen, who provide transport along the Rotein and up the larger chanulezes, are unique to Rotenek as an Alpennian institution. So when Roz encounters Oliva Hald and--through her--becomes curious about the rivermen's trade, her fascination with every little thing that Liv does becomes an opportunity for us, as readers, to notice those things as well. We don't necessarily understand the details, because Roz doesn't understand them and she's our window. And at the moment, Liv seems disinclined to enlighten her ignorance...

* * *

She only glared at me and twitched the tie rope to pull it loose from the ring, then gave a whistle for her dog. As he jumped down into the boat, she dipped her fingers into the river then tasted them or kissed them or something. That seemed a filthy thing to do, even here where the water didn’t smell as much. I wondered if she meant it as an insult, like making horns against me. She pushed away from the dock and as the current pulled the boat away from the bank, she worked the oars and spun it around. With a few strong pulls, she shot away into mid-river. On the water it was like she wasn’t crippled at all.

I kept thinking about her all that day. Not the way she struggled with the baskets but the way she’d spun the boat like it was a part of her. Was that why she’d ended up on the water? I’d seen a few women in the boats before but mostly it was men for their strong arms. And because you never knew what sort of passengers you might get. The rivermen were a clannish sort and mostly you had to be born to it. So maybe she would have taken it up even without her twisted foot.

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