“Sere from the Green” Chapter One Commentary

WARNING:  THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

Also, it won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the novel.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers for other books.  You have been warned.

Sere from the Green [front cover]

*Since this is my first time attempting something like this, I may make minor changes to the format depending on what works.  At the moment, I’m dividing commentary by page (otherwise it would look like a massive jumble of disjointed thoughts).  Without further ado . . .

Welcome to the commentary for Sere from the Green!  Book One of the ongoing series The Shape Shifter Chronicles, I was doing serious revisions on this book for about five years before I finally self-published.  I chose indie publishing because I wanted complete control of my story and also didn’t like the constant misogyny and discrimination I was greeted with when inquiring literary agents and publishers.  My personal favorite rejection was the one about my books having “too much estrogen” and “no one wants fantasy about women.”  Then there was the publisher who said an asexual adoptee writer “doesn’t have enough appeal to even be niche.”  Most rejections were simple form letters, but I did receive a couple like these.

My first novel (there will be so much cringing.  Authors tend to learn through experience and my first novel was definitely a learning experience).  Reading through the novel again, I’m going nuts about the formatting issues (what the fuck was doing with the tabs!?).  For example, some readers may have noticed that the placement of the acknowledgments has changed from the front of the book to end of it.  This is because on Amazon’s Look Inside, for the first book, the acknowledgments took up practically the entire preview (I think maybe a page of chapter one was included).  Oh well, the first novel is the learning experience.  Readers seem to enjoy the story enough, so I’m happy about that.   Readers are freaking awesome.

One of the most common questions I’m asked is where I got the title.  The working title for “Sere” was “The Great Four,” which is way too close to “The Fantastic Four.”  Around the time I was rewriting the novel for the second or third time, I was also researching Isis, the Ancient Egyptian Goddess.  I happened to come across Plutarch’s telling of Osiris and Isis and towards the beginning of it, he’s talking about worshippers and ragging on their practices.  He includes a passage from Hesiod to make his point and it includes the phrase “sere from the green,” which means to cut away something old so something new can grow.

Something readers may find interesting is that I switched chapters one and two during one of the last rewrites.  Originally, the book opened with Jet at the hospital.  I was working with a writing mentor at the time who pointed out that opening the novel like this made it seem like it was going to be Jet’s story.  I agreed and switched the chapters.

Pages 4 – 5

Isis is a very solitary character.  In every draft, when she is first introduced, she is alone.  In the beginning of “Sere,” she’s about as isolated as she gets.  I knew I wanted to introduce her alone and in the dark, hence her being out at night.

Her favorite novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is a deliberate choice.  I think Stephen King wrote about it in his book On Writing.  Jekyll and Hyde is considered by some to be the first shape shifter/werewolf story.  I liked this parallel, but I also liked how Jekyll and Hyde explored identity and the two sides of our personality.  One of my interests when it comes to writing is identity and what makes us who we are.

Interestingly, this novel has popped up again in my fourth novel, which I’ll write about when I get to that book’s commentary.

Isis was originally a very fastidious character, almost to the point of being a neat freak.  Her car was completely empty except for her camera.  A good friend pointed out that if she worked such weird hours, chances were her car doubled as a living space and therefore would probably resemble a disaster zone.  After reading over the chapter a couple times and then tinkering with it, I found the messy car fit the character much better.

It’s apparent Isis dislikes her job on the first page, but it’s actually a lot more complicated.  Isis feels trapped and by nature, she’s very restless.  Also, Isis is a cynic.  She doesn’t believe in the idea of satisfaction and has found happiness to be a fleeting state.

It might just be my own twisted sense of humor, but I kept cracking myself up with the idea of this woman who is descended from protectors and she hates most people.  As mentioned in the novel, Isis has the uncanny ability to get on people’s bad sides.  Which of course gets her into trouble later in the novel.

There are a few adoptee characters in this series, Isis being one.  Adoptees are difficult to find in fantasy, particularly adoptees whose stories don’t revolve solely around their biological family.  As an adoptee, I can’t even begin to express how offensive this is.  This might be controversial to say, but jesus, non-adoptees cannot write adoptee characters, especially not in genre fiction.  I seriously wish non-adoptees would just stop writing adoptee characters (I just want to sit them down and tell them, “You’re doing way more harm than good, so please, just stop.”).  There is no universal adoption experience, which a lot of non-adoptees just find completely bizarre.  One of my main motivations in writing this series, aside from wanting more kickass women, was wanting to give adoptees characters they could relate to.

I believe Isis is the only adoptee in my series who meets her biological family (which I will discuss in later chapters).  Isis’ adoptive family isn’t ever introduced, unfortunately, because she is such an isolated character.  When making up her background, I wrote Isis as frequently in conflict with those around her.  The first chance she got, Isis moved away (though she didn’t get across the ocean, like she would’ve liked).  In all likelihood, Isis probably didn’t even tell anyone she was leaving.  She would have just left and assumed Shae, her cousin, would tell whoever needed to know everything.  One of her flaws is Isis can be selfish occasionally.

It’s mentioned the town is going on hedonistic bender and the crime rate is rising.  Eagle-eyed readers who have already read the other books probably recognize this as a sign of the Big Bad of the series.  We’ll get to him in book two.

I was so hesitant about writing Isis as barely even thinking before taking off to photograph a murder scene.  Especially with reports of gunfire.  I’ve been assured that similar situations have been known to happen.  Photojournalists sometimes arrive at crime scenes before the police.

Page 6

I came up with the old factory in this town from the numerous ghost tours I went on when I was younger.  I’ve always had a fascination with ghost stories and urban legends.  In my early teenage years, I went through a ghost hunt phase.  I soon realized that there were new stories about the same sites year after year.  It’s really rare to find a consistent ghost story.  Almost every town has some supposedly haunted location and there’s usually 101 stories about it.

Isis will never admit to breaking the law.  She merely bends it on occasion (poor, poor Steve).

I leave it up to the reader to decide if someone (or something) was actually out in the field around the old factory.  I love, love, love writing eerie scenes.  They are so much fun.  I’ve always loved what I call “corner of the eye” moments, when you’re not entirely sure if you saw or felt something.

The baton:  oh my god, I get so much shit from my brother about Isis’ baton.  It’s a reasonable weapon for her to carry and Isis isn’t about to go out in the midst of a crime spree without some form of protection.  I briefly considered having her carry a Taser, but the baton was a better fit.  If someone made the mistake of trying to attack her, Isis would want to whale on the would be assailant for a bit.  A Taser would be way too quick.  Also, it’s a lot easier to walk around with a baton and not get odd looks.

Page 7

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Isis doesn’t get along with the police.  There are very few people she does get along with and any kind of authority figure isn’t likely to be in that number.

There’s a lot of animal imagery in this novel for obvious reasons.  Isis was always an animal lover.  She’s the kind of person who prefers animals to people.  It’s revealed later in this chapter that she has never been bitten, scratched, or stung by any animal.  When I was writing a character outline of Isis, I created a past for her.  She had a very lonely childhood, but would never admit to being lonely.  There were times in her life when she only had animals for company.  Though she likely didn’t have any animals in her own house, Shae and Steve both grew up with menageries.  Chances are she had a dog or cat or two at their houses.

When Isis finds Bryn’s body, that’s her first encounter with violent death.  Even though she is a little sickened at the sight of it, she doesn’t throw up.

Despite all her flaws, Isis really does have a good heart.  Looking at my character notes for this scene, I wrote the following in big red letters:  “This is a woman who has never been a bystander.  Even when turning a blind eye would have been easier, perhaps even wiser, Isis would never consider doing so.  It’s completely against her nature.  She cannot stand bullies and will not be silent if she witnesses a person or animal being harmed.”

“The fact that there would be an ocean between her and any sort of relations was merely an added bonus” ~ one of my favorite lines and reading it again, I think Isis is lying to herself a bit.  However strong her wanderlust, I don’t think she could leave Steve and Shae.

Page 8

Yes, Isis talks to the corpse.  She’s alone in the dark.  What else is she going to do?  When I was writing this scene, I pictured someone watching her from the shadows.  She’s never alone in that factory.

An important moment in the series:  the first appearance of the Corporation’s symbol.  The symbol has been changed ever so slightly in the second book.  It was flipped and the cuneiform became part of the “X.”  One of these days I’m going to have this novel professionally edited and remedy that inconsistency.

Steve is introduced!  I love this character, this poor long-suffering character.  Steve was actually inspired by someone who I went to school with.  This poor guy who had the same algebra class with me in high school.  In our algebra class, we were sat in groups of three or four.  I was in a group of three with this guy (who I had known since elementary school) and this spoiled rich white girl, who I’ll call J.  When I say rich, I’m talking owning a horse stable, summer homes, and high end cars kind of wealth.  She also got very hostile towards the two of us if we screwed something up when we were doing reviews or some other math exercise.  J. and I didn’t get along.  At all.  I seem to recall a white board being tossed back and forth between desks when I get fed up with her shrieking.  This poor guy was in the middle of it constantly.  It got to the point where J. and I just refused to talk to each other and the guy became the go-between (“Would you please tell J. that she still hasn’t found x and we kind of need that to actually solve the problem?”).  Despite this ridiculous situation, the guy never complained.  That kind of patience is just mind-boggling to me.

Page 8 – 9

Steve and Isis are best friends.  Their relationship is actually closer to a sibling relationship, which shows a bit in the factory.  Isis loves teasing him and always tries to get a rise out of him.  Though he’s easily exasperated, Steve enjoys their banter.

Page 9

I’ve always enjoyed characters who know each other so well, they don’t need words.  Isis knows how Steve will try to guilt her and can easily out maneuver him (if she can’t see the wounded look, it can’t work on her).  Steve knows she doesn’t like her senses being inhibited and makes sure he keeps the light out of her eyes.  Also, Steve never pushes her to talk about things she doesn’t want to talk about.  He respects her and her boundaries and vice versa.

I’ll discuss Steve more in chapter three’s commentary, but it’s worth noting that Steve is one of the only two people Isis feels comfortable showing any kind of weakness around.  She acts like she’s invincible (hence her working despite the doctor’s orders).  Isis is the kind of woman who isn’t easily deterred.  Not many women in my series are.

Page 10

When figuring out the Corporation’s official symbol, I knew I wanted something kind of ancient but out of place.  It had to be something that was older than its more familiar form (which humans would use).  The Chi Rho has a very interesting history, which I highly recommend looking up.  One thing that appealed to me was that it was stamped on money at one point.  It’s simplicity made it easy to corrupt:  if you look at the symbol on my second novel, it’s flipped and the cuneiform makes up the bottom of the stem.  Every part of this symbol has meaning, which I won’t go into.  Spoilers and all.

Page 11

Isis was always written as a night owl.  She likes the darkness, partly because of the peace and quiet that comes with it.  The day is much too loud and busy for her liking.  A lot of shape shifters tend to be more fond of the night, but there are day larks.  Shae, for example, is probably more of a day person.

Rick is again based on someone I went to school with, only I hated said individual.  Everyone has had the misfortune of crossing paths with an entitled asshole or two in their life.  It’s even worse when said entitled asshole is a jock, a bully, a misogynist, and a homophobe.

Needless to say, Rick torments Isis in the most passive aggressive way possible.  It started from the second she was hired.  She’s had to deal with this guy for as long as she’s worked there and has probably dreamed of throttling him at one point or another.

Page 12

Isis has never carried a purse in her life.  That satchel has been with her throughout her life.  She also doesn’t like heels, makeup, or dresses.  Isis is really about practicality:  she likes things that serve a specific purpose.

The central mystery of Sere from the Green was inspired by a fear I share with Isis:  not being able to trust my mind.  Isis is extremely unsettled by the possibility that her mind and memory is unreliable.  When she opens the pictures on the computer and the body isn’t in them, Isis is scared.  There’s a split second where she doubts what she knows she saw.  Isis responds to this moment of fear by lashing out.  Whereas she typically falls back on sarcasm when irritated, when she’s scared, Isis becomes almost aggressive.  When it comes to fight or flight, Isis has always been one who will fight.

Page 13

Isis, being who she is, cannot let things go.  She’s never been able to do so.  In this case, she’s going to find out what happened to that body and that symbol.  She doesn’t care if she has to raze the town to the ground in order to do so.  This determination can capture the attention of the wrong sorts, which Isis has done without realizing it.  In my outline, Isis has sealed her destiny the minute she walks into the morgue.

Also, Isis can be manipulative when she needs to be.  Despite her dislike of nearly everybody, she learned at an early age how to manipulate people.  It’s not something she does often (again, Isis isn’t a bad person and she does have a good heart), but she has learned the hard way that sometimes she needs to use that particular skill to survive.  Isis prizes her independence and absolutely hates asking for help.  When she’s brought into the world of the protectors, it’s a frustrating experience because she’s basically starting from scratch, which requires a lot of assistance from others.

Steve’s Prius:  (spoiler alert) like all shape shifters, Steve is an environmentalist.

Page 14

Steve hasn’t experienced much death in his life (by shape shifter standards, he’s still a youth, as is Isis).  Most immortal beings have an instinctive aversion to death.  Isis, having been raised by mortals, is much more accustomed to death and is therefore not as affected by it.  This is a huge part of why she seems a lot older than most shape shifters, who are technically older than her (Jet and Lilly’s kids, for example).

Isis and Steve haven’t fought very often.  Steve’s a lot more laid-back than his friend, which more often than not prevents any serious fights.  Also, he’s used to her cynicism and faults.  Over the years, Isis has learned to trust him.  So his denial on this page feels like a betrayal and that wounds her more than she will admit.  One of the only people she trusts is lying to her and she has no idea why.

Page 15

Isis is completely unimpressed with machismo.  If you objectify her, you’re beneath her and not worth her time.  The only reason she continues talking with Redfield is because she wants information from him.  If she didn’t, Isis would be right back out that door.

Isis experiences a mild anxiety attack in the morgue.  She is really terrified at the possibility that her mind isn’t reliable.  Isis is a very intelligent woman and her mind has always been her safe haven (as it often is for most intelligent people).  The possibility of having that safe haven ripped away from her is a nightmarish thought.

When I started this series, I always knew my main villain would have the ability to erase people.  I think a common fear is being forgotten.  I tried to take this fear to the next level:  what if all evidence of a person could be scrubbed from existence?  What if the memories of them could be erased?  I liked the idea of a villain who has some ability to alter memory.  Going into someone’s head is such a violation.  In the book two commentary, I’ll probably discuss a bit the dichotomy of the main villain of the series.

Page 16 – 17

This scene was difficult to write because both characters are hurting.  Isis is scared and feels like she just lost one of the only people she could trust.  Steve doesn’t want to lie to her, but he has to maintain his cover.  Both for her safety and for his.  Had Isis not been so unsettled by the disappearing body, she probably wouldn’t have diffused the fight like she does.  When she leaves the morgue, she’s still wrestling with the fear that she might be losing her mind.  At that particular moment, Isis can’t lose one of her oldest friends too.

I really loved how this chapter ended.  I wanted to introduce readers to (spoiler alert, highlight to see) Jet without naming him right away.  He’s obviously very important to the plot, but he has also been an important part of Isis’ life, even though she never realized it.  He’s another really great character who will be discussed further in upcoming chapters.  This scene throws him a bit because he wasn’t expecting to run into (literally in a manner of speaking) Isis.  Being close with her mother and her identical twin, this is probably a rather bizarre moment for him.  It’s probably also an “oh shit, how much attention did she just attract” kind of moment.  He’ll be having so, so many of those.

And thus concludes chapter one commentary.  I hope readers find this interesting.  I probably didn’t write as much about process as I should have.  It’s really tricky to do, but I’ll try in future commentaries.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to respond (but try to keep spoilers to a minimum).  I’m aiming for a post a week and there may be times when I do more than that.  Thanks for reading.

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About Lauren Jankowski

Lauren Jankowski, an author from Illinois, has been an avid reader and a genre feminist for most of her life. She holds a degree in Women and Genders Studies from Beloit College. In 2015, she founded “Asexual Artists,” a Tumblr and WordPress site dedicated to highlighting the contributions of asexual identifying individuals to the arts. She has been writing fiction since high school, when she noticed a lack of strong women in the popular genre books. When she’s not writing or researching, she enjoys reading (particularly anything relating to ancient myths) or playing with her pets. She participates in activism for asexual visibility and feminist causes. She enjoys speaking about genre feminism, a topic she is quite passionate about, and hopes to bring more strong heroines to literature, including badass asexual women. Her debut novel was "Sere from the Green," the first volume in her ongoing series "The Shape Shifter Chronicles." The sequels, "Through Storm and Night," "From the Ashes," and "Haunted by the Keres" are also available. All books can be purchased through Amazon, CreateSpace, or Smashwords.
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