Discriminating Monster owes its existence to French Toast Casserole. I am not making this up.
Back in 2008, an editor had infuriated some in the speculative fiction community for publishing an anthology that claimed to be something along the lines of 'Best of the BESTEST SF EVAR!!!!11' and had not included any female authors. I don't recall participating in the internet furor that ensued, but the arguments got me thinking about the great gender disparity present in fairy tales.
Are princesses really that much tastier than princes? Sugar and spice vs. puppy dog tails…really? What if it were true?
That wondering set me on the path to writing Vren. For a long time, I was hooked on trying to explain the reasons why monsters go after princesses' destinies (as opposed to princes' destinies), but I could never get the exposition right. It was too heavy handed and political, especially coming from Vren—and I could hardly choose another POV to go at the topic, since I was determined to write this in first-person.
I shelved Discriminating Monster shortly after starting it.
Sometime in the fall of 2010, my wife introduced our family to a delicious new breakfast dish called 'French Toast Casserole.' I include a link to Paula Deen's recipe for the dish, with the warning: like all things from Paula Deen's kitchen, this is not a dish for the faint of heart. Bake at your own risk. However, I promise that if it kills you, you will go to the Great Unknown happily. The smell of cinnamon and nutmeg—and the cozy feeling of family gathered around the table for breakfast—stirred ideas for this story. French toast casserole makes an appearance in Discriminating Monster in acknowledgment of its inspirational powers.
That breakfast provided me with the characters of Zash and Sojet; it also helped me to see a way to keep Mercedes with Vren, rather than running away or trying to kill herself. When I came across the idea that Vren had a family with children of a similar age as Mercedes, I also stumbled on the idea that they were becoming more attached to this princess than Vren was; and of course that provided conflict, which is the best cure for writer's block that I know.
Another element that had been holding me back was that initially, I'd considered Discriminating Monster to be a light-hearted romp through a world that mirrored our own. But…Vren didn't work as Puck. The more I thought about the business that he was engaged in, especially after I added Zash and Sojet to the equation, the less I could see him zinging out one-liners and being flippant. The irony that took the place of flippancy felt much more natural and…justified.
I suppose by mentioning the fact that Discriminating Monster was inspired partly by an internet discussion about gender parity, I'm obligated to provide a statement about what the story ultimately means in that context. I'm hesitant to say what my stories mean, though. What I've written, I've written, and I hate to impose my viewpoint on anyone else's thoughts. Like explaining a joke: the exercise ruins it. I'm happy to discuss possibilities with you though—IGMS affords us a place to scream at one another over on Hatrack.com. I'll be honest, though, even there, I'm not likely to lay down hard declarations about whether or not Vren represents modern utilitarian chauvinism.
I don't want to spoil the novel version.
--Scott M. Roberts