Sunday, November 11, 2012

Radovan & the Count: Sources of Inspiration

Rick Hellgeth asked me elsewhere about my influences in creating Count Jeggare and Radovan. These days I sometimes half-jokingly describe the boys in superhero terms: What if Batman teamed up with Wolverine? The truth is I’m most conscious of influences from movies, although certainly books and comics affect me as well.

Early on I described the boys as magic Holmes and Watson, but that was more an elevator pitch for James Sutter as I dusted off an unused outline and rewrote it for the novella “Hell’s Pawns.”  When I wrote the earlier outline I’d been re-viewing some of my favorite Hong Kong action movies. A recurring theme in those films is brotherhood between partners or rivals. So while I now joke about Radovan & the count as Oscar and Felix from The Odd Couple, movies like A Better Tomorrow, Hardboiled, and Infernal Affairs were probably a stronger influence on their basic relationship.

Once James okayed the pitch, I made a few key changes to the characters to make them more firmly grounded in Golarion. The Radovan character originally had an Asian-influenced name, which James felt didn’t fit Cheliax. I perused the campaign guide and noticed that Ustalav was distant but not too distant from Cheliax. Later, renaming and relocating Radovan turned out to be a great choice.

Originally I planned to tell “Hell’s Pawns” from two alternating third-person points of view, but previous Pathfinder Chronicles had all been in first-person. Also, I’d been watching a lot of film noir in the months before I began writing, so Radovan’s tough-guy voice came first and easiest. Since I had a lot of story to tell in a relatively short space, I decided to make him the sole narrator. Later, I thought of Varian and Radovan less as Holmes & Watson and more as Holmes & Marlowe.

When James later wanted me to pitch a novel featuring the same character, Radovan’s Ustalavic roots made the decision for me. As a kid I was a fiend for what I then called “monster movies,” especially the Universal and Hammer films. Various Monster Manuals had made me a fan of non-European monsters, so I had to include a [SPOILER OMITTED] instead of the more traditional [SPOILER OMITTED] when Varian [SPOILER OMITTED] the [SPOILER OMITTED] [SPOILER OMITTED].

Movies continued to influence my writing. The more recent French thriller Brotherhood of the Wolf even had a noble/lowborn investigative pair, so it was a big stylistic influence on the first novel, and I was pleased to see how many readers recognized the influence.

By the time I outlined Master of Devils, I felt free to indulge another movie love: wuxia or kung fu movies. I also immediately thought of Barry Hughart’s brilliant Master Li and Number Ten Ox novels, but the real influence on my novel was about a hundred movies I re-watched or remembered loving over the past couple of decades. Count Jeggare is a little bit like the famous Judge Dee, a pulp fiction detective based on the historical character Di Renjie, recently portrayed in the wonderful Tsui Hark film Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

The original pitch for Queen of Thorns was “Aliens with elves.” The eventual novel departed drastically from the original concept, but if you squint you might see what I was going for: a team of highly competent individuals with conflicting agendas against an overwhelming horde of monsters. And that pitch had little effect on Radovan and the count; rather, clues dropped in earlier stories finally bring around big revelations about both the count’s and Radovan’s heritage.

As for the wise-cracking antiheroic bent of my characters, I have to credit Roger Zelazny whose novels more or less defined my taste in heroic fantasy, even after I’d come to love Howard, Tolkien, Leiber, Moorcock, and the other stars of my teenage years. It was in part because of Roger’s work that I became such a fan of Chandler, Hammet, and their contemporary descendants.

Ultimately, I can’t point to one source and say it was a principal influence on Radovan and the Count. Everything I’ve thought of along the way I used as shorthand to explain the basic relationship between Count Jeggare and Radovan to an editor or a potential reader.


  1. I have my own thoughts, which will be up on whenever the posting gods put them up...

  2. You fill me with anxiety, messenger of the gods.