The Pilot: Patience Hobbs

I should probably save everyone’s favorite character for last, but I want to be sure that she appears here in the first week’s blitz.  Patty, as she is known, became the darling of the vast majority of readers from the first day of publication; from pre-publication, when I was sharing her on my personal blogs and writing.com.  Everyone loved her, and if the comments and reviews are any indication, they still do.

From the moment I got serious about filling all of Kestrel’s billets, I knew there would be among them the “Steampunk Girl,” small, cute, and capable, doing a man-size job, and taking no baloney from anybody.  Yes, it’s a cliché, and I was well aware that there was going to be another big one in Captain Monroe, the unjustly cashiered military officer, but in my hubris, I felt that I could make it work.  If the response to date has been any indication, I very much did.

Steampunk Girls seem to almost exclusively be engineers, cute little pixies with a grease smudge on their cheek and an oversized wrench hanging from the pocket of their coveralls, all seeming to have been modeled, more or less, on Firefly’s Kaylee.  Look in the literature, the art, the cosplay, and there are a sea of them; only the smudged faces are different.  I like these girls, I do.  They’re pretty and witty and fly, and they usually inhabit rollicking good stories, but not wanting my Steampunk Girl to disappear into that homogeneous sea, I began to look at the other positions on the vessel.

The captain’s chair was filled, and the only other regular crew member was that of the deckhand.  That particular job requires strength and stamina, and in order for her to be a believable deckhand, she would need to be large (for a woman), and muscular, and I didn’t want that, so that left the pilot.  I auditioned her for the job in The Botanist, and she performed her duties admirably; the rest, as they say, is history.

And on the subject of history, who is Patience Hobbs?  The child of a mine worker and a laundress, Patience spent her early years in the underprivileged neighborhood around Mile End in East London.  By the age of seven, she was helping her mother fold and package finished orders for her mother’s clients, and that would have been her life from then on to a premature death had her father not been killed in a mine collapse.  During the inquest it was discovered that Sir Jeffrey Mason, the mine owner and third-wealthiest man in the Empire, was a very distant uncle by marriage.  Out of a sense of guilt, pity, or who knows what, he gave Patty’s mother a job for life on the staff of his family’s East Anglia estate, and that is where Patty spent her childhood.

Sir Jeffrey had six sons, all older than Patience, and both Sir Jeffrey and Lady Mason doted on her like the daughter they never had.  To the older boys, she was like an annoying little sister, but to the younger, she was another playmate, and she romped away many a summer’s day with them, learning to ride, hunt, shoot, track, and all sorts of skills one wouldn’t expect the young Miss of a Victorian manor house to acquire.  One that has served her especially well in the stories was a nodding familiarity with jujitsu, a knowledge acquired from the Japanese groundskeeper, who found her charming and approachable.

Sir Jeffrey spared no expense on his informally adopted daughter, sending her to Miss Rachel’s Boarding School for Young Ladies where she solidified a relationship with a distant acquaintance, one Cynthia Blackwell, who would go on to become Lady Blackwell at a tragically early age.  She learned at Miss Rachel’s finishing school what her lot in life was to be, an ornamental possession for a scion of the landed gentry, a pampered prisoner of her future husband’s whim; a pet, and only with good fortune, a well-treated one.  She couldn’t leave England fast enough.

On her way out of country, she begged from Colonel William Fairfax, whose daughter had been a long-time mate, a letter of reference that she might present to get her foot in the door at some viable profession, once she discovered her calling.  Sir Jeffrey, against his wife’s wishes, gave his blessing, and a decent sum of money to get her on her feet, and said goodbye to his young niece, not knowing if he would ever see her again.  She took passage for India, but like so many travelers, found that she had a ten-day layover in Mombasa, so she checked into a hotel, and went out to see the sights.

Three days into her stay, she presented herself at the rail of the not-yet-airworthy Kestrel with one of Monroe’s handbills advertising a position for an apprentice deckhand.  His first thought was to shoo the cute, blonde aristocrat away, but she produced her letter from Colonel Fairfax, a name Monroe knew well, and admired, so he took her aboard and gave her a chance, and the first time she placed her hands upon the wheel, he knew he had found his pilot.  Ever tried something new, and discovered an unsuspected natural talent for it?  That describes Patience and the Kestrel.  She loves flying the little ship, and maneuvers through the sky with the instinct and facility of a bird.  For its part, the ship seems to love her back, responding to her hand with the reflexes of a quarter horse, and telling her through subtle sounds and vibrations when something needs to be looked into.

I’ll not try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes; Patience was given her name to set up this scene:

“Patience,” she said, extending her hand for a shake.

“I assure you, my good woman, the need for haste is overriding!”

“Patience Hobbs. Most folks around here call me Patty. I’m the pilot of the Kestrel.”

See what I did there?  Honestly, sometimes I’m so clever, I frighten myself!  One aspect of her inclusion came about by pure luck.  When I decided to make her the pilot, I had yet to begin plotting any of the stories, and I had no idea what the ramifications of that choice would be:  When the action heats up, she is tied to the wheel, keeping an eye on her “boys” from her perch aloft, and keeping the Kestrel safe and ready to serve their needs.  Had I made her the deck hand or the engineer, she would be free to leave the ship more or less at will, and I have no doubt she would have taken over the story completely.  Whenever I’m looking at a new plot, and asking who can best deal with the upcoming crisis, she is always hopping up and down, waving her hand in the air, and gasping, “Oh, me, me, I can do this!”  I have no doubt that she can, but there are other people in these stories as well, and with Patty of necessity manning the helm, everyone gets their chance to shine.

And that’s Patience “Patty” Hobbs in a nutshell, and—  Oh, you thought I was going to disclose the details of her mysterious tattoo, didn’t you?  Sorry to disappoint, but my grave is going to hold a few secrets.  It will have to be enough to say that the decision to have it applied, taken without consulting anyone but her own conscience, was profound, and informs a good deal of who she is.  But don’t give up hope.  It may come out some day, but this is not that day.

~          ~          ~

The feed brought up a couple of interesting items this morning.  Tara Sparling, my favorite Irish humorist, gets busy looking into the joy of old books, and the often-bogus nature of five-star book reviews.  I can’t speak for the rest of them, Tara, but all mine are legit!

Phoebe Darqueling has posted an article in the Steampunk Journal discussing whether the works of Jules Verne are as wondrous and well-crafted as everyone nowadays says they are.  That’s a hot-button issue for a lot of steampunks, and should bring them out in droves!

~          ~          ~

This is the seventh day of my first-week blitz, and after today, I’m going to slow down to one post every fourth day.  This post makes nine, and I may add another this evening to make it a nice round ten, but this selection of posts will give you a very good idea of what the meat of this blog will be about.  I hope you find it entertaining and useful, and visit often to see what I’m up to.  I love visitors and the discussions they bring, so stop by and introduce yourself, and maybe become a regular.  I’d be honored to welcome you!

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