Just as I wanted to avoid certain stereotypes with Otto -- I didn't want him to be whiny or an arrogant know-it-all or a Wesley Crusher -- there were certain things I had in mind and things I wanted to avoid when I started writing her way back in Load. One thing I'd noticed on TV and in movies was that an African-American lead actress usually had very light skin, so as is my wont, I went the opposite direction with Shakira, deciding that she had very dark skin. From what I've seen, this still seems to be a thing today, and a month or two back there was even an article about a young woman named Khoudia Diop, who was bullied because of her dark skin. She ended up becoming a model, so she had the last laugh.
Shakira is also overweight, so another thing I really wanted to avoid was the stereotype of the "sassy black woman." She has a good sense of humor and is pretty mellow most of the time. It takes a lot to make her angry. And for a very long time, there's been a social stigma against women who aren't supermodel-thin, they're often subjected to vile insults and discrimination, so one of the ideas I had way back then was to make this character a BBW to get across a more positive image. Which has been a thing in my writing for a very long time -- the idea that it's okay not to look like society's ideal image of what's attractive or even "normal." So while Shakira has a few self-esteem issues to overcome, she will get there, and most of the time it doesn't occupy her thoughts at all.
Shakira had a substantial role in Chaser, but a younger version of her appeared first in Load, then returned in Fifteen Minutes, and is back again in Project Revenant. The following scene is from Fifteen Minutes, an interview similar to the one in Otto's character profile a couple of posts back.
"So, I guess it's my turn now?" Shakira hung up the last of her shirts and dropped the empty duffel bag on the closet floor.
"Yep." Eddie leaned against the bare wall and aimed his camera at her. "Just a quick introduction, a few words about yourself, that kind of thing. Then I'll be out of your way."
Oy. She hesitated, trying to gather her thoughts. "I've never really liked talking about myself, so I'm not sure where to start."
"Well, just start talking and see what comes out of your mouth." Eddie grinned. "That's probably safer with you than with Otto."
"Oh, hell, I bet your interview with him was mostly him talking about jerking off."
"Not really, but the topic did come up. I was, shall we say, taken aback."
"That's pretty much how I felt when I first met him. In some ways, he's like all the teenagers I knew when I was his age, and in other ways he's not like them at all. Some people march to their own drummer; Otto has an entire orchestra." She chuckled. "Definitely makes him interesting to be around."
"That's why you spend so much time with him?"
"One of the reasons, yeah. He does keep me laughing. And we have similar interests." She chuckled. "We're both colossal geeks. So we work pretty well together." She shrugged, returned to the bed and unzipped her other bag. "Not that I spend all my free time with him; sometimes it just kinda works out that way. Though sometimes I think he goes out of his way to show up where I happen to be hanging out."
"How did you two meet, anyway? Seems kind of an unlikely pair."
"We traded comments a few times on message boards, back before we met in person. Since we're both hackers, we ended up hanging out with the same crowd. We both spend quite a bit of time at a club called the Event Horizon – the owner actually lets Otto live in an apartment upstairs in exchange for working on the software used in the club's computers – and I bumped into him randomly one night."
Eddie nodded and entered some notes into his tablet. Shakira dug through the bag's contents for a moment before continuing.
"We talked shop most of the night, started working on software projects together, then we ended up doing the podcasts for the hell of it. At first we just dispensed advice on gaming and programming, then we gradually branched out into other subjects. Now we talk about whatever's on our minds, and somehow we manage to keep a few people entertained."
"I've listened to a few of your podcasts. One of the first things that went through my head during the first one was, 'I wonder how long they've been married?'"
"Eww." Shakira laughed and pulled her laptop out of the bag. "No offense to Otto, but…ugh. Hold on, I gotta wait for my skin to stop crawling." She placed the laptop on the desk beside the window overlooking the back yard, stared through it for a moment and sighed. Just my luck – the only guy I've met since high school who's interested in me, and he's underage. No wonder I gave up on the whole dating thing years ago.
Eddie jotted another note on his tablet, let the silence stretch out for a moment longer, then nodded at her laptop. "Say, that's a pretty sweet machine."
"Thanks." She smiled and allowed herself to relax a bit. "I've had it for nearly a decade, but it was built to last. Stainless steel case and keys, fully insulated on the inside in case anything shorts out, with a touchscreen and backlit keyboard, and completely future-proof. It's got top-of-the-line innards, and can still be upgraded when necessary. My handheld PC is built the same way."
"Nice. Looks like a custom job; did you build it yourself?"
"Yeah. Most off-the-shelf systems don't last very long. I got sick of replacing my computer every few years – or less – because the damned thing was outmoded or went so haywire that it'd cost more to fix it than to buy a whole new machine. So I went looking for the parts I needed and gradually put this baby together."
Eddie stepped closer and aimed his camera at it.
Shakira returned to the bag and picked a few more devices out of it, including her pocket-sized computer. "You should see Otto's computer, though. Hardly anyone uses the old desktop design anymore – CPU towers, I mean – but he does. He's got that thing crammed full of drives and memory modules and graphics hardware. He found an old tower somewhere and decided to remove the fans and other non-essential stuff and fill all the empty space. Then he put LEDs and other geegaws on the outside."
Eddie chuckled. "Nice. I'll ask him to show it off sometime. But how about more about yourself?"
"Huh? Oh. Right. Well…about myself, then." She shrugged. "My family originally lived in Jamaica until my parents came to America. The accent creeps back into my voice when I'm really tired or stressed out. Parents moved to Neon City to find better jobs when I was a kid. I went to college here, got degrees in graphics design and programming, but never managed to get the kind of job I was looking for. "
She placed her handheld unit on the desk, powered it up, and synced it with the laptop. Then she brushed her dreadlocks away from her face and sat, swiveling the chair to face Eddie before continuing.
"Ended up doing freelance programming, troubleshooting, that sort of thing. And like Otto, I've also entered my share of gaming competitions for the prize money, but it's been a while since the last one. It keeps me afloat, but just barely. That's why I'm on this show of yours; I wouldn't normally do something like that, but the price was right."
"That's definitely understandable." He made another note on his tablet. "A moment ago you called yourself a colossal geek; you don't strike me as the geeky type, other than being into hacking."
She laughed. "Well, when I was Otto's age, I wrote quite a lot of fanfiction. How's that for geeky?"
"Oh, really? What sort of stuff was it?"
"Some Star Wars, a little Trek here and there. A few other franchises that were around before I was born; I'm kind of a sucker for that sort of thing. The Mass Effect games were among my favorites." She tossed off a sheepish grin and looked at the floor. "I was a Shepard-Tali shipper, but it wasn't the focus of my fics. My main concern was simply writing good stories. For a while I entertained the notion of getting published, but that didn't work out. So I fell back on hacking."
"Yeah, I know how it goes. I had all sorts of dreams when I was a kid – I was gonna be an astronaut and lead the first mission to Mars. Then, as I grew up, reality slowly crushed those dreams."
"Yeah, that's it, exactly." She shrugged. "Anyway, there you have it. Colossal geek."
"So noted." He looked at his tablet again and laughed. "You still use the same online handle you had back then?"
Oh, bloody hell. She looked away. "Uh…I don't know what you're talking about."
"Come on, fess up. It's not like everyone won't find out anyway. It's been posted on the show's forum by someone calling himself 'Biggus Dickus.'"
That little shit. "Ah. Yeah. He's one of my and Otto's mutual friends." She lowered herself onto the chair, took her glasses off and covered her face with her hands. "Alright. It's…it was a character I played in a Star Wars RPG when I was in junior high. Like Otto, I kept using the name for a long time afterward."
"And that name is…?"
She groaned and mumbled, "Darth Sugartits."
Eddie snickered. Shakira scowled straight into his camera and extended her middle finger.
"Biggus … uppus your rectumus."
Chaser on Amazon, and was published one year ago today. It also has its own Facebook page.
Load is available in both ebook and print.
Fifteen Minutes is also available in ebook and print editions.