Story of the Story: The Tiger of Mysore
Gender Bent Conan the Barbarian for the Modern Reader
The genesis of the idea that lives at the root of The Tiger of Mysore series is a story I’ve often told. You’ve heard me tell it live on Zombiepalooza radio if you’ve ever caught one of my performances. (You can listen to them here for interviews with people in the horror industry, they’re fantastic folks.)
But if you haven’t, Lahkshmi, the titular Tiger of Mysore, was a character I developed coming from some very different places. The series and character are very much a love letter to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. She is rooted in my love of strong women, and from being surrounded by strong women. She was born in a story written to spec for an anthology that I didn’t get a story into. She was also born because I was ashamed I couldn’t say, at the time, that I had written stories with strong female leads.
The beginning of all good writing is a love of the written word. I don’t know of any famous writers who are not voracious readers. If you ask any author, they’ll tell you the same: to be a writer, you must read. Read everything! My personal love came from my parents, but I think most of all, my father. I remember the many times he’d stick his head in my room while I was reading a book, hold out another one, and say “Have you read this?”
We’d be talking about movies or music or, yes, books and writing, and he’d say:
“Have you read Killer Angels? Stormbringer? Conan the Destroyer? Have you read this book? What about this one?”
And in those pages, when he handed me a collection of Howard’s Conan stories, I discovered a world of fantasy adventure, where an intelligent, fierce, and cunning thief by he name of Conan of Cimmeria fought and stole a fortune, and turned himself into a king. He fought giant apes and snakes. He crossed swords with henchman and devils. He fought the mighty Thulsa Doom, an evil sorcerer with a black heart.
I was in love. Though I came to it late, the sword and sorcery genre stayed close to my heart. (Heyo, this is going to get out of hand.)
Suffice to say, I love the genre. I love daring heroes and horrible monsters and evil magics and all the works. Those make for some good, fun stories. I like the low-magic, dirty settings like Conan and Fafhred and the Grey Mouser.
I wanted to write in one.
Next, Lahkshmi was born from the strong women that surround me in my life. My mom and sister, and eventually, my wife. They are strong not in just that they did and do hard work (farmers, nurses, and teachers, all) but that they’re also tough in that they don’t take guff from anyone. They’re intelligent and hard working. They’re classy and sassy, and beautiful to a one.
I just had to write a story about such a woman.
But that brings me to the next point, and the only part of the story of Lahkshmi that makes me feel bad about my writing.
During a convention (ConNooga, ya oughta go one day) I had my first two books for sale. I was immensely proud of them. However, a young woman came to my table and asked if I had written any stories with a strong female character as the lead, and I had to admit that I had not done that yet. I don’t know why, but her look of disappointment really bothered me. I’m not ashamed of the books I’ve written or the characters I chose to portray in those books.
But I wasn’t happy that I had not written about the women who were in my life in the way that I had written about myself (as all writing is much autobiography.) I wanted to change that.
And, finally, I had written a story to try and get into an anthology on spec. It was meant to be a Conan the Barbarian meets HP Lovecraft vehicle, so I wrote Idol Blasphemy, a story about Lahkshmi. Lahkshmi is an Indian woman who grew up in the streets of a fictional Mysore, and became known due to her speed, ferocity, and cunning as The Tiger of Mysore.
The story was about returning a cursed idol to an island, where the people know of its evil and guard it from the rest of the world. Lahkshmi had the misfortune of being hired to steal it.
Idol Blasphemy was rejected for the anthology.
At my next visit to ConNooga, I met up with some of the people who were very happy with their indie pulp publisher Pro Se Press. I pitched them the idea of an anthology of stories about Lahkshmi. She is smart, cunning, strong, and deadly. She was a thief of renown. She was Conan, but an Indian woman, and with more modern ideas and sensibilities for the modern audience. She, I hope, is a Conan for women and little girls wishing for a Red Sonja who didn’t wear a chainmail bikini.
Half a dozen stories later into an anthology, and I’m planning my first full-length Lahkshmi novel. I’ve had some small sales, though I honestly haven’t seen any figures yet since the book’s release last January.
Though I am proud of the stories I wrote about my heroine, and I’m proud of the work I put in with Pro Se Press, there’s nothing that makes me as proud as imagining a young woman coming to my convention table and asking for a book about a strong woman.
“Here,” I’ll say. “I’ve been waiting for you.”