“Simply the best book I’ve read this year."
"The ultimate bible of badassery. This is a black diamond of an urban fantasy, fierce and darkly satisfying as running on a storm-lashed shore.”
"...reasons-why-this-book-is-awesome, there’s a lot of action and very little fluff. I don’t think I settled down for a moment."
First, you may notice the new tab bar at top! I'll fix the links soon. I'll do a lot of things soon, honestly.
But what's most important right now is that Stacia Kane is my guest here at Vampire Wire, offering an in-depth look at how she created the damaged heroine of her new novel, Unholy Ghosts, the first in her Downside Ghosts series. Stacia is the author of the Megan Chase series: Personal Demons, Demon Inside, and Demon Possessed. Her new series includes: Unholy Ghosts (May 25, 2010), Unholy Magic (June 2010), and City of Ghosts (July 2010). Her stories can be found in Vampire Romance 2 and Love Bites.
Dr. Derek first told us about Stacia's book:
One of the things that I love about Unholy Ghosts is how it is a subversion of the standard "kickass heroine" urban fantasy tale. A couple of the reviewers have been critical about how messed-up Chess is, but that's part of the point. What Kane has done is take an honest look at the "kickass heroine" stereotype and acknowledged how utterly screwed-up someone like that would be in reality. Chess is not a sanitized character, and as a reader I am thankful for that.Stacia's post is a long and thoughtful one, but I hope that both authors and readers will take the time to read through it. She's also giving away a copy of Unholy Ghosts in a contest. Please read to the end to learn how to enter. Welcome, Stacia!
Damaged Goods (or: Damaged? Good!)
I’ve always been attracted to damaged people, particularly in writing and reading. It’s the weaknesses, the vulnerabilities, the pain and anger and, well, damage, that make a character interesting, and that excite me. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know how to write characters who are happy and confident, at least not main characters.
I’m not entirely sure why this is, but it’s true.
Quite a while ago now I started thinking that what I’d really like to do is write an urban fantasy with a heroine who was also an addict. Part of the reason for it was simply that I hadn’t seen an addict heroine anywhere else, and when you find something new or rare in a genre you tend to get very excited about it (as a writer, I mean). Part of it was that for a while I’d been wanting to write about a heroine who had real, serious problems, who didn’t have a lot of money, who didn’t know a bunch of nightclub owners, who couldn’t afford leather pants (yes, that’s a joke). But I did want to write a character with real problems, problems that wouldn’t go away overnight and would have a real, concrete presence in the book.
The last thing was the idea of a strong, independent character who was nonetheless completely dependent on something, and how interesting I thought that dichotomy was. A character who seeks to discover the truth in her cases, and works for a Church government where Truth is the most important thing, and yet consistently lies. Not to mention the way her addiction marks time, which I quite like.
So once I had a plot, I started thinking about it further. I knew a drug-addicted heroine might be a tough sell. I knew there was a chance it would turn people off. But Chess was already under my skin; I needed to write her.
And I also know that for every weakness a character has, there has to be an equal and opposite strength. For every problem there has to be, not necessarily a solution, but the ability to find a solution. For every bit of self-loathing there has to be some kind of pride. Otherwise your character is simply a sad sack, a depressing pile of mope who doesn’t interest or excite anyone, much less make them identify or care. The last thing you want is to write a heroine who more readers wish would just throw herself off that bridge already, because they can’t stand spending any more time with her.
One confidence was easy; her work with the Church. She’s proud of it, and good at it, and she knows it. In fact, her work is one of the brightest spots in her life, and we’ll get to the reasons why in a minute.
So I needed a reason to balance out the addiction.
For a brief while I toyed with the idea that she did drugs because her powers were too strong, that if she didn’t do something to keep them muted a bit they would destroy her. It was an interesting concept, and one I liked, but it was also one which had been done before.
Besides, for my character it felt like a bit of a cop-out. I knew this girl already. I knew what kind of person she was. I knew how she felt and how she looked at the world. I knew how scared she was, deep down, of other people and how she expected them to hurt her. I knew how she separated herself from them so she could reject them first, and because she couldn’t quite bring herself to trust them, but how a small part of herself really wished she could belong. I knew everything, in fact, so I also knew she had no parents, no family. I knew she’s grown up in a series of foster homes, and most of them hadn’t been pleasant places. She’d been beaten. She’d been starved. She’d been molested. You name it, it happened, and it kept happening until she was fifteen.
That was when the Church found her, during its annual tests for magical talent. They brought her to live with them, gave her a room of her own and regular meals and privacy. And Chess, who imagined no brighter future for herself than a lifetime of being used—maybe eventually for money, though—suddenly found herself a highly respected employee of the Church who runs everything. A responsible job. A powerful job, and she is a powerful person. Her loyalty to the Church is unfading; she sees its flaws but doesn’t care, because it saved her life.
But that past led to her addiction. She’s a functional addict; I know when most people hear about or think of addicts they think of skinny, shivering, filthy people with track marks everywhere, stealing and begging for money for their next fix. Not Chess. Taking her pills is simply a part of her life, just like antidepressants or heart medications might be for anyone else. Maybe that’s a bad comparison, and I hope it doesn’t offend anyone; I’m just trying to make the point that her addiction isn’t lurid.
And I hope it isn’t glamorized either. I tried very hard not to do that, to make it clear that although Chess might not necessarily see it, her addiction does impede her life, it does take away a good share of her hard-won freedom, it does get in the way of so many things.
Self-preservation is an instinct we all have. In Chess it runs a little deeper, because she’s had such a hard life; she instinctively mistrusts pretty much everyone (which is another reason why she’s very good at her job). But she’s not a bad person; she still has feelings, as much as she tries not to. She feels a responsibility to the Church and to other people. She doesn’t suffer fools and she doesn’t have a lot of patience all the time, but she does care. She’s not mean, and she’s not bitchy, cocky, or even particularly snarky, although she does have a wry, sometimes sarcastic sense of humor.
I could go on and on about her, to be honest; I’ve already gone on way longer than I expected to. But I really do love Chess so much, and I love talking about her. And I want to talk about her, I want to show people how much they can identify with her, and how in a lot of ways she’s kind of an everywoman; struggling through life as best she can, day by day just like the rest of us. I’m very proud of her. I really love writing about her and her world, and I really hope you love reading about her just as much.
Read an except from Unholy Ghosts.
Visit Stacia's Website.
CONTEST: To enter the contest for Unholy Ghosts, just leave a comment about one of your favorite characters and a flaw, or leave a comment for Stacia. One of my favorite flawed characters is Spike from Buffy, the Vampire Killer. Despite his bravado, he retains some of his human character, a mama's boy who wrote sentimental poetry, and that sentimentality is both his curse and his saving grace. The contest runs through May 31, and a winner will be selected in a random drawing. Entries are limited to the US and Canada.
GRATUITOUS VIDEOS OF THE DAY
The theme is...some favorite damaged and amazing characters.
This is a pretty fabulous video by Poebelly.