Thursday, July 8, 2010
Stacia Kane Interview
Hi Scott! Thanks so much for doing this; I really appreciate it! It's always exciting to hear people enjoyed the book, and getting to talk about it is even better. :-)
Scott: I’ve just finished reading Unholy Ghosts and thoroughly enjoyed it. Can you tell us, in your own words, what the novel is about.
Stacia: Thank you! Hmm, what the novel is about in my own words. It's about a drug-addicted witch in a dystopian world run by an atheistic totalitarian church, where ghosts are a constant threat. Chess Putnam, my heroine, works for that church, investigating hauntings. But she's also in a lot of debt to her drug dealer, so when he offers her a chance to erase her debt by investigating a suspected haunting at an abandoned airport, she takes it. And then all sorts of danger and adventure ensue. But what I think it's also about, deep down, is trying to find a place in the world and people who accept you for who and what you are, and how scary that can be. But hopefully it's also very exciting and kick-ass and thrilling and scary, too!
Scott: I’m keen to read the next two books in the trilogy. Will City of Ghosts complete the story of Chess Putnam, or can we expect many more to come?
Stacia: Oh, I certainly hope I get to do more! I think the story reaches a natural stopping point at the end of the third book, but I have at least two more story arcs I'd like to write, if not more. So let's hope the books sell well enough that my publishers decide they want me to write those arcs! I really, really want to. I love writing these characters and this world.
Scott: Tell us about your writing process, for example how many hours a day do you write.
Stacia: It varies, really. I don't set time goals as much as word goals. On a day when the words are really flowing it might only take me an hour and a half to reach my two thousand words. But on a day when that's not happening, or I keep getting distracted or interrupted, it can take three or four times that.
My process is pretty simply in general, though. I usually start with an idea for a character, or an idea for a plot, or both. And then I figure out how to make it more complex, how to make it challenging for me and for the characters; I add as much conflict as I can think of. And then I really just try to get it down as best I can, and to make it flow in a logical fashion. When I get stuck or aren't sure what happens next, that's always the first question I ask myself: what would you do next? What is the logical next thing to do? For example, in UNHOLY GHOSTS examining the field at the airport was logical. Asking Edsel about the amulet was logical. Returning to the airport during the day was logical. You know? So it's really just about making sure the story and the character's actions make sense, and following through, and throwing as much trouble and as many complications at them as you can.
Scott: I see that you have four books schedules for release in 2010. That’s pretty impressive for any author. Have you got a stockpile of other novels ready for release next year to?
Stacia: If all goes well, yes, I'll have at least one novel released next year, but I can't confirm that absolutely. I do have a short Downside story in an anthology, which I believe is going to be released in 2011. And I have a few other things I'm working on, some fun new things, so we'll see.
Scott: Did you have to do much research for this trilogy? Handful of graveyard dirt, salt and all the other supernatural protocol of ghost hunting.
Stacia: Yes and no, really. I based the magical system on British Traditional Witchcraft, with a little legend and folklore mixed in; I have a friend who works in comics, and one day we were talking and he mentioned that magic without limitations is boring. Kind of like how Batman is more interesting than Superman, because Batman has to really plan and work and strategize, whereas Superman just lifts really heavy things or flies into space or burns stuff with his eyes or whatever. It's easy for him, and things that are easy are never as interesting for readers.
So I didn't want to have witches who could just wave their hands or snap their fingers or wriggle their noses and take care of the problem. I wanted something a bit complex, that required tools, concentration, and skill, but also natural ability. Plus I just think that kind of magic is so cool; it has such a "true" feel to it, if you know what I mean. It's the witchcraft of fairy tales and superstitions we're all familiar with, so that makes it really fun to work with.
I'd been studying British Traditional Witchcraft and witchcraft in general for quite a few years, and was always really intrigued by psychopomps--animals which carry the souls of the dead into the next world. I always thought that was such a cool concept, and really wanted to write about it. So it all just kind of came together, really. I did do some brushing up, and on a couple of occasions I just made something up--"melidia" isn't an actual herb, for example, just a few syllables I threw together--but for the most part I stayed as true to that system as I could.
Scott: The start of Unholy Ghosts reminded me of a scene from the TV series, Supernatural. I’m a big fan of that show and think that your book would make an excellent series. Do you think there might be a possibility of a TV or Movie spin off from The Downside Book series (I certainly hope so)?
Stacia: Oh, I love Supernatural too! Would you believe I only started watching it on DVD a month or so ago? I could never find it on TV when we lived in England, so I missed a lot of it, but my husband and I are having so much fun watching it now, even though we do think Sam is a little too emo sometimes. Sorry, had to gush. Anyway.
As far as my books being made into a TV series...it's not something I think about, to be honest. The odds of it happening are so incredibly slim, and really, I write books. I'd be lying if I said it wouldn't be exciting, or that I wouldn't welcome that kind of success, but I don't write with television in mind and I don't focus on it after the books are out there.
But hey, if it's something you as a reader and potential viewer would want, feel free to let the studios know.
Scott: Tell us about the Book of Truth quoted in Unholy Ghosts.
Stacia: Oh, my. Originally it was just a sort of Bible I mentioned; the bit where the Mortons have one beside their bed was just a bit of worldbuilding. Because we had this totalitarian church, it seemed logical to me that people would own a Book of Truth and keep it somewhere it could be seen, much the way that some devout Christians will keep their Bibles out and within easy reach. Not just for convenience but to show their devotion.
But when my agent and I were getting ready to start submitting the book, we thought it might be cool to add the epigrams, as a way of further developing and explaining the world, and adding to the atmosphere. So I went through and wrote them all, and started a separate file to keep my "sources" and to copy each epigram I used so I didn't repeat them. And I've seen some really positive comments about them, which is fantastic. But at the same time, I'll admit that there are moments when I really wish I hadn't started with them, because after three books, and something like 95 epigrams, I'm starting to kind of get tired of writing them! Or at least of some of them; it's getting harder to come up with quotes from the Book of Truth, to be honest. So I'm trying to think of some new "sources."
Scott: The concept of the Church in Unholy Ghost is very unique. Did you have a strict religious upbringing or was the idea for this religious element of the novel based on another event in your life?
Stacia: Actually, it was really neither. See, the idea for the story itself came from an old STARLOG magazine of my husband's; it mentioned an old B horror movie about a ghost debunker who discovered a haunting was real. And I'd been wanting to write something different from my previous work, something with ghosts and no paranormal creatures, and that idea just thrilled me. But I also needed a world where a haunting mattered, where there would be a real reason for people to care and reason for people to fake a haunting. Well, people fake things to get money, like insurance fraud. That's where Haunted Week and the Church came from.
But the atheistic aspect of it...I'd originally made up a god for them to worship, but the more I thought about it the more I sort of focused on the fact that these are people who know exactly where they go when they die. And they know that their religions lied to them about heaven and the afterlife. So why would they look for another god to worship? Why would anyone do that? And that just felt really cool to me, really interesting from a writing perspective, the way that would change society and people.
Plus, the Pilgrim/Puritan look of the Elders and Goodys (and "Goody" is itself taken from the Puritans; it used to be a title like "Mrs.") was something that just sort of came to me, and I loved the way it looked in my head. So I started thinking about why they would dress that way, and what those clothes made me think of, and I came up with the idea of making references throughout to the Salem Witch trials--Chess's last name, Putnam, was the last name of one of the accusers in those trials. Not only did that fit the clothes, but it fit the system of witchcraft as well. So I basically decided that the Church itself had formed during that time; it was a group of Puritans who started practicing witchcraft in secret, and became atheists, but never actually came out and admitted it for fear they'd be put to death. And they stayed that way, a secret organization devoted to magic and the truth of it, for several hundred years.
That's probably way more information than you wanted! Sorry. :-)
Scott: Chess is such a complex character. How long did it take to fully develop her or did she evolve as you wrote the trilogy?
Stacia: Thank you! She really developed as I went along, but at the same time, I knew her before I started writing. Chess is a lot like me, to be honest; not in every way, of course, but I put a lot of myself into her and really pushed myself to dig deep and flesh her out, and to not be afraid or hide. And to do that I had to examine myself and my own vulnerabilities and experiences, and really express some of the darkest parts of myself and of other people, I think. It was scary, but it was something I really felt strongly about.
I'm not very good at writing happy, well-adjusted people, frankly. What attracts me to a character is their vulnerabilities, and what makes me understand them is their self-hatred or feelings of inadequacy; their flaws. I write broken people. Those are the people I understand. So I'd wanted for a while to write an addict; I thought it would be an interesting challenge, and I liked the idea of the character being dependent on something, and at the same time I liked the sense of urgency I felt that could give so many moments and scenes. Really, the whole plot came from her being an addict, and much of the world, which I feel very good about; it's often said that if your story could take place in any other world, with any other characters, you're not making it unique enough and not making the world and characters strong enough. (That's pretty much strictly fantasy, of course; there are lots of other genres where people write historical or contemporary worlds, and the world doesn't have to be totally unique to the character.) I do think they all feed each other, world and character and story.
But anyway. I wanted to write an addict. I toyed with the idea of having her become addicted to control her powers, but that had been done before, and very well, so I didn't want to use it too. I needed to make it a real part of her. I wanted there to be a reason why she took the drugs and why she was the way she was. And I needed that darkness. But at the same time I didn't want her to be really weak; I wanted her to have a core of strength, and even hope. She could hate herself and distrust people in general, but she's also seen goodness in people, and her loyalty is absolute. The Church saved her, for example, so her devotion to the Church is strong and unwavering. I wanted her weaknesses to have corresponding strengths, and vice versa, because I think most people are like that. We all have a bit of both; very few people are weak in every aspect or strong in every aspect. And the few people who are tend to not be very appealing or likable!
Really, I just knew her. A few things surprised me in the writing, but for the most part...she was there, right from the beginning.
Scott: What are you reading at the moment?
Stacia: Right now I'm reading several books, actually. BLEAK HOUSE by Dickens. I'm re-reading MR. TIMOTHY by Louis Bayard. FAEFEVER by Karen Marie Moning, and THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS by Stephen Dobyns. I tend to read a bit of one, a bit of another, depending on mood. Plus I'm on a real Victorian kick.
Scott: Why did you start your writing career as December Quinn?
Stacia: Well, I started out writing erotic romance. And of course I wanted a pen name for that; I didn't particularly want it under my real name, partly because I have children. But honestly, the idea of re-naming myself really interested me, anyway. I've never actually liked my name very much, so it definitely appealed. I chose "December" because I thought it sounded kind of cool, and because my younger daughter was born in December (and she was only nine months old or so when I made my very first sale and needed to come up with a name), and I liked the wintry feel; fall and winter are my favorite seasons.
"Quinn" came from Quint in JAWS. I thought that would be fun. I love JAWS! And I thought it sounded nice. To me "December" just skirted the edge of being a little too much, a little hooker-y, so "Quinn" was nice and plain and kind of brought it back to earth a little.
Of course if I had it to do over again I would have picked something much plainer altogether, something like "Ann Wallace" or something. But when you're picking a new name for yourself--when you've decided not to go with a variation of your own name or a maiden name or middle name, but pluck something new from thin air--I think you get kind of dizzy from the possibilities. The urge is to go as far out, as different from yourself, as possible and give yourself the name of the person you hope to one day be, you know? It's exciting, getting to be someone else, even though you're still the same person.
Thanks so much again for having me, this was great fun!
UNHOLY GHOSTS--first in a new dark urban fantasy series, Summer 2010 from Del Rey (US) HarperVoyager (UK/AUS)
DEMON POSSESSED--Megan Chase book 3--available now from Juno/Pocket