Chris and Olivia are back! Join them and the timeseer, Will Cartwright, as they take on a serial killer, a historic trial, and their own relationships in The Timeseer’s Gambit!
The Timeseer’s Gambit is now available from all major online retailers! You can pick up your digital copies from Kindle on Amazon, and physical copies from Barnes & Noble, Chapters.Indigo , or any of the worldwide Amazon sites!
I am really proud of this book and so, so excited to get it out there and into your hands! Early reviews are really positive so far and I can’t wait to see what you all think!
RELEASE DAY FAQ
Where can I get the book?
The retailers I link above are the best places to get the book! Here are some specific questions I know I’m going to get:
— LOCAL PEOPLE:
Unfortunately, I still don’t have physical copies on hand. They are coming! If you don’t want to wait, order a copy from Amazon or Chapters! If you don’t mind waiting, watch this space for updates on events.
— KOBO/NOOK USERS:
I hate to say it, but my books will not be available on these platforms. I know how bad it sucks. I’m a Kobo user for life, myself. But I have to make money for my work, and the past year has shown me that the vast majority of my writing income comes from the advantages that being Kindle-exclusive give, while my Kobo and Nook gains are, comparatively, very low. It sucks, but take it up with Amazon.
I read the whole thing already! Where is Book 3?
Book 3 is the most complicated book I’ve written yet, and it’s taken some time to really get going on it. But it’s underway now and I hope it’ll be out next year. I hope. It might not be until 2018, but it will come, and, I hope, be so awesome that it will be worth the wait.
I read the whole thing and I want to hear you talk about specific things from it!
I have sooo much to say about the work I did on book 2 and how intensely personal a lot of it was to write. But I don’t want to jump out the gate and start spoiling things willy nilly! There are a lot of surprises in this book. I want you guys some time to think about them before I jump in start talking about my writerly perspective.
I want to help promote the book! How can I help?
Share it! This is the number one best way to help me out. Books are passed via word of mouth more than any other type of popular media these days, and the easiest way you can help me is by telling someone else to read it. Specifically:
— WRITE A REVIEW
Reviews spread the word! Positive (or even negative or neutral!) reviews help make a book more visible online to searches, and help increase eyes on the title!
— SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Just sharing a post like this one can help! It’s all about getting it out there.
— GIFT COPIES
If you want to be especially helpful, gifting copies to friends or local libraries is the absolute nicest thing you can do for me. Again: word of mouth is how books spread!
Almost two weeks ago now, on July 13th 2016, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant had its first birthday.
My parents got me a lemon cheesecake and took me out for dinner. I got some well-wishes from fans and industry friends on social media. I procrastinated writing this blog post, and the day passed.
It was both really, really exciting, and kind of low-key underwhelming. Partially because my second book is coming out in a couple of weeks, which is just crazy, and it’s hard to look back on and celebrate a year of my first baby when I’m currently having labour pains for my second! (And working on my third. Crap, I’m going to end up with so many of these things.) But mostly, I think it’s because I’m getting accustomed to this. In a good way! When TDA hit shelves and kindles a year ago, it felt like living in a brilliant flash of a moment. My lifelong dream was coming true. Strangers were buying my writing, liking it, wanting more. Absolutely none of that has stopped being amazing, but, having achieved my dreams, my life didn’t stop.
Writing this, I’m remembering my favourite scene from the massively underrated Tangled, my favourite Disney Princess movie. (I, um, might be a little in love with the Disney Princess canon.) Rapunzel is about to see the floating lantern festival and gets a little scared, wondering what happens after you achieve your dream. I know that feel, Rapunzel. I think I’ve spent a lot of this year dancing with it.
Putting The Deathsniffer’s Assistant into readers’ hands didn’t make my life complete in the way that I irrationally always thought it would. And I’m realizing that these things I’m saying are making me sound like the year has been a disappointment, that nothing lived up to my expectations. Really, it’s the opposite of that. My fans are the gift that keeps on giving. Every @ on twitter, every new review, and every comment on my site still makes my day. What I’m saying is something that I think is a lot more universal: life is never complete, and it just keeps going.
That’s what I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about. I thought publishing TDA was going to be the culmination of my life’s work, but I think I’ve realized that it’s just the start of it, the springboard I’ve built to go ever upwards.
SUCCESS AND SATISFACTION
I think I can say, with firm certainty, that The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been a resounding success.
I’ve sold considerably more copies than I ever expected for an indie publisher without in-store distribution. (Without sharing specific numbers, it’s only about half of what would be considered a success from a major house, but for my situation, it’s extremely strong!) My Amazon ranking in the paid Kindle store has twice broken the top one thousand, and once broken the top one hundred. And my reviews have been phenomenal. In one year, only one single reader has ever said that they outright didn’t like it. This matters a lot to me. I think I’d rather sell five thousand copies to universal acclaim than five hundred thousand to a lukewarm response. With a 4.4 on Amazon (of almost 100 reviews) and a 4.1 on Amazon (of almost 300 ratings), I can safely say that people really dig it, and that’s fantastic.
I’ve always wanted to make money writing. First of all, because money is wonderful and I am poor and I like to eat. But secondly, because, despite the way we romanticize the starving artist, it’s the ultimate dream to have someone give you cash not because you performed a service, but because you created something. I mean, hell. I’d almost pay you to read my books! The chance to share my stories with a receptive audience is almost payment in itself. When that audience is actually trading currency for the privilege, it’s kind of enough to make a creative-type weak at the knees.
For literally as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling stories. I can’t possibly overstate how grateful I am for the 4.4s and 4.1s and dollars in my bank account that are the evidence of a year spent telling them on a large scale.
I AM REALLY BAD AT COMMUNICATION EXCEPT FOR WHEN I’M NOT
We get it, Kate. You don’t like blogging! Yeah, well. I think I just might hate the act of throwing my voice out there into the void. But what I love? Is actually engaging with people, and talking about my work.
I’ve numerous done book clubs and signings this year. It’s been wonderful. Especially the book clubs, because I get to talk with people who have already finished the book and have so many questions. I love answering questions. I love talking about my behind-the-scenes insights. I love getting into discussions about my own stuff, talking about my process, and digging into the meat of my characters.
I’ve discovered that as much as I struggle with the act of stringing together non-fictional words about me, my work, and my process when I’m doing it alone, I absolutely love it when I’m doing it with others. I want you guys to know that I am always open to questions and thoughts and discussions about my life, my work, or anything about me! While I agonize over topics for blog posts, I just love getting to answer directed questions. Consider my door wide open.
AUTOPSIES AND APOLOGIES
All right. Time for this.
I didn’t want to say anything negative about my own work until a year after it was out there. For a lot of reasons, but mostly two.
The first is because it’s really easy to get down on your own work, seeing problems where they aren’t any. (For instance, there’s one scene in TDA that I wrote while extremely sick, and I hate it so much because all I can see is how miserable I was and how bad it was the first time I wrote it because I was so sick. It’s fine, now. Some people say it’s one of their favourite scenes! But all I can see is how much I hate it.) The second you vocalize those things, it can cause this effect where, now that I’ve pointed out a problem that doesn’t exist, other people start seeing the problem, too. And it still doesn’t exist! I wanted to let enough time pass that, like with the scene above, I can be objective and only talk about things I actually think were mistakes.
The second reason, obviously, is that when you’re trying to sell something to someone, you don’t point out how bad it is, haha. “Hey, you should buy this car! It smells like old fish and the e-brake doesn’t work and I really hate the trunk size. Only five thousand dollars!” I wanted to wait until the time to sell TDA was mostly over, and the time to discuss TDA had started in full.
In all honesty, there are still some things about the book I hate irrationally because of what the experience of writing it was like. For example, that one scene I describe above. It’s still fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. And I still hate it. There are some spots where I wish, with the eye of a hyper-critical creator, that I could go in and tweak and play around and make it “better.” I’m not going to talk about those things.
I do kind of want to talk about Ethan Grey.
!!HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!!
I want to do another Backstage Character Pass series where I talk about the characters from TDA who won’t be appearing in the rest of the series — the cast of the val Daren murder mystery. I have a lot to talk about with those characters, and wanted to wait until I could go into the nitty gritty details of the mystery without spoiling it. So that’s coming! For now, I just want to say that I think I could have handled my killer better.
I think I came at it from a good angle. For my first mystery, I wanted something really classic. The murdered patriarch. The elegant, grieving widow with a secret. The fey and beautiful daughter. The shark creditor. The spurned mistress. The spurned mistress, obviously would be the killer. And I got this idea that I could put a modern twist on the spurned mistress characters, and have it be a gay man.
I go back and forth on whether or not Ethan was fundamentally a mistake. I still like the idea. And when you read The Timeseer’s Gambit, I hope you’ll see that I use Chris’s reactions to him in interesting ways, as well as seeing some more positive LGBTQ characters. But a book has got to stand on its own, and Ethan straddles the line perilously close to that predatory gay man trope who tries to trick straight guys into doing gay things and is unhinged and dangerous. Like, really close. Close enough that I think I could have done better.
I tried to mitigate the circumstances. I do think that Ethan is a tragic character. Being gay didn’t make him a killer — a society that forced him into the shadows and convinced him that he was evil did. He was pushed to the sidelines and the choices he made were just a stacking Russian doll of ways to push back until he had crossed so many lines he didn’t know which way was up anymore. In a world that had accepted him, Ethan wouldn’t have become what he did. He’d have been a brilliant, celebrated artist with someone who loved him. I tried to use Olivia to show this, to be the one person who could see past the way things “should be” to mourn for his potential.
Was it enough? Honestly, probably not.
My own history and beliefs don’t really make a difference, and intent only goes so far. I made a conscious choice to hold back on outing my queer characters until book 2, and I think if I wrote the book again, I’d make it explicitly clear for least one of them. Gay people can be killers just as well as straight people. But my only visible gay character being a killer? Not ideal.
Some of you are probably reading this thinking “I don’t know, I thought it was fine.” Others might be going “that’s a nice apology, but you can’t unring that bell!” And perspectives are going to differ. I get that. But this is why I waited so long — to be sure that I knew how I felt about my own choice. And I think that I didn’t quite do my best to ensure that my people got the rep we deserve. All I can say is that I can’t go back, but book 2 is going to bring it in spades
!!END OF SPOILERS!!
If you’re like me and procrastinate reading articles the same way I procrastinate writing them , The Timeseer’s Gambit might already be out when you’re reading this. It’s my great hope that it’ll have as good a year as The Deathsniffer’s Assistant did. As many positive reviews, as many sales, and as many opportunities to communicate with my fans.
I think it’s the better book. I think people are going to like it. I hope I have less to answer for in my autopsy for this one, and I hope all readers respond to it the way early ones have.
Who knows how it’ll feel in a year? Or, for that matter, how TDA will feel another year from now? Will I mark the date at all, or will it just float by? Time will tell! All I can say is that this has been one of the best years of my life, thanks to the book, and thanks to all of you who’ve read it.
My second book, The Timeseer’s Gambit, is going to be out in just two weeks now, and I’m so excited to reveal its cover here today!
The cover for The Timeseer’s Gambit features Chris alongside William, the titular Timeseer, set against warm colours to make you think of hot, heavy summer days. I was lucky enough to get the same artist who worked on The Deathsniffer’s Assistant and I absolutely love how they look side by side! The Kindle version of The Timeseer’s Gambit is now available for preorder at Amazon.com and other territories, so grab your copy today! (Paperbacks will be available for purchase on release day!)
Super excited for everyone to get their hands on this book! I think everyone is going to love it.
Wow, this is embarrassing, isn’t it? After all that talk about making an effort to blog more and get myself out there and make sure I’m staying in close touch with you guys, I seem to have gotten worse than ever at this. Huh.
After about two years of doing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I am just bad at blogging. Or, no. Let’s scratch that. I think I’m actually pretty good at blogging. People keep telling me that they really love my blog and they think my posts are really compelling and interesting and they love reading them. The truth is probably closer to this:
I hate blogging.
I have got this idea in my head about what a blog post needs to be, and one of those things is that it needs to have effort put into it. Which may or may not be true, but god dammit, it’s stuck in my head like a song that won’t leave. When I just have some hot take I want to throw out there, I go to my twitter. Blogging feels like an obligation that’s going to absorb my valuable writing energy. Which it kinda does.
Anyway. I feel like I’ve made this damn spiel so many times, everyone must be bored of it! This isn’t a blog post about my issues with blogging. Rather, this is a blog post I’m putting the absolute minimum amount of energy into to see if it can be done, instead of getting myself all worked up about things!
The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been out for almost a year! It’s birthday is only two days away, and I’m really excited to hit that milestone. I’m intending to write a big postmortem on the book and do something to celebrate the birthday. We’ll see if it actually gets done! For now, let me just say that I’m really, really happy with how this year has gone and I’m so, so grateful to all of you for buying a copy and telling your friends and supporting me. I write for you guys.
The Timeseer’s Gambit is out in only twenty-five days! Holy crap! The time has flown, and also, has dragged so slow I could cry. I am really proud of this one and so frigging excited to get it into your hands. Early reviews are starting to go up, and the consensus so far is that it’s as good or better than the first one. (Yay!) I am really just so pumped to start talking about the book with you. My cover reveal is next week (pushing it close to pub, I know!) and I hope you guys love it!
The Heartreader’s Secret is looking a hell of a lot better than it was the last time I updated this blog, when I posted talking about how I’d spent five months writing a single chapter. The good news is there is now a lot more than one chapter hammered out on this manuscript! The going is still slow-ish compared to how fast TTG came out, but it’s a much more complicated book. I think it’s going to turn out considerably longer than the first two (which have almost the exact same word/page count!), which could be great or terrible depending. I’m still at a stage with this book where I’m worried it’s not very good, so I can’t say that I’m excited to get it out there in front of you all. But it’s coming, and it’s turning out mostly the way I want it to, so that’s good.
As for me, personally, it’s been a long summer so far. What do you mean, summer has just started? Dammit! It isn’t over yet?? I hate summer, I really do. I’m one of those weird people who would rather sit curled up by the fire with blankets while a blizzard rages outside than go to the beach. I hate the beach, actually. And the heat. And bugs. And eighteen hours of daylight. And I’m pale as a ghost and sunburn like I’m being roasted. Summer is not my time. I’ve been a little down, a little unfocused, and really, really excited for autumn to get here. Okay, is summer over, yet? What’s that? It’s only been a minute since I started writing this paragraph? HOW IS IT STILL HERE?
I’ve also read some books that are totally worth checking out. In the sci-fi side of things, I’m still digging the absolute pants off of The Expanse series by James S A Corey. As for fantasy, Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan just recently came out in paperback and I tore through it in a day or less. So good. And on the romance front, I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how good Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series is, especially the second one!
So that’s it. This took very little effort and was fun to write, so hey, that’s something.
Come with me on a journey. We’ll use that magical internet ability to time travel and go back to May 17th, 2015. The world was still waiting for the promised new Star Wars and the Canadian dollar hadn’t yet ruined my life by bungie jumping without a cable. I was ecstatic, because I had just finished the first draft of The Timeseer’s Gambit, which at the time still lacked a firm title. Look at how happy I was. How proud. How naive.
Depressingly, we’re about to come up on a year since that day, and I’m about to admit that I’m only just now finishing… the very first chapter of Book 3.
I wish I could say that I’ve had a hard year. I haven’t. Full disclosure? I’ve had a great year. I got engaged and went on a ballin’ vacation in Las Vegas. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has done so well and I’ve gotten a lot of incredibly moving feedback, met wonderful fans, and even made a not insignificant amount of money. My finances are better than they’ve ever been and I’m a happier, better person than I was this time last year. My mental health has never been so good. So while I wish that I could take refuge in having had a rough time of it, the truth is quite the opposite.
Part of it is that I wasn’t prepared for how much different editing is when you have an actual committee of people on you. I am really bad at starting a new project while I feel the previous one is still “unfinished,” and the fact that The Timeseer’s Gambit is still nowhere near ready for print right now, almost a year after my finishing it, is actually low key making me crazy as we speak. So many more steps were added to the revisions process with the addition of an agent and an entire publisher‘s worth of assorted people. But I sat down to actually start really digging into work on The Heartreader’s Secret in January, which is about when I started working on TTG in earnest last year. Even with the unexpected complications of working with publishers on a the previous book, I should be a lot deeper into THS than I am. There’s really only one real explanation for it.
I just can’t shut that little voice off.
You know. THE VOICE. The one that comes from inside of you. The one that always has something to say, and it’s never something nice. That voice is my best friend while I’m in editor mode and it’s part of what makes me a pretty good writer. But only part. The only part is the creativity, the joy of storytelling, the ability to find and follow a scene and the characters who inhabit it. And while my creative spirit leaves the voice alone and lets it work when it’s work time, the voice isn’t content to return the favour. It does its level best to strangle the creative part of me every single second when I’m actually trying to create.
That paragraph is too long.
You’re overusing italics.
That transition was awkward.
What’s the point of this scene?
That’s not the perfect word you’re looking for.
This entire beginning is trash.
Obvious explanatory dialogue tag.
Chapter too short.
Too much dialogue.
Not enough action.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
A year ago, fresh on the high of having finished my second book in record time, I had kind of convinced myself that I was above that voice. I’d slain it like a knight on a dragon, and now it was behind me, beneath me, and I’d never face it again. I was a Real Writer now, and my difficulties had graduated with me. I didn’t have to face the same things that I’d faced before.
Well, lesson learned.
I’m realizing that we never defeat that voice. Sometimes it’s louder, and sometimes it’s quieter, but its always there, and we all have it. I think I underestimated it and oversold myself. And it’s laying me so low because I naively thought I was beyond it. When you think you’ve slain your demon and stupidly turned away from it, its strikes become backstabs.
So here I am, looking that voice in the face.
I underestimated you, asshole. I let myself think that you were gone and you’re very much still here. But here’s the deal. I wrote two books already, and you were here for those, too. And they’re pretty damn good books. So you don’t control me.
I’m going to go back to my basics. One chapter minimum a week. A commitment to hard work. Furrowing my brow and ignoring you when you start whispering, and doing it over and over again until I get my immunity to you back.
You can be a useful partner. You’ve helped me see flaws, cut fat, and kill darlings. You’ve kept me grounded and realistic. But right now, nobody wants you here. I’ll see you when the draft is done, but that might be a while, so don’t wait around.
… is it gone?
That’s a joke. It’s never gone. Because the real shitty twist to this story is that it’s not an evil dragon-demon-voice.
It’s my own brain, doing what brains do, being both your best friend and worst enemy. No amount of shouting at my brain will make it go away, and besides, I kind of need it. But the fact that it is me is also an advantage, because ultimately, we have control over ourselves. I’ve made the decision to ignore my brain-voice before. I know I have, because I remember doing it. I can do it again, and I will.
I’m going to work my ass (and my brain) off to get The Heartreader’s Secret into your hands in the summer of ’17. So here I go. Screw you, me. Let’s do this.
For someone who doesn’t hold stock in horoscopes, star charts, or spirituality in general, I sure do know a lot about the zodiac! My knowledge all comes from the very indulgence that made me start this series – I really, really like personality archetypes and the activity of assigning them to characters! The cast of the Faraday Files mostly have birthdays as they are convenient to the story, which happens over the course of one year. So I’m using this moment to give them all zodiac signs that suit their personalities instead of just for plot expediency!
Christopher Buckley – Cancer
I didn’t even have to think about this one. Cancer is a water sign, and like all water signs, it’s very much a sign of sensitivity, intuition, and self-focus. A cancer’s positive qualities include loyalty, empathy, dependability, and adaptability. But cancers are also known for being moody, self-pitying, self-absorbed, cranky, and taking things way too personality. Sound like anyone?
Olivia Faraday – Aries
This one was a lot tougher! I thought a lot about Gemini, a really high energy, intellectually brilliant sign, but Geminis tend to be nervous and casual and have tons of friends. Olivia is just too closed off for that. Instead, I chose Aries. A really action oriented sign, Aries are all agency, gumption, passion, and emotion. They can be warm to the people they love, but are hard to get close to, and have really volatile feelings. It felt like a good fit for Olivia.
Rosemary Buckley – Gemini
I knew for sure that Rosemary was an air sign, but I went back and forth between Gemini and Aquarius. But the reasons why Gemini didn’t work for Olivia are exactly why they work for Rosie. Despite her life spent largely in isolation thanks to her situation, Rosemary is a naturally gregarious person and finds friends in her peer groups really easily. Gemini also suits her smart, high energy, clever nature. Don’t worry – you’ll see more of these positive traits from the bratty little sister going forward!
Maris Dawson – Taurus
Taurus is a really earthy sign, which suits Maris really well. They’re practical, steady, and tough, but also really stubborn and possessive. Most importantly, Taurus are loyal to a fault, protective of the people and things they care about. Maris would take a bullet (or a fireball expended from the barrel of a magical gun, I guess) for her commitment to law and order… or for her friends and family.
Rachel Albany – Virgo
Like Taurus, Virgo is an earth sign. All earth signs have a sort of down to earth practicality to them that other signs lack. But where a Taurus exhibits warmth and protectiveness, a Virgo is cold and methodical. It takes a Virgo a long time before they open up to someone, and can hide their personal feelings behind a fussy and precise exteriour. They’re extremely logical and can be very demanding and critical of others, and tend to be very serious. Rachel has started to melt a bit, but there’s still a whole lot of Virgoness between her front and her heart.
William Cartwright – Scorpio
Scorpios often get stereotyped as just being “the evil sign,” but that’s a really surface reading. It’s true that Scorpios tend to be machiavellian, vengeful, and intense, and also that they’re associated with aggression and warfare, but there’s a lot to love about Scorpios! They have good instincts, tend to be charismatic despite their combative intensity, and are really in tune with their emotions. I knew that Will was a Scorpio before I even thought about it very hard. He has that ferocity of emotion barely held back by the dam of his own coolness.
Fernand Spencer – Taurus
I thought about casting Fernand as a Capricorn, for its focus on leadership and inspiration, but I keep coming back to the parts of Taurus that made me assign it to Maris – loyalty and generosity. Fernand’s sincere and deep love for the Buckley family in general and Chris in particular really did lead him to giving up a decade of his life just to care for them for nothing in return, and that, more than anything else, defines who he is. It doesn’t hurt that Taurus are conservative, practical, and tend to be associated with money.
My fiancee and I recently watched Jessica Jones together on Netflix. We’d heard that it was good and interesting and had a good rep among geeky feminists. And, of course, it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m the sort of MCU fan who generally really likes the business model and goes see all the new films in theatres, but I’m not deeply invested in the mythos or the character arcs, with a few exceptions. (Tony, Bruce, and Natasha. Tony, Bruce, and Natasha are the exceptions.) So while I wasn’t parked right outside Netflix revving my engine for Jessica Jones to be released, there was a certain inevitability to my watching it that somehow made it hard to get excited about it. You know. Sigh, all right, Disney, here’s another thing to mark off on the checklist so I’m not missing anything. With my luck, the one side project I skipped would be the lynchpin of Avengers 3.
My low-ish expectations lead to some pretty amazing returns when the reality of the thing crashed down on me.
One of the main reasons it’s hard for me to get really excited about the MCU on that passionate, visceral level that elevates something from an interest to an obsession – that line between fan and fandom, if you will – is that I’ve never quite felt that any of Marvel’s big names live in the real world.
Anyone who’s read my book knows that I value characters that feel like they have daily lives. And I have a hard time imagining Steve Rogers filing his taxes, or Natasha Romanoff making a doctor’s appointment for an annoying rash. Those are all the things that make a character truly compelling to me. A sense that they exist in a physical space. One of my little self-tests for whether a character feels “alive” is whether or not I can imagine them taking a bathroom break without it seeming weird. I 100% cannot imagine Thor taking a bathroom break.
Now, Jessica? I don’t even have to imagine it. She actually takes bathroom breaks.
Now, this isn’t a judgement on the MCU or its core characters. It’s a matter of preference. I love the MCU, but while its characters are deeply, painfully likeable, they lack a visceral realness that I find I need. And this is why, more than anything else, I found myself drawn into Jessica Jones.
The honest and heart-wrenching depiction of post traumatic stress disorder, the beautiful respect and love paid to friendships between women, the sharp, darkly funny dialogue, and the empowering look at women who have experienced sexual assault – these were all the things that made the series sing and gave it its identity. But what allowed me to get so much out of those things is how I really felt that Jessica and Trish and the people they met didn’t all wake up with minty breath and empty bladders.
Jessica Jones lives in a real place, surrounded by real people, and that’s something I really love.
Women Need Women Who Need Women
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Or, better yet, if you’ve said this one.
“I just get along better with guys than with other girls. Other girls are just so catty. You can’t really trust them. They always talk behind your back. It’s constant drama. Men just make better friends than women. I just connect with them better.”
I mean, I’ve said it. I think most women who grew up geeky have. Honestly, there are a whole host of seasons that we do this, but I think a large part of it is that geek media has socalized to see badass girls as girls who hang around with boys.
I can’t think of one female character I admired as a teenager and young adult who had strong relationships with other women. It’s one of those many unforeseen consequences of failing the Bechdel Test, which I talked about in my Backstage Character Pass on Maris Dawson, my tough scrappy policewoman. All of the tough, badass women in geeky media tend to be surrounded by men and have only male relationships. We’re affected by what we see and who we admire, and it’s hard to ignore that our iconic tough, badass ladies like Princess Leia, Black Widow, or Hermione Granger lack any deep personal connection with the women in their life.
Jessica Jones is so intensely aware of this. And it’s really amazing. I haven’t read the comic it’s adapted from, but to my understanding, the relationship between Jess and Trish is a lot different than the one between Jess and Carol Danvers. Jessica and Trish are one another’s Most Important Person, the single person the other would save if they had to choose just one. They have a rich and weighty history together, exhibit real, intense loyalty for one another, and would do anything for each other, but at the same time, there’s no idealization of their relationship. Jessica pushes Trish out. Trish is bossy and mothering. There’s a thread of codependance between their relationship. They both struggle with jealousy and with their own individual damage, but when the cards are down, they fight for one another. They laugh together, drink together, listen to music together. They act the way that women do in close, intense friendships, and there’s value in that.
Of course, there isn’t just Trish and Jessica. The ruthless shark of a lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, was a male character in the comics and is a woman in the show. Her relationship with Jessica is cutting, sarcastic, sharp, and impatient, but is based on a mutual respect that independent ladies have for one another. And in turn, Jeri’s two love interests, her failing marriage and flourishing affair, are also women, providing even more interaction. In so many ways, love (and all of love’s messy, ugly cousins) is the same regardless of gender. In others, romance between women really is different than the heteronormative ideal, and you really get a sense of that in Jeri’s interactions with the women in her life.
It’s so important that we, as women, see women interacting with women. Positively and negatively, as long as there’s depth to the relationship. When it isn’t just that same repetition of “girl drama” as seen through the eyes of those who think they’re above it. When we get told that tough girls avoid the cat fights and stick to boys, it gets lodged up in us and we believe it. Jessica Jones not only avoids showing that frankly bullshit version of events, it writes its women and their relationships so well.
The Greatest Plot Twist Of All
((The next section contains SPOILERS for up to episode 9 of Jessica Jones: “AKA Sin Bin.” Read at your own risk.))
From those first moments in the first episode where Jessica hallucinates that Kilgrave is there beside her, whispering in her ear, the very suggestion of his possible presence can send a chill down your spine.
Something happens somewhere along the way, thought. As the series continues, Kilgrave goes from being a very mysterious character – face turned away from the camera, focus put on his voice and the reactions to it – to a more front and centre one. His sinister malignant presence fades somewhat, and a sort of horrifically charming, hapless sort of evil emerges. I found myself wrestling with my own brain, torn between being utterly terrified of Kilgrave and digusted by the horrors he’d committed, and actually being drawn in by him.
It all comes to a head in episode 8, “AKA WWJD,” where Jessica spends the episode willingly living with Kilgrave as he tries to win her over. He claims that he’s resolved not to use his mind control power and wants her to decide to trust him and fall in love with her on her own. There’s a childlike sort of hopefulness to Kilgrave in this episode, and it’s confusing and hard to watch. I would catch myself falling under his spell, or finding the awful things he said or did darkly funny. I found myself really enjoying the interplay between he and Jessica as she drags him to a crisis scene and manipulates him into playing hero. He’s almost puppyish in his desire to please her, to be what she wants, and I struggled with my own disgust at finding it… endearing.
It felt so inevitable when Kilgrave shows her footage of himself as a small child trapped in a laboratory, tortured and experimented on by his heartless scientist parents. It was the twist that I’d been waiting for in the back of my head. Why he was the way he was. His reason. His excuse. His parents mock him with false comfort and he shrieks as he’s forced to undergo spinal taps and tests under the harsh eye of the camera. “Ah,” I remember thinking. “It all makes sense, now. Kilgrave is just Kevin Thompson, a poor misunderstood little woobie who broke under the torture he was forced to undergo.” I felt vindicated for that part of me I’d been so disgusted with, the part that couldn’t help but want to root for Kilgrave’s redemption arc. He started talking about how hard it was to never know if someone actually cared about him or was just mind controlled. About how he had to examine every word that came out of his mouth. About how badly he wanted to make a real connection. I let go and let myself sink into the direction the story seemed to be taking: Jessica would selflessly pretend to cooperate with Kilgrave, and through that she would teach him a code and show him how to be a hero and he’d reclaim some of the humanity that had been cruelly snatched from him.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
That “plot twist” had seemed so inevitable because it was so damn familiar. The story turned down a familiar path, one that I’d seen a thousand times before. And I let myself fall into a comfortable place where I thought I knew where it was going. Worse, I was okay with it.
Instead of redeeming him, Jessica takes Kilgrave prisoner. And then comes the real plot twist. Jessica actually tracks down Kilgrave’s horrible, abusive, cruel parents. She wants them to answer for what they did, creating this monster. Only, as it turns out, they didn’t create one at all. Poor woobie broken Kevin Thompson had been terminally ill. His cruel scientist parents had been trying to cure him. As soon as he gained his powers, he turned the abilities on them. They did their best to care for him while he terrorized them for years, and eventually, they fled his reign of terror. The narrative Kilgrave had created in his own mind just wasn’t true. He hadn’t been twisted into a monster. He’d been born one. He was a dangerous sociopath given powers that allowed him to act with impunity. Bad to the bone. There was no heart-breaking, tragic tale, no one to blame for his corruption, and no possibility of redemption.
I’m not sure my mind had ever been so blown.
I realized like a sucker punch to my gut how I’d been played. The writing had been so brilliant and so twisted. It had coded Kilgrave in a way that aligned him with a lifetime of experience with redeemed bad boys, and then played on my desire to romanticize and redeem this character. It showed me what I had begun to want to see, and then it reached out and snatched it back and left me reeling. I had accepted Kilgrave’s version of events without thought. Even after everything he’d done, such horrifying things that they could turn the strongest stomach, I’d still let myself get taken in. I’d never stopped being afraid of him, never stopped being disgusted by him, but I’d seen that potential for redemption and reached out toward it and been burned so damn hard and I felt so ashamed and so angry and, at the same time, so deeply impressed.
I’d love to write something so brilliant.
It changed the way I looked at Kilgrave. His charms evaporated. His dark humour and boyish good looks and likeable David Tennant-ness all made me angry. His deeds had become personal. It served the story by plugging me into events more than ever before, by making me a maligned party along with everyone else who came into contact with this asshole.
And it made me think. It immediately brought to mind that post I linked above, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the cleverness of it. It’s made me decide to think a lot more critically about bad boys in all forms of media, to pinpoint the moment I start forgiving them their dark sides and examine why. It’s also made me think a lot about how I write villains. I’m of the viewpoint that no villain considers themselves one, and a good villain is one who the audience can understand or even partially empathize with. Kilgrave hit all those notes while explicitly not crossing that line into romanticizing a villain.
The way Jessica Jones slowly, gracefully charted the course from “scary Kilgrave the evil raping mind controlling boogeyman” to “poor Kevin Thompson the tortured soul trying to do his best despite being fundamentally broken” wasn’t half as brilliant as its abrupt swing backwards. It pulled the rug out. It’s something I’d never really seen done before… and certainly never seen done well.
Some folks from my writing group and I were hanging out this weekend. I was gushing about how excited I was to read one of their works in progress. And really, I’m so stoked to get my hands on this book. It’s this Lovecraftian steampunk ghost hunting frontier sort of affair that is so my jam. It’s going to be so good, you guys.
I mentioned how I wished that my central plot was as amazing and bonkers and mythos-rich as hers, and we laughed about that, and she pointed out that I intentionally wrote the world of the Faraday Files as steeped in mundanity. That was my goal, and I accomplished that goal.
“Yeah, that’s true,” I agreed. “I did it this way so there wasn’t as much chance that I’d get mired up in all the details and my insecurities about doing it justice and eventually lose the book up my own ass.”
After a moment of strangely loaded silence, I realized that both my friends had immediately leapt to the assumption that I had not been taking the piss on my menagerie of failed manuscripts. Rather, they thought that I was trying to lay down some sick backhanded burn on them. I hurried to explain, we all laughed about it, and the moment passed, but it’s been sticking with me.
I made that comment entirely based on my own personal experiences and was surprised my friends could take it as criticism. The thought had never even occurred to me. And yet, at the same time, they were both equally certain that it was about them because it had seemed equally personal to their perceived faults as a writer.
NK Jemisin, one of my favourite authors, had some interesting things to say after the release of her most recent novel, The Fifth Season. I put it on my list of the best books I read in 2015, and it’s absolutely and utterly brilliant — one of the most complex, rich, and interesting books I’ve ever read in the fantasy genre. She’s come clean about how the book almost never happened. Her insecurities would have lead her to abandon the project without the support of the people around her encouraging her and pushing her onward. How could a book so brilliant make the writer feel anything but bursting pride?
There’s a scene in The Timeseer’s Gambit that I’d been excited to write since I first outlined the series. It’s this huge set-piece that happens in multiple parts and has almost every important character in the Faraday Files in it, all pursuing their own agendas at the same time. When I finished it, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe how badly I’d fumbled this scene that had been in my head since I’d started writing the series. How could I possibly come back from this? I should probably just quit writing, if this is how I handle my big important scenes. I left the scene for a few weeks, lost in a funk. When I booted the laptop up again and read it with new eyes, I realized that it was fantastic, even in its first draft form, and I’d done everything I’d set out to do.
The expectations and demands we put on ourselves as writers can be really extreme. And as I’ve known for a while, they’re universal. We all feel that gloom settle around us when we think we’ve failed to do our vision justice, and we all struggle with visions so vast and detailed in our minds that it seems impossible that we could do them justice. And sometimes that leads to us abandoning the vision entirely, thinking that it’s better to leave it unfinished than ruin it with our incompetence.
It’s that last part that really leaves us with the guilt, though. Pushing through it and getting the thoughts out there can feel terrible, but I think we all invariably realize that we sold ourselves short, and our work is better than we thought it was. It was true for me, it was true for NK Jemisin, and I’m sure it’s going to be true for my friends, too. In that moment, I was more ashamed of the manuscripts I’d left behind thanks to my own angst than anything else, and that, I think, is what echoed with my friends.
It’s a good reminder that we’re better than we think we are. And that everyone else, from the unpublished to the brilliant multi Hugo- and Nebula- Award nominees, is going through the same things and fighting with the same anxieties.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been pretty much talked to death already. Of course it has! It’s the biggest deal of a movie that’s come out since… well, since the last Star Wars, probably. And unlike the last Star Wars, this one is really, really good. It’s only natural that everyone has said everything there is to say about it already.
But despite it all, when I decided that I was going to start blogging more regularly, one of the first things I decided I had stuff to say about is the new Star Wars. Specifically, the writing in the new Star Wars.
I’m not sure audience reactions to Kylo Ren is what Disney hoped or expected. Famously, they’ve got tons of merch for him that they can’t move while, in turn, the demand for Rey merchandise far outpaces available supply. No one wants Kylo Ren action figures. Why would they?
Disney seems surprised. But I don’t think anyone who actually worked in a creative capacity on the movie is, and that’s because Kylo Ren is as far from cool or admirable as possible, and also… kind of perfect.
I’ve talked here about my approach to creating characters. In short, what’s most important to me is that a character is real and who is interesting. Likabilty comes a distant third. My priority is that my characters feel like cohesive people, with tons of little pieces that all fit together to make a believable whole. And by that standard, Kylo Ren is the best character Star Wars has ever had.
It makes me a little sad that his face is plastered all over the internet from the Emo Kylo Ren twitter to thousands of memes on tumblr, because possibly the best moment in the movie is when we see that face for the first time. After all the build up, the reveal that he is… a completely normal, relatively handsome young man is absolutely brilliant and underscores what makes him the best cinematic villain in recent history: his banality. He’s not a mastermind with plots within plots, cool and enigmatic and stone-faced. He’s a confused, frustrated young man, desperately trying to live up to a legacy he doesn’t even understand. He’s petulant, petty, temperamental, and lost. It’s absolutely brilliant.
I’ve seen criticism of the character based around the fact that he is a retread of problems with the prequel movies. Anakin Skywalker is a brat and widely agreed to be a failure of a character. Kylo Ren is a brat, too, so doesn’t that make him a failure? But this is a misunderstanding of the entire concept of framing. Anakin was framed as a great hero tragically lost to the dark side, a handsome and charming young man respected by the morally upstanding Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and admired by the intelligent and competent politician Padme Amidala. His characterization as a sullen punk undermines what the audience is supposed to see when they look at him. But Kylo Ren is exactly what he’s made to be. His cranky, unhinged petulance actually contributes to his standing as a villain. Driven by such petty desires, the audience really does feel like the character will do anything to achieve his goals without thinking it fully through. This makes him frightening… and a little bit pitiable. We think Kylo Ren can be saved, just maybe. But do we want him to be?
DIVERSITY COMES TO STAR WARS
My best friend in middle school showed me the movies when we were twelve years old and I was smitten from moment one. I loved the world, the characters, the romance. I loved blasters and Jedi and the Millennium Falcon and lightsabers and Chewbacca’s voice.
And I loved Leia Organa.
Is there any young girl who didn’t? Leia is a dream. A beautiful, smart, kickass, tough princess with gorgeous but practical hair and costumes that run the gamut from gowns to fatigues, who gets a young Harrison Ford eating out of her hand and saves the galaxy. She’s femme enough for girly girls, tough enough for tomboys, independent enough for the most pragmatic of us and syrupy enough for the most romantic. Leia is a damn near perfect female character, despite some infamous missteps.
But she’s also the only female character. And despite her efforts to try, no one character can be everything to everyone.
The prequels were even worse. Still just the one female character, but this time, she’s little more than a love interest!
Then comes The Force Awakens. It knows that it needs to do better, and it does. The protagonist is Rey, the tough, scrappy, strong-willed scavenger girl with the power of a strong potential Jedi. And seeing her in the cockpit of this movie, owning most of the major scenes, would have been enough to thrill me down to my toes on her own. But Rey is just one character, and the movie doesn’t stop there! It gives us the hardass Captain Phasma, the eccentric Maz, and, of course, an older and world-weary Leia Organa herself to stand around and beside Rey. I’ve always stressed that the key to strong female characters is varied female characters, and The Force Awakens delivers that. Amazingly, out of those four major female characters, only one is young and conventionally attractive. Maz is an alien, Leia is in her fifties or sixties, and you never even see Phasma out of her armour!
Are we done yet? God, no! Because here comes a charming black man as Rey’s costar, the lovable, high-energy stormtrooper Finn. The trilogy’s central trio is rounded out by Poe Dameron, played by a South American actor and possessed of an ambiguous sexuality that has fans all guessing. Everywhere you look, there are more and more diverse characters.
Some would say this isn’t important, but I know they’re wrong. Because I was a little girl who looked at Leia and saw the only real role model in cinematic genre flicks available to me. I’m so excited to see a new generation of young girls have their own Leia. I want black boys and queer children to see themselves in Finn and, hopefully, in Poe. And hell, just for myself, as a woman over 30 and officially “old” by Hollywood standards – I’m glad that Leia Organa and the amazing Carrie Fisher who brings her to life are still allowed to show their faces on the big screen. It’s been forty years since Leia blasted her way into the garbage chute, and Leia is back. She’s still wielding a blaster, saving the galaxy, and showing all the girls who grew up admiring her that we don’t belong on a shelf just because everything isn’t as tight as it used to be.
UNPREDICTABLE CHARACTER ARCS
A lot of the few criticisms I’ve seen about The Force Awakens seems to focus on the idea that it’s glorified fanfiction that gives the viewer that they want to see instead of what would make a good movie. Putting aside a whole interesting discussion about fanfiction culture and whether or not wish fulfillment is inherently bad, I actually just… disagree.
Most assuredly, The Force Awakens walks a thin line between homage and reboot, with the major beats from A New Hope being retread consistently, but the thing I admired the most about the new film and the stage it set is that it didn’t give me what I wanted. At all.
Before I knew what an OTP was, Han Solo and Princess Leia were my OTP. I cared so much about those two. I read every single book in the Expanded Universe, just hoping for little insights into their life after Return of the Jedi. The only thing that I wanted going into The Force Awakens was to see them happy together.
Without getting too heavily into spoilers, not only did the film not give me that, it gave me pretty much the opposite of that. Tragedy poisoned the heart of their marriage and their relationship. Leia retreated into her work, trying to make the world a better place to compensate for her own loss. Han regressed to a worse but easier version of himself where he didn’t have to think about his grief. They drifted apart and eventually separated. Their reunion isn’t passionate or joyful. It’s quiet and weary and bittersweet, their relationship still scarred by all the lost things that silently stood between them.
Before I’d seen the movie, I’d have sworn this would have ruined it for me, but it didn’t. And that’s because good, interesting writing is more valuable to me than even my first OTP. Seeing Han and Leia so heartsick was hard and it certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it was narratively satisfying. It showed me something I wouldn’t have thought I wanted and invested me in that. And that’s good writing.
There was a time where I’ve had given anything to know that Luke, Leia, and Han all had a happy ending together after the Ewok party at the end of Return of the Jedi. And The Force Awakens didn’t give me even a breath of that. The trio had been torn apart and had each turned to broken versions of themselves. And against all odds – I liked it. It gave me something I didn’t know that I wanted. What else can I ask for?
If there’s one thing I know that I’m decent about for blogging purposes, it’s maintaining a series of posts. I did pretty good with my Getting Out of the Labrynth series and my Backstage Character Pass series, not to mention the April Blogging Challenge. I’ve thought about what to do for a new series, and I’ve come up with an idea that’s as silly as it is captivating: a series focusing on what is commonly referred to as “sorting.”
Would Harry Potter have been the success it was without how it provided those four intriguing character archetypes? Something about it captured our imaginations. The idea that everyone can be sent to one house or the other. Which house would I end up in? What about you? And what about Sherlock Holmes, Anne of Green Gables, or Holden Caufield?
There’s a certain appeal in this sort of thing that’s impossible to deny. Sliding characters into archetypes and seeing how they fit has become sort of a universal pasttime. And there are tons of different ways you can sort them!
So here’s my incredibly self indulgent new blog series: sorting my characters. And to start out, let’s go with where the term sorting came from. Where do Faraday Files characters sort into the Houses of Hogwarts?
I don’t think much of my target audience needs an explanation of what the Hogwarts Houses represent! But here’s a quick fly by.
When the young witches and wizards are brought to Hogwarts Academy, a talking hat is placed on their heads. The hat searches their character and decides which House they’ll represent while they study at the school. The four Houses are the brave and forthright Gryffindors, the ambitious and cunning Slytherins, the wise and savvy Ravenclaws, and the honest and determined Hufflepuffs. They’re represented, respectively, by a lion, a snake, an eagle, and a badger.
Christopher Buckley – Hufflepuff
There aren’t a lot of Hufflepuff protagonists out there! There’s a tendancy to think of Hufflepuffs as just “the boring house,” because unlike most Houses, they’re defined by legitimately trying, all the time, to be the best possible person rather than by innate traits. But there’s more to Hufflepuffs than just being long-suffering, determined, and hard-working. They’re also stubborn and passive aggressive. I think Hufflepuffs make more valuable protagonists than they’re given credit for! Readers are pretty divided on whether or not they like Chris, but they universally admit that he’s unique.
Olivia Faraday – Gryffindor
My agent and her significant other couldn’t decide if Olivia was a Gryffindor or a Slytherin, and I broke this tie for them. But it’s close! The sorting hat would have a tough time with her. Despite Olivia’s sneaky tactics and resourceful mind, I can’t help but think that her core is all about how little she cares about consequences or rules, how she’ll charge into anything without a second look back, and how she can lose her temper without warning or apparent reason. And that’s all Gryffindor!
Rosemary Buckley – Slytherin
Like Olivia, this one is a close tie between the snake and the lion. But if I had to pick one word to describe Rosie, it would be “ambition.” Her father really imprinted on her how important she would be, and part of the reason why Chris has such a hard time keeping her leashed is because she has it in her head that she can change the world. Nothing can hold her back from that destiny.
Maris Dawson – Gryffindor Maris’s second choice for a house would be Hufflepuff, but the lion has it. Maris is the big tough bruiser-type who’ll break the rules and your head to protect people who need it. Nothing could stop her from leaping into danger if it was needed!
Rachel Albany – Ravenclaw
Rachel’s role as Rosemary’s tutor has already resulted in Rosemary having a more well rounded education than most girls her age. Rachel values knowledge and learning above all else and considers it important to have a well developed view of a situation before making a decision about it. She rejects “common knowledge” and tries to learn the truth of a matter beneath it. She also loves to read, something I haven’t really gotten into yet!
William Cartwright – Slytherin
Self-absorbed, confident, and achievement-oriented, Will is the quintessential Slytherin. He values the rules greatly, but not when he doesn’t feel they apply to him, and he hates following anyone else’s direction.
Fernand Spencer – Ravenclaw
Fernand is far and away the smartest person Chris knows. He’s a mathematical genius, avid reader, and amateur philosopher. In addition to just being book smart as hell, Fernand is full of real life wisdom and emotional intelligence. He and Rachel connected instantly in large part because they’re the only two people in the core cast smarter than they are stupid!