The Heartreader’s Secret is Complete!

After a solid two months of writing 40 hours a week, I have finally written the last word in the first draft of The Heartreader’s Secret, Faraday Files number 3!

It’s only been done for a few hours now, so there’s no news on when it’ll be in your hands. Hopefully not too long, but publishing takes a while… and there’s a lot of work left to do on the book. But this stuff is honestly the easy part, and I can’t wait until the book is in your hands!

Here are some quick facts about The Heartreader’s Secret:

1. The first draft has clocked at 144k words. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant finished at 160k. The Timeseer’s Gambit was 132. That puts THS firmly in the middle of the three so far. It’s worth noting that word count can change a lot in revisions, of course! TDA and TTG ended up essentially the same length as TDA lost scenes and TTG picked some up.

2. It’s the darkest book in the series. The Faraday Files book are meant to act as both self-contained stories and four acts of one narrative. THS is very much the lowest point for the heroes as we head into the climax and finale in the final book.

3. It isn’t set (entirely) in Darrington City. Olivia and Chris’s case in this book takes them out of the big city and to the rambling country estate where Olivia grew up. Summergrove has become a hotbed for activity, with Rachel Albany, Rosemary Buckley, Emilia Banks, and Francis Livingstone all out there — not to mention Olivia’s mother, Elouise Faraday! It’s inevitable that Chris and Olivia would find themselves out there, and in this book, they do.

4. The titular heartreader is Rachel Albany. Rachel has always been my most challenging character to write, and her prominent role in this book is part of why it’s taken me so long to finish it! But despite her title call, Rachel doesn’t play as prominent a role as Olivia and Will do in the first two books, or Rosemary will in book 4, The Spiritbinder’s Key. THS is the most ensemble book in the series, and pretty much everybody gets a lot of stuff to do.

5. It’s been the hardest book to write by far. TTG stayed miraculously on-point. It only very occasionally diverged from the outline, and only in minor ways. TDA was a far more rambling, out of control creature… but it was also my first book and was a simpler narrative. It was easier to course correct when it strayed. But THS would not stay on topic. Chekov’s guns refused to fire. Entire characters wouldn’t fulfill their designated role. Planned dynamics didn’t play out. New characters appeared. Events played out differently than I envisioned. This book just would not behave, and with so many moving pieces I needed to get squared away for the final book, it was a pain to restructure everything over and over again!

6. I know a whole lot about apples, ciders, and horticulture now. Like, too much. Olivia’s family runs a famous orchard, mill, and cidery. I have something like fifty pages of research about apples, of which I’ve used maybe three lines. Oh, well. I got to drink a lot of different hard ciders for research 😉

Hungry for more? Keep your eyes peeled for more information about The Heartreader’s Secret, coming… hopefully soon!

Backstage Character Pass — Emilia Banks

Some of my cast, like Chris, Olivia, and Rosemary, were important parts of the full series before they were even fully formed. Others didn’t really find their place until I started writing, like Maris, Will, or Kolston. The latest comer to the core cast is definitely the brilliant engineer Emilia Banks, which is funny… because she’s one if the most integral characters to the story as a whole.

Em’s origin story is a lot like Maris’s. As you might remember from my Backstage Character Pass on our favourite policewoman, Officer Dawson was added late when I realized that my first book didn’t pass the Bechdel test, and I think she’s a great example of how adding characters to fill a quota is actually a great thing! She contributes so much to the world and is so fun to write and adds such friction and spice to the rest of the cast! The series would definitely be worse off without her. Em is a lot like this.

After a single scene with Maris, I knew that this woman was gay as the hills. And I… kind of didn’t love it. In a lot of wars, Maris can seem like a lesbian stereotype. She’s stout, muscular, tough, no-nonsense, grizzled, and butch. I felt uncomfortable with having my lesbian conform to so many tropes. I turned to my lesbian friend and asked her how she would proceed and what she thought about this.

Her solution was pretty simple. Gay women, especially “mannish” ones like Maris, as often just gay as a character trait rather than an actual lifestyle. To avoid Maris being just a trope, I should give her a love story and make her lover as important to the story as Maris herself.

This right here is me miming a kiss to my friend. I really can’t thank her enough.

I thought about what kind of woman Maris would fall in love with, I thought about what blank spaces another cast member could fill in the world and the story, and I thought about the venn diagram where those two things overlapped. Like magic, Emilia Banks sprang to life.

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absolutely gorgeous fanart of maris and emilia at the piffleman’s gala house is illustrated by Doug @ greekburrito on tumblr!

Em is a lot of fun to write. She’s one of the most serious characters in my main cast, but she’s got some dry wit going on. She’s intelligent and kind and determined and deeply in love with Maris. She brings some much needed colour to Tarland’s isolationist racial purity, and shows us a bit of the world outside of Darrington’s sheltered walls. She’s also extremely logical and analytical. But I think what really makes her stand out is her passion.

There are two main types of character in the Faraday Files. There are the ones who are just trying to go about their lives and avoid the looming apocalypse scenario bearing down on Tarland, and those who have become ideologically embroiled in the politics and the discourse about what should be done about it. Em is neither. She is as disinterested in debating ideology as she is in putting her head in the sand. The debate about how to handle Tarland’s economic and social crises has been raging for a decade now without any real progress, and Emilia is so Done With It. People talk and talk and talk and talk and nothing ever happens, so why bother talking? Why not just get out there, headfirst, and do things?

One of my favourite things about Em is that she always puts her money where her mouth is. Both literally — she’s independently wealthy and uses her own money to fund her research — and figuratively. Emilia is dead set against categorization from top to bottom. It’s a corrupt, horrible system that is keeping Tarland in the dark ages, not the shining beaon of progress like so many claim. As a citizen of Tarland who has reached her majority, Em is legally obligated to undergo categorization, and she has. And yet, neither the reader nor the characters (other than Maris, of course) know what proficiency she has, because she won’t use it. Maybe it would make her life more convenient, or allow her to work legally and grow her fortune, but Emilia won’t play a role in the system she despises. I think that’s pretty impressive.

The Timeseer’s Gambit mostly serves as an introduction to the indomitable Miss Banks, but don’t worry — you’ll be seeing a lot of her in The Heartreader’s Secret. While the book is named for Rachel Albany, who has a big role to play, it’s as much Em’s book as it is Rachel’s.

Like Maris, I think Em is a great case for how a character added to tick a box can actually be a huge blessing to a story. I adore her, and response to her has been super positive! But she wouldn’t even exist if I weren’t committed to real diversity in my work.

So, what did you think of Emilia Banks?

The Timeseer’s Gambit Backstage Character Pass Series:
Kolston
The Deathsniffer’s Assistant Backstage Character Pass Series:
Chris
Olivia
Maris
Rosemary
Rachel
Will

Backstage Character Pass — Rayner Kolston

With the release of The Timeseer’s Gambit a solid month behind us, and, hopefully, most of my readers having had a chance to dig in and discover Chris and Olivia’s new adventure, I’m ready to start talking about the book here on my blog! I’ve got so much to say! But first up, the Backstage Character Pass series is looking incomplete.

How about those characters who solidified their position in the main cast a little later than the others?

Rayner Kolston was what I refer to in my notes as a “mystery character” in the first book. What that means is that, like Evelyn val Daren, Grandmother Eugenia, and Elisabeth Kingsley, he existed in the story primarily as a potential suspect and a source of investigative information for Olivia’s sleuthing. He established the val Daren’s family’s debts and acted as a slightly more reliable outside perspective on the Duke’s life. In the earliest outlines, this was Kolston’s entire role in the series, and he would disappear in future books once the case was solved.

But as I outlined his role and, eventually, got around to actually sketching out his scenes with Olivia, I found that I… actually really liked the guy. He provided something new and unique to the cast, and there was a role I could see him playing in future books. And I jumped on it, because the truth is, he’s just a lot of fun to write!

While most of the cast of these books are relatively respectable and on the right side of the law, Kolston is most definitely not. Chris often describes him like a rodent or an insect, and it’s a pretty apt comparison. Kolston scuttles around the edges of things, exploits the economic crisis to make his own personal fortune, and collects nuggets of information to sell to the highest bidder.

All of those traits are surprisingly useful. As you can see in The Timeseer’s Gambit, Kolston provides a window into the darker sides of Darrington city. He’s a contact Chris and Olivia can use to scrape the underbelly, which makes him a great character to have around for the mystery-solving aspects of the plot. He’s also great for when they need something untoward done and don’t want to or can’t do it themselves. In TTG, this all leads to Chris making a devil’s bargain with Kolston that will definitely come back in later books. And, of course, Kolston’s presence helps remind us of how grimy Darrington is getting as it loses more and more of its prestige and sinks deeper into a depression.

But I don’t think any of that is Kolston’s real purpose in the story. The true appeal of having him in the mix, for me, is the conflict he brings to Olivia and Chris.

I really wanted to show Olivia as a sexually confidant woman who doesn’t care about societal expectations. I also wanted to make it clear that she isn’t sexually attracted to Chris by demonstrating how she acts when she is interested in someone. But I didn’t want to clutter my already large cast by adding a character specifically for this purpose. However, I realized writing their first scene together in TDA that damn… she really digs on Kolston. He’s clever, willing to flirt shamelessly, and can actually keep up with her.

Not to mention, he’s just a good-looking guy!

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I’ve come to realize that my biggest inspiration for Kolston is the minor character “Badger” from the television series Firefly. Badger only has about thirty lines in the whole series, but I guess he made an impression on me!

Does that surprise you? After all, he’s always described as being sleazy, greasy, and rat-like. But remember… you’re seeing Kolston from Chris’s point of view, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Chris can’t see past what Kolston is: a carrion eater who lives in the sweaty buttcrack of polite society. But what Olivia sees is all rakish good looks and slick charm.

Kolston also helps remind both Chris and you all reading that Olivia’s moral compass is… crooked. She genuinely believes that he committed a horrible murder in cold blood and got away with it. It just doesn’t bother her. After all, she didn’t know the victim, it was just business, and legally, he’s been cleared. As Olivia starts opening up more to Chris and showing her softer sides, I like to keep it fresh in everyone’s mind that she hasn’t stopped being what she is.

As for Kolston himself? What he wants, what he values, what he loves, where his loyalties lie? Does he have hidden depths, or is he as petty and small-minded as he seems? Does he sincerely care about Olivia, or would he sell her out for a fiver? Is he bad or good or just pragmatic? I know the answers to those questions, but they’re definitely obfuscated on purpose! You’re just going to have to keep reading and find out. Maybe he’ll end up surprising you… and maybe not.

Do you like him? Or does he make your skin crawl? Do you think Olivia deserves better, or are they perfect for each other? Let me know what you think!

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant Backstage Character Pass Series:
Chris
Olivia
Maris
Rosemary
Rachel
Will

The Wretched Rebirth of That Little Voice

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.

Oh, ouch.

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.

You’re rambling.

Run-on sentence.

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 me.

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.

Sorting the Faraday Files – Hogwarts

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?

The Sorting
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

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adorable Chris Hufflepuff by MTWX

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!