I rarely use my blog to talk about personal things that aren’t strictly related to my writing or my books, but the passing of Carrie Fisher has affected me in such a profound way that I find myself needing to put my thoughts down somewhere.
I was first introduced to Star Wars by my best friend in middle school, and I immediately fell head over heels in love with the feisty, brave, competent, and beautiful Princess Leia. Looking back now, with the hindsight of a queer woman, I was always pretty much in love with her. But more than that, I wanted to be her. I wanted to tap into that strength and fearless determination that she had and siphon it off for myself. I was thirteen, learning myself, and Princess Leia was a monument to what being a woman could be.
It wasn’t until years later that I started to really learn about the woman behind the character.
The first thing you find out about Carrie Fisher after loving her in Star Wars is about her struggles with addiction. There’s something transgressive and salacious about it, that the fresh-faced, spirited, confident princess was fueled by cocaine and LSD. “Carrie Fisher? She did some hard years,” people will say, nodding sagely. Which she did. But the story isn’t dark or deliciously scandalous. It’s about triumph.
Carrie Fisher, like me, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Everyone with this disorder self medicates one way or another. And Carrie fought to overcome that, to overcome all of it, and to become a self sufficient, self sustaining, and healthy woman. She fought and she won.
There’s a lot of reasons I identify with her, and some of it is that we had some of the same struggles. But a lot of it is that Carrie was a writer to her soul. Acting was never her dream. Writing was where her heart was. Princess Leia wasn’t just a character Carrie played — she was instrumental in the writing process. Check out Carrie’s handwritten notes on Leia’s dialogue for The Empire Strikes Back:
Carrie’s edits made it into the final film and flow so much better than the original lines. “With the rest of the garbage” is such an iconic Leia moment, accompanied by that little smile she has when she says it. And did I mention that Empire was the film Carrie was high during? She did these great edits and played these scenes with such finesse while high.
Leia’s strength was fed by Carrie’s. The older she got, the more passionate she became, and she was a champion for feminism and the value of women past thirty. Her rants about that goddamn golden bikini were always so delightful. She claimed to “think with her mouth” and her off the cuff, short way of talking could be insightful, moving, or just laugh out loud funny. She loved to just talk, to share her feelings. She had no shame about anything at all, and that’s something I wish I had in me.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher.
I’m not the sort of person to get sentimental about the passing of famous people I admire. I’m something of a bright-eyed fatalist, embracing the inevitability of death as a time to rest. But today has been hard for me in a way that nothing but the deaths of close family and friends ever is.
Part of it, I think, is that she just had so much left to give. Leia had finally come back to the big screen and Carrie was leveraging her visibility as a platform for everything from new books (The Princess Diarist just came out!) to twitter rants (her barely penetrable internet-speak was charming beyond words.) She was visible and loud and out there, and suddenly, because she picked a bad time to have a heart attack, she’s simply gone. I feel like I’ve been cheated of all the things Carrie the writer, Carrie the actor, and Carrie the personality had left to give me. I feel like the thirty years I should have had with her have been taken away from me. And it’s leaving an empty space in my heart.
But maybe part of it is that my view of the end of life as a time to sleep and be at peace doesn’t feel right for Carrie. She’s not the type to long for a chance to lay down and rest. Carrie Fisher was the very soul of life itself. Thinking of her as anything but living it what really hurts.
Here or gone, Carrie Fisher is always going to be someone I look to for insight and answers, a What Would Carrie Do? sort of figure in my mind. I hope I can continue to learn from her. I’m going to take the rest of the day to start reading The Princess Diarist and glean every bit of insight I can from the pages.
After hearing George Lucas’s half brilliant, half ludicrous explanation of why she couldn’t wear a bra, Carrie decided that it sounded kind of beautiful. She said that no matter how she died, she wanted everyone to say that she was drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra. So that’s what I’m going to say, when someone asks how she died. That’s what’s worthy of such an amazing, brilliant, multi-faceted, and fearless woman. And instead of saying rest in peace, I’ll say rest in riots, because I think that’s what she would have wanted.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I’ve heard it said that by blogging, you can learn a lot about yourself. I’ve definitely found that’s true throughout my year of experience running this blog and being an Author Person. I’ve learned that I naturally take an impersonal tone when I write in this format and struggle to come off as human. I’ve learned that I’m perfectionist about what kind of content is on my blog. I’ve learned that I really like writing posts where I can order things into lists.
Biggest lesson? God, I hate blogging.
Twitter? Twitter is easy, I’ll post whatever off the cup observations I have. Facebook? I can posts pictures of my cats like a champion! Email? I love responding to my fans!
Blogging? Yeaaah. Different story altogether.
A lot of it is the aforementioned perfectionism. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about anything. I have tons to say about everything. But I always get caught up in my own anxieties about the content on my site. I don’t know, guys. Are my opinions on Star Wars and the perfect Starbucks drink really blog-worthy? Does anyone really want to know about the cute things my cats do? How does a list of best video game husbands contribute to my “brand?”
So I get caught up with two sentences of a blog post about my upcoming wedding and then delete them. And then, unable to come up with anything more compelling to that, I don’t make a post at all. Even now, writing this blog about my difficulties writing blogs, I’m facing those same anxieties. Nobody wants to hear about this, Kate! Your readers want to know how the next book is coming, not that you sweat over dumb posts like this one! I just caught myself with the whole thing highlighted and my finger hovering over the delete key! Oi.
Blogging is important, and I know it is. It’s a way that I can reach out to you, my readers, and help you get to know what kind of person I am outside of the writing in my books. It’s a way that I can check in with all of you. It’s a face I can show the people who are just coming to this site because they heard about my book.
When I started this blog, the first thing I wrote about was my difficulty in blogging and how I’d tried twenty times to make a good “first post.” Nothing has really changed in the year since then, except now I have a lot more people watching.
So here’s my goal: at least six posts a month every month until The Timeseer’s Gambit hits shelves on August 4th. That’s not so bad. I mean, I’m still sweating at the thought of it, but it’s not so bad. The thing is, I want to get better. I want to show you guys all the little things about my life. I want my fans to have a place where they can come to see me talk about things. Important things and silly things, relevant things and random things. I want to see if I can get over this hump in my head.
And if I can’t…
Well, there’s always twitter. And the bitter sting of defeat!
As a resident of the far east coast, I’ve seen a lot of things that most people haven’t. The wild, grey Atlantic ocean. The Fundy Bay tides. Forests covering absolutely everything. The glory of that in the autumn.
Of course, there are a lot of things I haven’t seen. Like, for example, a mountain.
I spent my vacation this year on the southwest coast. We touched down in Ontario, California and walked out into the world and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The horizon was completely dominated by mountains! Scrub-lands! Palm trees! Wild cacti! Dry heat! I must have looked like a little kid stumbling through the area.
“Write what you know” is an incredibly overused and overrated statement. In the words of fellow fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal, “Write what you know is what’s saddled us with so many novels about English professors fantasizing about having affairs with their coeds.” I’ve never seen a unicorn, a body, or an elemental. I’ve never solved a murder, ridden in a carriage, or taken notes with only my mind. But I think I did a pretty good job writing all those things. “Write what you know” should really be something more like “have enough knowledge about what you’re writing that you can fake it, and throw in some personal experiences to add flavour.” If people just wrote what they knew, we wouldn’t have any speculative fiction at all.
But with that said, gosh there sure is some value in new experiences from a writing perspective. For instance, having spent a week driving up and down mountains, I’m embarrassed at how I’ve written them in the past. They’re just so big that I imagined their size was a gradual thing. They look that big from far away, but up close, they must look completely different. It must take forever to drive up a mountain. Never did I imagine that we actually could drive up and down one of those San Bernadino mountains in a half hour, the car at a 70 degree angle all the while!
Despite being on vacation, I learned a lot on my trip to bring into my work. Mainly, to never discount the value of real world experiences. I’ve thought about writing a Gold Rush fantasy at some point, and I’m definitely realizing that I might need to spend more time in the scrub-lands before I can really tap into all those things. “Write what you know” might be oversaid and overrated, but there’s value in new experiences.
(And yes, I had fun. I had so much fun you guys. The Colorado river, SoCal, and Las Vegas… what a crazy trip! Happy thirtieth birthday to me and all my best friends. We celebrated in style.)
As anyone who’s had time to read my debut will tell you, I’m not the sort of writer who shies away from negativity. My characters are all deeply flawed and occasionally unpleasant people, and I’m willing — some might say eager! — to dive deep into the uglier aspects of the average person’s psyche. We’re all a little horrible, and the world is full of horrible things, and I’m a big believer that art should imitate life.
And… with all that said, here are five very real things that you’re never going to see me include in a book unless I hang a big lampshade on it or have the book deconstruct it.
1. “I don’t get along with other women; I prefer having male friends. Women are just so catty.”
This is a really common attitude among women, especially young women. I remember saying things like that, myself! It’s a very real thing to write… but I’d only write it in a scenario where the character in question learns to value female friendships.
Society tells us women that we, as a gender, are mean-spirited, competitive, petty, and backstabbing. And for those of us who had a hard time fitting in when we were younger, it tells us that we’re different. We’re one of the only good ones and those ugly characteristics are just part of what women are and only men, who are clearly civilized and straight-forward and honest, can really understand us, the girl who isn’t like “normal” girls. It’s not hard to extrapolate what’s wrong with this. I want my writing to reflect what I’ve learned as I’ve grown: female friendships are valuable and important.
“I’m not like other girls and prefer the company of boys” is just a way to paint women as lesser, and realistic or not, it’s an all-too-common attitude I don’t want to perpetuate in any context.
2. The promiscuous bisexual.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with promiscuity. Every person has the right and the privilege to decide for themself what their sexual life will look like. Being promiscuous doesn’t say anything about you except that you’re confident and comfortable with that lifestyle and you’ve chosen it over another one. But you’re never going to see me write a bisexual character as promiscuous unless bisexuality is the norm in the story.
Because it’s so common — and it’s damaging. In a world where bisexuality is barely understood when it’s even acknowledged, bisexuals struggle constantly with the perception of being greedy or indiscriminate. Bisexuality is often seen as, not a valid sexual orientation, but a turbo-charged version of promiscuity. Liking sex so much that nothing about a partner matters except their willingness to engage.
In a world where bisexuality is understood and respected, a promiscuous bisexual is just another character and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in the world we actually live in, I don’t want to add another drop to the ocean of that particular stereotype.
3. “There’s just something about this incredibly weak male lead…”
Love is an incredible thing. It makes us into different people. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. When love bends us to its whim, we can sometimes do incredibly stupid things, or act like complete idiots. It can turn the hardest person in the world into a softie. But you’re never going to see me write an independent, tough lady go all weak at the knees and turn into a blushing bride when the right man looks her way.
Why? Because really tough women are often portrayed this way in media because it makes them seem less intimidating. Look, she’s hard as nails — but she’s also so cute in the right lighting. It’s an easy way to make a character seem more palatable — and I don’t think that character types needs that! She’s amazing as she is and making her melt for a man just reinforces the idea that she needs to in order to be something people want to see.
Love brings out the mushy creamy center in us all. So if I want to show that with a hard as nails character, it’ll be through love for something other than a man.
4. Queerness as a phase.
Human sexuality is confusing. Most people have asked themselves questions, entertained ideas, and wondered about themselves in some way or another. It’s natural to be lost and bewildered in the maze of your own mind when it comes to sex or gender or attraction or romance. And it’s also a perfectly natural thing to come out of that maze as the society default. But I’m not going to write that.
Even though it’s normal for heterosexual people or cisgender people to question themselves, it’s a luxury to be able to answer those questions in a comfortable way — no matter how uncomfortable the questions themselves were. Queer people don’t get to have that comfortable answer. And because they didn’t answer the way that the “normal” person does, they get tagged with the assumption that they will… someday. Eventually.
I won’t write a character who has a queer phase because it contributes to the narrative that everyone who is queer is in the midst of a phase.
5. Power imbalances in relationships.
It happens. Either through socialization or something wired into us, knowledge and power can be sexy. A lot of perfectly healthy relationships in real life started out with one person in a position of authority over another. And a lot of unhealthy ones, too — remember when I said that I don’t shy away from the bad stuff under the bed! I am never going to write a relationship between a student and teacher or subordinate and superior.
I don’t want to run the risk of romanticizing a relationship where there is such a power imbalance. This trope almost always focuses on the relative innocence of the younger party and there’s something about it that just makes my skin crawl. And it’s incredibly common, both in fiction created by men and women!
Questionable and overused? I think I’ll keep my distance.
Have you ever sat down and tried to sketch out an exact scenario that would signify you’ve achieved your dreams?
About ten years ago, my friends and I were trying to come up with moments like that. Moments where, once they happened, we could sit back and say “Well, all right. That’s it. I did it.” I constructed this scenario:
If someone I’d never met before and didn’t know my family or know someone who knew my family approached me with a physical copy of a book I’d written in hand and asked me to sign it, I’d consider that my dreams come true.
And now I need to come up with a new scenario, because I achieved that one ten times over!
Last Tuesday was my first official signing! I’d scribbled in a couple of books that I gave as gifts to my family and friends, but thanks to the wonderful people at Chapters in Moncton, I was sitting down a nice table, surrounded by my books, pen in hand, and was ready to sign some copies. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was shocked at what I got.
I was expecting a good turnout, just because my parents are social butterflies and know a hundred people. But a lot of those folks they convinced to come didn’t show up. And I had a good turnout anyway. A really good turnout.
A dozen strangers approached me. They’d heard of the book from an article in the local paper, or one of the posters I put up around town, or they were just walking by and curious what the display was for. They flipped it open. They read the back. And they wanted to buy it — and wanted me to sign it!
I loved talking with the fans. I’m actually pretty bad in crowds and am quite shy. But it wasn’t only painless — it was wonderful! Answering questions, giving the skeptical my pitch, asking them what names I should write to personalize the signings. It came easily despite all past experience to the contrary. I was filled with such an energy and passion. And confidence! While I sat there, pen in hand, I really believed in the book. All these people couldn’t be wrong, could they?
I hope so deeply that this wasn’t the only time I interact with the people who came and bought a copy. I’d always thought that I’d be awkward at events, but instead, I can’t wait to get out there and connect with my readers again.
A friend of the family is a talented amateur photographer and took some great pictures of the event. I’ll leave those with you while I try and concoct a new scenario for success. It’s going to be hard to top this one!
It was October 4th, 2011, when I wrote the last word of The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. (The last word is “murder,” which is very appropriate.) At the time, I didn’t know if the book was good. I didn’t know if I could ever find an agent, much less a publisher. I didn’t know if anyone on earth would ever read it.
Fast forward! Years later, I have the best agent, the funnest publisher, and strangers all over the world are holding my book and breaking into the first pages. I have traffic on my site, retweets on my blog, and shares on my Facebook. I have 200 goodreaders hoping to win my giveaway! It’s happened faster than I possibly could have imagined and this is it. The day when MY book because A book.
It’s out there in the world. You can get it one click for the price of a nice coffee. It can be on your phone as you read it on the bus. And none of that has anything to do with me. For so long, I’ve been the custodian and arbiter or my own work, but not anymore! Control over my work is completely out of my own hands.
It’s liberating. It’s terrifying. It’s exciting. Did I mention it was terrifying?
Today has been a whirlwind! I’m in the local paper, my social media is blowing up, and my book! My book is out there! Disseminating into the wide crazy world! All I can do is watch it happen and hope that there are people who will love my characters and my stories, because that’s all I ever wanted.
In my first ever post on this blog I said that I wanted you to buy my book. Not because I want to get paid (though who doesn’t love getting paid), but because I think you’ll like it. And I still think that’s true. There’s a link to Amazon in the sidebar of my site, and I invite each and every one of you to take this thing that I build out into the world, out of my hands, and judge it for yourself.