Interview for The Illustrated Page!

3 The Heartreader's Secret final front cover final

It’s almost time! Tomorrow is The Heartreader’s Secret release day! To celebrate the launch of the third of Chris and Olivia’s adventures, I sat down with Sarah Waites over at The Illustrated Page to talk about the history behind the Faraday Files books, writing strong female characters, and the future of both the series and my work beyond it. Check it out over here, and don’t forget to grab your copy of THS over on Amazon!

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The Glories and Pitfalls of Writing Fanfiction While Dreaming of More

Like almost all authors in my demographic, from the most wildly successful to the most pie-in-the-sky aspirational, I cut my teeth on fanfiction.

I was writing it before I even knew it existed. Family members and old friends can recount countless stories about me as a tot, directing the other kids in my elaborate games of “pretend,” which were really just live action recreations of my fanfics. From Nancy Drew to Rescue Rangers to The Adventures of Sinbad and right down the line to obscure Christian Middle Grade/Young Adult mystery novels, I was always thinking up new scenarios, characters, and relationships to explore in my favourite pieces of media.

I took my first early steps into original fiction in this timeframe, too! Of course, almost all of it was “inspired” by my favourite books, shows, games, and movies. And by “inspired” I mean “basically just recreated.” My characters and settings were reskinned clones of the stories that thrilled my imagination.

A particularly egregious example was the ten book series I wrote from the time I was eleven to thirteen. (Why don’t I have that sort of writing output anymore??) You can track my parade of interests and obsessions across the series’s timeline as characters and plotlines sprout bulbous tumours inspired from the next big thing I was into. I more or less abandoned the series when I got into Star Wars — it was impossible to graft that into my basic high fantasy universe, sadly.

It wasn’t until I was fifteen that I found out that fanfiction was real. It was an actual thing that people did, a popular and active hobby with websites and discussion boards and social networks devoted to it. It was a revelation. You mean I didn’t have to disguise my interests as other things? I could just actually write twenty thousand words of post-canon Final Fantasy VII where Jenova possesses Aeris’s body and comes back as a zombie and also write a bunch of frothing polemic about why Cloud should be with Tifa? Nobody is going to like… sue me for that? Not only that, people will read it if I post it?

And that was it. From the moment I posted my first chapter of my first fic, I was addicted. The instant feedback, the feeling of community, the ease with which you could connect to other writers… it was amazing! I spent all my classes scribbling fic away in my notebook, and I’d make revisions when I typed it up at my old Windows 3.1 computer later that night. I’d sneak upstairs at midnight to the internet-enabled family computer, drape myself over the modem to muffle the sound of the dial-up connecting, and then post the new chapters. The next morning in computer class, I’d be greeted with an inbox full of new comments, each one as precious as gold.

Even to this day, over fifteen years later,  I can’t overstate the value of that feeling of community. Every day is a writing conference. You can find anyone willing to engage with you about anything. Some just want to talk about the characters and the plots and the concepts. Others want to connect on a more technical level. I learned more about the nuts and bolts — about how to tell a compelling story, about how to make prose flow, and how to engage an audience — from fanfiction than I ever did on any more “acceptable” platform. I’d spent years looking for books and mentors to teach me how to write, but I got all of my best lessons from those early fandoms.

Shout-outs to them, now, by the way. Hi there, Final Fantasy. How are you doing, Seiken Densetsu 3? Always have a place in my heart for you, Fushigi Yuugi. Congratulations on curing me of my internalized homophobia, Gravitation. What’s going on these days, Fire Emblem? When I hear Bryan Adams sing about the Summer of ’69, these are the halcyon days of youth I go back to. I even met my future wife in these communities.

But there was a solid downside to those years. Though I was writing all the time, reading constantly, learning and growing and developing as a writer… I’d completely stopped writing original fiction altogether.

There were a lot of reasons for that, but I think it comes down to two major points.

1. Original fiction and fanfiction share a very similar toolbox, and one can teach you invaluable lessons about the other. However, they don’t share an identical toolbox. While focusing completely on fanfic, I lost touch with a lot of the tools you need to write good, compelling, publishable original work.

2. The feeling of community and collaboration and camaraderie are central to the fanfiction experience. And while enjoying those things, I developed an almost pathological dependence on the rush of immediate, gratifying feedback that writing and sharing fanfic gives.

Any moment I could spend on my original ideas seemed wasted. I could be devoting that time to a fic, which I could post immediately, which would get me immediate feedback. Writing an original project felt incredibly, suffocatingly lonely. No one cared about the characters I’d invented. I was lost without the feeling of engagement I had when working with familiar faces and playing to an audience who loved them. It felt terribly and echoingly empty. And maybe I could have gotten through it, but it also felt impossibly hard to introduce concepts, characters, and world building. I’d come to rely so strongly on the shorthand of fanfic that not having it made writing incredibly difficult. I’d become incredibly frustrated with my inability to operate without the “vocabulary” of a given fandom, its cast, its world, its rules. Even in the most AU (alternate universe) of fanfics, you’re using an entire canon’s worth of context to communicate with your readers. And after doing it for long enough, establishing your own vocabulary for that stuff is incredibly hard, and it only gets harder the longer you go without practice.

I wanted to write my own stories so badly, but the more time went by, the less and less I felt equipped to do so. My efforts made me feel isolated and discouraged. I started resenting fanfiction, blaming the amazing community for my own discontent, and I ended up in a place where I wasn’t writing anything at all. I had to slowly build myself back up to the place where I am today.

So this is the part where I say that you shouldn’t write fanfic, right?

Well, wrong. Like, super wrong.

The fact is, I still write fanfic. I still write a lot of fanfic. And I love doing it. It’s important and valuable and incredibly rewarding. Fanfiction still helps me improve, still lets me be experimental, still gives me a freedom that I can’t get anywhere else. It’s taught me so much about interacting with fans and how to interface with the people who consume my work. And that amazing community I talked about is still alive and well. You can get feedback and appreciation and concrit and then go on the pay it forward. I’m still learning and making friends from the community, and I don’t intend to stop.

There are also a whole lot of writing jobs where the skills you learn from fanfic are incredibly important. Ghostwriting, working on licensed fiction, and working in a writer’s room on television are all great career paths, and your fanfic skills will make you an expert at capturing voice and tone.

It’s good for you to write fanfiction.

It’s just not good for you to write only fanfiction.

Don’t let your original fic muscles atrophy. Put aside time so that you’re spending a good ratio of your writing hours on both. Learn to wean yourself off that rush of instant feedback, treating writing like a marathon with long term rewards instead of a sprint with instant gratification. Find friends and contacts who’ll engage with you about your original work. (The last is surprisingly easy if you put yourself out there! You’ll find the fanfic community is full of other aspiring professionals who need the same thing in return.)

It’s also good to read not only fanfiction. Open yourself to meeting new characters and going to new places. Don’t cling too hard to the comforting blanket of the wonderfully familiar. Take a moment out of your day to engage with a fanfic friend about their original work. Express interest in their characters. Pick up a book and try and make time to read it, especially indie and debut authors. Leave reviews and/or connect with the authors. Don’t do this instead of engaging with a fan community! Do them both, because both are extremely awesome and important and irreplaceable.

(I should also note here, just at the end, that not all fanfiction writers/readers are aspiring professionals. Some just really love fic for what it is, and it’s all they’re interested in. That’s awesome! None of this is for you. If all you want to do is fic, all you should do is fic! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or that your hobby is ‘lesser.’)

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly isolated and insecure, I still boot up a word processor to write fanfic just for the feeling of being connected and accessible and easy. And that’s not only okay — that’s healthy, smart, fantastic. As long as we don’t drink so deep we don’t want to venture back out.

The Heartreader’s Secret pubs April 12, 2018!

At long last, it’s here! The promised, anticipated, long-awaited release of Faraday Files #3, The Heartreader’s Secret, has a firm release date! The book will be coming from Curiosity Quills on April 12, 2018, and will be available at most digital retailers!

This one has been a trial to get out of my head and into your hands. The actual writing process took forever. I didn’t outline nearly enough, and just told myself that I’d figure out the ending when I got there. Bad idea! I can’t make this work. I never could. I finally finished the book less than a week before my wedding to my frequently credited partner in crime, Elzie, who didn’t have the time to go through and edit my work on the book for almost a month, because… well, she’d also just gotten married! She finally got done with it only to inform me, on no uncertain terms, that the book was Extremely Bad.

Oops.

So then began another several months of deep edits, which took longer than they otherwise might have, because, have I mentioned, I’d just gotten married? By the time it got to my agent, the book was looking strong, but we were miles behind!

It only snowballed from there. My agent was swamped, my publisher is in the midst of some really cool internal development that unfortunately slowed down publishing, and both my previous editors were unavailable! Just the act of scheduling this release date has taken two weeks longer than it usually does!

But here it is, written in stone, promised from the bottom of my heart. The book is no longer Extremely Bad. I have it on good authority from the wife that it is now, in fact, Extremely Good! Everyone who’s read it has said it’s easily their favourite of the entire series so far, and things are finally smoothing out and gliding to a graceful finish on the pub side of things. On April 12th, the book will be in your hands, and you’ll finally be able to experience the next chapter in Chris and Olivia’s story together.

More information, such as preorders and event info, will be forthcoming! For now, mark your calendars and get ready.22

Drowned in Moonlight and Strangled by Her Own Bra

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:

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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.

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!

October Reads – Oct 2

Continuing my series of spooky SFF reads you can pick up to get into the October spirit, here’s day two!

The Poison Throne by Celine Keirnan

7302398What’s it about?

Daughter of the king’s trusted confidante, Wynter grew up close friends with the two royal princes. Returning to the castle where she was raised after a long absence, she quickly learns that something has changed. The king has become a malevolent shadow of himself, his eldest and favoured son missing, and gibbets, torture, and whispers of a horrific ‘Bloody Machine’ have turned Wynter’s childhood home into a nightmare.

This is the first book in the Moorehawke Trilogy, a dark but still airy-feeling character driven fantasy series by Irish author Celine Keirnan. They’re fast reads with really compelling relationships and a lot of diversity!

How SFF is it?

Very! It takes place in a barely alternate Earth populated by talking cats, friendly ghosts, and werewolves howling in the night. It has a late west European medieval/early Renaissance feel to it. While not really high fantasy — few characters have any sort of real magical abilities — it definitely fits nicely into what you’d expect from a fantasy novel.

Why is it spooky?

Those friendly ghosts I mentioned above aren’t being so friendly anymore. The castle the book takes place in is haunted, and where once it’s spirits were friends, they’ve turned strange and mad and malevolent. There are some really outright eerie sequences involving the castle’s undead denizens!

This book also just has a sense of creeping dread about it. There isn’t much action and it’s a very slow burn, but it works well with the heavy sense that Something Is Wrong, that terrible things are happening and are only getting worse, that there is some awful unknowable secret just under our feet.

Finally, there’s some grisly details that add a gothic tone to it all, with the tortures mad King Jonathan is inflicting on his subjects and the way the castle has changed.

October Reads – Oct 1

I looooove the fall!

Specifically, I love October. I love the cool air, the leaves changing, the pumpkin spice, and getting to break out my scarves and sweaters. The sights and smells and mood are all just one of my favourite times of year! Moreover, the third Faraday Files book, which I’m working at a breakneck pace to finish this month, takes place deep in the Harvest season! So the autumn mood is really inspiring me!

The centrepiece of October is Halloween, which I love best of all. I thought for this month, I’d share a bunch of spooky, moody SFF-ish books that you may or may not have checked out!

To start…

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Keirnan

What’s it about?

5356476After the suicide of her longtime girlfriend, author Sarah Crowe falls into a depression she can’t shake. Finding it impossible to write, Sarah impuslively spends a summer holed up in Rhode Island. She rents a little cottage whose grounds contain a gigantic, ancient red oak that has always been associated with mysterious, often gruesome circumstances.

This book plays havoc with your sense of what is and isn’t real. Sarah kills herself after the events of this summer. It sounds like a spoiler, but it’s more or less the first thing you find out when you start the book, because of the in-universe foreword by her editor. This is a publication of Sarah’s journals from that summer. And the real power of the book is that foreword, which holds just enough hints and glimpses into the real world, beyond the filter of Sarah’s madness, to confuse every attempt to decode what really happened.

How SFF is it?

Not very. This book is much closer to pure horror than anything else I plan to include on this list at this point. It has a contemporary setting and the characters feel like they live in the real world. At the same time, there’s very little communication with the outside world beyond the cottage and the red tree. It also feels very SFF to me, specifically in some of the weirder elements that I really don’t want to spoil! It’s also worth noting that the main character, Sarah, is actually an SFF author! Which is pretty cool.

Why is it spooky?

The kind of spookiness this book is going for is the idea of unknowable forces, of things that existed long before our civilizations, continue to exit in the shadowed corners of them, and will go on long after we’re gone. It taps into anxieties about the wildness of nature, the way that the natural world is in so many ways anathema to humanity and how we live, and the idea of vast powers and terrifying little glitches in the matrix that exist just below our feet.  It also plays with madness a lot, and the fear of the thing in the corner of your eye, and how you can convince yourself it was real… or was it actually real all along?

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