Wow, this is embarrassing, isn’t it? After all that talk about making an effort to blog more and get myself out there and make sure I’m staying in close touch with you guys, I seem to have gotten worse than ever at this. Huh.
After about two years of doing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I am just bad at blogging. Or, no. Let’s scratch that. I think I’m actually pretty good at blogging. People keep telling me that they really love my blog and they think my posts are really compelling and interesting and they love reading them. The truth is probably closer to this:
I hate blogging.
I have got this idea in my head about what a blog post needs to be, and one of those things is that it needs to have effort put into it. Which may or may not be true, but god dammit, it’s stuck in my head like a song that won’t leave. When I just have some hot take I want to throw out there, I go to my twitter. Blogging feels like an obligation that’s going to absorb my valuable writing energy. Which it kinda does.
Anyway. I feel like I’ve made this damn spiel so many times, everyone must be bored of it! This isn’t a blog post about my issues with blogging. Rather, this is a blog post I’m putting the absolute minimum amount of energy into to see if it can be done, instead of getting myself all worked up about things!
The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been out for almost a year! It’s birthday is only two days away, and I’m really excited to hit that milestone. I’m intending to write a big postmortem on the book and do something to celebrate the birthday. We’ll see if it actually gets done! For now, let me just say that I’m really, really happy with how this year has gone and I’m so, so grateful to all of you for buying a copy and telling your friends and supporting me. I write for you guys.
The Timeseer’s Gambit is out in only twenty-five days! Holy crap! The time has flown, and also, has dragged so slow I could cry. I am really proud of this one and so frigging excited to get it into your hands. Early reviews are starting to go up, and the consensus so far is that it’s as good or better than the first one. (Yay!) I am really just so pumped to start talking about the book with you. My cover reveal is next week (pushing it close to pub, I know!) and I hope you guys love it!
The Heartreader’s Secret is looking a hell of a lot better than it was the last time I updated this blog, when I posted talking about how I’d spent five months writing a single chapter. The good news is there is now a lot more than one chapter hammered out on this manuscript! The going is still slow-ish compared to how fast TTG came out, but it’s a much more complicated book. I think it’s going to turn out considerably longer than the first two (which have almost the exact same word/page count!), which could be great or terrible depending. I’m still at a stage with this book where I’m worried it’s not very good, so I can’t say that I’m excited to get it out there in front of you all. But it’s coming, and it’s turning out mostly the way I want it to, so that’s good.
As for me, personally, it’s been a long summer so far. What do you mean, summer has just started? Dammit! It isn’t over yet?? I hate summer, I really do. I’m one of those weird people who would rather sit curled up by the fire with blankets while a blizzard rages outside than go to the beach. I hate the beach, actually. And the heat. And bugs. And eighteen hours of daylight. And I’m pale as a ghost and sunburn like I’m being roasted. Summer is not my time. I’ve been a little down, a little unfocused, and really, really excited for autumn to get here. Okay, is summer over, yet? What’s that? It’s only been a minute since I started writing this paragraph? HOW IS IT STILL HERE?
I’ve also read some books that are totally worth checking out. In the sci-fi side of things, I’m still digging the absolute pants off of The Expanse series by James S A Corey. As for fantasy, Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan just recently came out in paperback and I tore through it in a day or less. So good. And on the romance front, I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how good Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series is, especially the second one!
So that’s it. This took very little effort and was fun to write, so hey, that’s something.
Come with me on a journey. We’ll use that magical internet ability to time travel and go back to May 17th, 2015. The world was still waiting for the promised new Star Wars and the Canadian dollar hadn’t yet ruined my life by bungie jumping without a cable. I was ecstatic, because I had just finished the first draft of The Timeseer’s Gambit, which at the time still lacked a firm title. Look at how happy I was. How proud. How naive.
Depressingly, we’re about to come up on a year since that day, and I’m about to admit that I’m only just now finishing… the very first chapter of Book 3.
I wish I could say that I’ve had a hard year. I haven’t. Full disclosure? I’ve had a great year. I got engaged and went on a ballin’ vacation in Las Vegas. The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has done so well and I’ve gotten a lot of incredibly moving feedback, met wonderful fans, and even made a not insignificant amount of money. My finances are better than they’ve ever been and I’m a happier, better person than I was this time last year. My mental health has never been so good. So while I wish that I could take refuge in having had a rough time of it, the truth is quite the opposite.
Part of it is that I wasn’t prepared for how much different editing is when you have an actual committee of people on you. I am really bad at starting a new project while I feel the previous one is still “unfinished,” and the fact that The Timeseer’s Gambit is still nowhere near ready for print right now, almost a year after my finishing it, is actually low key making me crazy as we speak. So many more steps were added to the revisions process with the addition of an agent and an entire publisher‘s worth of assorted people. But I sat down to actually start really digging into work on The Heartreader’s Secret in January, which is about when I started working on TTG in earnest last year. Even with the unexpected complications of working with publishers on a the previous book, I should be a lot deeper into THS than I am. There’s really only one real explanation for it.
I just can’t shut that little voice off.
You know. THE VOICE. The one that comes from inside of you. The one that always has something to say, and it’s never something nice. That voice is my best friend while I’m in editor mode and it’s part of what makes me a pretty good writer. But only part. The only part is the creativity, the joy of storytelling, the ability to find and follow a scene and the characters who inhabit it. And while my creative spirit leaves the voice alone and lets it work when it’s work time, the voice isn’t content to return the favour. It does its level best to strangle the creative part of me every single second when I’m actually trying to create.
That paragraph is too long.
You’re overusing italics.
That transition was awkward.
What’s the point of this scene?
That’s not the perfect word you’re looking for.
This entire beginning is trash.
Obvious explanatory dialogue tag.
Chapter too short.
Too much dialogue.
Not enough action.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
Not good enough.
A year ago, fresh on the high of having finished my second book in record time, I had kind of convinced myself that I was above that voice. I’d slain it like a knight on a dragon, and now it was behind me, beneath me, and I’d never face it again. I was a Real Writer now, and my difficulties had graduated with me. I didn’t have to face the same things that I’d faced before.
Well, lesson learned.
I’m realizing that we never defeat that voice. Sometimes it’s louder, and sometimes it’s quieter, but its always there, and we all have it. I think I underestimated it and oversold myself. And it’s laying me so low because I naively thought I was beyond it. When you think you’ve slain your demon and stupidly turned away from it, its strikes become backstabs.
So here I am, looking that voice in the face.
I underestimated you, asshole. I let myself think that you were gone and you’re very much still here. But here’s the deal. I wrote two books already, and you were here for those, too. And they’re pretty damn good books. So you don’t control me.
I’m going to go back to my basics. One chapter minimum a week. A commitment to hard work. Furrowing my brow and ignoring you when you start whispering, and doing it over and over again until I get my immunity to you back.
You can be a useful partner. You’ve helped me see flaws, cut fat, and kill darlings. You’ve kept me grounded and realistic. But right now, nobody wants you here. I’ll see you when the draft is done, but that might be a while, so don’t wait around.
… is it gone?
That’s a joke. It’s never gone. Because the real shitty twist to this story is that it’s not an evil dragon-demon-voice.
It’s my own brain, doing what brains do, being both your best friend and worst enemy. No amount of shouting at my brain will make it go away, and besides, I kind of need it. But the fact that it is me is also an advantage, because ultimately, we have control over ourselves. I’ve made the decision to ignore my brain-voice before. I know I have, because I remember doing it. I can do it again, and I will.
I’m going to work my ass (and my brain) off to get The Heartreader’s Secret into your hands in the summer of ’17. So here I go. Screw you, me. Let’s do this.
For someone who doesn’t hold stock in horoscopes, star charts, or spirituality in general, I sure do know a lot about the zodiac! My knowledge all comes from the very indulgence that made me start this series – I really, really like personality archetypes and the activity of assigning them to characters! The cast of the Faraday Files mostly have birthdays as they are convenient to the story, which happens over the course of one year. So I’m using this moment to give them all zodiac signs that suit their personalities instead of just for plot expediency!
Christopher Buckley – Cancer
I didn’t even have to think about this one. Cancer is a water sign, and like all water signs, it’s very much a sign of sensitivity, intuition, and self-focus. A cancer’s positive qualities include loyalty, empathy, dependability, and adaptability. But cancers are also known for being moody, self-pitying, self-absorbed, cranky, and taking things way too personality. Sound like anyone?
Olivia Faraday – Aries
This one was a lot tougher! I thought a lot about Gemini, a really high energy, intellectually brilliant sign, but Geminis tend to be nervous and casual and have tons of friends. Olivia is just too closed off for that. Instead, I chose Aries. A really action oriented sign, Aries are all agency, gumption, passion, and emotion. They can be warm to the people they love, but are hard to get close to, and have really volatile feelings. It felt like a good fit for Olivia.
Rosemary Buckley – Gemini
I knew for sure that Rosemary was an air sign, but I went back and forth between Gemini and Aquarius. But the reasons why Gemini didn’t work for Olivia are exactly why they work for Rosie. Despite her life spent largely in isolation thanks to her situation, Rosemary is a naturally gregarious person and finds friends in her peer groups really easily. Gemini also suits her smart, high energy, clever nature. Don’t worry – you’ll see more of these positive traits from the bratty little sister going forward!
Maris Dawson – Taurus
Taurus is a really earthy sign, which suits Maris really well. They’re practical, steady, and tough, but also really stubborn and possessive. Most importantly, Taurus are loyal to a fault, protective of the people and things they care about. Maris would take a bullet (or a fireball expended from the barrel of a magical gun, I guess) for her commitment to law and order… or for her friends and family.
Rachel Albany – Virgo
Like Taurus, Virgo is an earth sign. All earth signs have a sort of down to earth practicality to them that other signs lack. But where a Taurus exhibits warmth and protectiveness, a Virgo is cold and methodical. It takes a Virgo a long time before they open up to someone, and can hide their personal feelings behind a fussy and precise exteriour. They’re extremely logical and can be very demanding and critical of others, and tend to be very serious. Rachel has started to melt a bit, but there’s still a whole lot of Virgoness between her front and her heart.
William Cartwright – Scorpio
Scorpios often get stereotyped as just being “the evil sign,” but that’s a really surface reading. It’s true that Scorpios tend to be machiavellian, vengeful, and intense, and also that they’re associated with aggression and warfare, but there’s a lot to love about Scorpios! They have good instincts, tend to be charismatic despite their combative intensity, and are really in tune with their emotions. I knew that Will was a Scorpio before I even thought about it very hard. He has that ferocity of emotion barely held back by the dam of his own coolness.
Fernand Spencer – Taurus
I thought about casting Fernand as a Capricorn, for its focus on leadership and inspiration, but I keep coming back to the parts of Taurus that made me assign it to Maris – loyalty and generosity. Fernand’s sincere and deep love for the Buckley family in general and Chris in particular really did lead him to giving up a decade of his life just to care for them for nothing in return, and that, more than anything else, defines who he is. It doesn’t hurt that Taurus are conservative, practical, and tend to be associated with money.
My fiancee and I recently watched Jessica Jones together on Netflix. We’d heard that it was good and interesting and had a good rep among geeky feminists. And, of course, it’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m the sort of MCU fan who generally really likes the business model and goes see all the new films in theatres, but I’m not deeply invested in the mythos or the character arcs, with a few exceptions. (Tony, Bruce, and Natasha. Tony, Bruce, and Natasha are the exceptions.) So while I wasn’t parked right outside Netflix revving my engine for Jessica Jones to be released, there was a certain inevitability to my watching it that somehow made it hard to get excited about it. You know. Sigh, all right, Disney, here’s another thing to mark off on the checklist so I’m not missing anything. With my luck, the one side project I skipped would be the lynchpin of Avengers 3.
My low-ish expectations lead to some pretty amazing returns when the reality of the thing crashed down on me.
One of the main reasons it’s hard for me to get really excited about the MCU on that passionate, visceral level that elevates something from an interest to an obsession – that line between fan and fandom, if you will – is that I’ve never quite felt that any of Marvel’s big names live in the real world.
Anyone who’s read my book knows that I value characters that feel like they have daily lives. And I have a hard time imagining Steve Rogers filing his taxes, or Natasha Romanoff making a doctor’s appointment for an annoying rash. Those are all the things that make a character truly compelling to me. A sense that they exist in a physical space. One of my little self-tests for whether a character feels “alive” is whether or not I can imagine them taking a bathroom break without it seeming weird. I 100% cannot imagine Thor taking a bathroom break.
Now, Jessica? I don’t even have to imagine it. She actually takes bathroom breaks.
Now, this isn’t a judgement on the MCU or its core characters. It’s a matter of preference. I love the MCU, but while its characters are deeply, painfully likeable, they lack a visceral realness that I find I need. And this is why, more than anything else, I found myself drawn into Jessica Jones.
The honest and heart-wrenching depiction of post traumatic stress disorder, the beautiful respect and love paid to friendships between women, the sharp, darkly funny dialogue, and the empowering look at women who have experienced sexual assault – these were all the things that made the series sing and gave it its identity. But what allowed me to get so much out of those things is how I really felt that Jessica and Trish and the people they met didn’t all wake up with minty breath and empty bladders.
Jessica Jones lives in a real place, surrounded by real people, and that’s something I really love.
Women Need Women Who Need Women
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Or, better yet, if you’ve said this one.
“I just get along better with guys than with other girls. Other girls are just so catty. You can’t really trust them. They always talk behind your back. It’s constant drama. Men just make better friends than women. I just connect with them better.”
I mean, I’ve said it. I think most women who grew up geeky have. Honestly, there are a whole host of seasons that we do this, but I think a large part of it is that geek media has socalized to see badass girls as girls who hang around with boys.
I can’t think of one female character I admired as a teenager and young adult who had strong relationships with other women. It’s one of those many unforeseen consequences of failing the Bechdel Test, which I talked about in my Backstage Character Pass on Maris Dawson, my tough scrappy policewoman. All of the tough, badass women in geeky media tend to be surrounded by men and have only male relationships. We’re affected by what we see and who we admire, and it’s hard to ignore that our iconic tough, badass ladies like Princess Leia, Black Widow, or Hermione Granger lack any deep personal connection with the women in their life.
Jessica Jones is so intensely aware of this. And it’s really amazing. I haven’t read the comic it’s adapted from, but to my understanding, the relationship between Jess and Trish is a lot different than the one between Jess and Carol Danvers. Jessica and Trish are one another’s Most Important Person, the single person the other would save if they had to choose just one. They have a rich and weighty history together, exhibit real, intense loyalty for one another, and would do anything for each other, but at the same time, there’s no idealization of their relationship. Jessica pushes Trish out. Trish is bossy and mothering. There’s a thread of codependance between their relationship. They both struggle with jealousy and with their own individual damage, but when the cards are down, they fight for one another. They laugh together, drink together, listen to music together. They act the way that women do in close, intense friendships, and there’s value in that.
Of course, there isn’t just Trish and Jessica. The ruthless shark of a lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, was a male character in the comics and is a woman in the show. Her relationship with Jessica is cutting, sarcastic, sharp, and impatient, but is based on a mutual respect that independent ladies have for one another. And in turn, Jeri’s two love interests, her failing marriage and flourishing affair, are also women, providing even more interaction. In so many ways, love (and all of love’s messy, ugly cousins) is the same regardless of gender. In others, romance between women really is different than the heteronormative ideal, and you really get a sense of that in Jeri’s interactions with the women in her life.
It’s so important that we, as women, see women interacting with women. Positively and negatively, as long as there’s depth to the relationship. When it isn’t just that same repetition of “girl drama” as seen through the eyes of those who think they’re above it. When we get told that tough girls avoid the cat fights and stick to boys, it gets lodged up in us and we believe it. Jessica Jones not only avoids showing that frankly bullshit version of events, it writes its women and their relationships so well.
The Greatest Plot Twist Of All
((The next section contains SPOILERS for up to episode 9 of Jessica Jones: “AKA Sin Bin.” Read at your own risk.))
From those first moments in the first episode where Jessica hallucinates that Kilgrave is there beside her, whispering in her ear, the very suggestion of his possible presence can send a chill down your spine.
Something happens somewhere along the way, thought. As the series continues, Kilgrave goes from being a very mysterious character – face turned away from the camera, focus put on his voice and the reactions to it – to a more front and centre one. His sinister malignant presence fades somewhat, and a sort of horrifically charming, hapless sort of evil emerges. I found myself wrestling with my own brain, torn between being utterly terrified of Kilgrave and digusted by the horrors he’d committed, and actually being drawn in by him.
It all comes to a head in episode 8, “AKA WWJD,” where Jessica spends the episode willingly living with Kilgrave as he tries to win her over. He claims that he’s resolved not to use his mind control power and wants her to decide to trust him and fall in love with her on her own. There’s a childlike sort of hopefulness to Kilgrave in this episode, and it’s confusing and hard to watch. I would catch myself falling under his spell, or finding the awful things he said or did darkly funny. I found myself really enjoying the interplay between he and Jessica as she drags him to a crisis scene and manipulates him into playing hero. He’s almost puppyish in his desire to please her, to be what she wants, and I struggled with my own disgust at finding it… endearing.
It felt so inevitable when Kilgrave shows her footage of himself as a small child trapped in a laboratory, tortured and experimented on by his heartless scientist parents. It was the twist that I’d been waiting for in the back of my head. Why he was the way he was. His reason. His excuse. His parents mock him with false comfort and he shrieks as he’s forced to undergo spinal taps and tests under the harsh eye of the camera. “Ah,” I remember thinking. “It all makes sense, now. Kilgrave is just Kevin Thompson, a poor misunderstood little woobie who broke under the torture he was forced to undergo.” I felt vindicated for that part of me I’d been so disgusted with, the part that couldn’t help but want to root for Kilgrave’s redemption arc. He started talking about how hard it was to never know if someone actually cared about him or was just mind controlled. About how he had to examine every word that came out of his mouth. About how badly he wanted to make a real connection. I let go and let myself sink into the direction the story seemed to be taking: Jessica would selflessly pretend to cooperate with Kilgrave, and through that she would teach him a code and show him how to be a hero and he’d reclaim some of the humanity that had been cruelly snatched from him.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
That “plot twist” had seemed so inevitable because it was so damn familiar. The story turned down a familiar path, one that I’d seen a thousand times before. And I let myself fall into a comfortable place where I thought I knew where it was going. Worse, I was okay with it.
Instead of redeeming him, Jessica takes Kilgrave prisoner. And then comes the real plot twist. Jessica actually tracks down Kilgrave’s horrible, abusive, cruel parents. She wants them to answer for what they did, creating this monster. Only, as it turns out, they didn’t create one at all. Poor woobie broken Kevin Thompson had been terminally ill. His cruel scientist parents had been trying to cure him. As soon as he gained his powers, he turned the abilities on them. They did their best to care for him while he terrorized them for years, and eventually, they fled his reign of terror. The narrative Kilgrave had created in his own mind just wasn’t true. He hadn’t been twisted into a monster. He’d been born one. He was a dangerous sociopath given powers that allowed him to act with impunity. Bad to the bone. There was no heart-breaking, tragic tale, no one to blame for his corruption, and no possibility of redemption.
I’m not sure my mind had ever been so blown.
I realized like a sucker punch to my gut how I’d been played. The writing had been so brilliant and so twisted. It had coded Kilgrave in a way that aligned him with a lifetime of experience with redeemed bad boys, and then played on my desire to romanticize and redeem this character. It showed me what I had begun to want to see, and then it reached out and snatched it back and left me reeling. I had accepted Kilgrave’s version of events without thought. Even after everything he’d done, such horrifying things that they could turn the strongest stomach, I’d still let myself get taken in. I’d never stopped being afraid of him, never stopped being disgusted by him, but I’d seen that potential for redemption and reached out toward it and been burned so damn hard and I felt so ashamed and so angry and, at the same time, so deeply impressed.
I’d love to write something so brilliant.
It changed the way I looked at Kilgrave. His charms evaporated. His dark humour and boyish good looks and likeable David Tennant-ness all made me angry. His deeds had become personal. It served the story by plugging me into events more than ever before, by making me a maligned party along with everyone else who came into contact with this asshole.
And it made me think. It immediately brought to mind that post I linked above, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the cleverness of it. It’s made me decide to think a lot more critically about bad boys in all forms of media, to pinpoint the moment I start forgiving them their dark sides and examine why. It’s also made me think a lot about how I write villains. I’m of the viewpoint that no villain considers themselves one, and a good villain is one who the audience can understand or even partially empathize with. Kilgrave hit all those notes while explicitly not crossing that line into romanticizing a villain.
The way Jessica Jones slowly, gracefully charted the course from “scary Kilgrave the evil raping mind controlling boogeyman” to “poor Kevin Thompson the tortured soul trying to do his best despite being fundamentally broken” wasn’t half as brilliant as its abrupt swing backwards. It pulled the rug out. It’s something I’d never really seen done before… and certainly never seen done well.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been pretty much talked to death already. Of course it has! It’s the biggest deal of a movie that’s come out since… well, since the last Star Wars, probably. And unlike the last Star Wars, this one is really, really good. It’s only natural that everyone has said everything there is to say about it already.
But despite it all, when I decided that I was going to start blogging more regularly, one of the first things I decided I had stuff to say about is the new Star Wars. Specifically, the writing in the new Star Wars.
I’m not sure audience reactions to Kylo Ren is what Disney hoped or expected. Famously, they’ve got tons of merch for him that they can’t move while, in turn, the demand for Rey merchandise far outpaces available supply. No one wants Kylo Ren action figures. Why would they?
Disney seems surprised. But I don’t think anyone who actually worked in a creative capacity on the movie is, and that’s because Kylo Ren is as far from cool or admirable as possible, and also… kind of perfect.
I’ve talked here about my approach to creating characters. In short, what’s most important to me is that a character is real and who is interesting. Likabilty comes a distant third. My priority is that my characters feel like cohesive people, with tons of little pieces that all fit together to make a believable whole. And by that standard, Kylo Ren is the best character Star Wars has ever had.
It makes me a little sad that his face is plastered all over the internet from the Emo Kylo Ren twitter to thousands of memes on tumblr, because possibly the best moment in the movie is when we see that face for the first time. After all the build up, the reveal that he is… a completely normal, relatively handsome young man is absolutely brilliant and underscores what makes him the best cinematic villain in recent history: his banality. He’s not a mastermind with plots within plots, cool and enigmatic and stone-faced. He’s a confused, frustrated young man, desperately trying to live up to a legacy he doesn’t even understand. He’s petulant, petty, temperamental, and lost. It’s absolutely brilliant.
I’ve seen criticism of the character based around the fact that he is a retread of problems with the prequel movies. Anakin Skywalker is a brat and widely agreed to be a failure of a character. Kylo Ren is a brat, too, so doesn’t that make him a failure? But this is a misunderstanding of the entire concept of framing. Anakin was framed as a great hero tragically lost to the dark side, a handsome and charming young man respected by the morally upstanding Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and admired by the intelligent and competent politician Padme Amidala. His characterization as a sullen punk undermines what the audience is supposed to see when they look at him. But Kylo Ren is exactly what he’s made to be. His cranky, unhinged petulance actually contributes to his standing as a villain. Driven by such petty desires, the audience really does feel like the character will do anything to achieve his goals without thinking it fully through. This makes him frightening… and a little bit pitiable. We think Kylo Ren can be saved, just maybe. But do we want him to be?
DIVERSITY COMES TO STAR WARS
My best friend in middle school showed me the movies when we were twelve years old and I was smitten from moment one. I loved the world, the characters, the romance. I loved blasters and Jedi and the Millennium Falcon and lightsabers and Chewbacca’s voice.
And I loved Leia Organa.
Is there any young girl who didn’t? Leia is a dream. A beautiful, smart, kickass, tough princess with gorgeous but practical hair and costumes that run the gamut from gowns to fatigues, who gets a young Harrison Ford eating out of her hand and saves the galaxy. She’s femme enough for girly girls, tough enough for tomboys, independent enough for the most pragmatic of us and syrupy enough for the most romantic. Leia is a damn near perfect female character, despite some infamous missteps.
But she’s also the only female character. And despite her efforts to try, no one character can be everything to everyone.
The prequels were even worse. Still just the one female character, but this time, she’s little more than a love interest!
Then comes The Force Awakens. It knows that it needs to do better, and it does. The protagonist is Rey, the tough, scrappy, strong-willed scavenger girl with the power of a strong potential Jedi. And seeing her in the cockpit of this movie, owning most of the major scenes, would have been enough to thrill me down to my toes on her own. But Rey is just one character, and the movie doesn’t stop there! It gives us the hardass Captain Phasma, the eccentric Maz, and, of course, an older and world-weary Leia Organa herself to stand around and beside Rey. I’ve always stressed that the key to strong female characters is varied female characters, and The Force Awakens delivers that. Amazingly, out of those four major female characters, only one is young and conventionally attractive. Maz is an alien, Leia is in her fifties or sixties, and you never even see Phasma out of her armour!
Are we done yet? God, no! Because here comes a charming black man as Rey’s costar, the lovable, high-energy stormtrooper Finn. The trilogy’s central trio is rounded out by Poe Dameron, played by a South American actor and possessed of an ambiguous sexuality that has fans all guessing. Everywhere you look, there are more and more diverse characters.
Some would say this isn’t important, but I know they’re wrong. Because I was a little girl who looked at Leia and saw the only real role model in cinematic genre flicks available to me. I’m so excited to see a new generation of young girls have their own Leia. I want black boys and queer children to see themselves in Finn and, hopefully, in Poe. And hell, just for myself, as a woman over 30 and officially “old” by Hollywood standards – I’m glad that Leia Organa and the amazing Carrie Fisher who brings her to life are still allowed to show their faces on the big screen. It’s been forty years since Leia blasted her way into the garbage chute, and Leia is back. She’s still wielding a blaster, saving the galaxy, and showing all the girls who grew up admiring her that we don’t belong on a shelf just because everything isn’t as tight as it used to be.
UNPREDICTABLE CHARACTER ARCS
A lot of the few criticisms I’ve seen about The Force Awakens seems to focus on the idea that it’s glorified fanfiction that gives the viewer that they want to see instead of what would make a good movie. Putting aside a whole interesting discussion about fanfiction culture and whether or not wish fulfillment is inherently bad, I actually just… disagree.
Most assuredly, The Force Awakens walks a thin line between homage and reboot, with the major beats from A New Hope being retread consistently, but the thing I admired the most about the new film and the stage it set is that it didn’t give me what I wanted. At all.
Before I knew what an OTP was, Han Solo and Princess Leia were my OTP. I cared so much about those two. I read every single book in the Expanded Universe, just hoping for little insights into their life after Return of the Jedi. The only thing that I wanted going into The Force Awakens was to see them happy together.
Without getting too heavily into spoilers, not only did the film not give me that, it gave me pretty much the opposite of that. Tragedy poisoned the heart of their marriage and their relationship. Leia retreated into her work, trying to make the world a better place to compensate for her own loss. Han regressed to a worse but easier version of himself where he didn’t have to think about his grief. They drifted apart and eventually separated. Their reunion isn’t passionate or joyful. It’s quiet and weary and bittersweet, their relationship still scarred by all the lost things that silently stood between them.
Before I’d seen the movie, I’d have sworn this would have ruined it for me, but it didn’t. And that’s because good, interesting writing is more valuable to me than even my first OTP. Seeing Han and Leia so heartsick was hard and it certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for, but it was narratively satisfying. It showed me something I wouldn’t have thought I wanted and invested me in that. And that’s good writing.
There was a time where I’ve had given anything to know that Luke, Leia, and Han all had a happy ending together after the Ewok party at the end of Return of the Jedi. And The Force Awakens didn’t give me even a breath of that. The trio had been torn apart and had each turned to broken versions of themselves. And against all odds – I liked it. It gave me something I didn’t know that I wanted. What else can I ask for?
If there’s one thing I know that I’m decent about for blogging purposes, it’s maintaining a series of posts. I did pretty good with my Getting Out of the Labrynth series and my Backstage Character Pass series, not to mention the April Blogging Challenge. I’ve thought about what to do for a new series, and I’ve come up with an idea that’s as silly as it is captivating: a series focusing on what is commonly referred to as “sorting.”
Would Harry Potter have been the success it was without how it provided those four intriguing character archetypes? Something about it captured our imaginations. The idea that everyone can be sent to one house or the other. Which house would I end up in? What about you? And what about Sherlock Holmes, Anne of Green Gables, or Holden Caufield?
There’s a certain appeal in this sort of thing that’s impossible to deny. Sliding characters into archetypes and seeing how they fit has become sort of a universal pasttime. And there are tons of different ways you can sort them!
So here’s my incredibly self indulgent new blog series: sorting my characters. And to start out, let’s go with where the term sorting came from. Where do Faraday Files characters sort into the Houses of Hogwarts?
I don’t think much of my target audience needs an explanation of what the Hogwarts Houses represent! But here’s a quick fly by.
When the young witches and wizards are brought to Hogwarts Academy, a talking hat is placed on their heads. The hat searches their character and decides which House they’ll represent while they study at the school. The four Houses are the brave and forthright Gryffindors, the ambitious and cunning Slytherins, the wise and savvy Ravenclaws, and the honest and determined Hufflepuffs. They’re represented, respectively, by a lion, a snake, an eagle, and a badger.
Christopher Buckley – Hufflepuff
There aren’t a lot of Hufflepuff protagonists out there! There’s a tendancy to think of Hufflepuffs as just “the boring house,” because unlike most Houses, they’re defined by legitimately trying, all the time, to be the best possible person rather than by innate traits. But there’s more to Hufflepuffs than just being long-suffering, determined, and hard-working. They’re also stubborn and passive aggressive. I think Hufflepuffs make more valuable protagonists than they’re given credit for! Readers are pretty divided on whether or not they like Chris, but they universally admit that he’s unique.
Olivia Faraday – Gryffindor
My agent and her significant other couldn’t decide if Olivia was a Gryffindor or a Slytherin, and I broke this tie for them. But it’s close! The sorting hat would have a tough time with her. Despite Olivia’s sneaky tactics and resourceful mind, I can’t help but think that her core is all about how little she cares about consequences or rules, how she’ll charge into anything without a second look back, and how she can lose her temper without warning or apparent reason. And that’s all Gryffindor!
Rosemary Buckley – Slytherin
Like Olivia, this one is a close tie between the snake and the lion. But if I had to pick one word to describe Rosie, it would be “ambition.” Her father really imprinted on her how important she would be, and part of the reason why Chris has such a hard time keeping her leashed is because she has it in her head that she can change the world. Nothing can hold her back from that destiny.
Maris Dawson – Gryffindor Maris’s second choice for a house would be Hufflepuff, but the lion has it. Maris is the big tough bruiser-type who’ll break the rules and your head to protect people who need it. Nothing could stop her from leaping into danger if it was needed!
Rachel Albany – Ravenclaw
Rachel’s role as Rosemary’s tutor has already resulted in Rosemary having a more well rounded education than most girls her age. Rachel values knowledge and learning above all else and considers it important to have a well developed view of a situation before making a decision about it. She rejects “common knowledge” and tries to learn the truth of a matter beneath it. She also loves to read, something I haven’t really gotten into yet!
William Cartwright – Slytherin
Self-absorbed, confident, and achievement-oriented, Will is the quintessential Slytherin. He values the rules greatly, but not when he doesn’t feel they apply to him, and he hates following anyone else’s direction.
Fernand Spencer – Ravenclaw
Fernand is far and away the smartest person Chris knows. He’s a mathematical genius, avid reader, and amateur philosopher. In addition to just being book smart as hell, Fernand is full of real life wisdom and emotional intelligence. He and Rachel connected instantly in large part because they’re the only two people in the core cast smarter than they are stupid!
It’s been an amazing year for me in reading. Normally, there are only a couple books in a year I discover that I want to share with everyone I know. In 2015, not so much! There were long stretches where I found I had a hard time reading at all because I’d burned through three winners in a row and doubted I could find anything that could measure up! It’s honestly hard to narrow my best reads of 2015 down to just five, but I’m going to try. In no particular order…
1. The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin
I’ve loved every book that Nora Jemisin has written. She’s an immensely talented writer and her stories are incredibly unique. Her work is always so utterly unlike anything I’ve seen before, and that’s part of what makes it so engaging. But only part. Just as much credit has to be given to the pure strength of her prose. Jemisin’s writing can carry you away as she bends the rules of language and uses words as paints.
The Fifth Season blows everything else she’s written out of the water. It’s dark, it’s beautiful, it’s unforgiving, it will make you wince and sob and wish and think. It tells a unique, fantasy story about marginalized groups without ever descending to the platitude of allegory. It’s grand, epic, and apocalyptic, filled with some of the most fascinating and complex world-building I’ve seen in fantasy, but it’s also intimate and personal.
2. The Girl With All The Gifts – Mike Carey
The thing about The Girl With All The Gifts is that as soon as you know anything at all about it, it’s already half ruined. I could say that it inhabits a genre I usually have no use for, but then I’d have to assign it a genre, and that would ruin it. I could say that it’s the best take on one specific theme I’ve ever seen, but if I name the theme, that would also ruin it. I could talk about how it lets female characters do things that female characters rarely get to do, but I don’t want to talk about those things, because that would spoil that they happen!
I’ll recommend The Girl With All The Gifts in the same way the back of the book does: this is a story about a little girl named Melanie. She wants to marry a prince and loves going to class and learning. Every morning, she’s unchained from her bed, strapped into a chair, and wheeled into the schoolroom by military personelle. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they never laugh.
It’s a book where you discover… everything. You start with only that knowledge – a little girl named Melanie locked in a room in a military base – and bit by bit you unearth her story. And it’s absolutely brilliant. If you’re the type who can go into a book with blind trust that it’ll be good, check it out and please don’t find out anything else before you do!
3. Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate – James S. A. Corey
I’m cheating and counting these three as one book due to being the first three in a series that I really can’t pick a favourite from.
A friend recommended me Leviathan Wakes years ago, promising diverse and memorable sci-fi. I bought it and it’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I love sci-fi, really, but it always takes me just that little bit more gumption to dig into than my other genres of choice, and the book looked a little intimidating. I finally got around to reading it this year in preparation for The Expanse TV adaptation on Sy-Fy and oh my god, I can’t believe I put something this amazing off.
The Expanse are amazing, wonderful books. I’ve always had a taste for the Lovecraftian, and The Expanse is something entirely unique in that the space horrors leave us alone until we actually go into space to find them. They’re also as strangely beautiful as they are deeply horrific.
It’s appropriate that the books are being made into TV, because I find they have the same appeal as my favourite television series do. They’re filled with well drawn, likeable characters, and a damned compelling central conflict that’s framed in new and exciting ways in each separate book. They’re also amazingly diverse and have some of the best minority characters (and certainly the highest volume of minority characters) that I’ve seen in books this year. Leviathan Wakes strays a little too close to typical white-guy sci-fi, but the authors make up for it in spades in the rest of the series. I’m devastated that after Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games, I’m going to have to wait for the next one like a peasant, biting my nails down the whole time.
4. A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan
I enjoyed Brennan’s Onyx Court series. Especially the brilliant third book, A Star Shall Fall, which is one of my favourite novels of all time. So I was prepared to like her newest Lady Trent Memoirs series. I was not prepared for just how much.
As you may have guessed, I love mannered fantasy. I also, coincidentally, love ladylike fantasy protagonists who are nevertheless tough and empowered. And on top of that, I love anything that mixes science with magic. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I adored this book. But I still didn’t expect just how much it captured me. As much as I loved the plot, a travelogue romp about curses, religious sects, smuggling rings, and conspiracies, what I loved a thousand times more was the natural history itself. Every time Isabella did a dissection, or wrote down her observations about how a dragon moved or nested or its hunting behaviours, I was just utterly captured.
The conceit of the book – framed around being a fictional memoir written by Lady Trent herself – just adds another layer of enjoyment. Isabella’s passion for learning comes across through “her” writing, and I held my breath when she was close to breakthroughs and cheered whenever she finally teased out some bit of new knowledge about the creatures she loved so much.
5. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson
Sanderson is undoubtably one of the most talented fantasy writers of this age, and I feel comfortable stating that his work is going to be remembered for generations to come. The fantasy he writes today is going to be a bar set for the future of the genre. No one writes world-building as complex and layered as he does, and no one is so perfectly in control of every aspect of the story they want to tell.
Despite all this, he’s never been one of my personal favourites. His writing focuses very much on combat, on tests of strength, and on becoming more powerful. He does it better than anyone, but it’s not my usual cup of tea. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, but never with total abandon before.
Words of Radiance changed that.
I did just mention that I love ladylike protagonists who are very strong and tough and complex and empowered! I’ve always been very girly in a lot of ways, and I’ve always found it hard to find female characters who are overtly feminine without being damsels or background characters. Words of Radiance is very much about Shallan Davar, a quirky, determined, and complicated artist who is everything I love in ladylike protags. She also happens to be, amusingly enough, another natural historian, eager to unlock the secrets of the strange world these books are set in. Shallan has the kind of backstory that could make a stone weep, but her determination to see a good world and live there is deeply affecting and touching.
Shallan, combined with the unbelievably detailed world Sanderson has created in this series, made this book something that captured me from its first page to its eventual thousandth. I’ve thought about it constantly since I put it down and I really can’t wait for the next one.
There you have it! Each of these books are absolutely brilliant and you should seek them out! I can’t wait to discover all the great books I’ll find this year and I can’t wait to share them with you.
Good news, everyone! I finally have permission to share the official release date for book 2 of the Faraday Files, The Timeseer’s Gambit! The book will be available for purchase on August 4th, 2016! I know that seems like a long wait but it’ll be here before you know it! In the meantime, I’ll be working away on book 3, The Heartreader’s Secret.
I can’t wait to see what you all think about The Timeseer’s Gambit! I’m incredibly proud of it and so far, everyone seems to think it’s even better than the first!
We love all our characters equally, of course, and all differently. Some (Chris) have deeply personal roots in our own souls. Some (Rachel) are such a labour of love to get right that every word is precious. And some (Olivia) are just damn fun to write. But deep down in our hearts, I think we all have one that we knew we’d save from a fire if we had to choose.
For me, that’s William Cartwright.
Will’s origin story is definitely the oddest of my main cast.
Part of constructing the world of Darrington City was embedding fun mystery-solving avenues into the world. The gift of timeseeing let me roll a lot of modern detective tech into one. Namely: video surveillance, DNA testing, and fingerprinting. The ability to get a glimpse into the crime scene at the time the crime happened.Timeseeing itself was fully fleshed out very early on.
But the timeseer was kind of an amorphous blob. I knew she (yes, she!) had to be a major character in the grand scheme, an integral part of the core cast. Otherwise, her abilities would seem too convenient whenever they were wheeled out. Beyond that, I just decided I’d get to her when she arrived. My original outline for The Deathsniffer’s Assistant even has a line for the scene in which Will first appears – “meet timeseer character (flesh her out later.)”
I’m a predictable beast.When I give myself permission to do something “later,” it always ends the same way. I get to the scene in question and still haven’t decided what to do. So it happened with my timeseer. Olivia and Chris entered the room, looked my amorphous blob in the eyes, and right then and there my blob needed a name, a face, a history, and a personality.
I’d kind of haphazardly assigned a few traits to my blob in the back of my head. She was going to be soft, beautiful, spiritual, and gentle. A little bit fey. Not quite connected to what was going on around her, always living in the pasts that she could see. I’d kind of stuck a name to her, too, scribbled on a post-it note and stuck to the blob. Hannah.
Tire screeches right about now. Doesn’t this sound a lot like Will’s handler, the soft-spoken and gorgeous Officer Hannah Burke?
Why, yes! Yes it does.
As Olivia and Chris looked the blob in the eyes, it occurred to me that Chris was the only major male character in the core cast. And I didn’t really like my spiritual, listless timeseer. I didn’t have a sense of who she really was beyond a list of traits I thought would be interesting to write. There was nothing to pull them together. I had no sense of her as a person at all.
So I rolled everything way back. Square one. I looked at what a timeseer was. Someone with the rarest, most valuable categorization. Someone whose magic was almost mythical in a world where magic is nothing. The one gift that’s still “special.” What would someone with that ability be like?
Uh, well, they’d be kind of a ponce.
And then – bam. Fireworks in my brain, and like Athena out of Zeus’s forehead, William Cartwright appeared. A puff of smoke, a trill of fanfare, and an entire character was standing where the blob had been. I didn’t slowly discover Will, his history, his motivations, his personality, his backstory. In one moment he was not. And in the next, he was.
I think this is why he’s so special to me. I have to think very hard about my characters, about all the little pieces that make them who they are. I’ve only very recently finalized the last details of Olivia’s childhood! It takes time to assemble truly human characters. But it wasn’t like that with William. As soon as I discovered him, I discovered all of him. And, not content to just be a talking surveillance camera, he pushed himself into every last corner of the story.
It’s hard not to love a character with that much agency over his fate.
I kind of think of Will as a chihuahua. When you first meet him, you’re taken in by how tiny he is and how he looks so decorative. How cute! But just like the dog, Will’s territorial, cranky, peckish, and furiously loyal to a very small group – so loyal, in fact, that he’s willing to make anyone outside that group his enemy. Lots of bark and lots of bite in a package so small and adorable it’s hard to take seriously. But underestimating Will is a bad idea. He’ll mess you up, mate.
As you might be able to guess from the title, The Timeseer’s Gambit is Will’s book in a lot of ways. His appearances in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant are few, but I’ve been told quite a few times that he makes a really strong impression. I absolutely can’t wait until you get to know him better in the sequel. You’ll find out where he and Chris know one another from, and really get into some meat of his character. I hope you all love him as much as I do!
What did you think of Will? Are you looking forward to unpacking his mysteries and finding out where he knows Chris from and why Chris doesn’t remember him? And do you agree with what some readers have theorized – that there’s some attraction going on between the two young men?
[This Backstage Character Pass contains some very minor SPOILERS for The Deathsniffer’s Assistant! Read at your own risk.]
No character deviated more from their original plan than Rachel Albany.
I’ve written about how The Deathsniffer’s Assistant originally started as a NaNoWriMo side project without an outline that I later realized had some potential. What I haven’t talked about is how much of the book changed between those mile markers. While I picked it back up and continued writing more or less where I left off, the very fabric and intent of the novel had changed.
The original novel didn’t have the Floating Castle.
Michael and Julia Buckley had been killed in a carriage accident. There was no larger plot, no political landscape, no depression, and no conspiracy. It was just the val Daren murder.
While I left the novel fallow, those ideas began to sprout and bloom. The murders themselves weren’t enough to hold up the book. I didn’t want to just tell murder mysteries in a fantasy setting. I wanted something bigger. Parents dying in a silly accident didn’t provide my narrator enough baggage or motivation, and with no overarching mystery for the main characters to solve, the series lacked a mission statement.
This is when the Floating Castle was born.
The details of that story are for another time. But the birth of the Floating Castle was also the birth of the Miss Albany who reached the presses.
I immediately knew that I needed a character representing the reformist point of view. An important part of making a conflict seem human is personifying it. I needed someone the audience respected and trusted to voice the views of the reformist camp – and more importantly, to trust the reformist leader, Dr. Livingstone. A major plot point hinged on the audience believing the doctor was a good man, and a character who could grandfather him into the story was necessary.
Even from the first draft, the Miss Albany character existed. But she was different, a pinched older woman, severe and intense with a completely different backstory. I didn’t want to create a new character, so I decided to have Miss Albany perform double duty.
And then I thought – well, since we’re already tinkering, why not triple duty?
See, I knew from moment one that I wanted Chris and Olivia to have an extremely intimate relationship that readers would see flourish over time. I also knew that I wanted absolutely no romantic connection between them. Their relationship would have to be completely platonic. The age difference, power difference, and fundamental personality conflicts between them was a part of that, but it was more. I wanted to explore how platonic relationships can be as meaningful and as important as romantic ones. I wanted to show a sexually compatible man and woman forming a deep connection without sex being an aspect of it. And, most importantly, I wanted Olivia to never become subservient – in any way – to Chris or Chris’s development.
I had to remove all risk of subtext, make it obvious to the reader that there was no romantic attraction between the Deathsniffer and her assistant. And the easiest way to do that is to show how they act around someone they are attracted to.
Three separate character ideas became one complete character: a governess for Rosemary, a romantic interest for Christopher, and a reformist sympathizer for the audience. She had to be someone Rosemary would initially resent, later respect, and eventually love. She had to be someone Chris would want, but also someone who would challenge his preconceptions. And she had to be implicitly trustworthy: forthright, stubborn and strong-willed.
Rachel became one of the most vital characters to the series as a result of this compound mission statement. She also became the most challenging to write. A single character pulling triple duty is economical writing, but it’s also tough. Rachel had to be playing all three roles in equal measure while still pursuing her own personal agenda. Finding the balance between her three roles in the story and her agency was tough, and no character has undergone more revisions in either book than Rachel.
The most important piece of advice I always want to give new writers is that they shouldn’t be so afraid of a first draft. I see so many writers struggle with fear of starting. And I want to tell them all that first draft is so mutable. (I talk about this a lot in my Getting Out of the Labyrinth series, especially Writing Part 1 and Writing Part 2.) Your book is going to change so much! And that’s not only fine, it’s awesome. Nothing is more inspiring than the knowledge that your work can still grow and adapt as you write. No word you write is written in stone. And I think Rachel is a great example of how much change can happen and how positive it can be!
I love all of my characters, and appreciation for any of them makes my day. But it’s curious. If I had to pick a favourite, it wouldn’t be Rachel. And yet, when someone tells me that she’s their favourite, nothing else makes me happier. Rachel is such a challenging character. Writing her is never effortless. I constantly have to work on juggling so many things while she’s onscreen. So when I hear that she really worked for someone, it’s crazy rewarding!
In The Timeseer’s Gambit, you’ll get to see Rachel more relaxed and comfortable in her position as Rosemary’s nanny. She and Chris have gotten to know one another better and their dynamic has subtly changed. You’re also going to learn quite a bit more about her infamous brother, the mysterious Garrett Albany you heard so much about in the first book. Look forward to it!
Have any comments, questions, or just something to say about Miss Rachel Albany? Let me know! I love hearing from my fans.