If you have never read the amazing Downside Ghosts books by Stacia Kane, stop what you are doing right now and go buy Unholy Ghosts. No, I am not kidding. Go now. I'll still be here when you get back.
As for the rest of you, it's been a long wait for Sacrificial Magic, but I can tell you it's my favorite book in the series so far. Please help me welcome Stacia to the blog today!
Jen: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!
Stacia: Thanks so much for inviting me!
Jen: I feel like I came late to the Downside Ghosts party, but I am so glad that I found this series. It's not like anything I have read before. The main character, Chess, is so flawed and yet so sympathetic. How do you strike that balance with her?
Stacia: Hmm. I just try to make her as realistic as possible, really. I think everyone has both good and bad parts; everyone has flaws. And I think it's the flaws that make us interesting.
For me a big part of what makes a character--any character, or even any person--sympathetic is that they acknowledge their flaws. Having flaws doesn't automatically make you sympathetic if you refuse to admit or accept that you have them; it just makes you a jerk, really. Chess acknowledges her flaws, and even as she rationalizes them and even hides behind them, she still accepts that they are indeed flaws.
Jen: As damaged as she is, do you think she is capable of ever really being happy?
Stacia: Oh, that's a good question! I do, yes. But then I also think happiness means different things to different people. I think Chess is capable of happiness. I think she can probably at some point reach a place emotionally where she's mostly at peace. Whether that means hopping out of bed every morning with a grin on her face is another question. But I think she's growing, and I think she's changing and maybe starting to see that there is hope for her, that she can let herself feel something positive.
Jen: The drugs are a really big part of her life and the series. Did you ever worry that might alienate readers?
Stacia: You know, I was actually more worried that it might be triggering for some people, or that readers of my previous books--which were much more light-hearted in general--just wouldn't like the darker tone. I honestly didn't think it was that big an issue; I mean, at the time I started writing it or when it sold, WEEDS was on TV, BREAKING BAD was on TV, HOUSE was on TV. There were quite a few male characters who were addicts or alcoholics. And I never saw anyone taking issue with those or saw any huge backlash where people called the scriptwriters or producers names. So I really didn't think it was going to be a big deal (and if I had it wouldn't have mattered, because I needed to write Chess, for a number of reasons).
So I wondered, and of course any time you have a book coming out you worry how it's going to be received. But there were a lot of other things I worried about more.
Jen: Let's talk about Terrible. I loved that you acknowledge the odd names in "Rick the Brave." What were you thinking when you gave him the name?
Stacia: Ha, yeah, that was really fun, to do that in RICK. I just wanted a name that fit him and fit the world, really. Given his history it wouldn't make sense for him to be a Bill or a Joe, and it certainly wouldn't make sense for him to have a more "UF hero" type name. It needed to be something that made sense given the kind of place it was.
I'd once had a few drinks with a guy whose nickname was Horrible (although in his case it was a joke), and there's another nicknamed-Horrible as a very minor character in my favorite novel, so when I was thinking of a name that would both identify and kind of describe this character--who wasn't even really a character yet at that point, just a "This is his job"--that popped into my head, and I decided to go with it. It seemed to fit really well. It made sense people would call him that and see him that way, and that the name would kind of define him in the eyes of other people. I mean, when you hear Bob is after you it just doesn't inspire the same kind of foreboding that you might feel when a guy everyone calls Terrible is after you. You wonder why they call him that and how he came to get that name.
Jen: And you made him ugly! A bold choice for a romantic lead. Have you been surprised at how beloved he is among readers?
Stacia: Totally! I never expected that. I mean, I hoped, because I love him so much, that others would feel the same. And he was a real challenge for me, a real test of my skill: could I create a character who is deliberately ugly and brutal but manage to write him in such a way that readers would see who he is inside? Could I pull that off, and illustrate the point that not only can looks be deceiving but that how people look to us changes as we get to know them, and that who people are inside matters more than what they look like?
I wanted to be very careful with him and how I revealed his character, because I wanted readers to undergo the same transformation as Chess does: first finding him unappealing, not very smart, etc., and then slowly seeing how much more there is to him. And I wanted to do that just through Chess's eyes, so that he starts to change for the readers at the same time as he does for her, and we can follow her thought process and see how things change as she gets to know him and they both start to open up to each other more and trust and understand each other. I wanted to immerse readers into the characters and world that much more by doing that, you know?
Of course, whether I really succeeded in that isn't for me to say, but it's amazing to see how much people love him!
Jen: I'll say it: you were very successful. He is one of my very favorite heroes in print! Will there ever be further consequences to the sigil Chess put on him in Unholy Magic?
Stacia: Oh, yes. Yes yes yes. I don't want to spoil anything by saying more, but absolutely. It's going to have a huge impact. We'll see a bit more of that in SACRIFICIAL MAGIC, and then a lot more in CHASING MAGIC, and then...well, it's a big deal, that sigil.
Jen: The street language people use in Downside is very unusual, but it's very consistent in the books. What did you base it on?
Stacia: I just made it up, really! I considered at first using a sort of Ebonics-type dialect, but I didn't want to do that for a couple of reasons: One, I wanted to be very careful of looking like I was co-opting an existing culture, and Two, I wanted to make it very clear that this is a different world.
I did get a lot of the words from old slang, though, like Georgian/Victorian slang. I have a dictionary of it, and I had so much fun reading it and I was so excited at the idea of using some of those words. And the Downspeak kind of evolved from that, too, because I needed something where those words legitimately fit, and didn't sound too out-of-place.
Jen: Was the series initially supposed to be a trilogy? At what point did you realize it would be more than that? Did you already have a direction for the series to continue in your mind?
Stacia: Actually, no, it was never a trilogy; I wrote UNHOLY GHOSTS as the first in a multi-book series and that's never changed. I'm not sure where the idea that it was originally a trilogy came from unless it's the fact that the first three books were released back-to-back.
I did make sure that I gave the third book a definite ending, though, because of course I wrote that one a year or so before release, and when I wrote it I had no idea if the first two would sell enough copies for my publisher(s) to want more. So it was really important to me that readers at least get a solid resolution to the Chess-Terrible story, just in case. I hated the idea that they might be left unsatisfied.
I will say, though, that originally I hadn't intended for them to make their big declarations until the fourth book; the third book would have essentially been the same as far as the physical aspects, but without the big ending. Then the fourth would have shown them as having gone on for a few more months of this sort of sleeping-together-but-not-making-any-commitment kind of situation, where he was just immensely reluctant to actually get emotionally involved.
Whether that would have been better I can't say, of course. Certainly part of me thinks it would have made more sense given his character and the depth of her betrayal, but at the same time I think given what happened to her at the end of CITY OF GHOSTS, it's also believable--I hope it is--that he would have basically said, "Well, yeah, she did this, but thinking she was gone for good made me realize that I can forgive it." You know? When you think someone you love is dead you realize how lucky you are to have them at all, even when they've hurt you. Especially since--again, hopefully--it's clear that even after he said he was done with her he really wasn't, not in his mind or his heart, and that not speaking to her or hanging out with her was just as painful for him as it was for her. Chess missed the person she'd become so close to, the only person she felt really understood her and accepted her, but so did he; her friendship and company meant at least as much to him as his meant to her. So he wasn't just hurting her when he wouldn't speak to her. He was hurting himself, too, and thinking she was dead made him realize he didn't want to do that anymore, that he couldn't keep holding a grudge--even though he had a good reason--when life is short and they could be happy.
Jen: Like so many fans, I am very excited about Sacrificial Magic. What can you tell us about the book?
Stacia: Ohh...let's see. The first reviews are starting to appear now, so some of the biggest stuff is probably already out there: that trust is a huge issue in this book, that Chess has to really open herself up in this one and try to learn to accept the idea of being loved. There's some good stuff in store for Elder Griffin that I'm really excited about, and that's going to have some big impact in CHASING MAGIC. There's a new character being introduced and that's pretty exciting (for me, at least) because it's yet another example of how Chess's world is expanding. Which is really healthy, and a really good thing for Chess, but at the same time brings her problems into sharper relief. Because when the series started, she had no one; she had work and she had being home alone, and that was basically it--yes, she was/is friends with Edsel, and it is a genuine friendship, but she kept him at quite a distance. So her addiction didn't affect anyone but herself; there was literally no one to be hurt by it but her.
But now, with every new person she lets in there's one more person who can be hurt by her behavior, who can have feelings about it, who can be damaged by it. So it's kind of a double-edged sword; she wants to have these people in her life because they make her feel good, but it also means having to accept that her actions can have consequences beyond just what they do to her personally, and that makes her feel worse, because she doesn't want to let them down but isn't strong enough/ready to make changes.
Jen: And there are at least two more after that?
Stacia: Right now, yes. CHASING MAGIC and the sixth, which isn't officially titled (or written!) yet. Hopefully SACRIFICIAL MAGIC will be successful enough that I get to do more; the continuation of the series really does rest on its performance, so I'm very nervous and trying to be very hopeful. I'd love to keep writing these books.
Jen: Again, I thank you so much for answering my questions. I wish you great continuing success for the series!
Stacia: Thanks so much again for having me, I really appreciate it!
If you would like to learn more about Stacia Kane, you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter.
Labels: by Jen, Interview, Stacia Kane