We at BadassBook Reviews are very excited to have Stacia Kane of Downside Ghosts fame with us today! Tomorrow, March 27th, the fourth book in the Downside Ghosts series will be released — Sacrificial Magic. Please check back here tomorrow for the BadAss take on this book. Below, Stacia answers the questions we have always wanted to ask.
Regina: Chess seems to inspire strong reactions going in multiple directions. There are readers, like me, who feel very sorry for her but also hopeful. There are readers who are upset at her choices and seem to get angry at her. First, I think writing a character that inspires such reactions is a difficult thing. But my question is, why do you think readers react so strongly to her?
Stacia: Oh, goodness. I think there are a few reasons: because she’s different. Because she’s flawed. Because she’s (hopefully) real, and honest.
I think there can be a real double standard in fiction, especially in fiction aimed at or largely read by a female audience, where male characters are allowed to be damaged and flawed but female characters aren’t. Female characters are expected to follow certain set rules: they must be kind, they must be charitable, they must be open and accessible. I’m not saying every other female character except Chess is like that, at all, just that female characters with serious flaws—and not flaws like having Daddy issues or feeling separated from the world by their powers/abilities or trouble in their love lives—are a lot more rare. Women in genre fiction often seem to only be allowed to be weak in acceptable “feminine” ways. Again, it’s not always the case but I think it’s fair to say the majority of female main characters are like that. Whereas Chess is flawed in much more serious ways.
But to me that’s a good thing. To me—and again, this is just to me, I can’t speak for readers and I’m speaking in very broad generalities, so nothing I say should be taken as criticism of genre or of other writers or especially of readers—Chess is a heroine for people who don’t see themselves in traditional heroines; she appeals to women who maybe don’t always feel comfortable with themselves, or don’t always feel happy, or especially who don’t always feel sure of themselves or know exactly what the right thing is.
I think everyone has flaws, and I think a lot of us—this is speaking as a reader now—look at the flaws of so many of the heroines out there and think, “yeah, but that’s really a virtue pretending to be a flaw, isn’t it?” Like when you have a job interview and they ask for your weakness and you say something like, “Oh, I care too much about my job, I’m a workaholic.” Which isn’t really a flaw, you know? I always had a hard time finding heroines in genre fiction that I truly identified with: I just don’t see the world the way they do and I don’t always understand them. The things they cared about and the way they saw the world just didn’t—it’s not that it didn’t make sense or anything, and it’s not that I didn’t still love a lot of those characters, they just weren’t very much like me. And it can make you feel like you don’t belong, and when you feel like that in the real world and then realize what you’re reading makes you feel that way too…So to me Chess was my opportunity to write a woman who really genuinely had problems and flaws. The kinds of flaws men in genre fiction have and have been allowed to have, even admired for having, for centuries, but which make women targets of scorn and disdain.
To me, Chess is the heroine for the rest of us. And I’ve found that there really does seem to be a very clear line between the types of readers who love her and the kind who don’t. Neither is wrong, of course, it’s just a matter of outlook.
Regina: For me, I really like to read about characters that mess up, make mistakes and do not always learn right away how to do things the right way.
Stacia: My point exactly!
Regina: Chess is really the epitome of this type of character. She has so much value as a person, in my opinion but she also has quite a few things that hold her back from doing the
“right thing”. The scene that sticks out in my mind and likely in so many readers’ minds is the scene in the bar between Terrible and Chess in Unholy Ghosts. Their first kiss. The way you wrote that scene, I could feel Terrible’s hurt feelings, his disappointment and Chess’s embarrassment. You captured that moment so well. Throughout the books, Chess is just hanging on and she has some attractive choices to take her mind off of her life – including Lex and Terrible. Does it ever worry you that readers will get so mad at Chess for her bad choices? Or will we stick by her because she is such an authentic character?
Stacia: First, thank you! And oh, of course I worry! I worry with every word I put on the page that readers won’t like the writing, won’t like the story, won’t understand why Chess does what she does, and will get bored or fed up or annoyed. Absolutely I worry. Every second of every day; by the time my release days come around I’m a nervous wreck, quite literally. Not because I’m afraid readers will hate me, but because I hate to think I haven’t pleased them or entertained them; I want them to enjoy reading the books, I want them to feel as if they’ve gotten real value for their eight bucks.
I do try very hard to make sure that her actions are at least understandable, even if they aren’t always pleasant to read (and that bar scene—as well as so many others—was just as hard to write as it was to read!). I figure if readers can at least see why something is happening, if it at least makes sense why it would happen, then hopefully they’ll stick with it.
But ultimately when it comes to things like that, I have to be true to Chess’s character and do what makes sense for her, even if it wouldn’t make sense for someone else. The day I start compromising her character because I’m afraid people will get angry…well, that would be a betrayal not only of her and not only of myself but really of all those readers who are kind and wonderful enough to love and understand her just as she is, and would notice if she suddenly woke up one morning and said, “Hey! I feel good now, no more drugs for me!” or whatever. It’s not just that it would feel false to them, it’s that it would negate everything that happened before. It would mean they’d wasted their time getting so invested, because I just changed everything about her on a whim. That would be a lie, and it would mean I personally have no integrity, and I’d be ashamed to do something like that. If I’m not honest with myself and my readers then I’m really not doing anything worthwhile at all; I’m just throwing some words on a page in a cynical attempt to make money, and that’s wrong.
AH: Is there anyone in your real life that inspired your characters?
Stacia: No. Well, no, sort of; I do occasionally see glimpses of a guy I used to know in Lex. Every once in a while I’ll see his face or hear his voice when Lex says something or does something. But not very often, and I didn’t create Lex with him in mind, I just realized somewhere along the way that the two men have some similarities. I never stop and think “What would he do here?” or anything, though.
That’s it, though, and it’s the only time that’s ever happened. In general I make up my own people, from the bottom up.
AH: Are there any plans for Chess to clean up her act?
Stacia: Ah, that would be telling. Sorry.
AH: I had a lot of fun reading the Downspeak. In fact, I would read it out loud to my husband just to see if he understood what was going on. (He didn’t.) What inspired you to come up with Downspeak?
Stacia: A few things. I’d originally envisioned the books as historicals (well, actually, I had another project that was historical, and then I had the plot for UNHOLY GHOSTS and started thinking of it in that context); it didn’t last long, but while it did I started researching the Georgian period. And I had a book called THE WORD MUSEUM which lists a lot of archaic slang, and I just fell in love with it and how much it could shape a society and characters.
I wanted a way, too, to identify speakers and really round out my world; I mean, I was writing about very poor people with limited education, so the idea of them speaking perfect English
just wasn’t going to work. If I was going to build a world from scratch, I needed to really commit to it. So I started thinking about those archaic words and what kind of dialogue and speech patterns the characters would need in order for those words to sound natural, and it just sort of flowed from there.
I was really nervous about it when submitting it, because everyone says dialect is a big no-no. But everyone loved it. Which is great because I love writing it! I’ve found I have a really hard time not writing dialect for characters now, even in other projects. It’s just so much fun.
Regina: Do you have other writing projects outside of Downside Ghosts planned?
Stacia: Well, I don’t know if I’d say “planned,” but I am working on something else, yes. Actually two something elses; another adult UF series, and an historical YA UF trilogy I’m really excited about. My agent has been asking me for it forever but things have been so crazy for me; I’m hoping to have it finished in the next month, though (I could have it faster, I think, but SACRIFICIAL MAGIC’s release has me so busy, and I’m moving the weekend before release, so…)
Michelle: Terrible doesn’t have conventional good looks and even Chess thought he was “ugly” at first. Why do you think that so many fans have fallen for Terrible even though he is written as not the most handsome of men?
Stacia: Well, I can’t really say why others love him, but I can say why I do. I just think he’s a great person, a great character. He’s very smart, but very modest about it—he doesn’t believe he’s smart at all, of course. He’s very tough. He’s protective. He’s loyal. He’s honorable. He’s strong. He’s completely devoted to Chess and would do anything for her, but he doesn’t let her walk all over him either; he never—at least I hope he doesn’t—falls into victimhood when it comes to her, never compromises his own needs or sense of self even if and when he thinks it might mean losing her (which would devastate him). No matter what happens he retains his own strength and integrity.
And despite all of his toughness and the hardness of his life, and despite what he does for a living and the fact that he does enjoy that work, he’s not afraid of his feelings, either. Or rather he might be afraid but he faces that fear head-on. Love is just as scary for him as it is for Chess, just as unfamiliar, but he doesn’t try to hide from it, and he doesn’t obfuscate or pretend he isn’t feeling what he’s feeling or whatever. He’s direct and unflinchingly honest and he doesn’t play games. He’s too serious for that; he doesn’t see the point, which means he doesn’t feel weak or wimpy or whatever admitting how he feels. He doesn’t see that as weakness. Admitting his fears is a weakness to him, absolutely, but admitting that he’s in love is just the right thing to do. It’s what he wants to do, because he wants to make sure she knows, because it’s important to him that she know.
Above all, though, the biggest thing for me is that he accepts Chess exactly as she is. Flaws and all, addiction and all. He has his own flaws and he knows they exist, so how can he judge her for hers, you know? He doesn’t like them, but he sees them as the bad he has to take with the good. He loves her so he accepts her. And sadly I think that’s pretty rare, and I think it’s something we’re all looking for: someone who just honestly loves us unconditionally, doesn’t judge us or make us feel small or disapproved of or whatever else, even when we do things that others would condemn us for, even when we have weaknesses—because really, her addiction is simply a serious weakness made manifest, and he knows it’s there but it doesn’t change the way he feels one bit. I don’t think it’s that he worships her—he doesn’t, although he does think she’s way out of his league—or that he doesn’t see her flaws, because he does (although not as sharply as she herself does). It’s that he genuinely doesn’t care. She is who she is and he loves her and in his mind that’s that. And I think that’s a really powerful thing, and I think all of those qualities together make him something special, at least to me.
Michelle: Who would you ask to babysit your kids in an emergency…? Chess or Terrible?
Stacia: Ha! Honestly I think either of them would be fine, honestly. Chess is rarely in a place where she’s genuinely not functional, and she has enough of a sense of responsibility that she wouldn’t do that when she had a child to look after. And Terrible is actually quite good with children, in general. Certainly when he’s given someone to look after or protect he takes that extremely seriously. Not to mention he has a child, of whom he’s so protective he won’t even let her know he’s actually her father; he thinks she deserves better than that in her life, so he’s willing to deal with the pain of giving her up every day, basically, over and over again and watching her call some other man “Daddy.” And both of them had enough childhood trauma that they’re extra careful when it comes to kids.
So I think either of them would be fine, and together they’d be especially good, because they do keep each other grounded. (And hopefully—I’d planned it for CHASING MAGIC but it just didn’t fit—we’ll get to see a little bit more with Katie in Book 6, a scene with the three of them that makes it clear they’ve spent time together in the interim and Katie now sees Chess as someone who’s pretty much permanent in her life. Which is a bit of a spoiler but hopefully not a “bad” one. )
Thanks so much for having me at your blog!
BadAssTeam (AH, Erika, Michelle and Regina …): Thank you Stacia for your time in giving us answers to our questions. This is a great interview and you have given us alot to think about it. We won’t spoil it for readers and our review will be posted tomorrow but we loved Sacrificial Magic and are excitedly waiting for #5 Chasing Magic.
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