Urban Fantasy author Stacia Kane reflects on her inspirations and her writing process after finishing her back-to-back Downside Ghosts trilogy: May's Unholy Ghosts, June's Unholy Magic and July's City of Ghosts. Kane chats about how she sees herself not only in her heroine, Chess Putnam, but also in the entire Downside Ghosts world.
Where Do Books Come From?
The stork brings them, of course.
I know, books aren’t babies. But like babies, books come from a part of us that we don’t necessarily want to discuss or admit to. To do so is to make ourselves vulnerable, even more vulnerable than we already are just because we write. See, every word in every book I write comes from me. Every world comes from me. Every character comes from me. And in coming from me, in being an expression of something in me or something I consider important or feel it necessary to express…those characters are me. Those stories are stories I want to tell, because I think they’re cool. Those worlds are worlds I want to create and write about, because they say something I want to say or make people think what I want them to think or whatever.
I know that sounds control-freaky, but it isn’t, honestly. I don’t plan out books in advance. I don’t know what they’re going to say about me until they’re finished. So it’s a little bit like stripping naked with no idea what you look like underneath. It’s terrifying. It’s sharing something that really matters to you with a lot of strangers, and it’s doing that sharing through the use of a character—a stand-in for you, really.
Some of that stuff isn’t really subtle, sure. In the Downside books I mention a lot of bands. Those bands are favorites of mine. They’re bands I’ve seen live, bands I knew, bands whose members I may have known a little better than casually. I wanted to create a world with depth, and music is one way to do that, and I thought it would be fun for me to put music I love and listen to in there. Not subtle, simple. And not really personal, either.
Other stuff…I left organized religion about ten years ago. Perhaps the anti-religious Church is part of that, and perhaps what’s also pat or that is the fact that sections of the books question whether or not that lack of faith is a good thing.
And of course there are the characters. Here’s where we run into trouble, I think, as a writer. If you say you are your main character you run into trouble; are you saying you’re not capable of imagining a character? Are you saying that in your head the me/character line is so blurred that when you want up in the morning you can’t figure out why you’re not inside one of your own books? Nobody wants that. It’s kind of weird.
But neither can I deny that Chess Putnam is me. Not entirely, of course. We do have a few pretty major differences, which I think anyone would assume. But our lives aren’t as different as you might think. Our outlook on the world is very similar. Our inner thoughts match. We both struggle with feelings about ourselves and doubts about our place in the world, our worth as people, our abilities to handle life, our difficulties with emotion and near-inability to trust people.
But she isn’t me. She is the other me. She’s the more intense me, if that makes any sense. I understand her, and I gave her a lot of me when I started writing her, but not everything. She is like me pared down, distilled to an essence, without so many of the messy entanglements and pulled-in-all-directions loyalties. She’s like me without my constraints (but obviously with ones of her own).
And she’s not like me in some ways. She doesn’t like to cook, doesn’t even know how. She doesn’t have a pet (well, neither do I, but I have allergies and Chess simply doesn’t care enough or have time for a pet). She doesn’t look like me.
Of course, I’m leaving some of this ambiguous. Not just because I don’t want everyone this think we’re exactly alike, but because it *is* a big ambiguous. I don’t know where some of this stuff comes from, I really don’t. It just appeared there on the page, and it surprises me when I realize it’s right, that Chess is like this or that, that she would react that way and so would which ever other character she’s with.
Some of it comes from the outside. Some of it comes from that cool picture I saw or whatever. But it all comes from me at the end, and every word I write is a word that means something to me and says something about me.
And that’s pretty scary. I just hope people like it.