We are so happy to have Author Stacia Kane here today. The first book in her new Chess Putnam Series, Unholy Ghosts was released this week and Stacia is here today, to talk about her new books. Please give her a warm welcome and don’t forget to look at the giveaway at the end.
The Geeky Lover: Stacia, can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
Stacia: Well, I guess it depends on what you want to know! I’ve been writing for about five years; well, I’ve been writing for longer, but I’ve been writing with an eye toward publication for about five years, and I’ve been publishing for about four. I started out writing romance, then erotic romance, but it just seemed like as much as I love the genre, my voice and the kinds of stories I wanted to tell just weren’t quite the right fit. So I started writing urban fantasy, and found that I just loved it!
I’m married and have two little girls, I love to cook, I love to watch The Big Bang Theory, and I’m having trouble adjusting to the new Doctor on Doctor Who.
The Geeky Lover: Describe a typical day of writing? Are you a planner or pantser?
Stacia: Definitely a pantser, but I do usually have a few specific scenes in mind, and I tend to work towards them. And a typical day? My first instinct is to say there really isn’t one, but when I think about it I guess there is. Occasionally I work in the afternoon; my friend Caitlin Kittredge and I will do a word war, where we each write as fast as we can for a set period of time. We usually do thirty minutes at a stretch, and have occasionally done as many as four or five of those in an afternoon, which is great.
Usually I work at night, though. It’s easier for me to get lost in the work if I know I won’t be interrupted. Plus I’m an insomniac, so I’m awake anyway. It gives me something to do!
The Geeky Lover: What do you think is the difference between a reader and a real Book Lover?
Stacia: Hmm. Wow, that’s a heck of a question to ask! I guess if pressed I’d have to say that a reader just reads, and usually just reads whatever is at the top of the bestseller list at any given moment. Whereas a real Book Lover loves everything about books; they love to talk about books, they loan books and get excited about books, and they read all sorts of genres. But I also think any reader can easily become a real Book Lover, and maybe they just haven’t found the right book yet. Real Book Lovers are generally who I have in mind when I write (which isn’t to say that I don’t love “regular” readers just as much, because of course I do!); the people who really love to let everything go and immerse themselves in the world of a book, who appreciate all the little worldbuilding and character points, who follow every plot twist with excitement.
I think anyone who reads is fantastic, no matter what and how much they read. People who don’t read frankly confuse the heck out of me. How can you not read? What do you do with your time, you know? Isn’t life terribly dull without books?
The Geeky Lover: Tell us a bit about your new series (Chess Putnam/Downside Books). What makes this world tick?
Stacia: Back in 1997—the booksare set in about 2020—an event called Haunted Week happened, in which millions of ghosts rose from the grave and slaughtered the human population, leaving it about a third of the size it was before. While this was happening people turned to their government and their religions for help, but of course they couldn’t really do anything. But one small church—really more of an underground magic group than anything else, with a history stretching back to the 17th century—called the Church of Real Truth figured out how to banish the ghosts to an enormous underground cavern, which they called the City of Eternity.
So now the Church is in charge; they’re government and religion all in one, except they’re an atheistic religion. Facts and truth are what they believe in, and the worship of or even discussion of gods is pretty much forbidden. There’s even an issue with names, because so many common names are taken from religion (apostles, saints, prophets, etc.) and while it’s not prohibited, the Church does frown on it, especially for its employees.
Of course, since the Church is in charge because it can banish ghosts, if you have a haunting the Church will pay you a settlement. So a lot of people try to fake hauntings, and that’s where Chess Putnam comes in. She’s a Debunker, and her job is to investigate haunting claims.
It’s a world a lot like ours, except the poor are poorer, luxuries are harder to come by, and there are whole areas of certain cities that the Church doesn’t even pay attention to, like Downside. The people there never had real access to education, never had real access to medicine or healthy food. Some of them have decent jobs but most don’t; those who make money get out of Downside as soon as they can!
Oh, and because so many people died, there’s a huge emphasis in this world on genealogy, and finding family members. People spend a lot of their time doing this, and they’re incredibly proud of their lineages, which of course puts characters like Chess who have no family even more on the outside than they already were.
The Geeky Lover: The world in your new series really focuses on Magic. How did you research that? Was a personal interest or just for the books?
Stacia: The magic in the books is largely based on British Traditional Witchcraft, which is something I’ve studied for years. I just find it fascinating and had always wanted to use it in a book. It’s a very earthy magic, magic of blood and bone and horns and toads. There are also a lot of sigils and runes involved—not just the Norse runes, but special Church runes—and herbs, and things like spiderwebs and Hands of Glory and mandrake and chunks of snake. It’s really exciting and fun to write.
I also use psychopomps, which are animals who act as couriers or escorts, taking souls from the living body and into the afterlife. The idea of psychopomps has been around since ancient times, and it’s fascinated me ever since I learned of it. My psychopomps aren’t living—they’re skulls, and during the ritual the living body grows back around the skulls, which I hope readers will think is kind of neat and different—but the concept is the same.
The Geeky Lover: Tell us a bit about Chess, your heroine.
Stacia: I wanted to create a character with real problems, someone who had genuine weaknesses and not the “job interview” types of weakness, where they’re too perfectionist or too hard a worker or whatever; someone who was strong and tough but who didn’t run into every situation with all guns blazing, and she certainly fit the bill! Chess is a functional drug addict with a responsible Church job. She’s a Debunker, as I said above, and a witch; she’s a strong and talented witch, but of course not omnipotent by any stretch (nor does she increase and increase her power with every book). At work she’s required to face terrifying ghosts and delve into the secrets of her investigation subjects, yet she can’t deal with the horror of her own past as an abused foster child and keeps many secrets of her own. So on the one hand her job is to expose lies, but on the other are the lies she has to tell every day, the lie she lives, which I think adds a really interesting contrast and a lot of tension.
She’s a very tough girl, Chess is, and hopefully a genuinely likeable one as well; she’s not really bitchy, she’s not really mean; she’s just tough, and a loner. Chess doesn’t let anyone get close to her—in fact, she actively works to keep that from happening, and to keep large parts of herself and her life private. She doesn’t even really recognize love or have any idea how to handle that sort of thing; she can’t or won’t be intimate with people she cares about, for example. But beneath that toughness, and that determination to be strong and independent and not need anyone, there is the fact that she is essentially a slave; she wants to be in total control, but her addiction makes her vulnerable to being controlled. She’s independent and strong, but at the same time she has this terrible, almost fatal weakness. So it really makes her interesting, and fascinating—to me, anyway—and a lot of fun to write about.
The Geeky Lover: What about the names of your characters? Did you search for unique names or do you have a habit of collecting exceptional names like J.K. Rowling?
Stacia: Most of the names just came to me, really. Like I said above I wanted to have names that weren’t related to saints or prophets or apostles, in order to strengthen the worldbuilding and feeling of cohesiveness. So a lot of the names—the names of the people in Downside, certainly—aren’t really what we think of as names. They’re adjectives, or nouns, or combinations of the two.
Church employees also have unusual names—some of them, anyway—but they’re real names! And of course the people Chess investigates have what we think of as normal names; they’re normal people, after all. So like many other things—and like they are to an extent in our world—names are an indication of socioeconomic status.
The Geeky Lover: What I wondered while reading Unholy Ghosts: weren’t you afraid that some people would assume you are trivializing drug abuse? Not that I am. I can totally see how “great” her life is but you know how some people are.
Stacia: I was worried, yes, and I’m really glad you asked me that question. I know the drug use is going to be a problem for some people, and I appreciate that it’s not always an easy thing to read about. And I certainly hope that people will see that, like I said above, as much as Chess wants to be free and in control and in charge of her own life, her addiction prevents that from ever fully happening.
I really did try, and I hope I succeeded, in showing the ways that it inhibits her and causes trouble for her. Of course, since the series is written from Chess’s POV, and Chess herself doesn’t see her addiction as a real problem, I had to be very careful how I did it; it had to be true to the character, and non-preachy.
I feel pretty confident, though, that readers are smart enough to see what the real message is, and will know that I wasn’t trying to glamorize drug use, but to show the problems it causes.
The Geeky Lover: Also your picture of the church is really inventive in my eyes. Why did you choose a faithless religion?
Stacia: Thank you! Originally I was going to have the religion based on the old gods of British Traditional Witchcraft, but decided that since I was using bits of other magic’s and cultures as well that wouldn’t quite work. Then I actually made up a god—for about fifteen minutes—before I decided I didn’t like that idea so much.
But when I thought of having a secular religion, one that believes in magic and what it can see and feel rather than gods, I realized how well it fit and how great it would be to write about. It creates challenges in writing, certainly—aside from anything else, writing an entire series of books in which no one ever says things like, “God, you scared me!” or “Jesus, don’t do that!” is interesting.
Plus I think in some ways this seems to be the natural direction in which the world is moving, away from gods and organized religion and into alternative belief systems or simply a belief in nothing. And I liked the idea of exploring what a world like that might be like.
The Geeky Lover: Tell us a bit about your street team “The Downside Army”. What is it about?
Stacia: It’s mostly just an email news group, really. When I have news they generally hear it first; they see covers before anyone else and/or get special excerpts. I offer the first five chapters of UNHOLY GHOSTS on my website as a PDF download, but Downside Army members got it emailed to them the week before it went on the site. And I have a few DA-only contests I’m planning as well.
In exchange I mostly just ask that they talk about the books if they like them, and tell their friends. I encouraged them to pass the five-chapter PDFs to as many people as they could, to print them out for people who didn’t want to read onscreen, really anything except putting it on filesharing sites or offering it as a download from their own sites.
The Geeky Lover: If you had to choose a favorite, which secondary character of yours would it be?
Stacia: Oh, definitely Terrible. I think he’s everyone’s favorite, isn’t he?
I also love Edsel, though, and Elder Griffin. And Bump is an absolute riot to write; I think he’s the most fun character I’ve ever created. He’s just so sleazy and manipulative and creepy and over-the-top…but even he has a soft spot, and if I get to write more of the books readers will get to see it eventually!
The Geeky Lover: If you could choose to be one of your characters who would it be?
Stacia: Oh, wow. That’s a really difficult question, considering what rough lives my characters have. Probably Chess though, to be honest. Despite her problems, I’d love to be as skilled and talented a witch as she is, and I’d love to know some of the people she knows.
The Geeky Lover: Give us 3 reasons why people should read your books?
Stacia: Oh, wow. Because I ask them to very nicely, and I’m a nice person who loves all readers and I really want to write more of these books because I love them so much?
No, that’s really not a good reason. Sigh. Okay.
1. Because I really think—and the majority of reviewers so far have agreed—that Chess is a special and unique character, one readers really identify strongly with, one they like and care a lot about in spite of her faults.
2. Because I believe the world is very different, very dark and dangerous, and because I’d really love to know what people think about the questions about human nature and faith that world raises.
3. Because—again, I think, and the majority of reviewers have agreed—that it’s a hell of an exciting book, with lots of twists and turns, a lot of action, and some things you’ve probably not seen before. I didn’t hold back in this series, and so far most people seem to really appreciate that!
The Geeky Lover: Do you plan to write something outside of the urban fantasy genre? YA perhaps?
Stacia: I’m toying with/working on a YA at the moment actually. I also would love to do something like a paranormal women’s fiction type of novel. And I have another little project on the fire as well, but it’s so early on I don’t really want to talk about it yet.
The Geeky Lover: What is next on your schedule?
Stacia: Next? More panicking about how these books are going to do! And that’s a lot of panicking, because the releases are so close together: May 25, July 6, and July 27. And the dates in the UK/Aus/Eire are only a few days behind. So that’s going to keep me very busy, because not only are we doing the back-to-back releases—which is amazing, I’m thrilled that Del Rey and HarperVoyager in the UK are so committed to and excited about the series, and are going out of their way to give it such a big launch—but as a thank you to people who buy UNHOLY GHOSTS I’m offering a free PDF download of the first three chapters of UNHOLY MAGIC, the second book in the series. And I may be offering a few other little things as well.
After that…I have a short story due in a month and a half or so, and hopefully more Downside books, in addition to the other projects I’m working on. So it’s going to be a very busy summer.
The Geeky Lover: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions.
Stacia: Thanks so much for having me! It’s been a real pleasure!
Thanks to Random House we have one copy of Unholy Ghost for one lucky commenter.
Just ask Stacia a question or leave a comment about the interview on this post.
For an extra entry you can also leave a comment on the review of Unholy Ghosts here.
Giveaway is open to everyone and ends Saturday June 5th. I will announce the winner on Sunday.