To help celebrate the release of Sacrificial Magic (available today!), the fourth book in the Downside Ghosts series and the best yet according to Catie, we asked Stacia Kane a few questions about Chess, Terrible, and what she's got coming up for us next.
Stick around afterward for a giveaway!
The Readventurers: The first three books were released back to back in 2010. Sacrificial Magic comes out in March, and Chasing Magic comes out in June. Is there a sixth book on the way?
Stacia Kane: There will be a sixth book from HarperVoyager, yes. Beyond that I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Do you like releasing them so close together? It’s nice for us, but it has to be stressful for you!
Actually, yes and no. It is really stressful, but it’s nice to have everyone get so excited and get so much of the story at once. I’d prefer a longer time period between books, personally; of course, it’s not something that’s even discussed with me, it’s entirely the decision of my publishers.
Downside is a place filled with violence, starvation, and many other frightening things, but seeing it through Chess’ eyes makes it feel like home. Would you like to visit? Go to a show at Trickster’s?
Oh, totally! I’ve been in places a lot like it, but it would be especially cool to be there, I think. I’m not sure if the idea appeals because of the place itself or the idea of being in a place I actually invented, but I definitely want to go there.
Hahahaha! I’d much rather it live forever without the ghost apocalypse. I think as much as I love the music, I’d feel kind of shitty saying it’s more important than millions of lives. In fact, none of the music I mention was produced after 1997, because that’s when Haunted Week happened. Not that good music stopped being made, but odds are that at least some if not most of the bands active at that time were killed, and since so many industries shrunk and the punk community is so small—relatively speaking—anyway, I didn’t want to assume anyone survived. Which is kind of bad, assuming my favorite bands are dead, but it wouldn’t be realistic otherwise, would it? Eighty percent of the world’s populations died and governments fell and a new totalitarian one took over, but all the good bands are still putting out great music? I kinda don’t think so.
In other interviews, I’ve read that while writing Unholy Ghosts, you initially didn’t plan on Terrible as a love interest for Chess. Once you realized that they had chemistry, did you go back and revise his character at all? Did you feel any pressure (internal or external) to make him more appealing and less frightening initially?
Well, I hadn’t planned him as a love interest per se but I had planned for them to become very close; I knew from the first scene at Bump’s place that her perception of him was going to change and that as she was nicer he was going to open up to her a bit more, which would change her perception further, and so on. So I definitely planned for them to have a real connection, I just didn’t expect their chemistry to be SO strong, and I didn’t expect that I would love him as much as I did.
But no, I didn’t revise anything, and I didn’t want to change anything about him or the way he was introduced. Honestly, the whole “point”—if there is a point—is that what we see isn’t always who people really are, and that it’s who they are inside that counts. I wanted Chess to slowly get to know him and realize who he really is, and I wanted the reader to get to experience that exact same “unveiling" along with her.
And I never wanted, and still don’t ever want, to try to downplay or hide the negative aspects of his character, either. It was important to me that Chess be a little afraid of him at first and that she be kind of a bitch to him. It was important that in UNHOLY MAGIC we see him actually doing his job: not beating people up because they threatened Chess, but just because they owe Bump money and it’s Terrible’s job to collect that money by whatever means necessary. It’s important to me that he not be made out as some kind of poor sweetheart forced by his size to hurt people and that he cries inside when he does it. He doesn’t. He enjoys what he does; he doesn’t really care very much about the people he hurts, in general (although being around Chess has changed that to the point that by UM he didn’t want her to see him do it; it’s not that he doesn’t want to do it anymore, just that that it’s a side of himself he wishes she wasn’t as aware of and doesn’t want her to witness). Just like Chess has some serious flaws and is a damaged person, so is Terrible.
For me one of the biggest revealing moments for him as a character—outside of anything romantic - was in UM when he and Chess were discussing the ghosts of murdered people, and he says something like “Right, it doesn’t matter how hard you hit, it never goes away for real.” Which I just think says so much about him and how he sees the world. Chess uses drugs to mask her pain, but he uses violence.
I have a good picture in my mind of what Terrible looks like, but I’ve struggled to think of a real person who fits his description. Is there a real-life person that you were thinking of when you described Terrible, or is he purely from your imagination?
He’s purely from my imagination. I never actually use celebrities or whatever as “models” for my characters’s appearances; I prefer to leave it kind of vague and let the reader fill it in (the exception is that Chess really does resemble Bettie Page; not exactly, but she has the same sort of face shape and pert nose, and of course the hair). I will say, though, that after I write them I do sometimes see people who remind me of them or who I think could resemble them. NOT look exactly like them at all, but have similar qualities. Like for Terrible I think of actors like Javier Bardem or Jason Momoa or Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Again, it’s not that they look just like him, at all, just that they have similar qualities or attributes.
It is, yes! Another layer of understanding between them, another similarity and way they would understand certain things about each other/each others’ outlooks without needing to discuss it or be told. But remember, Terrible does actually see himself as a mindless thug, or at least, he doesn’t think he deserves to be seen as more. He’s been treated like that all his life, so he basically just believes it.
[Gah! That response broke my heart!]
Will Chess ever question the Church’s methods or will she forever see it as the only place that she ever felt safe?
Hmm. I’m not entirely sure. It really kind of depends on for how long the series goes on. But even if she does question it she’ll still see it as the place that “rescued” her, even if she discovers it’s not as benevolent and positive and always-right as she’s thought. I think even now she’s got some awareness of that. It’s just that this issue is kind of black-and-white to her, as some things are with all of us: the Church saved her, so the Church deserves her loyalty, and that’s that. Even as she’s uncomfortable with many things about it—even though she doesn’t acknowledge that discomfort—she still thinks it deserves her loyalty. But don’t forget, when loyalty to the Church and its teachings came up against saving Terrible’s life, the Church lost without even a second thought. And we’ll see in SACRIFICIAL and CHASING MAGIC more of the concept of Chess realizing that if she’s ever forced to make a choice the Church will lose.
"...I think in order to really be fully fleshed-out, characters have to have blind spots. There have to be things they just don’t want to see or acknowledge, things they protect
I think everyone has certain issues or people or things where they just have blind spots. People are inconsistent, it’s in our nature. And as Benjamin Franklin said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Which I love, and which I think is true, because someone who treats every situation exactly the same and doesn’t see any nuances isn’t really someone who engages in much critical thought or even is very empathetic. So I think in order to really be fully fleshed out, characters have to have blind spots. There have to be things they just don’t want to see or acknowledge, things they protect themselves from.
One thing I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of is Chess wrangling with uptight, opinionated people. Do you love writing those scenes as much as I love reading them?
Hahaha, yes! I admit I have a lot of fun with those.
Chess has such a negative view of herself, which is understandable given her past. But I feel like occasionally, she’ll have little moments of clarity – like when she feels brave after Terrible labels her so, or when she decides not to go back to Lex, even when she’s alone and it would be the easy thing to do, or when she recites Church law with perfect memory and conviction. Will there be more of these moments for Chess? Is she going to start to see herself more clearly (even just a little bit)?
I think so, yes. One thing that makes Chess so fun to write, and what—for me at least—kind of saves her from being too depressing or whatever, is her belief in her own abilities as a witch. She’s always known she’s good at her job and she takes pride in that, and it’s really nice to write those moments; it’s nice to see her acknowledging her own skills at something. Sometimes I wonder if the reason she’s able to do that is because she started doing it after she left all those awful “homes” and people and situations behind, so no one ever actually told her she wasn’t good at being a witch, if you know what I mean. And she worked very hard for that; when her classmates were out having fun she was studying and pushing herself because she was afraid she’d lose her scholarship (and readers will hopefully get the chance to see some of that).
So she was that way from the beginning, had that strength from the beginning, but now I think as she lets more and more people into her life—people who aren’t affiliated with the Church—she’s starting to find some good things there, too. Certainly, and I hope this isn’t really a spoiler, we’ll see her own confidence starting to grow a bit as her relationship with Terrible strengthens. We’ll see it grow as she realizes that there are people who actually like her for her; even Lex, who she viewed as just using-each-other-for-sex, is still around now that the sex has stopped, which makes her wonder just how only-sex that relationship was.
So basically, yes. She’s letting more people into her life and realizing that not only do those people enjoy her company but she actually enjoys theirs; she’s very slowly moving away from the extremely solitary life she lived before to one where she interacts with other people, and that’s kind of breaking the shell she keeps between herself and the rest of the world and opening her up, so to speak. But it is a very, very slow process. You don’t undo a lifetime of conditioning and belief and behavior in a couple of months; you don’t stop hating yourself suddenly just because you find love. You know? It may help some, it may be a bit of a Band-Aid, but it’s not a cure.
Yes and no! I love the structure it gives me/the stories; I love that it’s something always there. And sometimes it helps keep me grounded in the world and in Chess’s head. On occasion I do wish I didn’t have to write it again, but at the same time, it is who she is. And just like I can’t ignore any other part of her character or anyone else’s character, I can’t ignore that one either.
As a reader, I am torn between wanting Chess to become sober and healthy, and not wanting that at all because it would be unrealistic for her to do so. Do you struggle with that?
Oh, totally, yes. It’s very difficult for me to imagine a sober Chess; I honestly have a hard time even thinking how I would write a sober Chess! But I’m also aware that she’s growing as a character and as a person, and that she has to do that, and I think to make her grow in every other way but leave her there in that one way just wouldn’t work very well.
I think it’s safe to say that she’ll keep growing, and it’s an issue that will have to be addressed. Anything beyond that would be a spoiler, though.
One of the things that I love the most about Sacrificial Magic is that I think it’s a great example of a romance, post-happily-ever-after (if that can even be applied to Terrible and Chess). The insecurities that they both have seem very realistic and I think that you’ve really shown that it’s harder to actually be with someone than it is to initially get together.
Thank you! I try really hard to show that, to show that just because you love someone doesn’t mean all the issues and/or problems just instantly go away; well, just like I said two answers ago. Love can help heal wounds but it isn’t a cure-all. And if your characters are strong enough and real enough it should be obvious where those conflicts and issues will come from.
Does it make you nervous at all to have so many of us out here so highly invested in what happens to Terrible and Chess? Is there anything we could do to ensure that neither one of them dies? We’re not above bribery or extravagant gifts. Just so you know.
Ha! There’s an answer here I so wish I could give, but it’s a huge spoiler for CHASING MAGIC.
Can you give us any hints about what’s coming up next? Do you have any new projects that you’re working on?
I’m working on a YA project I’m pretty excited about; it’s another alternate-history-dystopian type story, with a historical setting rather than present day. It’s got demons and magical machines and Fae and diseases and poverty and wealth, and is really fun to write so far. So I’m hopeful about that. But of course whether or not it will sell is another story.
Thank you so much for joining us today! Happy release day!
Thanks again for having me!
And now, because we love being shameless pushers of great books, we are giving away one book of your choice from The Downside Ghosts series. If you haven't started these yet, Unholy Ghosts is a great introduction. If you've read the first one or two but just haven't picked up the others, they only get better and better so what are you waiting for? And, if you've been dying to get your hands on Sacrificial Magic for months - it's here! Giveaway ends Tuesday April 3rd. Open internationally.