Posts Tagged 'Jess Faraday'

A Chat with Jeffrey Ricker and ‘Nathan Burgoine

BY JESS FARADAY

I’m always saying that I’ve never met a BSB person I didn’t like. From everyone I’ve dealt with on the business end, to my various editors, and the authors that I’ve met at conferences and online, y’all are pretty darn terrific. And there are some really excellent writers among us as well—go figure!

 

Recently I had the pleasure of reading two fabulous new books—Light by ‘Nathan Burgoine and The Unwanted by Jeffrey Ricker. On the surface, they don’t sound very much alike —

 

 

LightLight  300 DPI

Kieran Quinn is a bit telepathic, a little psychokinetic, and very gay—three things that have gotten him through life perfectly well so far—but when self-styled prophet Wyatt Jackson arrives during Pride Week, things take a violent turn. It’s not long before Kieran is struggling to maintain his own anonymity while battling wits with a handsome cop, getting some flirting in with a hunky leather man, saving some drag queens, and escaping the worst blind date in history. One thing’s for sure: saving the day has never been so fabulous.

 

The UnwantedThe Unwanted 300 DPI

Jamie Thomas has enough trouble on his hands trying to get through junior year of high school without being pulverized by Billy Stratton, his bully and tormentor. But the mother he was always told was dead is actually alive—and she’s an Amazon! Sixteen years after she left him on his father’s doorstep, she’s back, and needs Jamie’s help. Putting his life on the line, Jamie must find the courage to confront the wrath of an angry god to save a society that rejected him.

 

 

But after reading them, I couldn’t help noticing a few similarities—and not just the fact that they were really, really enjoyable.

 

So I thought I’d ask the authors about it =)

 

 

 

 

JF:  ‘Nathan, Rainbow Man (sorry… Prism =) is a fabulous superhero—and at the same time, charmingly flawed and human. Tell us about your inspiration in creating this character.

 

NB: Somewhere between my geek childhood love of the X-Men and my own wish that there were more gay superheroes out there, Kieran sprang to mind almost fully formed. When I was younger, there were none. It’s gotten better, but I wanted a story rooted in the LGBT culture. I didn’t know what sort of power I wanted to give him at first, but I was having a conversation with my mother-in-law in her kitchen and there was a suncatcher in her window and I bumped it and rainbows scattered and something clicked. Making it a side-effect of telekinesis came later, but I always wanted him to be “somewhat underwhelming” in the power department. If Jeffrey will forgive me, I always preferred Marvel to DC because the Marvel characters weren’t invulnerable powerhouses – the mutants often had one good power (or two) but took their lumps a lot more often. They came across as more human to me.

 

JF: Jeffrey, your book gives an interesting take on a common YA theme–the discovery that one has royal/magical/otherworldly origins and/or powers. Your main character is the rejected offspring of an all-female group that now need his help. Tell me about that particular plot twist. Why Amazons?

 

JR: Jamie doesn’t think he’s special. I didn’t want to make him too “chosen-one” gee-whiz spectacular. He’s just a kid trying to get through school without getting pulverized. What makes him remarkable, I think, isn’t his Amazon bloodline or any powers that derive from that. It’s that he keeps going even when he’s deathly afraid. 

 

Why Amazons? I guess it all goes back to Wonder Woman. I’ve been captivated by the Amazons ever since I first read one of the comic books and then saw Lynda Carter on the TV screen. She was like magic to my little gay mind. I was always drawn to Diana in a way that Superman and Batman couldn’t equal. I think, being a gay kid, I identified in particular with the idea of a secret identity, that who you were on the outside hid something remarkable within. Yes, all of the big three had secret identities, but hers resonated. I can’t explain why, but I know it was more than just the bracelets and the lasso and the power. 

 

Of course, that has little to do with the real Amazons of antiquity. And I was surprised at how little I could find when I started researching for this book. I found one or two volumes, mostly thin on information, and then just passages here and there in the epics. Why was there so little?

 

The more I though about it, the more it made sense. All those old stories were written by men, and they focused on the men. No wonder the Amazons got short shrift. I wouldn’t be immune from that criticism either: I may be gay, but I’m also a white guy in the western world, which translates to a lot of privilege. Even here, who do I end up focusing on? Jamie, one of their sons. But I hope I do that in the context of the powerful women around him, not all of whom are Amazons—his friend Sarah in particular; she’s such a hero and she has no magical origin to base that on—and not all of whom are human. But I don’t want to give too much away there, either.

 

JF: ‘Nathan, Light addresses some pretty serious themes, puts the main character in nail-biting peril, and sees him take his lumps. Yet the story is suffused with wonderful humor and a lovely romance. The combination of excitement and lightheartedness is irresistible. How do you do that?

 

NB: I wholeheartedly believe that if we stop laughing, we lose. In the face of what can seem like relentless pressures from all sides for the queer community to cave in, give up, or go away, the times we spend laughing and celebrating how far we’ve made it are the things that keep me going. I wanted to show that balance, and could think of nothing better than setting the story during Pride Week for exactly that purpose. You don’t have to look far to see how much further we have to go – Kansas, Russia, Uganda – it’s not hard to find the bad news and the fights still ahead to be won. Those fights are still there, and just as serious and important no matter what you do. I just know I fight better when I’ve recharged myself with the company of good people and that kind of dark humour that serves us well.

 

I also listened to my editors. I feel like I should repeat that again: I listened to my editors. If parts felt too dark or too action-focused, they helped me find a way to break it up a bit and use the romance or the humour to diffuse the tension for the reader. Did I mention you should seriously listen to your editors?

 

JF: Jeffrey, in The Unwanted, you turn the theme of bullying on its head by binding Jamie to his bully early on in the story, and forcing both characters to grow and change. It’s a fresh take and an interesting choice. Can you tell us how you came to make that choice?

 

JR: Thanks. I was really worried about that, to be honest. Billy has treated Jamie like crap before and at the beginning of the events in the book. I didn’t want to give Billy a free pass or let him off easy, but I also wanted to show that even the people you expect it of the least can change for the better. Without giving too much away, I wanted to illustrate that real connection and understanding can overcome fear. 

 

JF:  ‘Nathan, your short fiction is prolific and well known, but this is your first novel. How different was it working in this longer format?

 

NB: This should come as no surprise to anyone with a brain, but it turned out that having some sort of outline or plan was way more important for a novel than I’ve found it to be in a short story. What that says about my brain I’ll leave up to you. Also, with a short story, the turnaround time for some sort of feedback is so quick. With a novel, I worked on it for over a year before I had enough to hand to someone and get criticism. I’ve had rare moments where a short story has gelled in the space of hours, and had feedback on the first draft within a day of finishing that draft. Writing a novel felt a lot more isolated and required a lot more patience and self-confidence, and I’m sure not overstocked in either.

 

JF: Jeffrey, you’re currently studying for your MFA in creative writing. What, from your education, have you applied to your writing?

 

JR: This is a really good question. You hear a lot of criticism of MFA programs as encouraging a sameness in students’ voices and subject matter. (At least, I have.) That may be the case in some places, but I haven’t experienced that here. At the moment, I’m knee deep in revising my thesis, which is a speculative fiction novel, so this is probably not the best perspective from which to figure out how my own writing has been changed by it. I feel like I’m taking more chances in my writing, trying things that I might not have done in the past, and diving deeper when possible. All that being said, spending two years in an environment where I’m surrounded almost daily by other writers who are this generous with their time and feedback and encouragement is probably the nicest thing about it. That, and Vancouver is really a beautiful place to live.

 

JF: I loved both of your books and would love to see Jamie and Prism again. Any plans for future adventures for these guys?

 

NB: I have a short story idea for Kieran wherein Detective Stone drops by for some help on a case he thinks might be similar to the events of Pride Week, but the timing is bad: Sebastien is away at a leather competition, which means Kieran is left wrangling Pilot. Which, as you can imagine, wouldn’t go smoothly. I also have the barest of bare ideas in outline for a sequel, but I don’t think I want to write a novel back-to-back with the same characters. I will say that – for the first time ever – I have a title from step one: Flame.

 

JR: I kind of love them too. When I wrote the ending, I didn’t see how I could possibly continue the story after what I do to them. But, I do have an idea that I’ve been working on sporadically. We’ll see.

 

JF: OK, fellas, last question. If there’s one thing you’d like readers to take away from your book, what would it be?

 

NB: You’re not alone, and there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – wrong with asking for help.

 

JR: I didn’t really have an idea or a message in mind as a takeaway for readers when I wrote this. I think there’s this sort of magic that happens between the reader and the book that is sort of outside the writer’s influence—and that’s how it should be, I think. I just wanted to write something I thought the teenage version of me would have wanted to read, since there weren’t any books that I found at that age that featured gay characters that were suitable for teen reading. I later found wonderful books like Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library, and E.M. Forster’s Maurice. By then I was eighteen and my reaction was like, “We do exist.” 

 

I just hope readers enjoy The Unwanted and consider it time well spent.

The Sand That Makes the Pearl

BY JESS FARADAY

I try to stay out of online arguments. They never, ever make a person look good. And if that person is an author, coming off like a meanie or a jackass will drive readers away. How many times have you skimmed over a bloody flame war and thought “Wow, that was so convincingly argued, fact-based, and respectfully presented, I’m going to go out and buy tons of these people’s books!” Not often, I imagine.

Which is why I save my rants for my dog. He’s a great listener, and as long as I keep the kibble and walkies coming, he doesn’t care what I think about the Emotional Issue of the Day (funny things, you humans with your “emotions,” but I digress.) And no one keeps secrets like a German Shepherd.

But sometimes a person can’t help herself. And sometimes an argument can inspire something besides road rage and heartburn.

Many years ago, when I was still toying with the idea of writing stories, I found myself in an argument with someone in a steampunk forum who insisted that it wasn’t realistic in steampunk to write main characters who weren’t upper class white males, because (according to this person) during the Victorian era, these were the only people who had access to education, technology, and science—and also, because these were the only people who had any sort of social agency.

*deep breath*

Ignoring for the moment that steampunk is a branch of science fiction, and therefore authors define “realistic,” did you just say that clockwork zombie pirates dropping time-warp bombs from laser-cannon equipped dirigibles are more “realistic” than, well, a melanin-enhanced main character who lacks a penis, an Oxbridge education, and a trust fund?

*exhale*

I’m not very good at spontaneous arguments. I need time to think, research, and consider. It’s what made me an excellent translator, but a piss-poor interpreter. One can’t, after all, turn to a client in the heat of negotiation, and say, “Can you just shut the hell up for a minute and let me find the right words to convey the subtle nuances of that rubbish you just spouted?” At least not without losing all her clients (but gaining the admiration of frustrated interprebots everywhere).

So after a few unsuccessful—and undignified—attempts to relieve this poor poster of their ignorance, I did what any reason-driven clockwork girl would do—I exited the forum and stewed about it.

And this irritation—this little bit of sand in my shell that scratches and inflames to this day—became one of the pillars of my writing.

I’m a 19th-century girl, for better or for worse. But I’m not interested in corsets, high tea, or being presented at court. I find the corridors of power more treacherous than the back alleys of Whitechapel. I wear men’s trousers and carry a knife in my boot. My clockwork heart beats for the children sleeping in doorways, the men laboring in the sweet, choking air of the sugarhouses, the women running orphanages on a shoestring and a prayer. Caribbean immigrants. Soot-covered apprentices. Phossy-jawed matchstick makers. Murderously territorial mudlarkers and costers in all their button-covered finery. Italian ice-sellers. Flower girls. Hops-pickers and public disinfectors.

The nameless multitudes upon whose sweat and blood were built the privileged lives that appear in history books. These people had “agency.” These people had stories. They might not have had the same influence with official institutions that the upper classes enjoyed, but there are many spheres of influence, and many means of making one’s way through the world. These are the stories I like to read about, and these are the stories I like to write.

So, though I take petty pleasure in the fact that, years later That Other Poster, who also fancied themselves a writer, has authored little else other than forum screeds, I also have to grudgingly thank them for the sand in my shell that has driven me to search for ignored lives and lost stories, and to write the stories that bring me (and hopefully a few other people) such enjoyment.

My new book, Turnbull House, Turnbull House 300 DPIcontinues the story of accidental detective Ira Adler (an olive-skinned Jew from the meanest of the mean East London streets—no pedigree, no trust fund, no frock coats). Two years after the life-scrambling events of The Affair of the Porcelain DogBSB_The_Affair_of_the_Porcelain_Dog_small, former criminal Ira is scratching out a living as a private secretary and sitting on the board of the youth shelter he helped to found at the end of Porcelain Dog. It’s not a comfortable life, but it is an honest one…at least until some bastard author pulls the rug out from under him again.

Turnbull House is the second of three books, and will be released in February.

Eight Tips for Better Procrastination

BY JESS FARADAY

You can’t even fire up the Googler these days without stumbling over advice about How to Keep Your Writing on Track! Finish that Manuscript! Write a Novel in 10 Days or Your Money Back! But, as every writer knows, procrastination is an important part of the game. Where’s the advice about quality time-wasting? Nowhere, that’s where! And a crying shame it is, too.

So here are some handy tips I’ve come up with, to help when you find you’re being Just Too Productive.

Jess Faraday’s Tips for More Effective Procrastination

  1. Games. Nothing moves a manuscript along like a little Farmville, or perhaps Words With Friends. It’s words, right? It counts! Or maybe a nice multi-player RPG? It’ll help you develop your plot and give you ideas, right? Right! Let’s go!
  2. Social Media. It’s all about promotion. Interact with your readers. Or pick a fight with a perfect stranger about some overblown political point. It’s hard to work when Someone on the Internet is Wrong. You can do a new blog entry about it. Check your stats at Amazon and Goodreads. Write a few reviews. Be social! Interact!. Or just look at some pictures of cats.
  3. TELL everyone all about the amazing book you’re GOING TO write. That way you can feel like you’ve put in a full day’s work without having done a thing!
  4. Clean house. As everyone knows, every Great Author has a tidy desk and an immaculate domicile. Besides, you know you can’t get started until every little thing is in its place and the dust bunnies have been vanquished, so what are you waiting for? Get on it! This place isn’t going to clean itself! Ooo, is that laundry?

 

…an hour and a half later….

 

Oh yes, where was I?

  1. Exercise. How can you work with the waistband of your jeans cutting into your tummy? Change into sweats, you say? Amateur! Obviously what you need is to head to the gym for an hour or two. It’ll also help to get rid of that nervous energy that keeps you from settling into the manuscript. You can use the time to work through that thorny spot in your plot. You know, the one your writing group says Doesn’t Work For Them. Either that, or you can watch the court shows on the gym TV. Your call.
  2. Another Cup of Coffee. There. Now you’re set to work. How about a sip of coffee to get started? Ah. Better. Now, let’s reread what we’ve got so far. Sip. Read. Change a comma. Sip—oops! Out of coffee! Better start again.
  3. Watch TV, go to a museum, or go to the movies. Sometimes you need to surround yourself with multisensory reminders of the setting you’re trying to create in your story. Or catch up on the last fifteen seasons of The Simpsons. Or something.
  4. The Day Job. Wow, you are desperate for distraction, aren’t you? Well, maybe this is one you should be doing. I mean, how much time have you spent slacking off of the day job to work on your novel? At least try to look like you’re making an effort. That is, until Speilberg comes asking about the movie rights.

If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And that includes procrastination. So, get right on it! Or…put it off until you feel more like it.

The Left Hand of Justice 300 DPI

A Conversation with Lambda Finalist Jess Faraday

 

Jess Faraday’s debut novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog, is a Lambda Literary Award finalist for gay mystery. Writer Jeffrey Ricker talked with her recently about her debut, her upcoming novel, and how historical fiction can be relevant to and address contemporary issues.

 

Jeffrey Ricker: Congratulations on being a Lambda award finalist! I loved The Affair of the Porcelain Dog. It was one of those books I couldn’t put down; I frequently overshot my lunch hour because I wanted to read one more page. How did the idea for that book come about?

Jess Faraday: Thanks! The book actually evolved from an exercise I did with my writing group. The exercise was to take a character from something we were working on and put that character in a completely different time and place. I took a sorcerer’s assistant from a swords-and-sorcery piece and put him in a Sherlock Holmes story. The more I worked on it, the more I realized that there was just so much more to be said.

JR: You’ve trained as a linguist and translator. Tell me a little about what that entailed. How would you say that’s influenced your writing, if at all?

JF: I’ve always been fascinated by language and words—not just nuances in meaning, but the rhythm, color, and music of it. I’ve always loved these things, and I try to incorporate them into my writing, hopefully without going overboard. I love translation because one has to really think about the shades of meaning of key words, and the greater picture created when all the words come together. It’s the same when writing a story: the rhythm, color, and music created by the language gives the story a certain feel that affects setting, plot, and character, but registers on a completely different level.

JR: What is the most challenging thing about writing?

JF: Getting through the first draft, which will always be completely crappy. Subsequent drafts are easy. Fun, even. Because it means turning garbage into something nice. But getting through that first draft can be a nightmare.

JR: What made you decide to write a novel from the point of view of a gay man in Victorian London? Did you ever have any concerns about creating an authentic voice for that character?

JF: I think every writer wants to create believable, sympathetic characters. I do, and I hope that if my characters lack authenticity as either gay men or as Victorians, that they’re at least believable as people.

I did a lot of sociological research about London in the late Victorian era—not just specifically about the lives of gay men, but about relationships between men and women, different races and social strata, and how these things fit together (and also lighting, personal hygiene, battlefield medicine, pollution of the Thames, and the history of envelope sealants).

The idea to make the main character the crime lord’s lover, rather than just his assistant, sparked when I came across the Labouchere Amendment, which aimed to protect women and girls from exploitation by criminalizing “indecency” between men (huh?)—not only actual sexual acts, but attempted acts, with no evidence required. It sounded so much like today’s hysterical “think of the children!” rhetoric that I had to include it somehow. Also, it made the resolution of the plot that much more pressing!

JR: Part of the writer’s function is to engage with and comment on contemporary culture. You wouldn’t think that historical fiction could do that, but Porcelain Dog was a very accessible novel, and seemed to resonate and not be so far removed from modern culture, while at the same time being grounded in Victoriana.

JF: We like to think that human societies are continuously evolving forward, becoming better, smarter, more enlightened, etc., with every passing generation. But it simply isn’t true. We keep dealing with the same conflicts over and over. Money. Sex. Power. Love. How we think about them may be different in different times and places, but the conflicts are always the same. They’re never solved forever, and they never go away. I think addressing the universal conflicts that have always been with humanity, and always will be, is what makes historical writing interesting and accessible to others.

JR: What are you working on now? How is it similar or different from Porcelain Dog? Do you think you’ll ever revisit the character of Ira Adler in a future book?

JF: Right now I’m finishing another mystery, this time set in early 19th-century Paris. The protagonist is the last remaining female Sûreté agent after the resignation of Sûreté founder Eugène Vidocq. Unlike Porcelain Dog, this book has a significant supernatural element. I’d say it’s closer to speculative fiction than to pure historical fiction.

The next book on the docket is the sequel to Porcelain Dog. =)

Confessions of an Impatient Historian

Jess Faraday 

 

“I felt like poisoning a monk.” — Umberto Eco on why he wrote The Name of the Rose.

 

My first stab at writing a novel came after reading The Name of the Rose. I not only enjoyed the complex, well-constructed mystery, but I loved all the gritty details of simply living at that time. I liked seeing all the different ways life then differed from the life I was leading–and how these circumstances affected how people related to one another and to the world around them. And as is the case with many well-written books, it made me want to write something similar.

But the amount of research required was daunting. That novel (now securely in the trunk) ended up being a swords and sorcery story, because I was afraid of all the research. Do you know how many novels Umberto Eco has written? Six. Over the course of 28 years. Granted, he’s been busy with other projects as well, but who hasn’t? The point is, it takes a long time to get all those little facts just right. And, oh yeah, to weave them into a good story.

Of course it takes just as much work, maybe more, to construct a realistic, well-rounded fantasy world. Which is why I ultimately returned to historicals. The research can be overwhelming, but at least it’s well documented.

Research is time-consuming. It’s tedious. I’m impatient and get bored easily, so the temptation is always to cut corners and move on to the next project. How will anyone know that the flashlight was invented one year after my story is set? Will they care that this particular word came into use a decade later and on a different continent?

 

Oh yes. They will care. And if they don’t know, they’ll look it up. And then they’ll call you on it. Publicly.

Many readers of historicals are also armchair historians. And many live to find the anachronistic flashlight.

After Porcelain Dog was published, I began to review historicals for the review site Speak Its Name (http://www.speakitsname.com). It didn’t take too long for the books to divide themselves into True Historicals and Costume Dramas. True Historicals demonstrate intimate familiarity with the customs, beliefs, systems, and technologies of the given time period. Really, really good ones let the story arise from these circumstances, rather than beginning with a plot and altering the times to suit it.

Costume dramas, on the other hand, generally have horses, frock coats, and a breathtaking lack of interest in reality.

Of course if people didn’t enjoy them, there wouldn’t be so many published year after year. And far be it from me, a mere genre writer, to tell anyone what they should enjoy. If I made my own comfort reading list public, probably my dog wouldn’t even stick around.

But as a writer, it’s teeth-gnashingly frustrating to inch along, ensuring the historical accuracy of every letter, while some writers churn out three or four costume dramas a year. As an impatient writer, it’s torture.

Sometimes I fantasize about saying the heck with all the research, and calling it Alternate History.

But then I’d not only have to worry about what did happen, but about what realistically could have happened. And if you think armchair historians love to pick a nit, you’ve never kicked it with armchair alternate historians.

The thought of it makes me want to poison a monk.

“For One Million Dollars…”

by Jess Faraday

When I was asked to write about why my upcoming novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog (June 2011), features a gay protagonist, I felt a bit as if I were being invited to whack a hornet’s nest. For anyone who hasn’t had their whiskers singed by the debate over women (lesbian, bisexual, hetero–different people take different exceptions) writing gay men, let me assure you that for many, it’s a hot-button issue. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I’m not here to annoy hornets, after all. I’m here to gloat. I write historical mystery and suspense, which is one of the best jobs in the world. I get paid to read about sewage recycling in Victorian London, occult revolutionary movements in 19th century Paris, and medieval Central Asian warrior women. A large chunk of my yearly book budget is deductible. And that stack of J.M. Redmann novels on the nightstand? Research. I need to surround myself with examples of well-written mysteries to make sure I’m doing the job right, you know.

But back to the original question.

I love reading history almost as much as reading mysteries. History inspires me. It makes me think not only about what happened in the past, but also what’s happening in this present world, and where we might be headed as a species. It inspires me to look for threads of human continuity across time and across cultures, as well as to appreciate the differences, which can be shocking in their vastness. And when I come across some fact or idea or person that absolutely flattens me with its awesomeness, awfulness, irony, originality, or daring, it inspires me to write about it.

 started as a 750-word exercise for my writing group, in which we were invited to put a character from our WIP into a different setting. I took a magician’s apprentice from a swords-and-sorcery story and plunked him down in Victorian London.

The desire to get the setting right for even this little piece (yes, I really am that tightly wound) led me eventually to the Labouchere Amendment, that is, section 11 of England’s Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. For those not familiar, the amendment criminalized public and private acts of undefined “gross indecency” between men. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were prosecuted under section 11. Because no evidence was required other than the word of the accuser, section 11 was often referred to as a blackmailer’s charter.

What I found interesting was the fact that the criminalization of real, attempted, and imagined acts between consenting adults was part of a larger law aimed at protecting women and children from sexual exploitation. Plus ça change! I wonder how many modern-day bigots think that they invented the false equation of homosexuality with child molestation. I wonder how far the idea goes back. I wonder how long it will persist despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Eventually, my 750-word mystery became a story about blackmail, and my magician’s apprentice became an amateur sleuth with a blackmailer to find. While setting himself to the task, my protagonist turns up–and busts up–a child prostitution ring, ironically at the same time he is facing prosecution under the same set of laws for his consensual acts with a fellow adult.

Could the hero of this story be anyone other than a gay man? Certainly, but I argue that his peril wouldn’t be nearly so perilous, and the resolution wouldn’t pack the same punch. Considering that lesbianism (though punished in other ways) was not illegal under Victorian law, neither a straight hero nor a lesbian heroine would have had the same, highly personal stake in the story’s outcome. What’s more, after reading Nene Adams’s spectacular Gaslight books, I realized that it was futile to try to top the adventures of the formidable and much-loved Evangeline St. Claire and Rhiannon Moore.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my heroine addiction.

The protagonist of my current work-in-progress has been showing up in different forms for years. She has been the chief of police in a village beset by mischievous magicians, a drug-runner in a post-apocalyptic Sonoran desert, and a grad student who learns that the odious head of department is keeping Something Untoward in the basement. Finally, though, she has found a setting that fits her–and me–like a good pair of boots. And her present incarnation is as much a function of plot and setting as the protagonist of Porcelain Dog.

The thing about research is that it’s never really done. One fact slides into another, and pretty soon, even before the first book has been submitted, the second one has started to write itself. Research into the history of Scotland Yard led me, inevitably, to the origins of the Sûreté, that is, the Paris police. Did you know that the grandfather of the world’s organized police forces was comprised almost entirely of reformed criminals, male and female? Pretty interesting, considering that it was 1812–though it must be said that at that time, England and France were more like different planets than different countries, from waste disposal to attitudes about sexuality.

Even more interesting from a plot-building perspective (though drearily inevitable from a course-of-human-affairs perspective) is the end of this highly effective though unorthodox force. Following the resignation of its founder, Eugène Vidocq, the Sûreté collapsed and was born again. Only this time, the women, former criminals, and other undesirables were purged and replaced by an unseasoned group of squeaky-clean, all-male “professionals.”

Imagine that, in this time of transition, there was a single holdout: one agent whose particular expertise made them an invaluable asset, no matter how much the new, less-experienced Chief of Police wanted them gone?

For one million dollars, what kind of protagonist would provide the most interesting plot complications, a man of any stripe, or a Lesbian Superhero?

I thought so =)

It sounds strange and possibly cold-blooded to admit that the specific characteristics of my protagonists generally arise as a function of setting and story than the other way around. It makes me feel like less of the benevolent, interested, personal god that I like to pretend to be. But every writer approaches her topic from a different angle. And how much duller reading would be if we did not.


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