Friday, October 22, 2010

Stacia Kane's Haunted Weeek

Welcome to Stacia Kane! Author of amazing urban fantasy, and owner of a kickass haircut, the Pens are so glad to have her here today. And the story of the knife fight between her and one of the Pens is not true.

So lately I’ve been having a little bit of trouble blogging. I think it’s because I’m deep in the middle of writing the fourth Downside book, and my blogging always suffers when I’m working, at least when I’m working hard and it’s taking a lot out of me. Which this one is. (Don’t worry, you can’t tell it’s taking anything out of me at all, it sucks so hard.)

Anyway. Not only am I stumped as far as blogs are concerned (bloggedly stumped?), apocalypse has never been my thing. I know there are a few religions out there who keep insisting they know the exact date the world will end, and then when that day passes and everyone is still wandering around alive and everything they sort of pretend they were just kidding and the real date is in thirty years or so. Ha ha! They were just testing us, see? Or sometimes they say that the apocalypse actually has started, it’s just a very slow-moving one, and we won’t realize the world is ending until it’s too late. Stupid us, huh*?

And of course I remember all of the panic around Y2K. My brother was convinced it was going to be anarchy. Convinced. He had stockpiles of food and water. (Yes, he is that guy. But he’s still my big brother.) It was kind of an obsession with him, actually; I remember being over at his house one evening with my husband—he was my fiancĂ© then—and our dad (that would be mine and my brother’s dad, not mine and my fiancĂ©’s dad, because…well, yuck, and illegal too) and actually having to threaten to leave to get my dear brother to stop talking about how all of the bank systems will crash and everyone will need to protect their homes with shotguns because anarchy will immediately fall over the land.

Anyway. I know when people talk about apocalypses, (apocalypsi? No, it is –es, it’s just fun to make that joke), they automatically think of zombies. It’s all about the zombies, which frankly leave me cold (ha!), rather like apocalypsi do. I’m just not enamored of zombies; I don’t understand the appeal. Unless they’re magic-animated zombies, which…well, let’s just say I’ve written those once and totally plan to again very soon.

The people who don’t think of zombies tend to think of The Stand, and a superflu-type illness that wipes out huge swathes of people, leaving a small band of good people to fight the Devil. Or, well, at least the flu thing.

I’ve never really liked that idea, either. I honestly just don’t like the idea of apocalypse. It freaks me out. I don’t want it to happen. I don’t want anything to ever end; I’m furious that it has to, frankly. If someone offered to turn me into a vampire I would take that offer in a heartbeat. Eternal life? I am so there.

So I don’t like zombies, and I don’t like horrible diseases…and yet I write in a post-apocalyptic world. Weird, huh?

Well, yes and no. In my world, right around Halloween of 1997—October 28th, to be exact—something happened. I think I know what happened, pretty much, but you don’t get to yet. Somehow, the veil that separates the land of the living with the afterlife—the spirits of the dead—shattered or was torn or whatever, and the ghosts poured onto the earth, and they were pissed. Largely because people were alive and they weren’t, so they couldn’t enjoy any of life’s pleasures anymore (they couldn’t even really talk, in general), but because they were there to begin with, instead of in their afterlife, which was probably a pretty nice place for a ghost to be.

So because they were so mad they started killing people. Ghosts are translucent, yes—they even glow a little bit, not a lot, but a little tiny bit—but when they touch something they can solidify themselves around it. So a ghost who gets hold of a knife, for instance, can slash and stab a number of people, and those people really can’t catch him to stop him. If they come in contact with magic, like if they pick up a spellbag or talisman or fetish or something, it powers them up and they solidify all the way.

This event, when the ghosts spilled out and started tearing things up like the Who in a hotel room, is called Haunted Week. It ended on November 3rd, thanks to this previously tiny little magical church group called the Church of Real Truth. Here’s a bit of Church history I’m trying to find a way to fit into a book: the Church was formed in 1692 as a reaction to the Salem Witch Trials. Several people who heard about it had been sort of playing with magic themselves and didn’t think there was anything evil about it at all, thank you very much, and any God who wanted them killed because of it wasn’t a God they wanted much to do with, aside from the fact that their magical experiments led them to believe that there is no God (if there were, why would He allow their magic to work, right? If there is a God they shouldn’t be able to influence anything).

So those founding members formed their little magic group, and met in secret while still pretending to be just as pious and proper as all of their neighbors. And now everyone in the Church sort of carries that act on to some degree—Elders wear pilgrim costumes, with knee pants and hose; women in the administrative offices are called Goodys and wear dresses and caps. They usually disapprove of a lot of things, too.

Because of the Church’s three hundred-odd years of studying magic, they had some ideas how to get rid of the ghosts, using magic and psychopomps and the power of the earth. And they did, and it worked, and in exchange the Church basically got to write its own ticket as far as how the world is going to be run. And if you don’t like it, they’re perfectly happy to let all of those ghosts free again and you can just damn well deal with it. (The ghosts currently reside in an enormous cavern several hundred feet below the surface of the earth, called the City of Eternity. It’s not a solid cavern cavern; it has sort of chambers and stuff, but it’s just a big empty space.)

So. Now the Church is in charge—of a reduced population, because the ghosts killed like 2/3 of the world’s population before they were finally sent away—and it’s very totalitarian and dystopian, and that all happened because there was an apocalypse. So maybe you fans of such a thing should think about that next time you squee and clap your hands about zombies, thus putting all of us in danger (hey, who knows what causes zombies, right? Maybe they’re like the Doctor in the Dr. Who episode where the Master has him trapped in a little cage, and he’s all wrinkled and tiny, but Martha gets everyone to think about him at one particular time and it gives him back all of his life and vitality. I don’t really understand how it worked, but it was cool).

So if the zombies come, it’ll be your fault.

*This is a joke, and not meant to seriously denigrate anyone’s religion. I think having faith like that is pretty cool; I don’t, but I wish I did, so rest assured I think your religion is great and good for you and all that.

Stacia Kane has been a phone psychic, a customer service representative, a bartender, and a movie theatre usher. Writing is more fun than all of them combined. She wears a lot of black, still makes great cocktails, likes to play music loud in the car, and thinks Die Hard is one of the greatest movies ever made. She believes in dragons and the divine right of kings, and is a fervent Ricardian. She lives outside Atlanta with her husband and their two little girls.

And perhaps the rumor about the knife fight isn't completely untrue....


Rachael Herron said...

Someday you will have to hang out with our Martha Flynn, which I don't think you've done yet. But you will. She can tell you about what else your brother needs to get done before the apocalypse and then you can bond over Die Hard.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh i'm so glad you're here today!! you're one of my favorite finds of the year. I loved reading about how your world evolved. i think so many of these themes, end times and zombies and so forth, are most useful in fiction when they are allegories for small-scale events, so small they may have only personal meaning. at least that's how i handle it. i'm just appreciative of everyone who has a "what if..." moment and thinks it through to its messy and glorious conclusion...and if that person can spin tales and write, so much the better.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh and i was pretending to ignore the Die Hard thing. ANOTHER of you? SERIOUSLY? you guys are nuts!! but yeah you have to meet our martha sometime :)

Juliet Blackwell said...

I love hearing about all the background research that goes into people's kick-ass fiction. Great post. And I hope we can all get together again soon and sneak out and sit on the curb and smoke. Wait. Was that supposed to be a secret?

Martha Flynn said...

Sophie, "another one" of us? Dude, it's ALL of us. You're this weird, lone hold-out.

Stacie also has to meet Adrienne, who is going to love the Dr. Who fact, we may keep least one of us has a dungeon, right?

Unknown said...

Stacia--nice to 'see' you hear--we met in Orlando in the bar but I passed on the knife fights and the curb sitting. Love the backstory of how your world came to evolve :) I can't wait to read your work, I've been hearing amazing things about it from everyone. Thanks for visiting the Pens!

ps--am also a Die Hard fan

pps- Sophie--what Martha's almost un-writerly of you not to love Die Hard ;)

Sophie Littlefield said...

bitches, i *do* like Die Hard but I'm just not a mouth-frothing fanatic like y'all. Where's the love for, say, Mad Max???

Adrienne Bell said...

I had the pleasure of meeting of Stacia and her impressive knife collection at RWA this year. She had some very flattering things to say about the neckline of my dress **blush**

But if I can pry you away from your Die Hard love-in with Martha and Lisa next time we meet, we'll have to talk some Doctor.

Juliet Blackwell said...

Wait wait we're playing Doctor? Oh, I see, we're talking Doctor. I don't get it.

Oh, and yes Martha, I have a dungeon. I'd be happy to keep -- I mean *have*-- Stacia over.

L.G.C. Smith said...

Stacia, welcome. I love your books, so this was really fun to read. I met you in Orlando, too, and was thrilled when Rachael said you'd guest for us.

Magical zombies are easier for me to bear given their long historical pedigree. You know. Celtic cauldrons. Armies of the dead. But I'm still not feeling much zombie love. I don't get the appeal.

Sophie, feel not alone in not loving 'Die Hard' with abandon. Much as I appreciated the intro I got at Martha's house, I came to it too late to go nuts about it. I can't get on the Mad Max bandwagon, though, either. Of course, you all know what ticks every box for me -- LOTR.

Back to Stacia -- I wish we had a good Anglo-Saxon word for psychopomp. That word always bugs the hell out of me. Maybe because I inevitably hear 'Pomp and Circumstance' when I read it. 'Psychopomp' is just not creepy or visceral enough. I can't come up with anything suitable -- ghost guide or soul seeker are the best I can do, and neither of those works. The concept, however, works brilliantly. Especially in the Downside books.

Unknown said...

Great post, Stacia! I don't feel the zombie love, either, but your ghosts are very awesome. Don't want to run into one, but just sayin'...Love DIE HARD too, but I was being stupid, uh, I mean sensible, w/ your brother on Y2K. I refused to go to NOLA's Jackson Square New Year's Eve because I was convinced the power grid would fail and we'd all be killed by falling bullets (which happens periodically in New Orleans anyway so I'm not sure what the big deal was).

Stacia Kane said...

Thanks Rachael! I will definitely do that! (And I'm going to talk about DIE HARD in a later comment.)

Thanks Sophie! I'm glad I'm here today too! And you know, I've thought a few times of how the ghosts in the series are kind of an allegory/symbol of the memories and unhappiness Chess can't seem to forget or move past. It's not something I've ever emphasized, but it is there.

Lol, Juliet, no secret, and we will definitely do it again. :-) You're actually the second person in the last month or so who's asked me if they're supposed to keep having a cigarette with me secret, which really surprised me! I feel like I don't have a choice, really; if I tried to sneak off by myself at shows and stuff and wouldn't let anyone go with me, everyone would assume I was shooting up. So given the choice, I'd much rather just admit I smoke.

I'm perfectly happy in a dungeon, Martha, as long as I have books, TV, and a computer with internet. I won't even try to escape. (I'd probably get a ton of work done, too.)

Thanks Lisa! Sigh, next time you'll have to join us for the knifeplay and curb-sitting. It was pretty cool.

Stacia Kane said...

Oh, Adrienne, how can I pass up the chance to talk Doctor with someone that impressive in a low-cut dress? :-) And you know, we can always play Doctor too, if Julia wants to come along. Heh heh heh.

Thanks L! Oh, I love LOTR too, it's one of my favorite films ever (I mean looking at it as one long film broken into three parts, not that one segment of it is one of my favorite films ever and the other two are meh. I think they're all amazing.) There's room in my heart for all of them!

And yeah, the word psychopomp gets a little tiring to type out all the time, but it's never really bothered me as a word. I just love the concept so much and think it's so cool; I'd been wanting to use it in a book for ages before I finally had something it fit.

Magical zombies are awesome. I've totally got plans for them. Very exciting.

Thank you Suzanne! Lol, don't feel bad re Y2K. I think everyone, no matter how confident we were intellectually, was a bit nervous deep down. I didn't blame my brother for being worried, I just got tired of hearing about the full-scale turf wars that would break out within days of the New Year. :-)

Stacia Kane said...

Okay, now, about DIE HARD. Here is why it's one of the greatest movies ever made.

If you take out all of the fantastic action and excitement and the pitch-perfect performances and notes of levity balanced with moments of gravity, you have a completely tight story with tension increasing every minute. Nothing in DIE HARD is wasted, not a line, not a moment. John McClane is on a place; his seatmate tells him to take off his shoes and wiggle them around. he does, and ends up barefoot.

His wife is using her maiden name. It perfectly illustrates the tension in the marriage, and also gives her a chance to keep her "true identity" hidden.

When he arrives, Ellis, the annoying cokehead, gets all braggy about the watch Holly was given for her great work. She hadn't told John. Another great example of their alienation, but also, the watch is important in the final moments of the film's climax, when she's almost pulled out of the window because Hans grabs the watch. (It's almost symbolic; is she going to keep the watch--i.e. stay at her job, devote herself to her new, independent life without John, or lose the watch and become his wife again?)

See what I mean? NOTHING in that film is wasted. The limo driver gets his chance to foil the robbers. Al gets to shoot Alexander Gudinov (RIP). The dickhead reporter exposes Holly to Hans, and gets punched in return. Every moment in that film has a purpose. Everything is used.

Even the setting. Placing them all in a high-rise office building--better yet, the top few floors of a high-rise office building--gives them fewer places to hide, and forces them to stay in close proximity to each other. That proximity increases the tension, because we KNOW that at any moment John could be caught. Not to mention they're high up, completely cut off from the rest of the world; if they had access to lower floors they might well have tried to escape that way but of course there's no chance from where they are.

Even the fact that it's Christmas is used perfectly, from the party to Hans's "It's Christmas. It's the time of miracles," to the Ho-Ho-Ho tape John uses to stick the gun to his back. It could have been any ordinary party at the Nakatomi building, but it's not, and the fact that it's Christmas once again ups the tension. They're not just in danger, they're in danger on Christmas!

There's lots more examples, of course, but now I'm just sort of running on. The point is, if you sit down and analyze DIE HARD as a story and as a movie, you'll see that it's put together so perfectly. I can't think of another movie that's made the same way. And that's why I think it's one of the greatest movies ever made; not just because it's awesome and I love it, but because the story itself, the craft of that story, is something we all try to emulate.

Kristin Miller said...

Great post Stacia! Very cool to hear behind the scenes details into the world you've created.

I'm sorry to say I wasn't involved in the knife fight in Orlando...but I *DO* have a picture of one very talented mystery writer ready to slice everyone in the lobby of The Swan with said knife...wonder how much that could go for on the Pens black market? Care to bid, Sophie? ;)

Sharron Riddle said...

Thank you for the great post! Love hearing about the world of ghosts. I'm also a TOTAL Die Hard fan all the way!!

Unknown said...

I love your analysis of Die Hard, never connected the watch symbolism!! Also you sparked a fabulous thought on plot and tension. It should be a question that we ask every time we're editing, yes? What could up the tension in this scene? Those tiny details are what make work compelling.

so I played hooky today, did absolutely no work, and read Unholy Ghosts. Wow--LOVED it! :)

Stacia Kane said...

Thanks Kristin! Hahaha, I'd love to see that picture!

It's just such a great movie, isn't it, Sharon? Nobody seems to appreciate it on a story level, as far as craft goes, you know what I mean? But it's just so excellently put together, it amazes me every time. And thanks!

You know, Lisa, it actually took several viewings for me before I caught the watch thing! It's so subtle, so beautifully done. And yes, I always ask myself that; my goal is to keep increasing the tension as much as I can, and how I can use information I've already planted. And of course to just keep going, sigh.

Thanks so much, I'm really glad you liked it so much! And playing hooky is AWESOME!

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