Friday, August 1, 2008

Demons, Ghosts, and a Psychic Smackdown: An Interview with Stacia Kane

Stacia Kane began her writing career penning erotic romance novels. This year, her book Personal Demons is the first book in the Megan Chase series and Stacia's first urban fantasy. She grew up in the States but now resides in England, no engaging in hand-to-hand combat with hurricanes and man-sized flying roaches, but also bereft of tasty snacks and television series continuity. Alas!

What compelled you to make the leap from erotic romance novels to urban fantasy?

Hmm. Well, I think my erotic romances always leaned toward the uf side a bit anyway--although they were romances, absolutely, I always had a lot of action scenes and blood and fighting in there too (as do a lot of erotic romance writers.) But I realized along the way that, much as I enjoyed writing the romantic aspects, I liked the action stuff more. Basically I wanted to try something different, and actually found it really freeing. I didn't have to worry so much about romantic conflict or about making sure Greyson and Megan had solved all of their conflicts by the end of the book, which I loved. I think the end of Personal Demons makes it clear that although they really like each other, they have a long way to go and a lot to overcome before they can really be happy together--not least of which is the fact that neither of them is exactly comfortable talking about their feelings or trusting people, and neither likes being vulnerable (which causes Megan some real problems in the second book.)

I still love writing erotic romance too, but I admit I have more fun with the uf. :-)

I hear you're working on another UF series that's darker than the Personal Demons/Demon Inside series. Can you tell us what UF elements you're using or anything about the world you're creating?

It is much darker, yes, and it's about ghosts. It's set in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, where there was a ghost uprising and the ghosts killed a huge percentage of the world's population. Of course, since people turned to their religions and their religions couldn't help, this new world--run by the Church of Real Truth, a secular witchcraft-based "religion" (the only organization that is able to control the ghosts)--is entirely atheistic; it's one of their laws. (The witchcraft was great to write; since I've been studying the subject for years it's a very real magic system, no muttered chants to light candles or waving hands to make things float.) Because of the threat posed by the dead, the Church pays settlements to people whose homes are haunted. It's very rare for a haunting to occur, but people do try to fake it. Which is where my heroine comes in, Cesaria "Chess" Putnam. She works as a Debunker, investigating and usually disproving hauntings. It's a good job but unfortunately for Chess, she's also a drug addict, so most of her money goes to her dealer. When her latest case proves to be a real haunting and she doesn't get her bonus, her dealer offers to let her work off her debt by investigating the rumored haunting of an abandoned airport so he can smuggle drugs into it. Of course, nothing ever runs smoothly, and Chess is soon in even greater danger than she was in her lonely, troubled, abusive childhood. It's a very dark book, set in a very dark world, and I think it's the best thing I've ever written.

One of the emerging tropes of contemporary urban fantasy is a kick-ass heroine. Megan is a pretty badass psychic who doesn't really get down with her ass-kicking self, though she certainly can represent when she's avoiding attack zombies. Did you set out to make her a little different from the stock of ass kickers on the bookstore shelves?

Yes, absolutely. While I enjoy kick-ass heroines I really wanted to see someone more approachable, someone I could relate to a bit better and who perhaps readers could as well (that's also another reason Megan is thirty-one instead of twenty or whatever, although--this is so nerdy of me--she has a birthday coming up, as does Greyson. Hey, I know when they are, so why not tell people? Megan's is July 29 and Greyson's is August 13.) I wanted her to stand out for that reason and perhaps be someone readers who don't always relate to or enjoy supertough heroines could like--someone they'd want as a friend.

I really wanted to write someone who discovers this secret world and has to find her way in it, too, and the nature of her work and that discovery almost required that she be more resourceful than kick-assy. I love strong female characters; but I wanted her strength to come mostly from her mind.

It's throw-down time! Who'd win a psychic smackdown contest?

This is an awesome question! I love it!

Megan vs Sylvia Browne
Megan, totally. Sylvia Browne is good, I guess--I'm not that familiar with her although for a while it seemed she was on Montel Williams every other day--but I think Megan's abilities are more broad. Plus Megan's not afraid to fight dirty if she has to.

Sylvia Browne vs Miss Cleo
Sylvia Browne. Although Miss Cleo could beat Sylvia in a contest to see who has the worse Jamaican accent. (Jafaikan accent?)

Johnny Smith (Stephen King's Dead Zone character) vs Megan
Oh, now this is a tough one. I hate to say it but I think Johnny would win, since he sees more future stuff whereas Megan just tends to see the present. Plus I love The Dead Zone. I love the book (not crazy about the ending though), love the movie with Christopher Walken ("The gonna break!"), love the tv show, although I haven't watched it in ages because they only show it sporadically over here so we're hopelessly lost continuity-wise. I actually think Johnny and Megan would get along really well though.

Now for the demons:
Algaliarept (Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series) vs Greyson Dante
Hmm. Technically Algaliarept, because he's a different type of demon than Greyson. But then, Greyson would be sure to have figured out some angle where he would win. It's like how Batman always wins, because Batman spends hours obsessively planning how he would fight and beat anyone and everyone in the world. So I don't think it would actually come to a real fight; Greyson would find a way to avert it and win.

Dante Valentine (Lilith Saintcrow) vs Grey
Greyson. I love Lilith Saintcrow and think she's a fantastic writer, (although I've only read one book in this series, as I tend to avoid other demon books because I don't want to inadvertently borrow ideas), but Greyson could take Dante. In addition to the always-has-a-plan thing, there's the whole creates-fire-at-a-whim thing too. He probably would't fight her though. He'd just seduce her. I think he'd have a pretty good shot at that, although I don't know if Lilith would agree. :-)

You moved from Florida to England with your Brit husband, and you've written Cockney guard demons. Clearly you have a thing for accents. Who's got the sexier speech patterns - a South African surfer or an Irish rugby player?

I imagine the Irish rugby player. I like Irish accents. I've never heard a South African surfer speak so I can't say for sure, though.

If you had enough cash socked back to forget about the market and really do something freaky (freaky for *you* - like an experimental literary novel consisting entirely of the word llama in different languages and with different punctuation), what genres, characters, or themes would you experiment with?

Oh, gosh. Honestly, I probably wouldn't write much differently than I do now! I'm already exploring what I like and have some ideas for upcoming projects that will be quite a stretch for me as well. Having said that, though, I've always had this fantasy about writing a totally, self-consciously anarchronistic historical romance. Like, "Lord Huntington sighed and shifted in his chair. If only someone would invent television already, he thought. It would give him something to do while he waited for Lady Williams-Sonoma to return from her rounds of social

I've written a couple of historicals and when I do my fingers itch to add this sort of thing. So I've always thought that would be a kick, although in reality the thing would probably be stinky garbage.

What author is your guilty pleasure?

I don't really have any guilty pleasures. :-) I admit I enjoy all sorts of books. I have a terrible fondness for Jackie Collins, for example, and I'm not ashamed in the slightest. Who cares if it's actually good or not, it's FUN. I love "old school"-style romances (my medieval romance Black Dragon was my attempt at one of these, and I'm quite pleased with both it and the reviewer response) and I love 60's/70's gothics. One day I do really want to write one of those. I've been toying with an idea for one for years.

Do you have a writing soundtrack or do you prefer to scribe in silence? If you do listen to music, who inspires your urban fantasy muse?

Oh, goodness. It depends. I generally write without music--or rather, without adult music--because I have two young daughters and they're always around, and of course I need to be able to hear them if they're trying to kill each other. So usually in the background when I'm working is songs from Barney or something. I do enjoy writing with music, I just don't very often. I do load songs on my ipod to listen to in the car sometimes though, stuff meant to apply to whatever particular project I'm working on at the time. It's usually punk because that's what I listen to, but I add or remove stuff depending on what else I need; for my last project I got hold of some gangsta rap, for example, or I'll add more romantic stuff or whatever. It helps get me in the right frame of mind.

What was the last romance novel you read that sucked you in and made you forget your deadlines? What about the last UF novel?

The last romance that did that? Probably JR Ward's Lover Enshrined, which I liked although I guess it's not really technically a romance anymore. I like her books; again, I have fun reading them. And the last uf would be either Mark Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned or the ms of my friend Caitlin Kittredge's book Street Magic; the book's the first in a new series with St. Martin's Press and is amazing, but I'm not sure of the release date. I imagine sometime next year. My friend and crit partner also has a historical uf coming out next year with Tor, written as Annaliese Evans, and it's great.

You've said you believe that writers have to have some amount of natural ability, or no education will help them excel at the craft. What, for you, is the value of an education for writers? And what non-traditional sources would you recommend for a writer who wants to hone her skills?

The value of an education for a writer, beyond the basic spelling and grammar (which you can get by reading a lot; a copy of Elements of Style is a good thing to have too, though it's not absolutely necessary) is that it can broaden the mind. Of course, anything can broaden the mind, if it wants to be broadened, and I tend to think most writers naturally tend to wonder about things and gather information as a matter of course. I think for a writer life is a lot more valuable than education. (Of course, saying that I admit I'm green with envy that you get to study in such a cool program. I would have loved to do something like that; I still would.)

As for non-traditional sources...really the best recommendation I have there is the Absolute Write Water Cooler, an enormous online writing forum. There's a lot of published members; there's tons of information; there's forums for research and's an amazing place and definitely one worth spending time in. That is of course aside from reading everything you can get your hands on and writing as much as possible. Oh, and I also recommend working a shit job, one where you deal with the public, at least once, even if it's only for a month or so. You learn the most interesting things about human nature that way.

The popularity of the UF genre is often attributed to such television shows as Buffy and X-Files, shows with strong heroines. Do you think popular culture has paved the way for female characters to be equally bad-ass as the guys? Or do you think pop culture is a reflection of strong women becoming more visible within or more acceptable to our culture? Or...

Oh, gosh. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? I think it's a combination of the two, really, but also that it's neither. Certainly as strong women become more acceptable and visible, reader demand for those types of characters grows, which means more are published which feeds the demand further. But there's so many other factors in it as well. I think part of it is the simple wish fulfillment that always comes with reading a good book; we want to be these characters and do the things they do. I think there's a lack of truly strong role models in the world today which also means people are desperate for them, no matter where they're found. I think part of it is the pendulum swinging away from genres like chick-lit, which--and I mean no disrespect at all, because I genuinely enjoy chick-lit--isn't noted for having very tough, strong female leads. I think the great thing about uf is the problems, although often complicated, are direct; life or death. Whereas in real life it seems everything gets more complex by the minute and we face tons of problems we can't solve or even do much about, and it's tiring and we want to spend time in a world where evil can be vanquished, where there's hope.

Basically, I think we're all just looking for heroes, and the sex isn't as important except in that women--some women anyway--enjoy reading books with female leads, which means female heroes.

Coffee or tea? Cookies or biscuits?

Coffee, when I have to choose. I don't normally drink much of either. I don't like hot drinks (I also don't generally like cold food. I'm very boring that way.) I like caramel frappucinos, the ones with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Luckily the only decent Starbuck's in my area is over an hour away, as those things are loaded with calories. And cookies, I guess, although I'm not usually much for sweets. I don't snack a lot these days anyway; aside from being on a diet I just don't really like most of the snack food here.

Thanks so much, Stacia, for giving us a peek inside your world. I think it's fascinating to see the personality behind the books.

Look for Personal Demons from Juno Books, still on shelves. It's a fun read, full of hot demons, not-so-hot demons, Cockney demons, a cantankerous witch, a psychic tabloid journalist, skeezy guys, attack zombies, and some more demons. Demon Inside will be released in January 2009, and Stacia has plans for two more in the series.


Donnell said...

Fascinating interview, KL and Stacia! Your new project sounds fascinating. Congratulations on writing what you love and finding success!

KL Grady said...

Thanks, Donnell! I've read the book Stacia recommended - Mark Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned - and it was HILARIOUS. I laughed my considerable rear down eight sizes (alas, when I finished the book, the arse grew back).

I'm soooo going to interview him. He just doesn't know it yet. ;)

devonellington said...

Excellent interview -- great questions, fascinating answers. I'm so glad I stopped by!

Mark said...

Now I do.

And can't wait.

Marni said...

What a fun interview! Inventive and engaging. My only wish while reading it was that I had a flavored coffee to mark the occasion. I enjoyed it so much, I with my mighty, award-laden hand do gift thee with a 2008 Brillante Weblog award. Congrats!

Read all about the hefty honor I have bestowed upon you here:

Looking forward to your interview with Mark :::nom nom::: Henry!