• Fiona McIntosh: Voyager Author of the Month

    Fiona McIntosh was born and raised in Sussex in the UK, but also spent early childhood years in West Africa. She left a PR career in London to travel and settled in Australia in 1980. She has since roamed the world working for her own travel publishing company, which she runs with her husband. She lives in Adelaide with her husband and twin sons. Her website is at www.fionamcintosh.com.

    Her latest book, The Scrivener's Tale, is a stand-alone and takes us back to the world of Morgravia from her very first series, The Quickening:

    About The Scrivener's Tale:

    In the bookshops and cafes of present-day Paris, ex-psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. When another doctor, Reynard, asks him to help with a delusional female patient, Gabe is reluctant... until he meets her. At first Gabe thinks the woman, Angelina, is merely terrified of Reynard, but he quickly discovers she is not quite what she seems.

    As his relationship with Angelina deepens, Gabe's life in Paris becomes increasingly unstable. He senses a presence watching and following every move he makes, and yet he finds Angelina increasingly irresistible.

    When Angelina tells Gabe he must kill her and flee to a place she calls Morgravia, he is horrified. But then Angelina shows him that the cathedral he has dreamt about since childhood is real and exists in Morgravia.

    A special 10th Anniversary edition of her first fantasy book, Myrren's Gift, will be released in December!



I Like Them Vulnerable – Stacia Kane on Chess Putnam

So my heroine, Chess Putnam, is a drug addict. And I know that may be difficult for some people. I know there are people who have moral objections to it, or who find it distasteful, or triggering, or whatever. And that’s fine.

I realize I probably won’t change your mind and I’m not trying to, but I did want to talk about it and how it came about.

One of the things I researched before I started writing the book was functional addicts, and the idea of functional addiction. I’d wanted to write about a drug addict heroine for a while, simply because of the vulnerabilities it created and the limitations it caused.

To be perfectly honest, flaws and vulnerabilities are what attract me to a character, that make me identify with a character and want to write him or her. I can’t understand characters who are happy and cheerful, who don’t ever feel angry or confused, who don’t feel weak and hurt sometimes. I really have no experience on which to base such a character, so how could I write one?

I think most people, when thinking of addiction and addicts, think of the stereotypical junkie: skin and bones, shivering and sick, begging for the next fix, covered in track marks. Or nodding out in a dirty semi-lit room, with food rotting on the floor and the stench of urine in the air. You think of someone whose entire life is given over to a drug, someone who is barely coherent, who is hardly capable of moving, much less thinking clearly.

But actually, a very large percentage of addicts—especially those like Chess, who are addicted to prescription drugs—are perfectly functional. They have steady jobs, they live productive lives. You could spend time with them, talk to them, and have absolutely no idea that you’ve just talked to an addict. They’ve found a way to balance their lives, as much as possible. In fact, there’s a theory supported by some very credible people that the real trouble with addiction is that the drugs are illegal–which makes getting them take a lot of time and trouble (not to mention dangerous, both buying and the adulteration of the drugs themselves), to the exclusion of normal activities—and that if they were legal, and easily obtained, most addicts would lead essentially normal lives.

That’s not to say that because drugs are easily obtainable for Chess her addiction doesn’t cause problems. Of course it does. The entire plot of UNHOLY GHOSTS springs from the fact that she’s in debt to her dealer and has no money with which to pay him. Then there’s the fact that she has to hide it from people at her work. Or that she occasionally takes a little too much and does things she regrets later. Or that occasionally she doesn’t take enough and gets sick. Or the way she has to regiment her life (and she has a touch of OCD and germophobia as well) to make sure she doesn’t forget things or lose them.

But above all of that, her addiction weakens her and makes her someone vulnerable to control. It puts a serious limitation on her, which is frankly one of the most appealing things to me about her as a character.

See, a long time ago a friend and I were discussing supernatural comics, and why there weren’t many of them. My friend explained to me that the lack is really for the same reason that Batman is so much more interesting and exciting than Superman: nobody likes a character for whom everything comes easily, who can just wave their hand and solve all the problems, rescue everyone in danger, and make everything better. Magic is only good in comics if it has limitations, he said, and I believe the same holds true for books.

Chess is an employee of the government, and a fairly high-ranking one. She’s a pretty talented, pretty powerful witch (although not omnipotent, by any stretch). If she wasn’t an addict she’d be pretty wealthy, too. If she wasn’t an addict she wouldn’t live in Downside to be closer to her dealer, so the whole world of the books would be very different.

Of course, her addiction isn’t all that limits her; it’s not like she and her life would be perfect without it. Her magic really doesn’t work as well on the living, although there certainly are things she can do to them. Her upbringing—raised in a series of foster homes, most of which were abusive—has given her some real issues: self-hatred and self-destructiveness (her addiction is an outward manifestation of that, though her childhood is only mentioned in passing a few times in the book; just enough so readers will understand why she does what she does), lack of trust in other people, discomfort when around other people, the intense desire for privacy, guardedness, things like that.

But to me it’s her addiction that ultimately provides so much impetus for stories, and adds so many complications. It gives the story an added dimension, for me; a way to mark time, something that keeps Chess chained to her job and her routine and her world, and a driving sense of purpose every minute of every day. It’s both a limitation and an expansion, and that’s incredibly exciting to write.

But it’s also challenging in another way. Whatever my personal beliefs are about drugs and the legalization or use of them are, I don’t want to seem as though I’m glamorizing drug use, or making it look appealing and fun. And I like to think I don’t, although since the book is written from Chess’s viewpoint, and since she personally doesn’t see her addiction as a problem and enjoys her use, it’s something I had to be rather subtle and careful in conveying. But I do think it’s clear how, as I said above, her addiction limits and controls her, and how it makes her push people away, and how it contributes to some of the poor decisions she makes. I do think it’s something readers—you clever people, you—will pick up on, and understand.

I strive to be truthful in my work, and to not be afraid of that truth or of exposing feelings or emotions which I believe all of us have—some of us more than others—though we all try to hide them. Part of that truth is that people don’t always see their own problems in the same light as others do, and self-destructive people, especially, will embrace that which destroys them. In UNHOLY GHOSTS I believe I exposed more of myself than I ever have (Chess isn’t me, but we do have similarities), and I sincerely hope readers will see themselves in Chess as well, and will enjoy reading the Downside books as much as I enjoy writing them.

Stacia Kane is the author of UNHOLY GHOSTS, UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS, the three books that make up the Downside trilogy. UNHOLY GHOSTS will be in bookshops throughout Australia and New Zealand from tomorrow. Fans of Charlaine Harris, prepare to have a new favourite author!

3 Responses

  1. Awesome post, Stacia. I’m really excited to read this series. I’ve written a couple heroines who have battled drug use and alcoholism for just the reasons you’ve mentioned. It’s all about exploring the truth, or our version of it, through our characters.

    I’m a total Stacia Kane fangirl and posts like this are exactly why. 🙂

  2. Excellent post, Stace. I love your Megan Chase series and it feels as if I’ve been waiting for Downside forever.

    You’re brilliant. As far as I’m concerned, you’re up there with Stephen King, and I believe people will soon be talking about your work in the same way they talk about his.

  3. I haven’t read any of Stacia’s novels yet, but will definitely give it a go. Based on this post, it sounds like I’m going to love the series – can’t wait. Flawed characters are much more interesting to read about, as I’m sure they are to write. Thanks for the post!

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