I don’t remember exactly where I first met Kate McIntyre, whether it was in our publisher’s Facebook group or through Twitter, but I do remember being impressed with her and the synopsis for THE DEATHSNIFFER’S ASSISTANT from day one.
It’s an imaginative fantasy set in Edwardian England with a frighteningly unnerving murder mystery at its ooey gooey center. There are also flourishes of magic. And did I mention the flying carriages? Oh, my. There’s so much to love about this novel!
Many of you know that I go to the gym to read. Sure, my legs are churning away on the elliptical, but it’s really my mind that’s getting the workout as I devour wonderful works of fiction. Well, I was heading to the gym A LOT when I was reading Kate’s book because I Just HAD to know what happened next. I give this highly addictive read five out of five wrens. (Want to buy it? Get it here on Amazon!)
I’m delighted to be hosting Kate on my blog today because reading her responses to my questions is like slipping into the back of a writers’ master class. I learned so much from interviewing her, and I’m really excited to share the conversation with you. She talks about exploring grief in her novel, world building, and character development. I know you’ll enjoy hearing from this writer whom I so admire. (Incidentally, Kate interviewed me on her blog, and asked some questions about INCONCEIVABLE! that I haven’t previously discussed on any other blog. So, check it out here!)
Tegan: Describe the process of creating your own version of Edwardian England. How did it all come together?
Kate: I started building my world with exactly two things in mind. I wanted it to be full of magic and wonder and everything to constantly be oozing enchantment. I also wanted it to be humdrum and workaday, with the characters living in the midst of all this fantastic city not really seeing it as they hurried off to work.
That idea, the fantastic melding with the mundane, is the backbone of my work. I think it’s relevant to us, because there’s so much wonder and excitement in our world but how often do we notice it? It’s too familiar to get worked up about and we’re too busy to really care.
In my desire to capture that feeling, I knew that the world had to be a lot more modern than a lot of fantasy, so I aimed for the feel of the period between 1903 and 1922. I didn’t actually know much at first so I did a lot of research to get a sense of the aesthetic and the feel of the era. The Edwardian period was when the modern really began melding with the historic, and it isn’t uncommon to see a fine lady in full skirts walking a few steps from a dirty factory girl in trousers in photographs taken at the time.
Of course, my book isn’t set in Edwardian England, but in Darrington City, Tarland. So it wasn’t as simple as just carrying things over. I loved the fictional nation of Toulene in Inconceivable! and really enjoyed how it was such a neat melding of its bordering nations. It really felt like something that you’d built from the ground up, and that’s how it was for Darrington, too. I had to think about what technology Tarlish folks had available thanks to their magic. At the same time, I thought about where they wouldn’t have innovated. So there are no cars yet, but there are flashbulb cameras! A fully operational telephone-like network, but no steam engines. Some readers don’t even notice things like that, but it all helps make the world feel real!
Tegan: I loved the interactions between Olivia Faraday (the deathsniffer) and her assistant, Chris Buckley. They each have their own quirks and hang-ups. How did you go about developing these characters and where did you look for inspiration?
Kate: Olivia was the first character I came up with. Immediately after deciding I wanted to write a fantasy murder mystery, I had my detective: a pint-sized hellion with no concern for anything but the chase, as elegant and brilliant as she was mocking and heartless. Chris grew into the spaces around Olivia. Despite being the narrator of the book, he’s the one who was built to compliment her. I made him mannered to match her crudeness, empathetic for her insensitivity, and kind for her cruelty. He also ended up as kind of a cringing, snobby dope to contrast Olivia’s fearlessly unapologetic intelligence.
It’s always been a priority for me to write characters human first and likeable second. And humans are a mostly flawed bunch. Even my favourite humans have things about them I can’t stand! So I really wanted readers to see Olivia and Chris as real people. That’s why they can sometimes be small-minded, petty, or obtuse. It’s also why they bicker constantly.
But I know your secret, everybody! Most everyone secretly loves to watch frustrating people bickering. Why else would reality tv have gotten so huge? So I let myself have a lot of fun with the way the two of them go back and forth. Sometimes he’s in the right and sometimes she is. Their relationship can be deep and insightful one moment and then the next they’re picking at each other over incredibly dumb stuff. Olivia and Chris’s relationship is at the core of the whole series of books. It’s my favourite element to write, and it always makes me happy when someone enjoys it!
Tegan: Chris Buckley lost both of his parents in an accident, and understandably, it was life altering for him and his sister. You do an incredible job of using that event as a filter that colors Chris’ thoughts, actions, and reactions. Have you had any personal experiences that informed this aspect of the story? And I’m asking because I think it’s handled in a very authentic way.
Kate: My parents are still alive and well, but I’ve definitely experienced loss. Sometimes in minor ways, and sometimes in major ones. And I’ve absolutely used that loss to construct the heart of Chris’s character, which is the abscess loss leaves behind if not properly grieved.
The loss I drew on the most was losing my grandfather when I was barely eleven. He lived just one street away from me growing up, and I spent at least half my time with him. Like Chris, I was too young to know the right way to grieve, and like Chris, it just seemed easier to wrap it up and put it away. Anyone who’s lost someone precious to them knows how grief feels – like something is being ripped out of your chest and leaving a sucking hole behind. It’s the worst feeling in the whole world. And it’s a lot easier to shove it as hard as you can and tell yourself that you’re better and move on. You can go years without feeling a thing where that infected wound is, until something brushes against it and destroys you for days.
Grief is a major theme of The Faraday Files. It’s something that’s rarely written about in genre fiction because it’s the worst thing ever, and genre fiction is supposed to be for escapism. But just like Hatty and John’s struggles with infertility in Inconceivable! stands in defiance of traditional HEA romance tropes, I wanted to write something with more pathos than your average genre novel. So many fantasy protagonists are orphans, but how many really get down and unpack that? Chris isn’t looking for justice for his parents and he isn’t trying to do honour to their memory. He just misses them. Every day. Constantly.
Chris is a lot younger than I am, so he’s still struggling where I learned how to grieve right. I’ve slowly cleansed and bandaged the wound the loss of my grandfather left. Chris isn’t where I’m at yet, but I want to help him get there.
Tegan: Tell us about the sequel to The Deathsniffer’s Assistant and when we might be able to get our hands on it.
Kate: The sequel is called The Timeseer’s Gambit! It’s hopefully going to be out at the same time the first was in mid-July, and we’re hoping to keep an annual schedule for the four book series! Hopefully I can keep up the pace writing.
Where The Deathsniffer’s Assistant takes place in spring, the second book is set in the summertime. I had a tough time writing it because Darrington is in the middle of a crazy heat wave during the book and I wrote most of it this past winter, when the snow here in Atlantic Canada was so high we had to dig out way out of our houses. Every time I sat down to write and saw Chris or Olivia complaining about the heat, I wanted to let them have it. You guys are lucky! I have a blanket over my legs at friggin Starbucks, here!
Olivia has been assigned her first true serial killer. She’s excited and Chris is appalled, but it’s been three months since they started working together and they’ve established a rapport. Chris has grown some spine and Olivia has softened her razor sharp tongue thanks to being around each other so much. Their back and forth is as bicker-heavy as ever, but they tease each other more now and are starting to really care about one another.
In book two readers are going to learn a lot about categorization, the method by which Tarlish citizens unlock their magic gifts. They’ll also find out how Chris supposedly knows the mysterious timeseer, William Cartwright.
As one last tease, things are heating up a bit. Chris has two potential love interests and things take a definite turn away from just-friends with both of them. Of course, Chris is still awkward, easily flustered, and kind of a dope, so nothing goes especially well!
Tegan: Now that your novel has been published and has been in readers’ hands for a few months, what have you learned and how have those lessons changed the way you write now?
Kate: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not just some upstart pounding at a keyboard. I’m a writer! People have paid cash money for my book and effused over how much they liked it! I’ve signed books for grinning fans in other countries! I have tons of five star reviews and people making grabby hands for the next book!
And that all feels great. I’ve always believed that the most important parts of writing are confidence and momentum. I’m using my newfound confidence in my ability as a writer to build momentum. It only took five months to finish The Timeseer’s Gambit, almost unbelievable after the three years I spent on The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. The third book, The Heartreader’s Secret, will hopefully glide right onto the page, too! And after that… who knows. I’m only in my early thirties and have tons of books left in me. I want to keep sharing my stories with the world.