Under the Covers: Inquisition
Welcome to the chapter by chapter commentary where I share some of my inspirations, ideas and background information. I’ll point out any Easter eggs and references to other books and characters. This does contain spoilers for Inquisition, so be forewarned…
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Chapter Twenty-Nine Chapter Thirty Chapter Thirty-One Chapter Thirty-Two Chapter Thirty-Three Chapter Thirty-four Chapter Thirty-Five Chapter Thirty-Six Chapter Thirty-Seven Chapter Thirty-Eight Chapter Thirty-Nine Chapter Forty Chapter Forty-One Chapter Forty-Two Chapter Forty-Three Chapter Forty-Four Chapter Forty-Five Epilogue
I wrote this chapter more than a year before Inquisition came out, while I was doing the final edits to Metamorphosis. I included it in the back of Metamorphosis, which meant I got locked into a few narrative choices. Originally, I’d planned to have Boomerang be a high-end pick pocket rather than a more general type of thief.
Detective Hampton was loosely inspired by a rather loudmouth credit-hog at one of my previous places of employment. I wanted a foil to Joe’s professionalism, while still showing the reality that doing the right thing isn’t always rewarded. When I spoke to a number of police detectives, they told me that the department can be worse than frat houses for throwing mistakes in people’s faces and that it’s usually one person who keeps the taunts alive.
I also wanted to show the strain of having to keep a big secret about the nature of the world. Joe spilling the beans and not being believed is the most realistic outcome. The willpower required to keep a secret like the lalassu would be ongoing, particularly since most of the people around Joe don’t know about it. It would only take one stress-induced slip.
Joe’s got a real dilemma between following the law and serving justice. Without an accurate understanding of what the lalassu can do, the law isn’t adequate to hold rogues like Dalhard. But acting without due process isn’t just either. There are reasons why there are so many checks and balances built into the system and for a cop like Joe, defying that would require a fundamental shift in who he is and what he believes in.
For Cali, I talked to some professional gymnasts and dancers (current and retired). A number of them talked about joint pain and arthritis from previous injuries and how it made even ordinary movements painful. Pushing one’s body constantly causes a lot of wear and tear and I thought it would be the same for my metamorph.
The observant will notice that although Cali has identified herself as the thief who broke into Lockbox (who was a brunette), her hair is described as blond here. This is the first deliberate hint at her ability to physically transform her appearance. I based her ability on octopuses, who can change the color and texture of their skin to camouflage themselves.
Cali’s closet sanctuary is based on similar descriptions I’ve heard from abuse victims. When even sleep isn’t safe for a child, then they feel the need to protect themselves. The closet is the easiest area for a child to reinforce.
Those who have read Revelations will remember Bernie and Martha as the young psychic girl and her mother. I wanted to show how easy it is to tweak the truth to get people upset and ready for action. By painting Martha as a bad mother, Dalhard convinced Cali that he was right to kidnap the child.
Finishing with Dalhard in prison was a guilty pleasure for me. I knew his character arc was going to be intense. This is the story where he steps from being a cerebral mastermind to a ruthless killer, which makes him more frightening but easier to stop. To me, a villain who is in control is always more dangerous, regardless of the excesses of the other kind.
The contraband cell phone and double mattress are the highest level of prison luxuries and show that Dalhard has reached top-dog status inside the prison. I spoke to prison guards and read Michael G. Santos’s books on his experience in prison.
I was excited to bring Michael and the other characters from Revelations back into the story and give an update on how everyone is doing. The deaths of various lalassu over the last few months are at the hands of what will become the Bureau of Special Investigations. They’ve been taking lalassu and testing them and their powers, often with fatal consequences.
Joe and Michael’s conversation gave me an opportunity to contrast their two families. Joe’s is loud, boisterous and overly involved, pulling people into their orbit, but Joe knows he can always count on them. Michael’s effectively abandoned him, giving Michael all the independence he could ask for but leaving him without anyone to rely on.
Joe’s protective streak is a big part of his character. He’s willing to stand between the world and danger, not because he’s looking for glory but because he sees it as his duty. To him, it’s a simple equation. If someone get hurt or killed and Joe could have prevented it, that’s a failure in his mind.
Mama was my favourite secondary character for this book. A fierce and fiery woman who is the bedrock and glue for her family. With my first draft, I was told that I’d made the family too remote (which surprised me since I thought I’d made them very involved). So I spent more time talking with Mexican families and they shared how parents and grandparents are integral parts of their daily lives, often living with their children and grandchildren. I still wanted Joe to have his own apartment, but decided that his family breaks in on a regular basis to deliver food and love.
I wanted to give Joe something that I don’t often see in romance heroes: the desire for a family. Usually the female character is the one with a biological clock ticking away, but I’ve known many men who wanted a family with the same fervor.
Vincent is still a reader favourite and for those who keep asking, he will get his own book one day but I chose to delay it because I wanted to show something that we don’t often see in romance novels: how the road to recover from trauma can be long and difficult, with many setbacks, no matter how determined a person is.
The confrontation between Vincent and Mishler was based on a story of a war veteran struggling with PTSD dealing with a bureaucratic bully at work. After seeing the horrors of actual combat, the veteran simply refused to react to the bully’s attempts to intimidate. I figured Vincent would be in a similar position after everything he’s been through.
“I-want-to-believers” is an X-files reference for people who insist on accepting flimsy or obviously faked evidence for paranormal events because they are so desperate to believe in it. It’s based on the poster in Mulder’s office with a UFO and “I want to believe” across the bottom.
Cali’s appearance as Colleen was inspired by some research on special effects makeup. If they want to make someone seem unthreatening and unnoticeable, bulking the cheeks and nose is a subtle but effective approach.
For her interaction with Dalhard, I did research on people who have visited loved ones in prison. Many of them describe a hardening of their friends or family as the person adapts to the realities of prison life. Reputation and connection are often the only shields against the predators within the prison system, and both often require a willingness to react quickly and violently.
For Joe and Cali’s first meeting, I wanted Joe to see the hints of Cali’s true personality through her disguise and see the beauty that no one else notices. When listening to my guy friends talk, they often will pick on small details as one of the things they noticed when falling in love. They mention falling in love with their wife’s freckles or the way she fidgeted. So with Joe, he notices the flecks of brown in Cali’s eyes and her grace as she types.
Cali’s first meeting with Joe is also her first inklings of disillusionment with Dalhard, the first time she can’t tell herself a sympathetic version of events. When people want to turn a blind eye, then they excuse actions, saying that they’ve been misinterpreted or taken out of context.
Her understanding of Joe actions is spot on. Despite all the shows which show detectives tricking or overwhelming suspects, most good policework is done by building up relationships and listening.
The conversation about Martha and Bernie explores one of my favourite themes: how the stories we tell dictate our reactions. Imagine a homeless man who shouts obscenities at passers-by. If we are told that he is a traumatized combat veteran or someone with an undiagnosed medical condition, then the audience is inclined to be sympathetic and open to offering help and treatment. If the story focuses on his victims, say a young mother who no longer feels comfortable bringing her children to the nearby park, then the audience will be more likely to be angry and focus on punitive approaches. But the thing is that both perspectives can be true and exist simultaneously. It’s only the story which changes.
I spent a lot of time figuring out how Cali’s street gang would operate. I tried different ideas and none of them quite seemed to work. I spoke with various groups who work with street kids and gangs, but none of the options fit. Then I found references to what amounted to a mutual assistance society among some of the street kids. They shared information and money, watching each other’s backs. I took that idea and expanded it into Hood and Cali’s operation.
Karan needed to step up as a character for Inquisition. He’d been a sidekick for the first two books, although there were hints he was the more dangerous of the two. Now he will be assuming his place as the main foe of our heroes and like any transition, it’s not easy. He’s used to operating from the shadows, dealing with criminals and wielding second-hand power. Now he’s dealing with boards of directors, politicians, local lobby groups and all sorts of other people who are used to harassing those in charge.
As a villain, I love how he casually references having tortured and killed a dozen employees to research how to break Dalhard’s psychic influence. It’s his casualness which makes him so chilling, but effective.
When Hampton bullies Joe in the data archives, it’s not just so Hampton can be mean. He needs to get Joe angry and out of the archives so that Hampton can delete the data from the Lockbox break-in. It’s subtle, but I hope readers will recognize what’s going on beneath the surface.
Cali’s decision to bring Joe into the search for Fuentes’s family is a calculated move on her part. If she had her way, she wouldn’t involve anyone outside of her immediate team. But time isn’t on her side any more, so she’s decided to trust Joe, at least a little, to get extra eyes searching for the wife and children.
She’s very disconcerted to discover that Joe is seeing through her frumpy disguise. Many children of abuse try to maintain as low a profile as possible. If no one notices you, then no one is likely to attack you.
Those who have read Revelations will remember that Vincent and Dani both saw their father gravely injured when they were children. They saw the Huntress (the divine connection between their mother and the Goddess), a terrifying insubstantial predator which seemed to feed on their parents. After this incident, their father was confined to a wheelchair and their mother went into a deep depression for many years. Vincent, Dani and Eric were effectively left on their own for most of their adolescence and young adulthood.
I was very tempted to work in one of my favourite lines from The Simpsons into the scene between Vincent and Dani, where Marge tells Homer they need to talk and he replies: But then I won’t be watching TV, you can see the bind I’m in. It always makes me laugh but in the greater interest of not being sued, I’ve only kept the spirit of the conversation rather than repeating it.
Vincent is tired of fighting to improve, something that many people who have been through severe injuries or trauma often experience during the course of their recovery. When every day is a fresh battle in a sequence which seems neverending, it’s too easy to lose the hope and will to fight.
The end of Vincent’s scene was inspired by the comic series Old Man Logan, a Wolverine comic. During a flashback, it is revealed that the X-men’s enemies used psychic powers to trick Wolverine into slaughtering his friends. It struck me that being unable to trust oneself, to know that one could be turned into a weapon against the people whom one loves most, it would be one of the most horrible feelings I could imagine.
Mama’s determination to see Joe wed and bred is part of how important the family is to them. For her, it’s not about the particulars of how it happens, but about putting down roots. Tying oneself to a partner, committing to children, the connections are what keeps the family centered. I based Mama’s reaction on Joe’s “coming out” on an actual situation which happened to a friend of mine. He was trying to explain to his father that he’d broken up with his long-term girlfriend (whom the family really liked) and the father assumed that it must be because his son was gay. The father was so busy trying to be supportive that he wouldn’t listen to what was actually being said.
I went back and forth about whether or not to include the coming out conversation. I was worried people might assume that I only saw coming out as a joke. I’m well aware that for many young men and women, telling their parents about their sexual orientation is a difficult and dangerous choice. But it shouldn’t be. So I wanted to provide a light-hearted example of acceptance instead, in the hopes that one day, it won’t be a remarkable scene at all.
Sticks and Doggy Dan are both inspired by actual homeless people. For Sticks, it was his determination to stand on his own that led him to refuse all help and support. He’d rather be on his own on the streets than indebted to anyone else. For Doggy Dan, he’s developmentally delayed, a child in the body of a grown man. He doesn’t understand why people are frightened of him or why he can’t just go up to people and their dogs. It’s a heart-breaking set of circumstances. Cali gave him the bus ticket to get him into a warmer climate, and hopefully, a friendlier and safer one.
There is a fine line which keeps the police from becoming nosy busybodies interfering in the lives of those around them, but it’s a frustrating line for them. I’ve heard many policemen and -women express frustration that they must wait until crimes have been committed and acknowledged before they can step in. This is probably why we have so many fictional vigilante crimefighters.
While Joe is still dedicated to being a policeman, he’s becoming much more comfortable with stepping outside the rules when the rules stand in the way of doing what’s right. But he’s also aware of how dangerous and seductive that path can be.
The relationship between Cali, Hood and Harley took several drafts to gel. Would Hood and Harley know about Cali’s metamorphic abilities? How would they act together? Would the relationship be strictly business or would there be a bond of friendship? But eventually I found the right balance. They’re not exactly friends, they’re closer than that. They’ve seen each other through hell and back and they know they can trust each other, no matter what happens.
Cali’s trick of remembering which face she’s supposed to be wearing comes from method actors. They will often use their costumes or a key phrase to get themselves into character. During his makeup, Peter Jurasik used to recite the phrase “Mr. Garibaldi” over and over to assume the role of Londo for Babylon 5.
Initially, I’d planned for the bad guys to be keeping Mrs. Fuentes in a coma in some secretive location. But as I did more research, I realized that the delicate balance between keeping someone unconscious while still keeping them alive requires constant monitoring and specialized medical training. It’s just not likely to happen outside of a hospital. But then I started to think about it some more. With the right cover story in place, a bad guy could get a proper hospital to do the dirty work for him or her.
I’ve been wanting to do a story where the hero falls in love with different aspects of the same heroine (but doesn’t realize they’re all the same woman) for a long time. As a kid, I was indignant while watching Jem and the Holograms as Jerrica/Jem’s boyfriend, Rio, seemed quite happy to two-time them both. I just couldn’t understand how she could see this as a sign that he recognized her true self despite the hologram, since she never bothered to tell him about her secret identity. So I made Joe react the way I think any decent guy should react. He is instinctively drawn to all of Cali’s personas but until he knows they’re actually the same person, he doesn’t act on his attraction. And he feels guilty about it.
I have always loved “what restraint” moments in books and films, where someone thinks the hero or heroine is safely restrained and it turns out they’ve picked the locks or undone the ropes, so I knew I wanted to have one of those moments for Boomerang.
Cali makes her first mistake with Joe in this chapter. She promises to meet him at the hospital but meets him as Boomerang instead of Colleen. Thus it doesn’t occur to her that Colleen effectively stood Joe up, prompting his curiosity.
Since I knew that Dalhard would be leaving the story as a villain, I knew I wanted to bring in a new one, someone who could work with Karan as a partner. I started setting up the new villain in Metamorphosis by explaining some of Karan’s past. His sister has been gone for a long time and she knows that Karan will be too suspicious to accept her right away. She needs to hook his attention and pique his curiosity so that he will come to her.
The phone call that Karan makes is to the agents at what will become the Bureau of Special Investigations. He is pushing them to go public (and his sister is supporting that decision from her position within Special Investigations) so they can openly begin using lalassu talents. They are planning to blackmail the President into supporting them.
Hampton’s phone call in the hospital is from Karan, telling him that Boomerang has involved the police in the Fuentes family’s kidnapping.
When I spoke to different police officers for research, one of the most common things I heard over and over was that policework is about building relationships: relationships with the community, with witnesses, with suspects, with local groups. A cop can’t function in a vacuum, he or she needs support from the larger community. So I included the scene of Joe charming the nurses to show how good policework is supposed to work.
I had some minor controversy among my beta readers about Joe telling the Fuentes children why they were kidnapped. In the end, I stuck with my own feelings on the matter. Kids deserve to be told the truth as much as possible (although edited for their level of understanding). People tend to forget that kids can tell when something is wrong and if the adults in their lives pretend otherwise, it’s very confusing and frightening.
I love the idea of a secret network of underground facilities available only to a small group of knowledgeable insiders. I was fascinated when I discovered that many of Disneyworld’s “display” storefronts hold secret entrances and services for the staff. I’ve shared Mishler’s secret hospital here but there are dozens of hidden safehouses, hospitals and refuges in any city with a lalassu presence.
The lalassu community is being divided. Their organization is falling apart as families and individuals realize they are at risk of being exposed. Each of them is taking their own path rather than the group reacting as a whole. Some are being bribed, some are going into hiding, and some are jumping into the public eye.
Clothing as costume is one of the areas where I have no expertise but I find it interesting. People who are able to coordinate reasonable outfits to fit their personality and the impression they want to make impress the heck out me. Cali would need different costumes for each of her personas: plain and frumpy for meek Colleen, designer chic for the brash Boomerang, and casual for Cali herself. Choosing to wear the flattering blue dress instead of one of Colleen’s is another sign that her compartmentalization is breaking down.
The dead flesh on Cali’s back is scar tissue. I’ve made an extrapolation. Since regular scar tissue can’t tan, I’ve made it so that Cali’s scars can’t shift. For a metamorph, such scars would feel alien and entrapping.
This was the first time I’ve had characters actually go out on a date rather than being thrown together by circumstance. It was a lot of fun to explore this scene. It was also fun having Joe declare his intentions to pursue a relationship with Colleen rather than building up a relationship almost without my hero and heroine’s knowledge.
Consent is an issue near and dear to my heart and thus my heroes will always seek consent from my heroines and will stop if they show discomfort. So Joe pulls back his hand as soon as Cali tenses and promises not to pressure her. It’s a fine line between continuing to pursue someone while still respecting their boundaries but I hope that I’ve shown that it can still be sexy. It bothers me a great deal when a hero violates a heroine’s boundaries. One of the best examples of how pernicious that violation can be is in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo overwhelms Leia’s objections and kisses her. As much as I love Han, that was not an okay move and I consider it part of my responsibility as a romance writer not to reinforce such stereotypes.
Over the last several years, I’ve been doing research on facial expressions and one of the interesting things I learned is that there are two groups of people who are particularly good at reading minute cues in expression and posture: those who have undergone special training and people who were severely abused as children. When a person’s physical safety depends on accurately predicting another person’s mood, they become very adept at seeing small signals. That’s why Cali is able to pick up so many small cues with both Joe and Dalhard.
One of the issues I wanted to explore in this book was the “fake it until you make it” phenomenon. The idea that it’s possible to pretend hard enough to make your pretense into a reality. But there’s a flip side to that: negative changes can also become reality. If a person is pretending to be a criminal (e.g,, for an undercover operation), then is there a point where the pretense ceases and becomes a reality? Or is the real person somehow untouched by their actions?
I knew I needed to have Vapor out of the way for Inquisition and initially, I’d thought of having him pursuing his own investigation but that seemed too convenient. I was also trying to find a reason for Karan to trust the mysterious hacker and after the first few run throughs, I realized I could solve both of these problems with the same solution: have Priya hold Vapor hostage.
Just to recuse myself, I don’t personally think the government is capable of the kind of conspiracy theories floating around the Internet. Too many people would have to keep too many secrets and avoid too many common mistakes. But I do believe that black ops groups exist within the current infrastructure and because of the lack of bureaucracy, they can move very quickly. So I’m with Joe, if the lalassu existed, there would be a portion of the government focused on keeping an eye on them and understanding what they can do.
Dealing with abuse victims is tricky and not nearly as black and white as most people assume. There is an instinct to sweep in and “save” them but that’s not always the best solution. They’ve been hurt and don’t know who to trust. Respecting their dignity is one of the first steps to helping them to rebuild their lives and that means letting them make decisions, even if those decisions feel wrong to us. Creating a safe space where they can learn that it’s okay to be honest about what happened takes a fair amount of time and can’t be done in a single session.
If I knew someone who was being abused, I wouldn’t recommend they follow Speranza’s path. The most dangerous time for an abuse victim is right after he or she tries to leave. That is the time when they need the most protection and the most support. While Speranza’s desire to stand on her own feet is laudable, it’s a risky one.
One of my beta readers pointed out that I didn’t mention Doggy Dan again and that while Joe assumed the thief had genuinely tried to help, I hadn’t confirmed that it was what Cali had actually done. So I included a brief reflection where she reminded herself to check up on Doggy Dan.
Hampton is especially dangerous to Hood, Cali and their loved ones because he doesn’t understand the rules of the criminal game. He thinks he can do anything because there are no rules but every subset of society has its own rules.
If Hampton had gone after Dani, she would have attacked him directly. Cali doesn’t have the strength for a frontal assault. Her weapon is her brain. Like a fox, she has preplanned escape options and succeeds by confusing and discouraging her attackers. I always like exploring different types of strength for my heroines. I spent far too much of my youth wishing I was something I wasn’t instead of celebrating and developing what I actually was. I hope that my stories can inspire other people avoid that mistake.
I also frankly think it is super-cool to have a secret escape route in one’s home and look forward to the day I can bring in a contractor to build mine.
It was surprisingly difficult to find a professional thief who wanted to talk to me about their techniques, so I ended up relying on street magicians who do pickpocketing and other sleight of hand tricks. One of the key pieces of advice they gave for performing is to not draw attention to the lift. They train to keep up their patter and interactions as they pluck objects from pockets, remove wristwatches and hats and scarves. It is amazing what they can get away with if they can keep up the distraction.
As I was writing this, I read a number of interesting articles about how proof of mind-control would completely change our society (mostly inspired by Kilgrave’s character on Jessica Jones). If it is possible to force someone to do something without any visible sign, making it appear to be their own idea, then how could anyone ever trust anyone else again? Personally, I’m not sure it’s as big a game-changer as people think. There have always been ways to coerce people (blackmail, hostages, threats, to name a few) and most of them are not readily apparent.
I’ve shown it in other books but, to me, what makes Karan truly terrifying is his coldness. Killing someone is just another option on the menu for him. He kills Hampton because he is no longer useful and gives it just as much consideration as the rest of us would in tossing out a broken plastic spoon. The only question is whether to stuff it in the garbage now or wait until closer to garbage day.
Ever since the movie, The Matrix, the debate on the nature of reality has been a popular one in my circles. By all logic, any external input through the senses is “real” no matter its source. But our minds weren’t meant to receive signals from anything other than physical reality. A friend pointed out that a movie is only still photos flashing quickly enough to produce the illusion of movement. The fact that we see movement doesn’t make the movement “real”. We’ve spent enough time talking about it that we’re starting to suspect that it’s the reason we aren’t invited to many parties outside of our immediate group.
The Presidential announcement is a major event in the lalassu universe, which is why it appears in two separate stories: Inquisition and Rose on the Grave. It’s a major turning point in the universe and effectively marks the end of the world in the first trilogy.
One of my regrets for Inquisition is that there wasn’t room to show Vincent as a reluctant hero, defending his brother. I’m hoping to include the segment in a flashback when I get to Vincent’s story. But for now, it slowed the pacing too much and so it had to go, no matter how much I loved it.
I can sympathize with Mishler and the lalassu who think like him. It doesn’t seem fair for those with the power of gods to have to hide. In fact, it’s not fair for any segment of society to have to hide something so integral to what they are. But as soon as any group goes from “I shouldn’t have to hide” to “we should be ruling”, that should be a red flag.
Taking Eric out of the hospital is one of the big character scenes for Joe. For the first time, he’s accepting that the justice system can’t deal with the lalassu. Rather than try to find a legal compromise, he’s turning a blind eye. But there’s a limit to how much he’s willing to overlook.
As I was researching Mexican culture, I was surprised to discover how similar aspects of it were to the Norse-based culture that I grew up with. Family, food, loyalty: those are the cornerstones that support both. We come together in celebration, worry and just because it’s Tuesday.
Many years ago, I took a seminar on dealing with grief and I’ve taken two things from it. One, we as a society are so uncomfortable with grief that we put more emphasis on teaching CPR (which a person may never need in their lifetime) than on teaching how to deal with someone we love who is in pain. And two, when someone has been struck a blow by life, they don’t need to be cheered up, or talked out of it. They need the solid support of someone who can accept that they are in pain and who is willing to be there until that’s no longer the case. So Mama holds Joe the way I hold my boys when they’re suffering. No talking, no pushing, just comfort.
I deliberately contrasted Joe, who is wrapped in the warm embrace of his family, and Cali, who is alone and hiding in her closet. She desperately needs the family that Joe brings but can’t have it until she is willing to trust others.
Everyone has a different level of sleep paralysis. If you have a low level of sleep paralysis (meaning that you can move while you sleep), then it’s possible to get trapped in waking dreams. People can actually see their dreams coming to life in front of open eyes because their bodies are awake while their brains are still asleep. I based Cali’s nightmare on the experiences of people who have had waking night terrors. It’s like dealing with a combination of a nightmare and a flashback and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
After Dalhard calls, Cali has her big character-building decision. She can’t keep supporting both sides and must choose who is on the right side: Joe or Dalhard. It will rip her apart, which is why she tries to hold herself together.
Joe complaining about becoming the office expert is vicariously based on my own experience. Even a slight bit of interest or exposure can end up making one into the office expert on a particular topic. It can be a decidedly surreal experience.
I’ve always wanted to incorporate my own Men In Black equivalent into the lalassu universe and now, finally, I have. Naming my new Bureau of Special Investigations was a lot of fun. At first I wanted to call it the Special Investigations Unit, but I discovered that is a common term for Internal Affairs units, so I sat down with my name-brainstorming groups and came up with BSI.
It often surprises me how quickly people can come up with insults and fear when faced with a new and potentially unknown group. If the aliens landed, I would guarantee that someone would be Tweeting insults within 5 minutes (or whatever weird social media options is available at that time). As I write this, we’re between the 2016 presidential election and the inauguration and I’ve heard far too many people calling for concentration camps for Muslims from far too many official levels. When I first wrote this chapter, I wondered if a fresh look at how quickly prejudice builds would still be necessary. I was saddened to discover that the series may end up being more relevant than I’d hoped.
I often use songs to inspire scenes in my writing and Cali deciding to walk away from Joe was inspired by Celine Dion’s I Love You, Goodbye. To me, that is the most selfless thing that a person can do for someone they love: realize they aren’t what the other person needs and make the choice to walk away. Of course, because I write romances, there’s always a way to actually make it work. In my mind, this is where Cali “earns” her relationship with Joe, because she’s willing to put his welfare and feelings above her own.
There’s some irony to how much I like the song, given that it annoys the heck out of me when a superhero makes the “It’s too dangerous to love me” speech and walks away from a boyfriend or girlfriend. I guess the difference is that Cali is upfront about why she’s walking away, she’s not trying to be a jerk to Joe so he’ll feel good about the breakup.
“He wanted to lash out at someone so they could feel the same pain that ripped his own soul apart, but he held himself back.” This is my version of “misery loves company.” Or as we say in our household: Misery doesn’t love company, it insists on it.
One of my beta readers expressed skepticism that the President of the United States would be susceptible to blackmail. I pointed out how many people still believe that Barrack Obama wasn’t born in the States. Once something is out there, no matter how ridiculous, there will be people who believe it.
Having walked away to protect Joe, Cali cements her new choices by making the decision to separate entirely from Dalhard and his company. I deliberately had her walk away from Joe first because I didn’t want any implication that she was walking away from Dalhard because of her relationship with him. She is making the decision because it is the right one, not because of a man.
I included the scene where Dalhard escapes because I wanted to make it clear that Cali has a distorted perception of him. It’s not that he’s changed from someone who was ruthless but had a soft heart underneath. He was always a manipulative sociopath.
Dani’s plan for stopping Dalhard is a typical superhero plan: head out and stop them, with a significant chance of punching. I wanted that type of plan to fail here. Because it is always possible for bad guys to bring greater violence than the heroes are willing to use. In this case, a more sophisticated plan is needed, which is something that Cali can bring.
Ended the chapter with Ursinus ex machina. Now I can cross that off my bucket list.
Nothing says bleak despair to me like sitting in a dark apartment eating cheap microwaved food. It took me several rewrites to feel I was accurately representing depression. Vincent wants to do the right thing, but the inertia of withdrawal is crushing him. He’s afraid of failure, of hurting himself and others, so he does nothing, even though it eats at him.
Fictional doctors always have a great way of expressing themselves, from McCoy to House. Andrew gets to join their company with my favourite line: “If I hear one word about how you can’t help, I will put you through the wall and then use your corpse for spare parts.”
Whenever I start to research something unusual, such as how to set a broken bone at home, I always wonder if I’m going to end up explaining why to a court somewhere. I will say this though, it does lead to some interesting Facebook sidebars. Thus far, my favourite combination was extreme cleaning services, lawyers and funeral homes.
It’s a tricky thing to show affection between two sociopaths, but I hope that some of Priya/Naya’s affection for her brother, Karan, comes through in their conversations. She’s looking out for his interests, sharing information and reminds him not to worry. It’s a very intellectual type of caring, but that fits the characters.
Road trips are great opportunities for creating or breaking a friendship. If the relationship can stand over eight hours trapped in a small space together, then it’s got a chance to go the distance. I highly recommend taking a road trip with any potential romantic relationship before doing the final commitment. My husband and I did a nine hour trip for a weekend vacation in our first year of dating.
Vincent gets to be the voice of depressing reason for Joe’s relationship, planting the seeds of doubt. Usually the relationship in a romance novel starts in doubt and builds to trust. In this case, Joe wanted a relationship and plunged in a little too quickly. He needs a reality check that he really doesn’t know that much about Colleen and what he does know isn’t promising. Having faith in your boyfriend or girlfriend is a good thing, but it’s important to keep your eyes open, especially in the beginning.
I’d shared Dani’s memories of her and Vincent’s childhood in Revelations but I wanted to share Vincent’s perspective as well. And it gave Joe an opportunity to share his past. I based Joe’s history on a real officer’s whom I met. He had a family member killed in front of him when he was a child but there wasn’t sufficient evidence to arrest the killer, even though all of them knew who it was. He was very candid about how difficult it was to face that every day.
When I began researching this book, I looked at a number of prison escapes and I was surprised to discover that mass escapes simply haven’t happened in the last 150 years. Two or three prisoners might be able to get out and some of their methods have been quite interesting. I think my favourite was the cartel member who arranged for a helicopter to land in the prison yard. However, Dalhard was not a typical escapee, so I went ahead with a mass break-out.
As a parent, it amuses me when non-parents assume that my job is easy. So I’ll admit to having a little schadenfreude in writing the scene with Cali trying to manage Carlotta and Zara’s demand for cookies.
One of the earliest writing exercises I did was to write an emotional scene for a character and then write a secondary scene where that character discusses the scene with a secondary character. We wrote the main emotional scene and then we had to do three or four secondary scenes, one where the secondary character agrees, one where they challenge the main character and then we had to come up with one or two different reactions. I still find the combination of emotional-reaction scenes work well and I’ll usually rough out a few different versions of the reaction one to make sure I don’t get stuck in a rut.
Speranza and Cali’s conversation about walking away from abusive relationships is based on conversations I had with people who have been abuse victims and who managed to walk away. One of the most valuable pieces of information I learned was a shift in perspective. It’s hard to reconcile feelings of both love and fear, so people tend to focus on one or the other, but abuse victims really feel both and need to have both acknowledged. I believe that if more teens knew that it was possible to feel both, they might be less susceptible to abuse.
Those who have read Whispers in the Dark or Rose on the Grave will recognize their heroine, Jessica. Rose on the Grave takes place at the same time as Inquisition and there is overlap between the two stories. The third Jessica and Greg short story will take place immediately after this chapter. Look for it in the fall of 2017. (Or you can sign up for my newsletter and I’ll let you know once it’s available.)
Bernie is taking messages from various ghosts to pass on. I’m looking forward to exploring her experiences in book four. She’s been an interesting character, based on a number of special needs children. They’re an interesting mix of their chronological ages and their mental ages (which are usually lower than their chronological ones). As they get older, it makes for a very unique set of personalities.
One of the interesting things which came up during research was that having the right diagnosis makes all the difference in the world. If a child is diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but is actually autistic, the parents can become quickly overwhelmed. Once they know what the right diagnosis is, then things can fall into place. So for Martha to understand that Bernie is psychic instead of schizophrenic has made a big difference.
Vincent is an invaluable character for providing a dark view of reality. I think it’s important to acknowledge how difficult reality can be, otherwise it’s too easy to become burned-out and depressed. But at the same time, I don’t think we can live without hope. Vincent’s view is not one I’d want to live in. There was a quote I read once about soldiers who go into war-torn areas for peacekeeping duties. The interviewer asked if they ever got frustrated and wanted to give up. And the soldier said something to the effect that civilization was only a thin skim of oil floating on an ocean of chaos but that it was his obligation to fight regardless. Because otherwise he was giving up on the world and he refused to do that.
Cali is going through her superhero/relationship moment where she realizes that she can’t walk away because she’s already emotionally involved. And she can better protect Joe if she’s involved in his life. She knows he may not be able to forgive her and the price may be their relationship, but she’s still willing to do what’s right.
Those who have insidious voices in their heads know how pernicious they can be. It’s like someone whispering your worse fears and interpretations constantly. Self-help books will tell you to listen your instincts and inner voice but if you have one of those types of voices, then ignoring it is your best bet.
Cali’s confrontation with Rodolpho is another example of how she uses guile and trickery to escape situations rather than direct assault. She knows Rodolpho is likely drunk and not thinking clearly, so she uses his fears against him.
I added Karan’s scene rather late in the writing process in response to a beta reader who wanted to know more about what his plans were. I’ve been secretive about his plans, but it needs to be set up for the next trilogy.
I have seen too many cheap bachelor pads in my lifetime. Fellows, a quick hint for you, ladies are attracted to grown-ups. We all know the challenges of setting up a household on a budget but a little coordination can go a long way.
I love the fact that Cali is so happy to see Joe alive and unhurt that she doesn’t initially notice that he’s freaking out with a drawn gun. Or that she now has a lot of explaining to do about why she broke into his apartment.
Red eyes refers to Dani’s eye change. Her eyes used to glow red when she allowed the Huntress to take over.
I’ve had many people ask me what the difference is between a metamorph and a shapeshifter. A metamorph is able to look like different people. A shapeshifter changes between a specific person and a specific animal.
I also feel it’s more powerful that Cali shares her good memories of Dalhard after she’s given up any hope of his rehabilitation rather than as a way to defend him. By sharing them with Joe, it’s a way to begin letting Dalhard go from her life.
The story that Salazar tells about his uncle pretending to have magical abilities is based on my own uncle, who used to tell us that he could read our minds. When I was five, I believed it. The trick of putting dry ice into a half-empty bottle will work to make a water bottle explode. Please don’t try it at home and then blame me if it goes horribly wrong.
How would you share that you had superpowers with someone? That question sparked many discussions while I was writing this. From my informal poll, about half of people would explain first but would be prepared to demonstrate that their abilities were real. About a third would simply demonstrate and then explain after. And the rest would keep the secret.
The Popsicle Wars have happened many times in my home. Purple is the favourite and we always run out of it first. At the end of the summer, I usually empty out dozens of uneaten white freezies (the least favourite flavour in our house). So I can sympathize with both little Carlotta and with Cali’s desire to give the girl something of what she wants.
Time distortion during a fight is an interesting phenomenon. Speaking with martial arts experts, soldiers and police officers, all shared how their perceptions changed during life and death situations. They become aware of all kinds of details, while others fade away. They can process immense amounts of information from the colour of someone’s eyes to tiny scars on their fingers, etc. But they won’t be able to hear the alarms blaring until the crisis is over. If it’s relevant to the crisis, everything is heightened.
It was a tough decision on whether or not to have Cali kill Rodolpho. Despite her background and her cunning, she is not a killer. But when it comes to a choice between Joe’s life and Rodolpho’s, she acts before she can think.
Tasers overload muscles with electricity, preventing the natural signals from the brain from reaching them. The muscles contract and loosen in rapid, painful pulses. Thus it made sense to me that a Taser would cause Cali to inadvertently shift.
I based Salazar’s reaction to discovering Cali’s gift on accounts of non-Nazi soldiers who found Jews during the lead up to World War II. They may or may not have been aware of the true nature of the concentration camps, but they knew that all Jews were supposed to be identified and marked. It was a matter of doing one’s duty and people didn’t tend to think past that point. But many expressed guilt later, realizing that their choice that day ended up costing another person their life.
I’m a big believer in law and order and I support due process, the police and all that other stuff. But there are times where following the law and enacting justice are not the same thing. Any system is going to have flaws. Either it’s too simple to allow for different circumstances or it’s so complex as to be unwieldly and arbitrary. Add in people, and there will always be problems. But while the law is a flawed system, it is still better than the alternatives. The law must be continually refined and examined for its flaws, becoming a living document and process.
The problem with ruling by fear is that people get habituated to it. So the ruler either has to resort to increasingly draconian and dramatic methods to get the same level of fear, or resign himself or herself to being overthrown by the same fear that initially put him or her in charge. Dalhard is learning that lesson. There are a number of modern politicians and pundits who could benefit from the same lesson. Ordinarily I would preface that with “as I write this” but sadly, there are always those who seek to use fear as a weapon to bring themselves power.
I had a real challenge when deciding how to describe the other prisoners that Dalhard brings out. On the one hand, I didn’t want to encourage harmful stereotypes about people of colour being dangerous and violent. (Those stereotypes are garbage and hurtful and prevent helpful changes from being enacted.) On the other hand, the prison population is disproportionately people of colour and to ignore that seemed disrespectful. I tried to compromise with minimal description focusing on individual characteristics rather than racial traits.
Balancing what Joe knows with what Cali knows and the reader knows was one of the hardest parts of writing the scene where Cali and Speranza go to Mama’s house for refuge. Joe doesn’t know that Cali is both Colleen and Boomerang. Cali is familiar with Joe and having trouble keeping her boundaries straight. The reader knows everything and will get bored with too much obfuscation. So I tried to keep the action flowing smoothly so we could get to the big reveal quickly.
Anytime that a character puts off telling another character something important, it comes back to bite them in the butt. In real life, it’s easier to choose the right moment to tell someone something (provided that one isn’t using the excuse of planning to tell as a way to avoid telling the truth indefinitely). But it’s always a major issue in fiction.
I wrote the big reveal that Cali is actually Boomerang and Colleen from both Joe’s and Cali’s perspective and it was a toss up to me for which one to use. In the end, I used a writer’s rule of thumb: always have your point of view character be the one with the most to lose. Cali has the most to lose here. She has sundered all of her ties, and now Joe sees her as a traitor. Joe is facing upset and heartbreak, but he is the one who holds the possibility of hope for a happy ending. If he can accept Cali, then they still have a chance.
Thanks again to Lesley and Rose for giving me some useful Mexican insults for Mama to use against Cali. It’s an oversight on the part of Google translate. I think it says a lot about Joe’s character that even though his heart has been ripped apart, his instinct is still to defend Cali against insults.
There is nothing sadder than two people who are hurting and refuse to reach out to each other. People talk about hate being the opposite of love, but to me, pride is the true opposite. Ego and pride keep one from reaching out and being vulnerable, which is necessary to love. For now, Joe and Cali are trapped in their pride.
Joe’s offer to ask Virginia to help with the break-in is exactly the sort of thing that Cali was talking about after Rodolpho’s attack. Plenty of people are scared of freaks but they’re also willing to use them.
Thanks to Christina for reminding me of all the ghost activity that hangs out at the Harris house. Otherwise I would have missed the opportunity for a great scene with Bernie. And I heartily concur with Vincent. Sometimes, adulting sucks.
There’s a big shift occurring in this book. Part of that shift is the Goddess moving to a long term perspective. Gods see things differently. For example, the Black Death. It was horrible, killing a third to a half of the population. But those deaths made the feudal system impossible. There was no longer the workforce and people were encouraged to innovate, leading to the Renaissance.
I actually wrote a number of scenes from Priya’s perspective as she builds up the connection with Karan, using the name of Naya Jeevan. I wanted to make sure that I understood her choices and that they were consistent. She’s been on her own for a long time, but she wants to reconnect with her brother.
The crime level is dropping in Perdition because Dalhard is harvesting the criminals. Without the gangs and other organized crime groups, only the petty, impulsive criminals will be left and most of those will quickly find themselves adrift, unable to sell their stolen goods or buy drugs or weapons.
For the break-in, I went with an overwrite because deleted data can be reconstructed. The only way to truly erase information is to write over it again and again. Then it is impossible to reconstruct.
Joe has spent the last few chapters believing the worst of Cali. Now he needs to hear the other side and remember her actions instead of his feelings. She’s no saint, but she’s done what she can to help others. If she doesn’t have much faith in official channels, she has reasons for those feelings.
But Joe needs more than words to remind him. As much as the trope gets overused, I still find that injury or illness has a way of refocusing people’s priorities.
For Mr. Smith, once again, it was surprisingly hard to find professional assassins to speak to. But I did do some research on mob hit-men and found they came in two types: highly professional and dispassionate, and those who used their position to indulge their murderous impulses. The dispassionate ones tended to have a longer career.
Moving toward an assailant is a valid self-defense technique. Most attackers are counting on their victims retreating, so doing the opposite can give you an opportunity to get away.
The backgrounds of villains fascinates me, both in real life and in fiction. The villain is always the protagonist of their own story and the great villains have reasons for what they do. So I enjoyed getting to explore Priya and Karan’s family history. Since their parents didn’t protect them, they learned to rely exclusively on themselves, but didn’t learn the compassion to make connections. But they still have the desire for connection.
Initially I gave Cali a much more severe wound after her encounter with Mr. Smith, but it would have made it impossible for her and Joe to make love later. So I backed off the severity while still keeping the impact.
Joe’s first sight of Cali’s apartment gives him a great deal of insight into her background, making it real for him. He is a nester and a builder, his home is very important to him. To see Cali living in a place which is more for defense than comfort strikes him hard.
Thank you to Johnny Depp in Don Juan Demarco for explaining how the hand kiss can be just as intimate as the French kind.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: consent is important, every step of the way. It’s sexy when your partner cares about you and respects your boundaries. The first time a couple makes love is always the trickiest to negotiate. Joe is exercising almost superhuman restraint to make sure that Cali has an amazing first time with him. That is what makes him a true romantic hero.
Thank you to my developmental editor, Jessica, for pointing out that Salazar was at risk of being zombified by Dalhard. Dodged a plot bullet there.
The weakest point of any security measure is the human with the power to make an exception. So it doesn’t matter how tight the cordon is, if there’s a human in charge, people will get through. That’s how Joe and Cali escape the city.
The end of this chapter is Dalhard’s Kingpin moment. He has the city in his grasp and he’s enjoying the warm glow of his bullying before the inevitable fall.
Governments are not above issuing comforting lies of what they hope will be true. Fangato’s reassurance that registering lalassu will neutralize any threat is a lie. Registration might work fine when it comes to fine art and guns, but it has never turned out well when applied to people. It is usually the first step to further atrocities and isolation. This is one of the reasons why I believe it’s important for people to be taught both history and the ability to think critically about what they’re being told, no matter the source. Then they don’t get taken in by plausible liars.
“Dani glared at Cali with a fervor people usually reserved for traitors and door-to-door salesmen” is my version of “a special hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theatre” from Firefly. Go team Whedon.
I truly hope that one day I get to see this story on film because I would love to see the scene at the farmhouse with Virginia, a blind woman, using a touch screen. If done right, it would be fantastic.
Technically, going through the ventilation shafts is only slightly more plausible than using the space above a dropped-tile ceiling as a crawlway. Most shafts aren’t big enough for people but I decided that this was one of those moments that I could ignore plausible reality in exchange for dramatic narrative.
Eric is right. There is something bigger on the horizon which the Goddess (and the author) are preparing for.
The line between protective and patronizing is a fine one. A hero should want to protect the heroine (and vice-versa) but should also respect their partner’s skills. No one can grow in a cage. So Joe has to offer to let Cali stay back, but he can’t fight against her decision to participate.
Vincent’s comment about the handcuffs in the top drawer of the desk makes me laugh every single time. And the sharp-eyed reader will realize that the moment when Cali fiddles with the computer is when she deletes the list from the Harris family’s computers.
Thanks to my line editor, Sarah, for reminding me to include Cali’s leg injury while she and Vincent are climbing through the vents. I’m usually careful about such things because it annoys me when characters shake off injuries immediately, but I’d missed that reference. That’s what good editors do.
My husband is an IT specialist and always gets annoyed with the “hacking is magic” shortcut that many writers use these days. Admittedly, I still use some magic, but it is possible to create programs that will act as electronic lockpicks for any system.
If I discovered a secret group of people with superpowers, I would be just like Salazar, running through a list of comics and characters to discover what was possible. I would probably annoy the heck out of whoever was dealing with me, but I wouldn’t rest until I understood the parameters of the new world.
I’ll admit that I’ve always had a certain sympathy for the villains of the fictional worlds. It must get frustrating to constantly be surrounded by incompetence. Unfortunately, true villains cannot trust competence, as it quickly turns to betrayal. That’s something which plays out in real life as well as fiction.
Cali has taken the list away from the Harrises because she considers it too dangerous to leave intact. It can never be guarded sufficiently. There will always be opportunities for others to seize it. So she is destroying all copies so that it cannot be used against the lalassu. Of course, it’s almost impossible to completely destroy information, so there are still pieces of the list out there, ready to cause trouble.
When someone says “Don’t wait for me” in a book or on screen, it always frustrates me when their companions choose to waste more precious time arguing, making it less likely that the person left behind will have time to escape. It’s rather like the insistence of many characters on holding heartfelt reunions before they actually escape from danger. Granted, I know it’s a way of showing emotional attachment but for once, I’d like to see someone have confidence in their companion’s skills and trust they can get themselves out.
Cali vs Priya was a great scene to write. Two powerful, self-sufficient, and intelligent women facing off against each other in a battle of wits and intimidation. It’s very different from the physical posturing of two male opponents.
I can’t imagine anything more terrifying that being subjected to an arbitrary test which decides whether you count as human or sub-human. Being hauled in for something you don’t understand and didn’t know about, and having a quirk of your DNA mean that you get hauled away from everything you care about. The only way it is worse is when the criteria is something harder to hide, such as the shade of one’s skin or one’s religious faith.
I never intended to have Joe kill Dalhard. He’s a true hero and true heroes don’t commit murder. Dalhard’s death was always going to be at Cali’s hands, as part of the ultimate test of her character. She is not a hero, but she is one who protects heroes from themselves and their ethics. Heroes need such people to do what they cannot. The best example of this is from the end of season five of Buffy, when Giles confronts Glory/Ben. Glory/Ben tells him that they’ll be back to destroy Buffy and Giles mildly admits that both he and Buffy are aware of that. But Buffy can’t kill Ben, because she’s a hero. Unlike Giles. It’s a fabulous scene and one that still takes my breath away.
Cali’s plan is, by necessity, at least half-improvisation but still a fairly good plan. She told Salazar to plant the fireworks in the garbage can and then only needed to buy time for the distraction to take effect. If trained cops hear a loud pop-bang, their first thought is going to be gunfire and their instinctive reaction is going to be to take cover. Even Dalhard’s influence isn’t going to override that.
To clarify for those wondering why Joe couldn’t attack in the precinct and why he can attack now: he’s defending himself. In the alley, Dalhard is offering an immediate and definite threat. At the precinct, Dalhard was sitting at a desk.
I do like the Mexican tradition that the dead aren’t truly gone, only a little separated from the living. It fits my own view that the dead watch over the living. So I had Mama introduce Cali to Joe’s father, as a way to show that she has been accepted into the family. And I used the Day of the Dead ceremony to give both Cali and Vincent some peace.
I had a version of the epilogue written almost from the beginning. I knew I wanted to end with a loving family embracing the lalassu’s differences. A little calm before the storm breaks for the next trilogy.