Under The Covers: Judgment
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 Judgment, so be forewarned…
Prologue 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 Epilogue
This opening scene was inspired by real life events which happened to a friend of mine (and which I’ve used with her permission). When she shared it with me, the only thing I could think of was the incredible cruelty of sneaking away while she was away for the one bit of self-care that she did each week and the incredible callousness of taking the dirty laundry with him. (She has since moved on and found a happily-ever-after of her own). To me, it illustrates Derek’s character perfectly, inflicting pain and absence.
I’ve been wanting to tell Martha’s story since she first appeared in Revelations. She was inspired by the incredibly brave but over-stressed women who were dedicating their lives to raising special needs children. They gave up careers, they did daily therapy exercises, and they went without the little comforts of life so that their child could have what they needed. If there is any group that deserves the win of a happily-ever-after, it’s them.
Using the prologue to establish where Martha and Bernie were, followed by a chapter showing where they are was a good short-hand to bring readers up to date if they hadn’t read Revelations or had forgotten those events. Martha’s reactions to Andrew telling her that he can no longer help Bernie are based on stories from my research on special-needs families. Often I heard professionals talk about how calm and next-step focused the parents are, but when I talked to the parents, there was a lot of bottled up anger and despair. They kept it all inside because they don’t want to alienate the professionals helping their children but long term, many of them described it as feeling dead. I heard many stories about having crying jags in the car or at home, tucked in a closet where no one could hear them.
(Andrew’s) “awkward sympathy only emphasized the empty ache inside Martha.” This line comes directly from one of the interviews from a father who talked about how isolated he felt and how sometimes the expressions of sympathy from others only made him feel more empty and lost.
I also wanted to start off Martha and Lou’s relationship with a communication misunderstanding. He’s not used to the human world and words, so doesn’t always think about the implications of what he’s saying. And she’s got a chip on her shoulder, assuming that people are judging her and don’t want her and Bernie around. I also wanted Lou to be the person who saw the real Martha, the one who has been repressed under Martha The Practical Mother all these years. Yes, it’s unpleasant, but he’s the one who sees her pain and doesn’t turn it back on her. It’s his first step as a romantic hero: being able to cope with the hard stuff and still be in love anyway.
I knew that I needed to show Lou’s soft interior as fast as possible to counteract his growly exterior from chapter one (and from Metamorphosis). He’s the guy who takes care of everyone else and ends up putting himself last on the priority list, which makes him the perfect complement for Martha. He also sees things that no one else does, from tiny tracking signs in the forest to the emotional signs of those around him. He cares very deeply about his family and his community and that comes through in his every action, even if he doesn’t use his words.
Lou was a challenging character for me. I’m very verbal. Words come easily to me. But they don’t come easily to him. So he’s stoic, not because he doesn’t have anything to say or as a way to seem tough, but because it’s difficult. So he expresses himself differently, through his actions. Sometimes I think we get too caught up in words and we’re dismissive or suspicious of those who are slow to speak. So I wanted to have a hero who spoke from his heart and hands instead of his tongue.
This was one of those awkward chapters to write initially. I needed to explain what had been happening in the lalassu world between Inquisition and Judgment without getting into too much of an exposition dump. Then it occurred to me that Martha and the others have been isolated for a long time, so they would also need an explanation of current world events. And it let me show Martha’s reaction to those events, which are terrifying.
When I first started putting together this plot, it was early 2016 and the idea of a modern version of the Japanese internment camps seemed very unlikely. But as I wrote, I saw the real world rhetoric increasing in frequency and vitriol. Calls to put Muslims in camps, attempts to ban travelers from certain countries, calls for walls, deportations and above all, anger and fear lashing out on all levels, it frightened me, as I’m sure it frightened many other people who thought society had moved past this kind of violent hatred.
I know people don’t like to have too much politics in their fiction and I believe that the vast majority of us wouldn’t support actions that we knew would hurt other people, but I also know how easy it is to be caught up in the propaganda, fear and outright lies. Now more than ever, we need to be aware of how easy it is to manipulate the story and get people thinking on an emotional level instead of logically and with compassion.
As we’ll see in the next few chapters, Lou has been watching Martha since the outburst (in a protective grizzly kind of way, not a stalker kind of way). That glimpse of her real self ended up hooking him. And Martha has been getting more and more lost as her hope goes. In some ways, this is the dark moment for her character, when everything seems impossible.
This chapter was my handoff between Karan and Priya. Karan was the big villain in the first three books, but Priya will be the main villain for the next ones. So I wanted a final scene from Karan’s point of view, showing how Priya is integrating herself into his network and day to day business.
I love intelligent villains who can play a dozen moves ahead of everyone else. In the first three books, Karan served as the foil for Dalhard, who was powerful but impulsive. But Karan is nowhere near his sister’s level. Priya was inspired by characters such as Lady MacBeth, or Stahma from the television series Defiance or Eurus from Sherlock. Incredibly smart women capable of manipulating everyone around them.
This chapter is also Martha’s calm before the storm. The last chance for her to catch her breath before her world comes crashing down. I wanted to show the woman still there underneath the layers of being a mother. It is a pet peeve of mine that mothers are still often presumed to be sexless and their sexual desires are often played as a joke in pop culture. So Martha is a heroine who is very sexual, and has been repressing it due to her life’s circumstances. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t still have desire.
In terms of the relationship, Lou has seen the first hints of the real Martha beneath her mask but she hasn’t seen the real Lou underneath his scowly mask. Because he isn’t verbal, it’s going to take longer for his actions to show the real Lou.
Being a parent is hard. It’s all about making big decisions without a lot of information and knowing those decisions are going to have big impacts down the line and you’re not going to know until it’s way too late to make any course corrections. Martha has had to face a lot of big decisions and she got them wrong. That was something I wanted to explore in this novel. She’s not a bad person and she loves her daughter, but she still made big mistakes and this novel is about her attempts to make them right.
Martha wants to do the right thing and she wants to help people, but she’s been burned out by all the work she’s had to do on her own. She doesn’t trust the world any more, which is incredibly isolating. There are hints of the person that she used to be before being battered down by life, and the person that she can be again. But before she can come out of her shell, she needs a solid foundation of support.
I don’t know many twins, but from those I do, the relationship between them seems different than the one between siblings. Not in a psychic read-each-other’s-minds way, but in a literally living their entire lives together way. I wanted to show Lou and Andrew’s relationship. They’re past the competitive stage of siblinghood and they rely on each other. Andrew has always been able to count on Lou’s presence at home, even when he went off and now he can’t.
My favourite part of this scene is a tiny line where Lou reveals that sometimes he shifts into a bear to avoid having to deal with unpleasant conversations. If I could turn into a bear, I would definitely use it the same way.
The scene with Bernie and Chuck took several rewrites to get right. I had to show the start of her irritation with him and the fact that she is beginning to outgrow him. She is maturing and he is not, although she’s still got a long way to go. But I also needed to show the very real friendship and connection between the two of them.
Since the first time I started writing Chuck and Bernie’s story, I knew it was a bit of a tragedy in the making. He is eternally trapped between twelve and thirteen and she was always going to eventually outgrow him. And he isn’t stable, he’s been inciting Bernie to violence since she was a kid. But part of me wanted to give them a happily ever after together (especially after writing their Christmas story). However, sometimes happily ever afters aren’t compatible. Bernie needs to grow up and find her own life. And Chuck needed to reunite with his family and move on into the light.
It has always interested me to know how easy it is to manipulate public opinion. It’s all about how the story is told, what parts are emphasized and what parts are edited out. Facts can be twisted around to support almost any opinion, provided they’re put into the right story. I haven’t seen too many stories where the villain uses public opinion as a weapon, so I wanted to create one with Karan and Priya. I’m also hoping that it helps people to remember to think critically about what they hear. It’s hard sometimes, but in today’s world, it’s a very necessary skill.
Ryan is my mundane villain for this book. He’s a petty bully who enjoys exercising his power over people. In the age of the #MeToo movement, he seems unfortunately relevant. Almost every woman has had an encounter with someone like him, someone who doesn’t respect boundaries and raises the primal fear instincts. It’s not a coincidence that he only backs off because he’s afraid of a physical confrontation with Lou. And for those wondering (and who have read the whole book), Ryan was about to tell Martha about Mr. Marshall.
As I’ve been going through the chapters for this commentary, I realized that one of the themes for this book is manipulation. Karan and Priya, now Leanne. The thing is, we are so vulnerable to people using our expectations to manipulate us. By playing the part of a crazy person, Leanne can make herself effectively invisible and ensure privacy. In the first drafts of this manuscript, she was a much more mercenary character and came across as very unlikable. She’s still a “look out for number one” type, but there are a few redeeming characteristics now.
Thinking about how Lou would interpret our society was a lot of fun. I based his reaction on stories I heard from people who had spent a lot of time in northern communities and then returned to the south. The ease of life was quite shocking and took time to get used to.
Ryan is targeting Martha because he’s recognized her as a victim. Most serial predators have good instincts for picking out targets who won’t fight back. Unfortunately for him, Lou has even better instincts for picking up predators. And for the record, scavengers fill a vital need in the ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.
This chapter was inspired by my research into the Japanese internment camps from World War II. Many staff from those camps saw the work as just another job. They didn’t see themselves as prejudiced (although there were certainly sadistic bullies who took advantage of the opportunity). The fact that the camps themselves were inherently wrong was something that the staff didn’t allow themselves to process.
To me that’s the real danger in prejudice and hatred. The violence is bad enough but when ordinary people can participate and still think of themselves as being tolerant and better than average, there is a real crisis at hand.
The scene where Tyrone fails the test still gives me chills. To have everything in your life change in a moment like that would be incomprehensible. It would make someone feel utterly helpless, which would be terrifying. But the whole scene is also a great exercise for Lou showing how he cares without saying much of anything. He’s a solid, reassuring presence for Martha, relieving some of her need to be on guard all the time and thus giving her room to react and think.
I enjoyed having Martha overthink her initial reaction to Harley and Hood. She is justified in being afraid of two strange people pounding on her door in the night, especially since she is a spy in enemy territory. But it also showed how much she hates hurting people’s feelings.
Prejudice is a real thing and while I may not have experienced it directly, I am friends with many who have, so I wanted to show it in this novel, for example, the guards and the doctor being afraid of Lou because he’s a big Indian in the previous chapter. I didn’t want to just use the lalassu as a metaphor for any group that experiences prejudice, I wanted to show some of it directly. I’ve heard people dismiss individual incidents as small things, but those small things add up into death by a thousand cuts. I don’t feel qualified to explore that directly, as there are many fine stories by authors who are sharing their direct experiences, but hopefully it raises a little awareness.
Leanne is an inherently selfish woman. She’s run cons for money, running scams to convince people that she needed more and more cash to let them speak to the dearly departed. But she’s not evil, which made her an interesting character to write. She’s what Martha could become if Martha continued to be beaten down by life and hadn’t found Lou. Only taking care of herself and damn everyone else.
Martha’s interview with Dr. Coulon is her first step toward taking back control rather than being buffeted by external forces. She’s been in survival mode for so long that she’s been numbly reacting instead of steering her own course. Now we begin to see the old Martha, from before her challenges with Bernie.
In speaking with many parents of special needs children, there were many who talked about missing their old selves The responsibility can grind down the humor and resilience, leaving what feels like a shell. So part of Martha’s happily ever after is getting to reclaim that part of herself. And it’s important to note that Bernie is in no way “cured” of her challenges, but rather, now Martha understands what the underlying issue is (rather than treating the wrong diagnosis) and has a supportive team that she can call on, rather than trying to manage everything herself.
We also start to see Martha’s compassion reawakening. The description of the children waiting quietly to be fed, and being quiet because they’ve learned that complaining doesn’t do any good, that scene is still heart-breaking for me. As much as my own kids drive me nuts with their complaining, if they didn’t, it would be a sign that something is broken inside of them.
Dr. Coulon is based on several different doctors who performed nonconsensual experiments in the name of knowledge. I recall reading about one such doctor who had performed horrible experiments on trauma victims and when he was tried for his crimes, told the court that even though they were condemning him, the knowledge he discovered would be his legacy. And there was debate because the experiments had revealed that the common practices for the trauma were ineffective (sorry, I can’t remember what it was now and haven’t been able to find the reference). So the question was: could we use the knowledge, given the source, or would refusing to use it mean that all of those people had died for nothing?
I really enjoyed writing the scene with Bernie’s first day of school. Her view of the schoolhouse is based on my own impression of a modern one room schoolhouse. I was much younger than she was but I still remember my bitterness when it didn’t look like the Little House books. I also wanted to show how difficult it would be to “act normal” when she sees and hears things that others don’t. In doing research into people with hallucinations, I came across the story of a young man who has a companion with him all the time. He’s quite competent and lives and works independently, but the companion serves as a reality check and he would pause frequently to ask if his friend saw and heard the same things he did.
While editing this chapter, I had several people comment about how Lou doesn’t talk during it. That was a deliberate choice on my part. His difficulty with words is a real handicap, but at times, it can be an asset. When others are milling around, trying to agree on what just happened, he is taking the necessary actions.
Authors should not have favourite characters, especially not villains. But I think that Priya is one of my favourites. (Vincent is still the other.) And no, she is not based on anyone that I know in real life. She’s what would actually be required if someone wanted conspiracy theories to be true: someone who could manipulate others along a grand plan without them being aware of it.
Priya’s manipulation of the interview was very interesting to me. She dismisses the concerns about adequate shelter, claiming it was temporary. Then she distracts from Dalhard’s crimes by pointing out that the employees of the corporation aren’t responsible for the CEO’s actions. She then plays the victim, preventing others from questioning her actions, motives or accuracy. Finally, she claims the altruistic intent of wanting to understand. Everything that she says has its roots in truth, but is distorted to suit her purpose. Sadly, I’ve seen too many campaigns of media manipulation who follow this pattern.
Martha is getting a new dose of reality. The blinders that have let her keep plodding forward are being stripped away. What’s replacing them isn’t as comfortable, but it’s less likely to drop out from underneath her.
Leanne and Martha are on opposing sides, both as staff-internee and in their desire to guide Bernie. Leanne recognizes that but Martha hasn’t quite accepted it.
While I was editing this chapter, I got several comments from my editor wanting Martha to be more pro-active and not so prone to panic attacks and depression. Part of why I wanted to write Martha was because she’s been so beaten down by life. Happily ever afters aren’t just for the plucky underdog who never gives up, they’re for those who have fought and fought until they are on their knees because they don’t think they can fight any more. And to have someone come along to give her the space to breathe and continue to fight, rather than always having to be alone, that was a story that spoke powerfully to me.
Martha’s calculation about the risk of Bernie getting hurt if Martha starts to date is a real statistic and one that too many single parents have to be aware of. Predators target single parents in order to gain access to their children and it’s something that the single parents that I know always keep in mind.
I also blatantly love the scene where Martha realizes that Lou goes to bed naked. She’s not glib or polished, she’s awkward (as most of us would be when dealing with a romance level hot guy) but it doesn’t bother Lou. He accepts her as is, rather than expecting her to do more.
Priya and Karan are reaching the next level of plotting. I’m very grateful to my best girlfriend and beta reader, Chris, for helping me to tighten up the villains’ plot for this novel. Trust me, the version that you’re reading is way better than what I first had.
In my skin-walker world, having a mate isn’t exactly the same as falling in love. It’s more like a variant on the animal mating impulse, an overwhelming biological urge but focused on one particular individual. I had a real challenge deciding on this initially because I’m not a fan of “love because fate” shorthands but I thought this was important to include something like the real biological drive because my skin-walkers aren’t just animals who can transform into humans, they are an actual hybrid between the two.
As I was editing the scene where Ryan is pressuring Martha to join him for sex, there were a lot of comments from my editor asking why she was tolerating it, why she didn’t just tell him to go away? I’d initially written the scene with deliberate intent to show how many women genuinely react when faced with someone pushing their boundaries, with freezing and an attempt to befriend rather than escalating with a no. I realized I hadn’t written it clearly enough and she was coming across as passive rather than afraid, so I put in some assertive denials (which Ryan ignored anyway). But I think it is important to show the many different reactions that people have when someone says something inappropriate, touches them without permission, or otherwise breaks a boundary. No one wants to overreact and often, the target is left confused in the moment and minimizes their reaction.
There are two major confrontations in this chapter: Lou and Ryan and Lou and the foreman. With Ryan, Lou wins by refusing to engage. With the foreman, he refuses to back down. Both of them mark him as someone who isn’t going to submit to a perceived authority when that authority is wrong. And to bullies like Ryan and the foreman, that is a painful blow to the ego.
Deciding whether or not to include the slur Chief was a hard one for me. On the one hand, I didn’t want to ignore the fact that those kinds of slurs are an everyday occurrence for many indigenous workers in the Northern industries. On the other, I hate the idea of causing anyone pain by reading it.
I loved getting to include Hood and Harley’s backstory though. One day, I’d like to write it as a short story but I’m worried about doing the story justice as a non-queer author. I think it will have to wait for now but theirs is a proper HEA that deserves to be told. I wanted them to be Martha and Lou’s established-couple-guide because I’ve seen the reverse done too often (a hetero couple giving advice to a queer couple).
Hood is unfortunately right about the need to hide his and Harley’s relationship. Environments where there are a lot of men, especially young men, engaged in an activity that encourages macho-ness, those are the most dangerous for anyone who doesn’t buy into hypermasculinity. The level of aggression and threat can be incredibly high.
This chapter is Martha’s turning point where she goes from being coerced into taking action into doing it because it’s the right thing to do. Giving the blankets to Kal, Annika, and Patrick was inspired by a story from WWII about a woman who gave blankets to a train car full of people who were on their way to an extermination camp. It didn’t change the greater outcome, but for one night, they weren’t as cold. It was a small gesture but sometimes those are just as important as the big ones.
Kal was an awesome character to write. I had a whole backstory done up for him about his school and how he got captured but unfortunately it didn’t quite make it into the final manuscript. I’ve still got it and if I can’t find somewhere to share it, I’ll release it as a free short story.
Although Priya is definitely my favourite of the siblings, I still love Karan as a villain. He’s more openly ruthless and ambitious. He’s not one to be content with running something behind the scenes in the long term, which is why he’s getting irritated with delays in the plan.
I want to explore more of Bob and Evonne’s story in book five. Evonne deserves a happily ever after and while I don’t think it would be with Bob, he’s definitely gone through enough suffering to start a potential change of heart. But it’s Annika who will be featured in book five. She’s angry and has been hurt beyond her ability to bounce back from. She’s going to need someone who has been through his own hell and back.
Her speech to Martha was inspired by several rants against well-meaning people who were trying to help disadvantaged groups, but couldn’t see through their own privilege. Is it fair to be upset with someone who is trying to help you? Is it fair to expect someone who has been through horrible experiences to not be angry? It’s a complicated issue and there’s no clear answer, but it’s something both sides should keep in mind.
Leanne’s manipulation of Bernie was hard to write and harder to research. Sadly, children are incredibly vulnerable, particularly when they’ve been isolated like Bernie has. It was sickening to learn how easy it is for predators to get into children’s heads. Leanne isn’t a completely horrible person, but she also isn’t looking out for Bernie’s best interests. She wants Bernie’s cooperation for a very specific goal and after that, she’s not too worried about what happens.
Martha and Eva have been feeding the prisoners in the lab since the last chapter and it’s made both of them a little bolder. They’re taking an active stand against an oppressive evil and are reclaiming some of their power. They don’t feel helpless anymore. Martha’s tactics in dealing with the foreman are inspired by my mother’s technique, which never fail to impress. She starts quiet, asking questions that she knows the answer to. Forcing her target to say the answer forces them to recognize the situation rather than glossing over it.
“Someone can be your friend and you can care about them a great deal, but that doesn’t mean that they feel the same way about you. They might say they do. They might even believe that they do, but if they are pushing you to put yourself at risk or do something you’re not comfortable with, then your feelings for each other don’t make that okay.” This speech by Martha comes right from my heart and is one that I wish someone had told me when I was Bernie’s age. It’s so confusing when you care about someone and they’re also making you miserable. All of the songs and stories tell you that the caring is the most important part, and the miserable part is only temporary. But the thing is, if someone is more investing in getting what they want than in your feelings, that’s a bad relationship.
Actions speaking louder than words is the theme of this whole book. Martha wanted to help but her desire didn’t mean much until she began to act on it. Chuck says he’s Bernie’s friend but is planning to kill her so that she’ll be trapped as a ghost with him. Hood and Harley love each other but when they have to act as if they aren’t a couple, it puts a strain on their relationship. And of course, there is Lou, the king of actions over words. I truly believe that an action counts more than rousing speeches or social media clicks, even if it’s a small one. And we’re all capable of more actions than we give ourselves credit for.
Actions speak louder than words but sometimes we need the words. This is Lou’s step into Martha’s world and allowing her into his.
I rewrote this chapter many times and it took me the longest time to edit, almost eight hours. (About two hours is typical for me.) It had so many powerful emotional threads that I wanted to keep and explore and I couldn’t include them all. I would have liked to include more background on the skin-walkers and their relationships but that will have to wait for a more talkative protagonist. The exchanges between Martha and Lou make me cry every time, especially the story about Kots’éen.
I had a tough time deciding how Ryan was going to threaten Martha for this chapter. I’m very aware that descriptions of physical and sexual assault can be triggering for readers and frankly, it bothers me when authors use it too casually. Sometimes it seems like it has become a go-to for female protagonists to have a background of assault.
But one of the reasons why it is so prevalent is because a lot of women have experienced it. The #MeToo movement showed that in a big way. So I decided to use it and not shy away from the fear it creates. That kind of assault is all about the fear. The predator wants the fear and uncertainty from their victims.
Every kid goes through a period of resenting their parents. It’s called childhood, teenagehood, young adulthood, and most of the rest. Bernie has some valid reasons to be angry at her mother, but she’s starting to realize that life isn’t as black-and-white simple as she assumed. Moreover, even though she’s angry, she’s listening to Martha’s words and deciding who she wants to be instead of being angry at who she is.
Martha’s reaction to Ryan’s assault is an amalgam of research and stories that were shared with me. There were two that stuck with me, and both had an element of anger behind the shock. As older women, they thought they were past the point of having to be wary of such things. But they found themselves in situations where a man tried to commit sexual assault (a kiss in one case and rape in the other). Both expressed frustration that the assault had snuck under their defenses, that they had been prepared and cautious when they were younger but no longer saw themselves as potential targets. It’s not a reaction that I’ve seen explored in fiction so I wanted to include it here.
Harley sums up why I wanted to write a hero like Lou. Someone who has been isolated, and didn’t absorb any toxic masculinity messages. He cares very deeply, but is willing to listen rather than assume that he knows best. He cares more about making sure that Martha is all right and has what she needs than about revenge or publicly asserting his claim. I don’t claim any expertise, but I’ve seen that kind of support be much more effective for survivors of assault than traditional action-movie heroics. I also love the line “Nanook of the North hotness.”
If you need help, here are some places you can get it:
With this chapter, I’ve tried to address something that has bothered me in a number of romance novels, when something horrible happens to the heroine and the hero ends up yelling at her about it because he’s failing to cope with his fear. It pisses me off every time because to me it is the antithesis of a hero. A hero should not be a source of hurt for the heroine. (It also bothers me when the yelling prompts the heroine to leave and she ends up in a worse situation.) So Hood gets Lou to take out his rage on the trees rather than risking doing it to Martha.
Martha’s choice to replace the memories of Ryan’s assault with positive memories with Lou is inspired by another story of an assault survivor. She didn’t want the assault to be her most recent association with sex. However, I do want to emphasize that this type of reaction is not typical. There’s no right or wrong way to deal with an assault and I think too many people put pressure on survivors to conform to their own expectations. But I love the fact that Martha is reclaiming her sexuality and isn’t letting Ryan stop her.
Every interlude must eventually end, no matter how sexy. And unfortunately, Dr. Coulon’s return to Woodpine means the pleasant times are over.
This is the chapter where we discover just how dark Chuck has gotten. His story was inspired by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. I’ve always been one to find the dark side of children’s stories and as I was reading Barrie’s tale to my son, it occurred to me to wonder why Pan and the Lost Boys didn’t age. What if they weren’t actual children, but were spirits? What if Pan was stealing the spirits of children who died on the streets of Victorian London? It wasn’t hard to imagine that Pan would be lonely and wanting companions. And from there, it wasn’t hard to imagine he might take a more active role. Chuck has been alone for a long time and he wants Bernie to be his companion forever. Andrew was absolutely right about him being a danger to her.
Leanne had an opportunity to step up and be a hero but she is too afraid of her own risks. Where Martha decided that she didn’t want to live in guilt and safety, Leanne is protecting herself at the risk to others. But she has a valid point about public opinion and how cries of well-meaning indignation can often fail to lead to real change.
I’ve always been very conscious of the “hero is not acting heroically” criticism. When the hero doesn’t rush out to save people, or commits an act that puts others in danger, that reduces the larger-than-life illusion that people are reading for.
One of the things that I wanted to do with Martha was to show a heroine going from “I can’t” to “I will.” When she hears that the others are in immediate danger of losing their lives, she has no choice but to act, even if it means a risk. She’s starting to realize how strong she is and how being underestimated gives her opportunities. Lily came in drugged and restrained but no one assumes that Martha is actively fighting back. Even Mrs. Fitz assumes that Ryan is the one doing the acting while Martha simpers. “It’s the people that no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” That quote is from The Imitation Game and it is a powerful reminder that one doesn’t have to be recognized as a hero in order to act like one.
Priya’s tactic against Ron is actually one used in real life, though in a much less creepy and villain-like way. When someone is captured, they are expecting aggression. When it doesn’t happen, they become confused and vulnerable. Small kindnesses like food, warmth, or privacy become disproportionally influential and break down the barriers between the captor and captee. From there, the captor can work with the captee to form an alliance and shift the captee’s allegiances. It’s a far more effective information-gathering tactic than torture or threats and the information tends to be more reliable (as well as ensuring the captor gets to keep some karma-points). But it isn’t quick and it requires a willingness to be compassionate to one’s enemies, which doesn’t sit well with some people.
I believe that teenagers and pack mules have a lot in common. Trying to move either by force is a waste of effort. I don’t see that as a bad thing. In fact, a compliant teenager is a terrifying prospect because they’d be incredibly vulnerable as they went out into the world. I try to remind myself of that when facing off in a battle of wills.
The day before I edited this chapter, I saw Annihilation and the completely disturbing and creepy skull-faced bear that screamed “Wait!” and “Help!” in a woman’s voice. As I was re-reading the scene where Martha interacts with Lou in his bear form, I kept picturing that creepy bone-bear and had to bring my mind back to what I actually imagined. The takeaway of this is that the bone-bear in Annihilation is terrifying and congrats to those who created/imagined/shared it. The second takeaway is that once I could put that image aside, this was a touching and heartbreaking chapter of a man pushed beyond his limits and a woman who was able to reach out to him and help him to come back.
Harley’s plan to escape is a typical action hero plan: rescuing a select group of the named characters, relying on a skill set that seems improbable, and vague on how to achieve the actual goals. Now, I love action movies, but they drive me nuts with the “punch your way out of a problem” approach sometimes. So I wanted someone to say that the typical plan isn’t good enough and I loved putting it in Martha’s mouth because no one would expect a character like her to be the hero.
Sharp readers have caught that Bernie is basically going through the same emotional moment that Martha did earlier. She can’t fix everything, but she can fix the small issues by bringing food and getting Leanne out.
I’ve gotten some complaints about the paragraph where the internees in the barracks fight over the food. For the most part, I’ve portrayed the internees very sympathetically. But the reality is that when someone is in a deprived situation, then there is no benefit to being courteous and self-sacrificing. The truth is, that when survival depends on being aggressive, then people learn to be aggressive quickly.
Martha does everything she can to stop Ryan from taking her to the medical building because it can never be said too often. If someone attacks you, one of the most important things to remember is to never let yourself get taken to the second location. That was one of the first pieces of self-defense advice that I ever got and it’s still the most important. The second location is where the attacker is comfortable and in control, which is very bad for their target. Fight as hard as you can to stop it.
Her “parasite examination” was inspired by a scene from Defiance where a male tried to force someone to fondle his penis and she patted it before pulling away, saying “No parasites. All good.” I now know two women who have successfully used this against groping guys.
I also wanted to show that not every guard in Woodpine is an asshole. Paul Greysmith tried to do the right thing and ended up being penalized. This is one of the ways that assholes end up in charge during authoritarian scenarios, by making sure that decent people are afraid to challenge them.
Sex scenes are probably that hardest scene to write well. Aside from overcoming a certain cultural challenge in talking explicitly about sexual pleasure, there are also a lot of layers that have to go into any sex scene. It’s a deepening of the emotional and physical connection between the hero and heroine (and it’s usually been the target of a significant build-up throughout the rest of the book). Like any scene, it also has to further the plot, which means that it can’t be thrown in there for no reason. And there’s issues of consent, protection, and the tug-of-war between physical practicality and romantic fantasy. I go over the sex scenes in my books more often than any other scene to get the balance of all these layers right.
This scene was a particular challenge because I wanted to stay true to Lou’s essential non-verbalness. When it really matters, he shows how he feels, he doesn’t say it. So I wanted to show how non-verbal can be incredibly intimate but also still make sure that everyone is consenting to everything. Sometimes words can get in the way of telling the truth.
I could probably write whole books that were nothing but Karan and Priya. They’re so delightfully evil. Perhaps it is because I spent too many of my formative years talking about various conspiracy theories that I see how easy it is to manipulate public opinion. Personally, I now think most conspiracy theories are ridiculous because there is no way that a large number of people can be involved in a long-term secret and not end up spilling everything. We can’t even avoid spoilers for upcoming movies.
However, being exposed to those theories did raise my awareness about how much we accept on faith when it comes to the information we’re given. Most of the time, our understanding of the world comes from second- and third-hand information, through the media, friends, or other sources. Sometimes we can get first-hand information, for example: I’ve never been to Japan but I could go there. Sometimes we can’t, since there’s no time travel yet, I won’t ever be able to go to the War of 1812 and settle who won (for the record, we did).
Whenever we rely on other people to tell us about something, we have to take it on faith that they know what they’re talking about. But everyone has their own biases and interpretations, which means that the way they emphasize details and gloss over others can make a huge impact on how we feel about the story. And that leaves out when the information is flat-out contradicted, where one group says that something happened and another group says that it didn’t. I think it’s important for all of us to be aware of how easy it is to be swayed, and make sure that we take everything with a grain of critical salt.
One of the things that bothers me in shifter romances is when the non-shifter partner ignores the shifter’s other shapes. To me, a shifter is more than a person who is sometimes able to transform into an animal (or mythical creature); they are both human and animal and their partner needs to take that into account. I wanted there to be a scene where Martha shows that she accepts all of who Lou is. And the fact that it happened as part of taking down Ryan and Dr. Coulon was a definite bonus.
Researching how to do an impromptu blood transfer was interesting. Thank you to Isabeau for answering all of my questions. I hope I never need that knowledge outside of a fictional universe.
Another thing which tends to bother me is when the black moment for the hero and heroine comes about because they won’t talk to each other and don’t trust each other. The scene where Andrew tells Martha that Lou didn’t trust her and she is hurt, but reminds herself of what they’ve had together is my little subversion of that trope. I also have to give a big shout-out to Annika in that scene. She is going to be the perfect complement to Vincent in Book Five.
Leanne is Martha’s opposite. They’ve both been beaten down by their experiences, and both faced the decision of having to selfishly take care of themselves or extending themselves to help others. Not everyone may agree with me, but I don’t think Leanne’s decision makes her a bad person. I’ve seen too many people burn out because they don’t put themselves on the list of priorities. Taking care of yourself isn’t a bad decision. Hopefully I’ve showed Leanne isn’t a horrible person, especially in contrast with truly evil people like Ryan and Dr. Coulon.
The escape from Woodpine is well planned and would have succeeded if Chuck hadn’t interfered. I’m not a big fan of escape plans that rely on luck or stupidity, but I’m also not a big fan of plans going the way that the planners intended.
Bernie is at a difficult place in her development, moving past being able to be a child but not yet ready to make adult decisions herself. She can see when the adults around her are wrong, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to see what’s right. It’s a process that we all go through and it’s scary and overwhelming. Her decision to stand up to Chuck and refuse to go along with his craziness is an important milestone in her maturity.
Throughout this story, Martha has had other people to rely on. Alone in the cells, she needed to realize that she is indeed strong enough to do what is needed on her own, without the safety net of anyone there to rescue her.
Lou was a real pleasure to write: an alpha male who has never been infected by toxic masculinity. He has no qualms about treating people equally, regardless of gender, race, or any other social division. He doesn’t play manipulation games or undermine the confidence of those around him. He is a fierce protector but doesn’t look down on those who don’t share his physical strength. His rare upbringing makes him immune to Dr. Coulon’s attempts to manipulate him. Like a bear, he waits to see what’s going to happen before he makes the effort to engage.
Henri was always intended to become a father-figure to Bernie, an independent adult that she can ask for help and advice. Chuck has been her childhood friend, but she is outgrowing him. He cannot go where she goes. It’s something that occurred to me as I was re-reading Peter Pan. The problem with Peter and Wendy is not the eternal idyll of Neverland, it’s that Peter cannot mature and move past an everlasting playtime. Wendy moves past where he can reach and that ends their relationship. As she grows up, Bernie comes to realize that Chuck hasn’t always been on her side.
I gave Priya some of my own observations about bigotry and humanity. When a bigot’s experience is limited, the target of their hatred shares many similarities with them. As it expands, the bigot finds more targets for hatred. The issue is never with those hated, they’re only a convenient external target. The bigot just wants to hate, which makes them easy to manipulate if someone is willing to encourage them in that hatred.
I’ve put a lot of thought into how immortals would see the world, mainly because I love vampire stories and I’ve been a Wolverine fan for longer than I care to admit. In Interview With A Vampire, Antonio Banderas asks “Do you know how many vampires have the stamina for immortality?” To see everything you have ever known, every person you’ve ever cared for, all disappear into the obscurity of history. To see the critical events of your life get distorted by distance, or shifted into legend or myth. That would be incredibly hard. I think there are only two paths that would let an immortal survive without going mad: constant connection and interaction or the cool distance of the psychopath.
With Martha and Lily, as much as I want Martha to have faith in her relationship and connection with Lou, I’m also enough of a romantic that I wanted it reinforced. To have Lily tell her the words that Lou can’t find.
Martha’s bravery in accepting Dr. Coulon’s torture is one of my proudest moments. Like most of us, she is stronger than she believed she could be but when the moment arrives, she steps up to it.
Introducing Mr. Marshall as the electronics expert who could figure out how to disable the shock collars was one of my favourite twists for this story. When I began writing Judgment, I knew I wanted to include ghosts as a major part of the plot. When death is no longer a barrier to passing on knowledge, the rules of the game change considerably.
I love Karan as a villain but I knew that he could not handle being in charge without getting at least a little unhinged. He’s always worked from the shadows and in the background and now he’s under the heady drug of no longer having to manipulate his way to the results he wants, he can just tell people that’s what he wants. He’s forgotten that the world doesn’t always go the way we want, even when a person has significant power.
I also love how Lou handles the fight between him and Ron. He recognizes that if they play by Karan’s rules, they both lose.
It was also a real thrill to get to bring Dani, Michael, Cali, and Joe back into the stories. Now that the universe is well established, readers can look forward to more comprehensive team ups.
Families often have a hard time accepting someone new into the fold, particularly when it comes to a caregiver. Andrew has always had his twin to rely on and some of his suspicion of Martha was because he’s worried about losing his brother, either to heartache or a happily ever after.
Removing the collars from the equation was a very satisfying point of the story for me. Oppressive regimes can only succeed as long as they have power and control over the population. The more the population outnumbers the oppressors, the more repressive the regime needs to be. But once that control falters (and it always falters), people rise up and reclaim their rights. Bullies who hide behind things like the shock collars deserve the rebellions they get.
Chuck’s final scene was a hard one to write. It needed to be clear why he can’t stay on the earthly plane any longer but at the same time, I couldn’t shove him into the light without making it clear that he’ll be happier after moving on. I believe that we can’t know the afterlife until we pass through the light, but that it can’t be as scary as we imagine sometimes. Chuck is going home, to be with his family, who have missed and loved him for a very long time.
Ron is entirely justified in being frustrated with ketamine. He’s been shot with it twice now and from my research, it is not a pleasant drug to come out of, especially if you’re not expecting it. (Talking to people research, not practical, in case anyone was curious.)
I needed to bring Gwen in just to emphasize what Martha is so afraid of and what is in store for Bernie if she doesn’t get her medium gifts under control. Gwen’s parents didn’t know (and were dealing with their own traumas) so she didn’t get the help and training she would have needed. Writing Gwen is always fun, trying to come up with non-traditional ways to say what she’s trying to communicate. She never rambles to no purpose, there’s always something she’s trying to say.
Martha is not a trained fighter but trust me when I say that surprise and dedication can be effective in a wide number of fight scenarios. My martial arts instructor was always a big fan of finishing a self-defense scenario by sitting on your attacker until the authorities arrive. It’s one of the scenarios where big girls have an advantage over the skinny gals. More weight means less chance of someone getting back up when you don’t want them to.
Martha’s weight was another situation where I was very careful in how I presented it. I get frustrated with fat representation in romance sometimes. A character being fat is often played for laughs and used as a punchline. Or it’s something that the character has to overcome (i.e. a trauma in their past that caused them to turn to food). With Martha, I wanted a character who isn’t a size two, but whose weight is not a focus of the story. Lou loves her lush curves as well as her strong spirit and she’s not looking to drop weight or change her eating.
Priya and Karan think they’ve won, and like the overconfident rabbit from the fable, they stopped running before the race was finished. That was what our heroes needed in order to get the camp ready before reinforcements could arrive. I will admit that I used a slightly cheap trick of the conveniently-timed news report, but hopefully that is a small, forgivable fact.
Martha doesn’t solve the crisis at camp like a hero, by beating down those who opposed her and oppressed the internees. She solves it like a mother, by making sure that people are warm with full bellies and healing their wounds. I think the world would be a much better place if we spent less time arguing about who is right and more time making sure that people aren’t deprived of the basics of food, shelter and safety.
The internees at the camp are reacting like most people would after being treated so badly. They want to strike back, but it can be hard to remember that the people in range are not the ones who are ultimately responsible for their pain. Yes, some of the guards were bullies and they deserve to be held accountable. But mobs can’t create justice. That takes much harder work and cooler heads than simple vengeance.
Initially, I had both Ryan’s defeat and the soldiers’ landing all in one chapter, but it was too much. The reader didn’t have time to enjoy either properly. Splitting them up made them both work better.
I love reunion scenes, where everything else falls away as a couple reunites after an absence. For just a moment, nothing else matters except the fact that they’re together again. It’s one of the most sincere moments that a couple can have. And sometimes it doesn’t matter if it’s been an hour or a year, every reunion is a spark that re-ignites the flame.
I also wanted to make sure that Bernie was included in the reunion. Children aren’t an “extra” in their parents’ lives and if a new partner is preparing to enter a relationship with a parent, then they need to be ready to make that child the center of their world as well. I also love that she (and Henri) are the ones to save the day from Ryan’s handmade explosives.
As a comic book geek, I have had many, many conversations about so-called “useless” powers and I’ve always resisted that viewpoint. Just because a power is limited doesn’t mean it’s useless. The biggest changes can begin with someone delivering a single poke at an area of weakness. And groups working together are always more powerful than any individual, so right from the start, I knew that Judgment would end with the lalassu joining forces to break those seeking to squash them down. And they did it without a massive loss-of-life battle. Writing that ending means a lot to me. It’s how I wish the world worked on a more frequent basis.
Finishing the main story with Henri and Bernie was a suggestion from one of my beta readers. Bernie’s arc is just as big as Martha’s or Lou’s. She’s gone from feeling completely alone and isolated to having a supportive and caring family again. It may not be a romantic HEA, but it’s a happily ever after nonetheless.
I like epilogues to wrap up any outstanding plot points (like what happened to Kal and Patrick) and show that my couples have weathered the initial intensity of a new relationship and are still going strong. It’s especially important to me when a couple hasn’t had a lot of time together. I always find myself wondering: yeah, they had a great weekend, but what happens next month when everyone is back in ordinary, routine life? This was my chance to show Lou and Martha’s HEA (and hopefully whet some appetites for book five).
Thanks for reading. If you have any more questions about Judgment or any of the other books of the lalassu, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.