Under the Covers: Metamorphosis
This section includes notes from my research, the inspiration for different scenes and shares some of my favorite lines and moments. Obviously this section includes spoilers, so I’d recommend reading the book before reading through them. But that’s just me.
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
I had the image for the first scene in my head right from the beginning: Ron slogging through the snow, running from a possible agent of Dalhard and Karan’s. I did a lot of research on wilderness survival techniques and it is true, birchbark will burn even when wet. And a lot of people die of exposure after they make the first steps towards taking care of themselves. They think they’ll be okay and relax, falling asleep.
Creating a bear-shifter character was an idea I’d been toying with for awhile. It’s become quite popular but I thought I was being very clever and unique when I came up with it. Bears, especially grizzlies, are fascinating. They aren’t sociable. Their hibernation cycle is an amazing adaptation to cycles of plenty and famine. They are powerful and stubborn in pursuing their desires. If I was going to transform into anything, I’d want it to be a bear.
I liked the idea of ending the first scene with Ron giving up. He’s been running for months, he’s exhausted, he’s cold and worn out and now the promise of no more pain is seductive. It’s his lowest point, where he’s completely broken down. Which is the best time to begin rebuilding.
Having Ron carrying Nada’s ashes back to her family was a later addition to the story, a reason for him to be searching for Ekurru. I thought it honoured Nada’s sacrifice and Ron’s role in her death.
When I was researching life in the Arctic Circle, one of the things which struck me were the parallels with the Wild West of the 1800s. People mostly accept one another on their word of who they say they are. It’s more critical to be able to pull your own weight, which makes it a fantastic place to start over with a blank slate and inspired Lily’s line: Running away from the past is our favourite community pastime.
Doc’s background was inspired by a combination of Steve Searles, the Bear Whisperer, and Charlie Russell, a biologist who studied grizzly bears in Russia. His personality was based on a substitute teacher I remember from grade school. He only taught for a few days but his enthusiasm for nature always stayed with me. Steve Searles isn’t a trained biologist but has nonetheless developed an uncanny understanding of the black bears in Mammoth Lakes, California. Charlie Russell spent years studying grizzlies in the Kamchatka Peninsula and adopted 3 cubs to help them survive. His work was very controversial among other biologists because of his insistence that bears and humans could live in peace if they only understood one another.
I love the final line of the first chapter. I’ve always loved unlikely pairings. The first scene in Joss Whedon’s Buffy TV series hooked me with the typical blonde victim turning out to be the monster. I loved having bubbly, friendly Lily let everyone know just how dangerous Bear Claw could be.
When I decided to make Lily and her family native, which was always my original intention, I ended up with another difficult decision. Do I base them on an actual tribe (the Dene or Tlingit, given their location) or do I make up my own? In the end, I did my research and I didn’t feel I could get a solid enough grasp on either Dene or Tlingit culture to fairly represent them. I spoke to several people who were quite happy to share details, but they warned me that getting things wrong could end up being significantly offensive. Out of respect, I decided to make the Charging Bulls an amalgam with aspects of both cultures, but not actually belonging to either. Much like the lalassu are not strictly the same as the North American cultures in which they live. Having them be unique fit where I wanted the story to go, and it fit the Northern environment as a place where people can escape the pressures of outside influence. I would have liked to have had the time and money to spend time up North and really absorb the culture but that will have to wait for a future sequel.
Most of the native words I used in Metamorphosis come from the Dene language, but the names which the Charging Bull family uses to refer to each other are actually from the Miwok language, which is used in California. When I decided to make them an amalgam, I gave them a bit of a backstory to explain it. The family used to live in the Rockies in California (as do many grizzlies) but migrated up North several generations earlier as settlers began to hit the Western coast. Uzumati means “Grizzly Bear” in Miwok, and I liked that for Grandfather’s title. He is the head Grizzly of the clan and its shaman, so he deserved it. Litonya means hummingbird, which symbolizes the small joys which even the greatest sadness cannot quench.
Mining is a real threat in Northern communities, whether for oil, diamonds or minerals. It is a hotly contested issue because the land in question is usually under debate for treaty settlements with the local tribes. There is a frustrating trend where mines begin operations while ownership is still being decided. Some people in the communities welcome the jobs and resources, others don’t wish to be disturbed or have concerns about long term environmental impacts.
Deciding how to handle the mating instinct for my skinwalkers was a real back and forth issue for me. On the one hand, most animals have an incredibly strong mating imperative, which is usually translated as an unbreakable mystic bond in shapeshifter romance. On the other, I’ve never been a real fan of imposed bonding. So I decided to incorporate my own feelings into Lily’s. I’d be terrified if I knew I might find myself bonded to someone regardless of my own plans or intentions. I saw it as a major battle between the two halves of her nature.
During my research, one of the thing that surprised me was how many Northern people said they would wish for easier communication. I would have thought that if someone wanted to retreat to a land with a notoriously low population base, then social interaction wouldn’t be at the top of their wishlist. But they talked about the difficulty of having to choose between a way of life that they loved and being able to communicate and participate in the greater global world. They didn’t want to have to make that choice. For most isolated outposts, their point of contact for shipping is the only one they have to communicate, which gives the people who run those shipping businesses an enormous amount of power.
Bill was a fun character to write, inspired by the worn-out sheriff in Westerns. He’s seen it all, done it all and is just looking for a place to enjoy a little hard-earned peace. He’s protective of Bear Claw and Ekurru, not quite to the same fanatical level as Lily and her family, but he’s inclined to avoid potential trouble by making sure potential trouble moves on.
I also did a lot of research into alcohol use and post-traumatic stress. A lot of PTSD survivors use alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate. When the panic starts to hit, the urge to hit the bottle and gain a little chemical relief can be both sudden and overwhelming. People describe it as having their brains abruptly switch off, like a possession. They’re aware of what they’re doing but feel as if they have no control.
Evonne is from the Arachnaen line of lalassu, inspired by the myth of Arachne and her superior weaving which inspired jealousy from the gods themselves. We see a lot of supersight, superhearing and superstrength. I wanted to explore someone with incredibly enhanced tactile abilities. It was a challenge figuring out how she would do things without using her fingers and I studied videos of amputees to get inspiration.
Those paying close attention or re-reading will pick up that Setsuné is taking care of Big Bart. I was inspired by Charlie Russell’s story about raising three grizzly cubs after their mother was killed. Bear cubs need parental help for at least the first 3-4 years. Without it, they can become dangerous scavengers, assuming they don’t simply starve to death or get eaten by another predator. The Colony is what I imagine bears would be like if they were intelligent enough to share territory and responsibility. A series of dens for everyone and a central firepit (helpfully maintained by their shapeshifting cousins) with small chunks of fuel that a bear could easily pick up in its mouth and put on the coals.
I had a lot of debate on whether or not to include the scene with Elxeli. I wanted to show that the animals in the Colony really aren’t typical bears or even typical wild animals. I wanted to be able to contrast that with Big Bart, who is a normal bear. In the end, I think it was worth it. For the curious, there is a simple formula for figuring out if a bear is one of the Colony or an average bear. All of the Colony animals have names in native languages where all the typical bears have English names. The Colony animals are named by the Guardians (Lily and her family) but Doc names the others.
I decided to use Karan’s investigation as a bit of an exposition excuse, to share what happened in Revelations with readers who hadn’t read the first book, without having to have a summary of “here’s what happened” at the start of the novel. Karan and Vapor are the two central characters for my series, the ones who will appear in all the books and whose tug-of-war drives most of the action. I kept their involvement very light for Revelations but I’d been looking forward to exploring it more in sequels.
For those new to the lalassu, I’ve used an interesting technique to make Karan even creepier and slightly alien: he doesn’t use contractions. It’s commonly seen in people who are speaking a second language, a sort of mental separation. I also read a lot of different books, both fictional and not, on sociopaths and one thing I noticed is that many of the ones who fooled police and neighbours for extended periods had unusually precise diction. I wanted Karan to seem distant and unconnected, so I’ve used both those techniques.
The rivalry between Doc and Damali was inspired by the rivalry between Charlie Russell and other bear specialists. Russell maintains that it is possible to live side by side with bears without harming either the bears or the people, provided certain precautions are maintained. This point of view is very contentious in wildlife circles. Most specialists believe the only way to protect both species is to have complete separation. Russell has been accused of colluding with loggers and other groups at the expense of the animals he studies, of being a sentimentalist and of simply being naïve and stupid. But he has been determined to prove his theories and there are others who support him.
When Lily finds Ron passed out with the empty vodka bottle beside him, she’s initially furious but talks herself out of it. This isn’t just because she’s beginning to fall in love with Ron, but tends to be something which happens more frequently in long-term isolated communities. Because people are stuck with a small group of other people for extended periods, more focus is put on swallowing irritation rather than expressing it. They know they are dependent on their neighbours and maintaining the relationship is considered more important than sharing a temporary grievance. I found this really interesting, given the current cultural expectation of complete honesty to deepen relationships. There are ways for these communities to express issues if necessary but most of the day to day stuff is set aside. There seems to be a real ideal of working together.
Bob is one of my more interesting characters. In Revelations, Michael is eager when he discovers the secret society of the lalassu. But I didn’t think that would be the typical reaction. I wanted to create a character who reacted badly to discovering a world of hidden secrets, one who felt threatened and undermined. I didn’t want to make him a bad guy, but I wanted him to make bad choices, which proved to be a difficult line to walk. He genuinely loves Evonne, but his paranoia will drive her away. This may be sacrilege for a romance writer, but I wanted to show that love isn’t always enough and it isn’t always going to make the right choices to develop the relationship in a healthy way. Now, I believe that with hard work and love, it’s possible to make those wrong choices right again, but that will have to wait for a future sequel.
I also enjoyed writing Dr. Damali. She’s a predator in her own right, using every tool she’s got to get what she wants. Again, this doesn’t necessarily make her a bad person, but she’s incredibly manipulative and determined. For those curious, yes, she is working with Dalhard Industries but she’s doing so out of a genuine desire to protect what she sees as a unique ecosystem.
The intensity of Ron’s flashback is as accurate as I could make it. For some sufferers of PTSD, they describe it as being locked in the memory, no matter how much they try to remind themselves that it’s not actually happening. Sometimes the flashback is literally only a flash, a few seconds. Other times it can trap its victim in a lingering delusion, although this is more rare.
The first kiss is always critical, whether in real life or fiction. There’s an influential school of thought that the first kiss will decide go, no-go for the relationship. If the chemistry isn’t there, the kiss will be a dud, no matter how compatible everybody seems to be. For Ron and Lily, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I wanted their first kiss to go. It’s typical for the first kiss in a romance novel to be passionate and overwhelming, but I decided to go with hesitant. Lily doesn’t have the experience to accept a mouth-mauler, instead, she is the one who initiates. I spoke to several friends about their first kiss experiences and used them to create Lily’s first real kiss.
For Steve, I created him out of every macho jerk I’ve ever encountered but I still wanted him to have a glimmer of humanity. So I decided he is genuinely passionate about following the law and catching bad guys, even though he’s got no clue where the boundaries between tyranny and police work actually are. There seems to be one in almost every authority group, someone who cracks down on a minor infraction with the same zeal as a true felony.
One thing my girlfriends and I all agree on is that the social pressure to get to the next step in our lives is one of the most frustrating things we deal with. Dating, lots of questions on when we’re getting married. Married, when are the kids coming. Kids, choose another point in career and life to focus on. I will admit to using that as inspiration for Grandfather and Lily’s conversation about what to do next with Northstar and Ron. Grandfather is concerned about the depth of Lily’s feelings, suspecting a mating bond. He wants to give her the time and space to regain her balance. At the same time, he’s also not giving her credit for being mature enough to manage her own life, which is very frustrating at any age.
When I was little, I used to imagine all sorts of animals guarding my sleep. I had an imaginary bat which circled overhead and a leopard which crouched over my bed to protect me. When I researched PTSD survivors, many of them talked about wishing they had someone they could trust to watch over them. Those who have dogs said it was one of the things they found most helpful. They could sleep and trust that the dog would alert them if something was wrong. As I was writing, I couldn’t help but think: if a dog is good, a grizzly bear guard would be a thousand times better. For the curious, the noise is actually Vincent, spying on Doc’s new guest.
I deliberately didn’t put the different days into different chapters for this book. I wanted the days to flow together in a slower, more natural rhythm. Ron has been all too aware of the pressures of time and events, to heal, he needed an opportunity to do what was needed rather than reacting to what was happening.
My one regret in researching this book was that I was not able to find an opportunity to personally ride in a dogsled, but I based the description on several people who have. It honestly sounds like an amazing experience, to go skimming over the snow with the dogs coursing in front. It’s still on my to-do list for life.
Like my native enclave in Bear Claw, the sweatlodge ceremony is a blend of different rituals. I find it interesting that steam has been used as a cleansing force in a wide variety of cultures, from the ancient Romans and other Mediterranean groups (including the Babylonians) to the modern steamroom and sauna. In my alternate version of history, I could see the lalassu bringing it with them as they scatter across the world when Babylon fell. It could even have come across the Atlantic with the Vikings or other ancient travelers.
For the first sweatlodge, Ron has to become aware of all the things which are pulling him down and driving him. It’s a lot of pain to come face to face with, but it’s necessary to know where all the hurt is before it can begin to heal.
Lily’s grandfather, Gerry, was inspired by my own grandfather, who never gave advice without a story to go along with it. He was a powerful presence but despite that, we all knew he cared about us. He was a huge man but made us feel safe, like being sheltered by a giant.
During my research, the biggest surprise was discovering that many young native women feel community pressure to have children. I knew that teenage pregnancy rates were higher on most reservations, but I hadn’t realized that it might be seen as a way of restoring the population. Some young women feel as if they are solely responsible for their culture’s survival and that feeling conflicts with any other plans they might have for their lives. I didn’t get the impression that it was something really pushed on them, but was more like a strong assumption, like the assumption that a married woman would give up school and work in the 1950’s. When I heard about it, I thought about how much more pressure might be imposed on a hidden population, literally an endangered species.
There are a lot of conflicting pressures on Northern communities and most are very aware of how easy it would be for the government to make their lives harder. It’s usually done with the best of intentions, protecting the environment or helping, but good intentions don’t always translate to good results. I had Lou bring up those concerns since I thought he needed to have a better reason to fear Ron than “fear the outsider” from earlier.
Vincent was one of my favourite characters from Revelations so I knew I wanted to keep bringing him back for the sequels. However, I also wanted to explore the ramifications of what happened to him. He is recovering from a very personal invasion, a rewriting of his thoughts and impressions. As far as I’m concerned, that kind of mental rape would take extensive work to get over, so I based Vincent’s reactions on the common reactions of rape survivors. Many of them turn to self-medication to cope, they become reckless and angry and without a lot of support and help, they can end up self-destructing.
Edyta was inspired by a number of strong-willed and independent people living and thriving in the North. The communities there seem to attract those who don’t quite fit in and encourages them to express themselves without self-consciousness. Shipping is the lifeblood of these communities and the local person in charge of shipping holds a great deal of power. I gave her a tragic past because, unfortunately, many powerful women achieve that power at the expense of their personal relationships. I believe it’s possible to have both, but it was harder for each previous generation.
Lily’s passionate plea to not have to choose between staying in her home and being in touch with the world is taken from many similar pleas I heard. Often the “modern” luxury that communities are most interested in is phone and Internet service. With that, they can have the world at their fingertips but still remain true to their culture.
The scene with Doc talking to Buttercup is inspired by watching Steve Searles interact with his bears. There was something peaceful and meaningful in the exchange of vocalizations, as if both of them have found their place in the world.
The scene where Karan (Pujari) and Caligo (Vapor) talk is my first big hint that the two of them are immortal and have known each other for centuries. I was so excited to be able to finally share this that this scene is one of the first ones I wrote. For some reason, the idea of a cycling friends-enemies relationship which plays out over millennia really appeals to me and it was always going to be part of the lalassu.
Dalhard’s obsession with finding something powerful which he can control absolutely was an interesting one to play with. In Revelations, he wants his own life-size action figures and in Metamorphosis, he decides to go for guard-bears. But he never quite seems to understand that loyalty can’t be coerced and even the most devoted people will still have their own minds.
I love the scene with Ron carrying Doc up into a tree but it’s not something anyone without superpowers should try. If you run, bears will run after you and they can climb trees faster than we can. Official warning: don’t try this at home. Of course, if you have bears in your home, there are bigger issues for you to worry about.
I also love Doc’s accusations to Dr. Damali. “Narcissistic delusions of scientific adequacy” is a personal favourite insult.
The Morlock story arc in X-men was always one which stuck with me. Morlocks are mutants who don’t have powers (mostly) but who look different. Where the X-men get a mansion and vibrant uniforms, the Morlocks live in the sewers and abandoned buildings. When the X-men try to recruit the Morlocks to help them, the Morlocks accuse them of not really understanding what it is to be a mutant because the X-men can “pass” as human. It really got me thinking about how there are degrees of isolation and discrimination, so I knew it was something I wanted to explore. The Marked have fewer options than the rest of the lalassu.
In the next chapter, Ron is going to be hurt that Lily didn’t come see him right away but, she actually did, just as Litonya. It let her check on him without having to deal with all the complications of human interaction.
Ron’s experience in Afghanistan is the central trauma of his life. Horrible things happen in war and soldiers can be mentally and emotionally devastated as they try to cope. Interestingly, studies of PTSD says that those who go in with the idea of being heroes are most likely to be strongly negatively affected when things go wrong. Those who have had traumatic childhoods or been exposed to violence at an early age will ironically do better than their more typically adjusted peers.
Ron’s description of seeing his friend die is based on a story which still makes me cry whenever I think of it.
Vincent’s guilt is another common feature among survivors of assault. Most of them blame themselves, feeling that they somehow deserve what happened to them. Most forget: even making horrible, bad and stupid decisions does not make someone deserving of attack, of any kind. No one ever asks for it.
Lily’s sanctuary is based on an emergency shelter from Life Below Zero. The man had a small one room cabin but he had a cave shelter nearby in case his cabin was compromised.
Perhaps I’m overly cynical but it has often seemed to me that the wealthy and powerful are too often able to wriggle out from the consequences of their actions. So I don’t consider it to be too unbelievable that Dalhard would be meeting with a senator and ensuring that the charges against him lose their political drive.
The rogue bear would have attacked Steve and Dr. Damali because it was be hungry or surprised, not out of maliciousness. Most fatal bear attacks come after the bear has been injured and not killed by a hunter, or surprised by a hiker or after the food from a camper or hiker. When an animal hasn’t got enough fat stored to hibernate, then they are incredibly desperate and dangerous, torn between competing biological drives.
The idea of someone creeping into my mind to control it has always sent a shiver up my spine. I based Ron and Vincent’s reaction on abuse victims, who often can’t separate the affection they felt or feel from the horrible things their abusers did to them. Human emotions aren’t easily overcome by mere logic or experience.
Ron is a true hero, one who always wants to save others. His instincts are powerful, so when he can’t save them, it’s devastating, striking at the core of who he believes he is. He persuades Vincent to do the sweatlodge because it is easier to try and save someone else than to focus exclusively on saving himself and because I don’t believe he could ever do otherwise. If he knows it’s possible to save someone, he has to try.
Even though I’m writing it, Vincent’s story leaves me heartbroken for him. He’s been violated and then abandoned by his family. Now, he doesn’t make it easy to help him. He is a master of the “get them before they get me” technique of keeping others at a distance. But underneath all his bluster and sarcasm, I see the terrified young man who is rapidly losing all hope of ever regaining the life he wanted. Watching him hit rock bottom is hard for me, since he’s a great character to work with.
My thanks to my beta reader, Christina, for pointing out that I never showed what happened to the rogue bear. In my mind, Setsuné always went after the animal for having dared to hurt Big Bart, who was under her protection. But the characters couldn’t possibly know that. It’s always difficult to remember that the characters don’t have the writer’s knowledge. I might know that a building is empty and thus the hero doesn’t need to worry about it being blown up, but a real hero would worry. In this case, I knew that the rogue wouldn’t be hurting anyone ever again, but my characters need to know that the threat is gone.
I also had a lot of internal debate about whether or not to include references to the origin of the non-skinwalker bears of the Colony. I did not want to imply bestiality in any way, shape or form. But the skinwalkers I’ve created are equally human and animal. Some choose to live mostly as animals, some choose to live mostly as human and some do a mixture of both. The ones who live as animals would find animal mates and any cubs born would have a higher level of intelligence. So it seemed very likely to me that any group of skinwalkers would create a subspecies of large, intelligent animals.
The confrontation with Bob shows that Bob is becoming unhinged. He’s paranoid and there’s only one enemy in his mind: Ron. Even though it doesn’t make any sense, he’s blaming Ron for everything, seeing him as some sort of supervillainous mastermind. Everything Bob has been holding together through sheer force of will is falling apart and he can’t believe it. Ironically, if he hadn’t been holding it so tightly, it would have lasted longer. Like trying to grip sand, the tighter the hold, the less will remain.
The attack on Bear Claw was the inspiration for this entire novel. I could see it all in my mind, soldiers descending on a remote cabin, deep in the woods. My hero tries to fight them off to protect the heroine but fails. As he’s being overpowered, she looks at him with regret in her eyes and then reveals her true nature, transforming into a giant bear who proceeds to rip through the soldiers and save them both. The scene offered a lot of interesting questions for a story to explore: Why would the heroine not share her true nature with the hero? How would the hero react to learning the heroine isn’t entirely human? How would he feel about being rescued?
I love the line “I’m reconsidering our hiring policies for sub-contractors.” I’ve always liked understated humour. Almost every story ends up with a variation on “This is bad” somewhere in it, but my favourite has always been from Heroes, when being told that the psychopathic superpowered serial killer has escaped, the person being told replies “That’s less than ideal.” To me, there’s something subtly callous about it. The person doesn’t truly care about the results of their actions, only that the outcome isn’t the one desired. Mix that with the inherent humour of the audience grasping how severe the situation actually is, and it’s a great, nuanced moment.
Karan’s ability to manipulate and plot is one of his best qualities as a villain. He understands how his ex-partner will react. Although Vapor is relatively certain that Karan is lying to him, Karan knows that Vapor will want to give him a chance.
Researching the effects of ketamine was entertaining and interesting. It used to be used as a battlefield anesthetic, knocking out soldiers so that their wounds could be dealt with on site. However, the discovery that it often caused hallucinations caused it to become a popular recreational choice and its use outside of animal tranquilizers dropped.
Ron is entitled to some hard feelings as he wakes up. No matter how heroic anyone is, discovering the woman you love is actually a bear and having her forcibly drug you will leave them at least a little cranky.
Steve would like to believe he’s a big, bad shark but compared with Karan and Dalhard, he’s a lot further down the food chain. No matter how big a person thinks they are, there are always bigger predators out there. That’s part of the reason why he agrees to the enhancement treatment.
Doc’s story about rescuing the cubs who turned out to be Lily and her brother was inspired by Charlie Russell’s rescue of the three cubs he found after their mother was killed. Russell’s cubs didn’t turn into humans, but I can imagine that would freak out any biologist it happened to. And unfortunately, fear usually results in aggressive responses.
I knew it would be a little confusing for those who didn’t read Revelations, but I hoped that those who did would realize Caligo was Vapor. Otherwise, he appears to be a new character. This was the big reveal showing that the two of them are immortal and that they’ve had a brotherly relationship for centuries. It took me some thought to figure out why Vapor would have tried to kill Karan. There was a lot of suspicion during the London Blitz that Nazi sympathizers were somehow helping the Nazi’s to mark strategically significant targets or were using the bombings as cover. Nothing was ever proved conclusively. It is important to realize that Vapor was wrong. He acted to betray his sworn companion and while Karan wasn’t innocent, he wasn’t guilty of collusion.
Joe will be the hero of Inquisition, the next book in the lalassu series. I introduced him in Revelations and wanted to reintroduce him to all my readers. Initially I planned to have him go up to Bear Claw because Gwen (my resident medium and psychic) had a vision. But I don’t actually like using visions as a motivator, it always feels like a bit of a cop out. Having Vapor ask Joe to come along made sense to me and it allowed me to do a bit more exploring of how people react when legal methods aren’t enough to protect themselves.
The description of the note of desperation that people get when talking to cops came from an actual police officer who spoke to me (sadly, I didn’t get his name). It happens with both victims and perpetrators. The victims get desperate as they realize the police are limited in what they can do and the suspects get desperate as they realize that this time, they won’t be getting away with it.
I redid the conversation between Vapor and Joe multiple times. Although I want the readers to know that Vapor is immortal and that his partnership with Karan stretches back centuries, I don’t want the characters to know that yet. This is a secret which Vapor has kept from everyone and he’s not about to casually blab it now.
Andrew’s question during the third sweatlodge “Do you want it enough to face the most frightening and darkest parts of yourself?” is a variant of one which I heard many years ago and it always resonated with me. It was asked of a young woman who was having nightmares about something horrible which had happened in her past. She wanted the nightmares to stop but the only way to do it was to face what had happened to her, something she’d been hiding from for years. The person helping her asked her: What do you want more, to avoid facing your past or to stop your fears? She couldn’t have both. No one can heal a wound which is still festering.
For those who are curious, the Lady of Starry Skies is the same as the Queen of the Night from Revelations. I rewrote Lily’s prayer many times, trying to find the right tone for someone who believes, but isn’t spiritually inclined. The reply she hears is the voice of the Goddess, answering her prayers.
Whenever someone tells me to start talking, the first things which go through my head are silly, inappropriate and sarcastic. It always takes me some time to work my way through to something coherent, so I decided to show that process with Lily. Like me, she’s a thinker and a planner and doesn’t do as well with something spontaneous.
I’ve had varied reactions to Ron reacting more as a soldier than a lover. While I agree it would be more romantic for him to be pulled out by the power of true love, when I tried writing that way, it felt incredibly false. He’s been in love for less than a week. He’s been a soldier and a hero for most of his life. He’s still finding his way as a lover and partner. Lily’s words of love might get his attention but it is her appeal to his protective side which gets him moving.
Vincent always gets to be my voice of depressing reality. It’s not always helpful but what he says is true. Dalhard is the ultimate conspiracy theorist’s enemy, someone who can rewrite history and people’s reactions to suit himself.
Since the isolated homes up North are heated with fire, the risk of a home burning down and leaving someone without shelter is something which needs to be planned for. The nearest help might be hours or days away, so a fire can be a death sentence even if a person escapes the structure alive. Going inside a burning building is never a good idea, most of the time it just ends up with more people needing rescue. I spoke to my local firefighters about what it’s like inside a burning building and used their descriptions for Lily and Ron.
Choosing where to put the final split between Karan and Dalhard was a challenge. Like all bad guys, eventually their individual goals no longer mesh and there’s no trust to back things up. Karan has no real loyalty to his boss and Dalhard has no real loyalty to the man who’s been supporting him for years. Once they are no longer useful to each other, the relationship is gone. The split has been growing since Revelations, but now there’s no going back.
It’s a stereotype that guys tend to focus on the top priority, whereas women are more multi-tasking worriers. It’s not universal, but I find it is still useful in predicting how men and women will react to various circumstances. When Ron realizes how hurt and withdrawn Lily is, she becomes his top priority. She’s more important than his survival, escaping his enemies, even more important than protecting his companions. Until he feels confident that she understands how he feels and thus won’t be leaving, he won’t be able to deal with anything else.
Ron and Lily’s dance in the bar was inspired by a real couple I saw one night. My friends and I were out at a rustic little bar which had an amazing live band. Most of the patrons were busy drinking and trying to unwind from a long work week but there was one couple who began to dance in a tiny cleared area in front of the stage (not an actual dance floor). They seemed so beautifully and happily oblivious and in love. They were taking a moment entirely to themselves and it touched me.
Icicles in the shoes is a long standing joke between my husband and I whenever we have an argument. It’s become a good joke for breaking the tension and reminding each other not to take our disagreements too seriously. At some point, one of us will threaten to find icicles to stick in the other’s shoes and we’ll both end up laughing.
The final sweatlodge was a neat scene to put together. Going back to Revelations to show the first meeting between Dalhard and Ron from Ron’s perspective was a lot of fun. I was surprised to discover that Dalhard hadn’t actually introduced himself in that scene, so I ended up adding an extra piece where the scientists mention who he is. Writing scenes from different perspectives was always one of my favourite writing exercises. We used to start with lines of dialogue and action (like a screenplay) and then write it out from the perspective of different characters.
The confrontation in the conference room required some extensive choreography mapping to make sure I didn’t lose anyone in the shuffle. I actually mapped it all out with little Playmobil people (stolen from my sons’ toychest) on a hand-drawn layout of the Ptarmigan hangar. I played it out a few times, making notes on who was where and at what times. When my son came home, he was quite intrigued by the map and the people and then he spent the rest of the day playing with it.
Writing the final confrontation from Litonya’s point of view was a challenge. Bears are short sighted, unable to make out details beyond about twenty feet. They have a good sense of smell, but not enough to plausibly be able to tell exactly who is where and what’s happening. Technically, I could have just ignored the limitations, but I don’t like doing that. Although I write about fantastical things, I want to keep it as realistic as possible. Simply ignoring the limitations is unsatisfying to both the reader and the writer.
I had another difficult decision to make in this battle. I’ve been consistently referring to Lily as Litonya when she is in her bear shape. However, from her point of view, her name is Lily. I didn’t want to imply a further separation of her personality by referring to her as Litonya, especially since part of her character growth is to realize there is no real separation. Both the fur and the skin are equally part of her. But I worried it might get confusing for readers to remember that she is actually in bear form at this time. In the end, I think I put in enough reminders without getting irritating.
There is an important character moment for Vincent in the final confrontation. He has called for help but he also refuses one of Dalhard’s commands. It happens very quickly and in the heat of battle, no one remarks on it, but it marks an important turning point for his character.
I love the final confrontation between Karan and Vapor. It gives me shivers and it resonates for me. They’re both exhausted, hurt and suspicious. Part of them would like to rebuild the bridge between them, but they both know they’re too far apart. They’re preparing to have to fight one another in the open for the first time in their partnership.
Having Bob deliver the video of Lily shifting to Ken is his worst decision. He’s hurt, he’s rejected and he’s scared and he makes the worst possible choice for his situation. Unfortunately, humans are prone to do that when they’re upset. He thinks he’s thinking rationally, which makes him very dangerous. Like an abuser who thinks kidnapping an ex at gunpoint is the way back into his or her affection, Bob is no longer in touch with anything resembling reality.
Nada’s funeral was always in my mind for a finale. It fulfills Ron’s promise and honours her sacrifice in Revelations. It’s based on what I would like for my own final farewell, a scattering of ashes and a renewal of memories.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse behind the scenes and we’ll see you again for Inquisition.
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