Nearly two years ago, I hosted my first ever interview, which was with Kate McIntyre on The Timeseer’s Gambit. Now Kate McIntyre talk is back to about the third book in her fantasy mystery series, The Heartreader’s Secret! The Heartreader’s Secret will be released on April 12th. If you’re unfamiliar with the Faraday series, you should immediately find yourself a copy of the very first book, The Deathsniffer’s Assistant.
In case we’ve got any new readers unfamiliar with your books, can you tell us some about your series the Faraday Files?
The Faraday Files is based around ideas I’ve wanted to explore since I was really young.
My grandmother bought me a collection of every Nancy Drew novel from a yard sale when I was barely five, and I taught myself to read by solving mysteries with Nancy, Beth, and George. I loved trying to puzzle out what would happen next and being surprised by all the twists and turns. My favourite Nancy Drew mysteries were always the ones where it seemed like something supernatural might be going on — ghosts, monsters, UFOs. Inevitably the mysterious goings-on would be explained away, and I always felt just a little bit disappointed.
Twenty-five years later, that disappointment would coalesce into the first solid ideas for the Faraday Files series, a set of whodunnit investigative mystery novels that take place in a fantasy world and where exciting and unique magic is involved in both the doing and the solving of crimes. It follows Christopher Buckley, a mild-mannered young man still recovering from losing his family in a magical disaster as he becomes first the assistant and later the friend and confidante of brilliant murder detective Olivia Faraday. Chris is uptight, prissy, soft-hearted, and extremely concerned about how he’s perceived by those around him. Olivia is brash, eccentric, damaged, and seems to intentionally make herself as unlikeable as possible. Together, they fight crime! And also learn to understand one another, redefine what matters in their lives, and explore deep truths about what it means to be a good or bad person. And also there’s some stuff about society and periods of great change and the importance of taking a stance, of standing for something, of empathy, of compassion.
But mostly the crime-fighting.
How much research do you have to do while writing the Faraday books?
A whole lot! The bulk of my research basically falls into three categories: the historical, the mechanical, and the flavorful.
The Faraday Files are set in a sort of alternate history based mostly around the Edwardian period of history, which is loosely defined as England in the time between 1901 and 1910, but also including the reign of George V, which lasted until 1936. I was drawn to this point in history specifically because it’s very unknown, existing between the Victorian era and the beginning second world war. Popular history seems to skip these years, creating the sense that England time traveled from the turn of the century to the Blitz, which made it the perfect era to pull from when writing about a time of transition, of great change. I started research with historical fashion blogs to get a sense of the look and feel. Photography started becoming an actual discipline in this era, which let me look at real pictures taken of London and Edinburgh during the period. Very cool! I also just read a lot of assorted books. Life Below the Stairs by Alison Maloney was a great primer to jump off from.
The Faraday Files takes place in a world very defined by its technology, which is powered by bound elemental spirits. I wrote simple spec docs explaining how major technologies worked for book 1, which served me well, but in the second book, The Timeseer’s Gambit, I introduce Emilia Banks, a genius engineer who’s trying to bring non-magical technologies to the world. Not only is she way smarter than me, she’s the sort of woman who wants to explain her work to laymen so that it seems accessible and nonthreatening. I couldn’t fudge this! I had to actually learn how it all would work, how she would build it, what materials would be available to her. I have a friend who has a total engineer’s brain. He looks at something and just gets how it works. So whenever I’d get stuck, I’d go to him and say, okay, explain this slow to me like I’m an idiot, so I can have Em explain it to everyone else like they’re idiots. And he’d always managed to break it down until I got it.
As for the flavor stuff, it’s mostly a matter of knowing enough that it gives the impression the characters know what they’re talking about. The most research I did on flavor was for The Heartreader’s Secret. Chris and Olivia go to Olivia’s family estate in the country in this one, and it’s this famous orchard and cidery. Olivia likes to show off and I really wanted to give the sense that she’s actually proud of her heritage, so I needed to make sure she sounded like she knew what she was talking about when she started rambling about operations on the grounds. So now I’m an expert on apples and hard apple cider, hah.
How difficult is it to plan out the murder mystery sections of the series?
It can be challenging, for sure. I read a lot of murder mysteries leading up to working on the first book, paying attention to how the detectives solved the cases in them. I also watched a lot of crime procedurals on television. I quickly realized that the most important thing is that the audience loves to watch the detective figure something out. My instinct always wants to have new evidence or a promising lead surprise the characters, but it’s always more satisfying when they go out actively looking for it and then find it themselves. This is pretty unique to writing a mystery. For instance, in a different genre, I’d think to have a character, say, being chased and then trip and fall through a trapdoor, discovering new information down there. That seems surprising and exciting. But for a mystery, it’s almost always better if the character intuits the trapdoor is there and then goes around tapping the floor and looking for it on their own.
Of course, the Faraday Files aren’t just murder mysteries. They’re also fantasy novels with a conspiracy thriller sort of bent. So I do both. Generally, I’ll have Olivia be the one who realizes the thing is there and goes to find it, while Chris will be the one who falls on his face into a bad situation.
I’ve always appreciated that while the books have a male protagonist, Chris is surrounded by plenty of interesting women. Can you talk some about the women of the Faraday books?
It’s interesting. The male protagonist was kind of a coincidence more than anything else. Olivia was the first character I conceptualized for the series, and she was the one I built the narrative around. Chris came later. He was designed to be her foil, her opposite in all things. His purpose in the story was to be strong where she was weak and weak where she was strong. I’ve always liked narratives about partnerships where the dominant partner is a woman and the submissive was a man, so Chris’s gender came naturally. And, of course, the accepted wisdom is that you have the least experienced member of a team as the narrator, because it’s more accessible to a reader. It wasn’t until I started writing that I realize I’d written myself into a corner where my point of view character was going to be a man! So I worked really hard to make sure the rest of the central cast were going to be women to counteract that.
I’ve always thought that the key to writing good female characters is to write diverse female characters, and I’ve really focused on that with the ladies of the Faraday Files. They’re all strong in different ways, and they all have different defintions of what being a woman means. Olivia is very feminine in presentation. She loves fashion and jewellery and bright colours, but she doesn’t have a nurturing bone in her body. Meanwhile, policewoman Maris Dawson is all butch. Gruff, brash, unsympathetic, emotionally closed. Her only real moments of softness are when she’s with her lover, Emilia, who’s a warm, professorial, elegant woman of colour. Em is very maternal, and yet she’s a sort of character we don’t see often, a woman dedicated to her work in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) field. And then there’s Chris’s sister Rosemary, who’s always embraced a sort of frilly porcelain doll presentation and affect, but who, as you’ll see in The Heartreader’s Secret, is still figuring out what sort of woman she wants to grow up to be.
“Strong female character” is often treated as a template. Fictional women are held to this standard where they have to be everything, which isn’t exactly fair, but it happens because, so often, there’s only one or two in an entire work. I think strong female characters are a rainbow. The bigger your female cast, the more variety they can have.
Are there any books you’d recommend to fans of the Faraday Files?
Ah, so many. I’ll focus on a few that I don’t think many people have read, to make this interesting, but if you’re reading this and you haven’t read every single thing by NK Jemisin, go fix that right now. Also, everything I’m going to recommend here has some element of queer romance or queer characters because, uhm, I’m super gay.
First, The Magicians and Mrs Quent by Galen Beckett. It’s the first in a series of three. These books are not flawless, but I just absolutely adore them and wish that the author would revisit this world. Set in an alternate England in the regency era, they’re a kind of Jane Austen meets Charlotte Bronte meets HP Lovecraft mashup that captured me from moment one of the first page. The mysteries and lore are incredibly well written, and the cast is just fantastic. The first book leans a little too much into the source material (it verges on pastiche in parts) but the second and third really take the ball and run somewhere new and super awesome.
Second, Beyond The Pale by Mark Anthony, first in a series of seven. Full disclosure… this is actually the same author as the first thing I recommended. Beckett is a pen name for Anthony. I only read this book because I loved his Mrs Quent books so much, because on the surface they sound extremely bad. A bartender from Colorado gets sucked into a fantasy world, are you kidding me? But don’t be deceived by the terrible premise, these books are incredible. They’re a harder sell than the Mrs Quent novels, but they’re definitely better. Anthony is a scientist in his day job and the deeper you get into this world, the more obvious that becomes. Demons are anti-matter. Portals are chaos theory. The big bad is entropy. The books are also incredibly diverse, especially considering they were written in the early 90s. The main characters are a dyslexic bisexual guy and a woman with severe PTSD, and the supporting cast include a disabled princess, a black witch, a gay knight, and a half-Irish, half-Native American bard. Great stuff, I swear.
Finally, Leviathan Wakes by James S A Corey, first in a series of what will eventually be nine. You might have seen The Expanse on SyFy, but in my opinion the books are infinitely better. It takes a bit before they really come into their own (and until they get explicitly gay) but these are unbelievably good stories about humanity on the brink of either greatness or extinction, with great, diverse casts, a spooky-ass space-Lovecraftian setting that gets weirder and weirder as time goes by, and the absolute best female character I’ve ever read in the form of Chrisjen Avasarala, a foul-mouthed, whip-smart, four-foot-nothing grandmother who’s also managed to basically become the leader of all humanity without ever having to run in an open election. She is brilliant, unflinching, and unbelievably mean. I would give my life for her.
If I’ve heard correctly, there’s only one book left in the series after The Heartreader’s Secret. Can you give us any hints as to what the final story might hold in store?
Yes, book 4, The Spiritbinder’s Key, is the final entry into The Faraday Files. I’m working on it now; I think I’m a little more than half done. Hopefully it loses some words in the edit, because if not, it’s going to be incredibly long!
When you reach the end of The Heartreader’s Secret, you’ll see clearly how all the pieces are laid out for the finale. For now, I’ll just say that it’s a very… conclusive sort of ending. There won’t be any loose ends. All these insurmountable problems have a solution, and we’ll leave Darrington a very different place from where we found it. Chris learns to take responsibility, Maris decides what really matters to her, Rosemary fulfills her destiny, Will does his father proud, Rachel finds absolution, and Olivia…
Well, you’ll just have to wait and see 😉
Do you have any current writing projects? What are you thinking about for once the Faraday books are finished?
My current writing time is 100% directed toward finishing Faraday Files. I’m so close to the end I can taste it, and I’m single-mindedly chasing the final phrase.
I do know what I’m writing next, though! It’s going to be a sort of Gothic Horror/Fantasy/Lovecraftian affair set on a strange haunted island isolated from the outside world. The protagonist is a princess far removed from the line of succession but very sensitive to spiritual energies who begins to suspect that the Old God of Misfortune her bloodline is meant to protect is starting to break free of its prison. She’s accompanied by her devoted loyal knight and her wisecracking distant cousin. It’ll be queer, of course, like everything I touch inevitably is. I’ve always hated the trope of a romance between a princess and her adoring retainer. Then I thought about doing it where the retainer is also a woman, and now I’m obsessed with the idea.
Kate McIntyre was born and raised in the frigid white north, having spent her entire life in Moncton, New Brunswick. She learned to appreciate the quintesstial Canadian things: endless winters, self-deprecating jokes, the untamed wilderness, and excessive politeness. Somehow it was the latter that she chose to write about.
She has been writing since she was five years old and nothing has ever stopped her for long. Her first novel was about a lady mouse detective saving her turtle janitor boyfriend from kidnappers, so it’s nice to know she always loved lady detectives. She is the proud author of sixteen embarrassing hidden novels and one publishable one.
Kate loves crochet, video games, board games, reading, and listening to bad pop music very loudly. She spends several months of the year in Illinois, and the rest of the time lives in a big country home with two cats who refuse to stay on diets and the world’s friendliest dog.