This is just the introduction, but there might be a couple potential spoilers if you haven’t read the books yet. Also, there is now an ongoing TRIGGER WARNING for the commentary (I will be touching on topics such as violence and suicide in the course of this commentary).
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We’ve reached the commentary I’ve been looking forward to the most and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m seriously almost giddy. From the Ashes is still my personal favorite of the novels I’ve written so far, which is kind of weird because it’s probably the most violent book I’ve written. I don’t know, something about the novel just flows so smoothly. Once it gets started, it doesn’t stop. At least, that’s what I hope.
This novel went through a lot of genres in different drafts. It went from being a mash-up of superhero and western to a retelling of Hamlet (a gender-swapped one). Finally, I decided it worked much, much better as a story about revenge. However, I kept in a couple elements from those previous ideas, which I felt gave the story a bit more punch.
The novel starts with a violent storm, which is appropriate for the story that follows. Whenever I was working on this novel, it seemed like I was experiencing some kind of difficulty. Whether it had to do with school, misogynistic publishers and agents, or just the day to day drudgery of life. I poured all my pent up anger and frustration into this novel. When I was doing the last rewrites, I was dealing with regular incidents of harassment at conventions I was attending (including the attempted assault I mentioned in the introduction to the previous novel’s commentary). The result of this is the most violent novel I’ve written to date. It’s kind of funny that I still sometimes have people ask me if I was angry at them 🙂
There were a couple things I wanted to explore in this novel, but I’m finding it a bit difficult to put the ideas into words. So please bear with me as I try to write through this 😉
At the end of Through Storm and Night, readers got their first glimpse of Blitz, the main character of this novel. She’s a 7-series from Grenich, an experiment (experiments don’t have names in the Corporation, only ID numbers). Because experiments have no notion of freedom, they’re an interesting way to explore topics like revenge.
From the Ashes contains a lot of references to Hamlet, including a ghost who often quotes the play. The ghost haunts Blitz, but it’s never certain if the specter is just a hallucination. I leave it entirely up to the reader to decide whether or not the ghost is really there.
Due to the intensive experimentation, shape shifters from Grenich are stripped of the ability to sleep. They’re unable to daydream or escape into their minds in any way. They are essentially stripped of most of what makes them individuals. They only know how to kill and survive. The Grenich experiments are little more than weapons. It’s why they always seem a little out of place. They’re not meant to fit in with the “normals” (their term for non-experiments). They’re extremely dangerous because of their instincts and reactions. One of the questions this novel explores is whether or not it’s possible to rehabilitate an experiment (who could be considered monsters and who are killers) to the point where they could re-enter society. Can they recover from the intensive experimentation?
Blitz’s motivations and actions are sometimes strange even to her. For a good portion of the novel, she’s looking for revenge. However, she doesn’t see it as revenge. She’s neutralizing serious threats and in her mind, there’s a difference. Revenge is petty action that mortals are prone to. She does not possess such emotions that would be required to desire revenge. Blitz is an extremely complicated character, though she believes herself to be simplistic (she’s a weapon to be used for a specific purpose). Blitz relies almost solely on logic and thinks strategically, more machine-like.
One of the darker things I explored in this novel was the topic of suicide. Experiments would never kill themselves (lacking emotions, individuality, and most free will, they do not experience some of the drives and ideas that often result in suicidal behavior or action). Blitz is trying to die, but not consciously. Her health is rapidly deteriorating and she continues hunting down a Grenich retrieval team. She never looks for help, even though she knows it’s available. Whether she recognizes it or not, Blitz wants to die. I’ll discuss this more throughout the commentary.
One of my only regrets about this novel is that I couldn’t figure out a way to fit Dane into it. And fucking god, did I try. Not only is he a compelling character, but it would have been fucking perfect with the Hamlet references. Dammit, Dane!
The story alternates between two groups: the protectors (and other characters) that readers are already familiar with and a trio of new (-ish) characters (Blitz, Jack, and the doctor). These two story lines are on a collision course as both groups are after the same targets, albeit with different goals. And, as always, the Big Bad looms in the background.
There is also a brief glimpse of the heads of Grenich. I really have to write up and publish the family tree I have of the Big Bad’s family (he keeps things in family).
The Symbol of Blitz
I really, really, really want to get a small silver pendant of Blitz’s symbol (seen above). This is on my business cards and on my online store too. I just fucking love this goddamn symbol so fucking much.
I recently wrote about Blitz’s symbol on my Facebook author page:
Blitz’s symbol is one of the few aspects of my novels I’m not even slightly critical of. It fits the character perfectly. When I first thought up the character of Blitz, I knew I wanted her to wear something around her neck. My thinking was that Copper (who readers will meet in “Haunted by the Keres”) wanted to give her something not related to killing. Copper is a character who has a soft spot for exploited individuals (mostly mortals, but any kind of exploitation really turns his stomach). Experiments don’t have personal possessions and they don’t wear jewelry (they’re not meant to be individuals, they’re viewed solely as tools). Copper designed a symbol that he could engrave in Blitz’s weapons, thereby giving her an alias, which slowly becomes the urban legend in “From the Ashes.” For Blitz, this symbol allows her to take advantage of the urban legends. In a way, it allows her to remake her identity: she’s no longer a number, she’s Blitz.
I went through a number of different animals. I started with the cat, but for a time, I changed it to a fox. The clever reputation of foxes in myths appealed to me: Blitz is very clever and there are certainly fox-like aspects to her personality. I eventually nixed the idea because in the wild, foxes mate for life. They don’t have the aloofness that is an important part of Blitz. I made a list of animals (mostly big cats) that I thought best represented Blitz. The more I thought about it, the more a regular cat jumped out at me (there are a few spoiler-ish reasons why, which I won’t comment on). Cats are aloof, they’re quiet and quick, they’re nocturnal. They’re also extremely clever creatures and they’re beautiful.
The lightning bolt came from the idea of the blitz attack: fast, lethal, and over before one knows it. The cat is leaping, always in motion. Blitz is fast and she isn’t often still. She’s always moving and she’s very quiet. The circle is meant to be representative of a full moon. Stormy, aloof, and a creature of the night, the symbol fits Blitz.
My brother, Michael, is the designer of the symbol. One of these days, I hope to have it made into a pendant. I don’t particularly care for jewelry (never looked good on me), but I think I would make an exception for a Blitz pendent.
The cover of the third novel is probably my favorite cover to date (I know a lot of people like the cover of Haunted by the Keres, but I still like From the Ashes). The color scheme is perfect and my brother managed to design a cover that beautifully matched up with the title. Plus the picture of the symbol in fire is quite striking. It’s meant to be representative of the burning rage coursing beneath the cool exterior. Blitz is angry, though she doesn’t realize it. She doesn’t think she has emotions, but there are a couple times in the novel where her actions contradict this.
Well, I think that’s about all the introduction readers need. It’s really all I can think to write at the moment. I’m saving my insights and anecdotes for the commentary 😉
Tomorrow will dive right in with the prologue 🙂
Until then . . .