His Dark Mistress: a primer

His Dark Mistress has lived in my head for a long time. She started with a coat and then a hat, or maybe with Carmen Sandiego, I’m not sure. I loved the idea of Carmen Sandiego, but I always loathed how little of her story we ever got. We were always chasing her. Chasing and chasing and chasing, but we never got to meet her. It was like we were never good enough for her, and I grew up in awe of her. There’s a juvenile part of me who still wants to be the kind of person Carmen Sandiego would want to meet.

At any rate, the woman with the jacket has stalked me from the back of my head for years. I wrote her myth, the bit stashed a the end of the first book, (the one everyone either loves or hates; I get it) years before I wrote her first story. Let a friend read it, and he didn’t get it, so I put it away.

Thing about His Dark Mistress is that she stalks me, not the other way around. I put her books on my writing calendar and laugh. Like I get to pick when she’s going to show up or what’s going to happen to her. Her support staff, the other characters running around doing the work of the narrative, they are a bit more malleable, and they usually do what they’re told, but His Dark Mistress doesn’t even tell me when she’s planning on gracing the page again. She just shows up.

And shoots someone in the face.

I’m not in love with her.

I’m in love with most of my core characters; the relationships tend to be complex and diverse, but ultimately I’m in love with most of them and dodder along behind them as they work their way through the plots I have in mind. Some of them get outlines; these days, more don’t. I don’t love His Dark Mistress. I love lots and lots of the characters she draws along in her wake, but I’m afraid of her. Her stories are some of my more popular stories among the readers I have routine conversations with. They want to know when her next book is going to be done, and when they can read it. They tell me what she should be up to. They’re good sports, as I finish yet another book of Sam & Sam, or do my NaNo project on a fluffy fantasy one-off. But there’s this hum, as they wait on His Dark Mistress.

And I haven’t got a clue when she’s going to get here.

When she does, all I generally know is what city we’re working in, what character is taking the front-of-stage role, and very roughly where we’re going to end up.

Terrifying. I have no clue – none – how we’re going to get there.

So we charge ahead. And I’ll get a nice roll of characters going, the relationships, the conflicts, the idea of the thing, and she shows up and blows the whole thing up again.

You think I’m kidding. I’m not.

It’s more than that.

She lives in the back of my head to mock me for the weakness in my own life. My indecision. My people-pleasingness. Procrastination. Fear.

And then I blink and I’m seeing things through her eyes and everything gets… simpler.

Certainly not easier, but she sees the world in very simple terms.

She’d be my hero, if I could trust her to do things I’d be proud of her doing. In the end things tend to turn out, but she’s never picked a team.

Some day, one of her friends is going to look at another of her friends and say, “she may be a shark, but she’s our shark,” and I’ll wonder if it’s true, or if he’s lying to himself because he’s afraid of her, too.

The first one is in Boston, and it’s a mob thing. The second one, which came out this month, is in Miami, and it’s gangs-and-drugs. The third one is complete, but a long way from hitting shelves anywhere, and it’s more corporate. I think the next one is going to be Chicago. She keeps mentioning Chicago, and I think the Lady of the Lake is there, but I could always be wrong.

I plan twice as much time for a His Dark Mistress novel as any other one. They’re hard, and they take faith that when I get to the end, there’s going to be a story there. There almost wasn’t, with Houston. I missed half the story and had to go back and put it in. (And here I thought book four was going to be Carolina. Not.)

Any rate, Miami was a lot of fun. There’s a lot going on, and I got to introduce Timo, who plays a very different role in His Dark Mistress’ plans than Beth did. This is JJ’s favorite novel of the ones I’ve completed (14 of them in the running for that), and I’m very pleased with how it came out. If you’ve read the first two and enjoyed them, and might be interested in an ARC of Houston, hit the Contact Me button up there and let me know. I can’t promise when it will be out, but I can promise I won’t forget you wanted it.  Just want to know when the next one comes out?  Sign up for my mailing list – I only mail for releases if that’s what you want, and you can pick which names you want to hear about.

What I’m reading: Let’s Get Digital, David Gaughran
What I’m watching: NCIS. (Yes, there’s lots and lots of it.)


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