Behind the Scenes of the Madison Fox Series
Madison Fox in the Real World
I didn’t have more than a character idea: I knew I wanted a woman who could see souls. That was it.
Crunched for time but still desperately needing the creative outlet of writing, I was looking for ways to throw a story together quickly, so I stole from my own life. I didn’t use people, but I happily marched Madison through places I went daily.
This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the series—it’s all set in my backyard.
Shhh, don’t tell anyone. This is the undercover location of Illumination Studios, where Madison works. It looks an awful lot like the building where I was working at the time.
Home Sweet Home
Madison’s apartment was my apartment. Have you ever lived on the third floor? The people who rent you that apartment will tell you it’s only a pain on the days you move in and out. They’re wrong. Aside from not having someone tromping around on your ceiling, those two flights of stairs are a pain every time you bring home groceries. Or, say, sprain your ankle, as I did.
Fortunately, Madison hasn’t experienced the ankle problem, but she did lug a car-full of plants up to this apartment, for which I felt extreme sympathy for her.
If you’re Madison, and you’ve got something to prove, this construction site is a good place to start…or to make a fool of yourself.
Here’s a little-known fact: When I wrote the first draft of A Fistful of Evil seven or eight years before it was published, this housing development was just getting started (as it is in the novel). When I abandoned Madison for another project, the construction also stopped. It wasn’t until I returned to A Fistful of Evil and was getting the final edits wrapped up that development resumed here.
Some might say this was a coincidental connection due to the housing bubble that burst and the wee global recession that followed it. I say the development was waiting until Madison and I no longer needed it.
Believe what you will.
Love and Caring Veterinary Clinic
Mmm. Dr. Love. Mrowr. Ahem, I mean, yes, this actually is the location of my cat’s vet. The vets opted not to use a cutesy pun name and instead incorporated the nearest street into their name. (Boring.) Also, all the vets on staff are female, so unfortunately veterinarian Alex Love is a complete figment of my imagination. Lucky Madison…
It’s hard to believe, but there is no building eight stories tall in Roseville. We’re a low-to-the-ground city. The tallest building might reach six stories, but it’s on the west side of Roseville, outside of Madison’s territory. However, there is a hotel next to a greenbelt. Also, we’re too close to Sacramento to warrant hotels with convention centers, so this hotel has yet to host a gamer’s convention.
When I first moved to Roseville, I walked the same green belt trail as Madison (albeit without guns). The trail no longer exists, erased with the progress of the housing development, but years ago it was a beautiful and fun place to explore.
At least it was fun for me. Madison would no doubt disagree.
The novel wouldn’t be complete without Mr. Bond. If you read the copyrights page, you know Mr. Bond is a direct literary translation of my cat (though Mr. Bond is not my cat’s name).
When we found my Mr. Bond in a Dumpster, he was tiny and Siamese.
Then he grew up and darkened, proving he was a beautiful mutt, and possibly a descendant of a yet-undiscovered prehistoric mammoth house cat. He weighs more than the average two year old, and back when we lived in Madison’s apartment, my bookcases would shake against the walls when he ran down the hallway. Who knows what the downstairs neighbors thought was happening.
* * *
Thus concludes our Roseville tour. See how shamelessly I stole from the world around me? I feel no remorse, either. Mwahahah!
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A Fistful of Fire Deleted Scene
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read A Fistful of Fire, this deleted text (and even the next paragraphs) contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
Not all scenes make the final cut when I edit. A lot of times, the scenes that get deleted aren’t worthy of public consumption.
But every once in a while, I delete a scene because, although good or fun, it doesn’t fit into the overall story. This is one such scene. It takes place the day after Madison bonds with Jamie, the pooka.
I blasted the heater in the Civic and danced with Jamie to pop music as we cruised down Highway 65. For a newborn, Jamie was surprisingly rhythmic, and he managed to get a lot of wiggle around the seat belt. We probably looked like a pair of fools, but I didn’t care. For the first time since Thanksgiving, I was going to literally make the world a better place. So what if it wasn’t in my region and I had a pooka in tow.
Our destination, the Blue Oaks Town Center just outside Roseville’s city limits, bustled with shoppers frequenting the nexus of big-box stores. With the bribe of snack food and my phone for entertainment, it wasn’t hard to persuade Jamie to remain in the car while I hunted down the evil Isabel had sensed. I tried not to show my relief until I had my back to the Civic. The horror of battling evil creatures inflated by the wild energy of the pooka’s soul last night was not an experience I was eager to repeat, especially not in an open, public setting. So far, Jamie’s soul hadn’t exhibited any signs of a repeated extreme energy flare, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
I marched through a sprawling furniture store, an equally large sporting goods store next door, a Grocery Outlet, and a Dollar Tree, all without finding anything larger than a clump of imps loitering near employees smoking in a loading bay. Frustrated, I hurried back to Jamie and my car. Where was large disturbance Isabel had claimed I would find? I scrutinized the sky, the cars, and the drive-thru line at Starbucks. The immense center was clean.
“You don’t look happy,” Jamie said when I slid back into the driver’s seat.
“I think Isabel’s yanking me around.” What better way to make the new enforcer look bad than to show she couldn’t even follow directions to pinpointed evil?
“So we’re leaving?”
“Not quite yet.” Isabel hadn’t been subtle about her displeasure over Jamie bonding with me, rather than her enforcer. I was ninety percent sure sending me on a wild goose chase was her way of venting her frustration. But the other ten percent, the inexperienced, unsure percent of me, held off on calling Isabel on it. Maybe I was missing something. Better to double-check than to look the fool—or worse, give Isabel leverage to use against me, Jamie, and Mr. Pitt.
I drove down to the next sweeping center of oversize stores and parked near the Blue Oaks Century Theaters. Once more, I convinced Jamie to wait in the car, though he grumbled. I promised to be as fast as possible, but circling the parking lot and perusing the interiors of several clothing stores and a huge Petco didn’t make for quick work. My frustration increased with every nook and cranny I found clean. Where was Isabel’s evil?
I considered the theater, but opted to stomp around to the back of the buildings before purchasing a ticket and slinking through sixteen stadiums. Once more, I found nothing more than a wayward herd of imps.
A shallow greenbelt separated the back of the theater from Blue Oaks Boulevard before the road arched over Highway 65. Green was an arbitrary term. Due to the state’s limited rainfall, dry grasses and dying bushes filled the shallow gully—a salamander’s haven. A few larger trees hugged the pavement beyond a symbolic fence made of a single twisted metal cable fed through knee-high posts. Seeking to calm my irritation, which needed more help than my soul needed a recharge, I stepped over the sagging cable and laid a hand on a spruce.
The dull roar of the highway pushed against my skull. A pair of ibuprofen had taken the edge off my liquid lux lucis hangover, but frustration set it pulsing again. I grimaced at the roar of a Harley-Davidson engine blasting up the overpass, my gaze inadvertently drawn after the receding motorcycle. If I hadn’t been viewing the world in Primordium, I would have completely missed the faint shine of a human shape clinging to the outside edge of the bridge. The person appeared to be pressed up against a black background three times his height. When my brain registered what it was seeing, I jerked into a sprint.
Bolting down the dry weed bank, I leapt the trickle of water at the bottom, grimacing when I landed on my injured ankle. I clawed my way up the crumbling dirt on the other side, my eyes on the massive wraith and potential jumper, only registering the chain-link fence when I slammed into it. Cursing, I considered the merits of backtracking to my car, then driving up to the bridge.
The wraith flexed, swaying into the jumper, and he swung around to face outward, leaning out over the traffic rushing below him. That decided it: I didn’t have time for a detour. Shoving the tips of my tennis shoes between the tiny, diamond-shaped openings, I scrambled up the fence. At the top, I teetered, fighting for purchase before dropping to the opposite side. I gasped for breath when a spear of agony shot through my ankle.
Hobbling as much as running, I pushed up the steep incline to the jumper. Traffic slowed near the top of the bridge, and a few people had pulled over several car length’s beyond the wraith. I could see phones held to ears, which meant the cops were being called. If not for the wraith, I would have commended the good Samaritans. I didn’t have a clue what to say to the fellow who had his feet braced to the outside of the bridge’s short concrete wall, his fingers clinging to the tall chain-link fence designed to prevent exactly this circumstance. But the police couldn’t do a thing about the inverted tower of evil swaying over the man. I could.
From what Val had said, wraiths liked to re-create the emotional circumstance of their origin. It didn’t take a genius to guess this monster had been formed by a different jumper. Which meant that while the police might save this man, unless the wraith was destroyed, there would be another suicide victim to take his place. I had to stop this wraith before it claimed another life.
I swiped at my sweaty forehead and slowed to a walk. My breath rasped hot in my throat and my ankle throbbed. A woman standing beside her parked car near the end of the bridge motioned me to stop. I pretended I didn’t see her.
“Hey, there,” I said to the would-be jumper. “Don’t mind me. I just need to pick up something I dropped.”
“Don’t come near me, lady. I’ll jump!” His fingers tightened in the fence, belying his threat. The light gray tones of his soul proved he wasn’t a bad person—and he hadn’t had much time to accumulate atrum, either; he couldn’t have been over twenty-two. I passed a bike abandoned against the fence. His, I presumed. He wore loose chef’s pants and a grease-stained T-shirt, which meant he worked at one of the restaurants nearby. He also hadn’t been planning on committing suicide: A rented video game and six-pack hung in a plastic bag from the bike’s handlebars.
“Look, sir.” Sir seemed to be the best way to address a man literally on the edge. “I don’t think you should jump. You’ll die, and you might kill someone down there in the process. You’ll definitely ruin people’s lives. But I’m not here because of you. I just need to get something that’s loom—ah, that’s laying behind you.”
I’d been avoiding looking at the wraith, but now I forced myself to turn toward it. My feet took root. The monstrosity dwarfed me, the conical shell flaring over my head though I stood ten feet from the anchor. Clusters of faces pressed out the sides, spinning slowly around the base in both directions, following onlookers passing in their cars. Higher up, faces clumped so close together they looked like moving boils with eyes staring back at the endless stream of cars on the highway below. I shuddered and fought down a gag.
The wraith’s size made me glace around for Jamie, half hoping he had enhanced the wraith, but the pooka was nowhere to be seen. This evil had formed the old-fashioned way.
The wraith also had to be the evil Isabel had sent me after. I didn’t appreciate being forced to hunt for it. If she wanted me to prove I was a competent enforcer—or more likely, wanted to prove my incompetence—she shouldn’t have done so at the risk of the citizens in her region. If I was being too touchy and it had been no more than a mistake on Isabel’s behalf, she was more rattled by the increased evil than she had let on. Mr. Pitt would never have been so far off about the location of atrum in our region.
“What are you looking for?” the jumper asked. “Maybe I could help.”
I glanced at the man. He craned to look over his shoulder at me.
“What’s your name?” I’d seen enough cop shows to know establishing a rapport was step one with a mentally unhinged individual.
“Great. Carlos, I would really appreciate your help. If you could just come around to this side, I could use—”
The wraith flexed and swayed, enveloping Carlos, then retreating. When he emerged from the black curtain, his fingers barely curled around the chain-link fence, and his attention drooped to the dizzying rush of cars beneath him.
My mouth clicked shut. I couldn’t fit a hand through the chain links to grab the man’s wrist, and even if I could, I wouldn’t have been able to hold him if he jumped. Turning back to the wraith, I clenched my teeth to keep them from chattering, and forced my feet into motion.
A single face larger than my own pressed through the wraith at eye level. Its sightless eyes didn’t blink; its seam of a mouth didn’t open.
Staring into the empty ebony eyes, my steps slowed. Damn, this job was hard. I received so little reward for my efforts. For every evil creature I vanquished, another sprang up to replace it. I could be an enforcer my whole life and never make a discernible dent in the worldwide level of evil, maybe not even in my region’s overall level. A future of endless drudgery stretched before me, of Mr. Pitt yelling at me, of lying to my parents, of never having a meaningful relationship because I would never be able to share this huge part of my life with a norm. The competing aches in my head and ankle drummed louder. Was this fight worth it?
I tore my gaze from the wraith and shook myself. I matter. I make a difference.
My hands trembled and I chaffed them together. The wraith in the mall hadn’t affected me, yet I wasn’t even touching this one, and it had nearly ensnared me in its field of depression and lassitude. I longed to back away, but I held my ground.
I am an enforcer, and what I do matters.
Turning to keep the wraith in my periphery, I raised my hand and focused on creating a lux lucis swirl. I tried not to think about how I must look to passersby. I stood less than a car’s length from a potential jumper with my back to him, contemplating my palm like it was the most important thing in the world. Right now, for Carlos, it was.
Fresh sweat beaded my upper lip before I finally got a solid whirlwind of lux lucis moving in my hand. Doing my best not to look at the wraith, I crept forward, sinking to a squat after a few steps to avoid touching the slanting sheet of atrum. The face watching me slid down with me, eyes narrowing and mouth opening. My breath whistled between my teeth. I crawled the last two feet on hands and knees. In the mall, it’d been hard to see the gap between the anchor and the bottom of the small cone. Here, the gap stretched proportionally larger, with almost a foot of open air separating the conical bottom of the wraith from the sidewalk.
I closed my eyes and thrust my hand into the gap. I expected to feel as if I plunged my hand into ice water, but the wraith didn’t affect me like the atrum of an imp or vervet. The only sensation beneath my fingers was grit on the sidewalk.
Wind from the passing cars lifted my hair. I snapped my eyes open and shoved a swirl of lux lucis from my fingers. It burrowed into the concrete, pushing against a resistance that had nothing to do with solid matter. The wraith flopped toward me, engulfing me.
It was as if I crouched inside the oversize vervet again, breathing atrum as easily as air, lux lucis gushing from my fingertips into the earth in an endless stream. No medical enforcer would rush in to save me this time, no miracle liquid lux lucis would bring me back from the brink. There was just me and my pitiful well of life force soaking into a monster far more powerful than me.
My legs trembled. I would have shoved clear of the wraith, but I couldn’t remember which way traffic lay. Blood rushed against my eardrums, drowning out road noise and my panicked breathing. I couldn’t see my hand. If not for the twirl of energy through my palm, I wouldn’t have been able to tell if I was doing anything more than hyperventilating.
The wraith’s conical body flopped away from me. I sucked in air, basking in the colorless world of Primordium.
“Dios mío!” Carlos wrenched himself around to face me, his fingers clawing around the slender metal of the fence. “What the hell’s happening?”
The wraith swallowed me again, draining my will to live.
“I matter, I matter,” I chanted on bloodless lips. Atrum sluiced down my body, dwindling into the anchor, sucking my lux lucis down with it. I fed my soul into the wraith’s anchor until the resistance popped and my lux lucis pooled across the sidewalk. Numb, I collapsed to my butt and met Carlos’s frightened eyes.
“I think you should come back to this side,” I said once I worked moisture back into my mouth.
“You think? How did I— I don’t remember getting out here. And what were you doing? Praying?”
It was as good a lie as any. “I couldn’t think of another way to convince you.”
“Jesus, lady. You should open a church. I’m cured.” He glanced down, then squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed convulsively. In inching steps, he crept to the end of the high fence, then climbed over the shorter railing and collapsed on the sidewalk. Beyond him, a small group of onlookers cheered.
I rose on shaky legs. My soul guttered in need of a recharge, and the aftereffects of adrenaline shivered down my spine, but all I could think was I’d made a difference. This hadn’t been post-demon cleanup or cito dissipation. I had eliminated real evil from the world. I could have danced in place if so many people weren’t watching. I loved my job.
“Is that your dog?”
I followed the line of Carlos’s finger. An long-legged Great Dane with a shifting black and white soul sat just beyond the apex of the bridge.
“Jamie?” When had he changed? Where had he changed? Who had seen him?
Jamie lolled his tongue at me in a doggy grin, then spun and loped down the sidewalk.
“Jamie! Stop!” An ambulance and two police cars tore down the boulevard, their sirens drowning out my calls. I sprinted after the pooka, favoring my ankle. “Damn it, Jamie. Wait for me!”
The pooka either didn’t hear me or pretended not to. With his ground-eating strides, he quickly outpaced me. My heart lifted to my throat when he darted across the four-lane road to lope alongside traffic in the shoulder as if he were a bicyclist. Then he galloped around a corner and disappeared. My stomach sank toward my toes.
So much for the paranoia of Isabel engineering a scenario to make me look bad. I’d lost the pooka on day one; I didn’t need any help creating career-ending disasters.
© 2018 Rebecca Chastain
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