Of Characters and Things: Kai Gracen
I actually began writing Kai’s story more than ten years ago. It might have been fifteen. I’m not even sure where the concept came from but it pretty much followed most of my random thoughts, probably when I was either in the bathroom or drinking coffee because that just seems to be where ideas occur to most authors. It’s kind of like a piece of yarn caught in the bramble and it leads you to a secret place you’ve never been but seems so very familiar.
The idea the elfin Courts as they exist in Irish mythology became a base for what was going to happen in the world. I knew I wanted to write the story after the Courts and the humans battled it out because the terror of war and the scramble wasn’t the space I wanted to weave around, since so much of my interests centre around the study of cultures and how people react / interact when suddenly introduced or confronted by a sudden strangeness in their comfortable world.
Kai’s back story actually evolved from a lot of discussion around the dysmorphia and otherness adopted people feel when they are taken in by families with a different cultural background than their own ethnicity and culture. There are also points to be made about being a biracial child and not quite fitting into their families’ cultures for one reason or another. I am multiracial but I had a different cultural influence on my childhood than my sisters did, primarily because I had elders who were AAPI and raised me but had already passed when my sisters came along. This led them to have a more Portuguese-centric cultural influence and that’s how they identify.
For simplification purposes.
So that’s the basis of Kai. He was taken in by a human and raised in a society that bore great animosity to his race. It led to a complicated life but considering he was raised as a Stalker, their nomadic existence made it much easier for him to survive and also thrive as an individual. It gave him purpose and it’s something that Kai is very good at. Sometimes too good.
Dempsey (just as an aside)
I’m not going to give any spoilers about Dempsey in case people in the group haven’t read the books yet. Dempsey was a very simple character to write on the surface but there were a lot of hidden motivations where he’s concerned and he is as an unreliable narrator is Kai is. Dempsey has a lot of secrets; some are his own and some belong to others around him. At first glance, he’s an asshole. But he’s also an asshole at the second, third, and tenth glance. That never goes away. When all is said and done, he is a mercenary who for some stupid reason took in an enemy of his people to raise.
Dempsey never sugarcoated the shit he knew Kai was going to face from other people. There were going to be people who would fetishize Kai and people who would want him dead just because of how he looked. That’s just how the world was and he was going to make sure Kai knew that.
Stalker Dempsey went into raising Kai with his eyes wide open and while he wasn’t ever going to win any Father of the Year awards, he knew in order for Kai to survive, he was going to have to learn there was no such thing as a free lunch. Everything costs, including friendship. And never to truly trust anyone until they saved your neck for no reason.
Their lives were brutal and blood-filled but also of laughter and situations that made for great storytelling. Kai knew — deep down in his soul — that Dempsey had his back. So when Dempsey had to retire, there was no question that it was time for Kai to carry the load. And that’s really where I wanted to start the story. At a point where Kai was independent but still made sure that the man he thought of as his father was going to be okay.
And San Diego seemed like a great place to put them.
For all intents and purposes, the Stalker community really harkens back to a time of trading and trapping, with a serious dose of bootlegging and living on the edge of danger. Kai really thrives in that world. He loves the hunting (probably something he gets from his elfin father) and the adrenaline rush he gets bringing down something that maybe is a little bit too dangerous for him to tackle. Stalking is a challenge and if there is one thing Kai lives for it’s a good challenge. And sometimes those challenges come back to bite him in the ass.
Does he hate not being human? Yes. Because in his mind, he looks more like Dempsey than the depictions of the Courts’ people. Does he run into prejudice? Yeah he does. And it always surprises him because he doesn’t think of himself as anything but human. It’s a lesson he keeps learning time and time again but pushes aside. Because he wants to belong and under it all, he wants to be a part of the world around him, not just someone who lives on its edges in the shadows.
Kai has a moral code he follows and it’s pretty clear-cut. I would say that Dempsey was a bit more shady and sometimes cut corners, not something Kai agrees with. Kai has a strong work ethic and he won’t take on a project or contract he doesn’t think he can fulfill. He is independent and stubborn which is why it pissed him off so much when the Post handed him over to Ryder. He remembers where he came from and there is no way in hell that he is willing to go back to being somebody’s property. Even someone who he wants to grab, push up against a brick wall, and kiss senseless. Kai is very good at denying himself because there were a lot of times when he and Dempsey had to scrape to pull together everything from food to fuel. He knows how to make sacrifices and won’t over extend himself.
At the beginning of the series we have actually joined Kai at a point in his life where things are beginning to change. He has an attraction to his human neighbor which he can’t act on because he knows that he will outlive her but there’s also a slow realization that the people he calls family — his very human family — are also getting older.
And he is not.
It’s not to say that he hasn’t thought about it — the deaths of people he loves — because he is a Stalker and their life expectancy usually isn’t very long to begin with. But it’s one thing to die because your head is bitten off by a dragon, and it’s quite another thing to slowly slip away from illness or old age. Death is so much of the part of Kai’s life, he’s braced himself to encounter it every day just not so close to him.
But the books aren’t just about the realization that death will come to those he loves. It’s also about Kai learning how to open himself up and living. He’s lived a guarded existence. He knows who his father is and he also knows that one day the Wild Hunt will come for him.
That’s something he and Dempsey probably spoke about over numerous campfires and lukewarm beer in shitty bars. Dempsey also knew his adopted son was going to have to integrate himself at some point into the Courts. That might not have been something they talked about or perhaps they did. That could be something to explore in the future books.
I love writing Kai because he’s straight to the point, honest to the point of bluntness, and will go down fighting for someone he loves. And he has many people he’s quite fond of. Including Ryder.
Ryder was a complication Kai didn’t want and thought he didn’t need but the truth is, Ryder does bring a level of civilization to Kai’s world. It’s not that Kai doesn’t know what to do in a civilized society. He just doesn’t care that much about what clothes need to be worn in what situation or what fork to use. He’s usually focused on what he needs to get done and isn’t the most diplomatic of people. I would go so far as to say he’s probably not the most charming but perhaps engaging and charismatic. He does care about people, maybe sometimes too much, but he does see the big picture and knows that anything he does will ripple out and affect others. And maybe that’s something Ryder needs to learn from him.
I’m really looking forward to book 5 because I know where to go with this and I know what happened with the Court. By the elfin standards, Ryder and Kai are moving rather quickly and it’s odd that Kai is usually the one to tap on the brakes. But that’s just how he is. I have a lot of things I have planned and I’m really looking forward to exploring those. We’ll see a lot more of Cari and we should probably check in on the twins because they are after all Kai’s nieces. And you know he’s already bought them knives. I don’t think the court really understands how he intends to influence them but he has a responsibility — a deep felt obligation — to make sure they turn out as kick ass and as capable as possible.
Because like how Dempsey raised him, he needs to make sure that the next generation can hold their own. And that they always know he’ll have their backs.