Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Behind the Scenes: City of Slaves

Less than a week from now, I'll be releasing CITY OF SLAVES, the second novel in my Desolate Kingdom series. And yes, I'm pretty excited about it. I get a number of questions from people regarding all kinds of things when it comes to being a novelist entails, and while I tried to answer a number of those questions on my FAQ page, I thought I'd take you behind the scenes a bit for this particular novel and talk about how it came together and the particular challenges of writing this story.

For those of you who have read THE LAST ANGEL, you already know that this world is set 100 years after a series of nuclear Storms have all but wiped out humanity, creating a desolate wasteland. With the Storms have come winged creatures called Ganath. They have hounded and terrorized the few humans left on the planet. And along the western coast of what was the United States, only one great city remains.

I don't want to reveal any spoilers for those who have yet to read the first novel, suffice to say that the sequel focuses on a secondary character, Lieutenant Cale "Sendz" Edsen, a powerful but troubled soldier.

Origin of the Story

For the second book in the series, I wanted to do two things. I wanted to darken the tone/ explore a few different issues, and I wanted to focus on characters other than Tommy and Kallie, the stars of the first book. From the moment I met Cale in Book One, (yes, this will sound artsy) I wanted to dig deeper into who he was. He is the only straight white male featured in the entire series, but his back story was complex. And sad. How did I write the story to present his challenges while staying within the confines of the genre, which meant a lot of action and set at my typical lightning pace? That was the question.

As I have mentioned in my FAQ, I write the first draft at hyper speed. Two to three thousand words a day for forty days. I do not outline. I rip the story from my imagination and hold on for the ride. It is both exhausting and exhilarating. I am always relieved when the first draft is finished. For CITY OF SLAVES, however, the first draft needed a LOT of work, and the copy you'll see when it hits the shelves went through an additional twelve drafts, which is a lot for a novel that is only 65, 000 words long.

Sensitivity in Fantasy?

Fantasy is a genre that prides itself on power and strength, but part of what allows me to enjoy my work to such a great extent is by flipping that notion and empowering those we would consider 'weak.' This is harder than it sounds. Creating female characters that are equal to men, or minorities who are leads, forces me to write with my left hand. I've never been a woman. I've never been a minority. So for all I am empathetic of the things they have to deal with, I have never dealt with those things myself.

In the case of CITY OF SLAVES, more than anything else, including the structure of the book, the real difficulty was the sensitive subject matter. How did I portray the tragedy of Cale's past and his inner turmoil without being insensitive myself? (Yes, I'm being a bit obtuse here, but I don't want to spoil anything) This required delicate handling, and it still wouldn't have worked without two of my female beta-readers and my editor to walk me through some particularly hard scenes.

Why Another Tone?

I heard a number of great things/ reviews from people about THE LAST ANGEL. And the logical question would be: why change it? Simple. Different characters create different tones. Just as in real life. While I wanted to write a book with a different flavor to it, that was only possible because of Cale's nature. He was the one who determined it. Besides, having different sets of main characters within the same world appealed to me. (And don't worry, Tommy and Kallie will be back for book three, WINTER, due out September 2nd.)

What Did I Learn Writing COS?

The biggest takeaway from this book was just how important my beta-readers were, particularly my female beta-readers. They caught things that quite frankly, I should have noticed. In the end, they changed the dynamic of the book completely. Any woman, any feminist, can read COS and identify with the female characters. I've said repeatedly how important it is for me to create worlds and stories that people from every gender, race, and sexuality can identify with, particularly in the all too often "whitey white" worlds of fantasy.

I'm really excited about the final version of it, and I can't wait to hear back from all of you. Thanks for your support and encouragement. Remember, it'll be here in less than week!! (April 6th)

Stephen