Esther Friesner once told me that when she sits down to begin a new book or story, she thinks in terms of solving a lovely riddle. I’m not that nice. When beginning a new Nightrunner book, I ask myself, literally, “Now, what awful things can I do to the boys this time?” As my readers will tell you, I put poor Seregil and Alec through the wringer every time, and enjoy the hell out of it. But so do they. Most of the time.
Casket of Souls, which hits the store shelves in both paper and e-book formats on May 29th, is no exception. Casket is the sixth book in the Nightrunner series. When I wrote Luck in the Shadows way back when, I really thought it would be a single book. I never imagined this many following it, and there’s a seventh in the works now. The series, for those of you who haven’t read it, is episodic, like the Sherlock Holmes Canon. A mix of duologies and stand alones, they follow each other chronologically, and consequences from one book impact the next, but I have the freedom to come up with something fresh and new with each book. Each one has its own theme, and I’ve been able to explore all sorts of things, from the nature of honor to true love to “you can’t go home again.”
Being an organic writer, rather than a planner/outliner, and the Nightrunner series being episodic rather than single arc, I begin each project with little more than a handful of ideas and concepts, and maybe an ending. For Casket of Souls, I had in mind a particularly nasty new magic, something completely alien. In my world, magic is as cultural as language or cuisine, and there are as many kinds in the Nightrunner world as there are ethnic groups. I think this stems from my interest in world religions. While magic and religion are only tenuously related in my books, they both spring from the world view of the people who practice them.
I also wanted to set it in their home city, Rhíminee, where much of the first two books (Luck in the Shadows and Stalking Darkness) took place. The three books that followed (Traitor’s Moon, Shadows Return, and The White Road) had them traveling all over the known world; this time I wanted to have them home again, in a tightly controlled environment, dealing with the intrigue and mendacity that is Rhíminee society— on multiple levels at the same time.
I generally have several intertwined plot lines, so I set up a political intrigue thread, then tripped them up with something completely different; a strange plague that starts in the slums which the authorities don’t care much about, then begins to spread to the better parts of town at which point the authorities take notice. I wanted to deal with classism, among other things, taking our heroes from the slums to the Queen’s retinue, and then send them bounding back and forth until they got whiplash. I wanted the reader to be thinking “But wait, what’s going on with that other thing?” at any given moment.
Besides wanting to write urban intrigue and mysterious magic, I once again got to play with a really engaging villain. For satisfying conflict in a novel, the protagonist(s) and antagonist must be equally matched and Seregil and Alec have truly met their match with this fellow. Charm, ego, duplicity, addiction—he’s my favorite baddie since the psychopathic Duke Mardus in the first two books. I wish I could tell you more about him, but that would take too many spoilers. But I do love constructing villains. They can’t be black and white baddies, any more than the heroes can be black and white goodies. Both need to contain shades of gray, and be clearly driven by what they conceive of as justified personal beliefs. Mardus, aside from being a sadist, believed completely in the rightness of his political cause. Yhakobin the alchemist lived in a society where owning another person was perfectly acceptable, and that the pursuit of “science” his quest for his own version of the Philosopher’s Stone justified any means.
One of the pleasures of creating any character—main or secondary, good or bad—is the time you spend inside their heads. The use of multiple view points, second nature for me, really lets you dig in to a character and walk around in their skin. And I have to admit, the way I submerge into the psychos is mildly alarming at times. But if you can’t do that, how can you create them? It’s what writer’s do.
When you’re writing a multi book series, you have the opportunity and the obligation to “grow” your reoccurring characters. They age, they suffer, they learn; in short, they are a product of their experiences. In the case of this series, I’ve had the most fun doing that with Seregil, Alec, Thero, their wizard friend, and Beka Cavish. Seregil has a lot of emotional healing to do, and Alec helps with that; Alec grows into his roles of nightrunner, newly minted noble, and partner; Thero, who perhaps changes the most of all, goes from arrogance and general dickishness to a powerful, intelligent ally; Beka goes from farm girl to military commander. Dealing with women in the military was challenging and fun. I wrote about it in a recent guest blog: http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2012/04/women-in-sff-month-lynn-flewelling/
So, if you’re unfamiliar with the series, I hope you’ll take a peek. If you are, I hope you enjoy Casket of Souls! You can read the first chapter at my website: http://www.sff.net/people/Lynn.Flewelling/excerpts/casket.souls.exc.html
I’m doing a book launch/signing June 3rd, 2 pm, at the wonderful Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, and signed copies will be available after that. To preorder and request a signed copy, see: http://www.mystgalaxy.com/event/lynn-flewelling-signs-sd-060312 Have I shilled and linked enough? I think so. Enjoy!