Lynn Flewelling: Casket of Souls

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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!

Website: http://www.sff.net/people/Lynn.Flewelling/

LJ: http://otterdance.livejournal.com/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lynn-Flewelling/145593970532

Twitter: @LynnFlewelling

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8 comments to Lynn Flewelling: Casket of Souls

  • Hepseba ALHH

    So! excited for Casket of Souls! The series I love the most (both books and TV) are the ones in which all of the characters are allowed to grow and change. Still, it seems like a daunting challenge from the perspective of this still-newbie writer. One wants main characters who are admirable, but still have room to grow. That seems doable for one book. But for six!? I’m still at the point of being boggled about that.

  • Julia

    Thanks for the post, Lynn! I love the Nightrunner books and I’m also tremendously excited for Casket of Souls. I learn a lot as a writer when I’m reading your work — paying attention to how you craft your heroes and how you manage your your plotting has been quite helpful to me.

    If you’re reading and responding to comments, there’s something I’d love to ask you about. One thing I really like about the Nightrunner books is that Seregil and Alec have such deep loyalty to each other. Often it seems to me that writers tend to either focus on falling in love, or on relationship drama — while long-term relationships are often depicted as rather static. But you’ve taken a different tack, and express both Alec and Seregil’s development in the relationship in different ways. I really like that, so I’m curious if you have insights to share about how you write dynamic relationships with changing characters, while still keeping that loyalty central.

  • Razziecat

    Yay! One of my favorite author on one of my favorite websites! I’m very much looking forward to the new book in a couple of days. Your comments about the villain are so intriguing. I’m having some fun creating one of my own, and I do love finding all the nuances and hidden depths in the “bad guy.” Villains who are totally evil are boring to me. I’d much rather have one that the readers can’t help feeling a little sympathy for, or can relate to in some way, even while hoping he loses in the end.

    On your Livejournal site you’ve said that the next book after Casket of Souls will probably be the last Nightrunner book. Without giving away too much, can you tell us if you’re planning a sort of “wrap-up” and a figurative ride into the sunset for the boys?

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Thanks Hepseba. I have no idea how I do it, either, most of the time. ;-)

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Hi Julia! That’s an excellent question. The sort answer is that I base it on my own life experience, being in a very long term relationship. People change and grow as they go on, and for two people to remain in a committed relationship over a long period of time, there has to be not only room for but appreciation of that growth. And change doesn’t mean that you become someone different entirely, although some people do make life shifts that can break a relationship. If that happens, then there might possibly not have been a strong core relationship. By core, I mean that there is not only passion or one common interest, but a deep seated friendship and mutual support network that can weather change and hard times. Am I making any sense?

    Seregil and Alec are very much individuals, and differing personalities, united by common interests and an abiding love for one another based on mutual respect, passion, shared experience, and those intangibles that separate like from love. It’s a good mix. To really love someone in a lasting fashion, you have to take the warts with the beauty marks, and love them with their flaws, rather than because or in spite of them. (This in no way has anything to do with staying in an abusive or violent relationship, btw. Dysfunction and violence go well beyond relationship flaws!) I try to keep them intact in their own personalities, and give them each experiences separate from the other. Contrary to appearances, they aren’t joined at the hip emotionally. One of the reasons I wrote Stalking Darkness and White Road was to explore how they function separately or at odds with each other. In Casket there is still friction, but that’s life.

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Hey Razzie!

    It’s my hope with the seventh book (at least at this stage of writing) to tie up loose ends, but to leave the characters still at work in readers’s mind, leading their lives.

  • Julia

    Thanks for the great response, Lynn!

  • Lynn Flewelling

    Julia,

    Would you mind if I used your question and my answer on my blog? It’s a good topic.

    :-)