Today we have author Susan K. Hamilton with us to discuss her upcoming novel Shadow King, releasing on October 2nd. Susan’s manuscript for Shadow King finished in the top 10 for the 2016 LaunchPad Manuscript Competition, which received over 1,000 entries from over 24 countries.
Welcome, Susan! Your book Shadow King is currently in production and set to release on October 2nd. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about Shadow King and what inspired the story?
Thank you! In Shadow King, the world of Faerie has been destroyed by a corrupt, dark spell and all the Faerie races are forced to live in our world. Aohdan Collins is the Fae patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, and has worked relentlessly from the shadows to expand his empire. Everything changes, however, when he shares a shot of whiskey with Seireadan Moore. But Seireadan has her own secrets, and she’s looking for revenge against the person responsible for killing her family—and to get it, she may end up betraying the one she loves.
The inspiration for this story really came from one of the main characters: Aohdan Collins. I’d been trying to think of an idea for NaNoWriMo a few years back, and while raking leaves in my yard, the idea for his character popped into my head. From there I started to think about who he was, what he’d do, how he would move through our own world, and everything else came from there.
Aohdan Collins rules Boston from the shadows, and nothing stands in his way… until he meets Fae Seer Seireadan Moore. A shared shot of whiskey changes everything, but Seireadan is bent on finding the man who destroyed her family. And revenge always demands a high price. #books pic.twitter.com/vTnXXVOh1W
— Susan K. Hamilton (@RealSKHamilton) July 11, 2018
You describe Shadow King as Dark Fantasy. For those who many not know, can you explain some of the differences between Fantasy and Dark Fantasy?
That is actually a much harder question than it seems, and I have to confess, before Shadow King, I’d never written a dark/urban fantasy before. My work had mainly been more traditional fantasy.
But to answer your question, I would define dark fantasy as a story that takes elements of traditional fantasy and ties them to darker themes. In more traditional fantasy, you find mythically-inspired characters who occupy the moral high ground, and the story tends to have a very optimistic feel. Dark fantasy still has the fantasy themes but they’re often shown in a darker, grittier, more realistic light even if they happen in a fantasy world. If you change the setting of a dark fantasy to our real world, you also start adding the urban fantasy aspect to it.
Many people seem lump dark fantasy and horror together as well. I think the edges of both these genres bleed into one another but each also has very distinct and unique qualities, so I don’t think they’re the exact same thing.
Dark fantasy is also defined somewhat by the characters and their behaviors. In Shadow King, the heroes are dark heroes, and they do unsavory things. Aohdan is not a knight in shining armor—he’s a dark knight, but he has a very strong moral code that he lives by. He has a very strong sense of loyalty, responsibility, and of right and wrong—at least right and wrong as he views the concepts, which may be a little different than how readers perceive them.
Tell us a little bit about your writing process. Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?
In a perfect world, I try to do some writing every day, but things don’t always work out as planned. After finishing my manuscripts for Shadow King and The Devil Inside, I was “written out” and needed a break. I spent quite a bit of time catching up on my “to read” pile. However, recently I’ve been getting back to writing and working on some new projects.
What books by other writers have had the biggest influence on you?
The first would be Patricia Kennealy-Morrison. I read her Keltiad series years ago. I’m not sure they’re even in print anymore, but there was something about those books that I loved. They blended fantasy, science fiction, and Celtic mythology in a way I’d never seen. I loved her characters, the plot, the world she built… all three books just delighted me, and made me want to write something that (fingers crossed) would make people feel the same way.
Next would be JK Rowling. I’m sure lots of people would list her but what I admire about her work is her ability to take themes and make them not only understandable for children but engaging for adults as well. Plus her ability to craft a character like Snape. For so long in the book he is part of the darkness, the villain, the character you love to hate, but in the end, when his motivations become clear, it adds such depth of character. I aspire to have my characters be that three-dimensional.
And lastly, I would say both Donna Grant and Karen Marie Moning. Both write in the romance genre, but they have very strong fantasy/dark fantasy elements in their stories. They’ve built magnificent worlds that, for me, transcend a single genre. I love how they’ve built their worlds and constructed their stories. And then there’s the sex. Personally, I struggle mightily with writing sex scenes… finding that balance where it is steamy without being overly graphic, but also not skirting around the subject either. I find both Moning and Grant have a keen eye for this balance and reading their work has helped me more clearly define what I want my voice to sound like in this area.
Okay, one more. I’d also include David Eddings in here. I devoured his Belgariad series, and while I appreciate the foundation that Tolkien laid for the entire fantasy genre, the characters in the Belgariad were, for me, so easy to relate to and care about. He also, in my opinion, does a wonderful job drawing his story out over several books without it feeling forced.
All books say that characters are fictional, but are they really all made up, or do you base them on people you have known in your own life?
To this point, I’ve never fully based a character on someone I know, although in The Devil Inside—which will come out after Shadow King—I had jokingly told an old high school acquaintance that I’d write him into the book. I used part of his name for a character, and the number of his football jersey is incorporated into an address that factors into the story. I did not, however, base the character on his actual personality.
A good villain is hard to write. How did you get in touch with your inner villain(s) to write this book. Was there a real-life inspiration for him/her/it?
Because Shadow King is a dark fantasy, my primary characters have some traits that you usually ascribe to a villain. Aohdan is an underworld mob boss, and he didn’t get where he was by keeping his hands clean and following the rules. As someone notes in the story, “Bad things happen to people who cross Aohdan Collins.”
So it was important to me to find that balance between embracing Aohdan’s dark side but also the role he plays as a hero in the story. He’s not always a good guy but he’s got a very clear moral compass.
To create him I tried to keep in mind how characters were portrayed in TV series like The Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy. When you look at those characters on the surface, they are criminals. They do bad things. They hurt people. They also live by clear codes of loyalty and honor. So while you might not like the things they do, you become invested in them as characters and dive into what motivates them to behave the way they do. Hopefully that will come across to people when they read Shadow King.
Did you ever have a rough patch in writing, where nothing in the story seemed to fit or make sense?
I have them. All. The. Time. I even had one time where I ripped up 250 pages worth of work and started over from scratch because I was so frustrated with the story.
In Shadow King in particular there was one point where I was trying to do more of the story from the perspective of Seireadan, my female lead, and it meant rewriting some scenes that had previously been in Aohdan’s POV. Sometimes getting things from her perspective, because she’s not part of his inner circle to start, was hard.
And during my development edit, I had a definite writer’s tantrum where I knew—based on the editor’s advice— that I had to push the story out further, but it didn’t come easy. I ended up sending my editor probably a two page email just ranting about my frustration and how this didn’t work and that wasn’t lining up and I hated the whole story – and so on and so forth. Definitely had my “drama queen” crown on that day!
But the act of just dumping all that emotion and frustration out there, solved the whole problem. Halfway through the rant I had that, “ohhhh, that’s what I need to do” moment. I gave myself the next day off from rewriting and when I went back to it, things worked out great.
Did you have any differences with your editors while you were still becoming used to getting your work edited? How did you work through those differences?
Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot of major differences but we did have a few disagreements. It can be hard to get feedback on your book, especially about changing things. The important thing to remember is the editor is trying to be your ally, not your adversary. They want to take your already great book and make it an amazing book.
The big key to working through those things is communication. You need to be able to express why you made some of the choices you did, but you also need to really listen to—and understand—why the editor is questioning certain things in your story.
There were a few places in Shadow King where I looked at feedback and (I confess) I got a little defensive. When that happened. I put the manuscript away for a little while and then went back and looked at the comment again. Most of the time, after I’d allowed myself to noodle through what had been said, it made more sense. If it didn’t, I asked for clarification.
In a few cases, there were some things I held firm on because they were important–and because I was able to explain my reasoning, the editor also had a better understanding of the point I was trying to make and we were able to reach a point where I felt I stayed true to the story while finding a way to improve it.
My favorite question – If you were given the opportunity to join a book club with your favorite authors, dead or alive, who would you want to become a part of the club?
Some of these names will sound familiar, but I would say Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings, Kim Harrison, Donna Grant, JK Rowling, Karen Marie Moning, and Patricia Kennealy-Morrison because they’ve all written books or book series that have meant something special to me. I would love to hear their perspectives on other books and on writing.
Are you working on something new? And can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am working on something new. A couple somethings, actually. The first is a short story that I’m planning to submit for consideration in an anthology. I’m having a lot of fun with that, especially since I’m writing in first-person which is something I normally don’t do. It’s got some dystopian aspects and probably leans a bit towards supernatural fantasy.
I’ve also started tinkering with two new manuscripts. One is another urban/dark fantasy involving witches—the title right now is The Cardinal Witch. Along with that, I’ve also started some work on a follow up to Shadow King. Both are pretty new so I don’t have a lot to share yet, so I apologize for not having more details!
Any advice you would like to give to your younger self?
Most definitely! From a writing perspective I would tell myself to start writing sooner than I did. I loved to write as a little kid and then got away from it. I didn’t really get reacquainted with writing until I was in college. The other advice would be to be braver. Easier said than done, I know, but I wish I’d been more comfortable being bold when I was younger.
What advice would you like to give writers who are working on their first novels?
First thing is be persistent. Things don’t happen overnight. There will be people who reject you and people who don’t like your work. Learn from those things and get better because there ARE people out there who do like your work and who will support you.
Second, make friends with other writers and authors. They understand what you’re going through as a writer. They’ll support you when you hit a rough patch but they’ll also call you out on BS as well, and that’s important.
Third, learn to love imperfection. No story is 100% perfect in every respect. Make your work the very best it can be, but when you get there, let it go and let it be what it is. It won’t be perfect, but it is yours so love it just the way it is. I learned this after self-publishing my very first novel many years ago. I couldn’t afford an editor or anything professional really other than the cover (and even that was a big favor from an artist friend). I know if I went back and read that story now, I’d be horrified because I’m a better writer now than I was back then – but that book was the absolute best I could do at that point in my life, and I love it for all the things it taught me.
What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with or follow you (website, blog, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) and links?
Probably the best sites are Facebook or Twitter, and I’d love to hear from readers! You can find me all of these places:
Twitter: @RealSKHamilton / https://twitter.com/realskhamilton
Ambition. Betrayal. Revenge.
Centuries ago, the Faerie Realm was decimated by a vile and corrupt spell. To survive, the different faerie races―led by the Fae―escaped to the Human Realm where they’ve lived ever since.As the Fae Patriarch of Boston’s criminal underworld, Aohdan Collins enjoys his playboy lifestyle while he works from the shadows to expand his growing empire, until one night when he shares a shot of whiskey with the lovely Seireadan Moore…A Fae Seer, Seireadan is haunted by a vision of the Fae responsible for destroying Faerie and murdering her family. Common sense tells her to stay away from Aohdan, but his magnetism and charm are irresistible.As their passionate affair intensifies, Seireadan is pulled into the center of the underworld. And while her heart is bound to Aohdan, she cannot let go of her lifelong quest to hunt down the Fae who haunts her visions… especially when she realizes Aohdan might be the key to helping her find him.But is revenge worth betraying the one she loves?