Today I am so pleased to welcome Alexis Hall to Joyfully Jay. Alexis has come to talk to us about his latest release, Shadows & Dreams. He has also brought along a great giveaway! Please join me in giving Alexis a big welcome!
Hello, and welcome to my second ever blog tour, celebrating Riptide Publishing’s release of Shadows & Dreams, the sequel to Iron & Velvet. Yay! Thank you so much to Joyfully Jay for hosting me. And, to you, dear reader, for stopping by. If you’d like to come with me and keep me company on my virtual wanderings, you can find a full listing of when and where I am.
There’s also some kind of contest type thing happening. I had a bit of trouble choosing a prize for this one because most of the things Kate likes (booze, cigarettes, knives, women) are illegal to ship internationally. I thought about a fedora, but then I remembered people had differently shaped heads and there was no point sending somebody an item of clothing they wouldn’t be able to wear. So, basically, that leaves coffee and Bovril and nobody likes Bovril except people from the North East of England. I’m therefore going offer 250g of Jamaican Blue Mountain, the nicest coffee in the known universe, purchased from a wonderful speciality shop, ground or beaned to your specification. If you don’t like coffee, I’ll replace it with an equivalently lovely tea. I’ll also throw in a hard copy of Iron & Velvet (or the other thing I wrote) if that’s the sort of thing you’d like. I can even scribble stuff in it, thus reducing its re-sale value … or, y’know, not do that. I’ll announce the winner a handful of days after the end of the tour.
The Difficult Second Album
Starting a series involves a whole lot of challenges – you need to establish the world, the characters, and the central premise. You need to sell people on the idea of reading an indefinite number of books about broadly the same group of people doing broadly the same things. You also need to tell an actual story that has to be both satisfying in and of itself and, again, has to make people feel that there are more stories to be told in this world, and that they will be worth reading. First books have to do a lot of heavy lifting, which might be part of the reason that so many people recommend starting a new series somewhere between books two and four.
But second books have their own issues, because the second volume in a series has to be the one that actually delivers.
Writing Shadows & Dreams meant keeping a lot of different balls in the air. It needed to build on the first book, while also being meaningfully its own thing (if nothing else, I was very aware that some people would be starting with book two). It needed to have a self-contained story, but it also needed to follow up plot threads from the first book. Character arcs needed to continue in a way that was accessible to new readers but also gave continuing readers a sense that their investment of time had been worth it. It had to do more without increasing its wordcount too much, to have higher stakes without creating the kind of superpower-arms-race that can easily sink this kind of series, it needed to expand while leaving room for further expansion, to leave things open for future instalments without doing that thing that a lot of TV shows do where the last episode of the season spends more time setting the next season’s plotlines than resolving its own.
Far more than Iron & Velvet, Shadows & Dreams has distinct A and B plots (or, arguably, A, B and C plots). The main story concerning a missing brother, a vampire army, and a terrifying figure of ancient power, runs alongside a secondary story that explores the consequences of the first novel, as well as going into greater detail about Kate’s history, vampire society, and (for reasons which I assure you make more sense in context) Patrick’s personal life. My hope is that the two plotlines interweave with each other in a way that benefits both, but as ever it’s not really my call to say if it’s worked.
Running two parallel plotlines, one of which was strictly time-critical because magic, led to some difficult issues with timelines. Something I’ve increasingly noticed about this kind of story is that it needs a lot more attention to detail than something less plotty. You find yourself asking questions like “how long after breaking out of prison would it have been reasonable for [character X] to pull off a major robbery?” or “how long would it take to assemble a significant number of members of an international vampire conspiracy, bearing in mind that a great many of them will not be comfortable using email?” And of course it was important to make sure that both plotlines progressed at roughly the same rate (despite their having very different foundations) and that any slack in one would be covered by the tension in the other.
Again, I hope it worked.
The other major problem I found with working on book two was that writing an existing and ongoing relationship is very different from writing a new one. In Iron & Velvet, Kate and Julian were just getting together, and there are well-established conventions for writing about the beginnings of these sorts of things. There are fewer conventions for writing about the middle. The core romantic arc in Shadows & Dreams basically revolves around Kate facing the reality of dating an ancient, immortal being with allegiances and ambitions dating back centuries. It’s essentially a making-it-work story, although in this case the thing that they’re making work is “maintaining a relationship through a murder trial, a war against an ancient enemy, and the interference of unknown mystical forces.” The events of the plot conspire to keep Kate and Julian apart for most of the book, and so I felt it was really important that the scenes when they are together have impact. They needed to show that Kate and Julian are still super into each other, while also teasing out some of their major problems, as well as making it clear what kind of place they’re in emotionally. It’s kind of important for the narrative that they’re very much in a “would be sad if you died” space rather than a “sacrifice everything to save you” space.
Overall, I’m relatively pleased with how everything came together. The trick is going to be doing it all again for book three.
Second rule in this line of business: be careful who you kill.
My name’s Kate Kane. And right now, I don’t know which is more dangerous: my job, or my girlfriend. My job makes me the go-to girl for every supernatural mystery in London. My girlfriend’s an eight-hundred-year-old vampire prince. Honestly, I think it’s probably a tie.
A few weeks ago, I was hired for a simple missing person case. Next thing I know, I’m being arrested for murder, a vampire army is tearing up London, and even my dreams are out to get me. Something ancient, evil, and scary as hell is on the loose and looking for payback. The vampires are in chaos, the werewolves are culling everything, and the Witch Queen can’t protect everyone.
Which means it’s down to me. And all I’ve got to hold back the shadows is a stiff drink, a quirky sidekick, my creepy ex-boyfriend, and the woman who left me for a tech startup. It’s going to be another interesting day.
You can read an excerpt and, y’know, cough, buy the book, if you want, at Riptide Publishing.
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the twenty-first century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret. He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a seventeenth century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car. He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
Alexis has brought a great coffee and book giveaway to one lucky reader (described above). Just follow the Rafflecopter link or enter using the widget.
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