The World as They Know It | Behind the Book
The most exhilarating part of writing Book Two is the expansion of the world. Aureum is comprised of seven provinces, each teeming with danger and adventure.
In Kings of Stone and Shadows, our beloved characters are plucked out of the Sunderlands and scattered. In their respective corners, each character is challenged to claim their place in this world. They'll carve out their names with tooth and fang, battle monsters, wage war on who they were, and best of all... bring you with them.
Let's go behind the book to discuss the way each character approaches this world and what that means for me, as the writer.
Keres, the Coroner and our anti-heroine, is a deeply emotional and pensive character. The essence of this world, seems to stick to her skin and becomes part of her. She likes to sink her teeth in and drink deep. It's easy for her to get tangled in the web of her connections.
In book two, Keres is delving into her enemy's dark and twisted world. And the deeper you dig, the darker it gets. Keres must rely on her unearthly senses, her emotional acuity, and divine intuition to survive.
Writing her is a colorful, somatic and psychological experience. I feel her breathing, her skin crawling, her heart racing. I know her anxiety, her hope, her anger. As she interacts with other characters, she's naturally reactive to them and evokes strong reactions from them as well. These scenes are so interesting to write. I try to paint the picture through movement, voice, all of the senses, her Death Spirit's inner monoglues, and her feelings. Writing what's going on around her is like painting with color and writing what's going on inside her is like scribbling with charcoal. It's a lot.
Keres interacts with the world with an almost animalistic use of her five senses. Being Mrithyn's servant grants her predator-like advantages too. Her senses are heightened. Usually, her focus is on the person she's engaging with and on her own reaction to them. She touches the third-rail of the narrative (with her claws) more than any other character. As she should.
Physically, she's always noticing light and darkness, colors and temperatures, shapes and sizes. For some reason, she really loves the smell of dead flowers and the taste if lemons! The scent and stickiness of blood entices or maddens her. Writing a character who is cursed to thirst for blood is like bungee jumping in and out of morals. In a situation where she feels it's her vs. someone else (which is most of the time), she instinctively looks for weakness in the other person. The darker side of her nature is to exploit and execute.
As a real person who ~doesn't~ serve the god of death, this can be hard to imagine. The inspiration for her character actually comes from my own battle with Pure O, a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. The Death Spirit who hisses and whisper dastardly things into her mind, is a reflection of my struggle with intrusive thoughts.
For me, my obsessions tend to revolve around harm, and for people with this disorder, this experience can be deeply disturbing. Instead of questioning my sanity, I write Keres. She too feels constantly at war in her mind, with this "Death Spirit," but it's just part of her reality. Sometimes, she has difficulty separating herself from this twisted nature that was gifted to her by the god of death and which plagues her. It can be a therapeutic experience for me as the writer, but I always want to portray this with purpose and creativity.
Keres sees herself as a monster, yet she cannot deny what she is or suppress the power her god has given her. The darker side of power is a major theme in this book. Creatively, this is an opportunity to write about personal philosophy, development and disarray. Technically, it influences how Keres sees and interacts with the world.
King Berlium, our antagonist, stars opposite her in this war against madness.The way these characters move, the inflections of their voices, the shifts in their expression, all contribute to the tension and exploration of this theme. In the past, when Keres would hunt and kill Dalis soldiers, she picked up the habit of listening to people's pulses and can track the scent of fear. She admits to reveling in killing her enemies. She talks the look in their eyes at their end, the chaos of their bodies through their gruesome deaths. It's kinda intense :)
Through her interactions with her captor, she exercises this still, but now there is physical arousal in play. Aggression, sexual or violent, is laced throughout each scene. Realistically, this can be exhausting for both characters. Riding the waves, the up's and down's of their moods, requires tedious pacing. Their scenes are dialogue heavy. Posturing and facial expression, use of voice, even dress, are all very demanding creatively.
I like to stick to the rule of 3's with her, so it's not overwhelming (Three parts description, three parts exposition). Naturally, I have to "zoom in" when writing their scenes. Nobody cares about the color of the carpet unless someones laying on it. Naked. So descriptors are more-often limited to the character or their immediate space.
Finding a balance between their attention on each other and their relevance to the setting or events can be difficult. These characters are like magnets, they're very focused on each other. They're enemies! Hot enemies.
The World of Aureum, as Keres knows it, is a provocative and dangerous place, a spider's web with strings of gold. Shaded by morality and punctuated by mortality. Colored by romance and rage. She probably experiences this world most broadly out of all the characters. Writing her involves touching the world through all of her senses, primitive and divine.
Liriene, has newly awakened power as a Seer; a divine instrument of Oran, the God of Light. She's more calculating than Keres, but that doesn't make her unfeeling. She's often the steadier person in all of her relationships.
With Keres, who swells up like a blow fish, Liriene is a very sharp needle. Right to the point and pop! With Silas, it's very similar, but where Liriene is motherly toward Keres, she is more sister-like to Silas. I think Liriene sees into people. She can almost predict their reactions and this is how she's able to stay in control in situations (Except, of course, when Keres literally blows up in her face and chases her through the camp).
With this new, gods-given gift of Sight, writing Liriene's scenes in book two has involved a lot of attention to her natural sense of sight. She notices shifts in expression and posture more than other characters. She is more attentive to detail. She can name what she sees. A writer's biggest challenge is 'show, don't tell' and her character is basically an exercise in this skill.
I won't spoil the breadth of her powers, but as in book one, when Liriene is Seeing, she seems to be hallucinating to other characters. She's seeing beyond. This grants so much freedom for me as a writer. She doesn't have to see something natural and boring. Her visions can be as over-the-top or subtle and symbolic as I want them to be. The blindfold of reality is undone. I try to capture this in her attitude. While Keres is reactive, Liriene is responsive. Nothing is beyond her. If she can See it, she can do something about it.
It's really a lot of fucking fun writing her. I feel like I can throw all kinds of crazy shit at her and she'll blanket the madness with her cool stare. No wonder it infuriates Keres. I feel like aesthetically, this is a nice contrast to her appearance. She's got the flaming red hair and cool gray eyes, but an elegance and deliberation about her. Ugh. She's such a cool big sister.
Osira, our beloved, bitter Child Oracle. In Book Two, I expound on this character sooooo much. The only challenge is she's physically blind. Writing her in book one vs writing her in book two... is wild. In book one, her head is full of noise. Not being able to see and not being able to listen to yourself think is incredibly frustrating I'd guess (sorry, Osi). I still have to deliver that in book two, but as you might guess, she's coming more into her power.
As she evolves, I'm able to focus more on her listening to the world around her, to the gods. Writing sound has probably been one of the most challenging aspects of the book so far. I've read books with main characters who are blind. It really makes you "see" the world differently, and I am constantly afraid of not doing her or her world justice. With Osira, I experience the most hesitation.
Being blind, she's more sensitive to sound, smell, taste, and touch. One thing Osira and I grapple with is movement. When I write her walking, I don't want her to trip or stumble. The blindness is new, so there has to be some uncertainty to her footing, and she often needs to be guided. But this is just another opportunity to round out her self-assuredness.
Working against blindness opens up issues with physical insecurity and vulnerability. Especially for a thirteen year old, these issues are profound. Children often learn through osbervation and mimic things. Now, she's interacting with energies which are invisible. In a still child-like way, she's "observing" these energies. Toeing them with instinct and fear. I think her character is a good lens to look at the nature of people through. Children are impressionable and honest. She's young enough to retain this but old enough to develop cynicsm.
As well as learning to walk without sight, she'll need to learn how to move through this world as a source of energy, and how to protect herself in this way too. The world to her, right now, is a minefield. She doesn't truly know how big it is, but as a young soul,she wants to believe it is full of wonder that she can still experience.
I think as this character gets older, her personal arc will be one of the most interesting in the series. Maybe, second only to Keres'.
Darius, our delicious warrior. I feel like Darius is very fluid. In the beginning of book one, when we first meet him, he's grieving the loss of his brother who was killed among the nine. He's enraged and ready to take it out on Keres specifically. However, he's talked down by the other characters and he emotionally pivots.
His relationships with Silas and Keres also take quick turns. Because of this, I like to say he's the most honest character of the adults. ALL these other people are at war with their feelings. Reasoning and doubting and bargaining... and then there's Darius. He's led by his heart. He doesn't need explanations. He simply moves how he is moved. In book two, his heart is broken and in a stasis.
Sent away by his lover, a stranger in a war-stricken land. Grieving all his losses. He's now being forced to do something he doesn't want to do. And he hates that shit. He's all or nothing but he can't be goaded. I like to say he walks with his chest. He leads from within. So, in this new world, he feels lost. Having been turned away/forced to leave the woman he loves and the land he calls home, is really damaging for him. And this opens him up for self-exploration.
Writing Darius is probably the most freeing emotionally. He just says what he thinks and it doesn't matter how he says it, it's always believable. His very colorful vocabulary and fiery emotions-- I just love him so much and I love the way he loves.
He brings a spark to the world that lights up its dark corners and makes anywhere he is feel like home for the reader. In the company of strangers who don't know or trust him, he feels dejected and broken. But I know that the reader will be sitting in his tent, on the ground, in his feelings with him. When he moves, we move. The world around him swirls back into action when he says it does. That's the power of his character.
The world to Darius is something that doesn't stop. It's a force. He's a force within it. He pivots and the world turns, and now he wants to go in the opposite direction of what his world will allow. I think Darius is what will lead readers to respect and believe in the world of aureum as the fantastical place it truly is.
He's out here. In the literal wilderness. He sees some crazy shit and has to either participate or die. Darius is going to bring you through the wildfires burning in Aureum, to the edges of kingdoms, to the battlefronts, and he's gonna charge toward monsters while towing you behind.
And sometimes, he'll be shirtless while he does it ;)
The technical delivery of Darius is way more relaxed than the other characters. He's a warrior, so he notices things in an analytical way. He "surveys" or "assesses," as much as Keres or Berlium do. Him and Keres get some action in the monster hunting chapter of book one, and in book two he's in a literal war. So there's lots of action writing for him.
Fight scenes are similar to sex scenes. Both are physical and spiritual. I'd say, sex scenes find more of a balance, while fight scenes are more somatic.... depending how much of a conscience the character has. Darius is very conscientious, but he loves to fight. The man's a machine. He's huge and he's fearless. He'll try just about anything. I get most of my skill in this from reading and playing video games. Trust me, play a video game and your book's fight scenes will get better.
He also has a power that's waking up in this book, which is noted in the epilogue of book one. Writing him is refreshing throughout book two. The power he has is like forbidden and secret. Diving into that... he's some kind of exquisite release from the drama going on with Keres. For me anyways. He has his own drama, but it's more palatable in my opinion (as I said, he is delicious).
Silas. Oh, Silas. Our jealous, possessive, and irrational Silas. I don't know a single reader of mine who likes Silas. And I fucking love that. I actually refuse to talk about this character with people because I simply love listening to them rant. Silas is a conversation starter, for sure. He's there, like a thorn in the flesh, and I want him there. For now, I'll say this:
PHEW! In book two, you're still not going to know what to do with him. He's a wreck and a half. Writing Silas is like looking backwards. He dwells and stagnates. Has to be ushered forward or gets dragged behind.
For this book in particular, this trait slows the book down in places and lets you relive the drama of book one-- just a lil bit! He's got a future and he might show up late, but he'll get there eventually.
Silas is like a tiny book in himself, but a dusty book on the highest shelf that desperately needs to be taken down and given attention. He brings complicated emotions into the story. Dirty, not-fun feelings. His struggles are very ~human~ and at times, exaggerated.
The world through Silas' eyes, is unfair and dismal. Dull and predictable, even. Something I find very important and exciting in a fantasy romance. I love that he's sinful and that he mumbles and complains. I love that he's cocky and impulsive at times, but numb and distant at others.
In book one, it's shown that he's a heavy drinker and writing a world for a character battling addiction has to feel small and stagnant and self-important. I write it because I've lived in it.
Silas isn't pretty. He's not sweeping anybody off their feet. He's the character he has to be and not what anyone wants. As all the other characters explore and expand, Silas doesn't know how to even exist. He is in this world and making a mess of it.
Guilt and depression, longing and emptiness. Silas looks at the world from inside a glass bottle. And that's why he's so important. Where others see magic, he sees turmoil. Where others find love, he finds devastation. He knows how to, or at least tries to, fight for others; but he doesn't know how to do that for himself. Seeing this golden, fantastical world through Silas not knowing how to interact with it, is SO fun to write ( and mildly triggering for me).
Technically, I like to think of Silas as this random narrarator who pops in and out. He's never truly removed from the narrative, but he just feels like an outsider. I think this comes naturally because of how readers feel about him, and because of his role in the story up until book two. He's important. You know he is. You just... might... wanna overlook him sometimes. But that's the point I try to deliver in writing him. You cannot completely ignore the hardships of being human, of coping. He's there whether you like it or not, and you'll have to sit and drink with him. You'll have to ramble and riot with him.
Loving an addict is extremely hard to do... Writing this comes from a place of knowing. It's hard to describe in terms of craft. I feel like I rely on personal experience most with Keres and Silas. The other characters come from somewhere in my world, but not necessarily from me. They are built off experiences with other people or personal aspirations.
King Berlium. Don't be shy. Ask. I know you want to know about this evil hunk. This motherfucker is crazy. I won't go INTO it because you haven't gotten to know him yet but I'll tell you this...
The world of aureum, to King Berlium, is a prize to be won. It's a mountain to be climbed. A bitch to be fucked.
Speaking of... he's got big plans for Keres. In all things, he sees conquest. Writing him is empowering. He's not just this cocky, brooding, beligerant, and greedy king. He's a genius and he's quiet about it. That's why he's so scary. I wrote about him specifically, in shallow words on another blog post.
This character is older than any of the other main characters, except his right hand man Hadriel (and this is something Keres has to recognize). He is every issue Keres has with authority! He is more adept in manipulation. He's a strategist. Every move he makes is through a singular conviction: he deserves what he desires.
Writing him is inflating. He is power and sex and wealth and victory. He strides through most scenes and always has an excellent come-back. Writing him is like playing with your food, your prey. It's exciting and sometimes feels so wrong. Berlium's touch is unforgettable. He's here to make you uncomfortable and make you like being uncomfortable. I'm so tempted to write more about him but you'll just have to wait for that.
On the technical side, the challenge with him is the fact that he's holding Keres captive. For the rest of the characters in this book, the world is opening up. While Keres and Liriene are being caged in. In his world, there are very few characters. Fewer settings. Through him, the world can still open up for them in this book... just not in the way they want.
I said earlier, that Keres most broadly experiences the world of aureum out of all the characters. King Berlium's relation to the rest of aureum makes an interesting field for this to play on. He is king. He has access, power, knowledge. Nothing is in short supply. Except her physical time and space away from him. From behind his stone walls, he wants to show Keres just how grand and ripe the world of aureum is. If she's a good girl, maybe he'll let her out to play in it?
Thane, last but not least. This mysterious character was formally introduced in Silas' epilogue in book one. He's another one I can't expound upon too much because you don't really know him yet. His motives are blurry. He's secretive. I can't even really tell you how he sees the world. Just know he sees it. All of it. Even in the dark and especially when no one knows he's watching.
THANK YOU so much for spending time reading this blog post and I hope you enjoyed a little BTS writing. Feel free to comment on my social media post. Now, for the main event.
THE RELEASE DATE - FEBRUARY 14, 2022
It's gonna be a dark, delicious Valentine's Day, darlings.
Design & Illustration work begin October 11th, so be sure to keep an eye out for sneak peeks.
Blog Post Image-- Dreaming by Carolin Aust on ArtStation.