A big welcome to fellow Kiwi author Gillian St. Kevern as part of her blog tour for Dead Wrong from NineStar Press.
How Not to Write a Four-Book Series.
The best advice I’ve seen for writers working on a series is “have a plan.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve read this. Self-evident, right? Of course you need a plan. Who would contemplate writing a four book series totalling over 400,000 words without a plan?
Yeah. That would be me.
In my defence, I have learned a lot by doing things the hard way. However, jumping straight into things—while educational–made the writing process a lot more arduous than it needed to be. But let’s go back to the start. November 2013. Nano was rapidly approaching, I had an idea, two characters I really wanted to throw at each other to watch the fallout, and a premise. That’s all I needed to write fanfic so why shouldn’t it be enough for a novel? True, I had more unfinished fanfic then finished and at one point was known in my fandom circle as the queen of WIPs (works in progress—they weren’t finished, but I wouldn’t admit that I’d given up on).
While I didn’t have an outline for Thorns and Fangs, I had a pretty clear idea of the start, the midpoint, and the steps I needed to take to get Ben and Nate from one to the other just fell into place. The problems started after that. The first two chapters after the midpoint dealing with the fallout were pretty easy to write. Unfortunately, I had no idea how the story was going to end. I knew I needed a big ending, but what?
Somehow I figured out my ending and I worked out how to get myself there. In the progress, I realised that Nate and Ben’s story was nowhere near complete. Big chunks of backstory kept coming up that needed to be cut and pasted into another document (deleting things makes me too sad. I deal with this by cutting and pasting into a different document so that things are never deleted just saved elsewhere). I could see another book easily, maybe a third to wrap things up neatly, and then I could explore Aki’s relationships.
Early January 2014, I found myself with a finished first draft. I sent it off to my friends to read for me and started researching whether or not there was a market for gay vampire romance. To my surprise I discovered that there was. I started reading. I joined the M/M Romance Group on Goodreads, Facebook groups, and this whole new world of writing opened out in front of me. I read books on structure, I learned from other writers, and I wrote. By the time I actually submitted Thorns and Fangs to Ninestar press, I’d written three other stories, two of which were novel length, and had started work on the second book in the series. As I worked with my editor on improving Thorns and Fangs, I learned even more about the craft and structure of writing a novel.
Along the way, I’d rewritten Life After Humanity, the second book in the series twice. Something big happens to Ben at the end of Thorns and Fangs, and naturally I wanted to explore it. Life After Humanity originally started with Nate and Ben exploring their relationship a few months later. I wove in their time in Little River as backstory, but it ended up taking up too much of the story, so again—I cut it out, promising myself I could explore it–and Nate and Ethan’s origins—in the third book.
So now I had a completed draft of Life After Humanity, that I had revised myself and I’ve submitted it to Ninestar. It was accepted and while I was waiting on the first round of edits, I sent it to a few author friends for feedback. One of these friends emailed me to say that she had many questions. A lot had clearly happened between Nate and Ben. She wanted to know what exactly had unfolded in Little River. I started to explain that so much had happened in Little River that when I worked it into the story the backstory kept taking over and that I simply didn’t have enough room to fit everything that happened into the story I was telling in Life After Humanity. In the process of writing that an email I came to a horrible realisation. I’d written book three. I needed to write book two.
It is a testament to the maturity and professionalism of Raevyn at NineStar that she did not strangle me then and there. The fact that I lived in Japan it was thousands of miles away may also have had something to do with it, but I choose to believe that Raven is uncommonly self-possessed. I asked if I could remove Life After Humanity from submission while I worked on writing the second story and she was kind enough to say yes. I got to work at once.
Uprooted came together really naturally. Once I’d sorted out the plot, things just seemed to fall into place. One of my favourite scenes I’d had to remove from Life After Humanity became the new opening chapter, but the rest of it was all new. It wrote really easily, and I sent it off feeling pretty good about the series.
Then I picked up Life After Humanity again. Unfortunately, Uprooted had developed Nate and Ben in ways that I wasn’t expecting. One character who wasn’t slated to survive Uprooted survived, and so I had a new cast member to account for. The biggest hurdle was boredom. By the time I sat down to write what is now life after humanity, I’d already told the story twice. I also had the problem of not remembering what I’d already written in previous drafts and what I’d written in this draft. This entailed an extra round of editing where I went through and double checked that I hadn’t referenced any events from a previous draft.
I also changed my point of view. Thorns and Fangs is third person point of view focused on Nate. Uprooted is third person POV focused on Ben. I decided that Life After Humanity would be rewritten alternating Ben and Nate POV. This was a really good decision, and the reviews speaking about the nuances this gave their relationship show readers agreed. However, it meant that I lost some really good writing. There are a couple of chapters from that that just could not fit into the final draft because of the point of view changes. There was no way Nate could be present without altering the dynamic entirely and if I gave Ben three successive chapters in a row it threw off the entire balance. It was a choice between the new POV and the chapters, and the new POV won. It was a struggle to write, but I’m ultimately really pleased with how it turned out.
There was just one small problem.
There were two separate plots in Life After Humanity: Nate versus werewolves and Ben versus City Hall. The storylines overlap and they’re much more complicated than that, but my plan was to wrap up both storylines in that book.
I was on chapter nineteen. Thorns and Fangs and Uprooted had twenty-one chapters. I’d plotted twenty-one chapters for Life After Humanity. I was two chapters away from the end of my book. There was no way I was going to tie up both of my plots in only two chapters.
So I made a dick move. I only tied up one of them.
Book Four—Dead Wrong.
Ever since I’d known that I was writing a four book series, I knew I wanted the final book to act like a bookend. It would show how far Nate and Ben had developed and show their personal growth and the growth of their relationship. The best way to show Ben and Nate’s growth was to test them against their opponents in the first book: Peter, the necromancer, and Saltaire, Ben’s all-powerful vampire sire.
The unexpected twist at the end of book 3 changed that — but for the better. In a way, it was good that I hadn’t had much more in mind beyond that because it meant that I could totally explore the new avenue. Plotting went really easily. I knew the characters inside and out, the world inside and out, and I had a better grasp of structure and plotting and my own writing process than I did when I started the series.
I also had three months in which to write it. My time promptly got eaten up by other projects and family commitments, and so I ended up with basically a month to write it in. Somehow I did. I think the time constraints forced me to write quickly which meant that I was kept in the Thorns and Fangs world for that entire month. And I’m really happy with how it turned out. I feel like not only have Nate and Ben really developed and reached their potential, but I have also grown as a writer while making this journey.
It’s been tough at times, and there have been many steps backwards, but I feel like even those mistakes were necessary to bring me to a better understanding of writing and a better understanding of my story.
That said, I’ve written the first work in the next trilogy set in the Thorns and Fangs world, but I’m not even going to attempt to submit it until I have book two drafted and book three outlined.
At least, in theory.
Title: Dead Wrong
Series: Thorns and Fangs, Book Four
Author: Gillian St. Kevern
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: February 26, 2018
Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex
Genre: Paranormal, LGBT, vampires, werewolves, alternate universe, demons, occult, suspense
Nate’s no supernatural expert, but even he knows a murdered man coming back to life to kill him can only mean one thing—the necromancer is back and out for revenge.
Recruited by Department Seven in a desperate attempt to stop Peter before he claims new victims, Nate quickly realizes he’s in way over his head. His powers are failing him, he’s haunted by Peter’s ghost, and he can’t even remember how he stopped Peter the first time—or why he feels that someone very important is missing from his life.
Ben is fighting for his afterlife. Trapped in the supernatural version of solitary confinement, he knows freeing himself will destroy New Camden’s fragile peace—but what choice does he have? The longer he spends in his magical prison, the harder it becomes to resist his inner vampire. But if Ben wants to help Nate prevent Peter taking over the city, he has to prove himself to his sire—Saltaire, a thousand-year-old vampire with no qualms about using his immense power to suppress Ben’s free will.
As the casualties mount and the city descends into chaos, Ben and Nate must overcome their worst fears and impossible odds—or be written out of existence entirely.
Gillian St. Kevern © 2018
All Rights Reserved
The afternoon had all the gloom of a funeral. The pavement and the drab external walls of the surrounding buildings extended to the gray sky above. Nate and Aki stood in silence in the alley beside their apartment building and contemplated the dead.
Nate, at six feet tall, had to bow his head to look down at them. “You’re sure it’s not, I don’t know, some kind of vampire cat?” He winced. The question sounded even worse out in the open.
Aki looked up at Nate, his hazel eyes flat. “You’re kidding me. Have you ever heard of a vampire cat?”
Nate made a helpless gesture toward the bodies. “Look at them.” There were two desiccated rats and, nearby, a shriveled up bird. “Animals don’t eat like this.” He turned the nearest rat over, noticing what looked like a puncture wound. He crouched to get a closer look.
“Maybe they were sick. Rats are riddled with disease, and pigeons are not any better—don’t touch them!” Aki made a disgusted noise. “Ugh. Keep your gross, infected hands away from me.”
Nate set the rat down and turned his head, giving Aki a speculative look.
Aki stepped backward. “Touch me and I promise I will dump you.”
Nate snorted, turning his attention back to the dead animals. “You can’t dump me. We’re not dating.”
“I can friend dump you—and I will.”
“I co-signed the lease. You’re stuck with me.”
“I’m pretty sure Grant can find me a legal loophole involving pestilence.” Aki stuck his hands in the pockets of his plaid trousers. He drummed one foot against the pavement, the movement making his keychain rattle. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Nate stood slowly, still looking down at the animals. “There’s got to be some kind of explanation for this. Maybe we should call Department Seven?”
“They’d laugh in your face. This isn’t even a case for animal control.” Aki heaved a theatrically loud sigh. “If you’re that desperate for excitement, ask George to take you hunting. She’d jump at the chance.”
Nate frowned at Aki. “I’m not desperate for excitement.”
Aki raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you? This is the longest we’ve gone without any supernatural mishaps since you got mixed up with the necromancer, and for the last month, you’ve been glancing over your shoulder, listening to sounds that aren’t there, and watching the news for anything paranormal. If that’s not desperation, I don’t know what is.”
Nate shivered. How to explain to Aki that for the last month, he’d had the constant suspicion that there was something there, just on the edge of his awareness? “I’m not desperate.”
“Then why are we hanging out in a shadowy alley, acting like revenant bait?”
Nate blanched. Revenants were the most basic form of the undead, recently deceased with a taste for blood and no thought beyond acquiring it. Nate had been closer than he wanted to hungry revenants. “Bait implies I want to find one. I don’t.”
“Then can we please leave before one finds us—”
Something crunched in the shadows beyond the dumpster.
Nate’s breath froze in his throat. He didn’t dare turn his head to see what Aki was doing, concentrating all his attention on the shadows.
He heard a second crunch, as if something shifted on the stones beyond the dumpster. Nate stepped toward it.
“Don’t.” Aki grabbed his arm. “Please, Nate. This is a seriously bad idea.”
“Stay here.” Nate disentangled himself. “Get ready to call Department Seven.”
“And after that, I’ll call the funeral home.” Aki had his phone in hand. “I’m having them put ‘I told him not to do it’ on your gravestone.”
“Quiet.” Nate knew a revenant couldn’t kill him. At least he was pretty sure he was safe. His experience with the necromancer had woken Nate’s own supernatural side. Being part plant could be inconvenient at times, but it did mean that he was impervious to things that were fatal to ordinary humans. But being a card-carrying psychic wouldn’t protect Aki from becoming monster chow. Nate edged his way around the dumpster carefully. If it was a revenant, he’d have to act fast to stop it preying on Aki.
Nate rounded the corner.
Nothing there? The newspaper was spread out as if someone had been sleeping rough—never a good idea in New Camden, the city with the largest monster population in the world—and it crackled under foot. Was the sound just the wind rustling through its pages? Nate turned to leave and caught a dull glow out of the corner of his eyes. He grinned. “Aki, come and look at this.”
“Is it more dead animals? Because I can pass.”
Nate crouched down. “Here, kitty. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“A cat?” Aki snorted, and Nate heard his footsteps on the stone behind him. “All that over nothing.”
Nate clicked his fingers. “Come on.”
The cat watched him balefully. She stretched, displaying her claws, before taking a step into the light. She flicked her tail, watching Nate out of her one good eye. Her left eye was milky white, with the lines of an old scar above and below. She was skinny, her fur bare in patches, and her tail was crooked. Part of one ear was missing, looking like a tattered flag on a pirate ship, with her prominent ribs the hull.
“Whoa. That’s the ugliest cat I’ve ever seen.”
“She can’t help that. Poor thing. Who knows how long she’s been living out here?”
Aki smacked Nate’s hand away from the cat. “Stop risking animal diseases! Look at it. Probably crawling with fleas!”
“It’s just an old stray cat.”
Aki scoffed. “I was wrong. That’s definitely some variety of hell beast.”
Nate clicked his fingers, succeeding in drawing the cat closer to him. “You’re so mean. Just because she’s been on the losing end of a few fights…”
“More than a few. It’s probably got every disease in the book.”
Nate extended his hand, and the cat cautiously sniffed it. “I think she likes me.”
Aki leaned against the dumpster to watch. “Haven’t you learned anything from the disaster that was you adopting the last stray?”
Nate looked up. “The last stray turned out to be Grant, who we saved from his evil stepdad, getting you a boyfriend in the process.”
“We’re not dating,” Aki said immediately. “If you’re so stuck on Grant, ask him out yourself. I don’t want him.”
Nate smiled to himself, stretching out his hand to the cat’s tattered ears. She hissed, and before Nate could react, sunk her teeth into his hand. He jerked his hand back. “Ow!”
“Ha! Told you!”
Nate sat back on his heels, nursing his hand. “Are you grinning?”
“It’s called schadenfreude.” Aki nudged Nate with the toe of his sneaker. “And you deserved it.”
Nate looked back down, but at his exclamation, the cat had darted back into the shadows. She squeezed into the narrow gap between the dumpsters. All he could see of her was the gleam of her dead eye. “You’re a bad best friend.”
Aki just shrugged. “You should have checked the fine print. It’s too late now. You’re stuck with me.”
Nate stood, dusting off his hands on his jeans. “Maybe Grant will find me a legal loophole.”
Aki elbowed him. “Not allowed. It’s ‘best friends forever.’ Not best friends until Aki hurts my feelings.”
Nate draped his arm over Aki’s shoulders. “Since when is BFF legally binding?”
“Well it is. So it’s a good thing I plan on keeping you around.” He leaned comfortably against Nate’s side. “That’s your cue to say there’s no one you would rather be stuck with.”
Nate paused, guiltily conscious something wasn’t right. There was something—someone—missing.
Nate realized he’d stopped walking.
Aki was watching him with an expression of concern on his face. “I was only joking.”
Nate grinned. He leaned over, tapping Aki on his shoulder. “Got you.”
“You!” Aki demonstrated his feelings of friendship by trying to kick him.
Gillian St. Kevern is the author of the Deep Magic series, the Thorns and Fangs series, the For the Love of Christmas series, and standalone novels, The Biggest Scoop and The Wing Commander’s Curse. Gillian currently lives in her native New Zealand, but spent eleven years in Japan and has visited over twenty different countries. Her writing is a celebration of the weird and wonderful people she encounters on her journeys. She is the co-founder of the New Zealand Rainbow Romance Writers, and a member of RWNZ.
As a chronic traveller, Gillian is more interested in journeys than endings, with characters that grow and change to achieve their happy ending. She’s not afraid to let her characters make mistakes or take the story in an unexpected direction. Her stories cross genres, time-periods and continents, taking readers along for an unforgettable ride. Both Deep Magic and The Biggest Scoop were nominated for Best LOR story in the 2015 M/M Romance Groups Member’s Choice awards. Deep Magic also received nominations in Best Cover, Best Main Character and Best Paranormal, while The Biggest Scoop was nominated for Best Coming of Age. Thorns and Fangs came third in the 2016 Rainbow Awards Bisexual Paranormal/Historical category.