Please welcome Douglas Hulick to The Qwillery. Sworn in Steel (A Tale of the Kin 2) was published on May 6th by Roc.
TQ: Welcome back to The Qwillery. Your new novel, Sworn in Steel (Tale of the Kin 2), was published on May 6th. Has your writing process changed (or not) from when you wrote Among Thieves (2011) to Sworn in Steel? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Douglas: Actually, my process didn’t change that much; but in retrospect it should have. When I wrote Among Thieves, I did it over the course of 10 years (off and on). I obviously didn’t take that long of an approach with Sworn (or have that kind of a window), but I did forget how messy my process is, especially in the early stages. I figure out a lot of the story as I go and this came back to bite me as the deadline got closer, seeing as how I hadn’t quite put the whole picture together by that time. Needless to say, I have re-evaluated my process for the third book.
I was going to say my biggest challenge is finding the time to write, but that’s not exactly true. I mean, I have plenty of demands on me (kids, family, running a household as the stay-at-home parent, etc.), but there is time in my day. I simply need to get better at managing it.
Probably the most challenging thing for me at this point is trusting the narrative. I tend to be a fiddler when I write—fiddle with this word choice, that paragraph, this narrative order—so much so that I have a hard time getting a first draft done. I need to learn to simply let the story move forward and tell myself I will come back and fix things later. I’m forever trying to write the final draft in the first pass, and that can be maddening.
TQ: What do you wish that you knew about book publishing when Among Thieves came out that you know now?
Douglas: I have the advantage of being in a writer’s group with several other published authors. This means that I was able to see a lot of what went into publishing before I sold my first book. I knew about deadlines, revision letters, copyedits, contracts (a bit), options, and so on.
That said, there’s still no teacher like experience. Looking back, the biggest thing I wish I’d known ahead of time is how much non-writing stuff there is involved in being a writer. Not just promotional stuff before a release, but all the other business bits: writing cover copy, looking for blurbs, composing summaries, thinking about the next project, pitching proposals, and so on. And that doesn’t even include things like trying to maintain an author presence on the web (be it blogs, Twitter, or what have you). It eats more time than you think.
TQ: Tell us something about Sworn in Steel that is not in the book description.
Douglas: If the last book was about honor, this one is about obligations: to your friends, to your larger social group, to your family. Even though Drothe is the sole narrator, it’s a theme that runs through most of the character arcs across the book. Needless to say, not everyone in the book has the same view on these kinds of things.
Also, you get to see more degans in this book, and learn a lot more about the Order of the Degans itself. That was especially fun.
TQ: Which character in the Tale of the Kin series (so far) surprised you the most? Who has been the hardest character to write and why?
Douglas: The biggest surprise I’ve had so far is a new character that appears in Sworn. She wasn’t in the outline, wasn’t meant to be a key character when she did appear—and yet there she is. Her name is Aribah, and it was a lot of fun having her pop out up of nowhere; but it was also a pain, because I suddenly had this character pushing her way into a story that hadn’t been meant to contain her. In the end, I think she is one the things I like best about Sworn.
Hardest? I thank that would have to be another new character, named Wolf. There’s a lot of back-story I had to work in for him, and that can be hard at times, especially in a first person narrative where the person telling the tale isn’t the one with the back-story you need to convey. You want to get this information to the reader, but you don’t want to start shoveling a bunch of exposition in their direction. It’s a delicate balance, and not always one you can see until you’ve had time to step back from the work and reevaluate it.
TQ: The Tale of the Kin series is Fantasy. What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
Douglas: You mean aside from the fact that I practice and teach historical rapier combat? ;)
I’m a former history major. I almost got a PhD in medieval history. For me, history and historical (or quasi-historical) settings are second nature. Medieval, Renaissance, Early-Modern, Revolutionary, Gilded Age—I’m fascinated by all of it. I invariably have at least one history book going as recreational reading at any one time, and spend almost as much time in the History section of the bookstore as I do the SF/F section.
I also tend to read fantasy pretty exclusively within the genre. I don’t mind science fiction, but it’s never grabbed me as much. Given my druthers, I find myself gravitating towards books with at least one foot in a past-like setting, as opposed to one in a future-setting. Since that’s where many of my other interests lie, it’s not terribly surprising.
TQ: Please give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Sworn in Steel.
Douglas: Most of the lines I like have a bit of set up. I tend not to be a one-offer. That said, there’s a brief interaction between Drothe and a palace guard in Djan I like. The guard has just told Drothe that only poets can enter through the elaborately decorated gate he is standing before:
He began to turn away.
“What if I said I was also a poet?” I said.
He turned back, a resigned look on his face. “Then I’d ask you to compose something on the spot to prove it.” He looked up at the gate. “Something depicted on this, probably. Something complicated.”
“And if my poem didn’t meet your standards?”
“We scrub the blood off the bricks every morning.”
It took me another half an hour to wend my way to the Dog Gate...
TQ: What's next?
Douglas: Well, there is a third Tales of the Kin book that I’m currently writing (no title yet). After that, I’m not sure. My publisher has an option for a fourth book, and if they want more Kin novels, I’d be happy to consider that. Otherwise, I have a stand-alone contemporary urban fantasy novel that’s almost done. I also have ideas for a fantasy series in a French Revolution style world I’d like to play with, as well an itch to explore gangs in a 1850s/60s New York-style setting, but with a dash of magic thrown in. (What can I say: I like writing about the underworld)
I’d also like to try my hand at writing some short fiction. I’ve never really done much with short stories, and it’s a medium I find both fascinating and daunting at the same time. I’ve always said my brain tends to come up with stories better designed for the longer form, which I think is true, but I would really like to push myself and do some shorter fiction after Book 3 gets handed in.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Douglas: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Sworn in Steel
A Tale of the Kin 2
Roc, May 6, 2014
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 512 pages
It’s been three months since Drothe killed a legend, burned down a portion of the imperial capital, and found himself unexpectedly elevated into the ranks of the criminal elite. As the newest Gray Prince in the underworld, he’s not only gained friends, but also rivals—and some of them aren’t bothered by his newfound title. A prince’s blood, as the saying goes, flows just as red as a beggar’s.
So when another Gray Prince is murdered and all signs point to Drothe as the hand behind the knife, he knows it’s his blood that’s in danger of being spilled. As former allies turn their backs and dark rumors begin to circulate, Drothe is approached by a man who says he can make everything right again. All he wants in exchange is a single favor.
Now Drothe finds himself traveling to the Despotate of Djan, the empire’s long-standing enemy, to search for the friend he betrayed—and the only person who can get him out of this mess. But the grains of sand are running out fast, and even if Drothe can find his friend, he may not be able to persuade him to help in time…
A Tale of the Kin 1
Roc, April 5, 2011
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors-a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.
Douglas Hulick has been reading fantasy literature for almost as long as he can remember. He suspects this penchant for far-away lands of yore led, in part, to his acquiring a B.A. and M.A. in Medieval History, and likewise to his subsequent study and teaching of European Historical Martial Arts. It most certainly resulted in his authoring several short stories, as well as two novels.