Susan K. Hamilton is the award-winning author of epic, dark, and urban fantasy books including Shadow King, Darkstar Rising, and The Devil Inside (releasing 2020/2021). Her short stories have been featured in the ESCAPE! Anthology and DECEPTION! Anthology from Writing Bloc, and a Shadow King-based short story will be releasing at the end of 2020 as part of the Passageways Anthology.
Horse-crazy since she was a little girl, she also loves comfy jeans, pizza, great stand-up comedy, and pretty much every furry creature on the planet (except spiders). Susan lives near Boston with her husband and a cat who runs the house like a boss.
1. What inspired you to write Shadow King?
I had been stuck on another story for quite a long time and got very frustrated. Frustrated to the point where I considered not writing any more. So, I took a bit of a break. I put the other story away and dabbled in fan fiction for a while—and it was a really good place for me to practice some things I needed to improve in my writing. Making my characters more complex, for instance. Sharpening my dialogue (which I still need to work on). And even—gasp!—writing sex scenes.
But after a while, I got bored with writing in other people’s worlds and wanted to create my own again. So I started to think about what I wanted to do. For a while, I couldn’t come up with anything and I wanted to participate in that year’s NaNoWriMo so I was starting to feel the pressure.
While I was out raking leaves, just before NaNo started, and started to wonder what the Fae might do if they lived in our world along with us. And I thought, well, any Dark Fae would probably run the criminal underworld. Then I speculated what a Dark Fae crime lord might look like, and all of a sudden the basic concept for Shadow King and for Aohdan Collins started to take shape. I literally put my rake down, went into the house, and wrote a bunch of notes so I wouldn’t forget anything.
My NaNo project turned into the very first draft of the story that would become Shadow King.
2. Are there elements from your life that you infuse into your work?
I try not to write myself into my books—at least not overly much. I think sometimes my female characters are a little of a doppelganger for me—some of the qualities I wish I had in more abundance are often well developed traits in my characters.
In the case of Shadow King, it is more the setting. I work in Boston, and when I was writing Shadow King the Seaport area of the city was really just starting to be developed and there was one office building and a set of luxury condos. I could walk at lunch and do a loop from my office to the water and around the condos and back. As I watched the condos go up, and realized what a beautiful (and expensive) place it would be…and the view the penthouse would have of the city, I knew that these condos were where Aohdan would live. So there are several real locations in the Seaport that are part of the setting for Shadow King.
3. Is there a genre outside your comfort zone you’d like to explore writing in?
Totally! My newest manuscript is actually just that—it is called Stone Heart and it is women’s fiction/contemporary romance. In it a troubled singer, who is also a recovering addict, returns home to record her new album. While there, she rekindles an affair with her married ex-lover. As their relationship intensifies, it threatens to destroy more than just her career.
I’m really excited about how it is turning out—right now I’m going through another edit and revision round. I really wanted to explore what I hope will be some complex characters who all are decent people at heart but make some very bad choices, and how they deal with those decisions.
I’d also love to try writing historical fiction and science fiction—but the level of research and detail involved in those genres is really a bit intimidating.
Recently, I started participating in the NYC Midnight Flash and Microfiction challenges. These have been a great way for me to explore other genres and test my ability to not only write short, but fast as well. In fact, one of my microfiction assignments was to write a 100 word story (in 24 hours) that was historical fiction, included the action “eating lobster,” and also included the word “reason.” I did mine as a letter from a Revolutionary War British soldier to his wife before his execution. In the most recent round of the 2020 Flash Fiction challenge, my genre was Political Satire—it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. Satire is definitely not my jam—but I’m really glad I at least tried it.
4. What’s your favorite thing about worldbuilding?
I like the idea that—so long as I’m consistent—I can do anything I want. In Shadow King, I really enjoyed trying to fit the faerie races into our human society as seamlessly as I could. I want people to believe that, in my world, you could walk into a Starbucks and have a Leprechaun be your barista—and you wouldn’t think twice about it.
The other thing I realized as I was writing is I had to put in a layer of bigotry into my story. Pretty much any immigrant pool faces resistance, fear and prejudice from those who came before them. That intolerance can be based on race, religion or a number of other things—and to make my world as authentic as I could, that had to exist between faerie and human. I try to not make it an overwhelming theme but building it in as a subtle reference was a very interesting part of the worldbuilding.
5. In addition to being the author of the Shadow King series, you have another novel coming out soon. What inspired The Devil Inside?
I originally wanted to write a set of short stories about the seven deadly sins—and have one character who appeared in every story. But as I wrote, one of my characters—a devil—really began to stand out to me. So she became my main character and the short stories became a novel.
In The Devil Inside an ambitious devil starts a clandestine affair with a disgruntled angel who is stuck in a dead-end job. When her biggest rival in Hell uncovers her darkest secrets, the devil has to take drastic action before all hell breaks loose.
While this is a dark/urban fantasy, I think there is a good dose of humor in it along with a bit of melodrama for good measure. I think—at least I hope—people will find it to be a fun, entertaining read.
6. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome or work around it?
Oh, I definitely have. Quite a few years ago, I self-published my very first book (Darkstar Rising) and, after that, I got way too big for my literary britches and announced to myself that my next project was going to be a trilogy.
Well, I got the story done, but the more I tried to turn it into a trilogy the more frustrated I got. In retrospect, I don’t know if it was meant to be more than one book, and the more I tried to force it to be something it wasn’t, the more blocked I became. Finally, I gave up on it (it is actually still in a box under my desk) but, at that point, I was pretty convinced I didn’t have any more original ideas in my head.
So, I started tinkering with fan fiction. I know a lot of people poo-poo it, but I found it to be really helpful. It allowed me to be creative and to keep writing. Through those efforts I got to work on things I need to work on: building better characters, working on point-of-view, even writing sex scenes (something I had always struggled wtih). Because fan fiction is based in an existing universe, I didn’t have the added pressure of worldbuilding–or the pressure of what I was going to do with the story when I was done. This was writing just because I enjoyed it.
Finally, I hit a point where I started to get tired of playing in someone else’s sandbox and wanted to do something of my own. That’s when I came up with the initial idea for Shadow King. I wrote the rough draft as part of NaNoWriMo one year, and then after several rounds of revisions, I found the Launch Pad competition and figured what the heck?
7. What early experience taught you writing had power?
Good question. There is probably something from my childhood but what stands out for me is the first real “review” I got on Shadow King. This was before the emergence of social media the way we know it today and even Amazon.
I sold copies of Darkstar Rising at a local sci-fi convention. I sold probably 20 books over the weekend and was pleased with that. In each one, along with my signature, I put in my email at the time and asked the reader to tell me what they thought when they were done.
A few weeks after the event, I got an email from a woman. And she was a complete stranger, so she had no reason to care about my emotional wellbeing. But in her email she told me that she loved the story, couldn’t put it down, and that this was a story she would “share with my children and grandchildren.”
I sat at my computer and cried because I never imagined that anything I wrote would mean that much to someone else.
8. Do you have any favorite writing craft/reference books or videos?
I do keep a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus handy when I’m writing.
9. What’s your favorite and least favorite part of the publishing journey? Any advice for writers starting their publishing journey?
Favorite part: the writing—and seeing what you wrote start to take shape as a “real” book. Least favorite—well, there are two. One is, generally speaking, publishing is a LONG process. You spend a lot of time waiting. Now with being able to publish on Amazon and other online platforms, that isn’t as much of an issue, but if you do go the traditional or hybrid route, you’re in it for the long haul.
The other thing I don’t like is the marketing. Sometimes it feels like a never-ending cycle of promotion and offers and asking (begging) for reviews. That can really wear you down after a while, but you have to do it.
10. What was a fear related to writing and/or publishing you had to overcome or you still struggle with in order to meet your goals?
Book 2 phobia. I seem to do okay coming up with a new idea to work on, but being able to do a follow-up story to an existing one is something I want to do (maybe need to do) and it is a definite struggle.
The other struggle is time: I work a full-time job, I’m married, we have a house, and I have some other obligations that take up time in my day. Sometimes that means I only have an hour, maybe two, to write, edit, market, do interviews, come up with new ideas, etc. Figuring out a way to balance all of that can be a really big struggle. I’ve found I have to be kind to myself—there are some days I don’t write, and there are some days I get a lot done. I just have to take the good with the bad and not get completely derailed.
Thank you for “sitting down” for the interview Susan!
Be sure to add Susan’s books Darkstar Rising, Shadow King, and The Devil Inside to your Goodreads TBR! Follow Susan on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Goodreads. Her books are available on Amazon and independent book retailers.