Eric Cross and his team of elite mercenaries are the bane of the Ebon Cities. Armed with the cutting-edge arcane weaponry of the Southern Claw, Cross and his crew – Black, Kane, Ronan, Maur, Grissom and Ash – have become a veritable thorn in the side of the vampire armies.Blood Skies (#1): Amazon US, Amazon UK (KINDLE only)
Now the team is tasked with halting vampire activity near the remote city-state of Fane, where the Ebon Cities have teamed up with a former Revenger in search of a deadly weapon called Soulrazor.
To make matters worse, something sinister has happened to Cross, and the key to his salvation is somehow directly tied to the Ebon Cities’ new soldiers: a host of necrotic angels who bear traces of divine power.
Cross and his team must travel across a blighted wilderness and do battle with a vile array of enemies as they race not only to save the city of Thornn from total annihilation, but to rescue Cross’ very soul from an enemy more powerful than he could ever imagine…
Black Scars (#2): Amazon US, Amazon UK (KINDLE only)
Me: The main character in the Blood Skies series is Eric Cross. It hasn't exactly been easy for Cross so far but, is it going to get tougher for him in Soulrazor?
Steven: Absolutely. [insert evil cackle here] The funny thing is, SOULRAZOR actually begins with Cross in a relatively good place, as he’s been leading his team of mercenaries on successful missions since the end of BLACK SCARS, and while they’ve lost the occasional member in that time he’s managed to avoid any major tragedies. Naturally, the mission that opens up SOULRAZOR takes a turn for the worse very quickly, and before you know it Cross and his spirit have been infected with evil magic, and he soon learns that he may inadvertently destroy the entire city of Thornn if he can’t figure out a way to heal himself.
Me: How many books will be in the Blood Skies series?
Steven: I’d originally planned a 6-book series, but recently I came up with ideas for Books 7 and 8, as well, so it would seem I’m going to be doing this for a while. ;D
BLOOD SKIES, BLACK SCARS and SOULRAZOR make up the first trilogy, wherein we meet Cross and his team. The next three books – CROWN OF ASH, THE WITCH’S EYE and STORM OF SKULLS – will chronicle the ongoing war with the vampire nations. Book 7, VAMPIRE DOWN, and Book 8, THE ENDING DREAM, will go more into an effort made by the Southern Claw to return the world to what it had been before The Black.
(Just for completeness sake, there should probably be a Book 9, but as it is I’m probably getting ahead of myself…)
Me: In Soulrazor Cross gets infected by arcane, again! Surely the poor guy needs a vaccination sometime soon?
Steven: What Cross needs more than anything is to not have me as the guy in charge of his fate.
I’ve always been tough on my characters. Whenever it looks like they’ve found a way to stay safe and happy, I find new and unusual ways to beat them up again. I blame years spent running Dungeons & Dragons game and sending dwarves and elves to their doom.
But since Cross is stuck with me, yeah, he should probably invest in some holy Purell, or something…
Me: The imagery in your books has been fantastic, do you feel pressured to do better with each new book?
Steven: Thank you!
Actually, I feel more pressure just to maintain the level of what I’ve done so far. It’s very easy to get redundant with imagery and description, and my biggest fear is that I’ll run out of ways to describe things that don’t feel rehashed or recycled. Maybe that’s why I go through 6 drafts of every book…
Me: In our last interview you mentioned how Soulrazor presented some challenges during the writing process-- could you name a few and tell us how you overcame them?
Steven: Book 3 is a different beast than Book 2. With Book 2, you’ve spent a novel’s worth of your time establishing characters and your setting, but sometimes with all of that you don’t have the space to put together as complete of a story as you’d like. Enter Book 2! The rules and characters have been established – all that you have to do is jump into a killer story, take your time to develop it, and voila, you have a novel that in all likelihood will be even better than Book 1.
But with Book 3…well, readers are familiar with the characters and setting by now, and they’ve come to know a few things about your books. On the one hand, you want to continue to deliver what the readers have come to like and expect, but on the other hand you don’t want things to get stale (either for the readers or for you as an author).
That, for me, was the central challenge: how to keep the novel consistent with what I knew people liked about the series while at the same time keeping everything fresh.
The answer came through some creative storytelling and messing around with the narrative structure I’d established in Books 1 and 2. First off, a good deal of SOULRAZOR involves the notion of time travel, so I got to play around with the sequence and order of events in the novel. And that was fun. (I actually had to use a diagram at one point to keep track of things.)
The other thing I decided to do was not to present everything from Cross’ point of view, since (with a couple of brief exceptions) he was the only character whose head we’d been in for Books 1 and 2. For about half of SOULRAZOR we’re taking a break from Cross and following the POV of Danica Black, a character who I’d been eager to develop more ever since I’d introduced her in BLACK SCARS.
I think these minor changes helped revitalize the creative process for me, and hopefully the fun that I had while writing the novel will translate to the reader. I’ve always felt that the best way to entertain someone is to fully invest yourself in the creation process, and coming up with new ways to present the story seems to help me out.
(CROWN OF ASH, for example, will also have a fairly unique structure…but I’ll go into that another time…)