After much longer than usual, I’m finally approaching the end of my working draft of King of Pain: Interstellar Rescue Series Book Five. The story of Thrane Hunter-turned-Rescue agent Trevyn Dar and shapeshifter Lael Saphora was a tough one to craft during a worldwide pandemic—for a lot of reasons—and it will need plenty of revision. But at least I’ll soon be able to put a tentative “The End” to the first draft. Hallelujah!
Why has this book, which will probably be the final novel in my Interstellar Rescue series, been such a bear to write? Well, I don’t think I’m the only author who has struggled during the pandemic to focus on my work. Even well-known professionals have noted how difficult it’s been to write while the world burns. (The pandemic isn’t the only disaster we’re dealing with, after all.) Fiction, like other forms of creativity, requires emotional space, which is pretty hard to come by when you’re busy thinking about lockdown, full ICUs, politics, climate change, wildfires, hurricanes, floods and all the rest of it. I’d like to think of my work as an escape to another world, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Then, too, I set myself a major challenge in several ways with this particular story. For the first time, I set the story on an alien planet, rather than on Earth or in space. Thrane is the home planet of the humanoid telepathic species I’ve introduced in previous novels, so I had a head start on developing the alien culture. Still, I’m more comfortable here on terra firma or on a starship.
My hero, Trevyn, was a good bad guy in Book Two of the series, Trouble in Mind. The alien half-brother of the hero of that book, Gabriel, he suffered under the abuse of his brutal older sibling, Kinnian, until he broke free and helped Gabriel kill Kinnian and save the heroine, Lana.
So, Trevyn is not your usual kind of alpha male hero. He’s carrying more than the normal amount of baggage—guilt, self-loathing, a fear of his family’s inherited darkness. The challenge for me as a writer is to help him carry that load without crippling his confidence. He still has to kick some serious ass, after all, and fight the good fight, too. He made a start on transforming from a bad guy to a good guy in Trouble in Mind. But in King of Pain, Trevyn finally has to overcome his past and rise above it, not just at the end of the novel, but throughout, so we can love him as the romantic hero.
My heroine, Lael, too, is a challenge. I’ve never written a shapeshifting character before, though I’ve read plenty of books featuring shapeshifters. (Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changling series is one of my favorites.) I wanted to make sure to be consistent with the features of the Hinarr culture Lael comes from, the details of shifting (like, what happens with clothes and weapons?) and so on. What aspects of her character transfer to her snowcat Companion? And, how, exactly, do you translate the thinking process of a sentient, but non-speaking, creature, like the Companion, without making it sound like a Disney nature voiceover?
There will be pay-offs, of course. These two are meant to be together, like all my Interstellar Rescue couples. They meet the criteria for fated lovers, enemies to lovers and even a kind of Romeo and Juliet-type story, though with a happy ending. Trevyn and Lael are just making me work for their Happy Ever After!
In fact, they have enough problems of their own, you wouldn’t think they would need a villain to make their book life difficult. But, no, every hero and heroine need a good villain (or two). King of Pain has been a challenge in this way, too, because it started from a Big Idea. (Science fiction as a genre suffers from this problem—the concepts, or the technology, often overshadow the characters.) My Big Idea had to do with the telepathic Thranes who rule the planet and the shapeshifting Hinarr, a severely oppressed minority who lack telepathic skills. The Thranes call them “Ghosts,” due to their lack of telepathy, and consider them mentally deficient. They believe the Hinarr are inferior, useful only for menial labor, and a legitimate prey for hunting in their snowcat form.
The Hinarr, however, are no longer content to play the role of the downtrodden of Thrane. They are fighting back via an underground resistance movement, the Uprising, of which Lael is a leader.
This makes for great conflict, but only in a general way. Just like STAR WAR’s Empire needs Darth Vader, my Ruling Houses of Thrane (and the murderous Blood Legion behind them) need an actual person to embody their evil intent. That person should have goals in opposition to those of my hero and heroine. He (it happens to be a he) should have a clear motivation beyond just “power” or “hatred of the Hinarr.” Given those things, the conflict between my central characters will arise naturally.
So, yes, the Primary Ruler of Thrane, Mennon, is one villain of the book, as is a Brother of the Blood Legion named Avet Van-Del, who hunts Trevyn and Lael through most of the novel. But, as I’ve discovered in the act of writing, the biggest villain, the one who should receive the most attention, is the one pulling the strings of these lesser bad guys. And, as some critics of my last book have pointed out, when it comes time for this villain’s demise, I really have to beat him flat. My readers need the satisfaction of seeing that bad guy get his just deserts.
So, you see, I have lots to work on in the next few weeks. And that’s not even accounting for finding the right images for the cover. Or honing the dang blurb. Oy! Wish me luck!