Please welcome J. Kathleen Cheney back to the blog! The first book in her brand new series, Dreaming Death, is out today, and she kindly answered a few questions about it, and more! Also, courtesy of the publisher, we’ve got one copy of Dreaming Death to give away to one lucky US winner!
Will you tell us a bit about Dreaming Death (the first in a new series!!)? What inspired you to write the Palace of Dreams series?
The story follows a young woman who’s inherited a rare form of sensitivity to stimulation. She’s both over sensitive to touch (actually on a molecular level) and to other’s emotions. While the excess stimulation is overwhelming, she’s learned to deal with it over the course of a few years. She intercepts the dreams of Mikael Lee, a young man who makes psychic connections to others at the times of their deaths. She uses her abilities to solve the murders that he dreams. Only now a dangerous killer has come to town, and what he wants is a mystery that she and Mikael have to work together to find out what the killer wants before too many more people die.
Oddly enough, the original inspiration for this dates back to a late 80s issue of Glamour Magazine. I don’t know who was throwing that issue together at the last moment, but they stuck in a snippet that said people with pale eyes tend to be shyer. (The actual study they were paraphrasing correlates pale eyes with ease of overstimulation in young boys, which is often perceived as shyness.)
My brain, over the years, extrapolated wild ideas from that tiny correlation, ending up with questions like “What happens if you have a small group of pale-eyed people intermarrying over centuries? Does that trait become extreme?” and “What other traits would carry forward?”
And that’s how I ended up with my Fortresses and their sensitives.
Why do you think readers will root for Shironne and Mikael? What makes them compelling characters?
Shironne is determined to make a life for herself, despite her rather serious problem. She feels a strong compulsion to do something for others, and has found what seems like an avocation. I think a lot of younger people are in a similar situation trying to figure out not only how to get by, but how to do some good with their lives.
Mikael has overwhelming dreams that force other people away from him, and keep him from fitting in where he most wants to. A large part of this story is his realization that his life path might be different from what he’d ever planned for himself, like opening a door and seeing an unexpected path in front of him. His big decision in this story is whether he wants to pursue that path.
What secondary characters did you particularly enjoy writing about?
I tend to love my secondary characters. They all have backstories. I lie awake at night wondering why they do certain things, what their mother told them when they were five that changed their idea of who they were, and what happened to their first love. I would say that my favorites in this series are Eli (the First of the seventeens) and Sera (who’s not actually present during this book–she’s been sent away because she and her father do not get along.) Off all my characters–all of them–Sera’s one of my favorite to write because she’s so bratty. Neither of those two plays a huge part in this story, but I have Things Planned for each of them. Things.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
My main area of research was in underground building design. It turns out that building underground has some great advantages–less wear and tear on the exterior, excellent temperature control, and use of previously unused space. However it turns out that there are disadvantages as well. I was most interested in studies on the psychological aspects of living in an underground space, particularly when I learned that one of the main problems is lack of stimulation, which makes it an excellent choice for people who are easily over-stimulated, like those pale-eyed people mentioned above.
To write something like this, I plan it out first, and then sit down and start writing. Usually it takes me about 6 months to pound out a first draft, which I do chronologically, beginning to end. Then I edit, which is the part I love. I could edit for years.
Worldbuilding is very important in books like Dreaming Death. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds”?
This is easy: Martha Well’s Ile-Rien (The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, The Element of Fire, and The Death of the Necromancer), Ansen Dibell’s Kantmorie (The High King of Kantmorie Saga) and the worlds of C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine novels.
When you started Dreaming Death, did you already have in mind how many books you wanted to write in the series, or did you just plan on seeing where the narrative took you?
When I first started the series (way back close to 2003), I had only three books in mind. I did, however, quickly expand that to five. The first three books are more about Shironne and Mikael, but the fourth and fifth books would be about Eli and Sera, so that makes it more of a trilogy and a duology as currently outlined.
It’s been a while since we caught up. What are you currently reading? Are there any books you’re looking forward to diving into this year?
My old kindle died so when I got a new kindle, after about a month without, I embarked on a reread of some of the Mystery and Romance series that I already own. Over the next several months, I’ll be rereading what I’ve got from Ashley Gardner, P. B. Ryan, Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner, and Ben Aaronovitch. Between those, I recently finished reading Rachel Marks’ Darkness Fair (which debuts on the same day as Dreaming Death) and just picked up a copy of Dirty Magick: New Orleans (which includes a story by Rhonda Eudaly.) And I’m looking forward to reading the Megan E. O’Keefe’s Steal the Sky, Beth Cato’s Breath of Heaven, and Pat Esden’s A Hold on Me.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m actually working on an ebook release related to the Golden City setting, which follows Alejandro Ferreira post WWI (“After the War”), as well as a couple of other novellas, finishing the sequel to Dreaming Death (currently titled The Sins of the Fathers), and putting out some new backstory scenes just for my Patreon supporters. I’m also trying to repackage and re-release my back list of short fiction in ebook and POD format, which is proving to be far more time- and dollar-consuming than I expected! (But I want it to be available, so I’m determined to get it done.)
About Dreaming Death:
Shironne Anjir’s status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse. Her augmented senses allow her to discover and feel things others can’t, but her talents come with a price: a constant assault of emotions and sensations has left her blind. Determined to use her abilities as best she can, Shironne works tirelessly as an investigator for the Larossan army.
A member of the royal family’s guard, Mikael Lee also possesses an overwhelming power—he dreams of the deaths of others, sometimes in vivid, shocking detail, and sometimes in cryptic fragments and half-remembered images.
But then a killer brings a reign of terror to the city, snuffing out his victims with an arcane and deadly blood magic. Only Shironne can sense and interpret Mikael’s dim, dark dreams of the murders. And what they find together will lead them into a nightmare…