Women in SFF Author Spotlight – Susan K Hamilton (SHADOW KING)
Susan K. Hamilton is the award-winning author of epic, dark, and urban fantasy books including Shadow King, Darkstar Rising, and the forthcoming The Devil Inside. She’s also dipped her toe in the short story pond and had her work included in the ESCAPE! Anthology and the upcoming DECEPTION! Anthology from Writing Bloc.
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.
Welcome to the Hive, Susan K. Hamilton. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I recently finished and thoroughly enjoyed City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. I picked it up on a whim, and got totally absorbed by it. It’s a unique take on a love story told from the perspective of an old woman as she looks back on her life and her youth living with her aunt in New York City in the 1940s.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I’m going to have to make a confession here: as much as I love reading and writing fantasy, I’ve never been much of a gamer. I think some of that is because I’ve always loved horses and if it came down to D&D or being at the barn, the barn won every single time.
That being said, if I did play, I think I’d be most suited to be a Druid. As for weapons? I don’t think a Druid would be caught without a staff, but I’ve always had a penchant for a nice dagger.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I think the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimp might be just a little distracting. But I do like to have something on in the background. If the house is too quiet when I write, I get distracted.
Sometimes I’ll go with music, but more often I’ll actually put the TV on and find a show that’s in syndication that I’ve seen a thousand times—something like an NCIS or Criminal Minds or Chicago PD (yes, there’s a pattern there). Why? The voices on the TV give me something to tune out, and because I’ve seen the episode, I know the story so it doesn’t distract me.
I definitely prefer to use the computer. My handwriting is terrible, and I tend to lose track of notebooks and pads—and I’m mostly a pantster. If I try to outline too much I get very ornery because I feel restricted. Doing it that way makes editing a pain sometimes, but it is how I work.
When it comes to developing story ideas, I often come up with a character that I like. Then I start thinking about the character’s life and what they do and where they live… and from all that a story seems to emerge. I don’t think I’ve ever come up with the plot first and then devised characters to fit it.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad series made a huge impression on me. Her ability to weave fantasy and sci-fi together so smoothly just blew me away. I have all three books tucked away on my bookshelves, and they are absolutely tattered from use.
Aside from Patricia, I do think it would be fun to work with Kim Harrison. Her Hollows series was the first dark/urban fantasy series I ever read, and I love how she takes traditional characters like witches, vampires, werewolves and pixies, and keeps the traditional qualities while adding some very creative aspects that suit the world she’s built.
I’d also add that I’m a fan of fantasy-based romance—I mean, who doesn’t like a good bodice-ripper every now and again? If you’re into that genre, Donna Grant and Karen Marie Moning are two authors you should definitely check out.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
That would be Whose Line is it Anyway? My husband and I love good stand-up and improv comedy, so we’re always looking for comedy specials and are interested in listening to new comics. Laughter is good for the soul. I admire anyone with a quick wit. I wish I could be like that but snappy one-liners are definitely not my jam.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
That’s actually a very easy answer for me: at the barn with my horse, June—a 10-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare. Well, she’s not actually “my” horse—I lease her from her owner and get to ride multiple days during the week. I’ve ridden horses since I was a little girl and love spending time at the barn.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Of course! I’m actually working on a few different things.
My latest novel, The Devil Inside, will be releasing—fingers crossed—a little later this year, but it might not be until 2021. I’m waiting to get an official release date. Originally it was going to come out in August, but got delayed by the coronavirus.
The Devil Inside is another dark fantasy about an ambitious devil that begins a clandestine affair with a disgruntled angel stuck in a dead-end job. When her biggest rival in Hell discovers her darkest secrets, the devil is forced to make a drastic decision that could ruin everything.
I also have a new manuscript that I’m in the middle of reviewing and editing. This one is a bit of a departure for me—women’s fiction, so nary an elf, dragon, or faerie in sight. I wanted to try something different, and have enjoyed developing this story and characters. The title is Stone Heart and in it, a troubled singer rekindles a relationship with her married ex-lover, and as their affair intensifies, it threatens to destroy much more than just her career.
And lastly, I’m working on a Shadow King-based short story that will be included in an anthology that will be coming out this winter. It takes place about ten years before the events of Shadow King, and tells the story of a desperate Selkie who has to make a deal with the devil to save her grandfather.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Oh, wow. I think I’ll stick with helpful, and I don’t know if I remember exactly who offered this advice or if it is something I just figured out myself, but here goes nothing:
Not everyone is going to like your stuff and that’s okay.
No two people will experience art—and writing is an art—the same way. One person may read your book, shrug, and say, “whatever.” The next person might read it and rave about how much they loved it. Just because someone is indifferent doesn’t mean your writing is bad. It just means you aren’t that person’s cup of tea.
My very first book, Darkstar Rising, is a high fantasy. My mother read it and her feedback was, “its okay.” I know that sounds lukewarm, and you might be thinking, “I can’t believe her own mother said that!” But you need to know something about my mother: she can’t stand the genre. So, I could have written the most epic, outstanding, brilliant fantasy novel, and she still would have been ambivalent about it.
So, when you get a two- or three-star review, or someone says your book was okay but nothing special, don’t let it torpedo your self-confidence.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Sometimes, I just give myself permission to not write. No one can be “on” 24/7 and sometimes you just don’t have it in you. When I get like that I try not to beat myself up. It can be easy to start to doubt yourself.
I did have a period after Darkstar Rising came out (many years ago) when I got really stuck. I got a little too big for my literary britches and told myself, “The next thing you write is going to be a TRILOGY!”
It was a disaster.
Not the story itself—I still have a copy of it because there is a great story in there, and some great characters, but I don’t think it was ever meant to be a trilogy—and the more I tried to force it to be something it wasn’t, the more stuck and frustrated I became. I wasted a lot of time and energy and ended up pretty disillusioned with my writing and down on myself.
To get out of my funk, I started to dabble in fan fiction. I know some people poo-poo it, but it gave me the chance to keep my writing brain active, without the excess pressure I’d been putting on myself. And after a little while, I got the itch to do my own work again—that desire resulted in Shadow King.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
It would definitely be Scotland. I’ve always loved it there (granted I’ve only visited once). But when I was in college I was a European History major and was always interested in the Tudor and Elizabethan eras. If I had to pick a historical era, I’d probably end up there, but I have to say, as interesting as I think the culture would be, I am not sure I’d be cut out to live minus most modern day amenities.
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Hard to pick a favourite, but from literature, I really like Mac from Moning’s Fever series, and of course Aeron Anfa from the Keltiad. There are so many that I could list, but that would take forever so I’ll just stick with those.
From movies and TV, first I’d have to go with the female characters from Game of Thrones. They were awesome. However, one of my favourite movie characters is Victoria from RED played by Helen Mirren. I will watch that movie whenever it is on just to watch her.
I tend to write female characters that are strong and direct, something I’ve struggled with in my life. I’m not particularly good with confrontation, so I like to write (and read/watch) characters that are.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
At risk of sounding like the proverbial broken record (am I dating myself with that?) I’ll go back to Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad series. There are eight novels in all, plus a collection of short stories. The original three books that got me hooked are The Copper Crown, The Throne of Scone, and The Silver Branch. I think they’re out of print now, but you can still find used copies floating around out there.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
Dazzle you? Man, that’s a lot of pressure.
Shadow King isn’t what you might expect at first. A dark fantasy layered on a reality-based backdrop, it is a story of ambition, love, betrayal, revenge, and Fae crime lords! Cinematic in nature, it is fast-paced and full of action and intrigue reminiscent of The Sopranos. It is not for shrinking violets—human or faerie.
In a world where humans and faeries must live and work together, Aohdan Collins has ruthlessly worked to become the Fae patriarch of Boston’s criminal under-world. Cursed with the Sight, Seireadan Moore has been haunted since childhood by a vision of the Fae who created The Desolation, the corrupt, dark spell that destroyed the faerie realm—the same Fae responsible for murdering her family.
When Seireadan shares a shot of whiskey with Aohdan, she knows she should stay away—but he just might hold the answers she’s been searching for. But is revenge worth betraying the one she loves?
If you like dark and urban fantasy, and are keen to read an interesting twist on the genre, Shadow King should next up on your reading list.
Just don’t forget… bad things happen to people who cross Aohdan Collins.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Susan, and good luck with the release of The Devil Inside!