Alex Verus #6 – Veiled

(This is part 6 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

I finished Hidden in the summer of 2013.  The rewrites would take the rest of the year, but as it turned out, Fated, Cursed, Taken, and now Chosen had been selling well enough that my editors were willing to contract for two more books.  The series still wasn’t what you could call a big success, but I did have a little breathing room.  

As a result, Alex Verus #6 was designed from the beginning to lead into Alex Verus #7, since that was how many books I could count on.  My idea for the two books was simple:  Alex would do something to anger Levistus in book #6, who would pass a death sentence on him in book #7 and force Alex to go on the run.  I hadn’t figured out what the “something” was.  

Since I had no requirements for the book other than “Alex pisses off Levistus”, I started Veiled free to do pretty much whatever I wanted, and I used that freedom to try another experiment.  One of the things I’d discovered by this point was that I quickly got bored with writing the same book over and over again, and my solution to that had been to experiment with introducing elements from different genres.  All of the Alex Verus sequels were urban fantasy novels, but they all had quite different flavours.  Cursed was an action thriller.  Taken was mystery and supernatural horror.  Chosen and Hidden focused much more on the characters, and on the consequences of their actions.  

For Veiled the sub-genre I decided to play around with was “police procedural”.  I’d recently watched the first couple of seasons of The Wire and somewhere along the way it occurred to me that the theme of “police who are supposed to be fighting crime but whose biggest problems are all caused by the dysfunctional nature of the system they’re working for” would fit the Alex Verus setting pretty well.  I hadn’t really developed the Keepers very much, so I thought that might make for an interesting story.  

But the problem with experiments is that they don’t always work.  And in the case of Veiled, the big problem was that the events with the Keepers and White Rose weren’t directly connected to the main storyline.  Alex needed to do something to annoy Levistus, but the details of the “something” didn’t really matter, and from a structural point of view, they didn’t need to take up an entire book.  And while the enemies Alex faces in Veiled are certainly evil, he doesn’t have any particular emotional connection to them.   

And so when Veiled came out, it didn’t get very good reviews.  No one thought it was bad, but readers rated it on average worse than both Chosen and Hidden, and I’m pretty sure this was due to the lack of plot progression.  Unfortunately, by the time I realised this, it was far too late, so all I could really do was learn from the experience and move on.  As such, Veiled occupies a weird place where despite being right in the middle of the Alex Verus series, it’s essentially a side story.  Veiled is probably the most skip-able book in the entire series, along with Cursed – pretty much nothing happens in either that you couldn’t catch up on with a one-paragraph recap.  (This would become much less true as the series continued.)

But let’s move on to something which I know many of my readers care about much more, often to the point that it’s THE reason for them to keep reading a book.  Namely, romance!

Ever since Luna’s formal apprenticeship in Cursed had torpedoed the possibility of Alex and Luna ever getting together, I’d been thinking about giving Alex a new love interest.  Alex is the sort who’s slow to open up, so whoever he developed an interest in, it was going to take a while.  The question was, who would it be?

The first possible candidate was Anne, which I think readers picked up on quite early.  What I think most readers didn’t pick up on was that the second potential candidate that I had in mind was Caldera.  And just as Hidden had focused on Anne, Veiled focused on Caldera, and on Alex’s relationship with her.  

Given how badly things ended up turning out between Alex and Caldera, it’s easy to think that any relationship between them would have been doomed from the start, but the idea did have a few things going for it.  Both Alex and Caldera are loyal, and generally honest.  On top of that, they’re both fundamentally ethical people.  Both Alex and Caldera place doing the right thing over their own self-interest and personal safety, which is why they come to respect each other over the course of Veiled.  So I could see why Alex might be interested in Caldera.  

(Whether Caldera would be interested in Alex was another question.  With hindsight, I think the answer was yes, but she’d probably have seen the two of them as having too many differences to make it work.  Alex basically just doesn’t care much about obeying the law, and I don’t think Caldera would ever have been able to get past that – it would have felt to her like a policewoman dating a criminal.  But given how things turned out, this ended up being a moot point.)

After doing “try-outs” for the two relationships in Hidden and Veiled, I picked the Alex-Anne relationship over the Alex-Caldera one, for several reasons:  

  1. In terms of their character arcs, Alex and Anne had a lot more in common.  Both had been taught by Dark mages that they were now trying to distance themselves from, and both had uneasy relationships with their own darker halves.  Emotionally, Alex and Anne understand each other on a much deeper level than Alex and Caldera ever could.
  2. There was a distance between Alex and Caldera that never quite got bridged.  There are two scenes in the Alex Verus series where Alex visits Caldera’s home – one in Chosen, and one in Veiled.  Both times, they get into a fight.  Caldera is loyal to the Council and to “the system”, and Alex senses that, and that places an upper limit on how close the two of them can ever be.  Alex always knows that if it comes down to a choice between him and her job, Caldera is going to pick her job, which is why he’s not surprised by what happens in Burned.  For Alex, on the other hand, the people in his life come first.  A relationship for Alex means 100% commitment, and he’s too proud (and has too much self-respect) to make someone else his number one priority when he’s only a third or fourth priority to them.  
  3. I knew even in Veiled that Anne was eventually going to become one of the major antagonists for the series.  Having Alex be in love with her at the time sounded like a really entertaining emotional trainwreck.
  4. Giving Alex a female cop as a love interest would lead to endless annoying comparisons with the Dresden Files.
  5. Alex cares as much about looks as the next guy, and Anne is better-looking.  

As a result, Veiled is the last book in the Alex Verus series where Anne doesn’t play much of a role.  For the remaining six books, she would show up more and more.  

Finally, the events of Veiled have an important (but subtle) effect on Luna.  Luna by book #6 has spent a while learning to duel and to fight, and she’s taken part in smaller combats, but Veiled is the first time she sees what a large-scale battle is really like.  The book doesn’t put much of a spotlight on it, but it leaves a deep impression on her that shapes the decisions she makes a couple of books later in Bound.

Posted in Author Commentary | 3 Comments

Ask Luna #177

From: Kevin

Hey Luna kind of an odd question but since Alex’s magic is for lack of a better word visual based do you notice anything different about him in general compared to other people when talking to him? By that I mean does he appear to use his magic constantly like he’s distracted or is it only when he’s doing things like path walking and other complicated magic?

It’s only when he’s doing something complicated. I know that he uses his divination constantly, but you wouldn’t be able to tell just from looking at him. It’s only when he’s focusing on something that he gets this abstracted look and seems to not be paying attention to what’s going on right now. I get the feeling he used to have more trouble juggling precognition with everything else he did, but over the years he got very good at doing a sort of ‘parallel processing’ thing where he keeps his divination running at a low level in the background.

From: Celia

Hi Luna! Do you still have time for some questions? 🙂

When Alex met Will Travis at the casino, he mentioned that Will’s “accent and body language were close to British, but slightly off” and that he had a “faint American accent.” What is the difference between American and British body language?

Thanks so much! Hope you and Vari are doing well.

I don’t know what Alex meant, but I’ve met a bunch of American exchange students and tourists and you do start to notice some differences. There are lots of little ones, but just to pick one out of a hat – smiling. Americans have this way of pulling their lips back when they smile to show their teeth, like they’re posing for a dentistry ad or something. British people don’t do that at all.

From: Sam

Hey Luna!

What’s something you’re proud of, that you never have a good excuse to talk about?

The fact that I got into the Light apprentice programme and then graduated as a journeyman mage. Pretty much every other girl and boy in the programme not only came in with more magical talent and things that they could do, but they’d also had years of training and experience and the opportunity to learn stuff. I was starting out so far behind them it wasn’t even funny.

I couldn’t really talk about it to the other apprentices because it’d be like painting a target on my back – the whole point was that I needed to get good enough that no-one could tell I didn’t fit in. And now that I’ve graduated, everyone just sees me as a mage, so they just kind of assume that I was obviously going to get journeyman status anyway. So there are really only a little handful of people I can ever talk about it to.

From: Celia

Hey, Luna, Any chance you could happen to mention to Alex that maybe Landis wouldn’t be THAT put out if something fatal were to happen to Undaaris? Pretty sure no one would actually miss him. 😉

I would really love to know what it is about our current situation that could possibly make anyone think “hey, you know what Luna and Alex need? More enemies!”

From: Stewart

Dear Luna,

I recently discovered this column and have greatly enjoyed your responses to everything. In a few columns you mention you are more of a dog person and I was wondering if you had considered getting a dog since your curse is more under control. My dog has always been a great help when I’m feeling down and I think you could do with all the help you need currently.

Do you have a favourite type of dog?

If you were to get a dog any ideas on what you would call he or she?

Do you know what type of animals the others in your group like? Alex strikes me as a cat person.

What type of pet do you think Richard would go for? (Sorry sorry I couldn’t resist)

If Richard were to get a pet what do you think his motivations behind naming them would be? (And I’m done, I will get my coat).

I do like dogs, and I do like the idea of having one, but . . . I just can’t face the idea. If anything happened to it, I’d feel like it was my fault. And it probably would be. I mean, let’s be honest here, can you POSSIBLY think of a worse owner for a pet?

Now I’m getting depressed.

Anyway. I like the medium-sized dogs, like spaniels and Spitzes. The big ones are too oversized for the places I live, and the little ones look too silly. Alex probably does like cats, but I think Hermes is occupying the ‘pet’ position.

As for Richard . . . *sigh*. I’ll explain this one more time. I am not friends with Richard. I do not hang out with Richard. What I know about Richard is about as much as you do, possibly less. And if I WAS in a position to find out anything about Richard, I very definitely wouldn’t use the opportunity to find out about his interests in pets.

Posted in Ask Luna | 3 Comments

Alex Verus #12 – Risen Covers & Release Date

It’s been a while since I mentioned Alex Verus #12, so here’s a look at the US and UK covers of Risen, the final book in the series!

UK version:

US version:

Release dates have also changed slightly.  The UK version is still coming out on December 2nd, 2021, but the US version’s release date has been moved up a week, to November 30th, 2021.  (I guess my US publishers really don’t like anyone else getting my books first.)

Less than five months to go!  As usual, I’ll put the first chapter of Risen online a month or two before its release, probably some time in October.

Posted in News | 16 Comments

Alex Verus #5 – Hidden

(This is part 5 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

Hidden was the big planning book of the Alex Verus series.  

My starting idea for Hidden was simple:  do something with Anne’s past.  I wanted to develop the story of Richard’s return, too, but Hidden was mostly about Anne, just as Chosen had been mostly about Alex.  I’d been dropping hints as to Anne’s past in Taken and Chosen, and I thought that this was the right time to reveal exactly what that past was.

Sounds simple, right?  

Yeah, it wasn’t.  Hidden turned out to be an enormous struggle to write.  Counting the first draft, the edits, and the rewrites, finishing Hidden took something like a full year, longer than any book in the series besides Fated.  There were several reasons for this, and the biggest one was that Hidden was the book in which I had to figure out the direction in which the entire Alex Verus series would go.  

Chosen had established that Richard was going to be the big antagonist of the series.  But how was that going to play out?  I didn’t know what Richard wanted or what his plans were, and as a result, in the first draft of Hidden, Richard’s presence was very muted – it’s hard to write a character when you don’t know why they’re there.  Anne’s character was also much vaguer and less clearly defined.  Her dark side was there, but it didn’t show up until later and it was less “dark” and more “ambivalent”.  In both cases, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with the characters, and so I avoided committing them to anything.  

My editors thought this was a terrible idea.  As they saw it, readers were going to have high expectations for Richard, especially after how I’d ended Chosen, and that having him act like this would be a massive anticlimax.  Anne got even harsher feedback – my editors thought she was unlikeable, uninteresting, and a stick-in-the-mud.

So I went back to the drawing board, which brought me right back to the question I’d been avoiding.  Where was the series going?

And somewhere along the way, I came up with an answer.  I’d tie the two together.  Richard’s ultimate plan would involve Anne, and Anne’s future would be shaped by Richard.  The details of that plan would take another two or three years to work out, but the core shape of the story was set in 2013 and never really changed.  Interestingly, the initial spark of the idea came from something I’d read.  Richard’s intentions towards Anne, and the way the story plays out, is (very loosely) based off the events of a fairly popular piece of media.  As far as I know, no-one has guessed what it was, although a couple of people on obscure corners of the Internet have noticed the similarity in theme between it and Alex Verus.  I won’t give it away because I think it’s more interesting as a mystery, but I’ll be curious to see if people can figure it out after the publication of Risen.  

Figuring out Richard’s plan made things fall into place.  I rewrote his scene, and this time it went much more smoothly.  Anne was more difficult.  I improved her character in the rewrite of Hidden, but no matter how long I wrote her, I was never able to get as comfortable with her personality as I was with Luna’s.  Reader reactions have tended to reflect that, too – Anne consistently gets rated as one of the less popular characters in the series, below Alex, Luna, Arachne, Cinder, Landis, Starbreeze, and Hermes.  Something about her personality just never completely clicked, and I’ve never been able to quite fix it.  Maybe it was that her initial character concept was just so weird that was hard for people to really empathise with her.  Maybe I made some mistake when originally designing her that made it hard for her to become a fully three-dimensional person in her own right.  Or maybe it’s something much simpler – it’s just really difficult to write a genuinely good character (as opposed to a decent or okay character) of the opposite sex.  I find most male characters written by female authors to be fairly unsatisfying, so expecting to consistently write good female characters myself is probably asking a lot.  Still, I’ll keep trying.  

Hidden also dealt with the fallout from what had happened in the previous book.  The events of Chosen had split Anne and Sonder from Alex’s group, but while Alex was able to repair his relationship with Anne, Sonder was another story.  I was slightly surprised at how much negative feedback Sonder got as a result – my readers definitely took Alex’s side, and even the ones who still liked Sonder were hoping that he and Alex would become allies again, rather than seeing them as being on fundamentally different paths.  (Anne also got a lot of criticism, but I think finding out her backstory in Hidden made people a bit more willing to sympathise with her.)  The focus on these interactions made Hidden a more character-oriented book than Chosen.  

As part of this, Hidden introduced Alex’s father.  I think a lot of readers wondered at the time how he was supposed to fit into the larger storyline.  Assuming that you’ve already read most if not all of the books, you’ll know the answer to that:  he doesn’t.  Alex’s father has nothing to do with the overarching plot of the Alex Verus series, and he’s in Hidden purely to show how Alex turned out the way he did.  Judging from some of the reactions I got, I think this is probably a bit unusual in this kind of novel, but I thought the insight it gave into Alex’s character and family history was worth the page space.  Alex’s father has never appeared again – his relationship with Alex is pretty much stuck, so there’s no point.

Being a more character-focused book had its drawbacks.  Hidden was published in 2014 to only moderately favourable reactions – its overall ratings were still higher than books #1-3, but they were lower than Chosen’s, and the tone of the reviews was definitely a bit less enthusiastic.  It wasn’t hard to see why.  Chosen had been a “payoff” book with a lot of high drama and excitement, while Hidden was slower and more focused on setting up future developments.  On the positive side, Hidden aged well.  Its ratings would continue to climb over the years, while Chosen’s would go slightly down.  I think readers came to appreciate the character development over time.

And finally, Hidden brought in Hermes, one of the series favourites.  As a few people guessed at the time, Hermes was a fox version of a fantasy creature from Dungeons and Dragons called a blink dog.  When I wrote the book in 2013, it was a new name, but in 2018, another company called Blizzard created a card called “Blink Fox” for their online game, Hearthstone.  So now if you Google “blink fox” you’ll get a hundred variations of the image below, which isn’t what Hermes looks like at all (he’s supposed to look like a European red fox).  Oh well!  

Posted in Author Commentary | 6 Comments

Favours Amazon Release

As promised, Favours is now available on Amazon!  You can buy it from the Amazon US and the Amazon UK Kindle Stores.  The novella is already available from my website in a Kindle-friendly .mobi version, but I know some people prefer to use Amazon’s delivery system rather than downloading the file themselves.

On the subject of downloading files, my website store has now been up for a week and it’s gone . . . pretty well, actually!  There were a lot of teething troubles, since it’s the first time I’ve actually done the tech work of setting up an online commerce platform, but I think at this point I’ve ironed out most of the issues.  Oh, and speaking of issues, thanks to those people who pointed out typos.  Favours has been updated to version 1.1 with the main errors fixed.

The sales for Favours have been quite decent.  Obviously they’re nowhere near the sales of my novels, but then my novels are released in both paper and ebook versions on hundreds of platforms across dozens of countries with the benefit of my publishers’ marketing and distribution networks.  By contrast, the only people who know about Favours are the ones who read this website, so the only way people will find out about it is if it spreads virally.  Still, I think given time, there’s a decent chance that that’ll happen, and if it does then there’ll be more Alex Verus short stories and novellas to come.

For now, though, Favours is pretty much done with, and I think it’s time I got down to the hard work of writing the new series.  I’m hoping to get properly started by the end of the month.

Also, thank you for those who attended and contributed questions to the German book fair on Saturday!  The Zoom meeting format made it very relaxed and easy to do, so I’ll definitely be happy to go back for similar events.

As regards the blog, now that the release of Favours is over, we’re going back to my author commentaries – next week will be the commentary on the big planning book of the Alex Verus series, Hidden.  After that I’ve got a few Ask Luna posts to catch up on, as well as the cover reveals for the release of Risen in December.  See you all then!

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Favours Release Day

(Edit:  Favours is now available in both .epub and .mobi formats.)

Well, it’s finally here!  Favours, the first ever Alex Verus novella, is available on this website as of today!

This is actually quite a big event for me – it’s my first ever step into self-publishing.   Up until now, everything I’ve ever published has been via a traditional publisher.  I’m still intending to keep doing that with my novels, but for short stories and novellas, self-publishing has its advantages.  One big one is speed – I finished editing Favours around two weeks ago, which if I was going the traditional route would have meant that the novella would have come out around June 2022 at the earliest, instead of now.  I’ve also had a lot more control over the whole production process, and it’s been kind of fascinating getting to handle all of the little details that usually get delegated to my publishers.

Of course, this does come with drawbacks.  To set up my website for online sales I’ve had to install and configure a ridiculous number of plugins and pieces of software, many of which have gone wrong in fantastically irritating ways.  I think I’ve ironed out all the bugs, but there’s always the chance that I missed one somewhere along the line.  If you run into any issues, send me an email via my Contact form (which I’ve also had to rebuild from scratch, and which I’m hoping is now finally working).

Speaking of which, you may have noticed that the site has been redesigned.  It’s still under construction, but the majority of the new content is now up.  If you run into any issues, let me know.

One final thing I should mention – somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that I could use this novella as a sort of test case for novellas and Alex Verus short fiction as a whole.  Basically, I’m using Favours as a way to gauge how much interest my readership has in this sort of thing.  If it sells well and gets some decent attention, I’ll take that as a sign that the whole idea of Alex Verus short stories/novellas is worth persisting with.  If it flops, well, I’ll take that as my audience’s way of telling me “stick to novels”.

Now, either way, my main job’s going to continue to be “novelist”.  Now that Favours is done, I’m planning to get to work on my new series:  I’m hoping to start the first book by next month and finish it by around the end of the year.  However, what I do after that is going to be influenced by how things go with Favours.  If Favours does well, there’s a good chance I’ll make a habit of alternating between novels in my main series that I publish the slower traditional way, and novellas/short stories that I can write and self-publish quickly.  Otherwise, I’ll just stick with my old routine of going straight from one novel into another.  We’ll have to see!

And I think that covers about everything.  Go to my Store page to find out more about the novella, and to purchase it in both .epub and .mobi format, or take a look around at the new site.  And for those of you who prefer a more official copy of your books, I’ll be publishing Favours on the Amazon Kindle store next week, on Friday, June 25th.

I hope you enjoy the story!

Additional note:  Since several people have mentioned that they’d prefer to use a Kindle, I’ve made a .mobi version of the file available in addition to the .epub.  You should now be able to download either or both versions from your ‘Sale Complete’ page, but let me know if you run into any problems.

Posted in News | 13 Comments

German Book Fair This Saturday

I’m still in the process of redesigning the website (hoping to have it done by the release of my new novella this Friday) but in the meantime, here’s a brief bit of news for my German readers!

As some of you might know, the Alex Verus books have been doing very well in their German translation – books 1-6 have already been translated and published, and books 7-12 should follow over the next few years.  As a result, I’ve been invited to a German digital book fair (Buchmesse Saar) which’ll be taking place this weekend.  I’ll have a one-hour slot this Saturday, June 19th, at 3.30 PM German time, which you can find here.  Mostly it’s just an opportunity for me to talk to and answer questions from my German readers, so hope to see some of you there!

Posted in Events, News | 7 Comments

Website Changes

Well, after many, many years, my website is finally getting an overhaul.  Its current version has been almost completely unchanged since 2012, and it’s been overdue for a spring cleaning and update for a long time, so that’s what I’m going to do!

The first thing I’ve done has been to move this site to a new and better hosting company (ie the people who own the servers that your computer is reading this post from right now).  By the time you read this, the move should have been completed.   Unfortunately, this has come with a bit of a transition period where the website was half on one server and half on another, so if you commented on the old version of the site, your comment will have been lost . . . sorry!  Things should be stable from now, though, and you guys should hopefully see better loading times from now on.  

Since I’m going to be selling things on this website from now on, I’m also getting around to putting in some security software, which should be done by the end of today.  You’ll know if it’s worked because the ‘Not Secure’ warning at the top of my website should stop displaying, which has been an irritation for a while.

Over the next week, I’ll also be redesigning the site in general.  The contents of the drop-down menus will be resorted, and I’m going to get rid of a bunch of old plugins and widgets that don’t work anymore.  I’m hoping to have it done by next Friday. 

And yes, the new novella is still on schedule to be released by then!  I’m aiming to release it on this site a week from today, on June 18th.

Posted in News | 5 Comments

New Alex Verus Novella: Release Date and Details

Now that I’m back in the country, here’s some more information about the Alex Verus story I mentioned a few weeks ago!

The story’s now written and edited.  Final length after changes and additions is a little over 20,000 words, which puts it in the low end of the ‘novella’ category (for comparison, a typical Alex Verus novel is between 90,000 and 100,000 words).  I finished up the last corrections and edits two days ago, and the manuscript’s ready for publication.  

Now, normally, me being finished with a manuscript would mean you’d get to read it in 9 months or so.  However, since I’m self-publishing this one rather than using a traditional publisher, I can put it out quite a bit faster.  My current plan is to release it in 2 weeks.  

So my planned release date is June 18th/June 25th.  I still need to sort out the cover, format the ebook, and set up the sales/administrative side, but I’m hoping two weeks will be long enough to handle that.

Novella Details

• Title:  Favours
• Length:  20,000 words
• Format:  Ebook
• Platform:  Amazon, and here
• Release Date (this website):  June 18th 2021
• Release Date (Amazon Kindle):  June 25th 2021
• Price:  $2.99

Description

Favours is a side story set in the Alex Verus universe that takes place in between Alex Verus #6, Veiled, and Alex Verus #7, Burned.  

The story is not told from Alex’s point of view, and this is going to be the norm for any short stories/novellas that I do in the Alex Verus setting.  One of the drawbacks of the first-person perspective of the Alex Verus novels is that quite a lot of things get left out of the books because there’s no realistic way for Alex to witness them.  Also, much as I like Alex as a character, I’ve written twelve books from his point of view and I’m about ready for a change – I like the idea of getting to do something a bit different!

In this case, Favours is told from the perspective of Sonder.  Returning to London after his year-long assignment to Washington D.C., Sonder is called into Keeper HQ to work with Caldera on an investigation.  What at first looks likes a simple burglary quickly turns into something much more difficult and dangerous, forcing Sonder to choose where his loyalties lie.

Questions and Answers

Some answers to a few of the questions I’ve been asked so far:

Q. Will you release the story in hard copy format?
A. Not any time soon.  The economics of producing physical copies of short stories/novellas are pretty unfavourable, so the only way that would be likely to happen would be if I brought out a short story collection some day.

Q. Are you going to write more Alex Verus short stories after this one?
A. Depends how well this one does.  If it’s popular enough and gets enough interest, then probably.  If people’s reactions are more along the lines of ‘I didn’t like it’ or ‘I don’t want to read any stories that aren’t about Alex’, then probably not.  

Q. Can you make it available on Kobo/Apple Books/Nook/other distributor?  
A. In theory, yes, but setting up those kinds of accounts can take a fair bit of time and effort and I’m not sure it’s worth it.  Besides, if you’re reading this, that means you can access my website, which means you can just get it directly from here.  

Q. Can you write a story featuring [insert character’s name here]?.
A. Possibly.  I have story ideas for most of the secondary and tertiary characters in the Alex Verus series, but I’m not sure which ones I’ll get around to.

Q. Why is it $2.99?  
A. Amazon places steep financial penalties on authors who price their work even one cent below $2.99, whether on Amazon or anywhere else.  Since I’m selling this on Amazon as well as here on my website, that limits how I can price it.

Q. Are you going to focus more on novellas/short stories from now on?
A. No.  I’ve enjoyed working on this novella, and it’s been really interesting self-publishing it rather than going the trad-pub route – it’s given me a new perspective into how the industry works.  However, my main job is still ‘novelist’, and now that this story’s done, I’m planning to start work on my new series.  If I’m really lucky, I’ll finish the first book by the end of the year, though there’s a good chance it’ll overrun.  But either way, the new book is my priority now.  I’m not intending to write any more short stories until it’s finished.

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Alex Verus #4 – Chosen

(This is part 4 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

With Chosen, I decided right from the beginning that I was going to move away from the episodic model. This was going to be a ‘series’ book rather than a stand-alone – it would be less self-contained than the previous three, which meant that I could build on the events of Fated, Cursed, and Taken to tell a larger story.

I also decided somewhere in early 2012 that Chosen was going to introduce the major antagonist for the Alex Verus series. I didn’t have to think very hard about who that antagonist would be. There had been a natural arch-enemy for Alex ever since Fated, and it was just a matter of deciding when to bring him in.

In setting Richard as the major antagonist for the Alex Verus series, I permanently diverged the series from the Dresden Files. Fated got (and still gets) loads of comparisons to Dresden due to the similarities between Alex and Harry’s backgrounds – both were apprenticed to dark mages as teenagers but rebelled against them. However, Harry Dresden’s backstory has him kill his old teacher and move on. There are consequences (such as the Doom of Damocles), but for the most part, a line gets drawn under the whole thing – the series is generally less focused on Harry’s past and more focused on external threats. Most of the Dresden books revolve around some kind of supernatural evil threatening innocent people, and Harry has to be the hero and save the day.

Alex’s story would be quite different. Since Richard is not only alive, but vastly more powerful than Alex, he casts much more of a shadow. Alex starts off the series completely outmatched by his old master, and it takes him a long time to work his way up to the point where he can meaningfully oppose him. Richard’s continued presence also has a less obvious, but more important effect – it forces Alex to struggle to define himself. Is he different from his old teacher? If so, how? This fit in with one of the major themes of the Alex Verus series, namely that the biggest threats don’t come from outside; they come from other humans and from ourselves.

So that gave me Chosen’s big theme. Next, I needed a more short-term problem for Alex to deal with. And as it turned out, I had an idea for that, too.

In my teens and twenties, I read a lot of books and comics and watched a lot of TV and movies. Over time, I noticed patterns – stock plots that would get used over and over again. One of these stock plots that every long-running series would use sooner or later was “protagonist did something bad in the past and now has to make amends”. The severity of the bad thing and how serious the amends were would vary, but the general pattern was the same. The story would set up a conflict where it seemed that the only two possible choices were “have the main character go unpunished for the bad thing” and “have the main character be seriously punished for the bad thing”. Then in the resolution, the story would take a third option. Maybe it would turn out that there was some misunderstanding, and the protagonist wasn’t really responsible for what happened after all. Or maybe the person looking for justice could be talked down or brought around somehow, whether by a show of repentance or by giving them some sort of affordable reparation. In either case, the problem would be ‘fixed’ and the series would move on.

But what if the problem couldn’t be fixed? What if there wasn’t a third option?

I thought that sounded interesting.

So I started planning. The natural way to fit this idea into the Alex Verus series was for Alex to have done something in his time as a Dark apprentice. Eventually the friends/family of the victim catch up with him, and want justice. And they’re right, he really did do what he was being accused of. Except their idea of justice is something he’s totally unwilling to accept – namely, executing him. What would he do?

I didn’t know. So I wrote the book to find out.

As it turned out, Alex’s answer ends up being: “yes, what I did was bad, and I’m willing to try to make amends for it, but I’m not willing to die for it. As far as I’m concerned my life’s worth more than your definition of justice, and if you come after me I’ll do whatever’s necessary to stop you.” It wasn’t a very traditionally ‘heroic’ answer, but it felt to me like a rather realistic perspective on the subject of historic wrongdoing that I didn’t see get articulated very much.

Next I needed a set of antagonists to be the vengeance-seekers, and so I designed Will and the Nightstalkers. Working out their powersets and origins felt rather like designing my own version of the Teen Titans or the X-Men. And somewhere along the way I had a rather dark thought. What if I designed this group as the magical version of a ‘teenage superhero team’, young and idealistic and confident and ethnically diverse, and gave them a backstory involving them going on adventures and fighting evil, convinced that they were the heroes of the story?

And then what if they then went after someone completely out of their league and all got horribly murdered?

For whatever reason, that struck me as hilarious. I don’t know what that says about my sense of humour.

Anyway, with that, I had all I needed. I worked on Chosen throughout the spring and summer of 2012 – I had less time pressure since I was done with my law course by then – and I finished the book at the end of September, sending it off to my publishers a few hours before the deadline.

Aside from the Nightstalkers, Chosen also changed Alex’s relationship with Rachel and Cinder. Cinder had straddled the line between ally and enemy in Fated and Cursed, but Chosen moved him firmly out of ‘enemy’ status. He wouldn’t become a formal ally until book #8, but from this point on he was never really in danger of going back into the enemy camp. Cinder had by this point become a very popular character with my readers, probably because of his honesty – his rough but honourable style came across as a lot more attractive than the behaviour of the Council. Rachel, on the other hand, was definitely an enemy, but Chosen would give Alex a reason why he couldn’t just get rid of her – he’d made a promise to Shireen.

That promise (spoiler alert) wouldn’t turn out well. I hadn’t planned that out at the time, I just thought it was an amusingly unfair problem to dump on Alex’s head. “You have to redeem an insane mass murderer who hates you. No, I don’t know how. Good luck!”

Finally, Chosen introduced a new character, Caldera. It made sense for Alex to have a point of contact in the Keepers, and I thought it’d be interesting to use her to show the Keeper point of view. I put a lot of effort into writing Caldera’s character, and I was fairly pleased with the results, but to begin with, readers seemed largely neutral about her – she received very little attention. This would change later on.

When Chosen was released at the end of the summer of 2013, it was as successful as I’d hoped and more. Its reviews were far better than those of the first three books, and the enthusiastic word-of-mouth publicity did a lot to build up my readership in those crucial early years. My sales were still microscopic compared to the big names, but I think this was the point at which readers started to see Alex Verus as something more than just a substitute for when they’d run out of Dresden Files. The enthusiasm would set high expectations for Alex Verus #5, Hidden.

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