Jana chats with Cindy Dees

Today, I welcome Cindy Dees, an award-winning author of thriller and romantic suspense novels. Her fantasy debut (co-authored with Bill Flippin), The Sleeping King, is newly out from Tor Books (reviewed here). We discuss the challenges of multi-author novels, planning a series, and delicious milkshakes. And one lucky commenter will win a copy of The Sleeping King!

Jana Nyman: What drew you to the role-playing game Dragon Crest, and what inspired you to write a novel in that world?

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Cindy Dees

Cindy Dees: My husband actually tricked me into trying my first role-playing game by taking me on a “fall-color watching trip” to what turned out to be a huge live gaming event. I thought it sounded entirely strange and had no interest in it until I saw it in person. But what kept me coming back was my fascination with watching how people react to extreme situations that they would normally never encounter in real life. At least I hope none of us ever have to fight a horde of vampires or face off against a dragon!

As for what inspired me to suggest that we should do a book set in the world, it was purely the players and the magnificent characters they created. People are capable of extraordinary heroism and courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and I wanted to find a way to share some of those moments. It didn’t hurt, either, that Bill Flippin had created a huge, sweeping, intricate universe that just begged to be written about.

You’ve got a very devious husband! Was it daunting to make the transition from playing Dragon Crest to writing about it?

The truly daunting bit has been limiting the stories we put in the books. I honestly could write fifty books and still not have described this world and its inhabitants in its entirety. I feel massive pressure to write faster and faster to make sure we tell them all.

I had no idea that it was such a huge world, and I can see how that would be an appealing challenge. The Sleeping King is, obviously, a collaborative novel; you share primary writing credit with Bill Flippin, and you acknowledge that many of the characters within The Sleeping King were created by Dragon Crest players. Could you talk a little about the collaborative process for this novel? How much input did the other players have, and was it difficult to balance your own ideas for plot progression or character interaction against the ideas from your collaborators?

The collaboration for this series has been a huge challenge. I thank my lucky stars every day that I had fifty books under my belt before I took on this beast. Bill is a joy to work with. He’s genuinely brilliant and can solve pretty much any plot problem I put before him, and it turns out he’s a heck of good editor. It took us most of the first book to find a rhythm, but we work very smoothly together. He does all the intelligent thinking, and I do most of the grunt work of writing. <smiling>

It is a challenge to have dozens of cooks seasoning the stew — everyone is interested in seeing their character portrayed in a certain way and has favorite war stories they’d like to see in the books. But by the same token, I could never, ever, think up on my own the variety of personalities, reactions to situations, and clever plot ideas that a large group of smart gamers can imagine. As we move forward with these books, I hope that variety and richness of characters and ideas can really shine through.

So were there any specific difficulties in writing a novel which involves characters and stories which other people have created? Or did this ease some creative challenges for you?

We had to spend a fair bit of time talking to lawyers about the copyright legalities of it all. Nothing like this has ever been done to the knowledge of any of the experts we spoke with, so we had to invent our own copyright releases and agreements as we went along. Tor and MacMillan’s lawyers were of immense help along the way.

We’re really excited about the possibilities of player/story, reader/book, and tabletop/live game interaction going forward. We know we still have some hurdles to overcome to integrate everyone and everything, but we think it can be done. And in the meantime, fun books are emerging from the collaboration.

I definitely don’t envy you in that regard; it sounds tough! Which was your favorite scene to write, and conversely, which was the hardest?

I really, really enjoyed writing the opening scene where the prophecy of the end of the Empire is given. It was such a grand setting and visceral moment that it pretty much wrote itself. The next half-dozen scenes after that were unquestionably the hardest as a group. This is a huge world, and it was a struggle to convey enough information about it to give readers a context going forward without burying them in too much world building. I have a long history of writing suspense and thriller novels, and I prefer to just dive into the action. It was tough for me to slow down and do the necessary work to introduce readers to the world.

The Sleeping King begins a multi-book series, so how did you plan for that with regards to world-building and character development? Did you say, “I want to write a trilogy,” or a certain number of books, or would you prefer to let the characters and their adventures determine the course and length of the series?

Funny story, that. I originally thought of it as one book. Then I started talking to Bill, and it quickly became clear that we would need two or even three books to properly tell the story. Then… a fourth book presented itself. And you know, there’s this other plotline we could weave in that would make a great fifth book… we’re up to six books that we know we have to write so far. I give it a year before Bill starts talking about book seven.

We also want to branch out from the main story line that the big, doorstopper-sized books follow. I think we’re up to around fifty other side stories we’d like to write that would make for great shorter books, novellas, and short stories. Of course, as the players continue to play the game, they keep coming up with even more awesome stories in need of writing.

I’m sure the players will be excited about the prospect of a wider audience for their adventures. Can you give any hints as to what lies in store for Will, Raina, and the others?

Why yes. Yes, I can. In the first book, our intrepid adventurers were young and unknown. But now they’ve caught the attention of some powerful people who are not amused at what they’re up to. The dangers facing them get worse — much worse — and the forces opposing them are now actively coming after them. Plus, life is happening for all of our main characters, which means they’ve got some hard growing up to do.

Personally, I’m really looking forward to the upcoming books. I want to sink my teeth into the bigger challenges the heroes will face, and the more sophisticated character arcs I can draw as they become adults.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsI agree, which is not to say that teenaged characters can’t have complex arcs, but now that you’ve established where Will and Raina are coming from, it’ll be interesting to see how they develop and grow.

What books or authors do you count as influences, and why?

Top of the list has to be Frank Herbert (I’m sorry, but Dune is arguably the greatest science fiction novel ever written, in my humble opinion), and Robert Ludlum, who wrote incredibly tight stories that never let the reader off the hook. Beyond that, there are so many great writers who’ve inspired me that I wouldn’t know where to begin naming them all. (Fill in your favorite author, here. I’m likely to love them, too.)

Dune is one of my all-time favorites. But I don’t know that I could pick a favorite author — even picking a favorite genre is too hard for me!

Lastly, a feature of our Author Interviews at Fantasy Literature is that we like to ask authors about their favorite cocktail recipes — either as they relate to the author’s creative process (as a relaxation aid while writing, for example) or something involved with their work. Are there any drinks which remind you of The Sleeping King, or which you drank to celebrate its publication?

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsWhat a great question! Ahh, the Frozen Toasted Almond… makes me happy just to think of it and is my go-to celebration drink. Believe me, there was celebration when The Sleeping King sold, when it was finished being written, and when it was finally published.

A Frozen Toasted Almond is a milkshake on steroids: Frangelica, Kahlua, and Bailey’s Irish Cream blended with either ice cream or ice and cream. Or, the liqueurs can be mixed with cream and poured over ice in the absence of a blender.

It’s a total lightweight desert drink, but I’m okay with that. I own my alcoholish wimpiness. Of course, now I’m going to have to go mix myself one. Thanks for inviting me to hang out with you, and happy reading…

A Frozen Toasted Almond sounds delicious, and I’ll have to try one! Thanks for stopping by, Ms. Dees, and for answering all of my questions. Best of luck with the next book!

Readers, comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Sleeping King. US-based mailing addresses only, please.


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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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12 comments

  1. Interesting questions, Jana. I was unaware of Dragon Crest. I used to play a few RPGs in college, but I stopped and have never started again because I’m afraid of getting addicted and spending too much time on them. (Time I don’t have.)

    I am totally going to make myself a Frozen Toasted Almond very soon!!!

    • Yeah, I had to quit playing MMORPGs because it was too easy to spend all of my time on them. And now I have a lot more free time to read!

      You’ll have to let me know whether you like the drink!

  2. I had wondered what the process of writing a book set in a gaming world would be like. Thanks, Cindy and Jana, for letting us peer behind the curtain! Very interesting stuff!

    Robert Ludlum’s thrillers were so out-there for his time that they were virtually science fiction as far as I was concerned.

    And over the not-so-distant winter holidays I plan to indulge in *several* frozen toasted almond drinks!

  3. I really like this interview! The questions were great and I enjoyed learning about the writing process for The Sleeping King.

  4. Great interview! I’d never heard of Dragon Crest before, but I’ll have to check it out now. I love D&D, so I think this is really cool. I’m excited to hear that this is going to be a long series – I love really getting to sink my teeth into a world / characters for many, many books.

  5. I’ve never really had the social ability to get into RPGs and now that most of them are online makes them even more inaccessible (Our home computer is a really old and slow laptop that has difficulties with sites with too many ads.) So I really like the idea of branching that out into books for those like me. I’ve read a couple of books/series that were originally based on games like the Malazan books and others that aren’t coming to mind right now.

    Adding in actual players characters and such – what fun!

    I live in Florida so I can have a Frozen Toasted Almond whenever I want!

  6. *looks around nervously and clears his throat*
    “I’m here for the giveaway” he mutters.

  7. Yagiz, you win a copy of The Sleeping King!

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