The History of Dead Silver

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If you’ve not read Dead Silver, be forewarned that this post contains many spoilers. Then again, the book came out four years ago, and you can always grab a copy for the low price of $2.99 to catch up before spoiling anything!

Anyway, that’s your warning. Now, let’s take a look at the history of my second book, Dead Silver.

Dead Silver Final

In the Beginning …
One Drink was never intended to have a sequel. Which isn’t too surprising if you read the prior retrospective on it, because I never initially intended to sell it. One Drink was just something I’d written as a practice piece, really, that so many people urged me to go further with that I did.

But I never intended to publish it initially. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to find that I never intended to write a sequel either.

I should clarify. I wasn’t against writing a sequel at any point. I just … hadn’t planned on it. When One Drink released, I went back to practicing writing fantasy epics and working on plans in that vein. Diving again into the Urban Fantasy world I’d built in One Drink wasn’t really on my mind.

Then the reviews started to flow in. Now, if there are any among you who have ever wondered whether or not authors actually read the reviews they get, the answer is “Sometimes.” We probably do when we’re starting out a lot more than we do if we hit it big, and can find over a thousand reviews on our book in a week, some of which love it, some of which don’t, and some of which turn into strange political diatribes about elected officials.

Yeah, people soapbox everywhere.

Point being, we do, especially when we’re new, fresh, and every review is a response to our work. We read them.

And so, as reviews begin to trickle in for One Drink, I began to read them. I ended up being surprised.

There was the usual middle-of-the-road responses, sure. And even some amusing reviews (my favorite review of one of my own works, as far as humor is concerned, is an early review of One Drink that criticized it for a lack of sex scenes and concluded that the book wasn’t really meant for adults because of that lack). But what really surprised me, even in the earliest days of reviews coming in, was the number of people asking for a sequel.

I’m being perfectly honest when I say I hadn’t expected that kind of response. Nowadays I’m a bit more seasoned, clearly, and have realized that asking for a sequel is one of the most common responses to any story that people enjoy … even if a sequel doesn’t logically make sense. People just want more of something they’ve enjoyed. This also falls into the “be careful what you wish for” category, at least as far as a lot of movie properties go, but that’s neither here nor there.

So, people liked my book, and they liked it enough that they were asking for a sequel in the reviews. So I immediately sat down and started writing one, didn’t I?

No, actually. I didn’t. Like I said, I hadn’t planned for a sequel anytime soon, and so as these first few reviews rolled in calling for more, I took it as a sign of praise and went back to work on practicing for Epics.

But then something happened. Reviews continued to come in, quite a few of them asking for more, but several of them asked for something I hadn’t expected. They wanted more, yes, but with Hawke Decroux, Rocke’s erstwhile shaman friend. Something I’d not even considered at that point.

But then I got thinking …

Brainstorming
And that was the start of it. You see, one of the reasons I didn’t want to dive into a sequel immediately was that I didn’t want to commit that most grievous of sequel sins—the repeat. I didn’t want to sit down and just write One Drink 2.0 or The Enhanced Edition. Many do that, but it’s not a sequel, and generally doesn’t ever come off as being nearly as good.

I didn’t want that. Even as early as I was in publishing and walking the path from writer to author, I knew I wanted to have standards. Write something when it’s worth it.

But what better way to separate the sequel from the original by giving it a different viewpoint? The reviews calling for a sequel hadn’t made a dent on my resolve, but when reviews cropped up calling for more Hawke, somewhere in my brain a lightbulb came on, exposing shelves of ideas that could work with Hawke being the starting point.

If you recall from my post on One Drink, one of the reasons that Hawke had come into the story in the first place was to serve as a a counterpart to Rocke—almost a bit of a foil, really. Rocke was motivated by his work, Hawke worked with motivation. Rocke never stopped, Hawke appreciated the finer things in life, like a good paperback and a relaxing afternoon spent on his porch. Rocke carried grenades … Hawke a staff full of life energies.

And yet they’re friends. They both care about the similar things, and have overlapping goals—generally to do good things for people. But their approaches are very different.

I knew all this. Which was why when reviews started suggesting a sequel that gave more on Hawke—or at least had him working wit Jacob Rocke again—I knew there was something there. Except, I realized, what could keep a sequel newer and fresher than swapping the point-of-view over to Hawke?

Now, there was actually a response to One Drink that kind of suggested this … sort of. See, in One Drink there’s a moment where Rocke recounts how he and Hawke had first met—each hired by the separated parents of a missing girl to track her down. They’d bumped into one another, teamed up … and built a friendship.

The response from someone was that they wanted to see that story and learn more about Hawke. I can’t recall if they wanted it to be from Hawke’s perspective or not. But they wanted it.

I actually didn’t. For starters, the whole story was spoiled in One Drink: They get hired to find the kid, they do. Nothing paranormal or supernatural about it, or Rocke would have mentioned it. So it wasn’t much of an exciting story. After all, few friendships start with a titanic bang. And to make it worse, everyone who would likely read it, i.e. readers of One Drink, would go in knowing exactly how it ended from the get go: they save the girl.

So I discarded that suggestion immediately. It was never even considered. Sorry, those of you who wanted to read that instead. It just wasn’t in the cards, for the reasons I’ve outlined here. Maybe one day it’ll make an appearance as an Unusuals short in another Unusual Events book, but for now … nope.

So that idea wouldn’t fly. I didn’t want to write a prequel everyone new the answers to. But a sequel, on the other hand, from the perspective of Hawke … that would be at least somewhat fresh.

The Birth of Dead Silver
At this point, my mind was working. I’d finished my last writing project and was itching for another, and I now had a basic starting point. Why not have it star Hawke? Make him the main character rather than Rocke, which would allow for a whole new perspective on things.

But … I wasn’t happy with just that. I wanted something new. Again, I didn’t want to just retread what I’d done before, even from another viewpoint. Recall that at this time, the Unusual Universe wasn’t really a thing, it was just a single story. A lot of the world hadn’t been built yet. Or at least, hadn’t made any appearance.

So I still wanted to break away from One Drink. So I started thinking about setting. About myths that could, in the Unusual world, be real.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I came upon the idea of using Chupacabras. I’d known what they were for decades—I used to pore over cryptozoology texts when I was younger (and okay, I still do from time to time for the fun of it), so I was familiar with the legends and stories around them. But I don’t remember the exact moment my brain clicked that they were a perfect new “attraction” to set the story apart.

What I do remember is the reasoning I had as I began to put the story together. I wanted to not repeat the first book. And what could be more different from a story set in the American northeast than one set in the American southwest? From lots of trees and old-world-style communities with rich, isolationist neighbors to the sunny, small-town deserts of New Mexico where most people know their neighbors?

Of course, I still had a few problems I had to overcome. The first was that chupacabras, while unique, weren’t exactly known for being a credible threat to anything other than a pocketbook. They suck the blood out of goats and small animals, and I stress small. They’re not major predators. Which meant that they really weren’t a threat that would be pressing the life of my protagonists anytime soon. I needed something … grander.

But that wasn’t the only challenge I faced as I sat down and started working out the basics of what would soon become Dead Silver. There was one other problem I knew I needed to overcome: Jacob Rocke.

See, Rocke was a good character. Dedicated, tough, and knowledgeable. I mean, the guy was a professional spook.

But if I wanted Hawke to be the protagonist, I couldn’t have Rocke being the protagonist. And that left me with a bit of a conundrum. Because I needed to have an excuse for Rocke to leave his home and get caught up in the mess in the first place … but I also didn’t want him spending the whole book playing second fiddle while Rocke carried the plot forward. And Rocke would if I didn’t give Hawke a reason to take charge for a while.

On the plus side, finding a way to take Jacob Rocke out of the picture for a while would also, I realized, give my story its first big hook. If Hawke showed up and then Rocke went missing (which I later changed to being missing on his arrival), there would be a clear impetuous for Hawke to take the center stage.

But that only presented me with another problem, in addition to the one I already had. How to make Jacob Rocke vanish despite his skills … with a “threat” as non-threatening as the chupacabras.

It might actually surprise you that I didn’t spend very long at all finding a solution to both these problems … though it came from both a location and a method some of you probably didn’t expect.

Blood and Research
Once it had became clear to me that I was doing a sequel, and that I was going to need to expand the world I’d started with One Drink, my mind had started racing. I’d loved the moments in One Drink where I’d been able to take the little elements of myth and mystery throughout human history and ask “What if that were a real event, or at least based on one?” The idea behind a lot of the world there had been, after all, what if it was? And then the whole world found out?

Well, when I’d started thinking about that, my mind hadn’t just jumped to recent events. One thing that I’d thought about had been the ancient Aztecs. You know, the Meso-American culture that had been all about blood sacrifice? Like, really all about it. Well, my mind asked, what if in this Unusual world I was putting together, their blood magic had worked?

This was immediately a thought my mind seized on. You don’t see a lot of this area in most Urban Fantasy. Usually when Urban Fantasy goes for the revealed or hidden world angle … it’s usually European myth that gets top billing. But if I was creating a whole world were the myths and legends were a bit more true … then wouldn’t the Aztec’s blood magic have worked? And wouldn’t that have changed history as we knew it?

Yes, and yes! And with that, I had my connection. Blood. Chupacabras need blood. Blood magic would need blood. Connection!

Okay, so it wasn’t that easy. First I needed to make sure that all the background, even in my slightly altered history, lined up. So I started doing research on the expansion of the Aztec Empire, particularly with regards to mining operations and northward expansion.

Oh, I should mention that I was also doing research on New Mexico at the same time and had learned a bit about its history—when it had become a state, what it was like in the southern reaches, when people had been founding cities … even a bit about old mining towns looking for silver.

From there, it wasn’t much of a jump in my thought process to say “Hey, mining town following silver veins runs into an old Aztec mining operation following the same vein from the other end. Trouble ensues.” I checked my history, and while the Aztecs were interested in expanding north in the real world (and may actually have done so, though research along this vein is still in progress), in the a universe where their blood magic worked, they definitely would have.

Blood magic. Chupacabras. Silver mines. Once I had those pieces, it had all come together.

Save one minor issue I still had: Rocke.

See, Rocke’s very much a man of action. As I’d earlier realized, I didn’t want him stealing the thunder away from Hawke for the sequel. And I needed him out of the picture. But if this ancient Aztec threat took him out … it’d be permanent, and I didn’t want that.

Enter a corrupt mining executive. One who just wanted out, and didn’t want people poking around his affairs.

And like that, I had it! Well, mostly. I had the outline. Ancient Aztec skeletons and blood magic. Which in turn could escalate the “threat” of the chupacabras by being after the same thing. Meanwhile, Rocke could run afoul of a corrupt mine owner who was lining his own pockets with intent to jump ship … which at the same time could be what was aggravating the Aztec guards.

With that figured out, then I had it.

Of Course, it Wasn’t That Easy …
It never is, really. There was still a lot of work I had to do. Dead Silver was the first book where my research really took on a life of its own, including phone calls, encyclopedia dives … the works. Early on, just before I started writing, I realized that what was happening with Rocke would bring the law in. Like any good author, I wanted to get jurisdictions right.

To this day, I have no idea what the New Mexican county sheriff who fielded my call thought of my questions about jurisdiction and the like, but I’m grateful that he patiently sat there and answered each and every one of them so that I could get the interplay between sheriffs and the police correct. I don’t even recall the guy’s name. But if he ever reads this by some odd chance, well … thanks, man. Not only did your answers help me make sure I didn’t screw up one of the more commonly screwed up areas of crime and mystery fiction … but it actually gave me a pretty sweet subplot.

There was other research I had to do. In the story, a newshound gives Hawke the number for missing persons in the state of New Mexico. That?

Accurate. All of it. Except the Silver Dreams part, because I invented the place.

Point is, there was a ton of research. Everything from silver mining methods (both now and then, thanks to the museum) to equipment to Aztec history (for the record, Cortez didn’t need to come back with a second Spanish fleet to beat the Aztecs in the real world, but in this one …). I did all kind of research, making sure everything lined up.

Yes, Hawke’s moment of tiredness after digging through the archives of the library trying to piece things together may have been based on more than just my imagination.

But in the end, it all came together.

Powers, Animals, and NPCs
Of course, there’s one thing I’ve got to talk about if I’m going to make this retrospective complete: All the people Hawke met along the way. Including a certain nurse …

But I’m getting ahead of myself. One thing that was key to Hawke’s original appearance was his powers, and some of the potential for comedy that came with them.

After all, if you’ve ever imagined talking to a goat …

Anyway, in order to make all that happen, I needed to actually figure Hawke’s powers out. After all, in One Drink he’d used them, but the reader had never seen it from his perspective because the whole story was from Rocke’s point of view.

With Dead Silver, that was going to be different. With Hawke taking center stage, I had to sit down and figure out exactly what he could and couldn’t do, as well as what the limits of his capabilities were.

Then I had to weave all of that into all the various animals he was going to interact with. Such as the goats, or people’s dogs, etc, etc.

I’ll admit that I had a lot of fun figuring out what various animals would “say” (since as Hawke points out, animals “speaking” isn’t quite the same way we perceive language, and everything he “hears” is a bit of a translation). Especially the goats. Oh man, the goats are hilarious. Also, very accurate, as the reviews would attest.

I also ended up creating a whole subset of extra characters too, which was both fun and gratifying. Some of them, like Felix, were the kind of people I’d hope to meet if I ended up in a small, New Mexican town. Others, like Sheriff West … not so much.

One last character worth mentioning, though, was the nurse that set her sights on Hawke.

Totally unplanned.

No, seriously. `100% surprise. A pleasant one, but a surprise nonetheless. Her interest in Hawke was one of those “Hey, wait a second moments” that felt so natural I just … let it roll.

And yes, we will see more of her in the future if I write another story starring Hawke. She’s got a pretty good idea of what kind of guy Hawke is, so she’s not going to back down anytime soon. Even after that ending.

Anyway, a lot of the side characters I ended up writing did surprise me. They came out of nowhere, sprang to life, and really did help Silver Dreams feel like a real place.

Long Roads
One more thing that’s worth mentioning, since I’m doing a retrospect: The length. Or rather, the length and time.

Dead Silver was the first thing I published that said “Hey, I can do more than novellas.” Granted, I’d written fanfic much longer at that point, but it was still a bit of a jump from One Drink‘s 100-page length. Dead Silver, once it was finished and edited, weighed in at 451 pages … more than four times the length of its predecessor.

Believe it or not, as proud of it as I was, it also made me very nervous. See, short books and novellas tend to attract a certain kind of reader. One Drink‘s sequel jumping to such a larger length was a bit of a worry.

Thankfully, with the release, my fears proved unfounded. At least, as far as I’ve heard. I’ve yet to see a review crop up that complains about Dead Silver‘s length in any context. So in the end, the fear was … misplaced.

But before I finally hit “submit” and put Dead Silver out into the wild, I didn’t know that. But after months of writing, and a month of editing, there wasn’t much left to do. I bit the bullet and put it out there.

Looking Back
So, it’s been … over three years since Dead Silver came out. And in the end, what came of it?

Honestly, of the two straight-Unusual books I’ve released, I prefer it. The pacing is better, the mystery much more developed (and genuinely surprising for a lot of people). It takes its time building everything up, but still manages to deliver a pretty rousing ending, as well as a few scares.

No joke on that last bit. My favorite bit of reader feedback on Dead Silver was from a fan that wrote me to tell me that they’d bought it, read it, loved it, and also happened to live in New Mexico. They then informed me that they hadn’t been able to go outside at night after finishing the book for at least three days. Apparently the Aztec guardians really creeped them out.

One Drink was … if anything, almost a proof-of-concept. Dead Silver was the first time that concept got the wings it deserved, fleshing the world out and bringing it to life. It was also the first time, I think, that a lot of readers got a taste of the life and vibrancy I would later bring with something like Colony.

It was well received, too. Currently, it holds a respectable 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon, and 4.3 out of 5 on Goodreads. Not bad for my second ever book.

So that’s it. How Dead Silver, a sequel I never planned to write, came to be. I hope you liked this look back through memory lane, and if you haven’t gotten your own copy of Dead Silver yet, it’s since seen elevation to heroic-aged status, and is available for $2.99.

Thanks for reading, readers, and I’ll see you all Monday!

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