March of the Sequels – Lee C. Conley

Welcome to March of the Sequels, Lee.

First of all tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel.

The Dead Sagas series is a fantasy horror series. A zombie apocalypse story set in a Norse/Early Medieval low-fantasy setting. The first novel is A Ritual of Bone which sets the tone for the series, but it’s the sequel A Ritual of Flesh where the story really comes in to its own and opens its dark wings. All the threads emerge and inter-twine, there are some grim gruesome horror scenes, lots of atmosphere, and characters which are tested to beyond break point by the horrors of the rising dead and the pressures of honour and valour.

Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?

I’m really fortunate that The Dead Sagas has developed a very dedicated almost slightly mini-cult fan base, and I generally find those that really loved that first book often do dive straight in to the sequel, and the feedback I hear is that the second book is nearly always loved even more than the first. As the author this is incredibly fantastic to hear, to know that, not only did I avoid the dreaded “softmore slump”, but also that my craft has improved from where I started. There are some issues with the sequel being regarded as my best stuff so far however. Many, many readers in the fantasy and horror scene often only ever check out the first instalment of a series, and get a feel for the author’s style, and in the case of The Dead Sagas, I feel a reader is missing something if they only read A Ritual of Bone. I think, as they were supposed to just be one book originally, they really must read the first two together to get the overall impact of this part of the series. These two books are like a mini separate origin story at the beginning of the longer series, the later books all start fresh narratives that are all built off this initial pair. If you are reading this and are curious, know this: A Ritual of Bone and A Ritual of Flesh are two halves of the beginning of the story, and it’s the sequel that really opens up its stride and kicks all the ass!    

Is it easier to further develop characters you’ve already written in book one?

For this sequel yes it certainly was. The cast of characters is quite large and the first book only really introduces us to the characters, almost in a pulp kind of way, but it is in A Ritual of Flesh that the character development really comes out and we start to really get to explore the characters and get to really feel what they feel. In A Ritual of Bone we begin to get a feel for how characters like Bjorn and Arnulf, and I suppose the apprentice too, think, and how they feel. But all the characters are much deeper and explored in the sequel, it was great to really get to know Hafgan more for example (I love Hafgan!), and those characters we already feel close to from the first book are really fleshed out even more. There are some horrific scenes and moments in A Ritual of Flesh, it was great to really see how the characters react in those situations and explore the intense feelings the events of the book put them through. I’d like to think it’s a much more emotive book definitely.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?

I really enjoy writing new characters in as I need them. They just pop up all the time. The world is full of a shifting network of people and the events take place in many differing locations so it wouldn’t be right if the same characters are the only ones we see in these places. There are lots of new characters, some only tell a chapter of narrative, just one piece of the story through their eyes, but there are also big new additions to the main cast also. To answer the question though, for me, on this series, no it wasn’t difficult. They just came to life. It is something I have continued even into the later books of the series which I am currently working on, even in the upcoming book 3 there are again new characters thrown into the mix.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world you have already built in book 1? Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with worldbuilding?

We only get a taste for the overall world in A Ritual of Bone, certainly some strong cultural background from the events and settings of the first book, but much like the characters, it was fun to really expand the reader’s view of the world, and again the added depth of detail in the world came quite naturally and organically. I think world building is done through the setting, actions and general culture of a world created in a novel, at least that’s how I approach it. It’s not so much the places and history, but the people in them and the events of the narrative that creates the world. It’s how a person from that culture reacts to different events and sights which reveals the culture they come from. As the narrative expands in A Ritual of Flesh, the more places that are seen, the more we get to see more of the overall culture and the people that inhabit it, and organically the world building expands and deepens with it.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books?

Yes absolutely, one big example of this in the series is the cannibal Stonemen. In the first book I wrote them in with only a vague idea of how they fitted into the overall plot, in fact all the events that happen in Bjorn’s Westerly region of the world, and this continued with the sequel too although I pull the strands together finally regarding Bjorn, but that part of the world and the events transpiring in the background there have required careful thought. I had to really sit and think about why and how those elements were important to the overall plot, and now this should start to really come together in book three. The rebels in the west, the Stonemen, Bjorn’s past, how that is all connected to the events in the east, and how it’s connected with Arnulf’s homelands, the capital at Arn, and what could be argued to be the main plot narrative. One thing I wanted to capture in this series was the feel that a world is a really really big place, and there’s lots of often unrelated political and cultural things are all going on everywhere – just like a real world. So we get glimpses and tastes of different parts of the world, distant lands, like Telis and Myhar, but also a glimpse of events from different times in history that shape the current narrative. All things slowly influencing everything else. So I have had to plot the final books carefully to draw everything in finally. I had to specifically figure out how it all related and why it was important to really pin down the final overall plot of the series. 

Did you notice your craft improving from book 1 to subsequent books in a series, and if so, how?

Absolutely, there are important elements of my writing that vastly improved. When I wrote A Ritual of Bone I had no idea what I was doing, the early drafts had point of views all over the place and lacked character depth, and all sorts of rookie prose, and I had a steep learning curve to pull it all together into what it became. I have since been studying a creative writing degree and honing my craft, and with that in mind, and many of those early lessons learnt, I found it much easier to plot and tell the story for the sequel. I found I knew the characters much better too so it makes for a better book overall. I often feel the first one managed to stumble into, and capture, a cool sense of atmosphere and horror, and so I tried to keep that initial raw feeling that I discovered, but while applying a much more refined writing style. I feel it is this sequel more so than the first book that shows off my progression in craft the most so far.

Do you plan out the entire series at once or one book at a time?

I initially just wrote A Ritual of Bone with very little plan, and I explored the plot as I went. I had a bunch of cool ideas, and cool scenes, and cool characters, and I just kind of let them loose on the page and it just came together. For the sequel, I had much more plotting. Every chapter, and what every chapter’s purpose was, was known and plotted carefully before I wrote it. I had a definite plan for certain aspects, and I knew what I wanted to put across. But I also let the narrative run its own course in places, it’s like I knew where I needed it to go, but not how it would get there. So it’s an overall plan, but how that ends up that way I totally just made up as I went along, or came organically from the world as it emerged. I have now planned the final two books, so I know how each thread comes together. I guess, I just kind of started off with cool ideas and little planning, then pulled the overall plan together as I went, but by half way through the series, I kinda know exactly what’s going to happen now, but I must admit the plan had not fully formed when I started. I guess that’s my crazy way of doing things, I just write what I think is really cool and impactful and make it work as I go – it all sort of comes together. 

Do you try to make sequels readable as standalones or do you design a series so that readers have to read the whole thing?

I did try, I even submitted it as a standalone to a small competition, but I think it really does need to be read in order if I’m honest. It’s a long complex narrative throughout the series, events and motivations are all built on from the first book. As I say I did try to make it readable as a standalone as much as possible, and it has been read that way by a few, but so much context is missing, so I really would recommend reading it all in order for the full Dead Sagas vibes and the proper depth.

Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?

Marketing a sequel is a really tricky one. As I mentioned a lot of readers read the first in a series and put the sequel on their TBR for later, unless they read both books back to back, or some wait to read the entire series once it’s finished – I have certainly noticed the amount of reviews left on a series dwindles as the series progresses, only those dedicated few who really enjoy it are left standing by the end. There are so many amazing books around too – so much to read! Getting the readers to commit and return to your series can take a lot of marketing. My advice (which I am terrible at following as I am so busy) is to keep marketing constantly and at as high volume as you can, it has to be regular and continuous. As soon as you slack off, people get distracted with other shiny new books (and rightly so) so to keep those sales up you have to keep putting it out there regularly, posting, interacting, paid ads too sometimes, newsletters, websites – it all needs keeping on top of, and I must say I am guilty of not doing enough. I am lucky to have some very dedicated and vocal readers though, which I owe much to and am very thankful for. Sometimes I think it is those guys spreading the word which carries the most weight, so thanks to my readers! I will keep doing it for them, and will finish a series I hope they and I will really enjoy.

Thank you so much for taking part in March of the Sequels, Lee!

About the Author

Lee is a musician and writer in Lincolnshire, UK. He lives with his wife, Laura, and daughters, Luna, and Anya, in the historic cathedral city of Lincoln. Alongside a lifetime of playing guitar and immersing himself in the study of music and history, Lee is also a practitioner and instructor of historic martial arts and swordsmanship. After writing his successful advanced guitar theory textbook The Guitar Teachers Grimoire, Lee turns his hand to writing fiction. Lee is now studying a degree in creative writing and working on his debut fantasy series The Dead Sagas as well as also generally writing speculative fiction and horror.

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One thought on “March of the Sequels – Lee C. Conley

  1. Pingback: March of the Sequels Hub | Sue's Musings

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