Oh, am I excited about our returning guest! Fantasy author Maria V. Snyder stopped by here 2 years ago for an interview on SHADOW STUDY, her fourth Study novel and the return of Yelena and Valek, her two most beloved characters. Today, the series ends with DAWN STUDY, and Maria was gracious enough to take time out of her schedule to write a guest post. So, let’s celebrate DAWN STUDY’s book birthday with a “study” of master spy-assassin Valek, his growth since SHADOW STUDY, and the challenges of writing from his perspective.
When my first book, Poison Study, was published over (*cough*) eleven (*cough*) years ago, I had no idea I’d go on to write five more Study books and the spin-off Glass Series. Nine total books and four short stories! I’d also didn’t know that Valek would become my readers’ favorite character (according to an unscientific Facebook poll).
While planning Poison Study, I knew Valek would be Ixia’s Chief of Security and the Commander’s assassin. He’d be distant, cold, and good at killing people with all types of weapons – basically, a stereotypical bad ass. After that, I didn’t really consider him to be more than an antagonist to my main protagonist, Yelena. In fact, I thought if there would be a romance in the book, it would most likely be between Yelena and the Commander. Yeah, well, I’m not the best at planning books, and I tend to discover the true story as I write.
How Valek Stole the Show in Poison Study – and How the Desire to Explore His Past Inspired the Latest Series
Valek just about leapt off the page in the first few chapters of Poison Study. His sarcastic zingers and morbid sense of humor told me this man would not stay in the cubby hole I’d placed him. Oh, no. As the story progressed, he proved to be intelligent, loyal to a fault, a pack rat, and artistic. Who knew that he enjoyed carving statues? Not I! Plus, he was quite… er… hot! Blue eyes, black hair, angular features, lean build…. My husband likes to tell everyone I based Valek on him, and… well…. they both have black hair and blue eyes. 😉
In the first trilogy of Study books (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study), the main focus is on Yelena and her difficulties and growth. She overcomes the feelings of being a victim and learns how to use her magic until she’s at a point where she’s capable and confident in herself and her powers. Readers learn all about her past and her thoughts and emotions in those books, and I was quite happy about the ending of Fire Study. I dusted off my fingers and happily went on to write other series.
However, my readers wanted more books with Yelena and Valek. Even though both characters appear in the Glass books (Storm Glass, Sea Glass, and Spy Glass), they sent me emails urging me to write more. They also asked me about Valek’s past. I realized I didn’t know much about his past except for the murder of his three older brothers, which triggered his desire to become an assassin and stop the abuse of power by the Ixian monarchy. I thought of writing a prequel to Poison Study and focusing on Valek and his time before meeting Yelena, but I know my readers wouldn’t be happy unless they were both in the story.
Finally, I sparked on an idea. I’d have some young hotshot assassin threaten Valek’s job, and Valek would have flashbacks to his past, when HE was a young hotshot assassin. That idea led to Shadow Study, the first the new trilogy of Study books (Shadow Study, Night Study, and Dawn Study).
The Unique Challenges of Writing Flashbacks and from Valek’s POV
Writing flashbacks can be tricky. I had to make sure I balanced the present story events with the past events so one didn’t dominate the other. Plus, I had to ensure there was no confusion over the timeline. I had to incorporate the flashbacks in a way that was logical and not random. There had to be something in the present that would trigger a flashback. For example, in Shadow Study Valek learns that the new assassin, Onora, was also trained by his teacher and he thinks back to his days learning how to fight and climb walls and many other skills an assassin needs.
Even though Yelena has problems to deal with—her magic is gone, and assassins are after her—this second trilogy of Study books focuses on Valek and his growth as a character. His past is revealed, and so are his thoughts and emotions. Showing his thoughts and emotions was difficult. He’s an experienced fighter and quite able to suppress his emotions. Yelena has frequently remarked on his “cold killer’s face.” Plus, I didn’t want to turn him into a overly emotional, dramatic guy. He’s Valek, the cool assassin dude—unflappable, strong, and hasn’t lost a fight in years.
Also, writing from his point of view (POV) was new for me. I’ve dabbled with his POV in short stories, but for these novels, his POV was every other chapter. And I’ve a secret: I’m not male. Would I have the creative talent and skill to pull it off?
Turns out, I do! Just because Valek suppresses his emotions doesn’t mean that he lacks emotions. I relied on internal dialogue and a few physical cues to let my readers know what he was feeling without making him weak or dramatic. Fun stuff. Then I put the poor guy through the emotional wringer. His past came back to haunt him, and his world was turned upside down a number of times. The Commander went from his best friend to his enemy, and Ixia and Sitia were heading toward war.
Over the course of the three novels, Valek changes his views and grows. He learns that he’d been emotionally frozen in time, stuck at the point in his past when he witnessed his brothers’ murders. And, he realizes who deserves his unwavering loyalty and who doesn’t. In the end, he’s still Valek, the cool assassin dude—but he’s also much, much more.
U.S. GIVEAWAY: Win Your Choice of a Book from the Study Series
Maria has offered to give one (1) lucky U.S. reader their choice of a book from the Study Series. So, if you’re new to the series, you can start at the beginning with Poison Study (which is one of my favorite novels ever, so I highly recommend it *wink*). Or if you’re a long-time fan, you can get a copy of Dawn Study to finish your collection, or any other Study book you don’t have yet.
This giveaway is limited to the U.S. only (since Maria will be mailing the book herself) and ends at midnight Eastern time on Tuesday, February 14th. Click the link below to access the Rafflecopter widget, then follow the instructions to earn points for comments, social media, etc. Also, let me know in your comment which Study book you’d like to win. If you’re not sure where to start, use the Study series chronology graphic above, or check out each book’s page on Goodreads:
EDIT – 2/16/17: Congratulations to Hayley Jurek for winning a signed copy of Dawn Study!
ABOUT OUR GUEST BLOGGER:
Maria V. Snyder switched careers from meteorologist to novelist when she began writing the New York Times best-selling Study Series (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study) about a young woman who becomes a poison taster. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, Maria dreamed of chasing tornados and even earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Meteorology from Pennsylvania State University. Unfortunately, she lacked the necessary forecasting skills. So, she worked as an environmental meteorologist until boredom and children drove her to write down the stories that have been swirling around in her head.
Writing proved to be more enjoyable than meteorology, and Maria returned to school to earn a Master of Arts degree in fiction writing from Seton Hill University. Unable to part company with Seton Hill and its wonderful writing program, Maria is currently a teacher and mentor for the MFA program. Dawn Study, the conclusion of her Soulfinders Series, is her fifteenth novel.
Interested in guest posting here in the future? Check out my guest posting policy before contacting me to see if your idea might be a good fit.