The Left-Hand Way is a globe-spanning fantasy thriller, like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with ancient magic. Part of this description may surprise readers of my first book, American Craftsmen, as that story for the most part kept a tight focus on the U.S. Another surprising change is my new first-person point-of-view character. In my previous book, it was the nonbelieving and somewhat irreverent Dale Morton who told the main story. In book two, it’s his Puritan foil, Michael Endicott, who speaks with his own voice.
My reasons for these changes have to do with the dynamics of keeping a series fresh and the evolution of the worldbuilding. Some series of books are mere continuations of one running story. For my American Craft series of magic and military intrigue, I haven’t gone that route. Instead, I have each book’s story stand on its own, and readers will feel that they’ve gotten a beginning, middle, and end for their effort. Of course, I still have plenty of continuity elements, and each novel so far has an epilogue that slingshots the story into the next book as an invitation to readers to keep going.
But if a stand-alone novel represents one of the most interesting slices of a character’s life, how does one find enough new interesting slices to keep such a series moving? One answer is to get the slices from someone else by shifting the first-person point-of-view character. When I first thought about doing this, I had Anne Rice’s shift of POV in her vampire series (which I know is one of Civilian Reader’s favorites) as inspiration and validation. Now I wonder if Rice was as surprised by Lestat in her follow-up to Interview with a Vampire as I’ve been by Endicott in my sequel. In book one, though Endicott loosens somewhat from his initial stiff and rule-bound nature, he’s still not likely leading man material. But this means that he’s the character who has the most room for interesting growth in book two, and that includes the most unlikely change for him: romance.
Like Civilian Reader, I’ve traveled a lot and I’ve lived overseas, so the expansion of my series to a global stage is something I’ve looked forward to for a while. However, other than the opening two chapters and the epilogue, all the action of my first book occurred within the United States. This was part of establishing an American mythos distinct from the usual European borrowings. The magic and supernatural elements of American Craftsmen were drawn from this country’s literature and folklore. If I introduced any significant elements from other, older traditions too early, they would likely drown out my new creative fusion. But having established this mythos, I am now able to let my characters loose upon the whole world in book two.
For The Left-Hand Way, I’ve been to most of the places that I use as settings: London, Oxford, Istanbul, Tokyo (where I lived a year and a half), Delphi, Paris, and Moscow. Does this make a difference in the verisimilitude of the story? Some early readers have noted the telling descriptive details of personal experience — the decorations of a seedy expat bottle-keep bar in Roppongi, the vendors and restaurants on the Galata Bridge, and the sparkle of the sun on the Gulf of Corinth seen from heights of Delphi. What I know for certain is that the research and writing regarding places and cultures I haven’t yet experienced seems more difficult and fraught with pitfalls.
Would it be worthwhile for me (or similarly situated writers) to travel exclusively for the purpose of project research, particularly for a global thriller like The Left-Hand Way? With the costs of flying and the availability of internet resources such as Google street view, such research probably makes less financial sense than ever. But as with much of what one does along with science fiction and fantasy writing (e.g. attend conventions, engage with social media, read and discuss the work of others), it may be best not to think of travel in terms of immediate direct payoff. Rather, I enjoy travel in itself. While I hope that any given trip may have indirect long-term benefit to my craft and help me continue to grow in experience, in most instances it would be counterproductive to my enjoyment to try to justify a vacation as exclusively for writing. It’s with this mindset that I’ve accumulated journeys, so I’m still a little surprised when, as in The Left-Hand Way, they reward me years later with so much concrete firsthand material to draw on for my stories.
Tom Doyle is the author of the American Craft fantasy series from Tor Books. In the first book, American Craftsmen (also published by Tor Books), two modern magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy an undying evil — and not kill each other first. In the sequel, The Left-Hand Way, the craftsmen are hunters and hunted in a global race to save humanity from a new occult threat out of America’s past. Tom’s collection of short fiction, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, includes his WSFA Small Press Award and Writers of the Future Award winners. He writes science fiction and fantasy in a spooky turret in Washington, DC. You can find the text and audio of many of his stories on his website.
The Left-Hand Way is out now.