Kel Kade, New York Times Bestselling author of the King’s Dark Tidings series as well as The Shroud of the Dark Prophecy series which is continuing the story with a new book this next month, Destiny of the Dead.
Last year I got the great opportunity to review the first book in The Shroud of the Dark Prophecy series, Fate of the Fallen where it remained one of my favorite reads of 2021. Fate of the Fallen seeks to challenge the typical hero journey trope and twist it on its head. The story starts with a simple question, “What if the chosen one dies in the first few pages?”
We talked with Kade about the Shroud of the Prophecy series, Aaslo the unlikely and grumpy protagonist, as well as Kade’s writing and what is on the horizon.
[GdM] Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How do you structure your stories? Are you a pantser or plotter? Do you use the post-it note process?
I’m primarily a pantser. I know the major plot points I want to hit at the beginning, but my writing is mostly character-driven. The characters are clearly defined in my mind with all their thoughts and aspirations and faults and ideas, and they make decisions as events unfold that guide the story. I don’t use post-it notes, although I do keep a few notes and character lists in a spreadsheet. Mostly, though, the story and all its threads are held in my mind where I can work and manipulate it with ease.
[GdM] Your worldbuilding and characters read as if they are written by someone who loves to read. Do you read fantasy? If so, have you read anything lately that you loved?
I absolutely love to read, and I especially enjoy fantasy. I like all kinds of fantasy from epic to urban to romance and grim-dark. One of the most intriguing books I’ve read lately was The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan. I loved it for its uniqueness and creativity. The concepts and characters were both refreshing and gritty.
[BT] You have a background in geoscience. Does your experience help your worldbuilding? If so, how?
Geosciences is a field that garners a deep connection with the physical world and all its systems. It collects all the sciences into a picture of completeness that defines that world. I feel that this background inspires me to consider aspects of world-building that might otherwise be overlooked and helps me to understand how all the pieces fit together. Besides the most obvious connections to world-building like rock types, terrain, and geologic hazards, my background in geosciences allows me to think more generally as a scientist who looks for the details, causes and effects, and outliers that make a fantasy world more believable and interesting.
[BT] You self-published King’s Dark Tidings, while Shroud of the Prophecy is through TOR. What are some of the differences between the process of self-publishing versus through a publisher? Are there any similarities?
There are benefits and drawbacks to both self-publishing and traditional publishing. On the one hand, I have more control over what I do with my self-published books. On the other, I am also responsible for all the tasks that would normally be taken care of for me with a traditional publisher like cover art, editing, marketing, and production. Another interesting point is that the two series have attracted different audiences. While my self-published works tend to appeal to those who enjoy e-books and audiobooks, my traditionally published books draw in those who prefer print. That observation is a bit biased, though, since my King’s Dark Tidings series will be released in print for the first time within the next few months. It’s possible that the audiences aren’t so different, although they do vary in the matter of price. I tend to charge much less for my self-published e-books than a traditional publisher and can do so because I earn a higher royalty rate. Adversely, I am dependent on distribution platforms like Amazon continuing to do business in a way that allows me to earn an income. I prefer not to put all my eggs in one basket, and taking the hybrid approach allows me to diversify my income stream so that I can continue my career as a full-time author.
[BT] You mentioned in an AMA on Reddit a few years ago regarding writing Rezkin, “Rezkin didn’t give me a choice. I was writing a different series, and this other character kept interrupting my thoughts. The interactions were so funny and exciting that I had to start writing them down. Rezkin is relentless in demanding my attention.” Did the same sort of interrupting of thoughts happen with Aaslo?
Aaslo has a different feel for me than Rezkin. While Rezkin is energy and action and darkly amusing mirth, Aaslo is cool and calm and a bit grumpy. When writing them, it feels a bit like Rezkin is demanding his story exist while Aaslo could not care less. Mathias and Aaslo’s other companions, on the other hand, want Aaslo’s story told, and Aaslo begrudgingly relents.
[BT] You have the second book of the Shroud of the Prophecy series releasing this month. Can you tell us a bit about where we are in the story?
Destiny of the Dead picks up immediately after the end of Fate of the Fallen. Axus’s initial plans for mass destruction via blight have been foiled; and, consequently, the gods’ interest in Aaslo has been piqued. Not only are the gods confused by Aaslo’s show of power, but so is Aaslo. It’s only natural that the enemy should focus on taking Aaslo down, but while they’re distracted by assassination and impending invasion, a new power rises in the east. Meanwhile, the reaper Myropa is torn between her duty to the gods and her dedication to the world she once abandoned. And Mathias, well, Mathias is just along for the ride.
[BT] Can you tell us a bit about Aaslo as a character? Where did you get inspiration for him? He occasionally reminds me of a grumpy old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn.
Aaslo is definitely a no-nonsense kind of guy, but he’s also loyal, dedicated, intelligent, and—perhaps more than anything—stubborn. I think his character may have been inspired by my experiences as a geoscientist. I’ve known many geologists, and they’re often the kind of people who immerse themselves in nature and would rather not be bothered by humanity as a whole. Or perhaps he reminds me a bit of myself when I’ve had to get up too early and haven’t had my coffee. Either way, he may not be your first choice for a dinner companion, but he’s definitely someone you want in your corner when worse comes to worse.
[GdM] The relationship that Aaslo and Mathias have rings with so much sincerity. It has just the right amount of snark for two people who have been life-long friends. How did you get the idea of Aaslo carrying Mathias’s head around in a bag? It certainly adds a fun bit of macabre to the story.
I always knew from the story’s inception that Mathias had to die, but I guess a part of me—like Aaslo—wasn’t ready to let him go. Aaslo needed Mathias and Aldrea needs Aaslo, so it’s only natural the two should remain together. I couldn’t have Aaslo dragging Mathias’s whole body around throughout the story, so naturally let’s just take the head! I remembered as a teenager watching the movie Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag, and I always appreciated the dark—and, yes, macabre—humor of it. I thought, wouldn’t that be an interesting way to carry on Mathias’s torch?
[GdM] I love that you play with the hero’s journey and chosen one trope in the Shroud of the Prophecy series. How fun was it to twist things around?
The hero’s journey is, in my humble opinion, one of the most exciting kinds of stories to read. It’s satisfying to take such a time-honored trope and flip it on its head. To take something that has been so well-written and used time and again and make it new is both rewarding and a lot of fun. Plus, it sets the mood for all the macabre strangeness that follows.
[BT] Nick Podehl is a beloved audiobook voice actor who has narrated the Shroud of the Prophecy series and your King’s Dark Tidings series. His voice has become synonymous with your characters for audio listeners. First, how did your working relationship with him start? Second, when you write scenes, do you think about how they will sound with his voice acting?
First, I must say that it is absolutely my honor to have Nick Podehl performing my books. I say perform because the word narration just doesn’t seem to cut it. It was my luck that my audiobook publisher for King’s Dark Tidings, Podium Publishing, chose Nick. I had given them an idea of the kind of voice and performance I would like to hear for the series, and they absolutely delivered. When it came time to choose a narrator for Shroud of Prophecy (SOP), I had to consider that a new voice might help distinguish the new series. After much consideration, however, I decided that my listeners were very dedicated to Nick, and I thought that bringing him in for SOP would make everyone happy.
It’s funny that while writing the books I heard the characters in a certain way, but after listening to Nick’s performance, I do often hear them in his voice. Sometimes, as I’m writing dialogue, I hear in my mind how I think they’ll sound in his voice, and that may influence the way I write them.
[BT] The worlds of King’s Dark Tidings and Shroud of the Prophecy are very distinct. Do you have to do a conscious mental shift when switching between the two worlds?
Because the two worlds are so different, the mental shift between them isn’t too bad. When I mentally travel from one to the next, it’s a bit like going on vacation. That being said, I do have to focus myself for the tone of the books. King’s Dark Tidings feels more like the epic fantasy that it is with many kingdoms and nobles and peasants and mages and warriors, while Shroud of Prophecy is a bit darker and filled with gods and death and creatures, both alive and dead. I have to put myself in certain moods to write with the right feeling.[GdM] One of the most critical aspects of the Shroud of the Prophecy series, for me as a reader, is the importance of hope. The chosen prophecy comes to a screeching halt very early in Fate of the Fallen, and if there was only one path to salvation, it could have caused despair. Instead, there always seemed to be a glimmer of hope. Is that something that you consciously focused on when writing the story? Or did that develop organically as you got to know the characters and their roles in the world?
I think hope is the natural conclusion of one unifying characteristic possessed by all our heroes in Shroud of Prophecy—the unwillingness to give up. All the heroes, whether they be foresters or thieves or reapers or magi, are afflicted with a stubbornness that drives them to persevere. It’s the nature of the human spirit to require that where there is a will there is a way, and if there is a way, then there is hope. Even in the face of certain failure, if they are unwilling to concede then we can continue to hope for salvation.
[BT] As a thought experiment, if Mathias had lived and started his epic prophesized journey, would Aaslo have stayed amongst his trees and his sleepy village? Or do you think he still would have got pulled into all this world-saving business?
Oh, Aaslo definitely would have joined Mathias and probably grumped about it the entire way. He had made that decision for himself when he chose to meet Mathias on the road that fateful night when Mathias fell. Aaslo would have taken the backseat with ease and allowed Mathias to take on the mantle of the Chosen One, but he would have said his piece when it came to Mathias’s decisions. There would have been plenty of bickering, but Aaslo would have stayed a true friend and told Mathias the truth no matter how much he disliked it.
[BT] Now that Destiny of the Dead is releasing, what is next on the horizon?
I’m currently writing the third book in the Shroud of Prophecy series titled Sanctum of the Soul. When I am finished with that, I will take on King’s Dark Tidings Book 6 and a King’s Dark Tidings side tale that is yet unnamed. I’ve also started an unrelated standalone book that I think will be a lot of fun, so hopefully, I will find the time to work on that a bit.
Read Kel Kade’s Books