Nathan‘s Interview with CM Debell
The Many Shades of Midnight was a complete surprise hit with me, and one of the most emotionally devestating reads I have read in quite a while (see my full review here). It is a book that has occupied a pretty significant part of my brain and just won’t let go! I am absolutely delighted to have gotten to ask the author, CM Debell, some questions about her book, writing process, and more!
Can you give readers a quick elevator pitch for your book? What kinds of readers would be interested in The Many Shades of Midnight?
An early reader once described this book to me as ‘zombie apocalypse meets extinction rebellion’ so I stole that and have used it a few times. But it’s less zombie apocalypse and more an exploration of how these characters respond when faced with a desperate threat and no good choices. It’s very much a character-driven story, so I think it will appeal to readers who look for that. There’s also plenty of politics and intrigue and an element of mystery. Probably not the book for people looking for big battles and lots of action.
What inspired the world of Ellasia and the plot and/or characters in The Many Shades of Midnight?
I wrote this story because I was – I am – angry about what we are doing to the planet. I wrote it because I’m frightened of what the future holds for the next generations. All that anger and fear was the inspiration for this story, which explores a crisis similar to climate change, although very much a fantasy version. And fantasy is the perfect genre to explore these themes. I created a world in which the same greed and corruption and apathy that has brought us to where we are today has brought that world to the brink of disaster. Only in Ellasia time really has run out and the problem is no longer one for future generations to deal with.
Your book talks about the structural failings to respond to a plague. Did you write this book during or in response to the COVID pandemic? How did the COVID pandemic impact your experience writing this book?
Interestingly, I’ve never looked at it like that. This book is about a failure to respond to a crisis, of which the plague is a symptom, but that crisis is inspired by climate change rather than Covid. Although I didn’t start writing the book until last summer, I had been thinking about the story since 2018, and the plague storyline was already in place. But there is a lot of my frustration and anger in this book, and the last few years have added to that, so I’m sure Covid did have an influence.
The Many Shades of Midnight has an interesting structure, in that the beginning of the book spends lengthy amounts of time with one POV character before switching, while later the POV shifts more rapidly (while adding more POV characters!). How did you decide to structure your novel this way, and what benefits or challenges did that bring?
It wasn’t really a decision, it’s just how I wrote it. I’m not a planner, and I’ve always written books from multiple POVs. I like it as a format, although I know that’s not the case for all readers. It suits the way I tell stories, and I love the freedom to explore a story from different angles and take in events that happen in different locations. Most importantly, I love how multiple POVs allow you to glimpse different sides of the same character depending on whose eyes you are seeing them through. That was especially important for this book.
At every stage, I simply told the story through the point of view that worked best for that scene or collection of scenes. The POV shifts become more rapid as the story picks up pace, and particularly in the last 20% or so, I needed the perspectives of those additional characters because there was one point of view I couldn’t use.
Do you have a favorite character that you liked writing? Was there a particularly difficult character to write?
I adored writing Brivar. He was so easy. I loved his kindness and his genuine desire to help. I also had a lot of fun writing Hailene, but none of them were difficult. I’ve learnt not to try to overthink my characters but to let them take the lead, and that works for me.
Your books are all standalones (your Long Dream books comprise a series, but can be read separately). As a writer and reader, what is the appeal of a standalone to you? Why do you gravitate towards writing standalones?
My first book, Silver Mage, was written as a standalone, but the first version was 300,000 words, so it was more like a trilogy in one book. Its sequel, Silver Dawn, tells the new story that starts when that book ends. I don’t think of it as a standalone, as I think a reader would struggle with it if they hadn’t read Silver Mage, but it is self-contained in the sense that the story is wrapped up in one book – again, it’s a big book. Maybe I just need to learn to split the big stories into multiple books!
I actually love reading series books. As a reader I prefer series, because if I like the characters, I want more of them. And the book I am writing at the moment has the potential to become a series. I’ll see how it goes. If the stories are there, I will write them.
The story in The Many Shades of Midnight definitely concludes, but is this a world you are interested in revisiting with another standalone or series?
I will revisit it, just not through a sequel. I’ve already written one prequel short story about the same characters and have a couple of others on the go, because there are plenty of stories to tell there. I have also started another book set around a hundred years before The Many Shades of Midnight, exploring the events that eventually lead to the crisis in this book. That’s the one that could become a series.
While writing was there anything that you had to cut or edit out that you wish you could have kept in? If you can speak about it, what was it?
When I was writing the Long Dream books there were scenes that I ended up cutting, even whole sub plots, but I wrote those books intermittently over years, and they are both much bigger stories. I was more focused about writing The Many Shades of Midnight, and I wrote it in a couple of months rather than years. Once I knew the ending – which I wrote a couple of weeks in – I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there. Perhaps that’s why there are no deleted scenes for this book. If anything, I added to it after I first typed ‘the end’, going back in and picking up a couple of dropped character threads and finishing them off, but there are no scenes in a deleted folder.
You’ve entered SPFBO this year – congrats! Why did you decide to enter and what do you hope to get out of the competition?
Thank you! I think what all the authors involved want – more eyes on our books. I would love more readers to find The Many Shades of Midnight and SPFBO has the potential to provide that extra bit of visibility. Doing well would be nice, but there are 300 amazing books in this competition so I’m not pinning my hopes on that.
What is one piece of advice that you hadn’t heard but wished you had known about writing or publishing?
All of it! When I uploaded my first book on Kindle in 2018 (after previously self-publishing it before Kindle), it was just something I had intended to do for ten years that I had never got around to. I had no expectation that anyone would find it or read it, I just thought it should be up there. Then people read it and enjoyed it, and it was only then that I started to investigate how the self-publishing scene had changed. I had to learn everything and I’m still learning. I think one of the most important things to realise is that self-publishing is about so much more than just writing a book. In many ways, for me, that’s the easy part. The selling part, the marketing – that’s hard, and there’s no handy instruction manual to follow. I wish I was better at it!