Interview with Douglas Smith, Author of The Crystal Key
23 Mar 2023
The Crystal Key is the second book in my Dream Rider Saga trilogy. I’d written one novel (The Wolf at the End of the World), which had been well received, so I figured, “How hard can a trilogy be?” Yeah, right.
I wrote the entire trilogy before publishing the first book, The Hollow Boys, taking advice that Charles de Lint had given me. The Dream Rider Saga is one long mystery told over three books. When you’re writing that type of trilogy, it’s wonderful to be able to change the earlier books as you’re writing the later ones. Plus, readers don’t have to worry if the final book will come out. The third book, The Lost Expedition, is already finished.
The inspiration for the Dream Rider came from my love as a kid of comics, superheroes, and stories of lost cities. I call the series “Indiana Jones meets Teen Titans.” I’d wanted to write a YA series for a while, so when I got this idea for an orphaned teenager who can travel through our dreams but can never leave home, I figured it would fit perfectly.
Then I asked myself questions. Where did his power come from? Why is he an orphan? So I gave him a backstory, purposely sketchy at first:
Will’s parents, shady dealers in ancient artifacts, disappear on a jungle expedition. Will, the only survivor, returns home with no memory of what happened, with his strange power to walk in our dreams…and severe agoraphobia. He uses the money his Dream Rider comic creation brings to make a skyscraper home with everything he needs—everything but the freedom to go outside.
But it’s YA, so I needed a romance. Enter Case, an orphan Will’s age, who survives on the streets with her young brother, Fader, because they have their own gifts. Case hears voices warning her of danger. And Fader? Well, he fades. People just don’t notice him.
Book 1, The Hollow Boys, throws Will and Case together, and into danger and an unlikely romance, as they join forces to defeat a centuries-old body swapper preying on street kids.
In book 2, The Crystal Key, dark secrets lead Will, Case, and Fader to a mysterious world, trapping them between warring cults willing to kill for a dangerous artifact from Will’s past.
In the last book, The Lost Expedition, Will’s search for his lost parents propels the three friends deep into the jungles of Peru, where they battle an ancient evil to save all of reality.
Interesting question, since I use modern rock and pop songs for the chapters titles in these books.
For Will, my 17-year-old agoraphobic superhero, I think I’d go with Bowie’s “Starman.” It’s about a visitor from outer space, so it fits Will’s weirdness with his Dream powers. But it’s also a song that has always made me smile, which fits Will as well.
For Case, my life-hardened street kid and big sister to Fader, I’d pick Billy Eilish’s “Tough Guy” or maybe Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” I use both in the books for titles of Case’s chapters.
What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?
I enjoy reading urban fantasy, especially Charles de Lint. Lately though, I’m reading mysteries, detective, action / adventure, and non-fiction. I’ve been reading Thomas King’s “Dreadful Water” series, which is fun. I’m reading Ian Hamilton’s latest in his excellent Ava Lee series, The General of Tiananmen Square.
When it comes to writing, my short fiction has been a balance between fantasy and SF, with horror elements in many of them. My novels (The Wolf at the End of the World and the three Dream Rider books) are urban fantasy, and my next planned novel will be the sequel to The Wolf. But after that, I have a near future SF novel planned, expanding on my short story, “Memories of the Dead Man.”
What books are on your TBR pile right now?
I mentioned a couple above. My TBR “pile” is on my Kobo, as I do almost all my reading via ebooks. My likely next reads are Hyperion by Dan Simmons and Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King.
What scene in your book was your favorite to write?
Ever so many. It was fun finally getting to write a scene in The Crystal Key from the point-of-view of Adi, Will’s guardian and surrogate mother, when she tells the story of how his parents acquired the Crystal Key. I got to show more of her bad-ass side. And any scene with Rani Patel, my snarky reporter, was fun to write. It’s a hoot writing a character who has no filter and doesn’t care what people think of them.
But overall, I enjoyed giving Case more POV scenes. She has more than Will in this second book. I wanted to show her strengths and internal struggles more than I could in the first book, to set up the role she’ll play in the conclusion. I’d have to say she was the easiest character for me to write, to be inside her head.
Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)
Coffee. In a favorite mug. A mug that I just had to replace after using the same one for a couple of decades. A lot of words written with that one. My new mug and I are slowly getting to know each other. Hey, don’t judge. It’s an important relationship for a writer.
Music. I listen to music, via headphones, when I write. Despite my love of rock, I listen to orchestral pieces that are more cerebral than emotional. Bach and Corelli, but Vivaldi is my go-to. I think I have over 17 hours of Vivaldi on my player.
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
Chase your dreams. Never give up, never surrender (although that one may be taken).
If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?
The characters. I’m a character-driven writer. I can’t start a story unless I know my characters. Characters drive plot. I always try to start with an interesting character with a problem. Plot twists and turns come from choices my characters make as they struggle to solve their problem. To make those choices believable to the reader, I need to understand my characters so well that their choices are true to each of them. “Love the characters!” is a common comment in reviews of these books, and I think readers will come to love Will, Case, and Fader, and the bonds that form between them.
Douglas Smith is the author of the new book The Crystal Key (The Dream Rider Saga Book 2)
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