March of the Sequels: Cal Black

8 Mar 2023

The Author/s

Cal Black

Cal Black

Cal Black is a Canadian writer based in Ontario who enjoys writing about messy people who make an effort to improve their situation. Cal was a contributor to the Advent of Winter anthology, a Finalist in the SFINCS novella contest, and is the author of the Legends & Legacies series. Cal writes gaslamp fantasy, cosmic fantasy, and has a bad habit of ‘trying out new genres’ when already full up on projects.

The Interview

First of all, tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel(s).
Legends & Legacies is a Gaslamp and Western Fantasy series that follows Mildred Berry as she moved on from a traumatic past while building a better life for herself and her family, dodging outlaws and dragons on the way. In the first book, No Land for Heroes, we meet Millie and her scrappy town of ladies eking out a life on the frontier. Millie has left her violent past behind, but when the man she’s been hiding from shows up on the frontier she must reconcile her past and present if she wants to keep her family safe.
The second book, No Port in a Storm, picks up a week or two after the ending of No Land for Heroes. While everyone had a happy ending at first glance, cracks are starting to appear in Millie’s relationship with her best friend. The world knows the Bayou Butcher has returned and there are plenty of enemies, new and old, who are waiting for their turn to exact revenge on a certain albino elf. When the key witness in the Colfield murder trial is abducted, Millie must return to her violent hometown of Marigot to get him back. The west isn’t the only part of Amelior that’s wild, and Millie will need all the help she can get as heads back to the bayou.


Would you say writing in a relatively niche genre has affected your reach?
Absolutely! It’s a bit funny, we have western movies that are popular, and a few video games that have been massive hits (Red Dead Redemption series) but there’s still a reluctance to read about cowboys. Weird West is a known subgenre, though that tends to lean toward the supernatural instead of high fantasy like Legends & Legacies does.
My major obstacle is getting readers to give the book a try in the first place. I think a lot of readers look at the book and expect a dry old fashioned western with the stereotypical drawling cowboys when L&L is written is an accessible, contemporary voice. There’s also plenty of action and conflict to keep the story moving along.

Nervous about the perspective of releasing your new book in a month?
I’ve learned that the last few weeks of finishing a book is a rollercoaster of self-doubt and reassurance that the book is not actually terrible. I am nervous about how some readers will react to the explicit discussion of slavery, since it’s an uncomfortable discussion. However, No Port in a Storm is a book about navigating loss and facing the consequences of our actions. It was important to me not to avoid topics that are considered difficult, especially at a time when books are getting banned in the largest English-speaking market because they contain those topics. As Millie learns, we can’t move on from our past until we face it. That includes the parts where we were awful to others.

How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships? 
The hard part was keeping the cast manageable, to be honest. Some fan favourites aren’t present in No Port in a Storm, but they’ll be back in book 3. I’ve had most of this story planned out since finishing the first draft of No Land for Heroes in 2018, so I knew the new characters and how they would fit in with the existing ones. The trickiest bit was actually the evolution of existing relationships as those characters moved from their insulated town to the wider world and all the complications that brings.

Is it difficult to continue with worldbuilding for a world you have already built in book 1?  Do you find it easier to switch locations for the sequel and start again with worldbuilding? 
No Land for Heroes had the world building in the background, focusing more on the characters and their choices, but the building blocks were still there. That said, expanding the scope of the world from a tiny town on the frontier to a bustling city that is poised between three major cultures was a bit nervewracking. I did a bunch of research into conjure magic (like voodoo) and historical events that lead to New Orleans being such a different city compared to the rest of North America. I wanted that vibe of a clash of cultures all living together to build something new.

Have you ever been stymied by a worldbuilding or plot detail from book 1 that is very inconvenient to deal with or write your way around in subsequent books? 
The biggest issue was definitely how to show and explain the Amelior slavery system without readers equating it to the American system. The American one was far worse from a human rights standpoint, while in Amelior slaves were paid a (pitiful) wage and could save up to buy their freedom. That’s not to say the Amelior system is in any way acceptable, just less awful.
If anyone wants to read real grimdark content, they should read about our history as North Americans.

Would you say your craft has improved with the subsequent books?
I hope so! Where I’ve improved the most is in plotting and structuring the book before actually writing it. No Land for Heroes took a number of significant rewrites to get it to where I was happy with the book, but No Port only took one. It also went much faster, now that I knew I could complete a book.

Outside of Legends & Legacies, I think you are working on a new book. Could you tell us a little about it?
After No Port in a Storm, I’ll be taking a break from Legends & Legacies to write a cozy adventure fantasy called Strange and Sundry Magics. Millie’s journey has been quite personal, and it can be exhausting to relive old trauma and remember what it’s like to experience the symptoms of PTSD through her. Especially in book 2.
Strange and Sundry Magics will be a wonderful break, very much in the vein of Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away. This book is about the love of adventure and building friendships. It’s also very exciting since it’ll be a book that’s appropriate for my niece to read if she is interested. I call it ‘Rated E for everyone’ compared to Legends & Legacies’ rated R for language.

Do you have all the timeline planned for the full series?
I don’t yet. I have a number of ideas written down for Legends & Legacies, but it was only as I finished the first draft of No Port in a Storm that I figured out what the plot of book 3 would be. The first three books are about Millie’s journey, so I knew her general character arc and that book 3 would be looking ahead to her future rather than focusing on her past… but the specifics weren’t nailed down until about Christmas 2022. No Legend Lives Forever will wrap up Millie’s arc as she and Eyota travel deep into the Badlands to find out who is stirring up tensions between the Six Fires nations and the Amelior Union. It’s going to be a buddy cop-style story and yes, Sweetpea will be back.

Any tip you would give about marketing your books?
I launched No Land for Heroes with no fanfare last year. Now I know I should have been more proactive about reaching out with ARCs to reviewers. I’m looking forward to actually having a list of folks wanting to read book 2 since it means less work. 
Right now, I’m focusing on building up my catalogue of books. Once I have three published, I plan to market more aggressively with ads and newsletters. Until then, I’m more focused on finding the right audience through individual reviewers