March of the Sequels: Dan Fitzgerald
Fantasy and romance author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (low-magic fantasy) the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free romantic fantasy), and the upcoming Time Before trio (spicy romantic fantasy).
I write non-epic fantasy books, often romantic, in which you will find:
Mystery. Darkness. Wonder. Action. Romance. Otherness examined and deconstructed. Queer and straight characters living and fighting side by side. Imaginary creatures and magic with a realistic touch.
What you won’t find in my books:
Wholesale slaughter. Sexual assault. Unquestioned sexism or discrimination. Evil races. Irredeemable villains. Predestined heroes. An ancient darkness that threatens to overspread the land.
First of all, tell me a little about your series and introduce us to the sequel(s).
The Maer Cycle tells of the return of the Maer, hairy humanoids of legend who were crushed by the humans in a great war in the Time Before and thought to have disappeared forever. It reads like an extended D&D campaign with more emphasis on relationships and story than on fighting (though there’s plenty of that too!).
In Hollow Road, three companions taking an old friend’s body home for burial discover that the legends are all too real, but the stories got it wrong. Mayhem and tragedy ensue, but hope blooms that the two peoples can find peace together.
In the sequel, The Archive, the human companions from Hollow Road join a group of Maer in the search for the long-buried library of the Maer. It’s a mini-epic with 13 total POV characters, a variety of LGBTQ characters and relationships, and a heated battle that leaves no heart unscarred.
And in The Place Below, set 25 years after the Battle of the Archive, some of the deepest secrets of the Maer are uncovered beneath a forgotten mountain where an undead scholar awakes after a 2,000 year slumber.
Do you find that most of your readers continue to read the whole series? Why do you think that is?
If reviews are any indication, my read-through on the series is not great, but those who read through often read my other series as well. The reason? I can only guess. Hollow Road was my debut, and while it’s a lovely book and I’m proud of it, I really hit my stride in The Archive, and I wish more people would read it because it’s damned good. There. I said it.
How difficult is it to add new characters in a sequel into already established relationships?
It was very easy for me, because most of the Maer characters had been introduced in Hollow Road, but in The Archive we get to see them as POV characters, which was a lot of fun, honestly. And about halfway through the book, we get new POV characters as the plot thickens. You’d think 13 POV characters would be too much, but I worked hard to make it easier on the reader by using what I call a POV relay: Whoever the POV character is with at the end of one chapter is the new POV character for the next.
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?
Worldbuilding is much easier with sequels; you’ve already got the broad strokes down, and you get to sink into more nuance. Hollow Road takes place mostly in the human world, and The Archive is set almost entirely among the Maer, so it was great to discover and expand upon details introduced in the first book.
That said, once you publish a book, you’ve inevitably written yourself into a corner here and there, and it can be a fun puzzle to figure out how to write yourself out. This came up especially with The Delve, set 2,000 years before the Maer Cycle, where I had to rewrite the ending because of something in Hollow Road, but the ending is stronger for it.
You are now expanding the lore with standalone novels. Could you tell us a little bit more about it?
The Time Before trio includes The Delve (out now), Wings so Soft (August 2023), and Cloti’s Song (November 2023). All are romantic, but they’re very different. The Delve is a spicy romantic dungeon fantasy with lots of explicit sex and violence, but Wings so Soft and Cloti’s Song are steamy romances with softer (but still copious) sex scenes, and relatively little violence.
They tell the story of the fall of the Maer civilization 2,000 years before the Maer Cycle, and in theory a reader could read either series first, though some have suggested the Maer Cycle is a better place to start. Each one is meant to stand alone, but they are linked in various ways.
The characters from The Delve do not appear at all in Wings so Soft, but some of them reappear in Cloti’s Song, and there are some really fun connections to the Maer Cycle and the Weirdwater Confluence in all of the books, for my faithful readers.
Recently, you got new covers for the Maer Cycle. Could you tell us a little bit about those new designs?
Since the books have a strong old-school fantasy/D&D vibe, I wanted the covers to be reminiscent of the old D&D modules or classic fantasy novels. Fiona West did great work on a tight budget, and I think the vibe comes through loud and clear. She even managed to include some original art I had done for the Maer Cycle, notably the feathered dragon, the carrion troll, and Tcheen, the nonbinary leader of the Dragon Maer.
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?
I touched on this in a previous question, but let me expand a bit: Yglind, the not-exactly-heroic protagonist of The Delve, is mentioned in The Place Below (Maer Cycle #3) as a historical figure with connections to an incident in Hollow Road. One detail from both series is the concept of hibernation; the Maer knew they were losing the war and they put some of their leaders into a deep magical sleep in the hopes they could help rebuild the Maer civilization of the Time to Come.
It didn’t work out quite as they planned, and like with so many things, history, and legend got quite a bit wrong.
Would you say your craft has improved with the subsequent books?
Holy shit yes. Especially with plotting. Hollow Road’s narrative arc is a bit odd, as I was still figuring out how to shape a novel. The Archive builds to a big, showy battle where relationships and civilizations are forever changed. Many of my books have slightly unusual narrative structures, but that’s by design. Hollow Road just kind of happened. To be clear, I still think it’s great! But it doesn’t follow the usual structure of most novels.
Do you have all the timeline planned for the full series?
I mentioned the timing of the Time Before books above, so the entire thing, which I’m calling the Copper Circle (named for the magical circlets used by characters in most of the books), will be complete this year, including 3 series:
The Maer Cycle (Hollow Road, The Archive, and The Place Below)
The Weirdwater Confluence (The Living Waters and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds)
The Time Before (The Delve, Wings so Soft, and Cloti’s Song)
There are also standalone side romances coming: Unpainted (June 2023) is set in the Weirdwater Confluence universe and has a few cameos from characters in those books, and Jagged Shard (early 2024) is set in the Time Before and follows Skiti and Laanda, dwarf-like characters from The Delve. I may add a few more side romances as I go, because they’re such a joy to write, and if done well, might hopefully lure someone into the series themselves.
Do you have any marketing tips for sequels?
The simple answer is to market the first book while writing more books. Your next novel will be your back catalog some day, so if you take a long view, your goal as a writer is to tell great stories and hope that once someone discovers one, they will go on to check out the others.
I’d encourage new writers not to go all in on a long series where each book is dependent on the previous ones because read-through can be tough, especially for a first series where the author is still building their craft. My strategy is to write multiple connected series with multiple entry points so if someone discovers my books in one series they might read the others. I’ve moved toward linked standalones in the Time Before, because in this super-saturated market, people might not read through series even if they loved the first book simply because there are SO MANY GREAT INDIE BOOKS OUT THERE. I’m a bit guilty of that myself.
And one final note: marketing does not just mean posting on social media. Yes, that is important, but for most authors, it takes more than that. It means advertising, using paid promo sites, and a lot of other things that cost money. You must invest in your books to find readers. I’m still figuring out how best to do this, but I think it’s safe to say that few authors can successfully launch based on social media alone. Most are spending time and money behind the scenes finding ways to reach readers outside of the limited window of their social media reach.