Interview with J. Kathleen Cheney, author of Dreaming Death

Posted by on Feb 2, 2016 in Blog, guest | Comments Off on Interview with J. Kathleen Cheney, author of Dreaming Death

I’m happy to share an interview with author J. Kathleen Cheney. Her new novel Dreaming Death is out today, and wow is it a good read. If you love fantasy crossed with mystery, this book is for you! You should also check out Cheney’s Golden City Trilogy.

About Dreaming Death

Shironne Anjir’s status as a sensitive is both a gift and a curse. Her augmented senses allow her to discover and feel things others can’t, but her talents come with a price: a constant assault of emotions and sensations has left her blind. Determined to use her abilities as best she can, Shironne works tirelessly as an investigator for the Larossan army.

A member of the royal family’s guard, Mikael Lee also possesses an overwhelming power—he dreams of the deaths of others, sometimes in vivid, shocking detail, and sometimes in cryptic fragments and half-remembered images.

But then a killer brings a reign of terror to the city, snuffing out his victims with an arcane and deadly blood magic. Only Shironne can sense and interpret Mikael’s dim, dark dreams of the murders. And what they find together will lead them into a nightmare…

Dreaming Death

– I loved the sensory aspect of Dreaming Death. You did a great job of depicting a vibrant world around your lead character, Shironne, who is blind. Was this tricky to edit for consistency?

I did, a couple of times, catch my blind character–Shironne–responding to something that she only could have seen. Because I’m sighted, it’s natural for me to think it terms of visual stimuli, so I had to work hard to weed those out. But I also had the advantage that my character wasn’t blind from birth. She went blind at twelve, which means that she also, to some extent, will still think of the world in the same terms that a sighted person would. So I can always have her recalling a childhood sight or color. It made my life easier when trying to describe things.

But I wanted to try to have her senses be as realistic as possible, so I read quite a few books on blindness (specifically on losing one’s sight), one of the best of which was Touching the Rock, in which John M. Hull describes his descent into blindness. (The book was recommended to me years ago by a fellow workshopper, Larry Taylor, who’d had his own periodic spells of blindness due to surgeries.) And one of my favorite research books for this was a textbook: Sensation and Perception, which deals with all the senses. I’m a sucker for a good nonfiction book. And finally, I spent a lot of time with a blindfold on. That was a real lesson (especially when it came to folding laundry.)

So I tried to let the research guide most of the scenes where my blind character had the point of view, and I hope that I was able to keep it consistent.


– One of the things I really enjoy about both Dreaming Death and your Golden City books is the strong cozy mystery vibe. Who are some of your big influences from that genre?

The first writer of mysteries I read was Georgette Heyer. Most people associate her with the Regency Romance, but she also wrote a dozen mysteries, and I read them all. I later picked up Agatha Christie and actually prefer her work, but I think I go back to Heyer when I think of mysteries. I also love the mysteries of M.K.Wren (the Conan Flagg series) and have recently fallen in love with C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr novels, P. B. Ryan’s Nell Sweeney novels, and I would give up coffee just to read another of Margaret Miles’ Bracebridge novels (please write one!)


– Your world-building here is pretty intense. How do you organize your reference information for such a vast secondary world?

Organize. Hah! That’s funny! Okay…I have to admit that I’m not as organized as I would like to be. I’ve actually outlined 8 (eight!) novels in this setting, spanning two hundred years. That means I have to keep a lot of names and dates straight, especially difficult when an editor asks for a change. One change in one story sends ripples throughout the rest of that world. So I have an old-fashioned spreadsheet with technical details about each character, such as birthdate, parents, appearance, etc. I actually own a copy of Scrivener, but found it was too much work to maintain it, and went back to my old spreadsheet. It’s sad, but true.

As far as the research material goes, I use 3-ring binders to keep track of all the pieces I’ve printed out, and online bookmarks for the ones I don’t print. And I have a lot of old fashioned books (a lot on both sensory perception and underground buildings.) I like to use those little stick on tabs to mark things, and I’m very free with the highlighter.


– What is one of your favorite details or scenes in Dreaming Death?

My favorite scene is the one where Mikael sits on the hotel steps, trying to call Shironne back to him. There’s a lot going on that’s not discussed there because he hasn’t thought it all the way through, yet. But he’s made the decision to trust Shironne with all his secrets–some of which aren’t really his secrets. He’s essentially being groomed to be the head of their equivalent of the CIA, which means that he holds a lot of state secrets in his head. He knows things about the Families and the Fortresses that could be truly dangerous if exposed. He knows what happens in Deep Below, about the Oathbreakers, and what the Engineers actually do all day long. And that means he has to trust Shironne never to reveal any of that. It’s his absolute faith in her that makes that scene special to me. He never doubts that she could be dangerous to himself and his people, but will chose not to harm them.


– What are you working on now?

I have one story related to Dreaming Death available free on my website (“Touching the Dead”, and I’m trying to get a couple of others put up there as well, filling in some of the backstory for Shironne and Mikael. I’ve also recently published a novella in the Golden City world (The Seer’s Choice), and am working on a second–this one about Alejandro–which will probably be titled After the War. And, of course, I’m working on the sequel for Dreaming Death, The Sins of the Fathers, which picks up Shironne’s story a month after the events of the first book.

Thanks, J.!


J. Kathleen Cheney taught mathematics ranging from 7th grade to Calculus, but gave it all up for a chance to write stories. Her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2010 Nebula Award Finalist. Her novel, The Golden City was a Finalist for the 2014 Locus Awards (Best First Novel). Dreaming Death will be the first in a new series, the Palace of Dreams Novels.



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