Behind the Book

On the Inspiration for Shades of Darkness

May 27, 2016
A.R. Kahler
Author of Shades of Darkness

Every author wishes they could say their book came to them fully formed. But the sad truth is, that’s usually not the case. Shades of Darkness came to me in that strange place between waking and sleeping that I normally disregard. I was living Scotland, it was two AM, I had insomnia, and the phrase “the godchild was born in the tangled roots of the World Tree” broke through the usual drivel of my brain. I wrote it down and, exhausted by that difficult work, fell asleep.

That was the seed.

The next day, I had an idea of the characters and the setting and the overall plot. That one phrase set a scene, and that scene expanded. But the real story grew over the coming weeks and months and years. I plotted the first version of the book on an overnight train through Norway after volunteering with a traveling circus village.

I wrote a full draft. Hated it. And rewrote it.

Then I rewrote it again.

I’ve honestly lost track of the number of versions the book has seen. Some emphasized the mythological aspects. Others the mundane. I tried multiple POVs and tenses. Every time I thought I had it, a small voice inside told me there was still something better to be done.

The final version occurred after selling the book. Before my first edit letter came in I emailed my editor Michael and basically said “Wait wait wait, don’t say anything yet, I can do this better. Let me rewrite it from scratch.” For some reason he believed I could pull it off. So I rewrote it again in a few weeks, taking out one storyline and fleshing out another. I’d been wanting to write a boarding school book for years, and although Kaira had always been a boarding school artist, I hadn’t given the setting room to grow. Until the latest draft.

Why the fascination with boarding school?

I’d sent myself to an arts boarding school my Junior & Senior years of high school, and like most writers, I needed to work through some memories by writing about them.

Large chunks of dialog, scenes, and inspirations, were taken directly from my own experiences. I’m not going to say it’s autobiographical, because none of my classmates were killed by Norse gods. But a lot of them did have Deep Thoughts about art and life and sexuality, so I guess it’s close. It was the perfect place to set a book that grapples with notions of growing up and the tentativeness of reality.

As for the mythical elements… I’ve always been drawn to mythology, especially the way so many old pantheons bleed into one another. Drawing back to that initial kernel of inspiration, the idea of pulling from Scandinavian World Tree mythos and Celtic Underworld motifs seemed fairly natural.

Traveling through Norway and living in Scotland at the time probably helped a lot too.

I really wanted to explore ‘magical realism’, and Shades of Darkness gave me the perfect opportunity. Knowing I had three full books to play with the fantastical aspects, I was able to really focus on building the characters and their world in the first book. Because I feel, so often, that mundane characters in urban fantasies jump so quick into the fantastic realm. I wanted to see what happened when a reader got to explore the average life of a person, see their goals and fears, and then slowly, page by page, learn that reality is breaking apart. Especially because, eventually, everything has to shatter.

It’s been both exciting and terrifying trying to blend genres, especially when so much inspiration comes from my direct experiences. But I’ve really enjoyed the process, and I cannot wait to keep sharing this project and pulling readers deeper and deeper into this new mythology.

Get a taste for Shades of Darkness—read the first 6 chapters right now through June 6th!

A.R. Kahler is the author of the Cirque des Immortels trilogy and the post-apocalyptic YA fantasy series, The Hunted. When he’s not writing or climbing in the rafters, he’s probably outside, staring at the clouds. Visit him online at and follow him on Twitter at @ARKahler.

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