L.R. Braden is the bestselling author of the Magicsmith urban fantasy series, the spin-off novel “Demon Riding Shotgun” and several works of short fiction. She was a finalist for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2021 Writer of the Year award. She and her family live in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. Connect with her online at https://www.lrbraden.com.
SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?
L.R. Braden: “Demon Riding Shotgun” began as a spin-off story to my Magicsmith series. I’d built a whole world but only got to explore a little of it from a fixed perspective. I love my Magicsmith books, but I wanted to do something a little different. Whereas the main character in “The Magicsmith” is just getting to know the ins and outs of the paranatural world, Mira, the MC in “Demon Riding Shotgun” has been up to her eyebrows in that world since she was a child.
There are many paranatural races in my Magicsmith universe: fae, werewolves, vampires, practitioners (witches), etc. There are also demons. These are not the fallen-angel demons of Christianity. My demons are incorporeal beings who live in the Rift — the chaotic energy that both binds and separates all the realms. (There are multiple overlapping realities in my books.)
Practitioners draw on that energy to cast magic, and sometimes when that happens the demons notice. If a demon manages to possess a body, that person becomes a rifter — a physical being driven by a demon soul. Since demons are chaotic by nature, most rifters cause a lot of death and damage, then burn themselves out within a month or two. The physical body breaks down under the strain of the rift energy burning through it. So my thought for “Demon Riding Shotgun” was, “What would it look like if a rifter survived.” That’s where I got Mira and the focal point of the story.
SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?
Braden: The excerpt I chose is near the middle of the book. Mira has been detained by the police and fitted with a control collar — a device that short circuits a practitioner’s ability to cast magic by sending an electric shock through their system if they start drawing energy. The collar is also preventing Mira’s demon sidekick from reaching her, so Mira is essentially cut off from her demon for the first time since being possessed and on her way to a PTF facility to face her fate as an unregistered magic user.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
I selected this excerpt because I think it shows the push-pull relationship between Mira and her demon as well as their distinct and sometimes conflicting motivations. This scene also represents the turning point in Mira’s relationship with Ty. Up till now, he’s been hunting her. When Mira is caught and separated from her demon she feels much more vulnerable than she’s used to being. This causes her to confide in Detective Williams for the first time, which in turn convinces Ty to help her escape custody and creates the first link in their future partnership.
SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write?
Braden: I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of multiple psyches sharing a body, from the 1976 film “Sybil” that I saw as a child to the more recent incarnations of Vemon and his symbiotic relationships. I wanted to explore a character who was trying to balance that kind of extreme relationship without going insane. What would that do to a person?
In Mira’s case, it made her cynical and withdrawn, but not without hope. Maintaining the balance she needs to survive has forced her to do some things she’s not proud of. It’s also caused her to pull away from people in general, and anyone who might care about her specifically.
And obviously my Magicsmith books were a huge influence on this story since it takes place in the same world. In preparing for “Demon Riding Shotgun” I actually wrote Mira in as a character in the fifth Magicsmith book: “Of Mettle and Magic.” She shows up as a mysterious badass who helps my MC Alex kick butt in the climax. That scene helped me hammer out a few of the details of Mira’s personality before diving into her own book.
SunLit: Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?
Braden: I’m definitely a plotter in so far as I know all the major landmarks of a story before I start writing. That being said, the road between those landmarks is rarely a straight one.
The biggest variable that sometimes tugged the story in an unexpected direction was balancing the two narrative voices. Sometimes they would fight over page time. Especially during the scenes where they were both present. It was hard to choose whose head to be in and where to transition to get the most impact out of a scene. I occasionally had to write whole scenes twice, once from each perspective, before deciding which one to use.
“Demon Riding Shotgun”
Where to find it:
- Prospector: Search the combined catalogs of 23 Colorado libraries
- Libby: E-books and audio books
- NewPages Guide: List of Colorado independent bookstores
- Bookshop.org: Searchable database of bookstores nationwide
SunLit present new excerpts from some of the best Colorado authors that not only spin engaging narratives but also illuminate who we are as a community. Read more.
Another place where I often get off track is during dialogue. When my characters get on a roll they sometimes take conversations in unexpected directions. Sometimes I strike gold by letting them digress, other times I have to reel them back in, and occasionally I have to cut whole sections of tangential rants that are super fun but really have no business being in the book.
SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Braden: The biggest challenges I faced in getting this book done were external. I wrote “Demon Riding Shotgun” during the height (so far) of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools closed and I was suddenly trying to be a teacher as well as a mother and writer during the day.
It became very difficult to stay motivated and get into the right mindset for a creative endeavor like storytelling. Luckily, I really loved my characters and I was excited to share their story, so even though it took me a little longer to finish than my previous books, I’m happy with the outcome.
SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked strong opinions among your readers? How did you address them?
Braden: There were a few strong opinions that have come out in reviews. I’d say the biggest is the issue of self-harm. Several people were disturbed that one of the ways Mira deals with her guilt about killing people to survive is by counting those deaths as cuts on her thigh.
Now, I want to make it very clear here that I never condone this behavior. Mira and her demon actually argue about it. She’s aware it’s not healthy, but we all use unhealthy habits sometimes to get through life. That’s one of the things Mira will have to grow through as her journey continues.
Anyway, that bothered some people. To them all I can say is, no one’s perfect, fictional characters least of all. I don’t want to shy away from a topic just because it’s uncomfortable. Cutting is a real thing that real people deal with.
I also had someone write that they found it quite disconcerting that anyone could consider demons good or helpful. I’m not sure if that person actually read the book or not. My first response would be that “demon” is just a word that I use to categorize a particular species in my story universe. As I said before, my demons are not fallen-angel Christian demons. Also, most of the demons in my book are not good or helpful. They’re terrible. Mira’s demon is fairly unique, and the bond they share is incredibly rare.
SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?
Braden: I mostly write at home. I’ve set up a desk in one corner of my loft surrounded by bookshelves and art supplies. The south-facing window gives me a clear view of the weather without any distractions. Since I write on a laptop, I also occasionally work on a couch in my living room or at the kitchen table just for a change of scenery, and to give my back a break. It’s amazingly hard on bodies to stay in one position for a long time.
As for my actual writing process… I mentioned before that I’m a plotter, that means I do a fair amount of pre-writing before I ever start on the first draft. I like to know what all the major scenes and turning points are in my book, plus where it ends. I usually decide on the ending first, then the midpoint, then look at where the story should start. Once I have those three main scenes, I fill in the gaps with other key frames that need to happen.
My outlines look different for every book. They can range anywhere from three to thirty pages. Sometimes I color-coordinate them according to which arc or subplot they belong with. Sometimes I use digital sticky notes and lay the whole book out graphically. Sometimes I just have scraps of paper that I jot one or two sentences on and stuff into my pocket throughout the day. I also keep a lot of “notes” entirely in my head — probably not the safest place to store them. I guess I haven’t really settled on any particular style as a writer. I just do whatever feels best at the time.
Once I feel I have enough scenes or scene ideas to make a whole book, I start writing my first draft. A lot of authors I’ve spoken to swear the best way to work is to push through that first draft fast without thinking too much about tweaks and edits. Just get it out.
Yeah, that’s awesome, but it doesn’t really work for me. I take quite a bit of time with my first draft. That’s not to say I’m constantly editing as I go, but I do take the time to re-read and tweak previous sections. Or if something is going to take a major rewrite I’ll make notes in the margins. Despite all my brainstorming at the beginning, my stories evolve as I write them. Sometimes new characters appear. Sometimes characters disappear. Sometimes whole side plots suddenly come to light. I try to weave as I write, and sometimes that means plucking out some stitches and starting over to get a cohesive pattern at the end.
Once that first draft is done I do a revision pass where I take care of any of those margin notes and make sure the story holds together. Then I give it to my first alpha reader (a.k.a. my husband). He’s not a writer, but he is a reader. He tells me if the story makes sense and is enjoyable. I take his feedback and do one more pass, then it goes to my editor.
Once the editor gets ahold of it that’s where the big revisions come in. She’s great at picking out the weak points in my story and poking holes. Sometimes criticism can sting, but I always love finding out how I can make my story stronger. I won’t bore you with the back-and-forths between the various editors, readers, and proofers. Suffice it to say I make a lot of tweaks between that first draft and the final, but the core, that bit I outlined, stays the same.
SunLit: Since “Demon Riding Shotgun” is a fantasy novel, tell us a little about the world in which it takes place.
Braden: “Demon Riding Shotgun” takes place in the same world as my Magicsmith series, so a lot of the ground work was already done. The basic premise for the world is that it is very similar to ours with the exception that magical beings are real.
The fae revealed themselves to humanity about a decade before the time in which my books are set. There was a war that lasted several years and ended in a stalemate after which both sides signed a peace treaty. A global organization called the Paranatural Task Force (PTF for short) was developed to monitor magical threats and enforce the treaty. The world existed in an uneasy peace since then, but recent events have stirred the embers of war, and tensions are once more rising between magical and non-magical beings.
While the fae are the only ones who actively revealed themselves, other magical species also exist in my world. Some are known by humanity, others are not. “Demon Riding Shotgun” deals primarily with practitioners and demons. Practitioners refer to the 1% of humans who are able to use magic. There are several sub-classes of practitioners, but one basic rule in this world is that all magic users have to register with the PTF. Unfortunately, Mira isn’t just a practitioner.
Practitioners draw energy from the Rift — a chaotic realm of energy that overlaps reality — to fuel their magic. When they do, they light up like beacons to the incorporeal beings who live there — beings the Unified Church of Humanity has branded “demons,” and who’d like nothing better than to go for a joy ride in a meat suit to experience physical existence for a short time. While registered practitioners are often collared and used as tools of war, rifters are put down, no questions asked. So in this world in which Mira finds herself the only stable, arguably sane rifter, her secret is an automatic death sentence if discovered.
SunLit: Tell us about your next project.
Braden: “Chaos Song,” book six in my Magicsmith series, came out in late October. I’m also about halfway through the first draft of a sequel to “Demon Riding Shotgun.” I’m super excited to write Mira again. This time she will be going home to face some of the more metaphoric demons from her past.
If you want to get updates on my projects, I send out a monthly newsletter. You can sign up on my website. https://www.lrbraden.com.