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For me, part of the attraction of writing fantasy and science fiction is the fact that I can do whatever I want with my worlds (as long as I remain internally consistent). But that isn’t always the best strategy. Well, it’s fine if you’re writing only for yourself, but if you’re writing for other people, you have to keep what they want in mind. It might be fun to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the reader. However, that’s not likely to get you many fans.
The same goes for being different for the sake of being different. Sure, it can work. You see writers like China Mieville pull of utterly bizarre worlds. But it should also be noted that Mieville’s stories don’t work for every fantasy reader.
At the opposite end, you have writers from the D&D craze of the 70s and 80s. A lot of their ideas were inspired by Tolkien. This gave readers a very familiar world to fall into. Some would argue that it was too familiar, that these writers didn’t do enough to bring that sense of wonder and discovery into their books.
Personally, I find it best to strike a balance between these two extremes. You might call it the “Brandon Sanderson approach.” Sanderson is known for taking many of the common tropes of fantasy and putting a new spin on them. In doing this, he gives us a story that’s both familiar and new.
For example, look at the premise for Mistborn. It’s a world where the dark lord has won, where the prophesied hero failed. The story is about defeating this dark lord, but it’s not the quest story so many authors do. Instead, it’s a heist story. That brings in an element we haven’t seen done to death and makes the story feel fresh and original. Then, of course, there’s the fascinating, mist-shrouded world. Sanderson took many of these elements we’ve seen before and put them in a story that feels like something new despite so many familiar elements.
That’s what you have to do as a fantasy writer. You have to write a story that balances the familiar and the unfamiliar. The best fantasy worlds, in my experience, are not the ones that are incredibly bizarre. They’re the ones that feel both familiar and bizarre. Sure, you can have all kinds of weird things in your world, but they should be balanced with a story and characters that feel recognizably human. Some of us have the talent of a Mieville and can pull off utterly bizarre. Most of us are better putting new twists on old ideas.
After all, those old ideas have become so ingrained because readers like them. Even fantasy and science fiction readers like to see something they recognize. But you don’t want to give them the same thing they’ve seen so many times before.
It’s a delicate balancing act, but it’ll pay off in the end.
As I mentioned a week ago, my dad’s been in the hospital. Yesterday, he finally got out of the ICU. He seems stable now, and he managed to eat his first meal while we were visiting. With slightly less worry about my dad, I was finally able to write today. I managed about 4,500 words in The Shadowed Land. Today, it was all action scenes (written a bit out of order).
I’m still enjoying the way this one is shaping up. It was nice to write again after nineteen days without writing. I also love taking what looks like a traditional fantasy story and putting my own spin on it. This second book really challenges the whole idea of the dark lord kind of character. The first book begins that challenge. At first, I present what looks like the same old quest story you’ve seen a thousand times, but it’s a more complex tale than that, and I hope you’ll give it a chance.
I still have no idea how many books this is going to be. I know for sure that it is not a trilogy.
One of these days, I need to get up some good blurbs for these books.
I do think I’m going to go through with my self-publishing plans. It won’t be an easy road. It will require me cutting back on some other things. But it should be worth it (though I might not see the results immediately).
Still, it terrifies me.
Sorry that I haven’t been blogging (or doing any writing for that matter). Last Thursday, my dad nearly died. He’s been in the ICU for over a week now. For the moment, he’s stable, but it hasn’t been a quick recovery. I hope he’ll be out of there soon. At some point, we’ll have to help him through his recovery, so I may not be updating this blog all that often.
It also means I might be putting my self-publishing plans on hold. I’ll see how things go with his recovery (and pray that he does indeed recover). He’s seventy-two years old, so he isn’t getting any younger. And it really was a close call. The condition he had, even with treatment, is fatal in seventy percent of cases.
With all my worries (and all my trips to the hospital), I haven’t exactly felt up to writing.
As a writer, one of my biggest struggles is finding time for everything. I already have a job that cuts into a lot of my writing time. In the fall, I’ll be starting on my Engineering degree, which will eliminate a lot of my writing time. Because of this, I’m trying to figure out what I cut back to make more time for writing (and marketing).
Unfortunately, there are certain things you always have to do in life. Dishes don’t wash themselves. Houses don’t stay clean without some help. Grass doesn’t stop growing because you don’t have time to cut it.
For some people, the answer would be to sleep less, but that doesn’t work for me. I’m on medication that makes it necessary for me to average about eight hours of sleep. Sure, I can cut back to seven or six hours for a night or two if I need to, but I can’t sustain those over long stretches of time.
So it comes down to being more productive with the time I do have. I’m still trying to figure out how I can find this productivity. I might not be able to meet my general writing goal of 3,000 words a day. There’s too much other stuff taking up my time.
The biggest place I’ll have to cut back is reading. Thankfully, I’ve already read a lot of book, and I have a good feel now for what makes good prose. I’ll miss reading as much as I normally do, but it’s a sacrifice I’ll have to make if I want to juggle all the responsibilities on my plate. I won’t stop reading. I could never do that. But I might have to cut down to a book or two a week rather than the three to four. After all, I can’t abandon reading altogether. It’s one of the most crucial aspects of being a writer, and my writing has improved tremendously since I’ve dedicated myself to reading a lot.
I’ll also need to cut back on non-essential internet time and video games. Sure, the internet is fun, but if I’m not doing something writing-related, it’s not really helping me, is it? I also love video games, but they’ll be there later when I have more time to play them.
This is part of being a writer. It’s not an easy path. You have to make some sacrifices. In the end, if the things you’re sacrificing are more important to you than writing, that’s a sign that you shouldn’t be a writer.
That being said, you shouldn’t cut leisure activities out altogether. Everyone needs a few chances to unwind with something fun and non-stressful. It’s part of staying sane, and for someone like me who has mental health issues, staying sane is an important consideration.
I’ll have to play this all by feel. I’m heading into uncharted territory. I’d love to have a plan for everything, but sometimes you can only develop a plan once you know what you’re getting into.
I’ve had a busy work schedule recently, so I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing. In the next week, though, I have a lot of time off, and I’ll try to use that to get back to work on The Shadowed Land.
I have to admit that I also went through one of my frequent doubtful phases. Taking the self-publishing plunge is a very difficult thing, and I’ve had a lot of back and forth on it. Mostly, it’s fear. Fear that I’ll fail completely. Fear that I’ll put too much on my plate. Fear that I’ll ruin my chances of trade publishing in the future.
But this is what I have to ask myself. Which is worse: all these fears, or never taking the chance? I believe in my books. People who’ve read my books believe in them. It can be difficult, though. If I’ve written something that’s good and entertaining, why haven’t I gotten even the tiniest nibble from an agent? It’s easy to tell myself my stuff must actually suck, but I doubt that’s really the case. The fact is agents are bombarded with hundreds and hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of queries. Standing out among these can be very difficult.
I will also admit that I’m not very good at writing queries. A lot of the appeal of my books comes from the fact that I take the common tropes of fantasy and put some new twists on them. It can be difficult to get these twists across in a query, so my books end up looking like yet another cliched fantasy story.
Then there’s the question of word count. Sunweaver is short enough, but Empire of Chains is not. Empire of Chains is about 164,000 words, and agents are hesitant to look at anything that gets over about 120,000. I’ve done all I can to make the book as short as possible. I’ve already cut 40,000 words out of it. It’s tightly written now, but agents might not see that. They’re inundated with epic fantasy submissions that are way too long because the other can’t write concisely.
By no means am I bashing the agents and publishing industry in general. It’s a very difficult job they have. They have to identity books that they think will sell, and there’s no set formula to this. That’s part of the reason that some very successful books almost never got published. Publishing will never be a perfect industry.
I’m not expecting to become a millionaire through self-publishing. That’s a foolish expectation, even with trade publishing. Many trade-published authors still have to keep their day jobs. Being an author is not a path to getting rich quick. We do it because we love it. I wouldn’t say no to becoming a mega bestseller, but I know it’s far from likely whatever route I take.
I’d be satisfied, for now, with making five to ten thousand dollars a year. That would allow me to make writing my part-time job while I’m going through school again. I know I’d like it a lot more than my current job in retail. But I’m not expecting this either, especially at first. Publishing of any kind is a long and difficult road. The challenges vary depending on which type of publishing you pursue.
But, once again, I don’t want to live my life wondering what might have happened.
Today, I wrote another 2,000 words in The Shadowed Land. I continue to surprise myself with this one. I deliberately wrote an outline that left a lot of wiggle room, and let’s just say I’m taking advantage of that wiggle room. It’s both exciting and a great challenge. How do I allow myself to improvise without undermining the plot I’ve developed?
I also had one of my characters say a great line today.
“I thought we were trying to avoid the dragon.”
Not much else to say. Everything’s coming along pretty well in my writing world. I’d like to get back up to 3,000 words a day when I have the day off from work.
I have to work eight-hour shifts the next three days, so we’ll see how much writing I can get done.
Right now, Empire of Chains is getting close to ready. I still need to put it through another round of beta reading. Then I’ll probably wait a little bit to make sure I don’t get any requests on the queries I sent out.
Sunweaver is in the same general state. I might actually end up publishing it sooner because it’s been longer since I’ve sent out my most recent queries on it.
Right now, I’m writing The Shadowed Land. I’m currently about one third of the way through the first draft (though that may change depending on how many words I need to tell the story). The Shadowed Land has turned out to be kind of difficult to write because I’m balancing four separate stories at the moment.
To make this work, I’m actually writing it in four separate documents so that I’m not tempted to stretch out some of the stories to keep a roughly equal distribution between them. Instead, I’ll combine them later and figure out the order of my chapters.
Despite these difficulties, I’m quite happy so far with The Shadowed Land. I love the direction I’m taking my characters and their stories. At this point, I’m still not sure how many books there will be in the series. I’m hoping to avoid Wheel of Time length, but it could easily end up anywhere from five to ten books.
My Sunweaver series, on the other hand, almost certainly will be four books long.
I haven’t made any progress on my other series, The God War. The first book, Watersong, is in the revision process, but I haven’t touched it in quite a while.