An Update

I’ve been gone for a while. I hope I can stop doing that soon. It’s been a bit of a strange period for me. I’ve been adjusting to the demands of school, work, and writing. In the last month, I’ve made some decent progress on The Shadowed Land. It is now roughly 2/3 of the way done (well, the first draft at least). I might actually be closer to the end than that. My word count goal is just a rough guess of what I think the book will be in the end.

I’m happy with the way it’s turning out. As usual, I have a nice healthy dose of action. For me, it’s just not a story if I don’t throw in some battles and monsters and chase scenes.

The Shadowed Land is perhaps the most challenging book I’ve ever written. I’m balancing four stories in one, and that’s more than I’ve ever done before. My usual number is three (or fewer in the case of my middle grade fantasy).

Speaking of which, I’ve been working a little bit on that middle grade fantasy. It’s titled The Man in the Crystal Prison, and it’s kind of a “what if” game with Harry Potter. Instead of a low-tech magical world, I’ve decided to merge magic and technology into one. In my mind, that can be even more exciting. It combines my two favorite genres: fantasy and science fiction.

But I probably shouldn’t talk too much about that one just yet. For now, my focus is on the Empire of Chains series and the Sunweaver series. The God War series, starting with Watersong, will probably factor in at some point. I’ll have to see how much I can manage to do without driving myself insane (oh, the joys of stress and mental illness).

While I hate to admit it, I’ve been going back and forth again on self-publishing. Today, I decided I should go through with it. Let’s hope that decision sticks this time. I’m tired of wondering how I would do.

I really think I can make this work. My biggest doubts aren’t about the books. I think they’re ready.  No, it’s the marketing that terrifies me. I definitely have an online presence. I’m a member of some writing and genre-related forums (an active member, I should note). But I’m still getting the hang of Twitter. I have close to a hundred followers, which is pretty good when you consider that I haven’t been all that active.

I also know some other authors who’ve done the self-publishing thing with decent success. I can always ask them questions. It’s just terrifying (as I’ve probably said many times before).

So that’s what’s been going on with me.

I think I’m finally going to take the plunge.

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent over this last month. I started back at school, and it’s taken me a while to adjust to the new demands on my time. I’ve also been doing a lot of back and forth in my mind about self-publishing (and about writing in general). I kept toying with the idea of rewriting some of my books. But now I’ve come to an important realization. The reason I keep wanting to rewrite my books is because I’m afraid of putting them out there.

But I have to remember that I’ll never know what might happen if I never gather the courage to publish. Even if I do fail at first, I have plenty of ideas waiting to be written. It’s not like I won’t have another chance.

So now I’m focusing on some final edits of my epic fantasy Sunweaver. I also need to find a good cover artist and write up a blurb that will hopefully make people want to read the book.

I’ll be posting some updates in the coming weeks, and I’ll try to get a page about Sunweaver up on the blog.

Book Review: The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

I just finished this one today. For some reason, I never got around to reading anything by Wells, but I recently made it a quest of mine to seek out female fantasy authors I haven’t read (in addition to those authors, both female and male, that I already read). I didn’t know what to expect coming into this one, but I’m glad I did decide to read it.

Wells goes against quite a few trends in fantasy. In an era when so many authors write antiheroes, she wrote a book with a heroic (but troubled at times) main character. In an era of fantasy doorstops, she wrote a book that came in at less than three hundred pages. That’s a true rarity. Not only is the book short. It still feels like a completely satisfying and complex story.

What really sets this story apart is the setting. Wells brought the fantasy back into fantasy. This is a world where our main character is a shapeshifter, where there are multiple intelligent species with animal-like qualities. It was a world I haven’t seen before, and that was refreshing.

The plot and characterization are also strong. Not as strong as the worldbuilding, but still strong enough to carry you through a very good story. I’m excited to read more by Wells.

Rating: 8.5/10

Book Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Here’s one that I read quite a while ago. In fact, it’s been three years since I’ve read it, so this won’t be too heavy on plot details. Besides, I don’t like to spoil too many things anyways.

This book is a good beginning to the Stormlight Archive, which looks like it will turn out to be Sanderson’s magnum opus. It’s a huge world with a huge story (more than 1000 pages of it, in fact). There’s a lot of good about this book, but at the same time, it’s setting up a much more massive story. Some of Sanderson’s other stuff stands alone (Elantris, Warbreaker, the first Mistborn book). This does not.

It’s also a major time investment and requires you to trust the author before you tackle it. I suggest reading some of his other works first. They’re not as deep and complex as this, but they’re also faster-paced and serve as better introductions to his work.

Now for the good:

This is a highly interesting and complex world. There’s the threat of an apocalyptic war. There are fierce storms that shape geography and wildlife. There’s conflict between and within nations. On top of all that, you have Sanderson’s great magic, though you should be warned that the magic in these books is a bit more mysterious than you’ll find in Mistborn. I’m sure there are rules for it, but it’s been missing for a long time, and so when it does show up, the characters are still figuring it out.

That brings me to the characters. In this book, Sanderson has crafted some of his best characters. Kaladin makes an interesting and conflicted protagonist. Shallan is annoying at times, but she grows on you as you read (and especially in the second book).

I especially found myself absorbed in Kaladin’s struggles. Some of the things he has to endure are truly horrific, and his character journey is a fascinating one to watch.

There’s also a great deal of mystery in these books. Since it’s the first of a ten-book series, you don’t get as many answers as you normally get from Sanderson. I found this mystery added to the book and helped me get through some of the slower sections.

Don’t worry. There is action. Great action. You just have to wait a while for it.

This book continues one of the things I love about Sanderson’s work. He’s not afraid to use common fantasy tropes. He just put his own spin on them. In doing that, he gives the reader something that’s both familiar and different, and that’s the right balance for me. If you’re looking for something that completely avoids tropes, this isn’t the right story for you.

For me, it’s the kind of story that reminds me of why I fell in love with fantasy in the first place. Sanderson writes the modern update of classic fantasy that keeps most in touch with the roots of the genre.

In all, this was a very good book, but it did have its slow sections. For those who are interested, I thought Words of Radiance was truly excellent.

Rating: 9/10

Book Review: A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

I’ve found another gem in the self-published fantasy field (though it won’t remain self-published for long). Hogan delivered the kind of fantasy I love reading. Magic. A fast-paced plot. A likeable main character. It felt kind of like if you found a halfway point between Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson. Fans of these authors will probably find a lot to like here. And the last quarter of the book is an absolute page-turner. I’m really excited to see where this goes.

Frankly, I’m astonished that books this good end up being self-published. I think it goes to show that there’s a lot of great fantasy out there these days.

The plot of this one looks like something you’ve seen before. Orphaned boy goes on to greatness…yawn. But Hogan separates his story from others like it by making his main character sympathetic and through strategic utilization of other point-of-view characters. They bring new layers into the story, and Amerdan is an absolutely fascinating character. I wouldn’t want to read an entire book about him, but I found Hogan gave him just the right amount of page-time.

Not only is the story great. It also reads like a published book. I can only recall one glaring editing issue, which was really just a place where Hogan forgot to delete a word while editing. I’m not going to complain about that because I’ve failed to notice the same thing in my own books.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the modern update on classic fantasy (think Sanderson, not Abercrombie), this is well worth reading.

Rating: 9/10

Balancing the Familiar and the Unfamiliar

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.

Getting back in the swing of things.

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.