I have big news. Actually, I have a variety of news on the writing front, and so this will be a (long overdue) update on my writing activities:
Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine has bought my short story, “The Mithridatist,” a fantasy story set in Alandar (Akral, to be specific). This is big, big news for me, and for a couple reasons. First, this is a great market that I’ve been reading for ages. When I was a kid, I had stacks of these things piled up all over my room. They’ve published the likes of Ursula K LeGuin, Walter Miller, Stephen King, and tons of other writers I have admired for years. The idea that I’d be in that same publication is humbling and very exciting, to be sure. The editor, CC Finlay, has been extremely encouraging with his rejections to me (I know – it sounds strange, but it’s true) and I’m very happy to have finally met his exacting standards.
The other reason this is big news is that this counts as my third professional story sale (the previous being Analog and The Writers of the Future Anthology), which qualifies me for Active Membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). My novel(s), incidentally, haven’t qualified me yet since I wasn’t paid an advance and haven’t made me sufficient money. Now, though, I get to join (once I figure out how to prove the sale, as it won’t be in print for a while) and take one step further along the road to Serious Professional Author, No Really, You Have Heard Of Me Or Read My Work For Serious. If there were a checklist of my professional goals, we would now be about halfway down the list. Go me.
The next piece of news has more to do with all of you fine people than it does me. My friend and colleague, Zach Chapman, has decided to become a big-time story anthology editor in addition to being a talented scifi writer himself. His editorial debut is to be a time travel themed anthology. I have already promised a story as has the extremely talented Martin Shoemaker, but the anthology needs more. Zach has an open submission period, open now until January, for folks to submit their time travel stories. Submit! He’s paying pro rates, so this is no joke! Do it, and best of luck to you all!
Getting back to me for a moment, we’re approximately three months out from the release date for Book 2 of The Saga of the Redeemed, No Good Deed. The publication date is currently February 23rd, with pre-orders already up on Amazon and other places, as well. Of course, in order to be ready for it, you need to have read Book 1, The Oldest Trick. To make this easier, the first half of book 1, titled The Iron Ring, is going to go on sale next week (I’ll give you the details soon).
For those of you already up to date on the adventures of Tyvian and the gang, here’s my little pitch for Book 2 which, as of this moment, is going to serve as the jacket copy. This is an exclusive, first look at the continuing misadventures of Tyvian Reldamar, grouchy and very reluctant hero:
Cursed with a magic ring that forbids skullduggery, Tyvian Reldamar’s life of crime is sadly behind him. Now reduced to fencing moldy relics and wheedling favors from petty nobility, he’s pretty sure his life can’t get any worse.
That is until he hears that his old nemesis, Myreon Alafarr, has been framed for a crime she didn’t commit and turned to stone in a penitentiary garden. Somebody is trying to get his attention, and that somebody plays a very high-stakes game that will draw Tyvian and his friends back to the city of his birth and right under the noses of the Defenders he’s been dodging for so long. And that isn’t even the worst part.
The worst part is that somebody is his mother.
Sounds cool, right?
Talk to you all soon, and thank you all for your continued support!
Welcome, prospective Evil Henchman! We here at Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) have designed the following aptitude test to select the best possible candidates for our Henchmen Training Program. Please answer the questions to the best of your ability.
Please note: The large countdown clock at the front of the room will announce at periodic intervals how long you have before your exam will self-destruct in a flash of white phosphorus. The burns will be quite disfiguring (assuming you survive) so we encourage you to complete the test with some dispatch. Please understand that this is part of the test. Henchmen that cannot work well while a giant loudspeaker is counting down to their demise are not the kind of henchmen we train and not what our clients have come to expect.
#1) You hear a strange noise while patrolling the perimeter of your facility. Do you:
- Ask “who’s there?”
- Shrug and move on.
- Shoot indiscriminately into the bushes.
- Call for backup.
#2: Your current employer expresses a desire to destroy your home town with an orbital doomsday weapon. Thoughts?
- Oh no! I’ve got to call my mom!
- Surely there must be better targets! I will suggest them, because my boss is open to that kind of feedback.
- Finally all those suckers at Tuscaloosa High will get what’s coming to them!
- <Maniacal Laugher>
#3: Please describe the way you would scream if tossed off a cliff or shot off a balcony.
- Other (please explain in a short essay):
#4: One of your fellow henchmen draws the ire of the boss and is to be put into the Ultra-pneumatic Torture-tron. Do you:
- Let him make a break for it when nobody’s looking.
- Shoot him to spare him the anguish.
- Promise to tell his wife he loves her.
- Ask if you can have his watch.
#5: Does Might make Right?
- I don’t understand the question.
- No, Might can make you turn left, too.
- I want to punch the egghead who writes these questions.
- According to Rousseau, Might is a physical property, and thus there can be no moral quality attached to its effects.
#6: When using a gun, what is the best policy?
- Full automatic, spray left to right.
- Controlled bursts, carefully aimed.
- Fire mostly in the air while shouting.
- Single shots, aimed to make the coolest ricochet noise.
#7: If I tell you a tattoo of a burning eye on your forehead will make you invincible, do you:
- Ask if the needles are properly sterilized.
- Research my claims by consulting the internet.
- Worship me as a god.
- Inquire as to whether you will get to learn kung fu.
#8: Captain Courageous is pummeling three of your friends at once. Explain your next move:
- Jump on his back and pull that stupid hood over his eyes.
- Wait until your friends have had a chance and then attack him by yourself.
- Run away screaming for help.
- Shoot them all.
#9: What is more appealing: Actual military training or badass neon outfits with face masks?
- Facemasks. And laser guns.
- Military training; evil is serious business.
- Why can’t I wear my street clothes?
- Anything that shows off my pecs is cool.
#10: The boss decides to use your body as a human shield. Do you:
- Accept your fate as the inevitable reward for your life of evil.
- Struggle to save yourself, thereby knocking the boss into an acid vat/alligator pit.
- Beg for the hero not to kill you and show him or her pictures of your kids.
- Enjoy this sense of closeness and trust with your employer and look forward to deepening your relationship.
#11: Your prisoner claims to be sick. Describe your reaction.
- “Don’t worry! I know first-aid!”
- Call a doctor.
- Open up the cell, crack your knuckles, and resolve to teach them a lesson.
- Feign deafness.
If your hoverscooter is chasing Lady Lightning through the rainforest and another friendly hoverscooter is behind you, please explain how you would attempt to dodge vines and trees, shoot Lady Lightning, and keep from foiling your associate’s attempts to slip between those two trees that are really, really close. Please show your work. Drawings are encouraged.
What are the odds, expressed as a percentage, that you would go into a dark alley to get a look at the evidently mostly-naked and attractive woman hiding therein? Furthermore, what are the odds you will have your keycard on you at that time?
My friend and fellow HV author, Michelle Hauck, is having a release day party to celebrate her new fantasy novel, Grudging. It includes a spectacular raffle in which you could win various copies of great Harper Voyager novels, including my own, The Oldest Trick. Check it out!
It’s finally here! The big day!
You can now officially get your ebook copy of Grudging at your favorite retailer.
A world of chivalry and witchcraft…and the invaders who would destroy everything.
The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.
On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.
The Women of the Song.
But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.
A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.
To celebrate, I’m giving away a huge prize package of books from my fellow authors at Harper Voyager Impulse. I think authors at the same publisher, especially one that features a limited number of genres, should be a big family. We support each other. And we provide prize packs when someone has a special day!
These are super reads in fantasy and science fiction. I have read several of them and can vouch they are great reads!
There are ebooks and paperback copies. All you have to do to enter is use the rafflecopter below. Follow all these generous authors on Facebook or twitter for additional entries.
I’ll have a short blurb about each book below the rafflecopter so keep scrolling to see in more detail what you could win. And don’t hesitate to buy a few if you can’t wait for the rafflecopter! I’m sure the authors will appreciate you for it!
The rafflecopter will determine the winner and each author will send their prize to said winner individually.
Books You Will Win:
Paperback for the Winner:
for clues to her father’s disappearance years before. What she finds instead is
Temperance, a dying Western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested
present. But under the town’s dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When
bodies start turning up – desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can’t
scientifically explain – her investigations land her in the middle of a covert
war between the town’s most powerful interests. Petra’s father wasn’t the only
one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking
are now ready to kill. Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of
antique guns, and a relic she doesn’t understand, the only thing Petra knows
for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast, or
Paperback for the Winner:
Revenge just got complicated.
On his quest to get even, Tyvian navigates dark conspiracies, dodges midnight assassins, and uncovers the plans of the ruthless wizard Banric Sahand. Tyvian will need to use every dirty trick in the book to avoid a painful and ignominious end, even as he learns to work with—and rely on—his motley crew of accomplices, including an adolescent pickpocket, an obese secret-monger, and a fearsome gnoll.
Buy: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Kobo|Google Play
assignment for the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, a death knell for her
career. But then Sam catches a break—a murder—that could give her the boost she
needs to get her life back on track. There’s a snag, though: the body is a
clone, and technically that means it’s not a homicide. And yet, something about
the body raises questions, not only for her, but for coroner Linsey Mackenzie.
case is what it seems … and for Sam, nothing about Mac is what it seems,
be in a bodybag.
Day Before will have you looking over your shoulder and questioning what it
means to be human.
Marci feels possessed by what she perceives as shadowy spectres that take control of her body and make her do crazy things. While spying on the clandestine group known as IgNiTe, she’s confronted by the leader, James McCray. His presence stirs the spectres inside her brain into a maddening frenzy. Her symptoms and ability to control them don’t go unnoticed by James, who soon recruits her and shows her the awful truth.
Half of the world’s population is infected by sentient parasites. They bind themselves to the human brain and replace the pathways for all thoughts and actions. The creatures then morph their hosts into grotesque monsters with extraordinary strengths. Winged, clawed, fanged half-humans become living nightmares. Now Marci wishes she was crazy, because the truth is worse.
She’s infected. Buy: Amazon|Barnes and Noble
Dante, Regent of the fae’s Rogue Court, has been receiving disturbing reports. Human children are manifesting magical powers in record numbers. Shunned and forgotten, they live on the streets in ragtag groups with the already-booming population of homeless changelings. But the streets aren’t a haven; someone, or something, is hunting these children down.
Wraith, a teenage spell slinger, has no home, no family, and no real memories of her past. She and her friends SK, Fritz, and Shadow are constantly on the run, fleeing from a dark and unknown enemy. But when her companions are taken by “the snatchers,” Wraith is their only hope. Her journey to find them will test the limits of her magic–and her trust. A dark force is on the rise, and it could spell the end of our world as we know it.
Yet her half-brother Myrren hasn’t inherited the family’s ability to shapeshift, so their father, Florentyn, forces Ayla to take over as heir to the throne.
When Ayla is accused of Florentyn’s brutal murder only Myrren believes her innocent and aids her escape. A fugitive from her own guard, Ayla must now fight to clear her name if she is ever to wear the crown she never wanted and be allowed to return to the home she has always loved.
But does something more sinister than the power to shapeshift lie at the heart of the Nightshade family line?
full of sumptuous characters, rip-roaring adventure and dark deeds…” Harper
Voyager, UK 2015
Devin Roché has just taken his finals at Coreé prestigious Académie. As the
sixth son of the ruler of Llisé, his future is his own, and so he embarks on an
adventure to memorize stories chronicling the history of each province.
begins his journey with only his best friend Gaspard and their bodyguard
Marcus, he hears rumors of entire villages disappearing without a trace and of
Master Bards being assassinated in the night.
companions get closer to unearthing the truth, they can’t help but wonder
whether it is their own quest that may have set these events in motion. But if
that is the case, what do Llisé and Devin’s father have to hide?
Paperback for the Winner:
It frightens me, knowing the One has called up two such strong individuals. It means that there are troubled times in our future, and you must prepare yourselves.”
The Temple at Illian is the crown jewel of life in the Northern Territory. There, pledges are paired with feli, the giant sacred cats of the One god, and are instructed to serve the One’s four capricious deities. Yet Sulis, a young woman from the Southern Desert, has a different perspective – one that just might be considered heresy…
Sulis’s twin Kadar, meanwhile, is part of a different sort of revolution. When Kadar falls in love with a woman from a Forsaken caste, he finds he’s willing to risk anything to get these people to freedom. But with Sulis drawing a dangerous level of attention from the deities, and war about to break out on two fronts, the twins find change may not come without great sacrifice.
An astonishing debut, Kelley Grant brings to life a powerful new epic fantasy tale of determination and self-discovery.
Buy: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|HarperCollins
Ebook for the Winner:
In light of Paris, I thought of this post I wrote shortly after my own city was attacked. My thoughts are with them, and also this:
“…the world is a better place than we think. This, in the wake of last week’s bombing, is important to remember, so I will repeat it: the world is a better place than we think. We can prove it, too. We can choose.”
Originally posted on Auston Habershaw:
I’ve been thinking a lot about vengeance lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the poor 8-year-old boy who was killed in Boston in the Marathon Bombing. More accurately, I’ve been thinking a lot about his father. The family are neighbors of mine and, while I don’t really know them at all (met them once or twice, seen them around the neighborhood, etc.), their loss has weighed heavily on me. You see, I, too, attend the Marathon sometimes. I, too, have small children.
It is cliché, but having children changes you. It changes you in surprisingly odd ways, sometimes – things you just don’t anticipate. Prior to becoming a father, I could not imagine a circumstance that would lead me to such a passionate state where I might kill in a fit of rage. Now, I know it is a very real possibility for me. After Sandy Hook, I was a walking…
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Today is a special day. Beth Cato, talented writer of the Clockwork Dagger series and fellow Harper Voyager author, is paying us a visit. Read her post, and check out her work (Many steampunk! Very wow!).
The good news is that Harper Impulse Voyager sent me a contract to write a novella in my Clockwork Dagger steampunk fantasy world. Yay! The bad news is that I had never written a novella before, so I was rather freaked out about the whole thing.
Novellas tend to be 17,500-40,000 words long. There are very few magazines that accept stories of that length, so it’s a format that I avoided because it’s so hard to market (though that is starting to change). Like most writers, I tend to have my comfort zones for word counts; my stories tend to be around 1,000 or 4,000 or 6,000 words, and my novels tend to hit at about 90,000. Novellas are out in some wasteland.
But more good news: I wrote the novella, and it’s out as of November 10th! “Wings of Sorrow and Bone” features two teenage girls setting out to save a laboratory full of gremlins from a politically-powerful scientist.
Here’s how I survived going from zero to 27,000 words of published text.
1) I sent up the Bat Signal to call in friends who had written novellas.
They provided great advice, including:
– read more novellas to understand the pacing
– keep the named character count low
– think like a novel cut into a 1/3. I actually pulled out some of my novel outlines to see how long they were to get a sense of how I usually work.
2) I outlined my novella.
There is a constant debate in the writing community about if plotting or writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants is best. As far as I’m concerned, there shouldn’t be a debate. A writer should find out what works for them, and that might change by the project.
Following that advice to think of it like a short novel, I did my usual “plot vomit” where I write out everything I want to throw in the story. It was a big mess but from there I could fill in gaps and break it into chapters.
3) I wrote and rewrote.
Since I hadn’t done a novella before, I fumbled a lot through the process. I ended up adding a new chapter when I revised, and I had to rewrite another full chapter on my editor’s advice. I had great feedback from critique partners, too–some of those same people who gave me initial advice on writing novellas.
4) I continued to read more novellas as I worked on mine.
My Clockwork Dagger series doesn’t take place on Earth, but it still required a lot of research. For this novella, that research included making a technical study of other novellas:
– How much time did they spend setting up the world at the beginning?
– How many characters did they use?
– At what point did the climax hit?
– How long did it take to resolve things afterward?
It was like returning to my college English 1B class, but a lot more useful and enjoyable.
The good news: “Wings of Sorrow and Bone” received a passing grade from my editor. I’m pretty happy with the end result, too. I can say I’ve published a novella now… and who knows? I just might write another one.
Wings of Sorrow and Bone: A Clockwork Dagger Novella
A few months after the events of The Clockwork Crown…
After being rescued by Octavia Leander from the slums of Caskentia, Rivka Stout is adjusting to her new life in Tamarania. But it’s hard for a blossoming machinist like herself to fit in with proper society, and she’d much rather be tinkering with her tools than at a hoity-toity party any day.
When Rivka stumbles into a laboratory run by the powerful Balthazar Cody, she also discovers a sinister plot involving chimera gremlins and the violent Arena game Warriors. The innocent creatures will end up hurt, or worse, if Rivka doesn’t find a way to stop Mr. Cody. And to do that means she will have to rely on some unexpected new friends.
Available for just 99-cents
Beth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.
She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN from Harper Voyager.
I had the great fortune this past weekend to attend the 2015 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY. Here is a brief recap of my experiences there.
I drove out on Friday and arrived at about two in the afternoon. I checked in and got a massive bag of paperback books (seriously, there was a small library in there – I think the Kindle is going to go on a bit of a hiatus). As I knew approximately zero people, I wandered about for a bit.
Okay, I wandered around all day.
Going to conventions alone is a tough thing to do, especially if you’ve never gone to that particular convention before. While I’m not exactly shy, I don’t want to be that weirdo who creeps his way into other people’s conversations, so I walked around looking for somebody I recognized – my editor, somebody I’d met before, etc. It didn’t happen.
So, for lack of anything better to do, I bought a couple books on the Sellers Floor (a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora in paperback for Scott Lynch to sign, a Game of Thrones Coloring Book for grown-ups, and one other novel – I wanted to find a paperback of a Max Gladstone book, too, but couldn’t find one). Then I went to a panel on Politics and Economics in Fantasy Worlds wherein the panelists discussed how important it was to consider such things when building a world (and admitted that most good fantasy authors do, to some extent).
Next up was a reading by Max Gladstone from a forthcoming work (not part of the Craft Sequence – wholly new!) which sounded really cool. I introduced myself to him afterwards, mentioning how we’re practically neighbors. I’m pretty sure that weirded him out. Go me.
Then I went to a panel on the surrealist scifi artwork of Richard Powers, which was really very interesting but I do not have time to go into here. Anyway, it solidified my belief in the strong ties between the Modernist movement of the early 20th century and the science fiction and fantasy genres (something to explore at greater length in a different post, I think).
Lastly, I went to the signing hall that night to get Scott Lynch to sign his book for me, which he did. Then I wandered around and around and around, wondering if I was going to spend the entire weekend not talking to another human being, when, lo and behold, Sarah Beth Durst, a YA/Middle Grade author I’d met in NYC recently, flagged me down. I hung out with her for the rest of the night, pretty much, since she’d been coming for a while and knew all kinds of people. I got introduced around. I met Katherine Addison, ran into Scott Lynch again, and really hit it off with fantasy author SC Butler. We stayed up way past our bedtime telling each other stories, which was fun.
My first day goal – meet new people – was a success!
Saturday, I went to a ton of panels. An absolute ton.
What were they on? Hmm…
- The Quest (and whether it has become passé). The conclusion was that it actually couldn’t become so, since it’s so ingrained in us. The line of the panel was Leah Bobet, who said “Not every quest needs to be David Eddings’ ‘go to each country on the map, find a friend, and slay the giant monster with the glowing blue thing.'”
- Anthropology and Archaeology and how it can influence Fantasy writers. It was interesting, but no real zingers.
- Faerie Courts and Fairy Courts and portrayals of the Fey in Fantasy literature. Much was made of moving away from Victorian Tinker-bell types and getting back to terrifying hobgoblins like Red Cap.
- Violence and the Epic: how to portray violence in Epic Fantasy, why to do it, and when does it become gratuitous. Very interesting discussion. Glen Cook was on the panel and said less than a hundred words, but those he did say were doozies. Line of the panel (and probably the convention) was by him:
We live in a society where we think it’s really really bad to hurt people, but other places and times they’d throw a guy on the fire because it was fun to watch him scream.
I also listened to Scott Lynch read from The Thorn of Emberlain, which was freaking amazing and I can’t wait to read the whole thing.
That night I wandered around the art show for a while. The fantasy artists on display were crazy good. No pictures were allowed to be taken in the gallery (they’re trying to sell the artwork, you see), but take my word for it – jaw-dropping stuff. A lot of airships and steampunky stuff, for some reason. I loved one called “War Griffon” which showed a griffon decked out like a WWI fighter plane with a flying ace holding his reigns – goggles, cap, scarf, the whole thing. Very cool.
While there, I ran into Sarah again, and again I met a lot of other people by dint of my knowing her. Wandered from party to party for a while, then turned in late.
Sunday morning I went to two panels. First was “Genre Tropes That Deserve to Die,” which was mostly hilarious and offered numerous injunctions against having fantasy characters eat stew while on the road (it takes way too long to cook. Frodo and Sam would have never made it out of the Shire if they had to spend a day making stew every time they were hungry). It was pointed out, though, that all tropes can be done well. It just gets harder for some to work once they’ve been overused.
The second panel, and my favorite of the convention, was on weapons beyond the sword and how can be used in the fantasy genre. Very cool stuff, very interesting. Turned out there was an actual bladesmith in the audience who contributed to the panel a great deal. I stayed afterwards to talk with Ian Cameron Esselmont (who let me babble on about Alandar and The Saga of the Redeemed for a bit) as well as Chuck Gannon and the aforementioned bladesmith (whose name sadly escapes me at the moment). Very, very interesting talk.
Finally, then, there was the banquet. I got a seat at the Harper Collins table between my editor, Kelly O’Connor, and author Rio Youers. The table mostly talked about baseball. The awards were fun – all the winners seemed surprised, and pretty much nobody had a speech prepared. There was a real sense of community in the room, which was nice – these were all friends, all who knew one another, all who supported each other. It was a really pleasant atmosphere, and I know I’ll come back. I want to become a real part of this community, not just somebody on the periphery. Goals to shoot for.
But, with that said, the convention is over now. Back to work, both real and fanciful.
Congratulations to all the winners! I’ll be back next year!
Been kicking this around for a while. What has me posting it now is partly from a Q&A my publisher hosted on Twitter revolving around their open call, in which one person asked if there was room in fantasy beyond what is grim and dark and grimdark (Harper Voyager responded in the affirmative, and held up my book as an example of such). The other part is from my friend Teresa Frohock’s lovely post over on Tor.com regarding defining grimdark as opposed to horror (that post hasn’t much to do with this one other than the title; I just wanted to give Teresa a shout-out – buy her new book!).
When Shireen Baratheon was strapped to that stake, my stomach turned. I felt sick. All those memes shooting around on Facebook the week afterwards—the ones about how Stannis wasn’t going to win Father of the Year or whatever—were not funny. It was a horrible, horrible scene, gut-wrenching and soul-draining all at once. My compliments to the actors, the writers, and everybody involved with that scene. Holy crap, guys, did that ever work.
I find myself thinking a lot about Shireen Baratheon lately. She isn’t real and what happened to her didn’t really happen, but I find myself thinking about her anyway. I look at a horrible picture of a little boy drowned in the ocean, washed up on the beach, and my stomach turns. I see a picture of a Nazi soldier pointing his submachine gun at a Jewish family, the father throwing his body in front of his children, and I get sick inside. I feel just as horrible. And I think of Shireen.
Fantasy has been getting pretty dark lately. Have you noticed that? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like picking up a fantasy novel these days is more likely going to bring you down than bring you up. George RR Martin has, of course, said that he draws much of his inspiration from history and, as it happens, history is pretty dark and miserable territory. No doubt, the darkness of Game of Thrones and other “grimdark” fantasy stories out there are more “realistic” in the sense that the things happening in them are not any more extreme or horrifying than the things that actually happen out here, in the real world.
In response to this assertion of realism, though, I am forced to ask a question: why am I reading a genre called fantasy, then?
My late father-in-law did not read fiction, as a rule. He didn’t understand why you would read anything made up when history was so stuffed with great stories that actually happened. He read biography after biography, history after history, and possessed a breadth and depth of historical knowledge that, frankly, blew me away (and I’m no slouch at my history, myself). His refusal to read fiction I found curious, but he had a good point. I mean, why read about something made up when you can have the same experience and learn about something real at the same time?
Those two questions: “why read fantasy if it’s going to be so realistic” and “why read fiction when history is full of interesting stories” are dovetailed. The answer to either question is the answer to both, and the answer is this:
We read fiction to believe in the implausible and unrealistic.
That’s it. That’s the whole point of fiction—to believe that which is inherently false. Because my father-in-law had a really, really good point. If realism is what I’m after, then I read history. I watch the news. I study the facts. I wallow in the real world, with all its tragedies and imperfections and rough edges.
But fiction is something different. I’m not reading it because I want it to be real. I’m reading it to make the real into something transcendent. I want the unsolvable to be solved (at least partially), I want the evil to be vanquished (most of the time), I want my story to do what the real world can’t do for me—get me to believe in magic, get me to dream about faraway places and wonderful things and heroes and dragons and swords with names. In fantasy, there is no reason we have to be miserable. The world can do that for us.
Now I’m not saying I need pat, happy endings all the time, nor do I particularly enjoy the same thing over and over and over. What I wonder at is this wish to have our real-world cynicism encroach upon our fantastical playgrounds. So much these days seems to be another version of apocalypse, another bonfire of heroics. While George RR Martin’s brilliant work is perhaps the most obvious example of this mood, it is hardly exclusive to him.
“Heroes,” a friend of mine told me once, “must tread carefully in the world of Westeros.” That’s true. Jon Snow’s heroics got him nowhere, just like his brother and his father’s nobility doomed them. And, again, that is much the same as history—history doesn’t treat many of its heroes well. So, I suppose we can all nod sagely at Jon Snow’s untimely end and say “yeah—figures. What a dummy.”
See, the thing is, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to find myself scoffing the hero just to assuage my own pain over their fall. I don’t want to shake my head at (yet another) rape scene and say “that’s just how awful this place is.” This is fantasy, friends! We don’t have to make it that bleak and, even if we do, we can have our heroes win. We can have them overcome the horrible nature of their world and, by doing so, inspire us to do the same.
I guess you can call that naive if you want, but my response to you is that a little naiveté is good for us. Because, contrary to what so many of us believe, the world—the real, actual world—doesn’t have to be such an awful place. It can change. We have to believe that, don’t we? I worry when even our fantasies become grim, bleak landscapes of suffering and degradation. What does it say about us that we aren’t even willing to imagine a world where good triumphs over evil and the heroes save the day?
So that brings me back to how we read fiction to believe in the implausible and unrealistic. For us—for our society, our world—I think the most implausible and unrealistic thing we can imagine is the idea of redemption and the ability for people to change. In fantasy, we have a unique lens through which to view our own world and, yes, we can certainly make it dark and horrible if we want. Indeed, a utopian story of happiness and light would be difficult to connect with, I guess. That said, there is no reason that in the darkness and the horror someone can’t stand up and say “no.” Some guard who cuts the little girl free from the burning stake and runs off into the wilderness. Some man in a fishing boat defying fate to save some drowning child. And then—get this—that person gets away with it. They are the hero for that moment in time, when all hope seemed lost. They are the person we all hope we can be, doing the right thing when it is hard. Sounds crazy, right? Some of you are shaking your heads, maybe. Some of you think that sounds lame or that I’m a pie-in-the-sky crackpot.
But I’m not. And for me, that’s what fantasy and science fiction are there to prove—not how weak we are or how terrible, but how wonderful we can be and how noble, no matter how awful we were in the past. It’s our world, folks. Let’s make it a beautiful one for a change.
So it’s November now. Up here in Boston, it gets dark before 6pm. My day job (as a college English professor) is just about to shift into overdrive. Student papers stack up on my desk, eyeball high. I’m tired all the time; my brain is a dried out sponge of an organ, barely capable of sustaining gross motor control. Did I mention that I have trouble breathing, too? The leaves, as they fall, kick up some kind of mold or fungus or something – let’s just call it poison – that makes my lungs convulse. I hack like a consumptive; I inhale like an asthmatic.
Weak, depressed, exhausted, I crawl to the internet to see how things are going.
Turns out everybody’s writing a novel this month.
Look, I don’t have any real, actual problem with NaNoWriMo. I love writing novels – I recommend it highly to like minded people. If NaNoWriMo is the thing you need to get your ass in gear on that novel you’ve had kicking around, then godspeed, I say! Good for you! If you need some encouragement to write, then I think this little thing the world has going is just wonderful. Go for it! You got this!
NaNoWriMo has helped hundreds of authors feel more confident in themselves, more devoted to process, and has taught countless people about the dedication and work ethic needed to be a writer. I get that, and I support that.
But dammit, there are times this whole thing feels like torture to me.
I’m writing novels (or wishing I was) pretty much all the time. November, as it happens, is the month I am least able to do so. I’m here, in a little cage fashioned from student work and professional obligations and just plain old health, that sits just out of reach of my keyboard. I’m a professional novelist, and I can’t novel in November. In a word, I’m insane with jealousy.
I’m also worried and conflicted for all you NaNoWriMo folks. There’s that, too. For one thing, novels aren’t written in a month. Drafts are (or can be, if you write faster/shorter than I do), but drafts aren’t novels. Besides, 50,000 words is barely novel-length (well, depending on genre). So, even assuming you succeed in this endeavor, you need to know that you aren’t done. And that’s okay. You haven’t failed; writing is not a race. Keep going! Keep writing! Revise! Revise again! Submit!
But then there are those people out there who seem to do this on a lark. “Oh hey,” they say, with a shrug and a sip of their pumpkin-spice latte, “I figure I’ll give NaNoWriMo a shot. Why not?” As though writing a novel (an actual novel) is something you do easily, with limited thought or preparation, like growing a beard or deciding to wear scarves from now on or opting to talk like a pirate on Talk Like a Pirate Day. As though I, and all the other novelists I know (professional and otherwise, many of whom are themselves doing NaNoWriMo), who slave and obsess and weep over their manuscripts, are really just weirdoes doing nothing more impressive playing the kazoo in a marching band and, what the hell, you’ll do that too. It belies how hard this is.
It’s just a little bit insulting, you know, to have the things you work so hard on depicted as fun diversions people can successfully perform in one month. “Writing a novel? Anybody can do that!”
Novels are works of art. They are hard work. They deserve respect. And if you’re going to be a novelist, you need to do it more than one month out of the year. No, not everyone can do it. No, not everyone has a novel inside of them. The world doesn’t work that way. I, trapped in my rainy cage of fall misery, acutely pine for the freedom to write novels in November. If you are lucky enough to be able to do so, too, the least you can do is take it seriously.
I mean, sure, you can sit down and bang out 50K of whatever you please this month and then shuffle it away in a drawer somewhere. Why not? If it makes you feel good, if it gives you a sense of accomplishment, who am I to judge? Good for you. But you didn’t write a novel. You aren’t a novelist. Not yet, anyway. And that’s totally okay – you don’t have to be to make this month a worthwhile experience. Not all of us want or need the same things.
However, to those of you embarking upon NaNoWriMo this month who intend to write novels (or a novel) in earnest, let me say this: welcome to the fold. Keep writing. Your journey doesn’t end – shouldn’t end – on November 30th. There’s more to go after that – much more. Trust me: writing novels is not a lark or a fad. It’s a state of mind and a way of life.
Come January (ish) the third book of The Saga of the Redeemed, No Good Deed, will be released. It’s still in the editing stages right now and needs a fair bit of polish, but I think it’s a fine follow up to The Oldest Trick and fans of the series will be tickled pink to go adventuring with Tyvian, Artus, Hool and company again.
But then what?
When I originally envisaged this series, when my expectations for my writing career were still glittery and untrammeled by the forces of reality, I thought I might write something like nine books detailing Tyvian’s story. Had the first novel been a runaway hit, I probably would have. Now, while it has sold relatively well, it is not a bestseller by any stretch of the imagination. Writing this series for the next seven years seems a poor career move at this juncture.
No Good Deed doesn’t complete Tyvian’s journey, but it does leave us somewhere comfortable-ish. There is still more to say, though. At least two books’ worth. If I could get a contract to write those two books with Harper Voyager, I’d be happy to walk away having completed a solid series with a satisfying conclusion (even if there was potential for more to be done at a later date). The question, though, is whether that’s the right career move.
There’s other books I’ve got that I can revise and get ready for publication. I’ve got some Urban horror/fantasy, I’ve got some multiple-reality stuff, I’ve got a space opera and a military scifi and another epic fantasy series all waiting in the wings. Maybe, if the Saga of the Redeemed isn’t taking off, I’d be wiser to let it go and get a new title ready instead.
If I had an agent, perhaps I’d ask her. That’s part of the problem, though – I don’t have one. Can I get one when I’m midway through a series? I’ve got some leads on some agents, but I don’t yet have a complete manuscript to send them (book 4 is still very rough), so e-mailing them seems premature. Of course, if I wait too long, then they’ll forget who I am. Strike while the iron is hot, they say.
I’ve gotten conflicting advice on this, too. On the one hand, some folks say finishing what you start shows you’re a professional and a reliable person. On the other hand, some folks think it’s a mistake to get locked into a series this early in your career. They both make good points. Also, a sale to continue a series that hasn’t flopped with a publisher I already have a relationship with is probably a lot easier than selling a brand new idea to somebody I don’t know, even if that new idea might be a hit. There’s just no way to tell.
The conundrum reminds me of that oft-misunderstood poem, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. Most people assume, given the last line, that it is a story about bucking convention and making your own way in the world. It’s not, though. A careful read reveals that the speaker has no idea which road is actually less travelled and, furthermore, it is notably ambiguous that choice that made “all the difference” is even a positive thing. The poem is more about the arbitrary nature of fate and the illusion of self-determination. It is far darker than all those commencement speakers would have you believe.
And so here I am, at the diverging of a road. Do I keep telling the story of Tyvian (whom I dearly love), or do I go somewhere else and resolve to come back (“Yet knowing how way leads on to way…”)?
For now, I press on with Tyvian and his gradual, theoretical redemption. I have a bit more time yet. Hell, the decision might be made for me – The Oldest Trick could become a sleeper hit or my publisher could turn down a request to extend the series cold. Who knows? I do, then, what I have always done as a writer: put one foot in front of the other, place one more word on the page, and let the gods decide my fate.
Got a story for you. It’s an old one; maybe you’ve heard it.
A wealthy merchant is walking through the streets of Baghdad when he sees the Angel of Death. Death recognizes him and seems very interested in him. The man concludes that Death is in Baghdad to take him and, unwilling to die, he expends all his vast wealth in one day to secure the service of a genie. “Genie,” says the man, “I’ve no wish to die. Transport me to Damascus in one night, so that I might evade Death’s embrace.”
And so the genie did as was asked of him and worked great magic to transport the man, along with all his family and home and livestock and servants, far away to Damascus in the space of a single night. The merchant slept easily, knowing he had fooled Death.
The next morning, however, the man went into the streets of Damascus to find Death waiting for him. The man was aghast. “What? How did you find me?!”
Death shrugged and said, “That is why I was so interested to see you in Baghdad. You see, I had an appointment to meet you today in Damascus.”
Heard that one? Well, it’s true, let me tell you. I was the genie.
You would imagine, as an immortal being whose task it is to grant wishes, I would have seen more than my fair share of happiness over the millennia. Not so, though. I have some thoughts on the subject.
You people – you mortals – you can never figure out what you actually want. I mean that, too – you cannot, as in you are not capable. A man wishes for wealth and dies alone. A woman wishes for beauty only to drown the next week. A boy wishes for power only to pine for his mother. On and on and on it goes. You don’t know what tomorrow brings and, so terrified that Death might have penciled you in for Friday, you pick the absolute worst thing for you at the time and think it solves all your problems. It is so consistent as to be actively tragic.
Had a guy once – sometime in Ancient Babylon – wish to be an invulnerable warrior. Easy enough, right? How can a guy go wrong with that? Simple: his tribe, the people he wanted to protect, drove him out of their lands claiming he was a demon. So he was the world’s biggest badass with nothing to fight for. He died of old age as a hermit. Blamed me, too.
I don’t trick people, okay? Not my thing. I’m a servant of the lamp and that’s it – you rub, I appear, and we do business. I am not “imprisoned” in the lamp – it’s just a convenient hole in space-time for me to zip through. I’ve got a life outside of this one. I mean, not one you’d easily understand, but it’s there. Had one lady wish to have me explain it to her once. She went insane.
So, yeah, I’m not upset when somebody rubs the lamp and pops me out. Not a big deal – less than an eye-blink in the breadth and depth of the cosmos, understand? You really cannot waste my time, since I have as much of it as I want. When you wish for something, I give it to you – no judgment, no tricks. Do I sometimes screw up the details? Yeah, sure – some of you guys are damned unclear. I mean, how am I supposed to interpret “I wish for the world?” Go on – I dare you to figure out, in concrete terms, what that means exactly. That guy’s name was Atlas and man, was he pissed. Not my problem though – if you can’t be bothered to read the fine print on the lamp itself, don’t come crying to me.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, right – wishes. Let’s get this out of the way: You can’t wish for true happiness, okay? You can’t have it like that. I cannot give it to you, much as I might want to. You mortals are always thinking in external terms – give me gold, give me power, give me land, give me love – and that’s missing the entire point. Happiness comes from within.
Oh sure, the occasional wise-acre wishes for internal happiness, but it doesn’t work. I just have to turn them into different people. Is that success? You want to know what really happened to Attila the Hun? They say he died of a brain hemorrhage while doing the wild thing after deciding not to sack Rome. What he did instead was take the lamp, given him by Pope Leo I (who had used it to become pope), in exchange for sparing the city. So he did. And then he wished to be truly, permanently happy. I turned him into a friendly dog – best I could do. His followers did the rest.
Happiness is something that people who seek me out are never going to find. Happiness is contentment, understand? To be content with your lot, no matter what your lot is. That is true, contemplative happiness. If you got it, what do you need me for? What can I possibly give you to get you there? No, all wishes – all rewards and triumphs – are things you need to have grow out of yourself, not have dumped on you from on high. Give a fish shoes and it’ll have no idea what to do until it grows some feet.
The best wish ever? Oh, that’s easy: fella name of Lao-Tzu, ancient China. Summoned me up and chatted with me for a little while on a road in the middle of nowhere. When I asked him what he wanted, he said, “Only to talk. Thank you.”
He meant it, too. I still think about that sometimes.
Anyway, enough about me. Let’s whip you up that private island, okay? Did you have a hemisphere in mind, or am I just gonna get creative?