When I teach my expository writing students to do research, I usually tell them something along the lines of this:
Do not enter a research project with preconceived notions of what you will know when you are done. The point of doing research is to learn. It is your duty to read widely and get as full a picture of what you are studying in order to formulate an opinion about that topic. Your thesis (your argued point) comes after the research is done, not before.
This, I think, is good advice for scholarly research of all stripes. Don’t go in with preconceived ideas. Keep an open mind. Read deeply and widely.
Then, when I write novels, I don’t do anything of the kind.
I hasten to note that I’m not writing historical fiction, here – I’m writing speculative fiction. Scifi, fantasy, time travel – stuff like that. Everything I’m writing is, on some level, verifiably false. I’m making shit up all the time. So, the extent that I’m interested at all in actual facts – whether historical or scientific – is somewhat limited. That limit is the very low bar that is suspended disbelief.
Basically, if I can fudge some actual aspect of history without knocking the audience out of the story by violating their suspension of disbelief, then I can totally get away with it. Because, sure, they didn’t have potatoes in medieval Europe. But they also didn’t have magic or elves or gnomes. And this also isn’t medieval Europe. So what’s it matter, anyway? They’ve got potatoes in their stew – deal with it.
Now, of course, some audiences are going to be more sensitive towards this stuff than others and, furthermore, certain kinds of stories are going to require you to meet a higher standard of suspension of disbelief than others. For instance, I’m currently writing a time travel novel and, since it involves my character traveling back to actual places and times in actual Earth’s history, I have had to do a variety of research to make those places seem authentic. I’ve done research on 18th century American currency, military honors of the Roman Empire, card games played in Port Royal Jamaica in 1670, and who the Lakers were playing on December 8th, 1976 (the Pacers – the Lakers lost).
This research, though, takes a different form than what I would call actual academic research. I don’t need my answers to be correct, exactly – I just need them to be plausible. Furthermore, when I’m doing research like this, it’s to establish a very specific effect in a very specific scene that often happens only once in the whole book. I do some research online for a little while and, if I can’t find an answer that looks suitable, I change the scene so that I no longer need that specific answer anymore. I’m not going to sit down and read a whole book on the urban development of South Boston in the 1950s just so two paragraphs in the novel are 100% accurate, nor am I about to subscribe to a special research service or trek to some distant library just to know what color Ben Franklin preferred to wear when out about town. It just isn’t that important, ultimately.
So, in other words, I do research for books like this in the exact wrong way – the way I tell my students not to. I go in with a preconceived goal in mind (“I need a cool card game for my protagonist to play against pirates”), I do the barest minimum of responsible research (YAAAAY Wikipedia!), and I glean just enough information to make it look like I know what I’m talking about without, you know, actually knowing what I’m talking about.
I am bringing this up mostly because, in the last few weeks I’ve asked some people some relatively minor historical questions and received, well, rather extensive details that, while appreciated, aren’t really necessary. This has been from friends of mine who are academics and librarians and historians for whom I have the greatest respect, and therefore I kinda feel bad telling them “well…actually…I really don’t care what the answer is anymore. I’ve changed my mind.” Because I’m not really an academic or a librarian or a historian. I’m a showman. All writers are, ultimately. And while we might enjoy doing research about this or that, the research is not the end we seek. We’re telling a story. And story always, always comes first.
Last weekend I had the immense pleasure of traveling to Charm City for the 2018 World Fantasy Convention! I had a blast. Unfortunately, this meant I barely took any pictures, so I guess a lot of what I’m about to relate you’re going to have to take my word as having happened. One of these days I’ll go to one of these things are remember to document stuff. Anyway:
The Con was held in the Renaissance Harborside Hotel. It was a nice hotel with a fairly sizeable convention space so that, if I hadn’t wanted to, I could have never left the hotel. As it stood, I barely did anyway – one dinner trip a five or ten minute drive away, a couple trips across the street. It does look like I was missing a lot, given the view out my window: dockside attractions, wooden tall ships, and naval vessel, etc..
Also, just by luck of my arrival, got upgraded to a suite for free since they didn’t have any rooms with king-size beds. I hadn’t really needed a king size (it was just me, after all) and had only selected that so that people who were sharing rooms could have one with two beds, but the hotel seemed to think they had made a grave error and so gave me a room with a slightly smaller bed, but with about three or four times the amount of floor space, for which I had absolutely no need whatsoever. It was weird, sleeping alone in a room that big. I don’t know how the crowned heads of Europe managed it without getting fat heads. (is handed note) Oh.
Oh, I see.
Most of my convention was full of professional meetings with my agent and others, so I didn’t attend as many panels as I usually do. I went to three:
You Got SciFi in My Fantasy! You Got Fantasy in My Scifi!
This was a panel about genre bending. It was evidently set up to be a fight, but nobody felt much like fighting – everyone basically agreed that bending genres was fun and exciting. The issue, it seemed, was only one of marketing: how does one get the powers-that-be in publishing to buy a manuscript they can’t figure out how to label and sell. Judging that Aliette de Bodard was on the panel as well as Scott Edelman, I think it’s safe to say doing so is very possible.
The Future of Fantasy
This panel was a discussion on what the Fantasy genre has in store for the future. It was, in essence, a panel about representation of marginalized groups in the genre, in which a panel of women and persons of color trumpeted their arrival as key players in the future. This is, of course, excellent news for the health and diversity of fantasy fiction, though the panel didn’t much delve into speculating what kinds of stories or conventions would be popular so much as the authors’ identities. They did name a wide number of antiquated, colonialist, and male-centered tropes that they wish would go away forever (fridging the girlfriend, for instance, or anything having to do with rape), to which I add a hearty hear-hear. We can all do better.
Monsters in Fantasy
This panel discussed the role of the monstrous in fantasy fiction and was my favorite panel of the convention. The discussion circled around monster-as-metaphor (“we want the monster to represent the terrible things in the world as that makes the story, ironically, safer for us”) versus monster-as-actual (war, fascism, humanity as monster). Line of the panel goes to my friend, Teresa Frohock:
People want to humanize Hitler by saying he liked dogs. Hitler only liked dogs because they were something he could control and dominate and train. Liking dogs didn’t make him less of a monster.
Like I said, it was a fun one.
Then I had my own reading! Previously, such readings have been, shall we say, sparsely attended, but this time I had
a pretty full house! Maybe 20 people (15 at least!) showed up to hear me read “The Lord of the Cul-de-sac,” a short story I published in the May 2016 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. It really went over well! People were laughing and enjoying my performance (I do voices, by the way. Weird, I know, but I can’t help it) and the rest of the con I had people coming up to me to shake my hand and tell me how good they thought my reading was. It was great!
I also got to meet another writing friend of mine, Ruth Vincent. Unfortunately she had only come out for the day and we were headed in opposite directions at the end of the reading, but at least she got a photo of me, Teresa, and her!
This, of course, leads me to the best part of the convention: the people. I ran into so many people I knew and had so many good conversations with new friends that this was one of the best conventions I’ve been to thus far, and certainly the best World Fantasy since I started going about three years ago. I saw Sarah Beth Durst several times (and got her to sign my daughters’ copy of The Girl Who Could Not Dream, which they loved). I chatted Dungeons and Dragons with BCS editor Scott Andrews. I met Mike Mammay and introduced him and his wife to the wonders of the Cheesecake Factory. I was taken to dinner by my agency, where I talked with a lot of very interesting people, including Neil Clarke and Aliette de Bodard. I hung out with my editor a bit and got to sit at the Harper Voyager table with SA Chakraborty and her family while we waited to hear if she’d won the World Fantasy Award (she didn’t, but we all had such a great time it scarcely mattered). If making friends and connections are what conventions are about (and that is what I think, anyway), this one was a resounding success.
I also met a lot of new and upcoming authors and a lot of people trying to get published or who are just fans. I had a lot of good conversations with them (at the Beneath Ceaseless Skies 10th anniversary party, for instance, we talked about race and gender in fantasy and it got pretty heavy) and walked away feeling like my world was a little larger and me a little less alone. I hope they felt the same way, and I look forward to seeing them at the next con.
See you all at Boskone this February!
Big news: the final book in the Saga of the Redeemed, The Far Far Better Thing, is now really (for serious) coming out in March of 2019. You can pre-order it now from everywhere fine e-books are sold! At long last, the dramatic conclusion of Tyvian’s journey is at hand! Check it out:
Auston Habershaw’s epic fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, which began with The Oldest Trick, comes to a powerful conclusion in The Far Far Better Thing.
War has come to Eretheria.
With Tyvian Reldamar feigning his death, the forces that still carry his banner are left to fight a vicious battle against the warlord Banric Sahand and the noble houses that flock to his side.
Led by Myreon and Artus, this band of freedom fighters and angry rebels is faced with an enemy the likes of which they’ve never faced before: one who will do anything, no matter how brutal, to secure victory.
Having had his fill of death, Tyvian tries to run away from the war fought in his name, but it just isn’t that simple. With his mother held prisoner, Artus and Myreon in grave danger, and Xahlven pulling the strings in the background, the ring drags Tyvian to return and set things right.
But how can one man fix a world this broken? And what will be left behind when the smoke clears? No one can say for sure.
Least of all Tyvian.
Sounds grim, right? Ominous? Yes! But it’s also fun and wonderful and I daresay I’m very proud of it. I can’t wait for you all to get a chance to read it, and thank you to everyone who’s supported me and gotten me this far!
Oh, and did I mention pre-orders really help my Amazon ranking once the book releases? It’s true! And, for those of you who have read the previous books but haven’t told anyone – tell people! Word of mouth is the best way to sell books there is, and these books of mine could use some attention, so if you liked them, recommend them to a friend! Write a review (anywhere! Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, your blog, Twitter, whatever!)!
Thanks again, everyone, and pre-order Book 4 today!
I’m in the middle of reading The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French. I’ll hold off on a full review right now, as I’m not quite halfway through the book, but there is one thing that I keep noticing: the book is averaging a naked woman every chapter.
Now, I’m not offended by this inherently. I like a naked woman as much as the next guy, I suppose. But these naked women…these are not love scenes we’re getting here. This is just pure sex, edging towards the pornographic. The women are described as sexual objects for the purpose of arousal. To be fair to French, he does the exact same thing to the male characters, too – lingering on descriptions of their muscular backs, their strong arms, and the rough dimensions of their penises.
French is not alone here. This kind of writing is fairly common in fantasy as a genre and in literature as a whole, and the purpose of this post is not to call out French as doing something wrong specifically so much as it is for me to wonder aloud why it’s being done at all.
Because, I kinda feel like those scenes – the graphic, sexually charged descriptive passages about breasts and buttocks and genitals – are totally superfluous to the story. Here I am, in the middle of a intrigue laden plot in a harsh land full of half-orcs and we have, suddenly and for no reason, a naked elf maiden hanging from the ceiling or the main character fondling some muscular half-orc female’s boobs. These moments are clearly intended to arouse but…like…why?
I dunno. Maybe I’m getting old or something.
I remember being sixteen or so and reading The Far Kingdoms by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch. The opening scene had the main character – the dashing, fit, and charismatic Amalric – having sex with an incredibly gorgeous woman. This scene was described in deliberate detail and, as an adolescent in the pre-internet era, it was possibly the most erotic thing I’d ever experienced. I confess to reading that specific passage over and over again. But it had nothing to do with the story and in no way advanced or improved the scene beyond giving a teenager an erection.
And, like, what the fuck is going on with that, anyway? Why do that? I’m picking up this novel for a solid adventure story – I want excitement and danger and mystery and, yes, even romance. But I’m not looking to be aroused. In fact, it’s damned distracting when a novel is trying to turn me on in the midst of what is otherwise a tense and gritty tale of survival and gore. Maybe I’m alone here, but those are totally different channels for me. I’m so concerned about man-eating centaurs showing up or giant oozes dissolving the protagonists that time spent lingering on the curve of some female character’s ass is, like, really weird.
This is not to say that sex scenes – even graphic sex scenes – don’t have their place in this genre (or any genre). I’m not even going to sit here and tell you that sex scenes should be restricted to those who are in love. What I am saying is that a sex scene needs to serve the plot somehow – it needs to be important and consequential or even just thematically related. In Neuromancer, Molly is clearly sexualized, but Gibson is making a deliberate point with that sexualization – she is a woman trying to reclaim her agency. When she has sex with Case (and yeah, that’s a pretty graphic sex scene), she is firmly in control, telling Case exactly what to do and not to do. He is powerless to resist her, physically or otherwise. That scene, and how Molly is presented in it, is immediately relevant to the characters’ relationship, to the plot, and to the broader themes Gibson is exploring. So, in other words, it works.
In general, the same rules that make a fight scene work apply to the sex scene. Random, gratuitous violence that fails to advance the plot or affect the main character is boring. The reader is not invested in the battle and vaguely wondering why and, in the worst cases, ends up skimming ahead a bit. The stakes are not clear and the relevance is not established. Same goes for sex: if two characters are screwing for no reason other than to describe how their genitals are currently in use and how much they enjoy that, then the reader is going to feel like we just took a little side trip into some weird little fantasy inside the fantasy we were already reading.
And this doesn’t even touch upon the whole male gaze/patriarchal thing we have going on, too, that is driving and underpinning the whole affair. That is arguably even more problematic and is in large part responsible for this kind of thing much of the time anyway. But that’s both a huge issue and somewhat parallel to what I’m saying here – I’ll save it for a post for another day.
In general, my point is this: go ahead and write boobs and penises! Just make sure the boobs and penises are on topic, writers!
Things are moving quickly in Reldamar-land! My publisher has already put together the cover for the fourth and final book in the Saga of the Redeemed. Behold!
This also means pre-orders are up on Amazon and elsewhere, so order your copy today for the last hurrah for Tyvian and Company! I have a draft of the back cover copy, but I’m not going to post it yet, as I know many fans are still in the middle of DEAD BUT ONCE and I don’t want to spoil anything, but this is exciting, yes? The series should be all released and complete by September 4th, 2018!
Want to know what it was like to write all these books? Well, I’ve got an article up on Harper Voyager’s Blog describing just that! Check it out here!
And thanks for reading, everybody!
Each time a novel of mine comes out, I amuse myself by casting the would-be movie of the book. Not that this will ever happen. Furthermore, even if it were to happen (Hollywood, you know where to find me!), there’s no way I’d have any say in this anyway.
But I digress!
The third book of The Saga of the Redeemed, Dead But Once, is now available for sale! I’m doing publicity stuff, too! See my interview over on Dan Koboldt’s blog, or my guest post over with Bishop O’Connell! And now we come to my own little sales pitch: casting the movie of the book which will never be made into a movie! Will this entice you to buy? WHO KNOWS?
There’s only one way to find out, right? So:
Played by: Neil Patrick Harris
Tyvian is suave, debonair, and also a lot of trouble. Harris’s portrayal of Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother sets him up well for the role, I think. He’s fit without being too bulky, he’s good-looking in a rakish sort of way, and I could totally see him complaining about sub-par wine.
Played by: Emily Blunt
Myreon is courageous, determined, and willing to get her hands dirty in the name of justice. It’s taken me a while to narrow down the right choice for her, but when I saw Edge of Tomorrow, I knew she was my girl. Ms. Blunt can play the Gray Lady with style, I tell you.
Played by: Tom Holland
Much like Myreon, it’s taken me a while to nail this one down. This is, in large part, because I just couldn’t identify any 14-year-old actors for prior books. For Dead But Once, though, Artus is 16 and on the threshold of manhood, and nobody’s been doing that better in an action/adventure setting than Tom Holland’s brilliant portrayal of Peter Parker in the MCU. He’d be perfect for my idealistic, somewhat naive, and desperately-trying-to-be-cool Artus.
Played by: Michelle Pfeiffer
Lyrelle Reldamar, the most powerful sorceress in the world, is a woman who has seen to it that she’s aged gracefully. She’s stunning and forceful – when she walks into a room, everyone stares. She is a queen even among other royalty, and I think Pfeiffer has the charisma and the look to pull the role off very well. She also could, conceivably, be seen as a plausible mother to Neil Patrick Harris.
Played by: Gwendolyn Christie
Now, Christie would definitely be mostly CGI in this role, since Hool is an enormous hairy gnoll and she is nothing of the kind. But I think she has the physicality, the voice, and the presence to pull off the powerful Lady Hool and, conversely, when Hool is wearing her shroud, Christie could easily pull off the look of “Hool pretending to be a human” with all the intimidating glares and sharp words that such a thing entails.
Played by: Unknown
Much like Artus in earlier books, I’m not really sure what young person we could find to play the (also mostly CGI) gnoll pup. They’d need to be able to stand on their head, for one thing, and their human-as-puppy impersonation would need to be spot on. I’m open to suggestions.
Played by: Andrew Garfield
I don’t know about you, but something about Andrew Garfield’s face just has “I’m a teenage jerk-face” written all over it. Valen is a bit older than Artus, a bully, but is a charismatic member of Eretherian society besides that, and something about Garfield’s mug just fits the bill.
Dame Velia Hesswyn, Countess of Davram
Played by: Dame Judy Dench
Countess Velia is past her prime and yet is a powerful voice in Eretherian society and an eminent member of the peerage. She is constantly plotting and scheming to advance her own house, and bears herself with dignity at all times. Dench could play anything, of course, but this I think she could hit out of the park.
Played by: Anne Hathaway
The woman plotting to kill Tyvian Reldamar by any means necessary and the woman Tyvian Reldamar can’t help but be drawn to has to be somebody special. Hathaway’s excellent portrayal of Catwoman (in the otherwise terrible Dark Knight Rises) shows that she has the capacity to be playful and sexy and dangerous all in one.
Played by: Ron Perlman
You guys, you guys – I think I finally nailed this one. I’ve had a lot of trouble in the past thinking of an actor who could physically embody the imposing and violent Sahand while also having the ability to deliver a perfect villain’s monologue in a booming baritone. Ron Perlman is my man. The Mad Prince (in my mind) could not look more like Perlman if he tried, and his delicious threats would sound so good in his voice.
Played by: Simon Baker
Xahlven is a tough one, if only because he has to fit into that Reldamar phenotype, be a bit older than Tyvian, and be arguably more handsome. He needs a brilliant smile and a smooth voice, too. Baker, I think, fits the bill, though I haven’t seen him in anything other than The Mentalist, so I don’t know how well he can play the villain. In any case, him, Pfeiffer, and Harris would make for an interesting family dynamic, I bet.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. There are a lot of secondary characters out there I didn’t get to, but here’s the core of the book, for sure. I think it would make a pretty cool movie, myself. Of course, I would, wouldn’t I?
What do you think?
TYVIAN IS BACK, ladies and gentlemen!
For those of you just joining us since the last book released (about 18 months ago), this is the story of Tyvian Reldamar, archcriminal and impeccable dresser, who has been cursed with a magic ring that forces him to do the “right” thing. It has tortured him now for two books in a row and its been very, very difficult to get the damned ring taken off and as a result of all his forced “nobility” he’s wound up with, well…
Friends, lovers, and allies. And enemies. Lots and lots of enemies.
And, indirectly, a hell of a lot of money.
The novels are packed with action and intrigue, dueling and sorcery, and a fair amount of clever repartee. I’ve pitched it as “James Bond in a fantasy world” which is a slight exaggeration, but not by much – Tyvian is the smug prick you hate but also love but also want to be when you grow up. And this is the story of his long journey to becoming less of a prick. It’s harder than it sounds.
This book is written so that if you haven’t read the first two books, you can still read this one and follow the plot (though you will be missing a few things here and there–that’s somewhat unavoidable), so there are no excuses, blog followers! Get it! Read it! Give me glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (or any reviews, really – I’m not picky)!
Want to know more about book 3? Well, I’ll be posting a fair amount in the coming week, but for starters, check this out:
A brilliant schemer never rests, but for Tyvian Reldamar, he might finally be over his head. The Saga of the Redeemed continues with Dead But Once, Auston Habershaw’s latest fantasy following The Oldest Trick and No Good Deed.
Arch-criminal Tyvian Reldamar has gotten complacent.
For him, he’s reached the pinnacle of all he’s really hoping to achieve: he’s got money, he’s got women (some of which aren’t even trying to kill him), and he’s got his loyal friends and family nearby and safe.
Except…maybe not so safe.
Because this is Eretheria, a city known as much for its genteel aristocracy as for its diabolical scheming. Long without a king, the scions of the ruling families scrabble for control–including levying cruel taxes and drafts on the peasantry in order to wage “polite” wars against each other.
And now, of course, Tyvian is finding himself drawn into it.
With a swashbuckling flare, old fans and new readers alike will be swept up into this world of magic, crime, and political intrigue where life is cheap and justice too expensive.