Three Things I Learned I Learned While Writing My First Draft

As I type this, I’m so utterly mentally exhausted, I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years or more. Over the last couple months, I’ve been working hard on the first draft of a currently-unnamed fantasy novel, and am rapidly reaching the part where I plot out the fabled Second Draft. This legit feels like it’ll be one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve ever achieved, and it’s honestly taking every bit of willpower I have not to just gush about the concept here and now. Sadly, it’s far too early in development to do so, though I do have some concept art I’ll be sharing at a later date. Fun stuff!

Right now though, I just wanted to talk about my first draft journey,  where it’s taken me as a writer, and what I found out about myself and my craft along the way. Which…sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is. But like I said before, this genuinely feels huge to me, and this is coming from someone who’d had work (shorts) accepted by publishers before. This project is my baby, a world I’ve been building for 5+ years, and a genuine joy to work on, even through the sloggy bits.

While working on it, I learned a lot of valuable things, chief among them being:

My Genre and Voice

Initially, I set out to make this project a grimdark sword-and-sorcery story set in a sort of Gothic Horror fantasy setting. But when I actually tried to write out the book, I found that grimdark and gothic horror just don’t come naturally to me, at least in fantasy. I can do elements of it sure, but not wholly. I find that at least for my personal writing style, grimdark is to my fiction what bacon is to a burger. A little bit gives it more meatiness, but add too much and it’s just…well, greasy.

I don’t even know if that made sense, and I think I’m just hungry. For burgers. Specifically from Carl’s Jr because dang it, you make a good western bacon cheeseburger. You can keep those fruit loop donuts though, those look nasty.

Anyway, what was I talking about again? Ah yes, fantasy subgenres. So it turns out, I think I write High Fantasy best, but there’s a caveat to that — it has to have horror elements to work. Again, the bacon on the burger. I did a previous short story that tested pretty well with beta readers that was basically high fantasy with Lovecraftian elements, and people kind of dug it. So when I decided to make a full-blown book, I was like “Ha! I’ll add MORE horror elements!” But ultimately, I feel it works better with a balance, and you need the high optimism to really make the scary bits scary. Thus, Draft 2 will likely be totally different, and sadly won’t feel like a Castlevania level, but should be pretty cool in its own right.

Magic Systems

Okay, so now that I’ve actually written a draft after reading Sanderson’s Mistborn books, I feel like I totally get why the Sanderson-style magic system is a major thing in current fiction. Like I said before, when I started working on the first draft, my goal was to homage Robert E. Howard and classic swords-against-wizardry type stories. The type of stories the Stranger Things kids probably read before diving head-first into 80’s game night.

In practice though, I found myself often wishing I had a magic system to pad out certain scenes and add more character development. There were times when I was practically saying aloud, man, this scene would be so much more awesome if the protagonist had a special power I could have him talk about or use. And even cooler than the powers is of course, the weaknesses. The kryptonite, the bits where the MC has to macguyver himself out of bad situations, or can’t use his neat magic system because if he uses Tacomancy under the light of a full moon, the Taco Bell Chihuahua will drag his soul down to the ninth circle of Hades and…oh hey, there’s food again.  I should really eat an apple or something before I post.

But yeah. Long story short, magic systems are awesome because:

A) They add something totally unique to your story a la Airbending, Allomancy, or the lightweaving from Blackwing. It fleshes out the world and makes it feel like its own, unique thing as opposed to Tolkien or Conan or Game of Thrones with a DLC reskin.

B) It adds meat and pagecount to your story in an organic way, and helps add an element of character growth and development a he/she learns to use [INSERT MAGIC SYSTEM HERE]

C) It makes your readers wonder ‘what would I do if I had those kind of powers,” which is the SIGN OF A GREAT BOOK. All of us as kids at one point tried to throw a kamehameha, or cast Wingardium Leviosa, or use the Force, and anything that makes the readers theorize about what they’d do in that setting is like a hook you sink into them. Magic systems are like, the BEST way to accomplish this, besides really solid worldbuilding and characterization. A good High Fantasy book should ideally have all these elements.

Apparently Brian Jaques was a Huge Influence on my Writing Style

So I went back and skimmed through an old Redwall book, and holy smokes, I think he probably influenced me a LOT more than other writers.

That’s not to say my books feature talking animals or anything, but there’s this sort of cheerful optimism and humor that even when I try (and fail) to write Grimdark, just keeps slipping in. I think Brian was an absolute master at making characters that stick with you, and are really unique and interesting. I still remember that one psycho weasel princess from Triss who smiled when her mother died, or Clooney the Scourge and that flail on his tail, or the weird birds from that same book, or the long-drawn out feasts, Constance the badger, et cetera.

I place a LOT of importance on iconography and place in stories. It’s one reason that despite not being really into YA books or non-secondary world fantasy, Harry Potter sticks out in my mind as a great example of this. You have the four Houses, Hogwarts, a whole wizarding culture, Butterbeer, Bott’s Beans, the Olivander’s Wand-shop…it’s just an endless stream of all these really iconic bits. There’s other fantasy stories I’ve read by contrast, that have massive chapter counts, but never made me feel that same way. That never really put me in that place Redwall or Hogwarts, or King’s Landing or Hobbiton did. And I think going forward, that sense of identity and place is something I’m hoping and praying I can impart in my own fiction. Now that’s a tall order to be sure, and the prospect of living up to such a task is honestly a little (VERY) frightening. But as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

An Interview with Scott Oden, Author of A Gathering of Ravens

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Scott Oden is a historical fantasy author, a fan of the Sword and Sorcery genre, and an avid gamer since 1979. Publisher’s Weekly called his work “…complex as an old tree’s roots, and a pleasure to read,” in a starred review. He’s gained a reputation for combining historical fact with fantastical elements more commonly seen in a Tolkien or Dargonlance book, yet his stories are grim, gritty and frightfully realistic. I reached out to Scott to get the scoop on his books, as well as his thoughts on historical fantasy, getting published, and the works of Robert E. Howard.

MARTIN: So Scott, can you tell us a bit about your writing journey? What led you to become an author, and who or what are your biggest influences in your genre?

SCOTT: I first got it in my mind that I wanted to write as my profession back in 1981, at the age of 14. I recall seeing something in an old issue of my brother’s Writer’s Digest about authors being paid and I was, like, “say what? People pay you for that?” My brother was already a journalist with dreams of writing the Great American Novel, so he had a few books on craft; the rest I gleaned from skimming WD and from emulating my favorite author — Robert E. Howard. I embarked upon a thoroughly inconsequential short story career, after that, ultimately writing 30-odd short stories that earned me nothing but rejection slips over the years. I turned my hand to novel writing, choosing as my debut a pastiche Conan novel I intended to write for Tor Books (they were unaware of my intent, by the way; younger Scott was all about asking forgiveness rather than begging permission). A friend had recently hit the big leagues with his third or fourth novel, so I harassed him for feedback on my three Conan chapters — which had been endlessly written and rewritten over the past years. He took me to task: “It’s decent, but what will you do if you can’t sell it to Tor? Write your own characters, man!” He said a lot more, but that was the gut punch.

So, I regrouped. I went back to the drawing board, and in December of 2000 I started writing what would become Men of Bronze — which is barbarian fiction in the guise of a historical novel. A string of bad life events had left me extremely depressed at the time, so my motivation was literally “write or die”. I do not recommend this route, by the way. It is neither glamorous nor romantic. It is asking for trouble, really. Somehow, though, I pulled it off. Wrote my first novel by Spring of 2002, had an agent by 2003, and sold it in early 2004 to a small start-up publisher called Medallion Press. I have been under contract to various publishers since.

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The Messy History of Messers, aka a Window into my Crippling Obsession with Swords and Other Such Things

You Call That a Knife? THIS Is a Knife!

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This is a Messer. It’s a sword…kind of. It’s a knife…sort of. Is it both? Neither? Some sort of weird Schrodinger’s Cat-esque aberration where it’s both neither and both at the same time? Much like the plot of Kingdom Hearts, no one can really tell for sure what it is.

So for now, we’ll just say, it’s a weapon and it’s cool.

The Messer rose to prominence in the late medieval era, created as a slashing-weapon similar, if not identical in function to the Falchion. In Germany, this was by and large the most common weapon used, as they were relatively cheap and happened to skirt a law that allowed only knives to be carried by commoners. Remember when I said this weapon was kind of a weird…knife/sword hybrid? Well, that’s because the Messer is technically classified as a longknife rather than a sword.

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Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2018 is Here!

 

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So this Monday, Phase 1 of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2018 kicked off!

This is an event I’m gonna be keeping an eye on for sure, as it’s the best way to learn about the hottest new titles. Last year we got Sufficiently Advanced Magic, Crimson Queen and Where Loyalties Lie. And this year, one of the big recurring keywords in the titles is Dragons. So chances are, 2018’s gonna be a good years if you like the big, scaly bois in your fantasy lit.

Why bother with Self-Pub or SPFBO, you ask? As it just so happens, I wrote a thing on that a while back, which you can check out here. If you want to check out self-published fiction that’s actually you know, good, SPFBO finalists really can’t be beat.

An Interview With Daniel Greene

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A while back, I came across a Youtube channel discussing a book series I was looking to get into. That book series was the Wheel of Time, and the youtuber is Daniel Greene. A rising voice in SFF, Daniel Greene discusses his favorite fantasy book series, ranging from Brandon Sanderson’s epics, to grimdark fiction like the Witcher series. As a fellow fan, and a writer myself, I reached out to Daniel to get his opinion on all things SFF, Youtube, and more!

MARTIN: So Daniel, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your channel?

DANIEL: When I was a very little kid, I was diagnosed with fairly severe dyslexia. It was so bad I had to get special tutoring for many years. I was fairly embarrassed by having this error in my brain’s processing so I began to overcompensate by reading non-stop. I would go to Barns and Noble, or Borders (remember that glorious store?) and pick up book after book to work on. I guess over the years it slowly transformed from work to a passion. I still remember the first fantasy book I picked up on my own. “The Eye of the World” the first book in The Wheel of Time series. That book changed my life. Reading that series honestly influenced parts of my life I cannot even begin to put into words. I believe I reread the series about eight times by the time the last book came out and three more times since then. In my channel, I will set my biases aside and recognize how other fantasy books can be better than The Wheel of Time in some ways, but in my heart, nothing else will ever come close to the experience I had watching the Dragon be reborn.

I was born and Raised in Virginia but moved around a lot in the last few years. If I stay in one place too long I get this feeling of being trapped, so I don’t plan on putting down too many roots anytime soon. I think that is part of the reason I like the fantasy genre so much. Helps me scratch the traveling itch in a roundabout way.

I also have a bit of an obsession with rhetoric and public speaking in general. Something about it fascinates me. The ability to captivate people by the words you choose and their delivery (cadence, tone, etc,.) seems like a glitch in the human brain. The information is the same, but the packaging transforms how you receive it entirely. This has resulted in me studying everything from Aristotle to stand-up comedy to try and best understand what makes rhetoric so damn important to people without them even realizing it.

Those three things seemed to have come together to be the basis of my channel. 

MARTIN: There’s lots of “lore videos” about games and movies (Vaatividya, Arch Warhammer, etc), but not as many about fantasy novels. Where there any notable Youtubers that inspired you? Or was it something you just personally wanted to do?

DANIEL: I had never even heard of “BookTube” before I started. That community is awesome though and so many people deserve so much more recognition for their awesome content. It annoys me seeing people doing such creative things talking about books and only having 5,000 subs, while other YouTubers will millions of subs…. do what we see in the headlines.

I have been watching Philip Defranco for about 8 years and love that man’s channel. Don’t agree with him on everything (most things), but he always gives a trustworthy perspective I respect. So I would say he is the most influential YouTuber to me in terms what I respect most.

Other channels inspire me to raise the quality of my content. Filmjoy, for example, does stunning work on his movie breakdowns.

KittyG gave me my first sub boost and I will forever love her for that. I was about to quit, then she got me to 1,000 subs, a community was born, and now I have followers I engage with on the regular and encourage me to keep going.

The internet is amazing.

MARTIN: You cover a lot of books on your channel, but one series stands out in particular. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. I recall coming across your channel when I first started reading The Eye of the World, and really enjoyed your summaries and character analyses. But why The Wheel of Time in particular? As someone who’s read a lot of fantasy, what do you feel that series nailed that other books (both vintage and modern) struggle with?

DANIEL: The series was responsible for my baptism into fantasy. I have read it so many times The Wheel of Time is now brain candy for me. When I have gone through hard times, it turns into my comfort food. The detail Robert Jordan put into that world goes above and beyond what I believe any other fantasy author has achieved. Just like Harry Potter holds a special place for so many people my age, The Wheel of Time holds that spot for me.

On a side note, Harry Potter is still great. The recent trend of hating on it is just a part of any fantasy series life cycle. Calling it now, in five years it’s going to be cool to hate on Game of Thrones.

MARTIN: It’s kind of funny you mention that because I’m kind of one of those people that’s not as stoked on Harry Potter. I think it’s really good as a kid’s book and later on as YA, but pales in comparison to adult-oriented series like Stormlight or The Witcher, which it often gets lumped in with. And well that’s like, my opinion, man. Everyone’s got one, and sometimes even beloved series (like say, a certain story about a red-headed music kid) might not click with you. for whatever reason.

So as someone who expresses these opinions sometimes, do you get blowback for them? Has criticizing a really popular book ever felt like stepping into a minefield?

DANIEL: Well, I get loads of constructive criticism for my opinions and I really enjoy the dialog that creates. In the comments, I have the opportunity to get down and nerdy with my community and they often have been able to change how I view certain aspects of various series. I rarely get negative blowback for criticizing a fantasy series, in the sense that people seem genuinely upset.

Even the scathing review I did of ‘The Name of the Wind”, was generally well received, even by the fans. People just like talking books and disagreement just leads to more interesting discussion. Of course, there have been a few people who seemed actually offended by my opinions, but they are usually kids so it’s understandable. The adults who seem upset… they have their own problems they need to work on. I will never understand a grown man or woman getting angry about a work of fiction.

All of that being said, just yesterday I got a comment on my Wheel of Time Vs. Game of Thrones video calling me, “idiot scum.’ So that was nice.

MARTIN: Overall though, it seems the community is really receptive to these videos, particularly the ones where you compare different characters. As someone who’s read a few of these books, it’s nice to see familiar faces compared to protagonists and secondary characters I’ve yet to read about. Even if it borders into spoiler territory, I personally find it motivates me to check these books out all the more.

…Speaking of your “versus” videos, which character match-up was your favorite to make?

DANIEL: One that has yet to be released and would spoil a lot of outcomes for me to say. It will be in the final four of the bracket and deciding between these two literally made me lose sleep. I can’t really say to much more, but I will make a note at the beginning of video when it comes out letting you know it is that comparison.

MARTINAs someone who’s covered a lot of different traditionally-published fantasy series, do you think you’d ever consider featuring books from indie, or even self-published authors? Certain books like Master Assassins have garnered quite a bit of praise recently, as have self-published works like Rob J. Hayes’ Best Laid Plans series. Is that a space you might look into some day?

DANIEL: Unfortunately, I had a few very bad experiences with ‘indie’ authors who had asked me to review their books. Basically, because I did not give their writing a 9/10 or above, one particular author demanded I removed the video and emailed me about every 30 minutes until I did. After I took it down they proceeded to write me a long letter basically calling me an idiot for not thinking they were the next Tolkien. It was about a fifty-fifty chance that the author would act in a way similar to this. I had an author complain I was not reading his book fast enough after having it for less than two weeks, and another claim I needed to read the 600+ page book he gave me three times minimum before I reviewed it.

Those experiences resulted in me just having a default, ‘Thank you, I am flattered, but no.’ response to authors reaching out to me.

MARTIN:  Despite putting in a positive word for indie authors, I guess stuff like this just proves how it’s kind of a mixed bag still. I mean, I personally think it’s gotten a LOT better in recent years, and I still swear by authors like Dyrk Ashton and Rob Hayes. There’s some utterly fantastic stuff to be found in indies. But sometimes you still get those authors who just need an editor and a reality check in a MAJOR way.

Speaking of authors, what advice would you have for anyone wanting to write a fantasy novel (indie or otherwise) of their own? What stories have you as a fantasy reader been itching to read, but never had the chance to?

DANIEL: Just this… do not care what I, or your audience wants to read. Write what you want to write. The greatest reads are the ones that were written with passion. If it feels like you are shaping your writing to what others want to hear, you will not stand out from the massive crowed. You may get some credit for mass appeal, but the books that have shaken up a genre, did not do so by reaching a common denominator. The authors wrote from a place of pure creativity that reflected themselves. This sounds corny, but it is so true. Many authors do want to write something that has mass appeal as, which is also completely fine. That is how something like Harry Potter comes around you make a billion dollars if you do manage to get momentum. But that is much more all or nothing in terms of success in my experience.

I really want to sit down and read the Sword of Truth series, because my subscribers have been so split on it, but I just have not had the time to. It will be fun to see what the comment section terns into. Hopefully well reasoned discussion. The internet is known for that right?

MARTIN: That’s great advice, and something I think a lot of new readers will want to hear. Obviously not every series is gonna be huge, but that’s really for the readers to decide. If no one takes any risks, what’s the point of spec fic?

Also…Sword of Truth. Jeez, I can already picture the flame wars. 

Anyway, last question! And this isn’t a serious one by any mean, but just for the fun of it. If your current top 3 fantasy series were flavors of ice cream…what flavors would those be?

DANIEL: Sword of Truth should be coming sooner rather than later, so we shall see.

To be honest not entirely sure how to answer that one. If pressed, I would have to say, The Wheel of Time is rocky road, Lord of the Rings is classic vanilla, and The Witcher is chocolate chip cookie dough. It has elements of past and presents blended perfectly.

And that’s a wrap! For more of Daniel Greene’s thoughts on the Fantasy genre and books, subscribe to his channel on Youtube. I personally recommend checking out his Wheel of Time retrospective if you’re curious about that series and not averse to spoilers. His VS videos and series reviews are also excellent, and a must-watch for any fan of the genre.

For more author and creator interviews, please follow the Tavern and reblog/share if you enjoyed this interview! There’ll be plenty more in the near future.

Assorted Thoughts on The High Fantasy Genre

 

So I’m working on a thing.

Like most things I work on, I really can’t go into too much detail about this one. It’s a very personal project, and one that will likely take a bit of time to complete. There may be a dearth of content here for a while as a result, save for the odd interview. But in the mean time, my thing has given me a lot to think about in regards to High Fantasy settings. There’s a lot of real fun to be had in these, but also many pet peeves that tend to get under my skin.

So here’s a collection of musings regarding High Fantasy as I visit and re-visit some books in the genre:

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Author Interviews are Coming Soon!

Been a while since I’ve posted here. Had some personal/family stuff going on that’s kept me busy, but I wanted to make an important announcements!

So about a month ago, I wrote an article on self-published fantasy, and how it’s a vastly underrated segment of genre fiction. Long story short, it blew up a bit and ended up on the front page of r/Fantasy for a few days. Some authors sent me messages, or shared my post, which helped me get almost a thousand hits on this fairly obscure and new blog.

All I can say on that count is…wow. Thanks a lot, everyone!

Because of the positive reception that got, I’ve decided to start interviewing some authors and creators in the SFF community, particularly in small press and self-pub. I always love hearing all the different stories these writers have to offer, and nothing would make me happier than helping them sell a copy or two.

On that note, I’d like to announce my first interview! Michael R. Baker, author of The Thousand Scars, will be sharing some thoughts on his writing journey, as well as a bit about his books.

I’m working on a big project of my own as well, so stay tuned for news of that as well!