Book Thoughts: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Something I rarely do (pretty sure I’ve never done it in fact) is finish a book of decent length in a week.  It helps to have 16 hours of driving shotgun from Colorado to southern California though.

Initially, getting in to Ready Player One was easy.  The main protagonist, Wade Watts, introduces himself in first person and quickly begins to describe the world in which he lives and his personal struggles.  Not to get into the weeds of specifics, he lives in a dystopian future that has resolved itself to log into a virtual world called the OASIS.  Here in this virtual world, people forget the trials and hardships of their real life and become whatever they want by creating an avatar and remaining anonymous by using an alternate user name by which celebrity can be attained.

Wade or Parzival (a play on the name Percival), is what is called a gunter (fun word), which stands for egg hunter.  Already, you’re thinking, “Does that mean he’s some kind of chicken farmer in this virtual world?”  No, unfortunately, that is not what he is.  Gunters are those OASIS users who are searching for three keys (copper, jade, and crystal) which will open three gates that will eventually lead them to the Easter Egg hidden within the vastness of the OASIS by its creator.  Whoever finds it, inherits the creator’s wealth and more.  The problem is, it’s been years since the contest to find the Easter Egg was announced and no one has made headway to discover the location of the first key (copper).

There, I have to stop because otherwise we get into spoiler territory.  Honestly, the book is a fun read with plenty of sub context our society can grab a hold of as we become more advanced in our technology and move into this virtual otherworld.  VR technology for video games is getting better by the year and soon enough, I would not be surprised to see us “plug in”.

A major plus in the book for me is the references to late 70s and 80s pop culture.  The creator of the OASIS was a teenager during the 80s and therefore his difficult home life was medicated through the movies, music, video games, and comics of that decade.  I was born in the mid-80s but I have held onto that decade more than I did the 90s when I was an adolescent/teenager.  So many of the 80s references in the book hit home for me.  From classic arcade games to Rush lyrics, I found myself trying to decipher the clues to the keys and gates, thinking of the 80s and what they could mean.

Ultimately though, the characters were spot on.  Wade and his friends were strong and fun to go on the adventure with.  Anonymity is a huge theme in the book.  People perceive avatars through the OASIS but personality comes through despite appearances.  Wade learns this along the way.  There’s this desire to know who his friends are in reality but the fear that to do so might affect their relationships after being “exposed”.  How much do we see in our society today people striving to fix imperfections and form their identity by any means possible?  Identity is a major theme in the book and by the end, I really felt I understood it and was able to think about it on a deeper level.

In closing and here’s your “Call to Action”, give Ready Player One a read.  If your a fan of the 80s and all things pop culture, you’ll get a kick out of the references.  Plus, Steven Spielberg is directing the film adaptation and I can’t wait to see how the movie turns out!

A Writer on Vacation

posted in: Editing/Revision, Life, Writing | 0
This is a bit reactionary as a blog post.  I am writing this based on on my week-long vacation here in Colorado.  Sometimes, I think I can look at 7 days away from normal life and get a whole bunch of writing done, finish my revision, and start my agent querying letters!  Alas, I cannot… This morning (Friday) was the first chance I got to sit down and revise for more than an hour (which isn’t that long anyway).

While unfortunate, I think I need to be okay with getting little writing done while on vacation.  I’m sure other writers have different methods and can get work done but I think for myself, the pressure to try to write/revise even an hour a day is a little too stringent.  I’m around family and we like to get out of the house and go see the area and not be cooped up.  So, I’ve decided I need to make different goals while on vacation.  If I can write, I will but if I can’t, I won’t let myself be disappointed.

Instead, I think getting a lot of reading done is more feasible.  I love setting a reading goal for the year through Goodreads.  It helps me track, search, review, etc. books easily.  No muss no fuss (what even is muss?).  I finished one book on the drive to Colorado and had another ready.  My hope is to get this other book, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, finished by the time I get home Sunday (while you’re reading this, I’m probably getting close!).


Side note: Ready Player One is almost the perfect book to read before I start my re-watch and review of Stranger Things Season 1.  For those who did not receive the latest newsletter, I announced that I would be re-watching Stranger Things in preparation for the release of Season 2 on October 27.

The purpose of vacation is to get away and relax.  I’m not sure how many people are able to do this and actually relax but I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Colorado.  I did a lot and definitely feel as if I didn’t sit on my butt (which I have done on other vacations unfortunately) the whole time.  So, I hope to return home and to work refreshed and ready to get back in the grind of life.  Hope you all have had a great week wherever you’re at.  Talk to you soon!

Call to Action: If you get the chance, watch the following movies: Logan Lucky and The Big Sick.  The latter might not be your cup o’ tea but both were fun watches with great writing and characters.  My wife and I watched both while here and enjoyed them a great deal.

On This Day: 09 August – Book Lovers Day

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Reading | 2
I was doing some research and found that today is Book Lovers Day.  Well, how could I resist doing a blog post about that!Apparently, the day encourages people to relax with a book and reading to your heart’s content.  Unfortunately, this day falls in the middle of the week and so I’m at work.  That does not mean I will not go the day without reading (I have a personal goal to read 20-30 pages a day and usually meet it).

So, my encouragement to everyone today is to take the book you’re reading or maybe find a new book to read and take some time in a quiet place, get some coffee or tea, and read in peace.  Go a step further and put your phone on silent and in the other room.  Remove distractions for a decent hour at least.

I admit, sometimes I wish our connectivity through technology could be set back a decade or two.  Since that’s not possible, it comes down to our having to be proactive and turn off the connectivity manually.  I mean to do this more, especially on the weekends.  There’s something about reading a book (not an ebook) that is comforting to me.  I think it’s important not to lose this odd connection of immersion into fiction or nonfiction (whatever your preference).

Call to Action:  Do yourself some good peace and quiet and enjoy a book today.  Don’t feel pressured to read a certain amount of pages or chapters.  Just read to your heart’s content.  Share with me what you’re reading too!

2nd 2017 Newsletter Coming Soon!

posted in: Newsletter, Review, Writing | 0
Shameless plug time.  The second newsletter of the year will be sent out the 31st of August.  If you haven’t signed up, I hope you will.  Like last time, it will follow the same format sharing where I’m at in the progress of the Ravanguard series, book reviews, and best of all: a short story from the Shoals to the Hallowed series.

Just to reiterate, if you’re caught up on the Shoals to the Hallowed flash fiction posts at the end of each month, this short story will take place in the same timeline.  It will feature the Wielder, Delya Glassene, who was introduced in the “Binding Sleight” flash fiction post back in February.  As I write the short story, I am excited to say that it will give some context to the world and main plot points.  I’ve enjoyed writing these stories and plan to continue to do so for all of you.

If you know others who might like the series, then feel free to share the previous posts.  It won’t take long to catch up and there’s plenty of time to sign up and receive all the content so you don’t miss any of the story.  I make no promises to release the short stories from the newsletter any time soon.  I’d like to keep and maintain some exclusivity.

So, if I’ve intrigued you at all, hopefully you will sign up when prompted on the website.  You can also go to the contact form and request to be added to the newsletter list there.

Another quick little tease for you.  I will be announcing a big thing I’ll be doing with the blog for the month of October.  Let’s just say it will be strange but an awesome thing for me to write about for that month that will require preparation but full of good stuff.

If you did not receive the first newsletter but signed up, please let me know and I’ll get that out to you.  As always, thanks for dropping by and reading!

Call to Action: For anyone who has received the first newsletter, feel free to leave a comment here if you have any feedback.

Stretching and Testing: Exploring Other Genres

posted in: Fantasy, Storytelling, Writing | 2
While at this time in my life as a writer I am focusing on fantasy, I often wonder what it would be like to sit down and try to write a story (at whatever length) that moves away from my preferred genre.  I dabbled in this in the past with short stories for classes and while they were definitely not fantasy, I always approached them with the desire to explore different characters who had secrets or qualities that were not revealed until the very end (I may have to dig these up and consider revising).

I blame this blog post of a rabbit trail of creativity on my attempt at reading non-fantasy books.  As I’ve stated before, I am looking for different kinds of books to read to help stretch my writing muscles.  So far, I delved into biographies and a few contemporary fiction novels.  I’ve enjoyed these books for various reasons but I can’t help but wonder, “If I were to write a satirical novel or maybe something considered horror, what kind of story would I write?”

So often, I see motivational and inspirational quotes, encouraging writers to write what they love.  I wholeheartedly agree with this but I can’t help but think there’s value in trying new things.  Obviously, my time is taken up by my devotion to my fantasy series but what’s to stop me from taking a few hours and try to write something that takes place in the late 20th century or more recent?  Nothing really to be honest.  It could serve as a simple creative exercise and there are benefits to that practice.

At this time, I think if I played with any kind of new idea, I’d have to keep it to a short story word count.  If I were to stretch myself too thin, I think I could easily become overwhelmed and that could affect my writing commitments.  This would not be good for myself in the end.  So, a short story would have to be limit.

I think writers can sometimes become distracted by fresh ideas, neglecting current stories that are further along.  I kind of attribute it to being like a new pair of shoes.  You love them when you buy them, wear them everyday, and tell yourself you don’t need another pair for years.  Then, you’re browsing online or at a store and boom!  You spot another pair of shoes that convince you immediately your current shoes are worn down too much to be worn much longer.  I would encourage all writers to watch out for this situation.  You are the best judge of your stories but do not trash something that you cherish just for the sake of something new and fresh.

Call to Action:  Does anyone have a good recommendation for a book of short stories?  I think I need to read more to get a better feel for their length and convention.

On This Day: 17 July 2006 – Mistborn: The Final Empire First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 3

This month’s “On This Day” post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing for awhile.  I learned of Brandon Sanderson back when I was living in Seattle and going to school.  I learned that my favorite author Robert Jordan had succumbed to his life-threatening sickness and passed on.  While it was horrible news and I felt the pain in my heart at such a tragedy to the fantasy and literary world, I also learned that another author would be finishing Jordan’s grand fantasy masterpiece, The Wheel of Time series.

I reviewed the first WoT book, The Eye of the World, back in January for my first OTD post if you recall or are new to my blog.  Jordan managed to write up to book 12 of the series before he passed.  He wanted to write one more book to close the series but it was quickly realized that final book would need to be three books to do the end justice.

After learning Sanderson would be taking the helm and finishing the series based on in depth notes provided by Jordan and the aid of Jordan’s widow who served as his editor for decades, Sanderson undertook the great effort.

This allowed me time to get to know the unknown writer who would be finishing what I considered the greatest fantasy series ever (part of me still believes this).  So, I went to Sanderson’s book, Mistborn: The Final Empire, and was thrust into a world that I could not step away from even if I tried.

The brilliance of Sanderson’s writing and skill is often found in the originality of his magic systems which I will be focusing on for this post.  Without delving into spoilers for the book (yes, if I went into the fullness of the magic system, I’d be spoiling things), I will cover the basics.

In Mistborn, the main magic system explored and focused on is called Allomancy.  Here’s how it works: men and women, called Mistings or Mistborn depending on their ability, can use types of metals to enhance themselves physically and mentally.  Below is a table with a basic description:

PHYSICAL Pushing Pulling Pulling Pushing MENTAL
External Steel

Pushes on Nearby Metals

Iron

Pulls on Nearby Metals

Zinc

Enflames Emotions

Brass

Dampens Emotions

External
Internal Pewter

Increases Physical Abilities

Tin

Increases Physical Senses

Copper

Hides Allomantic Pulses

Bronze

Detects Allomantic Pulses

Internal
ENHANCEMENT Pushing Pulling Pulling Pushing TEMPORAL

I understand that just looking at this is difficult to understand, which is why I would highly encourage reading this book.  The best I can explain it here is that an Allomancer uses small amounts of these metals (kept in glass vials) and swallows the contents.  Depending on the type of Allomancer and what metal they are able to utilize, they can internally “burn” the metal inside them and carry out any of the functions listed in the table.One great example in the book is the pushing and pulling of metal.  Mistborns are able to launch themselves up into the air by pushing on a piece of metal on the ground and then pull themselves to another piece of metal like an iron bannister of a balcony.  The image truly allows for some amazing action sequences.

I truly do not know if I can do it justice in explanation but this type of magic system upon first reading was mesmerizing.  The creativeness involved (remember, I am simply going over the basics of the system) and the deeper layers explored by Sanderson through the characters inspires me as a fantasy writer.

Magic systems are one of the main attractions for readers of the genre.  Some are extremely creative while others are more arcane and not completely explored as a whole because they serve almost as ancillary roles in the main narrative of the story.  What Sanderson offers (he has a bevy of books, novellas, and short stories to his name now) is a well-thought out system that affects the culture, economy, and other ways of life.  This is not always the case in most fantasy books but Sanderson follows this model in such a way that you cannot help but be entertained by how it’s used and plays a role.

Call to Action: Give it a read!  The world is rich and the action is fast and engaging.  Best of all are the characters who I did not spend any time exploring in this post but they are just as in depth as the magic system.

On This Day: 27 June 2006 – The Lies of Locke Lamora first published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day, Review | 2

This month’s OTD post will focus on Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” which is the first of the “Gentleman Bastard Sequence”.  It’s a novel that follows the main character, Locke Lamora, who alongside his best friend, Jean Tannen, get caught up in a caper-like story that they must survive after would-be allies turn on them.

As always, no spoilers will be found here.

While the characters and action are captivating, I want to focus a bit more on the setting.  The story takes place in a Venice-like city called Camorr.  Lynch does an amazing job of thrusting the reader into this new and interesting place.  The world feels expansive beyond this one city but unexplored beyond minor mention.  The layers of world building can be felt in the dialogue/language, history, and religions.  The weaving of these elements are everything a fantasy story needs.

As I’ve explored in past blog posts, fantasy can be a difficult genre to write both in creation and holding a reader’s attention.  There is little familiarity except in more generic of terms.  Elements of culture and society have to be infused within the narrative through observation and understanding possessed in the point of view offered.  Some writers are vague in this exploration while others like Lynch dive deeper in the ocean of world building and succeed!

More to the story itself, Locke and Jean belong to a lesser, smaller gang of thieves surrounded by danger at every turn.  This takes the form of secret police and larger gangs that all have collective agendas of their own.  Throw in the threat of a Bondsmage (a warlock for hire) bent on killing them and you’ve got quite a thrill ride to enjoy!

What I enjoyed most upon reading this book is that it is actually pretty straight forward.  I kept expecting crazy twists that knocked me backwards but instead, there were subtle actions that were consistent and reasonable within the world.  There’s absolutely surprises and double-crosses that will keep you reading but you truly stay engaged in the story because you want to see how Locke and Jean will make it to the end of the book.  Each are skilled in their own right but neither possesses magic or has an ally that does.  They must rely on their wits and knowledge of the culture and city to survive.

It’s a rich world with so many interesting ideas that are fresh.  The technology is advanced to a point where chemistry serves as an almost societal magic embraced by all where the more mystic of arts has to be purchased as I stated before.  For a fantasy novel, it does not have an epic magic feel and those who actually practice magic–the Bondsmage–serve as more a background entity.  It’s a controlled approach that doesn’t spread across the entirety of the narrative.  This is a very cool idea and one I enjoyed.  It put constrictions on what to expect from a fantastical stance.

Totally recommended.  I’ve read the first three books of the series so far and enjoyed each as they explore new places and characters, expanding the world in a way that I really enjoyed.  My only gripe (I realize I probably don’t do that enough in any of my reviews of things) is that I felt like some of the exposition was unnecessary.  I get why Lynch added it (as a fellow writer, exposition is tough to navigate and probably more of a preference thing on my part).  However, in this instance, it’s hard to go into more detail without spoiling anything.  So, I’ll leave it at that.

Call to Action: Read it of course!  (Click on the pic of the book above to purchase.)  Or let me know what you thought about it if you have read it.

Pressure Tester: Meeting the Content Quota

posted in: Fantasy, Flash Fiction, Life, Writing | 0

I took the Memorial Day weekend as an opportunity to conduct a little experiment.  Since I started this blog and launched my website, I knew I needed to up my game and produce content.  I knew I needed to have more of a presence on social media (Twitter primarily because of its format, features, and links to other writers).  What I didn’t know though was the amount of time this required of me.

I’ve done enough research to understand how marketing myself as a writer on the interwebz is important as I pursue my dream of publishing my stories.  The blog was a great opportunity for me to write and share.  The benefits have been great (I’ve already shared that to some extent and won’t regurgitate it at the moment).  I’ve tweeted and interacted with other writers as opportunities allowed.  Overall, the experience has been good but… To put it bluntly, I’ve run into a bit of a wall.

Let me explain (No, there is too much.  Let me sum up).  Being that active on Twitter has been time consuming.  I got into a habit where I always had a tab open to Twitter and would continually keep an eye on my feed.  I wouldn’t tweet something every hour on the hour but I tried to so throughout the day because all the research I did told me I had to be a continuous presence in addition to adding content.  Other than tweeting, my blog posts every other day have been the majority of my content.

A little vulnerability I’d like to share with everyone: it has been a bit a let down but only because I think my expectations were too high.  I get way more spam comments (all of these I have to go through and mark as spam behind the scenes of my website) and I see no real evidence that I am gaining consistent followers.  This could be for a number of reasons (everyone’s got a blog nowadays, especially writers, so I get that there are a lot of options) and the one I keep coming back to is I’m still at the beginning stages of this season of being “present”.

This is not to say I do not appreciate the comments I do receive from real people.  I love being able to read them and respond.  If I don’t respond, I apologize.  I am trying to be better about it.

Even on Twitter, I’ve come to this hovering number of followers and wonder what I’m doing wrong.  Am I tweeting the wrong things?  Am I hash tagging wrong?  Am I focusing too much on writing and not other interests I have?  If I tweeted more about sports, music, food, etc. would I risk losing the followers I do have?  These are questions I continually wrestle with and have yet to find an answer.

Please don’t take this blog post as a rant or complaint.  It’s not.  I’m processing my actions and the steps I’ve taken over the last five months of going all in.  I trust that I am very much in the early stages of this leg of the race and need to merely slow to a steady pace whereas I was sprinting and have started to hit the wall (I carbo-loaded on the Twitters).

In my mind, the experiment during the last holiday weekend was to see what it “felt” like to unplug.  I decided to step away and not have my laptop in front of me with a Twitter tab open the entire three days.  It was difficult at first because there’s this odd sense that I will miss something by not staying connected.  But then, I have to ask myself, why do I feel the need to stay connected at that level?  It was ultimately draining and I suffered from something I truly don’t want to fall under the pressure of and that’s always being connected through social media.  I can easily let my posting habits become more organic than forcing myself and putting myself on a strict schedule.

If not, then I will burn myself out.  I’ve done so in other areas and through different seasons.  Trying to constantly put out content and interact through social media is too much for me.  I have so many other interests and priorities that I don’t want to let slip away.  These “others” are what fuel me and give me joy.  Constantly tweeting and trying to come up with content that would attract readers and followers is exhausting and it’s not how I want to live my life.  What I want is to write and share the stories I have in me with the world.  Writers have done that for centuries before we ever got to this place of instant-connectivity.

This is not to say technology and our current culture of content intake is bad but I think I need to take a step back and refocus.  I can do both but I cannot sacrifice my relationships, writing, and interests for the sake of building my brand when I’m not quite there.  At least not at the rate I have been trying to.  It’s too much weight and I’ve been putting it all on my shoulders.  I think once I have “Dim the Veil” ready for release or leading up to the release, I need to step back.

Call to Action: No, I’m not going to encourage you to step away from your devices today, lol.  We get that from all over now.  While I do think it’s healthy, I want to encourage everyone to simply consider what they’re putting out there.  What’s your involvement?  What content are you pouring out?  Is it about sharing your life and being encouraging or dumping your trash for the world to see?  We should strive to be better than the negative ninnies out there.  Let’s be better.  Let’s be uplifting, honoring others wherever they are at in their journey.

Suffer Long for Patience Paid

posted in: Writing | 0
If there’s anything that is both beneficial and frustrating at the same time for a writer, it is the practice of patience.  My own experience has been a bit of a roller coaster of rises and falls.  Hopefully, this can bring some comfort to other writers and/or creatives while at the same time help me push through my own bit of frustration (it’s just one of those days).  But, there is a payoff to it all.

When I started out writing, I was the fat kid at the buffet line–wide-eyed and salivating.  My mind was full of new ideas that needed to be put down on “paper”.  But first I needed to consume all that I could to help me learn to write well.  It was beneficial in so many ways but I vividly remember thinking I wouldn’t have to wait long to have my name out there in the world (jaded to the max!).  There was patience back then in the sense that I had to not only come up with all the elements necessary to tell the story but write and write and then finally, write some more.  Editing never crossed my mind.  I had friends and family read what I wrote and good on them for not laughing in my face and shattering my dreams.  To think I was ready back then after my first go just wasn’t feasible.

Over the years, I definitely learned patience.  You don’t write two failed novels that don’t meet what I now consider to be a standard of quality and excellence and think I’ve succeeded.  I measure my success in this current season by believing I finally learned the skills necessary to write a quality novel/series.  My patience to write the bad until I found the better story in my imagination came at a high cost.  I think a lot of writers just starting out do come into the game jaded, believing they’ve got the next big thing on their hands.  It might be that way for some but the majority (myself included) have to slog through the mud of years of bad writing to reach the end of the track, building the muscles necessary to push through and come out on the other side of the bank.

I’m thankful for my journey.  I used to compare mine to others and think I had to switch things up in my life in order to find success by the same route.  I hope I can convince other writers that it’s far more beneficial to your character (not your characters) and legacy to blaze your own trail to find success.  I’m not convinced there is true joy and satisfaction in your writing if you don’t exercise the patience required.  If I have to wait another twenty or thirty years before my stories are published and released to the world, then I know it will be worth it.  That’s true patience!

Call to Action: I recommend checking out the bios of writers you enjoy reading.  I don’t mean the small blurbs at the back of their books but look for interviews where the writer actually gives a detailed story of their journey.  It’s fascinating how different one is from the other.

There’s Nothing Romantic About War or Writing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0

Something that I think is misconstrued about being a writer is that it is a glorious affair in which the heavens rejoice over poignantly illuminated prose writing.  As if all existence can be summed up and shared with the world in a way that would eradicate hunger, sow peace between rival nations, and/or make immortality attainable.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Writing is romanticized much like war was during the times of the Greeks in epic fashion.  For example, Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  This is probably one of the most romanticized ways of describing writing if ever there was one.  I’ve done it from time to time too.  Neither writing nor war are romantic.  I’ll be speaking to the former here (I don’t think anyone is disillusioned when it comes to the horrors of war in this century).

Here’s the truth.  Writing is both easy and hard depending on the day.  I’m not sure it is romanticized like it was in past eras when books and plays were all the rage for entertainment.  I kind of wonder if there is maybe a growing eagerness in the younger generations to write because there’s a belief that it’s a lost art (though it’s not) or that it has been raised on a pedestal in society to be another way to have your voice be heard and recognized among the masses.  (Just some random thoughts I’ve had.)

What I want to convey today is that for me, writing is difficult–but also easy.  Life does not sit back and say, “Tell you what, I’ll pause for a bit–take a siesta–and let you have a few hours to attack that scene you’ve been thinking about for the last two weeks.”  Ha!  I wish that were the case except I don’t.  My writing itch would be like one of those medical monitors that tracks heart rates.  Up and down, up and down.  That incessant beeping must stop!

Take this last week.  I started working on the film treatment for the movie idea I’ve had clattering about in my mind.  I’ve worked on it and felt good about it (so far…) but I’ve struggled to keep consistently working on the revision of book 1 of the Ravanguard series.  I would love for my desire to work on both to be of equal fervor but that’s been a bust.  And often is to be honest.  The creative juices go tepid from time to time and I’ve had to learn to be okay with it.  Sometimes I grumble and sit in solitude but I roll with it.

All this is to say that writing is fluid and should be recognized as such.  Maybe there are writers out there that can be disciplined to monk-like standards and write whenever they want and produce exactly the content they want but they are few and far between.  The biggest challenge for the rest of us (whether you write blogs, articles, poems, short stories, novels, screenplays, technical manuals, etc.) is to find a balance, give ourselves grace when it’s needed, and by Jove, continue to have fun!

Call to Action: Find that happy medium when it comes to feeling overwhelmed by things.  Take a walk, garden, cook, watch a movie, play music or even just sit back and read.  These pastimes should be integrated into life.  I know a lot of people who are not writers but would love to write something.  I always encourage it to be done but definitely don’t let yourself be overwhelmed by the thought that it is too big a goal.  It’s really not.  You sit down and bleed on the paper.  Ha!

My Cup Runneth Over

posted in: Fantasy, Film/TV, Music, Review, Writing | 2

Couple of things to go over first before I get into the trappings of my mind today.  This is going to be kind of subject to subject type of post but a good overview of the happenings in my fun-filled life.

Business first.  There may be some changes coming to my blog posting schedule.  If you’ve paid attention, I post on every even day of the week (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc.) unless the “On This Day” post lands on an odd day.  Roughly, that means I’ve posted about 14-15 posts a month.  After five months of this, I’m beginning to wonder if I can keep up that kind content production for the foreseeable future.  So, starting in June, I’ll be switching it up.  My plan is to begin posting every three days instead of every other day.  That means blog posts will likely be on the 3rd, 6th, 9th, and so on of every month.  There will be variances of course depending on when the “On This Day” post falls (maybe that will be a bonus post for the month).  Everything else will stay the same though.

Still nothing on the book art for “Dim the Veil” but I’ll let everyone know once that happens.  No progress on the method for savings towards the professional edit either.  I’m going to be looking into some options soon though and hopefully come to a decision.  Again, I decided against gofundme and kickstarter because if someone decides to give anything over $5, I fear that I cannot offer them anything in return besides the novella once I release it and I don’t believe that’s ethical.

Viewing pleasures.  I recently watched the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and I have to say I truly enjoyed the film.  It did not quite go in the direction I expected and I was pleasantly surprised by the more sentimental parts and its focus on family.  It hit the heart strings on a few occasions.  And the music was awesome of course!  No other movies I can think to bring up but I am watching the new seasons of Better Call Saul and Fargo.  Both are great television shows that continue to hold strong in their narratives and character explorations.  I’ve wanted to get into the American Gods show based on Neil Gaiman’s novel but I haven’t had the time yet.  I can’t say I loved the book so I’m not uber-drawn to the show.
Soothing Sounds.  As both a writer and musician, I’m naturally drawn to music.  My musical journey has been interesting to say the least.  I may have to do a separate blog post on that soon because I’ve gone from genre to genre over my life and settled recently on pretty much a place where I didn’t think I would.  One of my favorite bands is Cold War Kids and their latest album “LA Divine” has been a constant whenever I have music on in the background (heads-up, I’ll be working on a blog post soon going over some of the lyrics from that album in a sort of semi-review).  Also, freaking Paramore (probably one of my top-five bands ever) has released their fifth album “After Laughter” and that will be played out in no time between myself and my wife (her favorite band).

Bookworming.  Recent reads include a bevy of books.  A couple of fantasy tomes were “Heroes Die” by Matthew Woodring Stover and “Shadowmarch” by Tad Williams.  Both were good for what they were but did not blow my hair back.  “Heroes Die” was more an original idea with sort of a pseudo-sci-fi element to it.  “Shadowmarch” reminded me of “Game of Thrones” and some of the other books of that ilk.  I also finished Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” which I will probably review in the next newsletter.  Definitely a fun “read” as I listened to the audiobook.  I’m a little behind in my reading challenge over at Goodreads so I need to get on it and read some shorter books I think.  It’s these 500-600 page fantasy epics that really slow me down :/

Fun Stuff!  So, we’ll be going to Colorado to visit family in September and I was lucky to find that my baseball team, the San Francisco Giants, will be in Denver playing the Rockies while we are there.  So, I jumped on the chance to see my team play  for the time live and bought tickets for one of the games!  Super excited!  I haven’t been to a baseball game since I was in my early teens.  Should be a great experience with my dad, uncle, cousin, and brother-in-law.  The great thing about baseball games if that they don’t cost an arm and a leg to go.

And that concludes your quick update of my life.

Call to Action: I’m curious to know if anyone has any thoughts on how often I post blog posts.  One every other day was really a challenge to myself to see if I could do it but also provide enough content to gain readers.  I can’t say for sure if this has really gained people interested in reading my content though.  I don’t get much feedback besides from friends and family (am I even doing this right? lol).  Maybe switching it up will help.

On This Day: 04 May 2006 – The Blade Itself First Published

posted in: Fantasy, On This Day | 0
I hope you’ve all enjoyed the OTD posts I do each month.  They are a lot of fun and let me work different writing muscles.  First, today is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you) but that would be too easy.  I decided today’s post would be about a book I have come to love and refer back to whenever I think about how fantasy can stray away from the clichés and tropes we too often see in the genre.

Joe Abercrombie’s “The Blade Itself” is the first of the First Law Trilogy and my introduction to the subgenre of “grimdark”.  The agreed definition of grimdark is usually one of realism in tone, setting, and violence in the story.  Think: gritty.  Few things feel clean and there is this sense throughout the world that characters are gray more than anything else.  Heroes with shining swords are not found here.  They are more the antihero type who have vices that are magnified and they do not come out of the fight unmarked in some way or another.

“The Blade Itself” is such a novel.  The main viewpoints follow a cursed warrior, a conniving torturer, and a selfish nobleman who has bought his position as an officer in the army.  None of these characters are your Frodo, Aragorn, or Gandalf type.  They’re characters caught in a violent world of webs of conspiracy.  The world of the book never feels warm or inviting.  The settings are often cold and dark and truly realized through the arcs of the characters as they traverse through the plot, never guaranteed the next day.

Depressing, right?  Well, I don’t mean to paint a murky picture here but what Abercrombie genuinely does is make all of these characters worth your time and interest.  They are compelling despite their grayness.  Each of them realizes they have choices to make and they can either fight to live or let higher powers manipulate them into servitude.

You all know how much I enjoy well-rounded characters (at least I hope you do after these last four months).  This book is where you get some of the best.  Plus, no one is quite what they seem.

Another reason Abercrombie has gained me as a fan is the fact that he purposely sets up what you, the reader, thinks will be common clichés and tropes and he awesomely twists and turns to surprise you from page to page.  This is more realized as you read the entire trilogy but enough so in the first book that you can’t help but smile once you realize what had happened.  He crafts the narrative perfectly.

I recommend this book and series to everyone who asks me but I must warn that it is not for everyone.  Grimdark is like whiskey straight.  It punches you in the mouth at first taste but the more you sip, the better it gets and you truly appreciate the writing you’ve immersed yourself into.

Call to Action: Read it if you dare.  If it’s not your preferred order when it comes to reading, then I definitely don’t fault you.  I actually have not delved into other grimdark books because they are difficult to read.  I personally think Abercrombie provides more than the gray characters and violence but has paved the way for other writers of the genre, exploring new worlds and ideas that color outside the lines.

No Dragons, Dwarves/Elves, or Dreams/Prophecies: Access Denied

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 0
Something I continually encounter when telling people I’m a writer and they ask, “What do you write?”, is I have this sense that they have preconceived ideas when I answer, “Fantasy”.  I can see it in their eyes.  “Oh, so dragons, elves and magic.”  Not a question but a definite statement.  To which I silently in my head respond, “I should have said fiction…”

I don’t blame people for this assumption.  I get it.  All you have to do is look at the main cultural references we have in our society.  Lords of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and most recent, Game of Thrones.  These big ones have set the stage and have planted the seeds one would expect from fantasy.  (Wizards, dragons, and elves, oh my!)

Unfortunately, I do not have the means or assignment to correct people on how vast and wide the fantasy genre has come since Tolkien laid the modern foundation.  I wish I could have that job, trust me! (King of Correction!  Hear me!)  Alas, I do not have that honorable title, but thankfully, I have a blog and I can voice my knowledge and experience in the genre to better help people who may not be big nerds like myself.

Three tropes or elements you will not find in my writing: dragons, dwarves/elves, or dreams/prophecies.

I’m going to dissect each of these somewhat quickly.  These are not tropes like my previous blog posts on magic but rather ones I have intentionally avoided because I choose not to employ their function in any of my stories.  None of these are intrinsically overdone in the genre and I often enjoy them when done in a new way in the books I read.

Magical creatures and or races in the traditional sense simply do not play any significant role in the worlds I’ve created.  If you’ve read any of the series I recommended in my fantasy reader’s guide post, then you know that I have a preference for worlds and stories that read more “human” in nature.  This does not mean there are not other kinds of races in these books (Stephen Eriksons Malazan series is chalk full of different races that are awesomely imagined) but there’s a bit more creativity and imagination involved.  For myself, I’ve created races that seem familiar to the reader but in the end are their own.

I’m actually not big on books or stories involving dragons as major characters and/or plot elements.  There are plenty out there but I’ve truly never been a fan.  Smaug in my mind is one of the best examples of a dragon in fantasy.  Robert Jordan does not use dragons but actually calls his savior-of-the-world main character, The Dragon, which I really liked because it called to the fantasy element instead of including it in the Wheel of Time series.

Dreams and prophecies are elements I have avoided on purpose.  I could easily throw these into the narrative of the Ravanguard series but I consciously did not because I did not like the idea of using them as a crutch, which I think some series utilize to that advantage.  These are seemingly always used as a means of foreshadowing and installing the hero as the savior to all mankind (again, a bit overdone in the genre).  I prefer to use foreshadowing without these because I find that it’s more difficult and a challenge.

George R.R. Martin actually does this very well despite his use of dreams and prophecies.  He explores foreshadowing by use of language and visuals, which is what I have tried to emulate in my own way.  In fact, if I were ever to use dreams or prophecies as a literary device, I’d probably try to do it in a way that has not been done before.

For anyone who is looking forward to reading my stories, I hope this is helpful and lays out what to expect or in this case “not expect”.  Fantasy is not restricted to these few common/popular elements.  If that’s what you like, there’s plenty of options out there!  Trust me.  The vast coffer that is the fantasy genre overflows with different worlds and subgenres that have their own mix of devoted fans.  Sometimes, I wish there was another way to describe what I write but my use of limited technology, magic and swords kind of puts me in the barrel.  That’s probably why enjoy the genre so much: it’s not constricted but goes as far as the writer’s imagination can stretch.

Call to Action: I admit, there is one series of books that involve dragons that I am interested in reading.  Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series is an alternate history fantasy that has dragons in the Napoleonic Wars.  That just sounds like a fun read.  If you’ve read it, let me know what you think!  If not, then it may be worth exploring.

Fun with Foreshadowing

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 1

Let me start by saying I love the literary device of foreshadowing and as I revise and edit, I have thought about it more and more.  Some writers are big on allusion or theme or even setting.  I commend those who frame their writing with these aspects (really, I do).  For me though, it’s about the foreshadowing threads interwoven in the framework of the plot(s) tapestry.

By definition, foreshadowing is hinting at what is to come.  This can be subtle and apparent depending on the use by the writer.  For example, a writer could use an object noticed or used by a particular early on and then have that object play an important role later on (usually in the final act or climax of the story).  One example I continually see used as an example is if you were to see a gun on a mantle or one placed in a desk drawer. It’s very likely this element could come into play to impact the outcome of the plot.

In my opinion, the two best examples of foreshadowing used effectively in an epic fantasy story can be found in Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series and George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.  I know… I know…  I reference these two a lot in my blog posts and I’ll try to discuss other works in the future but for now, these are the two that I return to whenever I think of the proper and effective use of foreshadowing.

I could use examples here but I won’t because the nature of a foreshadow is to allude to something in the future, which in our current culture is notably called a “spoiler”.  I wish I could!  But I won’t.  All I can do is recommend you read these series.  The best foreshadowing in epic fantasy is usually presented in the first book and does not come to pass until the last and towards the end of the series.  Some big payoffs definitely add to the fanfare of readers.

What has happened with me in the Ravanguard series has been beneficial when it comes to these deep details.  My method for writing the series without stopping has allowed me to see where the story has gone and then as I edit and revise, I can recall a “future” event happening in book 2, 3 or 4 and go back and then see if there’s a place for foreshadowing to work.  There’s one key though: it has to make sense within the prose.  There is a balance and trust me, I do not look for spots to drop in foreshadowing just to be cheeky (well, okay, sometimes I do but those are more for the readers who are paying attention).

I think one could argue my approach to foreshadowing is somewhat cheating but I would argue it’s just fun writing.  Sometimes, these foreshadows are quite clever and subtle and sometimes they’re right on the nose.  Both are fine and my hope is that my readers would simply consider it good storytelling.  There’s a sense of intrigue to be added too because you as the reader (and I do this too whenever I’m reading a new book.  I pay close attention to details, thinking it could be a bit of foreshadowing) are more invested in the these details.  I could never be a speed reader because I fear I would miss what I love most in the writing.

Another fun aspect I’ve run into in my own writing is that I have sometimes stumbled onto a moment of foreshadowing accidentally.  Seriously!  I have been planning the story arc of one of the next books, thought of an idea for a character and been like, “Wait, didn’t this thing happen back in book 1?”.  I’ll go and check and boom!  Slap my feet and call me Chip, I inadvertently set up a foreshadowing moment!  Now, it’s probably coincidence but I actually attribute it to my advanced internal, subconscious understanding of the world and characters.  Almost as if I know it all before I should.  (I know, you’re not buying it.)  Truthfully, though, the readers will discover in due time that I have foreshadowed some things that I hope brings delight and maybe a little shock.

Any literary device used is meant to add to the enjoyment of the reading experience.  When used properly and not in abundance to the point of distraction, these practices are worth getting better at.  I definitely encourage looking for these in the books you read.  Train yourself to look for it and see if it pays off.  Happy reading!

Call to Action: See below a video of foreshadowing in popular movies.  Obviously, there are possible spoilers so here are the movies in the top ten list:

 

On This Day: April 10th – National Encourage a Young Writer Day

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#EncourageAYoungWriterDay

Another “National Day” is upon us and as I will focus on this from tim to time for the OTD posts, they will be writer focused.  I’m really excited about this one though.  I still remember much of my emotions, story ideas and thoughts when I first started writing.  There was a new joy that I stumbled into and could not be stopped from advancing into the arena of storytelling.

Being self-taught in many ways (I was decent at English/Literature classes but nowhere near scholar level), there’s a great deal I learned and want to use this post as a lessons learned  for younger writers.  My hope is to provide some things I’ve experienced and come to value over the years.  All of this based on my own experience and I know I’ve touched upon these in previous posts but here’s more emphasis.  When you start off writing, you truly do tread unknown waters.  There are no dangers swimming underneath you, but rather, treasures that can be found if you know exactly where to dive and search.

These are the top words of encouragement I have for young writers in no particular order:

1. Finish what you start

Depending on your level of writing, you will no doubt (it’s more than likely but not definite) write something that’s not very good.  This is not a knock on you or your capacity to be a great storyteller.  Very few have likely had an idea, formulated the characters, settings, themes, etc. and produced a product that is instantly picked up by a publisher and released to the world without much revision or editing.  Has it happened?  Probably but I can’t tell you of any I’ve ever heard of (not unless you’re Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie, Limitless, and in that case, you should ditch the mind-opening drug.  It didn’t end well for him).

I was there.  I wrote my first book, thinking it was the next best thing.  It wasn’t.  I wrote my second book and thought that was better and would surely be my launching point!  It wasn’t.  Lol.  I’ve written my third book and only now am I convinced I’ve written a well-thought out story that only I can tell.  It takes time and patience and you have to be willing to fail a few times before you find success.  So, finish those stories.  Don’t touch them for a few months and return.  If you still feel they are worth your investment, begin editing and revising.

2. Don’t neglect doing your research

This is a big one and requires discipline.  It doesn’t matter what you’re writing.  Fiction or Non-fiction.  Biography or History.  Fantasy or Mystery.  All of these require a some level of research not only to be accurate but most-importantly: believable.  When I started writing my first fantasy book, I researched everything from characterization to culture.  Clothing, agriculture, and architecture.  None of these could be ignored because as I wrote, I ran into these aspects and knew I couldn’t use modern terminology or technology.  The lack of these were an obvious sign to my being an amateur.  Readers want to be immersed in the world but if there are obvious mistakes and/or inaccuracies when it comes to the time period and setting the story takes place in without reasonable explanation, then they will not keep reading.  That’s the opposite of what you want!

3. Read

No, seriously.  Read.  You cannot write well if you do not read.  Why?  Because there’s something that takes place in the brain when you read and consume content professionally edited.  You brain picks up patterns and conventions that you may know from school (elementary to high school English classes only to so much) but are denied later in life without practice and exposure.

One thing I wish I had done more of during my early years of writing is read more.  I probably only read a dozen books a year back then.  This is not enough.  I recently joined Goodreads.com and I recommend you do so to.  They have a yearly reading challenge that you initiate for yourself and are able to update and track your progress.  I only learned of this last year but I challenged myself to read at least 25 books.  I read 36.  That’s huge for me!  This year, I set my challenge to 50 books.  I have no idea if I can do that but that’s the point of a goal.

Also, read genres you wouldn’t otherwise read.  If you’re writing horror, then try reading romance or sci-fi.  Subject yourself to styles you’re not familiar with.  I could read fantasy at any time but it’s a chore to find something more dramatic or set in modern settings.  I’m purposefully doing this more and more because exposure to these other genres helps me break away from that fantasy box.  Non-fiction is a great starting place.  Find books about people or times in history that interest you.  When you understand real people and what motivated them or real historical periods/events, how they were influenced and how they impact the future, this transfers into your own writing.

Call to Action: Do all of these things!  In fact, if you’re not a writer but love to read, you can easily do number 3.

My Essentials for World Building

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World building in fantasy is almost like writing a full story in itself.  All fantasy authors I’ve researched and read about on this topic usually have the same process.  You have to do it.  In order for a full-fledged world to come alive in the pages, the reader has to believe these are real places that the characters live in.

I’m going to go over a few essentials that I highly recommend all writers develop, especially in fantasy.  All of these are aspects I’ve written extensive notes on and should not be overlooked or put to the side.  You’ll actually be surprised how much your story rounds out when these details are included.

1. Culture

What is it that makes the country/nation/island/region what it is?  History, customs, holidays, government, religion.  These are musts.  Think about whatever country you live in or are native to.  How did that country come into being?  What foundation was laid and at what cost?  Did it face conflict in order to maintain its statehood (is that the word?)?  What has each generation brought and caused to evolve?  I would not say you need to write an entire history book but the most important details should be explored and be a part of the characters.

1a. Religion

This is a big one that I never paid too much mind to in my early days.  I usually left it to a monotheistic deity that encompassed a wide range of belief or unbelief.  Honestly, I was a bit lazy and didn’t think it was worth exploring further.  Now, in the Ravanguard series, I have five dominant religions that are very different from each other (with the exception of two that are closely related but different in some respects).  I found after fleshing these out and applying them to characters that they were much more interesting and their choices were reflected according to their beliefs, which is very much what we do!

2. Landscape

This kind of seems like an easy one.  Oceans, rivers, mountains, etc.  All needed to give the appearance of a convincing natural setting but there’s more than these staples.  Bays, copses, ravines, hills, etc. to name a few.  Study these.  Look up pictures to get a good grasp of what they look like and how they form.  THEN, look at how they are utilized by civilization.  Boom.  Full circle.

2a. Ruins

Are there ruins?  Would there be historical sites?  What significance do they play?  Not everything has to be to the level of an Indiana Jones adventure but unless its a new civilization, there are usually signs of prior populations where artifacts are left behind and/or preserved.

3. Dialogue

Maybe there’s a fantasy or just fiction novel that uses no dialogue to tell its story but I’ve yet to run into it.  We speak just as characters should to reveal who they are and their understanding of the world in which they live.  Giving characters their own voice can be a challenge especially if you have a large number of speaking characters within the story.  If I had to make a rough estimation of speaking characters in “So Speaks the Gallows”, then I’d have to say there are anywhere between 60-80 characters who speak.  Those who speak more than a sentence or two shaves that list down quite a bit but I’m still writing the voices of a large number of people who I am telling you, the reader, is an individual and has their own history, experiences, beliefs, convictions, humor, dreams, etc.  Try handling all that and remaining sane!  I do and as I’ve spent time with these characters (some for the better length of three novels), their voices are as clear as crystal.

3a. Dialect

As I said with the religions above, that also means I’ve developed multiple forms of dialect, which includes vocabulary and slang.  This takes practice.  When I started out, all my characters talked the same as if they were all born from the same village.  It has taken years of writing and years of practice writing dialogue to be able to distinguish the speech of individuals from the place they came from.  I wish I could say I studied and did research to a great extent but I didn’t.  I’ve done a little but most of any differences you will find in speech between regions, nations, etc., is purely organic on my part.  I have those places and the people in them developed enough that they speak in a manner that I know how they would be differentiated.  The hope is that it translates onto the pages.

All of these elements are important in fantasy literature.  From Tolkien to the more modern writers, we can find great examples of worlds given great consideration.  Even in the fantastic genre, readers want to believe the world is real enough to be lived in.

Call to Action: Are there any other world building elements you think are just as important?  I’m sure there are.  I’d like to eventually write blog posts devoted to some of these and my experiences with them, especially since in my three major series that I have in the works, there are vast differences in the worlds.  Those may be in the writing queue.

Slow Burn the Beginning

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I recently finished a book that started off in a way that I just didn’t prefer.  While the book as a whole was fine and had some interesting concepts and characters, I could not shake the way it started.  So, I figured I’d share and discuss this a little (this is just my opinion and in no way a rule).

The book, “The Garden of Stones” by Mark T. Barnes, is fantasy that leans towards the “epic” sub-genre.  This means there’s a vast world inhabited with diverse cultures, languages, magic systems, etc.  I have no problem with this and often gravitate towards these stories as a whole (I’ve widened my range of reading considerably the last few years though).  My problem and this was evident in this book, is when within the first ten pages I am inundated with names, places and things all at once, I automatically have to push through, trusting the story will shape itself into something I will enjoy.

(Just in case Mark T. Barnes ever comes across this blog post, I hope he knows I respect his style and enjoyed reading, happy I finished the book.  This is not a review.)

My preference and the way I choose to write my books is to start small and let the world as a whole expand in a gradual but evenly paced track.  Short of like a narrow passageway that becomes wider and wider until the whole of the cavern is open.  There are advantages to this approach that I’ve found to be more appeasing to the reader who is already trusting you to take them on a journey.

The number one advantage to not throwing the reader into a whirlwind of information is that you give them time to get comfortable with the writing style and initial characters introduced.  The world should be shown through the eyes of the main point of view character.  The reader should not be told anything that the main POV would not themselves know.

For example, if Frodo had been introduced and already knew about the One Ring, its history, Sauron, the Nazgul and so on, then we would have been denied his natural reaction and learning of these forces.  Let’s take Harry Potter next (I know I use these two different sources to make use of my examples but I feel they are the most widely known along the literary spectrum.  Having the movies helps too, hahaha!).  Harry is naïve to the wizarding world as he should be.  How in the name of He Who Shall Not Be Named is he supposed to be aware of that hidden world!  Discovery.  This is the key (and second advantage).

This is more prevalent in the sci-fi/fantasy realm of books and may cross over into general fiction, but discovery of the unknown is the greatest asset to the story!  As a reader, I want to discover who the main protagonist is most of all and that includes the world they live in and all that entails from society to the more ethereal aspects.  Show me these things through their eyes and understanding.  I prefer a slow burn at the start.  It’s what keeps me engaged.

Now, you may be one who likes a rush of the world thrown at you (find Barnes’ book if you do) and that’s totally fine.  No fault on your part.  I simply think it’s more beneficial to learn as a writer not to set out all ten courses on the dining room table rather than going from course to course.  You savor what’s put in front of you in the beginning rather than ignoring it, only to be told it was really good but now its cold and stale if you dared try to return it.  Stories are an adventure.  We shouldn’t be given a straight shot to the end.  It should zig and zag with small and great surprises along the way!

Call to Action: Are there any books that do this?  Were you turned by the method of storytelling?  Comment with examples.  I’m curious to see what’s out there (not necessarily to avoid, just as a reference).

Best Supporting Role

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For me, rich stories involve a great deal of detail, forethought and most of all believable supporting characters.  Focusing on the latter today, I’m always thinking about the characters I consider to be placed in the “support” role.  Some are bras and some are jock straps (I’ll give you a second to consider that and all the nuances entailed, lol).

Sometimes, these characters can be glossed over, especially if they serve more as place holders than actual aids to the main protagonist(s) of the story.  There are clichés (plucky sidekick or daft henchman) and we can often locate those with ease.  The best, however, are those that actually play such a role that if removed, the story arc would suffer!

Where would Frodo be without Sam?  What about Harry if any of the many supports he had were gone (not counting Hermione or Ron because frankly, they’re more quasi-protagonists than supporting)?  There are countless other examples of this that I could go into but I think you get what I’m throwing at you.

The absolute best advice I’ve come across when it comes to writing and including supporting characters is that in those characters’ minds, they are not secondary. In other words, they have their own history, experiences, virtues and vices that make up their persona.  All of these should be included and evident during their scene(s).  Obviously, you will have stories where there are nameless, stand-ins who serve a broader role, especially if they make up the collective of a population, mob or army but those that actually speak and lend action to the story must be more.

Whenever writing these supporting characters, I always envision them having qualities both in physicality and personality that are unique to them.  For example, I recently started the fourth novella of the Ravanguard series.  The main protagonist is a woman who hires the service of a somewhat ruffian type who swears, loves to gamble, but hates to drink and has an extra pinky on his left hand, which has earned him the nickname of Two-Pink Simm.  That’s the most basic description I can give (you won’t be seeing him in readable form for a few years.  Sorry.  I’m working on it) but it gives you a lot of information.  The question automatically is: Why doesn’t he drink?  What’s the story behind that?  That’s a good question to ask and one that lends depth to him that may or may not be explored.  It’s a wrinkle of character that in my mind needs to be there.

Supporting characters should also be voices of dissent, challenging the main protagonist from time to time when there’s other options not yet explored.  No “yes men”!  What’s their personal agenda?  This is something that should be at the back of our minds when reading and coming across a portion of story where the supporting character says or does something that seems a method of contention.  This doesn’t mean they are a rival/antagonist but an opposing voice.

Let’s consider our own lives.  Do you have a friend (supporting characters are often friends, maybe an acquaintance) that you love and trust but they challenge your words or actions from time to time?  If yes, then keep that person in your life!  If you have one that is the opposite (remember what I said about the jock strap type), then don’t get too attached.  I have a few friends who I know I can be honest with about all kinds of things and know that if they disagree or have another way of approaching a situation, it’s not because they want me to fail.  They want me to succeed but not be hasty or irrational.

True support lends itself in beneficial ways that does not necessarily mean they benefit from the outcome.  I hope this all comes through the way I intend.  Stories are far more envisioned when the people whose point of views we, the readers, are denied but are ones we would love to peer into the minds of!  (This is actually something I struggle with because I would love to write from the POV of some of my supporting characters from time to time.)

Call to Action: Find those supporters in your life and thank them!  Go one step further and buy them a Starbucks gift card (I fully expect a full slew to be sent to me, ha!) and let them know you appreciate them.

Kill the Cliché, Twist the Trope: Magical MacGuffin

posted in: Fantasy, Writing | 2

There are conventions in fantasy literature that we know well, maybe to a lesser degree if you’re not an avid fan or reader, but you can recognize them with ease.  You can be reading/watching a story unfold, snap your fingers and say, “That’s so and so in this story…” or “I bet that’s what’s needed to solve…”  How?  Why?  Because you’ve seen it done so much, your brain does its magic and the dots are connected, always aware and finding the patterns.  These conventions that are easy to call are often clichés or tropes.

I relied too heavily on these clichés/tropes when I first dabbled in the genre and to be honest, it was good because it helped me understand and know what I wanted to avoid later in my journey as a writer.  For today’s post, I’m going to explore another one (don’t be surprised if this becomes a monthly post-type by the way).

The Magical MacGuffin.  What’s this?  Well, it’s the One Ring in Lord of the Rings, the Holy Grail pursued by Indiana Jones or King Arthur, and/or most recently, any of the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  A MacGuffin in literary terms is a plot device pursued by the protagonist to form the basis of the plot.  Now, these devices don’t always have to be magical.  You could literally take any story (from a book, play, tv show or film) and find the MacGuffin.  It could be a goal, dream, desire, object, idea, etc.  All of these fill the role.  Honestly, I don’t have a problem with the device as a whole but in fantasy, it is (in my opinion) a cliché/trope worth avoiding.

In the second book I wrote (one that has been shelved for the time being), I actually tried to take this trope and twist it.  I asked the question, “What if the magical objects in the world suddenly quit working, forcing the societies that relied on them to deal with the resulting conflicts that would naturally ensue?”  A malfunction of the MacGuffin if you will.  Now, this is an idea worth exploring and I may still do it to a degree but on a lesser scale.  Maybe a standalone novel…  There are elements in that world that I created and quite like a lot and don’t completely want to abandon.  Hmmmmm…  Yep, you’ve read it here first.  I may have just realized I do in fact have another story to put in my queue!

Back to the topic.  I struggle to get behind the idea of a Magical MacGuffin because its played out in fantasy.  Tolkien did it the best with the One Ring.  We have a magical item that is in fact filled with the evil of the main antagonist who wants it back.  The goal of the protagonists is to take that item to the only place where it can be destroyed (which happens to be in the most dangerous place in Middle Earth) all the while having to avoid its influence and the desire of others who want to claim it for themselves.  It’s actually a very good device used by Tolkien and plays better in the story as an item to destroy rather than attain.  Kudos to the master!

What we see since then is a lot of stories that drive the plot forward with magical items being the end goal (a sword, crown, horn, bowl, knickknack or patty whack).  Once attained, it usually gives the hero the power to overcome the evil one.  There are usually obstacles that bring lessons learned and help the character grow but for me, both as a reader and writer, to form an entire plot on the magical device, just doesn’t hold my attention.  When looking for new books to read, I actually check to see if the synopsis includes a Magical MacGuffin.  If so, I set it aside.

Thankfully, there is a wave happening in fantasy literature that doesn’t rely on this particular device.  Maybe there are magical items in the world but they are not the bones to hold everything up.  In my Ravanguard series, there are things that could be considered magical but play no major significance to the overall conflict.  I do introduce something that may look the part in the early chapters but as you read, you realize I’ve twisted the expectation of the convention.  The story centers around the three main point of views and their inner struggles to cope with a world that is turned onto its side.  They must rely on themselves and those they trust in order to survive.

I should be clear and say I’m not opposed to a Magical MacGuffin entirely in a story so long as there is a twist or subversion.  Let there be a price to pay in order to use it.  The One Ring actually does this.  Using it makes the wielder dependent and a slave to it.  That’s good!  To compare, consider the Goblet of Fire in the fourth Harry Potter book.  It’s a magical item that is the goal to attain.  Why?  Harry has to because he’s in the contest but what else?  I won’t spoil the book or movie but at least there’s a twist at the end that does extend the overall saga as a whole.  This is also good!

Maybe you prefer this convention for whatever the reason.  Not a bad thing.  We’re just different and have different tastes, which is great, fine and dandy.  Hopefully, that won’t keep you from reading my books (Ha!).  Happy reading!

Call to Action: Do you prefer Magical MacGuffin’s in stories?  If so, share them with me!  I’m always curious to read other people’s preferences and opinions.  Are there any that have been twisted and subverted that you enjoyed?

Status of Projects

posted in: Writing | 0

My friends!  Thank you for coming and reading.  You all are amazing and the continued support is hands down so encouraging.

I wanted to talk a bit about where I’m at with all of my projects and provide some clarity.  This comes because of some questions I’ve been asked recently and I think this is the best place to share to give everyone an idea of what I have on my plate (three courses, desert and coffee!).

I have three “working” projects that are all at different stages.  One of my two smaller projects is my standalone novel, “Evinsaale”, which is probably a quarter of the way written.  It’s a smaller project but one I like to go back to from time to time.  It has the potential to be more than one book but I might simply write short stories based on the world.  I haven’t decided yet.

The other project is my “Shoals to the Hallowed” series which is a bit more experimental.  I’ve developed much of the world and its aspects and even written a few viewpoint chapters for a first book as a practice exercise to see if it’s something I could put more time into.  The experimental side of it is to write flash fiction for it set thirty years before the events of the first book.  Think of it as providing back story in snippets–glimpses so to speak.  You all will get those flash fiction posts every month.  Now, I know these could be hard to follow.  It’s a vast world with a lot of stuff that might not get definitions or fleshed out much.  What I’d like to do is provide a primer on the website.  That should be coming soon.  I just need to write all that down and make it available.  Definitely provide me feedback on these flash fiction posts.  If something’s unclear, let me know.  It’s an experiment and I’m okay with learning from my mistakes.

My main project is the Ravanguard series.  Much of my writing focus (aside from this blog, hahaha!) narrows into this place.  My plan from the beginning was to release a novella before each major book.  The novella’s would always be released as ebooks as a sort of bonus for those who enjoyed the series and also given as a prize between each of the main books.  One of the big issues I’ve seen in the market for readers is that the wait between books is long.  Readers read faster than writer’s write.  That’s just the way of it unfortunately.  I recognized this early on and that’s why I decided to write as much of the whole series as possible in order to avoid this long break.

Just to give an idea of the scope of the series, here’s the list:

Dim the Veil: A Ravanguard Novella – currently being read by beta readers, awaiting feedback

So Speaks the Gallows: Book 1 of the Ravanguard series – currently being edited

Untitled second Ravanguard Novella – currently being edited for beta readers

Untitled Book 2 of the Ravanguard Series – currently in rough draft form

Untitled third Ravanguard Novella – currently in rough draft form

Untitled Book 3 of the Ravanguard Series – currently in rough draft form

Untitled fourth Ravanguard Novella – currently being written

Untitled Book 4 of the Ravanguard Series – currently being outlined

Whew!  So, as you can see, I’ve written a lot and I am hard at work moving forward with this series.  I wish I had titles to share with all of you but until I decide and cement it into place, I have only working titles.  However, those will be announced in due time.  I cannot say for sure how many books there will be but judging by the story’s progress and the current states for each major viewpoint, I estimate that there will likely be 6-7 books total with just as many novellas.

All in all, I’ve got my work cut out for me.  My plan is to release “Dim the Veil” this year (hopefully in the summer) on Amazon.  I will then give that enough time to percolate in the fantasy spectrum and pursue an agent, which ideally would lead to a publisher.  This is not a fast process.  To be honest, if I manage any sort of wide spread notoriety (never guaranteed) before I hit 40, then I will count it as a huge professional success.

Call to Action: Go back and read my first flash fiction post and comment if you dare with a critique.  Recommend it to your friends!

Vilest Villainy Vowed to Venture

posted in: Writing | 0

(Alliteration is king.  I’m a big fan of the play on words and I hope you all enjoy them as much as I do.)

Villains.  The great antagonist exploration.  There’s a problem–or to say it better: a cliché–in fiction when it comes to the opposing force of the hero.  It’s more commonly found in epic fantasy but I’m sure it exists in other genres as well.  This cliché postulates that the villain/bad guy that brings forth the main conflict in the story is evil for the sake of evil.

Examples of this would be the White Witch (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), Sauron (The Lord of the Rings), and in any other work that calls this force by any number of fear-inducing monikers (The Evil One, Chaos, Hades, etc.).

The problem with this practice (it’s not so commonly used today due to its overuse and relying on, hence becoming a cliché) is that it cheapens the story.  I struggled to understand this in the beginning because I was subjected to the ethereal essence of a dominating figure in the books I read.  This is probably my biggest gripe with fantasy nowadays (aside from the use of other clichés i.e., farm boy chosen one, damsel in distress, etc.).

How does this go away?  Well, for each writer, they have to write their own story.  My opinion won’t dictate a change across the board (I’m not that self-centered.  Remember, just a proud punk) but I can make sure I don’t fall into this myself.  For me, I look at antagonists who bleed and make choices based on beliefs/desires; those are the ones who better suit my stories.

There are many examples of this but one that I continually go to whenever I think of a truly terrifying antagonist is the Joker portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”.  The late Heath Ledger created a character–not just a villain–that was more than what we the audience expected.  I still remember sitting in that small theater in my hometown and processing what I had just watched while the credits climbed the screen.

Years later, I’ve come to think of antagonists in a very different light.  An all evil character that rests behind a wall until it can regain its form or strength is a distant threat.  Underlings are forced to bring minimal conflict to the hero until the “end” where the big bad is at full strength and the final battle takes place.  This usually involves the hero possessing some kind of knowledge, magic, or item that solely has the ability or helps to destroy the evil one.

We all know this story right?  It’s nothing new.  For me, it’s refreshing to come across an antagonist who subverts the expected.  Put me in the mind and position of an antagonist who can be crazy, self-centered and brutal but lead me through the pages in which I get a glimpse into their soul.  No one is evil for the sake of evil.  All figures in history we would label under that term became that way for a variety of reasons.

Choice is key.  An antagonist that makes choices based on their desires, needs and/or wants is far more compelling to me as a reader and writer.  It’s funny but I’m actually unhappy when I come across a villain that doesn’t meet this expectation.  I was very disappointed in Benedict Cumberbatch’s (come on, isn’t that just one of the funniest names to say out loud?!  Rolls off the tongue) portrayal as Khan in Star Trek.  I just wanted more.  Go watch No Country For Old Men and Skyfall and in those films you get amazing villains portrayed by the amazing Javier Bardem.

I know these are all film examples but I believe these are more accessible than throwing out names of literary villains that I’m not sure would be as well known.  Oh!  I thought of one.  Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes is a great literary (and film) example.  There you go, readers.  All of these are antagonists that are more than the great evil one.  They are flesh and blood.  These are the truly terrifying villains because I cannot determine what they want or will do to get their desires met.  Sauron?  Yeah, he wants to destroy everything that is good.  Sure, I’ll be rooting for the heroes to defeat him but you always knew where he was because he was trapped in his “cell” and I could not expect him to arrive at a moment’s notice.

I hope all this makes sense.  As always, this is my perspective and something I’ve learned for myself as a writer.  A truly terrifying antagonist is one who’s motives may not always be clear and their actions can surprise from one page to another.

Call to Action: Pretty simple one for today.  Watch the link provided to get a great list of villain clichés:

Don’t Pass on Your Passion

posted in: Writing | 2
 
Passion is the fire that burns a new trail in the wilderness of confusion and conformity.

It’s a good one today.  My wife and I recently watched La La Land and while the film itself is wonderful and worth the time to enjoy, I was berated through the viewing to think about passion.  What is it and why is it so important to have?

I won’t spoil the movie but I do recommend seeing it.  Passion is a theme that runs through the veins of each of the main leads.  I took notice of this and knew I wanted to explore it a little in regards to who I am as a creative.

All creatives have an innate desire to see their works brought to completion.  A painter or sculptor envisions the material they are using to be formed into the image they’ve fashioned in their mind’s eye.  Musicians hear the music/song and set forth in putting the notes together until it is finished.  Passion is what drives these actions.

We know what passion can lead to when left unchecked and ignored.  Violence and horrible events can easily be attributed to a hateful passion to see others harmed for ones own or a collective’s benefit.  These are not what we strive to birth or maintain.

Healthy passions though should bring about beauty and joy (and sparkly unicorns sliding down rainbows into a sea of melted chocolate).  The artist’s passion should evoke emotion and appeal to the senses.  Whether positive or negative (as in sadness or loss), this type of passion benefits rather than castigates those caught in the swell.

For myself, I have a great passion to tell stories.  I have other sub-passions like playing music or cooking savory roasts but to tell a story–one that appeals to more people than a small demographic–is my greatest desire.  Any time I allow someone to read my writing, I have this great twirl in my spirit to hear that they loved what they read (just being honest).  If not, well then I’ll just put them on the shun list.  Seriously though, artists want to be verified in what they do–praised for the efforts of their passion.

(Segway start) While this is not always the case, it’s important to learn and manage yourself if you do face criticism or scrutiny.  It’s not the end of the world when those types of feedback come.  My advice: don’t put your sense of value in the hands of another person who may or may not like what you’ve created.  It’s okay to not have fans.  There’s a lot of people in the world and I think you’ll find plenty who support and hold you in high regard for your creative output.  Passion killed by criticism is a sign of that passion’s strength or lack thereof.  Too many people are broken–dreams shattered–because of criticism.  Don’t be one of these. (Segway end)

Where was I?  Oh.  Sometimes passion is put in a sort of dormant state.  This happened to me for a few years while I struggled through life after high school (Eating Del Taco just about every day will affect more than your waistline).  I wrote but my desire to do so and to produce something I was passionate about just could not be mustered.  I think it took some of those “hard to learn” lessons in life for me to get out of my funk and re-prioritize my life.  When I did, the passion erupted and I was back on track writing like man bent on accomplishment.

(Does this increasingly come off more and more like an inspirational rant?  Yes?  Good!  Nah, I just want to be helpful where I can.  Passion is something I can articulate to you.  If you want a college classroom-worthy lecture on literature, then well this is not the place.  I must admit, I was only “passing” when it came to literature in school.  I didn’t see what the professors/teachers thought I should see.)

To close this loop, maintaining passion requires effort.  A conscious decision has to be made (maybe even every day for some people) in order to reach the goal.  Find what keeps the fires burning and be prudent to do what’s necessary to keep the heat up.  I’ve witnessed others let their dreams and desires fizzle out into an ashy heap, but the embers are still there buried beneath if you look.  Keep it stoked!

Call to Action: If you have a rejection letter or negative comments about whatever it is your passionate about, put them aside for awhile.  They can be good to keep for motivation but I think positive feedback can have similar effects on you as a burgeoning creative.  Find those praises and inspiring elements and put them up along with your personal goals.  Look beyond the tightrope, look to the other side.

Show and Tell…More of the Former

posted in: Writing | 4
When writers first start out, having had that singular idea/scene of a broader story, they set out to construct what they hope is a finished story that they can share, inspire and get praise for.  This is essentially what they want (at least I know I did).

There were many nuances of writing I did not understand in the beginning.  Honestly, how could I?  I did not have a mentor/teacher or even a writing group to help me understand some of the more basic practices of the discipline.  I sort of learned the hard way (and I’m thankful I did!)

I’m sure I’ll dabble in many of these common mistakes and missteps from time to time while blogging but one that is probably most important to me and one I constantly pursue in everything I write is to follow one simple rule: Show don’t tell.

Readers hate to be coddled when reading (we all do in just about everything.  My sarcasm erupts with a vigor unknown to mankind when I’m sensing I’m being given no intellectual credit for what’s on the page in a book).  Perhaps there are some who prefer to have their hand held while going from page to page but I simply cannot oblige.

My early writing attempts were rife with this mistake and I’ll admit, I tend to repeat some things in the first pages of drafts.  It happens more to remind myself than to inflict disrespect on the reader.  But those early writings were quite the introduction for me to learn from my mistakes.

One of the first prologues I ever wrote was one such piece.  I was very excited to have written and completed an introduction to the first world I had created.  I was a member of a popular writing forum back then and posted the prologue for feedback.  There was probably half a dozen or so responses on my forum thread and I yearned to read each one, expecting praise and wonder at what I had accomplished (there’s no other excitement like that!).  Signal…deflation.

While the responses were not horrible, I saw a lot more constructive criticism that was difficult to take in at the time but invaluable in the end.  Much of what was offered was for me to learn how to rewrite in a way that showed the readers rather than tell them what was happening.

Let me throw out an example:

“John was cold in the night.  There was a loud sound that made him scared.”

Woo… killer stuff!  That was actually difficult to write.  What I did above was tell you the scene.  Read below for showing you.

“John shivered in the dead of night, his trembling broken by the sudden crack of something nearby, heartbeat increasing.”

Truthfully, what I did here was simple but not easy to do all the time.  Sometimes, you cannot help but tell, however in this instance, showing you, the reader, John and his predicament is far more important.  I want to invoke your senses and emotions.  I want you to envision John vulnerable and out of his element.

Action words are important.  Adjectives are equally important.  Verbs like “was” and “were” are just…boring.  I am telling you John was cold but if I paint this picture of John shivering then you know (because you’ve no doubt shivered before) that he was cold!

Writers, I appeal to you here, don’t be lazy in your writing.  Learn to show and you’ll receive far better feedback and you’ll enjoy writing a whole lot more (hey, there’s a concept).  While you want to write only the story you can tell, you want to do it well.  You’ll be taken more serious as a writer from learning and getting better each time you sit down at your keyboard or writing pad.

Call to Action: A great exercise to put yourself through is to watch a movie that evokes the practice of showing rather than telling.  Film is a great resource to study because they have to show everything.  Think about how you are being shown what is happening.

My Trick to Great Writing (Shhhh, Don’t Tell)

posted in: Writing | 0

This is a bit of an admission post and a look into who I am as a person.  Want to know the real me?  Then you’re going to get these kinds of posts from time to time.  It’s related though to writing because, well, I am me and I happen to be a writer.  Shocker!

I can’t tell you how many resources there are out there with great and not so great writing help.  I’ve combed through a lot of this over the years and found some great and wonderful aids to learn and better myself as a writer.  Check out my Resources page to see the books I recommend.

What I’d like to do here is sort of explore what I’ve found to be the most critical part of my development as a writer/storyteller.

Come in real close…too close!  Back a bit up (is that rosemary?).  My secret is simply this: observe.

Confetti!!!

Observe?  Huh?  Yes, observe.

I spent a great deal of my childhood spending time by myself.  I had a group of close friends and I was completely socially awkward.  Not at first, at least, but once puberty hit, the oh so flattering changes happened (back-ne being one of my most traumatic flourishes of hormones).  I became more and more withdrawn.  I was athletic enough to pass for a decent basketball player but my lack of surpassing five and half feet in height dampened any starry-eyed dreams of playing at the collegiate level and beyond.

As I’ve said, high school was the time I first dabbled with writing.  I won’t retread that again but I realized later in life that during my adolescence, I had a knack for observing the world around me without really contributing much to it.  I watched people and who they were when it came to conflicts, struggles, joys and victories.  Those things have stayed with me!  And I continue to observe the world in this manner with more intent on paying attention to the details.

Writing a good story means you have to have great characters who go beyond the clichés and tropes of the hero/anti-hero/villain motif.  Real characters who jump off the page and seem like someone you could actually see alive in the real world only comes by observing and understanding people in real life.  I learned without trying to.

To observe is to stand back and watch unobjectively (not a word, but you know what I mean).  I have my own experiences and therefore have my own opinions, convictions, dreams and desires.  However, as a writer, unless I’m writing a story with only one character or a story filled with similar characters (dullsville!), then I need to understand people who are not like me at all.  Who honestly wants to read a book where all the characters are the hero?  I call BS because that’s not a story.  It’s barely a premise (or is it?).

My struggles in social settings while growing up helped me later in life.  I was the kid who did not care to be the focus of the room but I did take notice of the other people and studied without ever realizing I was preparing myself for my future.

I seriously encourage all people (not just writers, but you all should try this more) to take a step back and simply observe from afar.  Don’t be creepy about it; have some tact.  It’s amazing the things you learn from watching people.  You will pick up the most interesting tidbits about behavior by doing so.  And behavior is what writers work with.  When a character is put up against an unexpected conflict, their reaction or behavior is based on so many factors: history, upbringing, fears, prejudices, etc.

Observe the world before judging it.  Let this be a common practice we all take part in for our future.

Call to action: Go to a public place (mall, park, beach) and watch.  Learn some things about strangers and what makes them different based on their behaviors.  By the way, if you go to a beach, it’s less creepy to people watch if you’re wearing sunglasses.

Sunday Levity: Laughter Prevails

posted in: Sunday Levity | 0


This short post comes from my simple sitting back and not engaging the world in its full spectrum of divisive positions.  In short, I prefer to observe from a distance for the time being and take solace in the little things that bring me laughter and joy.

I have no intention here other than being honest (very few probably actually care to know my opinion of the current social climate of the nation).  I encourage everyone to be slow to anger and simply take moments throughout your days and go to the things that make you smile.  Laugh a little.  It does the soul good.

May I suggest simply going to Pinterest and typing in “funny”.  Take a few minutes and scroll.  You’ll be glad you did!

Call to action: Even if you don’t feel like it, take my suggestion and run with it!

Your Fantasy Reading Guide

posted in: Writing | 0

This post was influenced by a trip to Barnes and Noble in San Luis Obispo’s wonderful downtown area.  Both my brother-in-laws and I roamed a few of the streets, hitting a record store (Boo Boo Records.  Go there if you have a chance!), a used book store that was so irresistibly messy with full shelves and the overflow of stacked books serving as paperback end caps, and finally the B&N.

We looked around and eventually came across the fiction section and then the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section.  One of my BILs asked what would be a good book to read just to read in general fiction.  I struggled to give much of a recommendation but when we stumbled into the aisle of my preferred genre, I was quick to offer recommendations if they were interested.

That escapade brings me here.  I cannot say for certain who comes to read my blog (family and friends are quick to visit and I appreciate that greatly.  Encourage your friends to as well and feel free to leave comments), but I have a feeling (if I’m wrong, then please forgive me) that there might be some curiosity as to what I might recommend to readers for their fantasy interests.

So here we are!  Continue reading and I’ll provide some recommendations based on my extensive reading of the Fantasy genre.  I’ll also help provide some key themes and terms that (once again, please forgive me if wrong) may not be familiar.

Fantasy as a genre has been around a good many years.  Modern fantasy is a bit of a mixed bag depending on preferences.  For classics, I would be remiss to not steer you in the direction of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.  Both of these authors had a grasp of the genre that has greatly influenced just about every work to date in some form or another.

I can only recommend what I’ve read, so please don’t jump and claw at my face if there’s something you disagree with or don’t see.  Rather, throw out recommendations in a comment.  In no particular order of preference, length, popularity or any other critiquing factor, here we go!

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (and completed by Brandon Sanderson) – If you read my previous On This Day post, then you’ve already been given some background info on this particular series.  Wonderful characters and world building with a complex and impressive magic system that plays a role in the story.  I would qualify this as a High Magic series which in general terms simply means the magic system is vast and influential throughout.

A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin – I admit, I’ve only read the first two books of this series and will eventually return to it and finish once it’s been completed.  You can watch the show but be denied the complexity of plots and subplots Martin has woven throughout.  In comparison, this would be considered Low-Mid fantasy due to the downplay of magic.  It’s evident but not pertinent to the story.  The characters drive the story and are the reason to invest your time.  Note: If you’re put off by extreme violence and sex, you probably want to be wary.

The Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson – Epic in the sense that it feels grander in a shorter amount of total pages.  The first trilogy is where to start.  He has continued the story with a new trilogy that takes place centuries ahead of the first.  This is the series to read if you love inventive, imaginative magic systems.  Sanderson created such a magnificent system that screams of being adapted to film in the future.  Part crime caper and part chosen one story, you’ll love what he does to introduce tropes in the genre only to turn them on their head in ways that keep you reading well into the night and ignoring your bedtime.

The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson – Epic by all definitions.  Characters, world(s), magic, plot twists and turns.  Nothing is more vast than this series.  I struggled with it due to the complexity of the writing but highly recommend it despite that.  It’s truly mesmerizing in its scope and goal.

The Drenai Saga by David Gemmel – Hero fantasy.  Best way to put it.  The saga follows a singular hero and his many journeys in life.  The best of the best who survives against extreme odds.  There’s a fair amount of violence, some sex and even some humor.  Legend, the first book of the saga is a good introduction to the genre of fantasy.

The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss – Easily one of the best out there.  Rothfuss spent years honing his craft.  There’s a type of lyrical flow to his writing that keeps you trapped in the world of Kvothe (pronounce K-woeth) who is a musician first and wizard/magician second.  Amazing writing and world explored in a first person narrative.

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie – Given the credit for being one of the forbearers of the most recent boom of what’s aptly called Grimdark Fantasy, this series is dark, violent, and depressing.  Characters are grey.  Heroes and villains are not denied vices and the “good guys” don’t necessarily win by the last page of these books.  Still, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the genre and would like to leave behind the clichés and tropes so many other series seem to get trapped in.

The Discworld series by Terry Pratchet – Want to laugh?  Then read this one.  Pratchett takes his readers on a ride through a witty, dry world that takes place on the back of terrestrial turtle shell (yes, you read that right).  With dozens of books in the series, you can read about the misadventures and quests of wizards, witches, Death, city watchmen and more in this instantaneous favorite.  Listening to these in audiobook format is equally fun.

The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham – This ones less familiar in most circles but a very good series of Low Fantasy.  The magic system is unique and while it plays an integral role in the plot, it does not overshadow the characters.

The Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook  – Preceding Joe Abercrombie, this series was Grimdark before the term was invented.  It follows a mercenary unit of soldiers caught up in a mess of twists and turns where they do all they can to survive.  Great world, characters and magic.  One of my personal favorites.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling – While I was not allowed to read this series growing up, as an adult, I tried it out and fell in love with the characters and world.  I call this High Imagination.  I am not convinced this series is suitable for children as it explores very dark themes and elements throughout but I believe it’s a great work that explores the journey of adolescence into adulthood.  Whatever your feelings are towards it, it’s worth reading.


Call to Action: Recommend a book or series to me!  It doesn’t have to be Fantasy or even fiction.  Share with me something you’ve read and loved!

On This Day: The Eye of the World is Published

posted in: On This Day | 1

Hello friends!  Let me start this off by saying this is the first of a monthly blog post focused on literary figures, books, authors, artists, film, etc. that have greatly inspired me as a writer.  These will be posted on the anniversary of said honoree.

(Edit: While I know this is the day we celebrate and honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I’m making this little edit at this time to say he was truly inspirational and a man filled with vision and love who could see beyond to what we as a people could and should be as citizens of the United States.  Take a moment today and honor him in any way you can.)

It’s only fitting that the first post of this series honors the late Robert Jordan and his introduction to the world I fell in love with after the first page.

Granted, I know not everyone who reads this post will be in agreement or even having read The Eye of the World (Book 1 of the Wheel of Time series).  No worries!  My mission is not to convert anyone to become a follower of the Dragon (first in book reference).

As I’ve stated before, I first came across this book back in the fall of 1999 (dear lord, that makes me feel old).  The book was published back on January 16th, 1990.  I still remember going to the library before school started (yes, my friends and I were those Freshmen), sitting at the table and noticing a book one of my friends was reading.  See the image below (how could you not be intrigued?!).  For whatever reason, this book caught my eye.  I was not an avid reader to say the least.  I barely read comic books.  Yet, it was this book that captivated me and set my course to this day more than 17 years later.

 

For those uninitiated in the world of epic fantasy (sorry, if you only watch Game of Thrones, I don’t count you as a fellow fantasy nerd.  But there’s still hope!), The Eye of the World takes the reader on an adventure filled to the brim with a colorful, complex world where there are Aes Sedai, Trollocs, Gleemen, and Forsaken.  Are you looking at that list and thinking, “Uh… what?”  Obviously not if you’ve delved beyond this first of fourteen tome.

I will not be providing an Amazon worthy critique exactly or even a vast, droning summary.  No, I’d rather share how this book thrust me forward as a writer.

The Eye of the World (I’ve read it at least five times) has continued to teach me how to write an epic fantasy novel.  Robert Jordan is notorious for details.  Every person and place was vividly described in a way that once I got ten books in drove me crazy.  At that point, you know the world so well, you don’t care what color and style clothes Rand al’Thor is wearing as he sits in some manor house with its rugs and tapestries in Tear (stay with me!).  You just want the story to move forward.  As a reader, that’s frustrating but as a writer, I learned the invaluable treasure of providing details in my own writing that lends to the realism of the world I’ve created.

Now, I admit, I do not write to the level of detail Robert Jordan does in his books.  I have my own style and approach to world building but I cannot stress how much his books inspired me more than any other.  I’m so thankful for his level and commitment to detail because I learned to appreciate it as I set out to write my own books, starting back in 2003.  That’s nearly fourteen years where I learned and realized that I wanted to include details!

Stories need details.  The best ones out there include details that appeal to the senses.  If the reader cannot only see the scene on the page but hear, smell and even taste the acrid smoke on the battlefield where charred wood and bodies choke the lungs of the wailing wounded, then as a writer, I have failed to immerse my reader in the hell that’s presented.  The goal of the scene should be to make the reader’s stomach twist slightly, pulling them into the mess and chaos of a battle’s aftermath.  Even if you’ve never been involved in such a horrible place in real life, you should be able to tap into your imagination and be there.

Robert Jordan’s writing taught me far more than just the importance of detail in writing.  Setting, foreshadowing, theme, characterization, etc.  These are all areas I gained more knowledge of each time I revisited his world.  I am forever thankful for such a writer and book offered to the literary community.

Call to Action: Buy or go to your local library and find the Eye of the World (pst, you can just click on the pic above).  I encourage everyone to experience this great novel even if you’re not a fantasy aficionado like myself.  It’s worth reading just to immerse yourself in the great detailed writing.

No Resolute Absolute

posted in: Writing | 0

2017 is here!  I’m thirty-two and cannot for the life of me understand how I feel the same as I did when I was in my younger twenties.  Sure, I’m more refined and mature than when I was skipping class at the local community college and putting myself on academic probation but I truly feel amazing and look forward to this new year!

Goals and plans.  That’s what I want to discuss and sort of put my hands into for today’s post like a wet clay that needs molding.  It’s truly easy to lose track of the year and let it moan by while I simply give it a jaunty wave and then I’ve got 2018’s starting line ahead of me.

As a writer, I absolutely believe in setting goals–believable goals.  I’ve learned since my early days not to say some nonsense like, “I will get an agent and get a six-book deal with TOR by the end of this year.”  Not a healthy goal.  However, if TOR somehow comes across this post and gets their hands on the manuscript for book one of the Ravanguard series, I am available to discuss and negotiate the contract today.  If not, then I’ll go back to my realistic, healthy goals.

This website is finished and in it’s infancy.  That’s a 2016 goal that has come to pass.  I’ve given the first Ravanguard novella to multiple beta readers and even received some very valuable feedback.  That’s a goal met!  Huzzah hooray!  For 2017, I need to establish some new goals.  Hopefully by placing them here, I’ve got all of you to help me and keep me accountable.  If we’re fast approaching December 2017 and I’ve done nothing but entertain all of you with this blog, then I fully expect and invite some hyper-encouraging comments to kick me into gear.

What are my goals for this new year?  It’s truly simple.  Release the finished first novella of the Ravanguard series to all of you in e-reader format for free.  Now this is something that could happen quickly.  It all depends on how much feedback I get from my beta readers.  You all will have access to a sample of the first pages soon.  When that happens, I will make the announcement.  I’ll celebrate and give myself a high five and sip a little Glenmorangie 10 yr single malt to commemorate the achievement.  It’ll be a good day.

Another goal I will be setting is to continue to bring you all new blog posts.  I have a vague idea of what I want this blog to be if not just the medium for which I can talk with all of you.

For my plans, I am thinking of not only keeping strong with the rest of the Ravanguard series since that is a constant but I’d like to work on some other projects when I need a break.  I have a stand alone fantasy novel I’ve worked on and would like to probably provide some sample material for that to all of you as well.  Maybe just to get some feedback.  I have an idea of how I want to do that but I’ll wait and see.

Aha!  Another goal I just thought of.  I am on goodreads and love that site.  I set a reading goal for myself last year to read 25 books.  I surpassed that quickly because I read about 3-4 books at a time.  I like to give myself options and not be bogged down by one book (I know the arguments against that approach and we’ll thumb wrestle over who’s sillier to think one way is better than the other).  I read two physical books and listen to two audiobooks at a time.  My method of madness (Oh, band name!).  So, my new goal for the year is to do 50 books this year.  And good for all of you, I will be sharing my thoughts of each book finished here!  What I’d also like to do, is get book recommendations from all of you too.  I’ve tried hard to add books that are not fantasy to my queue but struggle finding good ones so I invite you all to help me out in that regard.

Let’s see…  I can’t think of any other goals or plans to share so I’ll leave it at that for now and sign off.  You all are amazing!  Thanks for starting this journey with me and make sure to leave comments and follow me on Twitter at @adamhenderson49

Call to Action: What’s the last book you read and hated?