The Epic in Epic Fantasy

A few weeks ago I had the flu. I had it bad. I get sick somewhat frequently, partly because I fly a lot, partly because I drink too much and that probably weakens my immune system I can only assume. But I haven’t had the flu much since I was a kid. This was definitely the worst I’ve had it since I turned 18.

I couldn’t get out of bed for 3 days except to go to the bathroom. Could almost eat nothing.

It was also hard for me to sleep during the day, feverish and sweaty that I was. Fortunately, I had one little piece of luck on my side. Something that made it easy to get through. OK, not easy, but possible. I was reading Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer (Stormlight Archives 3) at the time.

Now, I read a lot of big books (I love big books and I cannot lie). Epic fantasy has always been my thing. I used to go to the bookstore and randomly choose books from the fantasy section based on which one was the thickest.

But I’m pretty certain this is the longest book I’ve ever read. Over 450,000 words. More than 1200 pages in hardcover with basically no margins. That’s about four Kevin books in one.

The final sequence, which involved about a thousand threads converging on each other in an epic confrontation, was the equivalent of a normal-sized novel. And holy shit was it emotionally exhausting.

It was incredible, and the only bad part about it was: I was sad it finally came to an end. 450,00 words and I wanted more immediately.

I want to be able to write like that. To create something so epic, so gripping, so dramatic, an epic fantasy reader can read the longest book she’s ever read and think it was too short.

But I can’t. Or at least, I can’t imagine ever getting to that level. I’ve learned more from Brandon than any other author, and I think a lot my strengths as a writer are similar (though not as good by any means) to his. To do what he did in this book, though? I just can’t imagine ever having that ability.

But it doesn’t mean I won’t try. I just finished the fifth draft of my seventh novel, The Obsidian Pyramids. Shortly after publishing this post, I will be embarking on one of the scariest, most painful, frustrating experiences a young(ish-in-a-way) writer can have. I will be sending out the first round of queries.

Pray for me. If you do that sort of thing. I’d say have a drink for me if not (or if so!), but I will be having plenty for myself this weekend, so I think I have that covered.

Writing Other

After a holiday break (with a bit too much drinking, if there is such a thing), I’m back at editing my WIP, The Obsidian Pyramids. With some helpful feedback, I’m pushing toward the fourth draft.

One of the comments I received was a request to add a POV for one of the secondary characters. I was hesitant at first, but I’m giving it the old college try, and I think if it works, it can solve multiple problems with the MS.

As a quick aside, one of the things I’ve discovered about myself as a writer over my last two novels is this: I enjoy writing women characters much more than men. Am I good at it? Ha, lol, probably not. Though I do personally feel like my ladies are better than the boys, I’m very much a dude, and I probably don’t get it.

In my previous book, Daughters of Darkness, most of the characters were women. I was scared, figuring I would fuck it up, write ridiculous, unbelievable, or offensive characters. But I was pleased with how it turned out (even if lit agents seem to disagree with me). Now, as I look to add this new POV, I’m faced an even scarier proposition: writing the character I understand the least, and probably will get horribly wrong, forever shaming myself…

A popular, charismatic dude.

Seriously, I have no idea how these people work. I’m an enginerd, and I’ve recently learned that I’m probably mildly autistic. I have a PhD, I write algorithms to trade hundreds of millions of dollars in institutional money, but ask me to initiate a friendly conversation at a bar/party/whatever, I’m like, uh… I don’t… what?

So getting inside the head of this magically (in a literal sense) charismatic guy  is daunting. Fuck, even writing him from other character’s perspectives was scary and hard (and I’m not sure I succeeded).

I figure I’ll do what I always do in these situations: focus on the magic. Royne is a Charmer, which means his magical ability is to instinctually understand what other people want to hear, how to stroke their egos, how to connect with and impress them.

We’ll see how it goes.

No NaNoWriMo For Me

I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year, for the first time in several Novembers. Personally, I always looked at NaNoWriMo as a cute little thing, something to talk about on social media a bit. I’ve never been a fast writer or a binge writer, so I never came close to winning.

But I’ve also never (at least from a certain age) had a problem sticking with my writing and getting to the end of the draft, even if it took a little time. When I’m writing a first draft, I write six days a week, skipping very few schedule days during the drafting process. It usually takes me 5-6 months to produce a first draft in the range of 100k-120k words.

Last year, I made a mistake by forcing myself to start writing on Nov 1st. I clearly wasn’t ready, and should’ve spent another month or so on pre-writing. A mistake that’s led to more needed revision on the book – I’m currently finishing up the third draft. I’m trying to take my time and make sure I don’t rush things. Quality over speed for me these days, even if I feel a little impatient now and then.

For everyone that is participating, good luck this year and have fun.

 

A Million Words

I’m currently finishing up the second draft of my current WIP, The Obsidian Pyramids, still working to get better, still struggling to work through rejections and stay positive. I recently remembered the old adage, the first million words is practice, and I figured, once I hit a million words, I’ll magically become a great writer, yes?

Seems like I should be getting close, so I decided to run the numbers and see where I am.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a short story, but I used to do so more often, before I got into writing novels regularly. I don’t think I have copies of them all, so I just have to guess at how many words these count for. I’m going to say 50,000 total, though that might be a little conservative. But we’ll start there.

Current total: 50,000

My first attempt at writing a novel came when I was a senior in college. It didn’t go well. I stopped after 20,000 words and didn’t attempt another novel for almost 6 years.

I have three other unfinished novels, none of which I’ll ever return to. In more than one case, leaving the project was me acting strategically rather than simply quitting, so I think I should be able to count these in my total. My estimate is that those four incomplete projects account for about 75k words.

Current total: 125,000

Then we have my completed novels:

  • The Doorway: 105k
  • Starcatcher: 160k
  • The Book of Terrors: 180k
  • Wizard’s Curse (YA): 50k
  • Blood Price: 115k
  • Daughters of Darkness: 115k
  • The Obsidian Pyramids: 105k

 

Final total: 955,000 words. So close!!!

Review Roundup 8/17

Historically, I haven’t written a lot of book reviews, but I’m trying to get myself to do more. I’ve read some good books and some bad books recently; here’s a roundup of the reviews I’ve given on Goodreads lately:

 

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – 4/5 stars

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – 2/5 stars

The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin – 4/5 stars

Control Point by Myke Cole – 1/5 stars

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig – 2/5 stars

Next Round

Finally, at long last, the wait is over. It’s time for…

The next round of rejection. I mean querying.

I’ve spent the last couple months working on more edits for Daughters of Darkness (after several months of writing the book I’m now calling The Obsidian Pyramids), and I’m finally ready to send out the next round of submissions. My changes to the query were minimal, but I think it’s clearly stronger than the previous versions.

For anyone who’s curious, here’s the body of the query:

 

High Lady Iris LaRose always knew she would become one of the most influential women of the Dianic Empire – until her sister brought shame upon the entire family by harboring a failed assassin. After years of struggle to prove their love and commitment to the empire, Iris and her mother have nearly erased the family’s tainted past. Then Iris’s mother murders her daughter’s groom on the couple’s wedding day.

When Iris flees the scene, she’s accused of conspiracy by Empress Elena Flora, a woman with little sympathy left for the LaRose family. But Iris won’t believe that her mother is truly guilty – an imposter must be responsible. Faced with execution, Iris’s only option is to lie, claiming she can bring the imperial guard to her mother.

Her lie buys her just enough freedom to seek the hidden killer, but when answers prove difficult to find, she turns to the most unwelcome of allies: Violet Zino, a brash and charming pirate who can access the criminal underground.

As new assassinations threaten the stability of the empire, Iris and Violet uncover clues that lead them to a shadowy group called the Daughters of Darkness, women who plan to destroy the empire by replacing the empress with a saboteur. Now Iris must choose to risk her life and her freedom to save Elena Flora, or watch as the empire she loves crumbles.

DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, complete at 112,600 words, is high fantasy that will appeal to fans of The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks and The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, as it shares their adventurous tone and touch of irreverent humor.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

It’s a bit longer than I wanted – and quite a bit longer than the first draft – but I think this is the best possible version.

So I’m off to put together and send out those submissions. Then on to the initial reading of the first draft of The Obsidian Pyramids. No summer vacation for his writer.

Writing Ambitions

November will mark the ten year anniversary of the day I started writing The Doorway, the first novel I ever completed. I knew when I started it that I would never have a chance of getting it published – though I pretended that wasn’t the case as I wrote it. But I still had a great time writing it.

Over the years, I’ve become more and more serious about trying to get a book deal with one of the big publishers. It hasn’t gone like I’d hoped, but I’m working on it. I still enjoy writing, but I’ve found the rejection on my query submissions to be more painful than I’d like.

Recently, I came across an older blog post by one of my favorite authors, Mark Lawrence:

http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/writing-fail.html

Mark talks about failure in writing, and how difficult it is to become a successful author, especially at the level of a bestseller. His main point is that most writers will never reach the level of success they desire, and that writers should view anything they do as an accomplishment. You, if you’re a writer, shouldn’t allow yourself to fail, simply by not allowing yourself to feel like you’ve failed – no matter what.

This strikes me as wise, and good advice. And yet…

And yet I don’t believe I can ever view things this way. It just isn’t within my personality to think like that. I suppose that’s a weakness (and it really does lead to a lot of pain and disappointment), but it’s just how I operate.

I’m rather competitive and goal-oriented. I often set my goals high (too high?), but that’s how I motivate myself. I’m just not sure I can take the mentality that I’ve succeeded just by trying, just by writing, even if it’s the wise thing to do. Even if not doing so hurts me.

The best I can do, I think, is to believe that the rejections I get are more due to bad luck than my own failures, and keep going. Keep writing, keep submitting.

***

P.S. While Mark’s advised mentality may be good for writers, I would get eaten alive in my primary career if I adopted it.

P.P.S. If you haven’t read Mark Lawrence, and you like fantasy, I highly recommend Prince of Thorns. It’s a bit of a tough read for some people, but it’s worth it. It’s pretty unique within epic fantasy for it’s short length and consistent fast pace. The main character, Jorg Ancrath, is one of my favorite of all time – If you’ve read this, or do in the future, don’t judge me for that 🙂