The Next Big Thing

I was quite honored to be tagged by Jackie Hames at The Spidereen Frigate for a blog chain called “The Next Big Thing,” which gives readers a snapshot of your own work-in-progress.

I’ll give it my best shot. Hope you enjoy!

What is the Working Title of Your Book?

The Wolfglen Legacy: Revived

Where Did Your Idea for the Book Come From?

I started drawing maps in 2004 of a fantasy world I wanted to create, and that eventually morphed into a couple of projects, including The Wolfglen Legacy. After watching a lot of movies like the Star Wars prequels, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean, I wanted to tell a big, adventurous, save-the-world kind of story. Plus, I wanted to try giving new(ish) versions of various fantasy cliches like elves, dragons, wizards, dark lords, and see if I could set them up in a somewhat original framework.

What Genre Does Your Book Fall Under?

Primarily epic fantasy, with some tones of dark fantasy, adventure fantasy, and a dash of science fiction.

If Your Book Became a Movie, Which Actors Would You Pick?

I have a large cast in mind for this

Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian) as Morent Wolfglen. He’d do a good job of looking ferocious and desperate, playing the conflicted wizard who is trying to save his family while keeping his conscience intact.

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Jennifer Lawrence would be terrific to play Princess Sathra Wolfglen. She excelled as Mystique and Katniss Everdeen, and I’d like to see her play the role of a vulnerable young woman who learns how to become stronger and more in control.

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Andrew Garfield really impressed me with his interpretation of Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the role of Josh Kingston, a young man from another time who is awakened from stasis into a distant future ruled by magic and wars, and is catapulted into one of the most dangerous conflicts Earth has ever faced, all while trying to learn his new surroundings and run from mistakes and tragedy in his past.

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Those are the three main characters. But I did have a couple of others in mind. I tend to dream big.

Christian Bale as King Rishtal Wolfglen, brother to Morent and father to Sathra.

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Rachel Weisz as Empress Kilfira Lundill, an ally of the Wolfglen family.

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Sam Neill as General Streynel Halthrin, and David Tennant as Myrickin Schtahl, both of them people who have different goals than everyone thinks they do.

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Okay, I could go on, but I think that’s enough of my pipe dream. For now. 🙂

What is Your Book’s One-Sentence Synopsis?

A young man outrunning his past, a princess trying to go on after her mother’s death, and a wizard desperate to save his family all find themselves caught up in a secret war against their country, driven by an ancient supernatural enemy.

Will Your Book be Self-Published or Represented By an Agency?

I’m definitely going to try traditional publishing first. More than that, I want to see how high I can go with this series. If Random House or Tor or HarperCollins picks it up, terrific! If not, that’s perfectly okay. I still want to try it because I don’t want to spend my days wondering how far up the publishing ladder it could have gone.

How Long Did it Take You to Write the First Draft?

After writing off and on while trying to balance school and work with my writing goals, it took me about five years to finally have a complete first draft. Now that I’m graduated, though, it won’t take nearly as long to write the series’s next book (there will be four Wolfglen books in total).

What Other Books in Your Genre Would You Compare Your Novel To?

Hmm. Kind of stumped on this one. Maybe it would be a good fit for readers of Brandon Sanderson (Elantris, Mistborn, the latest Wheel of Time books), James Gurney (Dinotopia), Christopher Paolini (The Inheritance Cycle), George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones), and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game).

Who or What Inspired You To Write This Book?

In December 2003, as I left the theater after watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, I was blown away by the story I had just witnessed. Given the staggering quality of Peter Jackson’s trilogy and how it affected my emotions and imagination, I knew one thing for certain stepping out of that theater: I wanted to be a fantasy writer.

From there I pieced together bits of worldbuilding, character development, and the clockwork of a plot, and the most developed result is The Wolfglen Legacy.

What Else Might Pique a Reader’s Interest in Your Book?

Possibly the ways I have revamped given fantasy cliches (elves with flintlocks instead of bows, a villain driven by his conscience instead of evil for its own sake, etc.).

Moral complexity is one of the big goals I have in mind for this series. I am striving to get a good balance between the black-and-white conflict in Harry Potter, and the frustrating ambiguity in Game of Thrones.

Dinosaurs join the book’s dragons to give my world plenty of big scaly beasties. When was the last time you saw a Triceratops in a fantasy novel? Seriously, they could instantly improve a lot of books.

And I am working hard to make the story satisfying on all fronts, not only attractive for its worldbuilding or characters or descriptions.

Tagging

To keep this chain going, I’d like to tag four of the coolest writers I know: Janden Daniel HaleRob “The Brain Hamster” Killam, Aaron Ritchey, and Courtney Schafer. All are terrific storytellers, and I recommend you check them out right away.

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“The Hobbit” — 19 Days Away!

Taking a brief respite from edits to post this. Partly because I want to remind myself that I have a ticket to what looks like an amazing film at stake (by December 3rd I have to finish primary edits on the fantasy novel), and partly to remind you that we’re about to go back to Middle Earth.

So exciting, isn’t it?!

In less than three weeks, I will be trekking across mountains and rivers with a wizard trying to save the world, a Hobbit with more spirit in him than he realizes, and a collection of hilarious Dwarves. This is the kind of story cinema was made to tell, and I can’t be happier.

[Copyrights, of course, belong to Warner Bros.]

Now, back to edits! This book must be done as soon as possible.

Sometimes, You Need a Carrot to Chase…And an Explosion to Outrun

Just a quick little post here. Sorry I’ve been absent for so long; I’ve been working hard on revising my novel and getting it ready to send off to the agent. And that has largely been happening thanks to adding some extra incentive. It has been a process of trial-and-error. At first I thought I could hold off on watching some of my favorite movies until the book was done.

Only problem is, movies have fed my imagination for my whole life. The realistic dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, the creatures and frenetic battles of all six Star Wars movies, the action of much swash and buckle in Pirates of the Caribbean, the immense landscapes and intricate worldbuilding in Lord of the Rings. They’re largely what inspired me to become a writer in the first place. And holding off on watching some of the best movies that came out this year would end up starving my imagination more than inspiring it enough to finish a book. Besides, how long could I say no to John Carter and The Avengers?

So, in lieu of that prohibition, I’ve realized I needed to have something to lose. So, I bought a ticket for the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and told local friends that the ticket was going to one of them (I’d pull the names out of a hat) if the novel’s in-progress revisions weren’t done by December 3rd.

So, you can imagine that lighting such a short fuse compelled me to move. Quick. I’ve been editing chapter-by-chapter, often multiple chapters a day, and trying hard to get The Wolfglen Legacy: Revived finished so I can keep said ticket. Myyyy ppprreeeeecccioouusssssssssss….

Once in a while, it’s not enough for a writer to give themselves a reward to accept when they reach the finish line. It certainly may be enough for you. But for someone who has largely starved his fiction-writing addiction for a while, I’ve discovered that that’s not quite enough. “Light fuse, run away.”

What strategies work for you in getting creative projects done? Do you need to have something at stake?

Writing Prompts for the Holidays

Many writers are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, so I’m offering you some writing prompts for (hopefully) inspiration and keeping you tapping away at that keyboard. Even if you don’t feel like doing 50,000 words of fiction in a month, maybe you can still find these helpful for devising a new story, looking at something from a new angle, or simply getting unstuck. I need to do all three myself, so I plan to use each of these at least once

1. “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

2. Lots of characters face conflict because they are late for their engagements. What about a character who is always early? How can being early create conflict?

3. What’s the worst that could happen during a nice afternoon chat?

4. Many fight scenes with dozens of combatants occur in a bar or tavern. So, what if a crowd of “normal” people got into fisticuffs in a more unusual place? A museum. An auction house. An observatory. The Louvre. The nearest Village Inn. A train station. Anyplace where you’re not expecting to step on someone’s recently dislodged tooth.

5. How would a big battle scene change in the transition between night and day? Whether they’re fighting at sunrise or sunset, think about the changes of mood, the tactics each side would switch over to, the soldiers having to adapt to the new environment. Contrast the features of nighttime combat and daytime combat as much as possible.

Hope these are of some use to you. Thanks for your time!

Double Review: The Never Prayer, and The Whitefire Crossing

On the Colorado writing scene, there are many fine talents and local stars. I have had the great privilege to read two of the books on that scene in recent months: The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey, and The Whitefire Crossing by Courtney Schafer. Today, I finally get to review them for you.

In short, both novels are excellent, and I highly recommend them if they sound like your kind of books.

The Never Prayer by Aaron Michael Ritchey is a YA urban fantasy novel that hits harder than most in that genre. Teenager Lena’s parents died in the aftermath of a car crash, and she is trying to support her little brother in a small Colorado town that is facing hard times of its own. Lena is desperate to bring in money, even if it means being courier for some drugs at her high school. Things go from bad to worse when she winds up in a tug-of-war between a demon and a “fallen” angel as they try to influence humans, pushing them toward good or evil.

I liked how Ritchey keeps Lena’s head above water in terms of social status. She’s unique, and a lot of people feel sorry for her or don’t like her, but she’s not a complete outcast, and can adapt well enough to move through the various cliques of her school. He also does a terrific job at giving us reason after reason to care for Lena’s plight without turning her into a pitiful mess. She is simply trying as hard as possible to provide for what’s left of her family, and that makes her a character worth cheering on.

You also have to admire his willingness to admit that doing the right thing is often the most painful. There are consequences you may not want when you make the right choice, and he pulls no punches in having his characters glean that lesson. The book is kept intriguing along its journey, even when you realize the trajectory it’s taking, and it hit me with a strong ending I did not expect, but played fair with the rules Ritchey had established.

If there was a complaint I had, it’s a minor one. Lena seems very quick to accept that she’s part of a supernatural conflict. Even though the angel is revealed in a dramatic fashion right beforehand, most likely she would still have a harder time taking in the change of circumstances.  But that’s hardly anything but a nitpick, so don’t let it stop you from picking up a copy of Ritchey’s remarkable debut novel. This book is dark, thrilling, and thought-provoking, and I am more than happy to recommend it to you. I can’t wait to see what else Aaron has in store.

It can be a tricky situation if your freshman novel is an epic fantasy. Most of the time in that situation, an author succeeds by coasting on a few great strengths, but the book’s quality is dragged down through equally strong weaknesses (for example, you might get a book with great dialogue and worldbuilding, but its characters are flat and the storyline is confusing). And it’s easy to make the work derivative, giving regular readers of the genre very little reason to pay you any attention.

Thankfully, none of that is an issue with Courtney Schafer’s debut The Whitefire Crossing. This is a book I cannot recommend enough. Seriously, if you read fantasy books, please read this one. Pretty much every aspect of it sings with quality and dedication. The story is one that hooks you right from page one and keeps you invested through the next three hundred, the worldbuilding is excellent when it comes into play, and the characters are absolutely satisfying in their depth and choices.

The story has two viewpoint characters, equally captivating and relatable. First there’s Dev, a smuggler who takes magical charms from the city of Ninavel, across the Whitefire Mountains and into the country of Alathia. Mages rule Ninavel like sin rules Las Vegas, but in Alathia almost all magic is outlawed, so Dev finds steady work in “clandestine imports” of magical items. Only problem is, he’s been cheated out of his money, and he’s taking anything he can get to fulfill a friend’s dying wish. The second viewpoint character is Kiran, a mage who is desperate to hire Dev to smuggle him across the mountains and into Alathia, the one place in the world where Kiran can escape and hide from a vicious authority figure.

To call this an “adventure novel” might be downplaying the tough journey Dev and Kiran take together. They suffer through this story, and no decision is an easy one. Normally I don’t care for novels that are quite so ruthless toward their characters, but Whitefire was such an enrapturing, detailed, and fast-paced book I had to keep turning the pages.

One of the best strengths in this book is the magic system Schafer has set up. Based around simple or familiar things in fantasy magic, like blood, charms, runes, and metals, she constructs one of the most intelligently built magic systems you’re likely to find. For a worldbuilding nut like me, it’s a delight to see her lay out the rules of magic, usually in bite-sized chunks that don’t slow down or halt the story. She keeps things moving, and gives you a chance to learn a lot of her world along the way.

If I told you anymore, I’d probably risk contaminating the enjoyment and level of surprise that this book delivers. Schafer’s debut is a strong one, and she is certainly an author to watch in the coming years. Plus her sequel The Tainted City has just been released, and I can’t wait to get my copy to continue Dev and Kiran’s story.

Craziness, Quirkiness, and Storytelling

There seems to be a lot more craziness in speculative fiction with the self and independent publishers getting so much more attention. Craziness meaning “everything and the kitchen sink and Cthulhu and steampunk and superheroes and werewolves and…” all crammed into one novel. And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredible that writers have new opportunities to break away from the mold and unlatch their stories from genre conventions. It gives them more chances to be original, to entertain readers, and give their creativity free reign. I’m just worried that the focus of speculative fiction will move from “tell great stories and be original when possible” to “take all that is adored by geek culture and mash it together.”

When the story starts to look less like a harrowing tale of fantasy or science fiction and more like a written collage of everything featured in the last five episodes of Felicia Day’s “Flog,” I get a little nervous. Nothing wrong with Felicia Day, though. She’s awesome.

I’m a little wary of these types of fiction because there is a higher danger of the story’s quality and the characters’ depth falling prey to quirkiness and ADHD worldbuilding. That doesn’t always happen, of course. Some masterful craziness has been done, like China Mieville’s incredible 2000 novel Perdido Street Station. And I am confident that there is someone out there who can tell a great story about a ninja zombie pirate and his Victorian-dressed steampunk weapon-wielding girlfriend fighting psychic dragons in an alternate 1945 New York City that has been devastated in the wake of a Martian invasion.

But do you see how exhausting and confusing it is to get through all of those ideas, just to give the setting and larger story conflict? You’ll have a lot on your plate trying to tell a quality story through that Sargasso Sea of adjectives and mishmashed details.

Again, I’m not saying “Don’t write that story. Ever.” Merely asking you to proceed with extreme caution. Be sure you have a captivating story first, one that can uphold the weight of everything you intend to add.

Or maybe I’m just slow to catch up. Heck, the wildest thing I’m doing is putting dinosaurs in a far future fantasy world, and I’m wondering if even that much is a stretch.

The Reason I Love Speculative Fiction

I do not mean to say other genres suck or are inferior. I mean only to celebrate what I love in my own field, shameless optimist that I am.

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Alternate History. Together, these genres form the pillars of what is called speculative fiction. There can be lots of blending and subgenres that don’t quite belong to any one group (just look at steampunk and dystopia), but together they give an image of worlds that, as far as we know, don’t exist. Yet that’s not all they do. They can accommodate any other theme or motif, perform any other task, that characterizes fiction of other stripes.

Speculative fiction is a field of storytelling that specializes in “What if?” and “Why not?” It probes, challenges, questions, and explores in ways that no other kind of fiction is capable of. Yet it can take whatever has been produced by other sorts of fiction and give it more flavor, more chances for originality and finding what has been overlooked. Science fiction can probe as deeply into human nature as any literary novel you can think of. Alternate history can be as pulse-pounding as any spy thriller, or as romantic as a bodice-ripper from the checkout line. A fantasy can be a murder mystery, or even a slice-of-life tale (though it may be a slice of life from a magic student or an apprentice dragon-breeder).

Admittedly, there is a reputation which says speculative novels are not as introspective or deep or profound as “literary” novels. There are indeed thousands of shallow, hackneyed tales in all three genres, with little thought behind them.

However, one-dimensional stories do not remove the capacity for profundity or depth from any genre. Though fantasy may have its Twilights and Eragons, it also has its Name of the Wind and Song of Ice and Fire. Science fiction may allow The Fifth Element or Transformers into its ranks, but it boasts of  Star Trek, Fahrenheit 451,  and Dune. A million terrible novels could not extinguish even one book that doesn’t just ask “What if?” but also provides the best answer it possibly can.

I think bad fiction is usually bad because of untapped potential. The writer did not squeeze hard enough, or didn’t look in enough shadowy corners, to see what could nourish their characters, story progression, pacing, or anything else writers need to consider about their work. But when they do, they should be recognized for their incredible achievement.

In summary, this is why I love to read and write speculative fiction: It can always find a new place to go, and there’s nothing other fiction does that it cannot do.