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This is my site for information about the fantasy world known as the LoH_kg_2_map A5Lands of Hope. I have the usual bio and buy pages, also Maps and a free Compendium of lore, plus a cool notification feature if you want to see posts in your email box. Sign up for that and you get two quick Tales for free. Because no one should have to wait for a little Hope.
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Fate of the Darlings

Good news is sometimes almost as stunning as bad news can be. I finished my series Shards of Light this week, and feel dazed to think that something I started a big chunk of a decade ago is now completed. It’s a time of reflection for me, and of course anticipation too, because soon I’ll finally be able to move on to a new chronicle of The Lands of Hope. That’s good for Advent.

The work involved in bringing four novellas to fruition, my first real series as an epic fantasy tale, was far greater than I figured. That’s what happens when characters demand attention and you give into them. I triggered recently on that old saw about “killing your darlings”, a phrase I took an instant and lethal dislike to. It’s apparently as old as the hills, and just as hard to get over. Where the hell would I be if I had taken a step in the direction of such advice? It’s not a rhetorical question, and there are people who follow such advice and I imagine are very successful. My best wishes to them. But I wouldn’t be among their number, as any kind of author. Killing my darlings has been off the table from day one for me.  I have three quarters of a million words in print, more or less, because I followed my instinct instead of market wisdom. Only the reader can decide if I’m any good, but I couldn’t have written a postcard with a broken heart.

What’s it Even Mean?

My two cents: “kill your darlings” was presented to me as a euphemism, a wise-person’s code for being a “real pro writer”. Some folks think it’s about making sure that characters die in the course of the book. We in epic fantasy have a phrase for that: Game of Thrones. Works for him!

But if only it was as mundane as the idea that you should write your characters into death scenes. No, this was more about taking a treasured character/ theme/ plotline, more or less BECAUSE you treasured it, and just cutting it out completely. Highlight and hit delete.

And throw it away forever, as much as the advice giver cared.

Being a Pro

Because a big-time writer, you see, supposedly equals the ability to dump what YOU cared about (full of emotion, no common sense, I mean jeez these are things you LOVE after all), and instead being able to follow the trends, change the genre and length and scope of your writing from month to frickin’ month. The only way to write like a pro is to do what THEY want. As in the readers, this week. To jump on the market of Now. To be on the cutting edge. To serve fads.

Kill your darlings was the litmus test of whether you were a grown-up, or just a dilettante, a whining amateur, and most importantly, a loser. Before you can submit your work, find some aspect of it that you loved, that if you were still being honest with yourself, you would admit brought you to the blank page to begin with. Then cut it. Trash-delete it and forget it. If YOU wanted to write that, it can’t be what people want to read.

Why am I Doing This Again?

Which is probably true. In the same way that surveying the damage of a battle scene would teach you the truth, that the defeated side were the losers and must not really have known what it took to win this thing. It’s faux-adult behavior (and if you can’t tell, I hardly loathe anything more); it’s cruel and unhelpful but it soothes the advice giver because they already sold their soul based on the mistaken belief that writing, by itself, doesn’t have any rewards. It can only be about money. And since NOBODY is making any money, they can derive the bizarre satisfaction that at least they are doing it right.

Sorry for the long rant, I’m an epic fantasy author and I don’t even use Twitter!

Nurture and Follow The Characters

I have followed a different path with my writing. I see the connections between characters and plots, and I recognize how messy and asymmetrical it can get. And I tell their stories anyway. I look at it as a challenge. And no question I learned a ton by working on Shards of Light.

The Ring and the Flag: Straight Up, with Some Wrinkles

After finishing my first big novel and getting roundly rejected, I fell into the arms of a supportive online group called Write Stuff Extreme. There I was exposed to the idea of e-books and the notion of shorter formats. I figured I was no good at a true short story, but when I heard that series were all the rage it hit me. I knew there was one heroic deed I had witnessed that ran the reverse of the usual plot. Instead of the heroes gathering and going on the quest, these three began completely separated and only much later become aware of the others’ existence, moving into closer and closer orbit while the clock runs down. I called it a Surrounded Plot, and I realized I could pull out each tale on its own (at least at first), bringing them together only in the finale. Captain Justin was clearly the first up. The Ring and the Flag is a classic tale of heroic fantasy with a flavor of military history. Only in a few places along the way to his crisis and response– shortest of the four books by far– are there a few hints dropped of something more going on beneath the surface. I could see a great standalone ending for his story, with several of those hooks already in the water if the reader wished to continue. {Psst! Makes a dandy holiday gift!}

Fencing Reputation: A One-Man Band

The concept I had in mind involved the characters overlapping slightly in time and showing crossover scenes from first one, then the other perspective. With the second book, I shifted to a very different kind of character in Feldspar the Stealthic, and used a new voice to tell you about him. I don’t want to give away too much but suffice to say when you go inside this guy’s mind you’re not going to get lonely. The way I see it, if a fellow who normally pursues gold and glory and doesn’t give a damn about politics decides to risk his life to help his people, then something must be happening. This tale can also be read as a standalone, in fact you could read the first two books in either order without much confusion. Still an heroic fantasy, still a happy ending. But by now it’s clear there’s more to the picture, loose ends that one could tie up.

And eventually I did.

Perilous Embraces: “You” Wouldn’t Believe

Introducing the third hero in the set proved to be the toughest challenge I faced as a writer. From third person narration in book 1, I move to first person in book 2, and now– yes, I went there– the tale of W’starrah Altieri comes in second person. I believe there are very good reasons for this and I hope you enjoy reading the series long enough to discover them. The plot definitely thickens, and the combined weight of writing about a female main character, taking in the impact of future-sight on current action, and finally getting into the conspiracy facing the North Mark… all those things slowed me to a crawl in my chronicling. At times I thought maybe I’d stopped altogether. I started The Eye of Kog later (200k words, the sequel to Judgement’s Tale) and almost finished it first. But Perilous Embraces ended with a bang, and it’s a safe bet the days of standalone endings are over. In fact, word to the wise, it is a completely unashamed cliffhanger.

That made it all the more important to get the finale written. And now it is.

Shards of Light: Harvest Time for the Character Crop

The final chapter, as it turned out, wasn’t nearly as hard to write as the one that came before it. By the time I started some of its characters had been on paper for six-plus years. I knew them intimately, saw the plot-arc clearly, found my way until quite near the end when of course everything starts to happen at once. I was very pleased to realize that I could now identify to the reader where they were, which character they were with, just by the voice I had been using throughout the series. Third person, first, second– as soon as the identifier popped up you were “there”, and I have sections where the switching is almost a paragraph at a time. Is it for everyone? Would the “pros” have accepted something written this way? I’m very sure, no. But I made the decision to write what I had seen and stay true to the tale. I’d compare the amount of labor and pain up there with anyone who highlighted an entire theme and hit the delete key. I cherished my darlings, and that produced the tale you see now.

Which is not to say that I didn’t kill any of them. But heroism like theirs, not to put too fine a point on it, survived everything. The passage of time, feelings of doubt, confusion and dismay, perhaps even death. It did not defeat them. Justin, Feldspar and W’starrah have been my Shards of Light for seven years. Now I recommend their story to you. They didn’t follow the trends, but they struck a mighty blow for Hope and I believe you’ll enjoy reading about their valor, ingenuity and above all their love.

Final Word About Artwork

My publisher the unsinkable Katharina Gerlach listened to what I wanted for the covers, added her own good sense about what would sell, and then found the ones you see sprinkled across this page. Just a while ago she showed me the finale cover art and asked “are you happy with it?”.

Happy? God as my witness, I could hardly breathe. Look ye on the scene:

People I’m telling you. That’s Cryssigens, that’s my city on fire there. Which of course is exactly what happens. This talented artist discovered by my publisher calls himself The Rafa and you can find him on Deviant Art. If you need somebody who can execute monsters, heroes and cityscapes, you could do worse. With that, here’s my cover reveal for the Shards of Light finale, curiously entitled Shards of Light. Enjoy! It will be available soon.

The Faire-est of Them All? 2017 Review

I thought I should give a brief round-up of the times I got up from my desk, left my house and met someone in the context of my writing. And I start out with one item already on the to-do list for next year: don’t finish your activities before the calendar ends! I do have some rather serious distractions and am still seeking a better routine with more events on it for the future. Here’s how I did this year.

Bear Library Author Day: April 1st (no, seriously)

How Far: like, thirty yards.     How Often: many times before

The Sales:

One or two books. This was a panel for aspiring authors, where the ultra-prolific Liz Dejesus and the uber-poetic Shannon Connor Winward presented alongside myself for several hours.

The Tales:

I can’t lie, these panels are terrific fun because you get exposure to colleagues and how differently they feel as well as to aspiring writers from all angles. I could tell people walked out more energized from being around that atmosphere, and the staff at Bear Library really understand how to support the writing community.

Dover ComicCon: August 19th

How Far: one hour’s drive.     How Often: my second fair

The Sales:

This is the haymaker of live events for selling. Nothing an indie author needs that a raucous, well-organized convention of several thousand happy people can’t help fix. Perfect mix of cosplay, interest in heroism, lots of other items for sale, food, the whole nine yards. It’s by far the biggest load-out, complete with tent, three chairs and oh yeah- a family! But all worth it, sweltering heat or no. I had even better sales than the year before (which was also a record setter for that year). No question, the ComicCon is irreplaceable.

The Tales:

Probably the number one memory of the year was the several customers who marched up and said “where are the sequels”. Repeat sales in person, yeah that will boost the old self-esteem you betcha’. I helped run a panel with the indomitable L.S. King for over a dozen participants, and they kept us after with all kinds of questions, clearly very energized by what we said. My daughter Genna made a great impression with her Kermit outfit, while I eased off the full-wool Solemn Judgement look and just went a tad Renaissance for the day.

No way I would miss ComicCon.

Bear Library Author Day: September 23rd

How Far: like, thirty yards.     How Often: many times before

The Sales:

This time, bupkus.

The Tales:

A very cool day. I teamed once again with Liz Dejesus on a panel to a smaller group of very energized and interesting aspiring authors. I put up my bit on creating a killer first-line of a novel and I could see they enjoyed it a lot. This was one of those times I felt like we did some real good out there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw a book or two come out in the next year or so from folks who attended (though we weren’t the only inspiration they had of course!)

Hockessin Art and Book Fair: November 4th

How Far: less than half an hour away.     How Often: my third fair

The Sales:

I moved several titles to new folks this year, but overall I had the impression that the Art vendors did better than the book folks. But I knew my fortunes were assured because my good friend Bernie Schmidt came up all the way from Virginia, AGAIN (he did it in 2015) to patronize the Tales of Hope, hauling away so many copies for himself and his family, I probably should have given him one of my bins. Seems unfair to count them as sales, when the motivation was so obviously friendship. But there’s no reason friends can’t be Children of Hope, and Bernie certainly has that down.

The Tales:

Chatting with my table-mate LS King came easily: once she had coffee I could hardly get a word in edgewise. Fellow epic author Dan Ford was at the booth right next door and I got to chat him up about several networking-type topics. This was the first year they had reading stages, for us to give a little excerpt of our work to folks at the food vendor-end of the room. The acoustics of all gyms are exactly the same, but it wasn’t terrible- those who wanted to hear us could. I have a video of my reading from Bernie, the start of “The Eye of Kog”, and I heard Dan and several others read their bits as well. I hope they continue that idea next year, maybe with a nice stand for the mike so we can turn pages without cursing.

Dover Library Author Day: November 11th

How Far: one hour’s drive.     How Often: first time event

The Sales:

I’m not gonna’ lie. Had some nice folks say hi, but that was about it.

The Tales:

Great chatting with the other authors, Liz and LS and several I had not met before from various walks of the writing universe. The library’s a good space with potential, but the traffic was all for the medical insurance sign-up they had going on at the same time, and people trying to get their kids on Obamacare weren’t terribly interested in laying down the green for an escape reading adventure. We did a panel that afternoon with about a half-dozen folks, mainly young people, and the questions were quite good.

Next Year, Gotta’ Do More

I’m targeting ComicCon, at least one round at the Bear Library, and I want to add First State ComicCon, CecilCon and Ocean City to the rounds if I can. That would be about as much as I think I could possibly take on as long as Genna’s in school and we have just the one car. I really love getting out to meet and chat with fellow authors and readers. Now if I could just score a radio appearance somehow…