Category Archives: Lands of Hope

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.

State of the Lands: Memorials

Thou art wise to consider such a synthesis, Solemn. There are worlds aplenty, but only a single nature.

-Final Judgement, The Eye of Kog

It struck me while driving, like many worthy thoughts do. And that meant of course that I was doomed to forget and recall it many times, each round trip getting closer to permanent remembrance. How do we commemorate those we know, who we admire and want to emulate? There are many kinds of memorial, of course, but the first I think of are those carved in stone, in a field of many others, each with a few brief

Hope Cemetery VT

words burdened to somehow say it all. And it’s not always stone– sometimes you see “In Memory Of” on a dark wooden pew or fading in and out with the credits of a movie. But it’s almost always brief, here in the Alleged Real World: even when the medium is intended to last forever, the words take just a flicker of time, as if they were only a spark to kindle on the fuel of our recollection.

The Lands of Hope have none of these, not really. Some few, the heroes, are echoed in living devotion bordering on worship. For the rest, either someone remembers you or they don’t.

There is a narrow category of exception, though; the Children of Hope DO indeed memorialize at times, in very much the way we do. There are plaques commemorating the Battle of Tor Perite, and the discovery of Liftos Gas, the liberation of the Giant-siege of Stathos, the first bridge across the River Sweeping. You see the pattern? Events, great deeds of Hope are usually severed from

Just lighten up on the gas pedal awhile.
spokesrider.com

the persons who performed them. The Pious Warrior Yula won that battle and is duly mentioned in the inscription– hardly surprising, since he became Emperor of Argens as a result. The names of Able Patent and such are included on those others as well, toward the end. But not always, and never prominently. Succeeding generations of Hope are taught to attend to the act, not the actor.

But there’s another, tougher difference that needs mention here. One reason the Children of Hope do not dwell on the lives of those they erect plaques to celebrate is because in nearly every case, those lives are not yet over.

Hope does not memorialize the dead. At all.

To be honest, they don’t even much like thinking about death, because the Children of Hope haven’t had any guidance on what happens to them after they die. This is one of the chief reasons folks reject the Man in Grey: Solemn Judgement was not born in the Lands and since his father spent his last breath getting him there, Judgement is driven to find out whether death has a “sequel”.

Of course many of us share this need, and there is nothing at all wrong with marking the end of an earthly life. The Alleged Real World has an advantage in this, because many of us believe in a life after death. And also, we have a place, a natural spot set aside to create the memorial.

But in the Lands of Hope, loved ones are cremated, the ashes scattered. Only the Children of Despair put the bodies into the earth; the word kemetaria conjures horror, and the prospect of necromancy. When Feldspar explores Old Cryss in Fencing Reputation, he comes across a rare example of a surviving graveyard:

To my left in the nook of the next corner was a small area ringed with a low, two-foot fence of metal spikes; I caught only a glimpse of the irregular rows of stone markers within and turned my head away with a snap. I had heard the stories, but hoped like most children that this one wasn’t true. No such luck- they had really done it, those grand fools of long ago. So proud, so eager to show their spirit even in death, they had built a kemetaria, and allowed their bones to be put under the earth- an added challenge for their souls, to rise despite the odds and still attain heaven. Confident and sure, they had put their flesh into the ground, like the children of Despair. No wonder death had rained down on this place.

-Fencing Reputation

There may be other graveyards built by Hope, but very few (it was the passing fad of an Elvish nobility influenced in ways beyond their understanding by Despair). The colossal ancient kemetaria discovered by Solemn Judgement in The Eye of Kog was immediately destroyed by virtue of the miraculous lore he unearthed (quite literally) during his adventure there.

Point being, if you have no place to put the body, you tend to emphasize deeds during life instead of trying to summarize it at the end.

In the Lands, there are songs sung and stories told of great deeds, naturally; but not all of them are old or concerning folks who only lived long ago. Trekelny in Three Minutes to Midnight seems confident that there will be songs sung about his stupendous act of Stealth, and looks forward to hearing them himself. And yet, almost no person in the Lands knows what an epitaph is.

Here in the ARW, we’ve come to memorialize outside the graveyard, especially in places where people are likely to pass and see. Roadside memorials always make my heart drop, because I instantly know I’m looking at an unhappy ending. It’s a little like the graveyards have burst, and now spread among the living. But from what I see, the messages sometimes get longer, and are often uplifting or even hopeful. For those that are sad, I understand. It’s not usual to know a loved one has suddenly died and think “ah yes, they lived long enough”. No, it’s always too soon.

Stone Mountain Georgia, Confederate Generals a hundred feet high: Lee never wanted memorials to his war

One last thought comes to me, more triggering really but a difference that must be mentioned.

When the doer of a deed is alive to see the inscription, there’s a lot less monkeying around with their legacy.

But those long dead can have memorials erected that they did not aspire to, with messages twisted to suit a later generation. We are wrestling today with such a problem, trying to sift out the good from the bad like mixed grains of rice and wheat, and as a result some memorials will come down. If driven by justice, that will be good.

Better still, if we remember the virtue as well as the deed, as they do in the Lands. Let us tell the tale of each other’s glory, sing songs and keep the flame of those we admire alive. Surely what happened in life is of more value than the loss we feel on its passing.

A somewhat more joyous remembrance
Hope Cemetery