30 Days of Balance #18: Naming Conventions

Ever since I was little, naming things was one of my favourite things to do. Video games for the Nintendo or Sega systems that did not include naming your hero, or *gasp* had only THREE spaces for your handle, were judged accordingly. Names like EYE, ORB, MrT, and POO were only entertaining for so long. The longer the allowed spaces for a name, the happier I was. For example, I LOVED Nintendo’s unicycle racing game Uniracers principally because it allowed me 12 characters with which to concoct epic names. Friends who were less creatively inclined would get me to name their heroes, too. It was a big deal to me.

I think it stemmed from loving maps as per this post from earlier in the Days of Balance. When you create lots of fantastical worlds from maps, you have to name things – and you eventually get a grip on what you like in an original name and what you dislike. Practice makes perfect, as teachers like myself sometimes say.

Many of the names in Imbalance are drawn from names that came before. I named a friend’s Diablo hero ‘Csarvenvoroth’ once and we laughed at its length while still thinking it sounded cool. Later I would shorten this down to ‘Csarvent’ the capital of the Thynlands. The longer form is even tucked in there in Orenzo’s grandmother’s book, as ‘Csarventhyl’. Yet more names had their origins in the Warcraft III book I wrote in high school – including the capital of Banor, Axhold, from the name ‘Axhind’; Gilche’s crony ‘Kharagon’ in Grip of Dust; and even ‘Rafien’ came before, although adopted to a much different purpose than being an Orc. Greatly transformed, that one.

I take great pride in my names. I think an excellent name can draw a character out of the blue. For example, starting to write Grip of Dust over a year ago I had to construct the sceptre of Csarvent and his family. I composed the following names:

  • (Sceptre) Cedgar Tolman
  • Erie Tolman (Chentry)
  • Hoskar (Hoss) Tolman
  • Lia Tolman
  • Kryloak Tolman

Okay, cool, so we’ve got the sceptre and heart-of-the-sceptre, plus her maiden name. Sound like monarchs, sure. Then Cedgar’s brother Hoskar, called ‘Hoss’, I can totally picture this gruff fellow. Gotcha. Lia Tolman… probably a younger girl, and… Kryloak.

What a damn cool name. Kryloak. Kryloak Tolman. I could not let this beautiful name be a footnote in the family lineage of the Csaventi sceptre. There is a story to be told for this Kryloak. No space in Grip of Dust besides the anticipated use of the royal family. I am currently adopting her character to Book Three for a story arc requiring a young heroine and feel entirely justified in the process.

As a final note, I’ll say this. Keep your names handy. Use them. Reuse them. Recycle them if they spark excitement. Just never make them illustrate something about the person themselves – unless a nickname. I remember a discussion in Writer’s Craft class in university wherein a fellow student suggested a girl rename her hero from (something like) ‘Samantha McNeil’ to ‘Samantha Lions’ to help illustrate how she was a strong, courageous, lion-ly person. Puh-lease.

I named my next character ‘Jon Martyr.’

JM

30 Days of Balance #17: Self-promotion vs. The Internet

A day late, but I just had to leave that sample up 48 hours…

One of the most immediately awkward things of getting a publishing deal is you go from pimping yourself to publishers to pimping yourself to the public. Instead of focusing exclusively on mastering the impossible craft of query letters and the dreaded synopsis, you now have to wade into a sea of screaming writers all trying to sell each other debut novels while scanning for people who just like to read. It can be a little daunting. As soon as it was suddenly my job to promote Imbalance to the internet, it felt like I was flicking the myriad switches and toggles essential to busting the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace.

Twitter especially. The vast majority of people who have added me are wishing to promote their novels while I accept them with the plan of promoting my novels. I, meanwhile, add most anyone who has the word fantasy in their bio, which is principally fantasy authors who are keen to promote their novels. See the challenge?

Self-promotion is a sticky thing. It is uncomfortable in real life, a contest only conquered by the most grandiose egos. Yet by the same token, it is essential to the life blood of any fandom you wish to accrue. It is an interesting question to ask whether heavy hitters like Martin and Sanderson could have ever found popularity without some form of promotion. Had they published with no fanfare would someone have taken a chance on the novels and shouted loudly enough?

The hardest part of it all is separating your work. Yes, only the work itself can do that, but there is a certain critical mass necessary for people to rally around your banner. Given the choice between being a fan alongside 100,000 people or 10 people, which would you choose if the books were of equal import? The 100,000 for your own personal joy of discussion, debate, etc. The 10 for your own support for a black horse. While supporting David is all cool, clearly the majority prefer to hang with Goliath.

JM

Final note today – the cover release will be dropping back to March 31st at the latest, as will pre-orders. Also, a big sorry to everyone who can’t make the upcoming Release Party in Toronto. It’s going to be cosmic.

30 Days of Balance #16: EARLY SAMPLE from Purge of Ashes

With my cover reveal just a day around the corner (hopefully), this 16th day of Balance will be given over to a preview of Purge of Ashes. Hope it scintillates!

JM


The illumination provided by the lantern cast a flickering mosaic along the stone sides of the spiral staircase; each crack a horizon distant, each protrusion amass with nooks and crannies so precise they appeared as a tapestry of faces. Faces lost ages past, perhaps even yet to come. Scenes played out again and again, or perhaps events that never transpired at all. No man-made thread and needle were required for the banners of history woven all along the descent – they were wrapped around and around in the features of the masonry, overseen by a mere three sconces spans since last offering light. When memories pervade my waking consciousness, such salient visions are indeed commonplace.

A thin smile parted the lips of a tall, speculative man. Quietly shutting the door behind him, he kept his light source aloft – and were the stone walls a living history in truth they may have gleaned insight into the extant history of a great man through his eyes. Alas, the cold stone of the mosaic was witness merely to a lord whose shoulders hefted curious accouterments in opposition: a sweeping, off-shoulder cloak on the right and an overly-large, reinforced manica of dirty iron on the left.

Underground he went, deeper and deeper into the heart of this inexplicable hunk of earth lost in a sea of rot. It was cold up above and even colder as he approached the base of the stairs, warmth of all kinds distant from such an unreasonable location. He was unperturbed by the icy chill across his forearms and neck. Indeed, he welcomed it. Most gaols he had found himself in, as warden or dead man walking, had been musty, hot, sand-filled urinals rife with scorpions and cyclopean thorizar. More unbidden memories, but they were of no consequence and easily cast aside. What was more, he had arrived.

The last hidden recluse in the capital. Oh, he had spent many spans in the castle, searched out every cellar, every roost. He had traveled the corridors of the servants and stood in the throne room more times than he could count. That an excavation this expansive could remain so hidden from his probing senses was a mystery – but it was also an answer. There was nowhere else to look. And at this distance, now but paces from what the lantern was revealing to be a sizable, half-rotten wooden door raked by iron bars, he could feel the soft droning of reticent chakka burgeoning after decadaes of elusion.

With a final jangling of his undercoat, he stood in silence before the door, the lantern’s perforation revealing little through the dull, slime-covered splinters. With a gentle palm he pushed on the handle. The fulcrums groaned, but it fell open nonetheless, a metallic wheeze reverberating up the stairwell behind him. Not the amount of resistance one would normally expect from a door untroubled for a great many spans. Flaked chips of rust within a reach of the threshold confirmed his assumption.

Fingers darted out, snuffing the lantern. His quarry was most certainly within the pitch black room. He took one step forward. His eyes would not adjust, he knew. Matchsticks waited on the inside of his cloak for the return trip. Extinguishing the lantern was but a courtesy.

“Ah,” Rafien Jorgamund said simply, a noise more than a word. A rusty creak answered him, followed immediately by the onset of a shiver and the sensation of a most perceptive regard steeling into him from somewhere within the chamber – which was, of course, impossible. Oh, he might try, but Chakka’Ghar were, without exception, blind. The gesture was for his benefit so he could locate the particular direction of black to address. Long ears would have picked up his bootfalls tics prior, descending the stairs with no attempt at the clandestine.

“You could not have thought to evade me here forever.”

No reply was forthcoming. Some things never changed.

“However, being here I must assume that utter evasion was never your desire, else you would have left Sventium altogether and made your way back home. Or maybe north to Brace Cartia. Or west and across the Rockswell. But you are here and I don’t know whether I find that telling or worrisome… because I do not know why.”

They had been friends long ago. They were friends now, truth be told, although the veracity of that statement depended upon the manner upon which one gauges friendship and, indeed, the passage of time.

Rafien could remember the exact sixtieth he saw his friend last, a centoraspan prior, standing on a desolate road south of the site. They had stood together facing the Landbridge, an isthmus runs to the west across wind-swept plains and prairie grasses, the carved bays of its edges disrupting the seamless circumference of the horizon and framing the path soon to be undertaken. Beyond it the battered sun set in vivid display.

The weight of the impending moment had already brought tears to Rafien’s eyes, freezing to his skin as they rode the wind across his cheeks and down his face. They had left him a sleek mask, humorously reflective of his inner turmoil and exposing, for the uncaring flats of Aneoma to see, his self. A petty facade, but one he had clung to nonetheless, unable to come to grips with an emotion he had not felt deeply in so many spans. And so he had wept.

He had stood alone in the gale winds and then they had stood side-by-side when the time had come. A gloved hand had settled on his shoulder, stirring awake the husk he had become: a frigid overseer beset by bandages and bruises staring ruthlessly down at the expanse before him. The action cracked his streaked exterior, spawning new tears and crumbling the remnants of his resolve. He had then whispered the last true prayer of his life.

Ronun Thel had stepped past him and never looked back.

Poetic, then, that his vigil began on the West Plain, where the once-holy could walk half a dozen runs of flat road before becoming a smudge in the distance. Telling, then, that in traveling by night his friend’s progression was all but untraceable in a matter of tics. Maybe he had not wanted me to watch him go, but by Aneom’s robes I stood and watched the darkness. Aneom’s dirty robes, I stood.

Stood as he did now, in utter darkness, with only his measured breaths to act as the wind and break the silence. Somewhere beyond his senses, Ronun.

“What is the… root of this self-pity?” he asked, the plea of his pursuit once more entering his voice unbidden. “What have you not already faced?”

Rafien let the questions linger, the air hanging thick with the unmentionable. He hoped to use their past history to draw the man out, but – as the tics grew longer and Rafien burgeoned on spending a half-tora underground between the bells – he was unsure his friend was ready for the conversation. He had waited a long time to meet Thel again. He could wait a little longer.

“I will return.”

With a respectful bow, he stepped back into the stairwell, his right hand pulling the rotted door shut behind him. It had to be handled carefully. Thel’s scars would weep in time, but, as usual, Rafien himself would have to be prepared for the burden of their bleeding, and that challenge would require a substantial amount of patience.

His hand rummaged in a pocket, finding a long match which he struck against a stone protrusion on the wall. It caught, once more doing the work of the tired sconces. One step at a time, Rafien Jorgamund trudged his way back towards the top of the stairs. Once more in the corridors of the castle, and long out of earshot of the new denizen at the root of the hidden staircase, his lips let slip a ragged sigh – winds of the past once more lashing like flails against his cheeks.

*Courtesy of Chapter Six of Purge of Ashes, Book One of the Imbalance – coming April 5th, 2016, through Realmwalker Publishing Group.

 

30 Days of Balance #15: Writing Women

I wanted to watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights while on a field trip in middle school. We were on a bus from Toronto to Montreal and had plenty of hours to fill. Those of us clever enough to have hauled out our VHS stash would get a chance to see their favourite movies played for a whole bus load of Vesuvian hormones. I was first in line, Mel Brooks clutched safely to my chest.

The teacher responsible for adjudicating over the choice was the school’s noted feminist (more rare in its overt form back in the mid-90s) Mrs. V. She was the homeroom teacher for about half my friends but not I, and had recently shaved her head for cancer research. She glared down at the clunky rectangle I offered her and asked, “What are the women’s roles?”

I was forced to eventually answer: a princess, a matron, and a witch.

Not long after I was watching Dave Chappelle and co. get silly to the many hearty guffaws of my peers, but I did not forget her snort of disgust – nor the brief internal struggle writ across her face. As a teacher she had no real recourse but to let us watch the movie – it was PG and light-hearted and contained nothing objectionable from a censors point of view – but as someone fighting to educate us on gender roles, she knew the three labels above were rudimentary stereotypes.

Now, writing women, I try not to think of any of it. I don’t want outside influences affecting my choices with what they do, what role they play, or their place within my world. I want the only difference to be a care that I am not. See, as a man it can be dicey – to write a woman exactly as I would write a man is to drift over that which makes her female, but to write a woman as a man sees women can undo accuracy the same way I don’t believe I am at all like how a woman views a typical man. As such, it is a craft to write the opposite sex. One that succeeds or fails on its realism (forced ‘strong women’ are every bit as two-dimensional as a ’60s Disney damsel, for example).

This ‘realism’ stems from the root beliefs of the author. To build a unique and vibrant character of either gender requires the recognition that such people exist in either gender. Those unable to tap into such a base will no doubt create artificial copies. I have faith that I can ‘not think of any of it’ because I trust my inner self to naturally create women who might be strong or might be weak – but are always invested. It is my belief Avery Shim ta Salm, Asma Madrejingo, Minette Cullas-Kloss, Corporal Eunice and Emerlyse drive home this message.

Back in the day Mrs. V. was quite the character and she made me think. I aim for my daughter to read characters who do the very same.

JM

30 Days of Balance #14: Love + Art

My wife doesn’t do fantasy novels. Nor anything in the realm of unreality.

One time we left a theatre after spending three hours watching the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas – a movie that jumped through about 8 different time lines spanning hundreds of years – and when prompted to give her opinion on the multi-layered, interwoven, cryptic feature, she said the infamous word: ‘sokay.’

Not even proper English, yet a beautiful portmanteau of “it’s” and “okay.” The merits of the movie are another debate, but the merits of this response are beyond dispute. If you can sum up that with a single, non-committal, slug of monosyllabic reply – this sort of stuff ain’t for you.

I have always felt that finding someone you want to be with forever, if that’s your thing, is a matter of the heart and not the head. You want your heads to be in the same space as far as important life goals go: so, say, the value of education, raising children, political angle, career ambition, and if it’s cool to record your own nerdcore in the basement. Beyond that, however, the rest belongs to the heart – and the idea that you value someone not for what they like, but who they are. You know, as a person. My geeky friends can like what I like. If my partner does, that’s a bonus, not a criterion.

So for the tenure of our relationship (nine years in July) my wife has had no friggin’ clue what I’ve been talking about whenever I bring up Imbalance, its characters, its story lines, etc. No clue. Once in an effort to keep me awake while driving she let me get into detail about Purge of Ashes, but only with the disclaimer that tired as she was she was certain to forget it all by morning and I could not hold it against her. She knows there’s a guy named Orenzo. She knows there are further characters named Aronan and Avery. She knows it’s about soldiers and refugees. After all this time, that is the level to which the transfer has occurred – the transfer between art and love.

Not such a bad thing, really. Like mixing personal and professional. Besides, now that Purge of Ashes is being released April 5th by Realmwalker Publishing Group, she will have to read it.

Please note that her distance from the project has not prevented her from frequently ‘correcting’ me on the pronunciation of ‘Asma’ Madrejingo.

JM

30 Days of Balance #13: A World Birthed From Documents

While much of Imbalance was born from ideas formed observing an initial map, the concepts behind the series were maintained by a series of documents designed to assist me in documenting the world. There are likely entire programs in existence now for just such documentation, designed with purpose to make a creator’s life easier, but I began the process so long ago I have simply continued to use what has worked for me rather than stopping to improve my systems. You know, similar to how George R. R. Martin still writes A Song of Ice and Fire on software from the 1980s.

1. The Almanac

The Almanac is the series bible. It contains every bit of information created for Purge of Ashes and beyond to ensure continuity across all pages, chapters, books, and formats. This spreadsheet has 16 tabs: Characters, Army, World, Peoples, Nations, Terms, Phrases, Unique Names, Religion, Chakka, Geo, Fauna, Basics, Weapons, Military and Medieval – with some of the headings shortened so they all fit on a single page without need of a scroll bar. A typical tab contains all the information on the subject cited – so, for example, ‘Geo’ breaks down terminology and details for various locations across the map, including a catch-all for ‘man-made’ structures and places. It keeps track of which areas feature what topography and the correlated types of trees and vegetation. A few other tabs are unique. The ‘Army’ tab features a grid of soldier names from the Loce Freelancers, third division, and is updated at particular intervals wherein the listings change. ‘Nations’ contains plenty of objective data about different parts of the world, some of which can be found in my ‘World’ section here online. Finally, the ‘Characters’ tab keeps track of every original name mentioned in the book, be they many-detailed principal characters like Orenzo Madleej or few-detailed throw-away characters like Masterchef D’al.

2. The Chapter Breakdowns

This spreadsheet lists all point of view characters on the left and shows the division of their page count across all 25 chapters of the novel on the right. In other words, it is a rolling counter of who is getting the most ‘headspace’ time per chapter and gives you a sense of who is most central to your story. Since it is divided by chapter, it also demonstrates how long it has been since we last heard this character’s point of view. The results are tallied in a column on the far right, illustrating the final division of mental labour. It also keeps track of when characters have anything similar to a flashback for quick navigation later. I break things down by the quarter page.

3. The Divisions

A succession of milestones both intimidating and inspiring, whenever I finish a point of view, I hop over to the Divisions page to chalk up another completed section. This document divides into the various points of view that comprise each chapter, listing whose POV we are getting and giving it an arbitrary title and brief description so it is immediately identifiable. Since the section is done, I can also fill in how many pages this perspective ate. Before I start writing a new novel I also use this document to record every prospective point of view I plan to write, and then add, take away, or reorder based on my current considerations for the novel’s direction. I lay the entirety of a book out in this fashion before beginning. This document also serves as a place to leave reminders of stuff to double check before finalization.

4. The Timeline

A spreadsheet created to ensure flashbacks had accurate ages, the timeline is a blocky document that would be the first to go were I to afford fancy timeline software, which I’m sure exists. Covering the last 100 spans, it uses coloured boxes to denote character ages, with a top bar listing important events of any particular span. As such, I can keep age continuity for any moments new or old, and hopefully prevent the plethora of challenges that come with hopping about in the narrative as much as I do. I also track the two different understandings of the calendar that occur in the world as explained here. Only 58 characters merited a spot on this document, their histories and relevance too important to be left floating. I would greatly enjoy a better document, but the timeline will have to do for now as there is writing and promotion to do.

All of these documents add up to a system that keeps Imbalance on track and in check, ensuring consistency is maintained across the many pages of Purge of Ashes and beyond.

JM

30 Days of Balance #12: The Cracks of the Day vs. Money

On the Fantasy Faction group of Facebook the question recently went out: what do you find most difficult about writing? The answers ranged from not being able to express oneself properly, to not finding the time, to writing certain types of characters, to loneliness. I thought about it for a moment and answered thusly:

Dealing with the contrast between my proven track record of producing day in day out for weeks without hitting a snag and the current financial limitations that prevent this from becoming a day by day reality. Aka the one thing that takes precedence over the work: supporting a family simultaneously.

Writing in the cracks of the day sucks. But if authors have any form of life responsibilities they need to make money. Unless your books are selling like proverbial hot cakes, this eliminates the possibility of writing full time all day every day – and yet this type of time and attention press is exactly what young authors need to see whether they can actually do it. Dabblers write here and there. Authors can fill a day with no reservations. The problem then becomes overcoming that feeling.

For five straight weeks in 2013 I drove my wife to work by 8:20am, got to the local library by 8:30am, read a few chapters in the car (I think I was finishing up Wheel of Time upon Sanderson’s third release), and then at 9:00am found my own space inside. I would write until sometime near lunch, eat a bagged lunch while watching a Futurama episode, then write until 4:15pm. I would pick my wife up at 4:30pm and drive home. Every day except weekends.

Now, plenty of authors can brag this sort of devotion. Devotion by itself does not make for excellent writing. What these weeks did do was prove that I could be productive and happy while writing 40 hours a week while giving Imbalance the unprecedented rate of focus it demands. Achieving this was important. I also got about a quarter of the book done.

I was a full-time teacher. I was paid over those summer holidays. I was paid as if working full time and yet I could write the day away.

It’s a hard habit to kick.

Now the pressures of the day are many, I have no teaching contract that extends over the summer, and my daughter requires attention above and beyond all manner of previous duty. Whenever I work on Grip of Dust I get hit with this malaise of frustration that such boundless time and focus may never again be available to me – that such a blissful writing set-up may never again provide such design alacrity. It casts doubt that I can once again compile such a mass of details during the cracks of the day with so many distractions abound. I know other authors feel my pain – even ones halfway famous. The distance between designated writing time and forced writing time is enough to sink a war galley.

Yet up paddles.

JM

30 Days of Balance #11: Progress to Publication II – Six-Year Challenge

At the end of “Progress to Publication I” I was done with television production but held a great movie script in my hands sure to see no light of day. It became increasingly ignored on the backburner as only the dearest friends would read a movie script. There were no visuals. With only a few words to describe the action, could they ever see what I saw when put together?

I started on a comic with an illustrator while I waited for things to figure themselves out, and when they didn’t took another look at things. The comic was done, but in the end it had taken a long time without any hope of profit looming. Looking at the situation, I realized the proper answer was to work in a medium that was, by definition, a solo act. A way of producing the content I loved without relying on the approval of others or technology I did not know how to use.The answer was writing the movie script back into a novel – one using the script as a skeleton and my further five years of experience reading and writing as the motivation to finish.

What’s more, I had my original version of the book as a template for my first five chapters.

Now, I’ve mentioned my history of not quitting, but this was going to be the biggest challenge yet. Writing a full novelization was going to take a very long time and I was no longer a teen – I had bills and a job and responsibilities. I needed a way to gauge if I was capable of putting in the time to properly execute a full book. I also wanted to use the fact that being young had no bearing on being an author. In television and comics, being young and in the clique was essential to progression, but writing was deemed an older person’s game. It was and is a medium where your product speaks for you in full.

I settled on a 6-year plan to finish the book when I was 33. I figured that at 33 I would still be fairly young, I would be just as happy to have a written novel, and I would have a cut-off age to ensure the project never went into development hell forever. Over the next bunch of years I wrote, and I felt the cap of 6 years was very helpful in keeping me on track. I wrote when I could – sometimes in huge blocks of 8-hour days in a library, other times never for multiple months – but I always felt calm knowing it did not have to be done immediately. I had lots of time. There was no reason to ever feel like a failure if it ground to a halt once in a while. At some point I was going to haul out the gas tank and get moving again.

I finished my first draft of Purge of Ashes when I was 32 – and after numerous edits over the intervening years, found publication at 33, right near the end of my timeline. I will turn 34 eight days before the release date and what an amazing past six years it has been.

And don’t worry – with ‘publication’ replacing the ‘6-year plan’ as my principal motivator, you can rest easy Grip of Dust will not take nearly so long. At the time of this post it is 68,000 words deep.

JM

30 Days of Balance #10: Favourite Authors

As a long standing fantasy fan I definitely have a few series that I enjoy greatly, but my angle on reading is different from most people. Lots of hardcores fans of a genre read everything and collect everything they find amazing, exposing themselves to a great number of worlds and concepts then digesting them all. As a reader I love these people. It’s such a cool way to live! Always a new adventure just a click away with so many start-up fantasy projects undergo at any given time. As an author I love these people even more because they are the venerable sort who will pick up a tome from a new author and treat it with respect.

Joel Minty, though, reads with less variety but more redundancy. I show my fandom and my excitement for the fantasy series I do dive into by reading and rereading. By delving deep. By digesting like a Sarlacc. I have reread all of, or parts of, Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Malazan Book of the Fallen sometimes in triplicate, and each time caught a little bit more. Of course, that still left me 80% in the dark for Malazan.

Thus, my favourite authors:

Steven EriksonMemories of Ice and the Malazan Book of the Fallen. (Age: adult)

Lots has been said about Malazan, but billions of further words will be needed to fully wrap the series, and I am a staunch believer in its epic girth, it’s authorian attitude, and its all-encompassing capability. The majesty is in its patience and impatience both – patiently waiting lengthy stretches between connecting details and impatiently demanding the reader’s full attention. The beyond the pale structuring of the books rings of Alan Moore – as if Erikson is walking a leap year ahead of the rest of us. In fantasy novels I love weaving, and Erikson has so much of the series carefully constructed to the minute detail that I am always left in awe. Add to this the fact that his world-building is brave and vast, his races cool and unique, his landscapes historied and alive, his battles course and bloody, and his villains sly and… heroic – and you have every other element integral to fantasy. And that’s before the conflagrations make for 100-200 pages of fast-paced, action-packed conclusion. Plus it’s funny. Plus it’s sad. Plus it makes you think for a moment. Plus it dwarfs you like you are staring up at the immeasurable night sky.

Here is a link to an article I wrote for one of my favourite web sites, Dork Shelf. It further explains the amazing nature of Malazan’s scope (also, gotta love the related article listed at the bottom [for me anyway] “Sean Bean cast in HBO’s Game of Thrones”).

Ian Cameron EsslemontStonewielder and the books of the Malazan Empire. (Age: adult)

Alright, so Ian’s works are all a sub-category of the books of Erikson, but at this point, with seven titles to his name, I enjoy the co-creator’s works in their own right. Everyone compares him to Erikson, but instead I compare him to everyone else and find each addition to the compendium of tomes explaining their world a gift. There are times when I feel like his books are fillers meant to expose cool parts of the history otherwise left in the dark, and at those times the books can sometimes feel like Star Wars expanded universe stuff – built for the sake of exposition – but beyond that I still find their level of depth, scope and writing impressive.

Joe AbercrombieThe Heroes and the First Law & The Great Leveller trilogies. (Age: adult)

What I love about Abercrombie is that his strength is characterization where most of my big sagas’ strengths are world building and epic showdowns. Like Malazan it leaves little room for joy and hug-heavy endings, but ample care is put into his stories to achieve a similar level of ‘that left unsaid.’ I often have trouble deciding which characters I enjoy most, because none are ‘set up’ to be obvious choices (as opposed to, say, Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire). He also wrote my favourite sex scene of all time in Best Served Cold. Of his works, his initial trilogy is great, but his follow-up stand alones – jointly called The Great Leveller – are his best work to date, particularly Best Served Cold and my favourite The Heroes. Zooming in close to people in dreadful times of war makes for some grim dinner, but his chaotic, fumbling battle scenes remind the reader that in reality wars were little else.

George R. R. MartinGame of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. (Age: teen)

I refuse to input a link here. I could never decide if GRRM’s work overtook The Wheel of Time or just hovered level with its own strengths and weaknesses, but as time went on I got further and further from traditional fantasy to settle into the (partially) GRRM-inspired ‘gritty’ fantasy that focused principally on humans and did not involve bugbears in any fashion. With A Song of Ice and Fire I follow the typical fan’s arc – I love the first three, grew tired of the fourth and fifth, and wait with marginal interest for the remainder. The first book is still the best and offers one of the best surprises in fantasy – especially if you read it in the ’90s when there were no spoilers from the TV community.

Robert Jordan – The Fire of Heaven and The Wheel of Time. (Age: teen)

No fantasy series had as great an impact on my formative years. Wheel made me want to be a fantasy author and inspired a ton of rereads and teenage fandom during long, hot summers. I once made a list of all the characters I could find and came to over 400 by the end of book 6. A friend and I once stayed up all night drawing pictures of every character we could think of. As I’ve said before, Wheel is a gateway fantasy – it opened my eyes to the fact an author could just invent his or her own monsters, own rules of magic, own maps and missions. I loved it as much then as I cherish Malazan now, and while I, too, follow the common mythos of Wheel fandom with regards to the latter books (8-11 could have been one book if you cut out Faile’s plot and the Bowl of the Winds) the work as a whole is still too important to disparage. The three books following Jordan’s death by Brandon Sanderson were an excellent finish and, likely, a distinct improvement on what would have come to fruition from an aging Jordan who had already become redundant.

Guy Gavriel KayThe Lions of al-Rassan (Age: teen)

I read earlier work by Kay, but it did not strike me as much as the ending of Lions did. Even before reaching halfway through the Fionavar Tapestry I knew Kay was an author’s author who was more elegant by half than every fantasy author I had loved thus far. He seemed an author turned fantasy fan rather than a fantasy fan turned author, and holds the dubious honour of being the only author to make me cry. I have Tigana slated to be read soon and I have heard it may be his best.

There will be more. I have many new authors slated to read (Scott Lynch), and series I’m currently puttering away at (Patrick Rothfuss), but also feel as though there’s something to be said for Joe Abercrombie’s point of view that it is not essential for a fantasy author to constantly be trying to read everything fantasy. I can’t copy Mistborn if I keep putting it off, right?

JM

30 Days of Balance #9: Never Quiting + Warcraft III

People often ask authors how they finish a book, the drudgery of day to day life serving as a constant reminder to them that they have no extra time for anything. Maybe they have started a book and not finished it. Maybe they just quit, or maybe they did not like the product. Maybe they spelled Yale with a 6. Regardless, they want to know. It is a challenge, isn’t it? How do people find the time and the words? What made you think your story was important? (That’s your cynical friend who creates nothing but critiques everything.)

I don’t know about most of it, but the one aspect of writing I feel like I have an exceptional grasp on is never quitting. It’s the element I am certain separates me from these inquiring minds at parties. It’s the single factor I could fall back on when hit with doubt. If you build a history of never quitting on projects – never getting bored and losing what made the idea great to you in the first place – then you will always continue, and thus can count on the fact something will be produced. When you know something will come, then there is no course but to put in the effort to impress. Otherwise there’s no surer path to a premature end. Alas, I have a secret:

I draw strength from Warcraft III.

Probably not what anyone was expecting – yet true. Warcraft III. Yes, a cartoony video game of my youth that I loved to bits, but also something more. It was the title of my first real story.

See, back in Grade 9 and 10 Warcraft III, as producers Blizzard would have it, did not exist. Warcraft II existed and love it to bits. So much so that I set out to write a sequel. Every day after school I would come home and head upstairs to write two pages single-spaced before dinner. I did this for most of Grade 9 and then through the summer and into Grade 10. When I finished, I wrote another one, and when I finished that one I wrote a third one. The combined result was an 111,000 word text document on an old Mac of which I was resolutely proud.

Now, here’s the thing. It may have been woven together with some creativity, but I borrowed half my characters from the video game. I used their map. I used their world. I made spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors galore. I wrote sentences that a grown reader would be incapable of digesting. The end product was rubbish in the real world, and in retrospect, even as far back as university, it was not a story worthy of attention.

Except mine. It inspired me because I finished it.

All 111,000 words. Now, years later, I can barely tell you any details of all this work (I remember a demon arriving mid-air in the middle of a four-nation boat battle, and Deathwing providing a final surprise attack before the final curtain – that’s it), but I can tell you the word count because the knowledge that I finished what I set out to do a year ago – which was like five years adult time – was all that mattered.

If I could finish a quasi-readable story that overtly stole half of its ideas when I was a pubescent teenager with plenty of understandable diversions, what excuse could I have as an aspiring author seven years ago? What, was the fantasy world I constructed from the favourite elements of my reading list not good enough for Azeroth? Were my Imbalance characters of less dimension than computer game NPCs and their cousins from the era of ‘I-can’t-use-commas-properly’? Finishing something of notable size through beginning, journey, and climax was no longer a hurdle. Starting such a project again was a decision made with the confidence that one day I would finish again, and unwavering knowledge that you can is the greatest of motivators.

JM