30 Days of Balance #5: What is Imbalance About?

It is a fine line to preemptively explain an epic fantasy. No doubt it will be filled with fantastical elements, exotic locations, and a bevy of particular terminology. Explaining any major undertaking in such a realm challenging to describe to the layman, and yet – when a book is new – everyone is a layman. I always feel silly when family members, friends, acquaintances or anyone asks what Imbalance is about because I grew up believing a good epic fantasy concerns itself with the growth and development of multiple characters or the deep history of a fictitious world. Paraphrasing a past is just not a palatable prospect.*

I inevitably end up saying something about the following simplified terms:

  • swords

  • monsters

  • magic

  • grit

  • gods

These moments hurt a little because it short changes not just my own story, but every one of the amazing, amazing epic fantasy novels I’m proud to have read and loved. If it is woven complex enough, it simply cannot be readily translated to those with a fringe understanding of the genre. My favourite, Erikson, knows (See this post).

So how does this change now via blog? Well, for one I don’t feel like my audience immediately tunes out after hearing the word “magic.” For two I can choose my words a little more carefully. And for three I can assume some manner of interest beyond due diligence.

My query letter used to end with the line, “Purge of Ashes chronicles the mettle of young soldiers as their impact ripples from a dusty road all the way to the gods’ realm” and this is a pretty good starting point. The series is called Imbalance and it has a short game and a long game. The short game is based around the young soldiers of the Loce Freelancers, third division – who they are before the invasion and who they become while treading the ashes. War and upheaval frequently upset balances of power, leaving the young to fill in the shoes of the dead. They undercut self pity and notions of unfairness with the threat of eradication. Choices made in love and actions taken in hate cause butterfly effects that sway rebellions, quell insurrections or force a return to glory. The ordeal suffered by the Loce Freelancers, third division has repercussions that extend beyond each individual’s inner struggle to create tangible change in the world beyond. To simply tread the ashes is not enough. One must be purged to find solace, and with solace comes the return of balance.

The long game is the second half of the query – about the god’s realm. What constitutes balance between good and evil, chaos and stability, is rooted in the nature of the gods and therefore foreign to the mortal mind. For example, the gods of good and evil (alas, I simplify anyway) have separate notions of what constitutes a fair division of power between them, but it is the mortals who they need to sway. The rest, as they say, is in the text.

One final thing: I could type out a laundry list of concepts I believe to be ‘themes’ in Purge of Ashes and they would read like a Grade 5 class studying abstract nouns. What matters isn’t words like ‘glory,’ ‘redemption’, ‘honour’, ‘bravery’ or ‘love’ – what matters is the weight of all such concepts, and how heavy they feel against your chest. The words are empty and typical without the book behind them – and by the time you have read it in full, you can and will decide for yourself.

*Note: this alliterative sentence is entirely for my epic fantasy comrade Sean Rodden.

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30 Days of Balance #4: Progress to Publication I – Original Draft + Movie Script

Imbalance was sat on for a very long time. Numerous times. Creativity for me has always been a sine wave and with each high to productivity comes the balancing low. It is not what it used to be, but with each progression towards the finished book, it is far more a product of what it was than not. All the roots came from a map, but at some point words came into play. There is always a first draft. This post is about the first incarnation of Imbalance and Purge of Ashes, between 2003-2007 when it existed first as a student’s fancy and then as a movie script.

The Original Imbalance Book One: Like most good stories, the characters and scenarios for Imbalance were conceived while steering a dragon boat on Little Lake in Peterborough, Ontario. The shorelines were dotted with houses and the air smelled of the Quaker Oats factory upriver. Being out on the water is quite different from sitting on shore and merely observing. Brushed along by the wind, yet bobbing gently atop the water, it is not so hard to forget oneself and one’s simple chore of turning a 22-passenger boat once every few minutes.

When I got home I collected a series of characters first, having pictured my aforementioned map as the homeland and decided what location suited me best for a beginning. Then I began to write…

I check the word count of my original Imbalance from back in 2003 and I see it totals 44,000 words. It is weird and foreign to me. Everything is out of order. People’s names are slightly different. There are five entire chapters dedicated to what I summed up in about three pages of the upcoming release. Plus I had a point of view from the Scalion Legion, which was… different. I also organized the book in an interesting manner. Four sections of five chapters each, plus prologue and epilogue. Each one was named after a location – the same as the upcoming release but adding ‘Hazenma’ between ‘Katolys’ and ‘The Longest Road’ disparities. Additionally, each chapter had a title, and each title was drawn directly from a war metaphor. For example: Chapters 1-5, from ‘Katolys’, where titled: ‘A Flicker’, ‘Embers’, ‘Heat’, ‘Inferno’, ‘Ashes.’ The chapters for Hazenma reflected the process of a blacksmith forging a sword, and so on. The prologue was called ‘Premonitions’ and featured Ronun Thel’s first memory. The epilogue was called ‘Apparitions’ and was likely a Matthew Good Band reference / cool rhyme.

While I scrapped most of this version when I began to write Purge of Ashes in earnest in 2008, I did borrow some of my favourite bits – and certainly many of the scenes flow similar. The very first scene I ever wrote was Kaern playing with fire in the fire pit beside his farmhouse, which lasted a long time before eventually being turned to memories in the release. The Chapter 1 scene with Bale overlooking the Katolyian wharf was not too different then than it is now. Nor our introduction to Aronan. Where these fledgling scenes were most useful, however, was the year prior when I attended a Television Writing & Producing program where I was asked to pen a movie script.

The Movie Script: Since everyone was there to try their hand at learning how to produce television shows, or in my case create adult animated cartoons, no one was too interested in drawing up a whole movie script for this one particular class. It was the odd combination of ‘movie scripts’ and ‘late night’ and slipped aside the objective of most students – myself included. After imploring the class for at least a few scripts before the winter holidays, I decided that while I had no new ideas for full-length movies, I did have one lingering property…

I took what I had written for Imbalance, chopped the ‘Hazenma’ part right down to almost nothing, and then actually finished the story by filling in the finale in the form of a movie script. I found the time over the holidays because… well that’s the glory of being a student, isn’t it? My teacher praised it some, but then he was desperate to encourage more scripts out of the other students, so I took it with a grain of salt. What mattered most was that I really liked some of the choices I made in the final moments of the script. This script also forced me to keep the dialogue short and to the point, which I believe later helped me with some of my favourite lines in the upcoming release. It also kept the pace of the novel fast and action-oriented, a pacing I am proud of amid my many details.

Now, nothing was ever going to happen with this movie script. Let us clarify that. I had not the comprehension to pursue it, and at the time there was a notable lack of interest in fantasy movies from nobodies. There was a notable lack of interest in fantasy movies from anyone. Anyone not named Tolkien or Rowling, anyway.

So that was where I sat in the new year. Cool script, but who cares? It would take at least a year to realize that the collaboration required to make it in TV was beyond my scope and that writing was a medium I could plumb until kingdom come… but that’s a story for Progress to Publication II.

JM

30 Days of Balance #2: 200,000 Words + One From Joe Abercrombie

Being new is hard.

Being an author is hard, too.

Being a new author with a book breaching 200,000 words is doomed to failure.

Being doomed to failure is hard.

My debut Purge of Ashes clocks in at around 204,000 words, about double what ‘they’ say a newly minted author should attempt. Everywhere I looked my word count was not just implausible or foolish, it was impudent and rude. A sure sign of an upstart university kid who thinks piling words from his engorged lexicon comprises prose fiction. The gall of it, going a book’s length into the sextupal digits. And yet here I am writing with both a publishing deal and the guile to work the word ‘sex’ into a post sans smut. University was a long time ago.

The word count was one of the most daunting aspects of completing Purge of Ashes. Attracting an agent or publisher would be based on their opinion of whether or not I would make money for the company. At first there would be no bearing on quality. The gatekeepers were therefore math types who were hedging their bets to calculate the odds of your book being a success – a risk worth taking. At 204,000 words all the algebra in the world would never fit the right numbers into the right variables for me. The cost of the excess paper required to print the novel outdid my potential, especially if the measure of that potential was 250 words on a single query letter.

I could never simply lop a chunk of the book. The ramifications were either too vast to consider or too damaging to the atmosphere or pacing. Nor could I split the book in two. You don’t set out on a mass exodus only to have the story end mid-jaunt when people’s feet are starting to get sore. One option seemed ideal: print as is and cuff the norms.

The thing is, they say write what you know for a reason. If there was one thing I was comfortable with in my knowledge, besides the TV show Futurama, it was my understanding of why my favourite fantasy series were so great. The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire and then later Malazan Book of the Fallen and First Law. None of these were small books. None of them squirmed into the presentation britches of the so-called rules of publishing. If these were what I knew, then an 80,000 page one-off to get my feet wet was not for me. Not grand enough by half.

So what could I do? I had done it my way like a cool dude, but now my way had petered from a paved highway into a lapideous streambed.

An offhand comment from @Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie, did the trick. I was beside myself at how impossible maintaining my 204,000 words seemed in a day and age where the internet could tell me ahead of time the many reasons I would fail. No one was going to care to represent my work and my craft was going to be for nothing but a few loyal friends. Then, halfway down the comment section on a thread purporting to tally ‘caps’ for word count by genre, I came upon an old post of Abercrombie’s calling the results into question – and you’re welcome to read it here. (A search for ‘Abercrombie’ will find it for you quickly.) He basically implied that a great number of impressive debuts in the preceding years, including The Blade Itself at 190,000 words, were closer to 200,000 than anything else… so why imply limitations? The successes belied the restrictions.

This prompted in me a steely resolve to ensure Purge of Ashes failed or thrived as conceived. If other excellent books could skip the line then so could I. Even the most famous authors started out timid over their capability. Let April 5th be the judge of the company it will keep.

JM

30 Days of Balance #1: The 30-Day Countdown

In the Imbalance novels, recorded history begins in the span ‘1b’ and winds through time to the present: 340b. Some call the present span 1i instead of 340b because it marks the birth of imbalance, and in accordance they augment their calendars and chronologies. Others cry and cajole that this identifier belongs fifteen years prior in 325b at the live birth. To these purists the world is already in the year 15i. Whether you side with the purists and the live birth or the populists and that endae aft in early Anona when the scales first tipped, the one thing agreed upon is that the days of balance were numbered.

For our purposes, 30 will do.

Today marks the first of a 30-day countdown to the release of Purge of Ashes on April 5th. 30 more days of balance in which to get excited about the trilogy, explain some of the inspiration for the series, discuss the writing process for a debut fantasy novel, and learn some things about me before I get busy finishing the sequel. I have created the majority of these posts ahead of time to ensure the frequency and quality does not wane as the release date approaches and I revert from determined professional to giddy teenager. I hope those interested in reading my debut peruse this list of topics and pick a few they would be interested in to watch out for. A crash course on Imbalance straight from the Arnbred destrier’s mouth.

Happy reading to you all.

JM

Pleasure note that my cover reveal and date for pre-orders are anticipated projections and subject to change.

Saturday, March 5

The 30-Day Countdown

Sunday, March 6

200,000 Words + One From Joe Abercrombie

Monday, March 7

Biting My Nails vs. Writing

Tuesday, March 8

Progress to Publication I: Original Book + Movie Script

Wednesday, March 9

What is Imbalance About?

Thursday, March 10

The Value of a Good Ear + Friends

Friday, March 11

A World Birthed From Maps

Saturday, March 12

Two Levels: Shakespeare vs. The Simpsons

Sunday, March 13

Never Quitting + Warcraft III

Monday, March 14

Favourite Authors

Tuesday, March 15

Progress to Publication II: 6-Year Challenge

Wednesday, March 16

The Cracks of the Day vs. Money

Thursday, March 17

A World Birthed From Documents

Friday, March 18

Love + Art

Saturday, March 19

Writing Women

Sunday, March 20

EARLY SAMPLE: Purge of Ashes

Monday, March 21

Cover Reveal (subject to change)

Tuesday, March 22

Pre-Orders (subject to change)

Wednesday, March 23

Self-promotion vs. The Internet

Thursday, March 24

Naming Conventions

Friday, March 25

Fantasy vs. Horrible Fantasy Covers

Saturday, March 26

Progress to Publication III: The Roddening

Sunday, March 27

Starting in the Storm + Passive Voice

Monday, March 28

Birthday Promotion!

Tuesday, March 29

Short Stories

Wednesday, March 30

The Timeline Doesn’t Matter

Thursday, March 31

Writing vs. Worldbuilding

Friday, April 1

Something Unique + Inspiring

Saturday, April 2

Pronunciations + Pronunciation Keys

Sunday, April 3

Publication + Realmwalker Publishing Group

Monday, April 4

Grip of Dust

Tuesday, April 5

The Birth of Imbalance