My TOR.com Think-piece on Malazan Book of the Fallen

gardens-of-the-moon-cover

So if you would please take a gander at this article I was asked to write for TOR.com (you know, the biggest fantasy publisher in the world) I would be thrilled. It’s meant for people who are interested in Malazan Book of the Fallen but keep hearing a lot of chat about it ahead of time. Those already disinclined will find nothing to like about the article, while those who already love the series will hopefully feel similar. It really is a unique piece of art when your plumb its depths, and definitely worth the investment.

I have Imbalance news, but will wait a bit to share. Until then: babies, babies everywhere!

JM

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Coup de Grace

So I have had some pretty bad news lately, as documented and documented, but ‘everything comes in threes’ as people like to say. Fortunately, as far as news goes, I was saving the best for last.

I am glad to announce I have been offered a guest opportunity to write about fantasy for TOR.com regarding the magnificent opus The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I am really looking forward to praising the virtues of what I believe is the greatest fantasy books of all time, and determined to convince those on the fence of why they need to tackle the monster series. At least one other friend is also gearing up, so it is going to be great fun. Even more importantly to me personally, this chance has come right when my prospective publishing future seemed most daunting (hehe, naw, Imbalance will be one way or another, no worries) and I see it as surefire proof my prose is not so deplorable.

More on the matter to come, and I’ll be sure to direct you to the essay when it is published in September!

JM

The Sixth Reason: SPFBO 2016

I mentioned a sixth reason for taking Purge of Ashes off the market yesterday, and that would be its elimination from Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off competition for 2016.

It is not official yet, as The Qwillery is yet to post their results, but it’s true. Unfortunately, I found out in a rather nasty way: by Goodreads rating. Surprised at a low score, I looked up the reviewer only to find her profile mentioned she blogged for the Qwillery. It was not hard to make the leap in logic. Later, I found entries on the site which gave me further insight into her reasoning. The good news is that she only read 20 pages and therefore has virtually no impression of what the series is all about.

Ironically, back in May all I hoped from SPFBO 2016 over on Twitter was my allotted blog read Purge of Ashes all the way through to attain a fair review.

The bad news is that it only took 20 pages to turn off a reader, and not just any reader, but an enthusiastic one who reads multiple books a week. That won’t do, but that’s why I hired Tim Marquitz (see ‘Downtime’) – to smooth out the ruffles in the opening and generally ensure my structure alienates as few people as possible. I had been waiting in vain curiosity to gauge Purge of Ashes‘s potential before closing a potential inroad for new readers, but freed of this deadline I can get on with refurbishing my debut.

Like the debut itself, it appears the book was not fighting fit for competition yet. What say you, Mark, can a newly-edited version enter the competition next year? Only 3% read…

Best of luck to everyone still in the contest. I’m currently really enjoying What Remains of Heroes by last year’s runner up David Benem and it’s a blast.

JM

Grimdark

Just a quick post to note that the Grimdark Fiction Readers and Writers group is doing a wicked online AMA session today featuring some of the best current fantasy authors – and even giving away signed copies of some of their excellent books!

I already missed Michael R. Fletcher, but I’m excited to pop in for Marc Turner and Jeff Salyards.

In the meantime, I have been working on Grip of Dust as well as a few other things, but with my wife due in under a week things will be pretty quiet on the site. I will, however, post a link to my final Dork Shelf Fan v. Fan videos at some point.

JM

30 Days of Balance #27: The Wait

So I fell a bit short of my 30 Days challenge. I had the capability to go the distance, but with the publication of my book in jeopardy my priorities switched. I imagine I touched on most important subjects in the last two months. I will finish the 30 Days tomorrow in a big lump so as to be true to my word in the end: 30 posts in 30 days.

Tonight, I wait.

I chose writing as my ideal medium because it was a solo pursuit where you did not need anyone to create something exactly how you like it. But that’s not entirely true. By the end of the process you need a whole bunch of other people involved – good friends as mentioned before, but also editors, publishers, eyes in the sky. Things got messy and went down to the wire like an alighting bird. They still are even as I write this. My book comes out tomorrow yet work remains to be done. It helps having people in your corner who are nearly as dedicated to the proliferation of your book as you yourself.

The delays have cost me in promotion time. There are numerous places where I cannot promote because of missing art and a lack of an Amazon pre-order page. Unfortunate, but not soul crushing. Soul crushing is not doing the book properly and having to live with it for all your years, wondering how and why you could not have spent more time cultivating.

Tomorrow I will release the cover art AND the book itself all at once. For tonight I am dozy from a combination of explaining my unique circumstances and going to bed at 4am yesterday in an effort to hasten production.

JM

 

Best Practices

…to borrow a phrase from my teaching background.

This post was popular on my Facebook page, so I thought I’d repost it here:

Lots of people want to know how to best help me out as there are numerous manners to acquire the novel.

For starters, picking up the book ASAP is the most important thing as ‘frequency of purchases’ is what pushes a book’s ranking on Amazon. The higher the ranking, the more likely strangers are to find the novel when searching – and more likely a novel will show up on Amazon’s search algorithm. These both mean more sales, which then pushes a book even further. The week of the book’s release is the best week to accomplish this ascension because the initial pointed interest spikes sales numbers. It’s about getting launched as high as you can and then retaining momentum. Here is a purchasing breakdown for what helps me most:

1. Buy a physical book ($19.95) at the Release Party or from Amazon come April 5th. It will be quite pretty I assure you.
2. If you’d RATHER read an eBook but still want to support my fledgling efforts, when you purchase a softcover you ALSO get an eBook version for (I believe) the Kindle for FREE.
3. Buy an eBook ($3.99) from Amazon come April 5th. If you don’t know me so well / are hesitant not to physically shelf a book you’re not SURE you love, this is still wonderful. The cost of a burger and it won’t gnaw at your bowels!

No matter how you acquire the novel, one of the most helpful things anyone can do for an author is write a review of their book, typically on Amazon. Reviews mean a lot to people online who know nothing but the author’s pitch. They assure people what they are buying is not garbage. Even better are reviews that take the time to explains their reasons – lots of reviews with barely any content implies they’re ‘bought’ reviews more or less.

If the book does the trick, this part is very honesty and easy.

JM

30 Days of Balance #25: Pronunciation + Pronunciation Keys

I’m hopping a few days ahead of schedule, but my cover is coming tomorrow and I want to fit in my favourite topics prior to April 5th: The Birth of Imbalance.

Pronunciation is one of the best things about fantasy novels. Some people hate it, finding all the strange names intolerable and all the extra apostrophes silly, but I find a great amount of joy in the game. Fantasy names are weird. They’re foreign. If they are not like this it usually grates on me greatly (for example, all the simple our-world names of Kingkiller Chronicles – especially when the protagonist has one of the awesomest fantasy names in ‘Kvothe’ – or the ungainly ‘Kyle’ from Ian Cameron Esslemont [long story that one]).

I love the power that comes with reading a name. It is mine to say aloud. If I want to pronounce ‘Daenarys’ as ‘Day-nair-E-us’ or ‘Dan-air-E-us’ it is up to me (unless HBO says otherwise, and even then it is still up to me.) The author can pronounce it one way and readers another. It is written. It has no breath to speak of beyond your own. I noticed this recently listening to the Grim Tidings Postcast featuring a two-part interview with Joe Abercrombie where, in reference to a new character from the upcoming short story collection Sharp Ends – ‘Shevediah’, the hosts kept saying ‘Shev-eh-DIE-ah’ and Abercrombie kept saying ‘Shev-EH-dee-ah’.

No live discussion of a fantasy novel is complete without both people being completely confused because they pronounce a name differently and can’t figure each other out.

For the ‘ell of it, here is a brief pronunciation key for Purge of Ashes’s 3 most baffling monikers:

Asma(thalyne) Madrejingo – [ACE-ma(tha-line) Madra-JING-go]

Rafien Jorgamund – [RAY-fee-en YORG-a-mund]

Xi’ar Chukkundah – [Zire Chuck-KUN-dah]

and for fun,

Arch Deacon Kravroar Bryce Matmas Slyne – [CRAV-roar Brice Mat-mus Sline]

JM

30 Days of Balance #24: The Timeline Doesn’t Matter

Short post today. Cover a-transpirin’.

The running phrase around an old Malazan Book of the Fallen forum I spent a lot of time on was “the timeline doesn’t matter.” It came about as a result of numerous threads wondering how story lines wove together, sometimes critical of supposed gaffes, other times desperately trying to pull together loose ends. Malazan hops around a lot. Keeping track is a job better suited to a computer. Somewhere in this mighty jumble it may have been possible to find an error in chronology, or math, within the ten epic tomes – but the mantra was loud and firm: forget about it.

For one, you’ll churn your noodle. For two, it was deemed rude to question the author when he so clearly has thought of a thousand-fold details. There was a point where having so much depicted with accuracy that the act of questioning went from nit-picking to insult. Erikson had earned any holes you could find. Odds were it was you who was missing the link regardless.

As stated earlier in the 30 Days of Balance, I have an ugly document for time lines. Most authors have not earned the benefit of the doubt as Erikson has and thus have to be extra particular. An obvious hole or even one that can be weaseled out through careful scrutiny is enough to sink my ship in the eyes of the gatekeepers. As such, for Purge of Ashes, the timeline does matter – and very much so. I promise not to hop around much in the next book *wink, wink*

Drat, did I type myself winking?

JM

30 Days of Balance #23: Bridge From Dard

Instead of posting about Short Stories today as per the schedule, I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU A NEW ONE! See what I did there?

First I must mention this post was originally going to be about an Imbalance short story called Residue which tells the tale of a master practitioner and his accomplice traveling from Aneoma to the Stillborn Basin in the name of science. However, having penned up a new sort of short story this morning…

I entered the WHEEL OF OSHEIM writing competition, hosted by Agnes Meszaros, which is totally going on over here!

ThornsWC

I am fairly proud of my entry, although there is one word I might change. Hopefully that is not enough to mar the piece in the eyes of the judges. There’s certainly lots going on if you hop back to the start once you reach the end.

RULES:

300 words or less. Must use the word ‘life’ and the word ‘death.’

I give you Bridge From Dard – and you could probably figure out where in the world of Imbalance the story takes place by looking at the map.

ENTRY:

Bridge From Dard

“I’ll be fine, Norae. You’ll see.”

We will see.

She would not get too close. She had her pole if need be.

The Bridge to Furl stretched out before Thanol Baeddicus, four lines of ropes coiled upon ropes framing an ingenious succession of interlocking planks. Each was long as a man and rooted by sturdy metal pins thick as mauls. It obscured not far from where Thanol was making his way out, lost to the blanched air of a soothing snow storm.

Morning had done little to alleviate the night’s chill, and the bridge itself was thick with snow heaped tall as her hand. It sloughed from Thanol’s boots to drop a thousand leaps to the chop below.

“See? Immaculate! A work of virtuoso engineering!”

So you said in crossing.

“Immaculate!” he repeated.

The man was a gifted talent. Her span in Furl as his apprentice had braved his thinly-veiled pomposity to find the skill underneath relished the exposure. In her naivety, Norae had assumed such capability beckoned an honest man. When the bridge had been proposed, such naivety withered. Life was, after all, the vandal of innocence. The greater fault lay at its feet.

Not my own.

“She withstood a blizzard, Pupil Norae. A blizzard! Warleader will march by nightfall.”

Two pins were shoved deep in her rucksack.

“If—”

Thanol reached the plank that felt their absence. Easy to see in daylight. Impossible under snowfall. He gave a weak squeal and slipped through. Norae had her pole ready, but it would not be necessary. The magnate was already fallen to his death.

Chilled, she rubbed her hands together. Just the night’s work catching up to me.

Norae of the Dard drew her knife and began at the ropes fixing the bridge to her cliff.

30 Days of Balance #21: Starting in the Storm + Passive Voice

Fantasy authors often plan important events – wars, battles, murders, usurpations, the finding of powerful artifices, ascension – and then backtrack to explain all the preparatory details that bring a reader to this place. In my opinion, as best as one can, an author should endeavour to begin the story within the storm of the event itself and let the backstory play out when the opportunity arises. Again, this is likely due to my love of Malazan Book of the Fallen, even if Steven Erikson himself would likely augment the first half of Gardens of the Moon if given the chance. And he loves forcing his readers to dig deep.

My point is more about the importance of immediacy in action. I don’t mean that the book has to start with action – many books feel they need to ‘hook’ a reader and that is fine, but an excellent book will draw readers in regardless (For example, the plodding start of The Name of the Wind has done little to tarnish Patrick Rothfuss’s reputation as a writer of excellence.) Fantasy is a slow burn genre. It takes time. If it did not, all the best books in its canon would not be Bible-weight tomes. Learning about an entirely new world takes time. If the reader does not want to take that time, then by all means they can read something set in the present. In the present all you need to learn about are the characters themselves. It is not about physical, Saturday morning cartoon type action – it’s about placing your writer’s eye at the most critical moment, or building up to it very fast.

Purge of Ashes accelerates very quickly after some groundwork is laid out. It follows the general pattern of a movie – which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not surprising. Being a larger work that is meant to span many books, however, time lines get spread until an eight-page prologue is not the beginning, it is just the tip of the beginning. The more to be constructed, the more leeway had to take your time. Story arcs tend not to function if completed in 3/5s of a book only to spend the final 2/5s in exposition.

One of the key things I learned about editing came when considering this notion of being active as often as possible. Somewhere part way through an early edit I became a passive voice policeman, always watching for any sign of trouble and eliminating as much passive voice as I could find. I found numerous instances. Hads and haves died by the hundreds. Past tenses cowered in hovels. It was a dire time for the word population, the hovering cursor spelling menace for the expendable.

This started any given point of view right in the middle of the storm, instead of backtracking to recount the storm before moving on. My natural tendencies were creating stories about things happening moments prior before reaching the point of the section – but why? I brought the story back a few tics, rewrote active tense in the present, and always pushed the narrative forwards instead of explaining what had just happened. Readers don’t want their character recounting recent events. They want them living current events. It seems so simple until you actually read things over and realize not every point of view needs to be the mental dance of the movie Memento.

JM