So What is Farshores, Anyway?

As I mentioned in my last post, the Farshores world encompasses much more than the just the events of a novel series. But let us focus on that for a moment first, and Shoreseeker in particular. Here is a description:

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Over six hundred years ago, a race of monsters called the sheggam swept across the world like a plague, killing everyone in their path. Mankind was driven to the brink of annihilation, and only found refuge behind a magical wall designed to repel the sheggam. Now, all that’s left of humanity is huddled behind Andrin’s Wall on a small peninsula called the Sutherlands.

Despite having faced extinction, humanity was able to rebuild. Grand cities were constructed, and the magical art of Patterning, nearly lost in the war with the sheggam, began to flourish again. The horrors of the sheggam scourge were far removed from the lives of ordinary citizens, and as the centuries passed, the dark memories of that time faded into myth.

At the time of the completion of Andrin’s Wall, a ripple in the world’s Pattern had caused a second barrier to be formed, called the Rift, which divided the Sutherlands in two: Naruvieth, a small city on the peninsula’s southern tip; and the many cities of the Accord in the north. All contact between the two lands had been severed almost from the beginning. Yet three years ago, a highway called the Runeway, created with magic once thought impossible, bridged the two lands, allowing contact between them for the first time in hundreds of years.

Not everyone is pleased with this, however. Tharadis, the Warden of Naruvieth, will do anything to stop the Runeway’s completion, even risk a war with all of the Accord. For, as humanity learned so long ago, there are worse things in the world than war. And all of them are poised on the other side of Andrin’s Wall.

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So, what do you think? I know that if I had read this on the back of a book cover or in its product description, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up. I think that is every writer’s goal, to create fiction that he or she would enjoy reading. Shoreseeker is exactly the kind of book I would like to see more of, so I’m doing what I can to rectify this lack.

It’s hard to talk about the series without giving away too much about Shoreseeker, but one can only be too careful. It is an epic fantasy series, so you probably already know that the Sutherlands are too small to contain it. And what fantasy author would waste a big, scary world devastated by monsters? I, for one, wouldn’t.

While Shoreseeker starts in a more-or-less familiar epic fantasy world, the kind you could expect in a Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind novel, it becomes horrific by the end. While fantasy has its dark worlds, such as anything that falls into the grimdark category, I haven’t come across any that are really that scary. One of my goals in this series is to create an epic fantasy that can give you nightmares.

But not because I think there is inherent value in giving people nightmares. I’d rather not have them myself. But one of the main reasons I’m writing this series is to give a home to the main character, Tharadis.

In a previous post, I mentioned that one of the reasons I write is to explore what makes us humans tick. A lot of dark fiction works do this, but they often examine how people break down in times of adversity. It’s fiction like this that gave rise to the idea of the anti-hero. This kind of fiction is almost always tragic, in the sense that even when the main characters get what they want, no one is really satisfied.

This kind of fiction is almost universally described as realistic, which is to say it accurately describes the human condition. “That’s the way the world works,” it implies. “Everything sucks, so you’d better get used to it.”

Perhaps it does end up that way for a lot of people. But it doesn’t have to.

Art can be powerful. It can be a light in the darkness. The world can be a cruel place; no one needs confirmation of that. But there is something that people often forget—goodness is real. And it can win. Sometimes we need art to remind of this. Personally, the books that I cherish the most are those that remind me of this simple yet profound truth.

So how does the world of Farshores, as relentlessly brutal as it often is, lead us to this idea?

Because some lights shine brightest in the darkest of nights.

To Farshores, and Beyond: Part II

As much as traditional publishing gave way to indie publishing with the advent of new platforms such as Kindle and Nook, so too did the video game industry change. Steam, Valve’s world-conquering distribution platform, changed the way developers reached gamers. One no longer needed a big publisher like Electronic Arts or Square-Enix to distribute games. You could do it directly, as long as you had a product that gamers would want.

But creating a game is still a monumental undertaking. When I was working at Nintendo, a few of my friends who also worked there decided to get together to create a game. I was brought in as the writer, having already published some of my Fourth World stuff. We started planning. But even this group of very motivated gamers did not get far beyond the planning stage. Creating a game is not as simple as just sitting in front of a keyboard and typing away. There are a lot of moving parts that require specialized knowledge. Failure to understand all of these parts could result in a game that is completely unplayable.

This is true of writing, too. One must patch all those plot holes or readers will complain. But it’s a much bigger deal for games. Imagine making a mistake while typing away in your novel, and the entire thing suddenly becomes completely unreadable. Such a catastrophe would never happen from a typo in a novel, but frequently does in a typo of computer code. And even if catastrophe does strike and a novel is lost, it’s usually because of some computer problem. Game developers deal with this routinely.

The biggest obstacle for us, however, was managing a team. When writing a novel, you are responsible only to yourself (for the most part). Only your schedule matters. Only your creative direction matters. As long as you create something of quality, you’ve done your job.

With video games, everyone on the team has their own ideas, their own schedules. There are bottlenecks. Technical incompatibilities. Creative differences. Any one of these could cause the project to collapse.

Despite having committed to the novelist path, I still kept my ear to the ground when it came to game development. Games still did something for me that novels didn’t, and perhaps, subconsciously, I knew that I still had the urge to create games.

I eventually came upon tools that allowed a single, focused game developer to create games much like those I loved since that fateful day in 1997: Japanese-style RPGs.

I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a shot.” I thought it would be a nice way to scratch that itch, even if nothing ever really came of it.

It was turning out pretty well, so I thought I would incorporate some of the ideas of the Farshores Saga into it, and make it part of the history of the Farshores world. I thought it would help me make the world real for me and help bring out some of that flavor into the novels. It would also give me an opportunity to create backstory for the characters.

At one point, I was playing through what I had created. I knew that it was more than just a repository of backstory and worldbuilding to aid in the creation of my novels.

I knew I could make a game that other people would want to play.

Thus was Super Secret Project B born (the “B” stands for “Brandon” because I’m, uh, super-creative).

I’ll have more details about this project in an upcoming post.

To Farshores, and Beyond: Part I

I remember when I decided to be a writer. Not the exact day, but I remember the event that triggered it. I’m sure many writers remember a similar event in their lives: the first time they read the Lord of the Rings, the first time they watched Star Wars, or some other exposure to a work they wanted to emulate. That work likely got them thinking about how that story could continue. They felt as if they had begun a conversation, and now it was their turn to speak.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I had dabbled in fan fiction. BattleTech fan fiction, to be exact. I was a GM for the BattleTech RPG, called MechWarrior. I loved creating stories for the neighbor kids, who themselves loved participating in them. Years later, one of those same neighbors recalled fondly a particular adventure I had taken him on in our little mech-filled universe. That was a big moment for me. I also loved reading BattleTech novels—particularly the ones written by Michael Stackpole—and eventually thought I should try my hand at writing one.

I did. It wasn’t good, and I only wrote a few pages before I ran out of steam. I decided to go back to what I was good at, which was running our game.

This wasn’t the moment that triggered the “I am a writer” compulsion in me, not really. It was just a false start. The real moment wouldn’t come until years later, but it too was brought about not by a novel or a movie, but by another game.

The year was 1997. I was just about to turn 14 when that fateful moment occurred. When Final Fantasy VII was released.

One of the neighbor kids (different from the BattleTech neighbor kids) brought over a copy of the game to play on my sister’s PlayStation. It was all this kid would talk about, and he begged me to borrow it so he could talk about it with someone who understood it. I did borrow it, somewhat skeptical (I was a dyed-in-the-wool sci-fi guy, and wasn’t interested in fairy tales and fantasies), and gave the disc a spin later that evening.

I went to bed, red-eyed and bleary, at around 7 AM the next day. And at that moment I severely resented my body and its stupid need for sleep. As soon as my eyes were open—perhaps after about 4 or 5 hours of sleep—I was back in Midgar with my spiky yellow hair and enormous Buster Sword.

ff7_us

When I finally finished the game, I sat back and realized something.

I could do this. I could write a video game script. Perhaps one even worthy of Final Fantasy.

That was the moment.

From that moment on, I was consumed with the idea of creating my own RPG, from developing the world and characters, to writing every line of dialogue. For that game, which I had titled Paradigm (for some reason), I had come up with some unique twists on the typical JRPG formula that the world wouldn’t see until years later, with the release of Final Fantasy XII (I honestly think someone in Japan read the script from Paradigm before creating that game. It had way too much in common with the one I was making).

I became an avid JRPG fan and played everything I could get my hands on. Another pivotal moment was, of course, the next iteration of Final Fantasy. This game, with its more realistic characters and (slightly) more realistic setting was more in line with what I wanted to create, me being the sci-fi guy. It was then that I decided on my hero, who incidentally had an awful lot in common with FF8’s hero, Squall.

I worked on this game for years before I finally was able to type the words “The End.” In that time, I had researched what it took to be a writer in the video game industry. It turns out to be a lot harder than I had naively thought as a 14-year-old kid. A lot of writers started out in testing, then worked their way up through design and finally into writing. Others already had writing credits to their name, having written stories and novels or worked in some other media before finally writing for video games. One does not simply declare oneself a video game writer, I learned to my dismay.

It was a sobering lesson. That was where I wanted to go. Into writing video games. I seriously considered going in through the testing route, and even tried my hand at it for a brief time, before I learned that was not where my skills lay, and I would have to work harder than everyone else just to get to the point where I could write games.

Then I turned to the other common route: writing in other media. The obvious media was novels. I had read a lot growing up, and when I started seriously considered writing novels, I had recently discovered a genre I had previously scorned: fantasy.

You see, I had never actually read a fantasy novel until I was 23. If there weren’t any spaceships or robots, I wasn’t interested. But once I finally caved into pressure and picked up my first fantasy novel, a little book called Wizard’s First Rule, I became utterly and totally obsessed. This was the second time in my life that I was convinced I would be a writer. This time, a writer of novels.

It wasn’t long before I decided that writing for video games would be just another dream job that I grew out of, like being an astronaut, a mad scientist, or a ninja. Writing novels would scratch the same itch as writing video games, and didn’t need to be a mere means to an end. It could be an end in itself.

I proceeded with this line of thinking for years, and much to my benefit. Here I am, on the eve of completing my first novel, and I am satisfied.

Mostly.

A (Temporary) Change of Direction

From the time when I was a tiny tot, I’ve been rather curious about how the world works. While other kids were busy playing soccer, I was going to garage sales to find chemistry sets and electronics kits. When other kids went with their friends to the beach, I would go trilobite hunting at a known, high-density fossil site, pickaxe firmly in hand, dewy eyes shining in the desert sun. The world was my playground, and discovery was the name of the game.

Fast-forward a couple decades, and I’m still playing the same game, but in a different playground: the worlds that I create for my fiction. I still want to know how everything works, and I’m not satisfied until I finally find the answers. My own worlds are no exception; the only difference is the rules of nature are determined solely by me. While world creation may sound a bit easier than figuring out the principles underlying the behavior of quantum particles (because you’re just making stuff up, right?), the process of discovery has a distinct advantage over that of creation: the rules of nature are already consistent with themselves. When one creates his own universe, however, such an expectation of consistency is not automatically assured.

The reason I bring that up is this: I have recently discovered that my own creation, namely that of the Fourth World, has some issues that need to be solved, particularly as it relates to The Born Sword.

Working in a fantasy world as strange as the Fourth World has its perks, but it has definitely worked my worldbuilding problem-solving muscles. There are certain philosophical questions that arise in such a bizarre universe, and while I get all frothy-at-the-mouth excited when it comes to questions like that, discovering the answers to such questions and then integrating them into a coherent story is a task that will simply take a little more time than I had originally expected.

If it sounds like I’m giving up on that novel, I want to assure you that I’m not. I want The Born Sword to be the best it can be, and that’s going to require some fixing. The reason I’m telling you this is because I have given you the expectation that it would coming soon, so very soon, but I would like to now temper that claim with some realism. I’m not one of those people who like to say that utopia is just around the corner, as long as you continue to demonstrate a little more patience. I prefer to tell it how it is.

Like any writer I’ve ever heard of, I’ve got quite a few stories in me, some of which are more suitable to setting and style different from the ones I’ve already written. As such, I’ve been working on another novel in a completely different world on the side for a while, and in light of the issues cropping up in the writing of The Born Sword, this new novel has recently become the main focus for my attention. It started out as merely something that kept me writing while I was working out the problems in The Born Sword, but has become something much, much greater. It is, I believe, going to be as good if not better than anything else I’ve written. I’m really, really excited about it. The working title of the new novel is The Fall of the Moon, but that will likely change as a result of a change in direction the story has undergone since I came up with the title.

One of the nice things about this new book is that I’ve specifically built in a resistance to the kinds of issues that I’m working on in the Fourth World. It, too, is epic fantasy, but with a stronger focus on plot, character, and theme, and not as much on a crazy magic system (though magic certainly plays a significant role) that creates more problems than it solves. Stay tuned for more details on this new book.

Of course, I am not abandoning the Fourth World at all, not even in the short run. In fact, I’ve got a completed story that, once I finish with the polishing-up stage (and once I have a title for it), will be ready for your consumption. It will follow the same distribution pattern as Dark Tree: free on this website, free on Smashwords and all of its affiliated platforms, and (once they decide to price-match) free on Amazon. I am in love with this story. I think it might be the best one taking place in the Fourth World yet, and for those of you who are interested in the nuts and bolts of how the Fourth World works, it will illuminate some of the more metaphysical (if not the more troublesome) aspects of the universe.

Speaking of which, I’ve created a lexicon of writings from the Fourth World regarding various aspects of its metaphysics some time ago. I’ve been trying to think of a good use for it, and I’ve decided that I will periodically post entries from the lexicon onto my Facebook Fan page. It was content in need of a home, and a page in need of content. A perfect marriage, if you ask me. If you’re interested in the more arcane aspects of the Fourth World, don’t hesitate to like the page here.

For those of you who love the Fourth World stories and were really hoping to see The Born Sword sooner rather than later, I hope that this upcoming Fourth World story will sate your desire for now. If it doesn’t, well… know that The Born Sword will likely be released before the next Rothfuss or Martin book. At least I can promise you that much *winks roguishly*. And who knows? I may even suddenly realize everything needed to finish it and, in a surge of inspiration, get it done before the other novel. Either way, I will keep you posted.

In other wonderful news, the brand new sister (brother?) review site to BestChickLit, called BestChapLit, posted reviews for Dark Tree and The Clans, as well as an interview with yours truly. If you’re looking to discover some good indie authors, I would definitely recommend checking out their sites.

Furthermore! The Clans is now only $0.99 from all distributors (Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc.), so if you’ve been holding out because the economy’s got you down, now is your chance to read it without breaking the bank. Thanks for stopping by!

Yuck, There’s Thermodynamics in my Magic System

The development of the magic system in the Fourth World came about naturally as I was telling the stories that took place there. While many out-of-the-ordinary processes in the world I created could technically qualify as magic, the part that most people would think of as magic (i.e., the powers that sorcerers would use to flamboyant effect) is something called binding. By using willpower, a sorcerer is able to bind a particular substance to a point of his choosing. For example, an ironbinder could create a focal point in the air which drew metal to it, very much as if that point became magnetic. Pretty simple and straightforward, right?

As it turns out… not so much.

In one of my stories in The Clans, a character has a magical object that has been heatbound, meaning that it has a permanent binding which allows it to draw heat out of its immediate environment, thus making them much cooler. As a plot device, it served its purpose well, and I thought it was kind of a cool concept, so I was proud when I handed it over to my beta readers. They liked the story, but one of them pointed something out to me that seemed to present a serious problem.

Left unchecked, the mere presence of this heatbound object would eventually destroy the entire world.

So much for simple and straightforward.

Thermodynamics formulaThis beta reader of mine is primarily a sci-fi reader, so he is very particular about the cause-effect relationships in a way that only an avid hard-SF reader can appreciate (although Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks are changing that, with their magic systems that act more like physics than hand-waving). So when he discovered how this object worked, his mind spun out all the implications of such a thing.

So what happens to all that heat that gets drawn into the object? Nothing; it just packed in there, so that the core becomes more and more superheated… and will every moment for all time. Therein lies the rub: heat gets continually drained from the world into what amounts to a black hole of thermal energy, never to be seen again, until there is no more heat left. The Fourth World eventually becomes nothing more than a giant snowball.

Of course, the easiest thing to do would be to just scrap the whole idea of the heatbound object. This character could very well perform his tasks with some other object that wouldn’t destroy the world, and the story would go on. Besides, I never set out to create the coolest magic system. I created the magic system to fit in with the world where my stories take place. If this one little idea ended up on the cutting room floor, I would still be true to my goals for the Fourth World stories and you, my dear readers, would never know the difference.

But where’s the fun in that?

So I’ve decided to challenge myself and come up with a solution. I’ve got a pretty solid idea of how to fix it, but I’m going to run it by my people first, just to make sure there’s nothing else I’ve overlooked. After that, it’s just a matter of inserting a paragraph or two and applying another layer of polish, and “It Beckons” will be in final form for the book. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it.