At Long Last

Finished Manuscript

After four years of finger cramps, brain cramps, and … uh, well, just those two kinds of cramps, I have in my hands a (nearly) finished version of my epic fantasy novel, Shoreseeker. Coming in at 174,000 words, it’s fairly long for a novel, but not so bad for epic fantasy.

I know what you’re thinking. Four years is a long time to write a novel, especially if that novel is part of a series. If we apply this same rate to the other four books in the Farshores Saga, we’re looking at sixteen more years until the series is complete, not including the year or two it takes to actually publish a book. That’s longer than it took to publish the first five books in A Song of Ice and Fire!

Of course, that’s not what I’m suggesting you expect. A lot goes into that first novel; once it’s done, much of the development work (world-building, character-building, etc.) is finished. Not only that, but I haven’t just been working on the first novel in the series. Here is everything Farshores-related I’ve done so far:

  • general series plot outline and worldbuilding
  • detailed book 2 outline, 2nd revision
  • 40,000 words of book 2, first draft
  • book 3 prologue and epilogue
  • book 5 prologue and final scene (no epilogue planned for that one)
  • detailed outlines for every game in the 5-game prequel RPG series
  • programming, design, and other development for the first game
  • rough outlines for 2 additional standalone non-RPG games

All of that took me four years. Not too bad, if I say so myself.

As you can see, I big chunk of work has already been done on book two, which I’m currently calling Drawingpath. This book has the advantage of being a more streamlined story, so once I go full-tilt on this one, it’ll take much less time than the first book did.

I’m beyond excited about what I have planned for the series in the future, but for now, Shoreseeker is where I’m focusing all my effort. After going through it from start to finish one last time and properly formatting it for submission, I’ll be tossing it out of the nest. Let’s hope it has wings.

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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.

Resolutions

Happy New Years, everyone! I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted any updates, and I’ve got a few that I’d like to share, so here goes.

First, and most important: my novel. I’ve been working on this beast for a while now, but life keeps getting in the way. It’s taken me a lot longer than I would have liked to get as far as I have, but the great news is I’m really far. Around 80%. So it’s no longer pie-in-the-sky. It’s pie-in-the-oven, and it’s starting to smell really good (from where I’m sitting in the kitchen. Okay, enough of the metaphor abuse). I intend, nay, resolve to finish this novel this year, including revision and editing.

Also, I’ve decided to change the title of the novel to Shoreseeker (let me know what you think in the comments). Previously, it was Fall of the Moon, but after heavily revising the worldbuilding and plot, that title no longer made a shred of sense, so I had to ditch it. Shoreseeker actually figures into the plot, the characters, the setting, and the theme. It doesn’t get any more perfect than that. The only concern I had about it was whether or not it would fit better on a book later in the series. In the end, I decided that it would be the title of book one.

Regarding the whole novel series, I have news on that as well. It will be called the Farshores Saga, and I plan it to be five books long (more on that in a later post). One of the main problems I had with the Fourth World series was I knew where I wanted to start, but I wasn’t all that sure where I wanted to end up. That was one of the reasons I abandoned that series (sorry to those who were hoping for more of the Fourth World – I don’t see that happening any time in the near future). I don’t have that problem at all with the Farshores Saga – quite the opposite. I’ve already had to shelve some really rad ideas because I don’t want the series to bloat up. Which is to say, I know where I’m going, from beginning to end. I’ve completely mapped out the main character’s arc for the whole series. I’ve already written some of the prologues and epilogues to later volumes (which helped me develop the overall direction of the series). I know how the final confrontation is going to play out, and I’ve even foreshadowed it a little in Shoreseeker.

I’ve learned my lesson from the Fourth World, so I guarantee I won’t run into the same kind of problems that I had with that series.

But with the Farshores Saga, I’m doing so much more than avoiding the things that plagued my last series. I’m creating something that I am truly passionate about, something that I truly believe in. The Fourth World, as the title implies, was an exploration of a particular kind of world, one with metaphysics that differed greatly from our own world: it was a universe where no one truly died, but merely went back and forth between different worlds. All of the stories in that series came from that one idea. As such, it wasn’t really about any particular characters and didn’t really capture any particular themes, other than that purely fantastical one.

That’s all well and good, but that’s not the kind of writer I am. While I certainly write in the fantasy genre, the things I want to see on the page after my fingers have hit the keys are themes about what it means to be human, to be alive. I am as passionate about these kinds of themes as I am about fantasy, and to see them melded together is what I hope to do.

Farshores is the manifestation of this dream.

As proud as I am of what I did with the Fourth World, I feel like that was just a stepping stone, something to get me ready for creating a story I can really pour myself into. I’m really excited to be able to share this with everyone, and I’m even more excited that it’s getting so close to completion.

In a later post, I’ll talk more about how I plan this series to be published, as well as Super Secret Project B, so stay tuned!

Of Theme and Magic

I’ve had a major breakthrough.

When I set out to write The Clans, my goals were humble. I wanted to introduce you to the world of the novel I was working on, The Born Sword. I also wanted to build that world, to develop it in ways that I could use in the novel, and I do that best by writing about it. And finally, I wanted to perhaps share a ripping good yarn or two.

These six stories were to be bound together through the world in which they took place. That’s it. That’s all I wanted. If that’s all that had happened, I would have been utterly satisfied. But that’s not all that happened.

These stories were also bound by theme.

If you’ve read “Wholeness,” then you’ve probably surmised that its theme is integrity (or at least you should have; I basically tell you as much in the last three paragraphs). While I was writing the end of the as-yet-unnamed fourth story of the collection, I realized that I inadvertently borrowed not only the theme of “Wholeness,” but the very imagery used to depict it: the integrated man, a whole person.

At first, I was a bit annoyed with myself. After all, I pride myself on my originality, and if something’s been done before, I furiously try to avoid using it in my stories (unless it fits so well that it would be a crime to forego using it). Theme and imagery were no exceptions. I had every intention of rewriting that scene when the story was done.

But after a while, I began to wonder if I should leave that scene alone. It did fit the story. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of my stories written so far touched on this theme of integrity, what it means to have it and what it means to betray it. So I decided to keep it, but I hadn’t yet realized why this was significant.

What is a theme, anyway? The best definition I’ve found is that a theme is the unifying idea of a story. One could say that the sum of a story’s parts, its identity, is the theme. If all of a story’s parts bound together demonstrate that theme, could one say that the story is truly unified, integrated… whole?

Now let’s talk about the magic system.

Magic, in the Fourth World (the world of The Clans and The Born Sword), primarily consists of the binding of essences. For example, a sorcerer can take the element of fire from his surroundings (limited by how much of it there is) and bind that fire into a focal point, which he can then manipulate. Or, he can steal the fire from the torch in your hand, turn it into a fireball, and then launch it back at you. This works for whatever “essence” that particular sorcerer can bind: light, metal, pain… anything. All he has to do is take the bits that are there and unify them into a whole.

Let me repeat that last phrase: unify them into a whole.

Did you notice how many times I used the word “bind” when talking about theme?

Yes, that’s right. I have integrated and bound the magic system and the theme, and that theme is integrity.

I am performing literary magic, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Just wait and see what I’m willing to do with it.

Writing is a tough gig, and sometimes a writer needs to be reminded of why he writes. Different people do it for different reasons. Some do it because they’re good at it, some because they can actually make money at it. Some do it because they don’t know how to do anything else. Some, though, do it for those moments of unfettered, unadulterated bliss when everything comes together.

Today, that last was me.