Michael R. Miller's Blog
March 29, 2017
This is Ben’s best book yet. Plain and simple.
Task is a 400-year-old golem; a ‘wind cut’ stone war machine who has served countless masters and fought their wars. Yet Task was always something more. His very first word, spoken just after his creation, is ‘why?’ This baffles Task’s creator:
“Fourteen golems, and you’re the first to ask ‘why’.”
And this aptly draws Task character.
Yes, he is a war machine, yes he can be brutal, but this golem has a brain inside that head and a better heart than most in his chest. Though beaten down by the magic that binds him to his masters, and very nearly numb to the world after centuries of fighting, when Task is thrown into the middle of the Hartlund civil war he begins to question again: why?
Luckily for Task he finds comfort in Lesky. She’s a little girl with a whoppingly large foul mouth and plenty of wit besides. Right from the get go you understand what she is all about and her stubborn attempts to befriend Task account for some of the most heart touching parts of this story. Throw in the half-drunken, shell of a legend that is Alabast, a man living in his own shadow, and you’ve got quite the solid trio of POV characters. This was just as well, for the first half of the novel is a slow simmering build towards the explosive end third. It might be a touch slow for some but I felt the characters were interesting and engaging enough on their own to draw me in. There’s a lot to like in this regard.
I said this is Galley’s best book and this carries into the writing as well. Galley has a unique style which some might find rich but I found the prose to be his most refined yet while still maintaining that distinctiveness.
As a standalone story I wonder whether so much world building was required. It’s not overbearing but I wonder if we needed some of those foreign nations and tidbits of history added to the mix. More attention to the people of Hartlund fighting this civil war might have served better, but this is more a pondering thought than a critique. While we get a lot more information on Hartlund later on, it comes close to the end and being spread throughout the story might have helped build the intrigue about certain events which kick started the war.
There is magic in this world (obviously, there is a nine-foot talking golem running around) but it’s low key. Many will enjoy this stripped back, grittier fantasy but those who like a sprinkle of magic will find some as the book progresses. But make no mistake, this is closer to grimdark than epic or heroic fantasy. The civil war (which I like to imagine is modelled off of the English Civil War) is absolutely brutal. There is no glory in it. There are no heroes basking in it. There is only death, incompetent leadership, death, hard living, oh, and death. BUT there is laughter too. Grim laughter but the dark humour is a welcome relief throughout the novel.
If it isn’t clear already, I think the Heart of Stone is more than worth your time and money. If this is your first-time hearing about Ben Galley, then what better book to start on than a standalone story about a wind-cut golem with a tender heart.
January 27, 2017
I think it’s fair to say that Josiah Bancroft was the most unexpected success story of 2016. Missing the finals of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off by a hair’s breadth, his book Senlin Ascends caught the attention of Mark Lawrence. Mark loved the book, to say the least, and decided the world needed to know. After some months of concentrated effort to give the book a push, Senlin Ascends began to skyrocket in sales and reviews. I’m only reading it now but it’s easy to see why. If I were attempting to market this book, I’d call it Fantasies answer to Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It has a similar character who is a comfortable, man of habit, reserved Englishman type, thrust into this mad world with a guide book to hand. The reason I call it fantasies answer is because it deals far more with how people work, not how ‘things’ work as is more the case in Adams’ writing. It’s poetic and the level of imagination at hand is startling, and I absolutely demand there be a Netflix series. I decided to end this blog series with Josiah so as to open and close on similar notes. Both he and Phil Tucker are wild success stories from the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off and both men have a long history of writing behind them. They are the prime examples of the inherent wisdom in the oft heard advice ‘keep writing’.
I studied under poets. I read whole shelves of contemporary and classical verse. I wrote hundreds of poems in a variety of styles and forms and published dozens. I undertook a blog series on the Poet Laureates of America. I participated in workshops. I submitted to contests. I attended conferences and public readings. I thumped pub tables with my fist, arguing over confessional poetry, language poetry, orientalism in poetry, MFA programs, unethical contests, and whether a caesura has any place in a spondee.
But the trouble with poetry is that few people read it anymore. It is essentially a genre without an audience.
I know an argument can be made that poetry has fared better in other countries, maintaining the cultural cachet it has largely shed in the United States. An argument can also be made that the genre has not vanished, but merely evolved into something more performance based.
Yet, I discovered there was no quicker nor surer way to decapitate a conversation than to say, “I write poetry.” Most people would rather read a word jumble than a poem. Given the choice between reading a poem in the New Yorker or a shampoo bottle, most of us would say, “Well, let’s see what this Glycol stuff is all about!”
Not that I blame people for hating poetry. Too much contemporary poetry is smug, riddling, pity-baiting pablum, or poorly conceived political theses crammed lazily into a metaphor about garden slugs or my grandmother’s hand-sewn doilies or whatever the fuck the leaves are doing this time of year in Maine. I had hoped to help make poetry relevant again, because I did (and still do) love it. Instead, I found myself growing cynical about the whole endeavor.
If there’s one thing I never want to be it is a cynic. Cynicism is easy, comforting, unassailable, and joyless. Cynicism is just an entitled sort of apathy, and if one is going to walk stiff-armed and zombie-eyed through life, smirking at wonder and shrugging at evil, why even bother?
I began writing the Books of Babel series to stave off this metastasizing cynicism. I wanted to recover the eager sort of feeling I had as a boy when I read fantasy and adventure books. I wanted to recapture that sense of discovery, novelty, mystery, and bewilderment that defined my youth, and to make the goal pleasure rather than accolade or (god help us all) meaning.
The Tower sprang out of that urge for exploration and revelation and awe, though as soon as I conceived of that great monolithic structure, I realized I had no idea how to cut it open, how to show its parts, cultures, and purpose in a way that would be entertaining rather than pedantic. I needed a human vantage, an outsider, someone with a penchant for over-analysis and theorizing. In short, I needed Tom Senlin.
His character was initially inspired by the Conrad Aiken poem, “Morning Song from ‘Senlin.’” The poem is about a quiet man of habit who seems to long for some greater, perhaps supernal perspective, even as he does little more than look upon his own reflection. Near the end of the poem, there are a few lines that suggest to me the start of some adventure:
“. . . It is morning, Senlin says, I ascend from darkness
And depart on the winds of space for I know not where,
My watch is wound, a key is in my pocket,
And the sky is darkened as I descend the stair.”
Senlin, as a character in my books, is more of a Bilbo than an Aragorn. He’s prudish, naïve, and egotistical, and though I think he has a good heart, he makes a lot of mistakes, some of which he learns from, some of which he makes again and again. But at the same time, he is loyal to his friends and dogged in his pursuit, and I think he grows and changes in surprising ways. At least, I hope that is the case.
I’m drawn to flawed characters because I’ve only ever met flawed people. I also find it more relatable and compelling if a person overcomes their failings to accomplish something, be it grand or modest. I realize the genre is called “fantasy” for a reason, but even so, I can’t relate to prophesied heroes with convenient skill sets and false flaws, like a lack of self-belief, or the inability to love again because some goblins ate his wife in the prologue.
Presently, I’m working on the third book in the series, tentatively titled The Hod King, though I continue to waver on that point. I’m having a devil of a time drafting the thing, not because I don’t know what happens or because I’ve lost interest in the project, but because, for the first time in my life, I am writing for an audience. For years, my personal motto was: Do what you want because no one is paying attention anyway. It’s easy to be creative and daring when the only person you risk disappointing is yourself. I’m finding it a little difficult to be as free now that others are invested in my efforts.
Josiah Bancroft is the author of the Books of Babel series. His poetry has appeared in dozens of magazines and journals, such as: the Cimarron Review, the Cincinnati Review, Gulf Coast, the Pinch, Natural Bridge, Rattle, Passages North, Slice Magazine, The American Literary Review, Third Coast, and Bomb Magazine: Word Choice. He resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
More examples of his work, including updates on upcoming installments in the Books of Babel series, can be found at www.thebooksofbabel.com
And that’s a wrap! This has been the final post on the Writing Journey series. I do hope you enjoyed reading about the personal journeys our authors have gone on. A HUGE thank you to all the authors who contributed. If there is anything to take away from it all, it is that there is no single route, but you must, must, must, keep writing and keep dreaming.
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January 26, 2017
I met Tom the week that Dragon’s Blade was released back in late 2015. Coincidentally his book had been published that same week (almost to the day) and so naturally we got to talking. It’s been great having a companion of sorts on this rough adventure that is getting books out into the world. We’re going off the reservation again with a Sci-Fi author but I imagine many of you are fans of the genre. His debut novel, The Promise of the Child, has received high critical praise including this enviable line from Tor.com – “Among the most significant works of science fiction released in recent years.” And now, over to Tom.
I know these guest posts are supposed to be about our writing journeys, the struggle, breaking into the business, that sort of thing. And that’s the great adventure. But what happens afterwards, when the sunset’s buggered off and the extras have gone for dinner? This is the tale of my appendix (not my actual appendix, although that untrustworthy organ would make a much more interesting subject), my afterword, my supplementary material. What happens next?
I’ve been a published author for just over a year now – nothing compared with most of the writers here – but it seems to have been one of those bottomless years, like the magic suitcase with unreliable clasps from Fantastic Beasts. In twelve months I’ve finished my second novel, made serious headway with the third, drafted a fourth, pitched a fifth, researched a sixth and begun a novella, all the while banging my head against a wall trying to publicise the very first one all over again (having mostly forgotten what it’s about). Fifteen hundred cups of coffee, six hundred beers, seven or eight thousand Hawaiian pizzas and a cookie meant for Brandon Sanderson later, I’ve gained – by some unfathomable coincidence – sixteen extra pounds. Figuring that’s per novel, I should weigh in at a respectable, rather Georgian forty-four stone by the time I’m done.
Statistics aside, I get the feeling that the first, very fattening year’s the easiest (and the yummiest). For a full half of it you’re allowed to bask in the mystery, an unknown quantity. Your parents (briefly) refrain from reminding you what a waste of space you are; friends – even strangers – assume pompous literary voices as they take the piss out of you. It took me a long time to shed the embarrassment of a first-time work that hadn’t yet been broadly reviewed, and to feel at home in front of a discerning, intelligent audience, let alone a microphone (they’ll scare the crap out of me until the day I die, a massive forty-four stone bin bag winched out of an upper floor window). But you settle into it. I’ve had friendly comments even from people who couldn’t stand the book, and I’ve yet to encounter a decent, really nasty troll (touch wood). Most of all it’s the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people, some of them even fans, and – let me tell you – nothing prepares you for the joy of discovering that there are actually people out there anticipating your next book. Until that point I’d written into the void, as if the entire thing were an exercise in meditation, to be deleted at the end of the day, unread. Now there are people familiar with the series and excited to see where it might go, and I write all subsequent books entirely for them.
Still, it’s a game of two halves. There are swings and roundabouts and… slides and whatnot. You learn a lot of harsh truths, that first year – things I wish I’d known when I started out. There’s the heartbreak of seeing your book sent off into Twitter’s clamouring marketplace and manage barely a whisper, or the slog of the Goodreads popularity contest: a vast, jagged mountain that everyone and their dog seems to have bloody climbed already (you can see the buggers up there, breakfasting at the summit, while you curse and stumble and faff with your crampons down below). You learn (muddying my metaphors) that the jungle’s just too crammed with tall trees; there can’t possibly be enough light for everyone. The money hemorrhages away, the interest never picks up. You go back to work. It hardens you. With just a little nudge, it could drive you slightly mad. Creativity and competition are a restless, bitter concoction, and to compound it all there’s the spectre of guilt at your back, whipping you along: can I be doing more? Can I work harder, faster, more efficiently? Am I working too fast? Am I rushing it? How do I spread the word more, or balance that with writing? Will I be ashamed of the finished thing? Don’t get me wrong, it’s the dream job. There are, however, some side effects.
But then your second year starts, your second book comes out. The passion comes staggering back through the door after a month-long bender somewhere and you remember the intense pleasure of creating something intricate. There’s always something, some tiny mechanism, to be getting on with: an idea to expand, some character to develop, a plot thread to work out, a world to build. You hunch, vessels luminous with coffee, fingers flying on the keys, and the universe – hell, the multiverse – explodes onto the page. If that’s what you like to do, and get a little money for it at the same time, it’s a bloody miracle. Aaand to be brutally honest I have a steak and ale pie in the oven as I write this, so… insert grand conclusion here.
Tom Toner was born in Somerset in 1986. After graduating with a degree in Fine Art from Loughborough University and the FHSH in Schwäbisch Hall, Germany, he spent some time in Australia teaching life drawing. Upon returning to England he completed his debut novel, The Promise of the Child. He lives in Bath.
Well, everyone, we’ve made it all the way here – nearly the end of the trail. The end of our own little journey with these amazing guests. Tomorrow dear reader we’ll hear from our last guest. Yet we’ll be going out on a rather inspirational high by hearing from 2016’s best new discovery in fantasy – Josiah Bancroft, author of Senlin Ascends. See you then!
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January 25, 2017
What an honour it is to have Christian Cameron on ‘Writing Journeys’. Most of you will know him as Miles Cameron, his fantasy pen name, but Christian has been writing historical fiction for far longer. Writing in two genres presents a unique publishing and writing challenge, one which Christian has risen to meet. He’s also a real life adventurer and knight (check out him wearing full armour on the right), and actually knows how to sword fight. It’s no wonder that his books are written with such visceral detail. As an aside, I’ve never met somone else with the same fascination for obscure medieval Scottish history! Many bonus points. Over now to Mr. Cameron.
(hoping audible don’t mind me taking this pic)
Michael Miller asked me to talk a little about my writing journey and how I got here. Here is going to be the odd no man’s land between finishing a giant 5 book epic (Traitor Son/Red Knight) and starting a new trilogy that’s very, very different (Masters and Mages).
So. First, hello, I’m Miles/Christian Cameron, of Toronto Canada. I have been a professional writer since 1996 and I have written full time since 2000. I’ve published 29 books as of this date, as well as thirty or so short stories and a few actual articles for more academic publications. And a ton of stuff I wrote in the military.
My journey began the same way as I imagine many of us begin, in school. I had several; great writing teachers; I first remember thinking about writing as a ‘thing’ in fourth grade, with Ms. Mauro. She was an awesome teacher, and she insisted on grammar.
In what North Americans call ‘High School,’ I had Jesuits priests. They were very, very strong on writing, and in fact in my senior years, pretty much all we did was practice writing five page essays. By the time I graduated, I could produce a five page essay on almost any topic, research and all, in about two hours. That’s not because I’m so great; that was the effect of the ruthless boot-camp of the mind that is Jesuit education. (Oh, yeah, they were big on critical thinking, too). Side note… they were also very strong on grammar. And punctuation and spelling. Frankly, I’m lucky I left alive, as any editor will tell you.
In university, I mostly studied Medieval history and…err…the other sex… I honestly can’t remember ever taking a single writing class, except poetry, into which I followed a beautiful young woman whose name now escapes me. I admit I DID a good deal of writing. I even wrote a lot of really bad poetry. Let’s just gloss over that. Oh, and I wrote a fantasy novel. I solemnly swear you will never ever see it. However bad you imagine it being, it is really much, much worse.
So after university I dove straight into the military to avoid having to get a real job. I spent almost fifteen years in the U.S. Navy, where I did a lot of different jobs. The only one that counts here is that I ran a sort of top-secret newspaper for a while. We wrote huge long analytical articles for senior leaders. I did a lot of the research and a good deal of the writing. It required a whole different style from creative writing or poetry; it had rules almost as limiting as the sonnet; every article was on something I knew nothing about, in a place I’d almost never heard of. I learned a ton about writing, and a ton about violence and the world and political leaders and… yeah, it was a little like living in a Cthulu story.
But I learned to write very quickly and on demand. Thirty-five typed pages for the president, by 5PM? I’m your man. About the worldwide Pangolin threat? Sure. How do you spell that?
I wrote another fantasy novel in my spare time. I’m saddened to say it was WORSE than the drivel I churned out as an undergraduate. I tried to be ‘serious.’
In 1996 I came up with a kick-arse plot for a spy thriller (no fantasy). I ended up writing it with my dad. My dad has been a writer all my life, yet, oddly, I don’t think he did much to promote my career until that all important moment when I had a good idea and a hundred pages and it wasn’t fantasy. We wrote together. That was like boot camp for a third time (second time was a sort of special forces thing I did, never mind). My father has exceptionally high standards on grammar and spelling, and punctuation, and sentence structure, and the ideas of character, the Aristotelean hierarchy of drama…
And I got it all, by phone, an hour a day every day until we were done. We wrote 8 books together while I was still in the Navy. All spy novels (as Gordon Kent). All pretty good, if I do say so. I learned lots about the industry. I learned that what I saw as ‘realistic’ (say, because it had actually happened to me) had NOTHING to do with ‘realism’ or even ‘acceptable plot.’ I became a better writer, mostly because I started to reconcile my love or research and authenticity with COMMUNICATING that experience to the reader.
After that, I was a writer. I wrote spy novels and then I wrote historicals. I tried twice to go off to fantasy, and both times I was told that I could not cross genres… BTW, that’s what they told David Gemmell, too. Anyway, one very fine day in 2009 I was introduced to Gillian Redfern in London, as she was down the hall from my historical fiction editor. I think I sort of pitched a fantasy novel right there. She came back later with a counter pitch, which at the time seemed very odd and in retrospect probably saved my writing career, and Traitor Son was born; what if Mordred was the hero of the Arthurian world, and what if dragons were real…
Well, I’ve written all those (I mean, unless you want more of them, you readers) and so now I’m writing ‘The Master’ while simultaneously writing book four of my tale of a late 14th c. English knight named William Gold ( there really was a William Gold, BTW). Because I love to write; I love to do research, and I’m very fast. I like to write four books a year.
Michael didn’t ask me to write advice, but here’s some. If you want to write fantasy (or anything else) you need 1) to LOVE to write. Do you love to write? So you can do it all day long? And 2) You need experience. The more, the better. When you create a world. And every novelist does, you base that world on what you know…. Other fantasy (or detective fiction or what have you) yes, what you have read counts. But better yet if you’ve been to Mauritania or Madagascar or Uganda. Dug a well. Made love on a beach. Sailed a surf board. Whatever. You do not really have to command a galley in a ship fight to have a great idea how that would work; but you can have experiences that inform the guesses you make that we all call fantasy. Even if you yearn to write mainstream ‘literature’, experience will give you more tools than a writing class.
Or so says me
January 24, 2017
Today we welcome Benedict Patrick to the blog – the man who is going to rewrite what we think about fairy tales. He’s also living in Scotland so he gets bonus point from me for that. Keeping this one short and sweet, so over to Ben!
Howdy, folks. My name is Benedict Patrick, author of the books They Mostly Come Out At Night and Where the Waters Turn Black, both of which were released last year. And this, I guess, is my journey so far.
I struggled with deciding how to start telling this story. I could do the whole ‘I’ve always liked to write’ thing, but even I’m groaning at the thought of having to read another one of those biographies.
Finally, I’ve been inspired to put digital pen to digital paper by this recent article, titled Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word, which has been making waves for the past few weeks. Now, there have been many reactions to this article already, a huge chunk of which have been quite aggressive towards the author and her ideas, but I’m not going to go down that road. Instead, my first read of the article made me re-examine my choice to self-publish, and I realised that if it wasn’t for self-publishing, I probably wouldn’t be writing at all at the moment.
Intrigued? Step this way, gentle reader, and all shall be explained.
It began almost a decade ago…
Cue dramatic theme music. The title crawl, scrolling up a starry background, reads thusly:
Young Benedict Patrick, a wistful bookseller, has been writing for most of his life (groan). Other than a single rejection from Marvel Comics (which he shall forever cherish), he has done nothing with his writing, choosing instead to keep it all to himself.
Wanting to find a secure way to support his family whilst pursuing his dream, our hero enrolls himself in a publishing course at the University of Stirling, hoping to find a way into the industry and restore freedom to the galaxy…
Yeah, I’ve never admitted this before, but I am… (glances around to make sure nobody is looking as I remove my glasses) A MASTER OF PUBLISHING! Well, actually, I’m a Master of Letters, thanks to my year spent studying for my publishing degree, which I’ve never mentioned before because I never actually used it (my fault, not the course’s fault).
However, this time spent with my toe dipped into the publishing industry certainly did affect my outlook regarding writing for a living. The business side of publishing became much clearer to me. When choosing which authors and novels to sign, it isn’t necessarily about how good the writing is, it can often be more about what is going to make the most money. And, tragically, those two qualities don’t always go hand in hand. For the guy who refused to do his driving test until the end of his twenties because he felt the possibility for failure was so high, this was a bit of a blow. I also learned how much a traditionally published author makes from individual book sales. It ain’t a lot, meaning that to make a living writing you would either have to sell a shed-load of books, or get a big fat advance (which you tend to only get if you sell a shed-load of books).
This one-two negative combo punch, coupled with the fact that at the end of my degree I had a desperate need to get some stable income for my family, pretty much killed my enthusiasm for writing, and storytelling went on the backburner for a very long time.
At this time, during my degree, there was a faint glimmer of hope. This was the first point in my life, ladies and gentlemen, that I came into contact with self-publishing. Unfortunately, it did not seem like a viable option to me at the time. We had just had a lecture on the woes of ‘vanity publishing’, and the main gateway into self-pubbed books in 2008 was Smashwords. Back then, in the wild west of indie publishing, the end product looked amateurish, nothing like the lovely traditionally published books that I so much wanted to emulate. I never took the chance to actually read any of those early indie titles, never spent enough time investigating what was going on in this new industry. I relegated self-publishing to the bin, and spend the next decade playing World of Warcraft instead of creating.
Thank the maker, the stories did not go away. The tales that would eventually develop into They Mostly Come Out At Night and Where the Waters Turn Black continued to percolate in the back of my mind. I even managed to take part in (and win) a very aimless Nanowrimo, for the first time creating a piece of writing of substantial size.
It was total bollocks, of course, but thankfully I was oblivious to that at the time.
In 2014, two things happened. First, something relatively small but personal (which I won’t go into further here, if that’s okay with you) made me realise that my happy little life that had been developing around me might not be as secure as I thought it was, and I started looking for something that would provide me with some potential long term prospects (any writers reading this right now are probably shaking their heads at my naiveite, but hey – it was my thought process at the time, I didn’t know any better). Also, indie publishing made its way onto my Twitter feed, in the form of this Guardian article about Amanda Hocking. I scoffed at the idea of self-publishing, remembering my early exploration of Smashwords, but decided to investigate further again.
By chance, one of the first indie books I came across was Thorn by Intisar Khanani. I was eventually blown away by the quality of the writing when I purchased the book, but the first impression on me was how awesome the cover was. Those of you who know my own books might recognise the cover artist. Thorn was exactly what I had been hoping for back in 2008 – an independently published book that could stand toe to toe with anything I could pick up in Waterstones.
And so the seed was planted. Indie was viable, I didn’t have to write and submit and then cross my fingers and hope. It took a few years more for me to finally publish a book, but after that revelation my time was focussed on researching the industry, writing, throwing all that writing out because it was terrible, and then finally producing some work I was proud of to show to the public (after a few bouts of heavy editorial input).
I’ve never submitted my writing to a traditional publishing house (Marvel comic script not withstanding). The idea of doing so put me off writing. Discovering the world of indie publishing directly inspired me to take up writing again. My books are out there in the world, now. So far, my career is in the very early stages – no bills are being paid by it, and (as most newly published indies will tell you) discovery is frustratingly slow.
But, dammit, I’ve written two books so far, and people are reading them. And, to my utter confusion and delight, many of those readers seem to be enjoying my stories, and that’s enough to keep the forge fires burning when the rest of the family has gone to bed…
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January 23, 2017
Recently, Michael R. Fletcher lit up the fantasy enclaves of the internet with The Mirror’s Truth. Apparently, it’s pretty good. Phrases like ‘best thing I’ve read’ and ‘masterpiece’ have been brandished by reviewers and fellow authors alike. Michael’s journey in his writing is also a bit of a story in itself, and not the yellow-brick-road to authordom many of us would dream about. Despite the hardships, he’s kept at it, showing persistence really is a large part of all of this.
If I have one weakness (oh if ‘twere only one!) it would be that.
I went to university to study philosophy and left after a year to ‘find myself’ which, for reasons I’ve never been clear on, involved being very drunk in Australia for six months. I returned to Canada, took out a small business loan, and launched a gaming company called Alternate Realities with plans to publish a roleplaying game. I spent a year writing the game, drank most of the loan, and then never published it. While writing campaign material for the game, I wrote several short stories as mood pieces that were going to be included. When I realized how much I enjoyed writing them, I decided I’d write a book. It had a drunken elf who was a thief, and some wizardy guy I can’t remember. I didn’t finish it. Next I started a book called Gods’ Game where the gods picked teams of heroes to represent them and the teams all hunted and fought each other and whoever survived won some kind of prize. Didn’t finish it. Next I started a book about a demonologist with a stone heart. After being defeated by the forces of good, he is forced to wander the world collecting the pieces of his shattered heart, with memories and powers returning with each piece found. I never finished that either. Somewhere in there I wrote a half dozen short stories I never submitted or did anything with.
Eventually, I realized it was time to grow up and get a job and so I moved to Toronto to be a rock star. I went to college for Audio-Engineering, dropped out before finishing, and then spent the next seventeen years playing guitar in a metal band and doing sound in shitty clubs for other bands.
Somewhere in there I met my wife. I think she dated me because she thought I was a rock and roll bad boy and then kept me because I wasn’t. In 2008, while she planned our wedding, I decided I was going to write a gawdamn book. I don’t know why it was different this time. It was like I snapped. I knew I was going to finish the book. It took about two years to write 88 and then several more years to find a home for it. So much rejection. Eventually 88 was published by a Canadian micropress and then ignored by the world. I think I made maybe $200.
But I was hooked.
I’d learned a lot during the editing process and wanted to write something new. Having finished one book, I now knew I could finish more. In comparison, the second was easy.
Not ready to once again swim the ocean of rejection, I only sent the second novel to a half dozen agents. I figured I would stomach six rejections and then see if the folks who published 88 were interested. Just as I was about to abandon hope, Cameron McClure at the Donald Maas Literary Agency emailed me. She called my little baby “viscerally disgusting” and said my characters were “repulsive.” Then she offered to represent me.
Within two months we heard back from all the largest publishers and had offers from two. Titan offered a three book deal and a really decent advance for an unknown author. Harper Voyager offered a much larger advance, but only for one book. I gambled they’d be able to sell my book and that there’d be demand for more (they had right of first refusal on my next book) and went with HV.
Woo! I was in! I was going to be a famous writer!
Harper Voyager published Beyond Redemption in June of 2015. The book received rave reviews in the industry magazines (including a starred review in Publishers Weekly) and went on to land on over a dozen Best-of-2015 lists.
I quit my job, lived off the advance, and threw myself into writing more books. With all those amazing reviews, how could it not sell? I dreamed about what the advance would be like for the sequel to this amazing critical success. I wrote that sequel , The Mirror’s Truth, and then wrote Swarm and Steel, another stand-alone novel in the same world with all new characters.
Those were good days. I thought of myself as a writer. I told people that’s what my job was.
Oh hi, I’m Mike. I write science-fiction and fantasy novels. Yeah, you can buy my book anywhere in the world. It’s being translated into German, Polish, and Russian! Yeah, I’m basically George R. R. Martin but with one less R.
Smug bastard. Me, not George.
Then the bomb landed. Harper Voyager passed on the sequel saying sales of Beyond Redemption didn’t warrant investing in the series. They didn’t even look at Swarm and Steel. Zero interest. I was in shock. Luckily I am really good at dealing with adversity. I got really drunk and stayed that way for a month.
Eventually wallowing in self-pity got boring and whiskey costs money and I didn’t have any. I went from thinking I’d be getting two advances that would keep me afloat for another year to looking around my house for stuff to sell so I could make my next mortgage payment. And then I learned another harsh lesson: It turns out publishers aren’t interested in buying the sequel to a book held by another publisher.
The Mirror’s Truth was doomed.
Swarm and Steel, being a stand-alone, had better luck. S&S quickly found a home with Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse/Night Shade Books. But a smaller publisher means a smaller advance. It bought me a couple of months, but I needed to find a job.
Cue Montage Music! Dude looks at employment sites, sees a demand for forklift drivers, races out and gets licensed, and within a month has a job in shipping/receiving at a warehouse. /End Montage.
Once I had the job thing sorted I returned my attention to The Mirror’s Truth. I was fairly sure I had a decent book and it seemed like a shame to do nothing with it. I’d heard enough about the hybrid author phenomenon to know it was possible. Funded by my new-found employment, I hired an artist, a typographer, and an editor. I self-published TMT in early December of 2016. Though late in the year, it still managed to sneak onto a few Best-of-2016 lists and broke even before the end of the month.
It’s been a couple years of ups and downs, but I’m still here, still writing. These days I get up at 5am every day to sneak a couple hours of writing in before I go to work. And I’ve started hand-writing another novel during my breaks and lunch time at work. It’s an exciting experiment. Holy hells is my handwriting messy.
Recently I had the rights to 88 reverted to me. I’ve edited it and retooled it as YA science-fiction. John Anthony Di Giovanni, who did the art for TMT, is working on a new cover. It’s all ninja cowboy robots, fast-paced and violent. With any luck I’ll self-publish it some time in February of 2017. It might be called Ablation Cascade now. I haven’t decided yet.
The thing is, it all started when I finished that first book. That’s it. Wanna be a writer? Starting books doesn’t make you a writer. Reading and talking about books doesn’t make you a writer either. You gotta finish what you start. And for all my many faults, I am a stubborn bastard.
Come back tomorrow to hear from Benedict Patrick, author of the creepy fairy tale novel They Mostly Come out At Night.
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January 22, 2017
Today we hear from C.L. Murray, author of A Facet for the Gem – a world wherein knights ride great eagles rather than measly horses. He’s become a bit of a wiz at Amazon ads and marketing, a skill many pay a small fortune just to learn. Earlier in 2016 he even secured an audio book deal with Podium Publishing (this is the audio publisher that discovered a little book called The Martian).
By C. L. Murray – authorclmurray.com
I didn’t even play an instrument. Still don’t to this day. But one night when I was thirteen and my mom’s friendly neighbors gave me a green wooden flute that they’d brought back from Peru, the floodgates of inspiration opened. I immediately envisioned a young swashbuckling hero with a magical flute that gave him the power to vanquish all sorts of slimy enemies in a sprawling fantasy world. Did the magical flute play music? Hell no. It was basically just a magic wand, but so much more unique.
Over the next year, while the other teens around me were living eventful lives, I was world-building. My first book, The Flute of Korindelf, was well under way. It had a full cast of characters led by an eagle-riding protagonist with places to go, monsters to slay, and personal growth to achieve. In the summer after 9th grade, I basked in the unsung glory of being one of the only students to snag an A minus minus (2 minuses) in both semesters of the most chilling Honors English course that any freshman ever suffered. After going through that wringer, I thought I was ready to crank out my full novel (LOL).
I started writing the book’s climactic second half, because why not jump in the middle where all the action is and worry about all that tedious character development later? And when that “second half” turned out to be about twenty pages long, I took a step back and accepted that my fantasy story was barely past the embryonic stage.
My march to age eighteen was gloomy and introverted, spent in my dad’s custody five days a week and with my mom the other two (a court-decided arrangement that had been in place since their divorce when I was six). With my legal adulthood just around the corner, Dad anticipated that I might decide to leave and significantly reduce our contact with one another, which made those days a bit tense. I quietly packed one box with everything important to me—mostly just notebooks with years’ worth of writings that further developed my book—and then I lived only with my mom until I moved to the dorms at San Diego State four months later.
College was when I REALLY started to write the book, which was of course still very disjointed and bogged down with massive info-dumps and backstory that made the veins in my mom’s head bulge when I had her read the first few chapters. I went from being a Mechanical Engineering major (for f*ck knows why) to an English major and made the Dean’s List that first year (like it matters). Ever the introvert, I spent most days trying to fix those opening chapters while planning the subsequent ones. For the next two years, my obsession with perfecting and finishing that first novel took complete priority over anything else in my life, so I dropped out of college at twenty-one, saved up the money I’d earned as a painter and maintenance worker for a school district, and hauled ass to Phoenix, Arizona, where the cost of living was dirt cheap and I had a lot of family.
After the better part of a year, I moved back to California with an almost half-completed first draft, and eventually got an apartment in one of the cheapest areas I could find. I continued working my old job trucking heavy equipment and doing repairs for schools, and also logged hundreds of hours as a fill-in janitor. Being passionately immersed in writing my fantasy at night and then clocking in the next morning to perform a function from which I was mentally and spiritually detached was like jumping between dimensions in a way that brought on cute little panic attacks, so I would work for a few months and not write, and then take a few months off to do nothing but write.
I had to live in the world I had developed, BE the characters and let them lead me to wonders I didn’t know I could discover. In Stephen King’s On Writing, he says he believes that stories are found, not created. When I first read that, I narcissistically thought, “F you, Stephen King. You don’t know sh*t! I created this world and everyone in it out of nothing but pure talent!” But as I matured and got more engrossed in my craft, what would start as my daily writing session became a euphoric trip to a higher plane where the story lived and breathed, waiting to be accessed. At its core is a young man’s coming of age and his bond with three different fathers, each the kind of father I wish I’d had and exemplifying redeeming qualities that I loved in my own dad. These central characters are all symbolically confined to a rock in a sea of endless potential waiting to be explored, and it is only through helping one another find the courage to take a leap forward that they discover the vastness of themselves and their connection to those around them.
The book that had begun as The Flute of Korindelf when I was thirteen evolved to a complete, 130K word first draft of A Facet for the Gem right after I turned twenty-four. You’ll find no cumbersome magical flutes in there now, but rather a small, easily pocketed mystical relic called the Goldshard, and there are three more installments to complete The Tale of Eaglefriend series.
I spent the next two and a half years racking up about 400 rejections from literary agents and getting mighty drunk after work. Then, a big turning point came when I did a Writer’s Digest workshop with agent Paula Munier, who helped me see that I had majorly sacrificed clarity for style in the prose. While before I’d been considering splitting it into two books to avoid exceeding agents’ desired length for a debut, I realized I could substantially trim it down and keep it all intact. I went line by line and removed all distracting flourishes and extraneous details, chiseling the substance out of the murk, and after a few months had it down to around 89K words, just below Ms. Munier’s maximum.
When she rejected my partial with praise, I decided the time had come to self-publish and hired my wonderful editor Karen Conlin, whom I discovered through some very successful indie authors on Google Plus. Then I hired the highly-recommended book designers at Damonza, and A Facet for the Gem finally went live just before my twenty-seventh birthday, half my lifetime after its genesis.
More than ten months since its debut, I’m thrilled with the positive response it’s gotten, and a big highlight was signing the audiobook rights over to multi award-winning Podium Publishing, whose first fiction title was Andy Weir’s The Martian. Through Amazon ads, I’ve gone from gaining dozens of new readers every month to hundreds, and recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the cover design of Book 2, which I plan to publish this summer.
Be sure to come back tomorrow to hear from the new Grimdark powerhouse of Michael R. Fletcher!
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January 21, 2017
Graham Austin-King is another inspiring person for anyone attempting the self-publishing game. Indeed, his presence has reached far enough that I found his name cropping up enough to be familiar with me long before I figured out he was an indie writer (this was a couple of years back). He’s recently completed an audio recording of his Riven Wyrde trilogy, attracting the talent of Johnny McPherson to voice. All in all, a successful man, and I hope you enjoy reading about his journey.
I never wanted to be a writer. Actually, that’s not true. I did want to be a writer but I never saw it as a viable option. Authors were like astronauts, footballers and film stars. Writing books was something that other people did. Special people.
I did, however, always enjoy stories, both writing and reading them. I discovered fantasy and science fiction quite early on. Dad had a worn and much-loved copy of Lord of the Rings and I tried reading it when I was far too young to really appreciate it. It set my feet upon the path, though, and the science fiction section of the local library saw an awful lot of me.
I got into roleplaying games in my early teens. It was a natural progression. By this time I’d been through C.S Lewis, Raymond E Feist, David Eddings, and every ‘Choose You Own Adventure’ book I could get my hands on.
I still recall leafing through a Dungeons and Dragons campaign a friend’s older brother had left lying around in their shared bedroom. The concept of actually directing the adventure appealed hugely and, once we did all start playing, I gravitated to the role of the ‘Dungeon Master’ as a way of running the story.
It’s a fairly short step from writing and running a D&D campaign, to writing a story. Many of the same skills are involved; from world-building, to plot. Sure you don’t have control of what your characters do, but then, I’ve found that a few times when writing too.
Despite this, I don’t think I actually sat down and tried to write anything with any serious effort until I was about 19. I think I managed about five or six chapters before I shelved it. It was a sort of horror/thriller in the vein of Dean Koontz. The concept wasn’t bad, though the writing probably was. Maybe one day I’ll revisit it.
Life intruded soon after this point, and I stopped even thinking about writing for the best part of twenty years.
I’ve just read that back and I’m stuck, staring at those words. For some reason I’ve never sat and worked that out before. It’s true though. There are many reasons for it. A marriage, fatherhood, my father’s death, and my divorce. But now I look back on it, these reasons sound more like excuses. I’m struggling hard not to think of the time wasted, and the stories left unexplored.
Stories and writing do not like to be contained. The writing leaked out in half a dozen different ways. I made up stories for my step-children before my divorce, and then again for my own children. Eventually, after the stories grew too complicated to remember fully, I began writing them down. Writing led to publishing.
I started writing again just a few years ago, not picture books for kids this time, but novels. I began my Riven Wyrde trilogy in 2013 and wrote more or less solidly until the entire thing was released. I’ve been self-published, published by a small press, and then self-published again. I’ve written a few blog posts on my publishing journey, and I think it’s important to make clear the distinction, publishing is not writing. Writing can be done for a whole host of different reasons. Publishing is done, barring vanity, almost exclusively for the purpose of making money.
My blog post on my misadventures in publishing covers most of the pitfalls I’ve fallen head-first into, but it think it’s probably fair to say that I’ve arrived where I am by a combination of impatience, stupidity, and luck.
For whatever reason my books have done reasonably well. I’ve now reached the point where I’m making a living from my writing, which is better than many self-published authors out there. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t really give you a proper reason as to why.
As far as the writing goes, I have managed to pick up a few things along the way. I’ve developed a very good support group of writers and editors. Writing is a very solitary thing and it’s nice to have people to bounce ideas off and help each other along. My second book was superior to my first, and the third one better still. My new novel is, to my mind at least, better than anything I’ve written so far. So, I must be doing something right. It’s darker, more challenging, and more complex. Considering it began as a fun novella, I’ve either done something very right, or I’ve really cocked up.
Books for sale on amazon and can be ordered into any bookshop
Come back tomorrow to hear from C.L. Murray, author of A Facet for the Gem.
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January 20, 2017
Steven is a fighter turned writer wishing disputes could still be settled with a friendly game of hand-to-hand combat. To my knowledge, he’s the ‘newest’ of our writers, being the most recent to launch their debut – though not by much. And what a start he had with a solid 7/10 from FantasyFaction for his first novel Valley of Embers.
At least I was.
Some who have followed my early writing career know I used to be a kickboxer/karateka/MMA athlete. You name the combat sport; I’ve done it. And I was pretty damn good at it. 2x Regional Champion with an eye on UFC glory, etc. etc.
And then 2011 happened. I was riding high on the back of a 10-fight winning streak and it all came crashing down when a series of injuries left me unable to train effectively, eventually bleeding over into my personal life in the form of nerve pain, a failed surgery and countless rounds of physio that failed to correct the damage done.
Enter January 2015. To sum the early part of the year up in a word: done. I was done—physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. It was only through the support of my then-girlfriend and soon-to-be wife that I was able to keep going.
But it was in rediscovering my love of the written word that I was able to turn a mental corner. My body still hurts every day. I still get tired. I still get angry and bitter. But I’m happy, on the whole. I’m happy with my life, my loved ones and now, my art.
Somewhere along the line, between the broken noses, bruised ribs and bloody toils in rings and cages, I had forgotten my first love: before fighting, it was all about writing. I came up on tales of fantastical adventure when my brother introduced me to Dragonlance and writers such as Weis & Hickman, Douglas Niles and R.A. Salvatore.
From there, the now-iconic Lord of the Rings film trilogy blew my mind (and still does.)
It didn’t hurt that English class was my strongest subject. I enjoyed writing immensely, even if I didn’t love being told what to write about. The solution? Create my own worlds.
Still, though I fussed over manuscripts and outlines for years—my first real attempt at a novel came at age 16 and was abandoned a few hundred pages in—I just couldn’t seem to put it all together. I was frustrated, and strange as it may seem, I actually found progression in my fighting career to be easier to come by than the words, “The End” at the close of a novel.
Whether it was a lack of drive, a failure of plot and character or the illusion of unlimited time with which to play and not work, I just couldn’t get anything done. So I stopped. I didn’t write anything resembling a novel-length project for close to a decade.
Fast-forward to the aforementioned start of 2015 and you can picture me as a broken shell of what I once was. Hardly fertile ground for a creative renaissance.
Or perhaps it was.
One afternoon, I opened my laptop and began virtually thumbing through old documents. One of them was a two-page free flow I’d typed up six months earlier. It followed a young man named Kole Reyna waking up just in time to be called to the wall to defend his village from an untold threat. I read it, and though it was rough, I was inspired to continue.
I picked up right where I had left off, and with each passing page, each rolling paragraph and each finished chapter, the whole started to resolve into something that—with editing and several re-writes—had the potential for a gripping Fantasy yarn. The end result was Valley of Embers, the first in what is now planned as a Saga that is some combination of the works of Hayao Miyazaki, east-meets-west, Avatar: The Last Airbender and my own dark Fantasy bent.
Like so many creative projects, Embers was a passion that kept me going through dark times, giving me something to focus on like the Everwood blades that defend the people of Last Lake from the terrors of the World Apart.
When I finally finished and set to work on Book 2, I had time to figure out what went right this time where it had all gone so decidedly wrong in the past.
On some level, my condition produced a keen realization of waning mortality that provided me with a fresh drive to tie up loose ends. On another, hitting daily writing goals gave me something other than work and constant, suffocating depression to focus on.
But do you know what the biggest change was?
I realized I was not the writer I thought I was.
You hear plenty talk about the difference between planners and pantsers. One is like a meticulous architect, the other a carefree gardener, following threads like suggestions of possibility rather than carefully laid frames.
I used to plan my stories to death. Literally. I’d spend weeks, if not months, writing an outline only to grow bored when it came time to sit down and write. Ironically, I hit writer’s block more when I had it all mapped out than when I tore the map into pieces and danced atop it.
To me, characters define the greatest Fantasy tales. Worlds are fun and diverting. Magic systems evolve and entertain, but it is the characters we remember. And I had the epiphany that I couldn’t possibly know the ins and outs of any given character without getting to know them through the act of writing.
How do they react to life-and-death situations? Who do they get along with and whom do they despise? Who do they love? What drives them?
These things are amorphous and ever changing, just like we are. And binding character arcs in rigid outlines before sitting down to see where they took me was leading to stagnation and creative rot.
Now that I have the world of The Landkist Saga set up, I’m planning more. Because of my pantsy ways with Valley of Embers, the first draft needed a LOT of work. I hope Book 2 needs less, but I still allow myself to divert the flow of the river when needed. Now, I describe my outlining process like a scatter plot, knowing major events ahead of time but chopping my way through the brush with whatever I find on hand to get there.
The pathways through the forest are often jagged and criss-crossed, but the process allows me to stumble upon truths of character and theme I never would have considered when taking the most direct route to the end.
I may not be a fighter these days, but the idea of progression still obsesses me. Just as my characters progress on the page, I hope to progress in writing them. I face creative challenges the way I used to face training. I face publication day the way I used to face fight day.
So far, so good.
Now onto the next.
Come back tomorrow when we’ll hear from rising star, Graham Austin-King, author of the Riven Wyrde Saga.
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January 19, 2017
I’m very happy to have James on the blog series. Actor, author and gentleman, James Barclay has been writing fantasy for a long time. He’s the author of the two Raven trilogies: Chronicles of The Raven and Legends of The Raven, and the epic fantasy duology, The Ascendants of Estorea. More recently James has moved into a military-fantasy come sci-fi splice of a book with Heart of Granite. I read it last summer and thought it was insanely entertaining – think of that space battle from Rogue One but with dragons. So here is James’ post, kicking off the second wave of posts in our Writing Journey series.
I’ve been on this journey since I was eleven. Actually, it probably began earlier than that but eleven is the age at which I first knew I wanted to be an author and spent heaps of spare time tapping away on a typewriter. Must’ve driven my parents bonkers, all that tap-tap-tapping, but they never complained. Suffice to say I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories.
They were about anything and everything…birds, kayaking, aliens, holidays, walking…and there’s loads more but I’m casting my colander of a mind back forty years now.
I was thirteen or so when I started writing fantasy and sci-fi with serious intent. My brother had fed me books by Tolkien, Aldiss, Clarke, Moorcock, Herbert and a host of others since I was eight and there’s a possibility I was influenced by this deluge. I still remember the wonder of reading about other worlds, far futures, great heroes and desperate acts of valour.
A pivotal moment occurred when I was fifteen. I’d chosen to write a novella for my Duke of Edinburgh’s silver award ‘interest’ section and I was being mentored by an English teacher at my school named Stuart Widd. A wonderful man – encouraging, open-minded and able to impart belief effortlessly. The story I was writing was as naïve and derivative as you might expect but he just let me run with it and exercise my own creativity within the boundaries I’d set myself. He left me free to learn about my approach to writing, to develop it free of strictures other than those I imposed on myself.
Concurrently, I’d written a homework story for my current English teacher. It was a sci-fi short about a world covered in snow where the predators were beneath your feet. When it came back, ‘see me about this sort of writing’ was writ large upon it. So I did see him and in the rather curt conversation he said, in summary: ‘Go read some Kafka and forget writing this sort of rubbish.’
Think about that for a moment. An English teacher reacting to an original piece of writing by one of his students says to that student, because he doesn’t like the genre it’s written in: what you’ve written is worthless. Rather than encourage and direct, develop my knowledge, he chose to close it down, or try to. Bob Allen, you’re a twat.
I was proud of that story. It was good and I knew it, and the negative reaction floored me. I was fifteen and impressionable, don’t forget. I might have walked away from it all then and there but I was lucky – I had Stuart Widd in my corner and his reaction to the story and to Allen’s comments was wonderful. He sat me down and we talked about opinions, criticism and how a writer has to walk their own path. I can’t remember his exact words but the sentiment has always stayed with me:
‘You can only write the story you are moved to write, not the one someone else thinks you should.’
It’s a worthy mantra but the other thing I took from it all was the strength never to give up and rise above such directionless negativity. To never stop believing. As I said, I’d wanted to be an author since I was eleven but on that day the desire burned eternal. And yes, I really, really wanted to succeed so I could stuff my novel under Allen’s nose and yell: ‘SEE! SEE YOU BASTARD?’ I never did, though… dignity and all that. But more than that I wanted to prove to myself I was good enough, that all the effort I’d already poured in and all that was to come was worth it.
And you can argue all you like that being published shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of writing but, if we’re honest, it is. Because it’s vindication and it’s recognition and it’s a wonderful feeling.
It drove me to write, to improve and develop and take those tiny steps towards that ultimate goal. And I wrote the stories I wanted to write, the ones I would have loved to have read. I put my righteous blinkers on, so I did.
By the way, getting published (and oh, boy but it took me AGES to get published) wasn’t any sort of arrival or end to the journey. Tis a cliché but there is no end to a writer’s journey, just a series of stopovers on an eternal tour.
My latest stopover is Heart of Granite. It represents a major departure after twelve fantasy novels but I’ll direct you back to only writing the story you are moved to write and this one happened not to be heroic or epic fantasy. It was a liberating experience and I had the benefit of total support from my publisher. Throwing off the shackles of fantasy was incredibly refreshing and I’ve scarcely enjoyed a drafting experience more.
Look, I know there are dragons in it (even if they are bio-engineered dragons – drakes, actually – grown in tanks as weapons of war on Earth) so say I haven’t gone all that far if you like but for someone who had until then exclusively written in pseudo medieval or Roman worlds, it was a great step into potential chaos.
There were moments of doubt and moments of staring into space wondering what the hell I thought I was doing. I wrote myself into corners and could have done with a good old spell book or dimension opening demon or something to get myself out.
But when the problems were ironed out, the narrative clean and the plot organised, I could relax into my new world with its unfettered lexicon, its technology (that’ll be the new spell book, then) and its characters who would fit into any genre (well, of course they would, they’re characters) and had an absolute blast. It was a very happy place in which to write and I crave more.
Not being afraid to step outside your comfort zone and just write is something I recommend to everyone. It’ll freshen your mind, put a bounce in your step and energise your writing. And then you can go back to your familiar path or head off at a total tangent.
The great thing is, it’s up to you, and only you.
James Barclay, January 2017
Thank you, James, for kicking off round 2! Come back tomorrow everyone for Steven Kelliher, author of Valley of Embers. Below is a rough order in which we’ll hear from our remaining guests.
C. L. Murray
Michael R. Fletcher
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