Let me tell you about the first time I saw Fairchild.
I was working at Papa John’s — the day shift. I had just moved back to Athens after a blurred year away, and it was the first job I found. It was terrible money, and ultimately destroyed my car at the time — but hey, free pizza.
One of the big tasks that I had to do everyday, was food prep. All of the various pizza ingredients had to be carted out of the walk-in freezer. The cheese had to be fluffed [no-shit technical term], the meats had to be sorted — and all of the vegetables needed to be prepped fresh each day. The tomatoes were chopped, the onions were diced [pure misery], everything sliced and prepped with a big steel knife.
I hated it, but in a mute sort of way. It was systematic and mindless. Plenty of time to plot my escape, or let my mind wander.
For some reason, I really did enjoy cutting up the green bell peppers.
For the uninitiated, here’s the process. You cut off the cap [stem part] with a knife, then scoop out the seeds and guts inside. Then you would toss the whole thing into a big chopper with a crank, a few spins and out would come eviscerated vegetable.
It’s hard to explain exactly what I enjoyed about it. Other than the wanton destruction. The peppers were always nice and cool, and pleasantly crisp when you sliced into them. It was neat and self-contained, a little green world — protected by a thick barrier. Chop up onions, you get more onions — chop up a green pepper, you are Galactus.
One day I cut the top off of a bell pepper, and found something new.
The pepper looked completely normal on the outside, maybe just a little twisty at the bottom — but inside was a tiny green growth, a nub of another pepper growing inside. It was a much brighter green then its host, almost fluorescent green, twisted and strange growing in the center of things.
My immediate thought : “This is what cancer is.”
Because it wasn’t a blight, or a bug — it was something that grew from within the little world, innocent and merry and green, green, green. All it wanted was to grow, and was blithely unconcerned with what that meant for rest of the pepper.
I’ve scanned the internet for a good picture of one of these things, and I absolutely cannot find one suitably impressive.
It was just so pleased with itself — that’s what struck me. So vibrant and wicked and sure of itself – it almost waved in delight to be discovered.
Look what I am doing, it said. It’s so very nice inside of here, would you like to pull up a chair? Things are going so well!
That image sticks with me. And so when it was time to create a villain for the last act of Lodestar — the green, green cancer sauntered into my mind, as blithe and merry as ever. A devil, a prince of devils dreaming of being King. A trickster and a manipulator — one so very, very sure of his success. Fairchild, the King of Glass. He had appeared in bit parts in other stories, but it was time for him to take center stage.
And if the heroes of Aufero aren’t most clever and potent, he will sit on the throne of my little world until the end of days.
But even if they succeed, I know the image of the green pepper in my mind will survive — so Fairchild will too.
A short story that features my green devil – The Cost – if you care to peruse.
Those are the two driving forces, theinspirado of a grand bulk of the genre. Either the writer has a really neat system of magic, combat or dragon-sex and they hammer a plot and some characters into a framework to hold it — OR the writer has a really neat world, or character, or setting for dragon-sex and they hammer a plot and some less interesting characters into a framework to hold it.
I’m not really complaining that these forces exist. [Especially about the dragon-sex.] I’ve invested a massive amount of geek-hours into consuming as much of this content as I can, and I never plan to stop. My complaint derives from the endless mimicry, and the bone-certain belief that these two masters are the only ones that the genre can serve.
That is not the case, more on that shortly. But first, a primer.
In general, there are two types of fantasy authors. Nerds and Dungeon Masters.
Nerds love their shining rules, and Dungeon Masters love their precious backstory.
So when you are reading a fantasy novel and realize you’ve just spent two pages reading about how Flame-aligned Slaughter Wizards cannot use their Flambe attack when Ice-aligned Tempest Mages have spent a fortnight attuning their Ava-crystals to the Fourteenth Ley Line —- then the author is a Nerd.
Uh, thanks Mr. Sanderson.
And when you finish a blistering passage on the Archduke Sargasso and the five-year conflict he endured developing the Draconian Congress, including the Riddle-Game played in the jaws of Tyrinel the Inferno, Red Dragon Lord – with exacting minutes provided, including three water breaks and a complete rundown of the Inaugural Dylithic Council’s attire, facial hair and a five stanza limerick sung by Jargon the Time-Sworder — ALL of this read by the protagonist on a discarded scroll in the waiting room of his dentist’s office. Then, my friend, your author is a Dungeon Master.
Both of these ideas sound pretty awesome, and both of the authors above are titanium-plated awesome. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, and in a skilled scribe’s meaty grip each style can keep you patently enthralled. I’ve spent more than a few minutes thinking about everyday applications of Allomancy from Sanderson’s Mistborn series — and you better believe I’m far more concerned about the fate of the Iron Throne of Westeros than the outcome of the 2012 Presidential Race.
This isn’t about what those authors have already written. It’s about the fantasy that hasn’t been written yet.
The fantasy that you and I are writing. The new fantasy, which is also old fantasy — as opposed to the middle fantasy that we’re currently sitting in. The new/old fantasy where we basically don’t give a shit.
What am I talking about?
I have chosen this term because:
a) It sounds cool.
b) Fuck you, that’s why.
Are there rules? Yes, of course. But they are to be like a kindly sour-smelling uncle. You send them a card on their birthday, a sincere hug at Christmas — but you’re not inviting them over when it’s time to party.
Is there backstory? As long as there is linear time there shall be Stuff That Happened Before. But we shouldn’t drag it with us like those creepy dudes wearing their high school letter jacket to English 101. Leave that shit behind.
And world building? Of course, building your own little bolt-hole from reality is the bleedin’ point. But why do we need to reinvent the wheel every time? Tolkien did it and generations of fantasy writers have been doing their best to ape him ever since. Too many fantasy writers think like Carl Sagan:” If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”.
How about we just have apple pie? You know, the apple pie that is at the store and we’ve all had it and we all know what it is?
Swordpunk is all about just eating the fucking pie.
I think the fear that fantasy writers have is that if they don’t reinvent the wheel, they won’t be taken seriously. Like Tad Williams is going to roll up and revoke their Fantasy License. [I’m imagining him in a lime green golf cart and wearing a jaunty scarf. Are you imagining it that way? Just me? Okay.]
The worlds are there. The tropes are there. It’s all in how you use them. I think there can be more power in connecting to the old stories, then running down the street and trying to start up your own Disneyland. “Oh, no — this ain’t Mickey Mouse, this is my own character Mouselord McQueen. He’s totally different.”
I don’t want to waste energy convincing you that my world is more clever or more original or ‘waaaaaay fucking different” [WFD] from any other fantasy author’s world. That’s a fool’s errand, and honestly more than a little outside of my skillset.
When I have a hero step forth and raise his sword, I don’t want to try to sell you on how he’s different than the inumerable sword-slingers in the genre. I want you to think of them. I want you to think of Sturm Bright-blade, Simon Mooncalf, Logen the Bloody-Nine, Brienne of Tarth, Lancelot, Garet Jax, Neville Longbottom, Reepicheep, Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter and Conan the Barbarian,
himself. I want you to think of them all. I want to connect to that resonance, that legacy of character.
Is it getting a little Joseph Campbell-y in here?
Beyond that, fantasy needs to be more of a wackadoo fever dream. I want more Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock – more Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, more Elric of Melnibone. Beautiful little offshoots of the genre, grand and strange, bizarre and gleefully weird.
That’s what I’m trying to do at least, with Spell/Sword, my first novel. And if I can keep going, I’ll keep trying.
My book has rules. My book has backstory. [Shit, you better bring some Post-It Notes, dog.] I’m a Nerd and a Dungeon Master, just like all of you.
But thinking about these things, and giving them a silly name made me feel free. It made me feel empowered, it made me write the book I wanted to write — not the one that I thought would ever sell.
I hope it makes you feel the same.
1. Eating the pie is more fun than making the pie.
2. No one cares about about your character’s grandfather.
3. Only trot out the Rules on special occasions.
4. Don’t let anyone tell you how to make your art. Make it. Make it scream and bleed, make it shine and shatter. Be true to the moment, to the beauty of it — and make no excuses for putting it on the page.
5. There should always be more minotaurs. Preferable riding on cherry-red mopeds.
And if Brandon Sanderson wants to start an internet feud, he can GET IN LINE.
Thanks for reading my ramblings. This is what happens when I’m not editing.
But I was editing, black and white photo soldier guy, who I hope is not some sort of war criminal! I can see that ceremonial dagger on your belt, and I’m sure you’d like to dispense some pre-Internet justice, but hear me out.
In between normal life errata and work neccesity, my creative-time has been in short supply. Lodestar has taken a turn for the awesome as we rocket towards the conclusion – and I’m determined to deliver on the storytelling and gameplay promise of the campaign and not leave my players disappointed when it wraps up in September. On top of that I’m running a short side-game for some neophyte nerds in the neighborhood, plus planning for my Top Secret Next Campaign. Compounded with time rolling in the floor with the new puppy, and other general puttering about – I’ve been swamped.
I finished the rough draft of Spell/Sword back in April, then put it away for as long as possible before diving into editing. I made it a full four weeks, which was torturous indeed.
True editing began in May, here was my process:
1. Print out the draft, and read through it. Making only absolutely necessary notes in the margins.
3. Read through it again, making nit-picky grammar notes.
4. Take all of the comments/edits from the paper version and add them to my Google Doc. “No argument” edits were implemented immediately. [Grammar fixes, word choice, spelling mistakes, erotic centaurs scene] More complicated edits requiring more thought or massive chapter-spanning revision entered as Comments onto the G-Doc.
5. Man, there’s a lot of these Comments. [63 total, only 17 of which were related to petticoat description. ALWAYS NEED MORE DESCRIPTION OF THE COURTLY LADY DRESSES]
6. Worked in fits and starts on the larger edits. The easy ones first, picking at the edges — then finally dived into the more serious ones in June.
7. Anxiety Quicksand. Edits seem to be making book worse. Every thing I read seems to be terrible, even if not explicitly marked for revision. I hate the book, and spend a lot of time polishing a terrible, shiny thought. Writing this draft was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done — a goal in my life that I never imagined I would accomplish. To have made it this far is nothing short of miraculous — but the book still might not be any good. Effort does not equal excellence in writing, or any art. I might have a completely unusable draft, rotten to the core. I might have written a book and still not have a book.
8. Kept editing.
9. Started to lose the feeling of forward momentum, so I engaged the Saving Grace of Art. A deadline. Contacted my Alpha Readers, and let them know that I would be printing the draft the first of July to send them copies for review. I embrace that deadline, and editing redoubles in ferocity.
10. I like the book a little better. Well, let’s be serious — I love the book, but understand that I have lost any objectivity. I’ve read it too many times, I’m way too close. I finish up major edits, with the salve that I’m going to go through this whole process again once my Alphas have a crack at it. Only they can tell me whether or not my child is a Goofus or a Gallant.
11. I have one last brainstorm for my editing before releasing it to the Alphas. I read the entire draft out loud in one sitting. I catch innumerable grammar, tense, spelling, and logic errors in the process. Best thing I’ve done, next time around I’m planning on doing this much, much earlier. I also record me reading it [TECHNOLOGY!] for further review.
12. I like the book.
13. I send the draft to be printed for Alpha Readers. I feel a sense of pride that my closest friends and advisors will soon know how fucking clever I am.
14. I listen to the recording, and immediately catch a dozen glaring syntax and logic problems.
15. Cry a little bit. But you know, in a badass way, like Chow Yun Fat in The Killer.
I know I’m not unique in my process, or in my reactions — I know my colleagues and associates are sick of my talking about these things like I invented Author Malaise. But, you’re my blog and this is my first time up this thorny path — so get prepared for some serious whining and navel-gazing.
Also, some ruminations on various literary and genre concepts. I’ve been struggling to put my novel in context with others in the genre, and I’ve had some thoughts. SOME THOUGHTS, I SAY.
I’m also thinking about pulling my old weekend STORY ON DEMAND out of mothballs, now that I have a little more brainspace to spare.
I’m on schedule for finishing my Alpha Edit of Spell/Sword before July 1st — my personal printer [aka my mom] is waiting to print copies for my crack team of Alpha Readers.
Editing is like painting with sand — everything you do changes the landscape, and draws into question things that you once considered granite-bedrock of your fiction.
I’ve spent a lot of time just sparring with anxiety. Am I editing too fast, too slow? Are the changes I’m making good — are they bad? Why aren’t there more minotaurs?
I’m terrified of getting overzealous and damaging the heart of the work — I’m terrified of not doing enough and leaving cancers to grow and fester in the lines and pages of the book.
I do think it’s time to crack the door open and let some other eyes prowl over the pages. I’m restricting my Alpha Readers to 10, half male, half female — and a pretty even spread of reader-types, and writers that I respect. After they get done, and give me some feedback, and I can stop crying — I’ll get back to work on a Beta Draft for the final round of 5 readers — my toughest critics: my girlfriend, a world-renowned Shakespearean scholar, a playwright, and the cruelest douchebag I can find.
I’m having a hell of a time getting any forward momentum on the next stage of editing the book.
Admittedly, I’ve had precious little time to really focus on it over the past month – but when I get a spare moment, I crack open the Google Doc and try to make some headway — the same way that I wrote the thing in the first place.
This feels like work. Ew.
Which it is! This is the actual part where a pile of text becomes a novel. Everything leading up to this don’t count, if I can’t edit it properly.
Part of the problem is I need higher brain functions online to solve a lot of the notes that I’ve made — and that sort of thing is in short supply. I’m feeling out what process works best for me, just like the drafting stage — I guess I need to try blocking off more time, away from distractions.
Because free time just falls out of the sky. Commonly.
So, yeah – waaah, waaah, give the baby his bottle.
Hyper evolved frogs on steam-powered roller skates: 76
Weird dream sequences: 2
Allusions to Buddy Holly lyrics: 1
Swords named ‘Chester’: 1
Word count: 49,235
I like my book. It’s got problems, but I don’t feel overwhelmed — YET. Several sections are in severe need of fleshing out, clarification and a rigorous, rigorous edit. The next stop for the Edit Train is working on the chapters individually, probably save the first couple of chapters for last as they’re going to need the most work.
I’m temporarily finished with my short story, Star Prophet. I’m really ambivalent about it — part of it I like, parts of it I don’t — but I’m trying something really outside of my comfort zone/style. I have lost all perspective on how well it’s working.
Looking for some feedback, follow the link for the full text, so you don’t need to read it piecemeal on the blog. Comments here, or on the page itself would be much appreciated!
In working on the rough draft of That Thing, I’m realizing more and more that I’m using the Third Person-Omniscient Perspective extensively AND I’m switching between two characters. I’m only doing it at natural breaks in the action, but I realize I’m quickly treading into the realm of FORBIDDEN FICTION.
I’m not going to stress out about it too much at the moment — if I hate it/think it’s confusing, I’ll restructure when I edit.
But — BUT. Anyone got some input on whether I’m freaking out about nothing, or if I should take this more seriously?