The war is lost. The stone mage wakes. One slave will defy him . . .
The second book in a trilogy is always tricky to write. Unless the author is very careful it can be the weakest of the three books, because it’s neither the beginning of the beginning nor the end of the end.
The way I solve this critical problem is to give each book its own driving storyline, with a powerful beginning and an even stronger ending, both of which dovetail neatly into the overarching story of the trilogy. It’s easy to say that, of course, but not so easy to do, and it takes a lot of planning and rewriting to get right.
What’s Rebellion about?
REBELLION (US | UK | AUS), book 2 of my epic fantasy trilogy The Tainted Realm, is set in an isolated island nation, once Cython but now called Hightspall, which is forever tainted by the brutal way it was colonised two thousand years ago. But now the conquered land is fighting back with one natural disaster after another, the Cythonians’ long-dead alchymist-king Lyf is rising again, and they know it’s time to take back their country.
Only one person can prevent Hightspall from running with blood – Tali, a slave in Cython who, as an eight-year-old girl, saw her mother murdered for the magical ebony pearl secretly cultured inside her head. Tali, now 18, is determined to bring the killers to justice, but discovers that she too bears an ebony pearl – the master pearl, in fact. And every villain in the land wants to hack it out of her head, including the killers.
In Book 1, VENGEANCE, Tali pursued the killers, and was hunted by them, through a land at war. To avenge her murdered mother she, a timid slave, had to take on the wizard-king, Lyf, who first died two thousand years ago.
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- - January 16th, 2013
2013 is off to a great start, and if you’re a fantasy reader there are a ton of great books to choose from. With the releases of A MEMORY OF LIGHT (UK | AUS), ICE FORGED (US | UK | AUS), and now SEVEN KINGS (UK |US | ANZ), you have a lot of reading to do.
Today let’s talk epic fantasy with authors Gail Z. Martin and John R. Fultz. Below is the first of a two part interview about writing in the genre and the most recent projects of these two authors. Come back tomorrow for the second half.
Gail Z. Martin: SEVEN KINGS is your second novel, and you’ve said that you think it is even better than your debut work. What did you learn writing your first book, and how did that affect your new book?
John R. Fultz: What a great question… I think that writing SEVEN PRINCES was very freeing for me because at the time I wrote it I had no guidelines, no publisher, no deadlines, no expectations except those I built myself. I remember telling a friend: “I’m going to write this story and let it be as long as it wants to be, and take as long as it needs to take.” After years of writing short stories it was time to make the transition to novelist, and all the advice I’d been given said “First, you must write the novel—everything else will follow.” So I took a “damn the torpedoes” approach and wrote the novel that I most wanted to write, with all the elements that had fascinated and attracted me to epic fantasy for decades. I came up with some fascinating characters, dropped them into an interesting setting, and basically let them run. It was very cathartic, and I finished the novel in far less time than I thought I would—I had built up some serious momentum. I usually write novels over the summer when I’m not teaching, and I’ve written three more “summer novels” since then. Of course the “idea work” begins months earlier, but summer is my official “writing season,” when I go nocturnal and spend as much time as I want in front of the keyboard. With SEVEN PRINCES I also had some great advice from a local writing group to help me get the early chapters just right.
With SEVEN KINGS, things had changed. New challenges presented themselves, and my priorities were quite different. I had already established a great cast of characters that I loved writing about, as well as the world they inhabited and most of the major conflicts that drove the narrative. The rules of sorcery were there (if not fully revealed yet), as well as the threads of many plotlines that would carry throughout all three books. So my job with Book II: SEVEN KINGS was to “deepen” the pot. I wanted to introduce some new characters, and to reveal more of the mystery that is Iardu the Shaper, including his role in the history of the world. I had always planned to explore the dichotomy of Lyrilan and Tyro as the Twin Kings, two very different brothers attempting to rule the same kingdom. And I knew I would stay with Vireon and Sharadza, the Children of Vod. My Book I antagonists had been defeated but not completely vanquished in the first book, so I needed to take them to a new level. Finally, I wanted to explore more of the deep history of the Shaper’s world, and reveal some heretofore obscure regions of it. This is why I decided to begin SEVEN KINGS deep in the jungles of Khyrei, a nation ruled by wicked powers that the rest of the world hates and fears.
There were also some “happy endings” in SEVEN PRINCES that I always intended to reveal were far from “happily ever after.” For example, Sharadza’s marriage to D’zan seems like a fairytale ending in the first book, but in the second book you find out the marriage is a failure—and for a reason that Sharadza refuses to reveal. Likewise with Vireon and Alua’s seemingly “perfect” family…there is more going on here than either of them suspects and it takes seven years to manifest. Life rarely serves up genuine happy endings, and I wanted to reflect that in this series by going back and showing the consequences of the new situations established at the end of the first book.
I guess you could say my goal with SEVEN KINGS was to raise the bar on the conflict, the characters, the threat, and above all the sorcery. Someone told me that SEVEN PRINCES was really all about sorcery, and I agreed. If that’s true then it also applies to the entire series. In some ways I wanted to subvert all the victories of the first book and show that the real story is far more vast and complex, like magic itself. Hopefully this mirrors how difficult it is to be a King, as opposed to a Prince. A King actually has to rule the kingdom, fight the wars, confront the overwhelming threats, and live with the terrible choices he makes. Kings rarely get second chances.
In many ways SEVEN KINGS is the “Act Two” of the trilogy, and traditionally the second act of any drama expands and complicates the elements of the first act. This is also why the second part of any trilogy is often considered “darker,” and I expect that to be said of SEVEN KINGS as well. It is decidedly darker: The worst is yet to come for these characters and the world they have built. Also, Book II: SEVEN KINGS takes place seven years after Book I, but Book III will take place only seven DAYS after Book II. So there is a much more immediate connection between Books II and III than between I and II.
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“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.” –J.R.R. Tolkien
Everybody’s talking about Tolkien again.
Peter Jackson’s rollicking adaptation of The Hobbit recently debuted as the world’s #1 movie, eleven years after his first Tolkien-inspired film. Much has been made of Jackson’s decision to expand the one-volume Hobbit into three movies in the tradition of the Lord of the Rings. Fans and critics argue about the wisdom of stretching this one book (itself a prequel) across three films. Yet any discussion of these movies inevitably leads back to the books themselves. And the book is always better than the movie.
J.R.R. Tolkien is to epic fantasy what Jimi Hendrix is to rock guitar; what Edgar Allan Poe is to horror stories; what William Shakespeare is to drama. It is impossible to write an epic fantasy without being somehow influenced (directly or indirectly) by the work of Tolkien. The man did not necessarily invent the fantasy genre, but he did create the modern conception of what epic fantasy looks and feels like.
After Tolkien, any book featuring elves, dwarves, hobbits, and/or goblins was borrowing elements of his work (or accused of “stealing” them outright). The trilogy became the dominant fantasy format. Even the simple orc has become a hugely popular monster, featured in novels, movies, comics, and games to a degree that Tolkien would never have expected. Tolkien’s imitators are legion, and used bookstores are full of novels written “in the tradition of Lord of the Rings.” This has been the state of the fantasy genre for decades.
Yet does Tolkien hold the “copyright” on the epic fantasy concept? How does a modern writer craft an epic fantasy that goes beyond the Tolkien paradigm and explores new ground, without simply remixing and reinventing what The Master has done?
It has been said that “there are no new stories, just new ways to tell them.” This is the job of today’s writer of epic fantasy: To tell a mythic story in some new way.
Fantasy tropes, plots, and devices are recycled endlessly, and that’s only to be expected. Fantasy fiction is the modern equivalent of the myth cycles of early humanity. The heroes, conflicts, and adventures touch on the timeless themes that run through all literature, from Beowulf to The Odyssey, all the way to Lord of the Rings and modern fantasy epics like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
In The Books of the Shaper series I set out to create a world that I would enjoy exploring throughout the course of an epic-length novel and beyond. I knew right away that I didn’t want any of the more commonly used elements of “Tolkien-style fantasy”—no elves, no dwarves, no orcs or goblins. These elements (races) are so quintessentially Tolkien that I had no interest in doing “my version” of them. I love Tolkien, but I didn’t want to be him. I wanted to be myself.
Granted, Tolkien was not the first human being to write about elves or goblins or dwarves. Yet he popularized his personal vision of these creatures to such a towering degree that his take on them has largely replaced the actual folklore that birthed them. There are many writers who are entirely comfortable using elves and similar fantasy creatures in their work—and there is nothing wrong with that in principle. However, when a writer chooses to work with these popular elements he has to leap an extra hurdle of creativity to avoid accusations of “ripping off” Tolkien. Ironically, nobody accuses Tolkien of “stealing” generations of folktales, Nordic legends, and European myth-histories—the actual raw material that inspired his works. Perhaps this is because Tolkien was borrowing from uncounted sources drawn from the depths of time, rather than taking his cue from a single influence.
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I wish I knew everything I know now, because when I began writing fantasy, I didn’t have a clue about the art of storytelling.
How I began
I devoured books from the age of four, I was good at English, and I wrote all the time in my work (I’m a marine scientist). Yet when I started writing my first book 25 years ago (A Shadow on the Glass), I discovered that I didn’t truly understand how fiction worked, and the books I read on writing, worthy though they were, weren’t much help. I understood their messages but couldn’t see how to apply them to my story.
My first novel had a long gestation, because I’d been world-building for ten years before I started writing. I’d created maps the size of doors (small versions can be seen here) designed a whole world of nations and ecosystems, and worked out 10,000 years of history, as one does. I’d also spent a lot of time planning the book. At least, trying to.
But the story plan didn’t seem real. I had no idea where it was going and every idea seemed dumb and derivative. In despair, and sure the book wasn’t going to work, I started to write ‘organically’ – that’s the technical term for ‘making it up as you go along’.
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