Oak, Ash, and Thorn Available This Week!

The paperback version will be available through Amazon in another day or two, with digital versions coming shortly after that! Merry Christmas!

This novel, third in the Into the Wonder series, will also give readers their first bird’s-eye view of the faery geography in which most of the action takes place, thanks to my awesome design guy, Dave Jones:


A Map of Middle Earth with Tolkien’s Annotations

You never know what you’ll find tucked into an old book.

In the 1960s, the British illustrator Pauline Baynes was working on a color map of Middle-earth, the land of wizards, elves and, of course, hobbits. While she was drafting the map, she worked closely with J.R.R. Tolkien, who sent her a copy of a map from a previous edition of Lord of the Rings, covered in notes revealing details of Middle-earth.

Baynes tucked that map into her copy of Tolkien’s trilogy, where it stayed for decades, until, just recently, it was found at Blackwell’s Rare Books, reports the Guardian.

Kassan Warrad: Defining Human

Kassan Warrad’s latest post at Mythic Scribes seeks to ground fantasy races (orcs, elves, etc.) in real-world evolutionary framework. This is ground I covered in fleshing out the various groups depicted in Into the Wonder—and for the same reasons Kassan suggests. Namely, to achieve a greater level of lifelikeness:

A systematic approach to defining your races will help shape the underpinnings of your world. How are the races related to one another? Do they share a common ancestor? Can they interbreed and produce viable, fertile offspring?

These questions help define your races’ distinct sociopolitical boundaries. The world will feel more authentic, and many readers will appreciate the invested thought.

At the bottom of all of this is the issue of relatability. Do members of these groups have the same sorts of goals, aspirations, and emotions as the readers (who are all, at least in theory, human)?

The question of who counts as human is a theme underlying my third novel, Oak, Ash, and Thorn, which will be coming in February 2016.

Ten Commandments for Epic Fantasy Writing

Well, sort of.

If you’re a budding Epic Fantasy author, you’ve likely read quite a lot of advice about how your novel should start. Having read thousands of submissions and more than my fair share of published novels, I’d like to share with you ten openings that should be avoided. So here, in my opinion, is how not to do it…

  1. Make sure you get all that pesky world-building out of the way up front. How can I ever enjoy your story unless I know everything about the world? What is that clasp on the archer’s tunic made from? Where and when did she get it and how much did it cost? If you want you can put all this in a lengthy prologue, but we need to know this stuff.

  2. Is it raining? Describing the weather is such an dynamic way to start your novel. Nothing says ‘Epic Fantasy’ like a light breeze. We need a least three pages before we can even think about those characters.

  3. The Family History. An extension of 1) really. Ok, so this guy is running for his life. But when was his grandmother born? Quick, I can’t possibly invest in this until you’re told me. That leads us to…

  4. Introduce all of your characters straightaway. Fortunately readers all have photographic memories, so cram in as many names as you can in the first few pages. Better still, give them names that are impossible to pronounce like Horguur’thzogh and Ek’mazikav’tx so they will really stick in the mind.

  5. Describe absolutely everything. ‘She deftly flicked the thin strand of her glossy raven hair from her cold green eyes and purposefully and steadily raised the bow of ancient, dark yew and meticulously…’ Whassat? Sorry, I think I nodded off for a second there.

  6. And it was all a dream. A great way to make your world seem tedious to put a vivid dream right up front and get the reader to invest in it. Then wake your protagonist up, and you can rub it in the readers’ faces that it was all pretend and simultaneously make the ‘real’ world seem really boring. Result.

  7. Waking up. Or you can skip the dream and just open with someone waking up. Every day starts with someone getting up, so why not every novel? Then they can have breakfast, which is one of the mainstays of Epic Fantasy.

  8. Try hiding your info dump in dialogue. ‘My brother Rak, you know how our father, the Emperor, sent us on this quest six moons ago? Well, as we heard those outlanders – our sworn enemies – near our camp last night, if your twisted ankle is up to it, perhaps it is time to lay down the swords that once belonged to our grandfather – a famous hero of his time – and take the long road home through the mountains.’ Smooth, huh? This works well with internal monologues, too.

  9. Use plenty of metaphors. Although you’re writing a Fantasy novel and everything is up for grabs in the first chapter, don’t be afraid of using metaphors from the off. Of course the beast isn’t literally a hundred feet tall or the protagonist really has eyes that shine like blue fire on a dark night. It’s obvious. Your readers are smart; they’ll figure it out eventually.

  10. The epic battle. They say you should open with a bang, so why not a twenty-page action sequence? Who cares that we don’t know who anyone is, aren’t bothered if they live or die, where they are, or what’s at stake! Fight! Fight! Fight!

Building Your World through Multiple Texts

Lisa Walker England has put her finger on something that I have been groping toward for a couple of years now. There are just too many details of a well fleshed-out world to ever fit comfortably in any number of novels. In her recent post at Mythic Scribes,  Lisa challenges us to think in terms of other sorts of texts that might be useful in conveying that information. Namely, she suggests

  1. Bestiary
  2. Fable Collection
  3. Comic Book
  4. Letters
  5. Fight or Magic Manual

I’ve worked out some of the basics of a bestiary for my Into the Wonder series as well as a fairly extensive essay on magic. Those who’ve read Children of Pride know that I’ve also written a handful of indigenous fables. (The idea of the kinds of stories faeries might tell their young children captured my attention at some point in the writing process.)

I was surprised History wasn’t one of Lisa’s suggestions, but perhaps that is such a common companion piece that it didn’t really bear mentioning. She also mentioned in passing the idea of a Law Code. In fact, the laws of the fae are an important plot point in my work-in-progress sequel, The Devil’s Due.

Good stuff all around. It’s a blog post well worth reading!