One day not long after my wife Robin finished reading the last book of The Riyria Revelations she said something most curious to me, something I’ve not forgotten, nor am I likely to, for it made me think of writing in a whole new way. Before I can tell you what she said I need to explain how I came to write The Riyria Revelations so you can grasp the full weight of the comment.
I have come to believe that all great things start very small. I suppose if I could go back to the start of the American Revolution, it would seem an inconsequential thing at the moment it began. A few people feeling foolish as they stood on a lawn before dawn wondering what they were doing, and having no concept that it would be this moment that would define a nation and shape much of the world to come. The moment of beginning, the sparks that lit the fire always seem vague and fleeting, easily forgotten, easily lost--until the blaze. In the aftermath everyone wonders how did such an inferno begin. By that time everything is soot and ash, everything marked and changed by the fire that consumed it. Then time steps in and memories fade. Soon stories replace facts and history is laid in cement poured years after the fire as a memorial rather than protection of the truth.
When I think back to the birth of significant moments in my life such as the first time I saw my wife, I remember a legend that has grown up and evolved with the telling we both had a hand in. But I strongly suspect that should I go back to witness the actual event, it would not be as grand as I recall. I expect the moment would pass without my noticing. Such was the beginning of Riyria.
I suppose my readers might imagine that I began building this series with great intent. The truth is I was bored. I found myself with a great deal of time on my hands and absolutely nothing to do. My business was running itself, my children were dealt with, and my wife was busy elsewhere. I was alone in the heat of summer with nothing to occupy me, and this situation was not likely to change for some time. I saw months stretching out ahead, empty and dull. With me if you mix lots of time, and boredom together, strange things will happen. Only with vast amounts of open time could I ever have imagined writing a six book story-arc. I can hardly imagine any sane person sitting down one day and thinking, I’m going to write a single story that is the length of six books. A story that won’t really even make complete sense until the final few pages of the final book. Anyone might think such a thing perhaps, but a person needs to be a bit cracked to actually sit down and start typing.
Yet, that is what happened. In the heat of a North Carolina summer, at a time when our air conditioner was broken, I positioned myself as close as possible to the open window in my bedroom, and began typing the first pages of The Crown Conspiracy on an old beat-up computer. It never crossed my mind that I was creating anything significant. I never expected anyone would read what I wrote that day, much less that it would be read by tens of thousands and now on the verge of global publication. If I had known such things I might have taken more care with names, more time with the prose. Yet I suppose if I had known, I would have been paralyzed by fear. Still the fact is that I just sat down and with a skeletal outline in my head I began writing the first story of Royce and Hadrian. No one noticed. No one cared. That act was no more important than when I went downstairs afterwards to do the dishes--and at the time doing the dishes carried more value.
I mention all this because after reading the last book of the series, Robin became very depressed. She was upset because there were no more stories of Royce and Hadrian. And it was in this state, that Robin came to me and said the most curious statement that had me re-thinking what it was I now did for a living. She approached me with a glint in her eye, a wry smile that revealed a hint of having come to a sudden discovery and she said to me, “You can bring them back to life whenever you want to.”
At first I had no idea what she was talking about.
“Royce, Hadrian, all of them, that whole world--you can make it come alive again whenever you want to.”
This was her way of suggesting that I write more about her friends. Perhaps, Royce and Hadrian The Early Years. I took it as a joke, but that first statement hadn’t been carried in a tone anything like a joke. It was a revelation that almost sounded accusatory, as if I knew this all along, as if I were some crafty wizard with hidden power that she only then understood. In the moments afterwards, I realized I had never thought about what I did. I had only sat down and typed ideas that I pulled from the top of my head. They were mere thoughts to me, but what I discovered was that to readers, to those who fell in love with Royce, Hadrian, Arista, and Thrace, what I did was nothing short of magic.
The more I considered this, the more I began to realize that the power to build a story, to create characters and places that resonate with people on personal levels, is a form of magic--the power of creation. For Robin is right. I could sit down at any moment and bring it all back. I could, with a motion of my fingers, raise the sun on a new day, in a new world. A world that others have walked in, a world where people I’ve never met know the sound of Hadrian’s voice. To me it never seemed like much, but when I saw it through Robin’s eyes, I understood I was as powerful as Esrahaddon with hands.
I created worlds.
I just finished watching Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I’m a fan of the book series by C.S. Lewis and felt they did a good job on this one. It got me thinking how it was when I first read the series in my youth, and how real the stories were. It is as if Narina is a real place where I, just like Lucy and Edmund once went. And I realized that this power, this magic that Tolkien and Lewis had, that they used to create wonderful worlds, doors through which I passed as a boy, had somehow come to me. I would not put myself on that same high shelf, and left alone I would never consider that I was similar at all, but apparently it isn’t what I think, it is what others think. Perhaps Tolkien and Lewis never thought much of what they had done either. Arthur Conan Doyle so famously despised Sherlock Holmes for derailing his serious literary career that he killed him off, only to have to bring him back due to the outrage of fans.
Discovering this is surprising. Facing it is to accept that true magic does exist. Every fiction writer has the power to will into being, people, places and worlds. We can conjure ideas that others believe in so strongly they will weep at invented tragedy, and cheer at fictitious victory. What a strange and wonderful power we wield--this power of creation.
Still the magic only works if someone reads.
Thanks for reading.