Thursday, December 19, 2013

Audible's 5-star listens

Each year around this time takes a look at their titles and highlights those with a significant number of 5-star ratings.  I'm pleased to announce that once again I have a title (The Crown Tower) that has made two of these lists:

In 2011, Theft of Swords made the same two lists - which really bowled me over. Lists like this, as well as the Goodreads Choice Award (where The Crown Tower was also picked), are especially gratifying because they are selected based on a bunch of readers raising their hands as saying, I really like this book. 

So I just wanted to say thank you to all the people who read, listen, and provide a good rating or review of the musing I write.  Also, since this is an audio accolade, I have to once again provide a tip of my hat to the exceptional work of Tim Gerard Reynolds who did the narration.

Yesterday, I just finalized a deal with to release a free edition of The Jester.  For those that don't know, this was a Royce and Hadrian short story that I created for the Unfettered Anthology to help pay off the extensive medical bills that Shawn Speakman incurred when he was fighting his second bout with cancer.  The audio rights for the full anthology were bought by Audible and they, wisely, tapped Tim to do that look for that soon.  But for those that want a taste of the magic that Tim has given to my works, you can listen to him perform my other short story, The Viscount and the Witch. Even if you have read the short as a standalone, or as the second chapter of The Rose and the Thorn, you'll sure to enjoy this version.  Oh, and feel free to skip past the first 4 1/2 minutes as that is just ramblings from me ;-)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Have you heard?

If you haven't heard one of the Riyria stories as read by Tim Gerard Reynolds you're really missing out on something special. Tim is without question the "Voice of Riyria" and once you hear him act out the various characters, you'll never be able to read the books again without hearing his portrayal in your ears.

Over two years ago, I wrote a little short story called The Viscount and the Witch. At the time, it was a little present to my existing readers to act as a bridge between my self-published books being pulled from the market and the Orbit books starting to ship.  Since then, I've used Viscount as a free introduction to my give people a taste to see if they might want to read the rest. Nowadays, it is quickly growing into obsolesce--mainly because it was incorporated as a chapter in The Rose and the Thorn. In fact, the whole Riyria Chronicles series has grown from its tiny seed.

I've always loved this short story and, as I already mentioned, Tim's reading of my books. So after recording The Rose and the Thorn, I asked my audio book producer, Recorded Books, if I could have a copy of chapter two. They were kind enough to agree. I also went up to their studios in New York and recorded a brief  introduction (4 1/2 of the total 45 minutes) in case you were ever curious as to what I sound like...which I'm sure everyone is ;-). We are still working on how (and if) we can get this posted for free on sites such as audible and itunes, but in the meantime, I can certainly make it available here. Just hit the Listen Audio button and it will bring up a control in a new window.

Oh, and if you would prefer to download the file (to put on your ipod or kindle) just right click on the control then select "Save video as..." Yeah, I know it's not a video, but you will get a MP3 file that you can put on any device you desire.

Even if you've already read the short story, I encourage you to give this version a listen. Tim has a way of making me sound much better than I am. Oh, and if you do enjoy the listen, please send a tweet to @KanshoReynolds (add the hashtag #vatw) to show him your appreciation. I'd love to see him flooded with praise for the wonderful job he did on this and all of my books. Happy listening!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Last day to win limited edition copies of Hollow World

It's still 131 days until the release of Hollow World, but four lucky people will be mailed signed limited-edition hardcovers tomorrow. This means you have a chance to join the nearly one thousand people who are already reading the novel (because they participated in the Kickstarter). The Kickstarter backers paid $75 for these editions, and as there are only 250 of them in existence, they will become collector items. If you're not yet familiar with Hollow World, here's a bit about the book:

The future is coming...for some sooner than others
Ellis Rogers is an ordinary man who is about to embark on an extraordinary journey. All his life he has played it safe and done the right thing, but faced with a terminal illness he's willing to take an insane gamble. He's built a time machine in his garage, and if it works, he'll face a world that challenges his understanding of what it means to be human, what it takes to love, and the cost of paradise. Ellis could find more than a cure for his illness; he might find what everyone has been searching for since time began...but only if he can survive Hollow World.

“This is a clever and thought-provoking story, with loads of interesting ideas, some adrenalin-pumping action and plenty of humor...overall an entertaining read with Pax being one of my favorite characters of the year.”  — Pauline M. Ross, Fantasy Review Barn

There are two ways to enter:
If you live in a place where you can enter in both...feel free to do so.  For those outside the specified countries, you'll actually have two ballots entered in my drawing  (the software that takes the poll will determine what country you are from). This way everyone will have two chances to win.

Even if you've read Hollow World, or have your own print copy, I encourage you to enter. The books will arrive in time for holiday gift giving so you might just get a nice present for a friend or loved one.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Give the Gift of Books

So it's Black Friday and I know many people will be hitting the streets and doing their holiday shopping today. Personally, I hate crowds, traffic, and parking so I do all my shopping from home.  For those looking to give books this year I have a few tips for you:

As for my books, I'm offering discounts of 15%-20% off and that includes pre-ordering Hollow World and you'll receive a copy in March (a month earlier than the April release). If you want me to ship to someone you love, just specify their shipping address in the notes field. I'll also provide free gift wrapping on request.

So if you are like me and don't want to fight the crowds and the traffic.  Go online and buy books for holiday giving.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Birthday Riyria

It's hard to believe by Theft of Swords came out two years ago! A lot has happened since then and to say that the series has exceeded my expectations is an understatement. Technically the series is older than that, as it was first small press published in October 2008, and when disaster struct with the small press, we had to reclaim and self-publish (starting in April 2009). But to me it's the relaunch of the series by Orbit that the series really was born and that was November 23, 2011.

When we started self-publishing, Robin was taking the lead for getting the world out. I remember a cold winter day when we were walking to the Metro that she asked, "So how many copies do I have to sell for you to consider this whole thing a success." 

I thought hard and replied, "Fifty." But then added the qualifier, "But it has to be to people who I don't know and who have never met me."  

"I think I can do that she said." 

While it is difficult to get exact numbers as reporting happens infrequently and in the distant past, I do get periodic numbers from my publisher indicating how many books have sold through ebooks and how many print books have left the warehouse. I also recently got some interesting data on the number of audio books and man - you audio listeners really love the series - so thanks for that.  From the best we can put together it looks like 435,000 English language books have been sold between the self and traditionally published versions.  So yeah, Robin, you beat the 50 I had originally anticipated.

Those numbers are amazing, but the truth is that the outstanding sales of Riyria really has more to do with you, the readers, than anything that I or Robin have done.  I wrote the best books I could, Robin got them in front of a few people, but it is you who have told your friends and family about the books and recommended that they pick them up that made all the difference. Even simple acts like leaving reviews that has shown others that the books are worth taking a chance on is all your doing. So any success the series has enjoyed is your doing - and I give you my heartfelt thanks.

Long story short....I'm thrilled that the books are still going strong, especially since many books have their six weeks in the sun then disappear. I just wanted to take a moment to celebrate this very small milestone and to thank all of you for getting the series to where it is now. I guess it's time to come up with some new milestones to reach.  I'll put my thinking cap on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Signing this week at Barnes and Noble as part of Discovery Friday

This Friday (at 7:00 pm) I'll be at the Barnes and Noble in the Tyson's Corner Mall as part of Discovery Friday. This is a nationwide event that will be offering:
  • A chance to win a $1,000 shopping spree
  • One day discounts throughout the stores
  • Special events (like having me sign books)
  • Personalized recommendations from booksellers
  • Activities for the kiddies
I'll be signing books, of course, and also passing out signed bookmarks and maybe even a few Hollow World posters. For those not in the Virginia area, here is the full list where you can find other Orbit authors:
Oh, and if you are a fan of David Baldacci, stop by Thursday night at the store I'll be at Friday as he'll be there for that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An honor to be nominated...goodreads Best Books of 2013 Choice Awards

From time to time fellow authors, or aspiring authors, ask me about what I attribute my success to. The first thing I always mention is, "Write a good book." Where "good" is defined as a book that people love enough (for whatever subjective reasons they have) that they recommend it to others. The second thing I bring up is that getting the word out about the book is just as important (the whole tree falling with no one to hear it thing) and as far as that goes I always bring up (a) goodreads and (b) book bloggers, both of which have been very good to me and my novels.

We are now in the second round of voting for the Goodreads Choice Award, and I'm honored to say that once again I have a nominated title, The Crown Tower (first book in the Riyria Chronicles). Round one which ran from Nov 4 - Nov 9 picked fifteen titles based on the number of people who shelved the books and the ratings and reviews they gave them.  Round two (which runs from Nov 11 - Nov 16) added five titles based on write in ballots.  The third round will limit the field of twenty to a final group of ten. I, of course, am hoping to make that round, but truly it was an honor just to be nominated originally. Especially in such an amazing field.

The full list includes:
  • Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb
  • Companions, the by R.A. Salvatore
  • Crown Tower, the by Michael J. Sullivan
  • Daylight War, the by Peter V. Brett
  • Firebird, the by Susanna Kearsley
  • Ghost Bride, the by Yangsze Choo
  • Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
  • Forged in Blood by Lindsay Buroker
  • Golem and the Jinni, the by Helene Wecker
  • Memory of Light, a by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
  • Natural History of Dragons, a by Marie Brennan
  • Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  • Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
  • Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
  • River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
  • River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway
  • Seduction by M.J. Rose
  • Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, the by Emily Croy Baker
  • Third Kingdom, the by Terry Goodkind
  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab
I was fortunate to be nominated two other times:
I have no illusions (or delusions) of winning, so I'm not even going to ask you for your vote. But please do go here and join the over 1,000,000 people who have already voted.

One last thing that I should mention. That to celebrate the nomination I'm going to be giving away some signed copies of The Crown Tower. There are two contests running, and all you have to do is enter to win.  The books will be signed and dedicated however you wish, and they should be shipping December 6th which will mean they can arrive in time for gift-giving. I'll even gift wrap before mailing if you are giving to a friend or family member. Her are links to the contests:
Because non-US people can't participate in the first one, those outside the US will get an extra ballot when they sign up for the second one - to help even out the odds.

Lastly, I'd just like to thank all the readers of goodreads for shelving and rating my books over the years. Your support is what got me in not just one, or two, but three years worth of nominations. I'm thrilled and surprised and already feel like a winner just for being included.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Very Riyria Halloween

The other day I got an email from a reader who mentioned that she and a friend dressed up as Royce and Hadrian for Halloween.  I must say they are the perfect example of great friends to mirror my pair of rogues. They did a fabulous job on their outfits so here is Isabeau as Hadrian on the left and Ivy as Royce on the right.

Didn't they do a great job?  Pictures posted with permission of Ivy. Thanks for sharing this with me guys and for allowing me to show your fine work to others.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

World Wide Distribution

A few weeks ago I got some really good news. My English language ebooks will now be available worldwide.  It has been an ongoing frustration for me, and my readers over the past two years, especially those people from countries like Thailand and other parts of the far east.

What made matters even worse, is that when I was self-published they had no problems getting the books. Signing with a publisher generally results in greater distribution (and it certainly did with respects to paper books) but I lost distribution in several key parts of the world just after going with Orbit. 

Here's the deal.  When self-published, I control the countries where the books are sold - and of course I selected them all.  When I sold my rights to Orbit I gave something called "World English" which means Orbit, and only Orbit can distribute the books. But territories and rights is still an area that publishers struggle with and as such there were certain countries that were not serviced.  

I even got a few angry letters from readers who accused me of "not caring" about readers in their part of the world. I assure you this was not the case...both myself and Orbit wanted to sell the books everywhere, it was an infrastructure issue that was preventing them, and this is now fixed.

The letter I received from Orbit on October 7th indicated that:

Ebooks will go on sale immediately in the UK, Europe, Australia, India and Africa (through HUK’s ebook retail partners) and in South America, the Caribbean, and Asia in the coming weeks (through HBG’s ebook retail partners). The map below shows the division of territories.  

So, I'm hoping that they are now available everywhere.  If not, please let me know and I'll check into it. The map indicates which country is serviced by which part of Orbit so if you live in Africa - I would look at UK site of Amazon but if in Thailand I would look at Amazon's US site.

This is a big relief to me. As soon as I found out about the black out countries I immediately contacted Orbit who said they were working on it. It has taken awhile, but given the complexity of the situation I understand why it took so long...I'm just happy that it is fixed now - and those people who started Revelations "back in the day" can now finish the series because Percepliquis and Heir of Novron is now available for purchase.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

New York Comic Con Schedule for Thursday & Friday

It's that time of year again, soon New York will be inundated with a horde of fans of multiple genres from movies, comics, and books.  I'm going to be a guest and will be in the city on Thursday and Friday so if you want to catch a signature, lift a glass, or just say, "Hi" here is where I'll be.  For times not scheduled, I'm free (or at least inexpensive) so if you want to meet up, just let me know.


  • 09:10 - 12:45  Leave Wahshington DC Union Station and arrive at New York's Penn Station
  • 01:15 - 02:30  Lunch with fellow author Django Wexler
  • 04:30 - 05:30  Audio book introduction recording at Recorded Books
  • 05:30 - on       Nothing currently scheduled

  • 11:00 - 12:00 Epic Fantasy Panel (1A17) w/Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, Brian Staveley & Drew Karpyshyn
  • 12:15 - ??:?? Signing at Table #21 (Comic Con hasn't said how long this will last)
  • 02:00 - 03:00  Signing at the Orbit Booth (#2218)
  • 06:30 - 08:00  Dinner with readers in Washington Square
  • 09:15 - 12:45  Leave Penn Station and arrive in Washington DC
Hope to see some of you there!

Also, in other news, Hachette has finally gotten the World English ebook rights distribution sorted out and ebooks will be available everywhere VERY soon.  When I get back from NYCC I'll post full details but for those who have been patiently (and not so patiently) waiting for this...there is light at the end of the tunnel, and it'snot a train.

Monday, October 7, 2013

There was some exciting news yesterday about the top rated epic fantasy books, and I'm hijacking Michael's blog to mention it. It's Robin (Michael's wife), because he is busy with the final edits of Rhune (trying to finish it off before going to NYCC on Thursday/Friday). Anyway I'm not as clever or entertaining as Michael, so instead I'll post some good news. Yesterday  Heir of Novron became the #1 Top Rated Epic Fantasy title on Amazon:

We both would like to thank everyone for posting such great reviews. This is great exposure for Michael's books and it should help to get more people to give them a try.  But it's not just Heir of Novron that has been getting good ratings.  Here is another screen shot for the Men's Adventure list.  Actually all five books are on it the other two are in the 20's.

So thanks again, for all the support. It means a great deal to both of us. I guess with some hard work, and the support of others anything is possible.

Monday, September 23, 2013

You're invited...

So we are in the final throws of the mass of activity related to:
  • The release of The Crown Tower
  • The release of The Rose and the Thorn
  • The distribution of the Hollow World Kickstarter
So since we are now winding down it's time to celebrate.

First a virtual invitation.  I've got these really cool t-shirts that you can't buy (only be awarded or win) and I'm having a contest right now.  Here is what they look like:

You can enter the contest from this link. Members of the Dark Room (a secret and private group on goodreads) get an extra ballots (one of their perks), but if you want to join The Dark Room here is an invitation for it as well

Okay, now for the non-virtual invitations...

Washington DC: Wednesday Sep 25, 2013 (7:00 pm - 8:15 pm)
If you are in or around the Washington D.C. Area this Wednesday night at 7:00 pm  then stop by One More Page Books for the official launch party of The Riyria Chronicles. This is a Fall for the Book Event and I'll be signing books, talking a bit about the new release, and there were be raffle giveaways for wine, tshirt and even some Hollow World books that you can't even get until April 15, 2014. We'll probably go out for a drink after the to be determined.

Annapolis MD: Saturday Sep 28, 2013 (all day)
I and a number of members of the Alexandria Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club will be enjoying the day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. No I'm not a featured guest or anything like that, but I will be there and will be glad to say hi, shake a hand, or sign a book for those interested.  I'll be checking twitter throughout the day so if you are there as well and want to meet up - just let me know.

New York NY:  Friday Oct 11, 2013 (11:00 - 12:00)
I'll be at the Javits Convention Center as part of New York Comic Con participating on a panel about Epic Fantasy. Others on the panel include Scott Lynch, Peter V. Brett, Elizabeth Bear, Brian Staveley, Drew Karpyshyn. The panel will be moderated by Maryelizabeth Hart from Mysterious Galaxy and we'll be in room 1A17.

New York NY:  Friday Oct 11, 2013 (12:15 - 1:00)
I'll be at the Javits Convention Center at autograph table #21. Even if you have nothing to sign, come and stop by to say hello.

New York NY:  Friday Oct 11, 2013 (2:00 - 3:00)
I'll be at the Javits Convention Center in Orbit's Booth (2218) signing books.  Generally they give away a number of them but if history repeats itself they run out fast - so you might want to get there a little early. Even if all the free books go I'll be at the booth for meet and greet. 

Gaithersburg MD:  Saturday Oct 12, 2013 (7:00 pm - late)
I'm going to be dropping by the bar at the Washington Hilton during Capclave 2013 to say hello to some people who will be in town for the weekend.  Again - drop by and say hi or have a drink.

Gaithersburg MD:  Sunday Oct 13, 2013 (late morning - early afternoon)
Capclave will be winding down, but I'll be around again just kicking back with people and chatting about fantasy and science fiction. Look for me in the bar at the hotel.

Springfield VA: Sunday Nov 3, 2013 (10: 00 - 12:30 pm)
Bookclub discussion: The Crown Tower with the Sci-fi & Fantasy Bookclub of Alexandria we'll be meeting at Houlihan's in the Springfield Hilton. There will be two sessions this is the morning one.

Springfield VA: Sunday Nov 3, 2013 (2:30 pm - 4:00 pm)
Bookclub discussion: The Crown Tower with the Sci-fi & Fantasy Bookclub of Alexandria we'll be meeting at Houlihan's in the Springfield Hilton. There will be two sessions this is the afternoon one.

New York NY: Saturday Nov 9, 2013 (9:00 am - 5:00 pm)
I'll be a guest panelist at the Self-publishing Book Expo at the Hotel Pennsylvania. While I should be available for questions during the meet and greet in the morning, and between sessions, I'll also be on a panel from 3:30 - 4:30 on how to raise funds and build a publishing team when self-publishing. In particular I'll be talking about my success with Kickstarter and how I used the funds to hire the same professionals that produce my traditionally published titles.

Upper Saddle River NJ: Saturday Nov 9, 2013 (7:00 pm - 11:00 pm)
I'll be a guest of the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County to discuss writing and publishing. The meeting will be held at the Saddle River Valley Cultural Center

Whew.  Well that's all that I'm aware of in the fall book festival and convention season. Schedule for 2014 hasn't been set yet but I'm fairly sure I'll be at Legendary Confusion in Detroit in January and The World Fantasy Convention in Washington DC in November 2014. I hope to see some of you at these various places.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

National Book Festival

One of the really nice things about living near Washington D.C. is that the National Book Festival comes each year. This year the weather might not co-operate too well but I'm going to make a trip anyway as there are a lot of people I'm interested in hearing from.  Here is a full list of people coming this year. The ones I'm most interested in seeing/hearing from are:

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013

    It's my birthday...and release day...all rolled into one.

    Today is my birthday, and when Orbit decided the date for the release of The Rose and the Thorn they probably didn't know about that.  I've received a ton of congratulatory tweets about both and since the release of The Crown Tower a lot of people have been saying how much they are looking forward to The Rose and the Thorn.

    Many people are already asking me when the third book in Chronicles will be out.  Well there is no easy answer to that one. For those who haven't read the Author's Note in The Crown Tower, I'm playing the chronicles series very much by ear. If people want more Royce and Hadrian, well then I certainly have some great stories waiting to be told. But if they decide that eight is enough. I've got many non-Riyria tales as well.  If you want to weigh in there is a survey you can answer here.

    As for The Rose and the Thorn, the early reviews are positive:

    "An excellent second act in the Riyria Chronicles. Michael J. Sullivan's The Rose and the Thorn manages to be even better than The Crown Tower, making this book, and the duology – one of my favourite reads of 2013."Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

    "So far, all of Sullivan's Riyria books have been very well paced, sword and sorcery style action with strong characters, making them fun and easy to read.  I would recommend them to any fan of fantasy, new or veteran, young or old."Reading Realms

    "I have to say, that The Rose and the Thorn was an excellent end to the Riyria Chronicles and is every bit as strong as any one of Sullivan’s other books." ~ Fantasy Faction

    "I’d say Sullivan has discovered a gold mine of potential stories that will continue to prove popular for as long as he can keep to this winning mix of the familiar formulas, new perspectives, and untold adventures." 52 Book Reviews

    "In sum, this book basically gave me more than I bargained for, and in a
    good way."
    The Bibliosanctum

    "I highly recommend this book for fans of light fantasy and caper-type stories.  Sullivan has shown how a prequel should be done" ~ Being a Big Sandwhich

    "The Rose and the Thorn is another great story from an author that deserves to be read by every fan of fantasy and adventure." Owlcat Mountain

    "There is a timelessness about these novels that really makes you yearn for that era." ~ Koeur's Book Reviews

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    Time is running out....

    I received an update from Shawn Speakman and I'm pleased to announce that the first print run of Unfettered has sold extremely well. Shawn did a 5,000 print run and only 500 copies remain, so if you want to get this extraordinary volume of short stories act soon.  If you aren't aware of Unfettered and what it is let me take a moment to introduce you.  

    Shawn Speakman beat cancer not just once but twice. His second time around he did so without health care no insurance company would pick him up. He amassed several hundred thousand dollars of debt and instead of filling for medical bankruptcy, he created an anthology with stories from some of the biggest names in fantasy...and he even let me contribute a story.

    Who contributed to the anthology? Well here's the list: 

    Terry Brooks | Patrick Rothfuss | Tad Williams | Carrie Vaughn | Jacqueline Carey | Peter V. Brett | Peter Orullian | R.A. Salvatore | Todd Lockwood | Blake Charlton | Daniel Abraham | Kevin Hearne | Mark Lawrence | David Anthony Durham | Jennifer Bosworth | Robert V.S. Redick | Eldon Thompson | Naomi Novik | Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson | Michael J. Sullivan | Lev Grossman | Shawn Speakman

    For my own part, I wrote a Royce and Hadrian story called "The Jester."  It tells the tales of one of their early adventures, and like any good short story (at least short stories that I like) it has a little moral about the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. 

    For those prone to ebook reading...there are copies of that as well, but for those that enjoy paper, and are looking for a collectible item of a very special book for a really great cause...then it just makes sense to pick up a copy before they are gone. The book is sold directly from Shawn's company: Grim Oak Press, and you can get a copy for $35 from here.

    Tuesday, August 20, 2013

    Gonna Have a Shindig

    At 7pm EST Today, August 20th, I'll to be talking about Riyria and writing in a live Q&A audio/video event on the Internet via Shindig. Everyone is invited. So come along and bring a friend.

    What is Shindig? "Imagine a thousand fans gathered in one place for your event. All mingle around engaged in an infinite array of private conversations Imagine you take the stage, make a presentation, conduct an interview, and field questions, joined onstage by different audience members. Now imagine having done this all from your laptop." 

    To join the party.

    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    How to Avoid Nasty Thoughts


    I recently received this tweet: “Would love your thoughts on "info dump" vs character talk/thoughts. Where's the line/difference? In the readers head?”

    This was a good enough question that I decided to write a bit on the topic.

    There is better and worse ways to do almost anything. Most modern-day writers learn early that showing is better than telling. Hasn’t always been that way, but current readers tend to prefer witnessing events rather than listening to a disembodied narrator explain the story. As I have previously explained there are three basic tools at an author’s disposal to tell a tale. Like the hammer, screwdriver, and wrench in a handyman’s toolbox authors have description, dialog, and thought (or reflection.) Most good stories—particularly in genre fiction—use all of these in fairly equal measure. Too much of one or the other shifts the tone and style. Too much description slows a story down and causes readers to skim to the “good parts,” too little and readers feel they are reading a summary, or are blind and are not immersed in the story. Balancing description and dialog is very important to creating a portal to another world. Done just right, it allows readers to step unimpeded into your world and dwell there.

    As with all tools you can use them in the prescribed ways or creative new ones. A screwdriver can be used to pry apart objects, a hammer can beat in a screw, and a palette knife can be used to paint with. Dialog can be used to describe a landscape, or develop character. And description can be used to develop character by how the point of view character interprets what they see.

    Thought is a different matter. Thought is the Swiss army knife of literature—it can do everything. A character can recall conversations, sights, experiences and more. Thought is so multipurpose that it can become a crutch and its easy solutions to all problems as addictive as a nasty drug habit. When ever anything is difficult or awkward to covey, thought is the obvious answer. This is why internal-thought is the bright spotlight that attracts the pesky info-dump.

    Info-dumps are back-story information delivered in an artless or otherwise awkward manner that has little to do with the story action or plot, but often necessary for the reader to know. The info-dump is a terrible problem and afflicts invented-world fantasy writers more than any other genre because they have so much more to explain. Years ago, fantasy authors included prologues that were nothing more than massive info-dumps designed to get the reader up to speed and get the boring stuff out of the way. Anyone who went to see The Fellowship of the Ring at theaters may recall the long intro voiced by Cate Blanchett. This is a perfect example of the get-you-up-to-speed-style of prologue info-dump. Over time fantasy authors learned to integrate the back-story into the tale they were telling, but the propensity to cheat is always there, and thought is often the temptress that lures many a writer astray.

    So fine, just don’t do info-dumps, right? Here’s the problem, all thought is exposition—something writers are supposed to avoid—but you have to include thought to balance a story and provide the necessary insight to a character’s mental state. So how do you allow for a character to think and reflect and yet not slip into info-dumping exposition, and how do you tell the difference between good thoughts and bad?

    First, let me explain that there is no hard and fast rule in writing. Authors—like most people—have the tendency to speak in absolutes when it comes to something they are intimately familiar with. A carpenter might tell you never to use a hammer to beat in a screw, and then you’ll see them do just that. Writers are the same way. We will insist one should never do this or that, and then do the very thing we labeled as forbidden. The reason is everything has its place and time—even “ly” adverbs in a dialog tags. That said, allow me to pontificate on what you should endeavor to do, and don’t be at all surprised if you see me contradicting myself self in my books. The key here is knowing you’re breaking an otherwise sensible rule, verses having no idea the rule exists. It is the same as crossing the double yellow line to avoid a deer, verses wandering back and forth between lanes thinking someone did a really cool and gigantic modern art along the “lines” of Barnett Newman.  At least until a tractor-trailer comes along.

    The key is keeping to the character’s PoV and not contriving it. For example when a character wakes up, their first thought is usually not where they were born and how they came be living in a boarding house in New Jersey, but rather to wonder what died in their mouth and the need to get to the bathroom. As a result the dividing line between good thoughts and bad is context, and the way to overcome nasty thoughts is most often a simple matter of developing patience.

    Authors, especially those who have yet to write their first full-length novel, don’t grasp the size of the playing field. They feel this need to present everything immediately. They are certain the reader will not enjoy the book if they don’t instantly know all the cool stuff that’s planned. The proclivity is similar to a child having a friend over for the first time and pointing out all the nifty things in their room, pushing on to the new game they got for the Wii only seconds after showing off the snake in the aquarium.  

    Taking your time, focusing on the story, and allowing back-story to bubble up naturally returns the best results. So let’s look at the difference in good and bad thoughts and their uses.

    Harvey walked in and Martha remembered how the two had met all those years ago at the Silver Dollar Diner. That was back in 1993 when he was a law student and she a waitress.

    Harvey walked in and Martha thought he looked awful. She hadn’t seen him in twenty years, and those years had not been kind.

    Neither of these treatments are terrible, but I hope you can see that the latter is more realistic. It doesn’t explain very much about their pasts, but—and this is the thing—that information isn’t important. If it is, then there will be more appropriate places to deliver it, as in:

    “You were such an arrogant ass back then,” Martha said."The big Harvard Law student, all full of himself."

    “Of course I was.” Harvey made a show of standing straighter. “But all I knew back then was that you were but a lowly waitress at a diner that didn’t even sell pie.”

    Here the exposition becomes part of the plot and adds to their characterization. You learn back-story through events, in this case—a conversation. Keep in mind there is also the problem of dialog-exposition, which is the contrived discussion invented to explain something to the reader. This is often launched with the phrase: “As you know Bob…” which begs the question why are you telling Bob something he already knows? In the above instance Harvey and Martha are telling each other what they both know, but in the context it makes sense.

    Often the difference between telling and showing in dialog and thought is a matter of the author’s skill in hiding the body.

    The problem with info-dumps are that they are often very boring, and artificial. The boredom causes a reader to skip ahead or worse put the book down, and any unnaturalness destroys the all-important suspension of disbelief. The solution is to focus only on what a character would actually think, and what a person thinks about is almost always what they just did, are doing, or are about to do. Then, in order to convey the necessary bits of info, you merely line their path with issues that force them to think about those things you need to reveal. Let’s say you wanted to let the reader know your main character hated cats…

    Martha lay on the hammock thinking how she loved summer days, hated cats, and was indifferent to butterflies.

    The first thing Martha saw when she returned home was the ripped arm of her new couch and remembered why it was she hated cats.

    The first sentence lacks context and feels odd. Not only that, but it will be instantly forgotten by the reader as it is simply too fleeting to take note of. In the second, an event is created to support the causality for the thought to pop up. On the other hand if the goal is to show how Martha is scatter-brained, then the first is a far superior manner to achieve this than say…

    Martha who was always scatter-brained thought all sorts of things while lying in the hammock.

    Thoughts are then best used to develop a character first and provide description or back story second. Doing two things at once is a fine way to write in general, but also a lovely way to hide exposition.

    What kind of man took a cat for a walk? Martha studied the Persian Long-hair in his arms and not for the first time wondered if cats might be demons in disguise. The owner with his bright yellow smiley-face t-shirt looked the sort to kidnap preschoolers from playgrounds.

    Here Martha’s phobia of cats is integrated within descriptions of the cat, and the man, as well as a good deal about Martha’s character, based on how she sees the world. The subtext here is that Martha hates cats, and is generally cynical about people. With all that is going on the “info-dump” about her hatred of cats, is near invisible to the reader, but memorable nevertheless.

    Info-dumps are bad things but often necessary particularly in fantasy novels where so much needs to be explained. What should be understood is that a lot can be left unexplained. Readers don’t need to know everything. I never explained the term “By Mar” in any of my novels, even though it was used often. I trusted that readers would figure it out, and I wasn’t concerned if they didn’t. In real life, people often say things we don’t understand, or make references to people or places we know nothing about, but we don’t always stop them and ask for clarification unless that point is crucial to the story.

    “I went to see a Leon Hern concert last night and while I was there I met this guy who was selling his car. It was perfect, just what I was looking for.”

    No one knows who Leon Hern is (because I just made him—or them—up,) but it doesn’t matter. The focus is on the car, not the concert. The reader doesn’t need to know who Leon Hern is—at least not at this point. If old Leon is important, then you can make a few more references to him later on, sprinkled in the story, and eventually the reader will get a general idea.

    Another pop song came on the radio—this one by Leon Hern—and he switched the station.

    Spreading ideas out, not lumping them, avoids dumps. Disguising them in actions and dialog sweeps them under the prose rug. Not bothering to explain everything grants a sense of a wider world and a familiar reality. And giving characters a legit reason for thinking about something provides you with the ability to write good thoughts that keep the plot moving and feel true.

    It should also be noted that there are times when characters—like real people—really will sit down and discuss/recap/explain/think about something at length. This does happen, just make sure the scene has its foundation and motivation in the plot and isn’t artificially tacked on.

    Hope this has been helpful.