Saturday, March 25, 2023

So What Now?

In the last couple weeks, three different people inquired if I had taken any steps to see that my world continues after I die. This gave me pause—like what do they know that I don’t? And what are they talking about? It’s not like I conquered three quarters of the imaginary world space and if I don’t father an heir my name will be removed from every stone pylon. 

I blame Brandon Sanderson. The man is forty-seven and isn’t certain he can finish all the novels he hopes to write, and has already considered what might be done if he can’t. Granted he stepped in for Robert Jordan, so he’s likely more forward thinking than the average author, but I can’t help remembering that when I was forty-seven I was just publishing my first novel. 

Still, this inquiry, morbid as it is, shows a huge interest in where I’m going, and what comes next. Readers have noticed that I have now finished the the Rise and Fall series, the “bridge” that more or less connects Riyria to Legends, and they want to know what comes next. After all, there’s no need to ask about my preparations for a postmortem future for Elan, if Esrahaddon is the last novel I’ve planned in that world. The real question then is…what will I do now? 

To be honest, I’m not sure. 

You see, I never expected to write all these Elan books, and I never thought I’d write another fantasy novel past the Riyria Revelations. I hadn’t set out to be a fantasy author. My previous ten books were anything but. I wrote horror, science fiction, coming of age and literary fiction. I’ve always found writing fantasy to be, ironically, limiting because I can’t utilize common-knowledge-free-association in the manner that is available in nearly all other Earth-based stories. And I was good at that, too. I say was because I realize now that this is a talent similar to being good at sports; the talent fades with age. Common knowledge is generational. I discovered that ten years ago when I wrote Hollow World. The main character Ellis Rogers was only a few years older than I am now, but his life experiences were utter mysteries to the modern reader who had no clue who Archie Bunker was. 

At around the same time that I produced Hollow World, I considered re-writing my first serious effort at a professional novel (one that I hoped to get published) entitled Wizards, which in the rework was retitled Antithesis. I originally wrote Wizards when I was twenty-three, way back in 1985. The main character was a comic book geek, and much of the story was steeped in comic book references. By the time I tried reworking the story I was fifty, and no longer plugged into that world, which had changed dramatically. In addition to other unsolvable issues Antithesis died the same death that Wizards had decades earlier. 

This doesn’t mean I can’t write real world fiction. I have a poignant horror story fully set down in note form and ready for me to start writing that would work fine, but I understand my options for more such stories are limited because I’m no longer swimming in the mainstream. I also have more than one science-fantasy novels I’ve put off for years. But…

Well, there’s you to consider, isn’t there?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously hated Sherlock Holmes. He wanted to write what he believed to be more respectable Historical Fiction, and considered the detective's death to have been "justifiable homicide.” His readers had other plans and pressured his publisher to persuade him to raise Homes from the dead. 

I don’t hate Royce and Hadrian. They are good, and now, very dear old friends. In fact, we all took a vacation together recently and had a great time, although Royce got drunk and made a scene. (This will make more sense later.) Given the overwhelming success of Hollow World, however, my readers appear to have similar notions about persuading me to keep going—if not with Royce and Hadrian, at least with Elan. 

I realize this. I do. And yet, it doesn’t factor in as much as anyone might think. Don’t get me wrong, I love my readers, but I’ve never allowed their desires to become my direction. The only person on the planet who has any influence at all is my wife, and Robin’s power over my writing—as she will tell you—is miserably limited. What’s more, she refuses to try because she knows from experience that I do my best work when left to my own devices. That said, she did convince me to start writing the Chronicles. This was just after the year-long failure of Antithesis and I needed a win for my own self-confidence. 

That being said, where did Legends come from?

Good question. 

I was on the fence with that one for a long time. I really didn’t want to commit to another long series in Elan, but the history was wrong. I didn’t want readers of Riyria to think the story of Novron creating the empire for the love a village girl to be the final word. I owed it to my readers, but I owed it even more to myself. I also saw it as a challenge. To build a new story with new characters in an old world where readers already knew the outcome, and still make it worth reading, was no easy task. In a way, it was like writing backward—a strange sort of novelty that posed a compelling set of interesting issues.

And the Rise and Fall?

That was just common sense. I had the beginning and the end, the lack of a middle was just plain annoying. This became even more problematic as I discovered new readers were starting with Age of Myth. Once finished with the Legend series, how could they transition to Riyria with out a bridge. And so, I wrote those. 

But now what?

If you’ve been wondering this, so have I, and it isn’t from a lack of ideas. 

For those of you curious if I have any plans for creating another fantasy world, sorry, but no. Why would I? I have an established universe, which is the hardest part of any invented-world fantasy. No matter what sort of story I wanted to write, I could place it in Elan and be up and running. Creating a new universe, at this point, is a pointless waste of time as I’m not about world-building. I prefer to focus on characters and situations, not reinventing the wheel, (which I already did in Age of Swords.) 

I have two choices. I can either lock the door on Elan and explore realms in real-world, or Earth-based fantasy fiction, or I can do something really stupid. I could take on a ridiculous challenge that just between you and me, I don’t know if I can pull off. It would require writing as many as eight novels simultaneously and would demand that I weave story threads at triple the ply I have been. Just thinking about it makes my head hurt and it would all but kill my chance at writing anything else, possibly for good. I also wouldn’t be publishing any novels during the time I was wrestling with this behemoth. I’ve kept up a pretty consistent book-a-year pace for sometime now, but that would stop. And there is the very real chance that after years of work, I might fail and all that time would be wasted, or like Robert Jordan and young Mr. Sanderson, I might not live long enough to see the whole project through to completion. I’ve already outlived my father by more than a decade. 

On the other hand, if I were to succeed, it would be pretty amazing. 

So, here I sit and ponder the future of an entire universe. 

Fantasy world problems, I know. 

In the meantime, it’s not like I’ve been traveling the world or playing computer games—okay, so I haven’t only been doing those things. I’ve have been writing. 

Drumindor, the fifth Riyria Chronicle, is finished—pending alpha changes and editing. It is presently a bit over 160,000 words—about the same length as Percepliquis. This means it ought to be available to readers sometime in 2024. So you have at least one more Riyria book coming your way, but after that…

You might be on your own for a long while. 

Try not to forget me. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Rise of the Readership

I write these Mile Marker posts because I imagine you are interested in what it’s like to have a career as an author. Sadly, I’m not a good source for such research. Granted every author’s story is different, but I suspect mine is more than your usual atypical. Maybe one day I will sit down and tell it to you, but for this installment I wanted to report a new development on the whole career progress thing. 

I began with one book (The Crown Conspiracy) which I sold anyway I could. I pushed them on friends and acquaintances. I begged bottom tier reviewers to look at my novels. I became involved with sites like Goodread’s in their infancy. I did tiny bookstore signings in my local area. I attended local book clubs hoping they would discover I was an author and ask to schedule my novel for the group. Robin and I did everything we could and nothing worked…until it did, and I received my first review from someone I hadn’t personally sold a book.

As chronicled in my 2010 post: Momentum I first noticed other people were starting to help me. That was the start. From there came many more mile stones. 

When I got a Wikipedia Page

When I sold ten thousand books

Goodread’s Choice Award nominations

The first post where I discussed mile markers, was in early 2010: I Must Be Someone Now which explains the whole deal with trying to gauge one’s position in a game where they don’t provide maps or levels. Even then I realized that the goal posts keep being moved back because the field grew bigger. From a puddle, to a pond, to a lake, to an ocean, challenges and opportunities just keep getting bigger. And so I keep track. 

The last major mile stone marker post was Mile Marker Nine in which I reported how stunned I was to find fans at a major convention who had come specifically to see me. The post wasn’t named Mile Marker Nine because it was the ninth marker, but in honor of the grand total of nine readers who came to see me—a record that still stands to this day. Granted that was in 2015 and I haven’t been to a convention since. By now I bet I could pull in a solid twelve…maybe. 

You think I’m joking, or trying to project a false humbleness. Everyone always thinks that, but remember you’re fantasy readers and have great imaginations. You have preconceived ideas that I am famous. I’m not. At least not in the way to think I am. There are moments when I see something online and start to suspect I am, but these are rare and always quickly squashed by the next thing I find. And I still have never seen anyone reading or possessing a book of mine. They are still in the bookstores, however, and I’m more than satisfied with that. 

Nevertheless, I have noticed a few new developments. 

Readers have begun to build things. 

Unless I’m mistaken, fans of my books are creating more and more online sites. I stumble on them by accident. The Riyria Discord site that I mentioned before is but one. Then there are the video reviewers that have held hour long discussions on my entire body of work. Not as a review, just to talk about what they liked. It’s like watching a late night infomercial. I should be paying these people—except that would ruin it. 

And then there is Riyria Explained, which raises the bar to a whole new level. Josiah Collins is a reader who loved watching lore videos on video games and fantasy series (World of Warcraft, Wheel of Time, Cosmere, Lord of the Rings), and so when he first read my books years ago, he was surprised no one was already doing that and it became a long term hobby. 

He started in 2020 and now has 53 videos that help explain my world and include theories that speculate about the future of the world and the series. He even has a nice promo for the novel Farilane with his wife doing a very professional job on the voice over. Thanks to both of you for that. 

Years ago, I was envious of George R.R. Martin’s famous fanbase who kept such good track of his world that he had been known to consult with them on details. Now this is happening to me. 

And so this is Mile Marker 10: Rise of the Readership. 



Thursday, March 9, 2023

 When Swords Fall Silent

The body hit the floor with a thud exposing the third mistake Royce Melborn made that night.

And so begins the short story starring Royce Melborn as his seventeen year old self back in the dark ages of his Ratibor residency. As most of you know—those of you who are plugged in enough to visit this ancient blogsite—I’ve affirmed on many occasions that I do not wish to write about the youth of either Royce or Hadrian because by themselves their stories would be depressing, and more than dark. But now comes this. What the hey?

Of this limited elite crowd who continue to visit this ivy overgrown blog, there are fewer still that know how I hate writing short stories. (Even though I stated this only two blog posts ago.) I don’t like them because I write novels. The two aren’t the same, but don’t tell me that. When I was in high school I received poor marks on essays and research papers because I wrote them in story form. It’s what I do. As such, when writing a short story, I approach it like a novel with one exception. While I need to tell just as complete a tale, I must squeeze it into a little itty bitty living space of less than a tenth the length of a novel. This is as much fun as going on a weeklong ski trip limited only to carry-on luggage. It is then, in this less than appealing hole in the ground that I begin my rejection of the very notion of short fiction. Add to that the previously mentioned aversion to a Royce Melborn biopic and as you might guess I wasn’t much into the idea. 

I will now go way out on a brittle tree branch and say that of that tiny population that visits this blog, and know that I hate writing short stories, fewer still are aware that I have now written twelve, but that I’ve never sold any. I have however given them away. Usually this is for charity of one form or another from hurricane relief funds to helping out fellow writers down on their luck. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this then is the reason I do them. And in this case the cause is St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the criteria, as presented to me, was an assassin story. 

I could have tried doing another wedge-in to the existing Riyria timeline as I have in the past, but there has always been an important bit of information lacking from the Riyria stories concerning Royce. This project provided the perfect opportunity to address: How Royce got his name. 

And so, now there will be an even smaller sub-sub group of hardcore readers who visit this blog and know the answer to that arcane bit of trivia. For the rest of you, the ones who tried to do a search on the capital city of Saudi Arabia, you might consider a new short story about a young assassin who got himself in a bit of trouble. But be careful, for hanging out with Royce can be addictive. 

The anthology containing the short story: May Luck Be With You, is entitled When Swords Fall Silent. And contains the work of more than a dozen of the best modern science-fiction and fantasy authors, including Terry Mancour, Andrew Rowe, Marie Brennan, and many more.

You can obtain the anthology as an ebook, an audiobook, and for a limited time, a gorgeous high-quality hardcover print edition that includes character illustrations. For more information go to the When Swords Fall Silent Kickstarter, running now.

Friday, March 3, 2023


In 2016, Age of Myth, my 11th published novel and my first published through Del Rey, was hitting bookstores, and it was at this point I was starting to suspect this writing thing might just work out. 

As my books were paying the bills, I realized this wasn’t so much my hobby anymore, which in turn meant I could actually spend money on it. The first step was getting the iMac. I always knew they were good machines, I just couldn’t afford one. I had also looked into writing software and found Scrivener. But now I turned my mind towards a real office. I wanted something somewhere quiet to avoid being yanked back from where ever my mind was to the real world.  

Hemingway had his office in the top floor of his carriage house in Key West, where he went in the early mornings to write his five hundred words. 

Neil Gaiman has his gazebo retreat. 

Having retired from her career as an engineer/programer/marketer/company president Robin was in need of something to do. So I gave her the task of finding a nice quiet place in the countryside within a two hour drive from DC where we could spend weekends, and summers. A little cottage on a lake, perhaps. She found the idllic valley of Shenandoah, which is like the Shire  if it was as hidden and protected as Rivendell. Here, while she wasn’t editing or marketing my novels, Robin designed and built us a log cabin. 

Before it was finished, I already created a makeshift office. And as the cabin came together, so did my workspace. 

I tried all different configurations—sort of a trial and error feng shui. I thought that facing the window would be good, but the light coming in was a bit blinding, and the screen blocked the view. I also hate having my back to the door. Turning the desk around didn’t help as then the light from the window reflected off the screen, and I also had to turn around to look out. 

I eventually came up with this: 

But I still wasn’t done. Now that I had the money I thought to obtain my dream monitor. This led me on a long quest. I thought a big wide screen would be great. 

And if one was good, three had to be better.

Turns out, they weren’t. The resolution just wasn't there, and I really didn’t need all that screen space. Today, this (below) is the present configuration of the office. 

It is here that I wrote the second half of the Legends series, The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter, Nolyn, Farilane, and Esrahaddon. 

On occasion I do make temporary spaces depending on the season, which are sort of my versions of Ernest’s carriage house and Neil’s gazebo. 

I hope you enjoyed this utterly pointless slideshow of where I spend most of my days. If you did, please hit the “like” button and be certain to subscribe to the….oh, never mind. How about you just come back every couple years to see if I’ve posted anything else? Now that I know this thing works, I’ll see about broadcasting more often. Maybe even open a window. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Office Evolution

Coming up with ideas for blog posts is harder for me than writing novels. I find short stories troublesome, and the two are similar. I considered writing a post on Esrahaddon (the new novel) only to realize partway through that nearly everything I wrote would be a spoiler. And so that idea was eaten by the delete key leaving me staring at this blank screen trying to perfect my powers of divination. 

What would readers want to read?

Should I compose essays concerning my current life? My history? My work? What I’m reading? My process of writing? Current events? Shows I like and games I play? Everything beyond the news of a new book release strikes me as self-absorbed, and yet I suspect most will look at the list I just wrote and think…Yes. Perhaps, if I were not me, I too would be eager to read about life in a log cabin, what fountain pen I use or my personal writing methodology. I most certainly would love to know the name of the trilogy of books I am presently thrilled to have discovered and read each night before the fire with a cup of tea. You might even wish to know what sort of  tea, though that seems a little too celebrity-obsessed to make sense. Being a writer and lover of stories I’d probably like to know the origin behind how a modern-day fantasy author took a ridiculously stupid path out of utter ignorance, but which turned out to be the only route that could have worked. But then you've probably already heard that one.

Truth is, I just don’t know what you want. And given I’ve turned off all comments, to avoid the carpet bombing of spam that always follows, I can’t ask—or rather, I can’t expect replies. 

I keep trying to think of a topic that would appeal to all twelve of you. That’s how many I emotionally suspect truly read this blog. Twelve who might all live in Mintonville, Kentucky, and attend the same bookclub, or who could be scattered across the globe but through the magic of Google Translate can read these words. It’s foolish to try and please twelve different people I personally know much less an unknown number of unfamiliar people located who knows where. I suppose the trick isn’t to try. It worked before, and since you can’t comment, I won’t even know if you hate it. (Note* this is not entirely true. I have noticed how some on Goodreads, Reddit, and Discord have raised their hands to let me know that indeed the signal is getting through. So, thanks.)

All that said, without further adieu, let’s get to the totally arbitrary topic I settled on for this week’s installment: Office Evolution.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always wondered where authors write, especially when I wasn’t one yet. My wife is the sort who can work in a the noisy hallway of an unruly middle school. She also falls asleep to television, but has trouble closing her eyes in utter silence. Oddly, I’m more about ambience. I enjoy a nice environment. I say oddly because I spend so little time where I write. The moment I start typing, I’m gone. This is why I will take a book to a laundromat or a hospital waiting room, but never to a beach or ski lodge. With the former, all I want to do is escape, but I paid good money for the latter. It just makes no sense to go to a tropical resort and bring a tiny portal to 19th century London—but I know many that do. I suspect it has more to do with the company readers are forced to keep on trips. There has to be a reason Thanksgiving Eve is the busiest bar night in the United States, and bartenders I’ve discussed this with all report: the desire to escape family. 

So if I don’t linger in my writing environment, why does it matter? For the same reason that if the food was the same, you’d chose the restaurant with the nicer dining room. I don’t need much incentive to write—I never did—but a comfy chair is way more inviting than a metal bench. Also, that portal that can take you to 19th century London, or in my case a little tavern near the end of Wayward Street, has a tragic flaw. The portal doesn’t close tight. There’s this umbilical cord that connects the two realities and which is highly sensitive to sound. This magical conduit also only works in one direction. They can fire off a gun in Dickensian London, and you’ll never hear a thing while doing the dishes at home. But if I’m in the middle of a sword fight, and my wife happens to answer the phone downstairs and in a perfectly normal voice asks “Hello?” that damn umbilical cord with rip me right back. So, I need isolation. 

I’m not the only one who suffers this affliction. I’ve been to Hemingway’s House in Key West.  The man built a separate writing studio in the adjacent carriage house. Gaiman has a gazebo, and others I know have sheds. Still more cheat and use sound canceling headphones. I’ve tried this, but it makes my ears sweat, and there I am thinking about my ears and not about the next sword stroke. The point is, where I write is important to me, and it always has been, and that place has changed over the decades due to my age and economic status.


Now stepping way back into the 1970s, my first desk was a metal and vinyl Samsonite folding card table identical to the one pictured here. I was thirteen and set the thing up in my mother’s bedroom. I covered it with a table cloth, then put a lamp, a clock, and a phone on it. After all, these were the things that made a table into a desk. I knew this because I watched television, and all private detectives agreed on these three items. While I began with a Bic pen and lined looseleaf paper, I quickly leveled up when I discovered my sister’s old typewriter. This was good because Mary Tyler Moore, Ellery Queen, and all the cops on Barney Miller used typewriters. 

I have no actual photographs of this card table desk anymore than Harry Potter has images of his cupboard under the stairs. After all, neither of us owned a camera. Even if I did, I had neither the money nor the means to purchase and pay for the development of film. (Don’t worry, the invention of the iPhone will be coming along soon. Seriously, I am utterly shocked at the terrible quality and quantity of photos of my early workspaces prior to the iPhone.)

It was at this wobbly card table that I wrote my first three short stories and my first trilogy of novels which became the genesis for Royce and Hadrian and the world of Elan. The two thieves went by different names back then, but some similarities are so close I can’t write them here for fear of spoiling those who might not have read Riyria. I had no aspirations of being an author, and if you read my early work, I am certain you would have advised me to consider a career in lawn maintenance. Never even crossed my mind to write for a living. My dream was to be a commercial illustrator at a major advertising agency. This too was a fantasy. Odds were real good I would end up in either a Detroit car manufacturing plant or as a dishwasher at a local restaurant. 

Despite this, at the age of twenty-one, after getting married and buying a three bedroom house, I created my first real office. In one of the bedrooms, I put up dark wood paneling, and bookshelves. I also lucked out and found an old wooden teacher’s desk that had been used as a workbench at a tool & die shop. They were going to throw it out so I took it home, sanded it down, stained and polyurethaned it. Thing was built like a tank. I got it upstairs put a lamp, a clock and a phone on it and, ta-dah! Office! 

This photograph is the only one I found that shows any part of my second office. As you can see I finally got myself a computer. It was 1986 and I was the proud father of a happy healthy daughter and a Compaq DeskPro.

I wrote about five novels on this monster, including Wizards, a novel that I later tried to re-write as Antithesis because I thought I could. Turns out I couldn’t. Then at the start of the 1990s, Robin, my daughter, and I moved to northern Vermont. I had a makeshift office in my bedroom in our trailer, but we finally managed to build a house and once again I created a real office. 

Once more you can see how the lack of photos documenting my literary career will be a serious handicap for the Ken Burns documentary.  What’s fascinating in this image, is the Jenga workspace just past Robin, built mostly out of table extenders. Four books support what must have been a precarious shelving unit. At least, this computer had a mouse! Also notice the dial-up modem on the shelf. It was here that I wrote the last of the thirteen unpublished novels. None of which were in the fantasy genre. I mostly focused on horror, science fiction, and literary fiction. 

I quit writing after that. The year was 1995 and I didn’t return to writing until 2004. I had other offices, but they weren’t for writing. As it turned out I managed to fulfill that first dream of being an illustrator for an advertising agency, although given I founded the agency and was also the Art Director and Creative Director, it felt like I cheated my way in—until I began making good money at it. Then I wondered why I waited so long. This is a theme I would return to later. 

When I began writing again it was without much forethought or preparation. I was super bored and so I dragged that massive tank of a teacher’s desk up to my bedroom in Raleigh, NC, set it up next to Robin’s and my bed and put a lamp, a clock, and a phone on it. Then I wrote the following, which I suspect is the oldest surviving, pre-edited opening:

The brandy was excellent. It was a house label from the monastery at Windermere where the old monks in their remote stone cloister had spent centuries perfecting their distilling and aging method. As a result the liquor was rich in body, warm in feel, and smooth as silk. It also had a wonderful smoky taste that he particularly enjoyed. Archibald Ballentyne never had much use for monasteries, the church, or any god, but recently he had grown to like Windermere. So many good things seem to come from there lately. He took another sip of the brandy and let the hot liquid drift down his neck, savoring the warm feeling and sweet taste. It was his first drink of the night, but already he felt intoxicated.

 I wrote The Crown Conspiracy, Avempartha, and Nyphron Rising in that hot and stifling upstairs bedroom in Raleigh because our air conditioning was on the fritz. I had just started writing Emerald Storm when we closed the agency and moved to the Washington, DC suburb of Fairfax and bought a little townhouse. Still unpublished, still stealing time to pursue an insane hobby that only I cared about, I created yet another office. 


The desk came from my advertising agency, as did the computer, leather chair and wall clock. This was the first desk without a phone, because we abandoned our landline for cell phones. The year was 2006. I wrote the second half of Emerald StormWintertide, and Percepliquis at this desk. On the left you’ll see the works of C.S. Forester who I was reading as reference for the sailing scenes in Emerald Storm. The writing software is MS Word, and that is the first Moleskine notebook I ever used. It was entitled: The Riyria Revelations

Some of you know that it was in 2007 that the first iPhone was revealed. I was an early adopter and you can see the difference it made in my next office photo.

Still in the same house in Fairfax, I moved to the bedroom to make room for my eldest daughter who returned from college. As you can tell from the posters, this was just after publication of the first Riyria Chronicle, The Crown Tower. And yes, that is as cluttered as that desk usually got. It also shows my shift from thirty years of using PCs and Word to Apple and Scrivener, as well as my need for a decent microphone to conduct interviews. I still had the clock, and the lamp. 

It was here I edited the Orbit versions of the Riyria Revelations, and wrote Hollow World, The Crown Tower, The Rose and Thorn, Rhune (later titled Age of Myth) Dherg (later titled Age of Swords), Fhrey (later titled Age of War) and The Death of Dulgath. I had nine published novels at this time, and I was still working in a bedroom not much different than when I was thirteen.

Then everything changed. 

(Stay tuned for more offices stories and better quality photos.)