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. 

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