The One Where Joey and Monica Argue Over Who's the Best Beatle

I'm going to just off-the-bat admit that I'm not a huge fan of either Friends or the Beatles (nothing against either of them), but that title was probably the most clever one I could come up with for the topic I wanted to write about.

I tweeted out a couple days ago that I was having a lot of thoughts about ensemble casts, and that I was maybe going to write about those thoughts that night, which is naturally why I'm writing about them today. I probably should be writing the third act of Collapse of Kingdoms right now, but here we are.

I think a good place to start is maybe to properly define what I mean when I'm talking about an ensemble cast. I think that this can oftentimes be confused by something with a large cast of characters. By and large, most fiction has a single main protagonist, maybe two. The key to an ensemble cast isn't the number of characters, but the number of them directly related to the protagonist and their goals; sub-protagonists, if you will, whose own individual character arcs happen to, in some way or another, inform that of the protagonist.

The easy fantasy example here would be Lord of the Rings, which was the prototype for the adventuring party. Every member of the Fellowship had their own reason for being there, and (to lesser or greater degrees) their own character arcs, and yet the story wasn't about Gandalf's sacrifice and resurrection, or Aragorn's ascent to the throne, despite those being significant plot points, and major events in the lives of the respective characters.

I think that's probably at the core of what makes ensembles so appealing. Everyone loves the Hero's Journey. Everyone, at their core, wants to see good prevail over evil, to see the conflict resolved. Everyone wants to identify with that, to feel a connection with it. In works with a solitary protagonist, it becomes a bit problematic: does one write a well-defined character that only resonates with a fraction of individuals, or make a character a blank slate onto which one can project oneself? The former can result in a protagonist that can be disliked, even hated, by an audience, and the latter can result in a bland character met with indifference. Ensembles present a variety of characters prominent enough in the story that anyone can have their favourite. People like having a favourite - Ringo, Legolas, Chandler, Sir Gawain.

I mean, Ringo was never really anyone's favourite, but you get the idea.

Just look at Overwatch. I have neither the time nor the computing power to run the game, but through sheer cultural osmosis I can tell you that I'd probably main Tracer if I did.

So what about the other side of the coin? What about writing ensemble casts? I feel confident in saying that the Four Kingdoms books are definitely ensemble books, and with that I definitely want to add the caveat that I am by no means an expert on the subject. That said, I think there are some key points to writing ensembles that I've unintentionally cribbed from some of my favourite media, the latter of which I'll probably toss in at the end.

  • The Protagonist is the protagonist for a good reason - Whatever the central conflict of the story, the protagonist has to be at the centre of it in such a way that no one else in the cast could be. It's pretty easy to fall into Chosen One territory here (which, if that's your thing, cool), especially in genre fiction, but it's tantamount to making the story make sense.
    Footnote: No, the Eagles couldn't have just dropped the ring into Mount Doom, the same way the RAF couldn't just go and bomb Hitler.
  • The ensemble works because the characters are diverse - This should be a bit of a no-brainer, but no one would have watched Ocean's Eleven if every character was Brad Pitt, or Don Cheadle et. al acting like Brad Pitt.
  • Every character has a story, but not one so prominent as to detract from the main plot - It's easy to fall into the trap of finding your own favourite character as you write an ensemble, often not your protagonist. While each of the characters having their own personal conflicts adds dimension and depth, be careful not to let their stories overshadow the main plot. It will end up being a mess, not unlike the final season of How Barney Dated Robin and WHOOPS! I Forgot The Story I Was Trying to Tell.
  • Conflict within your ensemble is natural, but don't forget the resolution - Spend enough time with the same people, and personalities will clash. That said, your ensemble is also an ensemble because they have something in common, be it friendship, a common goal, or even blood ties. While 100% antagonistic relationships in any of these scenarios are not completely unheard of, actually think about your own family/friend group/workplace, and whether or not everyone therein would be able to function if there was nothing but toxicity between even two members - they probably wouldn't.

Like I said, I'm far from an expert, but I think these are some solid foundation points. I'll also add that, while I think I do a good enough job writing an ensemble cast, I have a few examples of various media that I've looked to for inspiration, so feel free to get into them and geek out with me about them!

  • Patrick Weekes' Rogues of the Republic
  • Final Fantasy IX (I didn't play VII, and this one is magical)
  • Love Hina
  • Erin M. Evans' Brimstone Angels
  • Bones Brigade: An Autobiography

What are some of your favourite stories featuring ensemble casts? Who are your favourite ensemble characters? If Ringo Starr played Overwatch, who do you think he'd main?

Probably Agent 76, right?

'WriMo Wrap-Up 2016 or My Brain is Fried Right Now, and I Can't Conceive of a Better Title

Okay you guys, I'm going to start off the top with this:


October 28th was mine and Deanna's seven-year anniversary, and we celebrated by taking the trip to Walt Disney World that we had been talking about taking for the last two years. Because Deanna is a lifelong Acolyte of the House of Mouse, the setup was perfect. We arrived at Magic Kingdom just after dawn, when the sun was only high enough that the stars couldn't be seen. I was insistent that we get a picture in front of Cinderella's Castle before the crowds show up.
The photographer on site snapped a few photos, and immediately after, with my heart threatening to burst out of my chest, I took the ring box from my pocket, got down on one knee, and asked Deanna to marry me.

There were lots of tears of joy. I still get giddy recounting it. If you really want, there are photos on mine and Deanna's various social media, and even a video Deanna posted to Facebook that was taken by a lovely stranger, who then emailed it to us.




I know you all didn't click on this to hear me gush about that. You're here because of NaNoWriMo. It's December 1st, by my watch, and boy do I have a lot to talk about.

For the uninitiated: NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an annual even that takes place every November, wherein participants are challenged to write 50,000 words of a single fiction piece in thirty days.

I've mentioned on numerous occasions and in various interviews that The Summerlark Elf was a NaNo book. One, I should add, that I was successful in completing in the allotted time frame. That was three years ago, and between then and now, a lot has changed for me. A lot.

In 2014 and 2015, I forewent taking part in NaNo for a number of reasons. The most prominent of these reasons was that, following that first NaNo, I started working full-time consistently. As I spent the bulk of 2014 working on The Missing Thane's War, I found that the days when I was able to write 1500+ words (the daily NaNo goal is 1667) were fewer and fewer, and as any author will tell you, nothing cuts into your writing time quite like life.

Besides, by the time November 2014 came around I was getting ready to release Thane, and figured I'd have plenty of time to write The Council of Tymenthia, so why try to stress myself out more than I needed to?

2015 came and went in a whirlwind. My brother got engaged, Realmwalker happened, people were starting to take notice of my work. I spent nearly a year working diligently on Council, and I believe that it is the best thing I've written and published so far. I had a second draft out to my beta readers by that October, and was getting ready to work on Collapse of Kingdoms, the final book in the saga.

After a year of work, I had less than 40,000 words to show for it.

For any number of reasons, my work on Collapse was glacial, and by the end of the summer it was finally starting to irk me that it was taking so long. I was better than the person who was satisfied pecking out maybe 500 words and calling it a day. I lit a fire under myself in October, trying to get back into the habit of writing 1000 words per day. It's a good number, and when you maintain it you feel the progress.
Halfway through the month, I committed to doing NaNoWriMo 2016, if only for my own good. As of time of writing, December 1st, I wrote 33,000 words in the month of November.

I didn't win. I wasn't able to beat the challenge.

It wasn't for lack of trying, and if we're being perfectly honest, about 40 to 45 percent of the whole first draft for Collapse was written this month. I wrote an average of 1100 words per day (nearly 4000 of which were, admittedly, written in the last 24 hours). I'm proud of what I accomplished, even if it wasn't enough to get the job done 100%.

Among other things, NaNo 2016 was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on who I was when I wrote Summerlark vs. who I am now. So, I figured I'd list off some of the major then/now differences I've come across over the last 30 days:

  1. I am so much busier!
    I think this is just part and parcel with myself and my siblings all being of the age where great life changes are happening. As I mentioned above, my younger brother got engaged in 2015, and was married this past June, shortly before my sister got engaged, which was just a few months before I got engaged. Weddings and the like can really affect your average day-to-day, you guys. Add this to my aforementioned full-time job, and you find that the finite number of hours you have in a given day begin to feel a lot more finite than you're used to.
  2. Beginnings are easy. Endings, on the other hand...
    Summerlark was my first book, and the first in a series. I'm notoriously what a lot of writers like to refer to as a "pantser", or someone who tends not to outline a book before writing it. This works great for a first book, when you can write completely off-the-cuff. Collapse, however? This is the last one. I'm playing for all the beans, and story threads that I wantonly flung about three years ago need to come together. Like it or not, the further into a series you get, the more planning each new book requires, and that takes time, time that could be spent writing. This, however, also ties into my next point...
  3. I have become much pickier about my own work.
    This is something that I feel I can take pride in. One of the key components in any writer's evolution is moving past the point when you can't tell if what you're writing is any good, to recognizing that what you are writing is not terrible, this sort of self-criticism state of nirvana, where you can both recognize your flaws without being crippled by them, and recognize your strengths without being blinded by them. The development of such self-arbitration, however, comes with the price of maybe being a bit more cautious with the keys in some circumstances.

Now, aside from the comparative realizations I've come across this past month, there were some discoveries I made that, in many ways, I needed NaNo 2016 to show me. The most pointed of these is also the reason I am probably most thankful I gave NaNo a whirl again this year:
I have the ability to write 1700, 2000, even 3700 words in a day, but it's okay if occasionally I don't.
More than anything else, I needed NaNo this year to get me back into good writing habits. I hate to admit it, but I spent a lot of this past year telling myself that I was too tired to write today, or that the words just weren't coming. Writing can be like rolling a boulder down a series of hills and valleys. Getting started can be an obscene amount of work, sometimes for a bit longer than you'd like, but unless you keep pushing, that boulder will never move.

Oh, and by the way, I should have the first draft of Collapse finished in the next couple of weeks now.

Walk Down the Street and Sing a Happy Song, To Make the World Better

I'm going to forewarn you all now, this post is going to be somewhat meandrous.

I've had a long, exhausting day. I've had a lot of them lately, and I'm sure many of you reading this have been or are in a similar boat as mine. It's hard to muster up the energy to do anything come the end of the day. Heck, half the time it's hard to muster up the energy to do anything by the time the day's half over. It's easy to let it get to you. For a while I really let it get to me. When I released Council, I did a guest blog post where I talked about the tricks I used to maximize writing time. Last October I tweeted that I had started working on Collapse, and nearly a year later I don't even have a finished first draft to show for it.

At some point, I lost my way. I started only writing during the hour at work when I should ostensibly be feeding myself, and maybe relaxing. I would get home and vegetate. Five hundred words a day became a pat on my own back.

Some nights, though, I would suddenly become talkative. Some of you who follow me on Twitter have probably seen my late-night ramblings about music as I spend hours going down the rabbit hole of YouTube punk rock cover songs. Other than that, my nights have, of late, been relegated mostly to catching up on podcasts, watching the odd goofy YouTube show, or idly logging more hours on Skate 3 than probably the rest of the world combined has managed in the last three years.

Somehow, it didn't click with me until tonight, going from feeling like my extremities had all been lead weighted to gaining a burst of energy that came way too fast for it to have been the few sips of coffee I'd managed. Deciding, on a whim, to pull up a few YouTube videos of Toronto punk rock darlings Pup.

I have, since my teenage years, written almost exclusively to music. A part of me always saw it more out of habit than necessity, though. I mean, yes, writing a politics paper while listening to NOFX is certainly apropos, and I admit I wrote Summerlark listening to Bach more or less the entire time, but in those and every other case, it was a means to serve an end. If I'm writing, I need to concentrate, and in order to do that I need to tune the rest of the world out. How better to do that than by listening to music?

The truth is, music has informed my storytelling since I first started thinking of stories to tell. I've been storyboarding daydreams since I hit the age where music began to mean something in my life. Heck, if I'm being totally honest, I'm sure I could think of a few times in my life when I actively tried to score my own life with the soundtrack I chose.

So here I am, making full use of my Spotify account, and somehow managing to write my second blog post in the last month despite wanting nothing more than to find the nearest soft surface and drift into complete torpor not three hours earlier. I suppose I'd better get back to writing Collapse before the magic wears off.

The lead singer from the mid-00s Brampton punk band Bombs Over Providence once wrote lyrics speaking of "when my heroes spoke through headphones, and my victories all had soundtracks", as though it was a time long passed. I think that for some of us it's important that we hold onto those times.

Now if you'll all excuse me, I plan to use NaNoWriMo to help me finish off this book, and that involves me getting back into the kind of shape that lets me write 1,700 words a day again.

Cue up that training montage.

How Do You Structure a Good Narrative? Find Out... In the Adventure Zone!

So everyone who reads this blog probably knows that I am a huge fan of audio books. Last month, I had the opportunity to take advantage of Audible's two-for-one sale to pick up Seraphina and A Darker Shade of Magic.

I promptly devoured both books in under a month.

The only problem with getting through more than one book I really enjoy that quickly, is that my expectations run so high that, unless my next book really grabs me off the bat, I tend to kind of slough through it. No discredit to the title I'm currently on, but I've only gotten about half an hour into it so far... and it's been a few weeks.

What I have been listening to, as a sort of palate cleanser, is a ton of podcasts. One of which is the purpose of this long-overdue post; a fortnightly D&D podcast called The Adventure Zone.

The podcast follows a 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign played by the McElroy family, who are behind a number of the other podcasts I've found myself addicted to over the past months. Griffin, the youngest brother, DMs the homebrew campaign, and his older brothers Justin and Travis, and their father Clint, play the roles of Taako the elf wizard, Magnus the human fighter, and Merle the dwarf cleric respectively.

The campaign, now a little over two years running, started out as a side-episode of the brothers' flagship podcast, My Brother, My Brother, and Me, and was essentiallythe family running through the Lost Mines of Phandelver module that came with the 5e starter set. As one might imagine, the quartet weren't taking themselves too seriously. I mean, 5e was still brand new, only Griffin and Travis had ever played any D&D before, and c'mon, Justin named his character Taako.

Quickly, however, the pet project took on a life of its own, with Griffin crafting his own spin on the Forgotten Realms setting, setting the heroes up with an organization known as the Bureau of Balance, charging them with the reclamation of a number of potentially world-ending artifacts. Taako, Magnus, and Merle are often flippant, if not downright ignorant as to the dire implications of their mission, and with often cartoonish NPCs being manned by Griffin, the podcast and the narrative it weaves goes heavy on the humor with an occasional beat of seriousness, probably as a means of making sure the game didn't devolve into little more than MBMBaM with dice.

About a year ago, however, there was a noticeable shift in tone. The stakes with each new mission were getting higher. More of the world and the inhabitants that Griffin had created were being revealed. The PCs, while still generally maintaining their devil-may-care attitudes, started to form real connections with one another, and with a number of the NPCs. Each of the missions, or story arcs, has become a little more nuanced, a little more serious. Comedy has become less the backbone of the narrative, and more the necessary pressure-release-valve. The past two episodes, the last two of the arc The Eleventh Hour, have been some of the most emotionally taxing storytelling I've come across in a while.

I've never talked about it here before, but one of my most favourite storytelling techniques across media is this sort of sliding scale of levity and seriousness. Final Fantasy IX, Trigun, Love Hina, The City Stained Red, Riyria, and so many more I can't think to name all share this pattern of starting off light, humorous, borderline irreverent in some cases, only to gradually reach the point of throat-punching your heart repeatedly by their eventual resolutions. It allows the audience to more quickly connect with characters, I think, when their quirkier sides are allowed to shine so completely. It plants the seeds of real investment that get cultivated as the characters start to really get put through the ringer, and by each story's climax the audience finds that they, like the characters they've grown to love, are now hanging on for dear life. This technique is one that I've desperately tried to hone in my own storytelling, and frankly it's almost infuriating to see that the McElroys have managed to capture it with such elegance.

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I cannot recommend The Adventure Zone enough. It transcends being simply a real-play Dungeons and Dragons podcast and is truly just quality storytelling, regardless of whether or not you're a fan to tabletop RPGs. You can probably start off with the next episode, as it will be the start of a new arc, but you're doing yourself a disservice by not starting from the beginning.

Oh, and I mentioned this on Tumblr, but it bears repeating: If Travis McElroy, or anyone Travis-adjacent is reading this: I will make time in my writing schedule to aid in the novelization of Magnus Burnsides' backstory, happily.

A Playdate in Someone Else's Sandbox

I was going to make some kind of glib comment about missing a post this month, but then I looked through my blog history and realized that the day I keep a regular blog schedule on this website is the day I'm replaced by a lizardman wearing my skin. As such, should you begin to see a consistent pattern emerge in this blog's schedule, dear readers, I humbly ask that you rise up and exact retribution in my name. Thanks in advance for that.

February has been a super eventful month, you guys. I did an interview with the local radio station of a township not far from me, which was a lot of fun. The interviewer, who hosts a weekly show called Shelf Life, was a librarian at the library I'll be visiting in May, and as soon as the radio station gets their website in ship-shape (it's currently under construction) I'll post a link to the interview over on the Interviews and Other Media page. Past that, I've been trying to get all my ducks in a row for my next Chapters signing next week, as well as Ad Astra in April.

Oh yeah, I guess I've been writing a bit, too.

In truth, I've been writing quite a bit this month. As I told you guys in my last post, I'm working on a submission for Realmwalker Publishing Group's Legacy anthology currently, and man have I been enjoying it. If I'm being honest, I don't think this project could have come at a better time. I certainly don't want you guys to think that I got burned out on Four Kingdoms book three or anything like that, but the fact of the matter is that I have, for roughly the last fourteen months or so, been spending the bulk of my free time working on this series. It has been an amazing, rewarding, enriching experience, to be sure, and I do not regret a single moment up to this point. That being said, it has also been incredibly exhausting.

Maybe it's just the way my brain works, but if I keep doing the same thing for a long period of time, especially something creative, I find my creative well begins to dry up. Motivation withers in favour of mechanization, and frankly I'm not the type who can just go through the motions and fix it up later. Looking back at my old blog Between Two Junkyards is a great example of how dangerous this can be for me as a writer, because as soon as I allowed myself to slip a little, the blog posts that I managed to update on a pretty frequent and consistent basis began to trickle, both in quantity and quality.

Creeping toward 2015, I found that almost every time I sat down to work on book three I was asking myself more questions than I was actually putting words on the page. It wasn't healthy for the progression of this series, and it certainly wasn't healthy for my creative process. I suppose taking a break from writing altogether to allow my batteries to recharge was a possibility, and I'm sure there are writers who are able to do that, but the metaphorical lightbulb that is my mind seems not to be powered by lithium ion, but by one of those kinetic-energy science fair projects that involves an exercise bike.

Enter Legacy. The anthology is pretty interesting in that, rather than having a group of authors write stories set in their own worlds that are all thematically related, those of us submitting stories are working within the world of one of the Realmwalker titles, each of us contributing a story that ties into the history of a prominent family therein. The best part is that, while the submission packet offered the various prompts and necessary rudimentary information, we were more-or-less given carte blanche otherwise. I don't know that I have felt this much raw inspiration while writing since I was working on the first draft of The Summerlark Elf. Though I'm still not cracking out the kind of word counts I was back then (I'd have finished this short story weeks ago if I were), what I am clocking on the page when I write is stuff that I always feel good about.

Best of all? Since working on this short story I have had ideas sprouting like mushrooms in a rainforest for book three. In a perfect world, I'd be juggling the two with ease, but the reality is that I only have so many hours in a given day, and while I'm on a deadline for Legacy, I only have the barest semblance of one for my own novels, giving the former precedence at the moment. Know, though, that once I send this story off to my betas I will be charging back headlong into Olhean with a vengeance.

With any luck, Legacy will open up some new opportunities to do more work like this in the future. I guess sometimes everyone needs a change of scenery. If not, maybe I'll try my hand at the odd Four Kingdoms short story here and there and post them here on the website.

What do you think, guys? Would you be up for the odd 10,000 word story in between novels? Let me know in the comments, and I'll see you all in March.

In Which I Discuss Projects, Writing and Otherwise

It just seems like a good day for a blog post, I suppose.

January has been a slower month than I would have liked. Maybe I can attribute that to a general post-holiday consumer dearth, I guess. Maybe people are too caught up with books received over said holidays. Having not had a prior January with which to compare book sales, it's difficult to say, and as such I can't exactly pay it that much mind, an author's journey being a marathon rather than a sprint, and all that.

If nothing else, January kind of seemed like a setup month for what is looking to be a pretty adventurous year. I updated the Upcoming Appearances Page a couple weeks back, which is confirmed events, and therefore excludes the signings at Chapters locations in Toronto, of which dates are being discussed, as well as cons I haven't yet confirmed (Anime North and FanExpo).

Further, I will be doing a radio interview with the awesome people at the Stouffville Public Library next week, and a Reddit AMA over at /r/Fantasy on the 18th. The interview will be pre-recorded, and I imagine will appear in a digital format that I will link to as soon as I'm able. All whilst working full-time and slowly chipping away at book three.

If this sounds like complaining, it isn't. I enjoy keeping busy. I recently had a conversation with my mom and my sister, musing about the fan-favourite hypothetical of winning the lottery, and when I had offered that I would just quit my job and write, my sister balked at the notion.

"You couldn't do it." she said, assuming that I had meant simply becoming an eccentric millionaire hermit who spent sixteen hours a day weaving tales. "You're the only person I know who does the dishes when he has the flu because he can't just relax."

She's right, of course. Sleeping in past (maybe) 10am, doing nothing all day, spending time in pajamas whilst not sleeping; these things all drive me kind of nuts. I can remember going to Cuba some years ago, and having a hard time coping with the idea of spending a week sitting by a pool. I am, by nature, a borderline frenetic individual. This is why I am looking forward to everything I have on my plate for 2015 so far, on top of taking on an additional writing project.

Yup, a small publisher called Realmwalker Publishing is releasing a multi-author short story anthology called Legacy. Unlike most fantasy anthologies, which have authors writing stories that are thematically similar only, this book centres around the timeline of a family of wizards within one of the Realmwalker series, each story serving as a snapshot of an important event in the family's history. I'll probably have to take a few weeks hiatus from working on the next Four Kingdoms book, but I have to admit that it's going to be interesting, even a little refreshing, to take a step back from Olhean for a while and play in someone else's world.

Oh, that reminds me. Olhean? That's the name of my world. There's actually a good deal more about the world that I plan on posting onto the site at some point. Let me know what you guys might like to see in the comments!

P.S. Don't everyone get excited and congratulate me on the Legacy thing yet - it's an open submission format, and they announce who they've chosen all the way in June. Sending me some positive mojo would be much appreciated, though.

New Year, New Fun, New Me

First off, points to whoever guesses what I'm paraphrasing above.

Hey everyone, it's 2015! I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. I know I got to spend lots of time with friends and loved ones, ate entirely too much food, and generally basked in the joviality that is ever-present during the year's denouement. I even got a little bit of writing done, which was exciting. This time last year, I was waiting on my beta readers to finish their early drafts of The Summerlark Elf, so the thought of how the craziness of December might affect my writing time/energy just didn't occur to me. As it stands now, I'm about 14,000 words into book three, and decided last night to get into a head space where I hopefully won't be dragging my heels across the page for a little while. The momentum is nice, because it feels like something I haven't got a chance to really reach just yet with this book.

We'll see how long it takes before you guys read my next blog post, wherein I lament the fact that I feel like I'm just a hack who may as well be scrawling in crayon across old newspapers. You laugh, but you know it's coming.

Writers are weird, okay?

I had planned on this post being reflective and introspective, what with the whole "full year as a writer" milestone passed (admittedly it's been about fourteen months, but it's been a while since my last blog post, and New Years is always thematically apropos). I admit, it's odd looking back on where I was this time last year. I feel like I've progressed leaps and bounds, not only in my writing, but in everything in the periphery that, one year ago, I had no idea being an author entailed.

I think that, aside from the whole writing and publishing two novels and a picture book in one year thing, I'm most proud of what I'm starting to achieve in terms of networking, of finding opportunities to get my work out there. I've talked about the cons I worked, and of my bookstore appearance this past October, but plans are in motion right now for some projects that a) will be bigger and better than what I got up to last year, and b) are farther in scope than I could have possibly seen myself planning a year ago. I can't go into any details just yet, as everything is very much in its infancy, but rest assured that I will keep you all posted, dear readers, and that I will try my best not to disappoint.

Happy New Year, everyone!

To Thine Own Books Be True

I've been listening to a lot of Michael J Sullivan audiobooks lately. Binge listening, if you will. For those unaware, Michael wrote the Riyria Revelations series, the prequel Riyria Chronicles books, and is currently in the midst of authoring the First Empire series, which predates the events of the initial books further still. Since September, I've listened to the audiobook versions of the Riyria books almost exclusively. Prior to that, I listened to the two free Riyria short stories offered on Audible. I've talked briefly with Michael himself over Goodreads, Twitter, and Reddit, all three of which he is an active member of. As an author who made a success of his series through self-publishing before signing on with Orbit Books, Michael is kind of a folk hero among self-pub fantasy authors.

I guess you could say I'm kind of a fan.

During FanExpo, I worked through the awkward art of pitching The Summerlark Elf to complete strangers. During the pitches, I tried to think of more popular and familiar fantasy series' that I could use for comparison. Having listened to the Riyria short stories, which featured sell-swords, witty dialogue, and mention of dwarves and elves, I figured I wasn't unjustified in likening my books to Michael's in some respects. Right now, I'm roughly a quarter of the way through Heir of Novron, the last book of the series (I listened to the prequels first), and I have, over my span of time with Riyria, realized that I cannot, in good faith, ever liken my books to Michael's ever again.

The Riyria books are meticulous and masterful in their depictions of a medieval/Renaissance-esque world, so much so that I can honestly say that I think I've learned more about certain aspects of European history from these books than I had from my textbooks when I studied history in university. Everything from the Church of Novron to the treatment of mir (the half-elves of Elan), feels so well-planned that it feels like an alternate-reality earth. My books are... less so.

For a couple of days, this fact bothered me, and dredged up a bit of a case of imposter syndrome within me. What kind of paltry stuff am I writing? So much of my world feels patchworked, fast and loose by comparison. There are so many nuances of medieval warfare, of the social hierarchies of nobility, that I haven't put thought into. How will people enjoy my books if they aren't as believable?

Here's the funny thing, and it's a thing that I'm glad I realized sooner rather than later. My world isn't as thoroughly premeditated as Elan because I am not Michael J Sullivan, and that's okay.

It's very arguable that I write fantasy that's distinctly more "light" than a good number of other books on the market, but I don't think that fact is to the books' discredit. I have received a number of very positive reviews of The Summerlark Elf, and recently of The Missing Thane's War. Heck, I was recently compared to Terry Brooks! This doesn't mean that I've fooled myself into thinking that I'm some kind of master crafter of epic tomes that will be lauded for their contribution to the literary world, but at the same time, I'm proud of what I create, and the fact that it resonates with people on some level. Sometimes people want fun, and light, and I'm more than happy that I have produced (and continue to produce) books that allow people to scratch that itch.

Seriously, though, my books are pretty short, and I've only just started the third. Go read the Riyria books in the meantime. They're awesome.

In Which I Write Some Words, Preen About Said Words, and Eat Other Words

It's done, you guys. The Missing Thane's War is finally finished.

Well... not entirely finished per se... the first draft is finished, which, to be fair, is still a 61,500 word gorilla off my back. I still need to do a bit of editing on some things that I realized needed tweaking in hindsight before I ship a beta draft out to be pored over, but I took the day off from my manuscript today (I've been working on it more or less consistently since April, I figured I could take a day).

Part of what I did to preoccupy the time I otherwise allocated to this next book was to pore over the new fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook.

Yes, I know... I just finished complaining the other week about how Wizards of the Coast unceremoniously abandoned my edition of choice, but I did maintain that I'd keep an open mind about 5e. Well, last weekend I started running the 5e starter set adventure The Lost Mines of Phandelver with five players, two of whom had next to no DnD experience. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed running the game (which included five pre-generated characters) so much, that this past week I caved and bought the PHB, having all available character options now gloriously at my disposal.

I wanted to see how character creation felt with the new system, even though as a DM I really have no reason to roll up my own characters, so I decided to see how well one could customize a character by rolling up the four protagonists from The Summerlark Elf.

Rolling up Enna, an elf wizard, took me longer than anyone else, in part because she was the first character I created, and in part because any class that has spells to choose will inherently take longer to create. It took me about ninety minutes using just the PHB and the form-fillable character sheets provided on the DnD website, but after rolling up one character it was easy to get the gist of it, and I was able to roll up O'doc, my final creation, in about forty minutes.

It was a fun exercise, and I have to say I think I was able to create pretty good representations of my characters. I wanted to share the results, so here they are! Feel free to print them off for your own group, and see what kind of messes you can get my characters into (and out of)!





That Clicking Feeling

Generally speaking, I'm a pretty analog guy. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of things that have been made better or easier by technology, and I willingly admit that I indulge in many of these conveniences daily, but there are several archaic practices that I prefer simply because they feel better. I genuinely prefer the feeling of holding a book and turning the pages, of flipping through D&D manuals to write up a character sheet with a pencil. There's something visceral in these kinds of actions that one simply cannot get swiping a finger across a screen or using a point-and-click software that fills in the blanks for you. Among this list of serotonin-seeping sensory triggers, right up there with power chords and no-complies, is the feeling of fingers across a nice loud keyboard.

The sound is a big part of it, I think, especially when rifling off a string of words in rapid succession. It's similar to what I imagine fighting game enthusiasts feel when they keep piling onto a combo. It sounds and feels like progress, like you're really getting something done.

I wrote the first draft of The Summerlark Elf for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In order to "win" NaNo, I had to write an average of 1,667 words per day for thirty days. During the month of November 2013, I threw myself so entirely into writing that initial draft. I woke up and wrote before going to work, and stayed up until one or two in the morning after work to keep writing. My older brother gave me an old tablet so that I could write on the go, which I did: on the bus to or from seeing Deanna, or on break at work. I even bought a bluetooth keyboard to help streamline the act of writing on said tablet.

I was hungry, driven, and committed. I made sure that I tried my hardest to clock in those 1,667 words every day. I chided myself if I didn't, and resolved to make up the difference the next day. When all was said and done, I passed the 50,000 word goal, and even managed to do so a few days early.

Writing the second book has been... different. There are probably a number of things I could chalk it up to, say the fact that I'm working more hours in a more mentally engaging position at work, or the fact that this book is taking on a broader scope than the first, with more characters and plot-points, but what it comes down to is that, comparatively, I have written roughly 36,000 words in the last four months. I am effectively writing in one week what I used to write in one day. I still write on my breaks at work, but that has been more or less the only time I've written, and there are days where I simply look at a blinking cursor for forty-five minutes, and maybe write a paragraph or two of dialogue, if only for the sake of getting a few words down, to say that I wrote something that day. The fact of the matter is, though, on days like that I don't feel like I get that clicking feeling.

So, what is one to do? I'm not giving up, if that's what you're afraid that I'm eluding to, fine readers. Worry not, the story is far from over. What I need to do, however, is figure out how best to fix up my routine, to recapture that frothing motivation that coursed through me like a disease last November. I've got a few ideas, and I'll no doubt report their efficacy to you all as I try them out, but for now, I'm simply content to be writing down this blog post, to get that feeling of a barrage of clicks under my fingers, that sound of ideas coming to life.

A Book by Any Other Medium

So, here's the thing about being a writer who, incidentally, lacks the time and means to be a writer exclusively: time tends to be a commodity that is precious, and oftentimes scant. As such, any time that I don't dictate to writing is usually reserved for a full-time job, household duties, the maintenance of relationships, and all the other things that a normal, functioning human does on a day-to-day basis. I'm not complaining by any means, but to offer an example, I just took a break mid-sentence to help move a table from my dining room. I guess you could say free time is a bit tight. The biggest issue in this is that I don't have nearly enough time to do the one thing that every writer ought to do (barring, of course, actually writing), read.

Now, when I was younger, I had always thought the idea of audiobooks was dumb, and kind of lazy. As I got older, and therein dropped all my adolescent pretense, I simply eschewed the format out of personal preference. Nowadays, I find myself in a position where, without the audiobook format, I would not have become familiarized with the writings of HP Lovecraft, nor would I have ever come across Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek, which was a huge inspiration for me during my time spent writing The Summerlark Elf. Most recently, I decided to start consuming more fantasy fiction, for the simple fact that, despite the fact that I am a fantasy author myself, I am painfully under-read in the genre. So now, thanks to the fact that I can listen as I cook, or clean, or commute, I managed to get through the first book of Ursula K LeGuin's Earthsea Cycle in less than a week, albeit whilst Pat Rothfuss' Wise Man's Fear has been sitting in a half-read state on my end table for a couple of months now (sorry, Pat...).

I imagine some of the people reading this have already read A Wizard of Earthsea. If you haven't, do so, because it is a classic for a reason. If so, I encourage you to give the audiobook a listen, even if you do have time to read. The narrator, Rob Inglis, is nothing short of perfection, and I am very much looking forward to delving into the rest of the cycle, largely because of his job on book one. If ever there was a want for audio versions of my books, he'd be the first person I'd look up.