Sundering the Gods: Inspirations Part 2

“Snores are Life” is one of my favorite chapter titles in Trail of Pyres, but where did it come from?

I grew up in an old Victorian era farm house, one of those places with a back servant’s stair and a dirt floor basement. Crawlspaces and strange little doors in the basement were the home to trolls or other critters… I never saw one, but life was more interesting with trolls in the basement.

So, my bedroom as a little kid was across the living room from my parents’ bedroom. When I woke up in the middle of the night, concerned that perhaps the trolls were wandering up from the basement, or crazed killers might’ve invaded the house… or worse… clowns, there was one thing to assure me that everyone in the house wasn’t already dead:

Snoring.

Yes, both my parents sawed a log pretty much every night. If I heard them in the other room, all was well!

Now you know.

Game of Thrones HBO Structural Issue

First off, this post is not an argument against character endings or anything of the sort. Who dies, who lives, who does what, I’m not even going to mess with. What we are going to look at is the structure of Game of Thrones and how (in my opinion) the HBO writers blew it. Does Martin share in the blame? Who knows. Nor am I trying to say it was horrible, I’m good with the ending, but it should’ve been better.

In order to see the structural point I’m going to make it’s best to just see how Martin structured the story at the very beginning, the prologue to Game of Thrones where we meet Ser Waymar Royce (which is nice, because historically my last name was Royce until it got switched in the US). What Martin establishes in the prologue is the Main Plot. Later, the war for the Seven Kingdoms is established, and it is the B-Plot, too big to be a typical subplot, but still beneath the Main Plot. In between all of these are a bunch of subplots we don’t need to worry about.

There is one other great way to establish that the Night King’s threat is the Main Plot. The first is this Epic question: Which plot line is the greater threat? Ding! The Night King. The Night King doesn’t want the throne, he wants to wipe out all of humanity! Who else knows this is the main plot? Well, Mr. Snow for certain, he runs around proclaiming that the Iron Throne is not the issue, its humans surviving as a species. The Iron Throne is secondary, and he is the driving cheerleader in the effort to convince us (the viewers) AND all the other characters of this simple fact. He might as well be screaming, jumping up and down, and pointing: The Main Plot is over here! So, the Main Plot is the Night King. Nothing else compares.

One major complaint for the HBO ending is being anti-climatic. Why? Simple.

HBO’s version of Game of Thrones climaxes in Season 8 Episode 3 with the death of the Night King.

Let that sink in for a minute. 

How did y’all react to that death? Yeah! Hell yes! Woohoo! and all kinds of variants, right? Unless of course you were cheering for the bad guys. But either way…

The climax to any story is the end of the Main Plot, GoT is no different. 

Episode 3. Climax.

This leaves the viewer with 4.5 hours of denouement. What the writers did was to Climax the Main Plot, THEN climax the B-Plot, with Cersei’s defeat. There was no way not to be anti-climatic without (maybe) Cersei winning.

From a basic story-telling structural point of view, what they needed to do was end Cersei’s chance of winning first (end the B-Plot), then go fight the Night King. What does this achieve, aside from putting the Climax where it belongs? And that’s a huge deal, but…

Instead of Cersei’s weak plan, she says screw you right up front, war commences… Let’s keep things basically how they played out. Deanerys lights up King’s Landing, just goes berserk as we saw. Instead of Sansa and others questioning her ability to lead before she’s proven to be like her father, WOW! Everybody except the most loyal is questioning what the hell’s going on.

The tension we have built heading into the war against the Night King would be through the roof, if done right. You can’t get rid of her, she’s your main hope to defeat the Night King and the army of the dead. But she just roasted tens of thousands of innocents! Drama drama drama, and not just a bunch of characters sitting around yacking at each other while waiting for the army of the dead to arrive, and waxing poetic about their dooms. We’re talking high and immediate drama whenever the Night King dies… which was inevitable.

Now that’s tension, and tension is what story telling’s all about. The infighting could be fierce, damned near ready to tear each other apart before the Night King even arrives. Arya kills the Night King! Damn! Woohoo! But smash! We’re straight into what do we do about this crazy Queen?

But most importantly, the Main Plot climaxes where it should climax, and the B-Plot climaxes where it should climax, and we only need an episode to clean up the loose ends in the denouement. 

Nobody different needs to live or die or change their endings at all, all you have to do is flip the climaxes into the correct order. 

Inspirations: Part One

I recently posted a photo of the family dog, Lincoln, claiming he inspired all the bad evil creatures in Eve of Snows… but this is a fib. He wasn’t even a part of the family while EoS was written. However, another dog was an inspiration.

Hunter is a Golden Doodle, but he is black as night. Pure black, although he’s old enough now to sport a few silver hairs on his muzzle. Anyhow, I live on about 10 acres, and one moonless night I was walking back to the house from the shed, and it was just one of the darkest nights I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t know every fall and rise between the shed and house, as well as every bush and tree that might get in my way, it would’ve been unnerving.

There was barely a light on at the house, and my wife must’ve let Hunter out. So, I’m about halfway to the house and I sense there’s something coming. I stop and stare but I can see nothing at all, then I hear something moving fast. My brain says “Hunter” but hey, it could be a puma! Right? Except it circled me instead of killing me, so I said “Hunter?” and a piece of darkness a little bit darker than the rest of the night came at me and stuck a nose into my hand.

And still, I really couldn’t see him.

From there I started calling him my Shadow Hound, and a critter for the Sister Continents formed in my brain. Readers haven’t read of the Shadow Hounds yet, but here’s a photo of the dog who inspired them.

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Challenges Part 2: Trail of Pyres

Trail of Pyres is a novel with endings, but those storylines just don’t want to get there!

Oh Sam, just to get there…

I have been condensing the time frame for ToP  considerably. The first concept was for the book to take place over the span of a couple years, but once I got going, it became apparent that I’d end up with a 500k word novel if I did justice to subplots in my head.

The Tek, aka the Hundred Nations, are a people constantly at war with each other, and Ivin and the crew were going to get neck deep in the politics there… but it turns out, they’re only going to get knee deep. The reader will get a solid introduction to the Hundred Nations (in particular the Hidreng and a couple other Teks) including their religious pantheon, known as the Hokandite. I’ll stop there to save spoilers, but let it be said, the Silone gods don’t have a monopoly on cruelty.

So anyhow, by limiting the exposure to the Hundred Nations I save lots and lots of pages, but to do so, I needed to compress the time frame since most of the action gets cut. I think you’ll notice plenty of little plot hooks sitting in the Tek area which will make people think “there’s a story there”. Of course, I want people to think that all the time! Even characters you meet for a little while should feel like their lives are ongoing even when we’re not watching.

Lots of mental battles were fought over what to include and what to cut, but I think I’ve got those worked out. The trick then was that characters needed to age, but I didn’t want to just skip ahead in time between books 2 & 3.

This is where book 2.5, Solineus, saved the day. The original intent for 2.5 was limited in scope, but with time needing to pass, Solineus presented the perfect opportunity to play around, allowing me to dig deep into another culture: The Eight Kingdoms, aka the Kingdomers.

Challenges figured out! Except! The moment I declared a release date for Trail of Pyres, I realized I needed a major change, plus! the aforementioned plot lines are NOT wanting to reach their ends. 

Wish me luck, that challenge has yet to be defeated.

Challenges, Part 1: Eve of Snows

The first challenge:

Eve of Snows was intended to be shopped out for traditional publication, and in that world one will find that a book from an unknown author which pushes above 120,000 words is at a severe disadvantage, even in epic fantasy. I kind of dismissed this for a while, but there’s no doubt it’s true, no matter what evidence you might see on bookshelves. Even in contests, it’s just a hideous little rule.

Believe it or not, I did have Eve of Snows down to 120k, but its published length is over 140k. I sent that off to my wonderful editor and! by the time we were through, it was back over 150k. G’grief. That’s when my brain went into buzzsaw mode and cut it down to the 140k area, chopping out a bunch of fatty little words. It was remarkable what could be achieved, even if it didn’t get close to 120k ever again. In fact, I had a version down to 130k to send out to traditional publishers.

So what happened then? I had spent about a year researching agents and publishers and conventions, where and with whom to rub elbows, all that gibberish, when it struck me… I’m going to query three of the top agents and send out chapters to TOR Publishing, and if no one bites, I’m going Indie Author. This was pretty much a decision to go Indie, because getting any of those to bite would’ve been like finding Wonka’s Golden Ticket. So, really, Challenge #1 was thrown under the bus, length no longer mattered. Still, part of Eve of Snows was kicked into Book 2, Trail of Pyres.

Which brings me to Challenger #2: 140k words, a sprawling, complicated plot, and less than a month in Sister Continent time to get to the end. It was a little Smokey and the Bandit, a long ways to go, and a short time to get there. This causes some issues: Logistics, all the characters need to be where they need to be when they need to be there… Plus, Glimdrem’s character (originally in Eve of Snows) could only be put on the sidelines for so long to make things congeal between Books 1 & 2. You’ll see this, as Book 2, Trail of Pyres, starts with a chapter set well before the Eve of Snows.

Challenge #3 is a combination of #1 & #2: How much world building and description to include in order to A: keep word count down, and B: keep the pacing to feel like something happening in a short span of time. My theory was that if I went “full epic” with detail and maybe even by including another POV character or two, the book would get so damned big that it would no longer feel like it was happening in under a month’s time. EoS could have wrung the bell at 200-250,000 words. As a friend commented once about one chapter: George Martin would’ve taken a hundred pages for this. While that might be an exaggeration, he had a point. But, would EoS at 200,000 words have the feel I was shooting for? I decided no. 

Next up, the Challenges involved with Trail of Pyres, which kind of flips the script with Eve of Snows.

Influences Part 3: At the Movies

Full disclosure: I studied screenwriting (UCLA) and therefore have watched a stupid number of movies while analyzing story structure and other details. This has probably made me a hard sell when it comes to movies later in life, heh heh. So before we even get to particular movies, one can say without question that screenwriting has influenced my writing. If you take a look at Eve of Snows, you will see very few instances of certain words, like “started” and “began”. Why? These two words are often used by a writer to describe an action, but what they instead do (in many cases) is create a freeze frame image instead of a motion picture. If I use these words outside of dialogue, they will in all likelihood be the start of an action interrupted by another action, which keeps the action flowing. In screenwriting, you don’t want to paint in static pictures, and I rather like that notion when translated to novels.

But anyhow, movies as influences. It might seem peculiar, but I can’t come up with an epic style “fantasy” movie which has influenced my writing. One could say HBO’s Game of Thrones, but! not really. Or maybe so, but in a way folks wouldn’t suspect. Eve of Snows gets a lot of Martin comparisons, but the story of Eve of Snows had zero influence directly from the Song of Ice and Fire series. If there is one thing that GoT on HBO does sort of influence… and it comes more from screenwriting experience than simply GoT… it is the focus on the big “set piece”. Those scenes that everyone is talking about the next day… Ned’s unfortunate end, the Red Wedding, Dragons igniting slavers… Yeah, those are the scenes writers and directors live for, and so I focus on creating big moments. This also happens to fit my writing methodology… but that’s a blog for another day.

One of my favorite movies of all time, and one which I have little doubt influenced the way I think of “story” is Miller’s Crossing. The twisting and conniving, the outstanding characters, the dialogue… it was a brilliant creation. There are several actors in that film that if I see them in anything else? It’s the character from Miller’s Crossing that I see.

The next you could call a “fantasy western”: High Plains Drifter. Clint Eastwood cowboy flicks are almost all good, but this one stands out as an influence because of its haunting elements… the avenging ghost, a universe much like our own, but with a tint of the surreal. I first watched this movie as a kid and it just stuck with me for the rest of my days.

Okay, I have to include Clint again, in what might be my all time favorite western: Unforgiven. Brilliant characters, English Bob! Damn, the whole cast was amazing. Its grit and realism, just a beautiful movie. If you pay attention, you will see a tint of the Old West in Eve of Snows, and more so in the upcoming Trail of Pyres.

Did I mention an avenging ghost? Ah, The Crow! This could be considered an Urban Fantasy, and it is still one of my favorite flicks. I won’t claim it was produced with the incredible art of oh… Citizen Kane (one of my all time favorites, a staggering achievement) but by the gods and hells! Does it entertain. It has a certain combination of Revenge! combined with heart wrenching sentiment that gets me every time. Liam Neeson’s Taken comes close in the revenge with heart movies, but The Crow has a mystic-spiritual element which sets it over the top for me.

Star Wars… back when people called it Star Wars and didn’t pay attention to the fact it was episode four! And Han Solo drew first! Damn straight. This is a sci-fantasy, in my opinion, and shock! has elements of Cowboy in it. (Did I mention I wrote a western screenplay? Even if I wasn’t happy with the ending… stupid ending, anyhow) In the end, I can blame Lord of the Rings (Tolkien) and Star Wars (Lucas) for much of the deformity of my brain which twisted me into a writer.

Okay, this list could go a while, so I am going to finish with… L.A. Confidential. Helluva movie and helluva script. Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce (two blokes with Aussie roots) lead a great cast, and it’s easily my favorite movie with Kim Bassinger in it. And James Cromwell, just love him. The grit and backstabbing, the classic twists and turns. Love it.

I think one could find influential elements from all of these movies in Eve of Snows.

Influences Part Two: The Classics

In the first post involving influences, I listed off several fantasy greats, but having been an English Lit major in a past life, I also encountered classics which to some degree or another influenced my tastes and style. Dostoyevski (primarily Crime and Punishment) immediately jumps to mind. A gent I think could write with anybody was Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim). I also really enjoyed Jane Austen, and perhaps without knowing it, her writing style has had a subtle influence on my writing… if my memory is correct, while I also give a nod to the Bronte sisters.

But if there is a writer I consider on top of the classic heap, it’s Charles Dickens. Dude could write. And when it comes to opening lines in a novel, he was the master. Oh sure, most people have heard at least a couple of them, but here is one of my absolute favorites, maybe not the greatest, but it hits the sense of how I visualize the world:

“Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great arm-chair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.” (Dombey and Son, 1848)

I can’t help but chuckle every time I read that. Now, on a little side note, what do I think is the greatest work of fiction in history? Now, I’m not basing this on one simple piece of criteria, such as “I loved it!” but on the fact that I love this story even when it’s told a hundred different ways. A writer must have hit on something astounding when they write a story with such lingering influence. In Epic Fantasy, you kind of have Tolkien, he essentially created a genre, but to have a story told and retold for over 175 years is remarkable. Of course, to do this requires a media other than novels: the movie. It isn’t even necessarily Dickens’ greatest work, and yet it is the most endearing, possessing qualities both timeless and essentially human, while also hitting perfect structure combined with Dickens’ uncanny ability to write and tell a story:

A Christmas Carol.

Which also has one of the greatest opening lines in the history of literature: “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Did this have an influence on my writing? Well, here’s the opening line to Eve of Snows, A Forgotten Voice:

“It will ease your worries to know you aren’t dead, but it shouldn’t.”

The basic power of the Marley opening is it gives you what is an ending: Marley is dead, and informs the reader right after that this is only the beginning. It’s a juxtaposition that hooks the mind. So, thinking on this one night, and while I had a line I liked to open Eve, I did something similar. The reader learns that they (or the character the voice is speaking to) is not dead… whew! Good news there! But, they learn they shouldn’t feel good about it, which (I hope) raises questions to hook the reader’s attention.

To borrow from mister Solo: “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.” Just because you’re alive doesn’t mean you aren’t better off having more in common with Marley: being dead as a doornail.

Influences: Part One

There seems to be an obligatory question when it comes to writers: who were your literary influences? So, I’ve given this some thought and figured out it wasn’t so simple as I might’ve thought. First, there are the influences of youth, which in this case lands squarely in the realm of the two big F’s: Family and Fantasy. My dad and uncle were story-tellers, but not writers. The morning ride to school, road-trips, bed-time, they didn’t read books to me, they made it up on the fly. So first and foremost, they are to blame. Mom was more the editor.

Which then brings me to Fantasy: Tolkien, Lewis, Donaldson, Eddings, McCaffery, Brooks, Jordan, Wurts, Friedman, Anthony, Williams (my apologies to Tad, his first book Tailchaser’s Song is still what I think of first when I hear his name), and others I’ll be embarrassed I forgot. But no matter how you slice the pie, Tolkien is the Guiding Star in the sky. His works were the first Epic Fantasies I ever read, and the finest. Nothing can touch them.

My favorite Tolkien story (going to date myself, here) goes back to the release of The Lord of the Rings movie… No! Not Peter Jackson, Ralph Bakshi. I feel old just typing that. A good friend and I were reading The Fellowship of the Ring at the time the movie came out, and conned my parents into dropping us off at the local theater. As fate would have it, there were two fantasy flicks showing that day: Wizards, along with LoTR. So, we watched those two classic animated films back to back.

That, my friends, is a glorious day.

The Fire in the Eye

In a recent ad going around on Facebook, there is an image of a woman's eye with a ball of fire and dragon's swirling around it. (SEE the Image below) A couple of people have emailed me asking if that's just a cool image, or if it had something to do with Eliles and her magic.

Yes, it is a cool image, and yes, it can be interpreted to have a little something to do with Eliles. But, the fantasy-reality here is that the image plays into the creation myth of the Sister Continents.

If you've read the Tomes of the Touched (the quotes at the beginning of chapters) you've received glimpses into the world's future, present, and past. My hope is that people read and reread these chapter intros over time as the books move along, there's more to many of them than meets the fire in the eye. So flip to Chapter Four:

Upon the creation of the world, the First Dragons cast their seed, in the light of a Sun and a Thousand Suns, Beneath the Moon and a Thousand Moons, On a world and a Thousand Worlds.

Now you might have an idea of what the image of dragons represents! It would be going into world building spoilers to explain this entire quote, so I will keep it simple. The central pupil of fire represents the Sister Continents, and those are an artistic representation of the First Dragons.

In fantasy-reality, there were more than two dragons, and there is also a debate over whether some had wings. But, this goes deeper into the mythology surrounding dragons on the Sister Continents, and so will be left for a later time.

 

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#1 Best Seller in the UK!

Sometimes things happen way faster than imagined, and this is one of them. With a £0.99 countdown deal going in the UK Eve of Snows topped the charts in Fantasy: Celtic, English & Welsh Mythology. At the same time, it hit #18 in Epic Fantasy in the Kindle Store and 1313 Overall at one point. Gotta love that number!

Just a short post today to pat Eve of Snows on its back cover.

Book 1.5: Meliu

A book teaser!

Folks who've read Sundering the Gods Book One: Eve of Snows, will hopefully recognize the name Meliu. She is a priestess in her early twenties, and a rising star amongst scholars dedicated to the study of the Pantheon of Sol. We first met her right up front in Chapter One, and she reappears later, with her major role being to return a book to the library before her fines get too crazy... Okay! Not the real motivation, but I liked the sound of it.

Anyhow, Meliu disappears in Eve of Snows, but that doesn't mean she wasn't busy. In fact, she was so busy (staying alive) that she will become a major Point of View character in Book Two: Trail of Pyres. While writing early parts of Pyres it dawned on me that it would be pretty cool to see all the backstory events this gal has been put through, and how she got where she's at.

This leads to the creation of book 1.5, a novella, which will serve as a bridge for Meliu into book 2's starring role. This book will be free to newsletter subscribers, and $0.99 on Amazon, with a tentative release in early December for the Christmas season.

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The Sister Continents

The Story of Eve of Snows takes place on the island of Kaludor, above the Northern Vandunez continent, but the world itself is known as the Sister Continents. There is a reason for this name, but this would be a spoiler which would lead into further spoilers in order to explain, so I won't go there.

During the Age of God Wars the world was dominated by a single super continent and sixteen major pantheons of gods. Initially there was (relative) peace in the world, but over the centuries the gods learned how to access the world personally for short periods, and something changed: War flared, and it didn't stop until the First Forgetting. The gods were banished from the world, and nobody remembers why. And perhaps even stranger, the world has been broken into seven continents.

But this is not the end.

The world and its magic became unstable, creating what is known as the Age of Warlords. During this period memories could disappear in a flash, islands could appear or disappear, entire civilizations disappeared. Still, the world is populated by wildly diverse and intelligent peoples, and these peoples seek solace and survival through their tenuous connections to their gods and the magic all around them. Some five hundred years after the First Forgetting comes the event known as the Great Forgetting (for most mortal peoples, this is the only forgetting they know about). Memories are wiped, pieces of land disappear (most prominent, a land bridge between Anduras and Southern Vandunez) but the world and its magic stabilizes. 

The story starts in the Sundering the Gods trilogy, but will travel around the world (perhaps even through time... a visit to the God Wars, maybe?) and span thousands of years. Until the world comes to an end... with neither a bang nor a whimper.

The First Rule of Blog Club is:

I'm not a blogger.

The second rule of blog club is "there is no hitting the author" no matter how much you might feel like destroying something beautiful. Which nature already took care of anyhow.

The third rule of blog club is "Sister Continents politics only." The real world is inundated with 24x7 insanity, and it will not cross the barrier into my fantasy musings... at least not in this blog.

So, what will you find on this blog? Borderline gibberish with an occasional bit of profundity (which you should ignore, because it will not be on purpose) followed by more deviations into the absurd. Most everything will involve writing in some manner or another.

So, with those rules in place... Welcome to the "Tomes of the Touched."

Background Art by Jon Gibbons

© 2018 L. James Rice