Monday, October 8, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged by Erik Larson to talk about the novel I have in progress in his Next Big Thing blog post. The Next Big Thing is where a writer answers ten questions about a novel he or she is working on, and then tags other authors to answer the same questions. 

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?

Umbral Heretic

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
I think these characters have been rattling around in my head in one form or another for well over a decade. I got the idea for one scene in my novel (the one where my healer character finds the protagonist beaten up and devoid of his memories) when I was walking my dog along Boulder Creek back when I was in grad school in Colorado. The idea sort of shuffled to the back of my brain, but it popped up from time to time, and I gradually fleshed it out over the years.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
I've been thinking of it as adult high fantasy, but  I'm not sure everyone agrees with my definition of the genre. I'll probably query it simply as fantasy.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is a tough question for me, as I don't spend a lot of time following celebrities, so most of my favorite actors are older now ... way too old to be playing characters in their twenties.
Both Jarrod and Tesk are reasonably tall (Jarrod around 6' and Tesk around 5'9"-5'10") and have brownish eyes and hair and are active, strong people. Most of the young actresses out there today seem to be little slips of things. Of course, Hollywood has always been good at manipulating camera angles and so forth.
Maybe for Tesk, someone who looks like Jewel Staite (though taller and more muscular). or Siebil Kekili from Game of Thrones, though both of these gals are over thirty. For Jarrod ... hmmm. Seems like most of the young actors are too pretty or too smarmy, so no one's leaping out at me.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?
A magically damaged exile must master his rogue talent and defeat a network of dark wizards who seek to return the world to a time of chaos and terror.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I hope to find an agent.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It took about a year to get a complete manuscript with no gaps in it.
I am an on the fly reviser, though, so by the time I got to the end of the manuscript, I'd rewritten parts of the first 1/2-2/3 of the book several times. The "first" draft is really more like a second draft for this reason.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?
Well, some of my favorite contemporary fantasy and sci fi writers include Lynn Flewelling, Mercedes Lackey, Robin Hobb, CJ Cherryh, Anne McCaffrey and  Glenda Larke. I think It would be arrogant to compare myself to these writers, but it is certainly true that various aspects of their narrative style, characterization and world building have influenced me more than old style fantasy writers like Tolkien, Norton or Leiber (who I also enjoy as authors).

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've been wanting to write since I was a kid and have been taking abortive forays into writing for my entire life. Aside from a couple of short stories I wrote for a class back in college, though, I never finished anything. I'm not sure why I finally got the wherewithal to finish a draft of a novel length work (and a few short stories) at last. I think I just got sort of addicted to writing for the sake of writing. It helped finding a good online writing community as well, as I've never had much luck finding a local writers' group that focuses on speculative fiction.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I feel that the book is definitely character driven, but it's set in a world that blends elements of traditional high fantasy with some newer approaches to world building. Although the story is character driven and the plot centers around intrigue and conflict between characters, there is some sword and sorcery style action and even a little romance.

It takes place in a world where the naturalistic nature of magic has informed and enhanced people's knowledge in some ways and held it back in others. It is probably about halfway along the spectrum of idealized to gritty in that it takes place in a world with plenty of unpleasantness, but most people are striving (with varying degrees of competence and success) to do the right thing and move things forward. I hope it appeals to people who like conflicted and flawed characters and a dose of realism but have grown a bit tired of fantasy and sci fi worlds that take place in very dystopian societies where no one (including the protagonists) give a damn about anything except for gaining power over others or exacting revenge.

The protagonist (Jarrod) has several apparently conflicting goals and faces plenty of external obstacles and adversaries throughout the book, but ultimately, his largest adversary may be himself. I hope some readers may find that relatable as well.

Oh yes, and there's a dog....

Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Erik Larson tagged me.

I tagged Nick Mena:


  1. I like Jewel Staite as Tesk. I think that's a good pick. The magic in the story reminds me a bit of C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy, especially the Umbral magic.

  2. Well, I can say as someone who really doesn't prefer reading high fantasy, it was the highly conflicting, self-torturing people that completely drew me in to this book and the subtle details that really separate your world from the typical high fantasy (like the fact that they have invented syringes and IVs.

  3. Thanks, Nick and Fen. I never read Friedman, but I certainly was influenced by various presentations of shadow magic, blood magic and necromancy in various novels I've read and computer games I've played.

    The magically informed medicine has been a sticking point for some readers (not a deal breaker, but it's raised some questions about whether my world is too scientifically "advanced" for a magic-based fantasy world), even though most fantasy novels have some kind of magical healing. It may be because my magic is mechanistic/naturalistic in nature, so I actually describe what it is the healers are seeing and manipulating in a couple of places rather than having them channel powers from the gods or something without understanding them.

    I'm softening the IV to a subdermal injection in the rewrite, I think, since there are less potential hazards with that type of injection (bubbles in the line, fluids that are not perfectly isotonic, etc). But really, the only reason they couldn't have had hypodermics earlier than they did was because metallurgy was too crude to make hollow needles with sufficiently small bores (though the Chinese did experiment with some, even so). But in fantasy novels, they always have these fantastic, magical metals and ways of enchanting items--so why in the heck wouldn't some of those magical innovations be used for things besides weapons and glowy balls of light?