Anniversary: A Game of Thrones (Novel)

By Cat Eldridge: ?Twenty five years ago this week, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was published. It’s the first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. It was published simultaneously by Bantam Spectra (US) and Voyager Books (UK). 

The novel won the Locus Award and was nominated for both the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards, but was only on the long list for the Hugos. It was a preliminary nominee for the BFA August Derleth Fantasy Award. A Game of Thrones has received critical acclaim with several reviewers comparing it to A Wheel of Time for its epic sweep. 

The “Blood of the Dragon” novella taken from the Daenerys Targaryen chapters from A Game of Thrones would win a Hugo Award for Best Novella at LoneStarCon 2. 

Martin, of course, would go onto to write A Clash of Kings in 1998 and A Storm of Swords in 2000. Then, in November 2005, A Feast for Crows, and in 2011, A Dance with Dragons. A Storm of Swords would finish second to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Millennium Philcon. A Feast for Crows was a Hugo finalist at L.A.con IV, the year Robert Wilson’s Spin won. A Dance with Dragons was nominated at Chicon 7, which was the year that Jo Walton’s Among Others won. Finally Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History) was on the long list for Best Novel at Dublin 2019.

As you know, it became a HBO series which deviated from the storyline of the series. At Chicon 7, the first season won the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. At LoneStarCon 3 the next year, the “Blackwater” episode from season two would win a Hugo as well.

Two prequel series, Bloodmoon and House of Dragons are currently approved at HBO. 

Writing Against the Grain: T. Kingfisher’s Feminist Mythopoeic Fantasy

By Robin Anne Reid. Presented at MythCon 2021:

Writing Against the Grain: T. Kingfisher’s Feminist Mythopoeic Fantasy

WARNING: Spoilers for Clockwork Boys, Paladin, and White Rat series

The purpose of this presentation is to place Tolkien’s theory of mythopoeic fiction in dialogue with fantasy series by T. Kingfisher in order to argue that her work is feminist and mythopoeic. While there are a number of elements of Kingfisher’s fiction that are relevant to my purpose, I’ll be focusing on two: her version of Faërie and system of magic, and her portrayal of female characters whose relationships are with failed warrior heroes.

In “On Fairy Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien defines and defends a sub-genre of fantasy by explicating his poem, “Mythopoeia.” Necessary characteristics for a mythopoeic text include structural, or textual, elements but also reception, or reader response. At heart, a mythopoeic fantasy is set in a secondary world that is internally consistent; the “magic” must “be taken seriously,” and the best in the genre involves “the Consolation of the Happy Ending” (32-33;75). Readers who appreciate the genre experience recovery, escape, and consolation.

Tolkien’s theory has been applied to his own fiction, but, increasingly, scholars are also applying it to films and contemporary fantasy fiction (Croft, Holdier, MacLachlan). However, I have found minimal scholarship on feminist mythopoeic fiction: in a 1989 essay published in Mythlore, Patrick Murphy argues that feminist poets incorporate “high and low fantasy” elements to create what he calls a “(re) mythopoeia, “or ” an alternative heritage” drawing on theories of a “pre-patriarchal goddess” (26). Murphy does not mention the sub-genre of women’s fantasy which draws on the traditions of a goddess worship aligned with strong ecological themes and explorations of psychic and spiritual powers. Scholarship on those writers, such as Janice C. Crosby’s Cauldron of Changes: Feminist Spirituality in Fantastic Fiction, is not concerned with Tolkien’s theory.

In order to think about the question of feminist mythopoeic fantasy, I draw on Faye Ringel’s essay, “Women Fantasists: In the Shadow of the Ring.” Ringel adapts the concept of what Harold Bloom calls the “swerve” in his Anxiety of Influence which he defines as how male poets deal with the influences of earlier male writers on their work through a process of “poetic misreading or misprison proper.” Performing her own feminist swerve on Bloom’s theory, Ringel argues that while “women fantasists accept some of Tolkien’s premises, they differ strongly with him on the subject of women’s roles” (165) which is, of course, one of the purposes of the feminist movement.

In this presentation, I focus on five novels, in three series, published under the pen name that Ursula Vernon uses for her adult fantasy, T. Kingfisher: the completed Clockwork Boys duology, and two ongoing series: the Saint of Steel planned trilogy with one novel in print; and the Temple of the White Rat trilogy with two completed novels. And yes, I am waiting very very VERY impatiently for the next books to be published although luckily for me, she is currently publishing new fantasies fairly quickly.

Three disclaimers. First, I am not able to do justice to the scope, complexity, and sheer wonderfulness of Kingfisher’s work in this short presentation. If you have not read her work, I strongly recommend you do. Second, by identifying these novels as feminist mythopoeic fiction, I am not excluding Kingfisher’s other work from this genre. She has already won two Mythopoeic awards–the first for her graphic novel, Digger, in 2013, and the second for her YA novel, Castle Hangnail, in 2016. I focus on these series because they are set in the same world, as opposed to her stand-alone fantasy and horror novels, and show more of what Liz Bourke calls Kingfisher’s “energetic and atmospherically weird approach to world-building” (Review, Strength). The world of the novels is Archenhold which has different cities: Archen’s Glory, Anuket City, and Rutger’s Howe. In addition, several supporting characters appear in two of the series.

Third, my argument does not require evidence of direct influence by Tolkien. I do not know whether or not Kingfisher has read Tolkien although I strongly suspect she has. Her fiction and essays show a long and deep engagement with fairy tales, fantasy fiction, and games based on medievalist sources. For instance, in her epilogue to Swordheart, Kingfisher describes ranting to her husband about how annoying she finds Michael Moorcock’s Elric because he is constantly whining, and that “the real victim was his sword Stormbringer” who could not escape him. Swordheart was thus written to explore what happens when a “beleaguered magic sword [is] saddled with an inept wielder.” In another self-described rant on Twitter titled “Ursula’s Paladin Rant, or ‘Crapsack Jedi With Guilt Issues,’ she posts about her dislike for the D&D the rules for Paladins which have influenced fantasy fiction and games. Identifying the Paladin class as “broken,” she argues that how the “rules” too often play out leads to a convention of characters who “[screw] up royally [and then] collapse into a wreckage of NOW I MUST EMBRACE EVIL” which “is really counter-productive” and also lacks awareness of how religions include “mechanisms for forgiveness and repentance because if it’s one strike and you’re out, pretty soon everybody’s out.” In both cases, Vernon is clear in this epitextual and paratextual material that one purpose of writing at least some of her novels is to critique not only genre conventions generally but specific authors’ and creators’ use of them. When it comes to the paladins (who are not limited to male characters), other characters who have to deal with them most often are not shy about expressing their opinions as Bishop Beartongue does at the end of Paladin’s Grace: “‘ Yes, yes, you’re a paladin, wallowing in guilt over how you are the very worst person ever is part of the job'” (329).

So, a quick recap: Tolkien’s mythopoeic elements are an internally consistent secondary world; magic that is taken seriously; and eucatastrophe, with readers responding by feeling recovery, escape, and consolation (32-33;75), Ringel’s feminist elements are accepting Tolkien’s sense of the importance of ‘ordinary’ rather than traditional epic characters (including Paladins!) while rejecting both his “medieval ideals of kingship and class structure” (165-166), and his portrayal of women’s roles. Kingfisher emphasizes ordinary people rather than kings and nobles in all her work: minimal narrative time, if any, is given to the rulers, and when they are mentioned, in at least two cases, they are women, holding the title of Dowager. In a third case, a man holds the elected office of Archon.

In two of the three series, a Kingfisherian version of Faërie, called the Vagrant Hills, plays a significant role, and in all three series, her system of magic, called “wonderworking” exists alongside a polytheistic belief system without major conflicts. The gods who have been identified in the series so far are: The Dreaming God, The Four-Faced God, The Forge God, The Hanged Mother, The Lady of Grass, The Many-Armed God, The Saint of Steel (who, despite the name is definitely a god) and the White Rat. More information about The Dreaming God and the White Rat has been given so far, but each God has their own church or temple system with priests, nuns, and paladins as well as support staff. Each God seems to have their own specialization–the Dreaming God empowers paladins to identify and destroy demons while the White Rat’s hierarchy provides legal and material support for people who need help. According to Zale in Swordheart, these different and autonomous churches exist without major conflict except for the Hanged Mother’s priesthood, called the Motherhood, which attempt to control or destroy all other groups. In the Paladin series, the churches in Archon’s Glory cooperate to make sure that the Motherhood, who are favored by the Archon, are restrained from gaining too much secular power.

The churches play a larger narrative role in the Paladin’s and White Rat series than in Clocktaur Boys, especially the Temple of the White Rat, and some of those called to the gods’ service are granted powers (becoming, in most cases, paladins). But the powers of the church have failed to suppress or control Kingfisher’s Faërie, the Vagrant Hills: according to Zale and Halla, the various churches’ attempts to “burn out bits of the Hills ages ago” led to a number of unhappy songs (Swordheart).

The Hills, which feature significantly in the Clockwork Boys and Swordheart series, have not so far played any part in White Rat series. They are an area of unknown/unknowable dimensions that seem to move or are able to pull characters who are nowhere near the Hills into them without warning. The descriptions of how characters enter the Hills are similar to traditional folktale images of the way to Faerie. In Swordheart, the major characters find themselves in a “hollow way” in the middle of an acorn wood: “Trees leaned over the road, their bare branches laced tightly across the sky. ‘It’s a hollow way,’ said Zale. ‘One of the old, old roads.’. . . .They reached the end of the hollow way and emerged, blinking, into the sunlight. They were no longer in the acorn wood. They were halfway up a hillside, near a drop-off.”

In The Clockwork Boys, characters find themselves on “a narrow path, barely a lane, and badly overgrown. It did not look like the hard-packed smugglers’ road. Between patches of grass and horsetail rushes, the mud and packed pebbles glittered like the reticulated hide of a lizard. ‘This isn’t our road,’ said Caliban (197).

The Vagrant Hills are home to a number of magical non-humanoid species such as rune (speculated to be the descendants of “stag men and dryads”), but also to talking rabbits, aggressive mandrake roots, a large stone fish swimming upstream to spawn, and parasitic predators that are described as translucent “sky-swimmers,” beautiful but deadly. Various characters make it clear that nobody knows enough about the Hills to be sure of what exists in them, nor is it possible to study them. Travelers caught by the Hills have no more control over when or how they leave than they did in how the entered, and not all travelers survive to leave. The reason that characters are drawn into the Hills seems to be that they have a strong connection to magic or other types of supernatural power–Caliban in the Clockwork Boys carries the remnants of the dead demon that possessed him and could not be fully exorcised, and Sarkis in Swordheart exists within a magical sword and belongs to whoever owns it.

The other strange nearly unexplored country in Kingfisher’s mythopoeic fiction is the relationships between her female protagonists and the broken warrior. Ringel pointed out that the fantasy writers she interviewed rejected Tolkien’s marriage plots to show female protagonists living as witches, wizards, or warriors, not wives (167). Kingfisher goes a step further in writing mature romance plots that do not always involve marriage. At the start of the novels, her female protagonists are older and sexually experienced but have left unhappy or abusive relationships (sometimes but not always marriage) to support themselves. During the course of the story, they enter into sexual (and sometimes marital) relationships with male characters that swerve from the typical warrior-hero protagonist of fantasy through a process of feminist deconstruction.

The female protagonists are Slate, a forger (Clockwork); Grace, a perfumer (Paladin’s Grace); Clara (a nun of the convent of St. Ursa and a werebear); and Halla (a housekeeper). The male characters are three paladins and one magicked mercenary. Caliban (Clockwork Boys) was a paladin of the Dreaming God who was possessed by a demon and murdered eleven novices and nuns. Stephen and Istvahn were holy berserkers for the Saint of Steel and were among the few survivors of their God’s death which nearly destroyed the order. Although they have survived, the death of the Saint of Steel means that they are at risk for entering the berserker state without the God ensuring that they do not harm the innocent. Sarkis was a mercenary punished for betraying the city he and his troop were hired to protect by being killed and trapped in an enchanted sword five centuries earlier. All the male characters consider themselves, to varying degrees, to have failed, but in Kingfisher’s world, such failures do not lead to the simplistic result that Vernon describes as “Crapsack Jedi with Guilt Issues,” that is immediately turning to the dark side. Instead, the world of the series through the social support systems provided primarily by the Temple of the White Rat and their relationships with the female protagonists offers a range of “mechanisms for forgiveness and repentance” including Kingfisher’s own version of quests which are another example of swerving from the conventions of fantasy established by Tolkien. I should note that the female characters are not presented simplistically as saviors: they also consider themselves failed in many ways, often blaming themselves for the failure of their past relationships.

These swerves from Tolkien’s definition strengthen my experience of recovery, escape, and consolation as a reader, responses that grew stronger during my re-reading of her work during the first year of the pandemic. A number of the readers who review her work report similar experiences, including multiple readings of favorite books in the series. Thinking about her work in the context of Tolkien’s theory of mythopoeic fantasy raises questions about what a “feminist mythopoeic” work might be that I’ll be thinking more about in the future.


Working Bibliography

Bourke, Liz. Liz Bourke Reviews Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher. Locus, April 21, 2021.

Croft, Janet Brennan. “Tolkien’s Faërian Drama: Origins and Valedictions.” Mythlore, 32.2, Spring/Summer 2014, pp. 31-44.

Crosby, Janice C. Cauldron of Changes: Feminist Spirituality in Fantastic Fiction. McFarland, 2000.

Holdier, A. G. “On Superhero Stories: The Marvel Cinematic Universe as Tolkienesque Fantasy.” Mythlore, vol. 36, iss. 2, Spring-Summer 2018, pp. 73-88.

Kane, Douglas Charles. “A Modern Fairy-story: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Seen Through the Prism of Tolkien’s Classic Essay.” Mythlore, vol. 37, no. 1, Fall-Winter 2018, pp. 133-45.

Kingfisher, T. Clockwork Boys. Clocktaur War: Book One. Argyll, 2018.
—. The Wonder Engine. Clocktaur War: Book Two. Argyll, 2018.
—. Paladin’s Grace. The Saint of Steel: Book One. Argyll, 2020.
—. Paladin’s Strength. The Saint of Steel: Book Two. Argyll, 2021.
—. Swordheart. Argyll, 2020.

MacLachlin, Christopher. Chapter 8 “‘On Fairy Stories’ and Tolkien’s Elvish Tales.” New Fairy Tales: Essays & Stories. John Patrick Pazdziora and Defne Cizakca, eds. Unlocking Press, 2013. pp: 147-66.

Murphy, Patrick D. (1989) “The High and Low Fantasies of Feminist (Re)Mythopoeia.” Mythlore, vol. 16, no. 2, article 5. Available at: https://dc.swosu.edu/mythlore/vol16/iss2/5

Ringel, Faye. “Women Fantasists: In the Shadow of the Ring.” J. R. R. Tolkien and his Literary Resonances: Views of Middle-earth. George Clark and Daniel Timmons, eds. Contributions to the Study of Science Fiction and Fantasy, no. 89. C. W. Sullivan III, Series Adviser. Greenwood Press, 2000. Pp. 159-71.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy-Stories.”Tolkien On Fairy-stories. Expanded edition. Verlyn Flieger and Douglas Anderson, eds. Harper Collins, 2014.

Vernon, Ursula. “Ursula’s Paladin Rant, or ‘Crapsack Jedi With Guilt Issues.'” Twitter. Oct. 13, 2017.

The Golden Age of Dystopia: Guest Post by Jenna Greene

Jenna Greene is a writer from Lethbridge, Alberta. She teaches elementary school. When she isn’t teaching, writing, or spending time with her daughter, Olivia, or husband, Scott, Jenna coaches, drums, and paddles with several dragonboat teams. She is the author of several YA novels, including the Heroine and the Imagine series. Renew (The Reborn Marks Book 2) is her latest book.

By Jenna Greene: Dystopian literature is far from new. George Orwell may have set the world on a disturbing, informative, and thought-provoking path with 1984, but it continued from there with works such as Brave New World, The Giver, and Ready Player One. All these titles are rich classics. Still, the insurgence of utopian-societies-set-upside down was an anomaly instead of the norm at that point in our historical timeline.

Then The Hunger Games crashed onto the scene, finding a YA audience that burned with desire for more prints and more pages, catching the attention of youth and adults alike. It could have been a one-hit wonder, skillful and unique, but it wasn’t. Divergent soon followed in Suzanne Collin’s footsteps, before authors such as Lauren Oliver, Ally Condie, and Victoria Aveyard hit the scene.

With many trends in literature, there are often ebbs and flows. Yet the dystopian trend has not had its ebb yet. The quality novels, short stories, and poems have continued to be produced. Hollywood studios are filming adaptations of newer classics as well as older titles. (Maze Runner and Ender’s Game anyone?) I could write for hours on The Handmaid’s Tale – willingly and with great passion, and see more and more titles popping up in my Netflix queue.

So how and why has the Golden Age of Dystopia been sustained this long, providing more quality than the temporary teenage-vampire trend? I believe it is connected to the depth of the questions that can be asked, should be asked, and most importantly need to be asked. Tackling discrimination, poverty, government corruption, fundamentalism, voyeurism, and a wealth of other themes through allegory and metaphor allows us to examine the issues in a critical way. Dystopian settings are both objective and subjective, authentic and fake. For those who have never examined these issues, they are drawn in by character arcs and rapid storylines filled with action and sentiment. Readership begins, fandoms arise, and then discussions happen. Sure, this happens with all literature, but with our global consciousness rising each day, dystopian literature has the power to do so in a way other genres cannot hope to equal. Paired with genuine societal movements such as #metoo, books have a way of changing the scope of thought and action in the world in a pivotal way.

All that remains is the question of which issues will dystopian authors tackle next. As a YA fantasy/ dystopian author myself, the challenge of creating new worlds with new problems, connected to our consciousness of this world and this world’s problems, is one I am able and set to tackle – and excited to do so. I am a part of the discourse, and thankful to be so.

ABOUT RENEW

The Unclaimed Cities are not the idyllic setting Lexil, Finn, and Ceera thought it would be. This new land has challenges of its own – which they soon discover. When Lexil and Finn return to the Wastelands, they are accompanied by Kaylen, someone they can’t decide is a friend or foe. As they retrace their path, they meet up with old allies and enemies, and encounter other treachery embedded in the Wastelands. The trio are then forced to face their own assumptions, prejudices, and fears.

And in the end, to change her fate and alter the destiny of all other Reborns, Lexil must decide what she is willing to risk…

Of both herself and others.

JENNA GREENE ON SOCIAL MEDIA

SFWA Elects New Officers

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America have posted the 2021 officer election results. Incoming President Jeffe Kennedy’s term begins July 1 and runs for two years.

President: Jeffe Kennedy

Secretary: Adam Rakunas 

Director-at-Large through 2023 – 3 open positions

  • José Pablo Iriarte
  • Remy Nakamura
  • Christine Taylor-Butler

The 2021 SFWA election was overseen by the Elections Committee: Maurice Broaddus, Matthew Johnson (Chair), Peng Shepherd, and Kate Baker (Advisor).

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #6 Reaches the Finals

By Dann: The sixth Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO #6) began with the submission of self-published fantasy works on June 1, 2020. The first 300 author-submitted works were accepted into the competition. The major qualifiers were that the book must be self-published, must be currently available for purchase, must be a work of fantasy, and must be either a stand-alone novel or the first book in a series.

The works were then divided into ten groups of 30 with each group being assigned to one of ten volunteer sites/organizations that provide reviews of works of fantasy. Each site read their 30 assigned works and promoted one book into the finalist round.

Once the finalists were identified, each review site read, reviewed, and rated the nine remaining finalists. The winner will be the book with the highest average rating from the ten review sites.

SPFBO #6 is quickly coming to a close. Most of the reviewers have read most of the books. Twenty out of 100 reviews are yet to be completed. The following table (data from April 19, 2021) provides the ratings as well as (1) links to the books, (2) links to the authors’ websites, (3) links to the review blogs, and (4) links to their specific reviews (click on the score number).

Use the slide at the bottom of the table to bring the right half into view.

ScoreFantasy-FactionFantasy Book CriticLynn’s BooksBooknestKitty GThe Weatherwax ReportFantasy HiveQueen’s Book AsylumCritiquing ChemistFantasy Inn
The Fall of Erlon by Robert H. Fleming6.10657666.56.568*4
The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson(8.35/6)7.59*9.5**897
Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher(8.15/9)8.58**8.59998*7.56
Voice of War by Zack Argyle(7.85/6))88*77.588.5
Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire(7.75/8)8*7887987
Darkness Forged by Matt Larkin(7.30/7)66.587.58*6.58.5
 Last Memoria by Rachel Emma Shaw(6.95/8)776.5768*6.57.5
Wind From The Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree(6.95/8)7.587858*75
The Combat Codes by Alexander Darwin(6.15/9)3.58*48.566.5775
Nether Light by Shaun Paul Stevens(5.65/7)456.5673.57.5*
Blogger Average Score7.07.2

* = Blogger chose this finalist.
** = Blogger’s top book.

Mark Lawrence noted that a number of the blogs/reviews reduced their scores for The Combat Codes on the basis that it wasn’t fantasy.

Mark recently announced that SPFBO will return for a seventh season on June 1, 2021. One of the ten review sites will not be participating in SPFBO #7. Any reviewer(s) that would be interested in committing to the full reading/review process should contact Mark directly via one of his publicly acknowledged channels.

HWA’s Third Annual Summer Scares Reading List

The Horror Writers Association (HWA), in partnership with United for Libraries, Book Riot, and Booklist, has announced the third annual Summer Scares Reading List, with titles selected by a panel of authors and librarians and designed to promote horror as a great reading option for all ages, during any time of the year.

Each year, three titles are chosen in the Adult, Young Adult, and Middle Grade categories, and for 2021 they are:

ADULT

  • The Hunger by Alma Katsu [G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018]
  • The Cipher by Kathe Koja [originally published 1991 by Dell but reissued Meerkat Press, 2020]
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, Translator Jonathan Wright [Penguin Books, 2018] 

YOUNG ADULT

  • The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline [Dancing Cat Books, 2017]
  • The Diviners by Libba Bray [Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2012]
  • Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson [Razorbill, 2018]

MIDDLE GRADE

  • Ollie’s Odyssey by William Joyce [Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2015]
  • Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi [Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2017]
  • Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Hal Johnson [Workman, 2015]

The goal of the Summer Scares program is to introduce horror titles to school and public library workers in order to help them start conversations with readers that will extend beyond the books from each list and promote reading for years to come. Along with the annual list of recommended titles for readers of all ages, the Summer Scares committee will also release themed lists of even more “read-alike” titles for libraries to use when suggesting books to readers this summer and all year long. And, in order to help libraries forge stronger connections between books and readers, the Summer Scares committee will be working with both the recommended list authors and horror authors from all over the country, to provide free programming to libraries. From author visits (both in person and virtual) to book discussions to horror themed events, Summer Scares is focused on connecting horror creators with libraries and readers all year long.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, the 2021 Summer Scares programming will be virtual, and held in conjunction with the Horror Writers Association’s annual StokerCon event (May 20 – May 23, 2021). Authors and committee members will be participating in live and pre-recorded sessions. Authors and committee members will also be available virtually throughout the year to libraries and schools to promote the Summer Scares program and discuss the use of horror fiction as a tool to increase readership and nurture a love of reading.

The Summer Scares program committee consists of bestselling author Silvia Morena-Garcia (Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, Untamed Shore), Becky Spratford (library consultant, author of The Readers Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd Ed.), Konrad Stump (Local History Associate for the Springfield-Green County Library and creator of the library’s popular “Oh, the Horror!” series), Carolyn Ciesla (library director, academic dean, book reviewer), Julia Smith (senior editor at Booklist), Kelly Jensen (editor, Book Riot, author of [Don’t] Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start the Conversation about Mental Health), and JG Faherty (HWA Library Program director, author of Sins of the Father, The Cure, and Ghosts of Coronado Bay).

For more information about the Summer Scares reading program, including how to obtain promotional materials and schedule events with the authors/committee members, visit the HWA’s Libraries web page (www.horror.org/libraries), Becky Spratford’s Reader’s Advisory Horror Blog RA for All: Horror (http://raforallhorror.blogspot.com/p/summer-scares.html), or the Book Riot, Booklist, or United for Libraries websites and social media sites.

[Based on a press release.]

Clarion West’s Class of 2021

Clarion West is returning as a virtual workshop in 2021. The faculty for the Clarion West Six-Week Summer Workshop will be Andy Duncan, Eileen Gunn, Tina Connolly, Caroline Yoachim, Nalo Hopkinson, Sheree Renée Thomas, and Ted Chiang.

Following the postponement of the 2020 workshop due to Covid-19, Clarion will be welcoming these new writers into their community this summer —

Fawaz Al-Matrouk (San Francisco, California, USA)
Jana Bianchi (São Paulo, Brazil)
December Cuccaro (Miami, Florida, USA)
Daniela L. Guzmán (Guadalajara/Pachuca, Mexico)
Joel Donato Ching Jacob (Bay, Laguna, Philippines)
Serena W. Lin (Bay Area, California, USA)
Clara Madrigano (Rio de Janeiro/Curitiba, Brazil)
Lue Palmer (Toronto, Canada)
Alex Payne (Portland, Oregon, USA)
Shakirah Peterson (Los Angeles, California, USA)
Stefan A. Slater (Los Angeles, California, USA)
Amanda Song (USA/China)
Yilin Wang (Sichuan, China/Vancouver, Canada)
Sagan Yee (Toronto, Canada)
Joule Zelman (Seattle, Washington, by way of New Jersey, USA)

This year’s workshop, scheduled from June 20 to July 31, will be held virtually to prioritize the health and safety of students, instructors, staff, and community.

[Based on a press release. Thanks to Michael Toman for the story.]

Walt Boyes on the Consequences of Taking Down Baen’s Bar

[Editor’s Introduction: Walt Boyes, Editor, the Grantville Gazette and Editor in Chief, Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press, emailed this letter of comment on February 17. I did not realize it was intended for publication until I saw his comment on Eric Flint’s Facebook page. Here it is:]   


Walt Boyes: I regret that Jason Sanford says he is being harassed. Nobody should do that, under any provocation.

However, one thing I believe that Jason Sanford did wrong is to lump all the conferences on Baen’s Bar together.

As Eric Flint noted, the conferences he oversees (oversaw) are heavily moderated (I am one of them, though not a Bar Moderator) and we do not allow the kinds of behavior that Mr. Sanford reports. I don’t go to Politics or Blazes because I know what’s there. Do not want to do that.

But since Mr. Sanford decided to throw the baby out with the bath water, Science Fiction has (at least temporarily,I hope) lost a very important resource. The1632Tech and 1632Slush conferences and the UniverseSlush conferences have provided a great resource to beginning (or otherwise) writers. We have been doing this for over 20 years. We critique and workshop beginning writers’ work, and at the end of the process, often buy the stories for the Grantville Gazette (www.Grantvillegazette.com). These stories can be in the 1632Universe, or just really good science fiction or fantasy, because we kept the Baen’s Universe crit group going, and we publish one or two stories from there every issue.

These conferences have produced millions of published words, paid at SFWA professional rates (currently $0.08/word) and at least one Nebula nominated author (Kari English). Over 150 authors have made their first professional sale through those conferences. Several have become NYT and Amazon Best Sellers.

There is no politics in these conferences. There is no violence or discussion of violence other than as it relates to the 1632 series.

So, because Mr Sanford didn’t do all the research that an investigative reporter should (I too am a member of SPJ and have done investigative reporting for decades), our writers who were working on their stories, as they have done for 20 years, are now out in the cold.  We have even, at least temporarily, lost the archives of the conferences, which are irreplaceable. Instead of editing the 94th issue of the Gazette, I am now trying to save the conferences we have used to create it.

I am not saying that Mr. Sanford did the right thing, or the wrong thing. But actions have consequences, and what he has done has challenged the careers of many beginning writers, because he didn’t ask anybody who knew anything what was going on.

Best regards,

Walt Boyes, Editor, the Grantville Gazette; Editor in Chief, Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press


Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Goes Live

Jesse Sheidlower has unveiled the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction “a comprehensive quotation-based dictionary of the language of science fiction.”

The HD/SF traces the history of the words it covers, with illustrative quotations showing how and when the word was used. In some cases, the quotations also capture the fannish humor of the times. Consider “fugghead” (click for larger image) —

The HD/SF is an offshoot of a project begun by the Oxford English Dictionary and is being run with OED approval, though it is no longer formally affiliated with it. The site is edited by Jesse Sheidlower. (The OED’s project previously yielded the 2008 Hugo-winner Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction edited by Jeff Prucher.)

Sheidlower is an adjunct assistant professor in the Writing program at Columbia University, the Past President of the American Dialect Society, and formerly was an editor for Random House Dictionaries and the Oxford English Dictionary; 

Brandon Sanderson WFC 2020 Interview Highlights

Here are selections from the Brandon Sanderson Interview conducted by Dave Doering at World Fantasy Con 2020 on Saturday, October 31.


  • Brandon Sanderson’s first published novel, Elantris, came out from Tor in 2005. Tor also published six books in his Mistborn series, and the first three in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. Five books in his middle-grade Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series were released by Starscape. Brandon was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Since then his work has included the Reckoners trilogy, and the Skyward series. He also hosts the Hugo Award-winning Writing Excuses podcast with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and others.
  • Dave Doering is the founder of Life, the Universe, and Everything, a conference held annually in Utah. He also started the Leading Edge magazine at BYU. He works as a business and technical writer. 

DAVE: As we start our session today, Brandon, I wanted to borrow the approach from inside the Actor’s Studio and ask some general questions that I find fun:

What is your favorite word?

BRANDON: My favorite word changes. The word I overuse is maladroitly. Fans picked up on this early. Now my pet word is probably “miasma” or “inchoate”. I really love the word inchoate. But my editors tell me that’s a “once a book” word. 

DAVE: What turns you on?

BRANDON: Writing a new story.

DAVE: What turns you off?

BRANDON: Fish sticks. I really hate fish sticks.

DAVE: What’s your favorite curse word?

BRANDON: I don’t really curse, so I don’t really have any. However, when I was working on Mystborn, my 14-year-old sister went through it and crossed out all the curse words. (I was using “damn” and “hell”.) I didn’t consider those curse words but she was “ARR!”

She wrote in replacement suggestions for me to use. One was where I called a character a “damn fool”. She suggested i call him a “bone-doggey-head” instead. So that’s my favorite curse word since then. My 14-year-old sister suggestion: “Bone doggey head”. (That did not end up in the final manuscript, by the way.)

DAVE: What career would you follow now if you weren’t a writer?

BRANDON: If I weren’t a writer, I would hope I would have found some type of creative field to work in. Because doing something new each day and filling an empty page, making order from the chaos, is very, very excting and engaging to me.

Most realistically? I would have ended up as a professor. Because I do like academia. I do like teaching. If the writing hadn’t taken off that would have been one of the few careers open to me in what I was doing.

The thing is: I doubt if I would been able to make it because being in academia and gaining a tenure-track position today, particularly in the Arts, is really hard. There’s a lot of competition for those few places. What I am writing is Popular Fiction, and I don’t think I could have gotten off at any institution with a tenure-track position. I’d probably be some type of adjunct and live hand-to-mouth.

DAVE: In the next hundred years or so, when you leave this world, what do you hope that Robert Jordan will say to you at the great AfterCon? (And hoepfully not, “Well, Brandon, how DOES the Stormlight Saga end?!”)

BRANDON: I am hoping he says, “Good job!” “Good job but not as good as I could have done but you didn’t embarrass me kid!”

DAVE:  What’s the latest on your movies and TV series?

BRANDON: Good question. About three years ago, I sold a lot of things in Hollywood. This was kind of to a group I was hoping would be able to get them made. And as has always happened with me, nothing really ended up happening. I have gotten most of those rights back and I’m kind of sitting on them, trying to decide what I want to do.

There is nothing that is particularly close right now. I still have some of my things sold in Hollywood, but I’m starting to sit on the mall and just trying to assess what it is I want to do.

Hollywood’s an interesting place. I’ll tell you my favorite Hollywood story. Right when I was brand new, I sold my Middle Grade Evil Librarian series. My agent came and said, “Hey, somebody wants to buy this in Hollywood.” I’m like, What??  I didn’t know that anyone would be interested. This was before the first book had come out.

But Lemony Snicket was big at that point so I guess they were looking for things like that. So DreamWorks Animation optioned this in my second or third year that I had gone pro. They paid like $35,000 which at that point was what I was living on. (I was not making a ton for my books.) So that was really an unexpected bonus. I was perfectly happy to sell those rights and I still think of it as a great experience because, well, that’s what I lived on.

What they did was take several different properties and be working on  them–kind of with competing teams within DreamWorks Animation. They would bring them to Jeffrey Katzenberg and the heads of the studio. The teams would do these pitches, and Katzenberg would say yes or no, greenlight or no. It was not unusual that it took them two to three years to get everything ready. So they did all this.

They flew me out to DreamWorks. I got to go tour and see the storyboards they’re coming up with and all these things. Eventually our big day came where they took the screenplay and storyboard, all this stuff, in to pitch to Katzenberg. I was waiting with bated breath at my phone. Eventually the phone call came in. I picked it up and the first words out of his mouth were “Great news Brandon!”. I’m like, oh, they liked the pitch. They said yes, Katzenberg said this is probably the best screenplay he’s ever read. I’m like, wow.

Jeffrey Katzenberg has been in the business a long, long, long time. So my story is one of the best screenplays he ever read. Then I said, “I guess we’re greenlit then.” He says “Actually, no. He passed on the project. It’s dead in the water. We’re not renewing the option.”

I’m like, wait, what, what, how?? How is this good news? He loved the screenplay. If he loved the screenplay, why is he not making the movie?

They explained that he thought it felt like it was more of a live action than an animated one. So even though he really loved it and everything, they were passing. This is just kind of what happens.

I’ve found in Hollywood, nobody wants to give you bad news. Nobody really takes a lot of time to inform the author of what’s going on.  You hear well, well down the line ” Great news. It’s dead” quite a bit. That’s what educated me about what happens in Hollywood.

DAVE: So at what moment, Brandon, did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

BRANDON: It was later than a lot of people. A lot of my friends were writing when they were two years old. With me, I became a writer when I was in my late teens. What happened is I had had a great teacher.

It was in Middle School –the eighth grade. My teacher’s name was Miss Raider [?], by the way. True story. My English teacher got me reading fantasy novels. Before that, I was not a big reader. She had picked up on the fact that I was reading below my grade level. She convinced me to try reading a book. It was by Barbara Hambly–Dragonsbane.  I fell in love with books. I actually remember going to the school library and flipping through the things in the card catalog. (All the books in the school library were alphabetized in the card catalog. You could look up books by author or by title. (Okay, this was a long time ago.)

I read Dragonsbane and I just loved it. I’m like, Is there anything else like this?? Well, if there’s anything else like this, maybe it’ll have dragon in the title. So I went to the card catalog and I found Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey next to it. And I’m like, Well, I guess I’ll try this one. I dove headfirst into reading all the fantasy books I could get my hands on.

Over the next couple of years, I really fell in love with reading this genre. I started to think “maybe this is what I want to do”. It was because these stories just made me feel powerful emotions. I’m not a guy that generally is very emotional. Even as a high school student, I was not very emotional. But these stories really said something to me. And I wanted to learn how writers did that. How they made me feel like I was in this other place and experiencing all these things. So I started my first book, probably when I was 16, or 17. (I never finished that one.) I started another one after a year of college at 19. That one I did finish. And I just kept going. I wrote 13 before I eventually sold one.

DAVE: Well, congratulations. Did that take you, what?, about three weeks of writing?

BRANDON: Ha, ha! You assume I am a very fast writer. But I am really not a very fast writer. People misunderstand this, I’m just very consistent.

I write around 2000 words a day. But I only get to work four days a week these days because I have to spend one of my days on things like publicity and interviews. Working on other projects for the blog and things like that. So four days a week I write around 8000 words–about eight to ten thousand a week. I may be slightly faster than average. But I’m not horribly fast. I’m just I just keep doing it. And I I tend to enjoy it. So that’s what happens:

I just do that really consistently. That’s the secret to my success.

DAVE: That’s interesting. I’ve heard stories of you getting on the plane in Los Angeles and arriving in Australia with a completed novel.

BRANDON: Yeah, people love to tell those stories. I’ll tell you part of why those stories started up. Early in my career after I started publishing, it’s very common to turn in a book and a publisher would sit on it for two years or so to get all the editing done.

For instance, my first book I turned in the first draft in April of 2003. It came out like May or June of 2005, right? That was a very common. That’s a very common release schedule in traditional publishing. When I started to take off, my book sales starting to go up, my publisher started to say, “Wait, why are we sitting on this Brandon Sanderson book? Why not publish it now? So it’ll affect our bottom line now? And it’ll look really good to all, you know, the investors and the higher ups?”

Suddenly, all these books that I had been sitting on, like, I’d have three books waiting for publication, they started publishing them just several months apart from one another. So there was a period in my career when it looked like I was writing 300,000 word novels every three months because they suddenly were publishing everything really quick. We kind of got to the end of those. From then on my schedule’s been about a book a year.

So from that I got quite the reputation for being very fast. But most of that was my publishers rearranging of schedules in order to have Brandon Sanderson books coming out sooner.

DAVE: I’m curious about your early life in Nebraska. What did you carry away from Nebraska that has influenced you as a writer?

BRANDON: It’s hard to say honestly. I can point to Utah a little bit more since I moved out here in college. I went with a friend of mine who is a photographer down in southern Utah. A lot of people can pick out the southern Utah influence on things like the Stormlight Archive, which takes place in some chasms that feel very much like Little Wildhorse from Southern Utah, but I did I grew up my I I went to high school I was I didn’t move to Utah till I went to college.

I spent all of my my younger years in Nebraska. It was a really nice place to grow up. I had great teachers. I had good friends. Everyone’s really nice in the Midwest.

I still miss some of the Nebraska stuff. My favorite fast food found only in Nebraska is runza [a dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings]. I do miss that.

I don’t miss the weather. Nebraska’s weather is not something to crow about. Let’s just say it’s hot and muggy in the summers and it’s cold and blizzarding full of snow in the winters. I much prefer it out here [in Utah] for that. You know, I always like Nebraska, if it had at least mild winters and mild summers. You should have to have that trade off. You have these terrible winters? Shouldn’t you have to be able to have mild summers, but nope.

The biggest lasting influence that I had really great literacy professionals and teachers all through high school and college who are just really good at helping encourage learning in students. I thank them and I have sent them some books, because I really do owe a lot to those teachers.

DAVE: You spent two years in Korea. How has that experience impacted your writing?

BRANDON: That’s a really good question. For those who don’t know, I was serving a mission with my church. I lived in Korea, learned the language and things there for two years. Number One, the linguistics had a big effect on me. I’d studied French all through high school, but there’s nothing like going and living and having to immerse and learn the language to actually teach you.

I remember going to France when I was in my junior year of high school. I was thinking “Man, I’ll be able to speak speak to everyone.” My French was so terrible, I couldn’t. I could barely ask people to pass the baguette. It was just awful.

Living in Korea, I didn’t have that choice. I was there for two years, not for two weeks (like I had been in France). Really getting into another language and learning to speak it, particularly one that has some grammar that’s very different from English, was super handy for me. Just kind of changing the way I looked at the world, learning another culture and living in another country. One that just has different social mores and things was really handy for me when I wanted to look at developing fantasy cultures. Not that I base them on Korean or Korea but the ideas, it’s like first hand experience of how different cultures can be.

It was instrumental in helping me when I researched to make a new culture. I think I have a much stronger foundation for understanding some of these elements than I would have had if I hadn’t lived in another country for two years. There is a lot from my studies, (I went on to have a Korean minor in college), that does end up in my books specifically from Korea.

DAVE: How has your faith then impacted you as a writer?

BRANDON: Many know I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (I spent those two years in Korea as a missionary.) My faith makes me want to treat people’s belief systems with respect. (Nothing bothers me more than finding a book where there’s somebody that is like me, only to find that they exist to be proven wrong by the narrative.)

I kind of made the decision that because I’m so interested in all this, I’ve got to be really careful that I’m presenting other people’s belief systems or other people’s humanism, as well as I would want myself and the way I think depicted in stories, it is fascinating to me the various ways that people interact with Deity, or with with religion.

I explore the world through writing. My goal is not to go in and try to teach anything specific. My goal is to go in and to really explore who a character is, and what they believe, and why. Why they believe what they do.

DAVE: How did you make the transition then to become a writer?

BRANDON: My mother had convinced me to go to college as a chemistry major. Now my mother’s a very smart woman. She graduated top of her class in Accounting. In that era, she was the only woman in most of her accounting classes.

But she thinks like an accountant, and becoming a novelist was not necessarily a thing that seemed to add up to her on her balance sheets. She’s like, you know, if you want to be a writer, you should go become a doctor. Doctors have lots of free time, they always going golfing. So you could write books instead. So I went, and I was a chemistry major my freshman year at college. I did not enjoy it. They were there to do exactly what they did to me to ask: “Are you really sure this is what you want to do? Because this is what your days will be full of, if you major in this. So whoever designed those classes did exactly the right thing. They said, “Hey, chemistry in college is not chemistry in high school. Chemists become a chemist as a job.”

A doctor is what my mom wanted me to be but you know, there’s a whole lot of things involved in this that you got to be okay with. I washed out of that real quick and said, “No, my true love is writing, why am I here? Why am I spending all this time on these classes? I need to be a novelist.”

Korea was two years where I got to leave all that behind. Kiind of focus on something else for a while and really think about who I am, what I wanted to be, where I wanted to be. It was really great for that because it had me working pretty hard. That’s what life is like on the mission. We tend to get up early. That was a good regimentation for me. (I tend to have a bit of an artistic personality, which means that I could sleep in and maybe never get to my work.)

I came home from that and said, “You know what? I’m just gonna apply this to becoming a writer. I’m young, I’m stupid, everyone says it’s going to be a bad career choice. But I might as well do it when I’m young. I know that I’m pretty far behind a lot of other people who want to be writers, because I didn’t start until I was in my late teens. So I’m just going to work harder than them.” That’s why I started writing those books. That’s why I wrote so many, as I said. I got to give this a shot. So the next 10 years or so were just me working a graveyard shift at a hotel, writing books, and trying to figure out how to become a novelist.

DAVE: Why did you choose fantasy over science fiction? Your early science is very engaging and very compelling. So why Fantasy?

BRANDON: Why did I choose fantasy? When I first started writing, I did try a bunch of different genres. I had had good advice, which I think still is good advice, to try to write broadly, and do a lot of different things early in your practicing career. To really see if you can settle on what it is that you love to do. I’ve had many friends who thought they were one type of writer and then found their voice and in different genre entirely.

I wrote my first five books. Two of them were epic fantasies. They were basically the same book with a sequel, right? I just decided it’s long enough. I’ll end it now. Even though it wasn’t the ending. This happens to a lot of first time novels. I’d write the sequel and then I wrote a comedy, kind of a Bob Asprin’s-style comedy. I wrote a cyberpunk. I wrote a space opera. I just like doing that big survey, surveying the different genres. I did settle on fantasy as the thing I wanted to do.

There are a couple reasons for this. Number one, it was my first love as a reader. It is the thing that if I were going to pick a book, just off the show randomly, chances are good that you would find it is an epic fantasy book. That’s just the number of books that I owned of that genre were much more so what I really, really loved. It was an exciting time to be a fantasy fan, right? Because epic fantasy in particular can be argued as a little newer than science fiction. I feel like a lot of the innovations that were happening during the Silver Age of science fiction were happening in fantasy when I was a young man reading the genre in the 70s. When we started to see things like Sword of Shannara, it’s when we saw Dungeons and Dragons, it’s when we saw Star Wars. (We won’t get into the Star Wars “is it fantasy or science fiction?” argument here. But there are definitely fantastical things in that.)

I felt like as a reader, I was seeing new things all the time. There was more space in the fantasy genre to innovate than there was in science fiction. It’s part of what made me really excited. What I really like are and my first love are, these epic fantasy stories told in worlds that feel like science fiction worlds, that have the use of science fiction, some good old fashioned science fiction, world building, and extrapolation. They have these magic systems that stand with one foot in the fantastic and one foot in the scientific.

The books I’m writing are the handshake between the two sides. That is what I love, that is where I found my voice. That made me really excited to be writing these stories. I still enjoy science fiction quite a bit, I have written my fair share of it. But one of the things is I don’t feel like I read widely enough in science fiction, to really be leading a conversation. Anything I write in science fiction is not leading the conversation. Certainly, I hope that I’m doing things that are fun, interesting, exciting, and innovating. But I just cannot lead that discussion.

I can lead a discussion on where fantasy is going, right? I can be one of the people on the forefront of exploring what the genre can do. Because I have the background and the current reading knowledge to really add to that conversation in a way I just can’t in Science Fiction.

DAVE: Your ability to carry on this conversation with readers is on a global basis. I remember vividly your story of doing a book signing in the Middle East where maybe differently dressed fans stood in line to get you to sign your books. Different culture, but the same love of your works. How does an American fantasy writer have this appeal worldwide?

BRANDON: I think that stories have an appeal worldwide. One of the great powers of storytelling is it brings us together. It helps us see inside the mind of someone very different from ourselves. And that is, that is what you know, that’s why a lot of us writes why I writes why I read. I want to get inside this other person’s head, I want to see the the world that they create, and they want to, you know, be part of their life in a small way. And that’s why I think one of the reasons we love books.

DAVE: How do you balance your writing with your family life?

BRANDON:  You know, this is something I don’t think we talk enough about in the genre, or in the business of writing, I should say. It’s not impossible to have a regular life as a novelist. You don’t leave your work at work when you’re a novelist. I have a friend who likes to quip it’s great being self employed, you only have to work half days, and you get to decide which 12 hours that is. That is really an astute comment. Because you could write, as an author, 16 hours a day. You could write more than 16 hours a day, as the story sometimes will not leave you alone. This is part of what is exciting about the genre.

But it’s also very dangerous side about the business. It’s very dangerous because it is easy to ignore the other things in your life when you are a writer. I do think that there’s a much higher chance of authors having problems with substance abuse and some of these things, and self-medication, certain mental health issues and things like that among novelists. I can totally see why.

To illustrate an example of this. I remember when I was newly married. I went out with some author friends and my wife. I thought we had this wonderful dinner where we are talking all about the stories we’re working on. After dinner, I said to my wife, “Wasn’t that a wonderful dinner?” She says, “Well, you didn’t look at me once during dinner, I felt like I was invisible.”

This is very common among writers–to treat the people around them like they’re invisible. This is a big danger, I think. It was something that I had to realize I was doing. When I got into the storytelling mode, which happened a lot and still happens a lot, everything else faded. People felt ignored, justifiably, because they were getting ignored. I had to set up some strict boundaries in my life.

I recommend that, that writers or creative professionals or anyone who has a job that is very difficult to leave at work. Have some conversations with their loved ones about this. And what we kind of talked about is I realized I needed to, from a certain part of the day, I needed to wall that off from writing. I had to be like, I can’t write from from 5:30pm until 9:30, at night. That time can’t be used for writing, I had to take it off the table. I’ll spend time with my family if my family’s around. I had to just turn this into a firewall of time that is for family and not for anything else. By putting that firm structure in place, it’s actually been really good for my writing.

The thing we don’t acknowledge is: it’s really easy to burn out. In this business, it’s really easy to let those 16-hour days pile on top of one another. To the point that you get sick and tired and physically ill and start hating the thing that you once loved. It’s not good for us that we do this. By walling off a section has really been good for centering my life and for making sure that I turned into a slow and steady writer and not a mad, serious writer. Doing writing all the time. If my family’s not home, I can’t write during that time. It’s important for me that that not be writing time. I could read, I can do other things. But I cannot work on a book.

It’s really, really important we have these conversations. My wife said, “you know, one of the things I’ve noticed that you need is when you’re writing, you need to be left completely alone. This is very common for writers that a small interruption, when you’re in the zone, can mean big ramifications for how much you’re able to get done during that time. We need to be distraction-free.” She kind of became the guardian of my time. “I’m gonna make sure that Brandon is not interrupted during the times when he needs to be writing. And Brandon’s going to make sure that the times that he doesn’t need to be writing, that this time is for family and it is actually family time.”

It’s been really, really healthy.

For me, I usually only write five to eight hours a day. I do two four-hour sessions. Usually I’m getting up at around 12 or 1. I’m working till about five. I then get ready, take a shower, and spend 5:30 to 9:30 with my family. Around 10 o’clock, I go back to work till about 2am. As long as I’m hitting my word count goals at about 2, I’m free to go do something else. Play a video game, read a book, whatever. Usually by then, two four-hour sessions, I’m feeling mostly that my mind has been plumbed. There is nothing left to do.

If I’m really into something, I’ll take those two hours and I’ll keep going. So I have those two hours wiggle room that I can add more time if I want to in the day. Sometimes, I’ll add on a Saturday if I’m behind on a deadline. But it’s been really healthy for me. And what I find is, you know, people think that I’m a really fast writer, but by having this structure in my life, I don’t burn out. I’m very consistent, and I am able to keep doing this thing that I really truly love without having a lot of the side effects that could be dangerous and destructive.

DAVE: When do you find time in that brief 8-hour workday to do editing?

BRANDON: If I am editing a book, it is the main thing that I am doing. If I am not creating 2000 new words each day, I am in revision mode. In terms of words a day, it depends on how difficulat the draft is I am working on. A final polish is a bit easier than, for instance, the Alpha Read draft where I am making major changes based on editorial feedback on the book.

I can revise or edit between 8000 and 15000 words a day in the 8-hour workday if I am not doing significant changes. 15000 is when I am making small tweeks as I go along in  polishing and things like that.

DAVE: Let’s look at some general questions from the audience. Who’s your favorite character in your works?

BRANDON: I will borrow from Robert Jordan on this one. He always answered this question this way (or at least when I have heard him answer this in several interviews): “Whomever I am writing at the moment!”

I really like that answer, so I am going to steal it, because it is true. Whatever you are writing at the moment, whichever character you are writing at the moment, you need to see the world as they see it. You need to see it and be excited about writing about them. I try to make sure that is the case.

DAVE: Who do you turn to for input on worldbuilding? How do you avoid being distracted by all their input?

BRANDON: I turn to my writing group first. They are a group of friends and collegues that I have been sharing my work with since the early 90s. They know me as well as anyone does. They are very good at not pulling punches. That’s my initial group.

As for becoming distracted–it’s Discipline. I give myself a certain amount of time to write the book I am working on right now and focus on it. This rather than spreading my attention around on all the potential thiings I could be doing.

That focus was very important for me to learn. It’s part of what held me back early on from getting published. I did not have that focus early in my career. I was not willing to dedicate the time to polishing an individual work. Enough so that it was publishable. I would always move on to the next thing.

Certainly I had enough focus to finish the first draft, but not enough to finish the book. I find I need about five good drafts to make a book publishable and that I am proud of. If I don’t get four or five drafts it’s not going to be there.