What Makes Good Fantasy?

Taken from Carl Jung's personal diary The Red Book, Liber Novus

Taken from Carl Jung’s personal diary The Red Book, Liber Novus

(Ah, Where Fantasy and Psychology meet!)

I talked to a woman yesterday who had an interest in what I did in my free time, while not at work. I told her I wrote fantasy novels, and she instantly smiled a matronly smile and asked what kind of fantasy. Choosing to talk about the latest WiP, I told her it was High Fantasy, where a bunch of people go on a journey. As an afterthought, I added it was similar in style to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, though not so descriptive.

She sighed. “Ah. Do you write anything else? I’m not much of a fan of Tolkien’s work.”

Continue reading

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Book Cover Ideas

 

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So I’ve recently seen some other fantasy writers’ cover art (Aurian and Jin, among others) and it’s got me actively thinking about my own.

I’ve spend the past four years considering this book cover idea, and I’ve had several “THAT’S IT!” moments. To be perfectly frank, if this book were a baby, I’d’ve had two false labors and two botched C-Sections. Yeah. Nothing about this enjoyable piece is coming along smoothly. Actually, I’ve come to think of it more as a Pinocchio than a real boy. I redid that poor boy’s left forearm more times than anything else…

So the title was a really, really long process. The words themselves took half of Mr. King’s so-called million words, and the cover art is no better than anything else. I’m not sure if I have many followers, or watchers, or whatever, still interested in this webpage, but I want to run it by people, and if interested, you could leave your vote on your favorite book cover idea.

The tagline for the book is “Soren has run from his demons all his life, but when a priest begs him for help, he can’t help but take up arms against those in the Astral who would go to war against him. And this time? The demons are real.”

Three sentences. Yeah whatever. Given it’s book one in a series of seven (I like series of seven. I don’t know why.), It’s got a few themes. Titles, for instance. This novel is named “Of Salt and Wine,” because those are the symbols/tools most connected with the evil he fights. Book two is “Of Earth and Blood,” and so on. It’s taken from one of the lines he says in the book, 2/3rds of the way through: “Those of Salt and Wine, I come for you.” Kind of like a war cry, I guess. It was originally called “It Gave Me a Name,” because his darkness, yes, a character, gives him the name of a demon. I liked the rhythm, but it had too many words. People would get confused, I thought, so I strived to be more and more simple in my idea. It perhaps could even end up as “Salt and Wine,” although I absolutely love the “Of” at the beginning, as if it were part of a much larger thought. Which it is.

So the book cover should be as important. I began this project with the idea of a layout of symbols or tools, a la Game of Thrones or Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels. Book one would have a series of thirteen horizontal staves, or several pieces of jewelry, or better yet, a vintage 1800’s tattoo of skulls and vines and whatever the evil looks like. Several experts added their thoughts, stating the best way to sell a fantasy is to depict a scene from the book on the cover, with Magic: The Gathering-esque card art for the cover, similar to the Wheel of Time books. It would most likely have Soren standing in a septagram on the altar of a church while a big read, Diablo-inspired demon pours green liquid into a played priest’s throat. I like those ideas, but I’m thinking a little more traditional. Something I could lay out for all seven books in the series, with small but connective variations. In fact, I’ve already rough-draft finished book two. I’m that serious about this stuff.

So, I’ll run through a handful of ideas. If any single one presents more of a visceral response, please please please say something about it. I don’t mind if you’ve never been here before and are never coming back. I’d absolutely love the feedback.

1) Horizontal (or vertical) staves, all of different woods, straight, like prison bars

2) The “O” of “Of Salt and Wine” being Soren’s personal symbol, while the S of Salt is actual salt and the dot of the i in Wine is actually a goblet of wine

3) The wall of masks Soren has in his home, all looming down

4) A tattoo of Soren’s, laid over polished hardwood floor (he has twelve)

5) The Blackwood Shillelagh, his Modus Operandi for the book and most important item he uses, glowing at the bulb

6) Vintage 1800’s art in the form of a tattoo, possibly using a human or demon skull as the focal point, with dandelion leaves spread out (think this, only inked and not so 3D)

7) Closeup of a man in a suit, tightening his tie, with his sleeve cuff charred or burned or even aflame

8) Closeup of a man in a kurta, signing a mudra, the head of a snake tattoo stretching across his wrist

9) “Evolution” type silhouette, with the four demons, Jack, Olivia, and Soren, walking down the street one behind the other

10) Demon symbol for Ferrulous (circular and striking)

11) Soren at the top of the stairs, wailing at a door half-covered in tar

12) Soren in the septagram, hands up pleadingly, in the classical pose like daVinci and other Reformation artists, toward a demon

13) Soren’s childhood door, half-covered in tar, with Soren’s symbol scratched in chalk

14) A goblet of wine, ringed in salt like a Margarita

15) A man in a top-hat, face obscured, standing off-kilter to a backdrop of brick

16) A man playing chess alone in a park

 

That’s all I got. Any thoughts? 

 

Chris

Let’s Talk About Drugs!

Said the clown to the priest.

No. Writing a book based on any level of “realism” (or at the very least, depth) requires the writer to study the periphery. The periphery could involve any number of things. In fact, in fantasy (and dare I say, in reality) the possibilities are damn near endless. Writing an urban fantasy novel (UF from here on out) usually brings about images of sardine-packed apartment buildings, grungy streets, dark alleys, bricks and concrete and unnatural yellow streetlights. What good city doesn’t have those? Farther on the periphery, the main character (MC from here on out) hears dogs barking–which a friend of mine once wrote a very in-depth analysis of what part these barking dogs have in our subconscious; interesting little read–or perhaps people talking in the distance. The MC passes shadowy shapes in alleys, perhaps, or nobody at all. The MC is silhouetted against bar windows or restaurants or vacant buildings. The MC stops in front of graffiti. All important.

Yet. One major aspect of the Real Life Urban scene is drug use. I haven’t read much UF with drug use as a periphery. I don’t know why. Given I’ve never done illegal drugs, never inhaled mary jane, never rolled Ecstasy, perhaps most fantasy writers haven’t either. It’s something they know nothing about, therefore it is either overlooked or ignored in the story.

I understand it. I don’t like it. We write about dragons but not drugs? We write about hellfire but not drug-use? The only time I see much discussion of it is when it’s a pivotal point of the story, where some supernatural investigator seeks the truth in some drug-user’s death–usually, where the drug is the magical, I dunno, tool used to move the story forward. Which is cool. I love those stories. I just want more of it. Especially in UF.

And high fantasy (HF from here on out) included! What? Pirates didn’t use opiates? Your scoundrels exist in a drug-free world even though there’s an ecosystem as complex as anything that exists on Earth? Hell no. I refuse to believe it.

Now if you want a fairy tale with no drugs, that’s fine. Plain and pure and storytelling at its best? Sounds perfect. Go for it. It has its place. Drugs are a dark side to society most people want to escape from. It might not have a healthy place in your story.

But I want more of it. I want the guy that’s high as a kite, he just might, stop and check the MC out. I want the Trent Reznor-type in an intimidating-as-shit black duster roaring in the MC’s face as he’s hyped up on PCP. Why not? It’s scary. A kind of scary a lot of people don’t want to get involved with. Perhaps a little Too Real. But it’s UF. And, if you do it right, it’s a damn easy way to make an intimidating Antagonist downright terrifying.

Take The Professional, for instance. The movie made in ’91 (or was it ’94?). Gary Oldman stars as the bad guy, a crooked cop that’s actually head of the DEA. The guy’s a loose cannon. Not someone you want to play Russian Roulette with. Add his little pill he pops (literally pops) in his mouth, he transforms into something else. Every single aspect of what makes that man sane, and with boundaries, is gone. Whisked away with the intense high.

Here’s the thing. It can be just on the periphery. It can be a secondary character that simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be an average joe the reader trusts. And he can change in an instant. That stuff is powerful.

To extend the thought–magic. Oh crap, magic! You can have a magical drug that does nothing to most but changes a few. You can have a time-delay magical drug that simply gives all the peaceful effects of a steaming cup of tea, but have three successive loud noises, whoa Nelly! Run for the hills. It allows you to create monsters out of timid mice, sleeper agents who truly know nothing of their place, or just, heck, plain old frostbitten Josh Nobody looking to take the edge off his gangrenous foot. For as long as humanity has existed, drugs have coincided. Alcohol aside! I think there’s a huge market for any writer willing to get his fingers dirty, understanding drugs and, farther in, humanity’s need of them.

A professor once told me to use the rule of ten doors. Major decisions require ten outcomes. Write them down. Pick the best. Go to a smaller choice. Rule of ten. Write them down. Choose the best. And so on. It helps with writer’s block and everything. It also does a great job of painting the picture when it comes to drug use: drugs have different effects for different people, even the same dose. It makes for wonderful storytelling and, given the magic world the MC lives in, could possibly turn bad into worse or good into terrible.

I’ll do it now!

Dashing Tom Perfect just had a run-in with Josuha Random Reefer Toking while on his way to deliver a medallion!

1) He puts his head down and ignores him, creating foreshadowing for JRR Toking later in the story
2) He takes a moment to listen to JRR Toking and his far-out stories of Nevernever Earth and inadvertently adds humor to the otherwise stoic, dry story
3) He realizes Mr. Toking is smoking Magical Marijuana, and any contact high could relinquish DTP’s perfect mental control over himself, creating small conflict
4) He listens to JRR Toking, who is really an escaped torture victim for (Antagonist’s name here), and he can only survive this hellish life by smoking the reef and drifting through the world as a vagrant
5) JRR Toking is smoking to get up the courage to talk to Dashing Tom, because he has Vital Information!
6) DTP has had a negative experience with potheads, where his half-brother (half-elf) smoked too much pot and burned his life away to mediocrity, despite having a brilliant mind. DTP therefore puts Toking in a choke-hold and ties him up in the back of his pedivan.
7) DTP smells more than marijuana on JRR Toking’s breath, recognizing the effects of a much more damaging drug, the Soulfie, where JRR Toking slowly gives his soul away to a powerful douche-cerer.
8) JRR Toking is a conspiracy theorist who loves to think about the possibility of a universe whole-mind, where everyone can talk to each other psychically and nobody has to poop. That’s all. Oh and he’s a cunning thief in disguise and steals the medallion.
9) DTP recognizes the sociopolitical ramifications of JRR Toking walking the streets in such rags–but wait, isn’t that the insignia of a freedom fighting group he wears as a patch on his skinny jeans?
10) JRR Toking reminds DTP of a friend DTP once had, stops the man, talks to him a moment, and realizes the poor bastard is a war vet with A WHOLE LOT OF STORIES TO TELL. And firearms training.

Alrighty. That’s just one line of decisions, all rife with information. I’m not feeling particularly inspired at the moment (Really stressed) so I bypassed some of the deeper thoughts. Any one of those decisions could lead to another major decision. So on and so forth.

So. I advocate drug use. In fantasy novels.

My Brand of Fantasy Magic

…isn’t really fantasy at all. Magical realism, perhaps?

I recently re-watched Constantine (starring The Man of One Face: Keanu Reeves), where the protagonist spends his life fighting to keep the balance between heaven and hell via magical relics, know-how, and insight into traveling to hell and back. He’s dark, brooding, quippy, and so self-destructive he’s dying of lung cancer. It’s a delve into what I consider magical realism: people, many people, believe wholeheartedly that the ability exists (even if it’s only for one person) to… insert random miracle here. Be it travel through hell, talk to the dead, turn water to wine, transform into a totem-animal, talk to rocks, converse with ancestors long dead, see auras, dowse, possess another person/animal.

A lot of people don’t. And that’s cool. A lot of people pursue religion as a form of self-government, so instead of spending the time to understand themselves, they look to religion: “This is bad (according to the Book), so I won’t do it.” It also kills multiple birds by creating a community of similar-thinking people, which reinforces the feeling of “this is right.” Which is cool. That’s what certain governmental bodies do. And we’re governed by many circles, be it personal, family, friends, religion, spiritual (separate from religion), communal, work, local, federal, world. And that’s just what I pulled off the top. This is a digression and I’ll stop it now. I’m trying to show how this also holds its own forms of power: any single one of these bubbles could specify “this is bad” and a person follow it simply because, well, someone says to. Even the “personal” circle. Which in itself is a form of mind control.

I had a simple purpose when I began writing twelve years ago: have fun, connect with people, share my thoughts. It’s still the same purpose, albeit a little evolved. My thoughts developed into something a little stronger: magic is real. Some magic is real. Not all. Magic Missiles and two hundred foot orc giants with enchanted tree trunks for armor isn’t. Science keeps trying to say it has all the answers worth knowing (while people touting Science as the new religion also try to say, like a marijuana enthusiast, Science has ALL the answers), but it doesn’t. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, “That’s what’s so great about science. You don’t have to believe in it for it to be true. It exists without your permission.”

Mostly.

I know enough about Science to know the importance of “observable” and “human fallacy.” I’ve been reading about human beings having more than five senses. More like nine. Pressure, balance to name two. It really doesn’t matter how often Science revises what truths it accepts as fact. What matters is it’s always changing in its definition, always updating its databases.

Next, to define science into two subcategories: hard science (physics for one) and soft science (psychology for two). I know too many well-meaning Science worshippers who put it all together. Soft sciences, the stuff our thoughts are made of, the stuff of our dreaming, of our extra-sensories, of our deeper knowledge, of our abstract pattern recognitions, is very wide open and mostly unexplored, despite the 100 or so years we’ve had to study it. Why? Unobservable. Or, difficult to observe. Assumptions based on calculations and patterns of tests.

Magic is a soft science. In fact, eventually, all that “magic” will fall into some sub-sub category of either a sense or quirk of one or two chromosomes in some errant mutative family line (or, you know, something a person develops through meditation and a proven set of practices). Since our realities are subjected to the extent of our senses, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–to say I can’t dream another person’s dreams, for example. Or travel a place constructed wholly of peoples’ thoughts, over time, like a great big living world placed overtop our own. Or fight constructs of modern religion with sheer self-certainty alone.

We all give off energy. That’s a fact. We exist because of it. Byproducts of processes going in in our bodies. We can’t see it. We assume the effect of said energy release is negligible to our surroundings simply because, since we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

I find a new awakening going on, in this culture. In this society. A long, long time ago, during the time of the birthing religions (200 BC to, say, 1000 AD), the understanding exploded of a second, third, and perhaps even fourth sublayer above the Real. This is the stuff of the new old religions. It is the backbone. Now that religion is failing so many people of this time of “Scientific Certainty,” they’re turning to Science and Atheism. Which is cool. They do their thing. As long as they aren’t killing in the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s all gravy.

The New Reformation, I guess, comes. Or a Second Enlightenment. I’m only sorry I don’t get to know it fully.

So the magic I use in my writing comes from a deep place, a sub-tonal to the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Gitas, and the Books of the Dead, and whatever else. It comes from a constructed place–a governing place similar to those I listed–where the reality is multi-faceted, science is currently too short-sighted to involve itself, and energy talks with the voice of long-dead preachers. The magic I use is energy, plain and pure, built up on the shoulder-plates of imaginative thinkers and socio-pariahs like Einstein and Twain and Jung who, in another century (or life), would be heralded as prophets or even gods.

My brand of fantasy magic comes from the coupling of intelligent thought and passionate realization, of fever dreams and deep stillness. My brand of magic is the extent of the human condition, of spirituality that exists for itself, of ripe power sieved through governing filters. And that’s just in the reality.

In my writing, it collects the results of What Ifs and runs tests until the pattern is undeniable in its repetition.

Sorry. Magic is a lot of things. For me, it must stem from reality. It must stem from science and its branches are religion. Its fruits are you and I, the readers and writers, and it’s more than simply an axe-like tool. It’s a whole undiscovered place, like a continent with slightly different rules. It’s a way of breathing. It’s a way of bleeding. It’s a way of interaction.

It’s so. Fucking. Sexy.

Activism, Community, and a Good Editor

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I apologize for everyone still following. After a disastrous few months, and a job that left me with an hour to do housework, food prep, and bill pay a day, I’m back to continue my movement toward enlightenment.

I live in St. Louis. I can’t say what’s happening in Ferguson doesn’t effect me. I’ve pared down my Facebook friends because of it, come closer to other friends because of it, and have dedicated a lot of time to understanding what exactly is going on. And I figured it out. But since I’m an armchair activist with too little time and too many thoughts, I’ll spare any debate on this blog due to the simple fact that I believe a lot of other people have said it much better than I.

So after spending nearly a year planning my book publication, I’m proud to say I’m only a few steps away from self publication. I researched the heck out of the process, my options, went out and actually talked to self-published (and reasonably successful) authors in the community, and hired a professional editor. I’ve learned much. This, more than activism, is what I can talk about with (what I feel as) experience.

1) As Mr. King said, ‘The first million words are practice.’ I can’t, actually, stress this enough. It’s what’s so darn important with NaNoWriMo, it’s what’s so important about sitting down every night to write, and it’s insanely important to understand. I have countless dead books, countless completed manuscripts of novels that won’t see the light of day because they simply aren’t good enough. My writing continues to develop. My abilities continue to grow. Understanding flourishes. The ability to write such understanding also flourishes.

2) Criticism is gold. I really don’t have anything else to say about this. If you want to be a good writer, a good author, a successful wordsmith, you must weigh in any and all criticism as a boon. I’m not saying to incorporate everything anyone ever says. I’m not saying to take it to heart when someone you respect says they don’t like your work. Three years ago my brother read the novel I’m about to publish (in a much different format) and said he couldn’t stand the ending. He wouldn’t read it again because of it. So I changed it. I changed a lot, actually, due to his input. It’s huge. I don’t think he actually knows what impact he’s had on me. Haha I also know I wouldn’t tell him that to his face.

3) Understand that if you’re writing in the same field as me (Fantasy/science fiction), you don’t stand much of a chance to be successful overnight. Or in ten years. Or in twenty. This stuff takes time. It’s a smaller (albeit growing) platform than, say, murder mysteries or military thrillers. At the same time, the base is solid. Strong. I can’t talk about other fields of writing. I simply know how difficult (currently: impossible) it was to find an agent–or even get much criticism from others I know. It takes time even with a strong base.

4) A good editor is paramount. No matter what you think you know about writing, you fall into writing habits that can break a book on the shelves. Lord knows I have my unseen hangups. So I say this: if you’re serious about publishing and publication, hire an editor. Hire two. You absolutely. Absolutely need the extra eyes, the extra training. Always. No matter how good you are. Furthermore, study up on what each editor does. There are many different types of wordsmith out there, and they don’t all do what you might need done.

4.1) A good cover artist is paramount. A good book constructionist is paramount. An experienced e-published writer is paramount. What I’m saying is, the more you delegate and take the time to find someone who can do things better than you can–or even as well as–the more you can focus on the things you find high in priority for you. Don’t be afraid to spend a little coin to get a more polished end result. The more you polish, the more it shines. You’ll be thanking them afterward.

5) You MUST stop the rewrites sometime. Must. I’m on my final read through of the novel I’m publishing, and after that, I’m done. Done done done. Even though I see potential for stronger chapters, even though I’ve (more than once) woke up in the middle of the night and thought, ‘This novel is a wasted effort. It’ll never be how I want it to be.’ Maybe. Which is why practice is important. Which is why an editor is important.

6) Get involved in your community, in writing groups, in wherever. Once you’re finished with your novel, you MUST look at it as a piece of property to be sold. Even if it’s your life work, even if you don’t care about money, even if…whatever. You must look at it from a business standpoint if you want your work to get into the hands of people who respect it the most. Period. Be prepared to advertise. Be prepared to lose friends (even if it doesn’t happen) on Facebook due to you plugging your product. Be prepared to spend actual money to get actual advertisement out, whether it’s a large print of your cover for an upcoming Con, or a billboard somewhere on highway 64 (I’ve never seen it done, but it could happen), be willing to spend a percentage.

7) Have a plan for how you’ll present your work, whether it’s through local libraries/bookstores, conventions, radio time, online sales, or what. Make certain you have some kind of infrastructure in place to accommodate a strong sale. I personally plan to e-publish first, advertise and use a 15% of proceeds to create a limited print run via several in-town publishing groups. If I’m successful in that step, I move forward with the next step of the plan (You know, national television and being a guest speaker at some small college).

I don’t have a lot of writerly friends. I grew up in the Midwest, still live in the Midwest, and have a lot of technical-minded people surrounding me. They’re wonderful people but this whole process has been hard knocks. Lots of falling. Lots of form letter rejections (Over 500). Lots of time. But it’s needed. If you disagree with anything I write, I implore you to contact me so we can discuss.

heissererwriter@gmail.com

Actually, you don’t even have to disagree. If you want to discuss, please do so.

Chris

NaNoWriMoUpDate

17650 words. I know. I wrote David and His Shade faster than this. I guess this is the difference between when a man wakes from a particularly inspiring dream, and when a man wakes with nothing more than THIS MONTH I GOTTA WRITE. Something to think about.

I’ll only write about the project as I go, and not about my plans for said project. The biggest piece of writing advice I ever recieved came from a wonderful poet/professor (poetfessor?) who lives on the East Coast (and flies into Springfield, IL twice a month to teach). She said only talk about what you’ve written, and never what you’re going to write. In telling the story, you’ve already told it, and your inspiration has died.

I took it to heart. She knew so much about writing, I found her class one of the few true gems in a courseload of mediocrity. And to top it off, it was a critique roundtable where everyone tossed their work into the middle and everyone else talked about it. Whoda thought.

It’s steampunky, kinda. 30 pages in and I’ve still not revealed the steampunk of the thing. It’s time-travelly: a witch by the name of Lotus from the 1300’s, a “stolen goods acquierer,” Mr. Ward from the 1850’s, and some anachronistic survival tour guide, Michael, from the 2012’s come together to save the world from blowing up by a particularly devious man. The novel begins in 2014, where the man ignites Yosemite National Park’s Old Faithful, creating a two-mile-wide volcanic explosion.

Aggressive, I know. It destroys the world and the secret police of Alexandria must hastily recruit a new Jackdaw (Crow) for the job, since the other 5 blew up in the death of the world. Fun. Said earth-ender knows magic no living person understands but historically existed, and Lotus was the last practitioner of said magic. Mr. Ward was the last known owner of said book of magic practices. Which ties everything together.

Lotus’ personality is a detached loner style. She’s tied to the arcane in her own time, let alone the 1800’s, where she knows nothing and cares little for it. She’s all spines and danger and power, especially since the world she now walks is so foreign. She can kill a man with a look and the proper concentration, she’s a true multi-tasker (one hand draws a picture while the other holds a gun), and hates men. Or, their place in society. In general.

Mr. Ward is a low-key guy used to working through the underbelly of Boston. He’s a determined guy who doesn’t give a damn about much of anything, and spends most of his time hiding his scars, so to speak. He has a chivalrous heart, beneath it all, and wholly believes in his cause. Given he’s an artifact, and sometimes reliqual, collector, he’s developed a tough skin. Since they are forced to work in his time period, he is kind of the focus. He’s never relied on anyone before and isn’t about to start now. He feels more a babysitter to Michael than anything else.

Michael understands how important everything is, but knows nothing about magic. He’s a stumbling ex-surfer who prefers hiking and camping and proper diet to anything so active as saving the world. He’s adrift and is charged with learning as much as he can from the other two Jackdaws before they (the three of them) return to the present, 1 year before the slow, suffocating end of humanity. He turns out to be a scrappy guy, more interested in helping those he trusts than the Greater Good. He’s kinda MacGuyver-ish with his knowledge of basic physics, chemistry, anatomy, and mechanical engineering. He’s the everyman that doesn’t want to die as his prime motivator. He also loves ladies.

Anywho, I just finished writing a scene where Lotus tattoos Michael in a dream, all over his body, for protection. He’s tied to a torture device. I enjoy the idea that magic isn’t just an out-there idea, but a very real part of her world. Lotus is as fleshed as I can make her. It’s poor Mr. Ward I’m having trouble with.

So! I return to reading Angel of Darkness, a historian’s wet dream but casual reader’s nightmare. It is currently my Moby Dick. If he talks one more time about the sprawling cityscape of New York circa 1897, I’m going to scream. Yes, we know you knew where every church, yellow bumper, and mancover was. No, it’s not integral to the story.

Write on, friends.

Breaking Into the School of Magic

Since moving to St. Louis I’ve noticed my writing preferences changing. I haven’t begun a new project in over a year now, mostly due to my wife’s hard line on my getting something published, or quit trying.

I’m writing about all the taboo subjects, with all the taboo characterizations: no strong female lead, no tried-and-true character types in my Fantasies (like Lothlorien-esque elves, or Twilit werewolves), and they’re being written to communicate many things, not just an adventure or coming-of-age. People in these books, much like people in the real world, are sometimes racist, sometimes dumb, and rarely zealous to a cause. My elves inhabit soul-less bodies, where the living minds are imprisoned elsewhere. My world is dangerous the way the real world is, the way a city is, the way religion is. It is a minefield in the mind. It is the Grimm fairy tales as initially written. It is a ghost story as understood by the haunted.

I recently finished reading my last finished project, David and his Shade, a Modern Fantasy novel that I frankly couldn’t stop reading. It’s about a boy who, up until his thirteenth birthday, was kept in total ignorance of magic and its uses. It’s about a school that opens his eyes. It’s about a world at war (much as it is in the real world). It’s about dangerous things, inside and outside the classroom. It’s about Big Brother and its vice grip on knowledge. But most of all, it’s about David figuring out his place in it all and ultimately coming to the question that requires answering: should he remain in the world of magic and learn all he can about it, or should he “grow up,” as his father’s friend says, “and return to God-fearing reality”?

He is in no way unremarkable. All the characters are. In the 231 pages, a rich story exists. A story I feel needs to be shared. It’s not an easy one, or a simple one, or an easily tossed aside one. I have something to say.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to market such a book in the post-Harry Potter days where every agent underneath the sun screams, NO BOYS AND SCHOOLS OF MAGIC. AT ALL.

It’s not past its rough draft stage–I still have to reinforce several characters, introduce themes and questions much earlier in the story, and connect several loose ends. I have much to do, especially given all the forgotten “flavor.”

But I’m having a hard time with it. Even when it’s all finished, written up, final draft drafted, climax climaxed, etc, I’ll be fighting the wall of Unpublishable. No agent will read my query past David attends a school of magic. No publisher would touch it with a ten foot pole simply on content alone.

Nevermind David fights a murdering troupe of Lost Boys, trains under a creature twisted by nightmare, and meets Mephistopheles himself. Nevermind New York is uprooted and severed by the emergence of demons who owe no allegience to any country. Nevermind a six mile high Worldtree blocks all sun from Boulder, CO half the day, or the fact that science backs most magical theory. No.

It’s too close to the most popular universe in fantasy fiction, so it has no selling value. Perhaps I’ll word my query with imploring desperation: Please, Mr or Ms Agent, read my first ten pages before making your decision.

Perhaps I should do that with all my work.