Writer of the Future Past

Welp, I did it: I finally got my name up on ol’ L. Ron’s shortlist. My story entry for the 1st quarter of 2023 was voted a Writers of the Future semifinalist.

Check out these RESULTS. My name’s the sixth one down on the semifinalist list: “Austin Gunderson from Utah.” Out of a sea of over 400 honorable mentions, my story broke into the top 2% of officially-recognized entries, and into the top fraction of a percent of total entries.

As was the case with my two previous WOTF honorable mentions, this semifinalist entry was an unaltered chapter pulled directly from THE HEIR AND THE HERALD, my epic fantasy series now available on Kindle and in paperback. I can say with complete honesty that the only quality which sets this chapter apart from its many fellows is that it, as a flashback narrative, is relatively self-contained. I invested no more than my usual care in its crafting. It’s a representative example of my prose.

So if you’re looking for a 1,100-pages-and-counting epic noir fantasy adventure with WOTF semifinalist-grade work on every single page … if you’ve always wished someone would write an Indiana Jones-goes-to-Narnia yarn and care how the story was told … then you won’t regret taking a portal to the world of Arlam.

But this is a bittersweet pitch. WOTF is a contest for amateurs. The fact that I can now attempt to sell you on my novels means that I’m no longer eligible to submit—I’ve officially “pro’ed out.” I sent in my semifinalist story twelve days before signing with my publisher. Little did I know how high would be the note upon which I was about to go out.

But in the close of one chapter, there’s the opening of another. And this new chapter is all about you, Dear Reader. You’re the judge now. And I’ve submitted to you a vast and ambitious entry.

I hope you like it.

Paper Products

For those of you who love the firm, fresh feel of real physical paper in your hands—the security of knowing you possess an artifact that isn’t dependent on batteries, isn’t vulnerable to an EMT, and won’t expire the week after you get sucked through a portal to Arlam—today’s the day you’ve been waiting for.


That’s right: at the speed of Amazon Prime, 3/4 of “The Heir and the Herald” tetralogy—my entire published oeuvre—can be ensconced upon your bookshelf. What once was a dubious dream can now be yours to keep.

If you’ve finished Book 1—A Sea Sought in Song—you already know you have to read its sequels. If you haven’t, here’s the TL;DR:

Wrath and Crimson Rime — The dark second chapter to the saga of Hugh Conrad and Ilina Lightkeeper. Neither you nor they are prepared for the crisis they must face … and what it will mean for their partnership.

Loose the Sealed Tongue — The saga turns a blind corner to plunge into pure epicness. This staggeringly-ambitious espionage adventure will push our heroes beyond the limits of endurance … and into the realm of legend.

So if you’ve been craving epic fantasy distinguished by depth, zeal, and ferocious flair, if you’re hungering for something fresh in the vein of Tad Williams, Brandon Sanderson, or Patrick Rothfuss, now’s the time to dive into a series readers are praising as “absorbing and action-packed,” “beautiful writing,” and “engag[ing] till the very last sentence.”

Beginning an Ending

The past month has been a writerly whirlwind. Forging ahead from my final editorial pass on Book 3, I proceeded to fully outline Book 4, and then to complete its Prologue, Overture, and first numbered chapter in short order. Book 4 now stands at 14K words, or roughly 12% of its estimated total length.

For me, this is an unheard-of pace.

Having an outline—and being constrained by the narrowing potentialities of a sprawling epic now barreling toward its climax—has certainly accelerated matters, but these early chapters had to do a lot of work that can’t be reduced to discrete plot-points. They had to establish and distinguish between the mental states and interpersonal dynamics of all the returning POV characters, establish a new POV character, establish several entirely new settings, flash back in time in order to tell a self-contained and emotionally-gripping story with huge-yet-opaque implications for the present situation, and, most importantly, establish the prevailing mood which will carry through the remainder of the narrative.

Since that work’s now done, I imagine the ensuing chapters will speed by even faster.

In recent years, it’s become a commonplace for epic fantasy authors to grind to a halt as their series’ conclusions loom. Now, granted, all four books that comprise “The Heir and the Herald” will together just barely surpass the wordcount of—to pick a totally random example—Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear (~400K words), but at that length we’re approaching The Lord of the Rings territory (~480K words), and no one considers Tolkien’s magnum opus either short or shallow. Sticking the landing is, I believe, not merely an important step but central and essential to the integrity of the entire work. A good series with a bad ending is like a house with sturdy walls and a leaky roof: one single oversight compromises everything else. A strong ending validates whatever led up to it, and a weak ending makes readers wonder, quite reasonably, whether all the time they invested in said run-up was ultimately wasted.

The ways in which an ending can suck are innumerable, but the things it must do in order to meet or surpass audience expectations are simple (not easy!). Firstly, it must proceed organically from what came before. If the story swerves into seemingly-unrelated territory at the last second, or if a plot-device solution appears out of left field, then the ending will feel tacked-on, as though the author stayed up all night to finish it before a deadline. A truly great conclusion, by contrast, will in retrospect feel inevitable from the very first page.

Secondly, the ending must confront and solve the real problems (not necessarily the problems readers are focused on!). Hopefully the author knows better than the reader where the fault-lines lie, and which tectonic plates need to shift in order to relieve the narrative tension. Since problems tend to proliferate, this typically requires multiple layers of resolution: within characters, between characters, in the practical realm of the story-world, and, most importantly, within the minds and hearts of readers. If the story has explored a theme, an idea, a way of viewing the world, then the logical implications of that concept must be dealt with so that a conclusion may be drawn.

Thirdly, the ending must resonate. What I mean by this nebulous term is that the reader must feel it. This is, after all, the payoff, the moment of truth. Narrative fiction is art, and all true art inhabits the realm of the emotions—of instinct. Beauty is sensed, not scrutinized. So if the protagonist goes on an emotional/psychological/intellectual/spiritual journey, if he or she experiences growth, an arc, or any degree of catharsis, then the reader must experience it too. If when the curtain drops readers are still coldly deciding what they think, that’s a failure mode. They should be feeling the ending despite themselves.

Fourthly, a genre-specific directive: the ending must blow the reader’s mind. This is the “unexpected” element of the coveted “unexpected-yet-inevitable” designation. Whether this takes the form of a eucatastrophe, a Sherlock Holmes-esque retrospective monologue, a “Sandersonian avalanche,” or some other form of sudden blinding illumination, the reader must be surprised. A lot of this depends on writerly opsec. Have you sufficiently covered your plot tracks? Thrown in enough red herrings? A solution that can be figured out ahead of time is boring, and it fosters readerly contempt for characters who fail to pick up on the seemingly-obvious. The element of surprise—the future’s unpredictability—is one of an author’s most powerful tools precisely because it forces readers to get down in the trenches with the characters and sympathize with their frustrations.

These are the sorts of things I’m constantly mulling over as an author. Whether my writing meets these criteria—scene by scene, chapter by chapter, book by book, and ultimately as a holistic series—is up for you to decide. But I promise I’m making the effort.

Book 3 Debut

Today, the game has changed.

Loose the Sealed Tongue, third volume in “The Heir and the Herald” epic fantasy tetralogy, is NOW AVAILABLE ON KINDLE. It brings the saga of Hugh Conrad and Ilina Lightkeeper to a running total of over 1,100 tightly-written pages.

This is my longest and best novel yet. It’s also very different from its predecessors. I could tell you it’s a spy-vs-spy Arabian-Nights-esque heist thriller with mammoths and dragons and magic swords and dirigibles and ballroom dancing, but then I’d have to kill you.

So why not order it today, and find out for yourself?

(Please be advised that the back-cover description of Book 3 contains massive SPOILERS for Books 1 & 2. All of Book 3’s promotional materials—including this blog post you just read—should be avoided like the plague if you haven’t yet enjoyed its predecessors. THIS MEANS YOU!)

Book 3 Preorders Open

Loose the Sealed Tongue, third volume in “The Heir and the Herald” epic fantasy tetralogy, is NOW AVAILABLE FOR KINDLE PREORDER!

This is my longest and best novel yet. It’s also very different from its predecessors. I could tell you it’s a spy-vs-spy Arabian-Nights-esque heist thriller with mammoths and dragons and magic swords and dirigibles and ballroom dancing, but then I’d have to kill you.

So why not preorder it today, and find out for yourself?