You Can’t Subvert What You Haven’t Built

In case you don’t religiously check my website for updates, I’d like to point out a recent addition to the “True Facts About My Fake World” wing: this explanation of a prevailing in-world historiographic model, complete with illustration.

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Cyclical history is great, because it creates expectations. Expectations are great because they allow a storyteller to direct an audience’s attention. And that’s a level of control which comes in real handy when you need to pull off a slight-of-hand maneuver. The missing card can slip invisibly from the sleeve only when everyone’s transfixed by the twirling top hat.

But in order to subvert expectations, you need to have established some in the first place. And that takes work. The bigger the intended surprise, the more work must be invested in the preliminary setup. Not ostentatiously, of course: the conservation of detail allows genre-savvy readers to spot a head-fake coming. A given expectation must fade into the background, becoming the very air the characters breathe, an unseen context that isn’t questioned.

So yeah. Arlam’s historical cycle has a clockface’s worth of epochs, but the hour-hand’s invisible.

That’s not suspicious at all.

Staged & Engaged

Apparently, it takes a display-table’s worth of material just to pitch my novel at a writer’s conference. Behold my Realm Makers signature collection! Many trees died to bring you this persuasive array.

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Clockwise, from top left: an in-world poem, laminated; my magic system, laminated; a map of Arlam, laminated; the first three chapters of A Sea Sought in Song; one-sheets; business cards.

P.S. Lamination is super cheap at Office Depot. Didja know?

Nothing Personal

… it’s just my business cards, the first batch of which arrived by mail today! In two weeks, I’ll be passing them out at the Realm Makers writer’s conference. Kudos to moo.com for not cutting any corners except the ones I asked them to round. These look and feel like artwork. I figured that as long as I was purchasing little paper rectangles to distribute, I might as well fork over a little extra to ensure they’d stand out from the rest of the pile. Fortunately, as of last month, I had a bunch of art just lying around waiting to get repurposed.

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The back of the card features my passable depiction of The Man With The Radiant Hand (a narratively-significant icon from the world of Arlam) along with the opening stanza of the prophecy which lends its name to my entire Seed of Glory Sown in Sorrow series. It’s my hope these elements will intrigue, rather than confuse, the viewer.

The front of the card features my name, relevant occupation, website, and contact info, all integrated, place-name-style, into a portion of my map of Arlam. I’m quite happy with how this turned out. Initially I tried all sorts of approaches for the front design—dragons framing the border, etc.—but it all ended up looking too busy. This solution was cohesive, elegant, and unique.

To delve further into the cartography of Arlam, visit my website’s map-room.

To further explore A Sea Sought in Song, visit its online home. There you can familiarize yourself with the cast, settings, and magic system, and even read the first four chapters.

All Mapped Out

When I began writing A Sea Sought in Song, one of my goals was to obviate the need for a flyleaf map.

Now, I love maps. Collect ’em, even. I can lose myself in an atlas just as easily as in an encyclopedia. And A Sea Sought in Song is high fantasy, and there’s nothing quite so characteristic of high fantasy as a flyleaf map. So why the aversion?

Because a map is a crutch. If a story is told well, readers will know where they are even without a map—even if the setting is utterly alien. Also, I had no desire to telegraph upcoming plot points by means of a handy tour guide. A fantasy cartographer must balance realism with relevance. If the map is universally intricate, the reader begins to feel let down: “Why can’t we go visit X? Why’s it even on this map if we never find out what it is?” Conversely, if the Law of Conservation of Detail is adhered to too strictly, it becomes easy for the reader to anticipate where our heroes are journeying next: all one needs do is trace the specificity.

So anyway, I wanted to avoid all that, or at least write in a way that didn’t necessitate it. And I did, and I’m glad I did. But then I finished the book, and I thought to myself, ‘Now wouldn’t it be nice if this book had a flyleaf map?’

Told you I loved maps.

So then I drew a map. But it wasn’t just a map for A Sea Sought in Song; it was a map that encompassed everything I anticipated seeing throughout the duration of my fantasy series. Since I pieced it together by reconciling all the geographic references I’d already dropped in Book One, it contained plenty of complexity right out of the gate. All it took to complete were a few additional flourishes of appellation.

And then I began writing Book Two. And I found myself consulting the map almost constantly—to remind myself of far-flung place names, to hone my sense of proportion, even to calculate the distance and time necessary to travel between Points A and B. The map made everything easier.

And then, suddenly, I needed to start producing promo materials: one-sheets, a website, business cards … All of which needed graphic filler—supporting content that looked good, but wasn’t overly specific. And hey, I had this handy map just lyin’ around …

So then the map started showing up on all my stuff. It’s almost a motif now. A signal for my fantasy-ness.

But I’m still convinced its quality lies in its redundancy.