My Fantasy Begins to Stir

When this blog began in 2014, I had one goal in mind. I wanted to promote a fantasy book series I was writing. At the time, I thought this work in progress was nearing completion and I’d have it out within a few years. Since then, a lot has changed.

One of the big realizations I made was this large and complex world was, at the time, beyond my skill level as an artist. In order for it to reach its full potential, perhaps it was a good time to let it take a break and focus on other projects. And that’s what I did. A horror novel has finished its second draft, a script is about to undergo its semi final draft. Yet out of every story currently ticking the back of my head, this fantasy story is without a doubt the most near and dear to my heart.

That’s why letting it rest was one of my best decisions.

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The original story concerned a dragon who finds himself blackmailed by a group of ragtag heroes who need his help. The dragon begrudgingly agrees, and finds himself whisked away on an adventure more challenging than he could have imagined. We did a lot of work on this story, from some impressive concept art to highly detailed illustrations, all done by some very close friends of mine. I’m humbled and warmed by the fact that they stuck with me for so long, and continue to enrich my life with their company.

The work my colleagues did was impressive to say the least, and did help capture the pulpy adventure feel I desired for the book. But during this time, as my writing skills developed, so did theirs. The earlier work was still impressive, but by the standards of what my friends have accomplished today, the work is but a stepping stone to something greater.

The cherry on top of all this is since we took a break, we could actually re-evaluate the designs of a lot of the characters. Previously we were afraid to change things based on all the work we’d done. After a break, we could once again experiment. We have begun this process, and the results have thus far proven most promising.

But that’s just the beginning of the substantial changes the story has gone through. Since then I’ve been introduced to other narrative works that have provided much inspiration for the creative process. One of the most unlikely of these was Black Rain, a cop thriller from the late 80s that I fell in love with upon my first viewing. Not exactly what one would expect when seeking inspiration for high fantasy, but I always had a taste for the unusual.

I’ve also made another important decision. Before, I’d bragged that I hadn’t read a lot of high fantasy as to avoid its influence on my own story. Now I’ve come to realize that was a flawed way of thinking, and that many of the classics should be viewed as teachers with a variety of valuable lessons for any author. I’ve since read The Hobbit, and will soon delve into the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Silmarillion. After that comes A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, Dragonlance, and more. Not a bad lineup when trying to make my own fantasy smoothie. All will have valuable lessons to teach.

Even after that, there’s still more. The overall tone and feel of the story has changed, still maintaining its adventurous feel with some added gravitas. Characters have gone through drastic re-evaluations and evolutions to the point that they barely resemble their counterparts from a few years prior. This is a good thing, as an overly meek character and an ill placed comic relief are both vastly improved even in the conceptual stage.

Since this story’s humble beginnings and a four year long slog through a flawed draft, I’ve developed a much clearer vision of where I want this tale to go. Gone is the simple tale of a dragon getting blackmailed into heroics. Hopefully, it’s something far richer.

Today, work on it will continue. My outline board lies ready in my office. Slowly but surely, I’ll begin decorating it with my special brand of color-coded pins, organizing the ideas a little at a time. It’ll be a long, no doubt frustrating process, but as my recently completed novel has taught me, the journey is always worthwhile.

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Raiders of the Lost Arc

No, the title is not a typo. A solid set of character arcs is exactly what I seek on this journey. It may sound simple, but sometimes looking for a gold box filled with vengeful spirits who melt your face off does sound like an easier job.

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When I was a child, Indiana Jones was my favorite thing in the world. The robust excitement of it all with its balletic violence and action packed whimsy was every young boy’s dream. I always wanted to do something that encompassed those same qualities, and would provide escapist entertainment wrapped around something with emotional depth to give people both much needed fun, and food for thought.

I’ve now been trying to make that dream come to life in the form of this book, the first in a series of four fantasy adventure stories about a reluctant dragon as he travels a mythical land seeking to destroy evil.

It never seemed real that most of writing was re-writing, but that’s exactly what it is. In an earlier article I compared writing to archeology. Your first draft is when you find your dig site, and that’s an important first step because you know the ground you stand on. But then comes the hardest part, the digging. Oh God, OH GOD, the digging.

You have to first unearth the building to see its outer shell, and then you have to go inside and slowly empty out all the sand, then you have to polish and restore it all so it may be studied, then you have to translate just what it is you found so you know exactly what it means, and after all that is done one of your hired hands stumbles on a loose brick revealing an entirely new set of chambers you need to clear out and the whole process starts all over again.

And you have to kill a bunch of Nazis while doing it.

It is fitting that Indiana Jones was the inspiration for this little series, because writing it is no longer an artistic pursuit. It has become a quest. A quest to break through my own shortcomings as a writer and artist to allow this story to be great in spite of everything I’ve unwittingly done to hinder it.

 

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This guy, I really do believe in him even when my own self confidence is in short supply. He and the others really have a story that’s worth it, something that has the potential to be so special and so endearing that it could mean to so many others what Indiana Jones meant to me.

Raiders-of-the-lost-ark-truck-chase

But every quest is exhausting, and my legs have just about given out. I’m not at the truck chase throwing Nazis under the wheel but later on, sailing a ship with a beaten and shot body with wounds needing to be dressed. I’m burnt out. The time has come for another rest, because killing Nazis and writing both can take a lot out of you, as enjoyable as both are.

Writing while burnt out is not a good idea. It becomes not an act of love for your story, but an exercise in torture and tedium that you just want to end. It is impossible to get quality work done while you’re burnt out. I’ve written and re-written this story to the point that merely thinking about another edit makes me physically exhausted.

And I’m not the only one. Everyone who helped out on this is exhausted from our Marcus Brody to our Short Round. Everyone needs the load taken off a bit for a time so that we’ll be back and ready to really deliver some good material that will further elevate this little piece of prose.

I’ll probably give myself a few weeks to recover, so I may fall in love with this pixilated menagerie of words all over again, to give it the attention and care it so richly deserves.

When that break ends though, there’s still a lot of digging to do.

Why I Didn’t Read Fantasy While Preparing to Write Fantasy

Never-Heroes-Fantasy-Cover

Watching the cover for my first book slowly take shape has been very exciting. The three characters shown here, (left to right, River the Flatlander, Major Celice and Professor Blondie) appear more lifelike as the days go by. Once they and their fourth companion are finished, it is on to putting in the leading character, creating the background, and add ing whatever other elements are needed. After organizing them into an appropriate collage, that will capture the essence of Never Heroes.

I find it quite interesting that this most precious work of mine is a fantasy story, as fantasy was not a genre that interested me initially. Even when the Lord of the Rings movies first hit theaters, my reaction was one of general boredom. Fantasy never held that great an influence over me prior to high school, where a friend introduced me to Dungeons & Dragons and the rest is history.

I suppose that is one of the more interesting things about this particular pipe dream. Never Heroes was influenced by just about everything but fantasy. As you can read in the Inspirations and Influences article, this series was inspired by everything from the Indiana Jones movies, to Godzilla, to the Cthulhu Mythos, to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Of classic fantasy literature however, with the works of Tolkien, Rowling and Martin, their influence over the adventures in Haiden is relatively small.

This is partially to blame on the media I consumed as a kid. The genres that had the biggest influence on me as an adolescent boy were action movies, science fiction movies, and horror stories. You take all of those in, you start getting certain ideas about how stories work and what they should be. But I could have done research into the genre once I took this project seriously. That was a conscious decision on my part.

I attended a Q & A one of my old professors was in whilst in college. When asked about the originality of stories, said that “The audience expects not only convention, but innovation. You follow certain genre conventions, but also try and do something fresh with it to make your story stand on its own. Everything has been done, but not in every way.”

Convention and innovation. I had once thought the two were mutually exclusive. The idea of using them both in unison was a new and challenging idea, one I decided to test when writing Never Heroes.

I haven’t read all of the Harry Potter books, only read a few lines of the Middle Earth Saga, and have never laid a finger upon the covers of A Song of Ice and Fire or Dragonlance. It is tragic loss that will be corrected in due time, but only after I am sure this story has found a voice of its own.

While it is fun to be compared to artists you admire, art really is about self expression. I didn’t want to write something that seemed like it was trying to be Tolkien or Rowling. I wanted the world of Tygan to be a world all its own, that took inspiration from just about the last places anyone would expect for a fantasy story. It is a move that will hopefully set it apart from the rest of the genre, and create something that is unmistakably me.

Isn’t that what every story is meant to be?