Remember I said that it was going to be Monday that I made the big announcement? In a blog post that I wrote a grand total of twelve hours ago? Well, it turns out that I was completely wrong about that, but in a good way; I woke up this morning with my mind made up on my next project. To put it in brief - I’m going for another foray into fantasy. This was a surprisingly difficult decision, as I had been strongly tempted to go for historical novellas instead, and even had a few plotted out, but I finally decided to go for broke and write my epic fantasy series.
Most authors will tell you that they had a key work that helped inspire their work; I know that George R. R. Martin raves about ‘A Distant Mirror’ (which I probably should read...it’s been sitting on my shelf for weeks), but what finally dragged me over the top was an old book called ‘Life on a Medieval Barony’. When I say old, I mean it; it was written in 1922, but I found it truly inspirational. As you’ll imagine, it outlines the life of, well, a medieval barony, from the nobility to the peasants, and I don’t think it has been bested as a ‘whole picture’ book. (Though the three ‘Gies’ books are of course seminal.)
When I tell you, then, that my plan is for medieval fantasy, you won’t be particularly surprised about that. I’m not going to go into any details of the plot at the moment - largely because most of it is still not fully formed in my head, and likely won’t be until I start working on the book in June - but there are quite a few things that I can talk about regarding the preparations behind a series of books. I’ve made no secret that, in the admin front, I rather botched Alamo, and it’s made my life a lot harder than it had to be - I’m taking steps to help fix that problem now, but had I done these things at the start, I’d have saved a lot of time and frustration.
One thing I did get right last time was a map. Maybe it’s the gamer in me, but I feel a lot more comfortable with a map in front of me that I can use to visualize the world. Here comes a difference between fantasy and science-fiction - this time, the map needs to be publishable. In the past, I’ve posted several maps of the Alamo setting here on this blog, and I’m working on another one to be published when I release Alamo 13, but I’ve never even considered putting one into a book. With fantasy - and I know there are a few schools of thought on this - I need something that I can publish in each of the books, as well as something for the blog, and that means the services of a cartographer. I can probably sketch something out, but the first rule of self-publishing is to make your book indistinguishable in terms of production value from one published by a large company. Which means a professional cover artist unless you have those skills, good formatting, and good maps - not hand-drawn. This is something I’m obviously going to cover here on the blog.
Master lists of names, genealogies, and the like are also critical. I’m working on a massive ‘Book of Names’ for the next tranche of Alamo novels, and it is surprisingly quick to do; I can likely put all of this together in a day or two with little trouble. One old trick from my days as a DM is, once I have finished naming what I consider to be the main characters, is to have more lists of unattributed male and female names prepared. If I need to introduce someone in a hurry, I just grab the top name from the list, note who it belongs to, and I’m away. Painless.
For months, I’ve known the basic specification for these books - Alamo-sized, maybe a little bigger, say 80,000 rather than 70,000, maybe even 90,000, and released on a schedule that will see them alternate with Alamo releases, so six a year. Once I get into the rhythm, it should be quite possible. (And yes, this is longer than a trilogy. I’m not going to tie myself down to a specific number of books today, but I do have a number in mind. It might grow, or shrink, a little, but I think the plot I have in mind will work in that length of novels.)
Perhaps the best piece of advice that I can pass on - for I have found it valuable in the past - is to have the second book in the series completed before releasing the first. Sounds crazy, I know, because you run the risk of wasting time, but there are good reasons for this. First of all, it means that you can start with a speedier release. The first three Alamo books came out in monthly intervals, and I maintain that it helped me gain traction right from the start. Second, you are a lot less likely to tense up. If the first book is a big success, then the second book will be nightmarishly difficult; you’ll be worried about messing it up, letting down the readers, and it’ll take ten times longer to complete. If it’s already finished - and naturally, you can make adjustments based on reader feedback, but we’re talking about an editing round rather than a rewrite - then that doesn’t happen. My intention is to write the first two books in this series in June and July, with the first book coming out at the same time as Alamo 13. Yes, that’s going to be quite a month! The next book can come out in August, then October, December, and so on.
I’m blessed at the moment to be living in an area with mountains of atmosphere. I live in the county that was Tolkien’s inspiration for the Shire, and the land is littered with ruined castles, stone circles, abbeys and all manner of wonderful places - so there will be many research trips over the course of the next month, and all of it ‘work’. Wonderful! I just got back from a very inspirational spot - about which, more soon, including some attempts with my new digital camera.
So, there you go. Decision made, and you can expect the first of these fantasy novels to be released some time around the end of July, on the same day as Alamo 13. Obviously, lots more posts on this topic to follow, especially when work begins in earnest in about a month’s time. For now, though, I have Fleet Captain to write...