My first series is complete! Woohoo!

As of today all four books in my Andoran’s Realm sword & sorcery fantasy series are available. (A four book series is called a tetralogy, in case you were wondering.) The four covers, which don’t exactly go well together, are shown below.

After writing 600,000 or so words of fiction, I feel that I am now a much better writer. It also means that the later books in the series are probably better written. But that’s how it is with a beginning author.

Even though this series is complete, I’m not through with Andoran’s Realm or the wider world around it. I’m planning another series that takes place afterward as well as writing short stories that take place at earlier times (and in a variety of locations). I’ve got enough source material to keep me busy for quite some time.

Anyway, I hope that those of you that have read one or more of my books have enjoyed them.

Listening to Books vs. Reading Books

Audiobooks are clearly growing in popularity. They are convenient, something that can be listened to while driving or exercising or doing chores. But do they really, as so many people insist, provide the same experience as sitting down and reading a book?

First, a bit of history. There was a time when I did a lot of driving, either long commutes or trips to other places. That was when I discovered “books on tape”, which were the precursor of the digital audiobooks we have today. A book on tape consisted of numerous cassette tapes (later transitioning to compact discs as they became common components of car stereos). They could either be bought in stores or borrowed from libraries. I listened to many books in this fashion, and they really did help to pass the time.

Many titles in those days were abridged, meaning that they had been shortened. And often that was done poorly, resulting in confusion on the part of the listener as the story bizarrely jumped forward without explanation. I quickly learned to avoid abridged titles, and the practice is rare today.

Let’s start by considering a more extreme example: Can someone who has watched the three Lord of the Rings movies claim to have read the trilogy? The answer is obviously no. The movies omit scenes from the books, change some events, and add others. On the other hand, the viewer has experienced the same basic story, and could discuss it intelligently with someone who had only read the books. Still, watching a film version of a book is clearly different from reading the book.

Reading is all about using ones imagination. A fiction author is trying to convey with words something that they have imagined. The reader uses their own imagination to form images in their head that certainly differ from what the author had in mind. In that sense, no two readers experience a book in the same exact way, which it the complete opposite of two people that watch the same movie.

Now on to the real question: Is listening to someone narrate a book equivalent to reading it? It’s obviously much closer than watching a movie version, but the answer is still no. The narrator is coloring the experience, even if only slightly. They might even be coloring it severely, employing different accents and speech patterns. The listener is thus deprived from fully employing their own imagination.

There are other issues. Many books, particularly fantasy ones, have one or more maps at the beginning. (Even a non-fiction work might start with maps or other visual information.) Not being able to see (and refer) to those maps may make the book confusing to listen to at times. The listener also can’t tell if a sentence is all in italics, something that is often used to portray a character’s inner thoughts. Again, that can lead to confusion on the part of a listener.

So, does this mean that I’m against audiobooks? No. They serve a useful purpose, and they are a necessity for the blind. Eventually, I may even offer audio versions of my own works. Audiobooks are fine. I really just want people to be accurate. If you listened to a book then say just that. And if you listened to something that your really liked, then maybe considering reading it next time to get the full experience.

Update on Book Four of Andoran’s Realm

The fourth book of my Andoran’s Realm fantasy series has a working title of Andoran’s Legacy. It will not only (finally) reveal some secrets, but will also mark the end of the story arc begun in Audrey of Farmerton. The book will end with surprises, but no cliffhangers.

Book four is currently about a third done, and my goal is to get it out before the end of the year. It picks up mere days after the end of book three, and will cover a period of approximately nine months.

What comes next? I’ve written a couple of short stories set in the same world, and I’m planning to write more. (I actually find them more challenging to write than the novels.) Eventually I would like to publish a collection of these stories. I could, of course, return to Audrey and her friends, perhaps after several years have passed for them. Or I could go backward in time, writing about the original group that included Danj, Medea, Hagen, Grasapa, Roho and others. Or there’s the group with Branwyn, Milric, Celebern, and Draymund. I’ve got no shortage of old adventures I could adapt.

As far as the D&D campaign that inspired these books, I have now started a new group, jumping forward about four years. It consists of Valwyn, Hanna, Jethro, Alinda, and a dwarf fighter that idolizes Roho. I’ve only run one adventure so far, but who knows? Someday this might be the basis for another series of books.

Magic Needs Rules

The inclusion of magic is what leads to a work of fiction being characterized as fantasy, as opposed to some other genre. I am, of course, not referring to stage magic, which is simply trickery, but to something that is completely unscientific. It’s also worth noting that many fantasy stories cross over into other genres, such as mystery or romance.

When an author sets about writing a fantasy novel, they need to decide exactly how magic works in the world they are creating. That’s even true of urban fantasy stories, which take place in something closely modeled on our own world. There are a lot of decisions to make, and they are important. Fantasy readers are willing to accept the possibility of magic, but they expect it to behave consistently. If the rules of magic keep changing, then readers will be taken out of the story.

The first thing that needs to be decided is how many types of magic there are. A single type makes things easier for the author, but multiple types can make for a more interesting world. It really doesn’t matter how many types there are as long as they are well-defined and comprehensible to the reader.

Having come up with a type of magic, the next thing is to decide who can use it. Does it require an inherited ability? Does it require training? If someone casts a spell, does it require gestures? Is an incantation necessary, and how lengthy is it? What about physical aids, such as a wand? Or maybe some type of material component is necessary? How much magic can someone use in a short period of time before it runs out? There has to be some kind of limitation. All of these issues needs to be worked out in advance and then used consistently.

I think that one of the most important facets of magic in fantasy is how common it is. A world where everyone can employ some type of magic is very different from one where only a few unique individuals possess magical abilities. It’s also important to consider how common magical items and magical creatures are.

For me, the inclusion of magic is what makes writing fantasy so much fun. But I also take it seriously. I strive to be consistent in how magic is portrayed. Andoran’s Realm has spell-casters, alchemists, and witches, and they all come about their abilities in different ways. Furthermore, spell-casters have specialities that they concentrate on, such as fire magic. It all combines to make things more varied and hopefully more interesting to my readers. Or so I hope. 🙂

How Not to Write a Book

From what I can tell, I don’t write books the way that most authors do. At no point during the writing process do I ever have a detailed outline of the book. I write scenes, but haphazardly as ideas come to me instead of in a linear fashion. When I have enough of them, I start assembling the book like it’s some kind of giant puzzle. I group scenes into chapters. I toss some scenes and rewrite others. As gaps appear, I write new scenes to bridge them. Eventually something resembling an actual novel begins to emerge.

When I began to write the fourth book of the series, I really thought that I might be able to change things. This book incorporates a D&D adventure early on, basically gifting me an outline of the first portion of the book. And unlike the other three, I really didn’t know where it was headed. But before I knew it, I started getting ideas. Now I’m jumping back and forth between scenes early in the book and those toward the end. Eventually I’ll figure out what goes in the middle.

Now I’m simply resigned. That’s the way I write, and it’s apparently not going to change anytime soon.

It’s a Fantasy Trilogy!

Actually, I’ve already started on the fourth book. But it will be a trilogy for at least a few months. The Guild War (Book Three of Andoran’s Realm), is now available for preorder on Amazon, with a publication date of March 12, 2018.

Like the first two books, this one is based off of my long-running Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Excitement! Adventure! Romance! Intrigue! Intricate business plans! And there’s a dragon on the cover!

How can you resist? Preorder it now! (And buy the first two, if you haven’t already.) And if you like one or more of them, why not leave an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads?

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 10

I will conclude this series of posts by mentioning some miscellaneous things I had to think about when converting my D&D campaign into a series of fantasy novels.

In Andoran’s Realm, there is really only one language spoken. (When Audrey does hear people speaking an unknown language, it turns out that they are originally from outside Andoran’s Realm.) This is a departure from D&D, where every race has their own language. For me, it was a deliberate choice. Multiple languages can be hard to convey, and can complicate storytelling.

When Audrey moves to the Witch’s City in the first book, she finds herself living in a huge mansion that sits on a large plot of land. Realistically, a place like that would probably have a dozen or more live-in servants. That would have horribly complicated things, so I decided that there is simply a cleaning and gardening service that shows up three times a month. That allowed me to focus on Audrey’s interactions with the people that actually live there—Saxloc and his parents.

The mansion is modern in some ways. It has hot and cold running water as well as what we would call indoor flush toilets. The hot water is also used for heating when necessary. Instead of using candles at night, the people living there use alchemic light sources known as glow-cubes. And it gets weirder. The mansion has both magical defenses and a surveillance system that can track people’s locations. It’s basically a world unto itself, and I had a lot of fun creating it.

Another oddity about the Witch’s City is that the local thieves’ guild has been legalized. Now part of a business called Novox, they sell insurance against theft, with part of the money going to the government. Those without insurance can be legally robbed by licensed thieves. Unlicensed thieves are tracked down by both the city guard and Novox.

In my books, I never mention anyone getting sunburned. I also never mention a female character’s menstrual cycle. This is deliberate. The books take place on an imaginary world where there is magic and gods are real. And it’s my creation. I’ve simply decided that sunburn isn’t a problem there, and that women’s bodies produce ova on demand, not on a set schedule.

My love of Japan sometimes shows in my books. The mansion has a pond full of colorful fish—in other words, a koi pond. Rice is a common foodstuff, and rice wine is a popular alcoholic drink.

This concludes this particular series of posts for the time being. I hope that you’ve enjoyed them and have also enjoyed my books.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 9

Before I discuss how martial arts fits into Dungeons & Dragons, I first need to define the term. In general, martial arts can refer to any type of combat technique, including sword-fighting and archery. In common usage, the term refers to unarmed combat techniques, such as karate, judo, or kung fu. If weapons are involved, they are employed in conjunction with unarmed techniques, and the weapons may be unusual.

At first glance, martial arts appear to be completely out of place in D&D. This is because they originated primarily in Asia, while D&D is very much a reflection of medieval Europe (or some idealized version of it). In fact, the first set of rules for the Monk character class appeared in the Blackmoor supplement in 1975, only one year after the publication of the original rules. The class was subtitled “Order of the Monastic Martial Arts”, and it was described as a sub-class of Cleric.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the popular TV show Kung Fu was airing at this time, especially when you consider that the main character is shown training at the Shaolin Monastery. That, coupled with the growing popularity of Chinese kung fu movies and martial arts in general, is probably what led to the creation of the Monk character class.

When I started my current D&D campaign in the fall of 1979, one of my players elected to role-play a monk. He named her “Grace à Pas”, which I changed to “Grasapa” in the books. The name is a pun on “grasshopper”, which is what Caine, the main character of the Kung Fu TV show, was frequently called by his master. Despite being incredibly weak at first, Grasapa ended up being one of the long-surviving player characters.

Xlee, a  Monk I created for some one-off adventures, was introduced as Grasapa’s instructor and a recurring NPC. He has yet to appear directly in the books, but Grasapa now runs Xlee’s Martial Arts Academy in the Witch’s City. That became an important element of the first book. Audrey enrolls there, and Grasapa becomes her instructor.

It’s worth mentioning that while in graduate school I enrolled in a nearby school that primarily taught Shaolin kung fu. (But it’s just a coincidence that it happened to be the same martial art as the TV show.) In the books, Audrey studies Shorinken, which is actually the Japanese word for Shaolin kung fu. My point is that I draw upon my own experiences and knowledge when writing about Audrey’s training or her use of unarmed combat when adventuring.

In conclusion, martial arts may seem out of place in D&D, but it’s been around almost from the very beginning. And it has always played an important role in my D&D campaign.

In Part 10, I will discuss some miscellaneous issues that I haven’t touched on yet.

From D&D Campaign to Fantasy Novel – Part 8

The original rules for Dungeons & Dragons included the concept of alignment. It was a property that applied both to characters and intelligent creatures. There were three possible alignments: law/neutrality/chaos. They were intended to describe behavior to some extent, e.g. chaos implied unpredictably and a disdain for rules and strictures.

The first major rules revision (AD&D) included a second alignment axis: good/neutral/evil. Now a character could be, for example, chaotic good. It made more sense, but it still served no real purpose. Even worse, the rules stated that there were languages specific to each alignment, something that makes no sense whatsoever. And even now, alignment remains part of the D&D rules.

Alignment is not only unnecessary, it hampers proper role-playing by oversimplifying things. Characters should have real personalities, including goals, quirks, defects, etc. And their personalities should develop and change with time, reflecting their experiences. The goal should be to create characters (and creatures) that seem real, not that correspond to artificial labels.

Now let us discuss character classes. Originally there were three: Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and Clerics. Rules supplements soon introduced new ones, starting with Paladins (a sub-class of Fighting-Men) and Thieves. More followed, including Monks, Assassins, and Druids. At the time, character classes were quite useful. (After all, role-playing games were a new concept for most people.) It simplified things for the players by providing restrictions and guidance.

As the rules were revised, the number of possible character classes increased, and the individual classes became more complex. Furthermore, characters could pursue multiple classes. And there were so-called Prestige Classes for high-level characters. The numbers of abilities, skills, and spells kept growing. It became, in short, a complete and utter mess. Creating a character became time-consuming, and gaming sessions required constant referrals to the rule books.

These days nearly everyone knows what role-playing games are. And that’s why my D&D campaign includes no character classes anymore. Instead, I (in conjunction with Jym Ramage) created a point-based system that allows each player to gradually shape their character. It’s a simplification that allows for tremendous flexibility, and it helps to make each character unique. I’ve been using the system for years as both a DM and as a player. My players never need to waste time looking things up in rule books, and neither do I. Their character sheets (and custom-printed spell lists, if appropriate) are all they need—aside from dice, of course. It makes D&D far more interesting and fun.

Now let’s look at some of the characters in my books. Gabriel is straightforward. He’s a do-gooder. He wears armor and fights with a sword and shield. In AD&D, he would be described as a Lawful Good Fighter. Saxloc, however, doesn’t really fit. He’s trying to be both a warrior and a spell-caster. And he can cast healing magic. He’s an amalgamation of portions of three separate D&D classes. Siljan and Hankin are similarly complex. Despite this, each one can be described using the spreadsheet I developed specifically for use with the system.

As should now be clear, adapting the various D&D characters in my campaign to characters in my books was straightforward. Part of Siljan’s character arc is that she becomes a cleric. But she didn’t start out that way. It was something that she elected to pursue later on, after already developing skills as a warrior and a spell-caster. She’s complex, and that makes her much more interesting.

In conclusion, alignment is something that has never made any sense, and character classes have simply become unnecessary complications. The games I run (and play in) are still recognizably D&D despite having far fewer rules. And they are great fun, which is what is really important.

In Part 9, I will discuss how martial arts fits into D&D and the role it plays in my books.