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Turning Back to Epic Fantasy

by David B. Coe

Like Gail, I have written in several fantasy subgenres over the course of my career, most recently taking on contemporary urban fantasy (with my Case Files of Justis Fearsson trilogy) and historical urban fantasy (with the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I write as D.B. Jackson). I started out, though, writing alternate world, epic (or high) fantasy. Multi-book story arcs, set in created worlds, with lots of magic and castle intrigue, and with larger-than-life villains who threatened All That We Hold Dear. Fun stuff.

coejacksonpubpic1000I’ve recently returned to these early works. The rights to my first several series have reverted to me, leaving me free to do with them as I please. And I have chosen to reissue what I am calling the “Author’s Edits” (think Director’s Cut) of the books. For obvious reasons, I’ve started with my first series, the LonTobyn Chronicle, which I published back in the late 1990s. These books established me commercially and critically, and won me the Crawford Fantasy Award as the best new author in fantasy. They’re as close to my heart as any books I’ve written. But they were also my first efforts and they suffered from many of the flaws one finds in first novels. Hence the Author’s Edit. I haven’t changed any of the plotting, world building, or character work. But I’ve tightened the prose and eliminated unnecessary dialog tags, adverbs, and expository passages. The books now read better than they ever have.

In reading through and editing this first series, I realized that I miss writing epic fantasy. It’s not that I’ve come to dislike urban fantasy. Far from it. I believe the Fearsson and Thieftaker books represent the best writing I’ve ever done. But I had forgotten how much fun it can be to write those huge, sprawling epics on which I cut my teeth as a writing professional.

To my mind, the biggest differences between writing urban fantasy and writing epic boil down to the related issues of point of view and plotting. Urban fantasy, as I’ve approached it in my career and experienced it as a reader, tends to be more streamlined. The cast of point of view characters is usually limited to a single protagonist, or perhaps two or three narrating characters. The plotting can be twisty and intricate, but it’s also focused. Much of urban fantasy pays homage not only to its fantasy roots, but also to noir mystery. It’s not surprising then, that some of the best books in the subgenre are lean, fast-paced, and tightly constructed. As I say, I love urban for just these reasons.dcoe1

But for me, the allure of epic fantasy, both as an author and as a fan, lies in its embrace of very different attributes. My favorite epic fantasies, and all the high fantasies I’ve written, braid together many seemingly disparate storylines that coalesce as the novel and/or series progresses. By necessity, these plot threads are presented through a pantheon of point of view characters, who give the reader dfferent perspectives on the story, and bits of information that form a sort of narrative mosaic.

In some respects it’s less efficient story telling. On the other hand, when done well, epic fantasy can take on a richness and texture that make it unique among all forms of speculative fiction. I enjoy writing it because I can lead my reader through a labyrinth of plot points, hinting at key moments to come, feinting at possible paths my story might take, and telling the tale through a collection of voices, each one unique and, I hope, engaging. I can give my readers more information than any one of my characters has at his or her disposal, thus ratcheting up the tension by, for example, sending my protagonist into a trap of which my readers are aware, even though she is not.

We writers can be a fickle bunch. When I shifted from epic fantasy to urban, I did it, in part, because I was tired of writing the multi-POV, multi-plot-thread, multi-volume stories that I’d written throughout the early years of my career. I longed for that leaner voice of urban fantasy. I wanted to write stand-alone novels that more closely resembled whodunits, but with a magical twist. The Thieftaker and Fearsson books were exactly what I was after.

dcoe2Now, I find that I’m ready to turn back. Reading and editing Children of Amarid, my very first novel, as I prepared for its re-release, I found myself transported back to those days when I was writing the book without a contract, dreaming of one day becoming a published author. I had read many of the great epic fantasists of my youth: Tolkien and Donaldson, Kurtz and Kerr, McCaffrey (yes, I know — she considered herself an author of Science Fiction; I thought of it as fantasy), LeGuin, Brooks, and Eddings. Those were the authors who attracted me to this career, and when I wrote the LonTobyn Chronicle, I tried to draw upon what I saw as the finest qualities of their work. I’m not so full of myself as to claim that I succeeded with this first effort. But they were my inspirations, and fantasy, as they defined the field, was my first love.

So, now I’m back to it. I have more of my backlist to release in coming years: my five-book Winds of the Forelands series, my Blood of the Southlands trilogy. And I’m eager to try my hand at writing new epic fantasy, blending my lifelong passion for the genre with the knowledge of craft I’ve accrued during my twenty years in the business. I don’t yet know exactly what this new project will look like. But those elements of the genre that I love — magic, of course, the more wondrous the better, as well as intrigue, action, and maybe a sprinkling of romance — will all be there, along with the rich complexity that makes reading and writing high fantasy such a joy. Stay tuned!

About the Author

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels. As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first two books, Spell Blind and His Father’s Eyes came out in 2015. The third volume, Shadow’s Blade, has recently been released. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach.

David is also the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he is the process of reissuing, as well as the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. David’s books have been translated into a dozen languages.

He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.










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Twelve Days of Writing Over the Holiday

by Gail Z. Martin

We all love the holidays, but how in the sam hill do you get a book written with a house full of guests and a mouth full of eggnog?

I mean, peace on earth and goodwill toward men is fine and dandy, but publishing is a business, for cryin’ out loud!  We’ve got deadlines, people!

So for all those authors who are juggling their work on the next great American novel with festivities, here are twelve ideas to keep you going:

  • When everyone else goes a’wassailing, stay home and write.
  • Put the kids to bed early on Christmas Eve (use the Santa excuse) and stay up late writing
  • Everyone else will go to bed at 12:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day.  You’ve got at least seven hours of peace and quiet until they get back up.
  • Do your Christmas shopping via the Internet and use the time you aren’t at the mall to catch up on your novel.
  • Skip writing the family Christmas card letter and get another page or two done on your manuscript.
  • Post a holiday blog instead of sending Christmas cards and use the time you would have spent licking envelopes on your manuscript.
  • Ask Santa for an extension on your deadline.
  • Interview Santa for an expose—after all, he knows who’s been naughty or nice.
  • Use rejection letters to kindle a good chestnut-roasting fire.
  • Ask Santa for an iTunes gift card so you can stock up on writing apps for your smart phone.
  • Recognize the role writers have played in our holiday celebrations.  Without advertising copywriters, there wouldn’t be Rudolph (Montgomery Ward) or Santa as we know him (Coca Cola).  Or the ghost of Christmas Past (Dickens).
  • If all else fails, knock back a shot of Christmas spirit and keep on typing!

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Should I podcast my fiction for free?

by P.G. Holyfield

Five years ago the question was, “Should I podcast my fiction for free? Will it hurt my chances of getting published?” But with the success of writers such as Scott Sigler, Philippa Ballantine, and Nathan Lowell, that question has become nearly moot. When I went to my publisher I was able to say “The most recent episode of my podcast novel has 18,000 downloads so far.” My novel was published by a small yet respected fantasy/sci-fi publisher, but even larger publishers have begun to admit that an unknown writer that has established himself or herself with an online following might be worthy of consideration. And the saying that used to be “EVEN THOUGH I’ve given it away for free” is now “BECAUSE I’ve given it away for free.”

So as we are now in the time of bloggers getting big book deals and publishers taking chances on pre-blogged or podcasted fiction, the question isn’t “Should I?” but “How do I do this the right way?” Because it’s not that you are trying to build “an audience,” but that you are building a relationship with your readers/listeners. Especially for those that are reading their own words, you are creating a connection to your audience that cannot be matched by any other medium. Your audience hears your voice and if you are telling a good story, your listeners begin to care about you in ways that most first time authors publishing traditionally cannot leverage. In cultivating that “horde” that we hope to inspire, here are some things to think about:

  • Website presence – Some people have used sites like Libsyn.com to host their podcasts, but a great looking personal website that has content in addition to the audio podcast is vital for audience engagement.
  • Release Schedule – Most podcast authors use a serialized release schedule and do not release the entire story at once. Releasing consistently (weekly works well) creates an ‘event’ atmosphere around your podcast. Yes, there are many who won’t start listening to a podcast novel until the author has completed it, because a) they want to make sure the author finishes the audiobook/podiobook and b) they want to mainline the entire novel and not wait a week for the next 30-45 minutes of your story. But for those that get hooked and wait patiently (or in some cases, impatiently), these people have a tendency to become rabid fans that will proselytize your work better than you ever can.
  • Make friends and influence… yeah, you know – Most podcasters use the first three to five minutes of each podcast episode to talk to their listeners. Depending on how open you are with your audience, they become invested not only in your story but in your life and your struggle to become a published author.
  • Podiobooks.com – Having your own website is vital, but just as important is having a “story only” version of your podiobook on Podiobooks.com. Consumers of podcast fiction know this is the place to go for good stories, and many that will never find your website will find your book here.
  • Short story podcast fiction – do you have short stories that can also be podcast? There are podcasts such as Escape Pod that are paying markets, and if you can get a short story on one of these outlets, you can drive people to your podcast novel.
  • Audiobook vs. Audio Drama – Most podcast novels are done as straight reads, such as what you find on Audible.com. But could your story work as more of an audio drama, with a full voice cast, music, sound effects, etc.? It doesn’t take an expert to see that this would cause an exponential increase in the time you would spend creating your podcast, but for those that have tackled that beast (like myself), if you do it well, you create another reason for people to give your podcast a chance.

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Alarming Trends

by Janny Wurts

Is anyone disturbed by the accelerated hype now appearing as ads targeted for unpublished, new authors, and featured in glitz, at the top of a number of prominent book discussion forums?

Should writers of fiction be bothered about this, given the rapid shifts and changes sweeping the publishing industry, and the trend for young people to mine the internet for information?

Yes, getting picked up by a major house is competitive, and yes, there is a building groundswell, internet driven, toward would-be authors leaping straight into self‑publishing and more, hyping this route as the only or best thing, with passionate, apparently informed expertise. I could show you the boxful of business cards such authors have handed me at public venues, or the disks of e books, made at home. This is publishing, geared for the future, right?

Why am I disturbed?

Because all online sources, even the overwhelming bulk of the information that’s become so prolific is not alike. There is a difference between such traps, and the genuine article.

Too many of these links are direct advertising, not to help newcomers actually reach a valid reading public, but are, in fact, hype geared toward stealing your cherished dreams and your shirts, and poised to take advantage of a wide reaching arena of total ignorance. Some of these sites are after your pocketbooks, folks, and you will never, ever make the springboard to where you want to go, from there. In fact, the opposite.

More sadly, not just predatory businesses are riding the information wave – many honest, well-meaning people who are enthusiastically touting self-publishing their novels on forums as the means to your ends actually haven’t an honest clue. Or they’ve burned themselves out submitting substandard material (or never even tried, just listened to doomers and gloomers) until they believe the traditional career path is hopeless. I have seen blogs and forum discussions where the clueless expound on the facts of the industry for the even more clueless, with no sound counter-argument or professional experience in evidence behind such soapbox trumpeting.

An article was written in the SFWA Bulletin, recently, where several old hand pros on a panel reported being hotly contradicted by a chorus of self‑published clueless authors – who were, in effect, preaching that the way to be noticed by, or break in to, a legitimate major house was to sell books behind a vendor’s table at conventions and book fairs, and to keep doing this behind a stack of self-printed titles, until such zealous efforts invited approached by a real editor who would offer a contract from a big publisher. Louder still, is the groundswell of insistence that e publishing on your own is the quick ticket, and who needs an editor anyway?

Wrong steer! Yes, I have heard the myths and the stories “out there” – but in fact, the real route to a paying contract is not selling your own books off your car tailgate at malls, or setting up shop with a paypal account!

Fiction publishing is a legitimate business, and there is a professional way and manner in which to apply for serious success.

Now, before the knee jerks, I am not condemning all comers to self-publishing – recently, certain non-fiction works are earning their marks, here, and there are many cases where writers who have been professionally established before, and through a published career course, have gained sound knowledge of production, editing, and professional graphics – these folks have a developed readership, presumably, toward which to target their efforts.

I am not saying all self published new books by unknown names are without merit. I haven’t read all of them to generalize in that way. There are genuine small presses and independent publishing houses, too. I am not referring to these!

My concern is targeted toward the enormous ignorance about how the industry actually works, and the whacked out “advice” being proliferated on the internet, that is seeing too many enthusiastic young talents sold short. If you have dreams of writing fiction, by all means pursue them with your whole heart, but please take the time to get educated and know the ropes, first!

Don’t take the blind plunge into the morass of myth, and waste your money, or fall headlong, uninformed, into the pit of self e publishing and exhaust your hopes before ever taking up the challenge to make the bar and achieve a professional career. The tag line, that implies, in effect, “connect your book to mega tons of eager readers” is not necessarily what it’s cracked up to appear.

Presses who take your money and make a profit producing your manuscript into a bound book, then do nothing, are very much alive and advertizing, and you bet, collecting your eager-beaver bucks to publish your work. If you pay for this service, that is a vanity publisher, and not the same thing as a publisher who contracts your publication rights, pays an advance, prints and markets your book, and actually does do the work of distributing and marketing.

While “publishers” who hook you to pay upfront for your book may be years in the business, and make every effort to pose as their counterparts, they’ll have plenty of fine print protecting them from your ignorance when you are dumped with your substandard press run, and don’t know what to do beyond give it away to your relatives. Other venues in fact are real wolves. Many are styled as “agents” and “POD” (print on demand) houses that are in cold fact, actual scammers. Others are fleecers, just as misleading and hurtful. You pay them to produce your book, or find a publisher for you, and you get nothing substantial at all in return.


The content can help illuminate what to look out for, where to be guarded, and how to recognize a legitimate venue. Below, I offer a few simple guidelines.

Tip #1: The money flows TO the author FROM the publisher or agent. If you are paying for a service like being published, paying for readings and evaluations – I suggest that might ring an alarm, because that is not flowing payment to the author! These venues are to be differentiated from a genuine professional editing service – where a real copy editor or editor offers their expertise to the public for a freelancer’s fee – do learn how to recognize the difference, and if you are buying a legitimate service, know when it is of value and why, or if it is simply unnecessary.

Tip #2: Learn your craft. It’s up to you to create saleable work. If you do, the publisher pays you, and their own production staff will handle both edit and copy edit and print the book at no charge to you. The legitimate publisher will distribute the copies to the major chain shops, and handle all of the selling. If you learn your style, grammar, and fiction technique properly, you should not need an editor in order to submit and sell your manuscript to a name professional house. If you can’t write a story, if you don’t know what story is, (the book, Story, by McKee could assist you) if you don’t know the craft distinction between narrative voice and dialogue – then you need to get a solid book on fiction writing. (I favor Dwight V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer) If you like hands on learning, consider one of the very long established reputable workshops for fiction – like Odyssey or Clarion – attend and learn to apply the sound nuts and bolts of the trade to your efforts. Workshops worth attending for popular fiction are well known, and have years of reputation for teaching new writers who actually go on to sell their manuscripts.

Can’t afford a fiction workshop? How serious are you – you’d go to college to get a degree for any another professional job. Can’t manage to buy two or three books on style and craft? Then try what I did, when I was just starting, use an inter-libary loan service to get the titles you need for learning.

You’re underage? Stuck on the wait, while you save money for the above? Then mine your favorite authors’ websites for posted, free information. You might be surprised how many will offer tips, helpful links, or maintain blogs or web pages filled chock full of great free advice. I have created a tips page based on what I found valuable from my experience. It has some sound basics. Do you know how your manuscript should be professionally formatted for submission? Are you familiar with proof reader’s marks? Do you know how to write a cover letter, or submit a query to an editor? Do you know how to sidestep, or breeze past, a writer’s block?

Do you understand etiquette? I’ve been amazed how many blaze beginners breeze in with an e mail to ask about breaking in, or worse, dump an attachment of their entire manuscript into my in box – first presuming I am a teacher, or coach (I’m not, though I do sometimes volunteer writer’s workshops, one on one, to raise funds for charity auctions.} More bumptuously irritating, many of these enthusiastic hopefuls blatantly have not ever bothered to check the tips page I’ve provided for aspirants – which properly would have answered many of their questions in the first place.

Flinging unsolicited e mail at a working author is not the same thing as approaching one politely at public events where attendees are invited to interact with professionals – sometimes opportunities may be welcomed at informal signings, or at conventions which feature panels that are oriented toward helping aspirants – where hopefuls are encouraged to hear advice from established old hands. Questions are acceptable, too, where working editors in the field sometimes appear to speak. Many such venues will schedule panel discussions geared for new writers. Use this chance to hear the facts from the horse’s mouth.

Live in the middle of nowhere and can’t wait to feed your dream? Look at author’s blogs, or seek out discussion threads on those book forums where authors are vetted for professional credentials. Then read the threads where professionals tend to gather to share business information with each other. Search and read the archived posts on the blog, Miss Snark – which professes to be written by a pro agent – entertaining, bitterly brutal, but very much on the mark about the realities and falsities of cracking a difficult field. Disabuse yourself of the idiot illusions, that Greatness Waits Without Effort, and instead, motivate yourself to learn how to tell a dynamite story. Strive for excellence – and encounter what that means in terms of discipline. Then sort the welter of information to discern the most direct course to realize your dream. The rewards and many, and well worth the long haul.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in a recent article in their Bulletin, asked how their professional membership could reach out to new writers and help them find legitimate sources for information. This is my bit.

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