#WritingSparks 2 – David Eddings – The Belgariad and the Mallorean

Here is the second entry in the #WritingSparks series, answering the question “What authors and books sparked you into becoming a writer, or most influenced how you craft stories?”. Part one was an easy choice because, like so many other writers and readers out there, I grew up on a steady diet of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. But now it gets a little more tricky as I move into novels that had a huge influence on me but that not everyone in the world knows.

I was tempted to surprise absolutely no one and make #WritingSparks 2 about Tolkien, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. But no… even though Tolkien will definitely make an appearance in this blog series, his books had less of an effect on me as a writer than some others. It may be fair to say that Tolkien was extremely important to me as a *reader*, since his epic tales were some of the first to attract me to fantasy. But after giving it some thought, the writer in me knew there was only one choice for slot number two on the list.

Here is #WritingSparks 2!

1) Author: David Eddings.

2) Books:  The Belgariad series (five books) and the Mallorean series (five books), which I first read between ages 16 and 21.

3) Thoughts:

I will never forget my shock when, after reading “Pawn of Prophecy” – Book one of the Belgariad – I realized that epic, otherworldly fantasy can be (*gasp*)… FUNNY! And lighthearted at times! While still having powerful stakes and drama. Fresh off the heels of lots of Tolkien’s high fantasy, PhD-style stories, I found myself smiling, laughing, and for the first time *relating* to the characters in a personal way as the stories unfolded. As much as I loved Narnia and Lord of the Rings, it was a stretch to see much of myself in the Pevensies or the Bagginses (though the movies of both series delivered relatability in powerful ways). But Garion, the scullery boy nephew of Aunt Pol, growing up on Faldor’s farm and playing with friends and having crushes on girls and getting in trouble? Instantly relatable, and I absolutely loved it.

Eddings’ ability to build real characters, complete with flaws and vices as well as strengths, wowed me as a teenager. No one could tell me that I didn’t *know* Garion, Silk, Belgarath, Polgara, Durnik, and Ce’Nedra. Their conversations were natural and fluid (Eddings truly was a master of dialogue), managing to build each personality over time while also carrying the plot forward without excessive exposition. Eddings’ characters were old friends, not just names on a page, and they were as complex as, well, all the actual humans I encountered in the real world every day. This had a great impact on me. Decades later when I began writing seriously I quickly recognized some of Eddings’ style in in my writing voice.

Reflecting on the two series now, I also see a great deal of Eddings’ influence on how I pursue worldbuilding. I loved the details in Garion’s world; the economics, the politics, the commerce, the foreign relations. I adored the fact that this world not only had a complete known history from its creation forward (like Narnia), but that the vast majority of it could be learned if one read the two series and the companion books “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress”. I had the sense Garion’s world was just out there in the ether and that Eddings’ job was to carefully pick which parts of it he would share with readers.

4) Feelings:

Love. Just all the love. Garion’s story is all about personality, not the amazing powers he learns he has, not the world-saving destiny he eventually pursues. It’s all about how an orphan farm-boy with rural, down-to-earth sensibilities survives when he learns he is literally one of the most powerful beings in creation. And it’s a love story, and a parenting story, and a tale of friendships. Is there a greater high than the stunning moment when Garion holds Iron Grip’s sword over his head in it bursts into blue flame, proclaiming him the rightful heir to the Rivan throne? Is there a deeper low than when he instinctively lashes out with the will and the word to teleport a stranger from leech-infested waters to safety… only to watch the man still die in agony? Is anything more funny than when Ce’Nedra learns that she’s destined to marry the scullery boy from Sendaria and, in front of everyone, screams out her shock and horror? Then there was the legitimate, honest sorrow of the gods after Torak is slain. Since when do we mourn the death of the villain??? And it worked. It totally made sense. Even Torak was a real personality, far more than just an evil face in the distance.

I could go on for pages and pages. Tears. Laughter. Anguish. Fear. Pain. It’s all there, and it all felt *real* in the lives of my dear old friends. Wait… I mean, Eddings’ characters.     🙂

I read the entire Belgariad aloud to my kids about ten years ago when the oldest was around 11 years old. It was a great experience for all of us, so much fun, and resulted in many great memories. But I also ran right into a whole new set of feelings that I may have always known but never verbalized.

My favorite people in the two series are not Garion and Ce’Nedra, not Silk or Belgarath, not Mandorallen, even though I adore all of them. No, more than anything I love Polgara and Durnik, especially in later books when we see their relationship grow and their children born. Why? Because I see my mother and father in those two powerful heroes and I absolutely love it. My mother is one of the most powerful people ever! Strong but loving, kind but firm, heroic and smart… Polgara feels like she was cut from my mother’s cloth. And Durnik? What a great fit for my father if he were ever cast in a fantasy movie. My dad has always been the hardest working human being I’ve ever seen, period. Strong, wise, sometimes quiet, always *there*, always striving to make things right in a world of challenges and fears. By the grace of God they are both still around, but they’ve never heard that they are two of my fantasy heroes! Now I’m even more excited to share this post.

5) Sparks:

Eddings’ impact on my worldbuilding cannot be overstated. When I began writing my YA fantasy book series, I spent many months making sure that I knew (and documented) the history of my new Land as well as many of the day-to-day details about its countries and peoples… including many aspects that I knew might never make it into a book! The Land of Pasaron (featured in the Proving Trilogy (YA) and The Magic Stones collection (MG)) and all of its complex history simply exists. Only after getting a solid handle on what the Land was like did I decide which stories from the timeline I would pick to share with others. This might be why I have never struggle to find book ideas. There is so much that could be told! The hard part is deciding whose stories are really the best before zeroing in to capture the details.

But the sparks are many and varied beyond that. I have not yet read a better cast of characters long-term quest story. There are several that are just as good, but really none are better. But Eddings did this *twice*! The Belgariad is one enormous five book quest across the whole continent where the heroes dwell. Then the Mallorean is another five book quest across the other big continent in that world, places most of them had never seen before. My books are just a bit “quest-y”, if that’s a word, and do have something of a cast of characters approach, and I strive to make them as engaging and fresh as Eddings’ series. Eddings’ use of dialogue is an endless source of inspiration for me, as is the humor he built into so many of his characters. Last but not least, though, was the impact that his author journey had on me. Eddings wrote the Belgariad while working his normal day job, triggered by a simple map that he sketched on a piece of paper one day.  That is such a relatable, real beginning to a huge success story! It gives me hope.

Thanks for reading!

~Kevin

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#WritingSparks #1 – C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia

Hello all!

This is the first entry in a series of posts answering the question “What authors sparked you into becoming a writer, or most influenced how you craft stories?”. I have a lot I’d like to share on the subject, and hopefully others will follow with #WritingSparks of their own.

I’m sure that a huge percentage of fantasy authors out there might list some variant of Lewis’ work as being influential, but I really am interested in learning (and sharing) *why* they made such a difference. So without further ado, here is my #WritingSparks number 1.

1) Author: C.S. Lewis.

2) Books:  The Chronicles of Narnia, which I read for the first time around age 8.

3) Thoughts:

I would love to one day get a sense for how many thousands or tens of thousands of authors would list Lewis as one of their influences. I loved his science fiction books beginning with “Out of the Silent Plant” and his wonderful Christian works “The Screwtape Letters” and “Mere Christianity”. But it was The Chronicles of Narnia that stole my heart when I was still a very young reader. A quick search online shows that book one of the Chronicles of Narnia – “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” – sold more than 80 million copies (so far). But for the life of me I can’t help but feel like that number should be larger. Lewis’ works are the first #WritingSpark on my list for good reason.

I remember thinking that “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was very, very simply written, even for a kid as young as myself. But I was blown away with how much STORY Lewis packed in to so very few words. Even the illustrations backed up that thought; the small, black and white drawings that began each chapter were as basic as could be, but I loved them. I studied them. And to this day I remember almost all of them. Additionally, it was clear that there was more to this story than just talking animals and a selfless, powerful lion. I saw the way Lewis created a Christian parable of his own in the first adventure of the Pevensies, and even then I was shocked that something so serious could be made digestible for kids. Looking back on the books now, including having re-read the entire Chronicles to my kids in recent years, my initial thoughts are buttressed. The man did more to paint the fantastic with a sentence than others could do with a page. Stunning.

I know now that Narnia was my introduction to truly epic-scale worldbuilding. Lewis didn’t just create a world for his characters to live in and interact with, he created its entire history from creation to destruction and let the readers experience the journey. We stood with Digory and Polly as Aslan sung the world into being, and we stood with Eustace and Jill while the stars rained down and Father Time brought that same world to its cold, dark end. Then we experienced a series of important adventures that occurred between those two events – the highest and lowest points of Narnia’s history – and eventually went further up and further in a perfect, even more beautiful reality. What could be more epic? That world simply existed, and we readers were given the gift of slipping into it from time to time to view its events through the eyes of a select few children.

4) Feelings:

Oh, where to begin? Are my Narnian feels so deep because of the age I was when I first read? Or is it the connection to my faith? Or is it purely the writing? Most likely a combination, all of the above. I still well with tears when re-reading the final chapter of “The Last Battle”. I still melt a little when I read that Aravis and Shasta (Cor) do indeed get married at the end of “The Horse and His Boy”. What could be more stunning, painful, and beautiful than the last time anyone could say that they had seen Reepicheep the Mouse as his tiny boat crested the stationary wave near Aslan’s Country? Has there been heartache as strong as when Jill’s stubbornness led to Eustace’s fall from the great cliff, or when Digory’s pride led him to strike the bell that awoke Jadis? And what could compare to Aslan’s sacrifice when it comes to pure emotional power? The answer, of course, is his triumphant return the next morning! And I could go on and on. And all accomplished with an incredible economy of words.

5) Sparks:

The combination of thoughts and feelings above had a strange effect on me over the years before I started writing seriously. Lewis’ Narnia books are definitely NOT one of the reasons I started writing fantasy! Surprising? It’s probably just my personality at work. I found the reality of what Lewis’ books meant to me to be too much, too strong, too meaningful. So when I first considered writing books of my own, I felt paralyzed by my inability to craft something that could create that same depth of thought and feeling. But when I did begin to write, there was no greater spark than that kindled by Narnia. I determined to write exciting, fun fantasy stories for children that did more than just entertain. I wanted to deliver important truths based on my Christian faith, the things that God taught me over years of living and learning.

I believe that’s one of the reasons it took me so long to start writing; it wasn’t until I was nearly 40 years old that I’d finally learned lessons worth repeating.

That’s all for now, my friends! But #WritingSparks #2 is coming soon.

~Kevin

#WritingSparks Series – The Writers and Works that Shape Your Writing!

Hello all! Today I’m launching a new blog post series called Writing Sparks (and Twitter #WritingSparks to go along with it) to capture the authors and books that sparked me into becoming a writer. I love the idea of sharing some details about the authors that shaped me, and hopefully this will lead other writers to similarly share their own stories of the works that sparked them into flame. But I want to do more than just list authors and titles. There are dozens of lists like that all over Twitter. I really want to hear the stories behind different writer’s favorite books. What were the thoughts and feelings that made them influential to you? So my plan is to present each of the authors that most powerfully affected me in a five-point post, then to dare other writers to follow suit.

1) The author (and a little bit about them if you’d like).

2) The books or series that most inspired you and when in your life you read them.

3) Thoughts: Critical comments on first read *and* when you look back on the books now.

4) Feelings: How each work made you feel when first read *and* how they make you feel in retrospect now

5) Sparks: What those thoughts and feelings sparked in your writing or your writing motivations.

This sounds like pure fun to me, and I look forward to reading other author’s posts or tweets about their favorites from the distant past to the nearly present. Of course, if this format (or the idea of having to separate thoughts and feelings) sounds like a drag to you, ignore all of that and just share what you’d like! I bet we find we have lots in common, and lots still to learn.

Thanks!

~Kevin

Editing the “Magic”, Preparing for Prime Time!

Greetings, all!

I have several updates to share about THE MAGIC STONES OF MIDNIGHT KEEP, the first of my novels to have a shot at being published. My incredible agent, Lesley Sabga of The Seymour Agency, met with a number of acquisitions editors from major publishers over the past month. She introduced the ideas and concepts in Midnight Keep (and even shared some of the artwork created by KatieJ), and several editors expressed an interest in reading the manuscript!

This is fantastic news, and that’s putting it mildly. After so many years and so many re-writes of multiple books, the process of submission and review by publishers is really the final bridge to cross before making it into the published author promised land.

In preparation for submission, Lesley provided insightful feedback on Midnight Keep that kicked off another editing/re-writing round for me. Those edits are now complete. The revised chapter 1 is now here on the website on THE MAGIC STONES OF MIDNIGHT KEEP page (or you can just click HERE to save time). Some of the changes to chapter 1 are significant, including an early appearance of the mysterious voice Aril hears from the Magic Stones, more conversational tidbits about Bard’s Tales, and new insights into how Aril, Truly, and Brin see their future. If you read the original, take a minute to read the new chapter 1 and feel free to share your feedback!

If you’ve never before read THE MAGIC STONES OF MIDNIGHT KEEP but are a reader of middle grade fantasy (think early Harry Potter books, the Percy Jackson series, Artemis Fowl, Chronicles of Narnia), give me a shout! I love critical feedback and always welcome more, especially as these important last edits are happening. Feel free to leave a comment here, or email me at TheTomeWriter@gmail.com.

Thanks everyone! More to come soon…

~Kevin

My “How Authors Work” Podcast Interview is LIVE!

Greetings all!

Excitement abounds in my writing world right now, and it’s a beautiful thing. If you have a few minutes, please follow the link below to hear my podcast interview with the fantastic guys over at the How Authors Work website.

https://howauthorswork.com/

Andrew Burleson and Paul Kilpatrick conduct in-depth podcast interviews for the How Authors Work series, and we had a really great conversation about all things writing several weeks ago. Tremendous thanks are owed to my twitter friend Jess Creadon @JessCreadon for introducing me to Andrew and Paul.

As if this wasn’t sweet enough, wonderful things are brewing with my agent Lesley Sabga! I can’t say enough about the work she’s already done and there’s more coming… so stay tuned.

Thanks all!

~Kevin

Introducing: THE PROVING’s Kir’Ana Touran!

When you first meet Crown Princess Kir’Ana Touran in the young adult fantasy THE PROVING, she is already at her wits end. After spending her early teens rebelling against cloistered royal life, she now shows symptoms of veriance – a disease where teens exhibit supernatural powers before going murderously insane.

A veriant heir would be disastrous for her mother the queen, so heartbroken Kir’Ana decides to fake her own death and go into hiding far from the Touran Protectorates. Soon Kir’Ana falls in with bold young adventurer Annix Mastoro and a group of other veriant, hunted teens. But all is not as it seems; Kir’Ana and Annix learn they are not destined for madness. They are the Elect of the Silver Phoenix, a legendary creature from fanciful Bard’s Tales, chosen to battle in THE PROVING with the fate of the land in the balance.

Thanks to the magical artistic skills of the fantastic KatieJ, Kir’Ana has been brought to life!

Kirana cropped

I particularly love Kir’Ana’s expression in this picture; a mixture of sadness and resolve, of hidden fears and the weight of duty. I imagine this is Kir’Ana’s face when she sees her mother Queen Lorrelai and father King Regent Xanad for the last time before carrying out her plan.

Stay tuned! Artwork for Annix will be posted soon!

~Kevin

Map for the Magic Stones of Midnight Keep!

Greetings all!

My newest map-making frenzy is complete, and I am pleased to present the Map of South Touran and the Dramini Waste as it appears in THE MAGIC STONES OF MIDNIGHT KEEP. The map is dated RC 1255, the year that Aril Galana ventured into the Dramini Waste to rescue her best friend Brin with the aid of a pair of magic stones. For those following along, this was forty years before the action of THE PROVING.

Southern Touran and the Dramini Waste - Small copy

As always, many thanks go out to my friend Rob LaBella who created the first version of the Photoshop Map of the Known Land as a gift. I’ve used that map as a starting point for all follow-on work, and I truly don’t know what I would have done without his help!

More to come soon!

~Kevin