The time when Brandon Sanderson releases a new novel. I always buy it. I can't help it. I despise hardcovers so I get the e-book and then usually end up getting the trade paperback a year later so I can gaze at it on my bookshelf.
Yes, I am that kind of fan. But not only because I also write epic fantasy and he's at the top of the game currently and his books are great AND he happens to also like Magic the Gathering AND (I could go on)--I'm that kind of fan because he's so transparent about it all.
That is, Sanderson basically taught me to write.
Yes, I graduated with a Bachelor's in Writing, and I spent a lot of time penning my thoughts before and after that, but when I finally decided to live in a laundry room and live on pennies to focus on my craft, Sanderson was the one who stood out, because he teaches so much about writing, and makes it so public. His university lectures are on Youtube. You can read unrevised drafts of his novels and stories, to get a look behind the scenes. And most of all, he's been putting out a podcast every week for thirteen or so years now, Writing Excuses, and this became my post-grad seminar series on how to write fantasy. I still analyze most of his books after the first read, plotting them out by chapter and character arc, examining the strengths and weaknesses, thinking about how I would do it differently.
But mostly I just love them. Especially these non-Stormlight Archive years, when the books seem to drop like rain (Skyward last month, Children of the Nameless this month)--or burning debris from a planet-wide sphere of dead tech, to use a Skyward metaphor.
So it's that time of year again, and Skyward was a great read--I wrote a review of it over here if you want a preview before diving in. Thank the stars for great mentors, and their even better books.
It's that time. We're close enough to publication that I'm looking for a few readers to get an advance copy of Beggar's Rebellion, the first book in The Resonant Saga, to read it and post reviews when it goes live on Amazon this January.
That's right, free book. Before everybody else.
Copes are limited. Get at me.
Like many of us book-lovers, I got started young. In an advanced reading class in third grade I read the Hobbit, then devoured the Lord of the Rings (weeping at Gandalf's death--spoiler!), moved on to the Chronicles of Narnia, the Shannara books, and a whole host of other now-classic fantasy series that gradually filled the headboard of my bed then spilled over onto the dresser, the floor, the walls...
Amongst them were two beloved quintologies: The Belgariad and the Malloreon, by David Eddings. Maybe you read these books. Maybe you loved them and had your mind blown by them as much as I did. Maybe you are even tempted to reread them now, decades later...
I was. And I am here to say times have changed. I don't want to cast aspersions on our hallowed fantastical forebears, but... this book would not see the light of print in today's genre. Let me just traipse through the tropes:
A magical prophecy (see title).
An inactive-but-destined-for-greatness main character (see also title).
A Gandalfian traveling wise wizard.
An orphaned main character growing up in rural obscurity dreaming of getting out of Tattoine-I-mean-Sendaria.
A Nazgulian race sent to scare and watch over said rural orphan.
A wild flight through strange lands barely seen, followed by a meeting of Good Guys to discuss what to do about the Ancient Powers Awakening...
Basically, you could call Pawn of Prophecy The Fellowship of the Rings Redux, with shallower world-building and a less-intriguing main character. And yet I loved this book, and all the ones that followed it. As a later generation loved the Eragon series that old stogies called a rehashing of earlier tales.
The point of this is not to avoid the favorite books of your youth lest they disappoint you (as the metal bands I liked in the late 90s often do). The point is that everyone enters the realm of fantasy somewhere, and as we read more we figure out what we like and gravitate towards that. And as a genre, that mass gravitation drives publishers to find what's on the leading edge and authors to stay ahead of that, by avoiding or subverting or reimagining those tropes, before they go stale on the bookshelves of young impressionable new fans.
And, that there is a way to read these calcified-to-tropian elders of the genre that doesn't totally steal their magic, in the same way we watch Schwarzenegger's Conan films  or listen to Korn: with an appreciation for what it meant to us then, an eye for what's still good in it, and enough suspension of anachronistic disbelief that we can still get sucked into that fantasy world, whether it's Sendaria or Shannara or the Death-Gate Cycle.
That said, my grand plans to read through the Belgariad have been put on indefinite hold. Kind of like you don't need to watch Conan the Destroyer after seeing Conan the Barbarian, I think I got all my appreciation and groans in on book one. I do hope young Garion eventually finds a backbone and his world gets a little more interesting, but I'm going to leave the answer to the rose-tinted glasses of memory, and return to the genre edges I find so lovely today--to read , and to write.
 Expertly analyzed by friend Mike Haspil in episode one of his new podcast.
 At the moment, the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. Hot damn. Have you read this?
Remember when the I-Phone came out? And for a year or so half of us got it, and half of us were like, why would I switch from my sweet flip phone? And then suddenly and forever smart phones were indispensable?
The Power is like that, for me. A previously unexplored, obvious great idea I mean. This is the kind of book that simultaneously makes me want to write even better and to give it up entirely, because Naomi Alderman has already done such a killer job. Mostly the first, though, don't worry.
In the meantime, I wrote a review of it over at Top New Fantasy. Give it a gander if you're curious, or better yet, just read the damn thing.
As you may know, writing is only half my life. Well, half my professional life--the other half is taken up running a small business selling fruit (1).
Yes, I sell fruit for a living. I also write fantasy novels. Y'know, normal stuff.
For the most part, cherry and peach slinging consumes all my time (2), and what little remains is taken up with mundane aspects of living on the road like 'Where am I going to shower?' and 'Why is a bar the only food-serving establishment open after 8pm here?'. I get zero writing done, not even editing, not even rereading manuscripts. The kind of mental energy writing requires is totally zapped in convincing person after person to buy my highly perishable (and delicious) organic produce.
What I do get done is reading. Glorious hours of reading, laying in the sleeper cab of my semi or glazed-eyedly eating (another) burrito bowl or blasting down the interstate so consumed in my audiobook i forget my full bladder and empty gas tank.
This summer was no exception: I read Susan Dennard, Victor LaValle, Brian Staveley, David Gaughran, Jonathan Maberry, Robert J. Sawyer, a couple by Peter V. Brett, did a deep dive on Brent Weeks, and even got in some nonfiction in Tim Marshall and Steven Pinker.
Part of this is research. I can't write good fantasy if I'm not reading it, and there are so many great authors out there that catching up with the old school and keeping up with new debuts is a full time job (albeit a glorious one. Much better than fruit-selling).
The other part of reading is even better--the imagining. Every engaging character I read, every clever magic system, every surprising plot twist and well-crafted narrative spawns ideas for my own writing, because I'm always guessing ahead to what will happen, imagining the author's creative process, thinking how cool it would be if this or that character had a secret motive or the magic worked just slightly differently.
And thus my google notepad fills with ideas even as my trailer empties of produce. So while none of the project bars have gotten higher in the last three months, I can still say it was a fruitful summer (3), because I return to the writing desk armed with more new ideas than ever. And fates willing, the best of those will find their way into your hands.
(1) Free signed copy of my latest book to anyone who finds the stand! I love friendly faces on the road, and am always slinging fiction alongside fruit.
(2) On average, 11.5hrs/day, 6.5 days a week. Down from 14 hours for the first few years!
(3) This also despite my new truck literally blowing up while careening down a steep mountain pass carrying the most expensive and perishable fruit of the summer. On my birthday. But that's another story...
It's nice now and then to read a book that takes religion seriously. I'm not much for religion personally, but it's the primary vehicle for a lot of our real-life character arcs, and I think it deserves more of a place in fiction.
Doubly so YA, where such things usually get filed with parents and responsibility: out of the way of the protagonist who's got better things on their plate. Not so in Defy the Stars, Claudia Gray's brilliant start to her Defy the Worlds series. Not only is her opening killer, her pacing intense and romance memorable, she manages to hit deep with a character who takes her religion seriously (even as she questions it). There's also a meditation on what it means to be human buried here, embodied in the form of an android main character, and she pulls it off flawlessly. Who says YA can't get deep?
Well, a lot of people do, actually, and if you look at most of what's sold best in the genre, you'll understand why. But if you're looking for something meatier intellectually without sacrificing a fast-paced engaging story, you could do worse than to drop a couple dollars on Defy the Stars. (I wrote a longer review for this on Top New Fantasy--find it here).
I'm always exhausted after a conference, in the best kind of way. This conference's best kinds of ways included meeting new and talented writerly geeks, soaking up my fifteen seconds of fame for winning the conference's writing contest, pitching to agents and editors who showed grains of interest (let's hope I've got more news to share on that later), and getting to know Mary Robinette Kowal, who along with her fellow podcasters may have more to do with my writing ability than the several degrees I have collecting dust (one of them Literature with a Writing Emphasis, mind).
This was the first bar-con I've gone to and not felt like a total loser, or stayed at more than fifteen minutes--thanks again to MRK and her dedicated cohort of students, but also to author friends M.H. Boroson and Mike Haspil. It's nice to feel that I'm finding my way into a community of authors. Writing can be lonely as it is joyful. Especially when you're a giant (see pic below).
That's it: Pike's Peak 2018, thank you very much. Time now to sleep.
While my YA Fantasy Daughter of Flood and Fury is still technically in the revision process, I thought it was good enough to enter in a few contests. And one of them--the Zebulon--chose it as first in their Science Fiction+Fantasy category!
This is a huge boost to my confidence in the book. I already think it's among the best things I've written, but to have independent not-my-friends-and-family-who-will-love-it-because-I-wrote-it people think the same thing is great.
Better yet, the final round is judged by professionals from the industry, and I'll have a chance to talk with them at the conference, so with any luck DOFF might get picked up for traditional publication!
Either way this book is coming soon to an Amazon near you, so you can give it your own rating :) Till then, if you happen to be going to Pike's Peak Writer's Conference this year, look me up. We might even have signed copies of ACHE in the bookstore!
See the full post here:
People sometimes ask me how I come up with my ideas, or how I keep them all straight. The full answer is a mess of word documents, smartphone notes, mental contexts and .txt files.
The short answer is my desk. Not the desk itself--the paper i staple on top of the desk. Here's the one from my last project, a revision of Daughter of Flood and Fury:
My brain is too chaotic to always write in straight lines, or keep a definitive and updated wiki of any particular world I'm creating (see: the 200+ page wiki for The Resonant Saga, forever being edited and added to). To help with that, I staple a giant piece of paper to my desk and scribble all over it. Not all of it ends up in the book, or even about the book, really, but it helps me get it all in one place where I can stare at it. And draw on it.
It always feels auspicious when I tear off a sheet and start another one, at some indefinable moment when the new project has become too big to fit in just words. That's what I did today, as I get to the end of planning the sequel to Beggar's Rebellion, tentatively titled Pauper's Empire:
I like it so far. Yes, those are planets and orbits on the right, though it's a fantasy novel. I'm sure this one will end up as stained and wrinkled as the other by the time I'm done--because food, tea, and decaf coffee also help me keep all of this straight. If you read really close, maybe you can find spoilers...
You've reached the electronic home of author Levi Jacobs. Cleverly hidden in this site are stories I've written, news about things I've published, excerpts from my novels, and dark secrets about my other life as an itinerant fruit salesman. Enjoy!
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