Tag Archives: characters

(More) Infrequently Asked Questions

I spent a couple hours talking to myself today.

Again.

Technically, I was typing to myself, but it’s still an odd situation to be both the interviewer and interviewee. For one thing, I knew the answers to the questions before I asked them.

If Souls Can Sleep manuscript with flags indicating corrections

In two months, this marked-up manuscript will be a full-fledged paperback and e-book.

This Q&A will eventually find its home in my online press kit so that reporters, bloggers, and anyone else interested spreading the word about my upcoming book can get a quick overview about If Souls Can Sleep.

I did something similar for The Renegade Chronicles in 2016 and shared an excerpt from that self-directed Q&A in this blog. I jokingly referred to them as Infrequently Asked Questions because there was nothing frequent about how often I’ve been asked the questions in question.

What follows are my best guess at what people might want to know about If Souls Can Sleep and, admittedly, the things I would like prospective readers to know.

Oh, and welcome to the conversation!

What is If Souls Can Sleep about?

Here’s what the back cover will say:

If Souls Can Sleep introduces a hidden world where gifted individuals possess the power to invade the dreams of others. Two rival factions have transformed the dreamscape into a war zone where all reality is relative and even the dead can’t rest in peace.

The story centers on Vincent Cruz, a man who lost his daughter and never recovered from the tragedy. He’s stuck, haunted by a dream that replays the dreadful memory over and over. Then the dream suddenly stops, and he’s faced with a new nightmare that starts to bleed into the real world.

Who is If Souls Can Sleep about?

It’s largely Vincent’s story, but he’s not in it alone. Jerry, Vincent’s stoner roommate, and Leah, a sleep doctor with issues of her own, get pulled into the insanity.

There’s also Milton, a partial amnesiac who is on the run and doing his best to stave off sleep forever.

Who is your favorite character?

I don’t think I could ever pick a favorite, but I do loving writing characters who allow me to express humor. Jerry provides comic relief, but honestly, DJ—a possibly crazy bus rider—takes the cake for fun dialogue. He has some of the best lines in the whole book.

What is the setting for If Souls Can Sleep?

Most of the story is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In fact, Vincent’s and Jerry’s apartment mirrors the one I lived in while attending college there. After writing The Renegade Chronicles, which take place in an alien world of my own devising (Altaerra), it was fun to draw from real-world locations and experiences. The bulk of the book is set in the year 2007.

If Souls Can Sleep also includes glimpses at other worlds that may or may not be real.

Who will enjoy this book?

I don’t start out by picking a specific demographic to cater to throughout the writing process. Instead, I write the best version of the story clinging tenaciously to my gray matter and hope there are people out there who will also appreciate it.

With If Souls Can Sleep, I set out to write something very different from the sword-and-sorcery fantasy stories I had been reading and writing up until then. I wanted to create a book I had never read before, something very unusual and unique.

To be blunt, this book was an experiment, not so much nudging me out of my comfort zone as submerging me into a completely unfamiliar environment. As a result, the book is a mashup of several different genres, including science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and metafiction.

Categorizing If Souls Can Sleep can be tricky, but I consider its genre-bending nature a strength because the story has something for readers of many different backgrounds. It’s complex yet accessible, peculiar yet relatable.

While fans of speculative fiction—including fantasy and science fiction—are perhaps the obvious audience, I’m pleasantly surprised to find, among my pre-readers, that the book appeals to people outside those genres too.

Bringing it back around to my initial goal: if you want to read a book that’s unlike any you’ve read before, give If Souls Can Sleep a try.

What makes If Souls Can Sleep unique?

I’m not the first person to entertain the notion of oneironauts (individuals who can psychically visit the dreams of others), but my take on “dream drifters” paints an original portrait of the relationship between life and death and the dreamscape. I’ve cobbled together a number of theories, philosophies and religious beliefs to put my own personal spin on the collective unconscious.

Things also get very “meta” in If Souls Can Sleep, as I explore what qualifies something real—including the people who populate books.

What is If Souls Can Sleep “rated”?

If it were a movie, it would likely earn a PG-13 rating. There’s swearing, some violence, drug and alcohol use, sexual content, and other mature topics. I expect the story will resonate with readers age 17 and older. That’s the suggested audience.

How long did it take you to write the book?

I started writing If Souls Can Sleep on Dec. 31, 2006, and it took two and a half years to compose a complete first draft. I then edited it, jumped into writing the sequel, and worked on a handful of other projects. By the time the book hits shelves, it will be more than 11 years in the making. (More on that here.)

Fortunately for fans, they won’t have to wait that long to get their hands on the sequel…

What does the title mean?

The title comes from a quote found within the book: “If souls can sleep, then why not dream?”

I flirted with other title options but realized, as time went on, that the opening line—“If souls can sleep”—could function as an apt foundation for the series as a whole. I also liked the idea of using a clause that leaves the reader hanging, an inherent sense of suspense.

The titles of the next two books in series follow a similar formula: If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die.

Is this another trilogy?

Yes. Sort of. Maybe?

I have written three books for The Soul Sleep Cycle to date. It wasn’t my intention to write a trilogy. In fact, I once (naïvely) believed I could tell the entire story in a single volume. Halfway through If Souls Can Sleep, I realized I needed to streamline my subplots. A second book became necessary to tell the whole story, and even before I started writing If Sin Dwells Deep, I realized I would need a third book to reach a satisfying conclusion.

Quite possibly, three books are enough. Yet I always leave a few doors open for future storylines, just in case…

Why didn’t you publish all three at once (like with The Renegade Chronicles)?

I certainly could have, and I’m sure there are those who would rather not have to wait to see what happens next. But publishing three books at once presents many challenges. I learned a lot from publishing The Renegade Chronicles en masse, and I didn’t want to end up cutting corners just so I could get this new series out there all at once.

From a marketing standpoint, it’s also difficult to sustain public interest when all three books are available on Day 1. As a compromise, however, readers won’t have to wait too long for the next installments.

If Sin Dwells Deep is slated for fall 2018; If Dreams Can Die, spring 2019.

Where did you find inspiration for this book/series?

As with many of my story ideas, the inspiration came as a random thought—this one at a roller-skating rink in the late ’90s. I was thinking about the strangers in our dreams and wondering where they came from. Do they wear the faces of people we glimpsed in passing over the years? Or are they composites our subconscious cooks up to fill out the cast of any given dream?

What if they are real people—other dreamers?

The rough outline of a short story popped into my head, but it never made it to paper. Almost a decade later, the idea resurfaced, allowing me to play with a handful of abstract concepts, including identity and the definition of “real.”

For Vincent, I thought, “What is the worst thing that can happen to a guy?” Because I was a new father with a young daughter at the time, the answer came easily: losing a child.

How does a parent cope with that? What if he can’t?

Will you write any more Renegade Chronicles books?

Writing more about Klye and the gang would be a lot of fun. I have no shortage of plots mapped out, so jumping back to Altaerra wouldn’t be too difficult.

I’ve written a complete draft of a novel starring a young wizardess who will eventually cross paths with the characters from The Renegade Chronicles. The epilogue of Martyrs and Monsters hints at that storyline. It’s possible I may polish up that book and publish it someday.

Sales of The Renegade Chronicles will also go a long way toward determining whether I return to Altaerra. (So if you want new stories, tell your friends about the existing ones!)

What is your next project?

Preparing If Sin Dwells Deep and If Dreams Can Die for publication will take up a significant chunk of 2018, not to mention promoting If Souls Can Sleep.

I’m currently working on a collaborative project in a different medium—a new discomfort zone—but that is a secret for now. I also have had an idea for a standalone novel that’s been trying to get my attention for years. Maybe I’ll finally get around to outlining it.

When will If Souls Can Sleep be available to purchase?

The paperback and Kindle editions will be published on Jan. 30, 2018. I plan to make it available for preorder earlier that month.

Stay tuned to this blog for updates…

Did I miss anything? Do you have a question that wasn’t addressed? I’d love to satiate your curiosity if I can. Just leave a comment below!

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Writing

Finally, some feedback!

Reader comments really make my day—even more so than new sales.

Don’t get me wrong. When I receive a notification telling me someone purchased one or more of The Renegade Chronicles, I grin like an idiot.

But digesting a reader’s genuine reaction to one of my novels, well, my soul does a little happy dance every time.

As I’ve mentioned before, copious online reviews can lead to fiscal benefits for an author. Even better, reader feedback lets me know what “worked” in the story, what didn’t, my strengths as a writer, and my weaknesses. All of which will help make my future books stronger.

For The Renegade Chronicles specifically, here are a few things I learned. Some of it came as a surprise, while other observations reinforced what I always hoped to be true:

  • The bad news: Rebels and Fools (Vol. 1) is a slow starter. I thought I jump into the action relatively quickly, but apparently the pacing wasn’t as brisk as I had hoped. Lesson learned.
  • The good news: Once they make it a handful of chapters into Vol. 1, readers tend to get hooked—and then go on to Vols. 2 and 3. Few things sound as sweet to an author’s ears as “I couldn’t put it down.”
  • The series features strong female characters. To be blunt, most of my characters are dudes. But I’m happy to hear that ladies who do get “screen time”—including Leslie Beryl, Lilac Zephyr, and Opal—hold their own!
  • It’s OK to kill off characters. This can be controversial, but fortunately there are those who (like me) appreciate high stakes. While I’m no George R. R. Martin, I don’t shy away from the deadly consequences of battle. (See also: “The problem with invincible protagonists”)
  • Vol. 3 has some unanswered questions. There’s a fine line between leaving the reader wanting more and leaving the reader unsatisfied. The feedback leads me to believe most readers fall into the former camp.

At the risk of tooting my own horn, here are excerpts of comments compiled from Amazon.com and Goodreads.com:

Rebels and Fools

“This book is a great big step into a world that keeps you pleasantly off balance by feeling uncannily familiar and strange at the same time.”

Screen capture of customer reviews of "Rebels and Fools"“Williams’ characters are an unlikely unity of the honorable, criminal, and the witless… Their travels are filled with battles, rescues, victories, and losses. I’m looking forward to the next installment in Heroes and Liars.”

“Fantastic! The boy and I are reading this series together before bed. He’s eleven, and he loves it. I’m quite fascinated by it myself.”

“A compelling start to the series.”

“My favorite of the three. A great fantasy trilogy.”

Heroes and Liars

“In this second installment of Williams’ epic yarn, he makes good on the adventure, camaraderie, and intrigue promised at the end of the series opener Rebels and Fools.”

“I could not stop reading! The second volume in this trilogy is action-packed from start to finish.”

“Just a very enjoyable read with another very nerve-wracking ending.”

“Excellent follow up to the first book.”

“…enough questions linger as to the characters’ true motives to keep my interest into the third book. Bring on Martyrs and Monsters!”

Martyrs and Monsters

“…The Renegade Chronicles is a very solid introduction into (the fantasy genre).”

“The last volume in the trilogy is nearly as full of action and intrigue as the second book. Secrets are revealed, and the battle between humans and monsters gets vicious.”

“Many questions answers. Many new questions raised. Great closure to many plot lines without feeling too tidy.”

“While this isn’t my usual genre, I couldn’t put it down. The books are action packed and full of mystery, magic, and a dash of romance.”

“I hope we haven’t heard the last from these characters…I’m craving more!!!”

Vol. 4?

I’d love to write more about the people and places of Altaerra. Truly, I would!

As a matter of fact, I have years—yes, years—of these characters’ lives mapped out beyond what has been published so far. Which is why there were so many unanswered questions at the end of Martyrs and Monsters; these heroes’ (and anti-heroes’) tales are far from over.

The Renegade War foreshadows a continents-spanning conflict that will prove to be much more catastrophic than anything the cast has faced before…

But in order to justify the writing and publishing future fantasy novels, I must sell a heck of a lot more editions of the first three volumes. In the interest of building my readership, I’ll include a list of handy links for those interested in reading, referring, and/or reviewing The Renegade Chronicles.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Amazon

Goodreads

3 Comments

Filed under Writing

Coming soon: Renegade Chronicles compendium

An editor of mine once said, “No one wants to know how the sausage is made.”

He was referring to journalistic processes—the hoops reporters jump through in order to research, interview, and write stories as well as edit, paginate, and publish them. Readers care only about the quality of finished article, not all of the work that went into it.

That might be true of newspapers, but as a lifelong fan of fantasy, I know that those who venture into fictional realms often appreciate additional glimpses into the wider world, including supplementary explorations of characters and cultures and even the author’s method for creating them.

Think of them as travel guides.

In the spirit of giving fans a more in-depth look at the people, places, and peculiarities of The Renegade Chronicles—and an excuse to return to Altaerra—I’m in the process of creating a (FREE!) compendium called Capricon and Beyond.

While I put the finishing touches on the e-book, please enjoy this excerpt. It’s a character profile I composed for a certain rogue knight prior to writing the first draft of Rebels and Fools.

Black and white sketch of Dominic Horcalus, Knight of Superius

While I’ve never been more than a dabbler in drawing, I occasionally made time to sketch the natives of Altaerra.

Dominic Horcalus

Horcalus comes from a long line of Knights of Superius. Like his father and his father before him, Horcalus stands tall—about 6’2”—and keeps himself in excellent physical shape. The muscles on his arms, legs, and chest are well-defined, and there’s hardly any fat on his body. His eyes are gray; his hair, brown. A full, neatly-trimmed mustache graces his upper lip. Despite a rather hawkish nose and sharp chin, Horcalus is a reasonably handsome man.

Horcalus’s usual garb consists of combination plate-and-chainmail armor, a shield of some sort, an open-faced helmet with a nose-guard, and his trusty longsword.

Horcalus presents himself with an air of quiet dignity. He acts and speaks proudly, though not haughtily. He has excellent posture, looking comically stiff at times. He doesn’t fidget, and maintains a composed, stoic exterior unless something has him greatly discombobulated. His tone tends to soften, and he is more likely to smile when interacting with women and children.

Horcalus’s speech is the epitome of proper. He’ll almost always use two words in lieu of a contraction. He may use an outdated or archaic phrase or expression without realizing it.

Horcalus’s childhood was not so unlike many other boys borne of Knights. His father was stern but loving, making sure his son was well-disciplined and teaching the boy everything he knew about life and the Knighthood. Horcalus became his father’s squire at a remarkably young age and then went to Fort Splendor to train as a novice when he was fifteen years old.

Horcalus loves a challenge and delights in a hard-fought victory, though he is ever a gracious winner. He spends much time engaged in mock-combat, honing his skill, teaching others what he knows as well as learning from their techniques. Aside from physical trials, he likes games that improve his intellect and sharpen his wit (e.g., solving at riddles and playing chess). He has little interest in games of chance and shuns gambling.

Horcalus is not quick to laugh, but that is not to say he is devoid of humor. He’ll laugh at clever joke but seldom at another’s expense. He hates lies and engages in a lie only when it’s unavoidable. He’s a very bad liar, actually. His conscience holds a tight reign over his actions.

Like most Knights of Superius, Horcalus is extremely patriotic, but Horcalus does his best to accept people of every nation. Like many humans, he has his misgivings about the other races, but he is never less than polite to the occasional half-elf or gnome who crosses his path. He distrusts magic-users, but his greatest prejudice is against people who foment disorder and take advantage of their fellow man.

Horcalus is a stalwart optimist. He became a Knight to help make the world a better place. So long as he is fighting for the side of peace and justice, Horcalus enjoys life. Conversely, when he becomes a member of the Renegades, the disgraced Knight finds life nearly unbearable.

Horcalus serves Pintor the Warriorlord by adhering to the virtues outlined in the Knighthood’s code of conduct. He knows several prayers by rote. More often than not, when he prays, he is asking for guidance or forgiveness. Horcalus also honors the other Gods of Good, though he doesn’t really address these other deities by name.

While Horcalus did have a childhood sweetheart, he won’t fall in love until many years after the Renegade War. Horcalus thinks love is important, and he wants a wife and family, but the quest for a soulmate is far more difficult than anything the Knighthood has ever asked of him. He always figured the gods would provide him with a capable woman when and if they see fit. Horcalus wants children too—particularly a son to follow in his footsteps as a Knight of Superius.

Horcalus made many friends while in the Knighthood. His best friend and mentor is Chester Ragellan. He develops relationships with Klye Tristan, Arthur Bismarc, and Lilac Zephyr during the Renegade War.

More details about the release of Capricon and Beyond as well as other exciting news for The Renegade Chronicles will be released soon. Until then, may the Warriorlord watch over you!

It’s here! Download Capricon and Beyond: The Renegade Chronicles Compendium for FREE.

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Infrequently Asked Questions

Writers spend a lot of time talking to themselves.

Portrait of author David Michael Williams

“Are you ready for the interview, David?” “Yes, David, I am.” | Photo by Jaime Lynn Hunt

We invent conversations between imaginary people, imagine a series of actions, and then transcribe what happens in our mind to the page. The hope, of course, is that one day there will be readers to hear that proverbial tree falling in the woods.

In addition to millions of words of fiction, I have written hundreds of pages while planning and plotting my novels. When I go back and read through those notes, I come off like a crazy person, sharing ideas and options with no one but myself.

And yet I felt even more like a lunatic when composing the author Q&A for my online press kit.

The goal of the Q&A is to provide reporters with an easily digestible document for learning more about me as an author as well as my books. In the exercise, I play both the role of interviewer and interviewee, asking myself questions to which I already know the answers.

In the spirit of embracing the insanity, I’m going to share the dialogue (or is it a monologue?) below. Maybe someday I’ll have partaken in enough interviews to compose a true FAQ, but in the meantime, please enjoy my Infrequently Asked Questions:

What are The Renegade Chronicles about?

On the surface, The Renegade Chronicles is about a civil war in the magical, medieval world of Altaerra. The most powerful peace treaty in history is on the verge of collapse, and a certain band of rebels has made it their mission to learn who is really pulling the Alliance of Nations’ strings—and why.

The series is firmly entrenched in the sword-and-sorcery fantasy genre, though there are elements of mystery, suspense, and even comedy. While the world of Altaerra is populated with mythical creatures like elves and ogres, the series focuses primarily on humans caught up in political intrigue and matters of life and death.

In a nutshell, The Renegade Chronicles is about war, unexpected alliances, magical swords, unholy crusaders, redemption, and hope.

Whom are The Renegade Chronicles about?

The series features a wide array of characters, including thieves, knights, pirates, wizards, and assassins. Everyone has his or her own agenda, and most people believe they fight for “the side of right.” But a major theme woven throughout the series is that the truth tends to fall somewhere between black and white.

The main characters are the Renegades, a ragtag band of rebels brought together by a twist of fate, including Klye, a former thief and self-proclaimed leader; Ragellan, a disgraced Knight of Superius, and his protégé Horcalus; Othello, a taciturn forester; Plake, a former rancher who thinks with his fists; Scout, an explorer who knows the island better than most; the pirate king Pistol and his loyal first mate, Crooker; Arthur, a young runaway; and Lilac, a mysterious woman with an enchanted blade.

You can learn more about them here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles/meet-the-renegades/.

Who is your favorite character?

That’s like asking me who my favorite child is!

I suppose I have many favorites. Klye Tristan, the Renegade Leader, is probably the easiest for me to write; I’ve known him the longest. Characters like Scout and Noel are gems because they provide comedic relief. I have a lot of respect for Horcalus and Stannel Bismarc, both men of principle. And as obnoxious as Plake can be, he’s undeniably a catalyst when it comes to the plot. Zusha is a lot of fun, too, because of her unique perspective.

What is the setting for The Renegade Chronicles?

The story takes place in the fantastical world of Altaerra, which is home to many different peoples, including humans, dwarves, elves, ogres and a few other traditional fantasy races. And there are a few species that are unique to Altaerra alone, such as the dreaded midge.

Readers of The Renegade Chronicles will traverse the breadth of the island of Capricon, which is populated primarily by humans and defended by the Knights of Superius. The island is home to temples, castles, foreboding mountains, abandoned settlements, and no shortage of secrets.

You can see the map of Capricon here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles/capricon/.

Who will enjoy The Renegade Chronicles?

Fans of fantasy fiction who like fast-paced, action-packed plots, a robust cast of characters, and plenty of plot twists will appreciate The Renegade Chronicles. The focus is on the individual adventurers, most of them humans, and while the series borrows from established fantasy tropes, folks who have never read fantasy books before should be able to grasp and enjoy these stories.

The Renegade Chronicles would be a good stepping stone for teens who grew up on Harry Potter and are looking for a series that features more mature characters. They’re ready for something with a little more grit—but not something as brutal as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Having said that, I also believe adults of all ages can appreciate these adventures.

What makes The Renegade Chronicles unique?

I’ll be the first to admit that the series is something of a throwback to the sword-and-sorcery stories I grew up with. It’s not as arch and grueling as Tolkien, and it’s certainly more lighthearted than the gritty urban fantasy that has gained popularity in recent years.

I published The Renegade Chronicles for people, like me, who want a healthy balance of high-stakes danger and good, old-fashioned fun.

What are The Renegade Chronicles “rated”?

If this were a movie, I’d say a hard PG or a soft PG-13. There is mild language and a few sexual innuendos. There’s also violence, and characters do die occasionally. But blood and gore are not the focus.

Where can someone buy The Renegade Chronicles?

All three paperbacks are available at Amazon.com. The e-book editions—including a three-in-one collection with a bonus appendix detailing the people, places and particularities of Altaerra—are exclusively available at the Kindle Store.

You can find a series of direct links here: david-michael-williams.com/renegade-chronicles.

How long did it take you to write the books?

The first book, Rebels and Fools, took the longest. I wrote the first draft while attending college and rewrote the entire manuscript my senior year. Volumes 2 and 3 took a year apiece to write (two drafts each).

When I came back to the manuscripts in late 2015, I dedicated a month to each one, refining them and making substantial edits.

What do the titles mean?

Don’t get me started on how difficult it is to come up with compelling novel titles!

All three titles hint at the duality of the characters. For example, Rebels and Fools—does that mean the enemies of the rebels are the fools, or are the rebels themselves fools? The same goes for Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters. The ambiguity is intentional and, in fact, integral.

Why do fantasy series always seem to be trilogies?

That’s an arcane secret…kind of like why every potion requires “eye of newt.” In all seriousness, I don’t think I set out to write three books specifically. I always knew where Volume 1 would end, and after I finished Volume 2, I realized it would take only one more installment to complete the main story arc.

But it’s altogether possible additional volumes could be published somewhere down the road. The Renegades have many adventures ahead of them.

Why did you decide to publish all three at once?

We live in an age of instant gratification. I know I hate waiting for a writer to finish the next installment in a series. Since I already had written all three novels, it didn’t make sense to stagger the releases of Volumes 2 and 3. If someone enjoyed Rebels and Fools, I didn’t want anything getting in the way of their buying Heroes and Liars and Martyrs and Monsters immediately.

It’s a similar philosophy to Netflix series in which an entire season is released all at once. People like to “binge watch,” so why not “binge read”? The Renegade Chronicles is like House of Cards—only with magical swords.

Why did you decide to publish The Renegade Chronicles yourself?

I wrote three complete manuscripts before searching for an agent to represent the series or a publisher to buy it. And, frankly, no one was interested. To be fair, the first book was bloated—175,000 words is too long for an unknown author’s first book—and all three books needed copious edits. The decade in between finishing the third book and revisiting the series provided me with the skills and the objectivity to go back and fix the manuscripts.

The bottom line is I had faith in the stories and the writing, and I wanted others to be able to enjoy them. Creating my own independent publishing company, One Million Words, was a means to that end.

Why did you name your publishing company One Million Words?

A good friend of mine once told me that anything an author writes before one million words are just “finger exercises.” It’s a derivative of a familiar adage that proclaims a writer must put in a ton of practice before he or she will be any good. After he told me that, I did a word count and was pleased to report back that I had, in fact, already written one million words of fiction.

There are also roughly one million words in the English language. Plus I thought “One Million Words” had a nice ring to it. I had been using that phrase for my blog and social media accounts for years, so when it came time to create my own imprint, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate name.

Where did you find inspiration for this series?

I’ve been a fan of fantasy since before I even knew what fantasy was. Books, movies, television, video games—I always gravitated toward medieval settings and magical adventures. I wholeheartedly fell in love with the DragonLance books when I was in high school, and I was a big fan of the Final Fantasy video game series before that. I wanted to create a rich world of my own, a mystical playground for the characters that popped into my head.

Who are your favorite authors?

Some of my favorite fantasy authors are Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, not only because of their contributions to the DragonLance saga, but also for the Death Gate Cycle; R.A. Salvatore, primarily for his DemonWars series; Neil Gaiman; George R.R. Martin; and, of course, J.R.R. Tolkien, the grandfather of the fantasy genre.

Beyond fantasy, I’m a big fan of William Faulkner, and one of my favorite novels of all time is Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo.

What was the biggest challenge in publishing The Renegade Chronicles?

When you are preparing to publish three novels in two formats (print and digital), there are a lot of moving parts. On top of that, I held myself to a very aggressive timeline. When things are running that tight, even a minor setback can impact a lot of other tasks.

To tell the truth, I think my greatest challenge still lies ahead: marketing the series and reaching new customers.

Will there be any future books in The Renegade Chronicles?

I’d love to write more stories about Klye Tristan and the gang. I have plenty of additional plots already mapped out, so jumping back into Altaerra wouldn’t be difficult. I’ve written a complete draft of a novel starring a young wizardess who will eventually cross paths with the characters from The Renegade Chronicles. The epilogue of Martyrs and Monsters hints at that storyline.

By and large, sales of the first three volumes will determine whether I can afford to return to this world.

What is your next project?

I’m stepping away from Altaerra for at least a little while. I’m in the middle of writing a science fiction series called The Soul Sleep Cycle. While my agent looks for a buyer for the first two books in that series (If Souls Can Sleep and If Sin Dwells Deep), I’ll be working on the third novel, If Dreams Can Die.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Oh, I have lots of advice—mostly lessons I’ve learned along the way. I include writing tips on my website, david-michael-williams.com.

What I will say is I’m glad print-on-demand publishing was not available when I was in my early twenties. Self-publishing almost makes it too easy to put one’s work out there, and I’ve seen plenty of examples of dabblers and amateurs publishing before they are ready.

I fear that I would have been among them; if I had published The Renegade Chronicles before 2016, they would have been an inferior product. My advice to young writers is to wait until you’re prepared to treat your fiction as a business before considering self-publishing.

What are your long-term goals?

First and foremost, I want to continue to publish my novels, whether through a traditional publishing house or through One Million Words. I have a lot of ideas, so here’s to hoping I find readers who appreciate my stories and will support my dream of getting paid to do what I love.

In addition to novels, I’d love to write for a video game or a graphic novel. My wife says I should produce a pun-a-day calendar. At this point, I’m keeping everything on the table.

Any other questions for the author? Shoot them my way in the comments section!

7 Comments

Filed under Writing

‘Who is your book about?’

Even though “What’s your book about?” is the most difficult question for an author, a few others can be tricky as well.

Noel from The Renegade Chronicles

An early sample of “fan art,” courtesy of Stephanie Williams (née Steinmetz). Who is Noel? Well, he’s a midge. What’s a midge? You’ll just have to read The Renegade Chronicles to find out!

When I try to answer “Who is your book about?” I struggle because I have a lot of characters. With my soon-to-be published (read: almost published) fantasy series, I have a core group of companions who encounter quite a few allies and adversaries during their travels.

And a handful of other people steal the stage from time to time…

But while the trilogy covers a lot of ground (and a lot of lives), at the core of The Renegade Chronicles are the Renegades themselves — specifically, a ragtag band of rebels who have seen the sinister side of a seemingly benevolent peace treaty and decide to fight back.

Here’s a quick (and arguably superficial) summary of the stars of Rebels and Fools:

  • Klye — A former thief and self-proclaimed Renegade Leader, Klye Tristan doesn’t believe in the gods, but he’ll need a miracle to complete his mission.
  • Ragellan — A disgraced Knight of Superius, Chester Ragellan joins the Renegades to learn who framed him and why.
  • Horcalus — A fugitive from the Knighthood, Dominic Horcalus faithfully follows his mentor, Ragellan, though he hates conspiring with the rebels.
  • Othello — A forester accustomed to solitude, Othello Balsa says little but perceives much; his senses are as sharp as one of his green-fletched arrows.
  • Plake — A reckless rancher who constantly questions authority—especially Klye’s—Plake Nelway possesses an unquenchable thirst for excitement and ale.
  • Scout — An explorer at heart, Solomon “Scout” Aegis knows more about the island of Capricon than anyone…if he is to be believed.
  • Pistol — A pirate king who carved his way to the top, Pistol owes the Renegades a debt, but not even he knows how far that loyalty stretches.
  • Crooker — A lifelong buccaneer, Crooker is content to let others do the planning, but he won’t think twice about killing those who threaten his friends.
  • Arthur — A young runaway, Arthur Bismarc wants only to forget his past crimes but ends up committing new ones after getting caught up with the Renegades.
  • Lilac — A warrior woman with a clandestine agenda, Lilac Zephyr wields an enchanted blade that can effortlessly cut through stone, steel, and bone.

Before they can hope to stand up against their enemies—which include a paranoid governor, overzealous knights, several assassins, and a powerful spell-caster who believes the gods sent him to end the war—the Renegades will have to learn to trust one another.

Or die trying.

The Renegade Chronicles will be available in paperback and digital editions on March 31, 2016.

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Should you care if readers care about your characters?

Once upon a time, I described my fiction as character-oriented.

I’d bandy about that phrase in conversations with friends (or anyone, really) who asked about my writing. I used it in query letters to agents and editors while precociously comparing my early sword-and-sorcery fiction to the works of Margaret Weis, R.A. Salvatore, and other authors of books with dragons on the cover.

“Character-oriented” just seemed to be the logical expression for my work because, at the root of it all, I loved creating characters. Back when I was I writing medieval fantasy—and attending to the world building that went with it—I created countless characters to fill roles from lowly peasant to powerful tyrant across a centuries-long timeline. (Though there weren’t any invincible protagonists, I’m happy to report.)

It was an easy exercise:

Step 1: pick a name.

Step 2: pick a personality.

I spent more than a little time creating character profiles so that the people who populate my stories transcended a mere two dimensions. Because I wanted my readers to understand the characters and to see them as clearly as I did.

I also wanted readers to care about them.

In fact, I’m confident I said this very line at writing workshops in college: “If I don’t care about your characters, I won’t care what happens to them.”

These days, I don’t know if would use “character-oriented” to describe my fiction. I look back at The Renegade Chronicles and some of my other early work, and it’s clear there was a lot of focus on the different personalities. Perhaps that’s inevitable when you write about a motley group of freedom fighters thrown together by fate and forced to get along…or die trying.

But once I turned the page from straightforward sword-and-sorcery fantasy to something more nuanced, I find most of my ideas start with “What if…?” and not “Who is…?” Inklings of the story—the plot, that is—tend to come first, though the types of people who will weather these scenarios come in at a close second.

Apathy is the enemy of every writer.

Apathy is the enemy of every writer.

The more I think about it, the more a term like “character-oriented” seems superfluous. Characters are but one element of a story. Like setting and plot, they are essential ingredients of a story. But are they any more important than the rest? Shouldn’t a story be character-oriented, plot-oriented, setting-oriented, and so forth?

More to the point, can a reader care what happens in a story if he or she doesn’t care about the characters?

The question haunts me because I’ve been accused of creating unlikable characters. Vincent, the protagonist of If Souls Can Sleep, isn’t the nicest guy. He has a lot of problems. He treats people poorly. And the fact that something supernatural seems to be happening to him does nothing to make him a better-adjusted citizen, particularly in the short term.

Whenever a beta reader would remark how they just can’t bring themselves to like Vincent, I’d argue (if only to myself) that it doesn’t matter. My goal was to make him realistic, and, realistically, people can be jerks.

Yet I also wanted him to be relatable and maybe even sympathetic.

While it wasn’t important for Vincent to be likable, it was arguably important for people not to dislike him so much that they dismissed his fate. Apathy is the enemy of every writer. So I suppose I had a decision to make: either make Vincent utterly unlikable so that my reader roots against him or take steps to make him more likable so that they could root for him.

I confess that I did soften him up a big in the rewrite, and reducing the intensity of his bad behavior not only made him more sympathetic, but also refined his character arc. Maybe he isn’t the most likable guy, but he has enough qualities now to make the reader care what happens to him.

A similar criticism arose for the protagonist of my short story “Going Viral.” A friend and fellow writer commented, “…I didn’t feel one bit connected to Sam by the end.” Also: “As a character, I found Sam neither relatable nor empathetic…the first syllable of ‘character’ is ‘care.’”

Come to think of it, I made Quentin E. Donovan (the Quentin E. Donovan), the “star” of another short story intentionally unlikable…

But in the case of Sam and “Going Viral,” I’m willing to chalk up Sam’s shortcomings to the fact that I struggle with short fiction. I also agree with my friend when he acknowledges that character development is even more challenging within the confines of short fiction.

It raises an important question: if the rest of the story is successful, does it matter whether the reader gives a damn about Sam?

A storyteller’s only job is to con the reader into turning one more page. We can’t directly control how anyone feels about anything, though, yes, a fair amount of manipulation comes with the territory. Writers have a handful of devices at their disposal to capture and keep a reader’s attention.

I already mentioned plot, setting, and, of course, characters. We also have themes, backstory, subplots, tropes that comes with various and sundry genres, tension, pacing—in short, anything and everything that could possibly compel a reader to travel from front cover to final page.

One could argue whether or not characters are the most important aspect of a story, but few would content that it’s OK to skimp on character development. If a writer neglects the work that enables the average reader to form a connection with the protagonist in particular, the rest of the literary elements are going to have to work that much harder to hook and hold the reader.

So how exactly can an author make his characters “connectable”?

  • Make us like her.
  • Make us hate her…or love to hate her.
  • Make us pity him. (A creative writing professor once told me you can instantly make readers pity characters by putting them in denial.)
  • Make us root for him because he’s an underdog.
  • Make her relatable…just like somebody we could meet on the street.
  • Make her utterly exceptional…someone we could never meet in our real lives.
  • Make him have big problems.
  • Make him have depth.

For more advice, there’s a nice, in-depth look at how to make readers care about your characters at novel-writing-help.com. And here’s five more tips at writersrelief.com.

Now it warrants mentioning that not every character will resonate with every reader. We all have different preferences and unique backgrounds. You can’t please all of the people any of the time, but as a writer, you should aim to please as many as possible.

And even if characters on the whole aren’t your strength, just make sure they aren’t a weakness.

6 Comments

Filed under Writing

The problem with invincible protagonists

I must have killed hundreds of people over the years.

Since I’m a writer of sword-and-sorcery fantasy, death come with the territory. That’s probably true for any genre that requires the choreography of combat. And when it comes to world building and mapping out a timeline that covers centuries, the beginning and end of a lifespan can occur in a single sentence.

Angel tombstone

If your character’s death didn’t significantly impact your plot or elicit an emotion from the reader, you might have done it wrong. | Image source: morgueFile.com

Some of these folks—from kings to commoners—died of natural causes. But many of my murders were quite violent, depicted in gory detail on the battlefield or in the shadows. One can hardly write about a war without tallying up the corresponding casualties. While some of that body count can be attributed to unnamed warriors, a fair number of major and minor characters have met their demise by my hand.

One of the first main characters I killed off occurs midway through my first novel (The Road to Faith). In truth, that knight’s unceremonious decapitation brought tears to my eyes as his comrades—and I—reacted to the tragedy. It wasn’t personal, you see. The story simply demanded it.

If the best characters take on a life of their own, then their deaths must be dished out judiciously.

That notion occurred to me recently while reading Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, which boasts a relatively high death toll. Major and minor characters alike fall in the three installments, but it wasn’t until the loss of a key player in the final book that my mind wandered through the pros and cons of killing off a main character—not to mention the courage it takes to pull the trigger.

It’s a topic I’ve pondered since before becoming a writer, back when I played the role of reader only and was at the mercy of other authors’ decisions when it came to the survival of the people populating their stories. Whether a character lives or dies is one of the most important decisions a writer can make. (It takes the adage “Kill your darlings” to a whole new level.)

Death tends to make a statement.

A certain self-indulgent character’s sacrifice in A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind. Heck, many classic children’s stories are none too subtle with the theme of life and loss. I’m looking at you, Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows.

Yes, death is a powerful tool in an author’s arsenal. And it can be abused. A friend of mine once remarked that when George R. R. Martin wants to inject tension into his A Song of Ice and Fire series, he kills off a character. I suspect that that’s an oversimplification, but none can argue that the fantasist is far from timid when it comes to the mortality of major characters, including chief protagonists.

In my opinion, those deaths don’t come off as wanton. True, not every one of them accomplishes a vital plot point (many do, however). And even if one of the first significant deaths in A Game of Thrones is steeped in shock value, it doesn’t come off as gimmicky. In fact, the deaths in Martin’s series seem not only realistic and warranted, but also necessary, which brings me to my next point:

The absence of death also makes a statement.

Nothing saps the tension from a story quicker than the realization that the main characters are invincible. No matter what sticky situation a protagonist finds herself, you just know she will escape unscathed. Granted, “life-or-death” aren’t the only stakes in the game, but I, for one, can’t abide a battle where the victor is guaranteed.

Perhaps the “unkillable” protagonist is a symptom of today’s writers’ (and readers’) appetite for sagas that go on forever. These never-ending series seemingly can’t commit to the loss of key characters or any ending whatsoever.

See also: Dissecting the difficulties to writing a sequel.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to fantasy and science fiction; Alex Cross and Stephanie Plum aren’t going anywhere soon. For that matter, Robert Langdon might be the most resilient mortal ever to solve a mystery.

Speaking of mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to weasel his way out of a never-ending series by killing off Sherlock Holmes. Outrage from his fans (and undoubtedly his editor) forced Doyle to rescind the expiration of that most-famous detective. This example seems to suggest most readers don’t want to see a main character die, least of all in an unsatisfying way.

Which means that when an author decides to slay a character that readers have come to appreciate, admire, or even abhor—and, above all, come to think of as an actual person—he has the responsibility to make it meaningful.

Plot twists have their place, but key deaths should make a big splash, not cause a momentary ripple. Story arc aside, a character’s death can be a profound milestone in her development—a final, important act that epitomizes how far she has come from the start. Or how far she has fallen.

If the best characters stand up and cast a shadow, then snuffing out their light must serve a greater purpose.

Naturally, there’s no formula to determine how long a character should live or whether his final moments should be detailed in the pages of a book at all. As with every aspect of this craft, a writer must stay true to the story, whatever that story happens to be.

Slashing copious throats for the sake of bloodshed alone only serves to dilute the effect. Likewise, pulling punches out of cowardice could sterilize an otherwise honest account of the human condition.

But certainly, anyone who is brave enough to write about life must also embrace the subject of death.

Readers and writers: Do you disagree? Should main characters be invincible? Please comment below!

4 Comments

Filed under Writing