The Dragonling Cover Reveal

Dragonling cover
Cover for The Dragonling, written and illustrated by Melody Daggerhart, copyright 2016

Cover reveal time! 😀 I finished it early, so I’m sharing early. Why not.

I came down with bronchitis, been about two weeks now, but I’ve still been pushing myself to finish the 4th draft and started the cover art concepts. I finally took a “sick” day off from editing last week, but spent the whole day painting and further developing the cover, instead. So, I still worked some long hours, but it felt fresher because normally I only get an hour of art time in per day, if that much. Most of my days are spent editing. So, this felt like a sick day, even if it wasn’t. As a result, I finished much sooner than I thought I would.

Now I’m working on finishing up that 4th revision’s final touches. That means making sure the chapters are evenly distributed and formatted so that when they are compiled into one script, they are spaced properly. That also means looking over those last minute notes to double check things like spellings, names, duplicate mentions, and other such annoyances.

This book is going to be the biggest yet. I cannot stress enough this is the “epic” in epic fiction. But I will trim as much as possible in the final edit after I hear back from my beta readers.

Now to catch up on my final reading of the year!

 

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Book Review: The Paper Magician

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Book: The Paper Magician
Series: The Paper Magician series, Book 1
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Genres: neo-Victorian, steampunk, adventure, fantasy, Gothic horror

Synopsis (from Amazon book page):

“Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.
Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.
An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.
From the imaginative mind of debut author Charlie N. Holmberg, The Paper Magician is an extraordinary adventure both dark and whimsical that will delight readers of all ages.”

Notes of Interest:

This book interested me because of its genre elements. It looked and sounded like something steampunkish in setting, but with plot emphasis on magic. It ended up being more neo-Victorian than steampunk, but it does have steampunk elements. To me, the differences are that neo-Victorian is more about an alternate history for the Victorian time period, while steampunk focuses on science fiction from a historical perspective. They are often interwoven, but fantasy prioritizes magic, whereas science fiction priorities machines. This book is the former. But the magic takes place within an scientifically invented magical system. For example, the paper glider is engineered. The excisioner must know anatomy like a doctor. Plastics, rubber, and glass are separate magics, too. And when I realized the magic of this world was set up based on man-made elements, that in itself was the selling point for me. I think it’s a unique, refreshing concept to say magic comes only from man-made items, rather than natural elements. So, it’s an unusual concept to think that paper or human tissue might contain magic because man creates them, but earth, water, air, and fire do not because man has no influence there.

What could have made it better for me:

I’m pleased to say this is one of those books I feel is perfect just the way it is. There were no technical distractions pulling me out of the story. The characters are well-developed as you get to know them. The plot is an easy-to-follow mix of alternate history, ingenuity, magic and fantasy, romance, and horror, all of which I love.

What I liked about it:

I’ve already mentioned its unique use of man-made items for the foundation of magic as its main selling point for me. Though this book focused on only two types of magic — paper and excisioner — I’m very interested to see how other magics are handled. And that alone is enough to make me want to delve into book two, never mind the characters or plots. Paper magic is basically origami combined with magic skills learned at a college. Excisioner magic is anatomical necromancy. So, I imagine the other magics mentioned could involve manipulation of machinery and technology.

The imaginative details on how paper folding could be used in unexpected ways was pleasantly surprising. The author was right to choose it as a medium that the main character, Ceony, would underestimate, but then gradually become fascinated with and learn to appreciate its potential the more she masters it. So we see her grow in knowledge and skills as a magician as she advances in her craft. And it isn’t a boring progression with burdensome details, like many books that detail the magics in their worlds, because of the creative ways in which the spells are learned and used.

Ceony’s apprenticeship intertwines with Mg. Thane’s background and current troubles to provide the challenges to employ what she learned in order to save her teacher and prevent magic from being misused for harm.

Her journey through Mg. Thane’s heart has a lot of symbolic, nostalgic themes, but by contrast also delves into a surreal and horror-filled scope of a hunt for a magician who seeks to control and harm other people. So, while the story starts with a bit of a Mary Poppins feel, it ends up feeling more like something akin to Messrs Jekyll and Hyde.

The relationship between Ceony and Mg. Thane also hints of Jane Austin a bit, though their characters are revealed to the reader, and each other, through learning to appreciate someone based on what you learn about them, rather than over a course of frequent interaction. I’m sure the second book picks up more on the interaction of the relationship. But “listening” to someone’s heart to understand what makes him tick is just as important as “speaking” to it. I guess you could say Mg. Thane’s heart is the figurative “clockwork” aspect of this story, and Ceony must try to figure out what happened to it before she can save it or fix it.

Recommendation:

If you enjoy the aforementioned genres, I think you’ll like this book. It was a quick, clean read with a lot of potential for branching out in the series. I look forward to reading the second book.

Epic Fantasy Word Count

angsalvor_-_nils_blommer_1850
Ängsälvor – Nils Blommér 1850

So, last night I finished the fourth revision of The Dragonling. (*insert fanfare and confetti here*) Well, not “finished” so much as “made it to the end”. Well, okay, so I have few subplots to insert here and there, but the main plot is now flowing from beginning to end with only minor tweaks ahead for the beta. (Whew!)  So, I finished proofing the last scene and was pretty stoked, right? The next “finishing” step was to click on the entire file for my total word count.

239,856 …

And my elation and relief at being so close to done came crashing down, just like that. Why? Because the “acceptable” count for fantasy and sci-fi novels hovers around 120K to 150K. When I published the previous volume in the series, The Atheling, I was panicked the entire time about having too high of a word count. It was consistently over 200K in the drafts. By publication, I got it down to 192K. But this was a mixed blessing because on one hand, I was proud of learning how to better trim the fat. On the other hand, it made me sad that even in the most “forgiving” genre when it comes to word count, it was still too high. (This is where I guess I’m grateful for self-publishing because I honestly don’t know whether a traditional publisher would tell me to chop out characters, delete sub-plots, and remove unnecessary world building to make the word count fit into their little box.) So, I wanted to keep this next book at or below the word count of the last one. Yet each new volume in the series gets bigger. Right now I’m hoping I can hack it down to 200K, but any hope of it getting smaller than that, especially since I do still have some subplot tweaking to do, is fading.

I started looking up advice on how to drastically trim word count. Most of what I found was the usual advice. Trim the unnecessary words. Trim anything that doesn’t progress the plot. Trim away the plot itself until it meets the rules. Every article always points out that there are exceptions, but those exceptionally lengthy books are exceptional. Every article also points out that fantasy and sci-fi are more lenient because you have to build an entirely different world for your reader. But there is still no way I can cut 239K words down to 120K … or even 170K. It’s just not going to happen without losing huge chunks of story. The problem is that my plot is very complex and interwoven, so it’s not as simple as drawing a line down the middle to cut the book in half and make two volumes.

So, I was beginning to hate my overly cumbersome imagination once again, when I found this: “Word Counts of Epic Novels” (http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/fantasy-book-discussion/word-counts-of-epic-fantasy-novels/ ). I’ve seen word counts on classic novels or “great” novels in many places, and they do make me feel a little better to compare my 200K books to something like War and Peace, clocking in at over 500K!  But those are mostly old books written well before today’s modern publishing standards. And, unlike those authors, I have to work with modern rules. Everyone likes to throw out J.K. Rowling as an example of an author who broke the rules and was successful, but 1) her first Harry Potter book did follow the rules, and 2) the first book made the publishers rich, so they didn’t mind her breaking the rules thereafter. And 3) the books are exceptional quality. This word count list is different because it points to the difference between exceptions, fantasy, and epic fantasy.

I used to mistake epic fantasy for high fantasy, but they are not the same. High fantasy has a classic feel to it: knights in shining armor, slaying dragons, elven immortality and magic, etc. Epic fantasy is huge and sprawling by design and it requires several books to cover the entire length of the tale. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is both high fantasy and epic fantasy. I avoided calling my books “epic” because I wasn’t sure if they qualified as “high”; there are steampunk elements, horror elements, comedy elements, etc. And I hardly compare to the mastery of Tolkien. But now I understand that “epic” means this particular kind of fantasy is even bigger than normal fantasy. Epic fantasy is for people who expect long, detailed stories they can immerse completely in over a period of time. These are not stories designed to be finished on a train commute or while waiting for office appointments, so that the reader can quickly move on to the next book. These are stories the reader wants and expects to invest time in. Which is why this particular list of epic novel word counts is different from all the others I’ve come across. My word count is more on the level of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, of which the highest individual novel is 354K, or George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, with the highest individual novel word count at 404K. Yes, these books will be a burden for some readers who prefer quick and easy reads. But this proves there are readers out there, like myself, who enjoy being invested in epic-length stories. Suddenly, my 239K seems reasonable … even small.

I’m not looking for excuses to avoid editing word count. I guess I’m just tired of feeling like the publishing industry caters too much to people who want to read something that is 50K or less. It’s true that thin books are less expensive and more marketable. I understand that. But there is a place in the market for the giants, too. And that place is epic fantasy. Fans of epic fantasy and writers of epic fantasy know that this genre is loved because it sprawls across time and many protagonists into complex subplots. So, we’re doing these kinds of stories a great injustice if we try to squeeze them down to “normal” standards. The books still have to be professional quality and interesting. There’s no saving 200K of flotsam and jetsam. But if the story has been tightly edited, and the plot has been intricately crafted, and the characters have been well-developed, and the world building has been imaginative … why can’t we take our time and enjoy it over a longer span of time? What’s the rush?

Fans and writers of epic fantasy, take heart. There is a market for us. And we shouldn’t let the standards of other genres intimidate us into hacking up grand stories into pulp fiction.