Fantasy Author Guy Gavriel Kay on ‘Breaking Bad’ And Writers’ Relationships With Their Readers

Posted by Admin - December 1st, 2013

Breaking-Bad-010This is just too much awesome. My awesome cup floweth over. Award-winning fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay takes on one of my all-time favorite television series, Breaking Bad, and uses it as a launching point to discuss writers, their characters and how readers interact with both. This is a very good read, even if you aren’t a Breaking Bad fan (“How dare you!”, as my friend Joe would say). Kay’s discussion touches on his own Sarantine Mosaic, as well as the works of Stephen King and even Charles Dickens!

Excerpt from “I Am The One Who Types”: On Breaking Bad and Shaping Art:

The writer is the lord of emperors.

Ezra Pound wrote, in “Homage to Sextus Propertius”: “Small talk, O Ilion and O Troad … If Homer had not stated your case!” Richard III is very possibly the centuries-long victim of a brilliant pair of character assassins: Tudor subjects Thomas More and William Shakespeare. Irish and Welsh princes, among others, knew the importance of a powerful bard at their court, to spread—or invent—word of their prowess.

Breaking Bad has been, correctly, I think, widely cited as a writers’ show. It is held up by many as a television series that can serve as an example to novelists of an engaging, deeply layered story arc. But, for me, for this piece, one moment is what caught me.

In that last episode, Walter White has returned home, heading towards a violent closure, and has (somehow) slipped unseen into his wife’s new home. They have a last conversation. As Walter begins his final words of explanation, his wife interrupts to demand, “Don’t tell me again you did it all for us!” which has been his litany. But this time he replies, in essence, “No. I did it for me. I enjoyed it. I was good at it. I felt alive.”

Having just read the New Yorker piece, I had to grin. It was just too perfect. Who was the lord of emperors here? The gifted, award-winning actor playing the drug kingpin Heisenberg, or the writer who wrote the words the actor was caused to speak—and thereby settled that debate about motivation, forever.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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GUEST POST: Omnipotence is Impotence: Or Why Control Freaks Make Poor Fantasy Writers by Robert V.S. Redick

Posted by Admin - November 29th, 2013

I’ve just received three messages from readers. They’re utterly different in their concerns, and yet somehow they all bring me to the same place.

Reader One told me that he’d finally gotten his hands on The Night of the Swarm. He added, “Sandor Ott had better die horribly at the end.” [Something everyone can agree on, I thought]

Reader Two explained that she’d just reached that end, and loved it, BUT:

As I was reading it and seeing how Pazel ________________ I just wanted to cry. And then to end it with _______________ was so heartbreaking…[it] hits too close to home. Great job in rousing deep feelings in how this story ends. I will probably think about this for weeks to come and carry these feelings of sadness for days.

[It’s strange—about half the readers who contact me find the end of the series heartbreaking. I didn’t expect this. I mean, it’s no dancing-Ewoks conclusion, I realize. But…heartbreaking?]

Reader Three, finally, asked a great question about writing description. After we talked about that, he followed up with another:

How do you go about building your characters? I understand that cliché’s not a bad thing and I also know that using real people is good too, but can you give a more in-depth explanation? 

What could I tell these readers? To the first, who hoped the venomous Sandor Ott would suffer and die, I confessed that I, too, kept waiting for some force to come along and chew him to pieces. I can easily imagine his response: Then why didn’t you just make it happen

To Reader Two, I wrote that I’d watched my beloved character Pazel walk through the story’s close with my mouth agape. “I thought he’d buy a house in Ballytween! I didn’t think he’d become a drinker and a wreck.” I can imagine her response as well: But wasn’t that… your choice?

To Reader Three–well, I hope this is the in-depth explanation you wanted.

 1) Storytellers are explorers, not architects

This is key. Great fantasy writers are often called “the architects” of their respective worlds, but the term is deceptive. Mountains don’t have architects. Enchanted mountains, where spirits drift and the shadow of a god troubles the heather, sure as hell don’t. Fantasy realms are, alas, partly constructed. But long before that they are found. The marrow (if not the bones) of these lands is our common inheritance. They are born of myth and folktale, ghost story and ancient yarn. Peter S. Beagle may go a bit too far when he says of Tolkien 

…the world he charts was there long before him…. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world.

— but only a bit. That notion of “tapping” is a good one. How do you tap a vein of nightmare, daydream, twilight fancy? Not with graph paper or genealogy charts. There are tools that just don’t exist in such realms. If you go there, you’ll find they’ve vanished from your hands. All this is to say that

 2) Planning alone never brought a world to life.

It has even, when done obsessively, kept the spark of life from entering well-made worlds. You can do all the outlining, diagramming, plot-balancing, language-inventing, magic-system modeling, warhorse-feedbag nutritional analyses and ogre skeletal-structure weight-bearing trials you like [believe me, I have]. It’s honest work and may well pay dividends. But when you actually write the book the unexpected will happen. Indeed, must happen, if the story’s going to breathe.

Of course world-building is absolutely vital. It’s simply not the same thing as storytelling. The latter requires a different kind of effort. It requires dream.

 3) To tell a story is to inhabit a waking dream

It’s very easy to be woolly and mystical about this, especially if you’ve just finished a long and complex tale, and especially if you’re me. But the fact is that the act of writing shares many characteristics— singular focus, loss of present awareness, altered time sense, emotional conviction, personal vulnerability—with dreams. And that’s a problem, because 

 4) It is in the nature of dreams to elude control

Nearly every writer who addresses this subject will tell you: the best stuff catches you by surprise. You think your heroine’s going to cross the Old City, climb the Long Stair to Raven’s Landing, sneak through the gardens of the Viceroys and knock on the door of the piano tuner. Because, see, the piano tuner’s shop is where the next plot element is going to snap into place. We know it is. We planned it that way.

But halfway up the Long Stair she smells smoke. She looks up from her reverie and sees her aunt—her once-beloved but long-since-vanished aunt, the one nobody speaks of anymore, the one who made her father sob like a child on the night she disappeared–gazing down at her with a look of horror. She doesn’t speak. In her hands smoldering book. She glances back over her shoulder, gasping a little, turns our heroine a final glance and dashes into a side-street.

HOLY TWO-HEADED ACID-SPITTING TOADS FROM HELL! Where did that woman come from? Where’s she been all these years? What’s frightened her? Why didn’t she speak? And what in God’s name is she doing with a half-burned book?

Now, it’s very possible that what’s waiting in the piano shop is of greater importance than the aunt and her burning book. If so, you must banish her to the Demented Visions folder (doesn’t everyone have a Demented Visions folder?). But what if this business with the aunt, this unplanned business, has you writing with more eagerness than you’ve found in weeks? What if it’s going somewhere that thrills you, and your paint-by-numbers plan is not? Remember the inscription that Digory Kirke finds in the dead world of The Magician’s Nephew:
   Make your choice, adventurous stranger 
   Strike the bell and bide the danger 
   Or wonder, ‘till it drives you mad 
   What would have followed if you had. 

Of course he gives in—every gun must go off—and hell, or hell’s queen anyway, immediately breaks lose and goes on a rampage. It’s a moment that captures the best of the Narnia books—economy of vision, a shockingly vivid scene, a reversal of the myth’s gender rolls (Eve resists, Adam succumbs). And then, pages later, the very worst. Lewis can’t help himself. He spells out not just the consequences, not just Digory’s mistake, but the absolute truth—that he knew better, that he betrayed his own soul, that the unchaining of evil is all his fault because he didn’t stick with The Plan.

Sorry, kid, you blew it. At least you’ll have a story to tell.

This is your choice as the writer of the scene on the staircase. Following your muse, following the voice of the weird in the waterfall, almost certainly will play havoc with your own version of The Plan. You don’t have to do it. You won’t actually go mad. But no story ever came from leaving the forbidden apple on the tree.

Two and a half centuries ago there was a spat between Voltaire and the latter-day champions of Shakespeare. The feud turned nasty and nationalist, but it brought to light a vital difference between the literary men. Voltaire is a thinker and a landscape gardener. Shakespeare is a bard. The former gives us systematic philosophy and logical argument. The latter gives us pain, love, rage, betrayal, hilarity, hope, catharsis. Voltaire offers shining ideals; Shakespeare, scalding experience. No one remembers Voltaire for his fiction per se: the wit, yes, the ideas, certainly. He’s a genius with a reason for everything. A precise reason, one he can both articulate and defend. Before a judge if necessary.

I doubt very much that Shakespeare could defend Lady Macbeth, or Hamlet, or Lear. He didn’t plan them, contrive them as symbols, make them jerk and dance (like C.S. Lewis) to a moral-proving tune. They aren’t devices but forces of nature, famished bears at a picnic; they make a mess of things. Shakespeare’s genius is to achieve order anyway—to create world and music and meaning to encompass these monsters. Voltaire shows us what ought to be. Shakespeare conveys what terrifyingly is.

When you perceive that—when you sense what’s most true about your vision, rather than most cozy or entertaining or in vogue—your job, quite simply, is to capture it as best you can. Not to tame it, and never to squash it into the service of some lesser thing. Of course this makes your job much harder. And what’s so bad about that? Yes, empty, featherpuff books sell more copies, as a rule. But no one reads an essay this long in pursuit of featherpuff.

Sooner or later, if we’re after something real, we step beyond the tidy garden of the book we’ve planned and light out for the territories. All hell breaks lose. The sword descends, Eden withers behind us; we sense a world ahead that is vast and frightening and raw. That is where discovery can happen. That is the step that must be dared.

Official Author Website 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Red Wolf Conspiracy 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Rats And The Ruling Sea 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The River of Shadows 
Read Fantasy, History, Hannibal & Talking Rats: A Conversation between David Anthony Durham & Robert V.S. Redick

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert V.S. Redick is a writer of fantasy, mainstream fiction, creative nonfiction and criticism. He is the author of The Chathrand Voyage Quartet. The fourth novel in the series, The Night of the Swarm, was published earlier this year. He’s currently at work on a new epic fantasy series. Born and raised in Virginia,  Mr. Redick currently lives Bogor, Indonesia. More information about him can be read at his website.

NOTE: This post was originally posted over at Robert’s blog. The Longbridge art courtesy of Alexandra Semushina. Author picture courtesy of the author himself.

Fantasy Book Critic

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GUEST POST/GIVEAWAY: Top 10 Amazon Fantasy Author, M. R. Mathias, Announces the Release Date for “Saint Elm’s Deep”!

Posted by Admin - October 1st, 2013

Hey FBC fans, it’s me again, M. R. Mathias, with some news, and as always, some cool FREE fantasy stuff.
Saint Elm’s Deep is the third and latest entry in the The Legend of Vanx Malic. Book one of the series made it to #1 in the Amazon Fantasy/Mythology Bestsellers list, in May 2013, and book two has been as high as #3 on that same list.
In book three, Saint Elm’s Deep, our hero, a half-zythian bard named Vanx, is being drawn to places from his father’s infamous past. After helping Darbon get over the loss of his first love, and finding a map on a grueling hunt, Vanx and his curious group of companions decide to travel to the Bitterpeaks. There they hope to find the fabled Hoar Witch’s palace in a hidden valley of the treacherous Lurr Forest.   
Don’t listen to me ramble about the books, though. Get caught up for free! From October 1, 2013 through October 5, 2013, EVERYONE can get Through the Wildwood (The Legend of Vanx Malic Book One) Dragon Isle (Book Two) FREE in the Amazon Kindle Store.  If you don’t have a kindle, just get the free Kindle reading app for your phone, PC, or tablet HERE. Then get the books and enjoy them, along with thousands of other free classic reads. It’s that easy.
Saint Elm’s Deep The Legend of Vanx Malic, Book Three, is now available for pre-order in eBook and paperback formats at Amazon HERE and will officially release on November 20, 2013.  And even better, book four, That Frigid Fargin’ Witch, is coming down the pipe and should be released in early 2014.
I can’t think of much else, unless you are an agent who wants to shop the foreign language, and movie rights to fifteen or sixteen Kindle store bestsellers… LOL.
Enjoy the two free novels, look for #ian1’shuge Christmas Kindle giveaway, and if you need a free fantasy read, after you’ve finished The Legend of Vanx Malic one and two, then stop by
Thanks for the time guys, MR.
GIVEAWAY: Win A SIGNED Set of M.R. Mathias’ The Saga of the Dragoneers!
In addition to the recent announcements above, M.R. Mathias is giving away THREE SETSof his fantasy series The Saga of the Dragoneers. Each set will include the following titles, with each title SIGNED by the author:
The Royal Dragoneers (Volume 1)
Cold Hearted Son of a Witch (Volume 2)
The Confliction (Volume 3)
The Emerald Rider (Volume 4)
Crimzon & Clover (Short Story Collection)
To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.comwith your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: DRAGONEER. Giveaway ends Friday, November 1, 2013 – 11:59AM PST and is open to Anyone Worldwide. Thank you for entering and Good Luck! (P.S. If anyone is interested in reviewing any volumes of The Saga of the Dragoneers, please contact M.R. Mathias at
1) Open To Anyone Worldwide
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple Entries Will Be Disqualified)
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name
4) No Purchase Necessary
5) Giveaway Will End November 1, 2013 – 11:59AM PST
6) Winners Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the Prizes to the Winners

Fantasy Book Critic

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GUEST POST: How Heroic Is Your Homework? On Research In Historical Fantasy by Snorri Kristjansson

Posted by Admin - September 17th, 2013

I am Icelandic. This is pretty much not debatable. Like the Vikings in Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Immigrant Song’ I come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow, and it is only natural to assume that as I am Icelandic I should therefore know everything there is to know about Vikings, right? I mean, we learn that stuff at school.

Or so I thought when I had my novel idea, which went something like: “Okay so there’s these two guys – and then they get all badass and then – ooh! Cake! Om nom nom. Twitter. Hang on! Novel. Two guys – what’s cool? Vikings! Vikings are cool! I can totally write a book about Vikings. I’m Icelandic!*” Now, anyone else with this idea and an ounce of sense would have asked questions. Shortly after that they would have either gone and sourced a lot of knowledge, or possibly given up on the whole thing and written a novel about people exactly like them doing exactly their job in exactly their world, which would be a darn sight easier.

Me? I started writing. No word of a lie, I did not think for one moment that I’d need to research before I sat down and started. I just went for it – and found out about fifteen minutes later that my passport did apparently not contain fountains of Viking-related knowledge.

Words cannot describe how annoyed I was by this. In my mind writing was supposed to be fun, and research sounded a little too much like work. However, even in my flights of wild optimism I couldn’t look past the fact that the stuff I’d written (and have since scrupulously deleted, then eradicated and obliterated) just didn’t sit right. What I discovered, and aforementioned people with sense will have known already, was that writing a novel with a non-made up setting requires research. The other kind requires world-building, which is like research except that you get to make it up, and in retrospect sounds a lot more clever to me. (Stay tuned for me going ‘Ooh! Worldbuilding!’ and then fifteen minutes later going ‘…hang on a minute! This is hard tooo!’ with wailing)

So I got started. I read books. I googled. (Seriously – HOW did ANY books get written before Wikipedia?) I went to the Jorvik Centre in York, which was inspirational – and I kept going back to the research, because I needed to tell a story and it felt like I needed to learn about the people in it. Incidentally, in this story I have a character who knows about herbs. Do you know what I found out? That’s right – I found out that I therefore needed to know about herbs. Try to explain to your significant other a search history that involves seven links on poisonous plants.

However, the more research I accrued the more I started to finally ask semi-sensible questions. The biggest one was the following: “If given a choice, who would like less badass Vikings and more of Snorri’s homework?” The more I wrote and the more research I stuffed in, the more the answer to that became ‘no-one, really’. This rather predictably threw me into a deep funk – my fourteen-year old self reared up somewhere at the back and screamed “WHAT? You made me do work I didn’t HAVE TO do??” – and I grumbled at the world in general for a while. Then, one day I was editing and I spotted a detail that I knew was factually correct – and everything started to make sense.

My writing rhythm had fallen into three phases. In the first I’d charge ahead, all inspiration and fury. In the second I’d slow down, annoyed by the fact that I didn’t know how sails were reinforced (leather straps) or what Viking houses were made of (wattle and daub, mostly – wood for the bigger ones). In the third I’d read up, answer the questions that slowed me down and find something cool that would then send me back to phase one. Add to that meticulous editing and I found my take on how much research I wanted.

Accuracy in historical fiction should be, in my opinion, like a skilled butler. It should be there, ready to help you out and hopefully supplied with drinks, but the moment it gets in the way or draws attention to itself it should be dunked in custard and pelted with raisins until it dies(as is the traditional punishment for a bad butler).

I hope I’ve found a level of research and precision in the world of Swords of Good Men that will satisfy the reader looking for a taste of Viking Flavour** in amongst the action without infuriating the Viking purists out there too much. Still, a little annoyance is quite good for the heart rate…

With secret berserker’s handshake, Snorri

 *This flashback is depressingly un-embellished.
 ** Mostly sweat, wool and blood.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Snorri Kristjansson is an Icelandic man who has spent more than three and half decades on the face of the Earth. He is currently living in London and while he doesn’t love rice and tuna, he has survived on it long enough to know its importance. He is a professional stage comedian and occasionally teaches at Southbank International School

NOTE: Vikings picture courtesy of HDwallpaperfresh. Author picture and book cover courtesy of the author.

Fantasy Book Critic

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‘Republic of Thieves’ Author Scott Lynch on Favorite Fantasy Magic Systems

Posted by Admin - September 11th, 2013

As a longtime fantasy fan, gamer and general explorer of hidden history and strange ideas, magical systems are near and dear to my heart. I love the imagination that authors put into constructing a “logical” system for something that is by its nature somewhat illogical. A great magic system can make a fantasy novel (or game) really memorable. Apparently, Republic of Thieves author Scott Lynch shares my enthusiasms. Check out his post “Sorcery That Stands Out” at Amazon’s Kindle blog. The works of Katherine Kurtz, Jack Vance and Patricia McKillips, among others, are singled out for praise.

Via Kindle Daily Post:

Magic is thickly woven into the tapestry of fantasy, but among all the chants and grimoires and flashing hand gestures, only a select few “systems” of fictional sorcery really stand out to me for their vividness, their creativity, and their intrinsic fun. Here’s a quick glimpse at a few of my favorites.

Keep reading.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, October 30, 2011

Posted by Admin - June 11th, 2013

George R.R. Martin continues to own the majority of books in the top 5 with Erin Morgenstern holding first place. Stephen King’s latest rounds out the top 5 this week.

  1. The Night Circus (Kindle) by Erin Morgenstern
  2. A Dance with Dragons (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  3. 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King
  4. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
  5. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, November 13, 2011

Posted by Admin - June 9th, 2013

Stephen King takes first and second this week, with two different formats of the same novel. A Dance with Dragons remains strong, with The Allow of Law by Brandon Sanderson making its debut in fifth.

  1. 11/22/63: A Novel (Kindle) by Stephen King
  2. 11/22/63: A Novel (Hardcover) by Stephen King
  3. A Dance with Dragons (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  4. The Night Circus (Kindle) by Erin Morgenstern
  5. The Alloy of Law (Kindle) by Brandon Sanderson

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, November 27, 2011

Posted by Admin - June 8th, 2013

Stephen King continues to dominate the holiday season, but George R.R. Martin is still scooping up large swaths of bestseller weeks. Its likely Martin will rank first for the annual review.

  1. 11/22/63: A Novel (Kindle) by Stephen King
  2. 11/22/63: A Novel (Hardcover) by Stephen King
  3. A Dance with Dragons (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  4. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  5. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West (Audiobook) by Gregory Maguire

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Fantasy Blogosphere: November 28, 2011

Posted by Admin - June 3rd, 2013

The Alloy of Law reviews are pouring in, but sadly the biggest news is the passing of Anne McCaffrey. We have lost one of the greats. Her craft will be continued by the current crop of talented fantasy authors, and you can check out interviews with a few current greats like R.A. Salvatore, Patrick Rothfuss, Lev Grossman, Terry Brooks and Daniel Abraham below. Also, Brandon Sanderson talks about writing the Infinity Blade novella. Cool stuff.

Fantasy Book News

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Amazon’s Top 5 Fantasy Books, December 11, 2011

Posted by Admin - June 2nd, 2013

Stephen King sits on top this holiday season, with George R.R. Martin continuing to sell novels like hot cakes.

  1. 11/22/63: A Novel (Kindle) by Stephen King
  2. 11/22/63: A Novel (Hardcover) by Stephen King
  3. A Dance with Dragons (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  4. A Game of Thrones (Kindle) by George R.R. Martin
  5. Mary’s Son (Kindle) by Darryl Nyznyk

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