Why, after years of maintaining a relatively low-profile presence online, have I, anonymous, unremarkable Jamie Graham, suddenly decided to start broadcasting my internal meanderings here where they risk cluttering up the screen of your laptop or tablet or phone or amazing-future-device-I-don’t-yet-know-about-and-therefore-can’t-list-by-name? Why am I taking up valuable space on the internet that might otherwise be devoted to gifs of kittens frolicking, snarky memes about the latest celebrity gossip, or insidiously slanted articles portending the inevitable doom of civilization if the evil Other Side manages to win the next election? (That line was a lot funnier before November 2016, I promise.) Why, in the name of all that is good and holy, am I bothering you with this blog?
Er… the fact is that… I… uh… have written a novel.
I know, I know – there are already tons of the darn things out there. Your bedside table is stacked high with a good dozen or so that you have been meaning to read since your last birthday, and every day publishers remainder boxes upon boxes more of those that didn’t even make it that far. But this one is a bit different. Or rather, it is a bit different from anything you’ve read lately; if it just so happens to be vaguely reminiscent of the books you remember from your youth, well… that was intentional. You see, I wrote this novel in large part to recapture something I feel has been slowly seeping out of the fantasy genre for the last twenty years – and I’d like to think that what I’ve come up with over six hundred pages later succeeds in achieving that goal. But that’s not to say I’ve simply regurgitated a thinly-disguised version of someone else’s two-decade-old writing; I’d also like to think that I’ve succeeded in going further, providing enough of my own invention such that you’ll find the manuscript fresh and entertaining even if you’ve only just completed reading the full catalog of those I consider my influences. (More about them below, and in blog posts to follow.) Either way, I am obviously biased, but I think it is a darn good read and well worth your time.
The book is called The Herald’s Dark Progress. (Or at least that’s the current title; originally it was Heir to the Old Kingdom, and it may well have another before it’s published.) It is the 192,000-word first installment in a series the likes of which rarely make it into print these days. And I have to admit, I know full well it has a lot going against it. The world I’ve created is not dark or in any way dystopian; it is not steampunk or flintlock or urban or any other new sub-genre of my own devising. I don’t kill off – every – last – one – of your favorite characters, one after another, ad infinitum throughout the narrative (which is not to say I did not enjoy that author’s particular series, just that he had so completely ripped my guts out by the end of the third book that I finally had to put it down for my own well-being). And heck, you don’t even meet the chief protagonist until you’re a couple of chapters deep into the story. In other words, it has very little in common with the sorts of fantasy novels that seem to be making it onto the shelves of bookstores (and Amazon warehouses) today.
But enough about what my book is not; here is what it is: a good ol’ fashioned high fantasy epic, my humble effort at a new take on the archetype originally introduced by Tolkien, and later expanded upon by Le Guin, Williams, and others.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why novels like these have become scarce in recent years. High fantasy was, after all, in vogue for a long time. Over the decades that followed the publication of The Return of the King in 1955, beginning especially in the late sixties when the writers of the baby boomer generation began to (re)discover the Lord of the Rings, authors inspired by Tolkien produced many new and interesting variations on the form he had introduced with his masterpiece, continuing on through what I would estimate to be the peak years of the traditional fantasy epic during the ’80s and early ’90s. And I can only imagine how many godawful me-too LotR knockoffs literary agents and editors had to wade through back then to discover the series that eventually made it to print (and let’s be honest: even some of those that did make it wound up being pretty bad). The market today must seem saturated, the narrative possibilities all long since played out.
And yet, there is a reason why people of all ages continue to read and re-read series like the Earthsea Trilogy, the Belgariad and the Wheel of Time – and why Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s novels were so successful in bringing fantasy into the mainstream. Works like these touch something deep at the core of our beings. We are drawn to hopeless causes, the struggle of good versus evil, the hero’s journey of self-discovery – all the ingredients of classic mythology. And while the publishing industry today does not ignore these themes, it seems (to me) that its focus has shifted away from unearthing stories that execute them well, to finding those that stand out due instead to the innovation of their world-building, or the moral ambiguity of their characters, or some other element that more obviously differentiates them from the tales that have gone before. As a result, while recent fantasy novels have often left me full of stunned admiration for their newness and creativity, rarely have they evoked in me the same sense of childlike wonder that their predecessors so often inspired. I miss that pipe-smoke-wafting-over-grandfather’s-hearth feeling. And that is why, five years ago, I finally sat down and started writing such a book for myself.
I know I have a long, hard road ahead of me to get The Herald’s Dark Progress published. In the end, I may may even have to put it out there myself. So, I have determined to blog about the journey as I go – in part because I think both fellow authors and readers alike may find the twists and turns compelling, in part because it’s smart business sense, and in part because doing so will hopefully be cathartic as I go through what is bound to be a tumultuous experience. Now, this is my own personal pulpit, so I may every once in a great while stray to topics like politics and world events, but by and large I will focus strictly on my fiction and my interactions with the publishing world, covering such subjects as why I write, my literary influences, the querying process, edits I make to my current manuscript (I think it’s fairly polished now, but I doubt there’s been an author’s “final” draft in all the history of publishing that’s made it to print without significant changes), and how I go about crafting the next volume in the series. If you decide to follow along with me, I hope you will find my ramblings generally interesting, my humor sometimes amusing, and that any of you who may be authors yourselves will profit with improvements to your own writing and querying by learning from the mistakes that I will undoubtedly make along the way – as well as, fingers crossed, knock on wood, the triumphs I eventually achieve.