Friday, September 11, 2015
A FIRE BENEATH THE SKIN - anatomy of a fantasy trilogy
What started with Ink Mage is now headed for it's exciting conclusion. The Amazon page for the final book in the trilogy is now live. There's no cover yet, but the title is A PAINTED GODDESS. It will be available for your eyeballs in December. With the trilogy completely written and the conclusion imminent, I thought I might take a step back and muse upon how I arrived here. That sounds riveting, right? SHUT UP!
So ... I was on a three-way phone call with my agent and an editor from 47North, Amazon Publishing's science fiction and fantasy imprint. We were talking about a novel I was writing. I guess specifically we were talking about how to get 47North to publish it. And give me money. So I could eat. Anyway, it wasn't going well. There were concerns about the novel, it wasn't mainstream. In fact, it was kind of rude. We wanted to be in business together, but maybe this wasn't the right book. The phone call was rapidly on its way to a big fat NO SALE, CHUMP.
And that's when I reached into my back pocket. Metaphorically speaking. Everyone knows I don't wear pants. I reached into my metaphoric back pocket and pulled out an idea I'd been stewing on for a few years. It was a fantasy story about a young woman named Rina who gains extraordinary powers from magical tattoos. As I explained the idea, the tone of the phone conversation changed dramatically. The excitement was palpable. The editor asked me to type up a quick proposal. I did. And a few days later my agent and I had sold Ink Mage to 47North.
And thus a fantasy trilogy was born. Right?
WRONG! WHY ARE YOU SO DAMN WRONG? JUST STOP IT!
My intent was always that Ink Mage would be the first book in a trilogy, but 47North was not quite ready to make that kind of commitment. One book was a risk they were willing to take, but three? So I had to write Ink Mage in a way I hadn't really anticipated.
Hey, remember those Lord of the Rings films? (Of course you do.) I remember sitting in the theater watching Fellowship of the Ring. It was awesome. It ended and the lights came up, and a lady two rows behind me turned to her family and said, "That's it? That's the way it ends?" My kneejerk reaction was to think What are you, an idiot? After all, this was the most famous fantasy trilogy of all time. Lady, don't you know how trilogies work? It's continues in the next film. Duh. Looking back, I think I was maybe a bit tough on the lady. Yes, if you're an avid reader and a fantasy nerd (like me) you fully understand the story continues in the next installment. That Frodo and Sam would run off in one direction and that Merry and Pippin are captured and the rest decide to "hunt some orc" is a perfectly fine ending ... if you know it's going to be continued. But if you've shown up for a summer matinee thinking you're just going to munch some popcorn and see some cool special effect, then, yeah, I can see how you might come away confused.
Which brings me back to Ink Mage. With no guarantee I'd get a crack at two more books, I had to write a book that concluded as if it were nothing more than a single novel, but I also had to plant the necessary seeds should I be allowed to write the next two books. I guess I pulled it off okay because the book sold really well and the publisher said they were ready to talk about a sequel.
But one sequel wouldn't do it. I needed two more books to make a trilogy. (You can check my math on this. I'll wait.) So would I write the second book as if it might be the last? Should I squeeze two book's worth of story into one? I told my agent we really needed to go for two books. I needed to know how I was going to do this. I couldn't write book two with only a maybe there would be a book 3. My agent said he'd try his best.
Well, it worked out. We got a two book deal to finish the trilogy. This meant I could have the cliffhanger ending I wanted in book 2 The Tattooed Duchess.
It's too soon to know anything significant about sales, but most readers seem pleased so far. Cautious optimism. Some readers seem put off by the fact the story isn't "finished" and concludes in the next book. Again, I find myself thinking of the lady in the movie theater so incredulous when Fellowship ended and all the principle characters were scattered all over Middle Earth. I asked my support crew at 47North to make sure we described A Fire Beneath the Skin as a trilogy and that it's clear all three novels are one big story and not different stories which just happen to have the same characters. Ultimately, I'm not too worried. Ricky L. Brown pretty much nails it in his Amazing Stories review: "For those who are intimidated by the dangling storyline, you need to look at it this way. The Tattooed Duchess is the setup to the final book in the series much like The Empire Strikes Back was to the Return of the Jedi. Fandom loved Star Wars and wanted more. But it had to be bigger and better because we are a selfish lot. We loved Ink Mage and now we want more." So yeah, just as you know our heroes will eventually rescue Han Solo from Jabba's clutches, so to do we know that Rina's fate will be revealed in in the next installment.
Which brings us full circle to A Painted Goddess, the thing that kicked off this blog post in the first place. If you find yourself in suspense at the end of book 2, fear not. Book 3 is only a few months away. I already have plans and ideas for returning to the world of Helva, the setting for the Ink Mage novels. Will the publisher be interested? Who knows? I hope so. I feel like I've just scratched the surface of this world I've built, and I'm eager to explore every nook and cranny.