“The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock” is now available!

First book in the Prince Malock Duology

The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock

You read that headline right. My fantasy novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock, is now for sale on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords* for $7.99!

Here’s the synopsis:

Prince Tojas Malock, Crown Prince of the island of Carnag, is chosen by the sea godess Kano to go on a dangerous and potentially lethal voyage to the island at the edge of the world, World’s End.

Confident in his own skills, Malock assembles the finest crew money can buy and sets out into the mysterious southern seas beyond the edge of the Northern Isles. But when he loses almost the entire fleet in a month, leaving a single ship struggling to remain afloat and a ragtag crew that wants to be anywhere but, Malock realizes that he is in way over his head. It doesn’t help that the information about the southern seas provided to him by his lover – an aquarian woman named Vashnas, the only mortal to ever reach World’s End and return alive – turns out to be less-than-accurate, causing him to wonder what else she might be hiding from him, and why.

Kinker Dolan, an old fisherman from the small and obscure island of Destan, has a secret. It’s a terrible secret, a secret that fills him with guilt and shame in equal measure. Yet when he attempts to flee Destan to escape his guilt, he ends up getting drawn into Prince Malock’s mad voyage, where he must use all of his wits and knowledge to keep his life – and his secret – safe.

With mortal-eating gods, murderous aquarian pirates, and betrayals within the crew itself, will Prince Malock, Kinker, and the rest of the crew of the Iron Wind make it to World’s End alive? And even if they do, how will they react to the true purpose of the voyage?

And if you want to be immediately notified of when the sequel, The Return of Prince Malock, is released, then subscribe to my email newsletter here.

*Will be available in Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and other ebookstores very soon.

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Worldbuilding and short stories

Short stories generally do not require as much worldbuilding as novels.

That may seem an obvious thing to say, but it’s something I sometimes struggle with when I’m writing fantasy or science-fiction short stories. Unless I set a short story in a universe I have written in before, it means coming up with a new world to write in. I try not to do a whole lot. Whereas with a novel I might map out the history of the world (to varying depths depending on the needs of the story, of course), with a short story I will stick strictly to what I need and never make notes on it, again unless it happens to be set in a world I’ve already written in before.

Still, despite that, writing short stories can be difficult for me because I run into a couple of temptations.

The first is to expand the short story into a full-length novel. This isn’t an entirely bad thing to happen, mind you, but I don’t always want to write a novel because I’m not always interested in fleshing out a world or universe in immense detail. Sometimes I just want to explore a simple idea, without having to commit to the length of time a novel usually requires.

The other temptation is to not use any of my good ideas. This thought stems from my fear that I might “waste” a really good idea that I could use for a novel later on, but it’s a really silly fear when you think about it. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “wasted” idea. After all, there’s nothing stopping me from taking that same idea later on and expanding upon it in greater detail in a novel.

Nonetheless, every time I sit down to write a speculative fiction short story set in a universe I’ve never written before, I feel like I have to do the same amount of worldbuilding I would do for a novel. This is where I am thankful for the Ambage, my writers’ group. For both of the anthologies that I’ve contributed to so far — Constellations and Fantastic Depths — I’ve forced myself just to write my stories and do only as much worldbuilding as each story requires, no more, no less.

Once I get past this irrational desire to worldbuild in excess, however, short stories are usually great fun for me to write. Not quite as fun as novels, true, but they are still fun, as writing should be.

-Tim

More thoughts on worldbuilding

In an earlier post of mine, I wrote about the importance of keeping worldbuilding in perspective for speculative fiction writers. I wrote it because too often, I see speculative fiction writers (fantasy writers in particular) worrying far too often about some obscure detail about their world that may or may not be important to the story and not enough about the story itself. I was hoping to reach out to other speculative writers with similar opinions or at least let other people know what I thought.

One thing I forgot to talk about, however, is how you should worldbuild. Personally, I am against the idea of sitting down and planning out the entire world before you write the first word of the actual story. I find that method is a good way to kill your love for the story, mostly because it uses up all the creative energy that should have gone to the story itself.

Instead, I advocate worldbuilding through writing. That is, coming up with details about your fictional world or universe as they are needed in the story itself.

That’s how I’ve been approaching my upcoming novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I started out with only the barest knowledge of the world I was writing in, enough to get the story going but not enough to crush my imagination and creativity. Beyond those few basic details, the rest of the setting was a complete mystery to me.

And boy, was writing the first and second drafts fun. Both drafts came spilling out of my fingers like the ocean tide. New worldbuilding ideas constantly came to me, both while I was writing the drafts and while I was doing other things unrelated to the novel. In fact, I’ve come up with so many ideas that I doubt I’ll be able to showcase all of them in the novel itself (which is good, actually, because not all of the ideas are important to the story and not all ideas are equally interesting). I imagine that I’ll get even more ideas when I start work on the third draft later.

Now I didn’t worldbuild entirely through writing, mind you. I took some time out of my day to do a little bit of worldbuilding outside of my writing time, but even then, I was working mostly from what I’d already written in the story itself. Also, I didn’t let these details bind me down. If I came up with a better idea while writing the story that contradicted something I wrote in my worldbuilding notes, then the idea in the story became canon and the one in my notes was deleted.

Another important point I’d like to emphasize when using this method is taking notes. You will undoubtedly come up with a lot of worldbuilding ideas when writing, some major, some minor. To keep your ideas straight, I suggest writing down these little details in your worldbuilding notes, either during or after your writing time, and referring back to them when necessary. It will cut down on revision later and make you world seem far more consistent.

If you remember to do that, you might have a lot of fun using this method. So far, it’s been a lot of fun for me, much more fun than sitting down and figuring out every last detail before I write the actual story.

As usual, I must add that this method probably doesn’t work for everyone and that if you’ve already tried it and found you don’t enjoy it that you shouldn’t do it. There are no right or wrong ways of writing a story. Only what works for you.

Nonetheless, I suggest trying it out at least once. You might just enjoy it.

How do you worldbuild? Post your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

Victory! (Again)

As of this morning, I finished writing the second draft of my upcoming fantasy novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. At 125,437 words, it’s longer than the first draft, but also a lot better because I understand the characters, plot, and world better than I did in the first draft.

Per my usual method, I am putting it aside while I work on something else. Then I’ll write the third draft and move onto the revision process and, after that, publish it.

Like with the first draft, this draft just flowed out of my fingers onto the computer screen like a fountain. That it’s coming so easily just blows my mind and makes me think I’m onto something (although of course this “something” will require a little revision before it’s ready to show to anyone).

-Tim

“It’s always about the story”

I was rereading Stephen King’s On Writing recently (great book, by the way) and came across this quote from the “On Writing” section, Chapter 6, page 176 of the 10th anniversary edition:

It’s also important to remember it’s not about the setting, anyway—it’s about the story, and it’s always about the story. (emphasis in the original)

In context, King was talking about describing setting, but I think it is a useful reminder for we worldbuilding speculative fiction writers, who can sometimes get so caught up in creating our fictional worlds that we never get around to writing the story that inspired the world.

In particular, the last line — “It’s always about the story” — reflects one of my own deep beliefs about writing, which is that the writer should always focus on what will help the story first and foremost and worry about anything else second.

-Tim

Why endings are important

I am currently in the process of revising my short stories for the new Ambage anthology that is set to come out later this month. In particular, I’ve been revising the ending of one of my stories because I realized (thanks to some criticism I received from a fellow Ambager) that the original ending was predictable, flat, and unsatisfying. Not bad. Just . . . well, nothing worth writing home about, really.

As I revise the ending, this process has made me realize just how important endings are to stories in general. I mean, I’ve always understood that endings are important, that you want to end on a note that (at the very least) is the logical result of the previous events in the story, but it never occurred to me how endings define stories far more than beginnings or middles do. Changing the ending of a story often changes what the story itself is about.

Take, for example, a story about a boy and girl who fall in love. Depending on how it ends, the story could be a tale about how true love always wins in the end (boy and girl get married and live happily ever after) or it could be a tragedy in which true love rarely, if ever, wins (boy and girl get married, realized they don’t love each other after all, and then get a messy, bitter divorce). Of course, that is oversimplifying things quite a bit (there are more directions you could take the whole “boy meets girl” plot than the two I listed here), but I think the point still stands that we often don’t really know what a story is about until its over.

Maybe that’s why we sometimes get upset at endings to the stories we read, especially longer ones. Throughout the story, we built up this idea about what the story was about, one maybe we’re especially fond of and could defend in a debate if we had to, so when we finally get to the ending, we are shocked to find out that our theories about the story are wrong or at least not entirely accurate.

Of course, sometimes we dislike endings because they make no sense based on what the author had already written. For example, I didn’t really like the ending of Michael R. Hicks’s In Her Name: Empire. It simply made no sense to me. It felt like Hicks had already decided the ending, darn it, and he was going to use that ending even if the story would have been better with a different one.

To me, that’s one of the perils of outlining*. You might become so fixated on your planned ending that you are afraid to change it even if the story is drastically different from the outline you originally wrote. We organic writers can get overly attached to our ideas, too, but I think we’re generally better than outliners at tossing out our preconceived notions if they no longer work with the story.

And of course, we can’t forget the tried-but-failed Deus ex Machina, the god from the machine. More than one otherwise good story has been smote by this illogical deity over the years, especially stories by beginner writers. The Deus ex Machina can take on many guises, such as a character (whether new or old) coming out of nowhere to save the day or a character suddenly using a new power or ability with no build-up whatsoever to defeat the big bad. It’s probably the worst way to end any story, worse even than the whole “It was all only a dream” ending.

I intend to keep all of this in mind while I revise the ending of that short story. This new ending will be a lot less predictable than the original, yet will hopefully make sense within the context of the story and leave readers with something to mull over, too. The only way to know for sure, of course, is to let other people read it and see what they think.

What makes a good ending to you? What makes a bad ending? Are there any stories you can use as examples of these good (or bad) endings? Share your thoughts in the comments!

*I have no idea if Michael R. Hicks is an outliner or not. The story felt like it had been outlined, but he could just as easily be a lousy organic writer. Either way, forced endings are still a problem outliners have to deal with more often than organic writers, I think.

-Tim

Top Five Most Popular Posts on this Blog

I can hardly believe that 2013 is almost over. It feels like it was yesterday when I was wondering what 2013 was going to bring. Now I am looking forward to 2014, which I have a really good feeling about for some reason.

Of course, I am also thinking about all the things that happened this year. This is a good opportunity for me to list the top five most popular posts on this blog, based on page views.

Now let’s get started:

1# Are you writing a story or building a world?

#2 New Year’s Resolutions

#3 National Day on Writing

#4 My UPS Job Misadventure

#5 Limyaael’s Rants and I Love Used Books (tie for fifth)

Because this is the last time I’ll be online for the year, I’d like to wish all of my blog readers a Happy New Year, good luck in whatever resolutions y’all are making, and thank y’all for reading this blog. I hope this blog will get even more popular as the New Year rolls in.

-Tim

The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam

The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam is a checklist of fantasy clichés that, according to the writers of the exam, all fantasy writers should be required to use. It’s obviously facetious, but it has a lot of good questions any fantasy writer should take into account when writing a fantasy novel, so I recommend at least reading through it.

I decided to put my NaNo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock, through it and I thought I’d share my answers here, just for fun:

1.Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?

Let’s see . . . no. A character tries to commit suicide, two characters have sex, two characters get into a fight, and other characters are kidnapped by a tribe of savages. Hardly what I’d call ‘nothing.’

2.Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

No. He’s an old fisherman from a backwater island on the fringe of human civilization.

3.Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?

No. One of my main characters is the heir to the throne of his kingdom, but already knows it.

4.Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?

No. There’s not even a supreme bad guy, although they do run into a few unseemly fellows on their adventures.

5.Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?

No magical artifacts here, sorry.

6.How about one that will destroy it?

No.

7.Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about “The One” who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?

No. That’d be boring.

8.Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?

No. Such a character is more of a plot device than a character, in my opinion, and so I would never seriously use a character like that in my novel (or in any of my stories, for that matter).

9.Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?

No.

10.Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?

There is no evil supreme bad guy. Try again.

11.Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?

No kings, whether kindly or otherwise.

12.Does “a forgetful wizard” describe any of the characters in your novel?

Bifor is hardly what I’d call forgetful. He’s probably the smartest person on the ship.

13.How about “a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior”?

No.

14.How about “a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons”?

Uh, no? That would be stupid.

15.Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around?

Why should they?

16.Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?

Hell no to the tenth power.

17.Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?

Nope. Nothing against feminism. I just think a character should be more than their beliefs.

18.Would “a clumsy cooking wench more comfortable with a frying pan than a sword” aptly describe any of your female characters?

No.

19.Would “a fearless warrioress more comfortable with a sword than a frying pan” aptly describe any of your female characters?

No.

20.Is any character in your novel best described as “a dour dwarf”?

Dwarves don’t exist in my world, unless you’re using “dwarf” to describe an unusually short human being. So no.

21.How about “a half-elf torn between his human and elven heritage”?

No elves, sorry.

22.Did you make the elves and the dwarves great friends, just to be different?

See answers to 20 and 21.

23.Does everybody under four feet tall exist solely for comic relief?

No. That would be stupid.

24.Do you think that the only two uses for ships are fishing and piracy?

If I did, the plot of my novel couldn’t work. So no.

25.Do you not know when the hay baler was invented?

Why does it matter?

26.Did you draw a map for your novel which includes places named things like “The Blasted Lands” or “The Forest of Fear” or “The Desert of Desolation” or absolutely anything “of Doom”?

I hate drawing fantasy maps, so no. And I made sure to give most of the islands real names, so still no.

27.Does your novel contain a prologue that is impossible to understand until you’ve read the entire book, if even then?

Of course not.

28.Is this the first book in a planned trilogy?

It’s a standalone.

29.How about a quintet or a decalogue?

See 28.

30.Is your novel thicker than a New York City phone book?

No.

31.Did absolutely nothing happen in the previous book you wrote, yet you figure you’re still many sequels away from finishing your “story”?

It’s a standalone. There are no previous books.

32.Are you writing prequels to your as-yet-unfinished series of books?

No prequels, either.

33.Is your name Robert Jordan and you lied like a dog to get this far?

Nope.

34.Is your novel based on the adventures of your role-playing group?

I don’t have a role-playing group.

35.Does your novel contain characters transported from the real world to a fantasy realm?

No way. This world exists independently of ours. I don’t usually enjoy “people from Earth come to Fantasyland” kinds of stories anyway.

36.Do any of your main characters have apostrophes or dashes in their names?

I would have to turn in my author badge if I even considered doing that.

37.Do any of your main characters have names longer than three syllables?

I don’t think so, no.

38.Do you see nothing wrong with having two characters from the same small isolated village being named “Tim Umber” and “Belthusalanthalus al’Grinsok”?

I see plenty wrong with it and I avoid it in my stories.

39.Does your novel contain orcs, elves, dwarves, or halflings?

No, no, no, and of course not.

40.How about “orken” or “dwerrows”?

Let’s not be stupid here, okay?

41.Do you have a race prefixed by “half-“?

I can’t think of any reason a race — even one composed of, say, half-human/half-elf hybrids — would voluntarily use the “half-” prefix in their name, so no.

42.At any point in your novel, do the main characters take a shortcut through ancient dwarven mines?

Kind of hard to do on the high seas.

43.Do you write your battle scenes by playing them out in your favorite RPG?

Pull the other one.

44.Have you done up game statistics for all of your main characters in your favorite RPG?

Why would I ever do that?

45.Are you writing a work-for-hire for Wizards of the Coast?

Uh, no.

46.Do inns in your book exist solely so your main characters can have brawls?

No inns, so no.

47.Do you think you know how feudalism worked but really don’t?

I don’t understand feudalism, so no.

48.Do your characters spend an inordinate amount of time journeying from place to place?

Now this might actually apply to my novel, considering all the traveling involved. Really depends on how you definie “inordinate,” but they rarely take more than a few weeks to a month to get from island to island, which doesn’t seem at all inordinate to me when you take into account all the hazards ships face on the open seas.

49.Could one of your main characters tell the other characters something that would really help them in their quest but refuses to do so just so it won’t break the plot?

Of course not.

50.Do any of the magic users in your novel cast spells easily identifiable as “fireball” or “lightning bolt”?

One character did. I don’t think this means I have to throw out the entire book, though, because it was a one time thing and is never used again for the rest of the novel.

51.Do you ever use the term “mana” in your novel?

No.

52.Do you ever use the term “plate mail” in your novel?

No.

53.Heaven help you, do you ever use the term “hit points” in your novel?

Why in the world would I ever — and I mean EVER — use “hit points” in a novel that has nothing to do with video games?

In case that wasn’t clear enough, the answer is no.

54.Do you not realize how much gold actually weighs?

It’s pretty heavy. Ingots are 25 pounds. Don’t see what this has to do with my novel, though, considering gold is never used.

55.Do you think horses can gallop all day long without rest?

No.

56.Does anybody in your novel fight for two hours straight in full plate armor, then ride a horse for four hours, then delicately make love to a willing barmaid all in the same day?

No.

57.Does your main character have a magic axe, hammer, spear, or other weapon that returns to him when he throws it?

This isn’t Thor fanfiction, so no.

58.Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?

No one even uses a scimitar, so no.

59.Does anybody in your novel stab anybody straight through plate armor?

No.

60.Do you think swords weigh ten pounds or more? [info]

No. I imagine their weight varies depending on the kind of sword being used.

61.Does your hero fall in love with an unattainable woman, whom he later attains?

One is gay; the other already has the woman he wants. So no.

62.Does a large portion of the humor in your novel consist of puns?

Uh, no.

63.Is your hero able to withstand multiple blows from the fantasy equivalent of a ten pound sledge but is still threatened by a small woman with a dagger?

No. That would be a bit silly.

64.Do you really think it frequently takes more than one arrow in the chest to kill a man?

I have no idea how many arrows in the chest it takes to kill a man. Might be worth researching it, now that I think about it.

65.Do you not realize it takes hours to make a good stew, making it a poor choice for an “on the road” meal?

If you have a kitchen on board your ship, complete with all the necessary equipment and supplies, a stew certainly doesn’t seem like a poor choice for an “on the road” meal to me. Guess it depends on how you travel and what kind of resources you have available.

66.Do you have nomadic barbarians living on the tundra and consuming barrels and barrels of mead?

No.

67.Do you think that “mead” is just a fancy name for “beer”?

No.

68.Does your story involve a number of different races, each of which has exactly one country, one ruler, and one religion?

I tried to avoid it, so no.

69.Is the best organized and most numerous group of people in your world the thieves’ guild?

That would be weird, so no.

70.Does your main villain punish insignificant mistakes with death?

No.

71.Is your story about a crack team of warriors that take along a bard who is useless in a fight, though he plays a mean lute?

A bard character might be interesting, but that’s not what the story is about, no.

72.Is “common” the official language of your world?

I do have a language called “Northern Common,” but it is only spoken by humans and even then not all of them speak it all the time. So it’s not.

73.Is the countryside in your novel littered with tombs and gravesites filled with ancient magical loot that nobody thought to steal centuries before?

There is no countryside, at least no one countryside, so no.

74.Is your book basically a rip-off of The Lord of the Rings?

I don’t recall “The Lord of the Rings” being about a ship sailing to the end of the world, so no.

75.Read that question again and answer truthfully.

I don’t recall “The Lord of the Rings” being about a ship sailing to the end of the world, so no.

Obviously, this exam in no way tells me whether my fantasy novel is good or not, but it was fun to take and has given me a few ideas for the second draft, so I don’t regret using it.

What do you think about the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam? Have you used it? Do you even want to use it? How does your novel do when compared to the exam?

-Tim