Today, we welcome David B. Coe, as guest to MW. Yes. I am posting. About David. The paperback edition of The
Dark-Eyes’ War the final volume of his Blood of the Southlands trilogy (The Sorcerers’ Plague, volume I; The Horsemen’s Gambit, volume II) was released yesterday by TOR, and if you haven’t read David’s epic fantasy, you are in for a treat.
FH: As this site is geared mostly to writers, let’s start with the writing aspect of the series. David, Tell us how you plotted this book, both to stand alone and to make it fit into the series.
DBC: Okay, first of all, thanks for letting me intrude upon your usual posting day, Faith. It’s nice — albeit strange — to be here as a guest rather than as a regular. The Dark-Eyes’ War was a challenging book to plot for a couple of reasons. First, as you point out in the question, in writing any book within an extended story arc we have to be careful to satisfy those readers who have been with the series from the beginning while at the same time making the story line accessible to readers who are coming to the book without knowing any of the background. That can be tough, particularly with the final book in the sequence.
I believe, though, that key is to plot for dedicated readers and write for newbies. What do I mean? Well, by the time book three rolls around, the plot is pretty much rolling around. In the case of the Southlands book, we’ve already had a plague sweep across the land, weakening the Qirsi sorcerers who have been essentially at war
with the Eandi for a millennium. The Eandi, sensing an opportunity to undo hundreds of years of military failures, have launched an invasion against Qirsi lands. War is at hand, and to slow things down here would make no sense at all. On the other hand, there are ways to introduce crucial plot points with subtle explanations that will quickly bring a new reader up to speed. Clearly, I want to avoid data-dumps — they will turn off new readers and established fans alike. But the fact is that with extended story-arcs, especially ones with several plot threads, even those returning readers will appreciate a sentence or two to remind them of who is who and what their circumstances are.
Plot for the old readers, write for the newbies. It works.
FH: Wow. Okay, for your fans who are interested in the series and for the writers here, share with us the differences between story arcs and true serials. You know – a quick tutorial.
DBC: Sure. A quick tutorial. Okay, an extended story arc is to true serial as the first Star Wars trilogy is to the Indiana Jones movies. Extended story arc is essentially a single story told over several volumes, while a true serial is a series of stand alone stories with recurring characters. Now, it’s not always that easy to tell the two apart. Each volume in one of my extended story-arcs tends to have something that at least resembles a satisfying ending. I want my readers to finish each volume of the story arc feeling that they have accomplished something, that the book has moved them measurably closer to the conclusion of the tale. And I know that while your Jane Yellowrock books are volumes in a true serial, there is definitely a sense of continuity to them, a sense that Jane is growing and changing with each volume. But that’s basically the difference between them. Examples of extended story arcs include not only my books, but also Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, and George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. True serials include not only your books, but also Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, and Catie Murphy’s Joanne Walker series.
FH: I’ve written a few series now, and it’s a different mindset and different skill set from writing stand alones. Tell us some of the challenges of writing a third book in a 3-book extended story arc.
DBC: I think the hardest thing about the final book of any story-arc (I’ve now written two “Book Threes” and one “Book Five”) is tying up all the loose ends in a way that leaves readers truly satisfied. Now that probably sounds familiar, since it’s the goal of writing any book, be it a volume in a story-arc, or a stand alone. The thing is, though, that with story-arcs the tale tends to be bigger, more sprawling. The Southlands books had several distinct story lines, and each one had a hero (or, in the case of at least one of them, an anti-hero). I moved each one along with its own pacing, its own twists and turns. But I needed for all of them to hit their peaks at around the same time, and I needed for each to end in a way that was going to leave my readers feeling that what was supposed to happen had, in fact, happened. At the same time, I also had to prioritize the stories to some extent. I had to know which was the most important, which had to end to the tale. And I needed to present each conclusion in a certain order, so that the impact of each felt right. It’s a fine balance, and there is really no
way to “teach” it. It’s something that varies with every new project; to a certain degree it’s a matter of trial and
FH: David, lately, you have been writing historical/urban fantasy under the name DB Jackson. Tell us some of the differences between writing epic alternate world and urban. I know it sounds weird, but when I write medical thrillers, I feel like the part of my brain that is engaged in the process is different from when I write urban fantasy. Did your mind/brain have to change the way it worked? And, while I’m dumping questions at you, is writing in different genres all a matter of voice for you, or is it also pacing and subject matter?
DBC: I absolutely know what you mean. Writing in a historical setting was a completely different experience, in part because I felt that I was treading on ground that didn’t “belong” to me the way my own epic fantasy worlds do. I had dual responsibilities in a way — one to plot and character and magic system, etc., and one to the real history that I was borrowing for my books. So that was very different. I had to think about my books more systematically, and I had to blend my setting with my narrative and the magical elements of my “worldbuilding” with far more care.
I also found that writing urban fantasy (not only the D.B. Jackson Thieftaker books, but also some other urban fantasies I’ve been working on) presented different challenges and different payoffs as well. The challenges mostly involved making my writing leaner. Each Southland book came in at about 140,000 words. My urban
fantasies are running around 100,000 to 110,000. That’s a significant difference. Now in part this reflects the fact that urban fantasy tends to have fewer point-of-view characters and fewer plot threads, so the actual structure of the story lends itself to (relative) brevity. When I write UF my plotting becomes more directed, my pacing quickens. But it is also a matter of voice, as your final question suggests. Even writing in the historical setting, I found that there was a certain “noir” quality to my writing. I was writing urban with a mystery twist, and so that Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler/Mickey Spillane terseness crept into my work a bit.
FH: Okay – what now? What are you working that is a new shiny?
DBC: Well, I have a bunch of projects underway right now. I’m writing short fiction in the Thieftaker universe, trying to publish a few stories (either in competitive markets or as freebies on the D.B, Jackson website in advance of the July 2012 release of Thieftaker. I also am working on the other urban fantasies I mentioned in my answer to the previous question. I have two UF manuscripts that need to be reworked, so I’ll have some revisions to do in the new year. I have a middle grade book that also needs to be revised, so I’ll be working on that at some point. I plan to pitch two more Thieftaker books early in 2012. And I have an idea for a pretty dark epic fantasy that has just started forming in the last week or two. I expect that before long I’ll be working on that, as well.
FH: Thanks, David. Now, all you readers, go buy a book!
DBC: Thank you, Faith. This was fun!
The Dark-Eyes War: “This is a book about ancient prejudice and the tragic consequences of one woman’s twisted quest for vengeance. It is about magic darkened by an age-old curse and turned to purposes for which it was never intended. And finally it is about the redemptive power of sacrifice, of forgiveness, of the recognition that
no feud, not even a blood war, can or should last forever.”