A History of Books Unwritten

Forging Divinity was the first book I published, but it was far from the first book that I wrote.

Like many authors, I spent years pursuing the dream of getting something traditionally published before going to self-publishing. I wrote books, submitted them to literary agents (and occasionally, directly to publishers) and got rejections. Stacks of them. Hundreds of rejections.

It’s very easy to give up when things like that happen. I’m glad that I didn’t, and I’m extremely grateful that my partner and my family supported me through those times.

I think about those unpublished books regularly. Sometimes I wonder about what would have happened if I’d gotten a contract for one of them, or decided to self-publish earlier. I also think about spending time to revise them now, if any of them are still salvageable.

I don’t think it’s likely that any of those projects will see the light of day. But I’d like to talk about them briefly, since the history behind them helped shape my current projects, as well as things to come.

Dawn’s Tear was my first book. It’s a finished book, and it’s…well, bad. My partner once said it was like “someone’s first fanfic”, and they weren’t wrong. It was, in many respects, my own fanfic of a D&D campaign I’d run in college. It was also something I started working on with another writer, but that didn’t work out – and that collaboration failure taught me some important lessons about setting expectations ahead of time for professional projects.

This book was almost a direct depiction of a D&D campaign. That was, to be direct, a terrible mistake. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to make a D&D campaign into a book series – Record of Lodoss War and Malazan both pulled it off (although I think the latter might have been GURPS). But I wasn’t at the skill level as a writer to know what to report directly and what to tweak more heavily for narrative.

Notably for my existing readers, this took place much later in the timeline of the setting than the books that are currently out. (It’s even later than Arcane Ascension.) Some of the things from the War of Broken Mirrors were created as backstory for the “ancient past” of this D&D campaign.

Also of note, a few characters from my later books were in there – including very different versions of Taelien, Jacinth, Aayara, and Wrynn Jaden. This Taelien was already an older and more confident veteran, and he wasn’t a main perspective character (maybe he got one chapter? I don’t remember, and I’m not checking, it’s too embarrassing.)

Will the events of Dawn’s Tear ever happen in my updated book new universe? Probably not. The whole story has changed significantly since then, and many characters – like Taelien and Wrynn – are fundamentally different people in this version of the story.

This is the least likely book for me to ever touch again.

 

Dawn’s Blade was going to be the sequel to Dawn’s Tear, but I didn’t finish it. Fortunately, I moved on to something much better instead.

 

Blackstone is when I actually found my legs as a writer to some degree. People actually liked reading Blackstone, which was a marked improvement. It’s a silly, self-deprecating autobiographical piece from the perspective of the Blackstone Assassin, chronicling his accidental rise to infamy. It also showed the start of his legendary romance and rivalry with Symphony, the Lady of Thieves.

I think this was a book that could have launched my career. It’s not at the same level as something like SAM, but it was amusing at times, and I think the protagonist had a likable kind of snark.

Notably, this is where I really started to flesh out dominion sorcery in book form. Dawn’s Tear was basically still using D&Dish magic, with very little internal consistency. I created dominion sorcery as a system for a LARP campaign in the same universe, and I think using it for this book helped make it feel much more interesting and unique. Interestingly, it also had a whole extension of the system for using scrolls (since Jacinth wasn’t actually a spellcaster for most of the book), which had some neat elements I might revisit.

This was a finished book and probably could have been published.

The novel-within-a-novel stuff I’ve been doing with the Blackstone Assassin books in my other books is an homage to this actual novel, and I’ve considered updating it for publication several times. It’s mostly a matter of just not having enough hours in the day, and wanting to prioritize my more recent works.

 

Dreams of Jade was my first attempt at a Wrynn Jaden novel. It was my first attempt at writing a martial arts focused protagonist. It probably would have been called a xianxia novel if I released it, but I had no idea what that was at the time. (The last time I touched this book was apparently June of 2010.)

Notably, the secondary protagonist (or deuteragonist, if you want to get fancy) of this book was Jonan Kestrian. Jonan is an interesting case – he’s actually one of my oldest gaming PCs (he predates Salaris), but this was my first effort at working him into a book.

It didn’t work well. This book was never finished – largely because I didn’t like the pacing, or how I was handling Wrynn herself as a character.

Shadowblade was my sequel to Blackstone. It was finished, and from what readers told me, probably better than Blackstone. Unfortunately, continuity has drifted much further from the story of this one, to the point where I don’t think I could realistically just “update” it to modern standards without rewriting it completely. In a different world, Blackstone, Shadowblade, and Dark Paladin would have been my first trilogy.

Arcanist was my attempt to write to market. In 2010-2011, epic fantasy and swords and sorcery weren’t doing so well (at least according to the people I talked to in the industry), and the cool thing at the time was urban fantasy. So, I tried to write one.

This is a really interesting one. First, because the book was terrible. Writing to market was an awful idea, and I didn’t even do a good job of understanding what made urban fantasy appeal to people ahead of time. (I’d read some, but not a lot, and I didn’t have a firm enough understanding of the hooks for readers.)

It is, however, also interesting because it was almost a LitRPG in an era before LitRPGs were codified.

In this setting, Arcanists were mages living on modern earth. They were broken down into categories based on a specializations: Movers, Burners, Breakers, Cutters, Twisters, Finders, Healers, and Turners. They wore devices called Shards that were basically pocket watches that stored mana and displayed their remaining mana percentage.

You might see some similarities to a certain other magic system of mine there.

If I’d pushed the class-based angle and the systems a little further, this might have actually been a pretty good LitRPG setting. As it is, however, I didn’t have the confidence to go all-in on those mechanics at the time, and thus they remained surface-level and kind of boring.

Oh, and my main character was named Sarah, so there’s that overlap with Arcane Ascension as well. (She was a Breaker, for the record. There were no Summoners in Arcanist.)

This is a complete book, but it’s also not a very good one. I probably won’t go back to it.

 

Marks of Iron is another interesting one. It’s the first book I tried to write where Taelien was one of the main perspectives. It also has one of the most interesting settings I’ve written, which involved a city where people are revived from the dead, then sustained with alchemy rather than food and water. The premise is that the sustaining alchemy has stopped working properly, and in a week, virtually everyone in the city is going to die (permanently).

Ashel Val, a famous alchemist, is brought in to investigate the alchemy problem. She saved a foreigner – Taelien – from being eaten by a monster while he was asleep (long story), so he tags along with her to serve as her bodyguard. We see the story through both of them, and using Taelien as the foreigner who doesn’t understand local customs or how alchemy works was a useful mechanic for introducing things that are obvious to Ashel to the reader.

I very easily could have published this one. It’s complete, the setting is interesting, and it’s probably the best self-contained piece I’ve written.

It does, however, have serious flaws.

When I was making the decision to self-publish, I had to choose between going for this one or Forging Divinity first. I chose Forging Divinity over Marks of Iron because of a couple key factors.

First, the character interactions in Marks of Iron just weren’t as good. The dialogue was weak (especially Taelien’s), the emotional highlights were unearned, and Taelien was the only person who experienced any real change.

Second, it just didn’t have enough moments of awesome. Forging Divinity is still relatively low magic compared to my modern books, but Marks of Iron was even lower, and I think it suffered from that. There are plenty of ways to write awesomeness without magic – and I had some of them, with Taelien getting a couple decent sword fights and Ashel having some decent investigative moments – but I think Forging Divinity just had more of them.

Ultimately, this would have been an interesting book to start with, but I think I made the right call.

That was the last book I finished before Forging Divinity.

I’ve had a lot of other books I’ve started without finishing after that – but those are more likely to actually be finished someday, so I won’t get into them in a lot of detail.

I will mention that I almost finished and released a “traditional” VRMMO-style LitRPG before I wrote Sufficiently Advanced Magic, and that would have been another interesting way to launch my career. I still intend to release something like that someday, but I don’t know what form it will take. I’ve started several, and I still haven’t found one that works perfectly for me yet.

Thanks for reading! I hope that this is interesting to some of you, and helps remind any aspiring authors that it can be a long road – but one that can ultimately be very worthwhile, if you stick with it and have sufficient luck.

13 thoughts on “A History of Books Unwritten

  1. It’s really interesting to hear the background of your newer series and characters and to see some of the thought process behind it, and I’m sure they are not as bad as you think. Anyways I think the best books are very well thought out and developed over time, and this was your way of doing it.

  2. Thanks for posting this Andrew! It has given me some food for thought.

    I had been writing a fantasy novel in my spare time but haven’t touched it for months now, following a lacklustre review from a friend (whose opinion I value when it comes to novels).

    I completely get what you mean about looking back & just feeling embarrassed at how bad a book is.

    That said, I think I actually really enjoyed writing my novel, I must have done to get to twenty thousand words.

    I’ve decided today that I will start writing again, not for the purpose of pleasing an audience but for the joy it gives me. I come from a science background & the humanities have never been my strength, so I suppose I shouldn’t be embarrassed for creating a bad novel. Maybe with enough tinkering I’ll get it to the stage where I’ll unveil it to an audience with low standards.

    It’s great to hear of your journey & many failures before you got to SAM, which I have to admit is such an addictive tale.

    You have encouraged me hugely and next time I have some free time I’ll add a chapter to my book.

  3. Great post, really cool to learn about the origin of your work in a way and all the variations that led to what they’ve become today. I’m especially intrigued by Blackstone and Shadowblade esp after the mentions in AA and because they just sound really fun. Any plans to release these as one-offs or for subscribers? Can’t wait for more of your stuff already caught-up on everything out there at the moment.

    1. I’ve considered that option, but I think it would currently be a bad move because the stories are so far from canon that I suspect they’d confuse people. I’ll think about it, though.

  4. Wow a really unique look into the writing process. So interesting to hear about all the world’s you’ve created and the process of getting to the amazing books you’ve published! Would really love to hear the Blackstone series – I absolutely love the fresh fun tone of AA and think it would be really intriguing to hear your take on a darker assassin. Also – I want to commend you for your matter of fact take on gender fluidity/LGBT relationships in AA. It’s something missing from fantasy (or any media) and usually done awkwardly, but in the world you’ve created it came across as a flawless normalcy.

  5. Do you have any learning materials you particularly recommend? Or was it mostly just a matter of sitting down and writing several books?

      1. I’ve watched that series! Great stuff, and way better than the old version he had on the WriteAboutDragons account, which was broken up into 10 minute sections and filmed by a student.

        Although, it has a been awhile, so perhaps I should watch it over again.

  6. Nice post, it’s quite enligtening about the ‘journey’ of a writer and the stories that were a part of it.
    By the way you said that Dreams of Jade would have been Xianxia if released, out of curriosity did it have a cultivation progression system.

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