I’ve been meaning to blog about day two at Life, The Universe, and Everything (LTUE), a writers symposium on science fiction and fantasy at BYU. It was such an amazing day.
I arrived at 10:00 AM and was on a panel with some amazing writers. The panel was titled, The Problem of Sequels—how can you write a sequel that is as good as—or better than—your first book?
The panelists were: me—Paul Genesse, James Dashner—writer of the Jimmy Fincher books, David Farland—writer of the Rune Lords books, Mette Ivie Harrison—author of many fairy tale inspired books, L.E. Modesitt author of 50 or so books, and Brandon Sanderson—author of the upcoming Wheel of Time book or books. He’s at 750,000 words now and said he might go to a million words. Wow. I’m thinking two books, or three, released quickly.
It was an excellent discussion and Brandon was a great moderator. We went through the various ways to create sequels and I thought it was an excellent discussion. The large audience, several hundred people, was pretty into the topic and had some good questions. I just finished writing a sequel, The Dragon Hunters, Book Two of the Iron Dragon Series, coming out in May of 2009, and am currently writing book three, The Secret Empire.
So, I feel like I’ve thought through the many problems of writing sequels. I write for the characters and my books are character driven, though the plot is very important as well. A lot happens and my advice was to keep raising the stakes, make things accelerate and become even more dangerous as the books go along. Also, the characters must appear to get further and further away from accomplishing their goals, as you torture and torment them mercilessly. I also chose to add two characters to the mix in book two, which kept it fresh. I go from three main characters to five in book two. The question about what information to repeat in the subsequent books is always a question. Do you rehash what happened in the previous book or just plow ahead without mentioning the last book? I think you should mention a little, but not excessively. Try your best to avoid big info dumps. Mention the old info only when absolutely necessary and be brief.
Okay, at 11:00 AM, the guest of honor, Tracy Hickman, gave the main address at LTUE. It was spectacular and was titled, “Creative Reading.”
It was the best main address I’ve seen in a long time. He brought the crowd to tears with a true story about a fan he had met at a book signing on a military base. The young man was now paralyzed from the waist down after taking a bullet in Afghanistan. After the soldier was shot, his first thought was: what would Sturm do? Sturm was a character in the fist Dragonlance books. He was a knight of great honor and courage. His death inspired greatness from many others.
So, this soldier gave Tracy and Margaret Weiss a horribly tattered compilation of the first three Dragonlance books to sign. The soldier said it (the book) had been in combat, jumped out of planes and had been on the soldier everywhere he went for years. The book was with him when he was shot in Afghanistan while on point during a patrol. When he hit the ground after being shot, his first thought was: what would Sturm do? The soldier saw enemies assembling a mortar that would kill or injure his entire squad who was unaware of the danger. The soldier’s second thought was, “I hope my luck is better than Sturm’s.”
The soldier then said that he got up and warned his squad about the mortar. He saved their lives. Then the soldier said that it was Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss who actually saved the lives of the squad. The soldier gave his purple heart medal and his bronze star medal to Margaret and Tracy, saying it was them who deserved the honor, not him.
The power of words can definitely save lives. The true measure of the words is often in the white space between the lines—that was Tracy Hickman’s main point. What is not said in the text is imagined by the reader. This is where the true power lies.
I retold the story at work during a night shift a day later to some of my good friends, and it moved me to tears again. I’m so glad I heard the speech and I’m so happy that my boyhood hero, Tracy Hickman now lives five minutes away from my house. He invited me to get together with him at some point and I can’t wait. Tracy is also very funny and had us all laughing out loud.
All right, I had lunch after that with some good friends, author Rebecca Shelley, her sister Laura Ann—a very cool lady, and JoSelle Vanderhooft, an amazing poet and writer. We had a great time.
Then there was a book signing where I picked up Blood Lite, an anthology featuring a story by my friend Eric James Stone, Rebecca Shelley’s new book—The Brass Dragon Codex, and a book by Greg Park called Veil of Darkness, Book One of the Earthsoul Prophecies. I’m looking forward to reading them all. I also ran into Brandon Sanderson, who offered to read my new novel, The Dragon Hunters. I hope he likes it!
I also met a cool artist named B.C. Hailes and just read his Dragon’s Gait graphic novel. Wow, what amazing art. I want to hire him to do a map for me. He’s really, really good and lives in the Salt Lake area.
At 3:00 PM I was on a panel with the heavy hitters. Everyone at the convention appeared to be present. The panel was called How Novelists Fill 100,000 Words and Still Keep the Story Interesting. On the panel were: New York Times Bestselling authors who have had their books translated into many different languages: Tracy Hickman, David Farland (also known as Dave Wolverton), Brandon Sanderson, USA Today Bestselling author L.E. Modesitt, and me—not a NYT Bestselling author. Wow. A little intimidating, but great. There were hundreds of people in the audience and it went really well, despite the broad nature of the topic. Brandon Sanderson did a great job moderating and I felt really good about how the panel turned out. The Golden Cord managed to be the bestselling fantasy book that my publisher has ever had, but the NYT list is something I’d of course like to crack into someday when I sign with a bigger publisher.
At 5:00 PM I was on another panel, Collaborating with Another Writer. The panelists were Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury—a good editor and writer, Tracy and Laura Hickman, and Dan Willis a really good Dragonlance writer. This was a really fun panel and most illuminating. I collaborate with my good friends Patrick Tracy and Brad Beaulieu on everything I do. They help me immensely when I’m making the story or novel better. They have great ideas and without them, my work would not be nearly as nasty. I just love collaborating with other writers and find that two or three brains really are better than one. Brainstorming with friends who are creative thinkers is very powerful.
Later that night I did a reading of the prologue of The Golden Cord. It was actually the best reading I’ve done of the prologue. I did the voices and it came out great.
Then it was off to dinner with 17 people. The famous artist, Howard Taylor of Schlock Mercenary fame shepherded us to Bangkok Grill, a wonderful Thai restaurant in Orem. We had a great time and I loved the food.
It was a wonderful weekend and so much happened. I was asked by the chair of programming, Charlie Harmon, to be the ambassador for the bid committee trying to get the World Fantasy Convention to come to Salt Lake City. I accepted and can’t wait to help out. Charlie also offered to host a book release party for me at the ConDuit convention in May at the Radisson Hotel downtown. The book release party will be Saturday, May 23 in the afternoon. More details to come soon.
I just love LTUE weekend and thanks for reading.
Author of The Dragon Hunters
Book Two of the Iron Dragon Series
Releasing May of 2009 from Five Star Books