The White Arrow: Introduction

In 2014, I wrote the first draft to The White Arrow during National Novel Writing Month.  The finished product was just over the minimum 50,000 words to satisfy the event’s requirements.  It was the most writing I’d ever done in such a short period of time, and when it was done, I was a little sick of it.  I stepped away from the book, and didn’t look at it again for months.

When I finally got around to re-reading it, in a half-hearted attempt to revise the work, I saw a lot that I liked, and a lot that I didn’t.  What I had was the shell of a good story; a skeleton with very little meat on the bones.  It was going to take a lot of work to finish it.

While the frantic pace of NaNoWriMo was incentive enough to rough out the book, fleshing it out was going to take a lot more work, and I wasn’t a full-time writer.  It was too much to do at one time.  So I’ve decided to break it down, and in the process, employ a distribution strategy that will engage new readers.

Each chapter of The White Arrow will be published here as an individual blog entry, free of charge.  As I complete revisions on the book, you can read along.  When it’s done, the entire book will be published electronically and available through most standard distribution platforms for your convenience, at a modest price.

So please read along, share, and send me your feedback.  You can reach me at my e-mail address, or via social media. I hope you enjoy the journey, and I look forward to hearing from you.

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A Little Wisdom From R.A. Salvatore

Franklin Brown and R.A. Salvatore

One of the biggest challenges of writing a novel within an entirely original fantasy world is fleshing out the details and minutiae of the place.  What are the various cultures like? What is their history? What do the landscapes look like? What governments, economies, and social structures are in place around the world?

It can be very easy to get lost in the task of world-building and miss out on the actual storytelling.

I decided to employ a gimmick to prompt myself to work on the details of my fictional realm and flesh out some tertiary characters in it. I started a Dungeons and Dragons campaign set within the world of the novel I’m working on, and I invited my family members to join. This has provided an opportunity to enjoy a weekly night of dinner and gaming, and also forces me to create new material on a regular schedule that fills in a lot of the space around my story. After eight months, the campaign is still going strong and has provided a wealth of fresh ideas to exploit.

When I first came up with the idea, I had thought it to be somewhat original, but also a bit trivial; I had doubts as to whether I’d get anything accomplished with this campaign, or if it would just be a distraction.

It was about that time that I’d started reading the 25th Anniversary collection of “The Legend of Drizzt” by R.A. Salvatore. The first dozen or so books about his famous Drow Elf Ranger have been presented in four substantial volumes, and after plowing through the first, I immediately had to pick up Book II. Its dedication is reprinted from the original publication of “The Crystal Shard in 1988, and contained the following:

“… and to the rest of my AD&D game group, Tom Parker, Daniel Mallard, and Roland Lortie, for their continued inspiration through the development of eccentric characters fit to wear the mantle of a hero in a fantasy novel.”

Evidently my idea was not all that original. Nor was it trivial. To date, R.A. Salvatore has written dozens and dozens of novels, and has sold over 15 million copies. Further, he is not the only successful author to draw inspiration from a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for his work. Greenwood, Weis, and Hickman have been enormously prolific employing the same tactic.

Earlier this afternoon, I found out R.A. Salvatore was doing a signing at a campus bookstore at Arizona State University to promote his 27th novel in the Drizzt series, “Rise of the King.” As soon as I finished work, I packed my very-understanding family in the car and made the long drive to Tempe with my only expectation that I would ask him to sign my copy of “The Legend of Drizzt: Book II,” and perhaps convey my appreciation for the affirmation I found in the book’s dedication.

After dinner at The Chuckbox, we walked over to the Sun Devil Marketplace and discovered that Salvatore wasn’t just signing – they had a room set up for him to give a talk and take questions. Signing would happen after the Q&A session.

I wish I’d had the foresight to record the event, so that I could quote him exactly. Instead I’ll have to paraphrase some of the talking points that stuck out the most to me (emphasis on “paraphrase,” my memory is hardly perfect, and I will stand to be corrected if necessary):

  • Salvatore is clearly still geeked to be writing Drizzt novels, even after all these years. He has no intention of stopping, killing off the character, or anything like that.
  • The idea for the character, as he tells it, sounds like he essentially pulled the concept out of thin air while on a phone call that demanded he come up with a sidekick for Wulfgar, who was originally supposed to be the central figure of the first novel. What seemed a zany idea at the time turned into the hero that has now carried over two dozen books.
  • Salvatore also plugged his new DemonWars: Reformation role-playing game, and shared a little history on its origins and the nature of the Kickstarter effort that made it happen. He loves the concept of crowdfunding, and compared it to his favorite sport (baseball) saying that it gives you no place to hide – it’s just you and the ball, and you’re responsible for all aspects of the project. Signed copies of the first edition are still available at a really reasonable price on his website.
  • When asked about writer’s block, he said very bluntly “It doesn’t exist.” Writer’s block is just lack of self-confidence. Sit down and start typing. Even if it’s garbage you throw out later, just get to work. Tape your mortgage statement to the side of your monitor if you need motivation.
  • When I told him about how I decided to use a D&D campaign to help with world-building on my own work, he said gaming is great to draw inspiration from, and cited examples where events in-game had provided the seeds of ideas used in his novels, but insisted that attempting to transcribe a gaming session and make a novel from that would be a bad idea.  Character and plot development in your fiction needs to be more deliberate, and not left to chance rolls of the dice or the whims of whoever you’re gaming with. Very few actual characters from his game sessions have made it into his work.
  • Escapism in fantasy is fine, but he says the world we’re trying to escape today isn’t the problem. The world today is a better place than it was 30 years ago, and fewer people every year die to violence and disease. The problem is we’ve been screwed up in the head by a rabid media that makes an awful lot of money sowing strife, conflict, fear, and worry.
  • Along those lines, his novels do not have real-world parallels, even though they often speak to issues and challenges that we have all the time in the real world. His objective is not to give you answers – it’s to help you ask questions so you can find your own answers.  Ultimately, he has, and always intends to make sure his stories have a hopeful message.
  • On how he choreographs such good fight scenes: “I played hockey.” Salvatore is deliberate in the tone, pacing, and intensity of his fight scenes. The mechanics are derived partly from personal experience in athletics such as boxing, and from his time working as a bouncer in college. Most of it is based on simple observation of fights, fencing, and other athletic events ranging from gymnastics to figure skating.

My overall impression is that Salvatore wasn’t sugar-coating anything with regards to his writing process or how he’s found success. There’s no easy button, silver bullet, or magic beans when it comes to punching out a good story and finding a publisher for it. Hard work, tenacity, dependability, and improvisation are his allies. You need to love what you do, and you need to be willing to sweat for it.


The Writer’s Best Marketing Tool Is…


I had planned to post a long and informative article here telling you about all the great resources I’ve discovered around the business of digital publishing over the last week.

I was going to share excerpts from articles by and about Hugh Howey – the Duke of Digital Publishing who has broken all the rules of publishing, re-written them, and still finds time to share all his trade secrets with the rest of us.

I intended to direct you to Russell Blake, a man I like to think of as the Dos Equis Guy of Authors, and another genuinely good fellow who shares what he knows with the writing community – he started an epic thread on the very useful Writer’s Café forum, and then summarized his lesson plan on his blog here.

I was going to mention the very good books I read by David Gaughran, which ought to be considered required reading for anyone attempting to enter the business; or the most outstanding 2,000 to 10,000, by Rachel Aaron, a criminally inexpensive tome that you should buy if you ever intend to write anything at all.

Instead of giving you all these glorious details, I’m going to leave you with this brief summary (which gives you all the bread crumbs you need to follow to do your own research), and present the single most important piece of advice I’ve learned from all of it:

The writer’s best marketing tool is more content.

I’m already at a disadvantage – I don’t even have ONE novel written, but once I do, I can’t just sit around waiting for my sales figures to update on Amazon or spend all my time trying to sell that one book. 

Because if I sell the one book, and it’s any good, readers will want another one.  And if I have another one to give them, they’ll probably buy that one, too.  And the next.  And so on. 

So I’m going to short-change you a bit on this blog post, and spend a little more time on the novel.  Because that’s hopefully what you’d rather read anyway.

The Journey Begins – In Earnest


Writing for publication has always been a beauty contest.  Whether you aspire to be a newspaper columnist or magazine features author, you’re going to have to submit your work to editors and publishers who will ultimately decide if your work is good enough.  You can spend weeks researching and writing the most fantastic article on endangered salamanders or weekend travel destinations in Yuma, Arizona, and have to suffer rejection at the hands of the industry’s gatekeepers when it’s all said and done.  Your hard work never sees the light of day, and, worse, you never see a dime for your effort.

I know, because I’ve done it, and been rejected over the stupidest of reasons.  Years ago, I had pursued a reasonably successful second career as a journalist.  I had regular columns in two local papers, and routinely produced features for local and national magazines.  The pay was modest, but I wasn’t in it for the money – I enjoyed writing, and took no small amount of pride from seeing my name in print.  But I also struggled with the rejections that I had no control over; especially the ones that had nothing to do with the quality of my work. 

In 1998, I had written a feature for a local industrialist who had the contract for a very large, very expensive, and very visible public construction project.  It was a fascinating, insightful, and informative piece on a powerful and influential personality that few people even knew about.  And it never got printed, because the subject would not consent to be photographed by the magazine’s photographer, and the magazine refused to print anything without their own stylistic illustrations attached to it. 

I could have sold an abbreviated version of the piece to a local paper or tried to find another interested magazine, but it was a timely article that was rapidly creeping towards its expiration date.  It was never published.

This isn’t an uncommon occurrence.  I knew it, and I accepted it as part of the job. 

But I was not ready to accept it as a novelist.  Because I knew that writing a novel required substantially more work, and had a substantially smaller chance of ever getting published.  It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I knew the math.  My odds were small, and I wasn’t going to commit the time, even for something I loved, only to deal with the high likelihood of repeated rejection and lack of publication. 

So, over the years, I kept journals, wrote small blurbs, came up with character ideas, world ideas, themes, and plot twists (my actual notes are pictured at the top of this entry), and figured I’d wait.  I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for.  Maybe until I was struck with inspiration, or motivation, or early retirement, and had a ton of time on my hands. 

I’m done waiting.

I haven’t retired from my day job.  I haven’t been given any supernatural inspiration.  I haven’t read any self-help books that suddenly kicked me into gear.  I have made a discovery.

Digital publishing has killed the beauty pageant.

Authors are making good money writing novels exclusively for electronic distribution.  They write their own books, hire their own editors and cover designers for a reasonable rate, and then sell them online direct to the public via numerous popular outlets. 

This doesn’t mean you can build an audience writing garbage.  You still have to produce a good novel.  But it’s up to your readers to embrace or reject it – not an agent or publisher. 

I’ve spent most of my spare time over the last week reading two (digital) books on the subject and reading numerous articles, blog posts, and forum threads on what I believe is the most significant paradigm shift in publishing since the invention of the printing press. 

I don’t think this is an exaggeration – for the first time in history, an author can publish full-length books to an audience of millions without having to genuflect before the altar of a major publishing house.  You don’t need to own the press, or invest in ink and paper, or have a global distribution network.  You just need a computer and an Internet connection.  And a decent book. 

I’m going to walk through the process.  Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll share the resources I’ve found and track the progress I’ve made here on this blog.  And if I pull it off, you’ll have no excuse not to try for yourself, because if I can get it done, anyone can.