Friday, January 20, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Joshua Palmatier On Creating A Fantasy World

First of all, thanks to Deborah for inviting me to guest blog here today. I appreciate the offer!

Once upon a time I started a novel. I was in high school, I’d just decided that I wanted to be a writer, and so I tackled a novel (after a few half-hearted attempts at short stories). I had an idea after all, and I had a map I’d drawn in U.S. Government class, and I could see the world in my head. So off I went.

Ten years and five drafts later, I had a book. During those five drafts, the world and the map and the magic fleshed itself out, not to mention I managed to teach myself how to write. I sent it out and got rejection after rejection after rejection. Most of those were actually good rejections, saying the writing was good, but the idea behind the novel just wasn’t quite there, not for a debut novel anyway. It was disappointing . . . no, that’s a lie . . . it was heart-rending, but I sucked it up and started work on other books, other novels, other ideas.

And now, five published novels later, I’m looking back at that initial book. Why? Because the current series—in fact, all of the books I’ve written—have been set in that same world. My first trilogy, the “Throne of Amenkor,” was set at about the same time as that first book, but on a separate continent. The current series—including Well of Sorrows and the just released Leaves of Flame—is set on the same continent but at a much earlier time period than that first novel. However, both series are connected to that first book in significant ways.

That’s one of the most important things I’ve learned about writing over the course of the years: that everything you write, everything that you do, is useful in some way. Nothing is ever wasted. That first book, even though it didn’t find an agent or an editor or publisher to call home, is still to this day being used in various ways. I didn’t realize exactly how important a part it would play in the novels that I’m writing today.

My current series is inextricably tied to that first novel, since it’s in essence the “history” of the characters I created there. I now view that first book as “research” for the current book. In that book, the characters were dealing with the actions of their ancestors, people who had resorted—in a last desperate act—to a magic that they did not fully understand called the White Fire. It was a wall of white fire that spread out across the world, touching everyone, changing them. While the Fire solved the ancestors’ basic problem, it of course had unforeseen consequences, ones that their successors had to deal with. In the course of writing that first book, I had to flesh out what drove those people to resort to this Fire. At the time, I thought I was simply creating a believable back story to the novel, since every novel must feel like it’s part of a much larger whole, a much larger world. At no point in that creation did I think I’d be actively writing that back story as a series in and of itself. Even after it was rejected, I thought that story idea (and its back story) was dead in the water. I turned my attention to a different story, a different set of characters, and set that story aside. Thankfully, I didn’t trash everything I’d written, or the notes I’d taken about those people and that back story.

Because here I am, returning to that setting and those people with Well of Sorrows and now Leaves of Flame. Everything that, at one point, I thought was worthless because it didn’t sell, is now coming back into play. This is an example on a large scale—an old novel returning to play an integral role in a new novel—but I’ve discovered that everything I’ve ever created is important to keep, even if it goes nowhere at the time. Not just on the large scale, but the small as well. In one project, I started the novel and wrote five chapters, but it just wasn’t working. Okay, that’s generous—it sucked. *grin* So I decided to trash that and start over again, with different characters at a different point in time. I thought those first five chapters would never see the light of day again. But then, about halfway through the new version of the novel, they returned. I ended up integrating large portions of those chapters into the book. They simply didn’t work as a good starting point for the novel, that’s all.

So you see, EVERYTHING you do—draw, write, jot down—is important and should be kept. That map I scrawled in utter boredom in my government class in high school is now full color, with annotations, places, names, cultures, and is the basis for all of my novels (and most of my short stories as well). That first novel, now trunked, became research material for my current series . . . and might eventually be taken out of that trunk in the future as well (reworked of course); it’s not dead, just set aside. Even scenes that I write and discard, or delete during a revision—all of that is kept in a file (called my “cut file”) and stored away for potential use in the future. It might be returned to the manuscript during a future revision, as happened a few days ago when I returned a scene I cut before my editor saw it because she felt something was missing in that section—the scene I’d cut, of course. It might become the genesis for a short story, or even a novel in and of itself. A throwaway scene in that first book about a warped throne that, when approached, caused the characters to hear multitudes of strange voices all speaking at once, became the central part of my first published series, the “Throne of Amenkor.”

As I write this new series, I keep looking back at who I was in high school, that excited teenager who couldn’t keep from dreaming of what this world he’d just created in government class might contain. I still feel like that excited teenager, especially when I reach the end of a particularly good scene or the end of a short story or novel. That world—so empty and yet so full of promise back then—has now been fleshed out and filled in . . . at least, some significant parts of it have been. There’s still entire continents left to explore there, entire cultures that haven’t been experienced yet . . . by you, the reader, or myself. I can see them. They’ve been hinted at in some of my novels.

And I can’t wait to find out exactly what their stories are.


Joshua Palmatier (aka Benjamin Tate) is a fantasy writer with DAW Books, with two series on the shelf, a few short stories, and is co-editor with Patricia Bray of two anthologies. Check out the “Throne of Amenkor” trilogy—The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne—under the Joshua Palmatier name. And look for the “Well” series—Well of Sorrows and the just released Leaves of Flame—by Benjamin Tate. Short stories are included in the anthologies Close Encounters of the Urban Kind (edited by Jennifer Brozek), Beauty Has Her Way (Jennifer Brozek), and River (Alma Alexander). And the two anthologies he’s co-edited are After Hours: Tales from the Ur-bar and the upcoming The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). Find out more about both names at and, as well as on Facebook, LiveJournal (jpsorrow), and Twitter (bentateauthor).

1 comment: