Part Eleven: The wise women in the woods

The hero’s journey has many recurring themes. Supernatural aid, the wise man, the helper that appears innocently dressed as a beggar, shop keeper, or editor supreme, is as prevalent in my story as it is in… my story.

With my manuscript complete and heart filled with joy, I stepped bravely into the forest of self-publishing… and got lost immediately. Thankfully, there are those who have walked this path ahead of me. Some were kind enough to leave breadcrumbs.

Reedsy.com was my one-stop-shop for finding and partnering with developmental editors, proofreaders, illustrators, interior designers etc. It was also a veritable treasure trove of information on how to publish your book once you were eventually finished.

It was there that I partnered with true professionals, freelance editors, artists, and authors willing to offer their time and expertise helping other dreamers find their way through the trees. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for, so no, these services were not free— nor should they be. But what I found was a range of options at varying degrees of experience and cost. I chatted with perhaps 30+ individuals through various stages of this project, and never once did any of them make me feel like I didn’t belong.

There are other sites, other communities on Facebook and Twitter that were also helpful in navigating through those first critical steps. The important thing is I realized quickly that despite the fear of the unknown, I was far from alone. Every hero needs a guide, that mystical figure that seems to nudge you in just the right direction. To the Tom Bombadil’s of the world— blessings!

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Kindle E-Book is Live!

For those that can’t wait for the hardcover the E-book is now live! The button on the front page will take you there, or the direct link below

I hope you enjoy reading it…. and if you do leave a review!

Blessings!

-Brandon

Part Ten: Traditional vs. Self-Publish

I figured that it might be valuable to share some of my experiences in self-publishing a book. I will be hijacking the blog for a few posts and offer some tips, and more importantly, point out the pitfalls of publishing your own book. Keep in mind this feedback is entirely one-sided as I did not attempt the traditional path of publishing a book…. So take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Writing a book may be the least complicated part of this whole experience. When I began writing A Promise of Iron, I wasn’t sure I would publish the work. But once I finished the first draft, it seemed like an awful waste to keep it to myself… so I looked at what options were available.

Traditional publishing vs. self-publishing— this was the first real question. Do I send the manuscript to a dozen or more publishing houses in the hopes that I would get a book deal? Or do I foot the bill to professionally publish the book myself? I elected for the latter for a few reasons.

The main reason was the fear of rejection. What if they ALL say no? What if after six months of correspondence and emails and submissions, I was still without a book deal? I would have wasted a great deal of time (and paper) and would have been no closer to my goal. I had to rationalize that a “NO” was the most likely outcome for an unpublished author with no credible reason for writing a book, and I had to recognize what kind of toll that might have on my fledgling ego. At the end of that experience, I might have been left asking should I continue vs. could I continue. Stubborn as I was, I wasn’t going to give a “NO” the chance of stopping me.  

The second reason was creative license. This is not to say I am incapable of receiving feedback or that I didn’t welcome it; quite the opposite. This was more or less that I didn’t want the buck to stop with an editor or publisher about what is in or not in MY story. Now I could be completely wrong here, but the concern I had was that sacrifices would be made to increase the financial viability of the book. Because this is less about making money to me and more about sharing (what I think is) a good story, I wasn’t comfortable risking the integrity of the story.

The third reason was the viability of the alternative. When I first explored the options between the popular online retailers, I saw a path to publish that was not only possible; it was highly accessible and transparent. I did some research and found myself on a couple of different websites that connect authors with industry professionals for editing and illustration services…. And that is when the dream of publishing a book became a reality.   

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Nine: Blessings

It has been an absolute whirlwind of a week, but it is finally here. When I began writing what would become A Promise of Iron all those years ago, it was a dream and nothing more. I never thought I would ever finish the book, let alone publish it.

There are so many people to thank, so let me cover as many as I can. You all deserve more credit than I can conjure in a blog post— but I will do my best.

To Shayne, for taking the time to read something so unfinished that it made your eyes bleed because you knew I needed the encouragement. And yes, as it turns out… it was an Impairor.

To my father, who I am pretty sure has never read a book for fun in his life. Thank you for reading and loving what you read- and yes, I will do my best to give a satisfying ending to the series.  

To Carrie, editor extraordinaire. Thank you for helping me polish what was an uncut gem into something worth sharing.

To my family, for listening to me at length whenever they made the mistake of asking me how the book was going.

To all the friends and family that have encouraged me along the way, blessings! It is not easy to open yourself and your work to the world. Your kindness and support gave me the courage I needed. And your enthusiasm for the work gives me all the reason to keep going!

And to Leanna, my most supporting wife. You have been there every step of the way— daring me to be great. What possible words could I offer other than to share those that were inspired by you… “She wasn’t the reason I chased iron, but she would have been enough.”

My hope is that you all enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. Blessings!

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Four: Characters

Hello family, friends, and fans!

It was clear in the early stages of writing a first-person narrative that a compelling cast of characters was needed. The problem was I didn’t have any- not from the first work, at least. Names existed sure, but no motives, no heart, no conflict. I want to say that I had a plan all along, that I wrote each chapter intending to introduce someone of importance; that would be a beautiful lie. I wrote without much of a script to follow, then took pruning shears to the words until something resembled a story. This had a fascinating evolution on certain characters, especially when considering word count and clarity. What I ended up with is not, nor will ever be perfect, but I think we got close to a core cast that helps to tell the story without me relying on exposition. Here is a brief glimpse into each, their motivations, and a little bit of their background.

Faerin: He was the start, always has been, always will be. His story evolved the most as I thought of his motivations. He is oppressed, scarred, and alone in a world tilted to keep him (and those like him) continually oppressed and scarred. He dances between naivety and trusting no one. He is also supremely capable, something I had to temper more than once as he came off a bit too shiny. In some ways, he is a product of that tough life- the antithesis or antidote to Cyllian oppression. As the story is told entirely from his perspective, you get a view that is very personal and perhaps more than a little jaded.

Crylwin: He was Faerin’s friend from the start, but his motivations weren’t clear to me until Edwin, and the House Monroe became a fleshed out fixture in the story. There were elements of his character that were the most fun to write. He is angry, bitter, impulsive- but not half the fool he plays to be. His motivations are perhaps more secretive than others, due in part to his own story not really being told until book two.

Lira: This is why you work with editors. Lira’s first pass was a mess; a wordless doll used only as a prop for Faerin to fawn over. This is likely because not even a whisper of her character arc existed in any prior work. She was there, popping up in the second chapter like a flower through the snow- but her character did not get any justice until 2nd and 3rd revisions. To quote more than one early reader/editor, “I hate Lira.” Point taken, and hopefully, the final version gives her the justice she deserves. She is a more complicated character than you might see at first glance, one that is as much at odds with the world around as Faerin. Her pain is more self-inflicted and stems from her desire to change the world and an inability to do so. What does that push her to do, and where does her sentiment stop and action begin? Her motivations can be obvious at times, but I caution all is not as it seems.

One of the interesting aspects of writing from a single perspective is telling only that perspective. How accurate is that perspective? Is it accurate or much like history, flawed with perspective? What does the passage of time do to that perspective? There is an element to that in A Promise of Iron, one of the few intentional, not accidental layers that add depth to each of the three main characters.

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Five: Names, Languages, and Magic

Hello family, friends, and fans!

Odd sounding names and words of power are expected fantasy tropes as much as the ubiquitous black stallion and magical swords… oh wait. The creation of names and languages in A Promise of Iron was equal parts real-world inspiration and old-fashioned sounds-good-on-paper-ism. Faerin, Crylwin, Sunemere, and the like are mostly made up nonsense words (in case you didn’t realize). When I got stumped or wanted something to feel a little more authentic, I would borrow from our world. When I did, I would often use root words from Latin, Arabic, Irish, German depending on the culture I was crafting that word for. You won’t find any direct translations (I hope), but there are enough anagrams to point you in the direction.

For the most part, this story is told in Cyllian, as it represents the dominant culture and the native language spoken by the main characters. For obvious reasons, this is translated for your benefit into English and a somewhat modern version of it at that. There is some in-world complexity that will delve deeper into that fact but rest assured it was as much a tactical decision as it was the most obvious solution in writing something that was both authentic and relatable.

Names have significance in A Promise of Iron; they have power, more so than I got a chance to properly explore. Names lie at the heart of quin and weave, though not in a way that should feel terribly familiar. Without giving too much away, I can safely say that weave does not exist as a list of arbitrary words held in a mysterious book written in a dead language for our heroes to find; there are plenty of books for that already. In this world, the power is not in the knowing but in the naming of an object, a place, a person. You bestow it an identity. You grant it perspective. You speak it into existence. 

Assuming you have a dog, he goes by many names (canis, alkalb, madra, hund). Those are names given to it by someone else. He doesn’t respond to “dog”. He responds to a name, a name you have given him. When you named your dog, you created a word of power!

Don’t believe me? Does he come to you when you call that name? Through repetition and encouragement, he can be expected to know his name and come when called. He could also ignore you, go the opposite direction, or respond to another name entirely. The success of this depends on Ccruffy making a choice to obey your command. There are many factors that go into that choice and depend as much on Scruffy as they do on you.

It is not enough to name a name and assert your mastery. The named must first agree that you are their master. Obedience is earned.

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Six: Inspiration

Hello family, friends, and fans!

Inspiration can be a tricky thing. It is, in my experience, rarely a complete sentence or complete thought. It is parts, fragments, and building blocks of something larger that require time and effort to piece it together. Inspiration is not a blanket gifted on a cold night; it is a thousand strings you must weave into something of substance. That’s why the work is so important. That said… how do you recognize inspiration, or better yet, what do you do with it once you have it?

I make a scene independent of time or place in the story. That becomes the kitchen, so to speak, to try out several recipes to utilize this spark of inspiration. In the kitchen, you need to know who you are cooking for. Is this inspiration a phrase, a feeling, a device? Is there an emotion tied to it? Is there something larger that connects it?

There was a phrase that followed me when writing the first draft, a phrase never said by a character in A Promise of Iron.

“Burn. Burn. Burn.”

These words are simple and uninspired to the unfamiliar eye. To me, and my character, they are broad in implications. These words are cold, detached, inhuman. They also evoke pain and more than a little psychosis. When it became clear to me who this phrase belonged to, it helped to shape the motivations and narrative of that character. I found purpose behind actions, behind words. I found truths and realism in behavior. I found background and context to justify those actions. Inspiration did not come fully formed, but it was a spark that led to a flame that led to a fire.

I tried to find a place for those words, some scene that could support them and pay homage to the gods of inspiration. But I couldn’t; it just never worked; the implications were always far more important than the words.

Inspiration can be three words, or one word said three times. Inspiration can be the words or the hidden depth behind those words. It can be the feeling or the motivations that lead to a feeling. It can be a war, a sword, a spell, or the thousands of layers of mythology and worldbuilding that you build like a shrine to display them. Inspiration takes on many forms, especially when it inspires you to work at that problem. Go into the kitchen. Bang some pots and pans around. Sometimes what you cook tastes terrible, but sometimes you come up with something exceptional. Bad ideas aren’t bad if they lead to good ideas. 

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Seven: Cultures

Hello family, friends, and fans!

Crafting a fictional world takes time, not only in the writing of but the reading of. You can’t come right out and say culture A is blah blah blah. Subtlety rewards the careful reader… those rewards lead to an expectation, a familiarity that fosters a prediction of action, behavior, and voice. When your reader can anticipate the actions and motivations of distinct groups of people, you as a writer have successfully cemented the first stones of cultural worldbuilding. But it is a tricky thing to balance between predictability and familiarity.

In A Promise of Iron, you will find that cultures encompass religion, dogma, sexuality, and ethnicity, a common theme in our history until the onset of national identity. This division, borrowing from history, has been at the center of conflict through much of our past. There are three distinct cultures explored in A Promise of Iron, four if you count Roharan, which I do not. Seveli, Cyllian, Rukish are the main points of interest, the main points of contention, and the main background for the forces at work within the story. 

I wrote this story with an aim for realism. In that effort, I may have labored far too much on the motivations, then that much more on hiding those motivations within the pages. Writing first-person arguably makes that task easier. I can use the ignorance of my characters as a way to hide information just as much as I use it to discover. You will need to read the book to get the finer points (no spoilers here), but I will pose a few questions as you read. Why are these cultures different? What makes them so distinct? What events lead to those distinctions? What common themes run through all cultures of men?

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon

Part Eight: Breadcrumbing

Worldbuilding takes time, which is tricky. Your readers need to know enough about the world without the story getting bogged down into exposition (which I struggled with in my early drafts). Showing, not telling is the common theme… but that is a direction… to what many refer to as breadcrumbing. How do you leave enough bread crumbs to get your reader through the forest without spending all morning baking bread?

I learned a couple of valuable lessons from some helpful and talented people: mystery is good, and details are not the story; they move the story. These seem obvious, but when writing your first real work, they can be easily overlooked. In the beginning, I had such an obsession with detail that I had pages devoted to the most unimportant tasks that even I found myself skimming over it. I wanted to make sure my readers got it, that they understood the intent, that they were so well versed in the lore that we could have a spirited debate over the finer points of Rukish to Cyllian exchange rates and their impact on the regional economy.

Around version three, I set to tackle word count in earnest. My earliest draft was an obese 175k word manuscript with more than one full chapter devoted to little more than details and noise. Some candidates for removal were apparent, some less obvious. At the time of writing version three, I was also taking a creative writing class. The class focused on short stories to refine your style and approach to storytelling. I wrote a story that featured God and Satan debating the end of mankind over coffee at a Starbucks; only we never came out and said who they were. My instructor gave some valuable feedback that has stuck with me ever since. In leaving breadcrumbs on who these mysterious characters were… I had left a loaf of bread. He said to me (and I am paraphrasing here), “If they (readers) haven’t figured it out by now, they aren’t going to.”

His comment, directed at my detailed word vomit, was at its core, about trust. You need to trust your readers with the story. You will have readers that delve into the details, that obsess over the lore, that send emails wanting clarification on plot points that may not be congruent to the story as a whole. You will also have casual readers that read your book and say nothing other than (hopefully) “you should check out this book.” One is not greater than the other, and you can’t write a book for one in exclusion of the other. You need to write something that can appeal to both.

Like many things in life, breadcrumbing is about balance. Leave a handful of breadcrumbs for your more casual fans to snack on, hide another handful well enough to reward your more devoted readers, and keep that third handful to yourself- because the mystery is what keeps us coming back for more.

Thanks for reading.

Salt and Ruin,

-Brandon