A Filking Good Time

September 29, 2009

Filk is a musical culture, genre, and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom and a type of fan labor. The genre has been active since the early 1950s, and played primarily since the mid-1970s. The term dates back to 1955.

I told you I would discuss filking later; I just didn’t say when. Now that we’re on the subject, I suppose I should answer the proverbial question of why? As Bluto from Animal House would say: Burp! “Why not?” A reason is not needed in order to filk. One filks because one feels the need to express his inner Weird Al Yankovic from time to time.

I, myself, am a filker, but I do not participate verbally in song. That would be a tragedy. I’m a filking writer…er, I mean, I’m a filker who expresses himself through writing. And just what exactly is filking? Well if you didn’t already click the link, I will give you the “short, short version.” To put it simply, filking is when a person takes a particular song and exchanges the lyrics for a Fantasy/Sci-Fi story. Even simpler: Star Wars: Episode IV to the tune of Don Mcleans’ “American Pie.” That would be interesting! It would probably go something like this:

Long, long, time ago
In a galaxy far, far away…
I met a young man who lived on Tatooine.
His uncle kept him farming water,
But his aunt knew he was like his father,
And she knew one day he would be a Jedi.

If you’re still reading this blog, and you don’t think I’ve completely lost my marbles, then you may be a little crazy as well. Filking is not a new concept, nor is it completely unknown. Since entering the Amazon.com forums I’ve met multiple people who not only partake in the art of filking, but they are pretty damn good at it too! There are even those who can perform. C.S. Marks comes to mind. (Thanks for the mini concert you gave Stef and me.) More amazing is the fact that there are conventions held just so people can filk each other…er, I mean, to each other. OVFF: The Ohio Valley Filk Festival is one such gathering.

So maybe this blog enlightened you to your life’s new calling, or perhaps you’ve decided to ignore the rest of my posts from this point forward. Either way my work is done, and you can now spread the word and teach people how to filk. You just never filking know when you will have to express your inner musical geek.

-Matt

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Afraid of the Elevator

September 26, 2009

I’m trying to overcome a fear: fear of the elevator. Not the metal box that moves you from one level to the next. I’m talking about the “elevator pitch.” It is a necessary element for any author who is trying to sell a book.

What is an elevator pitch? It is an enticing summary of what your novel is about. Theme, plot, characters—all elements wrapped up in a neat little package that you must deliver in the time it takes to ride an elevator to your destination. A trip on the elevator is not very long.

But our book is. How do you condense a 500 page book into a minute’s tagline? And how do you do it with finesse? Not only is it difficult to summarize a lengthy novel (believe me, all the twists in the plot seem important when it’s your book), but you’re selling your heart and soul.

Whether an agent, a publisher, or a potential reader, they want to know: What is this book about, and why should I buy it? It’s exactly how we think when we’re looking to make a purchase. What makes this book so special? Is the cover appealing? Does the back cover summary entice you? Can you open it to any page and become hooked? A book is an investment of time and money, and if the reading experience is not satisfactory, it could mean your reputation.

There are no visuals with an elevator pitch. It’s a carefully constructed piece of marketing. You want to avoid tired clichés, and you want to deliver your summary smoothly and with inflection. You want to have the voice of Garrison Keillor of James Earl Jones so that you can instantly command your audience’s attention.

If your audience breaks eyes contact, yawns, or walks away, you’re finished. You’ve failed. There won’t be another chance with that one. Try not to take it personally, but then again, how else can you take it? It’s your book—your pride and joy, for crying out loud. And it has just been rejected before it was even picked up!
I’m an author, not an actor. Nor am I an expert salesperson. It doesn’t matter. Unless you can pay a professional to market your book, your readers expect YOU to sell it to them. And you should be able to do that with your pitch.

I’m intimidated by the elevator pitch. It’s a scary thing, looking into the eyes of a stranger and trying to convince him that your story is something he will want to read. I struggle with this now, and I always will struggle with it. I am grateful for my writing partner, that we can collaborate a pitch that will be clever and enticing.

Our latest assignment with our writers’ group is to do just that: create a pitch and present it to the group. We will present it to our peers on October 6th, and they will critique it. I shouldn’t be afraid, and yet… Well, let’s just say you have to face your fears. One day our delivery will come easily, and we will be the professional marketers we long to be. Or maybe it’ll just be enough to win the attention of someone to share in our written adventure.

-Stef

Hero of the Heart

August 29, 2009

Matt and I have had a disheartening experience learning that our first novel published through iUniverse was printed with the incorrect file. Incorrect meaning mostly unedited. The company used the wrong file, and we had not caught the error—hence An Unlikely Journey is full of embarrassing flaws. Right now we are in the process of reediting the work and switching our publisher. For as discouraged as we feel, we are inspired to have our work republished in the best fashion possible—complete with illustrations and corrected text. Reviewing An Unlikely Journey with fresh eyes, we have also ignited new conversation in a retrospect sort of viewpoint. One question Matt and I posed to each other was: Who is the true hero of Raven’s Heart?

There are two “givens” with this topic. One: this is arguably a matter of opinion; two: all of the main characters are heroic in some sense of the term. Where the question becomes interesting is how one defines the word “hero.” Now you can admire a hero, but not everyone who is admirable is a hero. People can have traits or deeds that you admire, but to truly be called a hero, they must live the role through and through, in all aspects of their life. I’m talking about morals, virtues, and just all around good character.

Here is my personal opinion about heroic qualities. I am not going to disclose who it is I chose as the true hero of Raven’s Heart. You’ll have to use your intuition there. And I’m not speaking for Matt, either, though I did sway his opinion. So here we go…

A hero has a sense of the greater good. A hero does what is right and necessary for the greater good, regardless of any sense of self he/she may have. In fact, the greatest heroes will sacrifice for the cause. The more personal the sacrifice, the more meaningful it is when it is made. Sacrifice implies that the hero has a choice. He/she can choose an “easier” solution with less detriment to him/herself, but this will be less affective in terms of salvaging the greater good. OR he/she can make a very difficult decision that ultimately leaves him/her wounded (be it mentally, physically, spiritually…) or dead. There is a trade-off; there is loss involved. If there wasn’t, there would be no real meaning behind the heroic deed, no weight or value behind the sacrifice and the choice made.

A good heroic character changes throughout the course of the novel. Just because he/she begins the tale as a reluctant participant doesn’t take away from his/her hero potential. In fact, I believe it strengthens a heroic character if that character has to grow into the role. We’re talking about a round character, a dynamic and deep character. This individual begins the novel with a certain mindset, and circumstance and interaction changes his/her point of view. He/she is influenced by what is transpiring around him/her, and thus the need to respond accordingly arises. Will this person rise to meet the challenge? How? At what cost? You know you have a good hero when you ask yourself: Would he/she have made that sacrifice at the onset of the journey? If the answer is “no,” but the answer changes by the end of the book, then you have someone who deserves a medal.

Finally, a hero is a hero no matter the scope of the heroics. For example, a hero can be unsung, or a hero can be venerated by the masses. Whether you save one person or a thousand, you have done something selfless. And what about selflessness? I think that so much of a heroic deed is deeply rooted in the weight of your sacrifice. The greater the courage it takes, the greater your personal loss, that is what makes the deed truly heroic. There is risk involved when stepping beyond the safety of your comfort zone to do what you knows must be done.

We learn lessons through the characters: by what they do, how they feel, the choices they make, the consequences they suffer. When we question a character’s motives, we can’t help but look introspectively at ourselves. Would we have made the same sacrifice? Is there something we would have done differently, given the circumstances? Do we truly feel sorry for the character, do we truly admire him/her? Can we say that he/she is a hero? Real heroes do get scared, they can despair, and they can be reluctant. It is the end result—the final choice they make that truly counts.

…So have you guessed who I chose as Raven’s Heart’s greatest hero?

-Stefanie

After three full days—eight hours each—of solid marketing, Sunday’s shortened hours were a blessing. Not that we were not enjoying ourselves, but we had reached the limit of our endurance, and we were looking forward to seeing the light of day. We packed up what we could, checked out of the hotel, and ate a light, hasty breakfast—ok, morning snack—before heading to our table.

As usual, we arrived early so we could tote back to the car the boxes of books we hadn’t touched (yeah, we figured we weren’t going to sell out). The plan was to make a quick getaway once GenCon officially closed at 4 p.m. The time went by fast, and in a blink we were saying our goodbyes, paying our outrageous parking fee, and driving to the gas station. The long drive home was an assessment—how we fared, were we successful, what could we improve… Brainstorming while our thoughts were fresh. All in all, we felt GenCon was a good first-time experience. We were told to expect better things next year, and there will be a return for us in 2010. We already reserved our table.

Thanks to everyone who helped make our first convention experience a good one. We hope we’ll be crossing paths again! And to all those who now own Raven’s Heart, we hope you enjoy the book and will tell us about your reading experience.

On that note, I part with the words of the Ilangiel: “Let the Light linger wherever thou mayest be.”

-Stefanie

Everything in Indianapolis is expensive. Everything! Except for Steak N’ Shake. Perhaps that’s why we ate just about all our meals there. Certainly Stef and I expected to pay out the patootie the four days we lived in the heart of the city, but $2.88 for one twelve ounce bottle of Coke? And that wasn’t even inside the convention center! Hey, we’re poor; we can complain about price gouging whenever we want…especially when we’re being ripped off. I’ll get to that later.

Day three began much the same way the first two did. This day we gave ourselves some time to practice our new and improved sales pitch. We had rehearsed it between each other, but now we would be able to test our pitch on potential readers. We were a little shaky, but once our confidence was more solid (and still we’re working on it!). Eat your heart out, door-to-door vacuum salesmen!

Crowd traffic was the heaviest it had been, as it was Saturday. Unfortunately, sales were not much different than the previous days. We had to hope that Sunday would truly be the day people spent their hard-earned cash.

And speaking of money, we got ripped off. One whole dollar! Quit snickering, this was a big deal to us, and as we soon found out, an even bigger deal to upper management monitoring the behind-the-scenes at the Indianapolis Convention Center. The indoor food court just outside the exhibitors’ hall was manned by a group of people who could not care less about what was transpiring around them. What they did care about was taking your order, slapping a pile of costly gruel on your plate, and shoving you off. That’s fine by me, but I didn’t expect to be hit by a hidden fee (you know, the kind you’re slipped when you purchase a concert ticket).

Soft pretzels cost $3.50 at the concession stand—fairly expensive but not altogether unreasonable…I guess. Mine cost me $4.50. Allow me to explain before you curse me out for being a dupe. Lines for food stretch forever at all times inside the convention center, and my partner was left alone, fending for herself against the savvy gamers. I’m in a hurry. There are four food stands, each with their own separate lines. The line I’m in has soft pretzels on the menu, but I’m told by the attendant that there are none. I want my pretzel, so I slide down to the lady at the register and ask her to check and see if there is any salty, doughy goodness left. Glancing to her right she confirms that the adjacent stand does indeed have pretzels. Happy as a clam, I ask her to hook me up. She tells me that it’ll be $3.50 plus a dollar. Ignoring her, I hand her the correct amount. She repeats, “$3.50 plus a dollar.” I ask why that should be, and she tells me her register can’t tender out pretzels; she would have to ring it out on the adjacent one. That’s where George Washington fits. Are we lost yet?

In a hurry and not thinking clearly, I pass her the extra single and turn away feeling a tad angry. OK, I was furious, but I didn’t realize what had happened until I explained my situation to Stef. We talked it over and realized that not only had I just been scammed, but the lady had pocketed the rest of my cash as well. Matt and the convention center had just been robbed of $4.50! Seeing that I was considering waiting to take any action, Stef excuses herself to use the bathroom and vanishes for an hour. Gee, I wonder where she went?

To make a long story short (too late), Stef contacted the proper authorities—who, by the way, were glad she came forward. Seems our petty thief had been under suspicion for some time. Unfortunately no one had come forward and pointed their finger…until now! We got our dollar back, though we never did learn the outcome of member number fourteen of Ocean’s elite group of thieves. The matter was “taken care of”, and later that evening we were treated our very own filk concert courtesy of C.S. Marks. But that’s a story for another time.

-Matt

I must be missing out on something, to believe that bagels are nothing to be excited about. Cream cheese, jam, 1001 different flavors and toppings…they have just never appealed to me. They did, however, appeal to the gamers, as the line to the bagel shop was out the door. Or maybe there was nowhere else to eat breakfast. Anyway, Matt had his bagel breakfast, and we arrived early at our table at the convention hall with the intention of doing some pre-show browsing.

Some of the tables were still covered from the night before, but we had a pretty good feel for what was transpiring while we were stuck behind our table. GenCon attendees had a series of choices: gaming, eating, or buying (note that sleeping is not an option). The games were everything from electronic with fancy screens to miniatures or live action role-playing (LARP). Some displays were quite elaborate—from castle-esque to battlefield. And the merchandise! There were card games, t-shirts, fake Medieval weaponry, fantastical costumes, books (of course), artwork, stuffed animals, jewelry, and the list goes on.

There were but three things that enticed me. A life-size construction of Dr. Who’s tardis was there as a display (check out my souvenir photo), and I am a long-time fan of the Doctor (thanks to my dad). Item number two was a t-shirt with the constellation of Pegasus (because I’m a sucker for winged horses—even more so than your typical fantasy unicorns). And finally, a small print of a black winged horse done by one of the artists. Given the choice (and I was forced to choose), I walked away with my t-shirt, but that wasn’t ‘til day four. We tried to keep our money in our pockets at all costs.

Now that I’ve said that, Matt and I did decide to make a significant purchase. We found an artist willing to do reasonably-priced freelance work. So we commissioned him to do a small drawing of each of our favorite characters in watercolor pencil. Now I know and you know that I’ve done many drawings of our characters, but there is something thrilling about seeing someone else’s interpretation of a character we created (so enter our Raven’s Art Contest—please!). We were tickled at the results, and Arcturus and the White Demon are amongst our GenCon images.

Day two went better than day one, and we could justify our purchases with the seven books we sold (almost a book an hour isn’t bad at all, really). We met up with our author friends for dinner at the Noodle Company. The restaurant doesn’t require any description, but the interaction amongst us was memorable for what was discussed. Matt and I, being “newbies”, were grilled—hard—concerning our sales pitch. “What is your book about?” they asked us, and we stuttered and stumbled our way into a lame explanation. Being the kind and helpful people they were, they gave us some advice and told us to practice the art of being enticing and intriguing.

We went back to the hotel and did just that. Forget intriguing, we just want to be interesting to people. We believe in what we’ve written, and we don’t want people walking away because we can’t communicate verbally. Our strategy involved Matt’s exposition about the magic stone, Raven’s Heart, and my elaboration upon the characters’ mission. All in all, we felt better that we had rhyme and reason to our sales pitch, and we could rest that night knowing tomorrow would be different—better, we hoped.

But wait—we didn’t sleep yet. We may have been dead tired, but we ignored the tired and decided to be plain old dead. I’m speaking of the Zombie Walk. Many a GenCon attendee donned makeup and wardrobe for a gruesome parade of undead enthusiasts. We walked—stumbled, rather—from the hotel to the street, then to the convention hall. Matt wouldn’t give up his character and was insensible most of the way. Was it a sight to see! And we belonged to the Undead Authors’ Society, a group forged by C.S. Marks and her glow-in-the-dark t-shirts. She and the other authors we had befriended had seen to it that we looked like proper zombies. (And if you want to know just what that looks like, you will, once again, check out our pictures.)

You can’t close an evening any better than that, and who hasn’t lost his mind and wandered aimlessly at times?

-Stefanie

There’s nothing like waking up on one of the most important days of our writing careers and having to unclog the hotel sink. So much for staying in the lap of luxury. And why is it so dim in the bathroom? Not to be deterred, we dressed in our “author” attire and did our best to ignore our tiredness from the previous day. We’re at GenCon! Time to put on a smile and sell those books…after we eat.

Ah, Steak N’ Shake (again), the cornerstone of every poor author’s nutritious breakfast. Jam-packed at 8 a.m., the inexpensive diner greeted us weary exhibitors with a less than cleanly booth and a glass of warm, iceless water. We wouldn’t have it any other way. After our food-fix and a final self-induced pep talk, we strolled back to the convention center, past the endless lines of potential readers, and set up shop. But before we could prepare ourselves for the inevitable onslaught, we had some unfinished business to which we had to attend.

C.S. Marks, author of the Tales of Alterra books: Elfhunter, Fire-Heart, Ravenshade, and the soon-to-be-released Outcaste, is an amazing woman. Also an independent author like us, she is professional in every sense of the word. Her work rivals any mainstream book on the shelf today, and her fans—which are many (including us)—know this to be true. She is a proud, eloquently spoken woman, with a sharp wit, and an uncanny talent for filking and making people smile. (We’ll explain the filking later.) Did we mention that she is also one of the nicest and most down to earth people one could ever meet? We already knew this about her, and we had yet to meet in-person! We found her on the internet in one of the amazon.com fantasy discussion forums, and we have been friends ever since. Had it not been for her sharing information regarding a little event known as GenCon, we would not be writing this series of blogs. Thank you, Archer.

After meeting our friend, we sat at our 72” x 24” table and awaited the inevitable. But being that we were rather early, we took the time to meet our neighboring authors. To our right was friendly cast of people representing a small publishing company for a collection of fantasy short stories. To our left was Star Wars Jesus… Actually his name was Caleb Grimes, and he was accompanied by his wife Leslie. They were two of the most amiable people we’ve met in some time, and we recommend their book if you are an avid Star Wars fan searching for something a bit deeper than the action figures and video games. There was a total of twenty authors—among the, V.J. Waks, a passionate sci-fi writer who we also befriended. Most authors were self-published like us, though we did not have the chance to hear everyone’s story. Maybe next year.

At 9 a.m. the doors opened, and in poured the V.I.G.s: Very Important Gamers. They were allowed access to the stands first, though they steered clear of Authors’ Avenue. At 10 a.m. a force unlike any we’ve seen before was released: a veritable tidal wave of rabid gamers. They filled the aisles in seconds, and the din of the crowd was astounding. Authors’ Avenue remained largely quiet as games were the gold the crowd was seeking. Eventually people did shuffle their way over to us, and we pitched our hearts out…for eight straight hours! There were lulls when we watched the clock and flurries of attention where the minutes whittled away. Nothing was more exciting than when we were awarded the chance to explain our books to an interested browser.

At the end of the day, 6 p.m., we sold three books. It didn’t seem like a lot—not compared to the ambitions we hid in the back of our minds—but the seasoned GenCon authors told us most buyers saved their pennies for the last day. Shrugging off our uncertainties, we left the convention center and plotted the next days’ strategy at the nearby mall. The long day closed with a quick workout, a dip in the hot tub, and a stroll around the center of Indianapolis (a late caffeine run). One day down, three days to go. We’ll outsell three books…right?

-Matt

Destination GenCon

August 12, 2009

The morning air was like a wet blanket as we saw to it Matt’s little “Cwobalt” (our nickname for his car) was fully jammed with all manner of luggage, navigation material, and boxes of books to be sold. We even had bags wedged next to my feet on the floor of the front seat. We fired up the Magellan navigator and its sing-song voice and pulled out of our drive.

Indianapolis was our destination, and we did not know what awaited us there. For weeks we had been building in anticipation of the “un-vacation” getaway to the convention known as GenCon. The flocking ground of gamers of all sorts, the 4-day dream of Sci-fi and Fantasy fans alike, GenCon was to be our moment of stepping out into the sunshine. Matt and I have not “escaped” on such an adventure since our honeymoon. All we knew was that this was to be our crowd—people who enjoyed a retreat from reality and into another world.

Would they look our way? Would our book draw attention? Would someone be willing to buy it and share in our creation? Success, for us, has many meanings. Business cards disappearing, conversations held with fellow writers, and of course, a novel walking away in the hands of an enthusiastic customer. It’s not really about sales. We discounted the books enough to show that. It’s about that step into the sunshine. Entering the convention as faceless vendors behind a table; ultimately leaving as acknowledged authors.

We rocked it out on the 5-hour drive there, chitchatting and daydreaming about our destination. At 2:30 we pulled up to the hotel and unloaded some of the car for what we would stash in the hotel. An overeager but helpful attendant carted our belongings away, and Matt’s wallet got a little lighter. The Westin was a modest hotel, but not nearly the palace it wanted itself to be. Certainly not worth the extra charges built into our bill. No thanks, but we won’t be needing valet parking. Direct us to the self-park garage so we can walk the town, as we love our exercise. But what—? It costs $25 a day to leave our car in an unattended garage? Maybe we should have ridden our bicycles. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Once the hotel room was secured, we headed for the convention center across the street. I’d say we were poorly directed as to which line to stand in to receive our pre-paid badges for the event, but the truth is that we weren’t directed at all. Four lines and two hours later, we figured out what we needed to do and where we needed to go. You would think that was the hard part except that we had yet to transport our books and display items from Matt’s car to the center and our table. Thank goodness the weather was nice! Seven boxes of books, a couple posters, an electric glowing rock, a plastic raven, handouts…plenty of décor to assure the crowd that we were authentic in every way.

We were bordering exhaustion, but there was a surprise waiting for us to carry us through. Upon our table had been left a mysterious and large cardboard box. Our friend C.S. Marks had arrived before us and left us a gift. Inside the box was a raven. The 3-D replica of a black bird with welcoming wings spread wide was the perfect touch to our backdrop. And best of all, we had a friend in Indiana.

The evening unraveled in a slow, chaotic way that was familiar to our lifestyle. We found a beacon of golden light shining down upon a Wetzel’s Pretzels stand inside the nearby mall, and my dinner was complete. For Matt we located the city Steak N’ Shake to conclude our elaborate dining experience. Good ol’ reliable restaurant, that Steak N’ Shake. With a welcomed lack of excitement, we headed back for our hotel room and some much-needed rest. Tomorrow would undoubtedly have its share of surprises….

-Stefanie

It Takes Two…

August 10, 2009

Is it possible for a married couple to co-write a book? For us the answer is a resounding YES! None of our books would have ever seen the light of day had we not attempted a tag-team effort. It only makes sense that we approach writing this way; magic is born when we put our heads together. It’s funny for us to see people’s reactions when they learn that we write one idea together: 50/50…most of the time.

“It takes two to tango.” So goes the saying, though we don’t tango or dance very well. Our specialty lies in two minds writing as one. Co-authors do exist, and married authors do write singly. But married co-authors? Are we weird? Is our combined passion considered an anomaly? With the divorce rate in the US well over fifty percent, I’d venture that we may be somewhat unique to the writing world. Does that make us marketable? Perhaps. Has anyone seen us on the New York Times Bestsellers’ list yet? I know I haven’t.

No matter how strange or special our writing approach is, it means nothing if we fail to produce a satisfactory product. So we’re married and write together. Big deal! Are we any good? Is there one solid writer’s voice throughout? Or does it read as though I wrote X number of pages before handing it to Stef? It is a difficult art to perfect, joining two voices into one—especially when we write so differently. Our approach is to take turns. We average five pages each, though sometimes one of us will conquer a full chapter. Who writes which scene is determined by our own respective strengths and weaknesses. I excel at action and dialogue, while Stef does well with description and introspective character scene. Together we are balanced.

But what about voice? Sure we can divvy out scenes accordingly, but whose voice stands out the strongest? The truth is that we hope you can’t tell. After we’re done writing our scenes, we discuss them at great length. By the time said scene is edited and added to the rest of the novel, we like to believe that our styles have merged. Does that constitute as one? Read our book and tell us!

When we’re not harmonizing in our writing, we are voicing our thoughts for upcoming scenes. This is an everyday process. We walk and talk a lot. While driving in the car, we discuss the story. While folding clothes—yup, talking about the story. When we hit the orange barrel of writers’ block we’ve discovered (thanks Casey Daniels, friend and author) tarot cards help answer our questions. When nothing seems to be working, we write the same scene together. If that method doesn’t work, we scrap the scene altogether.

That brings us to the “what ifs” category. We like to question certain plot elements and see if an alternative path can be taken. We NEVER set anything in stone until we go to the publisher. Last but not least: constructive arguing. What better way to bicker than to do it through fictional characters? It’s reminiscent of role playing, but our arguments are real.

At the end of the day, I’m thankful to have a partner-in-crime when it comes to writing. Both our characters and plots have both gone far and beyond anything we would have ever considered had we not bumped heads. Our marriage is all the better for having teamed up. Perhaps the world of struggling marriages can learn from a couple of weirdos like us.

-Matt

The Holy Trilogy

July 26, 2009

When J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings, he never intended for it to become a trilogy. His masterpiece was meant to be one epic idea, bound into one volume. As we all know, this did not happen, thanks mainly to his publishers. It was decided that The Lord of the Rings was too long as one book, and it should be split into three parts for “economical” reasons. (Being forced to split a novel may very well an author’s worst nightmare.) Fortunately for Tolkien, his book broke seamlessly into three well-known volumes. Those sneaky, intervening publishers unknowingly paved the way for what would become the modern day fantasy trilogy. The Lord of the Rings has since become one of the most influential works in 20th-century literature.

But what about writing with the intention of creating a trilogy? Before I answer that question, perhaps I should take a step back and try to explain why the trilogy format is so commonly used.

It all begins with the number three. What is it about this digit that so fascinates us? Why is it so widely used in all walks of life? And why does it work so well in the world of books, movies, plays, etc.? (Three questions!) Numbers have always been significant (no pun intended), but that little backwards “E” seems to have made a big impact on us throughout history. There are countless examples of its influence. It’s everywhere: Morning, noon, night. Beginning, middle, end. Three acts to a play. “On the count of three!” The Third Reich. (Not all threes are good.) The Triforce of Power in Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda. Aeschylus’s The Oresteia. And one of the most significant uses of the number three is the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. These examples no doubt lend to our interest in trilogies, but there is something about the three-book set which is appealing to so many readers.

In essence, a trilogy is little more than one idea stretched into three books. However trilogies have evolved since The Lord of the Rings. Most authors who pen a three-part novel aim to do so. These same authors, Stef and myself included, are careful to write a trilogy which is not only one idea over the course of three novels, but also three separate ideas which fit into the whole.

There are three (seriously) pitfalls to avoid in writing a trilogy. One is when the first book ends on a cliffhanger. Two is when the second book has no beginning or end, and it serves as a dull “interlude” between the 1st and 3rd books. Three is when the third book is nothing more than rising and falling action. This scheme might appeal to some readers, but for those who prefer closure between books, it can be frustrating and disappointing. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings suffered from these pitfalls, but his ideas and characters were able to carry the books to success. And like I stated, he never intended his books to be split.

So Stef and I have nearly completed our Black Earth trilogy, and what we discovered is that writing a trilogy is pretty damn difficult! After writing the Raven’s Heart duology, conveying one thought over three novels while trying to make them stand apart has been a real challenge. But, it is a challenge we welcome. We have both struggled and enjoyed the development of our characters and ideas from book to book. And if nothing else, writing a trilogy has helped us to appreciate the craft even more. It has forced us to focus on what is truly important to the novel and the overall theme. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that.

-Matt