Future imperfect

Today I met a man
He looked so much like me
I asked him where he’d been
He told me where I’d be

“All the world,” he said, “is
Nothing but a stage
History is just a book
Each life a single page

Authors of our fate we are
Weavers of our destiny
With power to create
The change we want to see

The past for us is written
In ink indelible
The future sketched in pencil
And ever changeable

I have written many stories
Told tales of distant lands
Yet the only thing I wanted
Never fell into my hands

Nothing could come easily
No matter how I tried
So I gave up trying
And many nights I cried

Until my days were running out
My love a memory
I wondered if a bullet
Would be my remedy

I beg of you to listen
Th my words because
I came to show you how to be
Better than I ever was.”


Apparently, I wasn’t done a couple of days ago. Why my mind dreams this stuff up while I’m on the toilet or taking a shower, I’ll never know.

The second leg

This blog is named Prose Poetry Code, but you’ll notice I almost never mention the “poetry” part. I’m just not any good at it.

But inspiration occasionally strikes, so here’s a verse I literally just composed in the bathroom.

I’m a shadow of a man, a dark reflection
Plato’s cave is where I dwell, forever onward
Not allowed to see the sun, nor light of hope
Cursed to watch the hours pass, alone in darkness

Rhythm of War: my thoughts

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson. I’ve stated that many times here, and I often use him as a yardstick for my own writing skills. Why? Because he’s one of the few authors out there who is popular and accessible, but also takes worldbuilding seriously. In other words, he’s a kindred spirit, an idealized version of myself in one specific aspect.

I felt that way when I got hooked on Mistborn. His series that started with Skyward filled a need I didn’t know I had. And then there’s his in-progress magnum opus, The Stormlight Archive.

This thing is massive. It’s comparable to the Wheel of Time or Song of Ice and Fire novel series in sheer size and scope, but it’s really nothing like either in the details. No, this is something else.

So far, the series comprises four enormous tomes. The first, Way of Kings, clocks in over 1000 pages, and this is no simple text. I knew that when I saw the table of contents, which included not only two different prologues, but also an “Ars Arcanum” section (a common feature of Sanderson’s writings, where he describes the book’s magic system through the eyes of a character) and illustrations.

That’s a trend that has carried through the series. These books are works of art, and I encourage anyone who wants to read them to pick up the hardcovers. They’re just worth it.

The story

(Note that I will be spoiling the first three books of The Stormlight Archive. That’s kinda hard not to do when you’re discussing the fourth entry in an epic fantasy series.)

Rhythm of War picks up, following a prologue that is the fourth retelling of a pivotal event in the series, shortly after Oathbringer leaves off. The world of Roshar is at war, as the dark god Odium has resurfaced after thousands of years. His malign influence turned the enslaved Parshendi into the demonic Voidbringers, powerful beings from such a distant past that they were thought to be legendary.

Standing against the tide of darkness are the Knights Radiant, a small but growing group of humans with divine powers of their own, granted when they bond with beings called “spren”, fairy-like creatures that represent emotions, forces, elements, and essentially any other part of the world.

Odium’s forces control much of the world, while the Radiants and their followers have retreated to the lost city of Urithiru, and it is here that most of the book’s story takes place. For the Voidbringers have found a way to not only locate the lost city, but turn its magical defenses on the Radiants, shutting them down.

The secondary plot of Rhythm of War concerns the spren themselves, specifically those representing honor. These are some of the most powerful, as they are closer to divinity; Honor is another deity of the setting, specifically the one worshipped by humans as the Almighty. Problem is, he’s dead. The circumstances leading to his death were revealed in prior books, and the fallout has been on display ever since.

Honor’s spren “children” consider humans to be oathbreakers, owing to events of ages gone by, and they have begun to refuse the bonds that create knew Knights Radiant. That weakens the war effort, obviously, so getting them back on the good guys’ side is paramount. Doing that, however, requires meeting them on their own terms, in a kind of parallel dimension called variously Shadesmar or simply the “Cognitive Realm”.

A digression

This is one of those Sanderson conceits, and I have to pull you aside to explain the gist of it. Many of his works are in a shared setting, the Cosmere—this inspired my own Paraverse, as I’ve stated before. Rather than a single planet, however, the Cosmere is something closer to a whole galaxy. Roshar is merely one planet. In fact, it’s one of three in its system. The other two, Ashyn and Braize, are not physically inhabitable (Ashyn used to be, apparently), but have a kind of spiritual presence; humans in the series consider them heaven and hell, respectively.

Other books in the setting take place on different planets. Mistborn, for instance, is set in the world of Scadriel. For the most part, this is nothing more than flavor, a background detail put in for more serious readers to drool over. Each world has its own characters, its own history, its own magic system, and they’re mostly separate.

With Rhythm of War, that’s starting to change. I don’t know if this is because The Stormlight Archive is meant to be a series that “connets” the Cosmere as a whole, but it certainly seems that way. Flavor text, in the form of opening quotes, talks of the various “shards of Adonalsium”, some kind of divine artifact that effectively turns people into demigods. Odium has one, that of Passion. Honor’s was, well, Honor. Sazed, a character in Mistborn, gets two of them, uniting Preservation and Ruin into Harmony.

It’s all very interesting, if mostly because it’s so maddeningly vague. We get a few tantalizing hints that some of the Stormlight characters are from other parts of the Cosmere. One, known only as Wit, actually is: he’s some kind of world-hopping author insert who has cameos in all the setting’s various novels. Obscure references from him and the chapter intros point to something big happening in the universe at large. As Sanderson has repeatedly stated that he’s a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, I can imagine what sort of reckoning that would be.

The world

So Roshar is part of a larger setting, but that doesn’t mean it’s bland. Not by any means. As usual for a Sanderson world, there’s a lot of thought put into it. The world map is a rough approximation of a Julia fractal, for instance, and this fits with a number of references to mathematics and aesthetics that permeate the series. The original Knights Radiant all have palindrome names (e.g., Kelek) as did their cities—Urithiru counts if you treat “th” as a single letter.

The biggest feature of the world is the storm. Something of a supernatural hurricane, it repeatedly crashes into the east coast of the Roshar continent at somewhat regular intervals, bringing heavy rain, damaging winds, and the magical essence of Stormlight.

In typical Sanderson fashion, the storm defines the cultures, the kingdoms, and every aspect of life. The word “storm” itself can be used as a curse. (The author prefers not to use English profanity due to his religion, so this is his way around that.) Calendars are oriented around the storm schedule rather than the sun and moon—moons, rather, as Roshar has…two, I think? Cities, towns, and even villages have to bear the brunt of constant battering, so they’re designed to sit in the lee of walls or natural rock formations. And so on.

But the worldbuilding goes deeper than this, because you also have to take into account the geography, the ecology, and here is where Brandon Sanderson shines. Roshar is a harsh planet with harsh terrain. Except in the far western land of Shinovar, where storms are far weaker, the land is cold, rocky, and downright alien. There’s no topsoil, because it’s all been eroded away. Permanent rivers are rare. And the native life reflects that. Instead of trees, plant life mostly consists of short, stout organisms, most of which have adapted to encase themselves in hard shells. Animals do the same; some also have gemstones within, a nod to oysters and the fabled bezoar that serves as a major plot point.

Natives to Roshar don’t see anything wrong with this. To them, it’s life, even if it’s a life unlike ours. In much the same way, Mistborn‘s inhabitants think nothing of a sky full of volcanic ash or a land so brown it could be a map in a Quake game. The inhabitants of Skyward‘s devastated planet know only their world, their life of eternal aerial warfare and a life lived underground.

That’s what draws me to Sanderson’s works. He doesn’t make a big deal about his worlds. They’re different, sometimes so incredibly different that we find it difficult to imagine them. But to his characters, they’re home. And home is nothing special. It’s just where we live. It’s part of who we are.

The characters

If he has any weak spots, writing good characters definitely comes close to the top of the list. Kaladin is exactly like Vin, Spinsa, and almost any other protagonist Sanderson writes. The troubled youth with a checkered past who stumbles into a superpower. It’s so cliche that you want to cringe, but he plays it well, and the worldbuilding more than makes up for it.

I will say that he’s getting better. Rhythm of War‘s ensemble cast at least offers variety. It’s also pretty much the DSM-5 in novel form, though. Kaladin is now suffering from severe depression and anxiety, which resonated with me so strongly that I sometimes had to put the book down. Shallan has multiple personalities (whatever that’s officially called these days) that get confusing in the narration. Taravangian, a relatively minor character who ends the novel in a much different position, is a bona fide sociopath.

It goes on from there. Kaladin mentors a small number of men who clearly have PTSD. The Lost Heralds—four of the original Knights who found immortality at some point—are varying degrees of insane. Adolin is a narcissist, though he is getting better; one of his subplots turned out to be my favorite part of the story, even ahead of exploring the lost city and waging a resistance against an occupation force. Schizophrenics, psychopaths, and sadists are all represented in the cast. One of the heroes has a developmental disorder, but pretends to be mute so no one will hear his “slow” speech.

In other words, it’s almost like everyone in Roshar is damaged in some way. Nobody’s perfect, and this setting shows the truth of that in all its naked glory. That said, these characters aren’t defined by their mental state. They’re people. Kaladin, for example, has a very good reason for his depression: he blames himself for his brother’s death eight years ago, and losing his friends in battle only reminds him of that. His father pressured him into becoming a surgeon, someone who saves lives instead of ending them, but fate put him in this position.

There are other good characters. I greatly enjoyed Navani’s story of invention, experimentation, and quiet resistance. The spren, when seen in their native realm, are a fascinating take on fairy and “daemon” myths. Most of all, the people interact in ways that seem logical. You don’t always understand their reasons, but you get that they have them. It’s a rarity in today’s hyper-politicized fantasy landscape.

The fatal flaw

I’ve said this one before. If I have any problem with Sanderson’s writing, it’s not the worldbuilding. No, that’s top-notch. It’s not even the character development, because I can see that he’s getting better at that. Book design? Rhythm of War, like its three predecessors, is a masterpiece in that department.

But the prose. Oh, the prose.

I will freely admit that I’ve never taken a class on writing. I scraped by in English class in high school, even if I somehow managed to be #1 in the school on standardized writing assessments. (20 years later, and I still can’t figure that one out!) On top of that, when I write a novel like Nocturne or Innocence Reborn, I’m doing it without an editor. I’m my own proofreader. You’d need a microscope to find my self-esteem, a miracle to get me to praise my own work.

Despite all that, I can say with no reservations that my prose is far better than that of my favorite author. Yes, Rhythm of War is 1200 pages, but he could probably cut a hundred or more off that if he just learned how to use a pronoun every now and then. His word choices leave a lot to be desired, and leave what would be an otherwise impeccable book with long stretches of repetitive dialogue or narration. And all that isn’t getting any better. It was the same in Mistborn—the prologue of Shadows of Self left me literally wincing at points.

Unlike many, I won’t criticize Sanderson for avoiding profanity. I do the same thing in my works. It’s a personal decision that contributes to an author’s style. For the same reason, I had no problem with Peter Brett’s use of dialectal speech in the Demon Cycle series, to name one example. It fit his style and the world he was building.

Yet there’s no excuse for some of the cringeworthy prose in these bestsellers. (Worst of all, in my opinion, was the random use of “okay” by a character in Oathbringer. I have never in my life lost suspension of disbelief so fast.) What is the point of a professional editor if not to polish these things?

Take that away, and Rhythm of War is a solid 10 in all respects. Sure, the series as a whole is a huge time investment, but it’s one that pays out better dividends than buying GameStop stock. You’re getting access to a beautifully made world, a creation that rivals Middle-Earth in its complexity and sheer gravity. The story is truly epic. The characters are, in some cases, perfectly imperfect. Sanderson knows how to write.

I just wish he’d learn how to write.

A new chance

Substack is all the rage right now, so I’ve decided to give it a shot. I’ll never stop posting my thoughts here at PPC, but I hope to use this as a way to get some of my “deeper” posts to a wider audience. I intend to post something there twice a month to start, assuming I can get my depression and anxiety under control. The content isn’t going to discuss any of that, though. This is all about writing and creating worlds.

So check out Hardcore Worldbuilding and subscribe. It’s free, because I’m a long way off from making it a paid deal. And tell your friends…but only if they like rambling. I’m good at that.

Paperback Release: Lair of the Wizards (Hidden Hills 1)

It’s been awhile, but I’m back with a new paperback release. This time, it’s Lair of the Wizards.

For ages, the wizards guided the people of Stada. They brought knowledge, advancement. They were the bearers of the future. But generations have lived since the last wizards left the land for parts unknown. Now war with a neighboring realm is bringing Stada to the brink, and the tribulations of battle reach even to the city of Karston. Here, the wizards may be gone, but not forgotten. Here, their knowledge lives on, their secrets have been preserved. The tales all tell that the wizards lived in the Hidden Hills north of town. Although they left, their home remains, and when an earthquake rattles Karston, it reveals the path leading to the lair of the wizards.

The setting is circa 1500, in terms of technology and society: after the Middle Ages, around the start of the Renaissance, and with the Scientific Revolution almost in sight. So it’s not exactly fantasy, but a lot of the elements are still there: a feudal society, belief in magic, a moderately heavy emphasis on religion, etc. Oh, and it’s teen-focused, much like Orphans of the Stars. That’s just how I roll.

This one’s massive. Seriously. It has 52 chapters. The paperback weighs in at 660 pages. The manuscript itself hit 233,000 words. It’s my largest release to date, and the third-longest book I’ve ever written. (The longest is the sequel, Rise of the Wizards, which isn’t quite ready for release yet. And I promised myself I wouldn’t bring Heirs of Divinity into this discussion. Oops.) But that extra size gives me a lot more freedom. I can ramble, as I tend to do. I can build up more slowly, take a little time for digression. In other series, I sometimes feel rushed. Not so here.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t intend it that way from the start. Indeed, Lair was originally conceived as a series of short stories! By the time I’d finished four chapters, I realized that wasn’t going to happen, and I switched gears, turning it into the epic it became. Then, I started making plans to turn it into a novel series. I’ve got four in total: Lair, Rise, and the unwritten sequels Return of the Wizards and Legacy of the Wizards.


Before I give you the links to Amazon and Patreon, I want to talk a little more. First, the writing process, because this one took a long time. I started writing in 2015, finished the draft in 2017, and took three more years to edit it into the masterpiece I released today. In a way, it has covered my entire writing “career” up to this point. It grew. Vastly.

So did I. At the start, I didn’t have much of an idea where I was taking it. I’d written the first Otherworld novel (plus two and a half that I threw away), Heirs, Before I Wake, and a couple of short stories.

And then I had an idea. What if a few teens in a medieval-style fantasy world found evidence of modern-era technology? It would be, in a way, the converse of Otherworld. On top of that, I would be able to write something closer to “traditional” fantasy in terms of setting. Well, except for the fact that I find traditional fantasy settings boring. I actually like the post-medieval era more. One author (I can’t remember if it was Martin or Jordan or who) once said that the invention of gunpowder is the end of fantasy. I disagree, and I’m willing to prove it. The Hidden Hills series has early guns, and most of my fantasy-like settings are similar. (Occupation is closer to Victorian than medieval, and even Otherworld has early cannons now!)

Worldbuilding on this one was very, very sparse. I have no map of Stada, not even an outline. I didn’t make out demographics tables for Karston. Where I did take it into account, I made sure to go into detail, but this series is more focused on characters and plot than setting, so I cheated a bit to start. Since then, I’ve expanded in a lot of areas, such as the polytheistic religion of Stada or the geography of the wider world it inhabits. But the main focus continues to be the interaction of pre-modern characters and near-future technology.

As for the name of the series, that one came to me early, and it’s dear to my heart. When I first started writing, I imagined a town near a line of large hills or small mountains, much like where I live. Some of those hills would have their own history, as told by the people dwelling beside them. One pair, actually connected in the middle, gained a bit of a reputation for being haunted.

I live on such a hill. No joke. Wikipedia has two pages for my town: one for the town itself, another for the street my house is on. And that’s the longer one, because not one, but two ghosts have been sighted on this street. One dates back to the Civil War, the other to 1775. (For the record, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’ve heard some awfully suspicious sounds over the last 18 years.)

The idea of a local legend about a haunted hill was just natural. It also made the perfect excuse to hide a secret underground bunker. But people couldn’t live there forever, right? They’d go crazy cooped up like that, a fact I recognized long before lockdowns were a thing. So they would have to come out eventually, and they would gain a reputation among the more mundane inhabitants of the town. Their technology, their secrecy, and their otherworldliness would set them apart.

From there, connecting the dots was pretty simple. The outsiders had to be wizards, right? And there’s the fantasy angle, even if there’s no “real” magic going around. Starting the story with an earthquake? A little hacky, but it let me hit the ground running, while also giving a reason for what was hidden to become somewhat less so.

But I still needed a name for the “haunted” hills, and this is where my family history comes in. Before I was born, my parents lived in the Hidden Hills trailer park. (Note, not a mobile home park. This was Tennessee in 1982. They were called trailers, even if they stood still.) Later on, my aunt lived there, too. In 2015, when I started writing Lair, my stepdad’s brother, who had been living over our garage until his COPD got too bad, moved into the very same place. In fact, the very same lot where I may have been conceived 33 years earlier. It was on my mind, and it just felt right.

I’m always looking for ways to give shout-outs to the ones I love. Lee’s son in Otherworld gets a native name I can shorten to Tommy so he can be named after my stepdad’s other brother, who passed away while I was writing A Bridge Between Worlds, as well as my grandfather. Ian’s boss in The Soulstone Sorcerer is an obese man named Joseph, in honor of my deceased cousin. Cam’s friend in Endless Forms is named Katherine Key for my aunt Kathy, whose initials are KEY. His favorite streamer is my brother. And the fourth book, once I get to writing it, is going to be based in Nashville for two reasons. One, my late uncle, who made a career there in music (and other things I can’t talk about) and always wanted to go back. Two, it’s much nearer to the woman I love, and putting her in a book looking like the only way I’ll ever get to be close to her.

For Lair, then, I went with the hills that were the most influential on my life. Not Signal Mountain, Lookout Mountain, or Walden’s Ridge. Nope. This series and its centerpiece location are named after a trailer park. Why? Because family means something. Especially these days, when you can’t count on anyone else.


So that’s the story behind the story. Now you can get to reading the actual novel. Make time, though. As I said before, it’s huge, and it’s priced accordingly. Over at Amazon, you can pick up the Kindle version for $5.99, while the paperback is $19.99. (Overpriced, I know, but it’s the only way I make any reasonable profit.) If you’d rather support me on a recurring basis, head over to my Patreon, where you can get Lair and a ton of other books in DRM-free EPUB format, starting at $1/month.

And, as always, keep reading!

Novel month 2020 – Day 30

Today’s word count: 2,722
Total word count: 52,495

And we’re done. Whew. Considering there were about 5-6 days where I wrote nothing at all, and another 2-3 where I didn’t do much better, this is actually an accomplishment. I’ve finished 6 chapters (counting the prologue) of On the Stellar Sea, and it’s shaping up to be a decent novel. A worthy addition to the Orphans of the Stars series, in my opinion.

I might take a break from working on it now, though. As has been the case all year, my depression has interfered with my writing all month. I’ve suffered. I’ve made the ones I love suffer in turn. Nanowrimo this year was catharsis, plain and simple. It was a chance for me to get lost in a world of my own making, the one place where I still have a modicum of control. That may have saved my life. I’d say it saved my sanity, but I’m not sure I have any of that left.

It hasn’t been without hardship. The continued lockdowns have worn me down. The election madness leaves me genuinely scared for the future, and far less certain about my own place in it. I’ve spent eight months documenting my thoughts on such matters, sometimes speaking in great detail of the toll 2020 has exacted. Each new obstacle, each new attack on the life I was trying to build, leaves me one step closer to giving up for good.

I’m almost to that point. In 2017, I wrote like a maniac. Over 1.2 million words in total, quadruple my output this year. I told myself I was doing it because I didn’t want to deal with the real world. Now, I simply don’t feel I can deal with it. Yet I sometimes feel I can’t write, either. I’ve had more periods of genuine writer’s block since March than at any point in the past decade. I would say that it hurts, but…everything hurts these days. One more pain doesn’t change much.

I’ve failed at getting a job. I’ve failed at starting my own life. I’ve failed to respect the woman I love. I’m sure I’ll fail at nearly everything else I try in the future, because that’s just how my luck runs. For this one moment, however, I can say I succeeded at something. If November has one silver lining, it’s that I can always fall back on that.

Novel month 2020 – Day 29

Today’s word count: 2,263
Total word count: 49,773
Daily average: 1,716
Projected total: 51,489

We are on the precipice, folks. My goal for tomorrow is to finish off Chapter 5. Call it about 2,200 words again. That won’t quite be the halfway point of the book, but it’ll be close. With everything that’s happened over the course of November, I’m calling it a well-earned victory.

Assuming I get it done, that is. Let’s not count those chickens until they start hatching. After all, you never know. I could dump 400,000 totally legit words at 4 AM tomorrow.

Novel month 2020 – Day 28

Today’s word count: 1,864
Total word count: 47,510
Daily average: 1,696
Projected total: 50,903

So close now. I’m about halfway done with Chapter 5, and I have a real shot at finishing it in the next two days. (Assuming something else doesn’t happen to screw it up. Watch this space.)

On another note, why do so many of my books end up delving into adolescent relationships? I get that it’s because I like writing child characters, but On the Stellar Sea now has 5 of the things, because I goofed and ended up pairing Alicia and Aron completely by accident. Add in at least three from the Hidden Hills series (blatant plug: Lair of the Wizards paperback out next month!) and even Dusk & Dawn from The Linear Cycle, and I clearly spend too much time on this topic. Maybe it’s because I’m hopeless at handling anything more mature?

Novel month 2020 – Day 26

Today’s word count: 2,378
Total word count: 43,719
Daily average: 1,681
Projected total: 50,445

I’m done with Chapter 4 and somehow back on pace. There’s still a chance at salvaging something from this trainwreck of a year. At least I can be thankful for that today. Well, that and turkey.

For anyone reading, I hope you have plenty to eat and as many guests as possible. “The right of the people peaceably to assemble” was made for days like this.