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!