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Monday, July 29, 2013

GUEST POST: A Question Of Quels by Michael J. Sullivan


In stories, there is something called setting; in science fiction and fantasy we call this worldbuilding—because we do more and feel we deserve a word with more letters. If you ask most invented-world authors they’ll tell you that a fraction of what they build makes it into their novels. In order to give the illusion of reality, that there is more to the world—that it bleeds out of the frame like a proper photograph—writers go overboard. People, places, legends, creatures, and economic systems are crafted with the same meticulous care as the backdrop to a move scene that lasts seconds and is ultimately left on the edit room floor.

I personally built more than ten thousand years of global history to support a story that encompassed only four years. Kingdoms rose, wars raged, reality became legend and then myth, and many things were just forgotten. After spending years building such a grand stage, it should be understandable that authors are not eager to abandon their creations, and why never-ending series, or sequels, are so commonplace.

Also if a series is doing well; if it has earned out its advance, has its own television show, or con event, publishers as well as readers expect more. Demand demands supply. Secretly I think this is why there’s more than one Hawaiian island.

For most authors this isn’t a problem. Sequel after sequel is churned out until Fonzie jumps the shark in his leather; Archie is alone running a bar, and Fox Mulder leaves the X-Files. I don’t know of any book series that has gone that far, (written characters can’t get fed up with the lack of creativity or ask for more money) but I have confidence we’ll get there. I, however, have a completely different issue. My series ended.


I was six books and out. Orbit published all of them in less than three months, and before the last one hit the streets I had requests for more. I was baffled. Rhett Butler hadn’t just walked off leaving Scarlett to declare tomorrow was another day, the series had a very conclusive ending. Short of having the whole world swallow itself out of existence, I’m not sure I could have sewn things up any tighter.

Readers disagreed. What about the Ghazel problem in Delgos? What about human-elven relations? What about Calis? What about the amulet in the Bernum? What about children? Someone has to have babies! That last one came more from budding fan-fic authors, but really these were all excuses, all thinly veiled rationalizations masking what they actually wanted—more Royce and Hadrian. Readers of the Riyria Revelations wanted their friends back.

Be that as it may, I won’t force Royce to waterski with his hood on. The cloaked duo deserve their retirement just as much as Sam and Mr. Frodo. (And no, there has never been a secret meeting where Royce and Hadrian where they used that argument to secure their chance to do low budget artsy short stories and avant-garde novellas. That’s just a terrible rumor that no one has managed to prove.) Still I thought there might be another way. 

Instead of a contrived sequel that would ruin the eloquence of the series close, I could do a prequel. Royce and Hadrian worked together for twelve unaccounted for years, years ripe with intrigue and action. If the Riyria Revelations series is the full length movie, the Riyria Chronicles is the television series based on the movie. The great part is that amazingly we got the all the same actors, writers and director to produce it. (About now, someone skimming this is thinking Riyria just got its own TV show.)


The Crown Tower is the first of the chronicles, and reveals how Royce and Hadrian met. If you read the series you might think you know, but there are many unanswered questions. Why does Hadrian carry three swords? How could two such opposites decide to work together? Why was it that Royce was given the Alverstone? And of course, who the hell is Pickles?

I’ve been told that The Crown Tower doesn’t read like a prequel. I’ve also been accused of having written both The Crown Tower and the second chronicle, The Rose and the Thorn, prior to The Riyria Revelations. I didn’t, these are merely part of the world-building that had remained below the waterline until now, and some had to be invented.

The challenge as I saw it was the same as writing a novel about the Titanic. Everyone knows how the story goes, so how do you make it interesting? How do you kept people feverishly turning pages when they know the end? James Cameron managed it with a love story. I solved the problem much the same way. I also added a fair amount of origin events similar to the Santa Claus is Coming to Town TV special, where I can imagine readers of the Revelations series shouting, “so that’s how reindeers learned to fly.”

Another problem is that I know new readers will pick these books up and start their journey through Elan here. This was perhaps the greatest challenge: how do I construct a plot using many of the same characters without spoiling or contradicting Revelations? I’ve already had early readers going through with pens looking for breaks, for errors, trying to find the overlooked power lines in the wide shots.

I also wanted to keep the flavor. These are Royce and Hadrian stories. That has come to mean something to people, and I sought to keep the experience the same…yet different. When I wrote Revelations I wanted each book in the series to be very different in tone and setting. The first was a traveling adventure, the second a grisly single-set story, the third a revolution, the fourth a sea going tale and so on. My aim is to continue this trend, but first I had an origin story to tell. Much of it is known, much of it isn’t, and hopefully once read, both The Crown Tower and The Rose and the Thorn will feel as if they’d always been there, indispensable parts of a whole you never knew you were missing.

Of course, as with all things Riyria, once you finish them, once you are armed with the new found wisdom within, there will be that nagging desire to re-read the series in total. On a positive note, re-reading is free. The problem with all quells pre and se, is the same as the success of a long marriage. You need to keep learning new things about old flames and keep the excitement alive through unpredictability, without ruining the core elements that made it work in the first place. That’s my answer at any rate—something old, something new, something borrowed, same old two!


Official Michael Sullivan Website 
Order The Crown Tower HERE 
Order The Rose And The Thorn HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Theft of Swords 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Rise Of Empire 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Crown Conspiracy 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Avempartha 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Nyphron Rising 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Emerald Storm 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Wintertide 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of Percepliquis 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of The Viscount and the Witch 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Around 2010-2011, Michael Sullivan has moved from a small press debut author who was featured in one of our first "Indie Spotlight Reviews" to a "name" in the fantasy field whose wonderful Riyria Revelations has been published by Orbit Books in three omnibuses starting with Theft of Swords, followed by Rise of Empire and concluded in Heir of Novron. He currently has written a prequel series titled The Riyria Chronicles, which showcases how Royce and Hadrian became the fabulous duo that readers know and love.

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