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Saturday, September 19, 2015

GUEST BLOG POST: Is Epic Fantasy a Dinosaur? by Cindy Dees



Visit Cindy Dees Official Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is proud to welcome Cindy Dees as she stops by for her blog tour. Cindy Dees recently released the first book in a new fantasy series. The Sleeping King was released September 8, 2015 by Tor Books. 

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 IS EPIC FANTASY A DINOSAUR? 

The trend in books over the past few years has been toward shorter, faster reads that can be digested in small snippets. Epic fantasy, of course, does none of these things. By its very nature, the books tend to be big, sprawling, and complicated. They require a serious investment of time and energy to read and engage in. This dichotomy poses an interesting question. Can epic fantasy survive changes in reader taste and changes in the publishing industry itself?

When I first finished drafting THE SLEEPING KING, everyone, and I mean everyone, told me that epic fantasy was dead. No major publisher had bought a new epic fantasy series like the Dragon Crest books in a decade, and no publisher was planning to, either. When the legendary Claire Eddy first contacted me after reading THE SLEEPING KING, even she commented that she'd expected never to purchase another classic, old-school, epic fantasy series. But then she read our book and fell in love. She felt like she just had to do it.

Indeed, Tor decided to go old school all the way with this project. It got an original art cover, a hardback release, a publicity and marketing campaign that targeted readers of all ages, and an edit that followed the guidelines of classic epic fantasy with regard to violence, explicit language, sexual content, etc.

Will this kind of book appeal to everyone? Of course not. No book does. Will this book stand the test of time? I’d like to think so. Of course, only time will tell us if I’m right or not. I would like to think that the same generation of readers who cut their teeth on lengthy, dense Harry Potter novels is willing to take on a big book if the entertainment value is high enough. My sincerest thanks for that, wherever you are right now, Ms. Rowling.

I had lunch with Claire Eddy last week, and we discussed whether or not there’s a graying of epic fantasy readers. It’s common wisdom within the publishing industry that this is the case. If a person were to attend certain conventions or bookstores, perhaps the evidence would bear this out. However, Claire and I were sitting at DragonCon in Atlanta when we had that lunch. This year the official attendance topped 70,000, and the vast majority of attendees were NOT gray-haired (Claire and I notwithstanding). Post conference surveys indicate that 20-25% of attendees consider themselves hardcore book readers. An unknown number of the rest are casual readers. Which, as an aside, is part of why word-of-mouth sharing of the books you’re enjoying reading is so important to authors. Casual readers watch online reviews, listen heavily to word-of-mouth, and investigate books that are being talked about.

I suppose it’s possible that epic fantasy’s higher price point may act as a barrier to entry for readers with limited funds. I have a teen child, and the idea of borrowing a book from a library is apparently a foreign concept to that generation. I also suppose it’s entirely possible that today’s generation prefers the 22-minute sitcom, 48-minute drama, or 94-minute movie to the multi-hour commitment of reading book. Although, the enduring success of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Robert  Jordan’s Wheel of Time, Terry Brook’s Sword of Shanarra, and many other classic series suggests that readers today are still willing to sink their teeth into big epic fantasy. Perhaps the reason no one has been reading new epic fantasy for the past decade is because no one has been publishing new epic fantasy for the past decade. (With a few marvelous and notable exceptions, of course. Few being the operative word, however.)

Even a cursory search of the online marketplace shows that many self-published writers there are tackling epic stories and selling enough of them to continue writing more. In the wake of the massive popularity of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, I hope that many more talented writers will turn their minds to creating epic worlds. I’m simply not convinced that the demand for epic fantasy ever went away. Perhaps the publishing trend pendulum merely swung away from the genre, and then the financial pressures of a rapidly changing industry prevented it from swinging back into popularity with publishing houses.

Having been through the process of actually crafting a big fantasy novel now, I can safely say that building a full-blown epic world is an enormous task. Bill and I have dozens of files detailing aspects of the world that range from its creation story and philosophic underpinnings to the color variations within individual species of imaginary monsters. The detail is staggering and has taken me years to absorb. I still can’t recall all of it on command. I see why writers today would rather churn out a short book every other month, throw it up online, and rake in the cash. I also see why major publishers, who need every single book to pull its own weight, might be afraid to take a big financial risk on a genre that pundits shout is dead,  or at least on its last gasp.

Writing epic fantasy is, at the end of the day, a labor of love. For there is no guarantee it will get picked up by a major publisher—in fact, odds are that it won’t. The likelihood is nill of ever being properly compensated for the years of imagination, note-taking, cataloguing, and development. A decent chunk of today’s reading public will hate the book for being too slow, too complicated, and too detailed.

But for those of us who enjoy reading a big, chewy epic fantasy, there’s nothing else quite like it. Is that sector of the publishing market too small, or too “gray” to support any new epic fantasy series? Nobody knows the answer to that one. Tor has gambled that a vibrant market still exists for epic fantasy. Bill and I have gambled that our many years spent bringing these books to life have not been in vain. I’m hoping desperately that THE SLEEPING KING and its sequels do phenomenally well and prove to the publishing industry as a whole that the epic fantasy market is alive and well, and that rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. 

Even with our books, though, we’ve had to find an innovative, new approach to creating stories that will have commercial appeal in today’s marketplace. THE SLEEPING KING is based on a live-action role-playing game that has been running for twenty years. Many of the book characters are based on game characters created and played by real people. Which is to say, the characters actually exist in real life. You could chat with one on the forums at dragoncrest.com. You could take a selfie with the actual characters. For that matter, you could come to a live event and go adventuring with the book characters. Additionally, the world is ongoing. The plots of future Dragon Crest books are being collaboratively played out right now by gamers across the country. As we bring a tabletop version of the game online, players around the actual world will be able to help shape the future of the imaginary world.

Some readers will hear that and think it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever heard. Others will be totally unimpressed and care only if the book is any good. And this is the great dichotomy that the epic fantasy market faces. How do we stay true to the classic epic fantasy form and at the same time come up with new and innovative ways to appeal to a whole new reading demographic? Personally, I don’t see the divisions in the fantasy market being dictated so much by age, as by individual taste.

The challenge for all books, not just epic fantasy, is to compete successfully against all the other entertainment forms clamoring for people’s attention today. It may not be enough just to write a book and hope for the best. Collaborative approaches like ours that invite readers and game players to participate in shaping both the world and future books may, indeed be one way of engaging the imaginations of readers who might otherwise drift away to faster, louder, more sensory overloading forms of entertainment.

Will the creative concept of direct reader/author, player/story, tabletop/live game interaction and collaboration behind THE SLEEPING KING work? If it does, I expect many other authors and multi-media entertainment franchises will sit up and take notice.

With a little innovation, this classic story form can stay relevant for a long time to come. And maybe, just maybe, if we get it right, THE SLEEPING KING and its sequels will still be around in fifty years, and a new generation of readers will be picking them up and being swept away into a world of epic heroism and fantasy imagination. 

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About The Sleeping King and Cindy Dees

The Sleeping King is the start of a new fantasy series by New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cindy Dees.

Dees has won a Golden Heart Award, two RITAs for Category Suspense and Adventure and has also twice snared RT's Series Romantic Suspense of the Year. She is a great storyteller, and the adventures in her more than fifty novels are often inspired by her own life. Dees is an Air Force vet-the youngest female pilot in Air Force history-and fought in the first Gulf War. She's had amazing adventures, and she's used her experiences to tell some kickass stories.

But as much as she loves romances, Cindy's other passion has been fantasy gaming. For almost twenty years she's been involved with Dragon Crest, one of the original live action role-playing games. She's the story content creator on the game, and wanted to do an epic fantasy based on it, with the blessing and input of Dragon Crest founder Bill Flippin.

The Sleeping King is the first in an epic fantasy series, featuring the best of the genre: near immortal imperial overlords, a prophecy of a sleeping elven king who's said to be the savior of the races . . . and two young people who are set on a path to save the day.


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