Before we start our post for today, I am overjoyed to announce:
Six years ago, just about this time of the year, a couple of my closest friends decided to start a new roleplaying game. I wasn't really interested. I had young kids. I felt played out. Most of the games I'd played in for some years didn't have the kind of indepth structure and characterization that allowed me to do the kind of things I find interesting in a game. I would have said no.
Except, John wanted me to play. And, besides, it was a chance to hang out with my other two friends, one of whom I had known since he was a boy, but seldom got to see. So I said yes.
In some ways, that was the best decision…and the worst decision…of my life.
This game was not like any other I had ever played, and it absorbed my attention like rain on a desert sponge. John and I loved it! And, we hated it. It was painful–in game and out–it was divisive. It was like walking on knives while being struck by hail.
Burning yet frozen, pointy hail.
But, I refused to give up.
Why? Because, sometimes, it was more magical than anything I had ever seen. And I don't mean magic like flash-sparkle. I mean magic like the Magic From Before The Dawn of Time. The kind that saved Aslan after he gave his life up for Edward and was killed by the White Witch.
It was a game with that kind of magic.
Terrible things would happen and then wonderful things, and John and I would turn to each other, eyes agog, and cry out, "This really deserves to be in a book."
Five years ago, just about two weeks ago, I decided to take a stab at it. I wasn't serious at first. I had a series I had started. It was based on another game, with a character I loved more than any other. I had waited since the late 80s to write that series. I wasn't interested in doing something else.
But, just for the heck of it, I decided to give it a shot. Secretly, without really telling anyone.
My first few openings were dumb. No, really. Dumber than that. You'll have to trust me on this.
Then, I had a thought. What if I opened with the moment when Rachel woke up on her first night at school and overheard the Raven talking to the Lion. Wasn't that where it really began? The wonder? The awe? Everything that mattered?
So I wrote it that way…and the whole thing just came to life.
I needed a world to put the story in. The one from the game was borrowed. So, I started borrowing from myself. Anything John or I had made up before that I thought was cool.
My twelve year old son (at the time) had made up a magic school on the Island of Roanoke. His idea was that the reason that the colonists were never found was that they hid using magic. I loved this idea, but I wasn't that keen on writing about a place I didn't know much about. I wanted this new magic school to be someplace wondrous. Some place I loved. Some place that came teaming with magic.
I picked The Hudson Highlands, just a bit north of Sleepy Hollow, right next to Storm King Mountain, a place I had thought magical since childhood.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was an island just off of Storm King, and there was a castle on it–one of the very few castles in New York.
So, I made Roanoke a floating island. Then, I made up why it stopped floating. (Answer in Book Three.)
But what kind of school was it? I didn't want to make it yet another boarding school, there are dozens and dozens of boarding school books out there, and I didn't really know that much about how one ran.
But there was one school I knew intimately–a school like no other: St. John's College in Annapolis. St. John's is a magical place. Things aren't done like they are in other places. There are central tables instead of rows. We read the original works instead of textbooks. We had tutors instead of professors. So, I put that in the book. (Every time I describe our sports program in the novels, my editor tells me it is unrealistc. "No one would ever actually do that.)
Then, I searched the web, found the coolest places, buildings, and trees I could find pictures of, and wove them together into a campus. I even have a little map made of pictures I shrunk down. It's weird looking…but filled with awesomeness.
Four years ago. I was finished with the book, but what to do with it? I gave it to my agent. He told me every major publisher already had a magic school series. He had been shopping aroudn a few good ones. No one would even look at them. He sent it somewhere though. I never heard back.
Three years ago, I decided to go with a small press. After some of the experiences I had had with a big publishing house, I wanted to have more control over the way things were done. I chose Dark Quest because a friend I liked working with worked for them. But I had one stipulation.
I was going to choose the cover myself.
No one knows why a series succeeds or fails, but after the 20 years of work I poured into, my Prospero series basically failed (despite very ardent fans) and my editor thought it was the covers. They were not bad. Quite the contrary. But they gave a very wrong impression of the story. As witnessed by:
So, this time, I wanted it to be done right. I scoured artists. I contacted some of my favorite cover artists. Some of the best in the field. But I also asked a friend for a sketch.
The sketch was wonderful! And Dan Lawlis (former Marvel and DC artist) has been my cover artist ever since!
So, I bought my own cover and Dark Quest published the book under its new YA imprint, Palomino Press.
Two years ago, The second book came out. This book was even more fun that then first, because I had gotten some of the basics down and could begin to develop the characters and background. But it was still constrained by the limits of the oddness of the early section of the game. So I was really delighted to write Book Three, where the story actually comes into its own. Also, my former editor for Tor was now editing the books, which made them even better.
But then…Dark Quest stopped responding, or paying. Apparently, the publisher was ill. I eventually got my rights back and moved to a new publishing company run by a friend.
One year ago, Book Three, which I am told is my best novel yet, was supposed to come out. But it did not. This second publisher folded, due to illness of two of its members.
So, finally, after much prayer and meditation, I decided to go indy. I already had my own covers, my own copyeditor, my own punctuation editor, my own cover designer. I just needed a typesetter…and one presented himself by typesetting the manuscripts as a gift.
So, now, at long last, the third Book of Unexpected Enlightenment: Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, is live and available to read. It begins with little sorceress Rachel Griffin falling out of the land of dreams onto her derriere, and where it ends…
…you will have to read it if you want to find out.
In honor of the release, there is a sale!
Book Two: The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel is on sale for 99 cents.
Book One: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is FREE
Also, the Audiobook for The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is now live.
Also, the new versioni of Prospero Lost just went live, too.
Current Book Trailer here (still a work in progress.)