Epically Giggle-Making

Q&A about length.

In your newsletter, you said that The Branded Rose Prophecy is extra, extra-long. I was curious. What’s the longest you’ve ever written, and what’s the shortest (complete story, that is!) you’ve ever written?

This mailbag question was an interesting one for me, as Thor: Ragnarok was released a few days ago. It’s the third movie in the Thor series, and critics are saying it’s the best one so far.

I have to wonder about that. The budget for the movie was 180 million USD, and to date, it’s earned only just over 100 million USD. That’s a net loss so far. True, it’s only been out a few days—except that good movies tend to earn back at least their production budget by the end of the first weekend of release. The really good ones blow that budget out of the water (which is the reason they keep making movies).

I read a review that talked about how much comedy was in this movie and that the humor was a good thing.

I beg to differ. I don’t generally like comedies. Most especially, I don’t like spoofs and farces, whose only purpose is to generate laughs. I don’t read/watch for laughs. I want story, dammit. Although, if in the midst of the story, a laugh-out-loud line or two that are perfectly in character is fine by me. So long as we get back to the story damn quick.

The reviewer of Thor: Ragnarok wrote a fatal (for me) comment that the movie was tongue in cheek. Basically, played for laughs. I’ve seen the trailer and now I understand why the trailer left me uneasy, for the “I’m a fish out of water” routine in the trailer was a good taste of the rest of the movie, apparently.

I like my epics to be, well, epic. Not epically giggle-making.

Part of my offence is because I have a strong interest in Norse mythology, which on some levels is already silly enough (but then, its often hard to take King Arthur and his magic sword, dragons and a wizard who gets younger instead of older seriously, too. Yet, only Monty Python has dared shift the legends into the humor genre). I can understand Marvel twisting Dead Pool, and Spiderman, but not Thor, please and thank you.

Part of the problem is that in the first two movies, they set Thor up as a romantic hero with a love interest and a fractured family and wicked brother who draws his own legion of fanatics.

And the final part of the problem is that I wrote a “little” book called The Branded Rose Prophecy, that takes itself very seriously indeed.

In answer to my reader’s question; yes, The Branded Rose Prophecy is the longest book I’ve written. To date.

The story itself, sans the front and back matter, is 237,630 words. In traditional publishing terms, that’s 950 pages. The print edition, which squeezes and squashes and reduces wherever possible in order to keep the price to something reasonable, is three pages short of 600.

Yeah, it’s long.

The story itself stretches over 40 years. Beside the two major leads, Charlee and Asher, it features a cast of a dozen major characters, each with their own stories, and all of them intertwine over the course of the forty years.

Then there’s the bad guys. Legions of them.

Here’s the blurb:

Enduring, undying love.

A woman caught between two worlds.

The man she can never have.

The Kine and the Alfar, enemies since before Odin sat upon the throne of Asgard.

When Charlee Montgomery discovers Asher Strand’s true nature and the feelings he has for her, she also learns Asher’s love puts her in mortal danger.

Prophesied long ago, the ancient bridges connecting Earth to the other eight worlds are opened. The Alfar descend upon Earth and the Kine must emerge from their hidden life to take up their role as Man’s protectors.

Without Asher, the Kine will fall and Man with them.

To defeat the Alfar, Asher must give up any hope of a human life with Charlee.

Love. Duty. An impossible choice that must be made. Man’s survival depends on it.

If you have watched the two (or three) Thor movies so far, or if you have an interest in Norse mythology, then you can probably figure out what Asher’s true nature is. I think the reviews pretty much give it away, anyway (alas!) But in case you really like to read blind, I won’t disclose the full secret here.

But it’s pretty clear from the blurb that the story has something to do with Norse mythology, right?

There’s a romance in there, but the story takes 40 years to conclude the romance.

The Branded Rose Prophecy, because of the length and the price I’m forced to sell it at as a result, is not one of my better sellers (although everyone who does read it loves it). Also because of the subject matter, it’s not an easy sell – as Marvel have discovered with the Thor movies, Norse mythology doesn’t appeal to the same sized audience that monsters and serial killers do.

So why on earth write a book that doesn’t sell well?

The arty answer is that I had to.

The practical answer is: It was a gift to me.

The story rumbled around in my brain for years before I sat down to write it. I got it down on paper in the end only by stockpiling writing time and taking the hit on my production schedule (I only released six books, the year I wrote and released Branded). I knew there was a good chance the book wouldn’t sell well. It’s my first (and so far, only) fantasy epic, and there’s no explicit sex in it (although, between the lines, there’s a shit-ton of sex going on. It’s what the Amica were made for.) Yet I chose to write the book as one of my few self-indulgences that I inflict upon my readers (instead of keeping it contained on my hard drive and out of harm’s way). I wanted to see if anyone else liked the story, too.

The dynamics of writing such a long book play havoc with all the series that you want me to write (usually, right now), so writing a sequel or two would be difficult and unlikely—unless Branded suddenly hits best seller status (and stranger things have happened). It is the impossible “I wish I could…but I really can’t afford to” dilemma that gives me a glimpse into George R.R. Martin’s mind and why he’s putting off writing the next book in his Song of Ice and Fire (i.e. Game of Thrones) series.

So, yes, The Branded Rose Prophecy is a long book, the longest I’ve written and while I’d love to do it again, I most likely won’t.

I recall the sweat and effort I poured into writing the first book of a one-day-it’ll-happen series, one that was my personal story to tell, and think of an editor or director saying: “Great story! Marvelous. We’re just going to tweak it a little and play up the laughs a bit, okay?”

<shudder>

Hence my reaction to the latest Thor installment.

On the other end of the spectrum, the shortest story I’ve written is The Well of Rnomath, which qualifies as flash fiction, at 740 words. It’s a paranormal, written as a result of a prompt exercise, where random generators gave me an image that started the process. That post is here, along with the full story. If you prefer to keep all your fiction in one location, you can download an ePub or Mobi here—there’s reader reviews there, too.

Cheers,

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