latest on Guardians of the Sky Realms

It would appear that it will be first cab off the rank for IFWG Publishing’s publish queue for November – so very soon indeed. The reason why is because I have entered it in the Aurealis Awards for 2010 (Young Adult Novel category) and I have to get copies of the ARCs to the three judges before 31 December 2010. Not a lot of time when these ARCs get printed in the US. What is amazing is (and it is a coincidence, believe me) is that the three judges are all located in Melbourne, my home city.

Novel nearing publication

At last – Guardian of the Sky Realms is nearing completion. I am happy with the cover – it contains the painting that inspired me to write the story, and it has a wonderful frame with wings as engraved decoration at its corners. A beautiful blue sky is in the background. Simple, but effective. Thanks Randy 🙂

Here is the latest draft of the front cover:

Cover of Guardian of the Sky Realms by Gerry Huntman (IFWG Publishing, 2010)

My bio page with draft of the blurb:

Click Here for the prologue and first 3 chapters

Penina Gal is the artist of the painting.

I am, in Australian terms, a happy little vegemite.

A Big Decision

I should start by wishing everyone a Happy New Year! I haven’t been blogging much for a while, which is mainly because of a holiday where I had some trouble gaining access to the Internet (only my Blackberry), but also just really busy with editing work for IFWG Publishing. Things are going well on that front.

I finished before New Year editing The Wicked Heroine, by Jasmine Giacomo – a truly excellent writer and a great fantasy novel. What sparked me to make a big decision was the fact that the novel was about 120k in length, and was part 2 of a duology. Now, I haven’t actually asked the question of her whether she originally wrote a larger work, and chose to split it, but her decision was right regardless. If there was a single universal truth about the publishing business, it would be that publishers (and consequently agents) simply don’t want to publish large tomes. Refer to this link that describes it succinctly.

So I got thinking. I always knew that my first novel, The Sceptre and the Orb, had an uphill battle, because it was 200k in length. Industry looks toward about 100k, and for fantasy, due to world building, up to about 140k. I got figuring that I needed to cut my novel into two, and do a duology, like Jasmine.

Of course, things aren’t that simple, especially if I am restructuring on the fly. I found that the obvious split point was 120k into my novel, leaving a small 80k for the second. This isn’t good. So I need to think about expanding my second half, without making it waffle.

This is my challenge. The consequence of a big decision.

Guardians of the Sky Realms

Wow, am I excited and motivated!

Over the last few days (sick in bed, mind you), I have written over 7k words toward my small YA novel. I am guessing it will get to around 60k when finished – which is odd for me (as I tend to write them a lot longer). 11k in all has now been written. I am on a roll big time, and I don’t suspect it will sustain at this rate all the way to the end (yes, work is calling), but it will make a sizeable dent to the novel and, more importantly, I am in the groove – there will be no stumbling blocks now.

This is new for me, but it feels right. I call it a YA novel, but I am guessing the core readers will be girls aged from about 13 to 17 – I am guessing, as I am 48 and a male. That’s radically different! Does this constitute a YA novel? It wont be long before I start to find some of my nieces and get them to sanity check what I have written.

I have a short story posted on the Internet that is pretty close to what the prologue of my novel will be. Here it is to give you a bit of a taste what the story is about (but only a taste – there is a lot more to it!).

I call the short The Painting.

It was a balmy night but Maree shivered, buttoning up her coat. It was fear. Not for something specific, but the unknown – the back lanes of The Rocks were dark and menacing at midnight.

This was one of the oldest parts of Sydney and many of the narrow buildings she silently passed were nearly two hundred years old. In the old days the narrow byways were frequented by footpads and other villains. They killed for a few shillings. The history of the area was tangible: you could smell and taste it, and every shadow seemed to form into a knife-wielding psychopath.

She kept reminding herself that it was just her imagination as she continued down Kendell Lane, looking for No. 42. She still glanced over her shoulder every few seconds.

"There," she whispered, when she spotted the rusty number in the dim light. She read the signage underneath it: ‘Azimuth Galleries – viewings by appointment only’. Not this night, she thought.

Maree looked around her, making sure that no one was in sight. When she was sure it was clear she pulled out a pair of wires and expertly picked the old lock.

She quickly entered the old building and shut the door. She then pulled out a pocket torch and switched it on, immediately flashing it around to get her bearings. It was, in some ways, scarier in the gallery, as the paintings in the shadows seemed to come to life, shifting as the torch flickered by, the eyes of abstract figures seemingly following her. She shivered again. She wandered into the next room, picking her pace up as if to avoid the gaze of the phantoms behind her.

Her torch light almost immediately found the painting she was after. Wings. The work she saw in the magazine, the magnificent work of art she had to have. This was not going to be theft for profit; this was for her.

She had been dreaming about the painting for weeks, the swirling reds, greys and oranges of barely discernible winged figures; angels perhaps, but the subject matter wasn’t angelic. There was grief and death in it. She needed to study it alone, to absorb the artist’s impression, to feel the paint under her fingertips, to grasp the complete meaning of the work.

Maree held her breath and approached the painting. It was larger than she thought, perhaps four feet square. The colours were richer, more penetrating, and the winged man and… yes, woman! were more easily discernible. She was in awe, frozen in wonder before it.

"A beautiful work, no?" a deep, masculine voice came from behind her.

She started in surprise, but she didn’t move an inch. She was now frozen in fear.

The voice came again, this time a little closer. "Do not worry. I am a stranger in this gallery as well. I too have an… affinity with the painting."

A sweat bead ran down Maree’s neck. She found the courage to turn around. A tall man stood before her, no more than five feet away. He had short cropped hair, dark but the exact colour was unclear in the shadows. His eyes seemed light, perhaps grey; his face was thin but his body seemed full and fit. "I suppose you are wondering why I am here?"

Maree’s voice was weak, still with fear. "I… I suppose so…"

"I too wanted to view the painting. I have seen it before but I never tire of viewing the captured emotions on the canvas." He slipped past Maree and came within a few feet of Wings. "Do you mind?" he asked, pointing to her torch.

She complied, standing next to the stranger, and illuminated the painting.

The mysterious visitor’s voice seemed to mellow, almost break with emotion. "This is the story of Alanar, the Guardian of the Northern Sky Realm, and his consort Mirriam. They were Protectors and fought the daemons of the Fire Lands valiantly, never allowing the enemy to taint the Homelands. Protectors always worked as pairs, as a team." The stranger started to cry, not vocally, but allowing the tears to cascade down his cheeks. "Then one day a stray arrow dug deep into Mirriam’s breast, cleaving her heart. Alanar was devastated, and he caught her as she fell and carried her in his flight to the Homelands.

"This painting captures the moment when Mirriam’s body was caught. It faithfully portrays the agony of Alanar, his yellow-tipped wings rippling in the wind as he concludes his terrible descent. The swirling colours reflect the awful light of the Fire Lands but they also depict Alanar’s darkened heart. I look upon this work and I cannot but weep."

Maree heard his words and they all rang true to her. How could this be? she asked herself, for this was but an artist’s fantasy; and yet she now realised why she was drawn to the painting. There was some inherent truth in the canvas. Something that needed to say something to her. She also began to weep.

His hand gently clasped her shoulder. "You feel this too?"

She could only nod. Words were too difficult to say.

"And why?"

She shrugged her shoulders. She still couldn’t speak.

"Come with me."

Maree turned to the stranger, looking up at his face. She saw compassion in him, and yet she only met him a few minutes ago. She wanted to instantly reply ‘yes’, but all she could do was look at him quizzically.

He laughed while he cried. "Look at the painting again."

She did. The swirling colours suddenly seemed to have a life of their own; they actually were swirling. The tall man’s hand was still on her shoulder, and it ever so gently urged her to move toward the canvas, but not forcibly.

She didn’t know why but she allowed herself to fall into the painting, and then, without warning, she unfurled her expansive, blue-tipped wings, and flew into the maelstrom of colours.

He never let her go.

"It has been a long time, Mirriam."

The Sceptre and the Orb

Where do I begin? This is my first novel, my baby, and I genuinely believe it’s very good. It is epic High Fantasy, all 200k words of it. It is also reasonably uniquely structured and has the right story lines to introduce the world where Evyntyde exists.

As I stated in another blog, the world I write about was not altogether my construction – there were a bunch of roleplay game designers who collaborated on convention modules, and with a great deal of enthusiasm, we did a lot of world building. I was one of the most active, but certainly not the only one. The group eventually went their separate ways in terms of this project, and I continued it pretty much solo for a while, and eventually realised that the world had a lot to offer from a writing point of view. The other designers either formally handed over rights to the world to a smaller subset of designers, and those that remained consented to allowing me to dip into the stuff we collectively built. I should point out that my creative writing effort is mine, and mine alone, and by far the bulk of the world building used to construct the novels (and short stories) are also mine.

For fear of jeapardising my chances of selling the book through a publisher, I will refrain from quoting from my work, at this stage, and for that matter, divulging too much about the story. The following is what I am willing to offer.

The Sceptre and the Orb (‘scepter’ in US English) are two ancient artefacts, one created by a god-emperor, while the other by one of the greatest alchemists of all time, who used god-originating materials to construct it. They were designed to work together. They symbolised the right to rule the Kingdom of Waymoor, as well as the Kingdom of Evyntyde, that came out of a Great Migration from the earlier land. They also are powerful items of magic in the hands of people who know how to wield them (spell casting alchemists), and who have the Gift.

The novel is set in two places and timeframes, and appear to be two different stories, although each have spell casting alchemists of the Cimiaric Order, and the two artefacts play an important part in the conduct of events. The earlier thread takes place in the Kingdom of Waymoor, about 550 years prior to the events in the Kingdom of Evyntyde. The lives of three alchemists are followed, each having challenges in their lives, but also being entangled in the fate of the Waymoorian Sceptre and Orb.

Civil War, treason, jealousy – great events take place and near the conclusion of the novel all threads join together and add meaning to each other.

The story is truly epic, and I am proud to have written it.

My Novels – Completed & Planned

Hmm, can’t give too much away, but I would like to talk about my writing efforts, particularly in the medium that I enjoy the most.

The core of my writing at the moment, and certainly over the last few years, has been The Chronicles of Evyntyde. Stories set in the world where that island kingdom exists. It is so unique and expansive, and there has been so much work put into it, that it just oozes plot lines and characters. I suspect I will be writing Evyntyde short stories and novels until the day I die.  Having said this, I am not limited to this series, and I have just made a strategic decision where I am placing all of my major writing effort into a YA novel (see below).

The Sceptre and the Orb

This novel (200k) is my first, and it is done and dusted, in terms of readiness to be picked up by an agent and/or publisher. It has been polished so much I can see my face reflected in it, and I figure any further changes would be as a result of professional editing assistance. I will post another log on this work, as it deserves its own discussion.

Crystal Peak

Before I finished the final polish of The Sceptre and the Orb, I planned and then began drafting Crystal Peak. This work is about two-thirds complete (120k written, and it will probably resolve to about 160k). This is a fun story to write, although my day job has caused a major slow-down in production. I enjoy having characters from my first novel play roles in this story, but also introducing new ones, and in particular a female astrologer who is one of the main characters. All good.

Guardians of the Sky Realms

This novel has an interesting history. I wrote a short story, inspired by a painting (via a writers’ challenge), called The painting. It is one of my best stories and I wrote it deliberately for the younger set – to be specific, females aged 13 to 18 (although not inclusive). As soon as I wrote it I knew it had immense possibilities, and about a month later I plotted out an outline for a YA (or perhaps slightly younger age group) novel, and I also wrote the next chapter. I deliberately left it in hibernation, as I really wanted to progress Crystal Peak, and so it was left uncooked for quite some time.

Two things caused me to rearrange my priorities.  Firstly, Text Publishing (a small Press here in Melbourne) announced the winner of it’s second annual YA novel award – the prize was getting the novel published the next year and $10,000 advance on royalties – which seemed a really good target for my YA effort for next year’s awards – so I have until about July next year to get it written. The second reason why Guardians could be given higher priority was the simple fact that I have come to the conclusion that it is simply a more marketable work while I am still unpublished and have zero street cred. So, I have decided to swap the priorities between Crystal Peak and Guardians of the Sky Realms, and make a BIG push to getting the YA novel completed as soon as possible.

This is a wonderful baby for me – it just reeks of being a publishable, marketable work, and possibly even more. My decision to emphasize my YA novel is the right one.

Other Works

It is always dangerous to forecast far into the future, and to describe things that are, by their nature, subject to change. So dear reader, take this with a grain of salt, and forgive me for being deliberately general, as I don’t want to give away trade secrets ;-).

I have a third Evyntyde Book in mind, whose working title is The Crimson Pirate. Evyntyde is a seafaring nation and an enjoyable part of Crystal Peak is the sea based chapters (of which there are many). I thought it would be very enjoyable indeed to have a novel largely devoted to the topic.

Ah, my secret project. When I was in my late teens I was a passenger on a long country drive in inland New South Wales, Australia, and I saw a bleak landscape and an idea sprung in my mind. A pretty much complete storyline entered my head in the space of about ten minutes. Periodically, I thought about the story, and then forgot it (hibernation again), and about two years ago it made it’s timely return, and I started to put pen to paper. I genuinely believe it is a very good story, and I consider it a jewel that I need to work on in the next few years. What makes it interesting for me, aside from it’s conception, is that it isn’t a fantasy, YA, or even conventional Scifi. My best description would be to say it is a Michael Crichton style novel, set primarily in Australia and Antarctica. It’s working title is Bitter Springs.  This is likely to be the final title.

I have other ideas, but they are not worthy of mention at this stage. I am a contented soul when it comes to creativity, as I have about a couple of years’ worth of work lined up, if I was a full time writer.

As an aside, I am putting together an Evyntyde Short Story Anthology, which, I suppose, can be considered a large piece of work, rather than short stories, per se.

The Chronicles of Evyntyde

When I decided to write novels set in the world where the Kingdom of Evyntyde existed, I had no greater difficulty than deciding what to call the series. I really hated to use "chronicles", "saga", or any other well-worn terms, as this very fact rankled me. So when I thought about other series titles, I found myself in a bad place indeed. Nothing worked. My thesaurus was worn thin. I returned to the tried and true, and realised that "chronicles" was in fact the best fit.  So I called it The Chronicles of Evyntyde. There you go.

One reason why "chronicles" wasn’t too bad was because it did not imply a finite series, nor did it drill down to some macro-plot line that implied that it was a continuing series – which it isn’t. If there was any principle or concept that I developed right from the start, it was that I was not going to write a novel that left a reader hanging out for instalment two, and so forth. I wanted to write novels that were self contained, but where characters could make appearances again, or where events in earlier novels may get referred to or potentially influence the ‘here and now’. Not entirely original, but certainly not common. I liked that. Still do.

A slightly misleading dimension to the series title is that a story doesn’t strictly have to take place in Evyntyde, nor have anything related to it. But I rationalise this by suggesting, in a tenuous sort or way, that whatever story gets told, was collected by scholars in Evyntyde. At least that’s the story I will stick to, although there really isn’t a sense of that going on, particularly when the majority of my narrative is in third person past tense.

The world is large, rich and interesting, and it would be a shame not to exploit this in the series. That is one of the reasons why I wrote The Sceptre and the Orb first – a good third of the story takes place in the Kingdom of Waymoor, and five hundred and fifty years prior to the "usual" time line of the series. But that is another story…

Here is a high level map of the world: