“All novels are fantasies. Some are more honest about it.” Gene Wolfe
The study room off the third floor lounge in our dorm was small, fluorescently lighted, and had a big table in it. In fact, it wasn’t even my floor; my room was one floor down. My friend Sean had laid claim to this little room and I just loved working there.
We moved in more comfortable seating, two small tables, got a lamp with a warmer glow and transformed the place into a writing den. During my freshman year of college, that room became a vehicle for my creative impulses, and Sean became a sounding board for my ideas. I wrote many short stories, poems, and chapters for my defunct first novel in that little cave.
And they were all fantasy, because that’s what I was mostly reading (and had been reading through a lot of high school). That room started me on my journey to becoming a writer because it gave me a space to explore my imagination and the quiet to dedicate the hours to actually writing those ideas down. My writing was terrible but I finally had an outlet for the worlds growing in my mind. And only fantasy would do those worlds justice.
“I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.” Lewis Carroll
I posted my first story on fantasy-writers.org and waited to get some feedback. It takes quite a bit of courage to put writing out there and I’d been lurking on the forum for a little while, participating in some of the discussions before I finally put up a story of my own. I don’t remember which story it was, but it wasn’t very good.
The first comment was pretty harsh (2/5 stars) and was quite discouraging to me. In retrospect though, it was spot on. One reason I’d posted it was in order to get constructive feedback, not to boost my ego. I needed to know what was wrong with it—there was a lot wrong with it.
I’ve been a member of FWO for almost thirteen years now. It’s a community of writers that enjoy reading and writing fantasy as much as I do, some with years of experience and published novels and others resembling my first bumbling steps into the genre. The discussions, jokes, games, critical feedback, and camaraderie have shaped my writing more than any other influence. I’ve entered my story in the monthly challenges, been a challenge judge, got busy and wasn’t around for a few years, came back and learned about how to submit stories.
Through it all, I consider myself a confident writer who knows what he’s doing within the genre. I’ve got more to learn, but the progress is immense thanks to the wonderful members of the FWO community.
“Fairy tale does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat…giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” J.R.R. Tolkien
The oil painting of the two cows in the stream in the massive gilt frame has been hanging in my grandparents’ house since long before I was born. It moved walls a few times, but mostly it hangs over the couch with the little silk pillows. It was there that I reread Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings for the fourth time. In high school and much of college, I reread the trilogy over Christmas break each year, marveling at the world-building, the strong connection I felt with the characters, and the sheer scale of what Tolkien had created.
I would immerse myself in Middle Earth, a world as real to me as that of the history books. The Battle of Helms Deep is stored in the same recesses of my mind as the Battle of Cannae. History of our world and history of Middle Earth are equally real and equally important. This secondary world, this land of vibrant streams, trees, and peoples that Tolkien sub-created showed me the extent of storytelling.
In fairy tales (fantasy), the author explores those aspects of our world without the hindrances and constraints placed on them by our world. This is true of speculative fiction in general, but it was through Tolkien’s writing that I was introduced to the potential of made up worlds. I too would take a ship to the undying lands. The fall of the elves from Valinor, the raging battle within Smeagol, the steadfast courage and resilience of the hobbits, the meaning of home. These speak more closely of humanity, of our struggles and desires, than any realistic piece of fiction I’ve ever encountered. I’m convinced that in our fantasy, we can best explore the nature of our reality.
“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.” Arthur C. Clarke
I’ll admit there was a bit of trepidation when I hit the send button. I’d triple checked the guidelines, made sure my document was in the right format, the font type and size was correct, and I’d remembered to include all the requested information. The anthology I was submitting my story to had given out the theme and now I was submitting my first ever story to a professional market.
Luckily, I’m not plagued by doubt in general, nor was I feeling any anxiousness regarding the fate of my story. It had come to me while I was in Bangkok for a few days and I was quite happy with it. Even if this anthology didn’t take it, I’d find a home for it elsewhere.
When I heard back a few months later, it was to tell me that while I had been a finalist, I hadn’t made the cut for the anthology. Honestly, I was elated. I got excellent feedback from the editors at the anthology to improve my story, which I took and then quickly sent out to another market. It’s come back seven times since then and has yet to get picked up; I’m not particularly concerned—sooner or later it’ll find a home.
Then I got an email from the original anthology: they have another one and they want me to contribute a story. Hitting send that time was much easier. Still waiting to hear back, but I’m thinking I might have good chances of finally publishing a short story for the first time.
“There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds.” G.K. Chesterton
The clink of coffee spoons and breakfast utensils is broken by the hissing of the espresso machine and a passing motorcycle. At least, that’s what I assume; I can’t hear any of it because I have my earphones in, the epic swell of orchestral grandeur is sweeping me to the climax of my latest novel. It’s fantasy, of course.
At least once a week, I walk to the café, settle into my seat, and pound out a few hundred words. I walk (15 minutes) specifically so my mind can mull over the scenes I’m about to write, the characters that are about to change, and plots that will wind their way across my computer screen. I’ve built a lot of little worlds over the years, each bricked together with creativity, anguished thought, and coffee.
Some turn out great, others never make it past a first draft. I’m almost at a place where I think I’m ready to send out my first novel. I’ve happily worked away at it, still excited even as I edit the harder chapters that didn’t turn out quite as I’d imagined. But the world from my head has shown up on paper; a world inspired by so many fantasy writers who have entertained me with their stories and worlds.