Meeting Terry Brooks

Salvete, readers!

A few weeks ago I promised that I would share my experience of meeting legendary author Terry Brooks at Supanova on the Gold Coast. Well, here we go! Terry gave me some great advice which I’m sure will stand me in good stead as an author. It was an important moment for me and I’m thrilled to share it with you.

I was full of nerves as I approached the table. Brooks is among the first big-name fantasy authors after Tolkien. People mention him in the same breath as Ursula K LeGuin and Lloyd Alexander. He’s written about 40 books. His Shannara series has been adapted for TV and his Magic Kingdom series has been optioned for a film by Warner Bros. Heck, he worked with George Lucas himself on the adaptation of The Phantom Menace and was partly responsible for the lore surrounding the Jedi and Sith. His writing had a big impact on me as a teen. I was meeting one of my heroes and a veteran of the industry, but I decided to be polite and not act like a fanboy. He probably gets that all the time.

He and his wife Judine were both at the table. The tension in my chest dissipated as they smiled and waved.

‘Hi, there!’ said Terry.

‘Hello! It’s great to meet you both,’ I said.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Julian.’

‘What have we got here, Julian?’ Terry took my book—I’d brought his memoir on writing. He and Judine exchanged a glance. ‘Sometimes the Magic Works?’

‘You’re the first person to ask Terry to sign this—for this trip, anyway,’ said Judine.

‘Oh, really?’ I said. ‘It’s the first book I ever read about writing, followed by Stephen King’s.’

Terry’s eyes twinkled. ‘The thing about me and Stephen is that we’re polar opposites. There’s an important difference between us, though.’ He leaned close. ‘I’m right, and he’s wrong.’

I laughed.

‘Are you a writer?’ he said.

‘Oh, well, yes actually…’ I hadn’t intended to give him a spiel but thought it would be rude not to answer properly. I rummaged around in my bag and pulled out one of my promotional post cards.

‘My first novel is coming out later this year. It’s an historical fantasy based on Greek myths.’

‘Oh really?’ he said. Maybe he was just being polite, but he seemed genuinely interested. ‘Is it just coming out in Australia, or will it be in the States too?’

‘It should be available world-wide.’

‘Oh, great! I’ll keep an eye out for it. But what you should really do, and I’m sure you’re doing it, is read lots of different books about writing and come up with your own ideas.’

‘Oh, yeah,’ I said. ‘I try and make the most of every learning opportunity.’

‘Good on you!’

I noticed there was a chapbook on the table. Street Freaks? What was this book? I had never heard of it.

Street Freaks

He tracked my gaze and his eyes lit up. ‘Street Freaks! Now, this is my last chapbook, but I’ll let you have it if you prove you’re worthy.’

‘Oh, um, okay.’

He opened the chapbook to an illustration. ‘What do you notice about it?’

I blinked. It featured a young man climbing out a skyscraper window, a futuristic cityscape in the background. ‘It’s kind of similar to the poster for Ready Player One?

‘Well, yes, it is. It isn’t gaming lit though. But what else do you notice about it? It’s science fiction!’

‘Aha! You’ve always wanted to write a science fiction novel, right?’

He nodded. ‘Right! I wanted to try it out. And I wanted to know what it was like to have total creative freedom and oversee every aspect of the publication process. The edits, design, marketing, the whole deal. It’s coming out through a small press later this year.’

‘Oh wow,’ I said. ‘I really admire the fact that an author as advanced in his career as you are is trying something different.’

He grinned and grabbed my shoulder. ‘I’ll give you some advice that you should keep in mind throughout your career as an author. If you have an idea, and it scares you because it’s different, that means you should go for it. Because you never want to lose that creative energy, that spark, and if you just do the same thing over and over, it’ll die out.’

‘That’s good advice. Thank-you.’ Oh what the hell, I can be a little bit of a fanboy… ‘Look, um, it’s such an honour to meet you. I read The Sword of Shannara when I was fifteen, and I loved your books as a kid.’

Judine smiled. ‘That couldn’t have been that long ago, surely?’

‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well, half a lifetime ago.’

Terry’s eyebrows raised. ‘No! Really? You are not in your thirties?’

I shrug. ‘I, ah, hope it means I’ll age like Clooney.’

They chuckled, and he signed my book. ‘All right, you’ve proven yourself. The chapbook’s yours, but can you do me a favour?’

‘Sure.’

‘I’d like you to read it, and let people know what you think of it—on your blog, your Facebook page, whatever you got. Will you do that for me?’

‘Absolutely.’

And then I stammered my thanks and quietly slipped away from the table so he could talk to the next reader.

I read the first couple of chapters of Street Freaks that night. It’s a YA thriller set in a dystopian cyberpunk future. Here’s the blurb!

It begins with a dire call-right before his father disappears and his skyscraper home’s doors explode inward. It is the kind of thrilling futuristic story only Terry Brooks can tell.

“Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks,” his father directs Ashton Collins before the vid feed goes suddenly silent. The Red Zone is the dangerous heart of mega-city Los Angeles; it is a world Ash is forbidden from and one he knows little about. But if he can find Street Freaks, the strangest of aid awaits—human and barely human alike. As Ash is hunted, he must unravel the mystery left behind by his father and discover his role in this new world.

The writing whizzes like a bullet from a gun. It’s a definite departure for Terry Brooks, who normally eases the reader into the story. This one grabs you and doesn’t let you go. It sets up a mystery which hooks you with the first line. In spare prose, he conjures the setting of an LA whose air is poison and where androids hunt down the innocent. It promises to be a really fun read. It comes out in October 2018 and I can’t wait to see what happens next—I really can’t pay a higher compliment to a story-teller.

You can read an excerpt at i09 here.

Until next time,

Valete

P.S. Sign up to my free monthly newsletter for news and previews, as well as an exclusive prologue chapter to the Ashes of Olympus series! In the meantime, check out the image below for a sneak peak at one of the illustrations by Matt Wolf… The Way Home will be released July 31, 2018.

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If Star Wars were like Battlestar…

… Empire would end a bit like this.

Luke disembarks on the rebel command ship only to face a firing squad. He went AWOL in wartime to pursue a spiritual quest, handed his fighter to the enemy, and then gave the co-ordinates of the fleet to a known imperial collaborator.

Leia saves him by pointing out that executing the hero who blew up the Death Star would smash the morale of the rebel fleet. Mon Mothma relents and allows him a proper court martial.

Half the jury see Luke as a kind of messiah, half want him pushed out an airlock. Tensions within the fleet threaten to tear the rebellion apart. Just as sentence is about to be passed the empire attacks.

Luke manages to redeem himself by saving the fleet. Mon Mothma agrees to spare him on the condition that he stand down as Rogue Leader.

Meanwhile, everyone suspects Lando sold them out to the empire. Nobody suspects the true culprit, Threepio, who fell for the imperial propaganda line that droids would be granted citizenship under the empire’s rule. Artoo wipes Threepio’s memory to protect him.

There is no proper conclusion, and a bunch of intriguing mysterious stuff happens which is never properly explained.

The end.

Literary purgatory

Perhaps there is a literary purgatory where characters from early drafts wind up. They’re sent there when they are rewritten beyond recognition, replaced, or written out entirely.

Here you’ll find Bilbo’s son Bingo Baggins as well as his friends Odo Bolger, Frodo Took, and Marmaduke Brandybuck. They dolefully gaze down upon Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. The warrior-hobbit Trotter glares enviously at Strider. It’s so unfair that they shall miss out on their adventure. All of them give the evil Treebeard a wide berth, though they are perfectly friendly to the sweet-natured imp, Gollum.

Beside them sit Hermione’s parents, who are deep in conversation with a ghostly figure called Pyrites. They wonder aloud why they lifted so cleanly from Harry’s backstory.

And oh, here are twelve-year old Ashla Starkiller and her little brother Luke. Their loving father, Mace Windu, chats with a green-skinned alien by the name of Han Solo.

It’s a strange place.

A lesson from Star Wars

Salvete, readers!

Just a short post tonight, as I’m juggling a couple of deadlines and need to focus more on writing.

A few weeks ago, I watched Star Wars with my boys for the first time. This was a big moment for me, as I’ve loved Star Wars since I was seven years old. The kids were enthralled right up until the medal ceremony at the end. It went like this:

Master N: Do the good guys get medals, Daddy?
Me: Yep!
Master T: Even that guy? (Points at Han) But he’s a scaredy cat who ran away!
Me: Yeah, but he did come back at the end.
Master N: But the robots didn’t run away and they don’t get medals. That’s not fair. They all helped.
Master T: The princess should get a medal too, and she’s definitely not a scaredy cat!
Master N: I’m Luke.
Master T: That’s okay, I’m Chewie. He’s my favourite, except I can talk. RaaaAAAAAaargh!

There are a few important lessons here for a children’s author.

  • Kids will usually identify with the marginalised characters and the dorks, rather than the suave ones.
  • They also have a strong sense of justice and will call out unfairness if their favourite characters get short shrift.
  • Children can spot nonsense a mile away. Han is a scaredy-cat in Act 3. He’s willing to let his friends die to save his own hide—I think he mostly comes back out of guilt. But he’s uber-cool, so most of us still cheer for him.
  • Boys will absolutely identify with a female heroine until some idiot tells them they can’t. Kids are less worried about the gender of the character than their achievements.

Until next time,

Valete

Dear Twenty-Year-Old Me

Dear Twenty-year-old Me,

Right now, I’ve just turned thirty. Everyone assures me this is a huge milestone. Folks these days talk about turning thirty the way they used to talk about turning twenty-one. Apparently this is when real adulthood begins—when you settle down, get serious about your career, start a family. It sometimes seems like my generation spent its twenties lounging on the couch watching Spongebob and washing down fruit loops with vodka. That’s not going to be you. Sorry. In terms of life achievements, you’re going to pole-vault right over your twenties and land square in your thirties. It won’t be long now before you’re married and have two little people in your life who will argue with you on the correct way to use a lavatory.

And you know what? It’s going to be awesome. Your kids will teach you to see the world through new eyes, to appreciate just how amazing life can be. You’re going to read them Narnia and Roald Dahl, and they’ll applaud when you do the funny voices. Don’t misunderstand me, it won’t be easy—basically, you’re going to get signed up for a fulltime job where you are on call twenty-four hours a day, get no sick leave and no holidays. Sometimes, when the kids wake you up at four in the morning because they can’t find their damned Pokémon cards, it’ll feel like this will never end. But you’re doing something amazing—building a life together, teaching and nurturing them to become the best they can be. You wouldn’t trade the feeling of having your children fall asleep on your chest for anything.

Right now, at twenty, you’re working two jobs to get yourself through uni. You didn’t achieve stellar academic results in your first year, and you wonder whether it’s really worth it, especially when all you want to be is a writer. Don’t worry—you’re going to start hitting your academic goals in second year. Uni is a learning curve, so don’t beat yourself up. Your parents assure you that an Arts degree is going to be your ticket to stability in life. Don’t hold that against them. Mum and Dad are just passing on the wisdom of their generation. They didn’t realise that they came of age in the heyday of the liberal arts, and they couldn’t have known. Don’t fret about the value of an Arts degree. In about eighteen months, this thing called the Global Financial Crisis is going to happen, and it will mean the end of stability for your generation, regardless of what you study. Economic neo-liberalism will come to be taken for common sense, and most of the jobs will be casualised. It sucks, but you’ll make the best of it. Getting out of poverty is going to be an incremental process, and it isn’t going to be because of your education so much as your willingness to work hard and take opportunities as they come along. In this, you will be no different from anybody else.

But, um, if you want to invest in these things called Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t object.

At one point, after finishing the PhD, you’re going to convince yourself that being a school teacher is the best and only use of your knowledge and skills. The bad news? This is going to be the biggest mistake of your twenties. The good news? This is going to be the biggest mistake of your twenties. Anybody who can make it in the secondary education system will forever have your respect and admiration, but a job which involves reprimanding kids about their socks isn’t for you. Luckily, it’ll turn out that you’re good at other things too, and you learned a lot from your experience working in schools.

Oh, and that ambition to become a writer? It’s going to happen, but not until you figure out why you’re doing this. You’ll turn your PhD thesis into a book and advance human knowledge by a micron or two. Go you, but remember it’s not the Nobel Prize. The real test is whether your research is going to make a difference in people’s lives and have an impact upon the world. Let’s see what happens there, eh? The greatest thing you’ll gain from your education is comprehension of how little you really understand, and how much of the world there is to see.

It’s much better than it sounds right now.

I also happen to know you’re working on a novel. You’re far too scared to show it to anybody, but you’re convinced it’ll be the next blockbuster. Hate to say it, Twenty-year-old Me, but the one attitude cancels out the other. And it’s not going to be a bestseller, and that’s fine. That poor, unfortunate, half-formed novel is going to be valuable as a learning experience. You’ll gain the confidence to experiment with language, hone your storytelling ability. Most of all, you’ll learn how far you’ve got to go. Don’t be downhearted.

You’ll apply what you learned from your first attempt when you put pen to paper on your next novel. In hospital on the day your son is born, you’ll start scratching out a first chapter while your wife sleeps. You’ll keep scratching at it until it becomes a first draft. By the time you get to draft four, you’ll show it to other writers, and learn how to deal with criticism—both constructive and otherwise. Eventually you will tally of your drafts and feel like a gunslinger notching his rifle. At writing conferences, you will make like-minded friends who want your story to succeed just as much as you do and give you thorough critiques. It’ll be strange and a little intimidating, but you will repay the favour in kind. That’s how it works in the writerly world. With every stroke of the red pen, you become stronger as an author.

And on the bestseller thing? Sorry, Twenty-year-old Julian, you’ve got it wrong. As much as you might love JK Rowling’s work and hope to walk in her footsteps, her career is the exception rather than the rule. And Rowling didn’t write with the intention of becoming a bestselling author. She had a story which she wanted to share with the world. C.S. Lewis once said that we read to know we’re not alone. The flip side, of course, is that we write to reach out to others. It shouldn’t just be about selling books. It’s about contributing something to the community, giving people something to enrich their lives. Achieving sales matters far less than reaching the people who need your story.

By the way, it won’t be long now before you see second-hand bookstores flooded with unwanted copies of this these books called The Da Vinci Code, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Learn well from this: you can sell a story to millions and reach nobody. Far better, I think, to reach a few to whom your story means a lot.

Over and over, you’re going to be absolutely bamboozled by the human instinct to tear each other down over differences. You’ll figure out over the next ten years or so that story is the answer: to have the courage to speak, and to listen. Story brings people together, binds us. Sort of like the Force.

Also, right at the tail end of your twenties, Disney is going to purchase Star Wars and release the sequel trilogy, and—don’t look at me like that, it’ll be loads better than you expect. Remember when Disney started making Marvel movies? Oh wait, that hasn’t happened yet. Disregard.

Read, Past Me. Read stories from as many different perspectives as possible. I know you love fantasy and historical and science fiction, and that’s cool, but even within those genres there’s a lot more diversity than you choose to see right now. You’ll go through periods where you choose to read only novels written by women, or by people of colour. The ones by women of colour will teach you the most! As you discover more stories grounded in the here and now, you will find the world is more fantastic than you ever realised. Hear other people’s stories, the stories of strangers you meet in the streets. When you develop the capacity for patience, you will discover every human being is on their own hero’s journey. Learn how complicated and wonderful and strange the world is, and be willing to acknowledge the limitations of your understanding. That is the first step toward growth.

Just a couple more messages, Twenty-year-old Me. Over the next decade, you’ll start to learn how to take care of yourself. I don’t just mean how to pick out your own clothes and cook your own meals. When you’re there for people, you throw yourself into their wellbeing and care for them with your whole heart. And that’s good, that’s fine, that’s a part of who you are. But sometimes you’re going to get hurt, and sometimes you’re going to get exhausted. Once in a while, your caring will get thrown in your face. A handful of others will care for you as much as you do them. Nourish these relationships, but be mindful of your own needs also. It’s true that love is not a finite resource, but time and energy are. Don’t waste them on people who treat you as though you’re a complication in their life story.

In the end, there’s going to be one person who sticks by your side, and she is the love of your life. Right now, Twenty-year-old Me, you’re thinking about asking Kelly to marry you. There’s plenty of folks who will tell you it’s a mistake. Don’t listen to them. Getting married is the best thing you’ll ever do. Cherish Kelly, adore her and love her with all your silly heart. That’s what’s important. You already know it, I think, though you don’t quite know what it means yet.

I’ll close with a timey-whimey wibbly wobbly quote from your future and my past: ‘We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’

Until next time, vale.

Thirty-year-old Julian