Happy, Sunday, everyone! Hope you're having a fabulous November. As part of this month, we wanted to invite a number of authors to stop by this blog and chat. I'm so excited to introduce to you the author today: Brett Armstrong. An author of all trades, you're going to love this guy.
Hi, Brett! Tell us about your book:
For more than a decade, I carried around with me the beginnings of a fantasy saga. It started as a high school creative writing assignment to write a 2-3 page fairy tale.
What I turned in was a 30 page story that read more like Lord of the Rings than Sleeping Beauty.
Over the years, I revisited and rewrote the story as my writing skill improved. The once vanilla fantasy-adventure began to deepen. Lore of ages within the story world seeped into the backdrop.
Cultures developed. Characters deepened with new struggles external and internal. I realized the story was part of a saga, but I didn’t want to tell it like every other saga. So, Quest of Fire is two threads of history in the Lowlands woven into one strand. Anargen in the past, Jason in the present. Each struggle to find their place in the greater tapestry of that world.
By Jason’s time, the things Anargen deals with are legends. The only reason Jason knows of them is he stumbles into an inn to get out of the rain and hears a storyteller sharing them. Initially Jason is more captivated by the innkeeper’s daughter, Aria, than Anargen’s quest. But as he listens, he begins to wonder whether it might be true and soon finds himself caught up in the quest Anargen was on.
Ooh, I love this, and I absolutely love the origin story of how this came about. It always can differ from author to author.
So can obstacles in writing. What was the hardest part about writing this book?
I think a real challenge every writer, no matter his or her skill level, faces is when to say, "It's finished." No more edits, no more rewrites.
The story resonates with the emotional, philosophical, psychological, and spiritual impact it needs to. Oh, and it has a taut pace and witty, lovable characters. Then comes the most dreadful part, you have to send that story out for others to look at and judge in a very definitive way.
It’s a bittersweet experience.
Having beta readers and critique partners helps, but even after editors have poured over the manuscript, there’s a kind of dreadful anticipation of what readers will say when it gets in their hands. Will they like it? Will they hate it? Worse, will they feel nothing?
Knowing that once you pass beyond that barrier and put the work into readers hands there’s no going back makes deciding when a manuscript is “ready” so much the harder.
Agents and editors sometimes give feedback and can be open to resubmissions, but not always. So, I for one dither and wonder and with great trepidation let my manuscripts go. I’ve been blessed to have some insights from publishing house editors on my manuscripts after the fact—some of my best edits have come that way—but I think it is the curse of the artist to always look at the art and think, if only I’d refined those edges, smoothed the curves, deepened the shading… for the rest of the book’s existence.
Of course, you have to overcome the anxiety and paralysis or no one will see any of the beauty within the art. It’s a hard thing to do, but so many blessings—sometimes small, sometimes large, many times unexpected—await on the other side.
OK, readers, please take notes. And writers, if you struggle with the same fears, you're not alone. Fear of rejection and failure plague just about every writer. Super great insights, Brett. Now, tell me about your favorite scene you wrote?
It's hard to pick a favorite!
There are a lot of scenes I really enjoyed writing in The Gathering Dark. There's plenty of visually intense scenes that really gripped me, particularly around the book's major battles.
It might be easier to choose one that stands out most, one that I can't get past.
In chapter 15, Anargen and his group is riding to a small village to spend the night and have to go through this spindly old wood. It's dark, cold, and pouring the rain. There's a rift between Anargen and his friends so no one is talking. All of the sudden Anargen realizes their mentor, Cinaed is singing a song he knows from his homeland. He calls it, "the saddest song Walhonde's mountains ever produced."
It's about a family waiting for the father to come home and as time passes, realizes he never will. As Anargen listens, he suddenly gets the song in a way he never had while living at home. He feels the loss of the life he left behind, the future he won't have. There's a Welsh term, hireath. It's a longing and a sense of loss in one. Anargen has that and what makes the scene extra cool is that his mentor has a very personal reason for singing that song in that place. Though to find out why readers will have to wait for the novella that pairs with The Gathering Dark.
The scene is also really important for showing Anargen's growth. Because in chapter 15 the song appears and Anargen has this sense of irreparable loss. Almost regret for what he’s lost by joining the quest. The song appears again in chapter 43, but this time he comes to a different conclusion. One that should resonate with Christian readers in particular.
It's a short scene, but I think the book pivots on it thematically and in terms of action, because right after things get hairy fast. And I mean that on a variety of levels.
I love this. I can see why it stands out to you. Readers, he even composed a song for it! My website provider won't let me upload it, but it sounds fantastic. This is an author of all trades, for sure.
Now, for my favorite question: favorite character?
I'm sure exploring each of the characters more in the later books could change it, but right now I have two favorites. One is Seren, the girl Anargen falls for.
She's got a lot going on behind a quiet facade. She's from arguably the most prominent city in Anargen's country. So, she has been exposed to books and lore and philosophy that make her a window to a world Anargen never knew. At the same time, she's really grounded and has a simple life. There's just so much to her and I think as the series progresses, readers will come to love her as Anargen does.
The other is the old storyteller in Jason's era. There is so much mystery around him. I have a blast anytime he appears in a scene. Nothing seems to ruffle him, but he has enormous wells of compassion. He's got a composite of a lot of influential people in my life inspiring his reactions and thoughts, but is still his own person in a lot of ways. To be honest, I kind of hope readers are a little frustrated with him, because he does represent so many secrets and carries so many answers the reader needs for the saga to progress and he seems in no particular hurry to spill them all. He gives just enough for the moment and no more.
I love that. I feel like you don't encounter characters like that a lot in reading nowadays. OK, last question, what is your advice for aspiring authors?
My advice to all writers is always the same and very simple. Know why you're writing. Is it to create a career? To leave a legacy? To make art? To honor God? Every time you go to write a word there is something behind that and it is best to know and be sure of the why.
Writing is easy when you enjoy it. Writing for publication is much harder. Your concerns shift from strictly personal to what readers want and need. That's a tough transition for such an intensely personal act. Since all art is so very personal it also leaves you vulnerable to the reactions of others. Not everyone will love what you write. Most books aren't bestsellers and don't win contests. Hundreds of hours spent lovingly crafting a novel can be dismissed in the market without ceremony.
Having yourself anchored solidly to why you write will keep you from being swept into disillusionment when sales, contests, reviews, marketing, querying, etc. don't pan out like you plan. Know it, remind yourself often, and hold onto as you press on in your writing journey.
Thank you for joining us, Brett! And readers, if you want something clever, fun, and full of wonderful characters, check out Brett's book below!
Jason is an expert at running from his past. But when it catches up, he finds himself hiding in a peculiar inn listening to a tale from centuries past. The story is Anargen's, a teen who is pulled from all he loves to follow his oaths of loyalty to the fabled King of the Realms. Together with his mentor, Cinaed, he rides north on a special quest to mediate peace talks between ancient foes—the men of Ecthelowall and the dwarfs of Ordumair. Nothing goes as planned. Many on both sides of the dispute despise Anargen's Order. Worse, an arcane evil has returned to the North. This "Grey Scourge" seeks to ruin the peace talks and ensure a lost treasure held by the dwarfs is never found by those for whom it is meant. As Anargen's story unfolds, Jason begins to wonder whether it is truly just a fable. He soon finds himself drawn into the conflict Anargen faced. A battle which has shaped and can destroy his world.