The fantastic cannot exist without the mundane

I’ve had a few thoughts bouncing around in my head lately and I’d like to try to articulate them.

So, I’ve been reading a bit more widely than I have in years, dipping into westerns and historical fiction and stuff like that. And really, the venue doesn’t matter as long as the story is a ripping good yarn. Good guys are good guys whether they carry revolvers or swords. Bad guys are bad guys whether they’re robbing a bank or assassinating a king.

One funny thing I’ve noticed is that there are two sides to all stories. There is the fantastic and there is the mundane.

The heroes still have to eat, drink, and sleep. They still have to live somewhere and hold down jobs. They have daily responsibilities, or they did before the story kicked in. They have annoying neighbors and coworkers. They have lives, because if there’s no mundane, the fantastic becomes the mundane.

I tried to read this really weird book that was weird for the sake of being weird. Eventually the flying beasts pulling the chariots and the floating orbs in the air and the weirdly shapeshifting monsters just became pedantic. This was meant to be super fantastic and immersive and interesting. Instead, it just was so weird that it was boring. I slugged along for a couple of chapters, trying to get to the plot advertised on the back of the book, but eventually I gave up. There was so much weirdness, the story never grounded itself in anything I could understand. I needed that mundane element, the slice of normal that makes the fantastic interesting by contrast.

As I’ve been reading historical fiction, I’ve noticed that all you have to do is change a few elements to make it fantasy. Change the names of Roman Britain to made-up words and you have an instant fantasy novel. Change the horses to spaceships and the western becomes a sci-fi. As long as the story and characters are solid, the genre elements just add window dressing. Because the story, itself, is grounded in the mundane. The fantastic is the icing on top.

The more books I chuck into my Read pile this year, the more I encounter authors who struggle with this balance. As a longtime reader, I tend to think that this is self-evident, but apparently most authors don’t read enough. So let me tell you, authors: build your story from the mundane up. I know the fantastic elements are the most fun to think about, but you need that mundane grounding. It keeps your characters human and lets readers connect with them better.

Book release: Irregulars

After a whole year’s delay, the next After Atlantis book is out!

Three lost isles to protect Atlantis …

James Chase needs magic from seven elements in order to deploy the Lighthouse island from the pocket dimension where it was built. However, the element of Air is missing, its elemental long dead.

Chase turns to healer Jayesh Khatri, who used to work with magic smugglers to illegally track shard carriers. Jayesh joins forces with Nell and Max, a couple of streetwise teenagers struggling to straighten out their lives. They have questions about the fate of Omniscient, the dead ringleader of the smugglers, questions that Jayesh doesn’t dare answer. As they work together to track down the person carrying the last fragment of air magic, Nell and Max press their healer for the truth, dangerous though it may be.

An encounter with the fanatical Cult of the Dawn sends the investigation into a tail spin. Can Jayesh win the trust of Nell and Max, or will the Emperor of Atlantis and his cult capture the last remaining Aspect of Air?

Available on most retailers!

I’m kind of embarrassed at how long it’s been since Sanctuary released. This is what I think of as a bridge book, that is, it fills the gap between the previous plot arc and the big finale. It builds up the tension and worldbuilding, and sets up a bunch of dominoes for the next and final book. And it was super hard to write! I wrote an entire novel and discarded it between Sanctuary and Irregulars, because it didn’t fit and it didn’t work.

Irregulars starts off as the breathing space after the frantic events of Sanctuary. Jayesh and Kari are settling in together, things are going great, everybody is happy. But James Chase can’t seem to find the last type of magic he needs to launch his island into the real world. Jayesh pitches in to help, and the slow build begins to a crazy showdown against the Emperor of Atlantis himself. I’ve wanted to drag in the teen characters from Bloodbound for ages now, and they fit this world like a glove. I’m really looking forward to the teen mystery series I have planned, where Max and probably Nell will solve superhero-related mysteries.

Meanwhile, the next book features the big war for Atlantis, and that will take the majority of my attention for the next few months. I want to end the series with a boom and reward you guys for sticking with it for so long! I promise to have no major character deaths! I really hate it when books do that to you, so I’m making sure everybody survives.