By James Berardinelli
Why did I do it? That's a question I am often asked when people learned I devoted nearly every spare moment of three years to write a 1500-page saga cataloging the exploits of a stableboy struggling with an existence defined by the demise of gods and the rise of powers that have been dormant for centuries. The Last Whisper of the Gods, the first volume of an epic fantasy trilogy, can trace its genesis to a few chapters I scribbled in early 2007. The project was derailed - almost permanently - by a move of house and the birth of a child but I picked it up again in early 2011 and didn't stop until it was done. I finished the first draft of the third book, The Shadow of the Otherverse, on Christmas Eve 2013. Minor edits, continuity checks, and rewrites took the better part of a season-and-a-half but the tale has been complete for about 10 months now.
As a writer, one thing that has drawn me to fantasy is the ability to create a universe from scratch. Maybe I have a god complex. I enjoy making things up - not just characters and storylines but worlds, religions, and even physical laws. Newton and Einstein don't apply. Magic changes everything. Before telling the story of Sorial, Alicia, and King Azarak, I spent several months developing the land in which their adventures would transpire. I sketched out a crude map, made up a history, and developed a system of magic that was hopefully not a clone of anything employed elsewhere in the genre. Although it's true that elemental magic isn't original, my hope is that the underlying mechanisms of the energy's genesis is unique. (Although that isn't explored until the third book.)
The book's publication date and format remain up in the air, although that won't be the case for much longer. I am more than willing to pull the manuscript off the table and make it available via Amazon if it takes much longer to secure an acceptable deal. In this fast-paced electronic era, it stuns me how mired in the 19th century the publishing industry continues to be. So I can guarantee that The Last Whisper of the Gods will either be released in 2015 (if its format is exclusively digital) or have a firm publication date (if it's going to be released in paperback and digital) before the end of the year. Thus far, I have been patient but my wellspring of patience is running dry. I am coming to appreciate the autonomy and control that can be had through Amazon. (The downside is that I lack the marketing tools of a major publisher.)
The short stories represent my way of introducing interested and/or curious readers to the world I have created without spoiling the novels. Some of the ten stories have well-defined plots. Others are more character-based pieces. They all contribute to building the world of the six cities of Ayberia, and I'm proud of each one in its own way. (Of the six I have finished thus far, my personal favorites are "The Virgin" and "The Serving Wench".) Most of the characters in the short stories have roles - some large, some small - in the novels. For several, this represents an opportunity to expand on backgrounds hinted at in the larger text. The main characters of the novels - Sorial, Alicia, Azarak - make cameos but none is central to any of the stories.
In truth, the stories were more challenging to write than I anticipated. They serve a dual purpose and are written for two audiences: those who come to them after reading the novels and those who are introduced to this universe through them. For readers in the former camp, the stories are designed to enrich characters they are already familiar with. For those in the latter group, they must stand on their own as a prologue to greater things to come. No spoilers - the secrets of the books must remain such and be revealed in their own time. In some cases, that was unexpectedly difficult and it's a reason why certain characters couldn't be given their own episodes.
The first story, "The Priest," was designed to give an overview of the situation that forms the novels' backstory. It begins many years before the start of The Last Whisper of the Gods and stretches beyond the beginning of the book. A scene in "The Priest" is a recreation of a moment from Chapter One but presented from a different perspective. "The Virgin" takes place a generation before Chapter One and is a love story (of sorts). It introduces the great adventurer Warburm who becomes a recurring figure in other stories and in The Last Whisper of the Gods. "The Knave" skirts spoiler territory in providing background for a key character who doesn't come into his own until the second novel, The Curse in the Gift. "The Warrior" tells of Vagrum, sharing another aspect of the boisterous warrior who claims his share of pages in the first novel. "The King's Man" is an odd sort of story - a journey into the mind of a sadist. The main character, Langashin, plays only a minor part in the trilogy… but it's an important one. "The Serving Wench" is a direct prequel to The Last Whisper of the Gods. It takes place about five years before Chapter One but establishes the setting and many of the key relationships and characters.
Four additional stories are planned as I write this. #7 ("The Iron King") and #8 ("The Spymaster") form a pair - the same events told from different viewpoints. #9 ("The Watchmen") is designed to be a buddy story with a lighter tone than what I typically favor. #10 will offer some deep background as "The Historian" peruses old tomes and scrolls that tell of events long past.
As interested as I am in writing and posting these stories, I have long wanted to provide some of the main tale. To that end, I have elected to post the first three chapters of The Last Whisper of the Gods on-line over a period of a few months. Taken together, they represent a solid introduction to the events and circumstances. These are designed to whet the appetite not provide a full course. The first chapter ("At The Wayfarer's Comfort") will be posted in February, the second chapter ("Visits") in May (after stories #7 and #8), and the third ("The King's Conscience") in July (between stories #9 and #10).
Back to the "why" of all this… I think the reason is simple. I wrote The Last Whisper of the Gods and its sequels because the story it tells is one I would be interested in exploring as a reader. Maybe that makes this for an audience of one, but I hope there are more like me. This is the kind of fantasy I enjoy: epic stories filled with grandeur, heroism, romance, and tragedy. Tales with strong male and female characters, none of whom are marginalized. There's blood, gore, violence, nudity, and plenty of sex - a deliciously R-rated repast. I start things in very familiar (borderline cliché) territory but, as the story evolves, I take it in hopefully unexpected directions. The ending is - how shall I put this? - unconventional but hopefully satisfying.
I hope you enjoy taking the journey as much as I enjoyed crafting it.