Monday, March 28, 2005

Meeting postponed

The cover art meeting was postponed for reasons not revealed to me, so at the moment I still have no idea about what artist they are looking at or which scene they will illustrate. I'll let you know when I have any new info.

Back to work on book two. More soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

More on cover art

I was right, I'm not actually included in the cover art meeting, but my editor was kind enough to solicit comments from me regarding my preferences for both artist and scene. I spent some time last night looking through the book for scenes that I thought would work well as cover illustrations, then wrote a brief description of each and the page number in an e-mail back to her. I came up with ten images in all. Some were dynamic "action" scenes, while others showed some of the unique landscapes and "sense of wonder" images from the book. I also threw out some names of a couple of artists I like, such as Gary Ruddell, Steve Stone, Keith Parkinson, and a few others.

My favorite image is one they probably won't use. There is a statue described in the book called "Death of a Son," a symbolic representation of the long lives of wizards that they cannot share with anyone else. They will remain unchanged for several centuries while their loved ones grow old and die. Here's the description of the statue:


The statue rose seven feet above the pedestal and depicted a father carrying the limp corpse of his son, one arm beneath the boy’s back, the other beneath his knees. The father cradled his son gently, lovingly, a boy of five or six, whose head rested against his father’s chest, his eyes closed, his lips slack. The boy’s left arm lay across his abdomen; his right hung limply, the fingers relaxed, and Gerin could imagine it swaying lifelessly as the father carried him away from the place where he had died (for surely that must be what was shown, he thought). The dead child wore a sleeveless tunic and trousers that reached only to mid-calf; his feet were bare. The son had no wound or blight upon him, no visible injury that could have caused his death. Indeed, he could easily have been sleeping except for the expression on his father’s face. It was etched with anguish and pain, a sorrow so deep and penetrating it seemed he must collapse at any moment from the crushing weight of it. His head was tilted back, looking skyward; his eyes were wide and imploring, and looked so close to spilling tears that Gerin half-expected to see water begin to pour down his white cheeks. The father’s lips were parted slightly, as if he were attempting to speak but could not find the strength for his voice. His hair was swept back from his face by an unseen wind, which billowed the cloak that fell from his shoulders.

“It’s both beautiful and terrible,” said Reshel in the same whispery tone.

“This is ‘Death of a Son,’” said Hollin. He too spoke softly, and with a reverence in his voice Gerin had not heard from him before. “It is my favorite sculpture in all of Hethnost. Many find it morbid and avoid it, and in some ways it is, but I find it heart-wrenchingly sad, and beautiful as well, as you said, Reshel. It was made by a wizard named Eredhel Anyakul after his own son drowned in one of the cisterns here. He never sculpted again after this was finished, and in fact went mad a few years later and lived out his days in the uppermost room of the Derasdi Tower.” He pointed to a solitary square spire near the foot of the ramp that led to the Khalabrendis Dhosa. “He allowed food and water to be brought to him, but received no visitors and spoke to no one. They knew he was alive only by the lights in the tower and the empty trays left outside the door each morning.” He looked at the statue and folded his arms. “I’ve always imagined that the father is about to speak the name of his son, but that his grief is simply too great to overcome.”

“It seems to me his is going to ask why?” said Reshel. “Why was my child taken from me? Who will answer for it? He’s looking to the gods, but his question is met only with silence and a voiceless wind.”

“I like that,” said the wizard. “I’ve also thought this was a potent symbol for wizards and our inability to pass our powers and long lives to our children. I think that’s why so many of us are troubled by it; it’s too sad a reminder of what we can never share.”


There are some other images that would make good covers, but I think this one captures the melancholy that is at the heart of the book. I'll let you know how things develop.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Cover art

It appears I spoke out of turn when it comes to cover art. I was certain that authors had no input whatsoever into book covers, but apparently that's not entirely the case. I just got an e-mail from my editor informing me of a cover conference on Wednesday. I'm not sure I'm actually included in the conference, but my editor asked me for my input, so I'm going to put a list together of scenes from the book that should translate into interesting covers.

Friday, March 18, 2005


One of the central narrative arcs in the story cycle of the novels is the movement from polytheism, to henotheism, to monotheism. Most people recognize the first and last terms, but "henotheism" is not nearly as familiar.

So what the heck is it?

Henotheism is the belief that there is one god for a particular people or tribe, without disbelieving in other gods for other peoples. Moses, contrary to popular opinion, was a henotheist, not a monotheist. He did not disbelief in the gods of Egypt -- he said only that they were not for the Hebrews, who were to worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone. That's why the Egyptian priests are able to transform their staffs into serpents. It was a show of the power of their gods. But Yahweh is stronger, and the transformed staff of Moses devours the other two, "proving" that the god of the Hebrews is stronger than the gods of Egypt. A lesson the Pharaoh ignores to his ruin.

In the second novel, The Words of Making, a henotheistic religion arises that greatly alarms the king and the priesthood because of its popularity with the common folk. The men who are in power see the religion of the One God as a subversive force that must be contained or destroyed. The problem for the king is that his son, Gerin, has become a follower of the new religion, since he has come to believe that the divine presence who has appeared to him several times is a messenger of this new god....

Thursday, March 17, 2005

What the books are about

I've been trying to figure out a way to describe what my books are about that doesn't read like a jacket blurb, but also doesn't give away too many of the surprises. I'm going to launch a web site later this year that will contain the prologue to The Amber Wizard, but it's kind of large to put into this blog, so for now I'm going to resist going that route.

First of all, The Amber Wizard and its sequels are epic fantasy in a "medieval" tradition. I realize this is not everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine. I will describe Foreverness sometime soon, which is a young adult dark fantasy set in the here and now (southcentral Pennsylvania, to be precise) with lots of religious implications and musings about God's plan for the world. So if you're looking for me to write a plain old mainstream novel, sorry! I read them occasionally, but the idea of writing one definitely isn't my cup of tea. Even if I tried to write something "normal," my twisted brain would drag something weird into it. That's just how I am.

The Amber Wizard, at its heart, is about the consequences of one's actions and how terrible crimes can resonate and affect the world centuries after they occur. The main character, Gerin Atreyano, is a prince and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Khedesh. He's young, brash, arrogant, and talented. He learns that he has the ability to become a wizard -- which were once a separate race of beings, and whose interbreeding with non-magical peoples has caused their powers to fade until they now stand on the brink of their own extinction -- the likes of which have not been seen for nearly two thousand years.

A mysterious divine being appears to him on several occassions to make cryptic pronouncements about the power -- and powerlessness -- of the gods, causing him to wonder if he's drawn the attention of the gods themselves upon him.

While in summary it sounds kind of generic, the details in the book -- and the larger story that will play out over the next several volumes -- are pretty unique for this kind of fantasy. What exactly is mankind's relationship to the gods? Is there one god or many? What kind of events would cause a former polytheistic priest to create a new religion dedicated to One God alone, and why would such a new idea spread across the world like a wildfire? Is evil an external, incarnate force, or does it live only in the hearts of mankind?

In The Amber Wizard, Gerin faces a terrible dilemma. There is a force of death at work in his world, created by an act of his own making
that went horribly wrong -- the use of forbidden black magic to summon the spirit of a dead wizard. Many are dying, and more will continue to die unless a proper balance can be restored. But the only way to correct the balance is by the sacrifice of an innocent, one who must be pure. And it must be done by Gerin's hand. He will also uncover the secret of an ancient crime so ghastly it will forever change how he sees the world.

Monday, March 14, 2005

How not to go insane from the solitary life of a writer

I'm sure every writer working full-time has little tricks to keep from cracking. Writing is a very solitary experience. One person, alone in a room with a computer (or tablet, or napkins, or whatever), and (for a novelist, at least) a long story to tell that won't be finished for months, or years. It's not really a life that's well suited to the kind of person who thrives on contact with others. Fortunately, I'm not that kind of person. Not that I'm anti-social, but I don't mind long stretches of time by myself. Of course, I've only been at the full-time gig a month, so I haven't exactly had time to go bonkers yet.

Here's how I do it. Your mileage may vary:

  • Treat writing like a job (because that's what it is). I write from about 9:00 (after I drop my son off in kindergarten) to around 4:00 or 5:00. I'm no longer working evenings and weekends (well, most of the time I'm not -- there are days when I really want to finish something and I need to work longer, but that's the exception rather than the rule). If you just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike before you start writing, you will probably never finish anything.
  • Take breaks, and get out of the house! I schedule lunches with friends two or three days a week so I can get out of my office and have interaction with real people. (I like solitude, but not that much!)
  • Have a goal or quota, and don't stop until you hit it. Before I started writing full-time, I set a goal of wanting to write at least 1,500 words per day (you might use number of pages or some other measurement, but the idea is to pick something). That would keep me on track to finishing a long novel in about a year. So far I've been hitting 1,600 to 2,300 words every day. As I've said before, outlining really helps!
  • I like listening to music while I write. Others might need absolute silence. I've been burning my CDs down to iTunes while I work (2,000+ songs so far) and I just hit shuffle and let them play. Or I listen to some of the radio stations on iTunes. There's a pretty interesting selection of stations out there.
Tip for getting started each day: Always end your writing day by stopping while the writing's going great. Never stop when you've run out of gas or ideas, or are in a quandary of some kind. I've stopped mid-sentence before -- it makes it that much easier to get started in the morning. Just make some notes on the page of what you're planning next (if you need to), and shut things down. It really works. You can pick right up and get going. I've yet to experience "writer's block" (though I will say that when I make all of the hard choices in the outline stage, things can move pretty slooooowwww.)


I proofed the most recent changes to my young adult novel Foreverness today (I took a break from working on the sequel to The Amber Wizard last week to do the revision) and sent the revised manuscript off to my agent. He'd read it recently and had asked for a number of changes. None of them were substantive, but they helped to clarify a number of plot points and create some more emotional resonance between the main characters. Matt is a great guy for cutting right to the heart of a piece of fiction and figuring out exactly what works and what needs some help. I will let you know what he thinks of the revision when I hear from him in the next few weeks.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Some interesting questions...

David Gordon asked:
"I am especially interested in how you will balance the very solitary life the writer leads (it is, after all, just you and your word processor behind locked doors) with the 'public' life a person who is (happily) married, with children must concurrently lead. In addition, there is the frustration you soon will encounter when you discover (as if you already do not know) that publishers perceive their end-market as book-sellers, not book-buyers and readers. People such as me. So in addition to writer and proof-reader, you also must assume the role of Chief Marketer and Publicist for David Forbes, Inc. Of course, if you are related to those other Forbes, well then no problem!"
Very good questions, David, especially dealing with the solitary work environment. This is going to be a short post, but I promise I will get to your questions soon. This blog itself is part of the marketing effort I'm doing for my work, and I'm sure HarperCollins will expect some things from me as well, but at this point I have no idea what they might be. That's all part of this new journey I'm experiencing and planning to share.

No, unfortunately, I'm not related to those Forbes, otherwise I could have just bought HarperCollins and saved myself all of the grief of having to submit my work to them!

Expect a breakdown of my work day (though not, I hope, in enough detail to put any of you to sleep), how I deal with working on multiple projects at once (writing the sequel to book one, revising Foreverness, revising book one itself once I get the editorial letter from HC, maintaining this blog, and building a web site for, and some updates on me bugging my agent about the contract (sorry, Matt!) over the next few days. I'll also try to work in a little more detailed description of the books when I have some time.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

What happens after your novel gets accepted by a publisher?

While I was waiting to hear whether or not The Amber Wizard was accepted anywhere, I was working on the sequel, The Words of Making. I had written a two or three page synopsis for each of the remaining three books in the series -- The Words of Making, The Commanding Stone, and The Fell King -- but as I've said before, I found I need a very detailed outline completed before I sit down to begin writing. I can make all of the hard plot and character decisions and change things around much more easily in a 30 page outline than after I'd completed 300 manuscript pages. So I spent a couple of months hammering out all of the plot details of book two until I had a 37-page, single-spaced outline done, breaking the story down chapter by chapter.

After HarperCollins offered me the contract, I got a call from my editor, Diana Gill. We talked for a while and she filled me in on the next few steps in the process. Here's what I remember from the call. I didn't take notes, I just listened, and some of this may very well be wrong. But here's the publication process as I understand it at the moment.

  • Once I sign the contract, I get paid the first installment of my advance (no, I won't say what it is; more than ten bucks and less than a million). HarperCollins actually pays my agent, who deducts his 15% and other miscellaneous fees, then remits the rest to me.
  • I will receive an editorial letter from Diana. This is her list of things she wants changed in the book. I've had people ask me, "What if she wants you to throw most of it out and start over?" I'm not worried about that at all, because the book industry is so competitive that if a novel isn't about 95% ready to go as is, you won't get an offer in the first place. Of course now that I've said this, her list of changes will be huge and I'll gnash my teeth and come back here and bitch and moan about the unfairness of it all, but I really don't think that will happen (he said with his fingers crossed).
  • Once I make the changes and return the manuscript, I get paid a second installment of the advance. This is called "delivery and acceptance."
  • The manuscript is then typset and gone over by a copy editor, who checks for things like spelling and grammar mistakes, etc., and marks up the manuscript accordingly.
  • The copyedited manuscript is then set as a proof. Someone (I'm not sure who) meticulously compares the copyedited manuscript to the proof copy to make sure that all the changes in the copyedited version were actually carried through to the proof.
  • Once that is verified, a proofreader a HarperCollins and I receive copies of the proof, which we read in detail (which I'm dreading -- I'm a lousy proofreader), make any changes that might be needed, send it back for corrections, etc. I don't know how many iterations of this process occur. I hope not many!
  • Once the proof is approved, it...well, hell, I kind of forget. I guess it goes to a final typeset stage at this point, but I'm really not sure. And somewhere in here the art department has to find a cover artist, send him or her the manuscript (or selected parts of it), receive sketches, decide on which one to use, etc. From what I understand I have zero input on what the cover art will be. So if it sucks ass (and no offense, but I think a great deal of fantasy cover art blows big chunks of steaming monkey vomit), don't blame me!
  • The book goes into HarperCollins publication schedule, a print run is decided upon, whatever marketing is to be done is worked out, and a lot more stuff that I presently have no idea about.
That, in a nutshell (or a couple of bullet points), is the general outline of the publication process as I now understand it. As I go through each stage I'll write about it here in detail, so be sure to check back!

Next post(s): Getting into the groove of writing the sequel, why even outlining in detail can't always save you from some big changes once the writing starts, and moving to writing full-time during the day. (And yes, I will give an update on what's going on with Foreverness soon, I promise.)

How to juggle a "normal" life and still find the time to write

I got married in 1994 to my wife Connie, and our son Alex (who's in the picture with me to the right) was born in 1999. After college, I worked at a credit union for six years as a research analyst in the marketing department, then jumped ship to a regional bank as a marketing product manager. I wrote in the evening, on weekends, on holidays and sometimes on vacation. I watched very little television because I had to choose between writing and watching TV, and since books don't write themselves I knew I had to devote the time or I would (a) never get anything finished and (b) therefore never get published.

Yes, it was hard. I've pretty much had two jobs for my entire adult life: "work" during the day to pay for things like utilities and the mortgage, and writing in any "spare" time I could find (which I have always considered my real "work" even when I wasn't getting paid). I tried to write at least five days a week. And I still had to do "life" things like cut the grass and play with my son and spend some time with my wife and try to get out of the house at least once in a while.

But you know what? It paid off. Here's a brief chronolgy of how things played out:

After my first agent and I parted ways, I spent a year or so cutting a crapload of material out of The Amber Wizard, but I just got exhausted with it. I needed a break. I had an idea for a completely unrelated novel called Foreverness, about a fourteen-year-old boy who gets caught up in a war between angelic powers and the nature of God's purpose for us. The idea had been floating around in my head for a while, and I'd been making lots of notes for a couple of months. Finally I decided to take a break from The Amber Wizard and work on this new project. I outlined it in a lot of detail (I start with a rough synopsis of a couple of pages, then keep expanding that until I have a detailed, chapter-by-chapter breakdown), which took something like six or eight months. It was the first time I'd outlined in such detail, and I realized it's how I need to work. I wrote the first draft of Foreverness -- 100,000 words -- in 90 days. The damn thing practically wrote itself. I let it sit for a month, revised it, then started looking for a new agent, hoping Foreverness would get me in the door.

One year and a gazillion queries later, I still hadn't found one. Probably a dozen agents wanted to read some sample chapters, and though they liked it, the comments I got all went along the lines of, "I don't know how to sell this." It frustrated the crap out of me, because of course I could see exactly how to sell it and I couldn't understand how someone "in the business" couldn't figure it out (all writers pretty much think this way).

I ended up shelving Foreverness for a while and went back to The Amber Wizard. Wrote and re-wrote, blah blah blah, then started the agent hunting again. I lucked out when I found Matt Bialer in late 2003, who not only understood exactly what I was trying to do, but whose every suggestion for a change -- even the ones I initially fought -- ended up making the book better. (I would normally find that annoying as hell -- I'm the one who likes to be right all the time! -- but Matt gets a pass since he's such a good guy.) We worked for about five months on rewrites, then he shipped it off.

In the meantime, the bank I worked for had been sold to a larger bank, and I was pretty sure I was going to be laid off when the deal closed in early 2005. I was obviously, for a number of reasons, really gunning for this book to sell. I will tell you that trying to get a book sold in the middle of the summer (this was 2004) is a nightmare. No one is around to read anything -- they're all on vacation, or the person who needs to make an approval for the person who has read it is on vacation.

But on October 1, I got the call from Matt that HarperCollins had made an offer for a three-book deal, and he recommended that we take it.

Like there was a chance in hell I was going to say no!

So what's a book contract look like?

I wish I could tell you. I still haven't seen it. The publishing industry moves slower than [insert folksy Dan Ratherism about turtles in Texas or cold molasses moving downhill in winter]. I hope to have it soon. Matt has apologized and said that HaperCollins has changed some of their standard boilerplate language, which has forced a lot more back-and-forth than usual. But I can't tell you what's in it until I have it. Once I do, I will let you know.

And, unfortunately, until I sign it, I also don't get paid.

The moral of the story: Perseverence pays off. Yeah, it's a cliche. Sue me. I must have sent 60 or 70 queries at least, and I was prepared to send more. If you give up, you'll never stand a chance. Rejection hurts, but there's no other way through to the promised land of publication.

Next post: So what's next with The Amber Wizard? What about the sequels (since I'm under contract for three)? And what happened to Foreverness?

My new life as a full-time writer

Hi! My name is David Forbes and I have just transitioned from a full-time career in the banking industry (a little more on this later) to a career as a full-time fantasy writer. I'm under contract for three novels with Eos, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of HarperCollins, but they have not yet been published. I plan to use this blog to chart the course of the publication process -- it's ups, downs, what goes smoothly and what doesn't, and how I manage all of the things about which I have no clue -- for the benefit of both myself in understanding how this all works, and to grant some insight for those struggling writers who are not yet published into what they can expect when they finally get the call that, yes! their manuscript has been accepted.

So how did I get here?

I've wanted to write since I was in high school (I'm now 39). So it's been a long struggle for me. I certainly expected to be published long before now, but other than a single short story printed in a regional literary magazine, I wasn't able to get in the door. I got some handwritten rejection slips every now and then encouraging me to keep writing (Algis Budrys, in particular, seemed to like my stories, though he never bought any of them!). I'd hear that what I'd submitted was good but not what they were looking for at the moment, or it was almost but not quite right for them (though they also never told me what I could do to make it right), etc., etc.

In the late '90s I acquired representation with a New York agent (who shall remain nameless) for a now-discarded novel called The Wizard's Gift. He gave me lots of good advice on it, I spent a long time reworking it, and finally he sent it out to the major fantasy publishing houses. Once again I got some good feedback (a few places asked specifically to see the next book I wrote), but everyone passed on it. It was incredibly disappointing, but I wasn't going to be deterred, so I started with a new novel from scratch.

This one was huge -- the first draft was 274,000 words and took me two-and-a-half years to write, called The Amber Wizard. My agent hated it. We went back and forth about what he didn't like, but what it boiled down to -- at least from my point of view -- was that he didn't like the kind of fantasy I was writing. He kept trying to get me to write like other writers in his stable, most of whom I didn't really care for. Not that they were bad, but they simply didn't write the kind of fantasy I wanted to write. I was after a large-scale, multi-character epics like Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books. Martin's books weren't out when I started my own work, but when I read them it was liked getting gobsmacked in the head: Yes, this is the kind of thing I want to do! (For the record, no, I'm not comparing myself to either of them, but they are writing the serious, ambitious works that I am going for.)

That agent and I had a parting of the ways. My assertion that our disagreements were more about literary taste than story content annoyed the living shit out of him, but I still think I was right.

The book that got me the contract with HarperCollins was The Amber Wizard, extensively re-written (down to 194,000 words), but it's much closer to what I have always intended it to be than what my previous agent wanted me to turn it into. It's the first of a four-book series that chronicles, in a fantasy setting, the shift from polytheism to henotheism to monotheism before and during the rise of a divine Adversary who is believed to be the enemy of the One God whose new religion is sweeping across the world.

The moral of the story: If you find an agent who wants you to write stuff you don't like, or doesn't get at all what you're trying to do, move on. As painful as that will be -- because I know how hard it is to find one agent in the first place, let alone a second one -- you just can't write something you're not interested in (at least I can't).

Next post: some background on my life before I started writing full-time (which officially began on Tuesday, February 15, 2005). I had a full-time job, a wife, a house, a young son, and some semblance of a life. Where did I find the time to write? And how did I find agent number two?