The Making of Sand and Smoke

It came about, quite simply, when I asked myself the question: what would a book look like that had both dragons and cowboys?

Welcome and good news everyone!

This is the first post in an exciting new series for my blog!

The Making of… is an in-depth look at each book I write. I’ll examine one book per blog post. I’ll examine characters, story, the concept, individual scenes, and maybe more all in an attempt to give more information than is available anywhere else on how that book came to be.

First up, I’m starting with Sand and Smoke. It’s a dragon-rider western, and it came about, quite simply, when I asked myself the question: what would a book look like that had both dragons and cowboys?

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After that idea came to me, I began to brainstorm. Among my favorite fantasy authors currently is Brandon Sanderson, and I was inspired a lot by his Mistborn series when first starting this book. You should check it out!

In particular, I loved the idea of a crew of criminals working together against impossible odds. So out of that was born the idea for my crew in the western side of my story to take on this terrifying weapon.

At the same time, however, I wanted to make my story very unique and based on things in real history and the world at large. For Sand and Smoke, I did a lot of research and a lot of plotting and outlining. More than I probably have done for any other project. I visited Powell’s in Portland, visited two different libraries, and read through a number of different books about things like the various mythologies surrounding dragons, what life was like in the old west, and world religions.

I compiled a whole document, actually, detailing what things were like in the world I had created, including the food people ate, the religions they practiced, what the educational systems were like, and more.

In the early drafts, the nations of Eltolix and Arus were quite a bit culturally different. Eltolix takes a lot of inspiration from Asian culture and mythology. The Sun dragons are serpentine like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dragons, and they have magical abilities. Also, the Old Religion of Eltolix shares similarities with Hinduism. Arus, or at least southern Arus, is largely based off the old west with saloons, gunfights, and a kind of lawless feel. And their religion is largely based off of Christianity.

With subsequent drafts, I molded these two cultures together by attempting to add more cultural elements that both countries share. Things like both calling their parents by the terms mama and papa, both referring to their religious centers as temples. In large part, I mixed in elements I could find of Aztec and Mexican culture into both countries. Since they were separated by a civil war 200 years ago, I wanted them to feel like countries that could have once been one and the same, and I have some Mexican ancestry which inspired me.

After molding the world, I created the characters. I did a lot of research on tvtropes.com to come up with some character archetypes that I thought would work well together and weren’t too often used. I rounded out those character archetypes with their own backgrounds and skills.

Then I plotted out the novel, trying to give all of my characters at least one arc, and my major two, Maya and Al, more than one.

When writing the chapters, I tried to advance at least two plot points per chapter. But even with all the plotting I did, there was a lot I realized wasn’t working in the revisions.

Al’s chapters probably went through the most extensive revisions. In the early drafts, I had his power being the ability to dodge bullets. I realized after draft one that that power didn’t work for the purposes of my novel, because of the big reveal about him at the end. So I changed it to him being able to control the wind.

Another major change I made to Al’s chapters was having him meet Li a lot sooner. Originally, he met her about halfway through the book, but I brought that scene up to roughly the quarter-way through mark and I fleshed out her character and background a lot more.

I also fleshed out a lot of Al’s backstory. In the first draft, he only touched briefly upon his mother’s death. But in subsequent drafts, I added a lot of flashbacks to that point in his life. Though I don’t usually like flashbacks, I thought they were important for him in this book. Because they made him much more relatable. Rather than just being a lone boy who’s riding through the desert engaging in battles with gunslingers, suddenly those flashbacks help us to see where he’s come from, and help us relate to him and see the pain he’s gone through.

The idea for the Wesech dragon plot was, like the criminal crew plot, born out of my love for Sanderson. In particular, I was inspired by his intermissions in The Stormlight Archive novels. In addition, based on my world-building I thought it’d be cool to have both western and eastern dragons, so since Maya was already going to be a dragon-rider on an eastern-type dragon, I figured the Wesech’s world would be a good one to explore during the intermissions.

Other novels I read while writing that inspired features of Sand and Smoke included Six of Crows, Child of the Daystar, Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, and Sanderson’s Wax&Wayne trilogy.

One thing I struggled with was how to weave the dragon plot into the main thread, and I did a lot of work in rewrites to make it smoother. Originally there was very little in Al’s chapters about Wesechs in Arus, but I worked to increase their presence in subsequent drafts.

I started writing Sand and Smoke in October of 2018, and I wrote it in spurts until I finished the first draft in April of 2019. I wrote mostly all of Al’s chapters together, and then all of Maya’s chapters switching only sporadically until I got to part 4.

I think the exact sequence I wrote in was all of Al’s part 1 chapters, all of Maya’s part 1 chapters, one Wesech chapter, then all of Al’s part 2 and 3 chapters, all of Maya’s part 2 and 3 chapters, another two Wesech chapters, and then part 4.

In regards to Maya’s chapters, the most substantial change I made while revising was at the end of part 3. Originally, she left the school fairly peacefully, but after notes from some members of my writing group, I realized Vidal would not let her do that. In subsequent drafts, I made her departure much more rocky, and I also made her deal much more with the consequences of her choice regarding Manzin.

While writing the first draft, I was in a writing group here in Portland, OR and shared pages with them, gathering feedback and improving it to some extent as those pages went.

But after finishing the draft and making those changes, I sent it off to my close friend Alex for him to beta-read it, and then made a lot of comprehensive revisions over 3 months: July, August, and September, both working on things that my writing group had suggested which I hadn’t managed to find a way to do before sending it to Alex, and working on things Alex suggested after reading it.

At that point the book became what you can read now. Fully formed and fleshed out with Al having the power to manipulate the wind, the Wesechs plotting something with Arus, and Maya’s single-mindedness driving her to make the choices she does.

If you have already read Sand and Smoke and enjoyed it, I invite you to subscribe to my mailing list for a free short story. It’s about Ingrid, the Wesech on the dragon tribunal, and covers how she gained a seat on the tribunal.

December, Technology, and Books

Do you say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Welcome! This is an update on my author blog. If you find yourself here, unsure who I am, let me introduce myself. My name is Carl and I’m an author from Portland, OR. I write epic fantasy and children’s science fiction.

I’m never really sure which to say around this time of year. Usually I go with Happy Holidays. But of course Christmas has become as much a secular holiday as a Christian one, so I suppose saying Merry Christmas is fine too. I think the main point is that you wish people well, as with all things in life I suppose.

This month I’ve been going some through some technological mishaps which is kind of an interesting coincidence because the book I’ve been working on, School Robots, makes use of heavy amounts of technology.

In total my car door got dented when someone hit me in a parking lot, my phone shut off in the middle of the day and decided it was never going to turn back on, and then I had a near scare when my check engine light went on in my car (and then the next morning it mysteriously went off). Hopefully it stays off.

On the plus side, I got a Google Pixel 3a. It’s been a pretty good phone so far, and I’m getting an Otterbox Defender case for it in the mail soon (the best type of case, imho).

I’ve also somehow managed to find vestiges of time to work on Middle School Robots, and I’m still roughly on track to wrap up editing on it by January (those on my list will get a free ARC!). I’m getting to the phase of editing now where I focus on all the specific minute details to the robots, and since they are essentially smartphones, computers, printers, and other real world devices, kids are going to be able to learn a lot by reading the book!

In addition, I’ve been thinking about dragons, and soaking in Avatar: The Last Airbender stuff. I know those are two very different things, but my mind feeds off different things and looks for unique ways to combine them. That’s kind of what I did with Sand and Smoke–I combined westerns and dragon-rider fantasy.

In a little over a week I’ll be heading to Chicago to spend Christmas and the holidays. Currently my aunt, uncle, grandmother, and cousins live there, and my dad and sisters will also be flying in. My family is spread out all over America, so it’s the normal for us to fly pretty regularly.

So far as I know, we have planned for the trip a gift exchange and a movie-going adventure to see Star Wars Episode IX. So I’m definitely looking forward to the latter half of December. Though what I like most as always is just seeing family and friends and spending more time with them.

Thanks for reading! And if you like receiving updates from me, please don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list. You’ll also get cool perks like notifications when I host a giveaway or notifications when I discount one of my books.

The Six Most Interesting Questions about Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom

At BookCon 2019, Bardugo said that for the first season of the TV show, they are going to be combining the first Six of Crows book with the first Shadow and Bone book.

Welcome! This post is part of my Most Interesting Questions series, which means I’ll be answering the most interesting questions I can find or think of on Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. The Six of Crows characters are some of the most lovable in epic fantasy, in my opinion. Leigh Bardugo wrote Shadow and Bone first; it takes place in the same world as Six of Crows, but many people start reading at Six of Crows first. There is a Netflix series coming up. These two books are duology, which means that there are only two books in the series, though there may be a Six of Crows book 3 coming at some point in time, more on that lower down the page.

By the way, if you’re wondering about who I am, I’m an author from Portland, OR. I write epic fantasy and children’s science fiction.

Here are the most interesting questions about the Six of Crows duology:

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Q #1: As a beginner in fantasy novels is Six of Crows a good read?

A: Yes, it’s a great read for a beginner! It’s a YA novel and the writing is easy to understand. I read it fairly quick, in about a week. It’s also an engaging story, with a cool magic system, and Bardugo does an excellent job of plotting the novel so that the twists and turns feel real and surprising.

Q #2: Who is your favorite point of view to read from in Six of Crows?

A: Definitely Inej or Kaz. I like reading Kaz’s chapters because he’s such a well-rounded character and has a dark side to him that other characters don’t have. He takes everything super seriously, and as the leader of the gang he usually deals with the problems that have the most stakes, so his chapters often feel like the most productive and important. Inej, on the other hand, is interesting simply because she’s the Wraith. She doesn’t have darkness inside her like Kaz does, but she can accomplish things no one else can, and like Kaz, she takes everything seriously. Because she often can’t be replaced on missions, her chapters feel critical.

Q #3: What happened to Nina after Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom?

A: I’m going to try to answer this without giving away spoilers. Nina undergoes some changes in Crooked Kingdom, if you’ve read the book you will know what those changes are. It’s partially explained, but not completely. Presumably, she is going to find out more about that because of where she’s going by the end of the book. It seems like we’d need a third book to really get a conclusion to what happens to Nina, as beyond some surface level stuff, these changes have not really been explained.

Q #4: Is there a third book of Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo?

A: Right now there’s not! It just goes 1. Six of Crows 2. Crooked Kingdom. However, I was at BookCon 2019 and attended a panel where Leigh Bardugo spoke about the books. One of the things she did address was the possibility of a third book. She said that she’s always imagined writing a third book, and would like to, but that her schedule is packed right now with other projects. She said that if we (the fans) are still around in a few years and interested in a third book she would write it. So presumably there will be a third book in a few years, as long as the series’ popularity doesn’t unexpectedly plummet. In the meantime, I’d like to shamelessly plug my own book Sand and SmokeIt’s also an epic fantasy book, but set in a world with dragons, and like Six of Crows it follows a group of criminals, but in it they seek to stop a devastating weapon.

Q #5: Are the main characters in Six of Crows bad people (like Kaz Brekker) or are they normal people in unlucky situations?

A: I think whether or not they’re bad people is subjective. One of the things Bardugo does a great job of is showcasing how bad the world these characters live in is. Compared to the rest of the Barrel, Kaz and his crew are like saints. Compared to most people that you or I encounter on the planet earth, they’re not so great. But I think what still makes them likeable characters is that they were just normal people who found themselves in unlucky situations. And those unlucky situations have led them to become bad. But each of these characters wouldn’t be bad if the world hadn’t been bad to them first.

Q #6: Will Six of Crows be made into a movie?

A: It’s not going to be made into a movie, as far as I’m aware. However, it is in the process of being made into a Netflix TV series. When I was at BookCon 2019, Leigh Bardugo also spoke some about this. She said that she’s been very involved in the process (she’s an executive producer) and she sounded really pleased about who they cast in the lead roles (it sounded like they had already cast the lead roles, though she did not name any names and as far as I’m aware it’s not been made public). She also mentioned they were doing something unique with the TV series. At BookCon 2019, Bardugo said that for the first season of the TV show, they are going to be combining the first Six of Crows book with the first Shadow and Bone book. She sounded very confident that the decision to combine the books into one for the TV show is going to work out great, though I myself am curious to see how it’s going to work given that they take places at different times.

Thanks for reading! Now I invite you to check out more MIQ posts below, or my book Sand and Smoke, which is also an epic fantasy, with lots of action and a ragtag group of criminals, and draws inspiration from Six of Crows in some ways. Sand and Smoke also features a bunch of dragons, and I had a blast researching dragon mythology for the book! It’s going to be a trilogy.

Six Most Interesting Questions about Mistborn

A band of peasants, with magic powers that they can only use by consuming metal, make and execute a plan to kill the tyrant who oppresses their kind.

Welcome! This post is part of my Most Interesting Questions series, which means I’ll be answering the most interesting questions I can find or think of on Mistborn. The Mistborn books are written by Brandon Sanderson, an epic fantasy series set in a world where people can perform magic by swallowing and burning different kinds of metals. The first book in the series Mistborn: the Final Empire, is a heist story, where a group has to break into the evil Lord Ruler’s castle. In my opinion it’s a great series, one of the best in the epic fantasy genre, and while there isn’t a Mistborn movie out right now, as of the time I’m writing this, there may be one some day (more on that in the post). The Mistborn characters are some of the most bad-ass characters out there. Here are the most interesting questions about Mistborn.

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Q #1: Without spoilers, is Well of Ascension as good as the original Mistborn?

A: I personally don’t think it’s as good as the first book. And the reason for is that the characters are not as active. In the first book, the whole plot hinges upon Kelsier, Vin, and their crew taking action against the Lord Ruler. In the second book, the plot hinges on others taking action against Vin, Elend, and the crew. There are other subplots that keep things interesting, and mysteries to solve, but since the main characters feel more passive in the main plot, it isn’t quite as good as the first, I feel like.

Q #2: Is there a Mistborn movie?

A: There is an IMDB page for one. Check it out: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6638042/ . One thing that concerns me about a Mistborn movie is that Sanderson’s novel is pretty long. Not as long as his Stormlight Archive books, but I think it would still be hard to condense it into a movie without sacrificing major pieces of the plot or characters.

Q #3: What is a quick summary of the plot of Mistborn (Brandon Sanderson)?

A: I’ll keep it super quick. A band of peasants, with magic powers that they can only use by consuming metal, make and execute a plan to kill the tyrant who oppresses their kind.

Q #4: If you could be one race in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere which one would you be?

A: Since these are Mistborn questions I’ll answer that I’d love to be a Terrisman. In particular, a Feruchemist. Their power is essentially limitless if they can store up enough of it.

Q #5: Who would win, Kaladin Stormblessed or Vin the Mistborn?

A: Oooh, fun battle! I think it depends on if Vin has Atium. If she does, she will be able to see into the future, and know his every move. Then she would win for sure. Unless Kaladin just decided to flee. I think Kaladin could move faster, with his lashes, in an open sprint than Vin could. Vin would have to rely on dropping coins, or having other metal around that she could push or pull away from. If Vin doesn’t have Atium, and can’t see Kaladin’s every move, she would still have pewter, to increase her strength, so I think she would still win. Unless Kaladin can fight her from a distance, but mostly he seems not to wield long range weapons.

Q #6: What allomancer power would you pick from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series?

A: If I couldn’t be Mistborn, I’d pick steelpushing and be a coinshot. Reason being is that it would let me fly up into the air which would be awesome. It’s also a pretty good ability for protecting yourself, since you can push metal that might harm you away.

Thanks for reading! By the way, if you’re wondering about who I am, I’m an author from Portland, OR. I write epic fantasy and have dabbled in children’s science fiction. My book Sand and Smoke would be a great read for any fan of Mistborn, please check it out if you want a new great fantasy read!

Sand and Smoke is my fantasy debut and takes place in a world where dragons inhabit the same continent as humans. They live apart, but do interact from time to time. And Sand and Smoke also deals with a ragtag group of criminals, but instead of stopping an evil tyrant, they are looking to stop a devastating weapon from being created…one that’s capable of genocide.

Three Quick Questions about Eragon

Christopher Paolini’s new book is called The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, and it’s set in the same world as Eragon was, Alagaesia.

Welcome! This post is part of my Most Interesting Questions series, which means I’ll be answering the most interesting questions I can find or think of on Eragon. The Eragon series was written by Christopher Paolini and stretches four books long. Paolini also recently released a collection of short stories called The Fork, the Witch, and the WormEragon was also made into a movie, though it’s a movie I’m sure we’d all like to forget. In my opinion, the Eragon film wasn’t very good. The Eragon books, however, were a different story. The first book was definitely my favorite, and in fact was my biggest inspiration for wanting to become an author. Paolini was only 15 when he wrote it. The characters in Eragon are great, and the villain, Galbatorix, is really scary.

By the way, if you’re wondering about who I am, I’m an author from Portland, OR. I write epic fantasy and I have dabbled in children’s science fiction too.

Now here are the most interesting questions about Eragon.

Eragons

Q #1: What if Eragon fought Gandalf?

A: If Eragon fought Gandalf, I believe he would lose. As awesome and powerful as Eragon is (he has powerful magic, Sapphira, his sword), he doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of experience that Gandalf does. Gandalf’s experience would give him the edge in my opinion.

Q #2: What book would you recommend to someone who loves Eragon?

A: I’m going to recommend some non-dragon books. I believe the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale would appeal to the same demographic as Eragon does. If the reader is a bit older, I would recommend Brandon Sanderson. Mistborn is a great place to start. The Ranger’s Apprentice series is also pretty good. I’m also an author, and was inspired a lot by Eragon. My debut fantasy novel, Sand and Smoke, features a girl and a dragon. It also puts a new twist on the genre, by mixing the wild west with dragons.

Q #3: How can I download The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaesia by Christopher Paolini?

Christopher Paolini’s new book is called The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, and it’s set in the same world as Eragon was, Alagaesia. You can purchase it on Amazon, here’s a link. You can also probably purchase it from many bookstores and online. Here’s a link to the book on Paolini’s website: link. In my opinion it’s best to pay for these things if you can, to support all the work that goes into them!

Thanks for reading! Now I invite you to check out more MIQ posts below, or my book Sand and Smoke, which also is epic fantasy, and has lots of dragons in it! My book actually features two breeds of dragons, eastern and western dragons, called Sun dragons and Wesech dragons. Eastern dragons are interesting, mythologically speaking, because they are quite a bit different than western dragons, with some crazy powers like being able to change size at will. I loved exploring their differences while writing Sand and Smoke.