As I alluded to yesterday, I don't really have a whole lot of background information on my Skysworn writing process.
Quite frankly, I don't remember much about the process of writing Skysworn, so I'll just give you a few tidbits and then a deleted scene.
--The Winter Sage was originally going to show up in this book, trying to take Yerin.
--The middle of the book was going to revolve around a Soulsmithing arc for Lindon.
--The book was originally going to start with a Cradle myth coming to life: the Jester Twins.
Jester Twins: A pair of highly developed ancient dream spirits, one white with a black mask that has a white smile painted on it, one black with a white mask with a black frown on it.
The black mask gives gifts, while the white mask sets a price.
On new moons, the gift is cursed.
On full moons, the price is light.
When both masks are smiling, they give a gift for a price and an answer for an oath.
When both masks are frowning, they steal a prized possession and place a curse.
--The Blackflame Empire was going to be visited by these wandering Santa-knockoffs, and Lindon would go to them for a gift in order to defeat Jai Long, but the obligation that came along with that would have complicated his life throughout the book.
I don't remember if I ever came up with the specific nature of that complication, or if I abandoned this plot element as unnecessary too early on.
The Jesters were a device I planned all the way back in Unsouled and kept looking for an opportunity to use, but it felt weird to introduce a new legend and have it come into play in Lindon's life out of nowhere.
So it went unused, but I still like the image.
With that out of the way, here's the deleted scene!
(Click Read More. Click it, I said!)
I shared a full deleted scene from Blackflame yesterday, and today I just wanted to give you some backstory on why I have so much deleted / unused material for Blackflame in the first place.
Was it because I hated my first draft and started over? Did a complete copy of Blackflame fall through a crack from a parallel universe and cause me to re-think it from the ground up? Did a future version of myself travel back in time to stop me from writing my original vision?
Yes to all of the above, but also...
As I mentioned a few days ago in my Soulsmith post, I did not expect Cradle to be "the next big thing." It was supposed to be a low-effort side series I wrote in my spare time.
Although the phrase "low-effort" needs to be held in the most massive quotation marks you can find, because while that was the intention, I ended up putting way more time and effort into Unsouled than I promised I would.
It worked out, though, so it was totally intentional all along.
(Click Read More to read more!)
Here's an excerpt from a pretty interesting scene in Blackflame. I'll do a more in-depth explanation of some of the (many) things that changed over Blackflame's development in my next post, but for now I'll just tell you the minimum to set up the scene.
This is an alternate take on Lindon's ascension to Jade. It involves a new character: Lezaar, the Arelius family refiner, who is contracted to a small fire-lizard named Ketaarus. Lezaar was removed and his role in the plot largely given to Cassias, but I had already written out this scene as a sort of test run.
For your amusement, I have left this scene exactly as it was when I wrote it in 2017. My notes are in there, a bunch of typos are in there, and probably some stupid lines too.
It's not even a first draft, really, just a sort of speculative scene to get a feel for the character. None of this was ever made fit for human consumption.
Go easy on me! (And click Read More to read.)
I'm going to be honest with you right up front: I don't have much unused material for Soulsmith. Of all the books in the series, this one is the poorest in extra content. It huddles on the street in front of Blackflame's gaudy mansion, begging for scraps of deleted scenes with tears in its eyes.
Let me take a moment to tell you why.
Before beginning Unsouled, I envisioned Cradle as a free chapter-by-chapter web serial, like most of the stories I read nowadays. Cradle's already wearing the hat of a web novel, so why not steal a web novel's coat too?
I wanted something to keep up reader interest during the time I had to spend writing Of Kings and Killers, which I envisioned taking somewhere between six months and a geological age of the Earth.
I had, in fact, written roughly twenty chapters of the first arc (making up Unsouled pre-Suriel), when I came up with a new solution to the same problem: mailing list short stories.
I tried those out, and they worked! Readers enjoyed the new, small glimpses into worlds we'd already visited, so discussion about my books online remained afloat.
As I usually do, I'm taking a light tone here, but forgive me for getting serious for just a second.
At the time, I thought I was facing down the end of my career.
2015, the year that we made most of our money from Elder Empire, was by far our lowest-income year. And that includes 2013, in which we only had books for sale for a total of six months.
The dry spell in between book releases is when people forget about you, forget about your books, and don't talk about you or spread the word about you or buy books. And when you're writing two books at the same time, the dry spell becomes twice as long.
I worked that math out myself.
Sometimes people say that I wrote Elder Empire in double installments so that readers would have to pay twice for what's effectively the same story, and every time I hear that I have to choose between laughing until I cry or crying until I laugh.
"Look at Will, that devious financial mogul, scamming his readers by choosing to do twice as much work to make a fraction of the income he would have gained by writing another Traveler's Gate book. Truly the spirit of Midas lives on through him."
So what does this have to do with Soulsmith?
Well, back before the birth of Cradle, I found myself with half a book's worth of free chapters that were intended to cover a lull in book releases, only to have fortuitously found an easier solution to that lull. Which left me with half a book.
I thought, "Well, I have half a product, and if OKAK performs as expected I'll be drinking from rain gutters for nourishment by the end of the year, so I'll round this out into a real book and hopefully make enough to survive without going back to my lemonade stand."
When Unsouled came out and almost immediately sold more copies than all the four previous Elder Empire books combined, I was thrown off-balance. This was supposed to be the little, easy, quick series that I wrote on the side.
I needed a sequel immediately, and the sooner the better, lest I return to my gutter-suckling fate. Again, with the intention being to satisfy people until I could return to OKAK.
I had a general idea of where the story was going, but I had to hammer out a sequel in preferably no time. So I entered my Hyperbolic Time Chamber, and two months later I had a Soulsmith fresh from the book-oven.
It mostly came out exactly as planned, partly because the focus of the story was tight and I didn’t have to juggle many characters or world elements, and partly because I wrote it so fast I didn’t have time to re-think or cut anything.
Having said that, there are some points from the outline that didn’t make it. All of these elements come from the original Soulsmith outline, but most of them actually have to do with Blackflame, Soulsmith's larger and better-looking younger sibling.
—Elder Whisper was initially going to sneak out of Sacred Valley to spy on how far Lindon had come in the last few months, only for Eithan to see through his illusion immediately and initiate a conversation.
—Originally, Eithan wasn’t going to fight. Like, ever. He was going to use his bloodline powers in increasingly convoluted ways to avoid fighting for essentially the whole series, even in scenarios where he would seemingly be forced to fight, like a tournament round.
Of course, I scrapped that plan pretty quickly.
—Book 3 was initially planned to be called “Bloodforged” and to be about how Lindon can push his limits further in training with the Bloodforged Iron body rather than about him learning a new Path.
—In the Soulsmith document, my plan for Book 3 was to establish a new set of characters by having Lindon, Eithan, and Yerin move in with the Arelius clan in the Blackflame Empire (which is sort of what ends up happening).
However, the intention was to have some slice-of-life bits to get Lindon grounded in this new world outside Sacred Valley and get him attached to the Arelius family, and then to participate in a tournament between the factions of the Blackflame Empire.
The structure was supposed to be something like this:
1.) Leaving the Desolate Wilds / arriving in Serpent’s Grave.
2.) Meet the Arelius clan / set up the tournament.
3.) Daily life in the Arelius clan / Lindon begins training and learns how far he can push himself with the Bloodforged Iron body.
4.) Preliminary tournament round in which no one expects much of Lindon. He does well in the prelims, but he’s clearly not good enough to match up with the opponents in the next round.
5.) Solo training for Lindon and Yerin (this is what ended up becoming the Blackflame Trials).
6.) Slice of life.
7.) New tournament round.
…etc. It kind of follows that formula: training followed by life in the Arelius household followed by another tournament round.
The stakes would gradually raise somehow, but I didn’t have any details on that because I hadn’t outlined the book or matched it up to a solid plot structure or anything. This was just my general plan for Book 3 while I was working on Soulsmith.
Aaaannnd that's what I've got. In compensation for the lack of material from the actual book, I have created a true sprawling monster of a blog post.
Recently I have returned from my state of undeath by "acquiring" a new mortal body to house my spirit. I come back to you with news:
First, the Wintersteel pre-order is live now! The book will be released on October 6th, and the print length is 513 pages! That's approximately 145,000 words, which makes it the longest book I've ever written.
You may notice that the Amazon page says its print length is 540 pages, and that's because the "print length" section on Amazon is a dirty liar. I'm holding a copy printed by Amazon as we speak and it's 513.
Pro Tip: that section is always wrong. Never trust it.
The ebook and audiobook are both live for pre-order as we speak, and will both be released on October 6th!
The paperback edition will come out on the same day, but we're not allowed to set a pre-order for that one, so I recommend cryogenically preserving yourself for a few weeks if you're after the paperback.
Now this brings us to our first (arguably second?) entry in our brand-new Cradle Behind The Scenes series!
When it came to Unsouled, there were quite a few sources I could have mined for behind-the-scenes information, though I didn't really have any "deleted scenes" for this book per se.
I could have gone through my development of the magic system, telling you that at one point it was based on animal spirits and Lindon was going to get the least-threatening animal spirit I could think of. Potentially a rabbit or a small deer.
Or shortly after that, where I had people developing powers based on one item that was a manifestation of their soul. Lindon was going to get a shovel.
You can see the pattern: first off, the powers of these original proto-systems were always based on specific symbols. Emblems. Icons, you might call them.
Second, Lindon always got the most non-threatening, mundane, or embarrassing version I could give him.
Instead of going into the magic system, I could give you the first draft of the original pre-chapter texts for Of Kings and Killers, which were written a year before Unsouled and chronicled the ongoing attempts of the Abidan in Sector 11 Control to convince Ozriel to destroy Asylum.
My draft of that interaction ended up directly influencing the development of Cradle's Abidan storyline.
But ultimately, I thought nothing illustrated the evolution of Unsouled as much as its original title.
We hadn't finished development on the cover when we changed our minds on the title of the book, but here is an early draft of what might have been the cover for Cradle, Volume One: The Fox and the Phoenix.
-Former Remnant Will
(Phoenix painting by Nat Burt; cover design and all life's wisdom by Patrick Foster.)
The Knight Progress:
"I couldn't leave it all to the power of friendship."
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