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.
This book has been out forever at this point.
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