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.)
In my last update, I promised you a release date for Wintersteel and some behind-the-scenes info about the rest of the Cradle series!
In case you missed it, Wintersteel is coming out (in all formats including audio) on October 6th! Pre-order begins September 22nd!
As for the behind-the-scenes info, I'll be going book by book and giving you an excerpt of a deleted scene, some trivia that didn't make it into the book, or a segment from my notes.
We'll be going Unsouled through Underlord to avoid any potential spoilers from Uncrowned or Wintersteel.
That process begins with Unsouled in just a few days, and then I'll do more info about the next book every couple of days up until the day of release!
But here's a little bonus fact for today: Wintersteel is only the second Cradle book to have an unused cover. We liked the art, but it didn't end up quite fitting our intentions, so we cut it.
And here it is, the original cover for Wintersteel...
As the shrewd super-sleuths among you may have deduced, this Thursday (September 17th) we have an announcement coming up!
Today, I come to you with an announcement for that announcement. This sentence is me announcing my announcement of that announcement.
Be good, or next time I'll announce my announcing of the announcement for an announcement, and frankly that will hurt me even more than it hurts you.
Our countdown to this announcement has been interpreted by some as being a countdown to the release of the book, which I assure you is not the case.
We would never surprise you with a book without warning you first, because that wouldn't be sporting. It's like shooting your dueling opponent before the ten-second countdown is finished.
Oh sorry, I meant to say "It's like that time I shot that guy in that duel before the countdown was finished."
Here is a measure of the full wisdom you will receive on Thursday:
1.) A final release date for Wintersteel. (Includes dates for the ebook, audio, paperback, and aerosol inhalant editions.)
2.) Pre-order date. (Our pre-orders are short, don't worry. None of them have ever been longer than it takes Sagittarius to orbit the third moon cluster.)
3.) A small preview of the book. (A teeny-tiny taste. Just a lick. We will wave the book in your direction and let you smell a whiff of its freshly printed pages.)
4.) The cover (Oh wait, we already did this. What do we do? Quick, think of something...) I mean my ukelele covers of classic Dave Matthews hits.
After that, as part of the Wintersteel release process, I will be revealing some behind-the-scenes content from every Cradle book so far (except Uncrowned, for [REDACTED] reasons).
This includes deleted scenes, notes, scrapped content, and photographs of old comrades that we had to shove into bottomless pits because they were slowing us down.
Some books have more than others, but you know what book had a lot? Blackflame.
Quite frankly, it was hard to sort through all the chapters upon chapters that I cut from Blackflame in order to settle on just one excerpt. I tried to print out all the extra content, and after the first six days of printing, I had to climb over a mountain of paper with emergency ink supplies strapped to my back in order to continue.
I kid, of course. That's an exaggeration. It actually took seven days before the state of Florida officially recognized it as a mountain.
Just to give you an example of what I'm talking about, here are some behind-the-scenes facts about Cradle that you may not have known:
--Orthos' original name was Oerthon. I changed it because then every single major character's name would end in an N. Lindon, Yerin, Eithan, Oerthon, and Melusine. Which isn't an N, but it's an N-sound.
--Oh, you don't know Melusine? Yeah, because that was originally planned to be the name that Little Blue took for herself later on.
I would have changed it up, of course--spelled it differently, most likely--because Melusine is a mythological fairy of fresh water.
--In the earliest drafts of the story that I would eventually draw on to make Cradle, one of Melusine's powers was to turn into a spear. You want to know why I had to scrap that one, huh? You want to know?
Because a certain WAY MORE FAMOUS fantasy author wrote a VERY FAMOUS series in which the main character has a fairy companion who can turn into a spear.
Thanks so much, MYSTERY MAN.
--On the topic of things I had to scrap because famous people did them first, I had come up with some names for future books in the Cradle series that I eventually had to give up on.
This was all the way back in 2015, mind you. Keep that in mind.
The book in which Lindon returned to Sacred Valley was originally going to be called Homecoming, and the final book in the series was to be called Endgame.
On the day Marvel announced the name for Avengers IV, I put my forehead down on a desk and gave a heavy sigh.
Back when I had a forehead.
Below, you will find the cover for the last book that Will wrote before his untimely demise: Wintersteel.
The release date will be announced soon...very soon...in fact, I hear there may be a countdown to that release date announcement going on somewhere...
But what would I know? I'm just a Remnant.
Will's phone slipped through my Remnant fingers and I accidentally took this picture, does anyone know how to delete it?
Now that I've taken over for him, I thought I'd let you know that I've enjoyed piloting his body like a meat puppet. It seems like he spent a lot of time sitting in front of a keyboard. Is that common?
Anyway, he was supposed to leave you some kind of announcement in a few weeks, but I don't have access to those memories so I can't be certain what it is.
I died, but my Remnant is still at work.
Really grinding away at Wintersteel. We cut some scenes, added some more, right now it's a little longer than it started. Will that be the case in the future? Who knows?
Just wanted to let you guys know that progress is still being made!
Not by me, though. I'm dead.
I should have mentioned this in my post yesterday, but all six ebooks in the Elder Empire series are free today through Sunday!
Here's where the Shadow books are hiding.
Here be the Sea books, yar.
Even better, if you own the ebook it looks like you can add the audio version for like two bucks, which means the audiobooks are even cheaper than a normal Audible credit!
And here's some more free content news: today at 3 PM Eastern, Travis Baldree and I will be appearing on a digital convention panel at Denver Pop Culture Con, where we'll be answering some questions and Travis will be reading a two-page excerpt from Wintersteel!
(It's a real excerpt, and while there will of course be some spoilers since it's from the middle of an unreleased book, I removed the most spoileriffic lines. You should be fine unless you are allergic to even the most minor spoilers.)
And I'm still editing Wintersteel today, and I'm in a saxophone duel this afternoon, plus tonight is my stalker's birthday party, so things are getting pretty busy around these parts.
Want to get short stories and book releases before anyone else? Sign up below!