Tag Archives: Tad Williams

In Loving Appreciation of the Story Swirl

OtherlandAs a reader, I have a lot of reverence for the cliffhanger. I think I am perhaps in the minority here. I can certainly remember a time when cliffhangers drove me crazy. Back when I was in junior high, I would anxiously (not boldly) go into the various Star Trek season finales, knowing they wouldn’t end well for my heroes and I’d likely suffer months of torment afterward waiting for the inevitable resolution come fall.

Now, an undisclosed number of years later? To put it mildly, I’ve changed my mind. I love cliffhangers. Love them! In movies, in books, in television series, in all their different forms. But we’re mostly talking about books here at the Fictorians, so I’ll continue in that vein. In particular, I love the way multiple storylines come crashing together in a maelstrom of calamity at the end of a book. I love how these storylines may seem unconnected—that is, until the disparate threads careen together like shoelaces tipped with metallic sheathes, all drawn irresistibility to a magnet (one of the strangest and most ineffective metaphors I’ve come up with, granted, but which I’ll fail to edit out only on account of its extreme curiosity). As a writer with a greater understanding of narrative and structure, I don’t often fall for this anymore, but I try to pretend I don’t foresee the adhesive “story swirl” that brings characters and plots together in fun, hopefully unexpected ways.

Nowhere has this been better executed than in Otherland: City of Golden Shadow, the first in Tad Williams’ Otherland trilogy (or rather, one of his patented tetralogies). I can remember exactly where I was when I first raced through the concluding chapters of that book. I was in my first year of university, secreted away in a quiet nook in one of the library’s upper-level alcoves; these alcoves were magnificent places, because you could spy down on people wandering the stacks unawares. Very little spying occurred that day, however, much to the delight, I’m sure, of the unsuspecting library populace (so far as a person ignorant of spying can be delighted that they are not in fact being spied upon), because I was engrossed. Tad Williams had my exclusive attention, and he held it in his unyielding grip of fiction prowess.

My carpool had deposited me at school about an hour before any of my classes started, so I had some time to read. But an hour was not enough time to get through the last 150 pages of the book. To this day, that’s an unprecedented amount of reading for me to accomplish in one day, never mind one sitting, as I typically do not read very quickly. My class’s start time approached, and I could not put the book down. I realize that is an oft-abused cliché in reading circles, and I don’t go to this particular well lightly. That well-worn paperback may as well have been cemented to my hand with skin-ripping crazy glue. My first-year psychology seminar could not compete. I stayed up in that alcove until I got to the last page of the book, and not a moment sooner. In fact, I only left quite a large number of moments later, since I had to sit silently in stunned, mandated appreciation for about half an hour after turning the last page.

That ending is a work of art which never fails to stimulate me, and I’ve subsequently read the story five or six times. It’s the classic “story swirl” effect I mentioned earlier. I fear spoiling this magnificent read with plot specifics, as my zealous desire is that this blog post will inspire you to search it out and experience it for yourself. Suffice to say that there are a large cast of characters, of different ages and ethnicities, in wildly divergent corners of the earth, in circumstances so unrelated that I could not imagine how they might conglomerate in the end. But they did, and it was (is) beautiful. I don’t think there has ever been a reader who got to the end of Otherland Volume One and then didn’t immediately flip into Otherland Volume Two, were it available. (Fortunately I did not have the second book available that day, else I would have missed several classes.) It would be like someone seeing Locutus of Borg declare war on the Federation at the end of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part One” and then say to herself, Meh, I don’t care what happens next. It has been scientifically proven that no such breed of human exists.

I dare you to prove me wrong. I dare you!

From Plane to Progress

wfclogoWhen too many helpful incidences come together for a protagonist, we call it contrived. Sometimes, however, they happen in real life. Is it coincidence, divine intervention, karma? I know where I stand on the subject, since I’m a devout LDS Christian who believes in inspiration, but I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

After listening to some of the Writing Excuses podcasts by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells, I decided that I should try to go to the next World Fantasy Convention (WFC). This was about six years ago, and the convention was happening in San Jose. I calculated plane trip, hotel, and food and realized there was absolutely no way. Then, I remembered…my step-father-in-law had a daughter, whom I’d met once, who lived in San Jose. I felt like a mooch, but I was desperate and determined. I contacted her and asked if I could stay. She not only agreed, she was a spectacular hostess, drove me around, and thanked me for coming. I know, that’s not strange, it’s sweet. This is the unusual part:

While getting my tickets, I felt like I should go with a different airline than I usually do even though I had to pay more. With the upgrade came the option to pick my seat. I chose one at random, trying to get close to the windows, but then thought, “No, I should sit in this one.” and picked an aisle seat (which I don’t like), way too close to the engines. Months later, while sitting in said seat, I couldn’t help but pick up my companions’ conversation. After a few minutes, I put away my laptop and the book I was working on and got up the guts to ask if they were attending WFC. Not only were Gini Koch and Glen Glenn an absolute delight to talk with, Gini told me to find her at the con. With the numbers of people, I didn’t think I was likely to actually see her again, and I probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the subsequent events.

Dinnertime the next evening found me by myself, deciding between a tasty sandwich shop (which I love), and Jimmy John’s (which I’m not crazy about). I grabbed the door handle of the sandwich shop and yet felt compelled to go to hamburger-joint Jimmy John’s instead. So I did. Inside, a group of Tad Williams fans saw the WFC bag, initiated conversation, and invited me to join them. Through them, I discovered the after-parties that go on in the hotels and the opportunities there to meet agents, publishers, and fellow authors.

Of course, I went to one and through the stifling crowds and multiple floors, Gini Koch happened to walk by and we met up again. Gini is a wonderful person who loves to encourage aspiring authors, and Glen is a fellow writer who has traded a number of works with me for critique and helped me grow more than I ever could have on my own. Gini introduced me to her agent, other agents, publishers, and took me under her wing. She has given me writing tips, done invaluable author workshops with my local writing group, and has helped me develop my craft until I felt confident in my abilities. I’m not sure I would have made it to publication without her belief in my potential.

Did blind luck, divine guidance, or something else bring me the friend I needed in my life at just the right time? Personally, I believe I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, but I’m also happy to leave my story to my readers’ interpretations. Maybe it will seem like fiction to you, but I know my story is too coincidental to be made-up.