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Review: The Kingkiller Chronicle

I know. I know. The world does not need another review of The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss. To the shame of this post and the hundreds like it, fame is what will likely doom this review and bury it amongst the pile of reviews other Rothfuss fans wrote, scrutinizing every word he writes and waiting for the release date of the final book in his trilogy.

So why am I writing this? Because I love these books and because half the purpose in having this blog is to fanboy about my favorite stories. The series thus far is nothing short of a masterful bit of epic fantasy with intriguing magic, beautiful prose, and a character too real for his oddly-difficult-to-pronounce name. The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are two of the greatest novels in a series I’ve ever read, fantasy or otherwise.

If you haven’t read Patrick Rothfuss, you’re missing out on beautiful prose. His writing style is euphoric, leaving me awe struck at how a story yet to have an ending can leave me in a state of rapture. He is a wordsmith through and through. A major theme within the books is music, how it affects people and how it can hold you together when the rest of the world tries to tear you apart. It is no surprise that Rothfuss has an innate ability to to apply a sort of musicality to his words, breaking off from the conventional wisdom of writing that discourages inflated language and abstract description. Rothfuss’s words often take on this enchanting flow that in other authors would seem overambitious. Consider the following opening lines to The Name of the Wind:

“The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts. 

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighted through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves. If there had been a crowd, even a handful of men inside the inn, they would have filled the silence with conversation and laughter, the clatter and clamour one expects from a drinking house during the dark hours of the night. If there had been music…but no, of course there was no music. In fact there were none of these things, and so the silence remained.

Inside the Waystone a pair of men huddled at one corner of the bar. They drank with quiet determination, avoiding serious discussions of troubling news. In doing these they added a small, sullen silence to the larger, hollow one. It made an alloy of sorts, a counterpoint.

The third silence was not an easy thing to notice. If you listened for an hour, you might begin to feel it in the stone heart that held the heat of a long-dead fire. It was in the slow back and forth of a white linen cloth rubbing along the grain of the bar, and it was in the hands of the man who stood there, polishing a stretch of mahogany that already gleamed in the lamplight.

The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distance, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.

The Waystone was his, just as the third silence was his. This was appropriate, as it was the greatest silence of the three, wrapping the others inside itself. It was deep and wide as autumn’s ending. It was heavy as a great river-smooth stone. It was the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die.”

I’ll let his words speak for themselves and let you decide whether or not you’d continue reading.

The protagonist, and subsequently the only character that really matters, is Kvothe. The other characters come and go around the protagonist, but you quickly learn that Kvothe is the only one the audience should be focusing on. The story is told from Kvothe’s future self, so after a few thousand words the story shifts from a third person point of view to an autobiographical flashback narrative. The near narcissistic nature of Kvothe can be off putting, but in time I came to enjoy the depth of his character.

It is unknown to the reader exactly how Kvothe acquired his eerie epithet: Kingkiller. The third book, Doors of Stone, should clear that up as it is the last book in a trilogy Rothfuss has jokingly stated is a “million-word prologue.” That’s fine with me as long it has the promised bloody regicide in this next book. If not, the feeling of disappointment will abound in Rothfuss’s readership. We’ve been waiting a long time for an answer to that question.

I rarely read a book twice. Even the most well-known and so-called greats within the fantasy genre (The Farseer TrilogyLord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Wizard’s First Rule, etc.) . It second read throughs, the writing normally cannot hold my attention long enough for me to finish it again. I know the plot. I know the characters. I know how it ends. Why should I reread something of which I already know the ending? The answer: only when the journey is more enjoyable than the plot twists,. So it is with The Name of the Wind. The writing is that good.

There is much more of Kvothe’s story to come, if it ever does. The wait is the worst thing about an unfinished series, and it is difficult to judge an incomplete story. Neither The Name of the Wind nor Wise Man’s Fear wrap the plot up nicely, leaving a restless audience with many significant questions unanswered. Since Rothfuss writes slower than some of the most well-known pencil draggers, I feel obligated to write an unfinished review of the series until he finishes the story. Despite having an extraordinary protagonist, highly anticipated promises in his plot, and a writing style that captivates me upon each reading, I cannot debate the title of GOAT with this series just yet. Thus my teaching habits obligate me to slap an IC for “Incomplete” on Rothfuss’s current grade and wait until the guy turns in the completed product.

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Week 3 – … : To Excuse or Not to Excuse

To excuse or not to excuse, that is the question.

I’m sure if you have followed this blog closely you’ll notice the major gap in between this post and my last. And trust me, I’ve built up a huge list of excuses that justify why I have not been as active on the blog as I should have been. I could spend the next thousand words telling you about how hard it is to write during the holiday season. How difficult it is to juggle work and writing. How incredibly exhausting but fulfilling fatherhood has been. How I forgot my login information and couldn’t access my account.

While that would be a great post and I’m sure you all would love to hear about my baby, this is supposed to be a writing blog mixed in with some of that other stuff. So, I’ll post this picture and move on with the topic of today’s post: excuses.

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Baby Arie (and yes, that is the look she gives me when I am giving her cuddles instead of writing)

There is a wonderful podcast all aspiring writers and lovers of narrative fiction should check out. It is called Writing Excuses. Brandon Sanderson and a few of his writing colleagues created it a few years ago. The podcast features over 13 seasons of narrative advice given by the pros–those that have been successful with their writing for years now. Character development, plotting advice, writing methodology, and general discussion on the tools writers use to create captivating stories. If you have not checked that out, I encourage you to do so. Their advice is phenomenal.

I bring the podcast up because at the end of each show, they tell the audience that we have no more excuses and need to get to writing. No matter how many times I finish an episode knowing what they are going to say at the end, I always feel obligated to write something immediately after.

That got me thinking, what are my excuses for writing? Instead of writing all the excuses about why I was not writing consistently, I’m going to write the excuses for why I should be writing.

  1. The Fun
    This is the only excuse I need. I could wipe the rest of the list, but if I still enjoyed writing–creating stories that can move people– I wouldn’t need any other excuse.
  2. The “What if…”
    I like to play the “What if” game much too frequently. What if they don’t like what I have to write? What if my characters are boring? What if they hate my story? All these scenarios would be disappointing, but there is one that is far more devastating: what if I never try? The proof is in the pudding, and if I never make the pudding I’ll never know.
  3. The Possibilities
    You might think this belongs with the fun (it does, but it is a big enough reason that I thought I should share it). Writing fantasy is not the same as writing in other genres. Although all genres have their own difficulties, fantasy is unique in that it has a blank slate within the blank slate; a world that has yet to be created in which a story must occur that has yet to be told. Mankind can’t fully comprehend infinity, but if writing fantasy doesn’t describe “endless possibilities,” I don’t know what does (a little voice in my head is shouting, “Sci-fi!” I’m simply choosing to ignore that for relevancy purposes, though feel free to lump that in with fantasy as well. After all, isn’t space as infinite as it gets?).
  4. The Characters
    If I don’t write about the people in my head, no one else will. By not giving them a voice, I’m murdering them before they’ve gotten a chance to plead their case to the world. Of course, the same thing occurs if I don’t share them with the world either. I’m working on that, but for now it is good enough that I give breathe life into them on digital paper.
  5. My Wife
    My wife is the rational one when my brain wants to find excuses not to write. Some time ago, I asked her to remind me to write every night. She would tell me as forcefully as she dared that I needed to sit my butt in the chair and get something written. Telling her no is much harder than telling that to myself. She has a power over me akin to knowing my true name. I’d wager she actually does know it. Ursula Le Guin would be proud.

Those are just a few of the excuses I have for writing. Feel free to tell me any of your reasons for writing, or doing whatever it is you love doing, below.

Also as a little side note, I’m considering posting some of my stories to the blog. A short story or two if I can muster the courage to do so; the start of a series if I feel like I can dedicate myself to it. Subscribe if you’re interested in staying up to date, check in now and then if you’re not.

Review: The Farseer Trilogy

Farseer Trilogy imageWhat can I say about this trilogy that hasn’t already been said by countless other reviews? Probably not enough to excuse the time it took to put my conflicted thoughts into words, but I’m still going to try because I loved this epic fantasy like a fat kid loves cake.

The characters have become as much a part of me as any other fantasy cast. Fitz, the main character of the trilogy, is right up there with Harry and Bilbo. Not just the characters, but the slightly altered common fantasy tropes were like a hint of nutmeg in hot chocolate, adding to the flavor without choking what makes a fantasy novel fantastical.

The entirety of the story wasn’t all cupcakes and rainbows. The ending of Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest was less-than-auspicious and left a bad taste in my mouth. It was a lot like reaching into a bag of candy only to find it filled with black licorice. Some will gobble it up in a masochistic thrill, and others will chew through them with a bearable disappointment. At the end, I was the latter. But despite those conflicted personal feelings, the trilogy had plenty scrumptious chocolatey delights.

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Robin Hobb (photo credit to Gage Skidmore via wikimedia)

Robin Hobb, author of the trilogy and the Farseer universe, is the pseudonym for Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden (I’ve never understood why an author would use a fake name. Everyone knows Mark Twain, but hardly anyone recognizes Samuel Clemens). She published under her real name first and found some success, but was not well known. When she decided to write under the name of Hobb, she found immediate, radiant success. Assassin’s Apprentice was the first book of her epic fantasy trilogy published in 1995, and she finished the trilogy just two years later. It may be as old as I am, but Hobb has kept the universe she started more than twenty years ago alive, publishing her latest instalment to this world in 2015. I figured if I were to review any of her books, it would be the one that made Hobb the author she is today, and though she may have published other books under her real name before, The Farseer Trilogy is where her career really took off. If you haven’t read the books I recommend you do so.

Quick Summary

The story follows FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard boy of ex-king-in-waiting Chivalry Farseer and our impulsive protagonist. We basically grow up with Fitz; the story is told through his eyes—first person point-of-view. It begins with the boy having no memory of his past, not even his name. Burrich, the stablemaster for King Shrewd of the Six Duchies kingdom, ends up raising and naming FitzChivalry the best way he knows how in Buckkeep Castle. Fitz grows up in the stables, where it is discovered by Burrich that Fitz has the Wit–a magic that allows some a deeper, intimate connection with animals (think Aquaman on a smaller scale). Non-Witted folk feel strongly enough about the magic to hang and mutilate those proven to have it, so Burrich forbids Fitz’s interaction with animals as much as he can. Luckily, Fitz also has the Skill–another magic that allows for a deeper connection with other humans, telepathy being its main use, and it is admired rather than execrated. Between the two magics, Fitz is able to navigate the dangerous life he was thrust into when King Shrewd, Fitz’s grandfather, eventually apprenticed the boy to his assassin, Chade. Without going into much more detail (I don’t want to spoil anything) I can tell you that Fitz grows in his magic and assassin skills, experiences love, fights zombie-esque creatures, and strives to save the king and kingdom from threats both within and without.

Characterization and Other Lovelies

Hobb is the master of characterization, and this trilogy does not disappoint. All Fitz’s anguish, self-loathing, understated heroic deeds, and romantic endeavors are divulged as he attempts to serve his king as the assassin’s apprentice. I often tell my students when we begin our narrative writing unit, “Show, don’t tell”. Hobb does a great job showing us the other characters in her world through Fitz, and while he might have his own opinion on some of the characters, the reader is still able to decide what to think of them. They are not entirely human. Regal, Fitz’s cruel and petty uncle, is a great example of this. He is a bad guy through-and-through. He has no excuses for his selfish behavior, but that unrealistic cruelty and petty behavior only add to the malice felt towards his character. I don’t want to like the bad guy, and it is satisfying that Hobb gives you little to admire. So while the characters might have some unrealistic aspects, it only adds to their development as characters and the story as a whole. Fantasy is not meant to be entirely realistic, and occasionally, it’s okay for the characters to be fantastical.

Another nice tidbit in the trilogy is the page-skipping tension, such as when Regal captured Fitz in Royal Assassin and accuses him of having the Wit. Long story short, Fitz suffered both physical and psychological torture while in the clutches of his uncle, but Fitz survives. The point is that each passing day Fitz spent in a cell added to Regal’s malicious portfolio. There was a shared loathing that built inside both Fitz and me in the last few pages of that second book. It was what kept me reading on to the final book in the trilogy, hoping that Regal would finally get what he deserved.

In Assassin’s Quest when Fitz finally breaks into Regal’s mind with his Skill, the cause for Regal’s petty, cruel nature is revealed. Regal deserved to suffer, but Fitz finally made a logical, thoughtful decision. Instead of reflecting the cruelty Regal had shown him all his life, he chose something that patched up the entire kingdom and solidified his “good guy” appeal.

The Black Licorice    liquirice-cuttings

On to the nasty jellybeans and melancholy. While Fitz does develop into a character you can’t help but love, he makes his otherwise decent life feel dreary and oppressive. For example, “The King’s tool. I see.’ An oppression settled over me. My brief glimpse of blue skies arching over yellow roads and me travelling down them astride Sooty suddenly vanished. I thought of the hounds in their kennels instead, or of the hawk, hooded and strapped, that rode on the King’s wrist and was loosed only to do the King’s will.” He tends to fall into that feigned helplessness, that inability to do anything about his life despite having all of the skills and resources to do so, as the story progresses. He pontificates on his misery over and over again, especially in the second book, Royal Assassin, but his life is not the slavish torture he would have readers believe (well, except for when he was actually tortured).

The boy makes irrational, impulsive decisions which, though consistent to his character, become a burden on the actual events and excitement in the plot. His journey along the Skill Road in Assassin’s Quest should have been an exciting and engaging adventure filled with events and clarity. Instead, it is filled with Fitz’s longing for Molly and his child. It was much like having a rock in my shoe, gnawing at me with each passing chapter. I should have known Fitz’s fate, but I’m stubborn and like for my heroes to be recognized for their great deeds.

The only quirk in how the conflict ended was that Fitz didn’t get any recognition. In fact, his name was reviled by all but his friends. His memory was tarnished by his connection to the Wit magic. What FitzChivalry chose in the end was true to his chivalrous bastard name, but it didn’t have the nice Disney-hero ending. He went the distance, though crowds did not cheer when they saw his face and a voice did not keep saying, “This is where Fitz is meant to be”. It’s a missed “feel good” opportunity. The only upside to an ending like that is a sequel, which Robin Hobb has already given her readers in The Tawny Man and The Fitz and the Fool trilogies. So fortunately, you don’t have to wait to see if things change for FitzChivalry Farseer.


Have any thoughts on this trilogy or books like it? Feel free to comment below.

Week 2: Writing Routine

Henry David Thoreau once said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Pretty cool, right? I’ve come to find that my “castles in the air” are my lofty writing goals and unfinished projects (this blog post being one). The foundation is the hard part. It is built around hours and hours of work, completing hundreds of smaller daily goals just to finish one measly novel.

Writing a novel seems simple enough; after creating a plot and some characters, I should write until I’m finished. But if it were that easy, I would have 50 novels written and a slew of awards no one has heard of by now. Iron willpower is not inherent; it is earned through diligent, planned practice. As much as those motivational clips and quotes claim that sheer determination and perseverance are enough, they are not. Working hard is simply not enough to create a great product. So how can I go about efficiently accomplishing my goals? If I decide I’m going to write 500 words a day, what steps do I take to guarantee it gets done? Routines and a system of accountability. Accountability is easy (that’s why I’m writing this thing FYI). Routines are a completely different story.

As it is with most worthy goals, consistent practice is not the only necessary ingredient for success. If you want to lose weight, eating only salads for a month will only get you so far. Carefully planning a steady diet with the appropriate amount of exercise is essential for healthy weight loss. Similarly, a commitment to writing every day isn’t enough to make a writer successful. They need a consistent routine. But just like with any successful plan, one size does not fit all.

You see, writers are like snowflakes; they all share similar patterns, but it’s difficult to find two that are the same. Each writer has a unique set of rituals or quirks that ignite creativity. Some work well early in the morning, while others are productive night owls. Some work in short, sporadic spurts of writing barricaded in a room for days until their work is complete. Some take their time word-smithing every day, publishing only a few significant works every year. Writers come in all kinds, but they do share some similarities. Every writer has a set time in the day dedicated to writing, a designating room/area to do work, and most of the time, a set number of words they force themselves to write each day. Remember, word count is only worth it when the words count.

Lucky for me, I get off work early enough to write in the afternoon. As a writing space, I use an empty bedroom, and starting as early as 6, I lock myself in until 500 words are typed out. For the first few days, 500 words a day was a daunting task, but I was able to do at least that much and more on a few of the days once I set my mind to it. Sunday was probably the worst of the weekend. I stopped mid-sentence when I hit the 500 word mark because of a distraction coming from downstairs (my wife was watching a movie). One does not simply focus on writing when Gerard Butler’s godly baritone voice reverberates throughout the house (if it were Sean Bean, I probably would have given in to the temptation). My creativity was tapped, and the mulling bore of plotting was unproductive in the midst of a damn good romcom playing underneath me. But I hit 500 words–the bare minimum of my goal– and that is what is important. Although I felt slightly guilty for dropping it in the middle of a sentence, I was pleased with myself for finishing that day’s prescribed bit of writing. At this point, I’m satisfied with even the smallest triumphs. That feeling will hopefully build into pride when I finally reach my goal.


What goals have you accomplished? Did you achieve it through a steady routine? It doesn’t have to be about writing, it can be anything you were able to accomplish. I love hearing other people’s success stories; it’s one of the reasons I became a teacher. Comment below to let me know!

T. L. Fawcett

 

Week 1: Pantser or Planner

Writing is hard. Writing without a plan? Onerous.

I knew pantsing was a huge risk, but an illogical force (the same that makes me abandon planned lessons for new ones five minutes before class starts) reinforced my primal writing urges. The muse beckoned, and there was no resisting. With the unwritten characters and new ideas throbbing at my fingertips, planning seemed like a waste of time, but alas, unleashing the passion that is pantsing led to suffering instead of success.

(Note that the pantsing I’m referring to doesn’t happen in gym class. See here)

The writing began like a healthy bowel movement–smooth and steady. Characters were developing, the plot was thickening, and the suspense was growing. Unfortunately, the diet for a Pantser doesn’t include enough fiber; everything clogged up. The battles. The magic. The romance. After the that initial spark, nothing progressed. Being a Pantser means you have to deal with these uncomfortable blockages. Some writers learn to live with it, but for me, it’s a death sentence.

Taking a step back, I decided I needed to come up with a good plan, but how? What method should I use? Should I be thoroughly detailed in my outline, or should I leave room for the story to write itself? Google, of course, came to my rescue.

There are plenty of free resources and articles to help a struggling writer get going in the right direction. Here are a few I found helpful:

It’s a brief summation of all things to do before you begin writing regardless of the genre you choose. It’s a nice starting place, but if you really want a character driven story, this might not be the best resource.

So if you DO want characters to drive your story, check this out. I always felt the whole fill-in-the-blank process when building characters stripped them of what made characters living, breathing people. I dig her advice on setting as well, “I also make my setting… a character unto itself”.

This is a site, not just a single article; however, it is FILLED with world building advice. Building a world is not as straight forward as you might think. There are too many questions that need to be answered, and all of it cannot fit into a single article.

Please note that typing “how to write a novel” into Google is like going spelunking with no gear and only a vague sense as to which tunnel you want to explore. It’s best to have a specific goal or question in mind before you go browsing the infinite caverns of writing advice found on the web.

Some special creatures, who probably aren’t writers, might say things like, “A real writer doesn’t need advice on basic story telling. They shouldn’t need that kind of help. I’m an uppity bigot” (ok, maybe not the bigot part, but probably everything else). To those questioning why I’d research something so basic, realize that trying to hone the foundations of one’s craft should never be frowned upon. New and exciting methods are being created and shared every day. An ancient Fawcett proverb states, “Testing new waters is the only way to find the best sink” (I’ll admit it’s not the greatest pun on my name, but you catch my drift).

FYI I’ll hopefully be getting through the planning phase in two weeks. I don’t want to spend too much time slogging through the intricacies of world building.

So tell me, how do you go about writing? Pantser or planner? If writing isn’t your style, what is your favorite world an author has created? Comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!

As Ace Ventura once said, “If I’m not back in five minutes… just wait longer.”

T. L. Fawcett

Ready, Set, Write

It is not a race, but it is a bit of a journey. As this is my first of many blog posts to come, I hope to welcome you to the site with a quick snippet into my life and what you can expect to find here before jumping in.

First and foremost, I am a writer.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’m a teacher, a writer, a husband, and a soon-to-be father (priorities in reverse order). I live to write, but I don’t yet write to live. My current day job consists of babysitting teenagers while attempting to teach them something about the English language. When that fails, I at least try to make it entertaining.

hop on pop
“I’m a teacher, a writer, a husband, and a soon-to-be father (priorities in reverse order).”

Teaching can be monotonous and new, stressful and meaningful, dreary and rewarding. On even the best of days, it leaves me questioning my sanity. But there are times, as infrequent as getting to use the bathroom during the school day, that teaching doesn’t suck all the life out me. On those days, I write about my fantasy worlds and the people who live in them.

If you are not into the sci-fi/fantasy genre, don’t bolt out of here just yet. I’ll be posting on two different topics: my writing process and book reviews (most likely it will be sci-fi/fantasy). So if you don’t share my love of lasers and magic, hopefully you can still share in my love of writing.

Every week, I’ll be posting about my writing process and the challenges I face while working through a novel. Mostly, this is to keep me on track with my goals. I have a tendency to slack off when I’m not being held accountable—a deplorable trait I picked up from teaching teenagers. I figure if there is at least one person reading these posts, it’ll motivate me to keep slaving away at the keyboard.

Feeling the need to discuss some of the topics I cover on writing? Leave a comment! The topics I write about will only benefit from my readers’ opinions, and the help will have me eternally grateful.

Book reviews will also be posted each week. I’ll focus on works in fantasy and science fiction, but you should note that every review is a subjective piece, containing my biased babbling. If you disagree, or simply feel like contributing to the babble, please leave a comment! I’ll try to respond as quickly as I can.

T. L. Fawcett