I’ve tried to keep the talk of my time off as quiet as I can, as I don’t want to bog down what has otherwise been a passion project for me for quite some time. However, to get to the meat of today’s post I need to delve in a bit. I took a long break from writing to focus on my mental health about halfway through last year. I was gone from the blog for something like seven months and in those seven months, I did plenty of world-building and fashioning ideas through the rough draft stage which is my D&D setting. During that time, I also picked up reading again, or rather, listening. During my drought, I was searching desperately for an author whose work I could devour and chew through without wanting a break and while I did not get that, I did rediscover Brandon Sanderson.
Back in 2018 or so, one of my best friends recommended I pick up Mistborn, arguably Sanderson’s most popular novel series. I had tried to read it once prior and put it down, bored to death. How many stories of slave girls had I read since I was able to hold a book up myself I wondered. Eventually, he broke me down and I started listening to it, knowing that I have a penchant for listening to things at three or four times faster than they are supplied. Something about the hyper speed of YouTube videos and audiobooks hooks me better than the onward droning of the narrator at regular speed. I finished Mistborn that way in less than a week.
A month later, I picked up the sequel, Well of Ascension. It took me something like eight months to finish it and by the time I picked it back up, the year had turned and I began working on my next project to warm up to my regular workload. While in the middle of the Mistborn Sequel I rewrote one of the first novels I’d ever published from the ground up. It was like a switch had been flipped inside of me and I just sat down and heaved the words from somewhere deep down. I was unstoppable, and after such a long break I was also surprised. After I finished the re-write I found myself considering Brandon Sanderson’s universe and how similar it was to what I wanted to build, what I have spent the last eight years building quietly. I put my headphones in and finished Well of Ascension in half a day. The next morning I devoured the finale, Hero of Ages as I filed Book Two among the best books I’d ever had the pleasure to read. I took another break around April/May.
As Spring warned us of Summer I found myself thinking in particular about the way Sanderson writes, and what it did to the inside of me as I sat down each morning with a pen to paper. I was caught by a particular character, he was simple and unyielding. He was a dog companion. Now, I’ve had my fill of dog companions whom I have loved deeply. Scooby chiefly among the list but Sanderson made something out of this particular hound that resonated with me. He was the focus point by which I attached to the story. When he was initially introduced he was rough and disagreeable, and over time grew to be my favorite character in all of The Cosmere, I think. I think the reason for that is the role he played to the main character. He, by law, was bound by a contract which he had no power over and was unable to break the said contract or risk exile from his people. He was forced into rigid lines like we all are to some degree and at the turn of Well of Ascension, as I laid on my sofa and scream cried through the climax of the novel, I felt something I hadn’t in a long time.
Now, I hate the traditional example of “The Muse” and how it is so often portrayed. There is this resounding idea that a young man meets a pretty woman and suddenly he becomes a great artist, and it was a thought I’d long held on to. I refused to work without inspiration for many years. When I wasn’t “Feeling it” I wouldn’t work. I believed the lie of the Muse and allowed it to waste many years of what would have otherwise been great storytelling. Then, I met this… slimy, dog thing. I hate to use a cliche, but it lit a fire under my ass. I craved the ability to create a character so thorough and powerful that despite his limited presence in the book, I still wept for him in fear that harm would come. I burned through page after page, absorbing everything, hoping that he would turn out alright. I had bonded with this imaginary thing in a way I hadn’t in a long time. See, I believe that we all have muses, and they come in many different forms and they come for many different reasons. They come as symbols for us. My wife is a muse to me, to be the best author and dog dad and someday real dad that I can be. She drives me to be better in every way that I can for her sake. She supports me through my manic writing phases and she supports me when I lay on my couch scream crying because I don’t know if I’m ever going to see the climax of all of my hard work.
Much like I found in her, I found something in the dog companion of the prodigy Mistborn, Vin, that I hoped to capture in myself. I craved to have someone like the pooch who could root into a reader’s mind and absorb them the way he did to me. As I finished Hero of Ages and the story came to a close, I was ugly crying in my office because the story had ended, yes, but because I wouldn’t see my hound friend anymore too. There was something about him that resonated with me. Perhaps his dependability, perhaps his mannerisms which bled through the page and illuminated his character. I can’t say for sure, but whatever it was I want it desperately and I crave it.
When I’d finished Hero of Ages I picked up and finished the following series, then a dam broke inside of me and the fondness for the gentle dog boy grew to a rabid fascination with the world Sanderson had built, not only because it appealed to the deep craving within me to solve a mystery and to write good books, but because it is entirely his. Over the year, I powered through nearly every book in the Cosmere and am currently underway reading Oathbringer as I type this. With one full-length novel left to consume I haven’t stopped since I put down Hero of Ages. With each chapter end, I am reminded why I began writing, and my admiration for Sanderson only grows.
Of course, with great admiration I have been warned that I should be careful, I have an obsessive personality in this way. When I attach to something I genuinely love to experience, I crave it at all hours and want to feel it as often as I can. I often tell Meryl that I am either too much or not enough and this is especially true when I am reading. (See: Doing Homework.) I consume media at an alarming rate, if I could watch Netflix at 3x speed I likely would if it wouldn’t drive her to murder. I make these powerful attachments with things and when I started to peel back the layers of the world Brandon Sanderson built I realized two powerful things…
First, he is the author I most respect. Out of them all, and I’ve read a great many, Sanderson has won a place in my heart that I didn’t know could exist. The level of thought and care put into his works baffles me as my friends catch up to where I am and arrive with new suggestions, new connections, and new understandings that I didn’t catch the first time. His world is modeled much like my own, in that when I set out to create the Origins, the Otherwhere, whatever I’m calling it on any given day, I wanted my readers to be able to enjoy the story independently of the rest of the world but notice when characters moved from here to there. This concept gave birth to one of my favorite characters, Bryan Robertson, who you will see several times if you’re keeping up with the short story content I’m posting on the Grimoire of Finality. Still, this expanding world concept that Sanderson employed led me to the second realization: I am not as smart as I once thought I am.
Back in 2012 when I started writing and building this tangled, interconnected world I had no clue who Sanderson was, back then my library consisted of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Chuck Palahniuk almost exclusively and I thought I’d invented this novel idea until a few months later when I realized Stephen King has already done it and then numerous times since then as I quickly realized that I am indeed late to the party.
In 2012 when I began, that realization might have been enough to knock me so far down the ladder I wouldn’t get back on again. I was obsessed then with doing something new and interesting. Even my freshest ideas of today are Frankenstein-like monsters that I cobbled together from the work of others, and that is okay.
Artists and Authors have a hard time when it comes to copying other people’s work, at least at first. When I first sat down and started churning out ideas I was convinced I had organized this thing that no one had ever done before, and in a regard I suppose its true, but here I am eight years after the inception and the only question I have for myself is… “Why do you care?”
See, as I read through Sanderson’s work I also began ravenously consuming anything I could regarding his writing method. How he plans, how he outlines, what he does. I wanted to emulate him until I reached his level of fame and that is the root of why I am writing this post. My first true story outline, as I explained in detail to my then-roommate, I cheered for myself at how delicately I’d threaded the plot together, how carefully I worked to deconstruct any ideas I’d taken that had already existed and used the pieces to form something new and much to my displeasure when I finished the grand explanation he laughed at me and told me that I was going to write a thousand chapters worth of Bleach fan-fic. (Considering the public’s reaction to the end of the season though, I don’t think that would necessarily be a bad thing.)
I was shocked. This thing I’d worked so hard to make unique and my own was a cheap rip off of something I hadn’t even seen.
So I went back to the drawing board and began what would eventually grow into the fruit you are seeing today. I began planning the Otherwhere that night, praying to be the first to ever do it.
The thing is, you don’t have to be the first. You don’t get to be the first. All you have to do is write a book with a really good dog, slime, monster. That’s it. I realized after months of relentless study that my uniqueness was not in the manner my story was crafted, but in the art of crafting it myself. No one is capable of telling what I have to tell, even if it shares notes from people who have come before me. I am comfortable standing on the shoulders of giants, especially if I get to meet those giants one day.
I’ve told you a thousand times, meeting your heroes isn’t always great.
Having heroes is, however. You always have something new to learn.
There will be no end to the screaming.
Thank you, for coming to hear a new story from the Otherwhere. This is only the beginning. I hope to see you back over the next few days until the end of this year. These are not only retellings of a world long ago. They are a recorded history, a warning for all of us. I am merely the vessel they are speaking through. I hope you share these warnings with as many as you can. The time is not long now. Do not be afraid of the shadows.
I’d love to hear from you on Social Media if you have it, and I hope that you’ve enjoyed thus far. I’ll be back with more.
See you soon.