First draft of The Lordless City complete

Finally! The first draft of The Lordless City is officially done. Weighing in at 157,000 words, it’s slightly longer than the first draft of The Unbound Man (154,000 words) but slightly shorter than that book’s published length (163,000 words) — which is to say that it’s right in the zone I was aiming for.

I’m told some people find first drafts the most enjoyable part of writing a novel. Not me. First drafts are hard. The process of translating the story in your head into actual words is long, laborious, and embarrassingly incomplete, at least to begin with. But the only way to write a good story is to start with a version that’s not so good. You can’t make improvements to something that doesn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s some good stuff in that draft, stuff that I’m excited about and that I think you’re going to enjoy. The job now is to refine all of that raw story mass and shape it into a well-formed whole: to smooth off the rough edges, correct the balance of various elements, and make sure each piece is working as well as it can. And that’s what I’ll be working on next.

Things I Like: Planescape: Torment

What can change the nature of a man?

That’s the question at the heart of the classic 1999 video game Planescape: Torment. The game follows The Nameless One who wakes up in the mortuary with no memory of his past. He soon discovers two disturbing facts: he recently died, and this is not the first time this has happened.

Planescape: TormentIn many ways, Planescape was ahead of its time, offering rich characters, strange locations, and a thought-provoking story to rival the cream of today’s titles. The Nameless One is joined by a intriguing assortment of companions as the game progresses, from a cynical floating skull to a pyromaniacal mage who The Nameless One once took as an apprentice. The setting is similarly fascinating: the game takes place primarily in the city of Sigil, overseen by the ominous Lady of Pain and home to such unlikely establishments as the Brothel for Slaking Intellectual Lusts.

But it’s the story where this game truly shines. The game focuses far more on dialogue than combat, offering a remarkable range of options when conversing with other characters. And as The Nameless One slowly uncovers the truth about his past lives, the central question weaves through the narrative, forcing the character — and the player — to explore its depths. Can the loss of memory change the nature of a man? Can pain? Can love? Or can nothing at all?

Refreshingly, Planescape poses the question without trying to give you the answer. Rather, it allows you, the player, to answer it each time you play. And it does so in a way that is guaranteed to stay with you long after the game is over.

For The Glory Set Before Them

It’s here! My new short story For The Glory Set Before Them is now out. Check out the blurb and store links below.

I hope you like it!

For The Glory Set Before ThemI am Barais neb-Ohel, combat sorcerer under Captain Shansherai. We are summoned to fight and die in service to the All-God and to all Kefira, home of our fathers.

It will, I am told, be glorious.

Widower, diarist, and mediocre sorcerer, Barais neb-Ohel makes an unlikely soldier. When his squad receives orders to reclaim a much-contested fortress from the hated Gisleans, Barais is thrust into the forefront of a long-running war. But the squad’s numbers are few, his own abilities are desperately limited, and as their journey progresses he finds himself questioning the rightness of their cause.

For The Glory Set Before Them is a meditative military fantasy which will draw you deeper into the fascinating world of Kal Arna.

Ebook: Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords

New short story

You know how ever since the middle of last year I’ve been talking vaguely about a soon-to-be-released short story? Well, it’s taken longer than I hoped, but the story is finally ready to go. It’s called For The Glory Set Before Them, and it will be out towards the end of May.

What’s it about, I hear you ask? Here’s the blurb…

For The Glory Set Before ThemI am Barais neb-Ohel, combat sorcerer under Captain Shansherai. We are summoned to fight and die in service to the All-God and to all Kefira, home of our fathers.

It will, I am told, be glorious.

Widower, diarist, and mediocre sorcerer, Barais neb-Ohel makes an unlikely soldier. When his squad receives orders to reclaim a much-contested fortress from the hated Gisleans, Barais is thrust into the forefront of a long-running war. But the squad’s numbers are few, his own abilities are desperately limited, and as their journey progresses he finds himself questioning the rightness of their cause.

For The Glory Set Before Them is a meditative military fantasy which will draw you deeper into the fascinating world of Kal Arna.

So there you have it! Publication day is May 27. Keep an eye on the Books page for links to various stores.

In other news, I’m continuing to make good progress on The Lordless City. As expected, I’m moving faster as I get into the final third of the book. Word count has passed 120,000, and I’m on track to complete the draft by the end of the year. That’s the first draft, of course — there’ll be plenty of work to follow, but I’m very much looking forward to finishing this draft and getting stuck into revisions and editing.

Things I Like: The Lost Thing

Even if you’re not familiar with Shaun Tan’s beautifully strange artwork, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of The Lost Thing, the film adaptation of his book of the same name which won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Animated Short. It’s a wistful, offbeat story about a boy who discovers a odd creature at the beach and sets about trying to find its home.

The Lost Thing is one of those works of art which feels like it sprung into existence as a complete, perfectly formed whole. Everything about it is just right, from the slowly unfolding story to the lovely animation of Shaun Tan’s art. Tim Minchin’s narration is wonderful for both its pathos and its timing, and the characterisation of the out-of-place creature itself is a joy to behold.

And there’s plenty to reward repeat viewing — signs, billboards and other background details add layers to the story, highlighting the particular obsessions of the world that the boy and the creature must navigate in their search for the creature’s home.

At only fifteen minutes long, The Lost Thing doesn’t ask for much of your time. No doubt there are many more important things we could all be paying attention to. But that’s precisely what The Lost Thing is about: the value of setting those important things aside and opening ourselves to the strange, half-hidden things all around us which are so easy to ignore.

End of year update

I’m a couple of weeks late with this post — but better late than never, right? Here’s where things stand as we farewell 2015 and gear up for a new year.

Next novel

A few days ago I passed the halfway point of the first draft of The Unbound Man’s sequel, still tentatively titled The Lordless City. The word count of the first half is just shy of 85,000, which is pretty similar to the first half of The Unbound Man. So far there have been no major divergences from the outline. Some smaller surprises, yes, and the emergence of several unexpected character threads which contribute some pleasing depth and ambiguity to the whole, but nothing so significant as to pull the story off-track. All of which is to say: so far, so good.

Those of you who remember my last update may recall that in late August I was about a third of the way through the first draft; now, four or so months later, I’ve made it to halfway. If one projects that rate of progress forward into 2016, one might reasonably assume that I could finish this draft by the end of the year. To which I can only say: yes, I noticed that too. I’ve been frustrated for most of 2015 at not being able to write more quickly (primarily due to time constraints), but the truth is that I’ve been progressing significantly faster than anything I managed while writing The Unbound Man. I very much hope that I will complete this draft before the year is out. We shall see.

Short stories

I’ve been making vague comments for a while about maybe putting out a short story sometime soon. I don’t have anything new to report on this just yet, so for the moment those vague comments still stand. As soon as I can say anything more specific, I will.

Other activities

In the wake of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, I participated in a two-part round table with a number of other SPFBO participants over at Fantasy Book Critic. This was followed up by a guest post on the subject of building a world, in which I talked about my various sources of inspiration for the setting of The Unbound Man and how I went about constructing it.

Then in December, I teamed up with Mitchell Hogan and DK Mok to run a Christmas giveaway. Congratulations to the winners, Ilir G and Karla: your books are on their way!

Thank you

Finally, my thanks to everyone who read The Unbound Man in 2015. There’s no shortage of books to read out there, and without the platform or marketing support of some of the bigger names it can be tough to get noticed. Thank you to everyone who gave The Unbound Man a shot. I hope to have more stories for you soon.

Christmas giveaway

2015 Christmas Giveaway

Do you like epic fantasy? Do you like winning things? How about books that have been signed by their author? If you answered ‘yes’ to all three questions, the Awesome Emerging Australian Authors Christmas Giveaway is for you.

Win a bundle of the following books:

  • A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan (2013 Aurealis Award winner!)
  • Hunt for Valamon by DK Mok
  • The Unbound Man by me, Matt Karlov

One bundle will be won by somebody in the US, CA, or UK. Another will be won by somebody in Australia.

US / CA / UK residents can enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Australian residents can enter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway closes on December 24. Don’t miss out!

Things I Like: The Malazan Book of the Fallen

It’s hard to know what to say about Steven Erikson’s superb ten-volume Malazan Book of the Fallen that hasn’t already been said. Phenomenal? Epic? Absolutely. Complex, funny, tragic, deep? Without a doubt. The greatest work of fantasy yet written? In my opinion, yes.

Malazan Complete SeriesPerhaps I can put it best by saying that the Malazan series is the most complete work of fiction I have ever encountered. Somehow, Erikson has managed to combine an astonishing breadth of scope with a no less astonishing depth of insight and theme. His plotting is brilliant. His exploration of character is second to none, for both variety and depth. His setting is as epic as you’re ever likely to see. His prose is masterful. Erikson never pulls his punches, but neither are the books unremittingly grim. Over the course of the series, just about every facet of human existence is explored, questioned, and put into new perspective. Yet the emotional payoff at the end of each volume is always compelling and frequently devastating.

This is a series which changes its readers. Is there any higher compliment for a work of fiction than that?

And for people like me who are scratching out their own stories, the Malazan series shows just how much you can do with words. Erikson himself has deconstructed this aspect of his work in a series of essays which I’d recommend to anyone with an interest in the craft of writing.

No work of fiction stands alone, of course. Without Tolkien, without others along the way, the Malazan series would never have come into being. All the same, if I was asked to name the single greatest achievement in the field of fantasy, I wouldn’t have to think about it for even a moment. The Malazan Book of the Fallen stands head and shoulders above every other work of fantasy I’ve ever read.