The Four Goads (at the Crossroads)

by rsbakker

So I finished the first draft of The Unholy Consult 3:14 pm, yesterday afternoon. Things are feeling kinda surreal – it’s been a helluva long haul, man! There’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done. I have exhaustive rewrites planned for a couple of the plot-lines – about a quarter of the book all told. But for whatever reason I became insanely meticulous fleshing out the master plot, and even though it remains uber-generic all the way down, I’m pretty sure nothing like it has been written before.  Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know. The best I can do is take it to the limit of my abilities and nothing more.

I remember having lunch with Guy Kay and Peter Halasz in Toronto not long after the publication of The Darkness that Comes Before. After explaining my ridiculous multi-volume blueprint for the series, Guy earnestly began trying to talk me out of the notion. He started listing all the notorious foibles of the high fantasy long form, how the plot-lines ‘bush,’ how the quality of subsequent installments drops off as the author’s enthusiasm inevitably wanes, and how it was simply impossible, given the sheer creaking weight of all the verbiage that has come before, to provide a climax that was anything but anti-climactic…

“But imagine,” I replied, “a multi-volume series as tight as single book!”

I’ve been imagining ever since. I already had a preposterously long list of goals: to avoid sentimentalism in all its nefarious guises; to portray a truly septic ancient world, one as steeped in  bigotry and brutality as was our own; to portray psychologically realistic characters; to sustain a lyrical scriptural tone; and to resist ideological anachronisms – to challenge rather than pander to the inevitable moral pieties of certain readers.

To these I added four more Goads:

1) Stick to the original cast.

2) Strive to make each book better than the last.

3) Resist the urge to ‘go baroque.’

4) Write the conclusion that everything preceding demands.

Or in sum, stay true to my original vision.

It was sometime after the publication of The Warrior-Prophet, I think, that I realized how my first list had pretty much doomed me to be a genre outlier, a cult as opposed to commercially successful writer. The Attack of the Femtards was something I had anticipated, even courted – but unfortunately moral notoriety doesn’t make for many book sales! (Quick word of advice: If you ever have to defend yourself from a morality-based character attack, be funny, because actual arguments, no matter how nifty, will avail you nothing). Given that the whole point of importing ‘literary’ complexities into epic fantasy was to reach out, to short circuit the way technology allows us to spontaneously group ourselves according to patterns of cultural consumption, to cleanse the incipient heretics from our reading lists, I see the series as largely an artistic failure so far.

And I’ve found myself making a mantra of the Four Goads, telling myself that if I could follow through on my nutbar vision then I will have done something too peculiar to easily dismiss for reasons of righteousness or taste – a series that demands careful consideration, love or hate. The idea was to write something monstrous, a kind of Lovecraftian code that I could upload into the collective mainframe, where it would hunch upon so many borders as to become a crossroads, a passage between otherwise incompatible empires.

Well… It is monstrous! And for this lonely reader at least, it cleaves true as true to its founding vision.

For all of you gnashing and rending for the wait, I apologize. Your chance to judge will come soon enough!

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