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In this week's new Writing Excuses episode, Elemental Drama as a Sub-Genre, the Writing Excuses crew turns their focus on elemental drama. This can be tricky as it's basically "character change," and a great many stories use character change in some way—it's almost ubiquitous. In this episode they pick at the ubiquity, and look at the many different ways in which character change can be featured, and what sort of tools writers have at their disposal to make this happen in stories.

In case you missed Alice Arneson's first post introducing Tor's continuing reread for Warbreaker, you can find it here. This week, in the prologue, we see Vasher and Nightblood escape a Hallandren dungeon.

The Twitter post archive for October is up to date.

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Garth Nix
(Note: For an explanation of my Goodreads policy, please see here.)

For Writers
The Short Version
Rating Notes
Bias Notes

Anyone who hasn’t read Sabriel, the beginning of the Old Kingdom books by Garth Nix, is missing out. I consider reading it, during the years I was trying to break in, to be one of the fundamental experiences that helped me shape my philosophy on magic systems and worldbuilding.

Needless to say, I love the magic and worldbuilding of these books—though perhaps someday I’ll do a review of Sabriel itself, and delve into what I love about the worldbuilding in these books. This review is about Goldenhand, a later installment (book five, I believe, though one of those is a prequel) in the series. I found it to be an excellent continuation.

I’m impressed that Mr. Nix has kept my attention and excitement for the series over all these years, doling out new volumes carefully and expanding the magic system at a controlled rate. (And introducing new characters to become the new viewpoints as others close their arcs.) I feel he’s added good flourishes here and there to give the magic depth, but never let it spiral away from him, as was the potential at any given point.

For Writers
One highlight for me in this book involved Mr. Nix’s continued ability to introduce compelling characters with a variety of backgrounds. Pay attention to how he gives strong, but different, motives to the primary players—and how he quickly establishes those motives and keeps them central to each character’s through line.

I also admire his ability to write a young adult series that is firmly secondary world fantasy, with challenging worldbuilding and politics, while still keeping the narrative focused on younger characters, maintaining the feel that this is correctly shelved in teen. I think the character motivations, the sense that these are people still searching for their exact place in the world, is part of what makes this work.

Finally, I would suggest a study of Mr. Nix’s pacing methods. Sabriel was the first fantasy novel I can remember that used a more intense, “thriller style” method of pacing. (I see this in the works of [author:Jim Butcher|10746] and [author:Brent Weeks|1370283] as well.)

Notice how Mr. Nix writes this book to encompass a relatively short period of time, with constant motion and action. He uses frequent cuts between viewpoints to deemphasize downtime, increase tension, and propel the story. He also consistently employs small chapter-end hooks that are frequently resolved in the early pages of the next chapter, using them to bridge chapter (and character) breaks. I’m not always a fan of this style of cliffhanger, as it can wear thin by the end of a book, but they work very well with the format and structure of this book.

The Short Version
Here’s what I sent the publisher as a blurb for the book. “Garth Nix is one of the best worldbuilders in fantasy, and this book is merely further proof. I love the Old Kingdom series, and Goldenhand is an excellent continuation, packed with the excitement and passion of a storytelling virtuoso at the height of his abilities.”

Highly recommended for anyone. Sabriel, the first in the series, is one of my go-to suggestions, as I feel it does a large number of things very well, and has a broad appeal for a wide variety of readers.

Rating Notes
I noticed no content in this book requiring specific warning.

Bias Notes
I have met Mr. Nix several times at conventions, and we are on friendly terms. I received this book for free from his publisher, who was pursuing a cover blurb.

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Brandon's assistant Adam here. Due to the overwhelming number of people who request for Brandon to work on Oathbringer (Stormlight 3) and nothing else, I asked Brandon if he wouldn't mind if I took the weekly update posts off his plate to give him more time to devote to the enormous writing endeavor that is the Stormlight Archive. Most of what you see on the website will continue to be written by Brandon, but he gave me leave to periodically post fanart and cosplays across his social media platforms alongside the weekly updates he likes to give to his readers.

The Weekly Update!

The final installment (a catch-all Q&A) of the 2016 Sanderson Lectures is now live! If you missed Episode 11, it was "Dialogue and Agents," and you can catch up on all the videos here. Enjoy!


In this week's new Writing Excuses episode, The Editor’s Wish List, Navah Wolfe—an editor at Saga Press—sits down with the Writing Excuses crew to discuss the manuscripts she would like to see.

For those of you who followed Tor.com's reread for Words of Radiance, which recently reached its conclusion, I have some exciting news for you: The great Alice Arneson just introduced Tor's reread for Warbreaker, which will begin on Thursday.

Our own Isaac Stewart, cartographer extraordinaire and art director for Brandon, was recently interviewed for the Imaginary World Podcast. This particular episode, Fantasy Maps, talks about the debt modern cartographers owe to J.R.R. Tolkien, who spent decades mapping out Middle-earth on graph paper because everything had to be invented from scratch. It's a fun podcast and well worth the listen.

The Twitter post archive for October is up to date.

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As it says on my events page, tomorrow I will be attending the Utah Humanities Book Festival in Ogden, Utah. I would love to see you there this weekend, but if you can't make it that's okay. The greatest compliment you can give me is to read my books.

My full schedule is below.

Saturday, October 8th

Place: Ogden High School
2828 Harrison Blvd.
Ogden, UT 84403
Event Type: Signing

From the event organizers:

Utah Humanities and Weber County Book Links are pleased to present “The Way of Writers: Building Worlds with Brandon Sanderson.” The day will culminate in Sanderson’s talk at 4:00 PM, which will take place in the newly restored OHS Art Deco Auditorium, a National Trust for Historical Preservation award recipient.

Workshops 12:00-3:00
Break 3:00-4:00
Trivia in auditorium 3:30-4:00
Sanderson presentation 4:00-5:00
Book signing, Trivia 5:00-6:00
For more information and a list of workshop facilitators, as well as art and writing competition information, visit sandersonogdenvisit.wordpress.com.


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Ink and Ashes

Ink and Ashes Cover

Valynne E. Maetani
(Note: For an explanation of my Goodreads policy, please see here.)

For Writers
The Short Version
Rating Notes
Bias Notes

This excellent YA book sits carefully nestled between several genres. The packaging lists it as a thriller, and that’s not a bad way to present it. The opening chapters focus more on mystery, by my definition, than thriller. (They are more about the characters discovering secrets than they are about people being in danger.) However, as the story escalates, it does move into thriller territory.

However—and few books manage to pull this off as well as Ink and Ashes—it’s also a slice of life drama, mixing family dynamics, friendships, and romance. While many books use these themes as seasoning, I believe that Valynne successfully creates a straight-up hybrid. I was impressed by how well she balanced the growing tension with a girl struggling through day-to-day challenges. Often when someone tries this, one of the two (either the daily life or the mystery) ends up feeling perfunctory. Not so here, and I thoroughly enjoyed the blend.

I can sincerely say this was one of the best books I’ve read this year, and might even be in the top spot. An artful blend of Japanese culture, solid mystery, interesting characters, and an excellent use of viewpoint. I particularly enjoyed how the writer turned a major trope—the single girl in a cast of mostly guys—on its head by making it a feature of the story.

I highly recommend the book to anyone who likes Young Adult fiction.

For Writers
The first thing I’d highlight for you to examine is how Valynne juggles the genres, and expectations for them, as mentioned above. Pay attention to the solid mystery hook, followed by balancing family life, then the escalation of discovery into true danger. Valynne is very good with promises; watch how she eases the reader through the transitions between family/school life and the action scenes.

I’d say the book’s second strong feature is its use of viewpoint. Many first-person narratives rely on snark from the protagonist to give them personality and make their narrative more engaging, but Valynne goes a different direction, making the character powerfully inquisitive, and reinforcing this with the careful use of questions, curiosity, and impulsiveness from the main character. Valynne is excellent in her use of emotion, and the scenes of tension in particular popped for me—I truly felt that I was in the head of someone who was on the brink of panic, trying to keep herself together. This was done through deft manipulation of the first-person (first-person immediate, as I often call it) narrative.

Also pay attention to the pacing, which is very interesting in this novel. It occasionally uses thriller style (short chapters, end on a moment of tension or cliffhanger that you resolve quickly in the next chapter) but often mixes more of a mystery style (end with a tease about a cool secret or clue to pull the reader along) and more of a traditional style (full arc within a chapter, ending on a short bit of falling action to give closure to issues raised early in the chapter). These help with the transition between action and drama, and vary the storytelling style to allow payoffs and different types of subplots to play out.

The Short Version
An excellent, fast-paced YA mystery/thriller with an engaging character narrative and a nice mix of action, romance, and family drama.

Rating Notes
I noticed no content in this book requiring specific warning.

Bias Notes
I’m very good friends with the author’s editor, Stacy Whitman at Tu Books.

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Any of you who haven’t read the Evil Librarians series might want to duck out here, because I’m going to talk about the big reveal at the end of the fifth novel. This is a post that’s been brewing since 2006, so I’m eager to talk about it—but anyone who has read stories like Secret History will know that I like to brew surprises over the long haul. I’d rather you discover this on your own, by reading the series. I’ve posted before my pitch on what the books are about, and why you might like them.

For those of you who have read up to the fifth book, it’s time to give a behind-the-scenes look at what happened with this series.

If we look back to 2006, we can find the seed of the first book in a writing prompt I wrote out for myself: “So there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to be sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil librarians.”

Great first line to a story. I typed it into my phone while at a meeting one day, and quickly became enthralled by it. I’d been reading a lot of middle grade, and wanted to try my hand at something in the genre. I discovery-wrote the story, mostly as a writing exercise—and as a break from the Mistborn series, which I felt needed some breathing room before I could work on the next book.

The story turned out great. Quirky, sarcastic, and fun. So I sent it to my agent, and he liked it too. It took us only a few months to get four offers. Each of the editors we were talking to wanted to know, what was my vision for the series?

And this was tricky because the first book had left me in a bit of a conundrum. You see, a big theme of that first book was a character telling their life’s story and warning everyone that he wasn’t a hero, that things ended poorly for him. And yet the series was lighthearted and fun, full of humor and wackiness. It didn’t have the dark tone of Lemony Snicket, despite the main character’s insistence that he was no hero.

I felt I’d promised the audience a fun reversal—that Alcatraz would end up being a hero, even if he didn’t think he was one. This was tricky though, because I had the feeling that if I ended it that way, it would be too obvious. Somehow I had to have an ending that justified Alcatraz thinking he was a huge failure in life, but at the same time indicating to the reader that he was actually heroic.

And that’s when I hit on a structure that would let me do this. I pitched the following to the various editors interested in the books: I’ll write a six-book series that I tell everyone is five books long. The main character will write five, and the fifth will end with the disasters he predicted. This will show exactly why he thinks of himself the way he does.

But then the sixth book will be from the viewpoint of his bodyguard, continuing the story and giving the real ending.

I felt this would work because it played into the themes of Alcatraz being honest about his past, mixed with his feelings of failure. But it would at the same time let us have an ending that wasn’t quite so much of a downer. All it required was that we remain quiet for six years or so (it ended up being ten) about the secret sixth book. (In the intervening years, if people asked me if book five was the end, I tried to always answer, “The fifth book is the last one Alcatraz will write.”)

Some of the editors loved this idea, and others didn’t like it at all. One who loved it was Susan at Tor, who is now publishing the books—so yay!

My initial pitch for the release of book five this year was to have a little envelope inside the back cover that you opened and found a note from Bastille, saying she was going to write the last book. However, that proved to be a problem. First, it’s easy to lose a card from an envelope, which meant that library books and secondhand books risked having the true ending get lost. Second, it seemed like it would just be too much for people to resist opening early. We ended up going with a folded-over page at the ending, which at least can’t get lost. (And in the ebook, Bastille's note is at the very, very end, past all the footnotes, like a post-credits scene.)

So what does this mean for the future of the series? Well, two years ago I posted a screenshot of my folder showing all of my books in order. It hid a secret project, scribbled out. People assumed this was Secret History, and I didn't disabuse them (as I was working on it at the time). But it’s actually Evil Librarians Six, which I’ve done a bunch of work on. I’m not sure when I’ll have it out, but it won’t be too long. (I will probably finish it sometime next year.) I’m tentatively calling it Alcatraz Bastille vs. the Evil Librarians: The Worldspire. (Yes, Alcatraz’s name will likely be crossed out on the cover, with hers written over it.) Originally I’d named it Alcatraz vs. His Own Dumb Self, but I think that might be going too far.

Thank you to all the fans who have kept with this series over the years. It’s because of you that I went through all the trouble of buying the series back from the old publisher, when they decided to end it at four books. And it’s because of you that we have the gorgeous new Tor editions, finally with cover art that fits the books. (Not to mention the awesome interior art.)

But book six WILL be the last. You can trust this, because it’s me saying it, not Alcatraz. :)


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Hey Hushlanders, Alcatraz Smedry here. The fifth and final volume of my autobiography is now available in print and ebook form! The Librarians will try to stop this information getting out if they can, so as in the past we’ve made this book look like a boring fantasy novel. You can find it at retailers everywhere as Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians, Book Five: The Dark Talent. (Except in the UK, Australia, and countries like that. The Librarians have so far stymied plans for its release there, but we will sneak it through eventually! They’ve also managed to delay its audio release for a few more weeks.)

In an effort to further confuse the Librarians, I’ve arranged for Brandon Sanderson, or at least someone who looks like him, to appear at two locations during release week to sign and number the books. “Brandon” will have two others with him: Hayley Lazo, my illustrator, and Isaac Stewart, my mapmaker. Don’t be alarmed. No matter how it may seem, these two are allies of the Free Kingdoms, and not Librarian agents. You can find their appearances listed here or below.

For an introduction to my autobiography series, see this post.

The Dark Talent Release and Signings

Tuesday, September 6th

Time: 6:00–8:00 p.m.

Address: The King’s English Bookshop

Salt Lake City, UT 84105

Phone: 801-484-9100

The King's English says:

Join New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson for a reading and signing of his new book, The Dark Talent.

Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of The Dark Talent from The King’s English.

Hayley Lazo, Alcatraz’s illustrator, will also be happy to sign all of your books!

Saturday, September 10th

Time: 3:00–5:00 p.m.

Address: Spingville Library

45 South Main

Springville, UT 84663

Phone: 801-489-2720

The Springville Library has a flyer about the event here.

Hayley Lazo, Alcatraz’s illustrator, will also be happy to sign all of your books!

And here is some more information from the library:

  • The tickets for the Q&A portion of this event are all reserved.

  • Please add your name to our wait list at SpringvilleLibrary.EventBrite.com so we can fill any possible cancellations.

  • Ticket and wait list lines begin at 1:30pm. Book signing only line begins at 4pm.

  • If you have a ticket for this event, you must be in your seat by 2:45pm. At 2:50, any unoccupied seats will be released to the wait list.

  • You do not have to attend the Q&A to have a book signed.

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Hey, all. I've long wanted to start using my Goodreads account, and it seemed like reviews would be a good place to begin. Eventually, I hope to be able to get some more questions answered there—for now, I'm just going to try to post periodic book reviews.

Be warned, I'm not intending to be a real reviewer. As I explain in my review guide here, I consider this more a place to send people when they ask, "What have you read recently that you've liked?" If the reviews all look positive, that's because they will be—I'll only post about the books I like. But I will try to slant the second half of the review toward writing advice, using the book in question as a guide, for those looking to improve your craft.

More explanation in that link above.

I figured a nice place to start would be with Ghost Talkers, Mary's new book. If for some reason you've never tried her work, this would be an excellent place to start! Find my review here.

Thanks, all! I should have another update on Stormlight Book Three very soon. It's going well, and we're almost to the 3/4 mark.


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Firefight, from the Reckoners series, was selected to be featured in Audible’s Much Loved Listens 2-for-1 sale, which began this Sunday and runs until Monday, August 22nd. You can check the entire selection of titles available for Audible members to get 2 books for only 1 credit here.

Audible’s Much Loved Listens 2-for-1 sale

In this week's new Writing Excuses episode, Crossover Fiction, with Victoria Schwab (who also writes as V.E. Schwab), she joined us in Phoenix to talk about books that target a given demographic but which have a much broader appeal, or books which straddle the line between age demographics. We discuss some good crossover examples, and how some of the boundaries work, and then we cover some of the techniques we use when writing crossover works.

With the completion of the Words of Radiance reread, Tor Books is offering readers and Brandon Sanderson fans a free download of The Stormlight Archive Pocket Companion through the Tor/Forge Blog.

My assistant Adam has updated the Twitter post archive for August.
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There will be two Mistborn: House War board game playtests at Worldcon in Kansas City, August 18th (Thursday) and 21st (Sunday), run by Brandon’s literary agent, Joshua Bilmes. He has three copies of the game, so there will be 15 slots available in each session. Please sign up ahead of time for the Thursday or Sunday sessions. It looks like there's no cost to join the playtests, but you must be a registered attending member of Worldcon (preregistration is over, but you can register at the door) in order to take part.

The eighth installment of the 2016 Sanderson Lectures, "Magic Systems," is now live! If you missed last week's episode, "Character," you can catch up on all the videos here. Enjoy!


In this week's new Writing Excuses episode, The Element of Humor, we ask, what is the driving force that gets readers to turn pages in a book that is primarily a work of humor? More importantly, how do we as writers get that driver into our books? We cover this, and provide some starting points for writers seeking to improve their humor writing, along with a bunch of neat techniques and a long example for deconstruction.

Last week, in Tor.com’s continuing reread posts for Words of Radiance, a highprince met his fate and four Radiants gathered. This week, in Epilogue and What Comes Next, Wit expounds and [redacted] Elsecalls, as we conclude our discussions of this magnificent behemoth.

My assistant Adam has updated the Twitter post archive for July and August.
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