Elric and the Advent of Sword and Sorcery

I probably don’t need to remind anyone that there are a lot of genres of literature out there. Sometimes, of course, books can be forced into categories that they truly don’t match, but for the most part, the reason we have genres is because a lot of stories tend to fall into those categories fairly neatly.

And for every genre of writing, there are endless sub-genres, too. Look no further than Amazon’s ranking system, where The Redemption of Erâth falls under “Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Epic” as equally as “Literature and Fiction > Horror > Dark Fantasy”. (I don’t make up these categories, nor did I place my books into them; there’s precious little horror in The Redemption of Erâth.) The goal of this, of course, is to make accessing literature easier, so that the reader knows what to expect. After all, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are both considered fantasy, yet they have about as much in common as The Wheel of Time does with A Song of Ice and Fire.

But then, every once in a while, something comes along that redefines a genre. Or, if you’re lucky, creates a new one. Within the world of fantasy, which typically governs stories with alternate worlds, magic and medieval-type settings, the gamut runs from high fantasy – set in an entirely alternate world – to urban fantasy – set in a cross between a fantasy world and the real world. And whilst Tolkien is typically regarded as the master of the first, with C.S. Lewis arguably pioneering the second, today I want to talk about a genre that is sometimes unfairly dismissed as ‘easy’, or less serious: sword & sorcery.

Sword & sorcery fantasy, as the title implies, typically deals with the heroic adventures of a sword-wielding hero as they go from battle to battle, traveling the length and breadth of whatever world they’re set in, often pitted against dark sorcerers or magicians. Whilst there are obviously many possible crossovers between sword & sorcery and other fantasy sub-genres, some of the key elements are that the hero often knows they are the hero, and may even embrace that fact; also, that those same heroes typically live for adventure, and may go seeking for the glory of battle.

The term “sword & sorcery” was first coined by author Michael Moorcock in a letter to the magazine Amra, looking to describe the works of Robert E. Howard, and in particular, his Conan adventures. He was looking for something to distinguish these tales from other, similar genres, whilst focusing on the supernatural/mythical element that is so often prevalent in the genre.

Michael Moorcock himself became one of the best-known names in the sword & sorcery genre with his ongoing tales of Elric, the last emperor of Melniboné, and his adventures through lands of danger and deception. One of the lynchpins of sword & sorcery – the sword – makes a prominent appearance in these stories in the form of Stormbringer, a weapon that both confers strength to Elric (a physically weak antihero) whilst also eating away at his soul.

I remember greatly enjoying the tales of Elric and Stormbringer when I was young, primarily because they didn’t necessarily come with the deathly-serious world-saving implications of books such as The Lord of the Rings. It was adventure, pure and simple; there were stakes, yes, but they were always personal to the hero, and the world was just the world in which these adventures took place. For me it was refreshing, as so many of the tales I had read unto that point revolved around a reluctant hero that had to save their entire world (too many stories today, I fear, follow this tradition – including my own!).

It’s an interesting sort of idea, I think, to have a story whose sole purpose is to entertain; a story that has no allegory or moral, no lesson to be learned, and no great consequences for the world should the hero fail is something that provides a delightful escape from the realities of the ‘real’ world around us. And whilst there will always be a place for the Harry Potters and the Brandyé Dui-Erâths, there should equally be room for the Elrics, too.

What are your favorite sword & sorcery fantasies, and why?

What It Means to Self-Publish

Yesterday marked the launch of the third book of The Redemption of Erâth, entitled Ancients & Death. And whilst I’m excited as can be about it, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The Redemption of Erâth is an ongoing fantasy series chronicling the journey of Brandyé and his friend Elven through the fantastic and dark world of Erâth, in an effort to save their world from the overriding forces of Darkness. Volumes 1 & 2 are on sale for $0.99, and the third, Ancients & Death, is now available through Kindle and Apple Books.

Being a self-published author is a double-edged sword, because whilst it gives me the flexibility to create exactly what I want in a timeframe that suits me (although I must admit, some kind of deadline might’ve helped along the way), it also means the onus is entirely on me to succeed. And that success is difficult. Very, very difficult.

The thing is, pretty much anyone can self-publish these days. The quality of self-published novels can be dubious, from poor editing to outright terrible writing, and it’s into this crashing sea of mediocrity that most self-published books are launched. And even if the quality of the book is above-average (as most authors think their writing is), you’re then faced with the challenge of convincing readers of that fact.

And good luck with that, because gaining readership as a self-published author comes with its own unique challenges. Very few people are willing to part with their hard-earned cash on an author they’ve never heard of, and even less so when they learn that the author published themselves. There’s a kind of reassurance that comes with knowing a publishing house backed an author – even though there is a lot of traditionally-published trash out there, too.

I have enough insight into my novels to know that they are good, if not necessarily great; I’ve had enough feedback from publishers, professional editors and readers to know this. I’m not worried about the quality of my writing. But the goal of any author is to be read, and this is where the great difficulty lies. I’m not in it to make money – not outright. There’s no way I could sell enough copies to equal anything resembling a salary for the past three years. But if I can just get people to read it, I’ll be happy.

So most of my readership comes from free copies that I’ve given away, either through personal contact with readers or through giveaway websites such as Prolific Works or Voracious Readers Only. And I don’t mind – it gets the books into people’s hands.

But for every hundred copies given away, perhaps ten people will actually end up reading it. And for every ten reads, perhaps one person will review it. And of that 1% return-on-investment, it’s a toss-up whether they’ll even like it or not. And it becomes discouraging, because of course I want people to read it, but I also want them to like it. Really, I want them to let me know that they liked it. It does wonders for the ego.

So what does it mean, truly, to self-publish? It means endless effort and work, constant anxiety, hit-or-miss advertising, sales in the single-digits, and readers who don’t read or review. It means a lifetime of crippling self-doubt, until every once in a while someone posts somewhere in the annals of the world wide web, and just maybe, you come across it.

And every single review – each one out of a hundred – becomes so meaningful that it gets you back to the drawing board, the keyboard or the pen and paper, and you start it all over again.

Because sometimes you just have to write.

The Redemption of Erâth: Win Free Books!

So it begins – the third volume of The Redemption of Erâth is now officially available for sale on Kindle, Apple Books and in print, and I’ll be hosting a week-long launch party over at my Facebook page! I can’t wait to see you there, where we’ll be discussing fantasy, fiction, literature and more.

To begin with, I want to announce that I’ll be hosting giveaways all week long, but most importantly, you can win a free copy of all the Redemption of Erâth books to date in print – just by participating! Everyone who takes part in the Facebook launch event, whether by commenting, posting, sharing or otherwise, will be entered to win a free print edition of all four books – ConsolationExileAncients & Death and History of Erâth!

So head over to Facebook now, drop me a line, and let’s get started!