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05. Setting things on Fire Using stories

Conventional writing advice teaches that readers open a book to be entertained. And sure, readers do want entertainment. Certainly, part of the reason I write books is because developing them offers unmatched fun. By enlivening characters and concocting the worlds they inhabit, I tread heights I never thought I could reach. Sitting before a blank page feels like standing at the bow of a creaking ship, readying for the wild and the curious to unfold.

And holding a finished book—well, I handle it gingerly and sleep with one eye open. The keen heat and the sparks that I sense in its pages seem to foretell spontaneous combustion.

I can’t find in myself, or in my books, though, the drive to merely entertain. The word “entertainment,” to me, summons feelings of quickness—a short moment’s dip into untroubled waters; a lingering just at the door of a sinister tavern; a catching of the close scent of a weird, ancient forest whose trails I can see but won’t try.

I go back to the simmering drafts of my stories-in-progress again and again, allowing each pass to drag me down deeper. I can’t help but let the voyage of writing carry me to places where never-before-dreamed-of adventures unfold. It's become common in my story creation for whole legends to burst into existence, spinning off from one character’s simple remark.

I can't fight such a captivating current. And so I let myself sink into these drafts deeply enough to read them and rewrite them hundreds of times. Literally.

Until they smolder. Until they render feats greater than bare entertainment. Until they occupy a fiery place in my experience that I cannot distinguish from the waking world.

In entertaining, sure, there lies value. But I hope my books catch fire in your hands, too. I aim to wrap you up. To draw you wholly in.

I want you to experience the beauty of a campfire on a starry Welsh beach while feeling the fear of a fevered fight coming. I want you to know the adrenaline rush of standing on a cruising ship's bow. I want you to feel the bittersweetness of a deep bond of brotherhood, and the liberating ache of realizing you don't quite fit in.

Why settle to entertain when I can help you experience the tension radiating from Swift’s tired body as his jacket falls to the earth, cast off for the anguish of seeing he’s up against something insurmountable? Why just watch when you can feel the dissonance of victory and fear washing from an adventure that delivered more than what was bargained for?

There’s strong worth in knowing the liberation of one little girl at her moment of triumph over those who would crush her. There’s a great deal to be said for priming a reader to feel the shivery tenor of wind at a forest child slipping past and dissolving into the dark, cheery night.

And speaking of forest children, I can't wait for you to see what's in store.

It isn't just forest children who've drawn me into the wilds this time, though. There are wight witches and angel fire faeries. There are naiads and oakmen and dryads and sprites and cursed woodlands and caves and books of legends and elemental spirits and healing cordials and cottages occupied by the immortal.

The Sylphic Kingdom holding these spirits and wonders is no place I can easily describe. I only can do it by telling you a story. And I only can tell you by taking you there.

On August 3, we shall go.

I hope, greatly, that upon engaging with my books, you enjoy the heat and thrill of the adventures they hold. And I hope, yet more strongly, that in reading them you feel the elation of wandering many worlds—worlds as yet dreamed, greatly rich, deeply meaningful—a true reflection of the joy and the ache that we feel in life's firelight.


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