Axioms of Light

Rewriting Circle Of Reign

Well, tomorrow (12-27-16) is the re-release of Circle of Reign, book 1 of The Dying Lands Chronicle. Upon its initial release in June 2014, Circle of Reign did very well for a self-published book. Through the use of social media, predominantly Facebook, I connected with a large group of potential readers long before the book was released. The ability to connect on a personal level with fans made a big impact in the book’s success. I discovered a love for the daily interaction with so many excited fans and readers. I am better because of them, as are my books.

The process of creating The Dying Lands Chronicle has been a windy one. Perhaps I meant windy, as in not straight, or windy, as in blustery gales. Perhaps both, for both are true. The start of Circle of Reign began in August 2009 while driving home from work. I had never really thought of writing a real novel, though I always enjoyed making up stories for my kids every night. They probably did, too, since they always asked for a made up story. Oh, the pressure! On this fateful day in 2009, I distinctly remember coming up with the opening of a chase scene, of a young girl running from an assassin through the woods. In truth, I had just finished the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson (audiobook) and was still in awe. Perhaps I was in awe of Michael Kramer’s narration as well as the story itself. I imagined this young girl in my chase scene as a young Vin, understandably, and heard Kramer’s voice in my head as I wrote, telling the story.

But I have to pause here. I had never had a writing class. I was not an English or lit major, Heck I was a college dropout, from Berklee College of Music. The only books I had read/listened to for pleasure in the past 10 years were Kevin J. Anderson’s Saga of the Seven Suns and Mistborn. I did not grow up a child of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I mostly read books on leadership, teamwork, sales and communication, and financial matters. I had a few ideas for some business books rolling around in my head. All this is to say that I never, ever, imagined myself writing a fantasy book.

Yet, these first 5 pages of this chase scene, what would become Reign trying to find her way home while being chased by a Helsyan Reaper (formally called “chase-givers”), played in my head like a movie. The few people I shared it with, those I knew to be highly critical and anything but the kind to give false praise, ALL loved it. Each of them asked for more. I won’t give a step by step creation process, but five years later (I was still working full time and could only devote a few hours a week to the book), I finally published Circle of Reign. For a self-published novel, it did extremely well overall. I’m proud of that first version, flawed though it was. It became a #1 bestseller in both the sci-fi/fantasy and epic fantasy genres on Amazon and Audible. I even was blessed to have Michael Kramer agree to narrate the book.

Other stories followed. Altar of Influence essentially happened as an accident. Though it is a prequel to Circle of Reign, it does well as a stand-alone book. The expanded rewrite of Altar of Influence was released on 11-6-16. Two short stories, The Red Grove and Remnants and Shadows, made their ways onto the scene, both of which were spurred by questions raised by fans along the way. Thank you for challenging me. Remnants and Shadows is now part of the expanded Altar of Influence, and The Red Grove is now part of the expanded Circle of Reign.

But why the rewrites? Well, it happened like this. Somewhere along the way, I came to know David Wolverton/Farland a little. He is one of Brandon Sanderson’s early mentors and teachers (among others students, such as Brandon Mull and Stephanie Meyer). Sanderson credits Farland for significantly helping his early writing career. Farland also teaches writing courses throughout the world and is much loved amongst authors of all genres. His bestselling Runelords series is fantastic, and I can easily see some of the influence that its earlier books might have had in Sanderson’s work. I discovered that Farland actually lived in my same small town. That was it. I was doggedly determined that he would teach me and take me under his wing. But would he? After all, he was (is) a legend in the sci-fi and fantasy genres and travels the world. He’s written X-Files and Star Wars books. Did I mention he also hosts the largest short-story writing contest in the world? I don’t think I knew what a challenge it would be for him to take notice of me and my work.

But I would not be deterred.

Finally, finally, after a solid year of hounding him, he read the first 50 pages of Circle of Reign. He stopped, picked up the phone, and called me. He asked me what my goal was for having him read the book, especially since it had already been released and done moderately well. It went something like this.

“Well, Dave, I know the book isn’t perfect,” I said. “I’m sure there are things you could help me with. Perhaps a light edit from you would be good.”

“It’s not perfect,” Dave said. “But, it’s damn good. What is your end goal here?”

“I just think if I could tighten up a few areas and maybe rewrite some weak scenes that–”

“No, stop,” Dave said. “That’s not what I’m asking. What do you want?”

The dead silence swelled. I decided to go for broke. “I want to write like Sanderson and Rothfuss.”

I swallowed hard, waiting for the inevitable, “Sorry kid, that’s just not going to happen for you.” That never came. Instead, Dave said, “You can absolutely be as good as them. You are so close, but raw. And I’m willing to push you to their level based on what I’ve read so far.”

“Dave,”–I think my voice cracked–“are you offering to work with me one-on-one?”

“Yes.”

Now, I’m dense at times, and generally prefer the method of hard knocks to anything easy, but momma didn’t raise no fool, as my cousins in Tennesse say. I accepted. How could I say no? I gave Farland permission to be brutal. I wanted it. I needed it. He went through the entire novel and tore it apart. I did not accept everything he wanted me to do, but the vast majority I did. New scenes were created. Several were cut and archived for later use. New characters came to life as well as completely new scenes and sequences. Old scenes were refreshed. Bad writing was replaced by tighter, cleaner language. All in all, it took nearly a year to rewrite. Yes, I could have been working on Song of Night, book 2; but I could not pass this opportunity up. The new Circle of Reign is 45,000 words longer (4.5 hours longer in audiobook format) than the original, and that’s after cutting nearly 70,000 words from the original. I might add that Farland wanted to cut 50,000 words initially, making the book substantially shorter, but he kept telling me to add this or that scene. I certainly went beyond those scenes as new developments came to my mind, new elements that excited me like never before. I even “reappropriated” about 8,000 words from Song of Night.

I often get questions about what is different, or will it be needed to re-read this new extended cut. The book is different enough that it will not feel like a true re-read. As far as the first question, I’ll leave that to be discovered. To the second, I say, yes, it is critical that you read the new version. The old version will no longer be for sale. The extended cut is simply more than subsuming The Red Grove and lots of grammatical/language edits. The story is similar, but the details and elements are, indeed, different. If someone went straight to book 2 when it is released, without revisiting the new Altar of Influence and, especially, Circle of Reign, they will be lost. I apologize to the fans if this is an inconvenience. However, most of the fans have responded with enthusiasm and excitement, for which I am grateful. I was mindful of the hassle this might cause, but something else happened along the way. A major audiobook publisher made an offer on the entire series, including the rewrites, which was a major blessing to my family. I had not idea how I was going to afford to reproduce the new audiobook versions. This happened in part because of the rewrite, and in part because of the amazing support from the fans and positive reviews that attracted a major publisher. We sent Michael Kramer back to work in the recording studio and I cannot wait for the audiobook junkies out there to hear the new version.

And so, on the eve of this re-release, I am more nervous than the original release. I wonder if the fans will love the rewrite, or hate it, thinking I ruined the beloved earlier version. It was a difficult decision to do a complete do-over, and the effort required to do it right was…well, I lost a lot of sleep, both from the needed effort and nerves. In the end, I put my faith in the judgment of my readers and fans. You have given me flight. Here’s to hoping I stay airborne.

Audiobook version

Kindle version (NOTE: the paperback version is the old version. It has yet to be updated, but will be soon).