Elspeth Cooper

Purveyor of fine fantasy adventures

Frequently Asked Questions, DRAGON HOUSE edition

I’ve been getting a few emails from readers asking what’s happening with THE DRAGON HOUSE, the final volume of the Wild Hunt Quartet. I’m happy to answer these emails individually, as and when they come in, but it occurred to me that it would save a lot of wear and tear on everyone’s typing fingers if I just did a post about it.

So, without further ado, here we go.

I can’t find THE DRAGON HOUSE in the shops

It hasn’t been published yet. I’m still writing it. I am pleased to report that it’s more done than not done, though (see So where are we at? below).

Why is it taking so long?

My health hasn’t been great for a while now. For those that don’t know (*waves to new people*) I have multiple sclerosis, which I’ve been dealing with for over 20 years now. I’ve blogged about this before, but that was a year ago and I realise not everyone will have read that post.

I haven’t always dealt with my illness in an ideal fashion. When it was still in its relapsing-remitting stages, I coped by largely ignoring it, and trying to bull my way through the limitations it imposed on me. That’s why I stayed in full-time employment longer than I should have. Why I resisted moving to a house without stairs for so long. When we finally did move, in 2015, the process brought a load of new stressors all its own, which did not help my mental health.

Having MS has so thoroughly altered the way I navigate the world. Physically, I can’t do a lot of things I used to enjoy, like travel, or needlecrafts, or tending my garden, but it’s also affected stuff I used to take for granted, simple things like fastening my clothes. Mentally, it affects my concentration and clarity of thought, though not so badly that I can’t see what’s happening to me. Even after 20 years, I get immensely frustrated with it. Frustration becomes rage, which becomes tears, becomes exhaustion, becomes depression and round and round we go.

Lately I’ve been getting better at dealing with that cycle. Though far from perfect,  I’m still here, still trying. I’m still making words, because I can’t not. It’s just not happening as quickly or as easily as any of us would like.

Post it note says "Don't panic"

Will the book ever be finished?

Yes. Absolutely. I owe the story and the characters a fitting ending, something that feels right for them. I also owe it to all the readers who have come along for the ride.

That said, I won’t turn out a piece of crap just to call it done. I won’t put my name to something I’m not proud of.

When?

That I can’t tell you. Yet. Rigid schedules don’t work with a fluctuating condition; that’s why I had to give up my 9-5 office job. Please trust that I’m working as hard as I can, but unfortunately, I can’t predict when I’ll be done. There’s no point in promising a date when I can’t guarantee to meet it, and to get a firm date means plumbing it into the schedules of literally dozens – if not hundreds – of other people in the publishing supply chain, and it’s not fair on them to over-promise and then under-deliver.

But when I hit SEND on that script, y’all will be the first to know.

So where are we at?

The book is about two-thirds done (I think), but there’s the whole final arc to nail down. A series-ender is tricky – many individual arcs to close, lots of moving parts!

As I said in my newsletter:

Last time I made any kind of announcement about THE DRAGON HOUSE, I was at 120,000 words, or about two-thirds of the way through. I’d actually written 169k, but was revisiting the whole manuscript (again) after some tough love from my agent, because, well, it wasn’t in great shape.

Since then, I’ve stopped keeping an eye on the word-count. Instead, I’m measuring my progress by the far more nebulous and instinctive metric of “Does this feel like it’s getting more in focus than it was before?”

You see, I’ve never had a good relationship with daily word-count targets. It’s co-morbid with my dislike of chapter plans, beat-sheets and whatnot. Those things make me feel hemmed in, and if I fail to hit a target e.g. because I’m ill, it sets up a stress spiral of pushing more and falling further short. The quality of my writing always suffers.

Learning that I do this was such a “Well, duh!” for me. I’m still working on recognising it in the moment, though, because it’s hard to see when you’re mired in it. I was raised to be a self-reliant sort, so I tend to just soldier on in the belief that I can wear any problem down with sheer persistence, when what I need to do is not work harder, but work smarter.

So I’ve had to go backwards to go forwards. I’m at about 125k, but there’s a lot more changed than just adding another 5000 words. I think the script is leaner now, more together. There’s new scenes. I’ve made peace with the fact that the POV count (as well as the word count) is going to be higher than the other three books. THE DRAGON HOUSE will be a bit of a monster, but I can see the shape of the beast in the rough cut stone now, and it pleases me. I just have to set it free.

So there you go.

Is Gair going to be OK? Will he end up with Tanith? Do we see Ailric/Ytha/Drwyn get their comeuppance? TELL ME.

You want spoilers, now? No, I’m not telling. Yes, I am a big meaniepants.

So what are we supposed to do while we wait, huh?

If you haven’t already read them, there’s two sample chapters here under ‘Books’ in the top menu. If you have already read them . . . um. Sorry? Please read someone else’s books – there’s lots of great ones to choose from. I’ll still be here when you get back.

And on that note, I want to apologise to everyone for taking so long with this book. It’s not what I wanted to happen. I hope I can repay everyone’s patience with a worthy finale to the series. I want THE DRAGON HOUSE to be the best that I can make it.

And you will get to read it.

 

But there’s just not that many . . .

29.08.19 – EC – article edited to clarify male authors account for about 55% of fantasy *titles*, rather than 55% of books, which could be misinterpreted as books *sold*. That is an entirely different discussion and outwith the scope of this post.

Some of you may know that I’ve had a little side-project on the go over the last year or so, called Beyond the Boys’ Club.

Fantasy as a genre has tended to present as by blokes, for blokes. Blokes tend to dominate the recommendations from bookshops, the shelves in airports, the best-of-year lists and all those 25 Fantasy Books To Read If You Liked Game of Thrones listicles. Despite this, male authors account for only about 55% of fantasy titles published in a year (as of the most recent authoritative stats I’ve got).

And if readers and writers challenge all those lists that skew so heavily male (bar a token Le Guin or Hobb), sure as sunshine someone will pop up in the comments with the tired old refrain of “But there’s just not that many . . .”

That sound you can hear? That’s my teeth grinding.

So I started Beyond The Boys’ Club out of sheer spite. I wanted a list that I could shove in the face of the next person to “not that many” me. I started with the fantasy books I owned or wanted to read that were not by men, then began paying attention to publisher announcements, recommendation threads on social media, and what my friends and follows on Goodreads were reading.

Then I put the results into a Google sheet, and as of today, 27th August 2019, I have a list of 653 fantasy authors who are not men. You can see them here.

Each entry has a Goodreads link to an example of the writer’s work, and the book’s GR genre tags. I even did a couple of simple charts that will update automatically as I add more data. And there will be more; I have a feeling I’m just getting started.

653 fantasy authors who are not men . . . I have a feeling I’m just getting started

Some takeaways from the list so far

Highlights that jumped out at me as I wrote this post:

  • About 45% of the works listed are tagged YA, although there’s some crossover with middle-grade in that category, I note. This is by far the most populous subgenre in the list so far, but it’s still not the majority. That’s a genre myth busted – you know, the one that says only men write fantasy for adults.
  • Only around 28% of the list is categorised as romantic. So much for another genre myth, that non-male authors only write romance.
  • Just under 16% is categorised as epic/high fantasy.
  • Over 9% has QUILTBAG themes.
  • It trends series-heavy vs standalones, by about 3:1.
  • Over 21% of the list was tagged as SF-ish by Goodreads users
  • Anyone who says “I bet it’s all self-published” is getting a smack: 93% of the list is trad pubbed.
  • I clearly need to add more columns – ‘fantasy of manners’ is starting to pop up, and I had to omit a whole bunch of others like ‘mythology’, ‘Arthurian’ etc. Maybe I need to add more hours to the day while I’m at it.

Obviously as the list grows, these figures will change, but I think 650+ is a reasonable sample from which to start seeing trends. At times like this, I kind of wish I still had access to the database & software development tools I used to work with in Ye Olde Day Jobbe. I could pull out much more complex reports on this dataset and have fun *for DAYS*.

But yeah. 653. Not that many of us at all, right?

 

Caveat emptor!

1) This sheet is a WORK IN PROGRESS. There are new authors being added to GR every day. Every week, publishers launch more debuts. I’ll try to keep up, but see above re: fallible human with limited time.

2) Let me be perfectly clear: this is in no way meant to be a rigorous statistical analysis of the genre. It was a project I started on the spur of the moment, purely for myself, and it will continue as long as I’m still having fun with it. I do not expect it to satisfy the internet rules-lawyers for whom no source is authoritative enough, no numbers hard enough, no lived experience valid enough – especially if it tells them something they don’t want to hear.

 

The crunchy stuff

Here’s all the TMI about my data source, limitations and assumptions.

Source

This list is compiled from Goodreads entries, and uses the GR genre tags listed under each book. This is the wisdom of crowds writ large, with all that that entails. I am entirely dependent on third parties for the quality of the data. For example: books that have 3000+ user tags have probably got their subgenres broadly correct. Books with only 20-odd shelvings? Eh, not so much. The smaller the sample, the greater the effect of outliers and user errors.

Books

For each author, I have listed one book to represent their work. This was either:

  • the title that had been recommended
  • where a series was recommended, the first book in the series
  • where only the author was recommended, a title I had heard of
  • where only the author was recommended and I had not heard of their work, a title that was well-rated on GR

Definitions

1) I have had to limit the number of columns I used, because GR is hardly prescriptive in its subgenres, and it was not practical to attempt to reproduce the same degree of granularity. SFF subgenre definitions are notoriously blurry anyway, so I took a broad-brush approach.

2) Every entry on the list has Fantasy as one of its genres.

3) Many books have been assigned genre labels on GR which amount to a dozen different ways of saying the same thing. For example:

  • Fiction > Young Adult
  • Fantasy > Young Adult
  • Fiction > Young Adult > Teen

have all been counted in Column E as YA. I’ve done similarly with all varieties of Steampunk, Historical etc to keep the number of columns manageable.

In a similar vein, Epic Fantasy and High Fantasy were aggregated, and Dark Fantasy and Horror.

4) One particular column that has bugged me to no end has been the SF one. I’ve seen an awful lot of what I would class as traditional Epic Fantasy listed also as Science Fiction Fantasy. Is this different to fantasy with SF-nal elements, like time-travel or steampunk? Is this people just classifying all fantasy as a subgenre of Science Fiction, the way bookshops do sometimes?

I don’t know, and there’s no way tell, so if any variant of Science Fiction was included in the book’s genre list, it got a tick in that column.

 

Errors & Omissions

I have not read every book in the list, much as I would like to, and neither have I applied my own interpretations/used my discretion over genre tags. Any mistakes/omissions I will gladly hold my hand up to; I am, after all, only human and I have but one life to give.

 

Featured image: Free photo 117112301 © creativecommonsstockphotos – Dreamstime.com

Site updates

A few housekeeping changes to report, nothing major.

Style

As you may have noticed, things look  a bit different around here. I’m taking  a new theme for a canter, as I was growing a bit dissatisfied with the old one. So far, so good – although I did need a bit of prompting to remember how to speak WordPress (it’s been a while). What do you think?

Substance*

I’ve added a couple of older posts to the Guide to the World of the Wild Hunt which go into a bit more detail about how said world works. It felt like they belonged there, rather than buried in the archives. If you have any ideas for other topics you’d like me to cover, drop them in the comments below and I’ll get to them in my *cough* copious free time.

Since I recently dusted off my Goodreads account, which I hadn’t updated in EIGHT YEARS for heaven’s sake, I’ve also incorporated a widget in the footer that shows you what I’m currently reading. Neat, eh?

*Style over substance, geddit? Gosh, I am so easily amused.

 

Featured image: Free photo 90553382 © creativecommonsstockphotos – Dreamstime.com

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