Guest Post | Mark Lawrence on Scary Shit

Prince of Thorns was one of those books I had to buy. For a book reviewer, who gets plenty of free reading options, that’s a significant factoid — especially for a debut author. But, Mark Lawrence’s debut had such an incredible amount of buzz it demanded my attention.

Reading him for the first time left a strange taste in my mouth. His protagonist is completely unlikeable, loathsome even. And yet… two words that demonstrate the kind of talent Lawrence possesses as a writer. Despite all of Jorg Ancrath’s despicable qualities I want so much to know his story. If you haven’t given Prince of Thorns a try, or you’re on the fence about reading King of Thorns (my review will be done soon), hopefully this post will set you on the righteous path, a direction wantonly ignored by Lawrence’s boy king.

Mark Lawrence leads off Debut Authorpalooza 2012.

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Writing book two is some scary shit!

It would have been much worse if I were writing it now after seeing the reception that Prince of Thorns received. Firstly I would feel all those fans of book one at my shoulder, wanting book two to blow their minds. Secondly I would have had a vociferous minority of critical voices nagging at me, scratching away at the back of my thoughts, and quite possibly cramping my style. Most likely by me going out of my way to irk them further!

It is much easier to write well when you’ve nothing to lose. If you make a three-point basket while fooling around (and no, I never have) everyone turns round and says ‘do it again!’ at which point, under such scrutiny, most normal humans would be lucky to get a shot within a yard of their target. If you write a book that a bunch of people love – it’s the same thing – the pressure is on and your writing muscles tighten up. People are watching, expecting, and all of a sudden you’ve got something to lose. You can lose their interest. It’s nice to have people reading you, saying good things . . . you have to be pretty laid back not to care if that goes away.

Fortunately I wrote King of Thorns before Prince of Thorns hit the shelves. I wrote it in six months and carried on to write book three in another six. Even so, the pressure was on. It’s in my nature to feel a duty to those people I’ve made a commitment to or who have placed trust in me. My publishers had staked some small part of their reputations on me. They had read me, praised me, paid me, and bet on me. With that praise ringing in my ears, and their dollars backing it up, I sat there looking at my first blank page and thinking that for the first time in my life it mattered what I wrote. If I wrote nothing, or wrote poorly, I would be letting people down. It changes the game.

My solution was to pretend none of it was happening – to push it all from my mind and write as if it were just me same as always. To a large part I succeeded in the illusion. I was helped by the fact that my deadline was nearly two years off and so if I screwed up I would have time to tear it up and start again.

So I wrote as normal, letting the words take me wherever it was they wanted to and not sweating it. I had great fun and the story flowed out.

One thing I noticed immediately is that my book two (and likely book two’s in general) are very different beasts. Your main characters are well defined. Your world is laid out. The flavour and tone of your story are scored deep. On the negative side, many of your opportunities for surprise and novelty have gone. On the positive side, you already have living breathing characters to whom your reader is attached, your explanation-to-story ratio has tipped decidedly in favour of story.

I made two firm decisions when I agreed to a three-book deal. Firstly it would be a trilogy, not a series. There’s a power in knowing when to stop. I’ve seen too many great characters/worlds/ideas carry on past their prime and sully glorious opening books with a long and drawn out death rattle where characters become caricatures and the story ends not with a bang but a whimper as it’s abandoned by disenchanted readers. Secondly I would not simply turn the handle and roll out book one again with the furniture swapped around. Book two would be an evolution.

And so, here we are with the release of King of Thorns hard upon us and me wondering what the hell its reception will be like. King of Thorns is a more complex, more epic, and in some ways more sophisticated book than Prince of Thorns – will the readers delivered to its doorstep by book one be ready for all that? Reviewers so far have been extremely positive.

Let’s see what the wide world makes of it!

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You can follow Mark Lawrence on Twitter @Mark__Lawrence. Visit his website for more information about the Broken Empire Trilogy.

Come back later today for an excerpt from King of Thorns!

Justin Landon

Justin Landon is the Overlord of Staffer's Book Review. When he's not writing things of dubious value to the world, he's at the gym or being a dad. You can follow him on a multitude of social media, which is strongly suggested lest you miss out on vital information that could someday save your life.

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Comments
  • Paul Weimer July 16, 2012 at 8:10 am

    It is much easier to write well when you’ve nothing to lose.

    Debut authors can take all the time in the world to write their first book…but this is not true of the second novel. Indeed.

    I am glad in a way that Jorg's story is done with the third book. I'd hate for him to be a caricature, or a Marty Stu by the end of “Book 12 of the Jorg Chronicles”

  • Anne Lyle July 16, 2012 at 8:26 am

    I feel the same about my own trilogy – three books is enough space to explore a fairly complex character arc without spreading it too thinly (rather like Bilbo's description of himself in an early chapter of The Lord of the Rings). Open-ended series work better IMHO with plot-driven premises (e.g. detective fiction) where the protagonist himself isn't meant to change much, and even then it can get stale after a while.

    Best to leave them wanting more!

    • Justin July 16, 2012 at 10:15 am

      The whole serial novel structure is something I've tried time and again and I never enjoy it, ultimately.

  • Elspeth Cooper July 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

    What Anne and Mark said, more or less *nudges fourth book out of sight with foot, whistling nonchalantly*

  • Courtney Schafer July 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Amen to knowing when to stop. (I really, really wish the TV folks would figure that out. Seems like with US TV series, you've got two choices: either the show is cancelled just when the story's gotten really compelling, leaving you howling in frustration (Miracles, Carnivale, Firefly…), or the show goes on WAY past the point it should, until you're pleading for the writers to stop before they retroactively destroy your enjoyment of the earlier episodes (X-Files, Supernatural, Smallville…).

    Thank goodness SFF series in novel form often handle endings better. (Though for those of us writing trilogies, we should have another of these “Authorpalooza” events at the end to talk about the difficulties of finishing on a high note… ;)

  • Mazarkis Williams July 16, 2012 at 11:02 am

    High note? I'm going for death, despair, utter desolation . . .

    • Teresa July 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

      Well, I rather like death, despair, and utter desolation …

      What is this “high note” that you speak of?

    • Anne Lyle July 16, 2012 at 4:20 pm

      I'm aiming for a finale that's both gut-wrenching and hopeful :)

  • Neth July 16, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    Yep, totally sucked all the personality out of the blog ;)

  • Francis Knight July 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Scary shit indeed! It's enough that I've sold books I haven't written yet – never done that before, always sold after I've written and it definitely adds to the scare factor. The impulse to think 'But what if I can't write anything *like* that well again?' (Whereupon my Other Half says I say that every damn book :D)

    Nice to know it's not just me!

    I also agree on series – sometimes with longer series, like you I feel like the characters become caricatures of themselves and it gets a little (or a lot) tedious.

    Nice post – hope the release goes well.

  • Buniyad Real Estate Services July 19, 2012 at 2:34 am

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    • Mark Lawrence July 19, 2012 at 3:46 am

      Ah geez, Buniyad … can I call you Buni? I always wanted a friend called Buni… anyway you've made my day. I was just asking myself where the hell I can find real estate services on the internet & I drew a complete blank. Thank you so much for your valueable spam.

      #spam – the least valued of the meats.

  • Philip Tucker July 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Excellent post. Sound reasoning, and fingers crossed that King of Thorns is an evolution of Prince in the best of ways. I've always been struck by Gene Wolfe's decision to write the Book of the New Sun in all its parts before releasing the first book, and how that allowed him to go back and play with foreshadowing and more. It sounds like a wonderful way to ensure everything coheres and works in sync.

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