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The Origins of Ilbeor: An Author's Story

After about twenty years of various long-form fiction projects, practice, and false starts, I decided it was high time to write a book I could publish. The only thing I knew about my future book at the time of that decision was that I wanted to write an epic fantasy. Inspired by the likes of Tolkien (of course), Paolini, Jordan, and even Maas, I knew I wanted to create something new…a new world, new races, characters with new problems. And thus, the first seeds of Ilbeor were planted, though of course I didn’t even know it would be called Ilbeor at the time.

 

Advice on how to start a new fantasy saga is as wide and as varied as the authors who write it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the Rowling experience of a titular character making his way into my brain on a train ride…but I had to start somewhere. After some thought, I decided setting was a good a place to start as any, so I gave myself one word that ended up being the beginning of the saga: mountains. I wanted mountains. From there, the setting grew. If I had mountains, it followed naturally that I would have valleys, and so on. Before I knew it, I had a vision of my new world that would haunt my days and my dreams for the ensuing three years.

 

When it came time to populate my new world, I only knew two things at the beginning. I knew my main character would be female, and I knew she would be different in a way that added to her struggle, but never defined her. My main character would be strong and resilient, but she would also have a certain cognitive dissonance, a certain clash of strength and will, mixed with self-doubt, grief, and a protective drive that would shape her decisions. A name came to me, the name of a childhood friend, a name I had always found fascinating: Alanda. I took her and shaped her, guiding her personality with a combination of my creative will and a sense of rightness. She became real more quickly than I ever would have imagined.

 

I knew an early and denied love interest would complicate her emotions and her motivations, and I searched for his name before I created any other aspect of him. At the suggestion of yet another friend, Tostig was born. But, readers, Tostig did not behave in the way I had originally intended. As I outlined and planned the very beginnings of the story taking shape in my mind’s eye, I realized this man was not destined to be a secondary character, a denied love interest meant to create internal conflict for Alanda. Tostig was always destined to be more than that, so much more. And because this entry is not intended to spoil the story for any potential readers, I will not tell you what changed him, but only that it became apparent that I now had a male main character, equal in importance to my female main character.

 

And thus, my simple story of a young woman’s perilous journey into adulthood became a much more complicated, dual point-of-view saga of two young people destined to change the very foundations of the world they lived in, a world that promised them so much more than what had been intended for them from their childhoods.

 

As I created my secondary and tertiary characters, I was determined to give them entire lives, entire histories. These details are known only to me, and will probably always be known only to me, but because I understand where they came from and their intrinsic motivations, I could try to create rich, three-dimensional characters who lived through the pages as they interacted with and influenced the stars of the show. Sometimes, readers, I think I love my secondary characters as much as I do my main characters.

 

In working out the other details of the story, from point-of-view to verb tense to plot, I relied on past experience as both a reader and a writer. I wanted to write a book I, myself, would enjoy as a fantasy reader. I wanted a book that contained certain tropes and subverted others. I wanted a book that told the stories of characters I could laugh and cry with, love and care about, be awed by and disgusted by.

 

Through extensive world building, character building, plot outlining, and consulting with those more experienced than I, the dream that was Ilbeor began to take shape. I wrote the bulk of the draft within a period of about four months, after about six months spent on world building and other prep. During the drafting phase, I was assisted and cheered on by four indispensable alpha readers, all of whom were friends I had met throughout my literary journeys. Their support meant everything; their support kept me writing even when things felt tangled. Along with my alpha readers, I had the continual help of my long-time editor–someone who started editing for me when my college-aged son was still strapped into a Snugli on my chest while I wrote. After professing to be unsuited for the role of alpha reader, he did not actually read the manuscript, but he helped me in countless ways as I worked through the writing process.

 

The original draft of Messengers of Ilbeor was completed in October 2021. Well-pleased with myself for completing my first major work, I packed it off for editing and began waiting. At that point, I did not know what I was doing, or how to do it, and one of the biggest senses of relief I have ever felt was when my editor came back to me after his initial read and told me I had written a good book. I got the edit back, incorporated his changes and his suggestions, and excitedly printed off spiral-bound copies of the manuscript at Staples and started to look at the next steps.

 

I was hit with some major health issues soon after all of this: namely, chronic, debilitating migraines that would hit me for five days, break for maybe a day, and then hit me again. Messengers fell by the wayside, as did my burgeoning editing business.

 

In the fall of 2022, I revisited Messengers. I re-read the manuscript and was reasonably happy with it, but something about it felt incomplete. I packed myself off for a weekend in Marble Falls, Texas, with my puppy, my MacBook, and way too many snacks, and I wrote what has since become affectionately known as The Ilbeor Codex–a 10,000-word document expanding and widening the world, adding new characters and storylines, and expanding on the fragile politics of a world whose only idea of peace is the absence of outright war.

 

I began the rewrite early in 2023, but after the failure of my editing storefront and some improvements in my health, I had returned to teaching full time. The process was much slower than the first time around, but I completed the rewrite in mid-August 2023 and, once again, packed it off to my editor.

 

That, readers, is the rather meandering story of the birth and rebirth of Ilbeor. It is, of course, not the end of the story–not the end by a long shot. But now, 466 pages of the greatest thing I’ve done to date is out in the world. It is exhilarating and terrifying and exhausting…and I can’t wait to do it again.




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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

It's strange to read this. Surreal, in a way, because I've been here since you first talked about Alanda and I've seen so much of the evolution of the story - at least, as much as I could from my side of things.


I love the story you've finished. All the synergies and symmetries I've talked about. All the little things that bind Illbeor together, and my odd love for how evil your villain is. But seeing you write it all down like this.


Hell, I don't know if I could have done it as well for any of my stuff. You have done an amazing thing, and I look forward to the next set of amazing things you write.


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Thank you, Alan! Your support has meant everything to me through this process, and will continue to mean everything to me. Starting tomorrow, it's flying fingers again!

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Guest
Feb 04

Thank you for sharing, my wife suffers from migraines too. I hope they won’t delay the next book!

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They sure shouldn't! A combination of the right medication and medical Botox has saved my bacon, and things are much better now!

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Guest
Feb 03
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

What beautiful insights into your process and the world of Ilbeor - I loved reading about the birth pains that produced the intriguing and unforgettable story of Alandra and Tostig. Please write like the wind because I need the sequel!

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Thank you for your comment! Writing like the wind is certainly the plan!

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