The Scrolls of Icaria Frequently Asked Questions

 

Almost from the very beginning of its posting The Scrolls of Icaria on the Awesome Dude site, Iíve received mail from a wide variety of readers from all over the world. Often they will simply tell me they are following the story and that they enjoy it, but occasionally I get questions. Of course I enjoy hearing from the readers of TSOI and make every attempt try to answer their mail, but Iíve found myself often answering many of the same questions over and over. Thatís not a complaint, but Iíve created this FAQ section in an attempt to answer some of the more common questions. If you have others please let me know and I can add them to this section.

 

When did you begin writing The Scrolls?

 

            The original idea for story began to take shape around December of 2001 during some discussions with a friend. Shortly thereafter I started to work on a plot outline, followed by a list of potential characters. From the initial plot outline and character sketches I began to develop a crude map and pull together some of the resources I felt Iíd need to create the vision that was growing in my head. Over a six-month period of researching, outlining, thinking and planning, I began writing The Scrolls of Icaria on June 25th 2002.

 

Iíve Googled The Scrolls of Icaria and came across references to a TSOI website. Are they any plans to revive or update it?

 

No. For all intents and purposes the TSOI website is not active. The story appears on-line only on the Awesome Dude site.

 

How often does the story post?

 

When Book 1 began to post on the Awesome Dude site, there were quite a few chapters already finished, so the posting schedule was a chapter per week and I was able to faithfully maintain it Ė although that goal became more difficult as the stockpile of chapters depleted.

After Book 1 concluded, there was a three-month posting hiatus so that I could create a small backlog of chapters for Book 2. When I began posting again, I decided to go to a two-week schedule since weekly posting placed a great deal of pressure on both my editor and me. I decided it was better for us to take our time and produce the best product we could rather then posting chapters I wasnít completely pleased with.

The backlog of chapters ebbs and flows. Sometimes I have a few chapters in reserve, other times Iím writing to make the next deadline. If I find that Iím rushing just to produce a chapter, I reserve the right to call another hiatus. I donít want to sacrifice quality for quantity. As of this writing, the story is posting on a 3 week basis.

I will probably have another haitus after Book 2 is finished to once more create  backlog of chapters, thus taking the pressure off of myself and my editor.

 

TSOI posts on AD a site promoting gay fiction, poetry and prose, but while the main characters in the story have a same sex attraction I havenít come across any overt sex scenes. Is TSOI in fact a ďgayĒ story?

 

My own defination of TSOI is that first and foremost it is a story in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genre. The initial story begins with many of the traditional elements of a Fantasy story Ė A wizard, a king, orbs granting ďmagicalĒ powers, a medieval-type setting, but then progresses toward a more traditional Sci/Fi theme when technology and many of the classic elements of Science Fiction begin to emerge and grow as the story unfolds.

Because I am gay I have always been interested in reading gay fiction. The traditional reality was that most mainstream literature didnít have many gay characters and if they did they were often relegated to stereotypes.

With the development of the internet, gay literature began to grow, but I still found that I often wasnít reading what interested me. Much of gay fiction revolved around the classic gay themes of: life in the closet, repression, trying to gain acceptance, persecution, sexuality, gay pride etc. Because of years Ė even centuries Ė of repression, hiding, fear, discrimination, bashing, self-lothing etc., it was only natural for many of these issues and themes to surface in gay literature. They are some of the universal themes Ė the BIG issues so to speak, and I do feel they need to be discussed, addressed, and written about.

At first I was happy and thrilled that finally these issues were coming forth in literature. But after reading quite a few coming out stories, gay romances Ė some of which were overtly sexual Ė and other ďgay-typeĒ fiction my interest in that type of literature began to wane. I began to get hungry for other types of fiction and stories that included gay characters Ė either as the main protagonists or in supportive roles, but was disappointed when I couldnít find many that suited my taste.

I was really looking for works that intermingled gay and straight themes and characters in a more traditional way Ė in a story where a character might be gay, but being gay wasnít the main thrust of the book. I was looking for a murder mystery or detective novel, a science fiction or fantasy story, etc. where the main character was gay, but being gay wasnít THE story itself. In fact I wanted to read more stories that mirrored my own life of being an openly gay man who lives much in the same way every one else does. I wasnít seeing a lot of that in gay fiction Ė although in the past few years Iím glad to now see that this is changing both with published and on-line authors.

I started TSOI with that idea in mind. Iím not sure if Iím succeeding or not, but I wanted a story where same sex attraction was part of the story, but not the story. I wanted to create stable and confident characters who didnít spend most of the story second guessing their sexuality. I also wanted to create some strong straight characters and intermingle them with the gay characters. I also wasnít interested in writing an overtly sexual work. Sexuality of course is a normal part of life, it can and should be discussed, but the theme of TSOI is not gay sexuality. Where there is certainly affection, love and romance between characters in the story Ė both gay and straight Ė there are no plans for openly graphic sex scenes.

I donít personally view TSOI as a gay story. It has some characters that are attracted to their same sex, but there are and will be characters who are attracted to the opposite sex. Keep in mind that the Icarians still inhabit a world where they are a distinct minority. I am pleased that I have readers who are gay, straight, and bi. I am also pleased that I have readers of both sexes and all ages. My goal has never been to create an exclusive story, but an inclusive one.

I often tell readers who write and ask about a particular character that if you have to ask what their orientation is, then they probably are not same sex orientated. Characters like Luc, Barsetba, LŁdowik, Brotus etc. are not gay.

 

So if TSOI isnít really a gay story what is it?

 

            I donít know how to define it myself other then to say that I began this story with some of the BIG themes in mind. Good vs evil, intolerance, slavery, persecution and oppression, morality, fairness, and simply ďdoing the right thing.Ē I could probably write a treatise on the story itself, but I think the heavy philosophical nature it would take on would be far too boring, so I think itís best to present my thoughts and views the way Iím currently doing in fiction form.

 

I loved Renaud, and then you made him straight. How ďgayĒ is that?

 

            In keeping with the themes of diversity, and tolerance that are part of the story, if human society has up to 10% of the population is gay, wouldnít it be fair to say that up to 10% of the Icarian population may be straight or have some degree of bi-sexuality? And yes I could have made a few ďthrow-awayĒ Icarian characters straight, but that would have missed my point. I needed a strong main-stream character like Renaud to make my point. Keep in mind that while he is not gay he does love Jamie and will die for him without question or hesitation.

 

Does TSOI post anywhere else?

 

As mentioned above at this point in time TSOI is exclusive to the Awesome Dude site. When I came to the realization that the original TSOI website just wasnít going to fly, I was faced with a dilemma. A number of people found the original website and had started to follow the story. I got quite a few responses and so when I stopped working and posting on the TSOI site, I thought it only fair to continue for those who had begun to follow it.

I looked for quite some time for a site to post on. I had some informal criteria Iíd come up with: 1. I thought it would best go on a gay story site due to the nature of the work, 2. I wanted to post on a site that wouldnít give me any problems if I ever published the work since most publishers want on-line works pulled Ė after all they are in the business of selling books not giving them away for free, 3. I preferred to post on a smaller site rather then a large one. 4. I wanted to post on a site where there good and interesting literature was being posted by talented people.

After searching for a while, I came across the Awesome Dude site. The site was still young Ė less then a year old. It seemed to fit my criteria so I wrote to The Dude and asked if he would be interested. After sending him a few chapters to read he agreed to post it and itís been posting on the AwesomeDude site since September 2004. It will remain on this site until it is: A. concluded, B. published and I have to pull it, or C. the site itself is no longer active (something I hope doesnít happen).

 

I loved Luc and you killed him. How could you do that?

 

No character in TSOI is safe Ė really. Even though this work is fiction, I want it to mirror life as much as possible. Especially in the Science Fiction genre where writers often ask readers to suspend their normal view of the world, I feel that it is important to counter that with characters, action and situations that have honesty and believability woven into them.

In real life people who we wish didnít die do. Bad things do happen to good people. Sometimes the bad guys do win, or at least get away with murder. Its not always fair. I personally think that any story that ignores some of those themes is missing the mark. And in the end itís the telling of the story Ė the  evolution of the work Ė that makes it interesting. A story that is completely predictable and ends happily ever after isnít always the best story that could have been written.

Characters will continue to experience troubles and problems in TSOI and some of them will not survive to the end. While a few will die peacefully in their beds, some like Luc will be unfairly and tragically taken far too soon. I never enjoy or take delight in killing off a character Ė even a minor one. The characters in my stories are very much my children and I donít like to see harm come to them. But I have to approach the story realistically. I never kill a character just for the sake of generating the shocking effect it creates. If a character dies itís for a reason, and if that reason is not immediately apparent it will eventually come out in the story. It takes too much time to create a loved, believable, and well-developed character to then simply throw all that hard work away by killing them off for no good reason other then to shock or provoke the reader.

 

I really like the story and hate to mention this, but I occasionally come across errors Ė spelling and grammar.

 

            No one is perfect. When I actually start a chapter I generally go from start to finish following my outline. But after itís down on paper the real work begins. Often the chapter or sections of it appear flat, or a character or their background isnít as clear or as strong as Iíd like. Other times a read-through convinces me that what Iím trying to say is confusing, and if it confuses me as the writer I canít expect readers to understand it. So I begin rewriting, and changing and adding and rewriting. It really is not uncommon for me to do between 10 and 20 rewrites Ė some large some small. When I finally get it to the point where itís ready for AJ Ė my editor Ė I ship it to him and he views it as the first draft when in reality it may be draft #20. I donít want to waste my editorís time over things I probably can correct.

            AJ begins his first edit as soon as he gets it. Iíve mentioned this before to readers but I think itís important to include in this question and answer section. AJ acts as an editor not just a proofreader. Those two tasks are completely separate skills. An editor can and should proof the work, but a true editor critiques the work, suggests changes, points out problems or areas that need to be made clear. AJ does a remarkable job Ė truly. We seem to work together very well. Neither of us have ever fought about corrections. We both feel that our #1 concern is the work itself and we leave our egos at the door.

            Of course AJ attempts to correct misspellings, punctuation, grammar, etc. But like anyone working closely with a work the ďcanít see the forest for the trees,Ē eventually creeps in and we start to get so close to the work that occasionally we become immune to a error and its missed Ė but never intentionally or out of laziness.

            After the first edit comes back, I look it over and work on the corrections and review AJís suggestions. That produces a serious rewrite and second draft followed by equally serious second edit which is much tighter then the first. After the second edit comes back I work on the final edit, send it off to AJ and he does the final edit. When it comes back I still go over it. At this point weíve taken care of a lot, but weíre only human and errors are still present that weíve become blind to. Before the story posts

            After the story posts I have a number of faithful readers who let me know if they find anything and I make the correction on the master copy. In some cases the error has long been corrected. As of May 2009 the most recent master copy of Book 1 was reposted. Iím sure there are still some errors in it Ė nothing is ever perfect no matter how much we wish it to be. But at least now the errors that have been pointed out to me and have been corrected on the master copy now appear in the online work.

 

Do you like to write cliff-hangers into chapters? I often finish a chapter and it seems to leave me hanging. Do you do this intentionally?

 

            No. Iím not a big fan of cliffhangers. I personally think they are a bit of a gimmick. I have no problem with including one IF it is germane to the story. I always end a chapter where I logically think it should be ended Ė not for the sake of sensationalism, or to try and coax the reader to return to the work. Because TSOI posts online it suffers the fate of many other online works Ė the reader has to wait for the next installment. In a normal published book at the end of a chapter the reader would simply turn the page and continue; thus no cliffhanger. In TSOI that is how I write. Any completely new reader starting from the beginning can simply continue. Unfortunately they eventually ďhit the wallĒ when they run out of chapter and must rely on my posting, but at no time do I rely on what I call false cliffhangers. There is one true cliff hanger currently in the story and that is the confrontation between Jamie de ValŤn and Charles Roegier in the crypt of the Hall of Heros on Ajax. For that to be resolved (even when the work is finished) a reader will have to wade through parts 2 and 3 of the second book.

 

How do you write?

 

Everyone has their own style and of course no one style is correct. Each writer comes at it in their own way. If youíre interested in my style let me try to shed a little light on some of the processes and methods I use.

I always work from an outline Ė even when I write a short story. I have a main plot outline that outlines the entire story, that way I know where the story is going and if pressed could tell anyone how it will progress and eventually end. I do not let the story write itself as some authors do. Iím not criticizing that method, since everyoneís creative talent and muse comes to them differently. But Iím an organized person and donít like to sit staring at a blank page wondering whatís going to happen next. Thatís often why stories die Ė authors just run out of ideas or donít have a firm plot with a beginning, middle and end in mind. As Steven Covey writes, ďstart with the end in sight.Ē Iíve always felt that itís best to know the destination before starting on a trip. I keep my characters on a tight leash Ė they donít tell me what to doÖ Iím the boss!

            I also have individual chapter outlines that are developed in greater detail then the general plot outline. I go from general to specific. In addition I keep a character sketchbook with the background and biographies of characters Ė some of which havenít been placed in the story yet. I feel that itís important for an author to know the ďbackground storyĒ of their characters Ė things that may never get into the book or that the reader may never know, but are important for the author to understand in writing the story. For example in TSOI whatís the life history of General Zakaria? At one part of the story I go into some of that, but there is much more that will never be told, but itís important for me so that I can create a character that I myself can believe in.

            In addition to plot outlines and characters there are lists of locations Ė thatís how the Map of Icaria was created by ADís own Nevius. When he approached me to create a map for readers, I already had a rough one drawn with many of the locations. I also have a brief description of each important location in my sketchbook Ė be it a place, town or geographical feature. So while the founding, development, rise and fall of the small town of Tardon mentioned in the first few chapters of Book 1 may never be included in the story, I as the author know what the towns history and development is.

            I keep lists of terms not part of normal English language Ė thatís where my custom TSOI dictionary is of help so that when I type Zakaria or saíCrÍsmanť  or shíŰnfenn Iím not promped that itís a mistake. I also have a language bank for Kalorian and Icarian words.

            Finally there is my research portfolio. In The Scrolls a number of topics are presented not as the story, but woven into the story with the hope of making it believable and interesting. Therefore Iím always researching things like architectural styles and building construction through out history. Iím a student of history and love researching and learning more about itĖ the rise and fall of nations, dictators, kings, popes and presidents, along with historical movements and eras all fascinate me.

Topics like medieval book binding, 12th and 13th century, embroidering techniques, dance, combat, armor and armaments, genetics, and even harp construction are all areas Iíve done some research in and appear in the story Ė sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. This information all gets written down for future reference. I consider it my research bank and occasionally go there to make a withdrawal.

            Finally there the issue of writing a work of this magnitude with all the characters, locations, time periods, languages and sub plots. Before a chapter gets posted I have to make sure that it agrees with whatís gone before and whatís coming after. This story started like a single shoot sprouting from the ground Ė with one boy in a back alley. Itís now grown into a rather large tree. Its like trying to reign in a team of wild horses. I like the idea of them being spirited, but I canít let them go wherever they please.

            So maybe this also helps answer the question as to why Iím not turning out a chapter a week.

 

Why donít chapters come out sooner?

 

Go back and reread the above last question!

            I realize that reading a story one enjoys is a lot like sitting down to eat a good meal. It takes some time to plan the menu, buy the food, prepare the meal, set the table and serve up the finished product, but it takes a fraction of that time to eat it.

            One thing that I wonít do is sacrifice quality for quantity. Iíd rather post once a month and present readers with a product that Iím satisfied with then post every week and produce something I donít feel is a good as it could or should be.

 

How long do you plan TSOI to be?

 

At least a trilogyÖ but Iím still considering with idea of expanding it into a 4th book Ė but thatís not set yet. It just depends. I wonít stretch it out just for the sake of making it longer. All things (bad or good) must come to an end. I hope to be astute enough to know when to conclude the work and start another. We all know that a good short story is lots better then a 10-volume work thatís deathly dull.

            As Iíve previoiusly mentioned, I do know what the ending is, and the story can be expanded or contracted as necessary.

 

How often do you write.

 

I try to write some of The Scrolls every day Ė if possible. I live with my laptop. Sometimes I feel like Star Trekís Borg Ė half machine and half human. I couldnít exist with out it. In airport waiting areas, when I travel by train, early in the morning or late at night you can find me writing. TSOI has been written all around the world Ė in most of the major cities of the U.S. and many of the capitals of Europe. I few years ago I was in Florence where I sat near the Plazzo Vechio in the afternoon sun and wrote. Earlier in the day I was in the Uffizi gallery and with my moleskin notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other I sketched a number of ornamental embellishments I found on armor from the busts of Roman officers that lined one of the galleries Ė one of which Iím pretty sure will make I itís way into The Scrolls at some point. Writing is never a chore for me. I wish I could do it and nothing else full time.

 

Do you answer your mail?

 

Yes I try to. Many of those writing to me are surprised that they got a prompt and sometimes long response to a question. Thatís actually why Iím doing this Q and A section. I do get many of the same questions over and over. But that doesnít mean I donít want to hear from my readers. Iíd appreciate hearing from you if you like the work.

Like every writer who posts on line we send our children out into the world hoping that others like them. Its really nice to hear from readers. I donít know how many people read the work. I do know from my mails that itís a varied audience. I know I have readers just about every continent in an amazing number of countries. There are many hidden Icarians out there and Iíve come to meet some of them via my email.

 

Would you like to publish or do you plan on publishing The Scrolls.

 

In a word YES. I think every writer good or bad, talented or hack dreams of having their work published. The publishing world can be cruel and harsh. Itís not easy to break into. If anyone can offer some serious help or suggestions in this area or if you know someone (family, friends, etc. who work in the legitimate publishing industry) send them to the AD site and have them take a look.

I know though that the publishing business is just that Ė a business. With profit and loss, balance sheets and market projections, it distills the hopes and dreams of authors down to the reality of cold hard cash. Anyone with any other romantic notions of writing and publishing a best seller, best keep that in mind.

The reality is Iíd love to just write and do nothing else, if I could fulfill my dream. TSOI is not the only story I have in my head Ė I have lots more. I could easily give a publisher a decent work every year Ė one I know that would make them some money.

I wonít go the self-publishing route since Iíve seen too many others expend time and money only to have cases of unread, unsold books taking up space in their garages, attics or basements.

If nothing else so far I hope the story shows consistency and my ability to produce a work of fiction. And no matter what Iíll keep writing.

There are days I wish I could be lucky like Christopher Polini Ė the author of Aragon. Wen he was a young teen he posted the story online. The story goes (if itís in fact true) that the son of someone at a major publishing house came across it and recommended it to his father. By the time he was 19 he had a best seller, and a contract for more books. But thatís like winning the lottery and that doesnít happen all that often.

Another point is that with technology the world of intellectual property is changing. Iím sure 50 years from now rules and laws will be different. Free information is more accessible then ever. I think that trend will continue.

I hope this doesnít sound presumptuous, but Iím passing out a free gift. Iím sure that if I could get it published it would sell Ė at least to some extent. I hope my readers keep that in mind when they read TSOI and other online works that they have access to and can enjoy without the expenditure of their money.

 

Your main character is Jamie and youíre name is Jamie Ė is the character you?

 

No, I am not Jamie de ValŤn, nor is he my alter ego, nor do I identify with him, nor do I even want to be him. As previously mentioned when I first began the story Ė I didnít expect anyone other then a few close friends to read it. In my outline for the first few chapters I referred to Jamie as Boy #1 and Nic (named after a close friend of mine) as Boy #2. That eventually became tedious and I wanted to personalize them. I simply started calling Boy #1 Jamie and Boy #2 Nic not really thinking anything about it. When I started writing the story I just continued to use the names. I could have changed them at that point, but I didnít. Once the story became posted on the TSOI website and eventually the Awesome Dude site the die was cast. Iím comfortable with it. In a story like this there are lots of names so Iím always looking for and thinking about names.

 

Do you have a favorite character or is there one character that you do identify with?

 

All characters flow from the mind of the writer. In a sense Iím every character, in another Iím none of them. Much like an actor becomes introspective when developing a character Ė using thoughts, emotions, and memories Ė a writer does the same thing. There is a bit of angel, devil, good guy, bad guy, hero, and coward in me Ė as I feel there are in all of us. I try to tap those feelings when I write. So in that sense I can be both Jamie and Gude, Nic or Hippolito. But the reality is Iím really none of the characters. They are my children the fruit of my thoughts, but they are not me. As far as favorites I like them all even the villains since it took time, thought, and effort to create every one of them. But if pressed hard and forced to state the one character in the entire book that Iím probably most like Ė Iíd have to admit that itís Charles. Like him I live to read and write. I love to observe the human condition. Iím a scholar who likes to research, lecture and teach. Iím always surrounded by vast shelves of books and love to learn new things. Also like him I sometimes have found myself in situations I didnít want to be in and tried to make the best of them in order to survive. I find him the easiest to write about because I think that I usually know pretty much what heís thinking and how he feels most of the time.

 

There was a long period of time (over 18 months) when you were on hiatus and werenít posting. Do you foresee this again?

 

I was in the United States at a major university pursuing an advance degree and teaching. At first I continued to write Ė for at least 2 years, but trying to keep up with the posting schedule while writing and doing my academic research  started to take up a lot of time. I did continue to write TSOI during that period, but I wasnít producing it in enough volume to release chapters. I wish the time lapse hadnít occurred, but at the time I had to prioritize. (Remember once again no one was subsidizing me to write the work).

Iím now living back in Belgium full time and enjoying a busy, but not quite as hectic life. I still do travel extensively and teach in various parts of the world in different venues. I prefer to continue to write TOSI to itís conclusion without interruption. And while no one can predict the future, I do hope to finish it. I am well and healthy (as far as I know). As mentioned earlier, the story HAS an ending, I know it, and I plan to follow through with it until it reaches its last chapter.

 

Are there any requests you have of your readers?

 

Yes, just one, but itís a big one. Iíd like anyone who reads and enjoys the story to spread the word. Iíd like as many people reading it as possible. For me it doesnít matter who they are or where they come from. If they enjoy a well-told tale, then invite them to take a look. If they like it then theyíll continue to read it, if not theyíll stop. I myself do this all the time with published and online works as Iím sure most people do.

So please tell others about it, and share it with them. At the very least it may be an interesting and fun read, at best it may give them a different perspective on things. Thatís all any author can hope for.

To those of you who are gay, maybe itís presumptuous of me to say this. I know each person has their own situation, issues, problems etc., to deal with, but the more people know us, and see us as who we really are the more at least some will come to an understanding of us. There are still places in the world where being gay is literally a death sentence Ė thatís not dramatic, thatís fact. But there are places where it isnít and the more we can be who we really are the happier we will personally be in the place it matters most Ė inside our own skin. Share TSOI with others, but also people who are NOT gay. I want them, more than anyone else, to read it Ė and maybe to think... just a little. There are many Icarians out there Ė gay and straight. Like Luc we might not always see their wings, but in reality theyíre there.

 

Conclusion

 

I have learned a lot since starting to write TSOI: a lot about writing, a lot about writing online as opposed to traditional publishing, a lot about readers and people in general, and a lot about myself. Iím grateful for the experience and to those who have generously and faithfully given up a little of their time to accompany me on the journey.

I do read the AD forums and welcome comments. In fact, I wish there was a bit more action on the TSOI forum. It would let me know there are actually more then the small number of individual readers who have written to me over the years. Some of those readers have kindly continued their correspondence when they read a chapter they particularly enjoyed Ė and Iíve been grateful for their comments. Writing is by itís very nature a solitary profession, so itís nice to have a little reality check and some interaction with oneís readers.