A father walks the road alone, his son at his side, as they seek the next meal, either given through kindness, or by the blood shed by his blade. Kozure Ōkami, or Lone Wolf and Cub, long ago entered in the public psyche from the Manga comic of that name in the 1970s. It tells the story of an assassin who suffers the fallout of shifts in power in the underworld, and is forced to a life on the road. Like many manga before and after, it is a story built upon vignettes, as they move from place to place, and the father and his son challenge all takers. Sound familiar? The Mandalorian on the Disney+ stream service makes no excuses that Mando and the Child are based on this story. The image of Mando walking down a road with the Child hovering next to him is reminiscent of Lone Wolf pushing the cart that holds his child, and the many hidden compartments containing his weapons of trade.

There are a couple other cultural references to Lone Wolf and Cub that are either less known, or have disappeared from current memory. The first is from my own favorite comic, Usagi Yojimbo. In the series the reoccurring character Lone Goat and Kid fulfill the same role. Miyamoto Usagi finds himself at odds with Lone Goat, since the assassin has only known betrayal, but when Usagi has to act as guardian to the Kid, the tables turn. 

The second, is the comic turned movie, Road to Perdition. This high octane cast, including Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, and Jude Law is a masterful adaptation that I felt captured the relationship of the father and son perfectly. It is a terrible tragedy of a story that will settle an ennui upon the shoulders of anyone who watches it. I cannot recommend all of the above enough.

I cannot deny my influences. At times they are readily intentional. When I wrote Thrice, having succeeded at already writing a story that I felt escaped my past, I challenged myself to a new story, where I would lean on my past, as well as my present. I had at the the time a four year old boy, and realized the wisdom, and vocabulary often made too much like a toddler in works of fiction. I wanted to capture the story of a man and the boy in his care, on the road, against all odds. And thus, I set about to tell my own story. It would borrow from Lone Wolf and Cub the theme of survival against an underworld bent on separating the two. Yet, Jovan has no connection to the Underworld himself. And unlike the usually very quiet child, I wanted to make sure that Leaf, the boy traveling with Jovan, had a personality, and was given the opportunity to grow. I would like to hope that I’ve done a story like this justice, if only as a means to work through my own road as a father to a bright little boy.

You can find debut novel, Thrice, here:

We have Netflix to thank for a very important style of storytelling. It had already been around in some shows, such as Firefly, or some of the crime dramas, but Netflix is what has made it mainstream—the bingeable episodic story. As I mentioned, it was already around. Take the graphic Novel. A Graphic Novel might be a twice yearly release of a comic book, compiling six months worth of stories into one place, but aren’t we all thankful to be able to sit and read a perfect bound story in one sitting? Each episode/comic might be standalone, but you knew when you bought it, that there would be a cohesive arc across the entire Graphic Novel. 

Until Netflix, the vast majority of shows suffered under the burden of needing to capture the attention of their audience each and every week. Every episode of Star Trek needed to ensure if this was the ONLY episode you watched, you wouldn’t be lost and you’d know who each and every character was. Not any more. Take the Netflix Original series for the Marvel Knights such as Daredevil and Luke Cage. If you were young enough to pull it off, you could watch the entire season in one night. I was thankful each broke down into two separate arcs under the umbrella of a single story that would tie it all in together at the end. They took lessons from Graphic Novel storytelling, and told a full year of stories told in a single season. They could take their time with an episode in the middle with a ton of exposition, because they knew they had your attention, and you wouldn’t be at that episode without having watched the others. You were in the middle of your binge, and perhaps needed an escape from the excitement, (or relief from the adrenaline rush of the Hallway Scene in Daredevil Season 1, Ep. 2.)

Why do I bring all this up? Because of this, we now have “permission” to  use the same storytelling form. A novel can be episodic like the Netflix series, or the graphic novel. It was a form of storytelling I wanted to employ in Thrice. “If I was directing this book as a show, how would I break this down?” And so I kept that in mind when I outlined the book. Of course, rules and plans like this don’t always go according to the plan. But analyzing stories, and making plans are important, just as Sun Tzu said, (paraphrase) “Always make a plan, even though it will fall apart as soon as you get to the battlefield. But it’s the margin of the plan that prepares your mind for the battle.” Having a structural plan for my outline was important to me, and would provide the skeleton for the flesh of my outline to sit upon. And I’d like to think it’s the better for it, after these two and a half years of work I’ve put into it. 

In recent years many an agent or book editor has shunned the “Secondary World Fantasy”  often associated with “yet another Fantasy set in Medieval Europe,” (All the while publishing scores of the stuff.) But their argument has some validity. They wanted some “newness.” We’ve seen in recent years a score of new sub-genres appear and shoulder some space for themselves alongside the Secondary World Fantasy, and we’re the better for it. R. F. Kuang’s Poppy War brought an already growing and flourishing East Asian influenced Fantasy to the forefront. Evan Winter’s Rage of Dragons was the answer to the question on everyone’s tongues after the popularity of the Movie Black Panther—When will we start to see more Afro-Centric sci-fi and fantasy? Please note, that Rage of Dragons was actually released before Black Panther, so he had already asked the question. And NK Jemisin had already been very active as an author. It was Black Panther entering popular culture that brought attention to the genre, and opened the door for it to flourish. 

When I set about to write Thrice, it was done so with a series of several challenges that I set for myself. I wanted a shorter book, rather than an epic. I wanted to capture the spirit of a popular plot theme (Lone Wolf and Cub), and I wanted to avoid an obvious Secondary World. So I looked to what I felt might also be on the rise, and fell within a vein I could do justice to, even if I myself was not of the culture. In this I found there was a another sub-genre of fantasy that had slowly been gaining traction—Slavic Fantasy.

We’ve rarely been without this sub-genre, but they were anomalies, from C.J. Cherryh Chernevog and Patricia A. McKillip’s In the Forest of Serre, but these have been anomalies. In the most recent years The Witcher has gained popularity from the Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. From his books we’ve seen a very successful video game series, and now a mainstream television show on Netflix. Yet, even these books come not from recent years, but 1993 and on.

The more recent influx of popularity could more easily be attributed to the books of Naomi Novik, Uprooted and Spinning Silver. Set in a Slavic/Eastern European setting, as I began research work on Thrice, Uprooted was everyone’s must read book.

A Slavic Fantasy fit the bill. It could have deep emotions, brutal people, and strange creatures not seen in most fantasy settings. It was what I was looking for. And so, that was added to my list of goals—fold Slavic and Eastern European themes into the book. It’s interesting this hasn’t been done more often. Afterall, look at a map of Europe. What we westerners consider Europe (England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the Scandinavian Peninsulas,) these account for barely a third of what is actually Europe. As more writers start to realize this, I expect we’ll see more novels set in these rich Eastern European cultures, taking not a sharp left from the Secondary World Fantasies of the past four decades, but instead, a step to the left and into the mysterious world of Eastern Europe, we’ll all be the better for it.

Often people talk of the regrets of their past. I think there are things you can validly regret such as poor decisions that lead to consequences later on. But many regrets are fairly pointless. I think these regrets are much more of an envy. “If only I had been richer,” “If only I had the courage back then to go after that job.” I say all this as I admit one of my own, “If only I had been a more well-rounded reader.” I shouldn’t be regretful of that, but I am. I look back at the limited books I read in my childhood, and worry that my writing is influenced by too few books. But the fact is, I can’t change that. And I am grateful for who I am today. Part of who I am is what influences me from my past. If I had not been who I was then the book reading binge I went on in my mid-twenties would not have occurred at the point in time that it did, and I wouldn’t have those particular influences to draw from. If I had not gone on that particular reading binge the winter of 2009, I would not have been situated to start the path of reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy in 2010, which provided me the “hope” I needed that Fantasy had not taken a turn for the worst. (It was an incorrect assumption I had made at the time. But one I had made, nonetheless.)

There are most certainly influences of my own reading life that have gone into the writing of Thrice. My two biggest influences from the 90s were the reading of David Eddings and Robin Hobb. From Eddings I learned about characters who can, while remaining fairly unchanged, be endearing, and from Hobb, characters who are real, and grow, and live, and die. As I looked back at my influences and examined “where I came from” at a writer, I also had to look critically as those influences. I was a pretty big fan of the Belgariad and its respective sequels and prequels, but I was never able to get into the other books by Eddings? Why? I felt he was repeating himself and reusing the same characters. To wit, there was a statement he made about his work, in which he avoided reading other books in the Fantasy Genre, in fear that they would influence his writing. I believe this is why he repeated his characters. He was running the same circle over and over again, and never allowing his own writing to develop. It was a lesson I learned about what not to to do in my own writing. (Perhaps someday I’ll write a post going into this in more detail, as I strongly disagree with Eddings on this philosophy.)

Don’t get me wrong. There are reasons not to read some authors for the fear of what it might do to your writing. I very much want to read books by Terry Prachett. But the one book I did start was while I was drafting a book, and the influence Prachett suddenly had on my work was jarring. My characters began speaking in witty repartee that wasn’t true to form. I had to scrap an entire day’s worth of work. There are other authors I intentionally read in order to gain their influence. When I am editing, I try to listen to PG Wodehouse. His elevated English vocabulary starts bleeding into mine, and my edits improve in quality. And because he’s writing in an entirely different genre, I don’t have to worry about it influencing my character’s and their interactions. (No worries here that Jovan will start looking at the stars and describing them as “God’s daisy chains.”)

Who are your influences? Which ones do you happy accept as part of your past? Which pieces of writing do you find you need to “outgrow?” I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

The best piece of professional advise I every received was this:

An amateur waits for inspiration. A professional gets up every day and goes to work. 

I think about it often, and what it implies. An amateur might be a genius. A flash of inspiration might mean he makes something amazing. If you compare and contrast to the uninspired doodles this amateur does waiting for inspiration to the amazing works they do under muse’s goading, you are probably looking at doodles with a scale of 2 (out of 10), and when they are suddenly inspired, their works are a 6. Pretty impressive jump, right? 

But look at the Professional. That graphic artist who “sold out” and makes logos for Coca Cola. They’re paid good money. And every day they go to work to grind out their art. Practicing their craft. Honing it. Strengthening it. Slowly but surely increasing their baseline level of quality to a 4, or even a 5. Again, this is impressive. Their baseline is a 5. And they get paid for it! Then, inspiration strikes. And that professional suddenly jumps by the same value that the Amateur did. The Professional looks down and has created a work of art bordering on a 9 or 10. That professional’s body of work has been leading to this point. They ride that wave. They maintain that inspiration for longer. They don’t wear out the way the amateur did. And all because they got up every morning and went to work. 

As artists (which as writers, that’s what we are,) we will always struggle to find time to work. Even professional authors have this trouble. But what is the secret? Showing up. You will not find time to write. You have to make the time. You might say “but I just can’t. I have too much going on.” That’s fine. That is your priority right now. But if you want writing to be a priority, then you need to make the time. You need to choose to go down into your Workshop, and write. There is only one person that can make that happen. You. 

Take your time working through the building your workshop. And then go down and work in it. I’ll leave you now with my own “trite” bit of advice, from the philosopher Shia LaBouf. “Just Do IT!”

Are you a morning person? Or a night owl? Does your job work your creative mind? Or is it mindless? I held a retail job for four years that did not engage my mind the way that writing did. Because of this, I found I needed creative outlet in the evening, and could write until the wee-hours of the night. When the second child came, the sleep I was losing holding babies doubled, and I found I could no longer stay up very late. But, the need for creative outlet was still very strong, and I found myself going to bed early, and waking early. Many sleep cycle shifted entirely. I got up the hour before the rest of the family and wrote for one hour. It wasn’t enough. But this was a good thing. It got my juices flowing, and by the time a break rolled around at work, I found that I HAD to spend the hour lunch break writing. And lo and behold, a second hour of work. I was writing about 500 words an hour at the time, so two hours of work often meant I wasn’t finishing a chapter in that time. Often I would write a chapter every two days. However, you do the math, that meant I only had about 2000 words. Where did the least 1500 words come from? The need to finish what I started. After dinner and after the kids went to sleep, an extra hour of work found it’s way in every few days, and I was off to the races. Let’s speed forward to now. 

The job I currently have is mentally exhausting. Add to this the kids are older and demand attention I’m happy to give them. Plus, we’re all locked at home with Covid-Restrictions. And here I am, sitting on the couch at 5am, writing. My sleep schedule shifted once again. I absolutely cannot write after dinner. My brain is fried from work, home, and the loneliness of 2020 (so that means few evenings I can get away to hang out with friends and do some gaming.) Thus, my outlet is jumping out of bed and writing for two hours before the rest of my house wakes up.

We all have different schedules. We might have a long commute in a car, or a bus. We might have no commute but suffer insomnia (Brandon Sanderson has worked his extreme insomnia into an asset. He writes from 10pm until 6am every day, sleeps the morning away, and then spends the afternoon with his family. If you ever wondered why he was so prolific, imagine the uninterrupted writing time he has in the wee hours.)

You know your schedule. And only you can designate what works best for you. That might be a random writing time. Or it might be designated. It might be that you need to start practicing dictating your first drafts, since we have better technology today than we did a couple years ago.

In the end, you need to find out that best time to write that works for you, and note it down. Your writing is living in your mind rent free if you don’t find the time to put pen to paper. So, it might be time to start looking for that time.

~ Andrew