Why We Write Serial Fiction

I was recently chatting with an academic friend about The Filliquian Chronicle, and I was describing how we’ve structured the narrative. “In essence,” I said, “it’s structured a bit like a television series, so that each installment is somewhat like an episode, with several of them grouped together in an arc that resembles a television season. All of the seasons will then add up into a cohesive and coherent whole.” While I expected my friend to give me at least a bit of pushback–for comparing such widely different media as the written word and television, if for nothing else–to my surprise she actually thought that made sense. And besides, she pointed out, it might make it even easier to one day convert our written story into a screenplay for a television series (isn’t that the dream?)

While I’d come up with the television metaphor sort of on the spur of the moment, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that achieving a sort of television effect was exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. We wanted to create a story in which readers could truly immerse themselves but also enjoy piecemeal. Admittedly, at first our motivation was simple enthusiasm: we wanted to get our work out into the world as soon as we could while also adhering to our policy standards (i.e., giving our readers the sort of high-quality reading experience that they could expect from a book published via a more traditional method). But as we continued on, we found that this format actually suited our process and our vision.

At first glance, it might seem a bit counterintuitive to write and publish an epic in a serial form. It’s one thing, after all, to see one produced on television which, as a form, has become increasingly serialized. (It’s worth pointing out that, as Game of Thrones has shown us, the serialized epic isn’t always as successful as we might like it to be). It’s quite another to take a story and break it up into several chunks that have to all be read in order to make sense of the whole thing. It’s important to remember, though, that this actually used to be a lot more common, and most people are probably aware that many of the great works of 19th Century fiction (especially several of the works of Charles Dickens) were published in serial form. (Can you tell that one of us has a graduate degree in English?)

Furthermore, we like to think that the way that we’ve structured the narrative makes sense and adheres to our vision of what the story would look like and how the characters would develop while also remaining pleasurable to read for our potential readers. We want you to emerge from reading each installment having learned a lot more about the character, while also feeling like the plot has advanced in a measurable away. As paradoxical as it sounds, we’ve actually come to think that publishing in this serial form might help us avoid the sort of narrative bloat that all too frequently takes over other works of epic fantasy fiction.

Indeed, part of the reason that Kellen and I decided to publish this series through Amazon–rather than through more traditional methods of publishing–was because we knew that the traditional model is not very receptive to new ways of doing things. It would be hard enough to get a mainstream fantasy publisher to take our little erotic epic seriously, let alone agree with us that a serial mode of storytelling was the way to go. They’d probably want us to adhere to the traditional 600-page epic and, while we certainly have some of those planned for the future (in a different universe than The Filliquian, though connected to it in a strange way), that just wasn’t what we wanted to do with this story. It’s just lucky for us that we now live in a world where there exist so many other outlets for us to pursue our artistic vision.

What’s more, we’re also working on several short stories set in the same universe–and in some cases sharing the same characters–that we plan on publishing as small add-ons, either for those who simply love of our world and want to spend more time in it and/or for those who simply can’t wait for the next installment. These little stories are more like vignettes, stories that help to flesh out what has already taken place, giving you, the reader, a little more perspective.

We hope that as we publish each successive entry in The Filliquian Chronicle that more and more people find themselves drawn into this world. While each installment can in theory be read and enjoyed on its own, it’s also true that you’ll only really be able to gasp the fullness of our vision if you read all of them. To use another media metaphor. Think of what we’re doing as a little like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sure, you can watch any of the films and enjoy them, but you’ll really only get the most pleasure out of it if you embrace the whole thing.

In the near future, we hope to be able to bring you a new entry of the series once a month. It was, as you might recall, originally a bi-weekly schedule, but we found that that just wasn’t possible to maintain on our respective schedules. We’re hoping, though, that with a once-a-month schedule that we’ll be able to be a bit more consistent. Look at it this way: you’ll always have something from us to be reading!

What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of publishing in a serial format? Is this something that you think other writers of fantasy should look into doing, or do you think that something is lost when you move away from the one big book model? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. We love to hear from our readers!

On Writing Queer Characters in Fantasy

There’s no doubt that as a genre fantasy has made some great strides in terms of representation. Even epic fantasy–notoriously conservative in its depiction of gender, sexuality, and race–has begun to catch up with the times, with women and people of color (and even some queer folks) finally staking their claims. It’s really quite refreshing to see the enormous diversity of voices that have come into their own as the genre has entered into a new phase, that it’s begun to move beyond its very Euro-centric biases.

However, to our eye it’s still pretty rare to find queer people as the heroes of their own stories. There are some recent exceptions to this rule–Tessa Gratton’s Lady Hotspur is one notable example–and of course the Kushiel books have a lot of queerness in them. However, it still seemed to us that epic fantasy needed its own queer couple to root for, a pair of heroes that were very much in love, indeed whose love would prove to be absolutely vital in their epic journey.

Thus, when we set out to write The Filliquian Chronicle, we knew from the beginning that we knew that our leads-Nicholas and Alric–were going to be lovers, and that what began as basically a one-night stand (with profound political consequences). However, as their journey has unfolded, we’ve found that simply having them engage in sexual encounters with men was not only repetitive; it also seemed like a betrayal of the religious system that we’d developed. So, with each of the books that we’re writing, we’re really asking our characters, particularly Nicholas, to think outside of the boundaries that have been imposed upon him and which he has taken to heart.

In that sense, The Filliquian Chronicle is itself a questioning not only of the ways in which people use faith to (often hypocritically) restrict and punish the expressions of healthy human desire, but also of the categories that we use when we talk about the expression of gender and sexuality. After all, the world that we’ve created doesn’t have to operate according to the same rules as ours does. Thus, in a nation like Troyeis, monogamy, even in marriage, is something of an anomaly rather than the norm. Indeed, as we’ve begun to follow Nicholas (who’s something of an ingenue), we find him experiencing the full range of human sexuality (even when he’s not comfortable doing so at first).

Indeed, it’s transpiring that, despite the many struggles Nicholas and Alric have endured and the many challenges their relationship has faced, that they do truly love one another. Though we still haven’t quite figured out the ending of the series as a whole, part of us hopes that these two characters will become the sort of figures that people can get invested in. After all, part of the reason we started writing this series was to fulfill the gaps that we sensed when we were younger fantasy aficionados yearning for queer heroes.

As we’ve begun to sketch out the later threads of our narrative, we’ve found that we need to add in more characters in order to capture the full range of human sexual and gender expression (or at least as full as we can come within the scope of one series). Indeed, when we started writing the storylines for the second major arc of our story, we found that there were a number of characters that were just clamoring to get their own voices heard. Some of these were characters that had already introduced in the first arc, but a number of others, including a young woman who is pansexual and a character that would probably identify as trans in our world, suddenly began to make appearances.

We want to emphasize, however, that we’re not interested in tokenism, and we’ve working very hard to avoid that particular fictional trap. We don’t want these characters to be defined exclusively in terms of their gender or sexuality, though of course that is a key part of who they are and we make no apologies for that fact. However, we also want our readers to see and to understand them as fully-fledged characters in their own right, with complex realities and ways of looking at the world. And, while some of them are heroes, some are decidedly not. To our mind, it’s high time that we have some unequivocally queer villains out there.

All of this, of course, is quite political, and we are very much aware of that fact. Representation matters, and it matters that our characters are queer (in all of the many ways that that word is defined). We’re almost making a concerted effort to include people of color in this world, not just as window-dressing and not just as dispensable characters. In fact, Alric is what we in our world would be called biracial, since his father is from the France-like nation of Troyeis, while his mother is from one of the southern kingdoms. What’s more, it matters that they engage in explicitly queer sex. We’ve made clear from the beginning of this process that we wanted to write an epic fantasy that was a fantasy in all the senses of the word, and we like to think that we’ve succeeded.

Are we going to get everything “right?” Almost certainly not. We understand that there are a lot of risks in including various minority groups in our fiction, precisely because, though we are queer ourselves, we recognize that there are many types of experience that we will never inhabit. However, what we hope to keep doing, as we work on The Filliquian Chronicle (as well as our various other projects), is to provide our readers, and ourselves, an opportunity to really and truly explore the world in new ways. If we happen to stumble a bit along the way, we hope to be able to make them learning experiences. And through it all we hope that you, dear readers, will enjoy reading our books as much as we enjoy writing them.