Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes—a magical book with an unbelievable back-story



HOLLYWOOD, CA—In a world of 6-second movies, 140-char insights, and instant image sharing, what’s a 500-page novel to do? Michael Reed McLaughlin, author of the epic high fantasy series, The Hero Sagas, turned to Los Angeles-based indie publisher Rare Bird Books to help bring his decades-long creation to print.
McLaughlin spent over three decades writing his tale of a young hero coming of age, and decades developing the legendarium (the rich world) behind his epic novels… Or did he?
According to an imaginative back-story, McLaughlin was not so much writer of his books, as translator of a tome of crumbling leaves and ancient scrolls discovered in the secret base of a childhood treasure chest, purchased in the 1970s, along the Old Santa Fe Trail. He traced the parchment’s origins to the first Spanish Conquistadors to venture north of the Rio Grande 400 hundred years before, eventually learning to translate the previously unknown, pre-ancient writing systems and languages used by a mysterious wizard named Zorwind.
What McLaughlin has uncovered so far are enough tantalizing tales to fill three books with the story of Mitak of the Oakwood, a young man on the cusp of adulthood who, in Rüneglave: Sword of Heroes, Rüneguard: Shield of Heroes, and Rünehelm: Helmet of Heroes, must grow in body, mind, and spirit to be worthy of these ancestral talismans. He’s now begun the translation of a second trilogy—The Hero Within, which tells the tale of Mitak’s father, when he was an even younger boy, thrown into a series of harrowing quests of his own.
The first book of The Hero Sagas is due to launch in Fall 2014 at San Diego Comic-Con, along with a robust enhanced iBook edition that will enable the full range of its extraordinary complementary materials to be enjoyed. From the 30,000-word glossary and audio pronunciation guide, to 3D renderings of the castles and caverns, weaponry and wizard’s spellbooks, to theme music, coats of arms, language dictionaries, genealogy charts, etc., etc., all will be vividly rendered in an Enhanced Reading Experience iBooks Edition that brings the book from the page to the fingertips in a way not yet experienced in the fantasy genre.
To fund this elaborate iBook Edition, a Kickstarter Campaign launched June 30, 2013 and will run for 30 days, culminating at the close of this year’s Comic-Con, a fitting bookend to the most recent turn of this remarkable story’s path—from Pre-European civilization to cutting edge 21st-century technology.

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Saving Epic Fantasy Books 200,000+ Words at a Time: Big Publishing’s Attempt to Stifle the World’s Most Popular Genre

There is a certain magical sub-genre of fantasy fiction called “Epic Fantasy” or “High Fantasy.” According to Wikipedia, the term “epic” derives from “the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot.” I would argue that it must also be epic in scope (which I will argue has some correlation to length). Certainly, I would not argue that it need be more than some arbitrarily fixed number of words, (although writers in this sub-genre generally tend to write lengthy tomes—the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan are some good examples); nevertheless, the work must be substantive, as with an “epic poem” or an “epic film.” One would hardly call a short story, that otherwise would fit the definition, an epic fantasy short story; it would better be refereed to as simply a short story in high fantasy genre.

Inherent in the nature of epic fantasy is the implicit promise that behind the colorful facade of mythical/fairyland characters and settings, lie deep truths that ring so true they can transcend imagined other worlds to shed light upon our own. From Homer, on down through the ages, the great bards of epic lore have told tales about giants, pixies, sorcerers, and monsters not because they can tell us anything about how we might deal with such creatures when encountered in the subway, at a park, or in the local post office but specifically because these Goliaths, Tinkerbells, Merlins, and Smaugs are representative of epic themes we all face in the real world—bullies, innocents, sages, and corporate/political/etc. juggernauts.

In epic fantasy, the reader is so immersed in the magical world(s) created by its author, that he begins to gimps a gestalt of epic proportion (excuse the pun). The truths of Middle Earth ring true, eternal and relevant here, now, and forever—the horror of war, the threat of tyranny, the power of believing in oneself, no matter how small or insignificant seeming, and so forth. When read carefully (and sometimes even casually), an epic fantasy novel will change the reader and his worldview. He will no longer be able to see our world—in terms of race, religion, humanity, or any of a myriad other issues an author of epic fantasy might chose to explore—in exactly the same way as he saw it before beginning on page one.

I recently sent out a series of query letters for literary agents and was shocked by some of their responses. One’s entire response was: “Your book theme sounds interesting. I can tell you, however, that your word counts will be an immediate deal breaker for almost all publishers (and therefore, agents). For any author who doesn’t already have a known track record, anything over 100k will be a near-certain reject. Can’t help you here.” And, he wasn’t the only one to insist as much. Granted, I am not a Tolkien, Brooks, Martin, or Jordan (yet); but the manuscript I was submitting was a substantial 40,000 words less than The Sword of Shannara and 75,000 words less than either A Game of Thrones or The Eye of the World, each the first book in its respective series (one, the author’s first published book).

But you say, “The times, they are a’chang’n.” “Things just don’t work that way, anymore. New authors almost never get manuscripts over 100,000 words published.” Nevertheless, it seems unfortunate, to me, that the publishing industry has decided for the rest of us readers and writers that “short and to the point” is always better (in fact, requisite). As with the modern plagues of the sound bite and Wikipedia summary, in place of in-depth news reporting and primary source research, we are told that our modern attention spans simply can’t handle substantive input, let alone “epic.” If publishers could get $25 for a hardcover “tweet,” I’m certain they would be thrilled and determined to limit all subsequently published books to 140 characters or less. And, that makes good financial sense.

But, it seems strange to me that there should be so much pressure to produce shorter epic fantasy novels, especially in a time when the “cost” of publishing a book has dropped so precipitously that anyone with an Amazon account can produce a hefty book of 500 pages for around $8.50 plus markup ($0.015 per page plus $0.90 per cover). And, that price can be achieved for a one-off on expensive paper; when printing by the thousands of copies per run, it must certainly be far less expensive for traditional publishers.

On top of that, this is at the same time that so many of the most successful epic fantasy series are among the most “epic.” Just look at The Lord of the Rings—half-a-million words; Harry Potter (although not strictly “epic fantasy”)—over one million words in the series; The Dark Tower—a-million-and-a-quarter; A Song of Ice and Fire—one-and-three-quarter-million words and still going strong; and then, there’s The Wheel of Time—over four million words long, some books in the series almost 400,000 words in length.

I call it a case of not only throwing out the baby with the bathwater but throwing out the basin, as well. Even as epic fantasy is becoming increasingly more and more popular among the general reading (and formerly non-reading, as exemplified by the huge numbers of young Potter fans introduced to the idea of reading the story rather than passively watching it unfold before their eyes) public, there is intense pressure to change one of the fundamental elements that make such books so popular—the utterly immersive and compelling world-building that is achieved by the very nature of their epic sizes.

I can almost imagine an editor at St Martins or Random House imposing a limit on latest edition of The Bible of “no more than 100,000 words, if you please; and that should include the Old and New Testaments… In fact, can’t we get the sequel’s message across with just the words: ‘Turn the other cheek.’ Why, just last week we combined the latest editions of The Iliad and The Odyssey into a 50,000 word novella simply by ‘economizing’ the poetry.”

I don’t know whether the books in my own epic fantasy series, The Hero Sagas, will be best sellers or not; they won’t start to roll out until Spring of 2014. But whether they are eventually published by one of the “Big Six” (soon to be “Five”), stay with the small independent press printing Book One, Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes, or whether subsequent volumes are self-published, I will continue to write them as though people really do want to read epic tales of epic deed wrought by epic heroes and told in epic form.

Title treatment for Rüneglaive: Sword of Heroes