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[GUEST POST] Howard Andrew Jones on Seeking a New Path in PATHFINDER TALES: BEYOND THE POOL OF STARS

howardandrewjonesHoward Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of the Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast and the hot off the presses Beyond the Pool of Stars. A former Black Gate Editor, he also assembled and edited 8 collections of historical fiction writer Harold Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be found lurking at Follow him on Twitter @howardandrewjon

Seeking a New Path

by Howard Andrew Jones

When I finished my second Pathfinder novel I switched gears immediately into planning a series for another publisher, and by the time I hammered out those outlines the characters from my first Pathfinder books felt a little… unfamiliar. Or maybe they felt too familiar. I wanted to write something drastically different.

My first two Pathfinder novels had dealt with settings and characters more typical for role-playing game fiction – not that there’s anything wrong with that, because there’s a lot of grand fiction with elves and dwarves in it. You may have heard of that one thing they made into movies, with the ring and the little guys with furry feet.

But I wanted to go somewhere else other than a European-esque forest with my trusty elven ranger from the first books, much as I liked her. Fortunately, the Pathfinder world of Golarion is rife with great settings. That’s one of the first things that drew me to Paizo and Pathfinder. The creators have engaged in some really grand world building, with multiple plot hooks threaded through every region of Golarion.

In the far southwest of the map I found a little tropical coast that hadn’t ever been covered in great detail. This was Sargava, settled by colonists who’d broken away from their overbearing empire. The people there lived in an uneasy truce with the native inhabitants that they’d displaced, and their own fleet was so small that to protect their coasts they have to bribe a pirate brotherhood each year to keep Chelaxian Empire ships from invading. And money is always running low…

The whole thing was rife with potential, and I knew just who I wanted to drop down into the midst of it: two characters I loved from one of my trunk novels, tweaked for the setting.

Like a lot of writers, I have trunk novels, texts I wrote when I was still figuring out how to get all those pieces moving in the right way. Most I’ll never show to anyone and will likely burn if I ever come down with something terminal so no one else can ever read ‘em. Some even make me groan when I think about them.

A few, though, have redeeming elements: part of the plot line from one, say. Or some characters who were better than the plot I trapped them in. For this new Pathfinder book, I rescued two of those characters and dropped them into Golarion: Mirian Raas, a young woman who salvages the deep waters for lost artifacts, and her blood brother Jekka Edren Sulotai Karshnaar. That’s a big mouthful of names, but then Jekka’s not human. In my original book he’d been one of the last member of a reptilian race. In this book he’s one of the last members of a tribe of lizard folk.

With the characters and the setting in place the outline came so quickly and furiously that I was hard put to stop working on it. At one point, while my wife and kids rode and re-rode roller coasters in the Harry Potter section of Universal Orlando, I sat down at the Three Broomsticks and scribbled away for an hour or so. It was kind of cool to be working on a novel in a place that would never have existed if someone hadn’t created it in a novel…

I was so taken with the character and setting I went ahead and drafted two outlines at once, and my enthusiasm must have accounted for something, for editor James Sutter greenlit the books. James has frighteningly good storytelling chops and made some excellent suggestions to tighten things up… and then I was off and running.

In a way, I’m closer to these characters than I was those in the first two Pathfinder novels simply because I’ve known two of them so long. Oddly, though, I feel the same closeness for the rest of them, and I find myself worried how readers will receive them a little like the way I worried when I sent my kids off to first grade. The tropical setting and the absence of some more standard elements makes me nervous about the entire story’s reception. There aren’t elves and dwarves and dungeons – Mirian doesn’t even wear armor. One of the main characters is gay, one’s a lizard man, and their leader, Mirian, is a woman of color. Is the story too different, or just different enough? Will it please both gamers and the wider world? Sometimes they like slightly different things, so I’m just not sure.

All I know for certain is that I had a lot of fun writing this novel. I hope some of the excitement I felt when getting it down on the page gets transmitted to my readers.

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