This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy, grimdark and romantic fantasy. I’m excited to be talking about high fantasy and epic fantasy this month.
I’ve been privileged to chat with Jason and Rose Bishop, authors of the Storm’s Rising series.
Thank you for being willing to talk about high fantasy and epic fantasy with me!
Thank you for having us! It’s one of our favorite topics.
Will you introduce yourselves?
Well, we’re Jason and Rose Bishop, a husband-and-wife team, married twenty-seven years and currently co-authoring the Storm’s Rising epic fantasy series. We met in college, and quickly discovered we both had a passion for fantasy stories and role-playing games such as AD&D and Pathfinder. In fact, it was during our gaming sessions that we unwittingly began building the world of Cyrradon, created some of the historical figures that became the basis of the saga, and thought up some of the pivotal events leading to the story we’re writing now.
On the personal side, we’ve taken on a wide variety of interests and hobbies over the years, including bicycling, motorcycling, guitar playing, fly fishing, home brewing, making mead and cider, and all kinds of home meat production (sausages, salamis, smoked/cured meats, etc.). We had a long phase of very near homesteading, where we raised much of what we ate, including a huge garden, a sustainable greenhouse with some hydroponics, chickens, ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and horses (we didn’t eat those). We found we love those primitive DIY skills, like canning and preserving, fermentation (kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, sourdough) and we think a lot of that goes into our stories and contribute to their complexity.
Can you talk a little bit about the Storm’s Rising series?
The Storm’s Rising series is our reach for the kind of story we would want to find on the shelf to read for ourselves. It’s a tale that begins with several young folk who had some serious drama in their past they were never fully aware of. And as in real life, eventually that drama comes along and sweeps them into it. But the story itself, as we’ve hinted at, began way before page one of book one. It’s somewhat of a “coming-of-age” story, somewhat of a “chosen one” story, and somewhat of a lit-RPG. We think the best thing about the books are its characters. Some of them we created on our own, others were inspired or outright created by our kids when they got old enough to game with us. But all of them have become like family to us, and they surprise us just as much as real people do with the things they say and the decisions they make. We’re not really in control here, we just document what they do! We even have songs we’ve attributed to many of them, that sort of capture the essence of each character for us!
Overall, the series tells the story of a group of heroes known as the Five, whose formation occurred centuries ago following an event called the Great Reavening. Their purpose is to somehow undo the damage that was done to Cyrradon, and to the nature of life, death, and time in that horrific event. Each member of the Five bears an amulet, handed down from generation to generation, one of five powerful artifacts that mark and aid them as mortal champions of the five gods who oversee the elder races of the world. There are dark powers both mortal and immortal vying to take advantage of the brokenness of the world to dominate all life. And believe it or not, our villains are as complex and relatable as our MCs (with theme songs of their own). But of course the MCs don’t know any of this at the beginning, and that’s the beauty of the epic fantasy: the reader is right there alongside them, learning things piece by piece as they do, puzzling it out one shattered fragment at a time.
The best part of the story for us is the way the MCs grow. At first, they know nothing of each other, and very little about themselves or their past. They come from different cultures with lots of preconceptions about the other races and especially mixed breeds. So seeing them grow into their own potential, learn to trust each other (or not), learn to work together (or not), and learn that the world they live in is so much bigger and more deadly than they’d ever known, is really a privilege for us to witness.
What were some obstacles to writing The Call (book 1)? I know you have had an interesting journey into the world of indie publishing.
It’s been a long road, and one we didn’t actually know we were on for a long time. As you know, we started building our world and our story long before we ever thought it would be a book, much less a massive series of books! Rose, who was usually our DM when we gamed, had an extensive pile of notes, maps, story ideas, character bios, etc., from our gaming sessions, so that gave us a great start. Then I (Jason) used some of my spare time working night shifts to dream up a lot of the histories of Cyrradon, and that ended up being a huge resource, bigger than we planned. So the first obstacle was really deciding how to put it all together. We knew there was no way our story could be told in just one book, so our first concept was a five-book series. Five heroes, five amulets, five gods, right? But by the time we got the first draft of book one down, we knew even five wasn’t going to be enough.
The next obstacle came gift-wrapped in all the preconceptions of what a debut novel should look like according to the big names in publishing. Around 80,000 words, a complete novel in one volume, professionally edited and published, amazing cover art, etc. And it was about this time we got neck deep in the churn of query letters and rejections. At that time, our perception of indie authors was not complimentary. We were led to believe that self-publishing was for folks who just didn’t have what it took, and we were beginning to wonder if that was us. Then, fortunately for us, a certain steamy romance novel began making headlines and we learned it had originally gained popularity as an independent work, then got picked up by one of the big five, topping the charts internationally and even becoming a series of movies, despite being by most accounts rather terribly written. We knew our writing was better, beyond any doubt. We had to reevaluate our definitions of what was “worthy,” and whether we wanted to allow the ‘big five’ to determine that for us. We decided we did not.
Of course, there was another obstacle of the “elephant in the room” variety: the whole notion of a man and wife writing a story together and avoiding divorce in the process! We had to learn a lot about each other. How to communicate, how to manage our expectations, how to concede to one another in some regards and let go of our own “darlings” to move forward in others. In a lot of ways, we changed how we write as we realized where our strengths lay. We developed our roles and became much more comfortable in them. In the beginning, we both would write scenes independently, then hand them off to the other to go through and edit or critique. This was fraught with pitfalls, because as any writer knows, no matter how you plan out a scene, it always develops legs and arms you didn’t anticipate. We began finding these appendages fighting with one another and creating conflict in the story and in our relationship. Over time, we shifted to what could be called a “framer and painter” format. Rose is the architect (in our writing, and coincidentally as a profession); she puts the framework together and makes sure the plotlines and the critical elements of the story stay true. I’m the fluff guy (Rose says ‘artist’); I put all the pretty stuff on the outside, write the dialogue, develop the characters, and so on. So, when we’re crafting a new scene, Rose takes the lead until we have the mechanics figured out, then I take the stage for the drafting. It’s been an exercise that has strengthened not only our story writing, but our marriage as well.
What are some successes?
[JASON] I’d say our successes are built in right after our failures. Like the example with our thoughts toward indie authors, that failure led us to the success of being primed to accept some formative advice we received one day in early 2020 from a wise gentleman named Paul. He said two things we wouldn’t have been ready to hear prior to that smutty bestseller hitting the news. The first was, “There are over seven billion people in the world. All you need to be successful is 200-300 thousand of them to like your story.” This was like a light switch, flooding my brain to the very darkest reaches and making all the little doubting critters scamper off. Then he followed up with, “Now, just throw your story up into outer space and see what happens.” And that was it. We went through the book one last time, an out-loud reading at home with the family, and when we were done, we hopped on Kindle Direct Publishing and hit ‘submit.’ Then we cracked open a bottle of a massive Belgian style ‘dubbel’ homebrew we save for special occasions and celebrated!
There have definitely been more successes along the way. Getting positive reviews are always a success that has us on cloud nine for days. Finishing each new novel, getting that author proof in the mail and getting to hold it, smell it, flip through the pages and see all the hard work in our hands! Sending “thank you” copies to our beta readers. Every new follower on social media, everyone who reaches out just to say hi, or tells us something about how the book affected them or prods us for when the next one might be coming, these are all the successes that matter the most to us. We’re proud to be part of the indie tribe because it means we did it on our own. That’s a success in and of itself.
[ROSE] Jason found a great cover artist company, JD&J Cover Artists, who took our ideas and made them real. We also have a fantastic group of beta readers whose input helped us to fill in some blanks and remember that our readers don’t know the world as intimately as we do. Formatting the books was difficult, but doable. It taught me a lot of patience.
I know Storm’s Rising is considered epic fantasy. Can you talk a little bit about what epic fantasy is?
It’s a high fantasy that’s bigger than the books. The story has its origins way before chapter one. And throughout the reading of the story, the reader is overwhelmed with a grandness of scale, depth, complexity, and history that transcends the words on the page. Like scenes from a movie, the characters are right there in the foreground moving the story along, but all the while there is a complete, mature world behind them just begging to be admired and explored, and crying out of a history so rich nearly all of it has passed out of memory and become legend or perhaps even myth.
Some conventional sources assert the terms ‘epic fantasy’ and ‘high fantasy’ as interchangeable. We don’t believe that for a second. In our mind, a high fantasy world (i.e., a world separate from our own, where realities are a bit different, and everyone carries a blade or uses magic) is where an epic fantasy tale can occur. But simply being high fantasy does not make it epic. Convention would also have us believe to be an epic fantasy it must (1) be a massively voluminous story, (2) about an orphan or outcast who grows up to be the chosen one to save the world, from (3) an unavoidable, unescapable evil. And further that the story (4) be the type of tale that is told and retold through generations, so old that you and your parents and grandparents even cannot recall a time when the story did not exist. So why then do we call ours epic? Okay, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little on number 4, but we have the first three dead to rights! The last one is up to our readers and time to tell. But we don’t have any doubts that lovers of classical fantasy sagas who read our story won’t dispute the label.
What drew you to writing that sort of, really, vast type of book?
No surprises here, it was having read fantasies of the epic variety before and knowing that’s what we wanted to craft for ourselves. We’ve never been satisfied with ‘garden variety’ anything. An epic fantasy requires a hero; we have multiple. An epic fantasy requires a villain; we have three pretty consistent bad guys you might choose to hate, with a handful of other minor villains for flavor. An epic fantasy requires an artifact of rare and mythic power; depending on your take on this, we either have five (the amulets) or we have none at all (we don’t exactly have a quest to find all the McGuffins, horcruxes, etc.) We’re okay with whichever you decide is the case.
One thing that differentiates our story from the traditional epic fantasy is that even though our MCs have skills they hone and lean on through the story, they’re not necessarily prodigies in the making. The typical epic starts with that orphan or outcast youth who has incredible fighting or magic using potential that ends up being the key to resolving the conflict. We veered away from that, preferring instead to show how heart, courage, and sacrifice could be the keys rather than puissant skill at arms or the magical equivalent.
Regardless, we wanted to take the time needed to tell the story completely, to lay it out with broad strokes so the reader can look forward to a journey they’ll enjoy start to finish. We wanted to delay as much as possible the inevitable moment when the reader is forced to turn that final page and decide what to do with the rest of their lives. That’s what we would want as readers. There’s nothing worse than just getting to the point you understand what’s going on and you love the characters, and then the story wraps up and you’re done. Or worse, you buy the next book in the series and all the characters you just met aren’t even mentioned again! What even is that? (If you know, you know.)
Perhaps the best part of writing epic fantasy is the allure of the world, in spite of all its flaws and dangers. Yes, there’s an overarching threat that promises to snuff out everything good, with nowhere to go and no way to escape it. But despite all that ugliness on the surface, it’s still a place you find yourself wishing you could go.
Are you more pantsers or plotters?
This is a tough one! It’s the classic argument of predestination versus free will. Are they mutually exclusive, or can they coexist?
Any good writer, we think, needs to be a bit of both, pantser and plotter. While we love the planning phase (see our blog post on the ‘sticky note’ story boarding method we use), once we start actually writing we often see our characters making some pretty wild choices! Sometimes even choices that send our plotline off in directions we couldn’t have predicted. Or we’ll throw in a minor character for flavor in a certain scene, and then watch that character somehow grow into someone far more significant than we had designed. But you know, once it happens and Rose and I look at each other and say, “Oh, he definitely would have said that,” or “That’s so perfect!” then we’re committed and we just have to figure it out. So at that point, I suppose we become pantsers! Until the next scene, when we have it all planned out like before, and it happens again.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Top of the list goes J. R. R. Tolkien, for pretty predictable reasons. He defined the genre for us and set the bar for world-building so high we will likely never reach it. Despite having a world-building file nearly big enough now to publish as its own novel, and even despite having created our own elven language, we doubt we’ll ever get to the Silmarillion level. He’s the godfather of epic fantasy, and always will be.
Others well-deserving of praise in both our minds include David Eddings, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman (and many others of the Dragonlance and Ravenloft sagas), Joe Abercrombie, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, John Flannagan, Simon Hawke, John Gwynne, Warren Murphy & Richard Sapir, Leo Tolstoy, Judith Tarr and David B. Coe. All of these authors had some formative effect on us in terms of what we enjoy reading, and how we write our own stories.
About the authors:
Epic Fantasy Authors at Legends of Cyrradon
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