On the Author’s Responsibility to Fans « Official Author Website of Melissa McPhail

On the Author’s Responsibility to Fans

the world of imagination is the world of eternity

I’ve been thinking about my responsibility to you as my readers, and that got me to thinking about universes. Not the kind that surround us but the kind we carry with us—worlds complete, comprising places imagined by others, populated with people not of our creation, yet colored in by our own mental energy; the universes that exist within a writer’s imagination, which are shared with readers via the printed or spoken word, and are solidified by the reader’s own mental imagery.

If you read a lot, this concept possibly makes sense to you. Every fantasy author creates his own world, and each world feels different and separate from every other fantasy author's world. My world of Alorin is easily distinguishable from Mark Lawrence's broken kingdoms or GRRM's Westeros; you'd never get them mixed up in your head. In the mind of the reader, there's no denying these are worlds complete and individual—story planets, if you will, circling the reader's envisioning sun. Many of us would be hard-pressed to count the number of worlds we can access in our own mental universe resulting from the books we’ve absorbed into our consciousnesses over the years.

The whole idea of universes has its foundation in quantum mechanics and that science's philosophical and metaphysical theories on the nature of reality. I explore the idea of universes in detail in Kingdom Blades, but what interests me about this the most is the concept of shared universes.

Once upon a time I was just writing for my own entertainment. (Admittedly, that’s still the first question I ask myself about any chapter—am I entertained?—because I'm one very picky fantasy reader!) But something changed for me after Paths of Alir. I realized an important truth:

I'm not now writing only for my personal entertainment.

While I proudly state that I’m the sole author of A Pattern of Shadow & Light, I can’t so easily say anymore that the story belongs only to me. Over a million words, four books and tens of thousands of readers in, I think the series to some degree also belongs to you.

It’s the whole conundrum of if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it actually make any sound? Quantum mechanics would say that without the Observer, there is no sound—nor even any tree or forest. But a corollary to that theory is that the more people who agree on something, the more real it becomes. Reality is basically agreement. The more who agree, the more widespread the agreed-upon reality. If one person sees a UFO, it can be easily discounted as unreal. But if a million people see it…?

When I write a story, I’m watching the story's events play out in the universe of my mind. But then you read the story, and now it's unfolding in the universe of your mind, too. Yours and many thousands of others.

According to quantum mechanics, the world of that story would soon achieve so much agreement that it could actually become real. Somewhere it is real, even if only in the universe of our individual minds—individual yet at the same time shared, because we all take the same journey while reading the story. Its path is fixed by words. You can’t change the path or pictures in the book of Alorin, but you have some discretion as to how you color them in.

And while I’m the only one whose decisions change anything in our shared world of Alorin, it doubtless feels just as real to many of you as it feels to me. You have ownership for the difficulties happening there. You’re friends with the same characters I’m friends with. You’ve speculated, imagined, explored and created with these people. You have expectations for them.

So while we can safely say it’s my story…well, according to quantum mechanics, it’s your story, too.

All of this makes for deep and speculative thought on my part, because here we are sharing a world full of beloved people—yet I’m the only one capable of making any changes to that world or those people. So my changes matter. My judgment or lack thereof affects you as the reader. The hardest part is, there’s really nothing you can do about this, even though we’re sharing the world. It’s the trust you the reader place in me the author—to walk the journey chained to my choices, just praying I’m not going to jump off a cliff.

Does that mean I’m going to make changes based on what you want? Um, no. (I never claimed our shared world was a democracy). But it has changed the way I think about the story while writing it.

Once, I only felt a responsibility to my characters, to tell their story with honesty and do them justice in the telling. When I was writing Cephrael’s Hand, the thought of ‘will anyone like it?’ never crossed my mind. Heck, when I was writing Cephrael’s Hand, I was practically thumbing my nose at the world at large, declaring my obstinate nature with my unwillingness to use small words, dumb down the concepts or write the story so as to appeal to the moderately literate mean.

But somehow countless thousands of you have made it through three such books with me, and the world is no long my singular playground. Now, I do find myself wondering if you’ll like it, if you’ll understand it, if you’ll take the events of Kingdom Blades the way I intended them and find meaning in the questions I'm asking.

Now I feel a responsibility not to let you down. Because we’re all on the playground together, but I’m the one making all the rules. And while I’m rather used to this arrangement, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t at least acknowledge that I know I’m the one with all the power.

I only hope as Kingdom Blades releases later this month that you’ll decide I wielded that power judiciously.

I know this is a rather esoteric subject on the whole, so if my musings make any sense at all to you, leave me a comment and let me know.

34 Responses to “On the Author’s Responsibility to Fans”

  1. Harvey Fox says:

    Lol, I couldn’t help but think that you’re over thinking. I, too, fall into that category on several real life subjects. But as far as you’re books, I have NO expectations…. I want to read and get lost in the story, utterly lost. I want to spend time in a world with good vs evil, with all kinds of interesting players and even dragons! I want to see Tanis grow and find out what happens to the world regarding Pelas’ decision to bind himself to Tanis. I want to read, to relax, to just read your wonderful story and see what happens. I think you perhaps have connected to your readers, and in a way past writers never could have. Maybe that has created in you a sense of responsibility to us in some way. I hold you to none such thing. You are a gifted story teller, and you have my support no matter the direction you would venture. Write on, and I will read. 🙂

  2. Laurie says:

    When I pick up a book, I know after the first few chapters if that world “calls” to me. I can tell if I know that world. I am caught up in the sights, the smells, the sounds, the people, the places as if I had really been there… and perhaps I have. It is like one of those dreams you have that you know is now within the realm of our current lives, but that world does exist…somewhere…some time.

    I have to say that I absolutely LOVE that you use more complex words. I hate when a writer thinks that I am a “dumb” reader that does not know their way around an advanced vocabulary. I have had that comment a few times on my writing, that a reader had to go look up a word… isn’t that the basis of communication? To learn?

    I think a writer does start out writing to entertain themselves. I don’t think that the concept of writing for their fans or readers comes into the process until much later when you start to share your creation with others.

    I can’t wait to read Kingdom Blades.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      I know exactly what you mean, Laurie. Sometimes you really wonder if you knew that world in some distant shadow of yourself.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees a dividing line come into play at some point between writing for self and writing for self and others. It’s really both now for me. Even if I try to keep my same standards and not compromise for the sake of the ‘others,’ it’s never far from my mind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on it. It’s nice to feel understood.

  3. Laurie says:

    Oops the last sentence in the first paragraph is supposed to read “NOT within the realm of our current lives”

  4. Adam Weller says:

    My instinct tells me that this feels like a foreword to ‘Kingdom Blades,’ as if the reader should be prepared for some unexpected events in the book, and not to freak out if it doesn’t play out according to our expectations.

  5. Terilee says:

    Hi Melissa! Wow, no one would ever accuse you of “dumbing down” the concepts! Your musings do make sense to me and I can’t wait to read Kingdom Blades. I think if we had the power to make changes it would take away the ability to lose ourselves in the words. I don’t know if everyone who reads sees the story unfold kind of like a movie in your mind but that’s how it works for me. Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your world!

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Thank you for your unwavering support, Terilee. I agree with you – a story would lose something if we were able to influence it. There’s something so special about that transference between author and reader. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  6. Greta says:

    You already know I love your books. The world you created gives many of us a place to go to get away and to live a different life. Your style of writing is uniquely yours. I love the challenge of new words and concepts, it’s part of why I keep reading your work. Your gift of words is a beautiful thing. To make people laugh and cry by simply reading is a rare talent. Keep writing for yourself (I personally wouldn’t change a word in your books) and let us continue to tag along. More power to ya!

  7. Krista says:

    Hi Melissa,

    This post really hit home with me. I struggled with a characters identity and their thread in Kingdom Blades. I feel like the whole story has been written in your mind. A grand epic and I read it a chapter at a time. Having your knowledge and insight on this person opened a whole new world to me on how his thought and actions were going to influence the overall story. You know these characters as well as you know your family, I would say these books have become family to you. You have a sense of purpose and knowledge for each character until the series ends. I, as the reader, have invented my own universe that runs parallel to yours. Same characters and story lines, but I fill in the blank spaces with my visuals,thoughts, feelings and emotions. We are going to read the same words but we are all going to experience the books differently. I love that you write for your own enjoyment, you should! I also love that you care that we, your readers, can read the book and fully enjoy the experience as you have imagined it. You want us to understand, and know the reasoning of why and how. I would not want a democracy in your world. If we had that I’d be a writer on my own and that would be a diaster! I read your material because you are such an original. Write for yourself! If you love what your doing and fully believe in it, than we will to!

  8. Tkeisha says:

    I love the idea of the books/worlds I’ve read being like universes. I take refuge in different universes at times, and your Alorin is definitely a favorite of mine.

    There definitely have been times that the path you’ve lead your characters down has made me unhappy, but having come this far in the story, I can’t say anymore that I disagree with your decisions for them. They had to travel that path, even if it made me rant and rave. I never stopped reading and you certainly always had me entertained 🙂

  9. Mattyhew fry says:

    May i thank you on behalf of myself and any other person that has immensely enjoyed the released books and are hanging on tenderhooks for many more to come. I think you are spot on in the way you write and your conceptional idealism and the way you pull all the strands (intentional!! 🙂 ) of the story together. it is such a fantastically fun, vivid and entrancing read.. BRAVO and carry on carrying on!!

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Matt. I’m honored by your praise. It’s the greatest of blessings to be able to pursue one’s own passion and entertain others at the same time. Thank you for reading. 🙂

  10. Niyati says:

    Yay! Book 4 is finally coming out! I need to binge read the first 3!!! I have paperbacks of part 1 and 2 which is such a delight to read!! I can’t wait for the next book!

  11. William T. says:

    I was wondering when Kingdom Blades will be coming to audible. I have just finished the 3rd book and want to get into the fourth. I love the plot you’ve created, as well as your wonderful characters. Listening to your books brings them wonderfully to life, and I want to know how long ill need to wait. Im very tempted to get Kingdom blades as soon as it comes out, but if its not too long, Ill be able to resist the temptation. Thanks for creating a wonderful series 🙂

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Hi William,

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series on audiobook. I don’t yet have a release date for Kingdom Blades on Audible. My guess would be early 2017, but that’s only a guess. When I know more, I’ll post to the blog. Thank you for listening. 🙂

  12. Trish says:

    Melissa – thanks for sharing your thought process in breathing life to your creations. Trust me when I say – I loose myself in your world and am so very much entertained…so much so my family enjoys my waiting for your next novel as I do not “have my nose buried in a book”. Get it done to the standard you want it to be and know we will enjoy it! Enjoy the process…no worries…don’t stress.

    • Trish says:

      oops spelling errors happen when you type so late…I meant lose not loose…but if you have a sense of humor – loose could work – you de-stress while reading and that makes you loose right? LOL

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Thank you so much for the encouragement, Trish. I’m anxiously awaiting the release of Kingdom Blades this Friday to start getting feedback. I write to please myself, but I really hope others will be pleased also. It’s challenging to keep coming up with ways to surprise you guys. 😉 Thank you for your kind words, and thank you for reading!

  13. Alicia says:

    Hi Melissa,

    As a stay at home mom of a 3 year old and a 6 month old, audio books truly keep me sane. Can you tell us when book 4 will be released on audible?

    Thank you 🙂 This is one of the best series I’ve listened to

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series on Audible, Alicia. Kingdom Blades should release in audiobook in early 2017. As I know more, I’ll post to my blog. Thank you for listening. 🙂

  14. DEAN says:

    I really enjoy the words you use and love your metaphors the one about a short tail in a pig pen had me thinking for a bit lol great stuff can not wait to share your work with my daughters.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Thank you so much, Dean. I’m thrilled that you’re enjoying the series so far and appreciate your kind words about my writing. Thank you for reading.

  15. Ben says:

    I have a couple of questions. I am now about 75% of the way through book 4 and there have been several discussions regarding the Laws and Esoterics of Patterning. I am wondering where you got the inspiration for the various laws and esoterics that you have laid out thus far.
    The second question is book specific, Does Tanis show up again after his epiphany with the Warlock? It has been 30+ chapters since I last left him and it is killing me that he hasn’t shown up again yet.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Yes, you’ll get back to Tanis, Ben. 🙂

      I draw the Laws and Esoterics from a basic understanding of physics and the interrelationships of energy. I’m trying to keep the series grounded in laws that could be real to us in this world if such a thing as magic existed.

  16. James says:

    I just finished Cephraels Hand. I enjoyed it. It flowed smoothly!
    Thank you for realizing that although you have control, and it is your world, you did let us in. Lol. I think the great authors realize once let in, we trust you to not only tell us the story but to finish it. Thanks!

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed Cephrael’s Hand, James. For me it wasn’t about letting readers into my world and my characters so much as being honored that they want to stay there. 😉

  17. ola says:

    I am listening to the dagger of adendigeith (sp) now and I love your world building and magic system. I just hope alineri stops being a victim and saves herself or saves trell instead of always having to be rescued herself. Also I thought Tanis was a teenager but his naivete makes him seem like he is 8. Also if damn near everyone knew who trell was like 5 minutes after he left the emir it seems so implausible that no one blurted it out to him. Raised eyebrow ha ha. As bad as I want to know what happens in this world you created I would I wish the characters weren’t so angst filled and guilt ridden. I groan everytime Ean or Trell or Alineri starts whining. It also sucks that only the villains are gay and they use sex as a weapon. I love your writing style and I will not nitpick anymore. I am going back to listen to more of the book now.

    • Melissa McPhail says:

      Thank you for all of the feedback, Ola. I wrote several other blog posts about some of your points, which might answer some of your concern if you’re interested. I’m glad you’re enjoying the series so far. Thank you for listening.

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