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Michael Wisehart: On the Epic Process of Writing Epic Fantasy

Multiple award-winner Michael Wisehart discusses the community of writers that has helped him along his writing journey, including his new fantasy fiction novel, The Four-Part Key.

Michael Wisehart lives in North Georgia, surrounded by forest, farmland, and unfortunately … fire ants. His days are usually spent clicking away on his keyboard when he’s not stopping to watch the deer graze across his front lawn.

He graduated with a Cum Laude in Business Accounting, but instead of pursuing this field, he returned to school to study film. He spent the next several years honing his visual craft, which he put to good use as he took what he’d learned behind the camera and applied it to the written word.

On April 14, 2014, Michael opened his laptop and began typing what would become two multiple award-winning series: The Aldoran Chronicles, and Street Rats of Aramoor (both set within the same world, but 20 years apart). By the time his second book released, he had quit his day job, walking away from production altogether, to pursue his writing career. Find him on Facebook.

Michael Wisehart: On the Epic Process of Writing Epic Fantasy

Michael Wisehart

In this post, Michael discusses the community of writers that has helped him along his writing journey, including his new fantasy fiction novel, The Four-Part Key, what he hopes readers get out of the experience, and more!

Name: Michael Wisehart
Book title: The Four-Part Key
Publisher: Podium Audio
Expected release date: 12/14/21
Genre/category: Epic Fantasy/Coming of Age Fantasy
Previous titles: The White Tower; Plague of Shadows; the Street Rats of Aramoor series
Elevator pitch for the book: Narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds, this award-winning epic fantasy is set in a world where magic is forbidden throughout the Five Kingdoms and wielders are forced into hiding. With war looming, the outlawed wielders might be the Five Kingdom’s only hope.

Michael Wisehart: On the Epic Process of Writing Epic Fantasy

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What prompted you to write this book?

Money!

Oops, did I say that out loud?

Although, looking back … Probably wasn’t the wisest choice.

I wasn’t one of those authors you hear in interviews, discussing how they knew they were going to be writers since the day they were old enough to hold a pen, or how they had all these incredible stories building inside them and if they didn’t get them out, they were going to explode.

Honestly, I just needed a new career.

I had no idea if I was capable of writing a novel, let alone an entire series, let alone one as complex as this. In high school, I hated writing. The thought of a one-page essay would have had me up all night. Things changed a little in college as I began to study film, which prompted me to write a couple of screenplays. Though not the same as writing a novel, it was a great way to break the ice for future endeavors.

Realizing the need for a career change, I woke up on April 4, 2014, took a couple moments of deep reflection—followed by a shot of Mountain Dew—and began clicking away on what would eventually become the third chapter in The White Tower.

Up until this point, my credentials for becoming an author were a degree in Business Accounting, which I never used, and eight years of running a production company. Not the most promising of starts.

The one thing I did have going for me was my love of fantasy—epic fantasy to be precise. I had spent the last several years pouring through Jordan, Brooks, Goodkind, Sanderson, Rothfuss, and many more, and was determined to find a way to marry my love of the visual arts (cinema) with the written word. What better way to do that than to create my own world?

I had no idea what I was about to get myself into. Looking back … I wouldn’t change a thing. Okay, maybe a few things.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

I started writing in April of 2014 and eventually published in November of 2016. During that two-and-a-half years, I completed not only The White Tower, but the first draft of the second book: Plague of Shadows. I also finished the first draft of books one and two in my Street Rats of Aramoor series, and a prequel to The White Tower, entitled Shackled, which I used as a free giveaway to entice new readers into the world of my books.

The reason it took over two years to publish was because of the number of revisions necessary to get from a very poorly written first draft to a somewhat modestly written fourth draft. During that time, the main premise of The White Tower did not change. It did however grow and flourish with the help of my Beta Team.

When I first started working on The White Tower, I was lucky enough to have found a writer group that Amazon had established called Amazon Write On. It was built to give aspiring writers the chance to publish their work, chapter by chapter on an open platform, and get instant feedback from readers. During my time there, I managed to grow quite a large following, and from that pool of readers birthed my first Beta Team.

I believe there were over 100 members who requested to join.

To say that the first draft of my first book as a first-time author was rough is an understatement. I don’t know how I managed to pull the wool over so many readers’ eyes, but for some reason that initial team just kept coming back for more. Gluttons for punishment, I guess. With their help, however, I was able to see my book through three major transformations.

My first draft was around 150K words, and after they tore it apart like a pack of hungry wolfhounds, I ended up adding on to the story, expanding it. In fact, once I finished and was finally ready to hand it back to the team, the book had gone from 150k words to somewhere upwards of 275K.

Yes, I basically added a whole new book to the second draft. But it was still very rough, and my Beta Team—those that had decided to stick with me for another round—gnawed on it some more.

By the time we finished, I had cut almost 100K words from the book. There are many chapters and scenes left untold, buried deep inside my folder history, never to be seen again. I even went so far as to rewrite the entire ending of the book.

Through all the changes, the main heart of the story never strayed. The framework was always there, it just needed a sharp knife and a patient hand to find the image buried inside.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Hold on . . . Sorry, I was laughing so hard I lost my gum.

Everything was a surprise. Everything was a learning moment.

Michael Wisehart: On the Epic Process of Writing Epic Fantasy

When I first started writing, I began to research all of what I would need for publishing. I didn’t have the first clue what it would take. The only knowledge I had, came from movies, and their depiction of the struggling author who mails in his queries, only to have them get rejected, until one of them lands on the desk of some unsuspecting agent or editor, and presto…the magic happens.

If only.

Well, during my research into writing the perfect query, I stumbled across a completely new concept (at least new to me) called: Self-Publishing.

At this time (2014), there was still a stigma attached to the idea of publishing a book on your own and not going through the traditional gatekeepers (the big publishing houses). But it didn’t take me long to see all the benefits.

To preface: I’m not saying that one way is better than the other. It all depends on what you want out of your author career. For me, with a business degree and having run my own company, I wanted to have more control over the process. Yes, that means a LOT more work, but the rewards are exponential. In fact, more and more authors are beginning to make the transition from traditional to indie just for this very reason.

There’s no way I could go into all the minutia of self-publishing, nor would I try. They have entire courses set up online that you can buy for that. What I will say is that it is certainly worth taking the time to investigate, especially if you’re one of those struggling writers with a drawer full of rejection letters.

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

The one good thing about being a partial-pantser is that I am always being surprised by where my characters take me. It is one of the true enjoyments of writing.

As I mentioned above, The White Tower went through several major transitions, expanding the world and its characters in ways that opened the series for future growth.

My advice is to always be open to change. Don’t hold too tightly onto what you believe should happen. Sometimes you’ll be surprised how much wiser your characters are than yourself as they lead you to places you hadn’t imagined.

For example: In my latest book, The Four-Part Key, Ty took me to several new locations outside the scope of my own world and introduced me to cultures I didn’t know existed. I met new characters that will now take on major roles in all future books, and none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t loosened my grip on the reins.

Granted, you can’t let go of the reins altogether, or your characters will likely walk you into a blind alley with a cutpurse waiting to slit your throat. There is a fine line to walk, but if balanced properly it can be very rewarding.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

Apart from gaining a great introduction to the world, magic system, characters, and storylines within this ever-expanding saga, I want my readers to walk away with a sense of wonder. I want them to walk away feeling like they were actually there, like they had sat down with Ty for a pint at the East Inn, or suffered alongside Ferrin on the inquisitor’s rack, or danced with Ayrion’s twin blades as he fought off an oncoming horde. Escapism is the magic of epic fantasy.

There’s nothing better than to receive an email from a reader who wants to let you know how much your books meant to them, how they got them through a very difficult time in their life, how the story pulled them out of their troubles, even for a little while, and gave them a moment of happiness.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

There’s really no one overall piece of advice I could give that will somehow make everything work out the way you hope. There will be good times. There will be bad. One minute you’re riding high on dragon’s wings, the next your being crushed under a mountain rockslide. Through it all, my advice is to hold on to that spark of enjoyment that pushed you to write in the first place. My initial reason might have been to find a new career path, but as soon as I finished writing those first few chapters and had readers tell me they wanted more … I was hooked!

If you can’t find enjoyment in what you’re doing, then you might need to rethink the path you are currently traveling.

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