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Nick Martell: On Flawed Characters in Fantasy Fiction

Author Nick Martell discusses the process of writing his new fantasy fiction novel, The Voyage of the Forgotten.

Nick Martell was born in Ontario, Canada, before moving to the United States at age 7. He started writing novels regularly in fifth grade, and his debut novel, The Kingdom of Liars, sold when he was 23 years old. Find Nick on Twitter and Instagram, or at NickMartell.com.

Nick Martell: On Flawed Characters in Fantasy Fiction

Nick Martell

In this post, Nick discusses the process of writing his new fantasy fiction novel, The Voyage of the Forgotten, his advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Nick Martell
Literary agent: Joshua Bilmes at JABberwocky Literary Agency
Book title: The Voyage of the Forgotten
Publisher: Saga Press
Release date: November 1, 2022
Genre/category: Fantasy
Previous titles: The Kingdom of Liars, The Two-Faced Queen
Elevator pitch for the book: Set in a country where magic costs memories to use, a disgraced former noble must deceive everyone to stop a world ending conspiracy while trying to avoid death, the love of his life marrying another, and losing his self-identity.

Nick Martell: On Flawed Characters in Fantasy Fiction

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What prompted you to write this book?

I really wanted to explore three ideas: What is a legacy, how does someone obtain it, and how does it transform into something new once someone is gone?

Michael Kingman was the cumulation of these ideas. A child with delusions of grandeur who had been raised with too many expectations on his shoulders that one day he would have to save the world and crumbled under the pressure. Kind of like if you were Harry Potter’s child, Gandalf was your grandfather, Merlin was your great-grandfather, and you were magicless. That’s Michael Kingman. A boy who’s trying his best and failing.

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

The very first idea for Michael’s character and thus the series came when I was trying to get out of writing an essay on the book The Grapes of Wrath back in high school. So about … 12 years. The idea changed over the decade. But its core remained the same.

As I got older and saw more of the world, I changed more and more about him. A little less perfect, a little more selfish, and a little more ignorant. Closer to the kids I saw around me who struggled to find their place in the world despite getting older.

There are many stories about geniuses and prodigies in the fantasy genre who get it right the first time, but I wanted Michael to be for those who struggled yet never gave up.

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

Well. I wrote it during the worst of the pandemic, and when my debut novel was coming out amidst a … much more challenging publication process than I had ever expected. Bookstores were closed, everything was shut down, and trying to talk about my book and its release while the number of COVID deaths kept increasing felt ridiculous. Like I was undermining the struggles of a country and world that was going through a crisis by saying, “Hey, buy my book please.”

It had always been my dream since I was young to be a published author, but at that moment, it just all felt so insignificant no matter how important it was to me. So, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t affect the process and themes.

Voyage, at its core, is about learning how to cope with the fear of death, failures, and imperfections that naturally occur during a lifetime. I wrote a lot of my feelings during that time into it, and I think it shows—Michael has always been flawed, but in this book, he finally begins to understand what a legacy should entail. And it’s not being remembered by the world as he once thought.

Nick Martell: On Flawed Characters in Fantasy Fiction

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

I cut about … 250,000/200,000 words throughout the entire process. Lots of dead ends and false starts. It was my messiest draft as I had to go down paths only to find out they didn’t work. My second book was fairly clean in comparison, which was surprising. I learned more about my craft, trying out various different methods of planning and plotting until something worked.

So, I’d say I really learned what the saying that “you don’t really learn how to write a book after you finish one, only how to write that book” meant. Each book really is a whole different process with its own unique problems and strengths.

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

My overall goal was to show a different kind of protagonist in fantasy. Someone incredibly flawed, yet always continuing forward. Someone who makes big mistakes, apologizes for them, and then deals with the consequences of his actions.

There’s a lot to say about my main character, but … I always felt his best attribute was that he was forgiving, turning enemies to allies. More often lately I find that a trait I wish was more common in the world.

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

To remember that any and every advice you get from writers is usually them repeating what worked for them. It doesn’t work for everyone and shouldn’t be taken as law.

Experiment with everything. Try and fail over and over again. The end goal of finishing a novel is what everyone wants, but unless you find joy in the process of writing a book—it’s going to be a dreadful experience until the end.

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Willaims, 11:26

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