Twenty years ago this month, I finished chemotherapy for my first cancer. It changed my life.
I was still in college at the time, at the end of finishing my degree in biochemistry. I loved the science and school work, but I knew all future career options would not be fulfilling in a heartfelt way. Sure, I’d make money. I’d have stability. But there would be no joy. I’d be stuck in a research lab with my hand wrapped around a pipette, day in and day out. Or I’d be one of those impatient teachers creating fresh Hells for students. Or worse, I’d be a doctor with ten years of crushing debt ahead of me. None of those sounded like the future I wanted to live. The cancer had changed my prerogatives and what was important to me.
Then at a dinner with Terry Brooks and his wife Judine, my life changed in the most quiet of ways. I had just finished my last college course – an upper-level expository writing class that I needed to finish my creative writing degree. We were celebrating. I told Terry how reading an ARC of his memoir/writing guide Sometimes the Magic Works had absolutely helped my success in the class.
And Judine said something prophetic:
“That’s great, Shawn. Because one day you can take up writing Shannara and keep our kids in the lifestyles they’ve grown accustomed to.”–Judine Brooks
It was said in jest, a joke that we all laughed at. But that joke buried deep within me. It wouldn’t let go. Why couldn’t I do exactly what Judine said? I had some minor skill at writing, I had read fantasy all of my life, and I knew Shannara better than anyone. It kind of made sense. A few weeks later, talking with Terry, I said I’d like to go to the Maui Writers Conference & Retreat, a getaway on Hawaii that catered to improving one’s skills at speculative fiction. Terry had taught there for many years and highly recommended it to young writers. He said he’d get me a pass to it but he refused to be my teacher. “I can always teach you,” he said. “But you can get different instruction from Steven Barnes, which I think would be the best thing for you.”
I went to the retreat, Steven was my instructor, and I loved every moment of it. He taught many lessons I still hold dear today. It was an intensive week where I wrote five or six short stories. Read them out loud. Had them critiqued by fellow classmates as well as Steven. I learned more in those two weeks about creative writing than I ever did at the University of Washington.
On my way home from Maui, I outlined what would eventually become Song of the Fell Hammer. It took me 10 months to write. Which I think is pretty fast considering it is a 260,000-word book. I’m proud of it, though I think I’m a much better writer now. But holding a physical copy of the book is pretty amazing. It’s a beast of a volume. My giant Relnyn would approve. Photos are below. Todd Lockwood will come over this week, we will both sign, and I’ll begin shipping early next week.
Going back to Judine’s words, I have no idea if I will ever write a Shannara novel. Terry and I have talked at length about it since The Last Druid published. I know a great deal about what he’d want seen done in different eras within the Shannara timeline where new stories make sense. I would do it if officially asked. But ultimately, I have my own work keeping me busy. As you can see on my social media… every… single… day!
I will be adding Song of the Fell Hammer to The Signed Page once I ship out the pre-ordered books from Grim Oak Press. In case any of you want a copy. Details coming about that soon!
Until then, Yours With Magic,