An Editor’s Note: My Thoughts on Ironsoul

Act I of the Blacksmith Legacy

Ironsoul IS coming! In fact, it’s almost here. Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul will be release Sept. 1st and I’m super excited. Pre-order here!

A few years ago, I had a gentle conversation with a fellow author about a boy with demonblood. This character’s name is Billy Blacksmith and his author is Ben Ireland. Many people know this. I have previously blogged about this incredible experience here. It’s a unique and creative story of an unlikely hero battling enormous, demonic spiders with a baseball bat, not to mention it is so fun to read, with Ben’s witty writing and intense action.

EDITOR’S QUICK RECAP

In BILLY BLACKSMITH: THE DEMONSLAYER, the reader is introduced to Billy – this funny, overweight orphan, who finds he’s incredibly skilled at wielding a baseball bat, which comes in handy when gigantic demonic spiders want to drink his blood. As the editor, I struggled when to interfere, coming from an author background. This was my first novel as an editor. I had to let his voice become the star and I had to completely disappear.  It was a learning curve for both of us working together, and even then, sometimes I had to just trust Ben as the author, that things he hadn’t explained would resolve. Everything was leading to a much bigger story.

BILLY BLACKSMITH: THE HELLFORGED, the second in the series, was much more fun for me to edit. No more need for introduction, Ben speeds Billy on a quest to find a magical weapon. I liked the adventure of this one. I was used to Ben’s writing style and I completely trusted him, which made things easier for me. I could tell he enjoyed writing it, because of how joyful it read. And the reader gets a chance to see more of the Demonic Realm, including a Thunderdome-like fight scene, with giant, demonic pugs and hummers with machine guns attached to the top. How visually entertaining! Not to mention, the connections between his friends deepen – he’s forming a team! Pure adventure, and I just loved it.

Billy started out really fun, took me on a true adventure, I got to imagine giant pugs and demonhound puppies… The creativity of it was mind-blowing. I couldn’t guess or even imagine what Ben had in store next.

“As humans, we carry scars, everyone has them, everyone needs them.”

WHAT I HOPED FOR AND NEVER EXPECTED

I can’t believe this manuscript landed in my hands. It came to me on Christmas day, way after presents were opened. It was the winding down of the evening when I turned on my computer and saw the heading “The Ironsoul” blinking at me with a tag saying “Merry Christmas.” It was magical. I knew he was close to finishing, but I wasn’t expecting it. I read just a little bit, like when you skim the pages of new books, finding out that it was right after Christmas when this novel takes place. It was a winterscape, which I love, with Billy downtown seeing the lights of Salt Lake City, my city. It was lovely and I soaked it in.

QUICK “HOW-I-EDIT”

When I do a first pass, I read the manuscript like a reader would. However, I like to annotate. I annotate any book I really love, because there are details and feelings I want to remember and highlight. I really focus on what I like, what’s good, what works, and what I want to remember, my feeling at the time. If it’s something that needs work, I might make a quick note, but nothing serious. That’s not what I’m focusing on during this pass. Mostly, it’s likes.

Second pass is the nitty-gritty, where I really dig into “Does this make sense?” “Is this working?” “I think it needs more” etc… and the continuity of the story, now that I know it from start to finish. With Ben, because our writing is so different, I ask a lot of questions and stay out of his writing as much as possible. He was a very fun, unique style that’s as identifiable as a fingerprint, so commenting let’s me focus on what needs to be addressed without interfering and lets him fill in a lot of the details. It needs to be authentic. This is my cinematographer angle, with a slow pan through the scene to see the right way to tell it. Ben will tell you that I ask for more action A LOT. It’s not a bad thing, but he writes in conversations, so painting more of the picture through words is a great way to keep your audience involved.  I’ll say, he always surprises me with his originality, and honestly, that’s why I ask, because I know it gets him pushing himself to be creative. So many times it surprises me what he comes up with.

Third pass is smoothing, and third pass is loose in translation, since it could be multiple passes over sections. The grammar, the punctuation, and the fixes. Nothing too excited here. We are getting this manuscript “reader ready” and it’s not the fun part, polishing never is.

MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF IRONSOUL

So, Ironsoul immediately entertained me with charming dialogue and witty situations. Chapter 3 – the first chapter with Billy, kicks the novel into high gear with a pretty intense fight scene. And then Chapter 4 made me blush all sorts of colors. But by Chapter 5, the novel takes another turn, a big one. Chapter 6, I found myself engrossed in words and situations and feelings I hadn’t felt in a long time. Feelings?! Ugh! Where did those come from? Feelings of being young and awkward, not pretty, not popular, being picked on and teased, trying so hard to fit in, walking around in a skin that didn’t fit me right. Those feelings!

“Freewill unchecked is chaos. Mr. Fingers will prove that to you before the week has ended.” Seth, Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul

 

Unlike the adventure of Hellforged, Ironsoul is a mystery. I kept trying to guess things. I’m not really a guesser, I don’t like spoilers, so my guesses were more hunches. The clever demon, Mr. Fingers, feeds on emotions and manipulates others to feel soul-collapsing depression and failure. All are susceptible, except those who possess an Ironsoul, or someone so strong in their convictions that they can’t be persuaded. When I got to the title chapter, which I think a lot of us look forward to, I was blown away, once again, by the depth the story was taking.

Actual Editor Annotations Throughout My First Pass:

“WHAT? What an incredible idea!”

“I like this. The whole thing. I think your concept of the Ironsoul is a beautiful aspiring trait that will be good for teens, or heck, anyone.”

“Why am I feeling this book so much?”

“AH! I love this. This is so relate-able. I mean, hasn’t everyone done this?”

“I love that you put this in. This elevates the bond for the reader. And it’s so tender. The book presses on the tender emotions we have. The crowd will really like this.”

I couldn’t believe I was handed this incredible book. Overall, I found the story inspiring, thought-provoking, and downright wonderful. It did not have the action-packed hummer-giant pug chase from Hellforged, or the creepifying gym full of spiders from Demonslayer, but instead of action, it is filled with suspense, curiosity, and a range of emotional checks and balances. Ben’s background in horror writing really shows up here, filling in the cracks with spookifying intensity. It was thrilling.

And every Billy book has folklore, and this doesn’t disappoint. The depth of the backstory, that basically frames the entire series, is magnifying and I gush every time I get to the folklore, because you are getting not only one story here, but THREE – all the folklore that’s laced in with Billy’s story, plus you get to see what the princess Patricia and the ex-General of the Spider Horde Krios are up to.

What I found most surprising is the nature of this novel, tackling very deep subjects, like bullying and depression. I’ve never read anything like it in a fantasy novel. I’m still dumbstruck. It’s so powerful.

MY FINAL IMPRESSIONS

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I’m more proud than I can say. This novel was not easy for Ben to write. As authors, sometimes dive deep within ourselves to capture emotion that is true and raw in order to tell the right story. I couldn’t say Ben did this personally, not knowing much of his backstory, but the overarching theme carries a heavy understanding to the reader, a personal touch that tells them, “I know what you’re feeling. I get it. And you’re gonna be okay.” As humans, we carry scars, everyone has them, everyone needs them.

This was a difficult edit, but worth all the sweat and tears. I paced myself differently, because there needed to be a nice balance of fun without losing the integral story. I’ve found that Ben is very good about balancing intensity with witty banter. His writing is fresh, clever, and cinematic.

“Ironsoul is more than an entertaining YA novel. It’s about bad influences and bullying, spite and retaliation, loneliness and isolation, unconditional loyalty and friendship, and most of all – choosing to do the right thing, even when you think it’s impossible!” Sue, Amazon Reviewer

 

Ironsoul falls third in line in the Blacksmith Legacy, and with being a continuous story, it may see hard times before it gets to the readers it was intended for. That breaks me up a little, since I love this book so much. I wish you could just dive into it, but there is so much story, one just can’t do that. However, it didn’t take me long to know Billy was something special and something I wanted to be a part of, and it won’t take readers long either. You get hooked on Billy and it’s WORTH it! Every word.

Here is a FREE sneak peek of Chapter 5: Clatterball (demon sports are very amusing) on Ben’s website: Benirelandbooks.com

Also, if you are an artist or love fan art, check out the FAN ART COMPETITION happening now of FANDOM’s Billy page here.

This series has been part of me for the last two years. I will miss editing, but I’m ready to get writing again. This is only Billy’s ACT I (first three) of his epic saga. There are so many stories to tell and I want to read them all. #teamgreyson

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Serendipity – the Beginnings of Billy Blacksmith

ser·en·dip·i·ty

serənˈdipədē/

noun

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

 

I think out of all the words that I have ever encountered (that being a LOT) Serendipity is a special word that I have always admired. I remember reading the little Serendipity picture books like Morgan and Me, Bangalee, and The Muffin Muncher (all my favorites as a kid), so I grew a subconscious association with the word that, to me, embodied magic and imagination.

In this quick definition, it doesn’t express the feeling of Serendipity. Many times a person doesn’t know that a moment is serendipitous, only on reflection can it be seen. This is very true in my personal experience with this strange cosmic event called “Serendipity.” Though, as it was happening, there was a certain feeling pulling me along, alerting me of how special this was. I wouldn’t call it fate or kismet, that makes it imply that I didn’t have a choice. But in this case, I clearly did have a choice, and this is how my choice led me here…

The Occurance

February 2016 – LTUE: Life, The Universe, and Everything Writers Conference, one of the best Sci-fi/Fantasy writing conferences there is. I was very involved this year, being on ten panels and subbing on two. It kept me very busy.

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Actual picture of our first meeting

Ben Ireland, fellow Xchyler author and Moments In Millennia contributor, had just moved to Utah. He had contacted me back in December about getting more involved in events here. I was the right person to contact about that, I have my fingers in all sorts of pies. Truth: Xchyler is much like a family, so adding another member was very exciting, plus I felt a strange kind of kinship with him after working on MIM. And me, being very active in the writing community here, felt a specific need to befriend him, a need I did not understand at the time. I invited him to LTUE, and got him to take part of the large author signing event.

I had been very busy, as I said, and hadn’t noticed him come in and set up at a table close by. I was rather struck by my great fortune being positioned directly across from Brandon Sanderson. It took me a good while to notice that he was sitting kitty-corner from my seat. I could only see the back of his head, but I knew it was him. I grew very nervous – people online can be very different in person, but I couldn’t just sit there. I got up, casually went over, and tapped him on the back. He was excited to see me and glad I was there. We immediately hit it off and my friend Mike from the media team nabbed a picture.

My 12 year old daughter and I had a casual lunch with him the next day during the conference, where he asked her, nearly in passing, if she would be interested in reading a YA fantasy he had been developing. I was curious about it, but he didn’t say much, just that he wanted her opinion. He sent it to me, and I in turn sent it to my girl.

Development of Events

My daughter is rather flaky. I love the guts out of her, but she starts things then gets distracted by squirrels. She read about 50 pages before she started doing something else. I was curious about the story, but I had so many other things to do, like finishing writing a few books, one being the final book in my series. I couldn’t justify time in reading it. And at this point, Ben had not asked me to read it.

About a good seven weeks later, Ben and I met up yet again in the Xchyler Booth at FanX, a geek convention in Salt Lake City. He kept mentioning this YA story. And here I was, a YA fantasy author. I knew he was dying to talk about it. So, I simply asked him to tell me about Billy Blacksmith…

…and the flood opened and he shared with me so much. He was so excited to talk with another author who understood creation and world building. I mean, Ben completely lit up. I tried to catch everything as he filled my ears with this world of Billy Blacksmith, all while walking the wide convention floor eating overly priced chocolate ice cream.

This is what I caught:

  • Billy is a big kid, out of shape, lover of cupcakes, amazing at baseball
  • Has ultra cool friends, Greyson Ash and Ash-lea Gray, very cool
  • He has demonblood

But it wasn’t until…

  • Giant demonic spiders and a little girl that this giant spider had to protect

…did I wonder how complex this story really was.

And then he killed it by saying that part was actually in the second book. But, after everything, and me as a YA fantasy author, he really wanted my opinion. Now, know I have a hard time reading books from my friends. I don’t want my author friendships to become delicate if I don’t like it, you know? But, there was something, I’d nearly call it a magic charm, calling me to read this story. I started reading and told myself that I would try and keep my personal friendship out, remove my writer self, and just enjoy the story.

I failed.

By chapter three I had a problem – I really liked the story. It surprised me. It was funny, funny, funny. The characters were super engaging, especially poor, larger-than-life Billy. But, my stupid author brain would not shut up. The story had great potential, but I could tell it was more complex than what Ben had original told me. A boy that swings a bat really well did not scratch the surface.

So, lucky as I am, I went to the author with questions. And there Ben blew my mind with a creative

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COVER REVEAL Pre-order Billy Blacksmith Available January 2017

world constructed of three realms: Humans, Demons, and Angels, and the wars that befell them. About the different demonic races and classes, about a different kind of hero story, filling me with mystery and admiration, the kind that makes me wish I had created it. This manuscript screamed at me, and it wasn’t even mine.

And then I read a chapter called, “The Demon Who Loved a Maid and Saved Mankind,” and I feel in love with the story. It talked about the sweet beginnings and love story that started everything. I couldn’t help myself. This was good – really good, but there were problems that I could see and Ben couldn’t. Ben writes thrillers, not YA fantasy. YA sometimes needs a gentler hand, or something that appeals to that age. And YA is something I write and I knew I could help. This is what Ben wanted when he first talked to me, someone within the writing world to believe in Billy–and I, in some strange cosmic serendipitous way, was there.

In A Happy or Beneficial Way

At this point I warned Ben, “I can’t shut off my writer brain, so if I see something that could be improved, can I add a comment?” He was so excited that I offered, he said “Yes, please.” And thus, started a back and forth writing process that soon developed a trusting friendship and partnership as author and editor.

That’s right… Editor. New hat, but I like how it fits.

Over the past months working on this, I’ve learn how important it is to have creative people. Though ideas may be different, artistic types, and especially writers, speak the same language of art. It was this language of writing, world building, and creative storytelling that spoke to me. Writers need writers to speak to, bounce off ideas, learn from, and share with. We all have loved ones who believe in us and in our abilities, but having other creative minds believe in it too is validation that you are doing something right, something worth while. The imaginative beauty of this project wrapped around me, and instead of simply encouraging the idea, I got involved, because I believed in it and desperately wanted it to succeed.

I love writing. I love storytelling. I love making a difference. I love being a small part of Billy Blacksmith.

Serendipity only works when you act on it.

Congratulations Ben!


 

Billy Blacksmith: The Demonslayer

Billy has spent his whole life keeping his head down in school and trying to survive the endless parade of foster homes. When a three hundred pound spider emerges from under his bed intent on drinking his blood, Billy discovers he is the main player in an ancient war between demons and humans. With his best friends Ash-lea and Greyson, and a reformed demon as his ally, Billy prepares to face an invasion of demonic spiders and the General that leads them.

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