Matt Wallace: Five Things I Learned Writing Savage Legion

They call them Savages. Brutal. Efficient. Expendable.

The empire relies on them. The Savages are the greatest weapon they ever developed. Culled from the streets of their cities, they take the ones no one will miss and throw them, by the thousands, at the empire’s enemies. If they live, they fight again. If they die, there are always more to take their place.

Evie is not a Savage. She’s a warrior with a mission: to find the man she once loved, the man who holds the key to exposing the secret of the Savage Legion and ending the mass conscription of the empire’s poor and wretched.

But to find him, she must become one of them, to be marked in her blood, to fight in their wars, and to find her purpose. Evie will die a Savage if she has to, but not before showing the world who she really is and what the Savage Legion can really do.

***

I didn’t know how to write an epic fantasy novel.

I grew up reading sprawling fantasy sagas, from Dragonlance to Pern to Forgotten Realms. While that did a good job of schooling me on the tropes of those novels I wanted to avoid and/or examine, it did not, as it turns out, prepare me to write one. I tend towards short form fiction naturally, and structuring something so long and of such scope spun me around something fierce. I had to trash and restart SAVAGE LEGION at least twice, and oddly the only thing that ended up saving me was falling ass-backwards into writing a series of novellas. I solved my structuring problems by viewing my epic fantasy as three novellas which would compose three acts and feature three POV characters (the number three just started to make sense to me, I guess). If I hadn’t embedded that in my brain as a guide, I never would’ve finished the book.

The line between giving yourself time and living in fear is razor-thin.

It took me longer to write this novel than any other work I’ve ever produced. It was at least four or five years from the first word I typed to handing off the first draft to my agent. I needed the time to teach myself how to write this book, but there definitely came a point when I left it sitting for long periods because, quite simply, I’d become afraid of it. It was too much. Mentally, emotionally, physically. And the more time I left it alone, the easier it became to keep doing that and the harder it became to return to it. While I do believe some of those years were vital to figuring the book out and arriving at the final draft we did, if I’m being honest with myself I probably could’ve cut those years in half by dealing with the unhealthy caverns of that fear instead of letting it fester and so often steer me.

The smallest piece of advice can change your entire world. Literally.

This book was originally (in the long-long ago) going to be titled WILD MAN. After a time, the exclusiveness of that title began to bug me. I talked to author Kameron Hurley about it, who told me how she reacted when she first heard Star Trek’s famous opening narration make the change from “where no man has gone before” to “where no one has gone before” and her emotional reaction to it. Needless to say, it was a profound moment for her, one of inclusion she didn’t even know she craved that deeply. Her story, her perspective, not only led me to a new title, it ended up completely altering my view of the novel and its world. I’ve often and publicly credited Hurley with helping me reshape this novel, and Hurley always reacts incredulously and dismissively. “What, that thing about the title?” she once asked me when I brought it up. It was a brief and innocuous bit of craft exchange to her, but to me it was vital and formative.

Your novel is only as good as the village that helps you raise it.

My writing career up to this point had been very isolated and insular. I never liked anyone “telling me how to write,” as I saw it. SAVAGE LEGION completely changed my perspective on that. It started with my agent, who is also an experienced editor. My actual editor at Saga Press, Navah Wolfe, was as much collaborator as overseer. Our sensitivity readers who were integral to informing the experiences of the characters who aren’t like me. I needed them all, and I am 100% convinced SAVAGE LEGION wouldn’t be the book I believe it is without every single one of them. I’ve never allowed so many people inside my process before, and I am grateful that I did, but more importantly, I’m grateful they were the right people for this book. That dynamic is paramount. It’s not about getting a bunch of notes from a bunch of folks, it’s about finding the right perspectives to inform your process and the work itself.

It’s worth the years it took to write because you finished it.

This is a shitty time to have a book coming out. There are vastly more attention-consuming and frankly more important things happening than a story I wrote. Pandemics, civil uprising, rooting out predators and racism in every industry and field. There have also been a lot of behind-the-scenes issues with the publication of this book I won’t go into here. Needless to say, I’ve been very discouraged as we approach release day for SAVAGE LEGION. What I’ve ultimately learned, however, is you can’t replace time. No amount of fanfare or recognition or sales numbers will give me back the years I put into writing this book. In the end, it is either worth the cost of time to you as the author or it isn’t. For me, I’ve decided the years I spent on this book weren’t a waste, because I finished it. I did what I set out to do, and the book is exactly what I wanted it to be. Nothing else really matters, not in the final tally.

***

Matt Wallace is a retired professional wrestler and the author of the Sin du Jour novella series (Tor.com Publishing), as well as the Savage Rebellion series (Saga Press). His debut middle-grade novel, Bump, is scheduled to be released in 2021 by Katherine Tegen Books. In 2018, alongside co-host Mur Lafferty, he took home the Hugo Award for their podcast, Ditch Diggers. In addition to writing for several television series, Matt has also done extensive narrative work on video game titles for publishers such as inXile Entertainment. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife, Nikki, and maintains a steady Twitter presence @MattFnWallace, as well as a more sporadic presence on YouTube with his channel, Angry Writer.

Matt Wallace: Website | Twitter

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