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Brian McClellan: Five Things I Learned Writing The Crimson Campaign

The second book in the flintlock epic fantasy Powder Mage Trilogy, following Promise of Blood. 

Tamas’ invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god.

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might lead to more questions.

Tamas’ generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.


You know that scene at the end of Disney’s Aladdin, where our titular hero convinces Jafar to wish to be a genie? Becoming a published author is kind of like that; you get everything that goes with it. The Crimson Campaign is my second book, but the first one I wrote under contract, which means I now had deadlines and editors and fans and holy crap people expect things of me now. It changes your whole way of looking at the whole “writing” thing.


I think a huge part of writing a book is self-exploration. You find out your strengths and weaknesses, and you do your best to improve upon the latter and write to the former. One of the many things I discovered is that I am terrible at titles. You can go any number of routes: evocative, obvious, action-packed, or more. I tried a little bit of everything, slinging titles at my editor until my arm hurt, and we finally settled upon The Crimson Campaign. Which I do love, by the way.

This is one area that I’ll admit some professional jealousy, over Steven Erikson’s titles. Toll the Hounds. Dust of Dreams. Memories of Ice. So cool.


I had a hell of a time trying to start The Crimson Campaign. It began with me writing a huge chunk of a novel based on the outline I had originally handed my editor, (an outline, I’ll add, that I was very happy with) and I hated every minute of it. I tried again and still didn’t get anywhere. The writing was making me ill because of how forced it felt. My agent finally told me that it was more important to write a good book than it was to follow that outline. So I threw it out and started fresh and was able to write the book fast enough to meet my (extended) deadline. I hate to think of what would have happened if I had stuck to that original plot. I would probably still be angrily revising it to this day.


While writing The Crimson Campaign, I spent a lot of time thinking about minor characters. Some of these show up for just a few pages or a chapter, or maybe they don’t even show up at all and are only alluded to throughout the narrative. Usually these characters are important in some way, whether they helped shape the world in a previous era or whether they are simply an obstacle for the hero.

I found myself thinking about how much I liked these characters and how vital they really are to a good work of fiction. If your main characters are the meat and potatoes, these side characters are your spices and really give the world its flavor. But why are they were here, now, in my world? Where did their stories start?

Using that thought experiment with a side character from Promise of Blood and The Crimson Campaign, I wrote a short story called “The Girl of Hrusch Avenue” about a young girl on the cusp of her power. To my surprise the response was overwhelmingly positive. I found out that readers wondered the same thing I did and that they love to see the world fleshed out in positive ways like this. I’ve done the same thing with “Hope’s End,” about a doomed infantry charge, and Forsworn, a novella about living with forbidden sorcery. As people keep gobbling up the stories, I’ve discovered that compelling immersion is never a bad thing.



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Brian McClellan is an epic fantasy author. He studied writing under Brandon Sanderson and was an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest. His first novel, Promise of Blood, was praised by critics and readers alike, is on the short list for the Gemmell Morningstar Award, and was a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Debut Goodreads Author.

Brian is an avid player of video games and reader of epic novels and history. His hobbies include making homemade jam from local berries and tending to his hive of honeybees. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife, two dogs, and cat.

Brian McClellan: Website | Twitter

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