On the New Year’s Eve of 2019 I was overjoyed. FINALLY the decade from hell was over. Nothing could possibly be worse. Nothing. Then 2020 said “hold my beer,” after which 2021 said “hold my arsenic,” after which 2022 said “hold my nuclear waste,” and I found myself not wanting to read anything bloody, violent, and heavy. That was how I discovered Dan Fitzgerald’s books and a new sub-genre I’d never heard of before.
The Living Waters was my favourite – dreamy, hazy, its edges soft. I have never read anything like it before. It was perfect escape – a universe nothing like ours, exploration of mind and creating magic through meditation. Even the tenser scenes felt like peace.
“When I started writing The Living Waters, I didn’t set out to write a sword-free fantasy, just a book inspired by a real-life trip on a log raft on the Mississippi River.” Dan says. “When I was finished, I realized that this book, while it was definitely fantasy, was really not at all like most fantasy. It has literally no swords or mentions thereof. I tried to think of other fantasy books without swords, and I couldn’t come up with any. So I coined the phrase, ‘sword-free fantasy,’ and started using it. I even wrote a blog post about it. I think Trump and the pandemic played a role here. It felt (feels?) like the world is a flaming dumpster floating in polluted floodwaters, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could escape from that for a while?”
I gave book one, The Living Waters, a “tentative five-star review,” where I listed my expectations for the sequel. When The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrived, I found myself unable to review it. As a sequel sequel, it did a very poor job, which is because it clearly wasn’t a sequel sequel. It wouldn’t work as a standalone (to me). It was… it was… what was it, Dan?
“It is a sequel in the sense that it is chronologically after the events of The Living Waters and it does include most of the characters, but it’s more of an adjacent story, or a convergent story. Hence the name ‘confluence’ for the duology.”
Where I’d happily give Waters to my non-existent tween kid, I say, I would then tell them the sequel never came out, and also the Internet and all book stores in the world were irreversibly broken. The Isle of a Thousand Worlds is very much an adult book. The content warnings, in the beginning, aren’t exaggerated at all. It was a conscious artistic decision – which the author… apologised for. “Are you really sorry?” I ask, thinking it’s sarcasm.
“I truly am,” Dan confirms. “When I think about the ideal reader for The Living Waters and the ideal reader for Isle, it’s a Venn diagram with a fairly small overlap in the center. If you’ve enjoyed the light touch romantic storyline of Waters and an allo/ace pairing, the heavy sexual content in Isle may be very off-putting. A sex-averse reader might want to see what happens with the couple from Waters, but be unable to enjoy Isle because of that content (to be clear, the sexual content does not involve the allo/ace pairing). I really wish I had thought it through more carefully.”
I nod, thinking that I wanted more of that particular couple without realising they even were allo/ace, which probably tells me something about myself.
Dan continues: “I had literally no idea Patia was going to be so lusty (and she got toned down considerably in editing!) But I do love what she and Gero have, and separately, I do love what Temi and Gilea have in Isle too, though I probably should have included a bit more of that in the book. It’s just the way the story happened.
“Isle is the story of the body (Patia) and the mind (Gilea). I tried to go as deeply into the physical with Patia’s chapters as I did into the metaphysical with Gilea’s chapters. There is no food mentioned in Gilea’s chapters, whereas Patia’s meals are described in visceral detail. I love the dichotomy, but since we have such a central ace relationship in The Living Waters, I feel bad about alienating some readers who were here for that relationship but had heavy sexual content shoved in their face. The scene in Isle where Gilea and Temi are reunited is one of my favorites, and I hate that it comes in a place that may be inaccessible to some readers.”
I point out that while I know characters can get a bit too assertive, none of mine managed to change the genre and target audience from book one to two. (This, in all fairness, might be because neither of my series got to book two yet.) True, Patia is definitely an alpha, but how bossy can a character get before the author has to admit defeat?
“There’s no negotiating with a character like Patia,” Dan laughs. “There is, however, learning from your mistakes. I’ve come to accept that at this moment, as a writer, I am leaning very heavily in a romantic direction. Maybe Patia was trying to show me something about myself.
“The original plan was to write about Patia’s journey to Rontaia and her discovery of the Universal Tincture, alongside Gilea’s further exploration of the Caravan (mystical social media, for readers who aren’t familiar with either book). I did know there would be a romance, but I wasn’t prepared for who it would be with, or how intense it would be.A female main character isn’t allowed to be certain ways – lusty, stubborn, focused on her own wants and needs, etc. Patia just comes off as unlikable. That was, and is, a concern. Some female readers have said positive things about her portrayal, but perhaps there are others who didn’t like her and simply didn’t say so. I may never know. It was a big risk, and I can’t say that the payoff has been there for me, but I’m moving on to other projects, having learned a great deal.”
I loved that Patia and Gero are older, I say. They’ve seen things, done things, and they’re not ready for a nursing home…
“While I’m not as old as them, I am over fifty, and I can say with confidence one’s sex life can age like wine if one is open to the possibilities.” Dan smiles. “I also think it’s really important to have older characters with rich romantic and sex lives. Quenby Olson does a fabulous job in that regard, and she’s an absolute icon in my eyes.” [In mine too – see Bjørn Again: Quenby Olson]
What’s going to happen next, though? A duology consists of two books. What is a “confluence,” I ask, secretly hoping it’s something that produces duologies with more than two books?
“It is a play on words, especially since both stories take place along the same river (the Agra). I called it a confluence hoping it would convey the idea of two separate rivers flowing together. But I need to add more explicit explanation of that in the blurb itself for clarity. I wanted to do something unconventional, and in that, I guess I succeeded, though not in the way I might have hoped. The Weirdwater Confluence is one of three linked series, along with the Maer Cycle trilogy and the upcoming Time Before trio (trilogy of linked standalones).”
It dawns on me that Dan isn’t as much building duologies or trilogies, but a complete universe. The best way to experience it will most probably be an omnibus – especially as you can put content warnings on an omnibus, applying them to its entirety, avoiding the awkward change from chaste to everything but (“steamy” doesn’t begin to explain Patia and Gero’s relationship). I struggle with naming it – no writer declares “I’m writing an omnibus.” Is Dan writing a universe? How does a duology, a trilogy, and three standalones work?
“The whole will be called the Copper Circle, named after the circlets that are found in each series, and which were made in the Time Before (about 2,000 years before the events of the other series). I’m about 1/3 of the way finished drafting the third book in the Time Before, which will be very romantic and smutty at times. That seems to be the direction I’m headed as a writer, and Isle was my first real foray into that territory, though there’s a fair bit of romantic plot in The Archive (the second book in the Maer Cycle).”
Aha, I think, I get it now.
“My next book,” Dan says, because of course he does, “will feature swords and mayhem rather prominently. I love trying new things, and there are many types of stories to tell and many ways to tell them. I want to try them all. I should probably be more disciplined and craft a career that allows the same reader to follow through all my books, but since I’m evolving as a writer and I can’t seem to stop myself from telling the stories my brain wants to tell, I’m just going full steam ahead with the stories that are clamoring to be told.”
I decide I need to lie down – my blog talk show seems to have this side effect – before moving on to the second episode, in which Dan talks about queerness, romance, erotica, and, obviously, Patia.