Somewhere Between a Fairy Tale and a Fable Lies a Story of Hope


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My friend Rob McClellan, founder of Thirdscribe, made a cool little jpg about the $0.99 promo deal for The Three Feathers that’s going on right now. So I looked up the classic definition of a “fable” in the dictionary this morning. It says there: “Fable = a short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral.” I didn’t think The Three Feathers quite fit into that category. It’s not short and it doesn’t convey a moral in the traditional sense. Then I looked up “Fairy Tale.” “A children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands.” Well, yes and no because The Three Feathers is not a children’s story per se. It can be read as an adventure but that’s certainly not all it is meant to be.

If I could create a new book category on Amazon, I’d come up with Tales of Hope. Does it really matter if a story is based in a science fiction or fantasy or literary fiction if its basic message is one of hope? I have a feeling that if a reader would like to read a hopeful story, she would cross over to another genre if she knew she’d find it there.

So, The Three Feathers is a story of hope. And hope comes to the protagonist through unlikely friendships. A wolf, a warhorse, a Pegasus and others. In case you haven’t read the book, the protagonist is a young rooster. “A Rooster? Really?” you might ask. “Why not, Mr. Author, if you’re staying within the animal kingdom, have a smart dog, a cat, a lion or another more powerful and… likable hero?” I’m biased, of course :-). But let me tell you why I think, a young rooster as a protagonist is perfect: Roosters are very limited. Joshua, our not-yet-so-heroic friend can’t fly – neither very high nor very long. He can’t run very fast either. His beak isn’t sharp really. He has, however, a very good sense of time and he can crow really really loud. And he protects his flock against predators.

But here’s the difference between Joshua and many other roosters. Joshua realizes one day that whatever he does in his life, does not fulfill him anymore. He knows, albeit vague and not quite accessible to his conscious mind, that there must be more to him than he recognizes. He has a longing inside him – a longing that keeps him up at night. He longs for… adventure? Friends? That part of him that is much more capable than he thinks he is at the time? So, one day, he collects all the courage he can muster, forgets for one moment that he is not really equipped to follow his dreams, and jumps the pen. His adventure begins.

The rest is, at its core, a story about overcoming the most devastating of enemies: doubt in oneself. Now, this isn’t the Disney version of the tale of finding out who you are. This is the more gritty, The Walking Dead meets Watership Down in a Lord of the Rings setting version of the classic hero’s journey. It’s not cute. It’s not nice. It’s sad and haunting (those are reviewer’s words, not mine) but most of all it’s hopeful. The hope lies in the notion that whatever our limits are, we can overcome them. We can follow our dreams and prevail. We might be in danger of giving up on every page of our journey. We might be broken and tired and seemingly unable to hold on. But we can do it. Because there is always hope.

The hope lies in who we are. If we long for something greater, we do so because part of us knows it’s there. There is always reason for hope. It’s the most reasonable thing there is, despite what hopelessness might tell us.



The Three Feathers – An Approach to Location-Driven Writing

In fiction writing, we usually distinquish between plot-driven and character-driven stories. Ideally, there’s a healthy balance between the two, otherwise the story ends up either in the shallow part of the pool or drowning in the deep end.

In my other job, I’m a licensed real estate broker. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to a third approach: location, location, location. But let me back track a bit. When I was in my twenties, there was a German painter I loved. His name is Hans-Werner Sahm. His forte was surrealism. In most of his images, the natural laws of gravity, scope, and physics were completely suspended.  His paintings had a big imapact on me. You could say they spoke directly to my soul.

prison cell

You can see what I mean in looking at this example. Fast forward to 2011 when I began to write The Three Feathers. Its a fable and, growing up in Germany, I’ve read tons of them at school, together with all the Grimm’s fairy tales and such. In one sense, my subconscious was primed for something I didn’t even know yet. When I was about fourty pages into The Three Feathers, I began to draw a map. That lead me to searching for and finding Hans-Werner Sahm’s paintings online. I printed a bunch of them out. At that time, I wrote mostly at the kitchen table which had a glass surface. I stuck the print-outs under the glass so I could look at them while I wrote.


I began to like my characters but realized that what really pushed the story forward were those images. Their scope and beauty and utter abandon of physical laws created this field in my mind (sorry, I couldn’t find another way of describing this) that pulled – or pushed – the characters along. The locations became plot points. The hero’s journey now moved from one to the next. The character development happened within those locations. The plotpoints came out of them.

If you have read The Three Feathers, you might remember The Refuge, a high tower completely enclosed in glass. Its inspiration came from the above image. You can see the tiny people in this painting. That’s how I envisioned Joshua, Grey, Krieg, and Wind as they had to solve the riddle of the Porte Des Lioness – the entrance to the mountain. It was an amazing and kid-in-a-candy-story-like experience to discover and embedd those images into the story.


This image shows what I envisioned the Lake of Tears and Refuge would look like. You cannot but be captivated by the sheer scope of it. The other thing that happened, at least in my own mind, was that the characters became an integral part of the landscape and took on a depth and soul that mirrored the landscape. I’m not sure if I am describing this correctly. It’s kind of hard to put into words. I cried sometimes while writing, overwhelmed by the beauty of it.

There was one character in particular that came right out of one of the paintings. The lioness, a presence in the world of Hollow’s Gate, was inspired by two paintings. This is one of them:


The Porte Des Lioness in the story – the entrance to the mountain – lies right below the lion’s head. It was easy to imagine the characters travelling this world. Danger and beauty were built into them already.


In the third part of The Three Feathers, Grey, Joshua, and Krieg make it into the mountain where they discover the ancient mining town, abandoned for thousands of years. You can see how one can get inspired by this image to write just one out of so many possible story that happened there. The light source in this image has become a major plot point in The Fourth Sage as well.


The above image is a great example. The spheres in this painting became a huge part in not only The Three Feathers but have fueled the rest of the five-book series. I imagined that the spheres were devices through which one could travel through a wormhole. Imagine a movie with those images as inspiration. It would be breathtaking.

Check out Hans-Werner Sahm’s paintings. He doesn’t have a website there’s plenty of material online by simply looking for his name.



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