General F.A.Qs - T. P. M. Thorne

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General F.A.Q.s

I receive many questions about these books: as far as questions and historical authenticity (historicity) go, I wanted to address some of the more common things that are asked since I will no longer be able to answer them directly as often as I would like to.

Q: How big are your books?

A: In print, 152mm x 226mm x 41mm (or 6” by 9” by 1.5”), for approximately 670 pages for each book.

Q: 670 pages makes for a large book: could you give detail about the content?

A: The last 50 or so pages of each book are a set of appendices: the actual main text starts at around page 12 and ends around 610-620 pages in.

Q: What is in the appendices that you mention?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Pronunciation guide, featured character list, famous figure list, location list, miscellaneous information in all cases..

A: LONG ANSWER: A short pronunciation guide that is really for newcomers, followed by a list of every person, historical and “invented”, with a basic guide to the pronunciation of their name, any alternative names that they might have, and their role in the work, sometimes accompanied by a short outline of past or future exploits if I deem it relevant. “Invented” characters will additionally be noted as such with, if needs be, an explanation as to why their invention was required (usually an official, officer, bandit leader etc that went nameless in history but needs one in order to avoid uncomfortable and-or forced narration or dialogue). Famous figures that are mentioned within the work, such as Confucius or Wang Mang, are then listed separately, followed by a brief list of the places seen and referred to throughout; the final appendix is a list of miscellaneous things, such as factions or events that I felt required further explanation. ‘Crouching Dragon’, as my first work, further included a reading list but I have since excised this due to needing every available page for the increasingly complex stories that I am trying to tell. There are no maps to accompany the textual descriptions of locations: please consult the question about maps for a more detailed answer on that.

Q: Are your books alternate translations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No, they are original works based primarily on historical documents..

A: LONG ANSWER: I was, as most people are, brought to this subject by the Sanguoyanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or ROTK) novel and derivative works, but when I realised that there was so much more to look at I decided to have a go at a partial retelling that drew upon a range of historical sources. The project grew from there. All poems -- regardless of how well they are received -- are my own inventions, influenced by relevant styles; all dialogue and portrayals of written correspondence are original structures, inspired by and paraphrasing historical conversations and correspondence but always trying to phrase things uniquely for as much freshness as is possible.

Q: So are these books completely 100% true to written history so far as events go?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No, my own personal estimate for historicity (event-wise) is 80 to 90%.

A: LONG ANSWER: There are multiple historical accounts, all of them biased in one form or another, that do contradict each other at times, and there is material that is undiscovered or yet to be translated/deciphered. Any work would be trusting one account at the expense of another on at least one occasion, so complete historicity is actually a highly questionable goal that I am not aiming for. I just wanted to write an original work that uses the Sanguozhi (Records of the Three Kingdoms) mainly but relies on other sources or creativity where appropriate.

Q: So what did you take from history or from the ROTK?

A: SHORT ANSWER: A healthy mixture of popular vignettes and “origin stories” are adapted from the ROTK, the overwhelming majority is adapted from the Sanguozhi or other historical sources.

A: LONG ANSWER: I looked at numerous English-language translations of documents and other historical textbooks in order to construct my work, but this is a constantly evolving area, so I have actually completed parts of this long, long project that I have committed to only to find that the research has moved on and a new account of a person or event has emerged. There is nothing that I can do about that.

I rarely use an ROTK “simplified origin story” for a character that I either lack historical information for at the time that I research them or cannot develop too much if I am to keep to the restrictions of self-publishing; some are/were necessary for story structure and I make no apologies for them, but others are regrettable omissions of interesting information.

Q: Is the story told from the P.O.V. of existing historical figures or is the story carried by fictional protagonists of your invention?

A: The story is carried by significant historical figures, e.g. Cao Cao, Liu Bei. Any fictional characters are very minor figures, like captains or servants, and they are there to provide what I call “narrative cohesion”.

Q: So your books are not “fan fiction”?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Quite honestly, no.

A: LONG ANSWER: The definition of “fan fiction” seems to vary dramatically and is sometimes used, ironically enough, by someone that is a fan of a particular faction or individual and feels that another faction or individual has been given too much focus or treated too fairly. My own perceived view is that “fan fiction” is when said faction or individual is repeatedly placed in situations that have no historical grounding, achieve (often ridiculous) things that they did not achieve, are always justified no matter what they do, or, perhaps, is/are completely a fictional faction or individual that perform(s) wonders and has the real characters staring at them in awe trhoughout. My Zhuge Liang does not defeat Sima Yi at Wuzhang with an army of bean-soldiers and conquer China single-handed; my Taishi Ci cannot fly and move objects with his thoughts; my Cao Cao does not drink the blood of his victims and does not have cloven hooves; I have not taken a minor officer such as Lü Kuang and turned them into a formidable super-man; there is not a made up man called Bing Po Hu-yi that even strikes fear into Sun Jian, Guan Yu and Lü Bu and serves as the key to the resolution of the entire conflict; I could go on, but I would like to think that I have made my point.

Q: So do you denounce “fan fiction” with all of your heart and soul, then?

A: All forms of writing have value if they entertain someone, and if they do not hurt anyone then I do not see the problem.

Q: Do you think that ROTK is a poor work, then [in comparison to yours]?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Not at all.

A: LONG ANSWER: Sanguoyanyi is a wonderful piece of historical fiction, merging real events with fictional ones and presenting hundreds of people in an exciting and engaging way: it has its faults, as all works do, but it has endured for centuries and will always live on because of the good job that it does in bringing 96 years of history to a large and varied audience. As for the [targeted appendage to this question], I should just like to lay one peculiar assumption to rest: I am not boundlessly arrogant, and I in no way set out to make a replacement to ROTK. In fact, I only intended to write one book initially and got carried away by the story. I would never dare say that my take on the story is superior to ROTK: it is different. I set out to make something different.

Q: Why do your print books cost what they cost?

A: SHORT ANSWER: The pricing is an unavoidable consequence of print-on-demand..

A: LONG ANSWER: This information is out there should one choose to look for it, so there is no point saying otherwise: self-publishing is not particularly profitable and is really a “labour of love” rather than a sound financial path to business success if you cannot then back it up with bold, far-reaching advertising campaigns and ground-level support. In one or two markets, you charge a given price and get a set percentage of the full price back: fine, great, but you are limited to that outlet. Generally speaking, if you want to reach small bookshops you must offer your work at a lower sale price (in my case, 40%) to those smaller outlets, and take a much smaller return (which varies depending on print costs in a specific region). My books are large, and therefore expensive to print, and that means low profit yields.

Q: Why do your eBooks cost what they cost?

A: SHORT ANSWER: An unavoidable consequence of trying to make a profit.

A: LONG ANSWER: The low amount of money made on a large percentage of my print sales must be compensated for elsewhere, and I must also account for the fact that I pay a subscription fee to keep my eBooks ‘live’ in certain markets. Yes, I could lower the costs due to them being digital books, provided there was a very large increase in sales to compensate.

Q: I cannot justify paying without knowing the quality of the work first. Where can I view a free sample?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Here, on this site, for one.

A: LONG ANSWER: Many eBook outlets provide free samples culled from various points - the first 10% and random slices are the common ways. I provide the entire first act and like to think that they reflect the work as a whole and provide a good indication of whether you are likely to enjoy the whole thing.

Q: I consider the cost of the books to be too high to pay without knowing if they are any good or not, in their entirety: I have found a site that offers the whole book as a free download, and maybe I will buy it if I enjoyed it enough. Do you have a problem with that?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Yes, I do have a problem with that.

A: LONG ANSWER: A better question at this point might be whether you actually care whether I have a problem with it or not.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to help you. How can I help?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Public support..

A: LONG ANSWER: I cannot afford to pay a reputation management company or advertising agency to give me the exposure that I require in order to thrive, so I therefore rely entirely on the public support of people that have enjoyed my work. A ‘like’ on Facebook, a mention to a relevant audience, a positive rating or review on the site that the book was purchased from, it all helps. I do not want donations of money (buying the books is enough), research, maps, etc. Positive suggestions are welcome, but I cannot guarantee a personal response because I can only spread myself so thinly.

Q: (POST-READING) You missed out [minor sub-plot/scenario]. Why?

A: SHORT ANSWER : Mostly for the sake of getting to the/a point or the constraints of print-on-demand..

A: LONG ANSWER (to both questions): To avoid “prequel/sequelitis” as far as was possible, every “sequel book” has to have a recap of the story so far so that there is no need to read the previous installent, every book has to treat every character as if they are appearing for the first time, and every book has to end in a way that provides some sort of closure. That all takes space, obviously. I also committed myself to including an appendix to help the reader with the high volume of characters and events, and that is roughly 50 pages long each time.

I am self-published. By that I mean that the publisher that I operate through uses print-on-demand, which is not ideal, but I have full creative control. But books cost money to produce, and for print-on-demand they are priced by page count, paper type, cover format etc. There are, additionally, restrictions on page count that I cannot exceed, else the books would actually cost me money when people buy them, so I work to a size that avoids the scenario, if only just. With all that and “narrative cohesion” taken into consideration, cuts to the content are sometimes necessary.

Q: (POST-READING) Why did you include/focus on [minor sub-plot/scenario/character] that most people won’t care about if manuscript size is an issue?

A: SHORT ANSWER: The number of possible answers prevents a short answer.

A: LONG ANSWER: This is a highly subjective question. I am trying to find a balance and produce as original a work as possible. And I do not want to overlook writers, poets, physicians, mathematicians, historians, lesser-known figures, etc. and just focus on wars, intrigue and famous figures.

Q: (POST-READING) There are mistakes in the manuscript, such as _____. Why/how did they get through the proofing process?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Human error..

A: LONG ANSWER: I am self-published. I do not wish to involve those around me -- family and friends -- where possible, as the material is very complex to grasp if there is no interest in it, and they are more likely to make unintentional mistakes than I am as a result. So I do the research myself, I write the book myself, I edit and proof-read it myself, I design the cover myself, I do the necessary administration myself, I convert it to an (HTML/CSS) eBook myself in a text editor, and handle all of the submission administration myself. During the writing process itself, I might write some dialogue, maybe a bit of narrative, then I decide to go back and change something, re-read at a later date and maybe change something else, and so on. I do a lot of going back and changing things generally, e.g. emails and such, because I am always thinking of something else that I might want to add, remove, or do differently (this F.A.Q. itself is a pretty good example of that). So somewhere, somehow, mistakes can and will be made: typos, missing words, misspelt words, etc. There are not that many mistakes for such large manuscript(s), all in all: I fix them when I spot them, and if I missed them prior to publishing then I acknowledge them and mention them on the ‘About’ pages where appropriate. I would release fixed editions if time allowed. If. But I shall leave you with two examples: firstly, many moons ago, a version of the bible was released that had one of the ten commandments listed as “Thou shalt kill”; secondly and more recently, a large publisher mass-released a book where the second half was the autobiography of another individual. In both cases, many hands were involved in the process; for me, there is but me.

Q: (POST-READING) I do not like your formatting choices. Overuse of ellipses (…) / emboldened text and ALL-CAPS for shouting / etc, etc. I really do not like it. It does not conform to any writing standard that I recognise.

A: SHORT ANSWER: Okay, thanks for telling me.

A: LONG ANSWER: There was a time, before dictionaries became a dictat, when the spelling of some words -- even people’s names -- was pretty much a personal choice. No, I have not done that, I am mentioning it in order to make a point about ‘standards’. I like to format dialogue in a way that best reflects my intent and avoids excessive use of narrative to state the obvious and break the flow of said dialogue, especially when the books are long enough already, and some of that formatting is borrowed, if you will, from script-writing techniques, and some is just personal choice. I use emboldened text to signify raised voices and regular shouting, and I use BOLD-AND-CAPS to signify shouting as loudly as the person can manage; I use ellipses (…) to denote cautious, surprised or dry pauses before a person speaks, triple ellipses (… … …) to denote very long pauses -- usually to denote incredulity or pause for thought -- and I use ellipses at the end of a line of dialogue to denote trailing speech, i.e. an unfinished sentence. If you still really do not like my doing these things -- even after I have explained my reasons for doing so -- then all that I can suggest is that you read something else.

Q: (POST-READING) Can you not provide a map of China in the appendices?

A: SHORT ANSWER: The answer is ‘no’, I am sad to say.

A: LONG ANSWER: A decent, well-made original map would need to be licenced or developed in association with a historian and-or a cartographer, and I have not got the resources to contract either of those necessary people. I cannot use an existing one without obtaining permission and very likely paying for it, and I would get one made in that case. And then there is the fact that a single map would never be enough, even within the context of one volume: China is vast and the territorial boundaries change constantly. And then I have to factor said maps - be they colour ones or greyscale - into the finished product in terms of production costs and such.

Q: (POST-READING) You only provided a very short “further reading” section in Crouching Dragon that was obviously incomplete because ____ was not there, and then failed to do so in subsequent books: “why ” and “what can you suggest ”?

A: SHORT ANSWER: “Space and costs ”, and “See the long answer ”..

A: LONG ANSWER: There are a few books about Three Kingdoms, but I cannot sincerely recommend something if I have not read it. If recommendations without quality assurance is what you seek, I cannot oblige. I will discuss possible further reading in the F.A.Q. page for a specific book if I think that it is relevant.

Q: (POST-READING) I have read every Three Kingdoms-related work out there, Chinese and English language both, and I cannot find most of the dialogue or any of the poems that you have transcribed in your work. Where did you source them from?

A: SHORT ANSWER: My imagination, mainly..

A: LONG ANSWER: There would have been no point to producing a historical fiction novel that sourced every line of dialogue and all of the poetry from historical documents or other existing media: I partly wrote the books as a creative exercise. The dialogue does paraphrase statements and conversations that are mentioned in historical documents, since that is the correct thing for me to do; as and when a recorded poem or song is integral to the story I would recite it in some form or other. But I have to recount numerous court scenes, banquets, battle scenes, etc where no record is made of exactly what was said and done, and I must provide original dialogue that reflects the personalities of the individuals as I perceived them from the historical records (or, on occasion, folklore). I must also provide consistency to characters that are known for their love of poetry, flowery language or song. No, I am not the best poet in the universe, but I do my best and hope that it is satisfactory.

Q: (POST-READING) I have read every Three Kingdoms historical source out there, and I believe that my own knowledge and writing talent greatly exceeds yours, and that I could have done a better job than you have. What do you have to say to that?

A: Uh… write something, then…? I am supportive of all creative efforts.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to get to know you: can I befriend you/invite you to join group(s) on Facebook?

A: SHORT ANSWER: By all means befriend T.P.M. Thorne on Facebook, but it is a communications portal for announcements, I can and will not promise anything more..

A: LONG ANSWER: The T.P.M. Thorne Facebook page (and the collection of associated individual book pages) serves to promote my work. I have not asked people that know me personally -- i.e. family and close friends -- to befriend that Facebook, just as as I have not asked said people for bulk-up likes, since I want to be as honest as possible and for that page to be specifically for people that have read and appreciate the work that I have produced, and I do truly appreciate it if/when anyone wants to declare appreciation in some form. I did try to be more communicative for a very short while, but I can no longer guarantee that due to being weighed down by projects. I do not upkeep a personal Facebook, so do not waste time trying to find one. As a further note, if I do receive a friend request and accept it, I would not then accept invites to groups, and I have withdrawn from FB groups that I have accepted invites to join in the past: none of this is for any other reason than that I now cannot actively contribute in any way other than to raise awareness of my work, which is what the perfectly findable author/works Facebook pages are for. Apologies in advance.

Q: (POST-READING) I really hated your book(s). Very boring. Not entertained at all!

A: SHORT ANSWER: Okay.

A: LONG ANSWER: I cannot please everyone, I know that. The main complaints appear to be that I do not make gods of particular characters, that they are not infallible or are, perhaps, even vulnerable. My suggestion in that case is that you read something else, but if you somehow missed a consistency to my writing style during your consumption of multiple sets of free samples and bought one or more of my books anyway, or perhaps received one as a gift, and it did not satisfy you, and you feel the need to respond with a negative rating/review or abusive communication, well, there is not very much that I can do about that. It does not in any way impact on my belief in freedom of expression.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to see it translated into ____/would like to translate it into ____.

A: SHORT ANSWER: That is not feasible at present, unfortunately.

A: LONG ANSWER: I cannot afford to pay a translator. Furthermore, my work must not lose anything -- poetry, philosophical discussions, etc -- else it is not what I want it to be: I would need to know the exact nature and intent of the translated edition, and that would require other fluent speakers of both English and that other language to read the translation in its entirety and compare it with the original to ensure no loss of purpose or, more damagingly, addition of content or purpose that was not intended. Sorry, but I have mulled the point repeatedly and must forget about it at present.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to see _____ turned into a graphic novel!

A: SHORT ANSWER: So would I, but the structure of some of them probably wouldn’t lend too well to the format.

A: LONG ANSWER: I draw at an amateur level, and I have tried storyboarding Crouching Dragon for fun once or twice, and really, it was a struggle finding different ways for four men in robes, buried under large speech bubbles, to be presented in an interesting fashion over and over again, and since that forms the bulk of Act I -- aside from the ambush at Bowang, the big battles take place from Act II onwards and Act I is a stage setter -- there is the problem of ‘first impressions’, and most people would look at the Act I material and think “The whole thing is probably like this, I’ll pass”. Yes the battles would be fun to see, but I have a lot of talky sections that cannot be cut down without losing something: ROTK in abridged form is more compatible with graphic novels. ‘East of the River’ and ‘Eastern Wu’ might work, since they are more action-oriented than the others, I suppose, but I don’t intend to find out any time soon. Nice thought, though.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books: I am a content developer and would like to use _____ as part of a collaborative--!

A: SHORT ANSWER: Stop there.

A: LONG ANSWER: Regardless of individual opinion, I have worked extremely hard on these books and am not going to hand over reproduction rights of any kind to total strangers. Sorry if you think that I am being rude, but a person must be careful and cynical in this world that we live in.

Q: (POST-READING) When will the next book be released/what does the next book cover?

A: The next intended release is/was a follow-up to ‘“Intention”: War for the Han Frontier’, but I am now working to a revised schedule as I will now be embarking upon an unrelated project (and by that I mean that it is not a writing project nor an End of Han/Three Kingdoms-related project) for the foreseeable future. I cannot divulge too much detail as yet schedule-wise (mainly because I do not know myself), but I will say that it is now unlikely that I will be going as far as the founding of the Jin Dynasty (280CE) in terms of the project as a whole.

Q: (POST-READING) What do you intend to write next when you have covered what you intend to cover with regard to the Later Han/Three Kingdoms era?

A: I quite honestly do not know at present. I have been researching and writing about the last days of the Han and Three Kingdoms eras for in excess of six years, and so I will probably be taking a rest (as I have just done, briefly) and then doing something completely different (as I am going to be doing now).

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to talk to you directly. What is the best way to do that?

A: SHORT ANSWER: I cannot commit to direct communications for the foreseeable future. Sorry.

A: LONG ANSWER: I made the mistake of thinking that I could research, write, undertake other projects of similar magnitude and somehow engage in communications with people on social media and by email, and now I must risk being considered rude by drawing my hand back altogether. I cannot stress this enough: I am self-published, and I do everything myself. I really cannot remotely guarantee a personal response to communications because I can only spread myself so thinly, and that is that. I am not being rude if I am slow to respond or do not respond at all: I just do not have the time or the energy for creating work and discussing it -- or anything else -- afterwards. Yes, I have tried to engage with online groups in the past, and examples of those interactions still exist online, but any further efforts will be a “flying visit” in order to promote some or all of my work from now on. I will add any original questions asked -- in all but the most abusive or sycophantic cases, anyway -- to the F.A.Qs whenever I find the time.

 

That’s it for now: happy reading.

 

T. P. M. Thorne

 

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Unless otherwise stated, all media & content © T. P. M. Thorne 2012.