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.
A: In print, 152mm x 226mm x 41mm (or 6” by 9” by 1.5”), for approximately 670 pages for each book.
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.
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.
A: SHORT ANSWER: No, they are original works based primarily on historical documents..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.
A: SHORT ANSWER: No, my own personal estimate for historicity is 85 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.
A: SHORT ANSWER: A couple of popular vignettes and one or two “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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 Three Kingdoms. In fact, I only intended to write one book initially and got carried away by the story. Perhaps it takes confidence to decide to write an alternative version of this story: I would certainly say to anyone else that is planning to do so that bravery and some sort of body armour, perhaps a bee-keeping outfit or radation suit are definite prerequisites. But 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.
A: SHORT ANSWER: 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.
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 books ‘live’ in certain markets.
A: SHORT ANSWER: Here, on this site, for one. Seek and ye shall find.
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.
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.
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, research, maps, etc. Positive suggestions are welcome, but I cannot guarantee a personal response because I can only spread myself so thinly.
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.
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.
A: SHORT ANSWER: Human error..
A: LONG ANSWER: I am self-published. 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. Somewhere, somehow, mistakes can and will be made: typos, missing words, misspelt words, etc. I fix them when I spot them, and would release fixed editions if time allowed. 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” (that version seems to have gone on to be the definitive edition in some quarters); 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.
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 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.
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.
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: 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 will recite it in some form or other. But I have to recount numerous court scenes, banquets, battle scenes, etc, and I must provide 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.
A: Write something. I am supportive of all creative efforts.
A: There is but one subtext in my work if there is any at all, for I believe that I have been quite open about the folly of repeating “mistakes” and the harm caused by greed and conflict of all kinds. I am not being preachy in doing so: the history speaks for itself. I am more inclined to ask why a story set over 1800 years ago should be sharing any similarities with current events in terms of negative behaviour: that would indicate an obvious failure to socially evolve as a species. And yes, that was me being preachy. You pushed me to it.
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.
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.
A: SHORT ANSWER: So would I, but it would probably be really disappointing..
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. 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 is more compatible with graphic novels than my work will ever be. Nice thought, but no.
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.
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) for the foreseeable future. I cannot divulge too much detail as yet (mainly because I do not know said detail 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).
A: I quite honestly do not know at present. I will have been researching and writing about the Later Han and Three Kingdoms eras for in excess of six years, and so I will probably be taking a very long “rest” and doing something completely different (as I am doing now).
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. I will add any original questions asked to the F.A.Qs whenever I find the time.
That’s it for now: happy reading.
T. P. M. Thorne