Idea Genesis: Peak Crosser

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Peak Crosser Cover.jpeg

Back in 2011, I decided to finally put pen to paper and write an epic fantasy novel.

I'd started a fantasy novel years before that, outlining a story similar in scope to Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive or Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time. But I got bogged down in the world building and did not end up writing much of it. It seemed so massive and so complicated that I could never get good start. As a writer who had never finished a manuscript before, I needed something a little simpler and tighter. Still epic and still fantasy, but maybe a little lighter on its epicness.

In September of 2011, I was driving my daughter to school and doing what my mind often does while I'm driving: pondering different stories and worlds. As I pulled up to her elementary school, the name of the school struck me: Valley Crossing Community School. Borrowing a little from Tolkein, I imagined giant, majestic birds crossing narrow valleys, moving peak to the peak.

The story originally started off as the story of a boy and his hawk, a coming of age hero tale. But my first ideas seemed derivative and hollow. They contained dragons and giant hawks fighting each other for ariel supremacy. Their were some cool elements in there, but I didn't really have a story and I certainly didn't have a compelling main character.

As a novice, I decided to make the character a little bit like myself, and that's when I came up with Zornan, a middle-aged father and husband. But where I am gregarious and creative, Zornan is stoic and anchored. Where I grew up in a good, stable home, Zornan came to be in a house filled with pain and chaos.  

Then the idea stretched from there. Most of the continent I imagined would be dominated by a massive, towering mountain range, not totally unlike regions of China or parts of the Rockies. Zornan would be a Peak Crosser, which sounds exotic to you and me, but is a fairly mundane profession in his world.

For conflict, Peak Crosser (Empire of the Peaks Book 1) reached into geopolitical space, but it's really rooted in families. The key relationships are Zornan and his wife Calla; Zornan and his brother Balin; Zornan and his best friend Loothdram; and Zornan and his former love interest Maeltha. Zornan's story pivots on these relationships.

As the story unfolded, I added three other point-of-view characters: an Investigator who is chasing Zornan and falling for Calla; Mizcarnon, a military Peak Crosser who yearns to serve his Empire to the best of his abilities; and Tha'Strukra, a merciless assassin who's trying to locate Zornan before agents of the Empire do. The story became just what I needed to cut my teeth as an author: a tight, character-driven story, but with the epic fantasy elements I wanted. It's 110,000 words, which seems like a lot until you compare it to the epics I originally thought of emulating. (For example: the first Wheel of Time book Eye of the World clocks in at a whopping 305,000 words.)

Other pieces developed over time. The giant hawks were originally called Peak Hawks, but my wife pointed out in an early draft that this sounded a lot like peacocks. So I sat my then 6-year-old down one day and asked her help in brainstorming creature names. And so my the name of the giant hawks was born: mrakaros. She also named the giant bat-like flyers, the cosows.

Though it may seem like a strange genesis, an entire fantasy world erupted from the name of an elementary school. That's how my mind often works, snatching words, images or events and transforming them into fantastical realities. I didn't know that day that this would be my first novel, I didn't know what characters, creatures and stories would be born from one single thought. But that's the beauty of discovery and creation, and 4+ years later, I know to get share that with the world.