That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Falling Off a Cliffhanger in Terry Brooks’ The Elfstones of Shannara

I have always been drawn to intelligent villains who don’t fall for the Evil Overlord tricks. But even more, I’m drawn to books that keep me up way too late at night, and I can trace this fixation back to 8th grade.

Let me paint the picture. I had borrowed The Elfstones of Shannara from the library. As I started reading it, I made a series of predictions about how the story would end. One by one, the author toppled those assumptions and then jerked me into a perilous journey that left me sitting bolt-upright, eyes wide and straining to read by a humming fluorescent bulb, devouring each scene that got progressively more intense. And this was less than a hundred pages into the book.

The baddies in the story, the Demons of the Forbidding, had begun escaping their prison and were outsmarting the heroes at every turn, determined to blot out the life of Amberle Elessedil, an outcast of her own people, and her protector, a young healer-in-training who had inherited the power of the Elfstones from his grandfather but didn’t know how to use them. The demons were closing in on Wil and Amberle, and I could feel the beat of the hooves as their powerful mount Artaq tried to carry them to safety. And just when it couldn’t get any worse, they were chased to the banks of a huge river that would likely drown them all. In that moment of absolute terror and panic, a white light burst all about them and the chapter ended.

I could not sleep. I could hardly blink. Brooks had left me with another cliffhanger that had me out of my bed, tugging at my sleeping brother’s shoulder to wake him up and explain how awesome this book was. He gave me a groggy reply, begged me to kill the light and let him sleep. But I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t end the chapter right there, not when Wil and Amberle and Artaq were still not safe. And what magic had caused the white light?

Not only did that book keep me up that night and many others, it made me weep at the surprise ending (yes, an 8th grader got the sniffles), and it was the match that lit a fire inside me to write fantasy novels that would keep readers up later than the moon and whisper like an addict, ‘just one more chapter…I’ll read just one more.’

You can imagine my glee when I learned that MTV was making a television series called the Shannara Chronicles and that they had chosen my favorite book, Elfstones, to begin the journey. The series begins in January. But please…read the book first!

Jeff Wheeler took an early retirement from his career at Intel in 2014 to become a full-time author. His new book, The Banished of Muirwood, is available August 18th from 47North. Muirwood: The Lost Abbey Issue #1, a new five-issue series from Jet City Comics, will be available in print at your local comic store and digitally via comiXology and the Amazon Kindle Store on August 26th.


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