“Welcome to the madhouse, Syth.” The Untold Read-Along Part 10
Welcome to The Untold Tale read-along! The Untold Tale by J.M. Frey is the first book in the Accidental Turn series, the second book of which, The Forgotten Tale, will be released on December 6th. To prep for book two, we’re sharing a ten-part series that will be part recap, part review, and part discussion of the book that has been called the “most important work of fantasy written in 2015.”
If you want to read along with us and avoid the SPOILERS that will follow, you can pick up your copy of The Untold Tale from major online retailers.
About the book
Forsyth Turn is not a hero. Lordling of Turn Hall and Lysse Chipping, yes. Spymaster for the king, certainly. But hero? That’s his older brother’s job, and Kintyre Turn is nothing if not legendary. However, when a raid on the kingdom’s worst criminal results in the rescue of a bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Forsyth finds his quaint, sedentary life is turned on its head.
Dragged reluctantly into a quest he never expected, and fighting villains that even his brother has never managed to best, Forsyth is forced to confront his own self-shame and the demons that come with always being second-best. And, more than that, when he finally realizes where Lucy came from and why she’s here, he’ll be forced to question not only his place in the world, but the very meaning of his own existence.
Smartly crafted, The Untold Tale gives agency to the unlikeliest of heroes: the silenced, the marginalized, and the overlooked. It asks what it really means to be a fan when the worlds you love don’t resemble the world you live in, celebrates the power of the written word, challenges tropes, and shows us what happens when someone stands up and refuses to remain a secondary character in their own life.
Part 10: Chapters 21 and 22
Pip and Forsyth have been back in the “real” world for several months when Pip surprises Forsyth with a trip…to a fantasy convention a la WorldCon, where Elgar Reed–Forsyth’s Writer–is the guest of honor. What’s more, she’s arranged for a private dinner for Forsyth to meet his creator.
For our final post on The Untold Tale, we’ve interviewed author J.M. Frey.
Q#1: You’ve said that The Untold Tale is about the power of imagination, of the written word, and all of that is closely tied with the experience of being a fan, particularly when you’re not, shall we say, the fan the author had in mind. In that way, could it be said that The Untold Tale exorcised a lot of particular emotions for you?
Oh, heck yes! The very first scene I wrote of The Untold Tale was the section (now chapters four and five) where Pip yells at Kintyre and Bevel for being brutes in the middle of the dinner and dance sequence. (Though back then the POV was Pip’s and Forsyth didn’t exist yet as a character).
I did this specifically because I was writing to exorcise a frustration I had after a conversation with a male friend about fantasy novel tropes. We had argued in circles and circles, and realizing that I wouldn’t win this argument, I stomped into my office, shut the door, and wrote a scene where a female aca-fan shouts at a fantasy hero for being the reason she wasn’t taken seriously as a fantasy fan.
When I reread the scene again, I realized that I had accidentally invented a few characters that I might like to return to, and set about trying to figure out if there was a narrative here, instead of just a rant. So it was meant at first to be an exorcising exercise, but it did bloom into something more, which incidentally allowed me to address more than one frustration, and to do so within the context of a plot and a character’s journey.
Have those frustrations with the genre been completely purged since I wrote the book? Well, no. I mean, there are two more books coming!
On a serious note: the thing is, me writing about how frustrating, and annoying, and scary being a female fan can be has not magically changed the way women in genre fiction, comics, conventions, and cosplay are treated. It has brought the issues into light for people who might not have already been aware of them, and it might have made some readers more aware that they exist, but it has not made them disappear. And until women are not objectified in fiction in ways that make others treat their real-life counterparts as commodities, groped and raped at conventions, trolled and stalked and doxed and told to kill themselves on social media for daring to work in SF/F, as long as disgruntled men shoot up campuses and blame the girls who wouldn’t date him for it, then no – my frustration, and anger, and sorrow, and hurt will not be exorcised.
The writing has helped articulate my horror, and hopefully in the reading of the books, others will learn to recognize the harmful trends and tropes and move beyond them.
Q#2: Reading The Forgotten Tale, I’d never have guessed that The Untold Tale was meant to be a standalone. They flow so well. What gave you the idea for Pip and Forsyth’s second adventure?
The Untold Tale was always really only meant to be an extended character-study with plot. I felt, when I had reached the end of the book, that Forsyth had reached the end of his evolution as a character, that there was nothing left to say. The Untold Tale was pitched around as a stand-alone. A few publishers expressed a wish to see a series out of the world, but they wanted The Tales of Kintyre Turn, not a fantasy series from the POV of Forsyth.
As the whole point of The Untold Tale was explicitly to write something that wasn’t The Tales of Kintyre Turn, I wasn’t interested in discussing it with my agent. (Though, I don’t think any of those discussions were serious offers in and of themselves.)
REUTS Publications was the first publisher to ask what happened after Pip and Forsyth slip their pages. They were the first ones to really express an interest in turning Forsyth’s story into a series. While I had batted around ideas about what I could do as follow-up short stories and novellas (Ghosts was written nearly immediately following The Untold Tale), I hadn’t considered an actual trilogy of novels.
So, the first thing I did when my agent made it clear that yes, I really did have to entertain their offer for a three book deal, was freak out, panic, pour a glass of wine, and contact as many of my nerdy book friends as I could to ask what it was that they loved and hated about second-in-the-series books.
I had a conversation nearly a decade ago with Doctor Who writer Robert Shearman, about what it was like to be asked to bring back the iconic villains featured in his episode Dalek. He told me that he didn’t want to do Daleks. He’d always thought they were kind of stupid, as far as baddies went. They were defeated by stairs, they had plungers that did nothing, their whisk-guns weren’t terrifying, they sounded squeaky and wobbled when they moved.
But his wife challenged him, he said, to take everything he disliked about the Daleks, and to make it terrifying. What if stairs didn’t hinder the Daleks any more? What if the plunger did something? Something horrible? What if the creature’s voice was the very thing that horrified the Doctor more than anything else?
So I asked my friends, what do you love about second books? What do you hate? What annoys you? And I compiled this list and I recalled this conversation with Rob and I thought: “Okay. How can I make these weaknesses strengths? How can I be true to the tropes and stereotypes of second novels, but do it in a way where I flip them, the way I did with book one?”
It also helped that a television producer had been interested in the book as a series at the time and had pleaded with me not to write a “mushy middle book” that they would have to struggle to turn into a second season that wouldn’t get the show cancelled. With that playful threat looming over my head, I knew that the story had to be meaningful, had to flow organically from the first book, refer back to the first book, and build on what I had already started there.
Q#3: What’s your favorite chapter in TFT?
I like all the bits ones with the songs and poems that I had to make up. I love culture-building in books. I not-so-secretly hope that someone will one day compose melodies for them so I can sing my own songs.
The Forgotten Tale is out now! Pick it up from these retailers:
Forsyth Turn has finally become a hero—however reluctantly. But now that Lucy Piper has married him and they’ve started a family in her world, his adventuring days are behind him. Yet not all is as it should be. Beloved novels are disappearing at an alarming rate, not just from the minds of readers like Pip, but from bookshelves as well. Almost as if they had never been. Almost like magic.
Forsyth fears that it is his fault—that Pip’s childhood tales are vanishing because he, a book character, has escaped his pages. But when he and Pip are sucked back into The Tales of Kintyre Turn against their will, they realize that something much more deadly and dire is happening. The stories are vanishing from Forsyth’s world too. So Forsyth sets out on a desperate journey across Hain to discover how, and why, the stories are disappearing… before their own world vanishes forever.