This week marks the release of a novel by new author Shean Pao called The Feather and the Moon Well. Her novel is being released by Kevin J. Anderson’s Wordfire Press, and is being released as the first title in the “David Farland Discovery” program.
So what is a “David Farland Discovery”? For many years I’ve been teaching new authors and discovering talented new writers. As the lead judge in the world's largest speculative fiction writing contest, I’ve found dozens of them. But I’ve also discovered new authors when teaching writing classes in college, at various conferences, and of course through my own writing seminars and workshops.
Some of those writers have gone on to become international bestsellers. For example, many years ago, while writing little Star Wars books for Scholastic, I was asked by my editors to look at some books and help pick one to push big for the coming year. The managing editor sent a couple of boxes of books for my purview, and after considering them all, I chose a little book called Harry Potter. I was informed that the marketing department didn’t like the book. They thought that it was too long and too complex for its intended audience, but I spent a good long time on the phone explaining why I thought that it had all of the hallmarks of a blockbuster, and Scholastic went ahead and decided to make it a lead novel. It did pretty well.
A couple of years later, while teaching at Brigham Young University, I had a young student ask “How do I become the bestselling young adult writer of all time?” So we sat down and talked about how to combine romance and wonder in a novel, and took the first steps in brainstorming what became the international bestseller Twilight.
There have been many other authors that I’ve worked with. For example, one of my students, Brandon Sanderson, began writing the novel Elantris while in my writing class at BYU in 1999. I helped him find an agent and then began taking him on book-signing tours. He’s now deservedly a #1 New York Times bestseller. My friend James Dashner was writing middle-grade books about young men on sports teams when we met, so we discussed how he could broaden his audience by moving into speculative fiction. Since then, his Maze Runner series has turned into an international hit.
Over the years, I’ve helped hundreds of new writers get their first publications as short story writers or novelists.
But every once in a while I run across someone with a special gift, and I’ve wished that I could do a bit more to publish them. Such was the case with Shean Pao. Now, Shean has an odd name. She’s of Irish background but is married to a Chinese husband, so she writes Celtic high fantasy in the vein of Patricia McKillip. As I saw samples of her work, I recognized that I had a powerful wordsmith with a great gift for characterization, and I wanted to find a way to push her toward publication.
That happens sometimes. I’ll spot an author’s gifts. For example, while grading Stephenie Meyer’s papers in college, I recall thinking that she had a tremendous gift of voice. With J.K. Rowling, I recognized within three chapters that she had a world-class talent for audience analysis. Brandon Sanderson showed his genius at plotting in the first few pages of Elantris. With Shean, I saw a gift for creating complex characters that aren’t quite likeable, yet I somehow fell in love with them anyway.
So what makes a David Farland discovery? I have to spot your gift and be convinced that you’re a potential star, first off. And of course it helps if you’re a real workhorse—someone who writes consistently but also writes beautifully.
I do have my favorite genres. I love fantasy and science fiction for adults and children, but I’m also a huge fan of thrillers. I seem to be cursed with rather popular tastes. I loved John Grisham from the moment that I first began to read him, the same with Dan Brown. Right now I’m excited by the words of Jonathan Maberry.
At the moment, I’m not accepting submissions for the David Farland Discovery Program, but will be opening it up in about three months—as soon as I finish up a couple of big projects. In the meantime, you might be interested in checking out The Feather and the Moon Well.
In a few weeks, I'll be having a live writing workshop in Utah. Don't wait to sign up.