Belzetarn’s Battlements

In The Tally Master, the elite of the citadel possess quarters in the uppermost levels of the tower. Its warlord, Regenen Carbraes, inhabits chambers with an internal stair connecting several lower spaces with others on the upper floor.

Gael, the protagonist of the novel, chooses not to use the official apartments that go with his position of Secretarius, but he pays an unplanned and fateful visit to his empty rooms one evening.

Another turning point in the story occurs on the terrace ringed by the quarters of the elite. Carbraes and the general who commands his legions (the March) are enjoying a rare moment of conversation and leisure under the summer sun, when Gael brings them startling news.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Belzetarn’s Great Halls
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
The Dark Tower
The Fortress of Belzetarn
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber



DIY Shampoo

Seven years ago, I learned that many of the substances used in conventional toiletries were harmful. I’ll admit that I was shocked and surprised. I’d believed that modern scientific knowledge, together with regulation, guaranteed greater safety in our shampoos, soaps, and toothpastes.

It was a jolt to discover that this was not so.

I was particularly interested in the fact that sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are profoundly irritating to the skin. These two chemicals were in nearly every cleansing product on the shelf and inescapable in shampoo.

The reason for my interest was that my scalp had been chronically irritated for most of my adult life. The only shampoo that kept the irritation down to a manageable level was Selsun Blue. And even that was not 100% effective. There was always a small patch somewhere – behind one ear, behind the other ear, right at the crown, or wherever – that was itchy and scaling.

With my new knowledge, I suspected that SLS was causing the irritation. Which meant that most shampoos would be problematic for me, and explained why Selsun Blue was less than ideal. The active ingredient, selenium sulfide, soothed my irritated scalp, but the SLS inflamed it.

My search for an alternative was arduous.

Many of the alternatives had substances in their ingredient lists that were just as harmful as those in conventional products. And those that did not proved to be even more irritating to my scalp.

I blogged about my search in 2012, hoping that my experiences might save someone else all the trial and error. Finding a safe and effective shampoo was much more difficult than finding a good lip balm, a good hand lotion, or a good soap.

SLS was the main ingredient used to provide the slipperiness that removes dirt from hair.

Then I stumbled upon Terressentials hair wash. It’s not a soap or a shampoo at all. Bentonite clay, formed from the weathering of volcanic ash, serves as the basis of its cleansing power.

The hair wash worked for me, and for the first time ever, my scalp healed fully and stayed healed. I was delighted.

There was just one hitch: the consistency of the hair wash was very thick, which made it difficult to work through my below-the-shoulder length hair.

The Terresentials instructions said not to add water to the bottle. I suspect the reason for this was that if the hair wash were stored for a long time, the added water would provide a medium in which bacteria could grow, since there were no preservatives in the ingredients list.

The liquid proportion of the hair wash seemed to be provided by aloe vera juice.

So I purchased a bottle of aloe vera juice, figuring that I could add it to the hair wash myself for greater liquidity.

It didn’t work at all. Oh, it made the hair wash more liquid. But it also left a strange residue on my hair, yielding a slightly tacky feel.

I abandoned the addition of aloe vera juice and learned instead to apply the hair wash immediately after ducking my head under the shower, so that my hair was sopping wet. This allowed me to work the hair wash all the way through my tresses.

It was somewhat cumbersome, but worth it for the fantastic results. I loved having a fully healthy scalp.

I eventually learned that I used the hair wash quickly enough that I could add water to the bottle without any bacterial growth occurring.

I was set!

Until Terressentials changed their recipe.

They never announced any change, no doubt because the ingredients in their hair wash did not change. But the proportions changed. The hair wash gradually became more liquid, and it started to leave that slightly tacky residue on my hair that I’d noticed when I myself added aloe vera juice.

This made me very unhappy.

I continued to use the hair wash, because my hair was clean. It still looked good, and my scalp stayed healthy. The tackiness on each strand was very slight. Still, I didn’t like it.

I started scrutinizing the ingredient lists of alternative shampoos again. None were the least bit promising.

Then I remembered a book on my shelves that I’d purchased long before my Great Soap Quest of 2010. I believe I’d obtained the book just for the sheer fun of experimenting with mixing up my own beauty potions, but I can’t really recall much. 😉

I’d used one recipe to give my mother an at-home “spa” experience, when she complained that her hair was as dry as straw. Not only was that fun, but it worked wonderfully well.

Her hair really was as dry as straw. After I’d applied the Refried Bean Hair Masque (a combination of avocado, refried beans, and various oils), it was entirely restored.

Perhaps there would be a shampoo recipe in that book that would work equally well for me.

There was, but only one.

Out of the 14 shampoo recipes in the chapter on hair, 13 used a base of commercial baby shampoo to which other pantry ingredients were added. (Banana, apple juice, beer, et cetera.)

The recipe without commercial shampoo had the following ingredients:
• 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
• 1 tablespoon lemon extract
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup lukewarm water

I whisked up a batch and tried it.

I could tell almost as soon as I rubbed it into my hair that it would not work. My scalp hurt!

But I was also sure I knew what the offending ingredients were: the apple cider vinegar and the lemon extract. What if I simply used lemon juice instead? I’d been using a homemade lemon rinse for months (made with lemon juice, not extract) and found it very soothing.

So I made adjustments to the recipe:
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup lukewarm water

And it worked!

My hair was shiny and clean and with no tacky residue. My scalp was calm.

However, over the course of three of four hair washings, I found my hair became ever so slightly oily. Not badly so, but still.

At that point, with the DIY bit firmly between my teeth, I remembered something I’d read while researching my lemon hair rinse. The author of the Kanelstrand blog had developed a hair wash based on rye flour. What about that?

I returned to her site and read up.

The nice thing about a rye flour slurry is that it possesses the properly acidic pH, just like the lemon hair rinse does. But would it really work to clean my hair?

It took me a while to acquire rye flour. Would you believe it: my ordinary supermarket no longer carries it!

Back when I still ate bread, I used to bake my grandmother’s Swedish rye bread several times a year. Was I the last woman baking rye bread in my locality or something? When I stopped baking, did the market then stop acquiring rye flour? Probably not! 😉

But I had to make a special trip to the health food store to get some.

The Kanelstrand blogger didn’t specify measurements, merely explaining that she added water to a portion of rye flour until she achieved a thick slurry similar in consistency to most shampoos: liquid enough to pour, not so thin that it would seep through the fingers of your cupped hand.

This worked out to be a one-to-one ratio when I tried it for myself.

I make 3/8 cup at a time, right before I’m going to wash my hair:
• 3 tablespoons water
• 3 tablespoons rye flour

I use all of it. There’s no soapy, slippery ingredient that will allow a small amount to spread easily through a large mass of hair (which I have). So I need a large amount.

But it works!

My hair is shiny and clean, and the slight oiliness from the egg-based shampoo is gone.

I suspect, however, that I might be most happy if I use both DIY shampoos in some pattern of alternation, because as I type this my hair feels a little dry.

Perhaps every third washing should be done with the egg shampoo. Or the reverse. I’ll be experimenting with what works best.

I’ll leave you with some notes on the storage needs of these DIY shampoos. They really cannot be stored on the edge of the tub or in the bathroom cabinet, because they are food. They’ll spoil at room temperature.

The egg shampoo is much slipperier than the rye shampoo, so I get two hair washings from one batch. Therefore, I divide the batch in two, using one portion immediately, and freezing the other.

When I was using only the egg shampoo, it lasted fine in the refrigerator. But now that I plan to alternate between egg and rye, the interval is likely to be too long for refrigerator storage to work. Thus, the freezer. It’s very easy to quick thaw by immersing the ziplock bag in warm tap water.

I use the full batch of the rye shampoo, but it also lasts several days in the refrigerator, as I discovered when I made my initial (and larger) batch.

If I were traveling, I would simply bring the bag of rye flour, which does not require refrigeration, because I could mix it with water when I needed it. No doubt I’ll see how that works in practice when I next go up to my parents’ home for an extended visit. 😀

For more about alternative toiletries, see:
Great Soap & Etcetera Quest
Great “Soap” Eureka!
Why To Add a Lemon Rinse to Your Hair Care Routine



Belzetarn’s Great Halls

The tower of Belzetarn possesses three great halls. Too many trolls dwell in the citadel for one hall to hold them all, and even so, many of the craftsmen and craftsmasters dine in the mess halls of their lodges, located in the artisans’ yard or the bailey.

The topmost hall (level nine) serves as the official hall of the regenen, the warlord who rules the citadel. But Carbraes’ practical instincts push him to dine in company with more than the elite, and thus he randomly takes some of his meals in the middle great hall (level six) and the lower one (level five).

When Gael goes seeking the castellanum one evening (the castellanum manages the domestic concerns of the citadel), he starts by checking the topmost great hall, but comes up empty. The middle great hall is equally bereft of the highest officers. Carbraes dined in the lowest great hall that night, and the castellanum, perforce, dined there with him.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Belzetarn’s Treasures
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
The Dark Tower
The Fortress of Belzetarn
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber



Books2Read and “Universal” Links

I’ve blogged about global or “universal” links twice before: here and here.

Now I’m visiting the subject again. What prompted me? My new use of Draft2Digital.

Draft2Digital distributes ebooks to 8 e-tailers who feature ebooks among their offerings: Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Inktera, Scribd, Tolino, 24 Symbols, and the newly added Playster. Draft2Digital provides a smooth interface for the authors they serve, along with some excellent online tools.

Amongst those tools is access to their sister site Books2Read.

Books2Read creates and sustains a “universal” link for each book distributed through Draft2Digital, allowing authors, reviewers, fans, – or, really, anyone who wants to talk about that great book she just read – to share one URL for the book that connects to nearly every store where that book is sold.

I’ve really liked having one Amazon link that directs each reader to the Amazon store serving his area, and one Kobo link that does the same for the Kobo store fronts.

But the Books2Read link will direct the prospective ebook purchaser to the right Amazon store, the right Kobo store, the right B&N store, or even to stores that I’ve never heard of (but that do carry my books!).

How It Works

Now, the first time a reader clicks on a Books2Read link, she will need to choose her preferred store from an array of icons. But ever after, any Books2Read link will take her directly to the book on her preferred e-tailer site.

Try it for yourself.

No, really! Click on the cover of Caught in Amber. The window will open in a new tab, and you can see exactly what any first-time clicker will see when he clicks a universal Books2Read link.

(Unless you’ve already selected your preferred store for Books2Read. Then clicking will take you to Amber at that store.)

Do it now. I’ll wait! 😉

Before those of you who don’t distribute through D2D – but who do have books on offer with more than one e-tailer, skip this post…catch this!

Universal Links for Everyone

Books2Read will create and sustain universal links even for books that are not distributed through Draft2Digital. All you have to do is create an account with Books2Read, and you can start creating universal links for your books. Cool, don’t you think?

Now, Books2Read links aren’t truly universal. They may be universal for ebooks (I have no way of testing that – too many e-tailers for me to know about them all), but they don’t include stores that carry only paperbacks and hardbacks. I wish they did. That would be…incredible! But Books2Read does have 38 e-tailers (plus several subscription services) on their roster, many that I’ve never even heard of.

They divide their roster into “fully supported” stores and “partially supported” stores.

An Automated Search
(plus add-ons)

The fully supported stores are accessed by the author creating universal links automatically. That is, when the author pastes the link to one store into the box on the Books2Read site, an automatic search finds that book on the sites of 10 e-tailers and includes them in the book’s universal link.

These 10 fully supported stores are: Amazon, Apple, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Scribd, 24 Symbols, Thalia, Inktera, and Smashwords.

For the partially supported stores, the author must paste in the link for each store himself, and then those links are included in the universal link.

There are 28 partially supported stores. I’m not going to list them all. You can see the list on Books2Read, if you want the full roster, here. I’ll name a few to give you some sense of them: Blio, Indigo, Libris, WHSmith, OverDrive. But there are many more.

Universal Links Plus?

So, why, you may be asking, does my own site still include individual links to Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and others?

This is my thinking:

First of all, global links are a new thing. Readers are not accustomed to them. If I weren’t an author, I would not be accustomed to them. In fact, when I first encountered them as a reader on another author’s blog, I felt confused that there was only one link. Where’s the Amazon link? I wondered. And…I did not click on that one link. I worried about where it would take me. I certainly didn’t trust it to take me to Amazon. Instead, I went to Amazon myself and searched on the book title.

Well, I don’t want to risk that an interested reader on my site might avoid clicking on one of the links to my books! What if she didn’t follow up by going to Amazon (or Kobo, or Apple) herself? What if she simply bailed altogether? Not good!

And, secondly, using the universal link does require a second click the first time a reader clicks on it. Each extra click is an invitation to the clicker to bail. My direct links don’t require that second click. They take the reader directly to the store front and my book.

So, for now, I’m keeping the individual links to the most popular e-tailers.

But I am using the universal links.

My Universal Links

“Where?” you ask. “I don’t see them.”

Indeed, right now it’s not obvious, because the universal links are connected to the book cover images in the sidebar of my site. With a little more work, I will have all the book cover images serving as links. Right now, most are static images with no links at all, and that’s a waste. People are accustomed to images that are links, images that lead somewhere when you click on them.

I’ve avoided making my book cover images into links, because I would have had to choose which store to favor. And my readers who prefer Kobo (or Apple, or B&N, etc.) would have been super annoyed to click and find themselves arriving on Amazon instead.

Recently, I did make the sidebar images go to Amazon, because I couldn’t bear the wasted opportunity. But now I don’t have to choose! The images can be universal links. 😀

Your Thoughts?

So…now I have questions for you!

What do you think of all of the above? Do you think I am wise to preserve the individual links for now? Do you think I am mistaken to convert the book cover images into links? Or to have them go anywhere but Amazon? (Most – but not all – of my sales occur at Amazon.) Do you find the links as they are currently configured to be convenient for you?

I’d love to hear about your experiences with links and what you think of the issue.

For more about links, see:
A Question for International Visitors
Kobo Knows How to Do Ebook Links Right!



The Tally Master, Paper Edition

The Tally Master is now out in trade paperback!

I find the book to be beautiful, and for several days after I received my copy, I kept it on the coffee table in the living room, so that I could pick it up and admire it every time I passed nearby. Now it’s on a bookshelf, but I keep taking it down to look it over – gorgeous cover, beautifully framed frontispiece, wonderful map, and so on – wanting to prove to myself all over again that it really does exist. 😉

I’ve enrolled the book in Amazon’s Matchbook program, which means that if you purchase the paperback first, you can then buy the ebook edition at a discount. As a reader myself, I’ve found that for certain books I want the paper edition sitting on my bookshelf, while I tote a convenient digital reading copy on my e-reader when I’m out and about. Perhaps some of you might own to a similar preference.

As I type this, the paperback Tally is available at Amazon, CreateSpace, or Barnes & Noble. Over the next 8 weeks (or so), it will wend its way through the distribution chain to reach bookstores such as the Book Depository and Powell’s.

* * *

Seven years ago, reeling from a curse in the wake of battle, Gael sought sanctuary and found it in a most perilous place.

The citadel of a troll warlord—haunt of the desperate and violent—proves a harsh refuge for a civilized mage. But Gael wields power enough to create an oasis of order amidst the chaos.

Now master of the metals that flow to the citadel’s weapon forges, Gael rules his tally room unchallenged, until he discovers a theft within its vaults.

Gael loves the quiet certainty of black ink tally marks on smooth parchment, but his search for the thief leads to a maze of unexpected answers, putting his hard-won sanctuary—and his life—at risk.

Set in the Bronze Age of J.M. Ney-Grimm’s North-lands, The Tally Master brings mystery and secrets to epic fantasy in a suspenseful tale of betrayal and redemption.

* * *

Order the trade paperback online from Amazon, CreateSpace, or Barnes & Noble.

You may also order it from your local bookstore:
ISBN-10: 1546516530
ISBN-13: 978-1546516538.

Of course, The Tally Master continues to be available as an ebook from Amazon.



Caught in Amber Is Everywhere!

The paperback edition of Caught in Amber has been available in many online stores for over a year. But until a few days ago, the ebook edition was limited to Amazon. Now that has changed, which makes me very happy.

Caught in Amber can be found all over the place! 😀

Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo
Overdrive I Playster I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols

* * *

When young Fae awakens in a locked and deserted castle, she remembers nothing. Who she is, where she comes from, none of it.

Amber cover 300Beauty from all the ages graces the castle – medieval towers, renaissance columns, and gothic vaults – but underneath the loveliness a lurking evil stirs.

Fae hates the loneliness and the sense of hidden malice oppressing her. Even more, she hates the feeling that just around some receding corner of lost memory lies the answer to her predicament – an answer just out of reach.

An answer essential to surviving this castle’s dangers – both subtle and not so subtle.

Somewhere in her forgotten past lies the key.

A mythic tale of family and betrayal told with all the twists and moments of sheer joy that J.M. Ney-Grimm brings to epic fantasy.

* * *

Caught in Amber has been the most popular of my titles on Amazon, so if you get ebooks from Barnes & Noble or Kobo or one of the other many online stores, give it a look. Perhaps your new favorite awaits you. 😉

Caught in Amber as an ebook:
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo
Overdrive I Playster I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols

Caught in Amber as a trade paperback:
Amazon I B&N I Book Depository I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books I Powell’s Books



Belzetarn’s Treasures

Belzetarn’s wealth is measured in its metals and the war gear made from those metals.

Great vaults at the core of the tower hold stores of weapons and armor for the legions. Smaller vaults, stacked within the thick outer wall, guard the swords and breastplates intended for officers, as well as the ingots of tin, copper, and bronze from which they are forged.


Gael’s tally chamber lies off the lowest great hall, where the lowly in the tower take their meals. Gael’s personal quarters sit immediately above the tally room, while his assistant’s apartment perches third in the stack.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
The Dark Tower
The Fortress of Belzetarn
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber



What Is the Essence of My Story?

I just read Kris Rusch’s most recent post about branding for authors and books. It’s excellent, and I’ve been thinking about the concepts all morning. I almost titled this post “What Is My Brand?” But that sounded overly superficial and doesn’t really convey what I mean.

The superficial elements of branding are important, of course. But the reason they’re important is because they communicate (or fail to communicate) the essence of the item on offer, in this case the essence of the heart of my fiction.

If I can communicate the essence of my stories accurately and with passion, then the readers who will most love them will know they’ve found the right book for them, when they stumble across one of mine.

(Speaking of which, I have an important question for those of you who do love my fiction. But more of that later. I’ll ask my question after I’ve done a brief exploration of the concepts behind branding. Back to Kris now.)

I gave some serious thought to the brand-building action steps that Kris presented and assigned as “homework.”

• Define the nature of what you offer

• Define who enjoys what you offer the most

• Determine if there are any related businesses and research their branding

• What is unique about what you offer?

• What is definitely not present in what you offer?

• Create a tagline for what you offer

I’m going to share my thoughts about these six steps, but before I dive in, I want to mention two of Kris’ related points that really struck home.

Kris said:

If you bring any of this marketing stuff into your writing—your storytelling, your creative process—you are screwing up big time. You’ll ruin the very thing your readers love about you.

Your readers love your ability to surprise them. Your readers love the fact that you take them on a journey that seems both familiar and unusual. If you do what you believe your readers want, you’ll retain the familiar and jettison the unusual. You will never be able to surprise them again.

You will ruin your art.

That really spoke to me. I’ve never tried to write to market. In all honesty, I doubt I could do it. All of my books have been books of the heart, books in which the characters and their challenges called to me so compellingly that I simply had to tell their stories.

But there are many successful indies singing the siren song called Write to Market and Reach Success. I have not let this verse guide me, but I have allowed it to nip at my confidence. Kris’ words help me feel strong again in my conviction that I will write only books of the heart. 😀

Her other point:

The moment you publish your first piece, you’ve begun branding. Branding happens whether you do anything or not.
. . .
Brand image—the way that customers perceive your brand—begins the moment a customer (reader) reads something of yours. That customer will get an impression of what you do, and that impression can be reinforced with other work.
. . .
The readers, however, will define the specifics of your brand for you.

A brand, therefore, is a living creation, brought into being and modified by each story released, gaining particularity through the perceptions of those who engage with the things offered. In my case, my stories give birth to my brand. Each new story released alters my brand a little, but also strengthens it. And the perceptions of my readers define the specifics of my brand.

I can strengthen my brand, or weaken it, but I do not control it. And it becomes more and more a reality over years and years.

So… what about those six action steps? 😉

I decided to take my North-lands Stories through the six steps, although I must confess that I found myself sliding from the consideration of branding for my North-lands into branding for my whole oeuvre fairly quickly.

At the end, I concluded that my brand was something I’d been working on understanding for nearly all of the past four years (after I had a body of work created), that I would continue to work to understand it and communicate it for all of the foreseeable future, getting closer over time, and that one morning’s worth of thought (and note-taking) was just one small part of an ongoing process.

I wasn’t going to get it pinned down and right in one morning. And I’m okay with that. It takes some of the pressure off, for one thing. 😉

So here are some excerpts from what I came up with.

What Do I Offer?

Kris gave examples all through her post, and I’m glad she did, because I need examples in order to learn well. I won’t repeat her specific examples for defining one’s offerings, but they were things along the lines of: “I write award-winning short mysteries” or “I write action & adventure set in feudal Japan.”

Mapping one example onto my North-lands gave me: “I write fantasy stories from the entire history of my North-lands.”

That’s accurate, although it won’t convey much to anyone who has not read any of my North-lands stories. Since this is an internal step, not something intended to go out into the world, I think that’s okay. But I did a little more thinking to explore (for myself) what I offer in my North-lands stories.

What if East of the Sun and West of the Moon were history, not folk tale? The world of my North-lands emerged from that history, with its own rich tradition of legend, adventure, and heroism. My North-lands stories chronicle the triumphs of one woman – or man, or child – struggling to make life-giving choices for herself (or himself) in difficult circumstances, and thus generating wonderful changes that ripple outward to shape an entire community or nation or culture.

I think I’m onto something with this. It will need more thought and refinement, but there’s the root of what I’m doing within that. 😀

Who Enjoys What I Offer?

I’ve received enough reviews over the past five years to generate a picture of the readers who love my work the most.

They seem to be a thoughtful bunch, intelligent and compelled to explore the depths of topics that interest them. A few read philosophy or theology. One was an English lit major. Some have suffered greatly, but not been broken by their suffering. They continue to live courageously, with hope for themselves and their loved ones.

They are of all ages: teens, young adults just starting out in life, mature professionals at the height of their powers, and wise old grandfathers and grandmothers. But they all love a good story with heart and great characters, set in a world full of wonder mixed with verisimilitude.

Kris urged us to be very specific with this step.

In addition to pondering the details of my readers’ lives, I also thought about the other books they like to read, largely because Kris gave examples along those lines: people who loved the movie The Black Stallion or people who participate in re-enactments of ancient Roman life.

So… the people who love my books also love Beauty, Rose Daughter, Spindle’s End, Sunshine and Chalice by Robin McKinley.

The people who enjoy my books also enjoy The Sharing Knife, the World of Five Gods novels, and the Penric novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold; The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper; The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy and The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip; and Charmed Life, Dogsbody, and Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.

Any Related Businesses?

I drew a blank here.

Kris gave examples along the lines of a romance writer writing stories set the world of professional soccer researching the branding of Major League Soccer and allowing elements of that to shape and inform her own brand.

I’m not currently seeing anything like that for me and my fiction, although I’ll keep my eyes open.

I did double down on my perception that successful books in my genre all have painterly cover art along with typography that plays a supporting role, that does not draw attention to itself, instead allowing the art to shine.

Most of my covers are not painterly enough, lacking the effects of spectacular light and shadow that they need to communicate the sense of wonder and mood that are such a part of my stories.

The cover for The Tally Master, created by the talented Milo at Deranged Doctor Design, is much closer to what I need and want.

What Is Unique?

I’m trying to express the magic of simply being alive and the hope inherent in being alive, without whitewashing either the difficulties or the mundanity that are part and parcel of living. Rather I want those difficult and dull elements to both heighten the sense of wonder in life and to be foundational to that wonder. So much of fantasy either omits them or polishes them beyond recognition. Mine celebrates them without becoming mired in them.

What Is NOT Me?

All Kris’ examples were along the lines of This but not That. “Star Wars, but with science, not fantasy.” “Crime investigators, but with real forensics, not that magic stuff in CSI.” And so on.

I followed her lead.

I write fantasy like Robin McKinley, but tell many stories in the same world, rather than just one or two. I write lyrical prose like Patricia McKillip, but with less purple and with a more natural cadence. I write fantasy with greater realism, like Lois Bujold, but with larger doses of the wonder that she tends to restrict to scenes like that in The Curse of Chalion, where Cazaril allows the goddess of spring to reach through him into the world. I write fantasy like Diana Wynne Jones, but with more world building and less handwavium.

Keep in mind that these ladies are my favorite authors and I merely aspire to touch the heights that they’ve reached. 😀

Develop a Tagline

Kris mentions that her pen name, Kristine Grayson, had her stories tagged with “It’s not easy to get a fairytale ending.” Titan romance writer Debbie Macomber has been called “the official storyteller of Christmas.”

I first developed my own tagline when I started this website: “J.M. Ney-Grimm writes fantasy with a Norse twist.”

I liked that tagline, and kept it until I released Serpent’s Foe and Devouring Light. Those were “fantasy with a mythic twist.”

So I changed my website tagline to “J.M. Ney-Grimm writes fantasy with a twist.” But I suspect I need to re-think that. It’s not really conveying the sense of wonder and depth that my readers desire.

Fantasy braided with poetry, wonder, and heart

That’s not quite right either, but it’s moving in the right direction.

As I said above in this post, branding will always be a work in progress, although – honestly – I’m in the early learning stages at this point. I hope I’ll get much more skilled at it in future years.

There’s one element that you could really help me with. Kris gives some great advice about involving one’s readers in figuring out what is unique to one’s own work. 😉

The more specific you get, the harder it will be for you to see what makes your work yours. So enlist the aid of others who love what you’re doing. They’ll tell you what makes your work special. Then you need to believe them, and run with that.

Here’s that question I promised above.

If any of you who love my fiction are reading this blog post, would you share your perceptions? What is it about my stories that you love? What is it that is unique? What is it that makes you wish I had more books out for you to read, because no one else quite hits the spot that a Ney-Grimm book hits?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thank you! 😀



Belzetarn’s Formidable Entrance Gate

Three significant scenes take place in or adjacent to the melee gallery of the tower (on level three).

In the earliest, Gael first sets eyes on the cursed gong that his warlord’s scouts dragged from the bottom of a ruined well. The gong will bedevil him through much of the book!

In the second scene, Gael must pronounce a young prisoner to be either troll or human. If the youth is human, he will be executed. In the third scene…well, too many spoilers for me to say a word about that one! 😉

Gael’s friend Barris is the chief cook in the Regenen’s Kitchens, and Gael stops by the servery often as he goes about his responsibilities. Barris presses food treats such as smoked fish and fruit conserves upon his friend whenever Gael looks in to say hello.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars
The Dark Tower
The Fortress of Belzetarn
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber



Winter Glory Is Everywhere!

When Winter Glory released late in 2015, I placed it in Amazon’s Select program, thus making the novella available to subscribers in Kindle Unlimited.

I intended that placement to be temporary, lasting only 3 months, or maybe 6 months at most. Then my life got complicated, and Winter Glory stayed in Select far longer than I’d envisioned.

But now the story is available in every etailer to which I have access. This makes me very happy! I want every reader anywhere in the world to be able to read my books. I haven’t achieved that goal. Yet. But I’m a whole lot closer. 😉

Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I OverDrive I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols

Glory feature cover 300In the cold, forested North-lands – redolent with the aroma of pine, shrouded in snow, and prowled by ice tigers and trolls – Ivvar seeks only to meet his newborn great granddaughter.

Someone else has the same plan.

Traversing the wilderness toward the infant’s home camp, Ivvar must face the woman he once cherished and an ancient scourge of the chilly woodlands in a complicated dance of love and death.

Ivvar’s second chance at happiness – and his life – hang in the balance.

Winter Glory as an ebook:
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I OverDrive I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols

Winter Glory continues to be available as a trade paperback:
Amazon I B&N I Book Depository I Fishpond I Mysterious Galaxy Books I Powell’s Books

If you obtain your ebooks from Barnes and Noble or any of the etailers listed above, do check out Winter Glory. It’s a favorite with a number of my readers. My apologies for the long delay in making it available to you!