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!



Belzetarn’s Smithies and Cellars

When I made the (vague) plan to share my floor plans for Belzetarn’s tower on my blog, I envisioned a vast spill of drawings showing all of the main levels. But when I opened my computer to write the post, I realized that just as the proverbial “wall of text” is unappealing, so is the “wall of floor plans” a bad idea.

I almost scrapped the whole thing.

But… but… but! Floor plans are cool! I bet some of my blog readers would like to see them!

So, instead of reserving the floor plans for the appendices of The Tally Master only, I put my thinking cap on. How can I present the floor plans in an approachable way? Thinking… thinking… thinking…

Ah, ha!

How do you spread the waist-high pile of mulch? One shovelful at a time. How do you make the long journey? One step at a time. I would not try to show the whole tower in one go.

Plus, I could then talk about what’s on each level, which would be fun.

So, here are the lowest levels of the tower and the kitchen annex.

The cellars under the kitchens are a little lower than the smithies inhabiting the roots of the tower proper. Two separate stairs give access to the root cellars, but the mead cellar deliberately has only one locked entrance. No illicit tapping of the mead barrels allowed!

Many of the drinking vessels used at table are made of horn (much more delicate than the pottery bowls and copper cooking pots) and possesses special cleaning requirements. Thus there is a horn scullery devoted to washing drinking horns! The leather bottiles in which mead is carried to the great hall, where it is served, also posses their own scullery.

The Castellanum’s kitchens, right above the cellars, prepare food for the bulk of the denizens in Belzetarn. The Regenen’s kitchens (one more level up and not on this floor plan) handle the fancy dishes reserved for the high table where the warlord and his elite officers dine.

The smithies occupy the great stone vaults at the foundations of the tower. They are shadowy spaces, lit by the fires in the forges and echoing with the shouts of the smiths and the ringing of hammers on metal. The color of heated bronze – or copper or tin – indicates its temperature and when it is hot enough to be worked, so strong sunlight would be a hindrance.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
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



Released! The Tally Master

The Tally Master is now available for purchase as an ebook on Amazon. I’m excited that all of you finally get to read it!

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.

The Tally Master is available as an ebook. Amazon

The paperback edition is coming soon! 😀



The Dark Tower

My inspiration for The Tally Master came as a sort of vision, although “vision” is a misnomer, given that the sense of sight had little to do with it.

I felt as though I were Gael as he sat in a small and gloomy chamber hollowed from the thick stone wall of a dark lord’s dark tower, hunched over a parchment, quill scratching tally mark after tally mark.

There wasn’t much light, just flickers of firelight and shadows and the sensation of great weight pressing my shoulders down and my spine into an uncomfortable curve, while sound filled the air around me.

The roaring of great forges deafened me. The clanging of smiths’ hammers on beaten bronze clamored. Sudden shouts made my heart contract in alarm. Spurts of running footsteps pounded in a nearby stairwell.

Gael and the sounds of his setting seemed very real, and I wanted to tell his story. I knew that he was a troll and that he managed the wealth – the metals – for his dark lord, but I didn’t know much else.

So I engaged in the process that has become so familiar and effective for me over my years of telling stories. I asked myself question after question, made extensive notes of my answers, and drew bunches of maps and floor plans. Over several months, I came to know a lot about Gael, about his overlord (not quite the typical “dark lord” at all), and about Belzetarn, the citadel that was their home.

In my initial stabs to make Belzetarn match the feeling I had for it, I placed the kitchens in the tower proper, which was utterly wrong. I was so relieved when I realized that they were located within a sort of annex slabbed onto the lower southeastern side of the tower. Once I got that piece, the rest of the fortress almost fell into place by itself, although it took me a while to draw it all.

My goal was always to sculpt the physical form of Belzetarn to express the mood and the ambience of my initial inspiration.

The style of this drawing doesn’t truly hit the mark. The photo at the beginning of this post does that better. But the design of the tower itself is close to right. It’s tall – very tall – it’s dark, it possesses clawed protrusions at the top and a lumpy, spiky annex on one side. Plus, all the chambers and offices are in the right place, as you can see when you slice the tower in half.

For more about the world of The Tally Master, see:
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



The Fortress of Belzetarn

Belzetarn – the fortress in which The Tally Master takes place – occupies the top of a bluff above a lake in the Hamish wilds.

Summer Landscape Telemark

I envision the landscape as looking a lot like that of Telemark, Norway, although Belzetarn would be much closer to the lake than the vantage point in this photo.

Belzetarn’s outer bailey possesses room enough to permit an entire cohort (600 warriors) to practice drills. Stables, kennels, the hunters’ lodge, the gluemaker, and many other offices line its curtain walls.

The artisans’ yard, located along the cliff edge, is smaller, but encompasses the hospital, the felterers, the harnessmakers, the woodcarvers, and so on.

Belzetarn’s tower, erected by potent troll-magery long before Carbraes came to rule it, dwarfs both yard and bailey because of its extreme height, more than 300 feet (~90 meters) from the foundations to the battlements.

Belzetarn is big!

The Tally Master is so close to its release that I can almost taste it! I’d hoped to click the publish button this week, but…no. Next week is looking good though. 😀

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



Cover Reveal: The Tally Master

The Tally Master is very, very close to being ready for its release. I’m excited about it!

The manuscript is fully proofread and formatted. I have roughly a dozen more line edits to make. And then I’ll need to get those edits proofed.

Next the file must go through Jutoh. I’m guessing that will take about three days, mainly because this book possesses a number of graphic images that I want to include, and I am not yet thoroughly familiar with handling images in ebook files.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to release the book sometime next week!

Which means that it is time to show you the cover, created by Milo at Deranged Doctor Design. 😀

Coming soon!

For some fun tidbits about the world of The Tally Master, see:
Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age
What Does the Tally Master Tally?
Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn
Gael’s Tally Chamber



Map of the North-lands in the Bronze Age

I created the first map for my North-lands right after I wrote Troll-magic. I remember immersing myself in the feeling I had for the world, and the different moods and geographies that seemed in my mind to go with each culture, and then attempting draw coastlines and rivers and mountains that matched my very subjective experience of the place.

It wasn’t easy at all, but it felt right. And I did manage to achieve a result close to what I wanted.

The Tally Master is set roughly 2,000 years before Troll-magic. While a few rivers have changed their courses, the basic topography of the landmass remains the same. Human elements, such as nations, fortresses, and cities – and, especially, the names for the various regions – are markedly different, of course.

I knew I wanted to include a map in The Tally Master and that I could not use the one from Troll-magic. I would need a new one!

But I like maps and drawing maps, so creating the new one was a pleasure and a treat.

If you wish to compare the North-lands of the Bronze Age (the time of Tally Master) with that of the Steam Age (the time of Troll-magic), you can see maps of the latter here.