Mythic Tales: Author Interview

Alex Butcher, the curator of the Mythic Tales bundle, has been doing interviews of the characters that appear in the bundled stories, as well as conducting Q&As with several of the contributing authors. Recently, she posted her interview with me on her website.

She asked some great questions, so I’m sharing her first few questions, along with my answers, in this post on my own blog.

What first prompted you to publish your work?

In 2007, I re-discovered Maddy Prior’s amazing song ‘The Fabled Hare.’

Listening to her powerful lyrics and expressive voice, I grew suddenly aware that time was passing, I was getting older, and I didn’t have forever.

The imagery of the hunter and hounds closing in on the hare made me feel as though death were snapping at my heels.

If there was something I really wanted to do, something I had not done yet, I’d better get going or I might miss my chance entirely.

I didn’t ‘click the publish button’ in 2007, but that year and that song were the beginning of my publishing journey.

Are you a ‘pantser’ or a ‘plotter’?

I do some of each.

I prefer having a skeletal outline at the start of a story. Doing without —pure ‘pantsing’—feels like walking a tightrope over Niagara without a safety net. Very uncomfortable! And yet . . . I’ve done it.

Once I awoke in the middle of the night, so afire with inspiration that I got up out of my bed to write the first scene of what would become the novel Caught in Amber (my title in the Mythic Tales bundle). I didn’t work out an outline until I was a third of the way through the book!

More usually, I sort out the foundational plot line before I start writing. I need to know what happens, but (oddly) I need to not know how it happens. I discover the how as I write, and that keeps the story feeling fresh to me.

Even when I follow an outline, I always feel free to ‘have a better idea.’ Sometimes my outline writhes like a river in flood!

What piece of advice do you wish you’d had when you started your publishing journey?

I’m going to pretend you asked me about my writing journey. 😉 Because there’s a piece of advice that I really, really needed and didn’t get, way back when.

For some reason, I thought that the process of writing was much more cut-and-dried than it ever could be. Why I thought this, I don’t know. Perhaps because I formed the impression when I was very young, at age ten or eleven.

But the result was that, when I sat down in my early twenties to write my great fantasy novel, and didn’t get anywhere with it, I concluded that I must not be made of such stuff as goes into the bones of real writers.

I longed to write novels, and believed I could not. I spent more than two decades believing this and writing poetry and story vignettes and gaming adventures instead.

And then I listened to Maddy Prior’s ‘The Fabled Hare’ and got serious about my creative aspirations. I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, did every last one of the written assignments in the book, and read several of the titles in its bibliography.

That’s when I encountered Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, and one of her suggestions set me free.

So the advice I wish I’d gotten? Find out how other writers do it! Not just one or two, but dozens. Ask them. Read biographies. Whatever it takes, find out.

Because if I’d learned that there are as many ways as there are writers, I might not have concluded so wrongly that I was not a writer. I might have been writing novellas and novels (as well as poetry and vignettes and gaming adventures) between 1980 and 2007. I might not have been so unhappy in my creative desert.

What are your views on authors commenting on reviews?

Do not go there! Reviews are a reader space. What reader wants to write his or her honest opinion and then discover that the author of the book has been peering over his or her shoulder the whole while?

Sort these into order of importance: Great characters. Good plot. Awesome world-building. Technically perfect.

As a reader (not a writer), I want them all. If the characters aren’t great, I have no interest. If the plot is stupid, I get cranky. If the world-building is unconvincing, I get thrown out of the story. If there are grammar errors, I’m tempted to email the author with the necessary fix. ‘Lay’ when it should be ‘lie’ makes me wild, unless it’s in dialogue, of course. Gah! 😉

I believe I’m known as what one writer calls a ‘fussy reader.’ That’s being kind!

As a writer…what can I say? I go for all four.

For the rest of the interview, I urge you to visit Alex’s site. She asks about my views on research, what my writing space is like, and whether my stories contain a message, as well as prompting me to tell her a little about the novel that I am smack in the middle of writing!

Library of Erana

The Mythic Tales bundle (with 14 titles, including Caught n Amber) is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, or direct from the BundleRabbit site.
 

For more about the stories and novels in the Mythic Tales bundle, see:
Mythic Tales: Beneath the Knowe
Mythic Tales: Caught in Amber, Character Interview – Fae
Mythic Tales: A Sword’s Poem
Mythic Tales: Tales of Erana
Mythic Tales: Tempus

For another author interview of me, see:
5 Quirky Questions from Shantnu Tiwari

For more about my writing epiphany of 2007, see:
Writer’s Journey

 

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A New Cover for Troll-magic

I’ve been replacing all my covers featuring the back & white illustrations by Kay Nielsen.

I loved those old covers, but the odd thing is that I find I’m loving the new ones every bit as much. I suspect it’s because I’ve loved the works by John William Waterhouse for almost as long as I’ve loved Kay Nielsen’s illustrations.

I’m particularly delighted with the art I found for Troll-magic.

There’s a story behind that, which I’m gong to share. 😉

You may recall that when I searched the portfolio of John William Waterhouse for art that would fit Fate’s Door, I initially missed the painting titled Miranda, even though it is perfect, depicting a young blond woman in Grecian robes who could be Nerine, the sea nymph protagonist of my book.

Luckily my friend Laura found what I had missed.

The same thing happened with Livli’s Gift, although I self-corrected there. After doing a mock-up based on Waterhouse’s The Annunciation, I noticed The Crystal Ball, which was (again) perfect.

Well, guess what? You know what comes next, right?

When I looked for art that would fit Troll-magic, I didn’t see anything.

It was only when I was searching on behalf of Livli’s Gift that I found myself doing a double take.

“Wait a minute!” I said to myself. “Psyche has blond hair like Lorelin. It’s too bad that the scene in which Psyche opens Aphrodite’s forbidden gift doesn’t fit anything in Troll-magic. I sat back, staring at the painting, feeling something niggle at my backbrain.

“What, what, what?” I wondered silently.

Then I had it! Waterhouse had painted more than one scene from the Psyche and Cupid myth.

His work depicting Psyche opening the door into Cupid’s garden is perfect on so many levels.

The Psyche and Cupid myth (or, in a more Jungian vein, Psyche and Amor) is the root from which the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast grew.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon (the inspiration for my own Troll-magic) is the Nordic version of Beauty and the Beast. An illustration from the Psyche and Cupid myth felt heart-deep right.

On a more superficial level, it was right also. The motif of an unexpected side door, opening onto wonders, occurs several times in Troll-magic, starting with Lorelin discovering such a door in the gardens outside the palace of my Beast.

Psyche Entering Cupd’s Garden by John William Waterhouse was the right art for Troll-magic!

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare? Should he?
 

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

Troll-magic tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

* * *

The new cover for Troll-magic has made it through the distribution chain to all of the online stores reached by these links.
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I OverDrive I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols
(I ordered a proof copy of the trade paperback today! It will be ready soon.)

PRAISE FOR TROLL-MAGIC

“…her writing style is unique and engrossing… There’s a light and lilting tone to the prose… Troll-magic is a book to be savoured and enjoyed.” – James J. Parsons, Speaking to the Eyes

“This is the kind of book that you keep thinking about… All through the day you will find yourself hoping for just a few minutes to pick it up again. Loosely based on a familiar folk tale, the world depicted is magical, but the people are very real.” – Smashwords review

Troll-magic was a fun read… This story mixes adventure, romance, life lessons and, of course, magic. J.M. Ney-Grimm has created a fascinating new world. Her detailed descriptions and colourful writing style bring the world of Silmaren and the Norse-lands right off the page and into life.” – Amazon review

“Her work compares favorably with Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip… if you’re looking for an intelligent, fun and interesting read, I highly recommend this book.” – Amazon review

EXCERPT FROM TROLL-MAGIC

Surely there had been words when she cursed him. He could hear the scream of her rage and despair. He could see her contorted face, the splintering acidic light. But words? Even a verse? Something about a maiden who would freely chose?

That hardly made sense. He was alone here.

A maiden who would share his bed? How was that possible? And who would want to?

He wore some terrible shape. He had not yet worked out what it was. His eyes in that shape did not work the way he was used to as a man. And he couldn’t make out his reflection in the mirrors . . .

But worse than his fearful shape, he was half mad as a beast. His curse-twisted mind was incoherent, the thoughts spinning out of all sense. Rage would shake his entire monstrous being without any warning.

He was not fit to live with.

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A New Cover for Livli’s Gift

I’ve been on a cover tear, so perhaps you can guess what’s coming next. 😀

Sarvet’s Wanderyar once featured a pen-and-ink illustration by Kay Nielsen, but now it possesses art by John William Waterhouse – an oil painting in vibrant color.

Winter Glory, the other novella in the Kaunis Clan Saga, was adorned by a pen-and-ink rendition of Kay Nielsen’s northern skier. Now that ebook also features art in color.

Clearly the Kaunis Clan novel, Livli’s Guft, would need a new cover as well.

My first sweep through the portfolio of John William Waterhouse did not turn up anything that grabbed at me. I considered his Annunciation (even did a mock-up with it), but had reservations about it.

I worked on other things, while I pondered. When those things were finished, I revisited the Waterhouse portfolio. This time I saw something: The Crystal Ball. I suspect the artist may have been thinking about wiccan paraphernalia when he painted it. But another angle altogether comes to view when the painting is considered in light of my protagonist.

She’s a healer. In her culture, she’s the equivalent of a doctor. Which means that of course she studies anatomy, and like many people in the medicine of the past, she scrutinizes the physical clues that people leave behind, such as the skeleton. That’s what that skull is doing on the table in the scene.

The weighty tome is a medical text. And the crystal ball is not actually a crystal ball, but the sphere of light that she sees in her mind’s eye when she exerts her healing powers.

So…I had found the right piece of art. I opened up Photoshop and went to work. Check out the results below!

Livli struggles with a secret she keeps from everyone, even her closest friends, and she must solve the problem at its heart before she’s discovered.

She’s certain the answer lies in a fragment of folklore and magic half-remembered from her childhood. Almost certain.

She wouldn’t need forgotten magic if only the men and women of her secluded mountain culture dwelt together. But the women—and Livli—inhabit their sister-lodge atop its lofty bluff, while the men live apart in their brother-lodge several valleys away.

Unless she can force a change, Livli stands to lose everything . . . including the most precious thing in her life: her son.

A story of secrets, shibboleths, and deep-forged strength told with insight and engaging intimacy.

* * *

The ebook edition of Livli’s Gift possesses the new cover.
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(The new trade paperback is coming soon.)

PRAISE FOR LIVLI’S GIFT

“I started reading and couldn’t put it down. I love the world and the characters she has created.” – Goodreads review

“I have never read a novel that made me feel so good. Mrs Ney-Grimm, you absolutely BLEW MY MIND! . . . It was so unique, so original . . . Usually I blast through the pages of a book that I love, but Livli’s Gift made me want to go as slow as possible, absorbing every moment of bliss.” – Goodreads review

EXCERPT FROM LIVLI’S GIFT

Livli rerolled the scroll carefully, returned it to its pigeonhole, and sighed. The whisper of her breath sounded loud in the quiet space, as had the crackle of the brittle parchment and the faint click of the closing cabinet door.

The tale of The Princess and the Griffon did not have the reference she was looking for. Neither had The Lindworm’s Eyrie nor Triton’s Egg.

“Why am I bothering,” she murmured. “It’s a wild gos chase.”

But she knew why she was bothering. She really, really wanted the information in whatever tale it was.

“I wish I could remember.”

But she couldn’t remember.

Of course, she could ask her birth-mother. Sarvet would undoubtedly reel off an entire list of the folktales she’d told her children at bedtime. But I don’t want her to know . . . what I’m thinking about right now.

Livli sighed again and shifted uncomfortably. Having to pee so often was for the birds. I just got back from the dump-buckets! I’m not traipsing through all three of those long corridors again. At least not right away.

Instead she straightened and moved over to the windows.

The view was incredible. Not so much for its scope – a vista across a snowy valley brushed by clumps of dark pines, bounded by granite cliffs, and presided over by tall mountain peaks was ordinary in Hammarleeding enclaves – but for its wavy presence through glass while Livli stood indoors within warmth. The scroll-lodge of Siajotti was richly supported by all the sister-lodges and brother-lodges, and a library needed good lighting. So Siajotti had glass in its windows rather than hide coverings. And the scroll repository itself had big windows.

A coal fell in the tile stove that stood in the corner between the windows. The building creaked. The day was abnormally still, with no wind to mask the smaller sounds.

Livli paced from one end of the windowed wall to the other and back, her footfalls soft against age-darkened pine boards.

That lost scroll wasn’t her only problem. What am I going to do about Thoivra?

She traced one of the circular muntins holding the small glass panes – it was cool to her touch – and bit her lip. Focus, she reminded herself. One thing at a time. Scroll first.

I need to look somewhere else, but where?

None of the parchments on prayer, ritual, superstition, or even birth described the rite she sought. If it even existed.

* * *

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A New Cover for Winter Glory

When I was getting ready to publish my novella Winter Glory, and was contemplating its cover, I longed to feature the illustration by Kay Nielsen captioned with: “So the man gave him a pair of snow-shoes.”

The skier depicted was tall and lean, just like my protagonist Ivvar. He even had grayish hair! (Also like Ivvar.) The landscape he skied through was the snowy arctic of the far north of my North-lands. And the illustration was beautiful.

I tried to convince myself that I could build my cover around it.

But the other two books in the series featured pen-and-ink illustrations – black-and-white, not color – and I really felt that I should keep the branding homogeneous. I started to sigh and resign myself. And then I had what seemed to me a wonderful idea.

I could put the color art on my light table and trace it with a drawing pen, thus creating a black-and-white version of the color piece that I loved so much.

I’ll admit that I was really pleased with the result. So much so that I did not regret leaving the color illustration in my wake. I still find that black-and-white cover beautiful.

But as you may realize from my post about the new cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar, I eventually realized that beautiful as the pen-and-ink work of Kay Nielsen is, it’s not the right art for my books and my readers. I’m replacing all of those black-and-white covers. Which meant I needed to revisit the cover for Winter Glory.

My first thought was to search the works of John William Waterhouse. I’d found something perfect for Sarvet’s Wanderyar amongst his portfolio. Maybe there would be something equally good for Winter Glory. But there wasn’t. Waterhouse seems to have painted mostly women. The few men in his paintings were decked out in ornate plate armor, and all of them were young.

Ivvar is in his eighties, and while he is a skilled hunter, he does not sally forth as a knight of medieval times. He wears wool and leather.

My next thought was to look through the works of the Pre-Raphaelites who influenced Waterhouse. There I encountered the same problem: mostly women, the few men presented as knights in shining armor. So, no. I would have to come up with another idea.

And it was only then that I remembered that, back at the vry beginning, I’d wanted to use the color piece by Kay Nielsen. Could I use it after all?

When I re-visited the image, I grew enthusiastic. I loved it as much as ever, and a vision sprang into my mind as to how I could marry it to the new trade dress I’d evolved when I worked on the new cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar.

I set to work!

I must confess that I reveled in Photoshop, having more fun than seems really fair.

And, here it is…

In 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.

* * *

The new cover is available on the ebook editions at most online bookstores, although (as I type this) it is still wending its way through the distribution chain to Scribd and OverDrive.

Winter Glory as an ebook:
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PRAISE FOR WINTER GLORY

“A little atmospheric gem of a novella… interesting, beautifully written, and worth re-reading.” – Amazon review

“In the starkly beautiful North-lands – a place that Ney-Grimm conveys so clearly it’s like watching a movie on the inside of your skull – two people who once knew and loved each other meet up again. This is their story…” – Amazon review

“The descriptive language is nothing short of gorgeous… I love that the protagonists are older… and they stuck with me long after I had finished reading.” – Amazon review

“The writing is lucid, elegant, smooth. Ney-Grimm creates a fantasy world of Norse legends, but with real people…” – Amazon review

“…in the midst of this excellent adventure story comes an insight so brilliant…”
Amazon review

EXCERPT FROM WINTER GLORY

His gaze stopped on a woman sitting alone in the booth at the far left corner.

She wore Hammarleeding garb – wool tunic and leggings like his – hers drab in subdued ecru decorated by patterns of gray and white. She was bony, rangy, likely quite tall when she stood. And old, like him. She’d pinned her long iron-gray braid around her head like a coronet, and she held herself like a queen, straight and graceful as she sipped her cup of tea.

The frontiersmen began a rollicking ballad about bears dancing in the woods, and the Hammarleeding woman turned her face toward them.

Ivvar felt all the air punch out of his lungs.

She wasn’t beautiful, but she drew him. Lightly tanned skin like his own; straight nose, a little on the long side; flat cheeks. Laugh lines framed her firm mouth. Crow’s feet bordered her level hazel eyes. He suspected she’d reached that calm place where life was just interesting, neither a tragedy to be resisted, nor a passion to be exalted. But what was it about her . . . ? She looked genuine and . . . appealing.

The flutter in his innards grew.

Then lagging memory brought another face before his mind’s eye.

Like to the one across the room from him in the here-and-now. So like. But younger; fifty or more years younger. Jaw clenched, hazel eyes hot, and lips tight with anger. His linking-sister – what these lowlanders would call his wife. His former wife. Paiam.

The last time he’d seen her, angry at life itself more than at him, but telling him their linking – their marriage – must end.

How had she grown into this serene old grandmother?

* * *

The ebook links again for Winter Glory (I’m hard at work on a trade paperback edition that will feature the new cover):
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I OverDrive I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols

 

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A New Cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar

All the work I’ve been doing on the new cover for Fate’s Door has me seeing my covers through fresh eyes. And, much as I love Kay Nielsen’s art, much as I love the covers made with his art, I’ve been forced to see that the covers probably aren’t right for my stories.

The art is elegant and unusual. I really do adore it. But it is also melancholy, a little dark, and enters the so-called “uncanny valley” that occurs when human figures are very human, but also possess some features that are decidedly not human. Like clowns. Or like the attenuated sculptures of Alberto Giacometti.

I like to believe that my stories partake of some degree of elegance. And I’ve been told many times that they are unique (thus unusual). But my characters are as human as I can make them, not uncanny. And my themes are all about inspiration and hope and finding strength in unexpected places. They are not melancholy.

Once I’d progressed that far in my thinking, it occurred to me that of the readers who’ve expressed admiration for the covers of Troll-magic and Sarvet’s Wanderyar and Livli’s Gift, the majority have been those who eventually decided my work isn’t really to their tastes.

I’d been hanging onto their admiration for those covers as a reason not to change them. But elegance and uniqueness are not enough in a cover. It also must speak to the readers who will enjoy the book. And these weren’t.

(Looking at the Kay Nielsen cover for Sarvet’s Wanderyar, my husband – who likes the Kay Nielsen art and considers himself a fan of my stories – said: “You know…it really looks sort of like post-apocolyptic horror.” Eek! No!)

So, as my new cover for Fate’s Door moved toward its completion (I’m not quite there yet), I knew I needed to create new covers for more of my backlist, specifically those books featuring Kay Nielsen art.

Now, I would love to commission new covers from DDD. But the same financial constraints that prevented me from buying a DDD cover for Fate’s Door remain in play here. I don’t have the money for a DDD cover for both WIP and a backlist book.

Luckily, I’ve discovered that the art of John William Waterhouse (which is in the public domain) works really well on my book covers! So I returned to that well to find cover art for Sarvet’s Wanderyar.

The painting titled Windflowers caught my eye as being really right. The model could easily be a teenage girl, which Sarvet is. The setting is windswept, very much in keeping with the mountain meadows where Sarvet dwells. And the overall composition has a lot of energy, the terrain at a slant, the girl’s hair and gown whipped by the wind. It’s easy to imagine that she is taking a long walk, something related to the more extensive wanderyar that Sarvet craves.

I’m really pleased with the cover I created featuring Windflowers, so much so that I plan to create a paperback edition to match the new ebook edition.

Running away leads right back home—or does it?

Sarvet walks with a grinding limp, and her mountain culture keeps girls close to home. Worse, her mother emphasizes all the things Sarvet can’t do.

No matter how gutsy her spirit or bold her defiance, staying put means growing weaker. But only boys get wanderyars. Lacking their supplies and training, how can Sarvet escape?

Can dreams—even big dreams—and inner certainty transform impossible barricades into a way out?

The new ebook edition of Sarvet’s Wanderyar has the new cover.
Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords I Universal Link*

(The new paperback is in production.)
 

PRAISE FOR SARVET’S WANDERYAR

“…it’s an entrancing story with a character you care about, and desperately want to succeed… At first I saw Paiam as the clear antagonist, but I came to sympathize with her. This makes for a complex interaction between the two characters that rages almost completely in the subtext–very clever on Ney-Grimm’s part, and very effective… On a side note, one of my favourite things about Ney-Grimm’s work is her treatment of fantastical creatures…the pegasi seem ethereal…creatures of light and gauze that are somehow the most real things in the world.” — Speaking to the Eyes review

“J.M. Ney-Grimm has woven a beautiful, multi-layered tapestry… All the characters, human and otherwise, in her world are well-rounded and believable.” — Barbara Karp, Readers’ Favorite review
 

EXCERPT FROM SARVET’S WANDERYAR

Tense and furious, Sarvet shook her mother’s angry grip from her forearm. “I’ll petition the lodge-meet for filial severance,” she snapped, and then wished she’d swallowed the words, so hateful, too hateful to speak. And yet she’d spoken them.

The breeze swirling on the mountain slope picked up, nudging the springy branches of the three great pines at Sarvet’s back and purring among their needles. Their scent infused the moving air.

Paiam’s narrowed eyes widened an instant—in hurt?—flicked up to encompass the swaying tree tops behind her daughter, then went flat.

“You dare!” she breathed. “You’re my daughter. Mine alone. And I’ll see to it that you and every other mother in the lodge knows it too. You’ll stay under my aegis till you’re grown, young sister, even if I must declare you careless and remiss to do it!”

Oh!

Sarvet only thought she’d been mad before. “You never wanted me!” she accused.

Was it true? Or was she just aiming for Paiam’s greatest vulnerability, aiming to hurt? Because under her own rage lay . . . desperation. Something needed to change. She just didn’t know what, didn’t know how. And didn’t want to be facing it right now, facing her mother right now.

* * *

Here’re the links again:
Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords I Universal Link*

*Books2Read provides a link that leads to nearly everywhere an ebook is in stock. More and more online bookstores will appear on Sarvet’s “universal” page at this link as the ebook makes its way through the distribution chain.
 

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A New Cover for Fate’s Door

water spirit under waterI remember how nervous I was when I commissioned the cover for The Tally Master from Deranged Doctor Design. Their portfolio of work looked wonderful. But would my cover match that excellence? Would they be able to find compelling images that worked with my Bronze Age setting? Would they really be able to compose art for a story that they’d never read?

I could make a long list of my worries. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that I had them. Plenty of them.

Then the day arrived when the preliminary draft landed in my inbox, and I loved it. In the words of a fellow author, it was magnificent!

And now, nearly 4 months after the book’s release, I can report that the book sold more copies at its debut than any of my other titles and continues to sell well. Clearly that sublime cover is having an effect.

It also got me thinking about all the covers on my backlist. I suspect all those books would sell more copies if only they possessed covers by DDD. I’d love to replace them. But in order to do so, I’d need to accumulate some big piles of cash. And cash is v-e-r-y tight at Casa Ney-Grimm, with some big medical bills to pay and two high schoolers approaching college. Yikes!

Which means that if my backlist is going to get “new clothes” any time in the next decade…well, let’s just say I’m not going to be shelling out $4,300 to re-cover 18 books! It would undoubtedly be worth the investment, if I had the money. But I don’t.

Now clearly some of my old covers are fine. Crossing the Naiad sells as though it were a novel, even though it is a short story, and that is probably due to the cover. I probably shouldn’t replace that cover at all, because…why monkey with success?

On the other hand, my novel Fate’s Door sells as though it were a short story, and that really bugs me, because I think it is a very fine work. If I could replace only one cover from my backlist, it would be Fate’s Door.

I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted. But I am determined that all new releases get DDD covers. And if I buy a DDD cover for Fate’s Door, then I won’t be able to provide WIP with a DDD cover when it releases. That’s not a good trade off.

But…I don’t think I must relegate Fate’s Door to a cover that isn’t speaking to my readers.

I’ve been thinking about the elements in the cover for The Tally Master and comparing them to existing cover for Fate’s Door. They are really almost visual opposites.

Tally has great depth of field. Fate’s depth of field is compressed, creating almost a flat effect.

The art for Tally dominates the image, with the title and byline playing a complementary role. Whereas the title and byline for Fate are ornate and large, forming an important element in the image as a whole.

Tally’s art is painterly, moody, and evocative. Fate’s art is photographic and straight forward.

Now Fate’s Door and The Tally Master are very different stories. Fate’s Door is brighter, about a young sea nymph growing up and confronting a challenge that is in part self-made, while Tally transpires in a darker milieu. The covers on the books shouldn’t have identical values.

But although the stories are different, they’re both what I would call “typical Ney-Grimm”: lush, exotic settings; depthful characters; flashes of insight into the human experience; and paeans to the strength of hope. The feeling conveyed by their covers should be more similar than not. And I think the cover for Tally got it mostly right, while the cover for Fate gets it mostly wrong.

So my idea…you knew I had an idea, right?

Actually I had several. You probably knew that, too. 😀

My first idea was that I could try to give my existing Fate cover a more painterly effect. I could try running the image through the watercolor filter in Photoshop. Or the oil painting filter. Or even try the software FilterForge, of which I’ve heard good things.

Well, that first idea didn’t work out very well. The watercolor filter is attractive (right), but it doesn’t really make the image look like a painting. To my eye, it’s really not all that different from the unfiltered version. I couldn’t imagine that the watercolor version would appeal to my readers any more than the original image.

Time for a plan B.

I tried the oil painting filter. The pastel filter. The sponge filter. In fact, I tried nearly every filter that yielded a result in color, even the plastic wrap filter! (Which really does make Nerine look like she has plastic wrap over her face. Ugh!)

Just to give you some idea of how wrong those filters can go, I’m showing you the result of the fresco filter. It looks like something from the mod-70s to me, as did many of the other filters.

I had to conclude that running the existing image through a filter simply wasn’t going to generate the painterly effect I could see in my mind’s eye.

By now, I had the bit between my teeth. Time for a plan C. 😀

With my mind on painterly effects, I contemplated a trip into the past to solve my cover puzzle. Art by Kay Neilsen graces the covers of 4 of my books. His work fits with my North-lands, but wouldn’t be so suitable for a story set in our own Mediterranean (with some divergences north) in the Hellenistic period.

What about the works of other artists from the past?

It turns out that featuring art from the past on a cover is not quite so simple as I’d imagined. The key question is whether or not the art has been published. If it ever appeared on a postcard, a poster, in a book, or in some other way reproduced for public distribution, then it has been published.

Appearing at a public exhibition to be viewed by thousands does not constitute publication. That’s where things get dicey.

If it was created before 1923, published before 1978, and its creator died more than 70 years ago, then the image is in the public domain and I am free to use it.

If the art was created before 1923, published after 2002, and it’s creator died more than 70 years ago, it is in the public domain.

BUT if that old painting from the 1500s was first published between 1978 and 2002, then there is a chance that the publisher may own the copyright, as crazy as that seems.

I love the artwork of the nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelites, and I had in mind specifically the work of John William Waterhouse, not a Pre-Raphaelit himself, but strongly influenced by them. He lived from 1849 to 1917, and his paintings were created between the 1870s and 1916. They were certainly candidates for the public domain. But it took me 9 hours of research to determine that they truly are in the public domain.

I wrote a blog post about Mother Holle (a goddess figure with roots in the Bronze Age) that featured Waterhouse art, and one of those paintings depicted Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott at her loom.

Because my heroine, the sea nymph Nerine, serves as a handmaiden to the three fates who weave the life of the world on their great loom, a beautiful painting focusing on a weaver seemed ideal.

Now Nerine is blonde and slightly younger than the weaver in the painting, but covers don’t always depict the protagonist of the story. I viewed the weaver as Mother Holle herself, in whose footsteps Nerine is following. And the mood of the painting is rich and lush. It has the right feeling for Fate’s Door, especially when compared to the cover on the first edition.

It was fun working with the painting, to create my cover. I used a more subdued treatment for the title and byline, following the trail blazed by The Tally Master. I’ll admit that I love what I developed.

But, but, but!

Of course, there’s a but!

I think the story of the cover for this book is nothing but a big long series of buts! (You may recall that I waged a heroic struggle with the color and texture of the title and byline when I was approaching the release of the paperback. I blogged about it here.)

When I showed the new cover with the loom to a friend, she said, “But what about the painting of Miranda?”

I didn’t immediately know what she was talking about. When I returned to the Wikipedia gallery of Waterhouse works, the painting in question jumped out at me as being perfect: a blond in Grecian garb gazing out at the sea. Nerine’s hair has greeny-gold highlights, but aside from that “Miranda” could be Nerine.

I was so utterly beguiled by the image that I just had to work with it.

So I did!

But now I’m in a quandary, because I love both versions. Which one should I use?

That is my decision to make, of course, but I’d love to know what you think. Loom? Sea?

Believe it or not, I’m considering making two versions of a new paperback, one with the loom image, one with the sea image. I can do that with paper. But I’ll have to chose one or the other for the ebook. 😀

Your opinion, s’il vous plaît?


 

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Series by J.M. Ney-Grimm: Making Things Clear

The first ten titles I published as an indie author were set in my North-lands. The world beguiled me, and I was delighted to discover so many stories I wanted to tell about its denizens.

But my eleventh and twelfth stories were set utterly elsewhere.

Devouring Light takes place in our own solar system, although it’s still fantasy, not science fiction. And Serpent’s Foe occurs in the underground duat of the ancient Egyptians.

This departure from my North-lands amplified a concern I’d been weighing for a while.

As a reader, when I encounter a new-to-me author, I have a mixed reaction when I see they have more than four or five books on offer.

On the one hand, if I really liked the book that introduced me to them, I’m delighted that there are more.

On the other hand, I feel a little overwhelmed with deciding which book to read next, especially if there are more than a dozen. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed enough that I can’t choose, and I go on to read someone else altogether.

I worried that readers in my audience might have a similar reaction.

The clear solution was to group my titles into categories or families. Fortunately my stories fell fairly easily into natural clusters.

The two newest – one involving the Greco-Roman pantheon amongst the celestial spheres, the other starring a goddess of ancient Egypt – were Mythic Tales.

The stories about Sarvet and her Hammarleeding family formed the Kaunis Clan Saga.

The stories featuring one of the ancient lodestones of the isle of Navarys became the Lodestone Tales.

And all the rest, set in my North-lands, but lacking any other substantive connection, became simply the North-lands Stories.

I adjusted my list of Titles by J.M. Ney-Grimm accordingly, and it looked a lot more approachable than it had when it was one long string of twelve.

The stories I’ve written since this reorganization have fit comfortably into one of the four categories I established. Hunting Wild was a North-lands Story. Winter Glory belonged in the Kaunis Clan Saga. Caught in Amber and Fate’s Door were perfectly at home in Mythic Tales. The Tally Master was planned from the get-go as a Lodestone Tale. And my current work-in-progress can be considered a Lodestone Tale as well, with the smallest of reaching.

So where’s the problem? (You knew there would be a problem, right?)

The problem was that nowhere on my website (or the websites of the etailers where you can buy my books) was there any explanation of what my “series” names meant. How would potential readers know, if I didn’t tell them?

Well, I put the task on my to-do list – write series intro paragraphs – and dragged my heels. Writing stories was so much more appealing than crafting series descriptions that were clear and explanatory, but also intriguing and brief.

I believe I let that particular task sit undone on my to-do list for nearly 3 years.

Finally, a few months ago, inspiration attacked me – actually woke me in the middle of the night, if I’m remembering right. I jotted down a few notes and went back to sleep.

In the morning, I went to work on those notes and came up with an intro for the Lodestone Tales. Check it out!

 
Lodestone Tale books

The Lodestone Tales

In the years that came before the ancient days of the North-lands, a brilliant inventor fabricated the lodestones – powerful artifacts that concentrate magical force.

And while men and women walk the earth but a short while, the lodestones persist through centuries, even millennia. When they fall into the hands of mortals, history changes.

Follow the lodestones down through the ages as adventure follows adventure, and ordinary folk rise to meet extraordinary challenges.

Skies of Navarys  (1)
The Tally Master  (1.5)
Resonant Bronze  (2)
Rainbow’s Lodestone  (3)
Star-drake  (4)

(Although the Lodestone Tales form a rough history, each story stands alone. You need not read them in order.)

* * *

That broke the ice. With one intro present, it bugged me that the other three were absent. I sensed that the words describing the Kaunis Clan Saga were there for the taking, somewhere in my backbrain, if I only made the effort.

With that kind of encouragement…I made the effort! 😉

 

Kaunis Clan Saga

The Hammarleeding people dwell in the high mountain valleys of my North-lands. They wield a tribal magic born of dance and song and the flow of sacred waters.

Ritual and tradition hold a special place in Hammarleeding culture. Their rites are beautiful and uplifting, but they underpin a way of life that features many thou-shalt-nots.

In each story of the Kaunis Clan Saga, one woman – or one man – challenges the shibboleths that threaten her – or his – particular bright dream.

1 • Sarvet’s Wanderyar
2 • Crossing the Naiad
3 • Livli’s Gift
4 • Winter Glory

(Each installment presents a unique protagonist from a fresh generation of the family. The stories stand alone and need not be read in order.)

* * *

Then I dragged my heels again. I was fresh out of ideas and inspiration. How could I describe the Mythic Tales, with nothing in common save their origins in ancient mythologies? And how could I create a captivating introduction to the North-land Stories, which seemed almost a catch-all group created for titles that fit in neither the Lodestone Tales nor the Kaunis Clan Saga?

I decided to let it rest. And let it rest, I did. But not for as long as I had the first time. Once again inspiration arrived in the wee small hours.

But when I looked at my notes by the light of day, I wasn’t quite satisfied. The draft was close, but not quite right, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I let the draft sit for a month. And then I knew, without even reviewing what I had, that the needed revision was there.

I took that draft out, worked it over, and then I had my Mythic Tales intro.

 

Mythic Tales

What if the goddess Bast lay caged in the underground duat of the ancient Egyptians, entrapped and imprisoned there? What if the messenger god Mercury flew between the celestial spheres of our solar system, rather than between Mount Olympus and Mount Helicon? What if the sea nymphs of old Greece ruled underwater kingdoms beneath the warm waves of the Middle Sea?

My mythic tales feature different worlds and characters, but they share the same rich source of inspiration – the vibrant mythologies of our own ancient history.

(Each story stands alone. You can enjoy any one without having read the others.)

* * *

Okay then! With three out of four complete, I just had to manage that fourth. I’ll admit I borrowed a few phrases from the “About” page on my publisher website, but I got the paragraphs written.

 

North-lands Stories

Inspired by the Norse folk tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, I wrote Troll-magic and thereby created a world, the world of my North-lands.

From the cool, forested reaches of Silmaren to the rich, spice-scented empire of ancient Giralliya, the North-lands feature an epic landscape of forgotten henges, vast wildernesses, charming hamlets, and vivid cities.

Within this ever-evolving realm, ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things.

Each story stands alone. You can enjoy any one without having read the others.

Troll-magic, Perilous Chance, and The Troll’s Belt are roughly contemporaneous – taking place during the Steam Age of the North-lands – while Hunting Wild transpires 800 years earlier during its Middle Ages.

* * *

It feels good to have them done. No, it feels great!

But I’d love to hear what you think.

I suspect that my readers have a clearer idea about what my series really are than I do, because I can never read my own work with completely fresh eyes. I always have what I meant to do, as well as what I did do on the revision drafts, jostling in my mind with the final creation.

So what do you think? Did I capture the essence of each series fairly well? Or did I miss?

 

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What Is Curtain Fic?

I’d never heard of the term “curtain fic” until this Monday, when I encountered it in a tweet from M.C.A. Hogarth.

She was giving her fans a head’s up about the first book in her Dreamhealers series. Mindtouch was on sale for 99 cents for the rest of the week, and then it was going back up to its regular price.

In her tweet, she said: “People call it curtainfic with space elves and centaurs.”

I was intrigued. What in heaven was “curtainfic”?

I googled, wondering if I would discover anything at all. Maybe it was so obscure that if you didn’t already know, you wouldn’t be able to find out.

But I was in luck. Google delivered many pages of results, and the first link on the list told me what I wanted to know. Fanlore.org defined the word as describing “fan fiction that focuses on ordinary domestic situations (such as the characters in a romantic pairing shopping for curtains).”

Since fan fiction involves fan writers playing in someone else’s world, strict curtain fic would be something like the story of how Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price, of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, made renovations and improvements to their first home at Thornton Lacey.

Or how Allan a Dale and his Fair Ellen – from The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood – visited the shops of Nottingham to procure the needle and thread that would allow Fair Ellen to keep her husband’s minstrel’s garb in good repair.

But clearly one need not borrow another writer’s world and characters in order to “focus on ordinary domestic situations.” In fact, the instant I read the definition of curtain fic, I realized that all my favorite authors include at least some elements of curtain fic in their stories.

When Bren Cameron settles in with Jago at his country estate of Najida (C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series), we hear about the beautiful stained glass window that graces the new wing.

At the end of the fourth Sharing Knife book by Lois McMaster Bujold, we get an entire long epilogue in which a few loose ends are tied off and during which we come to understand the domestic arrangements of Fawn and Dag quite thoroughly. (I love this epilogue!)

In Dorothy Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon, we learn every last detail of the wedding preparations, as well as of the ceremony itself.

One of my favorite chapters in Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion is the end-of-summer interlude in which Cazaril teaches Iselle and Betriz how to swim.

It’s always a little startling when I discover something about myself – in this case, my reading tastes – that is fundamental and yet has gone unsuspected by me for years. But the illumination shed by learning the term curtain fic shone further than the books I read.

Because my first thought upon perusing the definition was: “Ah, ha! So this is a thing! People like stories with this quiet, mundane focus. Which means that my longing to write a story with a quiet, non-epic scale is not just a strange oddity possessed only by me. I could gratify my wish to write in this way. And there might even be a few people who would read it and enjoy it. Wow!”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like stories about life-and-death situations. I love stories in which everything of importance lies at risk of being lost, where all is on the line. Both as a reader and as a writer. But my tastes are quite broad. And I’d believed (falsely) that I was only allowed to write about big and sweeping events. Sometimes those momentous happenings are tightly focused on my protagonist. Sometimes they intertwine with the fate of a nation or a people. But the big-and-sweeping-and-momentous must be present.

No doubt I’ll continue to write stories of that character. But I’m also going to allow myself to explore this concept of curtain fic.

Which is fortunate, since I’m realizing that my current work-in-progress has a decidedly domestic slant. Of course, for the protagonist, it’s all pretty momentous. But it’s an interesting mix of the quiet, the internal, and the domestic blended with a change that will turn my protagonist’s life upside down.

In any case…thank you, M.C.A. Hogarth for opening my eyes to a whole new genre. My writing life just got more spacious, and I am grateful.

Speaking of Hogarth…what about her books?

I’d read her Spots the Space Marine and really loved it. Then I read her Blood Ladders trilogy, and enjoyed that as well. Although, the latter starts off with a group of college friends meeting in a coffee shop, and I realized as I read that I’d really wanted the story to be a college story – and it totally wasn’t. It was good, just not what I was in the mood for at the time.

So, when I understood that Mindtouch was about grad students (alien grad students) in grad school, I was ready to click the buy button for that alone.

As it chances, I did click the buy button, and I’ve been happily reading Mindtouch for the last two evenings. It really is curtain fic. But I can also see the story building, slowly showing me exactly how these two unlikely friends came to be friends, and setting the foundation for how they came to accomplish something amazing within the healing disciplines of their civilization. (At least, I’m guessing that’s where it’s going.)

I’m not sure how much longer Mindtouch is on sale, but if you think you might like curtain fic, I urge you to pick up a copy and give it a try. 😀

 

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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

 

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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

 

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