How Many Writers Make a Conference?

A few days before I was due to meet my writer friend Laura Montgomery in Culpeper (for a lunch of Chinese stir fry), she announced that she was christening our meal the Midway Writer’s Conference.

We both chuckled. Can a gathering of two really be considered a conference? Despite our laughter, we gave the question serious thought.

We’re old college friends who lost touch over the years and then reconnected in the comments of the wonderful blog run by Passive Guy, aka David Vandagriff.

We were astonished and delighted to learn that our lives had acquired some curious parallels. She’s the mother of twins; I’m the mother of twins. She’d launched herself into indie publishing writing science fiction. I’d done the same writing fantasy.

How cool was that!

After a bunch of cordial emails and some beta reading for one another, we decided to meet up for a cup of tea. After the briefest of pleasantries—“You look just as I remember you!—we talked writer shop for 2 hours straight. At the next meeting we talked for 4 hours, this time mixing publishing shop in with the writer shop talk.

Our latest meeting was 6 hours, with a focus on the marketing angle of indie publishing.

Yes, these really were conferences. Although this time we actually did manage to talk about our kids. Who knows? Maybe next time we’ll even chat about our spouses. 😉

One of the topics we discussed in Culpeper was the nature of genre and whether or not I wrote epic fantasy. Laura blogged about the question (and our conference), so I’m going to quote her. She said:

We tried to figure out if…The Tally Master was epic fantasy or not. 

I was arguing it was. The troll wars rage across the Northlands. Weapons are forged. Our cursed main characters live in a troll tower of monumental proportions. It all seems pretty epic to me.

Jessica demurred.

The hero is a bronze-age accountant. She was telling a small tale. It was a mystery about missing tin, a matter of seemingly little moment.

But, said I, it has large consequences, it’s part of a grand, epic sweep. A light bulb went off in my own mind…

And now I think I’d better send you off to Laura’s blog to read the rest. It’s really not fair for me to steal her audience.

So click HERE and go read. She’s witty in an understated way that I love, so it’s worth the click. I’ll wait while you visit her. Promise. 😉

Did you go?

I’m going to pretend you said, “Yes.” You did, right!

(The Sky Suspended features the patent fight she mentioned. Mercenary Calling presents the mutiny charge in a suspenseful story that also kept me in a ripple of internal chuckles the whole way through. I do love Laura’s dry humor.)

What did you think about her light bulb?

I thought she was clever—and correct—in her assertion that we both like focusing up-close-and-personal on a hero caught in the sweep of epic events.

But does that truly make my books epic fantasy? I know I’ve asked this question before, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to decide the answer for certain.

I’d love to know what you think. 😀

 

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A Boatload of Covers

My participation in more than half a dozen story bundles brought a lot of cover design my way.

The More than Human bundle in August 2017 kicked off my journey, which wended through seven bundles (and counting) and on to a few covers for individual stories, some within bundles and some entirely independent of them.

I thought it would be fun to see the round dozen all in one place, so I’ve collected them into a sort of bulletin board below. Check it out!

Kinda cool, don’t ya think? 😀

Remembering Warriors I Immortals I Spring Surprise
Here Be Dragons I The Kitchen Imps I The Warrior’s Curse
Early Spaceports I Of Blood and Scales I Tales of Erana

 

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Bronze Age Swords

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a guest post about bronze swords:
• how the metals were extracted from the earth
• how the weapons were smithed
• and why they were more effective than the early efforts from the Iron Age.

The blog on which my post appeared is an active one, hosted by a talented and prolific sister author. She generates fresh material for her site every day, and my post has long been buried under 365 days of impressive creativity!

Given my latest streak of posts about steel swords, now seems a grand time to revive my research on bronze swords and present it on my own blog. 😀

*      *      *

Tracking down knowledge is my drug of choice. Each new fact is just so interesting! Even better is the moment when an entire constellation of facts coalesces, and I see how it all fits together and what it all means. That’s a total thrill!

But my insatiable curiosity (and I seem to be able to be curious about everything and anything) was not why I researched bronze metallurgy in ancient times. I was writing a novel set in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, and my protagonist was essentially the treasurer for a warlord. The wealth of the citadel lay in its metals and – especially – its weapons. So I needed to know all about how the metals were extracted from the earth, how they were purified and poured into ingots, and what forging techniques were used. My protag knew all that stuff, so I needed to know about it also.

For those of you who share my curious bent, here’s what I discovered.

Gritty Details

Too many of the sources I found were overly theoretical. The author might explain why ancient cultures developed metallurgy as they did or how they traded for their tin. But I needed nitty gritty details.

How were their smelting furnaces set up? How long did it take for the metal to become molten? How exactly did the ancients fashion bronze scale mail? How did they make their bronze swords?

Historical re-enactors and experimental archeologists proved to be my most fruitful sources. I found actual patterns for re-creating bronze helmets and bronze armor, along with photos of the finished results. I found videos showing Bronze Age combat techniques.

Smiths Were Mages

The website of Neil Burridge, a smith who creates Bronze Age artifacts using authentic materials and methods, had the details I was truly seeking. Videos of him in action allowed me to see a real smith moving within the forging environment, garbed in the protective gear of heavy apron and gauntlets, using the tongs and crucibles, exercising prudence with the liquid fire that is molten metal.

He also explained vividly the awe with which the ancient smiths were probably regarded. Metallurgy was not a theoretical science for them. It was a practical discipline, absolutely necessary for their tools and weapons, but with techniques developed over hundreds of years and handed down from one smith to another.

They didn’t know why these techniques worked. And they weren’t infallible. Sometimes a pour would turn out a perfect result. Other times it would fail, and the smith wouldn’t know for sure what had caused the failure. Certainly ordinary people, with no access to a smith’s secrets, would have regarded the whole business as magical.

Why Would a Skilled Smith Waste His Time?

Although the people in my novel were using Bronze Age technologies, I envisioned them as possessing military organization more like the armies of ancient Rome. Thus my smiths would not spend days setting up for the pouring of one sword that might – or might not – deliver success. They would pour many blades in one day, and then hand the blades off to others for the steps that transformed the plain metal blank into a weapon.

Anvilfire.com, a website “dedicated to advancing modern blacksmithing while retaining traditional standards of craftsmanship,” supplied me with information about this finishing process. The bladesmith created the blade. A separate shop did the grinding and polishing. Yet a third made the hilt and secured the blade to it. And a fourth made the scabbard.

Making a sword was resource intensive, both because of the valuable metals required and because of the labor from many skilled individuals that went into it.

Firesetting at the Copper Mine

So what about those materials? Bronze is made by mixing a small part of tin with a larger portion of copper. The ancients didn’t have modern strip mines or deep underground mines. Nor did they have sophisticated machinery run by diesel engines. How did they get copper and tin out of the ground?

Copper mines bore some resemblance to my expectations. The copper deposits needed to be relatively near the surface, but the ancients actually did tunnel down to a vein of ore. There, at the working face, they built a fire to heat the ore-containing rock. Once the rock reached a high enough temperature, they doused it with cold water. This process increased the brittleness of the rock and induced a preliminary degree of cracking. Blows from a hammer or pick could then break it into rubble, which could be heated in a smelting furnace to extract the copper.

Streamworks

Tin was another matter, one entirely new to me.

Tin was found in alluvial deposits in stream beds, usually as a very pure tin gravel well stirred with gravels of quartz, mica, and feldspar (gangue). So the trick was to separate out the tin gravel from the others.

The method of the ancients, as far back as 2,000 BC, was this:
• Dig a trench at the lowest end of the deposit.
• Dig a channel from the nearest water source to pour water over that part of the deposit
• Allow the stream of water to wash the lighter gangue into the trench
• Pick up the heavier tin gravel that remained
• When the lower portion of the deposit had yielded all its tin, dig another trench a bit higher and redirect the water channel, to allow the next section of the deposit to be harvested

The tin gravel thus obtained would be roughly smelted on site, simply roasting the gravel in a fire. The pebbles resulting from this rough smelt would then be transported to a dedicated furnace for a second smelting that yielded the purer tin needed by bladesmiths.

What About the Ingots?

Modern ingots are rectangular blocks, but those of the ancients took several different forms. The earliest were so-called “biscuit” ingots, round on the bottom like a muffin, gently concave on the top. They took the shape of the earthen pit into which the molten metal dripped from the smelting furnace.

But metal is heavy, and the biscuit shape awkward to carry. Around our own Mediterranean, an “oxhide” form was developed. It weighed about 80 pounds and possessed four “legs,” one at each corner, that allowed it to be tied between pack animals or gripped and carried by men.

I became fascinated with an ingot form used much later by the Chinese in the Malay Penninsula. These were hat shaped, much smaller (weighing only a pound), and actually used as currency.

A Peculiarity of Forging in Bronze

Bronze has one very peculiar property in the smithy.

Most metals, such as iron or even copper, when heated and cooled slowly to room temperature, become more ductile and more workable. They are less prone to internal stresses.

Bronze does not behave like this. When slow cooled, it becomes brittle and difficult to work. Thus it must be heated to cherry-red and then quenched in water. This quick cooling makes it so soft that it can then be hammered. The hammering condenses the metal, giving it more rigidity.

A bladesmith will hammer near the edge of a blade to harden it and help it keep its sharpness, while allowing the center rib to retain more of its resilience.

Were These Swords Any Good?

If you compare a bronze sword to a steel sword, the steel is always going to win. But when the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, bronze metallurgy was at its peak. Several thousand years had gone into the development of the most superb techniques. Iron metallurgy was in its infancy, and getting the iron swords to be rigid enough was a problem. The iron swords just weren’t as good as the bronze ones, which were light, strong, just rigid enough, and held an edge well.

But there’s no need to take my word on this. A YouTuber with a passion for swords, Skallagrim from Canada, discourses quite knowledgeably about the pros and cons of bronze. More amusingly, he tests one of Neil Burridge’s bronze swords “to destruction” in the video below.

(There’s a brief reprise snippet of Mr. Burridge before Skallagrim gets going with his destruction. Go to the 3:30 mark, if you want to skip that snippet.)

Even after all my research, I cannot call myself more than a mere smatterer. I learned enough to write The Tally Master, and not much more. But I hope you found these tidbits entertaining, and I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comments below. Or to speculate with you, when I don’t know the answer. 😉

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

 

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Plate Armor, How It Works

I have a confession to make about me and research.

Very little of what I delve for ever makes it directly onto the pages of my stories.

Blood Silver is a perfect case in point.

This is my 12th post about Blood Silver. Of those 12 posts, 8 concern swords, armor, and fighting techniques. Given the proportion of posts devoted to the paraphernalia of battle versus those on other topics, you might easily assume that Blood Silver is a war story, with scene after scene transpiring on the field of battle.

But it’s not.

It takes place during a time of war, yes. And the war plays a central role in the challenges my protagonist faces. But out of the 39,300 words that comprise the novella, 3,900 narrate the battle scenes. Roughly 10 percent.

So why do I do all this research? (And why do I write so many blog posts on it?!)

This is why. I become my character while I write his or her story. And I couldn’t thoroughly become Tahaern, a knight, unless I had an equally thorough understanding of the conditions of his life.

Sometimes the research I do for one novel will prove useful for another one that I write later. For example, I did a bunch of research into medicinal herbs when I wrote Troll-magic. And I remembered enough of it that I didn’t need to research it all over again in order to handle Tahaern’s healing skills.

But for his knightly skills, I didn’t know enough. Thus, research!

Now, as to why I blogged about all my research?

Well, I research because I need the knowledge, but I also enjoy learning about new-to-me topics. I generally find the lore I discover to be fascinating, and that was exactly the case with the knightly gear and the knightly fighting skills. Of course I wanted to share all that cool stuff with you!

So, what about plate armor?

I’d found re-enactors, living history buffs, and experimental archeologists to be such great sources for swords and sword fighting that I turned to them again regarding plate armor.

The first video I found prompted more questions than it answered. But having the right questions is very helpful, indeed. Plus the knight portrayed has such cool armor (and the music accompanying his arming video is so dramatic and majestic).

I’m going to share that video with you as an excellent (and short) intro.

Couldn’t you just imagine living in that castle yourself? Don’t you wish you had armor like that? I do, almost.

One of the things the video makes clear is just how many straps plate armor possesses. Each piece is firmly fastened to the appropriate body part, and thus the weight is distributed over the whole body. It does not all hang from the shoulders or rest upon the feet. That’s why those knights had good mobility, even when encased in all that steel.

Which raises the question: how exactly is each piece fastened to the knight’s body? It looked like there was more to it than just buckles.

Historian Mark Griffin reveals the mysteries of “points” or laces.

I loved his arming jacket with its multitude of laces. And I found his remarks about the English knights riding to battle and then dismounting to fight to be most curious. I’m longing to know why the continental knights, who fought from horseback, had such a different style from their English counterparts.

The fact that the knights wore a different style of visor for jousting tournaments than for battle makes so much sense. That’s exactly the sort of thing I love discovering in my research.

Matthew Fields, a member of the Plantagenet Medieval Society, spoke most enlighteningly near the end of the video about his experiences in tournaments. He says that when’s he’s in combat, he does not notice the weight of the armor at all.

Mark Griffn and Matthew Fields answered many of the questions I’d developed, but they also prompted yet more questions. How exactly did all those separate pieces of armor fit together? In what order did a knight put them on?

Fortunately I found a presentation by The Metropolitan Museum of Art that featured a gentleman who is both a re-enactor and an armorer. Now I was really getting down to it. This video delivered the full scoop!

Wasn’t it cool how Jeffrey Wasson had full mobility in his arms? And could scramble up from the prone position? It was helpful hearing all the clanking and rattling produced as he threw mock punches at the air and stepped quickly. So that is what Tahaern and his squires sounded like!

But I still had one more important question.

Both Jeffrey Wasson and Mark Griffin said that a knight donned his armor starting with the feet. But every single example I’d seen showed the knight in question starting with the greave that protected the shin and calf. And they did not put on the sabaton that covered the foot at all. What did that mean?

I understood that the sabaton was often not worn for foot combat. It was really needed when the knight was ahorse, making his feet especially vulnerable to infantry.

But when a knight did put on his sabatons, did he put them on before he put on his greaves? Or after?

Knyght Errant showed me the answer when he decided to time himself getting armed. Just how long does it take a knight to get his plate armor on properly?

And there we have it: another myth dispelled and my question answered!

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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The Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike

Learning martial skills from the past is popular these days.

Re-enactors enjoy it as a hobby. Living history enthusiasts include it as essential to understanding the daily lives of the people of the past, from the times of the ancients through the medieval period and on to the more recent past.

Experimental archeologists understand that there is nothing like re-creating the technologies of the past and using the implements produced by them to generate a thorough understanding of history and the cultures of history.

So there are a lot of people studying the European martial arts (among other things).

The foundations of such study are manuals from the time, such as Flos Duellatorum in Armis by Fiore dei Liberi (an Italian manual) and Fechtbuch by Hans Talhoffer (a German manual).

Naturally the Italian manuals use Italian terms for the various guards and strikes, while the German manuals use German.

Neither language is appropriate for the fantasy world of Blood Silver, so I created my own French-influenced names.

In Blood Silver, the five ‘master’ sword strikes are:
Coup de Colere (Strike of Wrath or Zornhau)
Coup Tordu (Crooked Strike or Krumphau)
Coup Croisé (Cross Strike or Zwerchau)
Coup Étroit (Squinting Strike or Schielhau)
Coup de Couronne (Scalp Strike or Scheitelhau)

I’ve described the coup de colere and the coup tordu in earlier posts. In this post, I’ll zip through the remaining three: the coup croisé, the coup étroit, and the coup de couronne.

The Coup Croisé or Cross Strike

The cross strike is a horizontal blow, often aimed at one’s opponent’s head. It offsets an incoming strike from your foe at the same time as delivering a strike of your own.

The video immediately below from Laurel City Historical Fencing is short and sweet (just over a minute) and shows it perfectly.

I liked how the instructor started slow and sped up closer to fighting speed. The strike itself moves from an ox guard to another ox guard on the other side, and it can be chained together in a series of cross strikes just as this swordsman demonstrates.

The Coup Étroit or Squinting Strike

The squinting strike collects an incoming strike from your enemy, sets it aside, and then strikes your foe. It is similar to the cross strike, but vertical rather than horizontal.

Here’s another short, sweet video (from Dreynschlag) showing the strike.

And now I know the correct pronunciation for the German term for the plow guard. Pflug. 😀

The Coup de Couronne or Scalp Strike

For the scalp strike, one raises the sword hilt high while levering the point downward to threaten one’s opponent’s face. In the video below, Aaron Harmon demonstrates succinctly that the strike avoids over committing.

The sound is a little uneven at the very start of the video (another short one), but evens out rapidly.

While I was seeking out videos for each of the three strikes presented here, I stumbled across a sword duel acted out with great panache by the Akademia Szermierzy. I bet they had fun making it.

It includes vignettes from an Italian manual with the Italian terms. (Only fair to give the Italian some air time after all the German.) 😉

The fighting is dramatic and the music is wonderful, so I’ll share it as the close of my sequence of long sword fighting posts.

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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Blood Silver: The Title

I loved hearing what everyone had to say about the prospective cover for my novella Blood Silver.

You all helped me see some details that needed adjusting, as well as confirming the choice of the Sunburst version as the right art to use.

Thank you!

In the course of all our discussion, an important question was raised.

Is the title right? The mood of the words does not quite match the light, bright mood of the art. Should it?

I didn’t even begin to know how to answer that question correctly. As I’ve said before, I am no expert on marketing. I’m learning. As an indie, I must learn about marketing, if I want my audience to find my books. But there is far more that I don’t know than there is that I do.

But a lovely bit of good luck came my way.

One of the people weighing on the cover for Blood Silver just happens to be an indie whose marketing knowledge I respect a great deal. So I asked her about my title. And she was most generous in sharing her thoughts with me.

The first thing she explained is that a book cover possesses three “channels.”
1 • The art
2 • The typography (what font is chosen and how the type is placed)
3 • The title (the meaning the words convey)

You could convey the same message with each channel, but if you do you severely limit what you communicate about the book. Generally it’s best to use each channel to communicate different elements of your story.

My kind adviser then proceeded to analyze the message communicated by the Sunburst cover for Blood Silver.

The Art

First we have the art, which is a bright fantasy illustration showing a knight and a lady. The subject matter tells us that the story focuses on two people. The bright, glowing treatment of the surrounding leaves indicates that magic is likely involved.

The image is appropriate for either urban fantasy, straight-up fantasy, or fairy-inflected fantasy.

So far, so good. Blood Silver involves the faie and follows the fortunes of a knight and a mortal woman.

The Typography

Next we have the choice of font and how the title is placed.

The font is Trajan, which indicates epic fantasy. Apparently Trajan is the font to use, if you’re making an epic fantasy film. I did not know this. (See, I told you I was not a marketing expert!) But it’s also the right choice when kingdoms or other big things lie at stake in a book.

Since the events in Blood Silver turn on the conflict between battling kingdoms, Trajan is definitely a good choice.

Regarding placement…this happens to be something that I actually do know something about.

Most thrillers have the author’s name in big—no huge—letters at the top of the cover and the title in slightly smaller letters at the bottom.

Fantasy is usually the reverse: the title sits at the top, while the author byline rests at the bottom.

If the story is urban fantasy or horror, the title may be slanted or vertical or have some other unusual orientation. But for epic fantasy, it will be sedately positioned on the horizontal, centered.

(YA fantasy might have a small title or a flush left or flush right alignment, especially if it needs to convey edginess.)

Now that we have art and typography together, we need to consider not only what they convey separately, but what they communicate together.

In this case, we might guess that the story involves two lovers caught up in a conflict between kingdoms. Blood Silver is not going to be a quiet tale. Quite right.

The Title

When I chose Blood Silver as my title, I was thinking of the phrase “blood red,” because there is definitely blood involved in my story.

That’s a fine reference point, but my astute advisor pointed out that it’s also a play on the words “blood money.” And “blood money” makes us think of treachery, cunning, and deception. Which is perfect, because Blood Silver is all about trickery and treachery.

When you put all three channels together, you have the story of two people caught between the violent forces of large events, featuring trickery and great deeds.

If that’s what Blood Silver is about—and it is!—then I’ve got the right art, the right typography, and the right title.

The result?

Blood Silver will keep its title, Blood Silver. 😀

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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The Crooked Strike

As I mentioned while describing the strike of wrath, I researched long sword fencing in order to have some idea of what my protagonist Tahaern would be doing on the battlefield in my novella Blood Silver,

Just to refresh our memories, here’s a list of the “master strikes” that every longswordsman would have learned and practiced:
Strike of Wrath (Zornhau)
Crooked Strike (Krumphau)
Cross Strike (Zwerchau)
Squinting Strike (Schielhau)
Scalp Strike (Scheitelhau)

I’ve created diagrams of the strikes to include in the appendices of my book when it releases, so that readers of the story who want to know more can easily learn a little about the strikes.

But two-dimensional representations of motions that occur in three dimensions are very limited in how well they can convey the reality.

The crooked strike seems particularly complex to render, since the version that starts from an upper guard, like the roof guard, comes down initially, but then arcs around sideways.

It makes a lot more sense in video, so I turn once again to Meyer Class Hammaborg for an excellent demonstration of the strike. The video includes many variations on how the crooked strike can be used, both defensively and on the attack, as well as starting from different guards.

There must be a playground or a park near the grounds of the school for swordsmanship, since I could hear kids calling happily in the background. It made for an interesting contrast to the deadly techniques being shown!

I created French-influenced names for the sword strikes as they are used in my story. Thus the crooked strike becomes the coup tordu in Blood Silver.

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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Blood Silver: The Joust

Tahaern, the protagonist of Blood Silver, is skilled in combat, both on foot and ahorse.

A number of the battles in my novella transpire on foot, because the terrain is so pocked with holes and knotty tree roots that a horse would fair poorly. In one battle, Tahaern is unhorsed!

I researched long sword fencing (which I found fascinating), but I also needed to know how a knight fought when on horseback.

The first video I found was a great deal of fun. It features Sir Henry Sewell, and wow, does he have an attitude! The re-enactor must have an amusing time roleplaying the pride and arrogance of his character.

I’m not sure how much I learned about the niceties of wielding a lance while charging one’s enemies, but I did gain a better understanding of just how important were the spirit and skill of one’s mount. The horses were indeed beautiful, and the jousting was spectacular.

For those reasons alone I’m gong to share the video from English Heritage with you.

So, did his “theater of the joust” take your breath away? I must confess I watched the video several times over just for the enjoyment of it. 😉

Then I went seeking more information about how one actually fights on horseback. And I found a much more specific video by Schola Gladiatoria. It, too, is entertaining (combining the gruesome with the scholarly), but gave me a lot more of what I needed to know.

Matt Easton demonstrates the techniques with a cavalry sword, but also explains exactly how they apply to lances and why.

Did his description of “the extraction” give you a gruesome shiver? It did to me!

But the information was precisely what I needed in order to understand how Tahaern and his fellow knights would have managed on horseback in battle.

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
Which Cover to Choose?
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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Which Cover to Choose?

It’s that time in the publishing schedule. I must decide on a cover for my novella Blood Silver. Longtime readers of my blog will be familiar with this phase, since I usually share my process with you.

Sometimes I am inspired and my cover design comes together swiftly. Other times, it’s a struggle. I remember wrestling for months with the color and texture of the title for Fate’s Door. (And then, after all that, I decided a year later that Fate’s Door needed a completely new cover!)

This time I have an entirely new wrinkle.

Blood Silver clocks in a 39,300 words.

The official definition for a novel is a story that is 40,000 words or more. Blood Silver is currently with my second reader. If her feedback prompts revisions which add 700 words to the manuscript, Blood Silver will graduate from the category of novella to that of novel. And I purchase covers for novels from Deranged Doctor Design.

(They created such a magnificent cover for The Tally Master that I want all my novels going forward to receive covers of that caliber. But I’m not yet able to shell out the bucks for shorter works.)

So what do I do?

There’s really only one practical answer. I create a cover, knowing that it will not be used if Blood Silver gains 700 words. That might not work for someone else, but playing in Photoshop really is play for me. So even if the cover I create is never used, I’ll have enjoyed myself making it. (And, really, the likelihood of non-use is slender. The revisions I make after my first reader’s feedback can add hundreds of words. After my second reader? Not so much.)

With that decision behind me, I searched the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites (and other artists influenced by them) from the nineteenth century. I wanted an image featuring a knight in full armor, because the protagonist of Blood Silver is just such a knight. (Although he is faie, not mortal man.)

I found quite a few paintings to choose from.

And, oh, it was hard to choose! I must have mocked up a dozen covers while I debated with myself, trying out which image would work best. Sometime down the road I’ll show you those “just to see” covers. But that’s a different post.

In this post I’ll focus on the four different covers I devised from Frank Dicksee’s “La Belle Dame sans Merci.” And I want your opinions on them. Which one do you like best? Which one would make you click the “Look Inside” button on Amazon to check out the beginning pages of the story?

I really love the painting by Dicksee, so my first version uses his work nearly straight up. I chose a window from the image that focuses on the knight and the lady. I intensified the colors, since the scan seems to have washed them out a bit. And I liked what I had. I was ready to declare it The One.

Until a friend whose judgment I trust weighed in.

She pointed out that it looked like a cover from times past and that I needed to bring it into the modern age.

Hmm. I wasn’t sure that was really a problem. Maybe it was a feature, not a bug. I’ve haunted many a used bookstore, delighting in the older books and enjoying their vintage look. I suspect a goodly number of my readers may be the same. But what about the readers who would be more drawn to a fresher, more modern look?

Plus my friend had another point.

The dark, slightly gloomy tone of the painting doesn’t fit with my story at all.

Oh, there is danger and even gloom in Blood Silver. But the overall mood of the book springs from the sun-dazzled wonder that my protagonist feels when he first emerges into the bright world from under the knowe. My cover needs to convey that.

Back to the drawing board.

My own inclination was to seek out a fresh painting, but my friend suggested that I run “La Belle Dame” through a few filters to see what might be done.

I can be a stick-in-the-mud about filters. I mistrust them, and I dug in my heels.

Thank goodness for good friends! This one offered to (insisted on?) running the painting through various filters herself. Oh, my! I liked what she showed me. (And I’ll be less resistant the next time the possibility of filters come up.)

I loved the “inverted” filter. It generated an image which had a true faie feel to it, along with a sense of the explosion that my hero felt when he first encountered the bright world, and again when he set eyes on a mortal for the first time. Yes! This might be The One!

But, but, but! (You suspected there might be a but, didn’t you?)

My friend and my husband both agreed with my sole concern. As cool as this inverted mage is, it is also confusing. The human eye does not parse it easily. The human brain says, “What is it that I am seeing? I don’t quite get it.”

And confusion is bad. Confusion results in the browsing reader clicking away from Blood Silver to a web page with some other book. That is not what I want my book cover to accomplish!

I was feeling a bit stymied at this point.

Once more, thank goodness for good friends! Mine suggested that I look through the dozen filtered possibilities that she had generated for me. And she drew my attention to the one that went through a blue filter, which had lightened and brightened the overall color balance of the painting. “What about that one?” she said.

And she was right about it giving a more modern, lighter feel. What about that one?

The main problem is the cool hue that results from a blue filter. It works well for the horror genre and sometimes for thrillers. It can be appropriate for certain types of fantasy. But Blood Silver has a very warm feeling to the story, and the coolness of this image stands in direct opposition to that.

Back to the drawing board once again.

This is the one that I currently hope is The One.

It is warm and bright. It’s not dark or heavy. The sunburst effect gives an otherworldly feel to the image and brings out the “blown away” reaction that my knight feels upon encountering the bright world. Surely this is The One!

But here’s the thing about covers: no matter how much an author likes the cover for her book, what really matters is how the prospective readers feel about it. If it makes readers flee, then it is the wrong cover.

Which cover would prompt you to click “Look Inside” or “Add to Cart”?

I’d love it if you’d vote in the comments.

To keep things straight:
Painterly (the first option shown)
Faie inverted (the next one shown)
Cool blue (the next)
Sunburst (the one immediately above)

Cast your vote! 😀

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
The Strike of Wrath
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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The Strike of Wrath

While reading up on long sword fencing, I learned that there are five “master strikes.” They are named master strikes for two reasons.

First, they have a simplicity that makes them accessible to beginners, but they also possess complexity and subtlety for the advanced swordsman.

Second, they combine a strong defense with a strong offense and excellent options for follow-up actions.

An expert swordsman will know many more strikes in addition to the five master strikes, but the five will form the heart of his repertoire.

The five master strikes are:
• Strike of Wrath (Zornhau)
• Crooked Strike (Krumphau)
• Cross Strike (Zwerchau)
• Squinting Strike (Schielhau)
• Scalp Strike (Scheitelhau)

In this blog post, I’m featuring the strike of wrath.

It’s a powerful cut, performed with strength and conviction. It moves from the high reaching roof guard, down in a sweeping diagonal cut, to end in the plow guard.

Those names don’t mean much without more description. Since a picture is worth the proverbial thousand words, I’m sharing some diagrams that I drew, as well as doing some describing.

There are two variations of the roof guard.

One features the sword hilt held slightly above the head and centered, with the blade slightly tilted back.

The other version of the roof guard has the sword hilt held at shoulder height and to one side. Either side will work, depending on the handedness of the swordsman and what he intends to do from that guard.

The plow guard, in which the hilt is held at roughly hip height with the blade angled up, can also be assumed on either side, depending on which foot is back and which is forward.

So the strike of wrath goes from the roof guard to the plow guard, and the momentum generated by the blow requires a powerful step forward while performing it.

Two-dimensional pictures are less than ideal for showing the three-dimensional reality of a sword cut. They can give a general idea of what is involved, but videos of the movement are much better.

The first one I’ll share is an instructional sequence. This was perfect for me, a complete layperson regarding long sword fencing. I needed to see the individual segments in order to understand what was going on.

So that was a nice controlled strike of wrath, but not at all how it might look in a real fight.

For a sample of the power and ferocity of the strike, we have another video.

This version of the strike of wrath started from something called a wrath guard and seemed to end in a guard similar to the near guard. The swordsman certainly covered a lot of ground, and he generated a lot of power with his forward motion.

I suspect different schools may teach slightly different versions of each technique.

(Keep in mind that if this post creates a longing within you to learn swordsmanship, you should definitely seek out an instructor. A short text description and a couple of videos might be enough convey a conceptual understanding sufficient for the reader, but are nowhere near enough for learning how to do this stuff.) 😀

Most of the schools of swordsmanship seem to use the German terms for the guards and strikes. No doubt this is because the surviving manuals on swordsmanship from the 1400s and 1500s were written in either German or Italian.

Neither of those languages seemed quite right fro my story Blood Silver, which takes place in a fantasy milieu resembling ancient Ireland. But I didn’t want to use merely the English translations. I wanted something with a little linguistic color. So I created French-influenced terms.

In Blood Silver, the strike of wrath is the coup de colere. 😀

For more about Blood Silver, see:
Plate Armor, How It Works
Cross Strike, Squinting Strike, and Scalp Strike
The Book Title
The Crooked Strike
The Joust
Which Cover to Choose?
Rope Climbing and a Cliff
What If the Sword is Wrong?
A Song of Peace
Wielding a Long Sword
Origin of the Story (The State of This Writer)

 

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