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

Kay Nielsen art depicting a lassie aback a north-bearThe 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 books

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 cover banner

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 covers banner

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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New Cover for Skies of Navarys

Every reader is different. Some passionately love short stories. Some wish there were more novellas being written. Others enjoy the full immersion that a novel provides.

Trad pub long ago abandoned the novella length, but it’s coming back with indies and ebooks.

I like all three lengths, both reading them and writing them.

Be that as it may, the varying lengths of story don’t sell at the same rate.

Short stories sell the fewest number of copies, novellas next, and novels best of all. My own books follow this curve fairly closely, with a few exceptions.

old Navarys web cover 200 pxCrossing the Naiad (a short story) sells like a novella, while Sarvet’s Wanderyar (a novella) sells like a novel.

Naturally I’m not complaining when a book sells better than one would expect! But I don’t like it when a novella sells like a short story, and that is what has been happening with Skies of Navarys.

The readers who read Navarys seem to really enjoy it. But too many are clicking away from its web page on Amazon, probably without even “looking inside.”

Why?

My theory is that it’s the cover.

Now I liked the original cover, and still do. It was a painterly rendition of three airships over a rural landscape. But I’ve had potential readers say that it looked military to them. Additionally, it’s the only one of my books with a cover that didn’t include a person in the image. I believe that cover was giving readers a false impression.

So I’ve created a new one! Check it out.

How does that strike you?

The ebook with the new cover is available at all the usual places. Or it will be shortly! I’ve uploaded it to Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. (Smashwords distributes my books to Apple and B&N.)

Amazon I B&N I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords

The paperback with the new cover is in progress, but not quite finished yet. Soon! 😀

 

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Mapping Ancient Rome onto Belzetarn

When I’m world building for a fantasy novel, I do a lot of research. I’m sure some writers are able to create cultures and hierarchies and organizational trees straight from their heads that are as detailed and irregular as the real thing. But when I do that, my creations are a little too neat and tidy, a little too logical, to have the feel of reality.

Roman army and chariot

So I choose a period of history and a place in our world that has a lot of the right features for my purposes, research it, and then map it onto my world, tweaking the details as needed to make it fit.

When I was creating the society for Belzetarn, the citadel in which The Tally Master takes place, I researched the kitchens of Hampton Court during the reign of King Henry VIII, because they provided a good model for Belzetarn’s kitchens.

Of course, the time period of Henry VIII was much later than my own Bronze Age setting. Which meant that I eliminated such places as the wafery (which relied heavily on sugar and grains), the confectionery, and the pastry yard. But the complexity of Hampton Court was perfect.

I modeled the military hierarchy of Belzetarn after the armies of ancient Rome. Rome was an Iron Age civilization, but the effectiveness of its legions was matched by my warlord’s effectiveness.

The main reason humans switched from bronze weapons to iron weapons was because tin was so darn rare. And one needs tin in order to combine it with copper to make bronze. There just wasn’t enough tin, with deposits close at hand, to outfit hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

The early iron weapons were inferior to the late bronze ones, because bronze metallurgy had been honed over millennia to produce superb results, while no one knew the best techniques for iron. But there was a lot more iron, with more convenient locations. So the switch was made.

Roman scale armour detail

By the time the Romans came along, iron metallurgy was well developed. But imagine a world in which tin was more prevalent. In such a world, the Romans might have been just as dominant with bronze weapons.

Belzetarn is not Rome. It’s not even a North-lands analog to Rome. It’s a lone outpost of desperate men – trolls – commanded by an exceptionally able warlord, Carbraes. But it’s large enough to field two legions, roughly 10,000 men. And the hierarchy of Rome’s military could be mapped nicely onto Belzetarn’s military.

I knew that ancient Rome had legions, cohorts, and centuries. I knew that within those units were legates and tribunes and centurions. But I needed a lot more detail than that. So I went researching.

I learned that a legion was composed of ten cohorts, that a cohort was composed of six centuries (except the first, which had only five), that a century possessed only eighty men, and that they were divided into 8-man squads.

Roman HierarchyActually, in the early days, a century had one-hundred men, but that number dwindled as the years rolled past. Then it increased to one-hundred-twenty men when the time of foreign conquest arrived. And then dwindled again. But never mind that. I was going to show Belzetarn at one instance in time, not write its history through the ages.

Information on legions and cohorts and centuries was fairly easy to find. What I really needed, however, was a listing of the ranks within them. A detailed listing.

I was delighted to find it on a site called HorridHistory.

The High Command

Legatus Propraetor (Imperial Legate) – commander of two or more legions; in modern terms, a general
Legatus Legionis (Legion Legate) – commander of one legion
Tribunus Laticlavius (Broad Band Tribune) – second in command of the legion, although not during battles, because the men holding this post were young and inexperienced, new senators at the start of their political careers
Praefectus Castrorum (Camp Prefect) – second in command of the legion during battles; the men of this rank were chosen for their experience
Tribuni Angusticlavii (Narrow Band Tribunes) – five per legion; serve as administrative officers; in modern terms, majors
Tribunus Cohortis – commander of an entire cohort (6 centuries in a cohort, 10 cohorts in a legion)

The Centurions

Centurio Hastatus Prior (centurion of the first spear) or the Primus Pilus (first file) – commander of the first century of the first cohort
Pilus Prior – commander of the first century in any of the second through tenth cohorts
Princeps Prior – commander of the second century
Hastatus Prior – commander of the third century
Pilus Posterior – commander of the fourth century
Princeps Posterior – commander of the fifth century
Hastatus Posterior – commander of the sixth century
Optio Centuriae – second in command of the century
Tesserarius (Guard Commander) – second in command to the optio

Where the Real Work Gets Done

Decanus – commanded an octet, or a eight-man squad
Miles Gregarius – title given to a legionary who performed exceptionally well in battle
Miles – a normal legionary

roman-legionary-re-enactors

So far, so good. But I could not simply borrow all the Roman terms. If I did that, Belzetarn would feel like an outpost in ancient Rome. And it’s not!

So I started mapping our world onto my North-lands, adjusting structures and creating my own terms. I kept a few of the Roman terms, just enough of them to orient the reader.

Troll hierarchy in BelzetarnI worried that I might need a terms for the equivalent of the Roman Tribunus Laticlavius, the second in command of a legion, or the Tribunus Augusticlavius, who seemed sort of like British aides-de-camp during the regency period.

So I came up with Magno and Agusten, respectively.

I tried to carry on with filling out the hierarchy of seconds in command and thirds, but I was running out of inspiration. Plus, I figured that while The Tally Master takes place in a military citadel, its protagonist is not one of the warriors or their officers. He controls the flow of metal from the mines through the forges and into the armories as weapons. The focus of the story is on his tally room and the smithies. I could develop more military titles when and if I needed them!

Last weekend The Tally Master came back to me from my first reader, and she’s given me awesome feedback. As usual! I’m currently doing a little more research – needed for the fixes I envision – and then I’ll start revising.

I’m excited! This is going to be one of my best books ever! 😀

 

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WIP, Utterly Engrossing

Maple TreeI remember so clearly setting up the progress bar for Tally the Betrayals. I’d already written 4,000 words, and I’d been reporting my word-count-per-day all through those 4,000 words to a writer friend.

Me: “I think I’ve done most of the research and world building I need in order to start writing. I think I’ll start next week!”

Friend: “Start tomorrow!”

Me: “Huh. I suppose I could.”

That was a Wednesday. I did, indeed, start Thursday, and it felt great. I’d been focused on publishing tasks (covers, blurbs, etc.) for many months. Then I went through the medical emergency of a retinal tear. And then I had a troll citadel to design. 😀

It had been 5 months since I’d done any writing. I missed it. But I felt wobbly. What if I’d forgotten how?

I hadn’t forgotten how, of course. I think writing is a bit like bicycle riding. Once you know how, you don’t forget.

But I felt like I needed training wheels! So I reported to my writer friend that first week.

“Only 300 words today, but I started.”

“Better today: 800 words.”

“Now I’m getting into the rhythm: 1,200 words.”

When I reached 4,000 words, I realized that I shouldn’t lean on my friend through the entire 120,000 to 160,000 words that my novel would require. (Tally felt like a longish book to me.)

And, really, I didn’t need that much propping up. But I’d really liked reporting my word count to someone. I found it motivating and encouraging.

Just saying, “I wrote 1,600 words today,” to someone other than myself felt like getting a treat.

So I decided to set up a public progress bar on my website.

I worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do so. (Google is your friend.)

I worried that I wouldn’t like it once I’d set it up. (“You can always take it down again, J.M.”)

I worried I would disappoint those of my blog readers who watched that progress bar, when there were days that I didn’t make much progress.

Holly TreeBut I wanted to do it. So I did!

And you know what? It worked beautifully for me.

I did figure out how to create a progress bar. I plan to blog about that process soon.

And I love updating my progress bar each day. “See, I did write 1,200 words today! Really!”

I’ve also enjoyed seeing the darker blue color that indicates words written slide farther and farther to the right. It was a very tangible marker, more so – for me – than seeing the page count grow in my manuscript file.

Now, as I look at the 113,000+ word count and the 94% slider bar visual, I feel amazed that I am almost finished.

“How can this be? It feels like just yesterday that I was putting up that progress bar with 4,000 words!”

But I am close to the finish. And, as is usual for me, I’m finding my story to be intense, engrossing, and hard-to-put-down. If only my brain didn’t become soggy with fatigue, I’d write far into the night, saying, “Just one more page,” the way a reader does when reading a good book.

But my brain ceases to hold the necessary edge around 5 PM or so. Sometimes I’m so beguiled by the events in my story that I push until 7 PM, but that’s rare. Better to get a good evening’s rest and a good night’s sleep, and start fresh in the morning.

Deck View

As I write this blog post, it is 7:15 AM, and I am sitting out on my back deck – as I do each morning to keep my circadian rhythm in sync with the sun. But now it’s been half an hour.

I’m going to go in, eat breakfast, and get started writing Tally for the day!

I can’t wait! Gael – accountant to the “dark lord” in my “dark tower” – is going to make a crushing discovery in this scene! 😀

(No, Tally does not really have a “dark lord.” It has someone much more interesting!)

The links from this post:
5 New Books!
My Torn Retina
Gael’s Tally Chamber in Belzetarn
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep

 

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Cover Copy for Troll-magic . . . One. More. Time!

There’s a promotional opportunity for my novel Troll-magic coming soon, so I reviewed its marketing copy to be sure everything was ready. Most promo newsletters require a considerably shorter story description than the one present on the web page of retailers such as Amazon, Kobo, Apple, etc.

cover image for Troll-magicSince Troll-magic released way back in 2011, when promotional opportunities were much scarcer on the ground than today, I suspected the marketing copy was not ready to go, and I was right.

Oh, I’d created a version for the “short blurb” that Smashwords requires. But – upon review – I didn’t like it much. Worse, I found that as I studied the full-length version, I had some problems with it as well.

None of this surprised me. Or even dismayed me. (Even though I’d revised that blurb extensively not too many months ago.) I’d expected that I had some work to do. That’s why I was reviewing the material.

Here’s the marketing copy I was reading:

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 his thoughts spin out of all sense, 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 life and save his? 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 and dark magnificence, tumbling toward a lethal battle of wills and the impossible choices forced by clashing loyalties.

There was a lot to like there. I still felt it was a huge improvement over what it replaced. But several phrases bugged me. I’m going to show which ones and why.

north-bear banner

First Paragraph

Most of the first paragraph works well. The mention of a curse and a troll-witch lets the browsing reader know right away that the book is fantasy. The protagonist and his interesting problem are introduced. His goal – finding loopholes in the curse – is also presented. All good.

But “And his thoughts spin out of all sense” didn’t sit right with me. It was a little too vague and, even though I like archaic phrasing, this was a little too archaic. I thought about eliminating the entire sentence, but I needed “confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.”

So I worked to develop a better phrase. And got one after a little wrestling.

And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

Second Paragraph

I liked most of what I had here also. Elle and her critically important role are introduced, along with Kellor’s moral dilemma: should he yank his old friend out of her own vital concerns to minister to him, thus exposing her to considerable danger?

But I didn’t like the phrasing I used to state Kellor’s dilemma.

Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own life and save his?

It’s true that it’s a life-or-death situation for him. And it’s true that he would be asking Elle to neglect her own concerns. But this phrasing makes it all seem rather black and white, maybe even straight forward. And it is not straight forward at all. Nor is it clear what his best move is. Kellor has to do a lot of heroic inner work before he develops a cogent plan.

Also, I really regretted that my latest revision of the cover copy had removed the front cover tag line from the blurb: “Fighting against a nightmare pales beside fighting for a dream.” I wondered if I could bring back some of those concepts. And – with a bit more wrestling – I did!

Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare?”

Third Paragraph

I had qualms about the simple “But” that I used to introduce a further complication: the loopholes in Mandine’s curse are not really loopholes. It’s a little bald. On the other hand, cover copy needs to be relatively spare. And the alternatives I came up with to replace it were overly ornate. I decided to keep it. For now. 😀

star banner

Last Paragraph

Okay, this was the paragraph with the most serious problems. Yes, Troll-magic is a Beauty and the Beast tale. But it is also so much more than that. How on earth was I going to convey its “more-ness” without diminishing its “Beauty-and-the-Beast-ness”?

I felt like I was Sisyphus pushing the proverbial boulder up the hill. Everything I tried was totally not what I was looking for. Finally I resorted to my most effective hack for when I’m stuck. I write about my stuckness in my journal, as though I were telling a dear friend all about it.

This is what I wrote:

Beauty and the Beast at heart, but the story of how the fate of one young man, one couple, affects the fate of everyone in the world.

But it’s not just one person. Three people develop solutions: Kellor, Helaina, Gabris. The point isn’t that one person does it. The point is that an individual triumph can affect the larger world. The outcome of a private struggle or battle can guide the turn of events in the larger world.

The outcome of Kellor’s struggle will shape the history of the North-lands. The turn of events in the North-lands will echo the outcome of Kellor’s struggle.

Kellor’s curse reflects the curse of the world. I’m having a hard time getting this into words that work in a blurb.

The fate of a world and a people…

I need to let the reader know that the book is Kellor’s story, but it’s also the story of an empire, a people, and a world.

J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale…

…that opens out from its Beauty and Beast heart into an epic steering the fate of an empire, a people, and a world.

lyrical telling
Beauty and the Beast tale
rife with glory and dark magnificence
fate of an empire, a people, and a world
epic

The lyrical telling of an epic with Beauty and the Beast at its heart.

Troll-magic is an epic of…

After all that, my journaling yielded the result I was looking for: something clicked, and I wrote the paragraph I wanted.

J.M. Ney Grimm 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.

snow and stars

The New Marketing Copy

Putting all the revisions together gives us:

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.

J.M. Ney Grimm 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.

Of course, I still need to create the short version. But at least I’ll be working from a solid foundation! 😀

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How Long Should My Story Be?

Open book on stack of closed books

What’s the right length for a story?

One way to answer to that question is to categorize the story by type. If it’s a short story, then it’s under 7,500 words. If it’s a novelette, it’s between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Novellas fall in the 17,500-to-40,000 range. And novels are anything over 40,000 words.

I’m very fond of the novella length. There’s enough room to fully develop characters and setting, enough room to allow for more than one event in the story. I have 5 novellas currently published (plus 2 novellettes that are barely short of novellas), and I’ll undoubtedly write more.

But right now I’m working on a novel. How long should it be?

In traditional publishing, YA novels are usually 80,000 words. But Tally the Betrayals is not a YA story. Its protagonist is a 38-year-old suffering from troll-disease who controls the supplies of copper, tin, and bronze in the “dark tower” of my North-lands. I expect that teens will enjoy Tally, but no more so than adults.

Traditionally published mainstream fiction often goes for about 100,000 words. And doorstopper fantasy novels can hit 200,000 or even 300,000 words apiece.

By now, some of you may be longing to tell me that my question is a trick question. And you’d be right, because indie writers like myself have much more freedom in choosing the length of our stories.

Traditionally published writers have to hit the word-count specified in their contracts. If a story is coming in long, the writer must chop it until it fits, never mind what that does to the quality of the work. If the story is coming up short, then a loop must be added in order to fill the word quota.

Dean Wesley Smith, a talented and experienced writer from whom I’ve taken many workshops, and from whom I’ve learned an incredible amount, has been known to say that a story should be exactly as long as it needs to be. I agree with him!

So why is this topic on my mind?

I noticed that when I reached 40,000 words on Tally the Betrayals, I’d just started the 7th chapter of the book. My outline possesses 19 chapters. So, if the chapter lengths are not too disimilar, 6 chapters should equal roughly one-third of the book.

Tally outline scrap

(No spoilers in the screen shot above. All the good stuff is in my head and on the manuscript page. I was lucky in that this bit of the outline possesses merely some notes on where and when the revelations take place, so I could show it here. Other pieces of the outline are much less circumspect!)

I’d estimated that Tally would be 160,000 words, because it’s got a lot going on in it. There’s a redemption story mingled with a mystery mingled with . . . well, that third element would be a spoiler, so I won’t say. But I felt like I might need 160,000 words to tell it all.

But if the first third is comprised of 40,000 words, then perhaps the total for the story will be closer to 120,000 words.

Of course, I can’t really know at this stage. My novel Troll-magic has 169,000 words, but only 10 chapters. And each succeeding chapter is a little longer than the one before it, which means that the first chapter is much shorter than the tenth.

For a short interval, I let my math convince me that Tally the Betrayals would be 120,000 words when I reached the end. Now I’m approaching 50,000 words, and I’m halfway through Chapter 8. Math would put me on track for that 120,000 words at completion. But I’m skeptical. I just have a feeling . . . that the chapters may get longer as I go along. Or that I’ll realize that a few of those chapters should really be divided to become two chapters.

Luckily, it doesn’t really matter. I’m indie. Which means the story can be exactly as long as is right for it! 😀

 

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Book Cover for Fate’s Door

Last month, when I shared my step-by-step process for creating the book cover for my novel Fate’s Door, I concluded by saying that I was not quite satisfied with the gold texture that appeared in the title and byline.

Since that post, I’ve found a texture I love. Take a look!

Fate ebook cover 600 px

If you’d like to see the full account of my search for the right gold, read the Edited to Add section at the very bottom of the post: Building Fate’s Cover.

Fate’s Door is available as an ebook. Amazon

Fate’s Door is available as trade paperback.
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