When the Pendulum Swings…

Back in 2013, one of my mentors told me my writing was sometimes “thin.” (I had requested his assessment.)

What he meant was that I didn’t include enough character opinion when I described a scene’s setting or when I touched on what my character was seeing and hearing and smelling. He urged me to go all out in this respect, explaining that writers at my skill level—able to tell a compelling story, but lacking the expertise of bestsellers—could not include too much.

At the beginning of his career, my mentor had been at that stage himself. His mentor said that if he felt like he’d gone too far with setting and opinion, then he’d probably hit it just right. 😉

I took his point to heart, and worked hard to filter as much as possible of my settings through my protagonists’ opinions.

Given that the reviews for my books now usually mention that the story world is vivid, the characters lifelike and appealing, and the sequence of events compelling, I think I’ve succeeded in including lots of character opinion in my narrative.

But I suspect I may have gone too far!

in 2013, it may not have been possible to include too much setting. Now, in 2018, I’ve written another dozen titles, studying my craft the whole time. I’m a different writer than I was then.

And, for the first time ever, my revision has required significant deleting!

Yep, you heard that right. I’ve been taking things out, and taking out more than I added in. Up to now, the balance has been the other way: I’ve added in far more than I took out.

The total word count on my current WIP was 77,697 for the first draft.

Then I received some truly stellar feedback from my first reader. (Have I said that my first and second readers are marvelous? They are! I’d be sunk without them.) And my response to the feedback was to cut about 4,000 words.

Oh, I added in a few paragraphs here and there. I replaced some entirely—taking out what was there, and writing new for that spot instead. But mostly I pruned and then pruned some more.

I’ve now sent the manuscript off to my second reader, and it clocks in at a mere 73,633 words. I can’t wait to hear what she says about it!

In the meantime, I’m getting ready to start writing my next novel, a sequel to The Tally Master, and I’m hoping to swing the pendulum back from “too much” to “just right,” because I’ve discovered that cutting snippets here and paragraphs there is very challenging for me when there’s a lot to cut. Writing a new scene to insert at the critical moment is much more fun!

For those of you waiting on To Thread the Labyrinth (which might get a different title—I’m thinking about it), take note: Labyrinth is moving through its revision cycles fairly steadily! I hope to get feedback from my second reader in October, make those revisions swiftly, and then send the manuscript to my proofreader in November. I’ll keep you posted as the process moves forward. 😀

 

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The Lindworm and Livli

Livli’s Gift begins with Livli searching the library for a fairy tale she remembers hearing as a child. She has difficulty finding it, because the scroll has been shelved incorrectly.

When she at last succeeds, we learn that the title of the story is The Lindworm and the Queen.

Its first few words read thusly: Once upon a time there was a queen who longed for a child. As she sat in her garden weeping, an old crone approached her and asked her what the matter was. “Oh, no one can help me,” sobbed the queen.

Livli does not relay the entirety of the tale, but it clearly has roots in the Norse folk tale “Prince Lindworm,” as presented in East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Was I thinking of the folk tale when I wrote the opening to Livli’s Gift?

Yes, I was, but I didn’t imagine the Hammarleeding fairy tale to be identical to the Norse one. I didn’t even re-read the Norse tale to refresh my memory, because I preferred my memory of it to be as faded as was Livli’s!

Here is the start of the Norse version for your enjoyment, however. 😀

Prince Lindworm

Once upon a time, there was a fine young King who was married to the loveliest of Queens. They were exceedingly happy, all but for one thing—they had no children. And this often made them both sad, because the Queen wanted a dear little child to play with, and the King wanted an heir to the kingdom.

One day the Queen went out for a walk by herself, and she met an ugly old woman. The old woman was just like a witch: but she was a nice kind of witch, not the cantankerous sort. She said, “Why do you look so doleful, pretty lady?”

“It’s no use my telling you,” answered the Queen, “nobody in the world can help me.”

“Oh, you never know,” said the old woman. “Just you let me hear what your trouble is, and maybe I can put things right.”

“My dear woman, how can you?” said the Queen: and she told her, “The King and I have no children: that’s why I am so distressed.”

“Well, you needn’t be,” said the old witch. “I can set that right in a twinkling, if only you will do exactly as I tell you. Listen. To-night, at sunset, take a little drinking-cup with two ears,” (that is, handles), “and put it bottom upwards on the ground in the north-west corner of your garden. Then go and lift it up to-morrow morning at sunrise, and you will find two roses underneath it, one red and one white. If you eat the red rose, a little boy will be born to you: if you eat the white rose, a little girl will be sent. But, whatever you do, you mustn’t eat both the roses, or you’ll be sorry,—that I warn you! Only one: remember that!”

“Thank you a thousand times,” said the Queen, “this is good news, indeed!” And she wanted to give the old woman her gold ring; but the old woman wouldn’t take it.

So the Queen went home and did as she had been told: and the next morning at sunrise she stole out into the garden and lifted up the little drinking-cup. She was surprised, for indeed she hardly expected to see anything. But there were two roses underneath it, one red and one white. And now she was dreadfully puzzled, for she did not know which to choose.

The queen’s dilemma is quite different from Livli’s. The queen doesn’t know whether to hope for a girl or a boy. Livli knows quite clearly that she wants a girl.

The ritual recommended by the helpful old woman is also different. The Norse queen must merely place a cup upside down at a certain spot in her garden. Livli requires “two blown-glass cloches and a few seeds of aegis-rockfoil.”

So, given that my Lindworm and the Queen was inspired by “Prince Lindworm,” was Livli’s Gift itself inspired by the Norse folk tale?

No, actually.

The sprout that became Livli’s Gift first appeared in my novel Troll-magic, when Livli’s mother Sarvet made a cameo appearance there.

Lorelin, the heroine of Troll-magic, encounters an older Hammarleeding woman who is returning home after visiting her daughter upon the birth of a new grandbaby.

I was moved to tell the Hammarleeding woman’s story in Sarvet’s Wanderyar. Her daughter’s story became Livli’s Gift.

For more about the Hammarleedings, see:
What Is a Bednook?
Hammarleeding Fete-days
Pickled Greens, a Hammarleeding Delicacy
The Kaunis Clan Home

 

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The Troll’s Belt vs. The Blue Belt

Given that The Troll’s Belt is essentially a retelling of Hansel and Gretel—albeit with a good, strong twist—you might imagine that the fairy tale was my inspiration. Oddly enough, it wasn’t!

My starting point was a blue belt featured in one of the Norse Folk tales collected in East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

I could see that blue strap of leather with its ornate buckle so clearly in my mind’s eye, along with the young lad who found it, picked it, and put it on.

Here’s the opening of the folk tale.

The Blue Belt

Once on a time there was an old beggar-woman, who had gone out to beg. She had a little lad with her, and when she had got her bag full she struck across the hills towards her own home. So when they had gone a bit up the hill-side they came upon a little Blue Belt which lay where two paths met, and the lad asked his mother’s leave to pick it up.

“No,” said she, “maybe there’s witchcraft in it;” and so with threats she forced him to follow her. But when they had gone a bit further, the lad said he must turn aside a moment out of the road; and meanwhile his mother sat down on a tree-stump. But the lad was a long time gone, for as soon as he got so far into the wood that the old dame could not see him, he ran off to where the Belt lay, took it up, tied it round his waist, and lo! he felt as strong as if he could lift the whole hill.

The folk tale continues from there in an elaborate sequence of events featuring betrayal, lions and man-eating horses, a princess, a dancing bear, and the King of Arabia.

My own story goes in an entirely different direction. I didn’t want to simply retell The Blue Belt. The Blue Belt is a cool narrative, but I was getting to know my character Brys Arnsson, and I wanted to tell his story.

Brys lives in my North-lands, so it seemed clear trolls—or, a troll—would be involved. From there, my muse swept me away.

I’m not going to say much more, just in case you are reading this post before reading The Troll’s Belt instead of after. But I’d love to chat more about it in the comments. That way any spoilers can be easily avoided by those who wish to.

I will note that the belt of the folk tale is described as “little,” whereas the belt of my story possesses quite a thick strap of leather. Additionally, the folk tale’s belt is tied about the waist; mine has an ornate buckle. And, of course, Brys’s sole parent is his father rather than his mother.

So there are differences from the get-go. The Blue Belt inspired me, but didn’t constrain me.

Have you read The Blue Belt? What did you make of it? It’s the only story in East of the Sun and West of the Moon that names a specific geographic region of our world—Arabia—which seems an anomaly to me. All the others simply speak of the King and his kingdom. Why is The Blue Belt more specific?

I do find the quaint use of capitalization and italics in the folk tales to be quite charming—the King, the Belt, the Horse, the Troll, and so on. It would drive me wild in a novel (or even a novella), but as part of the authentic voice of the Norske Folkeeventyr, I love it.

For more about The Troll’s Belt, see:
The Writing of the Belt

For more about the magic of the North-lands, see:
Magic in the North-lands
Radices and Arcs

 

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Lodestones

So, what is a lodestone?

In the real world, it’s a magnet. But in my North-lands, it’s a magical artifact that intensifies the magical powers of a mage.

Different cultures in different time periods and different locations of my North-lands possess different names for mages.

In the Steam Age, the people of Silmaren call them keyholders, the denizens of Fiorish use the term seer, while the citizens of Auberon say patternmaster or enigmologist. There are more variations, but I’m not going to list them all here. 😉

The five lodestones rattling around the “modern”-day North-lands came out of ancient Navarys. So for the duration of this post, I’ll use the term favored by the ancient Navareans: fabrimancer.

The Navareans called their magic energea and their magical focus stones were energea-stones, not lodestones. The lodestones were created at the end of Navarean history, not its beginning, and I’ll get there soon. Promise. But first I must talk about energea-stones.

Energea-stones were crafted from the remains of a meteor fragment lodged in the mountainside of the isle of Navarys. To the ordinary eye, they look like small black pebbles—about the size your thumb-tip—with a shiny finish. (A few were made at larger sizes, but the vast majority were small.)

Energea-stones have been around for almost as long as the Navareans themselves (from pre-history and the age of reed huts). The Navareans learned about fabrimancy (magery) from the energea-stones, rather than fashioning the stones after they developed fabrimancy.

To a fabrimancer’s eye (if he or she is a visual practitioner, not an aural one or a kinesthetic one), the stones hold spiraling patterns of silvery light. This light is the visual manifestation of energea, of magic.

But more important than what energea-stones look like is what they do and how they do it.

In Navarys, an energea-stone would be shaped by a specialist to do a specific task, such as spinning a spinning wheel or a grain mill, tossing a shuttle across a weaver’s loom, or winding the rope of well bucket around a spool. Or the stone might be formed to simply magnify a fabrimancer’s power.

Different stones performed different tasks, but the Navareans especially liked to use them for semi-automating the tasks of craftsmanship. And they wished the stones could be fashioned to permit full automation. It was a sort of holy grail with them.

Energea-stones required the presence of a fabrimancer channeling his or her energea through the stone, almost as though the fabrimancer were a sort of living battery funneling electricity through an engine.

The lodestones were the breakthrough Navareans had been hoping for.

A lodestone looks a lot like an ordinary energea-stone—a small black pebble—except its surface finish is a velvet matte, not shiny. Like energea-stones they can be fashioned in different sizes for different purposes.

But a lodestone draws energea from its surroundings at large, not just from the fabrimancer wielding it. And thus a lodestone permits true automation. It must be forged so as to direct the energea flowing through it to perform the task desired. But once the fabrimancer sets it going, the lodestone does its work until the fabrimancer halts it. The fabrimancer can actually walk away from the work in progress.

Unfortunately, the lodestones embody one serious danger not possessed by ordinary energea-stones.

When an energea-stone is used by a fabrimancer to magnify and concentrate his magical powers, the stone also acts as a sort of overflow valve. If the fabrimancer loses control and summons too much energea—a potentially destructive amount—the excess is channeled away through the stone without doing damage to the fabrimancer.

Lodestones don’t possess this safety feature. Instead, they always carry exactly half of the energea summoned by the fabrimancer. Which means that if the fabrimancer summons a damaging amount, it does damage. Specifically, it tears the energetic structures that underlie the fabrimancer’s physical being.

That damage manifests as the troll-disease that appears in so many of my North-lands stories.

Only six lodestones were originally created. One of them—the largest—sank to the bottom of the great ocean. The other five are loose in the world, creating trouble when they are found.

Skies of Navarys tells the story of the creation of the lodestones, through the eyes of a pair of teenagers.

The Tally Master follows one of the lodestones into the hands of a troll warlord, where an honorable accountant and his assistant determine the outcome of the encounter.

Resonant Bronze shows how a lodestone might turn the tables on the troll horde.

Rainbow’s Lodestone and Star-drake recount the fate of a lodestone used to commit an evil deed.

And To Thread the Labyrinth, due out in March 2019, sees a lodestone returned to a place of proper oversight, although the larger story focuses on a troll-witch hiding her troll-disease.

For more about ancient Navarys, see:
A Tour of Navarys
From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

For more about the magic of the North-lands, see:
Magic in the North-lands
Magic in Silmaren
Radices and Arcs

 

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A Tour of Navarys

A few weeks ago, I took a virtual tour of the castle that features so largely in my novel Caught in Amber. Finding images that fit the mood of the many and varied wings of that vast pile was so much fun that I decided to embark on another such tour, this time to the isle of Navarys.

Navarys is the setting for my novella, Skies of Navarys. It lies far out in the great ocean to the east of the continent hosting the Empire of Giralliya. I think of Navarys as the Atlantis of my North-lands, because the story transpires during ancient times.

The island of Navarys possesses a central mountain, and it’s about the same size as the Greek island Lefkada located in the Ionian Sea south of Corfu. (Lefkada measures 22 miles north-south, and 9 miles east-west.)

This painting by John Glover of Mount Wellington in Australia has the right look and the right feeling, although… If it did depict Navarys, the flat lands in the foreground would need to be ocean waves.

Liliyah, when she sees Navarys from an airship, is amazed by the view.

The ocean surged vast and blue-gray from horizon to horizon. The island of Navarys, stretching away under the noon sun, showed so many textures of green: dark of pine, bright of meadow, and cool of orchard.

The majority of the people living on Navarys dwell in its capital city, located above a harbor on the slopes of the central mountain.

And the city tumbled down the western slopes of Mount Sohlon like an infant’s set of playing blocks: pierced cubes of colored marble and stucco roofed by verdigris copper or olive tile.

Some of the city clings to a very steep slope, as depicted above, but a slim crescent of flatter terrain curls around the the harbor area. Nor does the mountainside climb to its peak in one fell swoop. The king’s royal palace occupies the crest of a foothill.

The beacons at the harbor’s outlet, brilliant like evening stars against the green and orange of the horizon, brought it all back.

One of the modern caravels, powered by energea stones, not sails and wind, passed between the beacons, headed out to sea.

Liliyah’s own home is located well up the mountain slope, but is by no means neighboring to the royal palace. Her friend, Mago, lives nearby.

“I’m up,” Liliyah announced, slithering out from under the net canopy that sheltered her bed.

The gauze of the window curtains tinted her room golden. It must be well past breakfast, if the sun had moved around the corner of the house that typically shaded her windows. She started scrambling out of her nightdress, rifling through the gowns on the wall pegs for something casual and comfortable.

Liliyah and Mago both do a considerable bit of running through the city allées over the course of the story. Mago in particular ventures high on the slope, although not all the way to the royal palace.

Mago paused, panting and puffing, feeling droplets of sweat trickling along his temples. He leaned against the stucco of the lemon house.

Must. Keep. On.

No one paid him any heed. Three couriers dashed by him, undeterred by the hill, headed for the palace. They met and sidestepped a gang of wild-looking young men tramping down. One thrust out a foot to trip the rearmost courier, who simply bounded over it.

The allée depicted in the photo below features very golden hues, but the stone and stucco of the city’s buildings is varied. Some allées share these golden tones, where others boast sparkling white or even pastel colors.

Mago climbed two flights of stairs, feeling the pull in his thighs from their tall risers, to a little-travelled lane cutting across the slope of the mountain. Ranks of flowering almond trees generated a speckled shade, pleasantly aromatic, but the usual quietude was missing. Pageboys carrying messages, porters transporting luggage, families locking their front gates and departing, a bachelor delaying to help an elderly relative make sure the curling tongs really were packed at the bottom of a valise: the scene was busy. Although not panicked, or even hectic, Mago noted.

The view from the front of the palace would take in the whole of the city, stretching down the mountainside and curling around the harbor. Because the palace occupies the crest of a foothill, it also possesses vistas displaying more rural stretches of coastline.

The breeze gusted strongly for an instant. Spray from the fountain misted his face, evaporating and cooling, then drying as the warmth of the sun prevailed.

Mago stared at the horizon where sea met sky. Their house, just like its neighbors, fronted on a sloping allée punctuated by steps at the steepest stretches. But the walled courtyard behind the domicile occupied a slight bluff, giving him a more expansive view of the shore cliffs, rows of palms, and the tumble of mansions climbing this reach of Mount Sohlon.

The interior of the island is largely wild. Vineyards, olive groves, farm fields, and a few hamlets, as well as country estates for the wealthy remain within close reach of the city or the coast.

For more virtual tours of my book worlds, see:
Landscapes of Auberon
A Castle That Might be Amber
Bazinthiad, a Quick Tour

For more about Navarys, see:
Lodestones
From Navarys to Imsterfeldt

 

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Arriving at the Finish

If you’ve been watching the progress indicator in the side bar, you’ll have noticed it creeping upward over the last few weeks. 500 words here, 800 there, and during the last seven days, frequent spurts up into 1,700+ territory.

The novel I’ve been working on is tentatively titled To Thread the Labyrinth, and I’ve been fully immersed in its setting, the characters, and the story.

Indeed, some part of me feels as though I should be able to go to Gate Nine-and-Three-Quarters at the airport and catch a plane to the small “French” country of Pavelle. Once there, I’d hire a carriage to take me from its capital city out into the countryside, where I would find the charming town of Claireau. That’s how real it all seems. 😉

When I first started developing the concept for To Thread the Labyrinth, I’d imagined that it might be a short story that would accompany my coloring book. There would be mention of magic, perhaps a young protagonist learning antiphony, and the intricate designs I’d been drawing for the coloring book would represent the complex patterns required for the antiphonic energy that powers magic in my North-lands.

Naturally, my story grew considerably from there, acquiring an older protagonist in addition to the young one, as well as an annoying little brother, a crowd of bullies, civil disorder, a troll executioner (sort of), and more. By the time I was done brainstorming, I retained no illusions about the supposed shortness of my story. Not only would it not be short, it wouldn’t even squeeze into a novella. This was a full-fledged novel!

Today was my longest sprint of writing in a long time. I wrote fully 3,500 words at my top speed. The scenes were flowing out of mind and through my fingertips on the keyboard as though I were a stream in flood. And when I finally stopped, I’d reached the finish of my story.

I was so excited, I wanted to run to the top of a mountain, yelling, “I did it! I did it!” I suspect that the long hiatus that occurred in the middle of this novel (from October through December I wrote nothing; and from January through May I wrote Blood Silver) made completing To Thread the Labyrinth extra special.

So…how long is the story? I’d estimated it would be 60,000 words. But as I approached the end, I kept having to add a few thousand more to my estimate. 62,000. No, 65,000. No, 70,000. The final count was 77,697.

What happens next?

I clean up a few little odds and ends (like making up a name for that armiger—a policeman—who needs one, but that I skipped over because I was too intent on the scene to stop for him). Then I send the manuscript off to my first reader for her discerning feedback.

You must understand…my revisions usually add words to my stories, because I am far more likely to leave-things-out-that need-to-go-in than I am to put-things-in-that-shouldn’t-be-there. That’s just how I roll. But given that my readers usually say, “Oh! I wish it were longer!” when they finish one of my books, I suspect how I roll is fine.

Did I say I that I’m excited about To Thread the Labyrinth?

I’m excited! 😉

 

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