A Townhouse in Hantida

This week I’d envisioned myself showing you the world of my book that will release in March. The protagonist lives in a cool medieval castle, and I’ve got floor plans and photos to share!

But those floor plans have not yet been transformed from rough sketches into clear drawings that will make sense to someone other than me. I will finish those drawings, but in the meantime…

I’ve been writing the first few scenes of The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, the sequel to The Tally Master. I’m really excited about the story. I feel like I am there in Hantida with Gael and Keir. Hantida is a large city surrounded by rice paddies and near to a river.

I needed a rough sketch of the house Gael and Keir visit in the first chapter. I used the machiya of Kyoto (traditional townhouses from Japan’s Heian period) as my model.

A rough sketch was all I needed, but I grew so enamored of the architectural beauty of the structure that I was beguiled into making my rough sketch into a finished drawing.

Naturally I want to share it with you!

0—The Front Street Most of Hantida’s streets are dirt, but a few are paved with stone. In the shopping district, where the shops are fronted by roofed arcades, there are raised stepping stones at the street corners so that pedestrians can cross above the muck of the road.

1—Front Room If the family kept a shop, then this front room would be the space where their goods or services were offered, and where customers could enter, either directly from the street, or through the entrance courtyard on the side. It’s a private room for the family that Gael and Keir have come to help.

2—Entrance Courtyard A pocket courtyard, graveled, and adorned with pots of bamboo. A tall, sturdy gate gives access to it from the street.

3—Entrance Foyer Visitors to the home remove their shoes in this stone-floored space.

4—Entry Hall A niche off the main reception room. The floor is wood, but your shoes should be off!

5—Reception Room Visitors are received and entertained here. Thick mats of rice straw and woven rushes cover the floor. Sitting cushions (and sleeping quilts) are stored in low cabinets along the walls. A low table makes serving food easy. Sliding screens of rice paper give access to an adjacent room and to an outdoor walkway (8).

6—Private Room

7—Kitchen A long room with a stone floor and clay walls, due to the fire hazards inherent in cooking over a bed of charcoal.

8—Wooden Walkway The walkway is out of doors. It brings light and air to the interior spaces of the townhouse.

9—Garden Storage A closet for the watering can, spades, and other implements needed to tend the garden (10).

10—Garden A small, but carefully-tended pocket of greenery.

11—Bath My Hantidans like to soak in deep wooden tubs full of very hot water.

12—Stone Passage This short passage to the side yard is roofed, but out of doors. A small chamber on one side holds a chamber pot. Another holds a counter where basin and ewer allow for washing up.

13—Side Yard Any particularly messy chore can be accomplished in this graveled space. A few raised plots of earth near the back permit some vegetables for the table to be grown.

14—Storage House A clay-walled chamber where costly robes, scrolls, and ornaments and furniture for the off-season are stored.

15—Yard Storage

16—Steps A walk connects to the back alley, where the night soil cart passes, the refuse collectors, water carriers, etc.

17 Back Alley

What happens in my Hantidan home?

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth opens with Gael and Keir newly arrived in the city of Hantida. They’ve been healing their way across the continent, Keir using the skills she earned in her professional training, Gael learning how to be a physician’s assistant under her supervision. They make a good team.

Whenever they arrive somewhere new, word spreads quickly of the amazing cures they bring off. Hantida is no different, and they are summoned to attend a 12-year-old girl who is badly burned.

En route to the girl’s home, they witness a peculiar, aborted arrest. After they arrive, complications—both medical and non-medical—begin to pile up.

The lodestone they are seeking is present in Hantida, but acquiring it will not be at all straight forward. There’s a mystery at the city’s heart, and our duo will have to solve it to win out.

 

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Stymied for a Title

I’m still stuck! I need a title, and I don’t have one.

To Thread the Labyrinth

To Thread the Labyrinth was the working title, and it seemed perfect all through the writing of the novel. A physical labyrinth fills part of the mansion’s cellar. A metaphysical labyrinth troubles my heroine. And the allusion to Theseus and the Minotaur is simply fun.

I loved it that I had a good title from the very beginning of writing my story.

But, but, but! My first reader didn’t like the title at all (too languid, no punch). My second reader didn’t think it was right either. (Implication of confusion, choosing, and picking one’s way, when the story is really about courage.) Neither was my husband much smitten with it. With so many against me, I caved.

A Legacy Arcane

Two legacies form the twin hearts of the story. One is a curse, afflicting the woman who inherited it. The other is a blessing, a cultural creation forgotten and abandoned amidst the vicissitudes of history. Both are secret and understood by few. Plus…who isn’t intrigued by the arcane and compelled by the promise of a legacy? Good hook!

I was sure I now had my title.

Once again I encountered resistance to my choice. My husband liked this one, but my first reader felt it was too dark for the golden-summer-evening mood of my story. My second reader felt that the essence of the story is not about legacies. And one very intelligent teen didn’t know what the word ‘arcane’ meant.

I could see all the points made by the dissenting opinions.

Talisman’s Reach

The inheritance that plagues my heroine is a talisman of old, forged by a brilliant inventor, and tumbling down through the ages to trouble all who tangle with it. It reaches through time. Thus we have Talisman’s Reach. My first reader generously devised this one and donated it to the cause. My son liked it. My daughter liked it. I liked it!

My husband thought it sounded like a place name: Howard’s End, King’s Cliffe, Skye’s Reach, etc.

Well, that rather tarnished the possibility for me.
 

Brainstorming

I decided to write down every idea I could come up with, censoring nothing, no matter how absurd. Somewhere amongst the dross there might be gold.

Her Labyrinth
Labyrinth Intangible
Labyrinth of Legend
Defy the Labyrinth
A Twist of Trouble and Truth
The Talisman Legacy
Talisman’s Tontine
Labyrinth Within, Labyrinth Without
Talisman’s Tribute
Talisman’s Travail
Talisman’s Trump
Legacy of Legend
Talisman of Ages
Talisman of Old
Magic’s Legend

There were many more than those I’ve listed above, but all of them failed to evoke my enthusiasm.

Poetry as Inspiration

My first reader suggested I visit the poets of the past for ideas. I’d watched her develop some brilliant titles for her own books using this method. Could it work for me?

Strange Charm
Ghost of an Ancient Legend
Child of Silence
Forgotten Mornings
Legends Old
Fear Made Manifest
Mortal Daring
Ascending Jubilant
Hallowed Relic
Grow Her Wings
Adamantine Chains
In Wand’ring Mazes Lost
This Pendant World
Wandering the Labyrinth
In Secret Kept
Won by Courage
Legacy Forgotten
Let Daylight In
Unbidden Guest
Taught to Conceal
Charm’s Wound
Ancient Alchemy

Well…these were better than my brainstorming efforts, but they were not better than any of the three titles I had first considered seriously.

What to do? What to do?

Images as Inspiration

I decided to play to my strengths. I’m good with visuals, practiced with graphics. And a title does not stand alone. It appears on the book cover, and the impression created by the title is heavily influenced by the imagery of the art.

Now, I have booked a spot with Deranged Doctor Design for my cover. They created the cover for The Tally Master, which a sister author was so kind as to call “magnificent.” I feel confident that DDD will create something equally marvelous for this book…once I have a title. 😀

But, I figured that I could try my top three contenders within the milieu of paintings by the Pre-Raphaelites and those influenced by them. Seeing my titles within the context of art might clarify the issue for me.

Where Do I Stand Now?

I’m still undecided. But I have two more resources to consult.

1) I plan to read through the story v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y looking for a phrase in the text that will be perfect.

2) My son is my final reader, the one who gets the story after all the revisons and corrections have been made, so as to give it either a thumb’s up or the reverse. He just bopped into my room to tell me that he’s halfway through and to gush. He’s really, really liking it. And he has an opinion about the title that stems directly and immediately from his experience. That opinion…is carrying weight!

No, I’m not going to share it with you quite yet.

I know, I’m bad! 😉

But I’d love to hear your opinion!

Edited to Add: My son was halfway through when I wrote this post. Now, on the day it is going live, my son has finished his read-through. His verdict? He loved it, and he’s demanding a sequel.

He’ll probably get it, too, since every person who has read the novel thus far pleaded for a sequel. They want more adventures with Lealle and Gaetan. This makes me happy. 😀

 

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Progress on a Work in Progress

It’s rather difficult to report on a book that does not yet have a title. How do I specify the book I mean?

The working title was To Thread the Labyrinth. When I completed my first draft, I thought I might drop the “To” and call it Thread the Labyrinth. (The story does feature a physical labyrinth, as well as a metaphysical one). But my second reader pointed out some cogent reasons why highlighting the labyrinth in the title might not be a good idea.

My next idea for the title was A Legacy Arcane, but my first reader found that overly dark, while my second reader felt that the legacy reference was too oblique.

My first reader then suggested Talisman’s Reach, and I liked it. I liked it a lot! So did my son and my daughter. I thought I had my title! But then it was pointed out to me that the talisman in my story is never once referred to by that word. So now I am cast into confusion again.

Be that as it may, I do have progress to report!

My first revision pass in September was the most extensive, following the excellent feedback I received from my first reader. My second revision pass in October caught some really important details pointed out by my equally excellent second reader.

This week I fixed all of the typos plus a few other telling specifics found by my superb proofreader.

The book is ready to enter the production process that will make it into both an ebook and a paperback!

But I need a title first.

::puts thinking cap back on:: 😀

 

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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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