Sovereign Change

The sequel to The Tally Master has a new title!

I’m so excited about it, but I deserve none of the credit. Who does?

My first reader.

Actually she deserves credit for a lot more than the title. She read through my first draft, which turned out to be in much rougher shape than I’d realized, and not only flagged all of its problems, but made some excellent suggestions for how to fix them.

Then—with a generosity beyond any call of honor or duty—she read the whole thing again in its revised version.

I just received the commented manuscript back from her. This second draft is in much better shape than was the first. Thank goodness! She found it gripping and fun to read, but she also discovered a number of additional small issues that will be the better for fixing. I hope to dive into the revision work soon.

But what about that title?

It was while my first reader was racing through the exciting climax scene—just as tension-filled, she reports, even though she’d read it before—that inspiration visited her.

Sovereign Night.

The instant I saw it, there in the first comment on the manuscript, I loved it. It’s THE ONE. 😀

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth has now officially become Sovereign Night.

 
 
 

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Hantidan Garb

Although I draw inspiration from the history and cultures of the real world for my stories, I don’t reproduce reality wholesale. Which means that when I seek out images to represent elements of my fiction, I rarely find any that exactly match the visions I entertain in my imagination. I must make due with photographs and artwork that are almost what I have in mind, or close.

Luckily, almost and close often convey quite a bit. 😀

One consistent feature of Hantidan garb is that it possesses an asymmetric closure, with fastenings that run down the front, along one side, from neck to hem.

The peasants who work in the rice paddies, fish the river, or cut reeds in the wetlands wear linen jackets over skirts or wide trousers. Their garb needs to be practical, permitting free movement of the limbs, durable, and comfortable in the hot, humid climate.

The portrait of Kan Gao (at right) does not have the Hantidan side closure, but the jacket, skirt, and trousers otherwise mimic the Hantidan garb of a country laborer quite well.
 
 
 
 

City dwellers with less physically demanding jobs tend to wear robes. Apprentices, messengers, journeymen, clerks, delivery men, and other workers sport robes of drab linen.

Master artisans, scribes, business owners, and well-to-do professionals chose well-dyed linens, often adorned by tassels on the sleeves and shoulders.

A sash worn over the shoulder secures a pouch for carrying coin, abacus, or other tools used often in their respective trades.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Senior servants and palace functionaries wear silk robes, but in subdued colors.

The garments worn by the hanfu promoters at right are secured by sashes, whereas my Hantidans would find a snug binding around the waist too hot. But aside from that detail, the dark green silk and monochrome edgings are very like some of the robes Gael and Keir see while sojourning in the Glorious Citadel.

Dark green, dark blue, and dark yellow are common colors, as is dark gray, the robes donned by Gael and Keir.
 
 
 
 

Wealthy merchants and lesser nobility flaunt silk robes in brilliant colors: crimson, orange, turquoise, leaf green, sky blue, and so on. The most privileged might possess tone-on-tone patterns woven into the fabric, but sumptuary laws prevent more elaborate designs.

The sokutai attire shown at right depicts the shimmering brilliance typical of garments worn by the rich and powerful of Hantida, but lacks the asymmetric neckline and side closure of their robes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Only the elite among the nobility are permitted to wear elaborate, patterned brocades. Their luxurious robes are commonplace within their city palaces, on their country estates, and within the Glorious Citadel.

But they are rarely seen on the streets of Hantida. The elite take the air in secluded courtyards and gardens or hunt on broad private acreage. When they travel from one city residence to another, or from rural estate to urban mansion, they occupy curtained palanquins more often than not.

The first such robes encountered by Gael and Keir are fashioned of “an ornate brocade depicting herons lifting in flight.” The second feature “a tracery of green leaves and lizards upon a bronze ground.”

The traditional wedding dress (above at right), although beautiful, would be considered a simpler design among the high nobility of Hantida.

The robes worn by Emperor Qianlong (immediate right) are more typical garb for the highest of the high Hantidans.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The guards standing sentry duty on the walls of the Glorious Citadel wear bronze scale mail, but the silhouette of their armor is very similar to the ceremonial armor depicted in the portrait (right) of Emperor Qianlong.

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
Timekeeping in Hantida
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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Timekeeping in Hantida

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth is an adventure mystery with a good bit of action and fighting.

It’s not a brain-bender mystery like the clever Five Red Herrings by Dorothy Sayers, in which the time tables of trains prove integral to solving the plot.

Nor is it a mystery of manners like Georgette Heyer’s witty Detection Unlimited, in which the behavior of clocks plays an important role.

Nonetheless, as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I found myself thinking about timekeeping and how the Hantidans did it.

Since the story takes place in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, the Hantidans would not be telling time with clocks or watches or digital phones. So how did they do it?

The earliest timekeeping devices in our own history were sundials. In sunny climes, they worked well…by day. But what about the night time? And what about places with cloud cover?

Hantida has a wet season and a dry season, but even in the dry season, a storm comes through on many days. Which meant that even if they used sundials, they probably used something else to supplement them.

Drawing again from history, I had sandglasses (hourglasses), candle clocks, incense clocks, and water clocks as options.

Some historians speculate that the ancient Greeks and ancient Romans used sandglasses. They certainly had the technology necessary to make them. But the historical record does not contain actual mention of them as it does of water clocks. No one seems to be sure when sandglasses were invented and first used, but it may have been as late as the Middle Ages.

I am not absolutely strict about anachronisms in my North-lands—I write fantasy, after all—but I like to use real history as a guide. So I decided against sandglasses for my Hantidans.

The earliest mention of candle clocks comes earlier than those of sandglasses, in a Chinese poem written in 520 AD. That’s slightly better than the Middle Ages, but candle clocks have other disadvantages, namely that it’s hard to get the wicks and wax uniform enough to prevent inaccuracy in their timekeeping. Drafts were also a problem with the even burning of the candles.

Besides…520 AD still remains a lot later than 1500 BC!

(In the west, the candle clock bore regular markings on the column of wax. In the east, weights were attached to threads embedded in the wax. As the candle burned down, the threads were released, and the weights dropped into a plate below with a clatter.)

Before my research into timekeeping, I’d never heard of incense clocks. When I did— Wow! Just, wow! I fell in love!

Evidently incense can be calibrated more accurately than candle wax, so incense clocks are more accurate than candle clocks. And differently fragranced incense can be used in rotation, so that different hours are associated with different scents.

I had only one problem with bestowing incense clocks on my Hantidans. I absolutely knew that the Daoine Meras, the people in the next Gael & Keir Adventure, use incense clocks.

I didn’t want to repeat myself!

So my Hantidans received water clocks.

Actually, water clocks are pretty cool. And they appeared in Babylon around the 16th century BC, perhaps earlier still in ancient China (4000 BC). Water clocks and humans have been together for a very long time!

The earliest water clocks were outflow clocks. That is, the water flowed out from a hole in the bowl. As the water level fell, it passed markings on the inner surface that indicated the time. Often the dripping water was not caught by another vessel, but allowed to absorb into the sand or earth below.

Later water clocks were inflow clocks, in which water from an upper vessel flowed through a calibrated channel into a lower bowl. The inner surface of the lower bowl was marked, and as the water level rose, it indicated the time.

The Persians used yet another style to ensure that the water from their underground irrigation channels was distributed evenly among the farms sharing a given aquifer. They placed a small bowl with a calibrated hole in a larger bowl filled with water. The water flowed through the hole to fill the smaller bowl. When it sank, the clock manager would place a pebble in a container to count that iteration, pour the water back into the larger bowl, and then start the small bowl filling again.

I suspect my Hantidans use the inflow model of water clock.

But how did the Hantidans get started with timekeeping?

There’s plenty of water in Hantida: the river, the monsoons, the near-daily rain in the dry season, and a generous water table below ground. They wouldn’t have needed to divide water so carefully as did the Persians.

Here, real world history came to my rescue once again.

Some of the ancient cities were very populous, counting a hundred thousand people within their walls along with great wealth. They built walls to protect themselves and manned those walls with sentries who stood guard through both day and night.

The sentries needed to know when their watch was up and when the next one started. Timekeeping was required!

That made sense for Hantida.

I could just see the Keeper of the Watch sounding the drum in his tower on the city walls when the Keeper of the Clepsydra announced the first beat of the evening watch. And then, all over the city, itinerant time keepers would ring their chimes in echo of the drum beat.

I decided to model the Hantidan schedule of watches after those used by sailors.

Each day possesses seven watches. Five of them are 4 hours long. Two of them are but 2 hours long. This ensures that the sentries rotate through the watches, rather than staying with the same one indefinitely.

Each long watch has eight beats or chimes, each short watch, only four.

Midwatch     midnight – 4 am
Morning Watch     4 am – 8 am
Forenoon Watch     8 am – noon
Afternoon Watch     noon – 4 pm
Aja-watch the First     4 pm – 6 pm
Aja-watch the Second     6 pm – 8 pm
Evening Watch     8 pm – midnight

So…did Hantidan timekeeping come into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth at all? Or was it one of those fun bits of research that never make it onto the page?

I’m not telling! 😉

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
The Baths of the Glorious Citadel
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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The Baths of the Glorious Citadel

“The Hantidans know how to draw a bath,” Gael agreed.

Although the real benefit of the palace baths might be that a quiet bather could overhear useful gossip.

I must side with Gael on this one. Hantidans do indeed know how to draw a bath. I envisioned the Hantidan bath as resembling those of the Japanese: very deep, very hot, and including a view through a sliding screen of a stylized garden.

If I could visit Hantida right now, their baths would definitely feature in my itinerary!

In the morning, Gael returned to his room from the baths pleasantly relaxed and smelling of herbal soap. Unusually for him, he’d kept thinking at bay during his soak, focusing instead on the physical sensations—the extreme heat of the water Hantidans favored, its depth—well over his shoulders—the scented steam, the beauty of the sunlight on the bamboos right outside the partially open screens.

In spite of their lure, however, I initially categorized the Hantidan baths as an appealing detail of the setting and little more.

But as I moved more deeply into The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, I realized they served as more than evocative window dressing.

“I heard two gentlemen talking in the baths, gossiping about last night’s accident. Interesting that they classified it as an accident, by the by,” he added.

In the baths, Gael and Keir would learn clues to the mystery they encountered in the Glorious Citadel. They would discover new suspects to question. And Gael would have an informative encounter there.

It was down around a corner of the tile passageway and bigger than the rest of the tubs Gael had seen in the palace, with room enough for four.

Zithilo lounged in one corner of the bath, lanky legs stretched out before him along the tub floor, gaze fixed on a close, engoldened slice of slope visible through the open screen—afternoon was giving way to evening—overgrown by ferns, mosses, and shrubs. He was tall, skinny, and muscular. He didn’t bother to look over his shoulder when Gael’s step sounded in the doorway.

“Get in!” he urged. “The water is fine!”

Gotta stop there to avoid spoilers!

So…what do the baths look like?

Well, the photo at the top of this post shows a bath similar to the one that Zithilo invites Gael to share. And the photo at right has the feeling of the corridor giving onto the individual baths.

The baths were arranged along a narrow side corridor of white tile, a tall and solid wall on Gael’s left, a shoulder-high wall punctuated by a dozen open doorways on his right. Each doorway connected to a small cubical with hooks and a wooden bench, and a farther doorway to a square, sunken tub with a view onto a moss garden.

Steam wreathed the air, along with the scent of herbal soap.

There are many bath houses within the Glorious Citadel, and the approach to each is the standard roofed walkway that runs along the edges of the courtyards and gardens and beside the walls of the pavilions that compose the palace.

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth has grown under revision. The first draft came in at 78,000 words. As I write this blog post, the novel stands at over 95,000 words. I’ve edited and revised the first 75,000 of those, so you can see that I am closing in on the end. I hope to send the manuscript out for its next beta read soon!

For more about the setting of The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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That Sudden Leap

I researched and planned for The Sovereign’s Labyrinth for nearly two months. As the story grew in my mind, I found myself often murmuring, “Oh! That’s so cool! I can’t wait to write that!”

Concept for the bridges into Hantida’s Glorious Citadel

I finally did start writing on November 9, and the actuality not only lived up to my expectations; it surpassed them. How often does that happen? But it really did happen with this novel.

Each scene had me rubbing my hands in anticipation as I prepared to write it, and gasping at the end, “Oh, that was cool!”

I suspect that is why my word count mounted up so quickly. I was writing as though I were a reader, saying, “Just one scene more,” and staying up too late at night for it!

But that’s not why the progress bar in the side bar of my website leapt abruptly ahead.

Concept for the moat surrounding Hantida’s Glorious Citadel

If you’ve been watching it, you’ll have seen the word count increasing from between 1,000 to 2,000 words most days, while the blue stripe moved steadily rightward.

Then, yesterday, as it was crossing the 50% mark, it jumped past the 90% mark. What’s up with that? Did I do a spot of time traveling, so that I could write 50,000 words one night between dusk and dawn?

Well, no.

Whenever I start a book, I’m essentially guessing about how long I think it will be. The Sovereign’s Labyrinth was definitely going to be a full novel. But was it going to be a doorstopper novel of 160,000 words? I didn’t think so. As cool as it seemed, it didn’t feel l-o-n-g.

Concept for an interior garden within Hantida’s Glorious Citadel

So I estimated that maybe it would be 130,000 words, and that is what I used to calculate the percentages on the progress bar.

Once I was well into the writing of the novel, I began to suspect that it might be 100,000 words. But would it really?

I don’t like to monkey around with a gazillion different estimates while I’m writing a book. It would just distract me, when I want to reserve my brainpower for storytelling.

So I left that 130K alone, figuring I’d adjust it when I got closer to the end.

Of course, you know what happened with that! The closer I was to the end, the more exciting the events in my story became. I was writing late into the night, sometimes past midnight. Yikes!

Which meant that I was too sleepy at night to bother with the progress bar, and too excited about jumping into writing in the morning to do it then.

But today (Thursday, January 31, as I write this—or was it yesterday? bad memory!) I said, “C’mon, Jessica! Time to get that progress bar within striking distance of a reasonable total. You’ve got 71,000 words written and another four or five big scenes to go. Call it 80,000 and adjust that bar.”

So I did!

I have to catch up on sleep, so I am forcing myself not to start the next scene (I already wrote two today), even though I really, really want to. But, tomorrow? I am so going to dive on it!

I found the photos accompanying this post during the research I did for building the world of Hantida, the city in which The Sovereign’s Labyrinth takes place.

If you’d like to see more of such world building, check out:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
A Library in the Glorious Citadel

 

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Last Day of Kobo’s Start a New Series Sale

Kobo has been running a special promotion for first books of series.

The Tally Master is in it!

If you buy ebooks from Kobo, now is your chance to pick up The Tally Master at a discount.

Since I’ll be releasing the second Gael & Keir Adventure later this year, it’s a great time to start the series. 😀

Here’s the link to The Tally Master on Kobo. (Or click the image below.)

Today is the last day of the sale, so don’t wait!

Update: The sale is now over. I hope that those who took advantage of the deal (and there were a number of you) are now happily reading! 😀

 

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A Library in the Glorious Citadel

Just this week (as I wrote The Sovereign’s Labyrinth), Gael and Keir decided on a late-night excursion through the Glorious Citadel and found themselves scrounging around its library. Which meant that I needed to know how my Hantidans make books.

I tend to borrow very freely from real world history as I build my North-lands, and I already knew that I wanted to borrow from ancient China for my Hantidans’ books. But I didn’t know a lot about bookbinding in the ancient east, so I had to read up.

I learned that the earliest writings in significant numbers were found on oracle bones used in divination.

The diviner would submit a question to a deity by carving the inquiry into an ox scapula or a turtle plastron. Then intense heat would be applied via a metal rod, until the bone (or plastron) cracked. The pattern of cracks would be interpreted by the diviner, and his interpretation would be engraved beside the carved question.

A millennium later, the Chinese were writing on bamboo slips which were tied together with silken cords or leather thongs when the text was long and required more space than a single slip could provide. These early books were essentially bundles.

The next innovation was the use of silk made into near-paper for writing. The silk was formed into scrolls, and the writing implement changed from a bamboo stylus to a hair brush.

The transition from bamboo bundles to silk scrolls was not instantaneous, and for a long time both formats remained in use.

Because silk paper was expensive, when a paper made from tree bark, hemp, rags, and fishing nets was invented, it became very popular. It, too, was formatted into scrolls.

The transition from scrolls to codices began when the long paper of a scroll was folded in wide accordion pleats. Eventually these pleats were cut into separate pages and bound together in a style called butterfly binding. Again, the two forms (scrolls and codices) coexisted for quite some time.

I decided that my Hantidans were in the midst of their own transition from scroll to codex. Scrolls are by far more numerous, but the new codex form is catching on fast!

But what was the nature of their inks and brushes? Not the traditional quill and ink pot that comes to mind from medieval Europe!

The brushes are ornate and possess caps to protect the bristles during storage.

The inks are made from soot—lacquer soot, pine soot, or oil soot—mixed with glue and aromatic spices, then pressed into shape and allowed to dry to become an inkstck.

When the scribe wishes to write, he grinds the inkstick against an inkstone, pouring water over the ground ink and mixing the two together in the reservoir of the inkstone. The scribe dips his brush into the liquid and then draws on his paper.

Other tools involved in the process of writing are brush holders, brush hangers, paper weights, a rinsing pot, a seal, and seal paste.

This was far more than I needed to know for Gael’s and Keir’s secret visit to the library, but I found it fascinating. Gael and Keir do pass by a desk set with writing implements, but the main action of the scene occurs when another pair of surreptitious night visitors also come to the library!

I won’t say more, lest I stray into spoiler territory. 😉

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
Quarters in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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Quarters in the Glorious Citadel

As I write this blog post, my heroes—Gael and Keir—have succeeded in gaining access to the “forbidden city” wherein lies the lodestone they seek.

(I’m 24,875 words into the novel, The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, book 2 in the Gael & Keir Adventures. I hope to be further along when this post goes live!)

Their quarters are pleasant, much like those in the photo above, although furnished with low cabinets holding bedding quilts, kneeling cushions, and other necessities. Also, their rooms are around a corner from each other rather than side by side.

The sliding screens of Keir’s room front a narrow gravel courtyard with a row of stone lanterns in it.

Gael’s view features a moss garden.

Here’s a floor plan showing the rooms and how they connect to one another and the wooden walkways outside.

Gael and Keir encounter violence and mystery in the Glorious Citadel before they even settle into their quarters!

For more about The Sovereign’s Labyrinth, see:
A Townhouse in Hantida
A Library in the Glorious Citadel
That Sudden Leap

 

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Writing vs. Publishing

I need to be two people!

One me would write my new novel, a sequel to The Tally Master.

The other me would ready the latest book in The Lodestone Tales for publication in March 2019.

Actually I need a third me, who would write blog posts, create cool visuals to appear in BookBub’s newsletter, compose emails to send to those of you subscribed to my newsletter, and do all the other things involved in communicating with the wonderful people who read and enjoy my books.

Since I have only the one me, I’m attempting to strike a balance each day between these three different hats that I wear.

In the past, I’ve not tried to wear all three hats on any one day. I’d spend 3 to 8 months wearing the writer hat and writing a story. Then I’d move into revising. After that came the publishing mode: proofreading, formatting the manuscript as an ebook, creating the cover, uploading the files, etc. And then I’d blog about the book and try to get the word out.

The thing about doing it that way is that it leads to long gaps between the writing of my stories. The gaps are long enough that I start to pine for the writing.

So, over the years, I’ve worked to reduce the gap between writing stints.

Combining the publishing and communicating modes happened pretty readily and easily. They go together, in my brain at least.

I also learned that I need not wait until my first and second readers were done with my previous book in order for me to start on the next book.

But right now I am attempting to write The Sovereign’s Labyrinth in the mornings, while I work on publishing tasks for Lodestone Tales 5 and marketing Fate’s Door in the afternoons.

It’s a wobbly balance, but I’m doing it!

Some days I don’t get the writing in. Other days I don’t manage any publishing tasks. But it feels great to be writing, and I feel confidant that I will get everything done for publishing on time.

So how are things progressing under each of my hats?

I’m so glad you asked! 😉

Lodestone Tales 5

I still have not settled on a title for this book!

But that is not stopping me. I’m progressing steadily in the very last stage of getting the manuscript ready both to format as an ebook and to create the paperback edition.

This last stage involves listening to my computer read the story aloud.

The computer does a pretty good job of reading, so it’s kinda fun listening. But it’s an essential step, because I find the last teeny-tiny glitches that need to be fixed. In this particular manuscript, there were several instances of ‘though’ that needed to be ‘through,’ and two places where ‘through’ needed to be ‘thorough,’ plus two spots missing a ‘the.’ But they are all fixed now.

I’m two-thirds of the way through this audio proofing, and it is going well.

I’ve also been making a list of phrases from the manuscript that might make good titles. Want to see what I’ve got so far? You know I want to share! 😉

Reaching Refuge False Refuge Strangling Thorns
Rife with Hiding Places Held Breath Choose to Open
Choose to Unchain Not Just Fear Fighting Retreat
No More Doubt Other Doors Worse than Dying
Death by Beneficence Say Nothing of Me Word of Silence
Word of Solitude Before They Kill Me Pinching the Pendant
Sundered Radices Sundering Hope Unblessed Solitude
Fortunate Trespass Benevolent Trespass Honorable Trespass
Trespasser’s Surprise Long Secrecy Bequeath Doom
Approach with Courage Alluring Shadows Push Back the Darkness
Hallowed Beast Hallowed Secret Promises Kept
Promises Unwise Venture Beyond Let the Curtain Fall
Let the Curtain Rise Benevolent Illumination Intriguing Legend
Healing Knowledge Prelude to Friendship Magical Gift
Magical Talisman Occupy the Shadows Occupy the Edges
Enigmatic Magic Enigmatic Hunt Without Even a Knock
A Trespass Most Generous

Are any of these serious contenders? Well, no. But I have another third of the book to read. Maybe the perfect phrase is waiting there for me to find it.

The Sovereign’s Labyrinth

I’m super excited about my new work in progress, the sequel to The Tally Master!

I’m thrilled to be hanging out with Gael and Keir again. And I think the adventure facing them is way cool! I’ve got only the first scene written so far, but my plans for what comes next have me jumping metaphorically up and down in excitement.

Gael and Keir have arrived in Hantida, a city-state far to the west and south of Belzetarn. They’ve just witnessed a very peculiar failed arrest, and it is clear that ALL IS NOT WELL here. 😀

Oh! I can’t wait!

I need to do a quickly sketched floor plan of the house where they are headed to treat a badly burned girl, and then I can get on with writing the next scene. (After I finish this blog post, of course. See what I mean about those three hats!)

Fate’s Door Is On Sale

These days, getting the word out about one’s books is key. If you don’t do it, no one knows they exist. Which means no one buys them and reads them.

::J.M. shudders::

The idea of no one reading my books horrifies me!

I had great success last spring when I put Troll-magic on sale and created an image announcing the sale to appear in BookBub’s newsletter. Lots more readers than usual picked up a copy, and that heightened visibility continued for a full 2 months after the BookBub mention.

Naturally I’m trying to replicate that experience with my other books! But it’s tricky, and there is much to learn.

I didn’t get the same results when I tried this for Blood Silver, which did about half as well as Troll-magic. But I’m continuing to experiment, and now Fate’s Door is receiving its turn in the sunshine. I’ll be able to assess the results sometime next week.

In the meantime, the ebook edition of Fate’s Door is available at a discount on Amazon, so do pick up your copy!

*   *   *

That’s what I’ve been up to lately.

I have a bunch of blog posts I want to write about the world of Lodestone Tales 5. Plus I still want to share some of the Whole30 menus that I devised. Watch this space! 😉

(Maybe I need to be four people!)

 

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