If 1000 readers read a book, how many will write a review on Amazon or Kobo or GoodReads?
I’ve heard answers to that question that range all over the map. One person will say one hundred, while another claims just one. I suspect we’re all guessing, but here’s a thing that seems to be true: most writers wish that more readers would leave reviews!
The current solution is to sign your book with a reviewing service. I tried Hidden Gems with my novella Blood Silver and was pleased with the results. Their readers are an intelligent, insightful bunch and they really do write reviews.
That was one of my worries…
Of the 30 readers who signed up to read Blood Silver, how many would actually review it?
I needn’t have worried. The tally currently stands at 24, exactly the 80% that Hidden Gems states is their average review rate.
Of course, the other worry is one that is always out of the writer’s control when the reviews are honest. What will these strangers think of my book? Will they like it? What if they hate it? What if they all leave 1-star reviews?
I did get a few 3-star reviews for Blood Silver, and not every review was glowing. But most of the Hidden Gems reviewers seemed to enjoy it.
I was emboldened to sign up The Tally Master for the service. Not as many HG readers selected it to read—just 15—but 11 of them have now written reviews.
“What a creative and unique setting! Tally Master is richly developed with great story arcs…” —Sassette
“As a detective story I think the author did a great job there are so many twists and turns, a zig here and a zag there… The characters were quite complex… The scenery was very descriptive and you feel the dank, dark, oppression of the halls the trolls called home.” —Tricia Schiro
“…wonderfully entertaining. With great character development, and a wonderful and detailed world.” —Z. White
“…the descriptions were vivid like you were there. The characters were really developed and it just brought it all together. A great story!” —Marilyn Smith
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.
Fairy tales have always been amongst my favorite stories to read and to think about and to dream up sequels or alternate endings for. Immersed in them from an early age as I was, to me they seem an essential part of my foundations. So much so that I sometimes don’t recognize when I am drawing on the heritage of these archetypal narratives.
For example, take the following scene, an early flashback from The Tally Master. I’m pretty sure the reconciliation scene from “The Widow’s Son” in East of the Sun and West of the Moon must have come to mind when I wrote it, but I’d forgotten that connection completely until a few days ago when I stumbled upon an illustration by Kay Nielsen.
Blood dripping down one temple, Erastys wilted against the tree, his brother’s sword at his throat.
“Do you yield?” growled Heiroc, his sword arm tense.
Erastys paled, but shook his head. “No,” he whispered.
Heiroc’s sword arm tightened, and they hung there an instant: the dark brother pinned to the tree, garbed in silver and red, wet with blood; the light brother clothed in bronze and aqua, drenched in river water.
Gael’s vision pulsed in and out as he lay stunned, watching.
Heiroc’s voice an edged hiss, the king commanded, “You shall yield!”
Erastys grew more pale yet, but his eyes narrowed.
“You must yield!” Was Heiroc begging?
Gael suspected his hearing was as injured as his sight and the rest of him. What had happened, there at the end, when something ripped inside him? He feared the answer.
Heiroc cast his sword to the ground, where it clattered against the tree’s roots. “I cannot kill you.”
Swift triumph gleamed in Erastys’ eyes, and Gael would have cried out, had he been able. My king! My king! No!
As Heiroc turned away, Erastys shed his drooping stance—suddenly powerful—and seized his brother by the neck, thrusting him against the bloody bark where, a moment ago, Erastys had languished.
Erastys lifted his sword.
“Do you yield? Brother?” he exulted.
“No,” breathed Heiroc.
“You shall,” gloated Erastys.
“But, yes, my brother. Oh, yes!” Erastys’ teeth gleamed.
“You trade upon my mercy,” snarled Heiroc.
Erastys’ nostrils flared. “I had not surrendered.”
“No. You had not. Nonetheless.” Heiroc’s spurt of temper calmed.
“I shall not be so weak as you. I can kill,” Erastys said.
“I do not doubt it. Brother. Nonetheless. You trade upon my strength, not my weakness.” Heiroc’s tone was stern, and yet something lay under that sternness. What was it, thusly concealed?
“Does that mean you trade upon my weakness, since I trade upon your strength?” mocked Erastys.
Heiroc laughed. Gaelan’s tears!
Erastys tensed his sword arm; and then cast his sword after his brother’s—to the ground—and fell upon Heiroc’s neck in a weeping embrace. Heiroc’s arms went hesitantly around his brother’s shoulders and then snugged him in tight.
It had been love, Gael realized, love beneath Heiroc’s sternness. Even after a year of war, a year of bloodshed, a year of battle after battle. Dastard’s hells!
I must admit that this scene between the brother kings Heiroc and Erastys is one that pleases me greatly.
But now compare it to the excerpt below from “The Widow’s Son.” The provenance seems pretty clear to me. What do you think? Is there a connection?
…but when he went down to the stable where his horse was on the day the wedding was to be, there it stood so dull and heavy, and hung its ears down, and wouldn’t eat its corn. So when the young King—for he was now a king, and had got half the kingdom—spoke to him, and asked what ailed him, the Horse said:
“Now I have helped you on, and now I won’t live any longer. So just take the sword , and cut my head off.”
“No, I’ll do nothing of the kind,” said the young King; “but you shall have all you want, and rest all your life.”
“Well,” said the Horse, “if you won’t do as I tell you, see if I don’t take your life somehow.”
“So the King had to do what he asked; but when he swung the sword and was to cut his head off, he was so sorry he turned away his face, for he would not see the stroke fall. But as soon as ever he had cut off the head, there stood the loveliest Prince on the spot where the horse had stood.
“Why, where in all the world did you come from?” asked the King.
“It was I who was the horse,” said the Prince; “for I was the king of that land whose king you slew yesterday. He it was who threw this Troll’s shape over me, and sold me to the Troll. But now he is slain I get my own again, and you and I will be neighbor kings, but war we will never make on one another.”
And they didn’t either; for they were friends as long as they lived, and each paid the other very many visits.
Of course, the young King and his Horse were never enemies as were Heiroc and Erastys. Nor does the earlier portion of the tale “The Widow’s Son” resemble the story told in The Tally Master. But my scene seems to hold echoes from the end of the fairy tale, don’t you think?
A few days before I was due to meet my writer friend Laura Montgomery in Culpeper (for a lunch of Chinese stir fry), she announced that she was christening our meal the Midway Writer’s Conference.
We both chuckled. Can a gathering of two really be considered a conference? Despite our laughter, we gave the question serious thought.
We’re old college friends who lost touch over the years and then reconnected in the comments of the wonderful blog run by Passive Guy, aka David Vandagriff.
We were astonished and delighted to learn that our lives had acquired some curious parallels. She’s the mother of twins; I’m the mother of twins. She’d launched herself into indie publishing writing science fiction. I’d done the same writing fantasy.
How cool was that!
After a bunch of cordial emails and some beta reading for one another, we decided to meet up for a cup of tea. After the briefest of pleasantries—“You look just as I remember you!—we talked writer shop for 2 hours straight. At the next meeting we talked for 4 hours, this time mixing publishing shop in with the writer shop talk.
Our latest meeting was 6 hours, with a focus on the marketing angle of indie publishing.
Yes, these really were conferences. Although this time we actually did manage to talk about our kids. Who knows? Maybe next time we’ll even chat about our spouses. 😉
One of the topics we discussed in Culpeper was the nature of genre and whether or not I wrote epic fantasy. Laura blogged about the question (and our conference), so I’m going to quote her. She said:
We tried to figure out if…The Tally Master was epic fantasy or not.
I was arguing it was. The troll wars rage across the Northlands. Weapons are forged. Our cursed main characters live in a troll tower of monumental proportions. It all seems pretty epic to me.
The hero is a bronze-age accountant. She was telling a small tale. It was a mystery about missing tin, a matter of seemingly little moment.
But, said I, it has large consequences, it’s part of a grand, epic sweep. A light bulb went off in my own mind…
And now I think I’d better send you off to Laura’s blog to read the rest. It’s really not fair for me to steal her audience.
So click HERE and go read. She’s witty in an understated way that I love, so it’s worth the click. I’ll wait while you visit her. Promise. 😉
Did you go?
I’m going to pretend you said, “Yes.” You did, right!
(The Sky Suspended features the patent fight she mentioned. Mercenary Calling presents the mutiny charge in a suspenseful story that also kept me in a ripple of internal chuckles the whole way through. I do love Laura’s dry humor.)
What did you think about her light bulb?
I thought she was clever—and correct—in her assertion that we both like focusing up-close-and-personal on a hero caught in the sweep of epic events.
But does that truly make my books epic fantasy? I know I’ve asked this question before, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to decide the answer for certain.
Nearly a year ago, I wrote a guest post about bronze swords:
• how the metals were extracted from the earth
• how the weapons were smithed
• and why they were more effective than the early efforts from the Iron Age.
The blog on which my post appeared is an active one, hosted by a talented and prolific sister author. She generates fresh material for her site every day, and my post has long been buried under 365 days of impressive creativity!
Given my latest streak of posts about steel swords, now seems a grand time to revive my research on bronze swords and present it on my own blog. 😀
* * *
Tracking down knowledge is my drug of choice. Each new fact is just so interesting! Even better is the moment when an entire constellation of facts coalesces, and I see how it all fits together and what it all means. That’s a total thrill!
But my insatiable curiosity (and I seem to be able to be curious about everything and anything) was not why I researched bronze metallurgy in ancient times. I was writing a novel set in the Bronze Age of my North-lands, and my protagonist was essentially the treasurer for a warlord. The wealth of the citadel lay in its metals and – especially – its weapons. So I needed to know all about how the metals were extracted from the earth, how they were purified and poured into ingots, and what forging techniques were used. My protag knew all that stuff, so I needed to know about it also.
For those of you who share my curious bent, here’s what I discovered.
Too many of the sources I found were overly theoretical. The author might explain why ancient cultures developed metallurgy as they did or how they traded for their tin. But I needed nitty gritty details.
How were their smelting furnaces set up? How long did it take for the metal to become molten? How exactly did the ancients fashion bronze scale mail? How did they make their bronze swords?
Historical re-enactors and experimental archeologists proved to be my most fruitful sources. I found actual patterns for re-creating bronze helmets and bronze armor, along with photos of the finished results. I found videos showing Bronze Age combat techniques.
Smiths Were Mages
The website of Neil Burridge, a smith who creates Bronze Age artifacts using authentic materials and methods, had the details I was truly seeking. Videos of him in action allowed me to see a real smith moving within the forging environment, garbed in the protective gear of heavy apron and gauntlets, using the tongs and crucibles, exercising prudence with the liquid fire that is molten metal.
He also explained vividly the awe with which the ancient smiths were probably regarded. Metallurgy was not a theoretical science for them. It was a practical discipline, absolutely necessary for their tools and weapons, but with techniques developed over hundreds of years and handed down from one smith to another.
They didn’t know why these techniques worked. And they weren’t infallible. Sometimes a pour would turn out a perfect result. Other times it would fail, and the smith wouldn’t know for sure what had caused the failure. Certainly ordinary people, with no access to a smith’s secrets, would have regarded the whole business as magical.
Why Would a Skilled Smith Waste His Time?
Although the people in my novel were using Bronze Age technologies, I envisioned them as possessing military organization more like the armies of ancient Rome. Thus my smiths would not spend days setting up for the pouring of one sword that might – or might not – deliver success. They would pour many blades in one day, and then hand the blades off to others for the steps that transformed the plain metal blank into a weapon.
Anvilfire.com, a website “dedicated to advancing modern blacksmithing while retaining traditional standards of craftsmanship,” supplied me with information about this finishing process. The bladesmith created the blade. A separate shop did the grinding and polishing. Yet a third made the hilt and secured the blade to it. And a fourth made the scabbard.
Making a sword was resource intensive, both because of the valuable metals required and because of the labor from many skilled individuals that went into it.
Firesetting at the Copper Mine
So what about those materials? Bronze is made by mixing a small part of tin with a larger portion of copper. The ancients didn’t have modern strip mines or deep underground mines. Nor did they have sophisticated machinery run by diesel engines. How did they get copper and tin out of the ground?
Copper mines bore some resemblance to my expectations. The copper deposits needed to be relatively near the surface, but the ancients actually did tunnel down to a vein of ore. There, at the working face, they built a fire to heat the ore-containing rock. Once the rock reached a high enough temperature, they doused it with cold water. This process increased the brittleness of the rock and induced a preliminary degree of cracking. Blows from a hammer or pick could then break it into rubble, which could be heated in a smelting furnace to extract the copper.
Tin was another matter, one entirely new to me.
Tin was found in alluvial deposits in stream beds, usually as a very pure tin gravel well stirred with gravels of quartz, mica, and feldspar (gangue). So the trick was to separate out the tin gravel from the others.
The method of the ancients, as far back as 2,000 BC, was this:
• Dig a trench at the lowest end of the deposit.
• Dig a channel from the nearest water source to pour water over that part of the deposit
• Allow the stream of water to wash the lighter gangue into the trench
• Pick up the heavier tin gravel that remained
• When the lower portion of the deposit had yielded all its tin, dig another trench a bit higher and redirect the water channel, to allow the next section of the deposit to be harvested
The tin gravel thus obtained would be roughly smelted on site, simply roasting the gravel in a fire. The pebbles resulting from this rough smelt would then be transported to a dedicated furnace for a second smelting that yielded the purer tin needed by bladesmiths.
What About the Ingots?
Modern ingots are rectangular blocks, but those of the ancients took several different forms. The earliest were so-called “biscuit” ingots, round on the bottom like a muffin, gently concave on the top. They took the shape of the earthen pit into which the molten metal dripped from the smelting furnace.
But metal is heavy, and the biscuit shape awkward to carry. Around our own Mediterranean, an “oxhide” form was developed. It weighed about 80 pounds and possessed four “legs,” one at each corner, that allowed it to be tied between pack animals or gripped and carried by men.
I became fascinated with an ingot form used much later by the Chinese in the Malay Penninsula. These were hat shaped, much smaller (weighing only a pound), and actually used as currency.
A Peculiarity of Forging in Bronze
Bronze has one very peculiar property in the smithy.
Most metals, such as iron or even copper, when heated and cooled slowly to room temperature, become more ductile and more workable. They are less prone to internal stresses.
Bronze does not behave like this. When slow cooled, it becomes brittle and difficult to work. Thus it must be heated to cherry-red and then quenched in water. This quick cooling makes it so soft that it can then be hammered. The hammering condenses the metal, giving it more rigidity.
A bladesmith will hammer near the edge of a blade to harden it and help it keep its sharpness, while allowing the center rib to retain more of its resilience.
Were These Swords Any Good?
If you compare a bronze sword to a steel sword, the steel is always going to win. But when the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, bronze metallurgy was at its peak. Several thousand years had gone into the development of the most superb techniques. Iron metallurgy was in its infancy, and getting the iron swords to be rigid enough was a problem. The iron swords just weren’t as good as the bronze ones, which were light, strong, just rigid enough, and held an edge well.
But there’s no need to take my word on this. A YouTuber with a passion for swords, Skallagrim from Canada, discourses quite knowledgeably about the pros and cons of bronze. More amusingly, he tests one of Neil Burridge’s bronze swords “to destruction” in the video below.
(There’s a brief reprise snippet of Mr. Burridge before Skallagrim gets going with his destruction. Go to the 3:30 mark, if you want to skip that snippet.)
Even after all my research, I cannot call myself more than a mere smatterer. I learned enough to write The Tally Master, and not much more. But I hope you found these tidbits entertaining, and I’ll be happy to answer questions in the comments below. Or to speculate with you, when I don’t know the answer. 😉
In The Tally Master, the elite of the citadel possess quarters in the uppermost levels of the tower. Its warlord, Regenen Carbraes, inhabits chambers with an internal stair connecting several lower spaces with others on the upper floor.
Gael, the protagonist of the novel, chooses not to use the official apartments that go with his position of Secretarius, but he pays an unplanned and fateful visit to his empty rooms one evening.
Another turning point in the story occurs on the terrace ringed by the quarters of the elite. Carbraes and the general who commands his legions (the March) are enjoying a rare moment of conversation and leisure under the summer sun, when Gael brings them startling news.
The tower of Belzetarn possesses three great halls. Too many trolls dwell in the citadel for one hall to hold them all, and even so, many of the craftsmen and craftsmasters dine in the mess halls of their lodges, located in the artisans’ yard or the bailey.
The topmost hall (level nine) serves as the official hall of the regenen, the warlord who rules the citadel. But Carbraes’ practical instincts push him to dine in company with more than the elite, and thus he randomly takes some of his meals in the middle great hall (level six) and the lower one (level five).
When Gael goes seeking the castellanum one evening (the castellanum manages the domestic concerns of the citadel), he starts by checking the topmost great hall, but comes up empty. The middle great hall is equally bereft of the highest officers. Carbraes dined in the lowest great hall that night, and the castellanum, perforce, dined there with him.
I find the book to be beautiful, and for several days after I received my copy, I kept it on the coffee table in the living room, so that I could pick it up and admire it every time I passed nearby. Now it’s on a bookshelf, but I keep taking it down to look it over – gorgeous cover, beautifully framed frontispiece, wonderful map, and so on – wanting to prove to myself all over again that it really does exist. 😉
I’ve enrolled the book in Amazon’s Matchbook program, which means that if you purchase the paperback first, you can then buy the ebook edition at a discount. As a reader myself, I’ve found that for certain books I want the paper edition sitting on my bookshelf, while I tote a convenient digital reading copy on my e-reader when I’m out and about. Perhaps some of you might own to a similar preference.
As I type this, the paperback Tally is available at Amazon, CreateSpace, or Barnes & Noble. Over the next 8 weeks (or so), it will wend its way through the distribution chain to reach bookstores such as the Book Depository and Powell’s.
* * *
Seven years ago, reeling from a curse in the wake of battle, Gael sought sanctuary and found it in a most perilous place.
The citadel of a troll warlord—haunt of the desperate and violent—proves a harsh refuge for a civilized mage. But Gael wields power enough to create an oasis of order amidst the chaos.
Now master of the metals that flow to the citadel’s weapon forges, Gael rules his tally room unchallenged, until he discovers a theft within its vaults.
Gael loves the quiet certainty of black ink tally marks on smooth parchment, but his search for the thief leads to a maze of unexpected answers, putting his hard-won sanctuary—and his life—at risk.
Set in the Bronze Age of J.M. Ney-Grimm’s North-lands, The Tally Master brings mystery and secrets to epic fantasy in a suspenseful tale of betrayal and redemption.
Belzetarn’s wealth is measured in its metals and the war gear made from those metals.
Great vaults at the core of the tower hold stores of weapons and armor for the legions. Smaller vaults, stacked within the thick outer wall, guard the swords and breastplates intended for officers, as well as the ingots of tin, copper, and bronze from which they are forged.
Gael’s tally chamber lies off the lowest great hall, where the lowly in the tower take their meals. Gael’s personal quarters sit immediately above the tally room, while his assistant’s apartment perches third in the stack.
Three significant scenes take place in or adjacent to the melee gallery of the tower (on level three).
In the earliest, Gael first sets eyes on the cursed gong that his warlord’s scouts dragged from the bottom of a ruined well. The gong will bedevil him through much of the book!
In the second scene, Gael must pronounce a young prisoner to be either troll or human. If the youth is human, he will be executed. In the third scene…well, too many spoilers for me to say a word about that one! 😉
Gael’s friend Barris is the chief cook in the Regenen’s Kitchens, and Gael stops by the servery often as he goes about his responsibilities. Barris presses food treats such as smoked fish and fruit conserves upon his friend whenever Gael looks in to say hello.