A New Cover for Troll-magic

I’ve been replacing all my covers featuring the back & white illustrations by Kay Nielsen.

I loved those old covers, but the odd thing is that I find I’m loving the new ones every bit as much. I suspect it’s because I’ve loved the works by John William Waterhouse for almost as long as I’ve loved Kay Nielsen’s illustrations.

I’m particularly delighted with the art I found for Troll-magic.

There’s a story behind that, which I’m gong to share. 😉

You may recall that when I searched the portfolio of John William Waterhouse for art that would fit Fate’s Door, I initially missed the painting titled Miranda, even though it is perfect, depicting a young blond woman in Grecian robes who could be Nerine, the sea nymph protagonist of my book.

Luckily my friend Laura found what I had missed.

The same thing happened with Livli’s Gift, although I self-corrected there. After doing a mock-up based on Waterhouse’s The Annunciation, I noticed The Crystal Ball, which was (again) perfect.

Well, guess what? You know what comes next, right?

When I looked for art that would fit Troll-magic, I didn’t see anything.

It was only when I was searching on behalf of Livli’s Gift that I found myself doing a double take.

“Wait a minute!” I said to myself. “Psyche has blond hair like Lorelin. It’s too bad that the scene in which Psyche opens Aphrodite’s forbidden gift doesn’t fit anything in Troll-magic. I sat back, staring at the painting, feeling something niggle at my backbrain.

“What, what, what?” I wondered silently.

Then I had it! Waterhouse had painted more than one scene from the Psyche and Cupid myth.

His work depicting Psyche opening the door into Cupid’s garden is perfect on so many levels.

The Psyche and Cupid myth (or, in a more Jungian vein, Psyche and Amor) is the root from which the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast grew.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon (the inspiration for my own Troll-magic) is the Nordic version of Beauty and the Beast. An illustration from the Psyche and Cupid myth felt heart-deep right.

On a more superficial level, it was right also. The motif of an unexpected side door, opening onto wonders, occurs several times in Troll-magic, starting with Lorelin discovering such a door in the gardens outside the palace of my Beast.

Psyche Entering Cupd’s Garden by John William Waterhouse was the right art for Troll-magic!

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare? Should he?
 

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

Troll-magic tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

* * *

The new cover for Troll-magic has made it through the distribution chain to all of the online stores reached by these links.
Amazon I B&N I Inktera I iTunes I Kobo I OverDrive I Scribd I Smashwords I 24Symbols
(I ordered a proof copy of the trade paperback today! It will be ready soon.)

PRAISE FOR TROLL-MAGIC

“…her writing style is unique and engrossing… There’s a light and lilting tone to the prose… Troll-magic is a book to be savoured and enjoyed.” – James J. Parsons, Speaking to the Eyes

“This is the kind of book that you keep thinking about… All through the day you will find yourself hoping for just a few minutes to pick it up again. Loosely based on a familiar folk tale, the world depicted is magical, but the people are very real.” – Smashwords review

Troll-magic was a fun read… This story mixes adventure, romance, life lessons and, of course, magic. J.M. Ney-Grimm has created a fascinating new world. Her detailed descriptions and colourful writing style bring the world of Silmaren and the Norse-lands right off the page and into life.” – Amazon review

“Her work compares favorably with Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip… if you’re looking for an intelligent, fun and interesting read, I highly recommend this book.” – Amazon review

EXCERPT FROM TROLL-MAGIC

Surely there had been words when she cursed him. He could hear the scream of her rage and despair. He could see her contorted face, the splintering acidic light. But words? Even a verse? Something about a maiden who would freely chose?

That hardly made sense. He was alone here.

A maiden who would share his bed? How was that possible? And who would want to?

He wore some terrible shape. He had not yet worked out what it was. His eyes in that shape did not work the way he was used to as a man. And he couldn’t make out his reflection in the mirrors . . .

But worse than his fearful shape, he was half mad as a beast. His curse-twisted mind was incoherent, the thoughts spinning out of all sense. Rage would shake his entire monstrous being without any warning.

He was not fit to live with.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the marketing copy I was reading:

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And his thoughts spin out of all sense, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own life and save his? Should he?

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

Troll-magic tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory and dark magnificence, tumbling toward a lethal battle of wills and the impossible choices forced by clashing loyalties.

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

north-bear banner

First Paragraph

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

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

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

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

Second Paragraph

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Paragraph

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

star banner

Last Paragraph

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

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

This is what I wrote:

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

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

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

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

The fate of a world and a people…

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

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

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

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

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

Troll-magic is an epic of…

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

J.M. Ney Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

snow and stars

The New Marketing Copy

Putting all the revisions together gives us:

Prince Kellor, cursed by the troll-witch Mandine to live as a north-bear, wrestles with the challenges of his beast form. Pain wracks his body. Unpredictable rages blur his mind. And straight thinking proves elusive, confusing his search for the loopholes that every curse possesses.

His curse turns on the choices of his childhood friend Elle. She once shared Kellor’s idyllic rambles through the wilderlands. She now loves all things musical. Might Kellor persuade her to neglect her own dreams to confront his lethal nightmare? Should he?

But no troll-witch permits her prey to escape with ease. The illusory loopholes in Mandine’s curse all twist back to its entombing heart.

J.M. Ney Grimm tells a lyrical Beauty and the Beast tale, rife with moments of shining glory, dark magnificence, and unexpected significance. The fate of an empire, a people, and a world unfurls from Kellor’s deeds and Elle’s choices.

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

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What Happened to Bazel?

I met Bazel – while writing a work of fiction – decades before I wrote Troll-magic.

His appearance was beyond brief. Depicted in a stained glass window, he knelt with his sisters and brother before a tombstone, their heads bowed in grief. The graveyard was green and bowery. The light was golden, yet sad. Who were these children? Why had their mother died?

I couldn’t answer my questions then. The stained glass window was mere décor, window dressing indeed. 😉 But I wondered.

And my wondering eventually bore fruit, when Bazel burst on the scene in Troll-magic. We meet him there playing a game the Aubronese call hide-and-bide. He’s relieved to be outdoors after a week indoors, but he’s also cranky. Here’s a snippet of the scene:

watercolor painting of child reading in a window seat“Forty eight, forty nine, fifty! Lurk and bide, sneak and hide, be ready and steady, for now I ride!” Bazel opened his eyes, spun away from the pilaster next to the windowed doors, tore across the terrace, and took its shallow steps in one leap. The sodden ground, after a week of rain, gave under his buttoned half-boots, but no water splashed up. Today’s clear sun and high, windblown skies had dried all the puddles. He drew in a long breath of the late autumn air, scented with decaying leaves, and flung his arms wide as he ran. To be outdoors at last, after all those long afternoons of skittles, backgammon, and charades in the play room, was delicious.

He had grown so tired of staying indoors. Quiet activity didn’t screen out the anger and grief. The longing for Mama. The wishing Papa would come home. Tryne had finally sanctioned leap frog in the halls and even bannister sliding races on the stairs. Bazel grinned. Tryne more usually harped on not using “outside voices” or doing “outside activities” when he and his siblings grew too boisterous inside. And then sent them out. It was a different experience to watch her promoting energetic pursuits indoors.

Yet racing and jumping in the garden was better. Bazel tipped his head back . . .

* * *

I was delighted to encounter Bazel, thrilled that I would learn his story at long last. Yet Bazel proved to generate the character arc that required the most revision of all in Troll-magic.

(If you prefer not to watch the sausage being made, you might want to stop reading this blog post here. I’m going to dive into my story recipe with a vengeance! :D)

watercolor illustration of child climbing a treeSo, what happened to Bazel?

I introduce him during the children’s game, and we learn that he and his siblings lost their mother several months ago, and that their father is strangely absent. Next Bazel encounters what seems to be his father’s ghost. What’s going on here? Bazel doesn’t know, but he solicits the advice of his sister. Together they decide to approach their mother’s old teacher for help. We – reader and author – follow the children to the herbalist’s cottage on the moor and learn a bit more about the situation. Since we’ve already learned some about the curse from the scenes with Kellor and Helaina, we know more than Bazel does.

From that point, Troll-magic focuses on the adventures of Helaina, Lorelin, Kellor, and Gabris.

And that’s where I went astray. We do see Bazel confronting his deepest fear, but his next appearance is when he arrives at the enchanted palace in the north, on the verge of solving his problem.

My first reader caught the issue immediately. “Isn’t there more? I think it needs to be harder,” she said. And she was right. It’s not easy for a 10-year-old child, protected and cherished, to run away from home to rescue his father. So Bazel had already surmounted a difficult obstacle. And choosing to face his most horror-struck fear provides another real challenge for him. But not only did there need to be more, there was more. I could sense it, just below the edge of my awareness.

When I sat down to write the revisions, the scenes required no brainstorming. They were right there, waiting only for my attention and intention to write. Indeed, I hardly did write them. They wrote me. In all, I made four additions: Bazel on the boat crossing the Merivessic Sea (and remembering a second encounter in the spectral corridor where he met his father’s ghost); Bazel in the city of Andhamn (close to the enchanted palace); an extra paragraph to Bazel in the garden of the enchanted palace; and one last challenge inside the palace itself while walking toward his happily-ever-after.

The revision was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my writing life! If only all writing were like that!

Here’s a snippet from one of the revision scenes:

But he couldn’t catch up. Not really. Sometimes Bazel drew nearer, but he never got within touching distance. And, inevitably, the ghost would lengthen its lead, sometimes disappearing from sight altogether.

During one of these stretches when Papa was nowhere to be seen, Bazel remembered the other presence he’d encountered in this sorcerous corridor: something rotten, corpse-like, hungry. Oh, Teyo! It was there behind him now. This time it was more than a damp, chill aura overtaking him. He heard something: the whisper of a cobweb gown brushing the spectral floor, the deadened footfall of a heel wrapped in grave cloths. He sprinted, chasing Papa – there he was! – fleeing his pursuer.

watercolor painting of child walking in a candlelit hallwayThe race seemed to go on forever. He began to feel that he was standing still, despite his pumping legs, while the hallway moved under his feet. Like poor Hammie in the running wheel Tryne had placed in the guinea pig’s cage. Recalling his buried pet’s skeleton, cloaked in rotting flesh, he recalled his fears about digging Mama out of her sepulcher. Would she be like that? Putrescent skin sliding away from yellowed, brittle bones? She hadn’t, but – oh! no! He almost wailed aloud. That was the horror behind him, hunting him.

He tripped in his terror, going down hard on his knees, then scrambling up in desperate haste.

* * *

And now you know what happened to Bazel, both off the page and on it. Unless you haven’t yet read Troll-magic! In which case . . . you know what to do! 😀

Troll-magic as an ebook:
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Troll-magic as a trade paperback:
from
Amazon or ordered from your local bookstore:
ISBN-10: 0615702546
ISBN-13: 978-0615702544

For more about Bazel’s world, the North-lands, see:
Bazinthiad, a Quick Tour
Landscapes of Auberon
Mandine’s Curse
Legend of the Beggar’s Son

 

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Troll-magic print edition!

The picture says it all, doesn’t it?

I’m delighted to announce that Troll-magic is here in a trade paperback edition!
And – am I allowed to say this? – it’s such a pretty book!

photo of paper books

Fighting against a nightmare pales beside fighting for a dream.

An accursed prince and her own longing for music challenge Lorelin to do both.

But tradition and a hidden foe stand squarely in her way. How do you make dreams real when vision fails, allies undermine you, and all roads toward hope twist awry?

Can courage, honor, and loyalty prevail against a troll-witch’s potent curse?

Set within the enchanted North-lands, this new take on an old Norse folk tale pits distorted malice against inner wisdom and grit.

Troll-magic is available as a trade paperback from Amazon.
You may also order it from your local bookstore!

ISBN-10: 0615702546
ISBN-13: 978-0615702544

Of course, the novel continues to be available as an ebook for e-reader aficionados.
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The Suppressed Verses

Selection from Kay Nielsen illustrationMandine de la Royaume has pulled off an almost impossible feat: suppressing the utterance of part of a curse. Curses require the channeling of a substantial torrent of power, more than the safe magic of the North-lands — patterning — permits. A curse is incantatio, and its casting causes the curser to become a troll.

Mandine had been a troll for decades before her troll-disease stole her sanity, and her skill as an incantatrice has only grown. Her curse is potent, but even potent curses have loopholes. Hers is no exception. Nornally these loopholes must be specified in the doggerel poetry that comprises the waste (in addition to searing orange light) accompanying incantatio. The latter half of Mandine’s curse was swallowed by her will and her strength. Her cursee, Prince Kellor, must seek his freedom by guess, since he has heard no more than a snippet of the conditions for his release.

If you have not read Troll-magic, read no further in this blog post! Spoilers follow. But do come back after you finish the novel. How Kellor seeks his solution is fully explored in his tale, but the suppressed verses themselves do not appear. Kellor’s courage and ingenuity are much more relevant to the story than the arcane magic that creates his challenge. Thus the appearance of the swallowed stanzas here in my blog: a treat for the loremasters and aficionados of appendices among us!

A bear no more, speak the last words that are thine.
Bid thy maiden farewell, she has cause to repine.
When an hour is done, search the sky for my sign:
My chariot arrives, thy will now is mine.

The maiden has failed, thy will’s bound to my need.
Can the curse be unraveled, the prisoners freed?
Seek the ways out of bondage, take heart and take heed:
My throat strangles freedom, swallows all in greed.
Yet a path lies open, awaits song and deed.

Excavate and reveal the corpse without breath,
Merely wood carved in likeness of chilly death.
Bring the children before their mother’s gagged wrath.
They call, “Mama!” She speaks and leaves the Lainkath.
Her escape heals her mate, pacing his split path.
Sundered soul and flesh rejoin in this aftermath.

East of sun shall maiden seek, and west of moon,
Cair Seila, lost palace, the site of my tomb.
To Cymbre she shall give three gifts, ask three boons:
Gold apple, awareness, heart of choice in life’s loom;
Gold carding comb, sorting — order prevents ruin;
Gold spindle for spinning, shaping her life’s doom.
For each gift: one visit, dawn to stroke of noon,
Chances to preserve thee from thy fate as groom.

Wedding pomp and splendor fling chapel doors wide:
The maid plays music, thee walks toward Cymbre’s side.
Tears drown the player’s cheeks, loss and sorrow’s tide.
She cedes all claim on thee, weeping beyond pride.
Hears thee speak thy vows to take Cymbre as bride,
To love the troll-daughter, as her husband to bide.

Cymbre speaks her vows: no words thee looked to hear,
No promise of love, no oath to hold thee dear.
Unforeseen reprieve! She breaks the bonds of fear,
Not spouse, not betrothed, mere brother free and clear.
Saved by her gift along with all thee name peer.
No prisoners remain: Mandine’s curse barren, sere!

For the spoken verses, see Mandine’s Curse.

 

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Mandine’s Curse

Kay Nielsen illustration from East of the Sun and West of the MoonMagic is perilous in the North-lands. Draw too much power through your radices, and you have left the safe byways of energea. You are using incantatio and have embarked on the road to troll-disease. It’s a fine line to walk, especially if performed under stress!

Mandine, the troll-witch in my novel Troll-magic, has crossed that line. And she has lost her sanity. As her cruel plans come adrift, she resorts to a curse to achieve her victory. A curse is the most extreme form of incantatio, requiring tremendous power. As in most incantatic magic, the better part is wasted, vented as acrid light and doggerel poetry. The greater flow of energy results in a greater flow of waste as well: thus the lengthier verse below.

The stanzas of Mandine’s curse appear in Troll-magic as fragments. I present them here in their entirety. If you haven’t yet read Troll-magic (what are you waiting for? go read it!) you may wish to skip this blog post. (Grin!) It reveals few details, but it does outline the extent of the hero’s challenge.

I curse thee now: take the beast’s shape!
Wild fur so white;
Ebon eyes, keen sight;
Razor claws, such might;
Fanged jaws, iron bite.
North-bear by day, yet a man by night.
Labyrinthine thrall, just one veiled escape.

Not ’til a maiden shall freely chose
To share thy bed with never a ruse,
One year and a day. No time to lose,
Thee must wake each morn to rise and woo.

Spiral out the curse to light and hold
Thy friends, my foes, who thwarted me of old.

Lock motherly healer in Lainkath deep,
Silently serving on quiet feet,
Voicelessly present, the halls to keep,
Hidden from sight, mere breezes to greet.

Graveside be false flesh, corpse unbreathing,
Simulacrum pure, truth concealing,
Buried in state, her children weeping.

Split fatherly patterner, flesh from soul,
To wander pale, ghostly garbed, unwhole;
His flesh to pace Mandine’s north atoll,
His soul to walk his own homely hall.

Yet if the maiden who shares thy days
Should leave the task but done partway,
Or if she who bides thy sheets by night
Should see thy man form in some strange light,
Then thy doom be surely sealed; thy fate:
A bear no more, but Cymbre’s mate.

Curses are comprehensive in nature and include any loopholes or escape routes in their descriptions. This is inconvenient, to say the least, for the curser, but handy for the accursed. Mandine’s curse is no different. However, she managed to achieve something unusual through sheer determination: silencing the utterance of the verses describing the loopholes in her curse. Kellor (her cursee) has never heard them. Next week, you may read the suppressed verses here!

 

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