Archive for February, 2013

Well, after a break of a few months, I’m back in the game. I started sending out queries for THE BARD’S GIFT yesterday.  Hopefully, this is the one.

The query:

Sixteen-year-old Astrid keeps mostly to herself, amusing herself with the stories her grandmother used to tell. She’s too shy even to talk in front of the young man she secretly dreams of, Torolf. Then the Norse god of eloquence appears in Astrid’s dreams and forces her to drink the Mead of Poetry. Suddenly, she’s compelled to tell her stories. In public. Even in front of Torolf.

This leads her to actually talk to Torolf–and find out that he likes her, too. They’ve barely enjoyed their first kiss when the seeress makes a prophecy that splits them apart. The gods have chosen Astrid to bring her people to a new future in the part of the map labelled “Here be dragons”. Meanwhile, Torolf undertakes a hazardous voyage in the opposite direction to supply the fledgling colony.

But an ambitious rival plots to control Astrid’s abilities and status to take power. The only weapon Astrid has to thwart this attempted coup is the ability to know the exactly right story to comfort, inspire, instruct, or warn. Failure will mean disaster for all of them.

THE BARD’S GIFT is an 84,000-word young adult alternate history set in late fourteenth century Greenland–and beyond.

I still have to work out a shorter 35-word pitch. Eep. I’m no good at that, but I need it for an upcoming pitch fest.


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Yesterday was my chain mail class. This was a first-time, experimental class for just about everyone, including the instructor. It was also a very small class–all of five of us, including the instructor and one participant who already does chain mail.

I did not come away with a chain mail bracelet–but I know how to make one, if I want to, now. I did come away with samples I made of three different weaves, hands-on experience (which is what I really went for), and an appreciation of the craft.

We worked with soft aluminum wire (which you can actually manipulate without recourse to pliers). I can only imagine trying to do the same thing with steel or iron rings–and then having to either rivet or forge-weld the links in order to strengthen the mail. I’ve decided if I ever do write a character who makes chain mail, he’s going to be an alcoholic. Straight from his workshop to the nearest alehouse. He’ll need a drink–or several–after a day of working on some of the more difficult weaves (which I haven’t even attempted yet).

Yes, I said yet. I do think this could be a fun craft to play around with. It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with chain mail techniques short of attempting a mail shirt. Bracelets. Chains. Pendants. Even Christmas ornaments and candle holders.  There are even kits you can buy, which could be an effective way to learn some of the techniques. There was even a sample of a banner in European four-in-one pattern using different colored wires to depict a dragon. I do cross-stitch patterns. I could make my own chain mail patterns, too.


Mail (Photo credit: awrose)

But first, I’ve got to get back to finishing THE BARD’S GIFT. I want it ready to start querying next month. I only have the polishing edit to go. Oh, and I’m trying to draw a map of Greenland, Iceland, Baffin Island, Newfoundland, and part of the Saint Lawrence River. We’ll see how that goes. With my drawing skills, I’d probably be better off practicing chain mail.

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I’ll be over at IndieReCon most of today, trying to learn about this marketing thing that I still haven’t figured out. Pop on over. It’s free.

Meanwhile, I’m working on my query pitch over at the workshop preceding WriteOnCon’s Luck of the Irish Pitch Fest.

And Saturday, I’ll be taking a class on how to make a chain mail bracelet. Just in case, you know, I ever write a character who makes chain mail.

English: ChainMaille Dragon's Back Bracelet or...

English: ChainMaille Dragon’s Back Bracelet or Roundmaille Weave Made from non-tarnish silver Artistic Wire Jump Rings from Beadalon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All while still working on the revisions of THE BARD’S GIFT (so it will be ready for that pitch fest up above) and trying to keep up with my critiques.

My head may explode.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my problem recently is that I’ve just been doing revisions for too long. Now, I don’t normally mind revisions, but I’ve been doing them for an awfully long time, now. First getting THE BARD’S GIFT ready for first readers, then the revisions to FIRE AND EARTH that came from my Pitch Wars mentor’s comments, and now on THE BARD’S GIFT again.

I love both stories, but I think my brain just needs to be allowed to go play in a new sandbox, with new characters and ideas. There’s nothing fresher than my “Jurassic Oz” story. It’s not ripe yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t let my mind go play with some world building so I can be ready to write it. I have a couple of good ideas, but they’re not enough, not yet. Plus, I still have to figure out how I’m going to get my “Dorothy” to Oz. I did a little Halloween story on this idea, and that might be a good starting point, but it needs a bit more development.

Or, I could play with my secret history idea that plays on the legend of King Arthur (to start with, anyway). That one needs a little more development, too. You know, as long as I’m just dedicating some time to letting my mind out to play, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Meanwhile, I have to stick to the revisions for just a little longer. My goal is to have THE BARD’S GIFT ready to start querying next month. I’m almost there. This is no time to quit.

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Not much to say today. I’m just having one of those days where everything feels like I’m Sisyphus perennially trying to push a boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down to the bottom again. (Gotta love the Greeks for imaginative punishments in Hades.)


Sisyphus (Photo credit: AK Rockefeller)

I’m basically an optimistic person (which is very useful for an aspiring writer), but every once in a while . . . . Maybe I’ve just been doing revisions for too long and it’s time to start on something brand new. Maybe I just need to go outside and dig up some ivy. That should help.

Well, enough of that. Since I can’t come up with anything else, here’s the latest (but not the last) version of my query for THE BARD’S GIFT:

Sixteen-year-old Astrid keeps mostly to herself, amusing herself with the stories her grandmother used to tell. She’s too shy even to talk in front of the young man she secretly dreams of, Torolf. Then the Norse god of eloquence appears in Astrid’s dreams and forces her to drink from the Mead of Poetry. Suddenly, she’s compelled to tell her stories. In public. Even in front of Torolf.

This leads her to actually talk to Torolf–and find out that he likes her, too. They’ve barely enjoyed their first kiss when the seeress makes a prophecy that will split them apart. The seeress proclaims that Astrid’s gift for knowing the exactly right story to comfort, inspire, instruct, or warn is the key to a new future for their people. According to the seeress, Astrid must sail with the people to the part of the map labelled “Here be dragons”, while Torolf undertakes a hazardous voyage in the opposite direction, to Iceland, to supply the fledgling colony. 

What they don’t know is that ambitious Helga has a plan to control Astrid’s abilities and status to take power for her own family. First, they need to get Torolf out of the way, so they arrange for him to be stranded in Iceland.

It will take both of them to thwart Helga’s plot. Torolf strains his inventiveness to its limits to get back. And Astrid has to learn to trust herself and her stories to keep her people from repeating past mistakes and hold off Helga’s attempted coup which could doom their only chance.


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Well, the truth is, they come from all over, all the time. Some examples:


I belong to a couple of online writers’ forums. On one of them, Hatrack River Writers Workshop, members will occasionally post challenges. You don’t win anything when you win a challenge, other than bragging rights. The real point is the feedback, because one of the rules is always that all the entrants have to comment on each others’ work or be disqualified. Sometimes, these challenges center around a prompt. It’s fascinating to see how many different stories can be created from the same prompt. The problem for me is usually the relatively small word count allowed.

Well, one of these prompts was “Slave to the flame” and a story came to me about a little dragon that was the first to figure out how to breathe fire. I wrote it as a fable. It also ended badly, partly because of the prompt, but also partly because I didn’t have enough room to develop it further. When the challenge was over, I had no idea what to do with that story. Eventually, I wrote another story around it (also called “The Bard’s Gift”), about the girl who was telling this fable and why.

And then I started wondering other things about this girl. How did she come to be in that position? Why did she have this gift for telling stories? Where were they? This led to a lot of research and eventually an 80,000-word alternate history that includes dragons (but not the same ones in the original story), Norse gods, and thunderbirds. The short story “The Bard’s Gift” is now Chapter 35 of the novel, THE BARD’S GIFT.


There’s a similar story to MAGE STORM. It also started as a response to a challenge on Hatrack, this time the prompt was the title of a Writer’s of the Future winning story “Cinders of the Great War”. That gave me an idea about the aftermath of a war in which all the mages had destroyed each other.  That short story, “Infected With Magic” (I had to change the title because Writers of the Future has to be anonymous) got an Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future.

I still have never found what I consider a satisfying ending to that story, though. It always felt like the beginning of something bigger. And so it was, a middle grade adventure fantasy MAGE STORM. I mean to get back to my latest revision to this story again soon and get it back out there.


But not all ideas come from writing prompts. Some come from news stories or photographs that send my imagination flying. One particular idea that isn’t quite ripe yet, came from me just wondering.

At the time, I’d recently read one too many stories in which the female protagonist did very little but wait around for some guy to take the lead and help her. I have an allergically strong reaction to those stories–as in pitch the book across the room strong. I’m okay with a female main character needing some help once, maybe twice. After that, she’d better either figure out how to keep herself out of trouble or how to deal with it herself.

So, as I was driving around running perfectly normal errands, I started wondering to myself: under what conditions would it be all right for a female protagonist to need some help? What if that character was dropped into a strange world (like Dorothy landing in Oz) and really has no way to know what’s dangerous and what’s not? What if, in this world, things that we tend to think of as sort of fuzzy, cute, and nice (unicorns, pixies, etc.) are really the most dangerous. And some things we think of as evil, the ones you’d want to avoid, are really the only ones that might help you? Okay, in that situation, Dorothy might need a little help to gether started.  Look for this story maybe this time next year.

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In my last post, I blogged about asking on one of my writers’ groups for someone who knows about sailing to read excerpts from my current WIP, THE BARD’S GIFT, and give me feedback on the sailing stuff.

Even though I’d done a lot of research before starting this story, there are some things that are just hard to come by in book (or internet) research. My main concern when I asked for help was certain innovations one of my characters (whose main quality is his inventiveness) made. Were they believable? Or would they be embarrassingly stupid?

I got that, but I also got so much more. Some of the sensory details that I wouldn’t ever have thought of. There are a lot of things I can convincingly describe. The sounds of a wooden boat or ship in a storm aren’t among them. And those details will enrich the story so much.

Now, there are a lot of places I might have gone to ask those questions. But, probably only another writer would have realized the importance of the sounds and other sensory details that my character would be subjected to.

Glad I asked.

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Oops. Got busy on my revisions yesterday and forgot to blog.

I’m in the middle of the (hopefully) next-to-last revisions on THE BARD’S GIFT, based on feedback from readers. This will take probably two passes and then it will be time for the final polishing edit. The last couple of days I’ve had two particular issues in my revisions.

One chapter involved sailing and a storm. Well, I’ve never been in a wooden boat during a storm. In fact, I haven’t often been on a boat because, well, because I get sea sick so it’s not much fun. So, I asked for someone on one of my writer’s forums to read those sections and let me know what I’d gotten wrong. The feedback was very helpful, but it takes a lot of work to incorporate some of those suggestions.

Deep breath and move on to the next chapter, which was boring. Boring. Well, the problem with this chapter was not that nothing happened. It was that a large part of the chapter as originally written was wrapped up in the characters getting from point A to point B. A couple of things that will be important later happened, but they were buried in the travelogue.

Note to self: This story doesn’t take place in Middle Earth and I’m not J. R. R. Tolkien.

Hopefully, I’ve fixed that by deleting a lot of stuff that didn’t move the story along and substituting a little character development. It’s possible that development will get deleted in the next pass, too.

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Day 5 of the World Building Blog Fest hosted by Sharon Bayliss is an excerpt that illustrates world building. This was difficult. Hopefully the world building is sprinkled through the narrative as it becomes relevant, not all in one place. However, maybe this early meeting between Braggi (the Norse god of eloquence) and a thunderbird, guardian of the new land Braggi wants for his people, will give a taste.

Braggi turned slowly in place, taking in the beauty of his surroundings. He breathed in the smells of pine, earth, and water. Plenty of trees from which to build longhouses and ships–and fires to warm his people through the winter. A complete contrast to the steep, winter-ravaged slopes of Greenland. The great river was in some ways not unlike a very long, narrow fjord, but no great ice floes would block navigation for months or longer. The islands in the river would naturally contain the herds of sheep and cattle until fences could be built as well as providing pasture. This place was a perfect new home for his people, if they could secure it. That might not be so easy, which was why the other gods had chosen him–and his gift with words–for the job.

A shadow passed over him and he looked up. A huge bird-like form circled above him. Its wings were banded with colors reminiscent of Bifrost, the bridge from Asgard to Earth, but its long, naked tail reminded him more of the dragon, Fafnir. So this was a thunderbird.

Braggi composed himself as the bird, several times his own size, dove toward him, pulled up, and landed a few feet away. The beak opened, showing a human face inside. The feathered hide folded like a cape to reveal a human form. Finally, the man removed the bird’s head as if it were a hood. The man stood before him, holding the bird’s head under one arm like a helmet. He was tall, lean, and dark–dark skinned, dark-haired, and dark-eyed. Very different from Braggi’s own tall, massive, and blond people.

Braggi nodded in greeting. “Wakiya?”

The man nodded. “I am. And you are Braggi?”


“You asked for this meeting. What is it you want of us?” Wakiya asked.

Braggi drew a deep breath. “I seek a place of safety where our people may thrive and outlast the coming cold.”

Wakiya’s eyebrows rose. “The cold will come here, too. What’s wrong with their own place?”

Braggi made a negating gesture with his hand. “They’ll starve if they stay where they are.”

Wakiya narrowed his eyes and looked into the east. “Some of my people are in that place, too. If they can survive its challenges, why not yours?”

“Our people have different ways than yours. The animals they depend on will die and then so will they.”

Wakiya turned to glare at Braggi. “Why must they come here?  Can they not return to their places of origin?”

Braggi shook his head. “These few are the last that are ours. Everywhere else, their kin have turned to the New God. They remember us only as figures in folklore. Haakon is almost the last who remembers the old worship–our worship. His people must survive.”

Wakiya paced a few steps. “I sympathize with your plight, but I must concern myself with my own people. Yours have come here to settle before–and killed mine before they were driven out. How would this time be different?”

That was the trouble. Rich as this land was, his people had never had a chance to really establish themselves here before the more numerous skraelings had driven them off. His Greenlanders were great fighters. If they could just get a foothold, they’d soon be secure against any attack. But, of course, Braggi couldn’t say that. He needed to soothe Wakiya’s fears, not intensify them. “That was generations ago. They have come and gone in peace since then. They trade now with those of your people who live near them, mostly in peace.”

Wakiya’s mouth twisted into a sneer. “Mostly?”

Braggi held out his hands, palm outward, in a placating gesture. “Even brothers may have disagreements. It is not reasonable to expect men of any kind to always get along perfectly.”

“Yours less than most.” Wakiya drew in a deep breath then nodded. “I will let them come. But they must prove themselves and their good intentions to me or I will drive them back without mercy.”

Braggi smiled. “Leave that to me. The messenger I have chosen this time is no warrior.”

“You’d better be right. I will be watching them.”

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