Posts Tagged ‘Alternate History’

So, having decided to explore boxed sets, the next logical step was to figure out how to make a boxed set cover.

The only “boxed set” I currently have is the CHIMERIA OMNIBUS, which includes both BLOOD WILL TELL and BLOOD IS THICKER. The original cover was a sort of mash-up of the individual covers, but flat, like a regular book cover.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image10567743This seemed like the logical place to start learning how to take this cover and turn it into a boxed set. And . . . I did!

Chimeria Box 2Yes, I did make a couple of changes to the cover, too. It doesn’t make much sense to have the individual book titles both on the cover and on the spine.

Now, on to considering a possible boxed set of my three young adult stand-alone novels. The sticking point here is in figuring out a cover image that works for:

I don’t think that’s going to be as easy as figuring out how to make a boxed set cover.

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March MadnessThe Clean Indie Reads March Madness Sale is still going on and two of my books are in it. Check it out, not just for my books. There are a lot of great flinch-free reads on sale. And check out the other blogs on the blog hop, too. Here.

Don’t forget the giveaway of many of the books in the hop–including The Bard’s Gift. Enter that here. It’s enough flinch-free books to keep you reading for months.

So, here’s a little bit about the world building in these two books.

Fire and Earth:

Fire And Earth Cover (Provisional)

Though raised as a fearless, faceless warrior, Casora couldn’t stop her homeland’s invasion. Bullied, hapless princeling Tiaran can’t escape his political doom. When they join forces on the battlefield they’ll rock the foundations of kingdoms.

As is usual for me, the world building for Fire and Earth is an accumulation of many things. The idea for the Deathless, Casora’s band of warriors-turned-mercenaries came from Herodotus’s (possibly inaccurate) description of the elite Persian forces at the battle of Thermopylae. “The Immortals”, as he described them, always numbered 10,000 because killed or injured Immortals were simply replaced. Also according to Herodotus, their headdress included a face-covering cloth (possibly meant to keep out dust or wind). And so, the idea for an elite force of constant numbers–therefore “Deathless”–with face plates on their helmets that prevented any individual from being recognized by outsiders.

Their enemies, the Yriri, were based on the various hordes, like the Huns, who invaded Europe during the Dark Ages.  I wanted the Yriri armor to be different from that worn by the Deathless and their allies, so I based that on certain Oriental types of chain mail, which fastened in the front, like a jacket.

and The Bard’s Gift:


Astrid is too shy to even talk to the boy she likes, so naturally she’s the one the Norse gods choose to lead a bunch of stubborn Norsemen–using just stories to inspire them.

Since The Bard’s Gift is a historical fantasy, the world building consisted mostly of research.

Probably the most surprising thing I found in that research was the Greenland shark.

The Greenland shark lives farther north than any other shark species. They are comparable in size to the great white shark, averaging ten to sixteen feet in length and up to 900 pounds. They can grow as large as 21 feet and over 2,000 pounds. Usually only found near the surface only during the winter, they are otherwise denizens of the deep. They have been found with parts of polar bears in their stomachs.

The flesh of the Greenland shark is poisonous, but the hardy Icelanders (and presumably the Greenlanders), had a way of leaching the poison out. Of course, it still smelled overpoweringly of ammonia, even then.

That was way too good a monster not to find it’s way into the story.

There were also mythological sea monsters, like hafgufa.

Translated as “sea mist” or “sea reek”, hafgufa was a sea monster of the Greenland Sea between Greenland and Iceland. Hafgufa was supposed to lie on the surface to feed. The stench of its belch drew in fish, which the hafgufa would then consume, along with anything else in the vicinity, including ships. Only Orvar-Odd had ever escaped, because he knew the beast rose and submerged with the turn of the tides and was able to get his ship out of range just in time.

Hafgufa was usually seen as only a pair of rocks said to be the beast’s nose. Sometimes hafgufa was equated with the kraken. Others attribute the stories of hafgufa to underwater volcanic activity and the release of methane gas.

And that’s not even getting to Thunderbird. See my post about that, here.

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March MadnessTwo of my books are part of the Clean Indie Reads March Madness Sale this week. Check it out, not just for my books. There are a lot of great reads on sale. And check out the other blogs on the blog hop, too. Here.

There’s also a giveaway of several of the books in the hop–including The Bard’s Gift. Enter that here.

Fire and Earth:

Fire And Earth Cover (Provisional)

Though raised as a fearless, faceless warrior, Casora couldn’t stop her homeland’s invasion. Bullied, hapless princeling Tiaran can’t escape his political doom. When they join forces on the battlefield they’ll rock the foundations of kingdoms.

Chapter 1: Berserk

Casora restrained the impulse to get up and pace across the floor of the command tent. She couldn’t show emotion, not even frustration, in front of her troops, but the continued silence from home was troubling. She reached up to rub the little scar above her right eyebrow.

She glanced up at the mountains visible through the open tent flap. The snow crept lower every day and so did her hopes of a recall order to let the troop over-winter at home. Casora dreaded the prospect of a winter stuck in camp with a troop made up entirely of homesick teenagers–every one of them carrying the potential of the berserker curse. Time to start planning a lot of training exercises.

“Riders coming!” The shout came from the lookout to the east, toward home. After a pause, the lookout added, “Two of them.”

Only two riders? She’d sent three out.

Casora walked to the front of the tent and cursed under her breath. They were her scouts all right, but whatever orders they brought had better be end-of-the-world urgent. There was no other excuse for abusing the horses like that. Then she realized that Varana’s braid was redder than it should be–blood red. Casora took off running. So did others from all parts of the camp. Varana fell off the winded mare just as Casora reached her.

“Report,” she said, but more quietly than her usual command voice.

“Stumbled into a scouting party just inside the pass. Ambushed.”

Ravan ran up with a water skin and Casora held it so Varana could drink. “What happened?” She handed the skin back to Ravan and nodded towards the other scout.

“Ledan was out in front. Went down with the first volley. We tried to get to a defensible position. There were too many. Had to run. Bring word back here.”

Casora rocked back on her heels. “What about . . .” She paused to swallow and steady her voice. “What about home?”

“Smelled the smoke even before we got to the pass. Whole valley’s burning. Even from that high up, we could see the Yriri crawling all over the valley in their black armor, like ants on a corpse. There’s nothing left.”

Casora looked down at her empty palms. Her chest was too constricted to breathe. Astraea invaded? It wasn’t possible. Even the Deathless, really only warriors in training, had never been defeated. How could Astraea have been conquered?

The roar of angry voices around her snapped Casora back to her duty. She had to get them occupied with something and quick. She gripped the hilt of her sword. Anger, especially, was the enemy of the Cursed. Not something they could be allowed to engage in for long. Her eye lit on one of the greenest recruits, looking young and frightened. “You, see the wounded to the medicine tent. Look after them.”

Casora scanned the other faces around her. Orders wouldn’t come from home, so the decision was up to her. If Astraea was under attack, there was only one place where the Deathless should be and it wasn’t sitting uselessly in camp all winter. “Ravan, organize the band. We’ll need the horses and gear readied. Break down the camp. I want everything packed up and ready to move by dawn day after tomorrow.” She looked at the stunned faces around her. “Get a move on. The Deathless are needed at home.”

At that, the band broke into excited units, scattering to their various tasks. Casora breathed a sigh of relief. She felt Varana shaking her head against Casora’s supporting arm. Varana had more recent intelligence. Casora looked down to her friend’s face. “What is it?”

Varana’s answer was low enough that not many beside Casora heard it. “You didn’t see how many of those black-armored devils there are. Even the full band won’t be enough. That army could crush us like you or I would swat a fly. All we’d do is get ourselves killed, too.” Varana turned her head back toward the mountains. “Besides, the snow followed us down the mountain. It’s the only reason we got away from them. No one’s going into or out of Astraea until spring.”

and The Bard’s Gift:


Astrid is too shy to even talk to the boy she likes, so naturally she’s the one the Norse gods choose to lead a bunch of stubborn Norsemen–using just stories to inspire them.

Chapter 1: Starvation

Astrid leaned into the freezing wind, staggering down the beach hunting for driftwood to feed their meager fire. She kept one eye open for anything edible. The gale felt like needles of ice penetrating even the thick white bear pelt she wore as a cloak.

The wind swept up the fjord straight off the icy sea, funneled by the steep hills on either side. Astrid paused to take shelter for a few moments under a rock overhang that blocked the gusts. With nothing to hunt for, she let her mind drift, retelling to herself some of the stories her grandmother used to tell her. It was almost as good as sleep to take her mind off her hunger and keep her company.

From her shelter, she could see one of the many islets in the fjord, one that would be a seal rookery later in the year. That made her think of the stories about selkies, sea creatures that could shed their skins and take human form once a year. She pictured them dancing down there on the beach, as the stories described. In her mind, the leader looked a lot like tall, red-blond Torolf. The stories said that if a human stole the seal skin while its owner was in human form, the selkie could be compelled to stay on land as the wife—or, she supposed, husband—of the thief. Pity the stories always ended with the selkie finding the stolen skin and returning to the sea.

She sighed. If it were only that easy. Why would Torolf ever give her a second glance if she could never manage to say a complete, coherent sentence in front of him? Well, Torolf wasn’t going to magically appear on the beach. She might as well continue her search. She had to go farther and farther afield to find anything these days.

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One of the most important ways to sell books is reviews–honest reviews, not those unethical purchased reviews. In our digital age, they’re the word-of-mouth advertising that has always been the most valuable. Social confirmation that someone else read this and like it. Or hated it. Sometimes even those reviews can help.

But reviews can be hard to get. Even people who love a book just may not log on to Amazon or Goodreads to tell the world about it.

I’m trying something new (for me) with THE BARD’S GIFT.

TheBardsGiftCoverSmallIt’s up on Story Cartel now. For the next three weeks, you can download it for free in return for an honest review. Try it now. What have you got to lose?

I did get a very nice review of “Wyreth’s Flame” on Smashwords.

I’m also still working on getting “Wyreth’s Flame” free on Amazon. (It’s currently $0.99 there.)  To accomplish that, I need people to report lower prices on Barnes and Noble and the Apple iBookstore. There’s a really easy link right below the product details. This ebook also includes a hefty excerpt from THE BARD’S GIFT.

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Red Wyreth Cover Small

It’s here!

Sometimes the gift of the right story to tell at the right time is a blessing. Sometimes it’s a curse. But the Norse gods don’t leave Astrid much choice, either way.
On the eve of a desperate battle, with her father lying mortally wounded, the gods give her a story about the first dragon to learn to breathe fire. As usual, the story doesn’t come with instructions. It’s up to Astrid to decide if the story is meant to calm the frightened children or encourage the dispirited men. Or if she just might be able to do both with the same story. All their lives may depend on her skill with a story.

Wyreth’s Flame is available on both Amazon and Smashwords. It’s free on Smashwords. I’ll have to wait until it gets out to Barnes and Noble before I can start the process of making it free on Amazon, too. In the meantime, it’s only $0.99.

You can add it to your to-read list on Goodreads too.

There’s a healthy extract of The Bard’s Gift (twelve chapters) included in the ebook.


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The fabulous Donna K. Weaver has set up a blog tour and rafflecopter giveaway for THE BARD’S GIFT.

TheBardsGiftCoverSmallThe giveaway will go live on Friday and run for a week, with the opportunity to win some really great books from some other wonderful writers. It’ll be on Donna’s blog and some of the others because rafflecopter doesn’t work on WordPress.com blogs.

Donna is the author of the SAFE HARBORS series (A Change of Plans (#1), Hope’s Watch (#1.5), and Torn Canvas (#2 — coming June 2014)) Seriously, you want to read these books.

The giveaway will include a New Adult Time Travel from PK Hrezo, a fascinating underwater young adult story from Holly Kelly (and a guest post on her blog), another young adult from Cindy Hogan (and another guest post), a science fiction ebook (and a guest post) from Jaleta Clegg, a fun young adult story from Jaclyn Weist, and a copy of a young adult urban fantasy from Melanie Crouse.

In addition to the above, there’ll be guest posts on these other writers’ blogs:

Bonnie Gwyn Johnson

Rebecca Lamoreaux

Lindzee Armstrong

So, this Friday, go visit some blogs and enter to win great ebooks.

And, for Valentine’s Day, use the following coupons to get free copies of some short fantasy romances on Smashwords.

Heart of Oak: NM24M

Becoming Lioness: RD33V

The Music Box: JG86Z

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THE BARD’S GIFT, of course, is an historical fantasy. I researched the Iceland, Greenland, and the way of life there in the 14th century to get as much of the background of the story right as I possibly could. But the story is mine, not based on anything that really happened.

TheBardsGiftCoverSmallThere are other, sometimes less obvious ways, that fantasy and history meet. A medieval setting has become the default for second-world fantasy stories. Of course, some writers do medieval better than others. I still remember my confusion in reading a story in a clearly medievalish setting that nevertheless had private bathrooms with running water. Not that you can’t do that in a fantasy story. Just that you probably should provide some tiny explanation of the change. (Maybe it’s magic.)

The medieval default is so strong that an author has to work a little harder to convince readers that the setting isn’t medieval. I always seem to especially enjoy those stories. They’re like a breath of fresh air. And I’ve written a couple of them. MAGE STORM has a sort of settlement-era setting (like when farmers were first settling in the Ohio River Valley) and at least part of the setting for MAGIC AND POWER is modeled more or less on the desert southwest (without cowboys or the wild west aspects).

Sometimes history provides inspiration, too. In MAGIC AND POWER, I needed a reason for Ailsa’s family to be political outcasts. My inspiration for that was actually the Duke of Windsor, who was forced to abdicate because he married a divorced American woman (although the actual history was somewhat more complicated than that). So, just what do you do with an ex-king? And how would his presence nearby affect the new king? Those questions provide some of the external conflict for MAGIC AND POWER.

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THE BARD’S GIFT is out in the world.

TheBardsGiftCoverSmallThere’ll be a blog tour and giveaway in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, I’ve started looking ahead to my 2014 projects. Actually, it’s probably wildly optimistic to call all of these 2014 projects. I don’t think there’s any chance that I’ll get to all of them this year. But here’s what’s on my list:

  1. MAGE STORM (middle grade fantasy or adventure fantasy) is in the query process.
  2. MAGIC AND POWER (young adult fantasy romance) is what I’m working on right now. It’s getting a heavy revision/partial rewrite to incorporate some more elements and more conflict. It’ll be much better on the other side. I’m getting close to half-way through.
  3. UNTITLED (young adult fantasy romance) will be a sequel to MAGIC AND POWER, sort of. It will take place in the same world, but the main characters of M&P will only be supporting characters in this one. (It’s possible that MAGIC AND POWER will become the series title and M&P will be renamed DESERT ROSE.)
  4. THE SHAMAN’S CURSE (epic fantasy or sword and sorcery) has just been turned over to beta readers.
  5. THE IGNORED PROPHECY (sequel to THE SHAMAN’S CURSE) is in the queue. Like TSC, I wrote a draft of this a few years ago, but it needs a complete rewrite, just like TSC did.)
  6. DREAMER’S ROSE (young adult fantasy) is probably next up. It’s a partial rewrite of another old story, but the other part will be brand new. I’m going to have some real challenges figuring out how to weave the three character arcs together. It’ll be interesting.
  7. WEIRD OZ is still on the list. It’s just not quite ripe. I need to do a little more development before I restart on this one.

More distantly, I have :

  1. An idea for a retelling of the Little Furball fairytale.
  2. An idea for a retelling of the Welsh story Culhwch an Olwen (a less well-known part of the King Arthur cycle)
  3. My secret history idea, which needs a lot more development.
  4. And a bright, shiny new idea that came to me a few days ago.

Yeah, I think I can keep busy for the foreseeable future.



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The Bard’s Gift officially launches tomorrow (but you can really get it now, almost everywhere).


The mead of poetry was a real element in Norse mythology. It was made by dwarves who mixed the blood of the murdered go Kvasir with honey. The dwarves gave it to a giant in payment of a blood debt. Odin stole it for the gods by tricking the giant’s daughter into letting him have three sips. In three sips, he drained the mead, turned himself into an eagle, and flew back to Asgard with the treasure.

This excerpt is all about how Astrid comes by her gift. Braggi is the Norse god of eloquence and poetry.


Astrid made her way down the long center aisle of the longhouse to her place on the wide bench. She pulled her straw pallet, blankets, and the white bear pelt out from the storage space beneath the bench, and wrapped herself up to sleep.

Warm and full, Astrid drifted quickly into sleep and into a dream. In her dream she stood on a headland, the wind off the ocean blowing her hair back from her face. But this wind was cool, not icy. She turned landward to see a broad grassy land. Hilly, but much less steep than anything she’d seen in Greenland. There were even a few clusters of trees. It certainly wasn’t any place she knew, although she could see the long hummocks of several longhouses down below. A strange bird with a long naked tail and colorful wings circled high above.

A young man walked up the slope toward her, carrying a drinking horn. Torolf? Her heart did a little flip in her chest.

Astrid started to look down out of sheer habit, but realized to her delight that her dream self wasn’t blushing. The thought of talking to Torolf didn’t scare her, either. If only she could feel this way when she wasn’t dreaming.

Her eyes narrowed as she watched the young man approach. Yes, he looked like Torolf, but also not. His face wasn’t end-of-winter pale and gaunt. His cheeks were full and ruddy and his eyes sparkled in a way she’d never seen Torolf’s do. Not that she’d met Torolf’s eyes that often. There was something else about him, though. It took her a moment to recognize it. The way he held his body, his gait as he strode forward, were not at all like Torolf. Neither was the smile he gave her as he stopped just a few feet away.

“You’re not Torolf,” she said.

The man smiled. “No. Though this form seems pleasing to you.”

“Who are you?”

“I am called Braggi.”

The name was familiar, but Astrid couldn’t quite place where she’d heard it before.

He pressed the cup into Astrid’s hands. “Drink.”

The sweet smell of fermented mead rose to her nostrils. Astrid shook her head. “I don’t drink mead.”

“This is a very special brew. Drink it, Astrid.”

Astrid wrinkled her nose. She didn’t like mead, or, more properly, she didn’t like how mead made her feel. “No, thank you.”

Braggi’s eyes almost seemed to glow. “I insist.”

She tried to push the cup back toward Braggi, but found that her arms wouldn’t move in that direction. Every attempt to push the cup away from her only resulted in bringing it closer to her lips. Braggi’s eyes seemed to bore into her.

Her arm trembled, but the liquid didn’t spill. Astrid tried to turn her head away, but that didn’t work either. Instead, her face lowered to the cup until her lips touched the rim. Her heart hammered in her chest. There was no way she was going to escape drinking this, whatever it was.

“Don’t fight it so hard, Astrid,” Braggi said. “You’ve wanted this. It will give you the ability to speak–yes, even to Torolf. It’s also for the good of your people. You must trust me on this.”

Trust was about the last thing Astrid felt. Everything she tried to do ended up as something else, as the very thing she was fighting against. She could feel sweat popping out on her upper lip. She clenched her jaw, but none of her muscles seemed to be obeying her. Instead of locking her mouth shut, the effort caused her lips to part.

The sweet smell of the mead filled her nose. She could feel the liquid against her teeth. Braggi put a hand to the bottom of the cup and tipped it upward, so the liquid filled her mouth. She would not swallow. She wouldn’t. She tried to spit the mead back out and once again her body did the opposite of what she intended. She swallowed and felt the liquid burn as it slid down her throat.

All at once, the spell or whatever it had been was broken. Astrid’s legs folded beneath her and she crumpled to the ground. She threw the cup away from her, but Braggi caught it, holding it reverently.

“Careful, Astrid. There’ll be no more of this brew until the end of the world. It wouldn’t do to spill it.” He raised the cup above his head and another hand reached down from somewhere else to take it from him.

Whatever the drink was, it was different than anything she’d tasted before. Unlike mead, this seemed to make her mind clearer, not muddled. Her body, now that it was hers again, seemed to pulse with life. “What was that?”

Braggi smiled and offered her a hand to help her stand up. “That, Astrid, was the mead of poetry. And now you will become the bard of your people. Their guide to a new and better life.”

“Me? I’m no bard.” The thought of trying to sing or speak or tell a story in front of anyone made her feel slightly queasy, even in her dream.

“You are now. When the time is right, you will know the stories your people need to hear.”

She was still shaking, but she pulled her chin up in an attempt at defiance. “And what if I don’t want to tell these stories?”

Braggi shook his head. “Oh, Astrid. There’s more of your father in you than I allowed for. You may fight us, but you can’t expect to win. In time, you’ll realize that what we do here is for your good and the good of your people. Then, maybe, you’ll accept the gift we offer with better grace.”

Although the sky was clear and there was no hint of recent rain, a rainbow appeared behind Braggi. He turned and stepped onto it as if it were a bridge to another world.

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Just a bit of fun. Me, reading the first scene of The Bard’s Gift (slightly edited to take out the worst flubs.)


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