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Posts Tagged ‘Alternate History’

Where do story ideas come from? Many of the seeds of my stories go so far back that I can’t put a finger on just how they started. THE BARD’S GIFT is not one of those stories. I can trace its development very clearly. Here’s how it happened.

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Back in February of 2010, a writing challenge was issued on one of the writers’ forums to which I belong (Hatrack River). This isn’t uncommon. We have several challenges a year. I’ve only entered a few because they’re all for short fiction–often very short–and, well, I don’t write short well. The last thing I started that was intended to be a short story or maybe a novella is now almost 90,000 words long. However, if an idea comes to me, I will give one of these challenges a try, mostly just to stretch myself.

Some of these challenges have a trigger or writing prompt. The trigger for this one was “Slave to the flame” and I came up with a story about the first dragon to learn to breathe fire, initially titled “First Flame.” It was written as a fable.

My story didn’t do very well in the challenge, partly because I killed off the main character (a dragon). There was nothing else I could do in the word-count allowed for the challenge (3,000 words). The voters also didn’t think he was really a slave to the flame.

Freed from the constraints of the challenge, I added some more to the ending which allowed the main character to survive, although badly wounded. But, it was still a fable. So, I created a framing story, about a girl with the gift of telling the exactly right story at the exactly right time. I put her in a desperate situation and let her tell the fable. This version was 5,000 words long, 4,600 of which was the fable.

But, it left me with a lot of questions. How had the girl come by this ability? How had they gotten into this desperate situation? And, of course, what would happen next?

Some of the things in that framing story made me think it was meant to be in a Norse setting, but not in the Norse homeland. So, I did some research and eventually, in 2012, I wrote it as a young adult novel. That original story is still there. It makes up Chapter 36. Here’s a taste:

 Astrid drew a deep breath. “Some dragons can breathe fire. Did you know that? They couldn’t always breathe fire, though. And while some dragons, like Fafnir, are known to be smart, they weren’t at one time.

“It all goes back to the time of Wyreth the Wise. Now Wyreth was small for a dragon. He could do well enough on his own, but he only survived the dragons’ mating season because he was quick and because he was smarter than the other dragons. And maybe because he was stubborn, too.

“When there were many dragons together he was always last for everything. Dragon society is built entirely on who can bully everybody else. If you’re bigger or stronger than the others, you eat first, you get the best and sunniest sleeping spots, and, if you’re a male, you get most of the females come mating season.” She stole a quick look at Torolf under her lashes, here. “Wyreth was the smallest dragon. So he always ate last, had the worst and coldest sleeping spot, and none of the females even looked at him.”

“Whenever Wyreth killed a deer or a pig–cattle were entirely too big for him–one of the other dragons swooped in and stole it from him. The worst offender was Zilthss, Wyreth’s egg brother and the bane of his existence. Zilthss was big and strong, more than strong enough to kill his own prey, but he preferred stealing Wyreth’s whenever he could.

Because he was big and well-fed, Zilthss slept in one of the best spots and his scales were a beautiful burnished copper. All the females turned their heads when Zilthss flew by, even out of mating season. Wyreth’s scales were an unremarkable dull metallic red.”

Several of the children stole a glance at the shiny red scales behind Astrid.

“Because he was quick and smart, Wyreth usually dragged his kill into the dense brush, where the other dragons wouldn’t easily fit and gulped down as much as he could before they powered their way through to steal his meat. Bolting his food like that gave Wyreth indigestion, but it was better than starving.

“Now, at the time of this story, Wyreth had had a particularly bad week. Mating season was about to begin and the male dragons were more than usually belligerent. Zilthss had trailed Wyreth around like a hound on a scent and stolen everything he killed–even the pitiful little rabbit–before Wyreth could get so much as a bite.

“After losing the rabbit, Wyreth flapped off feeling sorry for himself. He had learned long ago that if he flew up the steep slopes of the cone-shaped mountain, the others wouldn’t follow him. There was nothing of interest there, certainly no game to hunt.

These dragons were creatures of mountain forests and no trees grew on the glassy slopes of that mountain, but at the top there was a round, rocky valley where the stones themselves were warm, even at night. Since Wyreth couldn’t get any of the warm, sunny sleeping spots in the rookery, he’d taken to coming up here. The sun was strong, but the heat from the ground was stronger still and comforting.

“That is, it was usually comforting, but not today, because Wyreth’s stomach was so empty. Even the warm rocks and the sun on his spread-out wings couldn’t ease Wyreth to sleep when his stomach growled so loudly. In desperation, Wyreth chewed on the yellow rocks. The yellow ones were much softer than the shiny black ones; a dragon could break his teeth on those. Some pieces of the yellow rock were small enough to swallow. Not exactly nourishing, but at least it filled up that hollow feeling inside for a while, though Wyreth suspected that they would be the very devil to pass. Well, that was tomorrow’s problem. Wyreth stretched himself out on the heated rocks and slept.

“He woke with a mighty belch. That wasn’t unusual for Wyreth. What was unusual was the gout of blue flame that leapt from his mouth along with the burp. Wyreth back-winged in surprise.”

Several of the older boys laughed at this. The younger ones giggled uncertainly. The oldest boy essayed a burp of his own and that sent the little ones into gales of laughter. Astrid glanced up from the children. Several of the men had looked over at the sound of laughter. Torolf was watching her. Astrid smiled and went on with her story.

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THE BARD’S GIFT is about a girl who must change her world just by telling stories.

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By the nature of the story, THE BARD’S GIFT contains several stories told by Astrid. Where possible, I used stories from the sagas or actual Icelandic tales, like those of the water horse and the laughing merman. Sometimes, to find a story that would fit what I needed, I had to go further afield–to Grimm (Jorinda and Joringel), or Aesop, among others.

In two places, I used stories of my own. Here’s one from Chapter 13 of THE BARD’S GIFT. Astrid and Torolf are about to separated, for a while at least.

A wedge of snow geese flew over. A stray feather drifted past Astrid’s nose and a story drifted into her brain as if the feather had carried it.

She pointed upward. “See the snow geese?”

Torolf looked where she pointed. “Of course.”

“Snow geese mate for life. They pair off in their second year, but don’t mate until the third. And in winter they fly west to Markland or Vinland.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Not long ago, maybe only last year, there was a young snow goose, Eisa, in her second year. Like most young geese, she stayed with her family during that nesting season. As the season progressed, Eisa molted, coming into her adult plumage. When she had lost her flight feathers and was confined to the ground, an arctic fox found its way onto the nesting ground. Birds that could still fly burst into the air in all directions, but Eisa was forced to run for her life. She was a strong runner and kept running until she came to a boulder on which a snowy owl had her nest.

“Eisa was wise enough to know that the owls would defend their nest against the fox and so she hunkered down to rest. As she caught her breath, she realized that there were more snow goose nests in the vicinity of the owls’ nest and near one of these another young snow goose, Alf, was watching her.

“Eisa watched Alf right back. He was an exceptionally large and handsome young goose.”

Torolf smiled. “I think I like this story.”

“Before long he waddled over to talk to her. And soon they were fast friends. Through that nesting season, they spent a great deal of time together and when it was time for them to fly to their wintering grounds, they had bonded as mates and they promised that next year they would build a nest of their own together.”

Torolf’s smile widened to a grin and his eyes glowed. “I know I like this story.”

Astrid suppressed a smile, trying hard not to blush. “Eisa’s family flew off first, and Alf watched, sorry to see her go but eager to be reunited with her at the wintering grounds. But when Alf’s family flew off, a gale came up and blew them off course to the east. Alf and his family ended up wintering in a strange place, mixed in with a flock of strange gray geese with black heads. And every day, Alf thought of Eisa and wondered what she thought when he didn’t arrive at the wintering grounds.

“Eisa looked for Alf in every flock that arrived at the wintering grounds. When it was too late and too cold for any more flocks to turn up, she worried about the things that might have happened to him. A full-grown snow goose, able to fly, doesn’t have to worry about many predators, but eagles and bears take a few every season. It made her unhappy to think of that and Eisa grew thin. So thin that her parents worried that she wouldn’t be able to fly back to Greenland in the spring.

“Alf worried, too. Not that anything had happened to Eisa, but that she would think he was dead and some other gander would catch her eye and she would form a new pair bond. He ate only to keep his strength up so that he could fight off any rival for his Eisa.

“When spring finally came, Alf and his family flew back to Greenland and Alf waited for Eisa by the snowy owls’ nest. Flock after flock arrived at the nesting ground and many of the best nesting sites were taken. Still Eisa didn’t arrive and Alf began to worry in his turn about the kinds of things that could have happened to her.

“Finally, a small flock–just Eisa’s family–flew in to the nesting grounds last of all. They had been forced to fly more slowly than the others so Eisa, in her weakened condition, could keep up. When Alf saw her, his heart leaped and he flew up to meet her before she even reached the ground, flying in joyous circles around her.

“Eisa honked in delight at seeing Alf safe after all the dire things she had imagined happening to him. They built their nest right beside the snowy owls’ nest, where Alf had stood and waited for Eisa. Alf flew far and brought back all the best grasses for her so that Eisa grew strong again. And they were never separated again.” Astrid bowed her head, blushing furiously.

Torolf brushed a strand of hair back from her face. “I will be like Alf and stay strong so I can return to you in Markland.”

Astrid looked up into his eyes. “Like Eisa, I’ll watch for you on every tide.”

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THE BARD’S GIFT officially launches on January 30th. (Actually, you can get it now on Amazon, though.)

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Here’s another fun fact and excerpt.

You never know what your research will turn up–or how you’ll end up using it. In this case, I was looking for fish that one of my characters might reasonably be fishing for–and found the Greenland shark. It’s a real creature.

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.

This was too good not to include in the story, especially the bit about possibly eating polar bears. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 7 of THE BARD’S GIFT (a faering is a small fishing boat with both oars and sail) This excerpt also happens to include their first kiss:

Torolf pushed the skiff down the strand and into the water and jumped aboard. The faering had four oars, meant for two men, but Torolf had changed the rigging of the sail to make it easier for one man alone to manage the steering oar and the sail. He hadn’t had a chance to try that innovation out yet. The wind was in the wrong direction right now, but maybe he’d get a chance to test it on the way back to shore.

It didn’t take long to row out to where he judged the water was deep enough. He threw a half dozen lines over the side and began casting a net for whatever fish might be nearer the surface, stopping after each cast to watch the shore for Astrid.

He’d pulled in several nets full of herring when one of his lines jerked sharply. Torolf dropped the net into the bottom of the skiff to pull in the line. Whatever he’d caught was heavy. He didn’t think he was far enough out for halibut this large, but he couldn’t think of many other fish in these waters that would be so heavy. He continued to pull, muscles straining. Abruptly, the pressure on the line ceased and the fish–or what was left of it–flipped into the boat practically on top of Torolf. It had been a halibut all right, and a big one. Two thirds of it was missing, now, though.

Torolf stared at the ragged bite mark. Only one predator could have made that–a Greenland shark. And it’d have to be a big one to take most of a fish that size in one bite. He looked over the side of the boat and just glimpsed the sleek form below, almost half again as long as the boat. Not the biggest, but more than big enough. Unusual for it to be in this part of the fjord at this time of the year.

Torolf made a face at the thought of shark meat. The flesh of a Greenland shark was poisonous. It had to be fermented and pressed and then hung to dry for several months before it could be eaten. Even then, it smelled strongly of ammonia. Still, kaestur hakarl made in that way would be food for midwinter. By then everyone would probably be willing to overlook the smell and taste just to have a full belly. Looked at that way, the shark represented a lot of meat.

Torolf looked over the side again. No. This was a disadvantage of fishing alone; the shark was much too big for one man in a small boat to bring in. With that one swimming below his skiff, he wasn’t likely to bring in anything on any of his lines, either, so he began to haul them in. Better to go in, now, anyway. He’d heard stories of large Greenland sharks attacking small boats. With his faering half full of herring, there was no need to risk it. The wind was favorable. Now might be a good time to see how the skiff handled under sail.

He’d just gotten the sail up when he heard a shriek. Torolf turned toward the sound and saw Astrid pelting down the rocky beach, her white bear pelt cape flapping behind her. A huge ice bear galloped after her, fifty paces behind Astrid and closing fast. Torolf turned the tiller and set the faering racing toward Astrid.

The skiff was fast under sail, but no human could outrun a bear for long. Torolf shouted, “Astrid! Over here!”

Astrid looked up without breaking stride. She turned, almost slipping on the slick rocks and dove into the fjord. Her woolen dress and the heavy bear pelt immediately started to drag her down. The look on her face was even more panicked. She couldn’t swim? Of course she couldn’t. Few enough of the men could do more than tread water if they fell overboard. And that not for long in water as cold as this. Torolf steered the faering as close into shore as he dared and leaned far over to grab Astrid and pull her in.

The bear leaped into the water, too, with a splash that rocked the small boat. Torolf turned the sail and grabbed the steering oar to drive the faering back out into deep water. Not that that would be much help. He had no weapon aboard that he could hope to kill a bear with. An ice bear could swim the width of the fjord without difficulty, but an idea came to Torolf to pit one predator against another. He pulled the steering oar over a little farther to steer back to the same place where he had been fishing a moment ago.

Astrid struggled off the pile of slippery herring she’d landed on and took up a pair of oars. Her strokes were nowhere near as expert or powerful as Torolf’s, but they added to the skiff’s speed, nonetheless. As she got the rhythm, she started to pull for the home shore, where the larger boats were still pulled up on the sand.

“No,” Torolf shouted, pointing to the course he wanted. “That way. Trust me.”

Astrid paused just an instant, then she started rowing in the direction Torolf indicated.

Torolf looked back. The bear was persistent. Though the skiff was racing ahead of it, the beast still swam after them. Torolf looked ahead. They’d almost made it to the spot where he’d last seen the shark. He turned again at a furious roar close behind. The bear struggled and the water around it turned from green to red. Then the bear disappeared beneath the waves and didn’t come up again.

Astrid looked around as if she expected the bear to surface right beside them. “What happened?”

“Greenland shark. About the only thing big enough to eat an ice bear.” Torolf turned the sail and let the faering skim toward home.

The ripples of the bear’s submersion subsided. After a moment, Astrid smiled and they both erupted into gales of relieved laughter.

“What did you do to that bear?” Torolf asked when he could draw enough breath. “Walk up and tweak it’s nose.”

Astrid giggled. “No. I found a seal carcass back there. I was just going to cut off as much as I could carry with me when that bear charged down the slope and chased me off.” She plucked at the sodden bear pelt. “I think he thought I was a rival.”

“Maybe he did.” Torolf slowed the faering. “Maybe we should go back and bring in as much of that seal meat as we can. The skiff can hold quite a bit more.”

“Maybe we should.” Astrid shivered.

Torolf set the faering back toward home. “No. First you need to get warm and dry. Pa and I can go back for the seal meat. Can’t have you getting sick before we set sail for Iceland.”

Astrid ducked her head, her smile disappearing. “I guess that would be best.” She looked out over the side at the water slipping away beneath them.

Torolf watched her for a long moment. “Astrid . . . I was going to wait until we reach Iceland. Where the distance between us–poor farmer’s son and chieftain’s daughter–won’t be as great. Until I can find work and a place of my own to live. But that might take me a while and you’re so beautiful and brave. By then someone else may start to court you.” He was babbling. He paused, drew in a deep breath, and resolved to just blurt it out. “Astrid, will you be my . . . uh . . . sweetheart?”

Her eyes widened and her breath caught. Astrid stared back at Torolf. He decided that the look on her face was definitely not displeased, though. Greatly daring, he leaned forward and kissed her briefly.

When he pulled back, Astrid put her hand up to her mouth.

By her eyes, though, he could tell she was smiling. “Should I take that as a yes?”

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In researching the Greenlanders for THE BARD’S GIFT,

TheBardsGiftCoverSmallof course I ran across their legends about sea monsters. One of those monsters was 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.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 20 of THE BARD’S GIFT. To set the scene: it’s foggy and Torolf is alone in a small boat (a faering, 0r small fishing boat). A few strange phenomena (attributable entirely to deep ocean volcanism, not sea monsters) start his imagination running wild.

Torolf paused, lifting the oars out of the water. He was closely tuned, now, to the background noises of the sea around him. He’d swear he’d heard a sound that didn’t fit. There it was again. A sort of gurgling noise that wasn’t like anything he’d heard at sea before. A whale diving? No, he’d heard that before and it didn’t sound like this. In fact, more than anything else in his experience, this sound reminded him of a kettle on the boil–which made no sense at all.

The skiff rocked as a wave struck its side. That was wrong, too. The waves should be following from behind the skiff. It wasn’t a storm wave; there was still no wind to speak of. The wave came from the same direction as the strange sound.

The air moved slowly in this fog, slower than sound, so the stench reminiscent of rotten eggs reached Torolf last. Magni’s wild stories about hafgufa came back to him at the same instant. They didn’t seem so wild right now.

Sweat ran down his face despite the clammy fog and his pulse raced. What now? The only thing he could think of was that the monster only surfaced at the turn of the tide and stayed on the surface until it turned again. Orvar-Odd had sailed through safely because hafgufa had just surfaced and he had time to get out before it submerged again, sucking everything in the vicinity down with it. It wasn’t so easy to determine the turn of the tide out here in the open ocean. When had it turned?

He clutched the oars hard. Did it matter? He could hope at least that the splash he’d heard was the creature surfacing. Well, obviously. Otherwise, he’d already have been sucked down with the monster. So, his only hope was to get as far away as he could before hafgufa submerged.

Torolf drove the oars into the water so hard he almost lost control of them. He drew a deep breath and set up a steadier rhythm as fast as he thought he could maintain.

After what felt like hours, but was probably little more than one hour, he had to stop to rest a little and eat something, especially to drink water. He flinched at every sound or slightest movement. The fog seemed a little thinner and he thought he felt a breath of air. He hoped that wasn’t only wishful thinking. Being able to raise the sail was his only hope of making real distance. The faering could almost fly over the water with enough wind to fill its sails.

Another gurgle sounded off to his left and Torolf grabbed up the oars again, pulling for all he was worth. He rowed until he thought his heart would burst. When he couldn’t row another stroke, he shipped the oars and sagged against the gunwale, breathing heavily. His throat felt like he’d tried to swallow sand and his shoulders burned. He fumbled for one of his precious water skins and drank deeply.

He wasn’t far enough. Not nearly far enough. He was sure of that, but he couldn’t row anymore. Not to save his own life. A breeze ruffled his hair and cooled his sweaty face. Torolf looked up. The fog had lifted and he’d been too intent on rowing to even notice. The breeze ruffled his hair again. He lifted the little pendant that had been his mother’s, halfway between a cross and a Thor’s hammer, to his lips. It wasn’t a strong wind, but it was enough to put up the sail. He could rest for a while and still keep moving.

Torolf raised the sail, forcing his aching arms to the task. Then he collapsed in the bottom of the boat, too tired to move another muscle.

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Writing THE BARD’S GIFT

TheBardsGiftCoverSmallwas a different experience for me. I write fantasy. Usually, I just get to make things up (as long as it makes sense, anyway). That’s why they call it world building. But THE BARD’S GIFT is historical fantasy, so I couldn’t just make up anything I wanted. I had to do research to find out what kind of houses my characters would live in and what kind of clothes they’d wear and a bunch of other things.  Sometimes, interesting things turned up in this research. Some made it into the story, some didn’t.

Now, since my Norse characters go to set up a new colony in North America (in what the Greenlanders would have called Markland, around the Saint Lawrence River) I also included some things specific to North America–especially the thunderbird.

Many North American Indian tribes had stories about Thunderbird. For some, it was a singular, somewhat irascible, creature and a sometimes guardian. In the Pacific Northwest, there were said to be many thunderbirds, who could remove their feathers like a cloak and tilt their beaks up like a mask and so take human form. Those things made it into the story.

What didn’t get in was the real-life (prehistoric) birds that might have been inspiration for the Thunderbird. These teratorns, something like a cross between a condor and an eagle, actually once flew over the skies of North (and South) America.

Merriam’s Teratorn is well known from the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits. It would have weighed about 30 pounds and had a wingspan of about 10 to 11 feet. That’s a big bird.

But it’s nothing compared with it’s cousin Aiolornis Incredibilis, which weighed in at 50 pounds and had a wingspan of 16 to 18 feet. Yikes! How’d you like to see one of these fly overhead?

And both of these birds would have been in the skies when people first arrived in the New World.

The biggest of all is only known from South America. Argentavis Magnificens was the largest known flight-capable bird (though it probably soared much more than it flew). It had a 25-foot wingspan and would have weighed about 170 pounds! One of its flight feathers would have been 59 inches long (that’s almost six feet!).  (Sorry, five feet, not six. I shouldn’t try to do arithmetic in my head before breakfast.) Now that’s a Thunderbird.

I’m not making this up. Just take a look at the first chart on this site.

More fun and interesting things to come as we lead up to the launch of THE BARD’S GIFT on January 30th.

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It’s almost time to assess how well I did against this year’s goals and set my goals for next year. One particular goal has come into sharper focus over the last couple of days.

The next book I publish will be my alternate history/historical fantasy THE BARD’S GIFT about a shy girl tapped by the gods to save her people–by telling stories to inspire and direct those people.

I’ve already done the cover.

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Here’s the first page as a teaser:

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.

Look for THE BARD’S GIFT early next year.

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It’s much better than moving backward, in general.

Joking aside, this seems to be a week for making decisions. I decided earlier in the week to go for a blog tour for BLOOD IS THICKER.  There are still a couple of things I need to take care of before I attempt to finalize that.

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This morning, I decided to go ahead and send THE BARD’S GIFT to a small publisher (as in, not an imprint of one of the big six–or is it five, now. I’ve lost count.) I thought of one I trusted and that could be right for it. (With smaller publishers, you have to weed out the well-intentioned start-ups that might not be around long enough, the ones that are already on shaky ground, and the ones that are just thinly disquised rip-offs. There are good small publishers out there, but you’ve got to do the research. This particular press has published titles and authors I recognize and is listed as a qualifying market for SFWA. Good enough for me.)

So, that’s what I’ve been doing this morning before I got around to blogging.

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It’s time to take a step back and figure out what I want to do next with THE BARD’S GIFT. This is a tough one.

When I first sat down to write TBG, I had a choice to make. I could either write the story as straight up second-world fantasy or I could do a lot of research and write it as historical fantasy or alternate history. I chose to stretch myself as a writer and go with the historical–a story with fantasy elements set in 14th-century Greenland.

On some levels, this may have been a mistake, but I’m not sorry I did it. I really like the way it turned out. And, frankly, some elements of the story would have been different–maybe not as good–if I hadn’t done that research.

However, it looks like a young adult story set in 14th-century Greenland is a tough sell, at least to agents. Since the very first book I queried, I’ve never had so little response to a query.

It’s odd, though. I’ve had half a dozen or so of those repsonses queriers will tell you that you never get–personalized rejections. These rejections from agents who read a part of the beginning along with the query have complemented the writing, the main character, what they know of the plot–and then gone on to say that they just can’t take it on. I have to conclude that it’s the historical setting.

So, here are my choices:

  1. I could shelve it. But my gut and those peronalized rejections are telling me that’s not what I need to do.
  2. I could rewrite it as a second-world fantasy and try again. See if that gets any better response. I’m thinking about this one, but it doesn’t quite feel right.
  3. I could try sending it directly to some small and medium presses that accept unsolicited manuscripts and see if I get the same response from editors, but–wow that could take a very long time. Unlike agents, editors generally want exclusive submissions. And they may take months to get around to reading an unsolicited manuscript.
  4. Or, in today’s digital marketplace, I could just go ahead and epublish it myself. I’m leaning towards this one.

Meanwhile, following WriteOnCon, I’m ready to start querying MAGE STORM. Hopefully, this second-world middle grade fantasy will get a better response.

And, of course, I have to really dig in and start to prepare for the launch of BLOOD IS THICKER.

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Also, Chapter 8 is now available free on wattpad.

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It’s part of life. It’s certainly part of a writer’s life. Some days, you just wonder why you keep beating your head against the same walls–time after time.

I’m frustrated today and I’m just going to have to work through it. That’s a skill you’ve just got to learn. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t get you down every now and again.

Right now, nothing seems to be working out how I’d planned or hoped. That doesn’t mean that they won’t work out–eventually. One way or another. 

Even my current WIP has decided to grow a will of its own and take off in an unplanned direction. But there’s the bright side in all of this. Because I’ve decided I like the new direction better. It works. Does that mean I’ll have to revise some of the 20,000 words I’ve already written? Sure. But I was going to have to do that anyway. I’ve never yet written anything that was perfect on the first draft. That’s not what first drafts are for.

So, I’ll keep plugging away at the stuff that is working–and at the stuff that’s not working yet.

And, on that note, check out Wattpad for new chapters of FIRE AND EARTH and BLOOD WILL TELL. And, if you like what you read–or even if you don’t–leave a little comment, please. Right now, in all aspects of my writing, I’m hearing mostly crickets, which is just a little discouraging.

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 First, let me say Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

 Saint Patrick

And fingers crossed for a little of the Luck of the Irish. (I am part Irish, after all.) I made it in to The Luck of the Irish Pitch Fest. We’ll see what, if anything, comes of that next week. And I have to wait a couple of weeks to find out if I make it into Pitch Madness. In both cases, I’m pitching my YA alternate history, THE BARD’S GIFT.

Next, a small announcement:

Chapter 2 of FIRE AND EARTH and Chapter 5 of BLOOD WILL TELL are now available on Wattpad. It’s free, so go check them out.

Now, back to the topic, stories taking on a life of their own:

I just passed 20,000 words on this story I’m working on now–and it’s starting to veer off in an unexpected direction.

This was supposed to be a short story or maybe a novella. I picked it up to fill the time (productively) while I figured out which of my novels-in-waiting to take up next and do a little more prep work on the chosen novel. This one is looking more and more like it might decide that it needs to be a novel, too.

That’s–I won’t call it a problem, let’s say interesting (as in the Chinese curese “May you live in interesting times”)–because I deal with short stories and novels a little differently.  I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m a discovery writer by nature and a modified discovery writer by experience. I’m willing to freestyle (fly by the seat of my pants) with a short story or even a novella. After all, it’s only a few thousand words. If it doesn’t work out, well, no writing is ever wasted. Hopefully, I always at least learn something. Maybe I try something that I’ve never done before, like first person or a different genre. Short is the place to experiment.

But when I plan to start a novel, I do at least a little planning. I want to know the inciting incident (obviously), the central conflict, and if possible the try/fail cycles. I don’t outline, exactly, but I do usually have a separate file with a paragraph or so about key points that the story will hit. Most importantly, where the story is going to end. I have a plan.

I had an idea where this story would go, but it left a lot of room to explore. Well, now I’ve introduced a new character who has decided that he’s going to be a second love interest. I’ve never written a real love triangle before. Not as in there’s real doubt about who she’ll choose in the end. Now this new character is turning out to be maybe the better choice. Which wasn’t in the plan at all. Stinker.

Oh well, I better fasten my seat belt. I’m already on this rollercoaster. There’s nothing to do now but ride it to the end–and hope.

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