J.J. DiBenedetto, author of the paranormal suspense Dream series (which I highly recommend!), did something fun on his blog today. He wrote a little about the research he did for one of the Dream books, and invited other authors to comment about interesting or unusual research they've done for their books. I talked about some of the research I did for To The Gap, then I decided to expand on that here.
Fantasy usually requires less research than, say, historical fiction, but there are a few things fantasy authors need some knowledge of, like horses, how different weapons work, and a basic understanding of social structures, economics, and forms of government. But Daughter of the Wildings, being set in a world loosely inspired by the American West of the 1880 (and thereby dipping its toe ever so slightly into historical fiction), needed a little more research than that.
Take Silas and Lainie's guns, for starters. I know nothing about guns, so I did a lot of research into them, especially six-shooter revolvers of the sort that would have been used in that period. Not to the extent of naming specific makes and models, which of course wouldn't exist in a fantasy world, but enough to make what the characters do with their guns realistic enough that the gun enthusiasts among my readers (hopefully) won't laugh at me and then stop reading. My search history now shows a lot of Googling for sites that sell authentic replica guns and ammo, as well as Youtube searches for videos about shooting and quick-draw techniques. (My rule of thumb for writers: if your Google searches don't put you on a government watch list, you're doing it wrong :-D)
I also researched clothes of the period, mostly when I was working with my cover artist, Mominur Rahman, to develop Silas and Lainie's look in the cover art. Wild West Mercantile and Western Emporium are two great sites to look at for replicas of authentic western clothing of the period (and maybe buy yourself a little something, too!).
One thing I did a lot of research on was wages and the cost of things in the 1880s West. Money has to come from somewhere, and there has to be a rational basis for wages and prices, and this seems to be something that not a lot of fantasy authors pay much attention to. One of the most useful sites I looked at, that listed prices on items from canned goods to a new house in Deadwood, South Dakota, in the 1880s (based on newspaper ads of the time) is now, sadly, defunct. I was also able to dig up lots of information on other sites, too. This site, How Much Stuff Cost Long Ago, was really useful for calculating prices. So I did a lot of research and calculating and converting from dollars into the currency used in the series, and filled sheets and sheets of paper working out stuff like how much a meal would cost and how much a trail hand would earn on the cattle drive. Maybe it doesn't really make much difference, but I hope it gives a little more authentic feel to the world.
And then there's horses. Horse lovers, I've learned, are as particular about accuracy as gun buffs are. And I have the same amount of real-life experience with horses as I do with guns, which is to say, none at all. Fortunately, I have a number of online friends who know and love horses, who have also served as test readers on my books. They've given me a lot of information and corrected a lot of inaccuracies. And of course, there's always Uncle Google, for when I have questions like how far can a horse travel in a day (I already know a horse cannot gallop 90 miles in one day), and what's that horse color called? Do horses even come in that color? And how much does it cost to board a horse in a stable?
When it came to the cattle drive in To The Gap, I was really at a loss, because I knew nothing about cattle drives except they involved herding large numbers of cattle from here to there. So I set out to find some good, accurate information about cattle drives in the late 19th century - not the fictionalized, and sanitized, versions we see in fiction and movies. Luckily, I came across The Log of a Cowboy, by Andy Adams. Adams was a working trail cowboy in the 1880s. Some years later, he became disgusted with the inaccurate portrayals of cowboy life in the popular culture of the time, so he wrote Log, a fictionalized account of a cattle drive based on his own experiences, which was published in 1903.
From Log of a Cowboy, I learned how cattle drives worked, what cowboys did on them and what daily life was like on the drive, how cattle behaved, and, best of all, what kinds of things could go wrong on a drive. I learned about river crossings and dealing with flooded rivers - and why most cowboys had a deep fear of drowning, the effects of bad weather on the cattle and the work, dealing with stampedes and rounding up the cattle after a stampede, tactics used by rustlers, and all sorts of other fun stuff. If you're interested in learning about that period of history, The Log of a Cowboy is available free online at Project Gutenberg and AmericanLiterature.com, and in various editions at Amazon. Keep in mind that it wasn't written for 21st-century sensibilities, so some readers might find some of the content offensive, even though it was perfectly acceptable for its time.
Some other helpful resources for Daughter of the Wildings research were the blog Wild West History, Legends of America, and Google Earth, which is great for researching physical settings.
Of course, Daughter of the Wildings isn't meant to be a factual account of life in the American West in the 1880s, and the heart of the story is not the research but Silas and Lainie's magical and emotional conflicts and journeys. But I hope that my research makes their world a more authentic, believable place and will help readers have a richer, more enjoyable experience.
Plus, I learned that cows can swim :-D
With To the Gap out, I'm hard at work now on getting City of Mages revised and edited and ready for release. It's funny, with each of my books (not just in Daughter of the Wildings, but all my books), as I start a revision I'm going, Yay, this book is one of my favorites!, and towards the end I'm thinking, Augh, I just want to get this book done and get on to the next one, it's one of my favorites. But really, all my books are my favorites, there's just different things I like about each one. City of Mages is fun because we finally get to see Granadaia, and because it focuses in so closely on Lainie. (Some quotes from Lainie from book 5, though the last one is actually from book 6.) I do have to say that of all the amazing covers for the series, this is one of my favorites.
Preparing the revision was pretty fast and easy (see this post for my revision process). The hardest part was trying to figure out, for the scene cards, if something was one mega-scene or should be divided into two smaller scenes. Last Thursday, I started the actual marking up with the red pen. This version of City of Mages is starting out at 44,000 words; I expect the final published version to come in somewhere around 60,000 words. I tend to "write short" and then I go back and layer in descriptions, fill out bits of action I'd only summarized, stuff like that. So far I've already added almost 1000 words.
Like with books 2-4, I'm starting out thinking this one won't need as much work as the others, and then that turns out to be wrong. To the Gap especially took me by surprise how hard it was. On the surface, the storyline is pretty simple, but there was a lot going on beneath the surface, the progression of Silas and Lainie's feelings and motivations and how they were thinking about things, that needed a lot of pacing and fine-tuning. On the other hand, the plot of City of Mages seems more complex, and there are some things going on beneath the surface that have been a little tricky to work out (who knows what when and how they know it and what they think about it, that kind of thing), but the emotional and motivational character arc is pretty simple.
I still can't really say when City of Mages is going to be out. We're taking our younger son back to school at the end of this month, meaning a road trip of a couple of days, and in mid-October we'll probably be hosting a wedding reception for our older son and his wife (they have a bunch of other stuff to take care of first, and late-September/October is the best time of year for having outdoor events here), plus in addition to the time there's always the fatigue factor that I have to consider. I'd like to say late October, though it could go sooner or later, into November. In the meantime, I'll be working hard to get it out as soon as possible without short-changing the quality.
Back to work :-)
Introducing author Fiona McShane and her novel Bluebells, book 1 in the Wolf Land series, fantasy based in Irish history:
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I wonder if this is a difficult question for every author? I always feel more comfortable expressing myself through my fiction rather than talking about myself in reality! But here goes: I live with my husband in a little cottage in rural Ireland - a house we are doing up VERY slowly. I'm lucky, because I live with the man I love, and I get to spend a lot of time writing.
2. When did you start writing, and why?
Even before I could write, I was telling stories. Once I COULD write, I didn't stop. My school teachers would have me read my stories out at school assemblies. I was incredibly shy and mumbled my way through! It's only very recently that I've gotten past that shyness - at least enough to publish some of my work.
3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
I love to read and write in many genres. So far I have published in both the romance and paranormal genre. The characters and their stories are always fully formed in my mind before I begin to write. I know I'm finished a book when it's as close as possible to the story that's been playing in my mind. And I enjoy every moment of the process.
4. What is your latest book or series? Any forthcoming books?
Wolf Land Book One: Bluebells is my latest release. The second book in the Wolf Land series - Storyfalls - will be out this September.
5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of your latest book or series.
The Wolf Land series was inspired by my interest in that time period of Irish history - the late 1600s. The wolf 'problem' in the country was making it difficult for settlers to clear land. The forests were areas of freedom for the wolves and the tories (Irish rebels). Because I also have a love of fantasy, I thought:
what if the reason that the wolf hunters found Ireland so difficult to clear was that our wolves were ... something different? And so the story began.
6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
I love all of my characters. In my mind, they live. I know what becomes of them long after the books end, and I wish I could tell you everything I know about them!
In the Wolf Land series, the two main characters are Sorcha Moore and Rory Farrell. At the Bealtaine festival, they share a kiss so special that the scent of bluebells fills the air. The very next day, Rory leaves the village, breaking Sorcha's heart. But their village is a special place - a place where unusual
wolves reign. And in this village, despite all odds, their love remains constant. It is this constancy that makes me love these two characters so much. Even in horrific circumstances, they remain true to each other - and true to themselves.
7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about you or your book.
When I was beginning to write the Wolf Land series, we adopted a stray dog. It was full moon, and he howled like a wolf in his sleep. He has done the same every full moon since then. I've given him the nick-name Little Wolf.
8. Blog/site link, and where your book is available.
I will be launching a blog very soon. Until then, I can be found on:
Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon author page
You can buy my books on Amazon
Introducing author Vanessa MacLellan and her new book, Three Great Lies, out today!
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm a tattooed, vegetarian, outdoorsy woman with one head in the clouds and the other firmly settled in my hiking boots. I'm an environmental engineer by day, author, runner, reader, gamer, naturalist by night (and weekends).
2. When did you start writing, and why?
When I was a wee lass I'd make up stories to tell my mother while she was gardening. I think it started there. My favorite subject was Baggy Piggy, who had a curly Q tail that never ended (I knew this, because I drew him incessantly with pink crayons). I remember, before I could even write, 'writing' (aka doodling) on paper and then reading them to my great grandmother. Storytelling is in my blood. I guess that's enough of a reason why.
Though the fact that I enjoy it doesn't hurt. I have little people in my head (doesn't every author) that want me to explore their worlds, flesh out their personalities and goals and give them something to do. I can't take all the credit, it's partially their fault.
3. What do you write, and why? What do you enjoy about what you write?
I write speculative fiction. Mainly fantasy, though I mix horror and magical realism in there. I write fantasy because fantasy is what first got me excited about reading. I remember my older sister, Audrey, handing me the first of the Pierce Anthony Xanth novels, and I was astounded at these magical places, characters with magical talents, all of the magical beasts. Magic. Magic. Magic. I wanted that. To live there. Be special. Be something more than just human.
And I read as much fantasy after that as I could. Tolkien, Eddings, Pratchet, Weiss and Hickman, Duncan. You know the era and the authors. That's what fueled me as a young reader. I hope to fuel other readers too.
And the joy comes from creation and imagination. Of speculating: What if? and expanding from that. I am the master of my own universe, what is not to like?
4. What is your latest book? Any forthcoming books?
My debut novel, Three Great Lies, releases August 6th. It's fantasy, with historical and literary trappings. It carries a bit of a Finding My Place in Life theme.
Jeannette Walker, a modern scientist, ends up in ancient, mythological Egypt. Though she constantly casts doubt on the existence of such a world, she has to learn to live in it. While trying to save her mummy friend's soul from a wicked tomb robbing ring, she realizes a few important things about life. What those are, well, you'll have to read the book!
I have one complete manuscript for a dark fantasy I'm currently shopping out, and am working on a modern super hero series. There's always something I'm working on.
5. "Welcome To My Worlds": Tell us a little about the world of Three Great Lies.
Ancient, mythological Egypt. It never rains. People's lives aren't equal. Prayers constantly dance upon lips. Beer is a meal. Sand is a major filler in the bread. Children of gods walk the street with the heads of animals and prophecy on their lips.
To Jeannette it's, of course, a total shock. There are people about in public naked and jackals speak. A mummy—a desiccated, lumbering thing—chases her through the crowded streets, accusing her of stealing his ba! It's not necessarily a friendly place, but people are people, and even Jeannette is able to find friends in ways she never expected.
6. Introduce us to some of your characters. What do you like about them?
Jeannette Walker is my protagonist. She's mid-twenties, a scientists with a jilted past. She still holds the hurt from a past betrayal and has learned to trust nobody and nothing. I love her voice and her mind-chatter. And she's got a good heart that struggles to show through her armor.
Abayomi is the dead man walking, a reanimated mummy who seeks his lost ba container so he can continue on to the afterlife. He's a perfect citizen who knows his place in the world and doesn't seek to unbalance tradition. Until his friends are endangered, then his loyalty shines like a beacon. True best friend material!
Sanura is the young daughter of Bast, cast out from her litter. She's lost and alone and Jeannette saves her--saves her—and she'll never forget such gifts. Sanura, like most young people, is soul-searching, trying to found out exactly why she's been cast away and what her purpose and place is in life. Her journey is one everyone can connect with. She's the spirit of the story.
7. A fun fact you would like your readers to know about Three Great Lies.
A major aspect of the book (the stray dog theme) sprang to life at an agility dog show. The midsummer day was baking hot and I had parked myself under a tree for the next show. A Jack Russell Terrier was looking at me, with that intelligent tongue-lolling smile terriers have. Honestly, the dog was smiling.
And that was the original start of the novel: "The dog was smiling at her." It's since changed, but that line and scene are still in there, the theme planted throughout the novel. The story just unfolded from that one dog's smile and here we are now.
8. Any challenges with getting Three Great Lies to where it is today?
Three Great Lies has been on a long journey.
In 2008, I wrote my fifth NaNoWriMo novel. That was Three Great Lies. It was titled simply "Egypt" back then. It was a 50,000 word rough draft. Then I added extra plot threads and themes, and it topped out at 140,000 words. That's quite an addition! Then there were years and years of critiquing and editing.
Finally in 2013, I begin seeking representation for Three Great Lies, and it was picked up by Hadley Rille Books (which was the most perfect place for this book to land).
Now for the rough stuff. As I was due my edits, my publisher had a stroke. (Though he insists he was abducted by aliens to an alternate universe.) It was terrible, we weren't sure if he would make it. The entire press huddled together in worry and anticipation. I was wavering between feeling devastated for my publisher's situation and worrying about the state of my book (and feeling so so guilty for that.) But he did pull through and has worked tirelessly on my novel, by my side every step of the way.
Now, we're here, and my novel is published! I think other authors might have pulled their book to seek other representation, but I knew Hadley Rille and my publisher were perfect for my book.
9. What's your writing process?
First and foremost, Three Great Lies was a 'pantser' book. I didn't have an outline. I wrote forward from the smiling dog on guts and intentions. I had this idea of where I wanted to go, with no map on how to get there. Now, I am an outliner. I think the process, for me, would have gone so much faster if I'd had a more solid idea of the substance of the story. As it was, lots and lots and lots of editing and rewriting were necessary to make this book shine.
When I'm in the thick of writing and editing, I try to work on the novel every single day. It keeps my writing sharp and my mind on the storyline. It keeps me from losing plot threads and missing finer details. For me, every day is the way (ooh, that even rhymes.)
And another thing I've learned: Do not work heavily on writing in the summer. I like to play outside too much and I feel guilty if I don't write. Now, I just hold up my hands and let it all go. Summer, for me, is play time. No guilt for taking some time off writing. Because, we're our worst guilt-trippers.
10. Blog/site link, and where your book is available.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Google+
You can find Three Great Lies at Amazon
Thanks for reading! I hope you come by and check out my site and my novel. It was a joy to write and I hope it brings joy to you as well.
Three Great Lies:
While vacationing in Egypt. . .
Jeannette Walker, a cynical scientist jaded by swarms of tour groups and knick-knack shacks, is lured by a teenage tour guide to visit a newly discovered tomb. No other tourists there! Inside the chamber, she tumbles down a shaft and 3000 years back in time.
Now, in a world where deities walk the streets and prophecy stinks up the air, Jeannette is desperate for normal and the simple pleasures of sanitation and refrigeration. However, a slave master hawking a cat-headed girl derails her homebound mission, and Jeannette—penniless in this ancient world—steals the girl, bringing down the tireless fury of the slaver.
Saddled with a newly awakened mummy and the cat-headed girl, Jeannette, through her unparalleled experience gained from watching spy movies, contrives a plan to free them from the slaver's ire, but will she have to dive into the belly of the beast to succeed?
Publisher's Weekly Review:
MacLellan’s fun debut drops Jeanette, an American tourist in Egypt, into ancient Thebes. After she wakes Abayomi, a mummy who’s lost his key to the afterlife, her journey of discovery is filled with danger and thrills. A great sense of character evolution drives the plot, as Jeanette learns that her safe, mundane, passive modern life can’t compare to the active role she takes in freeing Sanura, a child of Bast, from slavery, or working to stop tomb robbing. Her friendships with Abayomi, Sanura, and others form organically, leading to an unlikely but well-handled romantic subplot. Supernatural elements help develop the world around Jeanette, but don’t overpower it. The descriptions feel like what a modern person in Jeanette’s situation would notice, rather than generic scene-setting. A strong conclusion sets this light fantasy a notch above its peers. (Oct.)
Read on for an excerpt from Three Great Lies:
July turned out to be one of those months where you're even afraid to wonder what's going to happen next, just in case the universe takes it as a dare. From the good (our older son's wedding and numerous family gatherings and visits) to the bad (a night at the ER with my husband - he's fine, but it was a little scary there) to the weird (dental work with the temporary crown from h3!!) and everything in between. And those are just the highlights. A few months earlier, I had figured I could get To the Gap out in the early part of July. As it was, I still managed to upload Saturday afternoon the 31st, so technically I hit my July deadline.
Edit: No, Saturday was August 1 :-P So I missed my deadline by one day. Still, all things considered, only missing it by one day was pretty good.
I've been a little nervous about how To the Gap will be received. It's a little different from the other books, more focused on Silas and Lainie's relationship against the backdrop of a cattle drive and hints of a worsening situation in Granadaia, and it leads towards a crisis point in the series. But there's also a lot of fun things in it, and at least one really awesome (I hope!) fight scene.
All other projects got put on hold while I made it through everything going on last month and concentrated on edits on To the Gap. With that done, I'm going to take a few days to prepare the next revision of book 5, City of Mages, and see where I am with my other projects and decide what to tackle next. If things settle down and I can recoup some mental energy, I'd like to go back to working on two things at once. Well, not exactly simultaneously, but dividing my writing time between two different projects. I've got several things waiting for revision, but I'd really like to finally get The Healing Tree (working title; hopefully I can come up with something better for the real title) written, and I'm also working out ideas for a follow-up series to Daughter of the Wildings. It's nowhere near ready to begin writing, but I've got the basic concept and the plot idea for the first book.
I've been doing some reading, and I'll post roundups soon, but towards the end of the month, I was mostly playing tons of Pokemon Shuffle and Angry Birds when my brain got too fried to word any more.
And onward. I'm not even going to try to guess right now when City of Mages will be out. As soon as possible, is all I can tell you, maybe 2-3 months? In the meantime, I'm just going to lay low and hope the cosmos forgets I'm here and leaves me alone for a while. Even just typing that makes me feel like I'm saying, "Go on, I dare you!" *shudder*
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