The physical world of Daughter of the Wildings was inspired by the landscapes of the western U.S., where I was born and raised and still live. From the surroundings I grew up in and live in, to scenes viewed from the car on family road trips, it's all familiar to me. I do my best to paint these landscapes in words in my books, but sometimes you can't show everything with words. There's a reason for the saying, A picture is worth a thousand words. So for those of you who aren't as familiar with these scenes, or if you are and still want a visualization, here is a collection of photos of landscapes and scenery that helped inspire Daughter of the Wildings. (Most of the photos are by my husband or myself; the old west town photos come from freeimages.com; photographers are credited on the images.)
1. Bitterbush Valley - Beneath the Canyons opens with Silas Vendine riding down into the Bitterbush Valley, a high grassland valley situated between hills in the east and mountains in the west. This view was inspired by the Verde Valley and Sunset Point, between Phoenix and Flagstaff, Arizona.
2. Canyons of the Great Sky Mountains - A large part of Beneath the Canyons involves Silas pursuing the nefarious Carden and his band of miners through the canyons running down from the Great Sky Mountains. A lot of people, when they think of canyons, probably think of the Grand Canyon, an enormous rift in the ground. But the kind of canyon I'm writing about here runs between mountain ridges, basically a long, steep valley that starts higher up in the mountains and opens out into the valley at the foot of the mountains. The Great Sky Mountains were inspired by the Santa Catalina range north of Tucson. If you load the map on this National Forest page, you can see these ravines, carved by streams and creeks, coming down from the mountains, flowing together into larger streams, and also the network of washes on the valley floor. My husband enjoys hiking in the Catalinas, so I'll turn the next gallery over to him:
Down in the bottoms of these canyons, it's steeper and narrower than it looks from up high; take a look at this video of a flash flood in Bear Canyon to get an idea of what it's like when a lot of water is flowing.
3. The Bads - Book 2, Bad Hunting, takes us to the Bads, the lowest, hottest, driest part of the Wildings. This was inspired by the low Sonoran desert that I see out the car window every time we make the drive between Tucson and Phoenix on I-10. Not the most attractive desert scenery, but it has its own challenges and stark beauty. The hills in the distance in this photo are a model for the hills in the Bads where Silas and Lainie are hunting for a killer.
4. Washes - Bad Hunting also involves a hunt through a large network of washes, or creek beds, in the desert. These are usually dry, but can flood quickly when there's a large amount of rain. If you look at this watershed map of the Tucson area, you can see how extensive and complex these systems can be. On my street, there are two washes; one is fairly small and shallow at this point (in fact, it begins in my backyard!) but the other one is far enough advanced that it has a lot of vegetation growing along it and can flood pretty well when it's been raining a lot. The other day, I took my camera with me on my walk and took some pictures. You can see how hard it would be to be climbing in and out of these washes all day and trying to hunt someone through them, with all the thick (and thorny) vegetation!
5. Bentwood Valley, BC Crown Ranch - In Book 3, The Rancher's Daughter, we go north to the beautiful Bentwood Valley, in high country between pine-covered mountains. This area was inspired by some of the ranches you pass on I-17 just south of Flagstaff. (Of course, the BC Crown Ranch doesn't have any cars or trucks on it!) Silas and Lainie arrive in this area in early winter, so I feel fortunate that I was able to get some photos with snow remaining from a recent snowfall. (Which is why the color is funky; my camera metered for the snow and, zooming by on the freeway at 75 mph, I didn't have time to adjust the settings!)
6. Finally, here are some pictures to give you an idea of what the buildings in the towns look like. You can see the false fronts and covered wooden sidewalks. There's also a two-story hotel, with a bath house to the side. There's a saloon on the bottom floor, like the Bootjack and the Rusty Widow in Bitterbush Springs, saloons with rooms to rent on the upper floors. The physical setting is also very much like Bitterbush Springs, grassland with the hills behind the town.
Welcome to the third part of the Western With A Twist blog series, music! (Part 1 is books, Part 2 is movies and TV.) As we're gearing up for the launch of the Daughter of the Wildings series with Beneath the Canyons, enjoy some music that's western in spirit, style, or both, but with a twist.
Now, I'm not a country listener, but for the most part these aren't country songs. Rather, they have a sound reminscent of the west, spaghetti westerns, wide open spaces, an attitude of independence and individuality.
To keep the post from being too long, I'm only posting YouTube videos for a few of the songs, and including links to the rest; there's also a Spotify playlist of the music down at the bottom. I've also put Amazon buy links for as many of these selections as I could find them for (not my affiliate links; that would have been too much work!) Enjoy!
The song that immediately comes to mind when talking about westerns and fantasy or supernatural themes is Ghost Riders in the Sky. This has been covered about a zillion times; here are three of them:
Johnny Cash, traditional country (Amazon)
Outlaws, country rock (Amazon)
and this retro instrumental version from the 60's, by the Ramrods (with fan-made video): (Amazon)
The other "real" country song on this list is Ring of Fire. Of course, the original Johnny Cash version is classic (Amazon), but personally I prefer the cover by Social Distortion (Amazon):
The album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, by My Chemical Romance (one of the greatest rock albums ever made, if you ask me), makes up the bulk of the Daughter of the Wildings playlist. Set in a post-apocalyptic California, it's an in-your-face statement of individuality and independence. The whole album is excellent, but for the Western With A Twist theme I picked out Bulletproof Heart and Save Yourself, I'll Hold Them Back as being the most western in spirit. (Amazon)
The entire album The Joshua Tree by U2 (another one of the greatest rock albums ever made, IMNSHO) also celebrates the wide-open feel of the west, especially the songs Where the Streets Have No Name and In God's Country. (Amazon)
I picked two songs from the album Communique by Dire Straits for this list. Once Upon A Time In The West doesn't have a whole lot to do with the Old West, as far as I can tell, but it has a real spaghetti-western feel to the music, especially in Mark Knopfler's guitar playing. Angel of Mercy is a sweet and sexy country-flavored song that would be great to dance to. (Plus the lyrics mention catching a dragon; I know it's metaphorical, but still, dragons :D) (Amazon)
Peacemaker, by Green Day (Amazon), also has that spaghetti western feel, as does Kiseki no Umi, the theme song from the fantasy anime Record of Lodoss War. The show is about elves and the typical pseudo-European fantasy, but the beautiful theme song (by Yoko Kanno, the brilliant composer who also wrote the music for Cowboy Bebop and the theme songs for Ghost in the Shell) has a wide-open western sound.
Finally, probably the greatest Western With A Twist song of all time, and one of the greatest music videos of all time, the futuristic spaghetti western Knights of Cydonia, by Muse: (Amazon)
Stay tuned for Beneath the Canyons release news!
Welcome to part 2 of the Western With A Twist Blog series, setting the mood for the upcoming release of Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of my high fantasy-western series Daughter of the Wildings. This time: movies and TV. (Part 1, Books, is here)
[Note: Amazon links are my affiliate links.]
First of all, if you're talking about TV and movies that are sci-fi or fantasy with a western twist, or western with a sci-fi/fantasy twist, you have to include Firefly on the list. I don't know how much I need to say about it, except adventures in space with a wild west feel - guns, fortune-hunters, independent-spirited people trying to make a new start in wide-open territory not necessarily on the right side of the law. I haven't seen the entire series yet, but what I've seen I loved. And, of course, there's the companion movie, Serenity. [Amazon]
Possibly the next most obvious entry is the old TV show, The Wild Wild West. Basically James Bond in the old west (the main character is Jim West; get it?), with lots of cool gadgetry, it also has elements of science fiction and alternate history, and is sometimes considered a forerunner of steampunk. I don't remember watching it as a kid, although I do remember the little animations between segments, but there are some episodes on YouTube so I've been watching those lately. Lots of fun. There was also a 1999 movie version which gets pretty bad ratings, which is too bad because with Will Smith and Kevin Kline you'd think it would be good. [Amazon]
Next up is one of my favorite movies, High Plains Drifter, with Clint Eastwood. Spaghetti western about a Man With No Name who comes into a desolate western town, uncovers its dirty secrets, and punishes it for a long-ago crime. Is he just a wandering Stranger, or is he something more? (The link goes to Rotten Tomatoes because the Wikipedia article was written by someone with a definite bias against the movie. :P) [Amazon]
Finally, while we're on the subject of movies, we can't forget Cowboys and Aliens, which I haven't seen but I love the idea. Critical reaction seems to be mixed; some reviewers love it, others just don't seem to get it. [Amazon]
Next up are two of my favorite anime series. Cowboy Bebop is set in space in the near future, after Earth has been made mostly uninhabitable by a natural cataclysm and mankind has moved to Mars. Lawlessness and corruption are rampant, providing plenty of work for bounty-hunting "cowboys" like the crew of the Bebop: Spike, wisecracking gunslinger/martial artist and refugee from the criminal Syndicate; Jet, tough but tender-hearted owner of the Bebop; sexy Faye, a woman without a past; Ed, the 13-year-old hacker girl, and Ein, the super-intelligent Welsh Corgi. Science fiction/space opera with a definite Wild West feel, an awesome jazz soundtrack, and the famous tag line, "See you, space cowboy." [Amazon]
Trigun is also set in space, on a desert planet where spaceships evacuating humans from a ruined Earth crash-landed. With the destruction of the ships, technology has, for the most part, gone back to the level of the late 19th/early 20th century (with a few things salvaged from the ruined ships and, of course, the Plants that provide the planet with power and water). The society is wild and lawless, and the most wild and lawless of them all is Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon, the outlaw gunslinger with a $$60,000,000,000 bounty on his head. Vash believes in Love and Peace, but a darker destiny hounds him across the planet. Along the way, he meets up with a series of renegades, bandits, bounty hunters, and desperados, an intinerant priest who's more than he appears to be, asssorted lovely ladies, and two "insurance girls", investigators assigned to make sure he doesn't prove to be the ruination of the insurance company. [Amazon]
I like to think that Silas Vendine, the hero of Daughter of the Wildings, has a little bit of Spike and Vash in him :)
Cowboy Bebop has bounty hunters, and Trigun has a character with an enormous bounty on his head, and the two come together in possibly the greatest anime music video ever made, Tainted Donuts. To finish off this post, sit back and enjoy some animated Wild West in Space action!
Next time: Part 3, Music.
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Western With A Twist, Part 1: Books
To set the mood for the release of Beneath the Canyons, Book 1 of Daughter of the Wildings, a high fantasy series set in a world inspired by the wild west, I'm going to take a three-part look at books, movies/TV shows, and music that puts a twist on the traditional western. The mythos of the Old West - the wide-open, lawless frontier, the desolate and mystical landscapes, the confrontation between good and evil, self-reliance, individual freedom and responsibility, the struggle to survive, and characters who are trying to make a new start in life, or find justice, revenge, redemption, or just a ton of riches, have made for a rich body of exciting stories, and easily lend themselves to other genres. For the "Western With A Twist" series I'll mainly be looking at western mixed with fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction, which also share a lot of the same traits - new frontiers, confrontations between good and evil, the struggle to survive, characters torn away from their origins who are on a quest. But I'll also throw in a few other things as well, to offer up a wide variety of western-themed entertainment to satisfy all tastes! (Note: Amazon links go to all international sites, and use my affiliate link. Image and title links go to Goodreads.)
First up, books.
I've had a hard time finding Western-themed works that fit my definition of "high fantasy" (and the definition I'm using for Daughter of the Wildings): fantasy set in an entirely different world from our Earth, with no reference to the real world, involving magic as an important plot element and a struggle between good and evil. But there are a few that come close, and there's plenty of other stories that fit into the Western With A Twist theme out there; "Weird Western" is a big trend, as is western paranormal romance (my own definition of paranormal is set in our world and dealing with things like ghosts, demons, vampires, etc), western steampunk, western alternate history, and western science fiction. Here's a rundown of some books and a web comic I've found that fit the bill of Western With A Twist.
The Dark Tower series by Stephen King: When talking about western-fantasy, this is the first thing most people think of. I agree, with qualifications. The first book, The Gunslinger, is very much fantasy in feel, and focuses on the western-like world of Roland Deschain. Book 4, Wizard and Glass, which I'm stuck halfway through, is also pretty straightforward western-fantasy. I'm having a hard time finishing it, partly because I know it can only end in tears (I'm all about happy endings) and because the 14-year-old kid having lots of sex kinda puts me off. I'm told Book 5, Wolves of Calla, is more fantasy-western, as well. Books 2 and 3 (which I've read) take on more paranormal and science fiction elements, and spend a significant amount of time in the modern world. Book 2 was good, though not at all western, and more paranormal than straight-up fantasy. The last two books, according to the information I've seen, mainly take place in the real world, and from the descriptions and reviews I've read, the series seems to go weirdly off the rails and this point (Stephen King is a character in at least one of them) and the ending sounds like something that would incite me to heave the book (or my Kindle, as the case may be) against the wall. King's books that I've read tend to have that effect on me, which may be why I haven't read very many. But if you want fantasy-western, The Gunslinger is worth reading. [Amazon]
The Haunted Mesa, by Louis L'Amour: By one of the grand masters of classic western novels, this book explores what might have become of the lost Anasazi people of the southwest. I consider it paranormal rather than high fantasy, since it's set in our world and deals with things like ghosts and alternate dimensions, but I read it many years ago seem to remember enjoying it a lot, so it belongs on this list as another personal recommendation. [Amazon]
The Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson. Set in the same world as Sanderson's Mistborn series but in a later time period reminiscent of the late 19th century. High fantasy, and definitely with a western-type feel and setting, and has definite steampunk elements. I've enjoyed all of Sanderson's work I've read so far, including this. Personally recommended. [Amazon]
The Buck Johnson: Dragon Wrangler series by Wyatt McLaren: Cowboys, wrangling dragons. On a distant planet. What's not to love? Short, funny, entertaining fiction that's a perfect blend of western and science fiction (the dragons are actually large flying lizards native to the distant planet). Personally recommended. [Amazon]
The Hunter (The Legend Chronicles, #1) by Theresa Meyers: This was suggested in a thread on Goodreads looked for fantasy-western recommendations. Mainly paranormal romance set in a steampunk version of the real world 1880's old west. Colt hunts for demons and other evil creatures; Lilly is a succubus he summons to help him on a search. She's ordered to take his soul; she has her own plans. I'm currently reading this one, and so far it's lots of fun. [Amazon]
The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson: Also recommended on that Goodreads thread. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my too-read list. Also paranormal rather than high fantasy. [Amazon]
Not fantasy or science fiction, but also western with an enjoyable twist:
The Mick and Casey stories (Have Gun, Will Play; A Fist Full of Divas; The Curse of Scattershale Gulch, and two stories in the Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! collection), by Camille LaGuire. Young married gunslingers Mick and Casey McKee solve mysteries in the old west. Mick and Casey are great characters, the old west settings are beautifully conveyed. If you enjoy putting together the pieces of a mystery in a different setting, try these. Personally recommended. [Amazon]
Bailin', by Linton Robinson. Crime caper set along the modern-day Texas-Mexico border, but with a very old-west feel to it. So funny it had me laughing in the dentist chair while I was waiting for the hygienist to come in and get to work. It has gunslingers, bounty hunters, a desperado in the person of a town treasurer who makes off with the stadium fund, and modern-day banditos (the two-man motorcycle gang Flathead and Bogart, the world's most inept drug smugglers). Also personally recommended. [Amazon]
Not a novel but a web comic/graphic novel:
Next Town Over, by Erin Mehlos. Follow the mysterious Vane Black as she pursues rogue sorcerer John Henry Hunter across a fictional world based on the Old West. Western high fantasy with a good dose of steampunk, an intriguing story, and really cool art. Personally recommended. Read for free or buy collected volumes for your tablet or in paper at http://www.nexttownover.net/. (I read them on my Kindle Fire.)
Finally, check out Raymond Cook. Straightforward westerns (not with a twist) based on the historic Old West. I've met the author online and he's a genuinely nice guy and has an inspiring story of following his dreams of writing despite serious injury and disability. I haven't read any of his books yet, but he's definitely on my to-read list.
Update: Adding Flash Gold, Lindsay Buroker's steampunk-western series set in an alternate-world version of the Yukon Gold Rush to the list.
If you have any recommendations for books that are western with a twist that aren't listed here, please put them in the comments!
Part 2: Movies and TV
Part 3: Music
You may or may not have noticed, a few days ago I posted "The Path of Haveshi Yellowcrow" and "The Path of Latan the Clerk," two connected short (well, kind of long, actually) stories loosely related to Chosen of Azara. They'll be free to read here on the site until Dec. 12, and then they'll go up for sale on Amazon. [Update: these stories are now available on Amazon in a volume titled The Warrior and the Holy Man.]
In Chosen of Azara, as Lucie is researching the history of the Madrinan Empire to try to decide if Sevry's story is true, she comes across a passing reference to a discredited Kriethi historian and his female Krunabashai bodyguard. These two stories tell the tale of the historian and the bodyguard. I'd been calling Latan "the Scholar," but he's really just a lowly clerk who dabbles in historical research in his spare time, and since he's such a modest fellow he insisted I change it to "clerk." But he still made it into at least one of the history books of his world. I don't know if he'd be more pleased or embarrassed about that.
In the titles, I also replaced "tale" with "path." "Path" is a little more different and interesting, plus a major theme in both stories is the paths life takes us on, both expected and unexpected. Both Haveshi and Latan think they know what they want out of life and exactly how their lives are going to go - they're happy, or at least content, with the paths their lives are following. Then unexpected events force them from those paths and require them to find new ways to live.
These two stories are a great example of how old ideas evolve into new ones. Haveshi's story originally started out as a novel set in Estelend [Edit: I have since changed the name of this world to Tehovir] (the same world as Chosen of Azara, with magical Sources playing an important role), with the events the same as in the story and then dragging on and on as Haveshi and her companion Daivashan went from one place to another without actually accomplishing much of anything. Back in those days (early 90s), you either wrote novels or you wrote for the short story market, and I was a novel writer. If I ever decided to dabble my toes again in publishing, I would need novel-length offerings to present to agents and editors. And so I took a story that didn't really have enough story in it to be a novel and tried to stretch it out into one.
Then, in the last year or so, when I was looking through my old story files and thinking about the new, expanded possibilities offered by self-publishing - no arbitrary word count or length guidelines set by publishers based on the economics of publishing paper books or magazines; stories could be as long or short as they needed to be - I realized that Haveshi's story would be perfect as a longish short story. She finds her answer without all that pointless wandering around, and sets off for her new life, the end.
The other seed of this pair of stories came from this fragment. (And I'm going to be really really brave and post it here exactly as I wrote it umpteen years ago.)
"You're the guard Bodric sent?" Sevry stared at the short, sturdy woman in front of him. He hoped there was a mistake.
Ok, first of all (besides the head-hopping), you may notice a few familiar names. Sevry, the name of the wizard in this fragment, became the name of the last King of Savaru and the hero of Chosen of Azara. That Sevry is many things, but most definitely not a wizard; I decided that name worked well for him, so I re-purposed it. Also, Perar became Perarre, the heroine of The Lost Book of Anggird, who is also most definitely not a bodyguard. So with the characters' names being used for other stories, I had pretty much decided this fragment was dead. But I still liked the idea: a lowly member of some sort of order about to set out on a journey finding out, to his dismay, that a woman has been assigned to be his guard.
Eventually, Sevry the wizard morphed into Latan the Scholar (and then the Clerk), And then I made the connection - the female bodyguard is Haveshi, from that other abandoned project. This set Latan's story firmly in the world of Chosen of Azara. When I tried to figure out the point of the journey he was going on, I realized that he had made a momentous discovery related to the conspiracy that destroyed Savaru, and he's going to present this discovery to the High Priest of the Madrinan Empire. And, ta daa, I had my stories; it was just a matter of writing them.
Haveshi's story comes first in the duology. It tells how she got derailed from the path her life was on and came to be a mercenary in a conquered land that is now part of the Madrinan Empire. Then her story continues with Latan's story, when she's assigned to guard him on a journey that proves as disruptive to his life's path as the events in her story were to hers. I suggest reading Haveshi first, then Latan, but it could work the other way around, too.
"The Path of Latan the Scholar" contains a spoiler for an event early on in Chosen of Azara, but the way it's presented, and the fact that the event happens so early in Chosen, it won't spoil the whole novel - I like to think of it as a teaser. Chosen of Azara also contains a spoiler for "The Path of Latan the Scholar," but that spoiler doesn't take in nearly the whole of the story. So either way, there's information given. If you're wondering what to read first, I'd say it could go either way - consider "The Path of Latan the Scholar" a teaser for Chosen of Azara, or a supplement to it.
I've also posted an updated map of Estelend, showing Source Tiati, where Latan lives, in Krieth in the south part of the Madrinan Empire.
If you haven't read Chosen of Azara yet, you can get an introduction to that world in "The Path of Haveshi Yellowcrow" and "The Path of Latan the Clerk," and if you've read it, you can get the scoop on that discredited historian and his female bodyguard. I hope you'll take a look, and enjoy the stories!
***Shameless self-promotion (but hey, it's my blog, it's all about self-promotion!): if you haven't read Chosen of Azara yet and want to, it's available at:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | Sony | Diesel
Smashwords | CreateSpace | All Romance eBooks
Something I read recently has led me to musing on Lucie's character development in Chosen of Azara. Lucie was kind of a risky character to write, and very difficult to get right (assuming I got her right). In fantasy, young noblewomen who go off on adventures are usually spunky and rebellious and seize eagerly at the chance to run off somewhere and do exciting and dangerous things. But with Lucie, I wanted to do something different - something that is pretty much the complete opposite of almost every fantasy heroine I've ever heard of.
Lucie is pretty happy with the way things are and the life she has. She does have a bit of a free-spirited streak that pushes the bounds of convention and propriety, but she is willing (though somewhat reluctantly so) to accept the reasons why one day she will need to give up the things she enjoys doing. She also has the occasional complaint about her fiance, Estefan, but she understands that in her society, marriage is about a lot more than the whims of the heart. In spite of her "eccentricities," she wants to do what's right and proper and expected of her and to be a credit to her family. She wants the handsome husband, the beautiful house, the fashionable clothes, the social standing. She is looking forward to devoting her life to raising her children and managing her household.
And then the dream, the things she wants and that she's always been taught that she should want, starts to fall apart at the same time that she's presented with an alternative that, according to everything she's been raised to believe, is unthinkable, that would cost her her family, her friends, her reputation, and everything that's important to her. Lucie finds herself in a quandary: cling to what she believes is right and important, for the sake of her and her family's name and reputation and her own security, or throw everything away and take a leap into the unknown. Either option requires more courage and resolve than Lucie possesses at the beginning of her story, and a major part of Lucie's story is watching her find the courage to do what her heart insists is, in the end, the right thing to do.
I knew I was taking a chance of turning off readers with a character who seems weak, who wants to be proper and conventional, who is not only indecisive but outright offended when the handsome stranger says, "Throw everything away and come on my quest with me," and who wants to cling to the life she has even as it becomes increasingly clear that that life is detrimental to her. But it's a common source of conflict and growth in the real world: the person who hates their boring cubicle job but is afraid to quit because then how will they pay the bills? Or the person who hangs on to the same circle of friends they've known since junior high even though those friends aren't progressing beyond a junior-high mentality and the person wants bigger and better things out of life but they're afraid to leave those friends behind because what if they never make any new friends? Or the woman who can't bring herself to leave a bad relationship because what will she do once she's out on her own?
We see spunky, rebellious, and strong-willed all the time in fantasy. With Lucie, I wanted to start with a character who is the opposite of that and show her growth into, not necessarily spunky and rebellious, but strong-willed and courageous enough to do what her heart is telling her is the right thing to do, no matter the pressures on her from other people or the consequences to herself.
So that's the character growth part of this post. As for learning curves, that's my part.
The great thing about being an independent author is that you're in charge of every aspect of your book, from what you write about in the first place to the final presentation. It's amazing to have that much control, but also involves learning a lot of new things. And one of those things is book covers.
Book covers (though with ebooks what you're talking about is an image that represents the book on a website or on your ereader) are a hugely important tool for drawing attention to a book. They need to be eye-catching, attractive, and convey a good sense of what the book is about. For authors who publish with traditional publishing companies, the art/marketing departments take care of all that, and sometimes they do a good job and sometimes they don't. (Caution: any and all of those links may be NSFW. Brain bleach available in aisle 2.) Either way, the author generally has little if any input into or approval over what goes on the front of their book.
Independent authors have the opposite problem: It's all up to us. We have to think of the concept and then license or commission the appropriate images. And it isn't easy to think of a single image to represent your whole book. One character? Multiple characters? Just a landscape? An object? A literal representation of a scene in the book or something more general? It's mind-boggling if you aren't used to doing this, and sometimes it takes trial and error.
With Chosen of Azara, I wanted something representing one or more of the characters (I very much prefer book covers with pictures of the characters), and something representing the cove of Azara or another aspect of the magic in the book. I fiddled around with pictures of various crystals and necklaces, trying to get the magical talisman that is an important object in the book, but that didn't go anywhere. Finally I settled on a picture of someone who sort of looked like Lucie, and a picture of a rocky ocean cove, and tried putting them together, with results I wasn't entirely happy with.
When I went looking for a cover artist for the Daughter of the Wildings series, I came across Design by Katt and fell in love with her fantasy portraits of women. I knew I'd found just the artist I needed to turn my Chosen of Azara cover concept into something wonderful. And she did - she took my original images and concept and did a gorgeous job with them. Her rendition of Lucie captures Lucie perfectly.
It's a gorgeous cover and I love it, but I started feeling like maybe my concept doesn't really represent what Chosen of Azara is really about. Lucie is only one main character of three in the book, and the main main character is actually Sevry. So I started thinking he should be on the cover. As well, just having Lucie on the cover doesn't convey the dark, angsty, romantic, adult (as in grownup, not as in porno) nature of the book - it looks more like a Young Adult book, or maybe fantasy with a chick-lit-ish twist. So, reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that my original concept was a misfire.
In the meantime, as I saw more of Katt's work and as she did the lucious cover of Sarya's Song, I came to realize what a really skilled and talented artist can do with photomanipulation and digital painting. It was okay if I couldn't find a photo of two people who look exactly like my characters - the main things to look for were the basic physical type and the positioning. Everything else, hair color, hairstyle, even clothing and facial expression, can be altered. So I went browsing for stock images for a new cover and almost instantly came across the PERFECT picture to become Sevry and Lucie. I ran it by Katt and she roughed out an idea of what can be done with it, and oh my, it's going to be amazing! She's working on it even as I write this. :-D
So watch this space for the new cover for Chosen of Azara. Once I've revealed it here, I'll start uploading it to the various retailers where the book is available. The old cover isn't going away, though; it will still be around on the site, because I do think it's the perfect picture of Lucie.
Update 3/17: Note the new new cover for Chosen of Azara.
For some reason, whenever I count up how many complete novels I've written, I always seem to forget that, buried deep in the "Old Stories" folder in my Projects folder on my computer is a complete draft of the original version of the story that eventually become Chosen of Azara. I was reading back over it yesterday (very gingerly, in the same manner that you might remove that big chunk of prickly pear that's gotten itself stuck in the sole of your sneaker, because too much contact would be painful) and was surprised at how many elements of the original story made it into Chosen of Azara (along with some that, thankfully, didn't).
The seed of the idea that eventually turned into that first novel and finally matured into Chosen of Azara was an image that came into my mind one day, of a highborn young woman alone in the woods, seeing a vision of an unknown man, and then some time later, the man appears, in the flesh, at the door of her home, looking for her.
The earlier story starts with that scene and goes on with the adventure from there. I also discovered that the first story also has a magical talisman that the young woman wears as a necklace, two brothers, a dubious fiance, a lost kingdom, and a king who under normal circumstances should be waaaaay past his "for best quality, use by" date. And, like Chosen of Azara, it's also set in the world of Estelend which I had begun developing probably about the same time or a little earlier.
A lot of writers, especially newer ones, worry that just because one story has the same starting premise and even some more specific plot elements in common with another story, that that makes the two stories the same. You see this on the NaNoWriMo boards a lot - "Am I plagiarizing [movie or book] by having [incredibly broad and common story element] in my story?" (Someone wanted to know if they were plagiarizing George R.R. Martin by including sex in their fantasy novel.) Or, "This movie stole my plot!" Young wizards going to wizard school (A Wizard of Earthsea, anyone?) or characters who are half-human, half-god (a substantial chunk of Greek mythology) seem to cause particular concern.
The answer is, No, you're not plagiarizing, No one stole your idea, There are no ideas that have absolutely never been done before. Two writers can start out with remarkably similar premises, and even some specific plot elements, and end up with very different stories.
And, in fact, the SAME author can write two very different stories from the same starting point and with the same plot elements.
The original "girl sees strange man in a vision in the forest" story is pretty straightforward. Girl sees vision, dude shows up, girl (accompanied by brothers and dubious fiance) goes off on adventure with mystery dude, lost kingdom, yada yada, (eventual) happy ending.
I wasn't real happy with how that story came out, and in fact the girl got a name and personality change halfway through. She started out as kind of this pathetic spinster would-be-hermit, and eventually eveolved into someone more like the character of Lucie turned out to be. Aside from the main character, the story as a whole didn't do what I wanted it to do, and it certainly didn't do justice to my original idea of the man in the vision.
So I turned my mind (aka the Idea-o-Tron (TM)) to learning more about the guy in the visions. Ancient king, lost kingdom... How in the world is he showing up in visions in the woods right here, right now, to this particular young lady? I started digging more into that, and that was where Sevry and his story (and the very cool time travel technique) came from. But there was more to it than that; how did the war begin, that destroyed Sevry's kingdom? Kingdom-annihilating wars don't just come out of nowhere. So that led deeper into Savaru's history, and to the story of Juzeva.
By the time I'd worked out all this backstory, I realized it wasn't just backstory; the stories of Juzeva and Sevry were too closely connected to Lucie's story, and had too much important information, and were too compelling to me to just be relegated to backstory, to be worked in small chunks into the story of Lucie's adventure. So the new version of the novel started with Juzeva and became an inter-generational tale of the fall and restoration of the kingdom of Savaru. And it turned into a novel that I decided I loved, and was proud to publish (as opposed to the original version, which will remain in the privacy of my hard drive; though I'll never delete it because you never know when something from an old story can be recycled into a new one.)
And Then There Were Six
So I finished the first draft of Book 4 of Daughter of the Wildings and was planning Book 5, when one night it came to me, as I was brushing my teeth, that there needs to be a sixth book in the series.
I panicked, wondering if there was enough story left to make up a whole other book. But as I thought about it that night (I usually lay awake late at night working out plots and story problems in my mind) and sat down and did a bunch of scene brainstorming and story development the next day, I realized that yes, there does have to be a sixth book, and there's plenty of story for two books instead of one. So a Book 6 there will be.
I think I've known, way deep down, for a long time that it would take another book to finish off the series properly. For a long time I had envisioned the events of Book 5, which moves the story from the frontier - the Wildings - into the civilized land of Granadaia, as being the climactic events of the series. But that just didn't seem right. The series is called Daughter of the Wildings, and it's about that uncivilized frontier land, its unique magic, and the connection between Lainie Banfrey (the Daughter in the series) and the land and its magic. Finishing it off in Granadaia without coming back to what is the heart of the series would be an unsatisfactory ending that doesn't fit with what the series is about. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the events in Granadaia are the leadup to the climactic events, and not the actual climax themselves. The story has to come back to the Wildings, to the threats to the land and the people that have been building up through all the other books, and to the real significance of Lainie's unique power and her relationship to the land, and also integrate Silas fully into that relationship, in order to tie everything together and bring the story to a meaningful and satisfying conclusion.
As I thought this through, I thought that maybe the Granadaia part and the return to the Wildings part could just be two halves of the same book. But the more I developed the storyline, the more it became clear that the two halves of the book are also two totally different story lines, each with its own central story problem, instigating events, development, and conclusion. I aso realized that if the book was going to be an equivalent length with the previous books in the series, I was going to have to skim over or leave out a lot of important stuff, or else the book was going to be twice as long as the other books.
Therefore, the obvious answer, which waited for that brainless and bored moment of brushing my teeth to hit me upside the head, is to split "Book 5" into two books.
I think I'm about ready to start writing the last two books. As with the other books so far in the series, there's this feeling of jumping into the deep end without really knowing how deep the water is or what's waiting in there. I know where the books start, and where they end, and have a general idea of what happens in between, but very few of the details are clear. But so far it's worked out well, so I just have to make that leap of faith two more times. I think I'll just write straight through, without stopping between books 5 and 6, since I'd already been planning them as a single unit. With hard work and a minimum of interruptions, I hope to finish the drafts of both books by October.
So, yay! More time with Silas and Lainie! And none of this is even taking into consideration my idea for a possible follow-up series.
Note on the story blurbs for Daughter of the Wildings: All six are up. I apologize for any cheesiness, especially in the last few. Writing blurbs is hard, especially if you're trying not to give away any spoilers. And I want to stipulate that in my books, suggesting that the hero and heroine end up together is not a spoiler. In addition to being fantasy, my books are also romance, and to be a proper romance (as opposed to more general love story), you have to have the Happily (even if things aren't easy) Ever After. It's expected, as a hallmark of the genre. (Plus I hate unhappy endings.) The question isn't if they end up together, but how.
In the meantime, edits on The Lost Book of Anggird are progressing apace (I'm planning a blog post on the worst writing advice ever and how it nearly killed Lost Book), along with the first major revision of Sarya's Song. Maybe I'll do a post on that too, how I struggled with it for years, then applied some very helpful story-planning techniques, and now have the least-broken first draft I think I've ever written.
The feedback from the test readers on The Lost Book of Anggird is in, and it's awesome. Lots of love for the book, and also some good suggestions for making it even better. So I'm mulling all that over, and in the meantime I'm going full-in on finishing up revisions on Chosen of Azara and getting it ready for release in June.
Chosen of Azara is set in a world that I started making up years ago. I don't remember how long ago, and I don't think Chosen is even the first story I set in that world. "A Cure for Nel," one of the stories in the collection of the same name, is set in the same world, as are the two longer short stories I wrote in March and some other unfinished novels/story fragments.
I do remember how I started developing this world. I was bored one day, so I bought a box of crayons, the box with 64 different colors and a built-in sharpener. You can buy boxes with even more colors than that now, but at the time that was the deluxe box. Then I got out a big piece of cheap kid's drawing paper and started drawing this landmass. I wanted it to have deserts and hills and mountains and rivers and swampy areas and a large inland sea and all kinds of cool stuff. Mostly, I designed it around Sources, which I imagined as natural features that served as sources of magical power. A Source can be a hill or mountain, a cave, a place where two rivers flow together, a water spout or rocky ocean cove, an ancient tree, a spring or lake, a fjord, or any other kind of distinctive natural feature.
And I named it SourceWorld. Which is descriptive, but not very organic - that is, it doesn't sound like something that the people living there would naturally call it. It's an externally-imposed name. So I got out my word-making-up-fu (checked the word-origins section of my huge old American Heritage dictionary and mixed some stuff from that together with some names I came up with on a fantasy name generator) and ta-daa, Estelend was born.
The idea with magic in Estelend is that naturally-occuring heavenly and earthly magical powers are combined and flow through the Sources. Where the Source is, what kind of natural feature it's located in, and what sort of people gravitate to that Source all affect the kind of power it is, good, not so good, useful for healing or prophecy or other stuff, and so on. Certain people are born with an ability to take in Source-power and use it. Other people who aren't born with the ability can have it forced into them. A very few people are born perfectly attuned to the power of a certain Source, and their lives depend on having constant access to power from that Source. Bringing together a person and a Source that are incompatible, or committing certain acts within a Source (such as bloodshed) can taint or even destroy the Source.
So I started marking in the Sources, and the countries, and figuring out allies and enemies and the different characteristics of the people and places on this huge continent, and how the magic works, and stories started to grow. I don't know if you can really call them a series, since they are all stand-alone, with different characters in different places, but they definitely go together. Chosen of Azara was posted on an old website I had for many years, and now I'm excited to be able to write and share more of the stories that my world of Estelend has given birth to. (Kanyev the Source-Fixer has been waiting impatiently for his day in the sun for a long time now. I promise, buddy, your time is coming.)
There's a quick introduction to the world of Chosen of Azara, "A Cure for Nel," the tales of Haveshi Yellowcrow and Latan the Scholar, and more. Oh, and if you have a fantasy world, you have to have a map, and here it is. This is an improved drawing I did based on the original, and doctored up in the image editing program I had two computers ago. I don't seem to have the dingbat any more that I was using to mark cities, so as I add more cities I guess I'll have to find something else to mark them with. But that's ok. Better to have a world that continues to grow and develop than to have it become static for lack of a dingbat.
Elves, Fairies, and Dragons
First off today, I'm very pleased to be spotlighted on J.J. DiBenedetto's blog! J.J. also left a very lovely review for Urdaisunia on Goodreads. Go check it out, and also make sure you check out his paranormal suspense "Dream" series.
This just in: I'm also featured on Robin Leigh Morgan's website and blog! Go take a look, and also check out her YA paranormal romance, I Kissed A Ghost.
Some time ago, I promised a post on why there aren't any elves, fairies, or dragons in my stories. The short answer to this question is, because so far I haven't seen any reason to put any in.
The longer, and hopefully more interesting answer is: When I'm reading a novel and come across a character of a fantasy race (elves, fairies, dwarves, etc.) I almost always find myself asking, "Why isn't this character human? What makes this character something besides a human with heightened senses/love of nature/pointy ears/superior attitude or short/has a beard/likes beer/lives underground?" I find humans fascinating. They come in an endless variety of physical types, temperaments, talents, prejudices, emotions, desires, abilities, habitats, backgrounds, beliefs, and so on. I've found enough to write about just with humans as characters (and, ok, gods here and there, but there's good reasons why gods are gods) without adding the artificial differences of designating them as "elves" or "dwarves" or whatever. If there are going to be different races, for me there has to be a significant reason that matters to the story why those characters cannot be any sort of human.
The best example of this I've ever read is the Danae in the Flesh and Spirit/Breath and Bone duology by Carol Berg. The Danae are an elvish/fae-like race with a superficial resemblance to humans. However, everything from their physiology to their ways of interacting with and affecting their world are completely alien. (Although their biology is close enough to allow them to interbreed with humans.) Their stages of growth are marked by increases in magical abilities, and the appearance of really cool glowing blue tattoo-like markings on their bodies. Their way of getting around their world and ours is not limited by things like physical location and distance but relies more on the resemblances between one place and another. Their magic is based on dance, and their dances have a very real effect on their world and the human world. And the list of fundamental things that make the Danae who they are and not human goes on and on. Their very unhumanness (yes, that's a word, I'm a writer and I used it, that makes it a word) is a pivotal point in the story and has a profound effect on the main character.
Another of my favorite examples of the use of fantasy races is in The War of the Flowers by Tad Williams. I read this a number of years ago and don't remember a whole lot about it, but I do remember that the differences between humans and the various fantasy races in the book went a lot deeper than just name, appearances, and general outlook on life.
If I ever write a story where it's essential to have a character that is non-human on a very deep, fundamental level, that has differences from humans that go beyond the wide variety of characteristics that humans already display, then I'll do that. But so far, just plain old humans have been keeping me plenty busy.
But what about dragons? They're clearly not just humans that are lizard-shaped, scaley, have wings, and breathe fire. But a lot of other people have written about dragons, and written about them far better than I ever could, so I don't really feel like that's something I need to push myself to do. If I ever have a story idea that requires a dragon, I'll use a dragon. But so far I haven't.
My favorite stories with dragons? A Wizard of Earthsea and The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. LeGuin. Great dragons, not at all pets or just dragony humans, but with their own history and way of looking at life and the world. I also enjoyed Song of the Beast, by Carol Berg. (btw, everything Carol Berg writes is awesome. You should read it.) (also btw, an older edition of A Wizard of Earthsea has one of the worst covers I've ever seen. Go check it out if you dare, but remember, what has been seen cannot be un-seen.)
I am Kyra Halland, author of tales of fantasy, heroism, and romance.
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