I'm getting near the end of this major revision of City of Mages. Today I'll be working on the big climax and battle scene, which in this book seems to need a lot less work than in previous books, even though it's still quite complex. In the meantime, here's a little snippet from yesterday's work, in which Lainie meets her mother-in-law for the first time:
The servant stepped aside, then Lainie went into the room. This was a pretty room, about the size of the front parlor, kitchen, and dining room in her Pa's house, done up in blue and white and gold. To the right stood a group of three chairs of white and gilt-gold wood cushioned in light blue, placed to form three sides of a square. On the center chair, facing Lainie, sat a woman dressed in a flowing, deep blue gown made of a rich, shimmering fabric, trimmed with clouds of black lace. Her figure was matronly but firm and trim. Her rusty-black hair, the same color as Silas's, darker than brown but not true black, cascaded in thick curls down one shoulder nearly to her waist. A large white flower was tucked into her hair above her other ear. Her eyes and skin were also dark like Silas's, and she was wearing cosmetics -- not as much as the house ladies wore, that made their faces look painted on, but enough to make her natural beauty stand out even more. She hardly looked old enough to be Silas's mother, Lainie thought. Jewels glittered at her ears, throat, and fingers, including an enormous dark blue gem on her left forefinger.
"Come closer, girl," Lady Venedias said in a cool, commanding tone.
Lainie walked forward. Though the chairs on either side of Lady Venedias were empty, Silas's mother did not invite her to sit. Closer in, Lainie could now see fine lines on the woman's face and a bit of slack skin beneath her chin. Maybe she was in her early fifties; old enough to be Silas's mother but not old enough to have another child several years older, the sister Silas had mentioned, unless she had started very young.
"I wanted to see this person who claims to be married to that son of mine," Lady Venedias said. She gave Lainie a slow, cool, assessing look up and down. Lainie's cheeks burned; she felt even shabbier under that look, her pretty dress poor and plain compared to Lady Venedias's elegance, but she forced herself not to look down or away.
"I find myself skeptical that Siyavas married you of his own free will," Lady Venedias finally said. "You don't look like the sort of girl for whom he would throw everything away."
After the awkward beginning, it really doesn't go all that badly. This is actually one of my favorite scenes in the book.
Back to work now :-)
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 :-)
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*
The wedding of the century (at least until our younger son gets married) is over, and it was lovely, and now I'm back hard at work on the final edits of To the Gap. In the meantime, here's an interview with Brin Coltor, the wealthy rancher from The Rancher's Daughter. Coltor is notable in being one of the few secondary characters who appears again later in the series. If you have other questions for him, feel free to ask them in the comments. (Same goes for all my other character interviews!)
1. What is your full name? Is there anything significant about your name?
The name I've chosen to be known by is Brin Coltor.
2. How old are you?
I am 37 years old.
3. Tell us about your family. What do you like and not like about them?
My family lives in Granadaia. I've been out of touch with them for many years. Our values, the things we want out of life, are not the same. I've also been estranged from my wife for many years. She was not an easy person to live with. I'm not sure why I'm still married to her; I really ought to man up and resolve the matter one of these days. I think the only reason she hasn't divorced me by now is because of my family's money, and because she doesn't have specific evidence of grounds for divorce. But I'd like my freedom, and I'm sure she would, too.
I do have a young daughter here in the Wildings, but the union that produced her was... unconventional. I don't want her to be the target of misunderstandings and prejudice, so I keep her existence a secret. Don't know how long that can last, though.
4. Who was your first kiss, and what did you think of it?
Ah. I believe it was a young lady at my thirteenth birthday party. I'd rather not reveal her name, but she was charming. It's a fond memory.
5. What is your occupation?
I own and operate the BC Crown Ranch in the Bentwood Valley. It's one of the largest ranches in the Wildings, if not *the* largest.
6. What are your best and worst qualities?
I'm a good businessman. I deal fairly and generously with my workers and the people in my town. And I love my daughter dearly.
I do have a short temper, and I'm not particularly good at managing my personal life.
7. What quality do you value most in a romantic partner?
I want a strong, intelligent woman who can stand beside me as an equal partner in business and in life without trying to henpeck me. I do know a woman who would be my ideal partner, but... Well, I'm afraid I burned that bridge years ago. I couldn't offer her what she wanted, a respectable marriage, and now, well, I'm afraid it's too late.
8. What is your favorite thing to do?
I love my work, both managing the business affairs of my ranch and being in the outdoors, working hands-on with the stock. The Bentwood Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I also, well, I do have a bit of a reputation as a skirt-lifter, and I'm afraid it's well-earned.
9. What is your greatest fear?
My daughter coming to harm.
10. What is your most treasured possession?
My daughter and my ranch.
I missed the Friday 5 last week because I couldn't think of anything. This week, as I've been working on edits on To the Gap (Daughter of the Wildings book 4), I noticed five (possibly) interesting things readers will learn about in the book:
1. What happens if you don't mind your manners in Lainie's kitchen.
2. How Silas gets the nickname "Shark".
3. How to make a mage ring.
4. Silas's "first time".
5. Cows can swim.
Still working hard to get the book ready for release. We had a pre-wedding event to go to last week out of town, and the wedding is late next week, if all goes according to plan. But I'm finding that with plenty of rest and carefully limiting any other demands on my energy, I'm not falling too far behind. Stay tuned for details as the release date draws near; to make sure you don't miss the announcement, sign up for my email alerts. (Don't worry; I won't spam you or share your info with anyone else.)
Time for the monthly roundup and look ahead:
June was, again, all about working on revisions and edits on To the Gap. This book is longer than books 2 and 3, (over 60,000 words, while Bad Hunting and The Rancher's Daughter are under 50,000) so it's taking longer to finish it. I also finished the A-Z Reading Challenge (see the previous post for the final installment) and I'm now back to reading whatever I feel like. Finally, the month ended with a bang with a bunch of dental work. My mouth still hurts, but at least we addressed the problems before they got bad enough to require root canals.
Coming up in July: the release of To the Gap, though probably a little later than I had anticipated. A week ago Sunday, our older son and his fiancee informed us that they've moved their wedding up from this fall to the middle of this month. They aren't having a big huge fancy deal, but there's at least one wedding-related event in addition to the wedding we'll need to be at, and it's all out of town (though only 100 miles up the freeway), which means a couple of road trips. So that has thrown a slight hitch into my work schedule, but I'm working as hard as I can to still get the book out as soon as I can without compromising the quality. I know there are at least a few of you waiting for it, and I don't want to keep you waiting too long! Of course, we're thrilled and delighted for our son and his fiancee, and excited to have our family grow. Maybe best of all, she has an absolutely precious 2-year-old daughter, so we get an instant grandchild out of the deal :-D
All other projects are on hold while I get through this busy time and try to keep to my release schedule.
It's time again for the Friday 5! This week, five-sentence (more or less) snippets from the fifth chapter of five of my books.
In Urdaisunia, Rashali has been elected to take her village's thanks to a Sazar nobleman who did them a favor:
Rashali looked across the road at Moon Bend, which she had never left in all her life. She had never traveled to Tigun’s native village on the Tabra to meet his parents, or even to the next village downriver. Zir, the great city, was very far away, four days’ walk or more.
And may she be damned to Araskagan’s darkest pits if she ever chased after a Sazar in order to grovel to him.
“You have to go, Rashali,” a woman said. “He’ll be angry if he thinks we’re ungrateful.”
From Chosen of Azara, Juzeva, traveling through the desert in search of a mysterious Source, has an unwelcome encounter:
Hours later, when the sun was sinking low in the sky, she rounded a bend in a narrow gap between two hills and found her path blocked by a red-gold cat the size of a horse. She froze as the animal looked at her through gold eyes and growled softly in its throat.
She fought back a panicked urge to flee. If she tried to run away, the beast would easily chase her down, and she couldn’t climb up the steep, rocky hillsides to escape from it. But if she held still, maybe it would lose interest in her.
The huge cat growled again, then let out a loud roar.
In The Lost Book of Anggird, Professor Rossony is anxiously waiting for a decision vital to his research:
“Sir Baril!” Professor Rossony called out as he caught up with the Lord Regent just outside the doors of the Lectorium.
The white-haired, aristocratic-looking Regent stepped aside so that they wouldn’t block the doorway. “Your application is still under consideration, Rossony,” he said with an air of impatience, as though they had had this conversation too many times already. “You do understand that this is a decision which cannot be reached in haste.”
“Of course, Sir Baril. But —”
“Be assured, Professor Rossony, we will inform you of our decision the moment we make it. Good day.”
In Sarya's Song, Sarya is undergoing a Penance lashing from a Master who has taken a dislike to her:
Sarya counted the strokes, wincing with each sharp smack of the leather thongs on her back. This whipping was harder than the other one had been, just within the bounds of what was permitted. After the fifth lash, she started to stand up, then a sixth stroke came down hard across her back. Pain ripped from her shoulder to her waist, and a warm wetness began spreading from where the lash had struck her.
She stumbled to her feet and spun to face Master Uldo. “Damn you, that was six! And you drew blood!”
From Beneath the Canyons, Silas and Lainie are investigating the strange ore that Carden's miners are digging up:
Mr. Vendine took a bandana out of one of his duster pockets, folded it and covered her hand with it, then dropped a few of the black lumps into her palm.
Icy pain shot up through her arm, seizing her heart and her lungs in freezing agony. Dark terror wrapped around her mind, cutting off sight, hearing, and even thought. Cold ran through her veins, spreading through her arms, her back and legs, her belly and loins. It was like the night terrors, only a hundred times – a thousand times – worse.
Well, what do you know, it's a week into June already and I still haven't done the monthly wrap-up and look ahead. Basically, most of what I'm doing is still working on edits of To the Gap, book 4 of Daughter of the Wildings. It's going really well, and so far everything's on track for a release in the first part of July. I know I've blogged about this before, but here's a rundown of my writing/editing workflow:
1. first draft
2. deep, major revision
3. out to test readers
4. 2nd major revision
5. refine dialogue, descriptions, action, pacing, flow
6. fix mistakes, awkward sentences
7. proofread on paper
8. proofread on Kindle
A lot of times, if the manuscript is really a mess, I do a second copy edit between steps 6 and 7. But so far, on step 5 on To the Gap, I'm not finding a whole lot of changes to make. So hopefully I won't have to do that extra step.
On days when I finish my editing quote on time, I've been working on outlining the Healing Tree, a novel set in my world of Estelend. Should be ready to start writing soon. I found the perfect soundtrack for it, the new album Haven by Kamelot. Here's a video of one of the songs from the album:
I'm still reading from A to Z. Up to V now; the end is in sight! For a while there I kept finding books that I couldn't finish. I'm not going to say what they are; this indie author gig is tough, and taste is subjective, and I don't want to be the one putting down a fellow author. Instead I'll just focus on the books I do read all the way through. I've been discovering some amazing reads; watch for another roundup soon!
I keep telling myself I need to start thinking about what comes after Daughter of the Wildings. At the moment I have three novels in draft awaiting revision, a fourth about ready to be written, and a binder full of short stories related to Chosen of Azara and The Source-fixer. And I've started developing ideas for a follow-up series to Daughter of the Wildings; I know the basic series conflict and the basic plot of the first book. I've been so deeply absorbed in Daughter of the Wildings it's hard to focus on anything else. But at least I know I won't be running out of things to work on any time soon!
My vision of fantasy-western (or, if you prefer, western fantasy) and how and why I got the idea to mash up the two genres. (This is based on two different but similar posts I wrote for Derek Alan Siddoway's blog and the Speculative Fiction Showcase. Since other people's blogs can come and go, I decided it's best to have something this important on my own blog as well. Also be sure to check out the other versions on those sites!)
Out of the dusty desert hills he rides into town, the nameless stranger astride a horse as toughened with hard experience as he is. The wide brim of his hat conceals his eyes and unshaven face in shade; his long brown coat, much patched and mended, blows open just enough to reveal the six-shooter holstered at his hip. He seems to be just another wandering gunfighter, but that gun can do things no regular gun can do, and, on a silver chain hidden beneath his shirt, a ring set with a blue stone glows with the strength of his magical power.
This is no ordinary gunslinger.
Meet Silas Vendine, the hero of my fantasy-western series Daughter of the Wildings. The fantasy half comes from high fantasy, which I define (and I know everyone has their own definition) as fantasy set in another world, with a heroic storyline, where magic is an essential element of the story.
The western part of fantasy-western comes from the traditions of the classic pulp westerns: the wide-open, lawless frontier, confrontations 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.
To me, fantasy and western were made to go together. There are so many places where the traditional elements of the two genres can come together to enrich and expand each other. Desolate and mystical landscapes; the struggle between good and evil; characters who don’t fit into ordinary society, epic journeys where simply surviving is a victory – you’ll find all of these elements and more in both fantasy and westerns. Silas Vendine, the gunslinger who is also a mage, fits into a long tradition of both fantasy and western heroes: the mysterious man with extraordinary skills and strengths, a loner, who has his own mission in life and his own moral code that doesn’t necessarily fit with the accepted conventions.
And it isn’t just the similarites between the two genres that inspired me to combine them. The contrast between the down and dirty struggle for survival that was life in the Old West and the otherworldly wonder of magic, and between the rough technology of the late 1800s and the traditions of magic and fantasy, are ripe with storytelling possibilities. In Daughter of the Wildings, I wanted to put the familiar western elements into a world that isn’t ours, where magic is pervasive and well-known. Gamblers play cards in the saloons – but the cards have names like Moon Mage and Star Dragon. The A’ayimat, the indigenous people of the Wildings, have blue-toned skin and golden eyes, and can understand any language that is spoken to them. Clocks with numbered hours, eyeglasses, and guns are the products of foreign science and are forbidden in the civilized, mage-dominated land of Granadaia. Cowboys herd cattle out on the open range while man-eating groviks – think furry alligators with rabbit-ears – roam the mountains. And on the night of the dark of the moon, when the eight gods hide their faces from the world, that mournful howling you hear could just as easily be a coyote, a demon, or lost and lonely spirit.
The landscapes of the West are another inspiration. I was born and raised in the West, and still live there. I love to set my favorite genre, fantasy, in the wide-open landscapes I grew up with, the snow-covered peaks, evergreen forests, grassy rangelands, and rugged desert hills and dry riverbeds. Mountains and deserts especially play an important role in my writing. Mountains are places where the earth and the heavens meet in a mystical joining, while in the desert, things are hidden, buried, waiting to be revealed by an angle of the light, a rainstorm, or fortuitous digging in the right place. Both mountains and deserts hold deep secrets and power and history, and demand the utmost in skill and courage of those who journey or live there.
Come join Silas Vendine and Lainie Banfrey on an exciting western adventure set in a world of fantasy and magic – or an epic fantasy adventure in a world of cowboys and gunslingers.
For availability and more information about the books, go to the Daughter of the Wildings series page.
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