The Grand Scheme of Things

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What a fun post title.

It’s been a great month, but I’ll wait and tell you more about it on Thursday when my Episodes and Adventures post goes up. Today, I wanted to answer a couple of questions I’ve been asked recently about what’s next now that the Minstrel’s Song series is complete. The biggest ones being….

What’s next? And (for those who know the answer to the first question), When will the first book in the Turrim Archive be available?

That’s kind of a lot of questions all rolled into one, so I thought it might be worth devoting a blog post to discussing it.

First of all, the next thing coming down the pipes actually is NOT the Turrim Archive.

*GASP!*

I know, I know!

I really did not mean to… but I got captivated by an idea and took a couple of weeks off in April to write a somewhat ridiculous/adorable very short original fairy tale for the next Fellowship of Fantasy anthology. It was announced last week that the story has been accepted! Huzzah! *throws confetti and cupcakes* As of right now, it may be placed in the Fairy Tale OR the Cat-themed anthology… whichever it fits better in.

However, the next series of actual novels that I am currently working on IS the TURRIM ARCHIVE. It is my belief that this will be a five-book series. Currently, books 1 and 2 are written: The Orb and the Airship, and Mantles of Oak and Iron. I passed the half-way mark on book three last week – which currently is stubbornly remaining title-less, though I have a few ideas I’m playing with. My title for Mantles of Oak and Iron did not become apparent until I was nearly done with the writing, so we shall see if one presents itself in the next month. My goal is to have the rough draft of book 3 finished by the end of June, and be well on my way into book 4 by the time I head to Realm Makers.

What is the Turrim Archive and how will it compare to The Minstrel’s Song?

This series is an epic fantasy with hints of gaslamp and some glimmerings of high fantasy scattered throughout. It is different to The Minstrel’s Song in both feel and scope, and yet there are some similar themes that readers of both series will notice, I am sure. This series has more political intrigue and is not so quest-based, though there are some smaller-scale quests within the series, so far.

There are airship pirates and a military academy and a world that has been experiencing a pseudo-Cold-War-type relationship between The Telmondir Council and the Igyeum. It does have magic, but it is far more limited magic than you saw in The Minstrel’s Song. And, though it pains me greatly, this world contains no dragons. (try not to faint)

This series maaaaay have a character who is partially heavily inspired by my love of Malcolm Reynolds.

These books are shaping up to be a bit shorter than The Minstrel’s Song books, each clocking in around 115K words right now (for reference, that’s a couple thousand words shorter than Yorien’s Hand), though of course much can change in the editing phases, but I seem to be the sort of writer who does not add very many overall word-count during editing.

So, when can you expect to see The Orb and the Airship available for order?

Not for a while.

I am happy with the way that The Minstrel’s Song series ended up, and I am beyond thrilled with how the story unfolded. However, I also learned a lot through the process of polishing and publishing that series. And I am going at Turrim Archive very differently.

The grand scheme of things (there we go! you knew the title had to show up somewhere!) right now is to write all five books and then edit and polish them simultaneously and have the covers done so that the entire series is “ready-to-publish” before I release book 1. Then I can release the books a little bit more rapid-fire (right now I’m thinking 1 every 9-12 months) instead of making you wait 18-24 months for each next book. While I am doing that, I can continue writing whatever I decide to work on next. Of course, that does mean a bit of waiting right NOW, as I have 2.5 books left to write, and then going through the editing phase for so many words is going to take some time, as well. But I think in the end it is actually going to end up being an easier and smoother process, overall, with less re-writing and scurrying around frantically trying to make sure that there aren’t any inconsistencies or contradictions from one book to the next.

I had hoped to be able to finish the rough drafts of books 3, 4, and 5 this year… but as we are nearly at the halfway mark for the year already, I do not think I am going to attain that dream. I do think I can probably finish books 3 and 4 before the year’s end, however. If I could start releasing this series before the end of 2020, I would be delighted beyond all reason, but I really can’t promise anything at this point.

I hope that answers your questions about what I’m working on and when it will be available!

~ jenelle

Impressionism: Fight Scenes

FightScenesArmies lining up on either side of a field. A jousting tournament. Two warriors circling each other, swords drawn. Arrows raining down on an enemy. Siege weapons. Epic fantasy battle scenes are thrilling to read. They are generally the big, exciting climax of the massive tome or series that a fantasy reader looks forward to.

But writing those battles and fight sequences can often be the exact opposite of exciting to write. Many authors and aspiring authors agree that writing fight scenes is one of the most difficult aspects of writing fantasy novels.

The first time I sat down to write King’s Warrior, I was 19 years old. I sailed through the story and came at long last to the final, climactic battle, the crux of the plot I had been building to for over 300 pages. The stage was set, the stakes were high, and … I had no idea how to go about actually putting this enormous and important ending into the story. It wasn’t something I had covered in any creative writing class I’d ever taken, nor would it ever be included in the curriculum of any writing class I participated in. A friend of mine told me, “Go re-read the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers! Tolkien does a fantastic job with this.” So I did. It seemed like helpful advice at the time. And it was a good starting point… unfortunately, the chapter Helm’s Deep is fairly short, and the descriptions of the battle only encompass a handful of paragraphs, interspersed with information on what Aragorn is doing or dialogue between various characters. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for with regards to a formula for writing a compelling and epic battle sequence. 

I read battle scenes in other fantasy novels and sort of fumbled my way along. I would later do a lot of editing and rewriting on that particular portion of the book. Several novels later, I was still wrestling with this question: just how does one go about writing a compelling fight scene?

Skip ahead a few years and several novels later. I was working on the first draft of The Orb and the Airship. The story was building up to a major conflict on board my pirates’ airship. My first inclination was to go through the scene step-by-step. I saved that early draft, and thought I’d share it with you here today:

The deck of the Crimson Eagle became a maelstrom of confusion and noise. Grayden lay where he had fallen, the side of his face pressed against the cool decking. His head throbbed and swam as he tried to raise himself to a standing position. He reached inside his jacket. His fingers found what they were searching for. As he stood, a figure charged at him. Grayden stepped back and to the side. His attacker’s sword missed him by a breath. His assailant recovered quickly, angling his blade to deflect Grayden’s knife thrust at his side. Grayden began to feel panicked. He was only basically trained, and he knew he was no match for a skilled swordsman, and his long-knife could not compete with a sword. He ducked as the lethal blade swung at his head. His long-knife was not the ideal weapon for this particular contest. He backed away from his attacker, his eyes darting wildly as he searched for something he could use to his advantage.

The answer came so suddenly it startled Grayden himself. He backed into one of the tall masts. The impact surprised him, but he instantly knew what to do. He moved his knife from his right to his left hand and slid around the mast to the right as his opponent swung his sword at his head once more. The sword stuck briefly in the wood of the mast and Grayden took full advantage of his opponent’s momentary impediment. He swung back to his left, grabbed the back of the man’s head, and dashed his head against the mast. His attacker slumped to the deck, out of the battle, at least for the moment. Grayden retrieved the man’s sword.

I wrote out the rest of the chapter and then stopped to read over what I had written. Something was wrong. There was plenty of action, but I was bored writing it, how could I expect a reader to enjoy the experience?

I tried acting it out. My husband helped me with the sequence of events. I talked to friends who had taken fencing classes and were in martial arts. I did research. My grasp of the movements was sound, but translating it onto paper turned it into a choppy mess. It sounded like I was writing choreography for a play, not an intense or exciting battle scene. My husband then suggested a different course. Instead of writing a series of movements and recording all the ducks and blows and parries that an actor has to think through when making a movie like Pirates of the Caribbean, I should try to think through what the battle actually looks like to someone in the midst of it. Or even someone watching it from afar. It is chaos. It is loud. Any participant is rarely going to get the luxury of dueling a single opponent at a time.

So I took my step-by-step first draft and created an outline to follow:

  1. Enemy ship crashes into Crimson Eagle
    1.  Ship lurches, people stumble/fall over
    2. Grayden falls down
    3. Hits his head
    4. Momentarily stunned
  2. Grayden gets up and faces a swarm of attackers
    1.  Realizes he’s been separated from his friends
      1. Panic
      2. Stumbling
      3. Scrambling
  3. Spots Wynn
    1. Moves towards Wynn
    2. Faces attackers
      1. Sort of lurching his way through the fray
      2. Lots of “luck”

Then I set out to re-write the scene, this time focusing on the feel of the battle, rather than the actual steps. I detailed the overwhelming clash of sounds and colors, the swirling confusion of trying to determine friend versus foe as the MC made his way through the fray while struggling to survive.

The deck of the Crimson Eagle became a maelstrom of confusion and noise. Grayden lay where he had fallen, the side of his face pressed against the cool decking. His head throbbed and swam as he climbed to his feet. He reached inside his jacket. His fingers found the hilt of his long-knife as another wave of attackers swung their way onto the cruiser. His heart pounded in his ears matching the ominous rhythm of their boots hitting the boards of the deck.

His gaze swept the airship wildly, searching for his friends. At first he could not find them amidst the chaos. Then he spotted Beren, towering above the rest. Desperately, Grayden began to make his way toward him.

Attackers blocked his path. Grayden sliced out with his dagger at one. He ducked and whirled away from a sword blow, his heart lurching as he felt the wind of it ruffle his hair. He rushed through a line of attackers, elbows flying; he heard a grunt of pain as he barged through the mass of bodies. Something sliced into his leg and he crumpled to the deck, dropping his knife. A man leapt after him and Grayden scrabbled desperately for his weapon. Failing to retrieve it, he rolled away just as the sword cleaved into the deck where he had been. Stumbling to his feet, he jumped at the attacker, knocking him to the deck. The man’s head slammed against a barrel and he lay still.

Grayden rose, feeling sick. His leg throbbed. He retrieved the sword that had nearly killed him. It was heavier than he was used to, and had a strange curve to its blade that made it feel awkwardly balanced, but it was better than nothing. His eyes scanned the deck until he found his dagger. He picked it up and bent over, breathing heavily, thankful for a sudden lull in the area around him. The reprieve was short-lived, however. One of the raiders noticed him and advanced, sword swinging lazily, a knowing smile on his clean-shaven face.

Grayden lurched away from the new threat, wielding the unfamiliar blade clumsily. His attacker slashed and cut at him with speed and precision. Grayden parried as best he could, backing away. His thoughts were awhirl as he blocked blow after blow. Suddenly, his attacker grinned, a cunning light of victory in his eyes. Before he had time to wonder what it meant, Grayden crashed into something with such force that it brought tears to his eyes and nearly knocked his breath from his lungs. It was the mast. Without thinking, he slid around it just as his attacker swung. The blade bit deeply into the wood of the mast where Grayden’s head had been but a moment before. Quicker than he had ever moved before, Grayden reversed direction and grabbed the back of the man’s head, smashing his face into the mast. The man slumped to the deck, motionless.

I don’t know about you, but personally I think that is a much more exciting read. For me, the answer came not from telling my readers every step of the choreography, but rather from giving them a sense of what it was like to be there next to the character. In other words, writing a compelling fight sequence meant not writing too much about the actual fighting! This might seem a bit counter-intuitive, but it goes back to the age-old “show, don’t tell!” rule. Though sometimes overused, because narrative is still an important aspect of most stories, this is one of those times where it is a good rule. This is one of those wondrous places where the reader’s vast imagination is the author’s best friend. Now, obviously, there is some choreography in both versions, but the second version just gives the reader enough to ground them and be able to know what’s going on, it is less clinical and more about what Grayden is feeling as he encounters his first real battle. A few tantalizing glimpses and the use of descriptive adjectives in which to immerse the reader’s senses will go a lot further in developing a gloriously epic battle scene in your reader’s mind than ten pages of “character A swung his sword, while character B raised up his dagger, catching the blade just before it passed through his defenses, then character A spun 360 degrees and….” wouldn’t you agree?

I guess Tolkien had it right all along.

~ jenelle

Making it Realistic: Is Research Worth It?

WorthitResearchToday’s genre for Indie e-Con is Historical Fiction.

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know I do not write Historical Fiction. For the most part, I don’t write stories set in our world at all! However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to know anything about history. On the contrary, I find myself doing a ton of research as I write my books, because even though they aren’t set on our world or in our history, I do want them to have a modicum of realism and be relatable to you, dear Reader. And that means grounding them in reality at times.

As most of what I’ve published to-date is set in worlds that hearken back to a medieval or middle-ages England, with knights and castles and things like that, most of my research has revolved around these things. The important thing with research is not to take anything for granted. I’ve found that what I tend to look up most is food… did this dish I just mentioned or anything like it even exist anywhere relatively close to the time-period I am modeling for this story? And if not, what did they eat?

I’ve spent hours perusing books on styles of clothing in every time period since 1100 AD trying to figure out what style of clothing I wanted to base my characters’ dress upon.

I’ve researched buildings and architecture in various historical time periods and cultures.

Most recently, I published a short prequel story to my epic fantasy series: The Minstrel’s Song, and in the story, my main character’s father was a candle-maker. Because of this, I spent hours… yes, HOURS… researching bee-keeping, when did people start keeping bees, when did they start using beeswax to make candles, how did they keep bees, and various methods of extracting beeswax and honey. I easily spent three or four hours all-told on this study, and the results of my efforts yielded this:

“Careful now,” Gwyna’s father cautioned as she lowered the final frame into the apiary. He held the smoker up to the hive, keeping the bees quiet. When she finished, they stepped back, pulling off their veiled hats and grinning at each other. 

“This has to be the best harvest we’ve ever had,” Gwyna exulted. She surveyed the farm, dotted by orderly hives. The cloudy sky belied the heat of the Warm Term afternoon. It was a relief to peel off the long gloves and heavy outer garments she wore to protect herself from stings.

Her father nodded his agreement and wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. He glanced down at his daughter, a glint in his eyes. “Next thing is to extract the beeswax. You ready to help me with that?”

Gwyna groaned. Her father laughed, putting an arm around her shoulders.

“I’m teasing,” he assured her. “Go on. I know you’re dying to get out in the woods with your bow. Thank you for your help over the past few weeks. After all that, you deserve at least a few hours to yourself.”

Gwyna squealed and threw her arms around his neck. “Thank you, father! I promise, I’ll help with the wax tomorrow.”

Doesn’t seem to merit the effort, does it?

So, why do the work? Because I believe the effort is worth it to add that little touch of reality, that bit of grounding to the story that could make a completely different and made-up world feel familiar and homey to the reader. It’s the little things, the sprinkling of reality that help connect a reader to your work. When in doubt, ask yourself, “How can I go SMALLER? What seemingly insignificant details can I use to capture a reader’s heart?” Especially, if you, like me, write fantastical stories that beg the reader to suspend much of their disbelief for things like magic and dragons and other worlds.

With regards to my bee-research: I recently received a note from a reader asking me if I or my family had ever kept bees. Hers did, and she wanted me to know that my segment about bee-keeping sounded like I knew what I was talking about! So yes, I think it was worth it.

~ jenelle

End of School Giveaway + Summer Reading Quest

Summer Reading Quest Graphic

Have you heard about the Summer Reading Quest over at the Fellowship of Fantasy? It’s a great program we’ve put together for young readers to enjoy this summer. Your young readers can request free books (some of our authors have volunteered to send a limited quantity of free paperbacks to requesting readers), or request that their library stock certain books, or buy books (though no purchase is necessary to participate in the quest).

Each title is worth a certain number of gold coins that can be earned and then “spent” on a bi-weekly basis for various giveaways, or stored up for the final tourney prize of a Kindle 7 complete with a library of clean reads.

You can find all the details, as well as a list of the books and which ones are available for request and how many coins they are worth HERE!

AND…. because our leaders are, after all, BENEVOLENT dictators… they have deemed it good to open the summer reading program to ADULT READERS as well!!! Huzzah! (and there was much rejoicing). The book list is the same, but they will have a separate prize at the end of the summer for a $25-Amazon gift card. Details and sign-up form HERE!

And to get you started, I wanted to let you all know that King’s Warrior AND Yorien’s Hand will be FREE all this week in the Kindle Store.

Get yourFREEcopies today!

GET YOUR FREE COPY OF KING’S WARRIOR

GET YOUR FREE COPY OF YORIEN’S HAND

 

~ jenelle