Destruction and Creation

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — April 14, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

I read a great essay many years ago by a famous US Air Force pilot named John Boyd. He had a very interesting life and there’s a great book about him called Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Reading that book led me to pursue some of John Boyd’s original writings, including his essay “Destruction and Creation” which was written in 1976. I’d like to credit him and his OODA Loop theory as the origins of the Uddhava in the Mirrowen Trilogy.

boyd

“Destruction and Creation” is an essay about where new ideas come from. It describes how we break apart old ideas we’re familiar with in order forge something new, and then break that apart and create something newer still. The process is dynamic and iterative and what struck me about it was that it’s the process I use to create new stories. I think most writers do this.

I read an interview with Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins where she described the origins of her famous story being a mix of the Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur that merged with another idea she had while channel surfing about reality TV shows and war footage. The ideas blended together and Katniss Everdeen and Panem were forged.

For me, sometimes an obscure passage in an obscure book becomes the fount of inspiration for a new book idea. I then strip away parts that don’t need to be there and add in other bits and pieces I’ve found, including the characters or personalities of real people that I know. These ideas tend to ferment inside my mind for many years before coming out into a story that you pick up and read.

The process of Destruction and Creation is very messy, but it’s something I love about the arts. There are an infinite supply of new ideas waiting to be found, just but mixing and stripping away things that work and don’t work from legends of the past.

As the wise writer of Ecclesiastes put it, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)

There are always new ways to tell old stories. Discovering something old leads to the creation of something new. And for me, that process never gets old.

SunRise

The Bookstore Apocalypse

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — March 15, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

My wife loves to watch Morning Joe and told me about a recent interview that the author James Patterson gave. He’s donating $1 million dollars to help independent bookstores survive.

http://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/how-to-preserve-the-cherished-local-bookstore-184294467957

james-patterson

I have no problem with how he spends his own money, but there was a lot of interesting observations in the interview about how competition in the book selling industry is changing business so quickly that independent bookstore owners can’t keep up and are struggling to survive.

In addition to watching this interview, I also just finished the first season of the BBC series “The Paradise”, based on one of my favorite Virtus novels, The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola. This is the story of how large department stores rose and then destroyed the boutique shops that specialized in specific clothing items. I would have preferred if the BBC had made it into a miniseries based on the actual book (and set it in France instead of England!), but I digress. Watching the series led me to re-read Zola’s book which shows in quite detail how Amazon is disrupting modern business, just as the fictional Gustave Mouret’s department store did in 19th century Paris.

Let me illustrate with some quotes:

“If the old-fashioned small shops were in their death throes, it was because they could not keep up in the struggle to offer low prices, which had been set in motion by the system of marking prices on goods. Now competition was taking place before the public’s very eyes.”

And

“While pretending to joke, Denise produced sound arguments: the middlemen—factory agents, representatives, commission-agents—were disappearing, and this was an important factor in reducing prices.”

I’m not going to start a debate on how Amazon has been doing exactly these things, just as many other companies did the same thing before them (Wal-Mart, for example).

What it led me to ponder is what will the new world look like after this transformation is complete? We’ve all watched record stores vanish. We’re watching the same thing happening to bookstores because we don’t need to go to a bookstore to find a new book. I can find one in the palm of my hand, a bookstore of unlimited size in my Kindle. I’d never trust a bookstore clerk to recommend a new book to me. No way. But I have trusted the algorithms on Goodreads persuade me to try something new.

So my idea for this blog post is to ask all of you what you think is going to happen in the future when the transformation is done? What does the new world look like following the bookstore apocalypse?

Let me start this discussion with an idea of my own and then I’d love to hear yours.

Amazon provides a large variety of books at the lowest cost. But there are still some unmet needs. Amazon doesn’t provide readers the opportunity of meeting authors in person. That is a totally different experience and one I remember growing up, visiting Terry Brooks during his book tours. Publishers are finding book tours a costly way of promoting books. So let’s turn it on its head. Would you pay a modest ticket fee in order to visit with some of your favorite authors if they came to your city? Right now, it’s the publishers who are paying authors to travel around on book tours which, quite frankly, don’t really contribute all that much to total sales. I’m not suggesting bookstores foot the bill. They are already struggling to make ends meet. Same with the publishers.

So I predict that we’ll see more Kickstarter events where fans attract authors to their cities. A bookstore would be a great venue to hold such a meeting. If it’s a larger crowd, you might need to go to an auditorium or a bigger venue. Sell admission to attend, provide concessions to help pay for local staff (or staff with volunteers who get in for free), and if the author does a good job entertaining the crowd, they may be invited back again another year.

It’s just a thought and it’s already happening with some authors I know. As the new business model has changed, fans and authors have new ways to communicate (like blogs and social media sites). But that’s nothing like getting to meet someone in person and asking questions face to face. I know that’s how I felt meeting Terry Brooks.

So that’s one prediction of what might be waiting on the other side of the bookstore apocalypse. What do you think is going to happen next?

The_Paradise

 

 

A tribute to George R.R. Martin (sort of)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — February 17, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

I think most authors have been inspired by the work of someone else. I’ve mentioned many times that Terry Brooks was the one who kickstarted my imagination and a desire to write fantasy novels. But there is someone else whose influence on my mind during those earlier years also deserves some credit, but not in the way you might think. You see, before George R.R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones and catapulted to superstardom as an author, I had become familiar with one of his earlier works.

Beauty&Beast

It wasn’t a book, but a television series from the ‘80s called Beauty & the Beast on CBS. It was on Fridays nights and I used to watch it every weekend after work. The television series had a simple (albeit fantastical) plot – that there is a civilization of outcasts living beneath the streets of Manhattan. One of these outcasts is a half-man, half-beast named Vincent who rescued an injured woman named Catherine Chandler in Central Park and took her below to save her life. Catherine ends up working in the district attorney’s office and the two share an empathetic link that allows Vincent to experience her emotions and feelings and save her from danger when she gets in over her head. She’s also quite good at taking people down herself, having studied self-defense after recovery.

It’s a syrupy, melodramatic series to say the least, but it engaged my imagination and opened up a love of the classics that I continue to enjoy and it certainly influenced me and my writing. Let me name a few ways:

  1. In the pilot episode, as Catherine is trying to recuperate in the underground from her severe injuries, Vincent reads to her the Dicken’s novel Great Expectations. It was that episode that made me check out the book from the library and read it. I’ve read it multiple times, and recently listened to it again during my commute. I still have the last paragraph memorized, as quoted by Catherine in that episode, and it’s still my favorite Dicken’s novel. I’ve always thought the blacksmith Joe was a great Virtus character. He still is.
  2. The series is also full of wonderful classical music. There was an episode about a young boy who was a piano prodigy, who could play any song he heard by ear. Although the boy lives in a world of gangs and drug lords, he has a gift which sets him apart until something tragic happens. That episode introduced me to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I taught myself how to play that song and it’s still one of my favorites to play as well as one I can play from memory today.
  3. In the underworld of Beauty & the Beast, there was a despicable villain named John Pater, a genius chemist who Vincent defeats multiple times but who continues to torment the community below as well as unleash drugs on the world above. He’s a deliciously evil man, a master of disguise and impersonation. He was known as Paracelsus, which readers of my Mirrowen series will recognize. The name ‘Paracelsus’ comes from a medieval alchemist in history.
  4. Music is a huge part of the Beauty & the Beast story. Vincent and Catherine often went to concerts together through the underground chambers where they could listen to New York orchestra’s perform above. My love of Antonio Vivaldi came from some of these scenes, especially The Four Seasons and its amazing violin movements. It turns out that Vivaldi and I share a birthday. The emotions that classical music can generate continue to inspire me.
  5. Finally, the series was wonderful at creating tension and angst. Like any good television show, they wanted you to come back the next week. It was especially good at cliffhanger endings. In fact, the last episode of the second season was probably the best cliffhanger ever. CBS cancelled the show after that, much to the outrage of fans. Eventually they relented and decided to film a 3rd season, which (in my opinion) was so awful that I still hold that the series truly ended after the second season, leaving us with a cliffhanger that still echoes in my mind with Catherine screaming Vincent’s name. So you can blame my tendency to do cliffhangers on Mr Martin.

When I first learned of Game of Thrones and discovered that the author had originally written screenplays for my favorite TV show in high school, I was quick to pick it up. Unfortunately, the world he created was dark, more violent, and not the kind of world that I would ever want to visit. And so I guess you could say he inspired me one more time, to write another world that had some of the magic and beauty I had experienced earlier. A world that many of my readers would love to visit if only it were real. I could almost hear Colvin saying these words at the end of Scourge of Muirwood:

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the [abbey], so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.

– Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

vincent-catherine

One Year Later…

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — January 11, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

A year ago, I posted a blog right before the re-launch of the Muirwood Trilogy under the banner of 47North. This was a few weeks before the launch of FIREBLOOD and the launch of the Whispers from Mirrowen trilogy. From my perspective back then, I had no idea what the coming weeks and months would bring. What a tremendous year it has been and I’m so grateful to have met a ton of new readers and seen proof that clean fiction sells.

 

I received two surprise packages from my publisher this week. The first came on Monday with a  congratulatory note on WRETCHED hitting another major milestone and they gave me a box of book covers mounted on cards that can be used to write thank you notes or send to people. I wasn’t expecting anything, so it came as a delight.

 

muirwood

 

The second surprise package came Tuesday night when a box arrived full of author copies of DRYAD-BORN. It was such a special experience opening the box and pulling out the first copy of a brand new novel and flipping the pages in my hand. It was a total coincidence that earlier that day, I had asked the publicity guy for 47North if I could give away advanced copies to a handful of early readers. I posted a note to my “street team” on Facebook and the copies were snatched up really fast. I had no ideas I was going to get mine that same day. I had to walk a copy over to a neighbor and friend across the street and drop off a few copies around town this week. It’s great having a new book out and I’m so excited to hear what you think about the sequel and the revelations. I’m hard at work trying to finish the final book of the trilogy, POISONWELL.

 

box

 

Hopefully you’ve already pre-ordered your copy! Just to remind you though, if you buy the print version of any of my 47North titles through Amazon, it qualifies you for the Kindle Matchbook deal where you get the Kindle version for $0.99. And when you buy the Kindle version, you can get the Audible audiobook version for $1.99. It’s such a great deal – all three versions for less than the full price of the paperback.

 

Over the last twelve months, I have learned so much about the publishing world. I’ve met many authors (we hang out together on private Facebook boards), I’ve received so many “likes”, tweets, e-mails, and kind words from so many of you. I’ve even run into one of you at Little Caesars picking up pizza for my kids.

 

As I close my first blog posting of 2014, I just wanted to say a big thank you to you, my awesome readers. I’ve got many more stories left to tell. Thank you for reading my books. Thanks for telling your friends about my books. Thanks for the e-mails and all the words of encouragement. In a few months, I will be done with the last book of this series and will talk to 47North about what I’d like to write next.

 

Stay tuned and get ready for February 4th, launch day! If you haven’t signed up for my e-mail list yet, please feel free to. You can from the main page of my website here or through my author Facebook page.

 

The Hulu Effect

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — December 20, 2013 @ 11:29 am

binge-watching

I’d like to give my wife credit for creating the title of this blog posting. We’ve been talking about a trend that we’re seeing and maybe you are too. Recent news reports call it “binge-watching” (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/were-country-binge-watchers-feel-164000788.html) but it applies to reading books too. This is when you gulp down an entire series of Downton Abbey in a week. I’ve also seen many reviews from readers who have gobbled the entire Muirwood Trilogy in two days (which I believe is still the record). I’ve seen many comments and e-mails from readers who have stayed up all night to finish Scourge. I love it! So is this a new trend or has it been happening for a long time? I don’t think I know the answer, but it raises some curious questions.

 

For example, would you rather wait to start reading a series until all the books are published? Or are you okay waiting a year in between novels, depending on the publisher’s schedule? For very popular series, like Harry Potter, I did not want to wait until everything was done and looked forward with anticipation for the next book to come out and usually made time to read it soon after publication. I don’t do that with many books though and usually wait until I hear about a new book or series before giving it a try. I started on the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and finally got fed up trying to keep up and eventually abandoned the series (which finally concluded after the author died!).  When my publisher was getting ready to launch FIREBLOOD earlier this year, they deliberately left off the “Whispers from Mirrowen” tagline on the cover because they knew some readers won’t even try a book that’s part of a brand-new series. Is this because of the Hulu Effect? Or is it the GRRM effect?

 

Back when I made the decision to self-publish the Muirwood Trilogy, I chose to make them available all at once. I didn’t want to arbitrarily make my readers suffer in anticipation when they could have and read the entire series and get free shipping by ordering all of them from Amazon. With Mirrowen, it’s a different situation because I’m still writing the books, so there is a delay in when you get them. By the time you finish DRYAD-BORN in February, I’ll still be hard at work on the final book. I’m hurrying, believe me.

 

Which leads me to a question I have for you about the Hulu Effect. If you had a choice, would you rather wait a little longer and get an entire trilogy at the same time, or would you rather get them one at a time and suffer the delay?

binge-reading

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Choose your answer on the survey below and leave your comments for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts. To access the survey, first click on a number below of how you liked this blog posting. Then it will take you to the survey – only two questions, so it’s short.

 

Happy Holidays!

 

Jeff

Faith and Fantasy Day 10: “Is Religion Evil?”

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — December 12, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

My blog entry for Melissa F. Olson’s event:

Welcome to the twelve-day, twelve-author blog event, Faith and Fantasy: Twelve Days of Deliberation! Today’s post is by legendary Muirwood trilogy author Jeff Wheeler.

“Is Religion Evil?”

http://melissafolson.com/mfoblog/faith-and-fantasy-day-10-is-religion-evil-by-jeff-wheeler

 

Sneak Preview: Book II of Whispers from Mirrowen (first 3 chapters)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — November 28, 2013 @ 12:02 am

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I wanted to do something special to show my appreciation to all my loyal (and patient) fans. My publisher has allowed me to post the first three chapters of Dryad-Born. The publication date is Feb 4, 2014 so this may be torture to some of you. But if you wanted to get a sneak preview of the book to read during the holidays, here you go. Enjoy, and thank you for supporting me!

File: Dryad-Born excerpt ch 1-3

I’ve also created a mailing list that you can sign up for here on my website or through my Facebook author page. I won’t be sending many newsletters or announcement but subscribing to this list will help you be first to know any major announcements. Please take a moment and sign up – the form is on the navigation bar on the right.

dryad-born

Guest Blog by Roberto Calas: The Flourish

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — November 23, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

So, you’ve been writing stories since high school. Or maybe you just started recently. You’ve got a Nanowrimo or two under your belt and you’re starting to find your groove. And now, you’ve decided to get serious about your writing. I applaud you for it. And I will give you one piece of advice that took me years to learn:

If you want to separate yourself from the crowd, you need flourish.

Readers can choose from thousands of different stories. Hundreds of thousands. But what they want is a story that will jump off the page. They want to be entertained. You are not a writer, you are a literary gladiator, thrilling the crowds as you knock down one sentence after the other.

“Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?”

The writers of the movie Gladiator might have been speaking through their protagonist with those lines. For those who haven’t seen Gladiator, Proximo is an older man, a former gladiator who won his freedom. He owns his own gladiators now, and he tells one of them (Maximus, the story’s protagonist) this:

“I was not the best because I killed quickly. I was the best because the crowd loved me. Win the crowd and you will win your freedom.”

That line has always resonated with me, because it applies to every type of creative writing there is. Do not write quickly or dispassionately. Thrill the crowd. Make them love you and you will win them forever.

gladiator 

Maximus takes Proximo’s words to heart and when he next marches into the arena, he takes ona handful of men and kills them in dramatic and acrobat fashion. After he does so, he holds his hands up to the crowd in a moment of self-loathing and asks, “Are you not entertained?”

We have to make those acrobatic kills with our writing, but fortunately we don’t have to hate ourselves for it. Because … well … this metaphor is falling apart isn’t it?

Okay, so, how do we, as writers, make the crowd love us?

We do it with flourish, my friends. We do it with flourish.

I know my own work best, so I will provide an example from my novel, The Scourge. The protagonist, a knight named Sir Edward, is trying to goad a mob of mindless, zombie-like demons to a battlefield where his allies are outnumbered. He hopes the demons will even the odds. Here’s a section from that scene:

 

They pour from the millhouse in an endless stream of madness, their noses flared to the scent. I nod to Tristan and Morgan. “The mint works.”

We trot our horses away from Corringham. The legions follow behind us, staggering and screaming.

 

Fairly straightforward, no? Any middling writer could churn that out. It’s solid and quick. But I don’t want to kill quickly. I want to thrill the crowd. I want flourish.

At this point I guess I should explain what flourish is. Here’s how I see it: It’s the crescendo of music that gets your heart racing while you watch a movie. It’s the magician throwing his arms into the air after a masterful trick. It’s the horse rearing and pawing at the sky while the cowboy waves his hat and whoops at the top of his lungs. It’s that touch of pizazz. It’s flourish.

I wanted flourish in my scene with Sir Edward, so for the paragraphs immediately following the example above, I let my protagonist take over. And he did his best to thrill the crowd:

 

In France, I often led companies of men. At Nájera I commanded the entire left wing of our formation. But I have never led an entire army out to battle. It has been a secret desire of mine. To thunder toward the French with five thousand howling men at my back, our wind-whipped standard held high above my head.

I have only five or six hundred soldiers behind me tonight. They are men, women and children, and they are not particularly fast. But they howl with the unholy power of hell. Their lurching footsteps thunder upon the heaths behind me. I hold no standard, only a smoldering flowerpot, but I have achieved my secret desire. I ride toward the French with an army.

An army of the dead.

 

I tried to use the most dramatic language I could, without tipping into melodrama (hopefully I succeeded). I tried to build up the tension slowly, raise the excitement bit by bit like that crescendoing music I mentioned earlier.

But flourishes don’t always required long paragraphs. They can come in the little details, too. The tiny touches you add that that bring a symphony-finale to an idea. In my epic fantasy, The Beast of Maug Maurai, one of the main characters is larger than life. He’s a grizzled old hero named Black Murrogar and I wanted to make sure readers knew that he was something special. So I added a flourish:

 

Murrogar sat with Ulrean today on the final leg of their journey to Nuldryn Duchy. The old warrior wore a new crimson tabard over the old, blackened mail of the King’s army, the Laraytian Standards. He wasn’t a Standard anymore, but he would wear no other armor. He’d be buried in that blackened chain. If anything ever killed him.

 

Did you see it? The bulk of the paragraph does a decent job of describing Murrogar, but it’s the little bonus at the end that adds the flourish: “If anything ever killed him.” A small fanfare that makes the passage resonate in a way that description alone could not achieve. Just five little words that I hope will thrill the crowd.

Want another one from The Beast of Maug Maurai? Here are a few short sentences with a flourish at the end. The setup is that a group of soldiers are fighting creatures called thrulls, and some of the creatures try to escape by fleeing into a river called the Serinhult:

 

 Jjarnee Kruu fired bolt after bolt from his three crossbows. He rarely missed. Thrulls fell thrashing into the water and the Serinhult carried them to another world.

 

It’s a subtle thing here, but it’s a flourish. The thrulls could have fallen, thrashing, into the water and been carried downstream. But they weren’t. The Serinhult carried them to another world. Flourish. Crescendoing music. Happy cowboy.

Are you not entertained?

 

Roberto Calas is an author and lover of history. His serial trilogy (The Scourge) is about a 14th century knight fighting his way through a demon-infested England to reunite with the woman he loves. And every bit of it is true except for the made up parts. In addition to The Scourge series, Roberto has written The Beast of Maug Maurai (fantasy), and Kingdom of Glass (historical fiction in the Foreworld universe).

And they all have flourish.

 

Roberto lives in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, with his two children, and visits the United Kingdom on a monthly basis to be with his fiancée, Annabelle. Sometimes he fights demons to get to her.

 

You can learn more about Roberto on his website: http://robertocalas.com.

Here There Be Dragons

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — November 16, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

There is something essential about having a map in a fantasy world. Back during medieval times, a cartographer would reach the edge of their known world and often draw a picture of a dragon or a sea serpent with the label, “Here There Be Dragons”—meaning, in short, “I have no idea what’s over here.”

I write fantasy fiction and maps have always intrigued me and are a key part of my writing process. Just as the story evolves, so do the maps as I continue to build the world and explore new areas. Let me illustrate how this works using the world of Landmoor as an example.
landmoor-map-montage

First off, I am not an artist. Sometimes I sketch my maps on my computer and sometimes I sketch it by hand. There needs to be a mix of mountains, forests, valleys, and rivers. There are little stories behind each of the countries and places and how their history fits into the general plot. I like to keep the borders of my worlds rather vague, suggesting that there are places that have not been discovered yet; where the dragons live, so to speak. It gives me flexibility as an author to continue building the world.
When I was writing my novels Landmoor and Silverkin, I was lucky to have a digital artist friend, Reuben Fox, who took my pathetic rendering and transformed it into the lush map you see above. But the maps always start out as black and white in my head or on the page.

Another question I get asked is how I choose all the place names. This is part of the creative process that I really enjoy and I rarely have trouble coming up with new names. I have a notebook where I write down different character and place names when the flashes of inspiration strike and I often consult that list to pick and choose. I also study maps of this world to be inspired by countries, cities, rivers, and mountains that exist today. But in each of my worlds, there are usually a few key locations which are part of the storyline, the pivot around which the plot rotates.

Take Landmoor—for example. When I was first creating that world, the plot centered around a small fortified town near the edge of a swamp and close to the sea—kind of like a medieval New Orleans. That was the first location I crafted in the world. A moor is a swamp. I stuck the name “land” to it and liked how it looked on paper (I was fourteen when I first imagined that story). I’m always combining words and testing out how they fit together. As the plot of the world began to develop, I realized that there were three different political powers struggling for control over the valley between the two mountain ranges. Because the valley has limited ground, it caused military and political tensions between them. Landmoor became a crossroads for this conflict and provided a place where the tensions intersected and flared up. Add a secret magic hidden in the swamps, some powerful sorcerers manipulating the kingdoms, and soon you have a situation ripe with tension and conflict in which to plop the main character, the son of an eminent trading family who longs to escape his social class and explore the kingdoms outside his stifling cultural expectations.

Now, even though maps are so important to me, I’ve often been asked why I didn’tinclude one in the world of the Muirwood Trilogy. I do have maps of this world and use them for reference, but I did not include any with the novels deliberately. You see, in Landmoor the main character, Thealos, comes from a trading family and he knows the world he grew up in. He’s familiar with the borders and the politics. In Muirwood, the main character is a kitchen servant who only knows the grounds of Muirwood Abbey where she was abandoned as a baby. As she leaves that world, she is completely lost in a vast world full of locations and politics she knows nothing about. Readers explore the world through Lia’s eyes and there is no looking ahead, trying to use the map to predict the plot or where she may end up. In the first book, she explores the land around her beloved Abbey. In the second book, she gets to see more the kingdom she lives in. In the third book, she leaves her kingdom and travels to another. I left the reader blind on purpose.

One of the neatest things about creating a new fantasy world is that I don’t determine everything in advance. I use a general map as a framework for where the action will happen. But often as the characters wander around a bit, I weave in elements from my own personal travels or places I wish to travel someday.
Let me go back to Muirwood for a moment. I knew the main character, Lia, was a scullion abandoned at an Abbey kitchen. I began searching Google for medieval kitchens to help inspire me. I found a striking image of the Abbot’s kitchen at Glastonbury Abbey in England. I even went so far as to e-mail the groundskeeper and ask for pictures from the inside, which he generously e-mailed to me. On the Abbey’s website, I found an image of the grounds:
abbey_grounds

On that map, I discovered delightful details, like the Cider Orchard which played a prominent role in the story. This was the beginning of the world. Then I hunted down an ancient map of Glastonbury and the environment around and that research led to other opportunities for topography, climate, and story ideas. Before I had crafted the first chapters, exploring this map inspired many of the scenes that would later happen.

World-building doesn’t happen all at once. While mine begins with a map and a general understanding of the plot and characters and how they will mesh together, I explore the world with my characters leading the way and invent the things that need to be filled in.

Currently, I’m writing the last book of the Mirrowen Trilogy. Yes, it also started with a hand-sketched map. On the northern edge of the map is a scribbled area known as The Scourgelands. For the first two books of the series, I’ve hinted at how dangerous and perilous it is. Now I’ve dragged my characters into the midst of it and am trying to make the journey fit the hype. It’s a land of nightmares and forgotten magic. I can’t wait to drag my readers there next. Perhaps I should post a sign outside that reads, “Here There Be Dragons.”

kenatos_map1

Guest Blog by Neve Maslakovic: History’s Mysteries (or Where to Look for the Story)

Filed under: Jeff's Blog — October 28, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

by Neve Kaslakovic

 

I’ve written two time-travel whodunits and am about to embark on the third in the series. My characters, Julia Olsen, science dean’s assistant, and Nate Kirkland, chief of campus security, solve crimes in STEWie’s (SpaceTimE Warper) lab and wherever its time-traveling basket happens to go. When I got the idea for the series, I thought it would be fun to have a different setting for each book: in The Far Time Incident, Julia and Nate would head to the Ancient Roman world; in The Runestone Incident, to medieval Americas; and so on.

 

And it has been great fun. But with the optimism of a writer whose eyes are bigger than her stomach, there was one small matter I’d forgotten to take into account. 

 

Each of those far-flung places and times has to be thoroughly researched before you can make it come alive on the page. And so I’ve had to roll up my sleeves and get to work, especially given the plan to release one book per year.

 

I’ve discovered that I enjoy reading history books (it may very well be that what drives my writing in the first place is the opportunity to learn new things.) And I’ve enjoyed playing the detective in figuring out the answers to some unusual questions that popped up as I wrote. For instance, for The Far Time Incident, I needed to know if there were any signposts on the outskirts of Pompeii to alert Julia, Nate, and their co-travelers to the location. I was lucky enough to be able to find the answer in person, on a well-timed research trip. At Pompeii’s Vesuvius Gate there stands a tablet, a public notice regarding some town business, which contains that key bit of information so important to travelers from afar — the name of the place where they find themselves (next-to-last line on tablet below).

Pompeii tablet 

 

Other times, the answer could not be found in person or in history books, like with the exact day of the eruption witnessed by Pliny the Younger in 79 AD. The oft-cited August 24 has been recently disputed by researchers and is only one of many dates mentioned in medieval manuscripts. Not having a history background, that was something that surprised me, how much experts’ opinions can differ about some of the small — and not so small — aspects of life in past places and times. Maybe it’s my engineering background, but I expected exact answers.

 

But it turned out to be a good thing for the book. The uncertainty of the eruption date became a key plot point.

 

For Book 2, I stayed closer to home and read about the history of the state of Minnesota, where I live, from the ancestral Dakota whose homeland this was, to the Vikings that give the football team their name. I came across tantalizing clues that Norse explorers may have reached the middle of what would one day become the United States — or not. Geological evidence in the form of a runestone (below, in its spot in the museum) pointed in one direction, linguistic in the other. Once again, that uncertainty turned out to be where the story lay.

Kensington runestone

So what have I learned? To keep an open mind and expect the unexpected.

 

A little wiser, I’m about to embark on my next historical adventure, for Book 3 in the series. I can’t reveal yet where Julia and Nate will be heading this time, but I can say this: I now know that the place to look for the story is right there, in that fuzzy intersection of the known and the uncharted. 

 

I’m ready.

 

****

 

Neve Maslakovic is the author of the Incident series, as well as a stand-alone novel, Regarding Ducks and Universes. Before turning her hand to writing fiction, Neve earned her PhD in electrical engineering at Stanford University’s STAR (Space, Telecommunications, and Radioscience) Lab. Born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), Neve currently lives with her husband and son near Minneapolis/St. Paul, where she admits to enjoying the winters. Booklist called her debut novel, Regarding Ducks and Universes, “Inventive… a delight.” The second book in the Incident series, The Runestone Incident, is due out in February 2014. 

cover trio

 

Website: http://www.nevemaslakovic.com

Twitter: @NeveMaslakovic

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nevemaslakovic