publishing

Project Updates and Other Ramblings

Greetings, my friends! It’s time for a few project updates. Some bad news, some good news, maybe…? Idk. So, as Li Shang says, let’s get down to business.

First of my project updates: Thank you! May this classy purple flower convey how awesome you are.

First of all, I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who has read Soot and Slipper, double-thanks to those who have recommended it to others, and triple-thanks if you took the time to rate and/or review it on the venue of your choice.

Full disclosure: as a general rule, I don’t read reviews. My mother does, though, and she thinks it’s fun to pull them up and read them aloud to me as I hastily vacate her presence. You, my lovely readers, have been SO NICE.

Thank you. I am overwhelmed and humbled and grateful that you have found value in my work. You are awesome and amazing.

And speaking of value…

(Terrible segue, I know.)

Ebook Pricing

Around the time I released S&S, I had multiple people tell me I need to up my ebook prices (including a couple of commenters on my own blog, haha). I’ve kept my prices low as a courtesy, but those discussions have left me with a lot to ruminate on. After several weeks of wishy-washy contemplation, I’m ready to capitulate. Sort of.

Over the next few months, my ebooks that are 50K words and above will all get a price update to $2.99. For Tournament of RusesThe Legendary Inge, and Namesake, this is no increase at all. The Annals of Altair series, Kingdom of Ruses, and Goldmayne will each go up $2.

I did look into upping the price on the longer books (90K+ words) to $3.99, but price increases statistically lower sales. Basically, I’d be charging more for fewer people to buy, to the benefit of no one. So that’s been shuffled to the side for now.

For the time being, my two fairytale novellas will remain at $0.99. I know I could probably raise their prices as well, but I like them as introductions to my writing, so the low courtesy pricing makes sense to me.

It’s not that big of a difference on most of these, but hopefully the new prices will better signal that yes, I do value my work and I want readers who value it as well. I don’t have an exact timetable for when each price increase will happen (see below for why), so this is your courtesy notice that if you want any of my books at their lower price, grab them sooner rather than later.

And that brings us to…

Project Updates

When I created my imprint (Eulalia Skye Press) a couple years ago, I intended to transfer my earlier titles over. It hasn’t happened for a number of reasons.

Or, well, mostly because of all the paperwork involved. I’m using a different trim size under ESP than with my earlier titles, so transferring over means re-typesetting six books, which also means new covers. And that in turn means updated ebooks, which would ideally correspond with the aforementioned price hikes. In short, it’s a lot of dominoes that have to be lined up and tumbled, and since I’ve already been through the process with these books, I’ve dragged my feet on doing it again.

But I finally learned InDesign (as the print version of Soot and Slipper will attest, yeehaw), and I really ought to use that subscription to its fullest. So.

Annals of Altair Books 1 – 3

The print versions for A Boy Called Hawk and A Rumor of Real Irish Tea are no longer available. They will return shortly. This series gets the least amount of traction in my collected works, so no great loss.

For the ebooks, the price increase is effective immediately. I’ve uploaded new covers and reformatted book files for a nicer reading experience. Because these were my first books published, I’ve also done a medium-light edit (cleared out excess verbiage, cleaned up the writing style, etc.).

The stories are the same. They’re just not quite as wordy.

For those who want a hard copy (Hi, Mom!), the typesetting for the print versions is complete. I just have to upload files, order proofs, and make sure everything is pretty. My self-imposed deadline is the middle of September, for Reasons.

Look for this newly rebranded series on Amazon.

Ruses, Goldmayne, and Inge

I’m not messing with the wordiness of these books. Goldmayne is meant to have a folksy fairytale voice, so my older style of writing still works. The same goes for Inge and the Ruses books, to a lesser degree.

Kingdom of Ruses, however, will get the addition of a bonus short story, “The Prince among Men.” It’s roughly 4K; I wrote it a few years ago to answer that burning question, “But where did Will go?” And then I had nowhere to publish it, because it was too long for a blog post and too short for a standalone novella.

L O L

Since I’m adding a short story to the end of Kingdom, I think I have to dis-enroll it from Kindle Unlimited so that it doesn’t look like I’m trying to game the system for more page-reads. There were shenanigans to that effect a couple years back, as I recall, and I’d rather not chance having a book flagged because previous readers are skipping to the end for some added content. So whenever that update happens, no KU for a few months. (Sorry, my lovely KU readers. It will return eventually.)

These four books will update in the following order (theoretically): Goldmayne, Inge, Kingdom, Tournament.

Namesake

And now we arrive at the elephant in the room. “Wasn’t there supposed to be a sequel to Namesake, like, a year ago?” Why, yes. Yes there was. And then it turned into two sequels and I threw a creative tantrum.

I have a hard-and-fast rule of not publishing a book that needs a sequel written. Namesake can stand on its own, so I waffled over whether even to write the follow-up. When it split into two, that waffling doubled. I am still working on them, but there’s no timetable for completion.

Just, when you see Goddess (Book 2) finally make its appearance, you can rest assured that Eidolon (Book 3) will be close on its heels. I won’t leave you hanging from that cliff for long. Pinky promise.

Final Thoughts

A disproportionate amount of my writerly life has been me feeling like I fall short of other people’s expectations. I lack follow-through, I disappear for weeks or months on end, I hoard creative control, and I happily nest down in my comfortable corner of obscurity. The truth is, I only ever wanted to write. It was never my dream to publish a book.

So here I am, ten titles down the road and wondering how the heck this all happened. It has been a long, meandering path, and there is still so much meandering yet to come.

Long story short, thanks for joining me on this journey. Life is full of surprises, y’know?

Novella Release: Brine and Bone

So. My novella, Brine and Bone, is now available on Amazon.

Here are the links: print and eBook.

I hit “publish” at 12:01 a.m. yesterday and then went to bed. They say it can take 72 hours for the pages to appear in Amazon’s marketplace, but they were up by 8:00 a.m. However, the product image was missing, and I liked the cover enough that I wanted it there before I shared any links.

By the time it showed up, I had moved on to other things.

Which is why this announcement comes a day late.

(For shame, I know. I’ll go sit in the corner and think about my actions.)

Brine and Bone novella release announcement

A Novella Conundrum

Every time I release one of my monsters into the wild, I fight a raging temptation to make excuses for it. Usually I resist. Today, I will cave on two points:

  1. It’s only a novella. (Picture Patsy from Monty Python and the Holy Grail muttering that line.) The novella is a lovely medium, but it’s small and requires narrative constraint, by design.
  2. I’m playing in someone else’s sandbox. The story is pinned pretty closely to the Andersen fairy tale. Of course I interpret it through my own lens, but I also tried to honor that original source. (In other words, if you only know the Disney retelling, don’t @ me with complaints, lol.)

As a side note, Amazon’s spellcheck tool apparently dislikes words that rhyme with “bitter.” It flagged me for the variants of “chitter,” “flitter,” and “jitter” that occur within this book. I had a brief existential crisis before confirming that these were, in fact, real words.

And then I had a brief introspection on why my narrative might have gravitated so often toward *itter words. (Pretty sure variants of “glitter” and “litter” are somewhere in this book as well.) The jury’s still out. I will strive not to fall into a phonetic rut on future projects, though.

And that is all. Go forth, my beauties!

Summary and Cover Reveal: Brine and Bone

Merry Christmas, everyone! ‘Tis the season for a cover reveal!

Yes, miracle of all miracles, I have a cover and summary for my Little Mermaid novella, Brine and Bone. Without further ado…

Summary:

TWO WORLDS COLLIDE

Magdalena of Ondile adores the crown prince of Corenden, but she’d sooner die than admit it. Ejected from the royal court, she spends her days at a sage’s seminary, where her sparkling memories and destructive empathy magic prey upon her.

Until the ocean rips her charming prince into its depths.

When Magdalena discovers him washed ashore, her rescue-by-happenstance draws her back to the glittering palace and its stifling rules. But Prince Finnian’s miraculous return attracts more than the nobility of the court. The eerie creature that spared his life would gladly reclaim it, even if staking that claim requires a sacrifice of flesh and endless torment.

Cover Reveal:

Not sure why, but the .jpg looks a lot more blue-saturated here than in its preview file. There are some lovely silvery shades in the water ripples, but you cannot see them. Oh well.


Brine and Bone cover reveal

Release Date:

I told the Library of Congress that I was publishing in January 2018. They say to request LCCNs early, and I feel pressured not to let them know that they are the last item on my list of Publishing Things To Do. So even though they’ve always responded within 1-2 days, I push my deadlines back a month or more when communicating with them.

(Contacting the LOC designates true commitment. I like to keep open my option to abandon ship as long as I possibly can. But at least I have a deadline now, haha.)

It’ll probably be later in the month, because I still need to get my proof of the paperback and I refuse to pay for expedited shipping. I am toying with setting up a pre-order for the eBook, but as I’ve never done that before, it’s a toss-up whether I’ll follow through.

(Wishy-washy nature, thy name is Kate.)

Anyway, because this is a novella (roughly ~35K words), the eBook price will be $0.99. The paperback will probably be $7.99, and I think I can do a match-book to make the eBook free with purchase, for anyone who might want both.

(I know. Promises, promises.)

Long story short, I’m ready to have this thing off my projects list so I can move on to other more important items.

In the meantime, if you want to read excerpts, they are here and here.

And a Happy New Year to all!

2017 State of Kate: Business and Other Musings

It’s that time of year again, when I rehash the business of being. (Actually I’m a month later than last year, but who’s counting? No one, that’s who.)

Let’s get to it, shall we?

First Quarter: Ends and Beginnings

January 1, 2017 brought an end to my stint as Executive Secretary for the American Night Writers Association (ANWA). As much as I have missed working alongside an amazing Board of Directors and Executive Committee, I happily passed my duties off to my successor and started the year fresh.

Also in January, my critique group founded a blog, Novel Three. It’s supposed to update weekly. We get at least 2-3 posts a month for sure.

In February (-ish), ANWA put out a call for class proposals for the annual conference in September, and I submitted one for typesetting, firmly believing it would pass under the radar. It didn’t. They invited me to teach, and I spent the next six months convinced that someone somewhere had made a horrible mistake.

(Me. I made the horrible mistake. Haha.)

I finished the draft for Namesake, also in February, and wrote a novella, Brine and Bone, in March.

Second Quarter: Business Takes Over

I created an imprint, Eulalia Skye Press. This process included days upon days of brainstorming a name (it’s amazing how many odd combos are already in use). I registered it with the State of Arizona, bought up the corresponding domain name, and saddled myself with a block of ISBNs.

Looks like I’m in this publishing business for the long haul. Theoretically.

Third Quarter: Masquerading as a Professional

Typesetting business, yay!

Some font samples for your viewing pleasure. Also, a graphic I had to cut.

In July, I nailed down my class presentation info, but it was 40 minutes too long. Over the next two months, I whittled away everything but the most essential information.

I took Namesake through the publishing process, with an August release. It wasn’t all that different than what I’ve done with previous books, except there were more forms and registrations so that it looked all official.

(I probably did something wrong. Haven’t discovered it yet, though, so.)

September was ANWA Conference. A dear friend from Florida attended, which marked our first IRL meeting. (And neither of us ended up catfished, yo.) This was my fourth year in attendance, so a lot of familiar faces. Even so, I was grateful for my little nest of close friends there.

I wrote a whole blog article about my teaching experience, but I published an Average Everygirl post the following week instead. Long story short, my class attendees were wonderful. They didn’t scold me for speaking a mile a minute to get through all my info. I didn’t die. Hooray!

Fourth Quarter: Frolicking in Creative Chaos

I started drafting a sequel to Namesake. The working title is Eidolon. You can read an excerpt here, if you’re interested.

Serious sycamore business in the UK

Sycamore Gap, located along Hadrian’s Wall

I also went to the UK again, and again didn’t die on a British Highway. But I made my traveling companion (the lovely Rachel Collett) drive. We visited Haworth (home of the Brontës), hiked to Sycamore Gap, tromped through Edinburgh, and stopped off in Gretna Green. 10/10, would go again.

The first two weeks of November, I worked on NaNoWriMo. I promised myself that I would keep writing once I hit the 50K mark, but the day after I got it, my brain was like, “Nope. We done.”

(I’ve written since, but mostly on Eidolon rather than the NaNo project. Oh well.)

Brine and Bone lingers in publication limbo. The book is typeset, but I don’t have a cover or a blurb. I’ve considered outsourcing the former, but none of the portfolio styles or pre-mades I’ve come across seem to fit. I’m normally meh about covers, but I keep getting scolded for phoning things in on that front. So now I’m gun-shy. Yay.

The blurb is just… I don’t know. It’s a retelling of “The Little Mermaid,” you guys. It shouldn’t be difficult, but everything I brainstorm is so obvious. Like, “Yeah, yeah, the prince washes up on the shore. Some girl finds him. Yadda yadda yadda.”

If I had gone full horror-genre like I was so sorely tempted, it might be different. But I don’t write horror, and I couldn’t venture into those waters without bungling it.

So it might be 2018 before that one gets its day in the spotlight. Or 2019. Or never.

(After I die, they’re going to find dozens of unpublished manuscripts under my bed, and I’ll be up in heaven laughing with my new bff Emily Dickinson. It’ll be lit.)

Looking Forward: 2018 and Beyond

I’m dedicating December to the business of creative organization. The weekly critique group keeps me writing regularly, so I should be able to knock out something in the coming year. But I’m slipping back into my non-goals state of mind, so that’s my main obstacle going forward.

My own worst enemy, as usual. Bring it, 2018.

And Suddenly, a Book Release: Namesake

I know I’m supposed to do something grandiose for a book release, but my anxiety is already through the roof. So, I’ve pulled the trigger and I’m moving on. Namesake is now available on Amazon.com.

This is your courtesy notice, haha.

Namesake book release

The Book Release Saga: What Took So Long?

One of the many issues that I battled last year involved determining where my writing was going and whether it was time to throw in the towel and move on. I love to write, but I’m not a responsible author.

(See the above casual book release for a reference point to that statement.)

The publishing world is flooded with hard-working people who seem to have clear goals and ambitions. I.e., the exact opposite of me. It’s easy, on reading their experiences or advice, to feel like I have no clue what I’m doing, that I’m only pretending, that I don’t belong in this industry, that I’m doing everything wrong, and that everything is futile anyway.

And when that happens, my anxiety disorder flares and claws its way up my throat from my stomach, and I unplug from life for a couple of days. NBD.

In late April, I went to lunch with a dear friend, Tamara Passey, who graciously discussed her first-hand experience as an indie author. During our conversation, she asked me what my goals were.

And I confessed that I didn’t have any, other than to write really, ridiculously well. (I’m working on it, guys. I totally am.)

Among other encouragements, Tamara gave me permission to make temporal goals. And she provided me with the framework for how to set up an imprint.

So I did.

And that’s what took so long.

Eulalia Skye Press

Eulalia Skye logoYou might notice, going forward, this handy little sigil in or on my books. I may or may not start switching titles over. I may or may not open those titles up for wider distribution.

I may or may not commit to half a dozen things, but here’s what I have done:

  1. I registered an imprint. It took me about a month and a ton of brainstorming to settle on a name. I love that it is oddly quirky and that it plays with fantasy elements while still having a sense of grounded-ness to it. Somehow, random as “Eulalia Skye” is, it fits my writing.
  2. I bought a block of ISBNs. This commits me to this industry for a few years yet, mostly because it wasn’t a block of 10. With seven books out, I’d blow through those without batting an eyelash. (Yes, I have 100 ISBNs. I’ve used 2 so far for Namesake. Only 98 more to go. Breathe, Kate.)
  3. I registered with the Library of Congress. Namesake has an LCCN. It’s listed on the print-edition copyright page and everything.

There have been a million other tiny processes and procedures. Each has been a personal battle, because in many ways I feel like I’m stepping down a path blindfolded.

But I’m doing what I can to move forward. One… terrifying… step… at a time. And, theoretically, the next book shouldn’t take nearly as long on the publishing side.

(Theoretically. Ha.)

Last Hurrah

If you’ve read this far, thank you. I have been blessed by so many who have given encouragement when they didn’t even realize I needed it. (And many of whom may not have known they were giving it.)

You guys are awesome and inspirational. When I grow up, I wanna be like you.

Cover Reveal and Summary: Namesake

At long last, a cover reveal!

But first!

Good things come to those who wait, but better things come to those who work. I have spent the past few months in what I affectionately call “cover hell.” Consequently, I’ve avoided places like the internet in general and my own website in particular where I might have to account to others for my dealings. I here apologize. It is a character flaw that I’m likely to embrace to my grave.

And now, to the eye candy!

Cover Reveal:

cover reveal: Namesake by Kate Stradling

 

Summary: Namesake by Kate Stradling

“Who needs magic in an age of electricity? I can flip the switch on the wall with the best of them.”

Anjeni Sigourna bears the name of a legendary goddess, but her resemblance to that honored figure ends there. Eighteen and jaded, she has cultivated sarcasm instead of the elusive magic everyone expects her to possess. Such mystic power lacks purpose in her modern world.

But when an adverse encounter with the Eternity Gate lands her in an alien realm, magic marks the boundary between life and certain death. Anjeni alone holds the keys to saving an ancient people from a savage enemy. Her bitterness notwithstanding, now she must create a legend instead of living in its shadow.

Best of Intentions

“Cover hell” consisted of a multitude of ideas with middling-to-poor execution. None of them made it past the drafting stage until I stumbled on this one, and then it went through four different builds (including a first, quick run in PSE where the program shut down when I tried to print, and I hadn’t saved so I lost everything, hahaha). A last-minute rework on that epic fireball sealed the deal this afternoon. I am in love.

(For now.)

Namesake is schedule for release in August, providing everything goes well. And by that, I mean my files are uploaded and under review. If the physical proof looks good, I’ll hit “Approve” and let you all know.

In the meantime, you can read excerpts from the book over on my critique group’s site, Novel Three: here and here.

Stay tuned!

Honing In on What Matters Most

AverageEverygirl092

Last week, in the midst of procrastinating a fair number of tasks, I read a book. It was a decent story, sound in writing mechanics, pretty good dialogue, interesting plot points, and so forth, but there was one major problem: its pacing was

so

very

slow.

I wanted to like this book, I really did, but I kid you not, it took eight pages—eight—for the protagonist to wake up, get dressed, and go down to the kitchen for breakfast.

Eight pages.

There was backstory aplenty and introspection galore, and even a little eavesdropping on other characters Doing Things, but the end result was a narrative that dragged like a legless dog on a leash.

Which was tragic because, again, the writing was sound. This was a skilled author.

I’m not passing judgement. I’ve been there before, so deep in my character’s life that I included every minute detail and motivation and thought. To some extent, it’s part of my drafting process, to reassure myself that I know my character, that I know my plot, and that I know what’s happening at any given moment.

But the reader doesn’t need to know 90% of it and may well get annoyed at the surplus of information. We live in an age of instant gratification. No one wants to wade through eight pages of prose just to transport a main character from their bedroom to the breakfast table. Those details might make it into the first draft, but that doesn’t mean they should stay for the final one.

The Value of a Crisis Mindset

I’ve heard publication dates referred to as “book birthdays,” but I prefer to view them as another life event entirely: they are manuscript death-days. The book, once published, exits the creative process. Sure, you can make minor changes or corrections here and there, and the modern indie industry actually allows for full-blown plot overhauls and rewrites, but going forward, any drastic changes will disrupt the trust relationship between author and reader. The goal in publishing has to be a polished end-product.

The publication deadline, then, presents a crisis—an end-of-the-world scenario, if you will.

And, as with real-life crises, it gives the author cause to hone in on what is truly essential.

The drafting process, hard work as it is, has a carefree angle to it. You can create a whole cast of characters, endless gratuitous scenes, and witty dialogue that runs on for pages and pages. Eventually, through this drafting stage, everything gets cobbled together into one flowing narrative, and you type “The End” with a final flourish on the last page.

But that’s actually only the beginning. With a first draft complete, the looming crisis of publication engages. You enter the editing stage.

Some authors edit as they go along. (I do, certainly.) They get to the end of a draft and feel as though their project is complete. (Again, guilty as charged.) There is a fundamental difference between the drafting and the editing stages of writing, though:

Drafting is for the author’s benefit; editing is for the reader’s.

Pretty much any project that does not consider its audience’s needs separate from its creator’s intentions will fall short of its full potential. The purpose of the editing stage is to refine that raw material produced in the drafting stage.

This is a time to strip away all the extra descriptions, break up with the unnecessary characters, ditch the irrelevant scenes, and train a narrative’s focus upon the fundamental themes of the story. It’s a time to honor the reader by considering their expectations and ensuring that the story delivers on any promises it made.

The crisis mindset allows an author to sit down with their manuscript, acknowledge that the two will soon part ways, and to reinforce the story’s most important principles before sending that little bundle of joy out into the world to get shredded to pieces by the rabid readers that await.

(Only kidding, readers. You are mostly wonderful.)

While there’s no possible way to please 100% of an audience—and I’m not saying anyone should try—the end goal, simply, is to present the most polished story that an author can for where they are in their writing journey.

As difficult, tedious, and headache-inducing as the editing process can be, it’s nothing to bemoan. Editing is where the true craft of writing begins.

It is, in short, essential. Carefully attended, it allows an author to meet that crisis of publication with confidence and bid farewell to their lovely manuscript with no regrets.

 

Deadlines Are My Mortal Enemy

Inge_Cover_Final

Happy June, everybody! Here’s a new book for you to read!

Click here for the Kindle version!

The print version should show up in a day or two. It has at least 2 typos, found 10 minutes after I clicked the “publish” button. I’m sorry. They never emerged in multiple layers of proofreads, of course, and I’m too done with this hoop-jumping project to correct them now. (They’re corrected in the Kindle version, though, because that was easy to do. So that’s the version I’m going to pimp, hahaha.)

I know, I know. I’m supposed to set up pre-orders and hype a cover reveal and join a blog tour, and half a dozen other marketing strategies. Sorry I’m such a cynic. The honest truth is that I don’t really respond to those efforts from others, so I’d feel like a raging hypocrite implementing them myself. Maybe sometime down the road I’ll ease into that sort of thing. Until then, it’s just me running outside, banging pot lids for five minutes, and then going back in to mind my own business. (That was an analogy. I only really bang pot lids on pre-1995 New Year’s Eves.)

Full disclosure: I have been in a love-hate relationship with this novel ever since its first wisps of inspiration germinated in my brain. I know I’m supposed to tout it like it’s the greatest literary event since Pride & Prejudice hit the shelves in 1813, and my candor here is a complete marketing taboo, but such it is. I do love it, warts and all. It’s a fun story, a fun setting, and a fun cast of characters. I’m not really sure if it’s too far in my comfort zone or too far outside of it. I haven’t ever read another book like it, so that’s probably what’s making me nervous. But I truly, truly hope you enjoy it!

A few words on the cover:

1. Imma be honest. It offends my minimalist sensibilities. I like clean and simple, and I waffled over this cover forever because of that. However,

2. It’s inspired by the Franks Casket, which I adore. In that respect, it really does reflect some minimalist principles (have you seen how crammed those panels are with people?), which makes me like it better.

As an aside, if you want to transliterate an English text into the runic alphabet, futhorc.com has provided a lovely little tool. You’ll need Junicode (the modern linguist’s dearest friend) to use the runes in any projects, but that’s just a matter of downloading a free font, for which they provide a link. And Junicode is awesome in its own right. Everyone should have it installed. (I’ve had it for about a decade. #humblebrag)

3. Blue is probably my favorite color. So that makes me happy.

4. In general, I strongly dislike faces on book covers, especially stock photo faces. With few exceptions, the models never look like the characters in my head, and the cover becomes a disappointing distraction instead of a reason to read the book. There are exceptions! But they belong to other authors. With my visual brain and high expectations, there is no possible way I could ever match my characters to a representative photo, which is why I take the illustration route. Not that I owe anyone an explanation, but I’m just putting the information out there. Transparency, you know.

Also, go to a stock photo site and search for “Viking girl” or “Viking woman.” Yeah. Haha. You’ll find about 12-15 kinds of ridiculousness, and much of it scantily clad, as though it’s not routinely -112° in that part of the world.

That’s all the procedural matters for now, I think. Happy Reading, you beautiful people!

Sneak Peek: The Legendary Inge

Prologue

Dirt and blood filled his senses, gritty and glorious. The heady reek of his midnight kills always exulted his spirits, confirmed that he was terrible, invincible. He thrived on shadow and darkness and the destruction he could wreak under their cover.

Tonight was no different. He had infiltrated the same hall, had slaughtered his nighttime meal, and now he picked its flesh from within its armored shell as its fellows scrambled away in fear.

The creatures were so pitifully weak. His razor-sharp claws made short work of the ones that tried to fight back. He would eat his fill, gorging on their flesh until his belly swelled, and then lope away into the night, back to the darkling warmth of his nest, there to sleep away the long day to come.

Another sinewy lump slid down his gullet. Shouts rang from the hall’s entrance and the fire of torches followed. The light pierced his eyes. He raised one scaly arm to block it from sight, only to meet the heavy blow of a double-edged sword.

Pesky creatures, to think that they could harm him.

Lightning-quick his claws lashed out at the attacker, but they met not the armored shell nor the muscled flesh it guarded. Power flared and forced them back.

Magic.

He feared neither blade nor spell. He was immune to magic and metal both, had been endowed with those immunities by his creator. The one who wielded them both would be a troublesome pest, however. His meal forgotten, he sought to silence that newcomer.

It was lithe, even for his swift movements. The blade caught his skin and glanced off again two, three, four times. Magic filled the room and the other creatures, emboldened, started forward with weapons of their own. His claws could not strike. Spells and that double-edged sword both moved to defend almost before he could attack. Torches flashed before him, waved with menacing cries as their bearers backed him into a corner.

There would be no more feasting tonight, not with such resistance as this.

He leapt bodily over the pathetic cluster, felt the sword glance off his hide yet again, and escaped through the same window he had entered. Wrath coursed through him at the disruption, and his stomach gurgled its protest, unsated. Behind him, the creatures vaulted from the window and followed him into the waning night.

No one had ever given him chase before. He made his way slow enough not to lose them, could hear them behind him even now, the fools. If he lured them far enough into the forest, he could secure the rest of his meal. The hunted was truly the hunter. Dawn was near, with its cursed, piercing sunlight—nearer than he had thought—but his cave was not too far distant. There he could take refuge.

It would make the perfect trap for the meal that pursued him.

Even as he bounded on that course, though, a tantalizing smell drifted across his path. He skidded to a halt and breathed the aroma deeply. It was young, fresh and tender, a smell that made his mouth water. Accustomed to sinewy meals, he treasured those rare, supple morsels of youthful flesh. His heart lurched with anticipation and his legs instantly carried him in pursuit of that smell.

It was not far away, the young one. He crashed through the woods into a clearing and paused to take stock. Gleefully he surveyed the youth, saw the horror flash across its hairless face, felt a twist of gluttony in his gut at the rare treat of which he would partake. The pursuers shouted in the forest behind him, but he had more than enough time to kill this prey and carry it away with him to his nesting place.

The youth saw its death in his eyes. It swung the sword in its hand into a defensive position, body taut with terror.

With a leering grin he lunged. He feared no blades; the metal would glance off his skin, ineffective. As his claws extended to capture his delectable treat, the sword shot forward. It connected with the spot directly between his eyes, and he did not flinch.

There was a sickening crunch of bone, and agonizing pain. Surprise coursed through him in that fleeting instant before death.

Alas, the blade was not metal. It was wood, to which he was not immune.

My Swedish Grandmother Made Me Do It

“And now, Beowulf, best of men, I wish to love you in my heart as my son. From this time forth, keep well this new kinship.”

(Beowulf, lines 946b-949a)

It's all fun and games until someone's hair catches fire.

It’s all fun and games until someone’s hair catches fire.

My grandmother is a full-blooded Swede and an avid genealogist. The daughter of immigrants, she honored her heritage throughout her life and distilled drops of it upon her children and grandchildren. Her garden had tomten instead of elves. Her house had orange dala horses and blue-and-yellow motifs. Christmas Eve with its smorgasbord was the focal holiday instead of Christmas Day. And Denmark was inherently inferior. (I’m sorry, Denmark. I’m sure you and Sweden are on much better terms now than you were a hundred years ago.)

We ate Swedish pancakes, and pepparkakor, and meatballs. A badge of honor went to anyone brave enough to try the pickled herring. We celebrated St. Lucia’s day with saffron buns and candle wax in our hair. Sweden, or an echo of it, was in our blood.

When I was in my early teens, Mormor took a handful of us cousins with her to the family history library, there to search out a collection of missing great-something half-uncles. Their father’s surname had been Kjallstrom, but the army changed it to Valler or Waller. One of the sons, as Valler/Waller, enlisted as well, only to be given the surname of Holst. The three brothers had immigrated to the Midwest, where their trail went dry.

Mormor didn’t know whether to look under Valler, Waller, or Holst, or even Magnusson (the patronymic of their father’s given name). We found them under Holst (all three of them, despite only one of them having received that surname from the army), in Iowa.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with Beowulf? All through my formative years, I was taught to value anything even remotely Scandinavian. The Old English epic takes place in Denmark and Sweden (or Geatland, as it’s called in the poem, and Götland, according to modern maps). In my years as a Beowulf skeptic (described in this post), its connection to Sweden was probably the only thing I thought worthwhile about it.

Except that it mostly took place in Denmark. See the above note. (I’m sorry, Denmark! I really am! You are wonderful in your own right!)

So, growing up, I was programmed with elements of Swedish culture and tradition—elements a hundred or more years removed. Thus, when a handful of lines from Beowulf spawned a story idea, and then that idea jostled around in the mental cocktail of my brain, what emerged—almost immediately—was heavily influenced by that Scandinavian heritage. It was as though all those childhood ghosts rose up as one and said, “This story is ours. We claim it.”

And, ultimately, I wrote it to entertain my grandmother.

She turned 90 on March 26. Happy Belated Birthday, Mormor! This one’s for you!

IngeTitlePlate

Plagued by misfortune, Ingrid Norling treks into the woods to clear her head. She emerges a monster-slayer, the shaken executioner of a creature so ferocious that even the king’s strongest warriors could not destroy it. In a land that reveres swords and worships strength, this accidental heroism earns Inge an audience at court and a most ill-fated prize: King Halvard impulsively adopts her and names her as his heir.

Under constant guard to prevent her escape, Inge confronts the ignoble underbelly of the royal court: a despotic king, a clueless princess, a proud warrior, and a dangerous intrigue. As secrets unravel around her, the castle threatens to become an elaborate deathtrap. Inge must keep her wits close and her weapons closer. The monster in the woods was only the beginning.

Despite the Scandinavian and classical literary influences, this book is firmly planted in the fantasy genre. Look for it in June. Probably.

Happy April Fools’ Day!