Oh, the places you’ll go

Worldbuilding’s a necessity in any novel. Sometimes it’s relatively easy — e.g., urban fantasy (The Dresden Files). Other times it’s complex — the Stormlight Archives.

I put my world into the complex category for several reasons: I’m new at it, I’m trying to do something really cool “behind the scenes” and b/c applying consistent cardinal directions to Norse myth was basically impossible.

A few examples:

  • Yggdrasil’s roots go to different places depending on which poem you read. In one it’s Hvergelmir, Urdarbrunnr and Mimisbrunnr. In another, the roots go to where the frost “giants,” humans and Hel(heim) are.
  • Hel(heim) is often referred to as being in (or below) the earth — but those who go there never go underground.
  • Asgard was in the same horizontal plane as Midgard and what I call Utgard (while all sources call it Jotunheim). But Snorri placed Asgard in the heights of Yggdrasil, possibly to make it like the Christian Heaven.
  • The Jotunn are described as living in the east, past Jarnvidr (the Iron Wood), but some Jotunn are said to live in the north while others come from the south.

In my initial efforts to be true to where the myths said places were, I had everybody moving between different realms where realms equaled “planes of existence.” That caused lots of problems.

Then I thought that maybe everybody could live on Yggdrasil itself — that Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, etc., were the branches of the tree itself. I still kinda like that idea, but since I’m a giant nerd I would’ve had to figure out how the physics worked — I’d have spent way too much time doing that instead of writing.

Then I tried making the different realms equate to different planets. That didn’t work either. (But my magic system will, eventually, enable interplanetary travel.)

When I finally decided that each “realm” would be a continent or region on a single planet, everything snapped into place — events, plot devices, locations, the magic system, etc. Some of those things even got better.

I do still incorporate all of the many places in Norse myth, but where I put them may not precisely correspond to where the myths say those places are. I’ve also kept the fantastical elements — Yggdrasil being the main one. It’s a real, gigantic tree and my characters do ride down it to reach the Norns.

Other landmarks include the following:

  • When Odin and Hermod ride to Helheim, they head north…but magic is used, thanks to Sleipnir, and they end up on a landmass that’s actually south of Gladsheim (they’re on a planet, so they’re basically going up, over and down again…but not really, b/c magic).
  • In myth, the river Ifing separates the gods from the Jotunn. So, I slapped it down between Asgard and Utgard. Then, when I needed a town between those two realms, I created Ifington.
  • The river Thund is said to flow before Valhol. But, I’d read a translator’s note (Bellows, I think) that said Thund is better translated as “bay.” Thus, the Bay of Thund was born (the characters just call it the Thund).  As an aside, the body of water pictured on my cover is the Thund. The land across the bay is southwestern Utgard. Oh and Valhol doesn’t exist yet in BK1.
  • I put Vithi — Vidar’s land — to the west of Gladsheim. The town of Háls (Hill) is in Vithi and that’s where we first encounter Vidar. The forest of Arnheim (Eagle Home), along with a shrine to Aegir, lie just outside Gladsheim’s western gates.
  • Gladsheim is supposed to be one of Odin’s residence, but I made it into the Aesir’s main city. The river Silfr (Silver) flows outside Gladsheim’s eastern gates. That river’s my invention — I needed a quick, practical way for the residents of Gladsheim to get to the coast.
  • The Plains of Vigrid lie to Gladsheim’s east, across the river Silfr.
  • Other important places — Alvheim and Vanaheim — are far from Gladsheim, but close enough for it to make sense that the Vanir would’ve perceived the Aesir’s arrival as encroaching on their land (hence the Vanir-Aesir War). They’re also close enough for Freyr and Freyja to fly to Gladsheim on their boar and cat-pulled cart, respectively. Note that the Alvar primarily live in both Alvheim and Vanaheim.


A few other things: There are lands to the far west of Gladsheim that have been settled by other Aesir (Odin’s brothers). What we would call Midgard, and its people, haven’t been discovered by the Aesir yet, nor have I discussed the other major players (the Svartalvar and the Sons of Muspell).


Having slogged through all this (assuming you did) it may seem like I assembled my world all at the beginning and then started writing. That’s absolutely not what I do; I just make it up as I go and I only stop to worldbuild when the writing stalls — because I can’t figure out what’s where, or I need ABC in a certain place, or X is too far from Y, etc.

Then, I pull out the notebooks and work it out. Almost always that involves changing things I’ve already established — which means rewriting. And, quite often, it also means that the idea I had — the one that I stalled on — gets replaced by a better one.


What a production

As my brain’s recovered over this past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about production time.

The “final” word count of my manuscript was 180,489 words. It took me four years to get to that point — about 18 months of which was revising & getting the first draft ready for a line edit.

Moving forward, my goal is to release one book every 12 months.

BK2 will take less time to produce, partly because much of it is already written — which is another reason why it took me four years. Basically, I wrote one great big mess of a “book” and then a couple years ago I split it into three. I then split that first “book” in half again. It’s like I’m killing a book hydra.

So to produce BK2 within one year of publishing BK1, I have to cut it down to a much more workable size — about 90K words. Which is kinda funny since BK2’s currently sitting at 65K words.

But, consider that cutting Hyrrokin from BK1 removed ~20K words — which were mostly added back when I revised Vafthrudnir’s sections. A lot of similar work will now need to be done in BK2 since multiple plot changes in BK1 have to be factored into BK2. Knowing that, I can totally see the current BK2 inflating way past 90K.

To bring this back around to production, I also have to factor editing time into my timelines. Right now it doesn’t matter because no one is expecting the book. That’ll change (right!? =P).

If I continue with my current editing plan — a line edit followed by a proofread — then that’s ~3 months of production. The cover takes a month, too, but that’s easily layered on top of writing / editing.

And, I have to factor in the time I’ll need to go through all the changes suggested by the editors. I have no idea how long that’ll take. For now, I’ve factored in four weeks to work on the line edits before sending the manuscript to the proofreader. Ideally, accepting those final proofreading changes will take a week. Maybe.

So….three months of pure editing (maybe 4?) means 8-9 months of pure writing. If I’m generous, that’s half as much time as I took “writing” BK1. But, that’s assuming 180K words. 90K should take 9 months (ish), right?

Another upside is that a 90K word book should take a bit less time to edit. So, maybe total editing time falls to 2 months rather than 3. Not bad.

Production cost is another aspect to all this. Editing ain’t cheap. I’m “splurging” now to learn how to write better — the idea being that *maybe* a line edit won’t be absolutely necessary in future books. We’ll see. Proofreading’s an obviooos necessity.

Regardless, a 90K book’s editing costs are ~50% of a 180K word book’s — which is better for cash flow. Yes, splitting one book into 2 means that I’m spending the same total amount on editing — but over a longer time period.

And with respect to marketing, advertising & sales, shorter books also mean that I get more:

  • Chances at revenue: I can’t price my 180K word book 2x higher than others in my genre. But, two reasonably priced 90K word books makes the per-book margin look a bit better.
  • “Impressions”: The best marketing/advertising is more books published more frequently. And more books means I can start doing different merchandising things — freebies, bundles, etc.
  • Books: Similar to impressions, a bigger catalog/backlist looks better than a paltry one or two. And, of course, books sales (can) have a long tail. If they’re good.
  • Cover art: Covers are cool — the more I can give away as wallpapers the better. And, my cover’s cost was a small percentage of my total costs. Not insignificant, sure, but I can leverage art into banners, ads, etc.

So as I’m learning, becoming an indie author is as much about the writing as it is the other half — actually publishing the dang thing. I kinda knew that going in, but now I *really* know it.

Here’s the cover! (take 2)

I grew up during the time of some of the greatest fantasy cover illustrators ever — Michael Whelan, Darryl K SweetFrank Frazetta doing the Conan stuff and John Howe (among others) who created amazing paintings for Tolkien’s works. Still more covers stick in my memory: the stylized covers of the Elric novels, the original art for the Black Company series, the original covers for Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun series.

For my cover, I wanted something cool, unique and ideally convert a browser into a clicker: “hey, that’s cool, I wonder what the book’s about?”

I think my cover does all that (I better think that, right?):

  • It’s clearly Viking related — burning ship & all that
  • The image in the flames suggests fantasy rather than historical fiction
  • The image itself (burning ship) evokes a recurring “scene” in the book while the back & foreground is a mostly accurate picturing of the landscape (some of it, at least)
  • The title alludes to one of the book’s central events
  • My (pen) name is clear & distinct (branding!)

I’ll probably post some more about the process I went thru finding a cover artist, etc., and then the actual design process. It was both harder and easier that you’d think.

In any event, I wanted to get the cover out there–because it’s cool! Not that this is a wallpaper version of the cover — the ebook cover will be a different format; the paperback cover will look similar to the above (but have spine copy, along with blurb & bio).

For those of you keeping score, my first attempt at posting my cover = total fail. Hopefully this one’s better. Time for a different blog theme, I think. Was planning on doing that his month anyway.

It’s away…for a 2nd time…

I’ve just emailed my revised manuscript to my editor. All 181,000 words of the dang thing.

This past weekend I spent nearly 20 hours working on it. If my wife wasn’t a saint, I’d never have gotten it done.

Now that crunch time’s over I’ll (hopefully) be more active here–plenty of work still to be done. But for now, I’m hoping to kick Odyn’s ass, teach Guarm to heel and give Helya a toothbrush.