Category Archives: King Arthur

“Writing fiction is so easy … just make stuff up”


Before I get into my rant du jour, I’d like to remind you that my second book, Merlin’s Weft, is available for pre-order at a dollar off until Friday, November 18, 2016.

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What, Me Research?

Have you heard this comment before?

“Oh, it must be easy to write fiction. You get to just make stuff up.”

Those who say this really don’t know how much thought and work goes into “making stuff up.” Unfortunately, I’ve also heard that assertion from a few people who are trying to write their first book. After reading their work, I realize they have no clue about what it takes to tell a believable story.

In one case of a manuscript I saw, a character living in 1991 walked into a storefront parcel outlet to ship biological material across the Atlantic, which the corner shop happily packed in dry ice they kept in the back for just that purpose.

International shipping from a neighborhood storefront is common now, but not so much in 1991. I didn’t know whether the town of the story had such businesses, but what I found bothersome was that the concern hadn’t occurred to the author. And the idea that, even today, I could find a Fedex or UPS or DHL representative that kept dry ice in their back room astounded me. Not to mention questions over international protocols regarding the shipment of biomaterials, which I make no claim to knowing about, but then, neither did that author.

The author shrugged. “It’s fiction. I can make up anything I want.”

No, you can’t.

World building

Readers are willing to suspend their disbelief about a wide variety of things. They accept the existence of fantastical beasts, superhuman capabilities, faster-than-light-speed travel, and delicious Brussels sprouts. OK, maybe not that last.

However, the author has to build a world in which those things make sense. That’s hard work. Are feathered sentient beings present? What are their grooming habits? Are they otherwise birdlike, or something else entirely? How did they evolve? Or … perhaps they were created, and if so, why? Where are they in the social and political hierarchy? Are they genetically predator or prey? If they are a space traveling race, how do they keep from shedding feathers that might gunk up the Krapowski drive that powers their ship, regenerates their oxygen, and buffs their toenails.

Were you yanked from my narrative by that last bit because I just made up a pile of crap out of context?

Swashbuckling research

When I’m writing, I almost always have a window open to the Web. It’s great for checking facts, so long as you’re careful with your source. For example, when did the word swashbuckler appear? A number of sources indicate its origination in the sixteenth century—Merriam-Webster places its first known use in 1560. It’s a combination of two terms: swash, an imitative word meaning to make a noise like a sword beating on a shield, plus buckler, a small round shield. I had to look this up, because I wanted to give an early seventeenth century character a nickname of Swash. It would have been embarrassing to discover the word originated in the late nineteenth century, which is when the verb swashbuckle appeared. Not only did I confirm that I could use the name, but I had an origin for the word to work into the story.

For larger issues, reference books become necessary. I have about ten feet of bookshelf space of works relating to Arthurian times or sixth century Europe. I had a question about the use of carriages in France in 1625, so I bought a couple of books about the history of wagons.

May we waltz?

While most readers won’t have a clue about the number of carriages available for hire in Paris in 1625, its better to try to for historical verisimilitude rather than not. I read a book a few days ago that talked about a woman dancing a waltz at her wedding in the late 1620s. That throwaway detail completely pulled me out of the story. I didn’t know when the waltz was developed (Wikipedia: probably more than a hundred years later), but I knew it wasn’t that early.

Of course, occasionally facts or history have to be … bent … to conform to the story an author wants to tell. The degree to which knowledgeable readers let an author get away with it depends on how well the story is told—how well the world is built—and how far reality is distorted. I’ve knowingly departed from the world as it is for various reasons related to storytelling, but I don’t do it because I don’t care about the truth. Nor do I claim that I never inadvertently make a factual error. My own biases keep me from seeing some anachronisms. I just hope I keep them to a minimum, and keep the reader in the story.

Boners you’ve seen

Have you seen a huge boner in something you’ve read? Please don’t trash authors by name or books by title, but I’d like to hear what you’ve read that brought you out of a story because of anachronism or factual error.

My books

Merlin’s Weft will be released Friday, November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Slipping In and Out of Post-Roman Britain in a Contemporary Fantasy

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What’s the point of writing a fantasy novel if the writer—me—can’t engage in a bit of it? My contemporary fantasy series, Merlin’s Thread, takes place in the twenty-first century in and around Houston, Texas. However, I wanted to provide a mechanism to ground the mythos in the time of King Arthur, in the late fifth and early sixth century.

The Merlin of my titles is King Arthur’s druid and Earth magician. He awoke from an extended slumber in his crystal cave and came to the New World to fulfill a quest. In my imagining, Merlin has two particular powers that he uses in a coincidental way to fulfill his quest.

What is not coincidental is the freedom I achieved to write about the times of the King.

Animal Experiences

One of the powers is his ability to share consciousness with his pets: birds and mice mostly, but also fish. That last is an admission that I borrowed the kernel of the idea from T. H. White, whose Merlyn turned the young boy known as Wart into a fish so the boy would learn self-reliance. I chose to move only a part of the mind into an existing animal, rather than actually converting into that animal. Like White’s Merlyn, my Merlin can perform the magic on another person. The protagonist of my first book, Merlin’s Knot, is rewarded with a stint as a fish in a koi pond.

Merlin’s second power of note here is to record those adventures in an animal and play them back into someone else’s mind. In that case, the recipient sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels what Merlin experienced while sharing with the animal, but the experiencer cannot influence the action in any way.

A Sense of Tense

Both books are written in first person past tense. I wanted the playbacks to have a feeling of immediacy, so I wrote them in first person present. In the following example from Merlin’s Knot, the protagonist Alfred suddenly experiences the first of Merlin’s visions without knowing what is happening to him. He’s on a tower a short distance away from a woman standing on another tower.

The woman looks my way again. This time her eyes focus on me for more than just a moment. She thinks, wonders about something. Something that relates to me. I see her sigh, then turn back to the distance.

I turn in the direction she has been looking. A cloud of dust hangs on the other side of the first hill, some distance away.

I glance back at the woman. She’s staring at me with intent and purpose now. I think she’s trying to send me a message, but I cannot think what it could be.

Without warning, I fall from the tower, hurtling toward the stone wall below. I shriek, knowing my body will be dashed and broken when I hit the rocks. Instead, the wall recedes. I glide along halfway down to it. My shriek becomes a cry, a call. I slide over the closed gate. I feel a rhythmic pulling on my back, on my shoulders.

Wings! Omigod, I’m a bird!

I beat my wings, rising toward the woman on the tower. She watches my approach. I see no surprise in her eyes, only expectation. I veer just before reaching her tower. My chest contracts and I hear another shriek.

Using My Device

Merlin gives Alfred visions as a sort of payment to induce his assistance. In the second book of the series, Merlin’s Weft, the protagonist is a woman suffering from multiple personality disorder. For her Merlin provides visions of strong women in unusual situations.

Of course, like any good dramatic device, once I created it I used it for other purposes. You’ll have to read the books to find out what they are.

 

Merlin’s Weft will be released November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for a 25% discount until the release.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Using Language as a Metaphor for Healing

Merlin's Weft available November 18
Merlin’s Weft available November 18

Multiple Personality Disorder

The main character starts the second book of my Merlin’s Thread series with her mind fractured into pieces. During the course of Merlin’s Weft, she fights to become one whole woman. Traumas in her past generated distinct personalities that are epitomized by fear, rage and lust.

While the struggle to heal her fractured soul continues throughout the book, a considerable amount of healing takes place during the first few chapters.

I wanted to show the reader the progress of her healing, especially in that crucial first third of the book. I used several mechanisms to illustrate her getting in touch with the different aspects of her former selves, but here I want to focus on one way that I used to show a gradual healing.

In a Manner of Speaking

Adele, the protagonist, suffered from multiple personality disorder. Although she is a thirty-four-year-old woman, parts of her mind are seven years old, and the dominant part is an uneducated seventeen-year-old girl. She speaks with an ignorant laziness that is extreme even for a teenager.

Here’s an example of her dialogue in the first chapter:

“I thought you were suppost-a be a healer. I thought you wanted the best f’r people. Amber always thought-a you that way. But you knew, too, did’n ya?”

Now, since Neve, her healer, has some schoolmarm tendencies, she focuses on improving the quality of speech in her charge. She starts with the laziness of the negated verb forms, such as “did’n,” and works up from there. The reader can see the progression of Adele’s healing through the changes in her dialogue.

Of course, throughout the book, stresses cause Adele to relapse and bring into question the efficacy of the whole healing process.

But She’s the POV Character

With lazy-sounding dialogue, a little goes a long way. The book is written in first person from Adele’s point of view. Not only do we sometime hear her internal thoughts, she provides narration from her perspective. Hearing that lazy child’s voice for so much of the book would drive even me crazy, and I like the girl.

I wrote her narration and internal dialogue without the sloppy diction.

How do I get away with that? Well, there are two threads to the explanation. First, one of the minor personalities that she is incorporating was an educated, adult person. Adele has access to that person’s vocabulary and speech patterns, and strives to overcome the verbal laziness of her main persona to emulate that one. Adele even voices that thought about having the internal adult speech patterns to Neve in the book.

The second explanation is that—I think—the voice people hear in their heads is more refined and polished than the one that comes out of their mouths. She hears herself the way she wishes she could speak.

Writing the Change

Frankly, I was reluctant at first to write scenes of Neve correcting Adele’s speech. In my early draft, I elided much of that into summary paragraphs. Who wants to sit through a schoolmarm’s language class? But my editor, Catherine Payne Jones, chastised me for my own laziness. “Show, don’t tell,” is the rule I was violating.

I needed to include background from the first book, Merlin’s Knot, for those readers who either hadn’t read it, or who had read it far enough in the past to have forgotten details. So I showed Adele’s relating her story to Neve along with her reactions to Neve’s corrections. I showed her struggles to speak better.

I hope you enjoy the result of my own language struggles.

Merlin’s Weft will be released November 18. The eBook is available for pre-order on Amazon.com at a 25% discount. From now until November 18, the eBook is only $2.99.

Merlin’s Knot, the first book of the series, is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Dark Contemporary Themes in a Fantasy Novel

Merlin's Weft available in mid-November
Merlin’s Weft available in mid-November

Contemporary fantasy novels written for adults are not full of rainbows and lollipops. And really, who wants them to be? “Watch out Zameethia, the evil wizard’s forming a spell. Oh, no! He’s flooding the mall with jawbreakers!”

Be still, my beating heart.

Evil exists in the world. While it may not be exemplified by a bald megalomaniacal genius with an evil laugh and a hairless cat trained to push the button labeled “Destroy Earth,” it does destroy the lives of people just out to have a pleasant evening in places like Paris, Nice or Orlando. And it is found in not so random violence in too many cities and in war zones around the world.

Contemporary Fantasies

My Merlin books are contemporary fantasies. The ancient British druid wakes up in a society where ordinary people—people you might have passed on the street this morning—perform much of the evil. Plain old-fashioned greed drives men to brutally murder a farmer and his wife looking for gold hidden in the house. An attendant in a psychiatric hospital takes sexual advantage of a seventeen-year-old girl whose mind has retreated from the world. A criminal gang traffics human slaves into Houston. An ordinary, upscale suburban housewife owns one of those slaves.

In the first book of the series, even the narrator Alfred fantasizes revenge on the bosses who laid him off, and he considers acts of road rage.

Let me say right here that the books of my Merlin’s Thread series are not intended for children or teens.

Human Scale of Evil

It’s the human scale of this type of violence that is unsettling. What if three idiots broke into my home looking for gold I don’t have? What if someone grabbed my daughter, my son, my brother, sister, mother, father off the street to sell them into slavery?

Wouldn’t I like to have a druid magician step into my life about that time?

The Merlin’s Thread series isn’t unremitting tales of horrors against humanity. The books have an emphasis on characters and a modicum of sword and sorcery action. Some scenes are absolutely delightful, light and, I hope, funny. But sometimes evil steps into our path.

Heroes and Healing

Merlin’s Knot deals with what it means to be a hero. Merlin’s Weft examines the healing of a person whose soul starts out severely fractured. The action takes place around character development, rather than the other way around.

Maybe someday I’ll include a supersized villain out to destroy the world, but before I do that, I have to find a credible way to explain how anyone, megalomaniac or not, can train a cat to push that “Destroy Earth” button on command. Personally, I don’t think it can be done.

Merlin’s Weft will be released in November.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

Go to my Web site to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle. He doesn’t battle evil in that story, but he does face off against Mother Nature.

Why Write a Sequel?

As I anticipate the release of my second book, Merlin’s Weft, my mind goes back to its genesis. I hadn’t conceived the first book (Merlin’s Knot) as the first of its own series. For a few years I’d been playing with the idea of writing a King Arthur saga that takes place in Britain in the fourth and fifth centuries. I’m still thinking about that one. The story idea sprawls over about a hundred years and includes twenty or more major characters spread throughout that period, I’ve restarted it several times. I just can’t find the right voice(s) to tell the epic.

Returning to the point, the contemporary Merlin book came to me as a story entire unto itself. Merlin shows up in current-day Houston looking for King Arthur, whose essence had been sent from his body and his time because he had suffered a severe head injury. The event fits into the saga I have in mind, explaining an absence of the hero that allows Mordred to take over the realm. Indeed, several flashback-type chapters of Merlin’s Knot relate events planned for the post-Roman saga.

When Merlin finds Arthur in Houston, unexpected complications arise. The point of view character, an unemployed engineer named Alfred, becomes more and more embroiled in Merlin’s attempts to return King Arthur to his destiny. The book has what I hope is an ending that readers find surprising, but upon reflection realize was inevitable.

Job done, let’s go home.

Except … I kept thinking about one of the characters in Knot, wondering what happened to her. A victim of several childhood traumas, in Weft Adele gets help from Merlin and a healer named Neve to stitch pieces of her former personalities together into one woman. The idea that appealed to me was answering the question: how do you heal a fractured soul. I needed to know what happened to her, and only by putting her story to paper could I find out.

The first decision I had to make was who the point of view character would be. I quickly realized that I had to tell the story from inside Adele’s head. That idea scared me. I’d written about her several personalities in Knot, and although none were saints, I liked and respected them. But I’d written about them from Alfred’s perspective, outside their minds. Nonetheless, going inside Adele’s head was the only way to tell the story, and I had to convert my feeling of “a scary idea” into “a worthy challenge.”

I’ll write a few more blogs over the next couple of weeks to give you an idea of how I went about solving some of the challenges. I’ll try hard to avoid revealing any spoilers for either the first or the second book. That’ll be easier to do for the second, so if you haven’t read the first, I recommend you get a copy of Merlin’s Knot and catch up.

When I hear of a series that’s already begun a question arises: Do I need to read the first book to appreciate the second? In the case of Merlin’s Weft, I’ve tried to incorporate the necessary information from the first book so a reader can appreciate the second as a stand-alone story. However, like many other series that use the same characters, it helps to read the earlier book to see how the characters evolve.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

 

Join my mailing list to obtain a copy of the prequel, Merlin’s Shuttle.

Cover Reveal for Merlin’s Weft

So, what’s more exciting than publishing my first book? After all, when one’s first book becomes available, the hard work is no longer just a few random blips of imagination. No, that first publication showed that my imagination could lead to something tangible: a story that is now out in the world for other people to enjoy.

But even more exciting is the second book’s publication. That proves to me that I can tell not just one story, but a second. And if a second, then there’s going to be a third. And so on. The first publication date brought as much trepidation as excitement, but as the second one approaches, the trepidation has abated and happy anticipation reigns. Writing is not just a fancy, it’s a career.

merlins-weft_m_andersen_cover_front_cover_web

 

Publication of the second book in my series, Merlin’s Weft, is scheduled for the middle part of November. Today, I can reveal the cover of the book. It shows Merlin in battle against a dragonon. No, that’s not a misspelling. The beast is a man ensorcelled to look and fly like a fire-breathing dragon. I like the cover. A lot.

Let me talk briefly about the two books.

In Merlin’s Knot, the first book, Merlin found Alfred, whose threads were hopelessly tangled with those of Ambrosius, the King Arthur of legend. Except neither Alfred nor anyone else in contemporary Houston had ever heard of King Arthur. Merlin had to find Ambrosius and send him back to his own time to fulfill his destiny; one theme of the book is the conflict between free will and fate. The book forms a complete story arc with no cliffhanger. Nonetheless, it opened the door for a sequel.

A different character with different concerns takes center stage in Merlin’s Weft. The book asks a question: how do you heal a broken soul? Adele suffered from multiple personalities, most of them spun off during traumas she suffered as a child. Merlin and Neve, a healer, stitched those pieces back together. Now, the new woman must form her single personality before outside forces wreck her mind once again. And yes, the dragonon is one of those outside forces.

Watch this space for more news about Merlin’s Weft.

Merlin’s Knot is available on Amazon.com.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 8

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What did Gildas the wise say about King Arthur?

(**) Gildas the wise lived in the 6th century, making him at least a near-contemporary of a historical Arthur. What did he write about King Arthur in De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (“On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain”)?

 
 
 


The Arthur History Quiz is taking a hiatus. I may start it again later.

If you want to be notified when they start up again,  fill in the Newsletter form to the right to be notified. You’ll also be able to follow the progress of publication of my first novel, Merlin’s Knot. As a bonus, the newsletter includes the exciting serial adventure, The Last Gonzo Joy Ride to the End of the Galaxy.

 Show previous questions.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 7

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Did Arthur know Patrick?

Please go to King Arthur History Question of the Week 7 to view the test

Be the first to see the King Arthur History Question of the Week.

I’ll post a new question each week in my blog. Just fill in the Newsletter form to the right to be notified.

You’ll also be able to follow the progress of publication of my first novel, Merlin’s Knot. As a bonus, the newsletter includes the exciting serial adventure, The Last Gonzo Joy Ride to the End of the Galaxy.

 Show previous questions.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 6

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What peoples did Arthur battle?

Please go to King Arthur History Question of the Week 6 to view the test

 

Be the first to see the King Arthur History Question of the Week.

I’ll post a new question each week in my blog. Just fill in the Newsletter form to the right to be notified.

You’ll also be able to follow the progress of publication of my first novel, Merlin’s Knot. As a bonus, the newsletter includes the exciting serial adventure, The Last Gonzo Joy Ride to the End of the Galaxy.

 Show previous questions.

King Arthur History Question of the Week 5

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Why did the Norman invaders like tales of King Arthur?

Question 1

*6. According to Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, why did the Norman conquerors of Britain listen with fond credulity to the tale of Arthur?