Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Fantasy Winter Holiday and Cinderella Fairy Tale Theme All in One!

Our topic this week is whether we’ve ever created a holiday for one of our books.


There were quite a few factors that went into ny fairly new release Winter Solstice Dream, one being I’ve always wanted to write a holiday romance (Regency romances set at Christmas are catnip to me) but since I write scifi romance for the most part, and ancient Egyptian paranormal romances, I didn’t see how I was going to manage that. (Although I did once write a short story about Thanksgiving being celebrated on my luxury interstellar cruise liner, which can be found in this collection of my shorter works. That was a fun challenge!)

A few years ago I published my first book in a projected fantasy romance world I developed, The Captive Shifter and it recently occurred to me I could tell a perfectly good holiday story set in this time and place. I’ve always been planning to write sequels and connected stories for that world, known as Claddare. So I needed to adjust my thinking from a holiday we celebrate to creating a holiday the people in Claddare might enjoy in midwinter.

In creating this alternate world originally, I was partially inspired by Andre Norton’s Witch World series, loving the way she mixed magic and mysteries. My all-time favorite of hers in this vein was Year of the Unicorn and not that I’ll ever write at her level, but I was going for something of the feel of those stories (not the almost science fiction territory the first few in the Witch World series had).

I was also inspired by the classic movie “Ladyhawke” (who isn’t, if you love fantasy?), although my world is entirely fictional, not tied to anything in the actual Earthly Middle Ages. Halvor’s horse in this novella owes a lot to the wonderful steed in Ladyhawke.

And of course “Lord of the Rings”, the movie trilogy more than the actual novels, influenced me.

I always enjoy having magic as a plot element and there’s quite a bit here, one way and another.  We don’t see too much from the Witches of Azrimar themselves this time but Nadelma, my heroine, has her own powers of a completely different sort. I’ve also always been intrigued by desserts containing  charms or favors and found a good way to work the concept into this story on a grand scale. But after all, Nadelma is baking a cake for the hundreds who’ll attend the Solstice Night Ball.

Nadelma, appeared briefly in The Captive Shifter, but both books stand alone. I felt that she, as the Head Cook in the Witch Queen’s palace, would be an interesting character to learn more about. I loved the idea of making this a Cinderella type tale, complete with those sparkly shoes, although they aren’t key to the Happy Ever After ending. I had to have them in the story though! Readers have asked me for more about Nadelma so it felt good to finally oblige.

The blurb:  Torn from her home in the Dales as a child, Nadelma has made a place for herself as the head cook in the Witch Queen of Azrimar’s castle. She stays in the background of the busy court and uses her gentle magic gifts sparingly to help others. More or less content, she’s made peace with the hard facts of her life. Romance, marriage, a family – all beyond her dreams any longer.

Then Halvor, an ambitious Dales lord rides into the city, bringing his mercenaries to serve the king, with the promise of a rich reward, including a title and an estate. The only catch? He has to marry a highborn Azrimaran noblewoman to seal the treaty.

Fate conspires to throw Nadelma and Halvor into each other’s company and the connection is instant and deep but both resist the attraction. She knows she can never have him for herself. He must fulfill the treaty to secure a safe place for his people to live, since their holding in the Dales was destroyed by the black magic of the Shadow. Marriage to a noble damsel of the king’s choice is his fate.

Until he met Nadelma he thought his heart was frozen by the loss of all he cared for, back in the Dales. Now he knows better but his people must come first.

The situation is hopeless…or is it? For the king declares the city will celebrate Winter Solstice and hold a ball, where wishes and dreams just might come true.

Amazon      Apple Books      Nook      Kobo      Google

The excerpt:  Nadelma receives this year’s charms for the cake from the Queen Mother:

Felka was seated alone in her favorite plush chair in the sitting room, with several of her small dogs napping close by when Nadelma was announced. “Oh don’t be formal today,” she said, indicating the chair next to her. “Sit and be comfortable. You must be walking miles in the kitchens daily right now, preparing all the food and treats for the festivals.”

Nadelma curtseyed and then sat on the edge of the chair. “I do like to be busy, your majesty.”

“You never complain.” Felka’s tone held approval as she picked up a large, flat wooden box and passed it to Nadelma. “The royal silversmith delivered the charms for the cake today. I’m sorry we’re leaving this till the last minute because I know you have work to do inserting them all into the cake. Go ahead, take a look and let me know if the designs meet with your approval.” She sipped tea from a fragile cup painted with flowers while Nadelma opened the case.

There were one hundred and one charms, not that they were necessarily meant to go to the extra invited guests. The number ‘101’ was sacred to one of the goddesses honored at solstice and the reasons for this were lost in time. The silver charms served several purposes—primarily as a keepsake for those lucky enough to be served a piece of cake containing one.  The queen and her witches would have put white magic into a few, which if the recipient made a harmless wish, like finding a lost item or not being rained on at a wedding would grant the request. Thirty were matched tokens, meant to unite couples for the main festival dance. The magic made sure the numbers came out even, pairing up each person with someone compatible for a few hours, even if only as casual friends, although legend stated many marriages had come from the matching of the charms on Solstice Night.

Two were to designate the king and queen of the dance, allowing the two selected guests to ‘rule’ over the special musical celebration and to open the dancing.

Nadelma ran her hand over the rows of charms, each securely slotted into its own place in the blue velvet lining. She let her own magic interpret for her which charm was for what purpose. On occasion she’d added one of her own spells to the Azrimar spell, to help someone meet the person they wished to dance with, or for a man or woman she knew to be in need to receive the benevolent wish. Of course she didn’t tell the queen about the extra power she could give the charms. She’d have to try to ferret out what Helemma cared most about and see if she could influence events to go in the girl’s favor when it came to snagging a charm.

Her hand trembled a little as she paused at the silver crowns denoting the king and queen of the dance. What she’d give to be the girl who received the regal token, if Halvor was the holder of the other.  To dance with him openly…


Friday, December 6, 2019

Making It Up As We Go

You'd think, since I've made up like 12 different deities for one series that I'd have created some kind of holiday that I then had to write about and describe what happens and how it's celebrated, but somehow, I've managed to dodge that bullet thus far. Maybe having to save the galaxy leaves too little time for parties and big feast days.

As you can see, however, according to Perceval, every day is a holiday.

In the upcoming manuscript, I'll have an opportunity to handle holidays. The closest I've come is inventing languages and having to my people navigate some cultural differences.

What's interesting is that currently, we're in the process of reinventing holidays at home - and these are holidays we know. But because we're now a blended household since my folks moved in, we're having to find common ground and redefine what holidays mean to us now. Other than too many calories and increased stress. Not to mention cats climbing Christmas trees. I should totally invent a holiday. I realize I have a lot of material to pull from. But you know, when you're living in outer space and you aren't beholden to a solar cycle, how do you define a day? And then, what kinds of holidays would you observe? Maybe something closer to the modern Naval tradition of celebrating crossing the equator. Hmm. I think I perceive a novella brewing. See what you've done now?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Things We Make Up...Like Holidays

I’ve made up a lot of stuff in my day, my sister can attest to that. Gum that alters the composition of your saliva so when you spit on the sidewalk it changes colors, slobbering beasts that prowl the barnyards, fairies that would come and eat mud pies when you weren’t looking.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Every day really ought to be Book Day

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at the library. Like, a lot of time. The kind librarians gave me a volunteer "job" eventually when they realized I basically lived there. So I guess you could say every day for me was Book Day.

Which is probably why Book Day is, I think, the first made-up holiday I've ever devised. I'm working on a story right now -- kind of Mandalorianish in that it's a "lone wolf and cub," only with a cyborg Terminator-type dude thrown into the mix for fun -- where the hero is caregiver to a very special child, and once a month the near-future rogue librarians of Ferry County prepare a parcel of old-timey who-even-has-those-anymore paper books for kiddo to read and commit to memory. Kiddo looks forward to those books with every fiber of her eight-year-old self. Book Day is the best day.

The North Central Regional Library system in Washington State currently has a mail-order book delivery system in place, which is where the seed of this idea came from. I've just added some futuristic, post-apocalyptic tinsel to the festivity of it all.

This holiday season, may all your Book Days be merry and bright.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Any Holiday Is A Good Day To Celebrate

Are there invented Holy Days in my books? Not really. But I do have a bunch of dudes who like to party at the drop of a hat.

In my urban fantasy series The Immortal Spy, the Berserkers celebrate any and all holidays throughout the year, despite having met/battled/been screwed-over by the gods, angels, and Fates behind most Holy Days. The Berserkers are long-lived human men from a variety of cultures, some of whom still believe in the essence of the faiths they once held before becoming soldiers in the Mid World Army. They'll take any excuse to laud the pockets of hope and joy throughout the multiple Mid Worlds they're sworn to protect and defend. Holidays are a good time to remind themselves that no matter how war-weary they are, they're blessed to be part of a brotherhood who fiercely cares for the whole soldier: body, mind, heart, and soul. They're not frat boys who tear up the town and fail to grok the word "no," contrary to pop culture's view of them. They're grown-ass men who've been fighting the good fight for centuries. Holidays allow them to connect with the greater communities in which they're based, so they never lose sight of what they're fighting for. These big, brawny, battle-hardened dudes give back to their neighbors and the needy through hard labor, music, arts, etc. Of course, there's plenty of food, drink, war stories....and maybe the occasional wrestling match.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Jeffe's Made-Up Holiday

This week at the SFF Seven we ask "Have you ever invented a holiday for your books - or if not, what holiday would you give your characters?"

It happens I have invented a holiday - a midwinter one, even- and I wrote a novella around it for AMID THE WINTER SNOW. That anthology, a wonderful collection of midwinter holiday fantasy romance novellas, is sadly no longer available.

BUT, you can read my story, THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN, in either digital or print formats. Despite the fierce cover, this is a story about second chances, and the renewal of hope that the midwinter holidays bring, drawing light out of darkness.

I hadn't really set out to create a midwinter holiday, necessarily, but when I wrote my original Twelve Kingdoms trilogy, I created a mythology with three goddesses. And where you have goddesses, you have followers - and feast days! In this world, Moranu is the goddess of night, of the moon, of shadows, magic, and changeability. So, of course, her feast day occurs at the winter solstice.

Here's a bit from THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN describing the holiday.


Just before the clock struck midnight, Ami and I threw our dark secrets into the fire. She’d never done that part of the tradition, but enthusiastically embraced it. She and I spent the last dark hours of that year writing down all the things we wanted to leave behind. Holding hands, we burned them, consigning them to ash.
Then we collected the sleepy twins and took our votives to the big landing, where everyone had assembled. Graves and Skunk were there, and many other people I’d never seen before. All in their best finery. Even the lowest servants joined us, dousing the last of the castle lights as they did, standing on the ascending stairways if they couldn’t crowd onto the landing. At the chime, we blew out the last of our candles, standing together in the dark. Beyond the great glass windows, the sparkling dark night resolved.
The second chime rang, and people began to relight their candles. I lit Stella’s, her luminous eyes catlike and solemn, while Ami lit Astar’s. Outside the windows, torches lit at the castle walls, then ran in a rapidly expanding circuit around all the turrets, then pouring down the winding road down the peak. Ami laughed with pure joy and the kids squealed, nearly forgetting their own candles.
“I so hoped the wind would stop long enough for this,” Ami told me. “I really wanted to see it. For all of us.”
“I understand why,” I told her, cupping her cheek. In the brilliance of the moment, I didn’t care who watched us. I kissed her, something rekindling inside me also, the light spreading throughout.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

My Thanks to You!

Our topic this week was to thank the person or persons we're most grateful for, in connection with being an author.

I'm always thankful for the readers and this year I want to say a special thanks to everyone who bought the USA Today Best Selling Pets In Space 4 anthology during our first month, which is the donation period to our charity Hero Dogs, Inc. Due to your generosity, we'll be making our biggest annual donation to them yet, for a total just slightly over $10K spread over the four years we've been doing this scifi romance anthology.

We initially selected them because their work involves animals and veterans in need, two causes my co-founder Pauline B. Jones and I care deeply about, and which are important to our participating authors as well. We've even had a military veteran author or two and all of us involved have some connection to the military, in terms of family members who served or who are serving. Hero Dogs provides trained service animals to veterans and first responders in their general geographic area.

One of our authors, Laurie Green, is involved in raising and training racehorses and this year she pledged a certain percentage of one horse's winnings to also go to the charity, above and beyond the book royalties. Well, he began winning his races shortly after the book was released and Laurie is going to be able to make a nice 'extra' donation on her own as a result.

Pets In Space 4 will be available for purchase though December 31, 2020, although the time for royalty donations is over. (We designate the first month, up through the USA Veterans' Day because the bulk of our sales occur in that time frame.) I won't do buy links here since this is strictly a THANK YOU post but the book is up on all the major ebook seller platforms.

Friday, November 29, 2019


 I am grateful for the fact that you're all either still in a turkey coma, out shopping, or spending time with your families and therefore haven't noticed that I'm super tardy with my post today.

I'm grateful for second chances, whether real or perceived. There's nothing quite as energizing as feeling like there's still a chance for you and for a story you love.

I'm grateful for my editors, every last one. Every single editor has brought specific skills to the table and each one of those, no matter how hard it's sometimes been to hear that my story children might need braces to straighten those teeth, has made me a better, more skillful writer. Or possibly, it's exacerbated my worst tendencies to over think everything. Thin line.

I'm grateful for my critique partners and beta readers. Every single person who helps me get a story out of my head and on to paper challenges me to get better at what I do. I'm also eternally grateful to these people for not giving up on me even when I'd all but given up on myself.

Finally, I am grateful for this blog. It's kept me writing through just about everything. Memory glitches notwithstanding. It's forced me to keep thinking forward even while I bled envy all over the pages wishing some of the book covers on the bar had my name on them. They do now. See the second chances entry above.

I hope every single one of you has plenty of reasons for gratitude and may you have peaceful and bright holidays!