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2 July 2009

Researching What Isn’t Real

It's my great privilege to have Fantasy author Sandy Lender as special guest on my Blog today, talking about 'Researching What Isn’t Real'. This is the penultimate stop on Sandy's virtual book tour which began June 1st. Be sure to leave Sandy a comment to win an autographed, hard cover, first edition copy of Choices Meant for Gods. (one is being given away per week of the tour). I can't wait to hear what this wonderful author has to say. Over to you, Sandy.

SL: The elements I put in a fantasy novel don’t usually come from the real world. You can’t pick up an encyclopedia and find the origination of The Ungol race. I made it up for my fantasy world in CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS. In my early scribbled notebooks, you’ll see them called Lognu, but I thought that sounded strange when I read it aloud. The Ungol are a peaceful, artistic race of beings that live in the underground network of sapedrels known as Tiurlang. (And then, this spring, I found a reference to ungol in a Tolkien book and, once again, cursed Tolkien for being a literary god. I was already upset with him for using the ultimately perfect name Smaug for a dragon.)

HL: (Grin) I can certainly relate to that feeling, Sandy!

SL: Be that as it may, research for building a world out of your imagination CAN be done. As an English major attending a liberal arts university, I wrote a lot of research papers for four years. Upon graduation, I entered the magazine publishing industry where I ended up writing articles that required interviewing and researching sources. That’s 21 years of practice at research, so it sure comes easily to me when I need to research something for my fantasy writing. But let me tell you; research for real, modern topics in journalism versus research for made-up fantasy realms with dragons and wizards and a Sandy-created form of magic take two different mindsets. I know no one wants to hear about my day job, so let’s focus on the research I do for my fantasy novels.

I’m weird so I devour books with titles like THE ELEMENTS OF OLD ENGLISH and SWEET’S ANGLO-SAXON PRIMER. These books (and a bunch more) formed the foundation of my research for the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series because I put a medieval flair in my epic fantasy tales. Let’s start with the name of the land where most of the action takes place: Onweald. Onweald is an Old English word that means “power.”

The names of gods, goddesses, villages, and rivers in the land of Onweald are reminiscent of Old English words and people. Symbols all over the series hearken back to Old English themes of exile, ring-giving, serfdom, and loyalty to one’s leader that send me to the research books from time to time. The problem with checking on something in, say, BEOWULF or THE BATTLE OF MALDON, is that I get sucked in and end up reading the whole thing. The next thing I know, I’ve used up my writing time for that evening…Bummer!

HL: LOL It's something of a relief to find I'm not the only person who does this!

Now, having said all this stuff about including Old English goodies in my writing, I have to say I didn’t make everything medieval. For instance, the “hero” of CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS is a lady. It’s all girl power with my Amanda Chariss as far as I’m concerned! And I’ve brought all the characters’ lodgings forward in technology. Being perpetually cold myself, I just couldn’t stand the thought of putting these characters that I love in those drafty huts and stone buildings that the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Picts and Celts lived in. (And I needed good ductwork to connect the fireplaces in the fancy Taiman family home.)

Of course, there’s more to writing fantasy than researching the time period I want to borrow themes and symbols from. I’ve been reading fantasy literature since I was a youngster so I’ve got a familiarity with the general elements that fantasy enthusiasts expect in their novels. Magic, sorcerers, wizards, elves, faeries, dragons, trolls, dwarves, the hero’s journey, magical items, prophecies, prophets, etc. I needed to select which elements I’d include in the world I created, but I had the luxury of recalling great fantasy writers like Tolkien, Weis, Goodkind, Brooks, and Eddings to look to for inspiration and influence whenever I doubted myself.

Other than that, it all comes from my slightly off-kilter imagination. My research books for Onweald and the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series currently consist of tons of spiral notebooks, file folders full of stories and legends and character descriptions on the computer, a recipe box full of vocabulary words, and a bunch of other papers and notes and napkins with scribblings. My research includes a huge desk calendar with the phases of the moons of Onweald mapped out so I know exactly when both are full and when both are waning. It’s important when a god has an announcement to make by their light, you know.

I’ll include a few other researched items at the end of this post, for those of you with an interest in the Old English/Ango-Saxon stuff*. But that’s the way I research something that isn’t real. I borrow from the Anglo-Saxon past, keep track of what I’ve made up, and double-check the traditional elements against the pros when I can. Thank you all for checking in!

“Some days, I just want the dragon to win.”

* Godric = a traitor who turned tail and fled, leaving his lord at the Battle of Maldon; I used this name for an overbearing, arrogant character whom few other characters trust
Ofersey’n = a word I made from the Old English word “oferseow” (over and see); there are 17 “governors” in the land of Onweald and they are called ofersey’n
Wepanchiele River = a name I made from the Old English words wepan (weep) and ciele (chill or cold); the Wepanchiele River is located on the mid-western side of Onweald and can be viewed on the map my artist Megan Kissinger prepared for the CHOICES MEANT FOR GODS series

Not even the gods noticed when Chariss was born with the mark of The Protector. Now she and her wizard guardian seek shelter from a mad sorcerer in a household not just full of secrets and false hope, but watched by the god who will unwittingly reveal her role in an impending war.

When an orphan sets aside a lifetime of running and fear to accept the responsibilities of guarding an arrogant deity, can she face the trials in the prophecies she uncovers? Will Nigel Taiman of her latest refuge dare to use his dragon heritage to bind her to his estate or to help her in her duty?


This is a romantic scene as Nigel Taiman and Amanda Chariss ride from the estate at Arcana to Arcana City. Her wizard guardian has already clued her in to the fact that Nigel wants to court her, and she's upset over it. The scene mentions the bear-like ryfel creature that nearly killed Nigel in the training arena...

Nigel frowned at her. Spurring his horse slightly, he reached out to take hold of Shadow’s bridle. Bringing them both to a stop, he turned in the saddle to face her.

“Hey!” she objected.

“Indeed. Have I done something to anger you?”

Her cheeks reddened with embarrassment.


“You’re staring at me.”

“By the gods, Woman. All right, I’ll look at your horse. ’Manda,” he said to Shadow, “what have I done that’s made you angry?”

“I’m not angry.”

“You’re not a liar,” he spoke to Chariss again.

“All right, so I’m a little angry. It will pass.”

“And you don’t want to tell me what it is?”

She couldn’t blame her reticence today on worry over Drake. She also couldn’t blame her health because she’d completely recovered from her telabyrinth poisoning. With Hrazon and The Master attending the summer festival, she couldn’t blame some sort of timidity at being ‘alone’ in the city. No, she had to take a deep breath and be honest with him. Considering the number of suitors she’d sent packing in the past few years, this should have been an easy thing to do again. It wasn’t. She sighed, closing her eyes as if she could make the scene disappear.

“Do you agree that you’re my friend?” she finally asked.

He watched her open her eyes then, realizing where the conversation must be going.

“Yes.” It was said with exasperation.

“And that I’m your friend?”


“And does that please you?”

He sighed, but didn’t get a chance to answer.

“You see, Nigel, it pleases me. I appreciate your kindness, and I would be disappointed if we hadn’t built such a…such a…”

“Friendship?” he retorted.

“Such a rapport.”

He rolled his eyes. “A fancier word with even less affection.”

“My stay at Arcana is much more pleasant because I have this relationship with you. But someone has tried to convince me that your…your…”




“Well…your opinion of our relationship might be somewhat different from mine.”

“’Manda, just say what you’re thinking. You won’t hurt my feelings.”

She looked miserable then. “I don’t want to say what I’m thinking.”


“No, that’s not good. Hrazon thinks you’re…Hrazon believes you spend time with me because…” She paused, searching for the words.

“Because I’m in love with you?”

She nearly fell backward. “Just blurt it out!”

He chuckled slightly. “This is uncomfortable, isn’t it? I’m sorry to embarrass you. This conversation would be better in a darkened corner of Arcana’s parlor. ’Manda, I’m not going to lie to you. Hrazon has every reason to believe I’m after his ward because I am. It’s no secret to anyone I enjoy your company. What, where are you…You’re the only woman I know who can scoot that far away on a saddle without falling off.”

“I don’t think you should say those things.”

“Aye,” he sighed, watching her fidget with Shadow’s reins. But he made a decision to press the matter. “I’m going to say them and get them out in the open. Then we can decide if you’re to die of embarrassment, or slap me across the face.”

She couldn’t help smiling, even though her heart beat as if it would burst through her bodice from the tension she felt.

“I enjoy being with you because you’re my perfect match,” he said. “Have you noticed that we agree on almost everything? And the few things we don’t agree on are intriguing to argue because you make them intriguing. There’s no one at that entire estate, The Master and every intelligent student combined, who can hold my attention as you do. None of them compare.

“I’m attracted to everything about you, including your compassion. Even now, when you’re on the verge of falling off a horse with embarrassment, your concern is for my feelings, not your own. Godric, who doesn’t deserve to wash your feet, who finds every excuse to correct you, gets your respect because you remind yourself that he’s your benefactor. Do you know what strength of character that shows? Do you know how it endears you to me to know you bite your tongue after his arrogant remarks to save my mother’s feelings?”

She merely nodded, her eyes cast down.

“And do you know how it endears you to me to know you would fight to the death for little Kaylin?”

She nodded again.

“And do you know how it endears you to me to know you instinctively threw yourself into healing spells to save my life?”

“You shouldn’t assume that means—”

“I remember sliding toward death that night, life spilling out of me, and poison seeping into me from that thing’s claws. But do you know what I remember most distinctly? I remember you commanding me not to bleed to death…and I remember your hands afterward. Once I was healed, once Master Rothahn became preoccupied with the dead ryfel, you crawled over to me and put your hands on me again, as if you had to be sure He’d done a good enough job of healing me. But you would’ve done it for any member of my family. I daresay you would’ve done it for any student in the school. And it’s because you care about others, and you want the best for everyone around you. And you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

The last comment caught her off guard. It didn’t seem to fit with the logical argument he tried to make.

“I fail to see how these things tell you you’re in love. Kaylin enjoys my company. Mia enjoys arguing with me. I saved Sorne’s life once. Does this mean they’re in love with me?”

“If love could be explained that easily, it wouldn’t be real.”

“But what makes you think it’s real now? If you can’t explain your feelings, how do you know you’re not misled?”

“How does the rose know to bloom in spring?”

“Oh, now that talk I’ve heard before. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t think you should let yourself believe it now.”

“’Manda, I’m telling you the truth and I’m telling you what I know. If I’ve made you angry by falling in love with you, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Because you’re not currently interested in me, you have to give me time to change your mind.”

They were silent then; he waited for some sign that she wasn’t going to cast him aside, she waited for her heart to stop beating so loudly in her ears. As far as she was concerned, she was often a foolish girl, but her intentions at the beginning of this conversation were foolish beyond compare. She realized—with alarm—that the blood rushing through her veins, the lightheadedness, the excitement at getting to spend an afternoon with him, were all signs she had chosen to ignore.

She swallowed hard against the fear in her throat, and, with as much calm as she could muster, said: “What gives you the idea that I’m not interested in you?”

I love the excerpt. Sandy. Thank you so much for visiting today, and sharing some fascinating information. I've really enjoyed learning more about your writing and your characters, and I'm sure everyone else has too. I've just realised that it was Sandy's Birthday on 17th June - two days before the release of 'Children of The Mist' and a birthday she shares with Barry Manilow - yes, I like him too! :) Belated Happy Birthday, Sandy.

You can find out more about Sandy and her work, on her Blog
: http://www.todaythedragonwins.blogspot.com