Friday, June 27, 2014

Loosing the Reins

If you follow me on various social media, you have probably seen me posting this last week about the publication of The Winged Horse, the first of four planned sequels to The Golden Lynx and hence Legends of the Five Directions 2: East. If you regularly read this blog, you’ll know that I’m already hard at work on Legends 3: The Swan Princess. Thanks to last week’s staycation, I have a story for Legends 3 that works for me emotionally, although I need to complete certain kinds of research before I begin to write. Even at the best of times, my outlines exist solely to convince me that I have an initial state for my main character and a destination worth reaching, however long and winding the road. As soon as I put fingers to keyboard and type, the story morphs around me. I may try to plot, but I am a seat-of-the-pants writer (pantser) by heart.

The Swan Princess will, no doubt, become the subject of many future posts. This one constitutes my farewell to Ogodai and Firuza, Tulpar and Jahangir, and the elders (and juniors) of their horde. They are not gone forever, of course—that is the great advantage of a series. But even as they return, if they do return, in future books, they will not be quite the people with whom I have spent the last two years. They will grow and change, as Nasan and Daniil grew and changed in The Winged Horse and must change again for The Swan Princess. The eighteen-year-old Ogodai and Firuza, their fears and uncertainties, their helpful (or not so helpful) companions—these versions of my characters will cross my path again only as I re-read their stories to reconnect with them before spinning out their personalities into future selves.

I find it surprisingly difficult to let them go. Excitement and adventure characterize every new novel, yet I know that one reason my initial outline for The Swan Princess was so long and complex (as described in “Writing Process Blog Hop”) had to do with my own reluctance to let certain characters’ stories vegetate until Legends 4, where they belong. These characters kept sneaking into my plans, marching around in my head and refusing to go to sleep, despite my best efforts to focus on the new.

But for better or worse, The Winged Horse is now out in the world—where some readers will (I hope) love it and others not care for it so much, where it must sink or swim on its own. I can go back to reading both for pleasure and for research; ponder the new story and characters (some revived from The Golden Lynx, where they fought their temporary seclusion just as tenaciously as the present batch); spend time catching up on GoodReads, BookLikes, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like; and devote more time to this blog than I managed to do in the last three weeks of obsessive proof reading, corrections, uploads, and announcements.

If you’d like to see what the fuss is about, you can find the first few paragraphs below. If you have an e-reader, you can download samples for Kindle and iBooks, as well as at the book page on GoodReads and the B&N nook store. If you don’t have an e-reader, Amazon.com allows you to “look inside” the print version. Links to the various formats are at my website and my publisher’s website. The first link is a bit easier to navigate because it includes only my three novels; the second may expose you to other titles worthy of your attention.

And if you like the story (or even if you don’t—I believe readers have every right to their opinions), please consider leaving a review at your favorite book site. It will help others to decide whether they, too, would like to explore the sixteenth-century steppe in the company of Ogodai and his associates.

I swear, it is the purest coincidence that Russia decided to annex Crimea, thus throwing Tatar politics and history unexpectedly into the news....

CHAPTER 1
East of the Don, 5 Muharram 941 A.H./17 July 1534
The rustling outside the felt tent stilled as the sun set over the grasslands. Even the lambs hushed. An owl hooted; a wolf howled in the distance. The guard dogs barked in response, but the high, keening wail drifted away on the wind. Bahadur Bey, head of a Nogai Tatar horde, relaxed against the embroidered cushions that placed him north and center relative to the other diners and reached for the quail leg he had dropped when he heard the howl. One wolf, far away, could not threaten a community of forty or fifty households—nor even its sheep and goats, penned for the night.
The quail leg disappeared in a bite or two. Bahadur licked his lips and savored the lingering richness on his tongue—molten fat flecked with salt, gaminess mixed with herbs.
A few too many herbs, in fact. That tinge of bitterness, although not unpleasant in itself, could easily be overdone. A point to bring up with the cooks tomorrow morning.
Platters of food, stripped almost bare, dotted the felt mats laid over the rugs that protected the diners from the thin grass of the steppe. Elaborately decorated, many of the felts bore the stylized form of the winged horse, Bahadur’s banner. His camp, his home: here among family and friends, even a bey could lay down the burdens of leadership at the end of a long day.
In addition to the quail, always a favorite, the platters held roast venison and flat bread, hard and soft cheeses, pomegranates and nuts. Bahadur had drunk deep from pitchers filled with frothy mare’s milk and shared cups from a cask of wine, warm with the sunshine of the Crimean hills. One good thing left behind by that scoundrel Tulpar. Its taste lingered on the tongue in happy marriage with the quail.
He considered eating more, but his sash already felt tight to the point of discomfort, and the light slanting through the smoke hole reinforced the message delivered by the quieting of the herds. In the steppe, the midsummer sun hid itself for so short a time that if he did not retire to his private tent to sleep as soon as night fell, he would find himself on horseback again before his muscles ceased to ache. Once he had caroused the night away, as his son Jahangir did, but no more. The counsel of age and wisdom told him he had eaten enough, drunk enough. Time to rest.
Outside, the wind was picking up. “Hear that?” he said to his chief herdsman, seated not far from the door. “Better get the lambs and the weaker animals under cover. It will storm before morning. Check the pens, too.”
The herdsman bowed in acknowledgment and ducked from the tent without more ado. A good man, knew his business. Always placed the needs of the animals first, aware that the tribe depended on the herds.
Time for Bahadur, too, to go before the weather changed.

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