The Voice of Halfdan

In my last post, I mentioned that my wife and I have been working to make the Strongbow Saga available in new markets, and reach new audiences. One of those new markets was the Apple iTunes Store. Since May, all of the Strongbow Saga books have been available in e-book editions in the iTunes store, and links to their pages there are now on the “Books” page of this site.

We have also been working closely over the summer with a very talented voice actor named Jeff Hays to create audio book editions of the Strongbow Saga. The first of these is complete: Viking Warrior, book 1 of The Strongbow Saga, is now available in an audio book edition from Amazon and in the iTunes Store, and is also available as a selection on Audible.com.

Jeff’s skill as a voice actor is remarkable. He truly brings Halfdan and the other characters in the story to life, and carries the listener away into 9th century Denmark. We’re excited to have him as the voice of Halfdan. His performance of Dragons from the Sea, book 2 of the Strongbow Saga, is now in its final phases of production, and should become available sometime in September.

In conjunction with the release of the audio edition of Viking Warrior, we’ve created a new cover for book 1 of the series. Over the coming weeks, the new cover will be added to the e-book and print editions, as well.

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To celebrate the release of the audio edition of Viking Warrior, we’re giving away ten copies of the audio book. To request a free copy, send me an email at strongbowsaga@gmail.com, and I’ll provide you with a code for a free download from Audible.com, with instructions on how to use it. The free copies will go to the first ten email requests received.

08/26/2014 Update: There are still four free copies of the audio edition of Viking Warrior available. And here’s a little surprise that Jeff Hays, the voice actor who produced the audio edition, sent me yesterday:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZvYLATIZPo&feature=youtu.be

In case you’re wondering, I did not pour a bucket of ice water on my head. I’m old enough, and have done and seen and been through enough in my life, that I don’t feel a need to answer every dare. But I did donate $100 to the ALS Foundation (and will only do that once–don’t anyone else bother sending another challenge!).

Are you warm yet, Jeff?

Cycles

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Living on the land–particularly in an area that’s on the border of wilderness–is very different from living in a city. Life is much more in tune with, and to some extent controlled by, the cycles of nature, and the cycles of life and death are much more vivid and closer here.

My wife and I are now well into our third year of our new life on our small farm, which is on the edge of the Cascade Mountain range in Oregon. We are learning about the cycles of life and nature here, and are getting better each year at living in harmony with them.

We want to produce as much of our own food as we can, and each year we move farther along that path. Spring here is a time of anticipation and preparation: planning the summer garden, and starting seedlings to be planted in the garden when the weather warms. Spring also brings new lambs to our small herd. This year our two ewes gave us three lambs. We always hope for females because they are much more useful for growing the herd than males are. Last year’s two new lambs were both males–we’d hopefully named them Dierdru and Fionna, then had to change their names to Danny Boy and Finn. This year we initially held off on naming the first lamb that was born, but at about two weeks of age I happened to see it urinating–the point of origin is a sure indicator of the sex–and the first words out of my mouth–”Dammit!”–became his name. Our second ewe had twins, though, and one, at least,  was a female–she now bears the name Dierdru. But our herd has grown too ram-heavy–we now have three females and five males–so we’ve taken to calling Finn “Lamb Chop” in anticipation of his future destiny. Here’s a photo of the lambs and mothers, taken in April a few weeks after they born:

SAMSUNGSummer is the busiest season. The garden requires much work: planting, weeding, harvesting, and preserving the harvest. The pastures, too, require our attention. The sheep help maintain them, but there is hay to be cut and stored for use in the winter. Summer, I now know, is not the season for writing. Winter will be the writing season, now that I am learning to live in harmony with the cycles here.

But although I am not currently actively writing, that does not mean I am not working on my books. The past few months my wife and I have focused considerable effort to make the Strongbow Saga books available in several new markets. There will be news about that coming later. And we leave in a few days for a research trip to Ireland. The Beast of Dublin, my partially finished novel which is set in Ireland in the year 840, and which tells some of Hastein’s story before the Strongbow Saga and which also will set up some characters and relationships that will figure into the final book of the Saga, is the next book I plan to complete–I hope to release it in the spring of 2015. On our research trip, we will be visiting numerous locations that figure into that story, and well as the location where the final chapters of book 5 of the Strongbow Saga will take place. That book–the final book in the Strongbow Saga–I hope to complete and publish in 2016. There is much more that goes into writing these books than just sitting down at the computer and typing.

This year, two large red-tailed hawks have nested just across the river from our farm. They frequently hunt over our farm, although a flock of crows we have befriended–we feed them regularly, and in exchange they watch over our chickens–usually drives them off when they do. I think of crows as true warrior-spirit birds. It is amazing to watch them attack much larger raptors. They are much faster and more agile than the big birds, and swirl around them, diving at their wings, until usually the hawks give up and move off to hunt somewhere that is not guarded. Once we even saw a single crow attack and harass a bald eagle that was circling over our property. The eagle did not take it kindly–at one point it rolled onto its back in flight and tried to grab the crow with its talons as it swooped by–but eventually even it gave up and flew away.

A few weeks ago, for an entire day the crows disappeared. One of our hens, a beautiful Golden Wyandotte we called Tiger, wandered away from the shelter of the barn and was caught out in the open by the two red-tailed hawks. We heard the sound and I ran up to the barn to see what  had happened, but although my appearance on the scene caused the hawks to flee, I was too late. They had torn Tiger’s throat out–their preferred way to kill–although they had not yet begun to eat her.

Tiger was a big bird–our biggest hen–with a lot of meat on her. We felt it would honor and show respect for her life and death to save it, so I skinned and cut off her legs and breast. We’ll eat them, stewed as coq au vin, as our Thanksgiving dinner this year and remember her fondly when we do. The rest of her body we put out in the pasture, so nothing about her would be wasted. The turkey vultures found her, and her death gave them food. When they’d finished, nothing–not even a stray feather–was left.

Tiger’s last day:

SAMSUNGTiger 2DSCN0766The cycles of life and death are much more vivid and closer here.

 

New Look

It has been too long since I have last posted here, but things are happening behind the scenes. I’ll post again in a week or so and bring you up to date on all of the Strongbow Saga news, but for now I wanted to talk about the changes to this website. We’ve made a lot of updates that were long overdue.

The most obvious new addition is the quote slider. The idea was actually inspired by Amazon–on the product page for Viking Warrior, there is a section where readers have shared some of their favorite quotes from the book. I thought that was a great idea. If any of you have favorite lines from any of the books, please post them as replies here, and I’ll try to rotate them through on the slider.

Other changes include a Books page, which shows in one location all of the books currently out in the series, with links to reviews and to where they can be purchased. The Discussions page has been made more user friendly by putting the “Enter a Post” form at the top of the column, where it can be seen without having to scroll down, and we’ve paginated this section so that just ten posts (with any replies) now appear per page.

We’ve also closed down the separate strongbowsaga.com website, which used to contain articles I’d written sharing some of my research,  and brought those articles to this site, where they can be found under the “Viking History” tab. Hopefully their presence here will even encourage me to put more of my research into print where it can be shared.

More to come soon….

Northman Books

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The long overdue web store for Northman Books, the small publishing company created by my wife Jeanette and me to publish the Strongbow Saga books, went live this week at www.northmanbooks.com. Autographed copies of the Strongbow Saga books, with personalized inscriptions if desired, can be purchased from the store. Also available are Strongbow Saga t-shirts and pewter Viking Dragon emblems and Thor’s hammers, for use as key rings, or which can be used to make reproduction Viking era jewelry.

Through the web store, we are also offering thirty percent discounted pricing on purchases of three or more copies of the same title by book clubs or church groups, and thirty percent discounts on any book purchases by schools or libraries. Booksellers may purchase books for book store sales at forty percent off retail.

Autographed copies

A reader, Sam Hylton, posted a question on the December 15th post asking if I could sell copies of The Long Hunt directly. I’ll be receiving a shipment from the printer by the end of this week, so yes, if anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, I will be able to sell them directly. Once the Northman Books website is up and running (hopefully by the end of January), it will be possible to place orders there and pay via PayPal, but until then, to purchase a signed copy send a check or money order for $23.00, which includes $6.00 to cover packing and shipping charges, to:

Northman Books Inc.

42438 Holden Creek Ln

Springfield, OR 97478

Please include telephone and email contact information, and if you would like the book inscribed to someone in addition to being signed (example: “To Sam”), please include that information, too.

The $6.00 shipping rate only covers shipments of single copies within the continental U.S. For larger orders, or for orders from outside the continental U.S., please first send an email inquiry to northmanbooks@gmail.com, so I can research shipping costs.

Happy New Year, and I hope it will be a good one for all of you.

The Long Wait Is Over

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Before I get into the real news, a few quick housekeeping matters.

First, over the past few weeks I have been so immersed in pushing to get book 4 finalized and published that I have been unable to take the time to respond to posts from readers on this website. Sorry about that– I very much appreciate and enjoy hearing from readers, and like to respond promptly. But I’ve gone back now to catch up, and hopefully have answered everyone.

Second, the print edition of Dragons from the Sea has been lost, but now it’s found. A week or so ago I discovered, to my great dismay, that although the current Northman Books edition has been on sale since 2010, sometime earlier this year the book disappeared from Amazon’s search engines, so for all practical purposes it was invisible to prospective buyers, because searches for “strongbow saga” or even ones run using the book’s actual title would only show the old, out of print HarperCollins edition. The problem has now been corrected, but if anyone has been trying unsuccessfully to buy that book in a print copy, I apologize and hope you’ll try again.



And now…The Long Hunt, Book 4 of The Strongbow Saga, has finally been published. Here’s a link to its page in the Amazon-U.S. Kindle store:




The book actually went on sale there yesterday, but I discovered an error that had escaped repeated proofing readings—the final paragraph of the book in the Acknowledgements section, where I thank all of you for your support—had somehow gone missing. It has been corrected now, but if anyone discovered the book was on sale and bought a copy yesterday, be sure to update your book—Amazon will do it for free, and if you’ve allowed automatic updates on your Kindle account, they’ll  hopefully do it automatically.

The e-book edition is also available as a Nook book from Barnes & Noble. This link leads to its page there.

An e-book edition will be available through Kobo, although for now we’re experiencing technical difficulties there. Kobo’s book uploading software will not accept the book’s file, and to date I’ve been unable to get their technical support to respond for my requests for assistance.

The e-book will not, in the foreseeable future, be available directly through Apple’s I-book store. I do not find Apple’s e-book division to be particularly author-friendly–among other things, they only allow e-books to be uploaded to their store from an Apple computer–so those who want to read the e-book edition of The Long Hunt on an Apple device will need to install the free Kindle app and get a Kindle edition of the book.

The print edition should be out sometime during the coming week. I had hoped to publish it simultaneously with the e-book editions, but upon reviewing an actual printed proof copy I discovered that when printed on paper, the maps in the book did not come out very clear, so they had to be reworked, delaying the final clearance for print publishing. Print is like that–it’s a little harder to work with, and changes take longer to correct.

A few words about the story: although The Strongbow Saga is called a series, technically that’s not really what it is. A true series is a group of books using the same characters, but each is a separate, stand-alone story, although they are related and each book usually carries the characters further along in time. The Strongbow Saga is actually just a single long story, which for practical purposes has had to be told over time in separately published installments. Book 4 is another installment; it is not a stand-alone story.

What that means is that you should not expect a tidy, satisfying wrap-up at the end of this book. The end of book four does set up the end of Halfdan’s quest—which will have become two quests by the end of this book—but everything will not be wrapped up and finished until book 5, which will end The Strongbow Saga’s story. I know this can be frustrating to readers—you do not want to have to wait to find out what happens next (I do promise you won’t have to wait five years this time). But that’s the way it is. My original editor at HarperCollins pointed out to me that in this aspect, The Strongbow Saga is not unlike The Lord of the Rings, which is a single story told across three books. Those three books were not all published at the same time, either–readers of LOTR who discovered it when it first came out also had to wait for the next installments. But you, as readers of the Saga while it is still in progress, actually have the opportunity to influence the story. I take to heart all of your comments I receive here on this website, and in emails from readers, and in reviews of the books (and my sincere thanks to all who have reviewed them—reader reviews are, more than anything else, what sell books in the world of publishing today).There are many elements in The Long Hunt that would not have been there but for suggestions, comments, and even criticisms by readers. I appreciate and value your input.

Although the over-arcing story of The Strongbow Saga carries across all five books, and only concludes in the last one, there are sub-arcs which involve aspects of Halfdan’s growth that do conclude in individual books. In Viking Warrior, he makes the difficult transition from being a slave to becoming a warrior, and his quest for vengeance is set in motion by Toke’s treacherous attack. The second plot arc, during which Halfdan progresses from being a neophyte warrior into an experienced, battle-tested, and even acclaimed one, takes place over the course of books two and three, Dragons from the Sea and The Road to Vengeance (which I originally wrote as a single book, but which HarperCollins, the series’ first publisher, split into two against my wishes). Also during this section of the story, Halfdan gains allies he needs to help him pursue Toke, and he finds his first experience with love. In book 4, The Long Hunt, Halfdan will progress from being an experienced, respected warrior into a leader, capable of commanding other warriors. In book 5, he will need to be able to do so.

Last, I would like to comment on the book’s pricing. The price for the print editions of my books is largely determined by the costs of production and distribution. The Long Hunt is a considerably longer book than any of the first three, and as such, it costs more to print. I have had to price it at $17.00 retail, because at that price, when the book is sold through expanded distribution channels (i.e., anywhere except by Amazon, which owns the printing company), by the time all of the costs kick in, I’ll make only about 50 cents per book sold. I cannot price the print version any lower.

The e-book editions, including the Kindle version, are priced at $7.99. That’s higher than the first three, but those were already old books when I republished them, so I felt a low price for them was appropriate. I do believe e-books should cost considerably less than their print versions–though some authors and most of the big publishers disagree–and I have discounted the e-book editions of The Long Hunt accordingly. But I did have to price this book, which required an enormous amount of work and some considerable costs to create, higher than the first three. I have to set the price high enough to make a living, or I can’t keep doing this. I hope readers will find the pleasure it brings them is well worth the cost.

And now, I am looking forward to a rest. For many months I have put too many aspects of my life, and too much work that needs to be done around my home and farm, on the back burner while I pushed to research, write, and publish this book by the end of this year, because too many have been waiting too long to read it. I felt I owed all of you that. But it’s time to catch up on the rest of my life, to enjoy the waning days of this year and look forward to the solstice, when the days will begin to grow longer and lighter again. Tonight, Jeanette and I are cooking ourselves a celebratory feast in honor of publication, and we’ll wash it down with…what else but:

Looted Frankish Red

May you all have a wonderful holiday season, and may the new year bring more joy than sorrow.

Judson Roberts

Two Contests

Update on book 4’s progress: I’ve received the feedback from my four content readers/editors, and have made changes to the draft to address their suggestions. This afternoon I sent the draft on to the copy editor, which is an entirely different type of editing: rather than addressing the contents of the story, copy editing deals with the writing, cleaning up any errors in punctuation, finding missing words, suggesting possible changes in phrasing of passages, and the like. While I’m waiting to receive the copy edit back, I’ll be working on the rough drafts of some diagrams and maps that will be included in the book, and on the cover…which brings me to the main point of this post.

When I regained the rights to books one through three of the Strongbow Saga from its original publisher, I needed to make new covers, because HarperCollins owned the original ones. I would have made new ones anyway—Harper was targeting a specific readership, teenage girls, with their covers. While many readers do like those covers, I have always felt they had a strong potential for making many potential readers pass the books by, because the HarperCollins covers look a lot like covers for romance novels. So my new covers were designed for the specific purpose of saying “these books are historical fiction about the Vikings.” I think, based on the greatly increased readership since the books were republished, they did achieve that goal.

But—the new covers don’t get a lot of love. I certainly concede they are far from perfect, and perhaps a bit crudely rendered in their execution. I’m open to changing them, and one reader, Kate, recently suggested on the Discussions thread that I should offer a contest to readers to create new covers for the series. It’s a great idea—I like the thought of having covers designed by readers and fans of the series. So I’m opening up a cover contest, plus a second contest that’s just for fun.

Cover Contest

The Strongbow Saga will be, when it is completed, five volumes long, so ideally I’m looking for five covers with similar looks and/or themes, although entries for individual covers are fine. I’m open to any concept. Each cover should be in jpg format and contain the following information:

The series number, such as   “Book 4 of The Strongbow Saga”

the title, such as “The Long Hunt”

and my name: “Judson Roberts”

I cannot use artwork or images that I don’t have the right to use, so any artwork or images that are a part of a cover submission must either be free use/open source, or else original work by the submitter. I will need verification of that, if I select your cover design.

If I decide to use a cover, I’ll pay the designer $300.00 US dollars for the right to use it, and will credit the creator in the book as “Cover design by _________.” If I adopt a cover, there will be some specifications for the size and image quality of the final image, but those are details we can deal with later.

Submissions should be emailed to me at: strongbowsaga@gmail.com. As entries come in I will post them on this site, and I’ll welcome readers’ feedback and reactions to each submitted design. For now, there’s no closing date to this contest—I’ll run it as long as there is interest and submissions keep coming in, or until I choose new covers for the series.

Video Contest

This one is just for fun. If anyone would like to post a Strongbow Saga themed video on YouTube, I have some promotional materials, left over from when I used to travel around doing book signings, which I’ll give as prizes in exchange for entries. Here’s a link to a video I created for the release of book 3 back in 2008, just as an example of one possibility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iafmWCveCwY

The contest applies to new video postings only. To qualify, entries should include some kind of mention of the Strongbow Saga, and that book 4, The Long Hunt, is coming in December 2013, but otherwise exercise your imaginations. Humor is always fun, but not necessary. To enter the contest, upload your video onto YouTube then send me a link to it at strongbowsaga@gmail.com, plus your mailing address. I’ll post links to the videos as they come in.

The contest will close on December 08, 2013. All entries that I receive by that date will win two Strongbow Saga themed bumper stickers. DSCN0705

On December 9th, I’ll make a new post containing links to all of the entries that were received, and will ask readers to vote for their three favorites. The ten entrants whose videos receive the most votes will receive a Strongbow Saga t-shirt and Viking dragon key ring.

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The entrant whose video is my favorite will also receive a pewter Thor’s Hammer necklace similar to the one pictured.

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Good luck, and may your video go viral!

The Hardest Part Is Done!

I finished the first draft of The Long Hunt, book 4 of the Strongbow Saga, on Tuesday evening. The final chapter–which ended up becoming two chapters–took longer to write than I’d anticipated, partly because I just got stuck a few times, and partly because, as I was researching various sources about the town of Birka, trying to determine what it would have looked like, I discovered some actual historical events that were happening there about the time the story is taking place, and they suggested a new, dangerous situation that Halfdan and his companions might find themselves in.

That’s often the way this story unfolds for me: I’m writing it with a very broad outline in mind, but my research often suggests details, scenes, incidents, and the like that I had not anticipated. A completed book is never exactly like what I thought it would be when I began it, although this one held more surprises for me than the first three.

Yesterday I took a break from my computer–I’ve been practically chained to it the last few weeks– and enjoyed a hike and working in my garden. Today I’ve begun the next step: a reading through of the entire draft, from start to finish, making minor tweaks and changes as I go along. During this stage, I read it aloud, because that helps me hear how the writing and dialogue flow and what kind of rhythm they have. At the conclusion of this read-through, which should take less than a week, I’ll have my second draft. Then I’ll send that out to my three volunteer content editors–my wife Jeanette, an author friend, Luc Reid, who has been a first reader for each book since I first began the series, plus a new editor, a very dedicated fan who has, in email correspondence over the years, shown a remarkable degree of insight into the story and characters. When I receive their suggestions and comments back–and while I’m waiting for them, I’ll be writing the Historical Notes, glossary, list of characters, and working on the the maps, some diagrams, and the cover–I’ll complete the third and final draft. Then there will be a final copy edit, to check for any missed typos, etc. After that we’ll go into the pre-production phase, formatting the book for various types of editions, getting it copyrighted, and the like.

In other words, there’s still quite a lot of work to be done, but I’m still aiming to release it by the end of the year. The long wait for The Long Hunt is finally nearing its end.

Strongbow Invades Germany

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I am very excited to be able to announce that German language editions of the Strongbow Saga will be coming, beginning–in the spring or early summer of 2014–with Viking Warrior. I have long wanted to make the story available in other countries, but after having struggled so long and hard to regain control of the series from its original publisher, HarperCollins, I preferred to find a way to accomplish this without just selling the rights to foreign publishers.

A first necessary step occurred over the course of last year, when Amazon began opening divisions in various European countries, including the UK, France, Spain, and Germany. The Kindle e-book and print editions, in English, are already available overseas in those markets as a result. But the series will have a much greater chance to be discovered by many more readers worldwide if available in their native languages.

A second necessary step was to find someone to convert the English language stories into new language versions. I chose Germany as a first market to reach this way. But I wanted more than a rote, word for word literal translation into German—something that can make for an awkward read. Instead, I wanted the story to be retold, in its new German version, by a skilled, experienced storyteller in that language.  I wanted a resident author in Germany, to not just translate the stories, but to retell them in German, and also to be the German face of the Strongbow Saga, to promote the books as their works—because a truly good translation is a new literary work. What I wanted was not a translator, but an author partner.

Ruth Nestvold, an American author living in Germany, will be the German face of the Strongbow Saga. Ruth is a wonderful storyteller who has published many science fiction stories in various markets, and whose historical fantasy novel  Yseult was published by Random House Germany in 2009 under the title Flamme und Harfe. Her experience writing about a similar time period to that in which the Strongbow Saga is set makes her a particularly good fit for the series.

To learn more about Ruth and her books, read her bio, blog, and check out her catalog of books.

            And as to my progress on book 4 of the Strongbow Saga, I’m currently writing the last scene of the second to last chapter of the book. We’re getting there!