Thursday, April 26, 2012

Guest Blogger: Tween fantasy novelist Marva Dasef

My guest today is Marva Dasef, whose Witches of Galdorheim middle-grade novel series just got its third installment, Scotch Broom. Marva talks about the realization that she had a series on her hands.

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How a Title Became a Series

Sometime in 2008, I woke up with two words in my head: bad and spelling. I must have had some subconscious blip that produced the thought, but I’ve no idea what it might be.

As I sipped my first cup of coffee, I opened a text document and entered BAD SPELLING at the top. Then I stared at it and a few thoughts came to mind (okay, that might not have happened until my second cup of coffee). I wondered why my subconscious was talking about poor spelling since I’ve always been a very good speller. Obviously, it didn’t have anything to do with anything so mundane as a spelling bee at school, although I won’t discount the possibility. If you’ve ever experienced a “school” dream where you’re wandering around not knowing where your next class was being held, or where the heck they put your locker, or somewhat embarrassed to find you’re only have your underwear on, then you know the horrors of the “school” dream. Many people have them, nothing to be ashamed of.

Despite the origin lost in the dreamworld, my next coherent thought was that “spelling” had to do with spellcasting. Okay, I write books for middle-grade kids and they love fantasy, so a witch or wizard must be involved. Why would a witch (and the main character turns out to be a teen witch) be really bad at spellcasting (or simply put, spelling)? And if she was a lousy speller, why would it bother her? Well, because she’s surrounded by other witches having no problems spelling at all. What’s worse is she has a little brother who’s a super speller, and cute besides. That’s enough to put a twist in a witch’s ego.

Katrina turned out to be the witch, and her annoying little brother became Rune. Note that Rune has a cool, wizardly name while Katrina is stuck with a name that sounded like a Russian doll. Blech! I did that on purpose because Kat (as she prefers) is disturbingly mundane for a witch.

Further coffee and thinking led me to believe that the witches of the world might like a place where they could let it all hang out, be witches without worry what the mundane neighbors might think. It occurred to me that witches were persecuted in the Middle Ages, and it only made sense for them to get the heck out of Dodge and go somewhere of their own. This somewhere is about as remote a place one could find, being a glacier-covered island in the middle of the Arctic. Galdorheim Island became my setting.

Eventually, I worked out why Kat is a lousy speller, and what she had to do to solve her problem. At first, she simply wants to run away from home to find her deceased father’s family, who happen to be a tribe of fisher/hunters in Siberia—the Samis (closely related to the Lapps of Norway or the Inuits of Alaska). Kat’s journey to find her father’s family puts her through a lot of danger and an interesting journey meeting all sorts of magical types along the way. Kat eventually solves her magic problem and gets Sami boyfriend as well.

I did the query thing for awhile, but threw up my hands in despair when one agent’s response at a writers’ conference is that Katrina was a bad choice for the MC’s name while the brother had a cool, warlocky name. Did. Not. Get. It. Along with a few requests for partials and fulls, but no bites, I figured that I was fighting a fruitless battle. After all, I’m a retired person, meaning I have a limited number of years to make good. I could croak tomorrow, and my great story would be DOA on my hard drive.

Long story short, I changed tactics and queried small publishers directly. Still nothing, so I decided I may as well write another book with the same characters. How’s that for completely illogical thinking? Nobody wanted the first book, so why would I think a second book would have a better chance?
Because I had a title. From the mysterious aether of my subconscious, the words “midnight” and “oil” came to mind. Oooh, my favorite! Another pun.

Midnight Oil followed Kat’s and Rune’s adventures in a new book. Let me tell you there was a whole lot of interesting research that led me from the bare bones idea of Midnight Oil, to the ensuring dire circumstances which included the Loch Ness monster, a forest elemental spirit, and a magical ultralight.

Since things come in threes, I was now obligated to write a third book. Three is a mystical number which is the minimum required to make a series. I could write another book for a quadrology or not as I choose.

Now I was under the gun. I decided Kat needed to have a vacation and came up with the Witches’ Winter Abroad idea. This gave me the freedom to pick another area of the world (although not too far from the Arctic) and delve into a new mythology. Scotland became the site of Kat’s next adventure. Everybody and their Irish Wolfhound does Irish Celtic myth, so I stopped short and led Kat into the Highlands for a slightly different Celtic flavor. Research revealed a lot of mythology that did not include the usual suspects. I went to the deep base of mythology. The old mythical pantheon had a lot of material that wasn’t already stomped all over by every author who wanted a character named Siobhan (which I still have no idea how to pronounce). I did find Cailleach, the winter foil to Bride, the goddess of Spring. Old Cailleach could very well have fallen on hard times, has hidden herself away in the Otherworld (which just so happens to be on an alternate plane of existence as the Scottish Highlands).

When I shoved Kat into Cailleach’s Otherworld, I figured she had to be lost, otherwise, she’d just step out of the Otherworld and continue her trip abroad. From this simple base, I provided Kat with a few companions to meet along the way: Sianach, a giant meat-eating stag, Cusith, a giant (notice a theme here?) green dog with a braided tail (don’t blame me, blame the Scottish whiskey for this one), and Cait Sidhe, the giant (well, not too giant) black cat fairy. Where does Kat want to go? To see the Trow King, of course. Now, I’ve got Wizard of Oz written all over this story. Subtle, eh?

This book didn’t have a title at first like the others, but I soon came up with Scotch Broom, and you can read the book to find out why.

There they are, then. A series of books that all came from a title. All I had to do is add words.

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You can visit Marva Dasef at her website and blog.
The Witches of Galdorheim books are available at MuseItUp, on Kindle, and elsewhere.


  1. Ha! "All I had to do is add words." PLUS a LOT of research, I'd say. Do you like doing the research more than writing the book? Sounds like you immersed yourself in all things witches. What a fun series and fun post. Best wishes on your trilogy, perhaps quadrology? (That's a new word for me!)

    1. Ditto what J.Q. said. My problem isn't the research, it's the battle of what research to use or not use, and what I say "battle" I mean what's really necessary for the reader, and what is JUST FINE to leave to the imagination.

      I don't handle that very well.

      Which is why people who critique my work need to be willing to be patient with me there...

  2. Thanks for having me, Anne.

    JQ: Since research often gives me new ideas to put in a book (I'm an inveterate link follower), it makes the writing more fun. Thanks for stopping by. I'll be playing all month long in May with a bunch of MG/YA authors and sharing the results of a bunch of things I found in research.

  3. So the start of your trilogy was tatooed in your mind from a dream, or the words Bad Spelling. Wish I had dreams like that. Of course it took a lot of work to put all thoughts together, plus the mounds of research. I have read all three books, and I must say your imagination shows no bounds. I enjoyed everyone of them. I still want a ride on the trollycoaster.

  4. I always wondered about how one title could make a series. I have thought long and hard about extending my book to make a sequel and am not sure how it would be done. Bravo for writing three!!

  5. Hey Lorrie and Barbara! Thanks for dropping by to comment.

    Lorrie: I know you have a terrific series coming up. I'll bet that started with C.O.D. and grew from there. Eh?

    Barbara: I assume you're thinking about Jennifer Taylor, right? College is the obvious next step for the girls. That's still in the YA category. Jennifer could return to her old ways and have to get straightened out again. Booze and boyz?

  6. Fabulous post about how your ideas came about, Marva - and you make the research sound such fun!

  7. A great peek into your mind, Marva. I also had a title pop into my head, with only a few sparse "middles" contributing to the novel thus far. It's good to see you found a way to the other side. Congratulations on the series!

  8. Congratulations on this series! I am loving the cover art =)

  9. Dreams which leave images or titles in your head are the best. And I loved the bit on the giant green dog with a braided tail. Congrats on the series!

  10. Great post. The covers look really amazing.

  11. @ Jester - Thank you for this article. The journey that the author went through was interesting and well-put.

  12. An insightful post -- series fiction is definitely its own beast. And well done on reaching your April Write1Sub1 goals, Anne!