Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Doing Physical Research for Fantasy Novels- Resa Nelson Guest Post

For the release of her newest novel Iron Maiden (review) which is blurbed beneath, sequel to The Dragonslayer's Sword (review), Resa is doing a blog tour to show the different parts of contructing her story. You can find all the links here: http://www.resanelson.com

To the post- there's also a giveaway available and the oppurtunity for everyone to sample her work via an ebook with two short stories!

I began researching my 4-book Dragonslayer series by doing traditional library research, first to bolster my knowledge of medieval history and then to model the dragons in my novels on an animal that still lives today.  But I had one problem:  my main character is a woman who learns how to be a blacksmith.  How could I write convincingly about a female blacksmith unless I got some hands-on experience?

Fortunately, while I was in the early stages of my research, I went to a local science fiction convention and met up with several friends, most of whom are also writers.  When we went out to dinner, I told everyone about my plans to write a novel based on a dragonslayer short story I’d written and that had already been published in a magazine.  I told them what I wanted more than anything was to take a course in blacksmithing.  One of my friends piped up and said he knew someone who had taken a blacksmithing course and told me where I could sign up for one!  So I got the details, followed up immediately, and signed up for the first available course.

I felt intimidated because I’ve never been good with a hammer, but I pushed ahead.  After all, despite the fact that I’m a very mediocre athlete, I earned a degree in physical education.  (I wanted to be a baseball coach only to realize my heart’s true desire was to be a novelist, what I’d wanted since childhood – it’s a long story.)  As a phys ed student, I was usually one of the worst athletes.  Ironically, this prepared me extraordinarily well for doing physical research as a novelist.  I’m willing to try just about anything, and I’m not afraid to fail or look bad.  So when I walked into my first blacksmithing class and discovered I was the only woman – and that everyone else in the class looked to be at least twice my size – I didn’t mind.  My purpose was to learn and absorb so I could write a better novel.

My blacksmithing course lasted for 10 weeks.  It met every Tuesday night, and each class lasted 4 hours.  That means once a week I spent 4 hours standing at an anvil hammering iron or steel.  I’m a smidge under 5’2” while most of my male classmates looked to be 6’ or taller – and a lot beefier than me.  At the beginning of each class, our teacher would explain the project we’d be making that night.  He’d explain what type of item we’d be forging and show us how to do it.  Then we’d have the rest of the night to get the project done.  My classmates had no problem completing each class assignment, but I couldn’t do it.  By the end of the evening I’d be halfway through the process and end up with a useless lump of iron.

My disadvantage was that I simply didn’t have the same kind of upper body strength as my classmates.  So I had to figure out a way to compensate for that.  I asked my teacher and my classmates for advice.  Taking it, I tried three things.  First, taking my teacher’s advice, I searched all the available hammers to find the smallest and lightest one.  It had to feel good in my hand.  (It’s common for blacksmiths to make their own tools in order to have tools that are exactly right for them.)  Next, taking a classmate’s advice, I choked up on the hammer the same way you choke up on a baseball bat.  That gave me more control over every blow.  Finally, I followed my own instincts and decided to become ambidextrous.  I’d hammer as long as I could with my left hand.  When I grew tired, I’d switch the hammer to my right hand.  I kept switching back and forth all night long.  At first it was hard to hammer with my non-dominant hand – I’d often miss the iron I was trying to hammer and sometimes missed the anvil entirely!  But I had almost no experience with a hammer before I took the blacksmithing course, so it only took a couple of classes before I hammered equally well with each hand.  And suddenly I was keeping up with my classmates and finishing my projects by the end of each class!  

The entire experience gave me a wealth of knowledge that helped me write my Dragonslayer series and shaped my main character in very specific ways.  It even had a profound influence on my thematic intent for the first novel and ultimately the entire series.  This experience sold me on the importance of doing physical research whenever it makes sense and whenever it’s possible. 

During this blog tour I’m telling lots of stories about the research I’ve done for my Dragonslayer series.  You can find out where I’ve been and where I’m going next by checking my website (http://www.resanelson.com), my Facebook page (Resa Nelson & The Dragonslayer’s Sword), or following me on Twitter (@ResaNelson).

If you’d like to sample my work for free, you can download a free “mini” ebook called “Dragonslayer Stories” from my website at http://www.resanelson.com/files.  No cost, no obligation, nothing to sign up for, no information gathering.  I like giving away samples of my work so you can decide for yourself whether you like it or not.  If you do, you can enter to win a copy of the first two books in my series, which I’ll give away at the end of this tour on Feb. 14.  To enter, just send email to ResaBonusGifts@aol.com.  (I won’t keep your email address – this just makes it easier for me to keep track of entries.)  I’m also doing a book giveaway on GoodReads, so you can enter to win there at http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/19270-the-dragonslayer-s-sword.

The Author
Resa Nelson has been selling fiction professionally since 1988. She is a longtime member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and is a graduate of the Clarion SF Workshop.

Resa was also the TV/Movie Columnist for Realms of Fantasy magazine for 13 years and was a contributor to SCI FI magazine. She has sold over 200 articles to magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Her first novel, The Dragonslayer’s Sword, was nominated for the Nebula Award, the highest honor in science fiction and fantasy. It was also a Finalist for the EPPIE Award. This medieval fantasy novel is based on a short story first published in the premiere issue of Science Fiction Age magazine and ranked 2nd in that magazine's first Readers Top Ten Poll. The Dragonslayer's Sword is Book 1 in a 4-book series. Book 2, The Iron Maiden, was recently published. Book 3 is scheduled for publication in Summer 2012.
Resa's standalone novel, Our Lady of the Absolute, is a fantasy/mystery/thriller about a modern-day society based on ancient Egypt. Midwest Book Review gave this book a 5-star review, calling it "a riveting fantasy, very highly recommended."
In real life, Resa is a fan of chocolate, travel, summer, museums, ballet, movies, and Broadway musicals (her favorites are Les Miserables and Wicked).  She lives in Massachusetts.

 The Books
The Dragonslayer's Sword

For Astrid, a blacksmith who makes swords for dragonslayers, the emergence of a strange gemstone from her body sets in motion a chain of events that threaten to destroy her life. Her happiness is shattered when her lover--the dragonslayer--disappears without a trace, and the life that she knows and loves implodes without warning.

Astrid lives in a world of shapeshifters whose thoughts have the power to change not only themselves but others. Everything Astrid knows to be true is called into question when she learns the truth about her past and the mysterious family from which she was separated as a child.

Reality turns inside out as Astrid gradually learns the truth about the people she loves as well as those she disdains. With the fate of dragons, ghosts, and slaves in foreign lands resting on her shoulders, Astrid faces the challenge of deciding who she is and how she will stand up inside her own skin. Will she withdraw and hide from the world that has disappointed her so much...or will she rise to lead others to freedom and peace?

The Iron Maiden

Astrid is reluctant to travel the winter route beyond the Northlands, even though it’s her duty. She’d rather stay home in her village, surrounded by friends and neighbors. Ignoring the bonds of tradition, she decides to spend the cold winter months in the warmth of her blacksmithing shop. Why should she leave the comfort of her cottage to serve and protect foreigners who might raid and harm her native Northlands?

Everything changes when a traveling merchant steals Starlight, the first dragonslayer’s sword Astrid forged and her last link to her sweetheart DiStephan. Having no time to alert her friends, Astrid races in pursuit of the merchant, determined to reclaim Starlight as her own and return home in time for dinner. Instead, her quest leads her to new lands, unexpected friendships with foreigners, and a harrowing encounter with the damage done by the followers of a new god that considers women as nothing more than servants to men. All the while, she must be ready to face any dragon traveling the winter route.

In Book 2 of the Dragonslayer series, Astrid must learn that deciding who she is isn’t a decision she can make just once. It’s a decision she must make every day.

Ebooks ($4.99 each) are available directly from Mundania Press at:  http://mundania.com/author.php?author=Resa+Nelson (get a 10% discount at checkout with the coupon code MP10)

Paperbacks are available from Mundania Press, Amazon, and Barnes&Noble:
http://mundania.com/author.php?author=Resa+Nelson (get a 10% discount at checkout with the coupon code MP10)

Some Other Links:


  1. At 5' I'm not sure I would do much better than you Resa at blacksmithing. At 4 hours a class that must have at least strengthened your upper body!

    Thank you for the giveaway and free download!

  2. I’ve learned a lot from your blog here, Keep on going, my friend, I will keep an eye on it,

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