Across a Jade Sea News

Researching my way Across a Jade Sea

The fact that I do research seemed to be very important to my reviewer/interviewer for Across a Jade Sea over at Underground Book Reviews who asked about it both in the interview and earlier when informing me that they would be posting a review.

I wasn’t sure how to reply exactly. A reading list* didn’t seem too appropriate. Besides, compared to many historical authors I don’t do that much research. Perhaps more to the point: I do research differently. I’m not usually trying to re-create anything specific, I’m just trying to learn, to understand — I figure the better I am at understanding this world, the more real my own worlds will feel.

So, for instance, in the interest of understanding I currently have this big thick book on the 30 Year’s War out of the library. Which is almost ironic, because it’s a war that wracked the Holy Roman Empire, several decades after the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist in the alternate history world the story I’m “researching” is set in. But it was a book about roughly the right time-period and the right part of the world for a story that’s only a handful of titles away in the queue, and so I’m reading it to try and gain a better understanding of that time and place. I don’t care about who fought who where, and who died, or any of those nity-gritty details. But I do care about the reasons why they were fighting, the social pressures, the culture, the economic factors… that kind of stuff. (Plus: a war that started with some people getting thrown out a window, so all throughout the war people kept making references to throwing people out of windows. Lovely! It’ll probably be some other book entirely, but I’m certain I can get some story mileage out of that tidbit somwhere.)


Anyway, my daughters look at this big, thick, undoubtedly dry history book about a war, of all things, and then stare at me like “Mom, we always knew you were nuts”, but my oldest son goes “Oh, cool! I might want to look at that one when you’re done with it.” Chacun a son gout!

Similarly, I just scored as a library discard for 25 cents an entire book on the construction and architecture of the Hagia Sophia with lots of pictures and diagrams and such. My most writerly daughter sees me pick it up and says “You know Mom, I look at these books you get and they just look so boring. I’d rather just google stuff.” I use google too. But IMHO its best for getting a very basic overview, or for finding a specific fact. For gaining an understanding of a topic there’s nothing to beat finding a good book on the subject and reading it.

Not that I know why I need to understand the architecture of the Hagia Sophia… but I’m sure I’ll find a use for it eventually. Besides, only 25 cents! πŸ™‚

* According to LibraryThing where I have been attempting to track my reading for the past five years or so, I read the following books specifically as research for Across a Jade Sea. (This list is probably incomplete, and does not include related fiction, internet research, or movies/documentaries watched):

Diesel’s Engine: From Conception to 1918 by C. Lyle Cummins Jr.
The Complete Titanic: From the Ship’s Earliest Blueprints to the Epic Film by Stephen J. Spignesi
SS Leviathan: America’s First Superliner by Brent Holt
Picture History of the Normandie: With 190 Illustrations by Frank O. Braynard
The Small-Engine Handbook by Peter Hunn
Ancient Chinese Warfare by Ralph D. Sawyer
A Concise History of China, J. A. G. Roberts
A Thousand Pieces of Gold by Adeline Yen Mah
Old outboard motor service manual. Vol.1
The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain**


Why did I read these particular books? Because they were what I could find at my library. As I said, I don’t do historical research like someone who is trying to re-create history –it’s not worth it to me to spend money hunting down rare primary sources or obscure facts. I’m going to be making up everything. So I just need to understand. How does a diesel engine work, what did the integration of diesel technology look like and how did it compare to the existing steam tech? What were its advantages and disadvantages compared to the gas-burning engines that were also being invented and introduced at the same time? What did a marine diesel engine of the era look like? What did the big passenger-liners look like? Who travelled on them, and why? Who worked on them, and how were they operated? The Chinese history, of course, was for inspiration in creating Chunru’s country–which definitely isn’t China, but it’s probably more like China than anywhere else on Earth. Small motors and outboard motors… well, if you’ve read the book you’ll know why. πŸ™‚

There’s also everything I’ve ever read that was useful BEFORE I got the idea for this story (and which predated me recording my reading on LibraryThing). For example, I’ve also read a book on medieval clockwork, one about a journey across the ocean on a balsa raft, several books on pirates, a bunch more on particular aspects of various Asian cultures (there were five or six of those from when I was “researching” for Cantata and Pavane), on European history (an area of ongoing importance, I can list some of the more recent of those if anyone cares), on Language and Linguistics (another ongoing interest) etc, etc.

Also, never being afraid of stuff that looks old, I have read many fictional works that were written in the time period that Across a Jade Sea is set in. That might have been the biggest help of all.

** Yeah, okay, it’s the wrong time period, but still… non-fiction, journey by steamboat around Europe and the Holy Lands. Plus: Mark Twain. So I figured, why not?

No Monkey for Me

I am currently second from the top of the Alchemy Ranking List for Puzzle Pirates’ Emerald Ocean (Alchemy is a crafting minigame. Puzzle Pirates is a MMORPG that runs on minigames — your skill at the minigame IS your skill. For everything. There’s no such thing as character levels.) So when my husband woke me up early this morning to tell me they were running a contest and the player with the top Alchemy score would win a shoulder monkey, I actually woke up enough to enter the contest. But I only made tenth place. πŸ™ I really wanted a monkey.

Luckily the weather was nice enough that my husband could take me out disc golfing and that cheered me up. We went to new course that we’d never tried before, and I got through all 18 holes without any trouble at all. Not one single rest stop. Woot! (It was a reasonably non-strenuous course without being a boring one. We’ll probably add it to our list of regular courses.)

And in other news, now that I have started telling everyone that Across a Jade Sea is up and available not just on our store website, but also on Amazon I have not only had a few sales, but also some people saying nice things about it. That’s always a thrill. πŸ™‚ I have also put up a giveaway on LibraryThing for the first book, Serendipity’s Tide, so if anyone out there is already a member of LibraryThing, or is willing to become a member (it’s free), they can probably get themselves a copy.

It’s in the Details…

I just put a street food vendor’s dried squid cart into the background “crowd” portion of the painting that might possibly be put on the cover of Across a Jade Sea Volume 3: Fealty’s Shore. This made me happy. I guess I get excited over some pretty strange things.

Look what I made!

This is the CGI “Treasure Box” that was my latest project for Across a Jade Sea.

Beside it is my two projects ago CGI creation: an origami fold. (Yes, okay, maybe it’s a bit odd to be making virtual origami folds… I made some out of real paper first.) Both the box and the fold have plot significance in Across a Jade Sea. Now onto the next project: the sixth and final map for the series.

If you saw this cover, what sort of book would you expect to find behind it?

Serendipity's Tide Cover Draft One

This is some cover art we are considering for one of my stories, which my husband has decided he wants to try publishing. He notes that it does not match the current trends in cover designs. So, will it attract the right kind of audience for the story inside? Will it attract anyone at all? Should we dump this approach and go for something a little more fashionable? Should we keep it, but maybe fix a few things… and if so, what? (If you left click on it and load it in another window, you can get a slightly larger version.)

Here’s the whole wrap around image without the text:
Serendipity's Tide Full Cover Draft One

Chopping it into pieces.

Across a Jade Sea, the book I wasn’t supposed to be writing, not only suddenly (just over a year ago) decided that I must write it, it also suddenly (a couple months ago?) decided that I must transcribe it. (It was written longhand.) I have finally finished that effort, and although the resulting draft is still pretty rough, I finally have a wordcount for this thing. As of this draft, it’s just over 230K words. (As a reference point, most publishers prefer to see “first novels” of about 100K words.)

So yesterday, I went into my database, and declared by authorial fiat that I didn’t write and transcribe one (huge) book this past year–I wrote and transcribed three 75-80K books: Serendipity’s Tide, Treachery’s Harbor, and Fealty’s Shore. (Lengthwise, dividing it in two might have been better, but structurally three is the better split.)

That means I’ve written not ten, but a full dozen novels so far.

…and it also makes me so far behind on the revising, polishing, and editing end of things that I don’t even want to think about it. Especially since I was just doing that… Serendipity’s Tide is in pretty decent shape, it’s the other two that still need boatloads of work done to them. And I still haven’t got the second Bambi book revised and polished yet.

What happened to my nice little schedule that served me so well all those many years?


The book that I referred to for months as “the book I am not supposed to be writing”, I am no longer writing. Yay!

The current working title is actually Across a Jade Sea. I don’t know how long it is, because I wrote it out longhand, but it runs over 800 handwritten pages. By my best calculation, it is long enough and then some — possibly the longest first draft I’ve written yet. So I have now written ten novels. A nice round number, wouldn’t you say? πŸ™‚

Next I take a little break to work on my website some more, before starting revisions to the last one I wrote.

Looking up from a stack of papers…

I now have 265 handwritten pages of a book I’m not supposed to be writing, while all the projects I’m supposed to be working on are not going anywhere.

I can’t figure out if I should be happy about having roughly half a book worth of words in hand, most of which have been written in the past two to three weeks, or if I should be upset at what isn’t happening.

And why am I writing by hand anyway? I’m practically going through a pen a day, and the paper pile keeps getting thicker and more awkward, revisions and alterations are much easier in a word-processor, and its not like my computer isn’t right there beside me.

I’m so confused.

There’s some real life thingy that I’m supposed to be paying attention to right now, isn’t there? Seasonal celebration or something?

But I finally got up to the scene that started it all (which was way different in the book than in the dream I had, but that’s a good thing), and I’ve only got a little bit more to go before I change viewpoint characters for part two, and I can’t possibly stop now… can I?

Stories Without End

I cleaned up my story database a little, and while I was at it, added a couple more titles to it. Now the to-write queue is a little longer. Inserting the new Black Flag story, Voyage of the Obsidian Star, pushed my theoretical start date on Blood Brothers (currently listed as Black Flag 10) back to when I’m eighty. (There has got to be a way to speed up production on those things!) I also added a novel set in the Black Flag universe, but completely unrelated to space pirates to the queue.

After I was done I looked at the to-write queue and noticed that there are no Ialfa stories listed there anymore. Just the one I’m working on now, and that’s it. I’ve got a bunch of other Ialfa story ideas, but the one I seem to be most interested in at the moment is one I’m very reluctant to add to the list, because it feels like a multiple book story to me. Seeing Song of Asolde and Brotherhood of the Black Flag popping up with such regularity in the queue is making me somewhat reluctant to take on another epic.

The other story I’m somewhat tempted to add to the queue but haven’t yet, is a brand new shiny story that’s only three days old. I’m tempted, not because it’s so brand new and shiny, but because it’s a novel set in Verdaia, and that’s the only world I haven’t got a novel for yet, now that Black Flag has one.

Speaking of Verdaia, I want a longer name for it. Something that indicates what it’s about. The science fictional settings get “Universe” tacked on the end, and then there’s Racciman’s World, Ialfa Fantasy World, and Opera Magique Alternate Earth. Verdaia is not an “Alternate Earth” in the sense I usually think of things as alternate earths… the geography and all the cultures and history are different. But is it a “Fantasy World”? It’s got no magic. Myself, I would class it as fantasy… but then I tend to think of Science Fiction as a sub-set of Fantasy, which is, apparently, an unusual point of view. I know lots of people who say “It can’t be fantasy if it doesn’t have magic!” and whether or not I agree, the whole point of extending the name is to inform, not to confuse. So I haven’t figured out what to call it yet. πŸ™

Author's Note on Verdaia

I kept dreaming up these stories that seemed like fantasy or historical romances. But if they were fantasies, where was the magic? And if they were historicals, why couldn't I recognize any of the settings? I finally decided that all these story ideas were set on the same non-magical world, and named it Verdaia.

Verdaia has different geography than earth, and a different history, but is otherwise very much like earth. For me the fun of this world is in building cultures remincient of earth cultures, and yet not exactly the same.

Hexblurb for Fealty’s Shore
Ruling wisely by...
Starting a revolution

Copyright © Michelle Bottorff

Email mbottorff at lshelby period com