Figuring out a clever way to free Aleeyah from her smoke form and give her back her body was one of the hardest parts of writing THE BLACK FORTRESS. Ugh!!! We put off writing this scene for as long as we possibly could. And then when it was finally time to make it happen, we must have spent a week writing, rewriting, and brain-storming different ideas. Oh ~ and researching actual sciencey things.
As authors, (and generally optimistic people), we believe that if we set our minds to it, we can solve any plotting issue. But, honestly, after several days of going around in circles, this one had us a bit worried. Poor Aleeyah! Things were not looking good for her. Plus, we wanted to keep Jake front and center somehow, while showcasing Archie and Nixie's talents.
Eventually, after a basket full of wadded up balls of paper, we started to get it. "Eureka!" as Archie would say. Gael sketched the below rendition of Archie's contraption, Eric calculated all of the mathematics and physics behind the plan, and we both attacked the scene.
Getting what's in our heads into the reader's mind was the challenge. The below description comes directly from the sketch.
Is this how you pictured it? And how did you like Archie and Nixie's solution to rescue Aleeyah?
Excerpt from Chapter 26:
The boy genius had come up with some odd inventions in his day, but this one had to be the strangest of them all.
The large, grayish metal contraption looked like an upside-down salad bowl with flat, shallow sides. Around fifteen feet in diameter, the center—or the base of the overturned salad bowl—stood as tall as Jake’s chest, while the sides sloped down to the level of his shins.
A metal pole about six feet tall stuck up through the center of the contraption, a sturdy leather strap or belt wrapped around it, and as Jake’s gaze traveled along it, he saw the belt was attached to a seat of gears several feet away.
Oh, how Archie loved making things with gears.
The upper sprocket was set horizontally, so that the belt from the pole could also travel around it, but the lower sprocket that it melded with was set vertically, at a right angle to the first.
Likewise, the lower sprocket had a leather belt wrapped around it—longwise in this case, while the other ran sideways.
But the belt on the lower gear was connected to the front wheel of, lo and behold, a velocipede.
Ugh, Jake hated those things: teetering, tall bicycles. You could break your neck on one of those things if you fell over. (Plus, they reminded him of Loki.)
In any case, this particular high-wheeler, or penny-farthing, as they were commonly known, wasn’t going anywhere. It had been safely secured on wooden blocks a couple of inches off the ground.
Knowing how to describe our characters' physical appearance in a way that makes them easy to imagine from the moment they first walk onto the stage, that, my friends, is one of the trickiest parts of writing, especially when you have such a large cast. So many people to describe! And it's important to make each one unique and distinct. From wardrobe, voice and style of talking, their way of moving and walking, their face shape, eye color, complexion, body type, etc. there are a lot of moving parts to juggle to make a character come alive.
But one technique that makes it soooo much easier is to sort of model the look and sound of our imaginary people after real ones out there in the world.
For inspiration, and to get the creative juices flowing, we keep a binder (and a Pinterest board, which we hope to share soon, once it's better organized!) that's full of famous and not-so-famous faces ~ models and actors who we think most resemble our characters. It's fun to scour the internet looking for images. As you no doubt will have noticed, in THE BLACK FORTRESS, we significantly expanded the depth and breadth of the villains. There are over a dozen bad guys. Muahaha!!! And Zolond (or "Big Z," as Gael has dubbed him) is the boss of them all. (Well, the mortal ones, anyway.)
Our model for Zolond, the leader of the Dark Druids, was none other than the famous English actor, Terence Stamp. In particular, his performances in The Haunted Mansion and Bowfinger were perfect for the deadpan yet surprisingly intense and intimidating Dark Master. This guy is just awesome!
Check out the 2 clips below and let us know if this is how YOU pictured Zolond. What do you think about the character of Zolond in general? Did the unusual casting of an old-man super-villain work for you? We enjoyed developing his off-the-wall character in this book ~ and his retinue of trusty reptilians. :>
Good thing we didn't just leave it there! We took a moment to check it out with a little quick research, and, wow were we surprised! Modern blowtorches date back a hundred years before Jake's time. PERFECT!
The blowtorch pictured here is what Archie's would have looked like. But how on earth were we to describe the scene as Archie got it burning? We know nothing about blowtorches. YouTube to the rescue. The below video was indispensable in making it sound like we knew what we were talking about, lol, when describing the scene. (How did anyone ever write a book before the internet???)
The details in the video above became the below details in the book. Just a few little touches really brought the scene to life.
Choosing a spot, Archie pulled down his goggles and frantically pumped the pressure handle on his blowtorch. He twisted the valve open, fired up the blowtorch, and stood back while it flamed. He waited while it burned off the charge in the flash pan, then the blowtorch began climbing to operating temperature. When the flame streaming out of the nozzle burned blue, Archie picked up the blowtorch with care and started...
You'll have to wait till you get to that part of The Black Fortress to find out how he used the blowtorch to save the day. But one thing is certain. The boy genius has always got some trusty gadget in his toolbox to help his friends out of a jam! :)
THE BLACK FORTRESS has many different storylines woven together all through the novel. Each of these threads adds its own unique feeling, mood, and atmosphere to the overall story. We used music to inspire us and get the creativity flowing for each of these different layers. Below are the main songs that we listened to while writing the book - literally hundreds of times, lol.
We often picture The Gryphon Chronicle as a movie in our minds as we write, so you'll notice these songs are all very theatrical and could easily be the musical score behind the scenes if THE BLACK FORTRESS ever were made into a movie. Fingers crossed! Let us know what you think in the comments. Happy listening!
PS: We highly recommend using headphones for maximum immersion. :)
We have two songs for Jake. Both are heroic, proud, and intense (just like Jake!). Beyond Good and Evil fits especially well at the beginning of the book when Jake is peering down at all the party goers at the Harvest Home festival from the high balcony. And Sands of Time is just general Jake. These are both by the great Audiomachine.
Dani's storyline is light, playful, and fun, and full of curiosity. This song Mushroomville by Brandon Fiechter fits the bill for us as Dani is trying to adjust to her new circumstances at Merlin Hall.
The Guardians' Theme Song ~ Derek, Maddox, Janos, Ebrahim, Ravyn...
Sometimes the Guardians have to kick some butt. *grin* This awesome epic song is called Protectors of the Earth by Two Steps from Hell. Powerful song with a very appropriate title. It'll make you want to slay orcs.
Janos and Izzy
For the tender, sweet, and uplifting moments between Izzy and Janos, we listened to Reaching by Audiomachine. She just knows there's a good guy in there somewhere... He's not so sure.
Sinister, twisted, and cold, Destroyer on Audiomachine's Existence album really fits the bill to get us in the mood for writing wicked Wyvern's scenes! Muahaha...
A powerful piece for the crafty, diabolical Shemrazul. You've heard it a million times, and it's kind of cliche at this point, but O Fortuna from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana totally fit the bill for us. We NEVER get tired of listening to it!
Zolond and Ramona: It's Complicated.
Particularly their delicate dance as they negotiate war and peace. This is Black Cauldron by Audiomachine.
THE BLACK FORTRESS Climax Scene
The last two chapters of The Black Fortress took FOREVER to write, we don't mind telling you. But Skyrim's The Song of the Dragon Born inspired us and kept our spirits high through many re-writes. No idea what language that is, LOL, so if somebody knows, please tell us!
We hope you enjoyed this musical tour through the pages of THE BLACK FORTRESS. Let us know in the comments if you think these songs work or if you have any other suggestions. Which is your favorite? We'd LOVE to hear your thoughts on our selections.
Excerpt from CHAPTER 3:
The frolicking Renaissance music grew louder as they proceeded down three flights of stairs and arrived in the soaring white marble lobby of Merlin Hall, beneath its domed ceiling.
From there, they headed to the wide entrance of the ballroom, where the Harvest Home was in full swing.
Jake had to admit that the whimsical autumn theme made the elegant ballroom look decidedly quaint. Sheaves of wheat flanked the doorways, while the cinnamon smell of mulled cider spiced the air. Cornucopias strewed small gourds across the dining tables. Scarecrows and corn dollies had been affixed to the ballroom pillars and stared at the guests with painted-on smiles.
Overhead, rustic garlands of woodland boughs covered in bright autumn leaves crisscrossed the dance floor, and everywhere dangled little, hollowed-out turnip lanterns.
Their warm glow twinkled over the hundreds of magical folk milling about.
THE BLACK FORTRESS opens at Merlin Hall the evening of the Harvest Home. A traditional English celebration dating back to ancient times, the Harvest Home takes place annually in late September, usually during the full moon. It's a festival to give THANKS for the seasons bounty.
One of the customs we found really fun is the Harvest Home tradition of making corn dollies out of the last husks of the season. These figures are supposed to represents the spirit of the field and are saved until the next seasons planting.
Have you ever made corn dollies? Sounds like something the kids would really enjoy, especially on Thanksgiving. Perhaps a clever way to keep the kids out of the kitchen for a little while, lol. We can assure you Dani had tons of fun making these for the Harvest Home. Here's a short how to video on corn dollies. Looks easy enough. :)
We thought you might enjoy this (slightly embarrassing!) behind-the-scenes peek at one of our dry-erase boards, below. Sometimes we find it helpful to actually draw out a setting before we try to describe it. This little masterpiece was up for many months. Only recently did we erase it. Can you tell which setting this is? Or is our art just too awful, lol? You can click on the image to make it larger. Brace yourself for the terrifying figure in the middle. (Don't worry. we won't be quitting our day job anytime soon, heheh.)
Excerpt from CHAPTER 2:
Wyvern stopped when he reached the outer band of gold-carved symbols, and there, he went down on one knee, bowed his head, and pressed his fist over his heart. “I am here in answer to your summons, oh, Horned One. What is your will?”
He heard the sound of fire whooshing up from the pit. Quickly jumping to his feet, Wyvern backed away to avoid getting singed.
A column of flame blazed up from the depths as Shemrazul rose from the pit. Wyvern lifted his head and found his father towering up out of the flames.
Looming over him, Shemrazul’s face was not easy to look upon. Grotesque, long, and cruel beneath the span of his horns, it was the stuff of nightmares. Especially those yellow eyes, with their pupils slit like a serpent’s.
The eyes glowed with pride as the demon gazed at him.
In THE BLACK FORTRESS Shemrazul's character and personality come to life as he takes on a much larger role than he had in previous books. Before this book, he had only made a couple of brief appearances.
Do you remember which Gryphon Chronicles books/scenes Shemrazul appeared in? Answer in the comments below if you do. :)
Having a demon or the actual devil as a character in a children's book can be a bit dicey. We didn't want him to be too scary, after-all we do have kids as young as 6 or 8 reading our books, but we also didn't want him to turn out soft and comical. We ended up with a pinch of the fearsome Balrog that Gandalf battled in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, a dash of the character called Darkness, played by Tim Curry in the 80s fantasy classic, LEGEND, and a whole lot of our own imagination.
Do you picture Shemrazul like either of these Hollywood demons? Or do you have some other image in mind? Please share your thoughts.
Check out these Balrog and Darkness clips below. Parental discretion is advised. And, hey, keep an eye out for a young Tom Cruise in the Legend clip. :) Funny!!!
Helloooo, Review Crew!
Welcome to THE BLACK FORTRESS hidden Review Crew page! We are so happy that you are here. There are around 40 of you who have volunteered to review our latest Gryphon Chronicles book. Wow! A big THANK YOU to each and every one of you! :)
We will be using this blog to enrich, converse, update, inform, hang-out, and all around have a good time as we go through the reviewing process. Since we all read at a different pace, this is intended to be a NO SPOILER forum.
Make sure you bookmark this page. There is no direct link from our website to this secret blog. One of us will send out a quick email whenever there is a new post up. We'd love it if you'd get involved, comment, ask questions, but don't feel like you have to. And kids...only with your parents' permission!
Hopefully, by now, you've successfully downloaded your Advanced Reader Copy of THE BLACK FORTRESS. If, for some reason, you did not receive the email from BookFunnel with instructions on how to claim your book, let us know, and we'll resend it right away. (But check your Spam folder first.) And, if you got the email but are just having difficulty downloading it or getting it onto your Kindle simply click the "HELP" button on the download page. The good people at BookFunnel will make sure you get your book. They have excellent staff over there who are always willing to help.
And now, for a quick review of our few and very basic Review Crew Rules:
~ In exchange for a free, hot-off-the-press eBook copy of THE BLACK FORTRESS, you agree to write an honest review and post it on Amazon by Wednesday, Oct 30th. That's 3 weeks after receiving your copy. Please note that those who accept the free book but don't follow through will not be invited back to participate in future review crews.
~ Disclaimer: DO include the following sort of disclaimer phrase in your write-up (usually placed at the end of a review): I voluntarily read an Advanced Review Copy of this book and the views expressed are my honest opinions. This lets us keep everything honest, open, and on the up-and-up.
~ Follow-Through: If you haven't done so already, please tell us what screen name you'll be posting your review under so we can check you off the list and make sure everybody followed through. If there's an unavoidable delay in your review for whatever reason, please let us know. Life happens!
~ For Minors: If you are under the age of 18, you MUST have parental permission to download this book and participate in THE BLACK FORTRESS Review Crew.
~ One Final Tip on Writing Reviews: No Spoilers. I'm sure you already know this, but if anyone needs a reminder, please don't give any spoilers in your review that would ruin surprises in the story for other readers or give away the ending.
Allrighty then! With all the business handled, let's get to the fun part! :)
Please use the comments below to introduce yourself to the Review Crew. Although we have gotten to know many of you over the years, a few sentences about yourself and where you're from would be great. There are some of you we are meeting for the first time and we love to get to know our readers. :)
That's it! Thank you so much, again, for volunteering to review our book. Having reviews up is very important in today's publishing environment, so we really appreciate it! We look forward to chatting with you here, and hope you enjoy reading THE BLACK FORTRESS! We certainly had a great time writing it.
Eric & Gael