Category Archives: Viking

The Jomsvikings

jomsvikingsI’ve been working on a novel for a while now—an adaptation of The Saga of the Jomsvikings, which was written in Old Icelandic in the 13th century. It tells of an elite band of viking warriors residing in the fortress of Jomsborg on the island of Jom. They were theoretically real, though it’s hard to say how much truth there is to the story. They appear in other sagas, including the ones I based my first YA novel Seidman on. But by then, they were in decline. They appear briefly at the battle of Svoldr, when King Olaf Tryggvason was defeated, but they quickly decided to sit the battle out.

This novel will be an adult MM romance, because, frankly, the story begs to be a MM romance. It’s a fortress full of young men, and no women are allowed. The Norse were a very homophobic society, but I can’t imagine a context like this in which absolutely no sexual activity occurred. Conveniently, the saga has a gap of three years between the initial founding and selection of warriors and the death of their leader, which led to their decline. I’ve written up to that point, and now I’ve begun to fill in those three years. That’s where the romance will really take place.

I decided to tell the story from the POV of two characters not actually in the saga: Bragi and Asleif.

ragnarBragi is older than most of the men in the fortress, and he’s seen a lot of combat. He’s weary of the death he sees on the battlefield, but he’s a survivor and he takes pride in his skill with a blade. At Jomsborg, he’s given the opportunity to pass some of his knowledge of fighting techniques along to others and help keep them alive. The actor who most closely resembles him is Travis Fimmel from Vikings.

tumblr_mub3o5naae1qa2ovmo1_500Asleif is young, and he has endured a lot of teasing over the years because of his feminine features, even after he grew to stand over his comrades. He’s skilled and cocky, and sees Bragi as a challenge. But he also senses a strong sexual undercurrent between them. Bragi is hesitant to pursue it, but Asleif gleefully chases after him, despite the danger of discovery. I found this picture online, which I believe is of Alexander Skarsgard, and despite the modern clothes and background, it perfectly represents the image I have of Asleif in my head.

The novel has been coming along slowly, in part because the saga is very short and sparse. I’m having to flesh out a lot of scenes. It also requires a lot of research into Viking fighting styles, locations (Jomsborg was most likely on the island of Wolin in modern-day Poland), and what life would be like in that environment. But it’s coming along.

Here’s an excerpt from when Asleif is being tested in mock combat to see if he can be accepted into Jomsborg. He’s part of Vagn’s crew — Vagn being a 12-year-old boy with his own raiding fleet, and no I didn’t make that up — and the entire crew is fighting against the men already residing in Jomsborg.

Excerpt:

Asleif parried a thrust to his midsection, and then bashed his attacker in the face with his shield. The Jomsviking staggered back. He seemed to be readying himself for another charge, but Bragi came up behind him and forcefully shoved him aside. “Leave him! He’s mine!”

The warriors swarming Asleif suddenly drew back, forming a circle around him and Bragi. Asleif was so startled, he almost failed to parry Bragi’s attack—almost. He deflected Bragi’s sword with the head of his axe in a quick upward and outward motion.

“Good!” Bragi shouted delightedly.

Asleif knew then that Bragi wanted him to test him, rather than kill him. Not that it was going to be easy. Bragi’s next cut was swift and powerful, looping around Asleif’s arm and coming up inside. Asleif barely managed to jump back in time to prevent a nasty cut to his abdomen. As it was, the tip of Bragi’s sword cut through his tunic, before he slammed down upon it with the edge of his shield.

It was a hasty move, and it opened his upper body up for an attack. Bragi lost no time in crashing down upon Asleif’s head with his own shield. Asleif had a thick head—he’d be the first to admit it. And he was wearing a helmet. So the blow didn’t knock him unconscious, but it rattled him. He staggered back.

“You went easy on me,” he grumbled. “You could have easily hit my eyes or my throat.”

Bragi grinned. “Now, what would be the fun in that?”

It pissed Asleif off to be treated like a child. But he’d also seen in just the few blows they’d exchanged that Bragi’s skill was equal to his own. Possibly—though he was loathe to admit it—greater. He’d never defeat the man, as long as he stayed on the defensive. Bragi could keep coming at him until he collapsed or opened himself up again. Asleif would have to go on the attack. But a charge could prove foolhardy. If Bragi managed to sidestep, Asleif’s momentum might carry him past and open him up to an attack from the rear.

Instead, he began walking slowly forward, whipping his axe around in a swirling motion and striking against Bragi’s shield so fast it was impossible to count the blows. Bragi was forced to duck behind the shield and edge backward. Any attempt to thrust his sword at Asleif would merely damage the blade against the axe.

At last, the shield cracked loudly and split in two. Asleif immediately drew back, surrendering his advantage, rather than bringing his axe down upon Bragi’s arms or head.

Bragi tossed his broken shield aside, but he was laughing. “Excellent!”

In the distance, someone blew a horn.

“Give him a shield!” Asleif shouted, panting.

A man tossed one into the air, and Bragi caught it. But then he stepped forward with the pommel of his sword held outward. “Let’s see how you do with a sword.”

The men around them laughed, and someone shouted, “This isn’t a fight! It’s a lesson!”

That evoked more laughter. But Asleif was up to the challenge, so he reached for Bragi’s weapon. But as he clasped it, a second horn called out over the strand.

Bragi glanced up. “It seems the fight is over.”

It was true. Straightening, Asleif looked over the heads of those nearby and saw that everywhere men were sheathing swords and catching their breath. Some had cuts on their bodies and their clothes were blood-spattered, but if anyone was severely injured, Asleif saw no sign of it. All appeared to be standing.

“Get out of my way!”

The men near him parted to let Vagn through. The boy looked healthy enough, despite a bloody gash on his shield arm. “Asleif!” he shouted in exasperation, “Did you miss the entire battle? We won!”

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Filed under Excerpt, gay, Historical, Jamie Fessenden, Romance, Viking, Work in Progress, Writing

What I’ve been up to lately

008Things have been pretty quiet on both my adult blog (https://jamiefessenden.com/) and my YA blog (http://jameserich.com/) over the past few months, so perhaps it’s time to let people know what I’ve got going on.

So I did have a novel (Violated) come out in the fall, and it did pretty well. It’s pretty dark, and the resolution — while happy — isn’t the big catharsis a lot of readers hoped for, simply because my goal was realism. A story like this isn’t resolved by an epic bout of sobbing in your lover’s arms. Ever. Derek and Russ find the best possible, realistic happily-ever-after for them.

At Christmas time, I was delighted to be offered the chance to do a Christmas story on the WROTE Podcast — one of twelve stories representing the twelve days of Christmas in the carol. I hadn’t had time to get out any of the Christmas stories I was working on (I have one contemporary novella in the works, a free holiday story that revolves around the characters in the Dreams of Fire and Gods series, and a re-write of a previously published novella), so this was a great opportunity. I’m delighted with how the story came out, and Brad Vance‘s wonderful narration! All of the stories are terrific, so if you’re still in the mood for Christmas….

Brad also conducted a great interview of me, aided by my friend, Scott Coatsworth, if you’re interested.

Moving forward, I’m currently working on a novella about alien abduction for the next Gothika anthology (see previous installments: Stitch, Bones, Claw, and Spirit). Eli Easton, who originated the series (I helped a little), won’t be joining us on this installment. The authors participating in this issue are Kim Fielding, BG Thomas, FE Feeley Jr., and myself.

As far as which novels I’m working on goes, I’m having a little trouble with that one. I have several in the works. My YA novel Martian Born, a novel about a spy in the Soviet Union during the cold war (currently called Chimera), and a novelization of the Jomsviking Saga, about a fortress full of Vikings in the tenth century. I’m also tentatively working on an untitled novel about “cavemen” (what we used to call Cro-Magnon Man, but is now referred to as “Early Modern Humans” or “Anatomically Modern Humans,” because they are physically no different from us).

This probably sounds like I need to focus, and that would be correct. Martian Born is closest to being finished, but it’s intended for the mainstream science fiction market. This means a long, tedious process of sending queries to agents — most likely over a year or two, if not longer — because mainstream publishers, by and large, no longer accept submissions directly from authors. So while I do want to get that process moving, I’m also looking at getting other novels out more quickly.

This probably means I’ll either finish up Chimera or The Vikings of Jomsborg. But both still have a lot of work to do on them.

In the meantime, I have two stories that will be coming out soon. One is actually the first part of Chimera, presented as a short story called Train to Sevmash. This will be part of an anthology published by DSP Publications. I wrote the story first, then got permission from the editor of the anthology to expand it into a novel.

The second story is in an anthology put together by BG Thomas called A More Perfect Union — a collection of stories about same-sex marriage written by gay men who are actually married. My story, Destined, is a fictionalized account of how I met my husband and how we created our life together. The characters aren’t exactly me and Erich, but the events are largely true.

This has gotten lengthy, and I haven’t even touched on other projects I’ve been working on, such as finishing the Dogs of Cyberwar trilogy (I’m nearly done the second novella (A Mote in the Eye), but my publisher wants the third, before we move ahead), the samurai tale I’ve been adapting (Shinosuke), and the sequel to Murder on the Mountain, which is in the plotting stages (murder mysteries take a lot of plotting).

Yes, I’m a bit over-extended. But it’s my fault — ideas keep popping into my head. I just need to focus and prioritize.

In the meantime, I have the re-release of my first novel, Murderous Requiem, available for pre-order on DSP Publications. It will be released on March 22nd. This edition isn’t enormously different from the first, but I did go through and tighten things a bit, as well as clarify some of the confusing sexual issues in the novel. The story centers around an occult order in what is basically a “free love” commune, so all of the characters are in open relationships. This upsets some readers, who regard it as “cheating.” I do not. I wrote it for my friends who are involved in open or polyamorous relationships where everything is up front and honest, and everyone’s feelings are taken into account.

But that isn’t actually what the novel is about, anyway. It’s about an ancient manuscript containing a requiem mass that, when performed, may cause death… or possibly may resurrect the dead.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Christmas, Contemporary, Drama, Fantasy, gay, Gay Marriage, Jamie Fessenden, Murderous Requiem, Mystery, occult, Occult/Paranormal, Rape, Romance, SciFi, Viking, Writing

“Seiðman” Has Been Sold!

I received a very nice note about Seiðman earlier in the week, along with a contract to publish it under Dreamspinner’s new YA imprint, Two Steps Up!  The imprint has been announced through the ALA, but isn’t yet “online.”  However, I know that there are several books slated for release under the imprint, so I expect I’ll have more news on that fairly soon.

In the meantime, while I fret about the other novel I have floating around out there (By That Sin Fell the Angels), I’ve decided to write a story for submission to a time-travel anthology that will be coming out in June.  I finished the first draft of the story late last night, but there’s a problem:  it rolls in at a bit over 21k words, and the maximum word count for submissions to the anthology is 18k.

This is an unusual situation for me.  Unlike most other authors I read and talk to, I write lean.  I get the story down on the page and then have to go back and fill in descriptions and add detail to flesh it out.  Certainly, sentences can be tightened up: excessive adjectives and adverbs removed, run-on sentences shortened, all that sort of thing.  But eliminating over 3,000 words from a tightly plotted story will be a challenge.

I’m also anxious to move on to the Japanese samurai story I put aside last year.  I’ve reread the chapters I wrote and they have problems, mostly due to the emotional distance between the characters.  It’s difficult to portray two people falling in love when they’re separated by such an enormous class difference.  I’m also struggling with the social issues myself, attempting to portray the time period as realistically as possible.  One of the problems I have with modern authors who write about this time period is that they often have their characters doing things that, in reality, would probably get them executed or imprisoned.  That always yanks me out of the story.

But I’m certainly no expert on the subject.  I’m far less comfortable with this time period and culture than I am with Viking Age Iceland, so I keep making mistakes and there are a number of places in the chapters I’ve written where I don’t find the behavior of the characters to be convincing.  The overall result is, so far, an interesting story but with somewhat wooden characters.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a handle on that and produce something good out of it.  I’m still convinced that the core story, based upon a 16th-century samurai tale by Ihara Saikaku, is a great idea for a novel.

 

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It’s Away!

Seiðman has been sent!

Now I just need to get back to work on Murderous Requiem, in order to keep from fretting about whether Seiðman will be accepted.

I have a lot of confidence in the novel, especially after so many people have helped out by critiquing it over the past three years, including a couple people in Norway and Iceland.  But there are a couple things that might be problematic.

One is the vocabulary.  I counted twenty words in Old Icelandic, the language spoken in Iceland during the Viking Age.  Do I think that’s a problem for a YA novel?  Not really.  Teens are certainly capable of processing twenty foreign words.  But I don’t know if there’s some magic formula in the publishing world that says each foreign word equates to 27 and a half buyers who will turn away from purchasing the novel, or something like that.  I did included a vocabulary list on the last page of the novel, in case readers need to refer to it.

The other thing is the ending.  I went for a happy ending, but there had to be a caveat.  It simply isn’t realistic for a 17-year-old chieftain in Iceland in the year 1,000 C.E. to be a bachelor.  He must be married, and he must father children.  Otherwise, his “manliness” would be called into question, and he would lose supporters.  That’s just the way it is.  On the other hand, I personally have a big problem with men sneaking around having sex behind their wives’ backs.  So the solution is an amicable agreement between all parties involved.  It’s the only possible solution, apart from living a tragic, miserable life apart from one another.

But will a YA publisher go for that?  I don’t know.  I feel like I’ve proposed my characters stand up at the Althing and suggest Iceland adopt Socialism.

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Sending Seidman Out Into The Cold, Cruel World

Seidman was the first complete novel I ever wrote, and many people who have read it tell me it’s my best work.  The first draft was finished three years ago, and it’s now on draft six, which is more than I’ve reworked any story.

And it has yet to be published.  In fact, it hasn’t even been sent to a publisher.

Why?  Well, when you start thinking of something you’ve written as your best work, then you start getting pretty protective of it.  You keep tweaking it, trying to make it absolutely perfect, and you start telling yourself, “I’ll send this out, just as soon as it’s finished!”  But of course, at that rate, it will never be finished.  I’ve seen others do this, and saw how easily they got trapped in this never-ending editing loop, until the end result was that their “best” work was actually something they’d created so long ago that they could probably do better now, if they would just let go of this work and move on.  I vowed I would never fall into that trap.

Yet, here I am, three years down the road and still “polishing” the manuscript.

The other thing that plays a factor is fear.  If this is my “best” work, then what happens if I send it out and everybody hates it?  Will people sneer at me and ask, “Is this the best that you could do?”  What if it is?  Will that mean I suck?

Fortunately, I am not a patient man.  Which means I’m a disaster at detail work, but pretty good at saying, “That’s good enough!  Ship it!”  This has served me well over the years, and it has now come to the rescue of Seidman.

It’s time to let it go.  It’s good, but it’s not Gone With the Wind.  It probably won’t win a Pulitzer.  It’s time for one last quick polish, followed by a firm swat on the butt as I send it out the door.

It’s first stop will be a new gay YA imprint that’s being launched soon.  I can’t say much about it, until the imprint is launched, but I’ve contacted the editor, informally, and she’s expressed an interest in seeing the novel.  So I’m planning on sending it out this weekend or early next week.  If she doesn’t like it, then I have a couple agents in mind.

 

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EXCERPT – “The Meaning of Vengeance” by Jamie Fessenden

One of my lesser known holiday stories, The Meaning of Vengeance, was published by Dreamspinner last Christmas, and tells the story of two Vikings on opposite sides of a family feud which has claimed the lives of everyone in their families but them. When Ari injures Geirr, rather than finish him off, he decides to nurse him back to health and suddenly the two young men find themselves falling in love with each other. But can they get past all the pain and hatred the feud has placed between them?

This isn’t strictly a “Christmas” story, since the heathen Icelander’s didn’t celebrate Christmas.  It takes place during their Yule season.

"The Meaning of Vengeance" by Jamie Fessenden

 

EXCERPT — “The Meaning of Vengeance” — M/M historical

It wasn’t until they returned to the bench that Geirr found the courage to ask, “Why didn’t you kill me?”

Ari looked uncomfortable as he lowered him down on the sheepskins. “I almost did. That blow to your head nearly finished you.”

“You could have left me there to die, or finished me off. Why bring me inside and tend to me?”

Ari sighed and retrieved the bowls of stew from the floor, then sat down beside Geirr again before answering. “You have gentle eyes.”

“What?” Geirr bristled. Olaf had often told him that his pale blue eyes were too pretty, like a girl’s. It had always irritated him.

But Ari ignored his flash of temper and continued, “When you looked at me, just before you charged, I could see that you didn’t have the eyes of a killer.”
Geirr wasn’t sure how to feel about that. It was true that he’d never killed anybody and he didn’t really want to. But Olaf had always told him that when his back was to the wall he’d be able to do it. Now someone he’d actually tried to kill was telling him that he never felt at all threatened. It was humiliating.

“I would have killed you, if I’d been able to,” Geirr said sullenly.

Ari gave him an infuriating smile and shook his head. “Olaf was a killer. You’ll never be.”

The mention of Olaf angered Geirr further. He snatched the bowl Ari was holding out for him and dug into it with a ravening hunger. But in the back of his mind, he knew Olaf’s death would hang over his head for the rest of his life, plaguing him. Geirr was now obligated to exact vengeance for the killing. If he didn’t, he would be labeled a coward by everyone on the island and Olaf’s spirit would never rest. Ari would probably kill him easily, if it came to a duel, but somehow or other, one of them would have to die.

* * *

GEIRR dreamt that he was alone on the tundra. Everywhere he looked, in all directions, he could see nothing but snow and ice and barren, black volcanic rock. He tried to determine where he was from the mountains off in the distance, but they were unfamiliar and seemed oddly far away.

He began walking, calling for Olaf. But in this strange wasteland, not even the echo of his own voice answered him. Fear began to overtake him—a terror that he was truly alone out here. That there was absolutely no one else. Desperately, he began to run, having no idea where he was going, his footsteps crunching forlornly in the snow. When Olaf’s name continued to draw no response, he found himself shouting, “Ari!”

He woke to a gentle touch on his forehead. “What is it?” Ari’s deep voice said softly. “I’m here.”

Ashamed but unable to stop himself, Geirr grabbed Ari’s hand. He desperately needed to feel the touch of another human being after that horrible cold emptiness. Ari allowed him to hold on. The man was naked again, having been roused from sleep, and he was squatting beside Geirr’s sleeping bench. He looked at the young man with eyes full of compassion and, when Geirr finally released his hand, Ari brought it up to stroke his dark chestnut hair, soothing him until he drifted off into a peaceful sleep.

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Pimping Two Earlier Holiday Novellas

Now that we’re into December, I feel compelled to point out that I wrote two holiday stories last year.  If you haven’t read them, you might consider giving them a go this holiday season!

"The Christmas Wager" by Jamie Fessenden

 

The Christmas Wager is a Christmas Victorian about a businessman, Andrew Nash, who convinces his best friend, Lord Thomas Barrington, to take him to Barrington Hall for the holidays, even though Thomas has been estranged from his father for years.

It was my first (and so far only) attempt at a Victorian novel and the historical accuracy is a bit dubious (apparently, one does not eat scones for breakfast), but the novella has received a lot of kudos for the romance in the story.  It’s a light, entertaining read.

 

"The Meaning of Vengeance" by Jamie Fessenden

 

The Meaning of Vengeance, on the other hand, explores how the Vikings celebrated Yule before Christianity came to Iceland and features the Norse god of sex and fertility, Frey, giving guidance to a young Icelander.  Geirr’s older brother is killed by Ari in a duel, and Geirr himself is injured, when he seeks vengeance.  But rather than kill him, Ari, chooses to nurse Geirr back to health.  Isolated in a remote farmhouse in the middle of a harsh Icelandic winter, the two young men slowly begin to trust one another…and perhaps even fall in love.

Of my published works, this one is the least well-known, though it received good reviews. Personally, I think it suffered from being part of an anthology with a cover that was wonderful and perfectly suited to the anthology, but completely inappropriate to this story.  I really hope more people discover it this Yule and give it a chance.

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