Iceland and a food-worldbuilding post?! Count me in!
Today I have the distinct pleasure of introducing author H.L. Burke and her brand new release, Ashen! Ashen is a fantasy Cinderella retelling inspired by Iceland, and, well… I’m sure you can see how I would be interested in that!
But if you’re new here, I write some fairy tale retellings of my own, and about two and a half years ago, my husband and I took our honeymoon in Iceland!
I fell in love with it then, and I honestly cannot get enough of it (we may or may not be slowly planning our next trip there… once it’s safe to travel again). At the time, I was dying for fiction set in Iceland, and now I finally have something!
(BTW, if you have other suggestions for fiction-preferably fantasy!-set in Iceland, please send them my way in the comments!)
And in other Selina catnip, today’s guest post by the author herself talks all about the role rood played in the worldbuilding! You may recall I even talked about food in worldbuilding a while back.
So without further ado and such, let’s get right on with this awesome glimpse into the world of Ashen!
Guest Post by H.L. Burke
Lizbete, the main character of Ashen, wouldn’t describe herself as artistic or creative. However, whenever I put her in a scene when she had to cook something, she was REALLY into it. Like, really, really, really into it. Food is Lizbete’s calling, and it plays a major part in the story and world of Ashen.
Lizbete’s home is an isolated fishing village in a cold northern country which I based on Iceland. The green interior is home to many shepherds, but the majority of commerce in town is from fishing. They eat berries they gather and vegetables they grow in their gardens and cliff pigeons … which are a bird I made up because traditionally people in Iceland sometimes eat puffins, but … I couldn’t stand to put one of those adorable things on a plate, even for authenticity.
Lizbete is a foundling with a strange secret curse. Unable to create her own body heat, she has to draw warmth from external sources. Unfortunately, this means whenever she touches another human being, she pulls heat from them, and if their contact is lengthy, her uncontrollable heat-draw can injure or even kill.
Because of this she needs to stay near heat sources, which usually means you can find her hiding in the kitchen of her adopted guardian’s tavern. Auntie Katryn taught Lizbete everything she knows about how to feed a crowd. Lizbete can make delightful soups out of scraps and bones. She roasts savory potatoes. Her sweet squash pie is fantastic, and her fish fry second only to Auntie’s.
In designing the food that I had Lizbete cook in the book I drew from three sources:
What was native to the country and climate I had chosen as a template (Iceland).
What would suit an isolated fishing village in a culture where most people have to work hard in the cold.
First off, I spent a lot of time looking into Icelandic food … by which I mean I found out that they had licorice flavored spirits that sounded amazing and looked seriously into whether I could get them imported before I realized that this was YA book and cocktails probably weren’t the research route I should go … and then I read up a bit on Icelandic cuisine. As I kind of expected, there was a decent amount of fish involved as well as lamb.
This also fit with my idea of an isolated village that had to be self-sufficient, fishing for most of their protein while shepherds treasured their flocks. I wanted the food to be hearty for people putting in a hard day’s work, and warm to chase away the cold wind coming off the frozen seas.
And finally, wish fulfilment.
From what I can tell apples are not historically a big part of Icelandic cuisine, but I had a great scene in mind where Lizbete and Brynar (her love interest and my prince stand in for this Cinderella tale) bond over peeling apples … so yeah, those are in there. Also something called “firewine” because it goes with my hot and cold theming.
So yeah, food is a big part of how Lizbete relates to the world around her, and I hope the descriptions of it help draw you into her world a little deeper.
(As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made through the purchase link on this page. However, I am sharing this book because I have enjoyed her work before, and I am truly excited for this release!)
Thank you so much, Heidi, for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at this world! I can’t wait to dive in (it’s already loaded on my ereader!).
Also, be sure to keep an eye on the blog for my upcoming review. It may be another month or so, but I plan to write a full review of the book as soon as I finish it!
And in one more bit of news, this month I released a prequel novella to my This Curse series! I’ve been trying to price match it everywhere free, but that’s taking a while. But you can get it for free just by signing up to my newsletter! (Don’t worry, you’re free to unsubscribe at any time.)
Sign up to get a free copy of This Cursed Light, This Curse #0.5!
This book is finally out in the world and touching people’s lives! It’s been such a long journey, and I am so so thankful for all the people who have contributed along the way. There is a full list of people who have helped me in the acknowledgements section of my book, but I absolutely want to take a minute to thank my husband, family, friends, and all the professionals who have worked with me since the book’s story seed in 2011.
And thank you, readers, so much for taking this journey with me. I hope this book means as much to you as it has to me! And I promise, now we are back to our regular posting schedule (until the next release!).
Don’t forget to jump over to Facebook for the party tonight from 4-7 pm eastern, and put in your entries for the giveaways! I have hand-painted genie bottles, signed paperbacks, and signed bookmarks, all just waiting for a new home. Giveaways will be open until Monday April 29th, and then I will be choosing winners!
and Safiyya appeared in a shadowed corner of a loud, crowded city. Cars sped by
with alarming disregard for pedestrians. People rushed about, some intent on
the sidewalk ahead of them, some entirely engrossed in their phones. No one
seemed to take notice of their sudden appearance, and, oddly, Janan couldn’t
see any of the other djinn pouring through the portal with them.
the portal dropped everyone in different sections of the city?
plunged into the sunlight outside the alley, and finally people jumped back. It
wasn’t every day that humans saw an ocelot and a purple-eyed girl covered in
blood and dressed in what looked like a costume. For all they knew, she was a
struggling actress in a remake of Aladdin
in her loose violet dress, embellished with gold embroidery and gemstones.
looked around, trying to find someplace quiet, somewhere away from prying eyes.
Safiyya said, drawing a few puzzled and concerned looks. They ducked back into
the alley before she continued. “Do you still have that bottle?”
placed a hand on the wall of the building to steady herself and opened the bag
slung across her body, feeling around for the wrapped bottle. It felt whole,
somehow unbroken. “Yes, I think so.”
I have an idea! Put the bottle on the ground.”
pulled it out of her bag and placed the unwrapped crystal on the cement between
them. Icy fingers of fear clawed at her heart—fear for her family, fear for
herself. She would never be safe. Never.
sat next to it, turning serious eyes on Janan. “We have to do the Binding.”
Janan exclaimed, unable to control her reaction. Too much had happened, and she
was past her limit. Her stomach turned at even the thought of using her magic,
and she wasn’t sure she was capable of such an extensive spell. And Safiyya
certainly couldn’t do it alone. “Isn’t that too extreme?”
yes, but what choice do we have? The others will find us, and this is our best
chance to evade Ahriman.”
here?” Janan looked around the trash-filled alley.
also glanced around, glaring at a stray cat. The cat glared back at her with
dull yellow eyes. “I can add a protection spell. Move the bottle somewhere
please,” Janan said, her voice barely above a whisper.
reached a paw over the bottle, and Janan grasped it. They closed their eyes,
focusing all their energy, all their magic, on the bottle between them. Then,
they concentrated on weaving their own energy into the crystal lattice.
the attachment grew, their bodies phased out of physical being, becoming a
light vapor that swirled in the weak air currents, mixing lavender and green
smoke where they had been sitting.
the attachment complete, they became physical again and opened their eyes.
just need to hide long enough for the others to find us,” Safiyya said. “And
you can get some rest in here. As soon as we’re inside, the bottle will take us
Janan gave her a small
smile, and they vanished in a swirl of smoke, disappearing into the top of the
Today I had thought about showing you the development of the cover for This Cursed Flame, but instead, you can learn all about that on Saturday with Savannah Jezowski, the wonderful cover artist who actually did the work, over at the Facebook party (PS don’t forget to RSVP)!
So that left me to wonder: what behind-the-scenes looks would you guys want to see??? What about the research process for this book?
I started this particular story way back in 2011, so my research methods have changed a lot. Back then, I didn’t use Pinterest or have a reserved notebook, like I do now. Everything was amassed in multiple fragmented Word documents and files of inspiration pictures on my hard drive. And I knew so little about photo attribution that I don’t even want to share some of those photos now!
So how did I actually research this book?
Yup, that’s it. I researched the history and mythology of djinn from Middle Eastern culture, I found pages about Aladdin and the magic lamp, I saw pages of people selling djinn trapped in rings (yes, people do sell these items), I saw warnings about how djinn could affect your life… there was so much out there from basic mythology to djinn in current culture. It was so much I never knew and had never realized, beliefs of people I had never heard before. It was a mountain to sift through and find what could be used for inspiration of my djinn culture.
Ultimately, I decided to go with the four base types of djinn I found during my research, the four that kept reappearing over and over throughout the more scholarly sources: ghul, marid, ifrit, and sila. These types of djinn are almost all used to varying degrees throughout other media and fiction also, but it was so interesting to see how everyone had their own take and their own creation based on the same central mythology. (And if you want to know more about these classes of djinn in my world, make sure to go to the Facebook party!)
And for me, I wanted to create a world separate yet parallel to ours where these djinn still lived and had lives just like we do. This also aligned with some of my research, stating basically that djinn do have their own lives, just like we do. They’re born and live and die. And so I thought: why can’t my djinn be just like us, only magic? And so the basic magic structure of the Djinn Realm was formed!
But I still had my genie. That very first idea. And I didn’t know how to fit her into this structure. The answer wasn’t easy, but somehow it worked its way into a sort of half-being. In my books, genies are not quite the same as djinn, having less control over the elemental magic but a wider range to choose from. Unlike the djinn, who could control a single element, my genies could access all elements, only to a much smaller, less powerful, degree.
And so, from all the research I did on the mythology, the countless Google searches and hours, I developed my own magic system influenced by all my research. It started with the idea, blossomed through research, and became an actual story.
And that’s that! Do you have your own stories of book research, new or old, to share with us? Tell me in the comments, or talk to me about djinn! Let me hear from you! 😀
This Cursed Flame is available to pre-order on Amazon and any other major retailer! Also, if you prefer a paperback, those will be available through Amazon. And once again, be sure to head over to Facebook on Saturday for the Launch Party! (and your chance to win your own hand-painted genie bottle, just like in Janan’s collection!)
Hey all! Welcome to the first stop on the This Cursed Flame Blog Tour! I can’t wait for you to see all the bonus content leading up to the release on Saturday, and what better way to start than to share the first chapter with everyone?
But first, here’s the blurb!
Sometimes we put ourselves in the bottle…
Six years ago, Janan was transformed into a genie by an evil djinn, ripping her away from her home, her life, and her humanity. She has been on the run from him ever since. Worlds away, high school honors student Laurelin just wants to get into the chemistry program of her dreams.
When Laurelin discovers a crystal bottle that sucks her into the djinn realm, the girls find themselves working together to escape Janan’s creator and get Laurelin back home. But war is brewing in the djinn realm-a rebellion led by the same evil djinn they’ve been trying to escape. And he is determined to rule both the djinn and the human realms. As his creation, Janan is the one person standing in his way.
But to stop him, Janan must learn to overcome the fears he instilled in her and embrace her own dark magic while Laurelin must accept that some things are more important than an A+. Now, they will have to trust each other, and themselves, to stop the encroaching evil. Otherwise, both the human and djinn realms will fall to the tide of death and dark magic this war will unleash.
You can now pre-order this book on Amazon and any other major retailer! Also, if you prefer a paperback, those will be available through Amazon (insider hint: they’re gorgeous!) Also, be sure to head over to Facebook on Saturday for the Launch Party! (and your chance to win your own hand-painted genie bottle!)
And now, without further ado, the first chapter.
Chapter One: Janan
Fuego, Djinn Realm
white dots floated in her vision as her heart pumped blood faster than her
brain could use it. They obscured the beige and white masonry of the city, the
multicolored throng pushing through the cobbled streets like strutting
peacocks. All four types of djinn surrounded her: the ifrits with their fire
magic, marids with their water magic, sila with their air magic, and ghul with
their shapeshifting and electric magic.
she stood here, alone in the crowd, unprotected, probably the only genie in the
city. A half-breed of magic forever caught between worlds. Her human life still
colored her memories, her behavior, but the djinn who had turned her into this
had robbed her of her natural life.
the djinn could tell, could sense her other-ness, as they gave her a wide berth
or cast vicious looks in her direction. She thought eventually she would be
used to it, but even an errand out to fetch groceries was enough to send her
into a panic, even after six years.
hurried to the side of the road, trying to hide herself from their prying eyes.
Her breaths were shallow, and she wheezed as she tried to pull enough oxygen
into her lungs. She could almost see his gaze
everywhere she turned: the hate in that marid’s face, the same crimson tint in
that ifrit’s skin. Like he was
everywhere. Would she ever be free of this fear?
drew her hood lower on her forehead and pulled her cloak tighter around her,
trying to hide the raspberry color of her hair, a sure sign of her genie
status, and her violet dress with the gold embroidery. She had loved it when
her adopted father, Mahtab, brought it home for her birthday, but now it seemed
like too much, too flashy, like it drew the attention of too many.
A voice rang out over the roar of a thousand voices.
cringed, her head snapping toward the sound. Several nearby djinn craned their
heads, also searching for the source of the voice. Her eyes landed on a small,
beige feline with ebony spots. If she didn’t look directly at the animal, she
could almost see the form of the woman beneath the spell.
Janan, still breathless with fear, pushed her way back through the people still
separating them and knelt in front of her friend.
of the House Grimalkin studied her face. “Everything okay?”
almost laughed. No, everything was not okay. It hadn’t been for some time. Not
since before, when she was still human, when she still belonged.
he wasn’t here, at least not as far as she could tell. It was only her brain
running away faster than reason, again, her terror resurfacing after months of
terror had almost been gone when he returned only a few months ago, like an
angry ghost from her past, wishing to exact some terrible vengeance on her for
her very existence. Her Turning had been a mistake. And now it was a hurdle to
him, to his plans, to the very future of the Realm.
least that was what he had said. Right before attacking, driving her from her
home to flee to Fuego with her adopted family. She had brought him down upon
them, and now she saw him everywhere she turned.
of course,” she found herself saying, rising to her feet and refusing to meet
Safiyya’s bright emerald gaze.
couldn’t tell her what was going on. Safiyya had her own problems. She was
djinn, one of the shapeshifters, but she’d been stuck as an ocelot for as long
as Janan had known her, much like the way Janan was stuck halfway between djinn
and human. One day, maybe Safiyya would tell her what had happened, why she was
stuck, but for now Janan didn’t see a reason to draw the cat into her imaginary
nightmares. It was enough to share this unspoken bond.
continued to study her, doubtful eyes traveling across the old scars marring
Janan’s pale skin. There were no new injuries for her to see, but her friend’s
gaze burned across her skin, and Janan tugged the cloak tighter still. If she
kept pulling at it, soon she’d be a diamond from the pressure.
cat dropped her gaze, returning her attention to the writhing mass of djinn in
front of them. “Have you heard from the others yet?”
nothing.” Janan touched the shining gem that hung around her neck, a simple
piece of Torrebon technology carried by almost every djinn and genie in the
Realm. It not only allowed them access to the human and djinn internets but
also provided a simple means of communication with just a small spark of magic.
was all the magic she could bear to use. She had almost convinced herself that
if she didn’t use any genie magic at all, maybe she could be human again. Still
seventeen, still awkward and scared, but human, with a family and a life and
human problems. As it stood now, she didn’t really fit anywhere, and she felt
the weight of it every time she set foot outside.
nodded her head at the crowd, and they wove through the scores of temporary
stalls lining the sidewalk for the weekly farmers’ market. Vendors on both
sides hawked their wares: fabric bolts here, jewelry there, tiny carved statues
from the ifrit city of Prinnyn, mechanical toys from the ghul city of Torrebos.
The road had been blocked off from automobile traffic for the day, allowing the
thousands of pedestrians to browse freely without fearing oncoming cars.
tried to focus on the market and push her fear out of her mind. It was
uncontrollable, arising unbidden and unwanted, but sometimes she could stuff it
back down and ignore it for a while.
least until the next memory took her.
bag bounced against her thigh as she walked. It held only a few coins and her
single purchase of the day: a bright glass bottle to add to her collection. To
her, it had become a joke, a way of coping with what she was. A genie
collecting bottles. Some form of control over the prison of her existence. And
this bottle had felt particularly special, but she couldn’t say why. Perhaps
some subconscious ghost of memory. Heavens knew there were enough ghosts
flitting around in her skull.
sun was rising higher in the sky as the morning dragged on, but Janan still
shivered with cold. He wasn’t here, she was sure of it—sure that her mind was
just playing cruel tricks on her again—yet she couldn’t shake the way every
djinn in a cloak, every turned back, every sideways glare made her feel like
prey. What if he really was here,
somewhere in this mass of bodies?
glanced sideways at Safiyya. The ocelot was small, but she made a formidable
foe. Surely Janan would be safe at her side.
stopped walking and looked up at her expectantly.
sorry,” Janan said, blinking herself back to the present. “What did you say?”
just asked if you wanted a drink. I’m getting a bit thirsty.” They were stopped
next to a vendor selling cold fruit drinks.
rubbed her head against a picture of a lemon below the counter. “This one,
pointed to the lemon drink and a grape drink in the displayed pitchers, trading
a silver coin for the two glasses. They walked a few steps away before she
placed the lemonade on the sidewalk for Safiyya, out of the way of trampling
feet, and sat down on the curb. Her own straw halfway to her mouth, she
suddenly froze, feeling the pressure of a person standing just behind her.
heart began pounding all over again. Sweat shone on her pale skin, and she
wheezed for breath, unable to take a sip of the refreshing drink. No longer
thirsty, she set the glass down next to Safiyya and turned to face the
presence, ready to run or strike if needed.
man in a cloak stood hunched behind her, eyes bright yellow against his pale
blue skin, even shaded as they were under the hood. They seemed to glow with
their own light, like a harvest moon on an otherwise black night.
she saw the man, her heart began to slow its furious pace, and she forced a
shaky smile. “Mahtab.”
adoptive father stood with his arms full of packages from around the market,
grinning a sharp-toothed smile. She crossed her arms and pressed her hands
against her body, willing the shaking in her fingers to subside. Her adoptive
mother, Irina, reached a hand down to help Janan to her feet.
Mahtab’s wife of nearly a century, was the opposite of him in every way. Where
he was blue-skinned and stood with a permanent bend in his spine, she looked
like she was cut from the finest alabaster, her hair fine-spun gold and her
posture tall and proud.
allowed herself to be drawn up next to them. “Is it time to go home?”
you find everything on your list?” Irina asked.
blushed with guilt. In truth, she’d forgotten about the list after the vendor
with the bottles. She had been so distracted with the bottle that she had
missed half of the family’s produce, still on her list.
take that as a no,” Mahtab said. He studied her, quiet for a moment. “But
perhaps we can drop you at home and finish the errands ourselves.”
closed her eyes. He had seen her fear, had made the decision that she had done
enough for the day. She would remain a burden, unable to fulfill her duty to
their small family.
opened her mouth, intending to say no, to say that she could push through and
finish their trip, but no words left her mouth, and she nodded in defeat.
right, then,” Mahtab said, nodding back. His face was kind, but Janan couldn’t
bear to meet his eyes.
turned in the direction of home, a small apartment on the west side of the
city, and began pushing their way through the crowds. She was buoyed by the
presence of Mahtab and Irina, feeling her confidence replace her fear with
every step they took. Maybe she could make it after all.
opened her mouth to say so when a small trio of smug-looking djinn leered at
genie,” one of them spat.
worry,” another snarled. “They’ll be gone soon.”
Safiyya was at Janan’s side, baring her sharp teeth. “Keep walking,” she
growled low in her throat.
third djinn rolled her eyes before following her friends. Her sighed words were
soft, meant only for Janan’s and Safiyya’s ears. “Genie sympathizers. Just as
bad as the genies.”
Janan dropped her eyes to the sidewalk and trailed after Mahtab, already several yards ahead of her. Perhaps going home was for the best.
Want to read more? Check out the masterpost of stops on the blog tour, or go ahead an pre-order your copy today! Again, you can pre-order this book on Amazon and any other major retailer. And don’t forget about the Facebook Launch Party on Saturday!
One week to go! Here’s a list of the celebrations! 😀
Today is a very special day (also, happy Easter for those of you celebrating, and happy 1 year anniversary to my other half)!
My debut is less than a week away, and now we get to celebrate its release! Today marks the kickoff of the blog tour for This Cursed Flame. Some very kind bloggers/authors have agreed to help me celebrate with a number of posts that I hope you will all find interesting.
Be sure to tune in for all the festivities across the interwebs, and then head over to Facebook on April 27th for the launch party! We’ll have plenty of extras, behind-the-scenes, and giveaways for everyone (including hand-painted genie bottles, made by the author herself!).
Can’t wait to see you there!
Are you excited? I’m so excited! Let me know what you’re most excited about in the comments below!!! Then, head on over to the first stop on the tour!