The Art of Bladesmithing

by Jason Link

Mike looks exactly how you’d expect a blacksmith to look: big, brawny, bearded, and bald. I must admit that this figure intimidated me when I first met him. After all, he worked with fire and hammered steel while I—a skinny writer—sat at a computer and tapped keys. Despite our differences in macho-ness, we found that nerds and blacksmiths hold at least one thing in common: a fascination of medieval weaponry.

Through this connection, I received the huge privilege of seeing the sword from my fantasy novel come to life in actual steel. (Click here to see the video.)

As I watched Mike turn scrap from an old car into an elegant blade, I learned a lot about the maker and his craft. He not only uses his talent to create beautiful works of metal but also used it to serve God’s kingdom in Nicaragua.

Me: Tell us about your work as a missionary blacksmith.

Mike: While living in Nicaragua, I saw a great need for young people to be trained in crafts in order to get employment. So many young people had broken homes and were left to fend for themselves in many ways. I wanted to provide a safe place for them to learn and acquire experience.

I started teaching blacksmithing and welding in a small village north of Managua. Soon I had developed a program that had become a big hit in the community. Partnering with other businesses meant that many of the people coming through the program would have opportunities to get employment when their training was complete.

One of my students, Ramon, was a true craftsman at heart. Even though I showed him many things, he had the mind to grow that knowledge. Ramon was soon teaching classes alongside me. Like me, Ramon also loved knives. After three years of making knives under my teaching Ramon decided to take the ABS [American Bladesmith Society] journeyman test. Ramon passed with flying colors and became the first ABS journeyman bladesmith in Central America!

Me: What is a journeyman bladesmith?

Mike: The journeyman title is a rating bestowed by the American Bladesmith Society. This is similar to the system used in ancient Europe in all craft guilds. To begin, an apprentice would learn a craft under a master. When the apprentice was able to work for himself, he would start his own business journeying around offering his services. And when he felt ready to become a master, he would present his masterpiece before the guild so they could give him that distinction (or not!).

Joining the ABS makes you an apprentice bladesmith. It is your responsibility to learn, practice and grow in the knowledge of bladesmithing. When you feel the time is right and you are ready to become a journeyman you have to make a performance knife to be graded by a Master bladesmith.

This knife will be put through a series of tests intended to demonstrate your abilities in making an excellent performing knife. If you pass this test you will then be eligible to turn in five knives before a panel of judges. These knives are judged on form, fit and finish and will determine if you can have the rating of journeyman.

In order to become a Master the same battery of tests will take place but this time the performance knife is to be made of 300 layers of damascus steel. Five knives will again be presented before the judges but one will be your masterpiece.  The masterpiece will be a quillion dagger made to certain specifications.

Me: Has the craft of blacksmithing changed much over time?

Mike: The basics of blacksmithing has changed little since the old days. Blacksmiths tend to be traditionalist type of people, so thankfully many older tools and techniques still exist. But, if a person wants to make a living at the craft, he/she would probably have to consider a few more modern tools to speed the process.

For instance, to forge larger pieces of iron a blacksmith may incorporate the help of a striker or two. These would be extra people with sledge hammers to strike the hot iron where the blacksmith directs them. This moves more metal than one person can move and means less time in the process.  However, that additional cost of another salary would put a small shop out of business today. So many smiths have a power hammer in their shop to help with the heavy forging.

Much of what I do in making a sword or knife is very similar to the old ways. I forge all my blades by hand using a hammer, an anvil, and a power hammer. My first few knives were made without the aid of any electric tools due to where my shop was located in Nicaragua. I made complete knives using nothing but forging, filing and fitting. It was a fun way to work but if I wanted to sell knives I had to find a faster way. Slowly I would collect the proper tools to make knives more efficiently, and that has allowed me to get better at my craft.

Me: How can someone get started in blacksmithing?

Mike: For someone interested in the craft of blacksmithing there are probably more opportunities available than you would think. An internet search of blacksmithing groups in your area would be a great place to start.

Blacksmiths are almost always going to welcome you into their shops to see what they do. Many blacksmithing groups also offer hammer-ins (blacksmithing get-togethers) for folks who want to just try their hand at the craft.

Other great resources to find blacksmiths would be the Artist Blacksmith Association of North America. For bladesmithing I would recommend going to

To learn more about Mike and his craft visit

To learn more about me and the story that inspired Mike’s sword, visit

Jason Link, author of The Legender, has come back to the U.S. after jasonmany years of living in Nicaragua, the tropical land where he proposed to his wife on an active volcano. This makes him sound more adventurous than he really is. Instead of cutting his way through the jungles with a machete, he cuts his way through academia with a pen. He has taught high school English and is now a student at Fuller Theological Seminary. The question he has been asked the most is: “Are you lost?” It may seem that he is, but he is most likely wandering while deep in thought. He dwells often on the art of story, for he sees God’s beauty in the finely crafted plot.

Let the Voting Begin!

Realm Makers has designed a new set of award to debut in 2016–but we still need a name! A couple of weeks ago, we opened the comments to YOUR suggestions. And y’all did some great brainstorming! There were so fun ideas, and we like a lot of them.

Over the last week, we’ve narrowed the suggestions down to our Top 10 favorites. It was quite the task–and it was fun to see how similar and yet how different the tastes are on our planning committee!

Now it’s your turn again. In the following poll, choose your top 3 favorite choices.

You have one week!

We’ll announce the winner on December 4!


Into the Mind of Nadine Brandes

Today we are thrilled to welcome the amazing Nadine Brandes to the blog!

You may now applaud.


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Let’s start with some fun stuff. Nadine, how many books do you own?

[spends 30-minutes counting books] I have just under 500 books, (Woah…I had no idea!) but I’m currently in the process of downsizing (reader’s nightmare!) so I already have a box of 90+ books I’m getting rid of. O_0

90 plus books huh? *readers everywhere start descending like hawks* *or maybe the seagulls from Finding Nemo

What is your favorite TV show? 

My favorite TV show is BBC’s Merlin (speaketh not about the ending.) He’s probably the most delightful, kind, honest, and goofy character I’ve ever had the pleasure of pretending is real.tumblr_lvfu88bbmo1qb7u29

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I highly approve of this choice! 

How many books have you read so far this year? 

Thirty-seven! My goal is 40 (last year’s goal was 35 and I didn’t even make it.) So I’m quite pleased with myself. :P I’ve determined to read more because that’s the best way to grow as a writer.

You go Nadine! 

Turning to some more serious questions now, how many books did you write before being published? 

I wrote one shelved novel. Basically, if you stuffed all the fantasy clichés you could think of into a blunderbuss, then shot the contents onto a canvas…that was my story. When I started writing A Time to Die, it didn’t feel like my words. I’d been working on my first novel (the title was “The Quest of the Seven Hundred” if you MUST know) for so long, I hadn’t written anything NEW in about 6 years. O_o A Time to Die was very freeing and showed me a “voice” that had developed inside me that I never recognized before.

What is your goal in and for your writing?

My goal is to change the world. Seriously. I want to show people that there is purpose to every type of life (even when we feel trapped, or abandoned, or in a dark place.) I want to show everyone that God’s WORTH it, both through my writing and through my living. I hope to encourage believers to pursue God with more effort and devotion, and to encourage those who don’t know Him yet to explore His character and discover that HE IS WORTH IT. *gets way too passionate while typing…bruises fingers*

*enjoys your passion* 

Is there a step in the writing process that you dread/loathe/wish you could throw over the side of a cliff with a mill stone tied around its neck?

How about the part where I hate my story? Yeah. That part. It’s inevitable. I KNOW it’s inevitable. It’s happened with everything I’ve ever written and yet, even while I KNOW it’s coming, I still go weep in a dark corner and lose all hope in my writing skills until that moment leaves. Solution: stock up on chocolate, bible verses, and pep talks from friends. ;)

Great advice!

I hope all of you have enjoyed this talk with Nadine as much as I have! Now it’s your turn – what is YOUR favorite TV show? 

nadineAbout Nadine Brandes

Nadine Brandes is an adventurer, fusing authentic faith with bold imagination. She never received her Hogwarts letter, but rest assured she’s no Muggle (and would have been in Ravenclaw House, thank you very much.) This Harry Potter super-nerd has been known to eat an entire package of Oreos (family size) by herself, and watches Fiddler on the Roof at least once a year. She writes about brave living, finding purpose, and other worlds soaked in imagination. Her dystopian trilogy (The Out of Time Series) challenged her to pursue shalom, which is now her favorite word (followed closely by bumbershoot.) When Nadine’s not taste-testing a new chai or editing fantasy novels, she and her knight-in-shining armor (nickname: “hubby”) are out pursuing adventures.


A New Book of the Year Award

First there was the Christy Awardss, then there was the Carol Awards . . . and now Realm Makers brings you ________. Oh, right, there’s no name yet. WE NEED YOUR HELP! This year, Realm Makers is excited to announce that we are designing our own awards program. There will be lots of information in the coming months about the different categories, who can enter, and how. Today, though, we have a more important task!


And what better way to name an award than to have a contest. Yes, we thought that was rather genius to.

Here’s how the contest will work:

Submissions will be open for until NOON EST on Thursday, November 19, 2015. To submit, just leave your suggestion in the comments below and make sure that there is an e-mail address.

Our committee will narrow it down to the Top 10 (assuming there are at least 10 submissions).

On Friday, November 20, we’ll post a poll for you, the readers and writers, to vote on. The voting will be open through Thanksgiving.

On Black Friday, we’ll announce the official name for our Book of the Year Award. The winning submission will win one of the black Realm Makers T-shirts and their choice of one of the Early Bird sessions at the 2016 conference for free! (Everybody cheer!)

So, what do we need right now?

Names, names, names! Submit your ideas before its too late. Leave your entry in the comments below.

Into the Mind of Ralene Burke

Today we have the pleasure of an interview with our very own Ralene Burke! So snatch a cup of tea and enjoy!

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How many books did you write before getting published? 

I wrote 5 books before I self-published Bellanok. It’s funny, because the first 3 were all about finding who I was as a writer. The first novel was a YA, the second was a contemporary adult suspense, and the third was a supernatural suspense. The third is how I discovered my love for writing speculative fiction (I already loved reading it). My fourth and fifth books were both fantasy.

What is your goal in and for your writing?
Except for that first YA book, all of my stories seem to have one big thing in common: God using ordinary people to do extraordinary things. From siblings fighting to overthrow an anti-Christian terrorist group that no one believes exists to an amnesiac with a superpower working with the FBI to banish a demon, to an exiled healer who’s charged with saving her kingdom from an ancient evil, to a down-on-his-luck pastor expected to save the myths and legends of old–the stories are riddled with people who just chose to follow God’s calling on their lives.
You have a free weekend, what do you do with it?
Write all day Saturday–and by write, I mean, on my own current WIP! You’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen. And then on Sunday, after church, I’d do something fun with the family.
Would you rather live in Middle-Earth, Tatooine, or aboard the Starship Enterprise?
I think it’s pretty much a tie between Middle Earth and the Starship Enterprise. I am much more in love with the idea of Middle Earth, but there are just so many more places to see by living on the Starship Enterprise. If I had to choose, though, Middle Earth would probably win.
What is your favorite ice cream flavor? 
Mint Chocolate Chip
Name one piece of writing advice someone has given you that really shone out and helped you. 
In 2009, I went to my first ACFW conference and had a paid critique with Jeff Gerke. He told me, not in these exact words, but basically, “Show, don’t tell.” I’ve always been one of the odd writers that always has to go back in and ADD words to their story. I write matter-of-fact, to the point prose–probably because it was the long-winded writers that annoy me when I read. However, over the years, I’ve learned how to get creative and use strong words to still write tight, but to load up on flavor using word choice and other tools. So, writers, show, don’t tell.

Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a freelance editor’s sword, or a social media wand, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to make it SHINE! She spins fantastical tales to encourage people to SHINE BEYOND. She has worked for a variety of groups/companies, including Realm Makers, The Christian PEN, Kentucky Christian Writers Conference, and as an editor for a number of freelance clients.

Her first novel, Bellanok, is being published as a 5-part serial starting in October 2015!

When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . .

You can also find her on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter!

Constructing Character’s Lifestyles

by Alyson Schroll


As a child, I never played with Polly Pockets correctly. I spent hours putting together the houses, outfits, and sets that the dolls could interact with, but I stopped there. Without ever using the dolls, I packed up the toys. I had no idea that I was actually building a world and neglecting the lifestyles that come with the presence of characters. The Polly Pockets gave me all the tools to create a neat story, but all I did was build the world. I didn’t care about working with the dolls, having them actually interact with the setting and each other. They had a world, but no life.
Without active characters, you don’t have a story—we know that. But, how much time do you spend constructing your character’s lifestyles as a part of worldbuilding?

For example: Lucy lives in 2073 on a distant planet where the planet surface is too hot to sustain life. Therefore, Lucy lives in a colony on the ocean floor.

This above example isn’t a pitch for a story, there is no conflict or story goal, but the example is a simple starter for worldbuilding. Through a series of questions and examples, I’m going to take you deeper. How does your external and internal world promote your character’s’ lifestyle.

Geographical limitations: Where do your characters live? Is the geography deceiving? Meaning, are your characters under the impression that they are safer or in more danger than they actually are? How does the geography affect your character’s time? A character’s lifestyle would change if it took two days to go anywhere, or if there was only three hours of sunlight a day.

Star Trek Example: In the Star Trek world, geography poses a much different problem. Many individuals’ sole jobs were to protect the ship from harm from the outside, but sometimes the characters were wrong about danger and risks. The daylight and darkness on the ship mimicked earth’s, but that means that some commanders’ life included “night shifts.”

Lucy Example: Our character, Lucy, lives under the ocean. Let’s say that her people live in dome-like structures. Perhaps, the society placed certain people in charge of keeping the structure safe as in Star Trek. The ocean floor contains drastic terrain changes. Maybe there are designated people to explore and search for safer, better places to live. This society’s ability to function relies on their location.

Physical needs: How do your characters meet their basic physical needs? Air? Food? Water? Do your characters have to compromise to meet these needs? Is there a surplus in supplies? A deficit? If there is too little, how do your characters handle distribution? Is there a system of supply and demand or is every man for himself?

Star Trek Example: The writers put the crew of Star Trek in a sweet spot because they had food replicators, on ship farming, and emergency rations. They had many back up plans in case food was threatened. But, enemies would frequently threaten to take away life support. This was clearly vital to their existence and had to make uncomfortable and sometimes unorthodox decisions to save it.

Lucy Example: Perhaps, farmers worked to harvest plants off the sea floor. Underground hunting parties could seek out fish and other creatures to eat. But, not everyone’s lifestyles could be the same. Some would hunt, farm, cook. Different roles would be important for a group to survive with little space and oxygen.

Values: What is the one thing your character would die for? What is the first thing they do when they wake up? Do their values come from beliefs passed down to them from parents? Are their values from their own experiences? What decisions do they do today to make them a better person? Do they even care?

Star Trek Example: Data from The Next Generation was an android, but he still had a lifestyle that was largely

influenced by his values. He devoted much of his time to studying. A lifestyle is often dependent on how an individual spend their time. Also, by owning and caring for a cat, Data showed that he valued learning about other species.

Lucy Example: Let’s say that Lucy values her family. We can add a little history in there and say maybe she almost wasn’t able to get her parents to come with her. Because of that initial struggle, Lucy places a strong priority on eating together, making joint decisions, sharing with her family.

Personality: Would your characters rather sit and think alone or socialize and talk with others? Do they offer many solutions? Do they just go ahead and fix things? Do they get thrown off by change, or do they thrive on the unknown?

Star Trek Example: Every time Captain Picard called a meeting to decide a course of action, each person presented a different opinion. Each person came from a different job in the ship, but they were also different personalities. This affected how they acted and made decisions. Some were a sit back and watch person, while others were a jump and in and try person. Each character was acting from a different lifestyle, each driven by a different personality.

Lucy Example: Maybe Lucy is a curious person. She likes to explore things she’s not supposed to. Perhaps, going outside isn’t her job, but she wishes it was. Her lifestyle might morph into her doing more sneaking around and maybe even questioning the rules that says she’s not allowed to explore.

By the end, we started to develop a lifestyle for Lucy, and we even began to see a little conflict and plot emerge just by developing the way Lucy would live her life. Many great story conflicts come from the author challenging the main character’s normal everyday life, flipping things upside down, making everything go wrong. Without building lifestyles into your world, you don’t have an everyday, a right-side-up, or a everything alright.


Alyson Schroll is a hater of poetry turned poet and impatient brainstormer turned novelist. The first money she ever made writing she spent on a tea thermos for her “Earl Grey, hot,” and a new Bible. Splickety Havok was the first to acquire Alyson’s fiction, but her platform has also grown by speaking at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference, visiting classrooms, and guest posting on Go Teen Writers. She also balances being an author and a student as she studies at Cedarville University.



Instagram: @alysonschroll