Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holly Wars: The Chickasaw Jihad


Spring has sprung, and the neighborhood gang of little boys is on the loose.

It's hard to write when anywhere from five to eight urchins ranging from ages six to ten are screeching and howling in the front yard, digging trenches in my lawn with bike tires, flattening landscaping with football tackles, screeching and howling some more so that my dogs will bark at maximum lung capacity.

This year, it stops. My weapon: holly bushes. A whole row of holly bushes stretching along my and my neighbor's property line. Said urchins won't be able to run down the hill unimpeded, at least not without a few stickers in their screeching and howling butts.

Yeah, I'm the mean old lady of the neighborhood. I got books to write, stuff to do. Bah humbug.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pioneering Urban Fantasy Self-Help

A cousin, upon hearing I had written a book that might have vampires in it, asked: "Is it a self-help book?"

Which begs the question: is there a new mashup genre here that the flailing publishing industry could capitalize on, with me leading the way, of course. Proposing the following series:

Volume 1: The self-help book for vampires--finding a high-protein diet in a whole wheat world.

Volume 2: The self-help guide for the potential victims of vampires. When your sweetheart has a bad case of "overbite."

Volume 3: How to find a dead-sexy vampire (which might or might not be a redundancy).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Urban Fantasy Barbies? Say It Ain't So


Somehow I missed this piece of the Twilight insanity--Twilight Barbie Dolls. Thanks to Amazon for sending me a coupon for $5 off the ripped Jacob Barbie (I'll pass), which they describe as being "for the adult collector," or I might have missed this phenomenon altogether. I'm boggled by the whole idea of people collecting Bella Barbie, Edward Barbie, Jasper Barbie, and now ab-packed Jacob Barbie. There's also a Tonner 15" "Turn Me" Bella Swan Doll with her foot in a walking boot.

I want Barbies for my characters, but only with accessories:

-- The DJ Jaco Barbie, with an elven staff and a voice box so she can fling snarky insults at people.

-- The Alexander Warin Barbie, with ripped abs and a full assortment of weaponry, including a grenade that clips to his belt. Doesn't talk, but his facial expressions can change from glowering to really glowering.

-- The Jacob Warin Barbie, with a bum leg covered in scars, a deck of cards, and a real bottle of Three Roses bourbon. Pull his string, and he comes up with an endless barrel of bad nicknames.

-- The Jean Lafitte Barbie, with an assortment of knives and boots, cigars, and a decanter of brandy. Pull his cord, and he'll curse at you in French, Spanish or Italian.

Get to work, Mattel.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The One (or Two) Sentence Summary


After my recent blog posting about questions not to ask an author--specifically, being asked to provide a quick answer to "what's your book about"--a couple of folks pointed out that the worst thing is when nobody asks. Uh, good point.

Author Marilynn Byerly (who has a terrific blog, by the way) also said every author should have an "elevator" summary ready to whip out on demand. Of course, I took that as a challenge. So here's my one-sentence (well one or two) summary for Royal Street, and then for River Road, which will come out six months later.

ROYAL STREET
Royal Street follows young wizard Drusilla (DJ) Jaco as she copes with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, dealing not only with the devastation of her city and the disappearance of her mentor, but also the mortal threat posed by breaches between the modern world of science and the preternatural world Beyond...not to mention an undead (and dead sexy) pirate Jean Lafitte.

RIVER ROAD
People in New Orleans say Katrina changed everything; they don't know the half of it. Wizard sentinel DJ Jaco and her partner, enforcer Alex Warin, investigate a series of wizard murders in the city, where every water species--from Cajun mermen to creepy nixes to nubile nymphs--is a suspect.

And of course I have to say they're funny and sexy!

Got a two-sentence summary of your latest book? Comment here and tell us about it!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Me=Novelist--It's Official


Okay, it's really been official for a while, but something about opening the mailbox last night to find the signed and completed contracts and a royalty advance check from Macmillan....it sort of FEELS official. Next up, revisions due by April 1 on Royal Street.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Questions to Never Ask an Author


My critter Susan over at Wastepaper Prose is starting a cool new series of author Q&As soon. Stay tuned for more info.

In the meantime, from my own limited experience, here are questions never to ask an author:

What's Your Book About? We want to answer that question--we really do. It's just that if we have a complex novel that we've slaved over the better part of a year or more, it's hard to sum it up in a sentence, which is really all anyone wants to hear. Plus, if the author's writing in a non-traditional genre (in my case, urban fantasy), it's even tougher. "It's an urban fantasy novel set in post-Katrina New Orleans" I say, eliciting polite, blank stares. "Think Harry Potter meets Stephen King during Hurricane Katrina," I expound. Polite, blank stares morph into "Well, isn't that nice" looks. End of convo.

You're going to give me a copy, aren't you? No, probably not. I'll be happy to sell you a copy, preferably from a full-priced retailer, thus ensuring that I sell through my advance and start earning royalties. According to the terms of my contract, I get 25 copies of my book when it's published. Most of those will be used on publicity, so unless you have a blog read by thousands of urban fantasy readers, chances are, no, you won't get a freebie.

Where did you come up with your idea? The real answer ("Uh, it just came to me") isn't very sexy, so we're forced to come up with erudite, thoughtful things like, "I thought the story could expound on the human condition, showing how, when events have stripped one's life bare, only love and friendship matter in the end." And that might be true, but authors don't realize that till the book is done and there has been time to look for those big, thoughtful themes. Really, the answer is, "Uh, it just came to me."

When's it coming out? We live in a produce-on-demand world, and the real answers, which range from "I have no idea" to "sometime in the next 18-to-24 months," really confuses people. I'm learning as I go through the publishing process that it moves at the speed of a glacier before we destroyed the ozone.

I've been working on a book myself. Would you read it? Critique it? Recommend me to your agent? There are some exceptions, but unless you are a serious writer yourself and we've reached some kind of mutual critiquing arrangement, the answer will most likely be "no" to all of the above.

What do you hate to be asked? Conversely, if you could ask one question of your favorite author, what would it be?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

First Chapter Blues

I'm tired of my first chapter. I have to "smooth it out" tonight as its final (I hope) revision, and I can't bear to read it again. It sucks. Why would anybody want to read such drivel? Why would anybody write such drivel? Why would an undead pirate need a condom?

Okay. Rant over.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

90 Percent There

Back in revisions, but it's almost done. All I have to do is go back through 350 or so pages of text over the next two weeks and be funny on demand. No problem. Eek.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Urban Fantasy--It's All About the Sex

Great blog post from sci-fi writer Philip Palmer about urban fantasy. Where sci-fi is about the thing or the process, and fantasy's about the worldbuilding and the quest, UF is all about the sex--or so Palmer says.

Too simplistic, but he makes a good argument. If you shove aside the madness that is Twilight, there's lots of UF that is not oversexed. Well, okay, shove aside Laurell K. Hamilton, too, except for the early Anita Blake books. And I would say shove aside JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series except it's just too good to shove aside. And, okay, you can push the Sookie Stackhouse series aside too, although I love it.

But you still have Jim Butcher. Simon R Green. Kim Harrison. The Kitty Norville series from Carrie Vaughn that I'm reading currently, which started out slow but is growing on me. And my favorite, Patricia Briggs, who can actually make me laugh and cry in the same book. I want to be her someday.

Still, Palmer's post is a good read--check it out.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

eReaders: The War is On

Amazon fired the latest volley with the "Kindle for PC" (Mac coming soon), the free Kindle reader for your desktop. The idea being, of course, that you'll now rush out and buy lots of inexpensive Kindle-centric eBooks from Amazon and will follow that with the purchase of a real Kindle.

Then, naturally, you won't feel tempted to rush out and buy the iPad and shop for eBooks from Apple.

So, I downloaded my free Kindle for PC but--call me old-fashioned (because if you call me "old" I'll have to kill you)--I still want pages, and paper, and ink, and that new book smell, and even that old book smell.

Plus, I don't need another screen to get scratched up unless I baby it.

On a related note, I got an e-mail "catalog" from a "bookseller" who can sell me a pdf copy of any urban fantasy title out there for $1 or $2 each. All under the table of course. As an author, I'm highly offended. Do I trash it or report the seller to the piracy police?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rules for Fiction Writing


Check out this great article at guardian.co.uk on "Ten Rules for Writing Fiction." The paper asked 28 authors, from Richard Ford to Neil Gaiman to Jonathan Franzen to Elmore Leonard (based on Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing), to give their best advice. It's a great read.

Here's my favorite one from each writer:

Elmore Leonard: Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose." This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

Diana Athill: Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK. Prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out--they can be got right only by ear.

Margaret Atwood: Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road and/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

Roddy Doyle: Do not place a photograph of your favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.

Helen Dunmore: Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn't work, throw it away.

Geoff Dyer: Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over--or not.

Anne Enright: Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it.

Richard Ford: Don't have children.

Jonathan Franzen: Never use "then" as a conjunction--we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.

Esther Freud: Don't wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.

Neil Gaiman: Remember, when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.

P.D. James: Don't just plan to write--write. It is only by writing, not by dreaming about it, that we develop our own style.

A L Kennedy: Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave--then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence.

Hilary Mantel: Write a book you'd like to read. If you wouldn't read it, why would anybody else? Don't write for a perceived audience or market. It may well have vanished by the time your book's ready.

Michael Moorcock: If possible have something going on while you have your characters delivering exposition or philosophizing. This helps retain dramatic tension.

Michael Morpurgo: Record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.

Andrew Motion: Think with your senses as well as your brain.

Joyce Carol Oates: Don't try to anticipate an "ideal reader"--there may be one, but he/she is reading someone else.

Annie Proulx: Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter.

Ian Rankin: Read lots. Write lots.

Will Self: You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.

Zadie Smith: Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Colm Toibin: If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane.

Rose Tremain: Never be satisfied with a first draft. In fact, never be satisfied with your own stuff at all, until you're certain it's as good as your finite powers can enable it to be.

Sarah Waters: Don't panic. Midway through writing a novel, I have regularly experienced moments of bowel-curdling terror, as I contemplate the drivel on the screen before me and see beyond it, in quick succession, the derisive reviews, the friends' embarrassment, the failing career, the dwindling income, the repossessed house, the divorce...Working doggedly on through crises like these, however, has always got me there in the end.

Jeanette Winterson: Trust your creativity.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tanker Welcomes Spring









Can't blog today. My youngest is having thunderstorm freakouts, poor dainty 80-pound lapdog...And my editor says dogs can't roll their eyes. I beg to differ.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Down Memory Lane

Since I've been working on revisions for Royal Street again, it's put me back in that Hurricane Katrina mindset, since the book is set immediately before and after the storm. So check out a few of my Katrina photos below or at http://suzanne-johnson.blogspot.com/2010/03/down-memory-lane.html for a trip through the bad old days. These were all taken about six weeks after Katrina.



My house (it's back there, really). All the crap came from my yard.








Louisiana Avenue, about a mile from my house








Water marks on a house in N.O. East











Gentilly, near a breach site









Lakeview, near the 17th Canal breach






National Guard markings on my friend Dave's house. Bottom center of quadrant is number of bodies. None there, thankfully.








Part of my furniture bites the dust. Moldy, wet. Ick.








Bucktown, above the 17th Street Canal breach








Vigilante justice (left), and my backyard, minus a 60-foot cedar (below)


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Rain Man: The Novelist


My name is Rain Man. I am Suzanne's dark alter-ego, the one who tends to take over her brain at odd times and make her do things like set up spreadsheets of what books she owns and make a list of 80s musical groups for each letter of the alphabet. Asia. Boomtown Rats. Clash. Dead Kennedys. Echo and the Bunnymen. Fun Boy Three.

Well, you get the idea. Go-Gos. Human League. INXS.

I'm having an "I told you so" moment, as she paces around our office, Fantasy Island, and ponders the wacky world of fiction publishing that I told her would likely drive her crazy. Make that drive US crazy. Book One has been revised and returned to the editor. Book Two is written and awaiting revisions to make it consistent with Book One. The proposal for Book Three needs to be written in case said publisher thinks the series can go another round. And for lack of a better word there's the work-in-progress, Book Beta, which is half done.

Did I mention multitasking makes Rain Man very, very unhappy? The Jam. King. Level 42. Madness. Nick Lowe....

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wonderland Fan? Not So Much.


Lots of fantasy fans are in a swivet over today's release of Tim Burton's new interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. I'm not one of them.

Photographed at left is the real Alice, in one of Lewis Carroll's sometimes disturbing photographs, quite a few of which depicted eroticized little girls. The photos are simultaneously wonderful and creepy, and just a bit quease-inducing -- sort of like a Victorian "Toddlers and Tiaras."

Carroll liked the company of children, especially little girls, and supposedly wrote Wonderland for the real Alice Liddell, a friend's daughter. Was he a pedophile, or just a frustrated child stuck in a man's body? Only Michael Jackson knows for sure.

Part of the problem, I guess, is that I didn't read AiW as a child. I was all about Heidi and The Secret Garden and Little Women. My first introduction to Alice was actually through Jefferson Airplane's "Go Ask Alice."

That could explain a lot.

If you are an Alice fan, check out my critter's pro-Alice blog over at Wastepaper Prose.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do the Monster Mash(up)


A few years ago, warped fairy tales were the rage. Now, it's the classic lit mashup. Gotta admit I haven't read Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet, but the whole idea was funny.

Now, like the flow of reality shows, comes the onslaught of para-mashups. Here are a few:

--Sense and Sensibilities and Sea Monsters, by Ben H. Winters (out now)
--Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls, by Steve Hockensmith (out March 24)
--Emma and the Werewolves, by Adam Rann (out now)
--The Undead World of Oz, by Ryan C. Thomas (out now)
--Jane Slayre, by Sherri Browning Erwin (out April 13)
--Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, by W. Bill Czolgosz (out now)
--Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, by A.E. Moorat (out now)
--Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith (out now)
--Little Women and Werewolves, by Porter Grand (out May 4)
--Little Vampire Women, by Lynn Messina (out May 4)
--Romeo & Juliet & Vampires, by Claudia Gabel (out August 31)
--Android Karenina, by Ben Winters (out May 26)
--Mansfield Park and Mummies, by Vera Nazarian (out now)
--The War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, by Eric S. Brown (out now)
--Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers--a Canterbury Tale, by Paul Freeman (out now)

Argh. Enough already! I couldn't make this stuff up. Really.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stalked by a Vampire

Two of them, actually. The first is named Mirren. He's 6'8", has a lot of tattoos, and swears like a vampire trucker. The other is Galen, with long dark hair, eyes the color of an antarctic glacier (especially when he's hungry), and a bad habit of turning broody and morose and behaving like the Irishman he once was.

They're sitting in an imaginary Alabama town called Stockholm, pouting and feeling neglected while I--their creator--run around New Orleans with a wizard, a shapeshifter or two, and an undead pirate.

How long can I keep them at bay? Do your fictional characters ever stalk you?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Short Memory of Barry Hannah

Barry Hannah died yesterday at age 67, which doesn't sound very old to me any more. This Southern storyteller taught at the University of Alabama for about a minute and a half back in the day. I don't think he liked it very much. He didn't stay all that long, and the only time our paths ever crossed was at the Chukker.

Now, the Chukker deserves a blog posting all on its own. It's been around downtown T-town since the 1950s, but in the mid-to-late '70s it was basically a biker bar frequented by the Alabama Brothers motorcycle gang, local literati, and wannabe cool kids who'd probably have had a heart attack should a Brother or a literati actually look their way. On a good night, the Brothers' hogs would be parked along the sidewalk for a block.

The paint was peeling on the walls, people stuck their polaroids up as decoration, and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting of the creation of Adam was reproduced large on the ceiling. It was a pretty good version, or at least it seemed so at the time, surrounded by bikers and beer. I once claimed to be a palm reader there and read the palm of some guy who later shot up a daycare center. But that's a different story.

Anyway, Barry Hannah would hang at the Chukker, where he'd sit in the corner with cigarettes and beer and fill the role of crotchety sage. I was more afraid of him than the Brothers. And that's my Barry Hannah story.

Monday, March 1, 2010

When's Your Book Coming Out?

It's becoming the question I dread, because my answer always elicits a sort-of slack-jawed, glazed-eyed expression. The convo goes something like this:

Friend (enthusiastically): Oh, that's exciting about your book! When's it coming out?
Me: Well, sometime in the next 18 months. I'm not sure exactly yet.
Friend (with slack jaw and glazed eyes): Well, that's, uh, great.

I might or might not try to make excuses about publishing contracts and lawyers and revisions and marketing and covers and God-only-knows-what else because I don't understand all the hoops it has to jump through yet myself.

Usually, I just mutter something incoherent and shuffle back to Fantasy Island (the writing space in my house formerly known as the man cave).