Monday, May 31, 2010

Me and Tom Petty, Sittin' in a Tree...Waiting

“The waiting is the hardest part/Every day you see one more card/You take it on faith/You take it to the heart/The waiting is the hardest part.”

About thirty years ago, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers had a hit with a song called “The Waiting.” At the time, I thought he was pretty cute. Now, I think he's kinda scrawny and has really big teeth. Oh well, tastes change.

Unfortunately, I’m old enough to remember it. And I’ve been singing it a lot lately as I navigate my way through the choppy waters of publishing.

Nobody warned me about the waiting. So I’ll do it for you, if you haven’t started on the publishing gauntlet yet. The waiting just goes on and on and on.

I’m not a believer in waiting for the muse to strike. Books might get written that way, but certainly not by me. I have to beat the muse over the head, bind her, and forcer her grubby hands to the keyboard. Sometimes it even works.

No, the waiting comes later.

You wait for your alpha/beta/omega readers to get back to you with their pearls of wisdom. Maybe.

You send off queries and wait for an agent to show a smidgeon of interest in your manuscript. Then she requests a full and―eureka―you’re there! Or not.

You send off your manuscript and wait for the agent to read it and respond. She offers representation! She loves your book! You’re there! Or not.

You work on another project while your agent shops you around. And wait. And wait. And―eureka!—you’re offered a book deal! You accept it. And you’re there. Or not.

You keep working on another project while the contracts mosey by pack mule from New York, a trip that takes approximately ninety days. But they arrive! You sign on the dotted line. And you’re there.  Well, no.

There’s the revision letter. You take time off from work, you revise till your eyeballs bleed. You send in your changes in your allotted time. And you’re there! Surely. Well, no.

Then you wait some more. For edits. For proofs. For things I don’t even know about yet, because―you guessed it―I’m still waiting.

*Sigh* I’m singing the bridge with Tom, now: “Don’t let it kill you, baby. Don’t let it get to you. I’ll be your bleeding heart. I’ll be your crying fool. Don’t let this go too far. Don't let it get to you.”

Off to wait. Anybody out there want to tap an impatient foot with me?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Status Saturday: Moving Ahead

I'm starting a June "boot camp" over at SavvyAuthors to get Stockholm DONE and outta here. The drive is on! I can see the finish line.

ROYAL STREET appears to be out of Revision-Land and into Edits-Ville. This is a good thing. It's inching its way through the publishing pipeline.

RIVER ROAD will go into revisions in July. My editor says they are going to be minor. Yay!

STOCKHOLM is 91% done, according to my handy-dandy word meter. Of course I could hit 90,000 words and it needs a few more, but it's getting there. Well, until I start revising and cutting.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Three-Headed Dog Speaks Out

I'm blogging today over with the Witty Crew at Write in the Shadows. Check it out, and comment for a chance at a big six-book, $25 giftcard prize package!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

He Said, She Moaned: The Dreaded Dialogue Tags

Maybe it's my journalism background, but I'm a Nazi when it comes to attributions or dialogue tags. Oh, one slips in every now and then, but I try to kill it before it can slither its way into a final draft. In Suzanne's School of Writing, no tag is best, "said" is second-best, "moaned" and "purred" and "wheedled"? Not so much.

But you know what? I don't think readers care. As writers it's drilled into us to avoid adverbs, limit adjectives, simplify our dialogue tags. Maybe editors care, or maybe they don't.

A page at random from a recent mega-selling YA phenom:
"I couldn't sleep," I confessed..."Neither could I," he teased..."Not a chance," he chuckled..."You're right," he decided..."Porridge," chirped a voice from the mist...

From another NYTimes bestseller, a random page contains:
"Not from a tree," the spy hissed..."It's the only place," he objected..."They dug a tunnel," he spat..."I can't get inside," he whined.

Of course, toss the kind of money at me these books received and I'll pen florid attributions till the cows come home. Never mind which cows. Does anyone else cringe at these things?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hijacked: The Character Who Just Won't Leave

 Still being relatively new to the world of fiction-writing, I have found one of the most bizarre phenomena is the minor character with illusions of grandeur. He (or she) wants to be a major character. And so far, for me at least, he always wins.

In my early drafts of ROYAL STREET (which appears to be out of the revision phase--yay!), I developed a minor character named Jacob Warin. His main function was just to hang around and be sexy and make major character Alex Warin, his cousin, jealous. Obsessed with "Lost's" Josh Holloway at the time, I gave him dimples and some crafty one-liners.

Well, the dimples were probably a bad idea, being a particular weakness of my heroine, DJ (but not me, of course). Jake needs an occupation, I thought, and I needed a bar owner, so I gave Jake the bar. Then DJ needed someone to help Alex pull a tree off her roof after Hurricane Katrina, so Jake stepped up to help his cousin and turned out to be a shameless flirt. Well, if Jake's going to be in that many scenes, I thought, he needs a real history. I'll make him a former Marine who was injured in Afghanistan. Then he needed a slight limp that he, of course, bears with much grace and dignity. And finally, the piece de resistance, he told me he had a troubled past that he'd tried to drown in alcohol.

By then, of course, I was in love with Jacob Warin, and he wasn't going anywhere. Poor  Alex.

Same thing happened with the pirate Jean Lafitte. He grew from one brief appearance to start the book, to two scenes, then three, to the grand finale. He damn near took over the second book, RIVER ROAD, so in the third I'm going to send him out of town. I suspect he won't stay there.

My current problem child is named Mirren Kincaid. He's a 6-8", tattoed, curmudgeonly vampire, and in his human life was an Irish mercenary, ca. 1700. He wants my book, and right now I'm still fighting him. I've promised him the starring role in the sequel. So far, he's accepted it. But I'm waiting for him to bare his fangs at any minute.

I'm guessing Eric Northman started out that way in the Sookie Stackhouse series--his role gradually grew as the series progressed from a bit part to comic relief to series sexpot contender to Team Eric, so he'd get my vote for favorite minor character who practically takes over a series. Who's your favorite "once secondary, now major" character?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Urban Fantasy Reference Shelf

Before I began writing fiction, my reference shelf looked pretty ordinary. I had the AP Stylebook, of course. A couple of dictionaries. Lots of online references bookmarked: the online massive OED (big benefit of working at a university);, The usual.

Now, as I type this, I glance to my right at my reference shelf. I still use a lot of online references, but I have collected some not-so-standard things.

For the ROYAL STREET/RIVER ROAD urban fantasy series, I've amassed a biography of Louis Armstrong; five (count 'em) biographies of pirate Jean Lafitte, two books on voodoo, a book on the ghosts of New Orleans, a volume on underworld crime in the French Quarter, and about two dozen books on Hurricane Katrina--although, in fairness, I had already collected those before ROYAL STREET was a gleam in my eye.

Then there are the general references on ghosts, vampires, werewolves, spellcasting, potions, herbs, crystals and gems, metals, alchemy, elves, fairies, and--two of my favorites--the Complete Guide to the Undead and The Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and other Subversive Spirits.

Now, isn't that more interesting than the AP Stylebook? If you're a writer, what's on your reference shelves? Have a favorite reference?

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Sense of Place

Place is important in fiction, especially if the writer is using a real setting. It's important to do your homework.

One of the books that inspired me to write urban fantasy in the first place was a book set in New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina. It was obvious in the first five pages the author had never set foot in NOLA, and knew nothing of conditions there after the storm. I finished the book, but was angry that the authors had seized upon a setting without bothering to do their homework. I could do better, I thought. I was there. It became the setting and inspiration for my series that comes out next year.

Does it matter? People who don't know New Orleans won't know the difference.

I think it does, that the author has a responsibility to at least make an effort to learn as much as they can about setting. A simple read of the online New Orleans newspaper, the Times-Picayune, could have told the author that the things taking place in his book would not have been physically possible. (Like his character strolling through a neighborhood at a time when, in reality, it was still six feet underwater.)

So, yesterday I took a road trip into rural Chambers County, Alabama, where my work-in-progress is set. It's an imaginary town, Stockholm, based on a real town, Penton. After making the trip, though, I realized the town of LaFayette was a much better model for Stockholm. It also gave me a chance to see what the houses look like around there, how the storefronts look. What type of trees grow along the roadsides leading into and out of town.

If my book had been set in Stockholm, Sweden, of course, I couldn't have taken a quick afternoon jaunt to look around. But there are guidebooks, Internet folks who live there and who might be willing to read passages for accuracy, Google Earth, etc. Lots of easy opportunities for a writer to research place.

What's the setting of your favorite read lately? If it's a real city or area, did the author do a good job of setting the sense of place? Do you think it matters? Let's talk!

Friday, May 21, 2010

My WITTY Debut

Today, I'm blogging over at the new group blog Write in the Shadows, so click on the link to head over and visit. Today, I'm just introducing myself and talking a little about what inspired me to write. Let's just say it involves post-traumatic stress and a lot of hot air!

Sign up to receive the blog on RSS feed, comment, and you'll be entered for a big six-book + gift card prize to be awarded June 7.

I'll be writing every Friday. On other days, catch my funny, talented fellow bloggers: Boone Brux, CJ Ellison, Marissa Farrar, Nicole Hadaway, Kerri Nelson, and Liz Pelletier.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How to Kill Your Characters

"Write what you know," the old adage says of fiction writing. Uh, well. I have to kill people off in my books. It's expected. I can't exactly practice. Well, I could but it might dampen my ability to write and publish freely, although I might have more writing time between my stints in the prison laundry. Hmmm. Something to consider.

But for now we'll assume practicing murder isn't practical. Which is why God, in His infinite wisdom, made workshops.

Some highlights from "Body Disposal for Writers":

* If you throw a body in a fire, all the evidence will not burn up unless it's a massive industrial fire. It takes two hours at 1,800-2,400 degrees to thoroughly burn a human body, and even then there are large masses of skeletal bones. You really just don't want to know what a crematorium does to get those fine ashes for you to scatter Aunt Mabel in the Pacific. And then there are all those troublesome teeth. Unless your victim is a vampire, in which case a little bit of sunrise will work.

* If you knock your victim out and leave the body in the car, then set the car on fire, you will not likely have a huge explosion. Most car materials are flame-retardant now, and would burn out before reaching the gas tank. Plus there's the whole tooth and bone thing.

* If your vic drowns with his eyes open, they'll still be open when he's found. If his pupils were dilated, they'll still be dilated. His expression will pretty much be the same (horrified, I imagine).

* Carbon monoxide poisoning will turn a caucasian's skin bright pink, and some snake venom will cause the skin to change different colors. Neither will work on the undead, however.

* Your vampires are going to have to be SUPER STRONG if they're going to rip out a beating heart with their bare hands. I'm just sayin.

* Best natural body-disposal methods are alligators, sharks and, yes, pigs. Babe will eat anything--and everything. Want no evidence left over except a nicely cleaned skull and pelvis? Babe's your girl.

Enough for now. Any questions? Now, go have some dinner.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why Guys Don't Read Urban Fantasy

Conventional wisdom says men read sci-fi and high fantasy. Women read urban fantasy. And why is that? Has urban fantasy become chick-lit for escapists? Or, as a UC-Davis prof once said, is UF a "post-feminist way of taking on power"? (And what does that MEAN?)

I discovered urban fantasy first through Simon R. Green, by some fluke, then moved on to Jim Butcher. Only then did I discover male UF writers--and protagonists--were rarer than the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. And why is that?

Here are my theories:

1) Guys will pick a book written by a guy over one written by a woman.
That'll probably get me some boos and hisses, but it's true, right? Books by men are for everybody to read. Books by women are either "literature" or they're marketed for women. I don't know why this is true but I believe it. And there aren't a whole lot of male UF writers, Butcher and Green notwithstanding. There's Mark Henry and Mario Acevedo. Classically, Charles de Lint is technically UF, and Neil Gaiman is in a genre unto himself. Alex Bledsoe and Mike Shevdon are up-and-coming. And...running out of steam here. Exactly.

2) Video culture has linked urban fantasy with teenage girls.
Blame Buffy and Twilight. 'Nuff said.

3. The tattoed chick phenomenon.
Look at most urban fantasy book covers. Chances are you'll find a scantily clad, fierce chick--often with red or jet-black hair because you can't be both kick-ass and blonde.  She'll have tattoos, and often will be pictured from the back so you can see the nice ass and the tat just above the low-slung leather pants. Usually, there's some smokin'-hot guy hanging around in the background, or else the implicit impression that she's so tough she doesn't need one. On first examination, one might think--hey! Guys should love reading a book with a kick-ass girl on the cover. No, they don't. Because kick-ass girls are scary and, besides, there's reason #4....

4. Urban fantasies often contain...gasp!....relationships.
And everybody knows only women want to read about stuff like sex and relationships and all that emo crap, even if it's only a minor plot point. Right? Because even kick-ass heroines come home to whip their men into shape at the end of the day. And, to be fair, even our kick-ass heroines melt at the sight of their wounded alpha male whose life can be saved by their tender mercies. And, besides, as we've established on this blog before, the line between urban fantasy and paranormal romance is often very thin.

Okay, all this has been only partly tongue-in-cheek. Beneath the sarcasm are some dynamics that seem to be at play in urban fantasy gender biases. Do guys read urban fantasy? Maybe I'm wrong. Why don't they?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You Got Any Cowboys In That-There Book?

Help me!

Seventy-two hours from now, I will be in the land of my birth, where double names are standard and the immoral act of selling alcohol has once again been shot down through the power of the voting public.

I'll be seeing Billy Ray, Earl Ray (no relation) and David Lee. And, no, none of those are surnames. The topic of book-writing will invariably come up, followed by the inevitable question: "What's it about?"

I have a hard time with that question. I mean, these are my family members, so I don't want them to think I'm a raving lunatic. And if I give them an honest answer: "It's a series of books about a young female wizard who has to cope with preternatural creatures who come stampeding into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina creates a breach between temporal worlds"... well, I'm gonna get that glass-eyed stare. You know the one. The one where they're wondering if I could have been switched at the hospital and belong to some other family. The one where they feel sorry for my mama and are grateful that my brother turned out so good.

How does one explain urban fantasy and paranormal romance to really nice, salt-of-the-earth people--most of them over the age of 65--whose idea of a novel is a nice Zane Gray horse opera? Ideas?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monster Monday: Life after Vampires

A quick housekeeping task first: Congratulations to Beth, who won the Amazon GC this week! I'll be giving a $20 GC from Amazon away in two weeks so comment early and often--every comment is a chance to win, and double entries for followers. Every tweet earns an extra point--just e-mail and let me know.

Life after Vampires. So, my friend Dianne and I were talking yesterday about urban fantasy and the annoying (to me, anyway, though I may be in a minority) trend of mashup classics that seemed to start with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I blogged about that a while back with a list of the mashups I knew about.

She's concerned that I'm writing a book with vampires ("I'm so over them," she says), so I started to think about the critters I've used in my books so far:

Wizards (Royal Street, River Road)
Vampires (very brief appearance in Royal Street, lots in Stockholm)
Werewolves, specifically Loup Garou (Royal Street, River Road)
The ever-popular vampiric witch (Stockholm)
Shapeshifters (Royal Street and River Road)
Elves (River Road)
The Historical Undead (Royal Street and River Road)
Nymphs (River Road)
Satyrs (brief appearance in River Road)
Voudou gods (Royal Street)
Mermen (River Road)
Nixes (River Road)
Goblins (brief appearance in Royal Street)

So far, I haven't tackled the Fae, but I do have plans. Zombies creep me out so I haven't gone there yet. And of course there be Demons and Angels. Got plans for them too.

What are your favorite critters?  And are there critter mashups (like my vampiric witch) you like?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Status Saturday: Limbo-Land

The weekly confessional:
ROYAL STREET remains in limbo-land. It disappeared into a black hole six weeks ago and hasn't been seen or heard from since. I will be patient. I will be patient. I'm really not good at being patient.

RIVER ROAD is stuck in limbo-land until RS re-emerges. Then there will be frantic revisions to make it jibe with its predecessor. Oh, and reflect an environmental disaster since much of it is set in coastal Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

The work-in-progress continues to plot, uh, I mean plod, along. Only got about 500 words on it this week. Running total: 75,550.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Meet Vampires Sherry and Pam

Thanks to everyone who entered the "Kill a Vampire" contest--you guys are awesome! Uh, and maybe need some therapy.

Congrats to Sherry and Pam, who will both be appearing in my current work-in-progress as vampires--I was able to figure out a way to work both chaining outside to wait for the sun, and cement overshoes into my current WIP, Stockholm, and the next, Elysian Fields. Yeah, I know--the cement shoes won't kill 'em but won't they be really, really miserable?

Vampire Sherry is a teen who's been recently turned. Only her "newbie" status saves her from a vicious battle of vampire wiles, because, unfortunately, she's playing for the wrong team. Vampire Pamela (because Charlaine Harris already beat me to Vampire Pam) is the newest member of the Stockholm Scathe belonging to my sexy good vampire Galen, and will be promoted to one of his lieutenants eventually.

Yes, Irish vampires! Woo-hoo!

Thanks again to everyone who played yesterday. It was a fun birthday game!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Me and Edward Cullen + Vampire Death Ideas

So Edward Cullen and I share a birthday. Who knew?

I still don't like my vampires glittering in the sun and going all emo on me. But in honor of Robert Pattinson and myself and our special days--although I suspect his will be more special than mine, I'm taking a blog break today. Just a short commercial message.

I'm working on some vampire killings in my w.i.p. So, cut off their heads, pull out their hearts, burn them, stake them, throw 'em in the sun. How else can my good vampires kill off my bad vampires? Toss out some ideas. If I use your method in the book, I'll name one of my vampires after you and you'll get a credit on the acknowledgment page! (How optimistic is that!?)

Now, off for cake!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Best Bad Guys: Shades of Gray

Reminder: Comment for a chance at a $10 Amazon gift card--details at right!

I'm trying to write some chapters in my w.i.p. from the point of view of my "villain," for lack of a better word. My bad guy. The antagonist who makes my hero's life one series of hellish events after another.

Owen's a bad dude. Or at least he was in my first draft. Then I tried a little exercise with him. I thought of five words I'd use to describe Owen as he existed on my pages: angry, cruel, selfish, jealous, bitter. Then I took five opposite descriptors: happy, kind, generous, understanding, content. How could I make Owen exhibit some of those characteristics?

It forced me to rethink my bad guy. I can't say he shows all of those opposites, but I'm looking for ways to inject traces of it into his actions. It also led me to a deeper examination of his motives, which in turn led to a major change in the conclusion of the book (assuming I ever get there. I will! I  will!).

Who are some of your favorite bad guys? I look back over some of my favorite series (where the "bad guys" often either change from book to book, or are different members of the same "bad guy" organization), and think one of my favorite ongoing bad guys is Trent Kalamack in Kim Harrison's Hallows series. Trent is truly a 3D bad guy. He can be unexpectedly kind, then turn and be viciously cruel. One day he has Rachel Morgan (who's transformed herself into a mink) entered in a rat-fight; the next he's rescuing her.

I love a 3D bad guy. Who are some others? Maybe Eric Northman in the Sookie Stackhouse series (and I'm a dedicated member of Team Eric), or  Alcide Herveaux?

What about cardboard, two-dimensional villains--do any of them work for you?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Urban Fantasy vs Paranormal Romance

Comment this week for a chance at an Amazon GC--details at right.

Someone recently asked me what paranormal romance was, and I said it was romance where at least one of the players wasn't human. Works for me. Still, as I try to figure out where my current work-in-progress might fit into the grand scheme of publishing, I find myself pondering the differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, or UF vs. PNR in acronym land.

I'm a member of both Romance Writers of America and Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, so I looked to them for guidance. 

RWA defines paranormal romance as having three criteria: 1) A central love story that is the main focus of the novel; 2) an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending," which to my mind leaves a lot of room for interpretation; and 3) a plot where the future, a fantasy world, or paranormal happenings play an integral part. SFWA is a bit fuzzier on definitions. It is what you make it, I guess.

My call is: As both urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres mature, the lines between them are getting more blurred. At its best, urban fantasy pulls the character development of epic fantasy and the sharp plotting of science fiction and mashes them up into something rich and addictive. PNRs, at their the same thing, but it's harder.

Here's how I see the difference:

Paranormal romance has a front-and-center relationship, which generally gets resolved in a single book. Maybe not in a traditional "happy-ever-after" sense, but resolved. I think of JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series as falling in this category. There is an ongoing conflict between the Brothers and their enemies, but a key romance is threaded through each book, with that particular romance getting wrapped up by the end. In the next book, a different brother and his romance takes center stage. The endings are sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating. I think it was in Lover Unbound where Ward got a lot of flack about how her Happily Ever After worked out. I won't spoil here, but I had mixed feelings about it since it involved one of my favorite Brothers.

Urban fantasy is often first-person (but not always). There usually is a hero/heroine relationship, though it isn't always front-and-center, it might not have a happy ending, and it very rarely gets resolved in one book because most urban fantasy falls in series with the same hero/heroine in each installment. Sometimes one of them even dies. I'm still mourning Kisten in Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series, although I'd put it firmly in the urban fantasy genre. Although since another aspect of urban fantasy is that the dead don't always stay dead, I suppose there's always the possibility he'll come back.

Where does  Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series fall? Sookie's romances and relationships are certainly a huge part of the novels, but they also certainly don't get resolved or have happy endings.What about Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series? Both of these seem to fall right in the middle to me.

And then there's Neil Gaiman, who's in a genre all his own--LOL. He might be the most "pure" urban fantasy writer around.

If I use those criteria, my post-Katrina series falls firmly into the urban fantasy genre. My heroine DJ has a couple or three potential relationships but she's too busy dodging voodoo gods and crazy water creatures to focus on them. The contentious work-in-progress? The jury is still out. I think it's going to fall on the paranormal romance side of the fence, but till the last page I can't be sure.

So, what's your take on urban fantasy vs paranormal romance? Are you all one or the other, or are you just looking for a good story?

Monday, May 10, 2010

(I Should Be) Committed

First off, the winner of Sunday's giveaway is Tara over at the 25 Hour Books blog--thanks for commenting! Up this week: A $10 GC from Amazon to feed your habit. Details at right.

Committed. That's a scary word. You can be in a committed relationship (or have a fear of one). Or be committed to your work, which is a good thing. Or be committed to an institution (not such a good thing, although there have been times when lounging around on zombie drugs and playing games for a while sounded pretty attractive but, still, I'd rather do it in the comfort of my own home).

Then, there's being overcommitted, which is how I felt last week as I fell behind on crits I'd promised to other people, on keeping up with multiple online workshops, on blogging, on doing some overtime on the day job, on maintaining some vague semblance of a "real" life, etc. When a redneck in a jacked-up pickup almost mowed me down in the JC Penney parking lot on Saturday and I thought being hospitalized for a while might be relaxing...well, let's just say I realized things were a little out of whack in my life.

Note to self: LEARN TO SAY NO.

What fell behind in all that flurry of activity? My own writing, of course. I added a whopping 125 words on the work-in-progress in the last seven days. Yet I still claim I will finish the first draft by June 1. *snorts coffee over keyboard*

Oh well, enough grousing for now. I'm almost caught up. Got any tips for managing your time and commitments?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Urban Comedy Fantasy: LOL Moments

On TV, I hate sitcoms. In movies, I hate romantic comedies. With a very few exceptions, stand-up comedians make me yawn. I haven't laughed at "Saturday Night Live" since John Belushi dressed up in a bee suit.

And while I don't go looking for humor in my reading, I do revere the author whose writing can make me put the book down and laugh aloud before I go back and read it again. It may be why I work a lot of humor into my own writing--that appreciation of the absurd only fiction writers (and pure-dee-old geniuses like Rick Bragg) can slide seamlessly into their works.

Urban fantasy tends to be heavy on the dark drama, and so it should be. We write about scary things, tense situations with a lot at stake. But for those who can weave a bit of humor into your drama, I salute you. My favorite Laugh Out Loud series, in no particular order.

* Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. I mean, how can you top a zombie dinosaur, really?  In DEAD BEAT, Harry rides to the rescue down the streets of Chicago atop a reanimated T-Rex cadged from Field Museum. Outrageously over the top, even for Harry. The flying monkey demons who threw flaming poo at him at the beginning of BLOOD RITES could also have made the list. And how about in SUMMER KNIGHT when Harry and Karrin Murphy end up battling the evil plant monster in a suburban Walmart?

* Kim Harrison's Hallows series. She won me over in DEAD WITCH WALKING when Rachel Morgan took a charm that turned her into a mink, got caught by evil elf Trent, kept in a cage, and then got taken to participate in a rat cage-fight. And just about any scene between Rachel and the demon Algaliarept is going to make me laugh.

* I can't remember which book it was (somebody help me out here), but in Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Series, when Sookie Stackhouse finally tells Eric Northman the gushy protestations of love he made to her when he had amnesia, Eric's reaction was priceless. I get plenty of LOLs from this series as well, but then again I'm Team Eric all the way. The interactions between Eric and Pam are hilarious throughout.

I need more urban fantasy with some humor....what can you recommend? What are your own favorite funny moments in your fantasy reads?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Truth and Lies....Which is Which?

A big "gee thanks" over to Nicole at the All Things Smart and Scary blog (love  ya) for this blog award. So I have to come up with seven truths about myself...or are they? See if you can guess which are true and which are false. First one with all the right answers (on the blog, not the FB feed so you guys have to come over here) wins a $5 Amazon gift e-card!

1. I was on a cruise ship in the Panama Canal the day President George H.W. Bush sent troops into Panama to begin opposing Manuel Noriega.

2. I once fell out of a gondola while with a tour through the canals of Venice, Italy.

3. I was president of the "Underground French Club" in high school.

4. My favorite pie is coconut cream.

5. I once almost drowned walking through a flooded Houston subdivision.

6. I drive a gold 2002 Nissan Xterra.

7. Both my brother and I were born on Mother's Day.

Okay, that's it--go to it!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

'Why Gandalf Never Married' and the Fantasy Glass Ceiling

Twenty-five years ago, fantasy author Terry Pratchett gave a talk called "Why Gandalf Never Married," all about the need for "equal rites" in fantasy literature and what he called the "consensus fantasy universe."

"The consensus fantasy universe is full of cliches, almost by definition," he said. "Elves are tall and fair and use bows, dwarves are small and dark and vote Labour. And magic works." Magic also works differently for men and women. He noted that, at that time, wizards (always men) were strong and wise and powerful. Witches (always women) were petty, and used their powers for personal gain or ill.

I first read a transcript of this talk when my first book Royal Street was percolating and  I did a bit of research on wizards. There's no real reason, beyond Tolkeinism and the long history of epic fantasy, why wizards have to be male. "Sorceress?" Pratchett asks. "Just a better class of witch. Enchantress? Just a witch with good legs.The fantasy overdue for a visit from the Equal Opportunities people because, in the fantasy world, magic done by women is usually of poor quality, third-rate, negative stuff, while the wizards are usually cerebral, clever, powerful, and wise."

So I decided to do some research on magic-wielding female heroines in urban fantasy, eliminating shifters and vampires since they're not technically magic-wielders. Here's what I came up with:

*  The Sookie Stackhouse series from Charlaine Harris has both male and female witches. No wizards. They're all a bit flaky, and magically shaky. The main witch character spends much of one book with her boyfriend accidentally turned into a cat.

* The Kim Harrison Hallows series. Rachel Morgan is a witch, and there are both male and female witches. No wizards. Rachel is a bit of a scatterbrain sometimes and the whole half-demon thing starts working its way in. She spends much of the first book trapped in the body of a mink. By the last in the series, she's become quite powerful but is still prone to mishaps.

* The Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling has male wizards and female witches. The witches aren't less powerful, necessarily, nor are they all good or all bad. Hers is mostly a gender delineation. Still, the truly powerful? Male.

* Jim Butcher's Dresden series. Yay! I'd have to check to make sure, but I believe his wizards are both male and female, and he has some seriously powerful women magic-wielders. Ironically, the lone male writer under consideration here.

* Lilith Saintcrow's Dante Valentine and Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake: necromancers. Different category in my mind, so I don't count them.

* Kelley  Armstrong's Otherworld books. Witches. Female.

* Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniel series, which, thanks to my blog readers, is moving high on my TBR pile. It looks like Kate is a magic-wielder. Is she a witch? A wizard? Somebody tell me.

I ended up making my heroine, DJ, a wizard, by the way. She gets really pissed if anyone calls her a witch.

So why did Gandalf never marry? No, it wasn't because his beard kept getting in the way, or because the chicks didn't dig his pointy hat. It was because wizards don't go in for such foolishness--or at least they didn't back in 1985 when Terry Pratchett gave this address. He likened the wizarding brotherhood to a monastery. But urban fantasy hadn't taken off a quarter-century back, and I think now it's helping women push past the fantasy "glass ceiling."

Who have I left out? Is there still an "old boys' network" among the powerful fantasy characters?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rise of the Kickass Heroines (and Heroes)

I read somewhere recently that there's a small backlash among urban fantasy readers against the kickass heroine (and, less often, hero) who seems to populate most of the popular series these days.

Kitty Norville is one exception. Recently, I picked up the first few books of Carrie Vaughn's series. The werewolf named Kitty (and how great is that) starts out, well, weak. Not even so likeable. I ended up liking the series a lot, but the first book almost lost me. I'm glad I kept reading so I could watch Kitty grow as the books progress, but it struck me how hard it is making your character strong enough to be likeable (or, if weak, at least sympathetic) and yet still give them room to grow.

I look at some of my favorite series, and see different tactics.

*In Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, Mercy embraces her coyote self but also recognizes she's out of her league around the werewolves and their politics, so she separates herself and uses her skills more often as mediator than aggressor as the series progresses. Her growth is more in terms of her emotional availability than her skills in her shifter guise.

* Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden offers an interesting "growth pattern." He doesn't so much develop greater powers (though there is some of that) but he matures a lot.

*In the Sookie Stackhouse series, Charlaine Harris' Sookie mostly fights/denies/controls her powers. She uses them a bit when she's forced to, but wants to retain as much normalcy as possible in her life. I like this series a lot. Does Sookie grow as it progresses? I'm not so sure (but you'd better believe I'm waiting for my copy of the new book to arrive today.)

* Of course the great-grandma of UF series heroines is Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake. Anita has grown both emotionally and in terms of power (and, ahem, sexual skills, I guess one would have to say) as this series has moved through--what 17 or 18 books now? She started out kick-ass, but like Dresden has matured in how she uses her powers.

So, who's your favorite UF heroine or hero? Are you tired of the kickass heroine? And what do you like about how your favorites have grown through their series?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monster Monday: The Worst Monsters of All

I had planned to write about the Erinyes today, AKA "The Strong Ones," but I got waylaid by another kind of monster. Sometimes, the monsters we deal with on a daily basis are worse than the ones we encounter in fiction. Here are some of my scariest ones:

* The Dust Bunny. Big and hairy and growing by the day. AKA The Hair Ball, for those of us with pets who shed a lot (Tanker, you know who you are). I should be able to spend all my spare time writing, not doing housework for goodness' sake. Laundry, grocery shopping, and yardwork also fall into this category of monster.

* The Day Job. Especially when it spills over into "my" time. I can't grouse about this one too much, though, because I'd hate to be trying to write novels under the interstate. Which is where I'd be living without it.

* Family Obligations. AKA the 'You Don't Ever Talk to Me Anymore, You Just Crouch Over That Computer' monster. Yeah, well. I guess some of them will have to take care of me when I'm old and decrepit, so, okay already.

* Internet Insanity, AKA Facebook, Twitter and Blogs, oh my. AKA Time Suck. 'Nuff said. Gotta go. Another monster calls.

What are your biggest real-life "monsters," the ones that keep you from doing what you want when you want?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Comment To Win: New Orleans, Mon Amour

Comment anytime this week, up to once a day, and be entered to win a copy of Andrei Codrescu's New Orleans, Mon Amour, my favorite place and the setting for my forthcoming novels from Tor. Extra entry per comment for followers. Details at right!

This Week's Winner is...

Kerri! You've won a copy of the 2010 Writers Market, including a one-year subscription to

Thanks to everyone for commenting! I'll be posting next week's giveaway later today.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Status Saturday: Waiting, Waiting, Waiting

Remember, you can still comment this week for a chance to win the 2010 Writers Market, complete with a one-year subscription to!

Also, head on over to Dawn Chartier's Blog today to read a guest post by author Sara Creasy talking about her writing process. Great blog!

Now, the status report...
ROYAL STREET dropped into the post-revision black hole more than a month ago, although I did find out this week my editor is swamped and hasn't had a chance to read my revised copy yet. So at least I know it's in the queue.

RIVER ROAD, second in the series, is in limbo till RS revisions are done. Then it will need to be revised. I'm afraid an environmental disaster in Plaquemines Parish, La., will have to be factored in.

STOCKHOLM, the work-in-progress, has finally passed the 75,000-word mark. Yay! Big hurdle I've been stuck on for a while.

ELYSIAN FIELDS, third in the New Orleans series, has a proposal written and waiting, waiting, waiting.