Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Urban Fantasy & Preternatural Politics: Vote Vamp or Were?

 Laurell K Hamilton has vampire council and pack politics. Charlaine Harris has vampire queens and sheriffs..and pack politics. Patricia Briggs has vampire kisses..and pack politics. Jim Butcher the Wardens and White Councils and Red Councils.

There's just nothing dirtier than vampire politics...unless it's werewolf politics...well, unless it's human politics.

One thing urban fantasy does really well (and maybe too often, though I'm as guilty of it as the next writer) is use the worst traits of the  American political system and apply them to the ruling bodies of our preternatural beings. In the case of vamps and weres, well, think Republican and Democrat. Natural enemies, right?

The vamps are sexually licentious beings who want to spend, spend, spend. They're probably freakin' foreigners as well, and their religious habits are...Well, they DO burst into flames at the sign of holy things.

Weres are accustomed to having their way, by bullying and biting if necessary, and consider themselves an exclusive club who can be loyal to their pack. And it's all about pack. If you ain't pack, you ain't real.

Now, imagine a large council of vamps and weres who meet daily in a large round room, pontificating on their various issues. You think they're going to get anything done? And you expect better of Congress?

My next question...what species does the Tea Party represent? And are you tired of politics in your urban fantasy?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Natural Disasters -- Uneasy Alliance

I'm over at Tor.com today talking about Hurricane Katrina and why urban fantasy and sci-fi have stayed away from setting stories around historical natural disasters. Click HERE to read.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Sensory Input: Lasting Impressions from Katrina

The five-year Hurricane Katrina anniversary has given me a tougher week than I expected. I started off watching Brian Williams' "Dateline NBC" Katrina special last Sunday night all steely eyed and acting like, as one friend noted, "a tough woman who's been through some shit." But I've sorta crumbled under the weight of it as the week has progressed and I've written and talked about my Hurricane Katrina experiences a lot.

The thing that has struck me are the odd melange of memories. It's not the big, overarching fear and sadness and anger of it that have stayed with me. Those have faded. It's a hundred small moments like these, frozen in time:

* The evening before Katrina was due to come ashore, I had taken Tanker, my 80-pounder, to do his business in a big grassy field next to the Days' Inn near Shreveport where I'd evacuated. There were lots of beefy guys in fatigues walking their dogs too...mostly Labs. I  overheard somebody ask who they were, and the one nearest me said they were with an Army Search & Rescue unit and were standing by till the storm came ashore so they could take their dogs into New Orleans to look for bodies. It scared the shit out of me, and I think that was the first time it dawned on me that this was really happening.

* Finally calling my best friend a couple days after the storm and realizing everyone was freaking out because nobody knew how to reach me--I could call out on my cell phone with the 504 area code, but until then I hadn't realized nobody could call me.

* Talking to my friend Dave just before the storm hit, and being horrified to learn he hadn't evacuated. He ended up trapped on the upper level of his house for a month before his brother finally went down from Alabama with a boat and got him out. Till then, since all communications were down, we didn't know if he'd lived through it or not.

* Going back to work on November 1 and seeing my desk calendar sitting on August 26, with the phone number of the Days Inn written on it where I'd made the reservation "just in case."

* Aaron Neville coming on the televised Katrina benefit concert on TV, and bursting into tears as he sang "Louisiana 1927." I still can't listen to that song.

I'm sure I'm alone because we were all some tough folks, and we'd seen some shit.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guest Blog w/ Autumn Dawn: Staying Organized

We depart from regular programming today to welcome author Autumn Dawn. Read along for a quick look at Autumn's newest book, Careful, He Bites. And you know how we love books with bite!

I’m a big believer in being organized. So far I’ve published over a dozen books, both in print and ebook format. To keep track of them all, I have a couple of spreadsheets. One is called “Contracts and Market Ready” and the other is simply “What’s Where”. The first tracks books by title, publisher, when my contract began/expires (less important with New York than small press. You’ll be lucky to ever get rights back from NY.) I also note the page count. Works in progress are also tracked here.

The second tracks where I’ve submitted a manuscript, to whom, when, and what the answer (assuming they bothered to answer) was. I’d be totally confused if I didn’t keep this info at my fingertips. Presently, it’s helping me to track my backlist as I publish it to Smashwords.

I also keep a list of steps I need to do once a book is released. It includes updating my site and blog, sending out an email to my fans and possibly sending it to reviewers.

No matter what kind of writing you do, these steps can keep you on the right track. Writing might be an art, but it’s also a business. Don’t neglect the paperwork!

Autumn Dawn

Ever kissed a Drac? Careful, they bite....
Bali Itara is the daughter of a mad scientist, and daddy's favorite toy.
Domino is the man who can help her escape the madness, for his bite holds the cure. There's only one catch....

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday, on Which My Dog Decides to Blog

Yo. Tanker here. Mom's busy. Well, she took grandma to the doctor [a-gain] so I'm taking over this little screen with the funny keys attached to it.

So, here's the deal. Mom wrote me into this first book of hers, called Royal Street, only she had it all screwed up. Her memory, it ain't so good, you hear what I'm sayin'?

First, she called me Gandalf in the book, and my name is Tanker McNamara Johnson. I'm named either after some cartoon character or a professional wrestler or some bigass boat, depending on how much wine mom's had to drink. When we're alone, she tells me it was the wrestler Tank Abbott. But I ain't seein' it, you know?

The Other Tank Abbott
And then in the book she made me yellow. Freakin' yellow! Like a pansy dog! She made some excuse as to how there was a big black dog in some book about a potter named Harry. Made no freakin' sense. I mean, mom's pretty cool and all and she gives me lots of snacks, but...freakin' yellow?

Goofy face

Then she makes me goofy. And I'm a heap-big macho guy. You how what I mean? Okay, maybe my tongue is spotted and hangs out the side of my mouth every once in a while--every guy has a quirk. And I have this face I make just for her 'cause it makes her laugh and then she gives me more treats. But that's like a private thing, y'know?

So, when you read Royal Street, remember what I really look like. And that I'll be like crazy old dude by the time it comes out so I might not care if you think I'm goofy. Just remember I ain't yellow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Day the Music Died--Katrina Photo Gallery

I'm posting at the Write in the Shadows Blog today and talking about some of the photos I took on Oct. 17, 2005, the first day I was allowed to go back into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Comment for a chance to win a New Orleans Prize Pack....no telling what kind of lagniappe might be in there! Click HERE to check it out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Write What You Know, Then Delete Half

How many times have we heard the old fiction-writing advice--write what you know? Overall, I think it's good practice, and I wish I knew more that was worthy of writing about.

But sometimes, writing what you know doesn't work, or can be a detriment.

Some of the things I know are too boring to write about. Who wants to read a novel about higher education administration? I can write about publishing a magazine for university alumni, about growing up in a town of 2,000 in the Deep South, about living in five different states over my career, about quilting, about adopting a stray dog, about writing speeches for a college president.

But really. Who'd want to read it? Even I find it boring.

Another thing I know a lot about: Hurricane Katrina. Lived through it. Read everything that's been written about it.

So it was a natural for me to write about it. As I progressed through ROYAL STREET, my urban fantasy set during the immediate Katrina aftermath, however, I realized I knew too much.

I had to constantly remind myself: this is my character's story, not mine. This is not a book about Katrina or about New Orleans; this is a completely different story that takes place in that city, in that time. I ended up cutting thousands of beautiful, heartbreaking descriptions that were simply overkill. You might read some of them here when the fifth anniversary rolls around on August 29.

It's called research, and it's a path marked with potential pratfalls and opportunities for ridicule. No matter how much I research the pirate Jean Lafitte or jazz great Louis Armstrong, there will be somebody out there, somewhere, who knows more than me. Yet at some point, I have to stop researching and start writing or the real experts will have nothing to ridicule.

And let's not even talk about love scenes involving non-humans, where knowledge, research, and experience fall short. If anyone's offering a workshop on it, though, just let me know :-)

So, what do you know? And do you write about it?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hashtag Wednesday: I Read #Pubtip So You Don't Have To

New Wednesday feature! In case you haven't been hanging around Twitter, here's a wrap-upu of my favorites from the #pubtip hashtag this last week:

From author Kristen Lamb, a look at why it's important for an author to use social media under the name that'll be on your books, and not the endearing but useless monkeylove35 (and if there is a monkeylove35, I apologize).

From Scholastic editor Cheryl Klein: "Hardest to judge: Good writing but thin plotting. Good plotting but bad writing easier to let go, as plot only matters if we care."

Also from Cheryl Klein: "If you want a project to be taken seriously, don't explicitly make yourself, your child, or your pet the main character of the book." (Suzanne to Shane & Tanker: I think we're okay, "Dil" and "Gandalf"--it wasn't explicit.)

From Kensington editor Megan Records: "Rebutting a pass letter is like banging head against wall. You should know better. It will hurt like hell, and the wall always wins." (Love this!)

From writer Ann Hendrickson: Why the agent who reps romance doesn't want your sci-fi.

From YA author Kristin Miller: Publishing Myths and Misconceptions

From writing guru Bob Mayer, a great video on Pitching and another on Conflict.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Writing Whiplash: Fiction and Nonfiction

Okay, I'll admit it up front. I'm insanely envious of authors who can stay at home and actually write. Most of the full-time writers I know are supported by their spouses. A couple actually support themselves by writing.

The rest of us have to schlep off to work for a living. And some of us write nonfiction for a living and then go home at night to write fiction for our creative souls.

That's the boat I'm sailing on, and the waters are rough sometimes. I don't sleep much anymore, for example--but sleeping is highly overrated, right?

But writing fiction has had some unexpected impact on my nonfiction, and vice-versa.

Good News for Nonfiction

Once upon a time (say, a couple of years ago), I wrote longform features on instinct, churning out from 2,000 to 4,000 words by a rough formula: hooky beginning, summary paragraph, two or three salient points, ending. Now I put a lot more thought up front into how I'm going to tell my story. I think of my story arc--my "plot," if you will, who my characters are, how they progress through the story, where the closure falls at the end.

The formula is gone now, and the writing has improved. This piece on Habitat for Humanity founder, the late Millard Fuller, was awarded second place in feature writing in last year's Writer's Digest 76th Annual Writing Competition. This piece on the local foods movement won a couple of national awards this spring from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. I would have handled these stories differently before I began writing fiction.

Good News for Fiction

The nonfiction work has helped the fiction as well. Maybe not the writing itself--I automatically write everything using Associated Press Style, and then have to back up and insert pesky serial commas, and I'm too heavy on dialogue attribution until I go back and "un-journalism" the story. Writing emotion is also difficult for me, because the elusive quest for "journalistic objectivity" has beaten it out of me.

But I'm used to working on deadline, and meeting deadlines--a big plus for fiction-writing. I also don't sit around and wait for the "muse" to appear. Writer's block? Don't believe in it. I just sit down and write something. I might end up tossing it, but I will write something.

So that's my two hats. As I write this, I'm shucking off the fiction hat and pulling on the nonfiction hat, getting ready to go to the day job.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dialect, Dawlin'--Avoiding Huck Finn Syndrome

I had gotten roped into reading a couple of chapters of an acquaintance's manuscript last month, a mystery that tripped over one of my pet peeves.

It was swimming in dialect. The main character  had some ill-defined role as an investigator (separate problem) and was in a feud with the story's antagonist, whose main outward sign of evil was being overweight (separate problem). And he was Irish.

Jaysus and begorrah! I'll be having nightmares of bad Irish dialect for months, I will.  A sentence similar to that was used at least three times on every page.

No, I'm not exaggerating. And this hit home for me because I'm in the final throes of revising a novel, three of whose major characters are Irish or English. And the previous manuscript featured some of my favorite characters, twin mermen from Cut-Off, Louisiana. I spent many, many years in Southeast Louisiana, listening to people make fun of how writers tried to do dialect, chere.

How does a writer convey dialect, whether it's South Louisiana Cajun or Irish vampire, without going down Huck Finn Lane?

I think the vocabulary word for today is "SPARINGLY." Throw in a phrase every once in a while, have another character note the accent, and try-try-try not to overdo it.

Unless, of course, an editor says: "I like this, but your character needs more dialect." Jaysus and begorrah! Then I'll be all over it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quilting a Book, Words and Fabric

I began writing ROYAL STREET in October of 2008. Not coincidentally, I last worked on a quilt in...yep...October of 2008. Now, instead of thousands of tiny pieces of fabric arranged in a visual feast, I try to piece thousands of letters, words, and punctuation marks into something at least pleasant to read.

It's not such a different process, when you think about it, since my "specialty" is a technique called paper-piecing, which allows you to use really tiny pieces of fabric and create intricate "pictures" with them. A tiny, throw-pillow-sized quilt top can easily have more than 1,000 separate pieces of fabric. (Yeah, yeah, I'm OCD. I know.)

Found some of my quilt pix while digging around last night, and thought I'd share them. There probably won't be anymore for a while...except the ones pieced together in words.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Schizophrenic Online Author Platform

"Create a platform," I'm told. Gah! So I've gone about it in the most assbackward way possible, and I'm feeling kinda schizophrenic these days.

There's the website, which is supremely ugly but I can't figure out how to customize godaddy templates or, better still, how to transfer this URL from godaddy to wordpress without reinventing the wheel.

There's this blog, which is hard to read (white on black=BAD IDEA; all-cap title=worse idea) which a friend kindly designed for me and while I love the ambience of it, it's, well, hard to read. And it's on a different site than my website.

Then I have the Twitter persona, the Facebook persona, and I started a GoodReads persona but, frankly, I don't have a book to sell yet, and I don't have time for a lot of message board reading right now.

I have my group blog persona over at Write in the Shadows.

And I'm starting up a new website, Southern Fried Gothic, that's going to be loads of fun. I hope to launch it sometime in September...once I can figure out the ins and outs of designing a site on Wordpress.

But tying all these personae together into a "platform".....GAH.

Ideas? Should I scale back on some of this business? Should I drop what bores me and just do what's fun...at least till I have a release date less than 12 months away?
Drowning in identities here!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Ice Road Werewolves, and the Future of Urban Fantasy

Our blog topic over at Write in the Shadows this week is “Five Years On”—where will paranormal fiction be five years from now?

The short answer: Hell if I know.

The long answer: Well, of course I know, being blessed with omniscience and wisdom far beyond all comprehension. So I looked inside my crystal bourbon glass ball and found ten insights into paranormal fiction for 2015.

1) All the Tweens and Tweeps and YA-hooers will grow up and demand paranormal fiction for adults.

2) As a result, agents and editors will be clamoring for books whose protagonists let the F-bomb fly and have genitalia they actually know how to use.

3) Although it will later prove false, an Internet rumor that e-readers cause skin rot will result in a huge revival of print books. Abandoned e-readers will be recycled as oil breakers to protect the Gulf wetlands.

4) The Internet will suffer a temporary collapse from the sheer weight of paranormal author blogs. The “W.I.T.S” crew will be seen pacing the interstate medians in various states from Alabama to Alaska, holding “Read Our Book” signboards.

5) The question of “How is Urban Fantasy Different from Paranormal Romance” will finally be answered.

6) Fear will run rampant among authors when a famous paranormal writer goes into such deep POV that she is lost to reality.

7) On the 2015 edition of “Big Brother,” one of the houseguests will be revealed as a vampire, biting Julie Chen on-air and bringing preternaturals out of hiding.

8) As a result, authors of paranormal fiction PC (pre-Chen) will be hailed as literary geniuses—or conspirators, if you’re Republican—and become fabulously wealthy.

9) Toward the end of the year, Oprah will create the P&S Network (Prete & Supe), and claim “O” Magazine always meant “Otherworldly.” She will become even wealthier, and begin her bid for the presidency.

10) Reality TV will take on the challenge of paranormality with new shows like “Jon & Kate Eat Eight,” “The Bachelorette: Nymph Edition,” and “Dancing with the Fae.”

If you like the post and want to see what my fellow WITS bloggers predict, come on over to Write in the Shadows and leave a comment!

Monday, August 9, 2010

What Seniors are Reading

And I don't mean high school or college seniors.

Since my 84 (or is it 85) y-o mom decided to become my roommate/boarder/supreme dictator a few years ago, I've spent a lot of time sitting in doctor's office waiting rooms, playing chauffeur. It makes for interesting people-watching. Depending on what kind of doctor we're visiting as to what kind of people you get to watch.

This morning, it was the ophthalmologist, and there was no one (present company excepted) under the age of 80. So, here's what I observed.

Seniors with bad eyesight like to read. It might be why their eyesight is so bad. I was so blind by the time I hit third grade that Miss Reed moved my little desk right in front of the blackboard till my blue cat's eye glasses came in. Oh, the humiliation.

Seniors with bad eyesight are fond of genre books. I caught a Jodi Picoult novel, a Stephen King, a James Patterson, and a Bible (well, it's sort of a genre unto itself). Oh, and about six BlackBerry screens and Charlaine Harris (me).

Seniors have not pounced on the digital reading bandwagon. I saw no Kindles, Nooks or iPads, though I have developed an unhealthy lust for one of the latter.

Seniors are very fond of white sneakers. This applies equally to males and females. I have no cultural explanation for this and it has nothing to do with reading. Just an observation.

Next up: the General Practitioner on Thursday. Joy.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Straight Talk about Ebooks & Dinosaurs

I haven't seen anything official but news is flapping around the Internet about Dorchester Publishing's decision to produce only digital books from here on out. This follows on the heels of the company being "dis-invited" to the Romance Writers of America conference in late July.

It all makes me sad.

I am a dinosaur. I don't own a Kindle or iPad or Nook. Everytime I've gone to look at an e-reader, I think how many "real" books I could buy with all that money and I walk away.

And there's the crux of the matter. E-books still don't feel like real books to me. In theory, they're real books. I have friends who've published e-books and their launches are just as exciting and fun. My head knows that digital publishing has opened the doors to a lot of authors and stories that might not have found a public otherwise--books that deserve to have a publisher.

But e-books still feel like the stepsisters of print books to me. The first thing I thought when I heard the launch date on my first novel had been pushed to April 2012 was, "OMG. They'll only release it as an e-book. By 2012, there might not be any real books produced by new authors." My parents weren't readers, but I grew up in libraries and bookstores, inhaling ink and glue and paper. The smell of a new book is comforting to me. As an author I want my name on something tangible that smells of ink and glue.

Can a dinosaur like me change? Can I come to accept eBooks as "real" books? If my books only come out in e-form, will I be as excited about them? If there's not a print book sale to reach for, will I quit reaching?

In the end, I guess all I can do as a writer is keep writing, and let the market do what the market does. And if my books end up in only digital form, then I'll still be excited about having people read them. I'll try not to feel nostalgic.

It may be that books end up going the way of music. I'm a music junkie, and I used to buy vinyl LPs. I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 albums. Now, I have none. I sold them on eBay, sold them at yardsales, stored a bunch in a friend's attic. But I have tons of music--all digital. I burn CDs for the car, frequently reload the iPod, live half my life with earbuds plugged into my ears. i-freakin-tunes should be paying me by now.

Stores still sell CDs, but who buys them? Well, older folks who don't do digital. And that may well be the fate of the printed book, as us dinosaurs die off and the eGeneration takes over.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Short Story Blues

I have a mental block with short stories. I know this because I'm trying to write one. Or two. Or three. Ideas? Oh yeah, I have ideas out the wazoo. (What is a wazoo?) But it seems such a waste to use these ideas on a short story.

Maybe it's because I've always looked at short fiction as the poor stepchild of the novel. Short fiction is written by people who can't write novels, I always thought.

Now I've changed my mind. Short fiction is written by writers far more brilliant than me, who can condense complex plots into 4,000 words with precision and beauty, while I can't seem to write anything in fewer than 90,000 words.

I also don't READ short fiction, and maybe that's part of the problem. Maybe I need to study the craft of short stories.

I need help, people. Tips? Good short story anthologies to check out?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: The Girls with Games of Blood, by Alex Bledsoe

I'm just old enough to have hated the Seventies while I was living them, and just removed enough to get kinda nostalgic about them now--especially the Seventies in the South.

So I went into Alex Bledsoe's first 1970s Memphis vampire story, Blood Groove, with some trepidation. I mean, you know--afros and bell-bottoms and platform shoes and disco? Open racism and rednecks? Add a centuries-old European vampire to the mix, one who's been out of circulation since 1915?

It's utterly awesome. Funny and irreverent and horrifying all at once. It's a new breed of urban fantasy tilting to the horror side of the scale. These are not your sexy, romantic vampires a la JR Ward. In fact, these vamps might be able to incite debilitating lust in you with the look of an eye, but you really don't want to go down that road.

Baron Rudolfo Zginski is setting in in Memphis in the sequel, The Girls with Games of Blood, and he finds himself experiencing 1970s life with a bit more ease, even to the point of learning to drive and developing a "guy thing" about his classic Mustang. He's also developing most-unZginski-like feelings for the young female vampire Fauvette, which annoys him, and has managed to make a mortal enemy of a "Walking Tall" Buford Pusser-like ex sheriff with a baseball bat and a mean temper.

With the world from Blood Groove well established, Bledsoe manages to pull us into the rural outskirts of Memphis for a Southern Gothic tale of vampiric sisters with a long feud over the man who done 'em wrong. Mix in Zginski's machinations, Leonardo's exploration of racial issues with a long-term human blood donor, and Fauvette's frustrations over her need to feed and her feelings for Rudy, and it all goes South fast.

The Girls with Games of Blood is fast read and a good read, and has another ending (I'm still having nightmares over the ending to the first book) that made me shudder.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Bad Things Happen to Good Characters

I'm finally past dayjob-overtime-from-hell month and can spend a little time thinking of ways to torture my series characters. Funny thing about a series. In one book, you kind of wrap things up; in the next, everything gets shot to crap again.

So far, I have:
--A character who has developed substance-abuse problems;
--Another character on the run from a necromancer;
--A wizard stuck in a marriage to an elf;
--A dog that isn't really a dog;
--A couple of characters who, hurt and angry, are about to have some hurt and angry sex;
--A kid who's about to be turned vampire;
--Oh, and a few murders.

That all sounds like such fun. Now, if only it was written!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Writing, Interrupted

Interesting discussion recently by sci-fi author Robert J. Sawyer about how, within a decade, no science fiction/fantasy writers--perhaps no novelists at all--will be able to write full-time. He argues that as the turf wars over e-publishing funnel less money to authors, pirating is easy and plentiful, and authors are being expected to pick up more (if not all) of their promotional costs, writers will be lucky to have that day-job lunch hour in which to churn out stories.

Will storytelling always be with us? Sure. Always has, always will.

Will storytellers be able to live on their storytelling? Sawyer says no.

Of the writers I know who are doing it full-time, most are "housewives" or "house-husbands" with a working spouse who's willing to let them pursue their dreams.

[Must be nice. If you know of a guy willing to let me write while he works and does a hefty amount of the household duties, let me know.]

For those of us who are single (and, worse, have children or aging parents we're trying to support on our paltry day job salaries--and write on the side), well, hell, the reality Sawyer mourns is already here. But for the next decade, I guess we can still dream.