Thursday, September 30, 2010

Interview: Sandman Slim's Richard Kadrey

There are tons of great new books in speculative fiction being released this month--get your credit cards ready! I'll be spotlighting a few in the coming days. You can also read earlier mini-interviews with author Cherie Priest (Dreadnought), Jennifer Estep (Venom), and Kalayna Price (Grave Witch).

Next up is Richard Kadrey whose highly anticipated sequel to last year's awesome Sandman Slim comes out on Oct. 5 through HarperCollins. It's called Kill the Dead: A Sandman Slim Novel. I had a chance to ask Richard a couple of quick questions as I put together my new Fiction Affliction column for (check it out for the full list of urban fantasy releases, sci-fi releases, Young Adult paranormal and epic fantasy releases coming in October.

KILL THE DEAD is the highly anticipated sequel to last year’s Sandman Slim, which vaulted to Barnes & Noble’s “Best Paranormal Fantasy Novels of the Last Decade” list and is in development as a film for Dino de Laurentiis. James Stark, who finally escaped hell after eleven years as a hitman, chased down his enemies in Sandman Slim. Now, he’s been hired as Lucifer’s bodyguard while the Hot Guy oversees his movie biography—and that Czech porn star might not be what she seems. There also might be a zombie army on the way to muck things up.

I asked Richard about the pressures of writing a sequel to such a successful book, and here's what he had to say.

RK: "Sandman Slim’s success was a blessing and a kick in the ass. It meant that people wanted the second book, but it also meant that it had to not suck. Kill The Dead turned out to be the hardest book I’ve ever written.

"First, I’d never written a sequel before. It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. Diana Gill, my editor, helped me figure out how to create a story that continued from where Sandman Slim left off, but wasn’t too obscure for people who hadn’t read it. 

"Second, I'd never written anything that even hinted at a mystery plot. Looking back, trying two new things at once probably wasn't the best idea I ever had. But I finished it and so far it seems to be getting a pretty good reception. The idea of making Kill The Dead more of a mystery than Sandman Slim was something I planned from the beginning.

"I contracted for three books and I don't know if there will be any more after that so I planned to make each book a little different. Sandman Slim is kind of an old-school Jim Thompson, Richard Stark-type crime novel, the kind that were pretty common from the '40s all the way up to the '70s. As I said, Kill The Dead is a little bit more of a mystery. Book three, Aloha From Hell, will be more of a fantasy quest story. Stark has to go and find something to save Alice and pretty much everyone else in the universe.

"With any luck, I'll get to do more with Stark down the road. Dino De Laurentiis is developing a Sandman Slim movie, so if the books end with number three Stark might still have an afterlife on film."

Have any of you read Sandman Slim? What's up next on your TBR pile?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Author Interview: Urban Fantasy author Kalayna Price

There are tons of great new books in speculative fiction being released today--get your credit cards ready! I'll be spotlighting a few in the coming days. (You can also read earlier mini-interviews with author Cherie Priest (Dreadnought) and Jennifer Estep (Venom).

Next up is Kalayna Price, whose new urban fantsy, GRAVE WITCH, releases October 5 from Roc. This begins Kalayna's new Alex Craft series. I had a chance to ask her a couple of quick questions as I put together my new Fiction Affliction column for (check it out for the full list of urban fantasy releases this month, or click here for the sci-fi releases. Coming soon: Fantasy and Young Adult Paranormal release lists!).

Q: How did you decide how you wanted to portray Death--did you "cast" him as you were writing?

KP: No, I didn't cast Death. He was one of those characters who walked into my mind around the same time Alex, the main character, appeared. With Alex, a woman who can see and speak to the dead, as the lead of the story, I knew right from the start that she'd have an interesting relationship with the local Grim Reaper. They have a history, which is hinted at right from the first paragraph of the book:

 “The first time I encountered Death, I hurled my mother's medical chart at him. As far as impressions went, I blew it, but I was five at the time, so he eventually forgave me. Some days I wished he hadn't—particularly when we crossed paths on the job.” Because of their history, and the fact I wanted Death to be a romantic interest in the series, I knew he couldn't be a thing of pure horror--no naked skulls or long flowy robes here. He's rather normal in his faded jeans and black tee-shirts, but doing a very abnormal job so whenever he appears in Alex's life, there is that uncomfortable moment when she has to figure out if someone is about to die or if he just that he wants a cup of coffee. It makes for a fun dynamic between them and I hope people enjoy reading about Death.

Q: Where is GRAVE WITCH set, and how did you choose that setting?

KP: You've probably heard the saying "technology has made the world a smaller place." Well, in Alex's world, the fae and other creatures of legend revealed themselves during an event known as the Magical Awakening and the newly rediscovered magic made the world a bigger place. Literally. Space unfolded, revealing new land. Nekros City, where the story takes place, is located in an area that unfolded between Georgia and Alabama.  The city itself is obviously fictional, but is heavily based on some of the best--and worst--aspects of several southern cites, such as Charlotte, Atlanta, and bits of New Orleans.

Q: When will the next one come out?

KP: The second Alex Craft novel, GRAVE DANCE, is currently slotted for Summer of 2011.

Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance: October 2010 Releases

Ack! Thirty-eight new urban fantasies/paranormal romances hit the shelves this month. The list is below, along with release date and publisher, but for a full preview with plot summaries, check out my blog over at, Fiction Affliction.  I'll be chasing down the books by Kalayna Price, Jim Butcher, Mike Shevdon, Cat Adams, Lena Meydan, Richard Kadrey, JR Ward, Ben Tripp and Rachel Vincent. And I will be so, so, sadly broke. What's tempting to you this month?

On the Wizards, Witches & Faerie Shelf:
* Bayou Moon, by Ilona Andrews (Sept. 28, Ace).
* Double Cross, by Carolyn Crane (Sept. 28, Spectra).
* Afterlife: The Resurrection Chronicles, by Merrie Destefano (Sept. 28, Eos). 
* Venom, by Jennifer Estep (Sept. 28, Pocket). 

* Poison Kissed, by Erica Hayes (Sept. 28, St. Martin’s).

* Grave Witch, by Kalayna Price (Oct. 5, Roc).
* Entice Me at Twilight, by Shayla Black (Oct. 26, Pocket). 
* Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher (Oct. 26, Roc). 
* Harvest Hunting, by Yasmine Galenorn (Oct. 26, Jove).
* Trio of Sorcery, by Mercedes Lackey (Oct. 26, Tor).
* Vampire Uprising, by Marcus Pelegrimas (Oct. 26, Eos). 
* Road to Bedlam, by Mike Shevdon (Oct. 26, Angry Robot). 
* Shotgun Sorceress, by Lucy A. Snyder (Oct. 26, Del Rey). 

On the Shelf of the Blood-Consuming Undead:
* Haunted Honeymoon, by Marta Acosta (Sept. 28, Gallery).
* Siren Song, by Cat Adams (Sept. 28, Tor).
* Everlasting Desire, by Amanda Ashley (Sept. 28, Kensington/Zebra).
* Twilight Forever Rising, by Lena Meydan (Sept. 28, Tor).
* Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany (Sept. 28, Avon). 
* Memories of Envy, by Barb Hendee (Oct. 5, Roc).
* Eternal Hunger, by Laura Wright (Oct. 5, Signet).
* Blood Heat, by Maria Lima (Oct. 26, Pocket). 

On the Hellspawned Demons and Rogue Angels Shelf:
* When Pleasure Rules, by J.K. Beck (Sept. 28, Bantam); and
* When Wicked Craves, by J.K. Beck (Oct. 26, Bantam). 
* Mr. Monster, by Dan Wells (Sept. 28, Tor). 
* Something Wicked, by Michelle Rowen (Oct. 1, Berkeley). 
* Sins of the Flesh, by Eve Silver (Oct. 1, HQN). 
* Kill the Dead, by Richard Kadrey (Oct. 5, Eos). 
* Crave, by J.R. Ward (Oct. 5, Signet). 
* Blood Trinity, by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Dianna Love (Oct. 19, Pocket).
* Highborn, by Yvonne Navarro (Oct. 26, Juno). 

On the Zombie Shelf:
* Monster Hunter Vendetta, by Larry Correia (Sept. 28, Baen). 
* Rise Again: A Zombie Thriller, by Ben Tripp (Oct. 26, Gallery). 

On the Shelf of the Shifting Weres:
* Left for Undead, by L.A. Banks (Sept. 28, St. Martin’s).  
* Eat, Prey, Love, by Kerrelyn Sparks (Sept. 28, Avon). 
* Alpha, by Rachel Vincent (Oct. 1, Mira).

Also: Three anthologies or novella collections. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Author Interview: Urban Fantasy author Jennifer Estep

There are tons of great new books in speculative fiction being released today--get your credit cards ready! I'll be spotlighting a few over the next days. (Scroll below for a mini-interview with Boneshaker author Cherie Priest, whose Dreadnought releases today.)

Next up is Jennifer Estep, whose new urban fantsy, VENOM, releases today from Pocket Books. This is the third in the Elemental Assassin series. I had a chance to ask Jennifer a couple of quick questions as I put together my new Fiction Affliction column for (more on that below).

Q: Your "elemental assassin," Gin Blanco, has an unusual "side" occupation. In addition to being an elemental mage and an assassin, Gin runs a barbecue restaurant, the Pork Pit. How did you come to use that element in your world-building?

JE:  I'm a born and bred Southerner, and when I started writing the Elemental Assassin series, I knew that I wanted to give it a Southern vibe. What's more Southern than a great barbecue restaurant? Not much.

I also love writing about food, and I thought  it would be cool to make cooking one of Gin's hobbies, to give her a quirk that people could relate to. Plus, I had written another (unpublished) book that featured a barbecue restaurant, and it was just too good of a set piece not to use. So with all that in mind, the Pork Pit and the city of Ashland were born.

Q: What's your favorite thing about the Elemental Assassin stories?

JE: My favorite thing about the series has definitely been the reader reaction. I knew that I was taking a bit of a risk, writing about an unapologetic assassin, but I've gotten so many emails from readers telling me that they love Gin as much as I do. My goal is to entertain folks, and knowing that people are enjoying reading about Gin and her adventures really does make my day as an author. Happy reading, everyone! ;-)

Venom, the third Elemental Assassins book, releases today. To see all the science fiction (including steampunk) books being released between September 28 and October 31, check out yesterday's Fiction Affliction column on A new one will run each day this week--others will focus on new releases in Urban Fantasy, Epic Fantasy and Young Adult Paranormal, and I'll update the links as they become available. Be sure and leave a comment!

Interview: Steampunk Author Cherie Priest

There are tons of great new books in speculative fiction being released today--get your credit cards ready! I'll be spotlighting a few over the next days.

First up is Cherie Priest, whose new steampunk, DREADNOUGHT, releases today from Tor Books, following up last year's Locus-winning BONESHAKER. I had a chance to ask Cherie a couple of questions as I put together my new Fiction Affliction column for (more on that below).

To what do you attribute the "rebirth" and growing popularity of steampunk?

CP: There's been something of a perfect storm over the last few years, wherein the "makers" movement has collided with environmentalism, and a general new millennium's sense of reevaluating what's important. I've often thought (and sometimes said) that if steampunk has an underlying philosophy, it's "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" because that's what it does - it re-purposes things that have been discarded, and turns them into objects of beauty or functionality. 
I mean, look: No two steampunks ever arrive at an event wearing exactly the same thing. They very often make or remix their own clothes and jewelry (or buy handmade/custom made items), rejecting the 20th-century tendency for everyone to own more or less all the same stuff.  They decline to participate in mass consumerism/mass production when at all possible - focusing upon artisan culture, desiring quality objects rather than disposable ones. 
It's a very timely and modern message, despite the fact that it's often presented in terms of stylistic nostalgia.

What attracted you to the alt history genre, and what's your favorite aspect of your Clockwork Century world? (Okay, that's two questions!)

I grew up (primarily) in the Southeast, where alternate Civil War ending speculation is something of a regional pastime, so when I began noodling with my own steampunk/alternate-history world-setting, it seemed like an obvious place to start.  I was drawn to the idea of a universe where the trappings of steampunk were symptomatic of the place and time - not just accessories to it; I wanted to tell stories wherein there was a very good reason for the "advanced" Victorian technology, and the Late Unpleasantness was the perfect linchpin upon which to hang it.

But probably my favorite thing about the Clockwork Century, as it sprang up in response to all these narrative demands, is that it isn't too much history - which is to say, it isn't hobbled by the facts.  A woman can go nuts trying to account for every tiny detail as it might have been changed in another time line, and I didn't feel like going nuts. I just wanted to have fun with it. So I cherry-pick the interesting or useful bits of history and either ignore or hand-wave away the parts I don't want to use. The Clockwork Century works for me because it's a playground and not a textbook. 

Great stuff! Dreadnought, the second Clockwork Century book, releases today. To see all the science fiction (including steampunk) books being released between September 28 and October 31, check out yesterday's Fiction Affliction column on A new one will run each day this week--others will focus on new releases in Urban Fantasy, Epic Fantasy and Young Adult Paranormal, and I'll update the links as they become available. Be sure and leave a comment!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Show vs. Tell--A View from the Urban Fantasy Ranks

We had quite a discussion on this topic over at the Castles & Guns blog yesterday, so I thought I'd move it over here today. It's all about "Show, Don't Tell."

Writing books, workshops, tips from pubbed authors will always include that one bit of advice: Show, Don't Tell.

It's great advice--for the most part. But in writing fantasy (urban or epic), it creates some challenges for both the author and the reader in the opening chapters of a book.

Have you ever picked up a new fantasy, begun reading it with great anticipation, gotten to about page ten, and realized your eyes have glazed over? But you soldier on, and by page fifteen, your glazed eyes have crossed and are at half-mast. Because--now you're willing to admit it--you don't know what the hell is going on in the story and, what's worse, you don't care.

That's the byproduct of too much "show" and not enough "tell" in the beginning of a novel.

I've spent the last couple of days judging contest entries for an RWA chapter in the paranormal category. All but one suffered from this problem. They did a great job of starting the story in the middle of a scene. They grabbed my interest. The characters had potential. And then the scene went on...and on....and nauseum, and after fifteen pages, I had no idea what the characters were gnashing their teeth over, or whether we were going to be dealing with vampires or goblins, or why I should care.

They didn't need tons of backstory--heaven forbid. But, c'mon guys, give me one freaking SENTENCE of context. Ten words of narrative to make all that showing mean something.

I think this is particularly problematic in fantasy and science fiction because unlike regular fiction, there are not necessarily rules of physics and social structures that apply. As readers, we begin each fantasy world with a blank slate. The author has to simultaneously hook us in with a scene that shows, but also must give us enough tell to help us understand and care about the scene. The only way around it is to give us a character so compelling in the first two pages that we can suspend our cluelessness and keep going.

As I went through these entries, I began thinking about some of my favorite urban fantasies and how the authors pulled me in. In Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, for example, he begins the first book with the mailman delivering Harry's mail. Not earth-shattering action, but it is showing. It also has told me a lot by the end of the scene--Harry's a wizard. He's broke. He's an investigator. He helps the Chicago PD out with some of their weird cases. He's really broke. If Jim Butcher had only shown the snarky exchange between Harry and the mailman, I wouldn't have known all of that. All the showing was broken up by just a tad of telling.

One series that I really love but that I almost didn't read because of too much initial "show" was Kim Harrison's Hallows series. In the first book, we encounter Rachel Morgan in a bar exchanging barbs with a tinkerbell-sized fairy who's sitting on her earring and trying to catch a leprechaun. I started that book at least twice and put it down because it did a lot of showing but after a chapter I still had no idea what was going on in any big-picture kind of way. Finally, I started it a third time on a friend's insistence and eventually plowed through to the point where it grabbed me. It took a while, though.

So, weigh in--how much "tell" do you want in your opening pages of "show"?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Drive-By Friday: Win Romeo & Juliet & Vampires

Romeo & Juliet & Vampires: The Ten-Word Drive-By Review

Girl vamp marries vamp-killer. Dad pissed. Hearts at stake.

Want to win a copy of Romeo & Juliet & Vampires, by Claudia Gabel and William Shakespeare? Comment and tell me what you're reading right now: in ten words or less.

Plus one entry if you follow me on Twitter. Plus another if you're a blog follower. (Let me know if you do these.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Magical Meals: A Pinch of Love, a Crumbled Leaf of Revenge

Jaded Love Junkie is having a "Blogofeast" today, with everyone blogging about food! Head over to her site to see who else is participating.

Today, in honor of DJ Jaco, the Green Congress wizard who's the heroine of my upcoming urban fantasy series for Tor Books, I'll be offering up some of her favorite herbs and other edibles and what they might be used for. Of course, DJ hates to cook, so she has to come up with more creative ways to get the herbs to her intended targets--but you can just add them to recipes. (Also, just for the sake of transparency, sometimes DJ's concoctions go awry.)

ALLSPICE is a fine addition to pumpkin pie, and it promotes healing. So if you burn yourself taking the pie out of the oven, you can eat the whole thing and call it medicinal.

If you have a fever, eat a few ALMONDS. And then use the almond tree wood to carve a nice magic wand--it's a good conductor of magical energy.

Samhain is coming up if you're into such things, and APPLES are considered one of the foods of the dead. So forget the candy corn and wax fangs. Make an apple pie for halloween.

Got a real witch in your life? Give her an apricot, which is supposed to induce a sweet attitude. Then stick the pit in your pocket to attract love.

BASIL has all kinds of useful properties. Sprinkle it around your property to keep goats away, or seep it into a strong tea and it will give you the ability to fly. I'd suggest trying this on the ground first. DJ hasn't had much luck with it.

Eating BLUEBERRY pie while unde psychic attack will ward off evil. It will also leave you with blue teeth.

If you want to incite lust in your guy, bake him something with CARAWAY SEEDS in it. Just have him floss before it goes further.

CHICORY, a popular root in traditional New Orleans coffee that adds to the strong, bitter taste, is a favorite ingredient of DJs, as it promote invisibility. There's a catch, though. The chicory has to be gathered at noon or midnight during midsummer using a gold knife. DJ finds it easier to just order it from the Congress of Elders' secure website.

Add CORIANDER seeds to heated wine to induce lust. DJ believes it's the wine and not the coriander that contributes to this effect, but a little extra incentive never hurts.

Got some lusty lunkhead who's had too many coriander seeds and just won't take no for an answer? Give him a slice of CUCUMBER to squelch lust. Or DJ's favorite--make a Pimm's Cup: Mix Sprite and Pimm's Liqueur, serve in a tall glass with a slice of fresh cucumber. Drink enough and Mr. Lusty might start looking good.

If you live on the coast. chew up some GINGER and spit it in the sea to stop an oncoming storm. DJ wishes she'd known this spell before Hurricane Katrina.

A cheating spouse can be set on a straight course with a slice of LEMON pie. But if everyone did that, what would all those divorce lawyers do for a living?

Can't sleep? Rub LETTUCE JUICE on your forehead. Don't use your good sheets.

Take a white ONION, stick it full of black-headed straight pins and put it in your window to guard your home against evil intruders and venomous beasts. (Might want to put some Febreeze on your shopping list, too.)

PISTACHIOS are good for calming zombies and helping them return to their graves to rest in peace. Getting the zombie to eat the pistachio before he digs into your brains is the trick. DJ is really, really, really scared of zombies.

Go forth, cook, and be merry!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Someone, Sell Me a Zombie

Maybe it's George Romero's fault--or possibly Laurell K Hamilton's, but I just can't get into zombies unless they're either trying to scare me or make me laugh.

Romance with wolves, vampires, mers, demons? Sure, bring it on. The bigger the better. (And in the case of the Black Dagger Brotherhood *swoons* I mean that quite literally.)

Zombies? Not so much. In my mind, a zombie is a slathering, mindless, murdering stumble-bunny that's hard to kill. It probably smells bad, like the rotting meat it is. If not mindless, it's likely stupid. Dirt could be matted in its hair. It might chow down on brains, since it has none of its own. These things do not make me feel warm and fuzzy.

So it occurs to me, as the Zombie Revolution in urban fantasy continues unabated, that perhaps I haven't met the right zombies.

So come on. Sell me on some zombies.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Excuses, Excuses: Writer's Block

A while back, when I was working at Tulane University as an editorial manager, I remember interviewing a promising candidate for a job writing feature stories for our magazine. Her clips were good. She seemed marginally sane (always a concern in New Orleans). A sure bet, right?
Then she lost the job with one slip of the tongue. "I tend to do a lot of my writing in the evenings," she said. "My muse tends to visit more then."

Resume=round file. I didn't have time for no stinkin' muse.

I don't know how many of you are in my boat, but I imagine there are quite a few. I work a full-time job. I don't have kids, but I do have a demanding 85-year-old to contend with. I have personal stuff pulling at me just like everyone else. My writing time is very, very limited.

So here's the hard, cold truth. If you're in the boat with me, you do not have the luxury of waiting for a muse. You don't have time for no stinkin' writer's block.

Now that I'm writing fiction and trying to make a second career out of it, I don't write on hard deadlines unless my publisher has revisions. I write out of sheer desperation. If I only have two hours a day to write, I can't afford to wait on some muse to come wafting in the window.

Do I get frustrated? Sure. Do I throw out a bunch of crap? Sure, but not as much as one might think. Do I have days when I don't write because I'm sick, or working overtime, or have too many blog entries to write? Oh, yeah. And let's not even mention Twitter, the most addictive time-suck of the universe, created by Satan expressly to to derail promising writing careers.

My cure for writer's block? Just sit down, butt in chair, and write already.

Want to read what some other writers think about muses and writer's block? My brainstorming partner over at Wastepaper Prose asked an amazing group of published YA authors their thoughts on this very issue. You can read their answers here and here. But leave a comment before you go. Am I being a total author bitch here? Sorry. It's 11:30 p.m., and I need to check my Tweets.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Don't You Wish Your Pirate Could Talk Like Mine?

Somehow, I missed "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" yesterday. (Insert obligatory "Arrrrrr, matey.")

Did pirates ever really talk like that? I suspect not so much. My pirate certain doesn't.

The pirate Jean Lafitte (or Laffite, if one wants to be historically if not culturally accurate) is a major player in my New Orleans-based urban fantasy series that one day in the distant future will be on a bookshelf near you. Jean was an unusual pirate in many ways. He was tall for his time. He was fluent in at least four languages--his native French, English, Spanish and Italian. He was a master wheeler-dealer.

Of course he was also ruthless and arrogant, but--hey--a pirate's got a certain reputation to uphold, yes?  I also made him a shameless flirt, and playfully devious. Which is why it's called fiction.

So, in belated honor of International Talk Like a Pirate day, here are two of my favorite Jean Laffite exchanges from ROYAL STREET and RIVER ROAD, the first two in my series:

(From River Road)

Jean tsk-tsked me. "Such language you modern women use."
Yeah, like pirate wenches didn't curse. I've read those novels.

(From Royal Street)
He stood and walked to the outer window, pulling the shade aside a fraction to look out on the street. "I would want these things. Free passage to come and go into New Orleans as I choose, without interference from your Elders or your enforcers." He dropped the shade back in place and paced the room. "I want your assistance with my business dealings, and I want a house in the city where I can live when I am here."
     He walked behind my chair and leaned over, whispering. "Perhaps one near yours."
     He wanted to be neighbors? Well, that would be fun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Out, Out Foul Inner Editor

Okay, I'm agonizing through reading, I mean, Romeo and Juliet and Vampires. Sorry.

I'm over at the Castles and Guns blog today, talking about how writing is ruining my experience as a reader. Come over and join the conversation!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Wanted: Two New Crit Partners

My small crit group, Rumored Romantics, has just opened a contest to fill a couple of openings--we number five when "fully staffed" but are down a couple of members.

We carry a light crit load--one chapter per week--and have a pretty good group, if I do say so :-)

The only requirements: authors must be over 18, and must write an adult genre that has some element of romance in it. I write urban fantasy and paranormal romance (sometimes, but not always, at the same time), Lynnette Labelle writes romantic suspense, and Katrina Crew writes contemporary romance. It's a no-snark, professional group of serious writers.

If you're interested (I'd love to get another paranormal author in there), check out the details today on Lynnette's blog. Sorry for the "jumping through hoops" part--we all went through it, too! If you have any questions, feel free to comment here or email me.

Let the contest begin!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Romeo, Juliet, Vampires and Me

I've avoided all the mashups till now. I've run screaming from them. And then I did it.

Think about a train and airplane about to crash--you know it's going to be scary bad and yet you can't look away. And that's how I came to be reading Romeo and Juliet and Vampires.

In all fairness to co-author Claudia Gabel (the other author is Mr. Shakespeare, who'd probably approve of the whole project), the writing is fine, although modern slang coming out of teen mouths in 15th-century Transylvania is disconcerting. Still, at least it isn't in rhyme.

My question is: Why, people? What's the attraction to Jane Austen and Zombies, or Little Vampire Women (the cover image of poor undead Beth, Jo and Amy with blood dripping down their chins has destroyed my fond childhood memories). Why? Why? Why?

And yet...the idea of taking Don Quixote and turning him into a zombie slayer (at least in his mind) is awfully tempting. Sancho Panza could be a weredonkey and...I think I'm gonna run this idea past my agent.

No, on second thought, she might hit me.

So, what's the attraction to mashups, really and truly? Does anyone have a guess? And will it be over soon?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Writing Consciously--What Are Your Themes?

Yesterday, sometime between editing the story on feral pig contraception (don't ask) and meeting with my weekly crit group, I spent some time thinking about themes in fiction--not plot, but the deeper, underarching core values of a story's characters and their motivations.

I read an article a year or so ago that authors tend to return, consciously or unconsciously, to the same themes in their work. That inside each of us, buried deeply perhaps, are a set of core beliefs that find their way into our writing whether or not we do it consciously. Think of it as the moral of our story--and even genre fiction has a moral somewhere underneath the exploding zombies and high-tech spaceships. Our job is not to preach that moral, but to show it at work in our plots and characters. And it's there whether we consciously put it there or not.

I don't have a huge body of work to examine, but when I looked at my first two novels, digging beneath the layers of plot and language and structure, sure enough, there were my themes. They'd popped up into two books without my even being aware of them. So when I began writing my third book, I determined my themes consciously and was amazed how it helped shape the decisions of my characters and the events as they unfolded.

There probably aren't a huge number of themes--there's an infinite number of ways the same basic ideas can be interpreted by different writers. Common themes include appearance vs. reality; the search for personal identity; the meaning of home.

In my work, apparently, the themes that came out unintentionally were 1) That  family has nothing to do with blood ties or DNA; 2) That love and friendship can come from the unlikeliest places; 3) That life will always let you down; it's what you do with the disappointment that determines the fiber of your character. Damn. Where did those come from? Deep inside, because they are things that, at my core, I believe.

In the third book, armed with what are my apparent internal themes, I looked at my characters and realized there was a fourth theme I wanted to present: that sometimes we can't find happiness by following the course dictated by societal norms or expectations. Sometimes, we only find happiness by letting go of all the expectations and leaving ourselves open to whatever life brings us. Knowing that this was the lesson I wanted my characters to come away with helped shape the story as I went along. I'll never again start writing a story without some idea as to what theme I want that story to tell. Well, except maybe for this year's NANOWRIMO project :-)

What are the themes behind your books or some of the favorites you've read?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Crafting a Writing Career

In a perfect world, writers would, well, write. We wouldn't worry about things like marketing, promotion, the vaguaries of contract language, platform-building, Tweeting for anything other than pleasure, whether the fact that a reviewer/agent/editor hasn't answered our emails is cause for paranoia, or--God help us--long-term planning.

If you read yesterday's pathetic, whining blog, you'll know that I'm butting my head against the long-term planning wall.

I read recently that an author's work is one part writing, nine parts business, and the business side of my head is trying to strategically look at how an author crafts a career. I'm hard-nosed and practical, which is maybe an odd trait for a writer. I will never churn out dozens of trunk novels, gaining satisfaction from the craft of writing itself and hoping someone, someday, will want to read them. I'm also not a languisher. I won't spend ten years lovingly crafting a single work. Hell, I won't spend two years lovingly crafting a single work. When I start a novel, I expect to finish it within six months, and then move to the next thing.

It's the next thing--the next STRATEGIC thing--that has me flummoxed. (Isn't "flummoxed" a great word?)

With the first two in a series sold, do I optimistically work on the third in the series in case someone wants to read it?

With an unrelated trilogy proposed and the first book written, do I start the second one hoping someone, somewhere, will eventually want to publish it?

Do I toss all that aside and start something new?

Do I continue to write short stories (a writing form I do not enjoy, by the way) to help work on that platform-building thing?

And what the hell am I supposed to Tweet about anyway, and why would anyone want to read it?

What will best benefit a writing career in the long run?

So far, my best advice (thanks, JenKBlom) is to drown myself in Snickers and Dr. Pepper (I threw in some Cheetos for good measure). And now, it's time for the day job, where I shall happily go to work and edit a story on feral pig contraception. Feel free to make "pig skin" jokes; I am.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Discouraging Days

I'm antsy to write and between projects, and I freakin' hate that.

Two novels on ice with the publisher for another eighteen months. One manuscript disappeared into black hole of submission land, at least theoretically. Two proposals and one short story in same black hole, theoretically. One short story on ice till books are out.

Should I work on the third in the "on ice" series, optimistically hoping the publisher will want to keep it going (and praying they don't decide, eighteen months from now and 2.5 years after contract, that it's no longer relevant)?

Should I work on another in second proposed series, optimistically hoping it will eventually emerge from the black hole?

I have a new idea for something unrelated...should I devote a few months to that assuming nothing ever will re-emerge from black hole?

Should I just forget about writing and start watching more reality TV? After all, Survivor and Amazing Race and a fall season of Ice Road Truckers are all about to start.

I freakin' hate this.

Okay, whining over. Tell me something to work on.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Do Readers Want to Know About Upcoming Books?

To paraphrase James Brown, "mama's got a brand new gig."

Beginning around October 1 on, I'll be previewing each month's new releases in Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult/Paranormals, addressing such important questions as: "When will the world domination of Young Adult fiction be complete?" and "Do we really need twenty-five zombie novels this month?"

The column will not be limited to books being published by Tor, but will cover all major publishing imprints.

Here's the question today, folks: What information about upcoming books do you as a reader like to see?
Author quotes?
Plot synopses?
Links to author pages?
Specific release dates?
Highlighted "anticipated" and "sleeper" titles?
What else?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My Crit Group Has an Opening

Critique groups have their pros and cons, in my experience.

On the plus side, you can develop a close group of authors who are familiar with your writing (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and can commiserate. You have people who can point out problems in a manuscript at the micro level and avoid some issues before your manuscript gets too far. You are able to hone your own editing and critiquing skills by reading the work of others.

On the minus side, crit groups by their nature are slow. Reading one chapter a week of someone's work-in-progess is not going to yield a lot of broad-picture issues. If you're a fast writer of horrendous first drafts who does a lot of rewriting, as I am, nothing's likely to go to crit group until it's in a second or third draft. For big-picture stuff and faster feedback, you need alpha or beta readers.

I have a little of everything. I belong to a local writer's group that meets weekly. I have an online critter who is the world's most brilliant brainstormer--we do a lot of IMs as we hash out our plots and execution. I have an "alpha" reader who actually slogs through my first drafts looking for big-picture issues, and several beta readers.

And I have an online crit group--which currently has an opening. In the next week or so, we'll be announcing a contest to choose our next one or two members. Stay tuned.

Here's the deal. We're called Rumored Romantics, and just lost a member when she landed an agent and began intensive revisions (go, Roni!). There are three of us now. I write urban fantasy with elements of paranormal romance from the South. Lynnette Labelle writes romantic suspense from the upper Midwest. Katrina Crew writes contemporary romance from London. Our newly departed member writes erotica. So, we're all over the map, genre-wise and location-wise. Our obligation load is light--we each read one chapter of another member's work each week.

Good writing is good writing, and that's what we're all after. If you think you might be interested in entering the contest to win a group spot (we all went through it, because Lynnette's a little sadistic--ha!), you might want to check us out first by clicking on one of the links below.

For a general overview of the group members and our backgrounds, check out Lynnette's blog. You can also follow Lynnette on Twitter.

Check out Kat's blog and follow Kat on Twitter.

You're here, so you've seen my blog! You can also follow me on Twitter.

More on the critique group opening soon!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vampires are Easy; The Rest of Us Gotta Eat

What do your characters eat? Food is an important part of any culture, so it's a good way to ease some authentic atmosphere into a book's settings.

I was reminded of this as I  finished re-reading the Sookie Stackhouse novels of Charlaine Harris this weekend. They are set in Bon Temps, a fictional town in northwest Louisiana near Shreveport. Most people hear Louisiana and think of the food associated with New Orleans and Cajun country, but once you get out of the New Orleans-to-Lafayette belt, Louisiana cuisine is simply Southern. So the non-vampires in the Sookie series eat Southern. They eat a lot of casseroles because if a Southern isn't able to fry and batter something, she'll put it in a casserole and drown it in cheese and cream of mushroom soup. Southerners eat a lot of chicken fingers, because all Southern chickens have fingers. We eat biscuits, because no self-respecting Southerner would publicly eat wheat toast.

In my first New Orleans novels, my characters mostly bemoan the things they can't eat because Hurricane Katrina has shut down all the restaurants. They eat a lot of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), which were provided by the military. I still have some MREs in my closet in case really hard times ever fall again. The main thing I learned about MREs, and which my characters note in the book, is the bizarre combination of foods in them. Lasagna, crackers, Tabasco sauce, mustard, and a muffin might be a typical combination. Say a prayer for our troops.

In the second book, New Orleans has bounced back, so my characters eat what you might expect--po-boys, muffalettas, beignets, red beans. Their meals help set the rhythm of the story, and the cuisine helps establish their place.

Want to make a quick muffaletta at home? It's easy. Take a round Italian loaf and half it horizontally, smother the bottom in a thick combination of deli meats (usually prosciutto, salami and mortadella), top with slices of provolone cheese, then pile the whole thing high with olive salad (if you don't want to make your own, Progresso makes a perfectly good bottled version), and toast. The toasting part is optional. Central Grocery in NOLA, which claims to have invented the muffaletta, doesn't toast theirs. My favorite places to eat 'em (Napoleon House in the Quarter and Franky & Johnny's uptown) do toast them. Cut the megastrosity sandwich into quarters and serve. [If, unlike me, you enjoy cooking, you can make your own olive salad by mixing green and kalamata olives, pickled vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, oregano, garlic and capers--mix, chop coarsely, and let it mingle in the fridge for a day or so.]

By the way, for my review of the tenth Sookie novel, Dead in the Family, click HERE--the Southern Fried Gothic site is still a month or so away from officially going live, but I'm starting to prepopulate it.

So, what do your characters eat?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What Makes a Hero?

I'm blogging over at Write in the Shadows today about heroism in honor of the upcoming 9/11 anniversary.

My 9/11 memories are fuzzy.

I was already at work when the first tower was hit, and only found out something was going on after the second. My dad was in the last downward spiral of COPD, and would die within a couple of weeks. That was taking most of my personal attention and about all the emotion I could muster. Then, as my coworkers gathered around a small TV in someone’s office to watch the 9/11 drama unfold, I was called to the university president’s office to start crafting a strategy for what the university could do for its students from New York and DC, and writing a speech for him to give at an afternoon convocation to help our students put the whole thing in perspective. I wrote about it all week, working long hours. I missed all of the TV coverage except in small spurts over a quick dinner as I worked late hours. I then went to my hometown to watch my father die. For me, 9/11 is a blur, like a movie I watched from a distance.

I missed most of the shared consciousness of 9/11. The first time I really thought consciously of what makes a real-life hero came after Hurricane Katrina. THAT tragedy, I didn’t miss.

In fiction, our heroes are usually strong macho guys (or women) with overwhelming sex appeal. They are larger than life, can figure a way out of any dire predicament, and do it while cursing like a sailor.

Real-life heroes, I learned, are not like that. They might be old, or young. Handsome, or not. They don’t have blind courage or superpowers. What they have is integrity, some solid inner core that, when tested, hardens and refines. My hero was Scott, a university president who, faced with a demolished campus and students and faculty scattered across the continent, swallowed his fear and despair to wade his way back into the void to save his university. My hero was Irene, who at age 80, with her family home in ruins, was sitting resolutely in a church pew in New Orleans six weeks after the hurricane and helping other people. My heroes don’t even know they were heroes.

I think that’s what we all admire about the 9/11 rescue workers as well. Firefighters and police officers who were probably scared as hell, but sucked it up and did their jobs. Who lost loved ones and colleagues, but set their panic and fear and grief aside and did what they were sworn to do.

That’s a hero.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

E-books? Meh.

We've been talking about e-books and the future of publishing (like I known anything) over at the Write in the Shadows blog this week. Below is a copy of my blog that's running over there today....

I’m kind of curmudgeonly about e-books. I like the smell of ink on paper. I like the tactile feel of a book in my hands. I want to see my name printed on a book cover, with a real jacket and a spine that creases. You know the spiel.

But e-books are here. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with them. They’re a legitimate form of publishing. Because they are less expensive to produce they will open doors to more authors.
So: Meh. I’m in a sea of wishy-washy where e-books are concerned.

Do I think they’ll continue to snag a growing share of the market? Absolutely. There’s a younger generation of readers who don’t think reading a 350-page novel on a 3×5-inch iPhone screen will make them go blind. (Just you wait, kiddies.) For the rest of us, there’s the iPad. Do e-books excite me as an author? Not a lot, but then again I only began writing fiction two years ago so I haven’t gotten jaded yet. And I think there’s too much flux in the market right now to really know where things will end up. How well the e-book market grows will determine how excited I’ll get about it as an author. I think in two years I could get really excited about it, the way things are growing. But we’ll see.
In my sea of wishy-washy float random thoughts:

* I’m a music junkie who loved my big collection of LPs. I don’t have them anymore. I don’t even have CDs. At last count I had almost 3,000 digital songs on my iPod. Has digital music killed the music industry? Of course not. And e-books won’t kill off traditional publishing. People have a tactile love of books they never had with music, plus digital music is more durable and of superior quality than other delivery methods and I’m not sure that’s true of e-books. Apples and oranges.

* The piracy issue has to be addressed somehow. Music piracy is a huge issue too, of course, but recording artists have metrics of success other than album sales. Midlist authors simply can’t afford their books passed around e-mail lists and Internet sites and sold illegally on eBay or they’ll never get new contracts. I recently came across a woman who’s making a living selling pdf versions of books on eBay. They shut her down, she reinvents herself, registers under a new name, and just keeps selling. A couple of months ago she was offering a complete set of Laurell K Hamilton books (about 30 novels) for $10. Maybe LKH can afford to lose those sales, but I can’t.

* I love gadgets and I’m all about instant gratification, so I’m tempted by Kindles and iPads and Nooks and such. (Especially the iPad; I'm getting twitchy over the iPad.) But right now the hardware is too proprietary. I don’t want a bunch of books I’ve bought for my Kindle or iPad suddenly being worthless in five years because whatever new reader I’ve bought can’t “read” them anymore. It’s like all my print books suddenly being transformed into Arabic. Unreadable, in other words.

A recent essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education said e-readers are for people who read fast and then toss or give away their books. They’re not for people who want to build a library, to compare passages, to highlight or dogear, or to re-read ten years down the road. Don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d like to see the pissing match between e-reader manufacturers get resolved before I invest in the market.

I’m sure there are other issues, but right now, for me and e-books? Meh.

Have you taken the plunge yet?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Search Of: Southern Paranormal/Urban Fantasy Authors

 Southerners are a little bit crazy--just ask us. We wallow in our eccentricities, spin our tall tales, and nurture our ghosts and ghouls and crazy old aunts stuck up in the attic.

I'm in the process of setting up a new website dedicated to paranormality with a Southern accent and am trying to create a database of authors from the South, or who write about the South. I'm looking for authors of Paranormal Fiction: urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and horror, both adult and YA. You can get a quick sneak peek by clicking HERE, though there isn't much to see yet.

For planning purposes, I am considering "Southern" states who seceded from the Union during the War of Northern Aggression (aka The Late Unpleasantness). Never mind that all my Alabama relations fled to Illinois and joined up with the Union, or that my part of the state seceded from the Confederacy. We have to have some boundaries. So that means (drum roll):

North Carolina
South Carolina

Send me names! I have a talented group of Southern writers who'll be joining me to offer reviews, essays on Southern mythology, general blogginess, and even Southern recipes, art, and music. We hope to roll out by the end of the month. Stay tuned!

PS. To start us off, I'll get a few out of the way: Charlaine Harris, Stacia Kane, Sherrilyn Kenyon. Now, keep it going! I'll choose one commenter at random next week to win the latest in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead in the Family.