Friday, October 29, 2010

The Most Hated Paranormal Fiction Characters are...

First, a little business! Congratulations on winning a copy of Rachel Caine's GHOST TOWN to:

Iliana

And congrats on winning the PC Cast FLEDGLING HANDBOOK 101 to:

Ferretvamp14

To win your choice of any book being released in November, run over to my four Fiction Affliction columns at Tor.com (scroll down for different genres), then come back and tell me which one you want in a comment. Extra entry for blog followers, another extra for Twitter followers @Suzanne_Johnson. There are more than 80 November releases in Young Adult paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Epic Fantasy and Science Fiction!

Now, what's this about most hated characters? It started with this blog post from the Library Science Degree site about the "The 50 Most Hated Characters in Literary History." Most of the list were from classic literature, but there were a few from paranormals: 

No. 1 was actually a couple: Edward Cullen and Bella Swann from Twilight,  who the author says "share a vomitously unhealthy, codependent and emotionally abusive relationship packaged and sold as romantic." Heh. Hey, don't yell at me. I'm just the messenger!

No. 6 on the list was Anita Blake, Laurell K. Hamilton's vampire-huntress-turned-succubus, about whom the author says LKH turned into a "Mary Sue completely incapable of doing wrong or repelling men." Unfair. I think Anita repelled one male vampire in book 16--and she still hasn't done Edward.

No. 9 was Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter series, known for her "froglike visage, commanding, controlling actions and questionable (at best) ethics." You just know when a person is compared to a toad on first introduction, she isn't gonna be lovable.

No. 27 was Lord Voldemort, also from Harry Potter. Well, duh.

Who would you put on the list of most hated fictional characters? How about Richard Zeeman from the Anita Blake series (loved him at first but I am SO over his self-flagellation)? Vampire Bill (because we're all about Eric)? The Omega and the Scribe Virgin from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series? Who do you love to hate?




Thursday, October 28, 2010

My November Wish List & "Reader's Choice" Giveaway


There are about 80 new urban fantasy, paranormal romance, sci fi, and YA paranormal titles coming out in November--woot! If you want to check them all out, go to my Fiction Affliction columns over at Tor.com -- keep scrolling down for the full list, organized by genre. (YA will go up about 6 p.m. Eastern today so check back). 

Here's the "Reader's Choice Giveaway." Go to the Fiction Affliction link above and pick the title from the Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Science Fiction, Epic Fantasy and (late today) YA titles. Come back here and comment on which one you'd most like to have. I'll pick a winner on Thursday, Nov. 4 and send you your pick as soon as it's released.

Here are the ones I especially want to read. So, Santa, if you're reading, take note:

The Shifters, by Alexandra Sokoloff (Nov. 1,  Nocturne)
Charged with overseeing the shapeshifters of New Orleans, Caitlin MacDonald has her reasons for being wary when charismatic bounty-hunting shifter Ryder Malloy blows into town claiming to be on the trail of a horde of malevolent entities called Walk-Ins. But as tourists start dropping dead from supernatural possession, Cait must team with Ryder to navigate his shadowy, ephemeral world.

Marked by the Moon, by Lori Handeland (Nov. 2, St. Martin’s)
In the ninth Nightcreature release, Alexandra Trevalyn is a werewolf-hunter going rogue after killing Julian Barlow’s wife. Except that Julian takes the most devious revenge imaginable—by making her a member of his pack. Now, she finds him not only evil, but irresistible.

Afterlight, by Elle Jasper (Nov. 2, Signet)
Savannah’s most unconventional tattoo artist, Riley Poe goes over the edge when her younger brother is taken by a sinister vampire cult. Her only ally is hot-tempered vampire Eli Dupre, attracted to Riley’s beauty and rare blood type. In the first of a new Dark Ink Chronicles series, Riley races to save her brother from certain un-death.

Black Wings, by Christina Henry (Nov. 30, Ace)
In this new fantasy series set in Chicago, Maddy Black is an agent of death who really needs to get a life. Escorting souls into the afterlife leaves Maddy little time for socializing—until devilishly handsome Gabriel Angeloscuro agrees to rent the empty apartment in her building. But when demons start appearing on Maddy’s front lawn, she realizes there’s more to her new tenant than meets the eye.

The Greyfriar, by Clay & Susan Griffith (Nov. 2, Pyr)
The first in a new steampunk-noir Vampire Empire series finds war brewing in 2020 in a world reconfigured by an 1870s vampire plague. Millions died, storied cities were taken over by powerful vampire clans, and the remaining humans fled to southern climates where the vamps can’t stand the heat. Now it’s time for payback as the clans target Princess Adele, heir to what’s left of the old tropical British Empire, and she must rely on the mysterious fighter The Greyfriar to help her save humankind.

The Flock, by James Robert Smith (Nov. 9, Forge)
A remote Florida swamp has been targeted for theme-park development and the swamp’s inhabitants are none too happy. They’re a flock of intelligent, prehistoric, dinosaur-like birds that have managed to avoid extinction within their secret world where humans have no role. It’s mercenaries versus the Flock as nature fights greedy corporate America.

The Human Blend, by Alan Dean Foster (Nov. 23, Del Rey)
This near-future noir thriller―first in a new trilogy―takes place in a world where criminals are punished through genetic engineering and bodily manipulation. Given his name because radical surgery and implants have reduced him to preternatural thinness, Whispr is a thug whose random murder of a Savannah tourist puts him in possession of a mysterious thread with dangerous powers. All he wants to do is get rid of it, and he’ll need Ingrid, a savvy human physician, to help.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Making a Case for Paranormal Romance: Why It's Hot

[I'm cross-posting from the Happily Ever After blog today! Scroll down--still time to comment for a chance to win new books from P.C. Cast and Rachel Caine!]

Writing is an odd occupation in my family of salt-of-the-earth Southerners. My people work hard for an honest wage, watch Southeastern Conference football on Saturdays in the fall (Roll Tide―or is that War Eagle?), and take casseroles to church fellowships. My people don’t do weird.

Then there’s me. I spend my days writing and editing at a university―a vague concept among my family members, but respectable enough as long as there's SEC football involved―and my nights writing novels. About wizards. And mermen. And vampires. Some of it's considered urban fantasy; some of it is paranormal romance. And paranormal romance, if you haven't heard, is hot.

Here are my highly unscientific theories as to why:

―It lets us look at the human condition from a different angle. What if our jaw-droppingly sexy hunk of manhood hero never aged? What if he needed our heroine (literally) to survive? What if he struggled at the loss of his humanity as he fought to contain the beast within him―a real beast? What if our all-too-human heroine had to give up everything normal in her life to be with him? Every decision in our paranormal romantic relationship becomes amplified and has  implications that usually extend far beyond the scope of our couple and their families. Any dilemma or challenge or emotion  human couples might feel in a romance, our paranormal couples feel more intensely, on a larger stage.

―It lets us increase our taste for bad boys. There’s a good argument to be made that the most dangerous creature to walk the earth is man. But setting that aside, we all love a guy with a touch of danger, right? Well, give that bad boy fangs, or make him a tortured soul who changes form every full moon and struggles to keep from putting your heroine on his dinner menu. Or what if he’s a nice, solid guy―real hero material―but our heroine has a paranormal flaw that could kill him if she doesn’t give him up? Big stakes, big emotion. The chance to change or save a really, REALLY bad boy.

―It lets us test the mettle of the human spirit. Okay, that sounds really lofty. But most paranormal romance takes a hero or heroine and thrusts him or her into a situation where only a noble spirit (and maybe a bottle of Jack Daniels) will see things through to the end. There are worlds to save, evil beings to conquer, the ultimate face-off of good and evil. In other words, the conflict is serious, and the stakes are big. (No vampire pun intended.) Yet at the heart of all the drama is the love between two people who, despite their vast differences, complete each other not only physically and emotionally, but on some metaphysical level. And since there’s often immortality at stake, it can literally mean love eternal.

Those are a few of the reasons I like to read paranormal romance. The reasons I like to write it are similar except I’ll add this:

―In addition to building deep, heroic characters, paranormal fiction gives me the opportunity to let my imagination soar. To create worlds, and whole systems of behavior that don’t have to conform to the laws of physics or reason. It lets me be weird and romantic, all at the same time, and find new ways of putting the idea out there that, at the end of the day, love is worth the struggle.

Do you like paranormal romance? Why do you read it--or if you don't, why not?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Author Interview: Rachel Caine & Ghost Town Giveaway

Today's the release day for a slew of new books in urban fantasy and paranormal romance, including Rachel Caine's ninth Morganville Vampires book, Ghost Town. Check out my Fiction Affliction columns over at Tor.com  featuring all the October and November releases in urban fantasy/paranormal romance, young adult, epic fantasy and science fiction. You can catch up on all 150-plus October and November releases in these genres at this link. Keep scrolling down to get to your favorite category!

I've been running the full text of some of the mini interviews from the column this month. So far, we've heard from Cherie Priest (Dreadnought), Jennifer Estep (Venom), Kalayna Price (Grave Witch), Richard Kadrey (Kill the Dead), and Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Beautiful Creatures).


Today, though, I welcome Rachel Caine, whose Weather Warden series has always been a favorite of mine, and whose great Morganville Vampires series is still going strong. Ghost Town, which releases today, is the first to come out in hardback and it sounds awesome. Read on to the end to see how to win your own copy. 

In the new book, while developing a new system to maintain Morganville's defenses, student Claire Danvers discovers a way to amplify vampire mental powers. Through this, she's able to re-establish the field around this vampire-infested Texas college town that protects it from outsiders. But the new upgrades have an unexpected consequence: people inside the town begin to slowly forget who they are--even the vampires. Soon, the town's little memory problem has turned into a full-on epidemic. Now Claire needs to figure out a way to pull the plug on her experiment--before she forgets how to save Morganville...
Here's what Rachel had to say:

Q: What has kept the Morganville Vampires going for nine books now?
Rachel: WOW. Is it already nine books in the Morganville Vampires series? I can't believe how much fun I'm having writing these characters and this universe, and it's a real thrill to celebrate the release of GHOST TOWN, the first hardcover of the series. In many ways I think about this series as the underdog ... it wasn't particularly popular when GLASS HOUSES came out, but the sales got a little better with the second book, then the third, then the fourth ... every book kept going up. It's a little bit amazing for the series to get to the bestseller lists after three years, and I'm very, very honored and humbled by the enthusiasm of my readers and booksellers. I really think Morganville has grown by word of mouth and the support of its fans.

Q: Why do you think YA fiction is such a hot market right now?
Rachel: The Young Adult market is growing not only because a lot of adult readers have come over because they're drawn to the storytelling, but also because reading has become a social experience among teens. It's a shared passion, something you do with your friends, not something that isolates you, as it was when I was growing up. And that has revolutionized and revitalized the YA book market. It's really exciting to see it happen, and I am delighted to be part of it!

THE CONTEST: If you're a YA reader, tell us what you like about it? If not, tell us why not? I'll go first. I do like reading YA, at least in short bursts, because of the emotional depth--teens tend to feel things very deeply and with a purity adults have too much baggage to master. On the other hand, I'm at an age where I can't much identify with a 16-year-old, so it has to be a REALLY good story universal theme to hold my interest.

To win a new copy of GHOST TOWN by Rachel Caine, comment with your answer below. As always, tell me if you're a blog follower for an extra entry and a Twitter follower @Suzanne_Johnson for a third entry. I'll draw on Friday!

Monday, October 25, 2010

House of Night Contest--Mommy, Where Do Vampires Come From?


First off, a little business. Congratulations to
NICOLE Z
for winning a copy of CL Wilson's new fantasy Crown of Crystal Flame! And congrats to
JAMIE
for winning Marcus Pelegrimas' new Skinners novel, Vampire Uprising!


Now, another giveaway, because new books are fun, right? And we get to talk about vampires.

There are lots of vampire mythologies out there. In JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series, for example, vampires are a different species altogether and feed off each other. Stephanie Meyer's glitterati vamps are former humans (but only when some poor human's about to die). In Twilight Forever Rising, a Russian vampire book I read recently, the humans are turned in the usual manner, but they are cherry-picked by the different vampire clans according to their talents. The artistic vamps seek out humans exceptionally talented in music or art, for example.


One of the most popular vampire series around is P.C. Cast's House of Night series--the seventh installment, Burned, came out in April. In the HoN series, a small percentage of teenagers' hormones trigger a strand of junk DNA that changes them into...you got it...vampires. Oops, make that Vampyres. The transition takes four years, during which time the kids--"fledglings"--attend a House of Night boarding school. The series follows fledgling Zoe Redbird as she goes through the change.



Coming out from St. Martin's Griffin tomorrow is a beautiful companion book to the House of Night series--The Fledgling Handbook 101, by P.C. Cast with Kimi Doner. As the story goes, whenever a newly marked Fledgling enters the House of Night receives a copy of this handbook. It contains a lot of the FAQs of life as a Fledgling so it's a fun read. But it's also full of original color artwork, stories from former Fledglings like William Shakespeare (!), vampyre history and lore. [To check out more October releases in science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, and young adult paranormal, check out my Fiction Affliction columns over at Tor.com. End of commercial.]


Want a chance to win a copy of The Fledgling Handbook 101? All you have to do is tell me the "Vampyre" superpower you'd most--or least--like to have: eternal life? beauty? super-scary mental powers? Me--I'd hate to give up cake, you know? 


You know the drill: one entry for comment, extra entry for blog follower, extra-extra entry for Twitter follower @Suzanne_Johnson. International entries welcome.



Friday, October 22, 2010

Win Crown of Crystal Flame by CL Wilson (and see why I have trouble reading fantasy)


Building up to a big release date for lots of new books on Tuesday! Check out the Fiction Affliction columns on Tor.com to see what's coming out on Oct. 26.  Today, I'm giving away a copy of C.L. Wilson's super new fantasy novel Crown of Crystal Flame. Read on to win, and come back next week for more surprises!

Confession time: tradition fantasy often baffles me. I will guiltily shuffle my feet and admit I didn't even read Lord of the Rings until about 2000, when my friend Nick virtually held me at gunpoint and insisted I read the whole trilogy before the first Peter Jackson movie was released. I fell in love with the books, of course. And then with the movies as well, where I indulged in many a fantasy about Boromir and Faramir and Aragorn.

But I digress.

I love the idea of traditional fantasy, where one can lose oneself in a different world without the constraints of reality. But I have the attention span of a gnat, so many of the trad fantasies I've tried to read do three things that have me stabbing ice picks in my temples before it's had a chance to pass or fail the 100-Page Test (a book has 100 pages to grab me or I'll move on).

1) Worldbuilding before Character. I need to invest in people before I know Lord Ar'guth'nirz's proud and noble history that has morphed over the millennia into...well, you get the idea. 

2) Prologues. This is an offshoot of #1. If Lord Ar'guth'nirz's noble history is set apart in a prologue, I can pretty much guarantee that I will never know about it. I really hate prologues and have been known to skip them, which I realize is probably my loss. Me=gnat.

3) Names. Any name with more than one apostrophe will make my eyes cross. I "hear" text in my head as I read, and if I can't pronounce a word without studying it a while, I can't bond with the character. Attention span=gnat. 

I'm happy to say that C.L. Wilson's Tairen Souls series completely avoids these pitfalls with her epic tale of love conquering darkness. Here's the scoop:

Seers had long foreseen an extraordinary destiny for Ellysetta Baristani. Already she had won the heart of the Fey King—the magnificent Rain, ever her ally, eternally her love. She had saved the offspring of the magical tairen and fought beside her legendary mate against the armies of Eld. But the most powerful—and dangerous—Verse of her Song had yet to be sung. As the final battle draws nigh and evil tightens its grip upon her soul, will Ellysetta secure the world for Light or plunge it into Darkness for all eternity? As she and Rain fight for each other, side by side, will they find a way to complete their truemate bond and defeat the evil High Mage of Eld before it's too late, or must they make the ultimate sacrifice to save their world? 

Want to win a spankin' new copy of Crown of Crystal Flame? Tell me your favorite--or least-favorite--thing about traditional fantasy. I've told you mine, after all!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paranormal Romance--What Makes it Sizzle?

A few days ago, I did an only half-joking assessment of how to tell a paranormal romance from an urban fantasy. [Half-naked female on cover=urban fantasy. Half-naked male on cover=paranormal romance. ]

Where the line between them is drawn is much harder to define. I know this because I have a manuscript with its butt on the fence (yes, a manuscript can have a butt). The paranormal conflict doesn't predominate; the relationship doesn't predominate. They hold about equal weight. So then the question becomes: in the marketplace, where does such a hybrid fit?

It has been awhile since I played with this manuscript, and I'm about to take another look at it with an eye toward getting off the fence and sliding it more heavily into paranormal romance.

So here's my question to you, oh romance readers o' mine...
What, for you, makes an ideal relationship in a paranormal romance?
The slow build?
The immediate recognition of "the one"?
The alpha male/spunky female?
The damaged guy/vampire/werewolf who isn't ready for love?
The hot sex?
The overcoming of insurmountable odds?

What's your favorite PNR book or series?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Review & Giveaway: Vampire Uprising (Skinners) by Marcus Pelegrimas

In keeping with our march toward Halloween, let's talk about a new horror book that's coming out next week from Eos Books: Vampire Uprising by Marcus Pelegrimas...and at the close of the blog post, a GIVEAWAY (open to international entries). Read on...

THE PLOT:A legendary Skinner has passed. Among the articles he left behind are runes, potions, and powerful weapons to aid in the ongoing war against the unspeakable creatures that prowl the shadows outside normal human consciousness. But there is something else: the remains of a terrifying beast no other Skinner has ever encountered. And it isn't dead.
Skinners, partners, lovers, Cole Warnecki and Paige Strobel are well armed with the tools the late Jonah Lancroft provided. But even his best weapons may not be enough to defeat the monstrosity they now face. A new terror has risen up to infect them both with its virulent malevolence, even as Paige confronts the secrets of her astonishing past. The purest evil walks the world again—the First Deceiver, humankind's darkest nightmare, the self-proclaimed King of the Full Bloods.

THE SERIES:  In the first Skinners novel, Blood Blade, we met Seattle video game designer Cole Warnecki as he took an extreme vacation to British Columbia and ended up becoming a Skinner, a sort of supernatural cop hunting nasty werewolf-like Full Bloods and crazy vampires with the ability to infect people with spores that steal their souls. He eventually teams up with fellow Skinner Paige and they become lovers as books two and three of the series progress. Vampire Uprising is the fourth Skinners novel by Pelegrimas, an author from Nebraska.

MY THOUGHTS: No sparkly vampires or romance figures here. This is a horror novel, and the vampires and wolves are scary and have big teeth. And lots and lots of teeth. Cole and Paige are great, ass-kicking anti-heroes working in a bleak, dark version of the Midwest, but Pelegrimas works in lots of humor and camp between the violence and gore. And did I mention teeth?

I have to admit I came at this book cold and hadn't read the first three in the series, although now I'm curious enough to go back and seek them out. So while it can be read as a standalone, the learning curve is higher. Still well worth a read if you're a fan of dark, dark urban fantasy/horror.

THE GIVEAWAY: On Saturday, I'll draw for a copy of Vampire Uprising, which is due to be released by Eos Books next Tuesday (Oct. 26). There are lots of urban fantasy, sci fi and fantasy both for adults and YA coming out next week. Check out the full list, including Vampire Uprising, in Tor.com's Fiction Affliction columns for October. Scroll down for October releases in fantasy, urban fantasy science fiction and Young Adult paranormal. November releases will be up soon.
 
As always, one entry for a comment, an extra entry for followers on Twitter @Suzanne_Johnson and another extra entry for blog followers! To comment, tell me your scariest horror novel (or movie, if you're not a horror reader).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Started as a Love Letter to Stephen King

Cross-posting with the Write in the Shadows blog this morning, where we'll be talking all week about our favorite horror novels as Halloween month continues.

I started this post as an actual letter but it sounded so stupid I got rid of the “Dear Steve” part. 

But if we’re going to talk about about horror novels, Stephen King is the one and only for me. I grew up reading Salem’s Lot and Carrie and The Shining late into the night when I was probably too young to be reading them. I didn’t think of him as a horror writer–-I still don’t, in fact. His books aren’t made of cheap thrills and quick scares. They’re peopled with deep characters and deceptively simple plots and beautiful language that also just happen to leave you with a type of unease that hangs around long, long after the book has ended.

That having been said, there are two books that have stuck with me beyond all others.

The Stand. God, I love this book. I loved it when I first read it as a teenager, I loved it when it was re-released in its restored, glorious long form. Even now I am staring at it on my Stephen King shelf and thinking about moving it to my TBR shelves. Yes, Stephen King has his own shelf. He and Susan Howatch are the only ones who have shelves of their very own, and what that combination says about my warped character I don't even want to think. (Okay, Jim Butcher will have his own by the time the Dresden series wraps at 20.)

Now, as a writer, I can appreciate how well all the individual stories are woven together in an apocalyptic, mystical tale that is as complex and as simple as good versus evil. I can wonder at how he managed to create a cast of thousands (well, lots) and give them all such distinct voices and personalities. I can admire the sturdy prose that seems so easy and that I now know had to take a lot of work to get that way. 

But I came to The Stand as a reader, where the real magic of it was that it made me think a long time after I finished it. I fretted when Nick got killed and thought about ultimate sacrifices. I pondered Mother Abigail and Randall Flag and God and Satan and choosing sides and making stands. I still occasionally say “M-O-O-N. That spells (fill in word of choice).” I talked about the book with friends. Years later, I hid my face when the miniseries came out because, really, has a decent Stephen King film ever been made? 
 
The other favorite, coming in second, is It. And not because I have a clown phobia, although if I were going to develop one, this book surely would have done the trick. What stuck with me was the horror in this novel, which was at such a deep psychological level that it changed for each character depending on what would scare that character most. Because what scares the pants off me might not make you blink. It made me think of evil as fluid and tangible, something that if I brushed against it as these characters had, it would be able to burrow into my brain and pull out the very thing–whatever it might be–that would scare the living crap out of me. 

It was the first book I remember reading where the scary thing wasn’t something tangible–a crazy man or monster or disease or rabid animal–but was pervasive and fluid. Of course, I’ll go along with the arguments that the ending with the big spider thing wasn’t my favorite, which is why this book didn’t make it to my No. 1 spot, but It had creeped me out so much by the time the giant hairy spiders showed up that I didn’t care.

If I had a third, it would be Needful Things, for much the same reasons.

So…Dear Steve: Thank you for writing. I haven’t gotten to Under the Dome yet, but I’ll catch up…after I re-read The Stand. Signed, a Fangirl.

What’s your favorite Stephen King book?

Monday, October 18, 2010

How to Tell Urban Fantasy from Paranormal Romance

First off, we have winners! Congrats to:
Jennifer
on winning the copy of Kami Garcia & Margie Stohl's Beautiful Darkness, and
Yara
on winning the copy of  Lena Meydan's Twilight Forever Rising.

There are lots of new books being released next week, so stay tuned to the blog for more giveaways--and keep reading below for how to win a copy of Meljean Brook's new steampunk/romance The Iron Duke!

Okay, here's the deal. I've begun a series of monthly columns for Tor.com called Fiction Affliction, wherein I present a handy shopping list of all the new releases coming out in science fiction, urban fantasy and paranormal romance, high fantasy, and YA paranormal. The November lists will be up in a week or two.

Making those lists isn't as easy as it sounds. The genres have become so blended that it's hard to tell where a title should be listed --apocalyptic sci fi, urban fantasy, steampunk, and paranormal romance are all doing huge mashups right now. 

I have, however, discerned a quick and easy way to tell an urban fantasy title from a paranormal romance. 

If you're browing the bookstore shelves and see a book cover featuring a half-naked kickass female torso, usually with tattoos and often with sexy long hair and a gun--THAT BOOK IS AN URBAN FANTASY.

If you're browing the bookstore shelves and see a book cover featuring a half-naked male torso with show abs, with longish hair and a stubbly chin that's barely visible because his entire head isn't showing--THAT BOOK IS A PARANORMAL ROMANCE.

Urban Fantasy.....Paranormal Romance
Easy peasy. Now the issue is solved. I swear this is true--put it to the test.

TODAY'S CONTEST: If you want to read more thoughts about writing outside the box romance has been wedged into for the past thirty years, check out my guest blog today at the Romance Books R Us blog--and leave a comment for a chance to win Meljean Brook's new steampunk romance, The Iron Duke!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dirty Dozen Friday at the Salt Mine

First off, the happy business of announcing that

ELIJANA 

pulled lucky No. 22 at random.org and won the J.R. Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood Insider's Guide. Congrats to Elijana--we want to see that 60,000-word outline! Mine cracked the 4k mark last night.

This morning, my mind is too full of dayjob/Salt Mine stuff, as I face writing a dozen -- that's a DOZEN -- "how to" articles to pull together in a package. All the interviewing of the "experts" is done, but the writing. Oy. I will be writing:

--How to stay happily married 60 years
--How to visit a new country without being an Ugly American
--How to eat a healthy meal at Waffle House
--How to help your kid choose the right college
--How to raise your metabolism
--How to defuse an argument
--How to assemble a cookbook
--How to make cocktail party conversation about technology without sounding like an idiot
--How to recognize an authentic Italian red sauce
--How to tell if your teenager's having problems with bullying or peer pressure
--How to get your sled dog ready for the Iditarod
--How to attract a wild turkey (without a shot glass)

Sigh. I'm tired already. Would some nice publisher offer me a seven-figure contract so I can retire? Six-figures? Five? Anything?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Urban Fantasy Critters: My Favorite Merman

I'm cross-posting from the Write in the Shadows blog, where all week we've been talking about our favorite paranormal critters…and I’m pretty much part of the vampire club. I was trying to explain to someone a few days ago why vampires are sexy and zombies are gross. But you all agree with me–you know you do.

So rather than wax poetic about sexy, brooding vampires ad nauseum, I decided to talk about the paranormal critters I have most enjoyed writing about. I have a vampire manuscript making the rounds right now, but my New Orleans series that will come out in omg2012 has quite the plethora of pretes (aka preternatural beings):

* Wizards of different magical types and skill levels;
* The “historical undead,” which are powered by the magic of memory–the really famous ones take corporeal form;
* Werewolves, specifically Louisiana Loups-Garou;
* Voodoo gods;
* Water creatures–nixes, nymphs, and naiads;
* Satyrs;
* Elves;
* Merpeople.

The fun things for me have been 1) adapting the mythologies for more commonly found pretes like wizards and werewolves and vampires to give them a different twist; and 2) developing my own mythologies for some of the less-common pretes such as mers and elves. (Okay, if you’re a traditional fantasy reader you see lots of elves, but not so much in urban fantasy.)

My current favorite among the critters are the mers. In my world, merpeople are aquatic shapeshifters that were among the French-speaking Acadians tossed out out of Nova Scotia in the 18th century. They made their way to Louisiana eventually, and “Acadians” got bastardized (as Southerners will do) to “Cajuns.”

So my mer characters are Cajun shrimpers who live in the parishes of Southeast Louisiana–LaFourche, Plaquemines and St. Bernard. I’ve had fun blending the Cajun culture with my own twist on the mer culture. My mermen are a bit on the short side, compact and muscular, tight with a buck, prone to siring twins and triplets, a tad arrogant, and a bit gruff at times. They’re also loyal and like the ladies.
So forget this:

Think this:

So, if have to ignore vampires and werewolves, who are your favorite critters?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Twilight Forever Rising, by Lena Meydan (& Givewaway)


A quick bit of housekeeping: to SHANNON, the reader who won the book The Native Star by MK Hobson. I do not have your email address. Please contact me at suzannej3523@gmail.com by Friday. Otherwise, I'll have to draw another winner.

Now, here's the scoop on Twilight Forever Rising (Tor Books), which I'm now mourning because I didn't want it to end...and at the close of the blog post, a GIVEAWAY.

THE PLOT: Darel Ericson of the Dahanavar clan is a rarity among his vampire brethren: he’s an empath, strong enough to occasionally read thought as well as emotion.  For centuries, his power has given the Dahanavar a significant advantage against the machinations of the other vampire families, an advantage which makes Darel both a powerful tool and a highly visible target.

Fortunately for Darel, it is more useful for the heads of the other clans to maintain the centuries-long peace between the houses than to remove him.  But, the cunning and violent head of the House of Nachterret is tired of the truce, and of hiding his presence in the world.  The Nachterret would like nothing more than have free reign over the helpless human cattle upon which they feed. 

Darel, and the human woman he loves, become central to the Nachterret’s scheme to plunge the Houses into all out war.  Darel is ultimately forced to face the question: is one young woman’s life too high a price to pay for peace?

THE AUTHOR:  Twilight Forever Rising, which has been described as "Anne Rice meets The Sopranos," is the first in a series of Vampire Clan novels by Russian author Lena Meydan. It was a major Russian bestseller in hardcover (under its original title, Blood Brothers), and was named Best Urban Fantasy for 2000-2005 by the 13th International Congress of fantasy writers in St. Petersburg.

MY THOUGHTS: This is hands-down the most interesting twist on the vampire mythos I've read in a long time. Each vampire clan has its own form of magic: as sorcerers or artists or business geniuses or shapeshifters--and the balance of power between the clans is precarious. The translation from the original Russian is seamless. If I hadn't known it was a translation I'd never have guessed; it's that well done. The vampire clans are dangerous and "other." This might have a romance of sort at its core, but these are not romantic vampire heroes and the romance is so understated as to be almost invisible.

I can nitpick, as with anything: I wish Lenore, the young human girl who finds herself unwittingly at the center of a massive vampire power struggle, had been better developed. Her character is a bit wooden. I wish the ending hadn't been so abrupt. I wish the relationship between the empath Darel and Lenore had been explored more thoroughly. Does he really love her (as much as he is able), or does he love the way she makes him feel?

But those are quibbles. This is a fascinating vampire world filled with memorable characters I want to see more of. Twilight Forever Rising is the first of a series--the fourth in the series is about to be released in Russia--and I hope the rest get translated for the English-language market as well.

THE GIVEAWAY: I'm running out of book space, so I'd like to pass my copy of Twilight Forever Rising along to someone else! Just tell me your favorite vampire twist--or your least favorite. Do you like it when they can read minds? Enthrall? I can tell you my least favorite--when they can walk around in sunlight and glitter--LOL! I'll pick a winner on Monday, 10/18, and will open this one internationally and see if the postage bankrupts me :-) As always, extra entry for followers on Twitter @Suzanne_Johnson and an extra for blog followers.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Kami Garcia & Margie Stohl Interview and Contest--Win Beautiful Darkness!


Today's D-Day--that would be "D" for Delivery of Beautiful Darkness, the highly anticipated sequel to best-selling Beautiful Creatures! This is great Southern Gothic fiction, set in the small South Carolina town of Gatlin, where things aren't as they appear.

I had the chance to ask authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl a couple of questions for my monthly Fiction Affliction columns over at Tor.com -- I was particularly interested in how their team writing process works. Read on for a chance to win a copy of Beautiful Darkness!

Q: Can you talk about how you and Margaret started working as a team, and how your team-writing process works?

Margie:  We became friends when my oldest daughter was in Kami's third-grade class. She was so naughty, we ended up in conference all the time! Eventually we got to talking and realized we were reading the same books, mostly fantasy and sci-fi. One day, over lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, we came up with an idea for a Southern Gothic paranormal fantasy. I went home and told my oldest daughter, who didn't believe we would actually do it. In the end, she dared us to write the book, and so we did--not to be published, but for my daughters and Kami's students. And mostly to prove we could!

Kami:   Our writing process is a little strange. We start by outlining and discussing universe, plot, characters, etc. Then we each choose a few chapters and start writing. When we're finished, we swap chapters and do the unthinkable--we delete, add, and change whatever we want without discussing it with the other person. Then we trade the same chapters again. We compare our writing process to a running stitch in sewing, because we write over each other's work so many times.  But really, it's more like Jedi editing. Lots of hack and slash. A sentence usually ends up with some of Margie's words and some of mine, but it has to be good to stand up to that many passes. We draft really quickly, and revise very slowly.

Q: (Other than amazing writing, of course) Why do you think Beautiful Creatures struck such a chord with readers?

Kami:  Our book is about figuring out who you are and trying to fit in, without giving up our individuality. It's also about being strong enough to be the person you are -- despite what other people think. I think that's something both teens and adults struggle with. I know I do. 

Margie:  Kami and I are world-builders, which is one of the reasons we love fantasy, but also why we love the Southern Gothic genre. I think readers have embraced the whole world of the Casters and Gatlin County, in the same way that HBO's True Blood works. Every character has their own eccentricities and secrets, powers that you may or may not have discovered - yet. We didn't want anything about Beautiful Creatures to be generic, and it's not.

 
ABOUT BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS: 
Ethan Wate used to think of Gatlin, the small Southern town he had always called home, as a place where nothing ever changed. Then he met mysterious newcomer Lena Duchannes, who revealed a secret world that had been hidden in plain sight all along. A Gatlin that harbored ancient secrets beneath its moss-covered oaks and cracked sidewalks. A Gatlin where a curse has marked Lena's family of powerful Supernaturals for generations. A Gatlin where impossible, magical, life-altering events happen.

Sometimes life-ending.

Together they can face anything Gatlin throws at them, but after suffering a tragic loss, Lena starts to pull away, keeping secrets that test their relationship. And now that Ethan's eyes have been opened to the darker side of Gatlin, there's no going back. Haunted by strange visions only he can see, Ethan is pulled deeper into his town's tangled history and finds himself caught up in the dangerous network of underground passageways endlessly crisscrossing the South, where nothing is as it seems. 

COMMENT AND WIN!
Want a brand new hardback of Beautiful Darkness? Leave a comment answering one of the following questions:
1) What's your favorite Southern paranormal story?
2) What's your favorite Southern town? (No, you don't have to have actually been there, and, yes, New Orleans is technically -- if not actually -- Southern.)

If you follow the blog, you get an extra entry. Follow me on Twitter @Suzanne_Johnson for another extra entry. I'll draw a commenter at random on Monday, Oct. 18 and announce it here on the blog. Sorry, I can mail to U.S. and Canada only.



Monday, October 11, 2010

Baby Steps: Not-So-Lofty Writing Goals

Actually, the title should be "Setting Writing Goals When Life's Kicking Your Ass," but that wouldn't be very polite, would it?

It's shaping up to be a crazy insane week at the old Glue Factory (aka day job), so here is my writing goal: one sentence per day. Last night around midnight, as I opened my working document for the first time since Friday night, I wrote a sentence in this 40,000-word-outline I'm trying to do. Then I got carried away and wrote three more. Four sentences! Then I closed the document.

It's gonna be one of those weeks. Now I'm off to work, where I hope to talk to a prof in our vet school who's in Afghanistan taking care of our "dog soldiers." Okay, some days I love my job at the Glue Factory.

UPDATE: The winner of "The Native Star," the great new book by MK Hobson is....drumroll...SHANNON. Shannon, I don't have an email address for you. Contact me at author.suzanne.johnson@gmail.com and I'll get your book to you. If I haven't heard anything by Friday, Oct. 15, I'll draw another name. So stay tuned!

There's still time to comment below for a chance to win the J.R. Ward Black Dagger Brotherhood companion book--drawing's on Friday!

Friday, October 8, 2010

The 60,000-word Outline & a JR Ward Giveaway!

CONTEST: Read on to win a new copy of JR Ward's fantabulous Black Dagger Brotherhood Insider's Guide -- it's an awesome read if you're a writer interested in learning about a successful author's process and also if, like me, you luuuuuuv those ginormous macho vampires. Plus there's a novella about Zhadist and Bella that doesn't appear anywhere else. What's not to love?

I bought a copy of this book a while back because I read that JR Ward published her entire BDB proposal in there, just as she'd originally submitted it, warts and all. I was trying to figure out how to put together a trilogy proposal at the time and thought seeing her structure would be helpful.

And it was--it gave me a good proposal template to use. (I'll have to let you know sometime in the future if it actually is a saleable proposal).

What I found most interesting about the book--well, besides all the sexy outtakes and "interviews" with the brothers and specific plot challenges JR Ward came up against in writing the different books--was her writing process, specifically her outlining process.

If you've read my blitherings on this blog at all, you know I'm such a plotter that my crit partner calls me Rain Man. I have NOTHING on JR Ward. Nothing. Nada. The woman writes 60,000-word outlines so detailed they are practically a first draft. I have draft envy.

So as I begin to flesh out the sentence outline I've already done for my third New Orleans-series fantasy, Elysian Fields, I decided to try her technique. Between now and the start of NaNoWriMo, I'll be seeing how fleshed out I can make my sentence outline. Watch the progress on the Tracker. I'm setting my outline length at 40k (yegods, the very idea makes Rain Man quiver with excitement). We'll see how it goes :-)

Okay, the contest to win the BDB Insider's Guide (and warning, it contains spoilers if you haven't at least read through the first six books). It's an easy one: Tell me who your favorite Black Dagger Brother is, and why (if you haven't read the books--shame on you--tell me your favorite vampire). I'll go ahead and 'fess up and say I love Vishous, the most tortured, screwed-up character to grace the pages of any novel I've recently read. And JR Ward will tell you why Vishous is her least-favorite character and the mistake she made in writing his story. Extra entry for blog followers; extra entry for Twitter followers @Suzanne_Johnson.

I'll announce the winner on the blog on Friday, Oct. 17. Sorry--U.S. and Canada only.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writing? Who Has Time to Write?

 First, many thanks to web designer savant Nicole over at Word for Teens and my crit partner Susan at Wastepaper Prose for the new blog look! I hope it's easier to read, and the title bar ties into my first book, ROYAL STREET, which will appear on a bookshelf near you ones of these days. Really. April of 2012. It's just a heartbeat away.

I kept most of the features of the old blog design, including my progress meter. I hate that "progress meter" over on the righthand column, because it hasn't moved in..oh...two months, I'd say. Because I cannot find time to write. That is about to change, dammit.

Finished judging all contest entry commitments? Check.

Finished last book review commitment? Check.

Minimized my critique commitments? Check.

Signed up for National Novel Writing Month? Check.

Purged Tweet Deck from my desktop? Uh. Well.

Convinced live-in Senior Adult that even though she sits at home alone all day, she should be okay with me disappearing into the writing cave after dinner and then sit at home alone all evening? Well, not that either.

Convinced the day job to go away but keep paying me? Ha!

Still, I've pulled away from some obligations. I have written a couple of short stories, which I equate to waterboarding. I've started the new Fiction Affliction columns for the awesome folks over at Tor.com. I've sketched out an idea for a new book, only to have my New Orleans characters hijack me and tell me I should write their next story first. And I'm ready to roll...as soon as I get this pesky day job deadline taken care of for another quarter. 

Now, off to write about dolphin use in the military.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Giveaway! THE NATIVE STAR by M.K. Hobson

One of the most enjoyable books I've read recently is M.K. Hobson's steampunk/fantasy debut,  The Native Star, released Aug. 31 by Ballantine Spectra. Read about it below, and answer the question at the end for a chance to win a copy for yourself! Drawing will be held on Monday, October 11, and announced here on the blog. One point for comment, plus an extra point if you're a blog follower, plus another extra point if you follow me on Twitter at @Suzanne_Johnson.





THE NATIVE STAR, by M.K. Hobson

In the tradition of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, this brilliant first novel fuses history, fantasy, and romance. Prepare to be enchanted by M. K. Hobson’s captivating take on the Wild, Wild West.

The year is 1876. In the small Sierra Nevada settlement of Lost Pine, the town witch, Emily Edwards, is being run out of business by an influx of mail-order patent magics. Attempting to solve her problem with a love spell, Emily only makes things worse. But before she can undo the damage, an enchanted artifact falls into her possession—and suddenly Emily must flee for her life, pursued by evil warlocks who want the object for themselves.

Dreadnought Stanton, a warlock from New York City whose personality is as pompous and abrasive as his name, has been exiled to Lost Pine for mysterious reasons. Now he finds himself involuntarily allied with Emily in a race against time—and across the United States by horse, train, and biomechanical flying machine—in quest of the great Professor Mirabilis, who alone can unlock the secret of the coveted artifact. But along the way, Emily and Stanton will be forced to contend with the most powerful and unpredictable magic of all—the magic of the human heart.

Here's your question (don't worry--it's not a pop quiz--it's an easy one):
In The Native Star, hero Dreadnought Stanton starts off as a thoroughly unloveable guy I didn't really want to root for. By the end of the book, I'd done a total 180. Who's your favorite flawed hero?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Halloween Month, Week 1: My Five Scariest Movies Ever

Along with my fellow bloggers over at Write in the Shadows, I'm taking one day a week this month to talk about scary things that have influenced my life. This week: movies.

I don't watch a lot of movies anymore, so these are old classics. These days, I'm more frightened by things like national security, my mortgage payment, and hordes of rabid ultra-conservatives, so when I take out precious time to watch a movie, it's more likely to be a disaster flick because I'm just a disaster-movie junkie. Ironic, you might say, since I ended up living one in Hurricane Katrina five years ago. Let's just say they're more fun onscreen.

So, here we go...

No. 5: HALLOWEEN. The original one directed by John Carpenter, with Jamie Lee Curtis as the hapless babysitter, Donald Pleasance as the vaguely sinister, hapless psychiatrist, and our first look at Michael Myers. I was living alone in an apartment in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, about five miles from the state mental hospital. I still remember coming home from the theater after midnight and fumbling with my door lock while looking over my shoulder for any big zombie-like guy wearing a hockey mask.

No. 4: THE EXORCIST. Now, I think it's hokey and has ridiculous special effects, but when it came out it was the scariest thing ever. I didn't SEE it for a long time because my parents wouldn't let me, but the idea was enough. As tweens my BFF Nancy and I had dabbled with the ouija board and the idea we might have accidentally summoned a pea soup-spewing demon that could possess us and make our heads spin...Holy crap! I haven't touched a ouija board since.

No. 3: HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. For years, I remembered this movie only by the creepy theme song and the image of a man's severed head rolling down the staircase of a grand Southern mansion. Especially the tumbling head. I'm not sure how old I was when I first saw it, but not old enough--I saw it again a few months ago and was surprised that it had a plot and everything. But tumbling head=still creepy.

No. 2: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. Yeah, there's a pattern developing here because, face it, Bette Davis could play one scary broad. And when she serves poor Blanche a rat on her dinner tray? OMG.

Drumroll.....

No. 1: THE BIRDS. Another one I saw way too young (why did my parents let me watch this stuff?). I even became fearful of my brother's parakeet Sammy. And now I will admit an awful, awful thing. Sammy escaped his cage one day and was fluttering around the living room. I saw him. I saw the open window. I saw Sammy fly out the open window. I didn't try to stop him. Yes, I virtually committed parakeet homicide. But the image of poor, traumatized Tippi Hedren being ushered to the car by Rod Taylor through a sea of evil pigeons is one I'll never get over.

What's your favorite scary movie, or scene from a movie that always stuck with you?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Author Interview: YA Urban Fantasy Author Sarah Beth Durst


I recently started a new monthly column over at Tor.com featuring upcoming releases in urban fantasy/paranormal romance, young adult, epic fantasy and science fiction. You can catch up on all 100-plus October releases in these genres at this link. Keep scrolling down to get to your favorite category!

I've been running the full text of some of the mini interviews from the column in recent days. So far, we've heard from Cherie Priest (Dreadnought), Jennifer Estep (Venom), Kalayna Price (Grave Witch), and Richard Kadrey (Kill the Dead).

Stop by later in the week for Beautiful Creatures authors Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Today, though, I welcome Sarah Beth Durst, whose upcoming YA novel Enchanted Ivy (which will be out on Tuesday, Oct. 12) is one of the new releases I can't wait to read since I spend my daytime hours on a college campus. In the book, high school junior Lily Carter goes to visit the college of her dreams, Princeton University, where her grandfather went to school. But when she takes the top-secret Legacy Test (in college lingo, a "legacy" is an incoming student whose parents or grandparents are alumni), she learns there's a whole 'nother Princeton--one with talking gargoyles and were-tiger boys and all kinds of danger. I can't wait to read this!

Here's what Sarah (herself a Princeton grad) had to say:

How much of the Enchanted Ivy setting draws on your own college experiences?

SBD: It is completely autobiographical.  Except for the dragons.  And the talking gargoyles.  And the were-tigers.  Okay, it's not at all autobiographical.  But it is emotionally true.  It's about that pivotal (and terrifying) moment where you know that the decision you are making will forever change you and your future, a.k.a. the college application process.

Junior year of high school, I was obsessed with college.  Every day, I'd receive another college brochure in the mail and add it to a teetering tower in my room.  Every few weeks, my dad and I would hop in the car and visit a few more schools.  (We visited a whopping twenty-two before the start of senior year.)  I worried about SATs, AP exams, grades, extracurriculars, application essays... But most of all, I worried and wondered about what college would be like -- and what I would be like afterward.  Enchanted Ivy was inspired by that overwhelming obsession.  Also by my fondness for were-tigers.

Is Enchanted Ivy a standalone, or will it begin a series?

Enchanted Ivy was written as a standalone (though I admit that I miss the characters, especially my tiger boy...).  My next novel is Drink, Slay, Love, about a vampire girl who develops a conscience after she is stabbed through the heart by a unicorn's horn. No were-tigers in it, though it does have a were-unicorn... :)
 
Thanks, Sarah! So...today's question: Anything from your own college days make potential fiction fodder? A romance? A scary experience? A creepy boss?