Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy Release Day!

Happy Release Day to my friend Jill Myles and her debut Gentlemen Prefer Succubi!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In honor of your holiday of choice




Hope everyone has a safe and happy winter!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

As promised: Zombies

I've mentioned before (many, many times) that I have a severe zombie phobia. Nothing freaks me out quite so much as those undead, shambling, plague-spreaders. And whoever invented FAST zombies...well, there's a special form of torture waiting for you someday.

Of course, because I seem to be some kind of masochist, I feel compelled to at least attempt to watch and/or read every zombie thing I come across. Consider it therapy. Or just lunacy. But, in this drive to expose myself to all things zombie, I came to realize that not all zombies are created equal. Which got me to thinking, what exactly is it that scares me so badly?

I started my zombie odyssey many years ago when Hubby insisted that I should watch George Romero's original movies. We started with Night of the Living Dead, then moved on to Day of the Dead. I remember being unimpressed with the first movie, but the second apparently made more of a mark than I realized. It involved zombies being kept in underground caves, penned up, and the next time I had to go pick Hubby up at his job (then, in an underground cave system) I almost couldn't drive through the complex to get him.

That's when I knew. I was a zombie-phobe.

The next movie I saw wasn't a Romero original, it was the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. First off, the very first zombie you see is a small child. And since I became a mother, I get squicked with little kids in peril sometimes. So that was strike number one. And second, the zombies were RUNNING! WTF??? How is that even fair? They want to eat you, they never get tired, and they can run forever??? I only made it about 2/3s of the way through the movie before I had to shut it off. The bleak hopelessness of being trapped in a shopping mall just...was too much.

At this point, I knew that zombie movies weren't my thing. Didn't keep me from watching the Resident Evil trilogy, or Land of the Dead. None of these movies bothered me as much as Dawn of the Dead, and I got through them easily. In retrospect, the Resident Evil movies didn't focus SOLELY on the zombies. There were other threats, other things to do, and most importantly, ways to escape. For Land of the Dead, the difference came in that the zombies suddenly started thinking. (well, ok, one started thinking but the others were all taking direction from him) Once they were no longer the mindless, unstoppable, plague-ridden flood, they weren't as scary to me.

Somewhere in all this, I also discovered zombie books! I prefer books to movies anyway, and I could stop and put the book in the freezer if I had to, to give myself some breathing room. So, I dove right in, and I discovered that like zombie movies, I had varying levels of discomfort.

My first was World War Z. I thoroughly loved this book, and wasn't freaked out at all. I think, mostly, because this was told by the survivors after it was all over. I mean, I knew it had a happy ending! (ish) They had figured out ways to combat the zombie horde, and it was pretty much a done deal. I like this! I like dead (truly dead) zombies.

The next one I read was The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I read this one contrary to warnings from my dear friends who know me too well. Don't get me wrong, it was a GREAT book! But when it was over, I had to go through the house, turning on all the lights, and put the movie Crybaby in 'cause it was the most anti-zombie thing I could think of. This one wigged me out. The zombies were everywhere, had BEEN everywhere for decades apparently, and most horrifying THERE WAS NO ESCAPE! They were either outside the fences, so you were trapped, or they were INSIDE the fences, so you were trapped. They were relentless, and there was no way to destroy them all. Wigged me out, totally.

Next on the list was Boneshaker. LOVED this book, it had just the right amount of zombies! They weren't the total focus of the story, and even better, they were confined to a specific geographic area. The only complaint I had was that the zombies could suddenly climb ladders, and again, this seems inherently unfair. Give me my slow, stupid zombies, thank you very much!

And the latest on my zombie reading list was Monster Island. It started out to be one of the "freak Kari out" kind of books, with the world devoured by the undead plague, and the mindless, shambling eating machines just waiting to chomp on you if you strayed. However, the author then introduced a thinking zombie, and even worse, one that could control the other zombies, and again, it suddenly removed all the fear for me. The non-thinking zombies became simply tools, and the thinking zombie...well, he was just another bad guy.

So, what did I learn? It seems that two things trigger my fear factor when it comes to zombies. First, the lack of escape. I find this same factor applies to movies set in space or deep ocean. (The Abyss only works for me, 'cause I know how it ends) I gotta have somewhere to run to folks, or I just can't handle it. Apparently, I don't do "cornered" well.

The second factor seems to be the mindlessness of the zombie. Once they can think, they're capable of mistakes, just like any other bad guy. Only the mindless ones, the eating machines that keep advancing no matter what, those freak me out because there IS. NO. STOPPING. THEM. They will bash themselves to bits on your defenses and the ones behind them will just step over the quivering pieces of corpse.

Even just thinking about that gives me the heebie jeebies.

Wonder if I can stick my blog in the freezer.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Shameful Shamings

I officially fail as a blogger, and there's really no chance of redemption for me.

However, I promise a full-sized blog post tomorrow, featuring zombies!

Swear.

Zombies.

Braaaaaaains.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

What's up?

This has been a stellar week for me. There was of course the reveal of the cover art, which was totally unexpected and I'm still walking on air over it. I also turned in summaries of the subsequent books to The Agent and The Editor. The Agent loves them, haven't heard back from The Editor yet. Hope she likes them. I'm also going to turn in a complete synopsis of Book 2, so I hope she likes that too.

My goal for today is to get that sent off, and to write up a definitive paragraph or two on my magic system, and on my demons and their rules. The Agent asked for it, and I think it's going to do me as much good to get it down on paper as it is him. I mean, it's all there in my head in this amorphous blob type shape, but if I can nail it down, I'll be happier writer I think.

I also (mostly by accident) found out two of the authors they've asked to read and possibly blurb my book. And honestly, now I'm a bit intimidated! I mean, these are professionals! These are authors that people have HEARD of. What if they hate it?

Let's see, what else have I done lately?

Oh! I read John Levitt's new book, Unleashed.



This is the third book in his series, and I just love the improvisational method for his protagonist's magic. (and the little dog familiar is one of my favorite non-humans)

I also read Kelly Meding's debut, Three Days to Dead.



Also very good, and I can't wait to see where she goes with the next one.

I am studiously avoiding Christmas shopping. I know if I wait long enough, hubby will do it for me. He's done that for the last two years, and has actually done an amazingly good job. I should have let him do the shopping all along! Who knew?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

This. That is all.



Every lost soul needs a champion.


Jesse James Dawson was an ordinary guy (well, an ordinary guy with a black belt in karate), until the day he learned his brother had made a bargain with a demon. Jesse discovered there was only one way to save his brother: put up his own soul as collateral, and fight the demon to the death.

Jesse lived to free his brother—and became part of a loose organization of Champions who put their own souls on the line to help those who get in over their heads with demons. But now experienced Champions are losing battles at a much higher rate than usual. Someone has changed the game. And if Jesse can’t figure out the new rules, his next battle may be his last…

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Musings on the Anniversary of My Natality

At the end of my senior year of high school, we all had to fill out these little questionnaires to be included in the yearbook. And one of the questions was “What will you be doing in 10 years?”

My answer was, “I will be married to (insert ex here) with two boys and working on my second bestselling novel.” Needless to say, by age 28, the ex had gone bye-bye, I had a gorgeous daughter, and my writing was…not there yet.

And as yet another birthday rolls around, I have to stop and look at what I intended versus what I’ve actually accomplished.

I was 31 when I signed with The Agent. I was 32 when I got my first book deal. I’ll be 33 when my first book hits the shelves.

I have many writerly friends (shout out to my Purgies) who are younger than me, and amazingly talented. They are in their early-mid-late twenties, writing novels, honing their craft, querying agents, getting deals. And sometimes, I’m majorly jealous. I think “OMG, I’m 33, I’m so oooooooold!” I wonder, did I waste all those earlier years? Should I have been working harder, writing more? Could I already be an established author NOW, instead of just debuting?

In all honesty, looking at what I was writing during that time period, there was no way I’d have been published. Project 1 (relegated to a farm with a family that loves it) was a product of that era, and re-reading pieces of it now make me want to cringe in shame. The encouraging thing was, the pieces I wrote at the beginning and the pieces I wrote just before relocating it are vastly different in style and quality.

I was getting better. Noticeably better. I found my own style, I learned not to infodump. I discovered the art of crafting characters that were real AND interesting. Every sentence I wrote, though I may never use it again, was useful. The writer I was then taught me how to be the writer I am now.

So maybe I didn’t marry the guy I thought I was going to, and maybe I have one girl instead of two boys. Maybe I didn't have any bestselling novels under my belt by age 28. Anything is possible, and an extra five years tacked onto that really isn’t that much, in the big scheme of things.

Happy Birthday to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy happy!

Happy Thanksgiving folks.

And though I know everybody and their brother's cousin's dog will be posting this, you can't tell me it doesn't bring a smile to your face.

I give you...Bohemian Rhapsody ala Muppet.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Random Thoughts

Again, my absence is loud and long. This time, I blame the nasty cold that kiddo and I have been passing back and forth for over a week. If anyone knows a place where it never becomes winter, and there are no earthquakes, volcanoes, or hurricanes, I'd like to know please.

In Nano news: I passed 40K way ahead of schedule. Hoping to pass 50K just as easily, and then I'm gonna just keep going to try and finish the book entirely. (first drafts usually clock in around 60K) I still have two chapters in my outline that say "insert plot here" but I talked with Gita some last night and I think maybe we've sketched out a road to take.

In book news: My revisions for A Devil in the Details are done and accepted! Next step is getting blurbs from authors to put on the cover. That's probably going to wait until after the holidays.

In other news: I'm not even going to say that I'm going to blog more regularly, 'cause I never do. However, if anyone has anything they'd like me to talk about, please let me know. (see, this is a test to see if anyone's actually reading this) You can ask me about writing, publishing, zombies, and my real life. I warn you, I fully plan to lie about the real life stuff. ;)

And, upcoming book releases:

Kelly Meding's debut novel hits shelves this week! Pick up Three Days to Dead if you know what's good for you!

Jim Butcher's First Lord's Fury also comes out on Tuesday. You wanna see a brawl, watch hubby and I try to figure out who gets to read it first.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Drive-by Posting

Just a quick post to let everyone know I'm still alive, and still Nanoing. Currently at words. Yay! (That's 18,805 words, if Nano's site is currently down) Rapidly approaching the Big Gaping Hole in my outline (I have chapters 1-10 outlined, then the last three. No idea what happens in between)

This past weekend resulted in a new haircut (which folks want to see pictures of) and a new garage door opener (which no one has asked to see, oddly). Haircut pictures will be forthcoming, on a day when my hair is actually styled, and not when I've been at work trying to rip it out all day.

I am afraid that most will be disappointed however, to find out that my new hair is much like my old hair, only just slightly shorter. There's only so much you can do with this massive amount of curl.

Trying to decide if I'll post a Nano teaser tomorrow. This is such rough stuff...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nano Teaser

Just for giggles, here's a snippet of what I'm working on for NaNoWriMo. We'll call it Project Nano 2. (Or, if you'd rather, Night of Fire and Ash)

~*!*~

We were dismissed to go about our duties, but Amir lagged behind, his dark eyes troubled. “What’s up, kid?”

He looked surprised, like he hadn’t even realized I was still standing there. “Nothing. Just…thinking about the anniversary.”

I nodded. Most of us remembered very well where we were, ten years ago. “You were what…twelve?”

“Thirteen.” I could see the shiver crawl across his shoulders. “They burned our neighbor’s house down. Thought it was ours. She was old, like in her eighties. She didn’t make it out.”

Yeah. Purity Night – called the Night of Fire and Ash by most of the Otherkind I knew – had resulted in more human deaths than Otherkind. Some nights, laying alone in my apartment, I could still smell the smoke. Funny how that smoke smelled different than any fire I had scented before or since. Almost like you could smell the very hate burning.

“How old were you, Fiddler?”

“Seventeen.” I could remember the feeling of the dew on my bare feet as I slipped out the back door, the red glow of houses burning three blocks over. To my adolescent mind, I thought if I could just get out of the house, they would leave my family alone… It was only when I heard the glass breaking, my sister screaming, that I turned back.

“Did anyone in your family get hurt?”

Men died, that night. Their flesh turned black, the fat boiling from within. The masks that were supposed to hide their faces melted into their skin instead. The smoke curled out of their mouths, their noses, choking to death on the very air that should have saved them. “My sister got cut with some flying glass. They shattered her bedroom window, thinking it was mine.” I was never charged. The deaths were ruled accidental, the arsonists caught in their own accelerants.

“Do you think it could happen again? I mean, Franklin Pitt. He’s out of jail now.”

I tasted char at the back of my throat and swallowed it down. The back of my t-shirt fluttered as the air heated just above my skin, the ifreet in me rousing at the sound of the most hated name in the world. “Anything’s possible, kid.” Franklin Pitt would be speaking at the summit, too. I only hoped I could stand next to him, look into his hate-filled eyes, and not incinerate him where he stood. The ifreet would find no guilt in that. The human…might.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

Today is November 1st folks, and do you know what that means? It's the start of NaNoWriMo!

Ok, yes, I swore I wasn't going to do it, but you all know I have no will power. I think taking a short break from Book 2 will be good for me, and if I can get 50K words in one month for NaNo, then surely I can get 30K words done in December to finish Book 2 on my self imposed deadline.

So, charge ahead pantsers! Plot forward, outliners! Go forth and conquer! Because...

THIS! IS! NANO!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Holy Rusted Metal, Batman!

I'm on Amazon!

A Devil in the Details is available for pre-order, and the official release date is July 6, 2010.

Also, fellow Purgatorian, Kasey Mackenzie is ALSO up on Amazon with her book, Red Hot Fury!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We interrupt your usual silence

So that I can be a squeeing fangirl.

Per Jim Butcher on Twitter:

First sentence of Changes: I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, "They've taken our daughter."

And, per Amazon.com, a blurb about the newest Dresden Files novel, Changes:

Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden's lover-until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it-against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry's not fighting to save the world...

He's fighting to save his child.


Say it with me, folks. Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Somebody Stop Me!

For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo approaches. You may recall that last year, my first as a Nanoist, I was triumphant in writing 50K words in just 30 short days. This served as a bit of an ego boost for me, proving that I could indeed write quickly when I needed to.

However, this year, I am currently working on Book 2 (reached the halfway point, storyline-wise. Yay!) and I know that I should continue that instead of starting a new project for NaNo.

I know this.

Really I do.

But...I waaaaaaannna!

Part of it is just that I need a break from DD's world. I have promised myself that, so long as I finish the first draft of Book 2 by Christmas, I can spend the first few months of the year working on a new project. Unfortunately for me, I am of the generation who wants instant gratification. Christmas is a long way off, people!

In an attempt to appease myself, I've spent the last couple of days working on some world building for this new project. Toyed with plot points, done some research. Checked on my NaNo account... What? It's just so I can watch how my friends are doing when THEY do it this year.

It remains to be seen if my urge to NaNo will overtake my good sense. I suspect that I won't have an acceptable (to me) outline in time to start, which will probably be a good thing. And when I have Book 2 done by Christmas, I will have a bright and shiny new toy waiting for me to start at the new year.

Probably.

In totally unrelated news, I have gone against very sensible advice and decided to read The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I'm almost done with it, even as I'm taking a break to write this blog post. (taking a break, 'cause the heebie jeebies are getting to me) Kat, you were most likely right, and so any nightmares I have are my own fault. But honestly, this zombie phobia is a ridiculous thing, and I need to find a way to work through it.

This book is not the way, however. *shudder*

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teaser Tuesday 12

Trying to get back in the swing of things, despite the plague running rampant lately. Here's a teaser from Peacemaker. It's actually part of a dream sequence/flashback, showing something from Caleb's past. Dream sequences are something I use heavily in this book (which is supposed to be a no-no) but the dream world actually turns out to be integral to the plot. Hope you enjoy.

~*!*~

The air scorched his lungs as he breathed in, and he slapped at the burning cinders that had fallen into his hair, his hat long since lost in the chaos. “Here! There’s more in here!” Ernst appeared around his feet, the black cat nudging him toward the location of more trapped residents. Caleb found his path blocked and put his shoulder against the smoldering beam, trying to heave it out of the way.

Rufus appeared out of the smoke, coughing and hacking, but between the two men, they cleared the doorway. Inside, voices were calling for help, screaming out in terror. “I’ll get them, you clear me a path.”

He nodded and reached for the fire all around them. It lurked in the ceilings of the building they were in, curling hungry fingers around the floorboards under their feet. He could feel it, angry and seeking, and he grabbed hold, pulling all of that destructive energy into himself. It railed inside him, imprisoned in a form it was not meant to take. Another day, well-rested, he might have been able to feed that extra power out through his familiar, but that much control had been lost sometime in the previous hours, and so he would hold it himself. A moment’s lapse in concentration, and it would find a way out. His skin would curl and burn from the inside. He’d just seen it happen to two other Peacemakers.

“Smuel,” he whispered. Smolder. The walls around them snuffed out suddenly, wisps of smoke replacing tongues of flame. “Hurry, Rufus. It’s getting stronger.”

The other Peacemaker bolted into the dark hallway, charred floorboards creaking ominously under his boots. Caleb could feel the power behind the fire looking for him, furious that something had stolen its energy. He would only be able to hold on so long.

“Go go go!” Rufus herded a soot-blackened family past him, carrying the youngest child in his arms. “Give us thirty seconds Caleb, then get the hell out!”

He tried to count to thirty, but the flame inside him would not let his mind find the numbers. It was hungry, it was angry, and it wanted free. Ernst was butting his furry head against his knee, urging him to let go. Finally, he was forced to release it, and he could only pray that Rufus had gotten the family clear.

The flames roared back to reclaim their territory and then some, and Caleb felt his hair and eyebrows singe to nothing as he staggered for the stairs. It followed him, drawing in a breath deep enough to flutter the tatters of his shirt sleeves, then bellowed out a gout of flame and ash that would easily incinerate him.

A shield sprang up around him, and the fire whipped around the globe, raging when it could not find entry. Caleb breathed the artificially pure air in great gulping lungfuls until he staggered into the street, collapsing at Rufus’s feet. Ernst appeared right next to him, the tip of his long black tail smoking.

The blond Peacemaker, hair long gone as dark as Caleb’s own with soot and sweat, dropped the shield he’d put around his partner and yanked him to his feet. “This block is lost, Caleb, we have to go!”

Reluctantly, he let Rufus drag him from the scene, and the building gave a ponderous groan as it collapsed behind them. There were other men moving in the smoke around them, passing buckets between, sparks of power flaring where people tried futilely to direct the flames around their homes or businesses.

“George! George, over here!” Rufus waved to two other Peacemakers as they crossed the street a block away. “Where are we supposed to be making a fire break? We got separated from Daws about an hour ago.”

George was supporting his partner with one arm, the other man sporting a vicious gash over one eye. He barely paused to answer. “It jumped the river, we’re pulling back! It’s lost!”

“Dear God…” Rufus’s eyes were wide and staring, the whites showing brilliantly against his ash-blackened face. “They can’t just let it burn…”

“There’s no letting it, man, it’s going to do it whether we want or not!” George staggered off as fast as he could with an injured man in tow, leaving Rufus and Caleb alone in the middle of the charred buildings. Even the hardy water brigade had abandoned their positions, buckets lying next to empty water barrels.

Chicago was burning.

Caleb knew they had to move. He knew, like the rest of his dreamed memories, that the building to their right was going to collapse in another moment, the rain of debris trapping Rufus beneath it. He knew that the beam would crush his partner’s life from his lungs, and that he would be forced to leave the body or burn along with him.

He knew it, and he could not prevent it, could neither move nor speak a warning. Such was the way of dreams.

In the alley to their left, a woman’s voice wafted forth, humming softly. It was a soothing melody, lilting, and it had no place in this frequent terror of Caleb’s nights. Even in the dream, he was able to frown in puzzlement.

The shadows moved in the alley, at first easily mistaken for the swirls and eddies of smoke. But there was no mistaking the dark eyes he found looking back at him, framed by twin black braids.

The Indian woman tilted her head curiously, her skin and clothing remarkably free of ash and char.

“No…no you can’t be here…the building is going to fall, you have to run!” She obviously didn’t understand him, and she smiled softly. “No, don’t smile! Run! You have to…” He suddenly remembered Rufus, realized that he could speak again. “Rufus, you have to run!”

But Rufus was gone. There was no one standing in the street beside him. The flames seemed to have halted their inexorable advance and merely flickered in the windows and rooftops, waiting.

“Ernst?” The black cat was gone too, and there was no sense of his presence nearby. “What…?” He blinked, wiping sweat and blood from his face as he stared around in confusion. “What’s happening?”

The Indian woman never answered, merely turning to walk down the street in the opposite direction, humming softly. Every so often, she glanced back to see if he was following.

Numb, perplexed, he did. In his daze, he stumbled over the rubble in the street, fell…

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Show vs. Tell: The Voice Issue

Greater persons than I had a great idea the other day. As a result, several of us Purgatorians have decided to blog about this most interesting topic today, that being the epic Show vs. Tell debate.

Now, anyone who's even thought about writing has had this driven into their skulls. Show, don't tell! It's enough that even the sound of an "sh" can give a writer a nervous twitch.

And then someone will inevitably come along and say "But wait! Telling isn't always bad!" At which point, the writer will drop their computer out a seventh story window and go into advanced underwater basket weaving.

So, as a boon to all writer-kind, I am here to offer an example of just WHEN telling is ok.

When debating over a show vs. a tell, think, "What exactly is my voice?" No, not you great sopranos out there, whom I shall always envy. The voice of your writing. There may be moments when showing just doesn't fit!

Follow the bouncing ball for an example:

The tavern fell silent when the dark man entered. Gazes dropped to their drinks and conversations stilled as he passed. He took the seat in the farthest corner, and it seemed even the lights dimmed for his passing.

Sounds like a scary dude, right? Now, look at this same thing in a different voice:

It got real quiet when the dude walked into the room, and I could tell that he was a bad mamma jamma.

Not nearly as poetic, but depending on the book you're writing, it might be much more appropriate. The writing techniques you choose will vary greatly depending on your voice. Your epic fantasy about the farmboy saving the world will most likely sound very different than your urban fantasy about the hard-bitten, hard-drinking ex-satyr PI. (Hmm, not a bad idea if I do say so myself)

And, even as I write all this out, I have to insert the standard disclaimer: Your mileage may vary. If we had absolutes in this business, it'd be math.

Here are a few others who had thoughts on the subject, so have fun wandering through other minds today too!

Dee Garretson
Bryn Greenwood
Gretchen McNeil
Amy Bai
Wendy Cebula
Tracy Martin

Friday, October 9, 2009

We're still here....sorta...

So, living in a house of plague for about three weeks is interesting... Funny how being sick just saps the urge to blog right outta you. Or me. As the case may be.

So, lessee, what have I forgotten to update you on?

Last week, The Editor and The Agent and I discussed different titles for my series. We threw out all kinds of ideas, back and forth. Some I didn't like, some the marketing department didn't like... It was interesting! Ultimately, we came full circle back to the original title we'd thought of. I had to laugh.

With all the sickness going on around the house, I haven't been writing like I ought to. I'm really close to being done with chapter 10, which will mark the midpoint, storyline wise. And I should be coming in right at the halfway point of my assumed first draft word count, too. (as we all know, my first drafts are almost exactly 75% of my desired finished word count) Which means I'm on target!

And now for some fluff... Here are the pictures of kiddo's braided hair from Renn Fest, in the various stages as we finally took it down. I apologize that some of the pictures are fuzzy.

Braids:




Coming undone:


Lookit all these curls!:


See, NOW she looks like a child of mine. Instead of stick straight hair like her daddy. ;)

Hopefully, I'll be more diligent about blogging from now on. (I know, I say that every time, but I DO mean it!)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tales of the Heavily Medicated

Sorry for the blog silence this past week, but I fell victim to the creeping crud that seems to be running rampant. No, not H1N1 (though the in-laws & nephew have that) but just a nasty cold that went into even nastier bronchitis.

So, I have antibiotics, and an inhaler, and the really GOOD cough syrup. Y'know, the kind you can't take and drive. Sadly, it's not the cough syrup I'm having problems with. It's the inhaler that's making me loopy, of all things. I know, I know, it's possible I'm a mutant.

But, today I felt at least human, so me & kiddo and Gita went back out to Ren Fest. I corrupted Gita, she now owns one of the Badger Blades swords too. (if I hadn't already made my purchase for the year, I'd have bought this one myself)

Kiddo also got her hair braided in one of those really fancy patterns. I'll try to post pictures tomorrow.

Needless to say, being high on inhaler juice hasn't made writing easy. In fact, I haven't done any of it at all. I doubt I'm going to hit my 40K-by-the-end-of-September goal. But that's ok. I'm over 30K at the moment, and that's at least better than nothing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Real Life Rawr!

Some of you may have heard my wails and lamentations over the roof leak. Y'know, the one dumping gallons of water through my living room ceiling. Well thankfully, as of today, we are in possession of a brand new roof, and a freshly painted living room.

And hubby, in his infinite wisdom, said "Since the living room's all torn up anyway, let's rip out the carpet!"

So tonight, that's what we did. There was a bit of trepidation. We knew there was hardwood under there, but what condition was it in after all these years of being buried under ugly 70s shag?

Here's the work in progress:



And here's a better look at the hardwood itself. I hadn't even cleaned this section yet. (ignore the toes, please) Who covers up such pretty wood? (ok, that sounded dirty)



We're taking a dinner break at the moment, but later, I'll try and take another picture once we get the whole thing clean and the furniture back in place. (no one is allowed to make fun of my fugly furniture, it was all free)

In writing news, I did NOT make my 30K goal for the week, but I DID finish chapter 9. And then, deciding it was utter garbage, I completely rewrote chapter 9 into something I'm much happier with. So all in all, I'll count this week a win.

EDITED: Here's the finished product. No making fun of the furniture (and keep in mind that most of the furniture is still in another room)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Toy!

After so many serious, business-type posts, I had to post something frivolous and silly. So, here, lookit what I got yesterday!



This lovely leafblade was made courtesy of the amazing folk at Badger Blades. We (meaning me & the hubby) own many MANY of their swords, to the point that if you poke around on their website, hubby actually has a place in their customer hall of fame. (They call him the Diamond-Ground King)

If you are into swords, and you want one you could actually take into battle, Badger's is where you want to go. They're amazing weapons, and gorgeous besides. Currently, you can find them at the KC Renaissance Festival (the sword booth near the jousting arena)

Their swords are the basis for all the swords my main character will be carrying in my upcoming novels. In fact, hubby owns every sword you will ever hear about in those books. (Except the khopesh. but we're working on that)

In other news, I am diligently working on book 2, and I think I may have even come up with a title for it, and the next two in the series. Then again, knowing how bad I am at titles, someone will probably veto them. I am currently somewhere just over 24K words, and working hard. My goal is to have the first draft done before Christmas. (hoping I should be able to have it done well before that, but...y'know, padding my time)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Series on Series: Part 5

Part 5: How to destroy a series

And now we reach the part of the series that actually spawned the whole idea. Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

As most know, I am a HUGE Torchwood fan. Most particularly, I’m a huge Ianto fan. And any fan of Torchwood will tell you that the most recent season, Children of Earth, was very controversial, namely because they killed off our beloved teaboy. (see, toldja there would be spoilers!)

I watched the news of this event explode over Twitter, to the point where Ianto Jones was the top trending topic. This one single moment swept through the fandom like a nuclear bomb going off. People were crying (Ok, I admit I cried too), and frothing at the mouth, and threatening poor Russell T. Davies, and swearing they were never ever EVER going to watch another episode of Torchwood as long as they lived, yadda yadda.

And it got me to thinking. Did they just break their own series? Had they finally done the one thing the fans couldn’t accept? Would they really NEVER come back to the franchise?

Which led, obviously, to “what does it take to destroy a series?” And between Theo and I, we came up with two main causes of series implosion.

Betrayal

The first one, as illustrated by Torchwood, is betrayal. In writing a series, the author creates an implicit contract with the reader.

“I (state your name) do solemnly swear to entertain the masses by providing a gritty urban fantasy story involving the trials and tribulations of one Jorge the psychotic zombie marmoset.”

When the author violates this implicit contract, the fans get tetchy. This can happen in a variety of ways, but I think most often crops up when a favorite character is killed, or is otherwise changed into something different from what he was before.

Using the Torchwood example, we should know that at the end of their second season, they killed off not one, but TWO main characters. Everyone was stunned! Horrified! And yet, they all came back to watch Children of Earth. Why, then was killing Ianto in season three so different? My guess is that it was a “last straw” type of sentiment. Yes, the fans could adjust to killing off Owen and Tosh (if they had to), but to then further decimate the team immediately after was more than their grief centers could bear.

Does this mean that an author should never kill off a beloved character? Of course not! G.R.R. Martin has made killing people an art form. (that totally didn’t sound right) But there is a limit to how much “change” a fanbase can tolerate. If Jim Butcher killed off Harry Dresden, and continued the rest of the series with some other main character, no one would be very happy about it. The contract (to provide stories about a wizard from Chicago) would be null and void. (not to mention that the series title, The Dresden Files, wouldn’t make any sense then)

For another example, please consider Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. It is almost universally accepted that the first nine books of the series have a very different flavor than the books that followed. They went from a monster-of-the-week urban fantasy into almost pure erotica. A huge leap in genre! And consequently, some of the original fans felt betrayed. They felt that LKH had violated her contract by changing genres into something they didn’t want to read. They abandoned Anita and her boys in favor of other things, series that were more along their own tastes.

And that is the key to a “betrayal” scenario. Betrayal is about taking out the heart of a story. It's about breaking a contract with the audience. Authors, directors, so on, do things we dislike all the time but they still can make sense within the context of the contract.

As a side note: Even with minor changes or character developments, there will always be fans who scream and wail that the author betrayed them/killed off their favorite dust bunny/destroyed the perfect love interest/etc. (“OMG, Jorge would NEVER dye his fur blue, U suck, I h8 U 4evr!!!11!”) You can’t please all the people all of the time, and you shouldn’t try. That way lies madness.

Second side note: As a writer, I see what RTD is doing with the Torchwood series, and though I (the fan) shall always mourn Ianto, I (the writer) am anxious to see where he takes it from here (provided the BBC gives them a fourth season).

Apathy

Another surefire way to kill a series is through apathy. Whose apathy? Well, it can be the fans’ apathy, or it can be the author’s.

First, a definition of apathy, per dictionary.com: 1. absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. 2. lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting. Or, in layman’s terms “Who cares anymore?”

Apathy happens when someone loses interest. Why do they lose interest?

Well, fans can lose interest when years and years go by between series installments. We are used to insta-society. Microwaves spit out food in 30 seconds, you can watch movies instantly on your computer via different sites, and dangit, an author should be able to churn out a book in 30 days!

Ok, ok, not everybody is like this. In fact, most fans are very understanding when it takes a bit longer than planned to generate the next tale of Jorge the psychotic zombie marmoset. However, when “a bit longer than planned” turns into five years (or ten) then the fans have most likely moved on. Even the most diehard and rabid of Jorge’s fan club have to wonder why they keep hanging around, waiting and waiting and waiting. Without even a small dose of Jorge to keep the addiction current, they may find new fixes.

They can also lose interest when the story goes on and on and on and nothing happens. The hero learns nothing, the conflict is never resolved, and that fruitcake on Jorge’s kitchen table never gets eaten. There is a tricky balance between being faithful to your character, and being stagnant.

So, what if it’s not the fans that have grown weary, but the author? It happens. After thirty some odd years of churning out the same characters over and over, it’s possible that an author might start running out of ideas (or even the will to live). So, what is an author to do? It often seems that they keep trying to dredge up stories out of loyalty to the fans. The problem with this is that the stories can be sub-par, or even “jump the shark” so to speak. The solution would be to obviously end the series before it reaches this point of ennui for the author, but we can’t always predict when it will spring.

Trust me, however, the fans will notice. (They’re very smart that way, pesky little buggers) When the author’s heart is no longer with their characters, the readers will also drift away.

And what have we learned, children?

Writing a series is HARD! You have to think about all this STUFF, or nobody will want to play with you anymore!

Ok, no, not really.

The good news is, for most of you who are contemplating writing a series, a lot of this you’ll do instinctively. Because you’ve read series before (You have been reading, haven’t you? Santa is watching you.), or even watched one on TV, you have a basic understanding of how one goes together. You’ll know when it just feels right or wrong, even if you can’t put your finger on why. Hopefully, this little blog series of mine will help you put a name to that niggling impulse at the back of your mind that says “Hey, there’s something a bit off here.”

And I think this wraps up my babbling. In the next few days, we’ll be returning you to your regularly scheduled insanity. Please let me know if you enjoyed/hated this, and if there is anything else you’d like to see me rant on in the future.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Series on Series: Part 4 Boom vs. Whimper

Part 4: Boom vs. Whimper: How do you end it?

First off, many thanks to Theo who helped me wrap my brain around this section.

You’ve come to the end of your series. You’ve reached the last book wherein all ends of the loose variety must be tied and all Big Bads must be dealt with. (Note: This doesn’t mean you have to kill them, only that you need to find some sense of closure. Unless you don’t. Your mileage may vary)

So, should your hero end it all in an epic blaze of thermonuclear glory, or should Brave Sir Robin gallantly scamper off to fight another day?

That is the question. (none of this “to be or not to be” crap)

The answer depends on what future you see for you’re your hero. Even if you never write another book, story or dirty limerick about him, you should at least have an inkling about his life after. (and it never hurts to give your readers some of those hints too, we love that stuff!)

BOOM, bay-bee!

I should first point out that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the world implodes. I mean, if that’s where you’re headed, cool, but there are smaller and just as effective booms.

A “boom” ending is simply one that gives a definitive answer. YES, the bad guy is really dead and gone. YES, the hero lives (or dies). YES, the moon is really made of green cheese (and Jorge’s long-lost father lives there! Who knew?) YES, this is really the end of this tale.

It is possible, after a “boom” ending, to have another series set in the same world, or with the same characters, but it should be an entity in and of itself. The first series doesn’t necessarily need expansion.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is through Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series. The first trilogy, following Phaedre and Joscelin, comes to a nice and satisfactory conclusion. Yes, she’s laid the seeds throughout for a continuation with other characters later (and accomplishes it rather nicely with the second trilogy following Imriel), but I don’t think anyone was left thinking “But what happened to them??” The second trilogy stands on its own (though we get tantalizing glimpses of our favorite folk from the previous trilogy), and also ends with its own little boom.

Whimper

A whimper ending is something that is much more open-ended. Was it all a dream sequence? Did the bad guy really die? And who was stealing all of Jorge’s shoelaces?

Sometimes, the whimper ending is used simply because the author isn’t sure they’re really done with that world/characters. They leave themselves an opening, just enough to slide back in if they find they want to. Sometimes, the author is trying to make a point with the ambiguity of it all.

The risk with a whimper ending is disappointing the fans. There are almost always two camps to the fans, one that is ecstatic that there is potential new material in the future, and one that is disappointed that they didn’t get more resolution.

The ending of the TV series The Sopranos, is a good illustration of this. It just ceased. Stopped. What happened? Where was the closure? I never watched the show myself, but I watched the aftermath of the finale with great interest. Oh, how people howled over that plain cut-to-black ending.

So, whimper is bad, boom is good?

Nope! Both styles of ending, when used deliberately, can serve their purposes quite nicely. A whimper ending, as I said above, can leave things open for a return to a beloved world, or provide a thought-provoking commentary. A boom ending can deliver a visceral sort of satisfaction, allowing the reader to move on to the next big thing without being left wanting.

The care an author must take is in being deliberate. An accidental whimper ending can leave the fans tearing their hair out (“What do you MEAN Jorge was really a human sewer worker in a coma all this time??? What kinda B.S. is this???”). It’s like leaving someone hanging on the “shave and a haircut” knock. The satisfaction they’ve been craving never materializes, and they don’t care if the author returns to the world again because they’re ticked off and they’re not going to take it anymore!

You can argue that real life doesn’t always have a satisfactory ending, happy or otherwise. And you would be right. But there’s a reason we call this fiction, folks. It’s a reader’s chance to find that resolution, that solution, that end, that we don’t always get in the mundane world. Escapism, I loves it.

There’s also such a thing as too much boom. A boom that kills off the main character (or even a beloved sidekick) can yank a reader out of the story. This isn’t to say you can’t kill them, but be very aware of what your intentions are when you do. Did it fit the story and character, or are you just doing it to keep the Kleenex industry in business?

There is also the type of boom wherein the reader is denied the chance to “participate” in the world that comes after. Who doesn’t imagine themselves as a Jedi or Sith or whatever in the Star Wars universe, long after the characters we know and love have gone? (What do you mean I’m the only one who does that?) There were quite a few fans of the Harry Potter who were displeased with the epilogue in the final book. Sure, Rowlings tied up everything neatly, according to how she viewed her world, but in doing so, she eliminated the chance for the fans to envision those things on their own. She shut them out of imagining a world they’d grown to love, by dictating how it was to progress.

And speaking of endings, we’ve almost reached the end of this series. The next and final piece will be Part 5: How to destroy a series. I’ve already touched on some warning signs and missteps to be wary of when writing a series, but I’ll try to wrap it up neatly in the next installment.

Or, will I?

Coming soon: Part 5: How to destroy a series

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Series on Series: Part 3

Part 3: Pacing and Flow: Zoom, rawr!

Anyone who writes, whether it be a poem, a short story, a novel, or a series, has to grapple with the concept of pacing and flow. If you think of your creation like a river, you want the reader to be able to navigate it not only safely, but with great enjoyment. So sure, you might threaten to dash them against the rocks sometimes. Gets the blood flowing! But there are also times they need to stop, catch their breath, and brace for the next big thrill. Otherwise, they wind up seasick and puking.

So what, you may ask, is the difference between the pace of the novel/series, and the flow?

Pacing

For my purposes, pacing is the “speed” of events taking place. This has nothing to do with whether there is an action scene or not, but rather how the action and non-action scenes fit together to create a rise or fall in tension.

Pacing also works throughout a series in exactly the same way. It’s easiest to see in a meta-plot type series, where there is a larger story at work, because no matter the size of the plot, they’re mostly constructed with the same materials.

Whether you are trying to create a pace in one book, or five, it works essentially like this. Picture your work as a lopsided mountain. On the front side, you have a gradual build up a steep slope to the pinnacle (the climax of your story), then possibly a drop off the other side to wind up the loose ends. (we’ll talk about a bit further down)

So, decide what type of rise up the mountain you want. Rachel Caine, in both her Weather Warden and Morganville Vampires series, is very good at creating a rip-roaring, pell-mell, headlong rush kind of story. The reader gallops from scene to scene, moment to moment, much like the main character must certainly feel. You reach the end out of breathe like you just ran a marathon.

The converse of this is, of course, a slower, steadier climb. This results in a greater buildup of suspense, fostering the sure feeling of impending DOOM!

Both of these methods are equally good, depending on what you want your reader to feel. It is definitely something that should be planned beforehand, however. Not planning out your pacing ahead of time results in comments like “Well, the first and third books were great, but nothing really happened in the second one.” See, your pacing hit a plateau there instead of climbing ever upward. This is something to avoid. Even slower sections of a book or series should contribute to that vertical momentum.

Flow

So, if that is pacing, what is flow?

For me, flow is the transition between. It’s the transition between scenes, it’s the transition between chapters, it’s the transition between books. And believe me when I say that transitions are some of the hardest things I struggle with on a daily writerly basis.

The way you handle your flow is a way to control your pacing. If your scenes/chapters/books end abruptly, it creates a faster sensation. The reader is yanked out of one moment and shoved into the next without time to think. It can either drag them along with the hero, or it can totally throw them out of the story.

If you manage to end a scene/chapter/book on a smoother note, it makes the transition a place to stop, catch a breath, go smoke a cigarette before you go on to the next. The trick with this one is making it a good pause point, but still a point where the reader just HAS to read on to find out what happens next! (Toldja, this is hard stuff here!)

There is one type of “flow” that even has its own name. You all know it, say it with me. It’s a cliffhanger! This is the transition that cuts off. Just…stops! The damsel is on the railroad tracks, the hero is hanging off a cliff, and we’ll see you guys next week on the same bat-channel!

There are many schools of thought on the cliffhanger. It seems that people either love it or hate it, there’s very little middle ground. I believe that it has its place, but should be used sparingly. A cliffhanger for every. Single. Book. May be a bit much. Then again, if you can make it work for you, it can be your “thing”, the little quirk that defines you (or at least this particular series of yours).

Denouement

Let me pause for a moment to discuss this, the denouement. First off, because it’s fun to say. Day-nooo-mont! Gotta love the French.

The denouement is technically defined as the end, the solution. This can be your climax, if you so desire. Jorge slays Mongo the Luna Moth, sweeps Denise into his arms (knew she’d be back!), leans in for the kiss as the music swells to a crescendo, and…curtain!

My personal preference is to have a denouement after the climax. A moment where we see that the hero has made it out alive, that life goes on, a chance to tie up any other loose ends. (When Jorge goes to put Mongo’s antennae on Urk’s grave, there better not be a dry eye on the house, people! I am watching you!)

The denouement is a good place to set up your transition (your “flow” if you will, see what I did there?) into your next book. It’s a good place to leave portents and premonitions, a promise that there is more out there, something darker looming on the horizon. The world is not done with dear Jorge, not by a long shot.

So how do we learn to do this?

In my not-so-humble-opinion, the best way to learn about different styles of pacing and flow is to read. Read in your own genre (you should be doing this anyway), read outside your genre. Read books of different lengths, series of different lengths.

When you notice that you’ve particularly enjoyed a book, sit back and think about why. Think beyond the character that you loved (yes, you can be the president of your local Jorge fan club). Think past the amazing showdown at the end that had you chewing your nails and sweating bullets. (and pick those up, someone’s gonna trip) Think about how you got to that point.

If it’s a book that felt just a bit “off” to you, figure out why. Was it too fast? Did you not have a chance to process things? Was it too slow? Did it drag? Once you’ve learned to recognize these elements in other writing, you will be able to consciously direct it in your own.

Remember, though, that one person’s speed is another person’s creep. You can’t satisfy everyone, because everyone has a different pace that suits them.

Coming soon: Part 4: Boom vs. Whimper: How do you end it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Series on Series: Part 2

Part 2: Heroes, Sidekicks & Villains: Who cares what these guys do anyway?

At the heart of every series is a character (sometimes more than one) that keeps people coming back. It’s the hero they root for, the villain they love to hate, or the sidekick whose loyalty and devotion bring tears to the eyes.

Sure, nobody wants the world destroyed (“Egads, I hope not! That’s where I keep all my stuff!”). But if we don’t care about the hero, we’re not going to read long enough to see if and how he saves it. And if the hero is truly unlikeable, we may KEEP reading, just on the off chance that the villain will win the day and shoot the hero in the face hole. Not good.

So, what are some things to consider when crafting the perfect hero, the most diabolical villain, or the stalwart sidekick, and how do you get them to keep bringing people back, book after book after book?

Heroes:

The hero is where you spend most of your time, usually. Whether you get your story idea from a stray thought of a world full of marshmallow furniture, or you see a tall, furry figure in a black duster and spurs in a dream, you will ultimately have to decide on your main character, your protagonist, your hero. You will know him inside and out, down to what kind of underwear he likes, and whether or not he takes his latte with half caf and foam. So what’s the key to a good hero?

First off, your perfect hero should be imperfect. I’ll give you a few moments to wrap your head around that one.

Who wants to read a story about a hero whose hair is always coiffed, his smile is always sparkly, his boots are never muddy, and he calls his mother every night at 6 on the dot? For comic effect, it might be good, but outside of satire/parody, it’s booooring!

We want our heroes to be human! (or, in the case of Jorge, a psychotic zombie marmoset) They make mistakes, just like we do. They have problems talking to the opposite sex, they get parking tickets, and they have a rash they don’t want to tell their doctor about.

Why does this keep us reading? Because there is the hope of change! Whether it’s through one book, or twenty, a hero shouldn’t be a static figure. And if Jorge can learn to love again after what that witch, Denise, did to him, then by golly, there’s hope for all of us! Just turn the page!

Longer series offer more chances for elaborate character development. It gives the author extra chances to beat the hero down and help them back up again. (Trade secret: Authors are almost all, at heart, sadists. True story.) But that doesn’t mean that a hero can’t change in the course of even one book. It just has to be handled quicker.

If, after three or four books, your hero is still making the same mistakes, going on the same bad blind dates, and hasn’t learned to wash his own laundry? Then your readers will be in danger of moving on, and finding someone who can.

And remember, children, if you kill ‘em, they won’t learn nuthin’!

Villains:

Bear with me while I reveal just how big a geek I am. Once upon a time, me and some fellow gamers were playing AD&D. Y’know, the one with the dice. Yes, I was one of those people. (still am, if I could find a good group again)

We were starting off on our first mission with our low-level characters, and we encountered a Very Bad Person in the middle of the road. This Very Bad Person was a lich (an undead thingy) who was intended to be our Big Bad for the run of this campaign. He was just appearing now, so our characters would know who they were up against, down the line.

In our group, we had a little paladin. Paladin tells our GM “I’d like to turn the lich.” Now, at our level, this was going to be impossible. The GM smirks and says “Ok. Roll a natural 20.” Impossible. Unheard of!

Die goes plop. GM goes “Shit!” And our Big Bad villain goes bye-bye. Our gaming session was over that night, because the GM had no idea what else to do with us, now that we’d dismantled his entire plot.

All of this is just to illustrate that your villains are important. Whether you are doing an episodic series with a monster-of-the-week, an epic trilogy to save the world from certain DOOM, or an episodic meta-plot where the weekly monster is being run by Big Evil Global Conspiracy, the villains are important.

First and foremost, they have to be believable. If your monster is a huge mound of sentient salt, you’d better have a damn good reason why a bucket of water wouldn’t just end the whole problem right there. If you have a rampaging warlock in a world with no magic, there better be an explanation.

A subset to this (and possibly even more important) is that they have to have a believable motivation. Jorge’s arch-nemesis, Mongo the Luna Moth, wants to take over the world. Well, ok, why? What IS it about the world that they don’t like or they think they can do differently? Very few good villains are evil for evil’s sake. Some of the best villains completely believe they are doing the right thing. The road to Hell is paved with Nutella…er…good intentions.

The villain has to offer a plausible threat. Threats to turn your hero’s hair blue isn’t really something that’s going to make me turn the page to see what happens next. Threatening to overload a nuclear reactor suspiciously located beneath the daycare your hero’s one and only child is attending? THAT’s a good threat. We fear, not only for the child, but for our hero should something happen to his beloved spawn.

The villain MUST have longevity. In a single book (episodic series), the hero should encounter the villain a few times, even if he (and the reader) doesn’t know it. Scooby-doo endings work (“It’s Mr. Withers who owns the abandoned amusement park!”), because the clues are all there if we care to look. Having the bad guy at the end be some random dude we’ve never seen before is just…lame.

In a meta-plot book, the Big Bad needs to be just that. By the end of the series, we should be absolutely petrified, fearing there is NO way our hero is going to triumph. If he’s conquered everything else up to this point, then whatever’s waiting at the end had better be worth it. Finding out the Big Bad is just an ├╝ber-intelligent cockroach with a talent for ventriloquism (*stomp, squish*) is anti-climactic in the worst possible way. As a writer, you may think it’s clever, but as a reader, I promise you someone will hunt you down and bludgeon you with your own book (or books, if you’ve spent 15 of them building up to that point).

Sidekicks:

Remember, when you think you can’t torture your hero any more, you can always torture his friends/family/lovers/mailman/gardener. They’re your comic relief, your moral compass, and your cannon fodder. They provide motivation for your hero, a living shield for your villain, and they never ask for a word of thanks. They’re your sidekicks.

For my purposes, we’re going to designate all supporting characters as “sidekicks.” Mostly, ‘cause typing sidekicks is easer than “supporting characters”.

I fully admit that there is at least one series that I continue to read, merely for the sidekicks. In other series, while my heart always belongs to the hero, I might cheat on him a little with one of his close friends. We love them, we hurt for them, and when we lose one of them in the requisite ultimate sacrifice, we stand next to the hero at the grave and weep quietly with him.

The sidekick serves many purposes, a few of which I mentioned just above. Often, they serve as a substitute for the reader. I mean, who hasn’t imagined themselves as one of the Doctor’s companions, when watching Doctor Who? They are our way of insinuating ourselves into this new and wondrous world. Sometimes, they are learning about it (from the hero) and this is how we become acquainted with the rules. Sometimes, they are the mentor, the teacher, and we sit next to the hero in his lessons.

They also serve as a measuring stick to view your hero against. They can be the kind heart that your hero wishes he had, the disciplined warrior he wants to be, the unforgiving taskmaster he never wants to turn into. By seeing how he interacts with those around him, we are able to create a three-dimensional view of the hero. Therefore, he has to have three-dimensional people to relate to.

Your sidekicks, the ones that are going to have the greatest impact on your hero’s life, should get at least as much planning as your hero. Who are they? How do they feel about your hero? Were they always friends? What are their dreams, not only for the hero, but for themselves? How do those two things mesh (or collide)? These people do not exist in a vacuum, and unless you’re working on some kind of really interesting sci-fi epic, their universe does NOT revolve around your hero.

By making them as real as possible, it will be easy for the reader to understand why the hero values them so. And their value should be readily apparent.

Jorge has a best friend, Urk the Clam. Jorge and Urk have known each other for years, grown up together. Urk once saved Jorge from a runaway zamboni.

Now, I can kill Urk off on the first page of the book, and if that’s what the story is about, it can provide some good motivation, set the story in motion, get the plot moving. The disadvantage being that the reader won’t know Urk, and will only learn of his value to Jorge in retrospect. He doesn’t mean anything to the reader.

However, if I spend two books showing how the two interact together – Urk picked Jorge up after Denise dumped him, let him sleep on the couch. Jorge stepped up to be best man at Urk’s wedding, when none of Urk’s family would even show (they didn’t like the bride, they were anti-flamingo) . And neither of them talk about that drunk weekend in Vegas. – then when Urk steps in front of that second speeding zamboni and goes to the big ice rink in the sky, we’re gonna feel that hurt right alongside Jorge.

(If you can’t tell, the sidekicks are some of my favorite non-existent people)

And this means what, exactly?

This means you should never dismiss the emotional impact a hero, a sidekick, or a villain can have on a reader. Two of the most gut-wrenching moments for me, in recent Dresden Files novels, came when I feared that Butcher had killed off a couple of the “sidekicks” that I dearly love. I not only grieved for their potential loss, but I was bracing myself for the impact that loss would have on the hero, Harry. Would this be the thing that finally broke him? I had to keep reading to find out!

Your characters are your tools, make sure they’re sharp and shiny. People like shiny things.

Coming soon: Part 3: Pacing and Flow: Zoom, rawr!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Series on Series: Part 1

Part 1: What kind of series do you have?

So, you’ve got this character, see? He’s Jorge, the psychotic zombie marmoset, and he’s the coolest freakin’ thing that has ever crawled out of your head. (except that thing from summer camp, but the anti-parasitic cleared that right up) You have his personality down, his strengths and weaknesses, his love interests, and the fact that secretly, he just wants to be pretty. You have a world for him, peopled with vampires that only wear purple faux fur, a sexually transmitted computer virus, and a cross-dressing werewolf named Frank.

Now, what do you do with him? He has a story to tell. No, two stories. No, half a dozen! Well hold onto your mukluks, folks, I think you have a series. “A series?” you say. “Is it contagious?” No no no, little one. Read on and learn.

For our purposes, a series is most loosely defined as more than one book following the same characters in the same world. There are of course, notable exceptions to everything I just said. Unlike basic math, writing is not an exact science. You can take 2 + 3 and you will always get 5. But if you take romance + robots, sometimes you get sci-fi, and sometimes you get chick lit, and sometimes you don’t know what you have, but someone, somewhere must surely want to read it.

The First Thing You Need To Know Before You Get Started is: What kind of series do you have? What kind of series you are writing will govern the flow and pace of not only each individual book, but also of any over-arcing metaplot action you may have going on.

There are three things to consider when contemplating a series: length, style and genre. You would think that the three things could be considered separately, but in some cases, they are intrinsically intertwined. So, we’ll start with length.

Length:

Series can be anything from two books, to these never-ending sagas that only cease when the author goes to that big library in the sky. (and sometimes, not even then) I have seen a duology done successfully (Anne Bishop’s Sebastian and Belladonna, most notably). Trilogies are very common. Other authors have done four, five or six-book sets (Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series will cap at six). Jim Butcher’s other series, The Dresden Files, has long been planned for 20-ish novels, to eventually end in a big apocalyptic trilogy. Still other authors just. Keep. Writing!

Really, a series only needs to be as long as it takes to tell the stories you want to tell. Cutting it short is better (in my humble opinion) than stretching it so thin that you can see your neighbor’s big screen TV through the holes.

The length you choose will, in some way, affect the style. And the style will affect the length.

Style:

I’m probably over-simplifying this, but let’s break series down into two types: episodic, and what I’m going to call “meta-plot”.

Episodic is just what it sounds like. Each book stands alone as its own self-contained episode. You have a beginning, a middle and an end, with few (if any) loose ends. I have often seen mystery series done this way. Ian Fleming’s James Bond series comes to mind, as does Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.

The two great things about episodic series are 1) that they can, conceivably, go on forever so long as the author’s estate can still find someone they like to keep the characters going, and 2) they can be read in any order with little to no confusion.

Meta-plot series, on the other hand, have a large looming story arc hanging over the entire run of the series. So not only does the author have to juggle the plot of each individual book, but they have to plan out many, many books into the future, exactly where to lay the clues and reveals for a much larger plot. A good example of this is Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. The Harry Potter series also does a good job of dropping clues in early books that are important in later books.

It’s very hard to run a meta-plot series indefinitely, because at some point, the big meta-plot HAS to end (like any good plot) or the readers are going to get pissy. It is also one that almost has to be planned out before hand, because once books 1, 2 and 3 are on shelves, you can’t hit book 4 and say “Oh crap, I needed to mention Jorge’s magical sword back in book 1 for this to make any sense!”. Sure, you can try fly by the seat of your pants, but you risk landing on your ass.

There is also the very real danger (as illustrated by the late Robert Jordan) that the author will not live to see his work done. And that opens up a whole new can of worms.

Trilogies work very well for meta-plot series, simply because they’re short (comparatively) and easy to plan out far in advance.

And then, of course, just to make your head spin and add a third thing to a two-item list, we also have the episodic meta-plot. These are very common in the urban fantasy world, and I’m going to cite The Dresden Files a lot, simply because I love the books, and I’m most familiar with them.

Each book of The Dresden Files is its own story. Often, these type of stories are referred to as “monster-of-the-week stories”. Each one presents a new bad guy, a new mystery to solve, a new challenge to overcome. However, behind all of this, we also have the workings of a much larger plot. We have a conspiracy, or a looming cataclysm, or an ominous prophecy. Whatever it is, it shapes our hero’s thoughts and actions, even as he’s trying to go about his daily not-dying.

It IS something that is going to require a resolution, eventually. The fun is in getting there.

Genre:

You’re saying “I already know I’m writing a sci-fi/rom-com/post-apocalyptic/self-help book! What does that have to do with my series?”

Well, in writing a genre, no matter what it is, you should also know your genre. Each genre has conventions. (No, not the kind of convention where you all go to a strange hotel and wear fezzes) Conventions are things that are considered “normal” in any given genre. You don’t necessarily have to follow said conventions, but knowing them helps you shed them with style and grace.

There are some genres that have, traditionally, fallen easily into several series styles. Mystery, for example, lends itself well to the never-ending episodic adventures of your intrepid detective marmoset Jorge. Adventure novels (think Clive Cussler) and spy novels also seem to do well in this format.

Epic fantasy goes well in meta-plot trilogies. It allows for more exploration of a brave new world, strange and fantastic creatures, and the defeat of the Big Bad, wherever it may lurk. It is, essentially, one VERY large book divided into three parts.

Urban fantasy is prone to mixing the pot. There are series that are more episodic, some that are more meta-plot, and quite a few that are definitely offspring of both. Cute little buggers, aren’t they? Don’t stick your fingers in the cage, they bite.

No one says you can’t step outside the box in your particular genre, but it helps to at least know where the box is before you start trying.

And all you other people out there, not sitting on cushions:

What about those series that don’t fit neatly into any of these categories? Well, they’re everywhere. A rampant infestation that must be squashed at all costs- Er, hmm? What was I saying? Oh yes.

What about a series set in the same world but following different (but connected) characters throughout? (look into Christine Feehan’s Carpathian series for a good example) Is that still a series?

Honestly, that’s between you and your publisher. More precisely, that’s between you and the marketing department. Most precisely, that’s totally at the discretion of the marketing department.

Books marketed as a “series” are done so because it allows the reader to know what to expect when they pick it up. Anyone who has read one Dresden Files novel can pick up the next one and have a good idea of what kind of read they’re going to find. However, if you read one mystery, and the next one you picked up in the series was more along the lines of erotica, you would be very confused. No one expecting Jorge and the Mystery of the Golden Whiffle Bat is going to be happy to find Jorge Does Dallas. (this phenomenon will be addressed further in Part 5: How to destroy a series. Coming soon!)

So, once you know the size and scope of your series, you can get a better handle on what tools you will need to build it into the opus of your dreams.

Coming soon: Part 2: Heroes, Sidekicks & Villains: Who cares what these guys do anyway?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Series on Series: Part 0 The Introduction

I had this really cool idea to write series of blog posts on series. (Series on Series, S.o.S See what I did there? I slay me) I thought I’d do five, and post them every day for a week. In retrospect, I think I’m actually going to take several days between each post, just to give people a chance to discuss things in the comments if they want. (there ARE people reading this, right? RIGHT?) So, I’m starting today with this little introduction, to let folks know what to expect.

Before I embark on this vast undertaking, let’s set down a few ground rules.

1) I AM ALWAYS RIGHT! Except when I’m not, which is almost always. Everything I’m going to offer is my own opinion with little to no basis in any provable fact. Your mileage may vary, the 7:30 show is different from the 9:00 show, please tip your waitstaff.

2) For every example I offer here, there will probably be a dozen examples that disprove what I’m saying. I know this already. Such is the imprecise nature of the field we’ve chosen to hoe. (or something) Nothing is exact, and that’s what makes it wonderful.

3) I will provide links to books/authors/series as I mention them, but if I mention them repeatedly, I’m only going to link it the first time. All points will be heavily skewed toward urban fantasy, because that’s where I am right now.

4) This will be a spoiler friendly zone. I intend to discuss plot twists, endings, behind-the-scenes secrets and tapioca. I will try to make a comprehensive list of all spoiler topics just below, but be assured I’m going to miss some, and then someone’s going to get pissy. “I didn’t know the Titanic sank! You’ve ruined this for me for life!” I also have no authority to govern what is said in the comments, so be prepared for unannounced spoilers there too.

SPOILER ALERT: For the following: The Dresden Files, Torchwood, the Kushiel series, The Anita Blake series, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Harry Potter, the Price is Right, the old testament and anything else I may or may not mention, think, or hear of in the future. Also does not cover any works that may or may not be mentioned in the comments.

5) I encourage and enjoy discussion! Please, leave a comment about your opinions, favorite series, techniques you’ve used, or chidings on my poor research skills. But do it nicely, and civilly, or I shall beat you with a barbed-wire cat-o-nine.

Many thanks to Theo and Chie who both helped me make sure the following blog posts are at least coherent.

Coming Monday:

Part 1: What kind of series do you have?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Teaser Tuesday Eleventeen

This teaser is from Peacemaker. At this point in the story, our hero Caleb has had his mount (an arcane-powered mechanical construct) explode beneath him, and the bad guy has staked him spread-eagled out in the middle of the prairie to die. But it appears that someone isn’t ready to let him go yet…

~*!*~

Cool water trickled over his lips, and delicate touches moved over his chest and arms while the soothing song went on. It took him some time to realize that he could open his eyes if he wanted, and when he did he found himself staring up into dark eyes set in a lovely, honey-brown face.

The Indian woman, the one from the mountain and his dreams, smiled to see him awake, and she slipped her hand behind his head to support him while she trickled more water down his throat.

Caleb gulped it as fast as he could, though he was certain even an entire river would not have been enough. When he managed to choke himself, she laid his head back down with a chiding look.

“I…” He paused to cough. “Thank you.”

Smiling shyly, she gathered up some clothes and bowls and rose, walking gracefully across the floor.

Only then did Caleb realize that he was inside one of the large teepees, cheerfully lit by a crackling fire in the middle. The smoke rose in a column through the hole in the top, and beyond it he could see only darkness. It was still night then, but the same night, or another one?

An attempt to sit up revealed that he was still stretched and tied, the lodge apparently erected right over his place of confinement. The nullstone amulet still nestled in the center of his chest. Perhaps they didn’t trust him after all. “How long have I been here?”

The woman was busily working with some pungent smelling plants on her side of the fire, and barely glanced over at his voice. His answer came instead from the other side.

“Time passes differently here, so that is hard to say.” From the shadows, the old shaman appeared, moving to take a seat next to the fire. The coyote familiar padded into view as well, laying down with its head on its paws, but its eyes on Caleb.

“You speak English now?”

The old man smiled, the creases in his face deepening. “There is only one language of the spirit, and all who are brothers may speak it in this place.”

Caleb glanced around. “What, in this teepee?”

“You are in the Place Between.”

“The place between what?”

“Between life and death. Between asleep and awake. Between one world and the next.” The white-haired man threw a handful of something on the flames, and aromatic smoke rolled out. Sage, Caleb thought. “Coyote spoke to me of your need, and your readiness to see this place.”

Caleb eyed the familiar beside the fire, but he couldn’t tell if it was the same coyote that had watched over him on the prairie. One looked very much like another. “Am I…hallucinating still?”

The old man chuckled. “It is possible. That is one way of reaching this place.”

“Am I dying?” The woman returned to his side, and Caleb eyed her warily. She knelt, scooping a handful of a dark, wet substance from a bowl, and began smearing it on his burned forearms. The poultice was cool and sent tingles through his skin.

“I do not believe you are dying. Though you would have, without our aid.” The old man produced a long pipe and began filling it with tobacco. Caleb could smell it even under the aroma of the other herbs. “I am called Crying Elk. I am the medicine man of this band of the people. And you are a star soldier of the white man.”

“Star soldier?” The old man tapped the place above his heart, and Caleb understood. “My badge…” It was gone, he supposed, wherever Warner had discarded his shirt.

“You are not the same as the last star soldier who came to this land. He was a man like the dark one, the one who digs into the mountain’s heart and causes such pain. He was only interested in his personal gain.” Crying Elk smirked with dark humor. “We would not have aided him, no matter how he begged Coyote.”

That fit in line with everything Caleb had learned about his predecessor. “I feel like I should apologize for that.”

The old shaman snorted, smoke curling from his nostrils to join the haze. “Each man chooses to walk his own path. His choice was not yours, so why would you need to apologize for it?”

Caleb shrugged, only to be reminded of the bonds that tied him. The woman frowned at his fidgeting, reaching to smooth some of the sticky goop over his forehead as well. “What is…what is she doing?” Instinctively, he flinched away from her touch, and she frowned, grabbing his chin firmly and giving him a glare.

“She is a great healer of our people. The poultice will take the heat from your wounds, allow them to heal. The water will replenish you.”

“Why are you doing this for me?”

“I told you this already. Because you are not like the other. You spare lives when you could more easily take them, even among people not your own. You give food to the hungry, and warning to those in danger.” The old man grinned in the firelight. “Though your spirit guide should more likely be praised for that.”

Spirit guide…Ernst! “Is Ernst all right? Where is he?”

“I am certain he is fine. He was fine before he found you, and he will be fine after you are gone.” He rested a hand on the head of his own familiar, more a gesture of respect for an equal than affection bestowed on a pet. The coyote looked up, and Caleb swore he could see the animal smile in return.

Even knowing he would not be able to move past the nullstone, Caleb tried to reach out for his connection to Ernst. It was like pushing through yards of wet wool, but he gritted his teeth and tried anyway.

The woman slapped his arm lightly, and shook a finger in warning. Caleb resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at her petulantly.

“You are not strong enough just now to fight the power of the draining stone. I will teach you later, when you are more yourself.” Crying Elk drew on his pipe deeply, his eyes watching the dance of the fire before him. “Now is the time when we must speak of more serious things.”

Caleb dragged his gaze away from the woman with her hands all over him to look at the old shaman. “What things? And you know, it’s hard to have a conversation all tied up like this.”

“Is it? It is not bothering me in the least.” The old man blew a perfect smoke ring, amusement in his dark eyes. “Attend now. Time must not be wasted in this place.”

“But you said time—” Caleb fell silent at a look from the old man. Maybe they’d answer his questions later. Probably, they wouldn’t. Just like Ernst.

Friday, August 14, 2009

She's Alive!

Rumors of my untimely demise have been greatly exaggerated (and were totally invented by me for comedic effect).

Yes, I know I haven’t been blogging. Bad Kari. No donut. But there was the little matter of a vacation somewhere in the middle of things! And since my #1 beta reader, Chie, was here for a visit, it could even be considered a working vacation.

See? We went to a baseball game. Totally research. To my right, I had Chie and Dr. Gita (my medical consultant who answers things like “what diseases do you get from being wet all the time?” and “how many ribs can a person have removed and still function?”).



And to my left, I had hubby and kiddo!



It was kiddo’s first baseball game, and she was thrilled. Too bad we were all baking in 100 degree heat and had to leave early.

Notice that, being the person holding the camera, there are no pictures of ME. (see what I did there?)

Today, I got through scribbling all the notes down for my revisions on DD. Most of them still say things like “expand here” and “clarify”, but once I sit down to type it all out, it’ll flow into the perfect prose. Or something.

I’m actually feeling really good about this. I can’t wait to get it turned back in, so I can get back to work on the Son of DD. Which still needs a title, I might add. As does the series as a whole. Suggestions are welcome.

And speaking of series… I DO still plan on writing a few blog posts on the subject of series in general. I’m just trying to plan out what I want to say ahead of time. Keeps me from babbling and rambling. Wonder if I could get those done this weekend too…hmm…