Monday, December 19, 2011

She's a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

((Cross posted at The League of Reluctant Adults))

Yes, I know I should probably be doing a Christmas post, given the proximity to that particular holiday, but I’m not gonna. No way, not gonna make me. ‘Cause honestly, Christmas is my least favorite holiday. I know, you probably think this is going to boil down to a “commercialism at Christmas” rant, but I swear it’s not. What it really amounts to is that I am a lousy gift-giver.

No, I don’t have any trouble picking out presents for people. (well, most of the time) See, I’m smart enough to get a list and much like Rachel in Friends, STICK TO THE LIST. Shopping isn’t my problem. Where I find my downfall is that I’m supposed to WAIT to give these people these totally awesome gifts that I know they want!

What kind of sick, sadistic holiday IS this? “Here, it’s wrapped up all shiny and ribbony, just waiting to be torn asunder and enjoyed! But not yet!” Seriously?

I’m much more of an instant gratification kinda girl. For example: Hubby and I agreed not to do presents for each other until after Christmas. Which means, of course, that there are no less than three presents hidden around the house at this very moment for the man. The only reason I HAVEN’T given them to him yet is because I’m absurdly proud of my hiding places. (He’s reading over my shoulder right now. I think the only reason he hasn’t dashed off in search is because he’s well aware of my aforementioned weak will. He knows he’ll get them soon anyway.)

I love watching people open presents that they know I want, and I see no reason that I should wait until some pre-determined day of the year to indulge myself in this particular pleasure. This is why I’m notorious among my friends for giving them “wrapped” gifts. (Wrapped = in the bag I bought it in) Hey, they have to open it, it counts!

My child has figured this out at even her tender young age. She knows very well if she asks “Mommy, can I open one early?” that she’ll wind up with ALL of them open sooner rather than later. I know, I know, it’s a sickness. I can’t help it!

Right now, at this very moment, there are presents stashed all over this house, just screaming to be given. The voices, they haunt me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Gone Between

I woke up this morning to the news that Anne McCaffrey, one of sci-fi/fantasy’s great legends, had passed away. And while I always find it sad when we lose one of our greats, as the day has gone on, this one has settled heavily on me.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first read one of her books. I’m pretty sure it was Dragonsdawn, the prequel to the Pern series. I know that after that, I devoured anything I could get my hands on. I fell in love with Pern and all its inhabitants, from the beautiful gold dragons all the way down to the lowliest watch-wher. Oh, how I wanted my very own fire-lizard. A bronze one. He’d have been awesome.

It wasn’t just her dragons, though. The Rowan and her descendents found a special place in my heart as well. I think those books were the first time I actually remember feeling fear and joy and anguish right alongside the characters. I bled with them, because of the power of the words on the page.

And I think that’s what I learned from Anne McCaffrey. I learned about the kind of stories I wanted to tell, and the kind of writer I wanted to be. Some of the first lengthy things I ever wrote were essentially fanfic, either in the Pern world or in the Rowan’s world. Always for my own entertainment, of course. I don’t think I ever showed anyone those stories. They were just because I didn’t want those worlds to end when I was done reading, I wanted to live in them a little while longer.

I’m pretty sure she knew the kind of mark she left on the world. Her fans are legion, and very vocal. They have conventions, and role-playing games, and forums and all kinds of things. She didn’t, of course, know what influence she had on little old me, or on a lot of other writers I know who are all thinking over what her death means right now. Maybe we don’t even know for sure how her writing shaped who and what we are today. All we know is that it did.

A great lady has gone Between. She will be missed, and never forgotten.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And the Beat Goes On

Last night, I turned in my revisions for A WOLF AT THE DOOR, and a lot of people have asked me “Okay, what happens now?” So, this is my attempt at explanation, which is sadly way less informative than I (or anyone else) would like it to be.

First and foremost, WOLF has to be officially accepted. This is an actual contractual term that basically means when your publisher says “Okay, yes, I like what you’ve done here, we’re definitely going to publish it.” The alternative to this would be them coming back and saying “Hey, could you do a few more revisions first.” I don’t expect that to happen. My editor, the amazing Anne Sowards, always knows just the right notes to give so that I get it right the first time.

As for time frame on official acceptance? I have no idea. Depends on how soon someone has time to read through it AGAIN (and trust me, so many people read through a book multiple times in its process, you have no idea), make sure it’s all they had hoped it would be. Whether or not someone has time depends on how many manuscripts are lined up in front of mine, in various stages of their own production. I expect/hope to hear something before the end of the year, at the very least.

In the meantime, other parts of production will continue. For the past two books, I’ve always had cover art somewhere in mid-ish November, so I’m hoping that pattern will continue. There’s always something fun about being able to go to my family’s place for Thanksgiving and saying “Hey, wanna see what I got?” Also, since my birthday is at the end of the month, it always seems like an early birthday present.

So once Wolf is officially accepted, it will go on into copy edits, and then through page proofs, and then drift magically toward the August 7th release date.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, people are still wanting to know “Will there be more JJD books?” And the answer to that is, I don’t know yet. We haven’t had That Talk yet. Do I want to hazard a guess as to what That Talk will entail? Oh hell no. The publishing world has changed drastically over the last few years, not the least of which was the closing of all the Borders stores. While it remains to be seen how that development is truly going to play out, I know how it’s affected me and my sales personally, and it isn’t a happy situation. I’m in the same boat a lot of authors are, for the same reasons, none of which have anything to do with our skills as authors.

Is it on my mind? Oh yeah. All the time. Part of it is just that I don’t want to fail at this. Being an author was/is/always will be my dream, and I don’t want it over before it really gets started. Part of it is that it would break my heart to leave Jesse’s story unfinished. And more than that, even, I don’t want it to remain unfinished for everyone who has followed along with me so far. People invested time and money in me, an author they knew very little about, and for that at least, they deserve to know what happens next.

Folks have asked me “What can I do to help?” And to them, I say this. Just go buy books, either physically, or on your e-readers. Not just my books, ANY books! ALL books! If you love an author, let it show! If you can’t afford books (and face it, we've all been there, especially lately), go check them out from libraries. Libraries buy books too! Request books you’re looking forward to from your favorite bookstore or library. Requests turn into orders, orders into numbers, and hopefully numbers turn into more books from all of the authors that you love.

Remember, only YOU can prevent, wrong message.

You guys know what to do. Go forth and conquer.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I love this holiday...

This may be old news for some, looks like it's last year's, but I think it's freakin' awesome! (it should also be noted that I'm easily distracted by shiny objects, so...)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Zombies. Denied.

((Cross-posted at The League of Relucant Adults))

Anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with me knows my one great phobia: zombies. Can’t explain why, but they freak me out like nothing else in this entire world. Yes, I know they’re fictional. No, it doesn’t help. And for some reason, even knowing that they scare the bejeezus outta me, I still feel the need to poke at that open wound. Hence, watching the AMC series, The Walking Dead.

(It should be noted that I watch a lot of it with my eyes closed)

In discussing this show with others, it has been brought up that they never use the word “zombie”. (they call them “walkers”) And of course, in my mind, this is because a “zombie” was never part of this world’s mythology, and therefore they don’t HAVE that word. I find this simple concept interesting, however, because it tends to illustrate one of my key theories* about the concept of a zombie apocalypse. (*key theory also translates to “things I will rant about for hours if you don’t walk away first”)

My theory being this: A zombie apocalypse canNOT happen in a world where zombies are part of the known mythos. Bear with me here, I shall ‘splain.

I am willing to hazard a guess that at least 75% of the world** has heard the word “zombie” or whatever that translates to in their language of choice. (**all statistics pulled directly out of my butt) A good chunk of that 75% goes even further and has read/watched/heard enough about the monster called “zombie” to know how to kill one, and how to avoid infection by same.

Therefore, the surprise and bewilderment element that seems to be so key in the early days of a zombie apocalypse would not apply to our world as we know it.

Picture this, two guys sitting on their front porch, and they see a half-decayed corpse come lurching down the street.

Guy 1: “Hey, Ralph, you see that?”
Guy 2: “Holy shee-it, that’s a zombie!”
Guy 1: “Dude, get the camera, I’ma grab a ball bat. We’re gonna youtube this shit!”

No pause of “hey, that guy’s hurt, we should get him to a hospital!” No trying to save Uncle Jethro because we love him and he just had a little bite from the crazy neighbor guy across the street. No spread, no epidemic, all done.

Now, it has been mentioned to me that “Not everyone sits around with a shotgun saying ‘Bring on the zombies!’” To which I answer, “They don’t?” I don’t have a single friend who has not put at least minimal thought into a plan for a zombie apocalypse. I know, ‘cause I took a poll. Some are more thorough than others (ie: weapons stashes, bug out bags, survival training, etc.). Some are no more than “Hey, I’ma go find Kari & her hubby, ‘cause they have swords and they’re mean!” But still, it’s a plan.

And really, think about it. The original gaming generation has now reached adulthood. How many of us grew up on the original Romero zombie movies, blasting away at zombies in almost every video game ever made? (even Mario Brothers has walking skeleton dudes. Just saying) We’re comfortable with the idea of killing zombies. More importantly though, we’re all ADULTS now. (for some loose definition of the word) That means we have our own expendable income, and the legal ability to buy weapons. This isn’t just guns, this is swords, and crossbows and axes and all those things your parents would never let you have as a child.

We’re an entire generation of armed, zombie killing machines, people! Just let one of those undead mofos raise his head and we will bust it into tiny plague-ridden bits. No zombie apocalypse for me, thank you very much.

And there you have it, folks. Proof that I have put WAY too much thought into a totally fictional disaster scenario. What are your thoughts on the subject?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Editing

I babble a lot here. My apologies. Also, video quality is not what I was hoping. I seriously have to figure this thing out.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

New Toy

I should not be allowed out without supervision. Things like this happen when I am:

For size comparison, it's laying across the back of my black leather jacket. So, small for sword, but perfectly sized for me. (or kiddo, when she's old enough)

This beauty is thanks to the amazing crew at Badger Blades. In fact, between hubby and I, we own nine of their blades. (That's nine we can remember, sitting here off the top of our heads. If I actually went and looked in the back room, it might be more) Suffice to say, hubby has a spot of honor on their website.

Yarr Matey

Spent the weekend at the local Renaissance Festival, and yes, we are some of those crazy people that go in costume. This year, I decided I was a pirate. And through some miracle, we got kiddo in a dress. The pics were taken with a cell phone, so they're a bit grainy, but I liked them.

And lookit this. I'm so doomed when she's a few years older. Can somebody please put a book on my child's head so she stops growing up?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Blinking Cursor of Doom

I sit here and I stare at it, and I swear, it's mocking me.

It's strange how I have faced extensive rewrites (book 2 was scrapped at 68,000 words and started fresh), major copy edits, NaNoWriMo on multiple occasions, and yet nothing is quite so daunting as a blank page, and that one little lonely black line. Sitting there. Blinking at me.

I think it's the unknown. The sheer overwhelming possibility of it all. Will it be a poem? A witty blog post? A dissertation on the feminist imagery on boxes of athlete's foot ointment? It could be anything!

What if it wants to be a novella, and I force it to be a dirty limerick? Or what do I do if my iambic pentameter novel-length epic poem turns into commercial jingle parodies? There are just so many ways this could go wrong.

It's not so bad, once you get the first line down. Even the first word. Then the page isn't blank anymore, and it's not staring at you all expectant like. You get the first few marks on the page, and it's tamed, ready to be molded into whatever shape you have.

But right now, what I have is a blank page, and a blinking cursor of doom. So I sit, and the cursor blinks at me, and buried under the sheer enormity of what might be, nothing is.

Wow, that sounded really deep.

I feel like I should find a video of college guys lighting farts on fire or something, just to counter it all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Okay, now that I've teased you all for almost a week...

I am extremely pleased and excited to announce that I am now represented by Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown Ltd. She's amazing, and enthusiastic, and I can't wait to see what's going to happen next!

Now, some of you might be saying, "Wait, didn't you already have an agent?" And yes I did. It was with great sadness that he and I decided to part ways. There was no drama, nobody did anything wrong, it was just one of those things that sometimes happens.

So now, we move forward! Boldly going or something.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fan Art!

Just wanted to share with y'all my very first fan art! These were drawn by one very talented fan who has followed me on Twitter for a long time (and turns out, is a really awesome guy!)

I totally admit, I asked him to draw the chibi Axel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Changing Times

A quick update today just to let folks know that there's some changes going on in my writing life. I'll talk about it more when I can, when things are finalized, but for the moment, if I seem a wee bit distracted, that's why.

Don't worry, it's not bad news about the JJD series. Wouldn't want to scare y'all like that. It's other stuff, the writing stuff you don't see that all goes on behind the scenes. Secret ninja publishing stuff. Or something.

I will let you guys know when things settle, and we will all be able to do the dance of joy together.

Also, things learned this week: It is physically impossible for me to type my new book title without screwing it up. I wonder what that means.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

And the title is...

...wait for it... You know you wanna wait for it...

You're all going to kill me, aren't you?

Okay, the title of book 3 (for now anyway) is... Drum roll... Are you rolling the drum? Yeah, thought so. DRUM ROLL!


You will find no actual wolves in this book, however. It's a totally metaphorical wolf. That may or may not have a blond mohawk. Just sayin'.
Thanks to a really awesome Purgy for coming up with the title for me. It worked great!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Video Blog, Take 1

I know, I know. You're all cringing in horror. Blame Chie. More precisely, blame Chie's hubby. He's the one who sent me the webcam.

I wonder if I'm brave enough to keep doing this.

Anyone wanna start a pool?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Post Party Carnage

Yesterday was the party for the release of A SHOT IN THE DARK (mostly because my friends need very little excuse to have a party). And as part of the party, we had a snarky T-shirt contest!

The winning T-shirt was this one:

If you can't quite read it, it says "Haikus are easy, but sometimes don't make much sense. Hippopotamus." It came from Cafepress if you desire one of your very own.

And while we had intended to have an adult division and a child division, we wound up with a distinct and unexpected lack of children at this party, so it turned into a second-place prize instead. Through absolutely NO intervention of my own (Hey,I didn't even vote for them) my beloved kiddo and hubby won a team prize for their zombie-themed shirts:

The crown on the entire party, though, was the cookie cake, which seems to have been vandalized by one red-eyed, rather snarky demon:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Thoughts on Reviews

Reviews are the one thing that every author both dreads and craves. We want to know that people are enjoying our work, but we also fear that no one's going to like it, that we didn't do our job well.

A lot of authors I know don't read their reviews. For them, it's less stressful, and as many people often say, the reviews aren't really for the author anyway, they're for the other readers. If an author wants constructive criticism, they need to rely on their beta readers, not on reviewers.

However, I read every review I find, and this post is just kind of my way of explaining why.

First off, understand that I'm entirely too neurotic to NOT read a review. If I know it's out there, I have to know what was said. It would drive me insane not to. I read the good ones, I read the bad ones, I read the ones that are just downright puzzling. Because I want to know what people did and didn't like. I want to know if people are following on the journey I tried to take them on. If they're finding places that don't work for them, that means I didn't accomplish all that I wanted to.

Second, I read reviews because every person that writes one has taken the time to stop and read my books. Even as speedy as I read, that's a minimum of three hours of their day, and for most people it's a lot more time than that.

Then, on top of that time spent, they took the time to stop and think about what I wrote. And this goes beyond just "did I like it, or didn't I?" They have to think about why they liked it, or didn't. What elements appealed to them? What places dragged on? Which characters had them cheering, which ones fell flat?

If you've never tried to write a book review, the reading that you do to form one is totally different than reading just for pleasure. It's work! It's hard to pin down the minute details of a story, hard to see the trees for the forest. You have to think about a book like a puzzle, and decide what pieces were missing, which ones locked together tightly, and which ones were just a little warped.

I figure, if someone has gone to all that work, then the least I can do is read what they've written. I mean, they took the time to read 80,000 words of mine, to analyze it, to put into words their thoughts on it. I owe them the time it takes to read 500 words of theirs. Doesn't matter if it's a glowing review, or the worst one I've ever gotten. A reviewer's time and effort should be respected.

I don't comment on reviews, typically. Like I said, they're not written for me. They're written so that other readers have a chance to say "Hey, I might like that" or "nah, I'll pass." In this tight economy, I can appreciate having a system in place to help people decide where to pass on their money.

And really, arguing with someone over their opinion is a bit ridiculous. That's like arguing with someone who says they like salty better than sweet. There's no logical basis for an argument like that.

So I don't comment, but I do read, because I think I owe a reviewer that much respect. There we are. My feelings on reviews in a nutshell.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Release the Kraken!

Or: How a Promo Post Gets Sappy

So, here we are, release week. I had grand plans to do a big post on the actual release day, but between the Real Job(tm), it just didn't happen.

A lot of people have asked me how this release day differed from the first one. Well, more people congratulated me, for one thing. People I've never met, Twitter-folk I only know because they read Devil and loved it. So there was that.

I like to think I was a lot less obsessive about my Amazon rankings this time. Mostly because I've truly proven over the last year that they don't mean a whole lot. Do I like to see those low digits? Sure. I always do a little happy dance in my chair when I can tell that someone bought another one. But it's still just pixels, ghosts in the machine.

A lot of other people had great releases on the same day. Carolyn Crane summed it up pretty nicely over at The League, so I'll just say go check her post out, and just use it like a shopping list. I myself bought HOUNDED and HEXED by Kevin Hearne today (they were out of HAMMERED, the big goobers, so I had to reserve one from the next batch). I also bought MY LIFE AS A WHITE TRASH ZOMBIE, then sat down and devoured it in three hours. (devoured...zombie... get it? Never mind.) Even I, the confessed zombie-phobe, loved it.

For those who just can't get enough of me... (oh come, on that's all of you. There's what, four of you now?)

Over at The Other Side of the Story, I talk about writing description. And at Dark Faerie Tales, Axel gives his view of Kansas City, plus you can win my books! Definitely keep checking back at Dark Faerie Tales and at All Things Urban Fantasy for their Deadly Destinations event all through the month of July. Your favorite UF characters give you tours of their worlds and there are giveaways galore.

I'll be popping up in a few more places around the Interwebz, but I'll link those as they come.

There have also been some great reviews for A SHOT IN THE DARK, but I won't link them all here. (though a part of me wants to go buy each and every one of those reviewers a steak dinner) ((Seriously. I know good steak.))

I just want to thank everyone who went out and bought the books, who read them, who recommended them... I always say that I would have kept writing, even if I'd never been published, but when it comes right down to it, having people read what I write is the true reward. This would be a very lonely endeavor without all of YOU.

Yes, you. You there. No, not you. You. Yes.

Ahem. Anyway.

Still getting trailing feedback in from my betas on Book 3 (which is in DIRE need of a title, so if anyone thinks of one...) but I think I'm pretty settled on what changes I need/want to make. Mostly, my betas are confirming the weaknesses I already saw, bless them, and I think the end project will be a zillion times better. It always is, when my betas get involved.

So, a bit more work, and then I'll have officially completed this contract. People keep asking me, "Will there be more than three JJD novels?" Short answer: Gosh, I hope so. Long answer: Haven't talked to anyone about that yet. Hope so. Really really hope so. Y'all will be the...well, probably fourth or fifth to know, but you know what I mean.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What is a Beta?

((Cross-posted at The League))

Since I announced that I’d finished Book 3 a few weeks ago and turned it over to my betas, I’ve had several questions that I thought deserved bigger answers than Twitter or Facebook would allow. So here we go.

No, a beta reader is not an overly aggressive fish with a love of literature.

Nor is it a person who divines the future by reading the entrails of said overly aggressive fish. (though a part of me now wants to put such a person in a book of some kind)

And please realize that if you ask a dozen different writers what a beta reader is, you’re likely to get a dozen different answers. (And if you ask the Leaguers, not all of those answers will be safe for work.) So what follows is really just a small example of what my betas do for me.

First, I have what I call my Alpha-Betas. This is a grand total of two people who read every word almost as soon as I set it on the paper (computer). Their purpose is to help me during the writing process. They work me past sticky plot problems, murky character developments, and guide me when I take a completely wrong turn. One of them is a high school English teacher, and the other has a Masters of Information degree (I think here in the States, it would be a Master of Library Sciences, but his way sounds cooler) and has read more classical literature then I even knew existed. They bring a wealth of knowledge and writing skill to the table. They’re the ones who get to put up with me whining “It’s not working and I just don’t know whhhhhhhyyyyyy!”

Once I have the first draft completed, I then send the book off to my regular betas. They come from a zillion different backgrounds. They are a web designer, an IT consultant, a bouncer, a factory worker, a theology student, a doctor and half a dozen other authors in various genres. But they all have one thing in common. They are readers. Like me, they read anything they can get their hands on.

When I send them the book, I give them instructions. Usually saying things like “Chapter 16 sucks, but I don’t know why.” Or “I’m worried that the first three chapters are too slow.” And very often “Did you follow event XYZ okay? I’m not sure I was even making sense at that point.”

They read for flow, for pacing. They read for continuity. They read to find me the places where I just didn’t explain myself as well as I think I did. They read to locate the points where my characters just aren’t acting like themselves. They tell me what parts they want to know more about, and what parts just stuck out because they didn’t belong.

It’s not fun, beta reading. It’s actually hard work. The easy part would be to read the book like a book, getting lost in the story. It’s much more difficult to read and deliberately hold yourself out of it, searching for the chinks and flaws between the words. But they do it for me every time. In fact, this crop of beta readers has been with me through four books now. Some of them have even read pieces of more books than that. I ask them to read for me over and over again because I know that they take it seriously, and because I know what kind of feedback I will get from them. The things they tell me are important. Even if I don’t agree with it all, it always makes me think and that’s the key part. If one person finds something wrong, others will also find that same part, and I need to decide how to address that.

Often, I get people asking “Can I be your beta reader?” Most of these people ask because they’re super excited about my writing, and they just can’t wait to see what comes next! They want to help! And that’s awesome. It makes me feel good that there are people who are so in touch with my characters that they’d volunteer to work on a book instead of just enjoy it.

Most of the time, though, I turn them down. It’s not because I don’t like them, or because I don’t think they could do the job. But really, the crew I have is enough feedback for me at the moment. I get a variety of opinions and notes, ranging from plot progression to grammar and syntax, and they’ve never failed to point me in the right direction.

Occasionally, one of my betas drops out due to time constraints. (Contrary to my own belief, they have lives/jobs/writing deadlines of their own, and they can’t always drop everything to read through my drivel) In those cases, I will sometimes reach out and try to find a new reader. If that reader provides helpful feedback, then I’ll usually keep them on for the next one. But more often than not, I choose a new reader and then I never hear back from them. Sad, but true. Those are the ones who just want to read a book before it comes out, but they don’t want to do the work to help make it the best it could be.

So for those who would love to be a beta reader (not just for me, but for anyone), remember that it’s work, and that the writer is relying on you. Simply telling them “It’s great, I loved it!” – while wonderful for the ego – is actually not as helpful as one might think. We need to know the parts that aren’t great, and when a person is a super-fan, they have a hard time pointing those places out. (Which is why I don’t beta read for a certain author-friend of mine. Flat out told her, I’m too big a fan to be useful to you.)

Hope this clears up some of the questions people have about beta readers. (If it doesn’t, I obviously should have run it past my betas first.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Booooook Fooooooort!!!!

Got my author copies today, and you know what that means!

Book Fort!

Well, okay, this one is vaguely castle-like, but I think my architectural skills have improved since last year, don't you?

And now to catch up with folk.

I finished the first draft of the still-untitled Book 3 a couple of weekends ago, and now it is in the hands of my overworked but much-appreciated betas. And since I've been getting this question a lot, I'm planning a blog post soon on just what a beta is and does.

In the meantime, since I can't revise book 3 until they get back to me no matter how badly I want to, I have pulled Muse out of the pile and I'm going to start rewriting it based on the feedback The Agent gave me oh so many moons ago. I'm still excited about this one, and I think the rewrite is just going to make it that much more awesome.

We're 18 days away from A SHOT IN THE DARK's official release date, and around that time I'll be doing guest blogs at a variety of places. (Provided I sit my butt down tomorrow and write them!) I'll keep you posted on where and when to find me around the interwebz!

And last but never ever least, I want to introduce you to a new blog started by my very own Alpha-Beta, Chie. Visit her over at the Geek Pantry, and learn why it's a good thing she lives several states away from me (or I'd weigh about 800 pounds). She's a phenomenal cook, and has even managed to teach hopeless me a few things that won't poison my family. Go! Learn! Cook! Eat!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Eleven Years

((Cross posted at The League of Reluctant Adults))

Fair warning, sappiness ahead. Batten down the hatches, pump out the bilges, roll up the trousers, all that stuff.

As predicted a month ago (I must be psychic!), today is my eleventh wedding anniversary. Or, as I like to say, it's been eleven years and I still haven't killed him yet. Not for lack of trying, grant you. I mean, I did hit the man with a car. Twice. (And he still agreed to marry me anyway. What's that about?) You'd think, after the first time, that he'd have moved.

In fact, if you peer farther into the past (my editor has given up teaching me the difference between farther and further, btw) we were best friends even longer than that. Six years before we were ever a couple, for a grand total of eighteen years. Wow, now I feel old.

It's at times like these that I like to stop and think about how very different my life would have been without him. And I mean more than just the "well, I wouldn't have had my daughter without him" or the "I'd be married to someone else" kinda stuff.

First and foremost, the Jesse James Dawson series would not exist without my hubby. My motivation came from him, from his desire to see the kind of hero he wanted to see. The story idea was his, hashed out between the two of us over a very fateful anniversary dinner quite a few years ago. (Full circle, see?)

But more than just the one series, he helps me with all aspects of my writing. He's the best brainstorming partner I've ever had, mostly because he knows how to ask the right questions to get me thinking. He's my motivator when I'm slacking, my cheerleader when I'm down. While I know that Jesse wouldn't exist without him, I can also say that I'm not sure I'd be writing at all without him.

Writing itself can be a very lonely occupation. A writer spends a lot of time wandering around inside their own skull, and while it's usually peopled with lots of interesting creatures and situations, it makes it hard to find objectivity. Too many of those voices in there say things like "you suck" and "this is impossible" and my personal favorite "why bother?"

I think every writer needs a support network, even if it's just one person. Someone to say "Hey, just keep trying" or "maybe try it a different way". Someone to shout louder than the voices that say "this is hard, just give up."

My support network is huge, I admit this. I have the League, I have the Purgies, I have my family and my friends. But first and foremost, before I had any of that, I had my hubby.

So on my anniversary, my hope for all writers, and for everyone really, is that you find that one person who will keep you aimed toward your chosen goal when you're ready to quit. Be it a friend, a mentor, a husband or wife, a pen-pal, I hope you all find the support we all need. Because in the end, it's worth it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

And the winner is...

As promised, as of 5 p.m. today, I have chosen a winner (with the aid of a handy-dandy random number generator). And believe it or not, today, it pays to be fast!

Our winner of A SHOT IN THE DARK's ARC is: (drum roll)

Commenter #1 - Trey!

Trey, congratulations! Please email me your address at kari(dot)stewart21(at)gmail(dot)com. Also, let me know how you'd like it signed.

I'm hoping to be able to do a another give-away once my author copies come in, so anyone who didn't win, stay tuned!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The ARC, the ARC, the ARC is on fire!

Okay, no the ARC is not on fire. That would be sad, considering that I only have one to give away. (I did, however, set my back yard on fire over the weekend, but that's a story for another time)

But, I am hoping that someone considers an ARC of A SHOT IN THE DARK a smokin' hot commodity.

So here we go, folk! Leave a comment here on the blog (Sorry, Facebook and Twitter do not count) to enter. That's it. So simple! Tell your friends, get them to enter, that way if they win, they might let you borrow it too!

The contest will go until 5 p.m. NEXT Monday evening (5/16) because I think more nice things should happen on Mondays. And what could be nicer than finding out you won an ARC of A SHOT IN THE DARK!!!

(I'll leave it to you to imagine me saying that in an appropriately epic monster truck rally announcer voice)

Remember, all you have to do is leave a comment HERE, on this post. Easy as...oh...selling your soul.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Life Has Been Good To Me

3rd Rock From the Sun was one of those shows I always thought was under-appreciated in its time. And my all-time favorite episode was the one where they learned to dream. Here's my favorite number:

And honestly, can't we all just see Axel dressed in a zoot suit dancing around like this?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jesse Dawson Goes to Jail

A high school friend of mine wrote this blog post, and I thought I'd share it with you all. It made me smile.

Jesse James Dawson vs. The Andrew County Experience

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Happy Release Day!

Got a couple (well, ok, way more than a couple, but only a couple that I'm mentioning here today) new releases out today!

First off, huge congrats to fellow Leaguer, Kevin Hearne, for his debut HOUNDED!

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

Now doesn't that just sound freakin' awesome? (And how do you not like a guy named Atticus?) Also note that the sequels to this, HEXED and HAMMERED will be releasing back-to-back over the next two months. In fact, HAMMERED will be a release-day sibling of A SHOT IN THE DARK!

My other awesome release to pimp today is by my friend Abner Senires! You might remember Abner, he's the one who kindly escorted "me" around Comic-Con last year.

This picture is him with my fabulous editor, Anne Sowards.

Now, Abner writes an online serial about Kat and Mouse, guns for hire. And he's collected the first "season" in novel form! (He sent me one! Be jealous!)

2042. Bay City, California Free State. Kat and Mouse are ronin--street mercenaries--who like cake runs. Simple jobs with quick and large payouts. That's what these were supposed to be. Cake runs. But when the Duo sign on, they suddenly find themselves targeted by a biker gang, a team of corporate commandos, a cybernetically-enhanced special ops agent, a stalker, a band of kidnappers, and a Japanese crime syndicate. And they all want the Duo out of the way. Permanently. Now these sassy sisters-in-arms must survive the onslaught and still get the jobs done. Because in the Biz, it's get paid or get dead. As usual, Kat and Mouse are going to do things their way. Heaven help Bay City...

Now if this doesn't give you all something to read for the next few days, I'm just not sure what to do with you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Things that make me smile

Just dropping by to show off yet another musical smile-inducer. I wish I had an ounce of this boy's talent.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

I was a teenage Wolfrider

Y’know how sometimes, something just keeps popping up into your conversations. And it’s from all different sources, so it’s not like it’s all you, or that anyone planned it. Just one thing keeps reminding you of its existence, over and over and over. Persistent little bugger.

Well, that’s how ElfQuest has been for me, this past week. Seems like, no matter where I turn, someone is mentioning it. And it’s not even people I knew were fans! We’re wider spread than I ever imagined.

So today, we’re talking about ElfQuest! Now, the majority of you are probably thinking “What?” So lemme explain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.

Once upon a time, this husband and wife team (Wendy and Richard Pini) dreamed up this nifty little comic. It was about elves and wolves and trolls. They put it out in black and white, then in color, then in graphic novel form. There were anthologies, telling stories of all the chiefs who came before Cutter. (My personal favorite story from the second of that series was one called "Summer Tag" by Allen L. Wold. That book is long gone, sadly, but I remember it so well.) There have been spin offs, and RPGs, and board games (which I have, never fear). There were pewter figurines to be painted. (Of which I have two sets. Unpainted) There has been talk of movies, of Saturday morning cartoons, and every time those fall by the wayside, we all felt a little sadder.

I was probably…oh…seven? Eight?...when I discovered EQ. I distinctly remember the day. I was out with my grandmother, in Woolworths (yes, my town still had one at that point) and on their little rotating comic rack, I spotted this cover with a pointy-eared blond fellow, on wolfback, apparently kidnapping this dark-skinned beauty and threatening another fellow with a sword. (This would be the "Raid at Sorrow's End" issue, for those who would recognize it) It looked so freakin' awesome!!! And because my grandmother spoiled me rotten, I got it.

I never missed an issue after that. All the way through the fight for the palace, every time a new one came out, I'd snatch it up and go hide in my room, re-reading them all over and over again. (And yes, I was still pretty young when the infamous "orgy" scene was printed. No, I didn't notice anything amiss)

Did I mention that I was a really lonely kid? I mean, we didn't even have any neighbors with kids (within bike-riding distance) until I was in fourth grade. I had 50 acres of forest, and an overactive imagination. ElfQuest was PERFECT for me. I was a WOLFRIDER!

I can't tell you how many hours I spent running around in the woods, usually dressed in some bizarre homemade costumes, always armed with my very real skinning knife and bow. I built my own Holt. (sort of) I knew my own soulname. (oh come on, you did it too) To this day, I can recite the chief's lineage from Timmain, all the way down to Ember.

The Wolfriders shaped a good deal of my childhood, and even now I'm sure my friends would tell you that's where I got my very "pack-oriented" mentality. I can tell you which of my friends would belong to which tribes. (Hubby is a Go-Back, through and through. Best friend, probably one of the Sunfolk. Kiddo's a Wolfrider, like me)

Now,I have...well, pretty much every ElfQuest thing you could imagine, though not nearly all the things that were put out at its height. I hope to get my daughter into it, someday. But for those who don't have access to the comics/graphic novels (long out of print, I'm afraid), the Pinis have graciously put EVERY SINGLE ISSUE up online. For free. Seriously.

And now that I've lost the last hour in reading old EQ issues instead of hunting up pictures for this post like I was supposed to be... Oi. It's addictive.

Because of my exposure to ElfQuest, I've fanatically followed Wendy Pini's work. I have both of her Beauty & The Beast graphic novels (y'know, from the old TV show, yet another of my obsessions). I ate up every installment of her Masque of the Red Death (Not kid safe, folks). I'm not the only major fan. Recently, someone released a fan trailer, a live-action imagining of what a movie might look like. (I was pleased to note that I could name every character there, though not all of them existed at the same time in canon)

I have several fondest wishes revolving around my EQ love. First and foremost would be an EQ movie. Cartoon, live action, whatever, just don't screw it up. Second would be an online MMORPG based on EQ. GODS I would love to see that. And third, and it's one of my worst-kept secrets... One day, I would love to have Wendy Pini do the graphic novel of Muse. And since Muse is still on my list to rewrite, later this year, that one's truly a wish only. But it would freakin' ROCK.

And since I know you're all wondering... Nightfall was my favorite. No magic, but fierce and loyal as hell.

But Strongbow was the hottest.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Quandary

Once again, I have been remiss in my bloggerly duties. However, since I have been in the midst of writing Book 3 (as yet untitled), I hope you'll forgive me.

And speaking of upcoming books... I have ARCs of A SHOT IN THE DARK! Well...more precisely, I have one that I'm willing to part with.

But how? By what esoteric method can I choose the recipient of this one and only single lonely ARC? And therein lies my quandary.

So let me know, folks! What kind of give-away do you want to see? Just a random commenter chosen? Something you have to work for? Let me know what kind of things you like to see in online contests.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Giving What We Can

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure everyone is aware of the devastation in Japan over the past week. I know that even with film footage and photographs, it's still hard to wrap my brain around the enormity of what's happened.

At times like this, we often think, "What can I do to help?"

Those of us at the League of Reluctant Adults have put our writerly brains together, and come up with a way to contribute not only to Japan, but to our fellow writers.

Currently on Ebay, there are two auctions up. Members of the League have been divided into two teams (Team Claw and Team Fang) and we are offering to be a crit group for a day to the winning bidders. The winning bidders will get to submit a synopsis and pages up to 6000 words on any fiction project, and we will each give you our personal thoughts on your work. You can find more details on the auctions themselves.

Team Claw consists of Sonya Bateman, Michele Bardsley, Carolyn Crane, Kevin Hearne, Jackie Kessler, Diana Rowland and Jeanne Stein.

Team Fang consists of Mario Acevedo, Dakota Cassidy, Stacia Kane, JF Lewis, Nicole Peeler, Anton Strout, and ME!

Proceeds from the auctions will go to the Red Cross to benefit Japan.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm not dead yet!

But man, sometimes I wonder.

Between weather, real life tragedies for people I love dearly, and just flat out feeling like warmed over donkey poo, I haven't been posting like I should.

The line for the flogging forms to the right.

However, my silence hasn't been entirely unproductive! In the interim, I have managed to receive and complete my page proofs for A SHOT IN THE DARK. What that means is, IT'S DONE!! Boo-yah! Hopefully we'll see ARCs soon, and the release date is creeping up faster than you realize.

I am also diligently working on the as-yet-untitled Book 3. I'm about 30K words into it, and less than halfway through my first draft, so I'm hoping this means my final word count will be closer to what it the final polished count needs to be. Every time, my first drafts are cleaner. Maybe that means I'm figuring this writing thing out.

I have a few entries for Kari's Critiques sitting in my email box, waiting for my loving attention, and I'll try to have those up for class on Friday. Things just haven't been working out schedule-wise for my kids/their teacher. Hopefully, stuff will settle down soon.

AND, for anyone who might want me to come babble at THEIR blog (I take off my shoes at the door, and I'm house-trained, I promise), shoot me an email at kari(dot)stewart21(at)gmail(dot)com. I'm trying to get things scheduled ahead of time so I have enough time to write nice, thoughtful posts and/or interviews for anyone who wants them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Cover Art!

Nope, not mine. This cover art belongs to a very sassy lady, who is very dear to me. I give you POSSESS by Gretchen McNeil!

Here is the synopsis, via Goodreads:

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her overprotective mom, by the hunky son of the police officer who got her father killed, and by the eerie voices which she can suddenly and inexplicably hear. Turns out the voices are demons--the Biblical kind, not the Buffy kind--and Bridget possesses the rare ability to banish them.

San Francisco's senior exorcist and his newly assigned partner from the Vatican enlist Bridget's help with increasingly bizarre and dangerous cases of demonic possession. But when one of Bridget's oldest friends turns up dead in a ritualistic sacrifice that mirrors her father's murder, Bridget realizes she can't trust anyone. An interview with her father's murderer reveals a link between Bridget and the Emim: a race of part-demons intent on raising their forefathers to the earth in human form. Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the Emim's plan before someone else close to her winds up dead, or worse--the human vessel for a Demon King.

Trust me when I say that on August 23rd, I will be first in line for this amazing book.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy Release Day!

Ok, technically it's tomorrow, but a happy early release day to my fellow Leaguer, Anton Strout!

Dead Waters, the fourth book in his Simon Canderous series, hits shelves tomorrow. Go, buy, read, love!

Other recent/upcoming releases to look out for:

Play Dead, the fourth Dog Days novel by John Levitt. I desperately love this series, largely because of the unique way the main character approaches his magic. Wonderful reads, and this most recent installment is available now!

And coming up March 1st, we have Blackout, the sixth book in Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series. (Yes, I have a series fetish. Sue me.)

March 1st also gives us River Marked, the latest in Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series. Dying to read this one.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Kari's Critiques, part 2

Well, our usual Friday critique feature got derailed by illness. Yes, I'm currently living in a house of plague. I've hung a sign on the door that says "unclean" and everything.

That said, here are this week's writing samples, better late than never.

Excerpt 4:

The ribald and paternalistic old man was quick to insult the young paper boy who accidentally threw the Sunday morning paper on the roof. “How could you throw the paper onto my roof?!” screamed the old man. “You are an idiot! A poltroon! A proselyte of the paper delivery industry!” The old man was one of those people who used a lexicon of rare and confusing words, this was his forte. Throwing papers, on the other hand, was not the boy’s forte. He always had trouble tossing papers onto porches, and very often they went down drains, into bushes, and onto roofs.

“I am sorry, sir,” said the boy. “I will get you another paper, sir, I promise.” “I do not want another paper!” replied the old man. “I want THAT paper!” he said, pointing towards his roof. “The one that you ignorantly threw on top of my house!” “I am sorry, sir! But I cannot get that paper for you,” said the boy in a lachrymose tone. “Oh, you will, my boy! You will,” said the old man, “Or I will apprise the paper company that you are stealing papers!” “No, sir! Please! Do not do that! I will get your paper, I promise!” said the boy. “And I trust that today’s delivery will be gratis, correct? A free paper?” “Whatever you want sir, I just cannot lose my job!” cried the boy. The boy became victim of the old man’s rapacity. “Come, I will get you my ladder,” instructed the old man.
For Bobby, the daily paper route was the only way for him to save up money, and every day on this route was an adventure.

First, I promise you that no one knows what “lachrymose” means. I had to look it up myself. Mournful is much better.

This is a good chance to point out voice. It appears to me that your story is told from the point of view of Bobby, the paper boy. I totally believe that this grumpy old man would use words like “poltroon” and “proselyte”, words that speak to his older generation. I have a harder time believing that Bobby would use words like “ribald and paternalistic”. However, I could also see this playing out that because of the old man and his big words (it’s mentioned) that Bobby has taken it upon himself to learn bigger words as a result. It could add an interesting level to the story, watching him look up things the old man has shouted at him.

In the second paragraph, you’ve got a lot of dialogue going on here, very quickly. I might suggest breaking it up more, using paragraph breaks when it switches speakers, just for the ease of the reader. Even without dialogue tags (“said the boy”, “cried the boy”) it can help you keep track of who is speaking.

I’d like more clues as to how old Bobby is. He seems very young to me (an older boy, a teen, would have responded more aggressively, I think) and so it makes me wonder, what does a child of that age need money for? I’m interested in what can be so important to him that he puts up with this abuse.

I’d also like to know what time period this is set in. The lack of contractions on Bobby’s part (cannot, do not) makes it feel older to me. If that’s your intent, you’ve got a lot of good places in here to add some descriptions of clothing, or neighborhood, that could clue us into that.

Excerpt 5:

Oh My Gosh! All I can hear is the beeping and it refuses to stop. It was a long night, I can remember that much. I had finally fallen asleep and I had to get back up. Welcome to another day in the life of a high school senior.

I hit snooze, “Just five more minutes,” I mumbled under my breath as I fell back into the pillow. Before I know it, the beeping goes off again. I consider skipping the day and staying n bed but my upcoming Physics test haunts me.

I roll out of bed, throw on some sweats and a random tee, brush my teeth and head out the door. As I get into my car, I realized my English midterm is due today, and I have been procrastinating. Guess I’ll try and complete it in band while I pretend to play.

Next thing you know, POP QUIZ! Since when do we have quizzes in Spanish? Here comes another big fat F! Hopefully my next class will be easy, study hall as a teacher’s aide. My wish was wrong. Grading little freshman tests for the next 45 minutes. I grab my red pen and jump right in to find way too many failing papers. I feel bad but hey, I’m not the one that didn’t study, at least not yet, my Physics test is tomorrow.

I leave school and head to my safe haven, my car. I tell myself, “Just a few more months, don’t fall into the senioritis path yet. I will be over soon enough…I hope” I drive out of the school parking lot and towards home to attempt to push myself to do homework and study. Here’s to another long night!

First thing I’ll say is watch your tenses. It seems to me that you’re trying to write this in present tense, which is totally doable. (Have you read the Hunger Games trilogy? All done in present tense) But you waver in a few places into past tense. For example, in the second paragraph, you say “I mumbled” instead of “I mumble”. Tenses are hard! I know professional authors who find themselves drifting into a tense they didn’t intend. It’s just one of those things, if you know you do it, you have to be watchful for it in your edits (or have a great beta reader who can help you catch the slips).

You go through an entire school day very quickly here, and at first I wasn’t sure what the point of it all was. Then, I get to the last paragraph, and I see the remark about senioritis, and suddenly, it all made sense to me. I think you could totally do an entire story about a senior in high school, battling to find some meaning to his/her final year. It could be a really good story, in fact.

If that’s your route, I suggest opening a bit slower. The reader needs to become engaged with your character, we need a reason to keep wanting to live his life with him. (I’m saying “him”, ’cause there’s really no clue as to the gender of the narrator, but the voice feels more male to me.) Starting the story with him whizzing through yet ANOTHER boring day isn’t a bad way to go at all. We get the idea what it’s all starting to blur together for him, that the homework and tests have ceased to have meaning. We understand that he sees himself falling into this “senioritis” and that he wants to fight against that drift. I would just expand on it a bit, add in some interaction with other students maybe. Lay some groundwork as to whether all seniors feel like this, or just some. Your narrator doesn’t live in a vacuum, so we need to see how he moves within the world around him.

Excerpt 6:

You did not deserve to be badgered by my immature act for attention. You did not deserve the guilt you felt for the scars on my wrist. The demon inside me delivered a philippic day in and day out. Again I am sorry for my insecurities. Although I will never know if you have forgiven me for my mistakes, I will never be able to forgive you for your revenge. I was vulnerable, lost and lonely and you took advantage of that. My self-respect was downright diaphanous. You fed me the right words to overshadow my common sense. You used brutal humor to bring me down but then used cunning words to apologize. In my mind the good began to outweigh the bad. I began to place you on a pedestal; you were my knight in shining armor. Yet you were my mangled knight; I had broken you so bad that in my mind I needed to fix you. I then began to immure myself from my friends; to me they would never understand my guilt. To me at one point you were all I had. When the monster forcibly stole my self-esteem you were the one I turned too. You were my light in the darken hallway, you began to build up my self-esteem again and you had given me a reason to not give up.

There’s a lot of emotion going into this. Very stream-of-consciousness in a way. I would normally say that this needs paragraph breaks to make it easier to follow, but in a way, it also doesn’t. It’s the rambling of an agitated mind, and so running it all together like this does make a certain kind of sense.

I’m intrigued by the use of the world philippic. It’s not a common word, and most people would probably have to look it up (note for readers: It means a bitter denunciation), so normally I would say strike it and use something else. However, with the voice you’ve created here, it doesn’t totally jerk me out of the narrative. This person sounds educated, coherent, logical, even amidst all the distress. The word works.

I’m not sure, reading through this, if the “you” person is supposed to be a good person or a bad person. And maybe that’s because the narrator doesn’t know herself. (again, there’s no clue as to gender, but the voice just feels female to me) It sounds like they were involved in a very complex, very damaged relationship.

I would like to see this as the opening to a more traditional story. This feels almost like a journal/diary entry to me, and I could see sections like this interspersed throughout a more conventional narrative, following this girl and whatever personal demons she’s battling. That way, we get the true story, and then we get to see how it played out inside her mind as well. Done correctly, it could be very powerful.

Excerpt 7:

Talos was very upset. He paced an abandoned courtyard with no where better to go despite the heavy rain. He conjured a sword and gripped the hilt tightly. Its blade immediately heated till it was red, reflecting his mood. The rain turned steam as it hit the metal. His brown hair and his clothes were drenched. His knee-length dark blue coat had scars to match his. Its bottom edges were burnt and seared, damage done the day his wife died. Talos thought about last four years as he stalked the same path again and again.

Four years ago Talos and Illia, his wife, took in two young Brands, Wil and Fari. They taught the two as they did with countless other. This much Talos expected of himself, the newly Branded deserved to understand their new powers. Talos and Illia had mentored young Brands for almost a century, but they never got involved past that. But then he and Illia became champions of Wil and Fari’s foolish cause. As near-immortals Talos and Illia had lived apart from the troubles of the world. When they finally got involved Talos was left alone, left with all the troubles of the world.

They had died one by one. First Fari died in fight with another Brand, who was then killed by Wil. Almost a year and a half later Wil himself died in battle during a long campaign to avenge his love. Then half a year after that Illia died saving Talos. Poor Illia, Talos thought.

Talos could not believe that she was gone. They were supposed to live forever, not worrying about the turmoil around them. If only he had not given to her when she wanted to help Wil and Fari. If only he had died instead of her. If only -

Then it hit him, hard enough that he stumbled and his sword slipped from his fingers, dissipating before it hit the ground. It was no longer raining and the sun shined more brightly than usual. Talos was not alone in the courtyard anymore. Illia stood in front of him. She wore her dark brown jacket with frilled cuffs protruding from the ends of the sleeves. Her curly blonde hair looked wild while perfectly under control. Best of all were her eyes, large beautiful pools that Talos could lose himself in. Illia grinned and shook her head, as she did when Talos was making a fool out of himself. Then she reached out and touched his face, the touch made him gasp. The cold damp air shook him from the vision, and he was back in the rainy courtyard.

Talos breathed heavily, clouds shooting from his mouth in spurts. He now understood that these were events of the past and that they weren’t changing. He could blame himself for Illia’s death, but where the blame lies doesn’t matter. Talos never lived up to the image of an aged immortal; the years had granted him neither wisdom nor temperance. But now he was resolute, and he knew that nothing would get better unless he fought for it. That idea was what made the others die for cause that he never devoted himself to. Now all of that was about to change.

Holy epic fantasy, Batman! A genre near and dear to my heart.

Gonna start with that first sentence, and talk about show vs. tell. You tell us that Talos is upset, but you could show us instead. Especially when there’s so many different KINDS of upset. Is he angry? Is he sad? Is he embarrassed? Let us see how he’s feeling at that moment, and we’ll figure out that he’s upset for ourselves.

Love the image of him conjuring a sword and heating it red hot in the rain. That simple action tells us SO much about this world right from the start. Also love the part where he drops the sword and it dissipates before it hits the ground. A good magic system so far, I’m interested to see what else is possible.

I have to say, I’m intrigued by this world you’ve started building. The Brands imply that this is something special, something important. I like the idea that these near-immortals got drawn into a very human war that they never intended to fight. You’ve got a TON of story potential here. It almost makes me feel like this is a Book 2 of a series. You’ve got enough backstory to make an entire novel out of what came before.

That said, be careful with dumping backstory on your reader like this. You’ve included a lot of facts and events which could be trickled into the story later instead of just heaped on all at once. If this were a Book 2, then the info-dump recap of past events would work, to remind the reader what had come before. But if you want this as a first book, doling it out in pieces might work better.

Your character’s resolution in the last paragraph seems to come on suddenly. I’d personally like to see him struggle with it a bit more, or at least get the sense that the struggle has been going on for some time before this moment. Love the idea that he has “neither wisdom nor temperance”. For another look at an immortal who never mastered the benevolent sage concept, try reading Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy.


Again, the kids have delivered an amazing range of work! Everyone give them some applause for their courage. Like always, anyone is free to add opinions in the comments, but anything cruel or hurtful will be deleted, and I will curse you with the fleas of a thousand camels in your belly button.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Baby, it's COLD outside!

Due to inclement weather, our critiques last week had to be postponed. Hard to hang out with the schoolkids when they're not in school, savvy? Hopefully, we'll get that up and running again this Friday.

As always, I fully intend to post more here. I even have a few topics in mind, but if there's anything anyone wants to see me babble about, be sure to leave a comment. Also, over at the League of Reluctant Adults, we're getting organized and productive, so expect to see more posts there, including from yours truly. (that's me, in case you didn't know)

In other me news, I received/completed/turned in my copy edits on A SHOT IN THE DARK. They seemed easier this time. I don't know if it's just because I knew what to expect, or because I consciously tried to write this book with the last book's experiences in mind. Either way, I'm very pleased with the result.

Next on that agenda will be the galleys, and then that book will officially be in the can! Now if I can just get back to writing book 3. Seems like every time I turn around, something is interfering. The Real Job(tm) is very busy at the moment, and at home, my beloved computer has started the slow wheeze toward that big motherboard in the sky. Hopefully, it'll hold out long enough that I can decide if I'm going to replace the whole computer, or just the harddrive.

So while I'm figuring out the answer to life, the universe, and everything, I leave you with a few musical things that tickled my fancy. You may have noticed that music is one of the key influences in my life, and I am fascinated by those who manage to produce it. Once upon a time, I used to sing, but as a result of my throat surgery about five years ago, I no longer have the range I once had. I don't sound like a croaking frog, by any means, but I do miss what is gone.

So here. Music stuff that made me giggle:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kari's Critiques, part 1

As promised, this week we start something new here on the blog. For those who weren't around for the "Kari's Queries" series, I have a beta-reader who is a high school English teacher. She has so very kindly loaned me her kids. Er... Sort of.

For the Queries series, the kids got to ask me any question they wanted, whether it was about writing, or life, or whatever. I like to think we all learned a lot and are now better people for it. (or something.)

So now, those kids are bravely going to submit to me a small snippet of their own writing, and I'm gonna give a small critique. I'll do a few every week, just like with the Queries.

Now, keep in mind that these critiques are just my own opinion. The one thing you learn as a writer is that EVERYthing is subjective. In fact, I think most writers hear that in their sleep. One of the greatest (and most frustrating) things about writing is that there are NO iron-clad rules. People will tell you that there are, but you can almost always turn around and find an opposing example. My best advice for any author receiving a critique is to listen to the parts that strike a chord with you, and politely ignore the rest.

Anyone else is welcome to add their own opinions in the comments, but I ask that folk remember these are high school kids, and they've taken that HUGE first step of letting someone else see something they've written. Any overly harsh comments will be deleted. I'm going for constructive here, folks, not cruel.

And with that said, here we go!


Excerpt 1:
Kaylin was running through the swords clashing around her. She could hear her brother screaming somewhere ahead of her but just could not see through the throng of people. “Jay! Where are you?” She was scared to death but all she could concentrate on was the fact that Jaykob ran off even though he was given specific instructions to stay by her side. It’s funny really, the things that go through the mind when disaster strikes. “That little twerp, when I get my hands on him…” Kaylin continued to grumble to herself, mapping out the many things she would love to do to her younger brother. She was still dodging the swordsmen sparring around her. They weren’t the disaster, not really anyway. The real disaster was what was waiting outside the walls of the fortress in which they were being sheltered. He just hoped she could reach her brother before the security in place was breached. She could never live with herself if she lost her little brother. Even worse was the fact that she would be betraying her mother.

“Kaylin, I expect you to take care of Jay. He looks up to you, you know that.” Kaylin looked to her feet, knowing her mom spoke the truth, but she couldn’t let her mom know that she didn’t know how to take care of him, to protect him. She held her mom’s trembling hand as tightly as she dared and gave a stiff nod, willing herself not to cry. Not here, in front of her mother. Death’s doorstep would be hard enough without watching the tears of your daughter too. Despite her fears and insecurities, Kaylin was determined to be the best big sister for Jaykob. Even at seventeen, she knew it was never as easy as you make it out to be.

Part of me is wondering why, if she can hear her brother screaming, no one else is paying attention to it. If the swordsmen are just sparring (ie: It’s not an actual battle going on) it seems to me that the adults would be paying more attention to a screaming child. If there is an actual battle (as indicated by the fear that security might be breached) then it makes more sense that no one is paying attention to one child.

Another thing I noticed is that this seems to be set in a medieval time (swords, a fortress, that sort of thing) but the main character’s voice seems rather modern. The one word in particular that catches my eye is “mom”. It seems a very modern word, compared to the rest of the piece. Maybe think of “mother” or even “Mama” instead. Voice is one of those elusive things that will make or break a piece, and it’s even harder to pin down just what is “right”. (Now, if you tell me this IS a modern piece, but in a world where we’ve had to regress technology-wise to swords and fortresses, then the use of “mom” would be expected, and would also make a really interesting twist to the premise) ((Yes, this is how my brain works. My apologies.))

With a small excerpt like this, it’s harder to comment on larger story-type issues. I know that I’m dying to know what the soldiers are fighting (Other men, like two rival armies? Something worse?). I want to know what’s outside the fortress walls that she fears so. So you’ve succeeded in making me want to know more! Which is all a story is, really, one person wanting to know more so they read on.

I also might caution using the spellings of the two names so similarly. For someone who reads as fast as I do, Jaykob and Kaylin have very similar sounds and shapes, and I have to slow down to consciously see which one you’re talking about. Removing the “y” from either name would solve the problem.


Excerpt 2:

He walked alone along the foggy gray street. His worn boots patted rhythmically on the ash that covered the road below. He had been walking for weeks, months, maybe even a year, he could not tell. The days could only be measured by the number of sun rises or sunsets. It had been too many to tally.

His hands were protected by a pair of thin, knitted mittens with the finger tips cut off pulled over top of a pair of holey leather gloves. His left hand carried a six shooter that carried only three shells. His right, he usually kept in his pocket, shuffling with the knife he carried. He switched these often.

The upper half of his body was shielded by a stained tank top; an old gray t-shirt; an olive green, almost brown hoodie; and a tattered black leather coat. His lower half by boxer shorts; a pair of one size too small sweat pants; and a pair of cargo pants whose pockets were often filled with crumpled pieces of paper and anything else to get a fire started or keep it going.

His head wore a small beanie which was covered by the hood of the zip-up hoodie. About two inches of frosty black hair protruded from the bottom of the hat. It was knotted and the tips were coated with small chunks of ice; water that had frozen on its last wash. Covering his face was a strip of ripped shirt he used as a scarf. Underneath the homemade scarf was about an inch of a black-gray beard. Dirty, scratched black sunglasses were the only thing that protected his eyes.

Slung over his shoulders was a ripping backpack that carried a rock he struck to start fires; what little, if any, soap he had left: two cans of beans: and a small piece of cooked chicken he had wrapped in a piece of paper.

He suddenly stopped. He squinted his eyes as he lifted the sunglasses off his face. Something moved ahead. Crouched, it stood up and faced him. He slowly pulled up his sleeve and turned his arm outward so the pistol could fully be made out.

My first thought is, why is he wearing sunglasses in the fog? Doesn’t mean it’s wrong, just means it’s something that should either have an explanation (and could be a cool bit of world-building) or should be changed. (Same goes for fog plus ice. They can occur together, rarely, but if it’s important to the world building, this would be a good place to explain it)

I’m unsure about the laundry list of clothes and belongings. It’s a really GOOD description, first off. I can totally picture the man in my mind. I’m just not sure that having the full description kind of dumped on the reader like that is a good way to go. I’d have to see more context to truly make the call on that one, but it’s something to think about. I’ve seen books use this style to good effect, and I’ve also seen it totally bring a piece to a screeching halt. If you wanted to do it differently, you could try to spread it out more, drop the details into the rest of the story more fluidly.

Even with the long list of descriptions, you’ve still managed to tell me a lot about the world already, which is why I think it might be a workable style. I know it’s cold, I know there is some reason for a person to walk about with their face covered/protected. I know there’s something not-quite-human going on, because the mysterious creature is referred to as “it”. I wonder, is he showing the gun to warn the thing off? Because that implies that whatever it is, is intelligent. It reminds me of the recent movie “The Book of Eli” for some reason.

Minor nitpick, watch your word usage. Second paragraph, second sentence, you use “carried” twice. It makes the sentence read awkwardly. Perhaps try it like “His left hand cradled a six-shooter that carried only three shells.” One word difference, but it smooths things out a bit.


Excerpt 3:

Somewhere in North Africa
March 18, 1942 6:33 a.m.

All I could hear was the sound of my heavy breath and the sound of my running strides echoing off the walls of this labyrinth. It was me and three others that had made it this far. I wasn't about to let the Germans catch up to us. I knew they'd be following closely behind. This felt very different from the previous jobs that I've pulled, though. This time, I was leaving empty handed.

A shattering volley of bullets wiped past my head. I flinched at the mere cry of the machine gun opening up from behind.

"Shit! Come on, boys!" I cried. It seemed to be the mot juste for the situation we were in. I could see daylight approaching fast at the other end of the tunnel. Almost immediately, the crisp smells of the ocean hit me like a wall. My thoughts raced. This was definitely no time for any sort of bravado. I attempted to constrict the feelings of doubt building up inside me. From the Intel we'd gathered, I knew enough to know that these tunnel systems were being built into the mountain as costal gun emplacements. This light at the end of the tunnel was nothing but an impasse. I made a decision with the hopes that acumen would follow with it. I ripped my rifle up over my head and threw it to the ground.

"Get rid of 'em, ladies! We're going for a swim!" I screamed. It may have been a non sequitur, but I had to take a chance. I heard the cackle of more guns hitting the ground before their sound was swallowed up by another volley of machine gun fire. I was sure this was going to be the most effusive moment of my career. The four of us reached the exit in a hail of gun fire. We took a leap off the edge of the opening and took a plunge into the sea below.

Hotel de Cazador
Cairo, Egypt
March 22, 1942 12:03 p.m.

Richard slapped down his cards. "You bastard! You bilked me!" he whined in his typical British accent. He reached his hand out to check Peter's cards.

Peter raised an eyebrow. "I what?" he chuckled, a smile coming across his face as he pulled in his earnings.

"You cheated me!" he said throwing Peter's cards into his lap.

"Yeah, well, maybe next time you'll learn what two-of-a-kind means, eh?" Peter spouted in an execrable manner.

"Go rot in hell, Peter." Richard cursed. I thought at any moment I would have to step in and adjudicate the situation. Richard finished off the last of his beer as Peter monolithically gathered all of the cards back into a deck.

“Marcus, you in this round?” asked Peter. I gave him a fulsome look.

“No, I’m good.” I continued to read my newspaper. Judging from his charisma, Peter probably possessed at least two aces in that deck. Poor, Richard. Peter had already impinged his wallet and yet he continued to let Peter shuffle and start another game.

Ooh, historical… Tricky to do well. Gotta get all your ducks in a row with research on a project like this one, ‘cause if you get anything wrong, people who know the era will call you on it. I’m not brave enough to do historical. (Yet.)

I know this was partly a vocab assignment for you, so I won’t remark on the plethora of three- and four-syllable words. In a real piece, I would advise against sprinkling so many fancy words around, but for our purposes here, it’ll work just fine. The trick with using thesaurus-type words is making sure that you’re using them all correctly. Words have connotations, and even though they may SEEM like they mean the same thing, they don’t. (And don’t rely on your word processing program’s dictionary/thesaurus/spell check. For example, the word “intel” is slang for intelligence. The word “Intel” is a computer company)

I like starting in the middle of an action scene. Thrusts the reader right into the story, and you can deliver an amazing amount of information in a short burst. For example, I know that we have a group of men, and our narrator is presumably the leader. I’ll guess military of some sort, since he’s bawling out commands. I know they’ve had a failed mission, and they’re running for their lives from German soldiers.

As for the time/place headings, I’m iffy on these, but I think it may just be my own personal taste. If the dates/times are important, leave them, because it’s harder to convey an exact date and time just randomly in the prose. I mean, how many times can you have somebody say “By the way, James, what date is today?” “Why, it’s the twelfth of October, Francis, thank you for asking.” It’s not natural, people don’t just stand around talking about the date.

The location, however, is something that you might be able to convey through the writing, sprinkling in hints about locations via some descriptions. Mention that someone is speaking a different language, or that the servants are dressed a certain way. Egypt in particular has a notable culture, and describing that will help expand the world for a reader who might not be familiar with the country/time period.


And there we are, our first three brave authors! Everybody give them a hand, just for showing us their stuff. That's the first big step any writer has to take, and one that most people never take.