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Death comes for us all.

Keep her as your friend.

 Read "La Santisima"

What's New:

Miserere is now available at Audible.

My short story "Naked the Night Sings" is only one of the many fine stories in the urban fantasy anthology Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.

Novels

"Filled with show me now and tell me later prose, [Miserere] was one of the finest debuts of 2011 and remains a novel that I remember details from nearly three years later." Justin Landon, Tor.com

Download an excerpt of Miserere here

Entries in fantasy (105)

Monday
Feb172014

family in Miserere--a question by ML Brennan (#SFWApro)

I have another question: this one comes from ML Brennan (whose books you should read ... just sayin'):

In Miserere a fundamental portion of the world construction was about a created sense of family between the foundlings and the adults who essentially became their new parents. Lucian and Rachael are estranged former lovers, but one of the primary things that brings them back together is the need of Lucian's newly-discovered foundling. For a book that features so many orphans who are building new identities in a new world, there's an amazing emphasis on bonds of a nuclear family (Rachael and Lucian also share the same foster parent, who with his wife also forms another nuclear family unit) -- what drove this theme?

Weird as this may sound, I didn't think too much about the nuclear aspect of the families when I wrote Miserere. I wanted to examine the nature vs. nurture aspect of childhood, and the best way to study this is through the adoption process.

I knew two things: both Rachael and Lucian came from damaged childhoods and in order to develop into reasonably healthy adults, they would need firm guidance while maturing. I gave them John and Tanith simply because that is the way in which they popped into my head.

Also, not all of the families were nuclear. Not everyone had a spouse. If you'll remember, Caleb raised Victor alone. Victor got into trouble, but only because he was curious and inexperienced. Victor wasn't malicious, and he suffered no ill effects from being raised by a single parent.

As for the John-Tanith/Rachael-Lucian paradigm, it just worked out that way in Miserere, and since most--almost all--of the action took place outside of the Citadel, I had very little room to give an overall picture of the social structure in Woerld. When I focused on the scenes between Lucian and Lindsay, I figured that his primary objective was in survival as well as keeping Lindsay from inadvertently killing them both with her undeveloped powers rather than delving too deeply into the Citadel's society and how it functioned.

The actual family units were constructs that I saved for Dolorosa. There are at least two same-sex couples within the Citadel. Unfortunately, I didn't get to put them Miserere, but Lindsay will question their presence at the Citadel at some point. She will be told that love between two people is a reflection of the divine.

So it wasn't so much of a theme for nuclear parents, but more of a theme of adoption. How does adoption affect children when they are taken from one set of parents and placed with another? In our society, we expect these children to adapt like puppies and kittens, but even infants have shown changes in their brain chemistry when they are taken from their birth parents and placed in a new home.

The child's sense of security is threatened; the world is suddenly a hostile place, sown with uncertainties. It's not a new theme. Disney has used it over and over.

Most YA literature is about youngsters searching for their identities. However, a person's identity doesn't magically stop evolving after age twenty.

I wanted to write about adults who utilized their past experiences to further develop their personalities. So with Miserere, I examined the adoption theme from the adult perspective. How did their removal from their respective homes affect them?

Rachael doesn't look back. There was nothing in her earthly life but abuse and horror. She left her father to drown in a well, and though the memory haunts her, she feels no remorse for his death. She accepts her place in Woerld and will eventually thrive in Woerld's environment.

Lucian, on the other hand, has intense memories and a longing for home. He can relate to Lindsay's desire to return to Earth, and her initial refusal to accept Woerld.

Lucian wants to protect Lindsay, she ignites his paternal instincts into overdrive. Rachael wants to protect Lindsay too, but there is a distinct difference in how they value the child. Lucian shifts his strong paternal instincts from Catarina, who has rejected him over and over, to Lindsay, who values him, and Rachael sees Lindsay as a valuable soldier in their war against the fallen.

Lucian wants to nurture Lindsay into becoming a good person, and Rachael sees a weapon to be honed against the Fallen. In spite of all of this, I never really saw Lindsay as being the unifying force between Rachael and Lucian. She is more of an observer, the reader's eye into the story.

In a lot of ways, Miserere is about families, but it wasn't the nuclear theme that I wanted to stress. I wanted to examine whether blood really is thicker than water.

Lucian finds the opposite is true.

Thursday
Feb062014

being a woman and writing dark fiction--it's complicated (#SFWApro) 

It's question and answer time at the old blog! Today's winner is Beverly Bambury, who asked: How do you feel being a woman has affected you as a writer of dark fiction?

Like everything else in publishing--it's complicated.

Beverly's question made me think of the time I surfed through some posts on Reddit about year ago. Someone once commented that women don't write complicated novels like [insert list of male fantasy authors here].

Hmmmmm, I thought.

That is the sound of my brain warming up.

Hmmmmmm, why would someone make such an outrageous statement? Surely women were writing complicated novels that could be marketed toward the mainstream reading public.

Of course, the Redditor's statement sat in the back of my mind and fermented until Beverly’s question resurrected it. Now I was curious and wanted to dispel the myth that women don’t write complicated dark fiction, because I know a lot of women who do write complicated, intelligent fiction.

I constructed a search for female authors of dark fiction whose works were marketed to mainstream audiences at the same promotional level as those by male authors. My results returned a few prominent names: Gillian Flynn, Sarah Waters, Mira Grant, Joyce Carol Oates, and Elizabeth Kostova (and Kostova is not really a dark fiction writer—she merely qualifies due to The Historian). This is, by no means, a comprehensive list—these are just the first names that floated to the top.

I switched up my methodology and retooled my search to examine what kinds of books were being published by women. I kept my research primarily on new authors and generally skipped over authors such as Robin Hobb and Joyce Carol Oates, not because they aren't worthy of discussion, but because they have been involved in publishing for so long, their fan base and reputations are well established.

Goodreads was nice place to browse due to their Goodreads Choice Awards. I found that women are primarily, although not exclusively, published with following types of works (in no particular order):

  • Feminist literature (this includes novels with a protagonist who is a "strong female character" / usually college educated career track women, but not necessarily—the emphasis is on badass women who kick ass)
  • Young Adult
  • Urban/Paranormal Fantasy
  • Time travel (most of these novels follow feminist examinations of cultural attitudes, especially those surrounding mother/daughter relationships, and are either romance or coming of age stories--remove the fantastical elements of magic or time travel and these novels could easily be categorized as "chick-lit")
  • Historical romance (if a woman writes anything historical, there must be a heavy male/female romantic element)

As I browsed through the blurbs, I began to pick up on keywords directed toward women. The phrasing varies, but a lot of blurbs on women's fantasy contain differing versions of "they must work (or join) together." This is usually indicative of a romantic element within the story and is marketing-speak for "romance isn't the primary focus of the novel; however, there is a strong romantic element."

In order to prove my point, I'm providing a sampling of blurbs and with the keywords highlighted. If you intend to write for publication, you need to be aware of marketing techniques so you can design your blurb accordingly.

From the Goodreads Choice Awards for fantasy [note: all emphasis is mine and of course, the comments in brackets are mine]:

  • The Golem and the Jinni: "But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice." [Parting, then bringing the protagonists back together is a common romance theme.]
  • The Firebird: "... unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption." [Notice that "love" is mentioned first.]
  • The Ghost Bride: "After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim's handsome new heir, Tian Bai." [Desire=love]
  • The River of No Return: "Soon enough Julia and Nick are caught up in an adventure that stretches up and down the river of time. As their knowledge of the Guild and their feelings for each other grow, the fate of the future itself is hanging in the balance." [FEEEEELINGS ...]
  • The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic: This one pops all of the switches from the title on down: "Before long, she has a set of glamorous new friends and her romance with gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It’s almost too good to be true. Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora’s new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school ..." [Well, of course he's gorgeous ...]

Let's switch over to the Goodreads horror picks and see what happens:

  • White Trash Zombie Apocalpyse: "Soon she's fighting her way through mud, blood, bullets and intrigue, even as zombies, both real and fake, prowl the streets." [You can't tell me that Diana Rowland doesn't write kick ass women characters.]
  • The Fate of Mercy Alban: With the help of the disarmingly kindand attractive—Reverend Matthew Parker, Grace must uncover the truth about her home and its curse before she and her daughter become the next victims. ["With the help of" can be substituted for "they must work together" also note that the good Reverend is kind and "attractive," because in marketing-speak no one falls in love with ugly people. Obviously.]
  • Parasite by Mira Grant gets a pass, because the blurb mentions nothing about love, relationships, children, or women's issues. However, Parasite was marketed to the same mainstream audience that loved World War Z. Grant is the exception, not the rule.
  • Come Alive: It’s one thing to bring the woman you love back into your life. It’s another to try and keep her there. For Dex Foray, con­vinc­ing Perry Palomino to open her­self to their bur­geon­ing rela­tion­ship has been more chal­leng­ing than hunt­ing ghosts, bat­tling demons and stalk­ing Sasquatch com­bined. [Romance.]

The subliminal message that I'm now taking from all of this is that women are only supposed to write within certain paradigms that focus the work entirely on women’s issues, romance, or children. The trick is to keep the story-line as simple as possible, because marketing personnel obviously feel they can't easily slip a woman into the domain of traditionally male dominated "complicated" stories.

The other message is that women only buy books written by women, therefore any woman who writes a book that is not aimed at women is “unmarketable” or “too complicated.”

I am reminded of the dragon’s syllogism in Grendel: "All pigs eat cheese / Old Snaggle is a pig / If Snaggle is sick and refuses to eat, try cheese."

The publishers' syllogism is: All women love women’s issues, romance, and children / Women only read books by other women / If women want to be published, they must write books about women’s issues, romance, and children.

Whether we like it or not, that appears to be the mentality we’re dealing with.

Don't give up. I operate under the philosophy that one cannot break the rules until one thoroughly understands the rules. The cold, hard truth is that it is very difficult to break an establishment from the outside. I tend to follow the Taoist philosophy that implies I must penetrate gently and imitate the wind.

Sometimes I'm more like a hurricane, but those are the breaks.

Let me give you some advice:

  • If you are lucky enough to have an androgynous name such as Robin, Alex, Jesse, Gillian, etc., use it as your by-line. No pictures. Give scant information about your gender.
  • If you are like me and have a more gender specific name, use initials. Create a pseudonym. Go the KJ Parker route and submit to editors without them knowing your gender if at all possible. Design your website and all of your marketing with the pseudonym in mind.
  • Network, network, network, network with other authors and with publishers. This may mean going to the larger conventions that host multiple publisher tables in their dealer rooms. If are you are like me and don't have a large budget for cons, network online. Other authors and bloggers have done more to promote my work for me than all the publicists in New York. They are awesome! Thank them prolifically!
  • Take workshops with well-known authors and publishers and editors who offer them, either online or in person.
  • Join a professional organization and get involved as much as you can. I know some folks have had problems with the SFWA, but so far, I haven't. Since I can't travel as much, the forum has been an excellent place for me to get marketing tips and meet other members.
  • Learn how to use social media effectively. Watch your stats and your Google analytics. Measure which blog posts are working and which are not. You want your voice heard and spread across the Internet in a positive manner. I am merely one Who in Whoville, but hear me now, my friend, you never know precisely what is going to resonate with the masses. Keep at it. Horton is out there.
  • Utilize short stories as promotional tools. I sold two short stories to anthologies last year and wrote several more that I haven't placed yet. I've been known to give them away here and another one is here, because every little click bumps my name higher into Google's algorithms. I also intend to move into hybrid publishing and self-publish some works this year.

This will break your heart, because I know it did mine: writing a good book is not the same as being marketable. This makes me very sad, because when I started writing, I had this lofty notion that I would finally be evaluated by something other than my gender, or my education, or the social circles in which I moved. I thought I would be judged by my prose, by my stories. I know you thought these things too, but unfortunately that is not how it works.

I have a friend who tells me that acceptance is the key to all of my problems and it is. First, I have to accept the fact that in order to become published, I must write something marketable. In order to do that, I must understand what publishers and editors mean when they say "marketable."

Once you understand those terms, then you can either write a novel that fits within one of the standard paradigms, or go incognito.

The choice is yours.

Monday
Feb032014

Miserere ebook is on sale & Bloody Cakes ... (#SFWApro)

Big news hit this morning: the ebook of Miserere: An Autumn Tale is on sale at Amazon US for $2.99. This is a limited time offer that is so limited I don't even know how long it will last.

If you're not in the US and you'd like a lower price, try Baen Ebooks for $6.00.

[Special note: authors don't control prices, but when we see our stuff is on sale, we pass that info along to you.]

LINKS:

On Saturday, I visited Bloody Cake News for their Perilous Roses series. I answered their questions and if you have a question for me, drop it in the comments and I'll answer it for you. (Thanks to Mihir for supplying my bonus question!)

On Sunday, I returned to Bloody Cake News with a special recipe for red velvet cake sans the glass and blood. Add those at your own risk.

I received two more questions in response to my Facebook post, but those were more apropos for blog posts. I'll be around later this week to answer them.

Friday
Jan102014

I wrote a story with a traditionally masculine character named Rachael

Paul S. Kemp wrote about why he writes masculine stories, which in turn generated two very thoughtful posts from Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes on what masculinity means both to them personally and within their fiction. I liked the manner and the respect with which both Chuck and Sam disagreed with Paul's definition of "traditionally masculine" behaviors. I enjoyed watching these men suss through society's perceived expectations in order to work toward a more universal definition of masculinity. 

Paul calls his stories "masculine stories," which are populated by men--manly men in the traditional sense of male-oriented behaviors such as: 

They answer violence with violence. They’re courageous in the face of danger. They’re stoic in the face of challenges/pain. They have their emotions mostly in check. And they act in accordance with a code of honor of some kind. Thematic elements in a lot of my work that square with this involve the obligations of fatherhood, the depths of friendship between men who’ve faced death together, the bonds of brotherhood (figuratively).

I read those qualities and thought to myself: My God, he has just described Rachael. Although readers didn't see it in Miserere, Rachael does tend to drink too much and though she doesn't womanize, she does the female equivalent and has had several lovers. We won't delve too deeply into those aspects of her character here. Instead, I want to talk about her nobler qualities--those aspects of her character that are "traditionally masculine."

I wrote Miserere like this on purpose. I wanted to flip the traditional themes that Paul talks about--you know, where the manly prince rides out and saves the princess from dire death and savage beasts. Only I wanted the princess to ride out and save the prince. Unfortunately, not many people picked up on Rachael--most were focused on twelve-year-old Lindsay. Lindsay is merely a hero in the making. Rachael is the real hero. 

Rachael is the grown-up and the more multifaceted character. She doesn't blame others for her condition. She is stoic in the face of challenges and death. It is Rachael who runs toward a charging horse and takes the animal down to unseat the rider; Rachael who struggles through the mud and reaches up to plunge her dagger into her enemy's throat. Rachael is the risk-taker, the leader, the warrior. Rachael fights the Wyrm to protect both Lucian and Lindsay, both of whom are too weak to fight. It is Rachael who closes the door on Caleb (one of my favorite scenes and her decision in that scene tells you everything you will ever need to know about Rachael's character).

Rachael rescues Lucian repeatedly all the way from Ierusal to the Citadel. As a matter of fact, it is only at the very end that Lucian finally stands up for himself in front of the congregation, because he knows that his silence will take Rachael down with him.

I thought a lot about traditionally masculine characteristics when I wrote Lucian's character. He is duty-bound, and that inflexibility within his personality almost kills him. His sister cripples him and essentially does everything in her power to emasculate him, but instead of weakening him, she forces him to re-examine those traditionally masculine characteristics that have led to his imprisonment. He sees himself differently and redefines his masculinity to mold himself into the man he is meant to be and not the man that others expect him to be.

Garden in Umber was an experiment for me. I wanted to examine male perceptions through men's eyes. I deliberately wrote Garden with only a couple of female characters. Guillermo is a manly man who would fit right into one of Paul's worlds, but he is also broken, both emotionally and spiritually, by the very traits that his society imposes on him. Guillermo doesn't revel in his hard-drinking, brotherhood oriented, soldierly life. It is a dangerous world in which he lives, and nonconformity can bring a man an ugly death.

And that, I suppose, is another issue that I have with Paul's essay. He glamorizes the brotherhood where my research showed me no such glamour existed. Human beings are pack animals, and the alpha man or woman can drag hundreds down with them. Men are especially brutal to one another.

Guillermo runs rather than face the horror of being punished for killing an officer. Guillermo argues that the officer gave the insult, so that he was justified in killing him. Tomás believes in the laws. He argues that Guillermo must return and accept his punishment like a man.

The penalty for killing an officer during a conflict meant that Guillermo would be shaved of his hair and beard, an act so vicious that it was compared to being scalped alive; he would submit himself to the lash; and pay off the monetary portion of his debt as a servant to the officer's family. Guillermo sees no honor in this punishment. He'd rather turn his back on everything and run.

Honor is a fickle code that is often defined by black and white. Motives, on the other hand, are colored in shades of gray.

As I worked on my research for the men in Garden, I realized that men spend a lot of time fighting society's perceived roles for them. Men, like women, want to be accepted for who they are, not squashed into a predefined box of personality traits.

While working on characters and characterization, I become more aware of the damage we inflict on men and women when we create unrealistic expectations for behavior. We are shaped by our culture.

Cygnet Moon is another gender flip that I want to explore. Too many fantasy novels produce loving mothers based on the "traditional feminine" aspect that women are nurturing. Makar's mother, Agata, is no such woman. She hates her spouse and her child and places her ambition over both. Were she male, I'd simply be playing into one of the "traditionally masculine" tropes. I want to see what happens when it is the queen who places her aspirations over family.

Makar is damaged too. After an altercation with a demon, Makar's bodyguard Ikal comments that "We are battle-scarred men now.” To which Makar replies, “I think we have always been battle-scarred. Our wounds are merely on the outside now.”

Like most young people, Makar is aware of his scars, but he is not sure how to heal himself. He believes that "the wounds of childhood never heal; we merely learn to control the bleeding."

Makar is young enough to still see the world in black and white. His adventures and subsequent brotherhood and bonding with his friends will lead him to view life in shades of gray. He will be forced to face his culture's expectations for male children and how those expectations impact who he is as a person.

As I write Makar, I'm keenly aware of the very gender assumptions that Paul wrote about in his essay. I'm glad he brought the issue forward; although like Chuck and Sam, I have to disagree with his premise. There is nothing wrong with writing adventure stories; however, I worry when we, as authors, feed into gender stereotypes by naming characteristics in terms of gender. Young people tend to gravitate toward genre fiction, and authors have an opportunity to help young people question the status quo.

I believe that is one reason why I love the comic Saga so much. A novel--a story--forces two young people on opposing sides of a conflict to re-examine their roles and to see one another as people. Superficially, Saga is about two young people on the run. At a much deeper level, Saga is about the power of stories, and how that power transcends masculine and feminine to become an entity unto itself.

I do want to thank Paul for his post. He made me think more deeply about gender roles and how I use them in my work. I also hope that his post generates more discussion about gender roles and how we perceive them, both in fiction and in our culture.

Friday
Jan102014

A Friday peek at Cygnet Moon (#SFWApro)

Every other Friday, my critique partner and I meet to go over our respective works and brainstorm the next step in our stories. We had to reschedule this week due to my cold, so I thought I'd share a little piece of the current work in progress:

Mother rose and looked down on me. Her ar’nel temporarily blinded my vision as she probed my mind for a lie. Without the drugs, I could have shielded my thoughts and memories from her, but whatever Sun had slipped into my food left me rotten and naked before her magic. She saw my inhibitions laid bare.

She finally announced, “We believe you, Makar.”

Before she could withdraw from my mind, my ar’nel rose up and vomited my animosity in her face. My darkness burned holes in the mists of her magic.

I struggled up through the narcotics and enunciated each word. “I. Hate. You.”

She turned her face from my rage. “Take care, Makar.”

“Father loved you, and you ran him away too,” I said with tears in my eyes. “You made him hate us.”

Her open palm struck my cheek so hard I felt the sting of her blow in spite of the narcotics. I pursed my lips and tried to spit at her but my mouth was too dry.

She flinched anyway. I’d taken her by surprise. She expected my tears, my sorrow, but she had not anticipated my rage.

When she looked at me again, her glare had turned diamond sharp.

We became enemies that night.

I'll be back on Monday. I've got a contest coming up soon, so stay tuned for that. 2014 is going to rock. You just watch.

Sunday
Dec152013

Year end wrap-up (#SFWApro)

A look back on 2013

I read a lot of novels by men during 2012 and 2013, because I wanted to analyze the differences between male and female authors. The Gender Bending post of late 2012, early 2013 was one of my most popular posts ever; although, I hesitate to call it mine. Several wonderful authors contributed to that project in late December 2012 through early January 2013, so in many ways it belongs to all of us. Thank you again to everyone who contributed their time and energy to make that project work, especially to the fans who guessed and commented.

What we found out was what we already knew: unless the name automatically indicated a gender, there was approximately a 50/50 chance that the participants would guess wrong.

My writing

Dolorosa (Book 2 of the Katharoi series). I completed a solid first chapter to Miserere's sequel, Dolorosa. I had just started work on the synopsis when Night Shade Books initiated the sale of the company to Skyhorse/Start. For a variety of reasons, Dolorosa was put on hold.

Given the time limitations that I have for writing, I have to focus on projects that have a chance of selling. I spent most of April and May trying to work out a feasible schedule for the project and finally decided that anything with the Katharoi series had to be placed on hold for the duration of one year at the very least.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale. Is now available at Audible where it is drawing some very nice reviews.

In other good news, Miserere has officially earned out on the Skyhorse side of the debit sheet. For that little miracle, I owe all of my thanks to everyone who has purchased a copy of Miserere, either ebook, print, or audio. You have my deepest gratitude.

Miserere also took a major shout-out on Tor.com in the Under the Radar series. Check out the Under the Radar series for more great books that you might have missed.

Short Stories. Given all of the upheaval going on around me in April/May, I concentrated on short stories:

  • "La Santisima" is an original short story that is here on the blog and you can read it for free.
  • "Naked the Night Sings," is merely one of the many fine stories featured in Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, Angelic Knight Press, 2013.
  • "Love, Crystal and Stone," will appear in Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology, edited by Roger Bellini, Neverland Books, March 2014. You can read an exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone" at Fantasy Book Critic.

I also wrote two more short stories that will be going on submission after the first of the year:

  • "Down to the River" a coming of age story about a young sin-eater.
  • "White like Snow" a story about two brothers who find a haunted castle.

Cygnet Moon. I have a synopsis and almost 50,000 words on this novel. I'm really pleased with both the story and the characterization so far.

General observations

In spite of all of the set-backs, I don't feel too bad about 2013. I wrote over 30,000 words on short stories and 50,000 words on a new novel. That figure doesn't include word counts from submission packages, blog posts, interviews, etc.

Not bad. In 2014, I will finish Cygnet Moon and begin work on Dolorosa. More and more people are asking for Miserere's sequel and in every review people mention that they would like to revisit Woerld. I hope to make that possible for you.

To all of the awesome people who have been so kind as to read Miserere and give the book a shout-out whenever and where ever you can. Thank you!

Celebrate the season in whatever way you see fit. I'll be with the most tolerant people in the world ... my lovely family.

I'll see you again in 2014.

Watch for me.

Monday
Dec092013

Author chat, Round Three: books we love & cons & fans (#SFWApro)

ML Brennan had a really cool idea to have an online author chat and I was lucky enough to get invited to the party! She talks about the author chats in round one on her blog. Essentially, for those of you who are just tuning in, there are four authors involved with these little chats and we each came up with two questions for each round. We answer the questions in a group email, then each of us will post a chat to one of our blogs.

So if you're here now, you're reading Author Chat, Round Three. The fun part of this is that you don't have to read the chats in order, and you can bounce around at your leisure.

Author Chat, Round One: Unicorns, Highlanders, and the Characters We Kill is with ML Brennan.

Author Chat, Round Two: Worldbuilding and Things We Put in Our Books Just Because They’re Cool is at Django Wexler's blog.

Author Chat, Round Four: ALL THE LIES! is over at Leigh Bardugo's blog.

Check them all out when you can.

And now ... Author Chat, Round Three:

Tell us about one novel that you wish you had written.

Teresa: All the good ones. No, really, I do have several novels that I wish I'd written, but for the sake of discussion here I'll narrow it down to just two:

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip. I just love the entire story of a prince who is so sad that he is willing to give his heart to a witch. His wife and son have died and he believes that he will never love again. He no longer needs a heart. There is a princess who is forced to marry the prince. Yet she stands up and says that she will not marry a prince without a heart, so she sets out to restore the prince to his heart. Of course, this is McKillip, so there is a wizard and a witch and a haunted forest. I think this is one of my favorite McKillip stories. The beauty of the tale lies in its simplicity and McKillip’s elegant prose. It’s just perfect.

The other story I wish I’d written isn't a novel, but a short story "Bite-Me-Not or, Fleur De Feu" by Tanith Lee. I read this story and immediately wished I'd written it. It's about a woman who falls in love with a vampire, but nothing is quite as it seems. Lee's prose is absolutely lyrical and the ending is so very sweet. If I ever taught a class on how to write a perfect story, this would be mandatory reading.

Leigh: Lawd, I never know what to make of this question, but I'm going with Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil. It's one of the most perfectly plotted books I've read, and it also strikes this tone of possibility that I haven't encountered many other places. It's an intimate story, but it has grand scale. It's historical fiction, but there's an element of magical realism. It's whimsical and improbable, but grounded in something sinister, and heartbreaking, and absurdist. After I read it, I started trying to write a literary novel set in early 1900s Los Angeles. I never got past chapter two. At the same time, I'd hate to have written Carter because then I'd be deprived of the pleasure of simply reading it.

ML: This is a really interesting question, because I think how we respond says something about our own writing styles, or what we see ourselves as potentially capable of. For example, I’m a huge fan of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and its utterly dreamy, beautifully rendered prose, but every time I read it I’m impressed again at her tight cross-cutting between the times, and the way Morgenstern was able to really build up the mystery of certain events that are eluded to as in the past (or sometimes the future), before later pacing out the scene. But I’m a pretty methodical A to B plotter (at least at this point in my writing career), and while I admire that book greatly, I’m just not sure that that style of writing is in my wheelhouse. That leads to me admiring it, but not being jealous of it. I think the “I wish I’d written that” emerges from that little itching of where admiration meets jealousy.

So with that rather long-winded caveat – Wrapt In Crystal by Sharon Shinn. On the surface it’s a sci-fi mystery, but it has so many layers pondering that nature of religion, of guilt, of survival, and how people interact with each other. It’s not a book that would make my Top 50 books of all time, but it’s a book that every time I go back and re-read it, I feel like I learn something new from it.

Django: When I was in college, I wrote (or started writing) a novel about gods in the modern day. It was something about the old god-archetypes had been forgotten and neglected, and the new god-archetypes had been created by TV, movies, and popular culture.  It wasn’t very good, and I eventually gave up on it in frustration. Some years later, I read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and I had this moment of, “Oh, that’s what I was trying to do! I’m glad someone who could actually do it gave it a shot!”

The novel that I wish I had the skill to write is probably Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, not coincidentally one of my all-time favorites. It’s not a perfect book – it wanders, plot-wise, and the ending is a bit anti-climactic – but there’s so much wonderful prose in there that every time I read I find myself constantly wanting to bookmark bits to show other people how amazingly clever they are. So maybe not that specific book, but I would love to write something that gives the reader that feeling.

How do you maintain your audience/reader connection between novels? With Blog posts? Short stories? What is your favorite way to interact with fans?

Teresa: I love cons, but due to my inability to hear, cons can be more stressful than helpful for me sometimes. Also, cons are expensive. Very expensive. So I've been sticking to the local scene these last two years.

Twitter is my favorite way to interact. Blog posts can take more time than I like sometimes, because I want the post to be entertaining and factual. Writing whatever comes straight out of my head is never good. It's very easy to forget that when I'm online, people can't hear the tone of my voice or see if I'm smiling, and my writing style can be somewhat sharp from time to time. When in doubt about my own tone, I usually don't air the post. I can't tell you how many opinion pieces I've written only to delete them.

So I've shifted course a little this year and put my writing focus on short stories. I've really enjoyed writing them and have even sold a couple. I enjoy the short stories, because I can experiment with different characters and techniques without the time investment of a novel.

Leigh: I used to be a really sporadic blogger. It just doesn't come naturally to me and I had to drop out of a group blog that I loved because I would get so stressed out over posting. Then I discovered tumblr (cue trumpets) and everything changed. I think I'm at ease there because I don't just have to be an author, I can also be a fan. I can get excited or irate over the things I love. I can wax shamelessly about my favorite ships and shows. 

As far as connecting with readers between books, I honestly feel like it's the readers themselves who do the heavy lifting—through fanart and graphics, fanmixes, fic. I love seeing it and reblogging it. I do my best to answer asks as frequently as I can. I try to keep up with my twitter feed. But it's the readers who are really generating content and connection. They're the ones who speak up when someone says, "Should I give this book a try?" They're the ones who bring the characters to life beyond the pages of the series. And I happen to have lucked into a particularly generous and talented group of readers. 

The best thing is when I'm on tour and I get to meet people I know from twitter and tumblr. It makes me feel like I have friends in every city, and as a secretly shy person, that's really comforting.

ML: I feel like everything that’s happened since May, which was when Generation V (cheap plug! everyone drink!) debuted, has been a crash course into how to build a readership in the first place. I’m kind of in a bit of a head-scratching phase right now, because everything was so focused on the first book, but Iron Night comes out next month and it feels like a completely different setup. Can I get an extension on this question until next August? I feel like I’ll have a better answer then. :)

I find blogging to be a special kind of painful. It can be really useful, but at the same time I always feel weirdly resentful when I post a 500-word blog post – it’s like, that could’ve been 500 words in a book! Which is funny, because I love reading other people’s blogs, and I see a lot of people who are extremely good in that format. I think I just don’t quite have the right skillset. Cons, however, I love (though Teresa is right – expensive! plus there are only a few a year within easy traveling distance), but I have actually had the most fun with Twitter. I feel like it’s really easy for someone who has just picked up one of the books to tweet at me, and a conversation can start. Plus comments can go back and forth at a pace that is much more like a regular conversation, which can be lost on other platforms or email. The only challenge has been learning how to hone down my responses to 150 characters. So many of my best jokes are wordy!

Django: I’m sort of in the same position that ML is, since my first book came out this year. My first con as an author was San Diego Comic-Con, a week after the release – talk about in at the deep end. I did a few more over the summer, at that was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure it was terribly useful in connecting with readers.  (It was great in terms of connecting and making friends with other authors and industry people though!)

I used to do a fair bit of blogging, but it dried up when I acquired a public persona, because it was mostly on politics and other contentious subjects. I just recently started writing a column on “anime for SFF fans” over at SF Signal, and also doing some podcasts there, which has been a lot of fun. Project like this Q&A are helpful too!

My next experiment is an urban fantasy novella I’m going to release for Kindle, hopefully sometime this month. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, so we’ll see if people dig it!

* * *

If you enjoyed reading our conversation, you can check out more about each author right here:

Leigh Bardugo: The bestselling Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm can be bought now. The conclusion of the Grisha trilogy, Ruin and Rising will be published June 3, 2014. Learn more at http://www.leighbardugo.com.

M. L. Brennan: Generation V is in stores now, and its sequel Iron Night will be published January 7, 2014. Learn more by clicking any above links.

Django Wexler: The Thousand Names is in stores now. The second in The Shadow Campaign series, The Shadow Throne will be published July 1, 2014, and Wexler’s middle-grade fantasyThe Forbidden Library will be published April 15, 2014. Learn more at http://djangowexler.com/.

And, of course, you always know where to find me.

Saturday
Nov162013

Winter in the City ... and my Nightsongs stories

When Marty emailed everyone and pitched the new anthology Winter in the City, I jumped at the chance to be involved. I wanted a good excuse to write another story with Alejandro ("Love, Crystal and Stone") and Adriana ("Naked the Night Sings").

The theme of the city in winter appealed to me. Even though I was raised in a rural area, I've always been in love with New York City, which held an almost mystical status to me. My parents thought of it as a city of sin, The Warriors showed me a haunting landscape of danger and forbidden love, and Escape from New York made the city the most badass place around.

When I finally had the opportunity to visit New York, the beauty of the city took my breath away. I found every street had a different story to tell. Rather than become disillusioned with the reality, my visits merely deepened my love for the city. Early mornings are my favorite time when a hush seems to hold the streets. Shadows linger and it's easy to imagine a place where the sidewalk ends and magic begins.

New York is where dreams are born and sometimes stillborn. It's a city with multiple faces like my Adriana and Alejandro. I can think of no better place to set the third story of my Nightsongs series.

If the Kickstarter for Winter in the City is successful, I will tell you the story of Monica Ness, a once famous singer, known to the world as Nyx. For a price, the mysterious Adriana offered Monica the ability to sing with duende. Like Nicolai before her, Monica found a thread and won the power to move audiences with her voice. She took the stage name Nyx and soared to fame before she fell into alcoholism and disappeared from the music scene.

At fifty-two, her life is over. She lives in the subways and drinks to wash the dark sounds from her mind. Near death and destitute, Monica contemplates stepping on the third rail when a strange man emerges from the tunnel. He says his name is Alejandro and, for a price, he offers to save her soul.

If you have a minute, go and check out the Winter in the City Kickstarter for details on how you can participate.

Monday
Oct142013

An exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone"

As many of you know, I sold a short story to the Neverland’s Library Fantasy Anthology recently. The story, “Love, Crystal and Stone,” is a companion piece to my short story “Naked the Night Sings,” which appears in Manifesto: UF.

Although they’re sister stories, they are as different as night and day in tone. 

When I found out that Tad Williams had written the introduction to Neverland's Library Fantasy Anthology, I had a real fangirl moment and wanted to write something special. Short stories are fun because I can experiment with different techniques and styles without the time investment required by a novel. That is what I did with "Love, Crystal and Stone."

Whereas “Naked the Night Sings” has an urban fantasy/horror vibe, “Love, Crystal and Stone” is more of a traditional fantasy story. The story unwinds at a more leisurely pace and is a much more personal story to me. I'll talk about why in some future posts.

The theme of rediscovery was very interesting to me, and I considered it carefully before I began writing. One important aspect of rediscovery is that in order to rediscover a thing or a person, one must first experience loss.

Right now, there is an exclusive excerpt from "Love, Crystal and Stone" over at Fantasy Book Critic. I invite you to see how the story begins ...

Saturday
Sep282013

Solomon Kane

Okay, I'm late to the party, nothing new there in regards to films. I have a hearing impairment and have to wait for the closed captioning that accompanies DVDs and Netflix streaming. Solomon Kane was released in 2009. I've heard that purists had hissy fits that it wasn't a replica of the Robert E. Howard stories, and I honestly don't remember hearing anything about the movie at all.

Complete dead air (as we used to say in the radio business).

All anyone talked about in 2009 was District 9. I succumbed to everyone's praise and got the DVD to District 9 for Christmas. My daughter and I watched it together and both of us thought that the storyline was flawed, and the movie itself fell back on trite Hollywoodish themes. District 9 was the last time I listened to the genre community for movie recommendations.

As a matter of fact, I'd been disappointed so many times that I pretty much gave up on genre movies for a while, but like any addict, I can't quit them forever.

A few weeks ago, I wandered through a local store, looking for something new to watch, and I saw the container for Solomon Kane. All I knew about the movie was that Ramsey Campbell had been tapped to write the novelization, and that is the only thing that made me stop and consider buying it. Then I remembered seeing it on the Netflix list. Having been burned by bad genre films one time too many, I thought I'd check it out on Netflix first.

I had no expectations whatsoever. Okay, that's a lie. My expectations were so low, my finger hovered over the stop button so I could back out and watch something else the minute that I got too bored. I'm not kidding.

The movie opens with Kane storming a castle. Kane is played by James Purefoy (he of Mark Antony fame in the HBO series Rome). He leads his men into the castle and through a hall of mirrors. Demons swarm behind the glass, really nasty-lovely demons. When I imagine demons, this is what I see. A teensy piece of me loved that moment and I suddenly wanted this movie to succeed.

I'm an old skeptic though, and although I was certain this movie would eventually disappoint me, I decided to hang with it for a while longer.

Some of the dialogue is corny. Purefoy delivers it like it's Shakespeare. The defining moment for me came when Kane looks up at the sky and questions God. I sneered, because I knew this was it--this was the moment when I developed the giggles over corny lines and bad acting and hit that stop button out of sheer self-defence ... and that moment never came.

Purefoy's angst and honesty were just so real that he wiped that sneer right off my mouth. I settled in for the movie and I was not disappointed.

James Purefoy's portrayal of Kane as a self-interested treasure hunter to Kane the man who seeks redemption to avoid Hell's fires was exquisite. His acting was so subtle that the viewer has a hard time pinpointing the exact moment when those two extremes merge into a wonderfully complex characterization. Max von Sydow was beautiful and tragic as Kane's father. The entire cast was comprised of fine acting, dark scenes, magnificent special effects. I've watched Solomon Kane twice now, and I still jump when the demon flashes out of a mirror to snatch a sailor into Hell. I know it's coming, but the scene is so well executed, it takes me by surprise every time.

Oh, and did I mention that James Purefoy can really rock a pilgrim hat?

I so thoroughly enjoyed Solomon Kane that I'm going to buy the DVD and watch it again.

Check it out: