Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pet Peeves and Weird Needs: Exposing Our Writing Eccentricities

EDIT: Before I start off this post, I would first like to announce my winners of the Pimp My League contest. Everyone else will be posting theirs later in the week so stay tuned!

For their wonderful efforts in the art of pimpage, I've decided two lucky winners were in order, chosen from a list of well over two by a roll of my trusty 100-sided die. Congratulations to the cryptically named Moondancer Drake and also Todd Thomas! You will both be receiving signed copies of the DEAD TO ME galleys as soon as I have them! Please send me your contact info for shipment. Now on with the show...

As you can see by our subject line for this week, Mark Henry fancies himself all poetical like. I will fill that in his "Weird Needs" folder and it shall be noted on his permanent record. I've got an eye on you, Henry!

First of all, I'm a man who likes to qualify things. It helps me sleep at night so I will be applying the scientific method to judging my eccentricities. To aid you, the reader, I've come up with this handy dandy scale to help you out- with the higher end of the eccentro-meter being quantified as three rainbow socks and so on down to the ladder to the least quirky behaviors quantified by a rating of one golden trident. Is that clear? Ok. Good.

Music (Rating: 2 Silver Pigs)
My favorite music to write to is either Bach or techno, usually blasting through high end headphones. For reasons I just don't understand, I find both of them incredibly centering when I'm in a writing groove. I think something about the rhythm of the music blocks out what would normally inhibit my brain from getting words down. Give me some Crystal Method and I could write for hours! (Not to be confused with Crystal Meth, which I believe would only make me curl up in a fetal ball for hours while thinking I was a hamster... not that I have anything against hamsters).

Do you like your eyes? Would you like to keep from gouging them out? (Rating: 7 Magical Unicorns)
Here's a helpful eccentricity of mine: Back your work up constantly and at as many sources as possible!

Before the Great Hard Drive Crash of 1997, I was a sporadic saver and usually only at one source. Then the aforementioned GHDC97 happened. Losing everything you've ever written is an unbearable pain, trust me on this. Much was salvaged through print outs and such, but much was lost- some for the betterment of humanity but much that I lament missing to this day.

So why put yourself through it? With todays tech, there's simply no excuse and since people actually PAY me for my words now, backing up is a financial necessity. This might be overkill but at any given time, my daily work is on my work laptop, home computer, a USB Drive (2gb), work email, home email, a Gmail account and in a Swiss vault guarded by a man named Gunther.

One of those is a fabrication... let's see if you can guess which one. I bet you think it's Gunther, don't you? Fools!

Nature abhors a vacuum and so do my writing sessions! (Rating: 10 Bronzed Sockmonkeys)
Some writers like to work in a quiet controlled environment to "concentrate." To that I say: Fuck concentration!

Now before you strike me down, yes, I'll admit that there is a time to buckle down, but I consider that more of a crunch time activity. Like when you've spent your advance on booze, broads and blow (not necessarily in that order) and your book is due in three days and you haven't written more than a cocktail napkin worth of notes. Fine, you writing cowards, then you can go and concentrate.

It ain't for me, though, and you should listen to me because I'm a profeshunal writer who uses words like "ain't". Creating stories in a soundless vacuum of concentration kills too much of how I like to write so I always have some form of distraction going on in the back ground. Playlists, podcasts, Venture Brothers marathons, any house flipping show... the list goes on and on. That way, there is always source material to lift from in times of creative drought!

As writers, we should already be functioning as human video recorders, constantly catching bits of the world around us to flavor our writing. My brain is a sieve with content constantly pouring through it. Then when I find myself stuck trying to describe something in my book, I give my brain a good shake. (Please note: The League of Reluctant Adults does not advocate the actual physical shaking of your brain) The mesh filter at the bottom of my brainpan catches all the snippets from that background noise, mixes them up after having been steeped in my cerebral fluid and eventually I find something new and interesting for my work.

I could go on and on about all this, but I figure your little eyes are about all dried up from reading this amount so I'll be signing off now. Until next week, my not-so-gentle readers.

Oh, and one more final eccentricity I almost forgot! I prefer to write while eating PEZ, sans dispenser. More specifically, PEZ that my loyal and thoughtful fanbase has sent me...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Weekend Interview: Joe Schreiber, Scary Horror Guy

I may be writing urban fantasy, but I was reared, nursed and fed on horror. King, Koontz, Barker and Straub were my Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. There were years in my youth when I read nothing but horror. Time passes and tastes change, then you pick up a book that takes you right back to the excitement, to that fast fear of pre-adolescence. Joe Schreiber's 2006 zombiethon CHASING THE DEAD was that book, a thrilling piece of classic horror that zips along like an acid trip in a hearse.

Now, Joe Schreiber is back to scare your bowels clean with Eat the Dark*. Readers won't find any zombies in this one, but there are plenty of supernatural scares and more than enough twists to keep you going 'til the last page.

The rundown...

On the eve of Tanglewood Memorial's closure, Mike Hughes and a skeleton crew of hospital staff while away the hours of what's supposed to be an uneventful shift. That is until the police roll in psychotic killer Frank Snow for an MRI and things go all dark and bumpy. You see, Snow's no ordinary psycho, and once he's free, all hell breaks loose. And I do mean HELL. Along for the ride are Mike's wife and son, who really picked the wrong night to drop by and say "hi."

In what's fast becoming Schreiber's calling card, the plot careens like an out of control darkride through a razor blade factory. The prose is tight and the read is quick—I read it in two brief sittings, which is perfect for me.

Eat the Dark is old school horror like your Mama used to make. What, not your Moms? Alright. Then, it's at least as creepy as that shitty surprise casserole she baked. So get in there, break the crust and Eat the Dark.

That's plenty pimpin', now let's delve into the mind of the author, shall we? Joe was more than happy to spend some time at League headquarters probably because of all the free hooch.

Me: The title of your new book, EAT THE DARK is an homage to Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. How has Bradbury influenced your work, this book in particular, and who else has a foothold in your brain?

Joe: Bradbury is one of the first writers I remember consciously imitating -- not so much his style, but the whole idea of actually being a writer. I remember reading his novel DEATH IS A LONELY BUSINESS and just being enchanted by this first-person account of a young writer in Southern California, writing these pulp short stories on the foggy boardwalk. I found it totally thrilling that he went to the LA County Library and rented a coin-op typewriter by the hour to crank out FAHRENHEIT 451. I love those kind of details.

Right now for some reason I'm reading a lot of crime-- Duane Swierczinsky is probably my favorite writer of the moment because he's just out to entertain the living fuck out of you whatever the cost. Jason Starr falls into the category too. Richard Stark, Peter Abrahams...I have to try not to write like him while I'm reading his stuff.

M: A good portion of this book occurs in a pitch black hospital; why do you think so many people are afraid of the dark and/or hospitals? Do you feel bad capitalizing on your reader's crippling fears?

J: Oh, no way, I love capitalizing on readers' fears. Hitting that nerve is my favorite thing in the world. When I first thought about setting EAT THE DARK in a hospital, I got so excited about the possibilities that I had to slow myself down. Why do people fear hospitals? They're full of dying people. They're almost synonomous with having no control. They're sort of like hotels for the sick and dying, all kinds of reminders of how our bodies break down and the awful things that happen afterwards. And in the dark you're totally helpless, almost childlike, your imagination is in its most, uh, labile state. I wanted to get a sense of how that felt, even in a familiar setting, so I spent some time blindfolded, trying to navigate halls and doorways. I didn't go so far as hiring a guy with a knife to jump out and grab me...I don't think my heart could've taken it.

M: Hey, wait...hold up. EAT THE DARK's main character is an MRI tech; isn't that what you do? People are gonna want to know, how much of Mike Hughes is actually you?

J: I am an MRI tech -- Mike Hughes and I are both married with young children. We're both entering middle age, that part of life where you start becoming aware that the heart and lung machine you're walking around in isn't going to last forever. And we'd probably react similarly given the kind of hard-core circumstances going on in the novel -- running, freaking out, trying to get a hold on yourself and do right by your family. But Mike's definitely not me. For one thing, I have a much larger penis. It's a little embarrassing, actually. Also, Mike may or may not be cheating on his wife, and to my knowledge, I'm not doing that. There is enough infidelity and cheating going on in any hospital environment though that I didn't think I was stretching credulity by introducing that theme.

M: Both EAT THE DARK and your last novel, CHASING THE DEAD, move along at a breakneck pace. There is a frenetic, frenzied quality to the prose that electrifies the story. Are you hyper, by any chance, or is it all part of your master plan?

J: I'm not hyper by nature but I can be a pretty hyper writer. I drink as much coffee as possible before hitting the page. With a compressed timeframe novel like EAT THE DARK I want the energy to be there on the page, ready to go off like a loaded gun and I'll do whatever I have to, to pitch the momentum forward.

M: As my mother is want to say, why don't you write something nice, Joe? What's up with all the horror, childhood trauma?

J: I actually tried to write something nice once. I tried to write a book called THE CHOIRMASTER'S DAUGHTER. It was going to be a Robert James Waller-esque tale loosely based on the opera Rigaletto. I told it to my wife once on a plane ride to Rome and she looked like she might puke. So I moved on to psychopaths and autopsy bone-saws. Now she just looks at me like she's afraid I'll kill her in the dead of night. Which is a much more gratifying reaction, I must say.

M: Your fiction is most often compared to Stephen King's early work. Flattering sure, but you're bound to get an unnaturally large head (one that can only be cured by certain medical staff in The Republic of Congo). How do you take that kind of compliment?

J: I love Stephen King. I guess my feelings about Stephen King mirror most people's, which is, he pretty much gets a free pass to do whatever he wants for the rest of his career, since he was so good, for such a long period of time. And I'm deeply, profoundly flattered that anybody compares my stuff to his. Fortunately I've got a very realistic day-to-day life that prohibits any delusions of grandeur -- I work 40+hours a week and have two kids that seem to think I'm some kind of playground equipment.

M: What ghoulish plans do you have in store next for your fans?

J: My next novel is called THE BLACK WING. It's about a family curse, a story that comes to life about a house with a hidden wing. Inside are some really awful things. It's a little more ambitious in scope than the last couple, both in terms of timeframe and characters, and it's given me a chance to talk about unhealthy family dynamics. And I have another thing, about a dysfunctional New England family trapped in a pontoon boat under attack from something in the water, kind of a cross between ORDINARY PEOPLE and JAWS. I've been calling it the book I was born to write. Also, there's a third project that I just started, and I'm really excited about -- excited enough, actually, that I'm a little superstitious about discussing the specifics. Suffice it to say, it's going to give a lot of people nightmares.

Thanks, Joe.

*Available wherever pretty people buy books on October 16th, or preorder Eat the Dark on Amazon, today.

It's Dead, Jim.

(Congrats to 'Claudia In London' who won the drawing. Send me your personal information and as soon as I get an ARC - and it's a long ways away yet! - I will send you one. :)

But back to the topic at hand...

We've all had the novels that don't start out quite right. Sometimes it's dissonant as soon as you start putting words on the page. Sometimes it kicks you at about page 75 and says "Hey moron! What are you thinking?"

And sometimes you make it to the very end of the book before you realize that the thing of beauty has turned into a Frankenstein monster. What do you do?

Well, kids, some books just aren’t worth resurrecting. When things go wrong, there's usually a point to it. Some level of instinct has come through and thrown up the flashing warning signs, but even if you plow through to the very end, it still won't make the Beast into a Beauty. Sometimes the beast remains a beast.

Allow me to give you an example: my first novel. I stopped writing it about halfway through because I had an epiphany. What was I thinking? But I went back to the well, and I picked up that novel again. I ignored my good sense and finished the darn thing. And now I have a six hundred page monstrosity that has the following: time travel, puritans, Ojibwe Indians in New York (even though most lived nowhere near the area, but I wanted Ojibwe, darnit!), the IRS, a fairy godmother, hot sex, a massacre, scoliosis, a molesting priest, the Loch Ness monster...and there might have even been a cowboy's secret baby somewhere in there.

Where was I going with this novel? Hell, I have no idea. It sure seemed like a good idea when I was writing it, though. But I should have followed my instincts, and when they told me to stop, I should have stopped. Not all novels are destined to be winners, and this stinker sure wasn't.
So what do you do when you've gotten to the end of your book and you realize that you've birthed a monster?

Several things, really. I mean, so you wrote a bad book. No worries. We all do it. All is NEVER lost, and if you really love the core of the story, there are things you can do with it.

Reuse, Renew, Recycle - I’m serious. If you like a concept, use it again in a new novel. Can't get past the Loch Ness monster and have an endearing love for Nessie in your manuscript? Write another novel (but for god’s sake, put it in Scotland). Continue to steal and borrow from this manuscript until you've gotten your mileage out of it, and then toss it into your trunk.
Divide and Conquer - Sort out your elements and separate them. Do they necessarily go together? Can we remove some of them and streamline the story? If I had taken out the IRS, the fairy godmother, Nessie, and time travel, I would have had a story about puritans and Indians. THAT story would work. Likewise, if I set all the fantastic elements in a modern setting and went with the magical theme, I'd have a much stronger, completely different book. They're not bad ideas, they just don't go well together. Decide which ones you want to keep and rewrite from there.

Hack and Slash - Sometimes it's not the elements themselves, but the plot. Is it slow as all heck? Moves too fast? Rearrange your pieces. I had one novel that I was absolutely in love with that was well over 110k (long for me). The beta readers came back and said "Wow, this book is really good after you get past all that slow crap at the front." So, even though it broke my heart, I got rid of everything before page 100 - and added an intro chapter. The book was streamlined and a lot faster, and I've tucked away all the original stuff as something to use later on.

Sit on it - I'm serious. If you go back to it and it sucks, sometimes it's not the book itself. Sometimes it's just your opinion of it. Put it in a drawer. Forget that it ever existed. Hide it on your desktop in an obscure folder labeled "GRANNY PORN". I promise you won't be checking there often (or will you...). Come back to it in a few years and re-read it. You'll be impressed with what you came up with, and maybe all will not seem lost.

So while it's never fun to finish a book and realize you've created a stinkbomb, it's never the end of the world. Sometimes it's not even the end of the story. Consider it fodder for the mill, or just part of your million-words-of-shit journey, but it's never a waste.

And FYI - I still heart the Nessie/Puritans/Time Travel book. I'm going to sit on it for a few more years and see if it turns into Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

What to do When Things Go Terribly Wrong...

A spasm gripped the reeve. She flailed and crashed to her knees, her shoulders trembling, her obsidian hair draping her like a funeral shroud. The Shepherd's vicious voice spilled forth."You cannot stop it. Nothing will stand before the might of the Great Crow. The gate of the Otherworld has yawned wide. Look inside, human, and you will see your death riding to greet you!"

"Thank you," Ghastek said. "Would you join me for some tea and biscuits?"

"Why, don't mind if I do!" said the Shepherd. "Let us have our tea and have us a lovely game of croquet!"

I don't know about you, but things go wrong for me a lot. For example, this morning I put on my new (!) pants I bought at Target. So okay they are a size too big, but that's the only size they had and since I've lost a few pounds, I tend to overestimate the size of my butt. Also they are an inch too long, but that has no bearing on our current situation.

Anyway, back to the pants. New (!) spiffy pants, one of my favorite tops - it's brown but it flatters me for some reason. I woke on the right side of the bed: no bags under my eyes, clear skin, good color. I brush my hair, spray it to cement it in place, and pose dramatically for Gordon.


Pose, pose.


That's okay. He's trying to get ready for work and not paying attention. "What do you think?"

His lordship gazes upon me with his green eyes and says. "Muhhhm. Looks nice. Can you fix my tie?"

Tie? What do you mean, tie? I have new pants, pretty top, I'm wearing a bra that lifts and separates and I have Pantene hair!

Fix tie.

No smooch. No comment on how lovely my butt looks in my new (!) pants.

So okay, he might have been a smidgeon in a hurry to get to work and not feeling especially well, and I might be a tad anal and needy, as I have felt and looked dreadful for the last three days due to a cold. I wanted feedback that reassured me that I'm not the ugliest woman in existence. But the fact remains. Despite my spiffy pants, things have gone Terribly Wrong (tm).

So what happens when things go wrong in writing? Honestly most of the time, it goes wrong because I am being a tad anal, just like above, and wanting the narrative to do something part of me knows is wrong. I'm basically fighting myself.

A lot of times it's the plot. The creative part of me sometimes runs dry and produces a rather drab turn of events, and the critical part of me, which I painstakingly trained to recognize crap, identifies said drab plot element as being a big stinky glob of goo and grinds the whole thing to a halt.

Sometimes you will see writing advice that instructs to turn off the critic while you write. I can't do that. As a result most often my first drafts are pretty much the only drafts I do, because I will not move on until my narrative is where I want it to be. I think it saves me a great deal of time, as I don't redraft the same thing 8-10 times. The side effect of this method is when I'm finished with something, just looking at it makes me want to vomit.

The plot problems are not that hard to identify. After awhile, I recognize when I'm stuck and then I go to his lordship, who brilliantly resolves it. How he does it, I don't know. He just frowns in a manly way, drinks some coffee, and poof, we have plot resolution, accompanied by a celestial radiance and a chorus of Hallelujah.

The character problems are a lot tougher. In the first draft of Magic Burns, which I will never ever show to anyone, Curran was a supreme asshole. It happens. It was a bad book all around. Then I scrapped the whole thing and wrote a new fresh novel, guided by my editor's feedback. From scratch. In four months. (Yes, it was that bad. Things indeed had gone Terribly Wrong (tm) with the first draft.)

As a result of this new draft, Curran was a gentler kinder creature... until Reece, one of generous and kind (I love you all) people who have agreed to read my second novel prior to me stuffing it into the mailbox and running away, until Reece looked at and said, paraphrasing. "Why is he so wimpy compared to the first book?"

Wimpy? Curran? No, no, Curran is Muscles! Wimmens! Honor! Rawr!

So I went back and looked at it... and he was wimpy.

(Oh crap I just recalled that I forgot to email a PDF to a friend. Crap. Crap crappity crap, crap. Things have gone Terribly Wrong (tm) and I will send it to you at lunch!)

Anyhow back to my wimpy Curran. I brought the manuscript to his lordship and asked him, "Hey do you think he is wimpy?"

"Yeah. Here. And right here."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You seemed very attached to these scenes."

All together now... Things have gone Terribly Wrong(tm).

So I went back and fixed it all to my best ability. And there were many other wrong things that had taken place within that tortured manuscript, which those kind and generous people corrected and pointed out and thought about. So the answer to the question in the title for me is simple: when things go wrong, I try to fix it myself, but if that does not work, I go to my husband, who is my best friend, and to my friends, and they help me drag things back onto the right path. Even if most of the time I am kicking and screaming and exacerbating the problem.

Thank you!

PS. I know you can't see it, but my butt does look nice in my new pants

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

You With the Pen, Step Away from the Ledge!

What do you do when things go wrong? Seriously, what? Do you have a plan? Some foolproof method of fixing the ambiguous things of which we speak? I'll tell you what I do. I freak out. I freak right the f**k out. Things can't go wrong. They just can't. Oh God.

But they do.

In life, things go wrong all the time. We sleep through alarms, throw the red shirt in with the whites, wake up in strange beds with throbbing headaches and achy asses. Those aren't even the big mistakes. Imagine how bad you could mess up. Or remember that you have, and how desperately you'd like to go back and change those things, make different choices. Fix it.

As a writer, if that's what you are (I'm kind of expecting you are, so if you're not, just pretend, or stand to the side quietly), you're in the unique position of being able to fix the stuff that goes horribly, in your manuscript, at least.

Now, I don't need to go over all the myriad ways your manuscript can suck (writing as loose as baby diarrhea, plots thinner than a lace Doilie). You know where the spots are. They may even be your favorite parts. In fact, they often are. Some of the most beautiful strings of words can be cataclysmic to your story. Who said "kill your darlings?" I don't think anyone knows. But it's so often true. So...

The first thing you can do when things go wrong with your manuscript: DELETE.

Most first time writers tend to over do it describing from multiple angles, reiterating every detail through dialogue, action, exposition, just because they can. It's hard as hell to trim, and it hurts. But it'll hurt a whole lot less than when the rejection letter comes telling you, that you need to learn to edit (It's happened to me, yes), that you've done all the work for the reader, that your sh*t's boring as hell. Grab a great book on editing. Might I suggest, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Another thing you can do: GET A SECOND OPINION.

Oh please do. Don't ever ship off your manuscript without getting some reads on it. Unless you like to spend money on postage and aren't satisfied with simple personal rejection, you'd like to feel the sting of a professional rebuff. If that's the case, then go for it. But make sure you've got an honest reader, someone who knows your genre, and can articulate their difficulties with your manuscript. A writer's critique group is an awesome way to go, and easy enough to connect with (check with your library, local colleges, and bookstores). Of course, you're going to have to be open to a little suggestion here.

What else? BE PATIENT

Don't panic. We all take our characters down the wrong road from time to time, even down the wrong 200 page highway. The only reason they need to stay there, musty and, often, boxed up in our garages, is our own frustration and pride. Let's say you're not locked up in a Mexican jail, there is room for creative solutions. It's like real life with revisions.


A quick not to our pimps.

We're extending the pimp contest another week, so if you haven't had a chance to hawk our asses, please do and then let us know. Please let us know. Don't assume we're tracking all the hits to the League, we're basing the entries on your comments, both here and on our personal ljs and blogs. Next week, you might be seeing your name on your new favorite blog!

In Which I Put My Characters Through Hell (almost literally)

Ah. When things go wrong...

Like when I write six different beginnings to a book before finding one that works...

Like when I redo the same scene four times because it keeps stalling...

Like when I scrap a short story halfway through because it's boring even me...

Like when I start researching mathematical algorythms because I am so desperate to do something other than work (there is no math in my books. I hate math)...

Like when I decide to just give up altogether because I am clearly fooling myself thinking I'm any good at writing books...

When things go wrong...

Like when my heroine wakes up in the middle of the night because zombies are breaking into her house...

Like when she learns there really is something sinister about the two men who are suddenly so interested in her "professional expertise"...

Like when demons start exploding like gory Christmas crackers all over the city and nobody knows why...

Like when she discovers she's been sold out and will probably die in the next fifteen minutes, as soon as she finishes the lovely meal in front of her...

There is a connection between the two. This isn't simply me plugging my books.

See, when things are going wrong for me, like the first list, it usually means the second list isn't working hard enough.

Books stagnate because the danger isn't dangerous enough, the stakes aren't high enough, not enough is happening.

When in doubt, scream and shout may be a bad (and misquoted) adage here, but the principle works in writing.

What other bad thing can possibly happen? Car accident? Yes. Dental surgery? Yes. Death? Absolutely. Fifty lashes with an iron-tipped whip? Yes! The lights go out and something slithers up the heroine's leg and it sure doesn't feel like her boyfriend's hand? Bring it on!

In other words, get good and passive-aggressive, and take out all your hidden aggressions on your poor characters. Treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen, as another saying goes. I'm not happy unless everybody's crying. (Oh wait, that's at home. Oops.)
I'm not happy with my writing unless stuff's blowing up everywhere and guns are going off and glass is flying and everyone's waiting for Chow Yun-Fat to enter stage right. (Of course, that last bit would make me awfully happy at home too...sigh.)

Oh, and, ah, avoid cliche, except when you're attempting to use them to "humorous" effect in a blog post. Ha! Ha!

Make 'em bleed!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

This Week: When Things Go Wrong!!!

This week's cryptic topic comes from the lovely and talented Stacia Kane- "When Things Go Wrong." With such a Pandora's Box* of a subject, I decided to narrow down my focus to two of my own problem areas.

When I'm trying to write the types of stories that I do- the kind that I would like to read myself- I'm in a constant state of having things go wrong, and for some people that would be enough to stop them in their tracks. Not your Anton, though. I take a deep breath and get back to work because things going wrong is a natural and inherent part of the writing process. Frankly, it's where a lot of the best stuff I've written comes from. Here are my two.

Things That Go Wrong Number One: Some days I don't have the impetus to sit down and write. This is also a problem I hear from a lot of people who want to be writers. It can go so far as to stop them from writing altogether, but I can't do that. My first book took me three-plus years to write (for a variety of reasons), but now I have deadlines and don't have the luxury of that much time. I have to perform according to a schedule, so I do what every writer needs to do, including those of you reading this.

Let's go with a cliche here: Ain't nothing to it but to do it. Sit yer butt down and write, or at least, sit down like yer gonna write. And don't move. Maybe you'll be inspired, maybe you won't, but eventually putting the time in front of the computer trains your brain to start acting in a Pavlov-ian response. It's a commitment, but the easiest answer is that you simply need to be there. If I still find myself uninspired, there's a world of Google and Wiki research at my fingertips... or a quick game of Spider Solitaire to get my brain thinking in other directions, but no more than two or three games. You need to train your brain for the task of writing on command.

Things That Go Wrong Number Two: Another area where I personally go wrong is the dreaded outline. Here's why. If I do a detailed outline, I kill my desire to actually write the damn story. For me, outlining kills the spontaneity of what the characters will do or where they will go in the moment to moment of writing the story. My brain shuts down. It's funny like that.

So I don't really do an outline.

Still, to keep back the chaos, I need some kind of structure, right? Let me share the secret of what works for me now... for free! I give and I give...

Because I'm a geek, I use Excel to keep track of what's going on chronologically. I only use three columns as a guide. They are entitled:

Chapter Numbers (1-40, as a general starting point))
In Which... (here I spell out what the main drive of the scene will be, for example: In Which our hero attempts to drive off the zombies but finds it is hard to do with only a shrimp fork))
Notes (here I'll put any quick notes I think will be pertinent to the scene)

That's my entire outline... enough of a skeletal frame to keep me going forward, but leaving me free to write the actual chapters from moment to moment without killing the desire to write.

Again, this is just what works for me, but I hope it's something that may help some of you find a path to finishing your stories too!

*Not to be confused with Pandora's Closet, the fantasy anthology I'm in that's on sale NOW!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Interview: Jessica Wade- Associate Editor, Ace/Roc

Well, it's been a week of excitement here at League Headquarters, what with the launch and all. Now it's time for something new to the blog. Here is the first of many upcoming interviews that the League will be doing with various professionals in the publishing field, professionals too foolhardy not to talk to us. Jessica is smart as a whip and funny to boot. Anything lacking in this first interview is due more to my slow developing interview skills than anything she has to say. On with the show.

Interview: Jessica Wade- Associate Editor, Ace/Roc

Jessica Wade is not just my editor, she was the first to believe that Dead To Me might actually work as one a title for Ace Books and because of that, she rocks. Jessica came to Berkley as an editorial assistant in 2004, and was promoted to Assistant Editor in June 2006. In March 2007 she acquired Dead To Me, which I am sure she considers the high point of her career. In the lull before my Feb 26th, 2008 pub date, her only other accolade to keep her going was her August 2007 promotion to the position of Associate Editor for both Ace and Roc. She has, against her better judgment, agreed to answer several pressing interview questions for me.

1. When not busy reflecting on the awesomeness of my writing, tell me what a typical day constitutes for you as an Associate editor. Well after my morning session of reflection about the brilliance of *ahem* all my writers, there are lots of things that can take up my day. I go to a lot of meetings and talk about books. I look at copy and covers and send out copy-edited manuscripts and page proofs. I answer an average of 57.35 emails. I read submissions and edit books too, but a lot of that happens at home after hours and on weekends...

2. Vampires and things that go bump in the night have not seen such popularity since the days of Vlad the Impaler. Do you think this is simply a trend? If so, what do you think the next big thing will be? I think it's going to be a little robot on robot action, if you know what I mean... Vampires are a trend, but they're certainly a trend with staying power. I think it's great how the initial fascination with vampires ended up buoying this whole trend of urban fantasy, and that's something that's not going away. I think we'll see urban fantasy expanding and exploring new places: both in terms of creatures and new voices. I'd like to seem some historical urban fantasy... that'd be fun.

Also, Anton, regarding the robot-on-robot thing... please see me after class.

3. Clearly you are a woman of superior intelligence, if only for choosing to publish my work. What do you look for when reading a manuscript? What appeals to you?
An original voice telling a story in an original world. A believable, thoroughly built world. Characters that are relatable. A keen sense of language.

You know, the usual.

4. Conversely, when you pick up a manuscript and start reading, what common mistakes or errors make you fling it into the trashcan? Well, I'm not some autocrat who will throw out a submission because my name is spelled wrong (although incidentally, whatever list of editors out there has me as "Jessica Webb," I curse you!), but it is nice to see a well written query letter that clearly states these things: this book is about X, it is X number of words, you could compare it to X. Having glaring spelling or grammar mistakes in a query letter is a bad idea, but the real test is the first page of the manuscript, and the test is whether or not the writing is good. With very rare exceptions, you can tell that from the first page, first paragraph even.

If you want me to be negative, it irritates me to see a letter start "Dear Agent, I am seeking representation for..." And people who start out by saying that their book is a mixture of LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER will generate severe rolling of eyes. Oh, and to people who suggest that we send them a laptop and they'll write us a book-we are on to you.

5. Sci-fi and fantasy both have a lot of common tropes that seem inherent to the genre. What type of cliches make you roll your eyes when you see them in a manuscript? Ha, well obviously eye-rolling is the subject matter du jour. There are lots of cliches, but many cliches work-that's why people use them a lot.

Ok, here's one, but it's kind of irrational and it may not bug anyone else. When SF novels have their characters referring to "vid" and "vid screens." For the love of Pete, the word video has been in use since the 50's. Has anyone ever asked you to come over to their house to "watch a vid"? I didn't think so, because you would probably punch them, right? So why would we call it "vid" in the future?

That said, there are probably many eminent novelists using vid all over town... and no one else cares. Just me... just little old me...

6. Given the volume of material coming into a major publishing house, do you ever get the time to give any constructive criticism to writers who are hopeful but clearly not ready for publication?
Very occasionally. Not as often as I'd like to, but if there's real promise I'd be silly not to let people know that. Even if I don't have time to critique, I'll tell people that I do want to see more from them. That's why having a writers' group that you trust can be really helpful.

7. Let's pretend for a moment that people are coming to the League of Reluctant Adults and actually reading this. Then let's say they're writers. Writers without agents. How would you suggest they go about getting their work read?
Ace and Roc do take unsolicited submissions, and I can think of two authors since I've been here that we bought from unsolicited submissions. The email address is and people can send a query letter and a synopsis and paste the first ten pages of their book.

But trying to find an agent is certainly a good idea. Check out the back of books you love and see if the agent is mentioned. Go find the Literary Marketplace guide and see who represents authors who write things similar to what you write. Write a good query letter, go to conventions, try to get short fiction published.

8. I'm not above a shameless opportunity to plug myself. What's the best reason people should pre-order Dead To Me?
By gum, you are completely shameless. Because it's funny and full of mystery! And because the guy on the cover is so cute.

Thanks, Jessica! Until next time...

I Walk the Line

So, a co-worker of mine recently asked for a movie recommendation. She wanted something funny. I immediately responded with Napoleon Dynamite, which was quickly seconded by the guy sitting next to me. Love that movie - it's the classic story of a nerd trying to get a girl to the dance. What's not to love?

Everything, apparently - my co-worker came in the next day and glared at me. "How could you recommend that movie? It was pure crap! Not funny at all."

I was mystified. I mean, wow. Napoleon? Not funny? But what about Pedro? The time machine? The casserole-eating llama? Kip? KIP???

To me, Napoleon Dynamite is brilliant (especially the liger, gosh!). My friend absolutely hated it.

Comedy has always been like that - one extreme or the other.

Ask a few of your co-workers if they liked Borat or The Three Stooges. You'll get mixed responses. People either love it, or detest it.

Why? Because a lot of comedy pushes the boundaries of what is comfortable. It likes taking you out of that comfort zone and bringing you to a squicky place, where the nerdy kid gets a wedgie or the bride falls flat on her face walking down the aisle. That's why shows like America's Funniest Home Videos remains on the air after nine bajillion years - people love the horrified laugh. I love Napoleon Dynamite because of the bizarre uncomfortable situations that Napoleon finds himself in, and I laugh while I'm horrified.

But, there is a line. A very thin line. Close to it, you're a genius. Unstoppable! Brilliant!

One step over the line of comfort, and you're a crass jerk. What happened?

Easy - you went too far. You took the person out of the comfort zone. Do that, and you'll kick the reader right out of your story, without meaning to. And once you've gone over that line, baby, there's no going back.

I was reading a book recently by a best-selling author, and enjoying myself immensely. It was funny, light, and utterly cute...until the heroine farted in front of everyone else. Farted*. FARTED! In the middle of this charming book. Immediately, the story went over the line from being adorable and cute to being slapstick. The book lost me at that point and I tossed it aside, never to finish.

And that's really why I think comedy in urban fantasy will never be mainstream (you knew there was a tie-together in here somewhere). Or comedy in any genre, for that matter. Comedy is the ultimate in subjective opinion, because what might be classically funny to one person (Napoleon feeding a llama a casserole) might come across as offensive or just out-and-out dumb to another person. Comedy has to hit that perfect medium, inch close to the line but never go over it. The line is different for everyone because of who you are, how you were brought up, and your life experiences.

Any comedy, especially in publishing, can be difficult - you're starting off with the knowledge that you're going to push someone over the line and they're going to think you're not funny. And we all know that when people don't find you funny, they complain. Loudly. Not everyone will ever get your jokes. That makes it difficult as a novelist, because a good portion of our sales come by word of mouth. One "I bought it and it wasn't funny!" can hurt your career.

Comedy might never win you the scores of rabid fans that an intense, serious story will, but that's okay with me. I'll be smiling the entire time (but not farting).

...dang...I was supposed to give away something, right?

AARRRGH!!! I have nothing to give but my love...and who the heck wants that crap, right?

So, I shall give away an IOU in exchange for the winner of the pimpage. Here's what I ask. You don't have to mention the League on your journal (though I never mind that). What I *do* want from you is your favorite funny movie, and why. Then, include a movie that went 'over the line' for you and why it did so. Feel free to spread the word to get more people to enter.

I will randomly pick the best one (ha ha) and will offer them an IOU. I will owe you one signed copy of SEX STARVED when I get my author copies in (or my ARCs, whichever show up on my door faster and in greater quantity). SEX STARVED is bound to offend someone out there with its over-the-top humor and not-so-veiled sexual innuendo, so it's truly appropriate for this post.

So, show me where your line is!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why do I make them laugh?

So it is my turn to blog about UF and funny. I don't feel like being funny at the moment, but it is my turn, so here we go. I will talk mostly about why I write funny, since I can't really speak for the whole UF genre.

My late mother-in-law worked for a funeral home run by the mafia. At least it used to be run by the mafia, before it was somehow cleaned through financial machinations of staggering complexity and taken public. People at the funeral homes greet tragedy every day, because they deal with death.

Death is one of those few things in life that is final. It's the end of all ends. There is no help for it. If you have lousy credit, you can work hard and pull yourself free. If the love of your life never wants to see you again, you can suffer and survive it. Being fired, losing your house, failing at your mission in life, all those things are devastating but they are only waypoints on a journey. Death is forever.

We are not well-equipped to deal with death. Of all living things on this planet, we are possibly the only species able to comprehend the temporary nature of our existence and the inevitable finality of our departure. Against this awful reality we have very few defenses. We "forget" it's there, push it to the back of our minds. We have love. And we have humor. None of it can stave off death, but it can help us come to terms with it.

The funeral home employees can't conveniently "forget" death like most of us. They may or may not be lucky in love, but they've raised the humor defense to the state of the art. They can see funny in just about everything. And their funny is pretty twisted.

As told to me by mother-in-law, who was barely able to contain her giggling:

"Okay this is going to sound really bad. We had a call today, and apparently, this little old lady, she went outside to drop her trash off. Her trashcan was just off her porch. So she drops her bag into it, but the bag is too big. So the old lady is too lazy to walk off the porch and get the bag to fit into the can. She gets a broom and starts pushing the bag into the trashcan, but it just doesn't want to go in. So she loses her patience, gets a hold of a porch post, and starts stomping the trash bag into the can. The can tips over, she falls and dies stomping trash. With her leg still stuck in the can."

Is it a bit sick? Is it a bit funny? Is it both?

To continue on Stacia's previous post: doing sexy and tough and serious is less risky than doing funny. Especially in UF, where the setting often resembles our reality, but where the world is a sharper, darker, more sinister place. Humor in a world like that is often on the sick side and it hits too close to home.

One step to the left and the readers are repulsed, "It's not funny!" It's funny to me.

One step to the right and they are outraged. "You can't make fun of that." Watch me.

The worlds I create are pretty grim and the problems my heroes face are dire, because nobody wants to read how Prince Charming found Princess Wonderful on page 3 and they happily held hands through the rest of the novel. We read because we want to see the characters overcome adversity. In my messed up universe bad things happen to bad people and good people. Life in the fictional world is often unfair. Death strikes frequently and without warning. That's why my characters are like those funeral home employees, madly cackling over the laziness of a woman who couldn't be bothered to walk off the porch to fix her own trash. They laugh because they have to.

My characters use humor as a shield and as their weapon. Sure, sometimes their version of funny is black gallows humor and sometimes it takes form of blistering sarcasm. When you live in an ugly world, you will get a bit of ugly on yourself. But to me as long as my guys are laughing, they are still alive and there is still hope. They ridicule the powerful, they dare the tough, and the make fun of the pompous, and occasionally they make total assess of themselves. It's more fun that way.

So what do I give away? I will give you a choice: you can have a signed copy of Magic Bites now or you can have an ARC of Magic Burns in November. It is up to you.

What's Comedy, Mommy? Where Does it Come From?

There's a question. Whether we're talking about trying to cram humor into the urban fantasy genre, or just getting our friends to spit Sprite out their noses (or better yet, milk).

I could try to dissect the notion of humor, but that would diminish it, every time. I could tell you that comedy is the gap between the subjective expectation of language and the shock of that broken expectation; that the personal relevance of any written humor is absolutely essential to whether the reader will experience surprise and amusement upon the arrival at the failed expectation. I could. I could say those things. I could fill the page with boring words about a funny topic, but I won't. Author E. B. White (that's him right there) once said that, "Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind."

Comedy is an art. What's funny about a joke is not its construction, no more than what's beautiful about a Monet Water lily is the artist's obsessive brush cleaning.

What I guess I'm saying is this: it was a horrible question for a comedy post, and I'm ashamed. It's not funny at all. Like I said, diminished.

So Mark, you ask. Where can I go to get funny?

Well...I don't know that you can. The stork doesn't tuck funny into Mommy's popo, people. This is learned behavior, or more likely a specific cumulative perspective that may be a bit "off." If you share that perspective with others, you've got a leg up. If not, there are plenty of jokes online.

I will tell you where you can find it. Comedy is in the timing (or the often humiliating lack of it), in understatement, sarcasm and irony. It hides in deliberate ambiguity, embarrassment, being a fish out of water, and finally, dicks and farts (but never penises and flatulence, because those just aren't amusing, at all--except when they are).

Bringing it all back to comedy in urban fantasy, I think when we talk about the two together we're really talking about snark, sarcasm, and a smart ass hero or heroine. This is how it's been for awhile, with few exceptions. That's why I wrote HAPPY HOUR, I wanted to write something with actual comedy elements, setups, and pay offs. I wanted to take urban fantasy characters and make them more like us, clueless, clutzy, and mistake-ridden, even the villains. I hope I've succeeded, because, to me, that shit is funny.

So. That's it.

My first rambling stream of consciousness post here with the League of Reluctant Adults. I'm not even sure I answered the question, or if I'm even qualified. After all, I'm not in the least bit funny. Now, I'm exhausted. I've put far too much thought into a post about comedy. Do you see what I do for you people?

Now, on to what you can do for me * ahem * for us. Us. I'm ready to dust off my prettiest pair of man-panties and be pimped out. As repayment for being my pimp, you may receive this awesome prize package...

Ooo. A signed HAPPY HOUR cover flat (this one's a proof, no blurbs, totally collectible), a copy of everyone's favorite zomedy, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, and probably the most fantastic item of all, a Bop and Beep UglyDoll key chain (made in China, so keep it away from you kids, lest Darwinism go into effect).

Once you've completed your pimpage, make sure to come back and comment to be entered into the drawing.

Pimp away!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dying is Easy...Comedy is Hard

Okay, I've spent like twenty minutes on Google (and when I say "twenty", I mean "two") trying to find out who originally said that, but opinions seem to vary.

So...somebody famous said that, and they were basically right. I mean, I assume so, having never died before. Maybe death is like a really big pop quiz. On current events. And math. I hope it's not on math. I'm not good at math.

But the problem with comedy is, if it's good, it seems easy. People laugh easily, they smile easily. A good joke makes people feel better than anything else (okay, almost anything else. I'm one of those writers Anton mentioned yesterday, where romance bleeds into urban fantasy, because there's boinking. But not funny boinking. Sex-ay boinking. Oh, yes.) But a good joke lasts longer.

We meet people all the time who make us laugh, who are naturally funny. (But maybe they're crying on the inside. Bet you never thought of that, did you?) And we love them for it.

But that doesn't mean we automatically respect them for it. See, people who make us laugh don't take things seriously. And life, as we all know, is supposed to be taken seriously.

Just like fantasy. Because fantasy books are about Majestic Quests and the Battle Between Good and Evil and Perilous Times and Saving The Universe and Important Stuff Like That. We're atalking about big issues, when we talk about fantasy, because let's be honest. If the entire book was about, say, the Battle Between Good and Grumpy, and all that was at stake was one person getting a donut as opposed to a danish and they like both equally but are more in a donut mood that morning, you know, then it really wouldn't be much worth reading.

And it's easy to misstep when you're mixing comedy with drama. It's hard to make people laugh when there's blood everywhere and people have died. (Especially if the knife is still in your hand. Why, I remember one time--OOPS! Never mind. Ha! Ha! Just kidding! See, I joke. That's what I do. I don't slice people up, not ever!)

But see, I just made a joke. Or a few of them. Hopefully you laughed (or at least smiled), but maybe you didn't. And if you didn't, you probably think I stink as a funny writer. It's much easier to forgive someone a sour dramatic note, or a bad line in a book, when it's a Serious Work. But a few jokes fall flat...and you're probably putting the book down.

So I'm resorting to bribes to get you to stick around and see if I can hit your funnybone again (okay, not literally, because that seriously freaking HURTS. I guess comedy is pain. Sigh.)

I know Anton is giving away an ARC of his book, Dead To Me, as a prize to those who pimp us around teh internets. I don't have an ARC, but I do have a prize! A fabulous prize!

It's a magnet! Ooooh.

What does it say? "The Yezer made me do it." What does it mean? The Yezer Ha-Ra is the Hebrew name for that inclination in all of us to do evil, to hate ourselves, to succumb to our desire to sin and create new sins, to give up on life, to dwell on bad memories, etc. In other words, the Yezer Ha-Ra is the Hebrew name for our personal demons.

So don't forget to pimp us out, and be the first to get a magnet! Trust me. As David Ogden Stiers said in Better off Dead, "Everyone's going to have one of these."

Come on...over to the dark side...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Island of Misfit Toys, or Is Funny the Rodney Dangerfield of Speculative Fiction?

"League of Reluctant Adults... assemble!"

(insert clap of thunder here)

It is my honor and privilege to welcome you to blog post numero uno for the website where urban fantasists come to die... err, hang out. If you're here, chances are you showed up on our doorstep for one of several reasons:

1. You're a relative (Hi, Auntie!)

2. One of us forced you to, probably at gunpoint

3. You're interested in writing and wonder just what the hell we funny urban writers do when not screwing around (hint: more screwing around).

4. You're a sincerely twisted fanboy or fangirl interested in wearing one of our faces as a mask while you dance in front of a full length mirror gently whispering "I loved you, I always loved you, but I can't live without you and I won't let you live without me."

In any of those cases, welcome... especially if you qualify for number four. You're exactly the type of committed person I'm looking for to pimp my book series to the world at large. You simply can't buy that kind of loyalty or publicity... so give me a call! If I know you as well as a profiler knows a predator, you already have my number. And probably a lock of my hair.

So my subject today is The Island of Misfit Toys because for me, that's what being a part of the League is. We all wanted a home where writers like us could come to rant, whine, pontificate, what have you. I joined the League simply because as an urban fantasist, I felt like I didn't really fit first. How does my Whedon-esue urban fantasy stack up to epic fantasy or, more pointedly, a boy wizard in England? Where does the humorous urban fantasist fit in the grand scheme of all fantasy writer evah? There's a lot out there. You have your serious fantasy writers- all legitimate sounding. Your epic fantasy writers- I felt intimidated by their sheer volume of work. The science fiction writers- they sounded legitimate because they've got SCIENCE as their backbone for goodness sake! Even romance is co-opting part of our genre, depending on how much boinking goes on. Being part of humorous urban fantasy felt like being the new kid on the block, one without any respect.

Then I had a thought that dispelled my growing neurosis over all this- every genre has this issue. Every last one has a type of strata and as the volume of what is published increases even more subgenres form! Eventually another new genre will pop up and then they'll be low man on the paranoia totem pole! Then we can point our fingers at them and laugh. I found this thought infinitely comforting...

Once, long ago, there was only one primordial pool known as written word. At some point, that divided into the first of subgenres, separating the liars into "fiction" and the non-liars into "non-fiction". See how that works?

But it didn't stop there...

Eventually the fiction writers scoffed at the first guy to tell a story that was just a little too wacky or over the top. To them they gave their own name- fantasy writers. Then they themselves stratified. Only time will tell who the urban fantasist will be able to scoff at... but I think it will be people writing dragon pr0n or Pikachu-Mulder-Optimus Prime threesomes.

For the writers out there, take comfort that we all suffer from the same insecurities, be it no respect or who might be better. I think urban fantasy has just as much paranoia as any other genre. We all wonder how we stack up to others in our related field. Do we hold our own? I say yes, because as writers we're all in the same boat. The grass is never greener as far as I'm concerned. The bond we all share as creators is a healthy dose of worry- that people won't like our work, that people won't take us seriously, that people would rather be reading REAL science fiction and fantasy. We're just as real, only funnier... and more interesting at parties.

The movie industry suffers from this as well. There's that old stigma that a comedy film doesn't hold as much water as a drama, that somehow creating comedy has less merit or is easier. It isn't.

The trick is to ignore your paranoia and keep on writing. If you're successful at eliminating this paranoia altogether, please send me an email. I need to know how to do it. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to put on my big floppy clown shoes and get back to work on my next book.

Who the HELL Do We Think We Are?

We're a bunch of paranormal romance and urban fantasy authors who occasionally blog, make filthy jokes and prowl the halls of conferences and conventions with switchblades!

Current roster: Mario Acevedo, Michele Bardsley, Sonya Bateman, Dakota Cassidy, Carolyn Crane, Molly Harper, Kevin Hearne, Mark Henry, Stacia Kane, Jackie Kessler, J.F. Lewis, Daniel Marks, Richelle Mead, Kelly Meding, Allison Pang, Nicole Peeler, Kat Richardson, Michelle Rowen, Diana Rowland, Jeanne C. Stein, K.A. Stewart, Anton Strout, and Jaye Wells