Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mommy, Where Do Titles Come From?

Anton wanted one of us to go with that title, so I took it. Primarily because I feel compelled to give a top quality answer, and give it the serious consideration and the respect it deserves. So, gather around, shut up and sit on your freakin' quiet mats.

*sighs, lights up crack pipe (just to relax, nothing wrong with that)*

When a writer loves a story very much, like the way I love your mommy (yes. YOUR mommy), the writer thinks and thinks, sucks on pen caps, sometimes gets out of breath from all the strenuous thinking--sweat may be involved--and spits out words all over the top of the story's page. It can really be quite messy. Nine months later--give or take a week--a shiny new title is born.

Now, go take your naps while the grown ups talk titles.

Titles are a bitch, right? It seems like you can come up with a great title and then the story doesn't cooperate, or you've got a story you love and the title just won't pop into your head, or worse yet, onto the page.

I can't help you with the first dilemma--the story either shows its face or it doesn't--but once you've got yourself a decent story, you've got yourself a title. You just have to look for it.

Here's how...
1. Themes. Is there a predominant theme at work? Loss, grief, longing, revenge (oh, if it were only revenge), redemption? Can you work this theme into a title?

2. Character traits. Does your main character have some special trait that you can harvest for a snappy title? I'll bet they do.

3. Try a title generator like this one. Even if you come up with crappy titles, there might be something close to good. Even a little spark can catch fire.

4. Villains! Villains! Villains! They're a great resource for titling. Who you got? Can you elude to their dastardly scheme without giving away the plot? Then do it!

That's it. It's late. I'm tapped.

But, before I go...one more thing...

Title Me

Ah yes, the title. The first thing anyone knows about your book. It has to be pithy. It has to be clever. It has to be dramatic. It has to perfectly encapsulate your whole book in just a few words.

To be honest, I've never had much of a problem with titles. In fact, I actually love titles. I have a whole file of titles I may use someday. I would say nine times out of ten, the title is the first thing that comes to me. And I find I write to the title, or rather, the title shows its perfection to the point that by the end of the book, it fits the book in several different ways.

Take Personal Demons for example. (Well, don't just TAKE it. Buy it, please.) The title came to me first. Wouldn't it be fun to use the old cliche about battling one's personal demons in a new and literal way? Yes, of course it would. So who might do that? Well, it's kind of cheesy to say you'll battle someone's personal demons, so it might be, like, a talk show or radio show, or the title of a book written by a fame-hungry type. Radio could be fun. But a likeable protagonist wouldn't be the type who likes the catchphrase. Ho ho! Now I have instant conflict and a smidgen of character. If my MC was somehow forced into employing the phrase...and the real personal demons heard it...and something about her made them think she was actually capable of destroying them, like maybe she's psychic...

As the book went on I realized more and more situations and characters in the book could fit the title. Megan Chase's demon bodyguards become her "personal demons" in a way. So, possibly, does a demon love interest. And at the end...well, I won't give it away. But one of the most fun and satisfying things about titles is realizing it fits the book in more than one fashion.

Of course, then you have the flipside. You sell your book, and then find out a Very Famous Author of Whom You're a HUGE Fan has given her upcoming book an extremely similar title. Or, as happened with the Personal Demons sequel, you've barely started writing it before you discover another book with that title (The Demon You Know) had just been released. Luckily I came up with another title which fits the book much better, and I'm getting ready to turn The Demon Inside over to my editor in the next week or so.

In fact, I believe my new WIP is the first book I've ever written--with the exception of my awful trunk novel--that did not have a title immediately. Or rather, it did, but the title clearly didn't fit from the start (although I'm keeping the title in my file, because it is cool). So I retitled it "Hidden Spooks", which is AWFUL, and I basically just it slapped on there so I could save the file AS something. The other day I hit on the perfect title, Unholy Ghosts, which I know is perfect because, again, I can think of several ways it fits the book.

That's not to say I wouldn't change a title. I have. Several of my EC books originally had different titles, and I just sold them a novella which needed a new title (which I'll announce on my own blog tomorrow.) Editors know more than me about what sells or how they want to market the book (and in the case of EC, they don't repeat titles, so once I [and my writing partner on that book] had to retitle because someone else had already used mine [ours]. Which I guess would make it THEIRS, but thpppt. MINE! MINE!) One of the first things you learn is not to get too terribly attached to any of your clever wordplay.

Titles are a silly thing to get worked up about, IMO. Much better to wage war over semicolons. I'll go to the mattresses for semicolons. So back off.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Back from the nuptuals

It's late on Monday, but I still have time to get in my blog post!

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for their well wishes on my wedding. The Mrs. and I had an amazing time and my mind is almost back to normal now... well, as normal as I get anyway. Certainly far more normal than Mark Henry.

Speaking of Mark, he picked this week's topic, The Trouble with Tribbles! This is one of my all time favorite episodes of the original Star Trek series! When those cute little furballs start to overrun the ship... hold on a sec, phone's ringing.

That was Mark, calling to correct me. Apparently, this weeks topic is actually The Trouble with Titles!

I don't think I have any great advice on this, actually, so I wish we were going for Star Trek, but alas!

I'm hit with the inspiration for a title at different parts of any given project. Here's a sampling:

"Lady in Red" from Pandora's Closet- I knew I wanted to do a modern day Red Riding Hood story with a twist and my unnatural love of Chris De Burgh and his song stylings came through.

Dead To Me- Due out on 2/26/08, this title hit me pretty early on when all I knew was that my book had a ghost lady, a paranormal investigator and was set in a quirky New York. I wasn't familiar with Tony Soprano saying it until this past year when I finally watched the entire run of the show, but the title just hit me one day. It was too perfect.. it just fit a lot of ideas in the book on several levels, and I was surprised that no one had actually used it yet. After all, I work for a publisher that does Undead & Unwed, Dead Over Heels, Dead Until Dawn... you get the idea. Some people didn't like it at first, but the important people did, and I never lost faith in it...

"The Fourteenth Virtue" from The Dimension Next Door (Fall 08)- I knew I wanted to do a story about the secret necromantic life of Benjamin Franklin (who doesn't, right?). Had no idea for a title... but while researching Franklin's life, I came across this set of ideals he chose to live his life by called The Thirteen Virtues. Then I wondered what if there was just one more, one that spoke of his true dark nature...

Dead To Me 2- Ok, I'm almost done with the first draft on book two of the series and honestly, I don't have a name for it. Part of me is toying with Deader Still, but honestly it makes me groan a little. Plus it doesn't quite capture what's going on in the series right now, anyway. I'm not too worried. If it doesn't hit me, chances are my editor will come up with something. That's what happens a lot of times, anyways. Editors make the call on what to title a lot of books simply because they have a better array of experience in making a book happen in the first place. We shall see what develops on this front...

Untitled mainstream novel- my passion project right now is about a punk band past their prime and coping. Not sure what it will turn out to be, but right now it's tentatively titled Unfortunate Son simply because I'm not sure what it will end up as.

So don't sweat it if you don't have a title right away. It'll come naturally from the actual writing of the story. And it could be worse... sometimes you have the title, but no good story ever comes of it!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Untitled IV - Where it all comes to a grisly end.

Under her palm, Gabe choked. Once, twice. His eyes rolled wildly in his head as he stared at her melting face, his limbs thrashing as he tried to get away.

Hell, it was just her luck to get a pantywaist groom. She leaned over him and hissed, "If you don't want me to pluck out your eyeballs and shove them up your arse, you'll drink."

He drank. She felt his lips move against her palm again. Good. One less thing to worry about.

Cordelia turned back to Samuel and scowled, not moving her hand from Gabe's mouth as the party-goers disintegrated into puddles of human goo around them. "Just what do you think you're doing? Don't you know this is every girl's special day?"

"You mean, every ghoul?" Samuel gave her a toothy smile, displaying his fangs.

Oh, ha ha. Like this was the time for a joke. Her Vera Wang had puke and pus all over it thanks to his theatrics. "Why are you here, Samuel?"

"Shouldn't you call me 'Master' right about now?" He pointed at his feet. "I'm waiting for you to grovel. Now. Go on and tell me that you're sorry and I won't destroy you."

Her skin twitched all over. A messy clump of what was left of Jennifer slid off her shoulder as she fought for control. The urge to go to her master and beg was strong, despite the anti-control potion she'd been swigging for the past few hours to relieve the call. She had the rest of it tucked away in her garter, but she doubted it was enough to remedy the situation for more than a minute or two.

But, if she didn't obey Samuel, he'd make her pay for the next three hundred years. Some submissive sex, some torture, a lot of apologizing and catering to his needs, and cooking.

God. She hated cooking.

Cordelia hesitated. She felt Gabe's lips move against her palm, whispering Jennifer's name. An idea bloomed - would it work? Did she have a choice?

She leaned over Gabe, ignoring the wet squelch of her 'borrowed' flesh against his. "Repeat after me," she crooned softly in his ear, stroking his cheek as he shuddered. "I, Gabriel Cannon, take Cordelia Le Morte as my wife. I promise to love, honor, and cherish her."

"Cordelia," Samuel said, striding over, his voice hard and angry. "What are you doing?"

Oh, please please please let this work.

"I, Gabriel Cannon, take Cordelia Le Morte as my wife," Gabe whispered in her ear. His body clenched against hers, the spasms overtaking him as her blood began to work. "Love...honor...cherish..."

Close enough. In a triumphant rush, she looked back to Samuel. Her lips twisting in a smug smile as she recited the last part of the spell. "I, Cordelia Le Morte, take Gabriel Cannon as my husband for now and forever more. I promise to love, honor, and obey." She said the last note in a shout.

Samuel stopped in place. "Damn." He studied her for a minute, then sighed. "It's so hard to get ghoul help these days." With an irritated twist of his mouth, he vaporized and disappeared, leaving her alone with Gabe. The horrible pulling sensation stopped abruptly, replaced by a loosey-goosey sense of freedom.

Yes! Yes! It was working! She was free! Free from 300 years of bad puns!

Cordelia struggled to her feet in the layers of bouffant satin, ignoring Gabe as he rocked with shudders, choking on his own saliva. She was too busy staring at the carnage around her with glee. Okay, so most of her friends and Gabriel's relatives had died in some sort of slushy human puree. They'd ruined her dress and she'd spent a fortune on the wedding. And what was left of Jennifer was dissolving off of her too rapidly to fix - she'd have to get a new identity.

But she didn't care. Her plan had worked. She was free! After three hundred years of servitude, free!

"Jenn...Cordelia," a voice said behind her, weak.

She turned.

Gabe had managed to get to his feet, staring at her with inhuman eyes. Before, they'd been such a pretty, innocent blue. So charming on a handsome man. Now, they were marbled with the putrid green of her blood, and his mouth gleamed with slime. He jerked, shuddering from the after-effects of her taint. "What did you do to me?"

She picked up a white linen napkin from the table and turned it inside out to find a clean spot, then began to mop her dissolving shoulder. "I had to use you to break my master's hold over me. I hope you understand. Nothing personal."

"Why me?"

Because you're delectably biddable and I'll be able to rule over you. Oh, and you have a long ding dong. "You're cute."

He flexed his hands, staring at the veins in them as they bulged, showing green under his healthy tan. "And me? What am I now?"

Cordelia waved a hand negligently. "Nothing important." No sense in telling him.

"Tell me."

She felt the stirrings of compulsion and frowned as she was forced to answer. "You're a zombie lord."

"And you're a zombie?"

"Something like that."

A smile crossed his face - a very un-sweet, un-Gabe smile. "And I'm your master."

Cordelia wasn't smiling any more. "Something like that," she repeated.

He eyed her, his smile growing wider. "I'm very mad at you, you know. You've stolen my sweet, gentle bride away from me and destroyed my friends."

Funny, he didn't look mad. "Don't forget your family. They got nuked too."

"I always hated Uncle Bob." He flexed his arm, watching his green-rippled muscle bulge through the tuxedo. "I'm strong now."

She studied her manicure with a forced yawn, trying not to seem to concerned. "Is this going somewhere? Because I really have to be on my way..."

He pointed to the floor in a chilling manner. "Kneel."

No! No! She knelt in a puddle of Aunt Selma, irritated that he'd make her obey in her pretty dress. "Gabe, let's be reasonable here," she said, a nervous laugh creeping out of her throat.

He moved forward, his body jerking as he accustomed to his transformation. "So how can I punish you for deceiving me?" He touched her chin lightly. "I'd say I'm mad but I confess I'm rather liking the power rushing through my veins."

She remained silent.

Gabe tilted her face up so her gaze would meet his. "You know they say a marriage always changes things."

No kidding, she wanted to scream. Gone was her sweet, biddable Southern boy. This man was more like...well, more like Samuel. Maybe it was the curse that made them all into screaming alpha-male zombies.

"Tell me what you hate more than anything," he demanded.

"You." When he waited, she groaned. Crap. "All right, all right. Cooking," she ground out.

He laughed, a shredded-sounding noise. "Perfect. I know just what you'll be doing for the next few hundred years. How does 'barefoot and in the kitchen' sound to you?"

It kind of sounded like she should have stuck with Samuel.


Untitled, Part III - why do I somehow always end up with Oh, Crap! part of the story?

A piercing shriek of claws against stone slashed through the church. People clamped their hands over their ears. The sound died as abruptly as it started and in the ensuing silence a raspy male voice sang out, "Cordeeeelia..."

Fear skittered down Cordelia's spine, piercing her skin with icy claws.

The doors of the church clanged shut.

She glared at the minister. "Finish it!"

He just stared at the ceiling, his eyes bulging from their orbits, mouth gaping. Sweat broke at his hairline.

The thing from the ceiling dropped into the aisle and sat there, an ugly twisted creature of mummified skin and dried muscle. Its baleful white eyes fixed on Cordelia. It stretched. Huge yellow talons clawed the carpet, leaving ragged tears in the fabric.

She snapped her teeth. The beast flipped backward, leapt across the aisle to the double doors, and sat there.

A dull thud echoed the church - the mother of the groom fainted. The minister flung the bible to the floor and scrambled away, past her, running to the exit, his robes tangling his feet.

The thing at the door snarled, snapping its serrated fangs. The minister halted, unsure, and just stood there, inches from freedom, so close yet so far.

"Oh Cordelia." The voice came again, chiding, indulgent. "Why do you treat me so bad?"

Cordelia whipped around and saw him, perched on the railing of the second floor balcony. Her heart skipped a bit.

His black dreadlocks framed his deathly pale face like a nest of snakes. His face, despite the ugly scars of runes branded into his cheeks, mesmerized her the way it had done long ago. He was inhumanly beautiful. As he sat there, perched above the sheer drop, his lean body clad in black leather, he seemed a fallen angel sans his wings.


His blue eyes shone with power. She clenched at Gabe, afraid she would lose herself and ran down the aisle to claw those blue eyes out of his head.

Gabe crushed her to him. His voice shook. "I don't know who this Cordelia is, but this is my wedding. Get the hell out."

Samuel ignored him. "Have I not been kind? Everything you ever wanted, everything you ever wished for, I had provided. I've kept you alive for three hundred years. All I ever asked for was loyalty. And this is how you repay me?"

Cordelia ground her teeth.

"Why?" Samuel shook his head. "What is it you want?"

"Freedom," she snapped. "Freedom from you!"

"And so you decided to get it by marrying this poor sod?"

"Jennifer, what is he talking about?" Gabe clenched her arm.

Samuel laughed like a crow. He rose from his crouch in one fluid motion, his arms spread wide, a mockery of the crucifix at the opposite wall. A cloud of green spores burst from him. Cordelia watched it billow in horror.

"Hold on to your bride, boy. This party is about to get a lot more interesting."

The minister was the first to go. The cloud swept past him. He twisted, seized by a spasm. His eyes rolled into his head. His throat bulged. Blood erupted from his mouth and gut in a crimson spray, drenching the carpet. He toppled forward like a log.

People screamed.

Cordelia ripped at her palm with her nails, grabbed Gabe by his neck and dragged him down to the floor. Too stunned to resist, he made a small strangled noise. She pressed her bloody palm to his lips. "Drink! Drink, damn you, drink if you want to live!"

He gasped and swallowed as the wedding party died and kept drinking, even as Jennifer's skin she had so painstakingly stripped from the dead girl disintegrated from Cordelia's body, drained by the blood loss.

The minister's bloated body jerked. Slowly he struggled upright, his lifeless eyes staring into space. The telltale zombie scent - cloying, sickeningly sweet and tinted with odd bitterness - claimed the church.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Untitled Part Two

A sharp rapping at the door interrupted Cordelia's eavesdropping of the arriving guests. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could eek out a syllable, Shandi Jones barreled into the room. She of the blistering red lava hair, pocked skin and unfortunate orangutan arms, the bridesmaid gown did nothing for her; its subtle pumpkin shade on such a slinky sheath made the girl look like a lit Halloween candle, a taper; one Cordelia would have liked to douse, at that.

"What're you doin' up here? Cold feet?" Shandi plopped down at the dressing table, pulled off her heels and picked at her hammertoes ferociously. "You're not going to dart are you? End up at some abortion clinic in Tuscaloosa, running through a picket line just to fix a mistake." Her eyes glassed. She was far away.

Cordelia didn't want to imagine where.

"No. Of course not." She nudged the door to the wardrobe closed with her toe. "I'm just relishing in the moment, that's all."

"You got condiments up here? They been lookin' for them big jars of mustard down at the Grange hall. Grandma and Joann and--"

"No. I'm enjoying the quiet. That's what I mean. The quiet." Cordelia glanced outside. The smokers at the corner of the church butted their cigarettes and made their way to the door. In the distance, clouds rolled in, thick and violet, heavy with flood rains and electricity, a storm for her special day. A gift.

"Well, it's time to get down there." Shandi crammed her feet into the shoes and clopped off down the hall. "I'll tell 'em you're comin'!"

She joined Shandi and the rest of the bridesmaids and groomsmen in the entry hall of the old church. The sanctuary doors were closed but the waller of impatient guests crept through every crack. Mrs. Grubner arranged the pairs with the care she afforded fall tubers, which is to say, none at all. She pushed, shoved, snatched and grabbed until they were all happy to file off toward the altar--if for no other reason, than to escape the wedding planner's reign of terror.

Cordelia admired Grubner's work ethic, her lack of people skills was all the more endearing. After another quick slug from the flask, she gave her dress a final fluff, snatched her bouquet from the planner, and marched down the aisle toward Gabe.


The guests melted into the background and thunder clapped.

They would be so happy, she thought. That was all she'd ever hoped for. All she ever wanted. He reached for her hand and wrapped it in his, drawing her close to his side. A shiver rolled through her. His eyes calmed her, warming her more than the elixir.

It would have been the perfect wedding, but halfway through the vows, a scream cut through the church. A guttural warble exploded from the upper floors, echoing through the empty spaces in between.

Cordelia didn't need to guess which room, and the scream was likely Grubner's. She was the only one not absolutely mortified and pointing at the ceiling--just when she was starting to like the old bitch, too. Neither did she need to guess what the old woman had found. Cordelia knew only too well.

She pivoted back to the minister. "Finish this," she demanded. "Quick."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Part One

Cordelia trailed her fingers down the cracked wooden windowframe. The excited chatter of the guests arriving below sounded like carrion-eating birds who'd just stumbled upon a dead body in the desert.
They smiled, though. At least most of them did. The groom's mother looked as though someone had just given her a bag of poo to hold instead of a corsage in a plastic case.
Whatever. Once the ceremony was over it wouldn't matter anymore. None of their opinions would, their petty, miserable small-town thoughts, their upturned noses.
"Ow!" A splinter sank into the pad of her right index finger. She stepped away from the window and examined it, squeezing gently. A single drop of dark red blood appeared, like a jewel set on ivory silk.
Ivory silk like her dress. If she wasn't careful she'd get blood on it, and how would that look? She hadn't spent twelve grand at Vera Wang just to walk down the aisle looking like a zombie.
The thought made Cordelia smile. She sucked the finger, nibbling at the splinter until it came free, then kept sucking simply because it was fun.
From the tower above her came the ringing of church bells, echoing through the building and shaking the furniture in the tiny room. She grabbed hold of the dresser and held on tight, waiting for it to stop. Getting prepared for a wedding was nerve-wracking enough without distractions like that. Stupid bells.
"I told you, I don't think--"
"Oh, Mama, I wish you'd just stop. It ain't your business, is it?"
Cordelia froze. What were people doing outside the door? This was her sanctuary, her room, her place to prepare. Nobody was supposed to be up here. They were ruining her special day.
Ten to one it was the groom's mother, come up here to snoop. Bitch. Cordelia darted into the wardrobe in case the two women decided to have their private chat somewhere more private. Like this room.
They didn't. Their snippy little voices continued on down the hall until they disappeared.
Good thing she'd ducked in here, though. She'd almost forgotten her garter. Carefully she removed it from the--well, from the place where it was, she didn't want to think too much about that--and slipped it up her leg. Perfect. Now she just needed a little shot, maybe, to calm her nerves, and she could put on her shoes.
The glass was dusty. Typical. It didn't seem anyone even bothered to clean up here anymore. She wiped it out as best she could with the doily covering the top of the dresser and poured in some of the special blend she carried in her flask. Such a lovely shade of dark green, that was. And so tasty too, once one grew accustomed to it.
Her image in the mirror grinned back at her as she raised the glass. "To weddings," she said, then downed the shot. Heat blossomed in her stomach and points lower. Ah. Just what she needed to get herself really moving.
Tissue paper rustled as she pulled the silver sandals out and slipped them on. A perfect fit, even if the heel was still too low, no matter what anyone said.
Last came the veil, a stiff bundle of ivory tulle. What a fire hazard these things were, really. But it was expected, so she put it on carefully and checked her reflection in the grimy mirror.
Perfect. Absolutely perfect. The sharp teeth of the comb felt like they were denting her head, but it would stay on until it was time to take it off.
Cordelia licked her lips. What a fun time that would be.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Anton's the Marrying Kind

Mark here. I'm stepping in for Anton to offer up a big CONGRATULATIONS to our favorite male urban fantasy writer (that isn't me). You see Anton got married this weekend, and is off on his honeymoon.

Honeymoon (noun): A celebratory "first" vacation for the newly married couple, in which carnal pleasures are entertained and physical union (coitus) seals the bond of matrimony. In past centuries, the "wedding night" was followed by the symbolic bleaching of the sheets. Due to diminished standards this latter element has become a rarity.

For our purposes, suffice it to say, it's Business Time...

Congratulations Anton! May your future be full of Wednesdays.

Signed Mark, Stacia, Ilona, and Jill


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Weekend Interview: John Levitt

Musician, party-guy and all around dog lover, John Levitt was kind enough to sit down with me and go over some of the tough questions about his first urban fantasy release, DOG DAYS. It's available from Ace in paperback on October 30th. Just the sort of thing you want for Halloween, right?

Keep reading as I ask John the truly hard questions...

So John, what's the premise of DOG DAYS?
That there are those among us who have special talents, who are practitioners of magic. Most people are unaware of their existence, but it's not a true "secret society," just very much below the radar. Mason, a jazz musician who has mostly abandoned magic, is forced to come out of his self imposed retirement when he and friends become targeted by unknown enemies. Bad things happen. In the end, Mason solves the mystery and of course, saves his own ass as well.

His companion, Lou, is a small dog -- only not exactly a dog. A few practitioners have magical companions who take the shape of small animals, usually cats or dogs. Lou can't talk or transform himself or actually do anything "magical," but he does occasionally save Mason's bacon. Which is his favorite snack. He basically steals every scene in the book.

Were you born with a 'pen in your hand' like most authors claim, or did you pick up writing later?

Both. I used to sit in the back of physics class in high school and write short stories, much to the annoyance of the teacher. I edited the school literary magazine. Then I went to college, discovered drugs and rock and roll, and quit writing until many years later.

How did you get into the publishing game? Agent? Slush? How many rejections did you get?

My first attempt was a non-fiction memoir about my seven years as a cop. I got an agent through a personal recommendation. (Don't you hate that.) That was some years ago and it was easier then. He couldn't place the book, but several publishers liked the writing and mentioned they’d be interested in seeing a mystery if I wanted to try my hand at fiction. So I did, and sold a mystery/thriller and a sequel. Then I stopped writing again, for boring and irrelevant reasons.

My agent had retired by the time I wrote Dog Days, and he didn't handle fantasy anyway. With my publishing credits and my story, I was confident I'd have no trouble finding another. Poor naive me. I received an embarrassing number of form rejections for my query letter. Also an embarrassing number of rejections off partials. I had a few fulls out; same results. Most of them said, "I really like the writing, but..."
It took me almost a year to sign with an agent, Caitlin Blasdell, who is great. She helped me tweak the plot a bit, and then it only took her a month to sell it.

What was the most difficult part of the publishing journey for you so far?

Getting an agent, hands down.

What's been the most exciting part of the publishing journey so far?
Meeting other published authors and being accepted "into the club." Shallow of me, I admit.

What one item do you think is absolutely essential for the up-and-coming author?
A thick skin. Rejection and criticism go with the territory.

The hot guy on your cover. Is it just me, or does he resemble Constantine from American Idol?
You're not the first to say that. What a horrible thought. Johnny Depp, maybe.

What about the tattoo on Constantine's arm on the cover? Part of the story?
Not originally The cover artist, Don Sipely, threw it in during an excess of creative frenzy. I had to backstory a mention of it into the copy edits. Now it even has a place in the sequel -- it has great significance, but I'm not sure yet exactly what that might be.

What made you decide to include a magical dog in your book?
He just showed up, very early, out of nowhere. Just like a real dog. Of course, he's not exactly a dog. And I figured people like magic, people like dogs. How can I lose?

Did you pick your title? Can we help you pick titles for your sequel? I'm thinking Dog House or Dog Breath.
I picked the title. Your suggestions for the next title are brilliant, to be sure, but I think I'll try to go it on my own. I'm actually thinking of going with the "days" theme more than the "dog" theme. The working title is Dark Days, though these days I might consider Dog Tired.

Your novel mixes music and magic both together. Are you SURE that's not Constantine on your cover?
I want to amend my previous answer about the most difficult part of publishing. It's not the agent search; it's having an American Idol cover boy. As a musician I tend see music as a metaphor for all sorts of creative pursuits, and magic is definitely creative.

Your MC, Mason, is a jazz musician. Do you play music as well?
I do. I'm a jazz musician myself, but nowhere as good as Mason. Right now I play guitar in a pop/rock band in San Francisco, The Procrastinistas. Writing is satisfying, but music is fun.

What's your book in a nutshell?
People disappoint, dogs rule, magic doesn't make life any easier.

Do you think you have an uphill climb with urban fantasy because you have a protagonist that doesn't wear high heels? Or is that a silly myth?
Yes and no. A large part of the readership for urban fantasy is women, and they relate to a kick ass female protagonist. Most of the successful UF writers are women as well, and they mostly write female protagonists. On the other hand, Jim Butcher hasn't had much trouble selling books. I see a lot more male authors coming into the UF genre these days, as well as women like Rob Thurman who write male characters. And the book is set in San Francisco, so the high heels motif is still not totally out of the question.

Tell me something I might not know about your book from the blurb and cover.
It's actually pretty amusing. Terrible things happen, but there's also a lot of humor.

So what's the sequel about? When does it come out?
The sequel is tentatively set for fall of 2008. Again, Mason is confronted with bad things happening to fellow magical practitioners, only this time, he has even less of a clue as to who's responsible. It's a touch darker, and of course once again, the "dog" saves the day.

Is DOG DAYS your first completed novel? If not, how many have you written?
I wrote two previous mystery/thrillers, as J.R. Levitt. Dog Days is my first fantasy.

Thank you so much, John, for enduring my Constantine questions and title suggestions. *g* For those of you that want to know more, DOG DAYS comes out on October 31st. You can pre-order it HERE on Amazon, and you can visit John's website HERE.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lead With Your Voice

I'm sure by now that it's been drilled into everyone's head that queries are business letters. You start with your formal address, you make your business statement, you move on to the product that you are selling, and you wrap with your polite close and thank the reader for their time.

The thing that I *wish* that we emphasized? Voice voice voice. Because really, it makes or breaks your query.

I don't consider myself a genius of the English language. I barely know enough grammar or spelling to keep myself out of trouble. I'm pretty sure I end sentences with dangling participles and such. So I feel like I have to make people look past those sorts of things.

And to start, I'm going to show you my query letter. This is the one that landed me my agent and eventually a publishing contract.

I am seeking representation for my 98,000 word paranormal, SEX STARVED.

Jackie Brighton has died, but she hasn't gone to Heaven. Thanks to some supernatural interference, the dorky museum docent has been reborn as a succubus--a sex vampire. Now she never has to sleep, has the body of a supermodel, and must have sex every two days to feed the 'Itch' -- quite a change from her crappy old lifestyle of pointing out museum paintings to tour groups.

But Jackie learns that the eternal life of a 'Suck'...does. Literally. And it's more than just the relationship troubles that a constantly horny immortal would have. She'll do anything to skip out on having the requisite sex with strangers...but in doing so, ends up blackmailed into running errands for the Heavenly Host. All she needs to do is get her hands on a
missing halo before the vampire queen does and she'll have control of the situation (and her raging hormones). Of course, choosing sides in a celestial turf war means that she also has to make a choice between the men in her (After)life: the handsome, brooding fallen angel or the dangerous and witty vampire.

I like to think of this novel as 'Stephanie Plum meets Anita Blake', combining both a sarcastic first-person point of view and the darker, sexier elements of paranormal fiction. Would you be interested in seeing more?

Thank you for your time.

Slobbering Author

Let's dissect this puppy for a minute. I'm sure there's some grammar errors in there, and going back and re-reading makes me cringe a little. It's not the most original storyline - Yet Another Vampire Story as I've heard bandied around. That's ok. That's the story I wanted to tell.

You'll notice I had no publishing credits or endless paragraphs describing how perfect my agent is for me. At the time, I was a dumbass and didn't know much about my agent other than a friend said "OMG he's brilliant!" and the credentials that were listed on Publisher's Weekly (Note, please do more research than my ignorant slob self).

But this sort of thing should give you hope - you don't HAVE to have a great inside track sometimes. You don't have to know an editor or be previously published. And while it took me a little longer to get around the bend than say, the fabulous Mark Henry who had a book deal in a week (cough), I still got there.

I credit 100% of the success of my query letter to the voice that it's written in. I pitched it as light, funny paranormal a la Stephanie Plum but with vampires and smut. I used words like 'dorky' and 'suck' and 'horny'. Not something you'd normally see in a business letter, right?

But that's the exact same voice that my book is written in, so why wouldn't I use that same voice to pitch it?

Mind you, let's think about this for a minute. My letter isn't going to click with every agent out there. Someone's going to look at my slang and put my letter firmly in the trash. Some of you out there might be cringing at the use of 'horny' in a business letter. I'm right there with ya. But the thing is...if they don't like it in my letter, why the heck would they want to peddle a book about a goofball sex vampire?

They wouldn't.

So, let's play with the letter a little. Let's reword one of the paragraphs.

Jackie Brighton is a hard-working docent with some bad luck. She was reborn as a hot succubus and must have sex every two days thanks to her new 'masters'. Being a sexy immortal wasn't what she planned - Jackie wanted to be an archaeologist up until the day that her luck changed.

A bit of an extreme example, but the key elements of the story are still there - Jackie gets changed, she must have sex every 2 days, and she was a history nerd. So why is she suddenly so damn boring? It's all in word choice. I've sucked all the life out of the story with some poor word choice and a few vague adjectives.

Let's play with this a bit more.

Jackie Brighton dies violently in a back alley one dark night after a man takes advantage of her. Now, eternally damned to wander the earth as a succubus, awkward Jackie is devastated that she must now hunt down men to have sex.

Now we're into 'way different' story here. I like the word 'devastated' as a describer...but that's not my story at all. The Jackie of paragraph three catches my attention, but the story sounds grim and violent. Not like my slyly sarcastic dork at all. And if an agent asked to see my book based on paragraph three, they sure wouldn't understand the funny, sexy book that I sent them.

And you don't want agents to say "OMGWTFBBQ." You want "ZOMG! WANT!"

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why Are You Asking Me? I don't know Nuthin....

Note: Before you write a query for your first manuscript, the manuscript should be finished. :)

For the purposes of my example I will be using an imaginary finished manuscript, the break down of which can be seen on my live journal.*

I am not a query expert. I only wrote two. One was for the old incarnation of Lost Dog and it was awful and years ago and I have no clue what it said. One was for the Magic Bites and basically if you see the back of the book, a lot of it was from my query.

So not an authority here.

But anyway, here goes: imho, a query should marry internal and external conflicts.

:inserts Ken labeled External Conflict and Barbie labeled Internal Conflict and puts them together, making kissy noises:**

Conflict is interesting. Problems are interesting. Characters are interesting. Worldbuilding... I say pick one or two flashiest elements and stick them in there.***

So characters. We are going to go with Bob and Poopsie. We always go with Bob and Poopsie on the livejournal, no need to change horses in midstream. So let's summarize them..

Bob is a shapeshifter who can transform himself into a monstrous nasty. He is so violent and scary, even other shapeshifters are scared. Eee! Bob also has another power: he can camouflage himself to blend with his surroundings. He does not advertise this power. Bob works for Super Seven, a shapeshifter-for-hire outfit of corporate research thieves. Bob hates mutants: Mutants, Rawr! Kill! But Bob is very attracted to Poopsie.

Poopsie is a mutant who can cloud minds, putting a person in the state of a "fog", making them very focused inward. They stop fighting and just sort of shuffle along zombie-like. Poopsie is also extremely good with numbers. She is not a field operative in a sense that she never enters physical fights and would not have a chance against a shapeshifter or a well trained person. Poppsie is a girly girl. Poopsie works for Alternative Defense, a mutant counter-thief group, which hires out to defend corporations against theft. Poopsie hates shapeshifters because she is suppose to hate them - all the other mutants do, and she thinks stealing is immoral. Poopsie is very attracted to Bob.

External conflict: Bob's group and Poopsie's group are hired by rival corporations. Bob's group's attempt to steal data results in data being compromised. The owner of data panics and brings in an elite group of assassins who nuke everybody. Bob and Poopsie, the only surviving members, must get revenge and stop the bad corporation because further development of their data threatens the fate of humanity.

Internal conflict: Bob and Poopsie fall in love but they can’t be together. Because they are still in the hating mode and there is revenge to take care of.

Setting: futuristic, not too far in the future.

Query time:

Draft one:

In a world where corporations wield power and battle each other for superiority, even a small advantage could mean a difference between life and death (Oh life and death, dramatic.) Bob has such an advantage: a powerful shapeshifter, he can assume a form of a beast so terrifying, even other shapeshifters stay out of his way. Together with a small group of shapeshifter, Bob works as thief-for-hire, stealing corporate data for the highest bidder.

Poopsie is a mutant with a power to cloud minds, an invaluable employee of the Alternative defense, a mutant security force contracted to protect Rugged Consortium from corporate theft. Shapeshifters and mutants are frequent adversaries. The hate between them is years old (change this, what years old? Like two years?), and as they clash, violence blooms in a predictable pattern.

But when the data is compromised, and a team of lethal assassins with supermagic powers (okay I know I will have rewrite this so might as well have fun) wipes out both shapeshifters and mutants, leaving only Bob and Poopsie as sole survivors, they fight crime, no they make hot, hot buttsecks, no they get hot revenge… Bleah.


Draft Two, try try again:

In the near future, corporations battle each other for supremacy, hiring elite thieves to procure their competitors' research. Bob is such a thief, employed by Shadow Seven, a premier corporate espionage firm. A powerful shapeshifter, he can assume the form of a beast so terrifying, even his shapeshifter colleagues stay out of his way. When Shadow Seven is hired to acquire sensitive research from Rugged Consortium, he doesn't worry, not even when he learns that Alternative Defense, an elite security firm, defends his target.

Poopsie is woman with the power to cloud human minds. An invaluable member of Alternative Defense, she prides herself on her morality and despises thieves, especially the Shadow Seven, who successfully frustrated Alternative Defense twice. Her job is her life and more than anything she wants to give Shadow Seven a taste of their own medicine.

But as both groups clash and violence blooms, a third player enters the scene. Inhuman warriors, lethal, merciless, precise, slaughter both shapeshifters and mutants alike. Lone survivors, Bob and Poopsie must join forces to survive and avenge their friends. In their search for justice, they find a secret so dark it threatens the very survival of the human race. They can set aside years of hate to work together, but can they shrug off passion for each other that endangers them both?

Well lookit, ended up with a paranormal romance. That's what happens when writing query for imaginary manuscript.

Okay this is serviceable as is - not great, but workable - but I would probably put it aside for about 24-48 hours and revisit it. Since we kind of have a topic thing going, I will probably post a continuation on my blog if come around to it J

Basically it needs to be whittled away at and fixed to maximize the show-off factor. For example, Bob is driven by loyalty to his dead comrades, you could play off on there is honor among thieves adage, etc.

So now that we have our summary, we glue it into a query:

Dear Editor/Agent (Name! And get the salutation right! No Mr. Elizabeth Agent, please)

I very much enjoyed X,Y,Z books and noticed that the author thanked you in Acknowledgments. I have great admiration for your work (do not lie here, do your research) and I hope to have a chance to work with you. I am seeking representation for my paranormal romance, Honor Among Thieves, complete at 125,000 words.

In the near future, corporations battle each other for supremacy, hiring elite thieves to procure their competitors' research. Bob is such a thief, employed by Shadow Seven, a premier corporate espionage firm. A powerful shapeshifter, he can assume the form of a beast so terrifying, even his shapeshifter colleagues stay out of his way. When Shadow Seven is hired to acquire sensitive research from Rugged Consortium, he doesn't worry, not even when he learns that Alternative Defense, an elite security firm, defends his target.

Poopsie is woman with the power to cloud human minds. An invaluable member of Alternative Defense, she prides herself on her morality and despises thieves, especially the Shadow Seven, who successfully frustrated Alternative Defense twice. Her job is her life and more than anything she wants to give Shadow Seven a taste of their own medicine.

But as both groups clash and violence blooms, a third player enters the scene. Inhuman warriors, lethal, merciless, precise, slaughter both shapeshifters and mutants alike. Lone survivors, Bob and Poopsie must join forces to survive and avenge their friends. In their search for justice, they find a secret so dark it threatens the very survival of the human race. They can set aside years of hate to work together, but can they shrug off passion for each other that endangers them both?

My publishing credits include two urban fantasy novels in Kate Daniels series. Or, if one hasn’t been published yet, "I'm an active member of the Online Writing Workshop for Fantasy and Science Fiction and my work has been twice distinguished as Editor's Choice. Or something or other.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit my work for you consideration,

Ilona Andrews.

This is how I would do it. Not sure if it's right.

Should I write the first chapter and post it for kicks?

*No the stuff there does not make any sense either

**Oh look I even worked anatomical innuendo in there. Honestly, why do you hang around with me?

*** I think people tend to stress out entirely too much about queries.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Selling Your Soul With Style*

Rather than run the risk of repeating Anton and Stacia, I'm going to take a different tangent. Since the only successful query letter I've written was basically a threat (I've got an offer coming in are you in? I could go somewhere else. You're in?), I'm no expert. Over time though, this stuff just sinks in.

Let's take some time to prepare for writing your query letter. Assuming you've already edited the shit out of your manuscript and the writing's tight as the ketchup cap in my fridge (permanently attached to the bottle at this point), you should probably get your work out to some agents. What do you need to know?

1. Know Your Genre

You'd be surprised how many people I've met (or maybe you wouldn't), who, when asked what genre they write, say, "It's sort of a hybrid of sci-fi/fantasy and mystery, with comedy elements. Oh and it's inspirational like The Celestine Prophecy. I think it'd probably be shelved in mainstream fiction." Yeah. No. No. That book isn't getting shelved anywhere, except that round recepticle with the mold spots in the bottom. I can't stress enough the need to figure out where your book fits into this whole publishing world. If you don't know, how can anyone else?

Exercise: Field trip to the bookstore. Take a look at books that are similar to yours. Where are they shelved?

2. Know Your Target

While you're at the bookstore, you're going to find some agents to send that query letter out to. Check the acknowledgment sections of those same books that are like yours. Authors tend to thank their agents. It's something about getting us our money. I think. No ones really sure. We just do. So take advantage, write those names down. Look them up later on the internet, or in the Writer's Market (but don't buy it or your stock will plummet). You'll want to mention that you like their client so-and-so's book in your query, so this bit's important. Check out Publisher's Marketplace, there's a subscription fee, but it'll show you who's selling what and in some cases for how much (roughly), then you can cancel after a month of researching. Still cheaper than buying the Writer's Market.

3. Know Your Story Structure

Before you actually write that letter, you better know how to describe story structure, even if you don't actually describe it in the query. The biggest problem with hooks (and manuscripts for that matter) is a clear lack of understanding of classic story structure. What sets the story in motion? What is the conflict? Is there escalation? Climax? Resolution? Is there an apotheosis? Joseph Campbell is a great source for story structure, so are certain Russian gentlemen.

4. Get Crass and Sell

This last one's self explanatory. Sure you're a creative artsy f*cker. We all are. But, when it's time to sell, it's time to sell, and publishing is a business, first and foremost. Look at your work from a marketing standpoint. What are the selling points. You may not write these in the query, but you should know them. They'll help you define your hook (what are the best parts, what aren't).

Now you're ready to write your query letter. Simple as that. Be sure to breathe. That's also important.

*This post brought to you by mental exhaustion. I'll not be held responsible for bad grammar after midnight.

The workmanlike query

Everyone seems to panic when it comes to queries, and I've never really understood it. Sorry. I realize this makes me a bitch. But I can't help it.

The thing is, a query is simply an introduction to your book. It tells someone what the book is about and who you are. Yes, it should be well-written. No, it should not contain anywhere the following phrases:

* "or you'll be sorry"
* "Harry Potter"
* "Lord of the Rings"
* "my Mom/Dad/sister/cousin/best friend said it's the best book they ever read" (unless said family member is a bestseller and/or litereary award winner)
* "guaranteed bestseller"
* "will make a great movie"
* "the squirrels helped me write it"

But really, that leaves you a pretty decent amount of leeway. Here's what you want:

1. Opening line. Do not make this a question. Just say something like, "I am seeking representation for my 82,000 word urban fantasy novel Personal Demons and think you may enjoy it", or something along those lines (inserting your own word count, genre, and title, of course.) It's good if you know something about the agent, or the editor. "I loved Book X, which you edited or represented, and it made me think you might enjoy my book" is good. But don't go on and on. Just say what you have to say.

2. Hook. This huge page of Miss Snark's hook archives should help you there, but essentially, you're just saying what your book is about. What makes it unique, in storytelling form. For example, here's a quick one I just came up with for a famous book:

When a young, naive girl is offered the hand of rich, handsome widower Maxim de Winter in marriage, she jumps at the chance. Practical considerations aside, she's fallen deeply in love with him, and can't wait to start her new life as mistress of Manderley, his ancestral mansion.

But life at Manderley isn't all she hoped. Reminders of Maxim's first wife Rebecca, who died under tragic circumstances, are everywhere, asserting an authority over the house from beyond the grave. The housekeeper delights in making our heroine look and feel foolish. And Maxim seems like a different person. As the shadows over Manderley grow longer, our heroine learns that some mysteries should never be solved...and some ghosts refuse to be laid to rest.

Now, this isn't perfect, by any means. Certainly if this were my book I might have different things about the story I wanted to emphasise--more Mrs. Danvers, maybe, or more of what's-his-name, the guy who had the affair with Rebecca, or the boathouse, or whatever. It's difficult to write a hook without using the heroine's name (but of course the heroine in Rebecca doesn't have one.) If I were actually sending it out I would play with the phrases a bit, edit it up, maybe add a little more about the heroine's shyness and insecurities.

But this is a starting off point. It says what the book is about, at its core. This is a book about a woman who marries a man and ends up in his creepy house while everything changes and she's haunted by the spectre of a dead woman. This is a template you can work with. Don't be afraid of it. You should be able to say what your book is about in one sentence, if you have to. Here you have ten or so. It takes some time and some messing about, yes, but it really isn't that hard. I promise.

(By the way, I highly recommend this as a writing exercise. Pick some of your favorite books and write hooks for them. It helps you pick out what's important when you're not as emotionally involved.)

3. A list of credits. Say what you can. Don't make stuff up. Don't use a self-published or Publishamerica book, they're not credits. And if you don't have any, don't sweat it. It's fine to say, "My work as a [bricklayer] has taught me how to be [patient and meticulous] and that really helped when writing this book". Or eliminate the paragraph altogether, that's fine too. If you wrote a historical, say how many books you read in researching it. If you wrote about a hospital and you're a nurse, say so.

But don't mention your dog, your cat, your children (unless the book relates osmehow to children), your spouse (unless your spouse is famous or has the disease you're writing about), or your hobbies (again, unless they're relevant.)

And that's all. It's pretty basic. You can play with the structure. You can pull out all the tricks in your little writing trick box to make that hook shine and sparkle, but in essence, it's just a couple of paragraphs, and you have plenty of time to polish it. I start writing basic hooks when I start the book, and I keep it simmering in the back of my mind off and on during the writing.

You know your story. You've told your story. You can certainly write a couple of little paragraphs!

And don't forget to check out Evil Editor for his hysterical query critiques as well. Definitely worth bookmarking.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Queries are queer

It's Monday, I'm feeling saucy, so time to change the weekly topic for this blog. This week we'll each be discussing the much dreaded query letter. Ooh spooky... just in time for Halloween!

What to do, how to do it, where we've gone wrong, what mistakes we see others make. Here's a few of my thoughts on this elusive beast, drawn from my years working inside a large publishing house. Hope you find something useful, although some of these may seem like no-brainers to our super-literati LRA readers!

Be polite and be reasonable. Don't write that your book IS THE END ALL BE ALL BOOK THAT U MUST PUBLISH OMG WTF BBQ!!! IF U MISS OUT ON THIS GRT OPP, YOU ARE AN IDIOT EDITOR/AGENT AND I HATE YOU FOREVER!!! While writing is an art, it's also a business, and if you plan on selling your work, treat it as the latter.

Get to the point. Don't be overly creative/clever with your query letter. A lot of fledgling writers gut reaction is to stand out from the pack this way, but fight this at all costs. Be businesslike and let the work speak for itself. The more professional your approach, the better.

For instance, don't submit your work using wacky fonts. A query sent in with the Star Trek font will get noticed all right, but in the bad straight-to-the garbage or hey-come-over-here-and-see-what-this-whack-job-did way. Also, don't send gifts-it only comes off desperate and kinda creepy. You don't know the editor or agent. Be honest with yourself... it's a bit suck up, don't you think? You want to stand out, but for all the right reasons. Being clever in your letter with tricks or gimmicks isn't one of them.

Editors and agents have a very clear idea of what they want to know about you and your work so do your homework. Check the criteria they ask for at their websites and follow it. Most of the major publishers list what they want to see at their websites, as I believe Jessica Wade mentioned for Ace and Roc in my Sept. interview with her (go find it, slackers!) Don't think that you'll stand out if you break their submission rules to get noticed. You will stand out, but only by pissing them off.

If you're wondering how you're ever going to summarize your book down to just a paragraph or two for your query letter, pick up any book you own. Read the jacket copy on the back where it describes the book. Succinct, to the point, and probably starts with a nice hook line to, well, get the reader hooked. Read a bunch of them to see how some of your favorites have been boiled down. This is what you need to do when summarizing your own work, although it may seem unfathomable to distill your 600 page epic down to a paragraph or two. Tough. You have to do it.

Also, mention any writing credits you may have, even if they are in another arena. Okay, I suppose if you’re applying to write for the 700 Club newsletter, you could probably skip mentioning your Mulder/Ash from Evil Dead slash fic, but don't feel bad saying that you won the creative writing award for your school newspaper senior year. Editors and agents know you might not have the best (or any) resume. The first time author might not have a lot to put down as a n00b, but any writing accolade is usually good to mention. At the very least it shows that you can complete a piece of work or make deadlines, and that makes you come across as far more serious about your writing.

That's enough out of me. I'm sure we're gonna see some other great ideas from the rest of the League this week, so stay tuned, y'all!

OMG, I got Meljean Brook on our blog! Holy Crap!


Meljean rocks. She writes these incredible books that are at once smart, violent and sexy as hell (or heaven, depending on where the characters are at the moment). When I read Demon Angel, I had a moment of outright envy over Lilith. I sat there and thought, why can't I write like that?

It took me weeks of bribing, cajoling, and pleading (not really, I just emailed and said, "Come do interview with me!" and she said, "Okay!" but it is more dramatic this way) but my Russian mind control powers prevailed. I have Meljean on the blog. Squuuuuuuuuuueeeeeeeeee!

1. Is it true you were discovered because you wrote fanfic?

It's true. I'd been writing Batman/Wonder Woman shipfics for a while, but I'd begun straying more and more often to alternate universe fics, so I realized I wasn't really using those characters anymore, and it was time to move on to my own work. So I began writing the early version of Demon Angel, and I was about 30K words into it when I got an e-mail from Cindy Hwang at Berkley. She'd read my fanfic and the first three chapters of Demon Angel that I had put up online, and wanted to talk.

So I pretty much just died on the spot, because I knew who she was -- I'd already had a list of editors I'd love to submit to, and she was right at the top.

2. Who is hotter, Batman or Nightwing and why?

Considering that I wrote Batman/Wonder Woman fanfic, it seems a no-brainer that it's Batman. He's dark, broody, a billionaire, and can beat a thug unconscious with his pinkie toe (Batman's, not the thug's.) But ...

Dude has issues. Sure, Dick Grayson has issues, too -- but Batman has Issues. There's something about "slightly psychotic" that decreases the overall hotness factor, and unless you're a princess from an island of women, a thief in a catsuit, or the daughter of an immortal megalomaniac, not the kind of issues a normal woman can take on and come out alive (or at least, not turned into a robot.)

And although I bet they'd both be ferocious in the sack, something tells me a part of Bruce wouldn't always be _there_ there; Dick would be, and that's much hotter.

3. Lilith (Demon Angel) and Savi (Demon Moon) are both assertive,confident, and when occasion requires, violent women. Yet at the sametime they are passionate and unashamed of their sexuality, making themstand out from the other romance heroines. Their inner strength was whatfirst attracted me to your books. Did you consciously made the decisionnot to write to the stereotype or was it the case of characters simplydeveloping, as the characters often do?

I think we all hope that our characters won't fit any stereotype, and write with the intention of making them unique -- and I'm a firm believer that careful and complex characterization will create a unique character, every single time. That said, I didn't know everything about them until I started writing them, and they began as sketchy characters easily contained by a couple of words.

Lilith, for example -- when I began the story, almost everything was the same: she was a demon FBI agent who'd had a reluctant friendship with a Guardian until he fell. She was strong and kickass, but it was all surface -- there wasn't much depth beyond a strong-and-kickass heroine with a wicked side and a few morals.

But writing the story, I was able to get under her skin, to tease out the vulnerabilities -- and to see how she really worked. Her sexuality was a big part of it; she'd used it for thousands of years to bring out the worst in people, so she was comfortable with it and aware of its power. It wouldn't have made any sense to make her uncertain or timid, and to need Hugh to teach her about sex. Sex with Hugh represented something different to her than she'd known before, definitely -- but it was the emotional rather than the physical aspects of it that left her vulnerable.

Savi and Lilith are very different characters in so many ways, but one thing they have in common is that they know themselves pretty well (even if they lie to themselves) -- and I think that lends them a lot of inner strength ... or, if not strength, stability in character. I'm not interested in writing characters who aren't -- on some level -- self aware. Not that characters can't learn about themselves or change over the course of the story (and I hope they do) or that other characters can't see things about them that they don't, but that they are confident and sure of themselves, and not pushed around and buffeted about by other characters.

We all know what happens to leaves on the wind -- they get a harpoon through the chest.

4. If you ever received an offer for the production of graphic novel based on your work, who would you like to draw it?

Oh, geez. Alan Davis, maybe. I fell in love with his work in JLA: The Nail -- it's so clean and laid out beautifully. Would it be dark enough, though? Hmm. Steve Dillon, maybe, who worked on Preacher -- there's another gorgeous book. Or Nicola Scott, whose work I've only recently been following, but I think her pencils are just amazing, and her women are strong without being totally cheesecake.

But if I wanted it to sell like crazy, I'd go for Jim Lee. His touch seems to be pure gold.

5. What is the third book about? (Third book: Demon Night, go look at the cover, it's awesome.)

Demon Night is about Charlie Newcomb, a recovering alcoholic and former opera singer who vampires have decided would be a tasty snack (but who are motivated by nefarious, um, motives). Drifter is a Guardian assigned to protect Charlie, and he's been pulling a Clark Kent for the past two months, living as her neighbor without revealing his secret identity. And there's Charlie's sister, who works for Legion Laboratories (hmm, what kind of beings might call their corporation Legion? *grin* Yeah, I'm not a subtle writer), a new kind of demon in town, vampires, cars being thrown off bridges and Ford F-150s dropping out of the sky, lots of blood, a jaunt to Hell, and lots and lots of sex.

6. Do you ever get embarrassed while writing sex scenes? (I always get embarrassed.)

I write mine while I'm sitting in Starbucks.

I actually enjoy writing sex scenes. Not for the sicko reasons, of which there are several, but I kind of approach them as I would a fight scene -- the physical movements, but also the risks: what are the risks, how does their style of fighting/lovemaking (how far they take it) reveal about their characters, what is it going to change? So it's a lot of fun, and if I squirm a little, that just means I’m doing a good job.

Now, if someone looked over my shoulder, I probably would get embarrassed. But I do at every part of the story -- even during the most innocent scenes, I freak out if someone reads it as I write it.

7. When we meet at a con, and I come and impose on you and drag you away from the legion of screaming fans to buy you a drink, what drink would you like?

Anything caffeinated. If I'm not jittery, then I'm probably sleeping --and I'm so shy it's difficult enough for me to talk even when I'm awake. So, dump me full of coffee, Diet Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper (or all of them at once) and I'll be ready and open for all kinds of imposition
*wink wink*

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Advice from me? On writing? Surely you jest.

Since my novel has been pushed so far out (Spring 2009, baybee) it feels weird for me to offer writing advice. After all, it won't be two or six months before my book comes out...it will be EIGHTEEN. How will you possibly know if I'm full of bollocks until then?

So, I thought I'd share what I poached from the late, great Barbara Cartland.

Yes, Barbara Cartland. She who lived like a gaudy princess of old and wrote nine bajillion of these little babies like in the picture (and say what you will about those old regency romances, but I friggin love those! No Barbara hate in the comments!).

Barbara said that the best way to write a quick read was to remember that the reader gets bored with long paragraphs. The eye slows down and wanders over very thick passages. To keep the action quick and the pace lively, make your paragraphs short.

I totally live by this.

Here's an example of how breaking up your text makes a difference. I'll even quote my upcoming Sex Starved novel (lawd, aren't I shameless) as an example:

"Good morning. I'm Jackie Brighton, the tour docent. Are you read-"

I had to break off because the man was staring at me with the most unnerving look on his face.

"Hi," he whispered after a rather long moment.

"Um, hi." There was always one weirdo, I thought with irritation, and tried again. "I'll be the docent for your trip through our museum. Think you could gather your students around and we could get started, Mister..." I waited patiently for a name.

He put his left hand in his pocket as I spoke, and when it emerged, it was ringless, with a nice white tan line where a wedding band should go.

Real cute.

I like to think that it moves fairly fast. There's no place for the eyeball to really sit for a spell and rest and relax. The story is zooming past it. Now, you could clump all the punchy statements into the same paragraph, but you're still going to have some breaks in there, because there's dialogue - back and forth interaction - between characters.


Trust me, I've written the hundred page self-exploratory trek through the woods where the character talks to no one but herself (the reader isn't fooled, btw; this still isn't dialogue). This is boring as hell to the reader. Trust me. There has got to be interaction, and in my (big fat) opinion, conversationally so.

Ever seen a book where one character just busts out into a litany of conversation and everyone around him sits and nods? Does this happen all the time in real life? Are you chatting with your girlfriends and suddenly you launch into a twenty minute conversation (not spiel) about the history of the city you live in? No? So why do your characters do it?

Short and punchy, my friends. And conversational. It's the only way to keep us easily distracted people hooked.

And mind you, this little trick won't work for everyone - heck, it may not suit you at all - but I live by it. CARTLAND FTW!

Writing trick: characters

Hi guys.

I had a really tough day at work, so my post today will be a bit shorter than I planned. I will have to ask you to help me out to make it interesting.

I looked through the questions you guys left on my lj. I'll try to do my best :)

Character descriptions

Two things to keep in mind, when it comes to characters. First, when most people remember characters, they only recall one or two character traits. Of these two character traits, one will be primary and the other secondary. These two character traits often do not describe physical appearance. This seems like a contradiction, but follow me for the time being.

Let's take Three Musketeers. Some wonderful characterization there. How about physical traits? Let's see, I'm thinking of a character who is of average height and handsome. Well, that's no good. They are all of average height and handsome, mostly.

How about handsome and in good physical shape? Nope, doesn't work either. How about elegant and brooding? That's most likely Atos. What about "young and passionate"? Well, that's obviously d'Artagnian.

Let's do another one. I'm thinking of the Pirates of the Carribean. Young and handsome. Well, it could be Will. Or it could be James Norrighton. He is sort of young and handsome. It could be Elizabeth Swann for all we know. A woman can be handsome.

How about young and idealistic? Will Turner.

Dark and crazy? Jack Sparrow

Steadfast and honorable? James Norrington.

What changed? We added a psychological characteristic. We evaluated the character. We let a little bit of the personality show. And that brings us to point number two: when describing a character it helps to remember who is looking at him.

Your view point character is like a compass. He helps the reader navigate through your narrative. We know who is good and who is bad, because the view point character helps us decide. So as your protagonist goes through the story, use him to evaluate people he meets.

To summarize: pick one or two dominant traits to help "tag" the character in the reader's mind and keep in mind the emotion your main character will feel.

I just had a distinct feeling I'm spouting nonsense. I really am a bit tired.

Let's have some fun:

Bob is a spear carrier. We want him to dramatically die later and we want the reader to feel his loss. But we only have a paragraph to describe him.

Bob stood at the entrance, leaning lightly on his spear. He had an easy smile and warm eyes and every morning, as Poopsie passed through the gates dreading the stuffy corridors and snide remarks awaiting him in the Palace staff bureau, Bob always waved at him. "Don't let the toads get you down today." Part of Poopsie knew it was a corny thing to say, but a larger part of him was grateful, for he knew that even if his day was completely black, he had a least one friend.

Okay so I cheated a bit by throwing Poopsie's characterization in there too, but the fact remains: if I say, easy smile, warm eyes, nice guy, the reader will likely think Bob. I tagged him. And I made it painful to kill him. Because if it doesn't hurt a little bit, even when you're killing a villain, you might want to go back and rework the characterization a bit. Characters tend to grow on you and when they don't, well, there might be a problem.

What I described here is just the most basic groundwork, the very bones of the character on which you can layer and layer until you flesh them out. *

So to make y'all work and help me make sense of this post, I challenge you to pick a character from your work and give him/her Aunt Hilda.

The character can either a) love and like Aunt Hilda, b) love but be driven batty by her, or c) dislike her.

Describe Aunt Hilda in one paragraph and we all will try to guess how the character feels toward her from your description.


*On my livejournal at http://ilona_andrews.livejournal.com there is a snippet of a confrontation between two characters. One I tagged big and opportunistic and the other tagged blond,deadly, and frightening. I was playing with archetypes, so sue me :P It took me forever to work through that scene but you can sort of see how tagging a character translates into bigger things. It probably won't make much sense, but keep in mind, we're looking at character work only.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mud Wrestling with Your Character (the Literary Kind)

I've been instructed to tackle this subject by certain people who've read HAPPY HOUR OF THE DAMNED and think I'm particularly good at fleshing out characters. What's tricky about this subject is I don't really have a method.

What I am is an observer.

Of life, body language, tone, inflection, accent, expression, scent, image. I'm an eavesdropper, too and a soul stealer.

And you've got to be, too.

Building character requires an eye for detail that most people just don't have. Do you ever notice when you're walking through the mall, people--as a whole--are transfixed by their own personal dramas. They internalize and dwell, cutting them off from really looking at the world around them. You could--and do try this--have the filthiest conversation and not be noticed by the vast majority of people you pass. There'll be some that turn and make eye contact. Those are the observers.

If you're not one, this takes work to correct, much like a child's lazy eye (and believe me you want to fix that--because ick, honestly). Luckily, a writer can build his/her observation skills through practice. Have a seat at the mall food court--I'm obsessed with malls today, for some odd reason--with a pad of paper and take some notes. Listen to how people talk, their pauses, what they do with their bodies. Describe the way they look. Extrapolate. Look at yourself. What cues do you give to your feelings, thoughts?

Of course, character is not built simply in the external description. It's a culmination of many things, just like our own character. History. Religion. Politics. Childhood traumas.

Which leads me to...

The writer expresses characterization in two ways: directly and indirectly. Direct characterization is the imparting of physical attributes and personality traits through a tell, like so...
The blonde woman was an asshole.
While the statement may be true--the woman may, in fact, be both blonde and an asshole--it's clean, but since when has that been any fun (except when it is, but that's comedy structure, and we're not going there). What you want to do is get muddy. Indirect characterization is way more fun to write and read. I do very little direct characterization in my writing. I rely on inner thoughts, dialogue and action to connect my characters to the reader.

Like so...
Gabrielle slid into the booth, flipped a wave of blonde hair over her shoulder and snapped for the waitress. She wondered if the ditzy looking Mexican shuffling over could speak English let alone take a drink order.

"I'll have a Sapphire and tonic, now, and one in twenty minutes." Her finger stabbed the air between them. "I'm timing you, too. So make it quick, Consuelo. I know you bitches are slow. Go on now. Andalay."
See? That blonde woman really was an asshole. She's also opinionated, a racist, and possibly alcoholic. She drinks top shelf alcohol so she's not concerned with expense. Hate her though you may, she's decisive, knows what she wants, and how to get it.

But how did I get there? What are the elements of characterization? In this example, it's all about sharp verbs, ugly inner thoughts and cruel dialogue. Presto. Asshole, without having to say it.

Here's a tip: Create a Bio for each of your characters, fill it with physical, psychological, and vocal attributes, demographics, back story, and such. This will help to keep you on track when writing that character. It gets you down in the mud with them, rolling around, developing some intimacy. It's essential, come to think of it. Plus, it'll come in handy for the sequel.

Especially when you're writing first person. Whoever said that genre fiction isn't character driven, couldn't have been referring to first person novels. As far as I'm concerned, first person is all character all the time. Even within the description, I never leave the voice. Never. It's my battle cry.


That's all I'm going to say. I'm not sure if it's a coherent piece or not. And I certainly can't imagine why you should follow my advice. Except that I do know a little bit, and it works for me. It did feel a bit like reitterating yesterday, so I'll toss in an extra.

Extra: Brackets, people! These little Godsends of geometry have saved me from many occasions [add flowery wording about writers block]. While writing your manuscript, you'll undoubtedly hit a snag, something that stops you dead and makes you ponder for hours on end. Well with brackets, you can simply skip the section and move on.

[transition to end of Mud Wrestling piece]

BY THE WAY: My final hold out from the pimp contest, STEFF, has yet to email me with her address. Does anyone know the gal? Send her my way, please.

Ciao Bellas

Got a tip for you, Skip


(Yeah, I know, it's actually from The Graduate. But I'm quoting from Valley Girl. Because...um...well, just because.)

So when people ask me for writing tips and tricks, I usually just laugh at them. Because, seriously, you're asking me?

But then I relent, and I give them some. Especially if they offer to pay me. You guys aren't paying me, but that's okay. I like you, so I'll share some tricks I've picked up.

**Active verbs. This is something it seems to take a long time to pick up. When you use an active verb, you can avoid the adverb. For example, instead of saying "He walked quickly" you can say "He strode" or "He sped" or "He trotted". All of those verbs imply something more than walking. They give us an idea of how he walks, what he's thinking, what kind of character he is, even. Always use the most concise wording you can. Nobody likes to slog through five sentences just so a character can reach the door.

**Avoid "that" whenever you can. The first thing I edit for is "that". The table that stood by the door, the things that he thought, the gun that he carried, the panties that she wore...(hey, this is what I write, okay?) Nine times out of ten, "that" is a junk word. Remove it and the sentence flows more smoothly, reads better. (The exception is dialogue, where people tend to use "that" more, and it can help to establish character.)

**Something should always be happening. Always. Information should be passed along. Lives should be in jeopardy. People should be having sex (again, we're talking about my work here, but I like sex in books, so I'm urging you to, um, put it in.) Someone should be throwing up or shooting up or giving up (except waking up. Limit waking-up scenes if you can.) If you can pass information along while any of the above things are happening, that's even better (technically, every scene should pass along some sort of information anyway.) Even if you're giving your characters (and your readers) a bit of a break so they can do necessary things like get drunk (well, it's necessary in my books) some sort of tension should still be there, some hint of action should simmer beneath the surface. The reader should feel all hell could break loose at any minute.

Like Anton, I'm particularly proud of my dialogue and feel it's the one thing I can say I write well. What he said was absolutely correct (in all things, but I'm writing specifically about his dialogue tips.) I just want to add to it. Pay as much attention to what your characters don't say as what they do say. I have a character who has never once uttered the word "sorry", not in any form. He does not apologize. Never. I don't expect readers to notice as they read that he's never said sorry, but at some point he just might say it, and when he does they'll notice. Not to mention what that shows about his character. He also hides behind words, using only the most bland terms of endearment in English but saying romantic things in other languages--one of which is even a code for something else. It wasn't a conscious choice until later when I realized he was doing it. Now it is a conscious choice and it showed me a lot about him and his need to protect himself emotionally. Again, it's not something I expect the readers to consciously pick up on--but if they think about it, they will.

Now I could have explained it. I could have had the heroine think about it, but I haven't. She realizes it because she's not stupid, but because she hides too she doesn't examine it. But discussing it (um, like I'm doing here) brings it to light, and shows off my little tricks. It makes it something people will look for, and I don't want that. So forget I mentioned it, but keep it in mind, because what people hide when they speak is just as important as what they reveal. They may have a way of pausing before they talk, because they stuttered as a child or because they're afraid people will ignore them. Or it could be that they're very, very careful about what they say and so stop to think about every word that leaves their mouth. What would that tell you about someone, who had to be so careful? Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a character so careful suddenly throw caution to the wind and just talk? How emotionally wrought would they have to be? How emotional would that make the scene?

What about smeone especially verbose who suddenly clammed up? What about someone faking a language or dialect to fit in? There's all kinds of things dialogue can show us, far more than just telling us "So-and-so liked to keep his feelings to himself". You have an entire book to show us; hint and we have a lot more fun.

And shouldn't reading be fun?

(BTW, a quick aside: Thanks to the intermittent Royal Mail strikes we've been having for the last few months and will continue to have, my magnets are delayed. FYI, winners.)

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