Sunday, December 26, 2010

Thanks for nothing, Santa


We're in the festive doldrums (i.e., hangover) between Christmas and New Years.


Before starting the Christmas recap, let's give a shout out to Anthony Garcia, the Artistic Director at El Centro Su Teatro. Anthony was chosen as the Theater Person of the Year by the Denver Post. He got extra points for those glasses.













We give another shout out, this one to Terry Wright, who's published The Beauty Queen, A Justin Graves Series thriller.










So how was your Christmas? While we're supposed to receive every gift with gratitude and warm hearts...still, we can get some crap. From KDVR.com, they offer this roundup of the Worst Christmas Gifts Ever.

Our faves:


A package of ground beef.


A frozen TV dinner.




Any Xmas horror gift stories to share?

See you next year.

Cheers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reindeer Games

[Originally posted: December 23, 2002]

It was in a dark and dingy bar, far from the North Pole and obscured from the city's self-knowledge by a veil of shame and hopelessness. I just came in to use the phone--honest.

I sidled in, keeping a hand on my bag, and leaned on the bar, trying to attract the bartender's attention. The place was so dark that, at first, I didn't realize the patron next to me was a deer. A reindeer, in fact. He had a large, red nose, which resembled a Christmas light-bulb. It wasn't lit, but he sure was. He was knocking back what appeared to be his fifth or sixth glass of Old St. Nick--rot-gut whiskey I wouldn't pour for a junkyard dog.

He looked at me and began to talk, which would have surprised me, if I could have been further surprised after seeing a large ruminant sitting on a bar stool in a low-life bar. Now, I'm not in the habit of listening to sob-stories in drinking establishments, but, as I tried to attract the bartender, the deer began to tell his tale. I sat myself down and listened as he rambled on. Here's what he told me:

I see you're lookin' at my nose. Yeah, it's big and red, and yeah, I'm a drunk, but that ain't why it's red. It's the other way around, see? I'm a drunk 'cause of my nose. See, long ago I was a sleek, young buck with a nice, little, furry-flapped nose like every other reindeer. Surprises you, don't it? Yep, I'm a reindeer. Used to run for the Big Guy--y'know: Santa Claus.

But let me tell you, it ain't all fun and reindeer games up at the North Pole. No, siree-bob! Let me begin at the beginning. See, when I was just a young buck, Santa's Elves came around to all the herds, recruiting. Had a bunch of nice flyers and it sounded real good. Easy hours, only one performance a year, educational benefits, room and board, health care and retirement benefits. Now, let me tell ya that when you're wandering the frozen tundra, that sounds like easy street. So I signed up.

For a while, I was just a second-stringer. Hangin' around, hoping for my big break. I used to talk to all of the other reindeer, trying to get pointers, but some of them where kind of stand-offish. Then, I got my chance: Charlie retired. Never heard of Charlie? Well, you'd have called him Rudolph. See, the team has positions for each name and when you take the job, well, you become the name. You didn't really think they were the same deer, did you? Reindeer don't live that long. It's kind of like Ronald Mac Donald. So, y'know, everybody's been replaced a time or two. And some of 'em--well, you wouldn't believe what they're really like.

Let me tell ya', it's rough up there; nothing but wall-to-wall guys, except for Vixen. You could have called her a lot worse than that. But, really, can you blame her? The only girl deer in a herd of eight guys? Not that she had anything to do with Prancer and Dancer, 'cause those two were getting along just fine together, if you know what I mean.

And the elves, man, let me tell you! What a bunch. They used to wear these little pointy-toed shoes until that movie came out. Y'know: Lord of the Rings? Then they all got uppity and started wearing long hair and soft-soled boots so you couldn't hear 'em sneaking up on ya. Used to frighten the hay out of us, and then laugh like crazy. Nasty.

But, so, anyway, back to Charlie. See, when Charlie retired, Santa needed a new Rudolph and I wanted to make the first string so bad, I didn't care about the surgery. It was all gonna be OK, right? I mean, the health care was gonna take care of it and I was gonna be Santa's Number-One Deer. I was gonna be in gravy and I might even get into Vixen's stall, if you catch my drift. Gravy: boy, there's irony for ya.

So I get the surgery and everything's going pretty good. Heck, I even went for the high-tech, laser-pointer nose option. Every year we get a nice card from Charlie from some exotic place like Madagascar, or whatever. "Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here." Yeah....

Then, one year, things have been going OK, when I get sick. So I go to call in, but I can't remember the back office number. So I call the main number. And what do I get? I get Santa's phone tree! And what do I hear?

"To speak to Santa, press one; to speak to an elf, press two; to order venison products, please stay on the line...."

Venison products!

And suddenly it all falls into place for me. I mean, why didn't I see it before? I mean, this is the frickin' North Pole, fer cryin' out loud! How does a guy running a business on his own manage to weigh three-hundred pounds in that kind of weather without a supermarket nearby? Let me tell you, it sure ain't his wife's cooking. That woman could burn water. He puts away a lot of milk and cookies every Christmas, but it sure ain't enough to keep up that bulk all year. Hell, no!

But every year, somebody "retires." Somebody like Charlie. I was walkin' around in a dead guy's nose! "Wish you were here...." Yeah, more like "wish you were a hero sandwich!"

I needed to get out, but I was too sick to crawl. It was two days to Christmas and I was in deep kimchee. I knew Santa's dirty secret. And I knew I'd be the next Rudolph to "retire". I lay low and tried to build up my strength....

But on Christmas Eve, the worst happened: there was a knock at the door and when I opened it, I could barely see Santa for the fog which had socked us in like poisoned cotton candy.

And y'know what he says to me? Yeah, I can see it in your face: you know. He says, "Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

I know what I should have done. I know what the smart thing would have been, but I panicked. All I could see was that smiling, jolly old elf, fat and happy on roast leg of Charlie!

"Fuck you, Fat-Man!" I screamed and I ran for the back door!

I was out and across the field, into the woods and gone in five seconds flat. But I knew they'd be coming after me: the Elves! The elves with their silent boots and long streaming hair and bows!

Bows, I tell ya! I should have realized it earlier. They all had bows, just like that elf in Lord of the Rings--what's his name? Leg-o-lamb? That's how they got Charlie! Silently, in the night....

But, my nose was shining like a beacon, that treacherous, traitorous nose! The nose I thought was gonna make my fortune was leading my death right to me! So I ran for the nearest bar and in it I found Blitzen. And he was really Blitzed. I called him a sissy and he took a swing at me and he smacked me right in the kisser. He broke my nose and I thanked him, but the Elves were already on to the place and coming through the door, so I made with the flying trick and sailed on out of there.

With my broken nose, I couldn't see in the fog, but neither could they and I managed to get away.

Eventually, I found a surgeon who was willing to fix my nose so it would never light up again, but it was never going to be a nice, furry reindeer nose again. I'd have to move south, where the air was warm enough to breath. I started moving, selling my services to petting zoos, then moving on, whenever the Elves started breathing down my neck.

And I've been moving on ever since.

I don't know how much farther I can run, though. It's been a long time. I've been from the North Pole to the South, been to Africa and South America and every little island you can think of, but they keep on coming: the Assassin-Elves. Some day, some day soon, my luck's gonna run out. Then I'll be just another string of venison sausage in Old St. Nick's larder. But at least I'll have told the world the truth about Santa's little Sweat Shop. I'll die a free deer.

....

And he tossed back the last of his drink and staggered unsteadily for the back door. He looked back just once and said, "Remember me. Remember Charlie." Then he was gone with an eerie clatter of hooves as he ascended into a cloudy sky, running like... well, like a deer.

When I left the bar, a man came up to me. He was tall and thin and his long, silver-blond hair hung down his back like a shimmering curtain from under a dark fedora. He wore dark glasses and a long, black coat. He stopped me and flashed a picture.

"Ma'am, have you seen this deer?"

"No, sir," I replied. "No deer around here. It's still hunting season."

He glared at me suspiciously, then turned away. I could see the bulge of his bow under his jacket.

I don't know what became of that deer, or if he wasn't just half-crazy with drink, but every time I think of that night in that bar I say a little prayer for him.

"Run, run, Rudolph."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Updates and League Stuff

[cross-posted on my blog, because I can take a hint, Mark!!!]


Yeah...it's been months since I've blogged here. Wow. Sorry. Can I plead exhaustion? Or being 40? Oy.

So, some things have happened since HUNGER was published. First of all, I've updated my website. Didja see? Look at the book pages -- notice any new things? Like all the Hell short stories and novellas? And the Whedonverse section? Yes, cool things abound. Go look. In particular, look at the new things that will be available in the first three months of 2011. Rah!

Speaking of Hellish things, HELL TO PAY is drawing to a close. One chapter left. To everyone who's been reading the novel one chapter at a time, one week at a time, thank you. When I post the final chapter on Tuesday, I'll have some questions for you. (What, I didn't mention there would be a quiz at the end? Oopsie...)

Another thing: I've decided to temporarily close Cat and Muse. That was probably obvious from the lack of new interviews. I'll do one final chat between Jezzie and Daun, but then C&M will be closed. For now. I'll still keep the interviews up on the website so people can read past interviews, and hopefully get a kick out of them.

Okay, I have some major pimpage to make up for. I now present to you: Updates from the League of Reluctant Adults!

Over at Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein's blog, The Biting Edge, they've been doing lots of things (minds out of the gutter, people): posting Weird Al Yankovic videos (bless 'em!), interviewing the amazing Juliet Blackwell about her yet another new series, and so much more. And if you haven't checked out Mario's Felix Gomez adventures--in novels and in comic books--and Jeanne's Anna Strong chronicles, you should. And congrats to Jeanne for CHOSEN being nominated for an RT Reviewers Choice Award for Best Urban Fantasy!

Michele Bardsley's hysterical Broken Heart Vampires series keeps getting better and better! CROSS YOUR HEART came out earlier this year, and a series (Wizards! Witches! Rah!) will kick off in March 2011.

Leaguer Sonya Bateman also has a novel hitting the shelves in March 2011: MASTER AND APPRENTICE, the highly anticipated follow-up to this year's MASTER OF NONE. If you think genies are all like Barbara Eden in a bottle, think again.

The ever amazing Dakota Cassidy launched a new series, the Ex-Trophy Wives. The first book, YOU DROPPED A BLONDE ON ME, hit the shelves earlier this month. Get thee to a bookstore and buy! Now!

This has been a great year for Carolyn Crane. The first two books of her Justine Jones: Disillusionist trilogy hit the shelves and wow, look at the awards that her second book, DOUBLE CROSS, has been nominated for: Goodreads Best Paranormal Fantasy of 2010, RT Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Urban Fantasy, and Authors After Dark Best Fantasy! Congratulations, Carolyn!

Molly Harper will have a fourth Jane Jameson "Nice Girls Don't" vampire book coming soon. But coming sooner (February 2011) will be her first werewolf book, HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF. Preorder now!

Kevin Hearne, author of the upcoming Iron Druid chronicles, is eagerly looking forward to the book birthdays of HOUNDED (April 2011), HEXED (May 2011) and HAMMERED (June 2011). What's that? You don't want to wait until April? Lucky for you that Kevin has a FREE STORY set in the HOUNDED world, right here on Suvudu. Enjoy!

Mark Henry's Amanda Feral has been a busy zombie deadutante. First, she's up for an RT Reviewers Choice Award for Best Urban Fantasy Protagonist. And she's also Mark's pen name for a super naughty novella called "A Stocking Full of Coal." You know you want it. As for Mark, check out his YA debut as Daniel Marks in the anthology KISS ME DEADLY, on sale now.

Have you read Stacia Kane's amazing Downside series? If not, WHY THE HELL NOT? I don't know who I love more, Chess Putnam or super enforcer Terrible. Run, don't walk, to buy, not borrow, UNHOLY GHOSTS, UNHOLY MAGIC and CITY OF GHOSTS (nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Paranormal Fantasy). And hey, Stacia is up for the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Goodreads Author! Rock on! And make sure to download her free short story about Haunted Week!

My Icarus Project coauthor, Caitlin Kittredge, has been damn busy. I know, surprise, surprise. The third book her her Black London series, BONE GODS, came out at the end of November, and she's working on the fourth book now as well as preparing for her YA debut, THE IRON THORN, first book in The Iron Codex. It hits the shelves in February 2011, and you can (and should) preorder now.

The third book of J.F. Lewis's Void City series, CROSSED, comes out in January 2011! And did you know you could get "Welcome to the VOID" t-shirts? You can! Author clothing line, proudly sponsored by the League of Reluctant Adults!

One day, I'm sure that Richelle Mead will hit the big time. Until then, you may want to check out her little-known series, Vampire Academy. Oh--sorry, I must have bamfed over to a parallel universe or something, because we all know that the last book in the first VA series, LAST SACRIFICE, came out earlier this month and made serious waves. Congrats, Richelle!

If you're a fan of Kelly Meding's Dreg City series like I am, you'll be happy to know that she's got a collaborative story, written with Lara Adrian, Harry Connolly, Lucy A. Snyder and the League's Stacia Kane, available now as an e-book! The third Dreg City book, ANOTHER KIND OF DEAD, will hit the shelves in July 2011.

Nicole Peeler has been making waves with her sexy selkie Jane True. Her upcoming January 2011 release, TEMPEST'S LEGACY, is an RT Top Pick, huzzah! And in January, you can get all three Tempest audiobooks. Nicole's got tons of terrific reviews for LEGACY, so hop over to her website and check them out! And then go buy the book!

DREADNOUGHT, the sequel to Cherie Priest's multiple award-winning steampunk novel BONESHAKER, came out earlier this year. Coming in 2011: GANYMEDE, the third book in the Clockwork Century, as well as the launch of her new urban fantasy series, BLOODSHOT.

The fifth book in Kat Richardson's Greywalker series, LABYRINTH, came out in August, and the next book, DOWNPOUR, will hit the shelves in summer 2011. Can't wait for more Harper Blaine!

Michelle Rowen has been OMGBUSY this year! She launched the Living In Eden series with THE DEMON IN ME, and the second book, SOMETHING WICKED, just came out in November. The second book in her YA Demon Princess series, REIGN CHECK, hit the shelves in May, and she had a YA short story appear in KISS ME DEADLY. In case smoking-hot contemporary romance is what you're looking for, check out her other November release, TOUCH AND GO. And the first book in an all-new vampire series, NIGHTSHADE, comes out in February 2011! Huzzah, Michelle!

Diana Rowland's third book in her Kara Gillian, Demon Summoner series, SECRETS OF THE DEMON, hits the shelves at the start of January! What better way to kick off a new year than with a new Kara story? Preorder now!

Have you read K.A. Stewart's A DEVIL IN THE DETAILS yet? This urban fantasy debut earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, saying: "This crackling series launch hits the trifecta of strong story, characters, and prose. Jesse James Dawson is a retail clerk, a samurai, a redneck brawler, a good husband and father, and a Champion: a demon slayer who fights to free repentant souls from hastily entered contracts." I'm telling you, books make **terrific** presents.

Anton Strout and I both have stories in the upcoming AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR. Mine is a Hell short story, and his is set in his Simon Canderous series. But hey, that's in March. Before that, in February, pick up book 4 of the series, DEAD WATERS. It's hard to fight evil on a budget.

The third book in Jaye Wells's acclaimed Sabina Kane series, GREEN-EYED DEMON, hits the shelves in March 2011! If you haven't read RED-HEADED STEPCHILD and THE MAGE IN BLACK, do so. Now.

And that's the latest about the crazy folks in the League of Reluctant Adults.

Whew.

Christmas in San Diego

Short and sweet this week. Happy Holidays. From Anna and Me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A free short story for the holidays!

Hey everybody,

Though my debut won't hit the shelves until April, you can meet the Iron Druid himself, Atticus O'Sullivan, right now at Suvudu by clicking on this link right here. Clicking on that link and reading the story is absolutely free! The story takes place nearly a year before the events of HOUNDED, so Atticus doesn't know what's waiting for him down the road. Hope you dig it. If you get a chance, head on over to my website or my blog to say howdy.

Speakin' of free short stories, Stacia Kane has also put one up at her site for your reading pleasure. Happy holidays from the League!

Gifts you should NOT get for werewolves this holiday season

reposted from my blog, Thrillionth Page
It is not easy to buy gifts for paranormals - especially werewolves. While they are typically polite about accepting items they don't like, quietly returning them when you're not around, some gifts that can upset them greatly, and should be avoided at all costs. Hopefully, this list will help.

Do NOT give your werewolf friends and family the following gifts:

1Any chia pet in the shape of a canine. Deeply offensive to the werewolf psyche.

2. A Friendship bracelet that you worked really hard on, that the werewolf must never take off, and you'll be really mad if they lose it. Because they will!

3. The complete 5-volume Dog Whisperer DVD set featuring Cesar Millan. A werewolf will instantly rip it apart.

4. Nature's Gift Aromatherapy patchouli-scented bliss candles.

5. Actually, because werewolves have such a keen sense of smell, any heavily scented products are poor gift choices.

6. Ten-hour video set of the historic Apollo 11 Lunar Landing. This type of close-up non-stop full moon footage can be overstimulating to werewolves, and lead to destruction of furnishings and upholstery and also set off howling that can result in noise complaints from the neighbors.

7. Road Runner vs. Wiley Coyote cartoon DVD set. (Not even as a joke, unless you hated your TV set anyway.)

8. Joy of yodelling CD. (Gets werewolves riled up, not in a good way.)

9. A surprise pre-paid trip to the dentist to get all cavities filled with silver fillings.

10. The clapper, or worse, if you helpfully change all their lights over to operation by the clapper. This is not something that the werewolf in your life will find at all helpful .

11. Rogaine. 

12. The Slanket. While this gift may be exciting and attractive to your comfort-loving werewolf friend, it is actually very restrictive, and if your werewolf  pal has to suddenly shift into werewolf form while wearing the slanket, BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN.

13
. The Miau Kitty Christmas Carol album: definitely NOT a recommended buy for werewolves this holiday season.

Do not under ANY circumstances purchase this music CD for a werewolf.
Happy Holidays everyone! I'm making two holiday stops this week - come say hi and WIN!!  
Stop #1:  The Annual Xmas letter, written by Little CJ, my childhood portrait painted by an elderly aunt. And, Little CJ is giving away an international gift certificate prize to one commenter!  It's over at Wicked Little Pixie's place! Come tell your worst holiday present you ever got! It's all here. 
Stop #2: Today only, I'm over at Fresh Fiction talking about turning faults into super-powers, and you can comment to win a copy of Mind Games!  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Whadda ya want unda the Xmas tree?

We're all one-digit midgets as we get close to Christmas. Hopefully, everyone is done shopping for presents. I am and they're all in the mail (or UPS).

But we need to pause and announce the winner of our drawing for Juliet Blackwell shwag. Thanks to all of you who posted comments during the week.

And the winner is...Debi Murray!
Please send your snail mail address to Juliet at Julietblackwell dot net to collect your prize. Worth gazillions I'm told (in good karma).

Last Friday, the Biting-Edge attended the fantabulous literary smack down between Stephen Graham Jones and Jessie Bullington at the Broadway Book Mall.



Bloody punches were thrown. The audience gasped. Women swooned. Cookies eaten. Books sold. Everyone went home happy.



I've been working my way through Jones' anthology, The Ones That Got Away. Favorite story so far is about a treacherous ship-wrecked werewolf and the porpoises who get revenge. Weird and fascinating.







Years ago, I got a little blah about the whole Holiday spirit thing. But I've tweaked my attitude and enjoy every opportunity for music, mirth, and merriment. Anything to justify appropriate libations and hand waves from pretty carolers.




We've all got a Christmas list and here's mine. Of course, there's the usual: Good will to all, world peace, an end to hunger, yada yada. And also, getting on the NYT bestseller list, phone calls from Steven Spielberg, mega-buck contracts, the unqualified adoration from millions of strangers. You know, the simple things.

But what's Christmas without presents under the tree? Such as:

A Maserati Quattroporte

A Piper Meridian Turboprop








Plus I'll need a destination for that airplane. How about a villa in Tuscany? Something modest.

What's on your list?

So you won't leave this blog empty handed, our special gift to you. From Mr. Christmas Spirit hisself...Weird Al Yankovic.



Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 17, 2010

My First Foray

This is my very first post as a Leaguer, and it's to show off my brand new cover!



THE ENEMY OF HIS ENEMY

Jesse James Dawson is a Champion, putting his life on the line for those foolish enough to bargain with demons and fighting to save their souls. But even a Champion needs some downtime, so Jesse takes his annual camping trip to Colorado for some male bonding over friendly games of paintball.

Unfortunately, the fun and war games are interrupted by a pack of creatures summoned up from the very depths of hell by an entity Jesse prayed he’d never see again. With the lives of his friends and a teenager’s soul on the line, Jesse’s only hope may lie with an even more dangerous enemy—his personal demon, Axel…


A SHOT IN THE DARK will be available July 5th, just in time for summer vacation reading!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

She's talking about If Walls Could Talk

We're once again welcoming Juliet Blackwell on the launch of yet another series. Is this woman unstoppable or what?

I'm cribbing from Blackwell's bio, and here's what we got. She co-wrote with her sister under another pseudonym, Hailey Lind. They wrote the Agatha-nominated Feint of Art, the first installment in their four-book Art Lover's Mystery series. Since then, Blackwell's penned two more novels in her Witchcraft Mystery series, about a witch with a vintage clothing store, Secondhand Spirits, and the national bestseller sequel, A Cast-off Coven.



This week she released the first in her new Haunted Home Renovation Series, If Walls Could Talk, picked by Suspense Magazine for its Best of 2010.

All told, Blackwell published three books this year!




It seems that Juliet Blackwell is everywhere. And considering the architectural flavor of her new series, it's fitting to find a building named after her.




Contest. Comment at the Biting Edge blog to enter a drawing to win a fabulous Blackwell prize. The contest runs through midnight Saturday, MST, December 18, 2010, and I'll announce the winner next week.

And now for our interview.

Congratulations on the launch of yet another series, The Haunted Home Renovation Mysteries. This is your seventh book, right? (And that’s not counting your book-length translation of Endangered Cultures by Miguel León-Portilla. You are such a brain.)

Ah yes, that’s me, quite the brain ;-) And yes, If Walls Could Talk is lucky number seven.


1. Why write a ghost story? Where does your interest in ghosts come from? This story is unique (to me) in that your ghosts are hardly demonic or malevolent.

I actually live in a house that might just be haunted – lights go on and off, doors open and close, and there are distinct sounds of footsteps overhead many nights. But interestingly, I’ve never felt menaced by the sensations. I did some reading and interviewing folks on the subject, and all seem to agree that many ghosts –perhaps most—are more confused and/or curious than actively malevolent. So in the first book of my new series, If Walls Could Talk, I thought I would start out with that sort of entity – especially since the protagonist, Mel Turner, is new to the paranormal world. In the second book, Dead Bolt, the ghosts are decidedly more sinister.

I haven’t ever “seen” a ghost, but I do work in a lot of old, historic homes that have been witness to a lot of life (and death). I believe that we leave energy traces in the places we occupy, which is why some buildings just “feel” better than others. And I’ve spoken with enough normally rational, macho construction workers that have told me about truly scary ghostly encounters that I keep an open mind, at the very least.


Finally, I’ve loved ghost stories since I was very small, whether around the campfire or in every book I could get my hands on. I remember sneaking in when my big sisters were watching Dark Shadows—my mother forbid me to see it, for fear it would scare me. The vampire was okay, but I found the ghosts and witches truly captivating.




2. Have you accompanied or used the services of a ghost hunter? If so, what happened?

I was once invited over to drive ghosts from a bungalow in Berkeley, which was a very interesting procedure. I do a lot of research for my books, and there are certain processes which are considered fairly standard in the ghost-hunting industry, so we applied those tactics. While I was there, lighting candles and ringing a bell, there were banging sounds from the front room…they went away when we finished sweeping the house. We then burned the broom. Whether or not we were dealing with “real” spirits, the homeowners thought we were; after the “cleansing” they felt more in control of their own situation, and more comfortable in their surroundings.

I’ve also accompanied a couple of Mexican-born limpiadores (literally: “cleaners”) from herbal stores called botanicas, while they’ve performed cleansings – sometimes on houses before people move in, and twice in houses thought to be haunted. Their tradition is based more in folk-Catholicism, mixed in with herbal blends and brews.

Finally, I have a friend who owns those little electronic devices that test for radio waves, like those used by the ghost hunters on TV – they found “greater than normal” activity in many areas of my house, including my bed, of all places. I’m not sure what I think of that ;-)


3. How much do you believe in the paranormal? Have you ever witnessed something that made you go, hmmmm?

As I mentioned before, I live in an interesting home. Plus, my mother’s family is from Louisiana and Texas, and I have a theory that the entire South is haunted. Nothing like sultry nights and Spanish moss, plus a history of violence and strife, to create the right mood for the paranormal.

I have seen odd things in my life, and I do get strange feelings from time to time in old houses. It makes sense to me that there may be more than what we can see – just as the air is full of invisible radio waves and broadcast signals, why couldn’t there be a whole lot else out there? Plus, I’ve heard so many stories from people I trust that it’s hard to discount the idea in its entirety.

But my background is in academia, so while I keep an open mind I approach the subject with skepticism. Still, like a scientist once told me, the natural world is full of truly strange, unexplainable things. In quantum physics, for example, many of the world’s top scientific brains are finding that ions affect one another in ways we can only begin to imagine, almost as though they were acting on purpose rather than according to know scientific criteria. It’s pretty interesting, rather paranormal-sounding stuff. Never thought I’d be interested in physics!



4. In all your stories, you not only weave in a lot of the local culture and history but also make it germane to the plot. Do you work out these details in advance or do they emerge from the writing as you develop the manuscript?

I do a lot of research on the local area while I’m thinking through my plot, in part because I love doing research (sometimes it’s pure procrastination) and in part because the research gives me ideas. I do like to ground my tales in the real-life city – San Francisco is a truly unique town, and serves as an important character in my books. On the other hand, a lot of details emerge as I’m writing, as well, and I try to take advantage of the organic development of the story to meld it with actual historical and cultural details.

Some of the most unusual and gruesome storylines are real: recently I was reading about the supposedly haunted Atherton Mansion, which was built by Dominga Atherton. She lived there with her daughter Gertrude and son-in-law George. According to contemporary accounts, the two women dominated George and publicly ridiculed him as “the weaker sex”. George took off to Chile, but died of kidney failure while on board ship. The sailors put his body into a barrel of rum to preserve it, and shipped it back to S.F. When it was delivered, the butler discovered his former master on the front stoop, preserved in rum. Since then the house changed hands numerous times, but it is said to be haunted by Dominga, Gertrude, George, and one later owner who also hoarded cats.

Now I ask you: Who could make this stuff up?


5. Mel Turner is your oldest protagonist at 38 y.o. Unlike Lily Ivory or Annie Kincaid from your other series, she’s a mature, more self-assured woman and one who has already established herself in the Bay Area. Her wish is to untangle herself from her obligations and run away to Paris. Will she ever? Is this a common mid-life crisis for an older woman? (Actually, it sounds like a pretty good idea regardless of gender or how old you are.)

The desire to disappear and have a “do-over” can be pretty strong for a lot of us, especially as we approach our forties and fifties. But I can only really speak for myself: when I was going through a divorce I had such a strong impulse to run away and start over again, and I used to fantasize about all sorts of destinations (including Paris). In the end, though, I had to stick around and deal with real life…I also had a young child at the time, which made things even harder. I’m glad I chose to structure my life the way I did, because ultimately I founded a successful art business,

and now I’m lucky enough to make a living as a writer. But those ducking-out-on-obligations-and-running-away fantasies are still very real. Maybe that’s why I’m a writer, so I get to pretend I’m a different person every day!

Usually a couple of martinis help if the impulse gets too strong ;-)



6. Mel focuses on Victorian-era architecture. Any chance she’ll be in a caper involving a haunted Mid-Century home?

Mel’s company, Turner Construction, focuses on restoring historic homes, so a lot of the story is about finding architectural details from that era, etc. The first book is set in a Beaux Artes home, and the second in a Queen Anne Victorian – both are common styles in San Francisco. But I do think it would be fun in the third book to have Mel working on a mid-century home, especially since, given her historical preferences, she wouldn’t enjoy it all that much. I enjoy writing her grumpy thoughts – I can just imagine what she’d think of an Eichler home! But she might just develop an appreciation for it, as I always do when I learn more about things.


7. Will you rekindle the romantic interest between Graham and Mel? Considering that both Vincent and Zack lied to Mel, I don’t see her getting involved with them. Am I wrong? Or do they admit their mistakes, man up, and vindicate themselves?

Aaaah, you know I can’t give away romantic details! But yes, Graham is a continuing character and though it may take a while, he’s still around. In Dead Bolt, which I’m writing right now, Mel also meets a very interesting ghost-tour guide. Though my books aren’t romances, I do enjoy bringing in a bit of it for the sake of character development…and to ratchet up the tension. And in Mel’s case, she’s got to get over being burned by her ex-husband, and what better way to do that than to start meeting interesting men?


8. How did you learn to write fiction? What compelled you to write cozy mysteries?

I mostly learned by doing. I know a lot of people get a lot of useful information and skills from taking classes and reading how-to books, but I’m more of a hands-on type. Whether painting or gardening or repairing houses, I have to wade in and try it, and learn from experience. But one thing I know beyond a doubt: Writers should do whatever it is that helps them to write. There’s no one process that works for everyone, so if the camaraderie and interaction of workshops and classes gets you to write, then enroll. If sitting watching the clouds waft by helps, than do that. I know NaNoWriMo works for a lot of people, because it forces them to sit down and come up with words.

I’ve always loved to read, and one day I just sat down and started writing. And then I realized what I wrote was garbage, so I looked more closely at the books I liked, and tried to mimic them. And then I wrote and re-wrote another thousand times or so, and then I wrote another book, and another, and I do think I’m getting better over time ;-)

“Cozy” mysteries, in which there’s no obvious blood and gore or sex on the page, were appealing to me because I wanted to use a lot of humor in my books. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know what a “cozy” was until an agent told me I had written one. And I’m not even sure the title really applies, since I get letters from devoted cozy readers who are upset that I use profanity and that my characters actually think about, and even participate in, SEX. I guess I’m sort of cozy with an edge.


9. What has surprised you most about being a professional writer? What personal attribute best helps you as a writer of fiction?

Biggest surprise: that you have to sell your own books. I thought I would just write it, and people would buy it and read it. I blundered into this industry with no real idea about how the publishing business works. Now, years later, I’m a board member of Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime, and I have many writer friends, so I’ve learned a whole lot. Hard to believe how naïve I was about this business when I first started, but I guess it has to do with my tendencies to rush into things without proper training, as I mentioned above.

Most useful personal attribute: I have it on good authority that I’m pretty stubborn. That can be a bad thing, of course, but the ability to translate frustration and anger into determination is a valuable asset in this business. When you get knocked down (as we all do in publishing) you have to react by become more entrenched, rather than just curling up into a ball in the corner (of course, sometimes you have to huddle in the corner for a day or two before screwing up your courage, but whatever it takes). But in the end, you simply have to persevere, beyond all reason, if you want to land a contract in the first place, and continue to succeed with future books.


10. You’ve worn many hats in your professional career, such as artist and anthropologist. Tell us about your experience as a social worker. How does that reflect in your writing?

If Walls Could Talk was especially fun for me to write because I’ve brought in more of my personal experience into the story: I’ve worked on a lot of construction sites and remodels as a faux finisher/muralist, and I bring in just a little anthropology as well. While I’ve brought some of those interests into previous books, you’re right that Walls is the first time I’ve explicitly brought in social work, by making Mel’s friend, Luz, a social work professor.

As disciplines, social work and anthropology and art (both painting and writing) share a lot in common: Primarily, they all rely upon careful observation of the world and those around us. In addition, they usually require a good deal of compassion, or the ability to understand others. As a social worker, I got to peek inside so many different lives, most of them made difficult due to poverty, lack of education, or outright abuse. It made me try to see the world through my clients’ eyes, and as a writer that’s exactly the sort of thing we do.


11. Who are your writing influences? Do you have a writing philosophy that guides your writing style?

My only guiding philosophy is to try to quiet all the external shouting and just listen to my internal writer’s voice. I try to write my story without thinking about other similar books in the genre, or genre “rules”, or what’s selling, or what’s commercially viable, or what’s most likely to be nominated for an award…I’m not always successful, but I try.

I have too many influences to name…they tend to be whoever I’m reading and enjoying at the moment. But just to name a few: Nick Hornby for character voice; Sherman Alexie and Joyce Carol Oates for playing with language; Barbara Kingsolver and Richard Russo and Amy Tan for communities of characters; Walter Mosley and Tony Hillerman for setting as character; and finally, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels for her adventure-oriented, smart, often academic characters looking into historical mysteries that lead to present-day murder (she was my first real mystery love, way back in high school).

And I can’t forget so many of my contemporary mystery and urban fantasy authors (yourself and Jeanne included), for everything from the use of language to pushing the boundaries of our genres.


12. In between deadlines, what is your favorite way to relax and clear your head? (Besides running away to Paris.)

Given financial restraints, I’ve never actually run away to Paris…but if that huge advance comes through you’ll know where to find me ;-)

In the meantime, I’m bound to more homestyle fun, like painting, gardening, spending time with friends, hiking in the redwood forests, hanging out in bars and restaurants and enjoying everything the Bay Area has to offer, like art exhibits and music and ethnic festivals. Just the other day I sent off a manuscript and walked the three miles to Oakland’s Chinatown, shopped in their fabulous grocery stores, bought some noodles and char sui bau, ate by Lake Merritt, strolled around the lake, bought fresh produce at the farmer’s market, came home and did the New York Times crossword puzzle, then went out for drinks and dinner with friends in San Francisco. It’s a little hard to complain.

Thanks Julie!

A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet Blackwell has lived in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France. She lives in Oakland, California, where she is a muralist and portrait painter. A two-term president of Northern California Sisters in Crime, she is now a board member of SinC/NorCal and MWA .

Coming summer 2011--->

You may find more about her books at:

http://www.julietblackwell.net/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Juliet-Blackwell/88917411021

Happy Fanging!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Leaguer bookplates from yours truly for the holidays

Christmas is getting closer, so I'm making my offer once again as a reminder....

One again the holidays approach and soon they will be kicking us swiftly in our fruit cake and before you know it we will be hurrying on into the new year.

But for three more magical weeks, my Grinchlike heart grows three sizes, they say, and I get giddy with holiday love. So now is the season for giving and getting, I'm all sentimentally commercial like that, and to that end I extend an offer to you up through the holidays.

If you plan on giving any of my books as a gift this next month, email me at anton.strout@gmail.com and I will send a holiday-themed bookplate to go along with your gift giving. Aside from a personal bit of written rambling from me, I am also quite prone to drawing some pretty mean snowmen, reindeer, candy canes, what have you.... as long as it's in the US of A. Sorry, both of my international fans!

Please spread the word to those you might think want to give the gift of ME and my Simon Canderous urban fantasy series for the holidays. Retweet and Facebook it at will.

I mean, really, who doesn't want to give THIS for the holidays?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Building a Better Carol (ancient repost!)

Yup, it's time for me to be really lazy and post something from the good old days. I'll do more old (and maybe new) Christmas posts as the month continues, but for now I give you--and Nicole Peeler--my take on Christmas carols circa 2003:

Building a Better Carol


Originally posted: December 21, 2003

I read an article, recently, which lamented that there had been no new "classic Christmas songs" written since 1955. I guess that anything which doesn't feature either classical descant or sweet-and-sleepy jazz structure straight out of Irving Berlin doesn't qualify as "classic." Apparently the use of musical aesthetic younger than your grandmother immediately disqualifies a song from being "classic" unless it's by Eric Clapton. (Although I did find one Christmas song site that listed Stan Rogers' 1979 First Christmas. Lovely piece, but depressing beyond belief.) The article went on to whine that only "parodies and humorous songs" had been added to the repetoire in any significant numbers. While I can forgive (and even encourage) the skipping over of such modern Christmas "classics" as Don't They Know It's Christmas-time? by Band-Aid and that ilk, I must protest that the most awful lack in Christmas songs is not modernism, but realistic weather. (Well, realism of any kind, but I'll get to that.)

How many people really live where they might encounter a true "Winter Wonderland" during the holidays and not a car-splashed slush pile at best, much more a brown-edged lawn under-watered due to drought beneath a smog-tinged sky? And what of people in the Southern Hemisphere? Australians all over the continent surely look at each other with irony and wonder why there aren't more Christmas songs about surfing and barbecuing and opening your prezzies beneath a cloudless, blue sky while you slather on the sunscreen.

Where I live, it rains all Winter. But are there songs describing Santa's little rain slicker or Nicky-the-non-skid-reindeer? No. Not a single one.

And what's so celebratory about snow, anyhow? Especially if you live with it all Winter long, as it is. Do you ever hear a real person talk about the joy of travelling through the snow to Grandma's House, anymore? Not too likely; most of them are complaining bitterly about the jackass in an SUV who cut them off and caused them to skid into a ditch hidden under 6 feet of semi-frozen sludge. Snow is for skiers, snowboarders and people who don't have to be anywhere.

Let's face it, the charm of Christmas songs is that they celebrate things most of us have never done, will never do, have no real interest in, and would hate like fire and skunk-juice in the eyes if we ever did have to do them. Do you really want to go trudging off into the frozen wastes to find a tree of sufficient size to chop down, drag home and burn continuously for 12 days? No? Me, neither: strike off the Yule Log, please. Wassailing? Frankly, I prefer to know what's in my glass and not to drink directly from the punch bowl along with the rest of the choir and who-knows-who-else. Bit unsanitary and disgusting for my taste. And that bunch of birds and guests and total weirdness in The Twelve Days of Christmas makes me very glad we've mostly cut it down to a week, now. (OK, it's only one actual day, but it feels like a week and New Year's is still damned weird, but that's for another day.)

Really, a lot of Christmas songs ought to scare the crap out of you. Yeah, sure, they "Wish you a Merry Christmas," but they also demand dessert, drinks and entertainment and say they "won't go until they get some!" I've sung in choirs and I wouldn't "give some" to your average scruffy caroler no matter how much they begged and pleaded, though, I know I'd want most of them out of my house long before any food arrived if I planned on eating, myself.

And Santa Claus is a frightening dude! (Is it any wonder most little kids are scared piss-less of him when encountered at the Mall?) Not only is he all hair and beard (gotta wonder what he's hiding under there...), but he's psychic: after all, he knows when you are sleeping and he knows when you're awake; he knows if you've been bad or good... and that could be a serious source of blackmail (a concept almost-instinctually understood by younger siblings from birth).

Not only that, he runs down little old ladies! Grandma got run over by a reindeer,y'know, and you can bet that it wasn't the deer's fault (let's not blame the vehicle for the driver's actions, now.) He's a philandering pig,too, running around letting Mommy kiss him when we know he's already married to Mrs. Claus. Good, God... what sort of diseases must be spread by that! (At least it's not Daddy kissing Santa Claus, is all I can say.)

Beyond all that, many Christmas songs are entirely unrealistic. Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men? Would be nice, but not very likely (at least not as long as Humans are involved.) Flying reindeer with glowing noses? Last time I looked into it, the FAA wasn't too sold on the safety of such a vehicle and neither was the SPCA. I'm not even sure that dashing through the woods in a one-horse, open sleigh is even legal any more. And some kid somewhere wants a hippopotamus, another wants his two front teeth? Who are these strange children? I want a piece of flashy jewelry and a night at a good hotel with room service, a huge tub and a fur throw on the bed. Santa Baby is a bit more my speed, I think, but only if Santa has been working out, lately, and lays off the cookies and milk for a while (and brings his own rubbers because, well... there is still that Mommy-kissing incident.... Ewwwww...!)

A GLIMPSE OF DARKNESS

It's been a while since I've posted here at the League, but there's a good reason I'm popping in now. A GLIMPSE OF DARKNESS, the awesome collaborative short story that the amazing Stacia Kane and I co-wrote with Harry Connolly, Lara Adrian, and Lucy A. Snyder, is now available to purchase as an e-book!

Photobucket

You can check it out here at the Random House website.

Also, to help celebrate the release, each of us briefly blogged on the Kindle Daily Post about our experiences writing a collaborative story, as well as submitted questions to each other about the process. Check out the first post by Lara Adrian here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

We be Pimping!

We've got a lot of great writers to pimp this week. An amazing bunch of women authors. Sophie Littlefield, Deborah Coonts, Lori Armstrong, and Caitlin Kittredge.

But first, a word from our sponsor...me.



This Tuesday, my graphic novel, Killing the Cobra: Chinatown Trollop, escapes its cage and is at last, available to the public.

It's undead mayhem at its best. Fangs, guns, one bloodbath after another, electric harpoons, ball gags! Wow! I'm surprised I haven't been arrested for unleashing so much chaos.






I'll be signing Sunday, Dec 12, 3pm, at the Broadway Book Mall. Also signing, authors Warren Hammond, Alastair Mayer, David Boop, Laura Reeve, and Win Scott Eckert.

We return to our regular programming.

One of the bennies of being an author is that I've had the privilege of meeting many talented writers. In fact, considering their accomplishments and praises, I wonder if they consider me their peer!

Two of these authors, Sophie Littlefield and Deborah Coonts, received mentions in last Sunday's New York Times' Notable Crime Books of 2010.

Backstory. Three years ago, I met Sophie Littlefield at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. We were having dinner at a Korean restaurant with a bunch of fellow mystery writers. She was this tall and gracious lady who told me about her first book being shopped around by her agent. Now--and this is an admission of my failing--I don't think I responded with the appropriate level of enthusiasm (my thoughts were elsewhere that night) because I hear a lot of writers talk about their forthcoming books, and unfortunately, a lot of that optimism remains talk. In this case, was I WRONG. Since then, Sophie's debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, has garnered a fistful of award nominations, and won an Anthony for Best First Novel. I've read that book and the sequel, A Bad Day for Pretty, and well, my ego hurts from its comeuppance.

I think I learned that lesson, so when I met Deborah Coonts, at our MWA chapter summer pot luck in Colorado Springs, I set my ears at maximum gain. As was Sophie Littlefield, Deborah was warm and gracious (though not as tall). Her debut novel Wanna Get Lucky is one of those stories that rolls over you, and you're disappointed when it stops. You want more. It's a smart and snarky dissection of Las Vegas, starting with a woman falling out of a helicopter into the lagoon at the Treasure Island Hotel, a swinger convention, a midwife helping deliver a baby in a porn arcade, the hero's mom runs a bordello, and then things get weird.


Next up, one of my favorite tough ladies, Lori Armstrong, announces the massmarket release of her book, No Mercy. Besides winning the Shamus for Snow Blind, Lori has garnered tons of blurbs from USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, you name it. Lori's prose is hard-boiled and razor sharp.







Last year I spent a full eight days with Caitlin Kittredge when she, Cherie Priest, Mark Henry, and I embarked on the Paranormal Bender Tour: Seattle to Portland, OR, via Sacramento, Las Vegas, San Diego, Burbank, and San Francisco in a small Kia SUV. I thought we were doing a confined-space study for NASA. First rule of the trip: nothing from Taco Bell. At that time, Caitlin safeguarded the news that she had gotten a wonderful deal for her Lovecraftian steampunk YA series. Well, there is no safeguarding that news anymore. The first book in the series, The Iron Thorn, is out. It will blow you away.

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

******************