Archive for September, 2009



14
Sep
09

Fill my idea jar!

There’s a reason why I don’t try to make extra money as a blogger or columnist or any other freelance work that would require me to come up with a clever and nifty idea ever week or so.

It’s because I clearly suck at it!  Every Single Week I tell myself that I need to write my Saturday blog post at some point during the week. Every Single Week I forget until Friday evening, when I start desperately trying to come up with something interesting and unique.

You’ve seen the results. Sigh.

Okay, so I’m going to throw it out to y’all in the form of a contest. Give me ideas for blog entries. Anything goes. Extra points awarded for originality, coolness factor, and also for presentation (e.g. giving your idea in haiku form!)

Best three will get autographed copies of Mark of the Demon (and if you already have that one, I’ll put you on the list to get Blood of the Demon as soon as I have copies.) Contest is open to everyone everywhere, it closes this Friday (Sep 18) at midnight Louisiana time, and winners will be announced in my post next Saturday. (Really, I’ll make a post next Saturday. I promise!)

11
Sep
09

I’m beginning to see a pattern

So I spent about 30 minutes fiddling with this post trying to make it sound less like whining. But, that’s what it is, and there’s only so much dress up we can play. If you can stomach it, please bear with me. I promise to be brief.

I’ve started work on my third contracted book, and on paper, things look good. I’ve got more plot than I usually do at the starting point, I know my characters and my world pretty well, and I’m riding high after my editor’s love of book 2 (still grinning about that). So…

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO WRITE JESUS CHRIST?!

I keep thinking that, if I write enough books, it’ll get easier. I mean, practice makes perfect, right? This is the third book in a series, what’s left to mess up? Why am I having such trouble?

I was bemoaning the above to my husband who, without even looking up from his computer, said “don’t worry, you’ll get it. You do this every time.”

I wanted to scream that I most certainly did not, that this was NOTHING like all those other times! I had it so easy then, he doesn’t UNDERSTAND… except he’s totally right. Looking back at various blog posts from days of yore, horrible, unbreakable, hatefilled writer’s block at the start of a novel seems to be my standard operating procedure, a fact that I somehow forget every time I start something new (probably some ancient survival mechanism, like how laboring women forget the worst of the pain so that the human race can continue).

The good part is that, though this happens every time, my husband is right, I do always get over it, the book gets written, life goes on. It feels so stupid to go through this same song and dance with every new novel, but apparently something deep in my brain needs this to move forward.

Anyone else have a stupid writing roadblock?

09
Sep
09

Genre dilettante

Even though I’ve been out of it this last week (sorry about that), I’ve been thinking a lot about Nora’s and Rachel’s posts on the boom in urban fantasy and the benefits of Twilight’s or Harry Potter’s popularity.

Spiral Hunt is pretty solidly urban fantasy.  And, if I think about how it got started, there’s a very good case to be made that I was chasing a new boom in the genre.  I remember reading a few of the urban fantasy novels that were out a while back and thinking “huh, that was fun, I wonder if I can do something similar.”  Eventually, the setting and the characters came together, but I wonder if I’d have written it without that first reaction.

Did I write it hoping to cash in on a new fad?  No — not consciously, at least.  But that doesn’t make a difference once the book’s out, and if interest in urban fantasy suddenly dwindles, those intentions won’t matter.

However, when I write short stories, I write in a number of different subgenres, and I don’t think I can bring myself to settle down in just one.  I like writing high secondary-world fantasy, pseudo-science fiction, historical fantasy, fairy tales . . . and often, I’ll be interested in these styles because I’ve been reading a lot of them lately.  The boom triggers interest, which triggers an idea, which shapes the story, etc., etc.  And not all of those subgenres are the kind that stay popular for a long time.

So how do I know that when I’m dabbling in a new subgenre whether it’ll be worth it when I’m done?  Will the steampunk story be finished only after steampunk has burnt itself out?  At what point — if there is one –do I become an urban fantasy author and stop being a writer in many different genres (and if that happens, how easy is it to change?)?

(This is also something that I notice now more than usual, because I’ve hit the dark night of the revision again, and there’s a substantial part of my brain that wants to be working on something other than this novel. ANYTHING. And that’s when all those other, shiny subgenres start looking awfully fun to play in . . .)

If I look at it as a writer, the basic answer — just write — is helpful for the matters at hand, but as Nora pointed out, I do have to think about the greater implications.  If I think about it as a reader, though, a whole new array of questions comes up.  When I’m reading a book by an author I’m familiar with, I’ll inevitably have a preconception of what sort of book it’ll be. And sometimes that gets in the way — sometimes even before I pick up the new book.  (“What?  Author X has written a military science fiction epic?  But he writes fluffy fantasy!  Is this just going to be unicorns in space?” and so on.  No, I didn’t say this was a rational reaction.)

The thing is, at some point I can’t let myself worry about this. How an author perceives the genre of their work may be completely at odds with how either the reader or the publisher sees it. I might convince myself that I’m writing a noir pastiche, only to find that it’s read as high fantasy, or attempt to set a contemporary fantasy in a trailer park and discover later on that I’ve written horror. If my track record of judging my own work’s genre is anything to go by, then I shouldn’t worry about whether my maneating squid story will be too late for the SquidLit Manifesto, because chances are it’s actually a period romance.

I’m afraid this is a pretty disjointed post, but what I’m getting at (I think) is this: how much does an author’s prior work influence how you read their new work?  I know it’s possible to compartmentalize — I can’t think of The Curse of Chalion in the same headspace as Shards of Honor, much as I like both, and the same goes for “Sandkings” and A Game of Thrones.   But I also know that it does have an effect on how I buy books.

And is it possible to keep steampunk alive at least till I finish the girl-and-her-stamping-press story?

04
Sep
09

Why we should all say thank you to Stephanie Meyer and J.K. Rowling

This post was partially inspired by Nora’s excelent post on the Urban Fantasy boom (one scroll down, no turns) and partially by my normal answer to the “what do you think of Twilight?!” question.

Seeing as how nearly all of my conversations somehow come back to books, I get asked what I think of Twilight on a fairly regular basis. This question comes either from people trying to see if they’ve found another fan to gush with or from those testing the waters to see if Twilight bashing is socially acceptable. My answer, however, is always the same: I’ve never read Twilight, but I love it, and I hope its popularity continues to grow unchecked.

This answer tends to cause headscratching among both camps, so I often append the following: Any book that gets petulant teenagers to willingly enter a bookstore is a book I love. At least for the moment, Twilight has taken reading from what it was when I was in highschool, something nerdy kids did at lunch because they couldn’t sit with the in crowd, and turned it into the cool thing. Not only is reading acceptable, it’s socially required, and it’s not just teenagers. I see soroity girls reading Twilight at the bus stop, moms reading it in the checkout line at the grocery store, I see Wuthering Heights getting on the NYT Bestseller list because Edward Cullen likes it! This is awesome! If people who don’t normally read are reading one thing obsessively, they might just decide that books aren’t so lame after all and try something else. Maybe my book, maybe yours.

The teenagers reading Twilight now are no strangers to massive book hysteria. These are the Harry Potter girls all grown up.  They know all about reading frenzies and the book you HAVE to have, and their dollars (or rather, their parent’s dollars) have provided the rich soil in which today’s fantasy is blossoming. Unlike the horror boom of the 80s Nora talked about and its subsequent genre collapse, fantasy seems to be using its boom dollars to deversify. Compare the fantasy selection of today to the fantasy selection of 10 years ago and difference is startling. There’s more opportunity than ever in the genre, more books, wider range, more pushing on the boundaries that have traditionally walled fantasy in. This isn’t because authors have suddenly decided to write new stuff, these books have always been out there. The difference is that publishers, flushed with fantasy’s success, are taking more risks, risks they are free to take thanks in large part to the recent spat of fantasy and urban fantasy megahits like Earagon, Twilight, and Harry Potter.

When reading is in vogue, everyone connected to reading benefits. So long as publishing supports diversity of stories, new voices, and wide range of reading choices, booms like Urban Fantasy, Harry Potter, and the Twilight craze only make us stronger. America is currently enamored with fantasy, and so long as we (publishers and authors) don’t shoot ourselves in the foot chasing fads, it should be a long and rewarding love story.  After all, who could get tired of new worlds?

03
Sep
09

Who’s Afraid of Urban Fantasy?

I’m about to step in it big time with this one. I’m primarily a writer of secondary-world epic fantasies, and here I am opening my mouth about urban fantasy. That’s just asking for a smackdown. But here goes.

Read this article at io9, in which Orbit Books’ Tim Holman (disclosure: my trilogy is coming out from Orbit, not that this has anything to do with anything in this case) notes the phenomenal growth of urban fantasy. To the point that it’s rapidly consuming the whole SF field.

Now, I read some urban fantasy. In fact I read both kinds of urban fantasy: the pre-Anita Blake kind (e.g., China Mieville, Neil Gaiman, the Paper Cities anthology) as well as the post-Blake (e.g., Jim Butcher, Marjorie Liu, and yes Laurell K. Hamilton). I even write a little in short story form, though my stuff veers closer to the pre type than the post. I’m aware of the differences between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, or at least to the degree that the issue has been decided (which is to say, not). So I’m not completely ignorant on the subject. Being here at the Magic District helps, actually, because my UF-inclined fellow Districtians’ books are all on the excellent end of the Urban Fantasy continuum, and I’m being exposed to more through their posts.

Despite all this, I had the same reaction as a number of io9 commenters to the news that UF was growing like the Blob: dismay. Because like them, I’ve seen a lot of stuff from the crap end of the UF continuum, and this phenomenal rate of growth probably means that more crap is forthcoming. It’s not nearly as bad as some people are making it out to be; a lot of the rage I see directed at urban fantasy has to do with the preponderance of girl cooties in it. The spec fic field has never been very welcoming towards that. But we still hit the Sturgeon’s Law problem: with so much urban fantasy out there, how am I ever going to be able to sift out the gold nuggets from the flood?

And what does this mean for me as a writer?

Don’t worry; I’m not dumb enough to change my writing in order to try and fit this trend. Think about it: by the time I finish Book 3, write another book, hopefully sell that, and then do the 2-year wait for publication, the trend might be over. But as a writer of primarily epic fantasies, does this trend mean I might have trouble selling my books in the future? After all, the last time there was a trend like this — I’ll cite the surge in psychosexual killer-based horror that happened in the Eighties — the rest of “traditional” speculative fiction suffered mightily. Many publishers, as I understand it from folks who were active at the time, were trying to capitalize on the slasher/splatter/supernatural killer film boom (think, “Nightmare on Elm Street”), so a whole slew of novels in the same vein came out around this time. They sold well, too… for awhile. Then the public got really, really tired of their similarity, and the books stopped selling. There was too much of the stuff out there, and too much of it was crap; the market got glutted, and subsequently contracted. Aside from Stephen King and a few notable others, there was a solid spate of years in which horror was functionally dead. (These days it’s rising from the dead, pun intended, largely on the strength of… wait for it… zombie fiction and vampires. And, of course, urban fantasy and paranormal romance.)

During that market contraction, writers in horror and related genres had trouble getting published. (Don’t take my word for it; here’s an interesting 1991 convo between some spec fic writers discussing the matter.) Even some science fiction and fantasy writers suffered — because publisher dollars were being heaped onto the horror pile. And later, when the pile caught fire (to mutilate a metaphor), publisher dollars became scarce as they fought to survive massive financial losses. It’s taken years — decades, literally — for genre and industry to recover.

Now, I’m no expert about the business end of publishing. Frankly I’m a babe in the woods as these things go. But it seems to me that if a trend caused this kind of implosion in one genre market, it could happen here in fantasyland too.

So what am I gonna do about it?

Well, like I said, I’m not going to suddenly start trying to write urban fantasy novels; that way lies danger, Will Robinson, danger! (Though I note with irony that there are substantial urban fantasy elements in Book 2 of the Inheritance Trilogy. Didn’t plan ’em, they just happened. Can’t talk about that without spoiling Book 1, though, so…) I’m also planning to diversify. My next project on the table is a YA novel, possibly a duology or trilogy. If I can establish myself in another genre — and YA SF really is different from adult SF in many ways — that might insulate me somewhat, should another market contraction hit. Also, since many of my fantasy novels contain core romantic elements, I’m hoping to get the attention of the romance industry. Now there’s a financial juggernaut; to paraphrase Carl Sagan, there’s billions and billions of dollars churning out of that engine. Only smart to try and build an audience there.

IMO, this is how writers have to think, nowadays. Yeah, we’re artists, and craft comes first. Still, I dunno about other artists, and I’m indulging in some wishful thinking here, but I want to reap the financial rewards of my art before I kick off, not after, thanks. At the very least, I’d like to continue paying rent and buying food. That means I need to understand how this business works.

So here we are. What do you guys think of the surge in urban fantasy? Is it a good thing? A bad thing? A good thing for now, bad for later? Bueller?

01
Sep
09

Outer Alliance Pride Day

And on an unrelated note: it’s Outer Alliance Pride Day! I am a proud member of the Outer Alliance. Anybody who’s read my fiction knows I often include characters who are queer in various ways. Why? Because it reflects the world I live in, and because I’m tired of fiction that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of many of the kinds of people I know and love. So: yay for the Outer Alliance!

The group’s mission statement: As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.

01
Sep
09

Mad Props

As I mentioned before, my Marla Mason series is kaput, and since I won’t be writing more of those books… it’s proposal time!

It’s a peculiar thing about being a professional writer. The first novel you sell, you almost certainly had finished before you sent it out — it’s a rare writer who can sell a debut without having a completed manuscript, and for good reason: the publisher needs to know you can finish writing a book.

But, after you’ve sold a book or two or three based on finished manuscripts, you get enough credibility that you can try another approach: selling based on some sample chapters and an outline/synopsis. The sample chapters are there to give editors a sense of the writing style, the voice, the tone, and all that stuff, and the outline/synopsis is to show you have some idea where you’re going.

Here’s a little secret though: you can usually deviate pretty widely from the outline without anybody getting upset about it, as long as you don’t, like, totally change genres or something (though individual editors will doubtless vary in their tolerances for deviation). Hell, the sample chapters I included in my proposal for Poison Sleep were cut entirely from the novel when I rewrote the whole beginning! But my editor didn’t mind, because I made it better.

So I’ve been proposal-ing. I have ideas for three novels I really want to write, all with sequel potential. I decided trying to do all three would kill me (not to mention overwhelm my agent) so I settled on the two that seemed to have the most commercial potential. Both are sort of divergences for me: one’s a fantasy in an alternate-historical milieu, one’s an epic fantasy (though a quirky one). For each, I needed about 10,000 words of sample chapters (50 pages or so), and synopses.

The epic fantasy isn’t that tough to write. I spent a long time working on the characters, the plot is quite solid, and the world is well established in my mind (I’ve given glimpses of it in my stories “Another End of the Empire” and “Over There”). Since I know that one will be easier… I did the other one first.

The thing about writing a historical book, even one with a pretty radically-altered history, is that it requires research. I didn’t want to do hundreds of hours of research for a first 50, because it would be basically a lot of wasted time if the novel doesn’t sell, but I picked a time I knew a bit about anyway, got a few books from the library, and poked Wikipedia and other corners of the internet fairly vigorously. If I wind up doing the whole book, I’ll have to research more, of course, but I got enough to make the first 50 work, I think. I polished and revised that first fifty a few times, then turned to the dreaded synopsis.

After years of hating synopses and finding them mysterious and terrible beasts, I’ve hit on an approach that works for me: I write the synopsis like I’m telling a friend everything that excites me about my novel (albeit in a slightly more organized fashion, with fewer digressions). It’s kind of informal. I do my best to make the synopsis itself an entertaining document, rather than a dry recitation of events. If I can match the tone of the novel somewhat in the tone of the synopsis, so much the better. In short, I try to write synopses that don’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with boredom. Does this produce perfect synopses that editors find irresistible? I dunno. But it’s the only way I can actually force myself to write the things, so it’s what I do.

I got that proposal/synopsis done and sent it off to my agent a couple of days ago. As for the more epic fantasy piece… that’s what I’m working on the rest of the day. It needs another 4,000 words or so of fiction and, then, the dread synopsis. Wish me luck.