Archive for the 'The Writing Life' Category

08
Sep
10

The people who influence you

(This post x-posted from the Grave Witch Release Party going on now at my blog)

As previously mentioned, I just returned from Dragon*Con, the largest Sci-Fi/Fantasy Con in the South East. The guest list for Dragon is always impressive. Big name TV/movie stars, best selling authors, and some of the best underground musicians are pretty much par for the course. Lines for events are sometimes blocks long and many rooms fill to capacity (and beyond, though then the fire marshals tend get rather irate). You’d pretty much have to be living under a rock (or, I guess, just not be a geek) to have never heard of at least a few of the guests. Whatever your particular flavor of geekdom, there is probably someone there that you’re dying to hear speak and maybe get a signature and a photo. I’d almost guarantee that there is a guest in attendance whose work you respect greatly, and maybe there is someone whose work has influenced or inspired you.

This Dragon*Con, I had the opportunity to see one of those people who influenced and inspired me. And not only see her, but to talk to briefly and get a picture with said influential person. Who was this person? Well, you might have already recognized her from the photo, but for those of you who didn’t, the person I’m referring to is Laurell K Hamilton, the author of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series and one of the forerunners of the Urban Fantasy genre as it exists today.  (NOTE: I know there is a lot of fan controversy about this series, but this blog post is not about that, so please keep comments positive and on topic.)

I discovered LKH and the Anita series when I was fourteen (this was in the mid-nineties, so the series wasn’t yet highly inappropriate for a fourteen year old to read–well, unless you object to violence and language, I guess) and before discovering LKH, I was strictly a high fantasy girl. Oh, I’d read gothic paranormal novels like Dracula and Frankenstein (which were pretty much UF for their day) and I’d read Ann Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but nothing inspired a hunger for more of the genre in me like LKH’s books did.

Of course, there really wasn’t much more of the genre out there at the time.

P N Elrod’s Vampire Files and Tanya Huff’s Blood Books were on shelves, but that was about the extent of the genre that would eventually be called Urban Fantasy (and is even now mutating to a new name). Buffy didn’t start airing until a year or two after I started reading LKH (and I actually didn’t see any of it until years later when my college roommate decided it was all but blasphemous that I hadn’t seen Buffy and arranged several marathon viewings.)  The show Forever Knight (which I was a huge fan of and is probably another influencing force behind me writing UF) had come and gone, but as far as I could find as a fourteen year old, that was the extent of the genre.

I was dabbling in writing by that point, but only high fantasy. In fact, prior to finding the Anita books (and I received the first three by mistake from the Sci-Fi Fantasy Bookclub–I wouldn’t have picked them up on my own) I would have told you I wasn’t interested in any book set in contemporary times. Give me castles and dragons–technology as advanced as a car or wrist watch was a deal breaker. Then I devoured the first few Anita Blake books and I was hooked. I wanted more, and it wasn’t out there.

So I started writing my own.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t stop writing high fantasy at that point. In fact, I still focused primarily on high fantasy until I finished college. (And like those high fantasy novels, I didn’t finish any of my early UF stories.) I didn’t begin focusing on UF until nearly a decade later when I wrote the novel which eventually became Once Bitten, and by that point, other UF giants such as Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and Kim Harrison were already established.

But if I had to point to one single influential writer who hooked me on the genre, that writer would be Laurell K Hamilton.

I saw LKH at Dragon two years ago and attended almost every one of her panels (including one memorable panel where I thought she was about to throw down with one of the romance writers), but at that time I couldn’t work up the nerve to talk to her. This year I saw her on several panels and even passed her in the halls a couple times, but I was too afraid I’d make a fool of myself to approach her.  Then, on the very last day of Dragon, probably two hours before I left, I saw her in the hall and finally worked up the nerve to talk to her. (Or maybe it wasn’t nerve. I’d literally just walked out from giving blood when I spotted her and was a little light headed so ‘just go for it’ sounded plausible.)

I asked if I could get a picture with her, and told her that her books had inspired me to write and that I have an UF book (Grave Witch) being released from Roc next month. Then I gave her a very nervous hug and ran away, even more light headed–either from blood loss or nerves. I hope I didn’t scare her and come off as a crazy fan girl, but how do you act and what do you say to someone whose work influenced you (especially during those formidable teenage years)? 

So, here is my question for you: Who has influenced and inspired you and how? (In any aspect of your life.) What would you say to them if you had a chance to meet them? Or, have you met that person? What did you do/say?

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31
Jul
10

Stranger in a strange land

If there’s one thing in life I hate, it’s feeling like a tourist. Before traveling anywhere, I will go to great lengths to research my destination, making myself a detailed folder containing transportation schedules, step-by-step directions to meeting locations, the hours of operation of each and every sight I wish to see. There’s more to this behavior than simple garden variety control-freakism. Namely, I don’t want to be seen as a tourist because being a tourist is dangerous. Being a tourist makes you vulnerable.

With the launch of my debut novel exactly a month away, I am feeling very vulnerable these days. Like one itty-bitty slipup, one small failure of planning, one saunter down the wrong dark alley, and everything could go horribly, horribly wrong. I’m aware that these emotions are not unusual for a debut author. And I’m also aware (painfully so) that my ability to control for a desired outcome is largely illusory. Sure, active author participation in a book’s promotion is hugely helpful. But lots of books with it have failed—and lots of books without it have succeeded. Fine.

But still, there’s still that nagging feeling of danger. Like a stranger in a strange land, a debut novelist suffers from one major disadvantage: you don’t know what you don’t know. Or, rather: you don’t know what the most important thing you don’t know is. Consider those two concepts side by side. You’ll see that there’s a big difference. Not knowing what you don’t know means showing up at a museum and finding it closed. Not knowing what the most important thing you don’t know is finding the museum closed AND that it’s shutting down for good and you’ll never be able to visit it again. Two pieces of information you didn’t have—and yet one has way more weight, more gravity, more consequence.

And that’s exactly what you have no way of judging when you’re fumbling your way through your first book promotion. The relative importance of specific unknowns. It’s easy enough to busy your feverish little brain with questions like: Have I contacted enough reviewers? Have I scheduled enough appearances? Have I come up with enough goodies? But the really scary, hard questions that will keep you awake at night are: What have I missed? What are the things that I didn’t even think to consider? What were the unknown unknowns, and how important was it that I know them?

This way, as you can see, lies madness.

To feel my way through this sometimes-terrifying virtual jungle, I find myself relying on the same tactics that tourists have for time immemorial. I watch the locals and ape them as respectfully as possible. I watch the other tourists, stealing their clever tricks and noting their trip-ups. I ask questions—but with the full knowledge that most of the answers are going to be contradictory, unhelpful, or downright wrong 99% of the time.

(In fact, it’s the answers from the people who sound most sure that are the ones that are most likely to be wrong. On a recent trip to NYC, I was trying to find a PATH station. One woman I asked told me with absolute, hand-on-the-bible certainty that I had to get into a cab and head directly to Penn Station. I did exactly as she was told, but was set straight by the cab driver, who got me to where I needed to be. So maybe the moral of this story is, only trust the cab drivers.)

Finally, when I’m really, really lost—I head for the U.S. Embassy. Unfortunately, I can’t quite figure out what the metaphorical equivalent of the U.S. Embassy is to a debut novelist. I know for a fact there ain’t no Marines coming with a helicopter to airlift me out. So here’s hoping I don’t get any more lost than I already am.

So, what do you think? What are your best hints for this starry-eyed tourist on her first trip to Debutville? What are the unknown unknowns that are most important to know? And don’t tell me “a prescription for lithium,” my husband has been trying that on me for weeks with no success.

22
Jun
10

The Voices in My Head

I, too, have been lax in posting. However, I can now happily report that last week I finished the sequel to Blood Law, which is tentatively titled Blood Secrets. (As with all things in publishing, the title is subject to change.) I handed it over to my editor on Thursday and was looking forward to a nice relaxing vacation, at least a week, before breaking out the white board and Post-It Notes to plot the next project.

The voices in my head had other ideas.

Don’t misunderstand me. The voices were very nice. They actually slept in and waited a full twenty-four hours before demanding my attention like the demons they literally are.

I forced myself to ignore them for the weekend and take a little time to bask in the glory of having finished my second book. However, the more I ignored them, the louder they shouted. Now, instead of spending the week organizing my office after a massive relocation effort, I find myself standing in front of a white board with a dry-erase marker in one hand and a pad of Post-It Notes in the other.

It sounds crazy, and perhaps I am, but even though this new project will be written in first person POV, I “hear” the other characters interacting with the protagonist and all have distinctive voices. With Blood Law and Blood Secrets, which are written in third person with multiple POV characters, it seemed natural to “hear” these other characters and give them a view-point. For the new project, however, it seems really odd.

As a reader, I like both first and third person, as long as the characters are engaging, and have even seen second person POV used effectively in A Good and Happy Child by Justin Evans. As a writer, I think I like working in third a little better than first, but I’m comfortable writing in both. I try to pick the point of view that will carry the most impact for the story. Although, there are times when a central character simply steps forward and says, “This is my story and no one’s telling it but me.” That would be the scenario I’m facing with this new project.

So, my fellow writers, do you have a preferred POV from which to work? Do you switch them up depending on what best suits the story? Have you ever had a character dictate the POV of the story? Am I the only one who hears voices?

10
Jun
10

Writing the easy part.

I have determined that I lie to myself. A lot.

When I start writing a new book, I tell myself I just need to get through the beginning, then it will get easier. Once I’m trudging through that endless middle section of the first draft, I tell myself not to despair, once I get closer to the end it will be all down hill. Of course, I forget that the downhill ride toward climax and resolution is full of treacherous cliffs and jagged rocks. Not to worry though, once I get through the first draft I’ll have words on the page and I can start revising. That will be easy, right? Not so much. While revising I tend to tell myself to just get through the revisions, then I can go back to the easy part of writing fresh new words in a new book. But wait . . .

Yeah, I lie to myself.

Writing isn’t easy. It just isn’t. Oh, some days are easier than others, and sometimes writing is tons of fun, but it isn’t actually easy. I’ve written four (five?) complete novels at this point, and if anything, it’s getting harder, not easier. Apparently I’m a masochist because I keep coming back to my keyboard. Of course, being difficult doesn’t make it any less rewarding. (Also, I’m pretty sure the characters living in my head are vindictive enough to drive me insane if I refuse to write their stories.)

So what is the point of this blog post? Am I trying to scare the potential writers out there? Quite the opposite.

I was a guest at ConCarolinas this weekend, and after one of my panels (I think it was a panel on procrastination) a young man came up to me and we chatted about what was said on the panel and about writing in general. He eventually said, “It’s so hard. I have all these ideas, but I have so much trouble getting them down on paper.”

All I could do was stand there and nod because writing is hard. I totally agree. It’s hard for me too. I could lie to you like I lie to myself and say, “just get through this and it will get easier” but then when it doesn’t, you might think you’re doing something wrong or that you’re just not cut out for writing when the truth is that it’s hard for all of us. (That, or maybe I’m the one doing something wrong. LOL)

So, if you are writing and it’s all up hill, keep your chin up. Those who came before you had the same struggle and they made it. You can too.

19
Mar
10

the 7 habits of highly effective authors

First off: finished my third contracted book! BOO YA!

Many years ago, my grandfather gave my then boyfriend, now husband, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. At first we had a good laugh. My grandfather has a habit of giving books out randomly in a “I just finished this and I liked it, here you have it” sort of way. Actually, it’s a pretty awesome thing to do, but at the time it struck us both as sort of weird. However, my husband (then boyfriend) now looks on that book as the greatest present he ever received. It was dropped into his hands at just the right moment in his life, towards the end of college with real life looming on the horizon. It changed the way he thought about life, and thought I’ve never read it (I have a certain aversion to self help books) I might as well have considering how much my husband quotes it.

I’m not going to into all the habits, but there’s one that I keep going back to over and over again, that the promises we make to ourselves are just as important as the promises we make to others.

As writers, we tend to work in bubbles. Deadlines, when we have them, are distant, all or nothing sorts of things that have very little to do with the words we’re actually writing or editing or crying over that day. Even once you land that mythical publishing contract, most authors are left to fend for themselves during the day to day writing struggles. This means managing your own time, and it is a bear. Over the six odd years I’ve been seriously writing, I’ve set thousands of  self imposed deadlines, and missed nearly as many, especially for my first book. What did it matter, anyways? It’s not like anyone knew that I’d missed my deadline but me.

But as time went on and my time began to fritter away, my husband’s repetition of this little phrase from a self help book kept coming back. Eventually, I began to understand that if I was ever going to have the kind of writing career I’d imagined, I would have to start taking myself, and my self-imposed deadlines, seriously.

The first thing I did was cut waaaay back on the number of deadlines I set, especially the arbitrary, unrealistic ones I knew I couldn’t make. Then I picked 3 deadlines I felt I could realistically make, and set these in stone in my calendar. I treated them as I would deadlines for my day job where there were real consequences, and real stigma, for missing milestones. I made a solemn promise to myself that I would keep these deadlines, even if it meant working more than I’d anticipated or missing something fun because my time was already promised. I would write, I would make these deadlines. And I did.

Sure, I still missed a few, and I made myself pay for that with extra work rather than playing like I wanted to. Then I went back and looked at why I’d missed that deadline, making notes so that I could set the next one more intelligently.

It seems like every writer and agent blog tells you that if you want to be a professional writer, you have to treat your writing professionally.  This is much harder than just keeping a schedule. This is keeping your schedule when your book is an unfixable mess and it’s spring time and real life is busy and there are new raids in WOW and the internet is interesting and no one will ever know if you blow off writing and watch Hoarders.

Make promises to yourself, and keep them. Never treat your writing time like free time. It’s your great dream, if you won’t live it, no one will help you. Never make excuses, never let anyone take it away from you.

24
Feb
10

Confessions of a Twisted Mind

I am not what most people would consider “normal.” I’ve been blessed -– or cursed, depending on how you choose to view it –- with an overactive imagination. Okay, so that part isn’t uncommon. The uncommon part is that my imagination skews to the Dark Side, and I mean Stephen King-level and beyond. It’s a great resource when you’re a writer…and a guy…not so much when you’re considered “a good girl” in the South.

My love affair with all things dark and disturbing began at an early age. I was six when I saw the 1932 film adaptation of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. Vampires instantly fascinated me. The next time Mom took my brother and me on our monthly pilgrimage to the library I checked out as many books on the subject as I could, including a copy of Bram Stoker’s novel. From there I progressed to werewolves, demons, ghosts, fairies, aliens… You name it, I probably read about it.

As I got older, my interest in the supernatural continued, but I also developed an interest in psychology, particularly abnormal psychology. I read books on psychopathy, sociopathy, serial killers, cults –- pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I also read books on history, anthropology, and religion. This is all in addition to reading the fiction of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Books weren’t the only fodder for my imagination. Films sparked all manner of ideas, especially when I was younger. My older siblings let me watch scary movies when our parents weren’t around. Not a good idea. The Exorcist gave me nightmares for months, and after seeing Poltergeist, I was convinced there was a dimensional portal to Hell in my closet. (That was three weeks of hell for Mom that much was certain.) Then there was that unfortunate clown incident at the circus…

So, where does the twist come in to all this? The twist is that all these little things have accumulated in my brain over time and made me who I am.

For example, my husband and I live in Mobile, Alabama but my family lives in Mississippi. When we travel from Mobile to visit my family, the route we drive takes us past a couple of very lovely marshy areas. Mark, my husband, sees these marshes and says, “That would make a cool photo.” I see them and say, “That would be a cool place to hide a body.”

Another example: An innocent trip to the home improvement store takes a dark turn when I’m around. Others see common household and garden tools. I see murder weapons.

Even a walk through the toy section of a discount store gives me ideas. All those plastic ties that hold dolls and action figures in place in their packages? Others see annoyances that have to be removed quickly in order to stifle the demanding screams of a child. I see effective restraint points for a psychopath to use during a torture session.

My mind never completely shuts off, and I’m constantly composing scenes in my head for whatever book I’m working on at the time. The smallest thing can spark a full-blown creative fit. Does this make me “a bad person?” No, I don’t think so. Maybe a little creepy, but not “bad.”

So if you ever have an opportunity to meet me, and I seem to space out for a second or two, it’s nothing personal. I’m probably just thinking of ways to hide your body.

21
Jan
10

Oh, a writer’s life for me…

Greetings everyone. My name is Paul Crilley, and I’m yet another of the new Magic District bloggers. I’m afraid I’m not off to a very good start. I was supposed to write my first blog on the tenth of January, but that date seems to have come and gone with little to show for it except a couple of extra holiday season kilograms and a desire — no, a need — for the new school term to start. I had a list of excuses ready, the main one being that my internet was down, but truth to tell it completely slipped my mind. I’m terrible like that. My office is filled with post-its, my white board scrawled with barely legible reminders and notes. It’s entirely possible that I did write up a reminder, but I can’t seem to read my writing so we’ll never know for sure.

I suppose a little bit about me would be appropriate at this point. I’m a 34 years old Scotsman living in South Africa with my partner and our two kids. (Who are amazing, despite my aforementioned desire for the holidays to be over. Like, now.) I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since Mr. Davidson, my English teacher, gave me an A for a short story I wrote back when I was twelve. I’d always liked making things up, but that little hint of encouragement made something click in my head, and that was when I decided I wanted to do this for a living.

It took a while though. When I was 16, I wrote a fan letter to Margaret Weis asking for advice. She told me that it takes either a million words or ten years of writing before you can produce something good enough to be published. That number was spot on for me. When I was 26 I sold my first short story to the DAW anthology, New Voices in Science Fiction.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had another dozen or so short stories in print and had two books published. (But I’ve sold five. Three of them are still in the pipeline.) I’ve also written for local television, working on sitcoms and dramas, and even dabbling in soap operas. (Not so much fun, that last one.) Last year I got to do something I’ve always dreamed of when I freelanced on Bioware’s upcoming MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

On the prose front, I write the Abraxis Wren series for Wizards of the Coast. The stories are mystery/crime novels set in the fantasy world of Eberron, and Wren is a consulting detective inspired by Sherlock Holmes.  But this year is the year that I get my own stuff out there. The first book in my Young Adult series, The Invisible Order comes out on September 28th from Egmont USA. The book is called Rise of the Darklings and follows the “thrilling adventures of Emily Snow and Spring Heeled Jack as they stumble upon a hidden war being fought between faeries and mankind on the streets of Victorian London, adventures that will force them to stay one step ahead of secret societies, evil faeries, and ancient legends come to life.” Ooh. Doesn’t that sound exciting?I’m really proud of the series, and hope it does well. (Which, I suppose, goes without saying.)

Anyway, that’s enough from me, as I’m starting to even bore myself. Truth to tell, I still feel like I’m incredibly wet behind the ears. I’m learning new things every day, and don’t really feel I know enough to dole out any secrets of writing. I’m still trying to discover that for myself, so if any of you have any secrets to share, I’m all ears. But what I can do is bring you along for the ride, and if anything noteworthy happens on the road to publication, I’ll be sure to talk about it here. And any questions you have, I’ll try my best to answer them.

Ciao.