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Hello mister tall, dark, and terrifying

(Blog X-posted)
October is moving right along which means creepy costumes and sugar highs are just around the corner. Or is that just my plan? Surely not.

Halloween is nearly here, and it’s a good time for the things that go bump in the night. Many creatures which once would have been relegated to horror stories and movies are now featured as heroes and romantic leads, but let’s forget them for a moment and talk of the terrifying.

What flavor do you prefer your horror stories/movies? Do you like an oppressive atmosphere that keeps your shoulders hitched as you wait for the worst? Do you like the monster you never quite see so he’s worsened by your imagination? Perhaps your horror preference is the gore and the gritty details. Or maybe the psychological horror tale that worms itself into the back your mind and then begins to twist. Or perhaps your horror tastes lean toward the destruction of all hope in the face of insurmountable and unstoppable odds? (Zombie Apocalypse anyone?)

From the ghost story to the slasher film, horror is a genre with many faces and many elements. Which work for you? Do you laugh off a scary tale, or do you sleep with the lights on after a good horror flick?  It’s the month for spooky stories and frightening monsters, so please share your favorite horror movies and books! (We could all use a good scare, right?)


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?


Part 4 of 5 Things I’ve learned about writing: Momentum matters

Momentum matters and persistence pays — no truer words were ever spoken (or written) for a writer.

As I discover every day, no daily writing session stands alone, each hour of work, each day of work ties to the one before–and connects to the one to come after. Writing builds on itself.

With everything we all have going on in our daily lives, brains can only be expected to hold on to a plotline for so long. Let’s face it, life gets in the way of writing. I’m a walking/talking example — I’m about a month behind my personal schedule as a result of real life (and two colds) keeping me from writing. Life has an annoying tendency to take our minds away from our characters and make us talk and actually interact (gasp) with living, breathing people. When this happens and I get back to my writing, what momentum I’d built up has gone bye-bye. Dang it! Then I have to take valuable writing time to go back over what I’d done before to bring myself back up to speed.

And it’s not just the words that we lose our grasp on when we don’t (or can’t) write every day. A particular character’s emotional state, the emotions they had in the scene where you stopped were right there, bubbling on the surface of your consciousness, ready to be tapped again. If you lose a day or two, needless to say, the bubbling has stopped.

And to write every day (or every day that you can) takes discipline and persistence. Discipline to do it, and persistence to see it through to the end of the book and beyond (to getting an agent and publisher). For those who want it badly enough, the thoughts and dreams of reaching that final goal are enough to keep us moving forward. And there are plenty of roadblocks: life, family and friends who don’t understand (or worse yet, who don’t believe in you), and just the cold, hard truth that writing is hard work. It’s lonely work. And if you want to be a published writer, you have to trudge on dispite all of this.

As most of you know, I have a full-time job, so carving out time to write wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy, but I really wanted to be published, so I found the time. I started writing on a more regular schedule, and I could see the improvement. And when I saw the improvement, I wanted to write more. With that came confidence and a determination to reach my goal.

I’d still be writing even if I wasn’t published, because writing isn’t just what I do — writing is who I am. It’s like an addiction, you can’t stop, and you don’t want to. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing. When I’m writing, I’m happy. When I’m between projects, I can get a little cranky. Just ask my fabulous (and patient and supportive) husband.

Writing for publication is like any other goal worth working and fighting for — you have to put your nose to the proverbial grindstone and just do the work. Believe me, after struggling for it for over 20 years, it is SO worth it. ; )


Part 3 — 5 things I’ve learned about writing — Grow a thick skin

Today’s topic is the third of the “5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing.” When you want to be published, one of the things you need to do is grow a thick skin. Trust me, you’ll need it. Or as I’ve heard it said: “Trade your skin for rhino hide.”

The need for a thick skin doesn’t start when you’re trying to get an agent, or your agent is trying to get a publisher — it’s for your entire writing career beginning with the first word you put on paper or screen. As I’m sure most of you writers out there have experienced, very few people take your dream seriously. Even your friends and family. It’s just a hobby, a thing that you do, and if you haven’t been published, they see no reason to think that you’re a “real writer.” As I’ve said before, this is bullpucky. If you write and are serious about it, you are a real writer, and don’t you let anyone tell you otherwise.

That’s the biggest thing right there — you absolutely must believe in yourself and what you are doing. When people heard that I was writing a novel, they would always ask The Question. You all know what it is. “Have you ever been published?” It got to the point where I just didn’t mention my writing in casual company. I got sick and tired of the question. But if someone had heard that I was writing a novel, I’d tell them that it wasn’t a matter of if I got published, but when. For that statement, I’d get that polite little smile that said “Bless her heart, she’s delusional.” Needless to say, I ignored their opinions completely. ; )

But the big wakeup call for most writers (who are close to becoming published authors) is when they find out that publishing industry is just that, an industry. It is a business, people. Just like any other. Your book isn’t your baby; it’s a product. But I digress. I’ll take on that topic in my next “5 Things” blog. Many times I have been soooo close to getting an agent only to get the “no, thank you” letter. Now let me stop to shoot down an unfortunately common myth. Some writers think that agents love rejecting writers. They absolutely do not. They want to find treasure in that slush pile. They love books; they love authors; and they love finding books that give them chills. If you’re fortunate, an agent will have the time to give you a little word of encouragement and/or feedback in that rejection letter or email. But most of the time, you’ll get a “thank you, but your manuscript just isn’t a good fit for us” or something to that effect. That means they didn’t get chills from reading it. BUT, very important point here, what doesn’t give one agent chills, makes another agent jump up and down and go “squeee!” It is all in personal preference. Agents don’t rep projects unless they absolutely adore it. So when you get those rejection letters (and you will, I certainly did), don’t let them get to you. Just check that agent off of your list and keep going.

It all ties back to my previous “5 Things” post — you gotta want it bad. You have to want it badly enough to ignore what anyone says or thinks or implies. You gotta want it regardless of how long it takes (over 20 years for me). Because I am here to tell you that the wait, the struggle, everything is so worth it. I’m actually glad it took over 20 years from the time I started writing until I got published. I appreciate everything so much more because I had to work so hard and wait so long for it. And it is still hard work. Actually, I’m working harder now than before I was published. Because as I said, writing is a business. I do more than just write. But I’ll talk more about that next time.

I’ve got a sticker on my computer that says “If they can do it, you know you can.” It’s been there for years, and I have no plans to take it down. So grow that rhino hide and believe in yourself — if they can do it, you know you can. ; )



Fiction as Dark Alchemy

“All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened.”  -Ernest Hemingway

 Last night I made an appearance at the Jewish Book Council’s Meet the Author conference.  In part, I talked about the fuzzy no-man’s-land between fiction and fact.  As I see it, fiction is a web of imagined events and people mixed with real memories and emotions, shot through with a creative impulse to create a new story reality.

 LADY LAZARUS pulls much more from history than the other stuff I’ve written up until now.  I’ve mined my family history, Jewish mysticism, and WWII history to create a new world, populated by imaginary characters.  Do you ever worry you are appropriating stories that aren’t “yours” to write?  Picasso reassures us by saying, good artists copy, great artists steal.  But I am sensitive to the charge that I am taking tragic recent history and mining it to weave a new, fantastical history of my family. 

 My answer to this may be self-serving but I believe it nevertheless – though it’s important to be respectful of the experiences and viewpoints of the people in your life, and of people generally, you still can write any damn thing you want to.  That very sensitivity will give you greater insight into your own story and where it veers away from actual experience.  Just be ready to accept the consequences, especially the unintended consequences, of writing honestly and hard about what hurts (to steal from Hemingway here :-)).  Just as you have the right to write whatever you want, your readers can have any reaction they want to what you write.

 What say you?  Do you tread lightly when your writing is informed by the real-life experiences of other people?  Or do you figure that, hidden by the veil of fiction, you can follow the story where it leads you, because the alchemy of fiction itself makes the story yours?


Kid Ninja Redux

Today I have some lovely art to share!  This is a comic strip of KID NINJA that Moviemaker kid and I did on Bitstrips.  I learned about this easy to use comix tool at the site of author Geoffrey W. Cole — it’s a fun way to play with ideas and present them in a graphic form.  My little guy got really excited by the prospect of putting his story into pictures, and started planning some new ideas with the graphics in mind.  Might be a fun way to jumpstart your own ideas, or just to procrastinate 🙂

Have a fabulous week!


A Writer’s Vices

I’ve been working on revisions for DARK VICTORY, and recently I came to a major realization in the midst of berating myself for not “writing right” (breaking one of my own rules – no floggings).  The part of me that follows the rules, the part of me that strives mightily to please my teachers and earn my good grades – that dutiful, sweet, carefully-censored and forcibly civilized me – that me should *never* be in charge of getting the story out of the ground.  And despite all of my posts here and elsewhere that feature helpful tricks and tips, in the end it all comes back to this:

It’s the lazy, stubborn, disgruntled, jealous, vengeful, bitchy, daydreaming, and HONEST me who has the stories to tell.  And the way she goes about telling the stories – at the last minute, in a white-hot blur, with tears and curses and glasses of wine at 3 a.m. – is NOT the way the rule books tell you to go about this whole fiction career thing.  I guess the point of this little rumination is that your goal is not to “write right,” to write dutifully for an hour every day, to write the way the so-called experts – including me! — tell you is the proper way to write.  Don’t write for a pat on the head or for the A+ at the top of the page.  Write because you’ll die if you don’t, write because it’s exhilarating or simply too fun not to do it.  Write because you must get your revenge or your thirst slaked, or write because your heart is full enough to overflow. 

Instead of beating yourself up for your wayward, wicked ways, (like I do!) read the advice that many worthy writers, editors and agents offer you all over the wonderful blogosphere – but alter the directions to suit your writing road, to actual conditions on the ground.  Where good writing is concerned, rules are made to be broken, especially your own.  All that matters is finding the idea and bringing it as whole as possible onto the page.  Don’t you worry how you get it done.  The only thing to remember is what Stephen King says:  do not come lightly to the page.