Archive Page 2

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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13
Aug
10

when it all comes back around

First off, my official website and blog are live! Yay! More Rachel than you could ever want, but hey, there’s free chapters of my books, so there’s compensation!

In the meanwhile, when I’m not wasting time making the links on my blog the right shade of orange, I’m slogging through novel 4. I’ve posted about middles before, but seriously, it’s the worst part of any novel for me. In the beginning everything is shiny. I always know how my novels start! And at the end, you’ve got climax fever and everything’s exploding, plenty of action to drive you along. But the middle is where you’ve got all those pesky details to nail down between point A and point Awesome-it’s-the-end. I’ve never really been a details person, and so middles are where I flounder. Lately, however, I’ve realized what I think may be a fundamental truth about series writing that’s making things easier. It goes like this: though I’m on book 4 of 5, there are several things I still don’t know about the series. I have some ideas about how things will go, but I don’t have scene by scene breakdowns or anything. Still, I’m not worried. You see, all though my books, through the 4 middles I’ve now written, I’ve been dropping threads for myself. Mentioning little things about the world that may have had no real bearing on the story that was happening right then, but they added flavor and, as I get closer and closer to the point where I have to tie everything together, they provide much needed spots for the knots to go.

To give an example, my husband watches a lot of Stargate SG1. Like, a lot a lot, I think he’s on season 11. One of the things he’s constantly raving to me about the show is how it will use things from waaay back, like season 1, as major plot points for later. When he first told me this, I was so impressed. What amazing foresight those writers had! Dropping hints so early about things that become important later! It’s genius! But, now that I’m managing the book equivalent of a five season show, I am slightly less dazzled, because I’m doing the same thing. See, I didn’t know I was going to be writing five books, and I’m pretty sure the SG1 writer team didn’t know they were going to be making 11 seasons of the show. I will bet cash money they didn’t sit around in the writing room in season 1 saying “Ok, be sure to lay out all these hints for season 6, 9, 10, and 12” any more than I looked at my draft for book 1 thinking “Ok, I’ve got to put down all these clues for book 4…” No, I was thinking (and I’m pretty sure the Stargate team was as well) “I will make this story interesting my world deep by throwing in all this cool shit!” And low and behold, when more story was requested, that cool shit, all the interesting asides and chance comments on the world, then became vital future plot points.

Once I realized this about my own fiction and Stargate, I started seeing it everywhere. That’s because it works both for the writer and the audience. People, especially fiction readers, loooove finding patterns. They love it when something mentioned in book 1 becomes the key plot turn in book 4. As a reader, it makes you feel smart, special, like you and the author are in on some awesome secret. Everyone likes feeling special. Even better, they remember that awesome thing you mentioned in book 1 as soon as it becomes important in book 3 and feel very clever for doing so, but they don’t remember the 5 other cool hints you dropped around the one you used. It’s like the opposite of the Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech. People remember the good bits, and the ones that never really took are interred with your bones.

From an ego standpoint, I would like to think that some alligator brain in the bottom of my subconscious had everything planned from the beginning. Maybe it did, but so far as my conscious mind is concerned, I’ve always tended to treat my novels like soup pots. Anything that could possibly make the soup better without ruining the flavor goes in. It is often sheer serendipity that later, when I’m stuck in a middle with no idea how I’m going to jump this plot hole, I look back and there’s my answer, danging from the loose ends of book 2. Sometimes you just have to throw it all in and see what sticks.

So, do you ever notice/participate in this phenomenon?

PS: Has anyone else encountered this monstrosity? (har har useewhutididthere) Seriously, though, you tell me. Is this a victory for the popularity of urban fantasy or the embarrassing, corporate cash-out tail end? I am both strangely attracted and utterly repelled.

12
Aug
10

Lesson Learned–a Convention story

(I’m buried under deadlines, so this is x-posted. By the way, before I get started, I currently have a contest on my personal blog and one of the things the winner will receive is a sampler from Ace/Roc. Check out the details HERE. )

While I’ve attended conferences and conventions for nearly a decade, this year marked the change from attendee to guest, from audience member to panelist. In the years and years I sat on the other side of the table, listening intently to the writers on the panel, I picked up on a lot of things I didn’t realize I was learning at the time, and which the authors probably didn’t know they were teaching. As I sat there, hoping to learn some secret of craft or business that would help me reach that golden goal of getting published, I was also subconsciously learning what I, as an audience member, responded to. That information became invaluable this year.

For instance, I know that when I’m in the audience, listening to a authors I’m not familiar with, I’m not going to remember their names. I’m just not. Panels usually start with an introduction, but until I hear them speak and some part of my brain determines what they say is interesting, their name just doesn’t stick. Of course, by that point, the intros have already passed. Sure there are usually nameplates on the table, but the rooms are often large and I’m terrible about wearing my glasses, so I can’t read them. And even if I do remember their name throughout the panel or even during the entire convention, I’m terrible with names and that information doesn’t always stick in my head. But, if they have their books on display on the table throughout the panel, I’ll associate that funny/insightful/charming/whatever personality with that book. When I see the cover later in the store, I’ll remember. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up just because I liked the author. Even if I don’t pick up the book while at the con, I tend to buy it afterward. So, when I walked in my first panel, I walked in with copies of my books to display on the table.

From being in the audience, I also know that I personally respond well to bookmarks. A nice looking bookmark is a great way to help me remember the author’s name after the conference. So, I bring bookmarks to my panels and invite people to come up and take them after the panel is over.

Basic manners are a must all the time, in my opinion, but especially when you’re on a panel. Another writing friend and I were talking about a convention we both attended earlier this year. During one of the panels (I was in the audience for this particular panel) one of the panelist said “you’re wrong and I think you’re and idiot” to another panelist (in a few more words, but that was the gist). The result included a lot of shocked faces both on the other panelists and in the audience, and a couple nervous giggles. That was months ago, but when we discussed it recently, I asked my friend if she’d ever read that particular author’s work. Her answer: No. A friendly debate and differing views on a panel can be educational and entertaining, but ugliness leaves a bad taste in the mouth (even if you’re right).

This one is probably obvious from either side of the table, but: no one likes a panel hog. I’ve been to panels where one panelist (typically the least interesting/knowledgeable) would not shut up. A question would be asked and they would jump in, rambling on and on–often not even about the right topic. (Occasionally it isn’t even a panelist, but an audience member who either thinks s/he should be on the panel or that they are having a private conversation with the panelists.) This puts the moderator and the other panelists in an awkward position because there is often not a good way to quiet the loud mouth without coming off as rude (see the previous point). It’s not fun for the panelists, and it’s frustrating for the audience, so when I’m on a panel, despite how nervous I am, I try not to ramble (unlike when I’m blogging, clearly. LOL)

So these are all things which can be learned from the audience side of the table, and when I showed up to my first panel, I felt pretty prepared. Oh, I still ran into my share of cringe-worthy newbie mistakes–like the fact I didn’t consider preparing a short verbal introduction before I sat behind the table for the first time and my brain totally went blank when they handed me the mic. I got the whole, “I’m Kalayna Price and write Urban Fantasy” part but then the moderator asked me to tell everyone a little about my books. ” . . . they are uh, about vampires, and shapeshifters, and uh . . . magic . . . ?” Major fail. But I eventually ironed that out and I can now describe both of my series in under three breaths.

Once my first con passed and I survived, I thought I had this whole panelist thing figured out. I was able to talk about my books without making a complete fool of myself, I was talking to readers, making friends with other writers, and generally having fun. No problem. Then something new happened.

Someone asked for my business card.

Business card? I’m a writer. I didn’t have business cards. I had bookmarks for released and upcoming books. I had thought that was all I needed. After all, I’d never once, in all my years attending cons, come home with an author’s business card.

But while authors are at the cons to interact with readers and they speak on panels about books, publishing, and craft, they are also at cons to network. They network with other writers, with editors, with agents, with organizers of other events, and with a plethora of other people. Part of me knew that, but I never really thought it all the way through. So, at the last con I attended, I ended up scrawling my email address on the back of my bookmarks–not the most professional approach. Needless to say, several of the people who asked for my card never contacted me.

Kalayna's Business CardsLive and learn. I now have business cards. They came in today, just in time for Dragon*con. They are simple, as you can see, just my name, email, and website along with my most recent book cover. I have no idea if anyone will ask for my card, but now I have one. I’m sharing this experience with you, because this con guest must should have wasn’t obvious from the otherside of the table. You never know what you don’t know until you’re faced with a new situation.

Any tips or tricks you’d like to share (that you’ve picked up on either side of the table)? Is there anything you’ve seen a panelist do that was particularly helpful/successful? How about something you really wish a panelist would never, ever do?

Anyone going to Dragon*Con?

09
Aug
10

5 things I’ve learned about writing — writing is a business

Today’s blog is the fifth of my posts on the 5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing — Writing is a Business.

When you’re at your computer, notepad, or wherever you write, all you’re thinking about is the scene you’re writing, the scene you’re going to write — and occasionally drifting off to imagine what it will be like to see your baby on the bookstore shelves. You imagine yourself getting THE CALL from an agent offering to represent you, then getting THE BIG CALL from your agent saying that a humongous NY publishing house is clamoring to buy your baby. Those thoughts make you feel all warm & fuzzy and inspire you to finish that chapter that’s been giving you fits.

Then one day, all of these things happen, and you start to realize that writing is much more than you, your muse, and your computer. It’s a business. And your book isn’t your baby; it’s a product — and so are you. Of course, you knew this to begin with. Kind of. On some level. Your book sells and you get paid. That makes it a business, right? You know this. But what you probably didn’t realize (I certainly didn’t) is the extent that you must be involved in the business aspect.

There’s not much that’s more intimidating and thrilling for a brand-new author than opening a big FedEx envelope and pulling out your first publishing contract. Of course, being the control freak that I am, I sat down and read the thing (savvy business move). I understood some of it, got the gist of some of it, and the rest left me completely clueless. Fortunately I could rest easy (and sign easier) secure in the knowledge that Kristin (my agent) would answer any and all questions that I had, and that she and her contracts person had gone over the thing with a microscope and made certain that every paragraph, clause and sub-clause was as much in my favor as it was possible for a new author.

Then there’s promotion. If you’re at one of the big NY houses, you will be assigned a publicist. Mine is great, but the nuts & bolts of promoting my book were up to me. Getting promotional materials (postcards, bookmarks, etc.) designed and printed. Getting the best website you can afford designed, up, and running. Getting pages on as many social networking sites as you can juggle. Networking with other authors, networking online, and getting your name and your book’s name in front of as many people as humanly possible. I have no idea how authors promoted themselves or their work before the Internet. All I can says is: all hail cyber space. Then there’s the conferences. With traveling expenses, you have to pick and choose which conferences will give you the most bang for the buck.

And how can I forget deadlines? Before I was published, my deadlines were self-imposed, which meant that I could take all the time I wanted to make my manuscript as perfect as possible. Now, I essentially have nine months from typing that first word, to turning in a final manuscript to my editor. The deadlines are in your contract, so they might as well be graven in granite. Depending on your publisher and editor, there may be some leeway, but the date on your contract is the date that book is expected. Try telling that to a fickle muse.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. So yes, writing is a business. And yes, a lot of it I had no clue I’d have to do for myself. And if I did know about it, I had no idea how much time it would take, or what all was involved. All I can say is thank God for Linnea Sinclair when I was first getting started out. She was my author mentor/mom. She took me under her publishing-savvy wing and taught me everything. That’s another piece of advice I can give: when you get published, find yourself an long-published, experienced, savvy author who is willing to answer your panicked and/or clueless emails, and who will take away from her own precious writing time to introduce you to all the right people, and give you the benefit of her hard-earned wisdom. Linnea, hon, what would I have ever done without you. HUGS! : )

04
Aug
10

if you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory

I have not posted in a long time, and I offer a solid dogeza in apology (see below).

So my series, starting with The Spirit Thief, comes out on October 1, followed by The Spirit Rebellion in November and The Spirit Eater in December. So many books! But don’t they make such a lovely little set? Anyway, while all this is going on, I am busy at work on Book 4 in the Legend of Eli Monpress, and I am running into some interesting situations. See, back when I wrote the Spirit Thief, I knew it was the first in the series, but I didn’t actually know much about the series other than how it ended, which was very far from where it began. Over the course of three books I’ve had to get a lot more specific and detailed.  This has caused a few problems because I’ve never written a series before and I was wholly unprepared for the level and amount of detail I ended up having to keep track of. Thousands of little decisions made over years of writing that have to be kept in mind because, in the world of the books, they are now history, irrefutable, and completely un-fudge-able should I find them inconvenient later down the line.

Some of this was alleviated by my wiki, especially the dry, bookkeeping kind of detail, but more and more as I dig into book 4 I find myself face to face with decisions I made about my characters months or years ago, and worse, decisions I made and now don’t remember making. I remember hearing a story about J.K. Rowling writing her later HP books and having to go into bookstores to buy the earlier ones to check things because she didn’t remember what she’d written. At the time I first heard this, I thought it was stupid. What kind of author doesn’t remember what she writes? But I own Ms. Rowling an apology, because I’m now in the same boat (albeit a far smaller, less grand boat). I have an ARC of the Spirit Thief on my desk at all times that I use to constantly check things, and search is my favorite feature in Word. But as my story grows, the process of self checking gets trickier and trickier. But though I do check all the time, I often find that, especially for things like character decisions (who did what when), my first intuition is the right one. I’ve been wondering lately why this is. Does some deep part of me remember? Am I clairvoyant? That would be nice, but I think the actual reason if far simpler and, by extension, more reliable.

One of my favorite ladies ever, Judge Judy, always says that if you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory. Tuns out this is equally applicable whether you’re suing your neighbor over a fence on TV or writing fiction. My characters are the most interesting part of writing for me, and I put a great deal of thought and consideration into keeping them true to themselves. Sometimes this has the unfortunate side effect of characters bucking the plot when it asks them to do something they wouldn’t do, but while that can be annoying (read catastrophic while it’s happening), I think my books have always been better for it. But another lovely, unforeseen side effect of this is that, by staying true to my characters, telling the truth of my people, as it were, I don’t have to have a good memory about what they’ve done in the novels. I just think of the situation in question and I know how they would have reacted, even if I can’t remember exactly how I wrote it.

What have I learned from all this? That it’s worth the time to really know your characters for practical reasons as well as artistic ones. Because sometimes you end up writing a fourth book when you only really expected to write one, and you should always build on a firm foundation. Especially if you’re like me and Diet Coke has eaten your memory and you need all the help you can get.

Mmmmm… diet coke…

02
Aug
10

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. ; )

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.