Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Two books down, one to go!

This morning I just finished writing HEXED, the second book in my series. Right now it's 82,256 words, and I'm quite smug.

Of course, once my agent and editor take a look at it, it'll probably change significantly, and the revision process is like that, but it's also entirely enjoyable, just tinkering around the edges. What I'm grooving on is the fact that I managed to bang all of that out in less than five months while still holding down a day job. I didn't know I had it in me!

I'll probably start messing around with HAMMERED soon, but for now I'm going to take a couple weeks or so off from writing and enjoy the sense of completion while it lasts.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Skipping ahead

I just finished writing the epilogue to HEXED. It came to me just before I nodded off to sleep last night, and I wrote a quick, rough version before I forgot it. I polished it up this morning.

It's odd because I haven't finished the actual climax of the book yet. Sometimes I do that, though: I skip ahead in the sequence of events, then go back and fill in the gaps later. Chapter 18 was like that; I wrote chapter 17, then 19 and 20, and only then did I go back and write 18.

I'm at 74K now and I'm going to start the climactic Chapter 21 momentarily. Blood and guts, baby, blood and guts.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Progress Report 2

HOUNDED was formally accepted on Dec. 9, and now it's going to the copy editing stage. I'll be receiving the copy edited manuscript on Jan. 14, and I have to return it with my corrections/amendments by Jan. 27.

I'm at 70,000 words on HEXED, and I'm hoping to finish it up this week. Right now there is coffee to drink and presents to unwrap, and later there is Sherlock Holmes to enjoy. :)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Red Elephant Bakery

I'm going to tell you all a secret.

There's a really cool little place in Payson that I visit every time I'm in town to visit my parents. It's called the Red Elephant Bakery (which you probably guessed from the post title) and it's a wee place that serves coffee in porcelain cups on saucers, with a wee spoon on the side and real cream to pour into it from a miniature carafe. Paintings of the African Savannah adorn the walls, and in a tiny room they have a gift shop full of handmade goodies. The handbags in particular are stunning—if you bought them in a department store they'd be $70 or $100 easy, but they're selling for under $20 because they're getting the material almost free from a local upholsterer who lets 'em have scraps of his most sumptuous fabrics.

They have a small menu—salads, eggs dishes, and grains, not much meat—and I'm here to tell you that the portobello mushroom sandwich is mighty fine.

Free wifi, my friends, free wifi.

The bakery/cafe is actually inside an old house, so it's very homey inside and it's utterly anti-corporate. The people who own and operate it are completely delightful and very welcoming. I truly dig it and spend some time writing there every chance I get. Discover it for yourself if you ever make it up to Payson!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Papyrus in Avatar

It is a sad, unavoidable fact that James Cameron's new movie, Avatar, not only uses Papyrus for its movie title logo, but also for its English subtitles when the natives of Pandora are speaking in their native language.

Clearly he failed to consult even a single graphic designer worth the name.

However, despite this screeching eyesore of a font, the rest of the movie is bloody brilliant. Go see it, because movies that can make me forget I'm staring at Papyrus are rare indeed.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The New Mustached Villain

My curiosity bids me ask, why do male Disney villains have acres of space between their noses and upper lips with razor thin mustaches resting on top of said lips? I'm actually just thinking of Jafar and the Shadow Man, the latter being the latest Disney villain in The Princess and the Frog.

In many ways, it seems that Disney just took Jafar and recycled him into this new setting. Like Jafar, the Shadow Man is very tall and skeletally thin; he wields a cane with a globe on top that's eerily similar to the scepter Jafar used in Aladdin; he has a tall, black hat like Jafar's monstrous headgear; and then there is the aforementioned mustache.

What can we conclude, then, about facial hair? A long, white, ZZ Top beard means you're wise and ready to save Middle Earth; thin, black, and trimmed means you want to rule over Agrabah or New Orleans; a brown, bristly beard suitable for sanding down petrified wood means you're Chuck Norris.

Gandalf can still take Chuck Norris any day of the week, by the way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Vainamoinen is not a cleaning product. Nor is it a communicable disease. And to completely disappoint you on your third guess, it is not an exotic sauce to pour on your roasted animal flesh of choice.

Vainamoinen is a Finnish deity/culture hero who may or may not have been Tolkien's inspiration for Gandalf. He played an instrument called a ketele, which he invented himself, made out of materials he happened to have handy at the time: a giant pike's jawbone and the hair of a blond maiden who must have had particularly thick and resilient hair.

By using the power of his ketele and his voice, he could make magic happen. That's some serious shredding on the ketele. I'm going to have a good ol' time with him in HAMMERED; can't wait to see what kind of guy he turns out to be.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Editing is pretty darn fun

Today I finished my first round of edits on HOUNDED. I have no idea how many more rounds I have to go, but the first round was so much fun that I'm not concerned about it continuing for a while.

I also finished a pronunciation guide for the Irish names and words in the book, and in the opening explanatory paragraph I decided to substitute the cliche "rain on your parade" with "steal your marshmallows."

I think having your marshmallows stolen would be infinitely worse than having your parade graced with a little precipitation. If you can't watch the parade—or march in it, for that matter—then there are infinitely more entertaining things to do, because parades aren't all that swell, to be honest, and dang if Arizona can't use the rain. But if someone steals your marshmallows, then your day is ruined, period.

So say we all.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Make monsters monstrous

Though it's doubtlessly been pointed out elsewhere, vampires suck.

They don't delicately consider the feelings of needy teens and Louisiana barmaids. They eat teens and barmaids and everything else. Sorry, kids.

Vampires are dead monsters who return to the grave every day, and by night they snack on the first juicy carotid artery they see. That's the way they were originally drawn up, that's the mythology, and I'm sticking to it. Sensitive vampires didn't exist until the last couple of decades, and suddenly it seems that they've just been misunderstood for all these centuries and what they've really wanted all this time is a meaningful relationship with an extraordinary female. What is going on? Why are all the scary monsters getting turned into cuddly buddies? Can't we stand to be scared by anything anymore?

It's all the thrice-cursed romance writers' fault. They're cynically exploiting women who know, who just know, that they're special and different somehow, and someday the knight/prince/vampire lord of darkness will recognize their inner worth and take them away for happily ever after and feed them boxes of chocolate while they get pedicures.

Zombies, fortunately, aren't being treated (yet) as viable love interests. What we get instead are movies that make them seem funny and vastly entertaining to destroy. It's a different way of attacking the same problem: monsters are monstrous.

Leave my monsters alone. People should be screaming when vampires show up, not sighing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Praise of Strange Traditions

I have much to be thankful for: my wife and child, a house to keep them safe, and entertaining brouhahas between my dogs and cats; a spiffy set of friends; and a good publishing deal that represents a dream come true for me.

But on the day itself, I think I'm most thankful for the strange traditions of my family. I have no idea how they started, but part of me doesn't really want to know. I'd rather enjoy the mystery and oddity of it all.

Here's what we do: we go out to the McDowell Mountain Preserve north of Fountain Hills and have our full turkey dinner out there, on stone picnic tables, amongst the Saguaros and the Palo Verdes and the teddy bear cholla. Now this dinner is all-out, mind you, there's nothing missing: we have the gravy, we have the sweet potato thing with the marshmallows on it, and several homemade pies are on hand for dessert. It just has this potluck feel to it since everybody brings something and it's not all cooked in one kitchen, plus there's the whole paper plate thing.

After the dinner we all hike up Lone Mountain to burn maybe 300 of the 5,000 calories we consume, and then comes the topper: we string a rope over a Palo Verde branch and beat the crap out of a pinata. This is simply inexplicable to me and I love it. I remember doing it when I was a kid, and now I watch my daughter do it and I'm telling you, it's a really good time.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday simply because my family has managed to stray far, far away from the Hollywood-packaged motif of sitting around grandfather's table and squabbling about this and that. We have a freakin' picnic among plants that want to stab us and nobody does the dishes! We're Bohemians! We're fightin' the Power! Stickin' it to the Man! We're On the Bus!

I hope y'all are happy and safe and thankful for this fortunate life we're living.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Progress Report

Today I reached 50,000 words on HEXED. I also went through a whole box of tissues because I'm ill, but at least I'm getting some writing done in between the sniffles.

Thank goodness for Day Quil.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Screamo Christmas Carols, please!

Can somebody please, please, please release a death metal collection of Christmas songs? Actually, I have the perfect band for it: Lamb of God. The singer delivers his lyrics like he's hawking up the personal loogie of Satan, and it's that voice that I want to hear sing "HARK!" And then you'll get this thumping double-bass drum groove and a shredding guitar lick, and then he'll growl along with it like tigers hunting Siegfried and Roy, "the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king, PEACE ON EARTH! and mercy MILD! God and sinners reconCILE!" And then they'll just thrash for three minutes. Yeah!

I'm telling you, if they'd play that in the stores instead of the same old tinny, weepy, wussy stuff, I'd be buying stuff so fast Visa wouldn't realize I'd maxed out my card until I'd single-handedly ended the recession.

Wouldn't it be awesome to hear Metallica do Jingle Bells? I'd love to hear the vocal stylings of James Hetfield applied to such a jaunty classic:

Dashing through the snoooooow-AH!
In a one-horse open sleigh-AH!
Over the fields we goooooo-AH!
Killing all the waaaaay-AH!

There's money to be made here, I'm sure of it. Metalheads need something to keep them sane amongst all the yuletide cheer. Who will join me in demanding this music? A psychobilly song or two would be fun, too:

Bunnies roasting over an open fire
Zombies nibbling on your toes

You get the idea.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In the old stories, everybody died

I shocked my students yesterday when I told them that stories didn't used to have happy endings. Before the corporate giant of Disney, the bad guys used to win, because the tales reflected the truth of the world: the powerful ate the weak.

Little Red Riding Hood was eaten by the Big Bad Wolf, and the same wolf ate the first two of the three little pigs.

The Little Mermaid died in Hans Christian Andersen's original tale; she didn't get married and sing happy songs with crustaceans.

Goldilocks? The bears ate her. Hansel & Gretel? All cooked crispy in the witch's oven.

And fairies, by the way, aren't cute little creatures with wings that want to help out Peter Pan and sprinkle children with pixie dust so they can fly. One of the reasons I wrote HOUNDED was to depict fairies as the heartless enemies of man they originally were in Irish legend.

Perhaps Disney's most infuriating episode of meddling with the past is Pocahontas. The real Pocahontas died at age 22 of tuberculosis or pneumonia. She didn't live happily ever, painting with all the colors of the wind with her raccoon and hummingbird friends.

Sorry, kids, I don't mean to be mean: I just think Disney's like high fructose corn syrup. It's not real, it's not good for you, and you shouldn't swallow any of it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pulchritudinous Poland

I used a five-syllable word in the title just to freak out one of my students. He thinks that words longer than his fingernail should not be allowed. I think that they should be cherished, like the halcyon days of his youth. (I used halcyon to freak him out even more.) Plus, alliteration is always a good time, right?

Right now I love Poland, population 32 million or so. Never been there, but you know, maybe someday.

The reason I love Poland is that it's the first country to buy translation rights to my urban fantasy series. That's right, my first foreign sale is to...POLAND! Not to Germany or Italy or China or even the UK: Poland.

I am grateful to them and of course I hope they enjoy the Polish witches in my series. Malina Sokolowski, the leader of the Polish coven, is one of my favorite characters, and I always delight in writing about her. The Polish coven, as a matter of fact, is quite involved in the plot of HEXED.

I've learned quite a bit about Poland in the course of my research for the novels. The primary thing I've learned is that I have no idea how to pronounce anything in Polish. I look forward to learning much more, of course, and now I'm quite excited to know that my books will have an international audience.

Thank you, Poland!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gandalf can take Chuck Norris

There is a certain amount of hyperbole associated with the abilities of Chuck Norris. But facts are facts: Gandalf told the Balrog "YOU...SHALL NOT...PASS!" and the Balrog didn't pass. In fact, Gandalf smote his ruin on the mountaintop. And then he saved Minas Tirith.

Chuck Norris can't take a Balrog. Chuck Norris can't even take Legolas. Chuck Norris certainly can't pass Gandalf. Therefore Gandalf owns Chuck Norris—because, look, you can't deliver a roundhouse kick to a dude with a magical force shield. Gandalf would send Chuck Norris back to the Shadow.

Gandalf can make Nazgul flee with a little white light from his staff. Gandalf can slay armored orcs with a little tap from said staff,  even though he's all old and arthritic. Gandalf can say "Your staff is broken," and your staff will break. Gandalf can break Chuck Norris' staff.

Gandalf is simply superior to Chuck Norris in every way. So there.

Friday, November 6, 2009

I'm Halfway Done, Son!

I've reached 40,000 words on HEXED, which means I'm halfway finished! And since this is the second book in a three-book contract, I'm also halfway finished with that, too!

I think this calls for pudding.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Disco Fries!

Today I learned about Disco Fries. It's not something you can routinely find in Arizona, or I would have heard about it by now.

Disco Fries are french fries with gravy and cheese on top. In Canada they call it poutine. Here's the link, son!

I learned about Disco Fries from my agent. I think I'll have to try some when I go to New York next summer, just to say I've had them.

But I have other excellent news: HOUNDED, HEXED and HAMMERED will be audio books published by Random House Audio! Since Random House owns Del Rey, the opportunities for synergistic marketing are strong, and I'm so happy that people in the publishin' world seem to dig Atticus and Oberon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Writer's Playlist

I tend to listen to music while I write, and it's usually the instrumental sort, mostly guitar music of one kind or another.

Here are the artists I listen to most frequently:
1. Rodrigo y Gabriela, anything they've recorded
2. Yngwie Malmsteen's Concerto for Electric Guitar
3. Vinnie Moore, anything I have
4. Six Parts Seven, Casually Smashed to Pieces

Of course, this means I'm often plugged into headphones while I'm writing in public. I've discovered that I don't write well at Starbucks, because they play some awful music at times and they play it loud. Plus they turn on the blenders and the coffee grinders and auuugh! It's cacophonous.

Yes. I wrote this whole post just so I could write "cacophonous."

Word Count on HEXED: 37K.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Samhain from Atticus

Since the hero of my novels is a Druid, this is a holy day for him. If he were more than a figment o' my imagination, then he'd want to wish you a happy Samhain. So, felicitous pagan greetings to you from a fictional character!

If you want to return those greetings, well, um, that would be weird.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Kaibab Squirrels are COOL

If you have never seen one, do yourself a favor and do a Google image search for the Kaibab squirrel. They have white tails and these awesome little ear tufts, and they only live on the Kaibab Plateau north of the Grand Canyon.

It's an awesome example of evolution by geographic isolation; their white tails give them camouflage cover in the winters when there's snow. Here's the good ol' Wikipedia link.

I mention the little critters because one of them figures prominently in a short story I'm writing called "Kaibab Unbound." It's intended to be a teaser for HOUNDED, featuring Atticus and Oberon getting into a spot of trouble on the Kaibab Plateau.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Short stories take a long time

I can write a thousand words a day on my novel, but for some reason a short story won't let me write more than 400 words per diem.

I've rewritten the first page about three times now.

I've changed the title five times and I told the last one not to get too comfortable at the top of the page, because he's going to get revised like all the others.

I've written long descriptions of Flagstaff and then deleted it all because it didn't advance the plot.

I may need to write a thousand words in HEXED and then tell the short story, "See? This is how you're supposed to behave. Why can't you be like a novel?"

Yeah. That'll show it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

On HEXED and burly squirrels

My work in progress is called HEXED and I'm just about halfway through it. It features Coyote (not a coyote or the coyote but Coyote, the trickster), a fallen angel, some Bacchants, a nasty coven of German hexen, a tall priest and a short rabbi...amongst other colorful characters.

I have to say that so far I'm kind of cracking myself up during the funny bits. I hope other people will think it's funny too. I'm also kind of grossing myself out during the gory bits, but I'm not sure if it's okay to hope other people will be grossed out.

Anyway, HEXED is supposed to be finished in the spring, and HAMMERED, the third book in the American Druid series, will be finished in the summer, featuring nobody's favorite squirrel, Ratatosk.

"But Kevin," you may ask, "how can  a squirrel be nobody's favorite?" According to Norse mythology, Ratatosk lives in the World Tree, Yggdrasil (which isn't on my daughter's spelling list this week) and he regularly chats with a great wyrm named Nidhogg. Any squirrel that a wyrm talks with instead of eats has to be a mighty burly squirrel, right? Ratatosk is the kind of squirrel that bench presses guys like Charles Atlas. Ratatosk is the kind of squirrel that would steal nuts from Chuck Norris. Ratatosk will never appear in a Disney movie because he frightens small children and large dogs. I really can't wait to write about him...but I need to finish HEXED first.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dr. Xerox and the Low Toners

I am the lead singer of a band that must now be considered defunct.

De-funked, perhaps.

We were Dr. Xerox and the Low Toners, but alas! We lost our drummer over a year ago and haven't played together since. I kept hoping another drummer would come along, but we seem to be cursed, like Spinal Tap, when it comes to drummers.

And now our bass player is afflicted with agues in his right hand.

Though we were naught but a cover band ere the departure of our drummer, we had dreams of putting together original material; we even had a song written called "Happiness is Caffeinated."

I don't wanna be sedated
Chillin' out is overrated
By now it's been clearly demonstrated
That happiness is caffeinated.

Lyrics never look as good as they sound; I thought it sounded mighty fine.

And so I'm going to pour a little out for my homies, and also for my music that will never be birthed, slimy and wailing, into the world of public opinion. I do have novels to write, and that should keep me satisfactorily occupied on the creative front.

But to my Low Toners: Rock on, dudes. It was a pleasure shredding with you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

19th-Century Handmade Amish Swimwear

That's a snippet of imagery from a song by the Dead Milkmen that I can't seem to get out of my head. It haunts me with its absurdity, yet upbraids me with my own tunnel vision about Luddite society...

It never occurred to me, before this song, that the Amish might swim. They churn butter and make quilts and raise barns; they are not avid swimmers in the popular imagination. I could more easily imagine the Amish starting a death metal rock band than I could imagine them frolicking in the water.

I want to meet an Amish triathlete now, just to say I've shaken hands with such a creature. Does one exist now, or has one ever existed?

I think about these things on Tuesdays.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Papyrus is evil and must be destroyed

There was a time—for about a month after its release—when Papyrus might have been a good choice to use for whatever design thingie you had to complete. Then everyone started using it for all possible purposes—for menus and garage sale fliers and real estate developments and dental offices—and it was ruined by its very ubiquity.

Aside from its abuse by the general public, it is probably the most poorly kerned typeface I have ever seen. It should be flushed on that reason alone.

The reason for its popularity had much to do with the fact that it was included in Microsoft's software, and it wasn't Times, Helvetica, or Comic Sans. (And the fact that it's not Comic Sans is about the only thing it has going for it.) Now, however, it simply needs to go away. Don't believe me? Want to help? Check out the links below.

  • If you'd like to get in on the ground floor of a new flickr group,  you can add to the photos at PapyrusSucks.
  • There's an extensive site of submitted photos broken down into categories called PapyrusWatch. The link will take you to logos, but there are additional links on the right side of the page that will show you examples of Papyrus abuse in packaging, calendars, etc. 
  • You can click here and look at the god-awful kerning between the capitals and lowercase letters, and notice how the studly hardhat man doesn't seem to fit with the Egyptian-y font. On this company's trailers in Arizona, the kerning between the T and the rest of the word is so bad that it reads like T roon instead of Troon.
Are you ready to take the pledge? Do it! I have, and now my soul feels as pure and white as bedclothes in a detergent commercial.

Friday, October 16, 2009

One Man's Everyday War

There is a pestilent practice proliferating amongst the hoi polloi—and no, I speak not of unnecessary alliteration—that persists in spite of my railing: it is the careless use of "everyday" in retail signage (and essays) when "every day" would be proper.

OPEN EVERYDAY, or LOW PRICES EVERYDAY, is what I see most often in shop windows. These same people do not proclaim that they are OPEN EVERYNIGHT, nor would they ever say they are open EACHDAY, but apparently they are comfortable with a certain level of cognitive dissonance.

I shall not let it stand.

I am making stickers that simply say EVERY DAY, and I will place them over offending signs when I see them. I will not add "you idiot!" or any other pejoratives, however appropriate; I will simply correct that which is incorrect and go on about my business.

Perhaps it is a silly line to draw in the sand, but we must do what little we can to promulgate the notion that we are a literate society. Come, my friends! 'Tis not too late to seek a proper sign! Sticker those windows and trucks and whatnot—correct them every day!

On the Necessity of Agents

Okay, okay: you don't need an agent. Unagented writers happen, and they will continue to happen, though their appearance is about as predictable as a lightning strike. You might be a bolt of lightning and your book will one day shock the world. So let me explain why you may want an agent.

Agents can submit your book simultaneously to as many publishers as they want. Publishers let them do that kind of stuff because the agents know them, take them out to lunch, etc. There's a personal relationship there that you don't have; an agent can pick up the phone and talk to an editor right now, and let that editor know she's about to receive your completely spiffy book and she won't want to put it down. Said editor will drop whatever she's reading from the slush pile and read the agent submission instead.

As an unknown author, you can't do that. If you pick up the phone and call an editor without being invited to do so, you've probably destroyed your chances of getting published there. You have to submit your work exclusively to one publisher at a time and wait for them to get around to you in the slush pile—and it can be a long wait, because agent submissions take precedence over yours.

Case in point: I submitted one novel to a publisher (who shall remain nameless) and they sat on it for a whole year. Imagine a year of nail-biting suspense with concomitant acid indigestion: it's not fun. To take my mind off the fact that I still had no news, I wrote a different novel—HOUNDED, as a matter of fact—and found an agent who wanted to represent it. My agent submitted HOUNDED to the same publisher and they bid on it in two weeks. They also got around to finally rejecting the first novel I sent them! (I'll work on that—it'll get out there eventually!)

Selling your book quickly is the first reason why you might want an agent: they can simply do it faster than you because they can make editors take notice of your work. The second reason to have an agent is that they take care of things like contracts and overseas sales and negotiations over rights and endless other minutiae that you, as a creative person, are probably not built to handle well. When Evan (my agent) just says the word "boilerplate," my eyes begin to glaze over, and that's before he gets into any details.

The third (and probably best) reason to want an agent is that you'll have a partner in your writing career who wants you to do well, because he or she will prosper as you prosper. And that partner is looking out for your long-term business interests, keeping a finger on the pulse of the market, and pushing you to grow creatively.

I'll post a separate entry on my actual quest for an agent and offer some tips for those who don't have one yet.