Saturday, May 29, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #4

Along with all the delicious fantasy, today we shall enjoy watermelon, nectarines, saturn peaches, and a bit o' tea with honey:
Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #4

Yeah, that's a red onion in there. I'm just making sure you're paying attention.

A bit about the fantasy: Neil Gaiman + Charles Vess = Yum. Enough said. In the back on the right, we see The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones. If you read a lot of fantasy, you'll find this really amusing. I was reading it in Starbucks and laughing out loud, drawing glares from staid, sober types who always glare at me when I laugh out loud. (I might be the only person who laughs in my neighborhood. I really need to move out.) The Tough Guide deals with all the clichés of fantasy, and let me tell you, they're still getting used even though this book came out a few years ago. My favorite is how everyone eats stew. Even though it takes hours to make stew from scratch, especially over a camp fire, all these heroes are eating stew on their journeys instead of slicing off a steak from a slain animal and cooking that in a few minutes. Seriously, have you ever tried to make stew from scratch, without using pre-made broth or stock? Try it and then check out how long it takes them to do it in a novel. That's magic.

The featured book here is The Light-Years Beneath My Feet by Alan Dean Foster. This is also a few years old, but what I really want to do is express my fanboy ecstasy for Mr. Foster's body of work rather than draw attention to any particular book. He's written over thirty-five books for Random House alone. He's written more with other publishers. Check out the list here. That's a long, prolific career, friends. He's written science fiction and fantasy; he's written series and standalones. And no matter what you pick up, you'll get a good read, guaranteed. He's not a #1 bestseller (I don't think?), he doesn't win fancy-schmancy awards, he just gives you an entertaining read, every time, and he's been doing it since 1972. I first got hooked on him with The Man Who Used the Universe. I've read it so many times that my copy is falling apart. After that I read The I Inside, and I liked that even more. (Those links are to Powells, and you'll probably have to find those books at used bookstores because they're out of print now.)

There are only a few authors who write books that I read multiple times. I revisit Card's Ender's Game quite a bit; McCaffrey's Dragonsinger series; Herbert's Dune; Stephenson's Snow Crash; Tolkien, of course; and then there are these little books by Mr. Foster that I just dig for some reason. The first book of his Damned trilogy, A Call to Arms, keeps me coming back. I really enjoyed Drowning World and Life Form, too. And Mudge, the otter from his Spellsinger series, started me laughing out loud in public early on and drawing glares from stuffy old people. If you've never given Mr. Foster a look, he's worth a try. He's bound to have written something you'd enjoy with fifty or so books to his name. He's basically the guy who got me hooked on science fiction when I was young; his Spellsinger books were also the first fantasy I ever read. In many ways, he's the reason I'm a writer now. Mr. Foster, I salute you—and thank you for all the great stories.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer's here (for me)

School's out! I get to write full time now, and catch up on all the things around the house that have gotten away from me. Like, you know, the entire backyard.

Good news! My typeset manuscript for Hounded is here—the galleys, I believe they're called—and they're simply beautiful to look at. Seein' my first book in print like this has had me grinning like an idiot all day. There are little boo-boo's to fix here and there, typos that creep in during the process, you know, but nothing serious. In other good news, the manuscript's been sent out to a few other authors here and there for blurbs, so I might have some of their spiffy (and kind) words to share down the road.

As I'm leading up to the big finale in Hammered, I keep changing my mind about who's going to feel the pain and how. I wonder if it's like that for the Fates (or the Norns), trying to figure out which thread to cut and how to knit the others together afterward.  I'm even throwing in a couple of the Norse gods—Heimdall and Tyr—that I hadn't originally planned for, because more mayhem and peril is always a good time. My plans for the fate of Freyja have also changed...

Coming soon: a puppy cuteness overdose (we have a Boston Terrier pup), another Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit, and a red-bearded dwarf named Olaf Umlaut.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alphas & Betas & Editing

This is about alpha and beta readers, not werewolves. Rarr! Sorry. It's also about all the fixin' that needs to be done before a book appears on the shelves.

Nobody writes perfect, golden prose on their first draft. Or even their second or third. I could be wrong...but I doubt it.

Every writer's different on how they approach these things, but it's fairly common to have some sort of feedback during the writing process. An objective pair of eyes can catch inconsistencies and let you know whether what you've written A) makes any sense and B) if you're entertaining. I use two alpha readers who look at each chapter as it's finished and one beta reader who looks at the whole novel only. These three people all look at the book before my agent or editor sees it.

So hey, shout-outs to my alphas, Alan and Tawnya: They catch all sorts of good stuff and let me know when I've made a factual error. For example: "Kevin, blue spruce trees don't grow in Europe. Dumbass."

Calling me a dumbass wasn't really part of the original comment—I simply felt like one. And I'm grateful to my alpha reader for checking on these things. I should have taken the time to research that, but I was probably in a character/plot groove and didn't want to pause to make sure I named the right species of tree. A good alpha reader will call you on stuff like that, and it's hard to find good alphas. Who'd want to read a novel in spastic spoonfuls, sometimes weeks apart, and nitpick instead of simply enjoying the story? Such people are a rare breed.

My beta reader, Andrea, is my Politically Correct filter. (Sometimes I put things in there just to set her off. It's funny when she gets into a snit.) She also finds inconsistencies in tone that occasionally creep in during the course of writing, and she suggests that I flesh out a character here or maybe leave out something there. Since she reads the whole book in a sitting or two, she spots larger issues rather than tiny ones.

After the alphas and beta are finished and I've made changes according to their suggestions, I send it off to my agent, who may/may not have plenty to say (there was a lot for Hounded, but he had me deliver Hexed to Del Rey as is) and only then do I deliver it to my editor. This means my editor is probably seeing my fourth or fifth draft, but I go ahead and call it my "first" draft in terms of my computer files.

Then we go back and forth with changes until she says heck, this is pretty good, I'll accept this. At that point everybody takes a few minutes for a happy dance. To give you an idea of quantity, there were five rounds of changes for Hounded, only three for Hexed.

But wait! We're not finished! Next the copy editor gets hold of it and lays down some Grammar Fu with a green pencil. He/she will also catch lots of factual issues, ask great questions, point out inconsistencies, and I can make changes there as necessary.

After that it goes to typesetting, and the only changes I can make then are minor spelling/punctuation doodads. Inserting/deleting passages is probably not a good idea at this point, because it costs money.

Finally, it's finished. Only after months of work will it go out to the general public. The author's name is on the cover so he/she gets all the credit, but quite a few people are involved with any publication. (I didn't even mention the cover artist and all the people in marketing and publicity. That'll be a blog for another day.) So to my alphas and beta and my agent & editor(s), thank you, and cheers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Narrative Voices

Since my books are first-person narratives, it's easy to get into a bit of a rut. Ruts can be nice, mind you. Sometimes they're downright comfy. But sometimes you'd like to put on a new pair of shoes and step out of that rut. Stretch your legs, go on a minor perambulation off-road, discover wombats lurking in the undergrowth. Find buried treasure. Or simply find out where the hell this metaphor is going, because I'm not sure anymore.

I've been stepping outside the (entirely pleasant) rut lately. For five chapters in Hammered, I get to tell the story in the voice of a different narrator. Making each narrator sound (and read) differently than my accustomed narrative voice is the fun bit. And it's really bizarre what it can do to your head when you sink yourself so deeply into a character that you begin to think like him.

One of my characters is especially hirsute—as in, don't let him make you any food without a full-body hairnet. After writing in his voice for an hour, I was overwhelmed with an urgent need to shave. And get a haircut. I actually felt hairier after writing and thinking in his voice.

That might indicate I have a dire need for therapy. But I hope it means I'm writing a lively character with his own personality.

Hmmm. If writing a hairy character makes me want to shave...I think I'll create a skinny character next and drop ten pounds after writing a thousand words in his voice. And I will never, ever write a criminal because I like living outside of jail.

I know not how others do it, but I create a very specific set of verbal tics for each character. Leif Helgarson doesn't use contractions often, for example, giving his diction an almost ridiculous level of formality. A Russian character neglects to use articles and often forgets to use pronouns, etc.

51K on Hammered now. For some reason, being over 50K makes me feel like I'm sprinting for the finish line. I do a little "Halfway!" dance all through the 40s, but once I hit 50K I know I'm on the home stretch. D'oh! Writing "home stretch" made Mötley Crüe's "Home Sweet Home" pop into my head. And now that I've written it down and you've read it, it's in your head too. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Mötley Crüe is a virus.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #3, Steampunk Edition

Ah, goggles & dirigibles—is there anything more divine? Yes! Goggles and dirigibles and FRUIT! Behold the latest composition in my ongoing series:
Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #3

Friends, this is simply delicious. Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, Gail Carriger's Changeless, and a delectable chorus of pears, grapes, and melons await your admiration!

Boneshaker doesn't simply have cool gadgets & goggles: it has zombies! Mmm, braaaaaains. (That is why the melons were absolutely necessary.) It's also printed with brown ink and set in a rather tasteful font. Thus far I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Changeless, aside from its great humor and attention to fashion, features werewolves and vampires and mummies, and if you're interested in picking it up, I'd start with Soulless first, which will get you hooked on a fantastic series. Carriger's third book is supposed to come out in September—I can't wait—and if I'm lucky, I'll get to interview up here on the Grove. 

Speaking of interviews, you can look forward to two this summer: Nicole Peeler on June 29, and Kelly Meding on July 27. Those are actually release dates for their second books, and if you'd like to be introduced to them ahead of time, Nicole's first book is called Tempest Rising and Kelly's is called Three Days to Dead.

Still plugging away at my third: 47K now on Hammered.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


One of the things I'm enjoying as a writer is how I frequently get surprised by my need to research something. As a reader, I'm familiar with being taken to "whole new worlds," but it happens often when I write as well.

For example, right now I need to know a few things about Prague and a little town called Osinalice in the Czech Republic. I didn't know in advance that I'd need to do this; Prague wasn't in my outline for Hammered, I assure you, but now it's in the book, just a wee bit, and in subsequent books (may there be many), Prague will figure more prominently. 

Thank goodness for the Internet(s). But dang it, now that I've looked at Prague a bit, I want to go there. For now I guess I'll have to live vicariously through my characters.

Perhaps the most research I've had to do to date—aside from years of soaking up mythology from this source or that—is on the nature of iron and its use (or misuse) in fantasy as a foil for magic. The most enjoyable research has been discovering which Irish pub in Arizona has the best fish and chips. (The answer: Rúla Búla.) The coolest experience so far has been to present a real-life detective with a death scene in Hexed and ask her how she'd approach it as a case. She came up with questions/things to investigate I didn't even consider, which illustrated to me how much I would suck at being an evil genius...and also why I'd be awful at writing mysteries.

Prague is my whole new world for today. If anyone's been there and knows where the spooky parts are, give me a holler.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Geek List (embedded in a list of miscellanea)

1. Moms are cool.

2. I'm currently reading a book called Shop Class as Soulcraft. It reminds me very much of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, though this is a bit more straightforward and not couched in fiction. I'll post a review when I'm finished.

3. I liked Robert Redick's The Red Wolf Conspiracy quite a bit, though I haven't written a full review. The creatures called murths were fascinating...wished I could have read more about them.

4. I'm now at 44K on Hammered.

5. There are degrees of geekiness and nerdiness, and I while I can truthfully claim to be both mildly nerdy and mildly geeky, there are certain things I must acquire to rise up in the ranks a become a TurboGeek or TurboNerd. The good folks at have me covered. For example, there's this Dread Pirate Roberts action figure. It's terribly fashionable, as I've wished. And then I need to get myself a new sonic screwdriver because the new Dr. Who has one. When I'm on the go and a bit sluggish and don't have a pot of coffee ready, then I can have myself a Caffeinated Maple Bacon Lollipop. Mmm, bacon. With 80 mg. of caffeine in every pop, I'll be shredding like Megadeth on my electric guitar shirt. Rock on.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Halfway There

The third book's been tougher than book two; the demands on my attention thus far in 2010 have been many and varied—you know, life—and there's much more to do in the way of world building for this one. Still, I'm over 40K words on Hammered as of today, and since I was hoping to reach that number by May 31, much less May 5, I'm pleased to be ahead of schedule.

We're thinking of getting a new puppy and my daughter wants to name it Boba Fett, regardless of whether it's male or female. I'm not sure whether to be proud or horrified. Perhaps I could try being proudly horrified, or horrifyingly proud...

Today is an excellent day to drink a margarita—and not a cheap house margarita, either. I'm talking about the fancy-schmancy ones. Rocks, no salt for me. Cheers.