Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nom nom nom!

When you present the Cookie Monster with a cookie, he’s going to love it because he’s the frickin’ Cookie Monster. He’ll eat it and say, “Nom nom nom!” even if it’s kind of bland and stale. But if you present the Cookie Monster with a kind of cookie he’s never had before —a rich, moist, warm one, say, plus a glass of milk—the Cookie Monster will probably have a sugargasm and he’ll say, “Nomnomnomnomnom!” There will be crumbs and blue fur everywhere, and slightly alarmed innocent bystanders will cover their children’s eyes in the name of decency.

Urban Fantasy readers (like me, anyway) are kinda like the Cookie Monster when it comes to novels in the genre. Give me a UF novel and I’ll devour it happily, saying “Nom nom nom!” all the while. But I think I’m about ready for that book that sends me into unchained fits of turbo-nomming. I need a more varied diet in my UF reading, but I need other writers to help me out a bit here—and maybe some suggestions from readers who can point me in the direction of something I haven’t seen yet.

What I’d like to read are more stories told from the point of view of characters who aren’t your everyday UF hero(in)es. Instead of a shifter, vamp, faery, demon, or a half-version of any of the above, can we get a story told from the point of view of a wight who’s a mite misunderstood? How about a dude who escapes from a mad gene-splicing scientist with the head of a cuttlefish? I want to get inside the head of a half-mad half-squid, you see, and hear about his struggle to hold on to his humanity while he pursues vengeance against the butcher who replaced his whiskers with tentacles, and weep with him as he tries to reconnect with his wife and daughter, both of whom happen to be allergic to seafood.

Gnomes, trolls, goblins, kobolds—I don’t think anybody’s written the definitive work (correct me if I’m wrong!). I’ve seen some mermaid stuff in YA fiction—I’m thinking Emily Windsnap—and I might be missing a whole lot more because I don’t read much YA. There’s probably a centaur book or two out there, maybe a hipster hippogriff. But I definitely haven’t seen any attempts to write these sorts of characters in the adult UF market. Then again, I might be the only guy demanding such stuff, which would explain the short supply.

I don’t know how much demand there is out there to hear stories about Druids—I guess I’ll find out next year when my books hit the shelves!—but one reason I chose a Druid to be my main character was to attempt to introduce something new-ish to all the Cookie Monsters out there. I know that vampire/shifter/magic-girl love stories are popular—I completely understand because I like them too—but I can’t believe that’s all people want to read. I think there are vast opportunities in UF to tell some fresh tales, from the harrowing to the humorous, but somehow the genre has worn itself into a few distinct ruts already, and instead of treading new ground, people are throwing themselves into the same few grooves. If you think it’s too risky to try something a bit “out there,” well, I can always point to my publisher (Del Rey) and say look, there are editors in the biz willing to take a chance on an unorthodox hero, because they’ve taken a chance with Atticus O’Sullivan. (Harry Connolly’s hero, Ray Lilly, is not your average bear, and neither is Stacia Kane's Chess Putnam—and look! They're both with Del Rey! ;))

I hope to try some new cookies soon. If you’re a writer, I hope you’ll find time to experiment in the kitchen of your word processor. And if you know of any unusual UF narrators out there now, please let me know in the comments! Nom nom nom!

Monday, September 27, 2010

If you stalk a writer...

I have to sit still long enough for someone to take an author photo and I'm practically gibbering, "distilled almost to jelly in the act of fear." (Shout-out to Horatio)

How can I simultaneously make myself look interesting and yet not so weird that I scare the bejesus out of potential readers? Try to come up with an image of yourself being "conservatively interesting" and you'll see what I mean. It's nearly impossible. It's why authors give up and stand in front of bookcases. It's why they bow their heads and stare at pads of paper with pen in hand. It's why they do the infamous chin cradle (see my profile picture, which I did on purpose and it cracks me up) or skulk around trees.

I will not go gently into that good night: I shall not cross my arms in front of a bookcase and pretend that this is what I normally do. If one of those wildlife photographers were to stalk me, to capture my life candidly in my natural habitat, then they'd probably catch me reading comic books on the couch, far away from the bookcase. Or I'd be writing at the kitchen table, which is what I'm doing right now and where I write most of the time. There might (or might not) be a beer next to the computer. But I can't do any of that: see, if I'm reading a comic, some people are going to sneer at me because I'm reading comics, some will sneer because of the particular titles I read, and heck, I probably couldn't get permission to publish a copy of the comic cover in any case. And if I have a beer in the picture, I'm going to offend all kinds of people—first, people who don't drink, second, people who drink wine or "harrrrrd likker," and third, beer snobs who will criticize my unrefined palate no matter what's in my glass.

I paint miniature dwarfs, but someone will recommend me for therapy if they see a picture of that. On the other hand, I might be enshrined into the Nerd Hall of Fame for a picture like that.

Sigh. I'm probably going to hover around some plant life and hope it camouflages the fact that I'm almost forty. But it'll be kind of cool to have a "39" picture out there. I might wind up using it for a long time. :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Different Sort of Cage Match

Suvudu will never run a Cage Match like what I saw tonight. I just watched the Cardinals and the Raiders play one of the worst games EVAH. The Cardinals "won" 24-23. It wasn't a victory for the Cardinals so much as proof that the Raiders Suck More. The Cardinals still sucked; they just Sucked Less. The whole thing was jaw-droppingly bad, except for that one immensely entertaining play where the Raiders fumbled, picked it up, then the referee got in the way and actually stripped the ball out of the running back's hand, sailed ass over teakettle, and the Raiders retained possession because the ball went out of bounds. That was all just the Raiders and the Ref. The Cardinals weren't really in that picture. I hope that play winds up on a highlight reel somewhere, because it was hilarious—an instant classic, actually, but they only did two replays on the broadcast. They need to put that thing on a loop!

Someone at the top of the Raiders' organization must have done some incredibly naughty stuff to deserve karma like this.

Excited for The Walking Dead

I'm excited to watch other people deal with them, anyway...on TV. AMC's new series, based on the graphic novels, looks absolutely spectacular. It's going to be far more character-driven and tragic, methinks, than you'd see in a horror film, and it won't be anything like the campy fun of Zombieland. You won't see anybody sayin', "You got a purty mouth!" before clocking a zombie with a banjo.

If a zombie apocalypse were actually possible, I figure it would look much more like this bleak vision: lots of drama, lots of tension, and a despairing hope for a new world. This Halloween, I'm staying home and enjoying TV...because outside of football games, I haven't watched anything since Battlestar Galactica ended. Maybe I'll actually get scared on Halloween for a change!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

I'm Tweaking

I'm tweaking outlines for my agent and suggesting tweaks to the covers for the first three books. I got to take a look at the second draft of them yesterday and OMG they rock! Del Rey has been completely dreamlike here in working with me; they took my suggestions after the first round and made everything awesome. There are still some minor issues that need adjustment, but after these final tweaks get made I think we'll be in really good shape!

In other news, have you ever visited If you haven't, check it out and bookmark it. They ran a Cage Match earlier in the year where fans could vote on who would slay who if fictional characters fought to the death. For an example, here's a link to one of the matches between Gandalf and Hiro Protagonist (the best name EVAH). It was a ton o' fun, huge numbers of people voted, so they're going to do it in again, starting in late October, with a different set of characters. You won't want to miss it! Not only can you root and vote for some of your all-time favorite asskickers, but you might see something from Yours Truly up there. :) I'll provide a link when it's up!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #7

It's been a while since I've been able to read anything for fun. Now that school's back in, I tend to have other things to read. Here's what I have to read this weekend:
That's the typeset pages of my second book, Hexed, plus essays on The Crucible, a reworked paragraph from The Scarlet Letter, and some quizzes. Anybody who thinks teaching is a nine-to-five job doesn't know jack about it. With all that on my plate, it's tough to fit in any reading for pleasure...or writing, for that matter. But my editor sent me an Advance Reader's Edition of Cherie Priest's Bloodshot—it comes out at the end of January next year—and I'm tellin' ya, it grabbed me. I stayed up late to finish it and I paid for it the next day, yawning at everybody, but wow. I was already a fan of hers after reading Boneshaker (see Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #3), but this one has turned me into a fanboy. If you think Priest's steampunk is good, wait until you try her urban fantasy! Emphasis on the wait, I guess, since you'll have to wait before you can snag a copy, but it'll be worth the wait, I promise! Take a gander at it here, chillin' out with a Granny Smith:
Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #7
Tough to say which looks tastier, isn't it? Sweet cover—and an even sweeter story. Put it on your wish list. Speaking of covers, I've seen early drafts of mine, and I'm excited about the portrayal of Atticus! Can't wait until I can share!

And while we're on the subject of covers, I might as well throw in my two cents about photographic vs. painted covers, since I've seen a few posts about it recently out there on the Internet(s). Right now photographic covers in fantasy are very popular—they're selling well—and some folks bemoan the switch from painted scenes to photographed ones. There are even conspiracy theories out there—that this is a cost-cutting move by publishers, or they're trying to save time, even doing it out of sheer laziness.

Maybe they're right...I can't refute any of those arguments with solid facts or numbers, since I don't have access to them. But it sounds a bit off to me, simply based on what I've been seeing with the production of my covers. Is it cheaper to hire a single painter for a cover, or hire a photographer, a model, and a designer/digital illustrator? I'm guessing the costs are comparable, if not even more expensive on the photography side. And in terms of laziness, I haven't seen even a hint of that in my case. Del Rey has asked for my input on the character's portrayal, and they've been fastidious about sticking to it. Honestly, I couldn't ask for more. They got the hair right. They got the clothes right. They got the sword right. And since my character wears a cold iron amulet around his neck, together with some silver square charms with hammered designs on them, they had a jeweler make one from scratch so that the model could wear it during the photo shoot! Say what you want about costs and time savings, but that's definitely not lazy; that's scrupulous attention to detail. Perhaps I'm extraordinarily blessed to have a publisher who gives a damn—I certainly think so—but I imagine other publishers are doing the same with their authors. Take a look at Orbit's covers for Gail Carriger—especially her latest—and you'll see plenty of details.

I think using photography vs. paint is an attempt to make the characters more real for readers and bring that world alive in their minds. Judging by its success—we're seeing photography used in epic fantasy now, not just urban fantasy (see Peter V. Brett's The Desert Spear)—most readers appreciate it. I completely understand and sympathize with those who have different aesthetic sensibilities; there's no arguing matters of personal preference. And there's no denying that truly stunning paintings can add value to a book beyond the words inside. But I don't think there's a giant conspiracy of corner-cutting behind the switch to photographic covers; publishers are simply trying to compete and get their authors' titles noticed and picked up. Some covers work better than others—I certainly hope mine work better—but that was also true of painted covers. I'm not going to wail and gnash my teeth over it; I like the photographic ones just as much as the old-fashioned ones.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A bulleted list of updates

•I have publication dates for all three books now:
HOUNDED, April 26, 2011
HEXED, May 24, 2011
HAMMERED, June 28, 2011

•In super-duper-happy-mega-big-jumbo news, I'm getting ultra-spiffy, full-color, finished-art ARE's (Advanced Reader Editions)! Normally ARE's are sent out with generic covers on them; they say the author's name, the title of the book, and then there's a nice houndstooth pattern or some diamonds or whatnot to look at, nothing more. Full-bore ARE's are supposed to indicate the publisher is really behind the book, thinks it will do well, etc. so I'm extremely grateful and lucky to have the coolest editor evah. But it also means I'll get to see some cover art a bit sooner than I thought! If you cannot feel my excitement pouring through the pixels at your eyeballs right now, then you are extraordinarily stable to the point of Stoicism! Squeeee! There. That did it. You're excited now too!

•Whoa! I got my first fan mail! A relative of my alpha reader wrote me a very nice note after he finished reading HEXED. Completely made my week. Here's a snippet:
The last fight scene was epic! I could picture it exactly--it was very easy to follow what was happening...I've read other books where I just get lost in the various battle sequences and I just end up skipping pages.  Boo to them.  You, sir, know what you're doing.  Kudos.
Wasn't that sweet? He said a lot of very nice things, but that bit made me all warm and fuzzy inside because fight scenes are extremely difficult for me to write. I count that as  high praise indeed. Thanks, Mike R!

•Possessed by whimsy, a couple of my friends are doing a parody of Beyonce's "Single Ladies" video with me. We are all giant men. We won't be wearing spandex or leotards because we're trying to induce laughter rather than vomiting. Can't wait to get it all shot and edited...we did the first part today, and it was quite a hoot!

•Getting into The Scarlet Letter with the kids at school. The Romantic writing style is a bear, but the story is first-class soap opera, man. And Roger Chillingworth is the most cold-blooded villain ever. Dude  creeps me out. I've had nightmares, because he just never gives up. And it's funny how some adults have heard we're reading it and they're instantly down on it. "HATED IT!" they say. Well, it's only because they're still having nightmares about Roger F-ing Chillingworth. I mean, if you give Darth Vader, Freddy Kreuger, and Roger Chillingworth each a planet of people to make miserable, first one to make 'em all go insane wins, Roger F-ing Chillingworth will win. He is a master of mental torture. Puritan Guilt: It's What's For Dinner!

Friday, September 10, 2010

I'm the Man in the Box

Little known fact: I don't just moonlight as a novelist. I also do play-by-play sports announcing for high school football. All levels—Frosh, JV and Varsity.

I've been doing it since the school opened, and I have to tell you it's a lot more fun now that our football team is a bit better than it used to be. As the immortal Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh said, "I love winnin', man! Know what I'm sayin'? It's like, better than losing?"

What's NOT cool is that the media booth where I do my thing is a metal box without any air conditioning. So it spends all day heating up in the Arizona sun, and then it's nice and sweltering when I get there. It's quickly turbo-gross inside, and then for some bizarre reason, at about 7:15 pm without fail, a plague of tiny flying insects chooses to dive to their deaths on top of my player roster, the scoreboard controller, my scalp, etc.

"DIE, laddie!" I scream as I smoosh them to paste between plays. Once I forgot to turn off the microphone before I did this. It was misinterpreted, and I had to explain to a stadium full of people that I tend to talk to insects as I slay them. Sigh.

Tonight's the first home game, and it's always a good time. The band kids will be excited. The people who sell nachos will be excited. Heck, the people who eat nachos will be excited. And we have this tradition where someone does pushups on a splintery wooden board held up by fans in body paint. Sometimes these pushups are pretty gnarly. When it gets to be a high-scoring game, you have to wonder who can rip off 52 or so and look good doing it.

What I enjoy about high school games are all the reasons people are there. Some aren't there to watch the game at all. Some are way too into the game, shouting at the ref and the coaches and yes, the players for doing something they perceive as "stupid." Some are there to enjoy the atmosphere and people watch, and that's basically what I'm up to in between plays. That, and wishing one of those cold trains of refreshment would suddenly blow through the stadium like you see in the commercials. None of that refreshment would probably make it up to my metal box, but it would be nice to be reminded that refreshment is possible. Oh, and look, Old Spice Body Wash Guy, I don't care how awesome you are, you won't smell that good after spending ten minutes in my booth. You'll probably still look impossibly handsome, though, damn you. *envy*

Heading out now to be the Man in the Box...hope we win!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where did the time go?

It's been almost a week since my last post...I've been busy. School, you know. I'm finishing up The Crucible and about to start The Scarlet Letter. O, the calamities of Puritan drama! They'll be begging for the Age of Reason soon.

But I was rather productive over the long weekend. The typeset pages of HEXED arrived and I finished a read-through, finding far fewer errors than I did for HOUNDED, so that had me feeling happy. Still, I found a tiny sequence where I wasn't quite sure what was happening...I almost couldn't believe I'd written it. Funny how time away from a manuscript can bring out little things like that. So I have some very minor tweaks to make—probably less than 30 words—and then that will be finished.

I also finished outlining book five, which is (at this moment) titled TRAPPED. My earlier idea for that book's title was TEMPTED, but I decided that made it sound either like a romance novel or some sort of Food Network book about desserts. Romance and desserts are awesome, of course—especially together, isn't there a subgenre called Calorie Erotica?—but that's not the vibe I'm going for.

And hey, cheers to my followers in Australia—I think I have a couple, right? You'll be pleased to hear that I got my contract from Oz today, and the publication dates for all three books are just one month behind the US release, so you'll get HOUNDED in June, HEXED in July, and HAMMERED in August of 2011! I'm very excited about this and so happy that HarperCollins/Voyager decided to pick up the series!

Must go back to school now to announce the freshman football game. My play-by-play kung fu is the best in the East Valley. ;)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

And my series title is...

The Iron Druid Chronicles. I got the official word today from my editor at Del Rey!

I love it! It sounds so badass! I have hopes that maybe a tiny dusting of its badassery will accrue to me, since I'm the author. ;)

I've waited a long time to know what the series would finally be called—almost a year. The original series title I'd queried with (and got the deal with) was ditched long ago: I'd called it The American Druid Series. But it quickly became apparent that it wasn't appropriate for several reasons:
1. My Druid is Irish—as in, he's really from Ireland. (That means he can never be President—is that a spoiler?)
2. It sounded like a vaguely patriotic title, and my Druid cares very little about the interests of any political entity, much less one that's only been around for 234 years. (He's 2,100 years old.)
3. The series goes far beyond the boundaries of America after the first couple of books.

What followed was a long journey through rivers of discarded ideas. This one's my favorite, offered whimsically by my Assistant Editor, Mike Braff: "Druid, where's my car?"

A large part of the problem was that "Druid" doesn't scan well with other words. It doesn't fall trippingly off the tongue, shall we say, when one is trying to formulate a phrase that's simple and memorable yet captures the essence of multiple books in a series. When we strayed into ideas that didn't have "Druid" in them, however, we ran into other issues—the titles sounded too sci-fi, or too mystery-ish, or sounded too close to other titles out there. "Iron Druid" came to me yesterday on the way home from the day job, and it was one of those facepalm moments, where you can't believe you hadn't thought of it earlier. Especially since I'd written that exact phrase on page six of Hounded. So I sent it off to the big house in NY, and they liked it, and now I imagine they'll do something logo-ish with it to make it look even cooler than it sounds.

I want a T-shirt that says The Iron Druid Chronicles on it. I want the mug. The sheet set. And the limited edition Monopoly® game (I get to be Oberon!).

As if that news weren't spiffy enough, Tricia (my editor) told me the typeset pages for HEXED are on the way! Woohoo! This is a very cool Wednesday.