Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 3:2 Interview with Kelly Meding

Welcome to the third 3:2 Interview, wherein I ask a spiffy author three questions about writing and two others that hopefully allow us to get to know her better as a person. (I also cheat shamelessly and work in several questions whenever I can, so you’re really getting more than five questions here.)

Today I’m very excited to have Kelly Meding with us, author of Three Days to Dead. Readers were hooked from the moment Evy Stone woke up in a morgue in someone else’s body, with only three days to figure out how she died—and why she came back. The second book in the Dreg City series, As Lie the Dead, is out today and you can snag it at your favorite bookstore or online here.

Writer’s Grove: Thanks for joining us, Kelly. I’ve recently heard that you’re going to write two more Dreg City books after As Lie the Dead, so that’s outstanding news for your fans (!!!), but I’ve also heard you have another deal for a completely different series. Could you tell us something about that, what's in store for Evy going forward, and maybe how you handle the multitasking between writing two series (possibly more if you’re hiding them), plus blogging, reading, and networking on top of your day job?
KM: Thank you for inviting me to be a part of your interview series! I'm so glad to be here.
   I'll tackle the Evy part of your question first.  If you thought she had a lot going on in THREE DAYS TO DEAD…well, to rely on an old cliché, you ain't seen nothin' yet.  Evy's going to go through the wringer, both emotionally and physically, over the next few books, but don't fear!  She will come out a much stronger, more well-rounded person for the experiences.  There's a lot of truth in the saying "that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."
   In As Lie the Dead, Evy has to deal with the consequences of decisions made and actions taken in the first book (er, spoilers!)—the destruction of the Owlkins, her new not-dead status with the Triads, and her attraction to Wyatt.  Now that her clock has stopped counting down the hours, she has to face the complications of life in the body of Chalice Frost, and her part in the death of Alex Forrester.  Plus murder, betrayal, and magical hijinx.  You know, the usual.  Books Three and Four…well, I can't say much about them yet.  But I'm very excited to be able to continue Evy's story, flesh out the cast of supporting characters, and expand on the world of Dreg City.
   The new deal you mentioned is with Pocket Books, and it's for a modern superhero story.  I have loved superheroes since I was a child, and I especially love team stories. "The New Teen Titans" of the 1980's is my very favorite title.  But one of the things that is rarely addressed in either comics, shows or movies, is the collateral damage caused by heroes and villains fighting each other.  I wanted to write something where those hero/villain battles nearly destroyed the world (and each other), and the effect that collateral damage (ruined cities, a fearful public) would have on a new generation of heroes.  The first book in the series, WARDEN'S TRANCE, could be out as early as Summer 2011.  I'm beyond thrilled to have sold this series and to be working with Pocket.
   As for multitasking, I'm very lucky in that my day job is part-time, usually around 20 hours a week.  It gives me quite a lot of freedom to keep up with my other book-related responsibilities, such as writing, blogging, reading, and interacting with fans, as well as my family and social life.  When I was working a full-time job, my free time was more limited, but that's when you make sacrifices—I'll write 1,000 words instead of playing online poker for an hour; I'll write this blog post instead of watching this movie.  It's important, when time is limited, to prioritize.  And I'd be lost without my To Do list—it makes sure things get done.
WG: Though you probably don’t have the time to keep up with comics these days, did you read comic books when you were wee? What titles/heroes/heroines did you particularly enjoy, and why? Any graphic novels that make you purr? (I mean that in the figurative sense, but heck, if any of them literally make you purr, we probably need to know where we can get a copy.)
KM: As I mentioned above, "The New Teen Titans" (Wolfman/Perez) is my favorite.  I stumbled into it accidentally when I was eleven, because I found an issue with Robin on the cover.  I had no idea Robin had been part of anything besides Batman, so I was intrigued.  I read it, then began a several-year hunt to find every issue I could (this was before eBay, when the internet was still very, very young, so I had to actually find used comic sellers and hunt in person).  I love team stories and large casts (books, movies, whatever), and one of my favorite themes in fiction is "the family you make."  And the Titans were very much a family.  Plus they were young!  The idea of eighteen year-old superheroes was a fabulous novelty to a tween.
   For graphic novels, I absolutely adore Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One," Joss Whedon's "Fray," Alan Moore's "Saga of the Swamp Thing" and "Watchmen."  I've also picked up the first two compilations of "Fables" and want to get my hands on "Runaways" very soon.
WG: Describe the ideal writing situation for you. Pajamas? Music? Beer? Music about pajamas and beer? Do you set goals for yourself when you sit down to write in terms of word count, or finishing a scene, or do you simply sit and say, “Well, let’s see what happens?” Do you think aspiring writers should adhere to a schedule or routine of some sort?
KM: While I'm definitely a beer gal, I don't like to mix it with writing.  Or any alcohol with writing.  I prefer to be clear-minded and alert.  Now, I do mix alcohol with brainstorming sessions—I got an entire novel out of a pitcher of sangria once.
   I don't know that I have an ideal writing situation.  I can write almost anywhere, in most circumstances.  But there's nothing quite as nice as spending a day in my pajamas, writing a fun, exciting chapter, with coffee and/or chocolate within easy reach.  The goals that I set for myself tend to be weekly goals.  I think setting a daily word count can be detrimental for me, because if something unexpected happens and I can't make my count, I feel like I've failed.  But giving myself a word count to shoot for by the end of seven days is more realistic.  Some days I may not be able to write; other days I have hours on end to get it done.
   And yes, I do think setting goals is very important for aspiring writers.  It's all part of learning discipline and Butt-In-Chair techniques.  Everyone writes at a different pace, and in different methods (editing as you go versus waiting until the draft is done), but setting word count goals is a must.  Even if it's as low as 300 words a day.  If you hit 1000 words, that's great!  If you only manage 250, you're close!  But set a realistic goal and aim for it.
WG: OK, so you're a beer gal. What about coffee and tea? Will you share your favorites of each?

KG: Coffee.  Mmmm....cofffee wakes me up in the morning and sometimes puts me to sleep at night (yes, I can drink coffee and go to sleep two hours later--I am a freak of nature).  I generally prefer brewed coffee to fancier lattes or milky drinks (but I won't turn one down if you put it in front of me).  One of my favorite coffees is Harry & David's Chocolate Cherry beans.  So amazing when freshly ground and brewed up, with a dash of Hazelnut creamer.  I'm also recently in love with a local convenience store's Chocolate Mint Iced Coffee.  It tastes just like a Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mint (although I have serious doubts about actual coffee content).
  Tea.  For hot tea, I'm pretty boring and will occasionally dip into a good ole cup of Lipton with milk and sugar (I know, tea enthusiasts will hate me now).  I do like bottled tea, though.  Any sort of lemon-free sweet tea. Snapple has a yummy Nectarine White Tea that's So Good.  Nestea's Red Tea Pomegranate Passion Fruit is also super-yummy.  I could drink that stuff by the gallon (and used to until the soda machine at work switched from Coke to Pepsi).
WG: There are rumblings out there on the Internet(s) that perhaps the market for urban fantasies featuring vampires is a bit glutted at the moment—the idea being that Twilight skewed the market in one direction and now editors are flooded with knockoffs and would rather see something else. Might this be true? Where do you think the urban fantasy genre is headed? How does one anticipate the market and come up with something fresh?
KM: I think it's very true.  Vampire books are hard sells, unless you have something very unique in your hands.  Plus there are so many long-running, best-selling vampire series out there that in order to compete and win over those fans, you have to offer something new.  Of course, there are always readers who will pick up anything with vampires in it, and that's awesome! But as the UF genre continues to grow, and more new authors are picked up every year, readers are given more and more to choose from, which means becoming more selective with their time and dollars.
   The thing I love most about UF is that there is still so much ground to cover.  Look at some of the books coming out this summer that feature selkies, furies, ghosts, and djinn.  There is a wealth of lesser-known creatures to explore from dozens of different cultures and myths.  I'm looking forward to reading what my fellow authors have to offer, as well as the chance to explore some of them myself.
   Honestly, I think anticipating the market is impossible.  Even editors can't be sure what's going to be the next bestseller, or the next hot creature.  Look at all of the literary mash-ups coming out.  The first one or two sold really, really well, but some of the online chatter I've seen is that people are already getting tired of them.  Some folks are saying angels are next big thing.  The best advice I usually see is "write the book you'd want to read."  Don't write toward trends, don't try to write what you think will be popular.  What's hot now might not be what readers want in two years.
WG: Kelly, thanks so much for hanging out with us! Best of luck with As Lie the Dead and your new series!
Thanks so much!  Thank you for having me and letting me babble for a while!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #2

OK, my camera is back and now I can take a half-decent picture with the kind of focus I'd like. Today my miniature dwarf is guarding my sausage pizza and frosty beer with a brace of black-powder pistols:
Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #2
If anyone touches my pizza, that dwarf thunderer will pop a very tiny cap in his/her ass.

The beer is Longboard Lager from the Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii. The glass is from Phantom Canyon Brewing Company in Colorado Springs. The dwarf is Einar Ólafson from Nidavellir (That's the Nordic realm of the dwarfs. If my Icelandic is correct, that's pronounced NIH-dah-VET-lir, because a double l gives you a ttl sound).

You may not be able to tell from the picture above how serious Einar is about protecting my luncheon. So here's a closeup or two:
Now you can clearly see that Einar is really with it. Look at the care and feeding of that beard. It's epic! Nothing is going to get by a dude who can keep track of all that facial hair.

Whoa! Those are the eyes of a killer, my friends. His pistol grips are capped with the skulls of wee animals that tried to snarf one of my Pop Tarts. He has sent two and twenty ruffians to the grave using only one and twenty shots.

It's a good day. Besides working on my miniature dwarfs, I've squeezed out the first chapter of an epic and I have an excellent interview with Kelly Meding to look forward to on Tuesday, the third installment of my 3:2 Interview series. Make sure you swing by on Tuesday to check it out!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Market Meta and Blurbage

I just read a really interesting blog post over at the BN SciFi and Fantasy Blog about why Nicole Peeler is so freakin' cool. Even if you're not a fan of her books—and I can't imagine why you wouldn't be—it's a good read for what it says about the state of the urban fantasy market (or the paranormal fantasy market, or whatever label you wish to use for the fantasy books that don't involve stew and orphans saving the world from a dark lord). 

I'd like to highlight a bit from his blog post about the subcategories in the market:

I'm glad I didn't worry about subcategories when writing my books. I know they're not erotic paranormal fantasy, nor are they paranormal romance, and I wouldn't dream of writing literary paranormal fantasy (because I'm not sure what that is). But my books might be a little bit of the remaining three subcategories mentioned. I'm wondering what's the line separating comedic paranormal fantasy from lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy—any ideas? Heck, I just pitched my books as an urban fantasy series and left it at that. It will be interesting to see how they get classified once they're published—or maybe Del Rey's marketing department will slap a label on them when they send out the Advance Reader Copies to see if it sticks.

But while we're all waiting...I've received a fantastic blurb from Ms. Peeler for Hounded! Squee! She liked it!
“Hearne breathes new life into old myths, creating a world both eerily familiar and startlingly original. I couldn't read fast enough...Hounded, indeed!” —Nicole Peeler
Thanks, Nicole! :)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #1

Okay, so in an earlier post I firmly established my Nerd Cred. Follow me now I descend fully into madness, kind of like those guys who went exploring the House of Leaves.

See, my friend Alan got me started painting miniatures. And for some reason, the idea of painting miniature dwarfs really tickles my sense of redundancy.

I'm painting a dwarf warband to play a game called Mordheim, which is a skirmish-level version of Warhammer where you can start out with six or seven dudes and build up to maybe 15. And when I'm not playing Mordheim (which is most of the time, I swear), then I can just chuckle at the fact that I have a collection of miniature dwarfs.

Alan is a Golden Demon award winner, which means he paints miniatures so well people send him fan mail and pay him to paint their miniatures for them. When Alan decides to paint dwarfs, they look like they're going to hack you up if you don't give them a keg of ale right now. (By the way, that's a dwarf king being carried on top of a shield by two minion dwarfs. I explain that because I originally thought this was a dwarf mother protecting her children.) Anyway, my dwarfs ain't that cool. But they're ready to find some treasure in Mordheim, by golly. Left to right, you'll see my Engineer, one of my Thunderers, and a Troll Slayer.

Still Life with Dwarfs and Beer #1

You might notice that my dwarfs are a touch out of focus; that the beer, in fact, seems to be far more central to the composition. I could not gainsay you. But I am going to make an excuse: I took this with my cell phone, and its depth of focus sucks just a wee bit. My real camera is in New York and I'm in Arizona, so until we are reunited, I must make do with what I can. Still, there is much to appreciate here:
1. The beer is Mothership Wit by the New Belgium Brewing Company. The pint glass is from The Pike Brewing Company in Seattle, an underground establishment I enjoyed visiting a few years ago.
2. The color of the beer and the color of the Thunderer's beard are remarkably similar. It's almost like I planned it that way.
3. The modeling paints have excellent names, like Vomit Brown and Graveyard Earth. 
4. You can look forward to more of these Still Lifes because I have plenty of dwarfs yet to paint, and it's not like I'm going to stop liking beer tomorrow. :)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Help is Out There

...if you're writing a query. There's two kinds of help readily available on the Internet(s): what to do and what not to do. A couple of "what not to do" links:

First, an amusing collection of query fails from an agent in Slush Pile Hell. Go back and read some of the archives, too, they're seriously funny. But also kinda sad...they're all real.

Second, here's some recent advice from agent Jessica Faust about queries: Query Don'ts. Gotta thank @GailCarriger for directing me to it via Twitter.

Sticking with Ms. Faust, here's her deconstruction of a successful query letter for a mystery novel.

Then, I highly recommend joining the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Lots of published and soon-to-be-published writers there, and it's a very helpful community. They have a Share Your Work forum which is behind a password wall, so that the work doesn't show up on search engines. Inside, there's a lovely room called Query Letter Hell where you can post your query letter and get feedback. It can be brutal but it's helpful—you'll get a response and personal attention that agents and editors never have the time to give. There are many success stories in there, too—writers who got partial and full requests from agents and representation as well. Hope it helps.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Market Analysis: An Anecdote

Sometimes I wonder where writing fads come from...and then I look at the bestseller lists and go, oh yeah. All the people writing vampire books are looking at the Twilight series and the success of the Sookie Stackhouse novels and saying, I want a piece of that. And it's tough to blame 'em for wanting a slice of bestselling pie. (If I'm fortunate enough to be served up a plate, I won't say no; I'll ask for whipped cream.)

But here's the problem with writing according to fads or the market: what's popular now won't necessarily be popular a year or two from now, which is what you have to be thinking about if you're trying to anticipate the market. It takes a year for a publisher to get a fiction book onto the shelves—ten months if they rush it, nine if nobody sleeps. And before that, you have to actually write the book and get an agent, and said agent has to get you your deal. (Unless you're going to go the slush pile route, in which case you can add on another year to eternity.) So let's keep the math simple and say for the sake of argument, if you're trying to anticipate things, that you need to predict what editors will want to buy a year from now if you're writing your book. They, in turn, are gambling that your book will be popular the year afterward. If you write something derivative of today's market, thinking it's hot, by the time somebody has to make a decision, they'll be looking at your book like the hundredth peanut butter and jelly sandwich they've had in as many days. They're not going to be excited.

And so you must look at what's out there in the genre you wish to write—market awareness is good—and then write something new enough to stand out. Then, more importantly, decide if what you're writing is something you'd actually want to read. If you read a lot (an excellent idea), then you will pick up on the tropes of a certain genre and maybe, after a while, figure out what's missing. And if you want to read what's missing and write what's missing, then you might have landed on top of a Great Idea.

I don't think I'm a brilliant market analyst, but back in 2008 I noticed something missing from the urban fantasy market: dudes. Not only dudes as protagonists, but dudes as writers. There weren't many of either. The market was dominated by women writing about women, and the men in such tales were primarily romantic interests (all of which is fine, but as a reader dude I wanted more broken bones and fewer broken hearts). So I thought, hey, maybe there's an opportunity here. Would I like writing urban fantasy? I'd never tried it. But there was this webcomic idea I was working on, tremendously fun for me to imagine and write but extremely difficult to illustrate, that perhaps could be adapted...so I started toying with it. And once I found a groove, the writing went extremely fast—and that was before I added Mountain Dew.

"I'm a dude! I'm writing about a dude! This is great! Mwah-ha-ha-ha!" It was kind of like that, except twice as nerdy as you're imagining. But it wasn't simply reveling in my dudehood: I was also steering away from vampires, werewolves, demons, half-faeries and half anything for my main character. The shelves were already full of those. They're good stories—I devour them!—but the authors writing them were well established and I didn't have anything new to say there. My webcomic, though, was about a Druid. A quick check of the shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble revealed that there were zero urban fantasies featuring a Druid in the title role. Heck, I couldn't find a Druid in a supporting role. Morgan Llewelyn wrote a book called Druids in 1993, but that was about historical Druids, not urban ones. So there you go—I figured out the market was missing urban Druid dudes, and I really, really wanted to write about one.

There's always a risk in doing something new, because if a story is too weird, agents and editors won't know how to market it. But the risk in following a fad is that when your manuscript arrives on an agent's or editor's desk, it will be the twentieth gnarly vampire romance they've seen that day. Would you rather they say, "WTF?" or "Not another one"? I'll take the WTF every time. (Which may come back to haunt me: I can see the reviews now.) But I got lucky: I found an agent who liked my Druid, and then my agent found a good number of editors who liked him, too—enough that I got the insane luxury of choosing my (extremely awesome) publisher, Del Rey.

Part of what's exciting about urban fantasy is that there's SO MUCH room for new ideas and twists—so the preponderance of the same few creatures appearing over and over is puzzling. I'm waiting for the story about the short supermarket clerk—often mistaken for a dwarf—who doesn't realize he's half gnome, and the emerald ring from his unknown father gives him complete control over cats if he wears it on his index finger...or something. Gnomes are always background critters, but they're begging to be fleshed out as a species. Somebody needs to write a gnome character I can care about. And what if trolls are only stupid and violent because of their militant political leadership and a poor education system? A visionary troll—self-taught through the Internet(s)—could arise and transform her culture if only she can survive the malignant attentions of the entrenched Club and Loincloth merchants who would keep them all lurking under bridges forever. Heh! You get the idea. My unsolicited advice is to always write what you like—but try to like something fresh in hopes that the market will be ready for it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #6

These are the books I'm either currently reading or going to read very, very soon, attractively couched with red grapes, black plums, strawberries, and blackberries. (By the way, it's mighty tough to be a writer if you don't read. Words are brain calories, and everyone should be on a 30,000 word-per-day diet—but it's quite all right if you consume more.)
Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #6

Up in front you have Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler and The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett; in the back is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, and The Ruling Sea by Robert V.S. Redick. 

Just about finished with Nicole's book, and it's every bit as funny as she is. If you missed my interview with her, click on the 3:2 Interview tag in the labels to the right of the blog—it's the first one. 

My brother-in-law gave me about five of Terry Pratchett's books, telling me that my work was reminiscent in some of its humor to Mr. Pratchett's. He recommended that I start with The Wee Free Men, but I stubbornly did not, since I like to read series from the beginning. After I mentioned this to my editor, she said she was also handed The Wee Free Men (by Betsy Mitchell, no less) as an introduction to Pratchett's body o' litrachur. Clearly, I should not have begun at the beginning. Looking forward to it.

I'm going to read Who Fears Death because Patrick Rothfuss told me to. Plus, it's orange.

I picked up The Ruling Sea from Del Rey's Vault o' Treasures when I visited NYC. So far all I've done is geek out over the map, but I'm going to dive back into the adventures of Pazel Pathkendle soon.  


Friday, July 9, 2010

"The Castle beckons, Tom..."

That's one of my favorite lines from Four Weddings and a Funeral (which is a hilarious British comedy if you've never had the pleasure), and I thought of it as we went to dine at Beardslee Castle near Little Falls, NY. This place was built in 1860 and now it's an unusual restaurant and beautiful spot for folks to get married. It's a small castle, but it has a cheerful dungeon, so that's worth the trip right there.

This blog will be picture heavy...I took plenty of them, some in low light, so please forgive the quality, get a taste of the ambience, and go visit  yourself if you ever get the chance.

Here's the entrance covered in pretty growing things:
Inside there are all these lovely rooms with their own fireplaces, holding about three to four tables each. Some of them have great views of the grounds outside, too:
I confess to having a weakness for beautiful bookshelves filled with old books. They had several of them! The staircase to the left leads down to the dungeon:
Examining the books more closely, I found some really ancient pulp fiction in there. I picked out a burgundy one called His Evil Eye because, well...it was entitled His Evil Eye. Mwah-ha-ha-ha! I took a picture of the title page just to appreciate the old font, the design, and the alternate title. (The main title was far superior. I never would have picked up a book called Sybil's Trials.) The copyright for this book is 1891. *pause to appreciate the history of this tome* And it's just hanging out there in the castle for any old schmuck to pick up and photograph. *boggle* By the way, I think they shafted the author, a Mr. Harris Irving Hancock: the copyright is held by the J.S. Olgivie Publishing Company, not the writer! See, my friends? This is why authors need agents.
Head down the stairs to the dungeon and you'll find a fabulously stocked bar underneath all that stone. Here's a peek through the entrance...obviously there's much more to be seen once you're through the wee entrance tunnel.
They also have several cells that have been refurbished to house intimate dining experiences. Unfortunately (or fabulously, depending on how excited you are by embalming), some of the cells are still occupied by their former inhabitants. This mummy is named Steve (not his real name). No one knows who he really was, how he died, or why his final resting place is an upstate New York dungeon. Keen scientific minds have declared that he died sometime in the past.
They have like 90 beers and wines available in the Dungeon Pub, so if you're going to spend time in a dungeon, this is probably the best one you could possibly choose. They had a microbrew on draught out of Vermont called Magic Hat #9. It was extremely tasty, but of course I can't describe a taste adequately in words. That's as pointless as giving you a link to the brewery's site or taking a picture of the tap in the dungeon:
After I'd explored a bit, we got around to eating. We started with a portobello mushroom cap stuffed with ratatouille and covered in mozzarella and oil. Divinity.
Everything was good but I didn't take the best pictures of all the dishes, so I'm only going to include a couple. Their menu, by the way, rotates a bit during the seasons, so what you see on their website might not actually be on the printed menu when you get there. This dish is a center cut boneless pork loin with a strawberry rhubarb compote and honey glazed pecans. Yep, that's a wild rice pilaf on the side. Daaaaang.
I had the sirloin steak with grilled red onions and portobello mushrooms, accompanied by rosemary potatoes. De-lish.
The salads were actually green—no iceberg lettuce at all. The desserts were crafted in a such a way as to plop into the pleasure center of your brain and stretch luxuriously while making satisfied cat noises. Many people enjoyed the Death By Chocolate—but, curiously, nobody died.

It was a great experience, and not just for the food. It's one of those rare, beautiful places with good beer and friendly mummies in the dungeon. Those are so hard to find. Up next, another Still Life With Fantasy and Fruit!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Glimmerglass & Cooperstown

Sigh. Today's my last day in NY. Heading back to the dry heat tomorrow and trees with many thorns instead of leaves.

But I visited a couple of cool breweries down near Cooperstown I wanted to talk about for a bit. One is called Ommegang, and they have a beer there called Three Philosopher's Ale that they sell for $3.50 a bottle. Yeah, that's a 12-oz. bottle. They age it in a cellar like wine. It's unusual stuff—might not be for everyone—but I know that some people find it to be divine, and I give it a free cameo appearance in Hammered in a scene featuring Atticus, Gunnar, and Leif. You can find Ommegang's beers in some stores back east and finer liquor establishments all over. The tour of the brewery is cool and the grounds are immaculate. They have a really large grassy area behind the brewery suitable for concerts, so they occasionally have concerts there since they're cool like that.
That's my cute kid and my sister in-law around the Ommegang fire pit. The tree-lined grassy area extends (quite extensively, natch) to both the left and right of this picture. Very pretty.

We also visited another brewery in the area called Cooperstown Brewing, which is actually located in nearby Milford. Here are their beers, from light to dark: 

I like the Nine Man Ale, a very clean pilsner. That Back Yard IPA is kind of neat because they grow the hops to finish it right on the property. Here's their hop vines:

Yesterday we went to Glimmerglass State Park, which is really Otsego Lake that James Fenimore Cooper called "Glimmerglass" in his books. It's a glacial lake fed by springs beneath the surface. When you go swimming in there you can sort of feel where the springs are, because there are colder patches of water. The swimming area is lovely and so are the grounds around the lake, with lots of benches and trails and remarkably friendly trees.

Yeah, I'm going to be leaving all that and return to this:
That's a creosote bush, by the way, for those of you who have never seen one before. They're the dominant desert scrub, and they give the whole valley its distinctive smell when it rains. I happen to love the smell, but I know some people don't dig it. These things can grow forever, cloning themselves. There's one that's dang near 12,000 years old. Anyway, they can grow pretty close together at times and they provide quite a bit of shelter to plenty of desert animals. I mention them a couple of times in Hounded, so I thought I'd provide the picture here to aid the imagination. :)

Working through my TBR pile and fiddling around with outlines for book four and an epic fantasy trilogy while I wait for my editors to take a look at Hammered. Life is good. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Rhode Island cuisine

Besides NY, I have some in-laws living in Rhode Island. My wife is originally from there, so we go back to visit during the summers, and that's where I am right now. They have a couple of culinary adventures in RI that have to be sampled to be believed, and I make a point of renewing my acquaintance with them whenever I'm in the neighborhood.

The first is Del's lemonade, which is frozen lemonade unlike any other. This isn't a snow-cone with lemon flavor. It's made with lemons, filtered water and sugar, and the consistency of the ice is unlike any other slush I've had—very fine stuff with lemon bits in it. It's a white slush—they don't add artificial colors to it to make it yellow—and the flavor is subtle and natural. And yummy. Divinely so. Best frozen drink EVAH.

They're in fourteen states now, not just Rhode Island. You can check out their website here, but this is the place I go to in Lincoln:

The other Rhode Island gastronomical adventure ride is the New York System Wiener. The locals will call them "gaggers," but if you're going to pronounce that like a local you have to forget about the r and pronounce it "gaggahs." A New York System Wiener is a long tube of Grade C or D meat (mmm!!) unceremoniously chopped into five-inch lengths, slapped into a bun and dressed with chili sauce, mustard, onions, and celery salt. Here's what they look like:
There's a wiener buried underneath all that sauce, I swear it. Now, they're sorta tiny, and some people cram the whole thing in their mouth at once (hence the term "gaggers") so you have to buy yourself three or more. The wiener places make a bunch of them at a time, but how they make them is amusing (or revolting, depending on your point of view). See, they stack 'em up on a dude's arm to slather 'em with chili and onions and so on:
So really one of the unlisted ingredients in a NY System Wiener is Arm Sauce. If you go into one of the big joints you'll find them using a prophylactic arm sleeve now for public safety, but where's the charm in that? To truly appreciate this cuisine you need the wild-card flavor of a dude's hairy forearm, and a lot of the smaller places still do it this way when they think the health inspector's not looking. Consequently, the tiny shops serve the best wieners. Heh! So if you ever make it up/down to Rhode Island, latch onto a local like a lamprey (See Fig. 1) and have them take you to a Del's stand and a small wiener place where they make the wieners the old-fashioned manly way. It's a good time.
Figure 1: Lamprey Love

Hope everyone had a swell holiday weekend. Peace.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Squee! My meetings in NYC!

So: about a year after my agent picked me up out of his slush pile, I finally got to meet him! My wife and I met Evan for noodles at Soba Nippon under the watchful eye of an attentive waitress who wasn't afraid to instruct us how to eat. Evan was "doing it wrong," I guess, and after placing a mystery liquid down on the table and leaving, she came back and poured it into his bowl for him and mixed it around so that he'd enjoy it properly. I found this both highly amusing and very sweet of her to be so concerned with Evan's gustatory delight. Besides trading personal stories, we spoke about my current series and how it was going and also spitballed ideas for an epic that I want to rework down the road.

Apart from being an incredible agent, Evan is almost unspeakably cool. He knows a lot about New York and where to go eat before you see a show. He rattled off about twelve places (complete with directions) that we should try to visit. We forgot all of them and wound up eating at a rather disappointing (for me) Irish pub around the block from our hotel. Their fish and chips were out of the freezer, not fresh at all; it was nothing less than a complete abdication of their responsibility to provide good pub fare for their customers. But things got so much better after that!

We went to see American Idiot at the St. James Theatre and found it to be unexpectedly cathartic. I was already a fan of Green Day's American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown albums, but it's hard to see them as anything but genius after watching the Broadway production. It captures the youth of 2000-2008 perfectly—I know because I taught 'em. The lead eerily reminded me of a student who just graduated, in fact. The songs were connected together with a narrative and rearranged beautifully in some cases, and the wirework they did during the dream sequence of "Before the Lobotomy" was stunning. Highly recommended.

The next day, I got to meet my editors at Del Rey, Tricia and Mike, at the Random House building on Broadway! They have lobby security kind of like that scene in The Matrix where Neo and Trinity have to go rescue Morpheus. I meant to ask why, but I never did, so now I will guess: without the security, crazed would-be writers would overwhelm the editors like a horde of zombies with hand-delivered manuscripts. "Just look at this!" they'd say, waving a sheaf of papers in 12-point Courier, "It's a tender military sci-fi tale about a race of furry reptiles who fetishize automatic weapons! A plucky orphan fursnake and his mollusk friend must stop the Dark Lord Uzi from shooting up the planet with demon gunsauce!"

Once past security, everything was remarkably tranquil. We went almost all the way to the tippy-top of the building and stepped into scifi/fantasy nerd heaven. The 24th floor of Random House is currently enchanted to make everyone and everything appear as it would in an epic fantasy. They rotate the enchantment for variety: last week was steampunk week and they looked something like this, and next week everyone will look like Warhammer 40K Space Marines. Tricia and Mike were dressed in flowing robes of shimmering samite, just like I expected, while my wife and I wore homely tunics stained with grease and mustard. They greeted us courteously and then led me to a treasure vault guarded by two gnome paladins who grudgingly stepped aside once Mike uttered the password. The password changes every day, so I can safely tell you what Mike said: "Argyle is curiously in vogue at Tor headquarters."

The vault was a treasure indeed. It was full of Del Rey's books. Like, all of Tolkien. And Alan Dean Foster. Anne McCaffrey. Terry Brooks. Everything good, basically. And my editors said unto me, "You may take whatever you want, thou good and faithful author. One day soon, your books will be added to this sacred vault." I knelt and wept and showered them with gratitude, and they allowed me to kiss their rings.

Left, Tricia's Lucent Pearl Ring of Editorial Savvy. Right, Mike's Doomcloud Diamond Ring of Smiting.

I took a first edition of The Ruling Sea by Robert Redick and counted myself the most fortunate man on earth. Next, I met the editor of said book, Kaitlin Heller. She assaulted me with her champion, an ensorceled Silent Bob action figure. We sparred—silently—until I was forced to yield. I also met David Moench and editor Anne Groell. The latter was not clad in her customary editorial robes, but rather fully armored for battle. Her office was a field tent and she greeted me like so:
I gave her a hearty salutation and she bade me good day, though a warning flashed in her eyes. I bowed and scraped before I fled, and then I asked Tricia why yon editor kept such a grim aspect.

"Verily, she is besieged," quoth she.

"In what way? I saw no forces marshaled 'neath her tower."

"She must gird herself to meet the constant queries about the release date of Ser George R.R. Martin's book, A Dance of Dragons. She is the good ser's editor, you see."

(Note: To hell with Kevin Bacon, I now have two degrees of separation from George R.R. Martin! Yes, his next book was a topic of conversation over lunch, but no, I can't tell you anything about its release. Sorry. Anne was actually quite cheerful, though, if that tells you anything.)

I was then privileged to meet the High Priestess of Del Rey, Betsy Mitchell. She was gracious and kind and apparently in on all of The Plans for Lunch. I knew only one of The Plans, and Tricia knew only one of The Plans. Betsy and Mike were in on both of The Plans.

We left the 24th floor and looked like normal nerds as we walked to Hell's Kitchen—well, at least I did. I give you proof of my rampant nerdiness with a quoted snippet of our conversation:

Tricia: "This neighborhood is called Hell's Kitchen."
Me: "OH! You mean where Daredevil lives?"

Yes, I really said that. I embarrass myself all the time. There is no cure.  

The Plan for Lunch I didn't know about was choosing this particular pub for our luncheon:
HOW COOL IS THAT! The perfect place to take a guy who's written a series of urban fantasies about a Druid. They had exposed brick walls inside with spiffy paintings hanging on them. Navigate past the bar to the back, and there's a wee patio outside with sunlight and growing things. We sat there and I ordered the fish and chips and a Smithwick's.

I learned several very important things on that patio: 1) I'll get to take a peek at some preliminary cover sketches in about a month! 2) Brooklyn is nicer than Manhattan. 3) Del Rey is still seeing tons of vampire stuff from agents (they only accept agented submissions). 4) Tie-ins with movies are difficult to write, edit, and negotiate. 5) Mike likes "dirty water" dogs. But don't judge!

Our food came, and since I've embarked on a lifetime quest to find the best fish and chips, I took a picture:
And now a brief review: These were extremely good. Druids' fish & chips get high marks for being fresh. The chips weren't frozen wedge fries like I had at the other place, but rather homemade, lightly fried tater chunks. The fish batter was also a fresh beer batter rather than the heavy breading you get on frozen stuff, and you can tell by its light golden color that this a delicate coating with new oil in the fryer. It was very good, some of the best I've had, and the salad on the side was an unexpected bonus. Now, is it the equal of Rula Bula's in Tempe? Not quite, but it's very close. Here's where it falls short: you can't really eat this with your hands; it's cooked and presented in such a way that you need to use a fork. If you tried to pick up the fish, it would fall apart on you. Also, the tartar sauce was a bit thin—I prefer it chunky—though it tasted just fine. These are minor quibbles, though: in terms of taste and freshness, this was a superior plate and I'd recommend it to anyone who finds themselves abruptly hungry in Hell's Kitchen as they search for Daredevil.

Okay, so after we ate and downed a couple of pints, it was time for The Plan that Tricia didn't know about. The Plan was simple: get Tricia to wear a luchador mask (that's a mask worn by Mexican wrestlers, if you are uninitiated in the joys of Lucha Libre) and document it photographically. We were careful not to execute The Plan until Tricia had consumed a couple of beers. It was the linchpin of our strategy, honestly. And it worked! Ladies and gentlemen, here is a picture of our Luchador Lunch:
Literary Luchadores at Druids in Hell's Kitchen

I'm the guy in the mask.

Besides being silly for the sheer fun of it, I do have A Point To Make with this blog. Occasionally one hears that editors & agents are mean people who are out to crush your dreams if you aren't well connected or "know someone." That is absolutely untrue. The number of people I knew in the publishing industry was zero before I sent out Hounded last year; I was (and still am) just a random dude who writes when he's home from his day job. Now I finally "know someone," and it's funny how they don't look anything like dream crushers. They are spectacular people who have action figures in their offices and hurl marshmallows at each other with miniature catapults (no lie) after they've read their thirteenth emo vampire query of the day. And they're only too happy to make your dream come true if you write a book they want to read.

Mucho peace and luchadores (they are not mutually exclusive); I'll post some more stuff from upstate NY in a few days.