Welcome to Biting-Edge, a blog shared by authors and vampire experts, Mario Acevedo and Jeanne Stein. We’ll cover urban fantasy, vampires, pop culture, and all things Joss Whedon. Unlike other fantasy blogs, we don’t insist on body cavity searches (unless you ask politely). Snarkiness is most welcome...though we won't promise not to bite back!
The only thing better than your first book going into a second printing, is getting on your publisher's best seller list. You've accomplished both.
This morning, I received a jpg file of the cover of my book from Berkley. My first reaction was, it's all wrong. The character looks too mean, she's holding a cross-bow (she doesn't use one) and the blurb makes her sound like a predator. So I did what every author does, I objected. Nicely. Now I haven't heard back from my editor (maybe I never will again) but damn it, it's MY character!!! I know marketing makes the big decisions on covers. Sometimes I can't help wondering if they even read the book (or the synopsis). The one good thing is the blurb from Charlaine Harris. IT looks good on the front cover. I'm not even going to let you see it today. If any changes are made, I'll post both covers and you can tell me what you think.
I have good news to share. First, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
went into its second printing. Then, on the HarperCollins Eos SciFi bestseller list for April, my book appeared at Number 9. I trailed behind Chris Moore and Aldous Huxley, who was on the list twice for the same title, Brave New World
. Not a bad showing for Huxley considering he's been dead since 1963. I also shared the list with Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.
I have you all to thank. Spread the word. And keep reading.
What's in a Name? Marketing, Duh!
My father, who thinks he's funny, says, "Call me anything, but late to dinner."
I've been thinking about that lately with the ongoing discussions of book genres and my own efforts to get my book seen as a comic novel. Since women don't get categorized as funny novelists, my book in arbitrarily categorized as paranormal, chick lit, romance, whatever.
There's a gender issue, here, because, generally speaking, men writers are simply seen as fiction writers. I'm not screaming sexism, because, guess what, women authors outsell the men authors. Maybe the categories help sales by directing customers to what they want. Perhaps male authors should be demanding sub-categories to boost sales.
I know that sometimes I want to read a hysterical, urban gay comedy of manners and I wish there was a category for this. Usually just I check to see if Joe Keenan
has written another book. Sometimes I want to read a dark mystery by some Brit chick and then I see if Ruth Rendell's
got a new novel. Sometimes I want complexly plotted sci-fi/fantasy, so I'll check the sci-fi/fantasy shelves for Connie Willis
or Neil Gaiman.
What sub-categories does anybody like?
Uncensored Thoughts on Romantic Times
I wrote this on Sunday, 5:30 am FL time, which means it was 3:30 in CO:
I’m wide awake. The ocean is pounding outside the hotel. Loved the view, was not impressed with the hotel. Food was lousy. Long lines to get into banquets and luncheons. For a convention hotel, it sucked.
BUT met some wonderful people. This convention is attended by authors, aspiring writers, editors, agents, booksellers, reviewers and most importantly of all, readers. And I mean readers. I was astounded by the knowledge they had about authors in the genre(s) they read as well as authors in general. They KNOW everything. Which books in a series are good, which are not so. Which authors have successfully crossed genre boundaries and which have not. They know characters, plots, the date any particular book was published, the house it was published by. They know personal stuff about their favorite authors and they are fiercely protective and fiercely loyal. It’s astounding and awe inspiring.
There are different tracks at the conference—genre workshops for authors and readers; specialty workshops aimed at aspiring writers; a Novelist Boot Camp for beginning writers; Writer’s Digest Programs; African-American Fiction Market workshops; and a Readers Program. Something for everybody.
People—Sharron Tan from Maryland, Raina Tooney from Canada. Two bright, knowledgeable aspiring writers. Sharron attended the genre workshops, especially paranormal, and knows A LOT about the authors and their books. Raina came to pitch her book to an editor—you could schedule an appointment—and spent her time before the pitch, practicing. It worked. She’ll be sending her stuff to the editor next week.
Old Friends – Charlaine Harris, who needs no introduction to readers of the vampire genre. She was the “captain” of the vampire genre panels and the gracious lady who got me included. Carol Nelson Douglas of Midnight Louis and the Irene Adler fame. We haven’t seen each other for many years and it was fun to catch up. Denise Agnew, who writes the spicy “romantica” that’s so popular.
New Friends—Lori G. Anderson who I heard many, many people say wrote a damn good mystery. Roxanne St.Claire who I had the good fortune to sit next to at the author signing and who shared some of her marketing secrets. Keri Arthur, a fellow ImaJinn author from Australia. We’ve been e-mailing for a couple of years so meeting in person was a treat. J.C. Wilder who has forgotten more about the business than I’ll ever know.
Impressions of fellow panel members—Laurell K. Hamilton—sweeps into a room and takes over. She travels with her husband John and “friend” (read: bodyguard) Charles. She’s aggressive, well spoken, smooth and knows her audience. At the same time, she’s gracious to fans and patient. She must have had three or four hundred people who stood in line hours to get her to sign their books, posters, pictures. She signed them all.
MaryJanice Davidson is funny, warm and kept pretty much to herself. Didn’t see her much at the conference. Kim Harrison strikes me as very shy. Rosemary Laurey and JC Wilder are characters who have been at this awhile and really know how to work a room.
What did I get from RT? I hope some good contacts for the Berkley deal. Charlaine introduced me to RT Magazine creator, Kathryn Falk, and senior reviewer, Jill Smith, who said to be sure she got an ARC. Some vampire authors to whom I’ll suggest my editor send an ARC in the hopes they might blurb.
The big question—would I do it again? I’m not sure yet. I need a week or two to decompress and think about it. But the great thing about a conference like this is the sense that there really is an audience out there waiting for the next good book.
"What is it with all the vampire P.I.s?" One reviewer grumbled about the current crop of vampire novels straying from the familiar canon of undead lore. He wanted a return to fanged nogoodniks prowling the shadows, wearing capes, and speaking in Transylvanian lisps.
My sources in the undead world assure me that today's vampire says good riddance to the traditional ghoulish creature of the night. Let's face it, merely hanging out in shadows and fanging unsuspecting necks lacks panache and the modern vampire is all about style and attitude. Vampires want the finer things of unlife--comfortable digs, cool wheels, nice threads, the occasional blood martini. What's the point of having supernatural powers if you can't enjoy the perks? The hell with lurking in the sewers and biting people. You might as well be a rat.
When you write a story about vampires you have two choices considering the vampire is such a kick-ass character. Either he's the villain--in which case he shouldn't win (i.e., getting staked at the end)--or the hero, who has no business being the hero unless he does kick ass.
So you got this blood-sucking monster as the protagonist. Now what? Why is he the hero? Why should he care? The hero needs a quest, a mission, otherwise it'll be a boring read if all he does is sip blood toddies and lounge in the coffin wearing his jammies.
There are a lot of possible hero quests. But the most versatile role in the modern urban world involves the P.I. A private gumshoe can be the good guy without being squeaky clean like an FBI agent or an airport security screener. People come to P.I.s to get their problems solved. That's the hero angle. But there's always more. The client lies. There are secret agendas. The detective is set up. Mix in guns, molls, stolen money, contraband, all that fun stuff, and shake. Plus P.Is are shady characters in their own right--sneaking around getting the dirt on everybody--so the vocation is a good match for vampires.
The challenge for the writer is that a vampire accountant, program manager, soccer mom, isn't enough: you need a story. Something with roller coaster plot movement. The reader wants fangs and bone-crunching roundhouse punches. And the modern vampire wants you to have that, just as long as he's on an expense account and drives an awesome car. Like a clever P.I.
Deja Vu All Over Again
Like Mario, I'm rewriting the manuscript of my second novel. I don't mind. I can always improve something.
My editor was not keen on an incubus subplot. Incubi are not as much fun as vampires. Okay, incubi are kinda of the loozers of the demon world, but they're not as creepy as zombies, which I think anyone will agree.
Zombies make for slow fiction, but I think they are terrific in movies. Here are some of my top zombie movie pics:Night of the Living Dead
: George Romero's classic film about the rotting dead and the people who get eaten by them.Sean of the Dead
: Slackers, zombies, heartbreak, beer and a great soundtrack.I Walked with a Zombie
: A classic (1943) Gothic tale of a young woman from Canada who is hired to care for the wife of a wealthy plantation owner in the West Indies. Director Jacques Tourneur, who also directed "Cat People," made a beautifully shot and wonderfully creepy film.28 Days Later:
A guy wakes up from a coma and finds that zombies have destroyed the nation. A grim apocalyptic vision of modern society. Scary, smart, and well-made.Army of Darkness:
Hilarious adventures of a drug store clerk who is thrown into a world full of zombies, monsters, violence, and idiots. Bruce Campbell uses a chainsaw with zeal under Sam Raimi's direction. I think they made this movie for about $100 bucks, but the campy effects are part of the fun.
Anyone else have favorite zombie movies or zombified t.v. episodes? No, the last several seasons of "The Simpsons" doesn't count.
I've been writing for a long time. I have one novel out, submitted the second, and am working on the third. I also teach classes about writing the genre novel so I like to believe I know what I'm talking about.
And then I get from my editor the five-page revision letter for my second novel. It starts: "I really like the story," which leads to the punch line: "You've got a great start."
Great start. Code for: "you’re off the mark, pal." I know, that's what I write on critiques.
I wonder about those writers who brag that their manuscripts didn't get even one requested change. My first thought: "Your editor must not have read your book very carefully."
Then I heard Robert Crais at a luncheon. He mentioned the process behind L.A. Requiem.
Robert was under contract to write a sequel and instead he submitted a stand-alone. His editor called back. "This isn't a sequel. However, this story blew me away. It's so good we're upping your advance."
Admittedly, that was my fantasy when I turned in X-Rated Bloodsuckers,
the sequel to Nymphos.
I wanted to hear, "Mario, you wowed us with your prose. We love you. Here, take what you can carry from our vault. Wait, bring a wheelbarrow."
The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.
My editor calls them as she sees them, that's her job. I value her expert opinion and revising the manuscript is part of the process in bringing a book to press. I want reviewers to rave about the sequel, and more to the point, I want to satisfy the most important people in this publishing business--you the reader.
Really Scary Stuff
You want to know what's really scary? Big companies trying to charge you to use the internet, which is more bogus than I can express. The House of Reps is voting on something called Net Neutrality. Do what I do when I need answers to questions of the universe: Ask A Ninja
On another topic, I interviewed bestselling author Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez
(Dirty Girls Social Club, Playing with Boys) for the SF Chronicle. The only demon in her dishy new novel, Make Him Look Good, is a horrific creature named Jill Sanchez, a singer/actor/designer/perfume maker. Valdes-Rodriguez is putting on the Chica Lit Book Fiesta
later on in the month. Look at it this way: the more of us writing, the less of us making Gigli
Need a vampire book fix? Check out Fat White Vampire Blues
by Andrew Fox. The story, which is set in New Orleans, is a cautionary tale about a vampire who gorges on too many high-cholesterol victims.
Romantic Times Booklovers Convention
Next week I head off to Daytona Beach for the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention
, a gathering of hundreds of authors, fans, booksellers, reviewers, agents and editors representing genres ranging from mystery to fantasy to romance to cover models (yes, cover models--the kind you see of THOSE covers). Thanks to my friend Charlaine Harris, I'm going to participate in the vampire panels
. And I'm in pretty heady company: Charlaine, Kim Harrison, MaryJanice Davidson, L.A. Banks, Heather Graham, Barbara Hambly, Rosemary Laurey and JC Wilder. Oh, and did I mention Laurell K. Hamilton? Talk about being a minnow in a very large pond. But I intend to put aside all my inhibitions and natural shyness and get out there and mingle!! If you have a question you'd like me to ask your favorite writer, this is the time! It will give me an ice breaker and fodder for next week's column. See you in a week-- And by the way, if you plan on attending, please let me know. I'd love to meet you.
A minnow among the big fish
Last week I was a guest author at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on the UCLA campus. I was there courtesy of the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore from San Diego, who invited me to sit at their booth for one hour Saturday afternoon and sell my book.
Most of the big name authors were on panels or doing readings in the tents, followed by signings in which hundreds of people queued up for autographed books. Mary Higgins Clark had a line of fans snaking across the festival grounds to meet her. Michael Gruber had a non-stop stream of appreciative readers.
Me? I actually had three people waiting for my autograph, thanks to Jeff Shelby pumping up my book on the Warwick's Bookstore bus from La Jolla. Plus staff and friends from Mysterious Galaxy had dibs on copies.
Mostly I stood in front of the booth and worked the passing crowd. By mid-afternoon I sold out my modest stack of books and felt pleased about my accomplishments.
Then I visited Robert Crais signing for Barnes & Noble. He didn't have to work the crowd, the crowd came after him. Minders herded fans through velvet ropes. I wandered around until the crowd dissolved and I returned to find Robert signing books B&N wheeled to him, dozens at a time.
Weeks ago I had met Robert at a Denver luncheon for the local chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. He proved to be a thoroughly likeable guy and a class act. Robert remembered me and I wished him well, considering his hand would be getting major cramps from all the books he had to autograph (when will I have that problem!).
I plan to return to the Festival next year, hopefully as a bigger fish. Make sure you come see me. With luck, there will be a long line.
Killer Bunnies - Run Away, Run Away!
My publicist at Simon & Schuster is setting up book store signings
, and Mario's and Jeanne's experiences make me shudder in terror at the prospect of hawking my book to apathetic strangers.
Also, the whole speaking in public thang is more horrifying than a Dean Koontz novel
on a dark and stormy night. It might be as scary as Stephen King, but I've never been able to read King or watch movies based on his books --because I get too scared. I watched about ten minutes of "The Shining"
on TV, before I turned it off in a panic. I kept returning to it for five minute intervals, but ultimately couldn't stand the tension.
Even the version enacted by bunnies
An easier fear to handle is waiting for reviews and blurbs of your book. I got some very nice quotes from other authors, and Simon & Schuster just put them up on their website
Reflections on the Writing Life
Maybe it's the overcast sky. Maybe it's that I'm tired. Maybe it's the realization that writing--as an occupation, a job--is not all I'd thought. Writing is fun, marketing is hard. Reflections on a rainy day.
Just got back from the LA Times Festival of Books--the biggest book fair of its kind. 127,000 people converged on the UCLA campus for two days of signings and panels. Two of Southern California's finest independent bookstores were kind enough to invite me to sign with them. Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego and Crime Time Books in LA. At the first signing, I watched Mario work the crowd. I do mean work. He didn't sit at the table like the rest of us, but stood in front, greeting (some say accosting) passers-by and not letting them go until they either bought a book or threatened bodily harm. It worked, he sold all his books (20 +) in about 90 minutes. I think I sold six. But could I have done what Mario did? Probably not.
At the festival, I visited with MaryElizabeth Hart and Patrick Heffernan of Mysterious Galaxy, Linda Bivens of Crime Time Books, met some new writers and renewed acquaintances with a few old friends. A writer I know very well and think of as a friend is ill and that saddened me. A new friend writes under the name of Minister Shadowcrewe and we talked of doing a signing together at Paramount Studios, where he works, in the fall. You just never know. A third critique partner, Jeff Shelby, one of the First Offenders, was there, too, and it was a thrill for the three of us to attend as published authors for the first time.
Then back to reality. I found out I have a new editor at Berkley. Both my agent and the new editor are enthusiastic and tell me they foresee great things for my series. I got a very nice review from a website called Sensuous Reads. Jeff Shelby, aforementioned critique partner, is on his way to his new home in Dallas. I'm going to miss him. Adds to the melancholy, as does the rain. So it's taken me a long time to get this written. I want to lose myself in Anna's world. It's much easier managed than my own!
I thought you were famous
I spent last week on my first "book tour." For the uninitiated, it seems glamorous--arriving at a bookstore, seeing posters announcing your visit, and chairs arranged around a table stacked with copies of your books. But unless you're a mega-bestselling writer, forget about throngs queuing up for your signature.
Few things are as pathetic as an unknown author sitting forlornly at a table while the store P.A. gamely announces the signing. Instead of stampeding toward the table, customers migrate away, as if the lonely author was now infected with smelly cooties.
At the Borders Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona, I actually had a small group waiting by the signing table. When I introduced myself, they looked surprised and replied, "This isn't the French appreciation club?" Sadly no, but they were welcome to stay for my signing. They declined and retreated to the cafe--the far end.
The store manager came by and noticed the empty chairs. "Where is everybody? I thought you were famous."
Obviously not. So I dragged the table and books to the front of the store and proceeded to pitch my novel to anyone coming within range. This was a tactic I employed all week at two book festivals and the other chain bookstore signings. I sold a few dozen books, paying my dues as a tadpole wiggling into the lagoon of publishing, waiting for the day when throngs queue up for me.