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!
Fantasy creatures not only dress well, sometimes wearing a trademark protected costume, but they also have awesome superpowers which they use to cause mayhem. Vampires and werewolves have fangs, talons (or claws), and super strength. Witches have potions and spells. Ghouls and zombies don't have much except for bad breath (you'd think the'd try Scope after noshing on cadavers) and being persistent as cockroaches.
With the prevalence of technology, would fantasy creatures use modern weapons?
Why not? We accept that silver bullets are deadly against most fantasy creatures so why wouldn't they use these slugs to settles scores against each other? Vampires could do a drive-by against werewolves.
Flamethrowers. The classic anti-monster weapon. Remember The Thing starring Kirk Russell? He happened to show up with a flamethrower (probably stored in the office closet between the Scotch tape and the Post It notes). I asked a friend who works in Antarctica and she confirms that yes, they keep flamethrowers handy just in case they thaw out a UFO. Hey, why not let monsters get the drop on us humans and use the flamethrowers first?
Machine guns. A thoroughly underrepresented weapon in fantasy literature and cinema. I can imagine a warlock watching Saving Private Ryan and wondering, the hell with my toads and eye of newt, where can I get a war surplus MG42? Even the most macho werewolf will say ouch many times when you stitch him with machine gun bullets.
Many fantasy scenarios involve blades and knives, mostly as sacrificial accoutrements for carving out hearts, but what about the switchblade? Okay, vampires have talons which are like built-in switchblades and Wolverine has his Adamantium claws, but a switchblade opens with that metallic SNAP which means trouble.
On the flip side, fantasy superpowers are an allegory that nature has surprises that will undo human technology. (I'm getting philosophical and kinda academic here.) Chase a vampire with a tank and he'll fly away as a bat. Pull a revolver on a witch and she'll blind you with a spell. Attack in a fighter jet and a forest sprite will bring you down with a tornado.
What weapon would your fantasy creature carry?
The more you search, the more blogs you find on vampire books. I just discovered Patricia's Vampire Notes
, which has reviews, links to other sites, and links to articles about vamp and paranormal fiction. Patricia also has a website called Vampire Readings
, which lists vamp books and descriptions.
Another cool discovery is Kayleighbug Books
, a science fiction and fantasy bookstore owned by Nathan Barker. Nathan also owns Scrybe Press. I exchanged a few emails with Nathan and learned that more horror is being published under romance imprints than in speculative fiction imprints. The reason? Romance outsells all other categories five to one. Which means, dudes, that you're going to have to venture to romance publishers if you want a scary werewolf
One thing I really like about Kayleighbug's listings is that they often include the cover artists' names. A little research and you can find out why one book's cover
is almost identical to another book's
Writer stuff: I had the pleasure of meeting author Kyra Davis
at our Kepler's event this week. Kyra was funny, smart, and I wish I had her wonderful skills at reading aloud. Her two novels have great titles, Sex, Murder and a Double Latte
and Passion, Betrayal and Killer Highlights
I was thinking the other day of guilty pleasures. Chocolate. Coffee. Whipped Cream. One of my favorites is The New York Observer
. It’s a rag. You can tell that right away because it’s pink. Orange. Well, I guess if you went to a F.U., the color is salmon. (By the way, Marta, since I attended a public university I guess I went to a P.U.) But I digress. I subscribe to The New York Observer because many years ago, in another life, I lived on the New Jersey Coast. I was a block away from the beach and forty-five minutes from New York City by train. It was the best of both worlds. In fact, it was such a cool place that I found myself sharing the beach with John Lennon and Yoko Ono
one day. How did I come to live there? That’s a story for another day because I’m digressing.
It’s the heat. Back on track.
The New York Observer is special because it never takes itself seriously. I mean, how could a newspaper that tells you which restaurants to go to with your lover when you’re having an affair take anything seriously? You also get to read Rex Reed’s snarky movie reviews and find out which clinic to go to when you want to choose the sex of your next child (fee: $3400). But the best feature is the bi-monthly column written by George Curley called “George and Hilly.”
It purports to be the dialogue of a couple of twenty-something yuppies on their psychiatrist’s couch. They’ve just moved in together and are trying to iron out the wrinkles. Since they are both selfish, egotistical and self-medicating, it makes for good reading. In fact, I see Dr. Selman rolling his eyes when he says things like, “So you (George) identify Hilly as having an alcohol problem when you yourself are taking mushrooms and drinking vodka, etc etc….” Anyway, it’s great fun and it makes me feel normal.
Of course, as soon as I wrote that I remembered that I liked The Pirates of the Caribbean
, Dead Man’s Chest. How normal is that?
Something else I like about the paper…its reporters use the “f” word. Now I ask you, what other paper does that?
Got the manuscript for Watcher in the mail to my agent on Monday. What a relief. At least I think it’s a relief. Maybe he’ll hate it and want me to do major rewrites. I’m not going to think about that right now.
Good interview with Carrie, Mario. I bought her second but haven’t had a chance to start it yet. And as you can see, I did not get Firefox up yet. Now that I have a little free time before starting my next book, I will do it, Marta, I promise!!!
And other breaking news: Jeff Shelby, talented writer and member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers where, until he moved, was part of a critique group with Mario and me, landed in the number 3 spot on the Denver Post's best-seller list! Number 3 for WICKED BREAK, the second in the Noah Braddock PI series. Way to go!!!
Interview With a Werewolf
I had the pleasure, twice even, to sign with Carrie Vaughn
the talented and hardworking author of the entertaining and compelling Kitty Norville werewolf novels from Warner Books. Since many of you haven't had the chance to meet Carrie yet, I thought I'd introduce you to her through this interview.
Mario: Why a werewolf story?
Carrie Vaughn: I'm more interested in werewolves, and I think I have more to say about them than vampires. Plenty of people are already writing vampire stories.
M: Given your background and education with a Masters in Literature, what attracted you to the fantasy genre?
CV: I've always read fantasy and science fiction--that isn't mutually exclusive from a Masters in Lit! My interest is figuring out how great writers do their thing, and great writing is found in all genres. I like fantasy because of the imagination, the symbolic power, and the "wow!" factor. I find that I say "Wow!" while reading fantasy more than any other kind of literature.
M: You use humor so well. It makes your world much more accessible. How hard is it for you to make the scenes funny and carry the plot narrative?
CV: Thanks! The humor has to grow out of the characters and situation. It can't be forced. I try to start with characters who are naturally witty, and simply let them comment on the situation. The plot never gets sacrificed for the sake of a cute joke. Also, I try not to take certain subjects too seriously.
M: How much do you rely on traditional horror elements for your fantasy creatures and how much do you invent?
CV: I rely quite a bit on traditional elements because it allows me to play with readers' expectations. I really want to be consistent with the "rules" I choose, though. I also like to be able to comment on those elements, maybe even satirize them a little.
M: What's your research process?
CV: I research two different ways: First, I'll research as a way to get the imagination going, to look for ideas that I think would make good stories. Second, as I'm writing, I figure out what I need to know, what information needs to be in the story to give it a solid basis in reality. In this regard I've researched locations, wolf behavior, southwest U.S. magical traditions, police work, radio stations--that sort of thing.
M: Your first novel, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, was 119 on the US Today bestseller list. Why do you think your story was so popular?
CV: Actually, the first one was 129. The second was 118. Both of them lasted only a week, but hey, I'm not complaining. The comment I get the most that gives some clue as to why the stories might be popular is how real Kitty seems. People seem to relate to her, and root for her. I tried to make her real, with real world problems like her job and her family, and I think that resonates with readers.
M: What are the big themes within your stories?
CV: The nature of humanity. Individual empowerment and responsibility.
M: You have a day job. And now that your series is doing well, you have to spend time and money promoting yourself. So when do you write?
CV: I write the same times I've always written--usually late afternoon and evening, after work and after supper. I make sure I write every day. I got some good advice a while back--the best thing I could do for my career is work on the next book/story, and make it better. The promotional aspects should never take priority over writing. If I want the series to continue to do well, the next books have to be just as strong.
M: Describe your writing process. Do you outline? Make character resumes?
CV: I outline a bit. I like to know the end of the book before I start
writing. Other than that, I prefer to plunge straight into the writing and see what the characters do. Though in the course of writing I'll make two or three more detailed outlines for the more complex parts of the story, to make sure all the characters end up in the right place at the right time. I tend to write my first drafts very quickly, then do a lot of revision. All the books have gone through 3-4 drafts.
M: What conferences do you attend and why?
CV: I attend Mile Hi Con, the Denver SF convention, every year because it's local and friendly, and a good way to connect with local SF writers. I attend Bubonicon, the Albuquerque convention, because I have a lot of friends there. I sometimes attend the World Fantasy Convention. It's great because it's very professional--it's mostly writers, editors, agents, and publishers, and is a great place to network. The World Science Fiction Convention is also a good place to network with people from all over the country, but it can be very chaotic and overwhelming. It's also a good place to connect with fans. And it has a dealer's room to die for.
M: What other stories would you like to write?
CV: Oh, I've got a million of 'em. They should keep me busy for a good long while.
M: Could you share two lessons that you have learned since you’ve been published?
CV: Getting published doesn't make everything easier. I think writers have this expectation that once they're published, everything gets better--they've finally "made it." Nothing could be further from the truth, and this can be a deadly psychological trap to fall into. If you assume things get easier, the usual problems (like rejection) actually start to seem more difficult. (And you will get rejections, even after you've been published.) You need to stay sharp and stay hungry. Along the same lines: always be working on something new. Rejection is easier to face when you have a new and better story waiting in the wings.
How to Get Published
Necessity is the mother of invention, and mothers by needs must be inventive.
USA today has a story about Kathleen McGowan
, who claims she is descended from Jesus and Mary Magdelene. She wrote downher "visions" of their marriage and just got a book deal from Simon & Schuster with a print run of 250,000.
McGowan self-published the book last year and sold 2500 copies. She's a seasoned journalist who also worked for years in Hollywood with three boys to support. Her editor and agent claim to believe her story, really they do, honest, they're so not joking!
the literary hoax and this looks like a swell one. The con is a partnership. The con artist is nothing without collaborators and marks who willingly, happily believe that which is incredible.
Another great recent hoax was from Laura Albert
, a middle-aged woman who had never had the success she wanted. Albert, also a mother with a mother's bills and concerns, created the persona of teenage-hooker-junkie-author J.T. Leroy
and took the literary world by storm.
You rock, McGowan, and I hope this scam pays for your children's bills through college. I raise a toast to the mothers who do what they can to take care of their children.
Since I, too, am a mother, my next book will be an autobiographical tale of my conversations with the spirit of an Aztec ruler who leads me in intergalatic travel. It's a deeply spiritual adventure, tentatively titled Are We There Yet?
How far would you go to sell your writing?
A lot of things on my mind today. Mario's signing at the Denver Book Mall was terrific. I know I've said it before, but he knows how to work a room. It was the first time I'd been to that book store, a conglomerate of several vendors each specializing in different types of books. Nina and Ron Else have the mystery/sci-fi section. It's great with old and new stuff, and I found an out of print book I'd been looking for. If you're in the Denver area, check it out.
Last week I talked about spending quality time with my characters. Robin Brande
commented that it's "especially great when they're funnier and smarter than you are, and you can't figure out how you wrote them that way." Boy, does that ring true. Sometimes I'll review something I wrote a few weeks or months ago and think, that's pretty good. Other times, of course, it takes my writers group to gently point out just how badly that last chapter sucked. And isn't that what friends are for?
One of the masters of the hard-boiled genre, Mickey Spillane
, died this week. I think what I loved most about him was that he said honestly what most writers will never admit. He wrote to sell books. He called writing an "income-generating job." His first book, I, the Jury
, is my favorite. It was made into a movie (several) but the version I like best was the 1982 Fox version with a young, tough, sexy Armand Assante as Mike Hammer. Sure the themes are sexist, violent and sometimes racist. They were written for the most part, in the late 40's, 50's and 60's. But he could boil emotion down to the bones and his descriptions were fabulous (a word he would have hated). Every writer who has ever been called hard-boiled, owes the title to Spillane. He was 88.
And lastly, Mario asked where my vamps like to prowl. Course, for me, that's an easy question. I've taken liberties with the vampire legend. My protagonist and her fellow vamps prowl the sunny beaches of San Diego. They are not relegated to the dark of night so I send them to visit my favorite daytime places in my favorite town. It's my vicarious way of enjoying Mission Beach and Luigi's and the wildly popular Mission Cafe. I miss the ocean and the colors and the characters who make beach towns, well, beach towns. I'll always be a SoCal girl at heart.
PS--I work on a MAC and that has kept me from being able to insert links or pictures like Mario and Marta. Marta has been nice enough to go in and add stuff when she can. I have just been told about a browser called FIREFOX that supposedly will allow me to have access to all menu items. SO, maybe if I don't screw it up, by next week, I'll be able to add my own goodies, as well! If anyone has suggestions or comments about FIREFOX I'd love to hear them.
Pass the tanning butter
Before I start on today's subject let me thank Nina and Ron Else for hosting Sunday’s signing at the Denver Book Mall. I had a co-signing with the brainy and well-spoken Carrie Vaughn
, author of the werewolf DJ novel, Kitty and The Midnight Hour
(the subject of a future interview). We had a great turnout. Later that afternoon I attended a salon reading by faculty of the Lighthouse Writers Workshop
at the swanky Jet Hotel
. I felt so literary.
Now, in today's news: In the myth building of superhuman characters, the mightier the creature, the more ordinary his or her weakness. The ancient gods of Olympus kept falling victim to their own vanity. Superman fears green kryptonite, whose rays are harmless to everyone else. The Wicked Witch of the West was done in by water, probably regular tap water at that, nothing fancy like Fiji or Evian. And vampires fear the warm, friendly beams of daylight.
Opposing the daylight is the night. People have always been afraid of the dark. Weird things happen at night. All kinds of creepy crawlies come out. The most ferocious of the hunters, wolves, jaguars, and tigers, are nocturnal killers. Darkness is a metaphor for ignorance, desolation, isolation, confusion, and the unknown. Night is the time for evil. Anything that thrives at night does so because it's in league with the Prince of Darkness, the devil. Vampires and the other great monsters of legend all wear the cloak of darkness.
But today we don't fear darkness or the unknown as we did. The electric light and a 24/7 schedule means that there is no time for the vampire to find shelter. The modern vampire has become a victim of a shrinking habitat.
Years ago, foxes, mountain lions, and coyotes shunned human contact. But as their habitat shrank, these animals lost their innate fear of humans and are now in the suburbs munching on Kitty and Fido.
Like these hunters, the modern vampire has adapted. With no place to hide, the vampire hides in plain sight, right among us. The one compromise is that the vampire had to learn how to cope with daylight. In my stories, Felix and his fanged friends use a mix of hyper-effective sun block and makeup. I like the anxiety they feel over the most ordinary of events--the sun and especially the rays of the dawn. Some authors have vampires who can withstand sunlight. Others choose to adhere to the canon of traditional vampire lore.
When do your vampires like to prowl?
Our Friends in Books
Jeanne just posted about how's she's fond of the time she spends with her characters in her own novels. But there are also the characters we love in other novels.
Sometimes we meet these characters when we are children. BookDwarf
posted yesterday about books that both adults and children can enjoy. I first read Jane Eyre
when I was a clueless 13-year-old. I "found" it in the library and had no idea that anybody else had ever read it. I pronounced the title "Jane Eerie."
Naturally I loved Jasper Fforde's
bonkers The Eyre Affair
, about a parallel world in which literature rules and characters from books are kidnapped by brilliant villians.
Anyone else have a favorite character who was/is almost a friend? You know, one of those friends who moved away, but you shared some good times and still think of them?
On another note, I will be at Borders in San Rafael
, CA, on Wednesday, July 19, 7:00 p.m. If you live in the area, please come and say hello.
Evening With A Friend
Last night Jeff Shelby
came to town, to the Tattered Cover
to sign the second Noah Braddock mystery, Wicked Break
. Jeff is a good writer who Mario and I miss a lot. He was part of our critique group before life and his wife's promotion took him to Dallas. He reminded me of the vagaries of the writing life. He's negotiating a new contract and the uncertainty of having no control over your career is scary. You work so damned hard as a writer to get an agent, get a contract, make a name for yourself. And yet, you have no control. Not really. Makes me wonder why anyone wants to be a writer.
Just finished the first draft of the third in the Anna Strong series. It's with the remaining members of the aforementioned writers group. For twenty-four hours I wandered around the house wondering what to do with myself. The book was finished. I couldn't start editing until I got comments back. I wrote a short synopsis for books four and five to send my agent, but I really missed the daily communion I had with Anna. I realized I LIKE spending time with her. She constantly surprises me, delights me, shocks me, challenges me. She's strong, smart, brave, loyal. All the things I wish I was. Okay, she's a vampire. She's not perfect. But who is?
I realize something in writing that last paragraph. I know why I want to be a writer. I want to spend time with characters I like. In real life, you don't always get to do that.
Watched the Stephen King mini-series
. I loved the first episode. William Hurt is such a good actor. I wonder how long it took him to memorize his lines? Extra added bonus--shown commercial free. How great is that?
Focus, focus, focus
Last week Jeanne Stein mentioned that as she's under an August 1 deadline for her third book in the Anna Strong series, she's become intensely focused in her writing.
I know the feeling. Last March I thought I had finished the sequel to Nymphos, book two titled X-Rated Bloodsuckers. I sent the manuscript to my agent, who after reading it, let me forward it to my editor at HarperCollins. My editor returned the manuscript in early May with five pages of notes. (Nymphos had seven.) I had six weeks to polish the story to her satisfaction.
I'm not a writer who gets worked up over suggested changes. I appreciate any reader's criticism. My words have to speak for themselves and if they don't convey the message I want, then I was a writer have to improve them.
When I completed the manuscript in March I thought I was done. My critique group had looked at it. I had read and reread the manuscript dozens of times. My editor and her assistant had their nits about style, etc., but they also had substantive comments. Two weeks before I had to turn in the revised manuscript, I asked a friend to give it a read. She doesn't like fantasy, much less vampire stories. My challenge was to hook her into the story.
She kept bringing up point after point, mostly about characters reactions to the situations I'd put them in. Suddenly, I had a week before my deadline and I was still rewriting whole chapters of my story.
A cold panic embraced me. Every thought during the day was about fixing my story. I pulled an all-nighter. For three days after that I plowed forward on an adrenaline rush. Story problems that I thought I had resolved emerged from my unconsciousness. I'd wake up early in the morning, wet with sweat, and unable to sleep, start up the computer and get at it.
Ironically, every change simplified the narrative and tightened the story around the original premise. With two days before the deadline, I was done. I hope.
Now as I'm working on book three, it's hard to generate that same concentration. Previously, I was already writing in my head before I sat at the keyboard. Now I stumble around for a half hour before settling into the zone. The longest journey your story takes is from your head to your hands. And right now, that distance seems like a long dusty mile.
How do you get focused?
Blogs that Don't Bite
is one of my favorite blogs, and I head over there every morning to learn a little about the bookselling/publishing biz. She's wondering why people go back to some blogs and here's the reason I go to hers: useful information for writers, entertaining content, and terrific links.
I visited a major chain yesterday to sign copies of my books and had a nice chat with the manager and one staffer who is always enthusiastic and helpful. I mentioned Bookseller Chick's blog and they were interested. Everyone wants to compare experiences.
On the supernatural front, I'm wondering why people are drawn to supernatural stories? Do they become more popular at certain times...say times of political instability? Do people actually believe in anything supernatural?
A Special Time
Wish I could be at Marta's launch party. I remember mine--it was SO exciting. Lots of friends and family and so many well wishers, I was glowing for a week! Treasure each moment, my friend.
Deadline for book three of the Anna Strong Series, Watcher, is August 1. It's amazing how focused you become when the countdown begins. I'm not quite finished yet. I plan to wrap it up by next Tuesday so I can give the manuscript to my writers group. Then it's rewrites and grammar checks and filling in the dots. I must admit, I love the process.
How does Anna Strong dress? Jeans mostly, and tees. Unless she's "bait" on the job. Then it's leather and silk. In The Becoming, she did wear a Badgley Mischka
number which I described as "a dress meant to invite sex and fashioned to facilitate it." On her feet? Manolo Blahnik's
, of course.
Happy Hour at Casa Dracula Released Today!
First, Happy Birthday, America!
I live in a foggy climate, so fireworks have always been a bit of a losing proposition. Hey, the fog is kinda pink! Hey, the fog is sort of green! Watch out for the FOG
! (If you haven't seen this classic John Carpenter flick, check it out. It's the spookiest cloud formation in films.)
It's another gray and overcast 4th of July, but I don't mind too much because my novel, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula
, was released today. I'll be having my book launch at Cody's in Berkeley on Friday evening and I'll be at a few other Bay Area bookstores over the next month.
I will not be wearing a vampire costume. My vamps, by the way, prefer natural fibers, classic cuts, and tailored suits. They like linen in the summer. If they had a favorite new designer, it would have to be hot, hot Ghanian born, British-raised menswear designer Ozwald Boateng
. He makes clothes that look like updated versions of the suits Sean Connery wore as James Bond
What’s a vampire to wear?
If the Devil wore Prada, then the Vampire wore?
What would an undead bloodsucker wear? What is considered chic among the coffin dwellers? And conversely, what is eye-rolling gauche?
Typically, the male vampire has this metrosexual thing going on. Lots of velvet, ruffles (the horror), and a cape (more horror). Our fanged protagonist seems confident enough with his masculinity to shop at International Male
I’m sure the modern vampire would dress more like Tyler Durden, the doppelganger in Fight Club
. Tyler dressed like he lifted his garments from clothes in the Lost & Found. Tyler wore anything and it didn't matter. Tyler (Brad Pitt) looked great in anything, or nothing for that matter. And I'll stop dwelling on this before I start shopping at International Male
For women vampires, it's the dominatrix look. High-heeled thigh boots, a black leather cat suit, boobs firm enough to support a set of encyclopedias, CLEAVAGE down the navel. We know who designed these fashions. Men suffering from arrested adolescence. Basically all of us XYers between twelve and ninety-three.
The modern vampire lives among humans more than do vampires in traditional tales. Many of today's vampires even have day jobs (the poor slobs). So they have to blend in. Black leather might seem okay for socializing with Goths but not for life in the cube farm.
But it's about fantasy. If I was an immortal bloodsucking monster, why shouldn't I wear whatever I wanted?
Fellow vampires, what would you wear?