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!
Monday, April 30, 2012
Breaking them rules
I've just finished watching the first season of HBO's Game of Thrones. My first thoughts are that I am jealous of George RR Martin, as the TV show is based on his book series of Medieval inspired intrigue, A Song of Fire and Ice. Typically, a book has to be condensed to fit into the two or so hours of a movie. With this cable series, Martin was given ten hours per book. If you've seen at least one episode, you can appreciate the money budgeted for the set design. Amazing and the source for much of my envy.
Now, all is not perfect. I read every one of the 699 pages in Game of Thrones and reveled in the richness of the prose, only to discover that this doorstop of a novel is a prologue to the story. I've been cautioned by others who've read the next books in the series that, rather than tighten the plot lines, Martin keeps expanding his universe and yanking on the reader's expectations. Plus, he gallops over the no-no's we fiction writers have been indoctrinated to hew to. In both the book and on TV, we see the murder of children (one lives but is left paralyzed), the deaths of major characters (and not always in dramatic ways. one was gored by a wild pig, the other died of an infection), incest, rape, and most shockingly to us Americans, the killing of dogs (huge taboo!) and horses (by graphic beheading and another by having its throat cut). Which proves that you can break any rule in writing as long as you do it well.
I found more rule breaking in Eleanor Brown's wonderful novel, The Weird Sisters, a long way from the spatter of Martin's bloody mayhem, and an engrossing read about three sisters who return home because their mother is dying of cancer. What makes them weird is that they grew up in a family of bookworms where the common language was Shakespeare, and though they each wrestled to escape, they rebound to the nest, broken and ashamed. Brown writes from a first-person plural POV, as in "we," and then yo-yo's into each sister's narrative in third person singular. It's an unusual technique that Brown uses to build an intricate and entertaining story, proving again that you can do anything in a novel as long as you do it well.
This weekend I had to miss the geeky shenanigans at StarFest because I was farther south, in Colorado Springs, for the fabulous Pikes Peak Writers Conference. The headliner was mystery writer Robert Crais, who for his banquet speech talked about the enduring allure of the mystery novel.
Though the mystery revolves around how the hero solves the crime, the main catalyst for action is the villain. When I teach writing, I emphasize that the villain is the hero of his own story; an antagonist can't be evil for the sake of being evil. The villain must have a credible motivation. In most novels, the villain is usually a Lex Luthor-type of evil genius or a serial killer, but in real life, the criminal acts out of simpler motives, often simply the desire for easy money.
The corruption of a public official is always grist for a good story. For example, Rita Crundwell, the
chief financial officer of Dixon, Illinois, was
recently arrested for skimming $30 million from the town coffers to fund an
opulent lifestyle that included a million dollar motor home and the
Meri-J Ranch with its 150 horses.
Closer to home, Sean Mueller, masterminded a Ponzi scheme to pay for the usual trappings of a lavish lifestyle: a mansion, vintage cars, exotic vacations. His enterprise churned through $140 million--his victims included football star John Elway--until the cash dwindled to the point when Mueller had less than $10 million to cover $45 million in obligations. What brought the attention of the law was when Mueller climbed on top of a parking garage and threatened to jump. No doubt, he snapped under the pressures of keeping up appearances. Mueller was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
My favorite anecdote of stolen loot is the sad tale of Michelle Cawthra, a manager in
the Colorado Department of Revenue who embezzled $11 million, not because of her greed, but in a twisted saga of love. She not only provided booty call for her abusive and married boyfriend, but stole the money and risked prison for the privilege of savoring his man juice. I like to imagine the behind-the-scenes drama of this sordid affair. He'd slap her around, followed by teary boo-hoos and apologies, then make-up sex, and she would promise to behave herself and hand over more money. Cawthra's net gain for her romantic sacrifice: public disgrace and 24 years in prison. Her lover and his wife are also locked way.
I'll definitely use these crimes as inspirations for my stories, only I'll tweak the drama by adding a little murder.
RT Con Wrap Up
I discovered to my delight that one of my panels was taped and we were given permission to share so here is: “Kick-Ass Character” Panel with Charlaine Harris, Christina Henry, Chloe Neill, Jeaniene Frost and me. Moderated by Richelle Mead.
For those who may want to share these videos with your friends, on your websites and blogs; please make sure you credit Eric & Sookie Lovers with a link back to this post, and most especially to LPCoder for recording the videos. The three panelists in the first two videos (available at this link, too and of particular interest to Charlaine, Nalini Singh and Jeaniene Frost fans) have given LPCoder permission to share the videos online, and in turn, she has given us permission to exclusively share them with you.Thank you in advance.
The panel I'm on (here) runs one hour. I think it's worth it.
This was one of the best conferences I've ever attended. Not only because the workshops varied from e-pubing with Joe Konrath to genre panels to reader panels, but because of the opportunities to schmooze with the likes of Charlaine Harris and J R Ward and Jeaniene Frost.
Charlaine and I are friends that go back to the 80's. It's always a joy to be able to spend time with her. As is always the case, her fan club The Charlatans put on a great pizza party! The one on one time she, Paula and I got to enjoy is always worth the trip.
Add to that the excitement of meeting Anne Rice for the first time (I had her sign my first edition Interview With The Vampire) and sharing a few words with Sue Grafton (we met first when A is For Alibi was just released at a signing in San Diego) and I was in fan girl heaven.
Then there's the bar and panel time spent with Jaye Wells, Nicole Peeler, Liliana Hart, Richelle Mead, all not only great pals but great writers, as well. Jill Smith, reviewer at RT Magazine, who takes time from her busy schedule each year to join me for a dinner and solve-the-troubles-of-the-world chat. And Heather Osborn, the gracious and very generous editor at Samhain, who is always ready to party!!
There's never enough time at these things to see and chat with everyone. But YA author Suzanne Lazear and I did manage to do dinner one night. She was resplendent in her gorgeous steam punk outfits.
Crit partner YA author Aaron Ritchey attended also. We had a problem with communication, I had his old cell number so we never did connect until the very last day. But each time I saw him he had women surrounding him so I know he didn't really care! Looking the way he does, it wasn't surprising.
Of course, the very best is meeting readers at a con like this. I'll never get over the thrill of being asked to sign a book or reader or tee shirt or bag. It makes all the anxiety of today's publishing world a little easier to take. I appreciate every one of you.
Which is a good segue into a program I'll be attending Sunday, April 22. Englewood Library'sMeet the Faces Behind the Books. Fifty local authors representing fiction, nonfiction and young adult all under one roof. Stop by between 1 - 3 PM
Address: 1000 Englewood Parkway First Floor • Englewood Civic Center Englewood, CO 80110 303-762-2560
Last week I had the pleasure of addressing students at a high school career day. Since many of them were interested in careers as writers, I told them that despite their lack of experience, they had one advantage over me--their youth. Other than the obvious bank of time they had at getting published, they also had the energy and naivety to forge ahead in disregard of the odds and well-intentioned advice from their elders.
This reminded me of an art technique book I'd bought in the early 80s. It was written by two young men who'd ridden box cars across the country and documented their trip in sketchpads. I was about the same age as these artists but was married and a lieutenant in the army. Outwardly, I saw their trip as frivolous and bohemian while I was a man of real responsibilities. Inside though, I knew these two guys were doing something a lot more ballsy and daring than I'd ever done.
Adults are always telling kids to be safe, to look at the realistic long view of things, to chose security over adventure. These two young men were not only more dedicated to their art than I ever was, they were taking a risk for the promise of a huge payoff. Which worked.
The vagabond artists? James Gurney and Thomas Kinkade, who became two of the most successful artists in American history.
Thomas Kinkade I'm sure you know as the infamous, self-proclaimed Painter of Light. There's a lot written about whether his art work is recognized as "art." In an interview with BBC, Kinkade said that all art (like fiction writing--author's note) should evoke an emotional response. And since sentimentality is an emotion, so why not that? In the chaotic world of scratching out a living and tolerating life among your fellow humans, maybe we need the warm comfort of artistic schmaltz.
James Gurney is a name I doubt you recognize but I'm sure you've seen his art. He wrote and illustrated the immensely popular Dinotopia and sequels. Unlike his former compatriot, Gurney never claimed to be an artist whose work was meant to be collected; he was instead an illustrator. His work has been presented in such prestigious venues as The National Geographic and stamps for the US Postal Service. Though it's not obvious, Gurney also shared a sentimental outlook as his worlds are utopias where dinosaurs and humans coexist (with the lizards as the wiser, kinder beings). Which explains why his works have not translated well to the screen. Gurney has labored to create societies that have erased conflict, and conflict as we writers know, is the basis for drama. Without drama, Gurney's works are essentially travelogues. Maybe he should try, Breaking Bad with Dinosaurs.
That same BBC interview as mentioned above claimed that Kinkade was the most successful (in terms of money) living artist in history, creating a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Look at the example of van Gogh; today his paintings fetch astronomical prices, yet he never tasted a bit of those riches and lived and died in poverty. So who can fault Kinkade for gaming the business of art to his benefit while he lived?
Sadly, Kinkade rankled many people with his questionable practices--hiring other artists to touch up prints which were then sold as expensive originals, and undercutting his franchise owners by selling work elsewhere at discount prices. Also, many couldn't square his professed Christian faith with his drunkenness, public urination, sexual harassment, and DUIs. Kinkade died April 6, 2012 of natural causes at the age of 54. I was suspicious of "natural causes" until a retired forensic scientist told me that 15 percent of all deaths are to unattributable causes--i.e., undetected heart arrhythmia, unknown chemical reactions, sudden stroke. Now The Christian Post reports that shortly before his death, Kinkade fell back to heavy drinking--which might explain his demise--and that despite the gobs of millions earned, his estate is nine million in debt.
We writers have a lot to do besides slogging through the word count. Editing. Rewriting. Queries. Rejections. More rewriting. Blogging. Facebook. Twitter. Conventions. Maybe teach some classes. Rewriting. And with the advent of self-publishing our ebooks, there's the huge task of book covers. Though we can contract an artist to create the actual cover, it is we writers who must wear yet another hat as artistic director.
Remember that adage? Don't judge a book by its cover.
What a crock.
A good cover can juice sales. A bad cover can sink a book, no matter how well written. A poorly conceived cover can project to the reader that the book was sloppily penned and edited.
Here are the top reasons people buy books, specifically novels:
1) Recommended by a friend. 2) You're already a fan of the author. 3) The cover. 4) The back cover copy. 5) Media coverage. 6) Reviews.
I can't verify who put this list together or how they did it, but as I've seen the list referred to many times as gospel, then it must be true.
When I was first published, I didn't think much about covers, other than did it look good and capture the essence of the book. Since then, I've learned that much about the story is conveyed in the style and artwork, and that each genre has its artistic "rules."
For example, in the cover of Jeanne's next book, we have a hot babe toting an Ak47. This of course means the protagonist is a fierce sexy woman and the gun implies that there will be much violence. The smoky background projects the noir ambience of the narrative. Nothing overtly says supernatural or vampire except for the full moon, a common artistic theme in all the Anna Strong books. The strong primary colors of each book help define shelf presence.
Dakota Cassidy also writes supernatural novels. But with the example of this cover, we can obviously tell it's not a hard-boiled story because rather than a photo-realistic image, the artwork is cartoony. Meaning the story is light and humorous. (Duh!) The character is definitely a saucy demon, and one up to no-good naughty fun.
Personally, I can't remember if I've ever bought a book because of its cover. Maybe I'm the exception to the rule. I have bought books because of reviews, most notably Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark, which made me realize I could put my own snarky spin on writing the supernatural. And I also liked the original quirky cover.
Not So Sweet Mysteries of (the writing) Life Tuesday is critique night for the Pearl Street Gang. We meet for dinner and to catch up on any news and eventually get around to doing the job we come to do--critiquing. But last Tuesday after the food and the work and the gabbing, Warren Hammond, Aaron Ritchey and I hung around awhile and talked about the "business."
Warren and I have been writing (and published) the longest. Aaron just had his first book released but he's been writing for a long time. The subject naturally came up about what a writer can do to best promote himself, leading, one would hope, to actually earning a living by (gasp) writing!
For those of you who know Aaron, you know he's outgoing, charming and probably the smartest man I know. He has a thousand stories buzzing around in that head of his and when he sets out to write one, it's always told in a unique voice and style that sucks you right in. If judged by talent alone, he's got it made.
If it were only that easy!
So how did we answer Aaron? Warren had it right when he said if you were an athlete, you'd split your income 80/20 with your agent. If you were a actor, the same. Only in publishing does the house, agent and bookseller make more than the artist. And from your cut (maybe $1 - $3 a book) comes promo--swag, travel, conference fees, advertising.
Discouraging? If your aim is to support yourself and maybe a family? Definitely. Lightning does strike, though. And there's always the chance the gods will reach down and pluck you up to join the ranks of J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer. Or Alan Ball will be looking for a book in an airport book shop and pick yours to make into the next HBO blockbuster.
More likely, you'll keep your day job. You'll write because it's what you want to do, what you love to do, what you have to do. You'll count yourself lucky when you get each new contract because you'll see your friends lose theirs. You'll go off to cons and do your best to pretend you're an extrovert for four days when in fact, you only really feel comfortable in front of your computer. You'll fall in love with your characters and feel you know them better than most of the real people in your life.
And you do.
It occurred to me that maybe that's why we keep writing. We have very little control over the details of our contracts, our pub dates, our covers. But we do have control over our characters and our fictional world and how we win the fights over the big bads. So the answer is clear. The next series I write will be about a NYT Best Selling author whose books are picked up in an airport book store and made into a mega-hit movie where my fictional author gets a walk-on roll and her publisher throws money at her to keep writing. The only conflict will be whether she wears the Badgley Mischka or the Marchesa to the Oscars.
Think it would sell?
Speaking of conferences: Here's my panel schedule for RT next week.
THE GRAVEYARD SMASH-UP WEDNESDAY, 4:45-5:45 A discussion of vampires and their appearance in various gen¬res. How do you mix the undead with other elements in order to create a winning novel? Captain: Caridad Pineiro Panelists: Eden Bradley (aka Eve Berlin), Clay & Susan Griffith, Kerrelyn Sparks, Jeanne C. Stein
URBAN FANTASY: Kick-Ass Characters that Make Us Cry & Keep Us Coming Back For More FRIDAY 2:45 – 3:45 PM Urban Fantasy is often known for its fantastic elements and worldbuilding, but at the heart of each story, it's the characters that readers can't get enough of. Listen as authors reveal what it takes to write the addictive characters that drive this genre, discussing everything from anti-heroes and inner conflict to relationships and star-crossed lovers. Captain/Moderator: Richelle Mead Panelists: Jeaniene Frost, Charlaine Harris Christina Henry, Chloe Neill, Jeanne Stein
SEVEN MINUTES IN URBAN FANTASY HEAVEN FRIDAY 1:30 – 2:30 Join us for the most intense urban fantasy hour ever. Authors will find their funniest, most romantic or most action-packed scenes … and have just seven minutes to read them aloud to you! You’ll get a whirlwind trip of different creatures, styles and characters — as well as the chance to win books from all of the participating authors. Moderator: Richelle Mead Panelists: Lynda Hilburn, Suzanne McLeod, Kristin Painter, Nicole Peeler, Jeanne Stein, Jaye Wells.
For some strange reason, the public thinks we writers are a bunch of smart people. But we are a delusional, angsty lot that does a lot of dumb things (like keep writing), especially when we get frustrated. This last week I finished teaching a workshop for WritersOnlineClasses.com and for the last class I listed advice for the dumb things to keep in mind:
1) Avoid any vanity press. They won't do anything for you that you can't do for yourself if you self-publish. Plus, you keep all your money. And DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!!! your contract may assign them the copyrights to your work so you can forget about taking your book somewhere else without forking over bucks to get your rights back.
2) A small press is a legitimate way to get your name out there. But another DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!!! Don't sign a contract for more than one book. Why? Because the contract may assign the publisher the rights-of-first-refusal for a bunch more books. And your small press book may get you a deal with a major publisher (HURRAH!) and then guess what? You're stuck. You can either split the royalties from the new books or buy out the contract with the small press. So if a small press is interested in your book, then by all means, sign with them if you think it's a good career move. But don't get blinded by gratitude and desperation that you give up too much.
3) Once upon a time, self-publishing your novel branded you as a desperate failed writer. But eBooks and Amazon have changed that. Many new and established writers have self-published eBooks to start or rejuvenate their writing careers. Don't be in a rush to publish before your work is ready and make sure to invest in a review by a professional editor. And don't skimp on a good cover.
4) Don't try and please everyone with your work. Do that, you lose your edge, weaken your voice, and end up with mush. No one likes mush. Find your writing tribe, the group of people who understand what you're trying to do and will urge you along (with an occasional kick in the ass). Don't join a critique group of thriller writers if you're working on a coming-of-age novel. Recognize that your manuscript will need work and it's a blessing when you can find understanding and demanding readers.
5) Once you've finished your manuscript, don't think you're another J.K. Rowling and the world can't wait for your work. DON'T write a flattering email to a favorite author and gush about their books, then turn around and By The Way, Would you mind reading my 240K opus? Maybe a blurb? Recommend me to your agent? Or hand out copies of your manuscript at a conference. People will speak about you with the same regard given to bedbugs and hangovers.