Friday, November 10, 2006

The Personal and The Political

In honor of Tuesday’s elections the moderator of Fur, Fey & Fangs asked the contributing authors to consider the political system their metahumans employ in their novels (ie the hierarchy of a wolfpack, coven, or murder of vampires). I can’t really answer this question because I don’t actually think there are a lot of vampires in existence in my universe.

I really struggled with this particular issue – that is, what’s the deal with vampires? How do they survive preying on humans without being discovered? Or should I go with the scenario made popular by Laurel K. Hamliton’s Anita Blake series, where vampires have become citizens in their own right and are subject to governmental rules and regulations like normal people.

I decided I couldn’t think of a unique enough reason that vampires would be part of the known world, so rather than risk blatantly ripping off Hamilton (or any of the other myriad of vampire writers who have chosen this route) I’d keep them in the magical closet, as it were.

That left me with the issue of how is that no one has discovered their existence? Even though the article I posted about the mathematical improbability of vampires has been negated by my devoted and mathematically-inclined readers, there is always the issue that if you had a murder (sorry, but I like that so much better than “coven”) of twenty or thirty vampires all living in a town the size of Madison, Wisconsin your food source would run out pretty quickly, I’d think. Or, at the very least, the local cops would start wondering about the quantities of exsanguinated bodies piling up in the county morgue.

I solved the first problem by giving my vampires the ability to stay alive without having to kill their victims.

For the rest, I figured that I had to limit the number of vampires. I’ve never specified the exact number of vampires in the world, but Garnet has met only a few. Two is considered one too many for Madison.

The ghouls know about vampires, of course. (Ghouls are volunteer donors to the vampires.) I’ve never really explained how it is that Sebastian and the others recruit them without giving away their true identity, but I’ve always figured vampires did use a bit of “glamour”/Thrall/cult of personality to keep the whole thing a kind of open secret in that particular subclass of people.

So my novels politics are local and personal, I guess.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Serendipitous Self-Promotion

Yesterday Shawn, Mason and I made a foray into the Valpo Barnes & Noble. Shawn has actually been looking for a fantasy novel by C. E. Murphy called Urban Shaman and Mason is easily amused by the Thomas the Tank Engine books and toys they have in the children’s section.

I, meanwhile, like to go to scout.

I snoot around to check the bookshelves see who of my friends in on the shelves and in what qualities. Then, I check to see if they have any copies of *my* books. When I don’t find my books, I usually don’t bother to make a fuss. I mean, I know how I would feel if some irate author came up to me while I was just doing my barely above minimum-wage job shelving books in a box chain store demanding to know why thousands of copies of her precious, important novel is not displayed prominently. I would think she was a diva. I’d roll my eyes, make nice, and put her name on my mental list of people not to go out of my way to help in the future.

Anyway, I’d found a couple of copies of WebMage by Kelly McCullough and a copy of Barth Anderson’s Patron Saint of Plagues. No Tall, Dark & Dead. I shrugged and went back to play with Mason. Shawn came up to me and told me she couldn’t remember the author of Urban Shaman and wondered if I’d be willing to ask someone if they had it. Shawn is shy and I’m not. We tend to do a lot of our division of labor based on this fact. So I was happy to ask after the book.

The clerk said that they had a copy of Urban Shaman and, on a lark, I decided to ask after Tall, Dark & Dead. Turns out the reason I didn’t see it on the shelf was because someone on staff was reading it in the break room. She told me she could fetch me that copy. I stopped her and sheepishly admitted that I was the author. I told her that if someone was actually READING it, I didn’t want her to take it from them.

She showed me where to find the other book, we chatted about various other books that we liked. She up-sold me on the sequel, and we parted ways.

Mason had found a book on bugs in the children’s section so we hung out for a few moments decided if he liked it enough to make it a worthwhile purchase. While we dithered, the clerk came up to me and asked me if I’d be wiling to sign their copy of Tall, Dark & Dead. I happily obliged, and she told me that she’s “stolen” it from the staffer who was reading it decided to buy it for herself. She also informed me that she already placed an order for another copy.

I was honored. Thrilled, even. And, I’d made a sale. All self-promotion should be so easy.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

It’s All About Me, Even When it Isn’t

Another reader on complained that the characters in TDD have no morals.

I continue to be baffled by this criticism because, as I’ve said many times on this blog, the central theme of that novel is a question of morality. I suppose your average reader can’t relate to a heroine who has killed (or, depending on how culpable you believe Garnet was when she released Lilith, “allowed to die”) several people. For all intents and purposes, though, you could certainly consider Garnet a fairly active accomplice to murder.

I still believe she’s a moral person, however. She killed out of self-defense, a defense, I might add, which works for many juries in this country. She was also vastly out-numbered and out-gunned. Had it not been for her willingness to unleash Lilith, Garnet would have died that night. A point that I thought that I made abundantly clear throughout the novel.

She also is wracked by guilt. Yes, she can sleep at night and even joke about it, perhaps, (partly because she’s the queen of denial) but she’s also never been entirely convinced that what she did was the right thing, even though it saved her life. Garnet also unleashed something dark within herself and struggles throughout the novel to make peace with that. (Lilith is, in essence, a big, fat metaphor for the human capacity to do harm – and maybe even take pleasure from it. But my point is not to glorify that, but to expose it.)

Maybe people don’t like that darkness. Or maybe I failed on some level for these readers, and my intentions are not all there in the pages of the book, despite my best efforts.

It’s interesting to me that this particular reader also thinks that Garnet slept with Parrish, which she most certainly does NOT. They get close – partly because Garnet is feeling a pang for something familiar and Sebastian has just revealed his darker side, which she initially revolts against. Garnet kisses on Parrish, she wants him, they get naked, but then things stop.

The stopping is kind of the important bit.

Isn’t it?

Or am I to assume then that the readers who find Garnet and company immoral are the careless readers?

This may all boil down to the cover art. While I love it, and I think it helped sell books, there is a bit of a disconnect – my book isn’t nearly as light and airy as the cover suggests. (Ironically, I’d proposed an even lighter book, but the editor who bought it said he wanted it darker with more sex and violence.) So, anyway, maybe the readers who can’t connect to Garnet were expecting her to be something else despite the bloody, murderous image in the prologue (which perhaps a careless reader might skip?) and all the references to the Dark part in dark goddess Lilith.

I don’t know the answer, but, what I do know is that I should never read my reviews. They make me crazy and, like right now, stop me from writing. I know I can’t please everyone, but part of me tends to take this kind of criticism personally. I feel like the comments are directed at me, rather than at the reader’s experience of my book.

I suppose the reviewer in question would just say I was being self-important.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Beginning at the Beginning is a Stupid Thing To Do

I’m finally sitting down to start Bloody Charming, the third in the Garnet Lacey vampire chick-lit series, and I’m stymied. I can’t seem to figure out where this story starts.

The funny thing is that I have an outline that details the plot from beginning, middle, and end, so it’s not like I don’t have a handle on the story itself. I had, in point of fact, begun at the beginning, which is to say, sometime before the action starts. I’d had Garnet on a boring little bicycle ride home interrupted by the sudden appearance of a wolf. Cool though that image was, I realized that what followed was a lot of meandering as Garnet went though her day, essentially being happy.

Not cool.

So tonight, I restarted the novel at the first gathering of Garnet’s potential coven. I’m much happier with that because there’s action… though I realize the conflict is still not center stage. I’m going to have to rework that in revisions, because I’m also throwing a lot of new people at the reader all within the first ten pages. I think that I can make that onslaught of names work if there’s a core story for the reader to follow – which is going to be Garnet dealing with Blythe, the sexy comparative religions major, who is hitting on Sebastian.

It amazes me how bloody difficult writing is. I’ve been teaching writing for years now and I have any number of sort of “pat” phrases that I tell my students over and over. One of them is that they need to start their story at the moment of conflict. Start, I tell my students, with a problem statement, not unlike the thesis of a paper -- so that your reader knows what the hypothesis is going to be, what answers they should be looking for. State the novel’s core conflict in the first sentence (or thereabouts.)

Yet, when it comes time for ME to sit down and write, I flake. I get distracted by the pretty, by the fun.

Now I have to pay the price. I’m going to have to take my own advice.

How annoying is that?