Thursday, September 27, 2007

So Many New's Tim Pratt's

Tuesday was a big release day in the paranormal/SF universe. My friend and colleague Tim Pratt (writing as T. A. Pratt) also has a new book out that I think y'all might like:

What was your inspiration for writing Blood Engines?

There were multiple inspirations. I’ve been writing stories about the main character, sorcerer Marla Mason, for years, and finally decided it would be tremendous fun to write a whole novel about her. The novel is also something of a love song to San Francisco, and I had a lot of fun exploring that city and its history. Plus, I’ve always been fascinated by Aztec mythology, so it was enjoyable to write a novel where the villain is a devotee of those bloody old gods. I managed to work in various other fascinations and obsessions, too: poison dart frogs, hummingbirds, Emperor Joshua Norton, snake gods, sex parties, oracles, and other nice things.

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

Stephen King is probably the biggest influence — I started reading his novels when I was eight years old! Charles de Lint and Jonathan Carroll are also huge influences. These days I like George R.R. Martin and Scott Lynch a lot.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

While I enjoy reading some mimetic fiction, I get bored in my own writing if there are no gods, monsters, or miracles. I especially like contemporary fantasy, because I like the tension created by the juxtaposition of the familiar with the magical.

Why did you decide to make Marla the chief sorcerer of her own city?

In the early stories I wrote about her, Marla was dangerous because she had power without focus. In order to make her more vulnerable and sympathetic, I wanted to give her something to lose. Thus, I made her responsible for the well-being of her own city. The responsibility puts tremendous stress on her, but it also gives her a profound sense of purpose.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I like to cook, read, play video games, spend time with my family and friends, take walks to the lake or the farmer’s market, and see movies. The usual things.

What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

For this book I read a lot about Aztec mythology (The Codex Chimalpopoca is no beach read, either, I’m telling you), and wound up reading a fair bit about San Francisco’s history, too (I would especially recommend Tom Cole’s A Short History of San Francisco — it’s smart, accessible, and, well, short.) The only preparation I do for writing is making sure I’m sufficiently caffeinated.

Marla loves kicking ass. Is that your favorite thing too?

I haven’t been in a fight since junior high. I’d rather have a war of words than fists anyway.

What are you writing now?

I’m working on the fourth book in the Marla Mason series, Grift Sense — having already written book 2, Poison Sleep, and book 3, Dead Reign. The books are being released six months apart, so getting all the books written in time is sort of a marathon that’s also a sprint, and sprinting a marathon? That’s hard on the system. But I’m still having tons of fun.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, for as long as I can remember. (I wanted to be other things, too — an actor, a rock star, an artist, a chef.) But writing was always there, and I’ve been doing it steadily since at least third grade. (I think learning to write in cursive was a turning point for me!) As for how I got where I am now… sheer persistence. I write, I send stuff out, I write some more. Writing, at this point, is as necessary and familiar as eating and sleeping.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

I have no typical day. I have one day a week off from my day job — Wednesdays — and tend to do most of my writing then. In the morning I spend a couple of hours doing freelance non-fiction work. Then I have lunch, take a walk, think about my story, and come home and write fiction for a few hours. Though if I’m up against a deadline, I just write pretty much every chance I get — before work, after work, on lunch breaks, late at night.

Where do you write?

Mostly at my desk in my office, which is in fact a tiny little nook just off the kitchen. If I’m feeling stir-crazy I’ll walk down to a cafe and write longhand there.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

I like writing first drafts, because that’s where the fun and excitement is, though in truth I’ve started to really enjoy revision in recent years — it’s not the white heat of creation, but it’s a fun and challenging exercise in craft. As for what’s hardest… all the business stuff. Copyedits. Proofreading a book I’ve already read ten times and am thoroughly sick of looking at.

What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

I’m not sure SF/Fantasy has a particular purpose that’s different from the purpose(s) of all literature, which are variously to edify, to entertain, and to illuminate the human condition. Though if pressed I might just quote G.K. Chesterton: “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Just Show Up

Last night in writing class at the Loft, I passed on this amazing bit of wisdom to make writing easier:

"Just show up."

The idea being that if you make a special time for writing (Stephen King in his book On Writing suggests that it be a consistant time, say: every night at 7:00 pm, for instance) writing becomes easier. King says that showing up at the same time and place helps your Muse "know where to find you." As silly as that might sound, I think he's got a point. If you know that the time you've set aside for writing is FOR WRITING and you get in the habit of doing it, it becomes easier and easier to get words down on paper/screen.

The big problem with this advice is that, lately, I can't seem to take it.

Oh, I show up, all right. I've got my laptop out, coffee in hand, and... then I surf the internet for an hour and a half. Plus, I don't know if it's something astrological or what, but I can't seem to get anything of substance done. Last few days have been a whole series of stupid, annoying events that have kept me from concentrating on anything, much less writing.

I'm also beginning to think that I'm going to have to start writing at home, away from an easy wireless connection. (The neighbors actually have wireless that I can often hop on to, but to get it, I have to sit in a particular room.)

I'm actually quite excited about the new novel (DEAD IF I DO) because... well, I don't want to spoil anything, but Teresa, Sebasitan's not-quite-dead wife/betrothed shows up. Hillarity ensues. And I love writing the funny, which is why this block is particularly frustrating.


What? I should go write? What, now?


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Bargain Prices at B&N Again

I supect that anyone coming to this site has probably already bought a copy of my first novel, Tall, Dark & Dead, but in case you haven't (or you know someone you'd like to buy one for). They are on ridiculous mark-down at B&N again, selling for a mere $4.98.

There are shipping costs, of course, and these books are often scuffed or otherwise marked, but... well, it's a heckuva deal, as we say here in Minnesota.

Interview: Kelly McCullough

Full disclosure: Kelly McCullough is a fellow Wyrdsmiths. However, I think he's a great guy and a great author and he has a new book coming out today that I'd love y'all to check out, even though it's not especially romantic (though it is urban fantasy). Here's an interview with him to help get you interested:

What was your inspiration for writing Cybermancy?

There are a number of reasons I wanted to write this. First, I wanted to write something else in the WebMage universe (this was before WebMage sold) because I really like hanging out with these fun, funny characters, and I love the world. Second, there was unfinished business left over from WebMage, most notably Shara's injury/death which happens off screen. Finally, and maybe most important for the arc of this book, the Persephone myth has always made me terribly angry. Here is a young goddess who is condemned to be eternally bound to her abductor and rapist, Hades the god of the dead. It's appalling and the injustice of it something that I found that I really wanted to write about.

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

I was raised on Tolkien and Asimov and Shakespeare, and I still love them all, particularly the Lord of the Rings, Richard III and a Midsummer Night's Dream. I discovered Roger Zelazney and H. Beam Piper when I was a little older, and Zelazney is certainly one of my strongest influences. My favorite writer as a writer myself is probably Tim Powers. I always learn something when I reread him.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

The fact that the genre puts no limits on my creativity. What I'm most drawn to as a writer is world. I love to invent whole worlds with their own internal logic and rules, and realistcally where else do you have to scope to do that? I also love both as a reader and a writer the sense of being taken completely out of the here and now.

Why did you decide to make Ravirn a hacker/sorcerer?

I started the WebMage series from the idea of a magical internet that tied worlds together like webpages and used code for spells. If I wanted to really explore that concept in depth I needed someone who could do more than just use the magical equivalent of web-browser, I needed someone who really understood how the coding worked. That meant a hacker and in the context of the world I was writing, that automatically made him a sorcerer too.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

Well, writing really is near the top of my list for play as well as being my job. I really enjoy sitting down to work every day. But I also love walking and biking with my wife. I'm an avid videogamer, mostly role-playing stuff like Final Fantasy, but also puzzle games and stuff like Ratchet and Clank, all of which I play with my wife. Like most writers, I'm an avid reader, though more non-fiction than fiction these days.

What sort of research did you do to write this book?/What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

I didn't need to do an enormous amount of new research for Cybermancy, since it's the second book in a series. I did do a refresher on my general Greek Mythology and especially on the details of Hades and the Persephone story. I also have to constantly update my computer knowledge base, but that's just part of my ongoing non-fiction reading. I really do more general research than I do specific stuff for any given book. As a part of being a writer I try to have at least a couple of serious non-fiction books going along with keeping up general and scientific news. That's probably a good two hours of every day, often more and part of what I think of as my job.

Ravirn loves hacking and cracking. Is that your favorite activity too?

Actually no, I'm aware of programming and hacking (my mother's a computer geek as are a number of my close friends), but I've never been much interested in the mechanics of how my computer works.

In Cybermancy, Ravirn finds himself breaking into Hades to bring back a dead friend in the mode of Orpheus. How do you put yourslef in situations like that as a writer to try to make them believable?

It's tough sometimes. Ravirn is stronger faster and more durable than I am. Many of the things he attempts would pretty much kill me. On the other hand, since he's a figment of my imagination and hence only a part of me, I like to think I'm smarter. I also get to manipulate the world he lives in to make things harder or easier as seems appropriate. The other thing to remember is that believable and real are not necessarily the same things. There are all sorts of things that happen in fantastic fiction that are completely unreal but believable in the context of the imagined world. There's a shorter answer and maybe I should have given this first: I really like playing make-believe.

What are you writing now?

Two things actively, with a third hovering off to one side. My main project is MythOS which is the fourth book in the WebMage series and will be out in 2009. I'm also writing the first book in a new contemporary fantasy series. I was really inspired by a recent trip to Halifax and this book is the result of that trip. I'm trying to get the first three chapters down while the experience is still fresh. It's kind of a reward. Once I've got my WebMage done for the day (never less than 1,000 words) it's kind of fun to play with some other characters. I've also got the second book in YA fantasy set in World War II that I've been playing with. The first book went to my agent a few months ago, and I really love the idea, but I promised myself not to start until I've finished MythOS.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

No. If you'd asked me what I wanted to be when I was between the age of 11-22 I'd have said an actor or a stunt man or maybe set designer. My degree is theater and I grew up on and around the stage. But then I met the woman who I would later marry and realized that between the hours and the travel, theater wasn't entirely compatible with having a happy home life. At about that same time I got my first computer. One day I was kind of trying to figure out what I could do with my life if I gave up theater, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to writer a novel. So I did. I'm no working on 12th and 13th and I've never looked back.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

On a good day I get up around 8:00, hop on the treadmill and use my laptop to read the news while I put in 3-5 miles. Then breakfast and a shower and off to my office for 5-8 hours of writing time. I do that five days a week with occasional variations for research days, editing, dealing with promotion, that kind of thing.

Where do you write?

In summer I work in a second floor screen porch overlooking a really lovely park in the small town where I live. In winter I sit in our south-facing TV room and soak up the sunshine reflecting off the wood floors. That's the routine, but I'll write anywhere and have, including tucked into a corner at the Air and Space Museum in D.C., on planes, in coffee shops, etc. My real office is my laptop.

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

The easiest thing is world. My brain is really wired to create large-scale magical systems and the historical structures that go with them. Hardest is character. I'm not a natural character writer and I've really worked hard to get where I am with it.

This isn't you first book, tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

Right now, it's really only WebMage and some short stories in various magazines and anthologies-a couple of those are available for free reads at my website, I've also got a collection of hard science fiction short stories in an illustrated collection called Chronicles of the Wandering Star, but that only available to teachers since it's part of a middle-school science curriculum. The funny thing about that is that since it's in a number of large school systems, probably more people have read that than all my other stuff combined despite the fact that you can't really buy it.

What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

Two things really. One is true of both F&SF and Fantasy, the other is true of SF alone. The first, to carry us out of ourselves. I think one of the greatest services fiction does is to allow you to be someone else someplace else for a while. It allows you to transcend the day-to-day and that's really important for the human psyche. The second, to explicate and advocate reason and science. The methodology that is science is one of humanity's most powerful tools and SF is the fiction of science. It can both generate a sense of wonder in the reader about subjects scientific and put those same subjects into story which can help a reader make sense of the ideas.

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Best Book Ever" Says Author's Mother

I used to have a silly fantasy about getting a cool cover quote from a really famous author that read, "Doesn't suck," Stephen King, author of LATEST NOVEL and "Couldn't get enough of it! By far the best book in the entire world," Rita Hallaway, Mother of Author. But, you know, my sense of humor doesn't sell books....

My question is: do cover quotes?

I will admit that sometimes a good cover quote will help put a book over the top for me. However, I've usually gotten pretty far with a book if I'm reading the cover quotes. I already have in my hand either because the title or the cover intrigued me or the book was shelved under "managers' hard SF picks!" or someone --usually my partner -- handed me the book and said, "Check this out."

I'm also on the look out for what I call "suspect" blurbs. You know the ones that don't really say anything or say things that could be construed as a subtle slam, ala (and this a real quote I found once) "No one writes quite like [blank]." My partner who read the book in question later said she figured what famous author must have meant was "No one writes quite as badly as [blank]." I'm also nervous of any quote that has too many ellipses, ala "This book... number one... fabulous!" Makes you wonder if the original read "This book [is no where near] number one; [it's so bad that I wonder why anyone would call it] fabulous!"

Yet, my editor gets really excited about cover quotes. I met MaryJanice Davidson (author of UNDEAD AND UNWED) at MBA, a booksellers' trade show and introduced myself as a fellow Berkley author with a new vampire book coming out. I asked her if it would be okay for my editor to send her my book for potential blurb. When I told my editor, she was thrilled -- and doubly so when a very positive quote came back. My editor also updated me weekly with the various paranormal romance superstars that agreed to blurb me. Clearly, for her, getting these kinds of quotes was extremely important to the selling of my book.

Personally, I'm a bit unconvinced, if only because people have used *me* to sell books. I read and blurbed a great book called WISH CLUB by Kim Strickland. But, given how new I am to the romance field, who on earth thinks anything I might say about a book would help sell it?

And what about that? Do you ever get turned off a book because you've never read the author who blurbed the book (or find out that the quote comes from a writing spouse)?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

So You Finished DEAD SEXY...

...and you're looking for something like it to read next? May I make a suggestion? Why don't you try Mindy Klasky's Sorcery and the Single Girl?

Here's a short interview with her to whet your appetite:

What was your inspiration for writing SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL?

When I wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, my theme song should have been "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun". That book was completely light and fluffy, a fun escape from a busy work week, family commitments, etc. When I had the opportunity to write another Jane Madison story, I wanted to dig a little deeper - to look at the decisions that we make with regard to friends and jobs, the tough calls that force us to decide what is important to us. (I wasn't willing to give up on the fun, though :-) )

Who are your favorite authors and books now and when you were growing up?

When I was growing up, I read a lot of classic fantasy - J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Anne McCaffrey?. I devoured Patricia McKillip?'s books, and I practically memorized every word of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni series.

Now, I read much more broadly, alternating between genre fiction for fun (my favorites in the past year have been Scott Westerfeld's UGLIES/PRETTIES/SPECIALS trilogy) and literary fiction for musing(most recently, Sherman Alexie's THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN). I also read a lot of non-fiction, especially popular non-fiction on narrow topics, like COD and SALT.

What is it about fantasy/science fiction that attracts you?

I've always enjoyed the sense of possibility in speculative fiction, the ability to explore other ways of thinking, other ways of being. Even as my own writing has shifted from classic fantasy (SEASON OF SACRIFICE and the Glasswright Series) to paranormal romance, I've continued to draw on the Sense of Wonder that first addicted me to reading.

Why did you decide to make Jane Madison a librarian?

I work as a librarian in my day-job, managing seven libraries for a fourteen-office nationwide law firm. In the course of that job, I've met hundreds of librarians who live fascinating lives. Yet, in the eyes of the public, librarians are still the people who say "shhhhh". I wanted to write about Jane Madison to make people realize that there's a lot more out there beyond the stereotype.

What (besides writing) do you do for fun?

I spend a lot of time watching baseball - I married into Red Sox fandom. To justify the time I spend in front of the television, I quilt - entirely hand-pieced and hand-quilted wall hangings, with a bias toward traditional patchwork patterns.

What kind of preparation do you do when you are writing?

When I start a novel, I create a spreadsheet. One column lists, in a few sentences, what happens in each chapter. The other columns track the number of pages, the number of words, and the date that the chapter was last modified.

When I'm ready to start writing, I just roll up my sleeves and go. I conduct a fair amount of spot research as I'm working. My characters tend to be much more fashion conscious than I am; I often need to check the name of a designer or a color of make-up. I also find myself regularly tracking down the qualities of various crystals and plants -- the essential "props" for Jane's witchcraft.

Jane and her best friend, Melissa, quote Shakespeare to each other frequently. Are you a fan of Shakespeare?

For years, I've held season tickets to the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, D.C. They do a phenomenal job with their productions -- even when the plays are not my favorite (and they present a wide range of classical theater, not just Shakespeare), their sets, costumes, and lighting design are spectacular. I used to stage manage plays in college, and Jane's love of Shakespeare brings that avocation back to me.

If you were Jane Madison, and you discovered that you were a witch, what would you do?

I probably wouldn't handle the situation a whole lot more gracefully than Jane does. She reaches out to her best friend right away. I would probably try to keep my powers a secret for as long as possible, because I'd always sort of worry, in the very back of my mind, that I was absolutely, totally, completely insane.

What are you writing now?

I'm hard at work on the third novel in Jane's series, MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL (which will be in bookstores in October 2008). After that, I have a new series for Red Dress Ink, about a stage manager who discovers a genie in a magic lantern.

Did you always want to write? Or did you stumble into it? How did you get where you are now?

When I was in seventh grade, my best friend and I decided that we would spend our spring break writing a sequel to the LORD OF THE RINGS. (Oddly enough, we didn't get it finished in nine days.) I learned, though, that I loved creating characters, building their personalities and then tossing them into challenging situations. I wrote off and on all through high school but fell away from writing in college. When I started law school, though, I was desperate for something to balance the dry cases that I was reading. I wrote my first published novel while I was working as a trademark and copyright litigator at a major law firm. Eventually, I quit practicing law to become a librarian (in part, so that I would have more time to write!)

What does a typical writing day look like for you? How long do you write, that sort of thing?

In a perfect world, I wake up each morning at 6:00, work out until 7:00, write until 8:00, then eat breakfast, shower, and get ready for work. (I have to be in the office by 9:30.)

In the real world, I travel a lot for my day-job, and publicity and promotion tend to sponge up my weekly writing time. I usually set aside one or both days of the weekend to write for three or four straight hours. When deadlines are approaching, I forfeit a week of vacation from the day-job, using the nine days (work-week, plus two weekends) to pound out around 35,000 words (approximately a third of a novel.)

Where do you write?

I have a home office on the ground floor of my three-story townhouse. I sit at a desk that I bought at IKEA about 15 years ago; it looks like leftover hardware from the space shuttle, but it has the best ergonomics of any computer desk I've ever used. I use a five-year-old Dell desktop computer, running Windows XP, and I write using WordPerfect? 10. I keep an Excel spreadsheet to track my story outline.

(When I'm traveling, all bets are off - I write on a hotel bed, on a couch, on a chaise lounge, wherever I can find a surface to balance the laptop I'm using -- which might be my own, a friend's, or a loaner.)

What is easiest/hardest for you as a writer?

I have a very difficult time starting a new chapter - the blank screen intimidates me, and I find a hundred and one excuses to keep from writing. (I have forbidden myself from playing FreeCell?, and I had to remove Tetris from my computer entirely.)

I love editing chapters that are already drafted - I truly enjoy reviewing the flow of the language. On my final pass of editing, I read everything out loud, so that I can make sure the sound is as close to perfect as I can make it.

This isn't your first book, tell us a little bit about what else is out there?

I have six traditional fantasy novels - SEASON OF SACRIFICE (a stand-alone novel about twins who are kidnapped from their medieval fishing village and taken to an inland town, where they are expected to participate in a terrifying religious ceremony) and the Glasswrights Series (GLASSWRIGHTS' APPRENTICE, GLASSWRIGHTS' PROGRESS, GLASSWRIGHTS' JOURNEYMAN, GLASSWRIGHTS' TEST, and GLASSWRIGHTS' MASTER.) The series tells the story of Rani Trader, an apprentice in the stained glass makers' guild who witnesses a murder and is accused of being the killer. She's forced to go under cover in her society's strict castes to unmask the true assassin.

I also have one other paranormal romance, the first of Jane Madison's stories, GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT. It's about a librarian who finds out that she's a witch. But you probably knew that already :-)

What is the purpose of fantasy/science fiction, if any?

Different genre publications have different purposes. Some are truly written to entertain, to take us away from the cares and worries of our daily lives. Others are written as cautionary tales, to warn us about the dangers of politics, of science, of society, of whatever. Still others are written as elegies, reminding us of great men and woman, of leaders who may have never lived. The best genre fiction combines many (or all) of these functions.

Part of the purpose of the Jane Madison books is to raise money for First Book - - a national charity with the mission of giving underprivileged children their first books to own. I donate 10% of my profits on both GIRL'S GUIDE and SORCERY to First Book.