Monday, March 29, 2010

Apology and contest

First, let me apologize for my lack of posts this past month. Although it's no excuse, I've been really busy with the release of Ghost Mountain.

As part of that release, I am running a contest over on my publisher's blog. Head over there to enter.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Why genre fiction?

I've reached one of those patches in my life where I ask myself: "Why do I write genre fiction?"

That nasty little voice at the back of my head keeps reminding me I could enrol at the local university's MA in creative writing programme, where the likes of the great Andre Brink or another South African literary giant could possibly become my mentor. Thirty thousand rand over two years is not a lot of money in the greater scheme of things (about $3 000).

I could go onto being published by Penguin or some other very big local publisher and garner some serious notice in my home country. People could buy my books at Wordsworth or Exclusive Books, and I could have book-launches at The Book Lounge or the rather indie (and very jooje) Kalk Bay Books.

And I'd probably be trying to write yet another post-apartheid South African novel featuring disenfranchised European Africans moping about in a country that doesn't want them any more.




That's far too depressing.

Every so often, I write a story where a vampire happens to sneak in. Or a plucky werewolf... Or, the gods forbid, zombies. My recently sold novella, The Namaqualand Book of the Dead is, for all intents and purposes, literary travelogue with a dash of fang. And I'm still LOLing at the agent who told me I'm "too literary" for genre fiction.

You know what? I don't care. I write what I write, when I feel like it, and the rest can go to Hell in a handbasket. I'll give a nod to William Burroughs, add a dash of Gaimanesque weirdness, and present my readers with something that is truly my own. Sure, there's some post-apartheid wangst, as well as a little bit of mystery, but there's a whole lot of the magic of not knowing quite what sort of entity is waiting around the corner.

Friday, March 19, 2010

County landfill

I think it would be a step up, at least it makes money, but seriously my desk is a ruin. I have evidence of trying to clear the clutter. There are various trays from Staples purchased for me by my husband and son over the years stuffed full of pens, crochet hooks and box cutters. Yeah, not your normal desk clutter but somehow things that gravitate towards mine since I also have balls of yarn, empty boxes, rulers, and book lights to name some other things peeking at me from the piles.

A top three of the stacks are also my stuffed crows: Edger, Allan and Poe. Do you really need their names explained? I originally wanted to go with Hugin and Munin but I ended up with three crows instead of two ravens so... anyway, I thought it would take less explaining with Poe over Odin anyway. I still reserve the right for Hugs and Mugs since I have the giant birdcage I bought and painted hanging from the ceiling empty and waiting. Yes, it is there, just gathering dust and cobwebs in the corner above my head. Yes, people do give me very weird looks. No, they don't come over and look in anymore. I did consider putting in my musical Gorey cat - it plays "It's Raining Cats and Dogs" - but just didn't seem the same having my black and white striped cat in there alone with no birds to contemplate.

Instead I have perched on my array of computer speakers, there are a set of four (being a child of the heavy metal 80s how could you have any less?) there are Pooh puff toys clutching fake claw nail-packets. Eeyore is holding my silver talons from a high-end store that make me look like a demented cat-woman when I wear them, Pooh has a set of blood red tipped steel spikes and Tigger has fur gloves with real lynx claw tips (harvested legally in Canada - don't ask, I'm weird) and my other Eeyore with the Mad Hatter hat has a set of Lee Press On's because he felt left out.

To give theatrical lighting to the setting I have three different real Tiffany lamps that I can turn on at will - a butterfly, a snail or a lighthouse. The lighthouse is my favorite despite being the least particolored in that it is all blue with white trim. My family is convinced I'm just dying to burn down the house because the lamps get so hot so fast. Their solution was to buy and hang multi hued Christmas lights around the perimeter of the room with a switch. Whore-lights, my son calls them. Just looks so damned tacky that the name fits. I hung my Victorian tea hat up near the stupid damned lights and thanked my husband kindly and proceeded to use the lights at night instead of my bedside light for ambient light, it makes him feel appreciated, and to be honest, it does add a blush color to the room far nicer than regular lighting. However, I can't see Martha Stewart giving this her stamp of approval anytime soon. We look like the circus from Bradbury barfed indoors.

All this without getting to my various toolboxes, the potted plant, my hard hat or the model airplanes made out of beer cans that were given to me... Ah well. Guess I'll have to keep some of my odd inspirations in the closet until next time c'est la vie.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

An excerpt

Hey y'all. Forgive me for squeeking by this week with an excerpt. My hubby is in ICU with pneumonia. I've been sitting with him, so I'm behind on my blogging. Hope you all had a fun St. Patrick's Day.  I forgot my green attire, but I've Irish blood in my bones so hopefully that was good enough. lol
Be blessed,

LEAD IN- Devin is preparing to steal the Regent diamond for the Niccolo Gueraldi

Devin stood in the shadow of night, in front of the Louvre and waited. He enjoyed the anticipation of the act as much as the prize. He was after a great prize tonight. He might have come earlier, switched the jewels on his own with his magic, but he would have missed this part of it.Larceny, being somewhere you aren’t supposed to be, doing something you’re not supposed to do, was a thrill of its own. His team was already in place and waiting for his signal, each in black from hair to toe, so as not to be seen. Devin had his arm around Nicolette; except for the dark clothes they appeared to be lovers lost in the romance of Paris at night. They moved as a unit to a doorway. In mere seconds, she had the alarms down, and they were in.
It was he who whisked the diamond from its resting place. So complicated were the alarms, he actually had to use magic to do it. Replaced with its recreated copy, the Regent lay safely in a velvet pouch in his pocket. He could feel the power and history pulsing from it even now, but that was for later. There would be much to do later. They left as quickly as they came, without leaving a trace of their passing. Tomorrow he’d catch the first flight out and take Gueraldi his diamond.

Tonight was for magic.

Devin declined Nicolette’s invitation of her company for the rest of the evening. She wasn’t happy about it. Alone, he went to his room, and left her pouting in the hall. His team had their payment, and he owed them nothing more than that. He had learned not to get attached to people over the years, after he had lost friends and loved ones. He remained the same year after year, while everyone else withered and died with new lives being born to take their places.

He changed into a robe of black velvet that grazed the carpeted floor. His eyes were wild with sorcery when he cast his circle, a lion before the kill. It was time for his prize. He took the stone into his hands and used it as a looking glass. Devin absorbed the power of the emotions it had collected as old as time itself. As he did now and then, out of curiosity mostly, he sought her out.

“Show me she that is bound by three, Earth Air and Sea. As is my right, for I am her key. Hide me from her sight so that only I may see what destiny has in store for me. As I will so mote it be.” With eyes closed he held the diamond while it grew hot in his hand, and looked across the distance to the stone circle by the sea. He couldn’t see her yet, not just yet. Arianne was still the wind, but he felt her magic. He saw the spell cast again, saw her become the air. She was beautiful, desirable. He wanted her instantly and hated the sight of her all the same.

It was all he could see, for now, but something had changed. Time was shifting. He had essentially stayed the same since he had been trapped. He didn’t age, at all, not even by a day. His hair hadn’t grown, and if he cut himself he didn’t bleed. It was like he was caught in limbo, until this morning. He’d had to shave for the first time in a millennium. Proof that the spell was unraveling, even if ever so slowly. He didn’t know what was causing the change, but it meant this half existence would soon be over. It might be worth his while to find out what was causing it. He didn’t want her to be waiting for him when it was, but the spell itself would compel him to seek Arianne, compel him to lust for her. Love? Well, love couldn’t be ruled by magic.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A World of Conflict

When last did you read a book where absolutely nothing happened? A bunch of cool characters with "speshul" (insert trademark) powers mope about trying to convince everyone how cool they are. I don't know about you but I'd get bored pretty quickly.

In most paranormal thrillers or urban fantasies, conflict and its resolution are the keys to a story that keeps the pages turning.

In my role as editor, I see lack of any real conflict one of the biggest reasons why I reject a submission. As an author, I don't even dream of putting pen to paper unless I have a very clear vision of the problems a protagonist will have to overcome before they have their HEA... or not.

First off, there will be the exterior conflict that happens. The proverbial paw-paw that hits the fan and the events a protagonist has absolutely no control over. This could be a maurauding pack of werewolves, a vampire who's gone on a killing spree... Angry undead spirits... Invariably our intrepid protagonist will be wound up in these events and half the fun is not knowing why at first, then seeing how the protagonist gets his or her hands dirty and (it can be hoped) defeat the opponent.

But hell, plain old external conflict is darn boring without some sort of internal conflict. Maybe the protagonist's erstwhile lover got chomped by werewolves, or a beloved aunt drained dry by Dracula's second cousin. Whatever the internal conflict is, it should relate to why the protagonist will have either special knowledge or hang-ups about fulfilling his or her quest. Hell, maybe the ex-girlfriend is one of the unclean dead now rampaging through the city. At some point our hero will have to put the gal down.

Then, to satisfy readers (and editors), masterful authors should look at interpersonal conflict. A band of heroes have to work together to kill off the menace of phantom cockroaches. All good? No. To add spice to a plot, a great author will write in conflict between protagonists. What if the hero is still hung up about the fact that his second-in-command is shagging his ex? What if the protagonist has dirt on one of his comrades... or is forced to work with an enemy?

A great story works on many levels, where protagonists eventually find themselves in various degrees of trouble that eventually you can't stop reading, because you have no idea how the hell they're going to get out of the mess they're in.

Before a character reaches the end and they solve their problems, there's also a concept I'm going to share called a try/fail cycle. The classic concept is that a protagonist has to attempt to succeed at least three times before attaining their goals. If your hero had to get everything right the first time he or she tried, that'd also be pretty darn boring. By having them fail, it ups the tension. Will they have better luck next time? Ooh, look, let's turn the page...

These are just a few of the considerations I bear in mind while outlining my stories and, if you look at any of your favourite authors, you'll be able to isolate these aspects of world-building to see how characters can receive the breath of life.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Desk notes...

I am the queen of clutter.

How can I possibly part with all that good 'stuff', it's still useful, right? (Especially those Pizza Hut coupons. You can never have enough of them.) Those notes I scribbled ten years ago might be the next great novel. When I get time to read them, it might just end of being my new project. (As if I need another project right now. I'm up to my eyeballs in manuscripts. Not complaining though, I love it.) Which brings me to organization.

Even clutter has to be organized.

For all pratical purposes, my 'office' (the ususable one) exists within the confines of my laptops and two big legal pads with the words "Wind" and "Luck" written across the tops of the binding. It's been this way pretty much two years now, since the remodeling and the stint in mother-in-law world began. (If y'all have a mil who loves you dearly, whom you'd go to the ends of the earth for, lavish attention on her. She is worth her weight in gold. I am insanely jealous of you.) The clutter is mostly confined to my room at her house and my office space at the new house (I do work up there some, and most of the 'has to be filed stuff' has been moved there).  Anything I need for Seven or have scribbled down for ideas or don't anticipate actually needing on a daily basis until we move in a month or so, is filed on the big desktop computer which doubles as my youngest' homework computer. Notes for any of the Elemental Magic books, Cullen's Luck, Gypsy Moon, or contracts, bills etc. are in pocket organizers within easy reach.

As for my electronic filing system? Cluttered but organized. When I save or add files they usually orginate from two places email or my small laptop, but I work on three different computers. (Sometimes I need a bigger screen and keyboard.) After two days hunting for the beginnings of a new project I'd started, saved and lost without finding it, I changed my document system. Now there are thirty files, the E M series has its own separate file as does each of my projects, a central library of ebooks for review, another for reviewed ones, etc.
Anyway, the same system exists on all three computers and when I update a file, I save it to my flash drive and update the other systems. It's time consuming, but if one crashes (like it has in the past) I don't lose anything. (I have a habit of losing my flash drive, which is why I don't keep it all on a flash drive.)

My desk at the new house hosts the desktop pc of course, several random books that have nothing to do with the craft of writing and more about procrastination, as in I still need to finish reading Acheron and that ten year old National Geographic magazine and will when I can't work and want to look busy. There is an old piece of Sarah Conventry jewelry that reminds me of a talisman or something, a 1930's pic of my grandma whose passed, a pack of brads (molding), a hammer, a printer, a handheld sewing machine and various office supplies. The hammer and brads are there because when I was putting up molding, I kept laying them down and losing them. I always seemed to look for them there first, so I finally gave up and starting leaving them on the desk. Across the desk chair is an afghan made by my great-great grandmother, in strange shades of orange and yellow that matches nothing in the room (didn't match in the old house either). I never knew her, but it still has a place in my space. I have alot of items that have been entrusted to me simply because I never throw anything remotely useful away. 

So, what's your work space like? Is it easier to create in clutter where everything you see inspires something new? Or do you prefer a blank slate?

Be blessed,

Monday, March 8, 2010

Fantasy role-playing saved my writing

Okay, well, maybe not, but it did give me a distinct advantage when it comes to outlining my novels. Thing is, I always wanted to be an author. From the tender age of thirteen, I harboured a secret wish to write novels, fantasy, SF, horror… you name it. Fantasy role-playing was merely a stepping stone.

But of course it kinda took me a while to get to the writing bit, mmmkay? And, like many geeky “boff” kids who listened to Nine Inch Nails during the mid-1990s and painted their nails black, I spent inordinate amounts of time role-playing.

Back then it was the first incarnation of White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade and Werewolf: The Apocalypse and I spent hours daydreaming about characters. It’s with some fondness that I look back at my first character ever. His name was Eric Bodin and he was a punk-rocker-turned Brujah who’d taken a short fuse as a personality flaw. (Yes, a Brujah with a short fuse. Stop laughing!)

For the life of me I cannot remember what I called my first Garou, but she was sweet and proved to be a far more versatile character in game-play. She was a Fianna Galliard (Lupus) and our group of intrepid role-players actually succeeded in playing that campaign to a close.

'nuff with the geek-speak.

Since then I’ve played a number of campaigns, everything from post-WWIII military strategy through to contemporary Cape Town by night. I’ve indulged in live-action role-playing (larping, for short) and still routinely read action-packed urban fantasy novels when I can lay my hands on them.

Okay, I was pretty weird for a chick. I mean, how many grown women role-play? Not many. As we grew older, I noticed my gaming partners were still the same introverted computer types (mostly) but some of them also had an active interest in military history, weapons, combat and the Society for Creative Anachronism. Apart from also being voracious readers of all things fantasy and SF, these boys knew their stuff when it came to facts, and our biggest debates during games were always about the logistics and possibilities of certain occurrences.

So, where does this tie in with writing?

One thing I’ve noticed is that regular role-players who’ve crossed over to writing, tend to have had more practice outlining their plots, character-building, creative visualisation and a better handle on cause and effect. And, while a background in role-playing may also bring with it some baggage (as in the “I’m writing my campaign as a novel” kind), I still think it’s an excellent training ground for would-be genre fiction novelists.

It’s the cause and effect that I’m going to discuss briefly. One of the biggest flaws in plot that I see (often) is authors who do not have a good idea of what happens under certain circumstances. When last did you kick down that door? Have you gone more than a day without drinking or eating? How did you feel? Have you ever been stabbed? Have you drawn a bow and nocked an arrow?

Too often, in my role as an editor, I see authors writing about these things in ways that are unrealistic and don’t ring true. As a gamer, I’d have to roll dice to determine whether my character could perform certain tasks and, based on his/her stats I’d have a very good idea of what is possible and my character would behave accordingly. (Have you ever seen a small thief try to slug it out with the biggest barbarian in a bar-room brawl?) Aware of my character’s limits, I’d make sure they did what they could when they could.

Authors need to look at their characters in that kind of light. They are not just place-holders for a narrative, who can do anything and everything.

If you run through dark city streets you stand a very good chance of tripping… and after a while will become really tired, perhaps even with a stitch. If you’ve been keeping watch all night you may grow bored, tired or cold, if outside. What if you become a vampire? You may struggle emotionally with a sudden allergy to sunlight and coping with the need to drink blood… How does being able to shift into a werewolf affect you? Does it hurt when you change?

So many times I encounter protagonists who seem nonchalant, blasé even, when their “normal” world turns to a pile of chaos around them. Then, when they take control and act, these situations seem to be resolved almost effortlessly. (Where’s the fun in that, eh?)

My suggestion: inform yourself. If you’re going to write about guns, take some time off during your lunch hour to visit your local gun shop. Speak to people who own guns. Complete a course in handling weapons. Make it real. Know how it feels when you have to experience the recoil. If you write a lot of action-packed novels, go for a few basic unarmed combat or self-defence classes.

If your novels take place out-of-doors, go camping in a forest or environment similar to that of your novel. Try to imagine what it must be to live out there 24/7. Read survival manuals. If it’s winter, what is the weather like? Ditto for summer? What do you do if there’s a veldfire or flash flood? Engage your senses.

Trust me, truly knowing how it is to engage with your environment, be it as a motorcyclist, archer or martial artist… it’s going to truly bring your writing to life with a ring of authenticity few can rival. Why? Because you’ve been there and done that. Or, at least you’ve spoken to enough people who have that interest that you can fake it really well.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What does a cluttered desk really mean?

This month, the bunch of us are going to focus on writing. Yeah, I know. We sort of always do that, but this month we're really focusing in that direction.

I'll be the first to admit my desk is a mess. Well, it is to anyone else who see it. To me, it's organized chaos. I know where everything is.

In addition to the office supplies--things like paper, pens, a stapler, and paperclips--I have a ton of research books, mostly from Writer's Digest.

While the clutter which encroaches my computer drives other people crazy, I find it helpful to have most of my research information at my fingertips. If I were to be completely honest, though, the "mess" also keeps my family away from my computer. They're afraid of messing with my system!

There is a saying that goes something like "if a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what does a clear desk mean?" I suppose it's only logical that a clear desk would be a clear mind. No thank you. I enjoy the random thoughts that pop in my head. I like the idea that I'm creative enough to write an engaging story.

I'd like to hear from others. What does your desk look like? And does it bother you?